Archive for June, 2019

POLITICS, PRAYERS & HUMAN RIGHTS PIGGY-BACK ONTO JAZZ

June 30, 2019

POLITICS, PRAYERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS PIGGY-BACK ONTO JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
JUNE 30, 2019

CURTIS NOWOSAD Sessionheads United

Curtis Nowosad, drums/composer/snaps/claps; Jonathan Thomas, piano/Fender Rhodes; Matthew Whitaker, organ; Luke Sellick, bass; Marc Cary, Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer/synthesizer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Duane Eubanks, trumpet; Braxton Cook, alto saxophone; Cory Wallace, trombone; Michael Mayo, vocals; Brianna Thomas, vocals.

Curtis Nowosad is Canadian born. He’s thirty-one-years-old and his music is wrapped in the history of blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, combined with a desire for social justice. His New York-based jazz ensemble interprets their protest musically. Four of the five original compositions that Nowosad has written are dedicated to those who have suffered human rights atrocities including “Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton.”

Cut #2 is vocally explored by Michael Mayo, a scat master with a smooth baritone vocal that caresses the chords with improvisational skill. This is one of Nowosad’s original compositions titled, “The Water Protectors.” It has a catchy melody and is infused with vocal harmonics. Mayo’s vocalese sounds like a horn. The track is pushed and propelled by the incendiary drums of Nowosad.

On the third track, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” is interpreted by vocalist Brianna Thomas with dirge-like horn lines and Matthew Whitaker strong on the organ, along with Andrew Renfroe gritty on guitar. “Waltz for Meg” is an up-tempo, jazz waltz with Curtis Nowosad keeping the tempo timely, but extremely creative on his trap drum set, dancing beneath the soloist melodies with power and precision. On the fade of this tune, Nowosad takes over and the spotlight is turned onto his percussive skills. He does not disappoint.

Straight Ahead jazz enters like a freight train on the tribute tune to Fred Hampton and features an emotional solo by trumpeter, Duane Eubanks. The “Song 4 Marielle Franco” is dedicated to a beautiful, educated, brown-skinned Brazilian woman who was a youthful politician, a feminist and a soldier for human rights. I was introduced to her by this composition. By researching, I discovered that after she earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Fluminense Federal University, she served as a city council person for the Socialism and Liberty Party in Brazil. She fought for human rights in that position from January 2017 until she was shot dead in March of 2018. She and her driver were killed by two murderers during a ride through North Rio de Janeiro. Two former police officers were later arrested and charged with her execution. Once more, Michael Mayo is back with his smooth scat vocals on this tune and Marc Cary is an added attraction on Fender Rhodes electric piano. Most importantly, Curtis Nowosad called to my attention this heinous crime perpetrated on an awesome woman that I knew nothing about until his record.

This original composition is followed by “Blues 4 Colin K.” It’s funky and features Corey Wallace on a smooth, bluesy trombone solo. Jonathan Thomas is also a huge part of the blues rhythm section on piano, as is his bassist, Luke Sellick, who takes an impressive solo.

All in all, this is a unique musical experience that prompts listeners to both enjoy the music and the musicians, but also may tickle your interest into social and human rights history. Like me, you may find yourself googling to find out more about the people Mr. Nowosad references in his original music compositions.
* * * * * * * * * * *

TIM HALDEMAN – “OPEN WATER AS A CHILD” Woolgathering Records.com

Tim Halderman, tenor saxophone/piano/flute/composer/arranger; John Goode, words/vocals; Dan Bennett, alto saxophone; Justin Walter, trumpet; Jordan Schug, cello; Jonathan Taylor, drums; Ben Willis, bass.

A tentative piano solo opens the first cut and then the poetry begins. Poet, John Goode is featured and this entirely original composed and arranged music by Tim Haldeman was prepared for a performance at the Ann Arbor Jazz Festival. This Haldeman album is dedicated to the people of Flint, Michigan, who suffered from dirty and dangerous drinking water that stunned our nation. How could this happen in America?

Goode’s poetry is thought provoking. He recites: “I followed whiskey into the county of Legionella, through the buzzing shotgun carcasses and moon-colored milkweed. I carried the White-Tailed Deer and Upland Sandpiper and Fox Snake, and I built a grave for each.”

Then he chants, “Ojebway – Ojebway – Ojebway” to remind us of the Moccasin people or the Chippewa, American Indians who were hunters and fishermen and who chose peace over war. A people, like all humanity, who depend on clean water to survive.

Haldeman is the pianist, the tenor saxophonist and the flautist on this recording. As the composer, his music is open and artistic like Goode’s poetry. They make a stunning pair, tied at the hip by the freedom they exude in both contemporary music and poignant spoken word. When track-one expands from poetry to Avant-garde experimentation, a blues-based composition rises like an unexpected storm on a sunny day and plays for five and a half minutes. Cut #2 features Ben Willis on bass, walking slowly, as if his load is heavy and his back is bent. Jordan Shug’s cello is a sweet surprise in this jazzy cracker-jack-box of music. There are lots of surprises. Without chordal accompaniment of piano or guitar, the horns float freely and the bass, along with Jonathan Taylor on drums lock the rhythm into place. Goode is back with more spoken word on the fourth cut. Although his words are amazingly beautiful and paint fluid verbal pictures, his monotone vocals are less appealing. Taylor is a dynamic drummer, who can be heard beneath the fray, spinning like an industrial fan and pushing the ensemble forward. However, at times, the horn harmonies begin to sound like a New York traffic jam. Shug’s cello brings relief, like a stop sign in front of a speeding truck. It was startling, on the” Weld Flashes/Open Water” tune.

On the final original composition, “Bird’s On Fire” Haldeman is back at the piano to accompany poet, John Goode. This is a pure work of art. If you are a lover of poetry, modern jazz, artistic expression and unscripted improvisation, this is a production you will hold dear.
* * * * * * * * * * *

BENNETT PASTER – “INDIVISIBLE” Independent label

Bennett Paster, piano/keyboards/organ/composer; Jeff Hanley, bass; Tony Mason, drums; Al Street, guitar; Kenny Brooks, tenor saxophone; Samuel Torres, congas/percussion; Todd Isler, percussion.

Bennett Paster has deep, blues roots and you hear it right from the very first musical phrases of his original composition, “Blues for Youse”. I also hear some Thelonious Monk influence in his chord voicings. There is strong support from Jeff Hanley on bass and Tony Mason punches the rhythm on drums with attention-getting- fervor. Paster has composed, arranged and produced all of this recorded music. On the tune, “Givin’ the People What We Want” Kenny Brooks struts onto the set with his mighty tenor saxophone, reminding me a lot of Eddie Harris. Al Street adds spice to the production on guitar and the percussionists, Samuel Torres and Todd Isler stir the pot. This is a smokin’ hot stew of good music, flavorful composing and tasty interaction by the musicians. They fit together tightly and comfortably like knife and fork. Their cohesive sound is delicious. Not only is Bennett Paster proficient as a pianist, organist, producer, composer and arranger, he’s also a masterful studio engineer. On this recording he captures a happiness and joy that is contagious. Perhaps he explained it best when he said:

“Music moves us all, from finger snapping to full-on dancing. The power of groove to unite and bring joy is undeniable. It transcends cultures, nations, races and religion. This gravity is the force that I’m tapping into on this collection of songs that form Indivisible.

Here is jazz/funk music that entertains and inspires movement, dance and exultation. The tune titled, “Belgrade Booty Call” is a shuffle-feel that invites the percussionists to showcase their skills, while Bennett Paster is the head musical chef, cookin’ hot and hearty on piano. “Gritty Greens” is another soulful journey into the funky blues that Paster plays so well. On this arrangement he adds organ, reminding jazz fans of the incredible and powerful days of organist, Jimmy Smith.

Pastor studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and relocated to New York in 1996. On his musical journey, he’s worked with numerous jazz masters including blues man, Keb Mo’, Wallace Roney, Kurt Elling, Billy Hart, Peter Erskine, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Ann Hampton Callaway and many, many more. This is his sixth record release as a leader and it’s bound to make joyful noise on radio stations and in households across the world.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JOSEAN JACOBO & TUMBAO – “CIMARRON” Afro Dominican Jazz

Josean Jacobo, piano/vocals/composer; Yasser Tejeda, vocals; Daroll Mendez, bass/vocals; Mois Silfa, percussion; Otoniel Nicolas, drums/guira; Rafael Suncar, tenor saxophone; Jonathan Suazo, alto saxophone.

The group, Tumbao, digs deeply into the history of Afro-Dominican jazz. You hear the exciting rhythms and the African influence in Josean Jacobo’s expressive arranging. Full of flare and freedom, Josean Jacobo sets up the groove on piano, playing a catchy bass line and Mois Silfa’s percussion, along with Otoniel Nicolas on drums. They establish a strong, Latin groove. That’s how we are introduced to this artist, who has composed six of the ten songs recorded and he has arranged all the songs on this, his sophomore album. Jacobo brings musical greetings from the Tumbao group’s native Dominican Republic. Also, the title of this CD, “Cimarron” is extracted from the word “Cimarronaje” that refers to black slaves who escaped from captivity, taking refuge in the nearby mountains of their Caribbean island and formed fugitive societies that embraced and protected their African culture and customs. Josean Jacobo and his Tumbao group believes that the melding of Spanish conquerors, with the African culture, blended to create the current, rich Dominican heritage. He proudly flags this concept on this musical exploration.

Since jazz is always exemplary of freedom, you clearly hear that improvisational inventiveness in this production. Jonathan Suazo, on alto saxophone, and Rafael Suncar on tenor sax, bring a straight-ahead feel on “Mind Reset,” the second song on this fiery fiesta of succulent music.

“El Maniel” is pushed forcefully by percussive brilliance and makes me want to dance. On the Coltrane composition, “Lonnie’s Lament” Josean Jacobo uses his piano to explore the melody and scale improvisational lucidity up and down the 88-keys. Nicolas offers a tenacious exploration of his trap drums atop the repeating groove of Jacobo’s piano chords. I was surprised that no horns were included when arranging this song.

The vocals added on “Anaisa Pye” (a traditional folk song of the Dominican Republic) add zest and African-like chants to introduce this piece of music. I would like to have heard more of that in this arrangement. Daroll Mendez strongly holds the rhythm in place with his solid bass line, sounding almost like cut-time beneath the double-time piano parts and the flurry of drums. Hailed as ‘The Ambassador of Afro-Dominican Jazz’, Josean Jacobo offers this project as a historic presentation of generational beauty. The group, Tumbao, shows through their music how the elements of mixing people and cultures can create a synthesis of artistic goodness, even under the questionable circumstances of slavery.
* * * * * * * * * * * *

CHARNETT MOFFETT – “BRIGHT NEW DAY” Motema Records

Charnett Moffett, fretless bass guitar/vocals/composer/producer; Jana Herzen, guitar/vocals; Brian Jackson, piano/synthesizer; Scott Tixier, violin; Mark Whitfield Jr., drums.

