VARIOUS PERSPECTIVES ON JAZZ

By Dee Dee McNeil

MAY 14, 2021

ADAM MOEZINIA blends folk-music with jazzy arrangements. OJOYO plays “Safrojazz,” richly embroidered into South African culture. AMBER WEEKES re-imagines and remixes an old studio project into something brand new.  HENRY “SKIPPER” FRANKLIN surrounds himself with some of LA’s jazz royalty to celebrate “Showers of Blessings.”  FRANCESCO AMENTA presents an international play on jazz and the KEITH BROWN TRIO highlights black music and “African Ripples.” Finally, FRANK MORELLI & KEITH OXMAN blend European classical music and hard-bop jazz in a unique and unusual way.

ADAM MOEZINIA – “FOLK ELEMENT TRIO” – Outside In Music

Adam Moezinia, guitar; Dan Chmielinski, bass; Charles Goold, drums.

Adam Moezinia has brought a fresh perspective to folk music, infusing his original folksy compositions with jazz improvisation in a very creative and unique way. He is richly supported by Dan Chmielinski on bass and the fiery Charles Goold on drums.  They open with the original composition, “Celebration” and the party begins! 

“I was going through a period of frequent writing when I realized that almost all of my compositions contained a certain element, the Folk Element; elements from more, simple, folk-based music, less commonly found in jazz.  From there, I started upon a sort of musical exploration, discovering for myself some of the different kinds of folk music from around the world.”

On Track 2, “School Daze,” Chmielinski steps to the front of the stage with an inventive solo.  The trio tackles the Duke Ellington tune, “Azalea,” arranged in a dirge-like manner at the top and then developing melodically into a beautiful flower.  It blossoms brilliantly before our ears.  They also add a Bob Dylan tune, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and the famed Robert Johnson blues song, “Come on In My Kitchen.”  Otherwise, Adam Moezinia has penned the remaining songs, except the traditional folk song “Lisa Lan.”   Moezinia’s style and grace on his guitar is well-executed and his composing talents shine.  This trio is sophisticated and intrinsically meshed together.  They fit like fish to water, each contributing talent as individuals, swimming closely together in perfect harmony.

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OJOYO – “OJOYO PLAYS SAFROJAZZ” – Sunnyside Records

Morris Goldberg, saxophone/pennywhistle/composer; Anton Fig, drums; Bakithi Kumalo & Chulo Gatewood, bass; Tony Cedras & Richard Cummings, keyboards; Cyro Baptista, percussion; John Guth & Dan Carillo, guitar; Kofo, talking drum; Chris Botti & Diego Urcola, trumpet; Cecilia Tenconi, tenor saxophone.

From the first strains of a song called “Station Road Strut” I felt that I was in South Africa.  This music oozes the joy and happy spirit of the South African people.  When I picked up the press information on this group, the first sentence I read was:

“Saxophonist, penny whistle master and composer Morris Goldberg is perhaps best known for his association with Hugh Masekela.”

That explained it.  I was completely on point.  Not only did Goldberg work with Hugh Masekela, he himself was born in Cape Town.  “Ojoyo Plays Safrojazz” is a reissue of Morris Goldberg’s debut album, with overdubs by some amazing jazz musicians like Chris Botti on trumpet, keyboardist Tony Cedras and bass man, Bakithi Kumalo.  Drummer Anton Fig and percussionist Cyro Baptista boost the rhythm section and a number of other guest players add color and energy to this infectious music.  All nine songs are Goldberg originals and mirror his South African roots.  In his hometown of Cape Town, Morris pursued music early-on, with emphasis on blending African music with bebop.  He debuted his concept with pianist John Mehegan in 1959 and their recording was one of the first jazz sessions in South Africa.  Goldberg has recorded with the great Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte in the 1980s and was part of Paul Simon’s award-winning Graceland album.

