PUSHING BOUNDARIES: JOYFUL AND STRAIGHT-AHEAD

PUSHING BOUNDARIES: JOYFUL AND STRAIGHT-AHEAD
By Dee Dee McNeil

May 7, 2019

JOHNATHAN BLAKE – “TRION” Giant Step Arts

Johnathan Blake, drums; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; Linda May Han Oh, bass.

This is a two-record set that features the amazing dexterity and charisma of drummer, Johnathan Blake. On Disc 2, (that for some reason I listen to first) Blake opens cut #1. titled, “Bedrum,” with a flurry of trap drum power and innovation. No other instruments are necessary. He says it all. The next tune titled, “Good Hope” is a platform for Chris Potter, on tenor saxophone, Linda May Han Oh on bass and Blake on drums to explore Potter’s original composition. This song was originally inspired by South Africa and Potter uses a unique percussive approach on his saxophone. Blake is expert and captivating on his drum set.

The album title, “Trion,” is a physics term that determines a singlet state formed from three atoms of different colors. Blake originally created this trio as a collective. They called themselves, the BOP Trio, inspired not only by a reference to bebop, but definitely representing the initials of each member’s last name (Blake, Oh and Potter). They’ve been playing together for some time, not only as BOP, but in various other musical settings. Consequently, there is a chemistry and closeness evident on this recording. This music was captured and recorded ‘live’ at New York City’s famed Jazz Gallery before a spellbound audience. Blake plays drums with fire and power. He commands the attention throughout this recording. Johnathan Blake has jazz running through his DNA. His father was the late jazz violinist, John Blake Jr.

Linda May Han Oh begins the introduction of the “Eagle” composition on her bass. Both she and reed master, Chris Potter are impressive modern jazz players. Ms. Oh is given a lengthy opportunity to solo during this composition and throughout this recording. Potter is creative and formidable on his tenor axe, lending consistent powerful solos.

“I’m in awe of both Linda and Chris. This was a really beautiful chance for us to make some honest music together and I really enjoyed the process. We all felt very comfortable in the cordless format. We really know how to fill up the space without getting in each other’s way, which gives each one of us the opportunity to have our shining moments,” Blake shared his appreciation for his bandmates in his liner notes.

Blake, also a composer, wrote some original music for this project that reflects his early days, growing up in Philadelphia’s Germantown and embracing the hip hop and funk music of his younger years, incorporating it smoothly into a jazz format. This trio’s music definitely reflects freedom as they continuously explore expert and creative improvisation.
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MARK DRESSER SEVEN – “AIN’T NOTHING BUT A CYBER COUP & YOU” Cleanfeed Records

Mark Dresser, double bass /Mclagan Tines/composer; Nicole Mitchell, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Marty Ehrlich, clarinet/bass clarinet/alto saxophone; Keir Gogwilt, violin; Michael Dessen, trombone; Joshua White, piano; Jim Black, drums/percussion.

“Black Arthur’s Bounce” opens this CD. Bassist/leader, Mark Dresser has composed this song and all ten of the compositions on this album. His opening tune is avant-garde, with plenty of dissonance and shocking horn harmonies to awaken the senses. It’s written in memory of alto saxophonist, Arthur Blythe, who left a legacy of experimental and extreme modern jazz for the public to consume. Nicole Mitchell’s flute adds brightness and bounce to these dark chords. This is a twelve-minute tune, allowing each ensemble member to step forward and spray improvisational notes all over the place. Joshua White’s piano solo provokes my attention. He’s fluid, strong and attacks his solo with two-fisted, ten-finger power. Jim Black, on drums, never stops inspiring these musicians. His trap drums beat consistently and tenaciously throughout, propelling each song and accenting each musician’s creative improvisation. Here is a musical excursion into the outer limits. Both Marty Ehrlich (reedman) and leader Mark Dresser played with Arthur Blythe’s band before his departure from this Earth on March 27, 2017. Consequently, there is a warm and close connection to their friend and musical mentor.

The waltz composition, “Gloaming” is very melodic and beautiful, showing the tender side of Dresser. The violin addition by Keir Gogwilt sings sweetly. There is no question, Dresser writes lovely melodies and the tunes inspire the spirit, if the listener can let go and dive deep. Between the composed works, Dresser includes short bass solos and improvisations on the McLagan Tines. The McLagan Times instrument is a set of seven graduated steel rods, looking similar to a kalimba, but with larger, rounder tines. This may be another salute to Arthur Blythe, who always included various odd and little-known instruments into his concerts and recordings.

