JAZZ REFLECTS MUSIC OF THE UNIVERSE AND BEYOND

JAZZ REFLECTS MUSIC OF THE UNIVERSE AND BEYOND
By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

January 31, 2019

JOEY DEFRANCESCO – “IN THE KEY OF THE UNIVERSE” Mack Ave Records

Joey DeFrancesco, organ/trumpet/composer; Billy Hart, drums; Troy Roberts, tenor/soprano/alto saxophone / acoustic bass; Sammy Figueroa, percussion. SPECIAL GUEST: Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone/vocals.

The sweet strains of the Troy Roberts soprano saxophone open the first cut of Joey DeFrancisco’s latest CD. This is one of nine original compositions by DeFrancesco, titled, “Inner Being.” It’s richly colored by the sensitive percussion work of Sammy Figueroa and Billy Hart’s tactical and creative trap drums. I gather, from the album title and from some of the original song titles, that DeFrancesco is on a fresh, spiritual journey. Consequently, it seems apropos that he has chosen the great Pharoah Sanders as a special guest on his project.

Nearly fifty years ago, Sanders released his prophetic “Karma” album to much acclaim. This legendary reedman has been exploring spirituality in his music for decades. Pharoah appears on the title tune, “In The Key of the Universe” and on the band’s cover of Pharoah’s standard hit song, “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Sanders also plays on, “And So It Is.” I am very enthused to enjoy both of these master musicians on the same recording.

The second cut on Joey DeFrancesco’s album is titled, “Vibrations in Blue.” It becomes a vehicle for this master organist to boldly express himself. Whether his feet are pedaling or his fingers are racing across the organ keys, Joey DeFrancesco is a musical force to be applauded and appreciated. He’s a soulful player with plenty of technique and a plethora of energy. That musical energy spills across space and engages his audience, whether in person or in the recording studio. That’s what I love about Joey DeFrancesco; his soulful energy. “Awake and Blissed” continues the excitement with a keyboard solo by Joey DeFrancesco after a strong organ solo that establishes the fast-moving tempo and melody. Billy hart masterfully holds the tempo in place. It’s one of my favorite compositions on this project. Track #4 is called “It Swung Wide Open” and swing it does! This up-tempo gem gives drummer Billy Hart an opportunity to cut loose and wrap the arrangement around his powerful drum sticks. Joey DeFrancesco trades fours with the saxophone and creatively sings harmonic lines with Troy Roberts, establishing a strong, musical theme. DeFrancesco’s title composition swings hard, the way Joey DeFrancesco likes it. He mixes straight-ahead and funk like whiskey and water. It’s a delicious mix, with a kick to it. Pharoah repaints the open spaces with his sensual tenor saxophone improvisation, sometimes harmonizing at points with the horn of Troy Roberts and emphasizing the hook of the song. Once again, drummer Billy Hart keeps the musicians inspired and on-point, climaxing at the end of this song was a giant gong. This is another favorite cut for this reviewer.

The Pharoah Sanders jazz standard, “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” is arranged with fresh and creative melodic passages. It’s beautifully expressed, with Joey DeFrancesco merging with this saxophone master to create an original and lovely approach to his historic and familiar tune. We even hear Pharoah Sanders sing on this cut.

DeFrancesco explains this new direction in his liner notes.

“I pride myself on being a musical chameleon. There’s so much good music that it’s hard to stay in one place. …I love being able to go in any direction and lately that’s sent my music in a more free jazz direction… As I grow older, I find myself attracted to a more spiritual vibe.”

Speaking of various directions, “A Path Through the Noise” is a beautiful composition, a ballad, that showcases an awe-inspired trumpet solo by Joey DeFrancesco. Not only does he play a soulful organ, but he has mastered the trumpet too.

Joey DeFrancesco is a celebrity who is a part of the Philadelphia Walk of Fame, has recorded over thirty albums and he keeps the Hammond jazz organ alive and well. DeFrancesco is a third generation musician. His grandfather, Joseph DeFrancesco, played saxophone and clarinet. His father, Papa John DeFrancesco, was an organist who received the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame Living Legend Award. At age four, a precocious Joey DeFrancesco was learning to play songs he heard by Jimmy Smith. By the time he turned ten-years-old, he was in a Philadelphia jazz band that included Hank Mobley and they were opening shows for Wynton Marsalis and B.B. King. The youthful musician signed his first recording contract with Columbia Records when he was just sixteen-years-old. Christian McBride was one of his high school classmates. He’s a member of the Hammond Hall of Fame along with his mentor, Jimmy Smith, Brian Auger, Billy Preston, and Steve Winwood. I enjoyed this powerful new release so much that I played it three times in a row.
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PETRA VAN NUIS & DENNIS LUXION – “BECAUSE WE’RE NIGHT PEOPLE”
String Damper Records

Petra van Nuis,vocals; Dennis Luxion,piano.

