Archive for May, 2020


May 22, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 22, 2020


I’m a Netflix subscriber and find this network’s roster of shows to be quite entertaining. Their original shows are diverse and they have a little somethin’- somethin’ for everyone. When I ran across this series, I was both excited and surprised. This original Netflix show, “The Eddy” reminds me of my days enjoying foreign films. It’s a drama, shot in Paris, France, and the language moves from English to French, with subtitles. But the exciting thing about this show (“The Eddy”) is that it takes place in a jazz club with the music front and center. The plot is about the two owners of the club, an Arab and an African American man, and their struggle to stay relative, artistic and in business. The Arab man plays trumpet and handles the business of the club. The black man is a jazz pianist, composer and oversees the house-band. This multi-ethnic cast includes a jazz band that performs a plethora of original music. All of us, in the business of jazz, can appreciate the constant struggle it is to keep our music relevant and alive. Created by six-time GRAMMY winning songwriter, Glen Ballard, this is a story that features the music upfront and in your face, blended with a murder mystery, a struggling relationship between father and daughter, romances and some incredible jazz, performed live. It stars Andre Holland as club owner and jazz pianist (character name, Elliot), Amandla Stenberg as his 16-year-old daughter, (Julie) and sultry singer, Maja, played by Joanna Kulig. Tahir Rahim plays Farid, the co-owner of their jazz club and Leila Bekhti (a popular French film actress) plays his wife. Check out “The Eddy” on Netflix. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. This is the first television series I have seen since “Peter Gunn” that features jazz music.

By the way, you can also find some great music documentaries on this independent network including one on Quincy Jones, “Quincy”; a special on Nina Simone, “What Happened Miss Simone?,” the story of the top background singers in the United States, including L.A’s own, Merry Clayton, called “20 Feet from Stardom”; an amazing documentary on Clive Davis titled, “The Soundtrack of Our Lives”; The Miles Davis Story, “Birth of the Cool”; a look at Bob Marley’s life called, “Who Shot the Sheriff?”; the life of Lee Morgan, “I Called Him Morgan,” and so much more. With all this time on our hands, being locked down during a worldwide pandemic becomes the perfect time to sit back and enjoy our music in documentaries and movies.
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The Full album of this unusual music project is available on Apple Music Spotify and Bandcamp. The concept was for musicians and video game music fans to collaborate and create a piece of music to celebrate the great video game songbook. Unique, right? During this production, they employed hundreds of musicians worldwide who created a virtual orchestra. It was recorded remotely from several different countries.

This project is an expansion. The original 8-Bit Big Band is a smaller ensemble of 30-65 members. As I mentioned, their unusual goal is to perform the best themes from video game music. The themes are arranged for their ensemble of musicians, mostly based in New York City. You will hear themes from the ‘Super Mario Brother’s’ game, Final Fantasy, F-Zero, the Zelda Series and more. Charlie Rosen is the twenty-nine-year old bandleader and television composer behind this “Lifelight” project from Super Smash Brothers. His concept grew into 664 contributing virtual participants for one of the largest virtual bands ever created. In the two years since the ensembles original inception, it’s become a virtual, viral phenomenon. Their YouTube channel boasts nearly 100,000 viewers. Check it out.

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On May 23, 2020, the 501 (c) (3) Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) will honor iconic pianist and composer, Ran Blake with the Boston Jazz Hero Award. I fell in love with Ran Blake’s playing when I first heard him performing duos with Jeanne Lee. Blake is one of twenty-seven jazz heroes across the country chosen by their peers for being activists, advocates, altruists, educators, musicians, aiders and abettors of jazz. You are invited to join this ceremony as a Zoom attendee at 7 p.m. Eastern time and 4 p.m. West Coast time, on this Saturday, May 23rd. The popular event becomes a virtual, On-line experience born out of the COVID19 pandemic and the need for humanity to distance themselves. Registration is required.

More and more organizations have turned their in-person meetings and even concerts into Zoom computer events. The Jazz Heroes are named in conjunction with the JJA’s annual Jazz Awards given for excellence in music and music journalism. The complete 2020 honoree list can be viewed at:

Our own L.A. based pianist, composer, producer, recording artist and educator, Mr. Billy Mitchell, will be honored on May 28th for this same award of excellence. The jazz Journalists Association, in concert with the California Jazz Foundation, had each planned a huge gala to present their awards to celebrated jazz artists. When COVID19 raised its ugly head, everything had to be cancelled. Consequently, On-line gatherings began to pop up like bright, yellow dandelions on a pristine lawn. Edythe Bronston, the president of the California Jazz Foundation and Howard Mandel, president of JJA, invite you to please join us at 5:30 p.m. (West Coast time) on May 28th, (a Thursday evening) to tribute Billy Mitchell.

JJA Jazz Heroes go Zoom

Mitchell was scheduled to be presented the “Nica” Award by the California Jazz Foundation back in April along with Johnny Mandel, who was to receive the “Terry” lifetime achievement award. This upcoming, On-line presentation reflects the entertainment legacy statement of, “the show must go on.” Zoom participation is limited. We invite you to register for Billy Mitchell’s award presentation at: no later than midnight, May 27th.
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Pianist, educator, composer, producer and arranger, Tamir Hendelman, is hosting a piano live stream every Saturday evening at 6 p.m. pacific time. He will be tributing various iconic jazz artists and the Great American Songbook. On May 23rd, he’ll be featuring the music of Harold Arlen. On Saturday, May 30th, he’ll tribute Miles Davis. For more information check out:
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May 20, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 20, 2020

BRIAN LANDRUS – “FOR NOW” Blue Land Records

Brian Landrus, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/alto flute/C flute; Fred Hersch, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Billy Hart, drums; Michael Rodriguez, trumpet; Sara Caswell, violin; Joyce Hammann, violin; Lois Martin, viola; Jody Redhage-Ferber, cello.

