Archive for April, 2021


April 21, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 21, 2021

LAUFEY – “TYPICAL OF ME” –  Independent label

Laufey Lin, vocals/guitar/cello/piano/composer; Josh Jacobson, keyboards; Magnus Johann Ragnarsson, Keyboards.

Track 1 on this new EP by Laufey snagged my ear and held on, like a diamond earring.  Her voice has a soft, warm, lovely tone, and on “Street by Street,” Laufey makes it clear she is a blossoming singer/songwriter.  The young artist mixes genres, blending jazzy chord changes and beautiful melodies with pop music, rhythm and blues, all in a very embraceable way.   When Laufey returned to her native Iceland last summer, she was surprised when she pumped on the car radio and her song, “Street by Street” was playing.

“That’s when I realized something big was happening,” she told her publicist.

The production is sparse, but very effective.  The finger snaps and her guitar accompaniment, with vocals harmonizing in the background, allows us to clearly hear her lyrics and the groove is infectious.  Her latest single, from this debut EP titled, “Magnolia,” is a ballad with a lyric about a beautiful woman. Actually, the lyrics pose a love letter to women who don’t recognize their own beauty and strength.  Track 3 is titled “Like the Movies” and is a throw-back to the 1920s or 30s type music, with its slow, strumming shuffle-feel and her voice scatting atop the production in a sweet and affectionate way.  Laufey’s unique tone and the addition of the synthesized horn makes this ‘cut’ very jazzy.  She follows this production with a cover of “I Wish You Love” just to make it clear she can sing jazz standards with the same energy and style that she uses when singing her original songs.

“I’ve always loved classical music.  I’m definitely very influenced by composers like Ravel and Chopin,” Laufey shares.  “But when I discovered the Great American Songbook and the music of George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers, it felt like this middle ground between jazz and classical suited me perfectly.  It was something I could love on my own terms,” she explained her stylized musical approach.

Laufey has performed with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the young age of fifteen.  But deep inside, she knew she wanted to blend her classical training with more modern influences.  She longed to expand her writing and repertoire with jazz influences, with pop, R&B overtones and with her own sense of creativity and uniqueness.  You can hear all that in her very first release and debut single, “Street by Street.”  This song sent international waves crashing against commercial music shorelines. 

As a result of collaborating with peers at Berklee College of Music, the day before their campus was shut down due to COVID-19, she embraced the down-time while self-quarantined to work on her first recording project.  Laufey began recording at home, playing piano, guitar, singing, composing and adding cello to the mix.  Other instrumentation was delivered remotely by her fellow student musicians.  When I listen to “James,” another original composition, I note her expressive way of phrasing, singing, scatting and the lyrical way she writes.  Laufey’s artistically fascinating.

Once she posted the first tune, Laufey’s project went viral!  She had a hit single on Icelandic Radio Charts and her music grew a massive, universal following.  Before she could blink twice, the BBC announced they wanted to present a music series for BBC Radio 3 that featured “Happy Harmonies with Laufey.”  This series began on April 10th of 2021.  Laufey’s entire EP project is absolutely fresh, charming and unique.  Ms. Lin is a gifted singer, plays multiple instruments and is a talented songwriter.  I expect great things from this young lady and a bright future. 

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John Daversa, trumpet; Justin Morell, guitars/orchestrator/composer/arranger. Scott Flavin, orchestra conductor; Amanda Quist, choir conductor; CHOIR: Emily Finke & Safia Zaman, sopranos; Alexandra Colaizzi & Kate Reid, altos; Sidney O’Gorman & Noah Zaidspiner, tenors; Thandolwethu Mamba & Dylan Melville, basses. GUEST MUSICIANS: Conrad Fok, piano; Lev Garfein, violin. RHYTHM: Tal Cohen, piano; Justin Morell, guitars; Dion Kerr, bass; David Chiverton, drums. PERCUSSION: Antoni Olesik, timpani/ vibraphone/ glockenspiel/ marimba. Orchestra Bass: Brian Powell & Ethan Olaguibel.  VIOLIN 1: Abby Young (concertmaster), Sheena Gutierrez, Karen Lord-Powell, Steffen Zeichner, Ashley Liberty & Gregory Carreno. VIOLIN II: Svetlana Kosakovskoya, Yuhao Zhou, Orlando Forte, Katarina Nazarova & Julia Jakkel. VIOLA: Matt Nabours, Vishnu Ramankutty & Ross DeBardelaben; CELLO: Brent Charran, Shea Kole & Tadao Ito; WOODWINDS: Jennifer Grim, flute; Alyssa Mena, flute/alto flute; Melvin Butler & Troy Roberts, soprano & tenor saxophones; Matt Clarke, clarinet; Franke Capoferri, clarinet/bass clarinet; Gabriel Beavers & Melanie Villarreal, bassoon; Richard Todd Stan Spinola, horn.

When John Daversa approached Justin Morell about writing a large-scale orchestral jazz piece for his album project, Morell conceived the project from the perspective of a parent with an autistic child.  This album is a tribute and a reflection of love in raising a 16-year-old, non-verbal son.  The title is reflective; “All Without Words.”   It is a story, unfolding in the orchestrated music, about connection and compassion; pain and prevailing love in the face of every challenge. 

A multi-Grammy winner, John Daversa is an orchestral jazz trumpeter whose albums reflect important social themes.  Justin Morell said this about composing this elaborate music.

“Loren (his autistic child) can be wonderfully spontaneous and always in the moment.  One evening, I sat with him and listened to the singing and sounds that he often makes, recording them on my phone.  I quickly returned to the recordings and transcribed two different segments of beautiful melody.  These segments became the theme that is the basis for the eleven variations,” Justin explained.

Loren’s voice is represented by Daversa’s distinctive trumpet sound.  This album was recorded at the Frost School of Music recording facilities at the University of Miami, where Daversa is Chair of Studio Music.  These top musicians based in South Florida, are both classically proficient and others are steeped and specialized in jazz.  Because of the pandemic and social restrictions, each section of the orchestra was recorded separately.  However, this does not interrupt the beauty or flow of this project.  Here is a tender, gorgeous album.  John Daversa becomes the voice of a voice-less child in the most perfect and soulful sense. 

The orchestra transmits to us emotionally, via these amazing musicians, with their colorful arrangements.  It’s an awesome combination of composer magic and musicians who play life into their music.  I found Daversa and Morell’s project to be peaceful and healing; inspired and lovely.  Perhaps producer, Kabir Sehgal sums the experience up best.

“This is a poignant and profound work. … This collaboration speaks not only to their mutual respect and admiration, but to their interest in doing good in the world,” Sehgal says in the press package. 

I agree!

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Ulysses Owens Jr., drums/producer/bandleader; Takesi Ohbayashi, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Charles Turner III, vocals; SPECIAL GUEST: Stefon harris, vibraphone; WOODWINDS: Alexa Tarantino & Erena Tarakubo, alto saxophones; Diego Rivera & Daniel Dickinson, tenor saxophones; Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS:  Walter Cano, lead trumpet; Benny Benack III, Summer Camargo, & Giveton Gelin.  TROMBONES: Michael Dease, Eric Miller & Gina Benalcazar. Wyatt Forhan, bass trombone.

Ulysses Owens Jr. is a drummer with a big sound, a big band and big career plans.  On this, his debut recording as a big band leader, he has gathered a host of excellent musicians that reflect multi-gender, multi-ethnic and multi-generational participation.  From the very first Dizzy Gillespie/John Lewis familiar composition of “Two Bass Hit” you hear the UOJ Big Band’s exuberance and high energy.  Ulysses Owens Jr. takes a mind-blowing solo excursion on his trap drums.  I appreciate his power, his creativity and technical wizardry.  Perhaps he explained his ultimate goals best in his liner notes.

“I finally feel like I have a record that is emanating a sound that I can confidently create forever,” Owens Jr. asserted.

On the original composition, “London Towne,” By Benny Benack III, who plays second trumpet, Stefon Harris makes a guest appearance on vibraphone.  On Track 3, Yasushi Nakamura steps out from the rhythm section and takes an impressive solo on double bass, followed by a soulful saxophone improvisation played by Diego Rivera, who also arranged this tune.  Titled, “Beardom X,” the horn harmonics soar and punch the arrangement in all the right places.  Bandleader and dynamic drummer, Owens Jr., takes a short but colorful solo on this original song that he has composed.  The staccato breaks by the horns build the dynamics during this presentation.

