Archive for September, 2019

CELEBRATING A FEMALE ARRANGER/COMPOSER, BLUE DAWN, LEGENDARY TRUMPETS & AN OTHER- WORLDLY DRUMMER

September 15, 2019

A TIME TO CELEBRATE A FEMALE ARRANGER/COMPOSER, BLUE DAWNS, LEGENDARY TRUMPETS AND AN OTHER-WORLDLY DRUMMER

By Dee Dee McNeil jazz journalist
Sept 15, 2019

LISA MAXWELL COMES TO TOWN: PUT OCTOBER 3RD ON YOUR CALENDAR

On Thursday, October 3rd, Catalina’s Jazz Club, in Los Angeles, will host composer/arranger Lisa Maxwell’s Jazz Orchestra and preview her “Shiny!” record release. As I began listening to Lisa Maxwell’s compositions on youtube.com, the first thing that I recognized is that her arrangements sound like movie scores. I discover I’m not too far off the mark. Lisa explained in her publicity sheet.

“My writing is heavily influenced by the TV themes of the 1970’s. They’re basically the foundation of my cultural identity. Great composers like Lalo Shiffrin, Henry Mancini, Neal Hefti and Earle Hagen underscored my life when I was growing up. I still get a tear in my eye when I listen to themes like ‘The Odd Couple’ and ‘The Bob Newhart Show.’ Like those composers, I have very definite ideas, but I write with the soloists in mind and give them freedom within the structure.”

Citing jazz great, Wayne Shorter, and the iconic arranger/composer, Gil Evans, as hugely important to her growth as a composer, Lisa Maxwell confesses to spending every available Monday night at New York’s “Sweet Basil” jazz club to hear Gil’s band perform. Quite a few of those legendary players are featured on her new album.

“I took a film scoring class at UCLA when I was seventeen and was hooked after I heard my charts played,” Lisa Maxwell explained. “Dick Grove was really my main mentor. He got me going as a writer. Then I won a Quincy Jones Arranging scholarship to Berklee College in Boston and wrote for the recording orchestra. I ended up getting some amazing gigs as a sax player, like with “Guns ‘n’ Roses”, on a Joni Mitchell Project and with Spinal Tap, but my calling is as a writer/arranger. … I often felt like I was the wrong sex, the wrong color and born at the wrong time, but I kept going for it.”

Inspired by her studies with Herb Pomeroy, who taught her Duke Ellington’s nuanced line-writing techniques, she dug into her craft. Maxwell was also inspired by trumpeter Ray Copeland, who taught her jazz arranging. Charlie Haden let her sit-in on his classes at Cal Arts in California and Lisa continued to pursue her dreams by attending the Manhattan School of Music where she studied saxophone with Joe Allard. But it was her close relationship to her dear friend, Lew Soloff, that inspired this current project. He constantly encouraged her to record her original compositions and to arrange the entire project herself. Soloff was a longtime member of the Manhattan jazz Quintet and the Mingus Big Band. He was one of the ‘regulars’ in Gil Evan’s orchestra. Most importantly, Soloff believed in the talents of Lisa Maxwell. Then, in 2015, the popular jazz trumpeter, Lew Soloff, suddenly died.

“When Lew died, I realized I had to stop thinking about it and get it done!” Lisa shared.

This Los Angeles native has spent dedicated years honing her skills and natural, creative abilities. Some of that time was spent in Los Angeles and some years were spent in Boston and New York City. Currently residing in Manhattan, Maxwell’s original music has been licensed by numerous TV series and she’s orchestrated music for Warner Brothers and a number of television shows. You may have heard her music on Sons of Anarchy, person of Interest, Dexter, Burn Notice, Four Weddings, Gravity,and she was orchestrator on all fifty-two episode of the Histeria! TV series.

It’s fabulous to see a talented female excel in the field of composition, arranging and film scoring. She and her all-star orchestra are bound to please you at their one night-only performance on Thursday, October 3, 2019. First show starts promptly at 8:30pm. Be there.

http://www.catalinajazzclub.com

WEB TICKETS: https://www.ticketweb.com/event/shiny-lisa-maxwells-jazz-orchestracatalina-bar-grill-tickets/9788725?pl=cbg
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LOUIS ARMSTRONG – “LIVE IN EUROPE” Dot Time Legends Recording

FRANCE LINE-UP: Louis Armstrong,trumpet/vocals;Jack Teagarden, trombone/vocals; Barney Bigard,clarinet; Earl Hines,piano; Arvell Shaw, bass; Sid Catlett,drums. GERMANY LINE-UP: Louis Armstrong, trumpet,vocals; Trummy young,trombone; Bob McCracken,clarinet/vocals; Marty Napoleon,piano; Arvell Shaw,bass; Cozy Cole,drums.