This is music that instantly makes you happy and lifts your spirits.  Even though the music was originally recorded decades ago, it’s as lively, fresh and entertaining as it was then and maybe even more so. Since the composer has added so many new voices, they bring additional energy and vigor to his original project.  It’s like the already beautiful mansion of music got a fresh coat of paint.

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AMBER WEEKES – “ROUND MIDNIGHT RE-IMAGINED” – Amber Inn productions

Amber Weekes, vocals; Danny Grissett, piano; Eddy Olivieri, piano/organ; Trevor Ware, Bass; Sherman Ferguson, drums; Phil Upchurch & Greg Cook, guitars; Louis Van Taylor, tenor, soprano & alto saxophone/ alto flute/flute; Scott Steen, trumpet; Mark Cargill, producer/string arranger/conductor/violin/atmospheric sound design; Joey De Leon, percussion; Dwayne Benjamin, trombone; Nathaniel Scott, Hi-hat; Miller Pertrum, vibraphone; Lynne Fiddmont, background vocals; HANDCLAPS: Trevor Ware, Sherman Ferguson, Danny Grissett, Peter C. Ross & Amber Weekes.

Vocalist, Amber Weekes, purrs her way through this album.  This is a CD, fully remixed, remastered and reorchestrated from a promotional recording Amber and her all-star band made back in 2002.  She has gathered a bouquet of colorful torch songs to interpret.  They are songs that she has been coveting and longing to sing since childhood. 

Amber grew up surrounded by music.  Her father, the late Martin Weekes, was a jazz singer and trombonist who idolized Frank Sinatra. Her New York household was full of music. She heard Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand and Shirley Bassey constantly spinning on their record player.  Young Amber started singing at age four, inspired by the music she heard and encouraged by her father.  There are a couple of up-tempo numbers that show you she can swing with the best of them, like “Lovers.” Additionally, she and the band open with a rousing rendition of “Hazel’s Hips,” penned by Oscar Brown Jr.  It sounds like we’re at a rollicking house party and richly enjoying ourselves.  The over-all arrangements on these songs are fantastic. Mark Cargill’s string arrangements add high quality to this project.  Of special note is the Thelonious Monk composition, ‘Round Midnight arranged by bassist Trevor Ware and pianist Eddy Olivieri.  It’s played with a sultry Latin rhythm and a recurring groove for the intro and at the fade that hypnotizes the listener.  Amber takes some improvisational twists and turns on this jazz standard that explore her range and technique, holding and performing some notes like a horn-player.   She blesses this album with her artistic rendition of the “Cristo Redentor” medley that includes “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me.”  Amber Weekes dedicates this album of well-produced, quality music to her family, her father, to romance and her New York City roots.

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HENRY “SKIPPER” FRANKLIN – “SHOWERS OF BLESSINGS” – Skipper Productions

Henry Franklin, bass/composer; Theo Saunders, piano/composer; Willie Jones, drums; Teodross Avery, tenor & soprano saxophone; Ryan Porter, trombone; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet/fugal horn; Benn Clatworthy, alto flute/composer; Najite Agindotan, percussion; Yaakov Levy, wooden flute.

When I see the name Henry ‘Skipper’ Franklin in the credits of any given music, I know the jazz will be quality and the product will be noteworthy.  “Showers of Blessings,” The Skipper’s latest CD release, is no exception.  The project opens with his whispered and percussive “Message to Marjorie” for a brief introductory 57 seconds.  It’s a prayerful nod to his late cousin.  The talented Najite Agindotan sparkles on percussion and Yaakov Levy introduces us to his illustrious wooden flute.  This is followed by Theo Saunder’s composition, “The Return of The Skipper.”  It’s a happy-go-lucky tune that dances across the space with a catchy melody and blues chord changes that invite improvisational solos of merit.  For example, Teodross Avery, on tenor saxophone, grabs the spotlight and our immediate attention with his tone and presence.  Ryan Porter’s trombone solo parts the curtains and marches stage front, followed by Nolan Shaheed’s innovative trumpet solo.  

