MUSIC THAT BRINGS THE NEW YEAR IN WITH A JAZZY BANG!

MUSIC THAT BRINGS THE NEW YEAR IN WITH A JAZZY BANG!
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

December 30, 2018

Let me start by wishing each and every one of you reading this column a very happy New Year. I thank you for your support of ‘Live” jazz and jazz recordings and pray that 2019 will bring us more great music and unity on earth. I know that music heals and inspires us. It’s a universal language that brings people together. So, keep listening, keep creating, continue playing and singing, recording, reading and enjoying jazz music and the incredible people who perpetuate it. Share the love!

BETTY BRYANT – “PROJECT 88” Bry-Mar Music

Betty Bryant,piano/vocals/composer/arranger;Tony Guerrero,trumpet/arranger;Tomas Gargano,Hussain Jiffry & Richard Simon,bass;James Gadson,Kenny Elliott & Quentin Dennard Sr.,drums;Robert Kyle,tenor saxophone/producer/arranger;Jeff Driskill,alto saxophone;Jay Mason,baritone saxophone;Ryan Dragon,trombone;Cassio Duarte, percussion;Kleber Jorge,guitar/vocal.

In celebration of her 88th birthday last year, Betty Bryant planned her ninth studio release. She calls it “Project 88”. Her music, like the lady herself, is timeless. Ms. Bryant’s piano playing and composer skills are solid as freshly poured cement. She’s lyrical and, while performing, she always reflects her complete involvement and obvious love that’s wrapped in the music she shares with us. We are swept up in her honest delivery. Betty Bryant has a lovely personality and a smooth, polished look. Born and bred in one of the jazz capitals of the world, (Kansas City, Missouri) she’s a student of the great Jay McShann, who took her under his wing when she was a fledgling performer. Her original compositions are lyrically honest, sometimes humorous and always melodically memorable. Additionally, she often presents a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that her adoring fans love.

Take her bluesy rendition of “Catfish Man”, where she quips:

“Catfish man, catch me if you can. Your lying ways just got to stop. You looked so fine, when I saw you on-line. Then I found out it was just photo shopped.”

“Catfish Man” is a raunchy, Kansas City blues. Robert Kyle’s tenor saxophone puts the “B” in the blues and Tomas Gargano (who flew in from New York City to record with his dear friend) holds the trio tightly rooted on acoustic bass, along with the iconic drummer, James Gadson. Betty Bryant’s opening tune is also an original composition titled, “Love Came and Went.” It swings hard. The jazz standard, “Lady Be Good” is performed as an instrumental and Ms. Bryant’s superb talents on piano shine in the spotlight. Her ballads are plush with emotion. On “But Beautiful”, you feel her sincerity, the way Billie Holiday made us feel with every lyric she sang. Speaking of Billie Holiday, Tony Guerrero makes his muted trumpet a shiny star on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” Betty Bryant’s “Cho Cho” composition transports us to Brazil with Robert Kyle’s flute dancing brightly to the catchy melody. Kleber Jorge makes an appealing statement on guitar and his voice sings along with the melody and makes me want to sing along too. The creative arrangement by Betty Bryant on “They Say It’s Wonderful,” gives the musicians a moderate tempo swing to dig their teeth into. Kenny Elliott takes a short, but swinging, drum solo on this number. Producer, Robert Kyle and Bryant switched the rhythm sections around to create a variety of sounds and grooves for this project. You will hear various bass players and drummers, all first-call Los Angeles musicians, including Richard Simon and Hussain Jiffry who adds his electric bass magic to the mix. The final two songs are both Ms. Bryant’s original compositions. “My Beloved” is a slow rhumba, letting Cassio Duarte’s colorful percussive brilliance propel the tune, along with Quentin Dennard Sr. on drums. It’s an instrumental that becomes the perfect backdrop for Robert Kyle’s provocative flute playing. Betty Bryant’s final song is titled, “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye” and has a great horn arrangement by Tony Guerrero. Guerrero, Robert Kyle, Ryan Dragon on trombone, Jeff Driskill on alto saxophone and Jay mason on baritone sax make a small ensemble sound like a big band arrangement.

There’s something for everyone on this album including outstanding musicianship, memorable melodies and smart lyrics that are fresh and fun. For example, Ms. Bryant sings:

“You’re the most, just cinnamon toast, and it’s hard to say goodbye. You’re oow – you’re ahhh, you’re Baklava, and it’s hard to say goodbye. You’re so ice cream at midnight. I like your style. You’re truffles and pheasants and oh, it’s so pleasant to bask in the warmth of your style.”

