HISTORY COLORS 21ST CENTURY JAZZ

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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