Archive for September, 2019


September 29, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

SEPT 29, 2019


Caleb Rumley, trombone/conductor/arranger/co-founder; Phil Engsberg, soprano & alto saxophones/arranger/composer/co-founder;Charlie Dougherty,bass/composer/ arranger/co-founder;Ryan Tomski,pianist/co-founder;SAXOPHONES: Nick Brust,soprano/alto; Matt Tischio & Dane Alexander, tenor; Sam Tobias,baritone sax/flute/piccolo;TRUMPETS: Mike Spengler,lead; Chris Rogers,Ben Hankle,Rich Polatcheck;TROMBONES: Adam Machaskee,lead;Stephen Justice,Collin Banks,Tim newman,bass trombone;RHYTHM: Arath Corral,guitar; Will Dougherty,keyboards; Joe Spinelli,drums;Allison McKenzie,vocals.

This band begins this project with an exciting, vocal performance by Allison McKenzie singing, “I Wanna Talk With You.” It’s a very contemporary piece. McKenzie’s power-packed voice bridges jazz, pop and contemporary music with ease. She’s a very strong vocalist, with a lovely tone, and she also is a songwriter who has penned this opening composition. Right away, the big band shows it’s bursting with joy and this organization offers a new take on big band sounds. The BIG BEAT is more contemporary, with specialized arrangements that showcase tunes by Stevie Wonder like, “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” Once again, Allison McKenzie adds her stellar vocals to interpret Wonder’s wonderful work. The BIG BEAT arrangement is amazing, with harmonic vocals layered to create rich backgrounds and intriguing horn punches. It was arranged by trombonist Caleb Rumley, who is also one of the four founders of this big band magic. The excitement continues on a ‘cover’ of the Jackson Five hit record, “I Want You Back.” Once again, the BIG BEAT arrangements are totally unique and compelling. This time, bassist Charlie Dougherty has arranged the piece and it’s a spectacular arrangement! Their next song, “Just Too Much,” brings funk to the table. This tune was composed and arranged by Caleb, giving wide breath to the horn solos and to Joe Spinelli on drums. Their percussionist adds zest and exhilaration to this tune on his trap drums. Spinelli is spectacular! I love the way Caleb has layered the horns, leaving the strong rhythm section to solidify the funk. It’s very reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s style of contemporary jazz.

BIG BEAT showcases five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, a guitar, piano, bass and drums. The icing on this sweet cake of music is the awesome voice of Ms. McKenzie. Four young men are the co-leaders and founders of this band. Each graduated with a Master’s Degree in Jazz Arranging from William Paterson University in new Jersey. Kudos to Charlie Dougherty, Phil Engsberg, Caleb Rumley and Ryan Tomski. Each co-leader is also a master on their individual instruments and each one is a composer/arranger. The only song on this entire album that was not arranged by the Big Beat co-founders is the final song, “Miss America,” that was arranged by trumpet master, Cecil Bridgewater. Bridgewater, an educator and long-time supporter of the BIG BEAT leaders, produced their first EP. Allison McKenzie composed this final song as a protest to the racially-motivated, 2015, shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. Denise Renee participated as a vocal producer and Pete McGuinness produced the big band.

BIG BEAT’S take on Jill Scott’s composition “It’s Love” spotlights another band founder, Phil Engsberg, who wrote the stellar arrangements. It’s quite amazing, to hear BIG BEAT take big band arrangements to a new level of jazzy, 21st Century, improvisational glee! This music will transport you to a splendid, contemporary place, where good feelings abound. Consequently, “Sounds Good, Feels Good” seems a perfect title for this vibrant, energized album of music. If you want to pump some excitement into your life, slide this album into your CD player. It will push your accelerator, so secure your seat belt.
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Laszlo Gardony, solo piano/composer.

Laszlo Gardony present a “Live” performance for our listening pleasure. He seamlessly merges blues, jazz and classical piano, with music so lush and complete that you will surely not wish for any other instrumentation. This Recording was made at Berklee’s 2019 Keys Fest; a piano festival. Gardony has been teaching jazz piano at Berklee since 1987. The song that he opens his concert with is titled, “Revolution.” This “Revolution” composition was inspired by “La Marseillaise;” that’s the title of this album and also the French national anthem. Mr.Gardony explained:

”La Marseillaise is the sound embodiment of some of the noblest aims of humankind; fighting for freedom and equality and resisting tyranny, cruelty and the trampling of human dignity. … Its spirit is needed as much today as it was during the time it was created. It’s a very serious piece of music, about standing up to tyranny and against various abuses of human rights. There are lots of people in history who became complacent about guarding their freedom and sure enough, they lost it. I think it’s worth remembering and reminding ourselves at all times”

I was pleasantly surprised by his arrangement of “O Sole Mio.” It never sounded so good!