Intermittently, audience applause speckles this soulful ‘live’ recording.  The big band is quite impressive and distinguishes their high level of musicianship and tight, preparedness for this production.  There’s no over-dubs or engineering punch-marks when you record ‘live.’  Obviously, they need no such engineering helpmates.  I enjoyed hearing the “Soul Conversations” of each band member, expressed to the others.  I applaud the structured, creative arrangements that were written by various band members.  For example, on the original composition, “Language of Flowers” bassist, Yasushi Nakamura both wrote and arranged this lovely ballad.  The UOJ Big Band includes contemporary pieces like Michael Jackson’s hit record, “Human Nature” featuring Harris’s vibraphone and more straight-ahead pieces like John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.  You will find every song on this project delightful, inspired and entertaining. However, the driving force behind their entire production is the amazing and relentless drum skill of Ulysses Owens Jr.

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Berta Morena, tenor saxophone/vocals/composer/lyricist; Alana Sinkey, vocals; Manuel Valera, piano/keyboards; Maksim Perepilica, bass; Raphael Pannier, drums; Franco Pinna, percussion/ArpaLeguera; Maria Alejandra Jimenez, Sinuhé Padilla-Isunza, Berta Moreno & Alana Sinkey, choir voices.

The happy first track of this project showcases Berta Moreno’s saxophone and composer talents.  Alana Sinkey is the vocalist that introduces us to the contemporary jazz tune Moreno has written, with its slick, African influenced time changes and infectious melody.  Moreno’s tenor saxophone improvises above the rich African percussion.  Manuel Valera brings excitement and beauty during his piano solo.  

After taking a life-changing trip to Kenya and experiencing a Kawangare neighborhood, Berta Moreno was infatuated with the Kenyan African culture, people and music.  Kawangare is an economically disadvantaged area. Moreno, a native of Madrid, Spain, had volunteered to teach at the Little Ray of Hope School. Her album title, “Tumaini” translates to “Hope” in Swahili and was inspired by the children of Kawangare.  Their bright smiles and positive attitudes touched Berta Moreno’s heart.  That explains the happy, up-tempo tunes on this project and the addition of a choir of voices and rhythmic ideas she honed from the music of East Africa. 

Track 2, “Afrika” is also joyful and is bolstered by the drums of Raphael Pannier and Franco Pinna on percussion.  The Moreno composition titled, “Beauty of the Slum” introduces us to a lovely melody.  Moreno is a strong songwriter, who knows how to place the ‘hook’ of her songs in full view of the listener and strongly accentuates the titles of her songs. 

Sometimes Alana Sinkey, who has a beautiful voice and a lovely style of singing, falls flat on certain improvisation parts.  This is something that with practice and patience she can improve upon. I like the way she and Berta Moreno sometimes sing unison together (vocals and horn) and Ms. Sinkey also sounds wonderful harmonizing with Berta’s tenor saxophone.  Their blend is natural.  Musically, the album concept and Berta Moreno’s compositions make this project both unique and inspired.

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Jacqui Naylor, vocals/composer; Art Khu, piano/organ/Rhodes/guitars; Jon Evans, basses/guitar/background vocals; Josh Jones, drums/percussion.

Jacqui Naylor has a distinctive tone that enriches her alto vocals.  She offers us, not only her unique and pleasant sound, but an expert trio of jazz musicians.  Art Khu is magnificent and creative on piano.  He and Naylor co-wrote “Love Look What You’ve Done,” that becomes track 5 on this artistic venture.  It’s a jazz waltz with beautiful lyrics.  Best known for her ability to interpret a diverse repertoire and blend genres and generations, Jacqui Naylor’s album explores love with both original music and familiar songs.  Speaking of blending, the trio plays a Miles Davis background riff that is immediately recognizable from his band arrangement of “It Never Entered My Mind.”  Surprisingly, Ms. Naylor slaps the Coldplay song, “Fix You” on top, like a cherry on an ice cream Sunday.  It becomes a delicious arrangement. 

Over time, this artist’s eleven album releases have been named in the “Top 10” lists of USA Today, Jazziz Magazine and The Washington Post.  Naylor’s version of REM’s “Losing My Religion” was featured on the hit, television competitive series, “So You Think You Can Dance.”  Her three dynamic musicians contribute to the original and provocative arrangements with their supportive and intuitive talents.  Naylor’s vocals are a slightly reminiscent mixture of Amy Winehouse and Marlena Shaw.  In a sea of jazz vocal releases, it’s delightful to hear a vocalist and a creative artist with her own dynamic style and musical perspective.

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Steve Tintweiss, double bass/melodica/vocals/composer/bandleader; Laurence Cook, drums; Judy Stuart & Amy Sheffer, vocals; James DuBoise, trumpet; Mark Whitecage, tenor saxophone/flute; Trevor Koehler, baritone saxophone.

Steve Tintweiss is playing bass on a slew of Albert Ayler albums.   Tintweiss is perhaps best remembered for his Avant-garde appearances on the jazz scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He was well-known for his stimulating improvisation as a sideman and revolutionary approach to the double bass.  He performed with singer, Patty Waters, and with great jazz players like Sam Rivers, Gato Barbieri and Perry Robinson.  Although Tintweiss has remained steadfast to his bass style and continuously performed on the jazz scene, this is a throwback album that was recorded in 1968 at St. Marks Church.  The group was part of a fundraising concert for the victims of the Nigerian/Biafran conflict.  The concert line-up included Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Country Joe McDonald and Jimi Hendrix.  This recording showcases the 20-minute segment featuring Steve Tintweiss and his ensemble.  Also included is their Town Hall concert of September 14, 1968.  This is fifty-one minutes of historic Avant-garde music from the protest time of the late 1960s. 

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Ted Nash, conductor/soprano sax/composer/arranger; Dan Nimmer, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS:  Glenn Close, Wayne Brady, Amy Irving, Matthew Stevenson, Eli Nash & Wynton Marsalis.  Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  WOODWINDS: Sherman Irby (lead); Marc Phaneuf, Victor Goines, Mark Lopeman & Paul Nedzela.  TRUMPETS: Ryan Kisor (lead); Tatum Greenblatt, Marcus Printup, Wynton Marsalis.  TROMBONES: Vincent Gardner (lead); Christopher Crenshaw, Elliot Mason.

“Transformation is the highest expression of change.  Transformation dictates a dramatic alteration of form or character – sometimes both.  The highest compliment one can give a piece of music, or writing, is that it has been transformative for the one who experiences it,” quotes Ted Nash of this project.

Ted Nash has created an orchestrated back-drop for the spoken word story of “Transformation,” shared by the amazing voices of both actors, Glenn Close and Wayne Brady.  This creative jazz project opens with “Creation, Part 1.”  Soloists featured on this cut are Sherman Irby on alto saxophone and Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.  Track 2, “Creation, Part II” features Chris Crenshaw on trombone and Paul Nedzela on baritone saxophone.  This is followed by Eli Nash’s spoken word, delivering a coming-out message in his “Dear Dad/Letter.”  With Dan Nimmer’s piano as a backdrop, Eli Nash begins talking about being a transgender and Ted Nash add his soprano saxophone and horn harmonics.

Glenn Close said of her participation in this project, “We are so fractured and in need of healing.  I wanted to create an experience from which people are comforted, but also inspired, to discover their shared humanity.”

Performed before a live audience, this is a concert that combines artforms, using orchestrated spoken word to bridge soulful conversations about life and living.  There are stories of being incarcerated in the composition, “One Among Many” and they approach the subject of right-wing racism in “Rising Out of Hatred.”   Wayne Brady has written and speaks “A Piece by the Angriest Black man in America (or How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black man in America” that addresses fratricide and self-loathing. Ted Nash hopes his music and the spoken word helps to promote forgiveness, love and humanity.  It all begins with various soul conversations.

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April 14, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 14, 2021


Jeremy Monteiro, piano; Jay Anderson, Double bass; Lewis Nash, drums.

Jeremy Monteiro is considered one of the top jazz pianists in Singapore.  This journalist met him many years ago while appearing on-stage in Singapore myself at a club called “Harry’s.”  Jeremy is a sensitive, but very powerful player.  He’s an amazing accompanist, as well as being a dynamic solo pianist, a creative improviser and a very well-rounded player.  To put it simply, Jeremy  Monteiro can play anything and make it sound great.  On this enjoyable album, you can hear his classical training, but you can also hear how beautifully he listens and supports his trio, giving the iconic Lewis Nash on drums space to shine and featuring the beauty of Jay Anderson’s double bass.  He gives his band members free-rein to solo.  Jeremy is no newcomer when it comes to playing with some of the best in the business.  He’s an EFG Bank Global Arts Ambassador and has played with such luminaries as Bobby McFerrin, Randy Brecker, Lee Ritenour, Herbie Mann, Benny Golson, Michael Brecker, James Moody, Carmen Bradford and the list goes on and on.  His piano virtuosity has carried him all over the world. In 1988, he performed as part of the famous Montreux Jazz Festival with the late, great bassist, Eldee Young and Redd Holt, who were two-thirds of the original Ramsey Lewis Trio. 

