DRUMS, PIANO AND HORNS TAKE CENTER STAGE ON NEW CD REVIEWS

DRUMS, PIANO AND HORNS TAKE CENTER STAGE ON NEW CDs
By jazz journalist / Dee Dee McNeil
August 29, 2018

PETER NELSON – “ASH, DUST AND THE CHALKBOARD CINEMA”
Outside In Music

Peter Nelson, trombone/composer; Alexa Barchini, voice; Nikara Warren, vibraphone; Josh Lawrence, trumpet; Hailey Niswanger, alto saxophone; Yuma Uesaka, bass clarinet; Willerm Delisfort, piano; Raviv Markovitz, bass; Itay Morchi, drums.

It’s an odd title for a CD, but it embraces the unique journey of Peter Nelson, trombonist and composer. I rarely read liner notes before listening to music, because then I become influenced by what someone else has written and surmised about the music. But the title of this CD was so peculiar, that I was tempted to read about this artist. First, I pushed play on my CD player and listened as I went about my daily household chores. The first tune titled, “It Starts Slowly (First in Your Heart),” reminded me of space and moonlight; stars and planets. There was an ethereal vocal, along with vibraphone and trombone. No words. Just lovely, spacey sounds that tickled my imagination about universes and the vastness of creation. Who is this guy, Peter Nelson, I thought to myself? The tune is brief, but it peeked more interest in reading the liner notes. That’s when I discovered Nelson’s life story.

A Michigander, born in Lansing, Peter Nelson fell in love with the trombone at age ten. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies at Michigan State University, then moved to Brooklyn, New York where he currently resides. Along the way, during a pinnacle in his career he was struck with a debilitating disease that no one could diagnose. It began with small, localized pain and feelings of anxiety. Later, it escalated to chronic hyperventilation, severe shortness of breath and pain in his face, down his back and in his arms. Horribly, all of this was happening while he was on the bandstand.

“It became difficult to be on the bandstand, while at the same time fighting my horn and fighting my body. It felt like a physically violent way of losing my medium for relating to the world and was emotionally and spiritually crippling.”

In search of help, he saw many doctors, physiologists and educators. But it was not until he met Jan Kagarice, one of the world’s authorities on musicians’ health, that she diagnosed him and in a single lesson was able to reverse sixty percent of his pain. She showed him how to comfortably play again. His odd symptoms appeared to be the result of bad pedagogy, or habits inherited from teachers who did not recognize or understand the workings of the human body and the physical process of making music. Thanks to her insight, Peter Nelson has produced this magnificent tribute to his journey from dark days to brilliant light; from illness to health. His music celebrates that struggle. Nelson plays the trombone so swiftly, at times, like on the composition, “Do Nothing (if less is more),” that I am stunned by his agility on the instrument. He has composed every song on this album and each is a story in itself amply interpreted by his ensemble, with Alexa Barchini on lyric-less vocals. I enjoyed each tune, but found the abrupt endings on several of his compositions annoying after the first one. On the up side, these musicians and Nelson himself make the chapters of his life an interesting and inspirational jazz journey.

“We always want closure,” Nelson says in the liner notes. “But it’s an almost laughable concept. Everything that I learned about brass playing — and more importantly about myself and what music-making really means to me, those lessons are priceless and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
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HAKON SKOGSTAD – “TWO HANDS TO TANGO” Avontango Records

Hakon Skogstad, piano/arranger.

If you love tango, classical music and piano jazz, Hakon Skogstad’s latest CD will richly reward you. He is entrenched in solo piano technique and stimulated by his love of the bandoneón and how that instrument is used in solo arrangements and compositions. The Bandoneón is popular in Tango music and very popular in Argentina, Uruguay and Lithuania. It resembles an accordion in appearance. Challenging himself on the piano, Skogstad endeavors to incorporate much of that unique bandoneón style and technique in his solo playing. His piano technique is very dramatic. As a composer, he has contributed two of his own compositions; “Milonga Impromptu” and “Norte.” You feel his passion and dedication to this unique and wonderful music throughout this production. Perhaps he explains it best in his liner notes.

