Archive for August, 2019


August 30, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

Aug 30, 2019


Dave Miller, piano; Chuck Bennet, bass; Bill Belasco, drums.

The piano, bass and drums dance onto the scene in synchronicity and with joy. There is nothing like a solid jazz trio to entertain us. This recalls the days when every major hotel had a good jazz trio at their comfortable lounges to set the mood and improve the ambience. Dave Miller delivers the melody of each one of these classic songs and makes me want to sing along. I never noticed that the familiar tune, “You Took Advantage of Me,” sounded so much like “Taking A Chance on Love,” until I heard Miller’s arrangement of it. Those two songs would make a great medley of tunes. Miller, Bennet and Belasco include a variety of songs, including those from the great American songbook and from unforgettable composers like Billy Taylor, Sam Jones, Rodgers & Hart, Gershwin, Charlie Parker and Michel LeGrand. This is pleasant journey down a very musical memory lane.

“When I was pretty young, I was having trouble understanding bebop. But then I heard the George Shearing Quintet. I loved hearing guitar, vibes and piano played in unison and took a liking to his sound. My interest in Shearing really grew after he broke up the quintet and I started listening to his performances as a duo with great bassists like Neil Swanson and Brian Torff. I also enjoyed his solo records, as well as his work with vocalists. I’ve found his playing always to be inspirational attributable largely to his range and depth. It influenced my own style,” Dave Miller explained in his liner notes.
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Matthew Shipp,piano; Ivo Perelman,tenor saxophone; Nate Wooley,trumpet.

Reaching back into a collection of music that somehow never got reviewed, but deserves my attention, I chose one of several works by pianist, Matthew Shipp. On “Philosopher’s Stone” he is part of the Ivo Perelman trio, a threesome that stretches the boundaries of avant-garde like bubble gum pulled from between the lips of a six-year-old’s fingers. The stretch is long and sticky, creative and presenting a push and pull relationship between saxophone, trumpet and piano. Even for those who love and search for the most improvised music they can find, Matthew Shipp and crew go a step beyond ‘outside.’ Sometimes sounding like screams of agony from mutilated horns or banging contrast and character on piano chords that embellish the fray. This is freedom of expression that distracts, rather than sooths. It tempts and teases your musical appetite. Perelman, who has scientifically studied the effect of sound and music on humanity, sometimes allows his saxophone to mimic a feeding bee, hoovering over an open rose. You hear nature sounds. Matthew Shipp compliments this project with walking bass lines played by his masterful left hand and chords that soar or accent the freedom flying above the piano notes. This is music that takes you to the African plains and puts you smack, dab in the middle of a field of mating elephants or dangles you precariously into a flock of screaming seagulls. While listening, use your imagination, or your ear-plugs as the case may be. This is not music for everyone.

Matthew Shipp shows you what the piano can do when set absolutely free to pursue a unique set of paths that challenge the most elevated ear. Nate Wooley is not to be forgotten or discarded. He is perhaps one of the most admired trumpeters in contemporary music and a master on his instrument. He moves from guttural spirals to sweet tones of protest and pain.

“I’m so happy I started this with Nate,” Perelman exudes. “I’m in love with him for like ten years now. When I first heard him in a duo with Matt Shipp at the Stone in New York, I thought, we have to do this!”

Ivo Perelman publishes this music in blocks of releasing five to six albums at a time. This encompasses his obsessive research of musical notes and their effects on humanity. Included in this release is a 2-CD-Set recorded “live” in Brussels with only himself and pianist, Matthew Shipp. This album was recorded on a century-old piano at the L’Archiduc, a bar that seats about seventy-five patrons and features Avant Garde music. Both Nat King Cole, Mal Waldron and organist, Jimmy Smith played this historic piano. Now, Matthew Shipp seats himself on the worn piano bench. You will hear more of Shipps enormous talent on this CD than the trio CD with Wooley & Perelman. As a duo work, there is more opportunity for him to be heard as he spontaneously creates.

As you listen, keep in mind that this ten-tune journey and double set CD duo is all without the benefit of any structured preconditions or directives on the part of saxophonist Ivo Perelman. This is music created out of thin air and imagination; emotion and empathy. You will either love it, or leave it.
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Oscar Hernandez,piano; Justo Almario,saxophone/flute; Jimmy Branly,drums; Oskar Cartaya,bass; Christian Moraga,percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: Gilbert Castellanos,trumpet; Dayren Santamaria,violin.

Sometimes when you hear the first strains drifting off of a recording, you know, right away, that you are about to enjoy some spectacular and emotional music. That’s what I felt immediately when I began to listen to Oscar Hernandez’s album. The smooth saxophone of Justo Almario spread wings and flew improvisationally above the melody of “Otro Nivel” and Gilbert Castellanos, who I met many years ago in San Diego, California sounded explosive and creative on his trumpet. Then, enter Oscar Hernandez on piano, letting his fingers dance above the rich percussion of Christian Moraga and Jimmy Branly. He gives both percussive musicians an opportunity to shine on their drum solos. Always present, Oskar Cartaya is the bassist who holds this ensemble tightly together with solid strength, like the basement that supports the house. This is a group proffering spicy Latin music, red hot rhythms, luscious melodies and the blending of individually talented musicians. They become a super stew of music as delicious as Ropa Vieja. The title tune, “Love the Moment” should be a creed for us all to follow. It’s beautifully written by Oscar Hernandez, along with nine other amazing compositions. Dayren Santamaria is exquisite on track #4, “Danzon for Lisa,” Adding violin adjoins a new dimension to the music, along with Justo Almario’s sensitive flute.

You may be more familiar with Oscar Hernandez as the leader of a three-time Grammy winning all-star salsa band. This is a step away from that orchestrated sound to a more intimate presentation. Still, this seven-musician ensemble has a full and captivating sound that explores every nuance of the Hernandez compositions. Oscar Hernandez has a career that stretches back to the 1970’s. He has worked with Latin greats like Celia Cruz, Ismael Miranda, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Conjunto Libre, Grupo Folkorico, as well as Ray Barreto and Ruben Blades. He was once Musical Director for Ray Barreto and Ruben Blades and also for the iconic Paul Simon. Not to mention, he was the orchestrator and arranger for Gloria Estefan. Known popularly for his formation of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a 13-piece all-star salsa big band. This Orchestra toots proudly their 3x GRAMMY awards and celebrates their 16-year existence. Look for their 7th release to bless our ears in 2020.

Every song on this album of fine music is well-written and memorable. Hernandez is an outstanding composer/arranger. This music easily demonstrates why this pianist and band leader is one of the most important voices in Latin music today.
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SUMITRA – “BITTERSWEET” Independent Label

Sumitra,piano/voice/composer; Brian Blade,drums/voice; Carlitos del Puerto, bass; Alex Machacek,guitars/strings.

Sumitra has a light, second-soprano tone that twinkles above her piano playing in a more pop than jazz vocal presentation. The first tune and the title of this album, “Bittersweet” is more jazz than the second song that is clearly pop music. However, Sumitra’s production is quite melodic and lyrically solid. She and guitarist/husband Alex Machacek, have lived and worked in the Los Angeles area since 2004, establishing a fan following and a musical identity all their own. Her lyrical chant, “mind, body, spirit, soul” on the second cut titled, “Make Me Whole” perhaps sums up the crux of her musical journey. This is her fourth album release. Sumitra’s publicist calls it a spiritual autobiography. Sumitra, the vocalist, is also a pianist, lyricist, composer and arranger. This production is sparse and her songs and vocals are right out front, the way they should be if she is pursuing a career as a singer/songwriter. On “Take the Reins” we are back to jazz funk. Sumitra uses interesting timing to create an effective track of musical interest. She sings one recognizable tune composed by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields; the popular “Just the Way You Look Tonight.” Other than that, you will be listening to all new and original music. This album reminds me more of an introduction to a singer/songwriter’s demo of material. These are good songs, presented by a multi-dimensional artist.

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Daniel Meron,piano/Rhodes/composer; Keren-Or Tayar,vocals; Pablo Menares,bass; Felix Lecaros,drums.

This is Daniel Meron’s fourth record release as a bandleader. He exhibits a playful, spontaneous, effortless talent on the piano keys and his compositions are well-constructed and melodic. Using the pretty vocals of Keren-Or Tayar on the second cut, “Morning Shadows” to deliver his original composition, I am drawn to her vocal tone. This is more pop than jazz, with a poetic lyric that I put headphones in place to listen to and critique. I wish he had included printed lyrics inside the CD package. It was hard to connect the title with the sometimes-indistinct lyrics, especially when the vocalist used the line “Singing my own song” to fade out the tune. “Morning Shadows” may have been the more appropriate lyrical fade, since it was not mentioned much in the song. Meron’s arpeggio-laden solo turns into a repetitive groove to allow drummer, Felix Lecaros, to take stage center on his trap drums. He sparkles in the spotlight. On the tune, “Newborn” bassist Pablo Menares is featured and his solo is appealing, with a background support that sounds very Middle Eastern or world music-like. I keep waiting for the “Wild” to appear, (i.e.: the album title, “Embracing Wild”) but even the title tune is not wild. Obviously, my idea and Daniel Meron’s idea of wild are quite different. Still, his original compositions are well-played and comfortable to listen to. They are classically fused and technically adept. However, I would have enjoyed hearing Daniel Meron dig deeper and express himself more freely on his piano and keyboards. Improvisation is the concept that propels jazz, and I didn’t hear enough of that musical freedom in his playing. Instead, Meron plays locked into the melody, holding it, buttoned close to his vest. I enjoyed hearing Pablo Menares bow his bass on “Sunrise,” a brief one-minute and forty-seconds long, like an interlude. On “I Am Now” Ms. Or Tayar is back to vocalize lyrics that do not have a hook or do not seem to express the title. This, however, is artistic freedom on behalf of the composer. I yield to that. On track-eight, she sings in what I believe is Yiddish; a song titled, “Darkness and Light.” It’s has a very haunting melody and is one of my favorites on this album of original songs, even if I cannot understand the lyrics. There are traces of folk music in this production that reflect Meron’s homeland of Israel, with all its minor modes exposed like teardrops against skin. Finally, “Jolly Beggar” embraces a slow swing that allows Menares to walk his bass and Lecaros to swing his drum sticks in a happy-go-lucky way. Meron stays cemented in the melodic chord structure, letting Pablo stretch out on the double bass and improvise freely. This is easy listening jazz that showcases the pianist’s composition skills.
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James Byfield/Blind Lemon Pledge,guitar/vocals/composer/arranger/producer; Marisa Malvino,vocals; Ben Flint,keyboards/arranger; Peter Grenell,bass; Joe Kelner, drums.

James Byfield, aka: Blind Lemon Pledge, has a rich, distinctive vocal style and when he introduces songs like “If Beale Street Was a Woman,” you believe him.

Blind Lemon has composed every song on this, his seventh album release. Ben Flint plays a mean, blues piano and enhances the rooted, blues-Americana music that Blind Lemon produces. The composer’s lyrics are wonderful, creative and inspired. Blind Lemon comes up with a freshness to his blues and jazz compositions, writing unexpected lyrics like:

“… Blues got funny habits, like pacing on the floor, rattlin’ on the windows and knockin’ on my door, blues is tryin’ to get to me, but I don’t know what for. Blues is just a feelin’ if what they say is true, it feels so real when it gets inside of you… I’m livin’ my life with the blues.”

His melodies are strong, but the production is weak and the mix on the instruments is poorly done. You can hardly discern the bass and drums, which would have enriched this project. Also, where is Blind Lemon’s guitar? You finally hear him play guitar and sing on “Blue Heartbreak.” I wish he had sung every one of his songs. The voice of Marisa Malvino is featured on vocals, but the voice of Blind Lemon is much more provocative and emotional. Also, all the songs seem to be written in the same key. It’s too bad, because these are well-written songs with creative, heart-felt lyrics. This album sounds more like a demo than a finished project.
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AHMAD JAMAL – “BALLADES” Jazzbook Records

Ahmad Jamal,piano/composer; James Cammack,double bass.

A “Ballade” is a short and lyrical piece of piano music or could refer to a poem using triplets or stanzas. Surely the music of Ahmad Jamal is both lyrical and poetic, royally entertaining us over a span of five decades into infinity. That’s why I was so excited to listen to this new Ahmad Jamal recording. He has been a favorite of mine since his initial release of the now historically popular “Poinciana” record and his 33-1/3 classic album “But Not For Me.” As a teenager, I played that record over and over again until the grooves were deeply rooted and the vinyl was unfortunately scratched.

