Archive for September, 2018

ARTISTIC, AVANT GARDE AND SOULFUL: JAZZ RELEASES PLUS QUINCY JONES HAS A NEWLY RELEASED DOCUMENTARY

September 28, 2018

ARTISTIC, AVANT GARDE AND SOULFUL: JAZZ RELEASES PLUS QUINCY JONES HAS A NEWLY RELEASED FILM DOCUMENTARY

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 28, 2018

The current QUINCY JONES Netflix documentary is informative and inspirational. Don’t miss this wonderful biography. His insight and history are important to pass on to our youth, as well as being entertaining for us. Q’s film honestly documents the music business and his life over the past eight decades. He’s lived it, loved it and made the best of his life and his music in the hardest of times and the best of times. His stories will uplift you. His diverse talent will astound you. His tenacious determination will inspire you to overcome all obstacles and keep your eye on the dream to make it come true. You will witness what an activist Jones has been all these years, while making his musical mark on the universe. Also, you will witness the price he paid for his dedication to music and appreciate his ability to cross genre lines and bring musical styles and eras together in a satin smooth, seamless way, as only Quincy Jones can do. A must see!

https://mashable.com/video/netflix-documentary-quincy-jones-trailer/#T16PebYTfsqM

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ELI DEGIBRI – “SOUL STATION” Degibri Records

Eli Degibri, tenor & soprano saxophones; Tom Oren, piano; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Eviatar Slivnik, drums.

Eli Degibri, a talented tenor and soprano saxophone master, has chosen to celebrate the late, great Hank Mobley with this tribute recording. For those of you with no recollection of Hank Mobley, let me tell you a little bit about this iconic reedman. Mobley was born in Eastman, Georgia, but his family soon moved to New Jersey where he was raised. The jazz journalist, Leonard Feather, once referred to Hank Mobley as the “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone.” He swung hard and seriously on his saxophone and came up in the era of Bebop and hard-bop music. Perhaps not as aggressively fluid as Coltrane, he adopted (comparatively speaking) a somewhat reserved style on his instrument with heavy blues influence and he was also very melodically soulful, similar to Gene Ammons.

Eli Degibri says his goal has been to keep playing-old-in-a-new-way as his mantra. This project is a remake of the 1960 album, “Soul Station” on the Blue Note Record label featuring Hank Mobley, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Blakey. What a line-up of stellar and historic jazz cats! On the first song, “Remember,” Degibri uses the composer, (Irving Berlin’s) original changes, when he records this song, rather than using the re-harmonization of Mobley’s arrangement. However, it’s Mobley re-harmonization that made this song so innovative and memorable, along with his light, staccato approach at the beginning of the song that encourages a hard swing groove.

Still, Degibri and his trio do a fine job or re-interpreting this song in their own inimitable way. Degibri has a rich, round sound on his instrument. I think Mobley would applaud the way he handles the reinvention of Berlin’s compositional changes. They hold true to the staccato groove at the top of the song and we get to properly meet Tom Oren, on piano, during his brief solo.

The second song, “This I Dig of You” is very familiar to my ears. I was a big Hank Mobley and Art Blakey fan as a teen. I remember this song that used to get so much airplay on the radio and also at jam sessions around the city of Detroit, Michigan, where I grew up. Degibri plays soprano saxophone, doubling with the piano in a unison way. It has a different sound than the Mobley production, but perhaps that’s what keeps it fresh and modern. Actually, he and Tom Oren are playing a transcription of Wynton Kelly’s original solo. I think it’s a nice touch and very creative. Tamir Shmering takes a fast-paced solo on bass that’s impressive. Eviatar Slivnik is given ample time to showcase his drum skills while trading-fours. The group has worked three years on this project and their determination and musicianship sparkle in the excellence of this production.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hank+mobley+this+i+dig+of+you+

Their closing tune shows you how deeply Eli Degibri digs into the blues. Degibri has composed this tribute song to Hank Mobley and I believe it captures the essence of the man and his music. It’s a fitting and dynamic way to end this very well-played tribute to Hank Mobley, one of our jazz icons, by a group of very excellent and competent musicians.

Eli Degibri explained: “When I came to New York, I didn’t write. My goal and dream was to be able to play and to speak the language, and the only way to that was by playing with great musicians and playing standards. All my guys knew all this music, because in Israel, “Soul Station” is taught in school. The kids in Israel know their tradition. They don’t feel it’s not cool to play 4/4 rhythm changes or to play the blues. … Why is it acceptable to remake a classic Hollywood movie but such a faux pas to remake a classic jazz record?”
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FRED FARELL – “DISTANT SONG” Whaling City Sound

Fred Farell, voice/lyricist; Richie Beirach, piano/ composer; Dave Liebman, soprano and Tenor saxophones/wooden recorder/composer.

If you enjoy the smooth vocals and music of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, this album of original music, composed by Fred Farell, brings the heyday of jazz vocals from the sixties and seventies to the forefront. Farell recalls:

“My journey in jazz followed military service in 1970, and in discovering a jazz club in Lakewood, New Jersey, owned by Richard Stein named “Richard’s Lounge.” My first singing engagement there was in 1971, on which bop pianist Barry Harris played the final evening. After listening to his masterful interpretations of that night’s music, via tape, I desired to alter my pop oriented vocal style and expression.”

Following that date, Fred Farell began sitting-in at that club and that’s where he first heard and met pianist, composer Richie Beirach. At some point, Stein asked the fledgling vocalist (Fred Farell) if he would consider studying with Richie in New York. That began a long and fruitful relationship between the two musicians. Fred Farell developed his vocal style and, on this recording, he has written all the lyrics to music composed by both Dave Liebman and Richie Beitrach. Farell’s lyrics are, for the most part, prose rather than poems that rhyme. The first song is beautifully romantic with a melody both challenging and lovely. It’s composed by Richie Beirach. Dave Liebman adds his saxophone highlights to further enhance this song. Beirach improvises in a minor mode, playing around the melody and shining the spotlight on his piano prowess. There is one small stumbling block in this recorded effort. There is only one hit jazz song that I know, that has lyrics of entirely prose, and it’s a standard jazz song played over and over again called, “Moonlight in Vermont.” That song has no rhyme. As a songwriter, I would say that writing a complete production of prose lyrics is somewhat risky, although creative. For the most part, as a lyricist you are hoping that others will hear your work and want to sing it and/or record it. Listening to this project, it resembles a songwriter’s demo that showcases original music. The duo of accompanying musicians, (piano and saxophone), take it one step further and their instrumental work is so lovely to listen to, so entertaining, that the project rises to an artistic status. Farell’s voice is smooth and silky. This trio gives their recording a feel of experimentation and the openness of prose poetry helps to solidify the artiness captured on this CD. Richie Beirach’s piano playing is hypnotic. Liebman’s saxophone flutters like a restless, beautiful bird. Sadly, I could not remember any of the lyrics from these songs.

