NEW RELEASES, NEW BEGINNINGS, & SOLO MASTERPIECES

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
June 1, 2020

PASQUALE GRASSO – “SOLO MASTERPIECES” Sony Masterworks

Pasquale Grasso, guitar.

Pasquale was born in Italy and now resides in New York City. He was busy gigging and working on his technique, when a mention by iconic guitarist, Pat Metheny put a bright spotlight on his career. In an interview for Vintage Guitar magazine in 2016, Metheny referred to Grasso as “The best guitar player I’ve heard in maybe my entire life is floating around now; Pasquale Grasso. This guy is doing something so amazingly musical and so difficult,” Metheny shared with the magazine representative.

Well, that kind of statement can certainly point an important finger at an artist and apply unexpected attention. Pasquale Grasso was probably as surprised as the magazine readers.

“What’s interesting about Pasquale,” Pat Metheny continued, “Mostly what I hear now are guitar players who sound a little bit like me mixed with a little bit of John Scofield and a little bit of Bill Frisell. … He doesn’t sound anything like that. …His model, which is an incredible model to have, is Bud Powell. He has somehow captured the essence of that language from piano onto guitar.”

While listening to this project, I agree with Metheny. It’s nice to hear a developing guitarist gear his style and perfect his ‘chops’ with inspiration from bebop pioneers like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell. You could perhaps compare his style to Joe Pass, maybe a bit of Kenny Burrell’s influence, but in Grasso’s biography he compares his style to Art Tatum. When he became acquainted with Art Tatum records, he says it turned his world upside down.

“I couldn’t believe it. I would just play Art Tatum’s Solo Masterpieces box set all day,” Pasquale admitted.

At that point, Grasso wasn’t sure he understood what he was listening to, but one thing was sure. When Art Tatum, (a historic, master jazz pianist) played, he sounded like two or three people were playing the piano. Pasquale wanted to master that technique on guitar. He exhibits that technique on his current Sony masterworks release. Pasquale Grosso is playing ten standard jazz tunes that are absolutely diamonds for your ears. His technique and mastery sparkle. You hear his unusual mastery of the Tatum Technique on the old favorite “Tea for Two.” It sounds like there are two guitar players playing the instrument. Grasso plays a custom-built guitar, designed in France by Trenier Guitar company.

Although neither of his parents are musicians, both Pasquale and his brother, Luigi, grew up enthralled with music. Brothers Luigi Grasso and Pasquale Grasso have both become celebrated musicians. Luigi is a gifted alto saxophonist, who tours globally as a bandleader. Pasquale, has become this genius guitar player. Raised in Ariano Irpino, a bucolic hillside town in Italy’s Campania region, the young man soaked up the music his dad played on the record player. Instead of looking at television, his father had him listening to Chet Baker and Bud Powell albums. When Agostino Di Giorgio, a New York-raised guitar master, moved to Italy to care for his aging grandparents, he and young Pasquale met and the musician mentored the budding, young guitarist.

In 1998, both brothers attended a jazz workshop under the guidance of the legendary jazz pianist, Barry Harris. Harris helped Pasquale Grosso firm up his jazz perspectives. They remain good friends today. His composition, “I’ll Keep Loving You,” is a tribute to his mentor, Barry Harris.

“I’ll Keep Loving You is dedicated to my teacher, the great pianist Barry Harris. He plays it on every concert. I remember being eight years old, hearing him for the first time in Switzerland. It was the moment when I decided to be a musician.”

Always on a mission to self-improve and to be able to execute what he’s hearing in his head, Pasquale Grosso decided he should study classically. He began to fuse his jazz technique with classical overtones and refinements at the Conservatory of Bologna, tutored by guitarist, Walter Zanetti. In 2012, he relocated to New York. It didn’t take long for his reputation to spread like wild fire. He worked with bands led by Ari Roland, Chris Byars and the late sax man, Charles Davis. He performed with Freddie Redd, Frank Wess, Ray Drummond, the late Bucky Pizzarelli and many, many more. In 2015, Pasquale Grasso won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition.