They open with Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” and gently ‘swing’ it.  This trio’s performance of “Just In Time” flies.  Once Jeremy sets the pace and introduces the tune, he hands the reins to Jay Anderson, who gallops across the strings of his upright bass melodically and rhythmically, supported by the always impressive, Lewis Nash.  This is a ‘Live’ recording and you hear the appreciative audience, from time to time, burst into supportive applause.  When Jeremy Monteiro steps back into the spotlight, he and Nash are powerful energy-builders, making the song crescendo and dance like nobody’s business!   Every song choice in this trio’s repertoire is worthy of playing more than once.  They are just boiling-hot throughout this recording.  Jeremy Monteiro has carefully selected each song and a couple of them are played like an anthem to some of his real-life mentors.  For example, in memory of the legendary James Moody, he has composed “Mode for Love.”  Jeremy explains that the experimentation Moody did, late in his career, by inverting some of the modes used by John Coltrane, impressed Monteiro so much that he created this tune, modally-based.  His original tune isn’t Bebop, but it celebrates the spirit of the iconic Moody saxophone and his amazing jazz legacy.  Another historic nod is given to Redd Holt and the unforgettable Eldee Young on Jeremy’s original composition titled, “Mount Olive.”     

Jeremy Monteiro has received several awards and honors for his piano mastery, including the Cultural Medallion.  That is the highest artistic recognition available in Singapore.  For his memoir, “Late Night Thoughts of a Jazz Musician” Monteiro received a journalistic literary award and he also garnered a Silver Medal for Best Music Score from the International Radio Festival in New York that included his original composition, “Overture in C Major: The Story of Singapore.”  This production, featuring Nash and Anderson, is his 45th jazz album release.  It is iconic for both Jeremy and his two American jazz players. Their project is both historic and intoxicating to the ears.  Sit back and enjoy.

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Dan Wilson, guitar/composer; Christian Sands, pianist/synthesizer/organ; Marco Panascia, bassist; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drummer; Joy Brown, vocals; Christian McBride, producer/bass.

Akron, Ohio native, Dan Wilson, has named this awesome and energy spiked project, “Vessels of Wood and Earth.”  He chose that name because he feels society, with few exceptions, seems to become attracted to the glitter and gold exterior of life instead of paying attention to the important foundation of life; the wood and earth that supports our life structures.  The title tune, Track 4, sets a groove with Wilson strumming his guitar, before introducing us to the pretty melody of his original composition, followed by branching off into the improvisational hemisphere.  Christian Sands finds the blues inside the tune and pulls it gently to the surface during his piano solo.  The groups modern jazz approach to Stevie Wonders “Bird of Beauty” composition is both beautiful and uniquely arranged.

Wilson is a competent composer, opening this album with his original tune, “The rhythm Section” at a race-driver speed, challenging himself and his bandmates to keep up.  Jeff “Tain” Watts has no qualms about fast-paced arrangements and his drum sticks breeze along, pumping excitement into the tune on his trap drums, while inspiring the band.  Wilson spotlights his admirable technique and stellar approach to his stylized guitar, flying across the strings with mad perfection.  Marco Panascia steps upfront on his double bass with straight-ahead power.  You can clearly hear him holding down the rhythm, along with Watts, during a dynamic Christian Sands solo on piano.   Dan Wilson brings his experience working with organ master, Joey DeFrancesco to the party.  He was part of DeFrancesco’s 2017 album, “Project Freedom” that was nominated for a Grammy Award.  Wilson came up listening to the duets of Wes Montgomery and jazz organ legend, Jimmy Smith.  His guitar playing is inspired.

“I was maybe fourteen or fifteen when my uncle took me into his basement and played me Wes and Jimmy.  I was like, Oh – this is it for me.  I want to do that!  I just want to do that forever,” he recollects that moment of musical awakening.

Songstress, Joy Brown, adds her feminine touch and is a pleasant surprise with Dinah Washington influenced vocals on several tunes including “Save the Children,” and “Inner City Blues.”  Brown brings an old-school stability to this modern jazz recording that is both refreshing and stylized; every now and then she wows us with that little break in her voice.  I enjoyed her rendition of “Cry Me A River” accompanied by Wilson’s sensitive guitar strokes. 

Christian McBride has done a wonderful job of producing Dan Wilson and his ensemble.  They are the artists signed to McBride’s new imprint “Brother Mister Productions” and they become his label’s second release. McBride performs a duo with Dan Wilson on the Pat Metheny tune “James” that is quite extraordinary.  Every tune on this album is a shiny example of great musicality, creativity and inspired by Dan Wilson’s youthful and developing guitar brilliance.

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Diego Baliardo, guitars/vocals; Antoine Ona, bass; Pacheco Rodolfo, percussion; Marlon Baliardo, guitar/back-up vocals; Gibson Baliardo, guitar/back-up vocals/piano.

If you are in search of music that’s happy, energetic and inspires movement and dance, this is the perfect recording.  Diego Baliardo is one of the founders of the world-famous Gipsy Kings, who were based in France and so popular that a 1996 PBS documentary was made about their evolutionary sound.

The historic formation of this musical group began in 1987, founded by two sets of brothers from both the Baliardo and Reyes families.  They were Spanish Romani who fled to France during the Spanish Civil War.  Back in 1979, Nicolas Reyes and Tonino Baliardo began touring throughout France, like their ancestors before them had done. They were making the music that inspires people to feel joyful and celebratory.  That music wound up selling over 20-million albums in their 35-year history.  In fact, that makes them the biggest selling musical group to come out of France.  Their music embraces a number of cultures, blending traditional flamenco with Western pop, Latin rhythms and Arabic music, traces of reggae and their gypsy freedom is reflected in their jazzy guitar work.  Some of their presentations celebrate Gypsy master Django Reinhardt.

This album is made up of members of the Baliardo family and friends.  Marlon and Gibson Baliardo are Diego’s grandsons, singing back-up vocals and playing guitars. The bassist, Antoine Ona, is a friend of Gibson’s and Pacheco Rodolfo is a percussionist who often performs with Diego Baliardo.  Together they make music that presents polyrhythmic styles and make you want to leave your seat to dance like no one is watching.  Their music, like the original Gipsy Kings, is infectious and hypnotic.  Appropriately, the CD title, Este Ritmo, translates to ‘This Rhythm.’  As Diego Baliardo explains, the heritage of their family music has been preserved for over one-thousand years.

“Music is central to the gypsy way of life and heritage.  We have picked up musical styles from all the cultures we’ve interacted with and blended them into our own culture. … Music is in my blood.  I can’t imagine not playing music.  Though at my age now, I think my music is a little mellower than it has been in the past.  …Although I still enjoy performing before an audience, I’m also enjoying spending more time in the studio and not travelling as much,” Diego admitted.

This reviewer has truly fallen in love with this folksy, high-energy gypsy band and the heritage they so proudly share with us.  Favorite tunes are: “Me Voy A La Playa,” and “No Tengo Dinero.”  “Cara Bonita” makes me want to pack a bag, hop a train and speed across the country to a place of carefree joy.  The various guitar rhythms and percussive work both entertain and hypnotize.  “Mi Cintura” is a fine example of that.  “Loquita Loca” is a moderate tempo tune that has a lovely melody and interesting percussive motion.  You may find yourself singing along.  All this music has been wonderfully composed and produced by Diego Baliardo.  He offers us a musical journey, displaying his cultural roots.  One that the listener will find inviting to explore.

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JOY HARJO – “I PRAY FOR MY ENEMIES” – Sunyata Records/Sony Orchard Distribution

Joy Harjo, spoken word/vocals/saxophone; Barrett Martin, drums/upright bass/keyboards/production; Peter Buck, electric guitar/feedback/Mike McCready, electric guitar solos; Krist Novoselic, acoustic guitar; Rich Robinson, electric guitar solos; Rahim Alhaj, Iraqi oud master; Dave Carter, trumpeter/percussion; Owen Sapulpa, surdo drum; Lisette Garcia & Harjo’s stepdaughters, backing vocals.