This current work of art, that celebrates one of our geniuses of jazz, showcases the brilliance of this legendary pianist in all his singular beauty. On three songs, he is joined by James Cammack on bass. However, the remaining seven songs are all presented as solo piano. He rejuvenates old standards like “I Should Care,” the treasured, “What’s New” and Rodger & Hart’s “Spring Is Here” becomes a collaborative medley with the Bill Evans tune, “Your Story.” Another gem is his interpretation of “Emily.” Inclusive in this production are Jamal’s original compositions, “Marseille,” “Because I Love You,” “Whisperings” and a recapitulation of “Poinciana.” Ahmad Jamal’s music is inspired and solidly rooted in technique with an emotional delivery by this master, bent over his instrument, with concentrated bravura.

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August 22, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

AUGUST 22, 2019

MATT ULERY – “SIFTING STARS” Woolgathering Records

Matt Ulery, double bass/voice/composer/lyrical poet; Rob Clearfield,piano; Michael Caskey, percussion; Grazyna Auguscik & Katie Ernst,voice; Yvonne Lam & Jeff Yang, violins; Aurelien Pederzoli,viola; Nick Photinos,cello; Michael Maccaferri, clarinet; Nathalie Joachim,flute; Ben Roidl-ward, bassoon; Andrew Nogal, oboes/English horn; Liz Deitemyer,French horn; James Davis & Chad McCullough, trumpets; Steve Duncan & Chris Shuttleworth,trombones; Axiom Brass:Dorival Puccini & Kris Hammond,trumpets; Melanie Erena Kjellsen,French horn; Mary Tyler,trombone; Kevin Harrison,tuba.

This Production opens like a music box, with the tinkle of piano music and then a tenor voice enters, creating an ethereal musical mood. Clearly, Matt Ulery’s music is rooted in jazz, chamber music and orchestral music. This is an art project that showcases Ulery’s original compositions, incorporating vocals into the arrangements. “Sifting Stars” is the bassist’s eighth album release, anchored by pianist Rob Clearfield, who has been a close musical voice with Ulery over the past ten years. This CD features Ulery’s solidifying bass creativity and his composer skills. These are long-form songs that remind me of the endless universe, the beauty of stars, planets and the mystery of space itself. On the first two cuts, Grazyna Auguscik adds her vocals to Ulery’s voicings. On the third track, “I’m So Shallow” Ulery incorporates the vocals of Katie Ernst.

“I tend to write emotionally,” Matt Ulery explains. “When I reach into the abstract space of musical possibilities, the tiny bit I can capture, I tend to let these transient melodies, rhythms and subsequent harmonies … guide me.”

Here is music that is lyrical, mysterious and haunting.It is more classical than jazz,but Ulery claims, from an artist’s perspective, “I feel that much of the harmonic and rhythmic palettes still reflects my relationship with jazz and new music, through a certain rhythmic aesthetic, emotional intent and vibe …. attempting to put something beautiful and fanciful out into the world.”

I regret, even with headphones on, I could not always understand all of Matt Ulery’s lyrical content. However, the melodies sung were so lovely, the voicings still sounded good. Happily, he has included the lyrics on the CD cover, so I was able to finally get the gist of his poetic contribution. I discover, from the written word, Ulery is also a prolific poet, as well as gifted composer. While listening I think, this music would make a dynamic motion picture soundtrack.

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Jeff Coffin,soprano,alto,tenor & baritone saxophones/bass, alto & C flutes/ clarinet/bass clarinet; Subrata Bhattacharya,tabla/Bol Recitation/rhythm scatting; Indrajit Banerjee,sitar/Zitar; Carter Beauford,drums; Stefan Lessard,electric & acoustic bass; Roy ‘Futureman’ Wooten, wavedrum/cajon percussion/trap drums; Chris Walters, piano/keyboards; Jordan Perlson,Caixi drum/bells/triangle/ percussion/camel bell/metal plate/shakers; Ryoko Suzuki, harmonium.

This music will transport you to Mumbai or Calcutta in the blink of an eye. It is an incredible blend of Indian classical music and the jazz tradition, featuring virtuosic Indian classical musicians, along with reed master, Jeff Coffin. This recording is the result of a jam session held in Nashville, Tennessee, where the various musicians each brought their original compositions to the studio and taught their music to the recording participants on-the-spot. That does not diminish the beauty or precision playing on this project. You will hear smooth jazz and funk intertwined with East Indian, culturally rich music, wrapped together like New Delhi French braids. Coffin asked Bela Fleck and the Flecktones’ percussionist, Roy “Futureman” Wooten to join the recording. He also invited New Orleans-born pianist Chris Walters to join the ensemble. Others who add their talents are from the Dave Matthews Band, Coffin’s friend, Jordan Perlson, on percussion, and Ryoko Suzuki playing harmonium. Coffin has written or co-written four of the seven compositions on this project.
“Music in Our Dreams” provides listeners a rare opportunity to hear Coffin, Carter Beauford and Stefan Lessard combine talents in a musical context that’s quite different from the Dave Matthews Band. It also introduces us to the mastery of Indrajit Banerjee on sitar and zitar, along with the expert talent of Subrata Bhattacharya on both tabla and rhythm scatting. This is an adventure of culture-mixing and talent-blending that crisscrosses continents. Music shows us how easy it is to communicate with one another in a creative, entertaining and loving way.
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THE SESSION – “COLLUSION” Bubble Bath Records

Darrian Douglas, drums; Stephen Lands, trumpet/composer; Andrew McGowan, piano/composer; Jasen Weaver, bass/composer.

This quartet comes out powerfully on the very first track. They don’t knock on the door; they kick it down. Trumpeter, Stephen Lands has composed the song and Andrew McGowan adds his own Thelonious touch to the piano keys to express, “Monk Dancing on a Levee.” Punctuated by staccato notes and a memorable melody, you are drawn to attention from the very first notes. Jasen Weaver is a commanding force on the double bass, walking briskly beneath the staccato trumpet lines. His bass work grabs the listener by the ears and drags us into the synergy of this song. Darrian Douglas takes a drum solo with bravado and brilliance. Now we are introduced to this stellar quartet individually and I realize each musician is gifted in their own right.

Andrew McGowan takes to the electric piano on the second track, “6/8 Tune” and that adds another depth to this production. The element of electronic piano changes the landscape on this ballad that McGowan has composed. The title of the album speaks to our current political state of affairs in the United States. There is a mild swipe at the Trump administration with the tune Jasen Weaver penned titled, “Kelly Ann Con-Artist.” The Andrew McGowan composition, “Five Fingers of Death” is a showstopping tune. It begins with a 5/8 rhythm played successfully against four cross rhythms of syncopation and then dashes into a straight-ahead jazz groove, including a drum solo that soars and punchy staccato lines that enhance the arrangement. Stephen Lands, “Price of a Dream” is another favorite on this album of fine music. The bass line of Weaver is infectious, played with the piano, and accentuating the trumpet melody in a perfect kind of way.

This group of four gifted musicians were brought together originally as a band performing with Jason Marsalis’Vibes Quartet. They have been performing together ever since. They merge the sound of New Orleans roots with consistently inspired moments that only jazz inspires. This is a production I will listen to time and time again.
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JIMMY COBB – “THIS I DIG OF YOU” Smoke Sessions Records

Jimmy Cobb, drums; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Harold Mabern, piano; John Webber, bass.

I am excited to hear that Jimmy Cobb has a new CD release. I was a big Earl Bostic fan back-in-the-day, and a very young Jimmy Cobb was his drummer. He is one of those iconic and canonical jazz artists who has worked with so many legendary jazz players, there’s no room to list them all in this space. Jazz fans will remember that Jimmy Cobb played on the historic “Kind of Blue” album with Paul Chambers on bass, Bill Evans on piano, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on saxophone and Miles Davis on trumpet. On this current project, Jimmy Cobb chose pianist Harold Mabern, an old friend who he met and played with in the 1963 Miles Davis band.

“It’s not that much different,” Jimmy Cobb spoke about then and now. “We’ve probably both gotten better. I think I have. I know more about it and have had more experience with it.”

They open this CD with the Hank Mobley composition and the title tune, “This I Dig of You.” At ninety-years-old, Jimmy Cobb brings his renowned years of experience, his awesome percussive talent and he comes in swinging harder than Joe Louis.

His ensemble has recorded a blend of standard jazz tunes, bebop and one original blues composition by guitarist, Peter Bernstein.

Amazingly, Jimmy Cobb is a practically self-taught drummer who had a dream of playing jazz. As a teen, he was infatuated with the historic radio jazz show hosted by “Symphony Sid.” From midnight onward, he lay in his bed listening to the music he craved to play. Born January 20, 1929, in Washington, D.C., Cobb’s been playing drums for seventy years. He’s been the fire and time keeper for historic singers like Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, and Sarah Vaughan. He had a big record with Dinah called, “My Old Flame.” I used to have that Dinah Washington album titled, “For Those in Love.” At one time, Cobb and Queen Dinah were very much in love. Cobb covers that memorable tune on this album.

He’s also been the time-keeper and inspirational drummer for John Coltrane, George Russell and Wynton Kelly. He’s admired and revered by musicians worldwide and much of that love and respect comes because Jimmy Cobb is just a down-to-earth, regular guy.

“He’s always been one of my heroes, because he’s a great drummer who swings hard,”eighty-three-year-old Harold Mabern says. “There’s two things you can’t teach in this music: how to swing and how to play the blues. It’s something you either have or you don’t,” Mabern affirms. “It was a beautiful, relaxed date. More often than not, the first take is the best take. It’s always a pleasure to be in Jimmy’s company because he’s not only a great musician, he’s an even greater human being.”

Bassist, john Webber shared his thoughts. “Jimmy’s a great listener. He hears everything. He knows how to set up the soloists and how to give the music direction.”

You will hear Dexter Gordon’s “Cheese Cake” composition, Wes Montgomery’s “Full House” and old favorites like “I’m Getting Sentimental over You.” Be it a ballad or bebop, Jimmy Cobb puts the breath and visceral beauty into everything his brushes and drumsticks touch.

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BEN WOLFE –“FATHERHOOD” Resident Arts Records

Ben Wolfe, bass/composer; Donald Edwards, drums; Luis Perdomo & Orrin Evans, piano; Joel Ross, vibes; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone; Ruben Fox & JD Allen, tenor saxophone; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Steve Davis, trombone; STRINGS: Jesse Mills & Georgy Valtchev, violins; Kenji Bunch, viola; Wolfram Koessel, cello.

When Ben Wolfe’s father (Dan Wolfe) passed away in 2018, Ben was moved to write several compositions to tribute “Fatherhood.” This album is the result of nine original compositions that the bassist has penned. Opening with an up-tempo, walking-bass , embellished with the vibraphone of Joel Ross, Ben Wolfe delivers a song he calls, “Blind Seven.” Wolfe’s father was also a musician, playing a much smaller instrument than Ben’s double bass. His dad played a violin. Dan Wolfe spent a season with the San Antonio Symphony and initiated his son to the world of music.

“He introduced me to jazz,” the younger Wolfe explained in his liner notes. “He loved Monk. He loved Lester Young and Billie Holiday. He taught me a lot about music.”

Ben Wolfe’s use of strings on seven of the ten tracks beautifully ties the jazz elements and classical elements together. On Track two, “Gone Now” you can hear the sad lament to the loss of a loved one. This composition is more beautiful than pathos. Cut #3 titled, “Opener,” struts and walks pridefully straight-ahead, with Ben Wolfe’s rhythmic double bass pushing the musicians to keep stride. JD Allen’ s tenor saxophone takes stage center and tells his own, unique story. The tune “Uncle Leslie” is a waltz and very melodic. Ben Wolfe takes an opportunity to tell his own story about his uncle, using his bass solo to draw us into the character and creativity of this composition.
I’m certain Ben Wolfe’s father would be very proud of this work. It’s a wonderful and expressive tribute to “Fatherhood.” Here is a delightful recording, featuring several talented musicians who, more than amply, interpret these original Wolfe compositions from pen to sound.

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YIMBA RUDO – “YIMBA RUDO” Barking Hoop records

Kevin Norton,vibraphone/percussion/composer; Jim Pugliese, drums/percussion/composer; Steve LaSpina,bass/composer.

The refreshing sound of bass and vibraphone plays across the silence of my office. The bass repeats a melodic theme and the drums join him to cement the rhythm. Kevin Norton dances on the vibraphone and tweaks my interest on this song he composed; “Reconcile the Classical View.” Steve LaSpina soon steps out to solo on his double bass, while Jim Pugliese holds the percussive rhythm in place. Once LaSpina exits the spotlight, Pugliese steps into it with a bright and shiny drum solo. These are the three players on this CD. Each man is also a composer.

Their music is as mysterious as the cover art of Julia Simoniello, who has created two huge eyes peeking through three trees, their roots luminescent against the centered circle of moon. This album is an art piece, using all percussive and rhythmic instruments to explore their original compositions. The string bass represents melody, but it’s still a rhythm instrument. This trio called, “Yimba Rudo” has individually impressive resumes.

