VOCALS AND WOODWINDS ARE SPOTLIGHTED ON NEW JAZZ RELEASES

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz journalist
JULY 8, 2019

JOHN FINBURY AND THALMA DE FREITAS – ‘SORTE!” Green Flash Music

Thalma de Freitas, vocals; Vitor Goncalves, piano/Fender Rhodes/accordion; John Patitucci, bass; Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Duduka Da Fonseca, drums; Rogerio Boccato & Airto Moreira, percussion. All Songs composed by John Finbury,lyrics by Thalma de Freitas. Emilio D. Miler,producer.

Thalma de Freitas has a voice as sweet as taffy. The moment her clear, warm, soprano tones enter my listening room, I am intrigued. The title of this album by John Finbury and Thalma de Freitas is ‘Sorte’ which means ‘luck’ in Portuguese. It’s the first tune they play on this lovely album of music. They are thoughtful enough to include English translations to each composition inside the CD jacket. Thalma de Freitas is a lyricist who has put words to award-winning composer, John Finbury’s music. The result is both beautiful and enchanting.

John Finbury won a Latin Grammy nomination in 2016, winning in the “Song of The Year” category for his “A Chama Verde” from his album “Imaginario.” Finbury is a graduate of the Longy School of Music and Boston University. He’s been writing songs over four decades with a penchant for Latin music.

Ms. de Freitas is extremely popular in her native Brazil, first as an award-winning actress and then as a vocalist who has released three albums as a leader and one with the famed Orquestra Imperial, a Brazilian big band. She has collaborated with a number of well-known musicians including our own L.A. based, Kamasi Washington, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Joao Donato and Ceu. She is currently based in Los Angeles since 2012. Each song lyric she pens on this luscious album carries a special message from her heart. “Filha” is meant to be a message to the singer’s daughter. It displays kindness and caring for her child, encouraging her to love herself and claim her independence. “Ondas” translates to ‘Waves’ and this song celebrates being free and letting yourself go.

Each musician on this project brings their mastery and excellence to these compositions. John Patitucci plays both upright and electric bass, pumping the rhythm and building a solid basement foundation for the band along with Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. Master percussionist, Airto Moreira, adds spice to the production along with Rogerio Boccato. The complimentary guitar playing of Chico Pinheiro dances gayly along with Thalma de Freitas’ vocals and Vitor Goncalves, on piano, is brilliant; sometimes adding accordion to the mix. This is Brazilian music that will intoxicate your palate with the richness of Latin culture, the beautiful and sexy Portuguese language, warm vocals and delicious rhythms.
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PATRICK BARNITT – “SWAY” Independent Label

Patrick Barnitt,vocals; Paul McDonald, piano; Ricky Z., guitar; Cooper Appelt, bass;Jake Reed,drums;Rusty Higgins & Mike Nelson,alto saxophone; Eric Morones & Brian Clancey,tenor saxophone;Ken Fisher,baritone saxophone; Bijon Watson,Walter Simonson,Jeff Jarvis & Barbara Loronga,trumpet;Paul young, Duane Benjamin, Nick DePinna & Rich Bullock.SPECIAL GUESTS: Stephan Oberhoff, piano/ Hammond B3/keyboards/guitar/percussion/strings; Rusty Higgins,alto saxophone; Kendall Kay,drums; Celso Alberti,percussion/drums; Robert Kyle, flute/tenor saxophone; Everette Harp, Alto saxophone; BACKGROUND VOCALS: Meloney Collins, Kenna Ramsey & Laura Dickinson.

Patrick Barnitt has a smooth, silky tone and a voice reminiscent of Frank Sinatra. He brings back the days of big band jazz and a historic time when male crooners headlined jazz orchestras. Barnitt reminds us of voices like Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams and Ernie Andrews. On this album, Patrick Barnitt is front-lining the Paul McDonald Big Band. He’s a student of the great Howlett “Smitty” Smith, an artist and educator I featured in this column last month. Mr. Barnitt was one of several vocalists who flocked to the historic, but now defunct, Bob Burns restaurant in Santa Monica to enjoy Larry Gales on bass and “Smitty” on piano. After sitting-in with this jazz duo, Patrick found himself excited about performing music again. He began to get vocal gigs around the Los Angeles club scene. He often was a guest vocalist with Marty and Elayne, a duo act at the Dresden Hollywood nightclub. He currently plays regularly with legendary drummer, Frank Devito, who was a former member of Frank Sinatra’s band.