“I wanted to see if I could incorporate the multilayered, flowing and improvisational manner of playing, constantly changing focus between the bass chords and melodic structures, rather than trying to do it all at once, as often as possible, like an orchestral reduction. “

If you have never seen a tango performed, check out this example with one of my favorite actors from the movie, “The Scent of a Woman.”


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SAMUEL MARTINELLI – “CROSSING PATHS” Independent label

Samuel Martinelli, drums/percussion/composer; Claudio Roditi, trumpet/flugelhorn; Marcus McLaurine, bass; Tomoko Ohno, piano.

Samuel Martinelli is a blossoming Brazilian drummer and composer who is currently based in New York. He is joined on this recording by some pretty legendary jazz musicians. For one, Brazilian jazz trumpeter, Claudio Roditi. Mr. Roditi has performed with Herbie Mann, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Rouse after coming to the United States years ago to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Marcus McLaurine is playing bass. Like Claudio Roditi, McLaurine is also a seasoned jazz veteran who has worked with Kenny Burrell, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Lou Donaldson and the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Thad Jones.

Tomoko Ohno is a pianist/composer and recipient of the Student Award of Outstanding Performance. She was a celebrated member of the Dean’s Honor List and graduated with a B.A. in Jazz Studies from William Paterson University in New Jersey. A native of Japan, this young talent has already performed with such artists as Jerome Richardson, Wynton Marsalis and Benny Golson. She’s released three albums on a Japanese record label and spent time in Brazil, recording an album there for MDR Records. Consequently, she fits perfectly into Samuel Martinelli’s Brazilian flavored band.

On “Samba Echoes,” the first song on this production, Tomoko Ohno makes a solid statement on the 88-keys with a backdrop of Samuel Martinelli playing double time on his drums with driving force. On his solo, towards the end of this tune, he resorts back to an Afro-Cuban feel along with the brilliant bass playing of Marcus McLaurine. This is one of six original compositions featured on his recording and penned by Martinelli. “Talking About Spring” is a lilting, moderate tempo’d swing tune that feels like we should be skipping down an avenue, holding hands with happiness. “Bob’s Blues” shines the spotlight on the bass and McLaurine showcases a melodic bass accompanied by Martinelli on drums and Ohno on grand piano. They set it up beautifully for Claudio Roditi’s trumpet solo.

“St. Thomas” is one of my favorite Sonny Rollins tunes. It is one of only two tunes on this project that Samuel Martinelli did not compose. Martinelli brings a fresh arrangement to the piece, letting Ohno’s grand piano set it up while McLaurine’s bass bows the melody atop the contemporary chording of the piano. Sometimes it’s dissonant and it’s arranged as a ballad, rather than the ebullient, carnival-type production that Rollins originally recorded. It certainly shows that Martinelli thinks outside the box. “St. Thomas” was kept a trio tune, without adding the horn and featuring the bass instead. It is a unique production of the Rollins’ composition. On Martinelli’s original composition, “A Gift for You,” he invites Claudio Roditi back to the recording booth and the group swings hard. There is a drum solo that allows Samuel Martinelli to stretch his technique and talent across the skins for our complete listening pleasure. The only other cover-tune that Martinelli features is the Dizzy Gillespie song, “Birks’ Works.” This gives Claudio Roditi the well-deserved spotlight.

https://www.gofundme.com/claudio-roditi-needs-our-help

Martinelli’s album title, “Crossing Paths” is in celebration of the wonderful people he has met along his continuing journey up a jazzy, musical avenue. This entire album gives us an up-close and personal look at a budding composer and competent drummer. His quartet of prominent musicians make the music dance effortlessly across the airwaves.
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MIKE SPINRAD with GUIDO FAZIO – “HORNS” Spin Radical

Mike Spinrad, drums/percussion/composer; Don Turney, piano/organ/sound engineer; Guido Fazio, tenor saxophone/flute/horn arranger; Richard Conway, trumpet/ flugelhorn; Larry Stewart, baritone saxophone; Eric Lyons, John Hettel, Daniel Parenti & David Enos, bass.

