Archive for July, 2020


July 24, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 23, 2020


This vocalist has a sweet, smooth, alto sound as she delivers a ballad tribute to those of us who have been self-quarantined for the past several months, while trying not to catch the CoronaVirus and/or not to spread it.  She has invited a host of players from all over the world to contribute their violin talents to her orchestration.  You see contributing musicians, as in a Zoom meeting, along with several black and white videos of people (worldwide) who are sending love out into the world from their various international locations.  This is a sweet video and a lovely tune about love and support of one another. The musicians were recorded in isolation to become a part of this international orchestra.  If you want to see Ms. Gardot perform ‘live,’ watch her sing “Caravan.”  This video has already received nearly 400,000 views.

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This Live-stream concert will stream on  Saturday, July 25th @ 7:00p PST.  Following the live streaming, the concert will be available for a 24-hour VOD rental on The Baked Potato’s website.  

Since 1970, The Baked Potato Jazz Club has been the home venue for many of the world’s greatest musicians, (not always jazz musicians) and has showcased many of the bands and artists that have helped sew the rich fabric of this Los Angeles area musical institution. Over its tenure, the club has welcomed some of the biggest names in music as both guests and performers, not limited to: Slash, Chad Smith, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Brown, and Prince even had his own seat at the club.  

The Covid-19 pandemic has put a huge pause on LIVE music, but Baked Potato club owner Justin Randi will not sit by and watch this happen.  He has installed a multi-cam operation inside the club, complete with 4k cameras, utilizing the best live streaming technology available.  The live-stream performance with The Steve Gadd Band will help support one of the oldest clubs in LA to keep the music alive. #savethepotato

The Steve Gadd Band will play a live-stream concert to benefit this Los Angeles institution this Saturday, July 25th.  The live performance and subsequent video-on-demand access is only available on

STEVE GADD is one of the most sought-after American drummers, percussionists, and session musicians in the industry. Gadd’s performances on Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, Late in the Evening”, and Steely Dan’s “Aja” are some of the most well-known examples of his style.  His work has crossed genres and he has worked with popular musicians such as: Simon & Garfunkel, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Kate Bush, Joe Cocker, Chet Baker, Kenny Loggins, and more. 

THE STEVE GADD BAND members include Michael Landau (guitarist who has played on albums with Boz Scaggs, Steve Perry, Pink Floyd, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Stevie Nicks, Miles Davis and more), Jimmy Johnson (bassist best known for recording and touring with James Taylor), Larry Goldings (on the keys who has recorded with De La Soul, India Arie, Tracy Chapman, Michael McDonald, Beck, John Mayer, Norah Jones, and more), and Bruce Fowler (on the trumpet, a composer and conductor best known for his work on the trombone on Frank Zappa’s albums).


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This Is a video captured during the Appalachian Summer Festival, Appalachian State University’s first digital festival.  Shana Tucker, composer, cellist and vocalist headlines her quartet.  She paints jazz with R&B pastels and singer/songwriter polish.  A duo string introduction features Tucker on cello and Will Ledbetter (on upright bass).  They set the mood and the tone for this emotional song that Shana Tucker has penned making it perfectly clear that there is no getting back together with her.   Christian Tamburr is masterful on piano and Alfred Serfel IV holds the Latin tinged rhythm solidly in place on his trap drums.  Shana Tucker is an emotional singer, who shares her sincerity in her vocal presentation while accompanying herself on cello. She labels her music as ‘Chamber Soul’ stirring it up with a pinch of pop and inspired by the folksiness of being her own, free-flowing songwriter.  Based in North Carolina, she is currently the featured vocalist with jazz saxophonist, Bennie Maupin.  She is also part of Women’s Work, a female-led collective of jazz, soul & pop artists from both the East and the West Coast.  Her debut CD, “Shine” landed her a gig in Las Vegas with the popular Cirque de Soliel organization as singer/cellist. This is a concert ‘cut’ to spice up four minutes and thirty-nine seconds of your day!

If you enjoyed that, you may want to also view her solo, activism post titled, “Requiem for Elijah McClain.”

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This Saturday, July 25, 2020 at 6pm PST, Sam Hirsh will play a live-stream solo piano concert from his living room in Los Angeles.  There is no charge for the concert, however donations are welcome to help support the future of the Jazz Bakery and their concert series.  Your tax deductible donation can be made at:

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Sara Serpa, composer/vocals; Zeena Parkins, harp/tuning forks; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; David Virelles, piano.

After I listened to the CD and before I realized it was a film score, I felt I had to see the film to be totally fair when reviewing Sara Serpa’s music.  Her music is part of a unique interdisciplinary, experimental documentary and watching the film, I gained a new perspective on her music.  The film traces the historical legacy of Portuguese colonialism in Africa, using images, printed quotes and sound.  In collaboration with director, Bruno Soares, Sara Serpa, (an artist, composer and vocalist) has edited never-before-seen footage from Portugal and Angola shot in the 1960s (on Super 8 film) when the colony was then ruled by Salazar’s notorious fascist regime.  The film is highlighted with texts by the revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral.  The material was discovered in Serpa’s family archives.  Sara Serpa has composed this score and it becomes her tenth album titled, “Recognition.”

You probably have noticed, a lot of the popular 21st Century music of today is produced with repetitious loops.  You hear this production style in Hip Hop music and some pop & R&B. When I first listened to Serpa’s CD, this concept appeared to have filtered its way into her jazzy, Avant-garde production.  In spite of the beautiful vocals and challenging harmonics, I became perplexed by piano lines that were constantly repetitive.  On track 3, David Virelles finally stretches out on piano and plays more than chords; chords that previously had repeated themselves rhythmically, over and over.  Sara uses her voice more like an instrument than a lyrical singer, producing hypnotic vocals that harmonize without words with the Zeena Parkins’ harp and tuning forks or with Mark Turner’s tenor saxophone.  However, after track three, track four goes right back to repetition by the pianist.  At that point, I knew, to be fair in my evaluation of this Avant-garde composer, I would have to view her film.

