Archive for August, 2021


August 30, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 30, 2021


Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Tommy Flanagan Trio: Tommy Flanagan, piano; Frank Delarose, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums. Lou Levy, piano; Gus Johnson, drums; Max Bennett, bass; Ernie Hecksher’s Big Band.

Today, I had the opportunity of listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s record, “Sunshine of Your Love.”  It’s an unusual blend of pop, rock and jazz tunes, showing her diversity and creativity.  Ella’s steps outside the proverbial jazz genre to record six tunes with an orchestra and six tunes with Tommy Flanagan’s Trio.

In 1968, jazz history became rooted in a German record label established by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer and launched as MPS Records.  The company founder began to record amazing legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard and Ella Fitzgerald.  Thankfully, these historic recordings are being reissued in the United States on vinyl and in CD formats. MPS was Germany’s first ever jazz label and they have partnered with Bob Frank, CEO and founder of Bob Frank Entertainment, to make this distribution project successful. 

Ella’s project opens with audience applause.  We recognize that we are attending a ‘live’ recording and then we hear the full orchestration of a big band that is playing the popular Beatle’s pop song, “Hey Jude.”  Ella enters with her phenomenal phrasing that makes this album of mixed genres both interesting and inventive.  The supreme queen of jazz vocalists has refreshed “Hey Jude” and she manages to ‘swing’ the pop song into the arms of jazz.  Ella’s stylized version gives “Hey Jude” a big hug!

On the title tune, “Sunshine of Your Love,” Ella gives us all a lesson in embellishment, creativity and vocal aerobics.  The orchestration is a bit outdated, but Ella’s in grand voice.  On the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition, “This Girl’s in Love with You” Ella showcases the sweeter side of her voice. 

She continues with “Watch What Happens.”  It spotlights her vocal fluidity and it’s more like what we jazz lovers admire about Ms. Fitzgerald; her ability to reinvent the Great American Songbook.  She continues by re-inventing the Joe Williams/Count Basie hit record, “Alright! Ok! You Win.”  Followed by a hard swing on “Give Me the Simple Life.”  When we reach “Useless Landscape” with its haunting, beautiful melody, the big band is gone and replaced by Tommy Flanagan’s capable trio.  Ella embellishes the tune with scat-singing, both unique and creative, she sings the way Ella and only Ella can do.  This is a historic reissue that should be in every collector’s library of music. 

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An Icelandic-Chinese singer/songwriter and cellist is now letting her guitar talents float above lush orchestration.  You will find Laufey’s talent both unique and hypnotic.  Although she’s marketed as a ‘pop’ singer, I believe this young lady’s talents cross genres.  She is performing her new release, “Let You Break My Heart Again.”  The melody is lovely and her light, airy voice dances, butterfly free, above the string ensemble.  With nimble fingers, she plucks the strings of her acoustic guitar and blends with the orchestra in a very delicate way. I am totally intrigued.  Enjoy her sweet soprano voice, her composer skills and the professional orchestration.  Check out Laufey’s other releases: “Street by Street & “Someone New.”  This talented young woman is a star on the rise.                                         

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Bill Cunliffe, pianist/arranger; Joe LaBarbera & Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums; Terrel Stafford, trumpet; Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone; Alex Acuna, percussion; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Jake Langley, guitar.

Andy James has a voice as sweet as cotton candy.  She opens with one of my favorites, “My One and Only Love” and sings it beautifully complimented by Jake Langley on guitar.  The title tune “Shared Lives” is challenging melodically and features the drummer beating out the groove with mallets. The minor arrangement features Ernie Watts on saxophone and Bill Cunliffe on piano.  “You’ve Changed” is a bit of a train wreck, mostly, I think, because of the arrangement.  At times, the vocalist sounds unsure.  It just got so busy and with so many surprise modulations that mid-way through, it began to feel tedious.  The first time down was smooth as silk.  But then that modulation disrupted and put a speed-bump in the road.  Andy James is competent as she sells her rendition of “The Gentleman is a Dope” and “Moon River.”  She has been greatly influenced by the queen of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald.  However, Ms. James certainly has her own sound and tonal style.  She surprises me with her rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” that Frank Sinatra’s daughter made famous as a bit pop hit. 

Since launching Le Coq Records, with husband, producer and label founder Piero Pata, James has quietly released four captivating records. Another CD that arrived in my review package was the one titled, “All the Lovely Things You Are.”  Once again, she gathers songs from the Great American Songbook like a lovely bouquet.  Each song is a pretty and colorful flower that Andy James has picked and she confidently and emotionally expresses.  James is also featured on The All-Star Vol. 1 album released in 2020.  It’s absolutely saturated with amazing West Coast talent like John Beasley, Bill Cunliffe, Bob Sheppard, John Patittuci, Rich Eames, and many of the same musicians who play on her current release; “SharedLives.” Andy James is a jazz vocalist to watch, to listen and to appreciate.

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Adi Meyerson, bass/composer; Sam Towse, piano/synthesizers; Kush Abadey, drums; Camille Thurman & Sabeth Perez, vocals; Eden Girma, spoken word; Lucas Pino, bass clarinet/tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond, flute; Marquis Hill, trumpet.

Eden Girma opens with spoken word, with Adi Meyerson bowing her bass instrument and using prose to set the mood for this recording.  They offer a three-minute prelude.

“To be one within a dark moment, bonded through the wreckage.  Turn over the palms of our hands up toward the sun and beyond …” Eden speaks in a soothing voice. 

The background music is peaceful.  It calls us to meditate or do yoga; or pray.  A soprano voice sings without words.  The bass plays the melody and the vocal spoken prose now doubles the voice.  We are entering an unusual project of creativity.  Part II, titled “Kabocha” a word Wikipedia describes as Japanese for winter squash features a male voice speaking Japanese.  It sounds more like he’s saying Kabucha. I look it up and Kombucha is a fermented tea.  So now, I’m truly confused.  Is it winter squash or tea?  Bassist and composer, Adi Meyerson says this musical journey was inspired by the life and work of iconic Avant-garde visual artist, Yayoi Kusama.  Adi is using her art work and intentions as a springboard for Meyerson to create a sonic, safe haven for listeners.  Ms. Meyerson hopes her music mirrors an ideal, a utopian society, devoid of negativity and strife. 

Well, I agree we certainly need a remedy and a get-away from stress and strife.  The entire world is in need of that.  The first two pieces on this six-part suite of music are indeed relaxing and thought provoking.   On “Follow the Red Dot, Part III, Marquis Hill makes a stunning appearance on trumpet and the music becomes more straight-ahead jazz stirred into an Avant-garde pot of improvisation.  Kush Abadey is masterful on drums.  Sam Towse takes a piano excursion to share his perspective with us, while Adi Meyerson pumps her double bass in the background.

Adi Meyerson was inspired by an art exhibit featuring the work of Yayoi Kusama in downtown New York City.  She has integrated thoughts, spoken word, political opinions and a vocalization on Part IV, “Caged Bird” with lyrics and a tenor saxophone solo by Lucas Pino.  Meyerson has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which two senses overlap and trigger each other.  In her case, she sees color when she hears certain pitches. I heard that pop star, Farrell Williams also has that gift.  Much of Kasama’s color palette matched Meyerson’s own visual perception in music.  When Adi saw Kasama’s artwork, she heard certain pitches and those infused her composition process.  Adi acquired her melodies from the colors in Yayoi Kusama’s paintings.  This is unique art, freedom and jazz.  I found Adi Meyerson’s music to be beautiful.  Perhaps she describes it best in her liner notes.

“The music and the message behind it took on a new form and became a vehicle for me to further explore my identity and womanhood and face my own mental health struggles,” she shared.

Meyerson endeavors to use her music to create and immerse the listeners in their own sonic version of utopia.  This is a special music project that stretches outside the mold to create new curves, colors and edges in her compositions.

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Haeun Joo, piano/vocals/composer; Matt Holman, trumpet/flugelhorn; Doug Weiss, bass; Ronen Itzik, drums.

