Archive for April, 2020


April 29, 2020

BY Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
April 29 , 2020


Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone; Joel Forrester, piano.

Although Vito Dieterle and Joel Forrester are products of different musical generations, they both share the same love for Thelonious Monk’s genius. As a duo project, they delve into this master composer/musician’s art and music.

Forrester is a respected composer himself. If you listen to the Terry Gross program on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ radio show, that theme song was penned by Joel Forrester. He has been the leader on ten CD releases for the Ride Symbol record label. His duo partner, Vito Dieterle is one of the young, energetic saxophonists based in New York who is rooted in bebop and straight-ahead jazz. Together, they offer a dynamic and entertaining production as a tribute to the great Thelonious Monk.

When you play a duo gig, you are basically stepping out there on your own. The mastery of your instrument is imperative. Also, listening to your fellow musician and reacting both creatively and sensitively is essential. These two musicians work like hand and glove. They obviously have an ease and comfort with each other. Additionally, both musicians are absolutely excellent on their instruments, as well as fluid improvisation specialists. You won’t miss the drums, bass or any other instrument. This pianist and saxophonist are enough to satisfy our critical jazz palates. Beginning with “Work,” recorded below with Percy Heath on bass, Art Blakey manning the drums & Thelonious Monk at the helm.

You will enjoy a dozen Monk songs, well-played and beautifully interpreted on this album. I thought Vito Dieterle’s explanation of his relationship with Joel Forrester on this project was very insightful.

“Joel does not shy away from vulnerability and is, in that way, relentlessly uncommon. Because of this quality, he often elevates his fellow musicians beyond their comfort zone. This vulnerability is what improvising is about. It’s what art is about,” Vito affirms.

Pianist, Joel Forrester, commented on his relationship with Dieterle, his saxophone partner in this way:

“Vito Dieterle has become a resolute and singular voice on tenor sax. If there’s a more interesting tenor player out there, I haven’t heard him/her. … We share a deep, abiding connection (rhythmic, harmonic, iconic) with Thelonious Monk. His sense of freedom, his swing, his involved detachment speaks to both of us. … We knew we could pull off an unaccompanied duo recording because Monk’s time would help keep us together.”

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Bobby Selvaggio, alto saxophone/pedals; Theron Brown, piano/keyboards; Paul Thompson, acoustic & electric bass; Dan Wilson, electric guitar; Zaire Darden, drums; Tommy Lehman, flugelhorn; Liz Carney, clarinet; Summer Cantor, bassoon;Kent Larmee, horn in F.

For some time, and particularly during these Corona-Virus-days, hot beds of jazz in big cities is fading away. For lack of performance spaces and even worse, lack of audiences, even before the Covid19, jazz musicians were leaving. The Northeast Ohio Music Scene has suffered greatly due to the closing of many concert venues and some of an elite music community have moved away to pursue their careers elsewhere.
Composer and alto saxophone player, Bobby Selvaggio, is an Ohio native who has endeavored to make a difference. First of all, he has stayed put. Secondly, he’s provided encouragement, leadership and mentorship for youthful musicians. Some of these musicians have become key members in his quartet like drummer Zaire Darden and pianist, Theron Brown. On this recording, Bobby adds Pittsburgh bassist, Paul Thompson. Using Bobby Selvaggio’s compositions as the crux of their creativity, these songs trace Selvaggio’s career, over the years, like a musical diary.

On this evening, as soon as Bobby Selvaggio and his jazz ensemble stepped onto the stage, there was magic captured in one of Cleveland’s premiere jazz clubs; the Bop Stop. The night of this ‘Live’ recording, the Cleveland club was sold-out. The ensemble’s program begins with one of Selvaggio’s original compositions, Times A Changin.’ The drums are busy in the background, but I did not feel the groove was always held tightly in place. Selvaggio employs the use of a woodwind quartet to fatten the sound. The next tune is titled, “Hope” and it is moderately paced. I keep waiting on the bebop to begin. On track #3, we finally arrive at bebop headquarters with a tune called, “Run Away.”

“Spy Movie” employs pedals and electronic sounds that takes the music outside of the bebop realm and into a more contemporary, experimental bag. The familiar “Blackbird” tune by famed composer/musician Paul McCartney is the only ‘cover’ tune on this album. It is performed as a smooth-jazz arrangement. On “Bella” Bobby Selvaggio flies free on his alto saxophone and Zaire Darden’s drum- licks fire up the production.

The final tune, “Too Soon” is a moderately paced tune that lilts along, giving Theron Brown an opportunity to solo on piano and showing the strength and powerful chops that Paul Thompson has on his double bass. Selvaggio enters on alto saxophone to stretch the boundaries of his original composition, extending and snapping the notes out of his horn like rubber-bands. He receives much applause. Thompson soaks up the spotlight with an appealing bass solo. This arrangement is once again fattened by Tommy Lehman on flugelhorn, Kent Larmee on horn in F, Liz Carney on clarinet and Summer Cantor on bassoon. I am reminded a little bit of the Gil Evans arrangement style with the addition of these woodwind players.

Bobby Selvaggio offers us an hour-long concert that puts one of Cleveland’s top, jazz night spots on the national map. Here’s to keeping jazz alive in his Mid-Western Ohio community at The Bop Stop.
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KEN FOWSER – “MORNING LIGHT” Posi-tone Records

Ken Fowser, tenor saxophone/composer; Josh Bruneau, trumpet/flugelhorn; Tadataka Unno, piano; Vince Dupont, bass; Joe Strasser, drums.

This is straight-ahead, bebop-based jazz at its best. Beginning with the up-tempo and melodic tune titled, “Moving Forward” this ensemble, led by Ken Fowser’s full-bodied, tenor saxophone, sets the pulse of this production right off the bat. Fowser spotlights Josh Bruneau on trumpet, who offers a stunning solo. Then Tadataka Unno takes stage center on piano for an impressive showcase. Joe Strasser pushes the group with his strong drum force and Vince Dupont is pumping that double bass, locked like cement into the tenacious rhythm section’s unity. Track 2 introduces a jazz waltz tune titled, “Three For Leathers.” Mr. Unno manages to infuse it with the blues during his grand piano improvisation. When Fowser enters on his tenor sax, he elevates the composition with energy and style. A tune called, “In the Blue” walks briskly into my room with a bebop swag. This group is absolutely on point when it comes to swing and Ken Fowser knows how to emotionally engage his audience. Bruneau’s horn is also alluring and his trumpet and flugelhorn prowess add an important element of style and bop to this original music. I like the way they arranged the melody on this tune, with a unison presentation of horns. The bass and drums dance beneath, setting the groove and holding it steady. His tune “Seventy Sixers” spotlights a melody both beautiful and memorable. Fowser is a superb composer. His group interprets his original music flawlessly. They sound like they’ve been playing together for quite some time. This is invigorating music that will make you want to get up and do something or put the pedal to the metal and hit the open highway. These players bring energy and joy to their project.

On a tune he calls, “The Instigator” Fowser let’s drummer, Joe Strasser, get completely loose, to show off his tenacious technique. This is followed by a pretty tune, “Without Saying,” wearing a Latin arrangement like a bright red dress. It’s about the closest thing you’ll get to a ballad on this album of great songs. I was happy to finally enjoy a bass solo by Vince Dupont on the “Firefly” tune.

Fowser has added his tasty saxophone licks to various projects around the New York jazz scene including work with David Hazeltine, Donald Vega, Willie Jones III, Jimmy Cobb and Rodney Green to mention just a few. A native of Philadelphia, he attended the University of the Arts in the early 2000s, where he studied with Tony Salicandro and Chris Farr. When he transferred to William Paterson University in New Jersey, he was mentored by NEA Jazz Master and pianist, Harold Mabern. Another strong influence on his style and playing has been the great George Coleman. Fowser also studied with more contemporary legends of the saxophone like Ralph Lalama, Grant Stewart and Eric Alexander.

“Morning Light” is Fowser’s fifth album as a leader for PosiTone Records and it features eleven of his original compositions. Every tune on this album is exquisitely played and well-written. I’d be willing to wager that this is bound to be one of his best recordings to date.

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J. C. Hopkin, piano/composer/bandleader; Jesse Gelber, piano; Alicyn Yaffe, guitar; Kaisa Maensivu, upright bass; Evan Hyde, drums; Wignall Ismel, percussion; Drew Vanderwinckle, tenor saxophone; Jason Marshall, baritone, sax; Julian Pressley, alto sax; Beserat Tafesse, trombone; Walter Cano, trumpet. STARRING: Nico Sarbanes, vocals/trumpet; Joy Hanson, Vanisha-Arleen Gould, Shawn Whitehorn & Alicyn Yaffee, vocals.

The J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band is a New York based big band that gives us a flash-back to the 1940 – 1950 popular dance bands of those bygone days. They are a band that has appeared consistently on Saturday nights at the historic Minton’s Playhouse in New York City. In the 1940s, this was the spot that featured jam sessions led by Dizzy Gillespie. It’s said that the days of Bebop were developed at this nightspot, led by Thelonious Monk and others.