There were titles superimposed on the film screen in English and Portuguese.  One read:

“After the slave trade the destruction of the economic and social structure of African Society.”

I understood immediately, on that first tune (“Lei do Indigenato, 1914”), her repetitive music fit the scenes perfectly.  Turner’s tenor saxophone haunts the historic film clips.  Her vocals accompany a plane taking off and someone’s view from a plane window, filming over the wing.  The camera lens film clouds and mountain tops.  The Parkins’ harp is now the backdrop.  People exit the plane and board a huge passenger ship.  A lifeboat is lowered into the murky waters from the side of the ‘Infante Dom Henrique” vessel, its name painted on the ship’s bow. A speed boat races up.  There is a great deal of impressionism in this documentary.  Even the way the film is edited, blurring some scenes until they become dripping colors that float into each other, creating an abstract painting before our eyes.

“Portuguese multi racialism is a myth, it means compliance, except for contact through work” appears across the screen.

Flash to mines, women and their children carrying heavy baskets on their heads; a blur of blues and whites make the scene another moving painting.  Is that salt they shovel into heavy baskets and struggle to carry to large mobile container on railway tracks?  We watch these women of color pouring their white offering into the larger container.  Black men rake the white mounds into tall piles and others push the large containers down the railroad tracks. 

Musically, Sara Serpa harmonizes with herself.  She makes sounds that recall a grandfather clock, or a historic coo-coo clock.  Her repetitive musical composition calls out the time.  The piano too sounds like a pendulum moving/striking.  More impressionism?  I’m not sure.  But the music makes more artistic sense when you see it played as a soundtrack.  Sara Serpa’s soprano notes are crystal clear and her intervals are challenging.  She also recites poetry during this soundtrack.  But for the most part, there is a lot of repetition, played mostly by the pianist and often sung by the vocalist.  The notes hang, like the parachutes that appear on screen with soldiers dangling, sad ornaments of war, while planes bomb the earth. 

This film talks about people of color treated as chattel and existing at the mercy of white settlers.  It’s a time when these people’s native, African languages were forbidden.  The white man was celebrated as a superior being.  The Africans thought of as inferior.  The Colonial conquistadors were represented as saints.  In another scene Serpa chants, “Kwanyama”.  “Lingala” she speaks.  Images of black bodies blurred on the screen, fading to tall buildings.  Ancient kings and queens are referenced.  Queen Nzinga, ruler of the Ndongo kingdom is remembered.  She came to power through her African military tenacity.  She was successful politically, loved by her people and vilified by her European contemporaries.  Still, she ruled for 3-decades and defied 13 Portuguese governors.  This is the story of 400 years of Portuguese occupation, with a resistance that never stopped.  The film uses lots of kaleidoscope techniques and blurred frames that makes the motion picture look like a contemporary museum painting much of the time.  The music works well in the film, for the most part.  Still, Sara Serpa’s music is a little too repetitious for my taste.

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A friend of mine sent me this on-line video and it was so uplifting I wanted to share it.  It’s not jazz, it’s gospel, featuring a singer I think is extraordinary, Ms. Lauryn Hill and a new vocalist I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t heard before, Tanya Blount.  She’s actually no new comer.  Tanya made herself known as an actress, appearing in a number of plays and film.  Born in Washington, D.C., she had a major recording deal with Polydor Records (that became Island/Def Jam) at age nineteen.  She became a film star of note in “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” and performed this unforgettable duet with Lauryn Hill at that time.  She did have an album released in 1994 titled, “Natural Thing.”  Her career has consistently included musical theater and in 2012, she produced another recording.  She’s also written a book titled, “Through the Rain: 40 Principles for Surviving Life’s Challenges.”  So, settle back and enjoy these two talented women singing one of our familiar Christian standards.

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JAZZ NIGHT IN AMERICA is a brand, new, archival Newport Jazz Festival Radio Special.   Starting Friday, July 24,2020 at 6pm and running for the three weekends, join Jazz Night in America, with host Christian McBride, for a special radio edition of the Newport Jazz Festival.  You will enjoy historic archival sets from Newport’s rich 65-year history.  McBride, who also serves as the Artistic Director of the festival, has hand-picked a dream festival line-up for the three-part program.

“There’s a goldmine here – a plethora of riches,” says McBride. 

So, tune up from 6PM – 10PM ET on Friday, July 24th, Saturday August 8 and 12PM – 4PM ET on Sunday August 9 to listen to a great mix of old and new Live From Newport Jazz.  To find additional information visit

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In closing, a new podcast has been launched by the California Jazz Foundation called “Sonic Tonic” produced and hosted by guitarist, composer and bandleader, Greg Porée.   Porée will be interviewing a host of blues and jazz veterans.  Upcoming interviews will feature Paul Jackson, Jr., Billy Mitchell, Nick Mancini and more.  For additional information visit

The California Jazz Foundation is a nonprofit organization, founded in 2006, and created to aid and assist California jazz musicians in financial or medical crisis.  I’m sure the foundation is inundated with requests during these pandemic days.  CJF is committed to providing access to quality social and economic services for al eligible applicants through a team of caring, knowledgeable professionals in collaboration with their community partners.

In summary, this article is being written to promote and support jazz music.  During these challenging times, I’m counting on you to keep jazz alive. Take a listen to some of these “on-line” choices.

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July 17, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

July 17, 2020

From Moscow to New York City or from San Francisco’s rich Bay Area to Southern California’s more laid-back community, jazz blooms.  I am reviewing music that stretches from Italy to Brazil, and albums that reflect the beauty of Mexico, the tangos of Argentina and the piano expression of Japanese culture.  Read all about this newly released music from a variety of culturally rich personalities.  Then take a few minutes to listen.


Azat Bayazitov, tenor saxophone; Adam Rogers, guitar; Dave Kikoski, piano/Fender Rhodes; Boris Kozlov, bass; Samvel Sarkisyan, drums.

