Archive for February, 2021


February 24, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 24, 2021


Bruce Brown, vocals/composer; John Harkins, piano; Brendan Clarke, bass; Andrew Dickeson, drums; Steve Brien, guitar; Steve Crum, trumpet; Glen Berger, saxophones/alto flute.

Bruce Brown is a very witty, tongue-in-cheek, comedic songwriter.  His vocal tone is intoxicating and his tone is relaxed.  He’s got that very soothing, low-keyed sound that people take vocal lessons to learn.  Bruce Brown is a natural born singer and his songwriting is delightful.  His is the kind of voice I could listen to all evening.  A little reminiscent of jazz trumpeter and vocal stylist, Chet Baker, Bruce Brown’s newest album is pure pleasure.  His lyrics are imaginative and at times, deeply sentimental; then surprisingly comical.  His view of life creates this “Death of Expertise” project and will encourage you to lay-back and ponder life and living.  Based in Wellington, New Zealand, thank goodness for recordings and the Internet, so his talent can be shared and enjoyed.  Kudos to painter, Irina Elgort, who designed the colorful and compelling CD cover.

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Reza Khan, nylon & electric guitars; Sergio Pereira, rhythm & classical guitar; Maurizio Zottarelli, drums; Fernando Saci, percussion; Matt King, Piano; SPECIAL GUESTS: Philippe Saisse, synthesizer Moog/melodon & mallets; Miles Gilderdale, electric Clead guitar; David Mann, strings & wind instruments; Mark Egan, bass.

Born in Bangladesh, Reza Khan was raised in a musical family.  At a young age, he was trained on East Indian percussion instruments.  Inspired by Peter Frampton’s album “Frampton Comes Alive,” the young man switched instruments to play the guitar.  You hear the influences of Pat Metheny, the Rippington’s and Acoustic Alchemy in this smooth jazz album.  However, Reza Khan has developed a style that’s all his own, blending American smooth jazz with his cultural heritage and also mixing in the influences from South Africa, where he spent time living and playing music.  Additionally, Khan enjoyed touring Spain with his group and was inspired by the Spanish culture and their music. His song, “Waiting for the Sky” opens this album and depicts sunshine hidden behind clouds, but waiting for the sky to open and let the sun rays be seen full force.  It’s a ‘hot’ arrangement.  Track 2 is titled “Neo Funk” and features a dynamic solo by Matt King on piano and a strong guitar solo.  I hear the Spanish influence in his tune, “Broken River.”  Another favorite of this journalist is “Somewhere East,” with David Mann adding his woodwind talents to the mix.  Khan’s compositions are beautiful, emotional and the arrangements are warm and romantic.  This is contemporary jazz at its best.

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Laurent David, electric bass/composer/producer; Stéphane Galland, drums/composer; Malcolm Braff, piano/Fender Rhodes/CP-70/composer; Stéphane Guillaume, tenor & soprano saxophones/flutes/bass clarinet/composer.

To understand the title of this work, one should have some knowledge of physics.  (ToE), better known by scientists as the “Theory of Everything,” is an all-encompassing journey into math and physics. I think, to understand the concept of this European Quartet’s direction, is to realize the definition of T.o.E.  Like jazz, the theory is fundamentally about representing physical degrees of freedom.  The “Theory of Everything” is described as a unified theory of all physical fields, including fields that are usually associated with various forms of matter, as well as fields of forces, including gravity.  In other words, that equation of ToE would include all the laws of physics, chemistry, and molecular biology.  Pretty much everything that makes up our earth and the world as we know it.  That is what these musicians are striving to do on this musical excursion.  They want to combine many types of jazz and music into one solid equation. 

Laurent David is the bassist of this group, born in Paris, residing now in Brooklyn, New York.  He’s the founder of Alter-Nativ Record Label and the man with this concept of building a group that allowed interactions of harmonies, rhythms, melodies, straight-ahead and contemporary jazz mixed with modern, funk jazz and Avant-Garde.  They use both electronics and acoustic instrumentation. 

Stéphane Galland, the drummer, shows off his excellence throughout.  I particularly loved what he does on Track 6, “Separating Circle,” where he takes us on a solo excursion into his percussive mastery for over sixty seconds.  The Belgium-born Galland is so melodic on his trap drums, along with being rhythmic, you are completely engaged when he plays.  Antoine Delecroix mixed this album and should be richly applauded.  He captured every nuance, click, and rumble of sound.  On Track 7, “You Are Here,” Galland is featured in another bright and engaging way.  His work is fascinating, creative and precise.  Guillaume, the sax man, adds his free-flowing spirit to this arrangement in a beautiful way.  He has spent 20 years touring with the national orchestra of Jazz and has been a part of the French jazz world from age seventeen.  Pianist, Malcolm Braff, is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  He started playing at age five and never stopped.  His improvised introduction at the top of Track 8, “Curved Wrinkles” grabs the listener’s attention.  Laurent David’s thick, funky bass line sets the mood, along with the popping drum sticks of Stéphane Galland.  The other Stéphane, Stéphane Guillaume, adds his sexy saxophone and here is a tune that is quite contemporary and funk-driven. It’s a pleasant change of pace. Malcolm Braff’s piano dances in the background, coloring the music with rich, rainbow shades of sound.  Their recent single from this album is titled, “Implosion” and is a powerful representation of this overall concept of blending jazz genres.  Judge for yourself by checking out their video below.

Here is a most unusual, but quite engaging project.  The group, SHIJIN, offers eight interactive compositions.  Interestingly, these compositions are first developed as duets, then completed by adding the other two musicians during a later session.  This experiment is seamless.  I would not have guessed the conceptual framework, and I enjoyed this production so much that I played the album twice.

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PLS TRIO – “COSMONAUTS” – Dot Time Records

Pier Luigi Salami, piano/live piano FXs/synthesizers; Martin D. Fowler, electric bass/synth bass; Shawn Crowder, drums/percussion/electric drums/elec. percussion. SPECIAL GUEST: Giorgia Renosto, voice.

If you’re looking for a Smooth Jazz ride, the PLS Trio will take you on an unforgettable journey with their “Cosmonauts” album.  The musicians create spacey, inter-galactic moments with electronic and percussive effects.  One moment, Pier Luigi Salami’s piano brilliance is playing a melodic interlude and the next, the trio offers bars of bombastic, percussive-driven music that explodes like a meteor streaking across the sky.  PLS Trio music is full of creativity, improvisation and electronic sounds that could easily be something one might hear in space.  These are modern jazz explorers who use contemporary sounds and original music to playfully introduce us to their rendition of a voyage to outer space.   So, don your space suit, a glass of wine and a vivid imagination, before entering their exploratory trio fantasy.

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Jon Schapiro, composer/arranger/bandleader; Jon Wikan, drums; Evan Gregor, bass; Sebastian Noelle, guitar; Roberta Piket, piano; SAXOPHONES: Rob Wilkerson, Candace DeBartolo, Paul Carlon, Rob Middleton & Matt Hong. TROMBONES: Alex Jeun, Deborah Weisz, Nick Grinder & Walter Harris. TRUMPETS: Bryan Davis, Andy Gravish, Eddie Allen & Noyes Bartholomew.

