Archive for October, 2019


October 28, 2019

BY Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 28, 2019


Calabria Foti, vocals/violin/arranger; Roger Kellaway,piano; Trey Henry, bass; Peter Erskine,drums; Larry Koonse,guitar; Bob McChesney,trombone; George Doering, guitar; Luis Conte,percussion; John Pizzarelli,vocals/guitar; WOODWINDS: Dan Higgins,flute/alto flute/clarinet; Gene Cipriano,oboe; Glen Berger, oboe/bass clarinet; Geoff Nudell,flute/clarinet; Rose Corrigan & Bob Carr,bassoon; Terry Harrington,flute/clarinet; Bob Crosby, clarinet/bass clarinet; FRENCH HORNS: Jim Thatcher(principal); Jenny Kim, Katie Faraudo, & Dan Kelley; VIOLINS: Charlie Bisharat, concertmaster; Songa Lee, Principal second; Kevin Connolly, Lucia Micarelli, Nina Evtuhov, Joselina Vergara, Radu Pieptea, Tereza Stanistav, Armen Anassian, Marisa Kuney, Kevin Kumar, Ben Jacobsen, Michele Richards, & Jackie Brand; VIOLAS: Brian Dembow, principal; Andrew Duckles, Alma Fernandez & Rob Brophy. CELLOS: Armen Ksajkian, principal; Cameron Stone, Tina Soule & Jacob Braun; HARP: Gail levant.

The string sections sweeps into the room like an ocean wave of beauty. Calabria Foti’s amazingly velvet-smooth vocals float atop the string orchestra arrangements like a custom-built yacht. This is her fourth album release and it may be her best to date. With Charlie Bisharat conducting the orchestra and the arrangements by such talents as Johnny Mandel, Roger Kellaway, Bob McChesney, Jorge Calandrelli and Jeremy Lubbock, how could she miss? Their creative support and instrumental mastery make this project sparkle and constellate.

Opening with the title tune, “Prelude to a Kiss” the listener is gently propelled into a musical world of peace and beauty. Duke Ellington must be smiling and nodding approval from heaven. Her various song choices are perfectly adept to both Calabria Foti’s style and range. The second tune, “I Had to Fall in Love with You,” is another lovely ballad, presented with much emotion and a guitar solo by Larry Koonse. Then, on track three, Calabria Foti refurbishes “On the Street Where You Live.” She arranged it herself and she swings the popular standard with the spirited drums of Peter Erskine propelling the piece at a brisk pace. Calabria Foti takes this opportunity to show-off her jazzy scat singing abilities. Foti shows us she is also an amazing arranger and has arranged and/or co-arranged some of these songs, as well as being a very competent violinist. “Waltz for Debby,” is a challenging tune by Bill Evans and Calabria Foti makes it sound as easy as breathing in and out. Her voice gently caresses the melody and shares the poetry. Calabria Foti has a way of connecting with her listening audience and drawing you into her stories, quicksand deep. This is followed by a song I hadn’t heard before and I love it. “When I Look in Your Eyes.” (another pretty ballad) is both lyrically and melodically pleasing. Her medley, “Back in Your Own Backyard,” just using a small ensemble, with a jazzy, walking bass by Trey Henry, allows Foti to swing a couple of great tunes in a glistening chain of jazzy inuendoes, including “Give Me the Simple Life” and “The Love Nest.”

This is an album I will play over and over again. In fact, these song arrangements and this wonderful vocalist, with the support of master instrumentalists, will light up any room. They offer spectacular, fiery performances. One more thing, the vocal duet on “It’s the Mood That I’m In,” with dynamic guitarist, John Pizzarelli, is spellbinding. Calabria adds her violin chops on this arrangement. Also, her tender orchestrated interpretation of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” delights! This musical production is bound to warm any chilly evening and would make a great gift. Better get two. You’ll want to keep one for yourself.

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MIKE CADY –“TWICE AS NICE” Independent Label

Mike Cady,vocals; Mike Levine, piano; Jamie Ousley,bass; Lenny Steinberg,drums; Joe Donato, saxophone.

Mike Cady has reached back into the 1950’s jazz archives, when King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson were writing lyrics to horn solos, and the Lambert Hendricks & Ross vocal group was spitting vocalese to vinyl. Cady opens with “Little Boy Don’t Get Scared,” a composition by Stan Getz with lyrics by Jon Hendricks and King Pleasure. Mike Cady swings hard on this opening tune, reminding us of an artform that broke ground for Hip Hop, before it was a twinkle in the twentieth century eye. The lyrics flow fast and powerfully, like a saxophone spitting words. On the second track, his delivery of the ballad, “Never Let Me Go,” is tender and believable. Mike Cady’s rich baritone voice proffers us a unique style all his own and that’s what makes for a memorable jazz artist. Mike Levine plays a lovely, piano solo on this tune. Cady follows this up with the Sam Jones composition, “Del Sasser” that the Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet epitomized on their “Them Dirty Blues” Capitol Jazz album. Carmen McRae wrote the lyrics to this song and retitled it, “If You Never Fall in Love with Me.” Mike Cady does a great job of re-interpreting this jazz standard. Jamie Ousley pumps his double bass on this one, locking in the ‘swing’ with Lenny Steinberg on drums. Together, they make a rich rhythm section for Mike Levine to dance brightly across the 88-keys.

He rejuvenates a song from the Lou Rawls vinyl, 33-1/3 rpm-record-days titled, “One Life to Live.” The lyrics perpetuate a hopeful attitude and a reminder that we all have only one life to live so live it in peace, live it in truth, live it in love. The theme of Cady’s album (on the lyrical-side) seems to remind us that we need to take a serious look at living our lives to the fullest extent and to appreciate living and loving. Cady tackles “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” and takes some liberties with the melody, a melody that is already so amazing, it probably needs no changing; especially that first, opening line. That being said, Cady knows how to sell a song and puts much emotion into his presentations. “Come Back to Me,” is another bebop swing arrangement. The trio is dynamic and pushes this vocalist with their power. It’s a pleasant surprise when Cady sings, “Something Cool,” the song that June Christy made famous in 1953. Cady is a supreme storyteller and you feel that he is singing this story directly to you. His vocal style breaks the words up like flashy pieces of confetti that he sprinkles around the room. This is Cady’s debut album and it’s a joyful celebration, perfect for the holidays.
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Joshua Breakstone,guitar; Eliot Zigmund,drums; Martin Wind,bass.

Opening with Lee Morgan’s composition, “The Witchdoctor,” Joshua Breakstone take the lead on his guitar and sets the pace for this celebration of what would have been Art Blakey’s 100th birthday year. Breakstone has chosen a cluster of songs that were composed by members of the famous Jazz Messengers’ congregation. Eliot Zigmund, on drums, offers a powerful solo and then slaps the trio back to a brisk medium tempo groove. Their second track, “Splendid” shines the spotlight on bassist, Martin Wind. He opens this tune with a melodic improvisation and displays a rich tone on his double bass. Breakstone keeps the rhythm tightly apparent beneath Wind’s solo, strumming his guitar and locking-in with Zigmund’s drums. This trio presents a tightly knit package of jazz that features Joshua Breakstone’s guitar. Breakstone is solid as the bricks and mortar of the Fillmore East theater where his sister used to work as a light technician. He remembers sitting in the theater and soaking up the music of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. His love of music developed early. Soon, he became infatuated with jazz and shortly thereafter, deeply influenced by Charlie Parker and Lee Morgan. One of my favorite cuts on this CD is Cedar Walton’s “Holy Land.”

As a serious student of guitarist, Sal Salvador in Manhattan, helped Joshua hone his chops. Later, he enrolled at the new College of the University of South Florida. They have a legacy of turning out a slew of jazz giants and the university continuously features popular jazz bands. Joshua also attended Berklee College of Music. With his lust for learning, the gypsy in his soul led him to Brazil. Once he returned to New York City, Breakstone began to get studio session calls and worked with several music giants including, saxophonist Glen Hall, Joanne Brackeen and Cecil McBee, as well as Billy Hart. In 1983, Joshua Breakstone recorded his debut album titled, “Wonderful.” Three and a half decades and twenty-one recordings later, he offers us this stellar trio production. This is his eighth recording for Capri records and it’s a beauty.
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Chris Madsen,tenor saxophone/composer; Stu Mindeman,piano; Clark Sommers,bass; Dana Hall,drums.

