Archive for October, 2020

OUTSTANDING JAZZ ARRANGERS & COMPOSERS

October 14, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz journalist

October 13, 2020

JIM WALLER BIG BAND – “BUCKET LIST” – Independent Label

Jim Waller, arranger/composer/tenor & soprano saxophones/ Hammond XK-5 organ; Chris Villanueva & Andy Langham, piano; Jason Valdez, electric guitar; Jim Kalson, electric bass; Georgie Padilla, congas/percussion; Will Kennedy, drums; Joe Caploe, timpani; Bill King, lead alto saxophone/flute; Adam Carrillo & Matthew Maldonado, tenor saxophone; Brian Christensen, alto saxophone/flute; Dr. Joey Colarusso, baritone saxophone; Libby Barnette, French horn; Karlos Elizondo, lead trumpet; Dr. Adrian Ruiz, Al Gomez, Lee Sparky Thomason  & Curtis Calderon, trumpets; Jaime Parker, lead trombone;  Gilbert Garza & Mark Hill, trombones; Matthew Erickson & Dr. Martin McCain, bass trombones; STRING SECTION: Anastasia Parker, concertmaster; Dr. Stephanie Westney & Eric Siu, Violins; Yang Guo & David Wang, viola; Ken Freudigman, cello; Jacqueline Sotelo, vocals.

Some might consider Jim Waller an over-achiever.  He is a competent player of alto & soprano saxophones, the trombone, organ, piano and is a well-respected arranger and composer.  No wonder that he found himself eager to put together a big band to interpret his original compositions and play his arrangements.  The “Bucket List” album presents a number of familiar standard songs with five of Waller’s original songs included.  You could say this 21-piece Jim Waller Big Band is a big accomplishment from his personal bucket list.

Waller’s first original opens this album and is titled, “Samba for Suzell.”  It dances onto the scene and features a spirited tenor saxophone solo by composer/bandleader, Jim Waller; a strong piano improvisation by Chris Villanueva and a spunky drum solo featuring Will Kennedy, (a former member of the Yellow Jackets).  The familiar showstopping song penned by Peggy Lee and William Schluger, “I Love Being Here With You,” is well-sung by Jacqueline Sotelo, who adds her scat vocalise to the mix. Her vocals are also dynamic and gospel-rich on the band’s rendition of “Georgia On My Mind.”  This entire album offers a delightful mix of Latin, ‘swing,’ blues, waltzes and ballads. All fourteen compositions are arranged beautifully and played well.  Other favorites are: “Waltz for Laura,” a Jim Waller composition; their Bluesy introduction on “Rhapsody in Blue” with the various time changes enriching the arrangement and their closing composition written by Jim Waller, “This Is It.”

Jim Waller was born in Santa Barbara, California and attended Fresno State College.  He formed a successful surf group who called themselves The Deltas.  They recorded two albums in the 60s. In the 70s he changed directions, becoming an important member of the groundbreaking jazz/rock octet called “Los Blues.”  They were a popular working group in Las Vegas from 1967 to 1973.  Waller arranged their music and produced an album for the United Artists Record label.  In 1977, he moved to San Antonio, Texas where he joined a group called “Road Apple.”  He also became a sideman for a number of legendary performers like Etta James, Marvin Gay, Bill Watrous, Willie Nelson, Richie Cole, Paul Gonsalves and Pete Fountain.  He’s currently a well-appreciated educator and owns a recording studio where he stays busy producing both music and jingles.  With the release of this album, he can cross another accomplishment off of his “Bucket List” and add to his biography, ‘success as a big band leader.’

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WALTER WHITE – “BBXL” – Independent Label

Walter White, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer/arranger; Gary Schunk, piano; James Simonson, Rubin Rodriguez & Jack Dryden, bass; Jeff Trudell & Graham Hawthorne, drums; Oscar Cruz, congas; Pablo Batisto, percussion; SAXOPHONES: Tristan Cappel/alto; Donnell Snyder, tenor/baritone; Alex Foster, soprano/alto/tenor; Ron Blake, alto/tenor; Steve Kenyon, baritone; TROMBONES: Conrad Herwig, Dave Masko, Adam Machaskee, Altin Sencalar, Chris Glassman & David Taylor; TRUMPETS: Wayne Bergeron& Ken Robinson.

Walter White composed the first track, titled “Atlantic Bridge.” In liner notes, he explains the title as an imaginary bridge between Galicia, Spain and New York City.  The catchy tune is based on a Galician bagpipe melody.  White’s lush arrangement has a big band propensity with the sounds of Spain juxtaposed against a bebop feel.  The ensemble comes out swinging hard and Alex Foster offers a sparkling soprano saxophone solo.  “Blue Rondo a la Turk” begins with a royal horn announcement after which, Gary Schunk’s piano steps into the spotlight, bold and bluesy.  This is another dynamic arrangement by Walter White that paints the face of this Dave Brubeck jazz standard with brand, new make-up.

“I was excited to arrange Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk” as a commission for the Detroit Jazz Festival’s Tribute to Brubeck.  Chris Brubeck showed me his dad’s chord voicings, which I incorporated into the chart.  Not many piano players can handle a part as difficult as this as well as Gary Schunk,” Walter White explained.

There are two more familiar jazz standards that follow including Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and Horace Silver’s popular “Nica’s Dream.”  This was originally arranged for Maynard Ferguson’s band.  At one point in his colorful career, White was a member of Maynard’s aggregation, proudly swapping double high C’s with Maynard and being featured as a soloist by his boyhood idol.  He also played with the Woody Herman orchestra, Harry Connick Jr., the Mingus Big Band, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, the Manhattan jazz Orchestra and Arturo Sandoval.