This is Brian Landrus’ tenth album as a bandleader. He has surrounded himself with luminaries of the jazz industry like Fred Hersch, Drew Gress and Billy Hart who form his outstanding rhythm section. He’s added some young blood to the mix with Michael Rodriguez bringing his trumpet and Sara Caswell with her sweet violin. They open with one of ten original compositions by Landrus, out of a Baker’s Dozen of tunes. “The Signs” gives Rodriguez an opportunity to introduce himself to us on trumpet in a beautiful, Miles Davis-kind-of-way. The piano skips along under the tempered fingers and bright talent of Fred Hersch. Enter Brian Landrus, who puts his mark on the song like an unforgettable tattoo on your cheek. His low woodwind kisses the melody and explores the chord changes, leading the horn ensemble back to the melodic refrain in a sort-of march cadence.

The second song is so incredibly romantic and lovely that I had to play it twice. Titled, “Clarity in Time” the sentimentality and emotional purity of this composition is startling. Landrus has such a rich and royal tone on his horns, that you are almost hypnotically drawn into his music. This song gives Sara Caswell an opportunity to shine sweetly on her violin. The familiar standard, “Invitation” is dressed up with strings; a very smart choice to let his deep horn solos resonate.

“As I was writing For Now, I could feel it coming from a very deep place, directly from some truly difficult and some unforgettably beautiful life experiences,” Landrus says.

This is a truly romantic recording. The tone, shadings and suppleness that Landrus utilizes on his horns tenderly caress these tunes. On a baritone saxophone or a bass clarinet, you might not expect this type of beautiful execution. I usually associate these instruments with a more robust, brash sound. Brian Landrus shatters the mold and sets himself apart from fellow musicians with this production. He offers us his unique and emotional ability on his bass clarinet when he sings the title tune, “For Now.” This love ballad captures his composer strength masterfully, supporting his worldwide popularity as one of the leading voices on low woodwinds. When he tackles tunes like “Round Midnight” solo, just him and his bass clarinet, I am caught in the fluttering net of his instrumental prowess and emotional insight.

Brian Landrus began playing saxophone at twelve years young and was performing professionally by fifteen. Raised in Nevada, he earned his BA Degree from University of Nevada-Reno and has two Master of Music Degrees from New England Conservatory. Today, he a Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist and composer with a PhD in classical composition from Rutgers University and he’s on the faculty at Rutgers as well.
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Charles Pillow, flute/alto flute/clarinet/alto & soprano saxophone/oboe/English horn; Gary Versace, piano/accordion; Jay Anderson & Jeff Campbell, bass; Mark Ferber & Rich Thompson, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Vic Juris, guitar; Todd Groves, bass clarinet/clarinet/flute; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Chris Komer, French horn; Alan Ferber, trombone; Scott Wendholt, trumpet; Hiroko Taguchi, Whitney Lagrange, & Lisa Matricardi, violins; Todd Low & Orlando Wells, viola; Alisa Horn & Allison Seidner, cello; Gary Versace, accordion.

This album is a follow-up to the Charles Pillow critically acclaimed 2018 release. Pillow came up with the concept for this new project titled, “Chamber Jazz” to blend elements of classical music with jazz.

“The project came about as a way to fuse elements of classical music with improvisation and to evolve further as a composer. Playing with a string section is deeply satisfying and by adding bass clarinet and a small brass section to the mix, I found additional captivating tonal palette possibilities,” Charles Pillow shared.

This is an easy listening, romantic production that features four song composed by Charles Pillow and four popular jazz tunes including the Billie Holiday standard “Don’t Explain.” It’s arranged uniquely, beginning with a very Latin flavored guitar introduction by Vic Juris and sexy drums roll beneath, played by mallets. Charles Pillow has known Vic Juris for years and has been playing with him in David Liebman’s Big Band for over a decade. The horns are beautifully harmonized and the strings add emotional drama and romance to this arrangement.

The Hermeto Pascoal composition, “Bebe” is a well-known Brazilian tune. Pillow and his Chamber Jazz group slow the tempo and feature Gary Versace on accordion. On this arrangement, the string section shivers like trembling bird wings and Charles Pillow picks up his clarinet. Some of the songs featured and written by Pillow celebrate his family. There is the tune, “Charlotte and Evan” that is dedicated to his daughter and son. “Abschied Ray” is a tribute to his father who passed during the time this music was being arranged and recorded. Charles Pillow’s Louisiana roots are strung, like a stream of long, blue, gold and white silk ribbons through his compositions. Born in Baton Rouge, LA, he attended college at Loyola University. He earned his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he is currently Assistant Director of Jazz Saxophone. In 1987, Pillow relocated to New York City and was sucked up into the studio session scene. His versatile talent contributed to records by pop icons like Mariah Carey, Jay Z, R&B balladeer, Luther Vandross, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and even Frank Sinatra. He played straight ahead jazz and big band music with luminaries like David Liebman, Tom Harrell, John Scofield and smooth jazz with David Sanborn. But he’s truly at his best when he leads and records his own band. This is a prime example.
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LOU VOLPE –”BEFORE & AFTER” Jazz Guitar Records

Lou Volpe, guitars/arrangements/composer; Stanley Banks, Pete Falbo & Motoki Mihara, bass; Buddy Williams, drums; Gary Fritz, John Romagnoll & Richie Morales, percussion.