Imagine, stepping into a magical transformer and being whisked back in time. For a minute, just pretend you have entered a time machine. Moments later,you are sitting in a small jazz club in New Orleans. It’s 1946,and just mere feet away from your table,a young man, destined to become a living legend, is blowing his horn. Others on the scene are Jack Teagarden on trombone and Barney Bigard on clarinet. Crouched over the piano keys is Earl “Fatha” Hines. Arvell Shaw stands tall next to his double bass and Cozy Cole is slapping the trap drums. The leader, standing center stage in a dark suit and bow tie, is Louis Armstrong. The ensemble is performing together in preparation for a European tour.

It appears that eventual tour was recorded on February 22 – 23, 1948 during the Nice International Jazz Festival. It was recorded live at the famed Nice Opera House and also at the Titania Palast in Berlin, Germany. The group of musicians varies. Velma Middleton is featured, along with Louie, on vocals. Sometimes the dynamic Sid Catlett is the drummer and other times, it’s Cozy Cole. Earl Hines is the pianist in France and Marty Napoleon plays piano in Germany. But the steadfast trumpeter and star of this live production is Louis Armstrong.

This recording is part of Dot Time’s Legacy Series and these treasured tracks were recovered in forgotten, European archives of a live performance of Louie Armstrong and his All Stars in both Nice, France and later, in Germany, during a Berlin recorded broadcast on RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) files.

On the bluesy presentation of “Rockin’ Chair,” Jack Teagarden lends his smooth vocals to the mix, with Armstrong playfully answering him in his signature vocal style and adding a bit of comic relief during their duet. One thing I always admired about Louis Armstrong, (other than his amazing musical agility on his trumpet) was his penchant for entertaining. Sometimes musicians play only for themselves and each other, forgetting about the audience or having the attitude you can love it or leave it. Louie Armstrong knew that singing was a strong audience pleaser and always included this in his shows, as well as adding comedy relief. Louis Armstrong understood the importance of entertaining. The story goes that Armstrong’s manager at the time, Joe Glaser, told him before his European tour not to sing. He said they were all foreigners and didn’t speak any English. Armstrong nodded gravely, but as you hear, he paid absolutely no attention to Glaser’s instruction not to sing. In his own way, he was a serious activist, using music as his catalyst. He opened every concert singing Fats Waller’s poignant “Black and Blue” composition. It reflected the racism in America and always was received with marvelous applause and appreciation. You will hear his performance of that song on this album, along with the popular, “Sunny Side of the Street.”

He scats his way through “Them There Eyes,” as only Louie could do and I was intrigued with the blues song, “My Bucket Got a Hole In It,” featuring the boogie-woogie bass line I used to hear my own father play on our upright piano. Louis Armstrong then pays homage to his roots on “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” and on “Mahogany Hall Stomp” the band has an on-stage jam session with Arvell Shaw making a strong statement on his bass and Barney Bigard swinging his clarinet solo boldly into the audience. Closing with “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” Louis Armstrong leaves us a message from beyond and a promise, like a blown kiss, that love crosses all boundaries the same way great music does.
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WALLACE RONEY – BLUE DAWN – BLUE NIGHTS Highnote Records

Wallace Roney,trumpet; Emilio Modeste,tenor & soprano saxophones; Oscar Williams II, piano; Paul Cuffari,bass; Lenny White & Kojo Odu Roney,drums; Quinton Zoto, guitar.

Wallace Roney has the tone and beautiful execution on his trumpet that makes me want to bow my head and pray. I am especially taken by his interpretation of “Why Should There Be Stars,” a lovely ballad and the second tune on his stellar new album.

“Bookendz” opens his CD and it’s powerfully played by two drums: Lenny White’s funk-drums, along with Kojo Odu Roney adding his percussive licks. Oscar Williams II offers in-your-face piano brilliance. Wallace Roney recalled the first time he heard Oscar Williams II play.

“He had beautiful touch and a scope of understanding. He was shy, but I could hear that innovative spirit in him – that’s why I hired him,” Wallace Roney confessed.

The ensemble’s rhythm section magic sets the stage for Roney’s impeccable trumpet solos. Emilio Modeste not only soars on soprano saxophone, fluttering like a bird during his solo, but adds harmonic flavor with Roney as an integral part of their duo horn section. This tune introduces the players in a bright, boisterous way. I was so moved by the production on these two songs that I had to rewind and play them twice before continuing. Roney’s music can have that effect on you. His talent demands attention and sparkles under the microscope of our ear-investigation.

“Wolfbane,” a Lenny White composition, gives White an opportunity to take the percussive reins and ride his trap drums dynamically across this production, inspiring a strong, walking bass by Paul Cuffari. His bass dances along, beneath the music, in a very creative way. Quintin Zoto adds rhythm guitar to this straight ahead, take-no-prisoners tune and the rhythm section pushes the pulse, creating a stage for the horns to showcase their splendor.

“My music is uncompromising, so I look for musicians who have an expansive understanding of what’s possible and who have the ability to play above that; but who are always cognizant of what’s going on around them. I tell them to be true to who you are. Go all the way in, learn every part of what the masters have done, but let it come out ‘you’.”

