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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