Kevin Norton has added his vibes and percussion to the music of Anthony Braxton, Milt Hinton, Fred Frith, Scott Robinson and more. Drummer, Jim Pugliese, enjoys experimental music, rock and jazz that is adventurous and challenging. Consequently, joining this artistic and creative group was right in his wheel house. Appearing on over ninety recordings, Jim Pugliese is a classically trained musician who has played with the New York City Ballet and the New York Philharmonic. Steve LaSpina is a well-respected name on the NYC jazz scene for three-decades. His solid, double-bass tone and rhythm dexterity has been sought out by jazz legends like Chet Baker, Benny Carter, Marion McPartland, the Mel Lewis Orchestra, Stan Getz, Phil Woods, Jim Hall, Carmen McCrae and Randy Brecker, among others. I enjoyed his amazing bowed solo on “Winter Retreat,” a song he composed. Each man is also a music educator and on this exploration of talent and improvisation, they merge as the unique and inspirational group called “Yimba Rudo.” You will enjoy unexpected beauty and inspired creativity during this musical experience.

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RAY OBIEDO – “CAROUSEL” Rhythmus Records

Ray Obiedo, guitar/composer/producer; Featuring: Jean “Toots” Thielemans, harmonica; Bob Mintzer,saxophone; Andy Narell,steel pan and 32 other musicians.

Ray Obiedo brings a sense of joy and playfulness to his music on “Carousel.” This is Latin smooth jazz, produced by this guitarist/composer. Obeido is based in the San Francisco Bay area. He began seriously studying the guitar during his high school years. Over his career, he has worked with some of the best in the music business, including jazz organist, Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Pete and Sheila Escovedo, drummer, Harvey Mason and superstar, Herbie Hancock. He finally launched his own recording career in 1989. Since then, he has released five contemporary jazz albums as a leader. Adding to his talents as a composer and producer, Obiedo is also a skilled studio engineer.

For this album of original music, Ray Obiedo assembled thirty-two musicians, many of them personal friends and longtime comrades in the music business. Several are heralded for their work with Tower of Power and Santana over the years. Bob Mintzer, a featured guest on this project, is known for his work with the Yellowjackets group and his own Bob Mintzer Big Band. Toots Thieleman plays harmonica on “Song for Jules,” written in celebration of Obiedo’s oldest son. This Grammy Award winning harmonica artist passed away in August of 2016. Andy Narell co-produced Obiedo’s first three albums and he plays steel pan percussion on “Villa Capri,” a samba song that also features vocals by Sandy Cressman. Ray Obiedo invited Bay Area, R&B vocalist, Leah Tysse, to join the arrangement on “Jinx” and she’s joined by the voices of Sandy Cressman and Natalie Cressman on Obiedo’s composition, “Villa Capri.” Every tune on this project is well played and perfectly produced, reflecting Ray Obiedo’s Latin roots and his love of percussive groove blended with an eclectic mix of musical styles.

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Mike Pachelli, guitar; Tony Levin,bass; Danny Gottlieb,drums; Special Guest: Keb’ Mo’,guitar.

A student of Joe Pass, Mike Pachelli has performed all over the United States and Europe with a host of jazz celebrities including Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith and blues great, Albert King. He works regularly with his own jazzy blues band. For this, his 18th album release, Pachelli decided to celebrate some of the most familiar standards with his friends, Tony Levin on bass and Danny Gottlieb manning the drums. On his original composition, “Yardbird Blues,” Mike Pachelli invited his old friend and Grammy Award winning guitarist, composer and vocalist, Keb Mo’ to join the party. This is an album you will enjoy humming along with and listening to for many years to come.

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Kenny Elliott: From Chicago to L.A. & the World Inbetween

August 15, 2019

BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
AUGUST 15, 2019

Kenny Elliott’s obsession with the drums was inspired by a marching band. His father had taken him to a downtown Chicago parade. That’s where Kenny became infatuated with the power of the marching band drummer. Being a small child and slight of build, Kenny expressed disappointment at being overlooked for the sports teams and often, found himself feeling powerless because of his size.

“The drums went marching bye and they had everybody in step and I said, that’s power! I was nine and shortly after that experience, I asked my dad to buy me some drums. He said as long as I was really going to play them, Santa would bring them to me for Christmas. So, Christmas morning, there was a drum set and I was disappointed. I had only wanted that one drum. The drum that I saw the drummer playing in the marching band. I thought, Oh shoot! This is not what I wanted. But I made a promise to my dad, so I may as well go ahead and play them. For the longest, I would put my belt through the lug of the Tom Tom and I’d march around. We lived in the Chicago Projects and I’d march in the front of the apartments and to the back of the apartments playing, brrr-rump-bump-bump, brr-rump-bump-bump. I’d go back and forth, up and down, playing that one drum.

“My first teacher was a piano teacher and he taught me how to hold the sticks. My dad would take me over to his house. He had two daughters and they would go running around while I was doing my lesson. Professor Randolph was his name. His favorite song was ‘Sentimental Journey.’ Anyway, I kind of hit the glass ceiling with Professor Randolph. One day, my dad brought this white guy over to the Projects to hear me play. I remember his name. It was Mr. Murray. Well, I played for him and he said, you need to send him to the conservatory. I was about ten. So, I ended up going to the American Conservatory of Music. It was next door to the Roosevelt School in Chicago. I got lucky. I studied with a guy named James Dutton. He taught me Timpani and Mallets and later, I studied with the legendary Harold Jones.”

NOTE: JAMES DUTTON was the Head of the Marimba & Percussive Department at the American Conservatory of Music from 1945 to 1985. Thurman Barker, an AACM member, also studied with James Dutton. Harold Jones, once a student at the American Conservatory of Music, would later be hired as an assistant to Professor James Dutton. In an interview, Jones credited James Dutton as one of three men in his life who prepared him to be the successfully famous drummer he has become.


Kenny continued, “Harold Jones is with Tony Bennett now. But he was with Sarah Vaughan for many years. He stopped teaching me when he left to go on tour with Count Basie’s band. I was so unhappy about that. When I’m about eleven years old, almost twelve, Mr. Dutton had these percussion ensemble things and they would play at various schools. My parents would let me get out of school to go on these little tours, because they felt I was pretty good at that age.”

Both Kenny’s parents believed in his budding talent. Kenny’s father recognized his son’s passion for the instrument. Consequently, he did everything he could to get his son the right training and to introduce him to some of the musicians around town. He thought these seasoned musicians might be able to give the budding percussionist some insight into his instrument and into the business of music.

“Once dad knew I wanted to play drums, he was stoked. He did everything he could to get me around the right people. He had some friends who were musicians and we’d go over to their house every Monday night. They’d be drinking their liquor and they’d let me have as much potato chips and pop as I wanted. I had to play with those guys. They were like thirty and forty years old. You know, I’d be over there playing from like nine at night to twelve or one-o-clock in the morning. They’d be screaming at me, Play! Play! So, I’m playing hard and loud. Out of that affiliation, I ended up meeting Red Saunders. Somehow, they got me playing with the Red Saunders’ band. They would have me come on-stage at the famous Regal Theater and play one song with the big band,” Kenny recalled. “I was like the little drum prodigy.”

NOTE: RED SAUNDERS was a popular bandleader for Savoy Records in the late 1940s. He was a drummer and accompanied popular recording artists of the day like Blues icons T-Bone Walker and Big Joe Turner, Sugar Chile Robinson, Rosetta Tharpe and Lavern Baker. He recorded under his own name for many years. Saunders finally had a hit record when he recorded a traditional children’s song, “Hambone” on the OKeh record label in 1956. He also played in iconic bands like Duke Ellington’s orchestra, and with Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman.


“When I first was playing drums, I was playing jazz with the old guys. I was their drummer and one night, the police came in the club and started asking, Who’s this kid? This kid can’t be in here. The band would say, he’s the drummer. The older guys in the band thought, well maybe if I was in the Union it would be OK. So, they had me join the union and after that, when police came into the club and asked, what’s this twelve-year-old kid doing in here? Well, I’d reach in my pocket ‘cause now I’ve got my Musician’s Union Card. That card kept me from getting thrown out of the clubs. But mostly I was playing Cotillion Balls and weddings. I really wasn’t doing too many nightclubs. I’d make anywhere from fifty to a hundred dollars a gig playing Casuals.”

So that’s how Kenny Elliott became a Union member at age twelve. Ironically and sadly, jazz musicians are still averaging similar pay scales fifty years later. We all know that’s got to change!

“My dad had something to say about the money I was making on these gigs. If I made a hundred dollars, he would give me ten dollars and direct me to put the rest into the bank. I was pissed off by that at first, but I learned from that. I’m glad he did that for me. He showed me how to take care of my funds.

“Oh, let me tell you this real quick. Tammy Terrell wanted me to be her drummer. I was playing at the Regal Theater. I don’t know if she was just saying it to my dad or whatever, but she said, right in front of me, I want him to be my drummer. She told my dad she liked the way I played. My dad said, no, no! he’s too young. Tammy was so pretty. She had a valet, a lady that took care of her wardrobe and everything. I’d sit backstage with her valet and she taught me how to play chess. Tammy kind of treated me like my favorite aunt, who used to just dote over me like Tammy did. I was thirteen and Tammy was just doting over me and telling me how cute I was. I guess she thought I was this little, short, talented, cute guy. Boy, did I have eyes for Tammy Terrill,” Kenny Elliott laughed, remembering how the famous Motown artist fawned over him and stroked his young ego.

This journalist remembers Tammy Terrell when she was performing as a single artist, before her huge hit album with Marvin Gaye. I went to see her at the Fireside Lounge in Detroit. At the time, she was dating David Ruffin, lead singer for the Temptations. She was drop-dead gorgeous with a voice as compelling and unique as Dionne Warwick or Spanky Wilson. In fact, one day when Marvin Gaye and I were talking about Tammy Terrell, he compared her tone To Spanky Wilson’s tone. Marvin was enamored with Spanky’s voice. Tammy and Spanky were similar in tone, but not in style. I will always remember Tammy Terrell as a dynamic, one-of-a-kind vocalist, who left this earth way too early.

Kenny Elliott continued, “Still in my teenage years, I started playing R&B in the late 60s or early 70s. The Top 40 bands came after playing with the jazz cats. I was with this group called “SEX” the ‘Sound Experience Exciters’. We rehearsed every day. We played R&B and back then, most of the cats couldn’t read. We’d set up for rehearsal at an abandoned theater on 47th Street, right in the hood. We’d be in there rehearsing and it would feel like it was fifty degrees below zero in there. I’d have my gloves and coat on and we’d be trying to play over there, freezing our asses off.”

It wasn’t always easy, but Kenny was determined to pursue drumming as a career. He told me, “If it’s meant for you to do something, it will happen, regardless. But it’s a good idea to be prepared. When I was living in the projects, those people living there would be beating on the pipes trying to get me to stop practicing. They would call the cops on me for making noise. My dad would explain to them, by law, he can practice until seven-o-clock. So that was it and no arguments. I had to practice every day, even before I did my homework. My mother was tough. If she didn’t hear me playing the whole time, she would add on time. She’d say, I don’ t hear nothing. I’d say, mama, I’m just turning the page.

“Every summer, we would go to Chattanooga, Tennessee to visit my grandparents. My grandfather hand-built his house down. Later, he had to build another house across the tracks because the government took his land to construct a TNT plant during the war. He built an attic on top of his house and they had a room up there, where I had to practice. It would be 199 degrees up there. It didn’t matter. My mother would say; go up there and practice. I’d say mom, it’s hot. It’s too hot. I’m burnin’ up. I’m complaining and she’d say; ok, I’ll tell you what. If you don’t want to practice, we can just get rid of the drums. So, I went back up to that smoldering attic and tried to practice. Then I came down, sweat pouring off me, and I said to my mother, ok, – call dad. Get rid of the drums. I can’t do it no more. She said, come here. She grabbed me and ka-pow – ka-pow. She ka-powed me with a house shoe. Now, you have to go up there and practice another hour, she demanded. But you know what? To this day, I thank her. When I tell this story today, she conveniently doesn’t remember.

“My mom was not to be messed with. In fact, she pulled a gun on this dude trying to rob me one time. I was taking drum lessons and to show you how great my percussion teacher was, he paid for me to take Judo lessons with his son. So, one Saturday, on the way to my Judo lesson, this dude tried to rob me. I gave him a Judo kick. He bluffed me when he said, oh, you know that too? So, I thought maybe he knew something better than me. But I still wasn’t going to let him rob me. We’re on the sidewalk, brow beating each other, blah blah blah, sizing each other up. It was not far from my house. I looked out the corner of my eye and I see our neighbor go sliding into our front door. A few minutes later, I see my mama come out the house in her housecoat and house shoes. All you see is her calves sticking out from her bathrobe and she walked up on us with a serious expression on her face. She pulled out her pistol. What are you doing to my son? The dude starts freaking out. She’s telling him she’s going to blow his head off and he and I are looking at her and then at the gun and back to her. He wasted no time getting on down the road. So, right then, if there was ever a time when I really loved my mom or had any doubts that she really loved me, I had no more doubts. I have two sisters but I’m her only son. We learned early on, my mama don’t play.“

Kenny Elliott admired the awesome playing of iconic drummer, Tony Williams. He shared with me a chance meeting he had with Tony.

