Archive for January, 2019


January 15, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

January 15, 2019

As the New Year begins, a cluster of newly released compact discs invite me to listen. Here are some of the best and newest sounds you’ve never heard, spinning into the universe. Check out these various artists and the creative gifts they offer us.


Alfredo Rodriquez, piano/Rhodes/keyboards/vocals/composer; Pedrito Martinez, all percussion, vocals/composer.

It’s hard to believe that just two men could make all this rich and encompassing music. From the very first cut, I am struck by the fullness of their sound. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez syphon the best out of the musical universe. Both musicians sing, as well as play instruments. Their “Africa” chant celebrates the title of this opening original tune; a song that encompasses their Cuban heritage and points back to their African influences. The two men grew up in Havana, Cuba, but would not meet until years later. They separately established musical careers in Cuba, then packed up their creativity and eventually, both headed to the United States. Rodriguez comes from a musical family. His dad was a popular Cuban singer and TV host. Alfredo Rodriguez was dubbed a prodigy early in life and studied classical piano at the Conservatorio Amadeo Roidan and Instituto Superior de Arte. At night, he played popular music in his father’s orchestra. One exceptional evening, while performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006, he was noticed by his future mentor and producer, Quincy Jones. That changed everything!

Pedrito Martinez was a street musician in Havana, expressing himself through vocals and his deeply- rooted Afro-Cuban percussion styles. He also mastered Cuba’s hypnotic rhythms extracted from their religious music. This percussionist is nearly ten years older than Rodriquez and he arrived in the United States in 1998. Martinez was also chasing musical dreams. Soon after arriving, he was awarded first place at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Afro-Latin Hand Drum Competition. Next, he co-founded a Latin fusion group called Yerba Buena. His group toured extensively and recorded. As Pedrito Martinez’s fame grew, he performed and/or recorded with folks like Wynton Marsalis, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Angelique Kidjo, Chucho Valdez and pop star James Taylor. His diversified mastery of percussion was in demand. One day, Alfredo Rodriguez caught a performance by Pedrito Martinez. The extraordinary pianist, composer knew immediately he wanted to work with this awesome percussionist. Consequently, on Rodriguez’s second recording “The Invasion Parade,” he invited Martinez to participate. Quincy Jones was producing it.

“Every artist on the planet would be lucky to work with Quincy. just having his name on any record is like a trampoline. You don’t go step by step, but you automatically jump five steps up,”Pedrito Martinez gushed in the liner notes.

Pianist, Alfredo Rodriguez, admits that he always wanted to be a drummer himself and has great admiration for those who have mastered the drums.

“I love playing with great percussionists and Pedrito is the best example when it comes to Cuban percussion. He really touches my heart,”Alfredo complimented his musical partner.

Together they have arranged and composed eight of the eleven songs on their premiere CD. They cover Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” hit, written by Rod Temperton, and it’s freshly painted with bright Latin colors. But it is their original music that I find most intriguing and compelling. Their venture into a smooth jazz groove with track #7, “Flor,” is beautiful and melodically enticing. It’s enriched with Rodriguez’s keyboard work and the two men incorporate chants that resonate and hypnotize. Cut #8, “Jardin Sonador” is another favorite, with haunting vocals and featuring the exotic piano and percussion duo at their best. “Mariposa” spotlights the classical roots of Alfredo Rodriquez and is a beautiful ballad. It has a music box quality that introduces those haunting vocal chants that these two so dramatically produce. The final tune, “Yo Volveré” incorporates those exciting, Martinez, Afro-Cuban rhythms, stunning vocals, a taste of Reggae, and the always surprising piano and keyboard mastery of Rodriguez. Their composition skills mesmerize. Here is a shiny and fresh-faced musical production that excites the spirit.

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Jeanne Lee, vocals; Ran Blake, piano.

Adventurous. Unique. Improvisational. Shrouded in technique, theory and expressionism. These are adjectives that come to mind when I listen to Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake. Here are two individuals who steep themselves in rare and contemporary performances. Jeanne Lee opens the CD, telling us “she is the rose,” and acts as an improvisational introduction to Ran Blake’s impressionistic approach of the Fats Waller composition, “Honeysuckle Rose.” Blake performs as a solo pianist, but not for long. Jeanne Lee joins Blake like a bird in flight; a pitch-perfect vocal master; an unafraid improviser. I haven’t heard many recorded vocalists who move me the way Jeanne Lee does. Every jazz vocalist should listen to this unrivaled duo project. This project is fresh, interesting, creative and the epitome of what real jazz and freedom sounds like.

“Green Dolphin Street” never sounded so good. Starting slowly, it’s performed in Jeanne Lee’s rich alto tone. Her voice captures my attention immediately. Ran Blake accompanies her, with an air of freedom that embraces Fats Waller and Keith Jarrett at the same time. Blake is a master of his instrument and challenges any vocalist to keep up with his experimental chords and rhythms. But clearly, Jeanne Lee is no push-over on the bandstand. She holds her own, with a voice as solid and dependable as titanium. Never mind time changes and key changes. Her voice soars from alto to soprano effortlessly. “Hard Days Night” is another challenging arrangement by Blake and Lee. Jeanne Lee shows any ‘want-to-be jazz vocalist’ the importance of knowing your melody, in spite of what happens in the background. Ms. Lee feels totally comfortable, painting each song with a fresh face, but nailing the melody like a concert poster stapled to a wooden lamp post.