That’s how I felt about Betty Bryant when this album ends. She’s sweet as Baklava or cinnamon toast and just as addictive. I played it again!

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RALPH PETERSON’S AGGREGATE PRIME – “INWARD VENTURE ALIVE VOL. 5 AT THE SIDE DOOR”
Onyx Productions

Ralph Peterson,drums; Gary Thomas,tenor sax/flute; Mark Whitfield,guitar; Davis Whitfield,piano;Curtis Lundy,bass.

The interesting thing about drummer,Ralph Peterson,is that his recordings are as diversified and inspirational as his ability to play and record various styles of music.

The first track, “Gazelloni” is an excursion into the deep waters of Avant-garde jazz. Davis Whitfield explores all the 88-keys on his piano, with Curtis Lundy walking briskly alongside of him on acoustic bass. Peterson is the jet fuel that mans this rocket-ship as it takes off into unknown territories. The ensemble offers us an Eric Dolphy composition and the musicians well represent this legendary reed man’s composition. Gary Thomas and Mark Whitfield play tag with each other. Thomas flutters on flute and Whitfield chases him on guitar. I am immediately intrigued and engaged. Since this is a ‘live’ recording, the audience appreciation is heard loud and long. The second cut, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” calms the mood with familiarity. It’s played sweetly by Thomas, this time he’s featured on tenor saxophone, atop a moderate tempo swing arrangement. I enjoy Whitfield’s guitar solo. He’s innovative and creatively improvisational. Peterson always shares his stage platform with excellent musicians. They each handle the spotlight with technical agility, professional talent and confidence. However, Peterson’s percussive drive is always dominant to be the available catalyst that infuses each solo. Ralph Peterson shows his composer skills on “Soweto 6”, an eight-minute long presentation that is never boring and always features kinetic energy. This is an album of modern jazz, high energy and musician excellence.

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JOHN RAYMOND – “REAL FEELS LIVE VOL. 2” Sunnyside Records

John Raymond, flugelhorn/composer;Gilad Hekselman,guitar;Colin Stranahan,drums.

John Raymond waltzes into my room on his flugelhorn. The first track of his CD splashes across space pleasantly, like calm winter waves on a lakeshore. It’s titled “Follower” and receives generous applause from his live audience at its conclusion. Raymond has composed three of the six songs on this recording and he presents them with Gilad Hekselman on guitar and Colin Stranahan on drums. The trio is a unified ensemble and they sound as if they’ve been playing together for a while. However, I don’t like the mix. I had to keep turning the volume up and down and I found that annoying. Cut #2 has a New Age arrangement with a lot of echo on the horn and the guitar. Drummer Stranahan is dependable and exploratory throughout, holding the beat strongly in place and always creative, coloring the music brightly. On this track titled, “Minnesota, WI,” I’m confused. There is clearly a bass player holding the funk in place. Did guitarist Gilad Hekselman overdub on electric bass guitar? This song is ten minutes long and after a while, it becomes a wee bit repetitious, in spite of Hekselman’s dynamic solo and all the looping and Raymond’s electronic pedaling.

This is experimental jazz, developed by a group that spends much time on the road touring. Instead of typical improvisational jazz solos, they have developed a style of loops and grooves, that was perhaps developed while the band was on tour and inspired by their ‘live’ audience responses. They close this album with Bob Dylan’s iconic song, The Times They Are a Changin’ played at a slow ballad pace. This is more New Age and less jazz. All in all, this is an easy-listening experience, where Raymond’s smooth sound on trumpet is pivotal.

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THE EBONY HILLBILLIES –“5 MILES FROM TOWN” Independent Label

Henrique Prince, violin/vocals;Norris Washington Bennett,banjo/mountain dulcimer/guitar/vocals;Gloria Thomas Gassaway,bones/percussion/vocals; William (Salty Bill) Salter, acoustic bass; Allanah Salter,shaker/percussion/vocals; Newman Taylor Baker,washboard percussion; A.R. (Ali Rahman or Cowboy),percussion.

