POLITICS, PRAYERS & HUMAN RIGHTS PIGGY-BACK ONTO JAZZ

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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.


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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.
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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.
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