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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