It was 1961when these two musicians (who originally met at Bard College) went into the studio and emerged with this project titled, “The Newest Sound You Never Heard.” The awesome merging of Ran Blake, a gifted pianist, with Jeanne Lee’s perfectly balanced and pleasing vocals is as adventurous as the 1960s themselves. Nearly six decades ago, there was a Hippie Movement in the United States and a pressure to explore and color outside the lines. That’s the best way to describe this project. They are definitely coloring outside the lines, with vividly bright paint and splashes of sparkling silver and gold. This duo is unparalleled; not like anything I’ve ever heard before or since. The late Belgian composer, producer and Jazz Middelheim festival founder, Elias Gistelinck, took the pair to a Belgian radio and television station to record them. He added a live performance the duo recorded in Brussels. The tapes remained in the VRT archives for almost forty-years. Now they have been rediscovered to inspire and entertain us. Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee remind us of what magic two extraordinary musicians can create. They perform it all; Pop, Folk music, Ellington classics and Charlie Parker standards. They do it their way. Be it one of Ornette Coleman’s mystical compositions or an Abbey Lincoln song; a rendition of the Beatles or an old, familiar standard. They do each song in such a fresh and unapologetic way that you are caught up in the comfortable cage of their creativity. They are poetry in song. Her lyrics are vividly projected and enunciated. His grand piano is grandly played, as only a master could do. In a career that spanned nearly six decades, pianist Ran Blake is an improvisational master, an artist for sure, and an educator. He spent fifty-years teaching at Boston’s New England Conservatory.

He and Jeanne Lee met and musically merged in 1956. They were freshmen at Bard University when they found common ground in their experimental approach to jazz. They were propelled by their mutual love of Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk. Speaking of Monk, Jeanne Lee grew up in the Bronx and lived next door to Monk’s sister-in-law named Skippy. The duo toured the world, burning up stages with their fiery approach, mesmerizing audiences with their musical storytelling and unexpected arrangements that both stunned and captivated. Before her departure from this Earth, Jeanne Lee left a fearless legacy, collaborating with innovative jazz icons like Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Mal Waldron, Marion Brown, John Cage and Gunter Hampel. She also contributed to Carla Bley’s masterpiece, “Elevator Over the Hill.”

“There is no one like Jeanne Lee in the world,”declared Blake in the liner notes. “She was the most incredible human being. Her sage wisdom, her charm, her wittiness, her humor, her feelings for humanity and her kindness to everybody in the world. She was such a vibrant personality and of course, what a voice!”

This album will be available January 25th of this year 2019. Had Jeanne Lee lived, she would be turning 80-years-old just a few days after its release. As a double-set recording, you get a double dose of this duo’s very best. It is everything any jazz musician strives to be and any jazz aficionado loves to hear; freedom, musical proficiency and otherworldly.
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Carla Campopiano,flute/arranger;Angel Colacilli,guitar/bass/arranger; Gustavo Cortinas,drums/percussion/arranger; Julian “el Piljo” Lopez,guitar on track #5.

Argentina-born Carla Campopiano is a mainstay in Tango music, currently based in Chicago, Illinois. She is a proficient flautist, who soaked herself in the melodies and rhythms of candombe, chacarera, milonga and tango, popular in her native culture. Before coming to America, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from Empa Escuela De Musica Popular de Avellaneda in Argentina. Once she arrived in Chi-town, Carla Campopiano formed a Tango ensemble and began to acclimate to her new surroundings. Drawn to American jazz and blues, Carla soon found herself incorporating these musical styles into her Tango productions. The result is this album. Campopiano’s bandmates include Mexican guitarist Angel Collacilli, who is supportive and rhythmic throughout. When Julian “el Piojo” Lopez plays guitar on the tune, “Zita,” Colacilli takes to the bass. On the whole, this is a low energy production that showcases Carla Campopiano’s love of Tango music and her excellent talents on the flute. I miss hearing the solid bass perpetuation of dance music and the arrangements never moved to an uptempo, but stayed in a somewhat melancholy, mid-tempo range throughout. The composition, “Sacachispas” opens this six -song album with strong Tango rhythms and Campopiano’s flute brightly floats atop. I wish Gustavo Corinas’ drums and percussion had been mixed more to the forefront. I think that would have helped propel this project to a higher energy level, had the ‘mix and mastery’ been better. That being said, Carla Campopiano’s flute is fluid and dances birdlike along with Colacilli’s always-present guitar. The second song, “Melancolico” showcases Campopiano’s fine talents on her instrument. If Campopiano’s goal is to combine her native Buenos Aires, Argentina cultural music with the infectious blues and jazz she discovered in Chicago, I believe she has succeeded.

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Dan Bonsanti, producer/arranger/director; Matt Bonelli & Tim Smith, elec. Bass; Richard Bravo, percussion; Jack Ciano, Lee Levin, Marco Masrcinko & Danny Gottlieb, drums; Mark Egan, fretless bass; Jim Gasior, piano/keyboard; TRUMPETS: Jack Wengrosky,Steve Reid,Cisco Dimas,Ray Chicalo, Randy Brecker. TROMBONES: Dante Luciani, Major Bailey.REEDS:Ed Maina,alto saxophone/flute/piccolo; Ed Calle, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Neal Bonsanti, tenor saxophone/English horn/flute/ clarinet; Peter Brewer, baritone sax/bass clarinet/flute; Mark Colby & Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone.