Charnett Moffett offers us orchestral smooth jazz propelled by his fretless electric bass. Rooted in composition titles that reflect religious ideals, he opens with “Holy Spirit.” The second cut, “Free the Slaves” adds Scott Tixler on violin and has the minor-key, musical sounds of the Middle East or that region of the world. Mark Whitfield Jr’s funk drums infuse the East African sound of the production. Moffett adds vocals and uses Boss pedals.

Jana Herzen has a sweet and lovely vocal on “Precious Air,” a song that also embraces a World Music concept. Herzen is the composer of this song and also the founder of Motema Music. She’s performed with Moffett in a variety of settings and explained:

“Playing in this ensemble is liberating and requires total presence. The music is not created from a fixed position, so we have to keep our ears keenly tuned and react quickly to each shift in the musical current.”

Track four sounds like a hymnal. When I look for the title, I’m right. It’s called “O My God Elohim.” Charnett Moffett has composed all eight songs on this production except for “Precious Air.” In the liner notes, Moffett said:

“I composed this album with intention to create emotional uplift and healing vibrations.”

However, although the title of this album is “Bright New Day” the music itself did not make me feel bright or gay. It’s more pensive and exploratory. Many of the tracks are repetitious, in the sense of looping over and over again. I long for more melody and less looping. That being said, Charnett Moffett has a marvelous sound on his bass instrument. His music is the kind of music that was being played last weekend in Las Vegas when I unwound in the meditation room at the Venetian Spa. That’s not all bad.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

FOUR – “THERE YOU GO THINKING AGAIN” Jazz Hang Records

Mark Watkins, soprano saxophone/composer; Ray Smith, alto saxophone; Sandon Mayhew, Tenor saxophone; Jon Gudmundson, baritone saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Miami Saxophone Quartet includes Gary Keller, Gary Linddsay, Ed Calle & Mike Brignola; Richard Ingham Saxophone Quartet includes Oliver Eve, Sam Neal, Matthew Kilner & Richard Ingham; Saxitude, includes Dominque Gatto, Pierre Cocq-Amann, Robi Arend & Thomas Diemert; Utah Saxophone Quartet includes Charles Smith, Daron Bradford, Dave Feller & Gaylen Smith; Zagreb Saxophone Quartet includes Dragan Sremec, Goran Mercep, Sasa Nestorovic & Madjaz Drevensek.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RaWq2jcmX8

This morning, I discovered a wonderful display of creativity and awesome saxophone diversity. “Four” is a quartet conglomeration of sax players who fluidly show us that no other players are needed to present an authentic exploration of jazz saxophone. This is a project, featuring all reed instruments, with no chordal accompaniment. It showcases several different groups of saxophone quartets from a variety of places. The Zagreb Quartet is based in Croatia. Saxitude comes from the Western European land-locked country of Luxembourg. Miami, Florida offers their take on the premise of a saxophone quartet, as does the state of Utah. Scotland is the home base of the Richard Ingham Quartet. Mark Watkins took great care and was quite determined in bringing this project to fruition. Pulling from various points on earth and using a talented mixture of five quartets, Watkins began composing, writing arrangements and making calls to friends and saxophone-quartet-peers who jumped onboard this unique project. Watkins has composed six of the ten songs contained in this production. The groups of reed players creatively blend classical European music with America’s classical music called jazz. It’s an intriguing and capricious exhibit of what can happen when four master saxophonists get together to harmonically express themselves.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

AKIKO, HAMILTON, DECHTER – “EQUAL TIME” Capri Records

Akiko Tsuruga, Hammond B3 Organ/composer; Jeff Hamilton, drums/producer; Graham Dechter, guitar.

This fiery, combustible, driving music is riveting and becomes a wonderful way to begin my day. Cup of coffee in hand, listening to this album is an incredible throw-back to my swinging nights at Jimmy Smith’s supper club in Los Angeles or the organ trios of Jack McDuff in Detroit at Dummy George’s bar. Akiko Tsuruga is a brilliant and explosive star on the Hammond B3. Graham Dechter’s guitar is as natural and complimentary to her playing as creamy butter on bread. His incredible talents on guitar exemplify mastery of his instrument and blend beautifully with Akiko’s soulful organ playing. To complete this outstanding trio is the drum master himself, Jeff Hamilton. This is, without a doubt, an example of the classic organ trio. The first tune is a composition by Akiko Tsuruga. The second cut is a Dechter composition that swings hard and gives each of the trio members a time to brightly shine with outstanding solos. Like the title of the tune, “Orange Coals,” this group is smoking hot like a smoldering bar-b-que pit. “Osaka Samba” is another Akiko composition and takes a lighter approach, as her fingers dance on the treble keys of the organ. Here is a powerful trio. Their individual artistry fits together like gigantic puzzle pieces that complete the whole. They groove as one and strongly complement each other, as any great unit of musicians should do. By the time they get to the fourth cut, a Hank Mobley original titled, “A Baptist Beat,” Akiko Tsuruga shows us she knows how to get down and dirty. Graham Dechter sets the blues on fire with his guitar. Egged on by Hamilton’s sturdy and compelling drum sticks, the trio is off and galloping towards a shuffle groove that will have you snapping your fingers and slapping your foot on the two and four.

After encouragement from drummer/vocalist Grady Tate, Akiko relocated from Osaka, Japan to the United States. Since then she has released numerous albums as a leader including a ‘live’ recording that featured both Hamilton and Dechter and was titled, “So Cute, So Bad.”

Dechter is a California native who has been a member of the Clayton-Hamilton jazz Orchestra since he was a teenager. He’s worked with Jimmy Heath, Kurt Elling, Eliane Elias, Nancy Wilson, Wynton Marsalis, and Michael Buble. He has two albums released as a leader, both on the Capri label. Jeff Hamilton is one of the giants of jazz drumming. he’s a founding member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Jeff Hamilton also played with Woody Herman and Count Basie’s big bands. His iconic drumming is always in demand and many jazz luminaries have requested his talents including Diana Krall, Monty Alexander, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ella Fitzgerald.

This is an album full of spunk and spice and everything nice!
* * * * * * * * *

MARK MORGANELLI & THE JAZZ FORUM ALL-STARS Jazz Forum Records

Mark Morganelli, Flugelhorn/producer/percussion; Abelita Mateus, piano/Fender Rhodes/vocals; Eddie Monteiro, midi-accordion/vocals; Monika Oliveira, vocals; Nelson Matta, bass; Adriano Santos, drums; Nanny Assis, percussion/guitar/vocals; Carlos Barbosa-Lima, guitar.

Mark Morganelli has used this double set recording to celebrate the music of Jobim, Claudio Roditi, Geraldo Pereira, Joao Donato, Jorge Ben, Marcos Valle, Luiz Bonfa and Ary Barroso. Here is a compilation of Brazilian composers and their amazing music, interpreted by Morganelli’s Jazz Forum All-Stars. Their music is bright and bubbly, rising like happy helium balloons into the air. Morganelli dominates the party on flugelhorn, dancing improvisationally atop his ensemble and also taking care to interpret the legendary melodies of these great composers.

He is no newcomer to the jazz scene. Mark Morganelli started leading his own band during high school and was performing in jazz festivals as early as 1976. He has recorded with an impressive number of well-known jazz cats including Billy Hart, John Hicks, James Spaulding, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Kenny Barron, Paquito D’Rivera, James Moody, Clark Terry, Harry “Sweets” Edison and many more. Most recently, he and his wife, Ellen Prior, have opened a new Jazz Forum Club in Tarrytown, New York.

I found Eddie Monteiro’s caramel-smooth vocals to sweetly caress the Ivan Lins & Vitor Martins composition, “Velas Icadas.” However, most of the vocals are sufficiently expressed by Monika Oliveira. “So Danco Samba” is a familiar Brazilian standard and Morganelli incorporates “A-Train” into the mix, showing how similar the chord changes are in both songs.

This is Morganelli’s fifth CD as a leader and he continues to remain busy producing music for Candid Records and running his new jazz venue. Enjoy the carnival spirit of his recorded music that includes twenty-seven Brazilian songs on this CD.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

MICHEL CAMILO – “ESSENCE” Resilience Music Alliance

Michel Camilo, piano/bandleader/composer; Ricky Rodrigues, bass; Cliff Almond, drums; Eliel Lazo, percussion/vocals; Antonio Hart, alto saxophone/flute; Sharel Cassity, alto saxophone/clarinet; Ralph Bowen, tenor saxophone/flute; Adam Kolker, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Michael Philip Messman, arranger/trumpet/flugelhorn; Raul Agra, John Walsh, Diego Urcola, & Kali Rodriguez-Pena, trumpet/flugelhorn; Michael Dease, Steve Davis, & Jason Jackson, trombone; David Taylor, bass trombone.

In celebration of Michel Camilo’s 25th album release as a leader, he has pulled together a stunning All-Star Big Band and the production plays like a glorious party. The Dominican-born pianist is celebrating his Grammy Award Winning career with an 18-piece band comprised of dear friends and stellar talent. The cornerstone of the band is Camilo’s remarkable rhythm section. His drummer, Cliff Almond, has been a part of the pianist’s bands for nearly three decades. Puerto Rican bassist, Ricky Rodriguez is a young lion who has been working with Michel Camilo in recent years. The newest addition is Eliel Lazo, who is a Cuban percussionist and vocalist that lives in Copenhagen.

“I tried to choose music from every stage of development as a creative artists and composer,” Camilo shared in his liner notes.

“I picked songs that represent shifts in my career and my point of view, that showcase how I developed my sound. I’ve always thought of the trio as a mini-orchestra, so the big band is a way to celebrate my career and my journey with a group of friends creating together in the studio.”

Featuring nature photography by Herminio Alberti Leon, he described his album cover, “The air is the space between the lines and the way we breathe together. The water comes in the flow of ideas while the earth is in the grooves, the organic way they bring you down to earth.”

From the very first energetic and combustible tune, “And Sammy Walked In,” I am hooked on the cohesive sound of this band and these wonderful arrangements. This is followed by a tribute song to Mongo Santamaria tiled, “Mongo’s Blues.” It was Mongo Santamaria who took Michel Camilo, then a young pianist, under his wing upon Camilo’s arrival in New York. That was in 1979. Lazo adds zest with his percussion work and also provides spirited vocals on this song. The arrangement is a combination of the blues and Afro-Cuban rhythms. As each composition unfolds, I find myself more and more in love with this album of great arranging by Michael Phillip Messman and the original compositions and piano brilliance of Michel Camilo. His fourth track titled, “Liquid Crystal” gives Michel Camilo an opportunity to lean towards impressionistic and modern jazz, with his piano chops setting up the piece and shining brightly, like sunrays sparkling on fine crystal. This composition prepares a healthy platform for Kali Rodriguez-Pena to play a pensive solo on trumpet. Cliff Almond makes his own combustive and creative statement on trap drums. On cut #6, “Just Like You,” Antonio Hart offers a bluesy, rich and noteworthy alto saxophone solo. This is another beautiful composition Michel Camilo has written.

