Archive for April, 2019


April 27, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

April 27, 2019

JORDON DIXON – “ON!” Independent label

Jordon Dixon, tenor saxophone; Allyn Johnson, piano; Herman Burney, bass; Carroll V. Dashiell III, drums; J. S. Williams, trumpet.

Composer, tenor saxophone player, Jordon Dixon has a gritty, blues-laced sound on his horn. On the first composition, “Notes From the Nook,” and one of my favorite cuts on this CD, his ensemble steps out with a bang. Pianist, Allyn Johnson, is featured and is a member of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) faculty. He spearheads their jazz program. Once Jordon Dixon offers up his melody, groove and inspired saxophone solo, Johnson lays down his own improvisational beauty on the grand piano.

Bassist, Herman Burney, has been greatly influenced by the church, inspired by artists like Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and James Cleveland. In younger years he played clarinet, drums and tuba, before embracing his love for the bass instrument. This could have been inspired by the booming bass voice of his father, who sang the bass part in an a‘Capella group.

Drummer, Carroll V. Dashiell III has a stellar resume. Among many accomplishments, he was the Kelvin Washington Orchestra drummer. Then, from 2005 – 2012, he performed on the Congressional Black Caucus Awards Television Show, with the Clarence Knight Orchestra. He also has his own CD release, “Heir to the Throne.”

The talented group leader, Jordon Dixon, is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He began playing saxophone at twelve-years-old. By the time he was a teen, you could see him sitting-in at the local jam sessions where folks realized and praised his talent and determination. When he turned nineteen, Dixon joined the U.S. Marines and for the next eleven years, he played his horn with their orchestra. Once honorably discharged, he pursued a music education degree at UDC. Jordon Dixon was heralded by the Washington City Paper as “the Best Tenor Saxophonist of 2016.” This album clearly supports that tribute. His lovely ballad, “We Kin” whose title I interpret two ways, an homage to family and a slang spelling of ‘we can,’ has got a lilting, afro-Cuban feel that stages a groove and platform for Jordon Dixon to explore and share his tenor talents. The title tune, “On!” is ethereal and unfolds in a magical way with arpeggio piano and a heavy brush of cymbals. Then it bebops into my room with a swagger, like a well-dressed, eye-candy, catching my undivided attention.

Dixon’s composer skills are evident and the players mesh and blend into each other comfortably, like old friends or family. I enjoy Burney’s big, beautiful bass skills on the double bass. When he opens the next tune, “Flame and Friction” he establishes the melody and sings it strongly before Dixon and his guest trumpeter, J.S. Williams, join him. This is a deep-seeded blues number that gives Williams an opportunity to strut his trumpet stuff with excellence and verve. This quickly becomes another one of my favorites on this remarkable recording. I do love me some good blues! All in all, I would have to say that every single cut on this album is worthy of several enjoyable listening experiences. Jordon Dixon is an important member of the Washington, D.C. jazz community and bound to make a prominent, soulful and hard-bop-mark on the worldwide jazz scene with this release.
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Ehud Asherie, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Rodney Green, drums.

This is an entertaining and creative exploration into early New Orleans jazz by pianist Ehud Asherie. His dynamic trio opens with the title tune, “Wild Man Blues,” a Louis Armstrong composition. This melodic journey gives us an opportunity to meet all three players; Asherie on piano, Peter Washington, persuasive on bass and Rodney Green, forceful and tasty on drums.

“Parker’s Mood gives the ‘blues’ a twirl around the compact disc dance floor. They pick up the pace on “Flying Down to Rio,” and clearly Ehud Asherie has the chops and the timing to explore the outer limits of this tune with integrity and technique on the grand piano. He has chosen a repertoire that embraces the American song book and adds popular jazz standards for good measure. His interpretation of “Chasin’ the Bird” Is fresh and ear-appealing. His piano arrangement embraces the contrapuntal, two-horn lines in a very innovative way on the 88-keys.

A fresh face on the international jazz scene, born in 1979, Asherie is a native of Israel, who lived for six years in Italy and then moved to New York with his family. Surprisingly, he is largely self-taught and cut his jazz teeth sitting in at Smalls in NYC and becoming a fixture at the jam sessions. The late Frank Hewitt took young Asherie under his wing and mentored him. He has studied and mastered the art of stride piano and he can swing with the best of them. One of his acclaimed albums celebrates the music of Eubie Blake. He also plays organ and has recorded duet projects featuring saxophonist, Harry Allen. His recording accomplishments include being one of the players on “Boardwalk Empire” that won the 2010 Grammy Award for the soundtrack of that HBO televised program. Both Peter Washington and Rodney Green are genuine forces in their own musical rights and add spice and flavor to this project.
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Akira Tana, drums/fan drums/bongos; Noriyuki Ken Okada, bass; Art Hirahara, piano; Masaru Koga, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute/shakuhachi; GUEST MUSICIANS: Shoko Hikage, koto (Japanese zither); Kenny Endo, taiko & percussion; Tetsuya Tatsumi, cornet.

The First tune, “Antagata Dokosa” is a traditional Japanese song arranged in such a way that the group seems to celebrate John Coltrane in style and presentation. It’s bebop smart, melodic and straight-ahead. I think to myself, if this is a sample of the music I’m about to hear, I’m all in!

But the second song becomes a tribute to pan-piper music. “Ai San San”, the title tune is poignant and features Masaru Koga moving from tenor saxophone to flute. Although well-played, it’s a pretty drastic change from the first composition and arrangement. The flute he plays is the shakuhachi flute and the song is also featuring Kenny Endo on taiko drums. However, when you set the bar so high on the first tune, to trade straight-ahead jazz magic for smooth jazz is a bit shocking to the senses.

The third tune is another moderate-tempo ballad. It’s not until I read the liner notes that I realize what this group of musicians called, Otonowa, is trying to accomplish. They are arranging traditional Japanese songs into jazz and, at the same time, making tribute to the people affected by that horrific Eastern earthquake and tsunami that occurred in March of 2011. That nature-event destroyed much of the coastal regions of Northern Japan and claimed over 20,000 lives. This Cd is made to pay homage to the survivors and those who lost their lives to this terrible event. “Ai San San” translates to “Love’s Radiance.”

