CONTINENT TO CONTINENT: JAZZ REIGNS

CONTINENT TO CONTINENT: JAZZ REIGNS
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
April 2, 2019

IRO HAARLA, ULF KROKFORS & BARRY ALTSCHUL –“AROUND AGAIN –THE MUSIC OF CARLA BLEY” TUM Records

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 – “SOUL OF THE BASS” Independent Label

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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SENOR GROOVE – “LITTLE HAVANA” Zoho Records

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 – “FARALLON” Outside In Music

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 – “TENORMORE” Jazz Arbors Label

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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SOUL MESSAGE BAND – “SOULFUL DAYS” Delmark Label

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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