You will find this to be a provocative Latin big band at its best and more! The arrangements by Michael Phillip Messman are plush and exciting. They ebb and flow; build and crescendo; whisper blues and joyous shouts make room for the awesome piano technique and splendor of Michel Camilo’s playing. It’s also easy to fall in love with Camilo’s wonderful compositions.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

PETER BEETS – “OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY” – GERSHWIN REIMAGINED Magic Ball Records

Peter Beets, piano; Tom Baldwin, double bass; Eric Kennedy, drums.

Peter Beets has decided to celebrate some of the timeless compositions of George & Ira Gershwin with his trio. I love each and every one of his song choices. They are part of America’s treasured songbook and each one is familiar to our ears and warm in the public hearts. Beginning with “Our Love Is Here to Stay” Beets uses his left hand (along with Eric Kennedy’s drum talents) to establish a marching, shuffle beat, while his right hand embellishes the melody in a lovely way.

Tom Baldwin is stellar on double bass, racing at a high-speed pace to set the tone and tempo on “S’Wonderful.” Peter Beets flies right alongside his two awesome players, improvising spectacularly and kept honest by the roaring drums of Eric Kennedy, who holds the piece tightly in place and trades fours, taking brief but spectacular solos.

This is an album of excellence, performed by three master musicians and they amply showcase the music of Gershwin, including their unique renditions of I Loves You, Porgy, Embraceable You, Summertime, I’ve Got A Crush On You, How Long Has This Been Going On?, They Can’t Take that Away From Me and Lady Be Good. Every cut recorded is perfectly executed and emotionally rich in presentation.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Advertisements

CURTIS ROBERTSON JR. CELEBRATES SYREETA WRIGHT AND TRIBUTES MUSIC’S ANCESTRAL TRANSMISSION

June 28, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
June 28, 2019

Knowing Curtis Robertson Jr. for several years, one thing was clear to me right away. Not only is he a talented and technically astute bass player, Curtis Is also a very conscientious man. He always seems to be in search of knowledge, but with a cool, laid-back attitude. His smile can light up an auditorium, like his bass playing. But he also has a thoughtful, contemplative side. For Black Music Month, I enjoyed talking to Curtis Robertson Jr. about his life in the music business and his current project to tribute vocalist/songwriter, Syreeta Wright. In our conversation, he shares transformative steps within his music career and in his life. Curtis believes that musicians proudly wear a garment that reflects common, ancestral threads.

Curtis was born and raised in Hyde Park on the southside of Chicago, Illinois. His father’s parents were part of the migration from the South to a hopeful new future up North. His mother, a preacher’s daughter, came from West Virginia seeking the same. I asked Curtis if he came from a musical family and although no one was a formally trained musician he credited his mom for musical inspiration.

“My mother could sing. She had vocal lessons when she was young, and she sang hymns in church. She also played a little piano. She was born in 1924 and when she was in her twenties and thirties she listened to the standards.” NOTE: some call them the great American songbook.

“My mother was always singing around the house. She sang songs her mother and older sisters taught her from songs of her day and listened to songs played on the radio.

“After a few years of playing guitar, I began learning standard tunes.I’d play the chord changes and voicings I learned from Chicago guitarist and educator, Reggie Boyd and my peer mentor, great guitarist, John Thomas. My mother would be in the kitchen cooking, and I would bring my guitar into the kitchen. She could sing in-tune and she’d sing along. She knew the melodies and all the words. That’s how I learned many a tune.

“My father loved music too and he sure could whistle! He had range, good intonation and tone. He listened to a lot of West Indian and African music. He was raised by West Indians as a youth. We had a good stereo system and my father had quite a record collection. My parents would play Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson, Baba Olatunji’s ‘Drums of Passion’ record and opera-sounding records like ‘Oklahoma.’ I heard Harry Belafonte, Odetta, Woody Gutherie and Burl Ives. My parents were social activists in the late fifties and early sixties. They weren’t big blues people, but they had Billie Holiday records and Dave Brubeck; not a lot of jazz. I heard more island music and albums like ‘Porgy and Bess’ at the house.

“I started out playing guitar as a youngster. In my teen years, I was in a band. I was in the eighth grade, so I was thirteen. No one wanted to play the bass. I’ve always been kind of a peace-maker, so I said to my arguing bandmates, I’ll play it. The singer in our band had a bass, so that’s how I started playing that instrument. Early on, I knew music was what I wanted to do. I enjoyed the attention from the girls and we all thought having a band was cool. There was also a good camaraderie between the fellow musicians. Back then we were playing Jimi Hendrix, Cream, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. As I grew, I moved up to adding Coltrane and Miles to my repertoire.

“Lena McLin was a high school choir director at my Hyde Park high school and she really was one of my main influences in Chicago. I was in the high school jazz band and she was doing the choir and also teaching opera. Ms. McLin used to take me aside on her lunch period and tutor me. She used to drill me. She made sure I knew my music theory.

“My other early mentor was Reggie Boyd. He was a genius. You could go over to Reggie’s house and he had transcribed a solo by Coltrane or Paul Chambers. He had a great ear and he would teach us chord changes, technique and theory. Reggie Boyd is responsible for really getting me into my bass.”

NOTE: Reggie Boyd was known as THE teacher for many Chicago guitarists including blues legends Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, James Wheeler, Louis Myers, Willie Johnson, Billy Boy Arnold and Dave Specter, to name just a few. His knowledge of theory and technique was formidable, according to many historians. His only recording was a 45rpm titled “Nothing But Good/ Nothing But Poison.” Reggie Boyd died in October of 2010.

Curtis Robertson Jr. also credits Louis Satterfield (before he was an Earth Wind & Fire member) for teaching him how to play the blues in the early 1970s by listening to him play on BB King’s ‘Live at the Regal’ album.

“I would listen to those bass lines over and over again.”

“Satterfield is the one who played that amazing bass-line on the Fontella Bass hit R&B record, ‘Rescue Me.’

“My mother used to take me to the Regal Theater where I saw B. B. King and James Brown. I started listening to Jack Bruce, Cream’s bass player and Noel Redding, (bass player with Hendrix). I was also listening to Motown music and they had James Jamerson in the Funk Brothers. The older I got, I began listening to Paul Chambers, Sam Jones, Mingus and a lot of Ron Carter on Miles Davis records. I also listened to Wes Montgomery. Of course, I was influenced by Cleveland Eaton, who was playing with Ramsey Lewis. We used to listen to that album over and over again. It was produced by Charles Stephney.”

Note: Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire founder) and famed arranger, Charles Stephney, produced Ramsey’s “Salongo” album in 1972 incorporating members of Earth Wind & Fire into the production and White produced the 1974 Ramsey Lewis album titled, “Sun Goddess”, experimenting with electronic sounds. Personnel included: Ramsey Lewis (syn, g, p, e-p, string machine, arr) Cleveland Eaton (bass) Maurice Jennings (dr, perc) Richard Evans (Horn & String arr) Byron Gregory (g) Maurice White (voc, dr, perc) Verdine White (bass, voc) Johnny Graham (guitar) Philip Bailey (perc, voc) Don Myrick (ts) Charles Stepney (g, key) Derf Rehlee Raheem (perc, voc)

“Well, some of the richest experiences I’ve had was playing right here in Los Angeles. at the clubs and with some of these local players. I loved so much playing at Marla’s Memory Lane, working with Milton Bland, aka: Monk Higgins. It was wonderful to play with Cal Green and pianist, Billy Mitchell. Billy Mitchell and Reggie Andrews played keyboards in Syreeta’s first band. Reggie Andrews was teaching at Locke High School and he couldn’t go on the road, so the great Lanny Hartley took his place. By meeting Lanny, I met a lot of other cats. Some of those were Washington Rucker, Randy Randolph, Harold Acey and Terry Evans. This is how I met Jake Porter. That was one of the greatest experiences I ever had. I say that because Jake Porter would play different tunes, not just standards. He would play things like, “Alexander’s Rag Time Band” and “Hello Dolly.” He pulled tunes from further back. Jake would count off the tune and give us the key. I would say hey, what is it? I wanted to know the title of the tune. Jake would answer, ‘You’ll hear it, youngster.’ Then he’d hold one finger down for key of F; two fingers down for B flat; three fingers for E flat. It was an on-stage training! Jackie Kelso was playing clarinet and Lanny Hartley would be on piano. Washington Rucker played drums and Terry Evans was on guitar. Coming up playing with those cats was really a great experience for me. Jake worked a lot and kept a lot of cats working. I look at my music experiences as a bridge. Jake was a bridge to a whole other time. I call that ancestral transmission.”

NOTE: Jake Porter was a trumpet and cornet player who cut his musical teeth playing in Lionel Hampton’s big band. After serving in the U.S. Military, he played with such jazz masters as Benny Carter, Fats Waller, Noble Sissle, Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman’s band. He was born in Oakland, California, but eventually settled in Los Angeles. Porter died in L.A. at age 76, on March 25, 1993.

As Curtis Robertson Jr.’s career expanded and blossomed, he found that many people opened unexpected doors for the young bass player to walk through.

He met and fell in love with Syreeta Wright in the early seventies, shortly after her divorce from Stevie Wonder. They were soon writing songs together and he became part of her touring band.

“I had worked with Syreeta touring in 1974. But my first big gig was in 1975, when I got the call to work with Gary Bartz. Back in the day, I went to high school with Chaka Khan in Chicago. A lot of the musicians used to hang out at Chaka’s parent’s house. I knew her husband, Hassan Khan. He used to play bass with the Staple Singers and the Five Stairsteps.”

Note: The FIVE STAIRSTEPS recorded a popular song called “Oo – oo Child” that Rolling Stone magazine dubbed one of the 500 Greatest Songs of all time.

“So, when I went over to the house where the band was staying, that’s where I met Nate Morgan. Nate was playing piano with Gary Bartz. Gary hired me, sight unseen, thanks to the recommendation of Nate Morgan and we played our very first gig in Dayton, Ohio at a club called ‘Gillys.’ That was my first gig with Gary Bartz. He had just left Miles Davis, so he was playing that Bitches Brew kind of stuff. That fit right into my background, from playing Hendrix stuff and Motown stuff. But, if he called ‘Impressions’ up-tempo, I could play that too. Afterwards, Gary called and said, we’re getting ready to go to Europe. You wanna go? I said, well hey man, Syreeta is pregnant. She’s getting ready to have a baby. I don’t know. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go on tour with Syreeta, about to have our baby. However, as time went on, we already had a back-up plan with moms and Syreeta’s younger sister, Kim. So, when he offered me the contract, I said to myself, you know what? You’ve got to go on and do this gig. So, we ended up travelling all over Europe.