Schapiro’s 17-piece big band comes out of the gate at a full, swinging pace.  The fresh thing about this recording is that Jon Schapiro has composed all the songs, but one.  Usually, we hear big band music playing familiar old standards.  In this case, these talented musicians are interpreting their bandleader’s original compositions and they do it with gusto.  On “Count Me Out,” the opening tune, they swing hard and the horns are arranged in such a way that I feel like I’m on 5th avenue in the heat of the day.  I hear the traffic whipping past me and the automobile horns blowing.  The bustling of New York City is captured in this arrangement. Rob Middleton’s saxophone solo is as bright as an East Coast sun.  The tempos dance and turn, like a twirling traffic cop.  Roberta Piket’s piano cadenzas pull the arrangement together in subtle ways, becoming a bridge between the time changes.  At the end, the arrangement almost sounds like something Charles Mingus would play, embracing the creative collective in a busy ensemble moment.  “Tango” is just that.  It’s a smooth, sexy tango featuring Matt Hong’s saxophone introducing the piece.  A song titled “Hmmm” begins with the piano setting the pace and groove, propelled by a strong boogie-woogie beat.  It’s a bouncy, happy tune with the bass and drums (Gregor and Wikan) kicking the musicians into high gear.  Paul Carlon on trumpet carves through this piece like an electric saw.  I was enthralled by their arrangement of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” with the trumpet singing the melody against a backdrop of mystery and marching band harmonics.  This is a musical journey you don’t expect to take.  Schapiro’s music captures the imagination.  The trumpet solo of Eddie Allen brings the blues to the party, pouring it from the bell of his horn like champagne. The piano is a welcome flavor, that settles the arrangement down with a fresh and inviting improvised solo song.   This is a big band album that blends both beauty and modern jazz into a refreshing, musical experience.

Jon Schapiro is a creative and daring composer and arranger.  His music is melodic and original.  His arrangements leave room for individual bandmembers to step forward and strut their stuff, but he is always weaving ensemble harmonies and horn punches throughout each song, which keeps the music engaging and fresh. There is something Avant-garde in the way Schapiro hears the band and translates their musical abilities to paper.  Schapiro graduated from Brown University, earned a Master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and studied at NYU with Jim McNeely and Dinu Ghezzo.  He is currently a professor at Yeshiva University.

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Nelson Riveros, guitar/composer; Hector Martignon, piano; Andy McKee, bass; Mark Walker, drums; Jonathan Gomez, percussion.

If you harbor a passion for Latin jazz, you will enjoy every song on this triumphant tribute to the great Wes Montgomery.  Guitarist, Nelson Riveros, was born in New York, with Colombian roots and had a dream of arranging the historic music of Wes Montgomery, using Latin rhythms, intricate bass lines and melodic variations.  The group opens with a delightful remake of “Road Song,” pushed ahead by the sweet percussive licks of Jonathan Gomez and Mark Walker’s busy, but solid, drums.   Hector Martignon’s Latin flavored piano supports the groove and takes a happy-go-lucky solo.  Riveros has a genius touch on his guitar, adding flavor and excitement to each of the Montgomery tunes he has chosen to reimagine.  What a great idea to play these songs ‘on the Latin side.’  “Tear It Down” is track 2 on this album and reminds me of how much I loved Montgomery’s Bumpin’ album.  This composition has been arranged as an up-tempo, Brazilian Samba.  Andy McKee takes an inspired bass solo and Riveros dips and dives across his guitar strings, spotlighting moments of brilliance.  Track 3, “Four on Six” is a favorite song of Riveros.’  I enjoy the way he transformed the original bass line to a syncopated Tumbao. I think Wes Montgomery would have given this reinvention of his music a warm nod of approval.  Riveros has reached all the way back to 1958, when Montgomery recorded “Wes’ Tune” on his Far Wes album. Opening with a percussion intro, Riveros took the liberty of arranging this song as a Columbian porro.  As a composer, Riveros has contributed two songs: “Nelson’s Groove” and “Facing Wes,” established in 7/4 time with one section in 5, just to challenge the listener’s ear.  Wes released “West Coast Blues” on “the Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery LP back in 1960.  This Nelson Riveros arrangement wraps arms around the joropo style of music, a popular style in Venezuela and Columbia.  It’ll make you want to dance with flying feet and shaking hips.  Anyone who loves the Wes Montgomery legacy will start humming along, when Nelson Riveros and his group start playing “Jingles.”

These syncopated and exciting arrangements reimagine Wes Montgomery’s compositions, along with the two original songs that Nelson Riveros has penned, and are wonderful for dancing, for your listening pleasure or lying in the arms of your lover, wrapped up in the warmth and spontaneity of these passionate musicians.

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JAZZ WORMS – “SQUIRMIN’” – Capri Records Ltd.

Andy Weyl, piano; Keith Oxman, tenor saxophone; Paul Romaine, drums/Bu’s box; Ron Miles, cornet; Mark Simon, bass.

A song titled, “Launching Pad” leaps from my CD player like a rocket.  The catchy melody captures my imagination and Paul Romaine’s drum beat makes me dance across the room like nobody’s watching. This is how I’m introduced to the Jazz Worms, a Denver-based jazz quintet, who is releasing their 2nd album after 30 years.  The title of the group was shaped from each of the member’s last names; W.O.R.M.S. (Weyl, Oxman, Romaine, Miles and Simon).  Bassist Mark Simon once worked with a vocal recording group this reviewer greatly admired called “Rare Silk.”  Take a listen to Rare Silk below.

Tenor saxophone man, Keith Oxman, met Mark Simon in 1983, after his tenure with Rare Silk ended.  Oxman had been working with pianist, Andy Weyl, on a pretty regular basis and has known drummer, Paul Romaine the longest.  Ron Miles was the youngest member of the group and added his cornet talents to the package, like a bold bow ribbon.  Each of these musicians is a competent composer and all the music on this album is original. 

In the summer of 1987, the Jazz Worms produced their first recording titled, “Crawling Out.” This sophomore continuation is a long time coming, but thank goodness it has arrived.  Each of these players brings something fresh and exciting to the studio, including eight original compositions that reflect each individual’s talent.  Track 2, “Bu’s Box is written by drummer Paul Romaine and is a tribute to his bird’s cardboard box home.  It’s a happy, percussive song, with Oxman’s horn personifying the bird along with Ron Miles on cornet, as they trade fours in a wild duet. Romaine’s bright drums egg them on. When bassist Simon and piano man, Andy Weyl join in, they also take flight.  “Joaquin” is written by Oxman and swings hard with a catchy melody.  Andy Weyl, the stellar pianist on this project, offers us “Lickity-Split” and his tune moves at a speed that upholds the song title and spotlight’s Simon’s upright bass, with shades of Weyl’s classical side obvious.  I love the rich, warm sounds that Oxman pulls from his tenor saxophone on “Wheaty Bowl.”  Oxman’s composition, “The Chimento Files” closes the album out in a very straight-ahead and swinging way.  All in all, this is a delightful example of old friends and seasoned musicians coming together to reflect musically and share their bright moments with us.

