Archive for July, 2021


July 31, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

Aug 1, 2021


Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet/composer.

This collector’s album is a unique, extended collection of solo trumpet music recorded over one summer week, in the beautiful, natural acoustics of St. Mary’s Church.  St Mary’s is a medieval stone church in the town of Pohja on the Southern Coast of Finland.  This amazing new work of musical art features fourteen new compositions by Wadada Leo Smith, spread over three CDs.  It was recorded in July of 2016, at the historic church that was constructed between the years 1460 and 1480 and is said to be very close to its original condition.  As usual, Wadada Leo Smith explores all the tones, textures and possibilities of the trumpet. 

“The acoustics were perfect for the trumpet sound.  The recording took place over four days during the summer.  It was a beautiful moment for creating art,” Wadada Leo Smith recalled.

“The trumpet is a metallic vehicle and, because of its architectural design, it has the potentiality of offering the music creator the ability to create a pure and sometimes unimaginably beautiful music.  That music of the trumpeter is heard in this world and across space.  It is an instrument made for the dreamer of dreams, the one who can authenticate the dream into reality,” Smith described his chosen instrument.

This beautifully constructed album package consists of a CD sized booklet full of art and wise words that perpetuate the legacy of master musicians like Albert Ayler, Miles Davis, Howard McGhee, Steve McCall and spiritual innovator, Malik al-Shabazz.  Wadada Leo Smith dedicates his music to these historic figures and more.  In the booklet, he gives opinions on each icon that inspired his music and why they mean so much to him.  There are also several color photographs of Wadada and a rich biography that traces his early musical life to the present. The historic St. Mary’s Church is photographed and there are many pages of original artwork in the booklet and gracing the covers of the three CDs; art created by the multi-talented Wadada Leo Smith.  Several of his previous art scores have been featured exhibits at major American museums.

Smith received his original musical inspiration from his stepfather, Alex “Little Bill” Wallace, who was one of the first Delta blues singers to play electric guitar.  Wadada Leo Smith’s Leland, Mississippi home was always full of music with frequent guests like Little Milton, Elmore James and B.B. King.  As a trumpeter, he thought of himself as a descendent of Louis Armstrong, although he was also greatly influenced by Miles Davis, Booker Little, Clifford Brown and Don Cherry.  However, Wadada was always his own man; a musician who pushed the boundaries.   After leaving the army in 1967, he moved to Chicago and joined saxophonist, Anthony Braxton to become part of the blossoming AACM, (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).  As part of his music theory exploration, Wadada Leo Smith developed the two basic systems of music he has used in his compositions ever since: the system of rhythm-units and the notation system he termed “Ahkreanvention” that literally means to create and invent musical ideas simultaneously utilizing the fundamental laws of improvisation and composition.  With his rhythm-unit concept, each single sound or rhythm, or a series of sounds or rhythms, is accepted as a complete piece of music.  Smith’s creation of Andhrasmation Symbol Language has been significant in his development as an artist and educator.

Professor Smith has been on the faculty of the University of New Haven, The Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.  He also served as Director of the African-American Improvisational Music Program at the Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts.  In 2016, Wadada Leo Smith received the Doris Duke Artist Award and an honorary Doctorate of Arts degree from CalArts, where he was celebrated as Faculty Emeritus.  In 2019, Smith received the UCLA Medal, the campus’s highest honor and in 2021 he was named one of the 2021 USA Fellows by the United States Artists.  This album is another example of Wadada Leo Smith’s excellence, unique creativity, craftsmanship and brilliant talent.  With his beautiful tone and emotional connection, his music makes me feel one with the universe.  It opens like a blooming flower and roots itself into the soul of his listening audience.         

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Alex Collins, piano; Ryan Berg, bass; Karl Latham, drums.

There’s nothing quite like ‘trio music’ when the players are as creative, talented and inspired as these three musicians.  On the well-loved tune, “Stella by Starlight” they open sweetly like a music box.  Soon, the spotlight turns to the bassist, Ryan Berg.  He basks in the light and thoroughly entertains us on his upright instrument.  When Alex Collins enters on piano, both his solo and style are stunning and unusual.  I am captivated by his approach on the piano and the freedom he exhibits, with Karl Latham slapping the drums into high gear to perpetuate the excitement.  Sometimes it sounds as if two pianists are playing instead of one.  Alex Collins is extremely gifted. 

Drummer Karl Latham has produced this session.  Karl is listed on the DrummerWorld ‘Top’ Drummers List.  He is also the Recording Engineer on this project.  The clarity he captures is wonderful.  His talents are prominent and exploratory on “Alone Together” a song usually recorded as a pensive ballad.  In this case, the trio has double-timed the arrangement and the tune streaks by on humming bird wings.  Latham takes a long and inventive drum solo on this piece, until the time resolves, slowing down to wrap us in a warm, somewhat classical piano arrangement.  The creativity presented by this trio is dynamic and much appreciated.

Ryan Berg opens “Green Dolphin Street” setting the groove with his double bass, offering a rich, provocative tone.  Berg has performed with Gregory Porter, Mark Whitfield, Lindsey Webster, JD Allen, Lenny White, Gerald Clayton and more.  He’s a bass staple on the New York City jazz scene. 

Alex Collins is a composer and arranger, as well as a uniquely talented pianist.  He’s performed with Michelle Coltrane, Gerry Gibbs, The Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars, Lennie White and in 2003, Collins received the Wynton Kelly Jazz Foundation Award for Jazz Achievement.

When you combine these three exceptionally talented individuals, you get an opportunity to hear what the perfect jazz trio should sound like, under the best of circumstances.  This is an album I will enjoy time after time, year after year, always discovering something fresh and exciting to please my jazz palate.  Their music is absolutely delicious!

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LAUREN HENDERSON – “MUSA” – Brontosaurus Records

Lauren Henderson, vocals/composer/background vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Paco Soto & Nick Tannura, guitar; Eric Wheeler, bass; Joe Dyson, drums; Marquis Hill, trumpet; Sabu Porrina, percussion; Daniel J. Watts, spoken word.

Lauren Henderson made a conscious effort to be sure this new release exemplified her traditions and the cultures that have influenced her style and vocals. 

“I wanted my next record to blend jazz, flamenco and Afro-Latina music,” explained Henderson.

Opening with her breathy, tremolo voice caressing the lyrics to “I Concentrate on You,” she overdubs and harmonizes with herself on this tune.  Sullivan Fortner is notable and complimentary on piano.   This is Henderson’s eighth release as a leader. She includes original compositions as part of this repertoire and she sings several songs in Spanish.  Track two is one of her original songs titled, “La Marejada,” that she performs in Spanish.  Paco Soto is emotional and full of passion on Flamenco guitar.  The tune “Forget Me” is one I heard Shirley Horn sing and Lauren Henderson gives bassist Eric Wheeler the introduction on solo bass to draw us into this song.  Joe Dyson’s seductive drum licks add the perfect punch and Marquis Hill’s muted trumpet is sexy and fills in the empty spaces until it’s solo time.  Then he flies high as does Fortner on piano. 

“Corazon, No Llores” is very tango-like at the top of the verse and once again Henderson sings in Spanish.   As the song unfolds, it spreads joy like sweet jam.  On this arrangement, Nick Tannura steps forward with his guitar featured brightly.  Lauren Henderson has a soft sound, reflective of what she describes as her ‘shy’ personality.  But there is a sexy undertone that whispers her lyrics and is quite provocative.  You clearly hear it on “Wild Is the Wind.” 

“I’m not a belter.  It’s more nuanced.  While intensity is a powerful tool that we can use in a beautiful way and in a positive way, I can be more private at times. … I think I bring some of that to the stage.  I’m so grateful for people who take the time to listen.  I’m saying more with less and people have to listen to be able to receive it,” she says. 

The arrangement on “Ahora” is exciting and features Sullivan Fortner and Eric Wheeler on bass.  Joe Dyson’s drums push the track ahead and Lauren once again chooses to sing in Spanish.  The rhythm section is powerful on this track.  The title tune, “Musa” is another Henderson composition and is sung in Spanish.  It becomes one of my favorites on this album.  It’s very melodic and the arrangement is lilting and happy.  Eric Wheeler sparkles during his bass solo.  Lauren Henderson’s project is fun, diverse and creative.

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Cliff Monear, piano; Michael Malis, keyboards; Jeff Pedraz & Miles Brown, upright bass; Jesse Kramer & Sean Dobbins, drums; Pepe Espinosa, Latin percussion; Dwight Adams, trumpet/flugelhorn; Andrew Bishop, tenor saxophone; Terry Kimura, trombone; Rafael Statin, tenor saxophone/flute; Mark Lipson, producer/arranger.

