Archive for October, 2018


October 18, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
October 18, 2018

WOODY SHAW QUARTET – “LIVE IN BREMEN – 1983” Elemental Records

Woody Shaw, Trumpet; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Stafford James, bass; Tony Reedus, drums.

For those youthful jazz fans who have never heard the name, Woody Shaw, let me tell you a bit about this amazing jazz trumpeter. He was born in Laurinburg, North Carolina on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944 and what a gift he was! Woody Shaw, Jr., joyfully arrived and was embraced by a musical family. His dad attended Laurinburg Institute, the same school trumpet icon, Dizzy Gillespie attended and his father was a well-respected lead singer with the historic Diamond Jubilee Singers. While still a baby boy, young Woody moved to Newark, New Jersey with his parents at age six months. He was drawn to the bugle at a very young age and by the time he was eleven-years-old, he was studying classical trumpet. At age fourteen, Woody Shaw Jr., was working professionally. He hung out with some of the best jazz musicians of the 1960’s playing with the famous percussionist Willie Bobo, joining a band with legendary pianist/composer, Chick Corea, and finally landing a sweet gig as part of the legendary Eric Dolphy’s band. You can hear him on Eric Dolphy’s first record titled, “Iron Man.”

In 1964, at only nineteen-years-young, Woody packed up his trumpet and moved to Paris, France to work with Dolphy’s band. Unexpectedly, on June 29, 1964, while Eric Dolphy was in Berlin, Germany, Dolphy died suddenly of a coma caused by an undiagnosed diabetic condition. Consequently, young Woody Shaw found himself stranded in Paris for a year and a half, but he had no problem finding work. The young trumpeter was kicking around and playing with such notables as Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin and finally, he received an invitation to return to the United States and join the Horace Silver Quintet. The result of that union is his recording for Blue Note Records on the Horace Silver classic, “Cape Verdean Blues.” Later, Woody Shaw Jr., recorded with renowned organist Larry Young as both a trumpeter and composer. He was in great company. Elvin Jones was on drums and Joe Henderson was featured on tenor saxophone on that recording session. The album was titled, “Unity,” and Woody Shaw Jr. wrote three of the six songs they recorded. Thus, began his stellar career as one of our great jazz giants. His magnificent discography is star-studded, for he recorded with a plethora of jazz royalty. Sadly, at the very young age of forty-four, the awesome instrumentalist and composer passed away from kidney failure.

The beauty and genius of Woody Shaw’s music is captured on this newly discovered work of excellence. Thanks to Woody Shaw III, (his son), we continue to hear his father’s magnificent trumpet talent. Shaw-the-third has been preserving his father’s work for the past fifteen years and has co-produced several reissues of Shaw’s classic recordings. He’s currently working on a documentary film about his father. Michael Cuscuna is the co-producer and also a force behind the historic regeneration of this 1983 ‘live’ recording in Bremen, Germany on January 19, 1983. It’s a master, 2-CD-set to enjoy and covet. The sound and mastering are crystal clear and it makes you feel as though you are right there in the audience, with front row seats.
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Julian Gerstin, percussion/tanbou bélé, congas, bongo, bells, shakers/composer; Anna Patton, clarinet; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn; Eugene Uman, piano; Wes Brown, bass; Ben James, drum; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jon Weeks, tenor saxophone; John Wheeler, trombone; Carl Clements, flute; Lissa Schneckenburger, violin; Keith Murphy, guitar; Matt “Max” Fass, accordion; Todd Roach, dohala (Iranian drum).

Julian Gerstin spent many years adding the color and rhythm to a multitude of projects including brass band music, modern jazz, afrobeat, salsa, funk, punk and even choral music. The whole time he was supporting other artists as a sideman, Gerstin was woodshedding as a songwriter and composer. He has written every song on this album, incorporating his knowledge of various cultures and the music they produce. “The Old City” album title references ancient cities across the globe. This production features the members of his current sextet and several musical guests who adequately interpret Gerstin’s compositions. This is world music that touches on Cuban Dance music, as well as Nigerian and Ghanaian music. One of his compositions is based on the Mazouk, a dance of Martinque, where he once lived. On “Pwan Lajan-lan” Eugene Uman’s piano solo puts the ‘J’ in jazz. Wes Brown shines on bass, playing with rhythm and strength. But it’s always the uproarious and jubilant percussive additions of Julian Gerstin that fires this music up.

On “Leander’s Waltz” Lissa Schneckenburger adds a violin component and Keith Murphy is featured prominently on guitar. Julian Gerstin has written a South American blues that manages to include a cumbia rhythm representing Columbia, titled, “Cumbia sin Cambio,” and another one called “Santa Barbara Blues” featuring a mellow afro-Cuban beat that closes the album out. Neither of these blues numbers are like any gritty blues I know. After all, blues grew up in America, blossoming out of Southern work songs and slave songs. But although African Americans created the blues, everybody feels them. These are compositions with blues influence as Julian Gerstin feels and expresses himself. His music is global, with heavy Latin flavor. The arrangements of the Julian Gerstin Sextet divvy world music intertwined with jazz,on a production that wraps around them sweetly and strongly,like sugarcane.
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Susan Kreb, vocals; Ken Wild, bass; Tom Rizzo, guitar.

This is a project unique in its arrangement, offering string instruments and voice. You will hear the whispery and emotional vocals of Susan Krebs, the precise guitar mastery of Tom Rizzo and the solid bass support of Ken Wild. Without drums or piano, the vocals dance brightly in the spotlight. The handpicked and recorded repertoire is plush with music we recognize and standard songs we love like “Don’t Go to Stranger,” “My Foolish Heart,” “My Ship,” and “How Insensitive.” Krebs has long been heralded as an actor and theatrical improviser, but has also pursued a singing career as part of her performance package. In this current endeavor, she is joined by one of the West Coast’s celebrated guitar players. Like Susan, Tom Rizzo has crossed musical genre’s on stage and in the recording studio. He was the guitarist playing in Doc Severinsen’s band on the Tonight Show for a decade. He’s also worked with Natalie Cole, Maynard Ferguson, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Brian Wilson, to name just a few. During his ‘down time’, when not in the studio or on the road, Tom Rizzo composed and played music for commercials, for radio, film and television. This included work on “In Living Color” and that’s when he and bassist, Ken Wild first worked together. Ken Wild is a founding member and was on the cutting edge of Smooth jazz with a band called, “Seawind.” Like Rizzo, he’s spent much of his career touring, working as a studio musician and working in television and film. He was part of the Clare Fischer Big Band and has worked with jazz vocalists Dianne Reeves and Tierney Sutton, with Harvey Mason, James Moody, Terence Blanchard and Herb Ellis. His credits are numerous and impressive.

