HAPPY THANKSGIVING ECHOES ‘LOVE THY NEIGHBOR’ – A GRATITUDE MESSAGE IN MUSIC

HAPPY THANKSGIVING ECHOES ‘LOVE THY NEIGHBOR’ – A GRATITUDE MESSAGE IN MUSIC
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, ROMAIN PILON, BRIAN BLADE – “BETWEEN TWO WORLDS” Ridgeway Records

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 AND TANGENT – “NO AGENDA” Rhombus Records

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 – “DIVA AND THE BOYS” MCG Jazz

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’S GEN-NEXT BIG BAND – “LISTEN UP” Onyx Records

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 – “THE EVI SESSIONS – MR. STEINER” dB Studios

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 & DAN WILKINS QUARTET – “SOMEDAY” Deer Head Records

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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YELLOW HOUSE ORCHESTRA – “POP” Studio C Music

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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