Archive for September, 2021


September 23, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 23, 2021

In an era of pandemic blues, political chaos, wars and rumors of war, let’s continue to reach for the best within ourselves.  When I witness a young, twenty-something, African-American, female poet like Amanda Gorman, who both wrote and read an inaugural poem at the White House, that makes me hopeful!  When I witness a fifteen-year-old, jazz pianist, like Brandon Goldberg pushing boundaries with his sophomore album, he also makes me hopeful; hopeful for humanity and for the blossoming of a new generation. The artists I listened to recently are all breaking the rules in some kind-of-way.  Like Brandon Goldberg and Amanda Gorman, they are pushing against mediocrity and reaching for their highest good. Luckily, these artists are sharing their talent and treasures with us. These albums inspire us to look within and to grow. You will read about the Temple University Jazz Band and Jon Gordon’s unusually lovely original compositions and horn arrangements. Steve Million and Sarah Marie Young offer us music that’s unique and artsy.  Drummer Ches Smith mixes Haitian Vodou music with his own compositions. Vocalist, Alexis Parsons uses sincerity to snag the listener’s ear and Jim Yanda offers uninhibited improvisation to explore his feelings and express freedom on his guitar. 


Brandon Goldberg, piano/Fender Rhodes; Luques Curtis, bass; Ralph Peterson, drums; Stacy Dillard, saxophone; Josh Evans & Antoine Drye, trumpet.

Three years ago, pianist Brandon Goldberg was twelve-years-old.  He received plenty of attention when he released his debut CD titled, “Let’s Play!”  It was a trio endeavor with jazz veterans Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards on drums.  You could hear young Brandon’s genius and feel his passion on this very first recording.  On his latest release, the late, great Ralph Peterson is on drums and he also co-produced this awesome, sophomore release by Goldberg.  This was one of Peterson’s last recordings before his untimely death and the artist and group dedicate this production to his memory. 

“Authority” is the opening message from Ralph Peterson and is composed by Brandon Goldberg.  The drums are dominant and powerful.  They push the music forward, with Stacy Dillard impressive on saxophone.  The excitement and instrumental tenacity continue with Josh Evans sparkling on trumpet. This is straight-ahead jazz at its best.  When Brandon Goldberg takes center-stage, he lifts the music even higher, showing off his remarkable skills on piano.  The original composition, “Circles” calms us down a bit, lowering the heat from a hot boil to a sweet simmer.  Dillard picks up his soprano saxophone to show us he’s multi-dimensional on reeds.  Brandon Goldberg has no problem sharing the spotlight with his band members.  Once Stacy Dillard completes his masterful solo, in steps Goldberg, who takes complete control of the moment during this jazz waltz arrangement.  Track #3 is a very beautiful ballad titled, “Time,” where Luques Curtis moves me with an amazing solo on double bass.  It’s another well-written Brandon Goldberg composition.  He has contributed five original songs to this album and he’s arranged five cover songs including the familiar Wayne Shorter tune, “Nefertiti” and the Thelonious Monk standard, “Monk’s Dream.”   It’s obvious Brandon’s a sensitive composer and brilliant arranger, along with being super talented on the keys.  It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact this young man is only fifteen-years-young.  His ‘chops’ are so seasoned and his ideas feel rooted in wiseness and experience.  I am intrigued and I can hardly wait to see what he plays on “Monk’s Dream.”  Goldberg does not disappoint with flying fingers pirouetting across the black and white keys.  The group swings, led by Brandon’s precise piano interpretations and spurred by Ralph Peterson’s always on-point drums! I absolutely enjoyed hearing Brandon interpret “Someone to Watch Over Me” as a solo pianist.

Goldberg’s relationship with Peterson began in 2018 at the Litchfield Jazz Festival, where Peterson gave young Goldberg his card and said, ‘Dial it, don’t file it.’  However, Brandon procrastinated.   Six months later, they re-connected at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  Peterson bluntly told him, ‘You didn’t call me yet.’  That’s when the phone calls began and the two had a musical meeting of the minds. Inspired by Peterson to compose and to follow his own tonal personality and musical direction, Goldberg co-conspired with Ralph Peterson.  Together, they lay the groundwork for this album. Goldberg also found inspiration from one of his heroes, Benny Green.   

“Benny told me there should be something swinging, something pretty, something funky, something spicy and something you can listen to without having to think about it,” Brandon Goldberg mused.

This jazz journalist feels confident saying, this album offers all of that and more!

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Terell Stafford, band director; RHYTHM SECTION: Anthony Aldissi, piano; Michael Raymond, guitar; Nathan Pence, bass; Maria Marmarou, drums; SAXOPHONES: Patrick Hill, alto I; Adam Abrams, alto II; Dylan Band, tenor 1; Ross Gerberich, tenor II; Gabe Preston, baritone sax; TROMBONES: Andrew Sedlacsik, trombone I; Bill Saurman, trombone II; David Choder, trombone III; Omeed Nyman, bass trombone; TRUMPETS: Fareed Simpson-Hankins, trumpet I; John Meko, trumpet II; John Brunozzi, trumpet III; Banks Sapnar, trumpet IV; Robby Cruz, trumpet V; Danielle Dougherty, vocals; SPECIAL GUESTS: Christian McBride, bass; Joey DeFrancesco, organ.

The rhythm section opens Track #1, “Passing of the Torch” with a deep bass presence and Maria Marmarou’s drums kicking the tune forward.  The tune was written by Todd Bashore, a former Queen’s College student of Jimmy Heath’s.  He composed this energized piece of music in tribute to his mentor.  The horns dance and harmonically glide throughout this tune in support of a swinging sax improvisation and a rich trombone solo. Nathan Pence speaks his mind on bass, as does Michael Raymond during his enthusiastic guitar solo.  It was January 19, 2020 when Temple University Jazz Band was awarded top honors at the inaugural Jack Rudin Jazz Championship during an event at Lincoln Center.  Sadly, that same night, the legendary saxophonist, Jimmy heath died at age ninety-three.

“Jimmy Heath was an incredible human being.  When I got the call saying he had just passed, I was totally devastated and broken,” Terell Stafford recalls.

