HOPEFUL, NEW JAZZ RENEWS OUR OPTIMISM

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

November 20, 2020

THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE BAND – WASHINGTON D.C. -“THE 2020 JAZZ HERITAGE SERIES” – Independent Label

Technical Sgt. Chris Ziemba, piano; Technical Sgt. Cameron Kayne, bass; Master Sgt. David McDonald, drums; Master Sgt. Geoff Reecer, guitar; Technical Sgt. Paige Wroble, vocals; SAXOPHONES: Technical Sgt. Kristian Baarsvik, lead alto/flute; Technical Sgt. Mike Cemprola, second alto/flute; Master Sgt. Tedd Baker, lead tenor/clarinet; Master Sgt. Grant Langford, second tenor/clarinet; Master Sgt. Doug Morgan, baritone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Sr. Master Sgt. Brian MacDonald, lead trumpet; Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns, split lead; Master Sgt. Luke Brandon and Musician 1st Class Jonathan Barnes, third; Technical Sgt. Logan Keese and Master Sgt. Graham Breedlove, fourth. TROMBONES:  Master Sgt. Ben Patterson, lead; Master Sgt. Jeff Martin, second; Master Sgt. Kevin Cerovich, third; Master Sgt. Benjamin Polk, bass trombone.  

Dave Richards has composed and arranged “Power Outrage” a tune that opens this dynamic, big band recording.  The United States Air Force Band (Washington, D.C.) proudly brings people together through the power of music, and powerful they are!  Colonel Don Schofield is the commander and conductor of this recording that features the United States Air Force Band “Airmen of Note.”  Their production features three iconic jazz musicians as special guests; John Fedchock, Christian McBride and Randy Brecker. They also feature the distinctive vocals of Paige Wroble, singing “Honeysuckle Rose” on Track 2 with great success, scat-singing in a free and spirited way.  John Fedchock makes a stellar solo appearance on trombone, as part of the band’s Jazz Heritage Series and their plan of action on this recording is to collaborate with some of the top jazz musicians in the world.  Fedchock’s smooth, seamless sound can be heard on “Honeysuckle Rose” and “East of the Sun (And West of the Moon).” These special guests are meant to call attention to the legacy of America’s original art form of jazz in a healthy and definitive way.  Also, the performances on this disc gives the listener a sample of the excellence and professionalism by Airmen stationed around the world, who’ve come together as part of this musical production.  For example, Master Sgt. Geoff Reecer, who takes a dynamic guitar solo on this familiar “East of the Sun” jazz standard.  Fedchock has arranged this Cedar Walton tune, “Ojos de Rojo.”  David McDonald solos brilliantly on drums and Ben Patterson is amazing on trombone during this arrangement.  I also enjoyed the tone and dynamic baritone saxophone solo by Doug Morgan.  Christian McBride steps into the spotlight on his bass during a self-penned composition McBride wrote called, “Getting’ To It.”  Grant Langford, on tenor saxophone and Luke Brandon on trumpet are featured.  The last three songs, on this album of twelve, feature the arranger/composer talents of trumpeter, Randy Brecker.  The final tune, “Straphangin’” was composed by Randy’s talented brother, Michael Brecker.   

“Airmen of Note” offer us a dozen well-arranged standard and original compositions that swing hard and are played beautifully.  This album is bound to reignite a passion for big band jazz and introduce you to some excellent armed service musicians who bring verve and splendor to the bandstand.

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THE MARIEL BILDSTEN QUINTET – “BACKBONE” – Outside In Music

Mariel Bildsten, trombone; Stacy Dillard, tenor & soprano saxophone; Sean Mason, piano; Ben Wolfe, bass; Evan Sherman, drums; Keisel Jimenez, percussion.

Mariel and her quintet recorded this project just before news of the pandemic, in January of 2019.  Things were looking hopeful, happy and prosperous back then.   You hear that in this recording; a joy de vivre and a mood of delight and playfulness.  At that time, Bildsten had just finished a week-long run at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York City, where she lives.  “Backbone” was recorded on one, cold, January night after that run at Dizzy’s.   The quintet was hot-to-trot, tight and familiar with the material and with each other.  The result is a half hour of music that features Mariel Bildsten’s trombone talents and also showcases the talents of her bandmembers. On the Kenny Dorham tune, “Monaco” they get loose and move at a brisk pace, giving Ms. Bildsten a platform to show-off her technique and spontaneity on the trombone.  I enjoyed her Bluesy arrangement of “The Man That Got Away” by Harold Arlen.  She and bassist, Ben Wolfe, take an intriguing duo walk, just trombone and bass, chatting with each other in a warm, wonderful way.  The quintet’s Latin arrangement of “The Lamp is Low” is tastily accentuated by the invigorating percussion of Keisel Jimenez and enhanced by the bright piano solo of Sean Mason. 

Mariel Bildsten is a product of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and she graduated in 2015.  She’s inspired by J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Lawrence Brown.  Ms. Bildsten has studied with Elliot Mason, Steve Turre, Vincent Gardner, Sam Burtis, Jimmy Owens, Reginald Workman, Mike LeDonne and Jane Ira Bloom.  This is Mariel’s debut release and it’s a nice introduction to the woman and her horn.  I hope to hear much more from her, perhaps with a bit more fire and groove.  But this is a strong start towards bigger and better things. 

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ALEX WINTZ TRIO – “LIVE TO TAPE” –  Outside In Music

Alex Wintz, guitar/composer; Dave Baron, bass; Jimmy MacBride, drums.

Guitarist, Alex Wintz, has composed four songs on this seven-tune recording.  He opens with his original composition, “Idris,” a piece that runs nearly ten minutes long.  However, the trio keeps us totally interested and entertained, taking this time to amply showcase the talents of each musical member.  Jimmy MacBride is fluid and creative on drums, skipping along at a moderate pace.  Towards the last minutes of this arrangement, Dave Baron provides a solid, bluesy bass line to the mix and the music of the Wintz guitar becomes a slow blues.  It’s an attention-getting moment.  Next, I can picture myself walking happily down a sunny, tree-lined street during the Wintz’s composition, “On A Summer Day.”  This trio covers Herbie Hancock’s song “Textures” on Track 3.  Dave Baron opens this piece with a bass introduction.  Alex Wintz enters on guitar and delivers the melody in a warm, distinctive way.  In this trio format, the guitarist is solely responsible for painting an intricate and detailed picture for the listener.  Alex Wintz does not disappoint.   In collaboration with engineer and producer, Evan Sutton, Wintz and his trio have recorded, using vintage recording equipment, and making this recording on an iconic piece of analog tape, using the Studer A827 machine.  Consequently, the title of this CD became, “Live to Tape” and was recorded (similar to the old days) in only one session, one take, direct to tape.   It’s a beautiful guitar trio album and the musicians fit comfortably together, like hand in glove, giving us an hour of enjoyable and well-played jazz.

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THE AUBREY WILSON QUARTET – “HONEYSUCKLE ROSE”  –

Aubrey Wilson, vocals; Chris Bruder, piano/Wurlitzer; Tom Altobelli, bass; Sean Bruce Parker, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Luis Deniz, alto saxophone; Scott Taplay, guitar.

Aubrey Wilson has a lilting, lovely, soprano voice. This production is fresh and combines jazz with funk and contemporary arrangements that elevate these wonderful, old standards to higher heights.  Her trio is so creative and complimentary to this vocalist’s style.  They immediately captivate me with their unique approach while playing these familiar songs.  Opening their debut recording with the familiar standard jazz composition, “Nature Boy,” I am enthralled by the drum groove of Sean Bruce Parker, who firmly plants the roots of funk into the tune.  Special guest, Scott Taplay, adds his blues guitar licks to the mix.  Taplay lifts the song to new horizons with his amazing guitar solo.  He seems to imagine what Jimi Hendrix could have sounded like if he had recorded jazz.  Another special guest musician is Luis Deniz, who adds alto saxophone to the arrangements on both “I Will Wait for You” and “Lullaby of the Leaves.”   I have never heard “Honeysuckle Rose” arranged in a jazz/Hip Hop vein.  It’s quite effective and very compelling.  This Toronto-based jazz vocalist, with her band of excellence, intrigues me with their unusual arrangements.  Aubrey Wilson’s exquisite soprano vocal capabilities seals the deal. “Alice In Wonderland” is performed as a jazz waltz.  “When Sunny Gets Blue” is an easy listening experience, along with “When I Look In Your Eyes” and “Norwegian Wood.”  The vocalist’s interpretation of jazz standard, “Stolen Moments” shows us that she is indeed a jazz singer.  She starts out a ‘Capella, with no instrumentation at all except her sparkling, crystal-clear voice.  When the band does join her, they add a very contemporary spin to the straight-ahead jazz standard featuring a bluesy solo by pianist Chris Bruder.  Additionally, they give the drummer an opportunity to sing his own percussive song.  I am impressed by the piano background chords placed delicately beneath the drum solo without being obtrusive or repetitive. 

Aubrey Wilson comes from a musical background.  Her father was a vocalist with a successful barbershop quartet.  They toured across Canada and the United States.  He inspired her love of music, singing and performing.  She performed in her high school jazz band and attended Mohawk College’s Applied Music Program.  There, she met three of the members of her band; pianist, Bruder, Altobelli on bass and Parker on drums. This is her debut recording and offers us a warm introduction to the Aubrey Wilson voice and Quartet.  Sit back and enjoy their bright and uniquely different arrangements and Aubrey Wilson’s delicate vocal expressions. 