Chicago-based saxophonist, Chris Madsen, prowled through his old music scores and recorded ideas of songs he had written or was beginning to write in order to create this recent album of music. Madsen discovered songs that had lain dormant for years and began to re-work them into fresh arrangements and to polish his ideas. In so doing, he began to build a ladder of inner emotions. As Chris Madsen climbed inside himself, ever striving to reach the highest good in his music and in his composing, he has created gems like, “Lone Wolf.” This second track on his CD gives Clark Sommers an opportunity to use his double bass to interpret the crux of this song. It moves from a thoughtful, slow melody to a speedy, straight-ahead, powerhouse of sound. Madsen’s tenor saxophone smoothly rides the chordal waves, pushed by Dana Hall’s drums, as Sommers’ fast-walks his bass line. On the title tune, “Bonfire” pianist Stu Mindeman sets the tempo and groove, laying down a solid undertow of chords and piano technique that provides a richness beneath the tenor horn solo. Once Mindeman steps forward to solo, I find his improvisation skills to unfold tentatively, like a painter carefully choosing the shade of blue he wants to use and then splashing it across the canvas. He harmonizes with the tenor saxophone, using staccato notes that create a hook; a refrain that ties the piece together after ribbons of solo freedom.

There is lots of energy in this group. Dana Hall is responsible for quite a bit of this energy, providing his flashing drum sticks and crashing cymbals in all the right places. Chris Madsen and his ensemble build and crescendo on the composer’s various themes. Like a fire, they flicker at first and then burst into flame. This saxophonist has become more refined over the years. Together, his group creates a burning, hot and combustible piece of modern jazz, with a hard bop core. Other favorites on this album are the tune, “Hundred Center,” enhanced by Dana Hall’s mallets and offering almost a smooth jazz feel; surprising after three solid, modern jazz compositions; and “Cool Sun” offers a taste of R&B drum licks and punchy bass lines. But make no mistake, this is all jazz, top to bottom.
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Svetlana Shmulyian, vocals; Wycliffe Gordon, vocals/trombone; Isabel Braun, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano; John Chin, piano/Fender Rhodes; Pasquale Grasso & Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass; Matt Wilson & Rob Garcia, drums; Rogerio Bocatto, percussion; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Sam Sadigursky, reeds; Michael Davis, trombone; Antoine Silverman & Entcho Todorov, violins; Chris Cardona, viola; Emily Brausa, cello.

Some singers just have the “It” factor in their tone and presentation. Svetlana has a voice you will remember and you will probably recognize that voice immediately once you hear it again. This is often the sign of a stylist, rather than just another vocalist swimming in an over-crowded singer’s pool. She also has just the tinge of an accent coloring her English. Svetlana’s latest album celebrates love tunes from motion pictures. She opens with an Alan & Marilyn Bergman/ John Williams song titled, “Moonlight,” from the 1995 motion picture, “Sabrina.”

Svetlana is a soviet Russian who, as a young, artistic-driven girl, found excitement and dreamy escape in a Moscow, underground movie theater that played Western films. It became a window into a world Svetlana envisioned, where she would become a part of the art and music freedom of expression. Consequently, the title of this album seems quite appropriate; “Night at the Movies.” Years later, Svetlana immigrated to New York City and now, here she is, living her dream.

I wish she had arranged the second track, “Sooner or Later” as a ‘swing’ tune. It would have been dynamic with a pumping, walking bass and those lyrics would have danced as a swing arrangement. That being said, Svetlana competently performs this arrangement of the tune pulled from the movie, “Tracy.” She interprets it with cabaret style, featuring Sullivan Fortner on a bluesy piano solo. I get my wish for a ‘swing’ feel from this talented lady on “Cheek to Cheek,” where she vocally duets with Wycliffe Gordon. They offer us a play on Ella and Louie Armstrong’s strong duet recordings. Trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon, has a timbre and tone very similar to the iconic Armstrong. This tune is familiar to our ears, but I didn’t realize it dates all the way back to 1935 as part of the film, “Top Hat.” The arrangement and horn licks remind us of that 1930s era. ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ gave us the gem of a tune, “Pure Imagination.” Svetlana presents it employing a slow, sexy Latin production. John-Erik Kellso takes a sweet trumpet solo. The hit record, “Happy” penned by Pharrell Williams, is reinvented in a very jazzy way. It still maintains its happy-go-lucky attitude as it swings along propelled by John Chin on piano and Rob Garcia’s brisk drum licks. This is another vocal duet with Svetlana and Wycliffe Gordon joining forces. If you’ve forgotten, this popular song that garnered gold-record -status, it was actually from the movie, “Despicable Me.”

I was glad to hear her sing, “No One’s Home” that she sings in her native Russian tongue. It’s a pretty tune with a Bossa Nova feel, taken from the production, “Irony of Fate”. This script became one of the most successful Soviet television programs and remains quite popular even today in modern Russia. Here is a vocalist who followed her dreams across continents. In the process, she built a fresh reality. How appropriate that Svetlana closes this CD with the ‘Wizard of Oz’ classic, “Over the Rainbow.” Surely, Svetlana has clicked her heels and flown over the rainbow to a world she heard of once in a lullaby. Now she sings that lullaby to us.
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LYNN CARDONA – “OPHELIA” Independent Label

Lynne Cardona,vocals/composer; Josh Nelson, acoustic & elec. Piano; Nazomi Yamaguchi,guitar; Michael Hunter,flugelhorn; Dave Robaire,upright & elec. Bass; Dan Schnelle,drums.

This is an EP, which means it’s is an album of music that offers only three songs, less than a normal album of music. However, it’s well produced and insightful into the artist. Lynn Cardona is labeled (by her publicist), a soul/jazz artist and singer/songwriter. The first cut, “A Little Too Late” is a happy production, with sad lyrics.

“When the leaves all beg the trees to let them go. … I’m reminded of a fellow that I know. Maybe he loves me, because he let me go. … And then springtime comes around and I’m swept away with daydreams and flowery fantasies. All the colors and the beauty offer themselves to me.”

The lyrics are quite insightful. The sadness in the rubato opening dissolves to an up-tempo, contemporary jazz production that becomes more hopeful, like Ms. Cardona’s poetic offering.

The second cut, “Mother Earth” celebrates womanhood and mother earth. Another poem put to music asking humanity to respect the earth, a home to us all, and in the same breath, to respect women. Like Mother Earth, who births nature, women carry the seed of man and perpetrate human life.

Matt Politano is to be congratulated on his sensitive and demonstrative arrangements for Lynn Cardona’s songs. She wrote “A Little Too Late” with Matt, who is a popular pianist around the Los Angeles jazz scene. This recording features the dynamic Josh Nelson on both acoustic and electric piano, interpreting these arrangements. On “Mother Earth” Lynn Cardona has collaborated with guitarist, Nazomi Yamaguchi. The final composition and EP title, “Ophelia” has a haunting melody that features a sensuous flugelhorn solo by Michael Hunter. Lynn co-wrote this song with Memphis organist, Charlie Wood. Sometimes Ms. Cardona reminds me a bit of Corinne Bailey Rae, an English singer/songwriter whose poetic lyrics capture the heart. The two vocalists have different vocal styles, but both write interesting and thoughtful lyrics. Lynn Cardona’s unique tone and composer skills can carry her far. Although only three songs, each offers quite thought-provoking words of wisdom.
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Bria Skonberg,vocals/trumpet/composer; Mathis Picard,piano; Devin Starks,bass; Doug Wamble,guitar; Jon Cowherd,Hammond B3; Darrian Douglas, drums/percussion; Patrick Bartley,saxophone.

The bass of Devin Starks powerfully opens this first track titled, “Blackout.” He sets the groove and garners the listener’s attention. When Bria Skonberg’s whispery, soprano vocals enter she establishes a pretty melody. Eli Wolf has produced this CD and obviously, he believes that simplicity will showcase this artist’s mastery of both her voice and her horn. I would have to agree. The sparseness in the production draws us to her unique sound and makes both her trumpet and her voice a star in the spotlight. Bria Skonberg sparkles. She is not only a delightful vocalist, but she’s a composer who writes interesting lyrics and unforgettable melodies. The second track, “So Is the Day,” mirrors the dirge -like groove of New Orleans jazz. Her horn is the exclamation mark on each original composition.

On the tune, “Square One,” her vocal timbre and style reminds me a little bit of Norah Jones. Skonberg has written six of the eight songs on this project and all are well-written, well-produced and well-played. “Villain Vanguard” gallops onto the scene with drum licks by Darrian Douglas that sound like horse hooves. This is an energy-driven song that draws the curtains open on Skonberg’s trumpet prowess She lets her horn do all the singing. The tempos unexpectedly change, like mood swings. Patrick Bartley joins her on saxophone and Skonberg delves into the realm of modern jazz and exploratory improvisation. There are many sides to Ms. Bria Skonberg’s multi-talents. The two songs she did not compose are the popular Beatle’s tune, “Blackbird Fantasy,” that is arranged in a trad jazz kind-of-way and features both piano and organ. The other cover song is the Sonny and Cher hit record, “Bang Bang,” featuring Doug Wamble’s poignant guitar and Skonberg’s canonical trumpet. The tune is arranged like a dramatic tango. “What Now?” is an original song with a bluesy undertone and gives Patrick Bartley an opportunity to solo on saxophone.