Stafford, the Director of Jazz and Instrumental Studies at Temple University, immediately began working on a way to honor Jimmy Heath.  The band started preparing music and then the pandemic hit hard.  Thanks to the tenacity of Stafford and his university colleagues, “Without You, No Me” is the second album released by Temple University Jazz Band in the wake of the COVID pandemic.  The first, the aptly titled “Covid Sessions: A Social Call” was recorded from student homes across the country thanks to engineer John Harris and Temple Music Technology Professor, Dr. David Pasbrig.  This latest musical recording was able to bring musicians together at the Temple Performing Arts Center in April of 2021. They used a host of safety measures to make the project happen.

The title tune, “Without You, No Me” is a Jimmy Heath composition.  This song was originally commissioned by Dizzy Gillespie, acknowledging the foundational influence that Heath has had on generations of jazz musicians.

“He was almost like a father to me,” Stafford shares his feelings for Jimmy Heath.  “When I started at Temple, he was the first person I called.  He gave me such great advice; just teach yourself and teach who you are.  Figure out what you do, how you do it, and teach that,” Jimmy Heath had encouraged him.

This production brought everyone together in simpatico reverence, including legendary musicians who knew and loved Jimmy Heath, like Joey DeFrancesco and Christian McBride.  Jack Saint Clair, a Temple alumnus, composed the tune “Bootsie” to honor the great, Philadelphia-based, tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes, who also died this year in April.  Saint Clair also contributes a brassy arrangement of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” with the addition of vocalist, Danielle Dougherty.  The Temple University Band’s spotlight rests on Philadelphia, because both Jimmy Heath and his famous brothers, Al “Tootie” Heath and Percy Heath are all Philly jazz royalty, along with Bootsie Barnes and the iconic organist Shirley Scott, who shared the stage with Bootsie many times.  On Track #5, Joey DeFrancesco is featured on organ to invigorate and infuse the tune “In That Order. ” It’s his composition and the great Bill Cunliffe has arranged it.  As mentioned, Joey also has deep roots in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania community. 

Another Philadelphia ‘special guest’ is bassist, Christian McBride.   McBride was bornto Renee McBridein Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Lee Smith, and his great uncle, Howard Cooper, are well known Philadelphia bassists who served as McBride’s early mentors.  Christian has composed “The Wise Old Owl” inspired by the school’s avian mascot.  However, he could very well be referring to Jimmy Heath, who mentored so many young, talented musicians as a wise old professor and master musician.  Heath’s composition titled, “Voice of the Saxophone,” is another beautiful and memorable piece.  You will find an excellence of musical talent in this big band production.  Each song spirals into our hearts and celebrates the iconic Mr. Jimmy Heath, using all the incredible brilliance of the Temple University Jazz Band.

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 JON GORDON – “STRANGER THAN FICTION” – ArtistShare fan funded project

Jon Gordon, alto saxophone/composer/arranger; Fabio Ragnelli, drums; Julian Bradford, bass; Orrin Evans & Will Bonness, piano; Larry Roy, solo guitar; Jocelyn Gould, guitar/vocals; John Ellis & Anna Blackmore, bass clarinet; Reginald Lewis & Tristan Martinuson, tenor saxophone; Alan Ferber, trombone/arranger; Derrick Gardner, trumpet.

“Stranger Than Fiction” was released September 17th through ArtistShare and joins my list of creative, out-of-the-box, musical performances featuring composer, arranger and alto saxophonist, Jon Gordon.

“Around 2000, I began to be aware that things were not as I’d hoped in our country.  For all the troubles of our past, I had hope that the country was headed in a better direction.  But I became disillusioned and angered by so many people seeming to cede to a kind of non-reality and in the last few years, that’s only gotten more apparent,” Jon Gordon affirms in his press package.

Consequently, the title track of his album was written by Gordon at a time of this initial revelation.  Like me, he could hardly believe the crazy world of politics he was witnessing or the upside-down position in his personal and professional life when the pandemic startled the world and caused mass quarantines.  I often thought to myself, if I wrote this in a novel, no one would believe it.  However, we were living in a strange reality, not in a fiction-based novel.  Jon Gordon coined it accurately when he named this project, “Stranger Than Fiction.”

Fragments of horn sounds splatter into space and introduce a tune called “Pointillism.”  This immediately catches the listener’s ear and had me on the edge of my seat with great expectancy, waiting to see what was coming next.  Jon Gordon’s alto saxophone flutters like a drunken bird circling the sky.  His tone is round, full and echoes freedom against the backdrop of the Will Bonness piano parts.  Gordon’s “Havens” composition follows this Avant-garde presentation.  It settles the audience down with lovely horn harmonics that create a cushion of sound where Gordon can bounce his solo.  It’s a beautiful piece of music that is circular in nature, allowing his horn to figure-eight across the horizon.  Bonness is also given a piece of sky to explore, using his eighty-eight keys to solo until Julian Bradford takes a low bow on bass.  His double bass solo is richly supported by the drums of Pablo Ragnelli.   Then comes the title tune, infused by trombonist, Alan Ferber’s nine-piece arrangement.  Jocelyn Gould’s soprano voice becomes another horn on the “Sunyasin” composition and adds another depth to the arrangement.  I thought the beautiful ballad titled, “Bella” was enhanced by a whirlpool of horn harmonies that created a canvas for the guitar to paint upon.  Track #8, “Modality” is full of more warm chords hummed by a choir of horns and played at a moderate pace.  From a positive critique perspective, I wish the tempos had moved up like a good stew, first simmering and then into a full-fledged, spicey boil. That never happens.

Jon Gordon is a native New Yorker who started playing saxophone at age ten.  He’s classically trained, but fell in love with jazz after hearing a Phil Woods record.  He has worked with a plethora of legendary musicians including Clark Terry, Benny Carter, Maria Schneider, the Vanguard Orchestra, Ray Barretto and Jimmy Cobb to name only a few.  Gordon has released more than a dozen albums as a bandleader and has authored three books.                                                

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Steve Million, piano/composer; Sarah Marie Young, vocals; Jim Gailloreto, saxophone/flute; John Sims, bass; Juan Pastor, drums.