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CHRISTIAN SANDS – “FACING DRAGONS” Mack Ave Records

Christian Sands, piano/Fender Rhodes/keyboard/ B3Organ /composer; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Jerome Jennings, drums, Caio Afiune, guitar; Marcus Strickland, saxophone; Keyon Harrold, trumpet, Roberto Quintero & Cristian Rivera, percussion.

As soon as I heard the first strains of jazz peeling from this compact disc I thought, who is that piano player? I hadn’t read the credits and had no idea who Christian Sands was, but I recognized at once that the pianist on this recording was amazingly excellent. That’s how I met Christian Sands! This music is so full of light and joy; excitement and creativity I stopped everything I was doing to listen. I soon discovered that Christian Sands is not only the dynamic pianist, but he has composed most of the music and is co-producer of this project, along with Al Pryor. His style is as diverse as his compositions. He moves from Modern Jazz, to blues in the blink of an eye. His two-handed boxing of the bass and treble clefs, simultaneously, is a wonder to behold and his impeccable timing challenges the rhythm section and locks in with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums like paper and super glue. His first composition is titled, “Rebel Music” and that certainly perpetuates the mood and essence of this entire production. The second cut, “Flight for Freedom” establishes a sense of global awareness, a nod to the importance of civil and human rights, and a signal that he is a politically concerned world citizen. I salute and appreciate that, because I think all music and art represents and reflects the days of our lives; the history and relevancy of our neighborhood, our country and our planet. Christian Sands is making an unequivocal statement with his music and its as stark as a wooden ruler slapped across a student’s desk to gain the attention. His music is striking. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland adds his spontaneous gusto to this song, spreading wings and taking flight. He is joined by trumpeter, Keyon Harrold as they punch harmonic horn lines. In the Beatles pop tune, “Yesterday” Sands brings a taste of Erroll Garner to the piano intro, marching the song across space, then rolling out the red carpet for bassist, Yasushi Nakamura to strut his solo inspiration and improvisation. It’s a unique and engaging arrangement. As the ensemble progresses, the energy and spontaneity rise like steam from a boiling pot. Sands becomes more and more modern-jazz-aggressive.

He takes us to church on his gospel-flavored composition, “Sunday Mornings,” adding a Jamaican Reggae rhythm for good measure. Sands covers all bases, showing his talents on both electric instruments, B3 organ and acoustic piano presentations. This is an album breathing fire and creativity, like its ‘dragon’ title.
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CECILE McLORIN SALVANT -“THE WINDOW” Mack Ave Records

Cecile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano/organ.

Her voice is clear, lovely, sensitive and how wonderful to hear Cecile McLorin Salvant deliver an emotional rendition of the Stevie Wonder song, “Visions.” This is a striking recording of only two people, the vocalist and her pianist (sometimes organist), where both musicians lay their soulful talents bare and unprotected on the altar of public opinion. There are no drums, no bass, no strings or horns to clutter or color the production. Never mind! Sullivan Fortner is quite proficient and extremely creative. You hear his unique and unusual arrangements on familiar tunes like, “By Myself”. Some of the chord structures and changes beneath Salvant’s strong soprano vocals are surprisingly creative; sometimes dissonant. Nothing shakes Cecile McLorin Salvant’s polished tones and succinct pitch. She is a formidable artist with strong style and character to her voice. Sullivan Fortner matches her tenacious attitude and talent with his provocative solo piano and inspired organ playing. Together, they are quite the incredible duo. Sullivan sometimes drifts into stride piano and other times roams the outer limits of improvisational dexterity from modern jazz to Count Basie 1940 simplicity. His timing is impeccable. He’s as dramatic as the chanteuse. Listen to them on “Ever Since the One I Love’s Been Gone”, a buddy Johnson tune. The drama is pulpable. This is an artistic and creative experience for the ears. Cecile McLorin Salvant is also a composer and her song “A Clef” is sung in French. For a moment, I am reminded of the stellar recordings and life of Josephine Baker. Seventeen diverse and exceptionally expressed songs are recorded for your listening pleasure, many performed before a ‘Live’ audience.
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ANTHONY FUNG – “FLASHPOINT” Independent Label

Anthony Fung, drums/composer; Erin Bentlage, vocals; Edmar Colon, tenor & soprano saxophones; Josh Johnson, alto saxophone; Alex Hahn, soprano sax; Jon Hatamiya, trombone; Isaac Wilson, piano/synthesizer; Mats Sandahl, bass; Simon Moullier, vibraphonee; Oscarin Cruz, Oscar Cruz & Manolo Mairena, percussion; Yu-Ting We, Niall Ferguson, Lauren Baba, & Jonathan Tang, strings.

There is a sense of space and imagination wrapped in the music of Anthony Fung. It’s modern jazz dipped in Avant Garde arrangements. All the music on this recording is composed by Anthony Fung and he has also written the lyrics. Cut #2 “Ilekun” is rather mysterious, like the title itself. It is the music you would hear behind the scene of a movie where someone is creeping up the dark stairwell intent on doing something ominous to some unsuspecting soul. Fung uses horns, vibraphone, synthesizers, percussion and a string quartet to achieve the unusual affects and moods that his music conjures up. He is a warlock, making his magic musical and casting a spell over his listeners. He has honed his talents under the tutelage of folks like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chris Potter and Billy Childs while attending the Thelonious Monk institute of Jazz. The fourth tune, “Guanaban” is very joyful with a Latin touch and striking horn lines. The addition of Simon Moullier on vibraphone is lovely. This song gives Fung an opportunity to solo and show his drum prowess. “Forever” is a very beautiful song that utilize the string ensemble to set the tone and mood. I was eager to hear Anthony Fung’s lyrical talents.

Erin Bentlage has a haunting beauty to her vocals as she interprets the challenging melody that Fung has written. These lyrics are prose that unfold a story of love proclaimed forever. Here is a young, talented drummer and composer, winding his way up the jazzy stairway to the stars.
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DEVIN GRAY & DRIGO RATAPLAN BAND Ratapian Records

Devin Gray, drums/composition; Chris Speed, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Kris Davis, piano; Chris Tordini, bass. Ellery Eskelin, tenor saxophonist; Michael Formanek, bass; Dave Ballou, trumpet.

Devin Gray is a composer and drummer based in Brooklyn, New York. He made his debut album in 2012 on Skirl Records.

This is the reconvening of his all-star group for their second release. If you are an Ornette Coleman fan, you will find this Avant-Garde approach to jazz, freedom and creativity full of innovative improvisation and lush with spacey melodies. Gray is melodic, sometimes repetitious, but never boring. He embraces an open genre concept, giving his musicians vast amounts of room to roam freely and with musical spirituality. Gray explains:

“I don’t set out to make jazz records, per se. I set out to make music, period – to capture the moment, the contemporary feel of the music, hoping that it can reflect in some small way how we live now and what we all have to deal with as human beings in the world.”

With that explanation by the artist himself, I will leave the review and essence of his music to your talented ears. Take a listen to his recent submittal to the 7 Virtual Jazz Club Contest.