“For the longest time, I was a tony Williams clone. I wanted to play like Tony Williams. And yeah, that was good. But at some point, you recognize there’s only one Tony Williams. I bumped into Tony at the drum shop one day. He saw me and recognized me, because I would come to his shows when he was playing with Chick Corea and Stanley Clark. While we were both there, somebody at the drum shop gave Tony two drums; a marching drum and a snare drum. So, he said to me, Hey Ken, are you driving? I said yeah. I got a motorcycle. That’s all I got,” I was apologetic.

“He said, yeah, that’s ok. Can I grab a lift? I was surprised. So, He put the snare drum in between us. He’s holding on to me with one arm and he’s holding onto the other drum with the other hand and we’re headed to Chicago’s North side on this motorcycle and it started raining. I said to myself, OMG. I remember thinking, you have to be extra, extra, extra careful! That’s all I need to do is to crash this bike and kill both of us. HEADLINES: Tony Williams killed on a bike with some unknown drummer. I said damn. I don’t want that to happen. We made it, but that scenario truly scared me.”

As Kenny Elliott paid his dues and worked his way up the ladder of success, he was offered a great opportunity to become a staff drummer with Brunswick Records.

“Brunswick was located down there on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. My friend, the bass player, Bernard Reed, was working there. Bernard is the bass player on that Red Holt hit record that Barbara Acklin wrote, ‘Soulful Strutt.’ That’s not Red Holt on that record. A lot of people don’t know that. That’s my friend Bernard Reed and a guy named Quentin Joseph. They were staff musicians over at Brunswick who laid those tracks down.”

“Bernard liked the way I played. I might have been about nineteen when I wound up at Brunswick Records. Bernard brought me under his wing and really showed me how to play in-the-pocket. Before that, in those days I was trying to be like Elvin Jones and Billy Cobham. Bernard was saying no, no! Just play two and four. It was kind of beneath me at first. Because man, I’m thinking I did all this studying and now I’m just going back to this simplistic beat. But I had to learn. I was doing sessions that required that type of playing. And Louis Satterfield took me under his wing too. Satterfield taught Verdine how to play bass. At Brunswick, I would do little sessions here and there. I’d have to sit around until the writers would say, hey we got this song we want to lay down. I only did a few little records over there. I met Tom-Tom 84 at Brunswick. Tom Tom 84 was the arranger for Earth Wind and Fire. And Bruce Swedien was the engineer at Brunswick Records. Bruce Swedien did all those Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson Records.”

NOTE: Grammy-Winning producer/engineer, BRUCE SWEDIEN is legendary and has engineered or produced for such artists as Diana Ross, Nat King Cole, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson and has wonderful information to share about engineering during his interview at a Full Sail University ‘live’ interview, covering 1952 to the present time.

“Louis Satterfield was mostly known for working at Chess, but was also at Brunswick Records along with saxophonist, Don Myrick,” Kenny recalled.

NOTE: Don Myrick was one of the founders of Chicago’s AACM group (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and was an original saxophonist with Earth, Wind and Fire’s famed horn section from 1975 until 1982 when he was murdered by a Santa Monica, California policeman during a drug raid on his apartment. In 1995, a wrongful death suit was finally settled with his family by that Southern California city for $400,000.

“I also saw Master Henry Gibson around the Brunswick studios. He was the percussionist on a lot of those Curtis Mayfield Records and he worked for Curtom Record.”

NOTE: Master Henry Gibson was celebrated as the most recorded percussionist, appearing on over 1200 albums during a four-decade career. He was not only a popular studio session player, he also toured and/or recorded with such iconic artists as Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, pianist, Tennyson Stephens, jazz singer, Azure McCall, The Staple Singers, Sonny Stitt, Bennie Green, Ahmad Jamal, Kool & the Gang, and the Rotary Connection featuring Minnie Ripperton’s angelic voice.

Kenny Elliott had the pleasure of working with R&B soul singer, Walter Jackson, who I used to go see in person in Detroit. He sang heartfelt songs, propped-up on crutches. Kenny also worked with Syl Johnson, Aorta and the Thunderfunk Symphony. He accompanied pianist Ken Chaney, great guitarists Phil Upchurch and Pete Cosey. Cosey played with Miles Davis. As Kenny played with various recording artists, he honed his skills, leaning to play diverse musical styles on his trap drums.

“At a point, I hit the glass ceiling in Chicago. My good friend Larry Ball and Vince Willis and another guy named Bryan came out to Los Angeles to perform in the stage play, The Wiz. I said I’m going to take a vacation, since I have some friends in California. So, I came out to visit, and said Oh shoot! I was so impressed. My friend, Vince Willis, did some sessions and he had me play on a few. That’s where I met Romeo Williams, a bass player. After my short vacation, I went back home to Chicago. But I knew I couldn’t stay back there.

“One day, Romeo alerted me that his roommate was moving out. He said, you can move in with me if you come back to L.A. I was all in. I got rid of what I could. I sold my car to my cousin and I came back out to L.A. in 1977 with $400 in my pocket, my tux, and my drums.

“Romeo turned out to be a cool roommate. He would get a gig and he’d say, call Kenny. We played with Johnny Hammond Smith together. I was known as a drummer who could read. That was sort of my forte. That got my foot into several doors. I met Paul Jackson Jr. back then. I think Paul was about fifteen. We went over to Paul’s parent’s house and they would feed us on Sunday. ‘Cause, as struggling musicians, we didn’t have no money. What little bit of money we hustled up went for the phone bill first, rent next, and that was it. We went hungry a few times. Growing up in the projects, as a kid, we still never went hungry. But I went hungry a few times in Los Angeles.

“We used to play these demo sessions over at Jobete Music, located on Sunset and Argyle, up in that tall, Motown building. We lived in Inglewood at 81st street and Vermont, where Pepperdine University used to be. We got to be the staff musicians at Jobete. But neither me nor Romeo had a car at the time. So, for the longest, we took the bus to Motown’s building. Romeo knew this girl that we met at the church we attended. We went to the same church that Paul Jackson Jr. went to and that’s where I met Paul, his sister and his whole family. He’d go on to become a big guitar star some years later.

“Romeo and I would get up in the morning, take the bus to Hollywood, borrow Tina Madison’s Volkswagen and drive back to Inglewood. We’d jam the drums, the bass and the amp into that Volkswagen, drive back to the studio in Hollywood and set up. Then, we’d sit around, waiting for the staff writers to say; OK, we have a song. We’re ready for you guys. We only got like fifty dollars a song and we had to wait two weeks to get paid. But we were doing what we loved and squeaking out a living. We’d play two songs, maybe three songs, maybe four songs. Then, we’d break our instruments down, ‘cause we couldn’t leave our stuff there. We’d Drive back to Inglewood; unload the stuff, then drive back to Hollywood to give the car back to Tina. We’d trudge back to the bus stop and take the bus home to Inglewood. Phew.”

During that time, Kenny’s credits grew at a tremendous speed. People loved his good attitude and his ability to play various styles. Additionally, he was a fast chart-reader. Not only was he a staff drummer at Jobete, the publishing arm of Motown, he also flew up North, to San Francisco and became involved with the Fantasy Record Label and CBS/Sony Records. Between 1978 and 1981, Kenny Elliott played on the albums of “Finished Touch” (Motown), Rance Allen (Stax), “Pockets” for Columbia Records, Bobby “Blue” Bland” (MCA Records), the girl’s group, “High Energy,” (Motown), James Cleveland Presents John Springer & Bread, (Savoy Records), Martha Reeves, (Fantasy), Tavares, (Capitol Records/EMI) and Kimiko Kasai (CBS/Sony), to name just a few. On “Sweet Vibrator” you can hear Kenny Elliott’s strong sense of funk and blues backing up Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland.

“In 1978, I got busy. I met this guy named Herb Jimmerson and his wife Vi. He was a staff producer up there at Fantasy records. They introduced me to another producer, Hank Cosby. They became real family to me and Romeo. We became real good friends. We used to go over to the Jimmerson-house on the weekend and just hang out. Hank was kinda like family too, but you know, Hank was doing his own thing. I did a track for “Lord of the Rings” where I got to play Tipanis and all that kind of orchestrated stuff. I cut tracks for a lot of other records and picked up some television shows. They were variety shows like the NAACP Award Shows. I did a few of those and that show that Lou Rawls used to host, The United Negro College Fund variety show. I performed on the Johnny Carson Show, the Jimmy Kimble Show and the Graham Norton show in London for the BBC. H.B. Barnum took me under his wing too. He was the conductor/arranger on some of those shows. A lot of my work came because I could read and I could play different styles. I play jazz, funk, Latin and several different styles. That was my forte. When I was going to the conservatory in Chicago, they stressed that I had to learn to play it all. They said, you don’t have to be great at everything, but if you play it all, then you’re always going to be working. Turns out, that was true.

“I’ve worked with some great folks; Lionel Richie, Mel Torme, Aretha was pretty amazing. I did a live album with the L.A. Mass Choir. That was a brutal session. It lasted all day. There was a lot of hard playing, because they were singing energetic gospel songs.”

Suddenly, Kenny sings the drum line to me at a very up-Tempo rhythm. “If I dropped a stick or something, that would have been so wrong,” he chuckles.

“Natalie Cole was really good, and I played with Joe Cocker. I even worked with Phyllis Hyman, who I thought was an amazing vocalist. She was beautiful and tall. But this one time, she had her background singers crying. I mean, literally crying. She had a mouth like a sailor. She was screaming at them. We did a gig over in Century City and she was explaining something to the background singers. Anyway, she was mad about something. Ms. Hyman was cussing those singers so loud and wrong, my neck jerked around. She would make a sailor blush.

“I got to work with Patti Austin and James Ingram; Ashford and Simpson in England at the Wembley Stadium, where I was the house drummer. That’s how I got to work with Jonathan Butler too. Al Green was great to work with, but I have to say the best artist ever was Aretha. She did the whole nine yards. She left me speechless.”

Kenny’s musical journey has been rewarding. More recently, he has recorded with and played numerous concerts with Kansas City pianist, singer and legendary icon, Betty Bryant.

Additionally, Kenny Elliott has recorded with The Ink Spots, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the great vocalist, Carl Anderson, gospel singer, Vicki Winans and Los Angeles based guitarist, David T. Walker. He’s accompanied The Impressions, R&B crooner, Freddie Jackson, the smokin’ hot girls’ group, En Vogue, the mother of jazz singers, Ella Fitzgerald; pop singer Helen Reddy, Dionne Warwick, Lionel Richie, the great Stevie Wonder. His drums have complimented the historic Ray Charles and even songbird, Nancy Wilson.

He has also enjoyed worked with a host of Southern California talent, including studio engineer and trumpeter, Nolan Shaheed, bassist, Brandino, (Kevin Brandon), and he’s recorded several albums with guitarist and band leader, Yu Ooka. He’s played in the legendary Bennie Maupin band, “Pulsation,” and accompanied Linda Hopkins.

Kenny Elliott has even played in Count Basie’s orchestra and has worked with the local Luckman Jazz Orchestra, the Elliott Caine Sextet and Jeff Goldblum with the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. I’m proud to say Kenny even has worked with this journalist and is playing drums on my last CD title, “Storyteller.”

As a percussive educator, Kenny Elliott enjoys passing the baton, (in this case the drum sticks), to a host of young, talented musicians. He shared some encouraging thoughts.

“Just follow your heart and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do the things you really want to do. Stay positive; be creative. It’s good to try and follow the trend, but you have to set your own trend and do your own thing. Like my mother used to tell me, practice!”
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August 11, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
AUGUST 11, 2019


Luke Gillespie, piano/composer/arranger; Jeremy Allen & Todd Coalman, double bass; Steve Houghton, drums; John Raymond, trumpet; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Tierney Sutton, vocal; Dave Stryker, guitar; Tom Walsh, alto & soprano saxophone; Pat Harbison, trumpet; Wayne Wallace & Brennon Johns, trombone; Brent Wallarab, arranger.

Sometimes you hear an artist that is so distinctive and so blessed with talent that you know they are destined for huge success. Luke Gillespie is just such an artist. He exhibits a style and piano personality that is all his. From the first strains of his trio rendition of “I Hear a Rhapsody,” I am intrigued by his unique interpretation on the piano keys, as well as his harmonic chord structures. This is a gifted player. Who is this pianist? I wonder and reach for the press release that accompanies his CD. Turns out, Luke Gillespie is professor of jazz piano at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Those students are certainly lucky to have him! This is one of the world’s most prestigious conservatories of music, boasting alumni like jazz vocalist, Tierney Sutton, guitarist Dave Stryker and saxophonist Walter Smith.

