BEBOP, BIGGISH BANDS & BEYOND

BY Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
April 29 , 2020

VITO DIETERLE & JOEL FORRESTER – “STATUS SPHERE” Ride Symbol

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 – “LIVE FROM THE BOP STOP” Dot Time Records

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. HOPKINS BIGGISH BAND – “NEW YORK MOMENT” Twee-Jazz Records

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 – “COOL LIKE THAT” Single release

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 SITUATION – “I FOUND A NEW HOME” Dot Time Records

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 – “VENA” Bonsai Music

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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