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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