MUSIC THAT BLENDS GENRES AND CULTURES

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

June 30, 2020

THE MARK HARVEY GROUP – “A RITE FOR ALL SOULS”                            Americas Music Works

Mark Harvey, brasswinds; Peter H. Bloom, woodwinds; Craig Ellis & Michael Standish, percussion.

On October 31, 1971, nearly half a century ago, inside the sanctuary of Boston’s historic Old West Church, the Mark Harvey Group presented “A Rite for All Souls.”  The Old West Church dates all the way back to 1737 and was once part of the Underground Railroad during the American Revolution.   Picture the Aural theater, a space illuminated by a few flickering candles.  A red exit sign is mounted at each of three doors.  The musicians are improvising and several diverse, acoustical instruments and sound-making devices are arranged as a kind of sculpture in the middle of the space.  Stage center, two-color illustrations are displayed on a table.  The paintings depict tarot cards.  One is of “The Moon” which, in the physical world represents deception and hidden enemies.  The other art piece is “The Tower,” from the tarot cards, Arcanum XVI; a representation of chastisement of pride.   On that day, long ago, the performers entered the space, sounding organ pipes and they were hooded in monk robes.  That must have stunned the audience and garnered their undivided attention.

Four musicians captured the spotlight.  Mark Harvey was the brass player.  Peter H. Bloom played woodwinds and Craig Ellis along with Michael Standish were percussionist.  They employed a large array of acoustic Western and non-Western classical, familiar and unfamiliar instruments, along with toys and odd objects to create a variety of sounds.  For example, along with trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn and organ pipes, they incorporated a conch shell, kazoos, shakers, mbira, children’s toys and saxophones. You will hear a clarinet, flutes, bells and whistles.  The list of sound effects is long and the music is spontaneous to support recitations by actors who share the work of W. B. Yeats, Jack Spicer, and others.  They open with a piece called “Spel Against Demons” by Gary Snyder. This Snyder poem concludes with an ancient Sanskrit chant that sings against the improvising Mark Harvey Group.

The Mark Harvey Group (MHG) originally was an eight-piece band in 1969.  They played hard-bop, modal and jazz-rock.  Mark Harvey was an intern-minister at Boston’s Old West Church (a United Methodist organization) and the group became the resident jazz ensemble there.  By the 1970’s, the group had evolved.  They became a free jazz ensemble, leaning towards the style of Ornette Coleman and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.  They moved from their former jazz tradition to a more contemporary style, performing improvisational music from group compositions and in a sort of collective ritual experience.  You will experience this Avant Garde jazz approach on “A Rite for All Souls.”  The poetry reflects the tumultuous times and the ‘Hippie’-type, revolutionary upheaval during the 1970s.  It was the Age of Aquarius, with everyone sporting long hair, or thick afro-hair framing I’m-black-and-I’m-proud faces.  It was a time of psychedelic drug experimentation and revolutionary thinking.  Mark Harvey thinks that our world today is a ‘through-the-looking-glass’ kind of experience from his music then to the challenging times of 2020. 

“As Albert Ayler said, music is the healing force of the universe.  There are moments that are turbulent and the music reflects that, but overall, we were trying to point in a direction towards progress and healing,” Harvey explains their inspired production in his liner notes.

Harvey has long been an activist, a trumpeter, composer, educator and minister in the Boston community for more than fifty years.  He founded the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra in 1973.  He continues to lead that orchestra as music director, principal composer and arranger.  This year they open their 48th fall season.  The Jazz Journalists Association named him a Boston Jazz Hero in 2015 and in 2019 Jazz Boston honored him with the Roy Haynes Award for his exceptional contributions to jazz. 

Peter H. Bloom also has a career spanning over five decades.  He and Mark Harvey have performed together since 1969 and he’s also a member of the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra since 1976.  This master woodwind player is a founding member of the jazz and tap ensemble (the Modernistics).  Bloomhas led his own jazz groups for decades.  Sadly, the two percussion players of the group have made their transition from this Earth.  Craig Eaton Ellis died in 2006 and Michael Standish passed in 2014.

It must be very rewarding and quite nostalgic to listen, once again, to their youthful, energetic , musical experimentation while performing “A Rite for All Souls.”  It’s a double-set production, to encompass their two-act play.  The only question this project brings to mind is, why are we still in the same tumultuous place in our society as we were fifty years ago?  Why are we still wrestling with many of the same unsolved problems and challenges, in our country and in our world?  These problems that were terrorizing us half a century ago are still challenging us today.  Why are we still divided by race, class and religion? This music and their message will make you think hard and long about that!