The infectious rhumba that rolls off my CD player excites my dance spirit. The horns bounce and Ed Calle, on soprano saxophone,takes a vigorous and playful solo. “Armando’s Rhumba” (a Chick Corea tune) sounds like a party. Cut #2, “Firewater,” cools the mood with an orchestrated strut, a walking bass and punchy horn lines. Mark Colby’s sexy tenor saxophone steps up to the microphone and tells his story, along with a sweet, driving solo by trumpeter, Cisco Dimas. Here is a tightly knit orchestra playing the arrangements of Dan Bonsanti, who is a fixture in the jazz community of South Miami. Bonsanti is a talented arranger and orchestra leader who celebrates the compositions of some familiar jazz icons on this project. His mixture of blues, straight-ahead and funk on the Chick Corea tune titled, “Blue Miles” is pure pleasure to my ears. This tune features a strong and emotional piano solo by Jim Gasior. Jim puts the “B” in blues.

You will also hear Jobim’s “Triste” and Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous”, the pop tune “16 Tons (Give or Take)” and the classic standard, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Bonsanti makes the best of every professional player on his bandstand, many who are college music professors and all who are masters of their instruments. Dan Bonsanti has performed as a saxophonist with the Jaco Pastorius Word of Mouth Orchestra, with Doc Severinsen’s band and also with the historic Stan Kenton. As a composer/arranger, Bonsanti leant his skills to the Jaco Pastorius Big Band before finally taking the leap to establish his own ensemble, “The 14 Jazz Orchestra.” This organization features four reeds, three trumpets, two trombones and a 4-piece rhythm section. Ed Calle is featured throughout on tenor and soprano saxophones. To his credit, Calle is a mutli-talented musician, who also excels on flute, clarinet, EWI, keyboards and he’s a competent engineer who occasionally sings, composes and arranges music himself. He was nominated three times for a Latin Grammy Award and is tenured as full professor of Music Business and Production at Miami Dade College. Also featured on this recording is the talented artist and trumpeter, Randy Brecker, who makes a guest appearance on three tracks. As you will hear, Dan Bonsanti surrounds himself with excellent musicians and excels on arranging and producing music you will recognize and enjoy. However, I couldn’t figure out the title of this recording. There is no composition that matches the title and since we only are aware of the present and the past, (unless we have a crystal ball), “The Future Ain’t What it Used To Be” is a puzzling CD title.

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JAKE LECKIE – “THE ABODE” Outside In Music

Jake Leckie,bass/composer; Sebastien Ammann,piano; Nathan Ellman Bell,drums; Kenny Warren,trumpet/flugelhorn; Caroline Davis,saxophone; Alexis Morrast,vocals; Daniel Prim,Percussion; Andrei Matorin & Tomoko Omura,violins; Agustin Uriburu, cello; Ivey Paige,organ; Brenda Trotter-Workman,tambourine.

If you love straight-ahead jazz and funk, you will immediate enjoy track one of Jake Leckie’s debut release. This bassist has composed all the songs and enlisted a group of stellar musicians to interpret his work. Composition-one is the title tune, “The Abode,” and it swings hard, giving the talented Kenny Warren an opportunity to shine on an uproarious trumpet solo. Jake Leckie opens the second cut with his bass profundities. He set’s the mood and groove with his upright instrument always dominant, Leckie plainly anchors his group. This composition, “Metis” is bluesy, folksy and Sebastien Ammann takes time at the piano to explore the melody and lock in with the rhythm section. Leckie’s compositions always seem to have some gospel influence blended into his jazzy arrangements. At the end of this song, Nathan Ellman Bell is featured on a long and interesting drum solo.

Jake Leckie endeavors to create music that not only elevates but engages his musicians and his listening audience with both acoustic and organic substance. With his composition, “After the Flood,” he sympathizes with the people of Houston, Texas and Puerto Rico after they suffered their great loss due to Mother Nature’s rampage. Alexis Morrast competently sings lyrics penned by Leckie’s wife, Becca Leckie. The lyrics have a double-entendre meaning and I found them very well-written. This could be a love song or a song of explanation regarding the flooding and devastation. Morrast has an engaging voice and vocal style. I would enjoy hearing more of this vocalist. Leckie takes a brief, but powerful solo on bass ,reaffirming the lovely melody of his composition.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Leckie studied with john Lockwood and Michael Formanek. His passion for composition has led to several of his songs being placed in films and his compositions were featured in the Baltimore Museum of Art, the documentary “Off in the Far Away Somewhere” and the absurdist dance comedy film, “Snow Bing Bongs,” to list just a few. Currently, Jake Leckie lives in Southern California and he moonlights as an audio-engineer. His composition “Negev” is one of my favorites. In the liner notes, we’re told it is inspired by Abraham’s journey through the Negev desert after he was banished from Egypt. This tune moves at a straight-ahead, up-tempo pace with Leckie pumping his bass like a heartbeat. This album is due for release on January 25, 2019. Keep an ear out.

