Archive for November, 2019


November 27, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

November 27, 2019

The Grand Ole Opry will salute Ray Charles in a program set to air in Los Angeles on KCET Public Television on Thursday, November 28th at 10:00PM. So, after your hearty, Thanksgiving Celebration, tune-in to enjoy a 90-minute television special that features the songs of Ray Charles and the influence this revolutionary African American artist had on country music. The impressive line-up of talent will feature host, Darius Rucker and special performances by Boyz II Men, Cam, Brett Eldredge, Leela James, Jessie Key, Ronnie Milsap, Lukas Nelson, LeAnn Rimes, Allen Stone, Travis Tritt, Charlie Wilson, Trisha Yearwood and Chris Young. We will forever be “thankful” for the music and genius of Ray Charles.

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Jeff Denson, double bass; Romain Pilon, guitar; Brian Blade, drums.

This project celebrates a collaboration between two countries, bringing together French guitarist, Romain Pilon, celebrated U.S. drummer, Brian Blade and internationally acclaimed U.S. bassist/composer, Jeff Denson. Denson first played with Brian Blade in 2017 after he got a call to tour with Joel Harrison’s ‘Spirit House Quintet.’ Jeff Denson knew that Brian Blade was the group’s drummer. Consequently, he took the gig, because he was a big fan of Blades.

“I said, YES! Absolutely, without question. I’ll do back flips if you want,” Denson recalls his enthusiasm when he accepted a gig he was truly “thankful” to land and eager to lend his talents.

“Jeff and I could communicate right away, as musicians and as people too,” said drummer Blade as he remembered their first musical encounter. “We had the kind of relationship where you don’t have to say too much or to explain.”

Of course, the relationship between any bass player and drummer is extremely important in any group. They form the basement that the musical structure is built upon. Enter, Romain Pilon, who Denson first met at Berklee College of Music some twenty years ago. After playing together off and on, once in New York and later for a tour in California, they talked about doing a project together. It seemed like a perfect fit for the three, musical, kindred spirits. “Between Two Worlds” features all original compositions, including five written by Jeff Denson and five contributed by Romain Pilon. The composers built a legacy on this album.

“As musicians, we float between two worlds. One, a physical plane and the other, a powerful reality that can only be found with the most open of ears, hearts and minds,” Denson explained.

Romain Pilon has recorded three albums as a co-leader and four as a leader. His talents, as an improviser and composer, have earned him praise in the international press as one of the standout musicians currently living in Paris. He can play all types of jazz; swing, bebop, modern and avant-garde music. That makes him an ‘in-demand’ sideman and also a prestigious instructor with strict guideline and high standards. He is fluid and innovative on this recording.

Brian Blade was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. He’s drenched in the Gospel music of his youth. His father, Brady L. Blade, Sr., is a respected pastor since 1961. Brian Blade’s drum skills have been in demand for years and he is a member of Wayne Shorter’s quartet since 2000. He’s recorded with Joni Mitchell, Kenny Garrett, Ellis Marsalis, Norah Jones, and even Bob Dylan. In 2009, he released his first album as a singer/songwriter; “Mama Rosa” that featured songs dedicated to his grandmother.

Bassist, Jeff Denson, is also a vocalist and educator who was born in Arlington, Virginia and grew up in Washington, DC. He started out playing alto sax, but switched to bass and vocals during high school. Denson relocated to the San Francisco, California Bay area in 2011 and became a professor at California Jazz Conservatory where he serves as Dean of Instruction. Denson has been heralded as one of the leading bassists of contemporary jazz and has released fourteen albums as a leader or co-leader. He also spearheads Ridgeway Arts, a nonprofit to enhance educational initiatives, concert presentations and recordings released on Denson’s Ridgeway Record label.
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Bernie Mora, guitar/composer/bandleader; Charles Godfrey, drums/percussion; Daniel Becker, elec. & acoustic 12-string bass; Doug Webb, saxophones/flute; Corey Alley, keyboards; Lee Thornberg, trumpets/trombone; GUEST ARTISTS: Eric Unsworth, fretless bass; Leilani Rivera Low, vocal Hawaiian chant.

This album is an excellent blend of rock music and jazz. According to the liner notes, guitarist Bernie Mora never plays music that lacks fire, power and purpose. He certainly captures all of that on this production. “No Agenda” is his latest recording that features his fusion jazz sensibilities. It showcases nine new original compositions by Bernie Mora that display infectious rhythm and jazzy rock. The horn section is stupendous, including the talents of Doug Webb and Lee Thornburg. “Later Daze” is one of my favorites on this CD, beginning with a very jazz-infused introduction by Doug Webb’s saxophone solo. It quickly turns into a high-energy, drum boosted arrangements that will encourage you to get up off your seat and dance. The staccato breaks and punchy horn lines remind me of the Tower of Power horn section. The title tune is a sexy, bluesy arrangement that showcases the brilliance of Bernie Mora on his guitar. Once again, the drummer was an important dynamic in this arrangement. However, there is an album note that I should mention.

Former drummer, “Doc the Clock” (as Doc Anthony was lovingly referred to), was a big part of the Tangent group’s creative process and rhythm section on their last two albums. His already-recorded drum parts were used for this recording at the request of the group’s new percussionist,Charles Godfrey. Bernie Mora explained his thankfulness for having collaborated with “Doc the Clock.”

“Doc Anthony was a great friend to all of us, as well as the ultimate timekeeper! He not only brought great drum chops, but shared wisdom. …I played with him for many years off and on and … we definitely felt his presence on some of our tracking sessions. This song is for you Doc, my best friend. You were taken from us suddenly, but live on in our music forever!”

Bernie Mora is based in San Antonio, Texas, but frequently utilizes top musicians from Los Angeles and has been the bandleader for his group, Tangent, for many years. Mora is an awesome composer, framing melodies, that stick melodically in your consciousness, with bright rhythms and fusion excitement. This is an original and well-produced combination of fusion, jazz and rock music. The group, Tangent, is cohesive and each player brings quality and memorable art to the project.
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The DIVA Jazz orchestra: Alexa Tarantino, lead alto saxophone/soprano sax/flute/clarinet; Scheila Gonzales, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Janell Reichman, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Roxy Coss, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Leigh Pilzer, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Tanya Darby, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Jami Daubar, Rachel Therrien & Barbara Laronga , trumpet/flugelhorn; Jennifer Krupa, lead trombone; Linda Landis, trombone; Leslie havens, bass trombone; Tomoko Ohno, piano; Noriko Ueda, bass; Sherrie Maricle, drummer/bandleader; Stanley Kay, founder. The Boys: Ken Peplowski, clarinet, Claudio Roditi, trumpet/ piccolo trumpet; Jay Ashby, trombone/percussion; Marty Ashby, guitar/ producer.

This is an orchestra of female musicians, incorporated with some male guest musicians, which explains the title of this CD, “Diva and the Boys.” On track #1, titled “Slipped Disc,” Ken Peplowski is featured on clarinet. The arrangement and Peplowski’s performance winds the clock back to the Benny Goodman Big Band swing days. When I read the composer credits, to my surprise, I discover that Benny Goodman actually wrote this song. This entire album has a 1930’s or 1940’s feel to it. The arrangements are often colored by Dixieland music styles, even though they include original compositions and Latin standards.

The inspiration for DIVA’s formation came from Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band where Sherrie Maricle was playing the drums. Thankfully, because Stanley was so mesmerized by her extraordinary percussive talent, he began to consider finding other women players with comparable musical proficiency, with the objective of forming a female orchestra. It wasn’t hard to do. By 1994, this all-women congregation was regularly performing concerts for Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) and being enthusiastically received.

Jobim’s familiar composition “A Felicidade” is always a crowd pleaser. It features special guest Claudio Roditi on trumpet and Roxy Coss on tenor saxophone. The arrangement is smooth, but lacks the excitement and energy I usually expect this song to muster. I miss hearing the familiar chant, “Oo-bah, Oo-bah, Oo-bah” and wish they had turned Sherrie Maricle’s inspired drums up, much louder in the mix. I think that would have helped propel this production forward. Noriko Ueda plays a lovely bass solo and the horn harmonies crescendo and encourage the energy.