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SHO – SPANISH HARLEM ORCHESTRA – “THE LATIN JAZZ PROJECT”      ArtistShare

Oscar Hernandez, piano/arranger/composer/leader;  Hector Colón, Jonathan Powell, & Manuel “Maneco” Ruiz, trumpet/flugelhorns; Doug Beavers & Noah Bless, trombones; Jorge Castro & Mitch Frohman, baritone saxophone; Luisito Quintero, timbales/shekere/shakers/chimes; George Delgado, congas; Jorge Gonzalez, bongos; Gerardo “Jerry” Madera, bass; Jeremy Bosch, flute/vocal; Marco Bermudez & Carlos Cascante, vocals. SPECIAL GUESTS: Kurt Elling, vocals; Joe Locke, vibraphone; Jimmy Haslip, bass; Tom Harrell, Jonathan Powell & Michael Rodriguez, trumpets; Dave Liebman, Bob Mintzer, Bob Franceschini & Miguel Zenon, saxophones.

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra is blending Latin fire, sparkling percussive brilliance and traditional jazz in a multi-colored spotlight.  Opening with an original composition by producer, Oscar Hernandez, “Ritmo De Mi Gente” dances off my Cd player.   Orchestra leader, Hernandez, is featured on piano and has arranged this up-tempo, hip-swaying tune.   Jeremy Bosch is brightly featured on the flute.  For the past seventeen years, this three-time Grammy Award winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra (SHO) has earned their reputation as a premier salsa ensemble and lauded for their ability to blend their Latin cultural music with jazz.   The director and orchestra leader, Oscar Hernandez, is celebrated by many as one of the most important Latin jazz pianists of his generation.

“We have always been steeped in the tradition of Latin jazz.  It makes sense for us to finally get to this point.  I couldn’t be more proud of this project and this band,” Oscar Hernandez elaborated in his liner notes.

Track two, “Bobo,”  features L. A. based, big band leader, Bob Mintzer, lending his talents on saxophone. On the familiar and beautiful standard, “Invitation,” the distinctive vocals of Kurt Elling are prominent, with a rich saxophone solo by Miguel Zenon.  The orchestra propels these songs with excitement and percussive brilliance by Luisito Quintero, George Delgado and Jorge Gonzalez.  Throughout this production, the surprise appearances of several iconic musicians add credence and icing to this sweet, musical cake.  You will hear former Yellow Jackets member, Jimmy Haslip, on electric bass during their arrangement of “Silent Prayers” along with the iconic Dave Liebman on saxophone.  The energetic arrangement of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” becomes a Salsa stage to feature the trumpet of Jonathan Powell.   All in all, here is a lovely Latin album featuring tight, well-rehearsed arrangements, stellar orchestra members and a star-studded list of special guests.  What’s not to love?

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DANIEL HERSOG JAZZ ORCHESTRA –“NIGHT DEVOID OF STARS”            Cellar Music

Daniel Hersog, conductor/composer/leader/arranger; Frank Carlberg, piano; James Meger, bass; Michael Sarin, drums; Chris Startup, alto saxophone/clarinet; Michael Braverman, alto & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone; Tom Keenlyside, tenor sax/flute/piccolo/alto flute; Ben Henriques, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Michael Kim, Brad Turner, Derry Byrne & Jocelyn Waugh, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rod Murray, Jim Hopson & Brian Harding, trombone;  Sharman king, bass trombone.

“Night Devoid of Stars” is a lovely title and the Daniel Hersog repertoire seem to relate to the title in poetic ways starting with “Cloud Break,” one of six original songs on this album of seven.  The only cover song is one of my favorites, “Smoke Get in Your Eyes” which would certainly keep you from seeing the stars.  However, the actual title of this CD was adapted from a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of starts.”

Daniel Hersog is a talented, Canadian composer whose chord-changes lend themselves to improvisational solos that take full advantage of the space, time and harmonics.  “Cloud Break” is a great way to start the album and Hersog wrote it to describe the warmth and light of sun breaking through the clouds.  Brad Turner soaks up the spotlight with his trumpet solos, as does Noah Preminger on tenor saxophone.  At first, the horn section of the orchestra sets the mood and Frank Carlberg’s piano chording creates a tone and attitude at the top, along with those horns.  Michael Sarin’s drums pulsate beneath the harmonic introduction and push the exciting trumpet solo with a double time feel.  He floats through the time changes seamlessly.  This is interesting music and great arranging.  Nothing boring here.  Mr. Hersog holds my attention tightly, like clothes pins on the line pinning down the trembling laundry.  His beautiful compositions blow in a forceful, musical wind.