The work of three Detroit composers is featured on this straight-ahead, legacy album of music; Mark Lipson, Kenn Cox and Brad Felt.  Lipson founded the Detroit Composers’ Collective (DCC) in 2015 to preserve some of Detroit’s many great jazz musicians and composers.  Lipson is a drummer and composer in his own right and was an admirer of Kenn Cox.  Two of his songs are included on this recording; “The Masters” that opens the CD and Track 2,“Tony’s Trip.”  As the producer and arranger of this project, Mark Lipson has employed some of the top players around the Motor City.  Opening with his own tune, “The Masters” this title epitomizes the work of himself, Kenn Cox and Brad Felt.  This tune barrels into my listening room with tenacious energy, in a jazz waltz vein.  As the horns blare, Cliff Monear is complimentary and supportive in the rhythm section, on piano.  Andrew Bishop takes an inspiring tenor saxophone walk around the tune, as does Dwight Adams on trumpet.  On “Tony’s Trip” we are transported to South America with spicy, hot Salsa music.

Like many master musicians who came out of Detroit, Kenn Cox was a graduate of the legendary Cass Technical High School.  After graduating Cass Tech, he went to the Detroit Conservatory of Music (1949-1958), as well as the Detroit Institute of Music Arts from 1959-1961. Then Cox left for New York City.  Although his initial dive into the music world was on the trumpet, Cox became attracted to the piano early on and that became his instrument of choice.  In New York City, he landed an accompanist position with the great Etta Jones and was her Musical Director until 1966.  He also worked with the legendary Helen Humes and Ernestine Anderson.  Upon returning to Detroit, he joined the hard bop quintet headed by trombonist, George Bohannon.  This was followed by Cox forming his own group; Kenny Cox and the Contemporary jazz Quintet.  They recorded for Blue Note Records.  With roots deeply embedded in post-bop, hard bop and bebop, Kenn Cox was a prolific composer.  On Mark Lipson’s “Realism” album he has interpreted two compositions by Cox.  The first is “Cuernavaca,” named for a Mexican City heralded as The City of Eternal Spring.  This Latin influenced composition, with Pepe Espinosa propelling the tune on percussion, features a lush melody and a beautiful solo on flute by Rafael Statin.  “Samba de Romance” is the second tune penned by Kenn Cox.  Drummer, Sean Dobbins, holds this piece rhythmically in place along with Espinosa on percussion and bassist, Jeff Pedraz, bows a beautiful solo on his upright instrument.   Michael Malis skims along the keyboard keys and Rafael Statin flutters his flute.  Terry Kimura makes a solo appearance on his trombone.

Brad Felt’s compositions close out this CD.  He was born May 6, 1956, full name, Bradley James Felt, and grew up in Royal Oaks, Michigan. Felt made his musical mark playing tuba, euphonium and composing music.   Like Cox, he started by playing trumpet in grade school.  Once he got braces, playing trumpet became challenging, so he switched to tuba at age fourteen.  Following his high school band participation, he attended Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, sponsored by a performance scholarship.  He studied with Sam Sanders, Doc Holladay and Herbie Williams, as well as being part of the jazz workshop led by trumpet master, Marcus Belgrave.  Brad Felt extended his tuba playing into the world of jazz and in 1990, he featured his own compositions during a concert at the Detroit Institute of Arts entitled “The Tuba Rules!”

Felt’s arrangements are more Avant-Garde and his compositions give this talented ensemble freedom to stretch-out and improvise broadly atop his creative chord changes.  “Existentialism” is up-tempo and Rafael Statin picks up his tenor saxophone and flies free as an eagle.  Sean Dobbins is exciting on trap drums.   On the “P.J. Lids” composition, they add a Latin beat and feature Espinosa on Latin percussion.  This tune is brightly enhanced by a provocative horn ensemble.  The production closes with Mark Lipson’s tune, “Spinning,” featuring Andrew Bishop on tenor saxophone, Cliff Monear on piano, Miles Brown on double bass and Jesse Kramer manning the drums.  All in all, here is an entertaining production that introduces the listener to some of Detroit’s best jazz composers interpreted by an outstanding group of Motor City players.

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Trineice Robinson, vocals/background vocals; Laura-Simone Martin, background vocals; Lindsay Martin Jr., vocals/background vocals; Cyrus Chestnut & Phil Orr, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Vince Ector, drums; Kahil Kwame Bell, percussion; Joe ‘Stretch’ Vinson, guitar; Don Braden, tenor & alto saxophones; Ian Kaufman, trombone; John Meko, trumpet; Nils Mossblad, tenor saxophone.

The ensemble backing up Trineice Robinson is so strong that I am immediately drawn into this project like quicksand.  Don Braden opens the first piece, “All or Nothing at All” on saxophone and sets the tone.  The group swings hard.  Robinson arrives vocally and sings this standard from the great American Songbook with vigor and strength.  Cyrus Chestnut adds a spirited piano solo.  The group’s arrangement of “Footprints,” the second song, is too busy.  Trineice Robinson and Nandita Rao have written lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s tune.  Don Braden has arranged the piece and features Vince Ector on drums and the colorful percussion of Kahlil Kwame Bell.  Unfortunately, it sounds like Robinson is fighting the ensemble for space to vocalize.  She’s such a strong singer that the production is a disappointment, because it’s so busy featuring the band, the vocalist seems to have lost her spotlight.  Trineice Robinson’s rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” shows her strong R&B side.  She has worked regularly with an R&B band since her college days.  As a multiple stylist, she was raised in the gospel church and has been singing gospel music since she was a young child.  Dr. Robinson also has extensive classical training.  You can clearly hear her powerful alto voice on “Come Sunday.”  This is an arrangement that simply features her voice and Chestnut’s piano. 

As a teacher, Trineice Robinson has dedicated her life to helping others achieve success on their journey to discovering and honing their vocal talents. She teaches jazz, gospel/Christian music, R&B, rock, country and pop singing styles.  She has created ‘Soul Ingredients’ a teaching methodology for developing a singer’s musical style and to teach interpretation in African American, folk-based music styles.  It’s meant to personalize a singer or performer’s own expression. 

This is Dr. Robinson’s debut album. You hear the full breadth and width of Trineice Robinson’s vocals on the beautiful ballad, “You Taught My Heart to Sing” written by McCoy Tyner and Sammy Cahn.  “La Costa” has long been a favorite tune of mine and I was happy to hear Dr. Robinson cover this song, featuring Phil Orr on piano with Don Braden’s beautiful flute licks complimenting sweetly. The background vocal harmonies are refreshing as they lilt along with this Latin flavored tune.  Robinson snatches a piece of the blues while covering the Nancy Wilson hit song, “Save Your Love for Me.”  I was impressed by her original tune, arranged as a shuffle blues. “Let it Shine” does just that.  This is a strong composition with a positive, uplifting lyric and it’s soaked in gospel.  She’s joined by her two children, Laura-Simone Martin and Lindsay Martin, Jr. who sing background.  Kenny Davis takes an impressive bass solo on the Thelonious Monk song, “You Know Who (I Mean You).”  Trineice scats with the horn, singing along in unison. 

Dr. Robinson comes from a large, close-knit religious family.  There are three generations of preachers in her family and she sang with a gospel choir from the age of five.  Obviously, her children are following in her footsteps. The closing song, “This Little Light of Mine” featuring Lindsay Martin Jr., singing with spontaneous sincerity and joy.  Here is an album that     introduces us to the rich voice and many vocal styles of Dr. Trineice Robinson.

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Antonio Adolfo, piano/arranger/producer; Lula Galvao, guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Paulo Braga & Rafael Barata, drums; Dada Costa & Rafael Barata, percussion; Jesse Sadoc, trumpet/flugelhorn; Danilo Sinna, alto saxophone; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophones/flutes; Rafael Rocha, trombone; Zé Renato, vocals.

Brazilian composer extraordinaire, Antonio Carlos Jobim, has blessed the world with amazing songs that will live on forever.  Like so many of us, pianist Antonio Adolfo also admires the Grammy Award winning composer, Jobim, who introduced Bossa Nova to the United States and the world.  Antonio Adolfo has chosen to re-imagine nine of Jobim’s beautiful compositions from the 1960s. They are treasures that reflect Adolfo’s own unique artistry.  Antonio Adolfo is a composer himself, who has recorded over two dozen albums as a bandleader, some that featured all his own compositions.  In fact, more than 200 of his original works have been recorded by major artists including Sergio Mendes, Earl Klugh, Herb Alpert, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and others.

Adolfo became a professional jazz pianist at age seventeen, when he formed and led his own trio.  He toured with famous singers like Flora Purim and Elis Regina.  He also toured with Milton Nascimento, whose music he commemorated in a 2020 recording tributing that great musician; (BruMa – Celebrating Milton Nascimento).  For this recent project, Adolfo has assembled some of the top musicians in Brazil.  He opens this album with probably one of Jobim’s biggest hit recordings, “The Girl from Ipanema.”  The ensemble embraces the rich, Bossa Nova rhythm, but also incorporates a soft ‘swing’ groove into the mix.  Antonio re-colors the original arrangement, giving the horns space to show-off.  Danilo Sinna’s sweet alto saxophone wraps the swing around his solo, then invites Adolfo to present his enthusiastic solo on piano.  On “Wave” Lula Galvao is brilliant on guitar and Rafael Rocha’s trombone is king! 