Although he loves singing, Barnitt’s day job has been as a working actor. He may be best known for his frequent appearances on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager television shows. He was also in the movie, Star Trek: First Contact.

The Paul McDonald Big Band features some of Southern California’s best jazz players including pianist, Stephan Oberhoff, iconic drummer Kendall Kay, flute and tenor sax player, Robert Kyle and Grammy-nominated saxophonist Everette Harp. You will enjoy a taste of the great American songbook with Barnitt emotionally connecting with the lyrics and beautiful melodies of songs like, “The More I See You” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” He swings on “Does Anybody Really know What Time It is?” That was a huge hit for Chicago in 1969 and Barnitt follows with an up-tempo arrangement of “Just In Time.” “Quando Quando Quando” features a lilting Latin arrangement and the soprano voice of Laura Pursell. Pursell is also an actress/vocalist. Barnitt and Ms. Pursell have been making music together for years. Consequently, it was easy to invite her to make a guest appearance on his album. She sings on the Les McCann composition, “The Truth,” and the title tune, “Sway.” Some of us may remember when Dean Martin sang this Latin tune,“Sway,” making it a huge USA hit in 1954, along with the Dick Stabile Orchestra.

Patrick Barnitt closes this splendid album of music with “One for My Baby and One More for the Road.” Oberhoff does an excellent job of arranging and the big band of Paul McDonald sounds tight and as polished as 24 karat gold.

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MAGGIE HERRON – “RENDITIONS” Herron Song Records

Maggie Herron, piano/vocals; Darek Oles & Dean Taba, bass; Ray Brinker, drums; Rocky Holmes, Alto Saxophone; Bob Sheppard, flute/saxophone; Larry Koonse, guitar.

This is probably the fourth CD I have reviewed that features the smoky, jazz vocals of Maggie Herron. She’s a pianist and also a singer and songwriter. On this album, she offers a dozen jazz standards for us to enjoy, some familiar and others more obscure, but none the less entertaining. Her mainstay trio features Darek Oles on bass and Ray Brinker on drums. However, she adds excitement and zest to her production with the addition of Larry Koonse on guitar during her arrangement of “All of Me” along with Rocky Holmes on an impressive alto saxophone solo. Her voice pleads with the listener, taking an old standard and infusing it with fresh emotion. When Maggie Herron sing “take all of me” you believe her. She scats along with Bob Sheppard on flute during the into to, “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” Sheppard puts the flute down and picks up the saxophone on “Just One of those Things.” Maggie shows that her piano playing can swing as well as accompany. With Derek Oles on bass, added to Maggie’s piano creativity, Ms. Herron deliver’s Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me,” in a classic, pop/ballad kind of way, before she interprets “I’ll Be Seeing You,” with a more jazz-like rendition and Larry Koonse front and center on guitar. “Don’t Wait Too Long” is a song I was unfamiliar with. Maggie has painted the song in shades of blue with Ray Brinker shuffling his drums in the background. All in all, here is an easy listening production with fine musicianship, familiar, heart-felt lyrics and melodies, to recall years of yesterday. The songs feature Maggie Herron’s own arrangements and her own sweet “Renditions.”
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BOB SHEPPARD – “THE FINE LINE” Challenge Records Int.

Bob Sheppard, saxophones/flute/alto flute; John Beasley, piano; Jasper Somsen, double bass; Kendrick Scott, drums. GUEST ARTISTS: Mike Cottone, trumpet; Simon Moullier, vibraphone; Maria Puga Lareo, vocals; Benjamin Shepherd, electric bass; Aaron Safarty, shaker.

Bob Sheppard and Jasper Somsen met in Bremen,Germany at the 2013 Jazzahead Network Event. Michele Ito,from BFM Records,introduced them. They exchanged music, albums and ideas about playing music together in the future. Although several years passed quickly, this project is the result of patience and determination from that initial meeting.

Somsen is a famous, Dutch, double bassist and composer who has performed with some of the master musicians on the international jazz scene. He has recorded four albums as a leader for the Challenge Record label. He holds a Master in Music from the Conservatory of Amsterdam and is a European music educator who leant his talent to teaching in public schools and privately for many years. Since 2001, he has been dedicated to producing high quality jazz records. Somsen explained:

“Due to very busy schedules, our plans couldn’t come together. It took us almost two years to be onstage playing in The Netherlands for a full week of concerts, masterclasses and live radio. We had an amazing time and became real friends. …Shortly after, the former General Director of Challenge Records, Anne de Jong, offered me the opportunity to work on a number of audio productions as an independent producer. One of those projects became this very anticipated album.”