“Artists are first and foremost humans trying to make sense of the turbulence of these times.  This is my way through the social, political and racial cleavages that came to define 2019.  I wrote much of this in what can be called the hangover of democracy, the groping in the dark that once venerable institutions were doing in 2019.  … I got to work.  The result is perhaps inadvertently, a political and social commentary.  If it was accidental, it also feels deeply essential,” Daniel Hersog explained his inspiration to create this project.

This is Vancouver-based, jazz composer, Daniel Hersog’s debut, 16-piece orchestra album.  His composer excellence is vividly portrayed.  He is also a trumpeter and arranger, as well as a jazz trumpet instructor at Capilano University, where he writes for the school’s big band.  Favorite cuts are: “Cloud Break,” the pretty ballad, “Makeshift Memorial” and the title tune, “Night Devoid of Stars,” where the full orchestra roars and celebrates with lots of horn cadences and Frank Carlberg’s restless piano solo sends fingers chasing each other up and down the 88-keys.  The Jerome Kern tune, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” is represented very hauntingly, with James Meger’s bass an integral part of the piano introduction and the horns sweeping into the arrangement with crescendos of power.  Daniel Hersog explains:

“This arrangement alternates between lush, warm ensemble sounds and Carlberg’s devastatingly beautiful solo piano.  Frank provides my favorite musical moment of this whole record when he drops his arms on to the low end of the piano creating a musical explosion that supports the rest of the melody.  I was left to conduct the rest of this composition with tears welling in my eyes, as I tried to process the depth and beauty of Frank’s musical statement.”

Hersog’s music is exciting, creative and heartfelt.  The various tempo and mood changes keep the listener interested throughout.  The orchestra brings life and loveliness to his compositions.

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TOM RANIER – “THIS WAY”    – Independent Label

Tom Ranier, piano/synthesizer/soprano,alto,tenor,baritone saxophones; clarinets/bass & contra alto clarinet/ composer/orchestrator; Trey Henry, acoustic and electric basses; Ralph Humphrey, drums; Thom Rotella, guitars.

TomRanier’s name is synonymous with studio ‘first call’ musicians, because of his excellent diversity and mastery of several instruments; additionally, because of his professional sight-reading skills.  Based in Southern California, he performs regularly at the Grammys, the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globe events.  Not only does he play piano and synthesizers with excellence, he is also a learned woodwind player.  As I listen to his recent release, I am struck by the classical overtones that stream, like a bright red ribbon, fluidly connecting his arrangements.  Starting with his original composition, “Blue Aria,” Ranier is spotlighted on piano.

“I think albums reflect the life experiences and musical growth of an artist at that particular time.  I’ve developed a broad palette because of all the different kinds of music I’ve been playing, from various pop styles to electronic music to, of course, jazz.  I also studied classical music when I was young and I’ve been influenced by 19th century classical composers.  When I’m composing, I’m not really aware of those influences, but I can certainly hear them in the finished product,” explains Ranier. 

A native of Fullerton, California, Ranier studied clarinet with his father as a pre-teen and at age ten he was already studying classical piano.  At age sixteen, producer and trumpeter, Jack Daugherty, became his mentor for composition.  Daugherty is well-respected for his production of the Gold Record duo, The Carpenters.  Ranier has composed six out of the eight songs he offers us on this recording.

Tom Ranier’s reputation as a jazz pianist was elevated during his celebrated performances with vibraphonist, Dave Pike. He recorded with him in 1983 on his “Moonbird” album.  In fact, Ranier has worked with a number of jazz artists of note like iconic bassist, Ray Brown and vibe master, Milt Jackson.  Ranier co-led a band with bassist John Heard and drummer Sherman Ferguson.  But as he expressed above, his love of various musical genres and his studio reputation kept him busy playing much more than jazz.  You can hear his piano chops on many TV shows and films including “Beauty and the Beast”, “Star Trek: Enterprise” and “Family guy.” Other films he’s played on are “Forest Gump,” “Ted,” and “Frozen.”  He acted as keyboard player and arranger for the popular, televised family show, “Dancing With the Stars” for eight years and he’s a member of the orchestra that makes music for “The Simpsons” show since 2011. 