The title tune, “Ain’t Nothing but a Cyber Coup & You” cries out to his public in an activist voice, perhaps referring to the Russian intervention into our elections and using the internet to hack, mislead and influence American voters. In his liner notes, Dresser gives credit for this composition and title to a column written by journalist, Paul Krugman, a New York Times opinion columnist. Dresser describes his piece as an honorarium to the current “reality-horror-show of corruption, malice, xenophobia and class warfare” apparent under the current administration and trickling from the top, downward.

“Let Them Eat Paper Towels” is another protest title that refers to the horrible way Donald Trump treated the victims of Hurricane Maria upon visiting a devastated Puerto Rico. Any news-watcher will recall how America’s rogue president visited the island and shocked us by disrespectfully tossing paper towels into the crowd. The bass line of this tune is an abstraction of the melody of “Que Bonita Bandera” that is the unofficial national anthem of Puerto Rico. Dresser built the counter-lines on this musical basement.

All in all, this is an hour’s worth of creative, ethereal and modern jazz expression, encapsulated and cushioned in avant-garde arrangements and the freedom of technically trained and proficient musicians who showcase Mark Dresser’s composing skills.
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PABLO LENOUGUERE – “ECLECTICO” Independent Label

Pablo Lanouguere, upright & electric bass/composer; Nick Danielson, violin; Fredrico Diaz, guitar; Emilio Teubal, piano; Franco Pinna, drums; Fernando Otero & Antonio Boyadjian, synthesizer.

Argentinian bassist, Pablo Lenouguere, is a composer who offers a dozen original tunes on this album. Born in Buenos Aires, he earned a degree in jazz from the Escuela de Musica Popular de Avellaneda. Six years ago, he moved to New York. His original music embraces modern tango, classical music and his Argentine culture. The first composition showcases the strength and character of his drummer, Franco Pinna. Pianist, Emilio Teubal, plays a very classical role on this track. Pablo Lenouguere’s composition titled, “Piano Piano” features time changes that create suspense and space for his ensemble to improvise, with Nick Danielson’s violin often playing in unison with the piano’s melodic lines. On Cut #3, “Villa,” Lanouguere steps forward on his bass to also sing the tune’s melody, doubling with the piano once again. His compositions are very classically influenced and sometimes melodically repetitious. Lenouguere’s style seems to be based in looping the melodies. These melodies play over and overagain during these compositions, the way hip-hop artists loop their background music. The difference is, this production is quite classical, dramatic and splashed with Tango elements.

https://www.youtube.com/user/pablolanouguere

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MARK TURNER MEETS GARY FOSTER Capri Records

Gary Foster, alto saxophone; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Putter Smith, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums.

On this recording, you will find long, suite-like pieces of music, featuring alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass and drums. With the dynamic Putter Smith on bass and the iconic Joe LaBabera at the drums, Mark Turner and Gary Foster are left with plenty of room for saxophone freedom of expression. This project was recorded live and encompasses a two-CD set of brilliant bebop and straight-ahead music. This first tune, “Background Music” offers twelve minutes of recording space for each of these four master musicians to explore their instruments and spotlight their sparkling talents. Below is a recording that features Gary Foster with Joe LaBabera, John Heard on bass and Jimmy Rowles manning the piano.

Although three decades separate Foster and Turner, there is a kindred spirit that connects them musically. Gary Foster, born May 25, 1936, has played on soundtracks that celebrate the work of such iconic artists as Toshiko Akioshi, Lew Tabackin, Barbra Streisand, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra and too many more to list. He’s been around the jazz and music scenes for over half a century and his talents have meshed with Clare Fischer, Louie Bellson, Jimmy Rowles, Poncho Sanchez and Cal Tjader. Gary Foster’s influences on saxophone embrace historic players like Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Stan Getz. He moved from Leavenworth, Kansas to Los Angeles in 1961 and established a friendship with the great composer/arranger Clare Fischer and composer/tenor saxophonist, Warne Marsh. In fact, Marsh composed the opening song on this album. Foster is a popular studio musician who can easily adapt to any musical style. He plays pop music as flawlessly as jazz and also enjoys his work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the L.A. Opera orchestra. He has also played on Grammy, Emmy, and Oscar-winning soundtracks.