Jay Ashby’s composition “Deference to Diz” gives pianist, Tomoko Ohno a time to shine and Ashby himself performs formidably on trombone, as does Claudio Roditi on trumpet and Peplowski on clarinet. “Bucket of Blues,” composed by the great saxophonist, Plas Johnson, gives Sherrie Maricle a chance to step forward and sweep her busy drum sticks across the skins with passionate precision. It was good to hear the ladies in the woodwind department finally step forward and solo with gusto. This tune is the energy I was looking forward to hearing throughout their project. When the DIVA’s stepped up, they brought an explosion of energy with them.

Here is a well-produced album and these talented women bring beauty and passion to what they play. I would just like to hear them do some more contemporary arrangements, with more energy and spice in the mix.
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Ralph Peterson, conductor/drums/cornet/muted trumpet; SPECIAL GUEST SOLOIST: Kuumba Frank Lacy, trombone. RHYTHM: Samuel Bolduc & Christian Napoleon, drums; Youngchae Jeong &Nikos Chatzitsakos, bass; Ido Hammovich, piano/electric piano; Manfredi Caputo, percussion; SAXOPHONES: Eric Nakanishi, (lead alto/soprano & section captain); Craig Jackson, 2nd alto; Solomon Alber, 2nd tenor; Tim Murphy, 1st tenor; Gabe Nekrutman, baritone; Morga Faw, soloist/arranger; Joe Melnicove, flute. TROMBONES: Brandon Lin (section captain) 2nd bone; Stephan Tenney, (lead); Dean Scarlett, 3rd bone; Ethan Santos, bass bone. TRUMPETS: Robert Vega-Dowda (Section captain) 2nd trpt; Yuta Yamagichi, (lead); Milena Casado Faquet, 3rd trpt; Will Mallard, 4th trpt; John Michael Bradford, 5th trpt.

When I see Ralph Peterson’s name, I immediately know I’m going to listen to a high quality, high energy project. Thankfully, this CD did not disappoint. “Listen Up” is the first studio CD from the Peterson popular student band. I believe the former Gen-Next Big Band was recorded ‘live.’ On this production, all of the arranging (except for two songs) was done by Berklee music students and they recorded ‘live’ in the studio. Peterson praised them saying:

“They demonstrate maturity, finesse and exuberance as arrangers and players.”

This is Peterson’s second album celebrating the legacy of legendary drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey and his famed Jazz Messengers. This is a follow-up to the Gen-Next Band’s 2018 debut release titled, “I Remember Bu.” I reviewed that first release and it too was full of energy and excellence. Roger H. Brown, the President of Berklee College of Music spoke highly of Ralph Peterson.

“Ralph teaches jazz the way he and many of the greatest players learned their craft, from making the music with a torch bearer committed to passing on the knowledge. Ralph has toured with Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Michael Brecker, Branford Marsalis and many of the greatest players of this music. His students deeply appreciate him and learn about composition, arranging, performance and life. The commitment the students make is remarkable,” spoke Berklee’s president.

This journalist listens to hundreds of projects each year and these young musicians and students sound as professional as some of the name jazz musicians I review. In some cases, they sound more professional. The Gen-Next Big Band opens with a Curtis Fuller composition titled, “Arabia.” It’s an up-tempo arrangement by Will Mallard and a great way for the band to make a grand entrance. Mallard also solos on trumpet, as does baritone saxophonist Gabe Nekrutman. But what surprised me was that Ralph Peterson soloed too, not on drums (as I expected) but on muted trumpet. I enjoy the time changes during this arrangement and the flute solo by Joe Melnicove was awesome.

Track 2 is a Ralph Peterson composition, “Acceptance,” and Peterson is back behind his drum set, trading drum solos with the talented drummer, Christian Napoleon. The band plays a couple of Bobby J. Watson’s compositions and on Hoagy Carmichael’s beautiful “Skylark” tune, they add the sweet vocals of Chole Brisson. Freddie Hubbard’s “Down Under” composition ‘swings’ and is propelled by the magic in Peterson’s drum sticks. It’s not often you hear a bass trombone solo, but Ethan Santos surprises us with his improvisation on this instrument. John Michael Bradford is impressive during his trumpet solo.

Ralph Peterson’s Gen-Next Big Band is a wonderful listening experience and made me want to grab my flat shoes and a swing-dance partner, then hurry to the dance floor! Congratulations are in order to each of these young musicians who contributed to an excellent project in an entirely professional way.
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Darren Barrett, EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument)/trumpet/piccolo trumpet/keyboards; Santiago Bosch, keyboards; Daniel Ashkenazy & Conn Shani, bass; Mathéo Techer & Roni Kaspi, drums; Judy Barrett, percussion; Chad Selph, organ; Roy Ben Bashat, Francois Chanvallon , Jeffrey Lockhart, guitar; SPECIAL GUESTS: Kenny Garrett, soprano saxophone; Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone; Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar.

This Is a blend of electronic jazz, using the Hip Hop concept of looping to open Darren Barrett’s album, while incorporating straight-ahead jazz susceptibilities. With a repetitive melody line played beneath his compositions, Barrett builds on this basement of sound, using the most important element of jazz; improvisation.

Barrett’s production concept is unique, because of the use of the EVI. His first original composition, titled Mr. Steiner” is meant to celebrate the synthesis guru, Nyle Steiner, who is credited for the invention of the EVI or Electronic Valve Instrument. Steiner also invented the EWI (Electric Wind Instrument). The jazz audience may have become familiar with this invention when it was employed popularly by saxophonist, Michael Brecker. Darren Barrett’s creative concept is to pair the full potential of the EVI with other instruments thus, creating a fresh, unique approach to his arrangements. The EVI is a midi wind controller. It’s a wind instrument that is capable of controlling any midi synthesizer, using breath control as an important component for expression. Similar to a trumpet, octaves are achieved through the octave roller with the left hand. Notes are played with the right hand, based on conventional trumpet finger-rings. The players air-wind controls both volume and brightness.

Darren Barrett exudes, “The EVI, for the trumpeter, is just another instrument one can add to their arsenal just like the Flugelhorn or mutes. It’s not only fun to play, it opens up your mind to new things.”

Track 2 incorporates a laid-back, Smooth -jazz feel titled, “Keep It Moving,” Darren Barrett brightly features this EVI instrument. Roy Ben Bashat adds electric guitar. The EVI and guitar make a compatible soundboard. Santiago Bosch offers his keyboard magic and Mathéo Techer waves his drum sticks like a magician’s wand. This composition by Darren Barrett once again uses a repetitive ‘hook,’ or refrain, that the band continuously goes back to play. Barrett is a very melodic composer. Another interesting use of the EVI is that it can be played as a mono-tone or can harmonize with itself as a polyphonic tone, using two or more notes at the same time. Barrett employs this technique on “Nu Vibrations.” The poly-harmonics, along with synthesized voicings, paint an unexpectedly rich, palate of sound on this fourth track.

This project of composing and arranging music with Barrett’s concept of celebrating the EVI instrument took the trumpeter about a year of preparation. He has added some celebrated musicians in contemporary music as his special guests. They include the soprano saxophone of Kenny Garrett on “dB Plus KG” and tenor saxophonist, Noah Preminger is spotlighted on “Botnick.” Barrett also features talented guitarist, Kurt Rosenwinkel on his composition, “Deal for Real.”

To assist him with EVI issues, with programming, and to serve as a technical consultant, Darren Barrett invited Mark Steiner, nephew of Nyle Steiner to the studio. The result of combining a list of gifted musicians, special guests, and employing his own composer, arranger and production talents, is a strong musical package. Darren Barrett stretches the boundaries of contemporary jazz in a fresh and notable way. He is grateful for the new technology. This is his eleventh album release as a leader. It may be one of his more exceptional productions, blending electronic invention with ingenuity.

It all started with this project below titled, “dB-ish” back in 2017.

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Skip Wilkins, piano; Dan Wilkins, tenor saxophone; Tony Marino, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums.