Lou Volpe has spent a productive and busy life as a musician, touring with major artists like Bette Midler, Judy Collins and Herbie Mann, while also working as a sideman in studio sessions on a variety of New York jazz sessions.

He plays R&B and pop as easily as he improvises and plays jazz. Consequently, artists like Chet Baker, The Manhattan Transfer, David “Fathead” Newman, Peggy Lee and Joey DeFrancesco all have enlisted his talents on their recording sessions.

On this release as a frontline artist, Volpe shines. He has composed eleven of the thirteen songs offered starting with “Up the Road,” that is a moderate tempo’d, energetic little tune with a strong melody. This song features a very smooth jazz production, but Lou Volpe’s ‘chops’ on his guitar keeps it all jazz. He is the energetic drive behind this production and has included musicians who know how to find a groove and keep it moving. The second track, “Three Rivers” has a country/western feel to it and track three, “Coming My Way” is based in the blues and shows another side of Lou Volpe’s guitar character. Volpe has a distinctive voice on guitar, while his music is both diverse and provides pleasant listening. Sometimes his style and composer abilities lend themselves to the type of music Pat Metheny or George Benson might record. Lou Volpe crosses all boundaries and combines genres seamlessly. His smooth, effortless presentation is a joy to listen to and would brighten and enhance any romantic evening.
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Michael Thomas, alto saxophone/composer/arranger; Jason Palmer, trumpet; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.

I believe that one of the sexiest instruments on the planet is the saxophone. What better way to spend a romantic evening than to put on Charlie Parker with Strings or Cannonball Adderley’s quintet? So, I was eager to listen to the new album by inventive young saxophonist and Grammy winner, Michael Thomas. I have enjoyed his arrangements and work as co-leader of the Terraza Big Band, but this is a departure from that. In fact, I wouldn’t call this production romantic. The album title pretty much says it all. In astronomical terms, an “Event Horizon” is a point of no return. It’s the boundary at the edge of a black hole, where gravitational forces are so powerful that even light cannot escape, verging on mysterious, unexplored territory. On this recording, Michael Thomas is pushing all boundaries, along with his trio comprised of Hans Glawischnig on bass, Johnathan Blake on drums and Jason Palmer on trumpet. There is no piano or guitar to ground the rhythm section. That leaves lots of space for these musicians to fly free and uninhibited. It’s a two-disc set, opening with an original composition Thomas calls, “Distance.” He explains:

“This was the first song I composed for this project and appropriately, serves as album’s opening track. While writing it, I found myself looking out my window at the Manhattan skyline and contemplating the difference between the perceived serenity from my viewpoint, and the chaos experienced when in the middle of the city. These two feelings are a result of my distance from the city and represented by the contrasting parts of this song.”

On track #2, “Drift” Michael Thomas settles down to a more romantic tone and vibe. It begins melancholy and quietly beautiful, letting Thomas soak up the attention by playing his alto saxophone in a smooth, improvised way.

“The title of this composition came from the way the song ‘drifts’ through several uneven phrases, as well as three seemingly unrelated tonal centers,” Michael Thomas shared in his liner notes.

This double set of freedom music was recorded ‘live’ over two nights at New York City’s renowned Jazz Gallery. It allows space for each musician to individually explore and interpret their own musical magic. On “Drift” you get to experience the tenacious power of each player, during solos and as a group ensemble. This is music that will both intrigue and entertain you. I enjoy the tone and execution of Michael Thomas on alto saxophone. Additionally, he’s an expert composer and generous bandleader, unafraid to share the spotlight with his worthy bandmembers, who are each dynamic and talented in their own sweet way. For example, just before the tune “Dr. Teeth,” inspired by The Muppet Show, Hans Glawischnig’s bass solo is stellar, opening the song and directing our attention to his dancing fingers against the double bass strings, during a two-minute introduction. Johnathan Blake is artistically solid on trap drums and is the underlying force beneath Jason Palmer’s trumpet blended harmonically with the saxophone and as a solo player. While a studio session could have been more convenient and esthetically perfect, recording ‘live’ brings the musicians face to face with walking a tightrope above their audience’s upturned faces, with no safety net.

Thanks to the foresight and experience of Jimmy Katz, an award-winning jazz photographer and recording engineer, all the nuances and mastery of these musicians is precisely captured in this ‘live’ environment. He and his wife, Dena Katz, established their non-profit, Giant Step Arts, in January of 2018 to commission and showcase modern jazz’s most innovative artists. Special thanks to the Katz couple for creating an adventurous stage for art, for giving total control to the musicians for their artistic projects and creating both entertainment and financial reward for music excellence. This is another successful production.
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Dave Morgan, baritone saxophone/flute/bandleader; Rob Susman, trombone/ bandleader; Noel Cohen, guitar; Dan Asher, bass; Rex Benincasa, percussion; Peter Grant, drums; Chris Hemingway & Charles Lee, alto saxophones; Stan Killian & John Isley, tenor saxophones; Scott Burrows, trombone; Seneca Black, Chris Anderson, Bryan Davis & Jordan Hirsch, trumpets.

Funk Shui NYC is an all-star band, friends based in New York, who came together to record some new compositions, some fresh arrangement and to have some fun. This album reflects their new beginnings. They’ve added a few familiar tunes like the Barney Miller television show theme song and the over-recorded Summertime song. They also covered Allen Toussaint’s tune, “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky” and that song pretty much sums up this entire production. It’s funky! You might not even recognize the Barney theme song (What Barney?) because it’s truly funk-a-sized! The horns are definitely spotlighted on these arrangements, pushed by Peter Grant’s drums, that are exciting and powerful. Rex Benincasa’s percussive additions throughout are spot-on and tasty. Dan Asher’s bass drives the funk and Noel Cohen adds his rhythm guitar to round out this tenacious rhythm section.