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February 12, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 12, 2021


Eddy Olivieri & Tony Campodonico, piano; Mark Cargill, string conductor/guitar/producer; Jeff Littleton, bass; Nathaniel Scott, drums; Ramon Stagnaro, guitar; Paul Baker, harp; David Jackson & Munyungo Jackson, percussion.

Amber Weekes has released a ‘single’ just in time for Valentine’s Day.  She sings “My Romance” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel,” a lovely duet with vocalist Mon David.  The single is pulled from her anticipated CD release titled, “Round Midnight – Reimagined,” formerly released in 2002, but is currently being remastered and re-orchestrated.

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Bill Cunliffe, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums.

What do you get when you join together three jazz virtuoso players?  A delightfully entertaining album of excellence, of course!  This is one such album. 

Bill Cunliffe opens with a tune called, “Conception,” penned by the great George Shearing.  The trio tackles it at a swinging tempo and after several bars of piano, John Patitucci steps forward to take a stellar bass solo.  Afterwards, the trio swings a little more before Vinnie Colaiuta takes an opportunity to trade-fours and showcase his expert drum chops.  It’s a great way to begin to introduce the listening audience to each dynamic player. The familiar jazz standard, “Laura” follows.  Then comes Wayne Shorter’s composition, “Anna Maria” that allows John Patitucci to take an extended bass solo that just ‘wows’ this listener.  Bill Cunliffe is, as always, masterful on the piano and the music is propelled and generously colored by the drums of Colaiuta.

“Working with Bill Cunliffe, you can always expect, at the very least, amazing skill and professionalism, some deep swinging and a big bucket of fun!” Vinnie spoke about this project.

Patitucci recalls how this project popped up as a surprise to the three music masters. It was the La Coq label founder and producer, Piero Pata, who urged this trio to record at the famous Capitol studios, without charts or scripts.

“Piero (Pata) surprised us as we were working on some other projects with him.  He had the idea for us to do this trio record.  It was very impromptu, like in the Blue Note record era, where you basically do a record in a day.  We had a lot of fun and it was really relaxed,” John said.

Grammy Award-winning arranger and pianist, Bill Cunliffe, generally approaches a project with depth of arranging and preparation.  He began his career, years ago, as pianist and arranger for the Buddy Rich Big Band and has more than a dozen albums under his own name as bandleader.  Like his fellow trio members, he’s worked with a long list of luminaries and was quite excited to take this Trio ride with his longtime friends.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Cunliffe gushed.  “It was pretty challenging because it’s just three guys in a room.  But it was fun, because these are two master musicians whose work I’ve loved for years. I like jazz music that has shape.  …a beginning, middle and end and drama.  Usually, I craft those elements in my arrangements.  John and Vinnie are able to create those qualities on the spot.”

Patitucci, perhaps best recognized as the amazing bass sound working with Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter, is a celebrated as a member of Corea’s Akoustic and Elektric Bands and for the last two decades applauded as an integral member of Wayne Shorter’s Quartet. But he’s also played with Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, McCoy Tyner, Nancy Wilson, Sting and the list goes on and on and on.

Colaiuta is one of those drummers who can play it all, but has deep roots in jazz. You hear his mastery throughout this trio album, but he flies like a wild bird on “7 Steps to Heaven.”  He rose to fame playing with Frank Zappa, but he’s a musical chameleon who can easily switch styles and has backed-up Joni Mitchell, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor and even Billy Joel.  For a while, Colaiuta and Patitucci shared the stage as a version of Chick Corea’s Akoustic Band.  All three musicians have pleasantly crossed paths over the years, playing with each other in various situations, but never as a trio.  So, this assembly is fresh, new and absolutely stunning to the ear.  You will hear both brilliant and memorable conversation between these three masters, as they challenge each other and themselves, playing in the moment, without arrangements or music, yet finding that common thread that makes this project golden.  Together, they sparkle and shine.

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Mark Winkler, vocals; David Benoit, piano/organ; Gabe Davis, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums; Pat Kelley, guitar; Stefanie Fife, cello; Kevin Winard, percussion.

The things I admire most about Mark Winkler is his choice of repertoire and his song writing.  Opening with the Bob Dorough song, “I’ve Got Just About Everything,” we are off to a swinging start with a great lyric to enjoy and to ponder.  Winkler is a storyteller in his own right, like Dave Frishberg, so it’s not surprising that he chooses to sing Frishberg’s very wonderful tune, “Sweet Kentucky Ham.”   Winkler takes the liberty of adding fresh, new lyrics to “Better Than Anything” personalizing it and referencing his wonderful musicians; Gabe Davis on bass, brush master, Clayton Cameron on drums and Pat Kelley on guitar.  Singer and lyricist, Mark Winkler has been good friends with pianist/composer, David Benoit for thirty-seven years.  This is an album, featuring these two talented souls, that’s been a long time coming and it’s the result of the pandemic.  When Benoit’s tour in Japan was cancelled, alone at home, he invited his friend Winkler over for dinner.  Afterwards, like all musicians do, they gravitated to the grand piano and Benoit began accompanying Winkler on some familiar tunes. Halfway through “The Shadow of Your Smile” Benoit suggested they make an album together, in the midst of a pandemic. 

“We talked on the phone a lot, coming up with ideas for the album.  After a while, I did go over to his house to practice once a week.  It turns out, you can actually sing while wearing a mask.  It was easy to stay separated.  He sat playing at one end of his 9-foot grand and I stood singing at the other end,” Mark Winkler recalled the pandemic’s isolated days where he found solace in music.

Paul Simon’s song, “Old Friends” probably sums up the beauty and compatibility of these two seasoned veterans of music and it’s the album’s title tune.  Stefanie Fife’s cello work on this arrangement is lovely and heartfelt.  On “When This Love Affair is Over” David Benoit surprises out ears by doubling on the Hammond B3 organ.  I was eager to hear the compositions that Winkler and Benoit collaborated on.  The first is “In A Quiet Place,” (co-written with Shelly Nyman) with a warm, wonderful lyric about friendship and lovers finding the ultimate peace in a quiet place.  It’s dedicated to Benoit’s wife.  The cello of Fife opens the tune “Dragonfly,” along with the notable piano accompaniment of David Benoit and is another song penned by Winkler and Benoit.  It has a pop/country/western flavor with a poetic look at the freedom and beauty of a dragon fly and the insect’s relationship to someone searching for love.   The most poignant song they composed, along with songwriter, Heather Perram Frank, is “Thirty Years (Only Sunshine Days)” that seems to sum up the beauty of a close friendship in well-written lyrics and with a memorable melody. 

Perhaps David Benoit described this project best when he said:

“Working with Barbara Brighton (producer) and Mark was a highlight for me.  I think this is Mark’s best work.  He is restrained and heartfelt. …You can hear the communication with Mark and me, and it’s superb.  This is a result of a certain maturity that only comes with age and a willingness to put the time and effort into the project.  This could be a happy result of COVID-19, giving us all the time, we needed to make it right.”

So, light the fireplace, put on your listening ears, and soak up the great repertoire these two seasoned friends and musicians offer in their own inimitable ways.

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Mike Freedman, guitar/composer/arranger; Jeremy Ledbetter, piano; Max Senitt, drums/percussion; Kobi Hass, Bass; Curtis Freeman, Alexis Baro, trumpet; Chris Gale, tenor saxophone; Louis Simão, Cuica.

