Archive for December, 2020


December 12, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil

December 12, 2020


Guitarist Alex de Grassi has been a unique voice in the world of acoustic guitar for over four decades.  Recently he released “The Bridge” an extraordinary album of solo guitar expression.  He continues that signature sound on this single, released December 7th, in celebration of the holiday season.  His holiday single was recorded at the legendary Skywalker Sound studio in Northern California with famous engineers, Leslie Ann Jones and Steven Miller who is renowned for his work with acoustic guitarists.  Animation by Greg Browe.

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Duduka Da Fonseca, drums/composer; Nilson Matta, bass/composer; Helio Alves, piano/composer.

When I hear the Brazilian trio music of Helio Alves, Nilson Matta and Duduka Da Fonseca, it brightens my day.  This amazing threesome is known for performing and blending their cultural, Brazilian music with jazz in a lovely way.  They open with a song that celebrates Da Fonseca’s wife, Maucha Adner, titled, “Maucha na Praia.”  Composed by Da Fonseca, it’s quite melodic and joyful.  The Alvas piano mastery introduces us to this charming melodic samba and liberally improvises on the theme.  The second track becomes an immediate favorite of mine.  Composed by Nilson Matta and titled “Sampa 67,” it features the Matta bass during the introduction.  The bass is joined by a sparkling drum energy, then Helio’s piano dances with the melody.  This piece is a tribute to Milson Matta’s birthplace in Brazil.  I discovered that ‘Sampa’ is an abbreviation for Sao Paulo.  As the song develops, it gives space and time for each member of the trio to shine.  They often sound as if they are having casual conversations with each other instrumentally.  It’s a very intoxicating piece.  Duduka Da Fonseca is inspirational on his driving drums.  

Helio Alvas has penned “Aninha” (written for his daughter) and also their closing song, “Vila Madalena.”  This trio reinvents music from Black Orpheus with their stunning arrangement, allowing drums and bass to open the piece.  I love to hear a double bass player bow his instrument.  Matta does just that and it’s truly beautiful.  Da Fonseca’s drums propel the trilogy forward and Helio Alves dances atop the brightness on piano.  They have blended composers on this Black Orpheus trilogy of music, entertaining us in a delightful way, while featuring familiar songs by Jobim and Luiz Bonfa.  They incorporate “A Felicidade”, “Manha de Carnaval” and “Samba de Orfeu” during this medley.  The Charlie Mingus tune, “Boogie Stop Shuffle” is a musical surprise package, with the solos peeling off the arrangement like brightly colored ribbons.  It’s Brazilian blues at its best.  Track 8 is a hypnotic ballad, that sooths like a lullaby.  It’s titled “Aguas Brasileiras and is written by Matta.  “Manhattan Style” is track 9, composed by Da Fonseca and leaps straight-ahead into my listening room with gusto.  It has that trademark, New York energy and is played at a speedy tempo, reminding me of meteors racing across the sky.  Like the universe itself, this music unwinds and wraps around us in a very exciting and universal way.

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Gayelynn McKinney, drums/vocals/composer; Ibrahim Jones, bass; Alex Anest, guitar; Demetrius Nabors, keyboards; Trenita Womack, vocals/percussion; Rafael Statin, tenor & soprano Saxophones/bass flute/bass clarinet.

If you love passionate, funk jazz, drummer Gayelynn McKinney has recorded just such an album.  The title is self-explanatory and the music is hot, energized, modern and melodic.  On this album, the Detroit-based musician features her own compositions and a band of musical masters who propel and infuse her arrangements.  Gayelynn’s former album was a tribute to her talented father, Harold McKinney, who was a pianist, composer, educator and bandleader until his death in 2019.  On that album, Gayelynn played all of his original compositions. 

This time around, she shines the spotlight on her own songwriting and arranging talents.  She has a wonderful sense of melody along with her gift of time as she enthusiastically compliments each composition with her drum licks. This percussive master has been playing drums since age two.  She received her Bachelor of Music degree from Oakland University, but spent most of her life rubbing her drum talents next to Detroit masters like Teddy Harris, Ralph Armstrong, Marcus Belgrave and was co-founder and member of the all-girls group, ‘Straight Ahead’ that included bass impresario, Marion Hayden.  In 2014, Gayelynn won a Kresge Artist Fellows Award with the ‘Straight Ahead’ ensemble.  Adaptable and able to play all kinds of music, she has been a sideman with a number of icons including the great Benny Golson, vocalists Diane Shure, Freda Payne, Chaka Khan, the late Kevin Mahogany and more.  She was the last drummer to tour with Aretha Franklin, where she had the honor of playing before presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton.  She also performed at the Tribeca Film Festival featuring a tribute to Clive Davis. Gayelynn is as comfortable playing straight ahead as she is funk jazz, Latin or going completely avant-garde.  For example, Ms.  McKinney has performed with the late, great Geri Allen, Larry Coryell, Rick Margitza, Randy Brecker, Roy Hargrove, Ralphe Armstrong, Steve Turre and James Carter, to list just a few.  Those genre bending artists clearly demonstrates her diversity.