Azat Bayazitov is a Russian tenor saxophonist currently living in New York City.  His music reverberates the energy and straight-ahead excitement of cities like New York or Moscow.  His tone is sweet, full bodied and speaks to me from the very first cut titled, “Magnet.”  Immediately, like a magnet to metal, I’m drawn into his music.  Dave Kikoski plays a whirlpool of notes and I find myself spinning along with his piano creativity.  Bayazitov is melodic and as a composer, his music allows his world-class quintet to explore the chord structure of these eight, original songs he has composed.  Track two, “The Huge Sky of Kazan,” opens with just Azat Bayazitov’s tenor saxophone singing to the sunrise like a wild bird.  He spreads bluesy wings and glides across the open horizon like a seven-forty-seven plane.  I am impressed with this reedman’s composer skills.  This song becomes one of my favorites on this CD titled, “The Doors Are Open.”  His music reminds me a little bit of Eddie Harris and how Eddie could take a melody and wrap it into an unforgettable groove.   Bayazitov also builds his songs into a crescendo of power, magnified by drummer Samvel Sarkisyan’s dynamic talents.  Boris Kozlov takes a noteworthy solo on double bass. 

This album is Azat Bayazitov’s second release.  He honed his reed skills playing with Russian impresario, Igor Butman’s Moscow Jazz Orchestra for three years, until he relocated to the United States.  Sasha Mashin is the producer on this project and he’s done a stellar job.  The songs and moods vary and show Bayazitov’s exploratory nature as he embraces a variety of musical styles.  This is a delightful project and I enjoyed the addition of Adam Rogers on guitar with the driving drums of Samvel Sarkisyan powerfully present throughout.  These arrangements give each player a time to shine in the revolving spotlight. 

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Ed Czach, piano; Putter Smith, bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Jerry Pinter, tenor & soprano saxophone; Don Shelton, alto saxophone/alto flute; Bob Summers, trumpet; Gary Smulyan, baritone saxophone; Dave Woodley, trombone.

This CD is plush with harmony, swings hard and has tightly executed arrangements that send this ensemble soaring into the big band jazz universe.  Alec Wilder is the composer of all the songs and The Mark Masters Ensemble amply interprets them with fire and finesse.  All arrangements are written by Mark Masters.  The musicians are such amazing technicians on their instruments that they sound like an orchestra.  I am not surprised, because I’m familiar with the excellence of Ed Czach on piano, Putter Smith on bass, Kendall Kay on drums and folks like Bob Summers on trumpet.  The entire ensemble is made up of first-class, Southern California musicians.  Alec Wilder is an iconic, amazing composer and you probably would recognize some of his popular American Songbook tunes; among them, “I’ll Be Around.”  The Mark Masters Ensemble opens with “You’re Free,” a great tune that swings hard and is driven by the awesome baritone saxophone of Gary Smulyan.  Masters’ collaboration with Smulyan has embraced twenty-one friendly years, starting with when he invited Smulyan to perform his music with strings at California’s Claremont McKenna College.  Later, he was featured on the Mark Masters tribute to Clifford Brown Project in 2003.  I can understand why.  Gary Smulyan’s beautiful, rich sound on his baritone saxophone immediately grabs the attention.  His tone is smooth as satin, as he creatively improvises or boldly sings out the melody.

“Writing this project with Gary in mind, I wanted to feature him as if he was performing with a symphony orchestra.  The goal was to set him apart from everything else and to highlight his sound and his unique voice.  I know that whenever he’s playing, it’s going to sound great.  But I want to make sure that I do everything to put him and everybody else in the best light,” Mark Masters explained in his press package.

There is no doubt that this project shines brightly, spotlighting the dynamic, Wilder compositions and brilliantly showcasing a crème-de-la-crème of some A-game, Los Angeles musicians.  Mr. Masters has long been heralded as one of the great, modern-day, jazz arrangers.  He formed his first ensemble in 1982 and has recorded a variety of tributes to some of our iconic jazz men including Jimmy Knepper, Clifford Brown, Dewey Redman, Duke Ellington, and in 2013, the music of Walter Becker and Donald Fagan.  He has also reimagined works by Gerry Mulligan and Charlie Mingus on his acclaimed “Blue Skylight” album.  This will definitely become another plume in his arranger’s cap. 

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Mafalda Minnozzi, vocals; Paul Ricci, guitars/musical director; Art Hirahara, piano; Essiet Okon Essiet & Harvie S., acoustic bass; Victor Jones, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Will Calhoun, udu. drum/shaker.

Mafalda Minnozzi’s voice makes a joyful sound.  She’s a little nasal, at times, but it does not deter from her style and vocal charm.  Her ‘open’ notes are round and full as she sings some of my favorite Bossa Nova tunes with energy and sincerity.  Opening with the popular Antonio Carlos Jobim tune, “A Felicidade,” she enchants the air with her pitch-perfect tone and smooth Portuguese language.

Mafalda has spent twenty years in Brazil, working and honing her craft.  Now she presents “Sensorial” as an album portrait of mixed cultures, blending her Italian romanticism with American jazz and Bossa roots.  Track two is one of my favorite Jobim tunes titled, “Vivo Sonhando.”  Hers is a beautiful rendition of this popular composition, under the musical direction of guitarist Paul Ricci. Her CD cover is as bright and compelling as her choice of repertoire, splashed with bright, pineapple yellow, watermelon reds, green and purple grapes and pink grapefruit colors.  Centered is her face, staring out at us amidst the fruit. She offers us colorful, rich, Latin music with arrangements that reflect healthy intentions.  On her interpretation of “E Preciso Perdoar,” she adds a John Coltrane tune, weaving in “Lonnie’s Lament” as a pleasant surprise for our ears.  She and Paul Ricci are richly featured on “Desafinado” with his busy rhythm guitar holding the tempo happily in place and accompanying her pleasing vocals with care and sensitivity.  When it’s his time to solo, Ricci takes full advantage of showing off his guitar skills.  Essiet Okon Essiet adds his dynamic upright bass sound to the mix and delights our ears on six of the baker’s dozen of tunes Mafalda Minnozzi has recorded.  She also features bassist, Harvie S., on some songs.  On “Mocidade” we get to enjoy Art Hirahara’s tasty piano licks and Mafalda’s scat-singing abilities. All in all, this is a lovely recording with good musicianship and a competent vocalist interpreting many of our favorite Brazilian standards.

