Archive for December, 2019


December 20, 2019

By Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

December 20, 2019


Temple University Studio Orchestra;Vince Mendoza,conductor/composer/arranger; SPECIAL GUESTS:Terell Stafford,trumpet; Dick Oatts,alto saxophone.

This album is a great way to enrich and introduce the New Year. As 2019 fades into the distance, I would be remiss if I did not mention the music of Vince Mendoza and his “Constant Renaissance” CD release. Mendoza presented this world premiere at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA on March 24, 2019. Lucky for us, his music was later translated to disc and is available in three vivid suites for our listening pleasure. Stellar composer and renowned conductor, Vince Mendoza, says he chose to compose “Constant Renaissance” around three musical innovators who he feels changed the course of jazz forever; Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and John Coltrane. To assist him in interpreting his brilliant compositions and under his conductor’s baton, I am impressed and immersed in the musical skills of the Temple University Studio Orchestra. They play brilliantly and become a rich backdrop for Terell Stafford’s trumpet excellence and the amazing alto saxophone talents of Dick Oatts.

Vince Mendoza has often been cited as the man who closely emulates the genius of Gil Evans and could possibly become his successor. Mendoza is the composer in residence with the West Deutsche Rundfunk in Koln and the conductor Laureate of the Netherlands Metropole Orkest. He’s appeared as a guest conductor of both the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic orchestras, as well as several European and Japanese orchestras. You may have seen him at our own Hollywood Bowl, or perhaps enjoyed his talents at the Monterey, Montreux or North Sea Jazz Festivals. Mendoza’s arranging magnificence is in demand. He has enhanced the music of such well-known talents as Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Diana Krall, Bjork, Joni Mitchell and Sting to name only a few.

His special, guest, trumpet-master, Terell Stafford, has performed with some of the legendary jazz names of our time. Since the mid-1990’s he’s been a part of Benny Golson’s Sextet, McCoy Tyner’s sextet, the Kenny Barron Quintet and the Frank Wess Quintet. Terell played in both Jimmy Heath’s big band and his quintet. He was part of the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Alumni band, not to mention, he was featured on Diana Krall’s Grammy nominated “From this Moment on” CD. Terell Stafford is a member of the Vanguard jazz Orchestra that won a 2009 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Instrumental Album and has recorded on over 130 albums. His poignant tone and emotional rendering on this Mendoza project are spellbinding. Recognized around the world as an educator, clinician, bandleader and definitive performer, Terell Stafford is also Laura H. Carnell Professor of Jazz, Chair of Instrumental Studies and Director of Jazz Studies at Temple University. He’s founder and leader of the Terell Stafford Quintet and somehow manages to find time to be Artistic Director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia and Artistic Director for Jazz with the Philly Pops. On the first suite of music, titled “Bebop Elation” Terell Stafford makes himself known immediately and boldly introduces us to his prowess on trumpet from his very first notes played in concert with the Oatts saxophone and the orchestra. His solo dances and pirouettes off my CD player, graceful yet tenacious.

Dick Oatts is the other special guest artist on this project. He was introduced to jazz and the saxophone by his father, the late Jack Oatts. Young Dick Oatts began a professional music career in 1972. When he arrived in New York from Minneapolis/St. Paul (around 1977), he secured immediate work with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra. He’s been in demand ever since! Oatts has accompanied some iconic jazz artists like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Nneena Freelon and performed with a host of ensembles that include the WDR Big Band, Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, Danish Redo Big Band, High Coast Jazz Orchestra, the Winnipeg Jazz Band and the Wellington jazz Orchestra, as well as working with jazz vocal icon, Joe Williams. In between performances and recording sessions, Dick Oatts is Professor of Jazz at Temple University and has been Artist-in-Residence at the Amsterdam Conservatory since 1998. His beautiful alto saxophone work on this project heightens the excitement and enhances the interpretation of the Mendoza suites in a beautiful way. This entire album makes for joyful listening.
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Martina DaSilva, voice; Dan Chmielinski (“Chimy”),bass; Lucas Pino,tenor saxophone; Gabe Schnider,guitar; Ben Wolfe,bass; Joel Ross,vibraphone.

This is a lovely production that features vocalist, Marina DaSilva and bassist Dan Chmielinski. It’s a very clean production, with no drums and a spattering of musical friends who add depth to the comfortable harmonics of Martina with her bass man, Dan Chmielinski. Combined, they become affectionately known as ChimyTina. These two are quite comfortable with each other and perform a host of holiday song favorites as a duo. Occasionally, someone like Joel Ross joins them on vibraphone or Gabe Schnider adds his tasty guitar licks. But for the most part, these two are tenacious and talented enough to perform intricate arrangements featuring just the two of them. Starting out with “Greensleeves” where Martina’s voice is studio-layered and she creates absolutely beautiful harmonics with Dan masterfully accompanying on bass. On “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Lucas Pino adds saxophone to the mix and Dan Chmielinski builds from the basement up with his double bass magic. They swing this one, and once again Martina adds a few studio harmonics to enhance the production. However, her voice is perfectly capable of performing these songs without enhancement of any kind. She has great timing, beautiful pitch and superb tone. Although this is their debut recording, they have already formed a fan base from their viral duo presentations of online videos that have caused quite a sensation. The demand for more of their music encouraged the duo to go into the studio and make this album that offers the listener “A Very Chimytina Christmas.” Their interpretations of some unusual holiday songs like “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and the way they spice up more familiar old favorites like “The Christmas Song” and “My Favorite Things” makes the holiday a little brighter.