Antonio Adolfo was just establishing his career in music during the early 1960s, at the same time Jobim was becoming an international success and Brazilian music was intoxicating the world.  It was around this same time that he met Antonio Carlos Jobim.

“When he returned to Brazil, after the Bossa Nova concert at Carnegie Hall in 1962, I met and hung out with Jobim on several occasions.  He was captivating and witty.  He shared his knowledge of music and nature, subjects about which he was passionate and knowledgeable.  We would spend hours talking and I was charmed by his wisdom,” Adolfo recalled his time spent with Jobim.

On Track 3, we get to enjoy the smooth beautiful voice of Ze Renato singing the ‘happiness’ song, “A Felicidade.”  We also hear the trumpet excellence of Jesse Sadoc on this familiar tune.  With Adolfo’s piano pumping life and energy into the arrangement, along with the percussive magic of Rafael Barata and Dada Costa.  I love the alternate chording and fresh harmonics that Antonio Adolfo adds to “How Insensitive.”   Then, on “Favel (O Morro Nao Tem Vez)” his arrangement slips into a minor blues suit and features straight ahead, improvised saxophone and trumpet solos that stand out as colorfully as a red & white polka dot bow tie.  This arrangement is playful and full of joy.

Adolfo explains his creative process: “When I create arrangements for my albums, I play the music literally dozens of times on the piano until I start to feel a kind of partnership with the composer.  After I thoroughly absorb the music, I can start hearing my own voice emerge, and I then can create the different harmonies, meters, phrasing and forms that I adapt to the instruments in my concept.”

With all the respect and love that Antonio Adolfo has for his hero, he has arranged and played this wonderful music, endeavoring to repaint the solid structure with his own bright colors and artistic shading.  You will enjoy the flavor of each tune and feast at the table of Antonio Adolfo, tasting each delicious bite of rhythm and harmony, and enjoying the rich succulence of every song arrangement.  Adolfo’s modern jazz sensibilities and arranger skills are the perfect ingredients for creating a meal of music fit for queens and kings to devour                           

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Kenny Garrett, alto saxophone/vocals/electric piano/composer; Vernell Brown, Jr., piano; Corcoran Holt, bass; Ronald Bruner, drums; Rudy Bird, percussion/snare; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jean Baylor, Linny Smith, Chris Ashley Anthony, Sheherazade Holman & Dwight Trible, vocals; Dreiser Durruthy, bata/vocals; Pedrito Martinez, vocals/congas; lenny White, snare; Johnny Mercier, piano/organ/Fender Rhodes; Maurice Brown, trumpet.

Kenny Garrett tells us “It’s Time To Come Home,” the name of  his opening tune, featuring Rudy Bird’s percussive beauty that nudges this production and supports Garrett’s silky smooth alto saxophone. This song has an Afro-Cuban feel to it with the voice of Jean Baylor featured, softly harmonizing with Garrett’s horn.  Dreiser Durruthy adds his bata talents and vocals, speaking to us and singing to us in what sounds like Yurabic. Track 2 is a tribute to trumpet master, Roy Hargrove (“Hargrove”) and features Maurice Brown on trumpet, with a choir of harmonic voices in the background who add another dimension, the way a string section would do; ever smooth and beautiful.  The melody is catchy, as Garrett and Brown punch it out in unison before exploring their individual improvisations. Kenny Garrett has composed all the music on this recording. 

“For Art’s Sake” features the drums of Ronald Bruner with Kenny’s saxophone calling out powerfully to the listener’s ear.  Also, we hear Garrett’s piano talents at the electric piano.  I am assuming this song is written to tribute the great Art Blakey, only because the drummer is so brillianly spotlighted.  Speaking of ‘art,’ the cover artwork on this album is amazing and created by Rudy Gutierrez.

“What Was That” is straight-ahead and exciting, giving Garrett a platform to fly free on his alto sax.  Vernell Brown, Jr., takes an exploratory trip around the 88 keys and wows us with his fluidity.  Rudy Bird’s colorful percussion is spotlighted during this tune and breathes fire and flame into the composition.   Ronald Bruner’s drums are hotly present on track 6, “Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats des Champs.”  As Kenny Garrett delivers his brilliant saxophone solo, Bruner’s powerful percussion fuses the tune, like a match to a kerosene lamp.  His double-time dances beneath this song and is flammable.  Special guest, Lenny White, is also here adding snare-snap to the drum sounds. However, it is always Kenny Garrett who fans the flames and enriches these songs with his inspirational musicianship.   The title tune, “Sounds from the Ancestors” begins with a sweet piano introduction that sets the mood and solidifies the melody.  Enter Pedrito Martinez on congas and vocals, whisking us up and reminding us of Cuban and African roots. Los Angeles based vocalist, Dwight Trible improvises on this song.  Kenny Garrett has invited several guest vocalists onto this project. He invites them to infuse his music with their spirits and free-vocal improvisations.  The melody of this particular song is so beautiful, I wish I had heard Trible’s beautiful baritone voice sing it down just once, but the pianist does a magnificent job of delivering this melodic message.  Garrett’s album ends with him playing percussion, using his air and alto saxophone to create breathy, rhythmic passages. This composition offers us the same kind of Afro-Cuban arrangement we heard at this album’s beginning, perhaps to remind us that “It’s Time to Come Home.”

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July 25, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 25, 2021


Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone/electronic wind instrument (EWI)/composer/arranger/conductor; WDR MEMBERS: Billy Test, piano; Paul Shigihara, guitar; Stefan Rey, acoustic & electric bass; Hans Dekker, drums; Marico Doctor, guest percussionist. Johan Hӧrlen & Karolina Strassmayer, alto saxophones; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor saxophones; Jens Neufang, baritone saxophone; Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer & Ruud Breuls, trumpet; Ludwig NuB, Raphael Klemm & Andy Hunter, trombone; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone.

For the past six years, Bob Mintzer has been the chief conductor of the WDR Big Band Cologne.  He wanted to work with a large, world-class ensemble to explore his intricate arrangements and showcase his original composer skills.  There is a tradition at the WDR Big Band to have the chief conductor fashion a project of their music and showcase their talents on their specific instrument.

“I’ve been primarily concerned with organizing concerts that either featured all the great musicians in the band … or arranging the music of one of several iconic guests that were jointly selected to be featured.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge of tackling these activities,” Bob Mintzer mused.

“My mission in creating the music here was to make a warm, beautiful sound, with the occasional smattering of complexity amongst singable melodies, interlocking rhythmical counterpoint and an amalgam of grooves from around the world,” Bob explained.

The WDR big band opens with a tune called “A Reprieve” rich with Latin rhythms and a melody you will want to whistle along with. Track 2 is titled, “The Conversation” and brightly features guest percussionist, Marcio Doctor.  The tune is soaked in Afro-Cuban rhythms and features Mintzer, dominant on tenor saxophone.  “Stay Up” starts out up-tempo and swinging, with plenty of staccato starts and stops; but quickly changes course to a sweet tenor solo that flys and swoops above a lovely background of horn harmonics, with Hans Dekker pounding away on drums to inspire the ensemble.  Johan Horlen contributes an inspirational alto sax solo that lifts the piece.  This is straight-ahead jazz that thrills me. A song called “Montuno” reflects the heart of Cuban rumba and Mintzer’s love affair with the New York City Latin jazz scene. 

“I played in Tito Puente’s band for a year in 1974 and I played in a lot of salsa bands around New York prior to and after that,” Mintzer reminisces.  “I worked with Eddie Palmieri’s band.  So, I’ve played thousands of Montunos in my time.” 

This is an album full of cayenne spice, but cool as flavored, crushed ice cones on a hot summer day.  It’s full of harmony and descants; melody and musical conversation. Bob Mintzer has a love for counterpoint and you hear it these arrangements.  His compositions and arrangements keep the listener interested and he doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with his various team players.   The joy of creating a big band project is dependent on gathering musicians together, with various viewpoints and cultural identities, but orchestrating to make them inclusive in the project in a unified and artistic way.  Mintzer exhibits a gift in this area.  He is also able to bend genres in his arrangements.  On the tune “Whack” for example, he blends fusion and funk in a delicious way, keeping the WDR Big Band solid with their harmonics and traditional flair. At the same time, he incorporates an electronic sound that propels the piece. It’s Mintzer stretching out on the EWI.   Paul Heller solos notably on tenor saxophone. 

“Canyon Winds” is a Smooth jazz sounding composition that allows Billy Test to showcase his awesome talents on piano and drummer Hans Dekker shines like a full moon on a clear night.  Every one of Bob Mintzer’s compositions is full of light, bright creativity and offers unexpected surprises for our ears. 

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Sam Pilnick, tenor saxophone/composer; Meghan Stagl, piano; Ben Dillinger, bass; Matthew Smalligan, drums; Ben Cruz, guitar; Euan Edmonds, trombone; Emily Kuhn, trumpet; Ted Hogarth, baritone saxophone; Max Bessesen, alto saxophone.

Sam Pilnick is a Chicago-based bandleader who has composed, produced and arranged this project to take his listeners on a trip to outer space, using a nine-movement suite inspired by Chicago’s beautiful and educational Adler Planetarium.