“Gary Bartz is one of my heroes. We did a lot of gigs. Our first gig together was the George Wein Newport Jazz Festival tour. I got to hang out on the side of the stage with all these famous musicians like Charles Mingus. The band knew how much I admired Charles Mingus and I wanted to go over there and get Mingus to sign my program and just talk to him. Everybody was saying, Naw man – don’t go over there and bother Charlie Mingus. uh-huh – don’t go over there! Especially Bartz and Jackie McClean. Those two were like, don’t go bothering Charlie Mingus. But Mingus was my hero. So, I went walking backstage in Yugoslavia. I walked over to him and said, hey Mr. Mingus, I’m a big fan of yours. All the musicians were just watching the scene from a distance and they acted like he was going to cold-cock me or something. I handed him my program, not sure what his response was going to be. Lo and behold, he signed it for me. He kept mumbling, ‘These god damn Communists. I hate these Communists.’ I just nodded, said, yes sir, took my program and eased on away. When I got over to where the cats were standing, we were all relieved that it went so well.”

Curtis Robertson Jr.’s career changed direction again in 1980 when he was hired to work with groove master, Les McCann. Eddie Harris joined McCann on-tour in 1987 and Curtis worked another three years with both of those master musicians. Listen to Curtis Robertson Jr.’s powerful bass line and solo on the Eddie Harris “Live At the Moonwalker” LP recorded in Switzerland, October, 1989. The tune is titled, “Walking the Walk.” The trio is Eddie Harris on saxophone, paino and vocals, Curtis on bass and Norman Fearrington on drums.


https://www.discogs.com/Eddie-Harris-Live-At-The-Moonwalker/release/4362217

The 1989 Mr. Fuji Jazz Festival in Japan, with a BlueNote Record line-up, features Curtis on stage performing with Les McCann, Stanley Turrentine and Lou Rawls. You can fast forward 48 minutes into the video below to see them rocking the audience on “Stormy Monday Blues.”

“Tony St. James was playing drums and Bobby Bryant Jr. was on tenor and alto saxophone. His dad is Bobby Bryant Sr., the trumpet player and educator. Les called me one day and said, ‘Hey Curtis, this is Les McCann. Come to this audition to be in my band.’ So, I went and two weeks later I was working with his band in Australia. I liked that band because Les kept the band fired up.”

Before touring with Les McCann, Curtis worked with a number of diverse artists. One memorable position was working in Maxine Weldon’s band.

“Maxine Weldon was one of my favorite singers. I worked a lot of gigs with Maxine in the late 1970s and 1980s. I went to Europe with Maxine and worked all over town with her in L.A. I still hear her in my mind. I love the variety of covers she did. She sang that old Ink Spots song, The Gypsy.”

“I also worked with guitarist, Robben Ford. He’s a bad man in a very good way! He used to play with Jimmy Witherspoon, Tom Scott, Miles Davis, Larry Carlton and Joni Mitchell. He was one of the founding members of the Yellowjackets group. Someone heard me play and referred me to his management team. They put my name in the hat to tour with Robben Ford’s group. The bass player, at that time, was Jimmy Haslip. So, at one point, I took Jimmy’s place on tour. I think they liked my blues handle, you know, my being from Chicago and all.”

In 1976 and 1977, Curtis joined a group of all-star jazz players and they called themselves ‘Karma.’ They were signed to A&M’s Horizon records and released two extraordinary albums. One was titled “Celebration” and the other was called, “For Everybody.”

“That was the first label I was signed to as a band. The band was called ‘Karma’ and we made two albums. At that time, George Bohanon was dating Deniece Williams. He was in the group and when he and Niecy came down to the studio, I said to her, why don’t you sing on this song? So, she and Syreeta sang on the Celebration record.”

NOTE; COMPLETE LINE-UP: Reggie Andrews (Heshimu) (Keyboards), George Bohanon (Saeed) (Trombones, Baritone Horn), Ernie Watts (Tenor & Soprano Sax), Oscar Brashear (Chache) (Trumpet), Curtis Robertson, Jr. (Bass), Josef Blocker (Drums, Vocals), Vander “Stars” Lockett (Percussion, Vocals), Syreeta Wright, Deniece Williams (Vocals).

Recorded in 1976; together they had an Earth Wind & Fire sound and energy steeped in electronic funk or soul jazz, and played by some of the top players in the Los Angeles area
.

“So, that was an opportunity to rehearse a lot, you know. It was great to rehearse with that amazing horn section we had. I had time on my hands because I had just finished the tour with Gary Bartz. I got Syreeta on that Gary Bartz record too.”

“Gary put her on two of his records. I played on his CDs “Love Affair” and “It’s My Sanctuary.” I was also on “Ju Ju Man” on the Prestige label in 1976. We played some good tunes on there. Syreeta sang “My Funny Valentine” and it was beautiful. Howard King was on drums, Charles Mims Jr. on piano and me on bass. Pat Britt produced the session.”

From 1990 to 2005, the bass work you hear on all those hit records by Lou Rawls is the mastery of Curtis Robertson Jr. He was a part of the Rawls touring ensemble. Curtis Robertson Jr. also worked with Randy Crawford, (the vocalist who had the big hit record, “Street Life” with The Jazz Crusaders). His stellar bass sound was embraced by Gladys Knight, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Freddie Hubbard, David T. Walker, Richard Thompson and Steve Hillage. These are just a few of the people he’s worked with over his career. But for many years his energy was directed in songwriting and producing music with Syreeta. Their union produced two albums and two sons. The albums were titled, “One to One” and “SYREETA”, both released on Tamla Records, a Motown subsidiary.

“It was 1976 and I met with Suzanne de Passe at Motown to discuss Syreeta’s upcoming project. I had been singing Charles Stephney’s praises. I let Syreeta hear Minnie Ripperton’s “Come to My Garden” record. We both wanted Charles Stephney to come in and do the arranging. So, Ms. de Passe met with Charles Stephney and it was a go. Unfortunately for us, on May 17, 1976 Charles Stephney died. We wound up doing the record with Leon Ware and David Bromberg. They did a fantastic job. Leon was a genius. He knew how to get the most out of an artist. There’s a song Syreeta and I wrote titled, Rest Yourself” on that album that I really love.”

“The way this current project to tribute Syreeta came about was in 2003, Syreeta came to my studio to continue our musical collaborations. She knew she was ill and asked me to promise to finish the songs we’d record and share them with her fans. Before she passed, she put vocals on four songs we were recording. This single that I released this month titled, “If It Is Love,” is the first part of A Promise Kept. That will be the name of the EP. There are two versions of ‘If It Is Love,’ the single version for radio play, and the extended-play version that features solos by veteran guitarist David T. Walker, Grégoire Maret on harmonica and pianist/organist, Deron Johnson. I have to thank Arthur Walton of Samurai Records, who resurrected this project with his heart, soul and skills when I had all but given up.

“I’ve kept in touch with Charles Mims, the pianist/arranger who I met through Reggie Andrews. I met Reggie through Syreeta. Charles Mims and Patrice were high school sweethearts. Charles did a lot of co-writing with Patrice Rushen, who’s a dynamic pianist/recording artist and arranger herself. Mims is a very prolific writer and arranger too.

“When Syreeta and I decided to do a reunion session, I got Gary Bartz and Charles Mims on it. In fact, we did a song Syreeta and I wrote that Maria Muldaur covered titled, ‘There is a Love.’ I’m almost done with mixing that song. I just have to do a few more little things to it.”

“There’s a bunch of great talents and dear friends on this project. Land Richards plays drums and Munyungo Jackson is on percussion. Harold Barney (aka Jasper Stone) plays Fender Rhodes keyboard. Tracy Wannomae brings in the woodwinds and Rocio Marron did string arrangements for me. I played a little acoustic piano on it and bass. Deron Johnson did most of the piano work, played the Hammond B3 and the mellotron.

“I’m just full of gratitude. I’m grateful that I’m still here and able to make this happen. I’m thankful to the musicians and engineers who nurtured and supported this project and made it possible. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve learned that everything happens in God’s time. Thank you Syreeta for sharing your beauty, your heart, your love, your belief in me and your profound gift of song. Now we can share it with your friends and fans.”

BLACK MUSIC MONTH AND REMEMBERING THE AMAZING SYREETA WRIGHT

This journalist has always been a huge ‘Syreeta’ fan. Her original album, produced by Stevie Wonder, was one of my favorite collector items. Stevie first discovered the amazing voice of Syreeta Wright and signed her to his production company. I played that album over and over again back in the 1970’s

Born August 3, 1946, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Syreeta was raised by her mother and her grandmother. Her dad was off fighting in the Korean War. She and two sisters were bounced between South Carolina and Detroit until she became high school age. Once settling down in the Motor City, she secured a job as a receptionist for the then, fledgling Motown Record company. The former ballerina and music lover soon became a secretary for producer Mickey Stevenson. Of course, what her real dream was to become a singer/songwriter at the company. She knew she had an outstanding voice and was secure in her songwriting abilities. Once some of the Motown producers heard her lovely voice, she became their ‘go-to’ for studio demo sessions. That’s how she met Stevie Wonder in 1968. A year later, they began dating and writing music together. In 1970, they were married. Their first collaboration was in 1969 and became a hit record on the Spinners group titled, “It’s A Shame.” That was certainly one of my favorite Spinner songs. Then, in 1971, the Wonder/Wright song “If You Really Love Me” soared up the Pop and R&B charts and featured Syreeta’s outstanding vocals singing background behind Stevie Wonder’s lead. It was obvious that her voice was special and one to be reckoned with. It stood out.

I’m a collector of Stevie Wonder’s music and some of my favorite music was written by Syreeta and Stevie on his “Music of My Mind” album and the “Talking Book” master piece. Her debut solo album was exquisite, but didn’t get the company support in promotion and marketing that I thought it should have received. That same year, her marriage to Stevie Wonder ended, but their close friendship continued. Stevie produced her second album titled, “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta” in 1974.

After her marriage dissolved with Stevie Wonder she met bassist, Curtis Robertson Jr. and they fell in love. She and Curtis recorded a couple of albums together.

Her 1979 hit record with Billy Preston singing “With You I’m Born Again” is probably familiar to a lot of readers and music lovers. It was written and produced for a movie called “Fast Break” and raced up the charts worldwide, becoming #2 on the UK charts and #4 on the United States Billboard chart.

In 1992, she decided to retire from the business of recording and began a new musical challenge performing in the national touring cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the role of Mary Magdalene. Her star-studded cast included the original film stars Ted Neeley and the wonderful actor/vocalist, Carl Anderson. She stayed in that cast until 1995.