Susan Krebs has recorded other albums with her Chamber Band, but this is a fresh endeavor. She explained this project saying:

“We three were instantly smitten at a serendipitous gig meet-up! So, we set forth on our musical adventure together. This recording marks our trio work so far. I’m grateful to Kenny and Tom for their stimulating, transformative collaboration.”

Ken Wild offered his opinion about the formation of this project. “The name of this group is a misnomer. This is in no way ‘work’. When the three of us sit down to conceive an arrangement, the ideas seem to just flow … This is a true trio in the best sense of the word.”

Together, this band of three creates a unique listening experience with creative arrangements, awesome musicianship and a vocalist who’s unafraid to jump off any musical precipice without a parachute.
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Darren Barrett, trumpet, EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument.)/vocals/keyboards; Takeru Saito, piano; Youngchae Jeong, bass; Daniel Moreno, drums; Santiago Bosch, keyboards; Judith Barrett, percussion; Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar; Wren, sound design.

A sweet guitar solo opens “Con Alma” in dedication to Dizzy Gillespie and features Barrett’s special guest, Kurt Rosenwinkel. It’s such a gorgeous tune and Rosenwinkel snatches my attention with his awesome guitar talents. Enter Darren Barrett on trumpet, tonally exhibiting a warm, round sound. This is a lovely album of beautiful love songs, amply interpreted on this, his premiere ballad project.

I enjoyed the tasty little nuggets of sounds and voices that add an emotional depth to these arrangements and they enhance the productions on songs like “Invitation”. There is a sound block of ethereal, spacey additions like echoed flutes on a synthesizer and with the piano creating tinkling sounds atop keyboard chords and string lines that cushion Darren Barrett’s gorgeous trumpet sounds. The production and Wren’s sound design have created an extraordinary musical ambience. “The Touch of Your Lips” is a Latin production, played at moderate tempo with Judith Barrett’s percussion work and Daniel Moreno’s drums propelling the tune at a lilting, moderate pace. Once again, the experimental background music (or sound design) builds the excitement in this Ray Noble composition. Darren Barrett’s use of soundscapes, samples, and synthesizers on eight classic ballads expands their beauty and draws the listener into the production with his whirlpool of synthesized sound. Barrett even sings on this tune, using an electric voice box, perhaps a vocoder, to alter his vocal tone. “But Beautiful” is one of my favorite standards. Takeru Saito takes a simple solo on piano, but it’s Barrett’s sweet trumpet excellence that stuffs the song with emotional power. “Everything Happens to me” has an exquisite lyric by Matt Dennis. I wish Barrett had sung the words, however his voice on trumpet is compelling and the splash of sound design in the background is interesting.
This GRAMMY award winning trumpeter, who also composes music and is a prominent bandleader, seems to be exploring new ways to forward-push jazz into a new generation; perhaps a new dimension. I applaud Barrett’s foresight and ingenuity. Every song on this album is spellbinding and fresh because of the exploratory usage of sound and sound design. Darren Barrett’s lush and satin-smooth control of his trumpet caresses each of these standards in a profoundly moving way. I also enjoyed his short moments of vocalizing, especially on “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” His ensemble technically supports this album exploration into new, musical dimensions. The result is a well-produced, well-played, stellar recording of eight standard ballads that we all love. You may love them even more after listening to this unusual production, using dubstep synthesis, remixes and sound effects before and during the transition to a traditional jazz ensemble presentation.
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Carol Liebowitz, piano/voice; Birgitta Flick, tenor saxophone.

If you are a lover of improvisational, modern jazz as an art form, this is your cup of tea. Both musicians are obviously competent and well trained in the classical realm and in music theory. However, as they state in the liner notes:

“…Whether it is a spontaneous free improvisation or a standard that dates back nearly a century, to us, it’s all one. We’re guided by the spirit and the intuition of the very moment the music comes into being. … each time anew.”

The two met in Berlin, Germany at a popular jazz club and ran into each other four years later in New York City. Once they began blending their talents in the realm of freedom of expression and spontaneity, they explored a duo of avant-garde, modern jazz concerts. This led to touring. All the music herein is original, or created on-the-spot, improvisationally, with the exception of two songs; “September in the Rain” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Liebowitz sings her own rendition of “September in the Rain” against a patter of piano in the background that sounds like raindrops on a windowpane. After a chorus, Flick joins in on alto saxophone and the arrangement is hauntingly lovely, in a strange kind of way. Vocally, they are less successful on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”

Flick’s sound is light and sensitive, sometimes almost flute-like in tone on the tenor saxophone. Other times rich and bluesy. Liebowitz goes from dark, serious chords to the tinkling of the piano’s upper register, sounding almost like a music box at times. Together, their duet of spontaneity is mostly soothing and relaxing. Forget about singing along or remembering a melody. Just pour a cup of hot tea, curl up in the moment and let your mind run free.
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MARK MASTERS ENSEMBLE – “Our Métier” Capri Records, Ltd

Mark Masters, composer/arranger; THE ENSEMBLE: Anno Mjöll, voice; Craig Fundygo, vibes; Ed Czach, piano; Kirsten Edkins, alto saxophone, Bob Carr, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Jerry Pinter, tenor & soprano sax; Dave Woodley, Ryan Dragon, & Les Benedict, trombones; Stephanie O’Keefe, French horn/contractor; Scott Englebright & Les Lovitt, trumpet. THE SEXTET: Andrew Cyrille, drums; Putter Smith, bass; Gary Foster & Oliver Lake, alto saxophone; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Time Hagans, trumpet.

