By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz journalist

June 7, 2020

Can music be employed to control human moods?  According to Science Daily, yes it can.  In 2011, the University of Groningen completed a study that proved music can affect your mood and listening to particularly happy or melancholy music can often change the way we perceive the world. Jacob Jolij and a University student, Maaike Meurs, both from that university Psychology Department, claim that conscious perception is based on what comes into our brains from sight and what you know about the world.  The brain builds expectations based on human mood, sight, sound and individual experiences.  It’s true, music can actually alter visual perception.[1]  For example, in a testing situation, if you were listening to happy music you were usually prone to pick out a happy face, given a choice of faces.  Sad music can inspire subjects to pick out a sad face.  It has also been proven that music can change our behavior.  Studies show tempos, tones and sound levels of music cause emotional effects and physical reactions in people.  Notice how in many dental offices they play classical music softly in the waiting room.  They know that music has been used to relax the mind, to energize the body and to help people cope with stress and manage pain.[2]  So, perhaps the Mathis Sound Orchestra, with their idea of producing an album to encourage “World Unity” is on to something.


Mathis Picard, piano/synthesizer/composer/producer; Savannah Harris, drums/pads; Fernando Saci, percussion; Daniel Winshall, Acoustic & electric bass; Julius Rodrigues, Rhodes/synths; Malanie Charles, flute; Julian Lee & Ruben Fox, tenor saxophone; Anthony orji & Patrick Bartley, alto saxophone; Benny Benach III & Giveton Gelin, trumpets.

The music of Mathis Picard blends a diverse number of genres into each of his arrangements and compositions.  Opening with the title tune, “World Unity” he introduces the listener to a classically influenced introduction on grand piano.  In the background we hear the strain of synthesizer sounds. Then the arrangement blends into a Latin tinged piece, with stride piano overtones.  I am on the edge of my seat to see what this composer will do next.  He does not disappoint.  Several bars in, Savannah Harris pounds a disco beat on his drums and the musical era changes from 1920s to the 1970s when, in 1975, Donna Summers became queen of the airwaves.  The piano of Mathis Picard still captivates, dancing atop his disco groove and interjecting stride piano along with the able assistance of Julius Rodriguez on Rhodes and synthesizer.  Together, this sound orchestra combines the musical best of various times in history, all at the same time.  On “Glitter Eyes” the saxophone solo by Ruben Fox unexpectedly brings ‘straight-ahead’ into the mix.   “Tranquility” is one of this reviewer’s favorite compositions by Mathis, with the lovely flute played by Malanie Charles.  Picard is masterful on piano and powerfully leads his band with vigor.  Picard’s concept for this project is to reflect that society is constantly shifting and changing.  It reinvents itself generation after generation.  Listen to the way his arrangements blossom and grow, ever changing right before our ears.

“Cultures absorb, expand, disappear and alter.  Generations come and go and new technology replaces the old while simultaneously outpacing itself.  The planet is also in a constant state of flux.  Landmasses strain against each other; climates attempt survival and the land itself becomes more extreme.  Because of this, one might assume conflict is natural; that we have many differences from each other and from the planet itself,” Mathis Picard explains his inspiration for releasing this 5-tune, EP of music.

In summation, Mathis Picard hopes his music brings people and cultures together.  Since music is a universal language, it is his dream that this music will inspire world unity, something most of us would really like to see.

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ANGELA TURONE & CHRIS PLATT – “SOUNDS OF BRAZIL”               Independent Label / Support in part from FACTOR – The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recording

Angela Turone, vocals/piano; Chris Platt, guitars; Pat Collins, bass; Robin Claxton, drums; Helio Cunha, percussion; Gordon Sheard, synth drone; Andrew Downing, cello; John Nicholson, flute/saxophone; Chase Sanborn, flugelhorn/trumpet.

