NEW MUSIC SPOTLIGHTING GLORIOUS GUITARS & VOCAL SONGBIRDS

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
Aug 1, 2019

LARRY KOONSE – “NEW JAZZ STANDARDS, VOL 4.” Summit Records

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 – “WATCHING THE DETECTIVES -GUITAR NOIR III” Free Will Records

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 – “SCARY BEAUTIFUL” Independent Label

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 – “CONFESSIONS” Mack Ave Records

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.
https://www.veronicaswift.com/

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CLARK GIBSON – “TRI-COLORED EYES” Independent label

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 – “REMINISCENT MOODS” Independent Label

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 – “ERIC HOFBAUER’S FIVE AGENTS BOOK OF WATER” Creative Nation Music

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: erichofbauer.bandcamp.com.
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