This is a delightful album of somewhat obscure compositions by some of the most iconic American composers in the business of music. Skip and Dan Wilkins use their excellent talents to introduce us to songs like, “Spring Isn’t Spring Anymore” by Matt Dennis, “Remind Me” by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields and “Ever Again” by Alec Wilder and Johnny Mercer, among others. Dan Wilkins has a smooth, intoxicating sound on tenor saxophone. Skip Wilkins is an amazingly competent and creative pianist. Together, with Tony Marino on bass and Bill Goodwin at the drum set, this is a thoroughly entertaining quartet. “Someday” is a love letter to the historic Deer Head Inn of Pennsylvania. It’s one of the oldest, continuously running jazz clubs in the country. Open since the 1940’s, it’s situated in the Pocono Mountains, a historic area of Pennsylvania called Delaware Water Gap. Many legendary jazz artists have performed there and in 1992, Keith Jarrett recorded a ‘live’ album on the premises and his album title reflected that home of jazz. Skip & Dan Wilkins have done the same, displaying a photograph of the legendary jazz hotel on the cover of this current CD.

Pianist, Skip Wilkins is quite familiar with this respected jazz establishment. He has resided in an upstairs apartment, above what used to be the carriage house, since 2012. Surprisingly, I read in the liner notes that the drummer on this project, Bill Goodwin, is also a fellow resident at Deer Head Inn. Perhaps this musical residency is something to be thankful for, since it brought these talented gentlemen closely together for this project.

On the first tune, “We’ll Meet Again” father and son team, Skip and Dan Wilkins, offer us a lovely rendition of the Parker & Charles composition, “We’ll Meet Again.” The chord changes sound very much like “This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship” and I find myself wondering which tune came first? Like this quartet, I too have a passion for the American Songbook. The Skip & Dan Wilkins quartet brings each composition alive with skill, dexterity and emotional deliveries. Longtime collaborator, Tony Marino, is strong and steady on his upright bass. You can tell that this group of musicians are quite familiar with each other and their comfort-level and technical abilities merge to create a beautiful album of historic relevance. They offer an hour of exceptional jazz music. In fact, I found myself playing this album again, just for the pure enjoyment of it.
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Michael Cerda, bass/vocals/guitar; Doug Beavers, trombone/producer/arranger; Andrew Gould, saxophone; Pete Nater & Jonathan Powell, trumpet; Beserat Tafesse, trombone; Robby Ameen, drums; George Delgado, Willy Torres, Luisito Quintero, Camilo Molina, percussion; Chris Phillips, guitar/lead vocalist; Marco Bermudez, Carlos Cascante, Jeremy Bosch, Herman Olivera, & Willy Torres, Spanish vocals; Chevy Chevis, backing vocals.

Planning a party? The first track on this album exudes happiness. If you are looking for a New Year’s Eve party album that features World music, this is it! Yellow House orchestra is pop, rock, jazz and Latin all rolled into one cross-cultural ball of multi-colored music. The first cut and title tune, “Pop” goes from funk to reggae in the blink of an eye and the slap of a drum stick. Then the arrangement embraces Latin grooves, all within the same six minutes of energetic, well-played music. Drummer, Robby Ameen, is to be heralded as a super-star. He plays it all! Michael Cerda is the composer and is certainly musically explorative and definitely artistic. He sings, plays bass, guitar and writes the songs for the group. Grammy winning trombonist, Doug Beaver, is the arranger and producer of this self-contained ensemble. Here is a project, ultimately about openness and inclusiveness. It appears to be a part of something bigger than oneself, with the goal of showing the amazing diversity in music. Just like humanity, this project is colorful and beautiful. Cerda is joined by a tight harmonic group of backing vocals that sing in both Spanish and English.

Based in San Francisco and New York City, (a wide range of miles apart), like the wide range of music they explore, Yellow House Orchestra is a unique musical experience. They are definitely a party band. These musicians show up to enjoy, to interact, to explore and spotlight how human differences enhance the world of music and the world itself. They string styles of music together like a rare, jeweled necklace. Then they gift that unique piece of musical creativity to us. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to enjoy its incomparable beauty.
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November 17, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

NOVEMBER 17, 2019


Dave Stryker, guitar; Stefon Harris, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums/percussion; Special Guest: Steve Nelson, vibraphone on track #10.

I have come to look forward to the Dave Stryker “Eight Track” series and was quite interested in hearing this one that celebrates the Christmas season. Stryker is a producer, guitarist, arranger and studio session musician who plays Gibson and Benedetto guitars. On this, his fourth eight-track project, he is employing the same steadfast band he’s used in the past. Stefon Harris brings joy to any project with his mastery of the vibraphone. The organ of Jared Gold, blends perfectly with Stryker’s guitar and recalls the days of great organ bands like Jimmy smith with Terry Evans on guitar or reminds us of the magic created by Kenny Burrell with Jack McDuff. These were popular organ/guitar bands from back-in-the-day, a time when we were popping an ‘eight-track’ into our car players. Now we just plug our cell phones into our stereo system or tell ‘Alexa ‘what we want to hear. Wow – We’ve come a long way baby.

Dave Stryker reaches back to the ‘eight-track’ days for a style of playing that rejuvenates that time period. His exciting mix of the ‘Soulful Strut’ classic song mixed in with “Frosty the Snowman” is an excellent example of bringing us back to the roots of an eight-track zeitgeist. He calls this blend of music, a “Soulful Frosty.” You will enjoy ten holiday standards on this release including John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” tune, shades of Ramsey Lewis and the Peanuts cartoon with “Christmas Time Is Here,” a bluesy, Country/Western-feel on “Blue Christmas” and an organ drenched, up-tempo arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” is played at a brisk trot. You can just picture a horse-drawn sleigh being pulled down a snow-covered lane by a galloping steed. McClenty Hunter is given an ample drum solo on this tune and deservingly so! Stefon Harris has flying mallets and Dave Stryker’s guitar skips along, leading the ensemble in a joyful way.

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Jonathan Butler, vocals/guitar/electronic programming; Donald Hayes, saxophones/flutes/additional programming; Dan Lutz, bass; Gorden Campbell, drums; Keiko Matsui & Ruslan Sirota, acoustic piano; Marcus Anderson, flutes; Nicholas Cole, Marcus Anderson, drum programming/keyboards, SFX; Kurt Lykes, Jonathan Butler, Shelea & Jodie Butler, background vocals; Dave Koz, soprano saxophone; The Kroma Ensemble String Quartet: Crystal Alforque & Nadira Kimberly Scruggs-Butler, violin; Nikk Shorts, viola; Adrienne Woods, cello; Nicole Neely, string arranger. Gerald Albright, alto & tenor saxophones; Donald Hayes, horns/saxophones/flutes/additional programming/horn arrangements. Rick Braun, trumpet/valve trombone/percussion; Stephen Oberheu, sousaphone.

The first thing that struck me about the Jonathan Butler album was the bright and beautiful artwork on the cover. Mr. Butler is an ambassador of the Lalela Organization in South Africa which provides educational arts for at-risk youth. The program works to spark creative thinking and awaken the entrepreneurial spirit. The cover and other paintings were created by the children of Lalela. Jonathan Butler opens this album with “Winter Wonderland.” Butler is richly influenced by the vocal style of Stevie Wonder and is additionally, an amazingly accomplished guitarist. I thoroughly enjoy Butler’s rendition of this familiar holiday song. Another stellar vocal presentation is the duet between Shelea and Jonathan Butler on the “Mary Did You Know?” composition.

Keiko Matsui is a special guest acoustic pianist on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” produced in a very smooth jazz way. “Joy To The World” is also smooth jazz and features Dave Koz on soprano saxophone. “Love Is,” an original song written by Shelea Melody Frazier & Jonathan Butler is the only original composition on this production. It’s performed as an instrumental with the ‘hook’ being sung by Shelea and Butler.
This is a lovely stocking stuffer for your holiday season.
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This is a collection of holiday blues songs that feature a bright and sparkling array of unforgettable blues artists. You will enjoy KoKo Taylor singing a funky, blues number titled “Merry, Merry Christmas.”