The result of his consistent desire to grow and perfect his playing is evident on this Sony Masterworks recording. He tackles some of the compositions of great bebop artists that he greatly admires like Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and also icons like Duke Ellington. You will enjoy hearing these familiar jazz standards interpreted by the inspired and uniquely talented, Pasquale Grasso.

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LAUREN HENDERSON – “THE SONGBOOK SESSION” Brontosaurus Records

Lauren Henderson, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Eric Wheeler, bass; Allan Mednard, drums.

From the first strains of her voice, I have a flash back to Paris, France. Lauren Henderson’s tone reminds me of the French jazz singers. Perhaps it’s the tremolo in her voice or her emotional warmth. There is something soothing and satisfying about Lauren Henderson’s style and presentation. However, here is a vocalist with roots in the Caribbean, in Panama and the British territory, island of Montserrat. She has picked eight songs that are part of the jazz standard book, beginning with “while We’re Young.” Sullivan Fortner is both supportive and tenacious on piano while accompanying her. Allan Menard knows just when to accent on his drum set and he transitions from jazz to Latin rhythms in a heartbeat. Ms. Henderson moves smoothly from English to Spanish on “Sabor A Mi” and on the familiar Jobim tune, “Meditation” she sings in Portuguese. Her eclectic vocal influences spread across genres smoothly, like caramel icing on a sweet cake. This is jazz with a world music twist. Lauren Henderson’s unique style and sound is both haunting and emotional. Whether she’s swinging “Beautiful Love” or performing “Besame Mucho” in Spanish, her tone and attitude draw us into her songs, quicksand strong! This is a voice to remember. One that is dynamic and recognizable. This is generally the telltale sign of a super successful, vocal powerhouse.

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GABRIEL CHAKARJI – “NEW BEGINNING” Independent Label

Gabriel Chakarji, piano/composer/producer/background vocals; Carmela Ramirez, voice/co-producer; Edward Perez, bass; Daniel Prim & Jeickov Vital, percussion/background vocals; Jongkuk Kim, drums; Morgan Guerin, tenor saxophone; Adam O’Farrill, trumpet.

Venezuelan pianist, Gabriel Chakarji, blends jazz, Afro-Latin and Caribbean music like a sweet pionono or jellyroll cake. He rolls the music up in a delicious ball of energy, spicy cultures and rhythmic excitement. Opening with “Mina/San Millan” Chakarji adds vocal chants that remind us of the African influence on South American music and rooted in American jazz. The powerful vocals of Carmela Ramierez are formidable. Gabriel Chakarji explains:

“All my influences of South-American, Caribbean and Black-American music have one source in common: Africa. We’re trying to bring out all the shared elements, the places where many musical traditions live together, instead of focusing on the genres and stereotypes. We need more of this spirit in a society that suffers from racism, prejudice and wars. We want to create a space where music can shift paradigms,” Chakarji shares.

As a pianist and composer, Gabriel Chakarji sets the bar high. His compositions are melodic and are also arranged in very exciting ways that reflect his emotional, hot-blooded, Latin culture. Using percussion to spice his arrangements and horns to punch and propel the pieces, his piano excellence interplays with the band members. He has a style unto himself. After establishing his beautiful melodic phrases, Chakarji dives into improvisation and swiftly swims across the keys. On “New Danza” I enjoy the game of ‘Tag’ his piano played with trumpeter Adam O’Farrill. Daniel Prim and Jeickov Vital excite the music with their percussion work and the addition of Morgan Guerin on tenor saxophone fattens the horn lines. On the fade, the African chants are back and throughout the piece we enjoy the sweet soprano vocals of Ms. Ramierez. She also co-produced this album of fine music. The interplay between Edward Perez on bass and Chakarji’s piano is very effective on the tune titled, “No Me Convence.” It begins quite classically and with one of those melodies that you love to love. The double bass steps from the shadows into the light, with a solo that captures our imagination. It’s a pleasant surprise when this tune turns from ballad to funk, in a smooth flowing way. This song seems to brandish the developing style and technique of this composer/ arranger. He knows how to gently change tempos, moods and music with the flick of his wrist and the dot of his pen. Gabriel Chakarji takes us on a rich, cultural adventure with this production. He both surprises us and pleases us with this innovative direction. His innovation and artfulness is perfectly depicted in the wonderful CD cover artwork of Henry Paz. I wish more artists paid this kind of attention to the way their album covers look, as well as the way it sounds.

