A QUILTED PATCHWORK OF HOT JAZZ TO WARM YOUR WINTER

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

October 7, 2019

JOHN COLTRANE – “BLUE WORLD” Impulse Records

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 – “SOMETHING GOOD” OA2 Records

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 BIG BAND – “WE LIMIT NOT THE TRUTH OF GOD” OA2 Origin Records

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 – JASON KAO HWANG – “CONJURE” True Sound Recordings

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 TRIO LIVE – “SAME DAY DELIVERY” Independent Label/PintchHard

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 – “LIVE AT THE JAZZ BAKERY” Conawaga Records

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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One Response to “A QUILTED PATCHWORK OF HOT JAZZ TO WARM YOUR WINTER”

  1. REVIEWS: Musical Memoirs and Midwest Record review Fima Chupakhin's "Water", out today! - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] by Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs  […]

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