The fifth tune is joyful, arranged by bassist Noriyuki Ken Okada, and is obviously based on the Sonny Rollins hit, “St. Thomas.” It gives us an opportunity to enjoy the likes of drum maestro, Akira Tana, and the bass perfection of Okada-san. The sixth composition, “Hamabe No Uta,” reminds me of the sensitivity and melodic beauty of “Danny Boy,” a beloved Irish composition, enjoyed worldwide. On composition number 7, “Summer” (a theme from “Kikujiro No Natsu”), master drummer, Akira Tana cuts loose and shows off his powerful ‘chops.’ On cut #8, we return to the energy of the opening song. It’s been composed to remember and tribute Coltrane and it’s titled, “Taiyo Ni Hoero” with notable arrangements by bassist, Okada. Art Hirahara shines brilliantly on piano, Akira Tana keeps the rhythm section pumped up on trap drums and Masaru Koga flies powerfully on his horn, like a wild eagle into the wind. Akira Tana takes to the bongos on “Kando,” introducing this tune rhythmically before the ensemble joins him. This composition has an afro-Cuban-feel to it, blended uniquely with Asian minor chords and melodies. It was written in tribute to Chris Kando lijima, a pioneer of the Asian/American movement and founder of Asian Americans for Action, a civil rights organization of the sixties. Finally, they close with Horace Silver’s popular composition, “Peace.” This is World Music, flavored by Japanese culture and interpreted using American jazz as the catalyst.
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Skip Wilkins, piano; Tomas “Kastan” Baros, bass; Marek Urbanek, drums; Daniel Wilkins, tenor saxophone; Miroslav Hloucal, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Daniel Wilkins has a sweet, husky sound on his tenor saxophone as he opens this CD with a tune titled, “Teacher.”. Daniel and Skip Wilkins have been collaborating musically since 2012, when they released a Cd titled, “Father and Son. Skip is the father and his son, Daniel, is his featured saxophonist on this project. It was developed after Skip Wilkins travelled, on tour, to the Czech Republic and fell in love with their music, art and culture. Consequently, these original compositions mirror a Prague/ Pennsylvania connection. Beginning with his “Teacher” composition. I think, perhaps it reflects the sabbatical he took from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania to write a collection of original works. However,the liner notes tell me it was written for his Czech language teacher.

For a decade, Skip Wilkins had an opportunity to teach and perform throughout Europe. But it was the Czech Republic that stuck an arrow into the heart of his music. Below, view one of his ‘live’ performances at AghaRTA Jazz Club in Prague.

Wilkins has incorporated young Czech musicians into this project. In 2016, the logistical planning for “Czech Wishes” began. That’s when Skip Wilkins began composing for this CD. It was January of that year, and he was touring. He knew what Czech musicians he was going to use, and they are the ones listed above, including Miroslav Hloucal, a virtuoso trumpeter. I enjoyed his solo on the first cut.
Skip Wilkins writes very melodically and plays piano with passionate exuberance. His arrangements leave plenty of room for these musicians to showcase their individual talents. Daniel Wilkins brings saxophone fire and energy to the group. Marek Urbanek shows his drum skills, especially obvious on “Munchkins of Karlovy Vary” where the ensemble swings hard and up-tempo. Urbanek takes advantage of the appropriate breaks in the arrangement, showing awesome prowess on his trap drums. On “The Box-Checkers” you can hear the grit and gusto in Tomas “Kastan” Baros’ bass playing. He’s walking that double bass at a swift pace, chasing Skip Wilkins’ bright piano licks and flying fingers.

This is an album full of bright, harmonic horn lines, fresh compositions and inspiring arrangements. All the musicians are skillful and their repertoire covers hard bop, blues, Ballads, and a blend of American and Czech jazz that captivates and entertains.
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Ben Winkelman, piano; Matt Penman, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums.

Pianist/composer, Ben Winkelman was born in Eugene, Oregon, but grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He’s been living and working in New York City since 2010. This is his fifth album release and his goal is to find balance between composition and improvisation; planning and spontaneity. His music is wrapped in the originality of his compositions as he and his trio strive for balance between the intellectual and the intuitive. I am drawn into his work on the third tune titled, “Wheels.” It’s hard bop at its best, with Winkelman’s fingers flying across the keys precisely and with astute technique. Matt Penman is up for the challenge, making the double bass swing and sing at maximum speed. His bass solo is beautiful and his timing is impeccable. Obed Calvaire, on drums, pushes the trio energy with maximum, but tasty power, soloing on the fade. Yes, this tune sounds gospel-based, but races straight-ahead, like its title, “Wheels” that could be attached to cars at the Indianapolis 500 races.

“Santiago” is beautifully performed by Winkelman, taking tender time in the upper-register of the grand piano, with Penman once again creating a lush bottom of bass for the pianist to sit upon.

All tracks have been composed by Ben Winkelman with the one exception, “Bye-Ya” by Thelonious Monk. Winkelman has arranged tune in his own way and states, in liner notes, that Monk is one of his favorite jazz composers. “Merri Creek” becomes a great platform for Obed Calvaire to dance on his trap drums. He and Winkelman seem to have a contrary motion moment at the introduction and before they settle into a moderate tempo, Latin-tinged tune. I enjoy the blend of Latin and straight-ahead that Winkelman integrates within this arrangement.

Winkelman is an award-winning pianist and recording artist, who has utilized grant support from the Australia Council and other arts organizations. He holds a Master of Music degree from SUNY Purchase College and has toured Europe, Asia and extensively in Australia.
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NICK SANDERS TRIO – “PLAYTIME 2050” Sunnyside Communications, Inc.

Nick Sanders, piano/composer; Henry Fraser, bass; Connor Baker, drums.

The cover of Nick Sanders’ album is startling. New Mexico-based artist, Leah Saulnier has painted a young girl in pigtails, wearing a gas mask, cuddling her stuffed rabbit, also donning a gas mask.

“When I first saws the image, I found it really interesting and weird, not to mention starkly different from any artwork I’ve seen in the jazz world. I liked its tongue in cheek look at the state of the world today, with the silver-lining being that it’s clearly about surviving,” explained Sanders.

The Sanders album reflects, in art and music, a warning and inference to protect our air and our planet. It also, by way of Nick Sanders playful piano excellence and the little girl on the cover, seems to personify the innocence and hopefulness that children always reflect in their forgiving, hopeful attitudes. The style and personality of Sanders’ piano delivery has been shaped by his New Orleans roots, combined with his respect and inspiration from mentors like Jason Moran and his love of influential composers like Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. With that in mind, his “Live Normal” composition, as well as cut two, “Manic Maniac” are both built on solid melodies before stretching out like bubble gum being pulled playfully from a child’s mouth. Sanders stretches the limits as far as arms-length and fingers allow. His improvisations are thoughtful and deliberate. Henry Fraser, on bass, roots the music and holds the chord changes solidly in place, especially noticeable with the sudden time element changes and fluctuations. “Playtime 2050,” the title tune, is more bebop than modern jazz and pleases this listener’s musical palate. Nick Sanders manages to insert his style and new, modern jazz ideas into this tune, with Connor Baker on drums and Fraser’s walking bass becoming the sturdy tree from which Sanders can branch out. There’s a saying in the music community that “you can’t lose when you choose the blues” and the Nick Sanders original composition titled, “Prepared for the Blues” shows us he can get down and dirty with the best of them.

When this young talent first tackled the piano, he was a second-grade student. His classical performances won him numerous regional and national competitions, before jazz lured him away with her sensuous freedom. You can hear the deep classical roots inside Sanders’ collection of thirteen original compositions. During the time of polishing his craft and student studies at the New England Conservatory, he studied with such luminaries as John McNeil, Ran Blake, Cecil McBee and Fred Hersch.
Nick Sanders concludes, “This is my contribution to the idea of pushing the music forward, which I think is extremely crucial in keeping the music alive and culturally important.”
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Russ Johnson, trumpet/composer; Rob Clearfield, keyboard; Matt Ulery, bass; Jon Deitemyer, drums.