Now, after her untimely death in July of 2004, new music is being released to celebrate this great singer/songwriter by producer, songwriter and bassist, Curtis Robertson Jr. Since Syreeta was an activist and was very active in her community, it seems perfect that her music is being released during Black Music Month.
* * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * *

JAZZMEIA HORN – “LOVE AND LIBERATION” – A BLACK MUSIC MONTH FEATURE

June 26, 2019

JUNE 26, 2019

JAZZMEIA HORN – “LOVE AND LIBERATION” Concord Jazz
Reviewed by Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

Jazzmeia Horn, vocals/composer; Victor Gould,piano & SPECIAL GUEST: Sullivan Fortner, piano; Ben Williams, bass; Jamison Ross, drums/vocals; Stacey Dillard, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpeter; Chris Dunn, producer.

Jazzmeia Horn has returned to the jazz scene with a dozen songs full of energy, substance, rooted in cultural consciousness and nurtured by her dynamic vocals. As a composer, she has written seven of the twelve songs she’s recorded. Beginning with “Free Your Mind,” I am reminded of 1960 jazz messages of peace and freedom; of Betty Carter and Coltrane; of Lambert, Hendrix and Ross. Those mentioned are all icons and I expect this vocalist will take her place in the sunshine of success as well. Here is a talent to watch and enjoy.

The second cut, “Time” is a short poem, followed by the speedy, bebop tune titled, “Out the Window.” It showcases Jazzmeia’s comfort level with scatting, while showcasing her perfect enunciation and ability to swing as hard as Sarah Vaughan or Mel Tormé. “No More” is a song deeply rooted in the blues, written by Hubert Laws and Jon Hendricks, and proclaiming Horn’s female power and independence. Sullivan Fortner is delightful on piano, putting the ‘B’ in blues and Jazzmeia Horn shows how powerful she is with a full ensemble, or in this case, only a trio. The fade adds gospel background vocals chanting the theme, “No More.” “When I Say” is, once more, a declaration of power and female liberation. It’s a lyric full of ultimatums and declarations, reminding me at times of a Marlena -Shaw-tone when in her heyday she sang, “Let the doorknob hit cha where the dog should of bit cha”.

The lovely ballad, “Legs and Arms” lyrically seems to be written for a man to sing about some crush he has on a brunette beauty. The bridge challenges Horn’s competent vocal range and is very melodic and ear-pleasing. This song features a sensual tenor saxophone solo by Stacey Dillard. At her live, overseas performance, at the Jazz Ahead Trade Fair, Jazzmeia Horn explained what inspired her to write this song. It was a peeping Tom she busted while attending college. She caught him staring (with binoculars), into her window. He was there when she awoke to take a shower each morning. She explained how we can often find something good to come out of a negative experience. So, she composed this song about that very moment and what he may have been thinking.

Criss-crossing from straight-ahead and bebop into the realms of Hip-Hop, she refreshes the Erykah Badu tune, “Green Eyes” with a band that clearly understands and embraces her desire to explore all music through the prism of jazz arrangements. Jazzmeia Horn evokes kaleidoscope colors with her music; a colorful mixture of historic jazz and current genres. She is fearless, covering “Reflections of my Heart,” written by the late icon, George Duke and the great vocalist, Rachelle Ferrell. This is recorded as a duet with her awesome drummer and singer, Jamison Ross. Ross has a stunningly emotional voice that blends perfectly with Horn’s purity of soulful sound. To close this album, Ben Williams struts his stuff on double bass during the standard song, “I Thought About You.” Jazzmeia Horn and Williams are a formidable duo.

According to the liner notes, it was Horn’s jazz-loving, piano-playing grandmother who suggested christening the child with the splendid name of “Jazzmeia.” Born in Dallas, Texas, the little girl with the jazzy name grew up surrounded by the love and musicality of her family. As a toddler, she was already singing her songs and exhibiting her fascination with music. Jazzmeia Horn attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, known for launching the careers of great musicians including Roy Hargrove, Norah Jones and Erykah Badu. Later, her education included mentoring by jazz masters like Betty Carter, Bobby McFerrin and Abbey Lincoln. When she relocated to New York City in 2009, in constant search of perfecting her craft, the youthful vocalist enrolled in The New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music Program. She studied and blossomed. After four-years, people started noticing her talent and ability. In 2013, she entered and won a Newark-based contest named for the sassy Ms. Sarah Vaughan, an international jazz competition. I hear a lot of Sarah’s influence in Jazzmeia’s presentation. In 2015, Horn won the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition. Part of her prize was a contract with Concord which led to her former debut release, “A Social Call.”

“Honestly, I’m way more excited now about ‘Love and Liberation,’ because this is mostly my original music. Don’t get me wrong. I love ‘A Social Call’ and all the acclamations were great … the reviews in Downbeat, The New York Times and London Times. But now, I’m like, you guys don’t really know what’s coming. Boy, do I have something in store for you,” Jazzmeia Horn warns.

If this current album of amazing music and creativity is an example of her warning, I say, bring it on!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A CD Review for Black Music Month: VIVIAN SESSOMS

June 22, 2019

JUNE 22, 2019

A CD REVIEW FOR BLACK MUSIC MONTH
BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

VIVIAN SESSOMS – “LIFE II” ropeadope Records

Vivian Sessoms, vocals/producer/arranger; Chris Parks, bass/producer/arranger/electric piano/ programmer/keys; Shedrick Mitchell, piano/organ/arranger; Christian Gates, keys/programming;/ guitar/drum programming; Dave Archer, keys; Sherrod Barnes & Mark Whitefield, guitar; Donald Edwards, Eric Brown & Billy Kilson, drums; Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, trombone; John Isley, saxophone; Casey Benjamin, saxophones/Fender Rhodes; Adi Yeshaya, string arranger; Charisa the violin diva, strings; Meku Yisreal, conga; Gregoire Maret, harmonica.

Vivian Sessoms is a composer, producer and vocalist. She has made her mark in the music business after years of preparation and practice. As a young talent, at the tender age of nine, Vivian was already doing television and radio voice overs. Her parents saw her artistic potential and she received classical training in voice and piano. Her first major tour was with Ryuichi Sakamoto, a pianist and composer. On the road with this brilliant artist and mentor, along with a band of awesome musicians including Manu Katche, Victor Bailey, and Darryl Jones, this fledgling songbird blossomed and took flight. She even learned to sing in Japanese. Her amazing vocal ability has impressed both in the studio and ‘live,’ such artists as P. Diddy, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Sinead O’Connor, Pink, Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder, to list just a few. You probably have heard her vocals on any number of commercial jingles including Adidas, Afrosheen, Burger King, Calvin Klein, Campbells Soup, Coke, Dark & Lovely, Hersheys, Hyatt, even the IRS.

Listening to her lovely vocals on “The Best Is Yet To Come” I hear shades of Chaka Khan phrasing and a penchant towards Rhythm and Blues grit. She makes the song hers, far from the Frank Sinatra version, reinventing it to a more smooth-jazz production.

There is a Hip-Hop rap interval that follows this song featuring Major TRUTH Green that protests police violence against innocent-until-proven-guilty victims. This is followed by Sessoms’ gospel fused, R&B tune, “I Can’t Breathe.” Sessoms’ vocals soar, powerful and sincere like queen Aretha. Mark Whitfield is prominently featured on guitar and Shedrick Mitchell is effective and notable on organ as the lyrics mirror the heart-wrenching plea from Eric Garner as police choked him to death. It is clear this is a political statement triggered by the continued institutional, racial violence against people of color in America.

“There are so many things happening in the world that I care about and want to see change in, but none so much as halting the killing of black people,” Vivian Sessoms states.

“If They Only Knew” clearly shows this artist’s amazing vocal gift. It’s a beautiful ballad that features the sweet harmonica solo of Gregoire Maret. This song is a fusion jazz arrangement where Sessoms showcases her perfect pitch, awesome range and spectacular ability to deliver a lyric with an abundance of recognizable emotion.

The idea of segueing into Vivian Sessoms songs with musical interludes and hip-hop rap is interesting, but on the whole, distracts from Vivian Sessoms’ talent and delivery. It breaks up the flow of this production. Stevie Wonder’s composition, “As” is painted with an unusual minor-keyed, rhythm arrangement, but Sessoms holds true to the melody with her powerful vocals. This is obviously an experimental project that sounds more like a group effort than a single artist’s project. I definitely don’t see it as a jazz project. However, I admire Vivian Sessoms talent and her artistic desire to bring about change and political protest with her voice and musical choices.

The bass propels this project, thanks to the mastery of Chris Parks, who is also her partner in this production. Additionally, they have collaborated to songwrite and produce for a number of celebrity artists on other projects.

On the composition, “Thing” I hear shades of Esther Satterfield and at times, a throw-back to Minnie Ripperton’s style and grace; not the range, but the phrasing. The echo effects and over-lapping voice-overs on many of the songs can become a distraction. This vocalist doesn’t need effects to enhance her already powerful vocals. I would love to hear Vivian Sessoms featured in a more authentic jazz production, perhaps like the Jean Carn and Doug Carn original project or maybe celebrating Nancy Wilson. However,I recognize this album is a mixture of many musical styles and genres.

Although I rarely review this type of production, because my column is all about jazz, I was still smitten with this artist’s incredible voice and political character. There is no doubt, Vivian Sessoms is a stunning vocalist and a voice to be heard throughout the generations. Consequently, I wanted to feature her talents during Black Music Month.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Howlett Smith: A Los Angeles Treasure, Educator, Jazz Pianist, Composer & More

June 19, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

JUNE 19, 2019 – Celebrating Black Music Month

I first heard the beautiful voice and amazing piano playing of Howlett Smith in the 1970s. My friend and the original bassist with Thelonious Monk, Mr. Larry Gales, was performing with Howlett at the popular Bob Burns restaurant in Santa Monica, California. So,I dropped in to enjoy the music. They were the regular duo at a piano bar near the front entrance of the crowded venue. If you were lucky, you could grab a seat at the half-circular bar that surrounded their grand piano and hear all your favorite standard jazz tunes and thoroughly enjoy the great American songbook. Howlett Smith,(fondly called “Smitty” by friends and cohorts), could also whistle like a flute, perhaps better than that reed instrument, because he added a little vibrato to the whistle. The customers went crazy for his whistle and so did I.It was stunningly beautiful and quite an attention-getter. Also, at the Bob Burn’s venue, a parade of singers would stroll in late night, after the dinner crowd had gone home. Singers loved to ‘sit-in’ with Howlett, who is quite a sensitive accompanist. If you knew your song and what key you sang it in, that’s all ‘Smitty’ needed to know. If you didn’t know your key, after you hummed a little of it, he’d know exactly what to play. Howlett Smith was one of the regular entertainers at the Bob Burns club for over twenty years and performed there until the doors of the restaurant finally closed permanently.