“My colleagues are some of the greatest musicians in the world and some of the most professional,” boasts Gillespie. “We do play together several times a semester, in different venues. But this gave me a chance to actually record with my colleagues.”

Gillespie has composed the title tune “Moving Mists,“ and “This I Dig of Grew,” (written in memory of Mulgrew Miller), “DoNaBar” and “Blues for All.” The “Blues For All” composition is arranged with a musical nod to the standard jazz tune by Miles Davis, “All Blues;” but it’s definitely Gillespie’s own composition, with a unique, new melody tastefully improvised atop familiar chord changes and Walter Smith III on saxophone and trumpeter, John Raymond both aggrandize the arrangement. However, it’s the magical genius of Gillespie’s piano playing that binds the whole piece together with an imaginative solo and notes that scurry across the 88-keys like fire flies; fast and sparkling. There is a blues edge that Luke Gillespie adds to his piano playing, always peeking through his excellent arrangements.

The son of a Baptist missionary, Luke Gillespie was born in Kyoto, Japan, and grew up in Osaka. The title tune is pensive, with John Raymond’s flugelhorn prominent and beautiful. This original composition was inspired, in part, by Japanese composer Joe Hisaishi. It’s a lovely ballad. Speaking of ballads, Tierney Sutton makes a guest appearance on the tune, “Beautiful Love” that debuted in 1931. Gillespie reharmonizes this standard in a most ingenious way, accompanying the eight-time-Grammy-nominated vocalist. They perform as a stunning duo. You may find yourself holding your breath in quiet anticipation after each of these ten recorded songs. It is hard to imagine what might come next and it’s excitingly rewarding when each track is better than the next.

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Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums.

I was not familiar with the music of Ismael Rivera. This album was created for jazz lovers, like me,and to introduce us to this famed, Puerto Rican musician. Ismael Rivera was born in Santurce,Puerto Rico,(a section of San Juan)just a breath away from where Miguel Zenon himself grew up. As a vocalist/musician, Ismael Rivera was rooted in Afro-Rican and Afro-Cuban music. His expertise was his excellence as an improvisor and a master of Sonero. Miguel Zenon explained:

“Sonero to me doesn’t only mean an improviser. It exemplifies a persona. It’s someone who embodies the genre.”

Ismael Rivera gained huge popularity in Puerto Rico, performing regularly on the daily television series, “El Show del Mediodia” in the 1950s. He was tutored in the repertoires of bomba and plena by the patriarch, Don Rafael Cepeda. These two men, Rivera and Cepeda, headed a movement that turned rhythms into contemporary dance-band music, somewhat in the Cuban style. Ismael Rivera’s talents and popularity spread as far as the Caribbean, to Colombia,Venezuela and Panama. It is those of us in the United States who may not have heard about Ismael Rivera’s voice and music. For a while, he was a lead singer with the popular Orquesta Panamericana and he recorded with them. In 1954, he joined Cortijo’s Combo where he recorded several hit songs in the American Latin community. He died on May 13, 1987 from a heart attack.

“I grew up in salsa circles as a kid,” Miguel Zenon explained. “Coming from a percussion background, Rivera developed a unique style of singing that used vocal percussion phrases to fill lyrical lines, making for a new level of rhythmic complexity on the part of the singer.”

With this in mind, Miguel Zenon picked up his saxophone to celebrate some of the popular music that Rivera recorded. Luis Perdomo is magnificent on the 88-keys, playing provocatively on these songs and infusing them with straight ahead jazz magic. I fell in love with the melody of cut #3, “Los Tumbas” where Perdomo’s piano playing is glittering and stellar. Miguel Zenon takes an opportunity to stretch out improvisationally on this track and his horn offers an exciting solo. Hans Glowischnig’s bass takes exceptional liberties, while holding the rhythm section tightly in place. Henry Cole is the drummer and I notice he is quick to compliment on his trap drums. At the same time, he is always holding the group solidly and rhythmically on point. They build the energy on the composition” El Negro Bambon” giving Cole an opportunity to show off his drum chops. He personifies freedom and excitement during his percussive solo. On the original recording of this tune, there was singing in five against the orchestra playing in four. Consequently, Miguel Zenon arranged this tune using that concept as an inspiration. Miguel Zenon and his talented ensemble have captured the magic of his hero, Ismael Rivera, while infusing his own beautiful spirit into the mix. Perhaps his press kit said it best when they wrote:

“A multiple Grammy nominee and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow, Zenon is one of a select group of musicians who have masterfully balanced and blended the often-contradictory poles of innovation and tradition.”
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BEN FLOCKS – “MASK OF THE MUSE” Independent Label

Ben Flocks, tenor & soprano saxophone; Ari Chesky, electric & acoustic guitar; Frank LoCrasto, piano/ organ/Fender Rhodes/Mellotron/Vox Continental/Prophet/Glockenspiel; Martin Nevin, upright bass; Evan Hughes, drums/percussion.

If you enjoy sleepy time music, pretty ballads and the dreamy sound of a saxophone, this is the production for you. Speaking of dreams, saxophonist Ben Flocks has chosen a number of compositions that reference that word, including Johnny Mercer’s “Dream,” composition, “Street of Dreams,” and “Dream of Life,” that was once recorded by Billie Holiday.

The synthesized strings in the background create a lush backdrop for Flocks to showcase his tenor and soprano saxophone charm. Flocks And his guitarist, Ari Chesky, have produced this album, scheduled for release August 16, 2019. It’s an enjoyable listen, but somehow has a feeling of ‘canned’ music, instead of the energy and excitement created by a ‘live’ band. This writer is not a big fan of electronic synthesized music that sounds programmed rather than organic. You can hear the concept below on Flocks title tune.

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Augie Haas, trumpet, vocals; Dick Sarpola, elec. bass/double bass; Carmen Staaf, piano/organ; Jared Schonig, drums/percussion; Robert Burkhart & Eliot Bailen, cellos; Eddy Malave, Jason Mellow & Chris Souza, violas; Janey Choi, Sasha Margolis, Katie Kresek, Kiwon Nahm, Sean Carney, Kiku Enomoto, Naho Parrini, & Joel Lambdin, violins; Suzanne Ornstein, Concert Master.

Augie Haas plays the trumpet as sweetly as he sings. This is an entertaining project that blends several jazz standards with pop, Rhythm and Blues hit records from the past. He opens with “Dream A Little Dream of Me.” His voice conjures up memories of the Dean Martin, Frankie Lane days. This song was a big hit in the 1930’s for Ozzie Nelson (of Ozzie & Harriet television series fame) and was re-recorded several times, including a rendition by the great Ella Fitzgerald. Haas seems to be influenced by Chet Baker, who is also an outstanding trumpet player and vocalist. Augie Haas plays “Blackbird” and “Georgia On My Mind” without singing, showcasing his trumpet skills.

His trumpet tone on “Georgia” is beautiful and supported by a lovely string arrangement. Some of the pop tunes he sings are “Goody Goody,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” The R&B hit records he rearranges for this project are “I Only Have Eyes for You” that was originally recorded by The Flamingoes. Augie Haas does a nice job of vocally refreshing this old ‘doo-wop’ song, as we used to call ballads we could slow-dance to at the DJ parties. I would have loved to hear him play this particular song on his trumpet, instead of just fading out on the song at the end with his horn. “Love Me Tender” is recorded as a slow swing number with a walking bass that his trumpet uses as a cushion. Haas’ horn bounces above this Dixieland-type arrangement. Other songs you will recognize and enjoy are his renditions of “Earth Angel,” “Stand By Me,” “Ooh Child,” and “Stay.”

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Augie Haas earned his academic degrees from Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of the Performing Arts and the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music Conservatory. Now living in New York, he has spent much of his time playing with various big bands including those of Harry Connick Jr., Maria Schneider and Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project. He has also performed with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Birdland Big Band, among others. This is his sixth album for his Playtime Music Label. When he isn’t recording, Augie Haas is busy composing and inspiring up and coming musicians.

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EMMA FRANK – “COME BACK” Justin Time Records

Emma Frank, vocals/composer; Aaron Parks, piano/synthesizer; Tommy Crane, drums; Zack Lober, bass; Franky Rousseau, guitars/synthesizers; Simon Millerd, trumpet; Chieh-Fan, viola/violin; Pedro Barquinha, guitar/bass/percussion/synthesizer; Dominic Mekky, string arranger.

Her music is folksy and infectious. This singer/songwriter draws you in like vocal quicksand. Brooklyn-based, Emma Frank embarks on her second collaboration with pianist Aaron Parks to follow up her critically acclaimed album last year titled, “Ocean Av. While Ocean Av.” When I listen to her pretty voice and poignant stories, I recognize that Emma Frank is processing her life with music and perhaps uncovering some of the intimate corners of her soul. Says Frank:

“… Life is tough. Music is soothing. In a sense, it’s that easy. I want this album to be a safe space for someone, or one space that they can go to feel their feelings and enjoy being alive.”

Her music is a blend of pop, folk and a smidgeon of jazz. Emma Frank’s voice is sweet and reflective, licking the lyrics like popsicles that drip across Aaron’s piano and his synthesizer. They stick to our consciousness. This creation is sparsely produced, with songs like “Sometimes” reminding me of Joni Mitchell. “Promises” challenges the listeners pitch and sense of melody in a pleasantly unexpected way. It’s very artsy, combining a pop concept with jazz. I like the freedom I hear in Emma Frank’s presentation. Franky Rousseau’s guitar licks are lovely with her sparse arrangements and sweet melodic songs. Pedro Barquinha adds much with his own guitar and sometimes playing bass, percussion and synths. The composition “See You” is soft rock. She harmonizes with herself on this one and Tommy Crane’s drums punch the groove in a funk-way.

I would not consider this a jazz album, but Emma Frank’s voice is captivating and her songwriting, both melodies and lyrics, are artistic and charming. When I listen to this singer/songwriter I feel peaceful and inspired each time. Her music is calming, even though the song titles sometimes seem to have nothing to do with her lyrics. Songs like “Before You Go Away” stick to my brain like bubble gum on my shoes.
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Pablo Ziegler, piano; Hector Del Curto, bandoneon; Jisoo Ok, cello; Pedro Giraudo, bass.

Pablo Ziegler’s romantic compositions come alive on this tribute to the tango and the music of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have warm memories of Argentina. I remember the expansive streets of Buenos Aires that were eight lanes wide and the warmth of the friendly people. Pablo Ziegler’s music capsulizes the music of his culture and offers us an hour to celebrate the Latin music of his youth and breathe new life into the tango.

This pianist/composer has won Grammy’s and Latin Grammys for past work. This is sure to be another feather in his Nuevo Tango cap. The title track,” Radiotango” has been snipped from the introduction of a radio program quite familiar in Buenos Aires from 1988 to 1989, entitled “FM Tango.” On this project, Ziegler will energize and dance you from the mysterious barrios of the tango neighborhoods to the city’s popular obelisk center. All his compositions reflect Ziegler’s arrangements and he is also the producer on this project. His music is embellished by internationally respected tango jazz virtuosos, who make up his dynamic Chamber Quartet. This is a moving and spirited project that presents a plush sound and is more orchestrated than what I would expect from just four musicians. On the “Maria Ciudad” composition, Jisoo Ok is stunning and romantic on cello. Ziegler’s piano virtuosity shines throughout. Pedro Giraudo’s double bass glues the rhythm together and I don’t even miss the drums. Hector Del Curto is prominent on bandoneon with Ziegler’s piano chords playing tango rhythms wildly beneath Del Curto’s lovely melody.

This is a “live” recording, enthusiastically appreciated by an audience that obviously is enthralled by this quartet of master musicians.
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Victor Gould, piano/composer; Rodney Green, drums; Ismel Wignall, percussion; Vicente Archer, bass; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Godwin Louis, alto/soprano saxophone; Dayna Stephens, tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond, flute/alto flute; Lucas Pino, bass clarinet; Aaron Johnson, bass trombone; Yoojim Park & Jim Tsao, violins; Jocelin Pan, viola; Susan Mandel, cello.

This is thoughtful, calm, inspirational music. The blend of Victor Gould’s piano and Yoojin Park’s violin is magical. The compositions are all original and composed by Victor Gould. This carefully selected ensemble brings out the best of his work. The first song is the title tune and it sets the tone for this entire album. If I were to have a criticism, it would be that I wanted to hear some swing or up-tempo, straight-ahead somewhere in the mix. Most of the songs are laid-back and relaxed in tempo and arrangement. I found Gould’s compositional skills to be thought-provoking and to showcase his enormous talents on the piano. His 88-key delivery often replicates humming-bird wings with the speed and agility of his fingers tickling the ivory and ebony keys. The addition of Anne Drummond’s alto flute on “October” adds to my imaginative, mind-pictures of birds and nature.