In 2015, Russ Johnson was commissioned to premiere a set of compositions for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in Chicago. The result is this album, a Suite, featuring six compositions connected by solo improvised passages that gives each member of Johnson’s ensemble an opportunity to spread wings and fly. His music is modern jazz, open and elasticized to allow maximum freedom and flexibility by each musician. Johnson’s trumpet enters and calms the fray. With Jon Deitemyer brilliant and bashing on drums, Russ Johnson walks his trumpet to center stage and brings a magical, meditative effect during the second track, titled “Serpent Kane.” His tone is soothing and the stories his horn tells are engaging. Johnson’s trumpet solo morphs into cut #3 titled, “Transition” where Johnson makes an a ‘Capella, solo debut. These ‘transitions’ happen throughout this recording, affording each musician a solo time to make their musical statement. There is no space between tunes, so the suite of music plays smooth and uninterrupted. It’s a compelling and creative album that mixes styles like a thick stew, baked in a modern jazz pie crust and seasoned generously with classical technique.

“This is music that takes risks; the goal is not finding ‘perfection’ within a performance, but to truly create the Suite anew with every new opportunity,” summarizes Russ Johnson.
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Dave Striker, guitar/producer; Stefon Harris, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums; Mayra Casales, congas/percussion.

I was looking forward to listening to this new Dave Stryker album, because he has a way of using organ and guitar groups to reinvent R&B and funk tunes into very jazzy arrangements. Starting with Curtis Mayfield’s, “Move On Up,” he and Jared Gold on organ establish a swinging rendition of this tune. McClenty Hunter smacks the groove into the production with unrelenting drum licks and Stefon Harris brightens this arrangement on the vibraphone. Cut #2 reaches into the Motown archives and pulls out the popular “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” that the Temptation group turned into Gold record history. Hunter lays down that solid drum lick so popular on the original tune, and they keep the bass line as well. Stryker offers the melody on his capable guitar and Gold’s organ puts the swing into the song. There are some real gems on this album. They’ve reinvented two of Stevie Wonder’s iconic hits including “Joy Inside My Tears” and “Too high”.

The Roy Ayers hit record, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” will invigorate you on Harris’ stellar solo, but I miss the groove from the original recording. Mayra Casales’ percussive additions help elevate the arrangement. However, the melodic line of this song gets lost in Stryker’s arrangement. The Leon Ware/Marvin Gaye collaboration of “After the Dance” is perfectly re-arranged into a bop-shuffle, with Stryker’s guitar singing the melody atop the rich organ chords of Jared Gold and McClenty Hunter shuffles his drums provocatively to keep the motion moving.

Their interpretation of “We’ve Only Just Begun” composed by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams, is performed as a beautiful ballad, giving space for featured guest, Stefon Harris, to solo on vibes. Karen Carpenter’s amazing vocals are unforgettable. The ensemble swings hard on “This Guy’s in Love With You” a Bacharach and David classic. This arrangement made me wish for a swing dance partner and had me rocking back and forth in my office chair.

Stryker always had in mind creating a trilogy of music by producing three albums that reinvented classic songs from R&B, funk and pop groups, turning them into jazzy standards with his talented trio of musicians. Their repertoire was pulled mostly from the days of Eight Track tape recorders, wide-legged pants and Super Fly attitudes. I enjoyed his first two albums. With the addition of his special guest and friend, Stefon Harris, the trilogy dream is now complete.
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Oliver Lake, alto & soprano saxophones; Graham Haynes, cornet/doussin gouni; Joe Fonda, bass; Barry Altschul, drums/percussion/mbira.

From the first strains of music, this quartet has a big sound. They are only four musicians, but they sound like a much larger group. The powerful drums of Barry Altschul immediately grab my attention as they roll and race beneath the opening tune titled, “Listen to Dr. Cornel West.” The modern jazz spewing from my Cd player is aggressive and in-your-face, like the speeches and comments of Dr. West. Saxophonist Oliver Lake and cornet player, Graham Haynes shout at each other and sometimes harmonize tightly, locking horns like arms. Joe Fonda rolls and rubs his double bass, finally stepping out front to take a solo and quieting the other members of this boisterous ensemble. The OGJB Quartet is a collaborative effort based in New York. Members Lake and Altschul are pioneers of modern, improvised music since the 1960s. The other two members, Haynes and Fonda began their association with the genre in the late 70s. All four artists are composers and each is highly acclaimed on their instrument. Haynes, Fonda and Altschul are all New Yorkers. Oliver Lake is a native of St. Louis and respected as one of the founders of the Black Artists Group (BAG). Lake lived briefly in Paris, France and finally settled in New York where he founded the World Saxophone Quartet with David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. He’s also a co-founder of Trio 3, comprised of himself with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille.

Flexing a full, rich sound, the OGJB Quartet lifts the listener with music that inspires. This is no easy task, since the expected guitar and/or piano, as part of the rhythm section, is missing. However, it does not hinder or minimize the creative juices of these players and their magnificent presence and sound.

Graham Haynes, on cornet and doussin gouni, grew up in Queens. He enjoys fusing jazz with elements of electronic music and hip-hop. Back in 1979, he and alto saxophonist Steve Coleman played together as a group called Five Elements. Haynes always incorporates African, Arabic and South Asian music into his performances. He too spent time living and playing his horn in Paris before returning to New York. When he’s not performing on stage or touring, you will find him bent over music paper and composing for films.

Joe Fonda attended Berklee College of Music. On bass, he’s recorded with Wadada Leo Smith and has collaborated with Anthony Braxton. Fonda wrote the opening composition, “Listen to Dr. Cornel West”.

On cut #2, Oliver Lake recites his poem, “Broken In Parts” atop the title tune, “Bamako” with Asian sounding music unfolding beneath the spoken word. The music runs like a stream, moving briskly and uniquely in the background. It was written by Graham Haynes and he is featured on the doussin gouni, a guitar-like string instrument from the African continent.

Barry Altschul soars on drums during his solo on the original composition, “GS #2.” He steals the attention with his powerful sticks and technique. Altschul is an old pro, having honed his percussive teeth working with highly influential and iconic musicians like Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea and Sam Rivers. These were some of the hottest bebop/freebop players to gain notoriety in the 1970s and 80s. After living a decade in Europe, he returned to New York to teach and inspire young musicians. Altschul established the FAB Trio and recorded the “History of Jazz in Reverse” CD and led the 3dom Factor with saxophonist Jon Irabagon and Joe Fonda, both produced for the TUM label. When you wrap all four of these unique and world-class musicians together, they create a quartet offering spontaneous combustion, creativity and jazz originality.
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April 14, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
April 14, 2019

This time, some of the music I’ve reviewed highlights the amazing psychological influence jazz has on both listeners and the players. According to recent studies, jazz listeners are twenty-five percent less depressed than non-listeners. Scientists discovered that those who listen to jazz after a stroke improve their verbal memory, their moods and cranial focus by sixty percent, compared to non-jazz listeners who improved only seventeen percent. On the physical side, it was discovered that jazz boosts the immune system. So, let’s put aside the aspirin and listen to some jazz instead.