Bob Sheppard decided to call master pianist,John Beasley and the solid and brilliant Kendrick Scott on drums for this project. Jasper Somsen was agreeable to flying in from Europe to Los Angeles for the recording session. Jasper explained:

“As I was getting ready for the trip, I asked John Clayton, my former teacher and friend, where I could rent a great instrument. John kindly offered me his famous Ray Brown double bass, the one Ray used in the 1960s during his time with the Oscar Peterson Trio.”

Bob Sheppard was enamored with music early in life. His dad was an amateur saxophone player and as a child there was always music in their home. Young Bob absorbed it like a sponge. Initially, he wanted to be a drummer, but somehow, he was drawn to reed instruments in the fifth grade. He enjoyed finding melodies and exploring tones on his horn.

“I played along with all the music I heard. From the start, it was jazz. When I was a kid, there was jazz all over TV and radio. The sound of jazz and swing music was a large part of my norm.”

His high school featured auditorium concerts by big band legends like Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton. Bob Sheppard fell in love with the sound of horns and the challenge of ‘swing’ music. Early on, he was a compulsive about practicing. When his peers were joining sports teams, he was sitting at home twiddling with his saxophone.

“Practicing became my friend, a place to escape,” Bob admitted.

He started playing professional gigs while living in Philadelphia. He was driven. While attending college he jumped at all opportunities to play music, working on stage shows and he even took a gig in the circus. Bob Sheppard landed a steady spot in the orchestra of Chuck Mangione and found his was to concert appearances with great entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett and the 5th Dimensions. Every gig became a learning experience and an opportunity to hone his craft. With a growing need to spread his wings and soar to higher heights, Bob Sheppard relocated to Los Angeles. Almost immediately he was hired to join the legendary Freddie Hubbard group.

“Playing on the same stage as Freddie was a breathtaking and frightening experience. Much like jazz survival training. It exposed everything good and bad about my playing and inspired me to work harder. How lucky I was to get that close to his talent,” he recalled his time working with Freddie Hubbard.

It’s not surprising that a man with such a tenacious drive to practice and better himself should want to explore other instruments. He has become virtuosic on all saxophones, on clarinet and flutes. Soon he was a first-call studio musician and Bob was making a great living doing sessions for a wide array of artists including, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole, Boz Scaggs and he even spent time playing in the television band of legendary host,Johnny Carson. He recalls:

“Learning how to react and relate stylistically, to become a musical mind reader and deliver what’s needed is still fun for me. The cumulative effect of experience is a priceless education.”

On this project, you will hear him playing various saxophones,flute and alto flute. He also displays his awesome arranging skills and has composed or co-composed six of the ten songs on this album. I enjoyed his very modern jazz arrangement of the Linda Creed and Tom Bell hit R&B record, “People Make the World Go ‘Round.” It was originally recorded in 1971 by the rhythm and blues group,The Stylistics. Sheppard’s arrangement is all jazz.

“All those top-40 and funk bands in the 1970s were very much jazz gigs to me. They taught me styles;how to hear my way through music; how to play in horn sections with singers.The pop tunes of the 70s and 80s had great harmonies and forms that left room for individuality and expression,” Bob recalled.

His original composition, “Run Amok” is funk jazz at its best, giving guest player, Benjamin Shepherd on electric bass, an opportunity to shine. The melody is catchy and the staccato attacks remind me a little bit of the Miles Davis ‘Bitches Brew’ days. John Beasley expands musical horizons on piano, once given the opportunity to solo. Kendrick Scott is also given a featured solo on this tune and keeps the rhythm tight and dynamic throughout this entire production.

The title tune, “The Fine Line” is a lovely ballad that utilizes the soprano vocals of Maria Puga Lareo in a very instrumental way, with Sheppard’s soothing saxophone tones playing like a lullabye beneath the beauty of her voice. The percussionist, Aaron Safarty,and the drummer,(Kendrick Scott)lock into a Latin feel and Mike Cottone brings his trumpet to the party as a special guest.

“I am happy to share this recording performed by musicians that demonstrate the highest regard to the creative process and the simple joy of playing,” Bob Sheppard compliments his dynamic ensemble of players.

“In my quest to play better, I’ve come to realize that the great purveyors of this art form are mainly autodidacts, motivated by an ardent self-pursuit of the notes and the feeling that lies behind them. … The myopic preoccupation of practice and sharpening one’s craft produce an interesting blend of introspective, self-effacing individuals. Jazz players are forever students who share an embraced value system and hold a compulsory curiosity to redefine and expand their vocabulary.”