Steve Million has a piano style that mixes Ragtime and Thelonious Monk in a very unusual way.  You clearly hear this style and perspective on the first original tune he has composed titled “Heavens to Monkitroid” with a nod to Thelonious.  When vocalist Sarah Marie Young enters the picture, she lifts the piece several notches by busting into a lyrical vocal that’s written like a horn line.  Her voice is crystal clear and she exhibits a full range, bouncing from sweet soprano tones to alto beauty.  In the liner notes,  I learn that back in 1988 Steve was a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition.  He currently co-leads the all-original music sextet, “BakerzMillion,” a working band in Chicago.  Sarah Marie Young also was a semi-finalist in the 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition and won the 2011 Montreux Voice Competition that was judged by Quincy Jones.  To her credit, she’s also a songwriter and musician. Steve Million is well-respected by the Chicago-area jazz scene.  He grew up in Boonville, Missouri and was sparked to become a musician when his mother took him to hear Count Basie at the young age of eight.  Somehow, sitting in a front row near the Count, the mesmerized child caught the famed musician’s eye. Captivated by Count Basie’s warm smile and his piano playing, after the concert Basie took time to talk to young Million.  He even introduced the wide-eyed boy to the band.  That was the blooming of Steve Million’s musical career. 

Steve Million attended North Texas State University where he studied jazz and English.  Fascinated by Monk, who became his main influence, he continued chasing musical dreams.  His love of blues, rock and jazz allowed him to bounce around with different bands and play various genres, especially in the Kansas City area.  At that time, he was attending the University of Missouri.  Steve Million recorded his first album in 1995 on Palmetto Record label.  That was followed up with “Thanks a Million” in 1997 and “Truth Is” in 1999.  Several other albums followed and “Jazz Words” is the culmination of Million’s inventive piano playing and his blossoming composer skills.  Sarah Marie Young interprets his original music with much pizazz, using her outstanding vocals to add emotion, to sell the lyrics and introduce us to Million’s interesting melodies. For example, “The Way Home” is stunningly beautiful and on “Missing page” Million’s challenging and interesting melodies pour out of Sarah Marie, sweet as cake batter.  Ms. Young harmonizes with horn precision, dueting with Jim Gailloreto’s saxophone.  His solo lights the oven and warms the mood.  This is a unique and artistic project, sparsely produced, with the spotlight on Million’s compositions, using Sarah Marie Young’s lovely voice like icing on his cake.  I found the artwork on the jacket of Steve Million & Sarah Marie Young’s new album to be quite enticing and emblematic of the musical art within.  The artist is Azusa Nakazawa.  In fact, her cover design encouraged me to pick up this album and take a listen.  Also, the artistic merit of this music reminds me of another Chicago artist, Minnie Ripperton when she was with Rotary Connection and when she recorded “Come to my Garden.” Although Ms. Young sounds nothing like Minnie, this music is just that unique and artsy!

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Ches Smith, drums/percussion/kata/vocals/composer; Matt Mitchell, piano; Nick Dunston, bass; Sirene Dantor Rene, vocals; Daniel Brevil, Fanfan jean-Guy Rene & Markus Schwartz, tanbou/vocals; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone.

Ches Smith decided to start a band based on the connections between Haitian Vodou music and his own musical expression.  Vodou music combines Roman Catholicism and African Religion, originally created by slaves brought to Haiti from Africa.  This album is the result of fifteen years where Smith studied cultural icons and musicians who had great knowledge of Haitian Vodou drumming.  Smith delved into polyrhythms, polytonality, improvisation, extended timbral awareness, channeled aggression and power.  Many of his teachers of the tanbou drum talked to him about mixing Vodou with jazz.  One of his mentors was Haitian drum pioneer, Frisner Augustin; a musician who loved jazz as much as he treasured his drum set.  As a composer, Ches has combined elements of polytonal relations using singers and drums to create musical conversations.  When I think of extraordinary music concepts, this is clearly one.  He uses an octet to orchestrate his compositions, with voices lacing through, like brilliantly braided multi-colored ribbons.

“There is no existing model marrying traditional Haitian songs with original instrumental compositions and contemporary improvisation in this way,” claims Ches Smith.

“We All Break 2020” is one disc of this double set.  The other is “We All Break 2015.”  I listened to the 2020 disc first.  They open with “Woule Pou Mwen” a short two-minutes and forty-one seconds long, but it’s strong in spirit and deep infectious energy.  Matt Mitchell opens the piece with a dynamic piano and is soon joined by African voices, spurred by Ches Smith manning the drums. It’s very percussive and Ches adds his voice to the others.  “Here’s the Light” follows and once again, this tune is pushed and elevated by the Ches Smith percussion, along with powerful vocal energy.  Smith has composed the music, but the song lyrics and melodies are by Daniel Brevil.  Miguel Zenon’s alto saxophone is king during this song arrangement.  He dips and soars and flies like a colorful, wild, Haitian butterfly.  There are some traditional Haitian songs included in these various arrangements.  Ches Smith used the traditional three drums; manman, segon and boula.  Each brings it’s on pitch from low to medium to high tones on the boula drum.  Although the piano of Matt Mitchell establishes the jazz brilliantly in these arrangements, the drums hold the culture in place.  The various breaks in the arrangements, create a platform for drums and vocals to speak to one another.  It brings groove and culture to this project like blood and bone.

Sirene Dantor Rene’s voice is beautiful and full of emotion.   Her delivery on “Leaves Arrive” is powerful and hypnotic; especially at the end of her vocal arrangement, when the other voices join in with rhythmic hand claps.  This is followed by an instrumental addition to the song that is well-played and creative.  “Women of Iron” is a song composed using Nigerian and Yorubic roots.  It employs the Nago rhythm that’s associated with warfare and the Haitian War of Independence in particular.  The elements of fire and iron are the realm of Ogou, symbolized by a machete and a red scarf along with a bottle of Barbancourt (Haitian rum) and a cigar. This song of strong women recalls a ceremony on August 14, 1791 that sealed an alliance between Haiti and their African ancestors to eradicate slavery.  You will learn much history and culture in the small booklets provided as part of this album package.