“New Beginnings” offers a powerful, signature sound on the piano, established by Gabriel Chakarji’s lovely compositions and musical style. He has planted his roots culture-deep in his music and is open to developing and blossoming the fruit of his labors in unexpected and delicious ways.

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MAYITA DINOS –“THE GARDEN IS MY STAGE” Dash Hoffman Records

Mayita Dinos, vocals; Bill Cantos & Rich Eames, piano; Gabe Davis, acoustic bass; Hussain Jiffry, electric bass; Dori Amarilio, guitar; Steve Hass, drums; Tiki Pasillas, drums & percussion; Michael Hunter, trumpet/flugelhorn; Alex Budman, flute/clarinet/soprano saxophone.

Multi-media artist, vocalist, painter and landscape designer, Mayita Dinos has chosen a diverse and beautiful repertoire on her premier recording. I must say that her artwork, paintings that don the pages of her CD multi-page booklet-insert, is quite impressive. Opening with the Charlie Parker standard, “Ornithology” (singing her own original lyrics) and then re-interpreting Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright’s tune, “Come Back as a Flower,” Mayita Dinos shows us that she is fearless. These are songs both challenging and demonstrative of her love for a garden. She sings the Thelonious Monk butterfly tune, “Pannonica,” and then, with Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” song, she finally hits her groove. Mayita Dinos sounds more like a folk singer than a jazz singer, no matter how many jazz songs she sings. A repertoire doesn’t make you a jazz singer. It’s the style, the swing, and the ability to improvise and reinterpret songs in a unique way that allow an artist to claim the adjective ‘jazz.’ Still, Mayita Dinos has a pleasing voice and on this premier recording she impressively sings in Spanish and English.

Mayita’s emphasis on and love of gardens is qualified because of her decades-long career as an in-demand landscape designer. She specializes in sustainable landscape & horticulture. At this point, becoming a singer qualifies her as an opsimath. Suddenly, the garden has transformed to her stage. The encouragement and coaching of the late, great pianist and vocal coach, Howlett Smith and vocalist/co-producer on this project, Cathy Segal Garcia, fueled this album concept. With the loving support of her husband, this album has finally blossomed and come to fruition. The hand-picked musicians offer wonderful support. Every track is strong and the music is all jazz. Dori Amarilio has done an outstanding job as a co-producer, arranger, mixer, coach and guitarist. But Mayita’s outstanding talent for me is her painting abilities. She is quite an artist and I fell in love with her CD jacket and each original piece of art that is beautifully reflective of the songs she sings.
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DAVE STRYKER WITH BOB MINTZER & THE WDR BIG BAND – “BLUE SOUL” – StrikeZone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar/composer; Bob Mintzer, conductor/arranger/tenor saxophone; Hans Dekker, drums; John Goldsby, bass; Billy test, piano/organ; Jens Neufang, baritone saxophone; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor saxophones; Johan Horlen & Karolina Strassmayer, alto saxophones; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone; Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm & Andy Hunter, trombones; Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer & Ruud Breuls, trumpets.

What do you get when you put the WDR Big Band, saxophonist and arranger, Bob Mintzer and guitarist Dave Stryker in the same room? “Blue Soul!” This is an exceptional album of beautifully arranged big band charts, enhanced by the soulful guitar solos of one of New York’s most in-demand producers and guitarists. Stryker has stretched out from his small ensemble recordings to the big-band-stage. He brings his ability to brilliantly infuse blues and soul into any project he touches. Surrounded by the all-star WDR big band players and encouraged by Bob Mintzer’s lush arrangement skills, Stryker shines brighter than ever.