Mark Turner is a Scorpio, born in 1965, nearly thirty years after Gary Foster’s birth. Turner grew up in Fairborn, Ohio, the son of a family whose house was always full of jubilant music. In their African-American, mid-western home, there was R&B, jazz, soul and gospel being played consistently. In elementary school, young Turner played clarinet before gravitating to the saxophone. His professional parents instilled in him a strong work ethic. In search of becoming the best he could be, young Turner studied the music of Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, John Coltrane and Warne Marsh, to name just a few. Little did he suspect that one day he would meet and play with someone who had been a dear friend of Warne Marsh. Turner graduated Berklee College of Music in 1990 and recorded five albums of his own. He has developed a style that leans heavily on melodic resourcefulness and modern jazz creativity. For example, listen to the ingenuity he uses during the cadenza introduction to the standard, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” But there is a story behind this unique recording with Gary Foster. Foster explained their meeting this way.

“What follows is my recollection of the details of the concert that became the new Capri CD. It was February 2003. Mark Masters brought Mark Turner to perform on a concert series that Masters and faculty member of Claremont College, Ron Teeples, had established at the school. I had heard, but had not met Mark Turner prior to that date. We had one brief rehearsal. The inclusion of the Konitz-Marsh-Tristano originals and the standards were common repertoire and were chosen at that rehearsal. All of the Claremont events were recorded and, I believe, that when Mark Masters and Tom Burns decided to release this CD, the original recording required no sound or performance editing. Masters, Turner and I were together in 2017 for the Capri recording “Our Metier” and spoke then of the 2003 concert at Claremont,” Mr. Foster told me.

Because these two horn players share mutual idols including Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano, in spite of the fact that they had not played together until that 2003 college concert, they sound perfectly matched, inventive and comfortable on this recording. Additionally, you will enjoy their interpretation of the Sonny Red tune, “Teef” and thrown in for good measure, two quickly recognized standards; “What’s New?” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
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BILLY BRANDT – “CITY NOIR” Independent Label

Billy Brandt, vocals/composer/guitar; Chris Symer, acoustic & elec. bass; Emmanuel del Casal, acoustic bass; Jamie Maschler, accordion; Bradley Hawkins, cello; Tim Kennedy & John Hansen, piano; Alexey Nikolaev, saxophone; Jeff Bush, percussion; Brad Boal, drums/bongo; Jamael Nance, drums; Brian Monroney, acoustic guitar/12-string guitar/baritone guitar; Joe Doria, Hammond B3 Organ; David Arteaga, Hans Brehmer, Kelly Ash & Darelle Holden, backup vocals.

Based in Seattle, Billy Brandt is a composer, vocalist, guitarist and bandleader. This album is based on his concept of a black and white film of Seattle City, portraying lives and scenes with poetry, lyrics and music that he has composed. The music is a blend of jazz, R&B and soul music. To my ears, he sounds like a storyteller/songwriter rather than a jazz singer. His music is more blues than jazz, and leans more towards soul and R&B. Brandt’s lyrics reflect contemporary city life and the people entrapped in big, city blues and struggle. From the “Frances Doesn’t Care for the Blues” tune to “Ooh Sha Dooby,” (the title garnered from a Rolling Stone tune), he paints lyrical pictures of hard times and dead-end streets. The composer is definitely a poet and his lyrics are strikingly picturesque. However, musically, his melodies are repetitive and sound more like folk music than jazz; almost rock-folk. His product appears to be more like a songwriter’s well-produced demo, than an artist’s album. The band makes this record praiseworthy. At the end of his production, the addition of David Arteaga as a background vocal on the Cuban Reprise of “Ooh Sha Dooby,” rejuvenates Brandt’s composition and brings life to this project.
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ERNEST TURNER – “MY AMERICANA” Independent Label

Ernest Turner, piano; Lance Scott Jr., bass; Jon Curry, drums.

As energy and awesome musicianship leaps from my CD player, I’m enthralled. Ernest Turner comes out like a heavy weight boxer, strong and challenging on the piano. “Return of Thanos” is an exciting original composition and one of three that Turner has composed and arranged for this production. He is ably assisted in the delivery of an outstanding jazz project by Lance Scott Jr., on bass and Jon Curry, dynamic on drums. Turner punches his piano with two-fisted determination. Jon Curry smashes his trap drums in the most amazing way.