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MARK WINKLER AND CHERYL BENTYNE – “EASTERN STANDARD TIME” Café Pacific Records

Mark Winkler, vocals; Cheryl Bentyne, vocals; Rich Eames, pianist/arranger; Gabe Davis, bass; Dave Tull, drums; Grant Geissman &Pat Kelley, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Kevin Winard, percussion; Stephanie Fife, cello. Talley Sherwood & Mark Winkler, producers.

One thing I am sure of, each time I see the name Mark Winkler printed on a CD, I know I am going to hear some exceptional music tracks and listen to some good songs. Winkler always contracts some of the notably best and in-demand musicians on the West Coast. Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler have been performing together since 2010, with much success. The “Devil May Care” tune opens this recently released CD. The song is energetic and rich with Afro-Cuban rhythms, and radiates the trust, joy and pure fun these two artists enjoy when performing with each other. Mark Winkler likes telling stories with his musical choices. “Rhode Island is Famous for You,” is just a such a composition. Winkler’s vocals are Broadway at its best. He’s theatrical, believable and his voice floats above the strong swing ensemble like Fred Astaire dancing across the stage. One of my favorite songs by composer, Mark Winkler, “Like Jazz” comes next. It was first introduced to me by vocalist Cheryl Barnes on her “Listen to This” album. Bob Sheppard gives a boisterous, double-time solo on saxophone that settles into a rich blues. The melody and lyrics are catchy and repeatable. Bentyne’s tinkling soprano compliments Winkler’s emotional baritone. The duo is fun and the Rich Eames arrangements swing hard and true throughout.

“Bumpin” is a tune I recall from the Wes Montgomery “Tequila” album. Now, it appears, the song has lyrics, thanks to Winkler’s lyrical talent. Guitarist Grant Geissman is featured. “Eastern Standard Time” presents songs with an East Coast lineage, most of them being tunes you might have heard in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The duo’s previous release was titled “West Coast Cool” that featured songs popular during the West Coast ‘cool’ period. That release rose to #16 on the Jazzweek Chart. Hopefully, this project will also zoom up the jazz charts and be received with the same enthusiasm.
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Autumn Jazz Releases Spotlight the Odd, the Unusual & the Beautiful

September 17, 2018

AUTUMN JAZZ RELEASES SPOTLIGHT THE ODD, THE UNUSUAL &
THE BEAUTIFUL
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
September 15, 2018

ALAIN MALLET – “MUTT SLANG” Etrain Records

Alain Mallet, piano/keyboards/electronics/lead vocals; Peter Slavov, acoustic bass;Jamey Haddad,percussion,kanjira solo; Layth Sidiq,violin; Tali Rubinstein, recorders/lead vocal/vox; Song Yi Jeon,lead vocal;Veronica Morscher, trans-oceanic lead vocal; Samuel Batista,alto saxophone; Daniel Rotem,tenor saxophone; Abraham Rounds,drums; Jacob Matheus,acoustic guitar/elec.Guitar; Leandro Pellegrino, electric guitar; Negah,pandeiro/congas; Gonzalo Grau,xekere.

I was trying to figure out what the title of this CD meant. We know that the word ‘mutt’ is a mixed breed dog or animal. Slang is a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as informal and more common in speech than writing, typically restricted to a particular group of people. From the odd faces of weird, masked animals that stalk this CD cover, to the ethereal sounds of Alain Mallet’s compositions, this is an album rich with imagination and very cerebral. It is also, perhaps, tethered to mallet’s philosophical views on art and culture.

Born in the tiny French village of Andernos, baby Mallet had an affliction that paralyzed his left side. As a child, his parents enrolled him in piano lessons as a form of therapy. He recovered from the early paralysis, with a deep love for music. He hoped to one day be a great player like some of his heroes, namely Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. But you won’t hear any of that type of jazz on this project.

After twenty-five years as a working musician and composer,pianist/composer,Alain Mallet, has finally decided to produce and record his own unique musical perspective. This is a double CD package and the first CD is mixed as a high-quality, stereo recording. The second is engineered for surround-sound. The production is full of melody, horns, jungle sounds and electronic voices. Flute sounds fly like colorful tropical birds. Percussion beats like horse’s hooves and electronic keyboards and other electronic instrumentation puts this project into the realm of easy listening, world music. I would compare some of it to smooth jazz, but the typical R&B grooves you normally enjoy with smooth jazz are missing. This artist explains his odd title and his goal in composing and producing his music in this way.

“Mutt Slang came from the idea that so much of our music is the product of a unique mix of seemingly unconnected influences, when in reality, they emanate from that untethered spiritual expanse that we all tap into. It’s like an alternate consciousness which seems to supersede all other moral, racial, religious and political prejudices, as well as geographical boundaries. To be a musician means to unravel the mystery of a language spoken by only a handful, but seemingly understood by everyone. …. It’s a multi-cultural transcendence of sorts.”

In 1983, Alain Mallet left France and continued his study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. After touring with a variety of artists for many years, Mallet took the job as a professor of the Ensemble and Piano Departments at Berklee, his alma mater. His CD ensemble is a blend of cultures including Veronica Morscher, who is an Austrian and she sings in Hebrew on the tune “Alone”. Negah is an amazing percussionist who immediately grabbed my attention. He hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil and there is a gifted vocalist/composer by the name of Song Yi Jeon who comes from South Korea.

Mallet’s composition “Salif,” finally picked up the tempo and features Alain Mallet on piano, offering us a solo that is very jazzy and fueled by his wonderful percussion players and Abraham Rounds on trap drums. It’s a mixture of modern and fusion jazz, but it is repetitious and over eight minutes long. For the most part, this production does not swing or explore straight-ahead or groove jazz. This is an experimental music project and much of it seems to set the scene for a National Geographic film. I see some of this music as being licensable behind commercial television ads or as part of a film score. Another example of this unique presentation is the song, “Adama,” where Layth Sidiq’s violin solo is remarkable. Then enters Tali Rubinstein who sings this song, (it’s her original composition) in a language I don’t recognize. There are other voices, some mimicking horns. For example, on the song “Spring” interpreted by Song Yi Jeon’s beautiful voice. This number might be the closest to a true jazz presentation with her spontaneous scatting. The rhythm section is smokin’ hot on this particular cut.

You get a taste of many creations and many cultures on this project. Allain Mallet closes with a very Euro-folksy, pop song that he sings, “Cradle.”. Maybe now, I understand what the title, ‘Mutt Slang,’ represents. Maybe.
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JUDITH LORICK – “THE SECOND TIME AROUND” Independent Label

Judith Lorick,vocals; Eric Reed,piano; McClenty Hunter,drums; Kiyoshi Kitagawa, bass; Jeremy Pelt,trumpet.

Judith Lorick has a voice that’s warm and comforting. Her tone is rich and sincere. Opening with one of my favorite ballads, “Why Did I Choose You,” she captures my attention immediately. She has partnered with pianist/producer, Eric Reed, and he suggested she pick songs that told her life’s love story. Singers always perform admirably when they pick songs that reflect lyrics they have lived. This is an album of torch songs; ballads of pure passion and intricate lyrical stories that roll off this vocalist’s tongue like streams of warm, dark molasses.
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MIGUEL ZENON FEATURING SPEKTRAL QUARTET – “YO SOY LA, TRADICION” Miel Music

Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Clara Lyon & Maeve Feinberg, violins; Doyle Armbrust, viola; Russell Rolen, cello.