Then comes a Walter White original, “Portus Apostoli” performed with just Schunk at piano and White’s trumpet taking center stage at the introduction.  You can marvel at all his Dizzy Gillespie-type high notes that whistle from the bell of his horn.  Walter White plays with concentrated emotional connection a warm, vibrant tone.  Another of his original compositions closes this record out titled, “Yo Conecto.” It’s a spirited, Latin-flavored piece with background voices that chant the title as Walter White’s trumpet dips and dives above the invigorating horn section.  This tune is named after an ancient seaport near Noia, Spain.  It was written as a tribute to White’s friend, Kenny Wheeler, who had a profound impact on Walter’s playing and writing.

“Rick Margitza’s elegant tenor solo is a highlight as he melodically navigates the complex chord changes,” White compliments one of many iconic players who make up his big band sound.

Because it took two-years, at various studios and locations around the globe, you will notice the listing of several and various musicians who participated in this work of art.  Many are band leaders in their own right. This is an all-star effort that elevates Walter White, the trumpeter, arranger and composer as another one of our unsung heroes in jazz.  His dexterity and emotional delivery on his horn is memorable throughout.  White’s arrangements are lush and beautifully executed.  You can feel the excitement soaring from your CD player.  Perhaps White himself sums up the experience best when he said:

“After all the tracks were recorded, I got back to my studio and felt like a hyped-up kid on Halloween night dumping out my stash to tally up the goodies.  I got a lot of king-sized treats!!”

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CÉSAR OROZCO & KAMARATA JAZZ – “ROOTED FORWARD” – Independent Label

César Orozco, piano/keyboard/composer/arranger/lead vocals; Rodner Padilla, elec. bass; Gabriel Vivas, double bass; Pablo Bencid, drums; Jorge Glem, Venezuelan cuatro; Diego ‘El Negro’ Alvarez, batcusion/ Cajon/Afro-Venezuelan drums (cumaco, clarin & laures); Fran Vielma, congas/guiro/Afro-venezuelan drums; Roberto Moreno, congas/quinto/chekere/clave/cata; Troy Roberts, tenor  & soprano saxophone; Antonio Luis Orta, tenor, soprano & alto saxophone; Tyler Mire & Alex Norris, trumpets; Luke Brimhall & Natasha Bravo, trombone; Marcial Isturiz, lead vocals; Zamira Briceno & David Alastre, backing vocals.

“When I started to plan the album during the summer of 2019, I thought it was time to do an album that could showcase my composer and arranger side a little bit more than I had on the previous ones,” César Orozco affirmed in his press package.

With this production, Orozco has incorporated roots of traditional rhythms from Venezuela and Cuba.  You will hear Cuban danzon, son, chachacha, Venezuelan joropo, merengue and Afro-Cuban styles, obvious and beautiful, weaved into these arrangements, along with contemporary harmonies, sweet tastes of big band salsa, a mixture of meters, tempos and the key element of jazz; that exhibits improvisation galore.  On Track 1, The horns rule. Their harmonic arrangement blasts open the stage drapes and the song, “Heavy Waver” features a stellar trumpet solo by Alex Norris propelled by brilliant, percussive energy provided by Diego Alvarez and Jorge Glem’s cuatro.  The addition of Jorge Glem’s Cuatro instrument adds spice to this production.  The instrument is very close to a guitar sound.  Next, the ensemble pulls back the curtains for César Orozco to showcase his piano magic.  His hands move like a wand across the keyboard, spinning out melodic notes and improvisation.  The tune is happy, exuberant and is one of seven songs penned by César Orozco.  This album spotlights his composer strength.  It is steeped in various hot rhythms and lovely, flavored melodies that our ears soak up and enjoy.  These songs are invigorating and reflective of Orozco’s rich culture.  At the same time, these arrangements move forward into a more contemporary and modern jazz world.  This is reflected in the album’s title, “Rooted Forward.”    César Orozco has cleverly orchestrated this music to not only entertain, but to embrace the best of both worlds.

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RAPHAEL PANNIER – “FAUNE” – French Paradox

Raphael Pannier, drums/composer/arranger; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone/musical director; Aaron Goldberg, piano; Francois Moutin, upright bass; Giorgi Mikadze, classical piano.

Opening with Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” composition, drummer, Raphael Pannier, displays a certain fearlessness.  The song starts out so beautifully poignant and emotional with Miguel Zenon’s alto saxophone pushing loneliness through the bell of his horn.  When Aaron Goldberg solos on piano, he continues the emotional rendering.  Beneath all that emotion is Raphael Pannier, pushing, prodding, electrifying us with his technical skills on the drums.  As Zenon weeps and moans with his horn, Pannier takes a spirited percussive solo.  Then, Francois Moutin walks up on his double bass and the studio goes absolutely quiet.  Just the plucking fingers of Moutin, telling his bass story with intention and grace.  This is a stellar arrangement!