“As we entered The Adler, I was immediately inspired to write music as I saw the original space craft that brought home the astronauts from the Gemini II mission. … Reading the explanation of our planet, solar system and galaxy filled my mind with musical thoughts,” Sam Pilnick reflected on the inspiration for this project.

On Track 1., “Squawk Box,” Pilnick’s music is very orchestral and classically rooted. Track 2 is titled “Star Launch” and is a little jazzier, with the solo saxophones racing and the horn harmonics in the background warm and supportive.  “Star Launch” is much more engaging than the opening tune.  However, I wish I could hear the drummer more assertively.  Ben Dillinger on bass is clearly heard pumping away, but where are the drums?  Did Matthew Smalligan lay-out on this arrangement or did he get lost in the mix?  Then, out of the blue, the band quiets and the drums come marching through the curtains at the very end of the song.  What was the engineer thinking? 

Sam Pilnick, a tenor saxophone player, seems to lean heavily towards showcasing his woodwind players. The horns appear to have a central place in the spotlight and they are very busy throughout.  “Silver Light” opens with Meghan Stagl’s haunting piano chords, soon usurped by the horn ensemble.  This is a very pretty ballad composition by Pilnick.   We finally hear the drums clearly on Track 6, “House of the Massives (Pismis-24)” where the rhythm section is featured for the first eight bars before the horns dominate.  This arrangement is quite electric, but it’s neither jazz fusion or funk; Avant-garde or traditional.  It’s just busy.  The moderate tempo of most tunes throughout this production leaves this project of original compositions lack-luster and a bit boring, with the exception of the “Star Launch” tune.  However, the premise is noteworthy and the players are champions of their instruments.

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Chris Standring, guitar; Peter Erskine, drums/percussion; Dave Karasony & Harvey Mason, drums; Geoff Gascoyne, Darek Oleszkiewicz & Chuck Berghofer, bass; Kathrin Shorr, vocals; Randy Brecker, flugelhorn. VIOLINS: Magnus Johnston (leader) Jackie Shave, Thomas Gould, Bea Chappell, Kate Robinson, Ben Hancox, Tom Pigott Smith, Patrick Kiernan, Cathy Thompson & Dan Bhattacharya.  VIOLAS: Bruce White, Andy Parker, Reiad Chibah & Kate Musker.  CELLOS: Caroline Dale, Dave Daniels, Vicky Matthews & Nick Cooper. Tara Minton, harp. Geoff Gascoyne, orchestra arranger/conductor.

Chris Standring is an in-demand guitarist rooted in contemporary smooth jazz.  He prides himself with thirteen Billboard Top 10 singles and six single releases that all reached number one on the popular Billboard Chart.   “Wonderful World” is Standring’s fourteenth release as a leader. However, this album is very different from his other projects.  Instead of composing his own original music, this time Chris decided to put his unique and creative spin on songs from the Great American Songbook.  He also decided to feature a 19-piece orchestra, fulfilling one of his longtime dreams.

“I think there is something magical about the sound of a guitar and orchestra playing together, but I won’t always be in situations where it’s possible to use an orchestra.  So, the arrangements had to be flexible enough to work in a trio setting,” Chris Standring explained.

Chris Standring is a prolific composer, who has written or co-written over 100 songs and all of his other albums have spotlighted those composer abilities.    When asked about how he manages to come up with so many melodic ideas, he responded:

“I’m very disciplined about my writing.  I’m not married and don’t have any children, because I have been so intensely focused on my music and I don’t want any distractions.  I write pretty much every day and need silence and time for reflection. … I listen to a wide range of music styles to spark my creativity.” 

Standring is a native of England, but moved to the West Coast of the United Stated in 1991, settling in Los Angeles.  Almost immediately, he began recording with folks like Rick Braun, Carole Bayer Sager, Jody Watley and gospel icons, Bebe and Cece Winans.  He’s also been on-stage with such icons as Bob James, Patti Austin, Boney James, Peter White, Kirk Whalum and Dave Koz.  For this orchestral project, the respected guitarist called on a number of Los Angeles legendary jazz players to join him in the studio.  See the impressive list above.

You will enjoy the Standring interpretation of “How Insensitive,” with the orchestra arranged and conducted by Geoff Gascoyne.  The orchestrated portion of this album was recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London.  Other lovely, nostalgic tunes you will appreciate are “Night & Day,” “Autumn in New York” and “Estaté.”   On “What A Wonderful World” vocalist Kathrin Shorr lends her talents to the mix as the strings soar and beautifully color the arrangement.  On the Standring original composition, “Sunrise” Chris features Randy Brecker on Flugelhorn during this waltz-tempo’d ballad.  Other gems are “My Foolish Heart,” “Alfie,” and the jazz standard, “Green Dolphin Street.”  He also covers the Donald Fagen tune, “Maxine.”  This is easy-listening jazz at its best.  Dim the lights, flame the candles and cuddle up with this beautiful album of familiar songs.

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Tbone Paxton, trombone/co-leader; RJ Spangler, congas/percussion/co-leader; Phillip J. Hale, piano/fender Rhodes/electric piano; Sean Perlmutter/drums; Jeff Cuny, elec. & acoustic basses; Daniel Bennett, tenor saxophone; Rafael Leafar, alto saxophone/flute; Kasan Belgrave, alto saxophone; Damon Warmack, electric bass; Special guest: James O’Donnell, flugelhorn.

The Paxton/Spangler Septet is featuring the South African music of famed composer, Abdullah Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brand.  Both Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler have long been infatuated with the music of South Africa. The two musicians, who founded this septet, admire such artists as Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and pianist, composer Abdullah Ibrahim.  The Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler duo began this journey in 1980 when they formed a musical group known as the Sun Messengers Band.  This was followed by the Sun Sounds Orchestra.  Their orchestra effort was awarded Best Jazz Recording at the Detroit Music Awards in 1991.  After forming and dissolving several music ensembles, always with the desire to promote South African music, they have now released “Athem For the New Nation.”  Track 2 is the title tune of this album. Abdullah Ibrahim’s composition features a spirited alto saxophone solo by Rafael Leafar.  Track 3 is titled “Cape Town Fringe/ Mannenberg” and is based on an arrangement by Pharoah Sanders.  RJ Spangler’s percussion propels the group forward. The ensemble performs succinctly, establishing tight, African-flavored grooves for the soloists to take advantage of and to showcase each individual’s talent.  Phillip Hale opens Track 4 on piano, taking his time with the chords and introducing us slowly and emotionally to “Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain.”  I also enjoyed the flute of Rafael Leafar on this pretty ballad.  Another favorite on this album is “Moniebah” with a joyful bass solo by Jeff Cuny, who also wrote all the arrangements.  They close with the popular “Soweto” song.

Here is an album celebrating the iconic composer, Dollar Brand aka: Abdullah Ibrahim and infusing Motown groove with South African world music.

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Matt Niess, tenor trombone/arranger; Tony Nalker, piano; Shawn Purcell & Jim Roberts, guitars; Paul Henry, bass; Todd Harrison, drums; TENOR TROMBONES: Jim McFalls, Jay Gibble & Zach Niess.  BASS TROMBONES: Jerry Amoury, Jeff Cortazzo & Matt Neff.

Matt Niess and The Capitol Bones shuffle their way into my listening space with the familiar Sonny Bono song, “The Beat Goes On.”   It’s full of spunk and funk.   Matt Niess is a trombonist based in Washington, D.C., who played with the U.S. Army Band for over thirty years.  He was also a member of the Army Blues Jazz Ensemble and the US Army Brass Quintet.  On this recording, he is joined by some of the best jazz musicians in the Nation’s capital and they swing hard!  During the fade of this arrangement, the guitarist, Shawn Purcell, trades fours with Matt Niess’ trombone. Todd Harrison is spectacular throughout, taking a brilliant bow at the very end, with flashing drum sticks and admirable drum skills crashing into a crescendo of rhythm. 

“The Capitol Bones inaugural performance was in a restaurant called Firenzi’s in Arlington, VA; 1990, … not long after I joined the U.S. Army Band.  Our first big concert was the International Trombone Festival at the Eastman School of Music in 1991, after winning the Kai Winding Competition sponsored by the International Trombone Association.  The competition was the impetus that motivated me to forge the group into a trombone band like no other,” Matt Niess sang the praises of his band.

This is the long awaited fourth album for the renowned Capitol Bones.  Group founder and leader, Matt Niess, has every right to feel proud and enthusiastic about this recording.  It is absolutely terrific. The level of musicality and uniqueness is ‘off the charts;’ literally.  Matt’s arranging skills are also on parade and richly sparkle.

Matt arranged a well-known work in the trombone world that’s called “Two Pieces for Three Trombones.” He arranged it originally in 2010, for the Eastern Trombone Workshop (known now as the American Trombone Workshop).  For this recording, Niess expanded it to five bones and it’s become one of three bonus tracks included on this project.  Part two of this suite of music is actually called “Episode” and stands alone as track two on the album. The drums give the piece an Afro-Cuban feel, then part the curtains so that Jim McFalls can step through and solo on his tenor trombone.  The electric guitar makes an amazing statement on his own. Purcell steals the spotlight briefly away from the trombones and thoroughly entertains us. 