However, this is not just a Christmas album, but it is an innovative musical exploration into unusual harmonics, jazzy arrangements and an exercise in showing the world what an exceptional voice can do when merged with a Julliard musician who has obviously mastered his bass instrument.
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Santiago Bosch,Fender Rhodes/synthesizer/piano/composer; Jared Henderson,double bass; Juan Ale Saenz,drums; Vasilis Kostas,Laouto; Dany Anka,electric bass; Tucker Antell,tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS:Tim Miller,guitar; George Garzone,tenor saxophone; Darren Barrett,trumpet.

This is fusion jazz, stretching the hands and creativity of Santiago Bosch across several pianos, synthesizers and keyboards. All the music on this album is composed by Bosch and represents his life journey. He was introduced to jazz by his father, Jaime Bosch, who was a Venezuelan saxophone player. At the age of fifteen, the younger Bosch was already recording and touring Venezuela. He eventually found his way to the famed Berklee College of Music in the United States and graduated suma cum laude in 2017. His first album, “Guaro Report,” was released in 2011. He continues his quest to be an international force on the jazz scene as both a composer, bandleader, producer, arranger and pianist. Surrounding himself with a group of talented musicians, on his latest album, “Galactic Warrior,” the tune, “Transition,” features special guest, Darren Barrett, soaring on trumpet. The title tune, “Galactic Warrior” roars onto the scene with Santiago Bosch racing across the keyboard, with two fisted power. Track 6, titled “Main Menu,” features a strong bass line by Dany Anka, as Bosch layers his keyboard chords and improvisations. Much of this “Galactic Warrior” music sounds like it could be the background track for a video game. The Santiago Bosch project is a blend of electronic music, funk, fusion and smooth jazz, with the drums of Juan Ale Saenz enlightening and warming this production like solar energy.

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ENGLISH MUSICIANS: Cliff Hall, Roy Hilton & John Pearce,piano; Andy Macintosh,saxophone/arranger; Simon Gardner,trumpet; Paul Morgan,acoustic bass; Laurence Cottle,electric bass; Ian Thomas,drums; SPECIAL GUEST VOCALIST:Norma Winstone. U.S. MUSICIANS: Isamu McGregor, piano/Rhodes; Carey Frank,B3 organ; John Leftwich,bass/synth pads/producer/arranger; Bili Redd & Irene Cathaway,background vocals.

I hear so many amazing jazz albums all year round, and I try not to review the same person twice; at least not in close proximity, because I strive to give everyone a fair opportunity to be reviewed. So, after recently reviewing Cathy Segal-Garcia’s “Dreamsville” release, I was surprised to receive another new release in my in-box titled, “Straight Ahead to the U.K.” When I ran into Cathy recently, I commented that she turns out CDs like a Christmas Baker makes cookies. I mean, this vocalist is so creative that, (like the proverbial proud Baker) she’s always bringing something fresh and sweet to the studio and to her public audience. One minute she’s recording with a host of pianists, just featuring the 88-keys and her voice. The next moment she’s recording with guitar and piano, or with a jazz chamber ensemble, and in the blink of an eye, she’s singing with an a ‘Capella group. This time, there is a poignant story behind her CD release. The production is a terrific mix of both American and UK musicians and the combination of two very different studio sessions.

In 1975, Cathy was dating an alto saxophonist named Andy Macintosh. He came from England to the United States to perform with Maynard Ferguson, Louie Bellson and others. Their romantic encounter didn’t last and soon, Macintosh returned to the UK. For years, they had no contact until one day in 2011, Andy discovered Cathy on Facebook. It was three and a half decades later that Andy Macintosh invited her to come to England and record with some of the best jazz cats in the business. Cathy packed her bags.

Unfortunately, that project sat dormant because Andy was diagnosed with Cancer. Sadly, he died in 2013. Nearly a decade later, while listening to that 2011 recording, Cathy recognized it had merit and potential. First, she wanted to redo her vocals and tighten up some of the arrangements. She called on one of my favorite Southern California bassists to assist her in preparing new arrangements; Mr. John Leftwich.

“John is very creative and detailed. He’s a superb musician and a top-notch engineer.I was thrilled that he was interested in working together on this album,” Cathy complimented the talented bassist, engineer and producer/arranger.