Raphael Pannier was born in Paris in 1990 and started playing drums at age five.  By thirteen, he was performing professionally and soon earned a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston.  He honed his skills with the exceptional tutelage of jazz drum legends Terri Lyne Carrington, Ralph Peterson Jr., and Hal Crook.  Currently living in Harlem, New York, Pannier is always pushing himself to learn more, study more, and create more.  He completed his master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music and attended the competitive Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.  He received a scholarship to study with Mark Turner and Alex Sipiagin at the “Generations” workshop in Switzerland and won 1st prize in the Six Strings Theory Competition organized by Lee Ritenour, legendary guitarist.  Always inquisitive, for a while Pannier performed a unique fusion between jazz and Mugham.  Mugham is a traditional, highly complex music from Azerbaijan.  On this debut album, “Faune,” he displays his artistic vision as a drummer and composer.  Pannier also showcases his composer skills, spotlights his drumming mastery and balances his music between traditional jazz, his French culture and classical roots and Modern jazz.   His musical director’s Puerto Rican and Latin jazz traditions blow from the bell of Miguel Zenon’s horn.  He adds spice to the project.  This is Pannier’s premiere recording as a band leader and he sought out the warm tradition and brilliance on piano that Aaron Goldberg brings to his project.  He wanted the hot, Latin excitement that Miguel Zenon interprets on his saxophone and the freedom and exceptional creativity that self-taught bassist, Francois Moutin offers.  Additionally, Raphael enlisted the talents of Giorgi Mikadze, who is a classical Georgian Pianist, to solidify the traditional classical scores they play on this album.  So, there you have Faune; an album title that translates to ‘wildlife’ or animal spirit in a mythical sense.  This is a reference often made to French painters and the modernism of Debussy and Mallarmé.  In a beautiful way, Raphael Pannier colors and paints with his drum sticks and brushes.  You hear him, even on ballads like his composition “Lullaby” always coloring the music with interesting rhythms and techniques.  On his original composition, “Midtown Blues,” Raphael dances and taps, accenting the breaks and shuffling fluidly beneath Moutin’s intriguing bass solo.  Pannier has penned seven compositions for this debut release, including a very exciting introduction into the Miles Davis jazz standard, “ESP.”  The production gains momentum, as the quartet plays, taking off into space like a swarm of startled Starlings or frightened Doves.  Goldberg shines during his piano solo.  The composition, “Fauna,” is very pretty, very classical and as always colored vividly with Pannier’s creative drums.  Giorgi Mikadze adds his classical touch on Olivier Messiaen’s “Le Baiser de L’Enfant Jesus,” and Ravel’s “Forlane” composition.  But my favorite is the contrasting between classical and jazz, when Zenon’s saxophone brightens Mikadze’s piano interpretations on Raphael Pannier’s tune, “Monkey Puzzle Tree.”  This is a complex and very well produced album by a budding star on the jazz drummer horizon.

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BEN ROSENBLUM – “NEBULA PROJECT: KITES AND STRINGS” –  Independent Label

Ben Rosenblum, piano/accordion/composer/arranger; Wayne Tucker, trumpet; Jasper Dutz, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Rafael Rosa, guitar; Marty Jaffe, bass; Ben Zweig, drums/percussion/ conductor; Jeremy Corren, piano; Jake Chapman, vibraphone; Sam Chess, trombone.

Ben Rosenblum is a composer/arranger who has written eight of the ten songs on his third album release as a bandleader.  “Kites & Strings” is the first album where he is featuring his arranger talents and his original compositions.  They are songs he’s been writing over the past ten years.   The first tune, inspired by Cedar Walton’s jazz standard, “Bolivia,”is developed from a propulsive bass line by Marty Jaffe.  Once a chord vamp enters, Wayne Tucker lays down a catchy melody on his trumpet.  The song, titled “Cedar Place,” is presented in an up-tempo 7/4meter, where Rosenblum, on accordion, can dance freely. 

Track 2 is the title tune, “Kites and Strings.”  During this arrangement, I can almost see the buoyant kites floating above my head, bobbing in the wind.  The vibes of Jake Chapman add an ethereal climate to this arrangement and Rosenblum’s sensuous accordion adds an ‘old world’ flavor to a contemporary sound.  Rosenblum has surrounded himself with legendary jazz cats who have both encouraged him, inspired him and mentored his talents.  In high school, he connected with his first mentor, Israeli-born pianist, Roy Assaf.  It was Assaf who connected Rosenblum to the amazing drummer, Winard Harper, and Ben became part of Winard’s jam session house band.  Veteran vocalist, Deborah Davis, took young Rosenblum under her tutelage wings and the songbird taught him how to accompany a singer. Davis recommended the budding jazz pianist to famed bassist, Curtis Lundy and Curtis became another mentor.

“He was somebody who provided tough love in a way that was great for my development,” Ben Rosenblum recalled.

“I needed to hear about getting my left hand together and being rhythmically solid, how to lead a piano trio and the importance of listening to certain recordings.  I also received some beautiful instruction from Bruce Barth at Columbia and Frank Kimbrough at Juilliard.  I continue to learn the most playing with other people,” he asserted. 

He also studied with Vitor Goncalves and several accordion masters before touring Europe with New York-based, Croatian jazz vocalist, Astrid Kuljanic.  This “Nebula Project” is a culmination of Ben Rosenblum listening, learning, and growing into the multi-talented musician, composer, arranger and bandleader he has become.  He credits the musicians in his current group for helping him explore new horizons and interpreting his arrangements and compositions, inserting their own flavor and talents in a relaxed and natural way.

“I love playing with them so much!  They’re willing to be as adventurous musically as I want to be.  … I want to explore a lot of different styles.  Two of them have a deep knowledge of traditional jazz and hard bob and how to swing, but they’re willing to spend the hours to learn about, say, Brazilian music in a deep way,” Ben Rosenblum praises his ensemble members. 

You hear their camaraderie and individual talents throughout this production.  There is Puerto Rican Guitarist, Rafael Rosa; trumpeter Wayne Tucker, borrowed from his recent tour with vocalist Cyrille Aimee.  Wayne brings an R&B/hip hop groove to their bandstand.  Woodwind player, Jasper Dutz, is classical-minded.  Bassist, Marty Jaffe has been touring as part of Rosenblums’ trio along with drummer Ben Zweig for several years.  They cement the rhythm section like polished marble.  The addition of Rosenblum’s piano and composing skills, plus his accordion talents, bring a very European and Latin American texture to their contemporary musical arrangements. 