A stack of compact discs sits on my desk. I listen to at least two to three a day and it seems I have not put a dent in the stack. The cover of this album I’ve picked up is a painting with smudged faces in what appears to be a man and two children. The colors melt into each other, soft, yet vibrant, like a Van Gogh painting. That made me want to listen to this recording next. Bravo! to Richard Garstl, 1908, oil on canvas of Famille Schoenberg.

The liner notes say, “Mark Masters paints compelling jazz landscapes for eight original works.” I agree. His arrangements leap from my CD player and light up the room with horns blaring and Tim Hagans’ trumpet solo is stunning, as is the music of Oliver Lake on alto saxophone. A coloring of vibraphone by Craig Fundygo adds a feeling of expectancy and mystery to the arrangement. This opening tune is titled, “Borne Towards the Stars” and according to Mark Masters, was inspired by the conclusion of a Malcolm Lowry’s novel, “Under the Volcano.” This is a package of modern jazz orchestration, using a sextet as the core of the project, and splashing colors of brightness and various hues by adding a twelve-piece ensemble. On the third track, “Lift,” vocalist Anno Mjoll makes a stunning appearance with her little-girl voice, scatting in a whispery way. She brings something lovely and unique to the arrangement. There is an innocence to her tone and stylized approach on this understated blues tune. Putter Smith walks his bass, cement solid beneath the exploratory alto saxophone solo of Oliver Lake. Then Smith steps out front and, with the sweet support of Fundygo on vibes, states his own case. After the Smith solo, Craig Fundygo presents his own improvisational opinion on the vibraphone.
This is a project mix of free bebop, modern jazz, the avant-garde with original compositions entirely written and arranged by Mark Masters. A Gary, Indiana native, he studied jazz at California State University in Los Angeles, experimenting with his first ensemble in 1982. In 1998 to present, he has spearheaded the American Jazz Institute (as president), a non-profit organization dedicated to jazz appreciation. Their “Find Your Own Voice” mentoring program takes professional musicians to public school campuses, offering clinics and master classes to student musicians. Mark Masters has been named a ‘Rising Star Arranger’ in Downbeat Magazine’s Annual Critics Poll multiple times.
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Randy Waldman, piano/arranger/producer; Carlitos Del Puerto, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Michael O’Neill, guitar; Rafael Padilla, percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: George Benson, Randy Brecker, Till Bronner, Chick Corea, Eddie Daniels, Steve Gadd, Joe Lovano, Wynton Marsalis, Bob McChesney, Chris Potter, Arturo Sandoval & Take 6. CAMEOS BY: James Brolin, Michael Bublé, Jeff Goldblum, Josh Groban, Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta.

Randy Waldman has been the pianist and musical director of choice for Barbara Streisand over thirty years. He takes a giant step outside those impressive realms to arrange and produce a work that features his own jazz sensibilities. This resulting production has been a labor of love for the past five years. It all began when an idea hit Waldman like a lightning bolt. One evening, after attending an event where he sat next to Adam West, the original TV Batman actor, their conversation about jazz inspired Randy Waldman. Consequently, he decided to make a CD with a superhero theme and with music played by some of his jazz superheroes. This, the final product, includes the talents of several guest artists including “Take 6,” George Benson, Randy Brecker, Chick Corea, Steve Gadd, Wynton Marsalis, Olivia Newton-John and a host of others. Opening with “The Adventures of Superman (TV Theme), Randy Brecker sings a mighty song on his trumpet and Eddie Daniels plays a mean tenor saxophone solo. The arrangement moves from the excitement of rich horn punches to a funk groove by drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, who smacks the beat in the listener’s face, while Randy Waldman chases the bass lines on his busy piano keys.

“Take 6”, the 8-time, Grammy award winning vocal group, spices up the third track, “the Spiderman Theme.” Their voices add an awesome sparkle to this arrangement, using their unique six-voice harmonics to enhance the piece. All of these well-crafted arrangements are the combined talents of Justin Wilson and/or Randy Waldman. Throughout, with all the wonderful, guest musicians and innovators, it’s always Randy Waldman’s piano expertise and talent that pushes this project forward and inspires his assembly of amazing musicians. You will enjoy George Benson’s spontaneous solo affirmation on his jazz guitar during the performance of “Superman Movie.” During the recording of “The Incredible Hulk” cut, Waldman invites one of his favorite pianists, Chick Corea, to join him with an outstanding synthesizer solo. Wynton Marsalis makes an unforgettable appearance on “Batman’s TV Theme.” This is fine jazz at its best, celebrating comic book super heroes, television show and motion picture super heroes, and under the direction of a super hero in his own right; jazz pianist Randy Waldman.
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Ken Wiley, French horn/piano/composer; Bernie Dresel, drums; Rene Camacho, acoustic & Elec. Bass; Dominick Genova, acoustic bass; Dave Loeb, piano; Mark Leggett, acoustic Guitar; Luis Conte & Kevin Ricard, percussion; Dan Higgins, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute/piccolo/clarinet; BOLERO HORNS: Gary Grant, Larry Hall, Steve Holtman & Dan Higgins.

I must admit I have no recollection of hearing a jazz CD that featured a French Horn as the main soloist and featured artist. My inquisitive interest was tickled. Ken Wiley has utilized a number of different, original compositions to feature his passion on French horn. Wiley is the composer of several tunes, with the exception of Carilo (one of my favorites on this production) and El Gorrion; both co-written with Mark Leggett. Another exception is Bolero, the opening tune, that was composed by Maurice Ravel. On Track six, the ensemble interprets McCoy Tyner’s composition “Samba Layuca,” giving Dave Loeb an opportunity to stretch out his piano chops on a long and impressive solo. All of these songs have a Latin feel, enhanced by Kevin Ricard on percussion and Bernie Dresel on drums. However, this is easy listening jazz, even on the McCoy Tyner tune. The talented musicians in his ensemble lay down a strong trampoline of rhythm and horn lines to help bounce the French horn solos to the forefront. The flute of Dan Higgins adds holiday sparkle to this production and is quite prominent on Cal Tjader’s composition, “Black Orchid.”