Toronto-based guitarist, Mike Freedman, has released his debut album as a bandleader, after three decades of experience on the Toronto, Canada music scene.  This album features nine of Freedman’s original compositions and each one is a sparkling gem.  Mike Freedman’s music is melodic and contemporary.  He’s a solid composer with fresh eyes on song structure and melody.  Take for example “Lamentation Revelation” with it’s surprising chord changes.  Most of Freedman’s music is laid-back and relaxing.  However, on “Samba on the Sand” he picks up the pace and adds a cuica, played by Luis Simão.  The word ‘cuica’ means gray, four-eyed opossum in Portuguese, but it’s actually a Brazilian friction drum that has a large pitch range.  It’s popularly used in Samba music and known for its high- pitched cry.  It adds richness to the production.  Freedman’s fingers fly across the guitar strings, like busy Sea Gulls circling the beach.  “Snake in the Grass” is played in a minor mode and sounds very Middle Eastern.  With his repertoire and arrangements, Mike Freedman offers a variety of original music for our listening pleasure.  Most is presented in a smooth jazz way that features his skills on guitar and a very creative imagination.

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Frederic Viale, accordion/composer/arranger; Chloé Cailleton, voice; Julian Leprince-Caetano, piano; Nelson Veras, guitar; Natallino Neto, bass; Zaza Desiderio, drums.

Having spent precious time in Paris, I learned there are a plethora of fine French musicians and I came to appreciate the accordion as a viable jazz instrument.  Frederic Viale is a master accordion player, a composer and arranger.  On this, his sixth album, he has composed eight of the ten songs.  On track 1, (the title tune) he has employed the smooth, emotional vocals of Chloé Cailleton to enhance the melody.  She becomes a human horn during this project, singing melodies without lyrics.  Julian Leprince-Caetano is the pianist who makes his voice clearly heard on the Quintet’s first track, unleashing an impressive solo.  Track 2, “Ultime Atome” reminds me a wee bit of a Flora Purim & Airto arrangement, with a slight Latin influence and a melody that encourages staccato notes sung by Chloé’s crystal, clear voice.  Soon, the smooth legato sound of Frederic Viale’s accordion takes stage center.  You can immediate appreciate he is technically astute. These first two songs are original compositions by Frederic and exhibit strong melodies.  Track 4, “Les Arbres Bleus” is a beautifully penned ballad that features the sensitive Viale technique on accordion.  He also chords the accordion beneath the solo of pianist Julian Leprince-Caetano in a heartfelt way.  At times, the Viale accordion sounds like a flute.  In other settings, Frederic plays it like a horn solo.  You can plainly hear the guitar of Nelson Veras during the arrangement of “Odonata.”  Obviously, Frederic Viale has classical training, but he’s very jazzy in his approach and his composition style.  The Hubert Giraud tune, “La Tendresse” is the only production where Chloé Cailleton sings the French lyrics and that closes out this album.  Here is a musical production cutting new pathways into the jazz tradition.  Using the accordion, Frederic Viale’s immense talent unveils itself with compositions that are cement strong, flawless technique and variety of repertoire.

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TABER GABLE – “HIDDEN DRIVEWAYS” – Independent label

Taber Gable, keyboards/piano/synthesizers/vocals/composer/arranger/producer; Sarah Hanahan, alto saxophone; Andrew Renfroe, elec. guitars; Jonathan Pinson, drums; Kyle Miles, electric bass.

Taber Gable is a composer, pianist and vocalist.  He opens this album with one of eleven compositions he has penned.  This opening tune is titled, “Don’t Let Life Hold You Down.”  It features a stunning guitar solo by Andrew Renfroe.  This is modern, contemporary, electric jazz, with a funk undercurrent provided by drummer Jonathan Pinson.  Gable has a way of setting up the groove and creating a loop of music that make you want to move.  His vocals institute a repetitive melody and his creative keyboard work establishes style and uniqueness.  There is a great deal of Hip Hop influence in his original compositions.  On “Ache” I can visualize Jill Scott laying down her spoken word. The track is strong, but the vocals are mixed way down in the music.  I question, why?  The song “Pride” is reminiscent of a melody that Earth, Wind & Fire might sing and arrange.  Once again, the mix is poorly executed.  Taber Gable layers his vocals and his keyboard-work fattens the track with electronic implementation of effects and thick harmonic chords.  This tune is smooth jazz.  Taber Gable has an individual vocal tone, that could easily make this artist recognizable.  We call that a ‘stylist’.  But his vocals are mixed so far down in the track you have to strain to hear them.  You can more clearly hear him on his R&B based song, “Tears,” as he sings the catchy line, “I hear your tears falling like the rain.”  

Taber Gable offers cross-genre arrangements and a performance style that heralds his multi-talents.  But like the very dark CD cover of his project and the title of his album, “Hidden Driveways” the artist is pictured behind a camouflage of trees and unfortunately, his vocals are also hidden in the recording.  I believe, sometimes an artist needs a producer instead of trying to do everything themselves.   Unfortunately, I think much of the power and punch of this production was lost in the mix and the mastering. 

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Allan Harris, voice/guitars/composer; Shirazette Tinnin, drums; Nimrod Speaks, bass; Marty Kenney, acoustic & electric bass; Arcoiris Sandoval, piano/Hammond B3; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; David Castaneda & Jhair Sala, percussion; Curtis Taylor, trumpet; Alex Budman, alto saxophone; Keith Fiddmont, tenor saxophone; Ondre J. Pivec, organ; Tonga Ross-M’au, guitar; Carolyn Leonhart, Doreen Wilburn, Jordan Wilburn & Whitley Wilburn, background voices; CHILDRENS VOICES: Angela Whitley, James Whitley, David Whitley & Micah Whitley, Jr.; Producer: Kamau Kenyatta.

Allan Harris reflects on his life in Harlem as a place of opportunity, inspiration and love.  He opens up this album with a self-penned song called “I Grew Up (Kate’s Place)” that is arranged as a cross between R&B and Jazz in a sweet, old-school kind of way.  Hand claps introduce us to the groove along with a blues guitar that joins in with the voices of children in the background.  The lyrics roll off his tongue like the honey-sweet, wise words of a seasoned poet. He sings:

“I took the train up to Harlem … a spring afternoon.  Going to the Appollo, hear all that jazz, soul and downhome blues. Nina, Sarah and Ella; Duke and Basie would swing, that’s a fact!  Jackie, Smokey and                       Marvin; James Brown and Aretha never walked through the back.”

Enter the background voices, “Harlem is the place where I live,” they sing with a gospel clap egging them on.  Enter Gregoire Maret on his jazzy harmonica solo and Shirazette Tinnin’s drums push the music ahead with hot and heavy strokes.  Shirazette is also Allan’s musical conductor.  This is a great way to start Allan Harris’s fourteenth album release.  It’s based on recollections of his Aunt Kate’s well-loved luncheonette, once located near the Apollo Theater.

“I experienced many pivotal moments at my aunts’ restaurant.  It was there I found my voice,” Allan Harris reminisces.