Leftwich brought in top players like Isamu McGregor on acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. He added Carey Frank on B3 organ and Katisse Buckingham on saxophone. Brad Dutz colorfully added his percussion excellence to the mix. The first thing I noticed, while listening to this amazing production,is the high quality of all the musicians involved. This is jazz music excellently played and Cathy gives lots of moments to these musicians, allowing them to shine brightly during their awesome instrumentation. She includes an original tune called, “Shake It Down” based on the changes of the Fats Domino hit record, I’m Walkin’. It’s a fun, swinging tune that Cathy says her good friend, Linda, inspired, because Linda loves to dance. The lyrics are well-written and catchy. The saxophone solo is smokin’ hot! But, for me, Cathy finds her niche when she sings ballads. Her interpretation of Hoagy Charmichael’s, “I Get Along Without You” is a stellar representation of how to sell a song. English pianist, Roy Hilton, is an amazing accompanist on this tune and Simon Gardner’s sweet trumpet solo pulls at the heartstrings.

Another original composition titled, “Recipe of Love” fits into my assessment of Cathy as a prime and productive Baker. It’s another well-written tune this singer/songwriter has composed. She adds a pinch of scat-singing, just to spice things up and remind you, she can do that too!

I was surprised when I read that this is the only ‘straight-ahead’ jazz recording that Cathy Segal-Garcia has ever made. It becomes another sheet of cookies on the Baker’s prize shelf.

“Many years have passed since the very beginning of this line – many lifetimes, much growth pleasures and pains. Andy passed away in October of 2013. He left lifetimes of music, friends, family and many, many laughs. Here’s to you my friend. Thanks for it all,” Cathy writes in her liner notes.
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FRANK COLON – “LATIN LOUNGE” Technoprimal Music, Unltd.

Frank Colon, percussion/programming/vocals/composer; Jose Arimateia,trumpet; Raphael Batista,violin; Julio Falavigna,drums; Jamie Glaser,acoustic guitar; Estevao Lima, bass; Jr. Lobbo,elec. guitar; Luana Mallet,vocals; Carlos Malta, flute/bass flute; Kleyton Martins,keyboards; Ramon Miroshnichenko,flamenco guitar; Elton Ricardo, fender Rhodes; Christiano Rocha,drums; Jose Staneck,harmonica; Cristiano Venezo, violin/viola/cello; Mateus Viano,accordion.

This album of Brazilian flavored jazz was recorded in Rio de Janeiro. It features the talents of several top Brazilian musicians, who are interpreting the original compositions of Frank Colon. Each song is propelled by the percussive excellence of Colon’s infectious Latin grooves. Colon not only plays percussion on this recording, he also has programmed synthesizer parts and added vocals. All songs were not only composed, but arranged by Frank Colon. On the first cut, “Emerald Coast” you hear the sound of rushing water beneath the bass line of Estevao Lima and that effect enhances the percussive drums of both Colon and Julio Falavigna. Carlos Malta’s bass flute sets a poignant mood during this moderate tempo production and the violin of Cristiano Veneza sweetly embellishes Colon’s original composition. There are tunes that employ a funk undertow, emulating a smooth jazz arrangement, like “Summer Cocktail.” The composition titled, “Samba Gitano” is rich with percussion and strings. There is a feeling of double-time, but for the most part, this album stays at one moderate tempo. Sometimes the bird-like percussion sounds transport us to Brazilian jungles. On track 8, Colon finally investigates adding funk to his Brazilian production and the result makes “Wishful Thinking” come alive and breaks up the monotony tempo of this entire album.

The addition of organ lifts the piece and the addition of vibes is a nice touch by Kleyton Martins on keyboards. The Accordion, played by Mateus Viano, and Roman Miroshnichenko on Flamenco guitar elevate the “Tango Lucumi” tune, giving us a glance into Brazilian folk music. This is an easy-listening experience, with a mellow production, motored by percussion and persuasive melodies.

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RICKY SWEUM – “EARTH SONG” Ninjazz Records

Ricky Sweum,composer/tenor & soprano saxophones; Dennis Lambert,piano; Zak Craxall,elec. bass; Britt Ciampa,drums; Benjamin Paille,trumpet; Julie Bradley, vocal.

Clearly,the trumpeter and saxophone player are the stars of this production. Ricky Sweum adds his technique on both tenor and soprano saxophones. He has also composed all the music. The rhythm section is decent, but not exceptional in technique nor creativity. The vocals of Julie Bradley on the title tune, “Earth Song” offers a positive lyric that proclaims:

“…ancient story told of how we used to love the earth and how we lived in harmony with all things.”

It begs humanity to once again celebrate this concept and embrace peace and love, instead of hating on each other and disrespecting our environment. On this tune, the solo by Sweum on saxophone is smooth and well-played. However, the pianist lacks imagination. The drummer sounds more like a rock player than a jazz drummer.

Ricky Sweum manages to start each song with a strong melody and a groove, but the songs need more development melodically and players who can better improvise on his themes. The third track, “Majestic,” starts out sounding like the first line of “Oh Danny Boy.” Left to the rhythm section to develop this tune, the song becomes redundant and unexpressive. “Prayer” sounds like a homage to John Coltrane, mixed with horn motion that moves in waves beneath the solo saxophone. This is one of the more interesting tunes on this CD. Unfortunately, the repetitiveness of these song ideas begs for a ‘bridge’ or a rhythm change; a Bossa Nova or a waltz. Something to break-up the monotony of the same chord changes repeated over and over again and similar rhythm tempos. They do try to change things up with a marching rhythm on “Energy Dance,” but the tune does not radiate energy. It’s another moderate tempo with repetitious chord changes. On the positive tip, Ricky Sweum’s composer talents are budding and the horn lines and horn technique keeps this project tied together like gift paper and cellophane tape.