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SIMONE KOPMAJER – “CHRISTMAS” – Lucky Mojo Records

Simone Kopmajer, vocals; John de Martino, piano; Geri Schuller, piano/Hammond B3 organ/keyboards/jaw harp; Boris Kozlow & Beate Wiesinger, bass; Reinhardt Winkler, drums; Aaron Heick, soprano & alto saxophone/clarinet; Terry Myers, tenor saxophone; Dominik Fuss, trumpet; Florian Fuss, saxophone; Georg Stepanek, bassoon; Lukas Ganster, dulcimer; Heinz Steinbauer, diatonic accordion; Stefanie Sommerhofer, Katrin Kanya, Melanie Unger-ofner & Tini Kainrath, background voices. Victor Gernot, Allan Harris & Wili Resetarits, duet vocalists. The Schick Sisters, Anna Catharina & Ina Regen, featured vocals.

Simone Kopmajer has a very inviting vocal tone and a warmth to her production that draws this listener into her project, like a fireplace on a cold, winter evening.   She opens with the familiar “Santa Baby” Christmas song, once made popular by Eartha Kitt. This is followed by “Jingle Bells,” arranged in a very jazzy way.  Simone shows off her jazz chops by scatting her way through this holiday song in very inventive, improvisational and impressive ways. 

Track 3, “Leise Rieselt Der Schnee” is sung in German, a reflection of her homeland of Austria and featuring The Schick Sisters.  These sixteen holiday songs have been recorded in various studios in both the United States and Austria and cover Christmas classics from all over the world.  I am prone to the arrangements that celebrate jazz.  However, you will hear folk songs sung in German and using traditional folk music instruments.  The Latin Christmas song, “Feliz Navidad” is also included and a couple of duets, like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” featuring Viktor Gernot and Allan Harris on “The Christmas Song.”  It’s a perfect stocking stuffer, that will bring a musical celebration of the season to your household.

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SARAH ELIZABETH CHARLES & JARRETT CHERNER – “TONE” – Baldhill Records

Sarah Elizabeth Charles, vocals/composer; Jarrett Cherner, piano/composer.

The central message of this “Tone” project is perhaps, ‘love the world;’ a repeated message occurring at the end of the opening track titled, “Conscious Mind.”  This project didn’t start out with a subject or theme in mind.  It just sort of morphed into the love-lane; love in a broad sense of the word. 

“Much like the tradition of metta meditation in Buddhism, you start by practicing being kind to and loving yourself,” Cherner explained their creative concept.

When I listen to this duo music, I hear beautiful melodies, shaped like ripples in a lake, reaching out towards the far away sand.  The motion of the music is magical.  I wish I could understand the lyrics better.  Sarah Elizabeth sings beautifully, but she doesn’t always enunciate the words clearly.  Consequently, the meaning of these lovely songs gets lost in the musical interpretation and I really wanted to hear the written and sung prose.  I even put on headphones so I could better hear her words, but it didn’t help.  They should have included the lyrics in the CD jacket.  I did feel a great deal of spirituality in this project and the layering of vocals, along with Jarrett Cherner’s masterful piano playing, is both intriguing and beautiful. 

“…As you develop that heart muscle, you expand outward, you cultivate loving-kindness for your friends and family; for your acquaintances; for difficult people in your life and eventually for all beings,” Jarrett asserts. 

“Hanging on to Time” is quite lovely as a melodic composition.  I did manage to hear some of the lyrics that beg us to “welcome change with each breath” but again, the words were often lost or unclear.  On Track 3 titled, “Shine On” Sarah Elizabeth Charles sings, “No one’s perfect.  You’re better off finding something new … and shine bright as you can.”  I love the contrast of her layered alto vocals against Cherner’s piano playing.  On this song I can understand her lyrics much better as she encourages the listener to “Shine – shine on and love yourself.”  This duo’s music is hopeful, with an interesting crossover appeal to their arrangements.  On “Speak” Jarrett Cherner sounds like he’s playing an electric keyboard instead of a grand piano.  Perhaps it’s only an illusion, enhanced by the way Sarah Elizabeth Charles is singing through some electronic vocal analyzer.  This is a very artistic project and fun to listen to. As I said previously, it brings hope and entertainment in a beautifully wrapped package of sound and experimental music, sometimes sung without words.  At times, the two musicians reversed roles and Sarah Elizabeth Charles sat at the piano and played, while Jarrett Cherner sang.

“…We also experimented with reversing roles, where I would sing and Sarah would play piano, just to see what that would generate,” Jarrett explained in their press package.

On Track 5, “Wild One,” I have to eat my former words, because on this tune I can understand much of the song lyrics.  It seems that ‘love is a wild one,’ and I get that.  Sarah Elizabeth Charles is as vocally intoxicating as Joni Mitchell and just as free.  Only difference is, with Mitchell you can understand every word.  But Charles’ voice, her instrument, is pure and delightful to the ear.  Jarrett Cherner’s creative accompaniment on piano adds tension and support in the same breath, and this music is like a rare oil painting on mahogany.  It’s bright, brilliant and strong as the wood itself.  When Jarrett Cherner plays solo, it’s with such emotion and introspection that I become easily lost in his musical messages, in a pleasing kind of way.  This is an album of beauty and hope.  The music is fresh, unique and compelling.   Like the theme of this column, it makes me optimistic.

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