Mike Spinrad played drums throughout his youthful school years all the way into college days. He earned an AB in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley; then an MA degree in Counseling from St. Mary’s College of California. After securing a teaching certificate, he settled into making a secure living teaching history, psychology, economics and government at San Marin High School in Northern California. But his passion for music remained strong. He’s been teaching for fifteen years and performing on the side, whenever opportunity presented itself. This is his dream-come-true project, where he can express the composer/ musician inside of him to its fullest extent. This disc is full of creativity. His compositions come alive with the help and mastery of his close friends and peers.

The “Horns” waltz into my room with harmonic precision, speared by the awesome timing and technique of Mike Spinrad on drums. “Smarbar” is co-written by Spinrad with pianist John Groves. It’s smart and straight-ahead. Mike Spinrad has composed or co-composed every tune on this album. All the horn arrangements are written by Guido Fazio. When you merge these two talented men, (Fazio and Spinrad), the result is a quality musical product. The second tune is titled “Bette ‘N Hy,” a more funk and contemporary arrangement, featuring Don Turney on organ. Turney formerly produced Spinrad’s premiere CD and acted as recording, mixing and mastering engineer on this project. On the third cut, “Chaim” puts us back into a straight-ahead realm. The horn arrangements scream, ‘big band’, although this is a group of just six talented men. Spinrad had a specific goal in mind when he decided to create this musical work of art.

“When I decided to do this project, the first person I contacted was Guido Fazio, who arranged the horn sections, and plays tenor sax and flute on the recording. He’s a monster player with amazing instincts. … his approach to music mirrors my approach. For me, music needs emotional content. It’s great to listen to someone with incredible technique, but technique alone doesn’t move me. Guido has great technique and plays with an incredible amount of heart and soul,” Mike Spinrad shared.

There is something for everyone on this recording. The “Sheila” composition is a sweet and beautiful ballad and the tune named “Raul” is a Cuban-influenced montuno, named after one of Spinrad’s co-workers.


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STEPHANE SPIRA – “NEW PLAYGROUND” JazzMax Records

Stephane Spira, soprano saxophone/composer; Joshua Richman, piano/Fender Rhodes; Steve Wood, bass; Jimmy MacBride, drums.

Stephane Spira plays a smooth, straight-ahead soprano saxophone. I’m not a big fan of soprano saxophone, but I love this musician’s tone and technique. “Peter’s Run” opens his CD and it’s a perfect vehicle to showcase his amazing trio. Jimmy Macbride is stellar on drums, bringing texture and time to his instrument. Steve Wood is cement solid on bass and Joshua Richman colors the music with his piano mastery. All songs on this recording are composed by Stephane Spira. I found his music to be melodic and beautiful. “Gold Ring Variations” and “New York Windows” are both intriguing titles and the compositions themselves are lovely. Spira writes music that inspires and his melodies lend themselves to lyrics, still unwritten. His soprano saxophone style is honest and steeped in blues with a taste of Django’s gypsy style echoing through his compositions. Spira says song #3, “New York Windows” was inspired by Les Fenetres de Moscou (Moscow Windows), a favorite traditional Russian song that his dad loved. The up-tempo jazz waltz, “Underground Ritual” gives Richman an opportunity to stretch out on piano and Jimmy MacBride, on drums, is always a driving force throughout this recording. But it’s the tone and vulnerability of Stephane Spira’s saxophone excellence that draws me into this recording like quicksand. His compositions, and the way he plays them is intriguing. He’s like a child, exploring a “New Playground” and sharing his excitement with us.
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MICHIKA FUKUMORI – “PIANO IMAGES” Summit Records

Michika Fukumori, piano/composer. Steve Kuhn, producer/piano duet on cut #11.