All I can say is, mission accomplished!
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JASON HARNELL – “TOTAL HARNAGE” – AN OTHER-WORLDLY DRUMMER f.Boo Music

Jason Harnell, drums/vocals/synthesizer/loops/vocal percussion/comedian/ unimaginable creativity.

I have always been fascinated by drummers. They use every muscle in their bodies and practically all their limbs. They synchronize those bones, ligaments and muscles to orchestrate rhythm; to hold a group together like super glue and to inspire the listener to groove, move, dance, finger pop and enjoy the music. Drummers are a special breed of musician. That being said, Jason Harnell brings something totally fresh to this album of percussive music. Based on drum solos that he performs, Harnell adds spoken word monologues to his spontaneity. He blends in his singing abilities, harmonizing with himself and creating moods and melodies. I am reminded of the artistic and unexpected talents of Bobby McFerrin on his opening cut, “Trance” and on the fourth track titled, “Lullaby.” Jason Harnell sings all the parts over his singing drums. Harnell unapologetically displays multi-talents. His album cover portrays a character that could represent, “Captain Amazing Saves the World” the title of Harnell’s fifth track. The cartoonish figure, with Harnell’s head perched atop a bulging, muscle-toned, cartoon body in a superman-type-suit, is standing on a pile of drums. Jason Harnell describes in his monologue, a musical, jazz, super hero. A super hero who has powers to play and improvise beautiful music anytime and anywhere. However, that super hero “…could not fry an egg, or change a tire; couldn’t type or use on-line banking.” I laugh out loud! Obviously, Jason Harnell has a vivid sense of humor. I think cut #5 explains the man himself.

At six years old, after Jason Harnell played a fifteen-minute drum solo for the legendary drummer, Louie Bellson. Bellson was so impressed that he replaced the child’s toy drum kit with his own. Thus, began Jason Harnell’s search for perfection and musical, rhythmic clarity. He did all the things developing jazz musicians do. He practiced, played gigs, inter-acted with his peers and made political moves to enhance his climb to fame. The idea of presenting a solo drum show never entered his mind until a bartender/manager of the Oyster House Saloon in Studio City, California suggested he do just that. The inspired manager wanted to book Harnell as a solo act. Thus, the Jason Harnell Solo Drum Experience was conceived.

In both his live shows and on this production, Jason Harnell incorporates recorded loops, applied effects, spoken word stories and descriptive monologues, while playing his drums. He sings and harmonizes with himself. His vocals are palatable and husky. He pulls inspiration from comics and films. For example, Jason incorporates the ‘Quint the shark hunter’s’ speech from the “Jaws” movie into his drum song on his tune, “Bad Fish.”

Without a doubt, this is a unique production, inclusive of vocal percussive scatting. Harnell presents original arrangements of familiar songs like “Moon River” and “When You’re Smiling” and he’s obviously an expert on trap drums. One minute he’s Bobby McFerrin, the next he’s Elvin Jones, and then he’s Al Jarreau. The next second, he’s a Hollywood actor delivering a monologue, always accompanied by his incredible drum solos. Then, he surprises us when he sings something as pensive and sweet as “Sara Song.”

Born of a prominent musical family, his father, Joe Harnell, was a Grammy winning composer and arranger. Perhaps young Jason was tutored early on to improvise his way through life and to be unafraid to push the walls of the boxes that surround us. He is an artist unafraid to reinvent his music and himself; to use his imagination and creativity to embellish his life and his audiences. Jason Harnell shows us that he is a free spirit, brilliant percussionist, talented singer, and a totally adventurous character. If you want to experience something completely unique and unexpected, “Total Harnage” is the CD you will want to pop into your player. Then, fasten your seat belt!
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NOAH PREMINGER GROUP – “ZIGSAW: MUSIC OF STEVE LAMPERT” Independent Label

Noah Preminger,tenor saxophone;Jason Palmer,trumpet; John O’Gallagher,alto saxophone; Kris Davis,piano; Rob Schwimmer,Haken Continuum/clavinet; Kim Cass,bass; Rudy Royston,drums.

Steve Lampert is a trumpeter who has composed all the music for this project.

“Steve is absolutely brilliant,”Preminger says of the artist whose recording resumé includes five of his own albums as a leader.

“I met Steve Lampert at a gig in Greenwich Village around 2010 and we immediately struck up a deep friendship. Steve has shown me a lot about life; the way he says things just makes sense to me. Listening to and recording his music has given me a fuller perspective on the relationship between improvisation and composition, deepening the richness of my musical palette.”

“Zigsaw” is a suite of music and a metaphor for dreams that Noah Preminger experienced. In the eyes of the musicians, in the charts they read and the concept they perpetrate, Noah Preminger’s Group conceives this suite as divided into twelve main sections. Each represent a cycle of events. On the disc, you will see no division at all. The number ‘One’ glows on the CD player, as if we are on the first track for nearly an hour.

