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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