JAZZ ARTISTS SHARE UNIVERSAL SONGS

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 22, 2021

LORNE LOFSKY – “THIS SONG IS NEW” – Modica Music

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 – “SING TO THE WORLD” – Rainy Days Records

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 BIG BAND – “KINETIC” – Outside In Music

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 QUINTERO – “CAMINANDO” –  Moondo Music, LLC

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 – “INTO THE NIGHT” –  CAP Records

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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CODE QUARTET – “GENEALOGY”

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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