This is contemporary exploration by Noah Preminger on his tenor saxophone, endeavoring to catch his dreams and pin them, like living butterflies, on a board of velvet. You can visualize their fluttering wings spread open and straining for freedom, the way Preminger’s horn does. Steve Lampert encourages that freedom in the members of the Noah Preminger Group.

“For all my projects, I write a kind of musical virtual reality within which instrumentalists can react to the piece and with each other. I want them to be who they are as improvisers, to not tie their hands in any way, to put them in a strange new world and have them do their thing,”Steve Lampert explains his composition as it relates to the Noah Preminger musicians.

Noah Preminger hired pianist and keyboardist, Rob Schwimmer, as a wild card. Schwimmer brings a futuristic fingerboard into the project, playing the Haken Continuum, an instrument that creates more atmospheric revelations and offers unusual improvisations. This unique instrument provides a sonic element to the production. One that acoustic instruments could not have singularly captured.

Noah is the distant cousin of film director Otto Preminger and this is his fourteenth album release. In fact, he released a CD titled, “Preminger Plays Preminger” where he interpreted and wrote music associated with the films of his distant cousin. That album was released on the French, vinyl-only label, Newvelle Records. It featured Jason Moran on piano, Kim Cass on bass and drummer, Marcus Gilmore. Noah Preminger is known for pushing musical boundaries. He has garnered the DownBeat magazine’s Rising Star Best Tenor Saxophonist title and was hailed by the Boston Globe as “a master with standards and ballads, as well as an adventurous composer.” I’m certain this will be another contemporary, modern jazz album of Avant-garde music that will become an additional notch in his saxophone belt.


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CHRIS PASIN – “ORNETTIQUETTE” Planet Arts

Chris Pasin,trumpet/composer; Karl Berger,vibraphone/piano; Ingrid Serso, vocals; Harvey Sorgen,drums; Michael Bisio,bass; Adam Siegel,alto saxophone.

Jazz trumpeter,Chris Pasin, uses a host of excellent musicians to celebrate Pulitzer Prize winner and Jazz master, Ornette Coleman and his long-time collaborator, Don Cherry. Pasin’s opening tune is self-penned and titled, “OCDC.” It introduces us to each player in his ensemble, as they race to the tempo and improvise, sweeping across space with their solo efforts. Harvey Sorgen’s rolling trap drums keep the propulsive momentum steady and Sorgen is consistently creative. Michael Bisio takes an extended bass solo, with Sorgen highlighting the bass player’s step into the spotlight. Chris Pasin speaks fluidly on his trumpet and Adam Siegel answers on his alto saxophone. The tune, “Jayne” follows and is an Ornette Coleman composition. Pasin has arranged it as a smooth Latin groove with Karl Berger’s vibraphone dotting the production,like exclamation marks throughout the production. It’s a nice touch. Chris Pasin makes himself heard, soloing over the tight rhythm section, his tone both melodic and innovative. Enter Siegel on his alto saxophone, spewing creativity like confetti. This is a well-paced and exciting recording that has chosen five of Ornette’s compositions to ‘cover’ with a blanket of beauty and warm inventiveness. Pasin comfortably shares his stage with each individual ensemble player, but definitely shines on his own horn conversations. This reviewer enjoyed this production, but I was not impressed with the vocalist, whose amateur singing took away from these masterful musicians.

Chris Pasin, a master of both classical and jazz trumpet, has been an Ornette fan sense his teenaged years. He explained in his liner notes:

“I became acquainted with the music of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Albert Ayler as a teenager and played along with their records. … It was not until a couple of years ago that the idea of a band playing the music inspired by these heroes occurred to me, thus engendering Ornettiquette.”

This album marks the second collaboration between Pasin and producer, Patricia Dalton Fennell for Planet Arts records. Although it was released in winter of 2018, it is such an exquisite tribute to Ornette and Don Cherry, and so well played, that I had to include it in my article that celebrates ‘legendary trumpeters.’ Chris Pasin’s work certainly falls into that category.


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BEBOP BEAUTY & NEW ARTISTS WHO PERPETUATE THE JAZZ STANDARD

September 3, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

Sept 3, 2019

STRANAHAN, ZALESKI, ROSATO – “LIVE AT JAZZ STANDARD” Capri Records

Colin Stranahan,drums; Glenn Zaleski,piano; Rick Rosato,bass.

Enter drummer,Colin Stranahan, as he percussively sings the introduction to Glenn Zaleski’s original song, “Forecast.” It’s a straight-ahead, bebop tune penned by the pianist and properly introduced on Stranahan’s Canupus drums and Zildjian cymbals. He locks horns with Rick Rosato on double bass, using a flurry of drum sticks to tag a tempestuous walking bass. They make my ears perk up and snatch my attention. It’s a percussive love affair. By the time Glenn Zaleski enters on piano, I am already infatuated with this music. Here is a trio that has been performing together for over a decade. The richness and excitement in their music comes from their common chemistry, familiarity and shared talent. Each one brings his own mastery to the stage of “Live at Jazz Standard” in New York City.

