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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  1. REVIEW: Eric Hofbauer and Dylan Jack's "Remains of Echoes" Reviewed by Musical Memoirs - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] by Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs  […]

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