“Moving on to love, I arranged the beloved Neapolitan song, ‘O Sole Mio’in a modern, personal way so that it would be infused with my own sense of love, caring and energy,”Laszlo Gardony shared in his liner notes.

This is Gardony’s third solo piano album in seven years and it is a true work of art. His lovely interpretation of Erroll Garner’s “Misty” is breathtakingly beautiful. “La Marseillaise” offers the best of three worlds: his original compositions, including “On the Spot”, “Mocking bird,” and Bourbon Street Boogie. He also composed “Four Notes Given” and “Revolution.” For the final two worlds, Laszlo Gardony offers the listener in-the-moment improvisations and creative covers of familiar standard tunes. This is an album to treasure for many years to come.
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Hendrik Meurkens,harmonica; Peter Bernstein,guitar; Mike LaDonne,organ; Jimmy Cobb,drums.

Hendrik Meurkens brings his happy harmonica, bursting onto the scene during an interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s composition, “Driftin’.” Delivering a melody played in unison by Meurkens and Mike LeDonne on organ, they quickly blossom into harmony betwixt the two. The melody is compelling, catchy, and I immediately want to whistle this tune. Meurken’s does it for us on his harmonica. His unique style draws the listener into their musical whirlpool of sound. Each band member takes an engaging solo and we get to experience each individual’s brilliance on guitar, organ and on Jimmy Cobb’s unrelenting drums. Cobb offers his perfect accents and dedicated time, whipping up the rhythm and consistently inspiring each arrangement. This group is stellar. They continue with the title tune, “Cobb’s Pocket,” penned by Meurken. In the music business, we consider “the pocket” to be the groove of a musical piece and/or the serious drumming that holds the group in perfect place, like a wallet in your pocket. Cobb certainly is responsible for doing just that. His drum prowess is quite evident, especially on this straight-ahead, up-tempo tune. When they trade fours, Jimmy Cobb splashes his technique and creativity across the trap drums, like colorful confetti. He makes us want to celebrate the music. “Frame For the Blues” slows the tempo down to a sexy blues, with Peter Bernstein’s guitar shining in the spotlight, alongside Mike LaDonne’s organ. However, it is always Hendrik Meurkens’ improvisational, dancing harmonica that propels this music.

Track six, composed by Sam Jones and titled, “Unit Seven.” It’s spectacularly performed with that rich, jazzy organ groove. Meurkens harmonica mastery and the bebop magic wands of Cobb’s drumsticks, catapult the music. Peter Bernstein’s guitar is the rabbit this magical arrangement pulls from the hat. This group’s energy creates combustible excitement. I believe this track is one of my very favorites on their album, where every track is masterfully played.
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Vaughn Nark,producer/trumpet/flugelhorn/valve trombone/ composer; Pete Barenbregge, tenor/alto/baritone saxophone/flute; Stef Scaggiari,acoustic/electric piano; Marc Copland,piano; Tom Williams,acoustic/electric bass; Dave Palamar & Keith Killgo, drums.

Vaughn Nark rips onto the scene like a lion. His horn is ferocious. The opening tune is Nark’s own composition and is full of punch and power. It becomes a platform to showcase his band members and to establish his own prowess as a first-class trumpeter. Stef Scaggiari steps up with flying fingers dancing deftly over the piano keys. Dave Palamar is the drummer and his tenacious propulsion behind this music is moteworthy. On this first track the original composition sprints off this disc like a Kentucky Derby race horse.

The next attention-getter is Vaughn Narks successful arrangement of “A Night In Tunesia.” Once again, the up-tempo pulse of the piece stretches the talents of these players and allows the listening audience to enjoy stellar solos by the players. “Line for Lyons,” composed by Gerry Mulligan, settles the tempo down and gives Pete Berenbregge,on saxophone, an opportunity to step forward with a bluesy horn. “Alone” is a lovely ballad composed by artist, Vaughn Nark,and his trumpet is tender with a full, rich tone. It displays his ability to interpret a ballad with the same zest that he plays “Caravan.”