Produced by Ken Wiley and Dan Higgins, this is a production of exotic sounding songs that somehow conjure up a soundtrack to old, Western, cowboy movies when I listen to them.

Ken Wiley graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and remains one of the top studio musicians in the Los Angeles area. This unusual production, that showcases Wiley’s hypnotic talents on the French horn, bring an instrument to the forefront that usually is a blended part of the background orchestra. Comfortably mixed with his love of Afro-Cuban and South American rhythms, Wiley shows us how jazz can red-carpet a stage to spotlight the most unusual of instrumental gifts.
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Don Byron, clarinet/saxophone; Aruan Ortiz, piano.

This is an album of duets by two distinguished musicians. Don Byron is a Rome Prize recipient, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and a 2007 Guggenheim Fellow. He studied under the tutelage of jazz innovator, George Russell at the New England Conservatory. As an eclectic clarinetist and saxophone player, he made his mark playing Klezmer, a popular Jewish music. Later, his musical path led him to explore a conceptualism in modern jazz music and to compose for silent films, serve as the director of jazz for the Brooklyn Academy of Music and score for television programming. Aruán Ortiz is Cuban born and Brooklyn-based. The two are compatible both musically and creatively. Both are thinkers outside the box and adventurist explorers of music. Ortiz has made a name for himself with his daring piano originality, combining his Cuban roots with stunning progressive jazz concepts and Haitian rhythms. He has worked with a number of advanced thinkers in the range of modernistic and freedom musicality like, Wadada Leo Smith, Esperanza Spalding, Wallace Roney, and even paired with poets like DJ Logic, The Last Poets and countless other revolutionary, free-thinkers. That gives you an idea of how avant-garde and unpredictable this production of music is. Four years ago, Ortiz invited Byron to participate in his “Music & Architecture” concert series. Thus, began their unusual musical merger. Both are serious composers. Ortiz has composed music for jazz ensembles, orchestras, dance companies, chamber groups and feature films. While Byron’s early influence came from Duke Ellington, Ortiz admired Thelonious Monk and the late, great Geri Allen was also a great influence on his piano style and journey. Both Byron and Ortiz are steeped in classical study and embrace the standard jazz icons along with the more modern, youthful jazz musicians. Together, they bridge the generational gaps, painting their jazz landscapes with unusual and daring colors.

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An Evening with Carol Bach-Y-Rita

October 17, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

It was a windy October evening and I had just left the wedding and reception for my first-born grandson, Kendall McNeil. To top off an afternoon celebrating love, what better way than to go hear some jazz. There is a restaurant and club called VIVA! RANCHO CANTINA in Burbank, California, just fifteen minutes from Pasadena where the reception was held. Carol Bach-Y-Rita has been sending me press and information on her upcoming performance schedule for some time. This was my first opportunity to catch one of her shows. When I arrive, vocalist & host, Laura Pursell, is already on stage singing “There Will Never Be Another You.” I slid onto a barstool and looked around. The club is intimate with a tiny space at the front of a line of banquet-table-seating. Two couples are swing-dancing near the stage. There are a couple of tables with seating for four pressed against one wall. The cohesive band is a trio, featuring Dori Amarillo on guitar, John Leftwich on double bass and the legendary Frank Devito on drums. Ms. Purcell is petite with a big voice. Dressed in a skin-tight, black sheath, after her song she invited a gentleman named Patrick to the stage to join her. They did a duet, singing “Pennies From Heaven.” Patrick has a satin-smooth voice, reminiscent of Frank Sinatra. Afterwards, Laura Pursell left the stage, leaving her male counterpart in the spotlight. He sang “Witchcraft”, followed by the familiar standard, “More.” During this beautiful balled, John Leftwich bowed a lovely solo on his double bass.

Finally, Ms. Pursell introduced Carol Bach-Y-Rita. Carol told the attentive audience she was going to begin with a samba that told the story of dancing ducks. To my pleasure, Carol Bach-Y-Rita sings in various languages. I believe she was singing this song in Portuguese. Ms. Bach-Y-Rita’s voice is warm and sensuous. It dances atop Dori Amarillo’s superb guitar rhythms lightly and with great enthusiasm.

Next, she offered her captive audience a ‘swing’ arrangement of the popular standard, “That’s All.” Swing dancers took to the tiny dance floor and Carol Bach-Y-Rita swung hard with Frank Devito pumping out a solid, infectious rhythm on his drum set. For her third song, Bach-Y-Rita dismissed the drummer and guitarist, featuring only her mellifluous voice and the double bass. The song is “Traveling Light” and she made the challenging melody sound easy, entertaining us emotionally and holding down the melody in her own stylized way. She closes her set out with a Latin arrangement on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Carol scats a verse when she comes back in, after the band solos, and she and Frank Devito play tag on the end of the song, as she becomes very percussive with her voice against the strong backdrop of Devito’s drum chops. It was a short set, but packed with energy. Unfortunately for me, there was a very loud, drunk and obnoxious man sitting at the bar who was very inattentive to the music and extremely annoying. Other than that, it appeared that a fine time was had by all.
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October 7, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

October 7, 2018

You may be surprised and perhaps as excited as I was to discover that a new, never before released album by Dexter Gordon’s Quartet has been released. He also has a soon-to-be released biography by his widow and former manager, Maxine Gordon. It will be available right before Christmas, published by University of California Press. Ralph Peterson Jr., and Donald Harrison were once staunch pillars in the Art Blakey ensemble. Peterson has put together a stellar big band with mostly Berklee Music School students that features, special guest, Donald Harrison. It’s called the Ralph Peterson Gennext Big Band. Arturo O’Farrill, a composer, pianist and educator encourages a multi-cultural, musical extravaganza at the Mexican border to protest division between people. Phil Schurger strives to find the connection between the higher self and the lower self with his compositions. Sergio Pereira puts his passion and Brazilian memories into a premier album full of spiritual joy and international talent. The lovely composer, Connie Han, is a new pianist on the scene who is passionate and exceptionally gifted. Christian McBride’s new CD is cordless, with the exception of his bass, then adding drums, trumpet and reeds. Finally,Grammy nominated trombonist,John Fedchock successfully moves from big band arranging to an intimate quartet production.