This track is followed by Kenny Neal singing “Christmas Time In The Country.” Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials come dancing in next on a bright shuffle rendition of “I’m Your Santa.” Katie Webster is a pianist and vocalist who offers “Deck the Halls With Boogie Woogie” instead of boughs of holly. William Clarke slows down the groove to a slow blues on “Please let Me Be Your Santa Claus.” Tinsley Ellis brings us a more rock/blues groove on “Santa Claus Wants some Lovin.” Of course, this album compilation includes the great Charles Brown singing “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” with Kenny Washington shuffling his drums underneath the groove. One of my favorites is when Son Seals picks up his guitar and sings, “I wanna be home to help you decorate our Christmas tree, but I’ll be thinkin’ of you and I know you’ll think of me“ on his “Lonesome Christmas ” tune. Plus, he plucks a mean guitar. This is followed by Lonnie Brooks who sings about “Christmas on the Bayou” with a Chuck Berry groove and a rock and roll sensibility. Little Charlie and the Nightcats feature Rick Estrin on a magnificent harmonica arrangement. Estrin plays harmonica and sings in between his riffs. Estrin is singing his self-composed, “Santa Claus” song and it swings hard, with Jay Peterson strongly walking his bass. Elvin Bishop brings the electric guitar alive on “The Little Drummer Boy” with his prominent slide technique. Saffire is a group of all female musicians who pride themselves in being called, ‘the Uppity Blues Women.’ They sing a holiday song called, “One Parent Christmas” about the trials and tribulations of making Christmas work in a single-parent home. It wasn’t my favorite on this album. The very popular Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown wrote a song simply called, “Christmas.” He uplifts the CD with a positive spin lyrically and a style of songwriting reminiscent of the late, great Alberta Hunter. Bob Hoban plays a mean blues piano on this tune. The album closes out with Charlie Musselwhite crooning us “Silent Night” on his blues harmonica. There’s sure to be more than one gem that pleases you in this shiny array of blues jewels.
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Kristen Korb, bass/vocals; Magnus Hjorth, piano; Snorre Kirk, drums; Mathias Heise, harmonica.

Kristin Korb offers us a musical holiday gift with some fresh, new Christmas songs to add to the familiar pile of music we hear every year. “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas” is a well-written lyric and beautiful melody that could easily become a standard holiday ballad. Korb is not only a great interpreter of lyrics, she is also an outstanding scat-singer and the arrangements of these standard Christmas songs bring fresh appeal to well-worn music. On “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” drummer, Snorre Kirk, summersaults and dances all over the trap drums. Another beauty of a composition is “That’s What I Want for Christmas.” Kristin Korb plays the bass and sings, smooth and seamlessly, floating like warm breath on icy air. Her vocals are as soft as a cloud, bearing stories that drop sweetly from her lips like peppermint drops.

Born in Montana, Kristin Korb attended Eastern Montana College and then completed her studies at the University of California, San Diego. She studied with legendary bassist, Ray Brown and released her first record under Brown’s tutelage in 1996. I had wondered whatever happened to Kristin Korb, because I hadn’t heard about her performing in the California area for some time. In 2011, she married Morten Stove, the Danish co-founder of DPA Microphones, and moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. In Europe, her career continues with a band featuring Snorre Kirk on drums, Magnus Hjorth on piano and herself on bass. The addition of the sensational harmonica player, Mathias Heise, adds an exciting flavor to her holiday album.

Every song delivered is freshly arranged. There is nothing mundane or ordinary about this project. Even though the public will recognize most of these endearing Christmas songs, they are all painted with unexpectedly unique and jazzy colors. Korb cover’s Dave Frishberg ‘s composition, “Snowbound” with a slow, swing tempo. She sings the “Up On the Housetop” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” medley at a speedy pace and the group plays the French traditional hymn, “Angels We Have Heard on High” as an instrumental with a Latin-swing -feel. They also introduce this writer to an Irving Berlin composition titled, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” that I don’t remember ever hearing. Or perhaps, their excellent arrangement and delivery just makes me feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. Here is an album containing a Baker’s Dozen of holiday music that you will enjoy playing season after season.

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Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, tenor 1 vocal/France; Simon Akesson, tenor 2 vocal, Sweden; Danny Fong, tenor 3 vocal, Canada; Andrew Kesler, tenor 4 vocal/Canada; James Rose, Baritone/UK; Evan Sanders, bass/USA; Gordon Goodman’s Big Phat Band; Strings provided by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra; Arturo Sandoval, trumpet; The Barbershop Quartet cameo by Ringmasters; Don Shelton, clarinet; The Estonian Voices feature Jo Goldscmith-Etes & Sam Robson; Orchestral arrangement by Nan Schwartz on O Holy Night; Additional vocals by: Richard Bourne, Paul Cooper, David Dos, Skip Dolt, Hideaki Onaru, Benoit Pupin, Richard Owen Oz Ryan, Colb Uhlemann & Leonard Zerbib.

ACCENT is an a ‘Capella vocal group comprised of six male voices from diverse backgrounds. Simon Akesson is a tenor vocalist from Sweden. Jean-Baptiste Craipeau (or “JB” as they fondly call him) also sings tenor who is from France. Andrew Kesler and Danny Fong are both tenors from Canada. The baritone in the group is James Rose (who also composed the song “Winter Winds”). He is from the UK and the bass voice is Evan Sanders, an American. Surprisingly, unlike how groups used to get together beneath big-city street lamps and in barbershops to sing harmonically and without accompaniment, these gentlemen found each other Online and they collaborate via the Internet. This is their Christmas project and they have recorded old and well-loved holiday music in a very new and contemporary way. Some songs are totally a ’Capella and others have the assistance of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. They are featured on “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Let It Snow.” They are also joined by some special guest vocalists including the Estonian voices, who are a popular European vocal group. Sam Robson, a widely recognized YouTube artist based in London, was invited to sing with them and Jo Goldscmith-Eteson was invited from the UK group who call themselves, The Swingles. You will hear a trio on tracks 3 & 7 and string arrangements on tracks 3 & 10. This is a pleasant mix of strong a ‘Capella vocal arrangements with complimentary music added. Their previous recordings have celebrated jazz and pop tunes arranged for vocal jazz, and covering tunes like Whitney Houston’s song, “All At Once,” and The Weekends gold record recording, “I Can’t Feel My Face.”

I prefer them without a band. However, ACCENT with a little help from their friends, has produced an enjoyable holiday album of music. Their creative and challenging vocal arrangements feature the arranging talents of each of these international singers.
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Victor Goines, music director (2018)/tenor & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Walter Blanding (2015-17) /tenor saxophone/clarinet/shaker; Paul Nedzela, baritone & soprano saxophones / bass clarinet; Camille Thurman (2018) / tenor & soprano saxophones; RHYTHM SECTION: Dan Nimmer, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; Ali Jackson (2015 – 2016), drums; Marion Felder (2017), drums; Charles Goold (2018), drums; TRUMPETS: Wynton Marsalis (music director, 2017-18); Marcus Printup, Kenny Rampton, Ryan Kisor, Greg Gisbert, Bruce Harris, Tatum Greenblatt. TROMBONES: Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, Elliot Mason, Sam Chess & Eric Miller. FEATURED GUESTS: Aretha Franklin, Audrey Shakir, Denzal Sinclaire, Catherine Russell & Veronica Swift on vocals.

The Wynton Marsalis Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has cherry-picked holiday songs from several of their ‘live’ concerts between the years of 2015 to 2018. If you love the rich, full sound of a jazz orchestra, this is an album you will relish. Opening with “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Pianist, Dan Nimmer, takes a bright solo and the flute of Ted Nash flickers brightly like Christmas lights on this first track. The horns execute smooth harmonic changes in support of this holiday favorite that’s arranged by Wynton Marsalis. Wynton is also featured soloist on this one, along with Victor Goines on clarinet and Chris Crenshaw on trombone. At the completion, the audience bursts into appreciative applause, and rightly so. Next, vocalist Catherine Russell, swings a tune called “Cool Yule.” Soloists include Walter Blanding on tenor sax and Sherman Irby on alto saxophone. Irby also arranged this tune. Then, on “We Three Kings” the silky lead vocals of Denzal Sinclaire are featured. Once again, the piano solo of Dan Nimmer shines like a star at the top of a holiday tree. The straight-ahead, innovative arrangement by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., becomes one of my favorites, with Paul Nedzela’s baritone saxophone solo adding to the shine. The sweet surprise is the ‘live’ appearance of Aretha Franklin, who sits down at the grand piano and accompanies herself while singing “O Tannenbaum,” in English and in German! What a treat. It’s a beautiful moment by a beautiful artist. The Queen of Soul once again personifies a talent we must never forget.