On this recording, Henry Franklin fattens his trio sound with beautiful horn arrangements played by some of the best Southern California musicians available.  Theo Saunders lends his composer skills to the project, as well as his whimsical innovation on piano.  On McCoy Tyner’s pretty “Ballad for Aisha” you can appreciate the outstanding, intricate horn harmonics, arranged by reedman, Benn Clatworthy.  Franklin and his sextet give a respectful nod to the legendary McCoy Tyner, who sadly passed away in March of 2020.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Skipper (as we fondly refer to Henry Franklin) decided to record a project of music to celebrate events and people who have greatly impacted his life.  Not only did our country lose over half a million souls to the virus, we also faced a ‘Black Lives Matter’ moment, when several people of color, both brown and black, died at the hands of America’s city police.  Theo Saunders penned a composition to memorialize “Black Lives Lost.”  It features a heartfelt trumpet solo by Nolan Shaheed, whose popular recording studio was also the birthplace of this intimate album of music.  I enjoyed hearing Clatworthy pick up his alto flute and colorfully incorporate it into “The Valley of Search” arrangement.  Clatworthy always brings his best to every project and usually is playing saxophone.  This is a wonderful example of his woodwind diversity.  Henry Franklin takes a solo that digs deeply into the valley of his bass tones, displaying adroitness of his instrument and displaying why he is celebrated as a bass master. One of my favorites on this album is the Clatworthy composition, “Skipper Meets Pharoah” in celebration of two mighty musicians and their friendship over many memorable years.  The saxophone of Teodross Avery dances atop Franklin’s powerful, walking bass line and the always exciting Willie Jones III spurs the sextet straight-ahead on drums.  His trap drum solo shows us why he is an innovative, in-demand drummer both on sessions and on stage.  Another favorite of mine is “The Guardian” with its throwback theme and arrangement that reminds me of my teenage years and 1960 jazz, watching Art Blakey’s group in a smoke-filled coffee house called “The Minor Key” in Detroit. The closing tune is a Franklin composition titled, “Little Miss Laurie.”  It’s a Latin-flavored ending to a dynamic album of music.  With a cha-cha groove, Henry Franklin’s composition sprays joy from my CD player. 

This is just good, solid jazz from top to bottom; beginning to end.  You will want to slide this CD back into your player and listen to it time after time

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FRANCESCO AMENTA – “MIDTOWN WALK” – AMI (Amenta Music International)

Francesco Amenta, tenor saxophone; Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Kimon Karoutzos, bass; Gary Kerkezou, drums.

This album features an international ensemble of personalities.  The female drummer (Gary Kerkezou) and bass player (Kimon Karoutzos) are both natives of Greece.  Bandleader and composer, Francesco Amenta was born and raised in Northern Italy, but planted roots in New York City in 2017.  On this project, these three expats joined forces with American jazz pianist, Cyrus Chestnut and Grammy winning bassist, John Lee, who produced their album.  The result is a project of memorable jazz that celebrates Francesco Amenta’s composer talents and a blend of mixed cultures.  The compositions and cultures meet like old friends on this winding, international, music path.

“I loved studying traditional jazz styles in Italy and the Netherlands, but jazz is a style of music that always evolves and there’s no better place to hear a broad range of jazz styles than in New York City,” Francesco explains his move to the East coast of America.

Saxophonist, Francesco Amenta, has studied with some of America’s iconic jazz cats like Barry Harris at the Conservatory in Verona.  Then, at the American School of Modern Music in Paris, he was under the superb tutelage of Charles Lloyd and Johnny Griffin.  In constant search of perfection on his tenor saxophone, Francesco attended the prestigious Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Netherlands.  There he had the opportunity to study with Dave Liebman and Joshua Redman.  As a teenager, the young woodwind player was infatuated with the tone and style of Sonny Rollins.  Each original composition he has written for this, his second album release, was inspired by a person or event in his life.  One of this journalist’s favorite composition is titled, “Number 9” and was inspired by pianist McCoy Tyner.  He wrote it after Francesco attended a NYC concert and experienced the great composer and pianist in person. He was so moved, that Francesco Amenta wrote this modal composition.  Cyrus Chestnut shows off his piano chops on this tune and the quartet flies at a challenging pace, whipping the arrangement into a frenzy, then settling it down with Francesco’s melodic horn line and a cut-time-feel.  The energy of this song also reminds me of a Herbie Hancock composition.  At the fade, they give the drummer, Gary Kerkezou, several minutes to explore her drums and impress us she does! 

