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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