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Brad Whiteley, piano/composer; Matt Pavolka, bass; Kenneth Salters, drums; Tom Guarna, guitar; Michael Eaton, saxophone.

The introduction to the first song on Brad Whiteley’s CD project is long and repetitious. It becomes a theme and pulsates through his composition, driving the arrangement like racing, wild horses. This song is titled, “Dusk” and it’s one of eleven original compositions on Whiteley’s project. This arrangement inspired nervousness rather than a peaceful dusk at sunset. The 2nd track, “Sunset Park” is buttered in blues and more towards my taste. I let a sigh of relief escape. The tempo constantly changes during this tune, but the theme is catchy. Whiteley settles down to express himself on grand piano in a very distinct way. Matt Pavolka walks his bass briskly beside the pianist/composer. Guarna, on guitar, takes an opportunity to make himself known by presenting a stellar solo. Moment to moment, between tempo changes and grooves, this ensemble interprets Whiteley’s songs with technical precision. Michael Eaton is formidable on saxophone. Track three, “The Unwinding,” begins as a pensive ballad, but quickly develops into an energetic piece, propelled by drummer, Kenneth Salters and Guarna’s rhythm guitar. Whiteley has a way of settling into a theme and developing it provocatively. As the piece grows, so does the energy. Whiteley’s piano solo unfolds delicately at first, but soon stretches out to build a crescendo of sound. His compositions create a trampoline for the other soloists to bounce upon, showcasing their musical calisthenics. Perhaps Whiteley describes his composer-skills the best when he said:

“ …it’s all about the song, heightened by the performance. With “Presence,” I strived for the tunes to be as strong as possible, with the composed material on equal footing with the improvised parts. And I always play to the core of a song when improvising, thinking melodically and structurally. L I also learned lessons about the power of song in my gig with the church in the Bronx. Each number you play is an attempt to move people, spiritually and emotionally. That’s something I keep with me in whatever music I play.”

This artist has been influenced by the likes of Duke Ellington and McCoy Tyner, although I find his compositions to be less melodic and not as memorable as compositions like Satin Doll, Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me, or A-Train remain. Still, he is developing his own style and finding his own, unique voice in jazz. That is to be respected. His ensemble is tight and supportive, giving their all to his textured arrangements, but too often mired in repetitious innuendos. For the most part, they slide into his compositions comfortably, like custom-made suits. They wear the music, adapting to Whiteley’s various styles and performing accordingly.

The title of this album, “Presence,” celebrates Brad Whiteley’s recent celebration of parenthood and being present in the moment when his little daughter was born; being present and genuine while composing, performing and collaborating with his ensemble members and finally, “Presence” tributes being present in the moment of awareness shared by their audiences during their listening period.

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Café Pacific Records

Beverley Church Hogan,vocals; John Proulx, iano/producer; Ron Stout, trumpet/ flugelhorn; Graham Dechter,guitar; Doug Webb,flute/tenor saxophone; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Clayton Cameron,drums; Kevin Winard,percussion. Barbara Brighton,vocal producer.

Her repertoire is a perfectly picked group of songs with rich lyrics and lovely melodies. Beverley Church Hogan handles this fresh bouquet of music and words with tenderness and emotion. The first song, a composition by jazz singer, Rene Marie, is titled, “Take My Breath Away.” This vocalist draws me in like quick sand, pulling my attention gently away from everything except her vocals and the stories she tells. I can tell she is a seasoned veteran of selling songs and living life. I can hear it in her delivery. I can feel it in her sincerity. Not to mention, her back-up band is compiled of first-call musicians who are each exceptional in their own right. John Proulx on piano is himself a recording artist, Grammy winning composer and vocalist. Ron Stout is a trumpet and flugelhorn expert. Graham Dechter, a guitar specialist, opens “You’re Looking at Me” by playing “Midnight Sun” that fits smoothly into this Bobby Troup composition. It’s a nice arrangement. Clayton Cameron, on drums, brings his wonderful percussive specialties to the party after spending years as Sammy Davis Jr’s drummer of choice and later touring several years with the iconic Mr. Tony Bennett. Doug Webb is always dynamic when he puts his flute or his tenor saxophone to expressive lips. Kevin Winard makes a percussive performance on the opening tune and Lyman Medeiros is the solid acoustic bass player throughout. The title tune, “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” features a short but beautiful solo by Stout. All in all, this is a well-produced album that gathers a handful of Southern California’s top musicians to support Beverley Church Hogan’s celebration of the American songbook. You’ll hear her interpret familiar pieces like “Speak Low,” “I’m Through with Love,” and “Time After Time.” You’ll also enjoy some not so familiar songs.

Years ago,Capitol Records offered her a recording contract with a fifty-eight week tour attached. She was twenty-one, newly married and raising a one-year-old child. Like many women in the music industry, she had to choose between family and career. Hogan chose her family. Decades passed. Then, in 2002, she was invited to sing at the famous Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. That successful concert propelled her back into the spotlight, singing the music she loves. A dozen years later, she entered the studio. With the guidance of producer, pianist and arranger, John Proulx and producer, vocal coach, Barbara Brighton, the result is Hogan’s premier album. Never mind that Beverley Church Hogan recently turned 84-years-young. The wisdom that accompanies a life well-lived is notable throughout this musical accomplishment. Judge for yourself.

