Archive for June, 2021

MUSIC OF POWER AND ENDURANCE: JAZZ KEEPS HOPE ALIVE

June 22, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 22, 2021

June is Black Music Month and jazz was created and established by black people in America.  Jazz is the music of power and endurance.  It epitomizes America’s constant aspiration towards freedom for all.

CURTIS J. STEWART – “OF POWER” – Outside In Music

Curtis J. Stewart, violin/vocals/prose/electronics/co-producer/engineer; Nick Revel, engineer; Louis Levitt, co-producer.

This album opens with a solo violin, singing like a joyful bird at a classical concert and interjecting folk and jazz improvisation into the scheme of things.  Curtis J. Stewart spreads wide wings over various genres of music and poetry.  He is brave and flamboyant, stepping forward with his violin, his bow, his imagination and a mastery of his instrument.  This violinist uses electronics and his voice to grapple with themes of resilience, resistance and the nature of power juxtaposed to the powerless.  He weaves a confessional narrative about revolution and protest during his production.  Stewart plays his music, solo, transcribing it through the eyes of a black man in America who is searching for authenticity and the answers to unanswered questions.  This is the kind of art and beauty that is both emotional and brilliant; classical and hip hop; R&B, jazzy and folksy.   Obviously, Mr. Curtis J. Stewart is an extraordinary musician, a master of technique on his violin, but also a deep thinker.  Using prose to spice his musical stew, Stewart bares his soul vocally as well as musically.  He throws music into a blender and spins compositions by Bach, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Paganini and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson together.  The result is a culturally rich concert. 

Curtis J. Stewart pulls every nuance out of James Weldon Johnson’s Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”   Inspired by the untimely and unforgivable murder of George Floyd, and the continuing rise of a movement that shouts, “Black Lives Matter,” Mr. Stewart has also composed a number of original songs that shout truth to power.  He has written prose poetry that echoes frustration and encourages change. His songs pump like blood, feeding our consciousness. He shows that he can play Beethoven with the same energy and genius as he plays Hip Hop arrangements or rot-gut blues.  Clearly, Stewart pulls from the deepness of his soulful life experiences. 

This musician is not just a jazz player.  Curtis J. Stewart can perform with classical perfection.  He also offers his take on Pop music classics.  “#HerName” is based on the J.S. Bach Sonata No. 3 in C major, but his original composition celebrates the untimely and inexcusable death of Breonna Taylor, shot in her own home by police who raided her house mistakenly.  “Mangas” is a tribute to his mother, that celebrates a ‘man of the hood’ or leader of people and the strength a mother offers her son.  It’s a song with a reggae twist.  “Our Past is a Privilege” speaks to a health issue he and his mother faced together and also speaks to ignoring a past we are ashamed of, instead of being prideful of our history and the ‘now’ that we live inside. This song moves flawlessly into an interpretation of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain.”  We are offered hope with Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and celebrate a woman we love and respect with “Isn’t She Lovely.”   Here is an album of music that speaks proudly “Of Power” and is totally unforgettable, pulsating with freedom and art.

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ROY HARGROVE & MULGREW MILLER – “IN HARMONY” – Resonance Records

Roy Hargrove, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mulgrew Miller, piano.

Resonance Records is appreciated for their historical recordings and distinguished catalog of great jazz artists.  Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller, these two iconic artists, joined the ancestors much too soon and have left a bright and brilliant catalogue of work behind for us to admire and enjoy.  Hargrove was born in 1969 and died on November 2, 2018.  Mulgrew Miller was born in 1955 and passed away on May 28, 2013.  This album is comprised of thirteen duo performances that were culled from two ‘live’ concerts they performed.  It’s the first time ever that Roy Hargrove has delivered an album of music without a drummer.

Opening with “What is This Thing Called Love” each dynamic musician exhibits their personality and technique, moving at a brisk pace and speaking, as if their instruments were in verbal conversation.  At first, with Hargrove leading the conversation in a stream of notes and improvisation and the piano supports and overlaps the stream of trumpet majesty, with Miller bringing his own royal perspective. Mulgrew Miller floats strategically over the eighty-eight keys.  After Miller’s substantial solo, the two master musicians trade fours with agility and creativity bursting at the seams during their spontaneous performance.  It’s magical to behold!

Hargrove and Miller bring lush, Southern United States roots to the surface during this project.  Hargrove is a son of Dallas, Texas and Mulgrew Miller was born in Greenwood, Mississippi. Their African American Southern heritage shines brightly, infusing their styles and musical attitudes.  They combine talents with a respect for the younger jazz generation and their admiration for the traditional and magnificent elders who paved the way for these young musicians to thrive. You clearly hear their black cultural influences on tunes like “Monk’s Dream” and “Blues for Mr. Hill.”

 “This is Always” begins with Miller’s hands floating up and down the piano, caressing the introduction from the black and white keys in preparation for Hargrove’s entry.  Mulgrew Miller pulls open the curtains with busy arpeggio scales and Roy Hargrove steps forward, exhibiting a rich, melancholy sound on his horn; one so beautiful I can hardly breathe for fear of disturbing the flow of his solo melody.  Clearly, this is a master class in duo dynamics and jazz spontaneity.  Mulgrew Miller takes his time during his solo performance, peeling the fruit of the melody from the piano and wrapping us in the sweetness.  “Triste” manages to hold the Latin rhythm tightly in place, with no drums and only the genius of Mulgrew Miller’s rich piano chops.  Mulgrew keeps the Latin beat in place, even while he’s improvising, with staggering lines of creativity dancing on top of his left hand’s constant rhythm development.  It’s so impressive!

Hargrove cut his musical teeth sitting-in at Bradley’s, a Greenwich Village piano room and space where musicians gathered after their gigs to drink, play and ‘conversate.’  There was one night Roy Hargrove claims he will never forget, when he sat in with George Coleman and Walter Davis, Jr.

“We went through the keys on “Cherokee” which was a lesson on harmony and then another lesson on rhythm.  Then we played “Body and Soul” and George started changing up the meters.  He played in three and then in five and then BLAM, really fast!  Then he turns around to me and goes; you got it.  I go, what am I going to do after all of that?  It was like your master’s degree.  You go in there and you’re playing and there’s Freddie Hubbard at the bar.  What do you do?  Everything I’m playing right now I owe to that whole scene,” Roy Hargrove recalls, talking about his growing pains.

Accompanying this ‘must-have’ CD is an intriguing book of liner notes. The glossy book includes several pages of great jazz musicians singing the praises of both these amazing musicians.   You will read how each master recalls first meeting, hearing and even working with Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller.  There are impressions from Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, George Cables, Kenny Baron, Victor Lewis, and many others.  Better yet, hear this awesome recording for yourself.  It’s a double-set that captures    No do-overs, no retakes or studio punches and edits.  You will hear, enjoy, love every brilliant nuance of these two unforgettable jazz musicians.  May their legacy live on forever!

