GUITAR GOODNESS & BASS BRILLIANCE

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 – “AERIAL VIEWS” – MMG Records

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 PLAYS JOBIM – VOL 2 – Alfi Records

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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THE GRASSO-RAVITA JAZZ ENSEMBLE – “JAGGEN SPACES” – Grassvita Music

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 – “THANK YOU MR. MABERN” – JazzAvenue 1 Records

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 AND DAVE SOLDIER – “FEBRUARY MEETS SOLDIER STRING QUARTET” – EEG Records

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)

LIVE STREAM LINKS ARE:  https://www.facebook.com/cathysegalgarcia

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One Response to “GUITAR GOODNESS & BASS BRILLIANCE”

  1. REVIEWS: Santi Debriano "Flash of The Spirit" & Leon Lee Dorsey "Thank you Mr. Marbern" - Musicalmemoirs's Blog - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] By Dee Dee McNeil, Musicalmemoirs’s Blog […]

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