JAZZ ALL-STARS RELEASE NEW MUSIC

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’s 3DOM FACTOR – “LONG TALL SUNSHINE” – Not Two Records

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 – “NEVERMIND THE CIRCUS” – DEng or Music

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 AllAboutJazz.com.

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 – “LET THERE BE LIGHT” – MPB/Groove Records

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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