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Justin Morell, composer/arranger; Adam Rogers, solo featured guitarist; John Daversa, director/conductor; RHYTHM:Jake Shapiro, piano; Josh Bermudez, guitar’ Mackenzie Karbon, vibraphone/glockenspiel; Lowell Ringel, bass; Garrett Fracol, drums.TROMBONES:Derek Pyle (lead); Will Wulfeck, Eli Feingold, Wesley Thompson, bass trombone. TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Russell Macklem,(split lead); Michael Dudley,(split lead); Aaron Mutchler, Greg Chaimson. WOODWINDS: Tom Kelley,alto/soprano saxophones; Brian Bibb, alto saxophone/flute; Chris Thompson-Taylor,tenor saxophone/clarinet;Seth Crail,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Clint Bleil,baritone saxophone/bass clarinet.

A striking CD cover catches my eye, with its circular orange ball sprouting legs and the scribbled outline of a conductor or perhaps a musician connected with wiggly strings to instruments that float across the vanilla cover in childlike cartoon sketches. It invites me to listen to this project. Kudos to Mackenzie Karbon who designed this album art and took the photographs. Album covers do matter!

Here is an arranged concert for guitar and jazz orchestra directed by the talented John Daversa and featuring Adam Rogers as the solo guitarist. His talent is evident on the orchestrated track one of this thirty-eight- minute recorded concert. This production features three movements; I. Lost, Found and Lost, 2. Life and Times and 3. Terraforming. One of the unique features of this recording is Justin Morell’s incorporation of classical music by Mozart, Hayden and Beethoven into his compositions, with the guitar being free to create a jazzy musical language atop the concerto-style tracks. Guitarist Rogers is improvising freely and smoothly in the mix of classical composers, with Morell’s creativity and America’s original classical music merging beautifully. This project is the conception of guitarist, composer, arranger, Justin Morell, who secured his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in both composition and jazz performance. He currently acts as Assistant Professor of Music in Composition and Theory at Pennsylvania ‘s Lebanon Valley College. Morell has composed many concert-works and has released six jazz CDs as a leader. This seems to be a recorded experiment dear to his heart and is the first production that utilizes guitar as the consistent lead instrument featured with an orchestra.

John Daversa is a Grammy-nominated trumpeter and EVI player, a composer, arranger, producer and in this case, has taken the baton to direct this accomplished orchestra. As Chair of Studio Music and Jazz at the Frost School of Music in Miami, he and Morell go way back. They’ve known each other for decades. Both of their fathers were musicians and friends on the Los Angeles studio scene, so they met as young people. Morell and Daversa grew up enjoying and eventually playing music together. Both men decided to bring a virtuoso guitarist to this project. One who was proficient in both jazz and classical guitar. Their choice became Adam Rogers, an amazing addition to this creative work, dazzling us with his guitar mastery and musical fluidity. As the featured guitarist on this production, he brings life and energy to very difficult and intricate written passages. To his credit, he has performed with a number of familiar jazz names like Michael Brecker, vocalists, Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones, Marcus Miller, Terence Blanchard, John Pattitucci and even the great Bill Evans. As a plus, Adam Rogers is completely comfortable reading music, improvising and playing classical guitar. He’s perfect for this project.

With these three formidable musicians at the forefront, The Frost Concert Jazz Band supplies the tightly prepared musical stage. They are a part of the University of Miami’s School of Music and, under the direction of John Daversa, these fledgling musicians do a highly professional and admirable job of interpreting the compositions of Justin Morell and buoying the talents of Adam Rogers.

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January 10, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 10, 2019

KENNY WERNER – “THE SPACE” Pirquet Records

Kenny Werner, piano.

Master musician, Kenny Werner, makes us feel as though we are sitting in the front room of our own home, at the foot of a master. Here is a listening experience that is vividly simplistic, yet deeply creative and provocative. Simplistic only because no other instruments are involved. This is a dynamic grand piano concert Opening with “The Space,” Werner’s own original composition and title tune. He plays with our attention and pulls us into his music with palpable fingers. His talent hypnotizes our senses. His nimble and profound hands both staccato and arpeggio the keys. To our delight, he intrigues us. Kenny Werner not only interprets his own compositions, he also includes the work of Keith Jarrett, Michel Legrand, Jason Seizer , Ralph Ranger and Leo Robin. Here are eight songs, interpreted on eight-eight keys by a confident and creative solo musician. Although the title tune is over fifteen minutes of a very classical sounding concert, it is never boring!

Kenny Werner is technically astute and well-rooted in the jazz community. He has worked with the legendary Toots Thielemans and sax man, Joe Lovano, the iconic Charles Mingus, as well as the Mel Lewis Big Band. Quincy Jones has called him, “…360 degrees of soul and science in one human being.” Reviewer, Nate Chinen of the New York Times described him as “… a pianist who tempers fearsome technique with a questing spiritualism.” But it is the words of Werner himself that self-describe this new work, calling his album, The Space.

“It’s the most important title I’ve ever had for my music. It’s about being in the moment, content with what is,” Warner explained.