Dexter Gordon, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Al Haig, piano; Pierre Michelot, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

1977 was a transitional year for Dexter Gordon. He was in the process of moving back to the United States from Europe, where he would settle in New York City. He hadn’t been in the Big Apple since the 1940s. He was experiencing a master year of his life at the ripe and creative age of fifty-five years young. It was September 25th and Gordon was joined by Bebop pianist, Al Haig (who had worked with both Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie), Don Byas and Milt Jackson, French bassist Pierre Michelot and dynamic drummer Kenny Clarke, to perform a Parisienne concert. Lucky for us, it was recorded. Elemental Music is the first to discover and release these never before heard recordings.

Opening with Gordon’s composition, “Sticky Wicket,” the party begins right away. It continues with “A La Modal, another Dexter Gordon composition. Al Haig has a light, but assertive touch on the grand piano. Kenny Clark is always prominent and pivotal on drums. Pierre Michelot, a famous French bassist who worked with Kenny Clarke back in 1949 when they were both in French recording sessions with Sidney Bechet, also played with Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims and James Moody. Michelot also worked with Miles Davis and Stan Getz. He was part of the Bud Powell trio that came to Paris in 1959, also with Kenny Clarke, and they worked together off and on until 1981. So, there is a cohesiveness to their playing that comes from bandstand familiarity. Dexter Gordon is stellar on soprano saxophone on this second cut. It’s the only tune where he plays soprano sax instead of his alto. I have always loved and admired Dexter Gordon and his unique style and sound. This entire production is such a rare and exciting find. It’s wonderful to enjoy the man and his horn once more. You’ll relish the quartet’s interpretation of the familiar standard, “Body and Soul,” and they race through the Sonny Rollins composition, “Oleo” at high speed. To close this album, they play “Round Midnight,” sans Gordon, and featuring only the trio.

His wife and former manager, Maxine Gordon, has just completed his official biography entitled, “Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon”. It will be released in November of this year, published by the University of California Press. I can just imagine myself curled up on the couch with his autobiography, putting on this magnificent, historic recording and listening to his unique and compelling tones while I read his life story.

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Ralph Peterson, drums/cornet/Conductor; Antoni Vaquer & Dabin Ryu, Piano; Youngchae Jeong, bass; Julian Pardo, Karol Zabka & Jas Kayser, drums; SAXOPHONES: Eric Nakanishi, lead alto; Devin Daniels,2nd alto; Tim Murphey, 1st tenor; Jake Hirsch, 2nd tenor; Gabe Nekrutman, baritone saxophone; Tomoki Sanders, tenor sax. TROMBONES: Elliot Alexander Brown, lead trombone; Brandon Lin, 2nd; Alan Hsiao, 3rd; Will Mallard, 4th. TRUMPETS: Jon Weidley, lead; Robert Vega Dowda, 2nd; Milena Casado Fauquet, 3rd; Will Mallard, 4th. Ryan Easter, rapper.

An exciting drum solo opens this CD featuring the talents of Ralph Peterson Jr. The tune is called “Uranus” and it’s a spirited number showcasing the dynamic Donald Harrison on saxophone as a special guest. Peterson is employing Art Blakey’s concept with the usage of a two-drummer format to propel his Gennext Big Band. As you may know, Donald Harrison is from the alumni of Art Blakey, as is conductor/ drummer, Ralph Peterson Jr. It was in 1983 that Peterson joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger group as a second drummer. They worked together for several years. Now, like Blakey did, Ralph Peterson Jr., continues a jazz legacy of inspiring and mentoring youthful musicians. This ‘Gennext’ Big Band is made up of mostly Berklee College of Music musicians. They are some of the brightest and best examples of the next generation of jazz talent.

“Uranus” whirls and twirls around, like the planet itself, with arrangements that are on fire! It’s a great way to open this exquisitely well produced album of music. Donald Harrison brings not only straight-ahead saxophone bliss, but also his “Nouveau Jazz” style to this recording. His Nouveau jazz is described as embracing genres like Hip Hop, smooth jazz and R&B. That has got to inspire and encourage the younger generation of musicians who enjoy such a variety of styles and relish mixing the music up. On the sixth cut, “Egyptian Dune Dance” a rapper Ryan Easter is added, and the horn lines bounce around in a repeatable dance throughout. However, for the most part, this music is big band, straight-ahead jazz with a heavy swing groove. Youngchae Jeong is featured during a memorable bass solo on the “Little Man” tune. His tone and timing are first-rate. The tune, “For Paul,” proffers a stellar arrangement that supports an amazing execution by both Donald Harrison and Tomoki Sanders on saxophones. I also enjoyed Elliot Alexander Brown on lead trombone featured on “Ms. BC” playing at a maddening pace. From the spontaneous applause, the ‘live’ audience was thrilled by their performance as well.

The Wayne Shorter composition, “Free for All,” is also played at a sparkling speed that demands the listener’s attention, moving bright as a shooting star. The horn lines fly like startled birds, harmoniously punching the melody and laying the foundation for Donald Harrison’s alto saxophone solo. Jon Weidley on lead trumpet also establishes his formidable style. There is a stellar drum solo for the drummers to dynamically dance in the spotlight. Three drummers are listed on the CD jacket, along with conductor Peterson, of course. They are: Julian Pardo, Karol Zabka and Jas Kayser. Nothing was listed on the CD jacket, so I’m not sure which ones were featured on this tune, but whoever played was absolutely awesome! I was exhausted from just listening to this composition. The energy was contagious.

Ralph Peterson has composed one tune on this production and it is the title tune, “I Remember Bu.” This song is a lovely ballad, but for the most part you will be swinging to energetic big band recordings that celebrate the excitement only an orchestra can muster. This entire project is illuminating and entertaining. The diversity of song choices and the beautiful arrangements that these talented young people interpret make for a listening feast of delicious sounds. Donald Harrison is the hot sauce, but the meat of the matter and the center piece of this musical meal are the extraordinary talents of conductor/drummer, Ralph Peterson Jr. and the way he serves it up.
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Phil Schurger, guitar; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Jeff Greene, bass; Clif Wallace, drums.