The Ceremonial Vodou music is explored on the 2015 disc.  This 2020 disc offers more recently composed pieces and, in some ways, more originality.  This double set of exploratory and excellent Vodou Jazz is explained in two small, 4-color booklets that accompany this colorful package of two CDs. An in-depth explanation of the various songs, their meanings, the accompanying drums and the awesome artists who make the music are included in these books.  The song lyrics are also translated in the provided booklet.

Speaking of ‘Pushing Boundaries’ and ‘Breaking Rules,’ this is a project that totally exemplifies the title of this column and its premise.  The music is symbolic of ritual, culture and change.  It’s creative and a fiery mix of Haitian culture, traditional songs and American jazz freedom music.  Ches Smith, in association with Pyroclastic Records, has brought the world an exceptional piece of art and music.  Smith and his group of talented musicians can feel triumphant.  Perhaps Smith summed it up best when he said:

                “If in Vodou the invisible become visible, here perhaps, the inaudible becomes audible.”

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ALEXIS PARSONS – “ALEXIS” – New Artists Records

Alexis Parsons, vocals; David Berkman & Arturo O’Farrill, piano; Drew Gress & Jonathan Gilley, bass; Matt Wilson & Willard Dyson, drums.

The thing that made me pause, on the very first tune rolling off Ms. Parsons’ album, was the pianist, David Berkman.  His introduction is a lovely mixture of classical and jazz; subtleness and surprise.  When Alexis Parsons enters the song, her voice snatches the attention like a seasoned pick-pocket. When she sings, You’d be so “Easy to Love,” I believe her.  She steals my attention away from her very excellent trio.  This lady knows how to sell a song.  She’s a vocalist that has notably been on the New York jazz scene for over two decades.  This is her third recording as a leader.  Certainly, the arrangements enhance her choice of standards.  She sings gems like “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” at an up-tempo speed, showing her listening audience she can ‘swing’ and giving Matt Wilson a time to shine on trap drums and spotlighting Drew Gress with his rich bass solo.  Her choice of seldom sung songs like “Make It Last” bring further interest to this compilation of Great American Songbook tunes. For the second half of her album, Ms. Parsons uses a trio headed by pianist Arturo O’Farrill.   O’Farrill’s portion of the production opens with Jonathan Gilley brilliantly bowing his double bass and O’Farrill playing interesting arpeggios that tinkle in the upper register of the piano.  The introduction to “Organ Grinder” is quite pensive and delicate.  Enter Alexis, telling the story of a village accordionist who is ignored and disrespected.  At first, it’s a ballad, but then the trio double-times the piece and O’Farrill adlibs beneath Parsons spoken word.  The arrangement is stellar, but her vocals, although quite emotional, are somewhat over-the-top.  She sounds more comfortable on the tune that follows, singing duet with Jonathan Gilley’s bass and swinging hard on “Devil May Care.”  “Summertime” is reinvented with an Avant-garde introduction I enjoyed.   O’Farrill’s arrangement of this Gershwin standard keeps interest in a well-covered composition.  Parsons’ voice leans towards the dramatic and at times is quite Broadway, making standards sound more like show tunes.  But it is her sincerity that snags the ear. 

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JIM YANDA – “A SILENT WAY” – Corner Store Jazz

Jim Yanda, amplified acoustic guitar/composer; Phil Haynes, drums/composer; Herb Robertson, trumpet/synthesizer/assorted instruments/composer.

Their album is titled “A Silent Way” but it is anything but silent or peaceful.  This trio combines guitar, trumpet, synthesizers and drums to create a sound that certainly stretches the boundaries and walls of jazz and music.  These gentlemen delve into jungle sounds; animal screeches and growls along with infant wailing and cries. You hear the chirping of birds and the gruff, guttural sounds of some unknown creature. This album, created in Yanda’s New Jersey living room as he experimented with a number of free improvised sessions, is an excursion into provocative improvisation.  Yanda invited Haynes and Robertson to join him, along with an engineer, so they could capture their impromptu moments of free expression.

“Right after the first session, it was universally agreed by all of us that there was something special here,” Yanda recalls.

Yanda found enough material from those spontaneous jam sessions to fill two discs.  This is a double disc project of modern, Avant-garde jazz, without rules or guardrails.  These musicians fly around the disc like Roller Derby champions doing pivots, flips and unheard-of-antics that both stun and entertain us.  By example of this creation, you would never know that guitarist Jim Yanda grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa and performed originally with a Western Swing band.  On this project, you will find no swing and no grooves that encourage you to tap your toes or dance.  Yanda idolized Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.  In 1982, he turned a keen eye to jazz and Avant-garde music of the 20th Century.  Yanda and Phil Haynes have been working together since they were students at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.  They connected with Herb Robertson when they met in a Brooklyn rehearsal space.  This is their first time recording as a trio.  Fasten your seatbelt!               

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September 15, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 15, 2021


Dave Miller, piano; Andrew Higgins, bass; Bill Balsco, drums.

Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” opens the Miller Trio’s album in a joyful way.  From straight-ahead, they shuffle into “Be Careful It’s My Heart.”  Strangely, the album’s title track is listed as Track #3 but it’s not.  Instead, the tune that plays is “The Opener” which jogs along at a comfortable, moderate pace with Bill Balsco’s drums pushing the tune forward.  Andrew Higgins takes a well-played solo on bass. Then comes the album’s title tune, “The Masquerade is Over.”  Actually, Dave Miller has changed the spelling of the tune as the album title.  It’s meant to reflect our hopeful, collective, community joy in removing our masks worn during the pandemic.   I don’t think I ever heard this song played so rapidly.   The lyrics are sad and lament the dissolve of a romance, so most people play it as a ballad.  However, the Miller Trio zips happily along for three minutes and six seconds with the walking bass skipping alongside Dave’s up-tempo piano and the drums pumping the piece towards the finish line.  Dave Miller has a light touch on the piano.  His fingers dance briskly over the keys as he reminds us how much we enjoy standard jazz tunes like these: “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Yardbird Suite,” “Estate” and “Why Did I Choose You.”  This album reminds me of warm evenings, perched at a local, nightclub, piano-bar, while sipping a potent drink and listening to someone talented, like Dave Miller and his trio, play every favorite tune we love to hear.

