Archive for March, 2021


March 22, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 22, 2021


Lorne Lofsky, guitar; Kirk MacDonald, saxophone; Kieran Overs, bass; Barry Romberg, drums.

Lorne Lofsky is a master guitarist, celebrated in his native Canada as one of their musical treasures.  Lofsky is moving briskly through the fortieth decade of his career.  With prominent collaborations spotlighted as a player with jazz legends like Oscar Peterson, Chet Baker, Pat LaBarbera, Ray Brown, Joey DeFrancisco and the list goes on and on, Lofsky’s credentials sparkle.  For this album, he has composed several original compositions.  Among the jazz standards, he has added the Miles Davis & Feldman composition, “Seven Steps” and he closes with Benny Golson’s popular jazz standard, “Stable Mates.” However, all the other tunes are Lofsky-originals.

Today, at age sixty-six, he is one of Canada’s most prestigious music educators, using jazz as his inspiration.  His stellar touring and growth opportunities include his participation as part of Oscar Peterson’s group and his duet playing with the late, great Ed Bickert.   Clearly, these experiences have helped develop his unique style as he expresses his profound love of the guitar.

Lorne Lofsky explains his passionate playing techniques.

“I try to play voicings so that tunes sound more orchestral.  I know there are more modern players who rely on signal processing, but I don’t even like reverb.  I just plug my guitar into an amp, try to get a decent sound and then, you know, sail away. … Every once in a while, I kind of go on this little mini-binge and I feel inspired to write something.”

For this project he has composed five of the seven songs.  Each composition is pleasant and well-written.  On “Evans from Lennie” I enjoyed the way the arrangement had the guitar and saxophone singing unison together.  It was very affective.  Lofsky shared his own thoughts about penning this song.

“Evans from Lennie not only draws from pianists Bill Evans and Lennie Tristano, but reaches out to recently departed saxophonist, Lee Konitz. … I was just messing with Pennies from Heaven and thinking of Tristano, Konitz and Warne Marsh, because they all wrote really great alternate lines to standard song forms.  I studied with Konitz briefly in 1984, just to try to get more insight into melodic development when improvising.  I learned that you have to know the melody of a song inside out, then re-phrase, embellish it and elaborate on it,” Lorne Lofsky explained.

Well, he succeeded in creating a whole new melody and arrangement.  I didn’t recognize Pennies From heaven at all.  On Track 5, another favorite of this journalist, is his tune, “An Alterior Motif” where Lorne creates a song using altered harmony, letting the melody unfold in a beautiful, haunting way.  Each original composition, coupled with the two standard jazz tunes, makes for a delightful listen that features the accomplished guitar work of Lorne Lofsky.

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Benito Gonzalez, piano/composer; Christian McBride & Essiet Okon Essiet, bass; Sasha Mashin & Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums; Nicholas Payton & Josh Evans, trumpet.

Benito Gonzalez is a beast on piano.  His power and brilliance shine like the new horizon at sunrise.  He engages us with a captivating energy and he’s surrounded by a powerhouse group of musicians who intensify the experience.  A Venezuelan native, he relocated to New York and grew up listening to a Caracas jazz station enjoying the music of Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett.  Gonzalez was inspired to explore the keyboard in similar ways.

“I couldn’t believe they could play like that,” Benito Gonzalez was awestruck by their exceptional jazz talents.

His parents were both professional folk musicians who played traditional Venezuelan music.  You will hear those Afro-Latin rhythm patterns in his music.  As a preteen, maybe eleven or twelve years old, he was already playing drums, guitar and organ at church.  Then, he became genuinely interested in the piano.  When someone gave him a cassette tape of John Coltrane’s “Afro Blue,” featuring McCoy Tyner, Benito wanted to play just like that.  He practiced ten to twelve hours a day for years in order to make his dreams come true.  On his fifth album release, he finally felt capable of tributing his idol, McCoy Tyner, with an album he called “Passion Reverence Transcendence” that he recorded with Gerry Gibbs on drums and Essiet Okon Essiet on bass.

“McCoy endorsed the album.  He said he loved the way we did ‘Fly With the Wind.’  I spent three hours talking to him,” Benito Gonzalez shared in his liner notes.

You will hear rhythm as the combustive core of each tune Benito Gonzalez pens and arranges.  He plays rhythmically on the piano and with the drive of a master percussionist. 

“I like strong beats rooted in Africa, where my father’s ancestors came from. I like it when people dance to this music.  Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Christian McBride come from the same place.  You can hear the dance beats when they play,” He expounds.

The opening tune, “Sounds of Freedom,” is about the troubling situation we, world inhabitants live in today and our unending search for freedom.  This song dazzles us with combustible energy, like the protests we see worldwide.  Gonzalez has composed all the songs except “412” that is a Jeff “Tain” Watts composition and “Father,” written by Roy Hargrove.  Benito says “Father” is one of his favorites on the album.

“It’s about my personal relationship to Roy.  In 2006, Roy attended jam sessions every Thursday night.  He sat down at the piano one night and taught me the changes to this song.  We played it often, but he never recorded it.”

The same is true for the Watts tune “412.”  It’s never been recorded until this “Sing to the World” album.  Every song played is a work of art and a legacy that Benito Gonzalez is building on the 88-keys. His composer skills shine.  I have no doubt he will carry on the tradition of the masters and create the next level with his own innovation and genius.

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Steven Feifke, composer/pianist/arranger/orchestra conductor; Alex Wintz, guitar; Dan Chmielinski, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., Bryan Carter, Jimmy Macbride & Joe Peri, drums; Veronica Swift, vocals; REEDS: Andrew Gould, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Alexa Tarantino alto sax/flute; Lucas Pino & Sam Dillon, tenor sax/clarinet/flute; Andrew Gutauskas, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Alex LoRe, Alto saxophone. TRUMPETS & FLUGELHORNS: Max Darché, John Lake, Benny Benack III & Gabriel King Medd. TROMBONES: Robert Edwards, Jeffery Miller, Armando Vergara & Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone.