According to the liner notes, this CD’s title, “The Water’s Above” references a connection between the higher self and the lower self. This is one of the goals of the meditation process. The titles of the original compositions herein seem to explain the artist, Phil Schurger’s basic concept for this album.

“Scorpio” opens the CD. It is an astrological sign, the eighth of twelve zodiac references. Its element is water and it’s ruled by the mysterious planet Pluto. Scorpio signifies secrecy and loyalty. Those born under the sign of Scorpio can also be very controlling and charismatic. Phil Schurger’s composition spins around melodically, like a planet twisting in space. Greg Ward interprets the melody on his alto saxophone, while the composer strums his guitar in the background. The second tune, “Anikulapo” is taken from the Yorubic religion and means ‘one who carries death in his pouch.’ It generally refers to a man. This title resonated with Schurger because of his experience with death early in his life. He also is a fan of Nigerian artist, multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of the popular Afrobeat music, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who died Aug 2, 1997. Kuti is legendary in Africa and worldwide as a superstar musician with great charisma.

“I had several brushes with death …As a result of this, I began to look at the concept of death as a driving force for living life with focus and intention, recognizing that time is our only currency in this physical world. These experiences defined my pursuit of both music and meditation. Music is an offering for the betterment of our collective community through an ongoing dialogue amongst generations of musicians and meditation is quite the same,” said Phil Schurger in his liner notes.

Schurger’s band is Chicago-based. They have a tight, cohesive sound, as though they have been working together for many seasons. All the compositions they interpret are composed by the artist. The Yorubic influence returns on the tune, “Yoruba” and is written by Schurger as a nod to some African-American music mentors like Milton Cardona, who introduced him to Cuban Santero music and how rhythms become a ritual language. It’s a nod to Michael Patterson, a person who studied Qabalah and West-African religions, along with a Panamanian Rabbi and that type of cultural music. Together, with Jeff Greene on bass and Clif Wallace on drums, Phil Schurger lays down a tight rhythm section that explores his concepts and compositions in a very modern jazz way. You will find this “Yoruba” composition showcasing freedom and exploration of Schurger’s chordal changes by his individual players. Greg Ward is molten on saxophone. Jeff Greene grandly walks his bass, while Clif Wallace takes a thunderous drum solo. Finally, Phil Schurger steps out front like a sunbeam, hot and determined. From that point forward, the music is avant-garde and modernistic. He closes this album with a tune called, “Nogah” that translates in Hebrew to ‘brightness’. It was also the name of a son of King David in the Old Testament. Schurger offers us a musical journey full of mystery, double entendre and world music improvisation.
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Sergio Pereira, acoustic guitar/electric guitar/vocals/percussion; Ales Cesarini, acoustic bass/vocals; Mauricio Zottarelli, drums/vocals; Baptiste Bailly, piano/vocals; Alexey Leon, soprano saxophone; Devin Malloy, rapper; Patricia Garcia, violin/viola; Sandra Villora Arenas, cello; Paula Santoro & Sergio Santos, vocals; David Gadea, percussion; Oriente Lopez, flutes; Viktorija Pilatovic, lead vocals; Voro Garcia, trumpet/flugelhorn/string arrangements; Marcus Teixeira, elec. Guitar; Ariel Ramirez, elec. Bass; Gabriel Grossi, harmonica; Helio Alves, piano; Perico Sambeat, alto saxophone.

Brazilian music is infectious and full of spirit, even when it’s slow or moderate tempo’d. Sergio Pereira, a guitarist and composer, has recorded ten original compositions that echo the music of his youth.

“I learned by growing up listening to samba rhythms and playing Brazilian percussion at a local school of samba,” shares the Rio de Janiero native, currently residing in New York City. “Since I was a kid, I have been always playing samba rhythm, making that ‘batucada’ rhythm with my hands and fingers at school, until my teachers would tell me to stop making that noise. I still do it all the time. It’s addictive.”

His musical ensemble is world-class featuring Cuban-born saxophonist, Alexey Leon; Spain’s alto sax great, Perico Sambeat; Cuban flautist and longtime New York resident, Oriente Lopez and Valencia, Spain-based trumpeter and arranger, Voro Garcia. Also, on board is Sao Paulo-based electric guitarist, Marcus Teixeira and French pianist, Baptiste Bailly. Ales Cesarini is from Valencia, Spain and plays bass. Ariel Ramierez is from Cuba and also adds his bass talents. Gabriel Grossi brings his Brazilian harmonica talents to the studio, along with Brazilian-born pianist, Helio Alves and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. Vocalists Paula Santoro, Sergio Santos and Viktorija Pilatovic add vocals. Paula Santoro’s lead vocal sounds beautiful on “Arpoador,” a lilting Brazilian ballad. This composition was inspired by a beach of that name on the South side of Rio. Pereira recalls spending a lot of his teenaged years at that beach. This song summarizes memories of young love, teen friends and broken hearts. It was a time right before he moved to New York and the United States. Sergio Pereira has even added a ‘rapper’ on the opening tune by the name of Devin Malloy.

“I started work on this song last summer while vacationing down in the south of Puglia, Italy. Changing environment and location often provides me with great vibes for inspiration. It’s a happy samba groove with a magical soprano sax solo from Alexey Leon. Devin’s rap (on “Down South”) is basically describing the experience of failure in pursuit of your dreams and talks about how life will continue to evolve and will pick you back up after you’ve fallen.”

For sure, Sergio Pereira’s music will pick you up. It will invigorate you, or soothe you; make you want to dance or lay back peacefully and stare at the ocean waves or perhaps at the East River. Pereira has written a song inspired by his view from his Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan.

“I frequently jog on the East Side by the East River and many times, after the jog, I just sit on a bench next to the 59th St. Bridge over-looking Roosevelt Island and Long Island City,” he explains about his composition titled, “East River.”