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Kenny Washington, vocals/whistler; Josh Nelson, piano; Gary Brown & Dan Feiszli, acoustic bass; Lorca Hart, drums; Victor Goines, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Jeff Massanari, guitar; Mike Olmos, trumpet; Peter Michael Escovedo, bongos; Jeff Cressman, trombone; Ami Molinelli-Hart, percussion.

Opening with the very familiar, show-stopper-of-a-tune, “The Best is Yet to Come,” Kenny Washington’s distinctive and jazzy baritone voice seduces us.  His expressive vocals interpret the lyrics with believability, just like any great storyteller.  Kenny throws in a taste of his gospel roots every now and then, with a “Whoa” for a vocal exclamation mark or a smooth run that clusters a group of perfectly placed notes that speak to his listeners melodically.  The very tasty accompaniment of Josh Nelson on piano helps Washington’s beautiful voice shine.   On the second track, Kenny Washington performs as a duo and is accompanied by guitarist Jeff Massanari, who makes his guitar become a full rhythm section and then solos expertly on “S’Wonderful.”   Washington shows his prowess as a whistler, as well as a vocal master.  The only singer I knew who did that expert ‘whistle-thing’ was Los Angeles based crooner and pianist, Howlett Smith (RIP).  On “Stars Fell on Alabama” (the third track) we experience Washington’s smooth entry into his head register, spotlighting his full and impressive vocal range and showcasing his tenor voice.  Also, Gary Brown is featured prominently on acoustic bass and Victor Goines on tenor saxophone.  They add depth and beauty to this arrangement.  My senses are twitterpated by his execution of “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues.”  Nelson’s gospel piano enhances this piece and then moves smoothly into “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” with Washington’s voice out-front and compelling.  We need nothing more than these two competent musicians, blending sweetly like hotcakes and syrup, to tantalize our ears.  This is a delicious duo, with Nelson slipping into his classical roots at times and Kenny Washington leaping smoothly to an unexpected high tenor note to surprise us.  The simplicity of this production certainly highlights this marvelous vocalist in a profound and awesome manner.  I played this piece again!  There’s no fluff or pretentiousness to these arrangements.  On track 9, Dan Feiszli steps up to the task of playing his bass, while Washington sings along the familiar strains of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”  He compliments the melody of this old standard before taking off on an exciting scat trip, exploring improvisation as though it were the beauty of an outer space galaxy.  I’m dancing in my chair when the entire band joins in to swing (in a very Latin way) “No More Blues.”  I’m intoxicated during Kenny’s rendition of “Invitation” with Peter Michael Escovedo’s bongos adding beautiful mysticism to the haunting mystery of this production.  Although he’s surrounded by exceptional musicians, Kenny Washington shows us he needs nothing more than a microphone to capture our undivided attention.  This project is pure pleasure!

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Julio Botti, soprano & tenor saxophones; Matias Lanfranco, piano; Leonardo Pedrozo Avila & Federico Semandi, bass; Alejandro Colombatti, bandoneon; Gustavo Gancedo, guitar; Valeria Martin, violin; Quintino Cinalli & Mario Gusso, percussion; maria Jose Rojas, vocals.

Julio Botti has a rich, warm tone on tenor saxophone.  He exhibits an emotional rendering on the third track of his “Pure Tango” CD titled, “El Dia Que Me Quieras,” that translates to ‘the day you love me.’  It’s considered one of the most romantic songs in the tango standard songbook.  Marias Lanfranco does a beautiful job of both accompanying Botti on piano and also soloing with a classical flair.  Julio Botti met the pianist in late 2017, when they were introduced in Botti’s hometown of Bell Ville, 200 kilometers south of Cordoba, in central Argentina.  They had an immediate meeting of the minds.  Notably, when playing together, they seem to blend seamlessly. 

When producing this album, Botti first recorded just piano and saxophone in a New York studio.  The other instruments and vocals were added later at a studio in Argentina.  On this album, (dedicated to the memory of his mother), Julio Botti has blended traditional tango with a modern jazz sound.  His objective was to embrace the vintage style of old-guard tango rhythms, while adding bright arrangements to this familiar tango repertoire.  Maria Jose Rojas brings her beautiful vocals to enhance the production on several songs.  Botti has also hired a number of gifted musicians to help him bring life and energy to these carefully selected compositions.  I enjoyed “Nostalgias” and Botti explained why he chose to present this song, adding a melancholy, yet lovely violin solo by Valeria Martin.  It’s an elegant tango released originally in 1935 by Cobian.  The composition, “Recordando” (that means ‘remembering’) is a zamba.  Zamba is a traditional Argentinian dance that has six beats to a bar.  It’s performed by couples who carry white handkerchiefs that they wave as they circle each other.  This tune reminded Botti of his dearly departed mother.  He explained:

                “This piece evokes memories of her tending to clothes in the yard and sweeping her house; the smell of good foods. I wanted to make my intentions clear for my wonderful mother, Nilda Cardarelli, who will always be in my heart.  I hope that my mother is very proud of this album, which is dedicated to her,” said Botti in his liner notes.

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JOHN FINBURY – “QUATRO” – Green flash Music

John Finbury, composer; Magos Herrera, vocals; Chano Dominguez, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums.