Bob Mintzer is a world-class act on his own. The saxophonist serves as the principal conductor for Cologne, Germany’s WDR Big Band and is applauded widely for his plush big band arrangements and saxophone talents. After making several appearances as a guest with Dave Stryker’s Organ Trio, Mintzer started mulling around the idea of featuring Dave with his popular, world-class, big band. Mintzer thought Dave’s jazzy take on the 70s pop and R&B songs from his “Eight Track” recording series would adapt perfectly as the crux of a big band project. So, Dave was invited to Germany for a week of rehearsing, recording and performing. This project is the result.

“Bob is one of the best musicians and people I know,” Stryker says in his liner notes. “I’ve been a fan of his playing since my early days in New York City and to get the chance to have Bob Arrange and play my music, with the incredible WDR Big Band, is a huge thrill and honor.”

The ensemble covers a number of familiar pop and rhythm and blues songs including a dynamic arrangement of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” tune, Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.” Also included are a number of songs Stryker composed and one written by Mintzer titled, “Aha.” Stryker’s original composition, “Blues Strut” allows Billy Test to show off his organ chops and Bob Mintzer lays down a fiery tenor sax solo. The horn section contributes staccato embellishments, like brass finger-snaps, to the arrangement.

They close this album, swinging hard, with Stanley Turrentine’s tune, “Stan’s Shuffle” giving Mintzer another opportunity to dazzle us on tenor sax. As portrayed by the insightful cover art, this album is steamy hot and makes for a delightful and insightful listen. As always, Dave Stryker shines jazzy headlights on 1970 hit songs, refreshing them with his bluesy and innovative guitar, along with the able assistance of the WDR big band.
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DAVID K. MATHEWS – “THE FANTASY VOCAL SESSIONS – VOL 2. SOUL, POP, R&B – Effendi records

David K. Mathews, piano/organ/keyboards/synthesizers; Jim Nichols, Ray Obiedo, Chris Cain, Carl Lockett & Bruce Conte, guitar; Dewayne Pate & Marc Van Wageningen, Electric bass; Peter Barshay & John Witala, acoustic bass; Billy Johnson, Akira Tana, Deszon Claiborne, Vince Lateano, Kevin Hayes & Brian Collier, drums; Peter Michael Escovedo & Michael Spiro, percussion; Mel Martin & Wayne de Silva, tenor sax; Joe Cohen, Tenor/Alto/baritone sax; Jeff Cressman & Mike Rinta, trombones; Bill Ortiz, Mike Olmos & Louis Fasman, trumpets; Lilan Kane, Kimko Joy & Leah Tysse, background vocals; string septet, Magik*Magik Orchestra: Minna Choi, arranger/conductor; Liana Barube, Stephanie Bibbo & Heather Powell, violin; Phil Brezina, Evan Buttemer & Ivo Bokulic, viola; Michelle Kwon, cello. Featured GUEST VOCALISTS: Tony Lindsay, Amikaeyla, Lady Bianca, Steve Miller, Funky Fred Ross, Glenn Walters, Kenny Washington & Alex Ligertwood.

I usually relegate myself to only reviewing jazz, but some music crosses borders so elegantly, like this one, that I have to slide into a new perspective. This is a musical love letter from David K. Mathews to the best of the Bay area of Northern California. It’s the second release in a series to celebrate David K’s San Francisco roots. Mathews is an eclectic piano performer who joined Tower of Power when he was twenty-three years old. David spent twenty years accompanying Etta James and since 2010, he’s been touring the world as a keyboard member of the great Santana organization. His talents have been utilized and endorsed by such iconic entertainers as India Arie, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur, the amazing Taj Mahal, the legendary Wayne Shorter and Toots Thieleman and even the iconic Latin, Pop, queen, Gloria Estefan, to mention only a handful of artists.

During this soulful production, his gospel chops on the piano are as strong and rooted as his jazz excellence. You clearly hear his gospel influence on the Donny Hathaway composition, “You Had to Know,” where Tony Lindsay’s soulful vocals leave quite an impact.