His beautiful, baritone vocals are as smooth as melted brown butter.  His poignant memories pour from my CD player and tell me stories of his life.  This is ‘soul jazz’ at its best.  Another one of the Harris originals, “One More Notch (Put Down Your Gun),” talks about the violence in the streets; violence that perhaps he, himself, has experienced.  His words touch me and expose the soft, underbelly of inner-city life that can muddy and destroy a future, or the hope and determination that can bless and uplift a soul.

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Benoit Delbecq, solo piano.

The title of this project is so poetic and intriguing, I was eager to hear the music.  The facts behind the title are unusual.  Some 35 years ago, Benoit Delbecq’s physicist brother proved that light has mass.  Delbecq took poetic license to change ‘mass’ to ‘weight’ as his album’s title.

“Hardly any people know that light has a mass,” Delbecq exclaims in his promo package. 

I believe that one of the reasons he would be excited about this discovery is because Benoit Delbecq is a visual artist, as well as a musician.  He designed his own CD cover.  This album cover mirrors his desire to feature architecture, because he visualizes it when he composes new music; including how different structures interact with light.  This French pianist regards his instrument as a vessel for his artistic expression and art expansion. 

“When I’m composing, it’s exactly like I’m looking at inventing the future shape of an object.  So, I look at it from different places.  It’s like a 3-D way of conceiving things that have to do with optical phenomena.  If I move around it, it will reveal shapes that are hidden at other angles,” Benoit Delbecq describes his composition technique.

You hear it in his improvised music on this album. It’s quite fascinating.  Benoit’s compositions are expressive in a mysterious and untethered way. This is a solo project with him utilizing the piano strings and creating his own rhythm, as well as playing the 88-keys for melody and creative expression.  In addition to being a performer, composer and producer, Delbecq served as founder of the Hask Collective Paris from 1992 to 2004 and presently is a founding member of Bureau de Son Paris and the dStream label. This is the internationally acclaimed pianist’s first solo record release in more than a decade.

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Kristiana Roemer, vocals/composer; Addison Frei, piano; Alex Claffy, bass; Adam Arruda, drums; Gilad Hekselman & Ben Monder, guitar; Dayna Stephens, saxophone; Rogerio Boccato, percussion.

This vocalist incorporates her composing talents with an introspective look at her own life, reflected in the title of her debut album, “House of Mirrors.” Kristiana Roemer adds her own prose.

“I imagine a ‘House of Mirrors’ inside of each of us where we can hold and honor all the possibilities of ourselves that we could have drawn upon; chances taken, potentials cultivated, paths pursued and so on,” Roemer says in her liner notes.

Roemer’s music presents interesting chord changes for the band to improvise upon.  On the title song, Gilad Hekselman makes a stark statement with his guitar solo. However, Kristiana Roemer’s melodies are not easily repeatable and her lyrics are often non-rhyming prose.  An example is track 2, “Beauty Is a Wound” performed with only percussion and bass.  The title is never mentioned.  “Virgin Soil” is another song that doesn’t mention the title anywhere, and has no ‘hook’ that the listener can hang onto or sing along with.  Dayna Stephens’ saxophone briefly improvises and the track is strong, with the bass of Alex Claffy dancing along with the rhythm section and making a statement with his instrument.  He is as strong as the featured vocalist. 

Unfortunately, I just don’t relate to the melodic stories that Kristiana Roemer is sharing.  She sings “Deine Hande” (Your Hands) sung in what might be German.  The press package doesn’t tell us, nor do the liner notes.  On track 5, “Dark Night of the Soul” I am disappointed by the guitar solo of Ben Monder and the mixing of this song.  On the poem, her voice should have come up in the mix and the track should have been pulled down, so we can better hear her poetry.  These little studio adjustments are so important to a project.  The tune I found most enjoyable is “Lullaby for N,” a beautiful ballad.  Addison Frei is a sensitive accompanist on piano throughout this production.  I was eager to hear Ms. Roemer tackle Stanley Turrentine’s famed “Sugar,” tune.  She didn’t swing it, but sang it legato at first and even though her band wanted to swing, Kristiana Roemer just could not do it.  The ability to ‘Swing’ is part of being a jazz musician or vocalist.  Alex Claffy on bass has no problem in the ‘Swing’ department.  They close with “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” composed by Charlie Mingus.  It showcases the beauty of Kristiana Roemer’s bell-clear voice and gives an opportunity for Addison Frei to sport his talents, with fingers racing up and down the 88-keys.  Ms. Roemer is a good singer, but her songwriting is still developing and to call herself a jazz singer she must learn to improvise and to ‘Swing.’

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David Angel, tenor saxophone/conductor/composer/arranger; Paul Kreibich, drums; Susan Quam, string bass; John Chiodini, guitar; Jim Self, tuba/bass trombone; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Stephanie O’Keefe, horn; Ron Stout, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jonathan Dane, trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Carr, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Tom Peterson, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute; Jim Quam, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Gene Cipriano “Cip,” alto & soprano saxophones/clarinet.

David Angel arranges music like a free-flowing, two-lane highway.  Just pretend you are in a helicopter looking down on the cars and trucks streaming North and South.  In music, when instrumentation moves that way, it’s referred to as contrapuntal.  Just like the cars are smoothly moving counterpoint to each other, the musical instruments are doing the same thing in many of the David Angel arrangements.  His comfort level in classically rooted music and America’s classical music called ‘jazz’ is obvious.  These two technical gifts shine brightly in Mr. Angel’s composing and arranging skills.  Jim Self, an expert tuba player and bandmember in the David Angel Jazz Ensemble, probably summed up Mr. Angel’s talents best when he said, “I like to describe his stuff as Gil Evans meets J.S. Bach.”

You clearly hear the Angel technique on the opening tune of disc one.  It’s an original composition by David Angel that is also the title of this three-disc set of music.  “Out on the Coast” rolls along in a happy-go-lucky way, with a melody you want to whistle along with and the horns richly harmonizing in the background.  Track 2 is another original penned by David Angel and titled “Wig.”  It has a little Latin flair to it and meanders along at a moderate pace.  Listen for the counterpoint movements of the horns, that melt together, smooth as oil on glass, parting the stage curtains to feature Tom Peterson on tenor saxophone, with Ron Stout and Jonathan Dane on flugelhorn.  There is also an unexpected patch of time where the percussion mastery of Paul Kreibich is featured.

David Angel has been conducting this jazz ensemble since 1969.  It began as a rehearsal band and over years of experimenting with his arrangements and composing talents, the band has featured some of the West Coast giants of jazz like Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Kim Richmond, Bob Brookmeyer, Bud Shank, Pete and Conte Condoli, Art Pepper and Pete Christlieb, to list just a handful of the stars who have played the David Angel charts.  I find myself drawn to his melodic songwriting and unique arranging.  Recently David offered lessons in composition and theory to working composers for ASMAC. ASMAC seeks to educate new audiences on the role and impact of music arrangers and composers by presenting a series of talks at educational institutions, ranging from middle and high schools to universities and community colleges.

The other provocative and selfless thing that David Angel does as an arranger and composer is to leave plenty of room to showcase the talents of his bandmates.  His lush arrangements build and crescendo, then drop back down to spotlight a solo by some of his many talented musicians.  This is a project bursting with genius, presenting familiar and well-played music and showcasing the composer, arranger and conductor skills of David Angel.  It’s an absolutely beautiful project and longtime labor of love.