Pat Metheny composed “Song for Bilbao” and the trombones sound fat and full at the introduction of this piece.  Metheny’s tune features Jim Roberts on guitar.  “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” written by Mingus, is beautifully performed and aside from the awesome harmonies of the trombones, pianist Tony Nalker is given ample time to show off his musical skills. 

Here is an album packed with musicality and a variety of songs and arrangements that will thrill and entertain you.  Take for instance the harmonics on “Yesterday” that ring dynamic and memorable.

Matt Niess adds a couple of his original compositions for good measure.  One is titled “Fanfare for the Capitol Bones” and it reminds me of a freight train plowing down the tracks. Niess combines traditional jazz with a contemporary perspective, sparking the song with funk drums and playing his trombone with gusto.  The guitarist adds electronic rhythm to the piece and brings the element of fusion along with him.  There’s a Medley of music from ‘Chicago’ including “Make Me Smile,” “The Approaching Storm” and “Man vs. Man” and another original composition from Neiss titled, “Felicity.”   If variety is the spice of life, and you’re prone to unique experiences, sprinkle this music liberally onto your CD player and enjoy.

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PRINCIPLES: Jean Baylor, vocals/background vocals/composer/arranger/ hand claps/stomps; Marcus Baylor, drums/percussion/hand claps/stomps/arranger; Shedrick Mitchell, piano/organ/Wurlitzer /Fender Rhodes/ arranger; Terry Brewer, piano/organ; Dezron Douglas, Richie Goods & Ben Williams, upright bass; D. J. Ginyard, electric bass; Rayfield ‘Ray Ray’ Holloman, lap steel guitar/guitar; Marvin Sewell, guitar/slide guitar/acoustic guitar; Pablo Batista & Aaron Draper, percussion; Stephanie Alvarenga, vocal contractor/arranger background vocals/claps & stomps; Linny Smith, Sheherazade Holman, background vocals/claps & stomps; Pastor Paul James, background vocals; Keith Loftis, tenor & soprano saxophone; Korey Riker, tenor saxophone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mark Williams, trombone; Christopher Michael Stevens, horn contractor/trumpet; Aaron ‘Goody’ Goode, trombone; STRINGS: Darin Atwater & Geoffrey Keezer, arrangers; Lady jess, strings   contractor/violin l; Sara Caswell & Janina Norpoth, violin l; Orlando Wells, Frederique Gnaman & Ling Ling Huang, violin ll; Susan Mandel, cello; Celia Hatton, viola; SPECIAL GUESTS: Kenny Garrett, alto saxophone; Dianne Reeves & Jazzmeia Horn, lead vocals; Jamison Ross, lead vocals/background vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano/arranger; Apostle Larry J. Baylor, preacher; Mother Mattie Baylor, Mother Joan Norris, Eric Roberson, Dana Johnson, Avery Sunshine, Evertt & Tamia Perry, Uncle James Arthur & Aunt Cassandra Medley, spoken word.

The opening tune Strivin’ is spirited and sounds like something Aretha Franklin would sing.  The vocalist, Jean Baylor, is strong and rooted in gospel music.  This original song features the soulful horn of Kenny Garrett, however that doesn’t necessarily make this jazz.  Instead, it’s very strong Rhythm & Blues.  “Happy to be With You” continues in the same vein, with the blood of rhythm and blues pumping the tune happily along.  The band’s messages of love and family are prominent with powerful harmonic horns that sound like the days of ‘Tower of Power’ or ‘Earth, Wind & Fire.’  Both of these gold record groups combined music genres, blending R&B, Pop and Jazz.  The Baylor production takes a turn with “Love Makes Me Sing,” a beautiful ballad with strings soaring in the background and Keith Loftis sounds complimentary and jazzy on saxophone.   Shedrick Mitchell at the piano adds his jazzy touch to the production.  Jean Baylor’s voice is sweet honey in the comb on this project.   Her voice is soulful, emotional and hypnotic.  As “The Baylor Project” presents a mixed genre of music, it’s Jean’s voice that ties the package together like bright, colorful ribbons.  On the song “2020” they dip deeply into the biscuits, gravy and goodness of gospel music.  Jean and Marcus Baylor have written and arranged a dozen compositions for our listening pleasure and each song is well written and compelling.  Jean Baylor puts lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.”  Storytelling has always been central to the Baylor Project’s creative output.  As mentioned, their music crosses genres.  While most of it is rooted in R&B, on the seventh tune she features Jazzmeia Horn and Dianne Reeves, (two of my favorite jazz vocalists) and the project moves into pure jazz.  Marcus Baylor’s drums lock the ‘swing’ into place and Sullivan Fortner’s piano is outstanding as a strong support tool.  Sullivan is a musical master in his own right.

The beauty about much of today’s younger generational music is the cross-over appeal and the creative blending of genres.  This ensemble expands the term ‘jazz’ to new levels.  Their music is exceptionally well written, expertly arranged and, in addition, there is a strong element of spirituality and believability incorporated into their songwriting. I also must mention and applaud the fact that they employed live ‘strings’ and not a keyboard replica.  Listening to their music, I hear a hopeful spirit that prevails and uplifts.  So many people play well, but it takes a certain commitment, sometimes referred to as the ‘IT’ factor, along with talent to deliver music that inspires and heals.  “Generations” is one such project that will make you happy and hopeful.

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Sarah Wilson, trumpet/vocals; Myra Melford, piano; Jerome Harris, bass; John Schott, guitar; Matt Wilson, drums; Charles Burnham, violin.

A lone trumpet blares, directing our attention to the tone of Sarah Wilson’s instrument and her latest project titled, “Kaleidoscope.”  The piano sounds like bottle chimes blowing in a rainstorm.  Charles Burnham’s violin brings another voice that handsomely harmonizes with Wilson’s horn.  Her melody repeats and burns into our brains.  This original composition by Sarah Wilson is titled, “Aspiration” and is dedicated to Renee Baldocchi, who was Director of Public Programs at San Francisco’s de Young Museum when Wilson met her.  Aspiration is one of a dozen original songs Wilson has penned for this production.

“This record is about the people who have supported me,” Wilson explains the dedication above.

As the album title implies, “Kaleidoscope” embraces multiple views, colors and personalities.  This is not strictly jazz, but a combination of genres inclusive of Afro-Latin grooves, Indie rock and something her publicist calls Avant-pop.  “Color” is a song she dedicates to Paul Caputo, another supporter, music mentor and Schoenberg scholar.  This composition reminds me somewhat of South African music, with the strong melody introduced by horns and the guitar of John Schott.  Myra Melford is given time to explore improvisation on her piano and Matt Wilson’s drums hold the music rhythmically in place. 

Wilson’s compositions are melody-rooted, with repeatable, simple lines that are easily remembered. After I read that she had spent much time working in the Bread and Puppet Theater, later expanding her Visiting Artist role to work with a giant-puppet production for two years, and finally becoming an arranger, conductor and performing musician during puppet shows, her musical vision became clearer to me.  Her music is not complex.  However, it is sometimes on the verge of Avant-garde.  She’s a fairly new composer, singing and writing her original songs beginning in 2000, after the loss of her mother.

“My mom died that year and I gave up the trumpet. …  Songwriting was distracting; soothing as I was dealing with this terrible loss in my life.  I felt relaxed doing it.  It’s another avenue for my music to travel down,” Sarah Wilson explained how she came to composing.

In 1993, after Wilson moved to New York City to specifically concentrate on music, she studied with John McNeil and Laurie Frink.  Wilson released her first album in 2006 (Imaginary Play) and followed that up with 2010s Trapeze Project. When not recording, she develops programs for museums and institutions.  Her latest project is a music production for The Tenderloin Museum.  Collaborating with Larkin Street Youth Services, an organization serving homeless youth that is based in one of San Francisco’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods, “Tenderloin Voices” brings their stories to life through writing workshops and musical performances. 

This music doesn’t shuffle or swing.  It showcases simplistic melodies and Ms. Wilson is then dependent on her musical ensemble to do much of the improvisation we expect in a jazz production.  She is not a jazz singer.  Perhaps she explains her musicality best when reflecting on her days as Musical Director and Composer of Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival’s Annual Puppet Program.

“At the time, I didn’t really have any formal training or experience composing.  I didn’t know much harmony, so I would just write these melodic bass lines and layer contrapuntal melodies on top of them,” she explained in her press package.  “I’ve formally studied music since then, but my basic composing approach hasn’t changed much.”