“Kinetic” energy is an object in motion, when potential energy becomes real. It’s a great title for this awesome album.  Every song on this project was arranged and produced by pianist, Steven Feifke. Seven of the ten songs were composed by Feifke.  The opening tune explodes into the universe like a meteor streaking across the sky.  It features conductor, pianist Steven Feifke, invincible and tenacious on piano.  The second song, “Unveiling of a Mirror,” features Joe Peri bright and brilliant on drums, showing power and creativity.  Track 3, titled “The Sphinx” gives Lucas Pino on tenor saxophone a space to fly, letting his horn dip and dive into the melodic space.  “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” was a standard song my father used to sing to my mother when I was a child.  It has a great lyric, interpreted by the smooth vocals of Veronica Swift, and brings back warm memories. 

This popular band played regularly at The Django in New York City until the pandemic.  Consequently, they were tight and well-rehearsed when they went into the studio to cut this masterpiece.  I am intoxicated by the combustible energy and drive of this big band.  Feifke brings fresh ideas to his arrangements and the band members make those arrangements come alive with brilliance.  You hear the urgency in his musical charts, well-exampled on the “Wollongong” composition where Bryan Carter takes over on trap drums and inspires the instrumentation of both Steven Feifke on piano and Andrew Gould on an exciting alto saxophone solo. The time changes and excitement that sparks “Nica’s Dream” is noteworthy.  Steven Feifke’s mastery on piano is ever present.  Each song performance on this recording is like a sweet treat for our ears. The band feeds our senses and inspires our music appreciation.

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Juan Carlos, guitar/composer; Eddie Resto & Alec Mailstein, bass; Joe Rotondi, piano; Munyungo Jackson, Walter Rodriguez, Tiki Pasillas, Angel Figueroa & Ron Powell, percussion.

As soon as I hear the music of Juan Carlos Quintero, I’m captivated by his smooth, acoustic and very melodic approach to the guitar.  He proudly re-introduces the listening public to his critically acclaimed album, “The Way Home,” that’s been out of print for nearly thirty years.  Now, it resurfaces titled, “Caminando,” for a whole new audience to appreciate.  As the child of a father in the United States Army, Juan Carlos was born in Medellin, Colombia and came to the U.S. as a baby then moved to Brussels, Belgium at eight years old.  His dad was a doctor and ran a NATO clinic in Brussels.  Juan Carlos established his Moondo Music record label to become a force distributing digital world music and re-issuing music from his own popular catalog.  The music you will hear on this re-release is fueled by Juan Carlos Quintero’s classical roots, having studied guitar since the age of eight.  It also highlights Colombian rhythms and is clearly influenced by straight-ahead jazz, Latin and Caribbean music.  It features six various percussion players, that infuse the music with rhythmic movement and a wide range of styles like the folk style of music called, cumbia.  The title tune is based on the cha-cha rhythm and Track 6, “The Way Home” is a beautiful ballad, steeped in a bolero feel.  I hear touches of Wes Montgomery’s unforgettable style echoing in some of Quintero’s arrangements.  Here is easy-listening, Latin jazz at its best, and still as fresh and captivating as it was in 1992. 

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DAN BLAKE – “DA FE” – Sunnyside Communications, Inc.

Dan Blake, soprano & tenor saxophone/composition; Carmen Staaf, piano/Fender Rhodes; Leo Genovese, Moog/Prophet/Farfisa/six-trak/ Fender Rhodes/piano; Dmitry Ishenko, acoustic & elec. bass; Jeff Williams, drums.

“Climate catastrophe is an issue that I’ve been concerned about for a while.  Moving away from the city provided some perspective and made me much more aware of nature in my day-to-day life.  Becoming a parent was another causal factor bringing more urgency to my own personal awareness,” Dan Blake confesses in his press package. 

Consequently, his concept for this creative recording is to express his activism when it comes to climate change and other social activist concerns.  A practicing Buddhist, since his college years, Dan Blake is a member on the board of Buddhist Global Relief.  This group is dedicated to combatting hunger and worldwide malnutrition.  He also gives his time to the “Poor People’s Campaign” and another organization called “Show Up for Racial Justice.” His musical compositions reflect his concerns in title and performance.  Opening with “A New Normal,” Carmen Staaf takes to the piano with expressions both classically fused and jazzily creative.  Now that the group has our undivided attention, they take off with a tune Blake has composed called “Cry of the East.”  It’s a jazz waltz and Blake’s tenor saxophone caresses our ears, petting us into the groove that Jeff Williams lays down and harmonizing with his horn.  “Like Fish in Puddles” borrows its title from a Buddhist poetry collection.  It’s quite Avant-garde in arrangement and references those of us who believe we’re swimming in the ocean, when actually, we are flapping around in the limited puddles of our mind’s perception.  “Pain” allows Blake to explore his soprano saxophone and his bandmates incorporate synthesizers and electronic music to intensify the musical situation.  On track 5, “The Grifter” Jeff Williams takes the opportunity to spotlight his drums and takes full advantage of his percussive solo. 

Dan Blake is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger who pushes the boundaries of music as a contemporary composer, performer and educator.  He was inspired by John Coltrane, among others. In addition to being a bandleader, he has also toured and recorded with three-time Grammy winner, Esperanza Spalding, NEA Jazz Master Anthony Braxton and played with the Velvet Underground founding member, John Cale.  Contemporary improvisation fuels his music and he bends genres with world music, avant-garde and improvisational jazz, inspired by social justice causes.

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Eric Goletz, trombone/keyboards/composer/arranger/bandleader; Henry Heinitsh, guitar; Mitch Schechter, piano; Mark Hagan, bass; Steve Johns, drums; Joe Mowatt, percussion; Vinnie Cutro, trumpet; Bob Magnuson, alto saxophone; Freddie Maxwell, trumpet; Erick Storckman, trombone; Jonathan Greenberg, bass trombone.

It’s not often you hear a trombone, out front, featured with big band arrangements and blending rock and roll with contemporary jazz concepts.  This album elevates the concept of ‘fusion’ jazz to a different level and spotlights Eric Goletz, as a trombone player, an arranger and big band leader.  Goletz is also a composer and has penned six of the nine tunes recorded.  Opening with “Say What??” the bandleader sets the example for what is to follow by singing out a ‘Capella on his trombone, softening the sound with a warm echo embellishment, then joined in by the band in a playful and aggressive manner.  This is a happy tune that bounces to the beat and offers a highly repeatable melody that may encourage you to hum along.  Goletz has been working for several years on perfecting this concept of the trombone being the solo instrument, out-front and blending musical genres.  After all, he grew up listening intently to rock and roll and loving it equally as much as he loves jazz.