Joy Harjo is a Native American and a United States Poet Laureate.  This is her first new recording in a decade, showcasing her spoken word, songs and saxophone solos.  She seeks to heal our troubled world with prose, song and music.  Joy Harjo has appropriately titled this work, “I Pray for my Enemies.”  She opens this production with “Allay Na Lee” a welcoming folk song of the Muscogee Creek Nation.  It opens with Native American drums setting the groove and the mood.  Joy Harjo sings only with drum accompaniment, until the bridge of the song where dance music arrangements enter and elevate this folk song to a disco-like presentation.   A male voice chants ‘Allay Na Lee No’ at the fade of this song, announcing the art of this project with the very first tune.  “An American Sunrise” is Track 2, a song about alcoholism that unfortunately has been an ongoing problem for American Indian nations. 

“We were running out of breath as we ran to meet ourselves,” Joy Harjo recites wise and poetic words.

There is a stunning rock guitar solo during this song and Joy Harjo scat sings, adding a multi-layered vocal chant, accompanied by her very jazzy saxophone work.  There is freedom deeply embedded in this music, like strong eagle feathers growing from the elegant bird’s body. This project is a living, breathing history lesson. Exposed inside these lyrics and beautiful prose recited by Harjo, you will find truth, politics, activism and entertainment.  For example, “Calling the Spirit Back” is taken from one of her published collections and speaks of giving back with gratitude and loving Mother Earth. It was taken from her book titled, “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.”  Her song, “How Love Blows Through the Trees” was written by Harjo during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it infected her home in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  It echoes the suffering of the world, balancing the trauma with a beautiful trumpet solo by Dave Carter and Harjo’s haunting, poignant, and expressive jazz saxophone.  Track 5, “Earth House” opens with a kalimba type sound as Harjo speaks of inspiration from a friend or family member, recalling the warmth emanating from her home; the baby swallows nesting on her porch and the love that warms a chilly spirit.  Joy Harjo speaks of “Fear” during Track 6.  She chants and speaks saying, “I release you.  You are my beloved and hated friend,” speaking of fear.  Joy Harjo stirs our emotions and touches our heart with this project. It is a delightfully fresh approach to jazz, to music, to spoken word and at the same time is thought provoking and mind bending.

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Jeff Coffin, Bass flute/alto flute/D whistle/tenor saxophone/ soprano saxophone/bass clarinet/composer/clarinet/percussion/didgibone/voice; Helen Gillet, cello/cello looping/cello slaps/percussion/voice/lyrics.  SPECIAL GUEST: Roy ‘Futureman’ Wooten, cajon.

This duo album combines the talents of Grammy-winning reedman, Jeff Coffin and visionary cellist, Helen Gillet.  They are joined on two songs by their special guest, Roy ‘Futureman’ Wooten on a square wooden-box, a percussive instrument called a cajon.  Their “Round & Round” production is a composition by Jeff Coffin.  It is propelled by an arrangement that circles, with sounds that curl off my CD player like celebratory confetti. Helen Gillet’s tune, “Unzen” is warm, fresh and honey-sweet. I could wrap up in this composition. it’s just that cashmere soft.  “Lampsi has a very middle Eastern sound, played in afro-Cuban 6/8 time. I can almost visualize a snake charmer performing to this composition.  On the whole, the music of Jeff Coffin & Helen Gillet personifies peace.  These lovely, subdued and calming arrangements make their recording the perfect meditative or sleepy-time music.

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Matt Panayides, guitar; Matt Vashlishan, wind synthesizer; Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Robert Sabin, bass; Mark Ferber, drums.

Matt Panayides explains the title of this album on the CD jacket.  “An any given moment, we all exist within numerous fields; a field of time, space, sound or light.”

Panayides has taken his music abilities and creativity to create his own field using original compositions. Track 1, Titled, “Kite Flying,” is a memory of his boyhood and flying a kite, lying on his back in the grass and getting lost in that moment of sky and personal space.  I found “Disturbance” to be melodically disturbing.  Panayides’ original tune called “Closer Now” starts out sounding like a minor blues and gives Panayides a platform to improvise upon.   I enjoyed his warm, electric guitar tone that introduces this composition.  The addition of the electric wind instrument (EWI) gives the production an odd, musical charisma, very space-age and unusual.  The title tune, “Field Theory” begins with Mark Ferber laying down a funk beat.  The horn and wind synthesizer harmonize in between bursts of percussive energy and the time is beat out in a 7/4 groove.  This is modern jazz, punctuated by moments of Avant-garde and dissonant harmonies.  Track 6, “Energy Mover” is very fusion-like.  Robert Sabin is marching his bass at a quick tempo and Panayides improvises as if his life depends on it.  This tune I found both complex and pleasant listening.  Melding the EWI and electric guitar with a double bass and tenor saxophone   creates a unique sound with unexpected arrangements. When Rich Perry adds his beautiful tenor tones, he softens the grooves and sandpapers the rough edges with his horn.  Pentafolk is a suite in four parts.  Panayides says he envisioned a visit to an alien planet when he composed the final four tunes of this project.  “Field Theory” is an art project, with instruments bursting on the scene like splashes of colorful paint on a canvas. Joanna Mitchell portrays this when she provided the beautiful CD cover artwork.

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RONI BEN-HUR – “STORIES” – Dot Time Records

Roni Ben-Hur, guitar; George Cables, piano; Harvie S., double bass; Victor Lewis, drums; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Magos Herrera & Tamuz Nissim, vocals.

Roni Ben-Hur was born in a small, provincial, Israeli, desert town in 1962 and relocated to New York when he was twenty-three.  By that time, Brazilian, Middle-Eastern and African music had seeped into his life-blood and guitar style.  Although he is revered for his straight-ahead jazz power and respected as a guitar virtuoso, Roni Ben-Hur wanted to create an album of stories; stories told by his guitar and an eclectic group of musicians. For this project, he has surrounded himself with amazing talents to express his genre-busting, 40-year, multicultural-music journey.

Track 1 titled, “La Serena” features the haunting and emotional vocals of Magos Herrera. Ingrid Jensen adds her unique trumpet solo to the mix.  One of my favorites on this CD is an original tune by Roni Ben-Hur called, “But I Had to Say Goodbye.”  It’s a lovely, heartfelt ballad.  George Cables takes a rich, poignant solo on piano and Roni Ben-Hur wrings every ounce of emotion out of his guitar. Harvie S. puts the exclamation mark on the song at the end, bowing his big, bad bass. 

This album reflects struggles of the oppressed.  For example, the tune “Redoblar” is the story of people rising up and marching for freedom and equality.  Today, we see that happening all over the world.  Magos Herrera, often referred to on Latin Jazz networks as a great contemporary vocalist, is featured. Also, the dynamic drums of the great Victor Lewis introduce the song a’cappela and forcefully, like a solo tap dancer in the spotlight. This album is a mixture of cultures, a stew-pot of flavorful compositions that celebrate both family and spicy activism.  Tamuz Nissim translates a song from Hebrew to sing, “You shall walk in the field, alone, without being burnt by the fires on the roads that bristled from terror and blood,” on “Ha’Omnam” and on “After the Morning” (a tribute to the beauty of pianist John Hicks) Harvie S. gives us a bass solo to remember; along with Ingrid Jensen’s trumpet  that sings the story with flare and feeling.  Roni Ben-Hur’s album closes with George Cable’s “Melodious Funk” tune, reminding us of the vast influence of Thelonious Monk.  I am left feeling completely happy and satisfied that this will be a collection of “Stories” marking a celebration of magnificence and talent.  I salute Roni Ben-Hur’s guitar skills and this group of stellar musicians.

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Tivon Pennicott, tenor saxophone/composer/arranger; Yasushi Nakamura & Dominique Sanders, bass; Joe Saylor, drums/timpani; Oliver Glissant, primary conductor; Yoojin Park, violin conductor; VIOLINS: Jae Young Bca, Charlene Bishop, Luis Casal, Erin Dupree, Kiku Enomoto, Alley Jenkins, Nanhoom Kim, Tesia Pennicott-Moss, Ina Paris, Gabriela Rengel, & HyunJoon Shin; VIOLAS: Joshua Kail, Jocelin Pan, Marco Sabatini & Kenny Wang; CELLOS: Boubacar Diallo, Amy Kang, Reenat Pinchas & Lutz Rath; DOUBLE BASSES: Carlos Barriento & Johannes Felscher; Philip Dizack, trumpet.

A swirl of sound rises from the orchestrated strings, with mallets whipping the drums powerfully, like distant thunder in the background.  Then, bells are tinkling. This first original composition titled, “Spring Storm” starts out melancholy, but beautiful, as Tivon Pennicott unfolds his “Spirit Garden.”  When Pennicott’s smooth tenor saxophone enters, there is a flurry of improvised notes, reminiscent of Charlie Parker’s style and excellence.   Track 2 is titled, “Fermented Grapes.”  It begins with just horn, drums and bass, soon joined by trumpeter, Philip Dizack, where saxophone and trumpet blend and harmonize the catchy melody Pennicott has penned. 

