FROM VISIONARY TO INFINITY: JAZZ IS THE CATALYST

FROM VISIONARY TO INFINITY: JAZZ IS THE CATALYST
BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 6, 2019

During March, I continue to celebrate Women’s History Month by including several reviews of women in jazz. I’m also including some very talented men who have new recordings on the market. Daniel Szabo gives us a taste of his visionary work by arranging new music for jazz trio and chamber ensemble. Karina Corradini tributes the late Zane Musa with her “Bridge to Infinity” album. Cathy Segal-Garcia joins Larry Koonse and Josh Nelson as they travel to “Dreamsville.” Kevin Hays and Chiara Izzi meld pop, smooth jazz and world music on their CD, “Across the Sea.” Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux group colors way outside the lines with “Path of Totality.” Cyrille Aimee celebrates the music of Sondheim and Settings for Three sits us down at the table of Drew Gress, Phil Haynes and David Liebman for some delicious be-bop and straight-ahead. This column reviews the artistic diversity of jazz and music in general, while introducing you to new artists and seasoned veterans.

DANIEL SZABO – “VISIONARY” Fuzzy Music

Daniel Szabo, piano/composer; Edwin Livingston, acoustic bass; Mike Valerio, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Sara Andon, flute; Bob Sheppard, flute/tenor saxophone; Chris Bleth, oboe; John Yoakum, English Horn; Kim Richmond, clarinet/alto & soprano saxophone; Phil O’Connor, bass Clarinet; Chad Smith, bassoon; Charlie Bisharat, 1st violin; Joel Pargman, 2nd violin; Andrew Duckles, viola; Charlie Tyler, cello.

Daniel Szabo is a stellar pianist whose music reflects a desire to blend genres, styles and instrumentation in a unique and visionary way. Thus, the title of this album reflects and represent this composer’s newest music for jazz trio and chamber ensemble. He explains it in his liner notes.

“If I were a true ‘visionary,’ I could possibly see a future in which boundaries are less important than connections; where integration wins over isolation and community prevails over individualism. Then, I believe, our life experience would become cosmic.”

I do find Daniel Szabo’s music to be visionary. His blend of chamber music, as a very classical backdrop for his jazz trio, seems inspired. Szabo’s piano solos are freely motivational and dazzling. As the strings staccato in the background of his composition, “Cosmic,” his piano improvisations dance, light and bright as fireflies on a June night. Bob Sheppard makes a jazzy appearance on tenor saxophone and Peter Erskine’s stunning drum solo takes the spotlight. Those drums are an exciting introduction for the string section that flows back on the scene like a wave of ocean water; sweet and salty. The tempos change, rise and fall like the tide. This is an album of musical mastery, featuring the orchestration and compositions of Daniel Szabo. All the original music is Szabo’s except the historic “Infant Eyes” composition by Wayne Shorter. Combining Szabo’s love of jazz, folk, classical and film score music, this composer weaves together a production of beauty.

Daniel Szabo is an Associate Professor at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music and earned his doctorate degree from the University of Southern California (USC). Daniel Szabo has appeared as leader on eight recorded and released albums. This may be one of his crowning successes, as he challenges stylistic boundaries, endeavoring to be an inspirational catalyst that merges technique and talent to bring music, (like people), together harmoniously and without boundaries.
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KARINA CORRADINI – “BRIDGE TO INFINITY” A tribute to Zane Musa Independent Label

Karina Corradini, vocals/producer; Mahesh Balasooriya, piano; Christian McBride, producer/bassist; Rene Camacho, bass; Marty “Smitty” Smith, drums; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Zane Musa, saxophone; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet.

Right from the first cut on this album, “You Turned the Tables On Me,” Karina Corradini, shows that she can ‘swing’ with the best of them. This vocalist has surrounded herself with a host of marvelous musicians including Christian McBride on bass (who co-produced this album), Mahesh Balasooriya on piano, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. She is tributing her beloved friend, reedman Zane Musa, who left Earth much too early. Zane Musa put his saxophone blessings on this recording before his passing. Ms. Corradini sings a number of great old standards, with rich arrangements and great sincerity. Her lyrics are tinged with just the hint of an accent and I wondered where she’s from. When she sings, “What A Difference A Day Makes” in Portuguese, I hear her Brazilian roots shine through and flower. But I discover (from her publicist) that she is not Brazilian at all, but instead is a mixture of Argentinian and Italian, born in San Isidro, Argentina. Still, she delivers a lovely rendition in both English and Portuguese. I enjoyed the slow, swaying Samba rendition of “I Could Have Told You,” with Munyungo Jackson’s warm, percussive additions highlighting the rhythm and an outstanding solo by Mahesh Balasooriya on the eighty-eight keys.