Bria Skonberg has a pop/jazz vocal style, but is all jazz on her trumpet. She’s a budding composer and these arrangements embrace the jazzy roots of New Orleans, whispers of a Dixieland influence, and an infusion of a younger, funkier style prominent on the closing instrumental, “I Want to Break Free.” The final song was somewhat marred by the drummer, who surprisingly remained slightly off-beat throughout this particular song. Compliments to the beautiful artwork on the CD cover by Lisa Lockhart. I would hang this on my wall!
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October 23, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 23, 2019

I met Conrad Isidore in the mid-seventies, three or four years after I first arrived in Los Angeles. He was a good friend of Fritz DeJean, my percussionist at that time. Like Fritz, Conrad too was a drummer and in late 1969, before he came to America, he was popular with a crew of London-based musicians. They recorded at Trident Studios, that was located in the heart of Soho in London, England. Conrad joined guitarist Alan Marshall on lead vocals and Bobby Sass on keyboards, Brent Forbes on bass, Kevin Fogerty on lead guitar and Norman Leppard on reeds. The resulting album featured hit songs like, “Stop Pulling and Pushing Me” and “Nearer the Bone.” It was released on the Fontana Record label. The group referred to themselves as “One.” As I said, the bassist in the Trident recording session was Brent Forbes and during an interview, Forbes had good things to say about percussionist, Conrad Isidore.

“Conrad was a fantastic influence for me. Great feel! He sat down one day and said to me, Brent, the notes are all right but it’s the feel … in other words, he made me think about that and I managed to maintain it and got a reputation for it over the years,” Brent praised Conrad Isidore for helping him find the ‘groove’ in his bass licks and encouraging him to express his feelings through his instrument.

This journalist remembers Conrad as very sincere, caring and a persuasive person. When Conrad spoke to you, you listened and you paid attention. He had a warm, genuine smile and was Mr. personality plus.

Conrad Isidore was a Dominican born drummer and percussionist who, in the late 1960s, had been playing around town with Joe E. Young &The Toniks, a London-based R&B group. Before that, he had played with a group called “The Links” and later with “The Grendades.” While he was with The Toniks, their bassist was Calvin ‘Fuzzy’ Samuels who ended up being featured with Bob Marley as a prominent sideman. He was called ‘Fuzzy’ because he was using a fuzz box on his bass at that time. Isidore and Samuels formed a group called, The Sundae Times, with a lead singer and guitarist named, Wendell Richardson. Calvin Samuels and Conrad Isidore were close friends, busy musicians and gained good reputations for their excellence on bass and drums. Conrad could feel the groove and transmit it through his drums.

The day that Stephen Stills heard Conrad and bass man, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels perform, he was so impressed, Stills quickly recruited both musicians to participate in his solo LP session. That iconic recording was released in May of 1970. This was the Stephen Stills, American singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whom you may recall from his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash. He’s the Stephen Stills whose work has garnered a combined sale of over 35 million albums. Today, you can hear Conrad Isidore’s drums on “The Best of Stephen Stills” album, initially released in 1976, and still available. It features the drums of Conrad Isidore propelling Still’s band from that 1970’s session that introduced Stephen Stills to the world on Atlantic Records.

Once Conrad relocated to the United States, he got busy acquainting himself to the U.S. music scene. It didn’t take long for people to notice Isidore’s percussion talent and he started playing sessions with folks like soulful singer, Joe Coker, vocalist Linda Lewis, Terry Reid, Vinegar Joe, (a group that evolved out of a 12-piece, Stax-influenced, fusion band), and Eddy Grant. Conrad played drums and sang on Eddy Grant’s record. He became part of Junior Marvin’s band for a while (Junior Marvin of the Wailers) and also worked with a group called Hummingbird. Isidore wrote many of the songs on the initial Hummingbird album and he sang on these recordings. They released three albums on the A&M Record label. This group featured drummer/songwriter, Conrad Isidore, with Bobby Tench, guitar and vocals; Max Middleton on keyboards, Clive Chaman on bass, Jeff Beck on guitar, Robert Ahwai & Bernie Holland (also guitarists) and after their first 1974 recording, Bernard Purdie joined them as their drummer.

Fritz DeJean recalled when his friend, Conrad Isidore was living in Inglewood, California.

“Conrad was kind of like me, hard-headed and independent. He wanted to do things his own way. Conrad was a multi-instrumentalist. He could sing and he could play bass and guitar. He helped me cut my first song in a home studio. He played guitar for me. He played bass, as well as piano. He could play all of it. He’s one of the very few guys on drums who I enjoyed playing with besides Munyungo (Jackson) and Lou Wilson from the Mandrill group. Conrad knew rhythm inside out. He loved Reggae and his heart was into African drums. He loved Marley and all those cats. He played with some huge, recording people, but he never made a big deal about it. Conrad was a humble man. We talked about the African roots all the time; the Nigerian rhythms. He admired the guys that played with Traffic, a group that blends African rhythms, funk and jazz. He was a wealth of information. His brother Gus is still alive. Gus Isidore is another rock musician, a guitarist.”

Always in demand, Conrad also recorded with Jimi Hendrix and Memphis Slim. On BadCat Records he recorded with Willie Bobo backing up vocalist and guitarist, Terry Reid. See the for a complete discography.

More recently, Conrad Isidore had relocated to Finland. He had his own band and is seen in this video on congas with Niklas Mansner on guitar; Rob Dominis on keyboards; Janne Rajala, bassist; Jori Lindell on saxophone and Leo Kylatasku on trumpet. The trap drummer is Thomas Tornroos. This video was filmed at the Bar Soho in Porvoo, Finland. Conrad also sang lead with this group.

Conrad Isidore made his transition on October 20, 2019. He left a legacy of his recorded music, featuring his brilliant and nurturing drums that covered jazz, blues, R&B and rock music. He was an inspirational, world-class musician, with a heart as big as the universe itself.

Interview with Fritz DeJean

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October 22, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 21, 2019

The last time I saw Kemang perform (I always pronounce his name Kamon) was in Detroit, Michigan at the annual Jazz Festival five years ago. He was playing piano with the great Pharoah Sanders and as usual, he was innovative and artistic on his instrument. He’d been working with Pharoah Sanders for over three decades. In 2007, he recorded on both the “Moon Child” and the “Finest” albums with Pharoah Sanders. Before that, as far back as 1985, Bill Henderson recorded with Pharoah on “Softly for Shyla” and again in 1993, Pharoah released that same title on a different record label. You may remember when Pharoah Sanders featured vocalist, Leon Thomas, on his “Shukuru” LP. I believe that was in 1985. Kemang played on that one too. In 2010, the talented pianist recorded with John Carter and Bobby Bradford on the Mosaic label, a three-record box set. In 2013, Verve Records released a Hugh Masekela project he played piano on titled, “Grazing in the Grass.” In 2017, he joined Bob Shad’s production of “In the Back, In the Corner, In the Dark.” It was labeled a record that resonated spiritual funk and jazz gems. Back-in-the-day, he also was part of the Bobby Hutcherson Quartet and recorded on Hutcherson’s album, “With A Song in My Heart” in 2006. He’s been on a number of other recordings including The Ray Charles “Spirit of Christmas” CD and the Billy Higgins 1994 album release, “3/4 For Peace.” He joined Eddie Harris to be part of the popular LP, “The Real Electrifying Eddie Harris” in 1983. Bill Henderson has been making amazing music in and around Los Angeles and worldwide for many years. I found him to be a quiet, thoughtful man until he sat down at the piano and his fingers began battering those 88-keys. He was a passionate player. In the early 70’s, Henderson (our beloved Kemang) recorded with iconic reedman, Harold Land Sr. on an album called “Our Home” and later, on a couple of albums with bassist Henry Franklin. Bill Henderson appeared on the “Henry Franklin – The Skipper” LP in 1972 and “Blue Lights” was another Henry Franklin recording in 1976. In 1977, he played the blues on Big Bear Records, as part of a compilation album titled, “Homesick Blues Again.” I remember him working with the original female singer with Earth, Wind and Fire, Ms. Sherry Scott. That was back in the early 1970’s, when he was playing in her band. There have been more recordings, so many more performances in festivals and concerts across the globe.

Kemang was also a fine composer and an arranger. In 2016, I interviewed jazz bassist, Henry Franklin. Henry was very close to Bill Henderson. That was clear when Henry was explaining to me how he got his nickname of “The Skipper.”

“On our first album for Black Jazz Records in 1971, we titled the LP, The Skipper,’” Henry shared. “Pianist, Bill Henderson (Kemang), had written a tune for my son, (who is his God son) and he named the composition, Skipper. People associated the album title with my name and they started calling me ‘The Skipper’. My son’s a Junior, but he’s the original Skipper.