Every song on this album is both entertaining and well-played.  The first song, “Stylin” is energy- propelled by Gayelynn’s dynamic drums and percussionist, Trenita Womack. The introduction tributes her Detroit/Motown roots, briefly reminding us of Stevie Wonder’s hit tune “I Wish,” before Rafael Statin takes over with his improvising saxophone.  The background vocals of Trenita Womack and Gayelynn McKinney enhance the production, singing the song’s title sporadically throughout.  On track 2, Ibrahim Jones solidifies the rhythm section on his bass, as the band invites us to meet “Space Goddess.”  I really enjoy the studio mix on this CD, as well as the mix of her repertoire.  Track 3 celebrates Jill Scott with Jill’s tune, “My Love.”  They ‘shuffle’ the neo-soul composition and it works!  Once again, Gayelynn and Trenita sing the hook.  Alex Anest takes an appealing solo on guitar.  Gayelynn’s “Gwendolyn” fusion-funk composition was written to celebrate her mother.

Gayelynn explained in her liner notes: “The quirky beat was my mother’s sassy side and the melody was her sweet side.”

There’s also a sweet nod to Bill Withers when the group re-explores his “Lovely Day” song.  They offer a delightful display of tenderness on “Peaceful Place,” another McKinney original composition. It’s the only ballad on this album, with Rafael Statin stepping away from his saxophone to supply the bass flute solo.  “Just A Little Bass and Drums” is interpreted by Ibrahim and Gayelynn McKinney using just that; bass & drums; along with Rafael Statin who adds his bass clarinet to the mix.  This arrangement features Gayelynn’s scat vocals that spice up the piece.  The title tune closes out this CD just the way it begins; tenacious and funky.  Gayelynn McKinney is ever present on her trap drums singing brightly, but never overpowering the band.  Instead, she prods, pushes and colors the music in a powerful way.   

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Patrick Cornelius, alto saxophone/composer; Kristjan Randalu, piano; Michael Janisch, double bass; Paul Wiltgen, drums.

Here is a collective of musicians, quite familiar with playing together. They were once known as the “TransAtlantic Collective.”  Fourteen years ago, Cornelius and bassist, Michael Janisch, (who is also the president of the Whirlwind record label) joined forces with drummer Paul Wiltgen and pianist Kristjan Randalu to play together as the TransAtlantic Collective and to tour.  On this project, they have reunited.  Today, they call themselves, “Acadia.” 

The music is all original, mostly composed by alto saxophonist, Patrick Cornelius.  Pianist, Randalu, has contributed track 6, “Valse Hesitante,” a melancholy ballad played quite sensitively with classical overtones.  Drummer, Paul Wiltgen” wrote “Ten Years Later,” that closed this album out, celebrating the band’s reuniting after a decade.  On the opening composition and title tune, Michael Janisch takes an exploratory bass solo that is quite captivating.  The tone and approach of Patrick Cornelius on his saxophone embraces a more relaxed, smooth-jazz feel. He reminds me a lot of Stan Getz.  His writing is quite melodic and you can clearly hear the youthful, smooth-jazz feel on “Star Party,” with Wiltgen pushing his rhythmic drums in a funk groove.  Kristjan Randalu steps into view with an improvisational piano solo that still keeps the melody front and center.  Cornelius explains that this tune is meant to commemorate a beachside star-gazing party. 

All the tunes, as well as the CD cover itself, are celebrating mother earth and her extraordinary importance to our lives.  The titles of these original compositions speak of her spellbinding beauty and remind us of the importance of earth as our home and the original mother of humanity.  You will hear tunes like “Personal Beehives” and “On the Precipice”; “Blueberry Mountain” presents a leaning towards straight-ahead jazz and “Seawall Sunrise,” is a lovely, moderate tempo’d tune with Wiltgen’s drums brushing the cymbals and recreating the tide splashing against a seawall.  On “Darkest Night” I love that they handed the melody to the bassist to introduce and once the composition is established and rooted, they let Michael Janisch get totally free on his double bass.  It’s an intriguing arrangement.  Perhaps Patrick Cornelius summed this project up best.

 “My idea was to feature the band as the lead voice, rather than myself.  There’s a definite chemistry here, not super-straight ahead, but not avant-garde either; embracing the European aesthetic, but with the ability to swing hard as well.  That’s the unique magic of this band,” Cornelius explained.

 “The Way of the Cairns” is easy-listening jazz that applauds the importance of Mother Earth and our planet in a very melodic way.

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Geof Bradfield, tenor & soprano saxophone/bass clarinet; Ben Goldberg, B flat clarinet/contra-alto clarinet; Dana Hall, drums/cymbals, percussion.

On their opening tune, a Cecil Taylor composition titled, “Air” Dana Hall shines brightly on drums.  Geof Bradfield’s tenor saxophone seems to be having a friendly debate with Goldberg’s clarinet, as they trade licks and spit melodic phrases at each other.  I am intrigued.   Geof Bradfield has composed track 2.  It’s called “Tioga Street Zenith” and it unfolds dramatically and slowly, like a butterfly shaking loose from its cocoon.  The song flies into the universe, wings spread and a beautiful melody flutters from the two horns.  This entire production showcases the composer talents of both Goldberg & Bradfield, as well as the trio embracing their own interpretations of Duke Ellington and Strayhorn’s composition, “Half the Fun,” along with Cecil Taylor and Hermeto Pascoal songs.  Without the expected piano, guitar or bass as part of their rhythm section, this unusual instrumentation becomes both unique and entertaining.  I think it freed these dynamic musicians up to reach past traditional instrument performances and add their own extraordinary improvisation and internal communication with each other.  There is an overall feeling of camaraderie and comfort.  I was especially taken with “Last Important Heartbreak of the Year”, written by Ben Goldberg.  It swings hard, even without a bass player.  Reminds me of the music you would hear in New Orleans.   On “Lamentation” I enjoyed the clarinet smoothly becoming the bass line, while drummer Dana Hall stirs the pots. This is another inspiring and melodic composition by Goldberg. 

If you are in search of something new, fresh and innovative on the jazz scene, this production will totally satisfy your artistic palate.

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Conductors: Tino D’Agostino, David Harris, & Darrell Katz. Rebecca Shrimpton, voice; Hiro Honshuko, flute/EWI; Rick Stone, alto saxophone; Lihi Haruvi, alto & soprano saxophones; Phil Scarff, tenor & soprano sax/clarinet; Melanie Howell-Brooks, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Mike Peipman, Dan Rosenthal & Jerry Sabatini, trumpets; Jim Mosher, French horn; Jason Camelio & Bob Pikington, trombones; David Harris, trombone & tuba. 5-string violin: Mimi Rabson, Helen Sherrah-Davies; Junko Fujiwara, cello; Maxim Lubarsky, piano; Gilbert Mansour, percussion; Tony ‘Thunder’ Smith, drums; Vessela Stoyanova, vibes/marimba; Jesse Williams, bass; Norm Zocher, guitar.

This album showcases four master jazz composers: David Harris, Darrell Katz, Bob Pilkington and Mimi Rabson.  Robson is a violinist, as well as a composer, and her composition, “Romanople” opens this project.  It pulls from the polka realms at the beginning.  Mimi explains that the song is based on the days of the Roman Empire when they had two capitals; Rome and Constantinople.  These two places had little in common culturally, but she has fused the two in her arrangement, beginning with odd-metered, Turkish, folk music that morphs into a dramatic brass band interpretation with the drums pushed by the busy mallets of Tony ‘Thunder’ Smith.  Track 2 is a David Harris composition inspired by McCoy Tyner’s 1976 album, “Fly with the Wind.”  It swoops into our ears with lush, orchestrated harmonies.  Harris wrote it after imagining what it would be like if Tyner’s large ensemble (inclusive of strings and woodwinds) had met with a group of traditional Thai instrumentalists. Titled “The Latest,” this piece features a beautiful solo by Melanie Howell-Brooks, who is smooth as satin on both baritone saxophone and bass clarinet.  Harris incorporates voices at the fade of his song, with a strong melodic influence that brings to mind how Stevie Wonder used voices in his 1970s Award-winning productions.  Composer/trombonist, Bob Pilkington, embraced his composer role by using a number sequence to write “The Sixth Snake.”   This piece commemorates his 60th birthday and is based on the Japanese ‘Year of the Snake.’  It uses harmonic structure represented by the number series, 27563.

“I’m a noodler by nature,” Pilkington explains. “I like to play around with ideas and build a piece.”   

Darrell Katz offers us track 5, “A Wallflower in the Amazon.”  This composition is based on a poem by Paula Tatarunis of the same title.  It features the vocals of Rebecca Shrimpton, who shares the poetic lyrics within the orchestrated structure of the Katz melody.  It’s not a melody the average person could sing or even hum along with, because it’s a more avant-garde arrangement and production.  Darrell Katz clearly had a different conception.

“I am always trying to make the melody and words be unified.  …I really want the listener to pay attention to the words and I want the music to help them,” Katz stated in their press package. 

“Super Eyes – Private Heroes” became one of my favorites on this album.  It’s fun, full of spunk and energy, and leans more towards the bebop side of jazz. Composed by Mimi Rabson, it features a very moving and engaging violin solo that wraps the sweet violin strings warmly around the blues.  This is Rabson’s tribute to sound tracks of super hero movies like James Bond or The Incredibles.  Soloists Melanie Howell Brooks, Helen Sherrah-Davies and David Harris are the heroes who step forward to save the day and totally entertain us. 

This entire album was performed ‘live’ at the Berklee Recording Studios, with engineer Alex Rodriguez at the helm in coordination with mixing, editing and mastering connoisseur, Antonio Oliart.  Perhaps composer and conductor, Darrell Katz, summed it up best when he stated:

“Recording ‘live’ is really different than recording in the studio.  There’s a more focused energy and a sense of urgency, … a real feeling of a community working together.”

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Amy London, soprano; Holli Ross, alto; Pete McGuinness, tenor; Dylan Pramuk, bass. THE ROYAL GUEST VOCALISTS: Bob Dorough & Sheila Jordan; Christian McBride, bass. THE BAND: Steve Schmidt, piano; Cameron Brown, bass; Steve Williams, drums; Steven Kroon, percussion.  THE ARRANGERS: Dylan Pramuk, Pete McGuinness & Steve Schmidt.

This reviewer has long been a lover of a’ Capella groups and vocal harmonies since listening to the street-corner, doo-wap, rhythm & blues groups singing in Detroit.  When I heard Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, I was totally hooked.  The Royal Bopsters carry on this marvelous, jazzy, vocal artform in a grand way.  Their tightly knitted voices create an electrifying group of arrangements, warm and comfortable as a cashmere sweater.   Here is a twelve-track album of swing and harmonic beauty, dedicated to one of their members, who sadly passed away in 2020; their alto singer, Holli Ross. 

The Royal Bopsters, “Party of Four” also incorporates a band into their group and pianist Steve Schmidt shows off his blues ‘chops’ on “Why’d You Do Me the Way You did?”  

I was intoxicated with The Royal Bopsters on t unes like “Daydream” (by Billy Strayhorn) which they perform a ‘Capella and the four voices are united as a single, harmonic sound.  They have such a special chemistry together.  I did not find their individual solo voices as compelling as their unified artistic presentation.  Bassist, Christian McBride is featured with Holli Ross on “Cuando Te Vea” and the group swings hard on this one, against a backdrop of strong Latin flavor.  This is another arrangement that quickly becomes one of my favorites.  Percussionist, Steven Kroon, is given an impressive time to shine in the spotlight.  “Baby, You Should Know it,” (composed by featured vocalist Bob Dorough and B. Tucker) is another spellbinding arrangement.  Also, two of the members, (Amy London and Pete McGuinness) surprise me with their original composition, “Our Spring Song” that sounds like a jazz standard.  McGuinness has also arranged several tunes on this album.  Another member, Dylan Pramuk, shines spectacularly as an arranger of the group’s music.  He has arranged seven of the dozen songs they proudly present to us.  Here is an exciting and beautifully produced album featuring magnificent vocal arrangements and special guest vocals by Bob Dorough (who passed away in 2018) and 92-year-old jazz icon, Ms. Sheila Jordan.  This is a historic album, with a uniquely selective repertoire that shows us the amazing vocal versatility of these four gifted singers and their featured arrangers.   Enjoy a masterclass in the art of vocalese. 

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December 1, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil

DECEMBER 1, 2020

If you have a die-hard jazz fan in your immediate circle of family and friends, here are some suggestions for musical gifts guaranteed to please!


Ella Fitzgerald, piano; Paul Smith, piano; Wilfred Middlebrooks, bass; Stan Levey, drums.

You hear the crowd roar its approval as soon as Ella Fitzgerald steps onto the stage.  She opens with “Cheek to Cheek” and her trio swings hard behind her.  This was an era when female jazz singers wore sparkling dresses and flashy jewelry. They didn’t appear on stage with background dancers, smoke billowing or videos playing behind them. Jazz vocalists didn’t need strobe lights shimmering across their stages.  Ella stood there quite queenly, confident next to her microphone, and wowed the crowd with her spectacular vocal mastery. She didn’t need any gimmicks.  In these old tapes of a concert recorded nearly sixty years ago, you hear the genius of this first lady of song.  Her genius still takes my breath away.  Track 2 has a cute lyric and it’s called, “My Kind of Boy.”  She sounds playful and knows how to present each lyric like a favorite bedtime story.  These Lost Berlin Tapes were uncovered in Norman Granz’s collection and they reintroduce us to Ella in her prime.  Recorded March 25, 1962, she’s performing in Berlin’s Sportpalast venue.  She was the first lady of bebop and Swing in her day and she retains that title in this present era.  No singer has come along who can challenge the smoothness and perfection of Ella Fitzgerald, or master her amazing vocal capabilities.  We listen as she becomes an uninhibited instrument right before our ears.  I am still amazed at her scatting abilities, where she simply becomes one of the cats in her band; a vocal instrument.  This concert was part of a string of performances all across Europe in 1962, to the enjoyment and thrill of packed audiences.  Back then, Norman Granz was a respected jazz record producer for Clef, Norgran and Verve record labels and he was also Ella’s manager.  For this concert, Paul Smith was on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks was on bass and Stan Levey on drums.  This was an important year for Ms. Fitzgerald.  She performed to fifteen thousand people at Madison Square Garden to headline a Birthday Salute to John F. Kennedy on May 19 of 1962 and also played the 7th Annual Grammy Awards in Las Vegas; a show that was televised.  She played at London’s Royal Festival Hall and in several other key concert halls worldwide. Drummer, Stan Levey recalls an unforgettable concert performance that illuminates Ella Fitzgerald’s sense of humor.

“One night, during our concert on one of these London stages, we’re playing away, just swinging, and all of a sudden from the wing this guy staggers out.  He’s got a long beard.  He’s disheveled and Ella looks at me. Do something, she says.  So, I pick the guy up and walk him off stage.  I got back on the drums and we’re playing again and here he comes.  Ella does a double take, says, Ladies and Gentlemen, Montgomery Cliff!  (he was a handsome movie star of that day!)  The audience enthusiastically applauds and then they boo me when I walk him off stage again.  It was very funny!” Stan shares the story, showing us the humorous side of Ella, because of course it wasn’t Montgomery Cliff.