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THE MARK MASTERS ENSEMBLE FEATURING ART BARON & GUEST, TIM HAGANS PLAYS THE MUSIC OF THE BLANTON/WEBSTER BAND (1940 – 1942) – Capri Records.com

Mark Masters, arrangements; Mark Ferber, drums; Bruce Lett, bass; Les Benedict, Dave Woodley & Art Baron, trombone; Scott Englebright, Les Lovitt, Ron Stout & Tim Hagans, trumpet; Adam Schroeder, baritone saxophone; Danny House, alto saxophone/clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, Jerry Pinter, tenor & soprano saxophone.

Art Baron was the last to occupy the plunger trombone chair in the Duke Ellington Band.  He was a long-time member of Duke’s band from 1973 until Ellington died.  After that, Baron stayed on when Mercer Ellington took over the band.  Mark Masters wanted to show the classy and substantial status of Ellington’s amazing compositions, while spotlighting the richly popular years between 1940 and 1942. This was when Ben Webster was in the band and Jimmie Blanton was heralded as their groundbreaking bassist.    Those early 1940-years highlighted the rich, cultural legacy Duke Ellington left with us, offering his wonderful orchestra arrangements and unforgettable compositions.  Mark Masters thought, what better person to showcase than Art Baron, who knew Duke’s music so well?

Masters ensemble opens with “All too Soon” that brightly features the bassist, Bruce Lett, spotlighted as the orchestra trades fours with him. Bruce competently represents the legacy of Jimmie Blanton.  Art Baron’s trombone is also featured along with Kirsten Edkins on tenor saxophone.  “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” again features the warm, intoxicating sound of Baron’s trombone and Adam Schroeder’s baritone saxophone.  Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” opens as an unexpected waltz and Ron Stout’s muted trumpet sounds like a human voice.  It’s a beautiful arrangement.  Throughout the entire production, Bruce Lett and Mark Ferber lock tightly as the ensemble’s rhythm section groove masters and Lett is super creative on bass.  The horns add the harmonics and you hardly miss the piano.  “Perdido” features Danny House, smooth as silk on clarinet.  The horns in the background sound very much like human voices singing, doo-wap, doo-wap, in a very cool way.  It’s those little nuances that call attention to Mark Masters’ creative arrangements.  On “Ko-Ko” special guest Tim Hagans is featured on trumpet and Art Baron is consistently impressive on his trombone.

“Art is one of a kind as a player and as a person.  He’s a great student of the music and knows all the history, plus he’s an original with a unique sound.  It was a joy to be able to craft my writing specifically for him and that plunger mute specialty,” Masters says in their press package.

Mark Masters is recognized as one of the great jazz arrangers of the last few decades.  He formed his first ensemble in 1982.  Masters founded the non-profit American jazz Institute and this is an album full of compositional gems that Duke Ellington blessed Earth with, along with the fine arrangements of Mark Masters, competently played by his ensemble of master musicians.

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RALPH PETERSON – “RAISE UP OFF ME” – Onyx Records

Ralph Peterson, drums/trumpet/Kalimba/Tounge drum/Rain stick/Frame drum/Djimbe/ Cajon/ tambourine/cowbell; Zaccai Curtis, piano/keyboards; Luques Curtis, bass; Jazzmeia Horn, vocals; Eguie Castrillo, conga/timbale/cowbell/cymbal.

This project, “Raise Up Off Me” is the final full-length album from master drummer, bandleader and composer, Ralph Peterson Jr., released in late May, one day after what would have been his fifty-ninth birthday.  Peterson’s latest release on his Onyx Label features a handful of original compositions and some of the up-and-coming important jazz musicians on the East Coast.  They include brother’s, Zaccai Curtis and Luques Curtis.  Zaccai is brilliant and noteworthy on piano and Luques is solid on double bass.  Eguie Castrillo adds his colorful percussive touches.  He is brightly spotlighted on Peterson’s “Blue Hughes” tune.  One of my favorite young, jazz vocalists on the scene today is Jazzmeia Horn.  She brings poignant and emotional sustenance to Peterson’s original composition “Tears I Can Not Hide.”  This song actually brought tears to my eyes.  Jazzmeia also slays the John Hicks tune, “Naima’s Love Song.” This production is music that celebrates Ralph Peterson’s composer skills, his drum mastery and his political consciousness.  Before his death, on March 1, 2021, Peterson was determined to make a societal statement on issues he found important.  Among them were drug addiction and recovery, the complexities of mental health, the Black Lives Matter movement and his daily struggle for life, while fighting cancer for the past six years.  Peterson gives us a spirited rendition of the Patrice Rushen tune, “Shorties Portion,” at breakneck speed and brightly spotlights Zaccai Curtis on piano.  Ralph Peterson takes his own solo adventure and shows off why he is such a celebrated drummer and master technician. 

His statement on the title of this project was, “In this era, where we still feel the foot on our necks, the pepper spray and mace that burns our eyes and face, the bullets and the batons, I find it necessary to remind you that Black Lives Matter … and for my life to matter, you have to raise up off me.”

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HAYS STREET HART – “ALL THINGS ARE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Kevin Hays, piano; Ben Street, bass; Billy Hart, drums.

These three musicians have been some of the busiest in the business of jazz for decades. Kevin Hays, Billy Hart and Ben Street joined hands and hearts to create this album.  Here is a unique trio, drawn together during the frustrating and intimidating time of the pandemic lock-down, joined in celebration of Billy Hart’s 80th birthday.  Although Hart and Ben Street were in a quartet together and comfortable with their musical camaraderie, playing with well-respected Kevin Hays was new.  The three musicians met at the Smoke Jazz Club, in New York City, for the gig.  It was December 4th and 5th of 2020 when they ‘livestream’ recorded this music. It was challenging, only because all three had been quarantined for so long, there was concern by each musician about playing in a ‘live’ interactive group setting.  This album is proof that everything worked out quite well. 

They open with “New Day,” one of six original compositions by pianist, Kevin Hays.  Hays describes the tune as moving from ‘one/four’ to ‘two/five,’ (referencing chord changes) which isn’t necessarily typical as a song form.  He also has written the bridge with an odd five bars.  It’s a moderate tempo’d piece, with some time-changes that fall unexpectedly, letting the spotlight bathe warmly over Hays at the piano.  When Street and Hart re-enter the arrangement, they swing hard.  So, the session began with the musicians wearing masks and surrounded by protective plexiglass, letting their individual talents meet like old friends enjoying the birthday party; music bounced around the room like helium balloons.