“Rise Up Shepherd and Follow” is a Ted Nash arrangement that uses call and response horn lines that are exciting and demonstrative. They seem to speak brightly to each other, harmonically intertwining and interacting, like voices instead of instruments. There is a deep spiritual conversation going on for all to hear, spearheaded by the trumpet of Marcus Printup. Jazz vocalist, Veronica Swift, (whose wonderful, solo album I reviewed in my July 26, 2019 column) introduces us to a composition titled, “Everybody’s Waitin’ for the Man with the Bag.” It’s fun-filled arrangement and showcases Swift’s stellar vocals that bounce into scat singing as easily as she sells the song lyrics. There is something here that is reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald herself.

One of the spectacular things about Wynton’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is that they introduce us to bright, new arrangements of familiar holiday tunes and to songs that aren’t as familiar, like “What Will Santa Claus Say When he Finds Everybody Swingin’?” This arrangement opens with playful saxophone parts, featuring an impressive baritone saxophone solo by Paul Nedzela that introduces us to the groove and melody. Enter Catherine Russell, with sparkling vocals that deliver fresh, inspired lyrics. The orchestra also gives the drummer some and Ali Jackson does not disappoint. Louie Prima composed this one.

“Brazilian Sleigh Bells” is an up-tempo, Latin arrangement that will have your hips swinging like wild, winter winds. Sherman Early is featured on saxophone. Ms. Russell once again offers us her vocal gift and is splendid singing, “Silver Bells.” “Silent Night” is a great arrangement by Victor Goines. Surprisingly, it’s a blues and features Denzal Sinclaire and Audrey Shakir on vocals. Audrey adds a soulful quality to the song, while Denzal soothes you as soon as you hear his rich baritone voice. The orchestra is dynamic throughout this entire production and will enhance any holiday get-together. Also, the singular, guest and solo appearance of Aretha Franklin, appearing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, along with Wynton Marsalis, makes this a genuine collector’s item.
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Independent Label

John Basile, electric & nylon guitars/midi guitar programing/arranging/ engineering/synthesizers.

This is a rich and beautiful contemporary Christmas album, interpreting timeless holiday songs we know and love. John Basile is an expressive guitarist with a warm, comfortable sound on both electric and nylon stringed guitars. I was quite surprised that he used midi programming, rather than live musicians, because the sound is so natural and perfectly recorded. Basile uses technology to create colorful textures beneath his ‘live’ jazz guitar improvisations. You will enjoy holiday standards like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” arranged in a very contemporary way, with a Latin flair using bright percussions.

“Baby it’s Cold Outside,” is as warm and comfortable as a fur coat. “Lulladay” is the only original song on this album of music. It’s very melodic, romantic-sounding and poignant. “Silver Bells” is joyful and up-tempo, while “Silent Night” is more traditional. Basile’s technique on guitar is spotlighted passionately. He’s been playing his instrument since age twelve, honing his skills by performing with R&B show bands and playing in jazzy organ groups. He graduated to straight-ahead jazz after studying at Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. He toured with an octet led by Count Basie and worked with respected singers like Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney, Mark Murphy and Tony Bennett, to list just a few. His talent on guitar has been utilized by instrumentalists like john Abercrombie, Tom Harrell, Jim Hall, Michael Brecker and Red Mitchell. This is perfect background music for a quiet, wintry evening with a roaring fireplace, burning brightly, and surrounded by the ones you love.
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For those of you looking for a compilation that pulls from the years 1937 to 1996 and features some of the greatest names in jazz music, this is the holiday compilation CD for you. It features legendary singers and musicians like Louie Armstrong, Kenny Burrell, Joe Williams, Shirley Horn, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald with the Frank Devol Orchestra . Ella sings “Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer.” Here’s some trivia for you about that popular ‘Rudolph’ song. Before it was a song, it was a poem written by a guy named Robert L. May. In 1939, it was created as a holiday marketing tool for the department store, Montegomery Ward’s. Ten years later, a songwriter named Johnny Marks converted the poetry into song lyrics and added music. It is reputed to have been recorded over 300 times and has sold 50-million records. The biggest one was the Gene Autry rendition, that became one of the biggest selling Christmas songs of all times. For all you youthful readers, Autry was an actor and country singer who was known for his cowboy films. The songwriter, Johnny Marks, went on to write two other popular holiday songs; “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”

Kenny Burrell performs with the Richard Evans Orchestra. The great Charles Stepney is on piano and organ. Cleveland Eaton mans the bass. In 1953, at a Los Angeles studio, Billy Eckstine recorded a song titled, “Christmas Eve” and in 1961, the original Ramsey Lewis trio featuring bassist Eldee Young and Redd Holt cut the track “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This compilation also features John Coltrane playing “Greensleeves” with McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass. The silky-smooth vocals of Mel Torme sing “The Christmas Song” and Louis Armstrong asks, “Zat You, Santa Claus?” Pianist/composer extraordinaire, B ill Evans, plays “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” Then comes Count Basie and his orchestra to play “Good Morning Blues,” that was recorded ,with an all-star band, August 9, 1937 with folks like Lester Young on clarinet and tenor saxophone and legendary guitarist, Freddie Green, along with Walter Page on bass and featuring vocalist, Jimmy Rushing. Organ great, Jimmy Smith performs his version of Jingle Bells. Finally, Dinah Washington sings “Silent Night” and the iconic Oscar Peterson plays “A Child is Born.” If that isn’t an all-star, jazzy Christmas, I don’t know what is! This CD is available on
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For all of you Diana Ross fans, “Wonderful Christmas Time” is a very jazzy record that frames Ms. Ross’s crystal-clear tones with lush orchestration, choirs and beautifully, boffo string arrangements. The title tune is penned by Paul McCartney and opens this album in a joyful way. The addition of meaningful songs like Someday at Christmas, What the World Needs Now and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” are songs that embrace the spirit of Christmas, along with well-arranged and charmingly sung gems like “Winter Wonderland, It’s Christmas Time” and “White Christmas.” Diana Ross sparkles on this production. The pleasant surprise is her rendition of several religious offerings like “His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Ave Maria” and “Amazing Grace.” Five of the songs feature the fabulous London Symphony Orchestra.

This is a twenty-song offering of absolutely beautiful holiday music originally released in 1994 when Ms. Ross was at the peak of her astounding career. Some of it is performed ‘live’ with the audience’s appreciative applause commending one of America’s musical icons. This album is perfectly produced and arranged for a stellar listen during the holiday season and beyond.
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Motown Christmas opens with a young Michael Jackson singing a boisterous “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” along with his brothers, The Jackson Five. This is followed by a waltz-time arrangement of “My Favorite Things” sung by Diana Ross and the Supremes, accompanied by an orchestra. In the forty-plus years since The Supremes performed this song on the popular Ed Sullivan variety Show, Motown Christmas songs make annual returns. A very young Stevie Wonder sings “Someday at Christmas,” (penned by Motown composer, Ron Miller) and historically reaching back to when Smokey Robinson was the lead singer with The Miracles, we hear “It’s Christmas Time,” written by Stevie Wonder. Both of these songs have become modern-day Christmas standards. The Temptation group offers their unique, rich harmonies on “Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer,” when Melvin Franklin was singing bass and Eddie Kendricks was the high tenor voice. This Norman Whitfield production was recorded back in 1970. Here is truly a historic collection that includes a merging of the Temptations and Smokey Robinson singing their rendition of “The Christmas Song.” Sweet!

