ARTISTS USE JAZZ TO CONNECT MUSIC GENRES IN UNIQUE WAYS

By Dee Dee McNeil
JANUARY 10, 2020

Program director and jazz pianist, Billy Mitchell, has announced the 2020 WINTER SESSION begins Tuesday, Jan 14th 2020 for the WATTS-WILLOWBROOK CONSERVATORY & YOUTH SYMPHONY. Applications are now available on-line at: http://www.sappa.net Ages 6 – 18 years old are welcome. Sign your child up now.

BIG BAND OF BROTHERS – “A JAZZ CELEBRATION OF THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND” New West Records

RHYTHM SECTION: Andy Nevala, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B-3 organ; Matt Casey, electric slide guitar; Tom Wolfe, electric guitar; David Ray, Chris Kozak & Abe Becker, acoustic/elec. bass; Mark Lanter, drums; Dave Crenshaw, percussion. SAXOPHONES: Dick Aven, tenor & soprano saxophones; Jimmy Bowland, alto saxophone; Steve Collins, baritone saxophone; Mace Hibbard & Kelley O’Neal, alto saxophones. Nathan McLeod, tenor saxophone. TRUMPETS: Rob Alley, Mart Avant, Barney Floyd & Chris Gordon, trumpet/flugelhorn. TROMBONES: Billy Bargetzi, Chad Fisher & Bill Huber, trombone; Brandon Slocumb, bass trombone.

This recording sounds like a bright, boisterous party. From Andy Nevala’s jazzy piano introduction, to the first slide guitar magic of Matt Casey, to the brilliant vocal stylings of Marc Broussard; I am enchanted by the premier tune, “Statesboro Blues.” To my surprise and satisfaction, this Big Band of Brothers has taken on a project of paying tribute to the legendary Allman Brothers. They’ve wrapped the blues inside the arms of jazz, with the crush of rock music evident in their soulful, appreciative hug. Their 2nd track features the talented Wycliffe Gordon on soprano trombone and the third track features Ruthie Foster singing the gospel-influenced, blues tune, “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” with the prevalent Hammond B-3 organ played by Nevala. Dick Aven showcases a soulful, saxophone solo and the Big Band of Brothers shines on this tune with their powerful horn arrangements. Mark Lanter, on trap drums, is a strong force throughout, with adequate assistance from percussionist, Dave Crenshaw. On “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” they blend a Latin arrangement with smooth jazz quite nicely.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=big+band+ of+brothers+-+a+jazz+celebration+of+the+allman+brothers+band

The Big Band of Brothers has released their album in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the premier recording by the Allman Brothers Band, whose album hit the streets back on November 4, 1969. Fifty years ago, it was celebrated as a Southern Rock recording. Gregg Allman and his brother Duane (along with their band members) travelled from Macon, Georgia to New York and cut their first classic, authentic southern rock and roll album. Many of the songs on the Big Band of Brothers CD are pulled from that first album including, Dreams, Whipping Post, It’s Not My Cross to Bear and Don’t Want You No More.

During an early interview, with journalist Bob Beatty, the original Allman Brothers Band admitted their love of jazz and how their drummer, “Jaimoe” (Jai Johnny Johanson) introduced them to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, saying “Kind of Blue” was always spinning on their turntable. They also loved Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.”

Those familiar with the Allman Brothers music would have to agree it is richly inspired by the blues and gospel of the African American community. The Big Band of Brothers manages to generously mix that blues and gospel rooted music, along with strong rock and roll sensibilities, into a musical stew pot of improvisational jazz and groove. This is a party waiting to be played.
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MATT HERSKOWITZ – “MIRROR IMAGE” Justin Time Records

Matt Herskowitz, solo piano/composer.

One of the most difficult things a musician can do is to produce a completely solo album. It takes courage, creativity, and mastery to stand alone on the performance stage and offer your solo talent to the world. As I listen, it is immediately obvious that this pianist is steeped in classical music and technique. However, there is also a blues curve in some of his presentations and a strong need to improvise, which is the mark of a true jazz musician.

Based in Montreal, Canada, Matt Herskowitz has composed and arranged everything you will hear on this album, except the beautiful standard, “My One and Only Love.” That song closes this album out. On his third track, I hear subtle shades of “Body and Soul,” inside the strains of his pretty ballad titled, “Song for Katya.” The title tune, “Mirror Image” is more energetic, as his fingers briskly dance across the 88-keys. It allows his piano technique to shine brightly, including the fade of the song when he adds unexpected percussion with his fingers. “Reve Cinematique” is the seventh track and features a magnificent melody. Interestingly, his poignant tune called, “The Last Hope” incorporates gospel and blues onto his classical canvas.

His liner notes probably express, in Herskowitz’s own words, the reason and inspiration for recording this work of musical art.