Also a journalist, Werner wrote a landmark book back in 1996 titled, “Effortless Mastery, Liberating the Master Musician Within.” As an educator, he has lectured worldwide, written articles on how musicians, artists or even business people can allow their master creator within to lift their performances to a higher level. He is currently the artistic director of The Effortless Mastery Institute at Berklee College of Music. A sought-after educator, Kenny Werner has also taught at The New School, The Banff Center, New York University and others. He’s the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts award, The New Jersey Council of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, being awarded the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award for his seminal work of exploring tragedy and loss, death and transition and the path from one lifetime to the next. Now, he allows us a peek into his mastery and imaginative exploration of the piano. Perhaps he sums it up best when he writes in his liner notes:

On ‘The Space’ recording project, it’s “the place where every note I play is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”

I concur.

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David Leon, alto saxophone/bells/composer; Alec Aldred, trumpet/composer; Jonah Udall, guitar/composer.

I wondered, as I placed this CD into my CD player, what kind of sound would be produced by a trio of guitar, trumpet and alto saxophone. That’s an unusual mix that only is relying on a single guitar to provide a rhythm section. I fastened my seatbelt.

The ‘Power of Three’ trio is unique in both composition and sound mass. They create a musical experience that is unlike any I’ve heard before, and perhaps that’s a plus. Their composing skills are rich with Avant-garde style and each of the three musicians are composers. They’ve been touring steadily. So, they made the decision to go into the studio and record ‘live’, without any isolation, as though they were on-stage and in-concert. There are continuous moments of musicality that show the talent and tenaciousness of each person. At times, I find myself desiring more melody and less improvisation. At first, I missed hearing a theme or a refrain. I also missed a rhythm section and the groove that a bass and a drummer provide. However, this trio of musicians are full of imagination and are tightly wired to each other. They won me over. On “Demon Dance” I finally hear a theme of sorts and that particular song, composed by Udall, drew me in. I also found Aldred’s original composition titled, “Feet in the Ground,” to be melodic and soothing to the ear. The unexpected harmonies that these three musicians create fill lovely space on track 7, “The Potentialist.” Surprisingly, each man hails from a various part of the United States, (Udall from Berkeley, California, Aldred from Waukesha, Wisconsin and Leon from Miami, Florida). Together they musically find common ground. The trio was formed in 2013. If you are looking for a unique sound and a fresh, exploratory approach to music and jazz, this project is the one!

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Vanessa Rubin, vocals; John Cowherd, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Carl Allen, drums; Eddie Allen, trumpet; Patience Higgins, tenor saxophone; Bruce Williams, alto saxophone; Clifton Anderson, trombone; Alex Harding, baritone saxophone; Arrangers: Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Frank Foster, Willie Smith & Bobby Watson.

“Lady Bird” opens this recorded concert, with arrangements by Frank Foster. Vanessa Rubin’s voice swings and swoops like a happy dove. The horns are complimentary and lush. She sings along with them, becoming a sweet vocal horn. The music of Tadd Dameron is a project long overdue. Known as one of America’s iconic bebop composers, his music remains timeless and beautiful. This is the first album that features a vocalist recording only Dameron’s compositions and what better voice than the celebrated vocals of Vanessa Rubin to interpret this master? A jazz master in her own right, she approaches each composition with great care and attentive emotions. “Kitchenette Across the Hall” has a story to tell and Rubin delivers it with pianist John Cowherd playing in the realm of 1940 jazz accompaniment. “If You Could See Me Now” is a jazz standard with a melody that once heard becomes indelible in your brain. Of course, this is a familiar Tadd Dameron composition that many have recorded and interpreted. But Ms. Rubin includes others that are fresh to the ear. Seven of the compositions herein are recorded with original lyrics as intended. The remaining five had lyrics added for Rubin to sing. She penned the words for “The Dream Is You”, retitling it to “Reveries Do Come True”. Rubin expresses a hope that this project will bring Tadd Dameron’s awesome talents to the forefront once again and open new vocal doors for singers to embrace and illuminate his work. For example, on the popular Dameron instrumental, “On A Misty Night” I believe this is the first time I’ve heard the lyrics. Rubin scats with words on this cut and there are great horn lines that keep the slow swing melodically strong. “Never Been In Love” is one of my favorites on this album with lyrics by Irving Reid. It’s a pretty ballad with a Latin feel and a sweet solo by trumpeter, Eddie Allen. Another lovely ballad is “Next Time Around” or “SoulTrane” with great lyrics by Chris Caswell. Kevin Davis takes an opportunity to solo, quite melodically, on bass. That’s the thing about Tadd Dameron’s compositions. They are all very melodic. Rubin has often brought the music of masters and contemporary composers to her recordings. On her “New Horizons” CD she celebrated Stevie Wonder.

Dameron’s roots extend into the historic legacy of Billy Eckstine. Dameron was involved in the formation of Eckstine’s ground-breaking orchestra. Tadd Dameron was a mentor to great vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and influenced Miles Davis, Benny Golson, Billy Paul and Charlie Rouse. Vanessa Rubin chose Dameron’s contemporaries who were familiar with his contributions to bebop, but also to his composer skills. Afterall, Dameron was a friend and colleague of Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. One of the chosen arrangers on this project, Benny Golson, wrote forwards for two books about Tadd Dameron. He recalls days of touring with Dameron and riding in a car with him during their tenure with Bull Moose Jackson. Frank Foster admits that he learned essential writing and arranging skills listening to Tadd’s recordings in the late 1940s. Vanessa Rubin has spent twenty-five years of her illustrious career singing Dameron’s music as part of her repertoire. Now, she shares her admiration for the composer’s genius with us.

