Autumn Jazz Releases Spotlight the Odd, the Unusual & the Beautiful

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
.

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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