The title tune, “Nu Brasil” showcases Lithuanian-born singer, Pilatovic. It’s a happy, up-tempo number that showcases Sergio Pereira’s guitar talents in support of the vocalist during this spirited samba. Pianist, Baptiste Bailly, offers a joyful solo and trumpeter, Voro Garcia swings the samba into a jazzy Latin combination, then challenges the vocalist as he exchanges scats with Viktorija Pilatovic at the song’s faded ending. Every composition on this recording is impressive and beautifully written. The music is full of Pereira’s life-journey and the eighteen musicians who join him do justice to his arrangements and creative compositions. As his premier recording for the Zoho label, this production is fueled by passion and sure to please.
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CONNIE HAN – “CRIME ZONE” Mack Ave Records

Connie Han, piano/Fender Rhodes; Edwin Livingston, bass; Bill Wysaske, drums; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Brian Swartz, trumpet.

On the first tune, Brian Swartz takes the lead on trumpet. He plays his instrument with strength and impetus. This ensemble of five comes out swinging hard. The challenge here is discovering the main artist, whose name is plastered on the CD cover. Who is Connie Han? The horns are so forceful, at first, I thought she must be a horn player. Then I heard the electric pianist enter the scene, the curtains parted and I knew she was centered in the spotlight. That’s when I picked up the CD jacket and read the credits. I learned that Han has composition skills, obvious on the first tune titled, “Another Kind of Night,” a song she co-wrote with drummer, Bill Wysaske. They have collaborated on every original composition. “Crime Zone” is the second cut on this album and the title tune. Once again, their arrangement features strong horn lines that establish the melody and punch harmonic lines that are spirited and spew the room with energy. Walter Smith III steps out of the horn lines to offer a memorable solo on Tenor Saxophone. We hear Han lead the rhythm section with lush chords on grand piano in support of Smith’s solo. Then it’s her turn to step out and she does so, moving from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes, creating a different musical climate. You may recognize traces of the Freddie Hubbard tune, “One of Another Kind,“ at the top of this tune and used as a sort of theme throughout.

Han’s music has a post-bebop feel to it with sudden breaks and bars of silence that shatter the continuity for seconds, before her band pops back in and continues to drive hard. Her influences include Kenny Kirkland and McCoy Tyner; Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. At the age of twenty-two, Connie Han brings something fresh for her peers to pay attention to, with one-foot quicksand-deep in jazz history and another high-heeled boot stepping swiftly into the future. On “Southern Rebellion,” another original by Han & Wysaske, you hear more of Connie Han’s style and attack on her instrument. This song flies at an incredible pace and she finally leads the band with stellar tenacity and unbridled power that I didn’t hear in the other songs. I am spellbound by her speed and agility on the 88-keys. Bill Wysaske takes a drum solo and then the tempo changes, like Hawaiian weather, where it sun shines on one side of the street and rains on the other. Han plays a rubato piano piece that’s beautiful and startling all at the same time. Then, before you can blink, the tempo is racing again and she and Wysaske’s drums make a formidable jazz duo. “Gruvy” (another original) also showcases the trio only, no horns. Edwin Livingston, on bass, takes an opportunity to show off his solid mastery of the double bass instrument. I’ve worked with Edwin in the past and he has always been one of my favorite bassists because of his creativity and inspired playing on both electric and acoustic bass. The tune, “Gruvy” has a repeatable melody that has you humming along before you know it. Jon Henderson’s tune, “A Shade of Jade” cements the realization that Connie Han is an exceptional pianist with a style and a presentation all her own. Her left hand slaps the chords, keeping the time and never wavering, while her right-hand solos like a restless river, flowing over the treble register as fluid as water. This is a solo piano presentation that shatters any preconceived ideas about her ability on her instrument. Connie Han’s youthful talent is a serious force on both piano and electric keyboards. She explained her creative ideas on this solo piano arrangement:

“The concept for the entire arrangement, which was recorded on his ‘Mode for Joe’ album, is actually based on just four bars of Joe Chambers’ polyrhythmic comping on the head of the original recording.”

And polyrhythmic she is! This is one of those recordings that just seems to get better and better as it progresses. Here is a young, blossoming pianist who doesn’t just play expertly, but she has a passion brightly burning in her presentations. As she flowers, her obvious talent is glowing successfully, like a sunrise peeking through a cloudy morning.
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Christian McBride, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Josh Evans, trumpet.

A cartoon characterization on the cover of this new production by Christian McBride draws you in like a comic book. While listening, you realize, this is no joke; no laughing matter. This is a serious! McBride’s exploratory production is presenting us with a rhythm section of bass and drums, topped with the improvisational punch of trumpet, saxophone and bass clarinet. This is a new horizon for McBride and he uses this platform to explore the outer-limits of his D’Addario bass and his unique creativity. On the drummer-penned number titled, “Ke-Kelli Sketch” McBride and Waits, on drums, solo and explore textures, time and melodies to open the composition before the trumpet and reedman join them. The music is captivating and full of spirit.

McBride explains: “I was looking for a new challenge. I don’t get the chance too often to play in a cordless group. Every major group I’ve been a part of for the last ten years, whether it’s been with Pat Metheny or Chick Corea or my own projects, there’s been nothing but chords. So, I wanted to see what happens if I just pull the chords out altogether.”

This project spans styles like blues, swing, abstract modern jazz and Avant-garde with a number of original compositions that sometimes tickle memories of the iconic Charles Mingus, like “Ke-Kelli Sketch.”. At other times, McBride conjures up memories of the steady, solid bass of Ray Brown. McBride and trumpeter, Josh Evans, draw me into “Ballad of Ernie Washington,” a beautiful, bluesy ballad, written by trumpeter Josh Evans in tribute to Thelonious Monk. Monk used this name as a pseudonym on his cabaret card in order to work when his card was revoked. The tone of Evan’s trumpet is silky and beautiful.

The title of this compact disc, “New Jawn” is based on a depiction of a slang used mostly in Philadelphia, PA. Jawn is described as an object, place or thing; sometimes referring to a woman or girl. This work is definitely a new thing for Christian McBride.