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Nomar Negroni, drums/composer; José Ramon Negroni, piano/composer;Josh Allen, bass.

Negroni’s Trio combines a father and son team with virtuoso bassist, Josh Allen. Both of the Negroni musicians are also composers and with the exception of Bud Powell’s composition “Tempus Fugit,” and their cover of the late, great, Noro Morales song, ”Maria Cervantes” along with the 1941 hit composition, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” they have penned every other tune on this album. The father, Jose Ramon Negroni, has a definitive style on piano and keyboard, that blends jazz sensibilities with his Puerto Rican, Latin roots. The son, Nomar, is constantly polishing his drum licks and powerful percussive style. Nomar won a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music and you can appreciate his unique approach to drumming on track three, one of my favorite original compositions, where Nomar lets loose with spontaneous combustion on his trap drums. It’s titled “I Remember You” and features many breaks and time changes that seem to portray a fluid personality with many moods. The Negroni recordings are played on over 600 radio stations worldwide. This is their eleventh album release. The song, “Puerta Del Sol” showcases an ethereal ballad arrangement that employs a Tango feel, with Josh Allen holding the groove tightly in place with his seductive bass line. On the fade of the tune, Nomar brightly spotlights his drum skills. José Ramon let’s his fingers fly, like humming bird wings, across the piano keys. He introduces us to “Maria Cervantes.” His mastery of his instrument is obvious, as he performs solo during the first part of this celebrated Puerto Rican jazz composer’s famous song. On the powerfully produced, “No Me Voy De Aqui” the Negroni’s add vocals, with Spanish chants and Josh Allen steps center stage to deliver an awesome improvisation on his bass.

Each song is a pleasant surprise package of unique arranging and melodic beauty. This is a delightful blend of Latin culture, European classical styles and African American jazz roots. It is richly energized with a fusion of technique by each master musician and showcases excellent compositions by the Negroni’s.
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Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch,piano; John Hebert,bass; Eric McPherson,drums.

What better way to close out the year, 2019, than to celebrate the historic talents of pianist/composer, Fred Hersch. This box set of brilliance includes work from his album, “Whirl” released in 2010, “Alive at the Vanguard” released in 2012, “Floating” a 2014 release, “Sunday Night at the Vanguard” from 2016 and “Live in Europe” a 2018 album release. Fred Hersch is said to be a clear enunciator of the jazz language and unafraid to take innovative chances to explore his boundless imagination at the piano. Fred Hersch remains what the Los Angeles Times refers to as, “…an elegant force of musical invention.” This is plainly exhibited on this decade of recorded excellence. Fred Hersch is a living legend, not only as a superb musician, but also as a jazz journalist. His 2017 autobiography, “Good Things Happen Slowly” has been heralded for that year’s best memoirs in both the Washington Post and the New York Times. Fred Hersch has accomplished much as a respected musician, but he is also heralded as one of the most sensitive and astute accompanists on the planet. For starters, just ask Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer, Charlie Haden, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Bill Frisell, Joe Henderson, Audra McDonald, Nancy King or Kurt Elling.

The Hersch bassist of choice and also a respected composer, John Hebert, is both celebrated and in-demand on the improvised-music scene. New Orleans born, Hebert has joined forces with many jazz giants including Andrew Hill, Lee Konitz, Paul Bley, Toots Thielemans, Maria Schneider and many others. The Fred Hersch drummer, Eric McPherson, was named after Eric Dolphy by his dancer-choreographer mom. McPherson studied with saxophone master, Jackie McLean during a scholarship at the university of Hartford’s Hartt School and also with master drummer and educator, Michael Carvin. Eric McPherson has worked with iconic artists like Andrew Hill, Pharoah Sanders, Greg Osby, Jason Moran and now, with the legendary, Fred Hersch. If you have a sweet tooth, this six-album set offers hours of ear-candy.

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December 7, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ jazz journalist

December 7, 2019


As soon as I heard Pasquale Grasso’s rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear,” I was hooked. Here is a guitarist with an exceptionally warm and beautiful presentation. His awesome talent is mesmerizing. No need for other instrumentation. Pasquale Grasso is a one-man-band of the highest order. Obviously, he has honed his technical guitar skills by studying both classical music and jazz. According to his bio, when he first heard “The Unique Thelonious Monk” album of 1956, he was just a small child, but he immediately became a fan. That trio session recording featured Oscar Pettiford and Art Blakey. (RUBY MY DEAR performed solo)

Pasquale Grasso plays a custom guitar, built in France by Trenier Guitars, and its tone is eloquent. In 2015, Grasso won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition in New York City and confidently took home the $5,000 prize. As I listen to this artist, I see why he won that award and why he will win several more in the future. He’s so fluid and smooth on his instrument. When Pat Metheny was asked to name some younger musician, who had impressed him on guitar, he quickly named Pasquale Grasso saying: “The best guitar player I’ve heard in maybe my entire life is floating around now; Pasquale Grasso.… In a way, it is a little bit of a throwback, because his model, which is an incredible model to have, is Bud Powell. He has somehow captured the essence of that language from piano onto guitar in a way that almost nobody has ever addressed. He’s the most significant new guy I’ve heard in many, many years.”