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Michael Mantler, trumpet/composer; Christoph Cech, orchestra conductor; David Helbock, piano; Maximilian Kanzler, vibraphone/marimba; Bjarne Roupé, guitar; Tibor Kovesdi & Philipp Kienberger, double bass; Asja Valcic & Arne Kircher, violoncello; Simon Schellnegger, Anna Magdalena Siakala, Daniel Moser & Tamara Stajner, viola; Joanna Lewis, Ulrike Greuter, Diane Pascal, Tomas Novak, Simon Frick, Maximilian Bratt, Magdalena Zenz & Emily Stewart, violin; Leo Eibensteiner, flute; Peter Tavernaro, oboe; David Lehner, clarinet; Fabian Rucker, bass clarinet; Christoph Walder, French horn, Daniel Riegler, trombone; Simon Teurezbacher, tuba.

“Coda” is a summary; a concluding statement of material selected from past work.  Michael Mantler (born in Vienna in 1943) has always found inspiration while listening to his early work and compositions.  That’s why he has titled this new release “Coda Orchestra Suites” because, although it’s newly written music, it is also music developed from past works.

“… Almost always, when I start a new composition, I begin with materials from previous work. More often than not that procedure would spark or beget a new line of musical thought from which to continue,” Michael Mantler explains.

“Twothirteen Suite” opens this piece of orchestrated art.  It’s a dramatic piece with plenty of crescendos and soaring string lines.  A tenacious bass line storms beneath the orchestra’s powerful statement.  Mantler has composed all of the music.  It’s European classical to the max.  During eleven minutes and forty-one second of this first song, I don’t hear any jazz at all.  

“I have always considered myself an orchestral composer,” says Michael Mantler. “Even when circumstances dictated smaller ensembles. This time I did not retain the original instrumentation but settled on what seems to be my current favorite – a chamber orchestra consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, french horn, trombone, tuba, guitar, piano, marimba/vibraphone, plus a string section…” the composer says.

Even though Michael Mantler has included brief solos by himself on trumpet, by pianist David Helbock and Bjarne Roupé featured on guitar, the majority of the players are classical musicians who are reading music that is clearly orchestral.  Although quite beautiful, the premise of jazz is lost.  Why?  Because jazz is the music of freedom.  It expands on a theme and the players are encouraged to improvise. Also, Jazz swings!  Jazz shuffles!  Sometimes it can be totally free, like Avant-garde jazz.  Even when jazz is contemporary with fusion tones and funk drums, or transformed from Rhythm and Blues into smooth jazz, it still exhibits elements of freedom and transformation.  American jazz is our countries classical art form, created by African Americans and born out of struggle and a longing to be free.  As a jazz reviewer, although this music is beautifully orchestrated, I just cannot call this album jazz. 

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July 14, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 14, 2021


Tanya Dennis, vocals/composer/violins/castanets/handclaps/ Tibetan prayer bowl; Matt Berry, John Richards & Billy Panda, acoustic guitar; David Martin, acoustic guitar/handclaps; Jim Ferguson, bass; Scott Halgren, piano; Dann Sherrill, percussion/ handclaps; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica;

Tanya Dennis is a multi-talented vocalist who also plays classical violin, guitar and composes music. She began performing at age sixteen, playing guitar at a deli in North Myrtle Beach.  Around this time, she also fell in love with the violin, after meeting George Kindler, a fiddle player with the David Bromberg band.  This fascination with the violin led her to jazz theory studies, electronic music, composition and the study of classical violin at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  Tanya also spent three years at the University of Miami as part of their exceptional jazz program where she performed with an 80-piece jazz orchestra.  She also sang with a working, funk-fusion band.  Around the same time, Tanya Dennis was performing with the famed Ira Sullivan band.  She is an example of expanded musical talent and diversity.

Ms. Dennis has a cool, ice-cream sweet voice that entices you into its spell like the whipped cream on top.  She opens with an original composition titled, “Chiaroscura.”  This tune lilts across space, like a sail boat on a calm sea.  I am immediately taken by her lovely, unpretentious tone.  She has composed seven of the nine songs on this album.  I was not surprised, when I read, in her press package, that indeed this talented lady is an avid sailor. She gives us a hint with her CD cover and the album title.  Tonya purchased a 50-foot sailboat after experiencing a series of life-changing events and set sail around the keys, the Bahamas and the Caribbean in general, to settle her thoughts and clear her creative mind.  This song, (Chiaroscura) is a term for the play of contrasting light and shadow in the visual arts.  Consequently, this original composition was inspired by one evening when she witnessed the full moon glowing brightly on ocean waves; a perfect setting for light and shadow.

Tanya Dennis arranges music with Latin overtones that dip and dance like oars on a romantic lake.  For example, “Where You Are” is a song in this vein, colored by Dann Sherrill’s exciting percussion and stroked by the smooth vocals of Dennis.  On “White Sails” Tanya Dennis adds her talents on Tibetan prayer bowl.  You hear it clearly at the introduction of this pretty, bolero-like ballad. She sings lyrics that praise white sails and blue skies, new horizons and leaving the shore behind, in search of the good life.  This is a great composition and a good choice as the title of this entertaining and thought-provoking album.  Scott Halgren’s piano fills are sensitive and worthy of mention.  The acoustic and electric guitars are glitter on the cheeks of every song.  Hendrik Meurken’s harmonica is bright as lipstick or rouge, blushing against songs like “The World Can Do without Us Today.” 

When Tanya Dennis isn’t recording beautiful music as a bandleader, she is touring worldwide as a violinist, a rhythm guitarist, a mandolin player and even a back-up vocalist.  She has toured with legendary names like Faith Hill and Janie Fricke, who is a two-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year winner. Tanya made waves with her premiere recording, “Waterdance” that mixed jazz, blues and country music to win her the “Rising Female Star European market” award.  She continues that legacy with this recent release.  You will want to play Tanya Dennis’ CD over and over again.  It’s just that good!

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Jeff Pearring, alto saxophone/composer; Billy Mintz & Francisco Mela, drums; Cameron Brown & Ken Filiano, bass; Claire de Brunner, bassoon; Daniel Carter, soprano saxophone; drums.

Jeff Pearring’s concept for this album grew out of the isolated flowerpot of pandemic blues. 

“This album is my improvisation to the experience of quarantine, lockdown and separation from the NYC community’s musical conversation during the pandemic of 2020.  These recordings provided the unique opportunity to release emotional energy through sound at a time when there was no certainty around,” Pearring explains in liner notes.

Jeff normally leads the “Pearring Sound” group as a quintet or trio.  He longed for musical camaraderie, and decided to play duets with six diverse, but talented musical friends.  He chose the musicians listed above to compliment his compositions, playing with each one singularly.  That created these eight duo performances.  “Twisting Pavement” opens with Billy Mintz providing drum licks, until Pearring joins in on his alto sax.  Jeff has a warm, compelling sound on the saxophone and at times uses staccato notes to push the melody forward.  Mintz is competent and creative on trap drums.  However, once the melody is established, I keep waiting for Pearring to stretch out and visit improv-land.  However, he stays very close to the melody and after a while, the piece begins to sound like someone practicing scales instead of performing.  I was more taken by Pearring’s bluesy take on Track 2., “Time in Isolation,” with Mintz brushing the pandemic dust off the blues.  However, at the fade of this tune Pearring once again resorts to scale practice, that for me takes away from the originality.  

Some cuts on this recording that rewarded my ear are his duet with bassoonist, Claire de Brunner on “Shapeshifter.”  The richness of the bassoon, played, descant fashion, against the tenor saxophone brought a spotlight to shine on both instruments as they held a conversation with each other; a conversation whose energy, at times, sounded somewhat like an argument.  In other words, there was never any solo space to expound on a theme or individually sing a melody.  The two instruments stayed busy.  Ken Filiano brings a ‘bass-ment’ for Pearring to build upon.  He holds down the piece titled, “A Continuous Conversation Renewed” with his double bass tenacity.  Jeff Pearring flits and flies around, like a busy bird, above the string bass and ever-circling the piece with wide wings. Cameron Brown takes over the bass playing when Jeff Pearring performs the familiar Miles Davis classic, “Solar.”  This song becomes my favorite, because it has such a happy, pleasing melody that gets to be played, clearly heard and digested.  This production is an assortment of Avant-garde duets that mirror the frustration and challenge being quarantined for over a year can inspire.  Jeff Pearring sums it up this way:

                “Jazz improvisation is the quintessential musical conversation.  Despite the numerous and seemingly miraculous, technological advancements throughout human history; conversations remain best in person.”

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Vince Mendoza, composer/arranger/conductor; Jan Hasenӧhrl, director; Marcel Javorcek & Ondrej Kabrna, piano; Lukas Chejn, guitar; David Ruzicka, Oleg Sokolov, Karel Fingl, Renata Janska, Jan Pistora, Jaroslav Minor, Matous Novak & Dalibor Nemec, drums; Lubomir Maryska, tuba; Roman Koudelka, Tomas Olevrel, Silva Gerykova, Jaromir Gardon, Petr Vasinka, Pavel Pospisil, Ondrej Stajnochr, Rostislav Tvrdik & Eri Ishikowo, double bass; Robert Heger, Martino Kustarova, Tim Kodlec, Trefna Pavla Ondrichova, Lenka Schichova & Jiri Loukola, flute; Jan Kolar, Pavel Korbicka, Anna Skreptacova, Dana Wichterlova & Martin Petr, oboe; Lubomir Legemza, Dusan Mihely, Zdenek Tesar & Matous Kopacek, clarinet; Jan Hudecek, Stepon Rimsky, Petr Nemecek, Rudolf Krula, Richard Srbeny & Pavel Rylina, bassoon; Jan Hasenohrl, Lukas Koudelka, Marek Vojo, Jan Hykrda, Jan Burian & Roman Kubol, trumpet; Jiri Novolny, Karel Kohout, Petr Frid, Bohumil Bydzovsky, Petr Cihak & Barbara Kolatova, trombone.