Watching Howlett Smith interact with the singers and guest musicians, I could tell right away that Howlett was a music educator. Over the years, he has worked with a plethora of vocal students, including running a vocal workshop at the famed ‘World Stage’ in Leimert Park, a mainly African American art community in central Los Angeles. He also served as choir director at his church for many years and was once part of the El Camino College faculty, teaching in the Applied Music Program.

Howlett ‘Smitty’ Smith was born in Phoenix, Arizona and educated at the School for the Blind in Tucson and he attended the University of Arizona. His natural talents as a superb pianist, a composer, and a talented vocalist led him to become involved in radio, television, movies, touring with jazz bands and even Broadway. He was greatly influenced by the great Nat King Cole’s trio.

“My dad was a drummer and my aunt was a vocal and piano teacher,” he told me. “At the age of six-years-old, I moved to Tucson, Arizona and was enrolled in the school for the blind. They eventually recognized my musical talents.

“I came to California for the first time in 1958. My brother invited me to stay with him and I stayed a couple of weeks. I loved California. Soon after, I relocated to Los Angeles. I picked up work on radio for KPFK playing background piano music.”

Howlett was always a composer and very religious. When he came up with the idea of writing a song about a “Little Alter Boy” he had no idea it would become a hit record in the commercial pop market. This song was recorded by a slew of singers including, Vic Dana in 1961. It was released as a single 45rrpm record and rose up the Billboard Hot 100 chart to number forty-five. Even better, in 1962 that song was sung by Dana in a motion picture called, “Don’t Knock the Twist.” Next, in 1965, Andy Williams, recorded Howlett’s ‘Alter Boy’ song on a Christmas album. This was followed by Glenn Campbell re-recording the song in 1968 for his, “That Christmas Feeling” album released on CapitolRecords. A&M Records got in the mix in 1984, when The Carpenters recorded a version of ‘Smitty’s’ song on their “An Old-Fashioned Christmas “album and also released it as the ‘B’ side of their single release of “Do you Hear What I Hear.” The royalties for a songwriter whose song was so extensively covered and popular, including film rights, should have gifted Howlett Smith with healthy residuals. So,imagine my surprise when ‘Smitty’ told me today:

“Little Alter Boy launched my career in the music business. It was taken over by two crooks; Lenny and Benny Weissman. They took my publishing and they never paid me.”

This was the beginning of Howlett Smith’s introduction to how unfair and criminal the music business can be when you are trusting and don’t truly understand how to protect your music and yourself from publishing predators.

NOTE: On June 26, 2019 I received an e-mail from Judy Smith in response to this article. She told me that Howlett gets confused about things since he had a stroke last year. He is collecting royalties for this song currently from Sony and from performance rights organizations. Judy Said, “He did not have representation when the Weissman brothers presented the publishing contract to him many years ago. We eventually had a lawyer renegotiate the contract. He gets more than the original contract but still not as much as he should.”

His next composition to be scooped up and recorded was “Let’s Go Where the Grass is Greener” sung by the late, great, jazz icon, Nancy Wilson. That was in 1964.

Later, it was also recorded by jazz vocalist, Blossom Dearie in 1967. In 1989,Sonya Hedenbratt re-recorded the popular song,followed by Steve & Eydie who covered it in 1990. Karen Francis re-recorded it in 1996, Ava Logan in 2008 and Lori Carsillo in 2014. It was also recorded by jazz bands like Pete Jolly and his trio, Bud Shank, as well as the epic Three Sounds with the Oliver Nelson Orchestra. That goes to show you that a great song will be recorded time and time again and by a variety of artists. Smitty’s melody was as strong as his lyrics.

Howlett Smith’s “Let’s Go Where the Grass is Greener” composition was followed by a hit record on another vocalist, Spanky Wilson, titled, “The Last Day of Summer.”

More recently, it was recorded by a blossoming, young, jazz vocalist named Darynn Dean. She is the granddaughter of iconic drummer Donald Dean, who recorded on the Les McCann and Eddie Harris hit record, “Compared to What?”

Many years ago, I went to a Los Angeles stage play that celebrated the legacy of blues vocalist, Bessie Smith. The star of that one-woman-show was the great Linda Hopkins and it was a show-stopping, standing-ovation performance. The musical conductor for that musical titled, “Me and Bessie,” was the very talented Howlett Smith. That play went on to New York for a long-term run on Broadway.

Speaking of musicals, ‘Smitty’ has written and produced several musicals inclusive of one titled, “The Carpenter” which is a depiction of the life of Jesus Christ. It features a 20-voice harmony Choir and an eclectic mix of musical genres, including gospel, jazz, spiritual and traditional music.

One of the things I love about ‘Smitty’ is his great sense of humor. When he began recording his original music, he always featured some compositions with lyrics that would entertain and tickle your funny bone. For example, one of his songs is titled “Ugly Woman.” Some of the lyrics read:

“I’m one of those guys, who lets his eyes
Go roving now and then; Check out them girls, from toe to curls
I’d love to find myself a ten.
My looks survived, on fours and fives, when I go out for fun.
But last night in desperation I approached a minus-one; and she said, NO!
An ugly woman told me no. Nothing makes you feel as low, as when an ugly woman tells you no.”

Smitty’s albums are numerous and personify his extraordinary talent on the piano. His smooth, emotional vocals touch your heart, and his lyrics make you bust out laughing. He has mad composer talents. Howlett made a vinyl recording with a pair of hands on the piano keys titled, “With These Hands – Recorded ‘live’ at Sterling’s Cocktail Lounge. His next LP reflected his nickname, “Smitty!” Another vinyl album was titled, “Here I Come” and featured Howlett with his trio. In 2001, He recorded an album titled, “Lets Go Where the Grass is Greener.” In 2007, he released “Songs You Can Get Killed for Singing.” One of my favorite recordings by Howlett is with he and bass player, Larry Gales titled, “Here For You.” Another favorite of mine celebrates his unique lyrical ability and sense of humor titled, “Funny Side Up.” As recent as 2016, Franny McCartney released her CD titled “As Is” featuring Howlett Smith on piano.

Recently, the 86-year-old pianist, composer, vocalist, playwright, producer and educator has slowed down his pace. In 2018, because of health challenges, he retired from his seven-year stint teaching vocals at the World Stage. However, he continues to play piano, faithfully attends church services and stands tall as a positive inspiration to us all.
* * * * * * * * * * *

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY: A CELEBRATION OF MEN IN JAZZ

June 11, 2019

BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
June 11, 2019

DWIGHT TRIBLE: MOTHERSHIP Gearbox Records

Dwight Trible, vocals; Mark de Clive-Lowe, piano; Mala, harp; Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, viola; Carlos Nino, hand percussion; Derf Reklaw, percussion; Ramses Rodriguez, drums; Kamasi Washington, tenor saxophone; John B. Williams, double bass.

One of the most exciting and extraordinarily original vocalists in jazz today has got to be Dwight Trible. His latest album titled,” Mothership,” explores the music of one of his deep influences and his friend, Oscar Brown Jr. with songs like, “Brother Where Are You” that plead for unity and respect for one another in both lyric and the tone of treble’s voice. Ramses Rodriguez establishes the heartbeat of this song on his trap drums. Reaching into his bag of Latin tinged arrangements, Trible sings “It’s All About Love.” The percussion by Derf Reklaw colors the arrangement and the lyrics summarize the explosive emotions that Trible personifies on recording and in person. His ‘live’ performances are magnetic, visually exciting and genuine. In fact, that’s what this artist is all about; being genuine.

There appears to be an homage to motherhood on this album, in its many nurturing forms. Bassist, James Leary, has composed “Mother,” and it’s a beautiful song with warm, tribute lyrics and a haunting melody. Trible’s voice caresses each word, caramel sweet, letting his thick baritone vocals coat each sentence with love and respect. The title tune, “Mothership,” epitomizes a spiritual teaching from ‘The Nation’ as well as a compliment once again to motherhood, the womb of life and to the importance of teaching spirituality and respect for the knowledge of elders. The lyrics are deep. You have to listen twice, maybe three times to soak up all the goodness provided by Mark de Clive-Lowe on piano, Carlos Nino on hand percussion and the dynamic tenor saxophone of Kamasi Washington.

Dwight Trible is the epitome of what jazz should be. Freedom! Honesty. Soul. Messages of universal nature and stature. Space. Room for musicians to explore and emotions to soar. This artist got his vocal palate wet working with the phenomenal Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and singing with the iconic Pharoah Sanders Quartet. He’s an experimental artist, unafraid to cross musical genres, but always steeped and cemented solidly in jazz. He’s worked with L.A. Reid, D.J. Rogers, pianist/recording artist, Patrice Rushen, and ventured into electronic and hip-hop with Carlos Nino. He has recorded a duet album with great pianist/arranger, John Beasley. Dwight’s diversity of choices in music are evident, but one thing remains strong and undeniable. That is Dwight Trible’s desire to change the world with his music and to inspire peace, love, harmony and unity. When he sings, “Standing in the Need of Prayer,” soaring vocally from his rich baritone to his crystal-clear tenor tones, he seems to be pulling his source from the gates of heaven. Dwight Trible is channeling his music from a higher power and offers it to us in his own unique way, endeavoring to open our hearts and our minds.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ERIC ALEXANDER – “LEAP OF FAITH” GiantStepArts

Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone/composer/piano; Doug Weiss, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.

Right out the gate, this trio is stomping, powerful and with a straight-ahead march, minus piano or guitar. This is tenor saxophone, bass and drums taking a ‘Leap of Faith’ to translate Eric Alexander’s original compositions from sheet music to a ‘live performance.’ His is a chord-less concept.

“You have to trust what you’re doing, or it can be very hard to be genuine,” Alexander explained about this new direction in his music.

On the first tune, “Luquitas” played at a brisk speed, Johnathan Blake takes a solo that re-establishes him as one who is at the forefront of the new and powerful jazz drummers. This tune establishes the unrestricted and boundless energy these musicians bring to the stage. This is a ‘live’ performance, recorded at the Jazz Gallery in New York City.

The second track, “Mars,” starts out at a moderate tempo but soon, pushes into a double-time, bebop groove, propelled by the powerful walking bass of Doug Weiss. Alexander says that this original composition was inspired by pop star, Bruno Mars and his tune, “Finesse”. The jazzy respect given to Bruno and Cardi B. from Eric Alexander is admirable and musically unifying, bridging the genres. I played the video below while listening to Alexander’s “Mars” composition and believe me, you won’t hear a slice of this pop sensation’s song, in melody or rhythm. However, the chord changes are twisted into a jazz composition that takes on new dimensions. I’m sharing the Bruno Mars Video and wish I could have found a video of Eric Alexander’s “Mars” so you could compare the difference.

On his composition,” Corazon Perdido,” Eric Alexander sits down to a piano and plays a few chords in between his saxophone explorations. I was surprised to hear the piano, since, for the most part, this album is devoid of a chord instrument. You will hear the influence of John Coltrane in some places of this production. I found Eric Alexander, Doug Weiss and Johnathan Blake’s music to be completely satisfying and artistic.