A Georgia native who spent time living in New York City, Tivon earned his Bachelor of Arts in Music from the Frost School of Music at Miami University.  Pennicott has already garnered three Grammy Awards.  One was for appearing on Esperanza Spalding’s 2012 album.  The next two awards came from his appearances on Blue Note Record artist, Gregory Porter’s “Liquid Spirit” album and the “Take Me to the Alley” release. On this recent release by Tivon Pennicott, he wants to show us a completely different side of himself.  Track 3 is titled “Celery Juice” and has a Latin feel to it, followed by “Shameless Shame,” that is full of staccato horn lines and has a blues theme that drags through it like a loose rope in the sand.  The melody leaves its impression, until the full ensemble comes into play, with Yasushi Nakamura’s bright double bass line marching proudly and straight ahead in the rhythm section.  Both Pennicott’s saxophone and the trumpet take time to solo and fly above their double time, Straight-ahead arrangement.  Drummer, Joe Saylor is given solo time and soars above the staccato horns.  That’s how the tune ends; abruptly and with a drum exclamation point. 

This is a sophomore album for Pennicott that is meant to showcase his composing skills and his orchestration and arranger prowess.  On “Galatians Five Twenty-Two,” the strings soar and rise like the sun in the Eastern sky.  The Galatian people inhabited Asia Minor years ago.  I wonder about this title that Tivon has created and what it means to him.  The ballad itself is quite lovely and this tune, along with the others on this album, seem to showcase the softer side of Tivon Pennicott.  His tenor saxophone is bluesy and powerful during this arrangement, but the track support is soft and cushiony, like puffy clouds pinned on a blue sky.

Tivon Pennicott’s orchestration is both creative and exploratory.  “Jump for Joy” is arranged at a moderate tempo, giving Joe Saylor’s drums lots of moments to pop and place the funk beneath the sweetness of the strings.  However, it didn’t make me want to jump for joy, dance or sing.   For some reason, the title doesn’t seem to fit the arrangement.  Speaking of Saylor’s drums, he opens the familiar jazz composition, “Con Alma,” with a drum introduction that reminds me of rain on a tin roof.  At first you only hear the smooth and lovely tenor saxophone and the double bass enter the drum space.  That trio is enough.  

The first time I saw Tivon play ‘in person’ was when I saw him perform with Kenny Burrell in Los Angeles.   I was so impressed with his aura and his musical energy and excellence.  Later I enjoyed him as part of Gregory Porter’s band.  I miss that kind of stage energy on this production.  Although it’s well-produced and enjoyable, I wish Tivon Pennicott had shared some of that extraordinary emotional energy he displays when he’s playing ‘live.’  Although well-produced and beautifully orchestrated, I miss the raw spirit of Tivon Pennicott that I have witnessed in person.  On the tune, “Bad Apple,” he almost captured that energy.  There was funk on the bottom and strings softening the production in the hemisphere.  There were time changes and unexpected background horn harmonies that punctuated the soloists and the melody.  Pennicott absolutely captured the sound of rain on the song, “Rain Dance.”  I think this tune, along with several others on this album, could easily become part of a movie soundtrack.  Pennicott’s music has all the magic and drama you look for in film orchestration. 

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April 7, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 7, 2021

CELESTE – “NOT YOUR MUSE” – Polydor / Universal Records

Celeste, vocals/composer; Jamien Nagadhana, bass/composer; Joe Harris, guitar; Josh Crocker, drums/guitar/vibraphone/composer/ brass string arrangements/harp; Jamie Hartman, piano/composer; Sebastian Plano & David Rossi, performed & directed strings; Jamie Houghton, drums/percussion; Kaidi Alkinnibi, tenor saxophone/ string & brass arrangements; Dominic Canning, Piano; Elias Atkinson, trumpet; Misha Fox, trombone; Jermaine Amissah, baritone saxophone; Mark Mollison, elec. guitar;  Simon Aldred, acoustic guitar; Charlie Hugall, percussion/acoustic guitar/horns/Wurlitzer; Tom Henry, synth/glockenspiel; Sebastian Plano, cello;  Parthenope Wald Harding, flute;

Born May 5, 1994, Celeste Epiphany Waite, whose stage name is simply “Celeste,” is based in Britain.  The moment I ran across a voice like Celeste’s singing a unique song titled, “Strange” it inspired interest and anticipation. Here was a vocalist who pursued her own expression and crossed genres with unique musical vocals, original music and interesting lyrics.  Celeste is a combination of pop, rhythm and blues, contemporary and jazz all rolled into one ball of creativity.  She is shades of Corinne Bailey Rae’s honest delivery, combined with the husky emotional delivery of Amy Winehouse and a twinge of Macy Gray.  This is a new artist to watch.  On the original composition, “Strange” she reveals that little sexy break in her voice, a huskiness that wraps her lyrics in a soft cocoon of emotion.  There is a hint of Nina Simone hiding inside her style like a possibility.

Songs like “Stop This Flame” remind me of something Adele would compose or Maroon 5 would sing. It samples music written by Nina Simone. Celeste’s lyrics and melodies are strong, thought provoking, and always showcase tenacious ‘hooks.’  This composition is a throwback to disco days and easily could be a hit on the dance party circuit. There are pop hits stacked inside this music, like stairsteps to success. For instance, “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.” But many other tunes cross boundaries and are genre undefinable, like “Some Goodbyes Come with Hello” and “The Promise” or “A Kiss” that easily could be arranged as folk music or a sweet jazz tune.  The title tune, “Not Your Muse” is haunting and jazzy.  Celeste offers us an art project and a strong lesson in songwriting and composing.  This is an album that makes us pay close attention while we soak up the genuine joy inside this unique musical message.

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BOBBY RODRIGUEZ – “FREEDOM” – Independent Label

Bobby Rodriguez, composer/trumpet/flugelhorn/vocals; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Wendall Kelly, trombone; Joey Navarro, Karen Hammack & Billy Mitchell, keyboards; Barry Polhmann, guitar; Del Atkins, Derrick Oles & Rene Camacho, bass; Alex Acuña & Yvonne deBourbon-Rodriguez, hand percussion; Aaron Serfaty, Clayton Cameron & Maria Martinez, drums; Kei Akagi & Joe Rotundi Jr., piano; Alan Goldman, strings & voices; Raffia Thomas, vocals; George Oldziey, strings;

The opening, title tune struts out of the gate like a proud thoroughbred pony.  “Freedom” is a funk based contemporary jazz composition that involves a strong horn section and Latin rhythms to propel the melody forward.  Trumpeter, Bobby Rodriguez, has composed every song on this album.  One of the hit tunes on the project is “Jazz It Up,” a very commercial, contemporary, funk jazz tune that makes you joyful just listening to it. This is followed by “Little Henry,” a song he composed for his newest grandson.  It’s another up-tempo, happy composition with a memorable melody played joyfully from the bell of Rodriguez’s trumpet.  “Mia’s Lullaby” is a beautiful ballad and celebrates another grandchild, his granddaughter, Mia.  It’s not the traditional ¾ waltz-time lullaby.  Instead, it’s a very jazzy 4/4 that surprises us and adds a little funk near the fade of the song.  Track 5, “Bailar Merengue” offers Latin voices, singing the title like a chant, and projects a party groove that encourages listeners to shake their hips and move their feet. “Robin Star” is a beautiful composition and shines a spotlight on some of the excellent players Bobby Rodriguez has assembled for this project, including Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone.  Rodriguez uses his flugelhorn on this ‘live’ recording of his “Robin Star” composition.  Kei Akagi is inspiring on piano.  The composition “Yvonne” celebrates Bobby’s wife and is a very pretty ballad.  “Raise Your Hands” is a composition brewed with a thick, gospel-feel and it’s fueled by the funky drums of Marie Martinez and the steady, dancing bass of Del Atkins.  Raffia Thomas adds her soulful vocals to the mix.  This project offers the listener a variety of repertoire that features Dr. Rodriguez as a competent and engaging composer and arranger.  The stellar line-up of Los Angeles musicians enhances his arrangements and perpetuates the “Freedom” title with unbridled energy and enthusiasm.  I felt that same excitement when I attended the 80th birthday celebration of Kenny Burrell, produced by Dr. Rodriguez, that became a television program. That was the night I first heard Dr. B’s song, “Jazz It Up.”