Violinist, Regina Carter first introduced me to roots of African-American Hillbilly music. As soon as the first track peeled off this CD, I was familiar with the genre. This first track is titled “Hog Eyed Man” and it’s a happy, celebratory composition. Willie Dixon is one of my favorite blues composers and blues artists. He wrote the next song this ensemble performs titled, “Wang Dang Doodle”. The Ebony Hillbillies make me feel comfortable and happy, like I’m at a family gathering. The string-work of this unique group revives a musical history from the past. They sound ‘country’ and Appalachian, but are actually from New York. This recording was made in Jamaica, Queens. The Ebony Hillbillies include some modern music, like Bonnie Raitt’s hit record, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. But their arrangement is tinged with the American legacy string-band sound. This ensemble also dips into a political bag, taking up community issues with their music and documenting them in song. For example, the ongoing problem that is prevalent between policemen across America and people of color is addressed on “Another Man Done Gone/Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”

For the most part, their outlandishly joyful music and honest interpretations of an art form rarely heard is infectious. Heralded as the premier African-American string band in America, this unique ensemble has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and made various TV appearances including on the BBC and ABC’s “Good Morning America. Led by violinists Henrique Prince, they blend bluegrass, folk songs, jazz, country blues and pop, giving each tune their own unique stamp of approval. Everything they sing is infused with African-American gospel church roots and the historic work songs of slave farmers. Their style and reflective presenta- tion are endearing and they offer listeners a freshness and honesty poured into their music that is addictive. This is their fifth group release. Others available on CD are: Sabrina’s Holiday, I Thought You Knew, Barefoot and Flying, and finally their 2015 release titled, Slappin’ A Rabbit – Live!
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BOB DOROUGH TRIO – “BUT FOR NOW” featuring MICHAEL HORNSTEIN Enja Records

Bob Dorough, piano/vocals; Michael Hornstein, alto saxophone; Tony Marino, bass.

In the fall of 2014,a young at heart Bob Dorough turned the ripe age of ninety-one and was in the studio recording his final album. This is the last chapter in a life well-lived. Dorough left this earthly place in April of 2018, but his musical life was a non-stop whirlwind of accomplishments. Born in Arkansas, his career began as the pianist for legendary singing-boxer,Sugar Ray Robinson.

However, this led to much bigger fish to fry. Soon he was playing with Charlie Parker, he recorded two songs with Miles Davis, and his recordings on various labels are numerous. One of his big accomplishments was becoming musical director of the hit, children’s TV show called, “Schoolhouse Rock.”

During his current musical journey, Bob Dorough dials the years back, opening with Hoagy Charmichael’s famed “Baltimore Oriole” tune. His piano-style brings back a time gone bye and his voice isn’t what it used to be, but he can still sell the song. He draws you into the lyric with his passion for performing and he convinces you that he means every word. Sometimes he breaks into an off-handed scat during his songs, reminding me of Louis Armstrong’s style of singing. His scatting doesn’t seem to be planned, but just jazzy; something spontaneous that he felt in the moment.

Dorough and saxophonist Michael Hornstein are old friends. Hornstein’s godmother was the half-sister of Dorough’s wife, so they were more like family than friends. You can feel their closeness in every song. When Hornstein was only nineteen, Bob Dorough took him to a neighbor’s house, who just happened to be Phil Woods. That’s when Hornstein was just discovering jazz and was a fledgling saxophone player. It’s possible this meeting with the historic Phil Woods greatly influenced Hornstein’s playing. For several years Dorough and Hornstein lost touch, but now they are reunited. It’s obvious that Bob Dorough is quite comfortable and persuasive in this trio setting, even though their reunion has been a long time coming. Bassist Tony Marino is solid and steady, holding the time tightly together by locking in with Dorough’s fluid piano playing along with Hornstein’s melodic improvisations and interpretations.

The title tune is an original composition that Dorough wrote for his beloved wife, Corine. It’s the title tune and he sings it with much emotion. All the other songs are ones you recognize immediately, like “Take Five” or “Body and Soul”; “Georgia on my mind” and “Prelude to a Kiss”. He talked about the addition of one popular standard song and the memories it tickled.

“We were in a house in the Big Sur. Johnny Mandel was visiting the set where “The Sandpiper” was being filmed nearby. He came up to see me and Al Schackman, my guitarist at the time. As I remember, he wanted to show us a theme he’d just composed for the film. It was on a little page of paper and it was “the Shadow of Your Smile” in 3/4 time, without words. The three of us hummed it and kicked it around and might even have said it could be done in swing time too.”

This is surely a piece of music history. Sometimes less is just enough. Bob Dorough needs no orchestra or big band to support his piano talents. You can tell he’s perfectly comfortable singing and playing piano, letting his bassist and sax man dance along beside him. The joy he shares, while making music, is palpable. Grab a handful for yourself.