This album reflects decades of playing many instruments, working with many masters and honing his artistry during every encounter. On “This Way,” Tom Ranier offers us a generous helping of his singular, musical prowess.  With the able assistance of his hand-picked ensemble, embellished by his own arrangements, his original compositions and creative orchestration, you will find this project an easy-listening, artistic experience.

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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “BruMa” (translates to mist) and CELEBRATES MILTON NASCIMENTO”    –  AAM Music

Antonio Adolfo, piano/arranger/producer; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; Dada Costa & Claudio Spiewak, percussion; Jesse Sadoc, trumpet/flugelhorn; Marcello Martins, tenor & alto saxophone; flute; Danilo Sinna, alto saxophone; Lula Galvao & Leo Amuedo, electric guitars; Claudio Spiewak, electric & acoustic guitars.

Antonio Adolfo first met singer and composer, Milton Nascimento, in 1967.  They were both attending and performing at the Second International Song Festival (FIC) in Rio de Janeiro.  It’s the biggest musical contest event in the country of Brazil, featuring youthful and hopeful composers who long to further their careers.  Although he did not win that contest, Milton Nascimento would go on to become one of Brazil’s most heralded singer-songwriters.  Nascimento’s international reputation was firmly established when he appeared on Wayne Shorter’s 1974 album, “Native Dancer.”  Antonio Adolfo was impressed by the talented Nascimento and his compositions at that very first meeting.  After over half a century of friendship and admiration, Adolfo felt it was time to dedicate an album to Milton Nascimento.

“His compositions broke traditional harmonic and rhythmic patterns, with his modalism and some odd rhythmic meters, all in a spontaneous, intuitive and natural way. … I concluded that Milton is the most modern and profound composer in Brazil. It is no coincidence that so many great musicians fell in love with the music of his carioca (carioca is someone born in Rio de Janeiro) who grew up in Minas Gerais,” Adolfo explained.

The BruMa album title is a double-entendre.  In Portuguese, the word means mist.  However, it also refers to two environmental disasters that destroyed part of the state of Minas Gerais (a place whose music greatly influenced Milton Nascimento).  BruMa combines the first syllable of the cities of Brumadinho and Mariana.  They were both destroyed by earthen dams collapsing that poisoned the rivers and killed hundreds of people. 

“Milton Nascimento and many Brazilians are part of a group effort to ensure that the damage to the territory of Minas Gerais is not forgotten,” Antonio Adolfo enlightened me.

Beginning with “Fe Cega, Faca Amolada,”( that translates to ‘Blind Faith, Sharp Knife’), Antonio has arranged this song with an up-tempo spark and fire that is contagious and exhilarating.  I learn, in the liner notes, that he used the quadrilha style from the Northeast region of Brazil to flavor this arrangement.  The second track, “Nada Sera Como Antes” or (Nothing Will Be As It Was) I first heard on a Sarah Vaughan album years ago. On that same album I heard her interpret Cancao Do Sal or (Salt Song).   One thing you notice right away about the music of Mr. Nascimento is how beautifully melodic his compositions are and Antonio Adolfo’s ensemble represents them with great care, gusto and pride.  Antonio takes a long and spirited solo on “Nada Sera Como Antes.”  His solos, like his arrangements, are plush with creativity and celebrate Milton Nascimento’s interesting harmonies. 

Antonio is, himself, a respected pianist, recording artist and composer.  It took time for him to whittle nine songs out of the thirty or more he originally considered for this project.  But every song is carefully arranged and given splendid interpretation by this group of stellar musicians.  Danilo Sinna’s alto saxophone work colors and infuses these songs with jazzy joyfulness.  Jesse Sadoc is outstanding on trumpet and flugelhorn.  I found Marcelo Martins’ alto flute work on “Encontros E Despedidas” to be both compelling and sensitive, as he sings about encounters and farewells.  Adolfo’s horn arrangements personify the melodies, punching harmonically to enhance our interest and they paint the arrangements colorfully.  But it’s always the piano interpretations of Antonio Adolfo that encapsulates these songs and makes the piano keys tremble beneath the weight of their strength and beauty. 

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DAVE BRYANT – “NIGHT VISITORS”   –  SE RECORDS  

Dave Bryant, piano/keyboards; Charnett Moffett, bass; Greg Bendian, drums.