This European tour happened prior to Ella Fitzgerald’s 45th birthday.  You can hear the joy and freedom in her crystal-clear tone and style.  On Track 3 she sings, “Cry Me A River” and although Ella starts the bluesy ballad in a sultry way, to my surprise the arrangement soon begins to swing right after they reach the bridge.  The happiness leaps from my CD player on “I Won’t Dance” and her London audience goes absolutely wild.  “Someone to Watch Over Me,” is performed with the full introductory verse and this beautiful ballad settles us down, but not for long.  Here comes “Jersey Bounce,” where she opens with a scat and shuffles her way through the song with Wilfred Middlebrook walking his big, bad bass and Levey strongly slapping the rhythm into place.  This is an absolute gem of a recording that sparkles with talent, history and musical magic.  It will make a wonderful gift for any jazz lover and should be on every jazz collector’s shelf.

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Dave Brubeck, piano/composer; Paul Desmond, alto saxophone; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums.

Dave Brubeck and his astounding quartet are the epitome of the West Coast cool-jazz scene.  The original ‘Time Out’ sessions took place in the summer of 1959.  This historic session produced an enormous amount of music.  It was recorded in the midst of a busy Brubeck touring schedule.  Several ‘outtakes’ were left behind in the studio archives, and when multi-Grammy winning producer Kabir Sehgal reviewed them, he knew they had to be released for the public to enjoy.  This project features work that has never been heard, except for that summer in 1959, when the Brubeck Quartet was laying these tunes down. 

Born December 6, 1920, appropriately this album is being released at a time when Dave Brubeck would have turned 100 years old.  Consequently, it celebrates his centennial year and the awesome fact that his music is still being played and enjoyed a century after his birth. 

“Take Five,” originally recorded June 25, 1959, was supposed to stand on its own as a drum feature.  Written in the odd 5/4 meter, it challenged the band and drummer, Joe Morello.  At that time, most of the jazz and popular music in general, was written in waltz-time or 4/4 meter.  Little did Dave Brubeck know this song would become his anthem and a popular jazz composition worldwide.  It is, in fact, one of those songs that distinguishes jazz and our American culture in a most unforgettable way.  Like Herbie Hancock said about the Dave Brubeck Quartet:

“Jazz changed everything for me, and Dave did that!  That’s because Dave was the wizard of West Coast Cool.  With “Time Out” things took off into the stratosphere,” Hancock reminisced.

This music mirrors the Brubeck Quartet’s brilliance and originality.  Compiled from discarded tracks that epitomize this historic recording session, the songs are familiar like, “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” “Three To Get Ready” or “Cathy’s Waltz.” Each is refreshingly and beautifully presented.  The group sounds brand new and reflects the innovation and integrity of each individual player, as well as the amazing composing skills of Dave Brubeck. 

Dave’s daughter, Cathy Brubeck-Yaghsizian, recalls the inspiration for “Cathy’s Waltz.”

“When my father would come home from the road, … to connect and have some family fun, he’d call a jam session.  The boys would all get their instruments and I would wiggle into a blue tutu my mother had bought for me, since I loved to dance.  You can imagine keeping up with all those crazy rhythms wasn’t easy for a five-year-old, but I tried!  I would enthusiastically whirl and knock into a coffee table or plant, then whirl again. …twirl and plop.  Twirl and plop.  I’m not sure if that is what dad was thinking when he wrote the piece, but I do remember we all had a lot of laughs at those jam sessions,” Cathy recalls in an extensive liner note reflection.

These never-before-heard tracks offer the listeners a peek into the past and a glimpse at the original Dave Brubeck quartet during its 1959 prime.  The Dave Brubeck Quartet changed the concept of jazz in their own unique way; each member becoming a true American icon.

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Bill Evans, piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; Jack DeJohnette, drums.

This double set CD release features an in-depth Collector’s deluxe overview insert that includes interviews with jazz lover and comic actor, Chevy Chase.  The famed album cover designer, David Stone Martin captures Evans in a caricature and bassist, Eddie Gomez; drummer, Jack DeJohnette; pianist Chick Corea and veteran jazz critic, Brian Priestley all share opinions and memories. You really get to know Bill Evans from the lips of his friends, fellow musicians, artists and journalists.  Pulled from Jack DeJohnette’s personal recorded archives, “Live at Ronnie Scott’s” is comprised of twenty tracks and captures The Evans trio during their month-long gig in 1968.  This is the second ‘live’ Evans album to be released by Resonance Records and it’s recorded at the Ronnie Scott popular jazz venue in England. This release is also the fifth Resonance title to feature unreleased music by this historic pianist.  In fact, Miles Davis stopped in to check out the band during their stint at this popular jazz venue and quickly recruited DeJohnette for his own newly formed group, stealing him away from the Bill Evans trio. 