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Sandra Booker, vocals/composer/lyricist/arranger/background vocals/exec. producer; Robert Turner, keyboards/organ/arranger/drum & bass programming (Logic Pro) synthesizers/co-producer.

Sandra Booker sounds vocally powerful on her new ‘single’ release titled, “Until We Meet Again.”  It’s a beautiful ballad that tributes loved ones lost, either because of the COVID 19 pandemic or otherwise.  Her song crosses genres and could be marketed as R&B or jazz.  The track is very jazzy, featuring Robert Turner as a master on synthesizer.  With COVID-19 keeping many of us self-quarantined and away from studio sessions, Sandra and Robert Turner have somehow created a single release that sounds like the whole band is involved.  Kudos to Robert Turner for creating this strong track! Booker’s voice is as smooth and comforting as satin sheets.  She glides across the music like raindrops on glass windowpanes or tears on cheeks. Together, this duo has created a stellar product, that is the beginning of an album they hope to release by the end of the year.  Their single, “Until We Meet Again” is currently available On-Line.

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Logan Richardson, alto saxophone/piano/keyboards/synthesizer/ composer; Igor Osypov, electric/ acoustic guitars; Peter Schlamb, vibraphone/keyboards/key bass; Dominique Sanders, bass/key bass/production; Ryan J. Lee, drums/bass; Corey Fonville, drums; Laura Taglialatela, vocals; Ezgi Karakus, strings; Busta Rhymes, spoken word.

This production is ‘rock’ meets fusion, meets contemporary smooth jazz.  It’s very electronic, right from the beginning arrangement of the original composition by Logan Richardson, “Say My Name.” The poor mix on this tune makes it challenging to hear the spoken word by Stephan Harris.  The next three songs follow suit with electronic music and rock drums, until we get to “For Alto.”  Richardson has composed every song on this album.  For once, we hear the pure jazz tone out of Logan Richardson’s alto saxophone on this tune; blown through his horn like a solo prayer.  When the electronics enter, it changes the jazz prayer to a pretty ballad, convoluted with overtones, echoes and repetition.  You can hear Logan’s creative orchestration during this production and his mastery of many instruments.  As an arranger, and working with producer Dominique Sanders, they dribble vocal beauty and dabs of activist statements throughout this production.  On Track #11 titled, “Photo Copy,” the featured voice of Busta Rhymes complains about music business inequities.  There are protest moments that dot the production in seductive ways, tickling the listener’s brain when it’s least expected.  However, sometimes the music is so busy that it becomes noise.  This reviewer appreciates the exceptional talents of Mr. Richardson, but I’d like to see more sensitivity in the arrangements; crescendos and rest spots that let the music, like nature and life, breathe every now and then. 

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Anais Reno, vocals; Emmet Cohen, piano/bandleader/arranger; Russell Hall, bass; Kyle Poole, drums; Tivon Pennicott, saxophone; Juliet Kurtzman, violin.

Her vocal style and tone sound seasoned.  However, Anais Reno’s CD cover portrait appears to be a very young woman.  From the deep ocean of memorable tunes that Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn left this world, this vocalist has plucked some of the most iconic for her debut album. Surprisingly, she was only sweet sixteen when she began singing these   challenging songs.  I knew she was young, but I didn’t realize this emotional delivery belonged to a teenager.   With roots in music, I suppose this was her destiny.  Her father was a former opera singer who performed in Europe and her mother is an accomplished violinist.  Both talented parents recognized their child had a love for music when, at just Kindergarten age, she was singing songs from the Broadway show, Aladdin. While taking voice lessons, her teacher introduced her to Etta James when she was just-eight years old.

“When I was eight-years old, I didn’t realize I was doing anything special.  I didn’t know that singing was actually very complex and that there was a difference between someone who like to sing and a trained singer.  I just knew I loved to sing and I loved the soulfulness of ‘At Last.’  That led me to listen to jazz extensively.  It consumed my whole life,” Anais Reno confessed in her press package.

At eleven-years old, she was part of the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program and had the opportunity to perform with the orchestra.  By the time she was twelve, she was performing at open mic sessions at Birdland. At thirteen, she played her first gig as a solo artist at a local New York club.  They were so impressed with her vocal abilities, they featured her on three solo shows.  She won the 2016 Forte International Competition’s Platinum Award at Carnegie Hall and Miss Reno came in First Place at the 2019 Mabel Mercer Foundation competition in NYC.  In 2020, she won the Julie Wilson Award.  When I hear her emotional delivery on “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,” it’s difficult to believe this is a sixteen-year-old singing with that much storytelling narrative in her vocal delivery.  Her slow jazzy arrangement on “I’m Just a Lucky So and So” is pleasing to the ear and the young lady can ‘swing’ and scat.  You hear a piece of her soul shining through when she performs, “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues.”  Clearly, she is becoming a jazz force in her own unique way.  Anais Reno shows great insight beyond her years when she writes:

“…You see, I don’t think hearing music I relate to makes me ‘normal;’ are any of us, really? I think hearing music I relate to makes my flaws, my affinity for blueness, my complexities, okay.  They’re okay because if they weren’t, why would this music be just as complex as I am?  Why would it be just as complex as human beings are?  As I write this, I have just turned seventeen.  There are an infinite number of people and things I will never know and there are an equally infinite number of people and things I will get to know.  … I know now that the music of Ellington & Strayhorn understands me.  This is why I want to honor it and this is why maybe one day, I will understand myself,” Anais Reno shares her thoughts on this debut album.

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Steve Gadd, drums; Walt Fowler, trumpet/flugelhorn; Kevin Hays, keyboards/vocals; Jimmy Johnson, bass; David Spinozza, guitar.

An eerie introduction kicks off the first funk-fueled tune titled, “Where’s Earth?”  It’s pumped up by Jimmy Johnson’s electric bass licks.  Kevin Hays dances across the keyboard keys with nimble fingers and David Spinozza takes a funky guitar solo.  This is ‘live’ fusion jazz at its best.

According to Modern Drummer magazine, Steve Gadd is one of very few drummers who has changed the way musicians hear music.  He’s been slapping the groove into place in his own impassioned way for the past fifty plus years.  Gadd’s unforgettable recordings are iconic, from his infectious beat on Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” to his jazzier projects with Chick Corea, Chuck Mangione and Al Di Meola.  Steve Gadd’s legendary execution on drums moves from jazz to pop in the blink of an eye. That’s why so many versatile artists have requested he work with them.  He’s spent time on-the-road or in-the-studio with such icons as Diana Ross, Dr. John, Gato Barbieri, Al Jarreau, Bob James, George Benson, Joe Cocker and a host of others too lengthy to print here.  On Track 4, “Hidden Drive” composed by guitarist Spinozza, Gadd lays down a blues groove that makes me turn up my sound system.  Then on “Walk With Me” (Track 5) pianist Kevin Hays adds his vocal charm, singing his self-penned song, while Gadd settles the Hays composition into a steady and infectious groove that reminds me of the powerful Bill Withers tunes and their in-the-pocket drum beats.  Jimmy Johnson’s tune, “One Point Five” brings Latin jazz to the stage and gives Gadd a platform to solo and show-off his mastery of the drums.  This song is propelled by Johnson’s steady bass riff and enhanced by Walt Fowler’s melodic trumpet. 

There is something for everyone in this versatile concert repertoire. Steve Gadd leads an all-star ensemble, featuring bandmates he has known, appreciated and respected for years.  David Spinozza, an associate of Gadd’s since the 1970’s, replaced his usual guitarist, Michael Landau. With that exception, all the other ensemble members are longtime bandmates.

“Michael wasn’t able to do the tour, so I was glad that David could do it.  He’s an old friend of mine.  I met David years and years ago, before he even came to New York. … We did a bunch of bands and recordings.  I love the way he plays,” Steve Gadd praised his new addition to the band.

The tunes chosen were honed from a 4-night run at the famous Blue Note Tokyo club in December of 2019.  They close out with a Bob Dylan tune, “Watching the River Flow,” a long time Gadd favorite song.

“I recorded that song on a Joe Cocker album that Allen Toussaint produced in 1978,” he recalled. 

As they shuffle their way out of this album, I decide to listen again.  It was just that pleasurable.

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Alyssa Allgood, vocals/composer; Mike Allemana, guitar; Dennis Carroll, bass/composer; George Fludas, drums.