Opening with a hit record made popular by the Isley Brothers, jazz vocalist Amikaeyla Gaston, puts her mark on “For the Love of You” in a profound way. Amikaeyla is an activist and educator who’s recorded with a number of power players around the San Francisco area and also traveled the world, using music to heal and uplift. Her voice is like honey butter; sweet, smooth and sultry. She also performs Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman” composition, arranged as a medley with Stevie’s “Where Were You When I Needed You?” and the popular Jimmy Webb song, “Wichita Lineman.” The Carl Lockett jazzy guitar solo on “Superwoman” is quite deserving of a thumbs up!

The Ray Charles inspired arrangement of “One Mint Julep” has a plush, big band sound and features David K. Mathews moving from piano to organ. He’s playing those familiar licks I heard Ray play many times over on the ‘Genius + Soul = Jazz’ album. Steve Miller provides the vocals and also plays lead guitar on this tune. Lady Bianca is rhythm and blues royalty in the San Francisco area. David K. Mathew features her powerhouse vocals on the Donny Hathaway hit record, “Giving Up” (a Van McCoy composition).

“She has the kind of power and believability that reminds me a lot of my beloved Etta,” Mathew reminisces. “We go back a long way to when I was a very young and green keyboard player tiptoeing my way through the Oakland soul and blues scene.”

Celebrated jazz vocalist, Kenny Washington, closes this album out singing, “Yesterday.” The San Francisco Chronicle referred to Washington as “the Superman of the Bay Area jazz scene.”

His album title, “Fantasy Sessions” is a double-entendre, referring to both Mathews’ fantasy to put out a series of recordings featuring his favorite singers and musicians in the Bay Area and also to reference the famous studio where he recorded this album, a studio other great artists utilized like Sonny Rollins and Charlie Mingus; the former Fantasy Studios. Sadly, they closed their doors in 2018.

All in all, this is an enjoyable and well-produced album. Mathew’s keyboard work, as well as the Northern California musicians he uses, is stellar. The featured vocalists, he introduces to us, add depth and beauty to the David K. Mathew project.
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JONATHAN BARBER & VISION AHEAD – “LEGACY HOLDER” Vision Ahead Music

Jonathan Barber, drums/composer; Taber Gable, piano/Fender Rhodes/Synthesizer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Mar Vilaseca, vocals/piano on track 1.

Jonathan Barber is a 30-year-old drummer and composer, already having ten years under his belt as a working musician, who strives to incorporate a theme into his music production. The theme of this project is Legacy.

“We all are Legacy Holders. We must stand strong for the cause and assist in making change. The continuation of unity or division relies on us,” Jonathan Barber explains his concept for this album.

One of my favorite tunes on this album is titled “Major” and is straight-ahead, melodic and features Godwin Louis on alto saxophone blowing his solo like life itself depends on it. Afterwards, Taber Gable takes time to unfold his talents across the 88-keys of the grand piano and provides a creative introduction for Barber to solo on trap drums. This is followed by a pretty ballad titled, “Seconds & Seasons.” This arrangement gives bassist, Matt Dwonszyk an opportunity to step forward and soak up the spotlight. Andrew Renfroe’s electric guitar is stellar and changes the complexion of this music in wonderful ways. I found the repetitive piano staccato part a bit redundant and I think it took away from the drum solo rather than supporting it. The original composition, “Son of Hartford” tributes Jonathan Barber’s native roots in Connecticut. It’s a very electronic and blues-based arrangement, with funk injected like a 1960 dose of rock ‘n roll. The guitarist once again leads the way and sets the tone. On the fade, the piano and the drums have a quick conversation. “29” closes the CD out with a more bebop type arrangement. Barber’s drums are busy and inspired in the background, not necessarily grounded in swing or straight-ahead, but rather like a locomotive engine, pushing the production forward. Once again, the piano gets stuck in that staccato repetitiveness and I’m grateful when Jonathan Barber let’s his chops shine during his drum solo without musical support. On this composition, we can clearly hear and experience Barber’s power and drive on his instrument.

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One Response to “NEW RELEASES, NEW BEGINNINGS, & SOLO MASTERPIECES”

  1. REVIEW: Gabriel Chakarji, Jonathan Barber & Lauren Henderson Reviewed on Musical Memoirs's Blog - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] By Dee Dee McNeil, Musical Memoirs’s Blog […]

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