“There was a lot of time between our second and third records when we all got busier as sidemen. But our chemistry only deepened. … As we grew, we were gathering professional experience and I think that has definitely seasoned our chemistry together,” Zaleski explains in the liner notes.

During this ‘Live’ presentation, you will be on the edge of your seat and thoroughly entertained, as though you are one of the enthusiastic audience members at New York City’s famed jazz club. All three members contribute compositions. The only standard they play is “All the Things You Are,” and that’s always a jazz crowd-pleaser.

“This trio really feels like home for me,” Rosato says. “We’ve gotten to know each other on a very deep level, both musically and personally.”

In 2010, this trio began their musical journey together performing a weekend of unforgettable jazz in Rick Rosato’s native Montreal,Canada. Shortly after,they went to Denver,Colorado (Colin’s hometown) and recorded their first album titled, “Anticipation.” In 2013, they followed this up with another recording called, “Limitless.” Working separately as busy sidemen with a slew of recognizable jazz giants, the trio split into different, individual directions. So, eight years later, this is a homecoming of sorts. A culmination of experiences, growth and a strong desire to bring their music back to familiar roots. Together,they blossom.

“We just sensed a connection and playing together felt so effortless. The music was just flowing out of us. Since then, I’ve felt that way every time we’ve played together. The friendships and the music have only gotten stronger, and that’s a unique situation,” Stranahan shares.

So, grab a cocktail, a coffee or a smoothie; prop yourself up in your favorite easy chair, and enjoy this hour-long concert of exquisite beauty, creative compositions and resolute talent.
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JELENA JOVOVIC – “HEARTBEAT” Universal Music Group

Jelena Jovovic, vocals/composer; Vasil Hadzimanov, piano/Fender Rhodes; Milan Nikolic, double & Electric bass; Vladimir Kostadinovic & Dusan Novakov, drums; Rastko Obradovic, tenor & soprano saxophones; Strahinja Banovic & Stjepko Gut, trumpets; Milos Nikolic, trumpet/trombone; Branko Trijic, guitar; Milos Branisavljevic, vibraphone; Tom Fedja Franklin & Bojan Ivkovic, percussion; Srdjan Markovic, Ivana Vukmirovic & Ilija Mihailovic, background vocals; Oleg Kireyev, tatar throat singing.

A beautiful poem opens this recording. Jelena Jovovic performs spoken work, then follows this by adding lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s tune, “Witch Hunt.” Her voice is a sweet tonal force. For effect, she multi-layers vocal harmonies intermittently throughout her arrangement. Rastko Obradovic adds a soulful solo on tenor saxophone and Jelena’s entrancing voice recites poetry over Milan Nikolic’s bass expressions. This is an interesting opening to a very creative and unique project, where the story of an oak tree becomes a symbol of strength, endurance, wisdom and the power of life. This music is born and bred in Belgrade, (a bustling city in the former Yugoslavia). This city and its people know about resilience and strength. They survived a war of ethnic cleansing.

Jelena Jovovic is a composer and lyricist. For her second song, she has used the influence of an old folk song she heard as a child, transforming it into “Paladin” as a reminder to never, ever fear. This composition is a pretty ballad. On tune #3, I enjoy the Tatar throat singing of Oleg Kireyev. I first heard this type of growling inspiration when I was performing in Thailand years ago and ran into a group of Russian musicians whose group featured throat singing. Their sound was captivating. It‘s an unforgettable experience. Once you hear this imitable sound, you will never forget it. Along with throat singing, Jovovic and her band of musicians have created an arrangement that sounds like Horace Silver meets Chaka Khan. They add a bluesy piano by Vasil Hadzimanov and Jelena shows us that she can scat with the best of them, adding vocal harmonies with the horns. Beneath the entire production, Vladimir Kostadinovic plays exciting drum. “The Countless Stars” is one of this reviewer’s favorite songs.

Another enchanting song is the title tune, “Heartbeat” with its intoxicating melody and repeatable refrain. Jelena Jovovic has a vocal instrument that is powerful and stylized. She has a voice you will remember, and that’s one of the finer points of becoming a true artist; when you have a style and tone that is all your own. Her lyrics are often more prose than rhymes and her melodies often challenge the norm, like “Bubu’s Song” that swings hard and shows us that Jelena Jovovic is a jazz diva, as well as an adept composer. On this song she applies the tone and techniques of master scat vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan. The song, “Little Freddie Steps” reminds me of a combination of Eddie Harris, Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Jefferson, rolled into one funky composition. Strahinja Banovic soars on his trumpet. This entire production shows us the transformative effect that jazz music has on all people, spanning continents and splashing across oceans, to inspire art and freedom in world class talents like Jelena Jovovic and her ensemble.
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RAY BLUE –“WORK” Jazzhead Records

Ray Blue, tenor saxophone/composer; Ron Wilkins, trombone; Neil Clark, Percussion; Steve Johns,drums; Essiet Okon Essiet & Belden Bullock,bass; Jeff Barone,guitar; Sharp Radway, Kirk Lightsey & Benito Gonzalez,piano.