“My dad is a flautist and that instrument is really important to me. I grew up listening to Hubert Laws, James Spaulding, Frank Wess and Yusef Lateef. I was hearing Anne’s unique way of playing. Her vibrato is very soulful and human,” Gould muses.

The tentative and introspective nature of Gould’s playing introduces us to “Brand New,” as he plays rubato and freely on the grand piano. This solo effort captivates and pleases. It needs no other instrument to totally engross us in his music. That is the sign of a truly great and sensitive musician. Finally, on the fourth tune titled, ‘Karma,” Gould stretches out into the realms I longed for, adding punch and energy to his presentation with Rodney Green showing prowess and supportive control on drums. The tempos change on this arrangement, but you will have the opportunity of hearing Victor Gould play innovatively and swiftly during this song. Jeremy Pelt makes an explosive appearance on the composition, “Inheritance,” where his trumpet dances and soars. Gould’s addition of chamber strings and both bass trombone and bass clarinet help to express his arrangements in memorable ways. This is an artistic venture that mirrors the title of this album, (Thoughts Become Things) in its pensive nature. A swooping bow to the artist who designed the cover of this CD. Martel Chapman inspired me to pick this album out of a stack of twenty sitting on my desk, with his moving and beautiful cover artwork.

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Fabrizio Sciacca, bass; Billy Drummond, drums; Donald Vega, piano; Jeb Levy, saxophone.

The quartet leader,Fabrizio Sciacca,opens this album with an attention-getting bass solo. The tune is “One for America” composed by the great Sam Jones. These four musicians come out swinging harder than Muhammad Ali. The beautiful,“Lullaby In Central Park” follows to calm the mood and showcases Donald Vega on piano, with Fabrizio Sciacca dancing his double bass beneath the pretty melody, quite creatively. Trap drummer, Billy Drummond, is the cement that holds this quartet solidly in place. On this tune, the trio is featured without saxophone. I’m intrigued and thoroughly entertained by Fabrizio Sciacca’s interpretation of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square” on his bass. Fabrizio Sciacca says he was inspired to include this composition after hearing Danish bass player, Niels-Henning Orstred Pedersen’s interpretation of this beautiful tune. I haven’t heard that rendition, but this one Fabrizio plays is stellar. When Jeb Levy’s saxophone is added on tunes like “Zellmar’s Delight,” “Lonely Goddess” and “One Second Please” he elevates this trio in a wonderful way.

Born in Cataria,Italy, Fabrizio Sciacca is making a name for himself in New York City and beyond. He considers Ron Carter to be one of his mentors. Consequently, he has composed one song on this production titled, “For Sir Ron.” Sciacca began playing the bass when he was just thirteen years old. In 2011, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There, he was inspired by such professors of jazz as John Pattitucci, Danilo Perez and Victor Bailey. After graduation, he moved to New York to begin studying with the legendary bassist, Ron Carter and earned his master’s Degree in Performance and Composition from the Manhattan School in 2018. With the release of this, his debut album as a leader, Fabrizio Sciacca begins an impressive recording career.

Fabrizio describes his feelings about this recording and his musical direction.

“With the mixture of straight-ahead and modern times, the purpose of this album is to express what jazz means to me and what the role of the bass is in said musical context, as soloistic and rhythm section instrument.”

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Nicolas Bearde, vocals; Josh Nelson & Peter Horvath, piano; Alex Bonham & Dan Feiszli, bass; Dan Schnelle, Lorca Hart & Jason Lewis, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone.

Nicolas Bearde’s voice skims easily across the unusual harmonic chords that Peter Horvath plays on piano, while the old familiar standard, “I Remember You” unfolds. Bearde’s baritone vocals are warm and inviting. “That Sunday, That Summer” is a delightful song with a well-written lyrical content. It showcases Bearde’s ability to ‘sell the song’ and features a great saxophone solo by special guest artist, Eric Alexander. This is followed by an old favorite of mine, “Funny (Not Much)” where once again, Bearde takes his time delivering a heartfelt ballad, with a tone and vocal texture reminiscent of Lou Rawls. Every one of the songs on this project are chosen to celebrate the music of Nat King Cole. You will hear gems like “Sweet Lorraine,” “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “L-O-V-E” and many more that recall Nat King Cole’s unforgettable hit records. Here is an album full of nostalgia and embellished by a group of outstanding musicians in support of Nicolas Bearde’s sixth recorded release. This album is apropos, because this year would have been Nat King Cole’s 100th Earth-anniversary.

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Nicolas Bearde’s life has taken many artistic twists and turns. He is not only a vocalist, but also a working actor. While serving his country in the armed services, where he was stationed in Japan, Nicolas Bearde began preforming as a singer. When he was released from duty, he relocated to the San Francisco, California area. That’s where he became part of a staged radio play called Jukebox that starred famous actor, Danny Glover. He was bitten by the acting bug and went on to book performances in several stage plays, followed by film and television appearances. Somehow, in between his acting success, he managed to continue pursuing a rewarding career in music. He met Molly Holm and joined her eight-member group called Jazzmouth. Soon after, he was introduced to the great Bobby McFerrin and in 1986, Bearde became a member of McFerrin’s ground-breaking a cappella group, Voicestra. In the mid-nineties, he joined an off-shoot of this heralded a cappella group, who called themselves SoVoSo. They too won numerous awards. In the early 2000s, Nicolas Bearde began recording his solo projects, including original songs and jazz standards. With the solid support of some of California’s finest musicians, this album promises to be another successful endeavor in Nicolas Bearde’s multi-talented career.
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THE CURTIS BROTHERS – “ALGORITHM” Truthrevolution Recording Collective

Zaccai Curtis, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Ralph Peterson, drums; Donald Harrison, saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet.

With the above star-studded list of musicians, I knew I was in for a real treat. I was not disappointed nor have I exaggerated. This group is ‘cookin’ and they’re presentation is as hot and spicy as Jalapeno peppers.

An algorithm is a set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving situations, especially by a computer. Well, there’s nothing computerized about this music. It’s straight from the heart, free and brilliantly energetic. The Curtis Brothers offer nine original compositions, composed and arranged by the pianist, Zaccai Curtis. Each one is titled for a mathematical concept or term, beginning with “Three Points and a Sphere.” This composition totally engages me. It’s a strong opening number with the Brian Lynch and Donald Harrison horns out front and spectacular. Then there’s an exciting piano solo by Zaccai Curtis, followed by Luques Curtis soloing on bass. The ensemble is pushed and grounded by Ralph Peterson on drums. Track two showcases the drums upfront, setting the mood and tempo at the introduction. Peterson’s drums remind me of some of Ahmad Jamal’s killer-groove arrangements, like “Poinciana” on this particular composition titled, “Phi.” There is something fresh and new about this group, but at the same time, I am spirited back to my Detroit days listening to Art Blakey, Donald Byrd and Yusef Lateef. The Curtis Brothers manage to dress straight-ahead jazz in a beautiful, new and distinctive sound. They transform old-school into the twenty-first century with their individual talents spinning and shining like ambulance lights. They snatch your attention. I was driving when I popped this CD into my car stereo system. I almost pulled over. They pump fresh ideas and melodic memories into their rhythmic grooves. That make me play this CD over and over again. Every composition is a testament to the composer’s brilliance, and to his bandmates, who so thoroughly uncover every nuance in the recorded movements of “Algorithm.” It sounds like they are performing in front of a live audience by the encouraging shouts of spontaneity I hear in the background. Or could it be the musicians themselves, carried away by the spirit of what they are creating and palpably pleased? Either way, I too find myself carried away and enjoying every minute of their dynamic sound.
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Mark Sherman, piano/composer; Vincent Herring, alto saxophone; Ray Drummond & Dan Chmielinski, bass; Carl Allen, drums; Nana Sakamoto, trombone.

Mark Sherman is multi-talented. He studied and played several instruments including drums, percussion and vibraphone, but eventually settled on piano, an instrument he became fascinated with at age eight. His love for this instrument out-weighed all his other musical infatuations.

“With ten fingers and an eight-octave range available, the piano gives me a different level and dimension of expression,” Sherman asserts. “I teach at the piano; I write at the piano and I simply love to play the piano.”

Opening with a straight ahead, bebop, original jazz tune titled, “Primative Reality,” we are propelled into space by the ensemble’s sound and energy. Surrounded by a group of skilled musicians, I immediately know this is a project of proficient inspiration and creative talent. “Juicy Lucy” is written by Horace Silver and Sherman interprets it as a happy shuffle, featuring Vincent Herring on alto saxophone. Ray Drummond’s bass solo is melodic and skips atop Carl Allen’s drums. Allen is stellar throughout this project, rooting the music in percussive security and quick to shine appropriately and accent the talents of his fellow musicians. Nana Sakamoto is spotlighted on the trombone during their interpretation of “Milestones.” Track four features another original composition by Sherman titled, “Ales.” The horn lines are arranged nicely to support this song, making a strong introductory platform for Mark Sherman to leap from and solo on piano. Sherman is a wonderful composer and his music, like the ensemble, swings hard. This is an impressive presentation of both his piano and composer gifts. Mark Sherman’s ‘other voice’ is beautifully recorded and makes for a great listen.
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August 7, 2019


AUG 7, 2019

Elena Gilliam, vocals; Michael Le Van, piano/producer; David Enos & Bruce Lett, bass; Paul Kreibich & John Ferraro, drums; Tony Guerrero, trumpet/flugelhorn; Dave Moody, saxophone.

Elena Gilliam is a popular club singer around the Los Angeles area. She has a rich tone enhanced by a range that can soar on tunes like “All In Love Is Fair” originally composed by Stevie Wonder for Nancy Wilson to sing. Elena offers a powerful performance on this challenging song. In the same breath, she can gently caress a lyric like Michael Le Van’s composition, “Then Another Turns” with words by Bill Montemer. Elena tenderly uses her alto range to deliver Michael’s original composition.

Here is a vocalist who can ‘swing’ with the best of them. Elena shows her strength in the ‘swing’ department on “Misty” with David Enos pumping his bass in a brisk walk. Michael Le Van takes a bright piano solo during this familiar Erroll Garner song. Le Van has a deft touch on the keys, shining in the spotlight, but sensitive and considerate as an accompanist. He and Elena Gilliam have a musical magic between them that is happily captured on this recording. There is trust between these two talented musicians that comes partially from playing together on a consistent basis, for the last three years, and also from mutual respect and musical admiration. They fit together naturally, like butter and bread.

William touches on her Cabaret-side when singing “Cheek to Cheek.” She has one of those full-throated voices that could easily rock a Broadway stage. On this tune, Tony Guerrero makes a solo appearance on his horn. Gilliam takes time to scat through a couple of verses of this song before she re-enters on the bridge. You can tell Elena enjoys the freedom that jazz inspires and she handles scat singing with the same sincere appreciation and innovation that our American-bred music inspires.

“Elena’s greatest strength is her flexibility and love of freedom,” Michael Le Van says. “If I want to be spontaneous, she just goes with it.”

I spoke with Elena about her life and music career recently. She grew up in New Jersey and attended Gannon College in Erie, Pennsylvania. Initially, she thought she’d like to be a teacher. For six years, she lived in Erie until a phone call changed her entire career path.

“My older brother lived out here in Costa Mesa, California. He loved it and he talked me into moving. I didn’t really have any strong ties in Pennsylvania. I was a Spanish major in college. I majored in foreign languages. In Pennsylvania, I found work in Social Services. I was doing social work and helping the migrant workers who came up from Mexico for seasonal work. I helped them with health services and transportation. It was a government run program. As soon as I arrived in California, I got a temp job, at the University of California, Irvine. I started working there and wound up working there thirty-years, doing various jobs. I started as a secretary and then moved into different administrative positions over the years at the School of Medicine on the Irvine Campus. But I really wanted to sing!

‘I was extremely shy when I was a kid. Just very self-conscious. I couldn’t sing around anybody. I just couldn’t do it. I knew that I liked singing. I used to secretly watch ‘Playboy After Dark’ when I was a teenager. That was a show with Hugh Hefner featuring his penthouse party. All of the stars would show up. Oh, it was so swanky. I even remember the theme song. They’d stroll into one room and Ella Fitzgerald was there sitting on the couch, having a drink. Then they’d say; let’s sing a song. They’d be talking and gabbing. The room was full of famous people. I just loved it! I’d watch that show and other late-night, television talk shows like Johnny Carson. I wanted to see all of the shows that had musical guests. In the back of my mind, I secretly thought, maybe I can do this?”