ANDY MILNE & HIS DAPP THEORY BAND have used psycho dynamics to create his new music. LARRY FULLER inspires listeners with blues-soaked jazz. BIRCKHEAD is a composer/activist. AIMEE NOLTE is “Looking for the Answers” on her newest release. ALEX SILLS uses smooth jazz to explore “Experiences: Real and Imaginary.” PABLO ASLAN is a Latin Grammy Award Nominated bassist and producer. GREG WARD introduces us to a Rogue Parade.GREGOR HUEBNER offers his shockingly beautiful violin mastery and LAUREN WHITE is the latest vocalist produced by Mark Winkler.


Andy Milne, piano/composer;/poet; Aaron Kruziki, soprano saxophone/clarinet/bass clarinet/douduk; John Moon, spoken word vocals; Christopher Tordini, acoustic & electric bass; Kenny Grohowski, drums; FEATURED GUESTS: Ben Monder, guitar; Ralph Alessi, trumpet; La Tanya Hall, vocals/spoken word; Michael Attias, alto & baritone saxophone; Christopher Hoffman & Jody Redhage, cello.

From the cover of this compact disc, it would appear that the creator of this music loves dogs. There are several pedigrees pictured. Yet the album is titled “The Seasons of Being.” Hmmm. That’s a teaser for my brain. I’m anxious to listen. On the opening tune, dancing atop a piano background, a female voice tells me this is an “ …Exploration into psycho dynamic forces … changing brain waves … healing”. Then a male voice enters, accompanied by bass and drums. He tells me that “Each of us is made of flesh and bones/ hearts and minds/customized by our environment.” The voice explains, “ … music has the power … a blueprint that acknowledges and incorporates our emotional character.” Andy Milne’s poetry pulls at your mind, while a double bass solo soars over the repetitive background track. The pianist, poet and composer here is Milne. He strives to incorporate ‘spoken word’ with modern jazz, applying the principles of homeopathic healing and improvisation to interpret his “Dapp Theory Ensemble”. The result is fresh and creatively inviting.

During a life crisis, where Andy was fighting Prostate Cancer, he sought to better understand homeopathic healing. His study of that subject led him to a project he calls, Chamber Music America. This project is meant to broaden the range of musical expression for not only the participating musicians, but to stimulate the listener and perhaps even become a catalyst for healing. As a professor at the University of Michigan, Andy Milne and his Dapp Theory ensemble endeavor to stretch the boundaries of modern jazz and mix the music in such a way that it not only entertains, but also informs the listener. Perhaps music infuses the cells of the body and not just the ear-ways.

On track three, “The Guardian” features the sweet, soprano vocals of La Tanya Hall, who sings a very difficult melody of unexpected and challenging intervals. She is also the voice that transmits some of Milne’s prose throughout this recording. Jody Redhage’s cello work on this song is a lovely addition to the arrangement. Aaron Kruziki’s soprano saxophone is stunning and takes flight on the fade of this song in a beautiful way. John Moon is another ‘spoken word-smith.’ He adds Andy Milne’s rap-like flavor on the “Scotopia” tune. We hear Andy Milne’s piano solo on this ‘cut,’demanding our attention in an enchanting and sugar-sweet way. Ralph Alessi’s trumpet slaps the jazz into place, merging from solo to unity with the saxophonist. Kenny Grohowski’s fluid and powerful drum licks demand to be acknowledged and he holds the rhythm firmly in place. On the original composition, “Three-Way Mirror,” Christopher Hoffman bows an impressive cello solo.

This is an interesting album, dependent on merging several artists beneath a colorful umbrella of Andy Milne’s creativity. This is his novel approach to composing and merging a group awareness, epitomizing a democratic approach to collective music, adding prose mixed with instrumental freedom, wrapped in emotional deliveries.

However, I still don’t know why there are dogs on the cover.
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Larry Fuller, piano; Hassan Shakur, bass; Lewis Nash, drums.

Larry Fuller opens with a Wes Montgomery composition titled, “Fried Pies.” It’s beautifully performed by Fuller, who intricately laces his bebop arrangement with deft touches of the blues. Fuller’s music is rooted with blues tones, although he is clearly a serious jazz player. I am immediately enthralled with his piano playing and technique. Hassan Shakur steps into the spotlight on bass. He’s technically and creatively brilliant. The dynamic Lewis Nash brings his powerful drumming stage center, and offers an exciting solo. The title tune is the second track and absolutely beautiful with Fuller tenderly caressing the melody on the eighty-eight keys; first performing alone and I am already completely engaged by Fuller’s solo piano introduction, when, after several bars, Nash and Shakur join him. Stevie Wonder’s tune is excellently performed.

“Lined with a Groove” is a Ray Brown composition. Larry Fuller had the pleasure of performing with the iconic bassist, Ray Brown, up until Ray’s death in 2002. Brown always chose to work with pianists who could ‘swing’ and who had blues-based roots. Larry Fuller is just such a pianist.

After the death of Brown, Fuller joined the John Pizarelli Band and stayed for nearly ten years. His piano mastery has been in demand over his stellar career by such masters as Stanley Turrentine, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Phil Woods and Clark Terry.

As a native of Toledo, Ohio, Fuller started playing professionally before he was a teenager. For a time, vocal legend, Ernestine Anderson scooped him up as her pianist and musical director. That says to me that Larry Fuller is not only an amazing pianist, but he’s also a sensitive and talented accompanist. This recording is a work of art, seriously executed by three wonderful musicians. Larry Fuller described his musical intentions.

“My goal is to uplift people with the joyous spirit of the music. To Play with joy, to swing and play the blues; these are the hallmarks of jazz that inspired me as a child. They are traditions that I continue to aspire to.”

That says it all.
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BIRCKHEAD Ivory Antidote Music

Brent Birckhead, alto saxophone/composer; Corey Wallace, trombone; Samir Moulay, guitar; Mark Meadows, piano/Rhodes; Romeir Mendez, bass; Carroll Dashiell III, drums.

Brent Birckhead is a composer, an activist and an alto saxophone player based in Baltimore, Md. His music is hardcore, straight-ahead and energized. Punctuated by the bold use of a mononym, (only his last name of Birckhead), this reed player is seeking to establish a musical legacy. With this, his debut album as a band leader, he has composed all the music with the exception of the Donny Hathaway tune, “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” His ensemble features some of the best players in Baltimore.

The first cut is stuffed with blues. The melody is catchy and Birckhead’s saxophone introduces us to it, along with Corey Wallace on Trombone. It’s a short interlude that quickly fades into Birckhead’s original composition, “The Alchemist,” where Mendez’s swiftly walking bass doubles the time and encourages the band to race along beside him. Birckhead takes this opportunity to establish his talent and to display freedom on his instrument. Next, Samir Moulay steps out front to dynamically solo on his guitar.

Cut #4 is a nice blend of groove and straight-ahead with Birckhead’s alto saxophone supreme and prominent. This is one of my favorite tracks on his CD. Mark Meadows offers an energy-driven piano solo showcasing captivating character and technical prowess. “Song for Nicole” is a beautiful ballad, that shows off a different tone and side of Birckhead’s masterful saxophone work. Track 9 is titled, “The Witching Hour” featuring a racing tempo with a repetitive bass line played by Romeir Mendez. His bass pumps the rhythm along with Carroll Dashiell III on drums. Birckhead chases the wind on this one.