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Leon Lee Dorsey, bass/composer; Manuel Valera, piano; Mike Clark, drums.

Leon Lee Dorsey, a veteran bassist, and drummer Mike Clark have a close working relationship and share a deep simpatico together.  The last four recording projects have featured these rhythm makers, each one adding a different third guest.  In this case, it’s the very talented, Cuban-born pianist, Manuel Valera.  Valera was once a full-time saxophone player in Havana, but switched to piano after moving to New York City in 2000.  This energetic and artistic album of music is dedicated to the late Puerto Rican-born piano master, Hilton Ruiz.  Dorsey played with Ruiz regularly, enjoying their camaraderie in his final years. The group features a couple of Ruiz compositions.  These collective songs, on Dorsey’s ”Freedom Jazz Dance” album, highlight a kind of bilingual aesthetic woven into the arrangements that Dorsey, Valera and Clark conjure up.  The trio’s chemistry is beautifully integrated and they fit together like red beans, spicey ginger rice and hot sauce.  Be it the drum propelled arrangement of the title tune, composed by Eddie Harris, where the tempo is cookin’ on high or “Home Cookin’” (a Hilton Ruiz tune), the trio wraps arms warmly around the blues.  These three musicians are obviously on-point and inseparable. 

“Until the End of Time” is a lovely ballad with Manuel Valera showing his tender, vulnerable side on piano.  These three awesome musicians present an enticing arrangement of “Autumn Leaves,” suddenly double-timing the tune midway through and spicing it up.  Dorsey sweetly plucks out the Jobim tune, “How Insensitive” on the upper strings of his double bass to introduce the tune.  Valera transforms the song with his brilliant improvisations, while Mike Clark infuses the arrangement with Latin percussive rhythms.  However, it’s songs like “New Arrival” that endear me to this trio.  It’s a composition that rolls up the straight-ahead tracks like a run-away locomotive.  They close with Dorsey’s tune, “Chillin.’”  Leon Dorsey’s bass walks with powerful steps and Valera’s piano moans the blues through his steady fingers.  Mike Clark colors the music brightly on drums and keeps the pulse crisp and in-the-pocket.  This is a recording I will enjoy playing time and time again!

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Adam Nolan, alto saxophone/composer; Derek Whyte, double bass; Dominic Mullan, drums.

This is a free bop trio, based in Ireland, that explores improvised, conversational and modern jazz.  They blend double bass, alto saxophone and drums to create a puffed-up soufflé of Avant-garde music that stretches both restrictive walls and their creativity.  Adam Nolan takes flight on his alto sax and interplays with bassist Derek Whyte and drummer Dominic Mullan, allowing his fellow musicians to invoke their own space and voice.  Their resulting music evolves from lyrical conversations to fiery, unified statements.  Nolan originally played rock and funk drums in his hometown of Kilkenny, Ireland.  He switched to alto saxophone when he was fourteen and currently holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance and Composition.  He has worked with numerous groups as a sideman.  Finally, he decided to explore his own ideas and musical style in order to create an original brand of free jazz. Bassist, Derek Whyte is a major part of the Dublin jazz scene and drummer Dominic Mullan is an important musical name in Ireland who has also been part of the rhythm section behind many popular Irish jazz groups.  This is their first unified effort as a trio and the first time they have recorded together.  However, the trio sounds both compatible and comfortable, improvising spontaneously and giving the solid impression they have been playing together for decades.  On their album, “Prim and Primal” they unapologetically create spontaneous, exhilarating and honest emotion.  Each musician shows off their brilliant talents individually; then come together in a marriage of minds and music.

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Graham Dechter, guitar; Tamir Hendelman, piano; John Clayton, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Guitarist, Graham Dechter, has reunited with his dream trio for this recording. The dream-team includes Tamir Hendelman, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton.

Dechter has composed all but one song on this project. “Pure Imagination” is the cover tune that he co-arranged with master drummer, Jeff Hamilton.  Hendelman and Dechter join instruments (piano and guitar) to remind me of a 1950s radio jazz show theme song I used to listen to as a youngster.  It was hosted by White House Coffee and transmitted from Chicago to my Detroit radio.  Funny, how music reminds you of times and places in your life. The blues is laced throughout this arrangement, with Dechter’s guitar as beautiful as a field of bluebells or a trellis of lavender and blue morning glories. 

“When I first met nine-year-old Graham Dechter, I didn’t imagine that we would one day be working together.  His passion and conviction of the music have taken him where he wants to be.  He set goals and attained them by working hard.  For this, his third recording as a leader, he asked me to produce it.  I suggested he compose most of the material, since he is so talented in that area.  What you hear on this recording are mostly his originals, and by the end of each song, you would bet they were standards,” Jeff Hamilton praised Graham Dechter’s composer talents.

Dechter opens with a blues-based song called, “Orange Coals;” a title reflective of the energy and burning hot tempo of this tune.  Dechter generously shares the spotlight with his all-star band members.  They each take a solo to show off their tenacious talents.  Hendelman, as always, is brilliant on piano.  Track #2 is titled “Reference” and John Clayton’s rich bass is featured throughout.  I especially enjoyed the conversation Clayton and Hamilton musically shared on bass and drums.  Graham Dechter has a guitar style that bleeds navy, turquoise and sky-blue tones into these tunes.  One thing is obvious. He embraces the blues with an open heart.  Dechter says he was inspired by jazz luminaries like Herb Ellis and Wes Montgomery, but I wonder what blues guitar players he was also listening to?  You hear the Montgomery style somewhat incorporated into his title tune composition, “Major Influence.”  But on his original composition, “Moonithology,” you can tell he was also influenced by Charlie Parker.  This song opens with the powerful but tender drum brushes of Jeff Hamilton tap-dancing across his instrument.  Also, on “Bent on Monk” Dechter pays obvious homage to Thelonious and the quartet swings hard, adding those personal ‘licks’ that immediately conjure up familiar Monk tunes. 

