THE UNIQUE, THE TRADITIONAL & THE INSPIRED

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 14, 2021

JEREMY MONTEIRO, JAY ANDERSON, LEWIS NASH – “LIVE AT NO BLACK TIE, KUALA LUMPUR” – Jazz Note Records

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 – “VESSELS OF WOOD AND EARTH” – Mack Ave Records

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 AND THE GYPSY EVOLUTION – “ESTE RITMO” – Moondo Music

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 & HELEN GILLET – “LET IT SHINE” – Ear Up Records

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 – “FIELD THEORY” – Pacific Coast Jazz

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 – “SPIRIT GARDEN” – New Phrase Records

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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