“I wanted to feature the trombone as the lead instrument in a fusion setting, because there wasn’t a lot of that out there,” Eric Goletz said.

When the pandemic hit, Eric and his band of musicians practiced their music in the courtyard of the Goletz housing complex.  The neighbors enjoyed free entertainment and the musicians worked towards a day when they could once again perform in clubs and concerts.  Those outdoor, impromptu concerts tightened the band up for this recording.  There is outstanding guitar solo work by Henry Heinitsh on this first exciting ‘cut’ and the circling arrangements enhance each musician’s solo appearance in a tight, ever-evolving-way.  The arrangement of Goletz’s composition, “Into the Night” is pushed at locomotive, freight-train speed by the percussion of Joe Mowatt and the drums of Steve Johns; also egged on by the rhythmic guitar licks of Heinitsh.  Big Band lovers will be intrigued by this concept and these fresh and appealing arrangements. Trombone lovers will finally get to experience a trombone soaking up the spotlight and playing on a fusion-studded stage.

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Christine Jensen, saxophones; Lex French, trumpet; Adrian Vedady, acoustic bass; Jim Doxas on drums.

The Tune “Tipsy” starts out like a slow swing, featuring bassist Adrian Vedady prominently, and setting the mood for this quartet’s project titled, “Genealogy.”    Track 2, “Watching It all Slip Away” slows the beat down and is a sultry arrangement, featuring a delightfully different trumpet approach by Lex French, who slides to some notes and bellows on others.  The breathy tones soon become long, flowing improvisational scales where the notes topple over each other playfully. Then comes the bass solo, prodded along by Jim Doxas on drums.  The excellent musicianship of this quartet makes the four players sound full and complete without guitar or piano.  The horn harmonics create a rich chordal structure and it’s a pleasant listen.  On The title tune, Doxas sets his drums stage front and on display, setting a speedy tempo and encouraging the group to jump in and join him.  Christine Jensen flies on saxophone. 

The CODE Quartet is based in Montreal, Canada and was formed by woodwind player, Christine Jensen, four years ago.  Their primary motivation is to create music that builds on freedom of expression, much like the example set by Ornette Coleman in the 1950s.  The group offers their original compositions as a team and they’ve been touring and playing locally to prepare for this recording.  In 2019, the ensemble appeared in the Wellington jazz Festival, a popular annual jazz gathering in New Zealand. The CODE Quartet offers well-blended, tightly arranged and exploratory jazz with contemporary, wistful, modern jazz arrangements that hold-up their original compositions like banners in the wind.

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DAN ROSE – “LAST NIGHT” – Ride Symbol Records

Dan Rose, solo guitar.

I am a huge fan of guitar music and Dan Rose does not disappoint.  His fluid technique and artistry are just breathtakingly beautiful.  He has chosen a Baker’s Dozen of familiar, standard jazz tunes that are bound to please.  I think artists who dare to perform solo are not only super-talented but very brave indeed.  There is to cushion, no one to share the performance weight and expectations from the listening audience.   Never mind!  Dan Rose is a force to be reckoned with and is totally self-sufficient, creative, innovative and completely entertaining.  Enjoy him on “Body and Soul,” on “Darn That Dream” and he offers a unique and entertaining medley tribute to Duke Ellington.  He includes other amazing tunes like “Moonlight In Vermont”, “What’s New” and “Tenderly.”  So, settle back and prepare to be thoroughly entertained by the very talented Dan Rose.

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March 15, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 15, 2021

CHAD McCULLOUGH – “FORWARD” – Outside In Music

Chad McCullough, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Rob Clearfield, piano; Matt Ulery, bass; Jon Deitemyer, drums; Ryan Cohan, keyboards/programming.

Chad McCullough’s trumpet is soothing, like a spiritual balm.  From the first mellow notes blowing from his horn on McCullough’s original composition, “November Lake,” I am intoxicated by his sound.  This is the Chicago-based musician’s 8th album as a bandleader.  His original compositions are rich and warm.  They wrap musical arms around the listener and offer a big hug.  With the capable assistance of Ryan Cohan, who adds brilliant keyboards and the lush programming to thicken this project, these arrangements are rich. McCullough’s ensemble is made up of three, trailblazing, mid-western music voices.  Rob Clearfield excels on piano.  Matt Ulery is splendid on bass and Jon Deitemyer rounds out the rhythm section on drums.  This is Chad McCullough’s first release in a dozen years, under his own name, and it is certainly a triumphant re-appearance.  In the years between, McCullough recorded with several other artists.  He’s been co-leader on two albums with The Spin Quartet and participated in a series of five album releases with Belgian pianist Bram Weijters.  McCullough has appeared on jazz festivals from Seattle to Russia, from Canada to Belgium, from New York to Chicago.    Chad holds a M.M. from the University of Washington, and a B.M. from the University of Idaho, where he was a Lionel Hampton Scholar.  This talented trumpeter was also the premiere student to graduate with a jazz emphasis on his degree.  Excuse me, while I happily replay this album for the third time.

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Veronica Swift, vocals; Emmet Cohen, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, acoustic bass; Bryan Carter, drums; Armand Hirsch, elec. guitar; Lavinia Pavlish & Meltar Forkosh, violins; Andrew Griffin, viola; Susan D. Mandel, cello; Aaron Johnson, alto saxophone/flute/bass flute; Will Wakefield & Ryan Paternite, background vocals; Stone Robinson Elementary School Choir & Walton Middle School Girls Choir, background vocals.

Veronica Swift paints “This Bitter Earth” with a brand, new face.  I learned to love this song by listening to the queen of jazz, Dinah Washington, sing it.  Ms. Swift approaches this song from a completely different perspective.  She adds strings, but it’s the opening of this once bluesy song that establishes the
Steven Feifke unique arrangement.  The shocking treble piano line and the classically influenced string arrangement that builds the track, produces a cushion for Veronica Swift’s voice to float upon. The time is freer and the blues is set aside for a more chamber-jazz moment. 