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KELLY GREEN TRIO – “VOLUME ONE” Independent Label

Kelly Green, piano/vocals; Alex Tremblay, bass; Evan Hyde, drums.

Kelly Green is a pianist and vocalist with a pleasant, second-soprano voice and an astute command of the piano. She is amply supported by Alex Tremblay on bass and Evan Hyde on drums. The trio offers eight familiar jazz songs starting with “I’m Old Fashioned” where Green’s colorful interpretation of the lovely lyrics is accompanied by her piano dexterity, tinkling the upper register notes to mimic rain on the windowpane and adding big crescendos of strength and passion on her instrument. Her arrangements are very modern. “I Wish I knew” is a song I always enjoyed hearing Little Jimmy Scott interpret. This was the first time I heard the intro-verse. It was a nice touch for Green to include the composer’s rarely recorded introduction. Kelly Green doesn’t lay down the melody slowly and behind the beat like Scott did. Instead, she plays with the melodic lines like a true jazz musician, changing the notes within the chord structure just enough to make the arrangement uniquely her own and using the full range of her vocal gift like a horn player. She sometimes successfully scats with words. Kelly Green is a formidable talent. On this recording, she includes compositions by Charlie Parker and Fats Waller, wrapping them in a creative medley. Green challenges herself to sing and play the work of Charles Mingus’ with lyrics by Joni Mitchell. These are stimulating arrangements, but Green is up for the task. Sometimes, she reminds me of Betty Carter; not in tone, but in phrasing, always singing like a horn. This is particularly noticeable on the ballad, “I Understand.” The contrary motion of her piano grooves and her vocalizations is a feat to be appreciated and showcases Kelly Green’s musicality. This album was recorded ‘live’ in the studio, (the old-school way of recording) without overdubs and studio tricks. They recorded it after a month-long tour when the trio was tightly immersed in the spirit and camaraderie of playing music together.

“Musicians and non-musicians alike get excited and emotional in our performances as they watch our stories unfold. We strive to bring audiences to a place outside of themselves and take them on a journey through each song,” Ms. Green expressed in the liner notes.

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THE GIL EVANS ORCHESTRA –“HIDDEN TREASURES MONDAY NIGHTS, VOL.ONE”
Bopper Spock Suns Music Geo

Miles Evans, trumpet/producer/arranger; Noah Evans, producer; Kenwood Dennard, drums; Mino Cinelu, percussion; Mark Egan, bass; Pete Levin, keyboards; Shunzo Ohno, trumpet; David Taylor, bass trombone; John Clark, French horn; Chris Hunter, alto saxophone/flute; Alex Foster, tenor & soprano saxophone; Darryl Jones, bass; Matthew Garrison, bass & bass solo; Vernon Reid, guitar; Paul Shaffer, Fender Rhodes; David Mann, alto saxophone; Gil Goldstein, piano; Delmar Brown & Charles Blenziz, synthesizer; Gabby Abularach, guitars; Jon Faddis, trumpet; Dave Bargeron, trombone; Gary Smulyan, baritone saxophone; Birch Johnson, trompone; Alex Spiagin, trumpet; Alden Banta, Baritone saxophone.

The music and arrangements of Gil Evans have become an international treasure to jazz. Evans is not an American conductor and arranger, but rather a Canadian-born jazz pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader. In the jazz world, I was endeared to Evans when I heard the “Miles Ahead” album and the Miles Davis masterpiece, “Sketches in Spain.” But Gil Evans had been involved with many other jazz artists, including Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Cleveland, Kenny Burrell and many, many more.

Born in Toronto, (May 13, 1912) his family came to the United States when he was a youngster. They settled in Stockton, California. His mom had remarried, consequently that changed the family’s last name from Green to Evans. In 1946, young Gil Evans moved to New York City and lived in an Artists Community called Westbeth. Between 1941 and 1948, Evans worked with Claude Thornhill’s orchestra. Even though he was a fledgling arranger, he was quickly respected by the band members, who often complained about the intricacies and challenge of his arrangements. Thornhill immediately recognized the amazing talent and potential that Gil Evans exhibited. He scooped him up. Gil Evans left this Earth in 1988, but his music lives on.