“Early on, Roy Ayers (the iconic vibraphonist) had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson on piano, or sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me, and Carl Burnett on drums. After high school, Elmo left and went to school at Howard University. Nobody’s heard from or seen Elmo since,” Henry told me.

Henry Franklin was only eighteen years old at that time and Bill Henderson was a teenager too. Still, at that young age they were both serious musicians determined to make their mark in the jazz world. For a while, Franklin played with a group called Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet. They formed that ensemble in 1963. It was led by Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero. In 1967 their group featured Little Joe on Vibes, Franklin on bass and Bill ‘Kemang’ Henderson on piano. Varner Barlow was on drums and Jack Fulks played flute and alto saxophone.

Over his long and passionate career, Bill Henderson worked with legends like Donald Byrd, Billy Higgins, The Afro Blues Quintet Plus One, Cannonball Adderley and Brazilian master, Moacir Santos, to list just a few. He was a highly praised pianist and the jazz community warmly embraced him.

It’s with a heavy heart that I received the news, a few days ago, that William Henderson III had left his seat at the piano to join the heavenly jazz band in the ever-after. You will be missed, Kemang, but never forgotten. Rest in Peace, my brother.

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October 17, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil

October 17, 2019

Singer/producer, Dianne Fraser, wants the community to know that cabaret is alive and well in Los Angeles. To support this supposition, Fraser and director, David Galligan, are presenting three nights of cabaret on October 18, 19 & 20th at two venues. On Friday, Oct 18th the opening concert will be at Feinstein’s at Vitello in Studio City, California. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, the excitement will continue at Tom Rolla’s Gardenia. This 3-night event is a benefit concert weekend to support the Actors Fund and will celebrate the American and Broadway songbooks featuring some of LA.’s top cabaret singers, actors and actresses. This is their sixth year of raising funds to benefit the Actors fund. This Fund fosters stability and resiliency to provide a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals.

Dianne Fraser, of Fraser Entertainment Group, has been presenting “An Evening of Classic Broadway” for the past five years and this upcoming weekend event is an extension of her concept. Ms. Fraser’s former shows have been critically praised and nominated for several awards, including the prestigious Eddon Award and the Robby Award; both award organizations support the best theater work in the Los Angeles area.

“I produce cabaret shows around Los Angeles. I do Line-up shows. This particular event, I produce annually and it’s the sixth year. This year, we have three different piano players, one for each night: Rick Hils, Tom Griep and Gerald Sternbach. We will feature a lively array of talented duos from the worlds of musical theater, film and television,” Dianne Fraser told me.

Tickets for Friday, Oct 18: @ Vitellos
Tickets for Saturday and Sunday Oct 19 – 20 at Tom Rolla’s Gardenia room must include dinner reservations for guaranteed seating. Call: 323- 467-7444.

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October 15, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 15, 2019


T.K. Blue, alto & soprano saxophones;flute;kalimba;sanza, lukembi & mbira; Alex Blake,bass; Chief Baba Neil Clarke,percussion; Vince Ector,drums; Billy Harper, tenor saxophone; Min Xiao Fen, pipa; Sharp Radway, Mike King, Keith Brown & Kelly Green, piano.

Saxophonist T. K. Blue’s new suite is composed and dedicated to the memory of T.K.’s long-time bandleader, mentor and NEA Jazz Master, Dr. Randy Weston. Jazz composer and pianist, Randy Weston, passed away in September of 2018. Not only has T.K. Blue composed many of the songs on this album, he has also included compositions by Randy Weston and the late, great Melba Liston. Melba and Randy were dear friends and musical partners.

“Randy Weston was born during the era of extreme racism, segregation and discrimination in the United States,” explained T.K. Blue. “Randy was a warrior for the elevation of African-American pride and culture. His compositions, disseminating the richness and beauty of the African aesthetic, are unparalleled. His life’s mission was one of unfolding the curtain that concealed the wonderful greatness and extraordinary accomplishments inherent on the African continent.”

T.K. BLUE composed the first song,“Kasbah” and explained this title and tribute to Randy Weston.

“Dedicated to Randy’s home on Lafayette Avenue in Port Greene, Brooklyn. A ‘Kasbah’ can be described as a fortress; a safe haven. It’s a place to exchange ideas with people from many different backgrounds. Randy’s home was like a shrine, complete with a vast library of books on Africa, the African diaspora and African-American history, culture and music.”

“Kasbah” is my kind of jazz, straight-ahead and unapologetic! It’s the first of nineteen tracks on this CD of abundant and excellent music. Alex Blake is one of those bass players who grunts and mouths the music as he pumps his instrument. His solo is outstanding and pulls the curtains open for Sharp Radway on piano to glide forward and lift us with his improvisation on the 88-keys. But the star on the stage is composer, reedman, T. K. Blue. The second track titled, “The Wise One Speaks” features kalimba and percussion, along with soprano saxophone. It offers the listener a very beautiful arrangement that transports us to Africa, Brazil or the Middle East. This is world music. The T.K. Blue melodies are infectious. He’s a dynamic composer. On the fourth track, Blue begins to feature the music of his mentor. His solo horn to interpret Weston’s composition, “Night in Medina” is startlingly effective and the horn harmonics added to the mix are lovely. Billy Harper is featured on tenor saxophone during the Weston tune, “Kucheza Blues” that is proudly propelled by the percussion brilliance of Chief Baba Neil Clarke. These arrangements are stunning and exciting. It’s also wonderful to see that R.K. Blue is celebrating the talents of Melba Liston, a female trombonist, composer and arranger who broke down doors for female musicians and arrangers to walk through. Her “Insomnia” composition is well played by T.K. Blue and Sharp Radway on piano.

This is an awesome album of music and tribute. Perhaps T.K. described it best when he said: “The Rhythms Continue is my humble offering to say thank you (Randy Weston) for being a mentor, elder and teacher by sharing your infinite wisdom, and giving all of us pride in knowing who we are and valuing the brilliant cultural legacy of Africa that sustains and nourishes our existence.”

The release date for this project is November 1, 2019.
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Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet/arranger/leader; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Mark Gross, alto saxophone; Keith Loftis, tenor & soprano saxophone; Alvester Garnett, drums; Dezron Douglas, bass; Anthony Wonsey, piano. SPECIAL GUESTS: Wynton Marsalis,trumpet; Mark Whitfield,guitar; Carla Cook,vocals; Eric Wyatt,tenor saxophone.

If you are not familiar with the amazing work of Frank Foster, Kenyatta Beasley’s Septet will introduce you to Foster’s genius jazz sensibilities. For most of Frank Foster’s career, he was soaking up the mastery of Count Basie and his unforgettable orchestra. Foster is a famous composer, arranger, a gifted tenor saxophonist, as well as an educator. From 1953 – 1964, Frank Foster was a sideman and star soloist with the Basie Band. After the Count’s death, from 1986 to 1995, Foster spear-headed the Count’s historic orchestra. Over four decades, Frank foster wrote compositions that have become jazz standards.

Trumpeter, Kenyatta Beasley, was working with students at Ohio State University, as part of their faculty, when he came up with the idea of adding Foster’s original music to their jazz education program. While working on this concept, Kenyatta Beasley decided to take on this recording project. He has woven his own arrangements into those of Foster’s, while endeavoring to keep the energy and beauty of Foster’s work pristine. This is a ‘live’ concert, introduced by Harold Valle. Beasley’s Septet swings hard and plays tenaciously, opening with a tune titled, “Hip Shakin.’ “Kenyatta Beasley says he chose songs that promote swing dancing.

“We wanted to be up onstage having as good a time as the audience was,” Beasley shared.

Carla Cook joins this exploration of Foster’s music, performing the lovely melody of “Simone” with her smooth vocals and Keith Loftis soars on saxophone. Track two is one of my favorite cuts. Pianist, Anthony Wonsey, takes a noteworthy solo on “Cidade Alta” as does dynamic drummer, Alvester Garnett on trap drums. This tune is infused with Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Kenyatta Beasley steps into the spotlight on the sensual arrangement of “House That Love Built,” letting his trumpet present a compelling and emotional melodic serenade. On disc 2, I love the Loftis interpretation of “Grey Thursday,” a sexy, sultry ballad. Dezron Douglas, on double bass, offers a beautiful solo on this tune. On “Katherine the Great” Kenyatta Beasley brought up his friend, Wynton Marsalis from the audience. Consequently, Marsalis happily becomes an unexpected guest artist on this project.