“For my second solo album with Justin Time, I wanted to explore what’s become an increasingly prominent theme in my playing and composition: the reconciliation of my jazz and classical sides. I’ve been blending elements of both for a few years now. But one always seemed to favor the other. And, after two albums of Bach arrangements, a Chopin project with my jazz trio and a few other hybrid outings, I wanted to explore this fusion as it relates to my own music as well as through classical compositions. But this time, just me and the piano; pure and simple.”

Amidst the tinkling arpeggios of his piano technique and the often-challenging composer melodies he has created, there is a haunting tenderness to the music of Matt Herskowitz. You can also hear his love of classical composers like Robert Schumann and J.S. Bach. When he fuses the two art forms together, European classical music and America jazz, he brings something fresh and whimsical to the ear.
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JOHN BAILEY – “CAN YOU IMAGINE?” Freedom Road Records

John Bailey, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Stacy Dillard, tenor/soprano saxophones; Stafford Hunter,trombone; Edsel Gomez,piano; Mike Karn, bass; Victor Lewis,drums/cymbals/percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: Janet Axelrod,flute/alto flute/bass flute; Earl McIntyre, bass trombone/tuba.

The opening tune is called “Pebbles in the Pocket” and it’s a John Bailey original. According to the composer/trumpeter, this composition represents the pebbles of wisdom that we each carry around with us, and it’s an ardent tribute to loved ones, mentors or anyone who has come before us and shared important knowledge. It gives each horn player ample time to step forward and solo. As for the title of this album, John Bailey describes it in this way:

“Can You Imagine is an open question,” Bailey says. “Here we are in 2019 and there’s a lack of compassion and basic decency in our leadership and in our culture. I’m just asking, where would our culture be today if someone like Dizzy Gillespie had actually occupied the White House in 1965.”

Bailey is talking about a time when Dizzy Gillespie announced his candidacy for President of the United States in 1964. Of course, the iconic jazz trumpeter was probably being satirical, proudly naming members of his cabinet as being Duke Ellington as Secretary of State, Louis Armstrong as Secretary of Agriculture and Miles Davis as CIA Director. I recall 1964 as being one of the most heated and revolutionary periods of the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, we still wrestle with many of the same challenges and conflicts today that plagued us then. Looking at our political situation in 2020, perhaps it wouldn’t have been such a terrible idea to let jazz musicians attempt to run our country. Bailey is offering this album title as a rhetorical question in response to the fact that, as of the beginning of this new decade, too many of us seem not to have learned the lessons of empathy and human decency offered graciously and continuously by our country’s artistic giants. If artists inspire peace, love and empathy, maybe we should reconsider taking music and art out of our public education systems.

Consequently, the centerpiece of Bailey’s album is his three-part, twelve-minute “President Gillespie Suite.” It traces the candidate from when Gillespie promised to rechristen the ‘White House’ into the ‘Blues House.’ Earl McIntyre’s bass trombone is featured with his classic plunger solo style over the theme. Bailey’s trumpet sets the tone and sings the pretty melody. In the suite’s second movement, Bailey incorporates a whisper of ‘Salt Peanuts’ and Stevie Wonder’s “Do Yourself a Favor” tune. Stevie’s lyrics read, “Do yourself a favor, educate your mind.” This entire album seems to encourage this theme of education and elevation. The great drummer, Victor Lewis, has contributed a couple of original songs on this project including, “The Touch of her Vibe” and “From the Heart.”

It seems John Bailey has a love affair with John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie; both his music and his politics. This is John Bailey’s second album as a leader and it reflects his desire to advance social justice in America and beyond. After decades of being one of the most in-demand trumpeters in jazz, John Bailey first stepped out-front in 2018 with his critically acclaimed recording,‘In Real Time.’ On this second project release, he has rallied a group of all-star musicians including saxophonist Stacy Dillard, pianist Edsel Gomez, bass man, Mike Karn and trombonist, Stafford Hunter. The only female in his ensemble, flautist, Janet Axelrod, adds beauty and feminine softness on Stacy Dillard’s composition, “Elite State of Mind,” and Stacy Dillard sparkles on his saxophone solo. Axelrod’s flute mastery is also featured on “Valsa Rancho.”

This is an album of fine music, with a deep political consciousness and a prayer that music can inspire positive growth and change in a troubled world. It celebrates the influence of Dizzy Gillespie, who always represented brotherhood and world peace. It closes with the popular song, “People” (people who need people are the luckiest people in the world) poignantly sung by John Bailey’s trumpet, beautifully accompanied by pianist Edsel Gomez. Their duet is classic! If music were a magic wand, I would wave this album generously over the entire universe.
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NEVER WEATHER – “BLISSONANCE” Ridgeway Records

Dillon Vado,drums; Justin Rock,guitar; Tyler Harlow,bass; Aaron Wolf, saxophones; Josh D. Reed,trumpet.