Francesco’s song, “06/22” is a sweet, sultry ballad and represents the day he first landed a gig as a bandleader in New York City. Unfortunately, it was also, the sad day his father died.  Francesco Amenta plays his tenor saxophone with much emotion and tenderness during this arrangement.  I am impressed by the changes and the pretty melody that weeps across the chords.  This becomes another favorite tune for this reviewer.  I enjoyed the bass solo by Kimon Karoutzos, who received his Master’s Degree in Jazz Double Bass at New York’s Manhattan School of Music.  Drummer, Gary Kerkezou also received her Master’s Degree at the same school of Music and is additionally adapt at playing violin. 

Francesco Amenta is a force of nature.  His music is like a breath of fresh air or a sunrise that paints the sky purple, orange and pink.  He is not only a colorful woodwind player, but a pianist and a blossoming composer.  His first album was the result of a soundtrack he wrote for a Dutch movie that became a part of the 2015 International Documentary Film Festival at Amsterdam.  it was titled, “Colors and Ties.” 

With the tinkling, upper-register piano accompaniment of Cyrus Chestnut, who tastefully enhances the quartet’s arrangement of the Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” composition, they end this album like a prayer on the lips of the wind, whispered from the bell of Francesco Amenta’s horn.

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KEITH OXMAN & FRANK MORELLI – “THE OX-MO INCIDENT” – Capri Records Ltd.

Keith Oxman, tenor saxophone/composer; Frank Morelli, bassoon; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Ken Walker, bass; Todd Reid, drums.

What do you get when you put a classical bassoonist, chamber musician and educator together with a burnished tenor saxophonist steeped in jazz?  The result is “The Ox-Mo Incident.” This CD is an unexpected blend of America’s classical artform called jazz, flowering with improvisation, and the stricter, more classical European style of music.  The title tune, Track 5, quickly becomes one of my favorites on this unusual musical production.  It’s straight-ahead jazz, composed by Keith Oxman and enhanced by Jeff Jenkins on piano, Ken Walker’s walking bass and his strong double bass solo, along with tasty horn harmonics for saxophone and bassoon.  The two master players, Oxman and Morelli, open with a tune I used to love to hear Nancy Wilson sing on her original release with Cannonball Adderley’s group called, “Happy Talk.” 

This is followed by a theme from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto number 2.  The familiar “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” (a Rodgers & Hammerstein composition) is performed as a slow swing.  In the blink of an eye, Track 6 is based on a theme from the third movement of Johannes Braham’s Symphony No. 3 and titled “three for Five.”  Clearly, you get the drift of this production.  It swings like a pendulum between classical familiarity to standard jazz and show tunes.  You will enjoy their take on “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” that I remember was quite popular in the 1950s.  I believe it was from a musical called “Kismet” and recorded by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and a host of other pop and jazz celebrities. 

Frank Morelli studied at both the Manhattan and Juilliard Schools of Music and was awarded a doctorate by the Juilliard School. He’s made nine appearances at the revered Carnegie Hall as a soloist. His solo soars on “Stranger in Paradise,” letting the deep, richness of the bassoon highlight the melody.  I also enjoyed his interpretation on “Poor Butterfly.”

Keith Oxman’s style of playing embraces jazz styles like Sonny Stitt and Charles McPherson.  Based in Denver, Colorado, Oxman is an educator who encourages students at Denver’s East High School.  He’s collaborated with legendary names like Curtis Fuller, David Liebman and Houston Person.  When speaking of this unusual, but very successful collaboration he said:

“I’m not a classical player and Frank didn’t see himself as a heavy jazz guy, so between the two of us we were like the blind leading the blind in some ways.  But we were both thrilled with the results.  Frank is just an unbelievable musician.  I was really excited when he suggested this, even though jazz might not be his musical field, good musicians are good musicians.”