Their arrangement of Donny Hathaway’s composition, “Someday We’ll All Be Free” is full of protest and freedom. Birckhead’s saxophone captures the unsung lyrics in a flurry of notes and emotions. This is a very artistic, melodic and well-produced jazz album. Birckhead and his band combine soul music, R&B and Bebop innovation as a subtle catalyst for the serious jazz Birckhead’s original compositions offer the listener.
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Aimee Nolte, piano/voice/composer/organ/synth bass; John Clayton, bass; Bruce Lett, bass; James Yoshizawa, drums; Mike Scott & Jason Neubauer, guitar; Doug Webb & John Reilly, woodwinds.

Her voice is full of poetry and worldliness. Her production is wrapped in a musical ball of emotional delivery. Right away, I know she is a songwriter. After listening to only a few tracks, I am certain that Aimee Nolte wrote these stories from her heart and she’s probably playing piano. I look in the liner notes to discover I’m correct. She’s a composer and a pianist; a producer, arranger and a poet.

Aimee Nolte is fresh and interesting to my ears. She’s a mixture of pop, folk and jazz music; a singer who tells stories in a very sweet way. The opening song, “The Loveliest Girl” was written by her guitarist friend, Matthew Clark, and is quite folksy, with a unique story that Aimee Nolte shares, expressing beautifully the lyrical lines. For example:

“ … the sun was running his fingers through my hair to make it glow … I was born in the center of the sun; … all the other sunbeams, we were the same; preparing ourselves for a long and lonely journey into space.”

This song sticks in my mind, lyrically and melodically. However, in my opinion, “Falling Snow” is the hit record on this CD. It’s Michael Frank-ish intoxication and Brazilian influence dances across this CD with melodic precision.

Aimee’s jazzy scat-side shows itself brightly on track 5, bathed in a Latin arrangement, and again on track 7 when John Clayton joins her and they duet on “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Her spontaneous scat-singing is fresh as she rejuvenates this old standard without words. This entire production is a pleasant excursion into the world of a talented singer/songwriter/pianist who boasts over 140,000 subscribers on YouTube, where she shares music and educational videos, featuring various music topics like harmony, arranging and advanced jazz piano.
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Alex Sill, Electric & acoustic guitar/composer/keyboard/ programming/vocals; Otmaro Ruiz & Vardan Ovsepian,piano; Dave Grusin,piano/keyboard; Benjamin j. Shepherd,electric & acoustic Bass;Gene Coye,drums;Danny Jankow, alto saxophone; Jacob Scesney,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Mike Cottone,trumpet;Oliver Schnee, vocals.

Easy listening, smooth jazz saunters off my CD player. A lovely piano solo by Otmaro Ruiz tickles the senses and Danny Jankow’s saxophone plays tag with Alex Sill’s electric guitar. Sill has a quiet style of playing that captures the attention because of the emotions he instills in his music. Janklow has a special tone on saxophone that catches my ear once again on cut #4 titled, “Chaparral.” On the whole, this is a very classical music production, featuring the original music of Alex Sill and incorporating vocal harmonies and saxophone to flavor his competent trio. It’s beautiful music, albeit very ‘laid back.’ Every cut is in the realm of moderate tempo. I would have enjoyed hearing Sill stretch out more on his guitar in a more exciting, up-tempo, Bebop way. He is certainly technically astute on his instrument and more than capable of playing just about anything. However, on this project, clearly Alex Sill has his own intent and purpose. Perhaps, he explains that purpose best in his own words.

“More than being a collection of original compositions, ‘Experiences: Real and Imaginary’ is a concept record of sorts, allowing me to explore the connections between music, imagery, and the psychological implications of the two. …In high school, I began studying the topic in depth. … It wasn’t until my college years at Cal Arts that I came across the work of Carl Jung, one of the founders of analytical psychology. …Towards the end of his life, Dr. Jung became very interested in the connections between archetypal behavior in humans and music. … This music was more or less designed to allow listeners to tap into their imaginative, storytelling centers; … allows you to fill in the blanks with your own, internal cinema.”
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PABLO ASLAN – “CONTRABAJO” Sound Brush Records

Pablo Aslan, bass; Cuarteto Petrus: Pablo Saravi, violin; Hernan Briatico, violin; Adrian Felizia, viola; Gloria Pankaeva, violoncello; SPEICAL GUESTS: Paquito D’Rivera, clarinet; Raul Jaurena, bandoneon.

Pablo Aslan is a Latin Grammy Award Nominated bassist and producer. He is best celebrated for his work in combining tango and jazz. This album is a lovely and memorable combination of double bass with string instruments. Aslan’s project is meant to show that the bass instrument is not just the foundational driver of the rhythm section, but it’s also a melodic instrument. Pablo Aslan quickly shows us this concept in his various presentations and improvisations using the double bass instrument as the center of attention. With the exception of his special guests, Paquito D’Rivera, playing clarinet on one song (“Tanguajira”) and Raul Jaurena adding his bandoneon talents on “La Cumparsita”, the remaining songs are all bass accompanied by strings. Latin culture and classical music flavor are richly shared throughout this production more-so than jazz, with the exception of the beautiful Duke Ellington composition, “Come Sunday.”

Aslan’s friend and mentor, Gabriel Senanes (who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina), wrote, produced and arranged several pieces on this CD. When Pablo Aslan reached out to other close friends to contribute compositions, he picked out several that leant themselves to his premise of bass and chamber-type string accompaniment. The result is an innovative and very beautiful tribute to the double bass, performed by the amazing talents of Pablo Aslan and his ensemble of top-notch string instrumentalists.
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Greg Ward, alto saxophone/composer; Matt Gold & Dave Miller, guitar & effects; Matt Ulery, acoustic & Electric bass; Quin Kirchner, drums.

Greg Ward is dramatic with his presentations, compositions and arrangements. This album explores his songwriting and features eight original tunes and one Hoagy Charmichael classic; “Stardust.” His decision to incorporate guitars into his ensemble, with drums, and both electric and acoustic bass gives this production a sense of space. Synthesizers and electronic effects also permeate his arrangements. These things create a unique musical platform for Ward’s saxophone to play upon. Ward is inventive and exploratory with both his arranging and composing skills, albeit repetitive. Some of the bass lines, locked-in with the drums on “The Contender” are annoyingly repetitious for my taste. However, I’m relieved when the guitar solo steps outside that repetitive box and at last, Greg Ward steps forward on his alto saxophone. I also hear the excitement that Quin Kichner kicks up on drums, beneath the fray.

“The Fourth Reverie” is modern jazz and explosive; obviously in search of continuous freedom. I do wish I could hear more of Ward’s saxophone solos. There is a lot of time spent with the guitar and saxophone playing repetitive melody lines. Perhaps because his compositions are often rooted in repetition and sometimes, like on “Let Him In”, I start feeling like I’m in a traffic jam with angry drivers honking horns at me. That destroys the musicality and pushes me out of my musical comfort zone. On the tune, “Black Woods” Matt Ulery is featured on acoustic bass and quiets the mood, training our vision on his bass beauty while displaying technical power on his instrument. When the arrangement brings the rest of the ensemble in, we immediately race into modern and avant-garde jazz realms. That is the premise that pushes this entire project. Sometimes I just feel Greg Ward obfuscates his musical intentions.
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Gregor Huebner,electric & acoustic violin/octave violin/vocals; Yumarya, voice; Klaus Mueller,piano; John Benitez,bass; Louie Bauzo,congas/bongas/quinto/caja; Jerome Doldschmidt,congos/bata/cachimbo/vocals; Ludwig Afonso,drums; Edmar Castaneda, harp; Karen Joseph, flute; Ruben Rodriguez, bass; Johnny Almendra, timbales; Mappy Torres, vocals.