Below is a video of Alexander at a live ‘Bronx’ performance including a pianist. He’s performing ‘live’ at Linda’s Jazz Nights with the great Harold Mabern on piano and dueling with Vincent Herring. This is nothing like his Avant Garde music on “Leap of Faith,” but shows the commercial side of Alexander in a more relaxed setting. He still never loses his unique style and expert improvisational skills, pushing the boundaries of his horn and his horn harmonics. Also featured on this 2015 video is Kenny Washington on drums and Phil Palombi on bass.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JOHN DOKES – “TRUE LOVE” Rondette Jazz

John Dokes, vocals; Mark Gross, alto saxophone; Steve Einerson, piano; Alex Claffy, acoustic bass; Lawrence Leathers, drums.

John Dokes is a gentleman with a penchant for expressing himself through song in a smooth, baritone voice. On this CD, he has surrounded his vocal talent with a quartet of exceptional musicians who make these standard jazz songs come alive. Mark Gross, on alto sax, puts the ‘J’ in jazz. Steve Einerson’s piano talents are riveting, not only as an accompanist, but also as an outstanding jazz soloist and arranger. Einerson was raised in a small city outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is the son of music educators. He has performed or recorded with great jazz artists like Marlena Shaw, Eric Alexander, Slide Hampton, Jim Rotondi and Dr. Eddie Henderson, to list just a few. Dokes has chosen nine songs the listener is probably familiar with, including “A Sleepin’ Bee,” “Never Let Me Go”, “Pure Imagination,” and “Eleanor Rigby.” On “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” the arrangement races and the lyrical meaning of these poignant words somehow get lost in the double time. Dokes sings it well, but I don’t hear the heartbreak and sadness that this popular standard usually echoes. The arrangement is buoyant and bubbly, rather than melancholy and elegiac. I think that musicians often forget about the lyrics when they arrange music and that’s a big mistake. However, I enjoyed the Dokes rendition of Bernard Ighner’s “Everything Must Change” composition. This production is similar to a “Funny Valentine” arrangement by Billy Childs for Diane Reeves on her first album. The groove is infectious.

Surprisingly, Dokes was once part of a hip-hop dance crew during his high school years.

“My love for the music came from dancing to it,” Dokes shared. “I always imagine what my feet would be doing to whatever music I’m producing, because they tend to have a mind of their own.”

The tenth song on this CD is composed by John Dokes and titled, “Cool Enough.” It introduces us to John Dokes as a composer. His silky, smooth enunciation lets you enjoy every lyric. Yes – John Dokes is the epitome of a cabaret singer in an intimate night club and he’s definitely ‘cool enough.’
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
FRED NARDIN TRIO featuring OR BAREKET & LEON PARKER – “LOOK AHEAD” Independent Label

Fred Nardin, piano/composer/producer: Leon Parker, drums; Or Bareket, double bass.

Fred Nardin makes delicious music. He is a creative composer and a technically imaginative pianist. This is a French production, recorded in March of last year. The trio opens with his original composition, “Colours.” It’s straight-ahead jazz at its best. Incorporating a more shuffle drive, “Just Easy” gives Leon Parker a time to shine on drums. He has a light touch on this tune, using brushes to briskly stroke the rhythm and to ‘trade fours.’

All of Nardin’s compositions are both melodic and arranged with interesting time changes. On track #3, his classical training is obvious as his flying fingers quickly map out the melody and explore all the secret places inside this song. On “New Direction” the introduction is executed with vocal percussion and what sounds like a tap dancer tapping in the background. Suddenly the sixth track comes barreling-in titled, “One Finger Snap” where Or Bareket takes the opportunity to display his mastery of the double bass. Playing at a brisk speed, he’s supportive as the basement for the group, but then he dazzles us with a long, improvisational solo, before racing into a double time exhibit of speed and excitement on his instrument. Leon Parker also solos on this tune, making his sticks dance and explode during their up-temp enthusiasm. Fred Nardin’s final composition on this production is titled, “Prayers” and it’s stunningly beautiful. This entire production is entertaining, well-written and exceedingly well-played by three masterful musicians.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
THE PETE McGUINNESS JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “ALONG FOR THE RIDE” Summit Records

Pete McGuinness, conductor/trombone/composer/arranger/vocals; Andy Eulau, bass; Mike Holober, piano; Scott Neumann, drums; Chris Rogers, flugelhorn; Bill Mobley, trumpet; Rob Middleton & Tom Christensen, tenor saxophone; Dave Pietro, alto & soprano saxophone; Matt Haviland, Bruce Eidem & Mark Patterson, trombone; Dave Reikenberg, baritone saxophone; Mark Phoneuf, alto saxophone.

Orchestras are so lush and this one is no exception. The Pete McGuiness Jazz Orchestra has been playing and recording critically acclaimed music for thirteen years in the New York area. This is their third release and sure to become another feather in their proverbial cap. To open the album, the arrangement of “Put on A Happy Face” is mesmerizing. It bounces off my CD player like a buoyant beach ball rolling across hot sand. The unusual chord harmonies and exuberant playing is bound to captivate the listener, pumping your spirit up with happiness. Tom Christensen dances across this jazzy arrangement on tenor saxophone. The next song, “You Must Believe in Spring” employs the vocals of Pete McGuinness, who sings melodic horn lines, without words, blending smoothly with the horns. It’s a lovely arrangement. Then, to my happy surprise, Pete shares the wonderful lyrics of this song with us. He even scats and he’s a wonderful vocal improvisor; or was that scat part written? Either way, it was whimsical and excellent in elevating the orchestral arrangement. “Old Roads” is an original composition by Pete McGuinness and gives orchestra drummer, Scott Neumann, an opportunity to solo and strut his sticks around the trap drums with power and precision. Chris Rogers is fluid and dramatic on flugelhorn. Pianist, Mike Holober, makes his own sinuous statement once the horns quieted down. This is one of four original compositions that Pete McGuinness has penned and arranged for this project.

His “Point of Departure” tune becomes a platform for McGuinness to pull out his trombone chops and royally serenades us. This original song also features a solo by Rob Middleton on tenor saxophone and one by Bill Mobley on trumpet, is also noteworthy. The orchestra has a way of swelling and building, like the ocean waves during a storm. The soloists float atop the rich arrangements like sturdy ships at sea. There is vivid motion and movement to these arrangements by Pete McGuinness. At times, the orchestra horns echo each other, repeating lines in a very timely, natural and harmonic way. Scott Neumann continues to hold the ensemble tightly in place with his drumming and also steps front and center to spotlight his percussive talents on this tune. And was that a baritone sax player who eggs him on and catches my ear with a rich, deep, delightful sound? Another favorite of mine on this album is “May I Come In,” a song I’m unfamiliar with that features a great lyric, amply shared by the smoky, baritone vocals of Pete McGinnis. He sure knows how to sell a song.

An alumnus of the Buddy Rich Orchestra, McGuiness is a competent composer, a trombonist, vocalist, arranger and formidable orchestra leader. He’s also a longtime jazz educator who appears on over fifty jazz CDs, inclusive of Maria Schneider’s Grammy Award Winning, “Concert in the Garden.” McGuiness has also appeared in numerous orchestra pits for Broadway shows, heads his own big band and is an Associate Professor of Jazz Studies/Arranging at William Patterson University.

This latest recorded music is an emotional journey of beauty and bravo. I’m very glad and grateful I was invited “Along for the Ride.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

ROB RYNDAK, TOM LOCKWOOD featuring BRIAN LYNCH – “GRATITUDE” Pacific Coast Jazz

Rob Ryndak,piano/percussion/composer; Tom Lockwood,tenor,alto,soprano & baritone saxophones/clarinet/bass clarinet/flute/composer; Brian Lynch,trumpet/flugelhorn; Sasha Brusin, electric & acoustic guitar; Karl E.H. Seigfried, electric & acoustic bass; Jeff Moehle, drums; Victor Gonzalez, Jr., congas/bongos/percussion; Micah Rutschman, vibraphone; Ryan Koranda, cello; Steve Talaga, piano/electric piano.

This album meanders into my space, strong on percussion and rich on Latin groove. Chicago-based pianist and percussionist, Rob Ryndak along with his musical partner reedman, Tom Lockwood, combine talents and composer skills to create an entertaining project. Each composed six songs for this production and Ryndak’s composition, “Equilibrium” is the first tune on their album. Ryndak was raised on Chi-town’s northside and comes from a musical family. This is his sixth CD release as either leader or co-leader. His musical tastes bounce from rock music to jazz, from Latin, pop and world music to funk. You hear a mixture of funk and jazz on Lockwood’s composition, “Jackie McFunk.” The horns are prominent and punch on this arrangement. Ryndak and Lockwood feature Grammy-Award-winning trumpeter, Brain Lynch on this project. Lockwood and Lynch each perform admirable solos on this track. The Waltz arrangement on Lockwood’s “So Little Time” composition is sweetly played and features a memorable solo by guitarist, Sasha Brusin. The occasional addition of a vibraphone, played by Micah Ruschman is intoxicating and adds a nice touch to several arrangements.

For the most part, this is an easy listening project with a big band sound and arrangements that explore the composition skills of both Ryndak and Lockwood. The production is consistently propelled by the exuberance of Ryndaks percussive grooves and colorfully painted with Lockwoods assorted reed instruments.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
MICHAEL EATON – “DIALOGICAL” Destiny Records

Michael Eaton,tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Brad Whiteley,piano; Daniel Ori, bass/gimbri; Shareef Taher,drums; Brittany Anjou, vibraphone; Cheryl Pyle,flute; Enrique Haneine, udu; James Brandon Lewis & Sean Sounderegger, tenor saxophone; Jon Crowley,trumpet; Dorian Wallace,piano/prepared piano; Sarah Mullins,marimba/triangels.

Michael Eaton is a composer who has written a dozen songs for this album. His originality stretches from his composing talents to the production of this music. According to Webster’s dictionary, dialogic is a form of dialogue. According to Michael Eaton, the title “Dialogical” refers to a notion of hybridity in language. Eaton notes that a Russian literary philosopher named Mikhail Bakhtin, thought that “appropriating words of others and populating them with one’s own intention” is perfectly fine. Using that as a premise for his production, Eaton explores a fusion of jazz into the more modern-day looping effect produced by a hip hop influenced culture. His original compositions are based on solid melodies and Eaton uses a repetitious groove to hammer the melody home. Perhaps this is his consideration of fusion by looping. However, on track #2, “Anthropocene,” the band surprises me by stretching out into serious jazz realms and employing improvisation that is inspired by Lionel Loueke on guitar. Then, Michael Eaton lets his amazing tenor saxophone skills soar. It was as if the bird was caged by those repetitious chords earlier and then someone opened the door and set the bird free.