Miguel Zenon was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico and has recorded and toured with a number of notable jazz musicians including Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Werner and Steve Coleman. Zenon is a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective.

This musical production is quite unique because there is no rhythm section. It features Miguel Zenon on Alto saxophone with a string section utilizing the popular Spektral Quartet. Every composition was composed by this artist and reed player. This is Zenon’s eleventh recording as a leader and his arrangements and original songs are meant to reflect Puerto Rican folklore. Beginning as a commissioned work by the David and Reva Logan Center for the Arts and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, this album is now a collection of eight recorded works. The addition of the Spektral Quartet, an internationally renowned, Chicago-based string quartet, gives his production a chamber-feel. However,the unusual and beautiful compositions create a more contemporary and avant-garde product. Here is conceptualized music, rooted in classical flavors and Puerto Rican heritage. After researching the island’s music for over a decade, and making regular trips to his country to re-explore his cultural roots, Miguel Zenon has blended them with religious (mainly Catholic) nuances and island folklore. The strings pluck, slide and harmonize to explore two fundamental cadences found in Puerto Rican traditional music. They create a woven, musical basket where his horn can rest. Zenon is smooth and fluid on the saxophone and his melodies are exploratory and unusual with intervals that soar and grooves held tightly by the brilliance of the string ensemble. If you are seeking something both elegiac and inspirational; sweet and unique, this music will satisfy.
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GREG DIAZ & THE ART OF IMAGINATION JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “BEGIN THE AGORA” Independent Label

Greg Diaz, arranger/composer/tenor saxophone/clarinet; Eero Turunen, keyboards; Christian Davis, guitar; James McCoy, electric & double bass; Matt Calderin, drums/percussion; REEDS: Ismael Vergara, alto saxophone/clarinet; Manny Echazabal, alto saxophone/clarinet; Scott Klarman, tenor saxophone; Mike Brignola, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Jesus Mato, (lead), Doug Michels, Seth Merlin & Kevin Wilde. TROMBONES:Russell Freeland (lead), Jason Pyle, Tom Warfel, & Michael Nunez,bass trombone.

Here is an engaging production that features all the arrangements of Greg Diaz and many of his compositions. It’s a stellar mix of big band orchestration, exemplary solos by musicians of note and Louisiana soul. I always enjoy a big band or orchestra that salutes and tributes its outstanding instrumentalists. There are several amazing soloists on this recording. When Diaz named this the “Art of Imagination” he wasn’t kidding around. This piece of work is truly imaginative and innovative. On “The Navigator,” a Kevin Eubanks composition that opens this CD, the orchestra builds the tension and excitement to a high climax and then enters Christian Davis on guitar to perform a stunning solo. The orchestration behind him energetically accelerates and then the production tunes down to a trio sound featuring pianist Eero Turunen. When Diaz enters on tenor saxophone, he swings hard and is joined by the orchestra. I enjoy arrangements that allows space for soloists to excel. Meantime, the horn lines are harmonic, supportive and fun. They move in Charlie Parker-like fashion at points, with flying tempos and innovative lines, bringing a joyful sound to the music. The second cut is composed by Diaz and titled, “Circadia”. It’s a more moderate tempo’d number with a pretty melody and a smart arrangement. This project is simply delightful to the ears. On cut #3, Diaz takes us to New Orleans with harmonic male vocals that chant on the familiar song titled, “Brother John” and reminds us of Mardi Gras or the struttin’ funerals of Louisiana culture. During this song, we also discover that Greg Diaz is a wonderful vocalist, as well as a master musician on reeds, as well as an arranger/composer. This imaginative orchestra and its talented leader, Greg Diaz, presents a variety of genres and music, tapping into R&B with the same strength and dexterity as they play first-class jazz. I was star-struck when on the tune,” Frank Blank,” drummer Matt Calderin showcases mad talent and trumpeters Seth Merlin and Kevin Wilde also steal the spotlight. The title tune embraces the blues and is another Greg Diaz original composition. It’s a blues ballad with Matt Calderin kicking up the tempo with powerful licks by busy drum sticks.

Greg Diaz resides in Florida and is a Professor of Jazz Voice at Miami Dade Community College. He has used his reed-chops to enhance the music of such notables as Ben E. King, Phil Woods, Ira Sullivan, The Temptations, Tito Puente and many more. This is his debut orchestra album and it is certainly indicative of the excellence and imagination he brings for his musicians to interpret. I can’t wait to hear his next recording project. Meantime, I’ll just play this one again.
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EVAN SALVACION LEVINE – “MESTIZO” Shifting Paradigm Records

Evan Salvacion Levine, bass/composer; Matt Gold, guitar; Andrew Green, drums.

“Mestizo” is the title of a production featuring a guitar trio who interpret all of Evan Salvacion Levine’s compositions. In this recording, the liner notes establish Levine as celebrating his dual nationality; namely a Jewish father and a Filipino mother. The CD title is reflective of this intention. When we explore the word, “Mestizo,” it is defined as “someone of mixed race; a combination of mixed European and Native American descent.’

Evan Salvacion Levine explained: “…I really wanted to write some music addressing the complicated nature of identifying as ‘Mestizo’. …Today, that meaning extends to all of South America and a lot of Asia. …My father’s family comes from a mix of Ireland and Russia. My mom’s family comes from the Philippines.”

This reviewer found herself a bit disappointed when I listened to this unique work of art, because I heard very little Latin or Pilipino musical influences. Also, this artist does not use a lot of minor modes that you find in Jewish music. Instead, this production starts with a tune titled “Age II”. I’ll remind you that all compositions are written by Evan Salvacion Levine. This first song on the album is somewhat repetitious, establishing a groove and repeating it over and over again, more like pop songs, rhythm and blues productions or Hip-Hop loops. Levine is featured on his electric bass, dancing atop the strong but repetitious, rhythm chords of Matt Gold’s guitar. However, I hear no trace of Tagalog music which is fused with Hispanic rhythms or Ifugao music, Bandurria or Maranao Kulintang music. These are some of the folk music of the Philippines that warmly lend themselves to guitar and bass interpretations
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On “Center of Gravity”, (the second song on this CD), the arrangement becomes more rock music than jazz and once again, the trio sticks to several repetitious melody lines that establish a groove for the trio to develop and improvise upon. The problem is, there are no exciting, improvisational solos. I was impressed with the strength and support of drummer, Andrew Green. He breaks loose on his drum kit during this arrangement with a driving solo. Green is always bursting with expression and dynamics throughout this production. The trio’s entire recording is quite electric and perhaps somewhat simplistic in arrangements and musicianship. I think minimalist would be a better description. The tunes are all mid-tempo. This, in itself, causes one to lose a certain amount of interest after the first four original songs. On the title tune, “Mestizo” they endeavor to pick up the tempo, with the thrust of Andrew Green driving beneath them like a hurricane. If the artist, Evan Salvacion Levine, is truly looking to merge his music with his cultural roots, perhaps he needs to look deeply into the music that reflects his father’s Russian and Irish roots and the artistic Philippine’s folk music from his mother’s side of the family. Then he can truly express the word, “Mestizo.”