This album is the first studio recording in tribute to Gil Evans’ music in forty-plus years. Evans is celebrated for setting the gold standard in modern jazz recordings with arrangements that cross genres. In the 1970’s, The Gil Evans Orchestra made appearances at the famed Greenwich Village club every Monday night for many years. Most of the first-call jazz musicians in New York appeared in his orchestra or visited that very room to hear the Evans band. This album is a tribute to those hot, orchestrated Mondays. It also tributes the arranger’s ability to straddle jazz styles,and interject funk and fusion into his cool jazz ensemble. The concept here is to play songs the orchestra used to play in the 1970s and 80s and is spearheaded by his two sons, Miles and Noah.

The first cut is bluesy and beautiful, featuring stunning solos by trombonist, Dave Bergman, trumpeter Miles Evans and tenor saxophonist, Alex Foster. The tune is called “Subway” and the arrangement mimics the speeding underground transportation accurately with many twists and turns. As usual, the tight horn harmonics build and ebb in interesting crescendos. The second track features electric bass player Darryl Jones and Matthew Garrison’s bass solo pushes the big band towards a funk agenda and a fusion sound. The 4th track, peels back the fluid orchestration and shines the spotlight on percussionist,Kenwood Dennard. He’s both stimulating and colorful throughout this recording.

This is a delightful celebration of the Gil Evans legacy and his unforgettable orchestration by a band of extraordinary musicians.

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TED PILTZECKER – BRINDICA Zoho Records

Ted Piltzecker, vibraphone, marimba, talking drum, bell,keyboard,clapping,vocal percussion; Fenando Martinez,drums; Mauricio Dawid,acoustic bass; Miguel Marengo, piano; Carlos Michelini,alto saxophone; Jon Faddis,trumpet; Ralph Latama,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Matt Mall, trombone; Gary Smulyan,baritone saxophone; John Wooton,steel pan/drums; Tara Halen O’Conner,flute/alto flute; Ayako Oshima, clarinet; Taylor Burgess,voice; Jansel Torres,bata/ congas/bongos/bell/clapping; Dave Lewitt,percussion/djembe bell; Angel Lau,conga/bell.

All the compositions on this project are by the artist,Ted Piltzecker. The first track is “Great Idea! Who Pays?” It’s a happy tune featuring a moderate, Afro-Cuban tempo with the steel Pan played by John Wooton. This arrangement, including this unique instrument, brings back warm memories of my time spent in Indonesia. Ted Piltzecker is a multi-talented vibraphonist who also plays marimba, several percussion instruments and piano. His compositions are quite melodic, featuring repetitive lines, that often encourage this listener to hum along.

“Brindica” is his fifth album as a leader. In it, he explores world music influences combining with jazz and embraces cultural and traditional music from Brazil, Africa, India, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Bali and Argentina. He blends these into New Orleans jazz styles with East Coast energy to celebrate jazz’s African-American roots. On track 8, “What Happened to a Dream Deferred?” He tributes the poetry of historic poet, Langston Hughes, utilizing the vocals of Taylor Burgess, who sings the entire poem in a tribute to this magnificent poet and his enduring message. Miguel Marengo’s haunting piano accompaniment creates a mood for Taylors pretty alto/second soprano voice to caress the lyrics. This song reminds us of the African-American struggle in America and everyone’s universal struggle to keep their dreams alive in spite of obstacles and hardship. I wonder if Mr. Piltzecker realizes that this song has already been put to music in the past?

Piltzecker’s vibraphone solo continues the journey down a beautiful, ballad-path, with Taylor scatting atop it like a lonely dove and then singing, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore and then run? …”

This entire album is beautifully produced and recorded by a host of outstanding musicians who represent the best of their cultures and their instruments. There is a wide variety of music proffered by Piltzecker’s well-written compositions. He explained his intention this way:

“I still love bop and bluegrass, Indian and Brazilian music, Argentinian tangos, music from Africa and Brahms. All these influences have entered my thinking and collectively have become a point of view. It’s a great joy to be able to share this music and I’m grateful to the extraordinary musicians on board. … I go to Argentina frequently to play the International Festival of Percussion in Patagonia, and that’s where I met Fernando Martinez.”

Piltzecker is referencing his pianist of choice on this project, Fernando Martinez. He’s surrounded by a number of international music icons on this recording. At one point, he adds Xhosa click singing to the mix. I remember first hearing this style of singing on Harry Belafonte records that featured Miriam Makeba. You will also enjoy rich Latin American percussive-driven songs like “Feliz Paseo” and the funk fused, “Uncle Peck”.

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