I couldn’t find a sample of the new album, but here is a bluesy piece from a former CD he released.

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February 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 1, 2021

DAVE STRYKER – “BAKER’S CIRCLE” – Strikezone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar/composer/producer; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums; Mayra Casales, percussion.

Dave Stryker is a force to be reckoned with.  He opens this latest recording with “Tough,” an original composition that is tenacious and bold.  This outstanding guitarist and his group grind their way onto the scene with straight-ahead power and precision.  This is one of three original songs Stryker has penned.  “El Camino” is a little more laid-back with strong percussive over-tones by Mayra Casales and featuring the jazzy tenor saxophone of Walter Smith III.  This Latin flavored tune makes me want to dance.  The third original, “Dreamsong,” is both bluesy and played in 7/4 time. 

I wondered why the “Baker’s Circle” title was chosen for this album. In his press package, Dave Stryker explained it.

“Composer and educator, David Baker, was in my corner from the time I met him at a jazz camp when I was seventeen, ‘til he hired me to take over as guitar professor at Indiana University a few years ago.  I named the song, “Baker’s Circle” in his memory,” Dave explained.

Once again, Stryker has reunited with his hard-hitting B3 organ group featuring Jared Gold on organ and McClenty Hunter on drums.  Together, they always bring the groove and the punch to the party.  You will enjoy the straight-ahead, speedy rendition of Jaren Gold’s “Rush Hour” tune, followed by a sexy version of “Superstar” that Luther VanDross made so popular.  Stryker wrings out every drop of emotion when he plays his guitar on this one.  They close their recording with “Trouble (No. 2),” a shuffle tune originally recorded by Stryker’s former boss, the great Stanley Turrentine.  Appropriately, in closing they groove and move us with the same energy they used to open their project.  This is feel-good music from start to finish.

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SANTI DEBRIANO – “FLASH OF THE SPIRIT” – Truth Revolution Records

Santi Debriano, acoustic bass/guitar/composer; Andrea Brachfeld, flute; Justin Robinson, alto saxophone; Bill O’Connell, piano/composer; Valtinho Anastacio, percussion; Tommy Campbell & Francisco Mela, drums; Tim Porter, mandolin.

This album premise began while Santi Debriano was a graduate student at Wesleyan University. He was reading the Robert Farris Thompson book, “Flash of the Spirit” and that book provoked a question in his mind.  To what extent have African traditions and customs been retained by contemporary Black culture throughout the Americas?  Consequently, the music interpreted on this album, mostly composed by Debriano, is meant to answer that question.

As an ethnomusicology graduate, Debriano has studied music from all over the world.  Consequently, he’s incorporated various communities and musical references from as far away as Panama and as close as Brooklyn, New York, or his place of residence in Staten Island.  He aimed to explore the impact of African roots in jazz music.  Opening with “Awesome Blues” he gives Tommy Campbell, on drums, an opportunity to explode like firecrackers all over this tune.  It’s an exciting way for this ensemble to open their production.  On“Funky New Dorp,” Santi Debriano’s bass is the glue that holds this arrangement tightly in place.  It’s embellished by the piano excellence of Bill O’Connell, who dances all over this arrangement on the 88 keys.  Here is a true ‘blues’ swing that quickly becomes one of my favorites on this recording.  The addition of the melody enhanced by Andrea Brachfeld on flute and Justin Robinson on the alto saxophone offers a grounding effect to this free-spirited song.  Their instruments harmonize beautifully.

Debriano opens the Billie Holiday sung standard, “For heaven’s Sake” with a long, solo bass introduction and then plays the entire tune solo.  That surprised me, but I found it very inspired.  I personally would have loved to hear him bow the melody, just one time down.  Pianist, Bill O’connell, composed track 4, “Beneath the Surface” and indeed, I get my wish.  Debriano pulls out his bow and gives us a beautiful bass solo at the very top of the tune.   This song remains piano and bass throughout. Andrea Brachfeld shines and sparkles during her flute solo on “Natural Causes” and “Ripty Boom.”  Also, Justin Robinson soars on alto saxophone during their arrangement of Debriano’s original song, “Ripty Boom.”  The Kenny Dorham song, “La Mesha” features a startlingly beautiful guitar solo by Santi Debriano.

This album is a celebration of upright bass and guitar in a unique and gratifying way, featuring the very talented Santi Debriano, who kindly shares a flash of his own spirit with us in a most unique way. 

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Todd Mosby, acoustic & electric guitars/Imrat guitars; Charlie Bisharat, violin; Tony Levin, Sean Harkness  & Michael Manring, bass; Jerry Marotta, drums; Jeff Haynes, percussion; Premik R. Tubbs, saxophone/ lap steel/wind synthesizer; Lola Kristine, Fender Rhodes/piano/vocals; Tom Eaton, Rhodes/piano/synth pads; Kristin Hoffmann, backup vocals; Will Ackerman, guitar/producer.

“Aerial Views” is an album that is part of a series that guitarist/composer Todd Mosby has written and arranged to highlight the natural elements of earth.  This production celebrates air and also memories of co-piloting across the sky with his father, who was an experienced pilot.  This music is easy-listening and heavily soaked in classical North Indian technique.  It’s infused with sounds of Asian/Indian culture.  Mosby has been a long-time fan of Indian music.  He explained:

“It (Indian Music) sat in the background of my life until I heard that Imrat Khan was coming to St. Louis to teach and live,” Mosby recalled.

Mosby attended a class Khan was teaching and the result was that he studied with him on guitar for thirteen years.  He learned technique, raag, (a melodic framework for improvising) philosophy and the history of Indian music in the gharana tradition.  You will hear all of this blending of cultures and jazz in this original music Todd Mosby has composed.  You hear his tenderness and guitar creativity during his interpretation of “To The Sky,” where he plays acoustic guitar with only the addition of Lola Kristine’s vocals and Tom Aton’s piano. On the whole, this is sleepy time music.  There is no spectacular, energetic tune or arrangement on this recording.  Instead, it’s just a mellow, smooth production, floating like puffy, pink clouds across a warm, spring sky.

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MAURICIO MORALES – “LUNA” – Outside In Music

Mauricio Morales, acoustic & electric bass; Aga Derlak, piano; Gene Coye, Juan Alejandro Saenz & Patrick Simard, drums; Roni Eytan, harmonica; Aidan Lombard, trumpet; Hailey Niswanger, alto saxophone; Al Joseph, guitar; Megan Shung & Luis Mascaro, violin; Rita Isabel Andrade, viola; Artyom Manukyan, cello.

Bassist, Mauricio Morales has composed seven selections for this album.  To produce and carryout his arrangements, Morales employed three different drummers, a pianist and harmonica player, both trumpet and alto saxophone, guitar and four string players.  The Mexico City native, currently based in Los Angeles, offers us his debut recording.

“Luna is a tribute to childhood. It represents the pursuit of a childlike peace of mind and excitement about life.  Every song depicts a different layer of my own growth.  Conceptually, I am attempting to tell a story through my music.  Each piece represents a chapter in the journey that Luna is meant to be,” Mauricio Morales explains the premise of this artistic piece.