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THE RICHARD SHULMAN GROUP “TURNED INTO LEMONADE” RichHeart Music

Richard Shulman, piano/composer; Jacob Rodriguez,tenor & soprano saxophones; Zack Page,bass; Rick Dilling,drums; Wendy Jones,vocals.

The Richard Shulman Group has an easy listening, smooth jazz-feel on this project. Their songs are melodic and all are composed by Shulman. His music is reminiscent of Pat Metheny productions, beginning with a seven-minute piece called, “Atmosphere.” Richard clearly develops his melodies first and even the improvisational solos stick very closely to that same melody.

“In Between the Blue and Green” is a good example of how the Richard Shulman Group blends smooth jazz and old-school, straight-ahead jazz. This third tune on his album perks me up, with Zack Page walking strong on bass and Shulman taking more chances on his improv solo. I hear him stretch out on this tune, tickling the piano keys with precision and groove. Enter Jacob Rodriguez on tenor saxophone, and he swings hard. This is probably one of my favorite tunes on this CD. Wendy Jones is the featured vocalist. She interprets the lyrics on a few of the Shulman compositions including “The Gifts You Gave to Me.” This was co-written by Brenda Lee Morrison. Jones has a pretty voice, but it is not jazzy in tone or style. This takes away from the authenticity of this project, rather than adding to it. Wendy Jones is a pop singer, and on this song, the whole premise of this album takes a turn into a new direction. Once the vocals recede, we drift back to smooth jazz on “For Mom,” a song that follows the Jones debacle. It’s a sweet, Latin arranged Bossa Nova, driven by Rick Dilling’s drum kit. Jones is back, adding her vocals on “Homage to Pharoah.” This time she doubles the Rodriguez horn line, with several spots where the unison with his saxophone just doesn’t match up. It’s always difficult to sing unison with an instrument and make the tones fall in perfect synchronization. Jones tends to slide to the notes and this can make for a musical challenge. “Buried Diamond” is a nice jazz waltz that was a refreshing change of pace. All in all, this is an album showcasing mostly moderate tempo tunes and with a laid-back character. The CD cover pictures two, tall drinks near a sandy beach scene. Exemplary of the CD cover, the music feels like sleepy time at the beach through most of it.
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ALEX CLOUGH – “NEAR, FAR, BEYOND” Independent Label

Alex Cough, piano/composer; John Tate, bass; Jay Sawyer, drums; Steve Kortyka, tenor saxophone; David Smith, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Pianist, Alex Clough, has composed every song on this project. This is his fledgling record release, after spending the last decade performing as a professional musician. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Alex studied both drums and piano as a youth. In high school, he was a member of the All City Concert Band and NJPAC’s prestigious “Jazz for Teens Program.” In college, he pursued a B.A. from Tufts University in Economics and International Relations. Later, he received an M.M. from SUNY Purchase in Jazz Studies. His piano and keyboard talents have led him to perform in most of the New York City Jazz hot spots, as well as Lincoln Center, Rockwood Musical Hall and he served as musical director for the Nightingale Jazz Band. Showing his diverse accompaniment qualities, he played with opera vocalist, Marie-Claire Giraud. He’s also played for dancers, namely the Mark Morris Dance Group, and as a sideman, Clough has honed his craft by diving into a variety of styles and cultures ranging from instrumental jazz to burlesque. He’s played Hip-Hop gigs and even Iranian punk rock. So, I wondered what this premier work of his original music would sound like.

Enlisting two horns, that join his very competent rhythm section, “Swirl” is the first song that circles off this compact disc. I am intrigued. Alex Clough is a strong composer with an even stronger jazz sensibility. Grounded by a one-note, punctuated bass line, he establishes the groove. His piano solo plays tag with the bass player, who is quite melodic in his own right. As the song progresses, the bass line dances to the changes as John Tate locks in the rhythm with drummer, Jay Sawyer. Alex Clough is one of those free style, fluid players who improvises with ease and comps behind the other soloists with precision. I get all of this from the very first song. David Smith is brilliant on trumpet and creates a strong platform for Steve Kortyka to come forward on his tenor sax, spread wings and fly.

Clough is straight-ahead and non-apologetic on this recording. Clough has a light, passionate touch on the piano, especially noticeable when he plays “Shore Road.” On this second cut, John Tate is extremely melodic during his bass solo. The third number titled, “Red Shades” is a funk jazz tune, reminiscent of the way the great Eddie Harris used to groove. Cut #4 features horn lines thick with harmony with the piano lines tastefully mirroring them. The bass and trumpet set the mood. This arrangement drops the other instruments out for a short while and it works to grab the attention and spotlight David Smith, who is quite a superb trumpet and flugelhorn player.

This entire album of music is beautifully produced and shows the wonderful composition skills of Alex Clough, as well as spotlighting his visceral excellence on piano.
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ONE O’CLOCK LAB BAND – “LAB 208/ THE RHYTHM OF THE ROAD” North Texas Jazz Label

RHYTHM SECTION: Marion Powers,voice; Daniel Pinilla,guitar; Paul Lees,piano/keyboard; Raul Reyes,bass; John Sturino, drums/percussion/arranger; SAXOPHONES: Kyle Bellaire,(lead)alto/soprano sax/clarinet/flute; Sam Cousineau,alto saxophone/clarinet; Brandon Moore, tenor sax/clarinet/flute/ arranger; Will Nathman,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Brendon Wilkins,baritone sax/bass clarinet/flute. TRUMPETS: Nick Owsik,(lead),Adam Horne,Huang-Hsiang Chang, Kazunori Tanaka & Gregory Newman; TROMBONES:Brian Woodbury (lead),DJ Rice, Brett Lamel,Tommy Barttels & Kenny Davis, (bass trombones). Alan Baylock,Band Director.

Whenever I receive product from the North Texas Jazz program, I am always excited to listen and I already know that it’s going to be a quality work of musical art. This recording is no exception. It was in the late 1940s that this UNT music experiment began at the University of North Texas. This was the era of big bands, swing dancing and dance hall concerts. It was the time of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras or Artie Shaw and Buddy Rich big bands. Recognizing that one of the foundations of an exceptional big band is the musical arranger and the other is a tenacious drummer, meet John Sturino. He exhibits proficiency in both. They open their album with Victor Lewis’ tune, “Hey, It’s Me You’re Talking to” and their percussionist, John Sturino arranged it. This song sets the mood for the rest of their album. It’s exciting, well-arranged and well played. “The Rhythm of the Road” follows and features the band’s lead tenor player, Brandon Moore. Moore is a multi-instrumentalist/composer/reed-player and arranger who handles these interesting and challenging chord changes with ease. You will hear Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful song, “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,” featuring the sweet, believable vocals of Marion Powers and “After the Rain” is a John Coltrane composition arranged by Moore. Another one of my favorites is their bluesy interpretation of “Blues for Kazu,” featuring Kazunori Tanaka on trumpet, also arranged by Brandon Moore. Bassist, Raul Reyes, also makes an outstanding statement on his solo.