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YELLOWJACKETS – “JACKETS XL + WDR BIG BAND – Mack Ave Records

Russell Ferrante, piano/Fender Rhodes/Synthesizer; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone/EWI/flute; Dane Alderson, bass; William Kennedy, drums. WDR BIG BAND MEMBERS: Paul Shigihara, guitar; TRUMPETS: Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Harderer & Ruud Breuls; TROMBONES: Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm, Andy Hunter & Mattis Cedarberg; SAXES, WOODWINDS: Johan Harlen, Kristina Brodersen, Olivier Peters, Paul Heller & Jens Neufang. PRODUCERS: Bob Mintzer, Joachim Becker & Christian Schmitt.

How exciting to hear the Yellowjackets performing with the world-famous WDR Big Band.  The Yellowjackets are celebrating their 25th album in a nearly four-decade history of electro-acoustic music.  This production spotlights the merging of electronic jazz and traditional jazz, made clearly evident when they joined forces with this Cologne, Germany-based big band. All of these original songs have been penned by Russell Ferrante, Bob Mintzer and former bassist with the quartet, Jimmy Haslip.  A few of the compositions recorded here also feature other co-writers.  For example, Yellowjackets’ drummer, William Kennedy, helped write their tune, “Mile High” along with Bill Gable.  This track showcases a very contemporary arrangement by Bob Mintzer, who also solos on this number, while Kennedy makes his drums talk back to the big band horn section.

Mintzer has been with the Yellow jackets group since 1990 is also the principal conductor of the WDR Big Band since 2016. He’s arranged seven of the ten tunes on this album.  Vince Mendoza arranged the other two compositions.

“The four of us are the most adaptable musicians I’ve ever worked with; any setting, any style, we know we can do it.  As for the WDR, they’re one of the best large jazz ensembles in the world.  I knew the two groups would make for a nice marriage,” Bob Mintzer shared. 

Mintzer is right.  This merge of these musical talents creates a rich, plush, orchestrated sound with tangible funk and their contemporary, spicey flavor still front and center.  On the Mintzer composition, “Red Sea” Russell Ferrante is brightly featured on piano. The horn arrangements push the groove forward like wagon wheels, rolling their harmonies around in a forward and aggressive manner.  

Track 5, “Even Song” is a mixture of funk and country/western, with tinges of gospel music woven throughout.  This is a Vince Mendoza arrangement and it features the funky guitar of Paul Shigihara as a guest soloist, along with Mintzer soloing on tenor sax, Alderson on electric bass and Ferrante on piano. Another favorite tune of mine is “Dewey.”  I thought Paul Heller’s tenor solo was stellar on a new song penned by Russell Ferrante titled, “Tokyo Tale.”  They close with the joyful “Revelation” song co-penned by Lorraine Perry.  Russell adds his blues chops to the mix on the piano and the big band swings grandly.

It was fun listening to the Yellowjackets with a big band partner.  They complement each other and lift the music.  Some of the familiar songs by the Yellowjackets, (extracted from other album releases), have been rejuvenated on this project.  Perhaps Mintzer summed it up perfectly when he stated:

“It was like putting a new set of clothes on.  This represents how the Yellowjackets play now.” 

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 BEN ZUCKER – “FIFTH SEASON” – Amalgam Records

Ben Zucker, vibraphone/composer; Mabel Kwan, piano; Eli Namay, bass; Adam Shead, drums.

Currently based in Chicago, Illinois, this is the debut recording for Ben Zucker.  He is lauded as a multi-instrumentalist, composer and improviser.  Surrounded by proficient musicians and his composer charts, Ben Zucker went into the studio with an open mind and encouraged active collaboration with his fellow peers. Their goal was to create something new and free.  Track 2 is the beginning of a suite of five songs that reflect this album title, (Fifth Season).  It reminded me of this approaching Halloween season.  At times, I can imagine some horrific monster jumping out from behind a creaking door.  Eli Namay, builds the excitement and suspense on his bass, with the vibes of Ben Zucker relaxing the listener with beautiful melodic improvisation and Mabel Kwan coloring the production on piano. This song features sudden, stark breaks that come in crescendo waves of energy.   Throughout, Adam Shead is dynamic, tasty and supportive on drums.  Track 3, is “Fifth Season II” and Track 4 is “Fifth Season III.” This suite of music builds Zucker’s improvisational concept.  There are pieces that are beautiful and show the mastery of these musicians and other moments of shock and surprise.  This is a quartet that freely explores all the possibilities in experimental music.  Zucker’s compositions are pulled, like cayenne taffy, stretching individual freedoms of expression hot, sweet and spicy.

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JAZZ IN AN ELECTION YEAR

October 5, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

October 5, 2020

In 2020, during this Presidential election year in the United States, (not to mention during a worldwide pandemic), the artists I have been reviewing are writing and interpreting music that celebrates freedom, family and resilience. Here are musical compositions that are standing up for democracy, diversity and independence.  These artists also reflect hope for the future and love for humanity. Music and art are always a sign of the times. Listen to these musical opinions.

JOHN DAVERSA – “CUARANTENA: WITH FAMILY AT HOME” – Tiger Turn Records

John Daversa, trumpet/flugelhorn; Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; Dafnis Prieto, drums; Sammy Figueroa, percussion.

The first thing I notice about this album is the melodic simplicity in the tune#45, which is Track 1.  It’s the kind of melody you want to sing over and over again.  Enter the horn of John Daversa, with a flurry of notes and a double time feel, before he settles back down to the original medium tempo.  Daversa’s sweet tone coming from the bell of his horn opens the curtains for Gonzalo Rubalcaba to sit in the spotlight at his grand piano.  Lightly, his fingers dance across the black and white keys. As I listen, I recall the album I reviewed by Mr. Daversa, in 2018, that won three Grammy Awards; “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom.”  Consequently, knowing his activist roots, I wondered if he is referring to the 45th President of the United States with this first song.  He has three songs that are titled with numbers; #19, #22 and #45.  He explains in his press package:

“My father is a brilliant trumpet player.  He was a studio musician in Los Angeles studios for many years.  I’m excited to share these melodies on this album.  He almost never wrote titles for his songs, he just numbered them,” Daversa recalled.