Petra van Nuis has a sweetness to her voice that reverberates innocence when she sings. Dennis Luxion accompanies her adequately on the grand piano. Beginning with “Street of Dreams,” she has added the introduction verse that we rarely hear. That was a nice surprise. Their repertoire is rich with a variety of songs that are based on the shades and beauty of night. Tunes like Moonlight Saving Time, You and the Night and the Music, Dreamsville, and many others perpetuate the mood of night. The duo recorded their ‘live’ concert at the PianoForte performance space. You can hear the audience’s appreciative applause. Great songs like “Small Day Tomorrow,” holds this listener’s interest. Duo gigs are challenging. These two seem very familiar and comfortable with each other. No Moon At all picked up the tempo a little and I was happy to hear something with a little spark to it. Luxion uses a Thelonious Monk tune as the intro, and I thought that was creative. I wish Petra had stuck a little closer to the original melody (at least the first time around), but I enjoyed their playful arrangement. The Night We Called It a Day is a beautiful ballad and Petra van Nuis sings it like a horn; smooth and emotional. Petra has picked out all the music and the duo closes with “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” by Irvin Berlin. This is a well-paced, sensitive duo concert on disc for the world to enjoy.

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CHARLIE DENNARD – “DEEP BLUE”
Independent Label

Charlie Dennard, piano, organ, keyboards; Max Moran, acoustic & electric bass; Doug Belote, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Brad Walker, tenor saxophone; Ray Moore, Flute/alto & tenor saxophone; Jason Mindledorf, tenor saxophone /bass clarinet; Marc Solis, flute/alto & tenor saxophones/clarinet; Carlos Lopez, percussion; Andrew McLean, table,/sarod; Josh Geisler, bansuri flute; Eric Lucero, trumpet/flugelhorn; Steve Masakowski, acoustic guitar; Brian Seeger, guitar; Rick Trolsen, trombone.

On Charlie Dennard’s first tune, shades of Ahmad Jamal’s style splashes across the quiet. A happy, medium tempo composition titled, “St. Charles Strut” emanates from Charlie Dennard’s “Deep Blue” release. Based on lovely, melodic lines from the standard song, “Secret Love,” it’s a great tune to begin this musical excursion. The trio swings and sets the ambience for this treasure trove of original songs composed by Charles T. Dennard Jr. His songwriting skills are fervent, robust and compelling. Doug Belote adds zest and punctuation to the musical production on trap drums. He has an opportunity to stretch out and spotlight his percussive talents on track-two, “Mojave” when the arrangement lends itself to a stellar drum solo. Max Moron builds a basement of strength on his bass instrument, solidifying each song with his strong foundation. There are several guests who appear on “Mojave” and the arrangement is a pleasant blend of smooth jazz and straight-ahead. The flautist is haunting and provocative. Right away, I hear Charlie Dennard as a thoughtful, sensitive pianist and composer.

On “Wonderlust” (a tune he co-wrote with Brian Seeger), you hear his emotional and tender side. Steve Masakowski adds another texture to the trio on acoustic guitar. Dennard gives us a taste of his talents on grand piano, on organ and electric keyboard. He is tasteful and improvisational with great attention to the melodic content of his music. There is an underlying force of funk that qualifies his compositions and stretches them, like spandex, across musical genres. His music holds me tightly in his palms, with two fisted precision, he unwraps his composed gifts with busy fingers.

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DAVE RUDOLPH QUINTET = “RESONANCE”
Independent Release

Dave Rudolph, drums/composer; Larue Nickelson, guitar; Pablo Arencibia, piano; Alejandro Arenas, bass; Dave Rudolph, drums; Zach Bornheimer, tenor saxophone; Whitney James, vocals.