Michika Fukumori has composed the first song called “Colors of Blues” and it exhibits admirable piano technique with a seemingly easy ability to use both hands in counterpoint and still keep perfect rhythm. Actually, that is no easy task. Her original composition was inspired by United States Blues, a music steeped in hard work and rooted in African American slavery. Ms. Fukumori explained:

“I learned how important the blues is to jazz after I moved to this country and I fell in love with the form. This is my dedication to this music.”

Right away, Fukumori establishes her love of melody. I want to sing along with her compositions even though I’ve never heard them before this moment. That is particularly true on the second cut titled, “Into the New World.” Michika Fukumori has composed nine of the thirteen tunes on this CD. She is a strong player and competent composer, which is brazenly clear on this solo recording. She needs no other instrument to sell her songs or make them beautiful. That raw talent she exudes needs no lipstick, rouge or pancake makeup to enhance it. There is natural brilliance to her playing and I am even more impressed with her composer abilities. Her left hand is busy playing memorable bass lines and holding the rhythm in place, while her right hand creates lovely melodies and improvises with tenderness and a deft touch. On the eleventh song, “Oceans in the Sky,” she combines talents with her mentor and producer, Steve Kuhn, who has written this song. They both play piano simultaneously to interpret this composition, using two sets of hands and 20 fingers. There is the feeling of rushing water, ocean waves and the forcefulness and intimidating independence that miles of water, with no land in sight, can represent.

Born in Mie, Japan, Michika Fukumori began studying piano at age three. Receiving her classical training at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music, she soon was drawn to jazz and began working professionally in various Japanese jazz clubs. In 2000, Michika Fukumori moved to the United States and studied with two jazz icons at City College in New York; bassist Ron Carter and pianist extraordinaire, Geri Allen. She also began taking private lessons with Steve Kuhn, who has produced this recording for her. For the most part, this is peaceful music. It’s easy listening jazz and showcases the stellar talents of Michika Fukumori on piano.
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RANDY BRECKER & MATS HOLMQUIST – “TOGETHER” MAMA Records

Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mats Holmquist, arranger/composer/conductor; Mikel Ulfberg, guitar; Seppo Kantonen, piano; Juho Kiviuori, bass; Markus Ketola, drums; Trumpets & Flugelhorns: Jakob Gudmundsson, Teemu Mattson (lead) Timo Paasonen, Mikko Pettinen, Tero Saarti, JanneToivonen; Saxophones: Ville Vannemaa, lead alto/soprano/clarinet; Mikko Makinen, alto/soprano/clarinet/flute; Teemu Salminen, tenor/clarinet; Max Zenger, tenor/flute; Pepa Paivinen, Baritone/flute; Trombones: Heikki Tuhkanene,(lead); Mikko Mustonen, Juho Viljanen, Mikael Langbacka, bass trombone.

On this recording, harmonies fly off my CD player like a flock of starlings. This is an exhibit of dynamic orchestration, featuring the arrangements of Mats Holmquist. Randy Brecker is grandly supported by the 18-piece UMO Jazz Orchestra. The Holmquist style seems deeply rooted in the classical genre, with splashes of modern jazz. Trumpeter Randy Brecker is the featured soloist on many of the tunes. His musical accomplishments include collaborations with Horace Silver, Larry Coryell, of course his brother Michael Brecker and their amazing success as The Brecker Brothers, and a significant number of popular smooth jazz and pop recording artists. In this setting, you will enjoy Randy Brecker encircled by the astute arrangements of Mats Holmquist and the orchestra. They utilize composers like Chick Corea, (Windows, Crystal Silence and Humpty Dumpty) along with several songs composed by Mats Holmquist.

Mats Holmquist was born and raised in Sweden and is a first-class composer/arranger who has eight albums under his belt as a leader, four of them released on Summit/MAMA Records. He has also authored “The General Method” called “The Big Band Bible” by Jamey Aebersold who published his book.
The UMO Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1975 and is considered Finland’s finest big band. They have featured a number of iconic jazz names including Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker and John Scofield. Blending these three extraordinary talents, Brecker, Holmquist and the UMO Jazz Orchestra is musical magic.
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MIKE FREEMAN ZONAvIBE – “VENETIAN BLINDS” Vibes Out Front (VOF)

Mike Freeman, vibraphone, coro; Guido Gonzalez, trumpet, Coro; Ian Stewart, bass; Roberto Quintero, congas/guiro/shakere; Joel Mateo, drums/campana.