I must compliment the senior Mr. Daversa for his extraordinarily warm melodies that have made their way onto this recording.  His son portrays them beautifully.

During this pandemic time and turbulent political era, there are extended periods when people have been locked down with their families much more than usual.  Out of this closeness grew the concept for this album.  It appears that Daversa and pianist Rubalcaba were discussing bolero and how boleros were played by many of the families they knew, becoming a strong bond that unified those family.  On Track 3, “Growing Up in A Musical Family,” John Daversa speaks atop the music to explore his feelings about this time and space in regards to family.

“This quarantine, with its tremendous challenges is an opportunity to reflect on what we want for our lives.  … For me it’s been a wonderful moment to cherish, love and hug my family.  It’s also a chance to appreciate the gift I have been given in this life.  I want to be sure I use them in a way that serves humanity.  Many of the musicians playing on this album grew up in a musical family or came from a musical neighborhood.  For the Daversa family, music is a big part of what glues us all together.  When I was a kid, what’d we do after dinner?  We’d start playing music.  My grandfather would start playing the accordion.  My dad would play some trumpet.  I played some trumpet too and the bass.  My grandmother would be out there with the maracas, or on piano or flute and sing.  …Now, my wife has added the expression of dance to the equation.”

Perhaps, in tribute to that element of dance that his wife has embraced, John Daversa named Track 4, “La Ballerina (para Tatiana)”.  It’s a lovely, delicate song with a brightness to it.  You can almost see the ballerina’s pointed-toed, satin shoes swishing across the stage floor. I enjoyed the way bassist, Carlo De Rosa, engaged the piano solo, doing a dance of their own.  He not only held the rhythm down, but also was quite creative in his bass delivery.  The arrangement is engaging, sometimes doubling the notes against the moderate tempo, lending the effect of ballet dance moves to the mix.

This is an album, where one composition flows smoothly into the next with a quiet, spontaneous energy.  This music is all about our emotional connection to friends, to pets, to children, spouses and the ideals of standing together with a feeling of ‘one’.  Daversa’s song titles give us a peek into his private life.  For example, the “Puppitas” tune that he wrote for their two puppies, Lea and Maya.  The Piano and trumpet duet that he named in memory of his beloved paternal grandparents, Molly and Johnny, whose parents immigrated to America from Italy through Ellis island and became American citizens.  In a book his grandfather kept, much like a personal diary, Daversa found  his grandfather’s love notes on how he met his grandmother while working at the San Francisco canneries.  That love inspired this song;”Fabrica de Conservas de San Francisco (La Historia de Molly y Johnny).” 

Sammy Figueroa takes a minute to share his family life with us on Track 6, introducing listeners to “Sammy Figueroa Plays for Charlie Figueroa.”  One of the things I found completely refreshing and creative about the works of John Daversa is how he weaves the spoken word (in essay form) into the jazz and Latin musical vernacular to clarify the meaning of compositions and arrangements.  He paints musical pictures, like museum portraits, with the words describing the artwork pasted beneath the exhibit.

Sammy Figueroa explained, “Home to me is the most important thing to me, because I grew up in a family that was very musical.  In Puerto Rico, my aunt was a singer, my uncle was a singer, so there was always music around my house.  John (Daversa) said why don’t we do a tune for your father?  I said really?  I’m honored. … You’re going to do an intro for the spirit of your dad.   When we were doing that and I finished, I said OMG, man.  I could feel his presence hovering and I said thank you.  It was pretty emotional!”

This album of music celebrates  family-love and the interconnection of people that enrich our lives.  It’s a very beautiful expression of solidarity and the desire to procreate and hold dear our rich and various cultures, the memories and the beauty that families, like musicians, make; working together towards a common goal; one love.

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MARIA SCHNEIDER – “DATA LORDS” – Artist Share

Maria Schneider, composer/producer/conductor; Ben Monder, guitar; Jay Anderson, bass; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Johnathan Blake, drums/percussion; Gary Versace, accordion;  WOODWINDS: Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Steve Wilson, alto & soprano saxophone/clarinet/flute & alto flute; Dave Pietro, alto saxophone/clarinet/flute/alto flute/piccolo; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone/flute; Scott Robinson, B-flat, bass & contra-bass clarinets/baritone saxophone/muson. TROMBONES: Keith O’Quinn, Ryan Keberle & Marshall Gilkes; George Flynn, bass trombone.  TRUMPETS/FLUEGELHORN: Michael Lenssen, trumpet electronics programming; Mike Rodriguez, Nadje Noordhuis, Greg Gisbert, & Tony Kadleck.

The first thing I noted about this double album CD by Grammy Award-winning composer and bandleader, Maria Schneider, is the high-quality, artistic design and artwork.  Included inside the CD package was a 32-page booklet with photos. There were two CD jackets.  One titled “The Digital World” and the other called, “Our Natural World.”  Maria Schneider’s band of all-star musicians has tackled “A World Lost” that references a simpler time, when people were more connected to the earth and each other.  It becomes the first track on “The Digital World” CD where everyone’s eyes are glued to computers, I-pods and ‘smart phones.’ She portends we are being manipulated by technology and algorithms. 

“No one can deny the great impact that the data-hungry, digital world has had on our lives.  As big data companies clamor for our attention, I know that I’m not alone in struggling to find space to keep connected with my inner world, the natural world, and just the simpler things in life,” explains Maria Schneider.

With this premise in mind, Schneider began to score “Data Lords,” an album meant to examine the conflicting relationships between the digital and natural worlds.  For this project, she features her orchestra of eighteen world-class musicians. Track one, “A World Lost” is hauntingly beautiful, featuring soloists Ben Monder on guitar and Rich Perry on tenor saxophone.  Schneider muses that in her school years, instead of looking at a smart phone (that weren’t even invented yet), she would delve into her imagination to kill time. 

“I think empty space makes us ripe for daydreaming and creativity,” Maria Scheidner tells us.

And, she’s right. When you take away the freedom of our own imagination and dreams to replace them with computerized ideas and voices, that can stagnate people’s creativity. Today, too many people grab a device to fill a vacancy or a quiet moment in their lives.  Consequently, multi-million-dollar companies stalk and track our every nuance.  This can allow them to monitor and even change our behavior. It also makes them rich. That’s what this production is all about.  Each song represents a unique story disclosed in detail inside their 32-page booklet.  “Don’t Be Evil” is a warning to companies like Google and FaceBook, who are using and selling data collected from the public for power and money.  They often provide platforms where youth can be goaded and/or bullied into self-injury or suicide. The title tune, “Data Lords” also is composed to challenge data-collecting companies.  Maria Schneider reminds us that Google’s apologist predicts computers will have human-level intelligence by 2029.  What does that mean for our society?  This music demands we stop, look and listen, not only to this orchestrated masterpiece, but to the world around us. The second CD, titled “Our Natural World” offers more positive composition titles like “Look Up” and “Braided Together.” 

“Musicians have been the canary in the coal mine,” Schneider says. “We were the first to be used and traded for data.”

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JESSE FISCHER – “RESILIENCE” – Independent Label

Jesse Fischer, piano/keyboards/Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer/Hammond B-3 organ/moog little phatty/Prophet Rev2/Juno 106/ARP Omni/mandolin/voice/percussion/production/composer; Michael Valeanu &   Jordan Peter, guitar; David Cutler, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Keita Ogawa & Mino Cinelu, percussion; Daniel Winshall, upright bass; Morgan Guerin, tenor saxophone/EWI/drums; Godwin Louis, soprano & Alto saxophones; Billy Buss, trumpet; Sarah Elizabeth Charles & Becca Stevens, vocals.

Although this music project was conceived and recorded prior to the corona virus pandemic and before the publicized national reckoning on race and policing, many of Jesse Fischer’s themes on this “Resilience” album are absolutely relevant.  By the time the music was ready for release, the title had taken on new meaning in relationship to our current political climate.

“I wrote most of this new material soon after becoming a father,” Fischer shared in his press package.

“I was overcome with joy and gratitude at home. Yet I was witnessing the outer world crumble into fear, xenophobia and ignorance; watching dictatorships replace democracies; ongoing state-sanctioned violence against African Americans and the gulf between political and ethnic groups growing wider and more insurmountable,” the composer explained.

The music of Jesse Fischer is a well-balanced mixture of smooth jazz, his Jewish heritage and contemporary jazz.  As a pianist, a producer and a composer, Mr. Fischer mixes groove-based modern jazz with Jazz’s African diaspora roots.   You hear this on the “Play Date” tune, rich with percussion undertones.  Billy Buss swoops and skates across the vibrant percussion during his trumpet solo.  On an original composition that Jesse Fischer titles, “The Wanderer” Gregoire Maret adds beauty and luster to the ballad on his chromatic harmonica.  “Same Mistakes,” another Fischer composition, where he also co-wrote lyrics, that plead with humanity to stop making the same blunders over and over again. Great lyrics!  But the melody and arrangement step outside the realm of jazz. I’m not sure what genre this song falls into; perhaps world music with its Spanish-sounding, Bolero roots.  He closes with a song called, “Meditation on Peace.”   We certainly need more of that!

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LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST – “NOW” – Independent label

Lafayette Gilchrist, piano/composer; Herman Burnie, bass; Eric Kennedy, drums.

Lafayette Gilchrist is a very rhythmic piano player and prolific composer.   As a bandleader, on this album he returns to the trio format and offers us a double disc, double dose of fiery originality.  His combustible band is invigorated by the drum chops of Eric Kennedy and the solid bass of Herman Burney.   They open Disc One with “Assume the Position,” a protest tune that musically profiles police violence.  This song was featured on HBO’s crime drama, “The Wire.”  You can feel the frustration and the anger in this arrangement, marked by Lafayette’s unrelenting rhythm attack.  This album contains other socially and politically conscious compositions.  On “Bamboozled,” Herman Burnie opens this arrangement on his upright bass.  Then, while Gilchrist chords out the melody, it becomes a half-time melodic adventure against a double time, improvisational flurry of Eric Kennedy’s drums.  It makes for a very interesting and dynamic arrangement. 

Based in Baltimore, Lafayette Gilchrist has resided in Maryland since 1987.  He has performed with a number of jazz legends like David Murray, singer Cassandra Wilson, bassist William Parker, drummer Andrew Cyrille and trombonist, Craig Harris.  He formed his first ensemble, called New Volcanoes, in 1993.  They released an album titled; The Art is Life that same year.  Since that debut endeavor, Gilchrist has released a Baker’s Dozen of albums as bandleader.  His music has been features on television shows like “The Deuce” and “Treme.”   While attending University of Maryland, Baltimore, at age seventeen he stumbled into a recital hall and began picking out melodies on the piano.  So began his career.

Lafayette Gilchrist blends funky grooves, intense drums (that are highly improvisational), a keen sense of melody and a sprinkle of Hip Hop to create a hybrid jazz that is quite forceful.  Gilchrist knows how to create ‘hooks’ in his compositions.  He brings the listener back to a repeatable melodic line, neatly tying the whole musical package together with this familiar ‘hook.’  You hear this on “Rare Essence” where Herman Burnie steps stage front on his big, bad bass instrument.  Another tune Lafayette wrote called, “On Your Belly Like A Snake” is inspired by a scene from Haile Gerima’s 1993 movie Sankofa.  This instrumental depicts a conversation between a rebellious field slave, Shango, and a compliant house slave named Shola.  Shango has just been beaten and the house servant is advising him to be more compliant and avoid violence with the master.  Shango fires back angrily.  Throughout this production, Lafayette Gilchrist offers socio-political concerns attached to his various compositions and trio presentations.   The accompanying press package explains that his music has been inspired by the American wealth gap between societies; from talk shows and motion pictures; from the horrible death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and the continuing struggle for equality in America. Gilchrist may not be an extraordinary jazz pianist, but he is a notable groove master and composer.  With titles like “Bmore Careful” and “Tomorrow Is Waiting Now” you get a sense of his messaging.  He asks us (with music) to “Get Straight to The Point” and “Can You Speak My Language?”  His arrangements are packed with intensity and forcefulness as he demands our attention, with few exceptions. It was a nice relief to hear a ballad now and then like, “Say A Prayer For Our Love” and the moderate tempo of “The Midnight Step Rag” sweeps us to a New Orleans neighborhood smelling of gumbo and French bread.

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NOSHIR MODY – “AN IDEALIST’S HANDBOOK: IDENTITY, LOVE & HOPE IN AMERICA 2020” – Indie Collaborative Official Artist

Noshir Mody, electric & acoustic guitars/composer/arranger; Kate Victor, vocals; Mike Mullan, alto & tenor saxophone; Benjamin Hankle, trumpet/flugelhorn; Campbell Charshee, piano; Yuka Tadano, elec. bass/double bass.

The compositions and arrangements on this recording, including lyrics, are the work of guitarist, Noshir Mody.  Vocalist Kate Victor has a lovely voice and interprets Mody’s, “Illusions Grow” tune with emotion and tonal accuracy.

Noshir Mody is a self-taught guitarist born and raised in Bombay, India.  He relocated to New York when he was twenty-two years old and for the next twenty-five years, he’s developed his talents, combining his minor mode, Indian culture with Fusion Rock and Jazz.  He has been bandleader of an Ethni-Fusion Rock Ensemble and an Ethni-Fusion Jazz group, while also performing around New York City as a trio.  The title of his album inspires hope and love, but with the exception of “Illusions Grow” and the ballad sung by Kate titled “Illustrating Rise” his instrumental compositions are rather redundant in structure.  Most of his compositions lend themselves to electronic jazz fusion or rock music.  His solo guitar on the song, “Sketching Under A Starlit Sky” was a nice break from the full ensemble productions and let the listener clearly hear the artist’s talent on his instrument. There is a strong leaning towards World Music and quite a bit of dissonance in some of his arrangements.  However, in the current global climate and during the USA election year, we definitely need more idealists.

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TOBIN MUELLER – WHAT SURVIVES (RADIO EDITS) – Independent Label

Tobin Mueller, B3 organ/pianos/synthesizers/drums; Chris Mueller, acoustic piano; Jeff cox, acoustic bass;  Dane Richeson, drums/percussion; Ken Schaphorst, flugelhorn; Bob Levy, trumpet; Tom Washatka & Doug Schneider, tenor saxophone; Woody Mankowski, vocals/soprano saxophone. GUEST ARTISTS:  Ron Carter, bass; Bill Barner, clarinet; Martyn Kember-Smith, fiddle; Emily Rohm, vocals.

If you are feeling blue, this first cut on Tobin Mueller’s production should lift you up and bring happiness to your heart.  Titled, “Cliff’s Edge” this Mueller composition is fusion jazz at its best.  Mueller plays his B3 organ on this tune and it reminds me of the days when Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunter” album was blowing our minds.  This song wreaks of that kind of inspiration and energy.  The staccato punches and funk groove inspire both Doug Schneider on tenor saxophone and Woody Mankowski on Soprano sax to strut their stuff above the plush rhythm section and horn harmonies.  What a great way to open this album.  Now they have my full attention. 

In the middle of a pandemic, with over 200,000 Americans dead and an administration that seemingly turns a blind eye to this disease and  its dying citizens, and during an election year we approach with an avalanche of political polarization ; with people marching in the street for equal rights and other’s marching against wearing masks that might protect other’s from infection; with the Internet and the news waves full of contradictory information and everyone seeming at odds with each other over one thing or another, I often feel like I’m on the “Cliff’s Edge.”  This music hit the mark on the head for me.

Mueller’s music is based on a Broadway show, written by Tobin Mueller in 1995.  The musical show was based on the Frankenstein story.  Consequently, the compositions and lyrics are meant to paint a portrait of a young Victor Frankenstein as he heroically conquers death, but then gets sidetracked by other ambitions.  The song, “A Promise” is rich with blues.  It offers a lyric sung by Woody Mankowski.  Ron Carter’s genius walking bass opens Track 4.  Enter Mueller on organ and he also plays drums on this cut.  Originally, this was a progressive rock opera.  It was later when Mueller began to record his music incorporating jazz, fusion, R&B, blues and contemporary music into the mix.  You will enjoy fifteen original compositions, with five bonus tracks available on their digital release.  The ballads are lovely and emotional, but the other compositions snatch energy out of the universe and toss it around like a meteor shower. 

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DAVE  PIETRO – “HYPERSPHERE” – Artist Share

Dave Pietro, alto, C Melody & soprano saxophones/flute; Alex Sipaigin, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Gary Versace, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ; Johannes Weidenmueller, bass; Johnathan Black, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion.

According to the Dave Pietro press package, “Hypersphere” represents the artist’s reflection on our modern human experience and all the spheres that make up our lives.  We either balance them or let them stress us out.  This recognition of the human spirit’s quest for peace, amidst chaos, is reflected in his eight compositions.  Pietro says in his liner notes:

“The experience of living in quarantine, slowing down and simplifying my life, made the message of this project that much more meaningful to me. The music of this CD addresses some of the life dimensions that all of us must negotiate during our time here on this sphere called Earth.  I wrote the first tune on this CD, “Kakistocracy,” while contemplating the social structures that we have to live under; particularly our government (and the 24-hour cable news din that accompanies it).  The three-part counterpoint of the opening melody is intended to sound like numerous people talking at once, mainly at and over one another.”

Dave Pietro explained that much better than I could.  He succeeded in his counterpoint musical maneuvers.  This first song sounds stressed out and like several instrumental voices talking to and over each other.  Track 2 is titled “Boulder Snowfall.”  This composition by Pietro was inspired by watching a Colorado snow storm and thinking of man’s precarious relationship with nature.  The tune, “Gina” features Gary Versace on Hammond B3 organ opening the ballad, a tribute to Pietro’s wife.  Johannes Weidenmueller  lends an improvisational solo on double bass and Pietro incorporates a trombone into the mix featuring Ryan Keberle. 

“This song is dedicated to my amazing wife, the love of my life, who also happens to be a wonderful trombonist (thus the trombone counterpoint on the melody),” he explains.

The title tune gives trumpeter, Alex Sipiagin, and Pietro on his saxophone, an opportunity to showcase their unique talents and also allows Johnathan Blake, on drums, to take an inspired solo. I enjoyed the way pianist Versace played softly beneath his drum solo, adding depth to the moment.  For the most part, I found the drummer to be very colorful on every tune, but sometimes you just want to hear a solid two and four to cement the groove in place.   Blake is busy, busy.   I enjoyed the horn arrangements on “Quantum Entanglements” making use of unison lines, instead of so much harmony.  Also, playing with tempos and time changes kept the production interesting.  Once again, Blake was completely busy throughout, almost as if he and the pianist were sparring in a boxing ring.  Pietro’s composition, “Orison” closes the album.  Orison is an archaic word for prayer and symbolizes Dave Pietro’s personal journey and the journey that we all take alone and together, as we try to understand what the higher meaning of our existence really is. 

“Perhaps the most personal and private dimension of our lives is our spiritual life,” Dave reminds us.  

This is modern jazz that explores themes of interconnectedness, truth and prayer on Dave Pietro’s 8th release as a bandleader and gives him a disc to share his composition talents and saxophone tenacity. 

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JAVIER NERO – “FREEDOM” – Outside In Music

Javier Nero, trombone/vocals/composer/arranger; Tom Kelley, alto & soprano saxophone/flute; Jean Caze, trumpet/flugelhorn; Melvin Butler, tenor & soprano saxophone; Tal Cohen, piano; Dion Kerr, acoustic & Electric bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Brian Lynch, trumpet/flugelhorn; Shelly Berg, piano; Russ Spiegel, electric & acoustic guitar; Kyle Athayde, vibraphone; Lauren Desberg, vocals/background vocals; Murphy Aucamp, percussion.

“Double Vision” is the first song that leaps off this CD with excitement and energy.  Trombonist, Dr.  Javier Nero, has composed every song on this recording.  He blends jazz with elements of folk, Americana and blues to introduce the listener to his creativity on this debut album inspired by the word “Freedom.”  Amidst the current politically-charged time, Dr. Nero has written twelve songs, and assembled a group of all-star talents to interpret his arrangements.  On Track 2, titled “Cachaca” Kyle Athayde steps into the spotlight and introduces us to his talents on the vibraphone.  The warm harmonics of the horn players create a plush cushion where the vibes can bounce.  This is a happy, joyful tune with a catchy and repeatable melody.  Murphy Aucamp is given a solo space to competently place his percussion magic at the fade of the song.

Tracks 3 & 4 share the same title: “I Tried So Hard.” The first exploration into this song is Part 1 and the next becomes Part 2.  Lauren Desberg lends her soft, warm vocals to this arrangement, layering the background vocal support in a lovely way.  Javier Nero has such a steamy, inviting sound on his trombone.  Tal Cohen pumps energy into the arrangement on grand piano, sparkling in the spotlight after Javier’s solo. 

“My father was probably the reason I became interested in music and particularly interested in jazz.  I remember long road trips as a child and listening to music where my father introduced me and my brothers to artists like Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Slide Hampton, Tower of Power, Earth Wind & Fire, to name a few.  I remember my dad always bothering my brother and me to harmonize with him over old Motown records and identify the instruments we heard playing solos as we rode along,” Javier Nero muses. 

Special guest, Shelly Berg opens Track 6 with solo piano.  The song is called “Just Let Go” and becomes a platform for Javier Nero and Berg to dance duo.  It’s a gorgeous composition and gives us an opportunity to hear every nuance and tone, showcasing Nero’s technical skills on the trombone. Berg sparkles his piano genius across the keys like stardust.  On the composition titled, “Reality” Aaron Kimmel slaps the funk into the tune from his drum set.  Javier Nero smoothly blends traditional jazz with his young spirit and knows how to interweave a groove inside of his arrangements.  Consequently, he crosses genres and infuses his music to embrace both the young and old generations.  His composition, “Discord” clearly represents this unique talent, borrowing a lick from the great Ahmad Jamal’s Poinciana masterpiece on drums. 

Dion Kerr, on electric bass, sets the tone and tempo on “Midnight Groove” until the horns enter like a harmonic chorus line. They kick the curtains open for Javier Nero, who becomes the focal point of this music. Then, he comfortably shares his spotlight performance with Jean Caze on trumpet.  This music is as relaxing and healing   as a professional spa massage and just as enjoyable.

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