Under the direction of Alan Baylock, the One O’clock Lab Band has already performed twenty-eight concerts in 2018. They’ve travelled to twelve cities, four states, and have featured eleven guest artists. Notable bassist/composer/recording artist, Mr. Christian McBride, said:

“The One O’clock Lab Band is one of the first bands I heard about when I was just learning about this music. Their stellar reputation has preceded them for many years. It was an absolute pleasure to work with this fantastic band, which continues its tradition of excellence.”

There’s not a bad cut on this album.
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HISTORY COLORS 21ST CENTURY JAZZ

September 6, 2018

HISTORY COLORS 21ST CENTURY JAZZ CELEBRATING MILES DAVIS, JOHN COLTRANE AND MORE
By Jazz Journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

September 6, 2018

JOHN COLTRANE – BOTH DIRECTIONS AT ONCE: THE LOST ALBUM Impulse Records/Verve Label Group

John Coltrane, soprano & tenor saxophone/composer; Elvin Jones, drums; Jimmy Garrison, bass; McCoy Tyner, piano.

Recently, Impulse Records released a lost album featuring the historic art of John Coltrane, one of our greatest, jazz giants. I was quite excited to listen to it. This time each year, John Coltrane’s birth date of September 23, 1926 is celebrated. Consequently, it seems a perfect time to release this unexpected recording. It’s a precious gift to the world. The first cut on the album is an unnamed original. You hear the recording engineer ask Coltrane, “This is an original, right?”

John Coltrane responds affirmatively, “Yeah.”

Then the studio sound engineer announces, “11383 original” and the distinguishable brilliance of John Coltrane’s amazing horn enters like a prophet or a religious scholar taking to the podium. The dynamic and distinctive drums of Elvin Jones thrust the music ahead with fiery thunder and McCoy Tyner strokes the piano keys with authority and passion. When Jimmy Garrison steps forward, veering from his tenacious, walking bass into a breathtaking, bowed bass solo, it stills the music to a hush, but never loses intensity or drive. I am so taken by this un-named original composition that I play it three times before moving on.

It was March 6, 1963 and John Coltrane was thirty-seven years young and at the top of his game. That was a very busy week for the Coltrane quartet. They were playing a two-week stint at the famed Birdland club in New York City and Coltrane was scheduled to cut his legendary album with Johnny Hartman on March 7th. That Wednesday, John, McCoy, Elvin and Jimmy Garrison walked into the Van Gelder studio, in Englewood, New Jersey, bent on putting down some fresh tracks and recording new material that John had composed.

This was the first time he ever recorded the “Nature Boy” song. It begins with Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison locking down the groove with bass and drums. John Coltrane floats atop the afro-Cuban feel like a breath of fresh air off the river Nile. McCoy Tyner is conspicuously missing, laying-out on this entire tune. It does not diminish the energy or the production. In fact, it’s almost super charged without piano. The second untitled original, #11386, is the third cut. It’s eight minutes and forty-two seconds of straight-ahead bliss. McCoy is back in all his improvisational glory. The trio is titanium-strong, capturing the groove like the walls of a NASA space craft. Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison solo simultaneously, pushing the limits of their instruments and stretching their creativity over the chord changes of this Coltrane original composition.

John Coltrane’s historic recording features fourteen songs. One of the world’s true saxophone masters was experimenting during this session. The famed quartet took their time, sometimes playing these songs two or three different ways, and of course never playing them the same way twice. For example, at this session, John Coltrane recorded the familiar “Impressions” song four different times. Once, they even played it without any piano accompaniment. You will be blessed to hear all four takes on this double-set. John’s son, Ravi Coltrane, picked out seven cuts for one CD and the rest can be found on the second CD of this double-set release. Their music blows my mind! Takes me back to a different space and time and propels me ahead to an unknown future in the same musical breath.

This recording was discovered on a rough-mix tape that John Coltrane took home that 1963, Spring night, after his session. For fifty-five years, it sat patiently waiting to be discovered. Thankfully, the reference tape was in great shape, because the master tape was never found. In spite of that, the mix on this recording is delightfully clean and you can clearly hear the genius of each player.
Perhaps a recent statement by Sonny Rollins sums this discovery up the best. Upon hearing this beautiful piece of musical history, Rollins commented:

“This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.”

I concur!
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CHARLES PILLOW LARGE ENSEMBLE – “ELECTRIC MILES” Mama Records

Charles Pillow, arranger/alto & soprano saxophone/flute & alto flute; Colin Gordon, alto & soprano sax/flute; Luke Norris, tenor sax/clarinet; CJ Ziarniak, tenor sax; Karl Stabnau, bass clarinet; Michael Davis, Jack Courtright & Abe Nourl, trombone; Gabe Ramos, bass trombone; Tony Kadleck, lead trumpet; Charlie Carr, Clay Jenkins, & Tim Hagans, trumpet; Julian Garvue, elec. Piano; Chuck Bergeron, elec. Bass; Mike Fortia, acoustic bass; Jared Schonig, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: David Liebman, soprano saxophone.

This artist/arranger has chosen established jazz composers of iconic stature to interpret. He embraces the songs of Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis as vehicles for his Charles Pillow Large Ensemble. This is the fiftieth anniversary of Miles Davis’ celebrated fusion jazz recording of “Bitches Brew.” Can you believe fifty years has passed? It was 1969 and Miles was experimenting with a new sound. The fusion generation was just beginning to take root. The old-school jazz cats were furious with this new wave of music. I remember many were disappointed in Miles for stepping outside the acceptable jazz mold of the fifties and early sixties. It’s nice to have David Liebman as a special guest on this recording, because Liebman recorded with miles on the original 1972 release of the “On the Corner” project. He is the soprano sax soloist featured on “Black Satin.” Clay Jenkins is the featured trumpeter and Michael Davis sings his song on Trombone. Jaren Schonig stands out on drums, driving the ensemble like a sixteen-wheeler at full throttle. There’s nothing silent about Schonig’s drums on “In A Silent Way.” I like the way Pillow arranged this song to move from a mellow, ballad into a strong funk tune. The horns play sweetly in the background, while Clay Jenkins soars on trumpet and Schonig stretches out on an impressive, percussive solo, while holding the double-time rhythm tightly in place during the entire production. This may be my favorite arrangement on this CD.

On the tune, “Directions”, written by Zawinul, Tim Hagans is featured on trumpet and it’s another red-hot arrangement. Luke Norris performs an admirable tenor solo. I enjoyed the strong bass line that pulsates and helps hold the rhythm section in place. Kudos to bassist, Chuck Bergeron. The Miles Davis composition, “Yesternow” is beautifully celebrated with Charles Pillow playing a sensuous and emotional alto flute on this arrangement. Dave Liebman is once again featured on soprano saxophone. The introduction snatches the listener’s attention with Pillow’s unusual arrangement using a short, half-bar horn ensemble to harmoniously punch a few startling chords. The bassist comes next, setting the time and groove solo. Now that my attention is peeked, the ballad unfolds in a lovely way. But the drums never let the tune get boring. They keep the funk solid and in-your-face, even on this slow tempo. It’s impressive to hear a large ensemble and a gifted arranger tackle fusion and modern jazz with a big band sensibility and still keep the funk alive and powerful.