Toronto based pianist and vocalist, Angela Turone, along with guitarist, Chris Platt, release their debut album titled, “Sounds of Brazil” to celebrate their appreciation of Brazilian music.  Portuguese is such a romantic language and their choice of familiar Brazilian pieces like “Desafinado” and “Chega de Saudade” will certainly entertain you.  This duo has been performing together since 2014 and Angela Turone’s voice is as pleasant as windchimes playing on a soft, June breeze.  Chris Platt’s tasty guitar licks enhance their production, reflecting a warm camaraderie that’s noticeable between the two artists. Listening to their music made me feel peaceful and brought a smile to my lips. 

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HGTS –“AND THEN THEY PLAYED”Summit Records                    

Jeff Holmes, piano/trumpet; Thomas Giampietro, drums; Fumi Tomita, bass; Felipe Salles, soprano/ alto and tenor saxophones.

The very first song, “Unintentional Hipness” grabbed my attention with its straight-ahead arrangement and staccato background groove.  Written by the saxophonist of the group, Felipe Salles, this quartet of University of Massachusetts faculty members swings right off the bat.  The tune is a home run.  When Jeff Holmes enters on piano, he brings a sweetness and a mood change that is provocative. 

 “Not at All” was written by the group pianist, Jeff Holmes, and its sultry melody slows the pace.  The third track, “Rowley Street” features the composer talents of their bass player, Fumi Tomita.  It features Holmes getting up from the piano to play the trumpet on this cut.  Salles shows his spunk and spark on saxophone and throughout, Fumi Tomita pumps that walking bass into this piece with power and tenacity.  Thomas Giampietro sparkles in the spotlight on his drums and the trumpeter and saxophonist play tag as they enter the piece playfully after the drum solo. They follow this improvisation by playing the melody in unison.  This quartet of musicians is in perfect sync.

Every member of this HGTS group is a composer and together, they cohesively unite to self-express as a singular, tightly-performed unit.  The fourth cut is the title tune.  It features a funky arrangement and a strong, but repetitious melody. One of my favorites on this album is the fifth cut, “Arrival” that opens with a bass solo, with Tomita setting the melody in place against the warm piano chords of Holmes.  Felipe Salles plays a sexy saxophone solo on this piece he’s composed and Giampietro colors the arrangement brightly on his trap drums.  Holmes takes a turn to interpret this pretty ballad on piano, as does Tomita on bass. “Minnesota in Montana” is a funky tune, penned by Tomita.  It’s smooth jazz with an R&B flare and thickly supported by the funky drums of Giampietro.  Jeff Holmes pulls out his blues chops on this one.   I’ll borrow from a quote by Jeff Coffin in the liner notes.

                “You can tell from the downbeat that this is not just another group of musicians making a record.  This is a group of friends making music together.” 

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AJOYO – “WAR CHANT”  – SHEMS Record Label

Yacine Boulares, multi-reedist/bandleader/composer; Sarah Elizabeth Charles, vocalist; Jessie Fischer, keyboards/producer; Kyle Miles, bassist; Michael Valeanu, guitar; Phillipe Lemm, drummer. SPECIAL GUESTS: Vuyo Sotashe & Akie Bermiss, vocals; Takuya Kuroda, trumpet; Joel Ross, vibraphone.

Fresh, funky, jazzy vocal’s move like scats on the first track and the title tune.  “War Chant” introduces us to this World Music project.  Ajoyo is a group that blends cultures.  in their repertoire, they touch on Jazz, American R&B, Latin, pop, shades of Middle Eastern music and Afro-Cuban rhythms.  I am immediately intrigued.  The lyrics, sung by Sarah Elizabeth Charles, set their activist mode into place. She sings:

“Hey you, Tryna hide from my view. Just stop right there.  Sit on down and give a listen. I’m a testify.  I said, “Hey you!” It’s time to pay what’s due… Your viscous ways are a trend of toxic waste. You post and people die.  You talk tough. Typing so fast, misspelling words. You got nothin’ to say. You spew hate, raping our souls with vile lines. Spitting back in your face, make it great again.  America was never great to those of us who were never free. Can’t you see, self-pride is suicide? They’re getting stronger every day now with you as king.  How can we sit by and not realize the damage of your words on future realities?”