Many important musicians have moved through the J.C. Hopkins well- established band including the now world-renowned vocalist, Norah Jones. She was one of his featured singers in the early days of his big band. Hopkins has featured other great jazz singers including Madeleine Peyroux, Queen Esther, Jazzmeia Horn, Alicia Olatuja and Brianna Thomas. On this recording, the voice of Nico Sarbanes is heard, with his Frank Sinatra stylized vocals. Sarbanes is also an excellent trumpeter. He duets with the soprano stylings of Joy Hanson on the love song, “Beguiled” and also on “What Would you Say.” Additionally, Sarbanes is a co-writer with J.C. Hopkins on the tune, “We Can Change the World.” In fact, Hopkins has composed or co-written all the songs on this project with the exception of the Charlie Mingus tune, “Better Git It in Your Soul.” I enjoyed the vocalist, Vanisha Gould, who sang “Sublime Beauty” with honesty and whose vocal style is both distinct and memorable. This is a swinging ensemble that reflects a piece of jazz big band history, giving young musicians an opportunity to spread their wings and fly.
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Gregory Goodloe, guitar/composer/producer; Bob Baldwin, keyboards/programmer/producer.

This is a sultry, grooving production that’s driven by Gregory Goodloe’s powerful guitar presence. The Denver,Colorado resident had just released his latest single in March, when the Corona Virus pandemic shut down everything and threatened the entire world. Consequently, the title of his latest recording became even more relevant. He’s encouraging us to chill out and be “Cool Like That” and not let this current state of our country keep us frozen in place and frustrated.

“Like every other musician right now, we’re going through a transition. We don’t know what’s going to be at the end of the rainbow. We don’t know if everything is going to be more condensed. Is it the end of concerts? Is it the end of festivals? Is everything going to be digital now? Are we just going to be in-house songwriters? That’s the kind of thing that’s going through my mind. This time is about being able to work through that; to have to change, but not let it defeat me. To move like water into the flow of whatever change has to happen in order to continue to create music,” the guitarist speaks his mind.

“Cool Like That” is Goodloe’s first single since last June, 2019 when he garnered the Billboard No. 1 single placement titled, “Stylin’.” That song also slid up the Smooth Jazz Top 20 Chart. This current original composition was produced and co-written by pianist and jazz icon, Bob Baldwin. You can hear jazz influences in Goodloe’s playing that remind us of George Benson, Earl Klugh and Wes Montgomery.

Bob Baldwin is a contemporary jazz composer, an author, a radio host, programmer and music producer. Together, this dynamic duo creates gold-record product. Gregory Goodloe and Bob Baldwin are currently planning to release an entire “Cool Like That” album, once this pandemic quarantine is over. I look forward to hearing their album, because Gregory Goodloe’s music is joyful, inspiring and uplifting. We’ll need plenty of that good feeling once this challenging time of pandemic illness and deadly virus has passed. Music like Gregory Goodloe’s is great for the soul and can elevate our spirits.
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Claude Diallo, piano/composer; Luques Curtis, bass; Andy Bauer, drums.

Pianist, Claude Diallo was born in St. Gallen, Switzerland to a Swiss mother and French father. He comes from a richly musical family. Both parents played violin in Symphony orchestras. Young Claude was drawn to the piano, but pulled away from classical music to pursue a career in jazz. He was inspired by the legendary Oscar Peterson. His desire to expand his musical knowledge and to bathe in the American art form of jazz encouraged his move to the United States. In Boston, he studied at the famous Berklee School of Music. After attaining his Bachelor Degree in Performance, Claude Diallo moved to New York City. It was 2007, and he was working in and around New York while attending the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queen’s College. Claude Diallo earned his Master’s Degree and during that time, he formed a trio. They cut their musical teeth on ‘the road.’ Diallo’s various groups traveled from Singapore to Thailand; from Hong Kong to Malaysia and Taiwan; then to Brazil, Berlin, Munich, Madrid, the Dominican Republic and more. He began recording as a bandleader in 2006 and has released six trio albums. This newest one, titled “I Found A New Home,” is his seventh recorded release. All of his recordings have featured different trios and although he has performed with these current band members since 2005, this is their first time recording together.

Consequently, Claude Diallo is establishing a new home with this new trio. He also has moved back to Switzerland, to establish a new home and family. The titles of his original compositions, included on this project, refer to ‘home’ in various ways. For example, coming to America was finding a new home. Here, he met Lorraine Bolling, daughter of the first African-American senator of Massachusetts. She was a big fan of his music. When she passed away, in memory of her, Claude composed, “One Last Prayer for You.” Then there’s the blues-based title tune, “I Found a New Home,” that is one of my favorites on this CD. On this tune, Claude Diallo clearly shows off his awesome piano skills and the trio swings hard.

You can recognize that Diallo has a deep love of family. He wrote “Nina’s Theme” to celebrate the 70th birthday of his aunt, Nina Zafran, who is a classically trained pianist. The song “Leo Mathieu” is composed for his two-year-old son. It’s a beautiful, lilting tune, very classically infused and played as a solo piano piece. The composition, “Yours” is dedicated to his wife Daniela. On this arrangement, he adds a taste of funk, with the drums grabbing our attention and Luques Curtis laying down a funky bass line.

Claude Diallo is a superb composer and he proves that on this album. He has composed six of the seven recorded songs. His drummer and studio engineer, Andy Bauer, composed “Animation’s Contemplation.” On this arrangement, Luques Curtis steps forward on his bass and share a very creative and inspired solo. Underneath, Bauer’s power on the trap drums is obvious and the rhythm dances brightly. The melody of this song is very reminiscent of something Thelonious Monk might have written. Claude Diallo’s trio can swing hard and play straight-ahead jazz with the same intensity and sincerity that they deliver a blues or a ballad. Closing with “McCoy Meets Monk” Claude Diallo shows the full range of his ‘chops.’ This song gives Bauer a platform to showcase his percussive technique during a tenacious solo. The production is propelled by Diallo’s two-fisted power on the keys, ripping up and down the scales while delivering a memorable melody. It’s a great way to end this project, with the title of the song paying tribute to two iconic piano players. These masters, McCoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk, have obviously inspired Claude Diallo along his jazz journey. This production adequately reflects Diallo’s inspired talent and composer-power.
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Rachel Therrien, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Daniel Gassin, piano; Dario Guibert, bass; Mareike Wiening, drums; Irving Acao, saxophone guest.

When Rachel Therrien puts the trumpet to her lips, she does so to interpret her unique compositions and to share the emotional content it takes to write music. A gypsy of sorts, she was born in Quebec, Canada, lived in New York and spent considerable time studying her craft in Havana, Cuba. Music has taken her to far off lands. For example, she toured the Ukraine and has spent time in Europe. Her Ukraine adventure inspired Rachel to write “Bilka’s Story,” a tune that sports a pretty melody and moves at a moderate pace with Latin over-tones. On this composition, her melodic lines seem very modern-jazz. She features Mareike Wiening on a long trap drum solo and Irving Acao is effective on saxophone as a special guest. He lifts the music with his saxophone individuality and smoothly blends with Therrien’s trumpet. Her song, “V for Vena” is one of my favorites on this project. Melodically, it soars and dips, leaving plenty of room for Rachel Therrien to show off her trumpet tenacity.

The fifth track was written for her father’s birthday and is titled, “75 Pages of Happiness.” Her original tune, “Assata” starts out sounding very Latin and then, with Guibert’s walking bass and Mareike Wiening’s straight-ahead drums in the lead, Therrien’s arrangement turns straight-ahead and engaging. This tune moves back and forth between moods and grooves, including an ending that invites the drums to center stage. It’s interesting. But will I remember the melody like I would “Ipanema” or “Satin Doll” or “Ruby My Dear?” Not really.

One thing I found, while listening to Rachel Therrien’s composer style, I noticed she uses interesting chord changes that give motion to her music. However, the melodies are not ones that are easy to sing along with or repeat. In other words, you can improvise freely over her chord changes, but, I long for more memorable melodies. The melody is perhaps the most important part of any song.

Therrien has a very sweet tone on her instruments and is able to play smoothly in the higher trumpet and flugelhorn register. There is a lot of contrary motion going on in her arrangements between the instrumentalists. This creates interesting tension in some arrangements. Her composition, “Synchronicity” uses beautiful horn harmonics between trumpet and saxophone to deliver a pensive, sultry mood. Acao’s solo on saxophone is smooth and dynamic. Therrien and her group dive into “Just Playing” full force and full speed ahead. This tune is bebop at its best, giving each soloist time to stretch their creative limits. I applaud Rachel Therrien for determination to be heard and seen in a very male oriented business and to present the very best of herself, while striving for gender equality and musical freedom.

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FRED RANDOLPH – “MOOD WALK” Independent Label

Fred Randolph, basses; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn; Sheldon Brown, tenor saxophone/flute; Greg Wyser-Pratte, drums; Dan Zemelman, piano;Greg Sankovich, keyboards/organ; Silvestre Martinez, percussion; Brian Rice, percussion; Dillon Vado, vibes.