Charles Pillow has synopsized an important era for jazz using his seventeen-piece band to execute arrangements from the best of fusion and recording eight tunes written by historic composers. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Pillow attended Loyola University and received his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at the prestigious Eastman School of Music. After moving to New York City, he honed his musical skills playing with a number of well-respected artisans including Frank Sinatra, Luther Vandross, Paul Simon, Michael Brecker, Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Bruce Springsteen and David Sanborn to name only a few. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the Eastman School of Music.
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OYTUN ERSAN – “FUSIOLICIOUS” Independent label

Qytun Eran, bass/composer; Dave Weckl, drums; Eric Marienthal, saxophone; Gary Husband & Gerry Etkins, keyboards; Dean Brown, Brett Garsed, Okan Ersan & Mike Miller, guitar; Gokay Goksen, trombone; Utku Akyol, trumpet; Karen Briggs, violin; Simge Akdogu & Aytunc Akdogu, vocals.

A big, bright sound dances off my CD player. “Oh, That Butterfly!” is an original composition by bassist, Oytun Ersan that is funky and fluid with drummer Dave Weckl flapping his sticks like butterfly wings and kicking this album into gear. This arrangement is exciting, plush with horn licks and capably mixing electronic jazz with a straight-ahead feeling. This is a delicious, modern jazz presentation bonded with a fusion feel. This song soars with crescendos and Ersan’s bass grounds the electronic rhythm, locking it down with drummer Dave Weckl. The second tune features an inspired rhythm section acting as the diving board for the horns. They splash onto the scene and punch like a boxer. All the solo musicians are innovative and inspired. Mike Miller, on guitar, explodes with creativity, as does Gary Husband on keyboards. The swift scat lines written for these instruments are formidably played and add zest and energy to the mix. Throughout, the bass playing of the artist, Oytun Ersan, keeps this project fueled with spectacular energy. The popular smooth jazz artist, Eric Marienthal, brings his saxophone excellence to the project.

The third cut titled, “Rise Up” features Karen Briggs on violin. She makes this tune memorable and touches my heart with her musical passion. This song begins as a ballad, but Oytun Ersan has a style burrowed in funk and groove. This, third of seven original compositions by Oytun Ersan, blooms like a brilliantly colored flower rising up from his earthy rhythm section. The final song, “Sacred Solace” ends this production like a prayer, incorporating the angelic voices of Simge Akdogu and Aytuc Akdogu.

Here is an album of music exceptionally produced by Ric Fierabracci that spotlights the talents of the artist, Oytun Ersan. Ersan is a Turkish Cypriot bassist, a composer and an educator who has played as a member of the International Nicosia Municipality Orchestra, the largest band in Northern Cyprus. He’s composed every song on this project. Appearing at festivals worldwide, Ersan has performed and/or recorded with such notable jazz artists as trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, Trumpeter Rex Richardson and Nigerian singer/songwriter, Ola Onabule. This is a recording of progressive, modern, fusion jazz at its best.
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AYN INSERTO JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “DOWN A RABBIT HOLE” Summit Records

Ayn Inserto, conductor/composer/arranger; Eric Hofbauer, guitar; Jason Yeager, piano; Sean Farias, bass; Austin McMahon, drums; Trumpets: Jeff Claassen, Bijon Watson, Dan Rosenthal, Jerry Sabatini & Matthew Small; Trombones: Randy Pingrey, Chris Gagne, Garo Saraydarian & Tim Lienhard. Bass Trombone: Jennifer Wharton & Jamie Kember. Reeds: Allan Chase, soprano & alto saxophone; Rick Stone, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Kelly Roberge, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Mark Zaleski, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Kathy Olson, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Mike Tomasiak, tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: John Fedchock, trombone; George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Sean Jones, trumpet.

“Down A Rabbit Hole” (the title track) was commissioned by Amherst College Jazz Ensemble, 2011, as part of the Robin McBride ’59 Jazz Commission Series. Ayn Inserto offers us a fusion of modern jazz with classical excellence, Latin flavors and innovative arranging. Ayn Inserto’s flamboyant horn section produces tones that wave like red flags against space. “BJs tune” is a pretty composition written by trumpeter, Sean Jones, that features him on a lovely solo that exhibits the dexterity Jones has on his instrument. Ayn Inserto met Jones during his tenure as chair of the Berklee College of Music’s brass department. Jones is one of three special guest artists on this project. The other two are George Garzone on tenor saxophone and trombonist, John Fedchock. Garzone, who has mentored several generations of improvisers and is the celebrated subject of a new documentary “Let Be What Is” has appeared on every recording by Inserto’s orchestra. Although he’s not a member of the orchestra, Ayn Inserto says that he has played an essential role in shaping the group’s sound. John Fedchock hired Inserto years ago as a copyist and they struck up a close friendship. Look at her now! She is a proud and innovative arranger and orchestra conductor.

Born in Singapore, Inserto was fourteen when her family relocated to Northern California. She took piano lessons as a child and was active in the church choir. She played organ for a small modern band that performed as part of Catholic church services, but improvised during rehearsals. By the time she attended an East Bay, City of Concord High School, she was infatuated with Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and studying classical piano. She played piano in various school jazz bands. Her college days included entering the respected jazz program at Los Medanos College and transferred to Cal State HayWard (now retitled Cal State East Bay). Her mentors were trombonist/arranger/bandleader Dave Eshelman, New England Conservatory professor, Allan Chase and private study with Bob Brookmeyer.

“I was writing from a piano player’s point of view and he (Brookmeyer) got me into more melodic writing, developing these long lines. After attending New England Conservatory, he really took me on as a mentor.”

Ayn Inserto brings fresh ideas and vivid writing skills to her orchestration and arranging. This seventeen-piece orchestra executes her compositions and arrangements with flare, talent and excitement. Her CD cover pictures Alice in Wonderland (in this case Ayn in Wonderland) climbing out of a rabbit hole. Artist/bass player, Kendall Eddy has painted a small army of men pointing at three musical giants who are playing trombone, saxophone and trumpet. Obviously,those are her three dear friends, Fedchock, Garzone and Jones. Ayn Inserto invites the listener to embrace her musical gifts and these very fine musical giants who represent an orchestra that has no problem chasing the rabbit and the music ‘Down a Rabbit Hole.’
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HENRY CONERWAY III – “WITH PRIDE FOR DIGNITY” Thehe3, llc
Henry Conerway III, drums, Kevin Smith, bass; Kenny Banks, Jr., piano.