Ms. Swift sings a Baker’s dozen of songs, mixing standard jazz songs with some compositions rarely heard, like the Rodgers & Hammerstein tune, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”  Every now and then Ms. Swift throws in a scat line, or twists a lyric to remind us how much she admires Ella Fitzgerald.  She is a very unique artist with a strong vocal style and ability.  She adds the verse to the familiar “Getting To Know You” and glides across the lyrics like Olympic Gold winner, Michelle Kwan spins across ice.  Yasushi Nakamura duets with Veronica Swift on his double bass and when she swings this song, she really swings!  Emmet Cohen’s piano style suits this vocalist perfectly.  When Cohen does solo, he paints each opportunity with bright colors.  Swift’s unique and creative approach to her songs is perfectly exhibited on “The Man I Love,” where she lets her voice dip and dive over the lyrics, showing off her wide range and her need to fly free. Speaking of flying, the trio takes an up-tempo flight on “You’re the Dangerous Type” and Veronica Swift scats like a horn.  Aaron Johnson brings his alto saxophone to the spotlight and continues the mood Swift set with her spontaneous vocal solo.  The one song I wish she had left in the discarded pile was a Carole King composition with lyrics by Gerry Goffin that approves of a woman being brutalized and hit.  The title is “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).  No woman should endure such behavior or feel that it’s a mark of love to be beaten or abused.  There’s too much of that going on in society.  That being said, there is something for everyone on this album of fine music.  Veronica Swift is a new voice on the jazz horizon, rising like a bright promise above the mediocrity.

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Gregg Karukas, pianist/composer.

If you are a lover of piano, this solo album by Gregg Karukas will absolutely intoxicate your senses.  It’s a true work of art.  This Grammy-winning composer, pianist and producer has a dozen CD’s released as a bandleader. This production is number thirteen and the first time he has ever recorded solo.  It’s an amazing, emotional and entertaining musical journey.  Gregg Karukas’ mastery of his instrument is evident.  He has picked some familiar and beautiful Brazilian music by iconic Brazilian composers including Milton Nascimento and Dori Caymmi.  He opens with Nascimento’s “Travessia.”  Starting with the treble keys singing out the melody, he captures the listener’s attention.  His lush chords follow and continue to unwrap the melodic message, like a present for our ears. 

Karukas recalls his years touring with Sergio Mendes, with Dori Caymmi and Ricardo Silveira.  It was the 1990s and these years became some of his favorite musical experiences.  During the COVID isolation, looking through a dusty box of old tapes, he rediscovered recordings made during some of those Brazilian music tours.  They inspired Karukas to sit down at his C7 Yamaha grand piano and re-explore some of the beautiful compositions he once enjoyed playing. Track 3 is the title tune, “Serenata” and a Gregg Karukas original.  It’s a very peaceful and spiritual composition that made me sit quietly and listen intently.

Originally from the Washing, D.C. and the Maryland area, young Gregg spent hours in the 1960’s enthralled by the jukebox music of his father’s roadside tavern.  His love of music and the piano blossomed early.  Soon he was playing in small bands and listening to Cannonball Adderley and the Jazz Crusaders.  That first band became a top crossover group, playing jazz, pop and top-forty music.  A local jazz club chef turned Gregg on to Brazilian LPs and thus began his long-term love affair with Latin music.  At age 26, Karukas relocated to Los Angeles, and landed gigs with prominent names like Richard Elliot, Brenda Russell, Patti Austin, Shelby Flint, Ronnie Laws and Melissa Manchester. His piano skills were enriched by his appreciation of the keyboard.  He soon was touring with Boney James, Dave Koz, Larry Carlton, Rick Braun and even pop singer, Jeffrey Osborne.  He embraced smooth jazz with the same energy and love that he played Brazilian music.  Gregg is so diversified, and plays so many genres of music, that he’s a session player who has appeared on over 100 albums.  Gregg Karukas won “Best New Age Grammy” in 2013 as producer, pianist, composer and arranger.  His gift and solo talent on the 88-keys is certain to please and “Serenata” is bound to become another innovative accomplishment that demands attention and inspires praise.

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DENISE MININFIELD – “MY TURN” – Independent label

Denise Mininfield, vocals/lyricist; Christy Smith, William Gathright & Brian Batie, bass; Troy Lipkin, bass; Jeff Chin and Chris Roberson, keyboards; Stephan Perry, guitar; Billy “Shoe” Johnson & Gabriel “G-Man” Pitts, drums; Henry James, percussion; Marcus Printup, trumpet.

Soul Jazz is the only description that comes to mind when I hear Denise Mininfield sing “Just Say It,” a cut from her latest album entitled, “My Turn.”  In the musical lane of Jill Scott or Erika Badu, Mininfield brings her breathy, husky tone to the party with heavy jazz influence. 

This music could be programmed on Smooth Jazz, R&B and Pop stations, as well as for progressive jazz airplay.  Mininfield blends genres smoothly.  On “Just For Tonight” there is an outstanding solo on synthesizer.  “Call Me” is an absolute hit record, but I wish it could have been titled, “I Can Call on You.”  I say that only because of the hit record Aretha Franklin made with the same title of “Call Me.”  That being said, other hit picks on this album are: “Say You Will,” “Just Say It” and “The Game.”  Mininfield has provided well-written lyrics for three of the songs on her album of ten original compositions.  Much of the lyrical content is politically charged with songs of life, living, love and protest. The ‘hooks’ are strong and encourage the listener to sing-along, both melodically and lyrically.  American singer, Denise Mininfield has been making a life and living in the far East for the past several years.  I first met her in Singapore and Thailand, during my world travels.  We also ran into each other in Shanghai, China.  Currently based in Malaysia, she’s a strong on-stage performer and I’m happy to see that she has finally released an album. It’s good listening!  Check her out on

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Daniele Germani, alto saxophone/composer; Justin Salisbury, piano; Giuseppe Cucchiara, bass; Jongkuk Kim, drums.

