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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  1. REVIEW: JD Walter "Dressed In A Song" reviewed in Musical Memoir's - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] By Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoir’s […]

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