Fred Randolph grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was one of those children who was always full of musicality. In Honolulu he began taking ukulele lessons and had dreams of becoming a rock star. At eleven years old, he switched to guitar and began to emulate the great Jimi Hendrix. In high school he discovered jazz and his musical direction took an extreme turn towards albums by organist Jimmy Smith and guitarist/singer, George Benson. Randolph moved to San Diego, California to attend the state university, but soon switched schools to UC Berkley in Northern California. He put down his guitar and picked up a saxophone. For the next twelve years he played the sax. Then, while working on his Master’s degree in Composition at CSU Hayward, Randolph fell in love with the bass.

“I was …captivated by its endless possibilities and sounds. The acoustic and electric basses became my main instruments and I started to study intensively. I listened to all types of jazz solos on other instruments and adapted them to the bass,” he recalled.

As you can see, this inquisitive and gifted musician was the type to be interested in all genres of music. He spent two years as a member of the Diablo Symphony Orchestra, but still was playing jazz on the side and leading his own group. He also took plenty of sideman jobs playing rock, salsa, classical, samba and jazz. All of those experiences have culminated in this, his fourth CD release as a bandleader.

This album is an intriguing group of eleven original compositions that Fred Randolph has penned and arranged. Each one is beautifully written and exquisitely played by these talented musicians. Beginning with “On the Upside” Fred and his band of merry men are off and running. This is a solid swing tune with bebop roots and Erik Jekabson struts out on his trumpet to set the mood. Sheldon Brown follows with a stellar tenor saxophone solo. Then comes the leader of the group, playing his upright bass with gusto and verve. Dan Zemelman trades fours on piano with Greg Wyser-Pratte on drums. The group is cooking on all five burners!

On the second track, “Unaware” Randolph adds a special guest on vibes; Dillon Vado. This tune is a little more ‘laid-back’ and consequently, more easy listening. “T-Bone Slide” is Latin Flavored with a funk under-tone provided by Randolph’s bass groove locked into the drums of Greg Wyser-Pratte. The title tune, “Mood Walk” is back to his bebop roots and is straight-ahead jazz at its best. Additionally, the melody is happy and memorable. Fred Randolph is a very gifted composer. You will find your head bobbing and your toes tapping to much of the music on his album. Also, the addition of Greg Sankovich’s organ is tasty on “T-Bone Slide,” “Todd’s Idea” and “Funky N.O. Thing,” a tune that closes this album. Everyone gets to solo on this final tune. You will immediately applaud that Fred Randolph’s band features some of the finest musicians in Northern California. Sit back and enjoy.
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April 21, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz journalist
April 21, 2020

As we remain sequestered in our homes, perhaps frustrated during this 2020-worldwide pandemic, I find myself drawn to music and embracing its healing powers. Music is such a universal language and gives us joy and hope in subtle ways. Here are some albums that lifted me up during this challenging time of chaos and health crisis.


Clark Sommers, bass/composer; Geof Bradfield, tenor & soprano saxophones; Dana Hall, drums/cymbals.

Clark Sommers is a Grammy award winning bassist who cut his jazz teeth in Chicago, Illinois. This is his Ba(SH) band’s second recording, after his first release in August of 2013 received critical acclaim.

In 2017 he released an album, as bandleader titled, “By A Thread,” with a full ensemble playing his original compositions.

But Sommers wanted to get back to his original, 2013, open-ended Ba(SH) concept. So, on this recording, Sommers departs from the expected trio, once again eliminates piano or guitar, presenting a chord-less trio format. This gives his bass pure freedom to explore harmony, melody and texture with the creative support of Geof Bradfield on saxophone and Dana Hall’s tasty licks on drums. Clark Sommers is a serious composer and his original songs are played dynamically by this unique trio.

“I’ve been playing with them for over 20 years and they’re two of my closest friends and collaborators,” Clark commented.

I feel these three players beat as one heart. They merge together like blood and bone. The result is stunning, entertaining and inspired.
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Kathleen Grace, vocals/guitar/songwriter/producer; Larry Goldings, piano/keyboards/organ/pocket piano/glockenspiel/producer; David Piltch & Darek Oleszkiewicz, bass; Gabe Witcher, violin.

Opening with the tune, “Tie Me to You,” that this singer/songwriter co-wrote with Larry Golding, the haunting melody wraps around me like hungry arms. There is something captivating about this minimalist production. I find something striking about Kathleen Grace’s emotional deliveries. They are not bogged down with a huge production or colored with vocal riffs and scats. Instead, it’s Kathleen’s crystal-clear voice and delivery that vividly buoys this production. Larry Goldings’ arrangements are unexpected, unique and their creativity brings out the best in Kathleen’s voice. For example, “Where or When” offers an unusual piano arrangement that reminds me of a Norwegian music box I once owned, with the tiny ballerina spinning and twirling around in front of a tiny mirror. Kathleen Grace’s tone is clear and precise. Her notes dance, delicate but strong, like ballet choreography. This vocalist offers no nasal overtones. Her style is pure, jazzy and folksy, especially on tunes like her original composition, “Everywhere” with Gabe Witcher’s violin adding a touch of Americana to their production of this song.

Kathleen impresses me with her emotional delivery of “John the Revelator” as a solid blues. She discovered this song when her friend and guitarist Anthony Wilson shared the version made famous by blues great Son house.

“We recorded that song in one take and it felt incredible,” she shared.

This is a genre-less CD. Kathleen Grace explained in her liner notes that this was her intention.

“Jazz is a value system. I may not always be creating music specific to that space, but I try to let its deepest truths of freedom, listening and trust guide my path; my choices. Larry and I agreed to leave genre at the door,” she explains.

When I hear her heart-breaking rendition of “What’ll I do,” I feel drawn into the lyric of that song like a fly caught inside a whirlpool. There’s no getting away from her honest, tear-jerking expressiveness. It sucks you into its depth without apology or pretense. You hear the same honest projection and deeply personal emotion when she sings, “The Thrill is Gone.” I’ve heard that song a million times, but never sung in this way and that makes her rendition particularly inviting and lovely.

Kathleen Grace grew up in Tucson, Arizona and relocated to Los Angeles. Her musical career has blossomed and taken her around the globe. But sometimes, when relationships change or end, we women find ourselves eclipsed by deep emotions. Often, these dark, purple and painful feelings birth incredibly warm and wonderful in the light of realization. In this artist’s voice, I hear both the hopeful light and the shattering pain that life changing, broken love can inspire. Consequently, this album becomes a piece of art that is bound to capture the ear and interest of people worldwide. In its honest simplicity, this may be one of the best things she’s done to date.
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Vanderlei Pereira, drums/percussion/composer/arranger/producer; Jorge Continentino, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute/pifano; Rodrigo Ursaia, tenor saxophone; Susan Pereira, voice/percussion; Deanna Witkowski, piano; Paul Meyers, acoustic guitar; Gustavo Amarante, electric bass; Itaiguara Brandao, electric bass.

This is the debut release for Brazilian drummer, Vanderlei Pereira. He has lived in the United States for over thirty years and has made quite a name for himself working with music legends like Arutro O’Farrill’s Afro Latin jazz Orchestra, Paul Winter, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Toots Thielemans, Tito Puente, Claudio Roditi, Hendrik Meurkens and a host of others. Speaking of Airto, Vanderlei Pereira opens this CD with the Moreira composition, “Misturada.” It’s a happy, up-tempo 7/4 Samba tune with Susan Pereira’s vocals in unison with the melodic flute of Jorge Continentino. Together, they set the pace. We are off and running, with the percussive drums of Vanderlei Pereira leading the way. Susan Pereira’s voice is used throughout as part of the ensemble. Her scat instrument is a lovely addition to the tracks. Paul Meyers takes an in depth and innovative solo on acoustic guitar. After hearing this first track, I’m all in and captured by the energy and beauty of this band. The second tune “Point of Departure” (Ponto de Partida) is an original composition by Vanderlei. It’s rhythmic and joyful. Like the first song, this one also makes me tap my toe to the infectious rhythms. This time the tenor saxophone of Continentino is featured. Also, pianist Deanna Witkowski steps forward to soak up some of the glittering spotlight. Every tune that follows encourages the listener to move and/or dance. Continentino adds the pifano to the list of instruments he plays during this project. The pifano is a wind instrument from the Northeast region of Brazil. It dates back to the days of fifes that Christian settlers used to play in honor of the Virgin Mary during Christmas celebrations.

Born in Macaé, Brazil, Vanderlei Pereira started playing drums professionally when he was just fifteen. He studied music and received his degree from the Academia de Musica Lorenzo Fernandes in Rio de Janeiro. There, he performed with the prestigious Orquestra Sinfonica Brasileira. Due to an inherited retinitis pigmentosa, he became blind in his early thirties. But he didn’t let this stop his career. Since Vanderlei Pereira could no long read charts, he concentrated on becoming a top jazz and samba drummer. After transplanting to New York in 1988, he quickly became an in-demand trap drummer on the Brazilian jazz scene. Continuing his music studies, he earned a degree in Jazz Studies from the Mannes College of Music. This awesome recording shows that not only is Vanderlei Pereira an amazing drummer, he is also a masterful and significant bandleader, composer and arranger.
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Amina Figarova, piano/keyboards/composer/arranger; Rez Abbasi, guitars; Bart Platteau, B flat flute d’Amore/EWI; Yasushi Nakamura, electric/acoustic bass; Rudy Royston, drums. SPECIAL APPEARANCES BY: Paul Jost, vocals; JSwiss, lyrics/rapper; Skye’s World, spoken word/vocals.

This album marks a year of new horizons for Azerbaijani-born pianist, Amina Figarova. After 20-years leading an acclaimed acoustic sextet and touring the world, she decided to make a sharp left turn into unexplored waters. “Persistence” is the title of her new album and lets electronic music wash over us, like salty waves. Figarova employs an eclectic band that grooves hard and mixes genres. You will hear fusion jazz, R&B grooves and hip-hop expressions, all mixed up with progressive funk.

Rudy Royston’s pronounced and dynamic drums are both evident and colorful on every track. His rhythms and sensitive embellishments lift Amina Figarova’s piano mastery. She plays a number of keyboards and adds keyboard techniques that enhance this production. On “Lil Poem,” one of seven original compositions she has penned, you hear her straight-ahead jazz chops. Her fingers make the keys sing and swing. She never deserts her jazz sensibilities, even though she is exploring new territory. The addition of Bart Platteau’s free wielding EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) adds depth and creativity to this arrangement. Yasushi Nakamura’s bass lines dance beneath, making subtle statements while always holding the rhythm tightly in place, along with Royston’s drums. I played this song twice, before moving on. It captures the imagination.

On “I’ve Got No Time,” the staccato piano chords set up the tune and the B flat flute plays tag in the open spaces in between. The drums tap like a metronome or the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Enter JSWISS, who offers a jazzy rap.

On “R Song,” the “R” stands for Rez, her guitarist (Rez Abbasi) and was written as kind of a gift for his birthday. His guitar solo mesmerizes. Amina is not to be denied her place in the spotlight featuring her undeniable piano excellence. I like the way the song grooves at the end and allows a space for the drums to solo atop the piano chords.

Each song on this ingenious recording brings forth its own magic. Each composition pulls a fresh surprise from Amina Figarova’s magician’s hat. They pop-up and entertain us, like technicolor rabbits. Her arrangements are individually unique and each one brings something enchanting to keep our attention on-point and our ears alert. On the final tune titled, “Bliss” Skye’s World, brings us a spoken word poem that perhaps capsulizes all we have heard.

“Like jungle flowers, that bloom, when we are cut too soon; our beauty fades quicker than our destination …” he speaks.

This album is like a freshly cut bouquet, full of exotic sounds and colors. Each musician brings something unique and exceptional to the table. Perhaps the brightest colors are the ones painted by composer, arranger, pianist and bandleader, Amina Figarova. Here is a project I will listen to time and time again.
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Kent Miller, bass; Darius Scott, piano; Greg Holloway, drums; Benny Russell, tenor & soprano saxophones; Antonio Parker, alto saxophone.

Legendary bassist, Sam Jones, was born November 12, 1924 in Jacksonville, Florida. He moved to New York in 1955, when he was nearly thirty-one years old. It didn’t take long for folks to notice Jones’ genius. He recorded with Bill Evans in the 1950s. He was soon working with legends like Kenny Dorham, Bobby Timmons, Gene Ammons, Illinois Jacquet, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie and even Thelonious Monk. However, some of his most amazing composer skills became visibly apparent when he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s group from 1959 to 1965. After that, he worked four years as part of the Oscar Peterson group and later played with Cedar Walton.

The TNEK Jazz Quintet concentrates on the work of Sam Jones when he was with Cannonball’s aggregation. It was bass player, Kent Miller who came up with the idea of recording an album of the music of Sam Jones. All the songs on this tribute CD are familiar to most jazz heads, but I wonder how many people actually know that the great Sam Jones composed every single song the TNEK band interprets. The exception is the final tune on this album, “Tragic Magic,” written by Kenny Barron. This super talented ensemble of musicians brings fire and spontaneity to the music. Pianist, Darius Scott, is soulful and prolific on his instrument. Greg Holloway is the dynamic drummer and Antonio Parker and Benny Russell add the intricate horn lines that Sam Jones wrote. They open with “Unit Seven,” a song Cannonball often used as his unofficial theme song. Adderley and his brother Nat were famous for playing this familiar jazz tune. This TNEK group covers all the popular jazz standard songs that Sam Jones famously penned. After “Unit Seven” comes “Bittersuite.” This is followed by “Some More of Dat” and then “Lillie”, “O.P” and “Del Sasser.”

Bass player, Kent Miller has been a part of the Washington, D.C. jazz community since 1995. He relocated there after leaving New York and put together the TNEK group. Their debut album was titled, “Contributions.” These talented musicians and old friends have an exciting ability to swing hard and fit together perfectly with the familiarity and a cohesiveness that breeds excellence.

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ANDY MILNE & UNISON – “THE REMISSION” Sunnyside Communications/Contrology Records

Andy Milne, piano; John Hebert, bass; Clarence Penn, drums.

‘Unison’is the name of Andy Milne’s new trio. That name translates to working together as one. Milne thought about Forming a trio for many years, but never dived into the concept until now. Playing in a trio setting is a new and untrodden path for Andy Milne. However, this new group sounds seasoned and energetically compatible.

Sometimes shocking, life-changing challenges redirect purposeful plans. In 2017, this pianist/composer and bandleader was diagnosed with Cancer. The title of this album is his current status; “The Remission.”

“I began to reflect on how a trio might influence a musical course change. The jazz pianist’s venerable formation stared me squarely in the eyes and I realized now was the time,” Milne mused.

At first, he considered recording a trio album that featured standard jazz songs. Then, he began composing, specifically with his trio in mind. Two of his good friends of thirty-years, Benoit Delbecq and Ralph Alessi introduced him to bass player, John Hebert. Milne and Hebert formed an immediate musical bond. Andy chose Clarence Penn as his drummer, even though they had never played together. The two musicians had arrived in New York around the same time and had known each other for years. Over time, Milne found himself intoxicated with the way Penn played drums in other groups, always adding something special to the mix.

“Every time I heard him perform, I found myself fixated by how his sound, time and finesse elevated whatever band with whom he was performing,” Milne recalls.

Once these two musicians were onboard, the trio was born. This album of fine music features eight of Andy Milne’s original compositions out of ten tunes. The opening composition, “Passion Dance” was penned by McCoy Tyner and the closing tune on this album was written by Benny Golson titled, “Sad to Say.” Everything in between is fresh, new and composed by Milne.

“Vertical on Opening Night” is introduced by John Hebert’s double bass in a strong and provocative way. The piano accompaniment by Andy Milne gives tenacious support to Hebert’s melodic bass playing. I found this arrangement very interesting. “Drive By – the Fall” centers the spotlight on Clarence Penn. His spirited drum solo is the introduction to this tune and he carries this piece throughout like a weight-lifter. Milne enters with his piano melody spilling over the space in a very classical way. Throughout, this is a merge of modern jazz with classical overtones spurred by the creative juices of each musical member. Another favorite was their interpretation of McCoy’s tune.

“In jazz, the trio is perhaps one of the most heralded and revered configurations for pianists. … As a stand-alone entity, the piano trio has often been the backdrop wherein pianists establish their reputations and define their pianistic vision. For me, the decision to present who I have become as an artist, in the trio setting, involved a reckoning and a certain degree of artistic and technical evolution in order to both embody my past projects and forge a new path forward,” Andy Milne asserts.

That pretty much sums it up!
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Chris McCarthy, piano/composer; Sam Minaie, bass; JK Kim, drums; Michael Blake, tenor saxophone/flute; Takuya Kuroda, trumpet.

As a journalist and published songwriter myself, I recognize how important semantics can be. So, I was wondering what the title of this album meant to the artist. He explains in his liner notes.

“There’s always ‘still Time to Quit’ music, but there’s also time to fulfill one’s creative and professional dreams and goals,” Chris McCarthy says.

On this, his debut album for Ropeadope Records, McCarthy fulfills one of those dreams. The first cut storms off of the CD with driving power. It’s spontaneous; shockingly and technically astute. This pianist/composer gives us a peek at his piano prowess and composition skills. The tune is titled, “That’s All you Get” and it’s one of eight songs on this recording that the pianist has penned. Although short (at two minutes and eight seconds long), this song packs a punch.

McCarthy gives free range to his band members, who take the opportunity to improvise on composer’s provided themes and melodies. Takuya Kuroda on trumpet shines on “Ready, Steady, here You Go!” It’s the second song on this album. McCarthy shows off his blues chops on “Shockingly Effective,” however before he can settle into the tune on piano, the horns are already repeating staccato horn lines that take away his luster. This tune turns into avant-garde-busy and leaves blues and melody standing on a New York street corner by themselves and forgotten. A tune called, “Toasty” brings the spotlight briefly back to the artist. It quickly becomes a repetitive melody, sung by the horn section again and again as I await the pianist to step forward and strut his stuff. On “Happy Tired” I finally get to hear Chris McCarthy take a meaningful piano solo, but it’s lack-luster. Clearly this is a group effort, rather than an album that introduces us to Chris McCarthy. We meet his compositions, but not his piano mastery.
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Aubrey Johnson, vocals/composer; Chris Ziemba, piano; Matt Aronoff, bass; Jeremy Noller, drums; Michael Sachs, bass clarinet/alto saxophone; Tomoko Omura, violin; Vitor Goncalves, accordion.

It’s a little unusual to hear a soprano jazz singer who utilizes her upper range vocals like a horn when interpreting lyrics. You hear this type of voice that Aubrey Johnson has more in folk or pop vocals. That being said, her tone and pitch are appealing and in addition to being a vocalist, she’s a composer and offers us four original songs on this production. Her back-up band is all jazz and they make a formidable palate for her to vocal-paint this lovely canvas of sound. From the very first song, Aubrey Johnson combines scats with lyrical phrases. She writes very jazzy tunes and she sounds as if she thinks like a horn. You can clearly hear this on her opening tune, “No More I Love You’s” and on “Unraveled,” the title tune and one of her originals. Here, she layers her voicings, like a horn section, moving fluidly from lyrics to scat singing. Pianist, Chris Ziemba, is not only a fine accompanist, but a very gifted pianist. Aubrey Johnson reminds me of a Joni Mitchell type singer, with hints of a modern-day Annie Ross. There is a freedom to her music in the way her melodies move in unexpected intervals that captivate. I found her vocal interpretations so interesting that I listened with headphones. She reminds me of someone who is comfortable singing in a group with other singers. When I read her press package, I discovered she has indeed performed with a number of other vocalists, including the inimitable Bobby McFerrin on his 2010 Grammy-nominated album, VOCAbularies.

On the tune, “Voice is Magic” she sounds birdlike and precise. The arrangement is enhanced by the beautiful violin solo or Tomoko Omura. “The Peacocks” (composed by J. Rowles and N. Winstone) is a very challenging jazz tune. Aubrey Johnson makes it sound fluid, smooth and easy. Michael Sachs plays a ‘mean’ alto saxophone solo on this arrangement. Then she sings the familiar and beautiful song, “Dindi” in Portuguese and then in English. What a treat.

This is an album of fresh, innovative music by a singer whose voice defies category and who reinvents herself on each individual tune. Her distinctive sound is unlike one I have heard in other ensembles or on the recent jazz scene. Her vocals take us on a creative journey to places we’ve never been. She invites all adventurous jazz gypsies to come on board and enjoy.
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International Jazz, A Tribute to Wayne Shorter, Down-Home Blues, Poetry with Big Band Arrangements & More

April 10, 2020


By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 10, 2020


Kiki Valera, Cuatro/guitar/claves/maracas/coros; Coco Freeman, lead vocals; Carlos Cascante, lead vocals; Alexis Baro, trumpet; Jose J. Alayo & Yanill Nario, bass; Pedro Vargas, congas/bongos; Joshuah de Jesus, coros; Steve Guasch, coros.

This is a Cuban production full of happy and joyful music. These musicians create the kind of excitement that encourages you to have a party or at least to get up and dance. Kiki Valera is a Cuban Cuatro master and a member of the Familia Valera Miranda. The ‘Cuatro’ is a stringed instrument, smaller than a guitar and more the size of a violin. It has deep roots in Puerto Rico and is an instrument creation of Puerto Rican people. The Familia Valera Miranda are a respected, century-old group and one of the most important purveyors of the Son Cubano. They carry-on a rich Cuban music legacy. Son Cubano is a genre of music and dance, originating in the Eastern Cuban highlands during the late 19th century. It employs clave rhythm and vocals that celebrate the slave-style of ‘call and response.’ Much of this music is drawn from the Bantu influence and origin. Although the entire album is sung in Spanish, (and I do not speak the language) I could still feel the emotional connections these singers and musicians perform. Their messages stretch like sunrays across our divide and I warm to their international music.

Coco Freeman’s lead baritone vocals are beautifully performed and plush with emotion. You will see that I reference the ‘coros’ above. The common instrumentation of the ‘coros’ is a group that features a viola, a string-less banjo used more as a percussion instrument, claves, guitar, harp and jug bass. But, Coros also references a choir of voices that is part of an artform grown in Havana and other Cuban cities around the 19th century. So, this music shares much historic data with us, as well as cultural roots. Interestingly, many of these compositions grew out of the roots of black slavery in Cuba, similar to the way jazz was birthed in America.

Kiki Valera, who has dedicated himself to performing traditional Cuban music, was also influenced by cassette tapes he listened to as a child. Some of those artistic influences included Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery and Chick Corea. These jazz inspirations elevate the quality of his Cuatro solos. Valera is a prolific arranger and has arranged much of the original music on this album. Most of the songs are composed by his longtime friend and fellow musician, Coco Freeman. Freeman and Felix Valera Miranda also co-arranged some songs. One of the things I appreciated about this enjoyable album, inside the liner notes (in English) they describe the meaning of each composition. For example: “El Caballo de Curingo” is a humorous tale of Kiki’s uncle whose drinking habits eventually even annoy the horse that brings him home every night. Another original composition, “El Perro de Juan” recalls a night when Kiki’s father was chased up a tree by his brother’s ferocious dog. Another composition, “Homenaje a Panchita” recalls the sad end of the family pig, which had been a pet to the children.

Along with tongue-in-cheek humor and the master musicians Kiki Valera and Coco Freeman employ on this project, you are certain to be thoroughly entertained.
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Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone; Ben Paterson, organ; Kris Kaiser, guitar; Aaron Seeber, drums.

A Chicago native, Vito Dieterle is one of the world’s young saxophone players who is making his impact on the New York jazz scene. His style has been compared to an inspired mixture of Sonny Stitt and Stan Getz. Vito definitely leans towards the exciting bebop trends that mesmerized the world in the 1960’s and beyond. His choice of sidemen includes Ben Paterson on organ. This brings back memories of the Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff quartets. But Dieterle’s organ trio has a smoother sound. It’s not as gritty and bluesy as Smith and McDuff once were. He opens with “Dream Dancing” a Cole Porter tune arranged at a moderate Latin tempo and featuring the guitar of Kris Kaiser on the introduction, as a duet with Vito’s punchy tenor saxophone. Dieterle can play smooth as raw silk one minute and in the next minute, brightly punch his message from the bell of his horn.

The title of this album, “Anemone” is a plant of the buttercup family and also Vito Dieterle’s only original composition on this CD. My grandmother used to grow Buttercups in her backyard and they were beautiful, brightly colored little flowers. I liked the yellow ones the best, that resembled little bowls of butter. The Anemone plant is sometimes referred to as a ‘windflower’, which seems quite appropriate for a horn player to choose as the title of his album. The windflower is said to open widely when a strong breeze is blowing. Like the anemone, Vito Dieterle’s music is open and flowing. He studied at the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music (at the New School in New York) and has been a professional musician since 1998. In addition to playing jazz, he has also acted as owner-operator of two jazz bars; the Silver Lining in the Roxy Hotel and The Django.

On this release, he interprets the music of Stanley Turrentine (Minor Chant) at a brisk, swing pace and explores two songs written by Billy Strayhorn; “Lush Life” and “Chelsea Bridge” in a more tender and emotionally vulnerable way. Here is when the Stan Getz influence seems to surface. On “Lush Life” drummer Aaron Seeber creates a waltz feel beneath the improvisation of Dieterle and it’s a sweet arrangement. Dizzy Gillespie’s tune, “That’s Earl, Brother” swings hard and gives Paterson a chance to stretch-out on organ. All in all, this is an outstanding quartet production that showcases the talents of Vito Dieterle on his tenor saxophone.
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Jeff Benedict, saxophones; Jonathan Pintoff, bass; Dave Askren, guitar; Chris Garcia, percussion.

Dave Askren and Jeff Benedict celebrate the music of jazz icon and composer, Wayne Shorter, on their “Paraphernalia” album. Askren and Benedict open with the popular tune, E.S.P, culled from the 1965 Miles Davis release, that was originally played at the speed of racing horses. On this arrangement, they have slowed the tune down to a cut tempo, half-time funk beat. This is a strong departure from the straight-ahead groove of the original Miles recording and proffers another musical perspective.

According to Dave Askren, “We didn’t want to just do covers of Wayne’s tunes. We didn’t try to sound like him, because you can’t do better than the original music. You can just do your own thing and make music your own way.”

I thought it was very creative when they broke the tune down to just Jeff Benedict on saxophone and Chris Garcia on percussion. When Dave Askren’s rhythm guitar enters, along with Johnathan Pintoff’s bass, they grow the crescendo. This is followed by “Yes and/or No,” presented with strong Latin infusion, using the guitar to set up the Brazilian-like groove. This tune comes from the Wayne Shorter album, “Juju”, released sometime in 1964. Percussionist, Chris Garcia shines during this mambo arrangement.

“Paraphernalia” is Askren and Benedict’s third recording together as co-leaders. They have pulled Wayne Shorter compositions from his early work in the 1960s, mostly from Miles Davis and Weather Report recordings. Askren played both clarinet and saxophone as a young musician, but was drawn to the guitar when he was fourteen and formed a bond with that instrument. He studied at Berklee College of Music and taught there after graduation. Although he enjoys teaching, he left Boston and transplanted to California’s West Coast music scene, studying at Cal State LA for a graduate degree in classical guitar. That’s where he met Jeff Benedict. Jeff was teaching and leading a jazz band and they became close friends. Benedict has multiple credits as a sideman, using his saxophone talents to compliment artists like Nick Brignola, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Randy Brecker, Billy Taylor and Mel Tormé, to mention just a few. He’s also enjoyed playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, The Pacific Symphony, The Aspen Festival Orchestra and the Tanglewood fellowship Orchestra. Like his friend, Dave Askren, he has released two small ensemble albums under his own bandleader credentials. Askren has released four CDs as a bandleader.

Together, they create a unique sound and fresh arrangements that are meant to create a heartfelt tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter, an artist/composer that they both greatly admire.
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Aruan Ortiz, piano/voice; Andrew Cyrille, drums; Mauricio Herrera, percussion/voice.

According to Aruan Ortiz, he has long dreamt of making an album that would represent a cascade of rhythms. He Has succeeded on this production. Growing up in Cuba, for the first twenty-three years of his life, Ortiz experienced a multitude of rhythmic sounds and multi-cultural rhythms. He recalls hearing a global symphony each morning when he walked to school in the South-eastern province of Oriente, a community that was the cradle of Afro-Cuban music.

His album, “Inside Rhythmic Falls” draw much of its profundity from his working-class neighborhood and a style of guitar and drum music that was created by slaves in the sugar cane refineries of the early 19th century Cuba. That music style was called, Changüi. It is a fusion of Spanish cancion with Bantu percussion and with Haitian tumba frances; a mixed music culture for good measure. He has transformed and reimagined this historic music into his own algorithm of musical concept. Ortiz refers to his work as having “hidden voices.”

One thing this project clearly has is a number of rhythm patterns and improvised musical passages that drags the listener by the ear, like a reluctant learner. His music magically implores me to pay attention and to let the musical phrases wash over me like Cuba’s El Nicho waterfall. The piano of Aruan Ortiz creates an astounding bed of rhythms and artistic phrases that cascade to the depths of emotional feeling and create a platform for the percussion of Mauricio Herrera and the drums of Andrew Cyrille to dance upon. Aruan Ortiz has composed every song and poem, with the exception of “Para ti Nengón” (a popular Cuban song that closes out this album). With only vocals, percussion and piano, this is an expressive and unique production that layers voices and instruments as sweet as cake. It draws you into the whirlpool of words and music, like a fly drawn to a shiny web. Once you are caught up in the sparkling uniqueness of this music, you will want to stay and hear each piece played again. This is artistic modernism played in a very abstract way. As the liner notes say, “…When music is this glorious, it has the power not just to conjure spirits, but to inspire belief and help us experience the marvelous.”
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Jay Willie, guitar/slide guitar/vocals; James Montgomery, vocals/harmonica; Paul Opalach, bass/lap steel/keyboards/simulated horns; Bobby T. Torello, drums; Lee-Ann Lovelace, vocals; Kyle Mangold, backup vocals.

This album opens with a melody from the children’s song, “Three Blind Mice” and it jubilantly sets the precedence for what is to come. This is an album of Blues, R&B and Rock, featuring Jay willie on guitar, slide guitar and vocals, along with his musical partner, James Montgomery playing harmonica and singing. This music is just pure fun! It reminded me of the Detroit sound and the music of guitar-men and blues singers like Johnny Bassett and John Lee Hooker. When I started reading the promotional package, I discovered James Montgomery is a Detroit-based, blues legend. When Jay Willie first heard him play, he knew he wanted to work with the funky harmonica bluesman in the future. Then, in 1973, Montgomery released a Capricorn Record and later Allen Toussaint produced the Huey Piano Smith song, “Don’t You Just Know It” on Montgomery, under the title of “The Gooba Gooba Song.” Jay Willie was sure there was a musical compatibility in their musical tastes and asked his long-time bandmate and drummer, Bobby T. Torello, to contact James Montgomery. He wanted to see if James might be interested in performing with their group. Jay Willie was overjoyed when Montgomery agreed. Consequently, they performed a concert together in Connecticut. Later, Jay Willie asked James Montgomery if he’d be interested in recording with his group. The result is this Zoho Record release.

Montgomery has toured with Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Allman Brothers Band, and Steve Miller; the legendary Laverne Baker, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Greg Allman, Patti LaBelle and many more. The Jay Willie Blues Band has produced five previous releases for the Zoho Roots label. I am certain this will be another winner for Jay Willie group. It’s bound to brighten up any day and invigorate any party.
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Henry Robinett, guitar; Joe Gilman, piano; Chris Symer, bass; Michael Stephans, drums.

How many times have you looked back on your life, while going through boxes or cleaning garages and closets, only to discover some real gems that had been hidden away for years? Guitarist, Henry Robinett, must have been doing just that when he stumbled upon some old tracks he recorded nineteen years ago.

“Honestly, I don’t know why I left it on the shelf for so long. I grew up listening to bebop and the great bebop players had enormous influence on me. When I wrote and performed my own music, though, I naturally incorporated the wide range of music styles I had played with other bands. I think the jazz standards album was just too different from my other work, which made me hesitant to release it. But after listening to it again, after so many years, I like it. I think it stands up well and shows another side to my playing,” Robinett explained in his liner notes.

I am happy he discovered this beautifully played treasure of standard jazz songs. His group is smokin’ hot and why wouldn’t it be with drummer Michael Stephans manning the trap drums? As always, Stephans adds fire and spark to this project. Joe Gilman is lyrical and freely improvises on “I Hear A Rhapsody.” But it’s always Henry Robinett’s sensitive guitar playing that keeps this music exciting and creative. Robinett has a way of unfolding each song, like the chapters of an intriguing book. He inspires the listener to go forward and hear the next one and the one after that. His tone is pure and he’s a master improviser, using long, eclectic lines in his guitar phrasing. On “Yellow Days or (La Mentira), Joe Gilman exhibits his style of playing, using inspired melodies with both hands on the piano keys, moving in unison at a brisk pace. Then, Chris Symer steps forward, soaking up the spotlight and letting his double bass eloquently do the talking.

A native of California, Henry Robinett was a Cal State University/Sacramento student before joining a popular Northern California group called, The Runners. They played a mixed bag of music, from R&B to Rock, Brazilian and Latin influenced tunes and jazz. Then, in 1978, Robinett turned his music world upside-down when he briefly lived in a New York City apartment with none other than Charlie Mingus. His father was first cousins with Mingus and had a large collection of Mingus music. Young Henry had come up listening to this legendary bassist as a teen. While living with Mingus, the young musician rubbed shoulders with jazz royalty like Sonny Rollins, jazz historians Nat Hentoff and Leonard Feather, Clifford Jordon, Chico Freeman and many others. He happened to be in New York when Mingus was penning music for the iconic Joni Mitchell. Henry Robinett remembers talking to Joni about music and life in general. She also showed Robinett some of her guitar tunings. He admits to carrying those notes in his guitar case for many years.

From New York, he returned to the Bay Area in California rejuvenated and quickly landed gigs at the legendary Keystone Korner. He enjoyed playing with top Bay area artists like pianist, Jessica Williams, performing on her 1981 album “Orgonomic Music” along with Eddie Henderson. His music sensibilities were growing.

With new horizons calling, he spent a year in Munich, Germany doing studio work for the Munich Sound Machine and other artists, while playing with various local bands. His love of music encouraged exploration into various musical styles, including the popular disco style of music that Mitch Klein’s Munich Sound Machine successfully recorded.

Ultimately, Henry Robinett decided to create his own group. He was signed to Artful Balance Record label and his group produced three albums for that label. Always eager to expand his knowledge and have more control over his own music, Henry decided to master studio engineering. Back in California, he built a small studio and many of his subsequent album projects were recorded there. He set up his own Nefertiti record company and was soon producing not only his own records, but recording other artists too.

The Henry Robinett Group was named the Best Jazz Band by the Sacramento News and Review for three straight years. In 2015, he was recording a more contemporary sound of jazz.

For this current album, recorded in 2000, Robinett and his exciting bandmates offer us their interpretation of several jazz songs that we love like “Days of Wine and Roses”, “Just the Way You Look Tonight,” “Ill Wind” and “Invitation” among six others. This production is bebop influenced jazz that never grows old.