I am immediately captivated by the first tune.  Alyssa and her capable musicians perform “There Are Such Things” (by Stanley Adams/Abel Baer/G. Meyer) at a medium swing tempo.  On this performance, Ms. Allgood checks the boxes that many consider the sign of a competent jazz singer.  1) She can swing.  2) she has a pleasant tone and sells the lyrics, and 3) she can scat.  She adequately ‘trades fours’ with George Fludas on drums.  One of her original composition, words and music, is called “Time Found” and it’s well-written and performed with a long solo scat piece that showcases Alyssa’s understanding of chord changes and harmonics.  Her interpretation of Milton Nascimento’s beautiful composition, “Bridges” is well-done and features Mike Allemana on guitar.  “Try your wings” is a happy song that invites Dennis Carroll to solo on his bass. Although I was quite taken by the opening tune, I found myself disappointed in some of the musical arrangements. For example, the original song she and bassist Dennis Carroll wrote is a solid song, but the arrangement features so much guitar dissonance that he did not seem to support the melody or the vocals.  Mike Allemana’s mixture of Avant-garde type accompaniment does not benefit this artist’s presentation.  I would like to hear Alyssa Allgood recorded with a piano trio. Mr. Allemana’s solos were strong, but surprisingly his support of the vocalist seemed reckless and non-supportive on some occasions.  They did a fine job on “This Bitter Earth” and as a duo on “For All We Know” they beautifully complement one another.   I note that Alyssa Allgood produced this album herself.  Perhaps she should consider finding a producer and an arranger, who can carve the music around her tenacious and stylized vocals to better support her original music, her tonality and her musical grace.

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Ricardo Silveira, guitar/composer.

Solo guitar can be absolutely beautiful when properly played and produced.  Ricardo Silveira does not disappoint.  His technique and precision infuse this music that warms my heart. As a composer, he offers six original compositions out of eleven songs.  One of my favorites is “That Day In Tahiti.”  Another is Track 5, a Carlos Jobim tune, “Luiza.” Silveira gives us a very sweet and lovely presentation of this song.  I enjoyed his interpretation of “My Romance,” a favorite jazz tune across the spectrum. 

Ricardo Silveira is a native of Rio de Janeiro and soaked up all the beauty of Brazilian music in his early years.  As a beginning guitarist, he participated in school performances and at local festivals.  Ricardo continued pursuing music in college.   He’s a studied musician, who came to America and enrolled in a guitar course at Berklee College of Music in Boston.  That summer course changed his life.  The music school immediately recognized Silveira’s talent and potential.  They awarded him a scholarship to continue his study at Berklee.  The rest is history. 

Ricardo Silveira has recorded over a dozen albums as a leader or co-leader and made historic music with a host of legendary musicians including Wayne Shorter, Gilberto Gil, Ivan Lins, Milton Nascimento, Elis Regina, Diana Ross, Vanessa Williams and many, many more.  When Herbie Mann heard Ricardo Silveira play his guitar, he hired him on the spot.  He had been searching for a Brazilian guitarist who also could play Straight-ahead jazz, play the blues and various other styles of music. Silveira fit the bill.  Ricard has recorded with Randy Brecker on “Randy in Brazil.”  That album won a Grammy in 2009 for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.  Confined to his home, with all his touring dates cancelled because of COVID-19, Ricardo took that ‘down’ time to create this solo artistic accomplishment.   Although I found some of the arrangements to be long-winded, they are all romantic and inspired.  You will not hear the urgency and sexy, danceable rhythms of Brazil in this presentation.  Instead, you can enjoy the beauty of Ricardo Silveira’s peaceful style of playing his songs solo, with tranquility wrapping this project in colorful chords and gorgeous melodies.  Ricardo’s composing talents are the bow on top.

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TODD COCHRAN – “TC3” – “THEN AND AGAIN, HERE & NOW” – Sunnyside Records

Todd Cochran, piano; John Leftwich, bass; Michael Carvin, drums.

Todd Cochran opens his CD with an inspired arrangement of “Softly, As in A Morning Sunrise.”  His fingers skip across the keys to punctuate the unusual time changes.  When John Leftwich steps forward on his double bass, he swings hard and solos creatively.  Cochran displays his rich and unique jazz interpretations, using the 88-keys as a diving board, then he swims through the melodic arrangements with fresh nuances and fluctuating time signatures.  On “A Foggy Day,” Cochran utilizes the upper register of the piano to present a music-box-introduction.  As Leftwich walks his bass briskly beneath, Michael Carvin holds the up-tempo steady and solid on drums. Todd Cochran dances to the forefront, his hands and ten fingers racing, sprinter-style, and heading relentlessly towards the finish-line.  This song morphs into an extended fade that finds a groove and sticks to it like Velcro.  The trio’s arrangement of “I Got Rhythm” is fresh-faced and intriguing.  It gives Michael Carvin freedom to explore his technique and free rein to be as creative as he likes on the trap drums.  Cochran does not soak up all the spotlight, but conscientiously shares it with his fellow musicians. Each member of this trio is a master in his own right. As many times as I have heard this standard jazz tune (I Got Rhythm) this time it is brand new to my ears.  I must compliment Todd Cochran for his amazing ability to transform songs we know very well to eclectic pieces of art. This is one of the finest jazz pianists I’ve listened to in a long time.  He is unselfish and offers us fifteen songs to delight upon. 

A San Francisco native, as a teenager he was greatly influenced by such Northern California icons as Herbie Hancock, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, John Handy and Eddie Henderson, to name just a few.  Now, after a ten-year hiatus from recording, to nurture his son into adulthood, Todd Cochran returns to the joy, freedom and his love of music.  With this album, he proffers his amazing talent with the world.  Sit back and enjoy!

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April 3, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist


I first met George Davidson when I was a baby girl, not quite twenty-one, and using fake identification to go hear Aretha Franklin at the Twenty-Grand nightclub in Detroit, Michigan.  I was there with my close friend, Marthea Hicks, who hosted a radio show locally, and we went backstage to say ‘hi’ to Ms. Franklin.  Marthea’s father was a popular minister in the Detroit area and he and C. L. Franklin (Aretha’s father) were good friends.  Marthea and Aretha knew each other and I remember being star-struck just to meet the great Queen of Soul.  George Davidson was playing drums for her that fateful evening and he was amazing!  The video below is a recorded concert performed in 1968 with George accompanying Aretha Franklin in Amsterdam, Holland.

George didn’t start out being a drummer.  His dream was to be a great tap dancer, inspired by the inimitable Sammy Davis Jr. or the iconic Nicholas Brothers. He and his family were living on the East side of Detroit, when he began studying tap at the Sophie Wright Settlement House, on Mitchell Avenue, under the tutelage of Clara Wilson.

“I was born on the East side of Detroit, in a Polish neighborhood, right across from where Mr. Kelly’s was located on Chene Street.  It was the Garfield Bowling Alley at that time.   Next, we moved right across the street from Sophie Wright Settlement,” George recalled. 

At Greusel Middle School, Davidson auditioned to be in the band.  He had developed an interest in drumming and Fred Paxton, a pianist, became his first music teacher.  At North Eastern High School, he was tutored by the unforgettable Mr. Rex T. Hall, a percussionist and music educator.

“A lot of folks who became stars attended North Eastern High with me.  Alice Coltrane went to school there, but she graduated before I did.  Barry Harris went to school there too. A couple of the Supremes went there; Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard.  Martha Reeves from Martha and the Vandellas was a student and so was Willie Tyler, the popular ventriloquist.  When I was touring with the Four Tops, Willie used to open for us. I also got to play his show a few times.  He appreciated background music, just like a lot of the comedians I used to play behind,” George shared memories from his early days in music.

Like many Detroit artists and musicians, George Davidson wet his feet, bathing in the recording waters of Johnnie Mae Matthews. In 1958, Johnnie Mae Matthews was the first African American woman to establish a record company.  She set up business at 2608 Blaine Street in Detroit, Michigan.  It was known as Northern Recording Company and Davidson became the ‘on-call’ drummer for most of her sessions.  Known fondly as the ‘Godmother of Detroit Soul,’ Johnnie Mae recorded several artists destined to become super stars like David Ruffin, who would become a lead singer for the Temptation group and his talented brother, Jimmy Ruffin.  She originally primed the group called “The Distants” featuring Richard Street.  Most of the members of that group later changed their name to the Temptations and signed with Motown.  Berry Gordy credits Johnnie Mae Matthews for teaching him the record business and she helped get Smokey Robinson and The Miracles get airplay and a distribution deal with Chess Records for their first 1959 hit record, “Bad Girl.” George remembers some of the sessions he played on for Johnnie Mae Matthews.