On the 4th track, flutes play tag and sing to each other like dancing Sparrows in space. On cut 6, voices are added to the mix in a bebop-kind-of-way, singing sounds, using notes of expression without words. Eaton expands the music by adding vibraphone, gyil and udo on this tune. A gyil is a type of Balafon instrument or percussive instrument with roots in West Africa. He also incorporates a gimbri instrument, played by bassist, Daniel Ori. It snatches the attention on the tune “I and Thou”. The gimbri is a string instrument carved from a log and covered on the playing side with camel skin. These odd instruments and the talented musicians speak to each other and to the listener. They offer exploratory jazz, pushing the limits of creativity. However, I found the repetition on cuts #10 and #11 completely annoying.

Michael Eaton explained it this way:

“I’m thinking about how the minimalist canon might provide a different way of looking at the overlapping or looping rhythmic cycles that are utilized in modern jazz by people like Steve Coleman, Dave Holland and Chris Potter. I want to interface different styles to see how they all reflect different parts of me.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
ART “TURK” BURTON – “ANCESTRAL SPIRITS” T.N’T Music ATBCD

Art “Turk” Burton, conga/bongo drums; Eddie Beard, piano/organ; Dushun Mosley, drums; Yosef Ben Israel, bass; Sammie “Cha Cha” Torres, bongo/percussion; Luis “Preito” Rosario, timbales. Featured artists: Maggie Brown, vocals; Edwin Daugherty, alto & soprano saxophone; Ari Brown, tenor/soprano saxophone/piano.

Here is an album that recalls the jazz music of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s; back when percussion, parks and spoken word were locked familiarly, like hands on drum skins. It recalls poetry echoed atop conga drum beats and civil rights attitudes being reflected in the lyrical word. Back when Eddie Jefferson’s singing poetry reinvented the solos of Moody, Prez and many more with spell-binding lyrics. On Art “Turk” Burton’s album, Maggie Brown sings Eddie Jefferson’s “Night in Tunisia” on this recording. However, the spotlight is on the percussion throughout this production.

On the first track, Art “Turk” Burton’s wife recites her original poetry during this exploration of generational jazz. She celebrates iconic drummers.

“Drummers here … drummers everywhere … Mongo Santa Maria, …we celebrate his life … not to be missed or dismissed; Ray Barretto … Tito Puente, Chano Pozo … Willie Bobo …,” says Patrice “Peresina” Burton.

This Chicago ensemble gives much praise and appreciation to the Ancestors during their recording. Reflected in the title tune, the liner notes dedicate this arrangement to two of the original members of the AACM; Kelan Phil Cohran and Muhal Richard Abrams. This is Avant Garde music, perpetuated by history, culture, freedom of instrument and purpose.

Art “Turk” Burton has a long history of performing with iconic jazz personalities including Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Henry Threadgill, Randy Weston, Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman and Elvin Jones.

When he isn’t playing his percussive instruments, Burton is writing books and has published three history non-fictions. They are titled, “Black, Buckskin and Blue (African American Scouts and Soldiers on the Western Front)”, “Black, Red and Deadly (Black and Indian Gunfighters of the Indian Territories 1870 – 1907)” and “Black Gun, Silver Star (The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshall Bass Reeves).” Like his books, the music of Art “Turk” Burton, while deeply rooted in rhythmic culture,his international interest in the history of music is obvious.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
THE DAVE WILSON QUARTET –“ONE NIGHT AT CHRIS’ JAZZ CAFE” Dave Wilson Music

Dave Wilson,tenor & soprano saxophones; Kirk Reese,piano; Tony Marino,acoustic bass; Dan Monaghan,drums.

Dave Wilson recorded this album one night in March of 2018, at the Jazz Café in Philadelphia. His low notes on the tenor saxophone registered with me and sparked my attention right off the bat. He opens with a well-written original song titled, “Ocean Blues.” When he was just fifteen, and while studying the clarinet, young Dave Wilson was inspired by John Coltrane. Another influence was Dexter Gordon. In the early 1970’s, Wilson switched his clarinet instrument to tenor saxophone.

In Wilson’s early years, like most youth, he embraced the top-40 hits and the rock music of his generation. In his case, that was the Grateful Dead rock group. On this project, he celebrates this group by adding “Friend of the Devil” arranged with a Latin groove and he plays soprano sax on this track.

This is a ‘live’ club recording and it includes danceable funk tunes like, “My Own Prison,” a Creed tune plucked from the 90’s. Dave Wilson’s saxophone talent keeps the arrangements jazzy, even though his group sometimes loses the momentum. On occasional moments, it seems that the engine propelling the quartet’s music stalls. This could be because the drummer, who often gets lost in his own playing, appears to forget to hold the rhythm section in place. This is quite noticeable on the 5th cut, “The Biggest Part of Me”. On the whole, Dave Wilson’s Quartet sounds like a local jazz group to enjoy at Philadelphia’s Jazz Café. His horn playing is steeped in bebop, even though he adds songs to his repertoire that are not necessarily jazz tunes. At times, despite Wilson’s energy and ability on saxophones, the groove is missing from this trio. This often distracts from an otherwise entertaining live performance.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

TIMBALE MASTER: CELEBRATING DYNAMIC DRUMMER, RAMON BANDA

June 2, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

June 1, 2019

Ramon Banda was connected to his drum set lovingly, the way he was connected to his family and his band members. The drums were an integral part of his life; his body; his career; his love. Ramon once proudly said he had played the same ride-cymbal for close to twenty years. When I first heard Ramon Banda play, I was mesmerized by his technique and spiritual connection to the music. Like Ramon, it’s always been important to me to have a spiritual connection to the music and to my band. The moment I heard Ramon play, I knew that he too had that spiritual connection to the music.

Standing at his hospital bedside on May 29, 2019, I saw a lion of a man laying quietly on his pillow, still determined and hopeful. His beautiful cousin was there, praying for his recovery and well-being. She told me someone from his family was constantly at his side. His wife, Rachel, was on the way to the hospital after attending a graduation ceremony. I was surprised when I stepped off the elevator and discovered Ramon was in the Intensive Care Unit. Still, he recognized me immediately, but I didn’t stay long. I knew he needed to rest. I didn’t want him to feel he had to host my visit. I was compelled to tell Ramon, in person, what a joy it was to work with him and to watch him perform over the years. I thanked him for his warm and giving spirit. When I was producing television promo clips for Suicide Prevention, he was one of the first jazz cats to say he would be there to participate. Ramon cared about his music, his family and his community.

Ramon Banda was raised in the Norwalk neighborhood of Los Angeles and he and his younger brother, Tony, have been playing music for over half a century. He grew up hearing his mom playing piano and his uncle playing beautifully on the tenor saxophone. Ramon’s father was a professional drummer. Young Ramon started out as a guitar player, playing in his uncle’s group. His brother, Tony, played bass. Although his uncle was a horn player and enamored with Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins’ horn talents, their little group played traditional Mexican music and Top-40. Their family group worked around the Los Angeles area. When Ramon’s cousin was drafted and sent to Vietnam, Ramon switched to the drums to take his cousin’s place. Music is a common link and was always a blessing to the Banda family.

Tony and Ramon Banda were longtime musicians in Poncho Sanchez’s Latin Jazz band. Ramon also played in Cal Tjader’s band. Ramon and his brother were the heart and soul of both those bands, but soon established their own family music group labeled The Banda Brothers. Their sextet stretched into bebop and straight-ahead jazz. With Poncho’s group, Ramon played timbales. But with the Banda Brother’s sextet, he played trap drums. Tony had a distinctive sound on double bass. Latin was their root and culture, but they played jazz just as passionately. Often times, not only in the Sanchez band but also in their own band, the two brothers would grab Shekeres, (sometimes spelled Chekeres), those percussive gourds covered in bright beads, and they would enchant the audience with their percussion skills. In fact, the Banda brothers also had a business making and selling those colorful Shekere instruments. Ramon was greatly influenced by Mongo Santamaria. He said he fell in love with the sound of the Shekere listening to Mongo’s album. The brothers had a percussion friend named Taumbu who showed them how to make the African based Shekere instrument. When work was slow and gigs were few and far between, Ramon and Tony got busy making them and selling Shekeres to pay the rent.

As teens, Poncho Sanchez was singing with Ramon’s two older cousins, who were also musicians. One unexpected afternoon, Poncho and his older brother needed a drummer and Ramon was recommended. They swung by his house and asked him to join them. He packed up his drums and the rest is history. Ramon recalls that in 1966, when they first met, Poncho Sanchez wasn’t even playing congas.

As a youngster, Ramon Banda was attracted to heavy metal music. Some of his favorites were Terrorizer & Morbid Angel. He admired Pete Sandoval who was the drummer with them and is epitomized as the founder of the so-called, ‘blast beat’. He also liked Mike Hamilton with Deeds of Flesh and was intrigued with the way Hamilton played those thunderous bass drum licks. Other drummers like Flo Mournier with Cryptopsy and Mick Harris of Napalm Death influenced Ramon’s early playing. As he branched out, he discovered jazz and drummers like Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich. He began to listen closely to Tito Puente’s band. Ramon Banda was also a master timbale player. He was inspired by and idolized the great Manny Oquendo.

All in all, Ramon was one of the most well-rounded drummers I knew. He could play it all, from rock and roll, R&B, to Pop, from bebop to straight-ahead jazz, or express himself fully with his own cultural, Latin percussion brilliance.

As his reputation proceeded him, Ramon met many great musicians and it was a young drummer named Willie Jones III who encouraged the Banda Brothers to go into the studio and record. The result was an album titled, “Acting Up!”

I enjoyed seeing Ramon Banda fire up Joey Francesco’s band. He has also been a stalwart drummer for Bill Cunliffe. Over his lifetime, Ramon Banda recorded on over 250 albums and some of them were Grammy Award winners. A partial list of those luminaries he recorded with include: Henry “the Skipper” Franklin, Mort Weiss, José Rizo, Carmen McRae, Woody Herman, Marcos Loya, Taumbu International Ensemble, Tierra, Stanley Clarke, Gary Hoey, The Jazz Crusaders, H.M.A. Salsa Jazz Orchestra, Fred Ramierez, Joey Altruda, Azar Lawrence, Theo Saunders, Dave Askren, Geoff Stradling, Papa John DeFrancesco, Juan Carlos Quintero, Scott Martin, Al McKibbon, Marilyn Fernandez, Charly, Francisco Aquabella, Phobia, Cal Tjader, Brent Lewis, Elliot Caine, Karen Hammack, Red & the Red Hots, Poncho Sanchez, Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars, Joey DeFrancesco & Bette Midler.

Ramon will be dearly missed by our jazz community, but his memory, like his music, will linger on throughout the generations. Rest in peace, my dear brother and thank you for your amazing music and loving spirit.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *