MEN IN JAZZ / 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

November 1, 2020

KEMUEL ROIG – “GENESIS” – Independent Label

Kemuel Roig, piano/keyboard/percussion/composer/arranger; Lowell Ringel, bass; Hilario Bell, drums/percussion; Jose ‘Majito’ Aguilera, percussion; Chris Potter, Ed Calle & Roilan Vazquez, tenor saxophone; Randy Brecker, Mercy Brass, Julio Padron, Osvaldo Fleites & Gerardo Rodriguez, trumpets;  Alain Perez & Joel Hernandez, vocals; Bayron Ramos, trombone; Milton Sesenton, orchestra arranger & conductor.

Kemuel RoIg is no newcomer to music, performance, touring or recording, but this is his first jazz CD.  After touring as part of the illustrious trumpeter, Arturo Sandoval’s band, as both pianist and composer, Kemuel Roig is stepping into his own bandleader spotlight.  Eighteen years ago, he arrived in the USA from Camaguey, Cuba and settled in Florida.  With solid footing in his Christian belief, he has released four previous works that were well-received in New Age music circles and categorized as Christian music.  Roig has also established himself as a strong session man, performing or recording studio sessions with the likes of Al di Meola, Isaac Delgado, Brian Lynch, Giovanni Hidalgo and Aymee Nuviola.  But on this project, he spreads his fingers across the 88-keys and reaches for his dreams.

“Genesis” demonstrates the journey of my life thus far and is a testimony to a life spent learning about the music that I love and respect deeply; jazz!”  Kemuel Roig states.

The first track is titled “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” and it’s gleeful, featuring the drums of Hilario Bell and the percussion of Jose ‘Majito’ Aquilera.  It’s quite contemporary in arrangement and gives Kemuel Roig an opportunity to lead the ensemble in a forceful, yet melodic way, issuing in the orchestrated horns with much flare.  This song features improvisational solos by Ed Calle on tenor sax and trumpeter, Mercy Brass.  The second tune is quite beautiful, titled “Genesis 41 (Recurring Dream)” that, in the bible, translates to Joseph’s test deciphering Pharoah’s dreams.  As the story goes, Pharoah dreamed of seven fat cows coming up out of the river followed by seven lean and starving cows.  The lean cows ate up the healthy, fat cows. Then Pharoah dreamed of seven healthy corn stalks and seven thin ears of corn that appeared and devoured the seven healthy corn stalks.  Joseph warned Pharoah that Egypt would have seven amazing and plentiful years followed by seven years of famine.  And so, it came to be.  This is one of seven original compositions that Kemuel Roig has penned and his piano performance on this lovely ballad is emotional and passionate.   Lowell Ringel plays a noteworthy bass solo during this arrangement. This arrangement is performed without horns, using only bass, drums and Roig’s brilliant piano playing.  I had to play this song twice to soak up all the nuances of beauty.

You will find Kemuel Roig paying tribute to God throughout this recording, also showcasing his Cuban roots and traditions in Latin music, while incorporating jazz and Gospel music.  He also is saluting the many amazing musicians who have inspired him to become an awesome pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader. Track 3, “Pare Cochero” brings his Cuban roots to the surface and encourages me to grab my dancing shoes. Alain Perez begins to sing; the horns blare and the party begins.

“We must never forget the Genesis of our voyage.  … In its infancy, the smallest steps appeared as blurry, momentary dreams.  We must always pay humble respect to the traditions that led us to this point in history and the truth of our evolved “Genesis,” says Kemuel Roig.

“Inner Urge” is jazz at its best with bold contemporary touches.  Chris Potter sparkles brightly on tenor saxophone and Hilario Bell shows off his mastery on trap drums in a dynamic way.  Kemuel Roig plays both keyboards and grand piano.  “Conversation” featured Randy Brecker on trumpet solo and is another original composition by Roig. There is a new age kind of repetitive line that runs through this song like the wire that holds a string of pearls in place.  Brecker is the bright emerald dangling from the pearl necklace.  Roig’s piano touches represent the diamonds that dot the necklace and circle the emerald.  This is a sparkling piece of music. 

One thing happened, while I was listening to Kemuel Roig, that was very unusual.  My daughter heard this music drifting to her part of the house and came to ask me who was playing?  She said the music was touching her heart and soul.  She said it was so spiritual that she had to come ask me who it was.  That has only happened a couple of times when I’m reviewing music.  She’s very selective about music and she’s also a very spiritual young lady.  When she told me, his music had touched her soul, she held her palm across her heart with sincerity.  This happened during the final song called, “Prayer.”

That says it all!

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NOAH HAIDU – “DOCTONE” – Sunnyside label

Noah Haidu, piano/keyboards/arranger; Billy Hart, drums; Todd Coolman, bass; Steve Wilson, alto & soprano saxophone; Gary Thomas, tenor saxophone; Jon Irabagon, Tenor & soprano saxophones; Dan Sadownick, percussion.

This album by Noah Haidu is a tribute to Kenny Kirkland, who was born September 28, 1955 and died from congenital heart disease in November of 1998.  He was 43 years old.  “Doctone” was released October 2, 2020, just a few days after what would have been Kirkland’s 65th birthday.  Kirkland was one of the dominant influences on Noah Haidu, and as Haidu said in his liner notes:

“Doctone is the first recording dedicated entirely to Kirkland’s original music.  I view Kenny as the most unique composer and pianist of his generation.  Because he died young and avoided the spotlight, his brilliant compositions have been overlooked for too long. … Kenny was known as Doctone by his close friends.  I never got to know Kenny, but after working on this project, I sometimes feel as though I did.”

Haidu opens this recording with “Doctor of Tone.”  Noah introduces the composition rubato, with only piano and drums.  It’s just a minute and twenty-seven seconds long, but serves to prepare the stage for “Midnight Silence” to enter.  That’s the title of track 2.  It moves from a sultry, pretty, moderately-tempo’d ballad to a slow swing, propelled by the great Billy Hart on drums.  Hart has worked with Kirkland in the past and has first-hand knowledge of Kenny Kirkland’s greatness. Since the 1970’s, Billy Hart had performed with Kirkland on various fusion, Afro-Latin and avant-garde projects.  Consequently, Noah felt he was the perfect drummer for this project.   

Noah Haidu’s first connection with Kirkland began in Haidu’s youth, when he was intrigued with Kenny Kirkland’s jazz solos and keyboard grooves that sparked the ‘post-Police’ tours with Sting.  With Sting Kenny recorded: The Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985); Bring on the Night (1986); Nothing Like the Sun (1987), Nada Como el sol (1988), The Soul Cages (1991), Mercury Falling (1996).

Noah’s “Doctone’ production is a multimedia project.  There’s this recording, an original book by Haidu (containing interviews with many of Kenny Kirkland’s contemporaries) and a film directed by Jeffrey Chuang.  Chuang’s documentary about Kirkland’s life was released on Sept 28, 2020.

“I typically set out to build a cohesive statement with each album so that the pieces fit together like chapters in a book.  This project was different.  I didn’t’ work through the repertoire on many gigs or do a lot of rehearsing, though I’ve always been moved by these songs.  The result was that in the studio, I had a visceral response to material that was fresh and emotionally compelling,” Noah Haidu clarified in his press release.

Kirkland’s two most familiar compositions are, “Steepian Faith” where Steve Wilson’s soprano saxophone explores the melody on this recent recording and “Dienda”, that Noah Haidu has divided into a part one and part two.  This arrangement changes meters and tempos numerous times.  This seems to happen a lot throughout Mr. Haidu’s interpretation of these Kirkland songs.  You will hear several rhythmic ideas explored during the ensemble’s playing both “Chambers of Tain” and Kirkland’s tune, “Fuschia.”  I enjoyed the fiery, hard bop approach on “Chambers of Tain” and another one of my favorites on this project was “Mr. J.C.” that was played straight-ahead in an uncompromising way. Gary Thomas is brilliant on tenor saxophone and Noah Haidu clearly shows off his technical abilities and creativity during a tenacious piano solo.  Hart pushes and prods the music forward on trap drums with obvious energy.   Todd Coolman can be heard walking briskly beneath the excitement on his double bass.  Most of all, aside from the excellent musicianship on Haidu’s album, the public’s introduction to the composer skills of Kenny Kirkland is palpable with this new project.  Thanks Noah!

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MATT ULERY – “POLLINATOR” – WoolGatheringRecords

Matt Ulery, sousaphone; Paul Bedal, piano; Quin Kirchner, drums; Steve Duncan, trombone; Dustin Laurenzi, tenor; James Davis, trumpet.

This is the tenth album release from Matt Ulery, a celebrated composer and bandleader.  If you are a fan of the Roaring 20’s era and the sounds of King Oliver, jelly Roll Morton and/or Duke Ellington, then you will totally enjoy this album of original music, composed in celebration of that era. 

“With respect, we’d like to present this art project with joy, humor and sincerity in celebration of the innovators that helped give birth to this revolutionary age of American art music,” explained Matt Ulery.

“So Long, Toots” is one of eight compositions that Matt Ulery has composed.  It rolls off my CD player like a train pulling out of the station.  You can hear the train whistle in the horn arrangements and feel the powerful movement of a steam powered locomotive.  The trumpet of James Davis is exhilarating.  The tune, “Jelly” may be a musical nod to the brilliance of Jelly Roll Morton.  It’s a happy-go-lucky song that features Dustin Laurenzi on a smooth tenor saxophone solo with Matt Ulery’s sousaphone dancing strongly beneath the arrangement and competently replacing the double bass.  Unison horns sing the joyful melody of “Cakes” and then invite Steve Duncan to step out front on his slide trombone to solo.  Paul Bedal takes an opportunity to showcase his skills on piano. 

Ulery draws a parallel between the prohibition period that stained the 1920’s jazz age and issued in the popular ‘After-Hours’ clubs.  These private clubs sprang up to supply music and alcohol to their willing patrons.  Unfortunately, this current, pandemic, health crisis does not lend itself to crowded clubs, restaurants, concert venues, schools or almost anywhere that you can stand shoulder to shoulder with your fellow man. Today, we are advised to stand six to 12 feet apart, wear masks, don’t hug, wash your hands and carry disinfected-wipes around with you. This has probably encouraged jazz listeners to listen to a lot more music at home, both new and old.   Matt Ulery’s album is a pleasant, musical diversion.

“We didn’t expect to be releasing this record in such an extreme time of prohibition, but we’d like to invite you to put this album on, move to it, let some light in and feel free and good,” Ulery writes in his press release.

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DOUGLAS OLSEN – “2 CENTS” – Independent Label

Douglas Olsen, trumpet/flugelhorn; Dino Govani, tenor & alto saxophone; Tucker Antell, tenor Saxophone; Angel Subero, trombone/guiro; Yaure Muniz, trumpet; Tim Ray, piano; Dave Zinno, bass; Mark Walker, drums; Ernesto Diaz, congas.

Douglas Olsen has composed six out of nine songs on this, his debut recording.  He’s been a busy musician in the New England area, playing his trumpet and flugelhorn in a variety of jazz settings.  Olsen’s worked with the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra, Felipe Salles’ Interconnections Ensemble, Aretha Franklin, several Latin jazz orchestras and the Smithsonian Masterworks Jazz Orchestra, to name just a few.  He also leads his own Doug Olsen Quintet.

Opening with “Tailwind,” this composition encourages Mark Walker to solo distinctively on his trap drums.  It’s followed by the title tune, “2 Cents” that has a catchy melody, performed by harmonious horns at first, then parting the curtain so Dave Zinno can feature a solo on his bass instrument.  Dizzy Gillespie’s “Algo Bueno” is a spirited example of Olsen’s love of Latin flavored jazz and of course, of his admiration for Gillespie.   “Rat Race” is Straight-ahead jazz and rushes from my CD player like turnpike traffic at midnight.  It puts the pedal to the metal.  Douglas Olsen shows his mastery as the notes ripple out of the bell of his horn.  Dino Govoni follows suit, racing to the spotlight with a flurry of joyful saxophone notes.  The trumpet and saxophone hold a musical conversation, talking to each other, trading fours, then joining in the harmonic delivery of the song’s melody. The ensemble’s closing composition, “Passage” is an exciting arrangement that lets drummer, Mark Walker stretch out with spark and fire on his trap drums.  It also encourages the various musicians to fly free and improvise at their highest levels.  Tim Ray provides an exquisite interpretation on the 88-keys.  His solo reminds me of wild geese that flap and fly at an incredible pace to avoid the hunter’s bullet. 

This is a stellar premiere recording for Douglas Olsen, spotlighting his awesome strength as a composer, a bandleader and a very effective and memorable trumpet and flugelhorn player.

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RICHARD BARATTA – “MUSIC IN FILM: THE REEL DEAL” – Savant Records

Richard Baratta, drums; Paul Rossman, percussion; Bill O’Connell, piano/arranger; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Michael Goetz, bass; Vincent Herring, saxophone; Carroll Scott, vocals.

Right off the bat, the first tune flies off this spinning CD player like a fast ball. “Luck Be A Lady” roars into view as an up-tempo Samba.  It gives Richard Baratta an opportunity to introduce himself to us boldly on his drum kit.   “Everybody’s Talkin’” swings hard.  Half way through, it flips into double time and the musician’s race for the exit.  Bacharach’s familiar song, “Alfie” settles the mood and is performed as a brush-stroking ballad with the spotlight shining brightly on Bill O’Connell at the grand piano and Vincent Herring on saxophone.

It’s been more than thirty years since Richard Baratta disappeared from the jazz scene and this is his sparkling reemergence to the world he loves.  Like so many talented musicians, Baratta soon realized that a musician’s salary wasn’t always complimentary to raising and supporting a family.  So, in 1984 he became a scout for the film industry, finding locations where films could be shot.  Baratta climbed from the gig of Location Manager to the prestigious ranks of Executive Producer.  He was part of over fifty films including such gems as Donnie Brasco, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Irishman. Most of the film world, where he worked, didn’t have a clue about his amazing drum skills, until Baratta started moonlighting at ‘The Astor Room’ in New York.  Soon the jazz world was buzzing about this talented and precocious drummer.  Lucky for us, Richard Baratta is back on the jazz scene in a very powerful way.  His trio from the Astor Room (now called George’s) has spilled over into this recording production.  There is a warm cohesion between guitarist Paul Bollenback, bassist Michael Goetz and Baratta.  Paul Rossman, on percussion, is Baratta’s cousin and longtime rhythm partner.  He has long appreciated the talented Bill O’Connell on piano and O’connell took pleasure in arranging the music they play on this project.  Vincent Herring’s saxophone adds the final touch to this energetic and expressive musical achievement. “Chopsticks” never sounded so good as when these musicians tackle it and transform the tune to a Latin classic. 

Every song on this album celebrates a film that this musical repertoire became a part of.  Remember “Luck Be A Lady” was featured in Mrs. Doubtfire“Everybody’s Talkin’” touched us in Midnight Cowboy.  “Alfie” is the title tune of the film Alfie and “Chopsticks” was in the 1988 film, Big. You will enjoy the “Theme from the Godfather” and “Seasons of Love” from the Rent movie that features the vocals of Carroll Scott.  Consequently, this prize-winning music and concept ties the two lives together of Richard Baratta (film maker and jazz drummer) in a beautiful way.  He plays all styles with ease and spontaneity.  Their New Orleans style arrangement on the Beatles familiar “Come Together” tune is spectacular.  Drummer, Richard Baratta is back and in full force! 

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DUSTIN LAURENZI’S – “NATURAL LANGUAGE: A TIME AND A PLACE” – Woolgathering Records

Dustin Laurenzi, tenor saxophone/composer; Jeff Swanson, guitar; Mike Harmon, bass; Charles Rumback, drums.