Born in Busan, South Korea, this award-winning pianist, Haeun Joo is also a singer, composer and making a name for herself as a thoughtful and very original jazz artist.  Haeun Joo moved to the United States in 2011 in search of the true roots of jazz, pop and soul music.  As a student of Berklee School of Music, she honed her piano and composer skills studying with George Garzone, Danilo Perez and Joanne Brackeen.  She’s a big fan of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Fred Hersch.  Another mentor is Vadim Neselovskyi, who is a very accomplished pianist/composer and who has co-produced this album.

From the very first tune on this debut album for Ms. Joo, you hear how lyrical she is and her melodies are well-thought out and lovely.  There is something peaceful about this artist’s composer consciousness.  She uses her voice, flute-like, to infuse her music with a choral balance.  When she sings, I can hear all the harmonics that could join her and become a string ensemble or orchestrated horn section.  Her piano style flows, pensive and persuasive.  She gives Doug Weiss a brief opportunity to solo on his bass, as if he and the piano are having a whispered conversation stage-center.  It’s a very effective arrangement that calls attention to the melody, while allowing Weiss to be expressive on his instrument. Haeun Joo’s music is warm and inviting.  It reflects a careful, well-planned and practiced personality.  Track 2 is called “John” and it too begins pensively.  She plays the piano tenderly, with a love of the upper-register.  Her fingers tinker with the soprano parts of the instrument with music-box-clarity.  Beneath the melody, like a counter-point descant, her voice soars now and then to add other harmonic elements to the piece.  The title tune, “We Will Find,” brings voice and trumpet together like two horns.  Matt Holman is fluid on both trumpet and flugelhorn.  He fits perfectly into the mix of Joo’s compositions.  The album’s title song is another laid-back tune that is both beautiful and relaxing.  Haeun has an ear for melodies and each song contained here is well-written with harmonies that are both interesting and nicely arranged.  I enjoyed “In the Rain.”  However, I found all the tempos are way too similar. 

I wanted to hear some hard swing or some energy driven, straight-ahead excitement.  There is none of that.  I know that these musicians have it in them to pick up a tempo or double-time a piece.  This production needed the tempo changes to showcase Ms. Joo’s ability to ‘swing’ and to play up-tempo, as well as excelling at a moderate pace.  On the tune, “A Window in the Dark,” the drummer tries hard to build the time and crescendo the music, but the over-all arrangement handcuffs him.  Her composition “Questions” has a jazz waltz feel to it, but it locks into that comfortable moderate tempo once again.  This debut album for Haeun Joo is like buying an album of ballads.  That works for certain moods and moments, but soon you will want to hear one piece that dances, leaps and jumps for joy.  That unfortunately is absent from this delightful debut.

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Satoko Fujii, solo piano.

Here is another album of music created as a result of the pandemic and self-quarantining.  Pianist and composer, Satoko Fujii has often expressed that she wanted to make music no one has heard before and this album certainly fulfills that goal.

“I started recording in my small piano room during the pandemic and while I was editing the recordings, I got this idea.  I thought I could put together small parts to make a big work, fitting the pieces together the way I wanted to.  I could make music like building with Legos.  This may not be a new thing for many creators, but for me, it was new because I am a very analog piano player,” Satoko explained her concept for this album of work.

This unique production stages Avant-garde music for us to marvel at and enjoy. It was created by Satoko Fujii by recording short snippets of improvisations and stringing them together like pearls.  For example, she dropped chop sticks on the piano strings; rubbed low strings with a big, felt mallet and plucked high strings inside the piano with determined fingertips.  Each time she tried something new, she recorded it. 

“The materials I recorded are all so short, that without shifting them around they don’t make any sense,” Satoko shrugged.

To grow the piece, she had to transfer these short parts into a music editing application.  The unique composer fit together smaller recorded parts to create a large, vibrant picture.  She worked with one section at a time, listening, then dragging the next part she wanted to hear into that section.  For example, on the first of two suites of music, Satoko created, number one composition titled “Shiroku” that translates to ‘white’ in Japanese.  It features a number of background-beautiful-sounds that cushion her piano premise.  Sometimes it’s percussive, using her fingers to pound the rich piano wood, or playing the inner strings of the instrument instead of the ivory and ebony keys.  At times, I could not have identified the grand piano instrument at all.  Satoko Fujii’s music does not sound like any piano concert you have experienced.  She would probably smile and say; mission accomplished.

Satoko Fujii’s music is textured and poetic.  Some of the high-pitched sounds would make a dog howl and a violin jealous.  They range from eclectic bird calls to percussive harp music or locomotive wheels against hot steel.  The electronic blending of these various bits and pieces of her artistic vision have produced a complete musical painting.  Satoko’s music mirrors many colors and various shades.  She is the ultimate musical revolutionary; the undeniable visionary who captures freedom and slaps it into her arrangements like soft putty. These compositions stick to your ears, wildly blowing like paper earrings. You will not be able to sing these songs, but you will be in awe of them as they float away.

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Helen Sung, piano; David Wong, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; John Ellis, tenor saxophone/flute. SPECIAL GUESTS: Harlem Quartet: Ilmar Gavilan, first violin; Melissa White, second violin; Jaime Amador, viola; Felix Umansky, cello.

Pianist and composer, Helen Sung, recently won a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship.  She uses this recent recording to celebrate the work of influential women composers, co-producing this project with the great violinist, Regina Carter.  Ms. Sung features fresh arrangements of tunes composed by Carla Bley, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Geri Allen, opening with Allen’s “Feed the Fire” that she plays flaming hot and brightly.  Helen Sung adds a new, counter melody to the piece. “Mary’s Waltz,” written by Mary Lou Williams, features the beautiful touches of Melissa White on violin.  Helen Sung’s delicate approach, during her piano performance, is quite different from the fiery and energetic first tune.  David Wong delivers a lovely bass solo.  You will enjoy Helen Sung’s classical influences that color these popular jazz songs.  For example, Sung incorporated a symphonic element into Akiyoshi’s “Long Yellow Road” and on “Elegy for the City,” (that features Jaime Amador on viola) and allows John Ellis to pick up his flute and inflate the tune with joy.  Both arrangements are lush and very classically infused. When Sung takes her piano solos, she brings one-hundred-percent jazz pianist to the spotlight.   Helen Sung’s arrangements change moods and rhythms; create grooves and bend genres, but are always infused with Helen’s mastery on the piano.  To add interest and dynamics to this production, The Harlem Quartet (a string quartet), was originally composed of first-place laureates of the Sphinx Competition for Black and Latino string players. This popular quartet was formed in 2006. The members on this recording are first violinist Ilmar Gavilán, second violinist Melissa White, violist Jaime Amador, and cellist Felix Umansky. They soar on “Melancholy Mood.”

Helen Sung will apply her Guggenheim Fellowship to a multi-movement arrangement for big band, slated for completion next year. She also received a Chamber Music America Digital Residency grant. Consequently, she’s producing a series of interdisciplinary events this year with her quartet, a poet, a DJ and an installation artist.  If that isn’t enough to keep her busy, Ms. Sung also received a New Music USA 2021 Music Creator Development Fund grant to collaborate her music with a dancer and neuro-rehabilitation researcher.  The dance program that results from this collaboration is meant to entertain, to heal and inspire dementia and Alzheimer patients.

“I’ve learned, this past year and a half, not to take anything for granted; be it people, relationships or opportunities … So, I’m jumping in with arms wide open.  I want to swallow life whole!”  Helen Sung shared.

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Sheila Jordan, vocals; Band members not acknowledged.

It’s quite exciting to hear Sheila Jordan in her prime, with vocals crystal clear and a small trio backing her up.  This 1960 recording predates the album, “Portrait of Sheila,” by more than two years.  In fact, it may be the earliest representation of this jazz singer at the beginning of her storied career. According to the liner notes, Sheila Jordan was working regularly at the Page Three Club in Greenwich Village with pianists John Knapp or Herbie Nichols at the keys; with bass players Steve Swallow or Gene Perlman and drummer Ziggy Willman.  There are no records of the bandmembers when it was recorded June 10, 1960 at the Olmsted Sound Studio in New York for a small label called Chatham Records.  Yes, Capri Records did confer with Jordan for the names of musicians, however she couldn’t remember. 

