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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