“Dienda” is a lovely ballad composed by Kenny Kirkland. I once heard Sting sing this song and it’s very beautiful, both melodically and lyrically. The melodic bass lines of Lance Scott Jr., support Ernest Turner’s musical storytelling in a rhythmic and sensitive way.

“In thinking about “My Americana,” I wanted to cover songs that reflected how I grew up. So I focused on what I call the ‘Black American songbook,’ including songs from the church and spiritual traditions, while running the pop/jazz gamut from Stevie Wonder to Thelonious Monk and Kenny Kirkland,” Turner explained in his liner notes.

Both artistic and creative, this pianist has worked with iconic musicians including Frank Foster, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, the Heath Brothers, Ron Blake, Nnenna Freelon and some of the Marsalis family; like Delfeayo and Jason. He’s also leant his piano mastery to ‘pop’ and soulful arenas including a collaboration with John Legend on his recent Christmas album.

Every song on this album is well-played and enjoyable, from “Monk’s Dream” to the Fats Waller standard of “Ain’t Misbehavin” and the Stevie Wonder Classic, “If It’s Magic.” He blesses us with Thomas Dorsey’s classic church hymn, “Precious Lord” and finalizes his CD with the Civil Rights hymnal, “We Shall Overcome.” Well done!
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CHRISTIAN LI & MIKE BONO – “VISITORS” Tone Rogue Records

Mike Bono, guitar; Christian Li, piano; Jared Henderson, bass; Lee Fish, drums; Alex Hargreaves, violin; Chris Marion, strings; Dayna Stephens, saxophone; Jimmy Macbride, drums.

Mike Bono’s guitar solo becomes the focus on his opening composition titled, “Puddles.” Although this is a small ensemble, their arrangements are plush and fat. I regret that it took me so long to listen to this well-written and well-played CD.

Christian Li has composed the second cut, “Little Rascals” and the pianist’s racing fingers, paired with an improvised drum solo by Lee Fish splashes into my room with colorful improvisation and creativity. Bono and Li have composed all of this repertoire for their production and the compositions are memorable. This is quality improvised music, utilizing piano and guitar as the centerfold of arrangements that spreads open like a glossy, well-read magazine. Here is imaginative and sensuous music that incorporates Alex Hargreaves violin excellence, Dayna Stephens saxophone skills, and Jared Henderson’s double bass. Chris Marion adds synthesized strings on track nine and along with the drum power of Lee Fish, Jimmy Macbride plays trap drums on a couple of tracks. These music masters project Bono and Li’s original compositions with gusto and technical precision. You will hear an improvisational and melodic beauty to every arrangement.
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TIERNEY SUTTON BAND – “SCREENPLAY” BFM Jazz

Tierney Sutton, vocals; Christian Jacob, piano; Kevin Axt, & Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums/percussion. SPECIAL GUESTS: Serge Merlaud, guitar; Alan Bergman, vocals.

Tierney Sutton has a voice as warm and inviting as a summer sunrise. This outstanding jazz vocalist has chosen to interpret songs from screenplays as her project’s theme. She opens with the popular and haunting song, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” an Academy Award winning composition by Michel Legrand with lyrics penned by the Bergman’s. Not only is Ms. Sutton an interpreter of the lyrical content, she lends believability to the stories. Tierney Sutton ventures easily into scat singing, using the full power of her vocal excellence and whimsical imagination.

One of the outstanding things about this project are the arrangements. On her first song, for example, with only sparse accompaniment, Tierney Sutton’s voice sings legato above Christian Jacob’s piano and the creative drum licks of Ray Brinker. Sutton draws us into the melody with her inventive arrangement of this tune. Her choice of songs explores nearly eighty years of American film. You will be entertained by fifteen tracks of familiar music including, “Moon River,” that always recalls the Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie. She makes this presentation a medley, adding “Calling You,” and borrowing this arrangement from one of my favorite Natalie Cole albums, while she and Trey Henry add a little arrangement twist of their own.

Other familiar songs you will enjoy are, “How Do you Keep the Music Playing,” “If I Only Had A Brain” from the Wizard of Oz, and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” On the popular standard, “On A Clear Day,” Christian Jacob is dynamite on piano. The double-time trap drums, by Ray Brinker, masterfully inject a spirited pulse into this tune. Tierney Sutton and her band always entertain with excellence and creativity, painting each arrangement with fresh colors and allowing the brightness of Sutton’s soprano voice to apply the finishing touches.
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