Band leaders: Dave Morgan and Rob Susman have composed or co-composed five of the ten tunes. The group arrangements are spunky, upbeat and sometimes humorous. The music is sassy and a bit quirky, happily reflecting New York City in all its glory. The horns lift the production, giving a fully orchestrated, plush, big band sound. On “Summertime” Chris Anderson arranged it starting with a Santana-style Latin Rock beat. With horns blaring, it morphs into a traditional Conjunto, with the percussionist propelling the piece. John Isley solos on tenor sax and Anderson follows on trumpet, supported by Asher’s strong bass line. You almost forget you’re listening to Summertime. It’s a very fresh and enjoyable arrangement.

George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” is another example of painting a tune with an entirely new face. This was Harrison’s 1967 psychedelic masterpiece and Funk Shui NYC plays it like a funky lounge groove, featuring the arranger and trombonist, Rob Susman. You hear the hip-hop influences when they take Farrell’s groove and mix it into their arrangement of the “I Feel Free” tune. You hear New York traffic and automobile horns in the original composition, “Into the Fourth Dimension.” Rex Benincasa is outstandingly present on percussion instruments.

Although the music is a little brash, if you like a funky groove and coloring outside the lines, you will find this album pleasing to your palate. The tasty way Susman and Morgan have mixed jazz with funk, rock and Latin, adding their own compositions and even ‘hip hop’ is unusually fresh.
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Adam Rudolph, membranophones (fingers & hands)/idiophones/chordophones/overtone singing/ electronic processing; Ralph M. Jones, aerophones/voice; Hamid Drake, membranophones (sticks & hands)/idiophones/voice.

This cd is a jungle of sounds and emotions. Adam Rudolph, Ralph M. Jones and Hamid Drake have reached into the universe of sound to extract unusual combinations of familiarity that tickle our musical imaginations. Rudolph is a master percussionist, as is Drake. Ralph M. Jones is a woodwind master. Together, they create (on this, their second album) a relationship of sound expression, employing spontaneous compositions with the improvisation of sounds and mastery of technique. These sounds can both enthuse and intrigue the listener, taking us back to the beginning of time or whisking us into space with the projection of a more universal future. “Imaginary Archipelagos” (translates to imaginary islands) and certainly takes us back to a more basic and what some might call a more primitive time. But how wonderful to hear music that reminds us of bird calls, plants, the wind rustling trees or the ocean crashing against the shore; carriages with wooden wheels against a dusty plain or broken wind chimes glowing and still desperately singing in island sunsets. This is an exploration into electronic and acoustic instruments, that tempers ancient prayers from Yorubic circles, while also embracing nature and various world cultures. This music is both romantic and avant-garde. It will transport you to wherever your imagination has the courage to wander. It can rejuvenate and excite you, or settle your spirits down like a lullaby from the lips of mother nature. This is a fresh and beautiful recording that transcends explanations using dictionary words. This is music meant to inspire meditation and transformation.

“With every record I make I try to do something that I’ve never done before,” says Rudolph. “I’ve always studied music from all over the world, so I had the idea of inventing some music that was previously undiscovered, which represents the idea that the creative endeavor itself is about discovering and uncovering something new.”

Rudolph and Drake formed a close and bonded relationship starting at age fourteen when they met in a downtown Chicago drum shop. They’ve worked with such iconic jazz musicians as Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Dave Liebman, Fred Anderson and Hassan Hakmoun. Rudolph met Jones in 1974 at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. They performed together in groups led by Kenny Cox and Charles Moore. Later, they co-founded the Eternal Wind Quartet with Moore, that Rudolph says is much like this inventive Karuna Trio. Sit back and enjoy.

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Jason Palmer, trumpet; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Edward Perez, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums.

The concept for this album is unusual. In march of 1990, thieves entered Boston’s ‘Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’ disguised as the police. When they exited, they took with them thirteen precious works of art. When trumpeter, composer, Jason Palmer moved from North Carolina to Boston, in 1997, to attend the New England Conservatory of Music, he attended a concert at that very museum. While there, he noticed several empty frames on display. He thought it was odd, but it wasn’t until years later that Jason Palmer found out about the $500 million-dollar heist that had left those frames without artwork. This album is a tribute to the missing art pieces by Rembrandt, Degas and others.

The ‘live’ concert opens with “A Lady and Gentleman in Black” and it gives ample time for each musician in his quintet to solo and introduce themselves to the audience, playing at a brisk pace. When Palmer composed this piece, he used only the black keys of the piano. The second track was composed to describe the Degas painting titled, “Cortege aux Environs do Florence,” drawn sometime around 1857 using pencil and sepia wash on paper. Palmer has composed this tune at a slower tempo, giving tenor saxophonist, Mark Turner, lots of time to adlib and improvise, followed by a lengthy solo by vibraphonist, Joel Ross. Palmer was working from images of the stolen art and drew inspiration from them. The presentation of these twelve original compositions is packaged as a two-set CD. Jason Palmer exhibits a beautiful tone and delivery on his trumpet throughout. He and his group are quite exploratory on these songs. Palmer is establishing a reputation as being one of the most inventive and in-demand trumpeters on the East Coast. He’s performed on over forty albums as a sideman and recorded a baker’s dozen of albums as a bandleader. This album is a far cry from his tribute to the music of Anita Baker, released in September of 2019, but both artistic works show his ability to push the boundaries of music and to stretch his creativity, along with those of his band members.