Born in Detroit and sent to live with her grandmother in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining country at a young age, Jordan was a born singer.  She expressed herself vocally as a child and when she returned to Detroit, Sheila began working in jazz clubs as a teenager.  She moved to NYC in the early fifties and married Charlie Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan.

On this album of familiar jazz standards, Ms. Jordan covers songs we know and love like “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and Billie Holiday favorites like “Comes Love” and “Don’t Explain.”  Sheila opens with a song Sassy Sarah Vaughan recorded called “I’m the Girl” and follows this with a wonderful rendition of “It Don’t mean A think If It Ain’t Got that Swing” exploring her scat vocals by freely rambling up and down the scale to show off her range and creativity.   She swings “Sleeping Bee” and seems very comfortable in the ‘swing’ mode.  On “When the World Was Young” Sheila introduces us to the verse of the song and then sings this ballad with great emotion.  I can tell that she’s a very young singer who was working on sustaining her tonal notes. Even back then, she seemed to be thinking and executing like a horn player.  On the ending note of this tune, she slides up to the third and then climbs above that, the way a saxophone might have done.  But her comfort level is always the up-tempo tunes, where she can let loose and swing; for example, on “I’ll Take Romance.” 

Today, Sheila Jordan is heralded as one of the most distinctive and creative voices of jazz and is a NEA Jazz Master and self-described “Jazz child.” She has made her historic mark in the jazz world, pioneering a duo approach of voice and solo bass and collaborating with legends like Mark Murphy, Cameron Brown, Harvie Swartz, Steve Kuhn and recording with Carla Bley, Arild Andersen, Roswell Rudd, Kenny Barron, Ben Riley and George Russell just to name a few. 

This album is a piece of jazz history, snatched from the past and celebrating the lady in her youth, during a formative period of her vocal growth.

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If Black Acid Soul/Jazz is your thing, Lady Blackbird’s album is one you just have to hear.  Her tone and persona stand solidly and singularly in their own spotlight.  Her voice is like no other I’ve heard.  There are shreds of Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Grace Jones and Tina Turner, but her sound is uniquely her own.  The production by Chris Seefried, who was GRAMMY Award-nominated for his work on the debut album by Andra Day, combines genres for Lady Blackbird that match and compliment this singer.

Lady Blackbird is Los Angeles-based singer Marley Munroe and she’s been steeped in music since birth.  Her voice developed richness and resonance while singing in church and performing at States Fairs since age five.  She landed a deal on a Christian record label as a young teen and that resulted in work with rock/rap group, DC Talk.  She appeared on four Christian albums recorded by TobyMac. However, that wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do forever.  At age eighteen, she found herself working with Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Sam Watters and a bunch of R&B heavyweight producers.  A production deal led to a record contract with LA Reid’s Epic Records.  When that dissipated, Lady Blackbird nested into a comfortable position with producer/songwriter, Chris Seefried and signed to Foundation Music.  The result is this new album of unusual and non-specific, categorized music.  This vocalist could easily cross-over to jazz, but her deep gospel roots, thick R&B riffs and runs, along with her smokey tone and Patti LaBelle-like costumes could fly Lady Blackbird in all directions.

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Lucy Yeghiazaryan, vocals/songwriter; Vanisha Gould, vocals/songwriter; Eric Zolan, guitar; Dan Pappalardo, bass; Kate Victor, cello; Ludovica Burtone, violin; Richard Cortez, guest vocals.

This is a very sparse production with no whistles and bells; no string orchestras or dynamic saxophone solos. But it endears the listener with honest lyrics, interesting melodies and the delightful vocals of these two singer/songwriters: Lucy Yeghiazaryan and Vanisha Gould.  This recording is pure art.  Opening with a song called, “The Game” and the haunting voice of Lucy Yeghiazaryan blowing across space like a wild, hot wind. Eric Zolan’s guitar caresses the melody that Vanisha Gould has composed with tender fingers. “The Game” becomes one of my favorite songs straight away. 

“Gypsy Feet” has a lyric that celebrates the wild spirit of a woman who passes from scene to scene, man to man and this time the vocalist is songwriter, Vanisha Gould.  Both artists sing the refrain in unison and it’s a catchy, easily repeatable hook.  “Hey Baby” is a cute, jazzy duet featuring guest male vocalist, Richard Cortez and with Lucy Yeghiazaryan singing about a guy trying to pick up a girl.  It’s a strong jazz tune, as is “Look This Way,” written and performed by Vanisha.  Dan Pappalardo walks his bass and Eric Zolan takes a tour of his guitar instrument, improvising freely during this arrangement.  Lucy sings a bluesy ballad called “Gone Again” followed by another Gould original called “Trapped in This Room.”  This song has an inspired lyric.  There are a couple of standards thrown in for good measure, one being “My Man” sung beautifully by Lucy Yeghiazaryan.  Vanisha Gould is a fine composer.  I find her melodies and lyrics to be fresh and jazzy, like her song “Cute Boy.”   This is an unexpected diamond project, glittering brightly from a stack of CDs covering my desk.  It was generously funded by a grant from the New York Foundation Arts 2020 Women’s Fund.

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August 21, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 21, 2021


Oscar Peterson, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Bobby Durham, drums; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Claus Ogerman, arranger/conductor. Note: Orchestra names unavailable to this journalist.

Germany’s first jazz label, MPS Records, has a history of reissuing albums by legendary jazz artists.  This summer they have released a plethora of records including George Duke, Don Ellis, Dexter Gordon, Slide Hampton, Lee Konitz with martial Solal and the genius, Oscar Peterson.  These recordings have been released on both vinyl and CDs in partnership with Bob Frank Entertainment.  I was thrilled to be able to review “Motions & Emotions,” an album originally recorded in 1969.

Peterson opens with “Sally’s Tomato,” featuring a background of orchestral strings, with Oscar’s crisp, improvisational piano parts dancing brightly atop the rich orchestration of arranger, Claus Ogerman.  This tune is from the popular film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and composed by Henry Mancini.  I listen to music all day long, every day, and I hear a lot of exceptional jazz musicians, but Oscar Peterson brings something exceptional to the bandstand.  His style and piano mastery is not only beyond reproach, it’s just pure happiness and genius. 

According to Claus Ogerman, when Oscar Peterson first came to their New York studio to record, Oscar was unhappy with the provided instrument.  He just refused to play an inadequate piano.  The entire orchestra sat there, stunned by the possibility that the recording session might be cancelled.  Conductor, Claus Ogerman, and the MPS label people finally agreed to let the recording continue without Oscar Peterson and that Peterson could overdub his part later at MPS Studio – Villigen.  That’s how this master piece was made.

Track 2 gives us a bright, new look at the pop song, “Sunny” that was so popular in August 1966, fifty-five years ago.   It sounds just as good today, with Oscar’s refurbished, jazzy arrangement.  He follows this with the poignant ballad, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” with a rich bass line played by Sam Jones.  On track 4 titled, “Wandering” you can hear the strings sometimes singing along with the piano melody of this waltz in unexpected moments.  Mainly, Ogerman’s arrangements simply cushion and enhance Peterson’s piano explorations in a beautiful way.

On some songs, Oscar’s fingers fly so fast and so precisely, it’s hard to believe that someone could express themselves at that speed and with that kind of precision.  When he uses both hands to sing in unison at that quick tempo, magic happens!  Their lovely, dreamy arrangement on “Wave” returns us to Peterson’s rich jazz heritage playing standard jazz tunes.  His interpretation of “Dreamsville” will take your breath away and his rendition of “Yesterday” becomes a very acceptable Latin infused arrangement with a samba beat. Bucky Pizarelli’s guitar star-shines on the tune.

