BEBOP BEAUTY & NEW ARTISTS WHO PERPETUATE THE JAZZ STANDARD

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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3 Responses to “BEBOP BEAUTY & NEW ARTISTS WHO PERPETUATE THE JAZZ STANDARD”

  1. REVIEW: Chase Baird’s ‘A Life Between’ Reviewed by Musical Memoirs - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] By: Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs […]

  2. John Yao Says:

    Hi Dee Dee

    I hope this message finds you well. Thank you so much for your review of my album “How We Do”. I really enjoyed reading your work. It’s so nice to have my music covered by someone who gets the music and gives their honest opinion. I look forward to sharing the next Triceratops album with you in the future.

    Thanks again for taking the time to listen and write about the album.

    Best regards,

    John

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