“The music was at a really high creative height and I’m glad I documented that and the tape was good enough for Resonance to run with it,” explained Jack DeJohnette.  “You really get a chance to hear Bill Evans stretch out.”

You will enjoy first and second takes of lovely songs like “Emily” and “You’re Gonna Hear From Me,” each totally unique in their own way.  Other familiar standards include “A Sleepin’ Bee;” a rousing version of “Someday My Prince Will Come;” a tender rendition of “For Heaven’s Sake,” where Eddie Gomez’s bass beautifully accentuates the Evans phrasing, adding melodic depth to the arrangement. Gomez also soars on his bass solo and introduction to “Embraceable You.”  Jack DeJohnette shines throughout, playing with gusto and pulling the trio tenaciously along, like a locomotive engine.   

On disc two, they open with “Quiet Now” just piano on the long introduction, featuring the technical mastery of Bill Evans.  Then the bass joins him and next, DeJohnette adds his percussive coloring to the mix.  Eddie Gomez recalls their four-week gig at Ronnie Scotts.

“Jack (DeJohnette) was a good fit for the trio in the few months he was with us.  Prior to Jack, Bill’s trio had Philly Joe Jones, the great iconic drummer and that was certainly spectacular.  At that time, I was pretty young … so, having Philly Joe on one side and Bill on the other was a huge moment in my musical life,” Eddie reminisces. 

“Jack brought a lot of good points to the trio; the energy; he was very open about how to address the pulse. … That was nice. He’s really a pianist who plays drums.  That’s arguably why he fit in so well,” Eddie Gomez shared his opinion about working with Evans and DeJohnette.

While talking to Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette recalled that he actually was only with the trio six months before Miles Davis came calling.

“We played Ronnie’s after the Montreux gig. … I recorded it on a hip recorder.  I stuck the mic in the piano near Eddie’s bass and it recorded the piano, bass and drums,” Jack DeJohnette explained how this recording was made; no separation or fixing it in the studio.  It is what it is.

The second disc is as memorable and brilliant as the first, adding a couple of new standard tunes like “Alfie” and “Stella by Starlight.”  There’s also “Waltz for Debby and an exciting arrangement of “Round Midnight.”  This is another     recording that should be on every jazz collector’s shelf.

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Noah Bless, trombone/composer; Mike Eckroth, piano/keyboard; Boris Kozlov, bass; Pablo Bencid, drums; Luisito Quintero, percussion; Alejandro Aviles, flute.

Noah Bless is a graduate of the renowned Cincinnati Conservatory of music.  When he left Ohio to work on his Master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music, he fell in love with New York City and its intoxicating music scene.  He landed a gig at the Club Broadway, just a few blocks from where he lived on the Upper West Side of the city and he used to stroll to the gig on 96th & Broadway, trombone in hand.  By 1992, he was hired to tour with Afro-Cuban jazz pioneer, Mario Bauza and was part of the maestro’s 1993 record release, “My Time is Now.”  He’s also worked with such salsa stars as Oscar D’Leon, Celia Cruz and La India.  His trombone mastery quickly found its way to the stages of Latin jazz icons like Eddie Palmieri and Ray Santos, as well as the Spanish Harlem Orchestra under the direction of Arturo O’Farrill.  It’s taken a while, but this is Noah’s premiere CD release as a bandleader.

He opens with an original composition, “Chasing Normal” that is quite melodic, but moves quickly to a straight-ahead, funk fueled arrangement that spotlights the powerful piano playing of Mike Eckroth.  Track 2 focuses on the Latin side, with amazing percussive executions by both drummer, Pablo Bencid, and percussionist, Luisito Quintero.  Titled “Ganga,” this is a spirited tune that radiates a playful, party atmosphere.

“Canto De Ossanha” is one of my favorites on this album of eight well-played tunes.  This arrangement is lilting and melodic, featuring the crystal-clear tone of the Bless trombone, that dances along to the group’s warm percussion rhythm.  This song blends genres, embracing Latin roots, mixed with smooth jazz on this Afro-samba arrangement.  It gives Boris Kozlov an opportunity to show-off his bass skills in a well-played solo opportunity.   I found myself hypnotically entertained by “Ligia,” a Jobim composition.  This ballad is so touching and gives Noah Bless a platform to wrap us up in his beautiful and emotional trombone tonality, tinged delicately by the ‘blues.’  This song is a gift, tenderly decorated with splashy, warm colors, trailing ribbons of holiday goodness. 

“That melodic thing has always been my strong suit,” the trombonist admits in the liner notes.  “… It’s great for ballad playing in more of a straight-ahead swing tradition.  But I found that it also applies well to playing in Latin bands, particularly on montunos, where you’re supposed to play something that’s very melodic in the clave.  So that idea, how to feel that rhythm while playing simply, but still melodically, has been marinating for years.  It’s something I’ve been working on for decades at this point.” 

It may have taken years for this album of fine music to come to fruition, but it was definitely worth the wait.  Like a sturdy redwood tree, Noah Bless’s strong, indescribably beautiful CD is a seasoned, natural creation that warmly serenades the universe.