The soprano vocals of Ms. Charles are beautiful and emotionally charged.  The only challenge is, there are so many words, moving swiftly with the tempo, and Sarah Elizabeth Charles’ voice is like sweet molasses and hot sauce mixed together.  However, she doesn’t always enunciate clearly.  So, I dug around on the internet to find those lyrics.  I’m glad I did.  They are quite poetic and very clearly spoken from an activist’s perspective.  All the compositions in this release take aim at oppression, xenophobia and greed.  They point an accusing finger at America’s modern-day-problems under the forty-fifth president’s dishonest, self-interest and non-empathetic administration.   All the compositions are written by Yacine Boulares, with Ms. Charles has added the lyrical melody to “War Chant.”  This music is exciting and stimulating.

On the instrumental tune, “Assyko,” special guest Takuya Kuroda adds trumpet spice and jazz overtures atop a hip-hop, repetitive musical theme.  Philippe Lemm motorizes the composition on trap drums and the addition of background vocals, chanting along, enhance the mood and motion.  I enjoyed the change of groove and the vocals of Akie Bermiss on “Jojo’s Groove.”  Michael Valeanu’s electric guitar colorfully paints this song, creating a solo that’s unforgettable and the percussive work is infectious.  

This is the second release by an incredibly unique and critically acclaimed Brooklyn-based ensemble.  Their 2015 release titled after their group name, “Ajoyo” was highly praised, especially for melding, old-world Cameroonian beats with traditional jazz and world music.  I expect this album to also be well-received and highly relevant in our current world of separation, disparity and tribulations.  This music will lift you, but also unlock your mind and make you ruminate, especially if you pay attention to their lyrical content. 

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Wolfgang Muthspiel, guitar/composer; Brian Blade, drums; Scott Colley, bass.  

I absolutely love a good jazz guitar album.  Wolfgang Muthspiel offers us a rich, inspired trio album that features his formidable talents on both acoustic and electric guitars.  His music is so lyrical and melodic, I become enchanted by the very first song titled, “Wondering.”  His drummer is Louisiana-born, Brian Blade and his bassist is Scott Colley, a Los Angeles native.  Scott was mentored by Charlie Haden and has performed with jazz icons like Jim Hall, Andrew Hill, Michael Brecker, Carmen McRae and Bobby Hutcherson to name only a few.  Percussionist, Blade has been a member of the Wayne Shorter Quartet since 2000 and has spread his big bass sound around with artists from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell to Norah Jones, Herbie Hancock and Joshua Redman.  So, Wolfgang Muthspiel is in golden company.  Together, they weave their magic together, strong as a gold link fence, wrapping their tenacious talents around each song.  

“Angular Blues” is the title tune and gives Blade an opportunity to strongly solo on his drums.  When Austrian guitarist, Wolfgang Muthspiel plays an original composition titled, “Camino,” you get the full flood of emotional rendering he manages to pull from each guitar string.  You feel the beauty.  It’s palpable.  Muthspiel’s playing is both pensive and haunting.   He recorded this album at Tokyo’s popular Studio Dede, after a three-night gig at Tokyo’s Cotton Club.  Later, they mixed the album in the South of France.  Wolfgang shows his extraordinary ability playing electric guitar on “Camino,” during a song called, “Ride” and four other tunes.   One of which is “Everything I love” that quickly becomes another of my favorites on this CD. Scott Colley’s bass solo is fluid, artistically appropriate and improvisationally creative. Wolfgang trades fours with Brian Blade, who sparkles in the spotlight.  Muthspiel spoke about his approach to this trio recording:

                “As in many moments with this trio, it’s about playing with space; leaving it, creating it, filling it,” he says in his liner notes.

An attendee of Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music, this Judenburg, Austria native has made quite an impression, with four albums under his belt and The New Yorker Magazine calling him ‘a shining light’ among today’s jazz guitarists.  His music embraces his love of jazz, contemporary and classical styles, but the freedom and flow on this album is all jazz.  Wolfgang Muthspiel currently resides in Vienna.