One of Oscar Peterson’s amazing gifts was his ability to hear a double time improvisational piano line in his mind; then lay it atop the chordal theme.  His agile fingers placed the creativity perfectly in place. Peterson’s technique completely transforms and elevates every composition.  Take for example the way he infuses “Elenore Rigby” with the blues.  It reinvents the song and paints a different conception of Ms. Rigby in such a cool way.    Peterson does the same kind of transformation when he plays “Ode to Billy Joe.”  He adds the blues in a jazzy, swift and completely mesmerizing presentation. 

After all these years, Oscar Peterson remains a prince on the piano; uncanny and creative; genius and inspired.  Born August 15, 1925 and making his transition in December of 2007, he is a legend and a piece of jazz royalty we must never forget. Oscar Peterson is the best of the best.

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RENEE ROSNES – “KINDS OF LOVE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Renee Rosnes, piano/Fender Rhodes; Chris Potter, saxophones/flutes/bass clarinet; Christian McBride, bass; Carl Allen, drums; Rogério Boccato, percussion.

Any piano player that can get the super gifted Billy Childs to write their liner notes has got to be amazing! I was so happy when I received the Renee Rosnes “Kinds of Love” album release. Let me say, without a doubt, she is a dynamic composer and awesome pianist.  Although she is rooted in traditional jazz, Renee brings originality to her work and is clearly a tenacious voice on the jazz scene.  You hear it on her first tune “Silk (Dedicated to Donald Brown)” where she establishes her strength and talent, incorporating a memorable melody with chords that inspire Chris Potter to fly high on his saxophone.  Carl Allen’s drum rolls infuse the energy of this group and push the music forward.  Renee Rosnes punches staccato piano parts that pump the quintet into a frenzy.  When she takes over, her piano power is exciting, speedy and she comfortably chooses a solo path that sets her apart from the rest.  I am enthralled. 

Renee Rosnes has already recorded ten albums for the Blue Note label.  This is her first for Smoke Sessions Records and it’s a doozy!  Track 2 sooths the spirit and settles me into the womb of this ballad.  Chris Potter pulls out his flute to soar above the beauty during this “Kinds of Love” arrangement.  It is followed by the tune, “In Time Like Air,” a song that invites our attention, using Christian McBride’s creativity on bass and a whispered female voice singing softly in unison with pretty melody lines.  The introduction is quite clever and has been arranged to carry us into a forest with unseen birds that sing on hidden branches. 

This is an album full of musical surprises.  Like on “The Golden Triangle” that starts out somewhat classically and then bursts into the blues, embracing a medium swing tempo with Renee’s imagination and creativity racing around the piano keys.  Christian McBride entertains us grandly on double bass. Then enters Chris Potter on saxophone to elevate the arrangement a little higher.  Renee Rosnes is other-worldly and knows how to grow the music.  It’s a bean stalk that invites us to take a chance, hold on tightly and climb along with her. 

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Wayne Coniglio, bass & tenor trombones/composer; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Ken Kehner, piano; Eric Warren, bass; Kevin Gianino, drums; Jacob Melsha, trombone/voice; Debbie Lennon & Elsie Parker, vocals.

All of the musicians in this band are educators and are proud to ‘pay it forward’ in terms of inspiring the next generation and the ones that follow.  The ensemble opens with Dexter Gordon’s tune, “Fried Bananas” (based on the chord changes from “It Could Happen to You”).  The tempo flies and the trombone solos are stellar, smooth and lovely to hear.  Ken Kehner takes a piano solo that is both spirited and creative.  Kehner is someone who is just as comfortable playing pop music, classical (Brahms or Prokofiev), as he is improvising and accompanying as a traditional jazz pianist. 

Speaking of Ken Kehner, he has composed Track 2, “Swirling.”  This arrangement is such a wonderful example of what happens when you put two outstanding trombonists together on a project.  Their blend is smooth and silky as baby oil.  Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk” composition has long been a favorite of mine.  At the introduction, Coniglio and Whitfield have a full, big band sound on this arrangement, even though it’s just those two trombones in the horn section.  This album swings hard and offers our ears a pleasant listen, featuring two talented, powerhouse trombonists. 

Wayne Coniglio is a product of the music program at Longview School in Phoenix, Arizona.  While attending the University of Illinois he was a member of the legendary John Garvey Band.  After moving to New York City, he performed with The Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, The Mingus Band and Chico O’Farrill’s Latin Jazz Dream Band.  Throughout the 1990’s, Coniglio was invited to tour as part of the Ray Charles band.  Ray Charles encouraged him to write arrangements for his band and this spurred Wayne Coniglio into action.  Inspired by Ray, his writing and arranging career quickly expanded.  He began to write for chamber ensembles, choirs, big bands and pit orchestras.  Coniglio became the arranger for the Kevin Kline Awards Show for three consecutive years.  Wayne has included three of his original compositions as part of this production. I personally enjoyed “The Determinator,” that was played at an up-tempo pace, in a very straight-ahead arrangement and gives drummer, Kevin Gianino a solo to spotlight his talent.

Like Wayne, Scott Whitfield loves big bands.  He’s added his trombone excellence to the bands of Clare Fischer, Bill Holman, Bob Florence, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Johnny Mandel.  He has recorded ten albums as a bandleader and appeared on over fifty recordings by other artists.  Whitfield has traveled worldwide sharing his expertise on trombone as a clinician.  Professor Whitfield served on the jazz faculty at Rutgers University from 1998 to 2002.  In 1986 he founded the Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra.  One of his mentors was Nat Adderly and he released a 75th birthday tribute to Nat in 2006 featuring his jazz orchestra that rocketed to number five on the radio airplay charts.

Together, Coniglio and Whitfield, along with their powerful rhythm section and special guest Jacob Melsha (also a trombonist), offer us this fine-tuned album appropriately called, “Faster Friends.” 

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Harold Land Sr., tenor saxophone/composer; Buddy Montgomery, Hampton Hawes & John Houston, piano; Monk Montgomery, bass; Jimmy Lovelace, Mel Lee & Philly Joe Jones, drummer; Carmell Jones, trumpet;

I was expectant and excited when I heard that Los Angeles based, tenor saxophone icon, Harold Land, had previously unreleased music.  It will be shared with the public this summer by Reel to Reel Recordings.  They unearthed this amazing album, recorded at the Seattle jazz club (The Penthouse) back in 1962 through 1965.  Engineer Jim Wilke has preserved some of Harold Land’s best work, presented ‘live’ with three different bands.  The first is inclusive of the Montgomery Brothers, Buddy on piano and Monk on bass, along with drummer Jimmy Lovelace and Kansas City trumpeter, Carmell Jones.   This music was honed from a weekly broadcast on KING-FM radio, over half a century ago.  On June 12, 2021 a 33-1/3 RPM duel-LP set was released on vinyl to celebrate this project in a very historic way.  On August 6th, these projects were released digitally.  I agree with Zev Feldman, co-president of Resonance Records and heralded as a ‘Jazz Detective,’ when he said:

“I feel that these recordings of Harold Land are special and need to be heard.  Land was one of the purveyors of West Coast jazz whom I feel is an under-recognized genius who doesn’t get discussed enough,” Feldman praised the tenor saxophone master.

On the opening number, “Vindetta,” Carmell Jones on trumpet and Harold land on tenor sax come straight out the gate like Santa Anita race horses.  After working so long with trumpet genius, Clifford Brown, it’s no wonder that on some of these Land performances, Harold includes a trumpeter. This original composition by Harold Land swings harder than Jackie Robinson at home plate.  The bassist, Monk Montgomery, is powerful beneath the excitement, walking his upright bass and holding the rhythm in place along with Jimmy Lovelace on drums.  Pianist Buddy Montgomery is tasty and creative as his fingers skip along the keys.

Harold Land has a warm, buttery sound on his saxophone.  He and Carmell Jones worked together regularly on sessions for Pacific Jazz Records.  It’s good to hear their camaraderie on “Westward Bound.”   On “Beep Durple” (a take-off of the popular jazz tune, Deep Purple) Carmell Jones adds his original composition for Track 2 of this historic concert.  Drummer, Jimmy Lovelace, propels this bebop tune forward on his trap drums and Monk Montgomery sticks with him like Velcro, pumping his walking bass. 