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Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone/flute/composer; Dave Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones/wooden flute/composer; Tony Marino, bass; Michael Stephans, drums; Judi Silvano, voice.

The Kaleidoscope Quintet is a group of master musicians who got together for a gig at the Deer Head Inn one November evening in 2013.  My friend and respected jazz drummer, Michael Stephans, boasts an impressive four-decade career on both coasts of our nation and worldwide.  He’s also a published journalist.  In fact, the year of this recording, Michael was promoting his “Experiencing Jazz: A Listener’s Companion.”  Both Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano, master musicians and composers in their own right, contributed to his book with Liebman writing the preface.  This was to be the Michael Stephans’ launch party and it mirrors a celebratory concert performance that was happily recorded for our listening pleasure.  You can hear the appreciative audience applause as a backdrop for this Avant-garde, live jazz recording.

Joe Lovano is appreciated as one of the most inventive saxophonists in the jazz world.  Born in Cleveland, Ohio (1952) it was perhaps ordained that he play saxophone since his dad, Tony “Big T” Lovano got him interested in the horn as a child.  There is even a historic photograph of baby Joe in the arms of his mother with a saxophone cradled next to him.  Dragged along by his dad, Joe Lovano attended in-person concerts by masters like James Moody, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Young Lovano wound up joining Wood Herman’s Thundering herd from 1976 to 1979.  After attending Berklee College of Music, Joe landed professional gigs with wonderful jazz organists like Lonnie Smith and Brother Jack McDuff.  He’s worked with the who’s who of jazz artists including Ed Blackwell, Lee Konitz, Abbey Lincoln, Bob Brookmeyer, Dave Holland, Billy Higgins, Bobby Hutcherson, Carla Bley, Charlie Haden, Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock and the list goes on and on.  He’s a Grammy winner and has a long and respectable relationship with Blue Note Records.

Dave Liebman was born September 4, 1946, in Brooklyn, New York.  Early in his career, Liebman landed a saxophone/flute gig with the great drummer, Elvin Jones.  This was followed by a stint with the Miles Davis ensemble from 1970 to 74.  He’s also toured with Chick Corea and formed his own group with amazing sidemen like Kenny Kirkland, Terumasa Hino and John Scofield.  Always seeking the outer limits of the music and pushing musical boundaries, he has made a huge name for himself as an incredible improvisor and artistic composer and woodwind player.  He shares his genius, creating instructional clinic DVDs and CDs, while actively teaching at various universities.  His biography was released in 2012 and Dave Liebman has won an extensive number of awards and honors over his stellar career. 

Judi Silvano is a beautiful and extraordinary voice that acts like a third horn on this project.  She’s a singer, composer and graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with degrees in both music and dance.  As a protegee of Sheila Jordan and Jeanne Lee, she explores her art outside the box.  She has had a long-term collaboration with Joe Lovano and has fourteen record releases on her own.  Judi’s recorded her own original music, jazz standards and worked from duo productions to large ensembles.  She has released two records of music for meditation and healing.  Downbeat has lauded Judi Silvano as one of the top ten jazz voices and she passes her experience and knowledge on in clinical settings, workshops and at Universities worldwide.  Composing led her to pursue arranging. Her artistic talents also include painting with watercolor, pastel oil and encaustic work.  In fact, she is the designer and artist who created this Kaleidoscope Quintet CD cover. 

Tony Marino is a one of those virtuoso musicians who, as Michael Stephan explains:

“Tony is always in the moment, ready to leap into the abyss at any time. … He’s one of the most intuitive jazz musicians I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing with.”

At age thirteen, Tony Marino switched from guitar to the bass instrument and never looked back.  Morino kick-started his musical adventure by backing up a host of historic names, bringing his big bass sound to the stages of Joan Rivers, Vic Damone, Robert Goulet and Nell Carter.  He also played with jazz greats like Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Mose Allison, Phil Woods, Hal Galper, Urbie Green and John Coates jr.  But as he grew musically, and explored other directions in his musical approach, he began a collaboration with jazz tenor, Dave Liebman.  He has performed with Liebman throughout Europe, Japan, Thailand, Australia and South America.  It’s been a thirty-year musical adventure. 

This is an exciting and unique quintet, that stretches the boundaries of music to its farthest degree and, like a kaleidoscope, these musicians splash fascinating musical colors all over the listener.  They hypnotize us with their unique interaction. There are two original songs written by Joe Lovano and two compositions penned by Dave Liebman.  Stuck in the middle is the familiar tune, “There Is No Greater Love.”  Just like peering through the entertaining lenses of a kaleidoscope, the pieces of this quintet move, shape and reshape themselves before our very eyes in shiny, brilliant and memorable ways.

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Jeff Ellwood, tenor saxophone/composer; Alan Pasqua, piano/composer; Darek Oles, bass/composer; Joe Labarbera, drums; Special guest: Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone.