Dustin Laurenzi is a Chicago composer and tenor saxophonist.  He has a silky, smooth tone.   At times, his horn sings unison with the guitarist, like on Track 2, “Albert” and Track 4, “Blocks.”  Charles Rumback rides free and captivates with his busy trap drums, while Mike Harmon, on bass, holds the tempo in place. That’s somewhat of a reversal of roles.  The bassist solidifies the rhythm section on “Albert,” while the drums brightly color this eight-minutes of abstract modern jazz.  Track 3 is titled “Ridgeway” and is a ballad of sorts, giving Mike Harmon an opportunity to showcase his solo bass skills.  There are only five tunes on this entire album, more like an EP than a CD.  However, each song is long-winded, with the final tune, “Slate” taking all of ten minutes to play-out.   Once Dustin Laurenzi establishes his original melodies, his composition arrangements repeat themselves melodically, over and over, as he improvises on top.  Some of these arrangements leave me wanting more; more musical exploration and more innovation.

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WILL BONNESS – “CHANGE OF PLANS”

Will Bonness, piano/composer; Julian Bradford, bass; Fabio Ragnelli, drums; Jon Gordon, alto saxophone; Jocelyn Gould, vocals.

“Burning Bridges” opens this CD.  This composition is volcano hot with Will Bonness, on piano, the obvious star.  Jon Gordon is featured on alto saxophone and flies like an eagle.  The drums are given an opportunity to thoroughly explore those burning bridges and drummer, Fabio Ragnelli does not disappoint.  He’s on fire too! 

Track 2 settles these musicians down with the familiar standard, “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and features vocalist, Jocelyn Gould interpreting the ballad.  At first, there is only a duo arrangement, featuring the fresh and innovative chording of Will Bonness on piano and the jazz singer.  When Jon Gordon enters on saxophone, he sweetly enhances the production.  Will Bonness has mixed up the tracks by featuring various members of his ensemble. Sometimes he features a duo and other times uses a trio of his musicians, a quartet or a quintet.  It keeps this album interesting and diversifies the production, along with his repertoire choices.  He has composed five original songs and added a smattering of familiar jazz standards like “I Love You” and Bonness even re-arranged an alternative rock song ,“Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” originally recorded by The Smashing Pumpkins in 1995. These are some of Canada’s A-team musicians.  Sit back and enjoy.

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STEVE FIDYK – “BATTLE LINES” – Blue Canteen Music (BCM)

Steve Fidyk, drums; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet/flugelhorn; Xavier Perez, tenor saxophone; Peter Zak, piano; Michael Karn, bass.

Steve Fidyk is a drummer and composer, who was inspired by his father, who played tenor saxophone.  At age eight, young Steve was encouraged to play drums by his family, with his dad, sax-man, John Fidyk, sometimes allowing him to play on gigs, as a substitute drummer, with his Pennsylvania jazz band.  While majoring in music at Wilkes University he played drums in their big band and became very interested in jazz.  He has studied with Joe Morello, Ed Soph, John Riley, Ralph Peterson, Robert Nowak and Angelo Stella.  For over twenty-one years, Steve Fidyk has been the drummer and featured soloist with the Army Blues Big Band and a premier 17-piece jazz ensemble stationed in Washington DC.  Consequently, he has performed for seven US Presidents and even more dignitaries.  He also traveled throughout the Middle East supporting our troops.

His current aggregation features some of the top players on the East Coast.  Opening with “Ignominy” an Eddie Harris straight-ahead jazz tune known for its unusual 20 measure length.  This tune gives Joe Magnarelli on trumpet, and Xavier Perez on tenor sax, an opportunity to stretch out and strut their talents across the studio stage.  Peter Zak takes a piano solo as well, but he really impresses me on track 2, written by Steve Fidyk and titled “Battle Lines.”    Zak flies across the piano keys at a rapid pace, spurred by the serious and energetic drums of Fidyk.  It’s a great tune!  This one is followed by another Fidyk original song called “Loopholes.”  It’s rooted in the blues and very funky.  Steve has composed seven of the eleven songs on this CD and each one exhibits his tenacious composer skills.  On his “Bebop Operations” composition, Fidyk introduces it to us with a distinct drum lick.  Then the horns take over. The drummer writes very melodically and his melodies always make me want to sing-along.  I did think that “Social Loafing” sounds a lot like “Social Call,” composed by Jon Hendricks and Gigi Gryce. 

When he isn’t recording and touring, he is an active member of the jazz studies faculty at Temple University, The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA and serves as an educational consultant for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Program.  Steve Fidyk is also a journalist and contributes columns on a regular basis to Modern Drummer Magazine.

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