Ray blue’s saxophone work is as infectious as his beaming smile on the cover of his newly released album of ‘Work.’ He opens with an original song and the title tune, that appears to be based loosely on the changes to “My Way.” These musicians like to swing hard and straight ahead they go. The Negro National Anthem, “Life Every Voice and Sing,” follows. It’s performed at a speedy tempo with gusto and pride. Ray Blue is a very melodic composer and he’s smooth as velvet on his horn. The tune he calls, “My Friend and I Took A Walk,” is a pretty ballad. Benito Gonzalez has a light, but thoroughly effective touch on the piano. His brief solo is tender and emotional. Ray Blue adds funk to the program with Nat Adderly’s swinging song, “Sweet Emma.” This entire production offers an assortment of familiar jazz tunes, with the addition of three original songs by the leader. This is an entertaining hour and four minutes of excellent jazz. Ray Blue’s smooth tenor saxophone interpretations are consistently pleasing to the ear. He has also surrounded himself with some of the best East Coast jazz musicians available, including pianist Kirk Lightsey, who makes a guest appearance on the very bluesy presentation of “Teach Me Tonight” and on the closing tune, “That’s All” that features Ray blue and Lightsey as an effective duo. Bassist Essiet Essiet in another stellar player on bass. Other favorite tunes are “Everything Happens to Me” which wears a refreshed face as a swing arrangement rather than the normal ballad presentation. Norah Jone’s composition, “Don’t Know Why” also swings hard as does Jimmy Smith’s “Mellow Mood” and pop standard, “Our Day Will Come.” I plan on keeping this CD in my car so I can listen often.
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ORICE JENKINS – “CENTENNIAL COLE” (THE MUSIC OF NAT KING COLE) Truth Revolution Recording Collective

Orice Jenkins,vocals/arranger/finger snaps/piano/ Wurlitzer/Rhodes/acoustic guitar; Zaccai Curtis,piano; Matt Dwonszyk,double bass; Frank Brocklehurst,acoustic & elec. Bass; Susan Mazer,elec. guitar; Chuck Petersen & Jocelyn Pleasant,drums; Alvin Carter Jr., Djembe; Allan Ballinger, cello; Kevin Bishop, viola; Aaron Packard & Annie Trepanier, violins. (The Hartford String Quartet under the direction of Cuatro Puntos.)

His voice is butter. It comes on the scene smoothly, without accompaniment except for finger snaps. Orice Jenkins is a ‘Capella-beautiful on the opening tune of “Let There Be Love.” Enter string players on “Mona Lisa” in a staccato dance beneath Jenkins’ strong baritone vocals. At first, it’s a gripping and unexpected arrangement. But it soon becomes annoying to my ear. The repetitive strings, punching a background for this classic tune, takes away from the beauty of the song’s melody, as well as the beauty of Jenkins’ voice. I am disappointed. In my opinion, a smooth transition to legato lines from the punchy staccato would have enhanced this production. In contrast, the string arrangement on “Nature Boy” is stunning. The addition of Alvin Carter Jr.’s djembe instrument gives this production an unexpected world music slant.

Orice Jenkins is multi-talented. Not only does he have a lovely voice and tone, he also plays piano and guitar on this project. As a composer, he contributes an original tune titled, “Birmingham.” This protest song recounts an incident occurring in Alabama city, in 1956, when Nat King Cole was assaulted and the Ku Klux Klan attempted to kidnap him from the stage.

Orice Jenkins accompanies himself on the grand piano when singing “Stardust.” The strings return on “Blame It on My Youth.” The rich contrast of his beautiful baritone against the chamber music is striking. I was happy to hear him pick up the pace and swing “The Very thought of You” tune, featuring Jocelyn Pleasant on drums. Jenkins is an adventuresome arranger and vocalist. This recording presents an unusual concept, with his voice floating like cream atop the milky sting arrangements. It’s quite experimental. However,I think that sometimes an artist has to step away and let a producer take the reins in the studio. I don’t see a producer listed, so I am assuming that Orice Jenkins produced this tribute to Nat King Cole himself. March 17, 2019 marked what would have been Nat King Cole’s 100th birthday. Mr. Jenkins does an adequate job of paying homage to the legendary Nat King Cole, in his own inimitable way.
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CHRISTOPHER HOLLYDAY – “TELEPATHY” Jazzbeat Productions

Christopher Hollyday,alto saxophone: Gilbert Castellanos,trumpet; Joshua White, piano;Rob Thorsen,bass; Tyler Kreutel,drums.