VIOLIN 1: Alexej Rosik, (concertmaster/soloist), Helena Jirikovska, Martin Tupy, Martin Sandera, Miluse Kaudersova, Vaclav Vacek, Miroslav Kosina, Voclav Dvorak, Richard Valasek, Rodana Vectomova, Josef Novotny, Ondrejka Dlouha, Radka Preislerova, Martin Valek, Ayako Naguchi, David Sroubek, Filip Silar, Frantisek Kosina, Libor Kanka & Petra Bohm. VIOLIN 2:  Zdenek Jirousek (soloist), Katarina Klemankova, Ana Crnes, David Vorac, Martina Suskovo, Jiri Kohoultek, Karel Selmeczi, Ayako Naguchi, Stanislav Rada, Simon Tosovsky, Tomas Prosek, Helena Gertichova, Roman Konecny, Stepan Lauda, Jana Svecova, Lenka Sanchez, Eva Brummelova, Renata Juristova & Stanislav Rada. VIOLA: Karel Untermuller (soloist), Marketa Sadecka, Filip Kemel, Frantisek Jelinek, Boris Goldstein, Michal Demeter, Jiri Zigmund, Adam Pechociak, Miroslav Novotny, Jan Stippl, Vladimir Bazant, Irena Stranska, Lenko Bosnovicova & Adela Bryan.  VIOLONCELLO:  Milos Jihoda (soloist), Stepanka Kutmanova, Adriana Vorackova, Roman Stehlik, Petr Janek, Olga Bilkova, Martin Havelik, Zuzana Dostalova, Jaroslav Ondracek & David Havelik.

According to his liner notes, conductor/arranger/composer, Vince Mendoza, feels this album titled, “Freedom Over Everything” seeks to answer a question; what does it mean to continue to create art in service of the times? 

Once you read his composition titles, they speak for themselves. “American Noise” opens the orchestrated concert.  Lukas Chejn steps into the spotlight on this tune to offer a very blues-driven guitar solo.  This is followed by the pensive and beautiful, “Consolation” composition.  “Hit The Streets” starts off percussively, featuring Antonio Sanchez on drums.  Horns blare in between a sweet marimba exploration by Oleg Sokolov, while the strings crescendo and twirl like spinning, whirling Dervish dancers.  On “Meditation” we hear the melancholy, but very lovely tenor saxophone of Joshua Redman, who brings jazz to the orchestra on a golden platter and serves it up generously. “Justice and the Blues” starts out with horns that sound as if they are introducing us to ‘his royal highness’ in some far-away land of orchestrated beauty.  Nearly four-minutes in, the arrangement switches to tenacious and funky drums that take control.   Enter “Freedom Over Everything,” a composition that incorporates funk drums and poet, Black Thought, lends his mind-tickling lyrics that, in part, say:

                “…You’re either with the evolution or against it; the difference is prison gates or picket fences.  It’s big business; death is expensive.  Look! Hunger games by another name / is what became of the oath that went up in flames/ when another man was slain, but ain’t nothin’ changed.”

There is a brief finale, that plays like an interlude and strokes our emotions with the bow of Alexej Rosik’s solo violin displays his talents on the instrument. The eighth composition is titled, “To the Edge of Longing” and features the rich, powerful vocals of soprano Julia Bullock.  In closing, Vince Mendoza offers his “New York Stories” (a concertino for trumpet and orchestra) that features Jan Hasenӧhrl.

This is an album of lush orchestration with special jazz and operatic guests. Mainly, it’s classical music. I enjoy the imagination and arranging skills that Vince Mendoza brings to his compositions.  The Prague-based Czech National Symphony Orchestra performs with emotional magnificence.

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Sam Blakeslee, composer/trombone; Chris Coles, alto saxophone/electronic effects; Brandon Coleman, guitar; Matt Wiles, bass.

Sam Blakeslee is a very melodic composer.  His current single “The Long Middle” is pulled from an upcoming July 30th album release.  This song is a lovely, moderate tempo tune that, without drums, depends on Brandon Coleman’s rhythm guitar to hold the pulse of the piece.  He does that very competently.   The entire group, “Wistful Thinking,” is somewhat like an intimate chamber-jazz production without the violins and cellos.  “Ashokan” is track 2 of this production and it’s sultry and pensive, featuring Chris Coles, on saxophone, at the onset.  Soon, the curtains part and Sam Blakeslee steps through with his trombone bleating out a relaxing melody until Coles joins in.  Then, the two horns have a very public conversation.  On the composition, “Bygones Are Bygones” the use of electronic effects paints a ghostly, Avant-garde picture, with the two horns dancing harmonically in the middle of the unexpected.  The tempo picks up with the “Franklin’s Blues” composition and gives a nod to Matt Wiles on bass, who plays a prominent part in this arrangement, notably walking his bass notes beneath the improvisation of Coles and Blakeslee.  Matt grounds the piece.  They give him a space to solo, and his rich, bass tone is bluesy and free.  When Coleman adds his guitar licks, it creates an interesting dynamic between the two string instruments.  The horns sing the happy melody and bring the composition full circle.  This is one of my favorites on this album of relaxing and ethereal music. 

On the tune called, “Bob” I get to enjoy Blakeslee’s beautiful tone on his trombone.  This is another one of my favorites.  Matt Wiles takes a solo on bass and vividly tells his wordless story, plucking the strings with determined grandeur.  But it’s Blakeslee’s trombone that sings from the heart and sells the song. 

Here is an album with arrangements that are both unexpected and unique.  Sam Blakeslee’s compositions are well written and melodic. Each member of “Wistful Thinking” brings their best to the party and with Sam Blakeslee’s trombone leading the way, enjoy a bright, relaxing and beautiful celebration.

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Dan Wilkins, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; James Collins, piano/Fender Rhodes; Gene Perla, bass; Byron Landham, drums.

All compositions featured by Horizons Quartet were written by thirty-year-old Dan Wilkins.  He opens this energetic album with a tune called “Spiraling,” presenting us with a melody that circles from his tenor saxophone and inspires the others to join in.  The group is off and running.  When extraordinary pianist, James Collins along with Wilkins, decided to put a band together, they wanted their rhythm section to include the caliber of musicians that had inspired them to play jazz.  Collins had been inspired by celebrated Philly-based drummer Byron Landham, who has toured with Betty Carter and Houston Person, as well as working with organ icon, Joey DeFrancesco.  You can hear his power and precision during a solo on this first composition.  They also included bassist Gene Perla, who is a master musician and has played with Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Cobb and Miles Davis.  At eighty-one, he still burns on the bass. 

One thing I noted, this quartet loves to build the tension and grow the music.  These arrangements are rich with energy and this multi-generational quartet offers us over an hour of exquisite jazz, mostly straight-ahead, well-composed and well-interpreted original music.  Arrangers Wilkins and Collins, allow each talent to express themselves vividly for our listening pleasure.  The quartet, as a whole, moves like a well-oiled engine, generating power, improvisation and precision that infuses each composition.  Every tune is enjoyable, but some of my favorites are “Benediction of the Moon” and “Get the Point” that begins with a drum solo where Byron Landham sets the tempo and the groove.  James Collins takes off like a rocket on piano and Perla pushes him ahead, fueling his flight with bass tenacity.  Dan Wilkins arrives, shooting flames out of his saxophone.  Finally, Landham is left alone in the spotlight to solo and introduce us to his powerful and relentless drum techniques.  Yes!  I “Get the Point.”  “Gaia’s Blessing” brings us ballad relief, with Collins turning to the sparkling tones of a Fender Rhodes to interpret this pretty tune.  Who doesn’t love a good jazz waltz?  They close with “Kindling of the Phoenix” and I’m left with a feeling of complete satisfaction.

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Julian Gerstin, composer/arranger/congas/timbales/percussion/lyrics/vocals/piano/drum set.  Zara Bode, Mario Inchausti, Carlene Raper, Wanda Houston & Sarah LeMieux, vocals; Josh Francis & Ben James, drums sets; Wes Brown & Jay Cook, bass; Bob Everingham, tenor guitar; Jason Ennis, lead & rhythm guitar; Eugene Uman, piano/keyboards/co-arranger; Derrik Jordan, violin; Anna Patton, clarinet/vocals; Jon Weeks, alto, tenor & baritone saxophones; Jim Heffron, baritone saxophone; Michael Zsoldos, alto & tenor saxophones; John Wheeler, trombone; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn.