The Four Tops serenade us, with Levi Stubbs’ beautiful, unique lead voice and emotional delivery. Shockingly, the angelic and soulful voice of Aretha Franklin steps forward to improvise over their instrumental break, adding holiday songs to deliciously delight our musical palate. She makes “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “The Christmas Song” somehow fit into this mix, in an improvisational way. Four Tops member, Lawrence Payton co-composed this 1995 holiday song and was close friends with the Queen of Soul. I bet he asked her into the studio to improvise on their track. Sexy crooner, Marvin Gaye co-wrote a song with Forrest Hairston titled, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas” about a prisoner of war. This one is not uplifting and as wonderful as Marvin’s vocals are, this song is depressing. The Funk Brothers, who were the instrumental catalyst behind all the Motown hit records, play “Winter Wonderland” with gusto and they’re followed by Kim Weston’s strong and lovely voice singing, “Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The now famous rendition of “Silent Night” is sung by my old friend and extraordinary bass singer, Melvin Franklin, with the harmonic support of The Temptations. It’s always a pleasure to hear this one. This album closes with the voice of Florence Ballard, one of the original members of the Supremes, singing the lead on “Oh Holy Night,” produced by Harvey Fuqua and released on a Christmas album in 2002. Give yourself the gift of a collector’s album with this musical piece of Motown history.!
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James Bolden, bandleader/trumpet; Walter R. King, contractor; Calep Emphrey Jr., drums; Melvin Jackson, saxophone; Leon Warren, guitar; Michael Doster, bass; James Sells Toney, keyboards; Stanley Abernathy, trumpet. The Nashville String Machine also appears on three songs.

If blues is your bag, this is a sack full of gutsy blues songs by a legendary bluesmaster. Few do it better than the great B. B. King. This is a seasoned holiday release that will never grow old. There will be songs you recognize and a few original Christmas songs penned by B. B. King himself. “Lonesome Christmas” is a shuffle and doesn’t sound lonesome at all. “Back Door Santa,” is a slow shuffle blues with risqué lyrics. “Christmas in Heaven,” employs the Nashville String Machine to fatten the arrangement in a sweet way. Every blues lover should add this 2003 historic recording by the late, great B. B. King in their Christmas collection.
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November 9, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

November 9, 2019

In a world that grows smaller and smaller because of technology and our ability to reach across continents and oceans, with the use of the Internet, jazz thrives. We see how it touches people, no matter their ethnicity or political views. This month, I’ve been inundated with music from world artists who have adopted jazz as their source of expression. In this article, I introduce you to some of them. Canadian artist, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach; Hungarian vocalist, Rozina Patkái; Petros Klapanis from Greece, and Moscow-born, Evgeny Sivtsov. I slip in an awesome, Chicago vocalist named Jackie Allen, who you have just got to hear. At the same time, I celebrate the iconic lives of trend-setters like American born and bred pianist-extraordinaire and singer, Nat King Cole, eighty-year-old Roger Kellaway and French reed legend, Barney Wilen. Enjoy!

Elemental Records

Barney Wilen, tenor & soprano saxophone;Olivier Hutman,piano/elec.piano; Gilles Naturel,bass;Peter Gritz,drums.

Bernard Jean (Barney) Wilen was born in Nice, France to an American dentist and French mother. As a Jewish family, they wound up fleeing Europe and resettling in America during the second World War. Young Barney returned to France in 1946. As early as five or six-years-old, his love of music and his talent playing reed instruments became apparent.

René Urtreger, a noted French pianist, recalls meeting and playing with Barney Wilen when he was nineteen and Barney was only sixteen.

“Barney and I won an amateur poll at a Parisian Town Hall. Barney blew us away. He played baritone saxophone in the cool jazz category and I played piano. Everybody watched this sixteen-year-old guy coming to the stage. It was incredible. He was playing like an American.”

At age eighteen, in 1954, Barney Wilen made his first recording with producer and pianist Henri Renaud. Jazz journalist, Leonard Feather, called young Wilen a prodigy. Obviously, he was correct. Just three years later, in 1957, then twenty-year-old Wilen was sitting on a stage next to Miles Davis and he received the ‘Django Reinhardt Award’ from the French Academie du Jazz.

“We participated in Miles Davis’ unforgettable soundtrack for the ‘Ascenseur Pour L’echafaud’ film in 1957,” Rene Urtreger recalled.

Wilen’s primary influences were Lester young, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, of course Charlie Parker and Al Cohn. But his style is all his own. His fluidity on saxophone and his ability to improvise, always honoring the original melody of the tune, but flying free with those velvet smooth phrases endears the listener to Barney Wilen. Legendary musicians shared the same appreciation for Barney’s saxophone gift. He worked with icons like Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, J.J. Johnson, John Lewis and Bud Powell, to list just a few. When American musicians arrived on French soil, they often hired Barney Wilen to become part of their group. When he wasn’t touring, Barney Wilen became quite notable for composing jazz soundtracks for a number of French motion pictures. He also played with a variety of musicians, including rock musicians, East Indian musicians and he studied African music.

This is a double set live recording made in Tokyo, Japan in 1991. He was a reed master, able to play excellently on soprano, baritone or tenor saxophone. In 1958, Barney Wilen played on the same stage as Coleman Hawkins and Stan Getz. He is revered for being one of the first French jazz musicians to play Thelonious Monk compositions in and around Paris in the 1960’s. While playing in all the Parisian jazz spots, he was often seen playing with Bud Powell. French jazz pianist and author, Laurent de Wilde, was one of the musicians who accompanied Barney Wilen’s to Japan and had this to share.

“Barney was born in 1937 and I in 1960, but that didn’t create any distance between him and the younger players who backed him during that 1994 Japanese tour. … We anxiously awaited his delightful anecdotes. After all, the guy recorded with Monk, on tour. … Bebop fell on him like grace.”

Barney Wilen died of Cancer in 1996, at the age of fifty-nine, but this awesome double-set CD keeps his legacy alive and well.
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Rozina Patkái, vocal/composer; János Avéd, tenor & soprano saxophone/piano; István Tóth Jr.,acoustic guitar; Ditta Rohmann,cello; András Dés, acoustic and electronic percussions; Márton Fenyvesi,synth bass/arranger.

This music is fresh and inviting. Rozina Patkái’s vocals are comfortable, like your favorite sweater. Her voice is warm and envelopes the room with honest emotion woven into her original songwriting. Based in Budapest, Hungary, she has two other albums released where she employed her love for Brazilian music. More recently, she’s become involved in putting the poetry of famous poets to music. The result is this creative album. Opening with “Taladim” the story of a forever love-promise; one that mirrors two people who are trying hard to make their love work. Rozina Patkái’s slight accent, evident while singing English, is infectious in a sweet way. The percussion work of András Dés lends depth to this arrangement. Track 2 is more romantic, enhanced by István Tóth Jr.’s acoustic guitar and arranged with a Latin twist. It’s titled, “Lorelei” and Ms. Patkái’s soft, enchanting voice floats like a folksong atop the percussive-driven piece. It’s her sing-song melodies that captivate. They are almost nursery rhyme simple and stick in your mind like glue. Márton Fenyveal’s unique arranging talents are sparse but effective. This band leans more towards world music than jazz. Track 9, “Llagas De Amor Intro” is absolutely gorgeous, showcasing the talents of Ditta Rohmann on cello.

Rozina Patkái is a student of Intermedia Art at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. Although she is in the fledgling stages of her musical career, her potential is obvious. Rozina has been the leader of several jazz groups since 2011 and boasts a continuing penchant for composing. She is multi-lingual and sings in several languages. Her haunting melodies are as easy to digest, like peppermint candy, and just as sweet.

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Petros Klampanis, double bass/voice/glockenspiel; Kristjan Randalu, piano; Bodek Janke, drums/percussion.

This is music recorded at Sierre Studios in Athens, Greece two years ago. It’s trio jazz with strong classical undertones. Petros Klampanis has composed and arranged all but two tracks on this production and his music is quite lovely. His comrades on piano and drums are as masterful on their instruments as Petros is on his upright bass. They support the quality of his compositions grandly.