Jason Palmer has toured and performed in over thirty countries and his quintet has been the house band at Boston’s historic Wally’s Jazz Café for over fifteen years. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Ensembles and Brass at Berklee College of Music and has served as an Assistant Professor at Harvard University.
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ALEX de GRASSI – “THE BRIDGE” Tropo Records/ distributed by Six Degrees Records

Alex de Grassi, guitar/composer/arranger.

This album, featuring the undeniable talents of Alex de Grassi on guitar, is a lesson in technical skills. Starting with the up-tempo tune, “Mr. B Takes A walk In the Rain” the listener finds themselves rushing alongside Mr. B, soaking up the excitement Alex de Grassi creates on his instrument with flying fingers. The second track has a more folksy arrangement. There is a warmth to de Grassi’s music that’s both comforting and entertaining. Surprisingly, “The Bridge” is Alex’s first solo guitar album in seventeen years. He found a special bond with Grammy Award winning engineer, Leslie Ann Jones at her legendary Skywalker Studio in Northern California. This is what he had to say about their collaboration.

“I had played on a live audiophile broadcast at Skywalker the year before and after taking my guitar out of the case and playing a couple of notes in that space, I knew I wanted to make my next solo recording there. It’s a truly amazing sounding room, and with Leslie Ann on the other side of the glass, I knew we would capture the sound of the best concert halls I’ve ever performed in. I wasn’t disappointed!”

He recorded without pickups, nor headphones to monitor and with simply great mics and four guitars (including his signature model Lowden), Alex felt like he was performing in one of his favorite concert venues. I should also mention that this production features sound engineer, Steven Miller, renowned for his work with many acoustic guitarists (including Michael Hedges landmark recording Aerial Boundaries) and various Windham Hill artists. Miller mixed the post production and Grammy award winner Gavin Lurssen of Lurssen Mastering in Los Angeles beautifully mastered this de Grassi solo album.

You will enjoy ten acoustic songs, with some of the original compositions by Alex de Grassi included. The album title was inspired by the last wooden bridge on the California coast, located as part of the popular Highway One. It’s a narrow, trestle bridge that stretches 173 feet above the Albion river.

“I imagined a lot of stories/scenarios about the people crossing that bridge,” Alex shared in his liner notes.

“The Bridge” also focuses on bridging together many types of music and cultures that Alex de Grassi loves. Along with his original compositions you will enjoy tunes by Hendrix, traditional folk songs, some Gershwin, some blues and Celtic melodies all stirred up together, infused with his classical training and jazz roots. Alex reflected about his title tune and that original composition:

“At night, headlights of cars crossing the bridge create a steady rhythm of flickering light between the uprights of the railing. That rhythm became the basis for this piece, a steady ostinato over which the long, syncopated notes of the melody unfold slowly. I wanted to convey both that image as well as the perspective of the driver approaching, crossing, and then arriving at the other side. For me, there is a sense of mystery, a little bit of danger, as well as getting lost in the thoughts of the unknown driver behind the wheel.”

This absolutely intoxicating work of art, by Alex de Grassi, will have you daydreaming or reaching into the depths of your own mind. His music is not only hypnotic, it’s also extremely enjoyable and thought provoking. You feel his passion as he plays his instrument and you will enjoy the emotion he pours into every performance. Alex de Grassi’s music is captivating and spotlights his unique ability to balance rhythm guitar with melodic integrity.
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May 10, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 10, 2020


Dave Glasser, alto saxophone/soprano saxophone/flute/composer; Andy Milne, piano; Ben Allison, bass; Matt Wilson, drums/percussion.

This is an album whose style and composition succinctly recalls Thelonious Monk in sound and production. The “Monk” style of this historic composer/pianist is obvious throughout this well-produced album. That being said, reedman, Dave Glasser, is a very fine composer in his on right and all four of these musicians are both stellar and steadfast in presenting their very best. Glasser admits in his liner notes:

“My roots are in the history of this music. That’s where my inspiration comes from. These guys have all worked in different areas doing their own thing. So, this is a group of people who have come together from very far-flung places. … Yet, we’ve managed to unite to find the things that we have in common instead of thinking about our differences. I think that parallels artistically what I see as a big problem facing society right now. People are focused on their differences, so they’re warring and arguing and blaming as opposed to looking at what they have in common.”

The title of this album, as well as the composition titles, stand as tall and speak as loudly as protest signs. Beginning with Glasser’s original tune, “Knit Wit” that reflects the rise of misunderstandings between human beings, via a difference in perception and or politics. It’s followed by track #2, “Justice” and there’s another song titled, “Freedom.” “Freedom” is one of my favorite cuts on this album, with Matt Wilson’s skillful drums prominent and fiery. Glasser rises to the occasion, both innovative and performing with tenor verve.

Dave Glasser comes from a social justice background. His father, Ira Glasser, was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for more than 20-years. Young Dave met civil libertarian and notable jazz critic, Nat Hentoff when the budding saxophonist was pursuing excellence on his horn. It was Nat Hentoff who recommended Dave Glasser study with Lee Konitz. (Sadly, just last month we lost the great Lee Konitz when he became a casualty of the Coronavirus pandemic.) Dave Glasser tributes Mr. Konitz in his composition titled, “Glee for Lee.” He and drummer, Matt Wilson, duet on this piece. They are formidable. Wilson is a former collaborator with the late, great Konitz. Together, the two create a riveting arrangement. This album’s only non-original tune is the Disney classic, “It’s a Small World.” Dave Glasser interprets this tune using his flute. The quartet presents this familiar song thoughtfully, with Ben Allison’s bass the only instrument amply supporting the flute solo at first. When the other musicians enter, Andy Milne finds the most interesting and unusual chording to perpetuate the mood and melody. The quartet’s sense of freedom and inspired deliveries make this arrangement shimmer and glow.