On “Doralice” by great composer, Dorival Caymmi, Karina Corradini is back to Portuguese and the up-temp, happy excitement of Brazilian music is infectious on “Cai Dentro.” Marvin “Smitty” Smith is the catalyst that pushes the music ahead on trap drums and locks a tight groove with Christian McBride on the bass. Ms. Corradini used the arrangements of Eric Bulling, who penned them for Ella Fitzgerald’s album, “Ella Braca Jobim.” When Karina Corradini settles down to deliver the beautiful ballad, “If You Went Away,” her delivery makes me want to fall in love again. This is an elegant, sincere vocalist who knows how to sell lyrics and deliver them with the tone and emotional fortitude that keeps an audience engaged and captivated.
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CYRILLE AIMEE – “MOVE ON: A SONDHEIM ADVENTURE” Mack Ave Records

Cyrille Aimee, vocals; Assaf Gleizner, piano/Fender Rhodes; Thomas Enhco, piano; Jeremy Bruyere, upright & fretless bass; Yoann Serra, drums; Abraham MansFaroll, percussion; Adrien Moignard, acoustic guitar; Sebastien Giniaux, acoustic guitar/cello; Ralph Lavital, electric guitar; Diego Figueredo, nylon guitar; Warren Walker, tenor saxophone & effects; Maxime Berton, soprano saxophone; Patrick Bartley, alto saxophone; Bill Todd, tenor saxophone; Wayne Tucker, trumpet; VIOLINS: Mathias Levy, Gregor Huebor & Fung Chern Hwes, 1st Violin; Julie Goodale, viola; Rubin Kodheli, cello.

The rich compositions of Stephen Sondheim create a challenging repertoire for Cyrille Aimee to sing. She brings her own, unique style and arrangements to the Sondheim songs. Her ability to scat and to reinterpret these Broadway and very theatrical compositions is interesting. She refreshes the music with her little-girl voice and grown-up character, using her own womanly experiences to interpret lyrics she felt encapsulated parts of her own life story.

The talented Mr. Sondheim has received an Academy Award, eight Tony Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Theater from the Tony’s. He’s won eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and in 2015 he received the coveted Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sondheim was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II, who was like a father to him. At an early age, young Sondheim found that he loved theater and music. Naturally, the next step was writing a musical. His schoolmates encouraged his talent and performed his musical. Thus, began Sondheim’s illustrious career.

I know him best for “Send In the Clowns,” but Cyrille Aimee has chosen a basket full of his songs, some I’m unfamiliar with like, “Take Me to the World” from his Evening Primrose movie. “Love I Hear” is from his theatrical success, “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum.” Mathias Levy on violin adds a lovely dimension to the arrangement and Aimee’s soprano voice lightly caresses the beautiful melody. “Loving You” was recorded by Barbra Streisand in 2016 and she put her stamp on that tune. The thing about this recording is that I find the drama is sometimes missing. I’ve reviewed Ms. Aimee in the past and she’s more a jazz singer than a Broadway vocalist. Truly, her idea of celebrating these historic compositions is both unique and challenging. However, I found myself not always believing her when she interprets Sondheim’s lyrics and melodies. There is an effort to capture the theatrical songs in a net of jazzy arrangements, but even when she bursts into scat-singing, it’s difficult to transform songs written for stage plays into jazz treasures. Notably, pianist, Thomas Enhco, is up for the challenge during his solo on “Loving You.” When I hear Bernadette Peters sing “Being Alive,” I am a believer. Although I commend the Latin, up-tempo arrangement of this song that Aimee’s group presents, somehow she misses the mark in selling these lyrics. Her scat on the fade of the song is joyful and happy, but these lyrics are not happy nor jubilant. They are soul-searching lyrics begging somebody to make her feel alive. “Somebody crown me with love, somebody force me to care,” is a plea. “Somebody need me too much. Somebody know me too well…. Somebody put me through hell.” These are lyrics that tear at the heart. This arrangement does not relate to the song’s lyrical content.