If you are a die-hard, straight-ahead jazz fan, this first composition by Freddie Hubbard will satisfy your soul. Christopher Hollyday leaps into this project with exuberant and serious chops on his alto saxophone. He doesn’t stop there. On the 2nd cut, “Hallucinations” (a Bud Powell composition) Hollyday and Gilbert Castellanos, on trumpet, keep the bebop going strong. This album was cut in San Diego, California, but it sounds more like New York City energy.

“Gilbert and I have a connection. When we play, we don’t need to talk. That’s why I named the album” Telepathy,” Christopher Hollyday affirms.

I wondered why I hadn’t heard Hollyday’s name on the West Coast music scene. He’s certainly an amazing and gifted reedman with a tone and style that’s all his own. Then I read the liner notes. It appears that he was somewhat of a super-star over three decades ago. His major debut on the RCA/Novus label featured a young man with tremendous talent on the saxophone headlining an all-star group of masters including Wallace Roney on trumpet, Cedar Walton on piano, David Williams on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. After that smashing debut album, he recorded three more works of art. But like a lot of musicians with admirable gifts and talked-about potential, he suddenly found himself floundering around the East Coast Boston Bebop scene, with no record deal offers and a smattering of gigs. Without a manager, a booking agent or the drive to do it himself, his shooting star plunged. Love and marriage followed. Hollyday relocated to San Diego’s North County with his bride and became an educator for the next twenty-some years, providing for his family and letting his music career sit on a shelf next to his 1989 record albums.

Lucky for us, one recent morning Christopher Hollyday woke up and decided to record another album. On this project you will hear his wonderful interpretations of “Everything Happens to Me,” “Autumn in New York,” the familiar Harold Arlen gem, “I’ve Got the World on A String” and Charlie Parker’s tune, “Segment,” played at a racing pace and showcasing his strong rhythm section. Christopher Hollyday flies on this tune, like a caged bird suddenly set free. I always enjoy hearing Gilbert Castellanos’ smooth trumpet sound. He and Hollyday work well together. Joshua white’s fingers dance across the keys, swift as humming bird wings. Rob Thorsen’s bass pumps relentlessly, locked into the rhythm of Tyler Kreutel’s drums. I wish both of those musicians had taken a solo on this speedy arrangement. But, never mind. You will still enjoy and experience the camaraderie of these musicians that radiates throughout their production in support of Christopher Hollyday’s terrific talent. The joy is palpable. Welcome back, Christopher Hollyday. We’ve been waiting for you.


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CHASE BAIRD – “A LIFE BETWEEN” SoundsAbound Records

Chase Baird,saxophone/composer/producer; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Brad Mehldau,piano; Nir Felder,guitar; Dan Chmielinski,bass.

From the modern, contemporary art CD cover to the contemporary jazz music on disc, Chase Baird uses his composer credentials and saxophone talent to present “A Life Between.” The introduction to his tune, “Ripcord” sounds like rock music, but soon morphs into jazz. Baird admits in the liner notes, “I really want to be in Radiohead, but how can I be a saxophonist and do that?”

He has created an album of work that encompasses the challenges of facing New York City with young, musical dreams and working through tough times. He strived to cultivate romanticism inside himself during moments of serious doubt and with no gigs in sight. In between school and practice, He baked pies, washed dishes, detailed cars, and out of his struggle came compositions that are tinged with romance and friction; a place hoovering between love and work. Cut #2 is warmer, more melodic and a ballad with busy drums, played artistically by Antonio Sanchez, dancing beneath the tenderness. It’s a nice contrast affect with the trap drums pounding and busy, while Baird’s beautiful saxophone sounds tell a more tender story. Once again, we are caught in the in-between. “As You Are” is the title of the tune and is distinctively more Coltrane-ish. I enjoy Nir Felder’s smooth guitar solo. “Reactor” starts out sounding like an R&B tune, then quickly transforms with a horn line that moves the composition into funk jazz. The rhythm section conjures up an arrangement that reminds me of an American Indian celebration. Chase Baird knows how to combine cultures, styles and sounds in a delicious way. The sweet, staccato punch of the piano, the bass runs and the rhythm guitar create a trampoline of sound for Chase Baird’s horn to bounce upon. It’s not long before Nir Felder takes his guitar solo way outside ‘the box’ and heads for the stratosphere. Even as a graduate of Julliard, with his degree tucked into his sock drawer and printed on Baird’s impressive bio, it hasn’t been easy. From Utah roots, to gigs in Los Angeles, hungry dreams and repetitive insecurities led this musician East and to the outer limits of himself. The thing about music is you have to find your own path, rake it smooth and cement your own destiny in place.

“…just playing, interacting, opening up, stretching out, getting to that place. So, I wanted to write songs more as vehicles for group improvisation. Let the band get a vibe and take off. I like playing with people; where there’s some grit,” Chase Baird explains the concept of “A Life Between”.