Glasser is currently the lead altoist in the Count Basie Orchestra and he’s also a veteran of the Clark Terry quintet. He’s played with a plethora of legendary musicians including Barry Harris, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie and with the Basie band when it was under the direction of Frank Foster. A faculty member at the New School for over twenty-three years, Glasser enjoys mentoring many of the blossoming young jazz musicians of today. This is an album you will enjoy playing time and time again. It’s full of excitement and beauty; history and inventiveness. It touches on the pulse of the past and races into the future with the same jazzy exuberance.
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Arturo O’Farrill, piano/composer/arranger/conductor; Dr. Cornel West, orator; Ricardo Rodriguez & Gregg August, bass; Alison Deane, piano; Tony Rosa & Roland Guerrero, congas; Carly Maldonado, bongos/percussion; Joe Gonzalez, bongos; Vince Cherico, drums; TRUMPETS: Bryan Davis, Jim Seeley, Seneca Black, Adam O’Farrill, John Bailey, Jonathan Powell & David Smith. SAXES: Peter Brainin, Bobby Porcelli, Ivan Renta, Jeremy Powell, Larry Bustmante, Jason Marshall & David DeJesus. TROMBONES: Rafi Malkiel, Tokunori Kajiwara, Frank Cohen, Earl McIntyre, bass trombone & tuba; Seneca Black, voice. GUESTS: Jana Ballard, choral preparation; Aubrey Johnson & Edda Fransdottir, soprano solos; Sharon Moe, French horn; DJ Logic, turntables.

An avid supporter of all the arts, Arturo O’Farrill is the Professor of Global Jazz Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Herb Alpert School of Music. He is also on the faculty at The New School of The Manhattan School of Music, (where he received some of his formal music education). Born in Mexico, O’Farrill grew up in New York and began his professional career with the legendary Carla Bley Band. He was a mere nineteen-years-old. O’Farrill credits Carla Bley for teaching him about integrity and the importance of art. She drilled into the talented teenager that it was more important to perform and compose for the sake of art and not just for fame and money. The young pianist took that wise encouragement to heart.

As his reputation blossomed, he also worked with such legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, Steve Turre and Harry Belafonte. In 2007, Arturo O’Farrill founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (ALJA) as a non-profit organization dedicated to the performance, education and preservation of Afro Latin music. (

They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Arturo is the son of renowned jazz trumpeter, bandleader and arranger, Chico O’ Farrill. His father was originally from Havana, Cuba. Arturo’s mother was a Mexican vocalist. Consequently, their house was always ripe with music. In 1965, they relocated to the United States. At age six, young Arturo was less than enthusiastic about taking piano lessons. However, he came to love the instrument and was greatly influenced by Bud Powell and Chick Corea. Although he studied and played a number of genres with various bands, in the 1990s Arturo returned to his Latin roots. In 1995 he became Music Director of his famous father’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra.

When Wynton Marsalis asked Arturo to pull together and lead an Afro-Cuban Jazz Band to perform at the Lincoln Center, that’s when O’Farrill formed the Afro Latin jazz Orchestra (ALJO). The rest is history.

“Baby Jack” is the first track on the Afro-Latin, Jazz Orchestra’s current album. The Brass section blares! Arturo O’Farrill’s piano enters the picture like a referee, stepping in between the dueling horns and bringing a melody that moves like an ascending staircase. We are lifted up. When the sexy saxophone comes into the picture, (featuring David DeJesus) the mood changes to pensive and seductive. This arrangement is both enchanting and captivating. Track #2 is titled “Jazz Twins” and is dedicated to Arnold and Donald Stanley from Los Angeles; two close knit staples of the jazz community. But it’s the third tune and the title tune, “Four Questions” that combines O’Farrill and his 18-piece orchestra with the spoken word and the revolutionary spirit of Dr. Cornel West. Together, they usher in a jolt of truth that demands that we, as a concerned people, come face-to-face with the social and political horrors of this time in world history. Like many true artists, Arturo O’ Farrill seeks to incorporate honesty and political awareness into his musical conversation. He uses his full orchestra, with a choir of voices, to express these unique arrangements.

The “Four Questions” that Dr. Cornel West addresses on this album were actually posed by the great African American civil rights activist and journalist, W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1903 book, “The Souls of Black Folk.” Dr. West based his book, “Black Prophetic Fire” on these very important “Four Questions.”

What does integrity do in the face of adversity and oppression? 2) What does honesty do in the face of lies and deception? 3) What does decency do in the face of insult? and 4) How does virtue meet brute force?

Amidst dramatic horns and orchestral contrary motion, a rhythmic groove is established to support the Dr. West eloquent oratory. He speaks about everybody being for sale. But where is integrity? “It’s in your struggle,” he says. “It’s in the music.”

To address the second question, he reminds us that we live in an age of criminality. Crimes rage on Wall Street, but they don’t go to jail. We have a corrupted system of incarceration.

“Are we willing to tell the truth; to unveil honesty?” he asks.

