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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