Here is an album that peeked my interest from the title, “Venetian Blinds.” Mike Freeman took this title from the look of ‘vibes’ all strung-together in bars, similar to venetian blinds. I learned from the press package that Tito Puente used to roll his vibes into the Palladium and his followers would say, “Here comes Tito with those venetian blinds!”

Freeman is a masterful vibe player and his music is very percussive and heavily cemented in Latin jazz grooves with the rhythm of Joel Mateo on drums and Guido Gonzalez congas. There are three cuts on this album that are meant to celebrate Bobby Hutcherson; “Clutch the Hutch”, “Bobby Land” and “House of Vibes.”

Mike Freeman composed these songs and was working on this project when Bobby Hutcherson passed away. “Fancy Free” was written to celebrate his daughter and her first birthday and “What’s Up With This Moon?” was written for his son, a direct quote from a video his son texted to him one night. This is a project full of joy, rhythm and Latin flavor.
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GARY BRUMBURGH – “MOONLIGHT” Café Pacific Records

Gary Brumburgh, vocals; Jamaison Trotter, piano; Gabe Davis, bass; Christian Euman & Conor Malloy, drums; Pat Kelley & Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Paulette McWilliams & Gail Pettis, vocals.

Gabe Davis, on bass, walks his instrument with power and determination as an introduction to the first song. Jamieson Trotter adds piano after several bars of bass. Then in steps the star of the show, Gary Brumburgh singing the Lennon/McCartney hit record, “Day Tripper” in a very jazzy way. Bob Sheppard always brings the magic to the bandstand and this recording session is no exception. His saxophone solos are inspiring and complement Brumburgh’s vocals. Brumburgh introduces us to some song verses we may not be familiar with, for example on “I’ll Close My Eyes.” I enjoyed hearing the verse of that song interpreted. However, I found some of the smart and creative arrangements on these tunes to work better with the instrumentalists than with the vocalist. Pointedly, on this tune, some of the guitar chord changes at the top of this song, that become a repetitive theme throughout, are challenging but don’t necessarily support the vocalist. After all, it is his project and the point is to be ‘hip’ but also to give him a substantial stage of musical support that spotlights his vocal talents.

That being said, the musicians on this project are some of the best in the business and they offer him a strong trampoline of tracks to bounce upon. For me, the stumbling block are a few of the unique arrangements that don’t always fit the vocalists’ tone and timbre.

Brumburgh has a smooth, distinctive vocal style. His repertoire is well-rounded, including oldies like Sweet Georgia Brown (mixed with the Miles Davis composition “Dig”), Jimmy Webb’s “Witchita Lineman,” Sting’s “Heavy Cloud No Rain,” Michael Franks’ “Eggplant” and the title tune, “Moonlight” a John Williams composition with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The songs he picks are wonderful. He also includes a couple of awesome female vocalists. For one, Paulette McWilliams, who adds harmonic background to the arrangement on “Heavy Cloud No Rain” produced quite bluesy, allowing Paulette McWilliams to pump the soul into this song. At times, Brumburgh bursts into scat and has a tone that easily becomes a vocal horn. I thought the Brazilian feel on “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early in the Morning)” well-suited Brumburgh’s vocal style. I must credit Brumburgh and Jamison Trotter for successfully arranging so many pop tunes with strong jazz creativity. I bet Holland, Dozier and Holland were surprised to hear the way the Diana Ross hit record, “My World Is Empty Without You, (Babe)” was re-arranged. I know I was. The final song, with the very sensitive piano accompaniment of Terry Trotter, “What’ll I Do” touched me deeply. It was just voice and trio; simple and honest, obviously sung with passion and sincerity. This is Gary Brumburgh at his best.

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