By Dee Dee McNeil
March 28, 2020

Many new jazz releases blossomed in March. Spring blows across the remnants of winter as CARL SAUNDERS heats things up with his ‘Jazz Trumpet’ recording. The exciting release of a new album by harmonica master, YVONNICK PRENE, showcases his composer skills and demonstrates how his harmonica can be a viable and creative jazz instrument. KARL STERLING calls on a group of first-call musicians and produces an album to raise money to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. ALBARE plays a Jobim tribute and RJ & THE ASSIGNMENT, based in Las Vegas, bring a contemporary jazz blend that mixes straight ahead with R&B and funk.


Carl Saunders, trumpet/composer; Josh Nelson, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe Labarbera, drums.

Carl Saunders smashes on the scene with the familiar Joe Henderson tune, “Recorda-me.” Supported by an all-star, West Coast trio, including Josh Nelson on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Joe Labarbera on drums. It’s the first track on this CD and brightly introduces us to each player. On elaborate solos, each instrumentalist gives us a clear view of their individual talents. Afterwards, I was surprised to hear other trumpets harmonizing with the Saunders lead trumpet. Nothing was noted in the liner notes about other horn players, so I opened the CD cover to see who else was in the studio. It’s actually Carl overdubbing with himself. Of course, he would be thinking harmonically. Carl Saunders spent years with some of the most highly praised big bands on the jazz scene including his early years playing with Harry James (1961-62), later, with Maynard Ferguson, Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman. Once Saunders settled into the Las Vegas scene, he found himself hired by a number of show bands. You could hear his in-demand lead trumpet with legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet and even Frank Sinatra. He was adaptable enough to also tour with singer/songwriter, Paul Anka, as lead trumpeter and additionally performed with Robert Goulet.

Carl Saunders’ tone and timing makes every familiar jazz composition on this album become reinvented. His ability to swing so fluidly is perhaps a nod to his drum chops. As a youthful musician, he spent part of 1962 through ‘63 touring with Bobby Sherwood’s group and playing drums. Ultimately, trumpet became his instrument of choice. It’s always a joy hearing Carl Saunders play. Once you listen to how he and his group dance through “I thought About You,” with a lively and spontaneous solo by Josh Nelson on piano and Joe Labarbera shining as he trades ‘fours’ with the band on his trap drums.

Not only is Saunders a magnificent and creative player, he is additionally a master composer and has written hundreds of original songs. He shares several with us during this production. “Flim Flam” is one of his originals and it moves at a moderate, but inspired pace. The melody is catchy, with the changes in the chord progressions keeping everyone on their toes, especially on the bridge. His long, legato lines stretch like spandex across the changes and I wonder how he’s able to store up that much breath control. His execution is flawless and beautiful. Another composition by Saunders is the only ballad on this album of fine music. Titled, “Patience,” it settles the listeners down, after six songs that were played speedily and with intense energy. Even on this lovely ballad, Saunders manages to infuse it with a double time solo that lifts and propels the song to higher heights. Nelson, on piano, has an excellent way of making each song his own, when interpreting them. His talents shine throughout. Another favorite is the Saunders composition, “Tofu or Not Tofu.” He uses his trumpet overdub technique on this tune also and it enhances the strong melody.

This is an album I will play over and over again. It embraces the straight-ahead, bebop flavored jazz that I love so much and spotlights the excellence of each musician in a stunning way.
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Yvonnick Prené, harmonica/composer; Brian Charette, Hammond B3 organ; Jordan Young, drums.

This is a captivating album that features Mr. Prené’s harmonica mastery and showcases his composer skills. He is featured along with Brian Charette on Hammond B3 organ and Jordan Young on drums. It’s the 5th release from this acclaimed musician and celebrates the Frenchman’s well-spent time in New York City. You will note that several of his composition titles allude to his experiences in this thriving American metropolis. Yvonnick Prené arrived in New York in 2007, fresh from studying at the legendary Sorbonne in Paris. He had won scholarships to take classes at Columbia University in New York.

Prené grew up listening to his father’s jazz and blues record collection. He discovered a blues mouth-organ lying around his house and began trying to play the harmonica. A friend of his dad’s encouraged the young man’s talent and bought him a properly working instrument. That’s when his study of harmonica became serious. Eventually, he studied with the great French blues artist, Jean Jacques Milleau.

“But then, I was listening to a lot of jazz. I was listening to Charlie Parker when I was fourteen. I didn’t understand anything that was going on in that music, but for some reason I knew I had to dig into it,” Prené says in his liner notes.