At age nineteen, Graham Dechter joined the Clayton Hamilton Jazz orchestra.  He was the youngest member to join in the history of that band.  At twenty-two he released his first album as a bandleader; “Right on Time.”  You can hear his talent and potential blossoming on this, his third album release.  It’s bound to have a “Major Influence” on the world of jazz.  

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GERRY EASTMAN TRIO – “TRUST ME” – Independent Release

Gerry Eastman, guitar/composer; Greg Lewis, organ; Taru Alexander, drums.

Gerry Eastman learned to play guitar, bass and drums as a young man.  He studied at Cornell University and Ithaca College and was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra in 1986, with guitar as his main instrument of choice.  On this trio journey, the three musicians tread the path of creativity, using eight original compositions by Gerry Eastman as directional outposts.  The opening tune is titled “Trust Me” and is modern jazz with unchartered chord changes that take surprising twists and turns.  The melody is lost in a series of unpredictable key changes and modulations that frankly leave me baffled.  I listen to this composition twice, but liked it less the second time around. However, “St. Marteen Swing” is Track #2 and it is very melodic and well-played, giving free reign to Greg Lewis on organ and making a spotlighted space for Taru Alexander to solo and excel on his drums.  This tune swings and is reflective of the organ, guitar and drum trio that I always enjoy listening to.  “Native Son” follows, with an introduction by Eastman’s competent guitar setting the mood amidst a flash of drum cymbals and Lewis blending warm organ chords into the background.  This song is once again leaning heavily towards modern jazz and less towards the traditional organ trio sound.  At points, the tune dips into Avant-garde music, building the piece into a crescendo of energy, until at the very end, it leaves the listener hanging off the precipice of its unexpected ending. The tune “Learn from Your Mistakes” takes a sharp turn towards ‘straight-ahead’ jazz.  Gerry Eastman’s guitar solo is defined by his clean, articulate approach to improvisation, clearly singing note-for-note, his own unique melodies atop the busy drums of Alexander.  I am more impressed with Eastman’s skills playing guitar than his composing talents. 

Greg Lewis has been a strong player on the modern jazz scene and started playing piano and organ professionally in the New York area as a teenager.  He’s led his own trio and accompanied blues singer Sweet Georgia Brown.  Drummer Taru Alexander started playing drums at age seven and worked with his dad’s quintet as a teenager.  He made his first recordings when he was a mere sixteen and has played with many amazing jazz artists like Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Roy Hargrove and Branford Marsalis.  All three of these musicians seem to be talented players, perhaps struggling to find cohesiveness within the original material and the arrangements.                          

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Ollie Dudek, bass/composer; Javier Santiago, piano; Genius Wesley, drums.

This is a spirited trio that features the compositions of bassist, Ollie Dudek.  The very first tune sets the mood and the groove for this energetic threesome.  Titled “The Optimist,” these three musicians tear out of the studio on the wings of this swinging, up-tempo piece that quickly features the bass man trading fours with the other musicians and then taking off on his own to improvise and sing the melody.  This is the kind of tune that makes you joyful and gets your feet to tapping.  I’m quick to recognize that Dudek is a stellar composer and this debut recording by The Scenic Route Trio continues to mesmerize with a tune called, “Flight of Kawan.”   Kawan means hawk in a native Brazilian language called Tupi and this tune is dedicated to Ollie’s son, also named Kawan.  It flies along at a moderate swing pace and I can picture a hawk spreading wide wings and soaring through the San Francisco sky.  Dudek is based in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California.  Javier Santiago takes a journey up and down the 88-keys of the grand piano, adding a touch of the blues and showing off his super talents.  All the while, Genius Wesley locks the rhythm tightly in place on trap drums.  This trio is both dynamic and entertaining. 

Other outstanding songs on The Scenic Route Trio are “Children of the Sun” that celebrates humanities unification and the life-giving powers of the sun. Many of these songs were written while Ollie Dudek was locked down in 2020, experiencing the pandemic days.  This tune lilts along with a Latin beat and Ollie’s sensitive bass dancing beneath the melody, beautifully introduced by Javier Santiago.    Speaking of the COVID pandemic, “Pandemia” is a composition that was written to document the confusion and anxiety of the uncertain times we are living through.  However, it didn’t sound anxiety driven.  In fact, it was a pretty happy, shuffle tune, until Wesley’s drums cut time and the arrangement dived into an unexpected ballad tempo.  Ollie soaked up the spotlight, soloing on bass and changing the mood and mission of his composition.  Afterwards, Genius Wesley kicks the piece back into gear, taking a brief eight-bar solo that returns us back to the happy-go-lucky, resilient tempo.  “Dreamscape” is a lovely tune that Ollie Dudek described as a piece to inspire us to hold fast to our dreams.  His music is so well-written that each song sounds like a standard jazz tune.  You will enjoy every composition, played vigorously and with much emotion by this outstanding trio.

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Lisa Kristine Hilton, piano/composer; Luques Curtis, bass; Rudy Royston, drums.

Pianist, Lisa Hilton has composed nine of the ten songs on this album.  Her piano playing, based solidly in classical study, is unobtrusive background music. This is easy listening.  It’s the kind of playing you hear as parlor music or someone tinkering at a small house party.  “Living in Limbo” is one of her more interesting and melodic compositions in an otherwise bland offering.  After reviewing albums by Oscar Peterson, Billy Childs, Llew Matthews, Kenny Barron, Yuko Mabuchi, Marion McPartland, Renee Rosnes and George Duke, this type of production lowers the bar for jazz.  When I heard “Chromatic Chronicles” I was hopeful, because it sounds as though Hilton based this composition on the Horace Silver song, “Sr. Blues.”   Finally, her title tune, “Transparent Sky” proffers a pretty composition that she interprets at the close of this album. Unfortunately, once again without notable improvisation.   Improvisation is one of the most important parts of playing jazz.  It’s not just scales and arpeggio runs.  Although Ms. Hilton continues to turn out CD recordings, like General Motors turns out cars, this reviewer just cannot consider her a jazz pianist until she includes one song that swings and expands her piano talent into the realms of improvisation. 