That says it all!
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PETER ELDRIDGE/KENNY WERNER – “SOMEWHERE” Rosebud Music

Peter Eldridge, vocals/composer/arranger; Kenny Werner, piano/elec. Piano/composer/arranger; Eugene Frieser, conductor/cellist; Matt Aronoff, bass; Yaron Israel, drums; The fantastical string orchestra. SPECIAL GUEST: George Garzone, tenor saxophone. VIOLINS: Bengisu Gokce, Louisa Byron, Sienna Seoyeon Im, Francesca Rijks, & Tania Mesa. 2nd VIOLINS: Ruah Yeonsong Kim, Cansu Oyzurek, Cynthia (Pei Hua) Lin, Tim Bilodeau, & Louise Bichan. VIOLAS: Cecelia Cook, Gerson Equiguren & Jenny Frantz. CELLOS: Cristobal Cruz Garcia, Aodans Collins, Peter Yuezhang Liu, Eugene Friesen; BASSES: Victor Gonzalez & Marcelo MacCagnan. HARP: Tatyana Phillips.

Peter Eldridge has that special voice, that unique quality in his tone, one that a real jazz singer exhibits. Some folks have labeled that quality as the “It” factor. This album of plush arrangements, strings and the mastery of Kenny Werner on piano amply exposes the rich, Eldridge, baritone voice. Acclaimed as a founding member of the fabulous New York Voices, Peter Eldridge is also celebrated at the Manhattan School of Music’s jazz voice department. He headed that department for eighteen years. Currently he is part of the voice faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

When Peter Eldridge is not inspiring and educating other singers, he finds time to compose and arrange music. He offers us four songs on this artistic album that he has either composed or co-composed.

Kenny Werner,like Eldridge,is a talented and competent composer, arranger and exceptional pianist. For the last four decades,his recordings,performances and composing skills have impacted audiences internationally. His educational books encourage and support mastery of music, accompanied by his videos, his world-wide lectures and numerous articles he has written. What a thrilling experience to enjoy these two master musicians working in concert with one another. They provide a stellar recording experience; sensuous, heartfelt, lyrically emotional and musically rich.

Opening with the lovely pop ballad, “You Don’t Know Me” I am captured by Eldridge’s purity of tone and Werner’s sensitive accompaniment and string arrangements. The second tune is written by Kenny Werner with lyrics by Donnie Demers titled, “I’m So Glad You’re Mine.” It’s a beautiful ballad that pays tribute to a loving partner who supports all you do and never waivers. The melody is lovely.

Eldrige has written the words and music to “That Which Can’t Be Explained.” It’s the third song on their romantic album. The strings take an opportunity to soar and dance about in all the open spaces. “Autumn in Three” was a writing collaboration of Werner and Eldridge. It’s a waltz,celebrating leaves with an interesting lyric.

Werner recalled in the liner notes:

“Peter reminded me of Johnny Hartman, which brought to mind the beautiful treatments that Johnny Hartman could do. But I knew Peter was capable of a lot of different things, so I thought it would be incredible to do a whole album with that kind of musical and emotional relationship; no-nonsense, beautiful, lush, romantic songs with strings.”

Although I find myself falling in love with each song and every single breathtaking arrangement, I found the Ivan Lins composition, “Minds of Their Own” intriguing and compelling, with lyrics by Peter Eldridge.

Peter shared his thoughts about this project and Kenny Werner’s brilliance.

“Kenny’s string writing is so strong and nuanced. We were going for an old school approach, but slightly to the left. Instead of just doing a bunch of standards and having it sound like 1964, we wanted to mix it up with different feelings to the music. But under the umbrella of this big, rich, symphonic, warm collection of tunes.”

On the Eldridge composition, “Ballad for Trane,” George Garzone plays a striking tenor saxophone solo. The medley of the title tune, “Somewhere” is successfully combined with “A Time for Love.” The lyrics, like the musical arrangement, fit sweetly and Eldridge proffers a delightful delivery. Cellist, Eugene Friesen, conducts the 20-piece string orchestra, organizing a gifted group of Berklee musicians who enhance this project with their heavenly strings.