Henry Conerway III is a Detroiter, steeped in the blues. He studied with a dear friend of mine, trumpeter/educator, Marcus Belgrave. You can tell from the very first cut of this album, penned by legendary bassist, Ray Brown and titled, “Slippery” that this artist loves the blues. Kenny Banks Jr., sets the mood with his piano blues tones. Kevin Smith takes a tasty, extended solo on the double bass.

Conerway’s album title is taken from a tune composed by the trio’s pianist. The liner notes explain that “With Pride for Dignity,” is a nod to their ancestors and an affirmation of musical power in a world that too often denies or inhibits pride, dignity and humanity to people of African descent. So, there is a political overtone echoing from the CD title.

The second song on the album begins dramatically and then breaks into a 1920’s feel, reminding me of Scott Joplin or 1920’s jazz. Conerway uses his drum sticks to tap dance the rhythm beneath on his drum rims and cymbals. This song employs tempo changes and mood changes that make it sound almost like a suite of songs instead of just one composition. Before you can blink an eye, straight ahead jazz moves into the arrangement like a steamroller. The pace doubles and the instrumentation flies. Seven minutes later, the composition returns to a dramatic ballad and then to the 1920’s type jazz. It’s a journey of creativity and entertainment. “Sugar Ray” is a Phineas Newborn Jr. composition and once again, the arrangement is blues-soaked. Henry Conerway the third has composed one song on this album and I was eager to hear his cut #8, the last song on this album of fine music. It’s called “Carvin’s Agreement” and is named for one of his mentors, Michael Carvin. He performs the composition solo, which is somewhat rare. This rhythm execution gives the listener an ear to what this bandleader is all about. He explores his instrument generously. Conerway seems to be painting the song with sounds that color with percussive inspiration and he stimulates the imagination on his drum kit. If any criticism is necessary, I would say this piece ends way too soon. I enjoyed the way the ensemble ‘swung’ hard on Ellington’s “Cottontail” tune with Henry Conerway tenacious and formidable on his drums, once given an exciting amount of time to solo and exhibit his technique. All in all, this is a swinging trio, with a nice repertoire and a tight, jazzy, acoustic presentation and sound.
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MARCO PIGNATARO – “ALMAS ANTIGUAS” Zoho Records

Marco Pignataro, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer/arranger; Adam Cruz, drums; Alan Pasqua, piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; George Garzone, tenor saxophone.

The title of this CD, “Almas Antiguas” translates to ‘old souls’. Tenor and soprano saxophonist, Marco Pignataro explained why he chose this title for his second album release.

“To me, “Almas Antiguas” reflects a romantic idea of reconnecting with things or people or places from another life, not necessarily in a rational way.”

This production is an energetic blend of modern jazz, Avante Garde jazz and Latin roots. The saxophone opens the album, solo, as if Marco Pignataro is issuing a prayer call. You can hear Flamenco influences in some of the music, for example on this first tune, “Panarea.” Pignataro’s saxophone sweetly floats atop the grand piano and Adam Cruz’s drums, until the song bursts into an up-tempo minor mode.
“I’d been listening to a lot of Latin American and Neapolitan singers while I was envisioning this CD,” Pignataro says. “This music is about roots from the Mediterranean and how jazz can become this lens that absorbs all these different colors, through which you can create a new sound and bring out your cultural identity,” Marco Pignataro shares in the liner notes.

Marco Pignataro brings his mixed heritage to the recording studio, celebrating his paternal Italian roots and his mother’s Puerto Rican heritage. On “Panera” (named for a Sicilian island) he incorporates North African music fused with Flamenco. Alan Pasqua is brilliant on piano and Pignataro’s soprano saxophone plays like a spiritual chant on top of a smokin’ hot, five-piece ensemble. Pignataro has arranged all the tunes on this project and he has contributed six original compositions. Favorites tunes are, “Panarea”; also, the beautiful ballad titled “Otranto: Mov. 1 il Mare and Mov. 2. spotlights one of my favorite songs, “Estate” incorporated uniquely into his original composition. I enjoy Pignataro’s very melodic tenor saxophone presentation on “Alfonsina Y El Mar” and his composition “Almas Antiguas” (the title tune), is arranged as a nuevo bolero. His tenor plays passionately on this song.

This ensemble gathers beneath the umbrella of Marco Pignataro’s arrangements and they deliver simpatico tones to express his world jazz music.
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YELLOWJACKETS – “RAISING OUR VOICE” Mack Ave Records

Russell Ferrante, piano/keyboards;Bob Mintzer,saxophones/EWI; William Kennedy, drums; Dane Alderson, bass; Luciana Souza, vocals.

The opening tune, “Man Facing North” is very ethereal and adds Lusciana Souza’s vocals as a pleasant treat that doubles the Dane Alderson bass lines. The contrast is delightful. If you are a fan of the Yellowjackets, you may recall this composition on their 1993 album, “Like a River.” Today, it has a fresh arrangement-face. Towards the fade, Mintzer stretches out to adlib and they use studio technique to double and layer the vocals. It’s a pretty tune and sets the stage for an easy listening experience. Dane Alderson offers an exciting bass solo on electric bass. The song, “Mutuality” begins with Ferrante’s solo piano, reflective in a classical kind of way. I waited for the funk and excitement I am used to the YellowJackets bringing to the studio and to the bandstand. Especially since this Ferrante composition was inspired by the fiery speaker, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and his speech, “Network of Mutuality.” However, this continues to be more easy-listening jazz. I wish for the grooves and swing that made this group popular with hit after Smooth Jazz hit. Then “Ecuador” comes on the scene with its creative time and staccato drum licks quickly tantalizing my interest. Mintzer penned this one and he’s brightly featured. Enter the ‘funk’ on “Strange Time,” another Mintzer composition. Now this sounds like the Yellowjackets legacy and style. A perfect blend of straight-ahead with funky rhythm and technically astute bandmembers who bring their inimitable best every time they play. This tune really had me patting my foot and bobbing my head. This is master musicianship at its best. The tune “Emerge” is greatly enhanced by the lyric-less scat vocals of Luciana Souza. It’s a very melodic piece written by bassist Dane Alderson. Ferrante’s “Timeline” tune is haunting and Souza’s voice kisses the song alive with tone and emotion. It’s a difficult melody to sing, with fluid yet challenging intervals and quickly captivates with its unexpected changes. Luciana Souza has leant her songwriting skills to co-write “Quiet” with Ferrante. On this song, she sings in both English and Portuguese. I am more drawn to the compositions of Dane Alderson. “Divert” and “Brotherly” both dance and groove in a joyful way, even though “Divert” is only a few minutes long. Ferrante’s compositions are brilliant and more cerebral than groove. Mintzer brings old-school and smooth jazz together in a neat package that embraces straight-ahead. “His “Swing With It” does just that! It swings! This is Bob Mintzer’s niche and it’s one of my favorite compositions on this entire album. William Kennedy is prominent and combustible on drums. He appropriately accents and fills each song with energy. Kennedy is a powerful and creative drummer. Luciana Souza brings the ‘ying’ to the ‘yang’; the Venus to the Mars; the feminine softness and vocal emotion that expands this male driven music. These are the twenty-first century Yellowjackets and the more I listen, the more I become a fan.
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