“I thought that with no rehearsal, because of COVID, it would help for us to just hit,” Kevin Hays recalls.

Hart and Street had roots in the Billy Hart Quartet, so they quickly locked into a well-oiled rhythm unit; fluid and familiar with each other.  They also had history, working together as a trio with pianist Aaron Parks.

“Kevin has always been one of my very favorite piano players, but I never get a chance to play with him.  He doesn’t get nearly enough credit, compared to how gifted and original he is and Ben’s arguably, in today’s world, my favorite bass player,” Hart affirms.

Track 2 is titled, “Elegia.”  It’s romantic, ethereal, and Hays creates lots of space during the introduction, setting things up until Hart and Street enter and subtly drive the music forward.

“What he has, … you see it in Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan.  It’s a depth of feeling. … His choice of notes is very moving to me,” Billy Hart compliments Kevin Hays. 

On “Elegia,” Ben Street holds the center of the music strongly in place and knows just when to go with the flow and when to quietly lay out and let the music untangle itself on the eighty-eight keys. 

“Hays is one of those everybody’s favorite pianist,” Ben Street speaks about Hays.

“And Billy really focused it for me.  He seemed to be hearing Kevin as a singer,” Ben Street added.

For familiarities sake and perhaps to challenge himself, Kevin Hays re-composed Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From the Apple” into a tune he calls “Unscrappulous.”  It’s recognizable enough for Street and Hart to jump into deep water with both feet, but the tune is completely redressed, wearing a similar form but a different swim suit.  Ben Street is quite melodic, on bass, during this up-tempo, but brief three-minute and thirty-six second excursion. One of my favorites on this album is the lovely way Hays plays the standard jazz ballad, “For Heaven’s Sake.”  The piano harmonics are so rich, colorful and often unexpected. Ben Street builds a solid basement for the structure to stand upon playing his double bass.

“And to play with someone like Billy, who is such a responsive musician, I noticed some little telepathy-type things that were going on.  How did we both do that at the exact same time?”  Hays marveled.

The title tune is based on Jerome Kern’s chord changes for “All the Things You are” and it dances along at a brisk, but comfortable pace.  Hays has a piano style that flutters.  His fingers fly across the keys in spurts of genius and creativity.  On “Sweet Caroline” Hart and Street open the piece, establishing a blues groove.  I know where Gene Harris or Monte Alexander would have taken it, but Kevin Hays is more about the beauty than the blues.  All in all, this is a musical art exhibit awaiting the listener’s provocative review and appreciation.  Each song becomes its own unique and intriguing sculpture, built before our very eyes, in the imitable way that jazz grows; through improvisation, freedom and creativity.

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REBECCA ANGEL – “LOVE, LIFE, CHOICES” – Timeless Grooves Records

Rebecca Angel, vocals/background vocals; Jason Miles, keyboards/drum programming/Moog synthesizer bass; Dean Brown, Romero Lubambo, Nir Felder, Christian Ver Halen, Ira Siegel & Jonah Prendergast, Guitar; Reggie Washington, bass; Gene Lake & Brian Dunne, drums; Bashiri Johnson, Richie Morales & Cyro Baptista, percussion; Mark Rivera, congas; Jimmy Bralower, drum programming/percussion; Butterscotch, beatboxing; Dennis Angel, trumpet/flugelhorn; Maya Azucena, background vocals; Ada Rovatti, tenor saxophone; Hailey Niswanger, alto saxophone; Pamela Driggs, vocals; Jay Rodriquez, flute; Gottfried Stoger, soprano saxophone; Steve Wolf, drum programming.

Rebecca Angel has a whispery, warm quality to her voice.  This album is Pop/Jazz that uses synthesized programming and the talents of producer, keyboardist and drum programmer, Jason Miles, to lay down tracks for Angel to vocally dance upon.  It features her soft soprano voice pirouetting across the chord changes.  Rebecca tackles standard pop songs like the familiar Bill Withers tune, “Just the Two of Us,” and has released this song as her current single from this album.  It’s Ada Rivotti, on tenor saxophone, who puts the ‘J’ in jazz during this arrangement and gives us a splendid sax solo to enjoy. 

“Waiting in Vain” is a reggae song written by the late, great Bob Marley.  Rebecca Angel applies her own unique delivery.  Jobim’s famed “Corcovado” gives us a brief peek into her jazzier side.  However, for the most part, this is easy-listening, sleepy-time music.  Even the funky arrangement on “Waters of March” doesn’t lift us from that relaxed, laid-back vibe.  Her take on the Sade song, “Maureen” continues the moderate tempo saga of this album, with an improvised fade that is sometimes slightly off-key.  The last two songs are original compositions by Rebecca Angel.  One is titled “thoughts and Prayers,” a protest song that mirrors the tragic violence that is staining our nation’s reputation with too many mass murders.  The final song of this production is “Summer Song,” another Angel original composition.  After listening, I recognize that Rebecca Angel has a good voice, however she is not a jazz singer.  Two things are missing.  Unless she can ‘swing’ and sing the blues, this young and talented vocalist cannot claim to be a jazz vocalist.  However, her pop music potential is clearly visible.

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THE CHRIS SAUNDERS BAND – “DANCING WITH THE WIDOW ST. JAMES – Independent label

Chris Saunders, vocals/cornet/flugelhorn; Ken Cook, piano/organ/arranger; Michael Aragon, drums; Rob Fordyce, electric bass; Luis Carbo, percussion.

If blues is your thing, pop this CD into your player, settle down and enjoy their opening tune, Percy Mayfield’s standard, “River’s Invitation.”  Chris Saunders has a voice steeped in the down-home, Southern blues flavor.  He’s a songwriter/singer, unpretentious and raw.  His co-writer is Ken Cook, pianist, arranger and organist of the group. The multi-talented Saunders is also a cornet player and trumpeter.  His vocals are reminiscent of Mose Allison phrasing.  Some of Saunders home-grown lyrics have a comic truth at their base, similar to Allison’s songwriting.  For example, his song “Butterflies and Chicken Wings” longing for those simple things sums up his desire to live simply and enjoy his life.  That song is steeped in blues changes with a shuffle drum provided by Michael Aragon and complimented by Luis Carbo’s percussion touches.  “I Wonder” is another blues, but this time it’s a ballad.  What Saunders lacks in vocal technique he makes up for with his emotional delivery.  His sad blues song is believable and his horn solo is a definite, well-played plus.  Arranger, Ken Cook, is a notable addition on piano.  He has a sweet touch and offers a jazzy solo on the 88-keys.  A big part of these arrangements is quite Latin oriented and the old American songbook standard “Am I Blue” is reimagined with a cha cha beat.  He also covers the Ray Charles recording of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” with Rob Fordyce playing a mean electric bass line and Ken Cook adding his bluesy piano licks.  I enjoy Chris Saunders playing his flugelhorn and cornet.  I appreciate his blues vocals.  However, when he steps outside of singing within the blues niche, I get lost. 