“Quatro” is a celebration of cultural diversity and immigration.  It’s a condemnation of those who seek restrictions against people based upon prejudice.  The opening song is dynamic and titled, “Llegara El Dia” (that translates to ‘The Day Will Come’).  It’s a freedom song and reflects this album’s entire concept.  Written with Peruvian Festejo influence, and mixing in Mexican Huapango, I am taken by the beautiful music that Finbury has composed.  The lyrics were penned by producer, D. Miler.  Happily, they include an English translation of these lyrics in the CD’s liner notes.  Track one is a dynamic poem.  It features a spellbinding piano solo by Chano Dominguez and is interpreted by the lovely, alto voice of Magos Herrera.  John Finbury has written all the music on this project and each composition is well played by his talented musicians and well-produced by producer and lyricist, Emilio D. Miler.  On track #1, Miler’s lyrics spoke to me. (from Spanish translation):

“Dahlias evaporate in the sea, leaving their dreams trapped in a net. Their wings flutter, chirp; cry and thus become breeze, melody, rivers resuscitate.  Eagles spiraling down, drawing the letters of your name on the altar.  And there will come a day when seeds will rain on your heart.  You will feel the tree of the sad night growing.  Candles/sails; an aroma of incense announcing this and you’ll see just how soon there is nothing left of you,” his lyrical poem unfolds.

The first instrumental on this album is track two and proclaims, “Independence Day.”  It is Finbury’s take on a Spanish Flamenco arrangement.  The trio’s interpretation on “Salon Jardin” (or Garden Ballroom) is a slow Bolero arrangement that gives the iconic John Patitucci a moment to solo on his acoustic bass.   Throughout this entire production, Antonio Sanchez is powerful on drums, locking the rhythm section tightly together in a dance of freedom and purpose.  The only down side of this CD is the outside cover itself.  Why so dark, when your words bring such light? I could hardly read the names of the players.  I think artists should take more time controlling their CD artwork.  That being said, with this musical work, John Finbury redefines his being American, not just as a native of the United States, but as a citizen of the Americas.  Using “Quatro” as a political statement, he brings us a poetic piece of musical work that not only reminds us of our commonality and universal brotherhood, but gives musical testimony to our diversity and the beauty of blending cultures.

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SHIMPEI OGAWA & NOA LEVY – “YOU ME & COLE”  –  Belle Records

Noa Levy, vocals; Shimpei Ogawa, double bass.

There are some stellar moments on this duo album.  The opening tune shows that both Shimpei Ogawa and Noa Levy can swing.  Noa Levy begins by scatting against the big, strong sound of Shimpei’s walking bass. Together, they sound fresh and spontaneous on Cole Porter’s familiar “I Get A Kick Out of You.”  The challenge, of course, whenever you perform duo, is upholding your end of the bargain and standing strong in the light of your individual talent.  Duos are a difficult project to perform.  I know, because I’ve done it.  It’s just the two of you, with no other instruments to fill the space or to solo.  What makes this project even more challenging is the fact that it features only bass accompanying the voice. 

I liked the way Ogawa and Levy played with time, going from swing to a waltz, (three-four rhythm) during this arrangement.  However, there were a couple of pitch problems that Noa Levy quickly grazed over and were hardly noticeable.  The familiar, “My heart Belongs to Daddy” follows and is performed with a tango-feel.  I thought that was a perfect choice of rhythms and I liked the way Levy harmonized with Ogawa’s bowed bass notes.  But then came, “Just One of Those Things” to sour the sweetness of this recording.  Ms. Levy is totally off key for much of this song and the bridge she sings has nothing to do with the composer’s written melody.  Shimpei takes an engaging solo, but when the vocalist re-enters, she is obviously melodically lost and I guess you could say, “it was just one of those things.”

She redeems herself on “What is This Thing Called Love?”  She puts her whole heart and soul into delivering those lyrics with gusto and believability.  Shimpei Ogawa steps boldly into the spotlight to solo on his upright bass.  They tackle other familiar Cole Porter gems like “It’s Alright with Me” but after one time down, they lose their sparkle.  Some of the bass notes just don’t compliment the chord changes or her melody and when she re-enters, after his solo, she’s in the wrong key.  I think, if these two had a producer, a person who could have guided them and corrected some of the little things that caused this project to spiral downward, it would have been much more successful.  Both Shimpei and Noa are talented.  They just needed a little direction from ‘the booth’ when they were recording.   On “So in Love” you can hear how beautiful her voice is and his bass accompaniment is creative, but sometimes it’s the smallest nuance of a single bass-note, placed in an inopportune place, that makes the production fall flat.  One of their winners was “Anything Goes,” and their rendition of “Love for Sale” was bluesy and well-done. Of course, jazz stands for freedom and I applaud their tenacity and determination in producing an album of voice and double bass, spontaneously and creatively.  In spite of the glitches, both musicians still exhibit talent and promise.

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FALKNER  EVANS – “MARBLES” – Consolidated Artists Productions (CAP)

Falkner Evans, piano; Matt Wilson, drums; Belden Bullock, bass; Ron Horton, trumpet; Michael Blake, tenor & soprano saxophone; Ted Nash, clarinet/flute/alto saxophone; Steve Nelson, vibraphone.

The Latin-tinged composition, “Pina,” enters the scene with a bold flute solo by Ted Nash on track one.  This song is a dedication to the late, dancer/choreographer, Pina Bausch, whose work has been celebrated in a documentary film.  It’s followed by “Civilization.”  This tune has a very bluesy, “Killer Joe” kind of sound, with the walking bass of Belden Bullock strongly holding the groove in place along with Matt Wilson on drums.  Enter the saxophone solo and then trumpeter, Ron Horton takes over with his invigorating interpretation of this song.  All the music on this album is original and composed by Falkner Evans, except for the final Duke Ellington tune, “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.”   Evans has arranged all these songs with the warmth of a big-band sound, employing the talents of Ted Nash, Michael Blake and Ron Horton on horns.  These few talented musicians are successful in creating a full, rich, beautiful sound. 

“I love these guys a lot.  We’ve all become really good friends.  I’m so pleased that everybody was able to do this.  I was hearing all these harmonies. … With three horns, you can do so much more with the orchestration.  That was the basic inspiration for this album,” Evans affirmed.