Kenyatta Beasley has a master’s degree in film scoring from New York University, but his roots are deeply entrenched in his native New Orleans. He has written music to over twenty short films, three feature films and he’s written music for countless TV and radio ads. Under the tutelage of his father, Kenyatta began playing trumpet at age three. He’s performed on various musical genres and productions including Shakira, Wynton Marsalis and Mary J. Blige. Beasley has performed with the Saturday Night Live Band and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His star continues to rise and shine with this double-set CD release celebrating his mentor and friend, the great Frank Foster. This project, recorded ‘live’ at the Jazz 966 in Brooklyn, is bound to be another celebrated musical victory for Kenyatta Beasley and is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Frank Foster.
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Fostina Dixon, alto, soprano & baritone saxophones/composer; Al Turner, bass/keyboard/percussion/ drums/producer/composer; Jeffrey Murrell, vocals; Monty Q. Pollard, piano; Mike ‘Big Mike’ Hart, Rick Watford , Gary Johnson, Wayne Gerard & Joe Foster, guitar; Ron Otis & Jeff Canady, drums; Charles Scales, keyboards; Herb Middleton, keyboard & drum programming/bass guitar/composer; Kali Douglas, piano/organ; Wado Brown “Petawayne”, background vocals; J.J. Evans vocals & vocal arranging; SPECIAL GUEST: Ray Chew, all instruments on “Thank You” plus composition credit.

Fostina Dixon has spent a long and impressive career in the music business. Not only is she exceptionally gifted on reed instruments, she composes music and has toured and/or recorded with a host of legendary musicians. She played in the Gerald Wilson Big Band, toured with the iconic Marvin Gaye, added her horn to the stages of Abbey Lincoln, Frank Foster, Roy Ayers and worked with the great Melba Liston. Her passion for teaching and inspiring young people is as legendary as her music credentials. She has been a community artisan and outstanding art educator in the Wilmington, Delaware area for many years. She is Founder and longtime Executive Director of the Wilmington Youth Jazz Band and received a Christi Award for her promotion of arts in her community.

This latest album release is pure joy and big fun! Fostina knows how to combine straight-ahead jazz and funk in a way that immediately engages the listener. Beginning with “Good Vibes” a tune penned by producer/bassist, Al Turner, this solid group of musicians have me grooving to the beat. Turner also plays keyboard, percussion and drums on this cut. Together with Big Mike Hart, who lays down a bluesy guitar and Monty Q. Pollard, who’s pumping the piano, a tight rhythm section track is created. Fostina Dixon uses their stellar support to take the spotlight on alto saxophone. She continues her spotlight appearance on alto in the next tune titled, “More.” And this reviewer certainly wants more after those two delightful original compositions. The title tune, “Vertical Alignment,” has Ms. Dixon sliding in on her saxophone, presenting a solid melody and introducing us to some new players in the band. Ron Otis mans the trap drums, Charles Scales takes to the keyboards, with the rhythm guitar of Joe Foster keeping the music flowing like a restless river. We are swept along in the jazzy, fluid spirit that infuses everything Fostina Dixon plays. The fourth cut, “The Best is Yet to Come” introduces us to vocalist Jeffrey Murrell. He’s smooth as velvet and his vocals are very soulful. Fostina Dixon puts down her alto saxophone and picks up the soprano sax for this arrangement.

Fontina wrote a tune called “Thank You” that features an infectious Latin Funk arrangement. She shows off her baritone Sax chops on this tune along with her alto. Jeff Canady is terrific on drums. Dixon never lets up with creating memorable and toe -tappin’ grooves. This is definitely a party production. “Neckbrace” features her special guest, the dynamic Ray Chew who also wrote this funky composition. I love the happy, percussive colors that paint this song brightly. This is the kind of music I want to pop into my automobile CD player and ride with. It’s energetic and inspirational. Shades of Thelonious Monk’s influence can be heard on Dixon’s composition, “Strutt’n Down Fulton Street.” Fostina Dixon reminds me of the infectious music of Grover Washington or Eddie Harris. She’s easily become one of my favorite female reed players.
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Makar Kashitsyn,alto saxophone; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet/flugelhorn; Sasha Mashin,drums; Alexey Podymkin,piano/Rhodes; Alexey Polubabkin,guitar; Makar Novikov,double & electric bass; Hiske Oosterwijk,vocals.

Rainy Days is a Russian record label dedicated to introducing Russia’s finest musicians to the international jazz scene. This group headed by alto saxophonist, Makar Kashitsyn, is made up of American rising stars, saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpeter, Josh Evans, along with Dutch vocalist, Hiske Oosterwijk. The rest of the band are Russian musicians. All of the songs herein are composed by Makar Kashitsyn, with the exception of track 4 that was written by Nikita Mochalin and the sixth track, composed by tenor sax man, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. On the title tune, we are introduced to the various players. It’s a lilting tune, a nice cross between a straight-ahead arrangement and smooth jazz, with Makar Novikov pumping his bass in a modern way. Alexey Polubabkin gets my attention with his impressive guitar work. Nineteen-year-old Makar Kashitsyn flies freely and improvises above the rhythm section’s groove. Labeled a prodigy from Moscow, he is showcasing his composer skills and saxophone chops. Both are quite impressive. The next tune, “Going to Ekaterinburg” is strongly hard bop and pianist Alexey Podymkin is brilliant on piano. Both Makar Kashitsyn and Chad Leftkowitz-Brown take opportunities to express themselves on their respective horns. The horn section itself carries the melody, as well as harmonizing and punching the rhythm throughout. They settle down on “Confession,” slowing the tempo and giving Josh Evans (who is featured on both trumpet and flugelhorn) an opportunity to step forward and sing his song. It doesn’t take long for the ensemble to change the groove and go into a walking bass line and a slow swing mood when Kashitsyn steps forward to play his innovative saxophone solo. The fifth track starts out bluesy and incorporates the vocals of Hiske Oosterwijk, whose soprano voice sings along with the horn lines. Also, at one-point, electronic equipment enters the scene, transforming the production and bringing a contemporary jazz feel to this project. Makar Kashitsyn’s compositions allow repetitious chord changes to inspire improvisation, but I miss the strength that a good and memorable melody always brings to timeless, standard jazz tunes. On “Our Song” Sasha Mashin cuts loose on drums in an impressive way. However, sometimes the improvising, especially on the fades of the songs, stops being interesting enough to hold my attention. On the final song, the vocalist finally sings lyrics on a tune titled, “Phone Call.” The lyrics do not support the title. This composition starts out as a ballad and quickly becomes a straight-ahead arrangement, moving at a double-time pace. The challenge with improvisation, that is one of the trademarks of jazz music, is that musicians come up with consistently fresh, creative and different improvisation. It should never just sound like scales or repeatable lines. When the vocalist re-enters, they bring the arrangement back to a solemn ballad. The talent and energy of this coterie is obvious and clearly these youthful musicians will continue to grow and blossom with time. This debut effort by Makar Kashitsyn displays his propitious talents.

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Glenn Wilson, 1946 Selmer balanced action baritone saxophone; Chip Stephens, 1876 style 3 Steinway piano/prepared piano.

This is a unique duo of baritone saxophone and piano, each featured on historic instrument. Chip Stephens plays an over-one-hundred-year-old piano, made in 1876. Glenn Wilson blows life into a 1946 Selmer baritone sax. Together, these two musicians create a full and uninhibited sound. Harmonically they blend so well that on the familiar, “Giant Steps” tune, I didn’t miss bass and drums. The old, familiar standard, “My Romance” whispers its way into our hearts from Glenn’s demonstrative horn. Chip Stephens offers continuous rhythm support on piano, walking his left hand like a double bass would and very comping with his right. These two musicians sound like old friends who know each other very well. They fill us up with their mastery and creative genius. I am astounded at how much freshness they add to an old standard like “My Romance.” The title track, “Sadness and Soul” is a Stephens original. It’s arranged as a subdued Bossa Nova and dances off my CD player in the Brazilian tradition, with colorful flamboyance. I do miss the drums on this one. “Adams Park” is a tribute to the great Pepper Adams and it’s composed by Glenn Wilson. Pepper Adams and Wilson were friends. This baritone player has incorporated some of Pepper’s pet phrases, stringing them together and like a rare pearl necklace and they become this beautiful ballad. “Adams Park” is melodically challenging, but lovely.

This is a unique collaboration by two master musicians. Chip Stephens brings a background of recording on almost seventy various releases as a sideman and/or leader. He’s performed on both Grammy and Emmy winning recordings. Glenn Wilson has been a professional jazz saxophonist for half a century. He was awarded a gold record for his participation and arrangements on Bruce Hornsby’s record, “Harbor Lights,” and both of these gentlemen are active touring, performing clinics, concerts and in clubs around the world.

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ROXY COSS – “QUINTET” Outside In Music

Roxy Coss,tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Miki Yamanaka,piano; Alex Wintz, guitar; Rick Rosato,bass; Jimmy Macbride,drums.

This is the fifth album featuring bandleader and stellar reed-woman, Roxy Coss. She has composed every song on this production (except “All or Nothing at All”) and continues her legacy of award-winning composer. It was 2016 when she received the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award. This album titled, “Quintet” not only marks her favorite size of group ensemble, but it also celebrates her #5 album release.