“I want people I can go to war with. Having a balance is important. Dan (Chmielinski) brings a lighter energy as a human being. You kind of need someone who’s happy. You need someone who’s darker too; artistically darker. You need different ingredients that can breed tension. While planning this recording session, Dan said to me, why not call Brad? Brad had cut three tracks on one of Antonio’s records in 2015. I trust Antonio (Sanchez) and Brad was one of my heroes. I had played with Nir before. Nir was someone I always looked up to. He’s the whole package. We all rehearsed once, the day before this session.”

With his team in place, loaded and ready for battle, Chase Baird passed out his charts and took the giant step into a studio space. He challenged his horn, and his musical friends, to constellate a sparkling, musical dream. His compositions inspire, and together, they bring intangible determination and outstanding talent to push the boundaries of creativity and freedom.
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HARUNA FUKAZAWA – “DEPARTURE” Summit Records

Haruna Fukazawa,flute/alto flute; Steve Wilson,soprano saxophone/flute; David Demotta,piano; Bill Moring,bass; Steve Johns,drums.

From the first original song by Ms. Fukazawa titled, “Contact” I am intrigued with the ‘swing,’ the melody, the arrangement and her excellence on flute. I appreciate her arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Juicy Lucy.” Once again, her band swings and David Demotta’s piano solo is flush with blues. It’s obvious that Haruna Fukazawa enjoys swinging the music. On “I Wish You Love” she continues with her happy-go-lucky presentation. Bill Moring is terrific on his walking bass, skipping beneath her flute solo and locking in with Steve Johns on drums. Ms. Fukazawa also has a neat way of harmonizing with Steve Wilson’s saxophone and placing the duo reed parts in all the right places to accentuate her bright, arrangements and to ensorcell our ears. She gives the pianist a time to shine on “Bassi Blues” with a pounding piano that enriches the arrangement in a pronounced way and snatches any drifting attention to her flute-driven melody. This is obviously a tribute to Count Basie, with the mondegreen of Basie becoming Bassi, within the title of her song. Steve Johns takes a fluid and powerful solo on trap drums and half-way through the tune the trio doubles the time and flies free. This entire buffo production is delightful and each musician displays their artistic excellence in unforgettable ways. Her choice of repertoire shines, with beautiful compositions like Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” and Sammy Fain & Bob Williard’s “Alice In Wonderland.” Without doubt, Haruna is a noteworthy composer/arranger and she brings joy to her project with her flautist mastery, excitement and spontaneous energy. This is an album of music to enjoy again and again, over time.
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JOHN YAO – “TRICERATOPS – HOW WE DO” See Tao Recordings

John Yao, trombone/composer; Billy Drewes,soprano/alto saxophones; Jon Irabagon, tenor saxophone; Peter Brendler,bass; Mark Ferber,drums.

Drummer, Mark Ferber, along with horns, soak up the spotlight on the first tune. Peter Brendler walks his double bass beneath their excellent energy as they set the fast-moving pace. Thus, they become the musical curtains for John Yao to walk through on his trombone. These arrangements by composer Yao, are both challenging and inspired. For over a decade, he’s been honing his talents as a trombonist, a composer and arranger. He’s released two albums with his Quintet and one with his 17-piece big band. In New York, John Yao has worked extensively with the Vanguard Jazz orchestra, Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin jazz Orchestra and accompanied Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, Danilo Perez, Chris Potter and Kurt Elling. He’s staff arranger for the JMI Jazz World Orchestra and his talents were commissioned by the Afro-Latin jazz Orchestra. Aside from that kind of scheduled appearance calendar, he manages to be Adjunct Faculty at Molloy College and Queens College. But this project is fresh and new.

“In any arranging class, you’ll learn that three horns is the hardest combination to work with in achieving a full sound,” Yao explains. “If you just had one more voice, you could fill out the harmony more clearly. But with three, you’re constantly boxed into corners, so that was a huge challenge orchestrationally. Especially, with this group, because there’s no piano or guitar. But I like to set up boundaries for myself to cross. Maybe I just like to make my life miserable, but the idea is to try to grow as a musician and push my limits.”

This production certainly pushes the limits of both creativity and talent. Both Jon Irabagon on tenor and Billy Drewes, bouncing from soprano to alto saxophones, add polish and excitement to each solo and shine on the horn harmonies. The group is obviously propelled by the vigorous rhythm excellence of both Peter Brendler on bass and drummer Mark Ferber. Ferber’s drum skills shine on the second cut, “Triceratops Blues,” with Yao’s smoothly arranged horn lines punching the harmonies and stitching the tune together like a master tailor. Triceratops is the name of a huge dinosaur that once walked this earth. This is a contemporary jazz project of immense character, featuring saxophones and trombone as the frontline and exhibiting skillful arrangements on the eight songs John Yao has composed. He manages to succeed in juggling the triangular horn act, while smoothly entertaining our ears like a persuasive circus barker. We are hypnotically drawn into his music, eager to hear what comes next.


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