“I was the session drummer who recorded on most of the Johnnie Mae Matthews projects that she produced.  She had acts like, Timmy Shaw, T.P., the lead singer with the Originals; Bettye LaVette and Bobby St. Thomas. I played on all those sessions and more. I remember when Bettye LaVette was an underaged teenager hanging out at Phelps Lounge with me and Ms. Cubie. The police would come in there and Bettye, me and Ms. Cubie (another Detroit vocalist whose real name is Betsy Barron) would run and hide in the back room ‘cause we were all under the legal age. We were chasing the music.”

George Davidson recalled his international tour with the Four Tops.  “I enjoyed working with the Four Tops.  They were really cool.  We were in Europe at that time with the first African American brother that modelled for the J. L Hudson Company, he was an icon and he was also our Road Manager.  So, one pay day, Motown didn’t send me all my money.  They shorted me. That was the first part of 1970.  We were in Europe, so I told the road manager to give me my airplane ticket, because I was going home.  I’m outta here, I told him angrily. 

“The morning I arrived back in Detroit, I got a call from Paul Butterfield.  He wanted me to come on the road with them, ‘cause Phillip Wilson (their drummer) had went nuts on them.  I told him I had just got back in town that morning.  I needed a couple of days rest.  That was Monday morning.  He said, he’d have the plane ticket for me at the airport on Wednesday.  So, I went out there and rehearsed with them in San Francisco.  I remember that Tower of Power was rehearsing right down the hall from us.  They came strolling down the hallway to hear us play. We recorded for Elektra, The Butterfield Blues Band ‘Live.’  We recorded it at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. That was in 1970.  I also played on their album, Sometimes I Just Feel Like Smilin’. That was in 1971. I may be on one of his compilation albums; Golden Butter/The Best of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.  Around this same time, I cut the Little Sonny album, “New King of the Blues harmonica.”

Although in the early years, George Davidson cut his teeth on R&B music and the Blues, he has also played jazz with some of the best in the business.  In 1974, he recorded with jazz trombonist, Phil Ranelin on an album called “The Time Is Now.”  This was followed up by a 1976 recording with the Tribe group that included Ranelin, Wendell Harrison, Marcus Belgrave, Harold McKinney and Rod Hicks. They recorded “Vibes from the Tribe.”  His early influences were great jazz drummers like Max Roach, Art Blakey, Jo Jones and Elvin Jones. 

“I remember I used to sit at the side of Elvin Jones when he was with Trane. I was sitting by his drums saying, oh my goodness, look at that.  Will I ever be able to do that stuff?” George smiles remembering.

He applied himself, practiced, took all the gigs that came his way and soon, he found himself playing with many of the masters he admired.  Not only did he go to school with Kenny Cox, he played many gigs with the Detroit-based pianist and composer.  He worked with renowned trumpeter, Dr. Donald Byrd and pianist, arranger, Teddy Harris.  George was the drummer with Teddy’s Be Bop Orchestra group.  Donald Harrison came and sat in with the orchestra one day.  Harrison labeled George ‘The Groove Meister.’

“That’s the first thing I teach my students, you know.  How to groove.  Karrim Riggins is one of my students.  One of the leading drummers in Las Vegas, he’s one of my former students; Angelo Stokes. I taught Shawn Dobbins, and another one is Gayelynn McKinney.  She’s got a very nice, new CD out. The first thing I teach them is how to set the mood, by laying the swing out properly.  Anchor first, before you go anyplace, and don’t play behind the beat.  Play on top of the beat,” George shares some technique advice.

George Davidson, Teddy Harris and Don Mayberry were the house trio at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge for years. Rooted in Detroit, Baker’s is celebrated as the oldest jazz club in the country.  The list of people George has worked with could fill a book.  I asked him about his time working with iconic jazz pianist, Dorothy Donagan.

 “Dorothy Donagan was a sweetheart.  She’d look over at me and say, hey, give me some of that Papa Jo (talking about Jo Jones) cause she liked to play really fast.  Her little body would get to twitching and moving.  I worked with her so much, that when she would do her little body movements, I would catch each one with my drum licks. Oh, she loved that!”

He and vocalist Leon Thomas were ace buddies.  George toured with Thomas for two years.  He also performed with saxophone masters Teddy Edwards and the late, great Eddie Harris.

“The last time I worked with Eddie Harris he gave me a great compliment.  He said, hey, you’re playing your butt off man.  One time we were down in Ohio and he spent 2-1/2 hours on stage.  Eddie could play the piano, he could sing, he would yodel, he’d play the saxophone and turn those machines on and sound like a whole band.  That’s when Claude Black was on piano,” George reminisced.

“My good friend, Claude Black, called me a few days before he passed and told me what the doctor had told him.  They said he didn’t have but a few days before he would die.  He passed away three days later,” George paused and the silence fell like an invisible tear across the phone line. 

NOTE: Claude Black (1933 – January 17, 2013) was an American jazz pianist who performed with Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery and Aretha Franklin. Black was born in Detroit. He began his jazz career in 1948 but his big success was in 1965 when he began his tour with Aretha Franklin.[1]

The now defunct, Bird of Paradise, was a popular club in Ann Arbor. George Davidson played with Kenny Burrell at that club, among other great jazz artists.  He worked with amazing vocalists like Sheila Jordan, Marlena Shaw, Ernestine Anderson, Barbara Morrison, Mary Wells, Spanky Wilson, The Sweet Inspiration with Whitney Houston’s mother, of course Aretha Franklin and her sister, Carolyn and Roseanna Vitro to name just a few.  Davidson is a sensitive player on his trap drums.  He knows just when to embellish the music and just how to lay back behind a vocalist, and compliment the vocals without being too loud or overbearing.   Just ask folks like Award winning vocalist Jerri Brown based in Montreal, Canada.  He also accompanied the legendary Jon Hendricks.  Davidson played with Kevin Mahogany, Edwin Starr and Johnny Nash, who had that big hit record, “I Can See Clearly Now.”  Davidson toured with Mary Wilson for years and was the drummer of choice to tour with the Supremes including Mary Wilson, Sherri Payne and Susaye Green, who he complimented saying they were the hottest of all the Supreme groups.  He played with all the other Supreme groups that followed that powerhouse vocal trio.  Davidson was also part of the Michigan Jazz Masters and he recorded “Urban Griots” with that group.

In 1980 and 1985, George recorded with Wendell Harrison on “Dreams of A Love Supreme” and “Reawakening,” and on the “Fish Feet” album with guitarist Ron English, In 2009.

In the early 60s, George Davidson recorded with Melvin Davis.  You can hear his driving drums on a 7” single with “I Won’t Come Crawling Back To You” and “I Don’t Want You” on the flip side.

George told me a funny story about recording with the late Bill Doggett, famous for his hit record, “Honky Tonk.”

“I was with Bill Doggett when he re-recorded Honky Tonk for the second time. that was the last time I saw Bill before he passed.  How I got that gig was Edwin Starr called me from the studio.  Bill Doggett was having problems with his drummer, so Edwin called me and asked me to come over to the studio.  I went over and set my drums up next to his drummer.  They told his drummer to just follow me and we recorded a second version of Honky Tonk.  Edwin Starr opened for us when I was in the UK touring with the Supremes. We were longtime friends.”

I think the funniest stories that George Davidson shared with me were about playing with comedians. I had forgotten that comedians often had musicians play to open their shows or actually play throughout their performances.  George told me he played with the historic Redd Foxx at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge. He worked with Professor Irwin Corey, Flip Wilson, Slappy White, Phyllis Diller and even Moms Mabley.

“I worked with Moms Mabley out there in California.  All the ladies would follow around after Moms like little puppies.  When moms came off the stage and put on her regular clothes, you’d never know it was her.  She would be so sharp and she had soft hair.  She didn’t have to straighten her hair.  Moms was put together and looked like a business lady.  She looked like corporate America.  Oh, you would not know it was her once Moms Mabley came out of her costume.

“We would play comedians on and off the stage.  But you know the one that made me laugh the hardest, so hard in fact, she made me leave the stage?  It was Phyllis Diller.  I was crying I was laughing so hard.  I mean I had to leave the stage and get myself together.  Oh, she was hilarious.  And you had to play her music exactly the way it was written on the paper.  Some of the comedians had charts and some didn’t. But she was serious about us playing her charts,” he told me.

The George Davidson legacy has made its way around the world.  He has toured on almost every continent and with a variety of entertainers.  In August of 2017, George found himself lying in a hospital bed.  A huge fan base and a long list of Detroit musicians turned out to celebrate his lifelong musical contributions.  Diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) George has been recuperating at his home in the Motor City and had to momentarily step away from his drums.  However, his rhythmic skills and percussive excellence will live on for years to come, perpetuated by his many successful students and the historic recordings that spotlight his performances.

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