The tune “My Romance” issues in a new quartet made up of Hampton Hawes on piano and Los Angeles based drummer, Mel Lee.  Montgomery remains the bassist and this lovely ballad unfolds with Hampton Hawes performing an ear-catching introduction on piano.  The group continues with the Hawes composition, “Triplin the Groove.”  This song brings us back to the wonderful blues roots that Harold Land grew from, blossoming into the bright and beautiful flower he became on his tenor sax.

When bass man, Curtis Counce invited Land to join his band, Harold said yes and worked with them between 1956 and 1958.  In ’58 he recorded as a bandleader for Fantasy Records on an album called, “Harold in the Land of Jazz.”  One of Land’s stellar recordings followed; “The Fox” that was released in 1959.  You clearly hear his hard-bop prowess sparkling on this album.  In 1959, he recorded “Grooveyard” on Contemporary Records. This was followed in 1960, by the Jazzland Records release he made called “Eastward Ho! Harold land in New York with Kenny Dorham.” 

Harold also worked with the Shorty Rogers’ Giants in 1961.  All through the 1960s, Harold Land was in demand as a studio session musician. He also worked regularly with Red Mitchell throughout 1961 and 1962.  Some of you may remember it was Red Mitchell who helped to advance Ornette Coleman’s early jazz career.  As Harold Land’s reputation grew, he answered a number of calls to work with A-list jazz musicians.  He co-led a band with Bobby Hutcherson from 1969 to 1971.

One of my favorite albums by Harold Land is “A Lazy Afternoon” released in 1995, conducted and arranged by the great Ray Ellis with our beloved Bill Henderson (Kamon) on piano as part of Land’s specialized rhythm section.  These beautiful ballads, made famous by Billie Holiday, showed the softer, more romantic side of Harold Land.

You can really hear how Harold Land was influenced by John Coltrane on his arrangement of “Invitation” recorded in Germany during a live performance with his “All Stars” group at the Subway Jazz Club in Cologne.  His band is stuffed with legendary talent including Billy Higgins on drums, Cedar Walton on piano and Buster Williams on bass.

The final tunes on this re-discovered “Westward Bound!” project are recorded with John Houston on piano and the explosive Philly Joe Jones on drums.  Monk Montgomery is still on bass and this quartet recorded on August 5 of 1965 at the Penthouse jazz club.  You hear Land’s breathy tenderness on his tenor as he explores “Who Can I Turn To?”

Every cut on this album is an individual masterpiece and celebrates the talent and mastery of Harold Land Sr.   This historic album continues to sing his legacy.

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Joey DeFrancesco, organ/piano/keyboard; trumpet/ tenor saxophone/vocals; Michael Ode, drums; Lucas Brown, organ/guitar.

“Free” is one of ten new compositions by Joey DeFrancesco on his new Mack Ave Records release titled, “More Music.”  Not only are Joey’s composing skills cooking on a hot stove, he also has expanded his talents to playing not only organ, keyboard, piano and trumpet but now he has added tenor saxophone to his musical mastery.  Another surprise is that Joey DeFrancesco steps up to the microphone and sings on the tune, “And if you Please.”   On a song he calls, “Lady G” (an ode to his wife) Joey introduces us to his warm, rich sound on tenor sax and it’s absolutely beautiful.  I was so captivated by this bluesy ballad that I played it twice before listening to the entire album.  Another surprise is Lucas Brown, a fellow organist from Philadelphia, who plays organ, as well as being a competent guitarist.  He becomes a solid addition to Defrancesco’s trio and frees Joey up to ‘do his thing’ on multiple instruments.  DeFrancesco and his trio of merry men, have re-emerged from their collective quarantine to happily bring us “More Music.”

“Lucas plays differently than I do.  We don’t sound alike at all and that’s important.  What’s the point of having somebody that’s going to be playing my stuff note for note?” Joey complimented his bandmate, organist and guitar master, Lucas Brown.

I have attended many Joey DeFrancesco concerts over the years and watched him bring crowds to an exciting frenzy during his energetic organ solos.  I’ve also enjoyed him entertaining us playing his trumpet, but I had no idea he was expanding his talents to woodwind instruments.  As a big Miles Davis fan, young DeFrancesco had always wanted to play trumpet and honed his tone and presentation on that horn with many years of practice.  In 1988, a very young Joey DeFrancesco was actually a part of the Miles Davis band and toured worldwide.  Here is a flashback to that time in his life, performing ‘live’ on stage with Miles at the Warsaw Concert.

25-years ago, DeFrancesco decided he also wanted to play the tenor.  His grandfather and namesake, Joseph DeFrancesco, was a woodwind player.  The older man’s favorite instruments were tenor saxophone and clarinet.

“One day I just decided to get his tenor out of the case and see if I could play it.  … I practiced and it actually came pretty quick.  I got so comfortable that I went down to Orlieb’s for a jam session.  I got on the stage and Philadelphia saxophonist Victor North was standing next to me.  I didn’t know who he was, but he looked like Buddy Holly. …Well, Victor North kicked my ass and the horn went back into the case for another 25 years,” Joey chuckled recalling the experience that made him question his talents on saxophone.

In recent years, he had the opportunity to record with legendary tenor player, Pharoah Sanders (“In the Key of the Universe”).  Inspired by Pharoah, by his own tenor player, Troy Roberts and by the iconic Charles Lloyd, DeFrancesco went to his dad and once again asked to borrow his grandfather’s tenor sax.

“If you’re going to play, you can have it.  But you gotta play it,” his father clearly set the rules.

“What separated me from a lot of other organists was the huge influence I took from tenor saxophone players.  I have a certain sound that I love and that was already in my mind.  No matter what instrument I’m playing, there’s a certain concept that always comes through,” Joey explained.

“Just Beyond the Horizon” is a song that opens with a powerhouse solo by Michael Ode on drums.  Lucas Brown steps away from the organ and adds his guitar chops to the mix.  DeFrancesco brings his genius on organ and the tune is off and running.  Mr. Ode also takes a fiery and inspiring drum solo later in the song.   On “In Times of Reflection” Joey DeFrancesco slips behind the piano keys and plays a dynamic introduction to this lovely, jazz waltz.  Later, he blows us away with his trumpet solo.  This is another well-written DeFrancesco composition that quickly becomes one of my favorites.  On Track 6, “Where To Go” the trio explores a funk feel that transforms into a straight-ahead arrangement.  Both DeFrancesco and Lucas Brown challenge each other playing simultaneous organs.  The organists bring the blues front and center and Michael Ode takes a spirited trap drum solo. 

Joey DeFrancesco’s music makes me happy!  Both his tunes “This Time Around” and the title tune, “More Music” bring joy into my listening room.  All in all, here is organ-trio-jazz at its best, featuring Joey DeFrancesco’s mind-blowing and multi-talents.

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Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Richard Davis, bass; Louis Hayes, drums; Roland Hanna, piano; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone.

This is an album released in 1969, a little over thirty-four minutes long and it features four songs played by trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard with gusto!  “Without A Song” starts out in an exciting way.  It swings hard and features Hubbard at his very best.  At the tune’s top, Eddie Daniels echoes the melody on tenor saxophone that Hubbard is playing, before Hubbard takes off like a 747 cruising down the runway.  The brilliant drums of Louis Hayes egg the take-off onward and Richard Davis pumps hard on his double bass, fueling the process.  Only pure, spontaneous energy exuded from this quintet and it’s infectious.  When Daniels enters for his solo, he lifts the piece a notch higher.  This is the traditional, straight-ahead, bebop rooted jazz I grew up listening to and it is joyful music to my ears.  I enjoy the creative and cohesive flavor of Roland Hanna on the piano.  His comping behind the Davis bass solo is noteworthy because it’s so uniquely Hanna.  He doesn’t just snap the chord changes under the bass solo.  Instead, he has a conversation with the bass and plays unexpected and always on-point complimentary phrases.  When master drummer, Louis Hayes trades fours with the group, he reminds the world of who he is and his extraordinary legacy.  I didn’t understand the engineer’s choice to add echo on the fade of Freddie’s adlib trumpet, but I recall there was a lot of echo usage back-in-the-day of 1960s music.  At lightning speed, the ensemble takes on “Just One of Those Things.”  They are playing so fast you can hardly count the time.  It’s just an awesome and energy-driven arrangement.  When they settle down and play a ballad, you get to enjoy Freddie’s emotionally connected interpretation of “The Things We Did Last Summer.”  Beautiful!