“Sing Alone” is a lovely ballad that gives Falkner Evans an opportunity to step out front and introduce this composition on the grand piano before his group joins in.  It features his piano solo and style.  “Hidden Gem” employs the vibraphone licks of Steve Nelson.  At the top of the tune, his sound reminds me of time I spent in Indonesia, watching an orchestra utilize a multitude of wooden and bamboo vibe-looking instruments called angklungs.  The title tune introduces the mallets of drummer, Matt Wilson that adds a hypnotic sound to the arrangement.  The minor chords bring back memories of my trip to the Middle East inclusive of the white stone buildings of Israel and the palm trees and flowing black Muslim garbs of Dubai.  Falkner Evans was originally born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  “Dear West Village” is his straight-ahead love letter to his now current New York neighborhood of more than two decades.    

This project is very laid-back, with the exception of the final Ellington tune that closes this CD out. I was surprised at the shortness of this final song.  Most of the arrangements are lovely, long and very easy-listening in tempo and musical personality.  Even when Michael Blake, Ron Horton and Ted Nash spit fire into their various solo’s (on their well-played horns), there is still very little up-tempo, straight-ahead excitement here.  Falkner Evans is a solid pianist without a great deal of emotional excitement translated into his piano performances.  His compositions are well-written and his harmonic arrangements are beautiful.  I just wish this artist had stretched beyond his comfort level, even once, and just for fun, hand-glided off the precipice without a parachute. 

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Yuko Mabuchi, piano; Del Atkins, electric & acoustic bass; Bobby Breton, drums/percussion.

Yuko Mabuchi offers us a double-set CD, capturing her trio’s ‘live’ performance at the famous Vibrato Restaurant in Southern California.  Opening with Dizzy Gillespie’s popular, “A Night in Tunisia” tune, she sets the pace of this album with gusto and verve.  Ms. Mabuchi is a powerful player.  Her slender fingers propel across the keys like a steam roller.  You don’t expect this tenacity from such a petit individual.  The other thing she reflects in her playing is deep and resounding joy.  Ably assisted by Del Atkins on bass and Bobby Breton on drums, her trio has been working together for several years.  They exhibit a tight cohesiveness.

On track two, “So Danco Samba,” Yuko brings her vocal charm to the party.  She also enjoys scat-singing along with her tinkling and speedy improvisational piano solos.  Hey voice dances atop the notes, becoming another instrument that colors the arrangement like a musical paint brush. 

Yuko Mabuchi’s choice of repertoire is adventurous and embraces a wide variety of American jazz standards like John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and the Miles Davis game-changer, “So What” and “All Blues.” Yuko explores various time changes in her arrangement of “All Blues” exploring this classic tune in 5/4 time and then unexpectedly breaking into a 4/4 hard-bop.

She includes her jazzy take on pop and Motown tunes like Stevie Wonders, “Isn’t She Lovely” and the Ashford & Simpson 1966 hit record, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Also included is a Japanese Medley of music that mixes memories of her youth by introducing us to “Hazy Moon,” a Japanese nursery rhyme written by Teiichi Okano.  This song melody is blended with “Cherry Blossoms,” a 17th Century Edo period song that celebrates Japan’s spring flower viewing.  “Sukiyaki” is the song that concludes this Japanese Medley and the Hachidai Nakamura composition translates to “I Look Up As I Walk.” 

To additionally spice up this project, Yuko has added several of her own compositions to the mix and they sparkle.  “St Croix” for one, is a lovely musical depiction of the Virgin Islands and St Croix’s Caribbean culture.  Bobby Breton pumps his Latin flavors into the production on drums, and Yuko always manages to add some blues roots to her thick broth of combined cultures.  This wonderful double-set CD offers something for everyone.  As much as I enjoyed Disc 1, I loved Disc 2 even more.  It shows Yuko Mabuchi’s spontaneity and tenderness on the piano keys, especially on her original, “Tears-Interlude.”  Another original composition written by Yuko is “Sky With No Tears” that allows a compelling solo by bassist, Del Atkins, and was written to anticipate a day when the earth is clean and the sky is no longer weeping with pollution.  Also, her exciting presentation of “Batucada Surgiu” is very impressive.  Yuko’s energy and enthusiasm are extremely prominent on the second disc and the audience is enthusiastic and responsive.   But most notably, this well-received concert gives us a very personal look at Yuko Mabuchi’s incredible talents as a pianist, a composer, an arranger, vocalist and bandleader. 

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July 10, 2020
By Dee Dee McNeil –  July 10, 2020


Jeff Hamilton, drums; Tamir Hendelman, piano; Jon Hamar, bass.          

Whenever I see Jeff Hamilton’s name on a project, I know that recording is going to swing hard.  His current trio release, “Catch Me If You Can,” is no exception to this rule.  Hamilton opens with the John Williams composition, “Make Me Rainbows.”  

“I first became aware of this John Williams composition while recording Holly Hofmann’s CD.  Mike Wofford arranged it for that project and I haven’t been able to get the song out of my head since.  That’s the sure sign of a great song!”  Hamilton explains this song choice.

Hamilton has hand-picked songs that have touched his spirit and mean something special to him like “Helen’s Song” composed by his good friend and piano master, George Cables and “Big Dipper” by Thad Jones.  Jeff Hamilton recalls being a teenager and playing along with the Thad jones and Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra recording of this song. 

“It was like my morning meditation that set the tone for the day.  Still does!” Jeff Hamilton explained.

Jeff’s drums introduce us to the familiar strains of “Bijou” written by Ralph Burns.  Hamilton stirs the pot with his drum licks creating a thick Latin groove for Tamir Hendelman’s piano fingers to dance upon.  Speaking of the piano player, Hendelman has penned the title tune for this exquisite album.

“Tamir Hendelman is starting his twenty-second year in the trio.  … We also are aware of his composing and arranging talents, as again witnessed here.  I asked him to come up with a medium, up- tempo piece.  Big mistake!  Here came the stops and starts and challenging figures to ‘stump the band.’  It is aptly titled, Catch Me if you Can,” Jeff Hamilton wrote in his liner notes.

Additionally, Hamilton’s gifted bass player has contributed two songs; “The Barn” and “Bucket ‘O Fat.”  The bassist is new to the group and brings a gutsy, blues feel to the production.  You hear it in both compositions.