Roxy Coss explained her latest inspiration for composing new original works.

“…My writings changed. …I started thinking about how guitar could function as a melodic, harmonic and accompanying instrument. I like writing harmonies, strong melodies and counter melodies. I’m influenced by modern jazz saxophone and guitar pairings. … By putting the guitar in the group, I could get greater flexibility and create different combinations of textures.”

Surrounded by excellent musicians, the Roxy Coss brash and distinctive sound on both tenor and soprano saxophone push this album forward with energy and passion. Her technique and tone have elicited praise by DownBeat Magazine in their Critics’ Polls for five consecutive years. This album has actually taken original music she previously recorded and reinvigorated her arrangements with this quintet. It’s an enjoyable listen, but I would have been very happy to hear some newly composed compositions. Ms. Coss is also an activist and a respected jazz educator. She’s on the Jazz Education Network’s (JEN) board of directors and on the jazz faculty of the Julliard School, the New School and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Roxy Coss is also the founder of the important Women in Jazz Organization. If her activist voice stays as loud and boisterous as her saxophone voice, we can expect more great accomplishments and improvisational change from this talented young woman. Favorite cuts on this CD: “Don’t Cross the Coss,” “All or Nothing at All,” “Free to be,” and “Females Are Strong as Hell.”

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Kevin Sun,tenor saxophone/clarinet/composer; Adam O’Farrill,trumpet; Dana Saul, piano; Walter Stinson & Simon Willson,bass; Matt Honor & Dayeon Seok,drums.

The piano of Saul Dana opens the first suite of music. Saul and saxophonist Kevin Sun met when they were roommates at the Banff Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music in 2012. They reconnected after Sun moved to New York City in 2015.

“For a while, I had a sort of phobia about writing music for chordal instruments; almost like a fear of being locked into something,” say Kevin Sun. “But that’s not an issue with Dana because he constantly reinvents and extrapolates, so it’s always a surprise.”

This is a double CD release that reflects Kevin Sun’s meditation on space and sound. The first piece on the album is titled, “The Middle of Tensions” and Sun composed it in the latter half of 2018. This work progresses through six movements where Sun and his bandmates explore contemporary improvisation and modern jazz. Based in New York City, this saxophonist formed his trio back in 2016 and has a comfort level with bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor. They’ve released a “Trio” CD to rave reviews.

He also utilizes the talents of Simon Willson on bass. They were bandmates dating back to their New England Conservatory days. Sun met drummer, Dayeon Seok, in New York through a mutual friend. The addition of Adam O’ Farrill on trumpet adds interest and depth to his frontline. He and O’Farrill played together weekly in an ensemble at the Manhattan School of Music in 2009. Kevin Sun is an in-demand sideman on the improvised, East Coast music scenes and has also performed across China, serving as Artistic Director of the Blue Note China Jazz Orchestra in Beijing.

This is untethered music that explores the creativity and outer edges of artistic development and freedom. Kevin Sun explained this project in his liner notes.

“I hope that people feel some sense of immersion when listening. I’d want nothing more than to give the feeling of stepping into another world, as my favorite artists do.”
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Hailey Niswanger,saxophone/flute/vocals; Nikara Warren,vibraphone; Axel Laugart, keyboards; Andrew Renfroe,guitar; Aaron Liao, bass; David Frazier Jr.,drums; Jake Sherman,synthesizer; Amber Navran & Kate K-S,vocals.

Hailey Niswanger has composed all the music on this album. Her production embraces a number of jazz styles. Each song reflects a one-word title, beginning with “Awaken.” The first couple of bars reminds me of a sunrise with ethereal, electric sounds setting the mood. Listening, I can almost picture a huge orange sun rising in the East and bathing the new day in brilliant light. This is electronic music, with Aaron Liao’s bass locking down the groove along with David Frazier Jr. on drums. Jake Sherman’s synthesizer creates various sounds and effects, while Hailey Niswanger uses her reeds, effectively dancing a melody atop the rhythm section. This is jazz with a rich, funk undertone. On track three titled, “Bond” Niswanger has added the whispery vocals of Amber Navran to the electronic jazz creativity. It’s very effective. Amber’s voice is beautiful. This album of music features Hailey Niswanger on saxophone, flute and vocals, and is like none of the other horn albums I reviewed for this column. This music is totally unique and exhibits a freedom and fresh creativity that is both entertaining and commercial. It could fall under the category of Smooth Jazz. But as I listen, this music is more than that. It’s new age, contemporary, funk and fusion all wrapped up together like a colorful ball of yarn. There’s even a taste of rhythm and blues and Hip Hop in this production. On the song, “Ascension” Kate K-S is another featured singer. She too has a soothing style and a lovely tone. “Acceptance” and “Free” are the final two songs on this inspirational CD. Hailey Niswanger is definitely an excellent composer. Nikara Warren adds a hypnotic vibraphone sound to the tune, “Acceptance.” These songs are rich with well-written melodies and strong ‘hooks.’ The players and the arrangements feel youthful, hopeful and spirited.
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Speaking of youthful, energetic music and jazz sensibilities, I ran across the group below On-line, at the Jazz in_Marciac Festival, 2019. They are called KOKOROKO “Adwa” and feature three female horn players up front and powerful. I just had to share their video with you. This group is culturally rich and based in Britain. Check them out.

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October 7, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

October 7, 2019


John Coltrane,tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner,piano; Jimmy Garrison,bass; Elvin Jones,drums.

It seems that several tapes originating at the Rudy Van Gelder studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, have been recently re-discovered and resurrected. Among them is this classic John Coltrane recording session that was saved to analog tape in June of 1964. This was during a time when Coltrane’s spiritual recordings were soaring in popularity and transforming his career path. They were also reinventing the world of jazz. This music was recorded between the release of his “Crescent” album and Coltrane’s super successful, “A Love Supreme.” The songs on this new project may be familiar, but the actual recordings have never been heard, in their entirety, before this release. The classic Coltrane band is in place, featuring all-stars, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Of course, John Coltrane was on tenor saxophone and you will hear the legendary musicians playing “Naima,” a take One and take two exploration of this beautiful composition that begins and ends this album.

This recording came about when filmmaker, Gilles Groulx, approached John Coltrane to score a French film titled, “Le Chat Dans le Sac,” (translated to The Cat in the Bag). No one was sure Coltrane would do it. Monsieur Groulx explained it was a love story, taking place in Montreal, Canada, with political undertones. The unexpected result of this request was that John Coltrane agreed and brought his band into the studio to revisit songs he had already recorded. Their session was recorded on quarter inch, analog, mono tape and mixed by Rudy Van Gelder. Groulx happily took the master to Canada to use in his film. The final film production only included ten minutes of Coltrane’s 37-minutes of recording time. Now, we can hear his entire session.

The title tune, “Blue World,” opens with Jimmy Garrison setting up the tempo and mood on his double bass, soon joined by the piano chords of McCoy Tyner and the skipping drum sticks of Elvin Jones, galloping across the piece with precision and inspired time. John Coltrane takes his stance into the spotlight with slow deliberation, making the tenor saxophone sing in only the way he can. Blasting into a crescendo ending, with Elvin Jones going wild on trap drums and the music building to a frenzied pitch, the finale of this song is dramatic. “Village Blues” is recorded three times and you will enjoy all three takes. Additionally, there is the “Like Sonny” composition and an over seven-minute rendition of “Traneing In.” This mix is crystal clear and I think the tracks are better than the original, previous recordings. They sound freshly improvised and crisp, like new money.
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STEVE KHAN – “PATCHWORK” Tone Center Records

Steve Khan, guitar/vocals; Ruben Rodriguez, baby bass/electric bass; Dennis Chambers, drums; Marc Quinones, timbale/bongo/percussion; Bobby Allende, conga; Rob Mounsey, keyboards/orchestration; GUEST ARTISTS: Randy Brecker, flugelhorn; Bob Mintzer,tenor saxophone; Tatiana Parra,voice; Jorge Estrada, keyboards/arranger.

Guitarist, Steve Khan has spent years developing and achieving a unique style of his own that blends jazz and Latin sensibilities. You can immediately hear that fusion in his beautiful arrangement of the Monk and Kenny Clarke “Epistrophy” composition. Driven by Latin percussive creativity and Khan’s guitar brilliance, this tune is transformed and resurrected.

The track that follows is Ornette Coleman’s composition, “C. & D.” Khan’s all-star group personifies his love of Latin music. Folks like Ruben Rodriguez on bass and Latin music giants like percussion masters, Marc Quinones and Bobby Allende add bravura to the project. Special guest, Bob Mintzer, is on tenor saxophone and enhances their Cuban arrangement. They transform Ornette’s song, using a Latin music style referred to as ‘montuno.’ Mintzer playfully presents the zig-zag melody on his horn, dancing above the percussion excitement.