During the past fifty years, Julian Gerstin has spent his life studying, teaching and performing traditional music from around the world.  He earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Berkeley and has traveled the world in search of rhythmic roots.  Gerstin is a percussion expert.  He has lived in Martinque, studied music in Cuba and Ghana and worked around the United States in a variety of settings.  Julian leads the jazz-oriented Julian Gerstin Sextet and performs with Trio Mambo, with VT Shakedown (afrobeat, ska and funk) and Bomba de Aqui (a Puerto Rican traditional music group) in addition to collaborating with an assortment of top artists in a variety of musical fields.  Gerstin is also the co-author of The Musician’s Guide to Rhythm.  Consequently, with that type of background and credentials, you expect this project to be as diverse as his lifestyle.  You would be right on the mark. 

This production is strongly rhythm-based and mixes grooves with spoken word, prose and his original compositions.  Gerstin has composed eleven of the dozen songs on this album and each is firmly cemented in his hypnotic percussion. Wanda Houston recites Julian Gerstin’s prose, formed by using familiar phrases from various eras, to trace “American History” through song.  This is their opening tune on this collection of thought-provoking works.  You will want to dance to the music of this first tune, but Houston’s dramatic voice makes you pay attention and think about her words as the horns punctuate the piece like exclamation marks. 

Gerstin’s composition, “Too Happy to Sleep” sounds very South African influenced.  However, his liner notes correct me and state that it’s African dance music with roots in Nigeria and Ghana. Vocalist Sarah LeMieux is featured on “After the Sleep of Lies,” a moody song with her beautiful voice caressing the prose of Gerstin’s lyrics in a very sensual way.  Her lovely vocals make the sad words palpable.

“Spruce Street” is titled like many American shape note hymns, after the place it was written; a street with a purple house in Brattleboro, Vermont.  It features a crafted clarinet solo by Anna Patton.  “Long Journey Home” has a haunting melody and Sarah LeMieux is back with her silky, smooth vocals.  This song is an adaptation of the a ‘Capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock’s anthem that Julian Gerstin arranged for their “Still on the Journey” CD.  Each song on this “Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena” is enjoyable, infectious and spiritually rooted.  Here is music that showcases the diversity that makes jazz a continuous work in progress.  The horn parts accentuate the melody and the percussive excellence pushes each tune forward like a 16-wheeler forging down the highway.                     

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ORRIN EVANS – “THE MAGIC OF NOW” – Smoke Sessions Records

Orrin Evans, piano/composer; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone/composer; Vicente Archer, bass; Bill Stewart, drums.

This is a recording made in December of 2020 at ‘Smoke Jazz Club’ in New York City.  Like so many musicians, pianist Orrin Evans was hungry for musical camaraderie.  In March of 2020, Evans had been touring with a trio in Chicago when reports of a rapidly spreading pandemic, COVID19, had the musicians scrambling to get home.  Days of isolation followed with no work; no club gigs, no festivals and no concerts. For some reason, Orrin Evans found himself grounded in a strange way, when the concept of his musical mission became clarified.

“That’s kind of what this record is about.  ‘The Magic of Now,’ is like, what’s happening right now.  Not tomorrow.  Not yesterday.  What are you doing right now, at this exact moment, to make tomorrow better?”  Evans poses the question in his album liner notes.

Orrin met saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins when Immanuel was eleven years old and attending a summer camp program where Evans was an instructor.  Today, at twenty-three-years-old, Immanuel Wilkins is a rising star on alto saxophone and a blossoming composer.  Wilkins has written three songs for this project and Orrin Evans has written three.  The seventh song was contributed by drummer Bill Stewart and the late Mulgrew Miller.  This quartet opens their CD with a medley of “Mynah and The Eleventh Hour.”  Their arrangement of Mulgrew’s tune from the “Widespan” album is open, improvisational and straight-ahead.  The quartet’s tempo is a hair slower than the original recording, but you hear the freedom in these musicians and Bill Stewart plows ahead on the drums, burning with energy and feeding the production with fire.  Wilkins sparks the tune with his alto sax and Vicente Archer pumps his bass in lock-step with the drums.  Orrin Evans provides his own hot temperature on the 88-keys.  He and Wilkins stand out on this opening number, like two boxers in the ring.  The musical licks fly.  Once Evans asserts his singular status, he is pumped up by the Stewart drums while delivering an awesome piano solo.  I played this cut twice, before continuing to listen to the entire album.  It’s over thirteen minutes long, but there was a lot to hear, as the tune flies by!  Bill Stewart shows that he can hold his own during a fiery and exploratory trap drum solo that ends this medley with a bang. 

Evans met Stewart through their work together in Steve Wilson’s band.  He found himself intrigued by Stewart’s distinctive sound.  Right then, he made a mental note to create a scenario for them to work together.  In 2014, Evans assembled a band that included Stewart on drums and bassist, Vincente Archer.

“Basically, for the last six or seven years, I’ve been waiting for a moment to put that band back together,” Evans shares.

“Mat-Matt” is an Orrin Evans composition that’s another favorite of mine and it swings hard.  You get to enjoy Orrin’s style and technique on his instrument, up close and personal.  “Momma Loves” is a Wilkins original and reminded me of something Thelonious Monk would have composed.  Then I read the liner notes and discovered that Evans felt the same way about this tune.

“Monk didn’t really write tunes with odd-numbered bars, but this is like Monk with a modern twist. …You really hear those sentimentalities, those extra two bars are turning around to make sure you have that tie on straight, that you remember to give her (your momma) a call.  If feels like all of that,” Orrin Evans stated about the “Momma Loves” tune.

Together, this ensemble offers us “The Magic of Now” using music to remind us how important every second of life is and reminding us to appreciate it.

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Scott Reeves, alto valve trombone/alto flugelhorn/electronics/composer; Russ Spiegel, guitar; Mike Holober, piano/electric piano; Howard Britz, bass; Andy Watson, drums.

This lost recording was originally performed ‘live’ at the City College of New York in 2005, sixteen years ago.  During the 2020 pandemic, when Scott Reeves had time on his hands, like thousands of other musicians, out of curiosity, Scott Reeves gave this long shelved project a listen. 

“I was excited to hear how the quintet played so well together and I felt this may have been among my own personal bests.  During the time of this recording, I was experimenting with electronic enhancements; a pitch follower and a ring modulator.  Russ Spiegel’s electric guitar paired well with my electronically nuanced alto flugelhorn and alto valve trombone in the front line, colored by mike Holober’s use of grand piano and Fender Rhodes.  It allowed us to find that border between the warmth of more traditional forms of jazz and the edginess of more experimental styles.  I decided that this music needed to be heard!”  Reeves explained.

They open the concert with “New Bamboo,” a song that allows a certain freedom for the musicians to improvise on top of the energy-driven, ‘vamp’ feel.  All five of the six songs recorded are composed by Scott Reeves.  “Shapeshifter” is track 2 and introduces an intense and challenging melody that is also quite beautiful.  Reeves steps forward to blow his solo from the bell of his horn.  He spews a rich and powerful tone.  Next, Andy Watson takes a notable drum solo, with Mike Holober playing staccato chords in the background.  After the drums, Holober introduces us to his piano expertise, sounding rather like a humming bird is flying up and down the 88-keys with trembling wings. There are electronic colorations in the background, that create unobtrusive highlights during this arrangement.  The band of five sounds a lot larger than a quintet.  “The Alchemist” is one of my favorites on this production and is the title tune.  It taps into fusion jazz and has a wonderful, repeatable melody that sticks to your brain like Velcro.

Scott Reeves plays trombone with the Dave Liebman big band and has performed with the Vanguard Orchestra, with Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, as well as with familiar artists like John Patitucci, Ron Carter, Rich Perry, Kenny Werner, Steve Wilson and more.  Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra has released two CDs and Scott is a Professor Emeritus at the City College of New York and has taught at the Juilliard School and various other universities.  His bandmates, guitarist Russ Spiegel and pianist Mike Holober are both prolific composers, especially for big band.  With this combination of players, all steeped in big band harmonics, could explain why this quintet has such a splendiferous, larger-than-life sound.  Holober is also a professor of Music at the City College of New York and has taught at the Manhattan School of Music.  He’s written music for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and the WDR band, as well as arranged for artists like Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Dr. Lonnie Smith and John Scofield, to name a few.  London born Howard Britz is also a composer and not only a gifted bassist, but is also a competent pianist. He’s recorded four CDs as a bandleader and has been a sideman for jazz and Latin groups including work with Billy Pierce, Canilo Perez, Paquito de Rivera, Kenny Wheeler and Edsel Gomez.  Finally, drummer Andy Watson is celebrated on the East Coast for his unerring sense of time and groove.  He also is an astute sight-reader.  Close friends refer to him as “The Sheriff” because of his innate ability to lock-in any unruly horn sections.  Andy has performed with the Vanguard Orchestra and various iconic jazz artists like the great Benny Golson, the unforgettable Jon Hendricks, legendary Lew Tabackin, unforgettable James Moody, Joe Lovano, Woody Herman, Tashiko Akiyoshi and Jim Hall.  What’s not to love about this quintet? 

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