That says it all!

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KEITH BROWN TRIO – “AFRICAN RIPPLES” – Space Time Records

Keith Brown, piano/Fender Rhodes/Synthesizers/composer/arranger; Dezron Douglas, acoustic & electric bass; Darrell Green & Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully, drums. SPECIAL GUESTS: Russell gunn, trumpet; Anthony Ware, tenor saxophone; Melanie Charles, Camille Thurman, vocals; Tamara Brown, background vocals; Cyrus Aaron, spoken word; Negah Santos, percussion.

Keith Brown uses this latest release as a musical diary to express his many moods, personal experiences, critical thinking and to exemplify how black music ripples out in a multitude of directions.  He uses spoken word, lyrical voicings and his trio arrangements to exemplify this premise.  Brown hopes his music will touch on the common, human experiences of his listening audience and reflect our commonality.

“I hope that the energy and soul we put into this recording gives … energy and uplifts the soul,” Brown says about his project goals.

“The more life that I live, the more I try to become more comfortable with the truth, whatever that truth may be,” he tells us.

Cyrus Aaron incorporates his spoken word offering on the opening composition; the title tune.  His words stand as an ‘Epigraph’ or summary theme of this project, lyrically bouncing atop the groove laid down by Brown’s trio.

“… Life and death, one synonym, wrecking balls that tie into pendulums, a swing-swung-set, destruction in motion … a distraction or an escape? Who you countin’ on?  My contribution spoken for and this train of thought, progress can be slowed down, but it cannot be stopped. This free hand and the free ride on this free land, free men.  Call it magic, call it ministry, call it music, ain’t it amusing how we chase a dream with no brakes?” Cyrus asks us in beautiful poetic form.

Track 2 speaks about “Truth and Comfort” as Keith Brown peels the melody from the sweet fruit of his composition.  Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully is expressive and creative on drums.  Dezran Douglas holds the rhythm section solidly together with the grip of his bass.  Track 3, “NAFID” is contemporary, energetic and rooted in modern jazz soil.  On the familiar, “Just You, Just Me” standard, Brown has created a brilliant arrangement with a solid funk base.  Douglas steps out of the background, where his creative, solid bass lines are holding this song together like Velcro and into the forefront for his memorable solo. Then comes Gully on a drum excursion that splashes color and dynamics all over this musical palette. Track 8, “Queen” is full of percussive excitement.  The drums bring strong ‘African Ripples’ to the forefront. The voices of Tamara Brown and featured vocalist Camille Thurman add beauty to this arrangement without lyrics. Camille’s amazing soprano sings bird-like above the track at unexpected intervals, while Brown’s piano excellence shines in the spotlight. Dedicated to his wife, this might be one of my favorite Brown compositions on this album of great music. This journalist is a big Stevie Wonder and Syreeta fan. It was wonderful to hear Brown’s inclusion of “I Wish That I Could Come Back as a Flower” featuring vocalist, Melanie Charles. Another favorite is “118 & 8th Street” so straight-ahead and in-your-face; melodic and percussive.   Each of Keith Brown’s arrangements and compositions surprises me in lovely ways, like opening presents on Christmas morning; you never know what you’ll get, but it’s always sweet.  I will be listening to this album time and time again.

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2 Responses to “VARIOUS PERSPECTIVES ON JAZZ”

  1. REVIEW: Adam Moezinia "Folk Element Trio" - Musicamemoirs's Blog - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] By Dee Dee McNeil, Musicalmemoirs’s Blog […]

  2. REVIEW: Keith Brown Trio "African Ripples" - Musicalmemoirs's Blog - LYDIALIEBMAN.COM Says:

    […] By Dee Dee McNeil, Musicalmemoirs’s Blog […]

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