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GIL DEFAY – “IT’S ALL LOVE” Independent label

Gil Defay, trumpet/flugelhorn/vocals; Ansy Defay, saxophones/vocals; Rakiem Walker, alto saxophone; Antonio Penalva, guitar; Joel Desroches, keyboards; Matthew Smythe, organ/Wurlitzer; Toku Jazz, flugelhorn/vocals; Parker McAllister &Michael Tiny Lindsey, bass; Ben Nicolas, drums; Bendji Allonce, percussion; Patrick Pelissier, vocoder.

Gil Defay’s original music is well -arranged and full of pleasant surprises. He has composed everything on this production and has enlisted a large ensemble of talented musicians to interpret his work. From the first track, “D. Bros Groove” the curtains part and the horns take stage center. It sounds like theme-song-music for a splendid show. There is a solid solo by Joel Desroches on keyboard and a breathtaking organ solo by Matthew Smythe, with a funk drum beat established boldly to promote the groove. Gil Defay lets his rhythm section showcase their skills before taking to the spotlight. Then Antonio Penalva celebrates his guitar chops in a joyful way. In fact, this entire album is joyful. This production is a nice blend of contemporary smooth jazz with straight ahead nuances. Michael “Tiny” Lindsey introduces his electric bass talents, followed by Ben Nicolas soloing on drums. This first cut allows each, talented player to take a bow and strut their stuff.

The horn lines are tight and punchy throughout. On the second cut we join the turn-table-party with an up-tempo, danceable tune titled, “Le Cri.” It’s propelled by the spunky drums of Nicolas. If I had one criticism, it would not be the music, the production or the engineering. It would be the cover design. Gil Defay’s music is bright, happy, and memorable. The cover is dark; so dark you can hardly read the credits. I think artists should be as concerned with their album designs as their recorded messages. The title is “It’s All Love” and love is light. That’s not reflected on this CD jacket. Otherwise, here is a beautiful recording, featuring Gil Defay, a wonderful composer and a technically astute musician. I was surprised that Defay sampled the work of Thelonious Monk on the final tune titled, “Epistrophication,” and still took all the credit for composing this obvious celebration of Monk’s Epistrophy” composition. That bothered me.

All in all, the players listed above come together to present a tightly woven carpet of music that rolls out in a stream of plush arrangements and undeniable musicianship. Favorite cuts are: “D. Bros Groove,” “You’re So Good,” “The Lean,” and “Wonderful” (a ballad that makes creative use of synthesizers, like splashes of paint on canvas.); also, the very funky, “On That NYC” and “Le Cri.”
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ALAN PASQUA – “SOLILOQUY” Gretabelle Label

Alan Pasqua, Steinway piano.

Solo piano is a challenge. You sit in the glaring spotlight and settle into your talent at the grand piano with no other musical support but your talent and imagination. You bare your soul. It takes an amazing musician to perform solo and Alan Pasqua is just such a musician. He has performed in concert and in recording studios with a long list of iconic jazz musicians including Jack Dejohnette, Gary Peacock, Gary Bartz, Reggie Workman, Gary Burton, Stanley Clarke, Joe Henderson, Randy Becker, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and vocalists Sheila Jordan and Joe Williams. There are many more, but you can see from this short list the breadth and width of Alan Pasqua’s awesome and in-demand talent. Musically, Pasqua has not stayed in one lane. Although he embraces his jazz roots, in the world of pop music Pasqua recorded two albums with Bob Dylan and performed with John Fogerty on his album, “Eye of the Zombie.” Alan Pasqua added his diversified chops with Starship on their album, “No Protection.” He was the keyboardist with Carlos Santana during his recordings of “Marathon, Zebop!” And on his “Havana Moon” album. Obviously, the talented Mr. Pasqua can cross musical genre’s as easily as he crosses a California boulevard. The appropriate title of his CD is described in Webster’s Dictionary as: “SOLILOQUY: The act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when alone.”

Pasqua was once a member of the New Tony Williams Lifetime group and co-leader on many critically acclaimed jazz recordings, including joining forces with Peter Erskine and Dave Carpenter to make a Grammy-nominated trio album of standards. The culmination of so many musical experiences is previewed in this new project, Recorded at Pasqua’s Santa Monica, California studio, he invites us to a very intimate, demonstrative and introspective concert. As a solo performer, he’s both vulnerable and artistic. This pianist brings us a beautiful bouquet of our favorite standard songs on this solo recording titled, “Soliloquy.” Sit back and enjoy.

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NORMAN JOHNSON – “THE ART OF LIFE” Independent label

Norman Johnson, guitar/bass/piano/vocals/composer; Chris Herbert & John Mastroianni, saxophones; Bill Holloman, horns; Jeff Holms, trumpet; Steve Davis, trombone; Ejd Fast, drums; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Mitch Chakour, piano/organ; Alex Nakhimovsky, piano’ Graysong Hugh, June Bisantz, Atla Dechamplain, Poller Messer, & Lisa Marien, vocals.