Her new California surroundings seemed to inspire Elena Gilliam to dream big and endeavor to do some of the secret wishes hidden inside her heart. One of the main secrets was her fascination with singing. Perhaps it was in her DNA all the time. After all, her father had performed in a gospel group with his three sisters. The group was known as ‘The George Sisters,’ and based in Oklahoma. For years, they traveled from church to church as special guests.

“Actually, there’s a funny story my grandmother used to tell me. Dad’s mother said she started him on cigarettes, thinking that would help him sing. That’s crazy! Right? When I first heard him sing, I noticed my dad had a deep voice. He’d goof around and sing to me like Arthur Prysock. I knew that he loved music and my mom did too. He and my mom used to go out and see live music, mostly before they had kids. She talked to me about seeing Sarah Vaughan, up close and personal, and listening to Sarah sing in some small club. Surprisingly, my mom didn’t know I sang until she came out to visit me in California. I was such a quiet, private child. Like I said, I was shy. My parents never knew I had that musical interest. After I moved to California, my mom came to visit me and I took her to my big band practice. She was just shocked! She told me she thought, who is this person? Is this my daughter?

“Once I settled into my UC Irvine position, I researched colleges in my area. I discovered Orange Coast College, in Costa Mesa, offered a music program. I signed up for a big band class first and then some vocal classes, taking on as much as I could with a full-time job. I couldn’t believe that they had classes for big band. All you had to do was sign up for the class and you could sing at their concerts. I couldn’t believe my luck! I’ll never forget my knees were shaking the first time I was standing in front of a full room of strangers. The big band leader, Dr. Charles Rutherford, (‘Doc’) became my first mentor. The best part of my time with the big band was when he included me on one of the band’s recordings at Capitol Records. It was an incredible experience. Meantime, I continued attending classes, practicing and learning.

“That’s where I met my husband, George Gilliam. He had just moved here from New Orleans and wound up settling in Santa Ana. He did some work with the big band, trying to get to know some musicians in that area. It just so happened I was performing in a concert that day. I was singing a song, because once you’re in the class, you perform with the band. I got to sing in their main performance space; a huge auditorium. I sang “Good Morning Heartache” and that was the only song I had to sing at the concert that day. There were other vocalists performing too. I just loved singing. But that was my first experience singing in an auditorium packed with people. My husband-to-be came up to me afterwards. He asked me if I was singing with anybody and what I was doing musically. I said no, I wasn’t singing with a group. He called me two months later to join his group. Consequently, I started performing with George.

“At first, we performed jazz, pop and R&B. Then we branched off and just did jazz. I really started my musical career, in fact, my everything with George. He taught me so much, Dee Dee. I was so blessed and so happy to have him as a mentor. I was also so spoiled. He knew how to do everything. He knew how to look for gigs. He had been working since he was thirteen as a guitarist and earned a degree in music before coming to California. George was the one writing the charts, getting the musicians, setting up the PA, finding us gigs; he did everything. Our relationship developed from friends and fellow musicians to something much more. Soon, we got married. As of today, we’ve been married for 32-years.”

George Gilliam, who is a guitar recording artist in his own right, took his position as head-of-household and family provider very seriously. Although the married couple was performing locally and George was also working with various groups in and around Southern California, he had a growing family to support.

“My husband became a music therapist,” Elena explained. “That was very time and energy consuming. When he started his second program in Laguna Beach, his time to perform became very limited. I had also retired from my job at UCI by then. That’s when he encouraged me to do more on my own. I love him for that. He’s always tried to lift me up musically. I found a little local gig in Long Beach at ‘Brix at The Shore.’ It was my first steady gig. George told me; I’ll do it with you until you find somebody else. He even stayed and played with me while I tried-out various people. Some nights, I would have three of us and George would say, don’t pay me. We tried a couple of different people. George said, let’s wait until you find the perfect pianist. That’s when I met Michael Le Van.

“Michael came in one night and did the gig with us. My husband said immediately, I think you can work with this guy. Lo and behold, George let go of that gig after that. Michael and I began to work that Long Beach gig as a duo. He’s such a sensitive musician. We just clicked musically. We seem to have a natural synchrony. Even my husband has said, you know, you two really work well together. And we worked really hard on this latest Cd release.”

Michael Le Van is a classically trained graduate of California State University, Fullerton. He earned his Bachelor Degrees in both Composition and Piano. As a jazz pianist, he’s been richly influenced by listening to master pianists like Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Clark, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. This gifted pianist is joined by some popular southern California musicians including drum masters Paul Kriebich and John Ferraro, David Enos and Bruce Lett on double basses, trumpet master, Tony Guerrero and saxophonist, Dave Moody. For this project, Michael Le Van donned his producer hat. The result is an album of very fine music, featuring the charismatic voice of Elena Gilliam and the beautiful piano talents of Mr.Michael Le Van. Although both artists have recorded in the past, this is their debut recording together.

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August 1, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
Aug 1, 2019


Larry Koonse, guitar; Josh Nelson, piano; Tom Warrington, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums.

In the music world and in musician jargon, speaking one to another, we often refer to the ‘Standards.’ we can describe a Standard as a song that is recorded time and time again, over years, and by many various artists. It’s a piece of music that is familiar to the public ear, like “Misty” or “Satin Doll” or “My Funny Valentine.” When you hear a Standard, you recognize it immediately. It’s a part of our American fabric; sometimes referred to as the Great American Songbook.

In this production, legendary guitarist, Larry Koonse, plays for us “New Jazz Standards,” featuring compositions written by Carl Saunders. Saunders is a jazz trumpeter, composer, and educator, warmly lauded by the jazz community. This Cd is being release right around the birthday of this celebrated composer. On August 2, 1942, baby Saunders was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Almost immediately, he was thrown into the world of jazz. His mother’s brother, (Carl’s Uncle Bobby), was a trumpeter who led his own Sherwood Orchestra. Carl Saunders’ mom, Gail, sang with her brother’s orchestra and also sang with Stan Kenton’s band. At five-years-old, young Saunders moved to Los Angeles with his mom and lived for a while with his Aunt Caroline and her husband, who was a popular saxophonist at that time; Dave Pell. No wonder that Carl Saunders grew up to be a trumpeter, a lover of jazz, and a competent composer. He was surrounded by jazz music from birth.

Like Carl Saunders, Larry Koonse comes from a very musical family. He picked up the guitar at age seven and hasn’t put it down since. At age fifteen, he recorded for the first time with his guitarist father, Dave Koonse; “Dave and Larry Koonse: Father and Son Jazz Guitars.” In search of perfection and knowledge about his instrument and his relationship to jazz, at the University of Southern California, Larry Koonse received his Bachelor of Music in jazz Studies. He became the first recipient of this degree in 1984. As soon as he graduated from USC, Larry Koonse took a gig with the wonderful John Dankworth and Dankworth’s vocalist/wife, the legendary Cleo Laine. As a reviewer and jazz journalist, I see the credited name of Larry Koonse on numerous recorded projects that cross my desk. Mr. Koonse is always in demand. He’s received multiple Grammy nominations, including the one he recorded as a member of Billy Child’s landmark Chamber Sextet, their release titled, “Autumn: In Moving Pictures” and their first release, “Lyric.” He was also nominated for two Grammy’s regarding his participation on Luciana Souza’s two releases; “Tide” and “Book of Chet.” The names of historic and legendary artists he has either toured with or recorded with compile a long, long list. I read that he has appeared on over 300 albums. At the invitation of Nelson Mandela and UNICEF, Larry Koonse went to South Africa to perform at one of their annual festivals with Steve Houghton’s quintet. When he’s not touring or recording, Larry Koonse shares his exceptional talents by educating young musicians at the California Institute of the Arts. Naturally, I felt very excited to listen to Larry’s latest work of art, celebrating the composer genius of Carl Saunders.

They open with “Flim Flam” a happy-g0-lucky tune with a memorable melody and a rhythmic groove set by the tasty licks of Joe LaBarbara on drums and Josh Nelson punching the piano keys. Starting off smooth as silk, after establishing the melody they are off and running into a straight-ahead presentation. Each of these dynamic musicians takes time to improvise and express themselves individually. Great song! The next composition titled, “A Poor Man’s Mr. Evans” tributes the indomitable pianist and historically gifted, Bill Evans. Koonse establishes the Latin groove on guitar and let’s Josh Nelson stretch sensitive fingers across the piano keys. Nelson obviously thinks about music orchestrally, and he and Koonse develop this song, gliding towards the fade, playing musical tag instrumentally, with piano and guitar. It makes for a very intriguing, creative and beautiful ending. I love the way Koonse opens the Saunder’s composition, “Another Side of Her,” with the caramel sweet sound of his solo guitar. It’s a lovely listen! The fourth track, “A Ballad for Now” settles us down, after enjoying three spirited tunes. Larry Koonse is such a fluid and sensuous player. The sound of his guitar is warm and inviting. One thing you clearly understand, from the very first composition, is that Carl Saunders writes beautiful, melodic music and this quartet becomes the perfect ensemble to interpret it.

“Admired” is pumped up by the full, fat sound of Tom Warrington’s double bass. Listening to this tune, I felt Like I should jump on my bicycle and ride. It’s energetic and inspires freedom, like pedaling along the Venice beach with the wind in my face. Some music just paints pictures in your mind. This is an entire album of that kind of art. Settle back, close your eyes and enjoy the experience.

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Mark Doyle,guitars/keyboards/bass/drum programming/ composer/producer/arranger; Josh Dekaney,drums/percussion; STRING SECTION: Ally Brown, Shelby Dems, Jonathan Hwang & Joe Davoli, violins; Kate LaVerne, cello.

The meat of the matter is ‘rock’, spicy as a quality sausage and the bun is jazz-alicious. Mark Doyle has a way of wrapping his rock arrangements with jazz. If rock music is your passion, Mark Doyle’s guitar music will satisfy that ’rocker’ itch. The premise for Doyle’s album is to record television and motion picture themes that were used to embellish detective and spy scripts. On this project, he comfortably blends rock and jazz arrangements. Producer, arranger and guitarist, Mark Doyle explained:

“Once I settled on the concept, I started hunting down any and all of the TV and movie themes having to do with detectives and spies, while trying to avoid obvious ones like ‘Peter Gunn,’ which has been done to death and ‘Perry Mason’ which I had already recorded on the first Guitar Noir album in 1999. I ended up choosing the themes that were most melodic and dramatic, since melody is to me the most important thing in an instrumental album. I uncovered some absolutely amazing music!”

His interpretation of these soundtrack tunes (some familiar, others not-so-much) is creatively entertaining and surprisingly jazzy. For example, Elmer Bernstein’s composition, “Johnny Staccato” is really engaging. The drums of Josh Dekaney strongly set the groove and paint the music spy-slick and exciting. It sounds like a chase scene. The addition of Ally Brown, Shelby Dems, Jonathan Hwang and Joe Davoli on violins, with Kate LeVerne on cello, enhance this arrangement in surprising ways. Zappa’s tune, “America Drinks and Goes Home” is richly arranged as a sexy blues. Doyle’s guitar tells the story vividly, until strings sing and lift the arrangement, once again, in a most beautiful way. I played these songs twice before I could continue listening to the remaining four tunes on Doyle’s production.

Obviously, Mark Doyle is a multi-talented instrumentalist. The way he blends jazz and rock is quite unique and captivating. This album features Doyle’s multi-talents on guitars, keyboards, bass and drum programming. He has also composed a couple of tunes, including “Noir Alley” and “Thirteen Crimes.”

When he isn’t recording, he leads his own band; “Mark Doyle & the Maniacs.” They have released six albums and work consistently throughout the Northeast United States. He also tours as Music Director/guitarist and pianist for former October Project singer, Mary Fahl.

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Ricardo Peixoto, acoustic/electric guitars; Paul McCandless, soprano saxophone; Ken Cook & Marcos Silva, piano; Cliff Hugo, Aaron Germain & Scott Thompson, bass; Kendrick Freeman, Mike Shapiro & Ralph Barata, drums; Brian Rice, Kendrick Freeman, Ricardo Guerra & John Santos, percussion; Bob Afifi, flute; Paul Hanson, bass clarinet; Bernardo Bessler & Priscila Plata Rato,violin; Marie Christine Bessler, viola; Marcus Ribeiro de Oliveira,cello; Luiz Brasil, String & horn arranger/tenor guitar/percussion; Rob Reich,accordion; Claudia Villela,vocal; Jesse Sadoc, flugelhorn; Marcelo Martins,tenor saxophone; Aldivas Ayres,trombone; Harvey Wainapel,clarinet/bass clarinet; Kyle Bruckman,oboe; Jasnam Daya Singh,woodwind arranger.

Ricardo Peixoto is a master Brazilian guitarist and composer whose mathematician father was a professor teaching at several top American universities. At age seven, Ricardo’s mother died. Consequently, young Ricardo Peixoto spent many years bouncing from Rio de Janiero to Baltimore, Maryland and Providence Rhode Island, or wherever his dad happened to be teaching. Around eight-years-old, he began studying piano. Piano didn’t capture his imagination the way the guitar did and soon, he began self-teaching himself on the string instrument. He was around twelve at that time. His formal study of the guitar began when he was seventeen.