Another guest, Randy Brecker, uses his tenacious flugelhorn to elevate Joe Henderson’s song, “A Shade of Jade.” This arrangement is also solidly Lain fused, but it’s straight-ahead too. I enjoy the warm sound of Khan’s guitar. During his solo, the music seems to transform the mood with a caballo-feel. The singular original composition that Steve Khan adds to this recorded repertoire is titled, “Naan Issue.” It’s a Cha Cha arrangement and may reflect some influence from celebrated composer/arranger, Clare Fischer. Steve Khan’s guitar style is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery on this tune and will make you want to get up and dance. All in all, this is a lovely listen.
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Kelley Johnson,vocals/whistle; John Hansen,piano; Michael Glynn,bass; Kendrick Scott,drums; Jay Thomas,soprano & tenor saxophone/trumpet.

Vocalist Kelley Johnson chooses songs that are golden, with lyrics that sparkle like diamonds. She opens with a Stephen Sondheim composition, “Anyone Can Whistle.” The whistle ballad turns into a scat, and Ms. Johnson shows how smoothly she can transition from storyteller to jazzy scat singer. Surprisingly, she does know how to whistle and blows a little whistle on the fade of this song. Another plus is that Kelley Johnson knows how to swing. That’s such an important characteristic of a jazz singer and Kelley shows off this skill on “You Do Something To Me,” slow-swinging her way through this tune and creatively improvising the melody, stretching her vocals rubber-band taunt to reach unexpected intervals, like a human horn. She applies her jazz sensibilities throughout a tour of standard jazz songs like “Some Other Time”, “Let’s Do it,” and the Richard Rodgers’ popular “Something Good,” composition. There are some gems that were not that familiar to me like, “Tip-Toe Gently” by Matt Matthews and Paulette Girard and “You For Me” by Bob Haymes.
John Hansen is a joy on piano and expertly accompanies Kelley Johnson, as well as co-arranging most of the music. He’s a fabulous player and musical director. Their blend is tasty, like ice cream and cake; sweet and very cool. This is a project packed with great songs delivered fluidly by Kelley Johnson and her all-star band.
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FIMA CHUPAKHIM – “WATER’ Independent Label

Fima Chupakhin,piano/Rhodes; Vuyo Sotashe,vocals; Sergey Avanesov,saxophone; Josh Evans,trumpet; Yoav Eshed,guitar; James Robbins,bass; Jonathan Barber,drums.

This is the debut album release by pianist, composer, Fima Chupakhin. As a first-time leader of his own group, he and his band of six energetically interpret Fima’s original compositions, plus a traditional hymn and two jazz standards. From the very first tune, “Don’t Let It Get You Down” this group of Brooklyn-based musicians set the mood for hard bop and straight-ahead jazz. The title tune, “Water,” is explored by the lovely vocals of Vuyo Sotashe. This composition is fluid and full of melodic motion, perfectly describing water and its unpredictable movements. There are no words here. Just the vocals singing the melody, horn-like. Enter Fima Chupakhim on grand piano,with James Robbins strong on double bass and Jonathan Barber steady on trap drums.

“Dedication to Roy” immediately brought to my mind an image of Roy Ayers, because of the strong groove and pretty melody. I don’t know who the ‘Roy’ is that Chupakhim was thinking of, but I could clearly hear Roy Ayers putting his vibraphone mallets to work on this tune.

The actual inspirational icons that Fima Chupakhin mentions in his liner notes are legends like Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Barry Harris and Mulgrew Miller. Chupakhin earned his Master’s Degree at William Paterson University, where he spent two intense years studying piano with maestro James Weidman. After this accomplishment, he returned to his native Ukraine, where he is celebrated as a cross-genre keyboardist and film composer, as well as for his jazz sensibilities. After a short time, the pianist found himself once again hungry for the energy and challenge of New York City. He returned to the United States on an artist visa in 2015. Surrounded by the excellence of Sergey Avanesov on saxophone, Josh Evans on trumpet and adding guitarist Yoav Eshed to his rhythm section, Fima Chupakhin’s music is a formidable blend of European and African American music styles. Chupakhim is a strong composer, showcasing very memorable melodies. He describes his music as “anchored in jazz, classical and improvised music.” When I listen to this work of fine art that Fima Chupakhim has created, I hear a great appreciation for the freedom that jazz inspires, sprinkled with hard bop overtones that splash and move like water and waves. His ensemble arrangements float his compositions like colorful boats. Settle back and take a cruise with Fima Chupakhim across the deep waters of his creative mind.
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Ezra Weiss, conductor/composer/arranger; RHYTHM: Jasnam Daye Singh, piano; Eric Gruber, bass; Alan Jones, drums; Carlton Jackson, percussion. WOODWINDS: John Nastos,alto & soprano saxophones/ clarinet; John Savage,alto saxophone/flute/alto flute; Renato Caranto,tenor saxophone; Rob Davis, Tenor & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Mieke Bruggeman,baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS:Greg Garrett, Thomas Barber, Derek Sims, & Farnell Newton; TROMBONES: Stan Bock, Jeff Uusitalo, Denzel Mendoza & Douglas Peebles on bass trombone. SPECIAL GUEST: The Camas High School Choir with director,Ethan Chessin.

A small boy stands in a forested area, head bowed, looking downward, as if examining all the challenges of the world spread at his feet. This is the black and white art I see on the cover of Ezra Weiss’s album. It’s thought-provoking. I wish more artists realized the importance that artistic album covers make in marketing and promotion. I receive so much product with album covers poorly designed and unreflective of the magical music inside.

In this debut album for Ezra Weiss and his big band, the composer, bandleader and conductor has penned and conducted somewhat of a confessional and impassioned suite that is meant to be a loving message passed down from a father to his children; from his conductor’s baton to the beating of a parent’s heart and from his concerned political awareness to our ears. After the first composition, “Fanfare for a Newborn,” Ezra takes the microphone to explain his current, musical project. His monologue describes his own frustrations and anxieties with our rapidly changing and increasingly divisive world.

“…This music is my way of coping; of praying for better. … I conceived this project in 2015 and worried these themes would be outdated by the time I finished writing this music. But the truth is, the world today is much, much worse than it was a few years ago. … I’m calling this suite, ‘We Limit Not the truth of God.’ So, what is God’s truth? … When you were a toddler, I would take you to the park. You would walk over to a large tree and bow to it. Then you’d walk up to another tree and bow to it; and another. I don’t know what you saw to make you bow? Spirit? The ancestors? An angel? … I suspect it was the truth of God. … You felt a connection to those trees; awe and unity with our world. … When you feel that connection with the world, then you also feel the world suffering. … Today, people in power are exploiting … they use lies and what they call alternative facts. All this to maintain power.”

This issues in a tune he calls, “Blues and the Alternative Fact,” that features Mieke Bruggeman on baritone saxophone and the talents of Stan Bock on trombone. The powerhouse drumming of Alan Jones and the strong bass line of Eric Gruber support this piece of the suite in a dynamic way. It’s refreshing to hear a baritone saxophonist step out-front and solo.

Throughout this production, Ezra Weiss adds his narration in between the music. Some of this could have been edited for a more concise delivery. Perhaps he should have scored band music to dynamically enhance his monologues. That being said, this production is unique and a bit like listening to someone sharing their diary with us. As an activist, he shares comparison stories about he and his own kindergarten-aged children and the plight of children from other countries who fled to our country, only to be separated from their parents at the border. He tells the story of Jose, a child from South America, who was yanked from the loving arms of his father and flown to a foster family in Michigan. That family said the child had drawn a picture of his mother, father and sibling; another himself and his father, wearing a baseball hat and mustache. The foster parents said the traumatized child held onto his artwork for dear life. This is followed by the band’s presentation of, “Jose’s Drawing.” A beautiful ballad that gives Renato Caranto, on tenor saxophone, an opportunity to fly free above the lush orchestration.

At one point, Ezra’s voice cracks as he talks about the African American’s who have been killed by police, listing names. His voice chokes up again as he talks about children persecuted because they’re autistic; elementary students shot in their schools; people terrorized because of their religious beliefs. For this monologue, he does add music, but it’s not the kind of compositions that allow musical relief. Perhaps using a groove to lift the heaviness of his statements would have soothed a bombarded audience. Sometimes the truth can be painful, problematic and discouraging. This reviewer would like to have heard some up-tempo, joyful music to sooth the savagery of his honest, heartfelt words.

This entire album was recorded before a ‘live’ audience. Judging by the broad, appreciative applause, Ezra Weiss’ project was well-received at the Alberta Abbey in Portland, Oregon.
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MICHELLE LORDI – “BREAK UP WITH THE SOUND” Cabinet of Wonder Productions

Michelle Lordi, vocals/composer; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone; Tim Motzer, guitar/electronics; Matthew Parrish, bass; Rudy Royston, drums.