This is a collector’s dream album, featuring Freddie Hubbard at his prime, along with all the members of his group, who were stellar then and also became legendary in their own rights.

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Stephen Anderson, piano/composer/accordion track; Ramon Vazquez, Jason Foureman & Craig Butterfield, bass; Guy Frometa, drums; David Almengod & Juan Alamo, percussion; Marc Callahan, coro; Carlos Luis, guitar/ voice/composer; Guillo Caria, clavietta/composer; Mayquel Gonzalez, trumpet; Rahsaan Barber, tenor saxophone; Sandy Gabriel, saxophones.

The plan was, in 2020 the members of the Dominican Jazz Project would return to the studio and record their second CD.  Their first one was released in 2016.  Unfortunately, the pandemic changed everything.  Consequently, pianist, Stephen Anderson took the quarantine time to begin composing.  In May of 2020, long time member of the group, Jeffrey Eckels, called Stephen to say his mother had passed away.  Stephen and Jeffrey discussed how they could social-distance and begin to record a song Jeffrey had composed, “Siempre Adelante.”  Shockingly, only two weeks later Jeffrey Eckels also died.  The two men, who were good friends, had been recording together for nineteen years.  Stephen composed the song “Sin Palabras” (“No Words”) to honor his friend Jeffrey.  Both of these compositions become part of this new album and two of nine original compositions that are included in their Dominican Jazz Project.  Renowned Cuban bassist, Ramon Vazques, who lives in Puerto Rico, was invited to replace Jeffrey Eckels.  Before he could join the group to record the new project, his mother became severely ill.  Although Ramon eventually contributed six tracks to this recording, in the interim, the group invited friends of Jeffery Eckels to replace his missing bass part; Craig Butterfield and Jason Foureman. 

The result of hibernation during the 2020 pandemic was not only personnel changes, but also the determination of these master musicians to draw from various folkloric rhythms of the Dominican Republic and to reflect their personal life changes.  These experiences led to the creation of this music.  It’s spirited and joyful, even in the face of COVID and so much death and sadness.  This music is healing.  These songs uplift and give hope.

Stephen Anderson’s piano playing is a bright star on the jazz horizon.  The group opens with his composition “Fuera de la Oscuridad” that translates to “Out of the Darkness.”  It is straight-ahead jazz, saturated in Latin rhythms and fueled by Guy Frometa’s powerful drums, while showcasing the talented percussion players throughout this arrangement.  Their musical message is energetic.  Sandy Gabriel’s saxophone stitches the piece together with gold threads, keeping the fabric of their message and melody cohesive and strong. 

Track 2 is “Ritmas de Bani” a tribute to a town (Bani) located west of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic where a festival is held each year.  The Afro Cuban, 6/8 rhythm and the repeated ‘coro’ by Marc Callahan and vocalists blend to transport us to a rich, warm cultural experience.  “Como un Rayo Ciego” is a lovely ballad that guitarist, Carlos Luis composed and he sings it in Spanish with great emotion.  Track 5, “If You Only Knew” (Si Tu Supieras) ambles along at a moderate tempo and has a sweet melody that sounds relaxed and happy.  Mayquel Gonzalez makes a spotlight appearance on trumpet.   Each song and all the players contributing to this project highlight the beauty, hope and joy that the Dominican culture offers us on a silver disc.  Pop it into your CD player and enjoy.

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August 11, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 11, 2021

THE JAZZ ALL STARS – VOL 1. – Le Coq Records

John Beasley, piano/Fender Rhodes; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger; Rich Eames, piano; John Patitucci & Chris Colangelo, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, Marvin “Smitty” Smith & Joe Labarbera, drums; Alex Acuña, percussion; Jake Langley, guitar; Rick Margitza & Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Charles McNeal & Brandon Fields, alto saxophone; Adam Schroeder, baritone sax;  Bob Lockhart, Sal Lozano, Ken Fischer, Brian Scanlon, & Ralph Moore, saxophones; Wayne Bergeron, Kye Palmer, Mike Rocha, Anthony Bonsera, & Terell Stafford, Trumpets; Andy Martin, Francisco Torres, Bob McChesney, Michael Dease, Ryan Dragon & Ben Devitt, trombones; Andy James, vocals;

Although this album of music was released some months ago, great music is timeless. This “Jazz All-Stars Vol. 1” features many Los Angeles based musicians and is exquisitely produced.  Track 1 spotlights an outstanding drum solo by Vinnie Colaiuta and Alex Acuña (on percussion) during the John Beasley composition “Theme for Flotus,” arranged as a jazz waltz.  It’s a lovely composition that swings hard (in spite of its waltz status) with the title celebrating the former First Lady of the United States; Michelle Obama.  John Patitucci’s bass solo is warm and wonderful mid-way through the piece.

Track 2 is written by Bill Cunliffe, who also has arranged the music on this album.  “Tu Wero Nui” has a lush horn section that gives this piece a big band flair. “Tu Wero Nui” is the Maori language meaning, “the ultimate challenge.” It was written by Cunliffe following a turbulent flight to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the liner notes on the CD cover do not tell us which wonderful saxophone player is soloing on this number, but that solo is rich and beautiful.  The tune, Log jammin,’ written by Jake Langley, sounds like an Eddie Harris piece or a 1966 Cannonball Adderley tune called “Mercy – Mercy – Mercy” by Joe Zawinul.  It has that kind of flavor with a solid groove provided by the drums of Marvin “Smitty” Smith.  Langley makes a strong musical statement on guitar during this arrangement.  He’s a veteran player with organist, Joey DeFrancesco’s trio.  John Patatucci’s arrangement of “Afro Blue” is quite unique with just bass and Acuña’s percussion featured.  Andy James is the vocalist on “Caravan” and floats like a cool summer breeze above the hot tracks that these all-stars lay down.  I was disappointed that a fade ended the tune during an outstanding guitar solo by Langley.  I could have enjoyed sixteen more bars of that guitar goodness and groove. This is an album of great music performed by outstanding West-Coast-based musicians.  This production also shows off the arranging talents of Bill Cunliffe, Rick Margitza and John Patatucci.  Every composition and creative arrangement proffers ear candy.  Thanks to the new, Las Vegas based record company, Le Coq, here is a sweet and joyful album of well-played music for the world to enjoy.

Piero Pata, founder of the Le Coq label, is an Italian-Australian native with a deep love of jazz, music, dance and art.  We can happily expect a long list of all-star jazz artists to be released by this new record company.  Stay tuned!

“Touring around the world as a Flamenco dancer, I got to know and perform with so many great jazz artists.  So, when we started Le Coq, I focused on gathering together these incredible musicians.  This album is a way to introduce the label through the vision of these artists who audiences know and who have been pushing the music forward for a lifetime,” Piero Pata sums it up.

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SYSTEM 6 – “TALES FROM THE BACKYARD” – Skipper Productions

Benn Clatworthy, woodwinds/composer; Ron Stout, trumpet; Joey Sellers, trombone; Bryan Velasco, piano; David Reynoso, bass; Tyler Kreutel, drums; Yayo Morales, percussion.

The System 6 album, “Tales From the Backyard” is the result of Benn and his musical entourage meeting, outdoors and socially-distanced, throughout the pandemic in 2020.  Consequently, this album title was inspired after months of Benn Clatworthy holding rehearsals in his backyard.  The band was preparing for this studio project.   

Benn Clatworthy is a serious and prolific composer, based in Los Angeles, who offers us seven original tunes on this project, with one song contributed by trombonist, Joey Sellers.  Clatworthy says his composing skills are driven by what he describes as a “search for beauty.”