What this project did for me was to introduce me to more of the work of Sondheim in a new and unusual way. I commend Cyrille Aimee for choosing this project and endeavoring to change theatrical songs to jazzy arrangements. I thought she was successful on “Not While I’m Around,” and on “They Ask Me Why I Believe In You” with just voice and bass. Also, the gospel, R&B flavored, “No One Is Alone” is well sung with shades of Billie Holiday tones to Cyrille Aimee’s vocals. This song features a wonderful guitar solo by Ralph Lavital. He brings the blues into this project. This arrangement suits both the song and the vocalist. The ballad, “I Remember,” is emotionally delivered as is the title tune, “Move On.” Finally, her up-tempo performance on “With So Little To Be Sure of” is a great way to close this album, with just vocals and the nylon guitar of Dego Figuriedo. Dynamic!
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SETTINGS FOR THREE – “NO FAST FOOD” CornerStore Jazz

David Liebman, woodwinds; Phil Haynes, drums; Drew Gress, bass.

Funny how music can paint pictures in your mind when you listen. There is something in the first cut on this album, reflected in the flute music, that reminds me of open plains and wide, blue spaces of sky. Drew Gress’s bass line solidifies the windy whistle of David Liebman’s flute. Gress grounds the piece until Phil Haynes joins the party on drums. Liebman picks up his saxophone and we all take flight. This ensemble is like a wave of sound energy rushing across space. They are in sync and unified, like a flock of startled starlings. Their ensemble work is modern jazz and dedicated to the memory of Paul Smoker, a jazz trumpeter and composer, who frequently worked with drummer Phil Haynes. Consequently, the first song played is appropriately titled, “El-Smoke.” Although this composition lasts over ten minutes in length, it’s never boring or redundant. The tune titled, “Joy” sounds a little pensive and anything but joyful. The third cut, “Blue Dop” is puffed up with blues and feels straight ahead. Haynes takes an inspiring solo on drums.

All three of these musicians are the best of the best. You will enjoy their master technique and undeniable adventurism during each arrangement and production. Their music is steaming hot, drifting up from a well-seasoned pot of musical stew. They’ll make you want to come back for more. This is “No Fast Food,” but both savory and succulent to your artistic palate.
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CATHY SEGAL GARCIA – LARRY KOONSE – JOSH NELSON – “DREAMSVILLE” Dash Hoffman Records

Cathy Segal Garcia, vocals; Larry Koonse, guitar; Josh Nelson, piano.

Cathy Segal Garcia’s CD opens with “Dreamsville.” The arrangement, like the singer’s voice, is dreamy and warm. Cathy’s vocal style draw you in, as does the emotional piano playing of Josh Nelson and the attentive accompaniment and rhythm of Larry Koonse on guitar.

Cathy’s original composition, “The Three of Us” is beautifully offered, like a Sunday morning prayer. In fact, the first three songs of this production unfold, using dreams as the centrifugal force that spins the compositions together with a common purpose. Picking two of the best jazz session players and artists in Southern California to match her emotional delivery is smart. The clarity of their production gives some of her choices a world music-feel, like the Jobim tune, “Zingaro,” where Cathy melts into the guitar and synthesizer accompaniment, using her voice like an instrument. Lyric-less. Melodic. Free. Spontaneous. It exemplifies her need to experiment and push the boundaries of her music art. Dave Frishberg’s composition, “You Are There” is stunning and hypnotic, with Garcia gently sharing the lyrics with us, like a sweet, honest story. Cathy Segal-Garcia has her own vocal style and tone, easily recognizable and perhaps most closely compared to Joni Mitchell. She is forever challenging herself and her music. The simplicity of this production leaves the trio vulnerable, in a good way. They are each Southern California veterans of our music community and world-travelers who have spread their talents across continents. When I listen, I hear poetry. These songs pour sweetly across my early Saturday, like warm honey on my morning toast. Mostly made up of ballads, Cathy Segal-Garcia proffers us two original compositions on this album; “The Three of Us” and “Rewind the Years.” Each is sentimental and left open, like a diary page we are meant to read.
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QUINSIN NACHOFF’S FLUX – “PATH OF TOTALITY” Whirlwind Recordings

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor & soprano saxophone; Matt Mitchell, piano/prophet 6/modular synthesizer/novachord/harpsichord/Estey pump harmonium; Kenny Wollesen, drums/Wollosonic percussion; Nate Wood, drums. David Binney, Alto & C melody saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS:Jason Barnsley, 1924 Kimball Theatre Organ; Mark Duggan, marimba/vibraphone/glockenspiel/crotales/Tibetan singing bowls; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Dan Urness & Matt Holman, trumpets; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Alan Ferber, trombone/bass trombone; Orlando Hernandez, tap dance; David Travers-Smith, Buchia 200E Analog Modular System/EMS synthi 100 Analog/Digital Hybrid Synthesizer/Arp Chroma (Rhodes) Analog Synthesizer/ Clavioline/Oberheim SEM Modular Moog.