“I called the talented drummer, Michael Stephans. He suggested I use Seattle based musician, Chris Symer on bass. I then called my good friend, Joe Gilman and reserved the date at The Hanger recording studio, where I had been working as an engineer and producer,” Henry recalled on his album jacket.

“What I remember was that the session was fun. It is always a challenge being the recording engineer and player. Both are full time jobs. Maybe that’s the reason it sat on the shelf so long. I couldn’t get away from the memory of being ‘split-brained’ at that moment,” he admitted.

“So, I decided to release two albums from the original session. I was so motivated by this recording that we met again in November of 2019 for another fun and productive session. So, this is “Volume 1 – Then” and “Volume 2 – Then Again” is coming soon. It’s been my real pleasure playing this music with these remarkable musicians. I hope you enjoy it,” Henry Robinett graciously spoke.

The release date for this well-produced album is May 1, 2020. I look forward to hearing the follow-up album, after finding such pure pleasure and enjoyment in Robinett’s straight-ahead and bebop infused jazz production.
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Jonah Francese, bandleader/composer/arranger; David Ling, piano/keyboards; Neil Patton, bass; Marshawn Fondren, drums; Caio Afiune & Marc Malsegna, guitars; Kristen Dye, flute; Clay Lyons, alto saxophone; Mark Zaleski, alto & soprano sax; Jonathan Bean & Paul Melhus, tenor saxophones; Austin Yancey, baritone sax; Kai Sandoval, Danny Fratina, Jenn Zevos, Jesse Francese & Taylor Kelly, trumpets; Quinn Carson, Eric Stilwell, Myrish Spell & Rob Krahn, trombones. Brett White, piano on interludes; INTERLUDE SPEAKERS: Jordan Pert, Tangela Mathis, Marshawn Fondren, Puja Ghosh, Kimberlee Chang, Thalea Stokes, Gustavo Hernandez, Allison Burik, Kristen Dye & Myrish Spell.

If you are wondering, during these pandemic times, how the world’s population perceives itself and its surroundings, Jonah Francese has a musical explanation.

“Voices remain unheard in our political environment and the stories these voices can tell are important to the construction of the multicultural intersectionality, of which, most in power choose to ignore.”

The compositions, arrangements and production of Jonah Francese’s big band addresses these inequities with music, poetry and vocals. Opening with Brett White’s piano as a backdrop to a poem recited by Jordan Peart, track one (called an Interlude) sets the political nature of this creative venture. Jonah Francese crosses multiple musical genres in his arranging. By employing strong funk overtures, he delivers a contemporary groove and seamlessly moves into a sweetly arranged big band jazz movement with harmonious horns and a more traditional, orchestrated sound. On track 2, you hear this blend and it keeps the listener both entertained and surprised. The electric guitar solo by Caio Afiune on this tune titled, “Rich Man’s Empty Pocket” is outstanding. This is followed by a short essay extoling the rights and challenges of creative women-of-color by Tangela Mathis.

Most of the compositions on “Reclamation” were inspired and written after the forty-fifth president was elected to office and before our current state of emergency. According to the liner notes, Francese endeavors to find balance between his Mexican heritage from his dad’s side of the family and his white privilege. With this project, he advocates for issues he relates to, as well as those he can illuminate through the voices of others. When Jonah Francese addresses the inspiration for his tune, “Rich man’s Empty Pocket” he says:

“The use of money and power to create systemic racism and classism only goes so far. Money will never unify the rich. Financial greed will always exist, but communities who remain together … united groups, refuse to allow the power of the rich to defeat them. We continue to stand together and so ultimately our pockets are more full than theirs will ever be,” the composer/arranger/conductor asserts.

These brilliant, big band arrangements are driven hard by Marshawn Fondren on drums, who is prominent and tenacious throughout. As well as being a percussive master, he also is one of the interlude speakers on this album who protests how people of color have to be more careful in speech and action. He feels this alienation is eliminated when he sits behind his drums and can simply become a musician.

This interlude piece is followed by “Destroyer of Ignorance” that features Tracy Robertson, singing repetitive scat vocals atop a funky arrangement. This tune comfortably crosses over to a very commercial, smooth jazz production.

“Reclamation – Thinking Big” is a musical project that continues to explore what big band music can be. Jonah Francese is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago currently and is devoting much to his study of race and gender through the field of Ethnomusicology. With the help of these stellar musicians, his awareness and hopefulness are both reflected in this uniquely creative music.
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April 4, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil
APRIL 4, 2020


Joe Davidian,piano; Jamie Ousley,bass; Austin McMahon,drums.

“Leaving Montserrat” is the first track on this outstanding trio album. It races off my CD player like a Boeing 747, roaring into space with energy and precision. Here is straight-ahead jazz at its best. This particular song is the original composition of pianist, Joe Davidian. Every song on their album of ten jazz compositions was written by one of the trio members. The third song, “Won’t You Sing This Song for Me?” was composed by drummer, Austin McMahon. It too swings unapologetically and features a noteworthy trading of fours by the composer on his trap drums and bassist Jamie Ousley. McMahon also contributed the Latin arranged tune, “Sol.” Bassist Jamie Ousley shows his composer skills on the fourth track, “A Minor Waltz.” The melody is warm and memorable. When Ousley pulls out his bow on the ballad, “Sometime, Somehow” I am enchanted with the beauty of his bass and the melody of this song.

“Some contemporary jazz groups focus on complex harmonies or intricate rhythm,” Jamie Ousley explains.

“But we wanted to get back to the idea of melody as the centerpiece of a song,” interjects McMahon.

However, On the very creative, “Before I Forget” composition, you will hear the amazing interplay and contrary motion of piano and bass as they explore the melody and go beyond it. It is really a treat to hear so much harmonic interaction and seamless freedom, as the two musicians play tag with their instruments. They are hotly propelled by the drums of Austin McMahon, who keeps the two improvisational players solidly grounded. This tune was recorded live and you can hear the rich, appreciative applause from their captive audience.

This trio, that has been performing together for the past two decades. Each musician brings their own specific beauty and charisma to each piece played. But it’s obvious the members listen intently and are inspired by each other. They are aligned and in sync, like the moving parts of a Rolex watch. On this production, they challenged themselves to write songs in the style of the jazz standards, with their melodies front-forward and prominent. Thus, the title of this album, “New Songs for Old Souls.”

Joe Davidian is the recent winner of the prestigious 2019 Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition. He has established his talent and diversified accompaniment by working with such artists as the late, great Kevin Mahogany, and Weather Report’s Frank Zappa. Jamie Ousley is one of the most in-demand bassists in South Florida. He’s worked with Benny Golson, George Shearing, James Moody, Arturo Sandoval, Dave Liebman and Maria Schneider and that’s his short list. He is Associate Professor & Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Florida International University.Austin McMahon won the 9th Annual Independent Music Award in the Jazz Song Category. Besides his work with this awesome trio, he performs regularly with Jerry Bergonzi’s Quartet and also is a busy sideman and studio musician, performing and/or recording with folks like Sean Jones, George Garzone, Kate McGarry, Noah Preminger, Jason Palmer and Grace Kelly. Together, these three, outstanding musicians offer a tightly produced and arranged hour of excellent jazz.
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Josh Nelson, piano/keyboard; Alex Boneham, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums.

Josh Nelson is one of those super talented pianist/arranger/composer people who always brings something fresh and inspiring to any recording project. This “Live in Japan” project is no exception. Josh is featuring all his own original compositions, performed by a tight and energetic trio. They open with “Mint Blues.” That song gives Dan Schnelle a number of opportunities to solo and strut his stuff on the trap drums. Alex Boneham walks his bass relentlessly behind the scenes and holds the trio tightly in place, like a bearhug. When he takes his solo, he is both powerful and melodic.

There is one cover tune on this album of excellence. It’s the Thelonious Monk tune, “Reflections.” You’ll find it the second track of this recorded concert and it gives Josh Nelson a lovely platform to introduce you to his technique and individuality as an improvise- master. His approach to this ballad reminds me a lot of the way Erroll Garner may have played it if he were still alive. The incorporation of “I’ve Got the world on a String” into his improvisational escapade is smooth and becomes a seamless part of his interpretation. The composition, “Kintsugi” is eleven minutes long, but never boring. It’s a very pensive, beautiful song with Schnelle using mallets during his drum accompaniment. It makes me flash back to how Ahmad Jamal incorporated the use of mallets on his extremely popular “Poinciana” record.

This is an entertaining concert full of verve, crescendos and five skillfully written compositions by pianist, Josh Nelson.
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JD Walter, vocals; Jim Ridl, Taylor Eigsti, Marc Cary, Orrin Evans, Jean-Michel Pilc & Julius Rodriguez, piano; Ben Wolfe, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Becca Stevens, Charango/backing vocals.

JD Walter’s first four records were straight ahead jazz, without electronics. Life has a way of polishing us as we grow through circumstance, curve balls and challenges. Somehow through the drama, our best begins to shine as brilliant as a diamond. Often, that metamorphosis exposes the real genius of an artist. This album is a powerful comeback for JD Walter, a singer who recently experienced a life-threatening heart surgery and another surgery on his vocal cords.