Daniele Germani has a tentative sound on his alto saxophone, as though he is contemplating each note before he blows it from the bell of his horn.  This is his debut album and it features a tight and in-sinc trio that supports a Baker’s dozen of Germani’s original songs.  Italian-born and a graduate of the Conservatory of Frosinone, Daniele Germani moved to Boston in 2013 to study at Berklee College of Music.  This album tributes “A Congregation of Folks” that he met on American soil; folks from all over the world, who gathered at the famed Wally’s Jazz Café in Boston.  Among his acquaintances, are those musicians on this recording.  The title tune is melancholy and beautiful.  It’s evident, Germani is a sensitive composer and player.  The first four compositions on this recording are moderate or ballad tempo.  I keep waiting for him to stretch out, spread wings and fly.  There is a tad of energy on track 5, but the piano work of Justin Salisbury is so classically rich, it usurps any possibility of swing or straight-ahead. Jonqkuk Kim takes an opportunity, at the fade of this song titled, “Half Believe,” to profile his impressive drum chops.  Track 8, “Eres Luz,” gives bassist Giuseppe Cucchiara an opportunity to step forward.  His double bass solo is lovely.  All in all, this is a low-key production that doesn’t really showcase the versatility of the composer.  The arrangements keep everything about the same tempo and the all-important “swing” and diversity in jazz is missing.  However, if you are just looking for background music during a quiet evening with a good book, this is the perfect pleasure.

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Ian Charleton, leader/arranger/composer; Bart Kuebler, piano; Wes Wagner, guitar; Ryan Persaud, bass; Bob Habib, drums; SAXOPHONES: Richard Garcia, alto/soprano saxophones; Jason Hammers, alto sax; Michael Ferrante  & Keith Philbrick, tenor sax; David Fatek, baritone sax. TRUMPET/FLUGELHORNS; Mark Oates,lead; Pete Sutorius, Mark Nixon & Kerry Moffit. TROMBONES: John Lloyd, lead; Lisa Drefke, Carl Lundgren & Dandrick Glenn, bass trombone. Emily Charleton, vocals.

Track one opens with a Count Basie-esk arrangement, with the piano and bass out front before the entire big band joins them.  They play an Ian Charleton original composition titled, “West 67th Street” that features Bart Kuebler on piano and John Lloyd on trombone.  Ian Charleton leads an eighteen-piece big band and they feature his impressive composer talents.  Charleton is a Senior Chief Musician who was Head of Academics at the Naval School of Music and taught arranging.  He is a graduate of the University of North Texas.  Charleton grew up in Kentucky, moved to Illinois, then to Texas.  He began to play the saxophone in the fifth grade and was greatly influenced by Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley.  He began to compose his own tunes at age fifteen and has never looked back.  As a Navy man, he’s led navy bands on five continents and continues his legacy of composing and band-leading with this newly recorded music.  Favorite tunes are the title tune, “A Fresh Perspective.” It features Richard Garcia on soprano saxophone and gives Bob Habib a chance to showcase his drum skills on this happy waltz tune.  I enjoyed their lovely arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” featuring Kerry Moffit on flugelhorn. The closing tune, “Party on Park” swings hard and gives Wes Wagner a platform to showcase his guitar capabilities.  I love a good baritone saxophone solo and David Fatek does not disappoint. Ryan Persaud is given a place in the spotlight playing his double bass.  When I listen to Ian Charleton’s big band, I picture a dance hall full of swing dancers sliding across the polished wooden floor.  This is an album that recreates that joyful era of music.

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Satoko Fujii, solo piano.

Track one opens with the sound of piano strings being played.  It’s a sound like no other; strange but beautiful.  The twang of the musicality reminds me of Asian instruments.  Satoko Fujii plays every part of the piano, not just the 88-keys.  Her music is improvisational, experimental and fresh.  Track two is more classically structured and full of surprises.  Satoko’s fingers race across the keyboard, creating great crescendos of sound.  She makes use of the bass keys and they sometimes sound like angry giant steps marching up the ivory and ebony staircase. Like many isolated musicians, through the pandemic, Ms. Fujii has remained committed to her art and creativity. 

“I have been playing my piano for more than 45-years,” she explains in her press package. “And we know each other well.  I never expected that I would record on it, but the COVID19 situation forced me into doing it.  On tour, I play a different piano at each concert.  Sometimes I meet annoying pianos.  Sometimes I meet really great pianos.  It’s a gamble.  But I have to tell you, it’s easy for me to play my piano, because I already know it very well.”

She recorded this album at home, in the month of August.  “Hazuki” (the title of the album) is an old Japanese word for August.  Her original compositions and her approach to her instrument are both powerful and dramatic.  Critics hail Satoko Fujii as one of the most original voices in jazz today. 

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Greg Skaff, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums.

Opening this musical adventure with “Old Devil Moon,” Greg Skaff and his trio kick off at an up-tempo swing pace.  Albert “Tootie” Heath has always been a very melodic drummer.  He sings his licks with the drum sticks, voicing his pleasure and his power.  This is clearly heard on the opening tune.  The iconic Ron Carter takes a solid and exciting solo on double bass. 

“Polaris” is Greg Skaff’s first trio album.  He’s worked with the Stanley Turrentine group, backed up Bobby Watson, played with Ruth Brown and been a member of the orchestra pit during the “Wicked” Broadway production.  But never has he been a bandleader of his own trio.  What better combination than to use two legendary musicians as his camrades; Ron Carter and Al Tootie Heath.  You can’t get much more dynamic than that. 

Carter and Heath are no strangers to each other.  They’ve wrapped musical arms around Wes Montgomery’s guitar projects and they worked together recording and touring with jazz pianist, Bobby Timmons.  Carter holds the Guinness world record as the most recorded jazz bassist ever.  Heath and Carter became reunited on this project after not playing together in over three decades.  Each is an iconic elder of the jazz scene. 

Heath had never played with or heard Greg Skaff before this project. Their first session happened in August of 2019.  Time passed and then, in the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic, the second session was scheduled.  It was also around the same time Tootie Heath had just lost his older brother, jazz saxophonist, Percy Heath.  During this second time around, the trio laid down six more tunes to complete Skaff’s album.

Track 2 reinvents Duke Ellington’s “Angelica” into a New Orleans arrangement, with Tootie’s bright drums dancing calypso rhythms all over the piece.  “Little Waltz” is a Ron Carter original and he and Greg Skaff perform it as a duo.  It’s quite compelling, with a haunting melody and gives Skaff an opportunity to show off his guitar chops, both as an improvisor and a rhythm guitarist.  Later on, they play this composition again as a trio.  “Paris Eyes” is a composition of organist Larry Young.  He originally recorded this piece with Grant Green on guitar.  Greg Skaff talked about his appreciation for Green.

“He’s one of my favorites for tone.  It doesn’t seem to matter what guitar Grant Green plays, but especially when he plays a Gibson ES-330, which has what are called P-90 pickups; they’re single coil.  It’s a jazz tone, but it cuts in a certain way.” 

One of my favorites on this album is the trio’s shuffle rendition of “Yesterday,” where Skaff burrows into the rhythm of the tune with Heath, and offers the melody as a gift for Ron Carter to unwrap.  When Skaff does solo on the tune, he brings the blues along as a side-kick.  Another favorite is the title tune, “Polaris,” an original composition by Skaff.  Here is a guitar trio album you will treasure, and it’s also blessed with great historic value.

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March 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 1, 2021


Yulia Musayelyan, flute/voice/bass flute; Maxim Lubarsky, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Mark Walker, drums.

Russian born, Boston resident, Yulia Musayelyan plays beautifully.  Her flute is bright & bubbling with emotion and energy.  “Fuga Y Misterio” is the first track, plucked from the well-known Astor Piazzolla’s 1968 opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.  It’s an up-tempo Latin tune, very classically arranged, and dances through space like a humming bird with rapidly fluttering wings.   This album is dedicated to Tango music and Yulia Musayelyan applies her mastery of the flute and her love of this genre of music, to create an awesome celebration.  Maxim Lubarsky is fluid and quick across the piano keys.

In Moscow, Yulia studied the flute starting at age four.  Before long, she was winning awards from respected organizations like the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts Award.  She is currently a professor at Berklee School of Music.  As a performer, she has appeared on over thirty albums.  Her selection of repertoire includes a style of ‘tango vals’ which have a ¾ beat and are adaptations from the European waltz.  On this arrangement, Fernando Huergo’s bass line is as rhythmic as Mark Walker’s drums and very melodic.  The title track, “Oblivion” is another Piazzolla composition with co-writer Angela Terenzi.  It’s performed as a dark and sultry ballad, with the flute predominate in the spotlight during a most entrancing performance.  This is a sexy, love song without words.

“I heard it as a teenager on an orchestra tour in Havana, Cuba,” Yulia explained the moment she was captivated by this song. 

This is an emotional, exciting and brilliant production, interpreted by her cosmopolitan ensemble that celebrates her Russian heritage, Lubarsky’s Ukraine roots, an Argentinean bassist (Fernando Huergo) and Mark Walker from the windy city of Chicago, Illinois.  This very international, all-star band contributes to the star quality Yulia Musayelyan offers us on her flute.

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V R Smith, vocals; Michael Kanan, piano; Chuck Manning, tenor saxophone; Tim pleasant, drums; Putter Smith, bass.

Her voice has a soothing quality.  When Mrs. V. R. Smith sings, she compels us to listen.   There is something hypnotic about her honesty and tenderness.  As a jazz vocalist, this is clearly a seasoned veteran of the music world.  Although there is no great range to her voice, she is persuasive.  This lady takes no big risks and flaunts no vocal riffs, like circus performers twirling across space.  Instead, she simply sings the stories and tells the truth.  You can appreciate that this stylist, like Billie Holiday, has lived life well.

Surrounded by some of the best musicians in Los Angeles, you will hear love wrapped around this music like a bright, blue ribbon.  Putter Smith’s rich, supportive bass stands strong in the rhythm section, the same way he did in her life.  Michael Kanan is beautifully supportive on piano and outstanding during his frequent solo excursions.  Just sit back and enjoy Kanan’s emotional delivery during “Why Did I Choose You.”   Chuck Manning, as always, brings his tenor saxophone excellence to the bandstand.  Drummer, Tim Pleasant, applies tasty rhythms and is the glue that bonds this quartet.  You can hear his steady and colorful drums fly on “Who Cares,” a Gershwin composition I rarely hear played.   Pleasant is given a space to shine on this swinging arrangement.

When I review the list of V R Smith’s repertoire, songs like “Once I Loved” and “Why Did I Choose You,” along with “You’re My Everything” and “Young and Foolish,” I conclude this is a love letter to someone very special in her life.  I know that she and Putter Smith were together on a life journey for at least four decades.  Although this vocalist joined a chorus of angels a week before the release of this heartfelt production, her music will live on, captured in the recording studio one last time.

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April May Webb, vocals/composer; Randall Haywood, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; James Austin, piano; Charlie Sigler, guitar; Jacob Webb, bass; Nathan Webb, drums; Riza Printup, harp.

Trumpeter, Randall Haywood and vocalist, April May Webb have merged talents to become “SOAR,” which stands for Sound of A&R.  Not only does April May sing, she’s also a very competent composer and they feature some pretty catchy songs on this, their third studio album.  One of my favorites is the video posted above, “They Keep Saying No,” where she shows off her melodic and lyrical skills, along with her jazzy ability to scat sing.  On the popular “Social Call” jazz standard, Randall Haywood steps into the spotlight to show off his horn brilliance. I also enjoyed the improvisations and silky, smooth tone of Charlie Sigler on guitar.  In 2019, this lively and infectious couple won “Best Jazz Group” at the NYC Readers Jazz Awards.  They have both charisma and talent.  On “Killing Me Softly” there were moments when the vocalist seems to over-sing, instead of just selling the wonderful lyrics of this standard pop tune.  Still, her voice is engaging and her style sets a tone you will remember and recognize the next time you hear her.  At times, she exhibits shades of Sarah Vaughan.  One of her outstanding talents is as a songwriter.  She has written (or co-written) seven of the fourteen songs on this album. “Moments When I Was a Kid,” is a tune Randall and April May have co-written.   It’s a good song, great lyric, but the trumpet solo displayed a few unsettling pitch problems.  Track 8-9, “The Skin I’m in Prelude” and her extended song adds Riza Printup on harp for a very ethereal introduction.  April May & Randall have also co-written the title tune, where April May spits her prose like a singing poet.  Their arrangement of “I’m Old Fashioned,” is fresh and contemporary.  Nathan Webb introduces the listener to an extended reprise of “Killing Me Softly” on his drums; tenaciously showing off his chops. All in all, the group “SOAR” is bound to do just that.

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ROSEANNA VITRO – “LISTEN HERE” – Independent Label

Roseanna Vitro, vocals; Kenny Barron & Bliss Rodriguez, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Ben Riley, drums; Arnett Cobb, saxophone; Duduka de Fonseca, percussion; Scott Hardy, guitar.

When seasoned vocalist, Roseanna Vitro and her engineer husband, Paul Wickliffe, started re-listening to her original album releases, that included some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, they must have had an epiphany.  Settling into the winter of your days, enjoying your grandchildren and each other, is often a time when you start thinking back on the chapters of your life.

“It was time to take stock of my life and look back at my career,” Roseanna Vitro concurred. “I think these early recordings stand the test of time and I want to introduce them to a new generation.”

When I saw the list of iconic jazz musicians on this album, this journalist was truly impressed.  How can you go wrong when you have Kenny Barron on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Ben Riley on drums?  Not to exclude the soulful saxophone of Arnett Cobb, the coloration of percussionist Duduka de Fonseca and the guitar excellence of Scott Hardy?  They open with “No More Blues” and Roseanna Vitro sings straight ahead and fearlessly.

It was Arnett Cobb, so many years ago, who noticed the youthful Roseanna Vitro exploring jazz as a vocal platform.  He encouraged her and she became his protégé.  Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Roseanna soon became a regular on the Houston, Texas Jazz scene and rooted herself in The Green Room for a steady gig.  It was the right place at the right time.  She sang with jazz greats like Oscar Peterson, Tommy Flanagan and Bill Evans.  Her reputation spread and when she moved to New York City, she soon became a part of the fast-paced jazz scene. 

The re-release of “Listen Here” (originally recorded in 1984) presents Roseanna Vitro at the beginning of a rich career.  She sings songs we know and love and a few that we’ve forgotten.  Ms. Vitro warmly rejuvenates tunes like “This Happy Madness” by Jobim.  Her bluesy delivery on “Centerpiece” is very soulful, as is her rendition of “Black Coffee.”  Ellington’s “Love You Madly” shows her swinging side. 

On ballads like “A Time for Love” her crystal-clear delivery and enunciation showcase the lovely lyrics of this song.  Her rendition of “Easy Street” spotlights the talents of Buster Williams on upright bass.  Those of us who remember Roseanna Vitro, from back-in-the-day, will be happy to re-examine this amazing album, and young listeners will be introduced to a new and inspired voice.

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Janinah Burnett, vocals/co-arranger; Christian Sands, Sullivan Fortner & Keith Brown, piano; Luques Curtis & Ben Williams, bass; Casey Benjamin, vocoder; Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully, drums/producer/co-arranger.

Janinah Burnett is an unusual and brilliant talent.  She’s a jazzy diamond in the raw and a rising star, searching for her place in the expansive sky of music excellence.  The challenge is, where does an artist, who sings several different genres of music, find her niche?  Obviously, Janinah Burnett is a gifted and world-travelled opera singer.  She clearly shows off her skills in the classical music realm on the very first cut of this album, “Creole Girl.” Her classical soprano voice soars against the modern jazz arrangement of Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully, with ‘Tank’ taking an extended drum solo on the fade of this song.  She continues the classical trend when singing track 2, “Habanera,” when suddenly the arrangement takes a turn and becomes a medley featuring the Cole Porter standard “What Is This Thing Called Love.”  That’s when we hear Janinah Burnett’s jazz-singer-voice tenderly caressing the lyrics of this Porter tune and later, in the arrangement, showing us she can ‘swing.’  Clearly, Janinah Burnett can sing both jazz and opera.  My question is, do these arrangements best support her awesome talents?

“The repertoire in ‘Love the Color of Your Butterfly’ represents my most beloved styles and genres: art songs, spirituals, opera, rhythm and blues and jazz.  In choosing to present these varying elements, it was imperative to feature some of the world’s greatest composers of these genres; Bizet, Gershwin, Ellington, Puccini and Wailer,” Janinah Burnett explains her concept for this debut album.

Burnett has named the album after something her mother, Imani Constance, told her years ago.  “You can’t be another butterfly, you have to love the color of your butterfly.”

Track 3 whisks us back to classical as she sings “E Lucevan Le Stelle,” an aria from Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ opera.  Christian Sands takes an improvised solo on piano that elevates the music from classical to America’s classical music; jazz!   His approach is inspired and takes the arrangement to another level of creativity.  I think this is what the artist desired from the very beginning, a merging of cultures and musical genres.  These musicians seem up for the challenge. 

Lauded as a world-renowned soprano, Ms. Burnett was lovingly renamed “La Janinah” by her adoring Italian fans who consider her a marvel of versatility.  She flaunts her originality when Grammy nominated bassist, Ben Williams, supplies the introduction to “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” a traditional gospel song that shows us a completely different side of Janinah Burnett.   Next, she tackles the Ellington tunes, “My Love,” (in her classical voice) “In A Sentimental Mood,” (sung in her jazz voice) and “TGTT,” (from the Sacred Concerts of Duke Ellington).  The acronym stands for “Too Good to Title.”  It features Keith Brown on piano.  Gulley reimagines the harmonics to become more modern jazz than the traditional interpretation Ellington had in mind.  Janinah Burnett becomes an operatic bird, her voice soaring and classically interpreting the challenging melody above the accompaniment of Mr. Brown. 

Burnett’s powerful voice should not surprise us.  After all, she has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the Arizona and Michigan Operas, NYCO, Nashville Opera and Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma, to name just a few.  Her voice is strong and well-trained.  However, on Donny Hathaway’s inspired composition “Someday We’ll All Be Free” (sung in her classical voice) I’m not sure her operatic vocals suited this song.  I wish she had sung this beautiful, moving tune in her jazz voice.

Aside from singing, in 2012 Janinah made her film screen debut in Spike Lee’s “Red Hook Summer” and in 2020 she landed a television spot on an episode of FBI. 

Ms. Burnett has a voice suited for both opera stages and Broadway.  She could easily be a church choir lead songstress or sparkling and innovative on jazz stages.  Janinah Burnett is diverse.  This album exposes us to her multi-talents in a mixed genre presentation.  La Janinah has broken free of the music business cocoon and invites us to love the colors of her butterfly.

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Taiko Saito, vibraphone; Satoko Fujii, piano.

This is an experiment and experience in sound and music.  These two women, Taiko Saito on her vibraphone and Satoko Fujii on the piano, search for extreme measures of creativity and exploration of both musical instruments and emotions.  This duo is like no other you have heard.  “Futari” is Japanese that translates to “two people” and like the title of this production, it is “Beyond Two People.”  You will become completely engaged in the first few seconds of this unique, Avant Garde music.  Satoko Fujii gives us some background on this project.

“I first met vibraphonist, Taiko Saito, about fifteen years ago.  She was a music student at Berlin University of the Arts.  She just happened to come to a concert by my quartet in Tokyo while she was home for a visit.  … My first impression was of a very neatly dressed girl of high school age.  The next time we met was in 2006 at a concert by my quartet at a club in Dresden. … In 2007, she sent me a CD by KOKO, her project with the pianist Niko Meinhold.  I was awed by the level and sensibility of her music,” Satoko Fujii explained how the two originally met.

“Beyond Futari” is a very lyrical and intense combination of piano and vibes. It is fifteen years in the making.  The two women combine their improvisational freedom with poignant melodic phrases and many abstract sounds.  The result is a haunting performance.  Sometimes Satoko Fujii reaches inside the grand piano to play with the thick strings and rattle feelings with percussive response out of the piano’s innards.  Taiko Saito blends sustained tones from her Korogi vibraphone and produces overtones that she plucks from the vibe keys.  Saito creates expressive compositions and exciting, unexpected pieces of music.  Together, the women have collaborated on two compositions.  Fuji has composed six of the nine songs and Saito has written “Todokanai Tegami” on her own.

“I think we both were looking to get a special something from the piano-vibraphone duo.  I mean, these instruments are so much alike and it’s not easy for them to play together,” Satoko Fujii says in her press package.

She is correct.  You rarely hear a duo of piano and vibraphone.  However, I believe this inspirational work may change the minds of many. 

Award Winning mallet player and composer, Taiko Saito was born in Sapporo, Japan but lives in Berlin. In 2003, she founded the marimba/vibraphone/piano duo with a German jazz pianist; Niko Meinhold. They recorded in 2005 and 2014.  She is a founding member of the Berlin Mallet Group. Pianist and composer, Satoko Fujii synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, Avant Garde and folk music in a unique and exciting way.  Both women have received wide acclaim for their individual talents.  Now, they combine those individual geniuses into one amazing production that you will not soon forget.

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Carla Marciano, alto & soprano saxophones/arranger; Alessandro La Corte, piano/keyboards; Aldo Vigorito, double bass; Gaetano Fasano, drums.

Italian saxophonist and composer, Carla Marciano, is considered by music critics to be one of the best European woodwind players in jazz and certainly, one of the strongest female saxophonists recording today.

This album is my heartfelt homage to one of the greatest geniuses of film score, the composer and conductor Bernard Herrmann, whose music has dazzled me since I was a child,” Carla Marciano muses.

I am captivated by the Marciano arrangements and her extraordinarily strong abilities on the saxophone.  She plays with such determination, excitement and tenacious abilities that it’s hard to imagine this is a female player.  She is so strong!  Her concepts are melodic, but she’s not playing with us.  Carla Maricano veers from straight ahead to experimental in the short span of a bar.  She’s here to make a statement and that’s clear.  She takes the compositions of Mr. Herrmann to a whole new level.  Carla Marciano commands our attention in a delightful way.  Clearly, she is greatly influenced by John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy.  This is an album you will listen to over and over again, with pure surprise and pleasure.

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Jihye Lee, composer/conductor; Mark Ferber, drums/tambourine; Evan Gregor, bass; Adam Birnbaum & Haeun Joo, piano; Sebastian Noelle, guitar; WOODWINDS: Ben Kono, alto & soprano saxophone;/piccolo/ flute/ clarinet; Rob Wilkerson, alto saxophone; piccolo/flute; Quinsin Nachoff & Jeremy Powell, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet.  TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, John Lake & Alex Norris, trumpet/fluegelhorn; SPECIAL GUEST: Sean Jones. TROMBONES: Mike Fahie, Alan Ferber, Nick Grinder; Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone.

Jihye Lee is a competent and exploratory South Korean composer.  All her compositions on this “Daring Mind” album reflect her fascination with the human brain and the various states of the human psyche.  In her arrangements, she explores rage, confusion, enlightenment, heart and soul.  As a female, contemporary jazz composer, orchestra conductor and bandleader, Jihye Lee encourages her orchestra to dive into her work with vigor and excitement.  The titles of her tunes continue to identify with the album’s title.  Songs like “Relentless Mind” and “Unshakable Mind” mirror her tenacity.

“Unshakable Mind” is about my admiration for the determined spirit that preservers through hardship and remains unwavering in the face of adversity.  One repeating note, an “A”, symbolizes this ethos, staying constant throughout the piece,” Jihye explains.

I would like to have known who the player was on this song’s notable saxophone solo.  With two exceptions, the CD liner notes do not distinguish soloists, which I think is a shame.  I also found the teeny-tiny font size used to design the CD annoying for seasoned eyes, even with bi-focals.

You will hear Jihye Lee’s musical interpretation of “Revived Mind” and “Dissatisfied Mind” as well as a song called “Suji” dedicated to one of her dearest friends.  Perhaps she sums up her determination and creativity sparked by living in New York City during the composition, “Struggle Gives you Strength,” featuring special guest trumpeter, Sean Jones.  This is an exciting orchestra led by a thriving talent and award-winning composer who is clearly exploring the many sides of her own mind and exposing them to the eager ears of the listener.

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