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RALPH PETERSON LEAVES US WORDS OF WISDOM – “RAISE UP OFF ME”

June 14, 2021

RALPH PETERSON LEAVES US WORDS OF WISDOM – “RAISE UP OFF ME” – Onyx Records

By Dee Dee McNeil

                                                                                         June 14, 2021

                June is Black Music Month.  When I received the Ralph Peterson CD, his final, musical chapter captured on disc, I was inspired to celebrate this amazing musician’s life.  As a lover of hard bop, I was joyful each time I received an album release from this brilliant percussionist.  His talent, drive, example and educational tenacity shone with star-bright effervescence over a span of nearly four decades.  Ralph Peterson lost his battle with cancer on March 1, 2021 at the age of fifty-eight, but his brilliance lives on.

                Orrin Evans wrote in the Peterson liner notes about this recent recording:              

“If you know Ralph, you knew whenever he titled a song or album, it directly correlated to something going on in his life.  “Reclamation Project” was Ralph’s way of telling us he was reclaiming his life and career. “Art” was his tribute to his mentor, Art Blakey, who had just passed.  “The Trials of Trust and Treachery” was his homage to the difficulty, but importance of long-term relationships.  “Raise Up Off Me” can easily be associated with 2020, the Black Lives Matter Movement and the pandemic; the message I hear is Ralph’s fight to LIVE!”

                Ralph Peterson was born May 20, 1962.  His father played drums and was also the first black police chief of their hometown; Pleasantville, New Jersey.  His father later became the town’s first black mayor, while his mother worked as the manager of an aviation research company.  Within the family lineage, there were a slew of drummers.  Ralph’s grandfather played cymbals in the church.  Peterson also had four uncles who were drummers.  It wasn’t surprising that young Ralph took to the drums at age three and never looked back.

                “Later, I wanted to learn how to read music,” Ralph recalled his early musical journey.[1] 

“Because I was playing drums in funk bands and R&B bands of the late 60s and 70s, but I had no discipline to learn how to read music on drums.  If I couldn’t get it right away, it didn’t hold my interest.  Cyrille grew up in Brooklyn, a cousin of mine, and at the wake for my Uncle Bud, Cyrille sat on the steps of the back porch playing trumpet,” Ralph Peterson explained how he became infatuated with the trumpet and eventually learned to read music.

“In Brooklyn, Cyrille was known as the General of Jazz. Funny, because I call my student soldiers. My cousin was also a Black Belt in Taekwondo and I just earned my fifth degree,” Ralph Peterson recalled the impact his cousin Cyrille had on him.

                “I started playing the horn in the fourth grade.  By the 7th grade, I was playing trumpet in the high school band.  I played trumpet in the marching band for six years, but in the jazz band I played drums.

“1982 I played my first gig in New York with Walter Davis, a great piano player and Jazz Messenger, at the Barry Harris’ Jazz Showcase.  So, Wynton & Branford Marsalis were on horns; Phil Bowler on bass from Bridgeport, Connecticut.  On Walter Davis’s last trio record, a record called Scorpio Rising, me, Walter and Santi Debriano; all three of us have Scorpio as an ascendant in astrological charts. So, our linkage was cosmic for us.  No rehearsal.  We went into the studio and Walter would just start playing.  That’s the way they used to do it.  They take you to the deep end of the pool and drop you in,” Peterson relived his precious formative years in jazz.

Ralph Peterson began recording as a leader in 1988, with an all-star quintet consisting of Terence Blanchard on trumpet, Steve Wilson on saxophone, Geri Allen at the eighty-eight keys and Phil Bowler on bass.  They released two albums called V and Volition on the Blue Note Label.  Ralph also worked with Allen and Bowler as a trio, but on the recording “Triangular” Essiet Essiet replaced Bowler.  

In 1989, Ralph Peterson recorded in the quartet format as “The Fo’tet” with Don Byron, Steve Wilson (later Bobby Franchesini), Melissa Slocum, who later was replaced by Belden Bullock and percussionist and vibraphonist, Bryan Carrott.  

After relocating and living in Canada for some time, Peterson returned to the United States, where he worked again with “The Fo’tet,” and recorded a Triangular 2 album, with Slocum and Uri Caine.  Ralph also led the group “Hip Pocket,” with whom he played trumpet.  At his passing, Ralph Peterson had recorded twenty-six albums as a bandleader and numerous albums as a sideman.

In his early twenties, this innovative drummer was swept under the wings of the great Art Blakey.  Ralph Peterson became the longest and most consistent young drum protégée to play in Blakey’s renowned Jazz Messengers band.  He joined Blakey’s band in 1983.  When the iconic Blakey passed away, on October 16, 1990, Ralph Peterson stepped in to proudly become protector of his mentor’s legacy.  He formed a group called “Messenger Legacy” that included seventeen former players from the Jazz Messengers.

“Art Blakey is arguably one of the most important bandleaders in American history, because of how many bandleaders came out of his groups. The ‘Messenger Legacy’ is a conclave of messenger alumni.  I don’t like the term Former Messengers, because once you’re a Messenger you’re always a messenger.  The impact and influence on your playing by Art Blakey remains, regardless of what direction you take your music.  Historically, the Messengers started with Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Seventeen Messengers.  With that in mind, I assembled seventeen alumni for this latest recording, our ‘Onward and Upward’ recording,” Ralph Peterson explained in an Online interview by Dom Famularo.[2]

Peterson’s work came to the attention of the jazz world during the Blue Note stable project.  It was to herald an 80’s jazz renaissance period.  Ralph sort of stumbled into that job by a quirk of fate.

“There was an audition, when, for whatever reason, Lewis Nash stepped out of the project and they found me.  JoAnn Jimenez put together the group that originally included Lewis Nash, who was their first drum choice.  I had recorded with Blanchard and Donald Harrison and just started my apprenticeship with Art Blakey.  Through my study with Michael Carvin, who taught me, for auditions to find out the material, learn it so you don’t have to read it and set up a half hour before the thing starts or you’re late.  I got the gig.  We made three recordings.  Out of the Blue, Inside Track and Live at Mount Fujii,” Peterson recalled.[3]

It’s not always lucrative to be a jazz musician and so many jazz cats began to take university and college professor gigs to support their families and lifestyles.  Ralph Peterson discussed how he started teaching.