One of Jeff Hamilton’s mentors was John Von Ohlen.  After studying two years at Indiana University, Hamilton left the academic world to study with Von Ohlen.  In eight months, he had progressed to the point of being hired as the new Tommy Dorsey Band drummer. 

“John Von Ohlen was a major influence on me musically and personally. … Aside from his unique drumming concept, few knew that he played the piano and was so deep harmonically.  ‘The Pond’ is his composition from his solo piano cd of the same title.  John spent many hours at the pond on his property.  In fact, he still does, as he wished for his ashes to be placed there,” Hamilton praised his mentor reverently.

Jeff Hamilton is a living legend and his trio is celebrated worldwide.  As they march into a new decade, they mirror the legacy of great jazz trio’s like The Three Sounds and the Oscar Peterson Trio.  Drummer Hamilton is one of the founders of the Clayton/Hamilton jazz Orchestra and the Akiko-Hamilton-Dechter trio.  He has been the driving force behind such luminaries as Ray Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Diana Krall and even the great Oscar Peterson himself.  He’s also fired up the Count Basie band and been a part of Woody Herman’s big band.  This release is another jewel in the jazz crown that Jeff Hamilton proudly wears.  He is certainly one of jazz music’s percussive kings!

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Bernard Purdie, drums; Christian Fabian, bass/arrangements; Ron Oswanski, organ.

Purdie, Fabian and Oswanski have united to use their trio power and put a fresh face on funk-driven jazz.  I became aware of the might, power and perfect time of Bernard Purdie in the early 1970’s.  Melvin Van Peebles was singing his praises and so was my old friend and A&M Record executive, Raina Taylor.  I believe I first met Bernard Purdie on the A&M Record Lot located on La Brea Ave in Hollywood where I was working in publicity. But I had heard his work much earlier.

Bernard Purdie played on a hit record from the late fifties that was one of my favorites.  The teen dance floor got crowded every time that recording by Mickey & Sylvia titled, “Love is Strange” spun on the turn-table.   The rhythm on that song was infectious.  Back then, Bernard Purdie’s reputation skyrocketed in New York and he was hired to be an East Coast studio musician on several important recording sessions.  He could play all styles, perhaps because of his early gigs playing with country bands and as a carnival drummer.  He loved to challenge himself and to learn new styles.  Amazingly, he was even called into the studio to spice up some Beatles releases for an American audience.   Unknown to most people, Bernard Purdie over-dubbed his drum licks on twenty-one Beatle songs.  How many drummers can say they played with the Beatles?   It was also his infectious drum licks that helped propel Aretha Franklin’s song, “Rock Steady” into a gold record success.  

One unique ability of this drummer is that Bernard Purdie created his own style of playing with specifics licks that have made him quite famous in both the R&B world, the funk world, the pop world and the jazz world.  He plays it all. One particular style is “Purdie’s half-time shuffle” that jazz folks think of as a percussive-blues-feel, but Purdie adds some syncopated ghost notes on his snare.  You can hear this groove that Purdie created on his recording of “Babylon Sisters,” a Steely Dan record.  He also knew how to seamlessly weave jazz swing and blues into pop music, rock and R&B.  He was the forceful drummer on the “Shaft” film soundtrack album.  His drum excellence and diversity crosses genres.  Purdie easily transitions, in either ‘live’ or studio circumstance, to enhance whoever’s project he’s drumming on.  For example, album jackets that sing his name include work with Ray Charles, Hall & Oates, Peter Frampton, King Curtis, Dizzy Gillespie, Steely Dan, Quincy Jones and even Cat Stevens to name just a few.  He played Reggae with Bob Marley and Latin drums with Mongo Santamaria.  Bernard Purdie even played on a Marvin Gaye track that skyrocketed up the charts.  Purdie told Drum Magazine:

“I cut about 500 tracks for Motown.  One of them was a wonderful one, “Can I Get A Witness” by Marvin Gaye.  We were doing tracks in New York and those were taken to Motown in Detroit.  Basically, they were doing overdubbing on tracks we already cut in New York.”

Bernard Purdie even worked with Otis Redding, who he said was an even stronger task-master than James Brown, a platinum R&B artist he also worked with.  He accompanied one of my idols, the amazing Nina Simone and played with Gabor Szabo.  Other’s he heralded as high points in his career was working with the great Jeff Beck and the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.  He may be one of the most recorded drummers in the world.  Modern Drummer magazine called Purdie one of the fifty greatest drummers of all time. He is also listed in the book, “The Big Beat – Conversations with Rock’s Great Drummers.”

Now he has joined talents with Christian Fabian, who has composed for and arranged this entire ‘First Ever’ funky organ trio.  Christian is a native of Sweden and grew up in Germany.  Like so many talented international musicians, he attended Berklee College of Music, then became active playing on the New York jazz scene.  He’s co-leader of the New Lionel Hampton Band that features Jason Marsalis and he co-founded the Native Jazz Quartet and heads his own Fabian Zone Trio.  They’ve released six CDs.  Fabian is one of the in-demand bass players on the East coast and is respected worldwide.

The third member of this awesome trio is Ron Oswanski, a native of Toledo, Ohio.  His father had a polka band and young Ron grew up surrounded by music.  He began studying piano at an early age.  He also plays accordion and bass.  His love of piano and bass led him to study the organ, which clearly combines both instruments.  In 1992, he relocated to New York City and immediately joined Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau band playing piano, keyboards and the B-3 organ.  Ron Oswanski recorded on two of Ferguson’s Concord Record releases.  He stays busy as a studio session musician and also an inventor.  He helped develop a special microphone, specific to accordions for accurate, high quality sound.  In 2013, Oswanski released his own debut CD as bandleader titled, “December’s Moon.” 

“I’m not a traditional Jimmy Smith organ player.  I do play that style, but I’m a big ECM fan who’s listened to a lot of Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek.  I like open harmonies and being able to stretch harmonies from here to there. … Beautiful melodies are as important as aggressiveness,” Oswanski explained his musical motivation.