Jeff Ellwood is the current Director of Instrumental Jazz Studies at Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut, California.  After much prodding by his contemporaries, he decided to take a solo journey into becoming a recording artist and bandleader.  Ellwood carefully picked the crème-de-la-crème of Southern California’s wealth of jazz musicians.  He invited the last drummer to play with the great Bill Evans, Joe LaBarbera and his longtime friend, Alan Pasqua to man the piano.  Jeff also called Darek Oles for his recording project.  He’s one of Southern California’s first-call bass players and as a special guest, he asked saxophonist Bob Sheppard to join him on track six, a tune written by Dick Oatts (“King Henry”).  It originally featured Oatts and Jerry Bergonzi on their “South Paw” album for the Steeplechase label.  This is one of my favorite tunes on this CD.  Joe LaBarbera is given several bars to solo on trap drums and Ellwood and Bob Sheppard harmonize with each other and then each one takes a spirited solo. Another favorite is “Old School Blues,” composed by pianist and co-producer, Alan Pasqua.  It reflects a great melodic structure and it swings hard. 

The opening tune is based on one of Ellwood’s favorite jazz standards, “All the Things You Are” and he calls his song, “U.R.”.  It’s a great way to open his album and to introduce you to some of Southern California’s best jazz players.  Each takes an impressive solo on this opening production.  The composition that Ellwood has created may use the same changes as the old standard, but his melody is fresh and totally his own.

Ellwood has a smooth, mellow tone on tenor saxophone.  He admits to being greatly influenced by Rick Margitza, Dick Oatts and Jerry Bergonzi. He also admires James Moody and had an opportunity to take a lesson from the iconic, master musician before Moody died.  Track 4 is a Rick Margitza composition called “Provence” and it opens with an ‘other-worldly’ introduction by Ellwood and Pasqua.  Ellwood makes interesting tones and sounds float from the bell of his saxophone and Pasqua plays mysterious music on the piano.  Then they settle into a lilting, moderate-tempo arrangement with a melody that makes you want to hum along.  The title tune follows, composed by Johnny Mercer and Alec Wilder.  “The Sounds Around the House” is a beautiful ballad.   I enjoyed the original tune “The Honeymoon” by bassist Darek Oles.  The group is inspired on this one, pushing the envelope with bebop and improvisation ruling.  Oles is pumping strongly on his bass, providing a lush cushion beneath Jeff Ellwood’s satin-smooth saxophone solo; while LaBarbera pushes the energy forward with unrelenting drum sticks.  Alan Pasqua plays a dynamic, straight-ahead piano solo.  In this tasty arrangement, for several bars Pasqua’s piano is missing, but that adds interest to their arrangement and singularly spotlights Ellwood’s innovative saxophone.  LaBarbera is given time to explore his drums during a very melodic solo and yes; percussion instruments sing their own song and can be very melodious.  LaBarbera shows us how that happens.

They close with “For Roger” a ballad composition by organist, Joe Bagg,    that is explored and interpreted with just saxophone and bass.  It’s a lovely way to end a beautifully recorded concert of fine music.

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Chet Baker, trumpet/vocals; Featuring: Larry Coryell, guitar; Buster Williams, bass; Tony Williams, drums; Wolfgang Lackerschmid, vibes/producer.

Wolfgang Lackerschmid wrote the liner notes for this album of amazing music.  He explains how this group of master musicians came together.

“After our duo recording for ‘Ballads for Two’ Chet invited me to be a member of his band.  During many concerts and tours with different musicians, mainly from Italy, France, Belgium and USA, Chet (Baker) always featured our duo.  At the Festival in Velden/Austria … we met Larry Coryell who performed with Sonny Rollins’ Quartet.  We played some of my tunes as a duo feature, also for encore.  After our concert, Larry came backstage with tears in his eyes, saying that it was so beautiful that he would love to join our duo some time,” Wolfgang recalled.

He continued, “Chet’s agent picked this up right away and suggested doing a record with the three of us plus rhythm section.  Chet said, we don’t need no rhythm section.  The agent still insisted.  … Some weeks later I received a call from Chet’s agent. Everything’s fine.  Buster (Williams) and Tony (Williams) are excited to play at this recording.”

This journalist was absolutely stoked to review Chet Baker and Wolfgang Lackerschmid’s historic project.  They open with “Mr. Biko,” a Tony Williams tune, with Buster Williams walking his bass tenaciously throughout and also offering us an inspired solo. Larry Coryell adds a bluesy guitar arrangement to the mix.  Chet Baker’s sensuous, sexy trumpet steps into the spotlight, while Wolfgang’s vibes lock into the rhythm section, creating the backdrop for a stellar performance.  Towards the end of the tune, the musicians change the mood to funk, propelled by Tony’s drums and Buster’s melodic, infectious bass line.  The Lackerschmid vibes float on top, strong as sunshine glinting on a powerful ocean wave. This is a great way to start this recording, giving each player time to expose their unique and genius talents. Track 2 is a Lackerschmid tune titled, “Balzwaltz” that features the tenor vocals of Chet Baker, using his voice as a lyric-less instrument, he becomes a vocal extension of his horn.   You hear him scatting beautifully across this musical trampoline.  The tune has a ¾ tempo bounce and gives a broad stage for Tony Williams to solo on trap drums against a bass backdrop provided by Buster Williams.  Every song on this production is well-played, meticulously arranged and interpreted by a group of jazz legends. 

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