The dynamic arrangements of Arturo O’Farrill accentuate the Dr. West verbal diatribe. His music brings beauty to an ugly truth. The drums embrace cultures and blend into the presentation like the cultures within our own country. Music and art call attention to the tribe of humanity that populates Earth. This is sixteen minutes and fourteen seconds of historic realization.

Dr. West asks us: “How do you preserve the humanity of the others who are dehumanizing you? How do you preserve your spirit? Folks can’t ride your back unless it’s bent,” the learned man asserts.

Arturo O’Farrill’s music crosses cultures, blends borders and scratches against our brains like the spoken words of Dr. West. In harmony, they speak to us. Demand to be heard. This piece ends with an old, gospel spiritual song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” the horns ask us. Arturo Asks us. Dr. Cornel West asks us. The piano asks us. The orchestra whispers and weeps.

This is a project of pleasure and pain, like life itself. I will be surprised if this doesn’t join the list of Grammy Awards that Arturo O’Farrill has already won. At the 2008, 51st Grammy Award Ceremony, he won Best Latin Jazz Album for his “Song for Chico.”

In 2014, Arturo O’Farrill and the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Album titled, “Final Night at Birdland.” In 2015, he released “The Offense of the Drum” and Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra won a Grammy Award for Best Latin jazz Album. In August of 2015, Arturo and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra released “Cuba: The Conversation Continues”, which was recorded in Havana 48 hours after President Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba. This album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble in 2016. Meantime, his “Afro Latin Jazz Suite” won the 2015 Best Instrumental Composition Award. Again, in 2017, he won for Best Instrumental Composition for “Three Revolutions.”

Perhaps Arturo O’Farrill best summed-up his music and his artistic direction with this quote:

“I made one rule for myself, and I really try to live it: Play music you love, with people you love, for people you love. If I can’t be that kind of musician, I’ll drive a cab.”
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Felipe salles, composer/arranger/conductor; RHYTHM SECTION: Nando Michelin, piano; Kevin Grudecki, guitar; Ryan Fedak, vibraphone/marimba/Glockenspiel; Keala Kaumeheiwa, bass; Bertram Lehmann, drums/percussion. WOODWINDS: Jonathan Ball, alto & soprano saxophones/flute/piccolo; Aaron Dutton, alto & soprano saxes/flute; Mike Caudill, tenor & soprano saxes/flute/clarinet; Rick DiMuzio, tenor sax/clarinet; Tyler Burchfield, bari sax/bass clarinet/clarinet; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Jeff Holmes, Don Clough, Yuta Yamaguchi, Eric Smith & Doug Olsen. TROMBONES: Clayton DeWait, Randy Pingrey, Bulut Gulen & Angel Subero on bass trombone.

This is music inspired by conversations with ‘Dreamers’. Felipe Salles is a musician and immigrant from Sao Paulo, Brazil who came to the United States in 1995. Consequently, he can relate to the lives and challenges faced by today’s seven-hundred-thousand young people who make up the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program. Using his 18-piece Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble, he’s recorded two CDs and a DVD, in this triple disc release, to feature his orchestra and to share speech cadences and melodic motifs that tell ‘Dreamer’ stories. Videos of the interviews, documenting individual stories and experiences, were created by Fernanda Faya. These are mixed into emotional musical journeys, using orchestral textures and big band power to present a sounding board for these immigrants.

Mr. Salles, the composer, arranger and conductor, has won numerous awards including a Guggenheim Foundation Composition Fellowship in 2018. In 2015, Salles was awarded a NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant. in 2009, he won a French American jazz Exchange Grant and in 2005 was granted a Chamber Music America grant for New Works. Felipe Salles’ arrangements and compositions have been performed by some of the top groups in the world including The Metropole Orchestra, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra and the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra. Additionally, he has released seven critically acclaimed recordings as a bandleader. Spectacularly, he was listed in Downbeat Magazine’s Best Albums of the Year list in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019. On this project he has composed, arranged and conducted works specific to the new immigrant experience.

One of my favorite composition on the first disc was the funk driven, contemporary arrangement titled, “A Part and Not the Other.” It makes use of several mood and timing changes that intoxicate the listener’s interest. The exciting orchestral arrangements are unpredictable and exploratory.

“When I set out to create this project, I had no idea how much it would change my life. It has been an incredibly emotional two years of personal and artistic growth and I cannot express how grateful I am for this opportunity. It was an honor to meet all of my interviewees and to be given the gift of telling their story through my music. I hope this work will make a difference in educating people about the issues Dreamers and other immigrants face in America today,” Felipe Salles shared in his liner notes.

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CHICAGO YESTET – “NOT THERE YET” – Tiddlywinks Music

Joel Adams, conductor/composer/trombonist/bandleader; Maggie Burrell, vocals/lyrics; Keith Harris, spoken word/lyricist; Xavier Breaker, drums; Clark Sommers, bass; Stu Mindeman, piano; Mike Allemana, guitar; Tom Garling, trombone; Chuck Parrish & Russ Johnson, trumpets; Chris Madsen & Geof Bradfield, tenor saxophones; Nick Mazzarella, alto sax.

A distinct drum lick sets the pace and the groove. Electric piano chords play and compliment, while a police siren sings in the background. At first, it sounds like smooth jazz. Then, the arrangement transforms with Keith Harris adding spoken word to the lush orchestration created by Joel Adams. The words call attention to racial issues and a corrupted justice system. When Maggie Burrell’s sweet voice enters, she continues that story singing:

“… We search for reasons why; murder can be justified. …choke hold can’t be undone. A cigar or cigarettes; can’t you see we’re not there yet.”