“I started my college teaching gig, maybe way before I was worthy of earning it.  I had the great honor of being hired by Essex Community College in Newark, NJ, by bassist, professor Aaron Bell (who played with Duke Ellington’s orchestra and with Dizzy Gillespie).   Denzel Washington said luck is when preparation and opportunity intersect.  That eventually brought me to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia; to Julliard, the New School; Rucker’s, Princeton and now I’m in my fourteenth year at Berklee College,” Ralph told Michael Vosbien.

As a professor at Berklee College of Music, he and his students released “I Remember Bu,” another tribute to Art Blakey by the GenNext Big Band Peterson formed.  This was a student big band recording that celebrated Art Blakey’s adopted Muslim name of Buhaina.  Buhaina means lover of travel and a person of keen understanding.  Well, that certainly reflected the life of Art Blakey and his musical genius.  It also spotlights the talent and genius of young musicians who, under the tutelage of Ralph Peterson, are carrying forward the Blakey legacy.

Peterson’s latest release on his Onyx Label features a handful of original compositions and some of the up-and-coming important jazz voices on the East Coast.  They include brother’s, Zacai Curtis and Luques Curtis.  Zacai is brilliant and noteworthy on piano and Luques is solid on double bass.  Eguie Castrillo adds his colorful percussion touches.  He is brightly spotlighted on Peterson’s “Blue Hughes” tune.  One of my favorite young, jazz vocalists on the scene today is Jazzmeia Horn.  She brings poignant and emotional sustenance to Peterson’s original compositions “Tears I Can Not Hide” and she slays the John Hicks tune, “Naima’s Love Song.” This is music that celebrates Ralph Peterson’s composer skills, his drum mastery and his political consciousness. As he said in a recent interview on the Mapex Artist interview by Dom Famulero:

“I believe the movement, not the organization, but the movement of Black Lives Matter, has reached the point where you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube.  I’m an American.  I love being an American and because I’m an American, I have the right to criticize America,” Peterson left his political message behind, for us to digest, along with this new music.

“ … As a black community and an American community, we all don’t have to attack the problem in the same way.  We can have anonymous and financial contributors who peacefully make a difference. You can’t fix a problem that you don’t own.  If you don’t name it and claim it, you can’t fix it.  These demonstrations look different from the 1960 demonstrations, but we have to stay in the fight and stay focused on the problem.  My white brothers and sisters need to understand that if you’re part of the solution, you don’t have to feel guilty about your ancestral part of the problem.  We know it wasn’t you; maybe not your parents or even your grandparents.  We need to understand, we were viewed as a commodity and not as human beings during slavery.  The legacy of that doesn’t get undone, with the reciting of a great speeches or a million black men marching. We need each other to fix it,” Ralph Peterson reminds us.

“Jazz is African American classical music.  That’s the truth.  In order to deal with the highest expressions of it, you have to go to artists who look like me.  In America, socially and politically speaking, that can be uncomfortable for some people.  But that’s what makes it real.  The truth about America is that African Americans are the only ethnic group of people who didn’t immigrate to this country.  We were bought in chains.  The Native Americans were here and we were bought in chains.  And to suggest that the whole legacy of that ended when Barack Obama became President can only seem reasonable if you don’t know what that legacy is.  So that’s ignorant; the absence of truth.  But you have to be honest about what you’re playing when you play it.  To deny the African American part of the music is not embracing truth.” 

Ralph Peterson’s latest album sums it all up in the title; “Raise Up Off Me.”  He has left behind both wise words, a committed jazz legacy and a host of drum students guided and inspired by his wise words and great musical accomplishments.

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[1] Interview on Drummer Nation with Michael Vosbien – 2016

[2] MAPEX ARTIST INTERVIEW with RALPH PETERSON – Dom Famularo – 2020

[3] INTERVIEW ON DRUMMER NATION:  BY MICHAEL VOSBIEN – Sept 25, 2016

TAKE A SUMMER RIDE WITH THESE NEWLY RELEASED CDs

June 4, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 4, 2021

BRIAN BROMBERG – “A LITTLE DRIVING MUSIC” – Mack Ave Records

Brian Bromberg, double bass/piccolo bass & hollow body piccolo bass guitar/electric bass/ some horn arrangements/composer/arranger; Joel Taylor & Tony Moore, drums; Tom Zink, keyboards; Jerry Cortez & Ray Fuller, rhythm guitar; Lenny Castro, percussion; Everette Harp, Darren Rahn & Elon Trotman, tenor saxophone; Andrew Neu, alto, tenor, baritone saxes/clarinet/ horn arrangements; Dave Koz, alto saxophone; Marion Meadows, soprano saxophone; Michael Stever, trumpet/piccolo trumpet; Nick Lane, trombone; Nathan Tanouye, horn arrangements; Craig Fundyga, vibes; Mitch Foreman, accordion; Charlie Bisharat, solo violin; Member of the National Symphony Strings arranged & conducted by Corey Allen; Milena Zivkovik, cello solo; the Social Distancing Orchestra: violins, violas, cellos.

“A Little Driving Music” is the third Brian Bromberg album created in quarantine, during the COVID19 pandemic.  It features an all-star cast of musicians that include Dave Koz, Marion Meadows, Elan Trotman, Everette Harp, Gary Meek and Nick Colionne as special guests.  Along with his normal bandmates, this album is packed with star-power!  They open with “Froggy’s,” a tribute to the choir of frogs that often croak to the composer at his Southern California home.  On this energy-driven, funk tune, Bromberg surprises with a blistering solo on piccolo bass.  A piccolo bass has each string tuned an octave higher than usual. The sound could easily be mistaken for a shredding, electric guitar.  Bromberg has popularized that piccolo bass sound over the years.  Joel Taylor pounds this track forward with his powerhouse drums and Bromberg’s bass line locks relentlessly into the groove.  They supply a rhythm track that bounces like a trampoline for Everette Harp to showcase his dancing saxophone.  Track 2, “Quarantine” flows smooth as satin out of my speakers and certainly does sound like ‘driving music.’ Brian Bromberg plays electric bass on this selection, along with the hollow body piccolo bass guitar. Tony Moore slaps a medium tempo drum beat into place and I can picture myself cruising along the Pacific Ocean coastline, up PCH towards Pelican Beach.  Track 3 titled “That Cool Groovy Beatnik Jazz” has a killer bass line.  “Walking on Sunshine” (the only ‘cover’ tune) features Dave Koz on alto saxophone and has an infectious melody line that makes you want to sing the song title right off the bat.  Ray Fuller’s rhythm guitar adds colors bright as fire flames.  The title tune has a very rock and roll feel, with Lenny Castro’s relentless percussion mastery beating the melody forward.  “Jedediah’s Gold” is enhanced with strings arranged by pianist, Tom Zink and spiced with Blue Grass flavors.  The tune “Baton Rouge” takes me to a blues joint in Louisiana and spotlights Nick Colionne on guitar.   This is a joyful ride down an open highway that marks Bromberg’s twenty-ninth album release as a bandleader.  You’ll enjoy every composition along the way.