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Champian Fulton, piano/voice; Stephen Fulton, flugelhorn/trumpet.

During the pandemic lockdown, Champian Fulton captivated Online audiences with her Sunday evening webcasts.  Consequently, she figured it was time to release an album.  The pianist/vocalist called on her father, Stephen Fulton, to add his flugelhorn and trumpet.  Stephen’s instrument brightly colored her project.  The result is this appealing duo album of voice, piano and horn.  When COVID-19 hit Manhattan in 2020, Champian Fulton watched her gigs, tours and concerts fly out the window like bits of paper. For the love of music and to keep their chops up, Champion and her dad began performing from home for their virtual audience.   A few fans and friends grew to over 20,000 views on any given week.  The success of ‘live-stream’ acceptance and the growth of her fan community led Champian to begin recording the duo experience.  This talented pianist and songstress has a warm, soprano tone and a sincerity to her vocals that is hypnotic and comfortable.  You will recognize the thirteen familiar tunes this duo presents.  One of the tunes is Dinah Washington’s hit record, “Blow Top Blues,” Duke’s “Satin Doll,” Billie Holiday’s memorable recording of “You’ve Changed” and other standards like “Moonglow,” “What is This Thing Called Love” and the old pop tune “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”  Ms. Fulton has a great piano technique and its jazz all the way, laced with blues.  At times, traces of Erroll Garner’s unforgettable style is evident.  Her bass hand is steady and strong, walking briskly beneath her upper register, where her right-handed fingers display strong melodies and improvisation.  Stephen Fulton is tasty and supportive with his horn, knowing just when to touch on the melody or highlight and improvise in the open spaces his daughter provides.  These two are perfectly comfortable with each other and that makes their listening audience comfortable too. 

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September 6, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 6, 2021


Rodney Jordan, bass/composer/arranger; Christian Fabian, bass/composer/arranger.

The original tuning of the A tone at 432hz is said to have a healing effect on the listener’s body.  With this in mind, these two bassists have done the A=432hz tuning that was in effect up until Mozart’s time.  Their goal is to heal a broken planet, sickly bodies and cultures in distress.  I am hopeful that this music can indeed heal us, but while we are listening, we also get a good, strong dose of excellent and creative musicianship.  It’s my fledgling experience hearing an album that features two bass players, period.  I find that quite entertaining. 

Legendary bassist, Ron Carter, spoke to this concept. “To the listeners out there, this CD is a great example that two can make great music!!”

The two excellent bass players have an overall goal to not only heal with frequencies, but to introduce some meditative improvisations in combination with a wide repertoire. They open with the familiar “Just For You” tune and captivate me with their creativity.  “Happy to be Alive” is Track 2 and it’s an original tune written by Jordan and Fabian that’s quite rhythmic.  You can hear Rodney Jordan singing the melody out of the left channel, using his bow, while Christian Fabian lays down the rhythmic bass line coming from the right channel.  That’s how you distinguish the two bassists; Jordan will be in the left speaker and Fabian in the right channel of your speaker system.   The familiar “My One and Only Love” is absolute beautiful and this time, Fabian takes the lead on his bass, letting Jordan provide the rich embellishment and tempo, with free-flowing improvisation rooted in his bass line.  Jordan has composed “Robin’s Theme” that has a catchy melody.  Christian Fabian dances across his string bass, adding a counter melody to the mix.     Fabian and Jordan have composed “The Ride Over.”  It’s a shuffle tune and sings a melody that dips and dives. It’s fun to wonder where the bass players will lead you next as you follow willingly along the unknown path.  I’m enjoying every moment of the brisk walk these two bassists take.  “Body and Soul” is full of blues, sweet regret and emotion.   Jordan has a way of sliding up to a tone.  His bass style captures the imagination and the moment.  The two musicians improvise and speak in musical conversation on Despiritu #2 and #4.  On these musical reflections they employ something referred to as ‘tone rows’ created by Hildegard von Bingen, a German abbess (nun) who lived between 1098 to 1179.  She too used music to heal people by singing tone rows to them.  You will get a taste of von Bingen’s genius as these two exceptionally talented bass men play around with her ‘tone rows.’  I truly enjoyed their original song, “Conversations #4” which was up-tempo and full of fire.  They close with “Conversations #1 and I am compelled to play the album once again for a second chance at being healed and inspired; but mainly, because the music is just that good!

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Gerry Gibbs, drums; Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Geoff Keezer & Patrice Rushen, piano; Ron Carter, Buster Williams & Christian McBride, bass; Larry Goldings, organ.

“Songs From My Father” is the much-anticipated new album from renowned drummer and son of the legendary Terry Gibbs.  His son is drummer, Gerry Gibbs.  The younger Gibbs is paying homage to the musical legacy of his 96-year-old father in a most incredible way.  Terry Gibbs is not only the composer of eighteen songs on this recording, but he is also an accomplished vibraphonist.  Gerry Gibbs has assembled some of the best and most celebrated jazz musicians to join him on this tribute album.  It’s a double set recording where you will enjoy four very distinctive trios.  Disc 1, track 1 is titled, “Kick Those Feet” and features Gerry Gibbs, with Kenny Barron on piano and Buster Williams on bass.  The trio comes out racing forward with power and punch!  Gerry Gibbs is a superb drummer, who not only solidly holds the rhythm and tempo in place, he also knows just when to color and accent the music.  I am immediately enthralled with this composition, because of the happy melody and their dynamic arrangement.  Yes, it will make you want to tap your feet and snap your fingers.  Track 2, “Smoke ‘Em Up” features the brilliant Patrice Rushen on piano and Larry Goldings on organ.  This song is rooted in funk jazz, with the addition of Goldings awesome talents on organ, with Gibbs driving the trio ahead on his trap drums will have you once again toe-tappin’ and hand-clappin’.  On the composition, “Bopstacle Course,” Gibbs pairs piano icon, Chick Corea with bass legend, Ron Carter.  The excitement is palpable, straight-ahead and blossoms from the bebop era.  The universe seems to explode on the composition called “Nutty Notes.” This time, Gerry Gibbs is joined by Geoff Keezer on piano and Christian McBride on bass.  Their tempo is off the charts and flying faster than a shooting star.  What a great tune and an exhilarating arrangement.  I am spellbound!  Gibbs slow-swings “Take It From Me” and features Buster Williams holding court on the trap drums.  When Kenny Barron enters, he becomes the whipped cream on the cool, ice cream sundae. Disc One is so good, I could hardly wait to hear what was on disc two.  Disc 2 does not disappoint.  Opening with the Terry Gibbs composition “Townhouse 3” the percussion parts add intrigue to the arrangement.  Patrice Rushen’s precise fingers dance across the keys like Olympic acrobats.  “Waltz for My Children” is also beautifully played by Patrice and another one of my favorites is “Lonely Dreams” featuring the inventive playing of Geoff Keeser on piano with Christian McBride’s distinctive bass spotlighted.   The final tune was composed by Chick Corea for this special project and is called, “Tango for Terry,” as a tribute to Gerry’s famous father. 