Dave Rudolph is a drummer based in Tampa, Florida and right out the gate, “Atonement” dashes, settling into a moderate tempo and establishing the ambience of this album. The tune is arranged and written in a very modern jazz way by Rudolph, who has composed all nine songs on this recording. They span a broad range of musical genres and showcase his talented musical ensemble and their ability to play many kinds of jazz. Pianist Pablo Arencibia shines on this premiere tune. Zach Bornheimer is very prominent in establishing the melodies of these compositions on tenor saxophone and right up-front, at the top of each tune.

“Those Clumsy Words” is a waltz that gives Bornheimer another melodic opportunity to express himself, improvising broadly on his solo. Alejandro Arenas’ bass kicks the waltz into gear, walking briskly beneath the arrangement and invigorating it with energy. Rudolph is given an opportunity to solo on his trap drums at the song’s ending, championing his instrument with technical bravado. “Lonely Train” is folksy and laid-back, like a slow walk along some Floridian beach. Track-four is titled “The Vine” and has interesting chord changes enhance a memorable melody. It’s very smooth jazz, with Rudolph’s drums propelling the piece with fluid technique and magnetic beneath the group’s arrangement. It is always Dave Rudolph who holds the ensemble tightly in place. I enjoyed the creative conversation between drums and piano on this tune. This song may be one of my favorite compositions by Rudolph. “Bounce” is a tune reminiscent of Thelonious Monk’s style of composing. Rudolph shines on drums during the many breaks in this arrangement and performs an unforgettable solo. Also, Larue Nicklelson‘s guitar solo is impressive. The title tune features vocalist Whitney James. It’s a wordless composition, using the vocals like a horn to introduce us to the lovely melody. I wish the pianist had filled some of the open spaces with improvisational runs instead of just chording, but that’s just the arranger in me. “Night Squirrel” is a playful tune with a New Orleans feel and arrangement. This is another favorite of mine on Dave Rudolph’s album. The final tune, “Brushstrokes,” delves into the space of Avant-garde and allows Bornheimer to test the outer-limits of his creativity on tenor saxophone. It also becomes a trampoline platform for Rudolph to bounce his percussive ideas around.

Dave Rudolph was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and started playing drums when he was eleven years old. He was highly influenced by the music of Chick Corea, Tom Petty, Al DiMeola and Lanny White. He attended the University of South Florida and settled in the Tampa area, where he got busy playing drums around town. This album is dedicated to his close friend, Jessica Hiltabidle.

“She described our communications as having a special ‘resonance’ and I have tried to recreate how important this resonance was to me,” Rudolph explained in his liner notes.

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KYLE NASSER – “PERSISTENT FANCY” Rodeadope Records

Kyle Nasser,tenor & soprano saxophones/composer/arranger; Roman Filiu, alto saxophone; Jeff Miles,guitar; Dov Manski,piano/synthesizer; Nick Jost, bass; Allan Mednard,drums.

Tenor and soprano saxophonist, Kyle Nasser, turns his composer talents into the merge of classical baroque, suites and sonata forms, with modern jazz chops pushing the music towards improvisational outer limits. Nasser’s melodies are deeply esoteric and his musical ideas become enhanced by the excellent musicianship of his bandmates. This is an unexpected blend of chordal dissonant, contrapuntal movement and complex arrangements that pair Nasser’s saxophones with the solid and rich sound of Roman Filiu’s alto saxophone. As the two horns talk to each other, they are thrust forward with each creative strike of Allan Mednard’s drum sticks. On the cut titled, “Eros Suite II Desire,” Mednard is given free rein to explore and share his stellar percussion technique on trap drums. On track #13, “Arioso” the mood settles like a nested dove. This composition (by Paul Hindemith) is the only one that Nasser did not compose. It offers the listener a pretty ballad, established by Dov Manski on piano and arranged by Nasser. It struck me like a breath of fresh air after a red-hot summer day. It was such a change from Nasser’s compositions. “Coffee and Cannabis” closes this album, with a funk feel and this tune is quite different from all the others on his project. It’s more contemporary than modern jazz based on classical baroque. But, as explained in his liner notes, Kyle Nasser blends the intellectual and the emotional, demanding that they coexist and encouraging his band to dig deeply, finding a happy medium between the cerebral and the sensual.

“I was thinking about the way that thoughts tend to recur over and over again. Even if they’re not the deepest thoughts in the world, they can be insistent … so you can’t shake them. That’s not imagination, it’s not earth-shattering. It’s fancy – persistent fancy,” Kyle Nasser describes his album title and the catalyst for composing this collection of modern jazz music.

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