Michelle Lordi is multi-talented. Not only does she sing and compose music, but she is the artist who artistically designed her compact disc cover. The opening track, “Poor Bird” is an original song and she presents it with her vocals sounding like an unusual blend of jazz and soft rock. Donny McCaslin, however, is all jazz on his tenor saxophone. He takes a simple tune and embellishes it, along with the powerful drummer, Rudy Royston, they take the music way outside of simplicity. Enter Tim Motzer on electric guitar to bring a country/Western arrangement to track two; “Wayward Wind.” The thing about reviewing this project of eclectic music is that Michelle Lordi does not seem to have a genre in mind. She enjoys singing songs and she sings them well enough, but without the apparent labels. Speaking of labels, she seems to be more a pop singer than jazz. On her original songs, there are some pitch problems evident, like on the tune, “Double-Crossed.” On the familiar Cole Porter standard, “True Love” her voice sounds tender, innocent and very Country/Western. This repertoire makes me wonder what direction and on what musical path this singer wants to walk. Generally, it is important to market your music in the lane where it will receive the best airplay and exposure. Eva Cassidy is one of the few artists I know who could straddle the music genres successfully. On Michelle Lordi’s original “Before” I am reminded of the style and flavor of Fleetwood Mac. Her Rendition of “Lover Man” is definitely a jazzy, emotional delivery. But one jazz ballad on a project doesn’t make the vocalist a jazz singer. Consequently, this reviewer’s humble suggestion to Michelle Lordi would be to put together a soft rock band that also plays blues and country/western music. I think Michelle could be quite commercially successful with those styles of music.

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Karl Berger, piano/vibraphone; J.K. Hwang, violin/viola.

This is modern jazz and exploratory music was recorded spontaneously and without rehearsal. Jason Kao Hwang drove up to Woodstock, California in March to meet Karl Berger at his home studio. Berger founded that music studio with Ornette Coleman and Ingrid Sertso. Hwang had an idea of what to expect, because he had been a part of Karl’s Creative Music Orchestra. They had discussed the fluid parameters of the music and Hwang knew it would be unpredictable and without written scores or predeterminations. The two men share a common goal during this recording; to ‘Conjure’ up the best of themselves and each other, during a recording opportunity that would stretch and expand their artistry. That pretty much explains this project.

Pianist, Karl Berger, 84 years young, is a six-time winner of the DownBeat Critics Poll as a jazz soloist, as well as several other celebrated awards. He began working as a pianist in Heidelberg, Germany when he was just a teenager. Berger soaked up modern jazz techniques from American jazz musicians he met along his life path. He’s recorded and/or performed internationally with avant-garde musicians like Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra, Carla Bley and he is creative leader of the Creative Music Studio. His piano virtuosity has accompanied Lee Konitz, John McLaughlin, Gunther Schuller, Dave Brubeck, Ingrid Sertso, Dave Holland, Ray Anderson, James Blood Ulmer, Hozan Yamamoto and Carlos Ward, to list only a few. Karl Berger is also proficient on the vibraphone.

Jason Kao Hwang is a composer and master of both the violin and the viola. For years he has been exploring the vibrations and language of his existence through self-penned compositions during his transformative life journey. Currently, he leads the octet, “Burning Bridge,” the quintet, “Sing House,” the “Critical Response” and a trio called “Human Rites.” On three different occasions, including this year, the El Intruso Jazz Critics Poll voted him Violinist of the Year. In the past, DownBeat Critics’ Poll voted Mr. Hwang a “Rising Star for Violin.” He has worked with such luminaries as Tomeka Reid, William Parker, Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris, Oliver Lake, Pauline Oliveros, Henry Threadgill, Reggie Workman, Ivo Perlman and Patrick Brennan. These are just a few names from a long list of collaborators. Mr. Hwang often blends Western and Chinese instruments on his projects. He currently teaches ‘Sound Image’ in New York University’s Undergraduate Department of Film and television.

Together, these two talented instrumentalists color outside the lines with an audacity and freedom that startles the senses.
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Leslie Pintchik, piano/composer; Scott Hardy, bass; Michael Sabin, drums.

Applause opens this project, so we know we are now part of a live audience, listening to an amazing trio. They open with “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” a song I rarely hear in the 21st century. It’s still as beautiful as ever and Leslie Pintchick delivers it with gusto. This trio presents a lilting, Latin arrangement of this tune and it ‘swings’ hard.

The second track is as spectacular as the first and just as familiar. It’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” For some reason, this pianist reminds me of an early Ahmad Jamal; substantive and dynamic, but at the same time under-stated on her instrument. Ms. Pintchik’s solo soars until Scott Hardy, on bass, makes a spotlight appearance on his upright instrument. Soon after, Michael Sabin rolls across the trap drums, smashing his percussive message into the universe and making quite an impression. Now I have met and immersed myself into each of these three wonderful musicians, I discover that Leslie Pintchik has self-penned Tracks 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. They are all composed by Ms. Pintchik and manage to be as well-written as they are well-played. This trio has me wrapped around their flying fingers on her tune, “There You Go.” The straight-ahead attitude sweeps me up into their energy like a helium balloon. Sabin is given lots of time to solo and once again shows all his technique exposing the various colors he paints with busy drum sticks. I enjoy the original compositions of Leslie Pintchik as much as I enjoy the standards she embellishes. This composer has a sense of humor too. I can tell from the name of her sixth tune, “Your Call Will be Answered by Our Next Available Representative in the Order in which it Was Received. Please Stay on The Line. Your Call Is Important to Us.” This original has several unexpected breaks and pauses, much like what we go through when we’re trying to get some company representative on the telephone these days. We are more than likely to get an “Alexa-type” voice-robot advising us to hold on and someone will be with us shortly. But all too often, they never come soon. They always come late and without apology or emotion for keeping you dangling, hoping you won’t be disconnected after waiting ten-minutes or more for some representative to pick up. Her composition is meant to explain all this and perhaps she composed it one of those moments she was waiting for someone to pick up the phone.

Leslie explained how this recording came about. “In some ways, the release of this CD is a happy accident. It was recorded casually, on a Wednesday evening gig at ‘Jazz on Kitano ‘in Manhattan, just so that I might listen back, at my leisure, to the live performance. When I did listen to the recording, it felt like a special evening; we were fortunate to have had a packed house as well as supportive listeners with generous ears.”

The Leslie Pintchik Trio is based in New York. If they were anywhere close to Southern California, I’d drop everything and rush out to let my generous ears enjoy this amazing unit of musicians. For now, I’ll just play this CD again.
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Anne Phillips, vocals/composer; Roger Kellaway, piano; Bob Kindred, tenor saxophone; Chuck Berghoffer, bass.

Recorded before a ‘live’ audience, Anne Phillips shows she has the style, class and vocal control to interpret her repertoire. Not only does she deliver her songs like stories of life, she’s also a competent composer who offers us seven excellently written original songs on this recording. She opens this project with “I’m Gonna Lay My Heart on the Line” arranged as a waltz that swings.

Anne Phillips’ album was recorded at the Jazz Bakery, founded in 1992, as a concert company manned by jazz vocalist, Ruth Price for the last twenty-seven-years. Once her lease on the Culver City, California establishment was exhausted, Ms. Price found herself floating from space to space. The Jazz Bakery became a moveable feast, housing jazz concerts at music schools, colleges, and the Moss theater space or other venues that opened their doors to jazz. Consequently, Ruth’s dream of providing Los Angeles County with a well-respected jazz club continues. It became the perfect spot for Anne Phlilips to resurrect her jazz career and record this album.

The years have raced since her debut album was recorded in 1959. For the past several decades, Anne Phillips has made a living using her vocal talents to sing behind the scenes, in the commercial music industry. She also did some songwriting for theatrical shows. The night of this recording at the Jazz Bakery, Phillips features her original repertoire, spiced with a few standards. The concert is presented like a one-woman-show. Her vocals are convincing, because you can tell she’s lived her life and she knows these lyrics like reading a diary in her palms. Having Roger Kellaway as her musical conductor certainly lifts this production. He is the consummate accompanist and a superior pianist. Chuck Berghoffer on bass is also excellent, as is Bob Kindred on tenor saxophone. This trio ‘swings’ in spite of the fact that there is no drummer on this gig.

Anne’s patter in between her songs explains her life writing television ad commercials, songs for musical plays and singing background in New York session studios. She talks about how music has changed from 1959 to 2019, melodically, lyrically and commercially. Although her voice is not the voice of her youth, she can still sell a song. Compositions like “Hey, Look Where I Am” and the bluesy “New York Night Time Blues” tunes are compelling. Also, the poignant “After All These Years” show us that her composer talents are definitely the star of this one-woman concert.
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