Piano notes scurry like wild salmon swimming upstream.  Dave Bryant spirals across the black and white keys with energy and purpose.  As one of the few and very selective pianists that Ornette Coleman ever performed and recorded with, you immediately hear this piano player’s love of freedom, excitement and improvisation.  He pushes any restrictive walls that may have stood between him and the universal spirit of music.  His compositions will not be contained or limited.  I am intrigued with his original piece titled, “In Transit,” incorporating his keyboard skills as Greg Bendian’s drums pump the composition up with energy.  Bryant steps aside briefly for Charnett Moffett to bow his double bass in a very beautiful way, underpinning the solo with busy piano notes that harmonically support Moffett’s spotlight moment.  “Scorpio 80” is another favorite, with its blues-soaked arrangement stretching into the universe like a Sunday morning organ service.  Do I hear shades of Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles?  The composition, “Three Night Visitors” is a creative suite made up of three parts.  Additionally, significant to the album title (Night Visitors) a trio of camel-riding shadows on the back cover of this CD reminds us, this is a trio production. It’s an experiment with sound, embracing 70’s fusion jazz, 60’s Avant-garde, gospel and progressive rock.  All of it blends naturally, like an orange, yellow, red and purple sunset.  “Night Visitor” creeps upon us like a restless lion, awakening after a deep sleep; hungry, serious, pacing and searching for ears to hear its mighty roar.  We are listening.

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LA LUCHA – “EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD”                          Arbor Records

John C. O’Leary III, piano/Fender Rhodes/talkbox/moog sub-phatty /voice; Alejandro Arenas, upright & electric bass/voice; Mark Feinman, drums/percussion/voice; SPECIAL GUESTS: Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Diego Figueiredo, acoustic guitar; Ken Peplowski, clarinet/Fender Rhodes/ mood synth/ voice & producer; Houston Person, tenor saxophone; Chuck Redd, vibraphone.

The first song, “Por La Tarde,” is written by bassist, Alejandro Arenas and blends percussive intensity as part of a rich, Latin arrangement.  The addition of Ken Peplowski’s clarinet brings another flavor to the party.  The clarinet lends itself to recollections of a Dixieland band, as it sings the melody over the bold Latin arrangement.  Diego Figueiredo opens the piece on his acoustic guitar and John C. O’Leary III is fluid and percussive on piano.  Figueiredo fires the piece up along with Mark Feinman’s busy drums.  The next track, a pretty ballad titled, “Space Oddity” composed by David Bowie, calms the energy somewhat.  But the busy piano fingers of O’Leary the third, race up and down the 88 keys in double time over Feinman’s solid drum beats. La Lucha takes this Bowie tune to a new level.  The third cut combines two popular jazz tunes to form a jazz medley that features Lullaby of the Leaves and Lullaby of Birdland in a very unique arrangement.  The tempos change and dance, moving from a Latin feel into a straight-ahead swing.  Chuck Redd adds spice to the number on his vibraphone and Feinman takes a spirited drum solo. 

The La Lucha trio project is the perfect example of blending genre’s and cultures.  Their repertoire is engaging and creative.  They follow up their unique medley of lullabies with a “Blues for Houston Person” and the iconic saxophone player appears, in all his splendor, to add his always bluesy tenor saxophone charm to the mix. The group swings hard on this one, giving Arenas an opportunity to solo on bass and guest, Chuck Redd, adds the sweetness of his Vibes. This is a serious blues number and stands alone from the other arrangements.  This trio features, among their special guests, Melissa Aldana on tenor saxophone.  This “1+2” tune (composed by the drummer) is a totally different kind of composition that’s eight minutes long with changing tempos moving seamlessly throughout. 

All in all, here is a baker’s dozen of tunes that cover the spectrum of jazz, blues, pop, R&B and funk.  La Lucha is versatile.  Each one in the trio is a composer, as well as each being an accomplished musician.  They clearly show off their unique ability to create a sound that is objectively their own.  With the guidance of their producer, Ken Peplowski, and buoyed by their impressive list of special guests, La Lucha places their trust in each other.  The group shines as a diversified ensemble that explores their musical possibilities with unapologetic drive and strength of purpose.

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One Response to “MUSIC THAT BLENDS GENRES AND CULTURES”

  1. REVIEW: The Spanish Harlem Orchestra & Dave Bryant Reviewed on Musicalmemoirs's Blog - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] By Dee Dee McNeal, Musicalmemoirs’s Blog […]

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