Vaughn honed his trumpet and flugelhorn skills as a member of the Premiere Jazz Ensemble of the United States Air Force as part of the Airmen of Note. By presidential order, he was presented the Meritorious Service Medal for his “distinctive accomplishments and contributions” while a member of the Airmen of Note. The distinctive high notes he plays on his horn, along with his ability to perform swiftly and accurately on all instruments, have inspired many. He served the United States as a proud airman from 1978 to 1993. Since then, Vaughn Nark has been working with many stellar bands across the country, performing as a clinician and educator. He has also recorded a number of projects for Summit Records. This may be one of Vaughn Nark’s best productions to date.
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Elias Haslanger,tenor saxophone; Dr. James Polk,organ; Daniel Durham,bass; Tommy Howard,guitar; Scott Laningham & Kyle Thompson,drums.

The popular ‘Church on Monday’ band has been performing Monday-night-jazz sets at the Continental Club Gallery in Austin, Texas for nearly seven years. Their weekly entertainment is supported by a packed house of devoted fans. As I listen to their very first song, “Our Miss Brooks,” the group starts out swinging hard, with Scott Laningham,on drums,obviously the active ingredient in this centrifuge of sound. Elias Haslanger,on tenor saxophone, is fluid and inspired. When Tommy Howard enters on guitar, he settles the combustion down to a steady, slow walk. I don’t know if they have dancing at the Continental Club, but this shuffle tempo is a swing-dancers delight. Dr. James Polk brings his organ mastery to the forefront, punctuating the groove with deft fingers on his electronic instrument. The melting together of guitar and organ brings back memories of the late Jimmy Smith’s legacy. However, rather than dependence on the organ foot pedals, Daniel Durham is the asset on bass. I wish they had turned his solo up in ‘the mix.’

The “Bolivia” tune, by Cedar Walton, is the second track on this CD and takes off at a bebop pace with the tempo straight-ahead and invigorating. This is followed by an original composition by organist, James Polk titled, “Black Door Jeannye.” It has an Eddie Harris-feel to it. The title tune was written by Elias Haslanger. Haslanger begins this arrangement a ‘Capella, letting his tenor saxophone soar into space like a wild, beautiful bird. When the band joins him, this is the first ballad they play. However, after playing that tune down one time, they break into a slow-swing. I guess they just can’t help themselves.

All in all, perhaps Scott Laningham summed it up the best when he said:

“In many ways, ‘Church on Monday’ has been like a ‘church’ experience these last seven years. It distills the idea of ‘church’ into its basic elements for me: community, fellowship; celebration of something we all love, together. … And ‘church’ is about healing, right? It allows people to experience, together with the musicians, all manner of emotions and reflections. … ultimately, celebration.”
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Matthew Snow,bassist/composer; Daisuke Abe,guitar; Wayne Smith,drums; David Gibson,trombone; Clay Lyons,alto saxophone; Joe Doubleday,vibraphone.

Matthew Snow is a bassist/composer and on this outstanding recording he has written all the music for his talented jazz sextet to interpret. The first cut, “Amber Glow,” is an up-tempo and melodic tune, with punchy, melodic horn lines by trombonist, David Gibson and alto saxophonist, Clay Lyons. Lyons breaks free to improvise above the solid rhythm section, followed by the smooth sound of Gibson on trombone. Next, we are introduced to the guitar mastery of Daisuke Abe. Even without piano and minus trumpet or tenor saxophone, this sextet still swings. I enjoyed the addition of Joe Doubleday on vibraphone. His mallets fly on the track titled, “Blitz” and his tone sparkles atop the solid bass line of Matthew Snow, with Wayne Smith’s cement-solid drum licks kicking the tune into gear. Smith holds the rhythm section in place with polished precision. Matthew Snow’s compositions are noteworthy and certainly propel this album of fine musicianship. Every song sounds like it could become a jazz standard. “The Exit Strategy” is swollen with blues-tones and slows the tempo down to a very sultry, slow swing. Once again, the vibraphone solo of Doubleday lifts this arrangement. Matthew Snow walks his double bass powerfully beneath the various solo players and holds the band together like Velcro on velvet. This sextet has a smooth, hard-bop sound that immediately engages this listener.

Matthew Snow continues to be a significant patch on the quilted network of the New York City jazz scene. I believe this recording will garner attention for his composer skills. “Iridescence” is a perfect title for Matthew’s work of art. Webster’s dictionary describes it as “…showing luminous colors that seem to change when seen from different angles.” That certainly sums up the beauty of Matthew Snow’s project.
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LA TANYA HALL – “SAY YES” Blue Canoe Records

La Tanya Hall,vocals; Andy Milne,piano; John Hebert,bass; Clarence Penn,drums; Michael Leonhard,trumpet.