Of course, Luna translates to ‘moon’ and many of the songs incorporated in this production reflect nature elements, including the title tune that opens this project. It’s based on the Mexican tradition of El Dia de los Reyes Magos, a holy Epiphany day that falls on January 6, where presents are given in remembrance of the three kings who came to baby Jesus in Bethlehem bearing gifts.  One part of the Mexican celebration is sending letters skyward in helium balloons requesting certain gifts.

“Our family always celebrated this time-honored tradition.  I was three when I first celebrated it and my mom filled out the gift card for my balloon.  She asked me what I wanted and I said, the moon. My title song represents the innocence of a kid who is so unaware.  I wanted to make the music sound magical and special,” said Morales.

Another nature tune called “The Forest” is plush with sweeping string parts and Roni Eytan’s creative harmonica dances atop the strings.

Interestingly, Morales did not start out being a jazz player.  Instead, at age fourteen he was playing pop music and heavy rock in Mexico City.  He also loved listening to video game themes and was infatuated with film scores and television background music behind programming. The attached video was made at Berklee College and is a medley of themes from the video game ‘The Legend of Zelda.’  This student ensemble was directed by Mauricio Morales, who also played bass on the project.

“I was like a sponge soaking up any kind of art that had an impact on me.  I came to understand, over the course of time, how cathartic and liberating it was to recognize the freedom that improvised music represents,” he elaborated on what made him turn to jazz. 

Eventually, his dream was to study at Berklee School of Music in the United States.  Morales manifested that dream.  Once enrolled at Berklee, he studied with celebrated faculty members including George Garzone and Tia Fuller.  But Morales credits educator Hal Cook for mentoring him throughout his tenure at Berklee.  In 2019, He settled into West Coast living and, while living in Los Angeles, he started thinking about this “Luna” project.  He worked closely with three friends he knew from his studies at Berklee: pianist Aga Dertak, trumpeter Aidan Lombard and harmonica player Roni Eytan.

“I was relatively new in Los Angeles, so I didn’t know a lot of people, especially string players.  I wanted to do something different.  The music was already written and arranged.  I knew violinist Megan Shung from working with her on different projects and she instinctively pointed me in the right direction.  They (the strings) create such a different texture for the music. … The collective energy and focus from all musicians involved is what created a perfect outcome,” Morales reflects.

On a composition Mauricio Morales calls, “The Glass Door” Patrick Simard shines on drums, propelling the song forward, inspired by Aga Derlak on piano.   Morales says this is a reflective tribute to pianist, Robert Glasper, who is an artist he admires for the way Glasper perceives harmony and melody.   But it’s not until track 6, “Relojito” that we hear Mauricio Morales take an extended bass solo, one that shows off his inspired chops.  The final song titled, “Garden of Hope,” features a riveting electric guitar, with a very rock inspired solo by Al Joseph.  Morales says this is a song about redemption.

“There is hope, no matter what mistakes you make,” he reminds the listener.

I found this debut recording by Mauricio Morales to be both inspired and poetically expressive.  Morales uses music, instead of words, to paint pictures of his life journey.  We are swept along by his unique storytelling.

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Albare, acoustic & electric guitars/co-producer; Joe Chindamo, piano/arranger/orchestra conductor; Pablo Bencid & Antonio Sanchez, drums; Luisito Quintero, percussion; Ricardo Rodriquez, bass; Phil Turcio, co-producer/mixing/mastering; GUEST MUSICIANS: Randy Brecker, flugel horn/trumpet/flute; Nestor Torres, flute; Antonio Sanchez, drums.

Albare paints the familiar tune, “Dindi” with warm, wonderful colors, his guitar delivering all the beauty his fingers can pull from the strings.  Adding a synthesized string ensemble to the background enriches this production.  “Summer Samba” picks up the pace and introduces us to Nestor Torres on flute.  Torres’ career spans thirty-years and he has a unique approach to his instrument that clearly distinguishes him in an inimitable and tasteful way. 

Randy Brecker brings his trumpet and flugelhorn to the celebration of Jobim, playing on “So Danco Samba” and “Favela”.  Brecker, one of Albare’s special guests, has contributed to shaping the sound of jazz, R&B and rock for nearly six decades and is iconic in his own right.  Another special guest is Antonio Sanchez, one of the most sought-after drummers on the International jazz scene.  He adds his magic on the “Dindi” arrangement and also on “Once I Loved.”  The other master drummer on this project is Pablo Bencid, a Grammy nominated Venezuelan native who now lives in New York.  Added to this group of masters is brilliant, Puerto Rican bassist, Ricardo Rodriquez and percussionist, Luisito Quintero, a child music prodigy who comes from a distinguished family of Venezuelan musicians.

Albare, whose birth name is Albert Dadon, was born in Morocco and at age five, he and his family relocated to Israel.  During that time, Israel had no Internet, there were no cell phones, and the family had no television.  Albare’s father taught him to play chess and his mother bought him a guitar.  Those two things became Albare’s passion.  At age ten, the young man and his family moved to France, where the gifted young man began playing with bands. At that young age of ten, he had already accrued two years of music conservatory under his belt and a love for the guitar. However, most of Albare’s musical education was self-taught.  In 1970, the young guitarist moved to Paris, met his soon-to-be Australian wife and became hooked on jazz.  In 1983, he and his bride moved to Australia.  His premiere album, as a bandleader, was released on an Australian label, Festival Records, in 1992.   Since then, his musical career has taken various unexpected paths.  He’s been a business man, becoming an active Board Member of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and later, Chairman.  Eventually, he filled the festival director’s position until the end of 2008.  Soon after, he began seriously recording again and signed to the German label Enja after releasing two albums as an independent artist.  Now, president of his own label, Alfi Records, he has released several albums.  Because of a genetic disease that caused a loss of his central vision faculties, Albare’s playing is entirely by ear.  Last year I reviewed his Jobim tribute, Vol 1 and I was looking forward to hearing Vol. 2.  Albare continues to show that he is an amazingly talented and dedicated guitarist.  His music oozes emotion and sensitivity.  It’s everything I hoped it would be and more!

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Skip Grasso, guitar/composer; Greg Small, piano/composer; Nuc Vega, drums; Phil Ravita, acoustic & electric 6-string bass/ composer; Benny Russell, tenor & soprano saxophone/ composer.

This album opens with the original composition and title tune, “Jagged Spaces,” penned by Skip Grasso. Grasso has penned four songs for this project and spotlights his guitar talent throughout.  The opening, title tune is energetic and straight-ahead. His second song is a lovely waltz titled, “Her Life Incomplete.”  The problem on this arrangement is that everyone seems to be playing a waltz except the drummer.  What’s that about?  Some of the other members of the group also composed pieces for this production.  “Songhai” and the beautiful ballad, “All About Cynthia,” were both written by woodwind player, Benny Russell.   On “Songhai” Phil Ravita propels this tune ahead with his powerful bass line, throughout.  Unfortunately, I never felt that the drums locked into any kind of groove or relationship with the bass at all.  Benny Russell flies on his tenor saxophone and makes up for the percussive inadequacy.  Bassist, Phil Ravita penned a very melodic and blues drenched tune titled “Blue Sunshine.”  He also contributed “Chasing Shadows.”  “Circles” was written by Greg Small, the pianist, who also plays trumpet, although not on this album. So, four out of the five group members are composers.  One of the outstanding tunes on this project was a Grasso composition called “Latin for Leandro” where the drummer finally sounds like he feels partially comfortable.  This is the ensemble’s debut album and it shows potential, but I don’t think these musicians have hit their stride yet as a dynamic and cohesive group.