Oakland,California drummer and vibraphonist,Dillon Vado,had a dream. He wanted to form a group, as a young bandleader and composer, to not only play his music, but to express it with a distinctive and unique sound. Carefully selecting his musicians, he has put together an ensemble of merit that he named, “Never Weather.” Vado has composed every piece of music on this CD with the exception of the Thelonious Monk composition, “Introspection” and a song by Justin Rock (the guitarist) titled, “There Is No Secret.”

Growing up in San Jose, Vado started playing drums at eight-years-old. In addition to this “Never Weather” album, he wears his drum hat in other ensembles including “Beyond Words: Jazz & Poetry.” That’s a project he co-leads with poet, Amos White. He plays vibraphone and marimba in a group called “The Table Trio” and for the past five years he’s performed with various Northern California music masters. Taking all that musical experience and wrapping it, like a present, in a creative ball of composition and technical ability, the result becomes this project.

As the ensemble moves, seamlessly, from one composition to the next, there is a hard edge to most of these arrangements. “Blissonance”(the title tune) reminds me of a calm piece of water and a time for meditation. The dissonance in harmonics simulates the ripples on the surface, just like we have ripples of discontent in our otherwise peaceful lives. Josh D. Reed finds a place to solo his trumpet above the repetitive chord changes, until they fade away altogether. This gives Dillon Vado and Josh Reed an opportunity to dance as a duo; drums and trumpet alone on this imaginary lake.

These compositions take us into the creative mind and experimentation of Vado as a composer. They also explore opportunities for the ensemble players to express themselves in unique and improvisational ways. There are thick patches of Avant Garde jazz obvious in this groups make-up. On their short interpretation of the Monk tune, “Introspection,” bassist Tyler Harlow steps into the spotlight to sing a solo song on his double bass, along with Aaron Wolf on soprano saxophone. I wish this cover tune had been allowed to play longer. It was nice to hear Monk’s defined melody.

Never Weather’s CD cover is striking, with a span of sea and one soul individual on a surf board riding a huge wave. It’s a photograph by award winning National Geographic photographer,Tom Schifanella. I wish more artists realized the importance of the artwork on their product. Obviously, Dillon Vado took the task of picking his cover artwork very seriously. I applaud that. The cover art reflects the CD title, “BLISSONANCE.” Blissonance is explained as “when an otherwise blissful experience in nature is wedded to or disrupted by the recognition that one is having an adverse impact on that place they are enjoying, just by being there.”

Enough said!
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BONZO SQUAD – “THERE’S ALWAYS TOMORROW” Independent Label

Corbin Andrick,reeds; Andrew Lawrence,keys/lasers; Andrew Vogt, bass/pedals; Zack Marks,drums.

The Bonzo Squad represents a number of strong R&B-influenced tracks that lack improvisation. Clearly, these musicians know how to provide strong back-up tracks. Take for instance their infectious tune titled, “Remedy.” It’s probably the best song on this album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC-WliQdrxA

It’s obvious, they are a tight ensemble band and each player has composer skills. But they only produce background tracks. They write strong, repetitious chord changes, but no one steps out front to solo and put the sparkle on this project. Bonzo Squad is an ensemble in desperate need of a lead singer or lead instrumentalist.
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JASON MILES –”KIND OF NEW – BLACK MAGIC” Robeadope Records

Jason Miles, piano/keyboards/composer/arranger; Reggie Washington, electric bass;Gene Lake,drums; Steven Wolf & Jimmy Bralower,drum programming; Philip Dizack,trumpet; Jay Rodrigues,saxophones/bass clarinet/flute.

Producer and keyboardist, Jason Miles, has led an interesting musical journey, interacting with a number of iconic jazz, R&B and pop musicians over his career. He was the synthesizer programmer on Miles Davis albums like “Tutu” in 1986 and in 1989,“Amandia” and “Music from Siesta.” According to Jason Miles, it was Miles Davis who amplified his career.

From his biography,I learned that Jason has a hunger for music and an appreciation for many genres of music. This album release features fusion jazz, but as a teenager, he was consumed by an interest in Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery and of course, Miles Davis. He probably never imagined that one day he would actually find himself in the studio with Miles.