This 13-piece, Chicago Yestet is directed by Joel Adams and has a mission. This is their third CD release and this power-house band continues to document the spirit, creativity and commitment to the music of artists who share a vision for art as a force for good.

“I am forever indebted to them for their invaluable contributions to this project and for the sacrifices they’ve made to help keep the band going and the music alive,” Adams proclaims.

These arrangements are smooth-jazz one moment, R&B funk the next and then they swing hard and make a sharp turn into the realms of straight-ahead jazz. Joel Adams is a very melodic composer and has penned all these songs except track #7, composed by John Coltrane. As the album rolls along, Joel’s arrangements merge hip hop with old school bebop into a unique and comfortable ball. You can hear it plainly on track #2 titled, “The Long Neglect.” Keith Harris is back to the microphone, rapping hard and strong. The band supports his lyrical tirade with a funk-groove, but once he steps away from the mic, they settle into a more bebop, big band sound. Joel Adams explains it this way:

Not There Yet reflects not only my admiration for Thad Jones and other big bands from the 1960s and 70s, but also my love for James Brown and Donny Hathaway. The Chicago Yestet is committed to grooving and not afraid to play simply and even pretty. We’re also willing to take on political issues through music,”
Adams says in his liner notes.

In 2019, the band was gifted a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency that made this recording possible. Formed in 2008, the Chicago Yestet performs original music with an emphasis on groove and truth. You’ll hear some musical phrases that will remind you of a Jill Scott production. Then something explosive happens, like the horns of the Basie Band. The soloists exemplify that they are musicians of high caliber with their technique and also, the honesty in their playing translates to a wonderful blend of youthfulness and history. They blend today’s popular musical genre and yesteryears jazzy and amazing big band era. This is a project that will both entertain and open the ears of the listeners to a multiplicity of fresh musical ideas and protest.
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Christian McBride, composer/arranger/bassist; J.D. Steele, choir arranger/lead vocals; Alicia Olatuja, lead vocals; SPOKEN WORD NARRATIVE: Sonia Sanchez, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Dion Graham, Wendell Pierce. Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Warren Wolf, vibraphone/tambourine/timpani; Terreon Gully, drums; Michael Dease, Steve Davis & James Burton, trombones; Doug Purviance, bass trombone; Steve Wilson, alto saxophone/flute; Todd Bashore, alto sax; Ron Blake, tenor & soprano saxophone; Loren Schoenberg, tenor sax; Carl Marachi, baritone saxophone. CHOIR VOICES: Marvel Allen, Shani P. Baker, Jeffrey S. Bolding, Jeff Hamer, Susann Miles, Deborah Newallo, Eunice Newkirk, Claudine Recker, Trevor Smith & Melissa Walker.

Although this CD was released in February of this year,(during black history month), I felt it was a perfect fit for this column. I love the messages, positive, reflective and uplifting references by some of the black leaders born and bred in the United States of America. The various speakers reiterate the words of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Beneath their words a loop of sound repeats itself. I expected Christian McBride to write something more creatively musical beneath their introductory, opening, poignant words. I thought this would have been a perfect place for his bass to interpret and support their messages. That was a little disappointing. However, that being said, after the lyrical speeches stop, he offers us a complete and exciting jazz big band arrangement that swings hard and strong. Also, I might add, in the suite dedicated to Malcolm X, McBride does use his bass talents to support the words of this great revolutionary. So, eventually my wish was granted a little further on in the production.

This suite of music was first written in 1998 as a result of a commission from the Portland (ME) Arts Society. Christian McBride explained:

“At that time, there was no big band involved. Just simply my quartet and a choir. …The commission specifically requested a choral element. I had little experience writing lyrics, much less writing for a choir.”

That’s where J.D. Steele comes to the rescue. He became McBride’s partner in this piece and did a monumental job arranging and orchestrating the voices. McBride’s original quartet, along with a small choir, played four concerts in seven days travelling to Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Idaho. Ten years later, in 2008, while Christian McBride was beginning his third season as the Los Angeles Philharmonic Creative Chair for Jazz, he was offered an opportunity to replay this project at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and with a full big band. The big band had been his dream all along, so McBride quickly agreed. Thus, developed this four-part suite for jazz big-band, small jazz group, gospel choir and four narrators. For the voice of Rosa Parks, McBride chose poet, author and activist, Sonia Sanchez.

“Sonia is one of our greatest voices. She was part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and early 70s,” McBride explained.

For the voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he invited Wendell Pierce, the character actor from ‘The Wire’ and ‘Treme’. He also included actors Vondie Curtis-Hall and Dion Graham to play Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The suite begins with the spotlight on Sister Rosa Parks. It moves to Malcolm X, with an introduction by the words of Rosa Parks. Malcolm’s suite includes the rich, emotional lead vocals of Alicia Olatuja singing Malcolm’s praises. The narrator-voice of Malcolm X eventually introduces his friend and follower, boxing champion and Muslim activist, Cassius Clay, who would change his name to Muhammad Ali. The fourth suite celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King. There is a fifth suite added to celebrate the election of President Barack Obama titled, “Apotheosis, November 4, 2008.” This came about after Christian McBride was invited to present his historic suite of music at the Detroit Jazz Festival and to expand it to include a tribute piece to our then, African-American, 44th President of the United States. This artistic and historic piece of music ends with quotes from Obama’s victory speech.

“It’s the answer spoken by young and old. Rich and poor. Democrat and Republicans. Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled; Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America. … In this country we rise and fall as one people,” spoke President Obama.

This is an unusual and inspirational suite of music that should be a teaching aid in schools across the world and a collector’s gem in all jazz collections.

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