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MARQUES CARROLL – “THE ANCESTORS’ CALL”- Jmarq Records

Marques Carroll, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Amr Fahmy, piano; Christian Dillingham, upright & electric bass; Greg Artry, drums; Brent Griffin, alto saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Victor Garcia, congas; Alex Wasily, trombone; Sharon Irving, vocals.

Marques Carroll is a Chicago-based trumpeter, a fluid composer and an astute bandleader.  He has composed eight songs that celebrate the importance of recognizing your ancestral history, culture and family. 

“I have been a firm believer, throughout my life, that our elders and ancestors are the foundation to our beginning.  I have been fortunate to have had so many of these great spirits in my life show who lead the way for me in my darkest hours and in my brightest moments,” Marques affirms.

Marques Carroll opens with “The Ancestors’ Call upon Us,” arranged in an African 6/8 tempo with special guest, Victor Garcia adding congas that fatten the mix.  Marques has composed this song to reflect an old man’s pathway of life, with the drums calling him (like ancestor voices) and the melody leading him up a pathway to his destiny.  Carroll believes it is the ancestor wisdom that helps us all master the art of living.  As he blows his trumpeted melodies, fat with knowledge and wisdom, his wish is that these compositions uplift and inspire communities to work together.  His songs reflect unity and the determination to fight injustice.  This is the theme of his musical gifts.  The Carroll composition titles encourage “Generational Response” and to “Assemble the Enlightened.” Greg Artry on drums catches every lick and nuance in the arrangement for “Assemble the Enlightened.”  It’s a highly energetic, exciting arrangement.  “Beyond the Battle” is more Avant-Garde and indeed, sounds like a battle during the intro, until it settles down into a pulsating, rhythm-driven, very melodic groove, harmonically led by Carroll’s trumpet and Brent Griffin’s alto saxophone.  Amr Fahmy’s piano solo is sweetly provided, like warm, caramel icing poured over a Bundt cake, while Griffin’s improvisational sax solo is spicy.  The master composer and bandleader, Marques Carroll takes a spirited horn solo and then he and Griffin play a duet, answering each other as though they are conversating.  On the tune, “Urgency” you can hear the spontaneous merging of these musicians, using Latin influence to engage the listener.  I felt like I was in Spain at a bull fight when this composition played.    Sharon Irving’s vocals on “Aires Goddess” is beautiful and powerful.  She encourages us to fly away, fly away and rise above.  She interjects a brief spoken word to sum up the premise of this project, in between her vocalization. The ensemble closes with a reminder that “The Ancestors’ Final Words” are worth paying attention to and treasuring.

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ANDRE FERRERI QUINTETTO – “NUMERO UNO” – Laser Records

Andre Ferreri, guitars/composer; Mark Stallings, piano/B3 organ; Sean Higgins & Phillip Howe piano; Ziad Rabie, tenor saxophone; Kobie Watkins, drums; Anna Stadlman, acoustic bass; Brad Wilcox, trumpet.

Guitarist, Andre Ferreri, has assembled a quintet that swings.  Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Andre is first call guitarist with the Charlotte Symphony and he’s co-founder of Laser Records.  His “Numero Uno” sounds just like a number one on the jazz charts.  It’s joyful music, spurred by the extraordinary musicians in his ensemble.  This is traditional, straight-ahead jazz at its best and Andre Ferreri has composed every song.  Each composition is well-written and allows space for his musicians to feature their talents.  Sean Higgins brings fire and excitement to the piano on the opening tune, “Mighty Fine.” Ziad Rabie lends his tenor saxophone richness to the mix, introducing us to the melody and expanding on it.  Andre Ferreri named his group the Italian version of quintet, because the project has a Euro-Italian feel to it and he is paying homage to both his heritage and the inspiration he found during time spent in Italy.  He brings us, in both his compositions and talents on the guitar, a love of bebop, trad jazz and swing.  There’s nothing better for my ears!   Anna Stalman steps into the spotlight on this premiere swing tune, playing her double bass, she walks all over this tune in a very pleasing way.  Kobie Watkins, on drums, drives the piece like a 16-wheeler and shows off his trap drum mastery.  He’s played with everyone from Kurt Elling and Arturo Sandoval to Sonny Rollins.  As a seasoned jazz veteran, with deep roots in his home state of New York, Andre Ferreri and his ‘quintetto’ bring us a powerful presentation and interpret his compositions flawlessly.  This group puts a capital ‘E’ in EXPLOSIVE!

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TIM MAYER – “KEEPER OF THE FLAME” – D-Clef Records

Tim Mayer, tenor, soprano saxophone & alto flute; Rodney Whitaker, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., drums; Anthony Stanco, trumpet; Adam Rongo, alto saxophone; Tony Lustig, baritone saxophone; Michael Dease, trombone; Miki Hayama & Emmet Cohen, piano.

From the very first track on this album titled, “Big P” Tim Mayer establishes the swinging, straight-ahead groove I love so much.  The horns come out blasting, in a big band style, and then Rodney Whitaker struts out on his double bass, locks horns with Ulysses Owens on drums and Miki Hayama’s piano completes the tight and supportive rhythm section.  Whitaker, a bassist I have long admired, steps into the spotlight and takes a noteworthy solo, sparked by tasty horn licks in the background. Diego Rivera has written all the octet arrangements.  “Big P” is a smokin’ hot arrangement and sets the tone for this awesome album of jazz.  “Bye Bye Blackbird” features a trio performance with Tim Mayer picking up his soprano saxophone to sing the melody, then engaging a meaningful and creative conversation with both Whitaker on bass, before trading fours with Owens on drums towards the end of the tune.  That’s when Ulysses is happy to show us his tenacious abilities on the trap drums.  The Cedar Walton composition, “Hand in Glove” is played at a speedy tempo and features the horns flying and the rhythm section, spurred by the drums of Ulysses Owens.  When the curtain’s part, to feature Miki Hayama’s piano, you hear her rich technique and inspired creativity.  “Blame it on My Youth,” a favorite standard of mine, gives Tim Mayer an opportunity to introduce us to his smoky tenor saxophone.  When Whitaker sings this beautiful melody on his double bass, he starts by reaching up to the top of the strings.  Later, Rodney improvises his way down to the richness at the bottom of his instrument, duetting with Mayer’s tenor in an extraordinary way.  This album is lusciously creative.  Mayer has written two compositions for this release.  “Blues by Four” is Track 5 and “Get Organized” is Track 8. The “Blues by Four” is joyful with a catchy melody.  The horns take this opportunity to harmonize and punch the groove; Anthony Stanco on trumpet, Adam Rongo on alto saxophone and Tony Lustig on baritone sax, along with Michael Dease on trombone.  Tim Mayer’s tenor solo gets busy and the other cats support this tune with wonderful choruses, fluidly written by Rivera.  His arrangements make the octet sound like a big band. Their production of Coltrane’s familiar “Naima” tune is fresh and is one of Tim Mayer’s personal arrangements for this date.  He reinterprets this beautiful composition in a fresh way, letting the band trade fours and giving each musician an opportunity to shine and showcase their talents. 