James Farber at Shelter Island Sound studios in New York is to be congratulated on the crispness and beauty of the ‘mix.’ The Klampanis original song, “Easy Come Easy Go” is a universal expression of hold and release that we all can relate to and It’s the title of their first track. Kristjan Randalu’s piano brilliance is obvious right off the bat, with the fingers of his right-hand marching across the treble keys while his left hand keeps the rhythm locked tightly in step with Bodek Janke on drums. Petros Klampanis steps into the spotlight to solo on his bass, against the repetitious left-hand, melodic chords of Randalu. It’s a very interesting and challenging arrangement. This first song gives us a peek into the mind of the composer and into the talented musicians who are playing his music. “Seeing You Behind My Eyes” offers a poignant melody, a sweet ballad, quite classical and it conjures up memories of my early days playing Shubert and Bach. I did wish for less repetition and more improvisation on this arrangement. Midway through, my wish is granted as Klampanis solos on his bass and veers off the melody path, skipping freely over the chord changes. There is a crescendo of excitement and power, spiked by Bodek Janke’s trap drums. Then we wind down to the original melody and the sweet ballad returns. The third cut is “Temporary Secret III” that incorporates sirens, and nature noises to entice our ear s to listen. On the fourth track, Petros Klampanis brings his vocals forward in a jazzy, scat-kind-of-way.

This is experimental music, heavy on the classical side, but very captivating in its simplicity and beauty. On the title tune, “Irrationality” they give the stage to the drummer and let him solo for a bit. Klampanis is obviously a very technically proficient bassist. His arrangements draw you into his original music, like a swinging pendulum can hypnotize. This music is magnetic. I also want to mention the expressive CD cover artwork by Katerina Karali and photographer, Patrick Marek. The artistic creativity absolutely expresses this music in a modern-art way. I believe album covers are as important as the music inside.

The ensemble closes with the only jazz standard on this album and one of my favorite songs; “Blame it on my Youth.” It features the talented bassist Petros Klampanis soloing until the second verse when Randalu takes over the lead instrumentation on piano. It’s a lovely way to end forty minutes of a very interesting trio production, that delicately blends and bends classical proficiency into the arms of jazzy freedom.

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Jackie Allen,vocals; Bob Sheppard,tenor & soprano saxophone/flute; John Moulder, guitar; Ben Lewis,keyboards; Hans Sturm,double bass; Dane Richeson, drums/ percussion.

Opening with a spirited version of “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” I am immediately struck by the smooth tone and honest emotion that Jackie Allen conveys. The band is stellar and they complement her spark and energy. Ben Lewis exhibits his stride piano techniques on this first track. It’s followed by Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful ballad, “Day Dream.” Bob Sheppard, who was flown in from Los Angeles to participate in this recorded concert, takes a tenacious solo on his soprano saxophone, stirring much applause from the ‘live’ audience. Hans Sturm, on double bass, is solid and creative beneath the melody. His big bass dances creatively, glowing in the background, as part of the tight rhythm section. “Lazy Afternoon” is arranged in a very African way, featuring what sounds like a kalimba or thumb piano. Delightful!

I read in the publicity package that Jackie Allen and bassist Hans Sturm are husband and wife. They are originally from Chicago and have been living in Lincoln, Nebraska for several years. The Rococo Theater is a popular venue in the city of Lincoln. Promoted by Ann Chang, artistic director of the distinguished Lied Center for the Arts, the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) decided to video tape the Rococo concert. The result is a PBS television project. It took two years for the editing and scheduling, but recently, 275 member stations in 46 states enjoyed “A Romantic Evening with Jackie Allen.” This CD is the sound track.

Ms. Allen and her diverse ensemble include a few pop tunes, like Billy Preston’s standard, “You Are So Beautiful” and Smokey Robinson’s R&B hit on the Temptations, “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” Jackie Allen switches styles as easily as breathing in and out. She can swing an R&B standard or reinvent a Paul Simon pop song like “Still Crazy After All These Years” and make each song her very own. She Is a gifted vocalist with a unique and quite pleasing tone. She opens this Simon composition with only her voice and bass. Soon, Ben Lewis joins them on keyboard, changing the mood to a blues with an organ accompaniment. “My Funny Valentine” is presented like a fast-moving Samba. Her lyrical melody cuts time across the double-time feel and an old standard is freshly and provocatively arranged. Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s tune, “This Guy’s in Love With You” follows and features the very talented John Moulder on guitar, with Dane Richeson brushing the drum skins tastefully. Bob Sheppard shows off his skills on flute. They close the set with “Nobody Does It Better,” a song extracted from the 1977 James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. This Marvin Hamlisch and Carol Bayer Sager tune swings them right off the stage, with a lilting Latin feel put to the arrangement. The title is quite appropriate for this concert and this awesome vocalist. I feel quite confident saying, truly, nobody does it better.

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Roger Kellaway, piano; Bruce Forman, guitar; Dan Lutz, bass.

No question, Roger Kellaway is a master musician. He turns eighty this year and his career spans a rainbow of iconic artists who he has played with including Duke Ellington, Barbara Streisand, Elvis Presley and Yo-Yo Ma. This is a huge, colorful variety of music, showing his adaptability and piano genius. How many can go from playing with Sonny Rollins one night and Bobby Darin the next? How could he perform with Van Morrison and be just as comfortable on the bandstand with Ben Webster? Few musicians can claim to have excelled in their craft by playing with such a wide variety of unforgettable artists. Roger Kellaway is a living, breathing legend. That being said, on this newest release as a unique piano artist and musician, who shows us his jazzier side and his amazing style and execution on the 88-keys. Teaming with Bruce Forman on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass, Roger Kellaway brings a fresh and spirited interpretation to seven well-known jazz standards. As I listen to Roger and his trio, I am reminded of a very young Nat King Cole. He too often performed without a drummer and Nat Cole could play those piano-runs at top speed, (like Roger Kellaway) never losing the beat or stumbling over the tempo. Roger Kellaway’s fingers fly smoothly across the piano, like Olympic skaters across ice. On the Monk tune, “52nd Street Theme” his arrangement with that Forman rhythm-guitar strumming away, reminds me of the jazz of the 1930’s and 40’s. When Forman leaps out front to improvise, he is sonorous and impressive on his guitar, while Kellaway comps underneath Bruce Forman’s guitar solo at a brisk pace. Dan Lutz, on bass, holds them together like Velcro. This is an entertaining and masterful trio. Every song played is memorable. “Have You met Miss Jones” is celebrated by Kellaway’s solo piano, laying down the melody rubato, using unexpected chords, with new and very harmonic voicings. I am intrigued. When the other musicians join him, they lift this arrangement into an up-tempo shuffle that’s both joyous and somewhat reminiscent of Erroll Garner’s unforgettable style.

This is a ‘live’ recording. No over-dubbing here or studio summersaults to elevate this project. It is absolutely authentic and perfect just the way it is. From Sonny Rollins’ composition, “Doxy” to Paul Desmond’s “Take Five;” from “A Train” to “Night and Day,” and the all familiar, “Caravan,” each one is uniquely arranged and performed with punctilious beauty.
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Evgeny Sivtsov,piano; Dan Chmielinski,bass; Shawn Baltazor,drums.