Pasquale was born in Italy and is now based in New York City. As Pat Metheny said, this young musician has developed a style of playing that embraces bebop and the pioneers of that artform like Monk, Parker, Gillespie and Powell. You can hear it for yourself on his “Solo Standards Vol. 1” CD released in June of 2019; on his August, 2019 release of “Solo Ballads Vol. 1 and now on this amazingly well played tribute to Thelonious Monk on his “Solo Monk” CD that was released in October.

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Isabelle Olivier, harp/electronics; Rez Abbasi, acoustic guitar; Prabhu Edouard, tabla/kanjira; David Paycha, drums.

In the spirit of the holiday season, this dual talent opens their CD with “My Favorite Things” arranged in a unique way by Rez Abbasi, who is the acoustic guitarist on this project. The harpist, Isabelle Olivier, blends nicely with Abbasi’s guitar. Joining the leaders are percussion master, Prabhu Edouard, on tabla and David Paycha on drums. The quartet does not hesitate to explore the Avant-garde during their exploration of this familiar Richard Rodgers composition. They veer off the beaten path and make inroads into a space beyond the familiar. Additionally, both leaders are composers and contribute their original music to the remaining production.

Rez Abbasi was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but raised in Southern California. He studied at USC and then, the Manhattan School of Music, with emphasis in both classical music and jazz. Taking a pilgrimage to India, he studied with the master percussionist (Ustad Alla Rakha). So, it comes as no surprise, his American, Pakistani and East Indian influences have merged into his music. In Downbeat magazine’s 2013 Critics Poll, he was voted #1 ‘Rising-Star Guitarist.’ With fourteen albums, multiple awards and having several of his compositions commissioned, Abbasi strives to recreate himself musically with each new project. He met Isabelle at a jazz festival in France several years ago. That’s where the idea was born to combine guitar and harp in a recording atmosphere. In 2018, the opportunity to make that dream come true presented itself in the form of a grant from the French American Cultural Exchange. Both artists began writing music for this unique project and both enjoy pushing the limits of creativity, while exploring improvisational freedom.

Jazz-woman and harpist, Isabelle Olivier, brings strong musical personality to the project and is technically astute on the harp. She has composed six of the ten songs on their album. For the past five years, she ‘s divided her time between France and the United States. She’s toured 22 countries, offering her musical creations, playing electronic harp and delivering her composer talents at various concerts. Ms. Olivier has given master classes at the Trinity College in London and is celebrated as a worldwide ambassador for the new electro-acoustic harp. In 2015, she became the first musician and composer to win the Prize from the Villa Le Notre at Versailles. In 2017 she was commissioned by the Art Institute of Chicago to compose and perform “In Between Gauguin.” Isabelle Olivier has recorded eight discs, as well as a DVD of her personal work. The percussive effects add depth and beauty to this ethereal project. I was especially captivated with the 7th track titled, “Road Movie,” that incorporated swiftly played percussion and vocals. Isabelle Olivier composed this song. I also enjoyed the beautiful composition by Rez Abbasi he calls, “Stepping Stone.” Olivier and Abbasi’s music is soothing, sometimes alarmingly different, and manages to stir up all kinds of emotional feelings as you listen. Their sound is rather exotic, embracing world music and blending their wide-ranging cultures. This is a recording that offers fresh, new perspectives on the combination of two string instruments and continually pushes the boundaries of self-expression and musical freedom. This is an artistic diversion from Abbasi’s other bands like the one pictured below as part of the New York Guitar Festival.

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Doug MacDonald,guitar; Charlie Shoemake,vibraphone; Joe Bagg, piano; Harvey Newmark & John B. Williams,bass; Kendall Kay & Roy McCurdy, drums; Kim Richmond,alto saxophone/flute/arranger; Ron Stout,trumpet; Ira Nepus,trombone; Rickey Woodard,tenor saxophone.

This is a “Live” recording that features some of Southern California’s top talent in jazz. The location of this performance was at the restaurant, Hangar 18, a Marriot Hotel restaurant located at the Los Angeles airport. This concert was captured in July of 2019 and features Doug MacDonald on guitar. MacDonald is known for his ability to pull some of the biggest names in jazz together for various recording ventures. This one was sponsored by Executive Producer, Don Thomson and it’s a two CD set that features sixteen songs, mostly jazz standards. MacDonald has contributed two original compositions.