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Leon Lee Dorsey, bass; Harold Mabern, piano; Mike Clark, drums.

From the second that blues-driven piano rolled off my CD player, I was hooked on this project.  The first tune is titled, “Rakin’ and Scrapin’,” and had me dancing in my computer chair. Harold Mabern brings his Memphis born, hard bop piano chops to the party on this opening tune.  Here is a song he recorded in 1969 that originally appeared on a Prestige Record album release.   Sadly, Mr. Mabern passed away on September of 2019 at the age of 83.  He left behind a legacy of his own authentic brand of soul jazz.  Nobody could lay down a blues groove or a jazz shuffle like Harold Mabern, except maybe Gene Harris.  Lucky for Leon Lee Dorsey, in July of 2019, just two months before Harold’s passing, he went into the studio with Mr. Mabern and captured the great man’s legacy in what some have called, his swan song.

Bassist, Leon Lee Dorsey, a Pittsburgh native born in March of 1958, teaches at Berklee School of Music and has had an incredible career working with some of the best musicians in jazz.  He had been working with Harold Mabern in George Coleman’s octet and also did some quartet gigs with the iconic pianist.

“I just had not really done a recording with him and we were kind of kicking it around last year about doing just that,” Leon Lee Dorsey recalled.

Once the two decided to go ahead with their project, Dorsey contacted Mike Clark to man the drums.  Dorsey had already been recording with Clark on some self-produced trio projects with the former Headhunter’s drummer.  They found a comfort level playing together that you can hear on this project.

“Mike has his own legendary status, being from the bay area and playing with Herbie Hancock.  But he also played with a lot of great blues and R&B artists in his career.  So, he and Harald actually had a lot in common and they just kind of fell in love with each other at the session.  Harold came in playing like a twenty-one-year-old.  He was on fire, and Mike just fueled that fire,” Dorsey remembered their session.

You will enjoy the trio expanding on famous jazz tunes like Summertime, Bye Bye Blackbird, Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man and Frank Foster’s composition, Simone.  On “I’m Walkin” a song Fats Domino made so popular years ago, clearly you hear the fire, the blues and the shuffle-feel from this trio.  On “Misty” Leon Lee Dorsey opens with a solo bass introduction and then continues, playing the entire song down on his double bass one time before he’s joined by drums and piano.  Mabern tributes Erroll Garner, incorporating Garner’s style on the piano with his own powerful uniqueness.  Clark uses brushes to smoothly seduce the listener and masterfully support the trio.  They fly on the final tune, “Moments Notice” by John Coltrane.  This one gives Mike Clark an opportunity to fully show off his technique on trap drums.  This entire project is a nod to Mr. Mabern’s 6-decade career in music.  It’s also a carefully recorded piece of jazz history with a spotlight on producer/composer/bass player, Leon Lee Dorsey.

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SUSAN ALCORN QUINTET  – “PEDERNAL” – Relative Pitch Records

Susan Alcorn, pedal steel guitar/composer; Michael Feldman, violin; Michael Formanek, double bass; Mary Halvorson, guitar; Ryan Sawyer, drums.

“With the pedal steel guitar, it’s like having your own orchestra.  If played in a certain way, you can fill the whole sound universe so that you’re not missing anything else,” Susan Alcorn explains in her press package. 

Ms. Alcorn, a pedal steel guitar master, opens this album of unique music with the self-penned, title tune, “Pedernal.”  She has also composed four other original compositions on this album.  The meaning of “Pedernal” is a piece of flint, such as gunflint, used to produce a spark.  In this case, Susan Alcorn is the spark, blazing a singular, fiery path into jazz featuring the pedal steel guitar, mostly heard in the music of Nashville and Hawaii.  She offers us a fresh sound and is well-known for her work as a solo improviser on the pedal steel guitar. “Pedernal” is her debut album, named for a mesa in New Mexico where she retreated for a month to write music that would ultimately introduce us to her composer skills.

The thing about composing music, and I can speak about this since I am a published songwriter and composer for the past five decades, we have to be careful that when we are composing, we don’t accidentally use a melody already established by someone else.  Sometimes melodies can creep into our subconscious, because we’ve heard a tune over time, and we mistakenly think it’s a song we are creating.  This may have been the case on Alcorn’s first song.  It is strongly reminiscent of “Feeling Good,” ie: “Birds flying high, You know how I feel.  Sun in the sky, You know how I feel. Breeze driftin’ by, You know how I feel … And I’m feelin’ good.”

However, the improvisational parts Alcorn plays are completely original as she introduces us to this unique instrument and her approach to playing it.  On track 2, the drums of Ryan Sawyer introduce her composition with a roar of cymbals.  It’s the rich, beautiful violin improvisation of Michael Feldman that touches my heart, along with Alcorn’s introductory melody and improvisation on her steel guitar.

In 2016, Susan Alcorn was voted Best Other Instrument by El Intruso International Critics Poll and received Baltimore, Maryland’s Baker Artist Award the following year.  In 2018, she and saxophonist, Joe McPhee, were recipients of the Instant Award in Improvised Music.  This is a long way from when she was playing Country/Western music.  A chance encounter with blues master, Muddy Waters, steered her towards playing slide guitar and ultimately, she began playing in Country/Western Swing bands.  When Susan heard the music of Ornette Coleman and John and Alice Coltrane, she had an epiphany.  On this album, she expresses limitless possibilities as a master of free musical expression.  Not only does she inspire a certain freedom in her other group members, but the inclusion of the pedal steel guitar as a jazz instrument is formidable.  We also get to experience her own creativity as a composer.  This is a fresh musical concept I found absolutely intriguing.

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Jonathan Kane, drums/guitars/bass; Dave soldier, strings; Jon Crider, guest guitar.

The music of Jonathan Kane and Dave Soldier is soaked in electronic blues, juicy as a well-basted turkey. The string accompaniment adds the dressing.  Although repetitive, this is a delicious blend of rock music, electronic fuzz guitar, improvisation and down-home blues.  Multi-instrumentalist, Jonathan Kane has appeared on over seventy-five records and is legendary as a downtown New York City musician.  His band has performed internationally and he also works with a variety of other bands.  Dave Soldier has performed as violinist, guitarist and composer/arranger with the likes of Bo Diddley, John Cale, Kurt Vonnegut, David Byrne and more.  Soldier has appeared on over one hundred records, including twenty who featured his compositions.  On this album, he composed “Vienna Over the Hills.”  Kane composed “Requiem for Hulis Pulis.”  Although they only feature four songs total, the length of play streams over 46-minutes.

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A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF BARRY ZWEIG will be held on February 7, 2021 at 11AM PST.  It would have been the gifted guitarist’s birthday and many will come to remember him and his love of music.

Barry Zweig (Feb 7, 1942 to March 15, 2020)


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