Evgeny Sivtsov is a Moscow born-and-based pianist. He has composed every song on this album of music that was recorded towards the end of Sivtsov’s nine-year residence in New York City. His music is both experimental and straight-ahead. It’s modern jazz with a classical music underbelly. His style seems to lean towards soloing with his right hand, with very little chording to establish rhythm or harmonics. At least, on this first title tune, he concentrates on melody and leaves the rhythm to Shawn Baltazor on drums and Dan Chmielinski on bass. There’s not a lot of two-fisted piano on this arrangement. You will hear him play the same melody line in unison, using both hands, occasionally breaking into brief runs of 2-note harmony. Shawn Baltazor’s busy drums solo throughout. The drummer is very busy. I keep wishing he would just settle into a supportive rhythm beneath the piano. That never happens. Track 2, “Happy Hippo,” reveals another side to this pianist. Unlike the first track, this original composition uses more chording and both hands remain quite active throughout. This tune is a slow swing, but the happy hippopotamus seems a little sluggish. I hear some Thelonious Monk influence in Evgeny Sivtsov’s composition. However, with all of Monk’s eccentricity, he could really ‘swing.’ One of the keystones in the structure of jazz music is the ability to ‘swing.’ You can play a million notes and interpret thousands of pretty melodies, but if you can’t ‘swing’ you’re not a true jazz musician. This composition seems stiff and laborious. Again, I believe the drummer has a lot to do with this. He’s always so busy and never seems to settle down and support the pianist. The third track, “Post-Wild” is another tune that is full of notes and lacks groove. It starts out rubato and very pretty. The liner notes suggest we should try and dissect the meaning of each song relating to the animal it was written to represent. The ballad quickly moves from slow to what could have been a swing or a shuffle. But the drums don’t join the party. As Mr. Sivtsov solos, so does Mr. Baltazor. A jazz waltz follows, with a similar groove to the famed Miles Davis “All Blues” tune. Sivtsov uses it as an introduction. I was eager to hear the rest. This composition is titled, “New Anthill.” Suddenly, it turns into a march. Well – we’ve all seen ants marching, so I get that reference. Somehow, the jazz waltz gets lost in the transition.

“Dragonfliesis,” finally picks up the pace and Mr. Sivtsov uses his piano technique to exemplify the fast- fluttering wings of this insect. The trio plays this one at a very up-tempo pace, but again, the groove is entirely missing. Clearly Evgeny Sivtsov can play very swiftly and he sails across the 88-keys with gusto, but there is no groove. He invites Shawn Baltazor to solo on drums. The drummer is usually the musician who sets the groove, acts as a metronome and who punches the two and the four in jazz. The drummer holds the ensemble steady. This drummer sounds as frantic as Sivtsov’s flying fingers. They close with a dirge-like composition that celebrates “The Death of the Last Dinosaur.” Evgeny Sivtsov plays solo piano at the beginning of this particular arrangement, using several unexpected breaks that do not add to the presentation, but at first made me think my CD was skipping. I found this entire presentation lacking in emotion and disappointing. Some of this may be due to Mr. Sivtsov’s compositions, and some may be due to lack of imagination on the part of the composer and his musicians. This is an enigmatic project that sadly floundered.
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Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, trumpet/flugelhorn/flute/valve trombone; Miles Black, piano/organ/bass; Joel Fountain,drums; Cory Weeds,saxophone; Ernie Watts,saxophone; Gord Lemon,electric bass; Olaf DeShield,guitar; Laurence Mullerup,acoustic bass.

Trumpet master and multi-talented musician, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach opens with a tune called, “Superblue.” This composition is a super slick and straight-ahead, featuring Miles Black, brilliant on an attention-getting piano solo. Gabriel is a gifted horn player who enjoys crossing genres and blending styles. He can play it all, from Bebop to R&B; Pop to Smooth jazz. The repertoire and melodies on this volume 2 “MidCentury Modern” production are catchy. They’re familiar. the horn lines punch bright, staccato lines that punctuate these unforgettable tunes. The Hasselbach arrangements are well-written. On the second track, “Driftin’, “Cory Weeds steps into the spotlight on saxophone and he swings hard. The 3rd track on this album proffers a Latin groove, combined with a straight-ahead jazz production that reminds me of the infectious music of the late, great Eddie Harris. Gabriel Mark Hasselbach records party jazz. His music makes me happy. You feel joyful energy and emotion from these musicians. In Hasselbach’s discography of fifteen album releases, there are only a few mainstream albums. Most of his music has been geared towards the contemporary jazz market. This has earned Hasselbach ten Billboard hits and an album of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year Awards. I’m used to hearing albums that include Hasselbach’s original music and a more Smooth Jazz approach. However, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach is just as effective and prolific playing bebop and straight-ahead jazz as he is in the contemporary category. Gabriel explained, in his liner notes, the direction of his current album release.

“On this project, rather than recording predominantly original material as I often do, I chose soulful tunes from the 50’s and 60’s that have influenced me and have a timeless quality. This album is the complete me; a seamless melding of mainstream, contemporary and NOLA styles. … a trifecta of jazz where the sum is greater than the parts.”

On the familiar tune, “Jazz ‘n Samba” Gabriel Mark Hasselbach picks up his flute to add more spice to this already spicy Latin production. It’s unusual for a trumpet player to also master a reed instrument, but Hasselbach is not your usual suspect. He performs beautifully on the flute.

“This album is a tasty homage to the classic jazz flag-bearers I grew up listening to: Blue Mitchell, Carmell Jones, Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Clifford Brown, Joe Gordon, Hank Mobley, Herbie Mann, Jobim and many others,” Gabriel Mark Hasselbach explains. “Jazz is in my bones and I am sure I’ll die clutching my horn to my chest.”

I am deeply moved by Gabriel’s interpretation of the very beautiful “Nature Boy” composition. On “Sister Sadie,” he reminds us of the genius of Horace Silver and his many hit jazz standard compositions, like this one. On the tune, “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’,” Hasselbach plunges his horn for a gritty, soulful effect and Mike Black uses an organ to embellish this production. Every song on this album is well-played and beautifully produced by Gabriel Mark Hasselbach. This is a compact disc you will enjoy playing time after time.
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NAT KING COLE – “HITTIN’ THE RAMP – THE EARLY YEARS (1936-1943) Resonance Records

This amazing deluxe, seven-CD or 10-LP package of music reminds us that Nat King Cole was a piano master. This delicious compilation of Nat Cole’s early years, between 1936 to 1943, offers nearly 200 recorded tracks by the illustrious jazz musician before he ever signed with Capitol Records.

“This is a really important project for Resonance,” says co-president or the label, Zev Feldman. “We’ve done some pretty substantial packages over the years, such as our three-disc Eric Dolphy and Jaco Pastorius sets with 100-page booklets, but this Nat King Cole box is truly a definitive, king-sized set.”

Many people only recall Nat King Cole as the silky, satin-smooth voice that made the “Christmas Song” a forever-hit-holiday standard. When Nat Cole sang, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose …” the entire universe swooned. But long before he became a popular voice on the recording scene, Nat was inspiring great piano players like Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and George Shearing with his amazing style and technique. You can also hear his influence on the great Ray Charles. One of the tunes recorded in this collection is “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town.” It was recorded ‘live’ at the 331 Club in 1942. Years later, Ray Charles made that song a hit record with his own rendition. Ray Charles also relates, in his autobiography, how he mimicked the vocal style of Nat King Cole in his early years. Actually, mimicry is the highest form of compliment an artist can get. The illustrious Johnny Mathis also claims that Nat Cole was his idol.

“As a young boy, studying the art of vocalizing, Nat was everything I needed,” Johnny Mathis shared. “All I did was listen and learn.”

Nat King Cole grew up in the jazz business, listening to icons like Earl “Fatha’ Hines and Art Tatum, who certainly inspired him. You can clearly hear some of their influence in this amazing set of early Nat King Cole recordings.

The tune,“With Plenty of Money and You” was cut in 1938. Nat King Cole is playing piano so swiftly he sounds like the studio engineers speeded up the tape. He has perfect time as his finger race across the piano keys. It’s just a spectacular listen, with Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on bass. This was the very first recording session for Nat’s trio and unique because there was no drummer. Even before this release, the very first recordings Nat Cole made was with his brother Eddie for Decca Records. He was only seventeen-years-old, but it was obvious, even then, that Nat King Cole was a piano prodigy. You will enjoy Nat’s first versions of “Sweet Lorraine” in this collection, that later in his career became a huge R&B and pop record hit. You can hear how his tone and vocal style developed, from the 1930’s to his expansive success in the 1960s. but even more significant is Nat King Cole’s amazing abilities on the piano. This recording documents his astonishing talents on piano, as well as bringing several unforgettable songs alive that we may have forgotten and deserve to be remembered like, “All for You,” and “There’s No Anesthetic for Love.” This is a ‘must-have’ for any jazz collector’s library!

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