“I first met Don Thomson in Hawaii in the mid-70s. Don has always been a patron of the arts and he wanted to produce a project with me that highlighted my various musical endeavors. We finally produced our first Jazz Marathon in 2014. In the subsequent years, we have released three other live albums. … It’s an honor for me to be able to release this Jazz Marathon 4 which presents large ensemble arrangements from legendary musician/arranger, Kim Richmond, as well as small group selections that I chose in an effort to present a varied program,” explained Doug MacDonald.

Ron Stout’s trumpet is expressive and dynamic on the ensemble’s arrangement of “Maiden Voyage, with a rich, sliding bass line that introduces the tune. The horn section on “Pennies From Heaven” is harmonically impressive and the band swings, issuing in Joe Bagg on a happy-go-lucky piano solo, followed by Ira Nepus letting his slide trombone do the talking. On disc 2., Rickey Woodward swings hard on his tenor saxophone during a boisterous solo on “Where or When,” and Ron Stout’s beautiful trumpet interpretation of “Body and Soul” was spellbinding. Clearly, Disc 2 has become my favorite. The Richmond arrangements are smooth and warm as red velvet comforters and a roaring fireplace.

I wish that Doug MacDonald had designated which drummer and which bass player appeared on which cuts, since he used more than one for this ‘live’ recording. I could have given more appropriate review credits if I had known who played on the various tunes.

Over the years, Doug has performed with a host of great musicians including Rosemary Clooney, John Clayton, Bill Holman, Joe Williams, Jack Sheldon, Buddy Rich, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan and Stan Getz to name just a few of the countless icons who have enjoyed his guitar skills. This two-set recording continues his tradition of playing with the best in the business.
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Eric Hofbauer, guitar; Dylan Jack, drums/percussion.

It takes a lot of creativity, technical adeptness and courage to record an entire album with only guitar and drums. Especially when the two musicians are choosing challenging pieces written by the likes of Don Cherry, Sting, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix and Ornette Coleman. That’s a wide range of styles and genius. Hofbauer and Jack do not disappoint. Their sound and this production are unique and actually quite captivating. The title of their album was shortened from a quotation of the great Jimi Hendrix. He once said, “Is it just remains of vibrations, echoes long ago?” Dylan Jack and Eric Hofbauer shortened it to “Remains of Echoes.” These two Boston improvisors open with Sting’s composition, “Walking on the Moon.” They follow this unusual arrangement and delivery with “Bird’s” “Klactoveedsedstene.” The first song being sparsely played and the 2nd track more bebop influenced and giving Hofbauer an opportunity to stretch out on his guitar in a Thelonious Monk-kind-of-way. He plays this one the way I think Monk would have, if he was a guitarist and not a genius pianist. Dylan Jack is especially creative on drums, not only supporting the rhythm but improvising and expressing a percussive freedom that draws the listener into the song with his whirlpool of drum licks. I am caught up and enjoying it. One of my favorites on this album is their interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Up From the Skies” tune. Hofbauer exposes his blues chops on the guitar.

“Using slide guitar is a way for me to express that strong emotional pull that always draws me back to the blues,” Hofbauer declared in the liner notes.

The two musicians play around with various textures, time-registers and rhythms. On Don Cherry’s “Mopti” composition, Dylan Jack takes us back to Africa and gives us quite a solo on his drum set.

“My approach on this record was to be a solo percussionist/drummer in order to get as much music as I could out of the instrument. Whether I was playing melodies, soloing or supporting Eric, I tried to surround his playing with different registers, timbres density and space,” Jack explained.

This is a unique listening experience that combs through the great music of iconic musicians and sweeps us up into a pompadour of sound and intriguing creativity.
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ELLEN EDWARDS – “A NEW YORK SESSION” Stonefire Music Company

Ellen Edwards, vocals/composer; Robbie Kondor, piano; Jeff Mironov, guitar; Will Lee, bass; Gene Loke, drums; Jason Miles, vibes/B3 organ/strings/producer; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Richie Morales, percussion.

Ellen Edwards has written five original compositions for this project to showcase her singer-songwriter skills. The first tune, “Over There” is arranged as a Latin production and the rhythm track is Samba strong. Edwards is based in Atlanta, (The Little Apple), but is originally from the ‘Big Apple’ or more precisely, from Upstate New York. After her move to Atlanta, she met and married her current husband. For a while, she left the music scene to raise their three children. Now, she is back. This is her fourth album release. Randy Brecker’s trumpet spices up her bluesy rendition of “Let the Fire Grow.” Ellen’s voice seems more comfortable with the blues. She continues with “Love Is on My Side” arranged with a gospel/blues feel, using a 6/8 beat. “Blue and Green” has a folk-song-feel and Robbie Kondor adds his sensitive piano accompaniment. Edwards has a strong voice, but is not what I would call a jazz singer. Ellen Edwards is more pop oriented in style and, on this EP of original music, strives to share her songwriting talents with the world.

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Lori Bell,flute; Ron Satterfield,guitar/vocals/arrangements; Tommy Aros,percussion.