Here is an album of music stuffed with romance, raw emotion and generous talent. Perhaps Eldridge summed it up best when he said:

“Somewhere looks not to be a place but to a state of mind. One that allows listeners to abandon themselves to an imaginary world of luxurious romanticism. It’s a bit of a prayer that there will be peace one day soon, that things won’t remain as desperate as they are now. We’re living in an incredibly strange time, so this music is trying to offset that and help people feel a few moments of hope. We hope it offers a balm for the spirit.”
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GRETJE ANGELL – “IN ANY KEY” Grevlinto Label

Gretje Angell, vocals; Dori Amarillo, guitar/producer; Kevin Axt, bass; Steve Hass, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion; Quinn Johnson, keyboards; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Michael Hunter, trumpet/orchestra (Budapest Scoring); Gabe Davis, bass.

This singer has a sweet, sultry tone and brilliant clarity in her delivery. Gretje Angell sounds very Brazilian in style and phrasing. Surrounded by amazing musicians, this album is not over-produced, but caters to this vocalist’s ability to become an instrument in her own right. Starting with a Bossa Nova arrangement of “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” Gretje interprets this familiar standard, featuring percussion by Kevin Winard and the great guitar accompaniment of Dori Amarillo. She scats as easily and flawlessly as she sings. Ms. Angell is quite dynamic in her relaxed, laid-back way.

Born in Akron, Ohio she grew up around jazz, accompanying her bebop-drummer dad to his gigs. Both her father,(Tommy ‘The Hat’ Voorhees)and her grandfather were drummers. Perhaps this is what has inspired her perfect timing and natural ability to ‘swing.’ Gretje Angell recalls:

“Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I’d be following in my father’s footsteps into my own madness, also known as becoming a jazz musician. My early days were filled listening to the countless jazz records my parents owned. I loved to comb through them and stare at the covers, deeply inhale their musty odor, set them on the turn-table and drop the needle. Nights were spent in smoky, black clubs where my dad would play and I’d fall asleep in a booth covered by his jacket.”

To clearly hear her purity of style and emotional delivery listen to her with no other accompaniment except the dynamic guitar mastery of Dori Amarillo.

On this album, she and Dori also duet on the old standard, “Tea for Two” and again on “Them There Eyes.” During the production of “Deep in A Dream” Michael Hunter makes a guest appearance on trumpet and adds the Budapast Scoring for an orchestral effect. Gretje Angell sings in Portuguese on cut #5 titled, “Barimbou.” In summary, here is an extremely talented vocalist, who offers us her debut project like an undiscovered treasure chest. When you open up this musical package and place it on your CD player, you may be stunned by her flawless, diamond vocals.
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MICHAEL O’NEILL QUINTET WITH TONY LINDSAY – “PACIFIC STANDARD TIME” Jazzmo Records

Tony Lindsay, vocals; Michael O’Neill, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet/clarinet/flute/arranger; Erik Jekabson & Mike Olmos,trumpet/flugelhorn; John R. Burr, piano; Dan Feiszli,acoustic bass/elec. Bass; Alan Hall,drums; Omar Ledezma, percussion.

We are introduced to the vocals of Tony Lindsay, opening the tune, “Just Friends” with percussive vocalese before his rich baritone voice enters. Tony was Santana’s lead singer for over twenty years. The arrangement is freshly painted in 6/8 time by drummer Alan Hall. The composition, “Fragile,” composed by Sting, is arranged with an energetic, Afro-Cuban rhythm and features Michael O’Neill’s tenor saxophone floating atop this percussive production. O’Neill has arranged this song and also arranged the old standard, “Summertime.” Lindsay’s voice sounds smooth and sexy on the first movement of Summertime, which is slow and bluesy. O’Neill has created three movements for this Porgy & Bess Standard tune. John R. Burr steps out of the production to showcase a piano solo that lifts this production in a brilliant way.

“I came up with three distinct approaches on Summertime. My intent was to develop one of the approaches, but I really liked all three versions. So, I melded them all into one arrangement with three distinct movements,” Michael O’Neill explained.

The listener will enjoy a slew of familiar songs like “Georgia,” with gospel overtones and a strong horn section, featuring a stellar bass solo by Dan Feiszli. “Have You met Miss Jones” is colored brightly by a Latin production, until O’Neill slows the danceable arrangement down with a brief horn interlude before rejoining the infectious arrangement. Omar Ledezma propels this arrangement with his percussive powers, tightly locked into Alan Hall’s drumming. Other familiar songs are “Rhythm-a-Ning,” a Monk composition with lyrics by Jon Hendricks, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Night and Day” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”

Here is a delightful listening experience, delivered by master musicians and featuring the incredible talents of Tony Lindsay on vocals and Michael O’Neill on woodwinds.
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