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!

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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.

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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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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