Clearly, he was Influenced by American culture and music, but Ricardo combines his classical study, his Brazilian roots and jazz improv to complete this album. Titled, “Scary Beautiful,” I never located the ‘scary’ part, but it is a beautiful production. Once again, it appears the freedom that radiates from playing jazz music always captures the attention of other cultures. Peixoto has expressed his love for the freedom and improvisational approach of jazz. These things led him to study at Berklee College of Music. He concentrated on courses in arranging, composition and guitar performance. The result is that he has composed and arranged every song on this album.

He often uses horns to punch the grooves, color the arrangements and to interpret his original compositions. For example, on the first songs, “Circles” Paul McCandless is grandly featured on soprano saxophone. Peixoto incorporates various Brazilian rhythms in his arrangements, like the baiao rhythm that is a style originating in rural Northeast Brazil and was quite popular in the1940’s. You hear this in his composition, “Santos e Demonios” which translates to Saints and Demons in English. He also features his guitar in duet with Marcos Silva on piano during their presentation of “Simpatica.” They incorporate the choro rhythm that originated in the 19th century. Choro translates to the word ‘cry.´ This song, gives the listener a space to enjoy Ricardo Peixoto’s guitar mastery, without horns and it’s quite melodic and folksy, with smooth jazz undertones. I can hear the influence of Pat Metheny, who was one of Ricardo’s mentors at Berklee College of Music.

This is not the joyous music of carnival, but a more subdued approach, heavily laced with cultural rhythms and classically infused.
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Veronica Swift, vocals; Benny Green & Emmet Cohen, pianists; David Wong & Russell Hall, bass; Carl Allen & Kyle Poole, drums.

This vocalist opens with a strong and swinging rendition of “You’re Gonna Hear From Me.” After a rubato intro, Veronica Swift falls smoothly into a slow but hearty swing arrangement. Adding a short passing phrase of scats to the mix, she shows us that she is a true jazz singer. This is no cabaret queen. She can scat, she can ‘swing’ and her tone and pitch are perfectly matched to her sense of timing. Veronica Swift’s voice reminds me of Edyie Gorme, in both style and tone.

The second tune of her repertoire is “A Little Taste,” by Johnny Hodges & Dave Frishberg. Once again, she swings it in a very jazzy way. A tune titled, “Interlude,”follows. It’s a sexy ballad that allows us to hear the softer side of Veronica Swift and features a melodic double bass solo by David Wong. Swift’s repertoire is fresh with tunes like “Forget About the Boy, “where pianist, Emmet Cohen, gets to show-off his chops in a dynamic way. Ms. Swift has arranged all the music on this CD and has a way of interpreting her lyrics to engage the listener. She lets you know she’s a very, natural storyteller.

Emmet’s piano plays an introduction like a grandfather clock for “Stranger in Town.” You can almost see the pendulum swinging back and forth. When Veronica Swift enters, she tells us another one of her sincere and well delivered stories about someone coming home and feeling like a stranger in her own hometown. She’s looking for a lover that never shows up. Her trio accompanies Swift in a comfortable, well-executed way. They sound as if they’ve been working together for some time as they move smoothly into “I Don’t Want to Cry Anymore,” creating a medley piece. This song is arranged in a Latin way by Ms. Swift. Once the vocals stop, the band mounts a swift excursion into double time at an amazing pace. When Veronica Swift re-enters, the band amps down to a slow swing and that makes for an interesting excursion into dynamics and rhythmic changes. We finally get to hear the drummer solo on this tune and Kyle Poole is awesome on the time changes and the solid way he holds the rhythm section in place. Upon reading the liner notes, I was surprised to discover that Ms. Swift actually employs the talents of two different trios.

Veronica Swift is also a composer and exhibits her songwriting skills on the tune, “I Hope She Makes You Happy.” She penned both lyrics and melody. Music has surrounded her life ever since she was born, because both her parents are professional musicians. Her father, Hod O’Brien, was a masterful bebop pianist and her mother, Stephanie Nakasian, was celeb rated for her vocal virtuosity. Swift remembers, as a mere three or four years old, climbing into an open bass case to take a nap backstage while her parents played a gig. She was nine-years old when she first began singing publicly. Below is a tape of Veronica singing with her songstress mother, Stephanie Nakasian.

In 2015,Veronica Swift won second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition. She’s already performed at Lincoln Center as a guest artist with Michael Feinstein and the Tedd Firth Big Band. Surprisingly, her first appearance gracing the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage was at the tender age of eleven. She performed as part of the “Women in jazz” series at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, although she was hardly a woman and barely a pre-teen. Her talent, even then, was notable. As a youngster, her parent encouraged their daughter’s love of singing and she recorded two CDs as a child. One at age nine with Richie Cole and her dad’s rhythm section. Her mom was on that recording too. Then, at age thirteen she recorded with saxophonist Harry Allen.

More recently, in 2015 she recorded an album titled, “Lonely Woman.” She’s performed widely with trumpet star, Chris Botti. So, this album becomes the culmination of her many musical experiences, including a 2017 weekly residency at the famed Birdland Jazz Club in NYC and as a recipient of a Bachelor’s degree from University of Miami’s Frost School of Music in Jazz Vocals. Veronica Swift is currently touring in support of this recent CD release, “Confessions.” Check out her website for touring dates and places.

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Clark Gibson, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Jim Pisano, tenor saxophone; Evan Edmonds, trombone; Pat Bianchi, B3 organ; Jeremy Thomas, drums.

This is the fourth release for Clark Gibson as a leader and it explores a reunion with one of his earliest collaborators, Pat Bianchi on B3 organ. This journalist has a penchant for organ jazz and bebop, so, I was eager to hear Gibson’s hard-bop organ/horn consortium that I thought might honor the days of Jimmy Smith, Hazel Scott, Bill Doggett, Jack McDuff or Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes. However, Clark Gibson’s production is more refined jazz, less funk, and enriched with three horns. This project features the dynamic, original compositions of Gibson. “Nocturne Blues” gives us a taste of each ensemble member, offering healthy solos by each musician capped by an awesome drum solo by Jeremy Thomas. The song, “Love Letters,” features a beautiful melody, sung harmonically by the horn section and featuring a tender solo by Gibson. Once again, Jeremy Thomas offers trap drum excellence locked in with Bianchi’s organ to create a high energy rhythm section beneath Gibson’s smooth horn lines. By the time I got to track five, titled “Jack,” we finally entered into the realm of hardbop. This is twelve minutes of straight-ahead brilliance. “Truth and Beauty” is another original composition, sweet and melancholy, that Gibson wrote to tribute a personal friend who, like Charles Mingus and Nina Simone, lived uncompromisingly by their own terms. That’s not always easy to do.

Finally, the song titled, “Trey” was composed for a 22-year-old father in Beavercreek, Ohio who fell victim to police brutality in 2014. Clark Gibson is donating major portions of his proceeds of this album to the John Crawford Foundation, an organization dedicated to educating and supporting families who have lost loved ones to police brutality. More and more, I see our artistic community using art and music to protest injustices in our country. We all hope that these universal protests will help make our whole world better, brighter and more compassionate.
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DEB BOWMAN – “FAST HEART” Mama Bama Records

Deb Bowman, vocals/composer; Eric Lewis “ELEW,” piano/Fender Rhodes; Steven Wolf “Wolf,” percussion; Greg Lewis, Hammond B3 organ; Matthew Garrison, bass; Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet; Marla Feeney, violin/viola.

Deb Bowman opens this album with an original song titled, “Willow in the Wind.” It’s a pretty ballad and showcases her beautiful, soprano tones. This is followed by a delightful arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica” where Eric Lewis makes his piano sound like fluttering butterfly wings. It’s clear that Deb Bowman has surrounded her voice with amazingly talented musicians. Kenyatta Beasley takes a stellar trumpet solo. Bowman’s interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s famed “Butterfly” composition is noteworthy. I noticed her phrasing was very similar to Minnie Ripperton’s on several occasions. Not so much in range, but certainly in tone and the way she phrases the melodies. I offer this observation as a compliment. However, on the whole, Deb Bowman maintains her own vocal style and personality.

Music is not Ms. Bowman’s only talent. She is also a talented actress and has been presenting her own unique cabaret performances on the East Coast incorporating jazz, stories and her original compositions. For a while she visited over sixty countries with gigs on cruise ships. You may have seen Deb Bowman as part of the television cast of “Ugly Betty.” After that show concluded, Bowman moved down to Atlanta to be nearer her Alabama family. It was a positive move because TV, theater and a solid jazz scene were all available. This, her latest album, is dedicated to her sister, Patti, who passed away of ovarian cancer. Patti was enamored with butterflies and the teal-colored butterfly floating on the album cover happens to be a symbol of ovarian cancer awareness. Consequently, you will note a couple of songs referencing this Rhopalocera.

Deb Bowman captivates on the Edith Piaf and Louiguy standard, “La Vie En Rose,” performing it in French and spotlighting her cabaret-side. “Moody’s Mood for Love” brings us back to the jazzier side of her musical personality. The arrangement makes the song a platform for her own rendition of James Moody’s popular recording and shows off her vocal range. As a tribute to her move South and re-settling in Georgia from New York, she tackles the Ray Charles hit, “Georgia.” Deb Bowman has gospel roots and she brings this to the forefront on this popular tune, accompanied by Greg Lewis on the Hammond B3. I thought the mix on the organ was less than spectacular, but that’s a mix and mastering problem and has nothing to do with the vocalist. The Title tune, “Fast Heart,” sounds like something Shirley Bassey would have sung in a James Bond movie. I found the tunes on this project an unusual mix of repertoire, but Deb Bowman’s vocals shine like Christmas tinsel.
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Pablo Embon, piano/guitar/synthesizers/programmed drums and all other instruments/ composer/producer.

I have to admire someone who tackles the job of writing an entire album of music and then proceeds to play every instrument and produce the project themselves. The challenge in such a project is making the music ‘swing’ and ‘groove.’ I find Mr. Embon’s compositions to be melodic, but sometimes the bass line is strangely dissonant to the melodies and it neither roots the songs or embellishes them. Also, the music is missing the magic, camaraderie and inspiration that playing together with others can bring. This sounds more like a demo that would be used to introduce a band to original compositions and to the way the producer wants them played. There are many discordant notes and some of the endings stand unresolved. With no fades, they simply stop, as if someone turned off the electricity before we could hear the song’s ending. “I’m Still Here” is a more natural sounding production with a strong arrangement and Pablo Embon even takes a brief drum solo.

Born and raised in Argentina, Pablo Embon began to study and play piano and guitar when he was just seven-years-old. He is obviously talented and musically accomplished on many instruments. He has worked with a variety of bands and his music is diverse on this project, ranging from fusion to ballads. He includes some Latin and some smooth jazz sounding numbers like “Airborne” and the very funky, “NonStop.” Since relocating to Israel, Pablo Embon has concentrated on writing, recording and producing his own music entirely by himself. I think, with an independent producer and ‘live’ musicians, these songs could soar. He definitely has some good arrangement ideas and he is a prolific composer. However, sometimes you have to give up a little control of a project to get the very best out of your music.
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Eric Hofbauer, guitar/composer; Nate McBride, bass; Curt Newton, drums; Jerry Sabatini, trumpet; Jeb Bishop, trombone, Seth Meicht, tenor saxophone.

Eric Hofbauer has composed all five movements of this project and performs, along with his classic jazz-sextet, in front of a live studio audience. The “Book of Water” project is purposefully written in five parts. Hofbauer conceived this multi-part odyssey in 2016 with the concept of releasing five books in music album format. Each book will contain five movements or chapters. Hofbauer’s recording project relates to the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water. This is no Earth, Wind & Fire project, but instead is based on the Chinese philosophical ideas of the Wu Xing known as the “Five Agents.” Totally improvisational in nature, this project expects the listener to venture within and question interconnectedness, impermanence and other life meanings. Since this is the “Book of Water,” some of the movement titles reflect that premise.

They open with “Water Understands Civilization Well.” This opening tune is nearly ten-minutes long and energetic. “It Wets, It Chills” is nearly twelve minutes long and it begins with the guitar mirroring a dripping of water drops. Later, the horns enter in ballad-like-harmonies. Jerry Sabatini takes a pensive trumpet solo, as we journey into a meditative state. Nate McBride’s double bass is bowed with gravity and precision. The listener is invited to dive deeply into the tone of each instrument.

This is avant-garde jazz that features the freewheeling, improvisational, aesthetic that binds together this innovative ensemble’s sound. Recorded March 25, 2018, at Rotary Records in Massachusetts, there is a full-length video album available at:
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