Prené searched for information and examples of those who could handle bop lines on the harmonica. He listened to Howard Levy, a Chicago artist who invented a way to elicit sharped notes on the diatonic harmonica, like a trumpeter or a saxophonist. Yvonnick Prené was on a mission. He looked for books on how to play jazz on a blues harp and took a few lessons from Sebastien Charlier. By the time he turned seventeen, the youthful musician was playing professionally in French clubs. But he really expanded his talents once he arrived on American soil and started hanging out with East Coast jazz musicians.

His homage to the great Toots Thieleman on “Very Early” (a Bill Evans tune) is stellar. His original tune “Dear Zlap” is melodically catchy and swings nicely at a moderate pace. Track five titled “Air on A Sunny String” is another original composition by Prené and gives him an opportunity to exercise his bebop chops on this tune that is based on the Sonny Rollins’ song, “Airegin.” Brian Charette begins the arrangement with his organ prowess out-front and speeding ahead to lay the stage for Yvonnick Prené to snatch the spotlight. The brisk and powerful drums of Jordan Young invigorate the music. Young is also given ample solo time during a period of trading ‘fours’.

This album is an exciting exploration into what the harmonica can do, once placed in the capable hands of a master musician. It also introduces us to the budding composer; Yvonnick Prené and celebrates jazz as a music that crosses borders and brings cultures together in a positive, creative way.
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RJ, Acoustic Piano/keyboards/composer; Eric Runquist, double bass; Johnny Johnson, lead guitar; Jason Bolden & Donald Phillips, electric bass; Terry Wesley II, drums; Julian Tanaka, saxophone; Tom Schuman, auxiliary instruments; Kiata Brown, Aja Hawkins, Klaiton Johnson, & Alisha Webster, vocals.

Reginald Johnson, fondly called RJ, is a Las Vegas based musician and composer. His project opens with a contemporary jazz composition called “I’m Trying.” The stunning vocals of Kiata Brown draw you into this production like quicksand. This particular piece is a blend of smooth jazz, R&B, gospel, contemporary jazz and it’s definitely commercially excellent. RJ’s contemporary music tracks cross genre boundaries. Perhaps that’s the reason for the album’s title of Hybrid Harmony. Track 2, is funk based. It’s propelled by the percussion of Terry Wesley and RJ’s keyboard talents. Tom Schuman adds more keyboard magic to fatten the sound. Titled, “My Mean Ol’ Aunt,” during this instrumental, sporadically you will hear a voice that taunts indignations at the invisible person being addressed. The sarcasms add to the funkiness of this piece, shouting out things like “Now I could have called you a pizel-headed, evil-doin’ heathen, but I didn’t.” Clearly, the voice is mimicking that mean ol’ aunt. It’s a playful piece that twines straight-ahead jazz into the funk. It dazzles like brightly colored yarn woven into a plain sweater. But there is nothing ‘plain’ about this production. It holds the interest from tune-to-tune.

Track 3 is a pretty ballad, produced like a hit R&B tune, featuring a female vocalist singing another positive lyric, “Baby – let me Walk in Your Light” is the theme and the drum programming by Oscar Brown II pushes this song in a notable way.

The title tune, “Hybrid Harmony” is completely contemporary and once again dips into a funk bag. Julian Tanaka soars on tenor saxophone during this production and serves up a straight-ahead jazz-shine to the production. On the tune “Prototype” the production features two female voices, Aja Hawkins and Klaiton Johnson, who blend warmly to make this a compelling arrangement by RJ.

Reginald Johnson (RJ), was born and raised in Chicago. He began playing piano by ear in his church. Once he decided on music as a career goal, RJ started working in local clubs, moved to Nevada and studied music at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He earned his Master’s degree and his talents soon found him playing keyboards for well-known artists like Jennifer Hudson, Buddy Guy, and Boys II Men. But his other obvious talents are cemented in producing, arranging and composing. All in all, this is a soulful, contemporary jazz production featuring some very gifted musicians and led by Johnson. It’s RJ’s fourth album release. This newly released RJ & the Assignment production is deserving to be heard on airwaves across the country.
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Albare, guitar; Joe Chindamo, piano/string arrangements/conductor; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Ricardo “Ricky” Rodriquez, bass; Phil Turcio, producer.