A shockingly beautiful violin opens the second track of Gregor Huebner’s album and it stops everything I’m doing. The song is “Obsesion,” hauntingly interpreted by vocalist, Yumara. When Gregor Huebner re-enters the arrangement on violin, I am once again captivated by his talents. He makes that violin dance sweetly, floating like cherry blossoms in the wind. This song is a 1935 bolero, sung in Spanish and locked into a clavé-based groove. The next track is a protest song about leaving the land of your roots, where you should have felt safe, and venturing to new spaces to begin anew. Once again, Gregor uses the voice of Yumara to sing this ode to finding freedom. She performs in both English and Spanish. It’s a moderate tempo, with driving percussions and a melody that sings like a chant. Huebner uses his violin to interject the sweetness into a tragic story. John Benitez and Louie Bauzo pump the percussion up and their rhythms are infectious.

On track 5, “Para Un Mejor Mundo” Gregor Huebner once again takes stage center to sing his awesome song on violin. He plays with magnificent passion that grips your attention. Edmar Castaneda takes a significant solo on harp.

This album of fine, Cuban music is full of spice and splendor. I especially enjoyed the Afro-Cuban blend of rhythms and chants. “Yuruban Fantasy” is a composition written by Huebner that mirrors the marriage of African and Cuban spiritual music.

This artist/activist offers us an album that speaks to what is going on in the world and also encourages us to effect positive change. He is using music to inspire us and to be a catalyst for change. Herein, you will marvel at maestro Huebner and his amazing violin talents. He joins the ranks of many of today’s musicians, who hope their recordings touch something within the listener’s spirit that provokes the good and lights the darkness.
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Lauren White, vocals; Quinn Johnson, piano/arranger; Mark Winkler, producer/vocals/lyricist; Kevin Axt & David Finck, bass; Marvin “Smitty” Smith & Chris Wabich, drums; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Grant Geissman, guitar; Alex Budman, saxophone; Tatum Greenblatt & Michael Stever, flugelhorn/trumpet; Francisco Torres, trombone; Dave Mann, flute.

Lauren White’s repertoire is rich and includes songs with great melodies and introspective lyrics for her to interpret. The musical ensemble is fabulous and the tracks swing and are perfectly produced. Producer, Mark Winkler, a solid entertainer and recording artist himself, continues to showcase unexposed talent from the Southern California jazz and cabaret arena. Ms. White is one such artist. She has a voice that is pleasant enough, but without a notable style of her own. That is to say, when you hear Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee or Diane Schurr, you immediately recognize their singular vocal style and tone. Lauren White sounds like a million other singers. However, her choice of songs and wonderful back-up band make this recording a pleasant listen.

Along with her artistic, recording and singing-side, the multi-talented Ms. White has found success as a producer on one of my favorite HBO series called, “Homeland.”
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April 2, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
April 2, 2019


Iro Haarla, piano; Ulf Krokfors, double bass; Barry Altachul, drums.

TUM Records is a Finnish record label, established in May of 2003. They proudly produce high-quality, modern-jazz-based recordings, in a very selective fashion. They also sponsor such events as the TUMfest in Helsinki. Consequently, it is not surprising that they have chosen to record this Finnish trio of musicians who are celebrating the music of Avant-garde composer/pianist, Carla Bley.

This is free music, thoughtful, unpredictable, soothing, shockingly beautiful and very classically-based jazz. Pianist, Iro Haarla, wraps her fingers around the keys with technical execution, tenderness and drama. She makes Carla Bley’s music comes alive with pulse and power, in her own sweet way. Ulf Krokfors is dynamic and creative on his double bass. He has a way of finding balance between listening and playing, carefully adding his bass support, while offering necessary space for his band members to shine. He’s sensitive that way.

Drummer, Barry Altachui, explains in the liner notes that he first met Carla Bley when Paul Bley hired him as part of their trio. Consequently, he brings deep authenticity to the bandstand. That was a time of great creativity and inventiveness for Barry Altachui. His drumming blossomed during this period of his life. As he comments in the liner notes, Carla Bley left quite an impression on him.

“When performing her music, you find that it is not only interesting and creatively challenging to play, but also a lot of fun,” Altachui shares on the CD jacket.

To accompany Iro Haarla’s piano interpretations, he admits to changing his approach somewhat in order to support and compliment her unique and inspired interpretation of Bley’s music.

Their beautifully prepared CD package has an extensive biographic description of Carla Bley and her music, including four-color photographs and bios on each of these trio members. However, it is the lovely music they offer the listener that brings the most pleasure and invites us to embrace this tribute to Carla Bley. Iro Haarla’s openness and delicate approach on her instrument draws us through a straw of intricacy and expression. Together, these amazing musicians document history in their own proficient and exquisite way.
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John Patitucci, acoustic bass/6-string electric bass guitar/electric bass/piccolo electric bass; Nate Smith, drums; Greisun, vocals; Isabella Patitucci, vocals; Sachi Patitucci, cello.

All you beat-makers out there, this is a must have disc for study and inspiration. For all you bass players, this is an enormous insight into a legendary musician’s musical mind and an educational experience. Here is John Patitucci’s sixteenth solo record and perhaps his most intimate one to date.

From the very first solo, acoustic bass notes played on “Soul of the Bass,” I am drawn, like quicksand, into his artistic work. For all you musicians and songwriters out there, you will clearly understand when Patitucci says this piece of bass magic has an AABA form. You may even be inspired to write lyrics and melody to his tenacious bass line. The second cut, “Seeds of Change” features Nate Smith’s drums and Patitucci soloing on his six-string bass, setting up a killer-groove. If you want to hear a haunting and soulful blues line, wish granted on “Morning Train.” Patitucci slides in-and-out of notes like a country-blues guitarist or a blues singer. This bass riff is borrowed from a Mississippi spiritual by Fred McDowell. I’ve heard this line in many other songs and once you listen to it, you’ll find it sticks to your brain forever. “The Call”, that is the fourth cut, is the epitome of funk tracks, with a Weather-Report-feel and an infectious energy.

Track-by-track, Patitucci shares his brilliance and talent in a very intimate way. This project has been in his heart for several years and it could be referred to a follow-up to his 1991 effort, “Heart of the Bass” that was nested in an orchestral setting and also featured his acoustic bass and 6-string bass guitar. But this is John Patitucci’s first truly solo bass statement, and I found it masterful.

Inspired by our current political climate, he has chosen several titles for these affective bass lines that mirror hope and introspection. Perhaps he explains it best in his liner notes:

“Right now, it seems like we’re at a low point when it comes to topics like truth and care and empathy for the poor and for immigrants. As a person of faith, I’m committed to fighting against racial and social injustice. I like to use the artistic platform I’m fortunate to have to speak out, engage people and try to be uplifting.”