“Being a musician is being a verb, an ever-changing force,” the sensitive singer states. “ … I got into electronica and somehow developed the reputation of being the progressive jazz vocalist who does the electronic thing. … It was my own personal exploration and evolution. … I conceived ‘Dressed in A Song’ after realizing I hadn’t done anything this intimate before,” he confesses.

Opening with his self-penned composition and the title tune, his voice is both compelling, distinctive and stylized. Once you hear JD Walter, you will recognize his voice when you hear him again. He’s smooth as a reed instrument, holding the notes beautifully with elongated phrasing and, in this first song, sharing a confessional lyric. It’s performed duo, with the awesome piano accompaniment of Taylor Eigsti. His interpretation of the familiar “You Go to My Head,” jazz standard follows, performed uniquely and with an abundance of freedom, featuring another outstanding pianist, Jim Ridl, who plays as brilliantly, rhythmically and creatively as Walter sings. Both jump from the precipice without a parachute, taking musical liberties on this tune that are enchanting and unexpected. JD Walter shows us he can scat as seamlessly as he sings.

On the third track, he showcases another one of his original compositions titled “The Last Muse.” This arrangement features drums, bass and background vocals. Becca Stevens’ blends vocal harmonies with JD during this haunting ballad and she adds the Charango. Julius Rodriguez mans the piano on this song. He’s part of a trio that invites Ben Wolfe on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums. Another original song, “Brother John” is reflective of suicide and Walter’s friend who took his own life. JD Walter writes in his liner notes about his childhood friend:

“Written for my best friend, John Joseph Maransky, … who tragically took his own life almost a year ago, reflects on my own struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.”

“What the World Needs Now” is played in 5/4 time and JD Walter’s voice is like a muted trumpet atop the unusual chord changes that Orrin Evans offers on piano. Sometimes I hear shades of Al Jarreau in Walter’s vocal style and other times traces of Chicago jazz master, Kurt Elling. The thing that is missing (for me) is simply the tempo pacing. The vocal mastery of JD Walter shines through, like a sad sun peeping through drawn blinds. I wish he had mixed up his repertoire a little more with tempo changes. I think I would have enjoyed hearing him do some really up-tempo numbers instead of so many slow numbers in a row.
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DAY DREAM – “ORIGINALS” Corner Store Jazz

Steve Rudolph, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Phil Haynes, drums.

The first two compositions, “Zebra (for Claude)” and “Wedding Waltz” are composed by the pianist of this trio, Steve Rudolph. The first tune is performed by Rudolph solo and is quite engaging. It’s a tribute to one of his mentors, Indianapolis musician, Claude Sifferlen. On the “Wedding Waltz” composition, the trio blossoms in its entirety and we are swept away by the beauty of a true jazz waltz.

“Beloved Refracted” is written by the drummer, Phil Haynes, and opens up with a drum introduction. The rich double bass sound of Drew Gress is featured during a solo on this arrangement. The next two compositions, “Afterward” and “Vesper” are both written by Drew Gress. In fact, every song on this Day Dream trio excursion is composed by one of these three talented musicians. Thus, the title of this project (Originals) becomes self-evident. On Track eight they play a joyful Bossa Nova tune (Bossa 21 for Katie) and on track ten we get a taste of a blues-rooted, straight-ahead side of this exquisite Day Dream group. Phil Haynes thrusts this group ahead with busy drum sticks.

Haynes has been featured on more than sixty-five releases on both American and European record labels. Bassist, Drew Gress performs extensively with artists considered on the cutting edge of contemporary improvised music. He was a founding member of the cooperative quartet, Joint Venture, who recorded three albums in the early 1990s. He’s received a SESAC Composer’s Award and grants from Chamber Music America, The National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer. Pianist, Steve Rudolph, has been making professional music for five decades. He has won the Jazziz Magazine Piano Competition at the Seven Springs Jazz Festival in 2000 and was awarded two jazz composition fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In addition, he’s played with a plethora of jazz masters including Louie Bellson, Clark Terry, Terry Gibbs, Rufus Reid and the Mills Brothers. Together, these three individually talented musicians create a formidable trio called, Day Dream.

Below, is sample of this trio’s work from a former release when I couldn’t find anything from this current release available On-line.

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IMPRESSIONS IN BLUE: Alex Goodman, guitar/composer; Ben Van Gelder, alto saxophone; Martin Nevin, bass; Jimmy Macbride, drums. IMPRESSIONS IN RED: Alex Goodman, guitar/composer; Alex Lore, alto saxophone; Rick Rosato, bass; Mark Ferber, drums.

“Impressions in Blue and Red” is Alex Goodman’s seventh album. It offers the listener two hours, on a double set of CDs, featuring beautiful and inspired music. Born in 1987, Alex Goodman was raised in Toronto, but currently lives in New York City. He earned a Master’s degree in jazz performance from the Manhattan School of Music. In 2014, he won First Prize and the Public’s Choice Award at the Montreux Jazz Festival International Guitar Competition. His concept for this album was finding a way musically, to paint with various colors; colors that would make his listening audience connect emotionally.

“Music goes beyond language,”he explains in his press package. “The way I associate color with music isn’t really something that I can explain; it’s based in mood; in feel. That intuitive ‘feel’ is the catalyst for the way I compose,”he asserted.

One compact disc is colored blue and the other CD is colored red. He has composed fifteen instrumentals and covers a few standard jazz tunes, including the Herbie Hancock song, “Toys.” For the most part, this is an album exploring his composer skills with the able assistance of Alex Lore on saxophone, during the ‘Impressions in Red’ production. They are joined by Rick Rosato on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. I was most drawn to the ‘Impressions in Blue’ CD that featured Ben Van Gelder on alto saxophone, Martin Nevin on bass and Jimmy Macbride manning the drums.

Alex Goodwin is the winner of an ASCAP Herb Albert Jazz Composer Award and has composed and recorded a book of solo guitar etudes. On both of these recordings, Goodman is prolific and tonally astute on his guitar. Some of my favorite tunes are: “No man’s Land,” with its straight-ahead feel; “Blue Shade” exhibiting a classically rooted production blended with a bit of blues; “Space Behind Eugene Boch” that gives Jimmy Macbride an opportunity to step out front on his drums; “Cobalt Blue” played at an up-tempo that has Goodman’s fingers flying across the guitar strings and I enjoyed his solo presentation of “I’ll never be the Same.” On the other ‘red’ disc, I particularly enjoyed the very melodic, “In Heaven Everything is Fine” and the ensemble’s rendition of Hancock’s “Toys” featuring Rick Rosato on bass.

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SCHAPIRO 17 – “NEW SHOES: KIND OF BLUE AT 60” Summit Records

Jon Schapiro, composer/conductor/arranger; Roberta Piket, piano; Sebastian Noelle, guitar; Evan Gregor, bass; Jon Wikan, drums; Trumpets: Bryan Davis, Andy Gravish, Eddie Allen & Noyes Bartholomew. Trombones: Deborah Weisz, Alex Jeun, Nick Grinder & Walter Harris, bass trombone. Saxophones: Rob Wilkerson, Ben Kono & Candace DeBartolo, alto saxophones. Paul Carlon, Rob Middleton, tenor saxophones. Matt Hong, baritone sax.

Last year, in 2019, the highly popular and land-breaking Miles Davis album, “Kind of Blue” celebrated its 60th year anniversary. With that in mind. Conductor/composer/arranger, Jon Schapiro set out to tribute five of the Davis compositions that became classics from this album. In addition, he added his own compositions to offer us a unique look at the Davis influence on jazz and on his own composer/arranger skills. You may remember that the Miles Davis sextet included John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans, bassist, Paul Chambers and with Jimmy Cobb on drums. In this recording, Jon Schapiro has arranged for his 17-piece orchestra to explore the Davis jazz standards and his own compositions. They perform with expressive verve and dynamism. On the opening tune, Schapiro’s “Boiled Funk” Paul Carlon takes a memorable solo on tenor-saxophone. It also features trombonist, Deborah Weisz. This straight-ahead, energized composition with the catchy melody and dancing drums sets the standard for what is to follow. The talented arranger plays with time and features his gifted soloists to explore the outer limits of his melodic message. The horns are like a chorus that answer the individual solo players with harmonic energy.

Jon Schapiro has added a composition by the orchestra’s pianist, Roberta Piket, titled “Foiled Bunk.” This second track on the album features Piket’s dynamic skills on the grand piano, solo and classically flavored. This becomes an introduction to the orchestra’s take on the Miles Davis standard, “So What.” It’s certainly painted with a fresh and creative face, showcasing the super talents of Schapiro as a unique and creative arranger. On the standard, “All Blues” Shapiro establishes the familiar melody and stretches out from there, moving out of the realm of jazz waltz and creating an up-tempo and exciting arrangement that features Alex Jeun on trombone and Eddie Allen on trumpet as the solo stars. There is nothing fusty about this orchestrated work. It is modern and creative; effulgent and entertaining. Scheduled for an April 3rd release, this is another gem to add to your big band collection.
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