From the very first strains of Norman Johnson’s guitar magic, I am under his spell. His music is full of joy for life. Johnson’s melodies are infectuous. On the first tune, “Slide” he makes me want to skip across the room. There is something light and carefree about this production of Johnson’s compositions. “Sing On” is another original composition by Norman Johnson that encourages us to come together as a people and features Grayson Hugh on vocals. This song is a blend of R&B, Pop and jazz. The repeatable ‘hook’ of the song reminds me a small bit of a Curtis Mayfield production. Johnson has written five of the six songs showcased on this recording. He offers very ‘smooth jazz’ arrangements with beautiful melodies. His use of vocal background singers is tasty on the title tune, “the Art of Life.” It is obvious that he has been inspired by Earl Klugh and George Benson, but Norman Johnson is a strong player in his own right and his composing skills are admirable. On the Latin tinged, “It’s You” he introduces us to the pretty voice of June Bisantz and Johnson takes a stellar guitar solo, followed by a short, but rich saxophone solo. Ms. Bisantz is also co-writer of this happy piece of music along with pianist, Alex Nakhimovsky. “Summer Dance” closes this album out with a bang. Johnson knows how to put the groove into his productions and he has a love for the nylon-string guitar sound.

Norman Johnson has appeared on over thirty recordings as a sideman with great players like Steve Gadd, Bill Mays and Harvie Swartz. He’s performed with Dave Brubeck and this is his third CD release as a leader. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he studied at the Hartford Conservatory of Music and the Hartt School of Music. Although a late bloomer, Norman Johnson has perfected his style. This latest release is a testimony to his strength as a musician and composer.

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Magela Herrera, voice/flute/composer/arranger; Tal Cohen, piano; Nestor Del Prado & Dion Keith Kerr, bass; Hilario Bell & David Chiverton, drums; Greg Diamond, guitar; Jean Caze, trumpet; Philbert Armenteros, bata drums.

With much excitement and riveting musicianship, Magela Herrera arrives, using her original composition, “Two Sidewalks” to burst onto the scene like an unexpected shower of fireworks. Tal Cohen demands the spotlight on piano, followed by Herrera’s stellar flute improvisation. Finally, the drums are given free reins to gallop through the arrangement with creative exuberance. Her musical arrangements and compositions offer platforms for the creative juices to flow from her individual ensemble players. They each bring their “A” game to the bandstand, embracing the freedom, while expanding their musical ideas. I enjoy Magela Herrera’s musical concepts and her melodic structure. She also has a lovely command of the flute. On “Principios,” Ms. Herrera gives her bass player ample time to speak his solo-mind. The bass solo is beautiful. Magela Herrera explains her music this way.

“I honestly wanted to make an album much earlier in my career, but I was too shy and I could never complete a tune. At the time, I was limiting myself to Cuban music and hadn’t really explored other styles. I consider my time in Norway to be my ‘aha’ moment. All my professors there were more into inspiring and pushing students to find our own sound, whatever genre it happened to be. They didn’t force us to follow rules. I found it more comfortable to write music outside a strict pattern, to create whatever was in my head. On “Explicaciones,”applying that freedom to classic Cuban tunes really helped me hone in on my sound as an artist.”

Magela Herrera’s applies haunting vocals on track four, “Explicaciones,”the title tune of this album, further endearing her to this reviewer. Her vocals are honest and compelling. She sings in her native Spanish. Although I do not speak that language, I am still intrigued and attentive to every word.

The listener will find a sprinkling of standard jazz in this project, like Herrera’s unusual rendition of “My One and Only Love,” and her vocal interpretation of “Besame Mucho.” She puts spark and spunk into everything she plays and sings. Her arrangement of the Cuban classic, “Que Te Pedi” is brilliant and dances at a medium tempo, with her flute playing atop the melody sweet as decorative icing on a musical cake. Every cut on this album is like another slice of goodness. I guarantee you will want to come back for more and more of Magela Herrera’s authentic blend of Cuban jazz, European classical influence and her own soulful interpretive compositions and arrangements. This is delicious music!

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Jon Lundbom, guitar; Justin Wood, alto & soprano saxophones; Bryan Murray, tenor/balto saxophones; Moppa Elliott, bass; Dan Monaghan, drums.

Jon Lundbom’s guitar floats above this storm of music like a rainbow. Julian Wood’s and Bryan Murray’s saxophones are the thunder and lightning dancing wildly in space. Murray shares his talents on his trademark ‘balto! Saxophone.’ He shows us what to do with an alto saxophone, using a baritone mouthpiece and a plastic reed. Here is Avant-garde, experimental jazz at its best, showcasing expansive creativity with strong improvisation. The Big Five Chord group exhibits combustible ideas. Londbom has composed six of the seven cuts on this CD, adding a bonus track at the end. It’s actually a repeat of track two, yet totally different and unique with the ensemble’s fresh interpretation. Dan Monaghan, on drums, thrives on a diet of funk and groove. Bassist, Moppa Elliott, plays solid and melodic lines that hold down the rhythm section. This group pushes the musical boundaries and, in the process, expands visions and possibilities. Part of the unique arrangements are enhanced by Lundbom playing a Fender Jazzmaster guitar retrofitted with experimental pickups built by Chicago’s Duneland Labs. Lundbom’s guitar and the horns dance like helium balloons in the wind.

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