A CELEBRATION OF JAZZ EXPLODES INTO THE NEW YEAR

By Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

December 20, 2019

VINCE MENDOZA TEMPLE UNIVERSITY STUDIO ORCHESTRA – “CONSTANT RENAISSANCE” BCM+D Records

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, DAN CHMIELINSKI & FRIENDS – “A VERY CHIMYTINA CHRISTMAS” Outside In Music

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 – “GALACTIC WARRIOR” Independent label

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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CATHY SEGAL-GARCIA – “STRAIGHT AHEAD TO THE U.K.” Dash Hoffman Records

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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NEGRONI’S TRIO ACUSTICO Sony Music

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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THE FRED HERSCH TRIO – “10 YEARS/6 DISCS”
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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