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Don Littleton, trap drums/percussion/composer; Pablo Calogero, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute/ bass clarinet/composer; John B. Williams & Michael Alvidrez, bass; Hideaki Tokunaga, guitar/tres/sarod; Jane Getz, electric piano; Andrew Acosta, udo drum/percussion; Gabriel “Slam” Nobles, steel drums/vibes/electronic MalletKAT.

A tune called “Modal Citizen” opens with a flurry of sticks and drum licks that sets the straight-ahead groove and tempo.  The word ‘Modal’ is a musical term based on modes other than the major and minor mode most commonly used in music.  Since this is a project celebrating rhythm and drums, that makes perfect sense.  When Pablo Calogero enters on his tenor saxophone, accompanied by John B. Williams on bass, they add a melody to Littleton’s inspired drum licks.  This tune is propelled by the drummer and features just the trio of bass, horn and trap drums.  It’s quite exciting and spontaneous, showcasing the talents of each participating musician in a spotlight of multi-colors.  I’ve witnessed Littleton during his on-stage appearances and he is always full of spark and fire.  You clearly hear this on their original composition. 

The opening tune on this CD is titled, “A Call for All Elephantz” and was penned by Pablo Calogero.  It engages the listener with an amazing and compelling use of instruments like the ‘sarod’ (played by Hideaki Tokunaga), with a sort of sitar sound and with Pablo manning his soprano saxophone, reminding me of Coltrane’s improvisational free style.  Littleton is pushing the ensemble powerfully on drums.  The percussive additions take us into a jungle of sounds and emotions.  Gabriel Nobles adds his steel drum/marimba sounds on an electronic malletKAT.  We are now in the realm of World Music.  In other places, you will enjoy the tasty addition of the ‘tres’ instrument during some of Littleton’s percussive production.  The tres instrument is a Spanish Cuban instrument, a three-course chordophone.  It resembles a guitar in appearance and usually has six strings and is often played in Afro-Cuban music.

Pablo Calogero picks up his bass clarinet and I hear shades of Bennie Maupin and touches of Yusef Lateef on the Jimmy McHugh’s composition, “Let’s Get Lost.”  For this arrangement, bassist John B. Williams joins Littleton and Calogero.  Don Littleton and Pablo collaborate on some of the tunes as songwriters.  For example, “Sleeping Elephants,” where they reduce the energy and tempo to a lullaby pace.  The melody is catchy and pulls the listener’s attention into the whirlpool of percussive drums, bass and tenor saxophone.  The Thelonious Monk composition, “Bye-Ya,” is arranged in a similar way, without piano or guitar, but only showcasing the saxophone, the bass and Littleton’s busy and perfectly timed drums.   This is a mystical album of mastery and creative expression.  It’s full of unexpected surprises.  The song, “Tunapuna,” reminds me of South African music and a dish I used to fix for my small children with Tuna fish and noodles.  It’s a happy-go-lucky Caribbean crusted composition by Littleton, where he sings the melody using “La La La” as his lyric. I can picture scores of children dancing and frolicking to this joyful tune.  

Here is an intoxicating project, released during the Coronavirus Pandemic, and currently available on CD Baby.  It’s absolutely wonderful music; fresh, rhythmic, melodic and features the uninhibited drum mastery of Don Littleton.   His project is embellished by the brilliance of Pablo Calogero on woodwinds and two stellar bass players; John B. Williams and Michael Alvidrez.  When they do add piano to an arrangement, the music is amplified by the tasty licks of Jane Getz.  Both ‘Slam’ Noble and Andrew Acosta bring exciting rhythm with their percussive coloration.

Don explained to me the title of this album, “Elephants Nda Park.” He hopes his music will inspire activism and change consciousness when it comes to love, protection and care for elephants.

“I put on the back of the record that we support elephant conservation and that elephants should not be killed or destroyed for their ivory tusks.  I just don’t like the idea of them killing elephants. It’s all about elephant conservation.  ‘Elephants Nda Park’ with the park being their home, and not necessarily being in a zoo, but being free; in the Serengeti.  The whole Serengeti should be their park.” 

