INTERNATIONAL JAZZ LOVE SONGS TO HEAL THE HEART

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 24, 2021

BRUCE BROWN – “DEATH OF EXPERTISE” –  Independent Label

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 – “IMAGINARY ROAD” – Painted Music

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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SHIJIN EUROPEAN QUARTET – “THEORY OF EVERYTHING”www.alter-nativ.fr

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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SCHAPIRO17 – “HUMAN QUALITIES” – Summit Records

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 – “THE LATIN SIDE OF WES MONTGOMERY” – Zoho Records

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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