This project is refreshing and creative. Sometimes less offers much more, as is the case with this trio of fine musicians. Lori Bell never disappoints, always skilled and fluid on her instrument. She’s an award-winning jazz and classical flute virtuoso. Ron Satterfield brings stylized and soulful vocals and a guitar mastery that elevates this project. He is also an innovative arranger. Tommy Aros tastefully adds percussion to the mix, bringing the trio together like super glue. His rhythms are exciting and solidifying. Lori Bell explained their process of recording this way.

“The inspiration for this project is imagining the light of James Taylor refracted through the musical soul of Ron Satterfield. It’s really his baby. He wrote all of the arrangements. Ron connects emotionally to every lyric. He’s exceptionally gifted,” Bell praised her musical comrade.

True, Ron Satterfield has earned multiple awards from SESAC for his compositional and arranging skills and was a Grammy finalist for his work with the eclectic group, Checkfield. However, Bell’s prowess on flute is not to be overlooked or minimized. Her recordings have garnered three Global Music Awards,for playing and composing,including Best Albums of 2016 in Downbeat magazine and she was praised as Best in Jazz 2016 by the Huffington Post newspaper. Tommy Aros brings percussive spice and sprinkles hot sauce over this delicious musical meal.

“He adds so much groove, color and texture to the project,” says Bell.

Tommy Aros is a percussionist who is an in-demand session player and his talents have been recorded on over sixty albums including Freddie Hubbard, Al Dimeola, David Benoit, Dan Segel, Trini Lopez, and for the past 20-years he’s worked with Luis Miguel. I recall when he was a member of the popular San Diego based band, “Fattburger” along with the talented reed man, Hollis Gentry. (R.I.P.)

Together, this Trio de Janeiro decided to celebrate the songwriting of James Taylor. This successful composer’s works are reimagined and rearranged by Ron Satterfield. The result is a striking and memorable reassessment of treasured pop and folk songs that transcend genre, interpreted by this trio that richly steeps them in jazz. Bell’s amazingly improvisational fills and solos make this production soar and enhances Satterfield’s arrangements. Satterfield’s voice is hypnotic and draws me swiftly into the whirlpool of his multi-talents; with strumming fingers and smooth baritone. Tommy Aros whips the production together with percussive brilliance. Their presentation made me re-evaluate the wonderful composing skills of James Taylor and appreciate how jazz can beautifully transform music to a higher level.
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Amber Weekes, vocals; Peter Smith & Tony Compodonico, pianists; Trevor Ware, bass/co-producer/background vocals; Jeff Littleton, bass; Charles Ruggiero & Nathaniel Scott, drums; Mitchell Long & Ramon Stagnaro, guitars; Justo Almario & Danilo Lazano, flute; Keith Fiddmont, alto & tenor saxophone; Dale Fielder, baritone saxophone; Curtis Taylor, Jeff Kaye & Scotty Barnhart, trumpets; Mark Cargill, violin/string arranger/conductor & co-producer; Munyungo Jackson, David Jackson & Don Littleton, percussionist; Nick Mancini & Gabriel “Slam” Nobles, vibraphone; Sue Raney & Mon David, vocals; Paul Baker, harp; Brian Swartz, horn arrangements; Mark LeVang, accordion; THE BUCKJUMP BRASS BAND: Robbie Hiokie, trombone; Randall Willis, tenor saxophone; Louis Van Taylor, baritone Saxophone; Vince Tividad, sousaphone; Mark Justin, piano; Kenny Sara, bass drum/snare drums/percussion/background vocals/handclaps.

Amber Weekes has a smooth, pleasing style. Her voice is crystal clear and during this repertoire, she pleasantly performs a Baker’s Dozen of notably familiar songs. Opening with the title tune borrowed from the Willy Wonka movie, Amber Weekes invites jazz vocalist Sue Rainey to make a guest appearance. She has studied with Raney and their voices blend nicely. I am struck by the Weekes way of stylizing her music, leaving space for the songs to breathe. Her phrasing is measured, like an instrumentalist rather than a singer. She doesn’t hold the tones out for long periods of time or delve into lengthy legato phrasings. Weekes displays skills by going straight to the notes without sliding. Every word is clearly enunciated and every melody is emotionally enriched. Her choice of tunes shows an expansive appreciation for many genres of music and includes compositions by Paul Simon, Duke Ellington, Oscar Brown Jr., Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer. She introduced me to “When He Makes Music” by Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal. This is a treasure trove of great songs.