On the Bach inspired, “Allemande in D minor,” his bass line rings almost prayer-like. On the eleventh cut titled, “Sarab” he adds Isabella Patitucci on vocals along with Greisun. Their voices lend a mysterious and spiritual essence to this original composition by Patitucci. He has composed every bass line melody herein. Closing with “Truth” Patitucci incorporates Sachi Patitucci on cello and mingles the feeling of chamber music into the mix.

I found this album of personal history highlighting John Patitucci’s musical life to be highly inspirational and uplifting. His soulful bass delivery is iconic and motivating, reflective of the great impression he has made in this wellspring of the music business.
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Roddy Smith, guitar; Tim Smith, bass; Marcelo Perez, drums; Martin Bejerano, piano; Murph Aucamp, percussion; Tom Kelley, saxophones; Tim Gordon, saxophone/flute/bass clarinet; David Sneider, trumpet; SPECIAL GUESTS: Ed Calle, saxophone; John Daversa, EWI; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Andre Bernier, organ; Nick Lamb, synthesizer; Roxana Amed, vocals; Gary Lindsay, string arrangement; David Davidson, Karen Winkelman & David Anell, violin; Monisa Angell, viola; Carole Rabinowitz, cello.

Little Havana is just west of downtown Miami. It’s a vibrant neighborhood developed in the 1960s by folks who fled Cuba, looking for freedom in the United States. Impressionably, it’s a neighborhood rich with Latin culture, food and music. Tim Smith has long been intrigued by Little Havana. He moved to Florida in 2014 to attend the Frost School at the University of Miami. After graduation, he joined the university staff to become a professor of bass studies. Tim stems from a musical family; he and his brother Roddy Smith blossomed that way. Roddy is a master guitarist who’s based in Nashville, Tennessee. The brothers have a history of recording hot groove bands for the Zoho label, from being part of a back-up band for Bonnie Bramlett’s “Roots Blues and Jazz” to producing a straight-ahead jazz album with Boots Randolph on saxophone.

When Tim met the remarkable drummer, Marcelo Perez in 2014, they had an immediate musical connection. A new band was conceived and this is their premier recording as “Senor Groove.” The core of that group are the Smith brothers, drummer Perez, Martin Bejerano on piano and percussionist, Murph Aucamp. Several other musicians sweeten the pot.

Senor Groove’s songs start out more like easy listening than the exciting, danceable Cuban music I am prone to enjoy. Their original composition, “3.5X2,”is a pretty tune based on 7/4 timing and what some refer to as, ‘laid-back.’ Tom Kelley is featured on saxophone. On track two, “Drume Negrita” the drums shine diamond bright with Murph Aucomp the percussion star on this cut. The compelling voice of Roxana Amed, (an Argentinian singer), interprets this Cuban lullaby in a lovely way. I hear all-kinds-of-blues in the piano solo or Martin Berjerano. The title tune Is propelled by Tim Smith’s staunch bass line and embellished with unison horn activity and melody lines. Finally, on “Little Havana” the fire in the music burns through and the salsa is invigorating. Tim Gordon is king on flute, until the tune abruptly fades out, just when I was about to leap from my chair and dance around the house. I wanted more! The “Linville Falls” composition, (by The Smith brothers and R. Ogdin) is a unique blend of Bluegrass and Latin music. It’s an up-tempo number with plenty of happy grooves to invigorate the listener. This CD exudes Latin culture, funk grooves, and a plethora of talented musicians who, for the most part, interpret the original music of the Smith Brothers.
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Nick Grinder, trombone/composer; Ethan Helm, saxophone; Juanma Trujillo, guitar; Walter Stinson, bass; Matt Honor, drums.

I wondered what the title of Nick Grinder’s album meant. So, of course I looked it up and in Spanish, it means cliff. The liner notes explained it is also the name of a group of islands that lie thirty- miles west of the Bay Area’s Golden Gate Bridge. These islands are off-limits to human beings and occupied instead by a rich variety of marine mammals and seabirds.

“When you grow up in a place, you have these markers that end up having a special meaning and feeling that sneaks in and helps to define who we are,” Grinder says. “If you grow up in a city, it’s the streets that you walk on every day or the route you drive to work; inconsequential things you don’t even think about until you move away. The Farallon Islands were a backdrop to my youth in the Bay Area and I feel that music is like that. It has a visceral impact that can follow you throughout your life.”

Consequently, as I listened to his original compositions, I was listening for that island; for that wild life and that seclusion; for musical hints of nature’s beauty and free-flying seagulls. The first track is titled, “New and Happy.” It’s full of contrary motion and happy horn harmonies as an introduction. Then Walter Stinson pumps his double bass and Nick Grinder takes a smooth-sailing trombone solo. Several bars in, Juanma Trujillo, (Nick’s former classmate at Cal State Northridge) adds his rhythmic guitar licks to the mix. Enter Ethan Helm on saxophone and Matt Honor locks everything down with his powerhouse drums. I picture waves crashing and seals pulling their shiny-wet, brown bodies upon the rocks.

Grinder has composed all the music on this project with the exception of one of my favorite Thelonious Monk compositions titled, “Reflections.” Grinder explains that he has been greatly influenced by Monk as an artist and composer.

Grinder explained, “He writes tunes that are so lush, especially his ballads, but then his style of playing is so stripped down and unique, and I love that juxtaposition. Everyone wants to write the perfect song, and “Reflections” is an example of something that I think achieves that.”

Nick Grinder has been complimented by Slide Hampton as “an important future voice in jazz trombone.” Grinder began playing professionally at age fifteen. He studied with Bob McChesney and obtained his master’s degree at NYU. He’s played in the pit orchestras of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, then recorded with artists such as Patti LaBelle, DMX, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Grinder released his first solo album in 2014. As a sideman, he prides himself in being diversified and working with Alan Ferber’s big band and then playing with the Mambo legends Orchestra in the next breath. He’s enjoyed stints with Wycliffe Gordon, Jimmy Owens, Ralph Alessi and many more too numerous to list. Some of my favorite tunes that he composed on this recording are: “New and Happy,” “Inaction,” where his somber tones were inspired by the murder of Trayvon Martin. His trombone tones are velvet smooth and full of expression. His melodies are rich with emotion. “Deciduous” which means a tree is shedding its leaves annually. This composition flies freely, allowing space for improvisation and instrumental introspection. This song is very modern jazz and cutting edge, leaning towards Avant-Garde. The Title tune, “Farallon” gives the string instruments an opportunity to sing the melody and improvise a bit before Nick Grinder enters on his elegiac trombone. My only criticism would be that I wish there was more joy and less pathos in these compositions.
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TOM CULVER – “DUKE’S PLACE” Café Pacific Records

Tom Culver, vocals; Rich Eames & Josh Nelson, piano/arranger; Ric Hils/co-arranger; Larry Koonse & Pat Kelley, guitar; Rickey Woodard, saxophone; Nolan Shaheed, coronet; Gabe Davis, bass; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Mark Winkler, duet vocal.