As one of America’s virtuoso bassists and arrangers, Christian McBride has become one of the most recorded bass players of his generation, appearing on more than 300 recordings and is proudly, a six-time Grammy award winner. He continues to nest and encourage fledgling, young talented musicians, the same way that Betty Carter or Miles Davis or Art Blakey did. The ultimate goal is to not only give platform to these young voices of jazz, but to strengthen them and encourage their development. Sometimes, those very musicians grow to a point where they leave the nest and fly off on their own. Examples of this are Christian McBride’s former trio with Christian Sands, a gifted pianist who I just reviewed. McBride had a trio featuring Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Both have gone on to explore their own dreams and formed their own groups. Trumpeter, composer, Josh Evans is a force to watch, as is the extremely talented, Marcus Strickland. Nasheet Waits is certainly the Velcro that attaches securely to Christian McBride’s amazing bass playing. They hold this project in perfect place. No need for piano, guitar, organ or any other strings in the rhythm section. McBride and Waits are enough.

With this recording, each of these musical participants are composers and lend their compositions and talents to making this a rich and celebratory trip to support the concept of “New Jawn”. McBride’s music is fresh, the arrangements are novel and innovative, the production is surprisingly different, but wonderfully creative and pleasant to the ear. Here is a contemporary approach to jazz that is open, like space and heaven itself, and glistening with stars.
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Resilience Music Alliance

Here is a double CD rich with culture and inspired by Arturo O’Farrill, a pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator, as well as a respected musical activist. With all the social media and newscasters blasting the public with stories about Trumps threatened wall between our country and Mexico, he was sadly reminded of the things, both solid and ethereal, that divide humanity. The idea that a difference of color, people or cultures could be used as a political weapon is an atrocious reality. O’Farrill wanted to be a voice speaking against unwanted and unnecessary borders and lines of division. Thus, was born this ambitious work that showcases a plethora of talent and cultures coming together in perfect harmony to create a beautiful and loving project. As the brainchild of Arturo O’Farrill and his producer, Kabir Sehgal, their concept is to tear down the walls that separate us, using music as a bulldozer.

Jorge Francisco Castillo, who is a retired librarian, has been organizing the Fandango Fronterizo Festival for a decade. This event is annual and features son jarocho music, performed by musicians on both sides of the border wall between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California. Over the years, it’s been a sort of celebratory jam session. Once O’Farrill read about this in the New York Times, he decided he wanted to participate.

“I … spoke to everyone I could about my hope to join the Fandango Fronterizo and record at the border, bringing special guests and making it a true collaboration,” Arturo O’Farrill explains.

Consequently, this project brings together a beautiful bunch of sixty musicians and voices, gathered like colorful flowers, to create a sweet bouquet of cultural traditions that disintegrate walls of division. You will hear Latin flavors throughout that merge with jazz icons like violinist, Regina Carter, cellist, Akua Dixon, and rapper/singer, Ana Tijoux, who is outstanding on her composition, “Somos Sur.” She raps in Spanish and you can feel the urgency and excitement in her message, even though I could not understand her Spanish words. You will listen to son jarocho greats like Patricio Hidalgo, Ramon Gutierrez Hernandez and TachoUtréra. Ramon Gutierrez Hernandez is featured on “Cupido,” one of many Public Domain songs included in this production. Also featured is Iraqi-American oud master Rahim AlHaj and his trio, and Iranian sitar virtuoso, Sahba Motallebi, adds a striking solo on “Tabla Rasa”, a composition by Arturo O’Farrill. Mandy Gonzalez’s gorgeous vocals on “Amor Sin Fronteras” are enhanced by the strikingly lovely violin strains of Regina Carter. O’Farrill has graciously shared his stage and recording platform with a multitude of talent. So many I cannot mention them all. This is an extravagant musical collage, both entertaining and historic. If you love the Mexican heritage and the influence their music has had on America and the world of jazz, you will find this recording truly rewarding.
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John Fedchock, trombone; John Toomey, piano; Jimmy Masters, bass; Dave Ratajczak & Billy Williams, drums.

The trombone is said to be the closest instrumental emulation of the voice. I am always intrigued by the smooth, round sound of the trombone. John Fedchock brings the beauty of this instrument and the sincerity of his emotional connection onto his recording entitled, “Reminiscence”. The spattering of applause after his gusty and satin, smooth fluidity on trombone reinforces that this project was recorded ‘live’. There are no studio fixes here. It is all excellence and improvisational opportunity.

Fedchock opens with his original composition, “The Third Degree” and John Toomey, on piano, plays a swinging solo before passing the baton back to Fedchock. The leader is off and running, making an up-tempo beeline for the goal post. Four minutes in, they trade fours with the drummer, Dave Ratajczak, who spontaneously soaks up the spotlight. Throughout, I find the melody of this first tune sings in your head like a jazz standard. It’s a very catchy melody that pleasantly hums along, as does the next composition by Fedchock, “Loose Change.” Obviously, he’s a fine composer. This tune is a moderate-tempo, bluesy affair. Bassist, Jimmy Masters takes an opportunity to introduce his thick, melodic bass sound to the audience and he also pumps the rhythm up throughout this production.

“What better place to try an untested song but on a live recording,” Fedchock shared about the tune “Loose Change”.

“As it turned out, our first reading of the tune is what appears on this CD. This was the perfect time to debut the piece.”

This recording is a comfortable mix of jazz standards and Fedchock original compositions. The up-tempo swing approach on “The End of a Love Affair,” eloquently showcases Fedchock’s royal chops on his trombone.

Here is a CD pleasant to listen to from beginning to end. Although John Fedchock is known more prominently for his big band sound and has released five recordings of his New York Big Band and received two GRAMMY nominations for “Best Instrumental Arranging,” this diversion to a smaller, more intimate jazz sound is lovely. It allows the listener to hear more of Fedchock in an intimate and comfortable way. You may want to pour a glass of some favorite libation, settle back and enjoy these stellar musicians. This album of music is a throwback tribute to small jazz clubs and the magic that great artists make before a small but packed audience, where we can watch and hear every nuance of jazz in the most friendly and informal of settings. Prop yourself up in your favorite easy chair and enjoy!
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