“The Vegan” opens this album with all the fanfare and excitement that three horns and a rhythm section bring to the party.  The counterpoint arrangement, at the beginning of the tune, is inviting and bounces like colorful balloons. Then Ron Stout steps into the spotlight.  Stout is stellar and straight-ahead on trumpet.  Clatworthy arrives on the scene, playing soprano saxophone free as a bird in flight and just as beautiful.  We hear a memorable solo from Bryan Velasco on piano and the steady drum support of Tyler Kreutel pumps the band up.  Kreutel takes a flashy and spontaneous solo towards the end of the tune, with a baritone saxophone egging the drummer on.  It’s an interesting arrangement that features Clatworthy, (throughout this production), picking up a variety of woodwind instruments to showcase his many multi-talents. 

Next, Clatworthy features his flute.  The instrument dances atop the rich tapestry of Yayo Morales’ percussive excellence and Kreutel’s swinging drums infuse the tune titled, “Calypso Trisha.”  The horns support the arrangement brightly in the background.  Joey Sellers steps forward on trombone, while Latin rhythms inspire us to dance. Then, attention is given to bassist David Reynoso, who shares his inspired double bass solo with us.  This is a joyful composition that radiates resilience and hope. 

However, in the face of great political upheaval and racial unrest in our country, Benn Clatworthy has also composed “Ballad for George Floyd.”  Floyd was an unarmed black man who lost his life to the knee of a policeman and whose final words wave like an unforgotten banner above our consciousness as he whispered, “I can’t breathe.”  Floyd’s death, on the streets of America, rang out like a warning-shot to the world.  People across the globe marched in solidarity against the obvious hate that took George Floyd’s life.  Benn Clatworthy’s composition radiates the drama and sadness that permeated spirits worldwide after that confrontational execution was captured on the cell phone of a traumatized teenage girl.  Clatworthy’s composition is dirge-like at first, before it sprints into action and becomes a straight-ahead swing.  As the tempo accelerates, with Kreutel’s drums pounding like angry feet on the pavement, Benn’s saxophone stretches the limits of expression; melodically screaming at us to pay attention.  The horn ensemble acts as exclamation points. 

The singular song contributed by Joey Sellers is titled, “The Mystic Feminine Charms of Caesura Chonchalita.”  The definition of Caesura is a rhetorical break in the flow of sound that comes in the middle of a line of verse.  This composition by Sellers has an Afro-Cuban beat and a lovely, lilting melody.  There is no break in the flow.  Consequently, I suppose Caesura Chonchalita must simply be a female name.  Just to double check, I reached out to Professor Joey Sellers, who teaches at Saddleback College, for his input.  Here’s what he told me about this composition title.

“She is the fictional ex-wife of Bolt Spillman, a main character from a short story and Caesura Chonchalita is a lady described as a sweet, but somewhat icy Argentinian/Greek beauty, who enjoyed being lathered in butter,” Joey Sellers informed me. 

Needless to say, I was stunned by this depiction of his composition starlette.

The composition, “This One’s for Celia” is a soft, warm, fuzzy ballad that’s steamy with love and emotion.  There’s one thing I know about Benn Clatworthy.  He plays from his heart.  The System 6 ensemble closes out this album with “The Skipper Meets the Pharoah” that references their Record Label president and iconic bassist, Henry “The Skipper” Franklin and the great jazz legend, Pharoah Sanders.  This tune is played at a very exciting, up-tempo pace and leaves this listener on a high note.

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Barry Altschul, drums/cymbals/composer; Jon Irabagon, tenor & soprillo saxophones/clarinet; Joe Fonda, bass.

The number three in numerology stands for music, art and creativity.  Adopted by Barry Altschul, as part of his “3dom Factor” group, these musicians apply all three disciplines; art, music and creativity, as part of their production package.  In addition to being a trio of artists, they are friends and have worked together for the last decade or so.  I feel this group is exploratory and pushes the boundaries of creativity.  ‘3dom Factor’ features Barry Altschul on drums and cymbals, Jon Irabagon on clarinet, tenor and soprillo or sopranino saxophones, with Joe Fonda playing bass.  After four years of silence, this is the trios fourth release, captured ‘live’ during a European tour in 2019.

“Long Tall Sunshine” is a wonderful title for a musical excursion full of warmth, light and energetic heat.  The title track is a previously unrecorded composition, described by Altschul as his once long and tall paramour with a sunny disposition.  Joe Fonda adds his pulsating bass beat to open the tune and establishes the tempo.  He’s quickly joined by Altschul’s busy, spontaneous drums and Jon Irabagon’s melodic saxophone unwraps the piece, like a present for our ears. 

The other three compositions on their ‘live’ performance album are familiar songs from other times and other recordings.  Altschul described it this way.

“I don’t really believe that anything is really new.  I’m a believer in fresh.  I listened to Miles Davis when he said that Louis Armstrong played everything that could be played.  So, it’s just a matter of being fresh, … using the same compositions just provides a springboard to let us get into some fresh improvisational spaces,” Altschul explained.

You will hear songs reinvented from his “Live in Krakow” album.  The way they have presented these songs on this album reflect Altschul’s five decades philosophy of improvising and expanding music.  It shines a stream of sunshine on the trio’s ability to be spontaneous, expressive and creative.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about.  That’s why jazz is called the music of freedom. 

The cover portrait for the “Long Tall Sunshine” album was painted by Nora Howard and captures the energy and attitude of freedom, depicting this drummer and his “3dom Factor” trio.

Altschul’s groundbreaking work in Avant-garde music is easily paralleled by his straight ahead work with folks like Lee Konitz and Art Pepper.  His fame glows sunshine bright from the 1960s when he worked with artists like Paul Bley and Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland and saxophone giant, Anthony Braxton.  He has also recorded with such greats as Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, Dave Liebman and Julius Hemphill.  This is another bright, shining flame shooting out from the “Long Tall Sunshine” and bathing us in its brilliance.  

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Dennis Mitcheltree, tenor saxophone/composer; Jesse Crawford, bass; Bill McClellan, drums.

This trio opens with an original composition by Dennis Mitcheltree titled, “Strummin’ While Nawlins Swims.”  It’s a bright, melodic composition that uses staccato starts and stops to call attention to the catchy melody.  Track 2 is titled, “911” and showcases Mitcheltree’s smooth tone on his tenor saxophone. Mitcheltree has composed all ten of the songs on this album and each one is well played and well-crafted.  This project was recorded in Pasadena at the studio of Nolan Shaheed, just before the Pandemic grabbed us all by surprise and forced the world into panic.  Jesse Crawford steps forward on his double bass and takes a brief, poignant solo on “911.”  There is a sadness about this composition’s melody that softly calls for help. I enjoy the instrumental freedom that the saxophone, bass and drums deliver.   This is a trio that stands alone without piano or guitar accompaniment.

Dennis Mitcheltree is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin who spent several years in New York City before relocating to Los Angeles.  At age twelve, he was fascinated with the Oboe instrument.  That led him to expand his horizons and explore the baritone saxophone; but by high school, the teenager had discovered Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the tenor saxophone.  Today, he is not only an admirable tenor saxophone player, but he’s also an actor and a prolific composer. 

Born September 25, 1964, Dennis is married with children and took time away from recording and touring to concentrate on being a good dad.  In 2017, Mitcheltree established a club residency in Santa Monica, California.   For a while, he was opening act for the Julian Coryell and Andy Sanesi group.  After a while, he moved his band into the headline spot. 

“I played with Julian and Andy quite a bit … and was grateful to bring my group to perform the compositions I’d been writing as the kids were growing up.  Their presence in my life has really influenced the way I compose,” Mitcheltree told

Because of that steady gig, Mitcheltree had income and time to compose.  That’s how “Nevermind the Circus” came into being.  The two musicians he recorded with are long-time NYC band members from his New York trio; Jesse Crawford and Bill McClellan.  Locally, he has been performing with Benjamin Shepherd on bass and drummer, Dan Schnelle or bassist Edwin Livingston and Steve Hass on drums.  However, when his old friends (Jesse and Bill) turned up in Los Angeles to do a few gigs, he called them into the studio to make this album. 