The combined talents of these three musicians bring us an exciting and entertaining album of funky tracks.  They play Duke Ellington’s famed “Love You Madly” at a slow speed, but just about every other tune on this project is energized. Christian Fabian is brightly featured on bass solos throughout and has composed five out of the nine songs.  Their bluesy rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” gives Oswanski an opportunity to stretch out on his organ.  On the ‘Glory, glory hallelujah’ verse, Fabian steps into the spotlight and takes over on his bass.  The constant and creative drums of Bernard Purdie create a strong basement for this trio to build upon.

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DYLAN JACK – “THE TALE OF THE TWELVE FOOT MAN”               Creative Nation Music (CNM)

Dylan Jack, drums; Jerry Sabatini, trumpet; Eric Hofbauer, guitar; Anthony Leva, bass & sintir.

Dylan Jack is a composer, trap drummer and improviser.  His quartet features trumpeter, Jerry Sabatini, guitarist Eric Hofbauer and Anthony Leva on bass.  Based in Boston, they have recorded four songs for this release that are more like suites than individual compositions.  Each song that Dylan Jack has written unfolds with various melodies and rhythmic patterns.  Beginning with “Gauchais Reaction, (the Art of Subconscious Mimicry),” Dylan allows his arrangement to introduce us to his bandmates.  On the first twelve minutes of the tune, he features a long solo by bassist Anthony Leva.  After four minutes, Sabatini enters on trumpet, followed shortly thereafter by Eric Hofbauer exploring the outer limits of his guitar.  This is Avant-garde, contemporary jazz.    The title tune, “The Twelve-foot man” is divided into two parts; (6-minutes and 9-minutes respectively).  The first part has a bluesy undertone, with Jerry Sabatini fluid on trumpet, sometimes screaming for our attention and other times sweetly singing the Dylan Jack melody. 

“The great thing about this band, although it’s under my name, it’s everyone’s band.  Everyone has a voice,” Dylan Jack asserts.

Behind the improvisational freedom of these musicians, you continuously hear Dylan Jack’s rolling drum sticks and inspired rhythm patterns that push the quartet to their limit.   

“The twelve-foot man represents a challenge that we individually face; a tall figure looming over our shoulder as we go about our lives,” Dylan Jack explains as he beats his way through “The Epitaph.”

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JASON KAO HWANG – “HUMAN RITES TRIO”  –  True Sound Recordings

Jason Kao Hwang, violin/composer; Ken Filiano, string bass; Andrew Drury, drums.

The music of violinist and composer, Jason Kao Hwang is totally Avant-garde.  His drummer, Andrew Drury, holds this trio tenaciously in his hands.  Within the harmonic texture of guitar or piano, Drury is a key figure controlling the motion and the structure on each tune.  From their interpretation of “Words Asleep Spoken Awake – Part 1 and 2” you hear Drury’s punctuation and crescendo-building phrasing on the trap drums.  While Jason is busy with improvisation and the melodic foundation, Andrew Drury pumps energy and excitement into the pieces.  Ken Filiano is solidly onboard, rowing his big bass sound through the waves of music, like a thick, directional oar.  Although they sometimes direct the vessel of their music into uncharted waters and often express chaos, like in a stormy sea, their musicianship is palpable.  if contemporary Avant-garde is your thing, you’ll put on your life jacket and dive into this project.

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JEFF COSGROVE – “HISTORY GETS AHEAD OF THE STORY”                        Independent Label

Jeff Cosgrove, drums; John Medeski, organ; Jeff Lederer, saxophones/flute.

Turn the pages of time back to 2017, when reedman, Jeff Lederer, took a short trip from New York city to play some gigs with drummer, Jeff Cosgrove, in his rural town of Middletown, Maryland.  Cosgrove loves the open space.  It inspires his connection to an uncluttered style on his trap drums.  He likes to let the drums breathe, the same way he, himself, feels in wide open spaces. 

“We (Lederer and Cosgrove) started brainstorming ideas for a new project.  I suggested an organ trio with Jeff and John Medeski.  Jeff (Lederer) agreed and was really the lynchpin to this whole thing.  He helped bring John on board, worked out the charts and had some great ideas on arrangements.  We went in the studio in late 2018.  Everything just fell into place.  … I think the results are pretty stellar.  This project took some time to come to fruition.  William Parker, Matthew Shipp and I had a trio for a while which dissolved around 2015.  In that time of free-form experimentation, we grew a lot playing together.  I was heavily focused on spontaneous composition then, but when I thought about future projects, I knew I wanted to explore the order and arrangements of a composer.  William Parker’s repertoire seemed like the obvious choice.  Many people focus on his bass playing, but his skill as a composer was really what fascinated me.  William’s music is full of wonder and surprise and I am so grateful to have been on this adventure with these musicians to help celebrate it,” Jeff Cosgrove explained how this album came about.

Choosing a composer and friend, who he had played with for a number of years, brings a comfort level to this project.  Jeff Cosgrove is familiar with these compositions and respectful of the composer.  His handpicked sidemen are expressive and supportive in interpreting the music, beginning with the first song, “O’Neal’s Porch,” that begins with a punchy, unison horn line to introduce John Medeski’s organ.  Then suddenly Lederer’s saxophone races into the atmosphere, testing the outer limits of the treble-range of his instrument.  This is followed by a very blues-driven organ solo.  My only criticism is that the mixologist did not spotlight the drums of Jeff Cosgrove more vividly.  After all, this is his project and he’s the structural pillar of this music.  He’s the driving force in every song, but he’s mixed down way below where I think he should be.  Cosgrove has composed the tune, “Ghost” and it opens with an eerie, ghostly arrangement, featuring the sticks rolling across Cosgrove’s cymbals.  Lederer flies like a frightened bird on his flute, elevating the piece.  On track eight, a composition titled, “Wood Flute Song,” we finally have an opportunity to hear Jeff Cosgrove solo on his drums during the introduction of this piece and it sounds as if they finally mixed the drums up where they belong on this song.  You can hear how proficient and creative Cosgrove is on his instrument.  He provides a steady stream of rhythm to support and enhance the flute solo.  This is one of my favorite compositions on this production.   

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