La Tanya Hall opens this CD with the familiar Nat Adderley tune titled, “All You Need to Say.” She is accompanied and produced by her husband, pianist Andy Milne, a well-respected New York City musician and arranger. La Tanya is also a respected vocalist and proud member of Bobby McFerrin’s 12-voice ensemble, “Voicestra.” Her versatility in musical genre’s and ability to blend and harmonize has allowed her to shine in a variety of touring opportunities and studio session work. These opportunities include collaborations with Quincy Jones, Michael McDonald, Burt Bacharach, Harry Belafonte (who she toured with for five years), Diana Ross, Rob Thomas and Patti Labelle, to list just a few. She headlined with a road-company production of the musical,“Dreamgirls.”

La Tanya’s singing career began at age thirteen when her father began teaching her to sing the ‘standards.’ He was a jazz pianist who toured worldwide.

“I learned from my father to create my own style and not be afraid to take chances vocally,” she shared in her bio.

Today, La Tanya continued to be an in-demand studio session singer, as well as pursuing an acting career. Most recently she played the part of Sabine Winston on the CBS critically acclaimed show, “Blue Bloods.” Her love of diversity and eclectic music genres is reflected in this new CD, scheduled to be released in November. She tackles the gorgeous ballad and challenging composition, “Poor Butterfly,” with the same dedication that she performs the three-quarter time, “Jitterbug Waltz.”

Spending the past four decades around jazz musicians, including some of the best in the business, I recognize that sometimes musicians get so hung-up in their own desire to create an original and unique arrangement,that they forget to accompany. Accompanying is a unique art form in itself. I’m disappointed in Milne’s unusual arrangement on “Jitterbug Waltz,” that simply proved that no matter how dissonant he made the chords, Ms. Hall could still stay on pitch. It did not support her presentation of this beautiful song and that was disappointing. To my chagrin, she misses the mark on the Benny Golson/Leonard Feather iconic “Whisper Not” tune that begs to “swing.” Ms. Hall has an amazing vocal power and unique tone, but I am surprised she misses the opportunity to swing this standard jazz tune. However, you are able to really enjoy her style and tonal quality when she performs “Softly as In A Morning Sunrise” featuring only John Hebert on bass, along with her crystal-clear vocals. Lovely! In all its simplicity, this is a stunning arrangement.
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Shahin Novrasli,piano; James Cammack,bass; Herlin Riley,drums. Producers:Ahmad Jamal/Catherine Vallon-Barry & Seydou Barry.

This is an exquisite piece of work. Shahin Novrasli is a sensitive, accomplished jazz pianist. He references Baku in the CD title. Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and it’s bordered by Russia to the North. Under the tutelage of producer, and high priest of the piano, Ahmad Jamal, Shahin is endorsed by one of our jazz icons along with producers Catherine Vallon-Barry & Seydou Barry. Because Ahmad Jamal gave him a thumbs-up,I was eager to listen to his album.

Shahin opens with the familiar and melodic Joni Mitchell tune, “Both Sides Now,” arranged in a slightly smooth jazz way. However, with the next composition by Thelonious Monk, “52nd Street Theme” I recognize the excellence and straight-ahead talent of this musician. His trio is also excellent and the bassist, James Cammack, steps into the spotlight fearlessly to solo. They play Monk’s tune at a serious speed that allows the brilliance of Herlin Riley on drums to shine and sparkle. I immediately respect Novrasli’s piano chops, as the trio members solo, he flies across the 88 keys passionately. I am breathless after listening to their arrangement of this monster of a Monk song.

On “Night Song,” Shahin Novrasli’s improvisational ‘runs’ move from chord-change to chord-change in beautifully timed precision. Shahin Novrasli plays a stunning rendition of Michael Jackson’s hit song, “You’re Out of My Life,” followed by a very classically influenced introduction to “Salt Peanuts.

This album is like a box of crackerjacks, because it’s full of sweet surprises and unexpected gifts. The trio’s arrangement of “Stella By Starlight” is quite striking. In fact, every cut on this album of fine music is well played, beautifully arranged and Shahin Novrasli’s grand piano technique and imagination produces a buffo project.
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September 15, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil jazz journalist
Sept 15, 2019


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, 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.

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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,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, 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,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,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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September 3, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

Sept 3, 2019


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,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,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,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, 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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