This artistic work by Don Littleton is way overdue and deserves to be heard on every radio station worldwide. It’s one of the best things I’ve listened to all Spring.

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Sharon Isbin, guitar; Amjad Ali Khan, sarod; Amaan Ali Bangash, sarod; Ayaan Ali Bangash, sarod; Amit Kavthekar, table.

Sharon Isbin is a multiple Grammy-Winning guitarist.  On this CD, she is celebrating the tradition of ragas and talas birthed in North Indian classical music.   Amjad Ali Khan has composed all four songs for this project based on popular ragas and arranged expressly for Sharon Isbin.   The four artists are joined by Amit Kavthekar on tabla.  Amit is a disciple of Indian drummers like Alla Rakha and his son Zakir Hussain.

Sharon Isbin titled the music of Khan (with emphasis on guitar and sarod) “sheer genius.”  Many people have heralded this quartet’s ability to use their mystical and traditional music to cross barriers of language and culture.  A sense of unity exists in this emotional music that blends Indian tradition with Western music by connecting the sarod and guitar.  Both instruments are stringed and encourage the musicians to pluck and play them similarly.  The idea here is to cross-fertilize both the cellular and cosmic levels of Western and Eastern classical music traditions.  They seem to have easily accomplished this with “Strings for Peace.”  Although I would not classify this music as jazz, it fits perfectly into the realm of music that is created to change consciousness and unite cultures.

The documentary “Sharon Isbin: Troubadour” has been made available on over 200 PBS Stations across the United State and abroad.  It won the ASCAP Television Broadcast Award.  Isbin has over thirty albums released and has sold nearly a million copies.  This is another plume in the beautiful hat she wears to celebrate her successful and artistic achievements.

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Sasha Mashin, drums; Josh Evans, trumpet; Rosario Giuliani, alto saxophone; Dmitry Mospan, tenor saxophone; Benito Gonzalez, piano; Makar Novikov, bass.

Sasha Mashin is a St. Petersburg, Russia-native, a bandleader and drummer.  This is his sophomore album, following up his debut recording titled, “Outsidethebox.”  Inspired by John Coltrane’s album, “Africa/Brass,” a gift to him from the bandleader of a Dixieland band, where Sasha was once a band member, opened the fledgling jazz drummer to bigger and better projects.  This Coltrane album showed him the power of art and how art can influence the human mind and spirit.  His purpose and creative direction from that moment to this one, has been to understand the power of music and that the human mind can accept a whole host of information that colors the chemical make-up of our brain.  This information can be used to improve and benefit human kind.  With that understanding in mind, Sasha Mashin formed a group that would bring that kind of change and resolution to the music. The result is an album divided into two parts.  Part one opens this album with a song by their alto saxophonist, Rosario Giulianni, titled “The Hidden Voice.” It’s an awesome way to open this very well-done production.  The group is on fire!  Sasha begins the tune on his drums, setting the pace and presenting an improvisational introduction.  On the second song, written by Dmitry Mospan (the tenor saxophone of the group) the arrangement starts out in an Afro-Cuban rhythm of 6/8 and featuring Makar Novikov’s talents on bass.  It’s called, “Incantation.”  The three horns are ripe with harmony and Sasha Mashin drives them with his ever-constant percussive energy.  Every song on this album, along with every musician, pushes the limits of their talents to express the music and themselves.  This is straight-ahead jazz that scratches the edges of ‘outside-the-box’ and pushes into unknown and exciting new territories, happily dragging us along with them.  The original compositions are well-written.  Benito Gonzalez, brilliant on piano, shows us captivating creativity during his solo, as does Josh Evans, manning the trumpet.  This song gives everyone an opportunity to dance among the flames, because this album is red hot, from start to finish. Sasha takes over at the end of the tune, displaying his power and tenacity on trap drums.  He’s more than entertaining.  Sasha Mashin is impressive! 

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  1. REVIEWS: Mathis Sound Orchestra, Ajoyo & Sasha Mashin Reviewed on Musical Memoirs's Blog - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

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

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