This collection of music is spirited, spontaneous and emotional.  It reminds us of what a talented woodwind player Tim Mayer is and it tributes some of his jazz heroes from past generations.  He refers to them, and perhaps to his current octet in his album title, “Keeper of the Flame.”    This music is burning hot and will light you up, swing hard, put your feet to the fire and warm your heart.

Here is a sample of his saxophone style from his last CD release, “Resilience.”

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ALEX CONDE – “DESCARGA FOR BUD” – Sedajazz

Alex Conde, piano/arrangements; John Santos, percussion; Jeff Chambers, bass; Colin Douglas, drums; Sergio Martinez, cajon/djembe; mike Olmos, trumpet; Jeff Narell, steel pan; Jose Luis de la Paz, guitar.

This is my first time hearing a tribute to Bud Powell, illuminating his compositions with Latin fusion excitement.  Bandleader, Alex Conde, is a Spanish pianist who has boldly reimagined the brilliant Powell’s bebop music with soulful Caribbean colors and percussive richness.   All the while, Alex Conde shows off his amazing piano ‘chops’ and tenacious technical mastery of his instrument.  His piano playing is provocative and emotional.  He dedicates this album to the fathers of jazz, the Black American composers who created this music and who, he has admired for many decades.   This work of art is the second in a series he calls, “Descarga.”  The first one was released in 2015, a “Descarga for Monk” on the Zoho label.  On this current release, Conde transforms the familiar compositions by Bud Powell into various Latin arrangements.  “The Fruit” becomes a Buleria.  “Oblivion” is a joyful Tango, and one of my favorites. 

“Bouncing with Bud” is an Alegria, “Dusk in Saudi” is a Solea and “Wail” is a Calypso that made me dance in my desk chair.  On “Parisian Thoroughfare” Alex Conde’s fingers move swiftly, reminding me of a piece of Bach I used to play years ago.  It’s very jazzy, but with classical overtones strongly resonating.  “Hallucinations” is a title that resonates with the legendary history of Bud Powell’s mental struggles that kept him going in and out of psyche wards for years.  Jeff Chambers is given an opportunity to solo on his bass and John Santos brightly lights the stage with his percussive licks.  “Celia” is arranged as a bright and bubbly Buleria.  This is music that explores Powell’s brilliance, but also showcases the sparkle and genius of Alex Conde and his band of wonderful musicians.  They bring a fresh perspective to jazz music with their own cultural beauty.

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KENDALL CARTER – “INTRODUCING KENDALL CARTER” – Lladnek Music

Kendall Carter, organ; Dave Stryker, guitar; Kenny Phelps, drums.

I love a great organ trio. Kendall Carter is a new organist on the block and he’s added the dynamic Dave Stryker on guitar along with Indianapolis drummer, Kenny Phelps slapping the rhythm in place.  Kendall Carter has been making a name for himself in the Midwest of the country as a jazz organist.  He received a master’s degree in jazz composition and arranging from the University of Louisville in Kentucky; so, he puts that training to use during this debut recording.  The trio opens with “Blame It on the Boogie,” transforming the Michael Jackson hit record to a jazzier rendition of Jackson’s original pop hit.  They add shuffle drums and a swing groove.  I think the engineer had a little trouble mixing and mastering this project.  Aside from that, this first cut comes out the gate full speed ahead.  I didn’t care for the drums on “Afro Blue.”  I missed the strong 6/8 feel that both Carter and Stryker were playing.  Phelps was just busy instead of holding down the Afro-Cuban beat.  But Kendall Carter showed off his skills on the organ. 

When Carter isn’t recording or gigging, he serves as Minister of Music at the Greater Faith Church of Deliverance in Louisville.  He brings his strong gospel roots to the studio on tunes like “The Masquerade is Over” and “That’s All.”  Their arrangement on the latter is fresh and swings hard.  On track 4, Stryker opens up Kenny Dorham’s “Short Story” composition, letting his guitar sing the melody and then veering off to explore the path of improvisation.  When Carter steps onto the exploratory path, he shows off his organ skills.  This is followed by the trading of fours, that brightly spotlight Kenny Phelps’ brilliance on drums.  They’re back to that old familiar shuffle groove on Lee Morgan’s “Speedball” tune and Phelps holds them tightly in that groove, locking into Carter’s organ rhythm and Stryker’s bluesy guitar.  What I miss is that walking bass line that Jimmy Smith used to do so well, stomping his busy feet across the organ pedals.  However, that missing walking bass line takes a little of the excitement out of this production. I take this CD off of one of my players and put it onto another.  That’s when I realize it’s the engineer or the mastering technician that lost the important foot-pedal bass line, because it’s there.  Kenny Carter is doing his job. “The Masquerade is Over” quickly becomes one of my favorite ‘cuts’ on this album, although I do hear some distortion.  Yes, I think the problem is at the feet of the engineer.  On the whole, this is a strong debut for organist, Kendall Carter and his swinging trio.  I look forward to hearing much more from this talented organist.

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WADADA LEO SMITH WITH MILFORD GRAVES AND BILL LASWELL – “SACRED CEREMONIES” – Tum Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; Milford Graves, drums/percussion; Bill Laswell, basses.