Modern jazz Composer/saxophonist and unconventional spirit, Quinsin Nachoff, traces the shadow of the sun on this, his second release of the genre-eclipsing band, Flux. Nachoff, who admits to drawing inspiration from the wonders of the universe, was inspired to compose this album in 2017 after witnessing the August eclipse of the sun. In fact, it was 2017 when I last reviewed a Nachoff project. It was his Ehereal Trio, that envisioned a musical asterism, against the midnight hour of my bedroom. It was a constellation of inspired sound.

His current musical adventure continues the exploration of space, this time with no bass instrument, but mostly using piano to twinkle like distant planets and horns to enhance the open feeling of space and outer-limits. This is a journey into the depths of Avant Garde jazz and the mind of the composer. Quinsin Nachoff’s music is unpredictably beautiful, like on track #3, “Toy Piano Meditation” that gives Matt Mitchell a sufficient time to paint pictures, using his 88 keys and synthesizer magic against a canvas of free horns, dancing like wild apparitions. Kenny Wollesen’s trap drums and Mark Duggan’s marimba, vibraphone, Tibetan singing bowls and other percussive gifts become the wind beneath the ensemble’s wings. On his composition, “Bounce,” the drum and percussion excitements of Nate Wood is the result of a mathematical break-down of how a bouncing ball moves. Here is a double record set of unusually creative arrangements, improvisations and compositions by Quinsin Nachoff and his Flux ensemble. Like the heaven’s themselves, this project is an adventure, rich with unexpected and timeless beauty.

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CHIARA IZZI & KEVIN HAYS –“ACROSS THE SEA” Jando Music/Via Veneto Jazz

Chiara Izzi, vocals/composer; Kevin Hays, piano/voice/Rhodes/composer; Rob Jost, acoustic and electric bass/French horn; Greg Joseph, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Chris Potter, tenor & soprano saxophone; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; Nir Felder, electric & acoustic guitar; Omer Avital, oud.

I listen to so many CDs, so much music daily, that it takes something or someone very special to flag my attention. Chiara Izzi has a voice full of innocence and passion that immediately garnered my consideration. Opening with her self-penned “Circles of the Mind,” (that perhaps gives us a glimpse of what runs through her head at times), I am captivated. It does not rhyme, but instead is thoughtful prose. The melody is beautiful and memorable. At the end, as the musicians improvise and fly free, Chiara Izzi joins them with scat-singing, more a pleasant wail than a scat. The lyrics of each song interpreted on this album are printed inside the CD jacket. Izzi has contributed four compositions, exhibiting her songwriting skills. Other songs include the work of Loewe and Lerner, Pat Metheny, James Taylor, Miles Davis and Henry Mancini. This wide range of composers showcases an equal range of vocal prowess by both Izzi and pianist, Kevin Hays. He has also contributed his own songwriting talents, co-writing “James,” a Pat Metheny composition, and co-composing with Izzi on “Viaggo Elegiaco.”

Hays is sensitive on his piano instrument while accompanying the vocalist. He is also the other half of this vocal team. They duet on “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” blending their two voices with just his piano accompaniment. Very smooth and reminiscent of a hotel lounge act. Grégoire Maret’s harmonica opens the James Taylor tune and we move from jazz to pop in the blink of an eye. Here, Kevin Hays lends his voice to background harmony.

This is mostly a Smooth jazz/pop music album. On the popular “Secret O’ Life” tune, Chris Potter brings the jazz on his saxophone solo. But for the most part, the vocal duet by Izzi and Hays is pop music. The title tune allows us to once again enjoy just Chiara Izzi, as she interprets another one of her original composition, featuring Mr. Maret on harmonica and a jazzy piano solo by Hays. The duet brings a Mediterranean quality to their music, and on “Viaggo Elegiaco” Izzi reverts back to her Italian heritage, displaying her multi-linguist abilities. “Verso Il Mare” is fun, arranged very Latin and once again features Chiara Izzi singing in Italian. Bravo to Izzi for selecting the difficult interpretation of the Miles Davis/Yanina Lombardi composition, “Tierna Nardis.” Nir Felder’s guitar support is smokin’ hot on this arrangement. This adds world music to the mix and invites us to open our minds and hearts to how music crosses all boundaries and how it joins us, like love, across the continents and worldly divides.

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