For eighteen years, Jason Miles studied piano with Lucy Greene, who encouraged him to find his own voice. He soaked up the music of chick Corea, Monk, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and Bill Evans. But it was the Miles Davis recording of “Bitches Brew” that changed his life in 1970. This was the closest thing he had ever heard to what he wanted to play. It was where he felt his piano style could find total expression. The pianist fell in love with fusion jazz. Jason Miles was fascinated with the use and expression of synthesizers and electronic keyboards. This love of electronic music led him to collaborations with Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, Grover Washington Jr., David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, Michael Brecker, The Crusaders, Ruben Blades, Freddy Cole, Joe Sample, Herb Alpert, Vanessa Williams and the release of his own CDs. He’s also added the finishing touches to legendary music by Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, George Benson and Chaka Khan.

Once again, with this album release, he steps outside the role of finishing touches and collaborator, to bandleader and composer. Out of ten songs on his recent release,he has penned nine songs and covered one Miles Davis composition titled, “Jean Pierre.” That song is one of my favorites on this album along with “Kats Eye” (co-composed with trumpeter, Ingrid Jensen) and the organ propelled “Street Vibe,” that features a healthy dose of Gene Lake on drums and the horns of trumpeter, Philip Dizack, along with saxophonist, Jay Rodriguez. These musicians make this music come alive. Also, the title tune (Black Magic) features the prominent electric bass of Reggie Washington and is smooth jazz with a touch of funk and quite airplay friendly. Jason Miles manages to always find a way of inserting groove, melody and fusion funk with his keyboard and electronic programming abilities.

About the title of this new project, Jason Miles explained:

“My entire career as a keyboard player/synthesizer programmer has evolved with a certain kind of magic. So, I decided to call the album, Black Magic.”
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ERIK JEKABSON SEXTET III – “ONE NOTE AT A TIME” Wide Hive Records

Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer/arranger; Dave Ellis, tenor & soprano saxophones; Dave MacNab,guitar; John Wiitala,bass; David Flores,drums; John Santos,congas/percussion; Afotcja,vocal & poetry; Mads Tolling & Alisa Rose,violin.

David Flores on drums makes himself known on the first song of this album. It’s titled “Days of Haze” and the drummer takes an explosive solo. The 2nd track, “Dusk” slows the pace and gives Erik Jekabson an opportunity to introduce his tenacious trumpet. He adds a slow, funk tune with “Brother Todd.” This is one of my favorite tunes and it features a very expressive solo by Dave MacNab on guitar. A slow percussive beat introduces the title tune that includes a spoken word prose piece by the poet, Avotcja. It sums up the collective consciousness of this recording and its titled, “I Cry Creativity.” The horns set the stage for the poetry to begin, using long tones and adding string instruments to set the mood.

“I was asleep,” the male voice speaks. “Secure and comfortably asleep; dreaming of peace & love; hypnotized by a mirage of unity and togetherness. Dancing away demons of war and hate in what I thought was a land of plenty; In what I’d been taught was the land of the free. And I opened my eyes, was slapped in the face by a wide awake nightmare; a senseless suicidal madness of world of selfishness, insatiable gluttony and rampid homelessness created by shortsighted masters of fantasy, so used to dealing from their deck of unfulfillable promises that they could no longer feel anything real. … all I could do was cry. … if we artists could bottle our tears, no one would ever die of thirst. … We artists might be able to heal the world, one note at a time.”

The poem was far more powerful than the music. After the poetry stopped flowing,I wanted Erik Jekabson to jump in there and give me that same powerful realness and honesty that the poetry exalted.I wanted Erik to solo like his life depended on it. But he just kept the same repetitive background music going and that was certainly a lost opportunity.

On the 6th track, “Full House”Jekabson steps brightly into the spotlight with his horn and redeems himself. The percussion mastery of John Santos is infectious and delightful. Also, Dave Ellis on tenor saxophone takes a spirited solo. Another favorite on this production is a tune titled, “Shaker Funk” that lends itself to energy and gives space for the musicians to stretch-out and improvise. Erik Jekabson has a beautiful tone on his trumpet and flugelhorn. However, his compositions are often lugubrious and lack verve. With more compositions in keeping with the energy first presented on track one, this could have been a more exciting production.

Well respected in the Bay Area of Northern California, Erik Jekabson is said to have been key in bringing several of the exceptional local talents into the national spotlight. As a composer and bandleader, Jekabson is well-known as the founder of an ensemble called, “Electric Squeezebox Orchestra,” but also has a dedicated following for this all-star sextet. As an educator, he’s a regular instructor at JazzCamp West, The Stanford Jazz Workshop, the Lafayette Summer Jazz Workshop and the Brubeck Institute. He runs the Young Musicians Program at the California Jazz Conservatory. When he’s not performing with his popular sextet, another group called ‘The String-tet,’ or his orchestra, you may have seen him on stage or in the studio with Illinois Jacquet, John Mayer, the Howard Fishman Quartet or Galactic. Erik Jekabson holds a Batchelor’s Degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a Master’s Degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and is a published author of two books on jazz duets for trumpet.


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