This is a project that Wadada Leo Smith and Bill Laswell dedicate lovingly to Milford Graves, who passed of heart failure in 2021, due to amyloid cardiomyopathy.  He was diagnosed in 2018.  This music was recorded between 2015 and 2016.  A deeply admired musician and man of the community, Graves was not only a respected drummer, but a healer, an herbalist, an acupuncturist and a martial artist.  In 1964, he recorded the now historic studio session with poet, Leroi Jones, who later adopted the name Amiri Baraka.  Amiri was reciting his poem, “Black Dad Nihilismus.”  This distinguished drummer’s given name was Ron Wynn and his skill on the percussive instruments embraced a deep knowledge of African drumming and East Indian drumming.  He studied the Tabla from Wasantha Singh and was one of the glitziest and most animated drummers of the ‘free mode’ style.  Milford Graves is the recipient of the DownBeat International Award and the Critics Award.  He also received the national Endowment for the Arts grant and was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship.[1] A documentary was released in 2018 called, “Full Mantis.” 

Believe it or not, Graves took the Guggenheim Grant money and invested in laboratory equipment to do heartbeat research in his Jamaica, Queens basement.  In 2017, he co-invented a process that can repair stem cells using heartbeat vibrations, for which he was awarded a patent.

This is a 3-CD box set.  The first disc is a duo between Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and Milford Graves on drums and percussion.  They create very spiritual music together.  The Avant-garde, spiritual percussionist joins talents with Wadada Leo Smith, also a master musician, trumpeter, educator and one of the early members of Chicago’s historical AACM collaborative.  Wadada created his own music language and music philosophy. He has composed all the music for this duo suite with Milford Graves called Nyoto: Parts 1-3.  It’s an enchanting excursion into melody, space and time.  The 5th track is written by both Graves & Smith titled “Celebration Rhythms.”  The starkness of just trumpet and rhythm is both engaging and beautiful. They also collaborated on composing the 6th track, “Poetic Sonics.” Wadada Leo Smith pulls the tones out of the bell of his horn like thick strands of sweet taffy.  Milford Graves chops the strands up with his drum sticks and adds to the sweetness; tastes the flavor; spices up the improvised notes of Wadada Leo Smith as only Milford Graves can; cayenne pepper hot. 

Disc 2 features barrier-breaking, electric bassist Bill Laswell with seven ceremonial compositions that celebrate everyone from Prince to Tony Williams; from Minnie Riperton to Donald Ayler.  Once again, Wadada Leo Smith has composed four of the seven songs and co-written the other three with Bill Laswell.  Laswell, a Detroiter who moved to NYC in the late 1970s, made a name for himself combining rock influenced electronic experimentation and improvisation on his bass.  As a producer, he is best known for his collaborations with Herbie Hancock and their Grammy-award winning single, “Rockit” on the album “Future Shock.”   Laswell has produced albums for Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, The Last Poets and Pharoah Sanders.  Musically, he has participated as a performer with several groups and released two solo bass recordings.  Disc 3 combines the talents of these three innovative and spiritually inspired jazz artists, culminating their path to “Sacred Ceremonies” by sharing their spiritual and musical discoveries with us along the way.

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LORRAINA MARRO – “LOVE IS FOR ALL TIME” – Independent Label

Lorraina Marro, vocals; Steve Rawlins, piano; Grant Geissman, guitar; Jennifer Jane Leitham, bass; Steve Pemberton, drums; Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, trumpet; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone.

Vocalist Lorraina Marro has gathered ten lovely and memorable songs for this, her third CD release.  I became fascinated by her choice of repertoire.  For example, she introduces me to “I’m Not Alone” by Ivan Guimaraes Lins, Victor Martins & Will Jennings. It’s a Latin tinged ballad that lyrically praises a strong relationship, both in person and in memory.  It’s a poignantly beautiful song and features a lovely solo by Grant Geissman on guitar.  Another gem is the Arthur Hamilton tune, “Rain Sometimes,” that I had never heard and thoroughly enjoyed, with lyrics like:

 “…There’ll be Champagne sometime, Lobster flown from Maine sometime; we’ll ride the gravy train sometime, just you wait and see” are such great storytelling words.

Steve Rawlins is a sensitive and competent accompanist on this project and also arranges many of the songs.  Ms. Marro has surrounded herself with some of the best players in Southern California like Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez on trumpet, Jennifer Jane Leitham on bass and Steve Pemberton manning the drums.  The tracks are strong and compensate for this seasoned veteran’s uncontrollable tremolo that textures her voice.  She compensates for that with an emotional delivery that allows her sincerity to shine though.  I remember when the great Billy Eckstine had that challenge with his vocals. Lorraina Marro sings “Viajera Del Rio” and “Esta Tarde Vi Llover” in Spanish.  She also reminds us how much we love the Great American Song Book with tunes like “Stairway to the Stars,” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” 

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BRUCE HARRIS – “SOUNDVIEW” – Cellar Music Group

Bruce Harris, trumpet/composer; Sullivan Fortner, piano; David Wong, bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums; Samara Joy, vocals.

I love the very first cut and title tune, right off the bat!  Bruce Harris is someone Wynton Marsalis says is:

“One of the five young players you should know.”

I agree with Wynton!  With the assistance and support of producer, Jeremy Pelt, this up-and-coming trumpeter has embraced the Black American Songbook.  His goal is to showcase the voices of Black artists and composers like Track 2, “Satellite” by Gigi Gryce.  Gryce was a Black American reedman, arranger, composer and educator. 

He also chooses the music of the great Hank Mobley on “Hank’s Prank” that races onto the scene like a squad car in pursuit of run-away justice. The Bruce Harris trumpet is as bright and attention getting as a siren or the red and blue lights sparkling in the night. The beautiful Mercer & Malneck tune, “If You Were Mine” features the honey-sweet vocals of Samara Joy.  Harris also showcases a composition by Eubie Blake and A. Razaf that is absolutely beautiful titled, “You’re Lucky to Me.”  Harris’ trumpet glides smoothly across the melody like an Olympic skater.  Sullivan Fortner’s piano improvisation is thoughtful and creative, sometimes reminding me of the Thelonious Monk style, but Sullivan is always his own man.  David Wong has a strong bass voice and asserts it during his solo in the spotlight.  This fantastic quintet also celebrates Duke Ellington during a suite of the bandleader’s music.  They delve into Avant-garde music half way through and drag us by the ear to the ‘outside’ of the music. They also tribute Barry Harris, playing his “Bird of Red and Gold,” enhanced by Samara Joy’s lyrical interpretation. She is the Sarah Vaughan Competition Champion and has a voice that caresses each note and clearly enunciates each word and meaning.  Bruce Harris interjects his horn tastily, coloring the production delicately as they deliver “the almighty’s gift to you.” They close with “Saucer Eyes” by Randy Weston and it’s a fitting closure to a beautifully produced and executed album of unforgettable jazz.  Aaron Kimmel is given an opportunity to solo on his trap drums and he lifts the music exuberantly.  I liked this group so much; think I’ll play this CD again.

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[1] http://www.bennington.edu