This is the 6th collaboration of Albare with his producer, Phil Turcio and it’s the artist’s 12th album release. He also has a long-term musical relationship with Joe Chindamo, who is on five other albums that Albare has released.

It was in 1972, while Albare was watching Marcel Camus’s cult film, Orpheus Negro, that he discovered the magical music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Albare was captivated by the Brazilian composer’s music in the film score. As a young guitarist, he was greatly inspired by Jobim and began to develop his own melodic style of playing.

“As Jobim was such an influence in my playing, I feel this album is overdue and I am now ready to express the intense beauty of these melodies to my own satisfaction,” he explained.

Albare was born in Morocco and grew up in both Israel and France. Joining the Israel Music Conservatory at the youthful age of eight, he spent two years developing his natural musical abilities. But for the most part, Albare was completely self-taught. After losing his central vision faculties due to a genetic illness, Albare currently plays completely by ear and emotion. His passion for the music and his instrument is palpable on this recording. Every song is well-played, beautifully arranged, and delightfully enhanced by Chindamo’s string arrangements. You will hear all your favorite Jobim tunes, played with passion and precision by the gifted guitarist, Albare. Although this was released in December of 2019, it is never too late to listen to timeless music and the amazing artists who play it.
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KARL STERLING – “DREAM” Parkinson’s Global Project / Blue Canoe Records

Drums: Karl Sterling, Archibald Ligonierre, Peter Erskine, Gary Novak & Gergo Borial; Basses: Jimmy Haslip & Naina Kundu; Keys: Scott Kinsey; Guitars: Jeff Richman & Nir Felder; Tenor Saxophone, Bob Reynolds; Alto saxophone, Brandon Fields; Vocals: Mer Sal Comes, Jimmy Keegan, Carolyn Samuelson, Naina Kundu, Amanda Kennan. Recording Engineer: Paul Tavenner

This is an absolutely beautiful, but unusual album release. Karl Sterling began his career as a drummer and then, after thirty-five years as a working musician, he decided to enter the health and wellness industry in an effort to help people live an improved quality of life. Karl quickly realized that Parkinson disease was sorely in need of funding for education and research. Sterling wanted to do something about this dilemma, so he reached back to his musical career contacts and started making calls. This album is the result of those calls. The musicians on this project are long-time friends and the songs were chosen carefully, with the intention of sending a message of positivity and hope. He has assembled some of the most iconic names in music to work on this non-profit production that’s become the Parkinson’s Global Project. 90% of your purchase goes to funding for much needed education and research of this challenging disease.

Every cut on this project is well produced and excellently played. Producers include Jimmy Haslip (former member of The Yellowjackets), Scott Kinsey and Jeff Richman. These three seasoned veterans have produced an exemplary contemporary jazz album that will thoroughly entertain you.

Beginning with “Here to Love You,” a funky tune with a female lead singer, R&B flavored and with the bass player stirring the spoon in this thick musical broth. This is followed by “The Dream” that features a dynamic, smooth jazz saxophone solo. Because this is an Online project, there is no breakdown on who plays on which tunes. That was a frustration for this jazz journalist, because these musicians are incredibly talented and deserve their accolades for these performances. I’ve listed all the players above, but it’s not like giving you a breakdown of who is appearing and playing on the individual songs.

“Don’t Give Up” is well sung by a female and male vocalist. The production is big and fat, well arranged and this song encompasses rock and pop with a strong, positive lyrical message. “Song 4 Barry” offers a Reggae feel as a joyful instrumental. Midway through the tune, background voices appear like a group of singing children in the distance. A thumb piano dresses the song with African colors. The drummer is amazing on this cut.

On the song, “For a Child,” the vocalist floats above a hypnotic track. The music is cotton candy sweet and beautiful. The lyrical story is a little heart breaking, as the vocalist sings:
“Love is the answer to a child … if dreams fly over the rainbow … so many children making that short trip from the cradle to the grave.”

The guitar solo at the song’s end is smooth as velvet and just as appealing.

Track six is “Where Are You Now?” The piano is all jazz. The vocals sing the melody, but beneath that vocal, a stinging rhythm section surges. It’s a dynamic and unique arrangement. You will also enjoy the arrangement of Pharrell’s famous hit record, “Happy” and the ensemble closes with “Little Star.”

I loved everything on this album of wonderfully produced music. You can donate to this worthy project and be rewarded with an awesome, tax-deductible music project for your listening pleasure.

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  1. REVIEW: Yvonnick Prene Reviewed in Musical Memoirs - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

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

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