The West Coast musicians shine on this Weekes album of fine jazz. Scotty Barnhart is outstanding on trumpet during Amber Weekes’ polished presentation of “The Snake.” Trevor Ware’s big, fat tones on double bass carries the rhythm section effectively during Sunny Skylar’s, “Gotta Be This or That.” Weekes brightly ‘swings’ this tune. On Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Brown Baby” composition, Weekes and Trevor Ware duet, effectively showcasing her voice with only bass accompaniment. Ware pulls out his bow on this one to beautifully sing his solo. Amber Weekes and her producers have employed the talents of numerous studio musicians, handpicked for various sessions and representative of some of the best jazz players in Southern California. For example, she uses Jeff Littleton’s strong bass chops on “When October Goes” and the stellar guitar licks of Ramon Stagnaro blended with a happy flute embellishment by Danilo Lazano. They have arranged this Manilow hit with a Latin flair. Weekes invites Mon David to join her in interpreting, “The Way He Makes Me Feel,” using a harp tastefully added by Paul Baker and Mark Cargill continues to enrich the production with his string arrangements. This Amber Weekes album of music is a fine way to begin your New Year. It’s scheduled for a January 3rd release.
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KINGA – “FOREVER IN MY HEART” Kayla Dream Records

Kinga Heming,vocals; Miles Black, piano/bass/organ/arrangements; Gabriel Mark Hasselbach,trumpet/flugelhorn/flute; Joel Fountain,drums; Bernie Addington,bass; Loni Mager,guitar.

Known simply as ‘Kinga,’ this Canadian artist is a strong singer that oozes emotional connections to her lyrics. She opens with “Forget Me,” displaying a distinctive sound and smooth jazz styling on this haunting melody. She interprets the poignant lyrics with believability. On familiar American songbook tunes like “Almost Like Being in Love” and “Stay as Sweet as You Are,” she displays complete ease and vocal control, with the additional quality of assertively swinging the Lerner and Loewe tune, and even incorporating scat-singing into her presentation as easily as breathing in and out. On the third track, she delivers the “Stay as Sweet as You Are” ballad convincingly.

Producer, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach,encouraged Kinga Heming to choose songs straight from her heart; songs she could honestly relate to and deliver. The chanteuse did just that.

“These were songs that were introduced to me at a very young age. I chose the ones that I felt really connected to; that reflect my life. It’s me telling a story to everybody in my audience. … At the end of the day, I know for myself and from my own perspective. … That’s why I came up with ‘Forever in My Heart,’ because every single part of these stories are held forever in my heart,” Kinga shares in her publicity package. “When I sing a song, it’s not just singing a song. It’s not just reciting the lyrics to make it sound pretty. … Every single song on the record is me telling my story.”

She includes jazz standards like “No More Blues,” and “Whisper Not,” along with “Here’s to Life,” the classic, “Nature Boy” song and a beautiful rendition of “The Very Thought of You.” Polish-born, Kinga Heming, who moved to Ottawa,Ontario in Canada at the age of five, is currently being played on Canadian radio from coast to coast. Hopefully, we’ll hear her on the United States airwaves soon.
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Carol Albert,piano/vocals/keyboards/programming/composer; Ben Babylon, string/French horn arrangements; Paul Brown, guitar/percussion/ production; Sam Sims,bass; Lil John Roberts, drums/percussion/piano; Daniel Baraszu,acoustic guitar.

Carol Albert is a composer, pianist and keyboard programmer. In league with producer and guitarist, Paul Brown, who is a two-time Grammy winning producer and hit record maker, they have created an easy-listening, smooth jazz recording. This is an album that grew out of Carol Albert’s “Sun’s Out” successful single release that raced up the Billboard Smooth Jazz Song list. It’s being played on smooth jazz stations across the country. Carol Albert has the talent of finding a repeatable melody line that sticks like glue and embellishing it with programmed keyboard parts, and tasteful live musicians who bring flavor and technical improvisations to help her music come alive. On keyboard and piano, Albert establishes the melody, but never really stretches out as a jazz improviser. She leaves the fluid improvisation to folks like Paul Brown, strong on his guitar. Lil John Roberts adds his drum licks to hold the grooves strong.

“I met Paul Brown at a show he did in Atlanta through my friend, trumpeter Rob Zinn, and he said to give him a call when I started working on my new album. He took his incredible ear and years of experience working with all kinds of artists to make incredible suggestions, oversee and put everything together, mix it to perfection and truly elevate my work. I’m so impressed with the quality of these musicians and the way all the elements came together. … I think it’s the best work of my career,” Carol gushed.

Carol Albert manages to capture moods with her music. For example,her tinkling,arpeggio piano parts on the “Winter Rain” tune expands the imagination and paints pictures of rain with the piano. The warm groove that supports this song embellishes it like winter winds brushing back and forth in the midst of a peaceful storm. All of her songs are peaceful and easy-listening. On the current single, the one that’s making so much joyful noise on the Billboard charts, Carol Albert adds her vocals as part of the musical mix; no words necessary. On “I Am Fine” she does sing lyrics. The words give us a positive mantra to repeat; “I am fine now. I am fine.” On the song, “Perfect Sunday,” Paul Brown once again adds his brilliant guitar work and production techniques that make this a stand-out composition. For me, Carol Albert is more pop than jazz, but Brown’s guitar adds that slice of jazz improvisation and freedom that strays from Albert’s sing-song melodies and gives us a taste of the precious and important third element of jazz, which is improvisation. The final original composition by Carol Albert titled, “Til We Meet Again,” features the tasty talents of Daniel Baraszu on acoustic guitar. All in all, this is a smooth jazz mixture of classically based piano with a pop/jazz production twist. It’s a soothing way to brighten your day or to enhance your winter evening.
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