Los Angeles veteran vocalist, Tom Culver, has chosen the music of Duke Ellington for his latest recording. The songs are as timeless as the voice of Culver, who displays a smooth, silky delivery and pleasing tone. Beginning with “Duke’s Place,” Culver comes out swinging, surrounded by a band of masters including Rickey Woodard on saxophone, who plays a straight-ahead solo and fills every empty musical space with joy. The rhythm section, led by Rich Eames on piano, shuffles along in deft support. There is something relaxed and inviting about the way this vocalist sings. You can tell he’s seasoned in his art and comfortable with telling stories and selling lyrics. Other familiar Ellington gems that he tackles are “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart,”(performed as a slow shuffle), “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” (featuring the bluesy guitar of Larry Koonse and a tasty, soulful coronet solo by Nolan Shaheed), “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” (featuring Josh Nelson playing stride piano), “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Caravan.”

Tom Culver also introduced me to an Ellington song I hadn’t heard before titled, “Everything But You.” It was co-written by Harry James, with Don George writing the catchy lyrics. Great song. All in all, you will enjoy Duke Ellington’s great composer skills, interpreted by this vocalist. This is his fifth album and Tom Culver is an artist who incorporates his life-long passion for music into each recorded delivery.
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Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone/composer; Helen Sung, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Dennis Mackrel, drums; Martin Wind, string bass/acoustic bass guitar; SPECIAL GUEST: Sharon Robinson, flute.

The highest, sweetest notes push out from Robinson’s tenor saxophone, alone and uncensored. They are solo, with no accompaniment and I think, wow – listen to those tenor notes flying like a whistle in the night. Then he goes down an octave, to a sound I’m more accustomed to hearing played on the tenor saxophone. Without a warning, Robinson flies back up to the whistle sound that first grabbed my attention. McCartney’s composition, “And I love Her” never sounded so unique; so good. Although admittedly, he’s not a big Beatle fan, Scott Robinson says the tune stuck in his head one night and after the band left the recording studio, he tried exorcising it from his brain by recording it a ‘Capella. It only took one take, with a split reed, to forever memorializing the exhaustion of a day’s recording and a life full of emotion and expression. This is the way he begins his newest CD.

Scott Robinson’s composition, “tenor Eleven,” follows. It swings, straight ahead and unapologetic. When his group enters, Robinson is already soaring though the ethereal vision of his original composition. His horn flies like a wayward, gypsy bird. The ensemble adds their driving compliment to his up-tempo piece that features Helen Sung on piano and Dennis Mackrel, dynamic on his drum solo. This album is full of surprises.

“Put On A Happy Face” is performed as a slow ballad, and I’ve never heard that song arranged this way. It’s poignant and anything but ‘happy’. But never mind! It’s clear that Scott Robinson is an artist who loves the element of surprise and artistic freedom. He takes a hauntingly beautiful solo on this familiar standard jazz tune, making way for Helen Sung to enter on the upper register of her grand piano. The pianist sings her blues in her own inimitable way. Sung has a light touch and an expressive approach to harmonics, with her right hand singing improvisational melodies atop chords of consequence and beauty. As soon as Scott Robinson rejoins the bluesy party, his saxophone cries atop the strong rhythm section. He makes me feel every teardrop in the universe. This arrangement is so striking that I pause to play that cut again.

Robinson is a fine composer, as well as a fluid and expressive reedman. “Morning Star” is another great original composition that could easily become a jazz standard. Celebrated with just saxophone and bass, it is a moving and melodic composition; very bebop. By the time the drums and piano enter, the tune is already established and moving at a moderate-tempo pace. I’m intrigued with this recording, recorded as part of concerts at Birdland in New York City on June 21 and June 22, 2018.

“Tenormore” is a very natural step for me,” Robinson shares in his liner notes. “The tenor saxophone is my main instrument, my home base, my comfort zone, if there is one. It’s like the sun, and all the other instruments are like planets that revolve at varying distances. So, I felt like it was time to make this album, to come out and make a statement: I’m still a tenor player at the core.”

“The Good Life,” starts out modern jazz and freely improvised on the tenor. It unexpectedly appears, unique like the hat Robinson wears on the cover of this CD, fashioned from 177 reeds that he’s played with over the years. He blows all this wonderful music out of a silver 1924 Conn that he rescued from a Maryland antique shop in 1975. He’s played it ever since. His treasured horn has become like an alter-ego, or a best friend over time.

“I often say that we two are like an old married couple. We roll our eyes but forgive each other’s faults, because we’ve been together long enough to realize that we’re better together than apart,” he describes his relationship with the horn.

His wife, who he’s been cohabitating with him longer than his horn, makes a guest appearance on “The Weaver,” playing flute. Sharon Robinson sounds beautiful and establishes the melody of her man’s composition before he brings his expressive horn onto the scene to color outside the lines and push the boundaries. Another favorite on this album is his funk arrangement of “The Nearness of You,” that adds an element of smooth jazz or contemporary jazz to his mix.

Scott Robinson has been heard in fifty-five nations and is recorded on over two-hundred-fifty sessions. Primarily a tenor saxophonist and composer, he is also a writer of essays, has written liner notes and was an invited speaker before the Congressional Black Caucus. Not to mention, he was selected as one of the Jazz Ambassador’s for the State Department. His music speaks for itself and certainly brightened my evening in a most entertaining and unforgettable way. Below is one of his ‘live’ performances with a different ensemble than the one featured on this CD.

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Chris Foreman, organ; Greg Rockingham, drums; Lee Rothenberg, guitar; Greg Ward & Geof Bradfield, saxophone.

The Soul Message Band makes me want to have a party. They are full of energy, they groove hard and play soulfully. No wonder they have selected their band name to include the word ‘Soul.’ They are the epitome of that! This is their debut recording for the Delmark label and organ master, Chris Foreman, comes out swinging on the Lee Rothenberg tune, “Sir Charles.” I’m immediately captivated by this band because there’s nothing I love more than a jazz organ and guitar performance. Greg Rockingham solidifies the group on drums. He’s a powerhouse. The whipped cream on this sweet combination of driving rhythms and soulful melodies is the addition of saxophone. Greg Ward and Geof Bradfield are each stellar in their own right on reeds. Rockingham and Foreman have history. They were two-thirds of the popular Chicago band, Deep Blue Organ Trio. This organ master and drum connoisseur have played together for over two decades. You can feel their chemistry, dancing from the grooves of this compact disc.

Saxophonist, Geof Bradfield, remembers:

“I was doing a gig with Earland and Lonnie Smith at Chicago’s Green Dolphin Street in 1997. Great as those two masters were, a highlight was Chris Foreman showing up and bringing the house down. Earland was so excited by the groove Rock (Greg Rockingham) and Chris were hitting, he even borrowed my tenor and played a couple choruses.”

I was excited by Chris Foreman’s organ and this entire group of proficient and soulful musicians. You can immediately hear the influence of the late, great Jimmy Smith, but it was Jimmy McGriff who shared the organ bench with Foreman for years at the New Apartment Lounge on Chicago’s South-side. So, both organ masters played a big part in inspiring Chris Foreman’s technique and appreciation of the organ. Still, he brings his own awesome energy and emotion to these tunes. Lee Rothenberg is spicy and provocative on guitar, holding the rhythm down and always ready to take a spotlight solo. Every cut on this production is excellently produced.

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