JAZZ: A BLEND OF INNOVATION, TRADITION AND EVER CHANGING POSSIBILITIES

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
AUGUST 11, 2019

LUKE GILLESPIE – “MOVING MISTS” Patois Records

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 – “SONERO: THE MUSIC OF ISMAEL RIVERA” Miel Music

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 – “DREAM A LITTLE DREAM” Independent Label

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 CHAMBER QUARTET – “RADIOTANGO” featuring HECTOR DEL CURTO, JISOO OK, PEDRO GIRAUDO Zoho Records

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 – “THOUGHTS BECOME THINGS” Blue Room Music

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 QUARTET – “GETTING’ IT THERE” featuring DONALD VEGA, BILLY DRUMMOND, JED LEVY – Independent Label

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 –“I REMEMBER YOU: THE MUSIC OF NAT KING COLE” Right Groove Records

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 – “MY OTHER VOICE” Miles High Records

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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