It’s been a long trek from Wisconsin to Los Angeles.  He turned down a scholarship to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Jazz Program.  Instead, he moved to the East Coast and enrolled at the Berklee College of Music.  In 1987, Dennis Mitcheltree graduated Magna Cum Laude, with his major in performance. After that, Dennis moved to New York City.

Always a deep thinker and community minded, on Track 3 is a tune called, “Recount.”  Mitcheltree turns the spotlight towards the question of election validity and ballot recounts and he also shines a wide light on his talented drummer, Bill McClellan.  McClellan dances brightly beneath the arrangement, often pushing a double-time feel beneath Mitcheltree’s blues-saturated improvisation.  I am intrigued with the Mitcheltree compositions.  They are so well-written and the unexpected, momentary stops in his arrangements call the listening audience to attention.  At the fade of the “recount,” McClellan shows us what he’s all about, roaring around his trap drums like a restless lion.

Dennis Mitcheltree explains some of his feelings when he was composing and arranging this artistic piece of work.

“The circus: it’s in our homes.  It’s on our phones.  It’s on the news.  It’s in the government, a billboard, a social media post, a visit to the grocery store,” Dennis explains.

Then he plays a bluesy ballad like “Olivia,” where bassist, Jesse Crawford, picks up his bow and sings his solo song in a very provocative way.  The song “Twinkle Toes” is a speedy arrangement that opens with the saxophone reminding me of gun shots.  Dennis Mitcheltree shows on this tune that he can swing and bebop with the best of them.   And why shouldn’t he?   He’s a former student of Joe Lovano, Billy Pierce, George Garzone and Joe Viola.  Today, he’s an educator and conducts jazz clinics himself.  As a composer, Mitcheltree says he’s been greatly influenced by a long list of jazz icons including Strayhorn, Ellington, Mingus, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Tadd Dameron, Thelonious, Bud Powell and of course, the two artists who got him interested in jazz in the first place; John Coltrane and Miles Davis.  Other favorites on this recording are Track 7, “L.A. Blues” and Track 8, “Tarayzm,” where Dennis gets down and dirty with the blues and his horn becomes fluid and fiery as hot oil in a cast iron skillet.

I found this album to be totally intriguing and a clear testament to the power, creativity and innovation Dennis Mitcheltree performs on his tenor saxophone and injects into his original compositions. 

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Dr. Mike Bogle, keyboards/vocals/trombone/composer; Buddy Mohmed, bass; Harrell Bosarge, drums; Andy Barrus, steel Pan/Percussion; Dana Sudborough, vibraphone.

Dr. Mike Bogle is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator who has led several different groups in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  Opening with “Voyager’s Dream” I am immediately intoxicated with the beautiful blend of Dr. Bogle’s keyboard with Dana Sudborough’s vibraphone.  To spice up this straight-ahead tune, Andy Barrus adds Steel Pan and his percussion talents.  Buddy Mohmed solos on electric bass and Harrell Bosarge lends his timely rhythm on trap drums.  The title tune, “Let There Be Light” is vocalized by Dr. Mike Bogle, like a horn.  He sings the melody without words and it’s a challenging, lovely melody that is begging for lyrics.  

Dr. Mike Bogle is Professor of Commercial Music at Dallas College on the Cedar Valley campus.  In the past, he’s worked with notable jazz names like James Moody, Slide Hampton, Jaco Pastorius, Ira Sullivan, Pete Christlieb and Duffy Jackson.  Once a touring musician, music has taken him all over the world.  Dr. Bogle has released six albums as a bandleader.  He has composed all the music on this album except for the popular Pee Wee Ellis composition, “The Chicken.”   I enjoyed every one of Mike Bogle’s compositions. “Eat Your Vitamins” is rooted in funk, with a harmonic vocal choir (all voices sung by Dr. Bogle).  The tune encourages us to eat our vitamins and enjoy our vegetables.  On this arrangement, Mike Bogle pulls out his trombone and displays a warm tone on the instrument that floats above the Harrell Bosarge drum groove.  Dana Sudborough’s vibraphone talents shine throughout this production.

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FALKNER EVANS – “INVISIBLE WORDS” – CAP Records (Consolidated Artists Publications)

Falkner Evans, solo piano.

As an artist who has always preferred collaborating with other players, this solo effort is a step outside of Falkner’s comfort zone. Even though he has played several ‘single’ gigs, and in fact, met his wife while playing solo at an upper East side restaurant, he just never contemplated recording a solo piano album until now.

Evans grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and like most young people, was drawn to 60s rock and R&B music, before discovering jazz while in high school.  His first professional gig lasted four years, playing with the popular Western Swing band, “Asleep at the Wheel.”  He transplanted to New York City in 1985, where his bandleader experience would begin.  Consequently, he released his leader debut titled, “Level Playing Field” as a trio endeavor with Cecil McBee and Matt Wilson. 

There were two more trio excursions before Evans expanded to quintet status.  In 2020, he released a septet album titled “Marbles.”  That same year, while experiencing a country plagued by pandemic infections and living in a quarantined society, Evans had a feeling of being frozen in time. Unfortunately, in the midst of all that drama, Falkner Evans suffered a devastating loss.

“This is a record I never planned to make.  On May 19, 2020, my wife Linda took her life.  Linda was a bright light with a radiant soul.  Her smile could melt your heart.  Linda was the smartest person I have ever met.  I learned a lot from her.  I am a better person for having known her and in turn a better pianist and composer,” Falkner Evans sang the praises of his wife.

It takes time to grieve and to recover from the loss of a loved one. After three months, Falkner Evans finally took a seat in front of the ivory and ebony keys, he began to compose.  This album is the lovely result.  Evans has poured his heart and soul into these compositions, in celebration of his life and love for the woman he lost.  He calls it “a snapshot of his beloved wife through his own lens.”   The songs are beautiful, but melancholy.  He has named this album, “Invisible Words.”

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DAN SIEGEL – “FARAWAY PLACE – Independent Label

Dan Siegel, piano/keyboard/accordion/composer; Allen Hinds, guitar; Brian Bromberg, acoustic bass; Abraham Laboriel & Dwayne “Smitty” Smith, electric bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd & Omari Williams, drums; Lenny Castro, percussion; Lee Thornburg, trumpet/trombone; Eric Marienthal, saxophone; Rogerio Jardim, vocals; Charlie Bisharat, violin; Jacob Braun, cello; Chris Bieth, English horn; Damian Montano, bassoon; Tom McCauley, Allen Hinds & Dan Siegel, hymn choir.

From The very first tune, I recognize that Dan Siegel has a love of melody.  His compositions are all very melodic and structured in a repetitious way that drills the melody home.  This is the same arrangement pattern used in pop and R&B music.  Usually in pop and R&B they use the ‘hook’ to be the repetitive melody that snags the listener’s ear.  Siegel uses the chords and melody at the beginning of his songs to repeat.  In one respect, this is a good practice.  However, the missing jazz factor in Siegel’s music is the improvisation on his piano instrument.  I never really hear him stretch-out to improvise on his themes.  He just plays a theme over and over again.  On the opening tune “Old School” and the following track, “Sentimental Story” he uses this technique.  Although his music is soothing and easy-listening, his piano playing lacks creative improvisation.  Improvisation is one of the most important, if not THE most important part of being a jazz musician.  On “Tried and True” the groove is contagious, but the starting chords sound strangely similar to the song “Sentimental Story”, a track playing right before this one.  Although the arrangements are similar, the productions are packed with punch and talent.  Dan Siegel rarely takes the lead to be exploratory on his solos or to exhibit his prowess on the piano. Perhaps because he is surrounded by such outstanding musicians. Even if he had played his original compositions in a variety of keys, it would have helped to make his song repertoire stronger. Also, most of his compositions are performed at a similar, moderate tempo.  With the amazing list of talented players on this project, I was expecting more diversity.  On Track 11, Siegel did step up to solo more on his piano instrument.  Maybe too little too late.

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