This is certainly one of the pinnacles of Gerry Gibbs’ recorded works.  Every song is well-written and played to perfection, with the drum mastery of Gibbs elevating these arrangements, employing excitement and perpetuating the distinguished legacy of his dad, Terry Gibbs.  As I listened, this music definitely lent a healing and inspirational legacy that touched my soul and invigorated my spirit.

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Peter Tijerina, trombone; Corey Kendrick, piano; Aneesa Strings, bass; Nicholas Bracewell, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Michael Dease, trombone; Diego Rivera, tenor saxophone.

Peter Tijerina, Michael Dease and Diego Rivera smoothly blend their horns to create a larger-than-life sound during this project.  The horn arrangements make a Sextet sound like a big band.  I enjoyed the title tune, written by Peter Tijerina, with its beautiful melody, reminiscent of Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.” The horn harmonics are sweet. The tune, “Lovely” swings hard and was composed by tenor saxophonist, Diego Rivera.  Nicholas Bracewell’s drums rumble on the intro and percussively part the curtains so the horns can march into the spotlight. Then Corey Kendrick takes a spirited solo on piano.  This is one of my favorite tunes on this album of fine music.  They give female bassist, Aneesa Strings a time to shine and solo.  The composer, as well, takes several dynamic moments to solo on his tenor saxophone.  When Michael Dease steps up to the microphone with his trombone tenacity he does not disappoint. “Strange Breakfast” is an arrangement with a lilting tempo, interesting changes and a catchy melody.  On Track 5, “In N’ Out Blues” (another composition by Tijerina) we get to hear a lot more of Peter playing his trombone. There are some tonal challenges and a feeling that Tijerina is still in an exploratory stage on his delivery and still developing his style, but he definitely is carving out his own direction.  Another one of his outstanding original tunes is “It’s One or the Other” where the group takes a traditional, straight-ahead approach during this arrangement.  Speaking of composers, Tijerina’s pianist, Corey Kendrick has contributed Track 7, “Neither Confirm Nor Deny.”  It’s a happy-go-lucky shuffle tune with a sing-along melody-line that’s infectious.  Tijerina’s trombone solo sounds great on this tune, rooted in blues and smooth as a silkworm’s back.  “Deviation” is Track 8 and another original composition by the trombonist. This one is a little purposefully dissonant, led by Aneesa’s singular bass line, then joined in by challenging horn lines.  This original composition is unlike all the others and lends itself to allow Michael Dease a space to explore his own outstanding trombone creativity.  This tune showcases the musicians speaking to one another in very improvisational ways.  Super talented Corey Kendrick is stellar on piano during his creative conversation.  He and Aneesa briefly duet in a warm way.  On Hoagy Carmichael’s beautiful standard, “Stardust” Peter Tijerina approaches this song from the Great American Songbook absolutely solo, without accompaniment.  We can hear every nuance in his emotional delivery.  Tijerina closes with “This Could Be The Start of Something Big” and the ensemble goes out with a bang!   I would say Peter Tijerina’s composing skills currently outshine his performance, but this is only his debut recording and there is much potential and talent to be unearthed. I’m sure Peter Tijerina has yet to show us all the blossoming flowers from his musical seeds.  These colorful blooms give us a peek into his bright future.  All in all, this album is a sweet bouquet.

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Lukasz Pawlik, acoustic piano/keyboards/synthesizer/samples/bass programming/composer; Mike Stern, electric guitar; Tom Kennedy & Michael Kapczuk, electric bass; Dave Weckl, drums/co-producer; Gary Novak & Cezar Konrad, drums; Phil South, percussion; Dawid Glowczewski, alto & soprano saxophone; Szymon Kamykowski, tenor saxophone; Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn.

From the first strains of “Indian Garden” my attention is captured.  This is music that inspires dreams and creativity.  The sounds are electric, smooth jazz and fusion with a crush of flute and synthesizer; plentiful percussion and tenacious trap drums.  Lukasz Pawlik takes an invigorating tour of his keyboard improvising.  He dives into a smooth jazz groove in a splendid way.  Pawlik’s talents on keyboard shine brightly.  He builds the tension and crescendos the piece.  Suddenly, he swivels to the grand piano and the arrangement turns ‘straight-ahead’ and impressive.  Here is someone who uses all the colors in his paint box.  He clearly shows the listener he is multi-dimensional.  Bassist Tom Kennedy steps forward on his electric instrument and struts his stuff.  Track 3, “Jellyfish” opens like waves rolling onto wet sand and splashing salty turquoise across the shore.  This artist paints pictures with his music.  Szymon Kamykowski’s tenor saxophone blows like island winds across the sand and sea.  Bits and pieces of percussion and synthesizer sparkle in the production like distant stars or moonbeams dusting the waves.  On Track 4, the funky trap drums of Cezar Konrad lay a basement foundation for this tune titled, “For Odd’s Sake.”  Randy Brecker bursts through the front door on trumpet and struts around this musical house that the band is building.  They invite us to take a seat and enjoy the music.  Here is a project full of innovation, charisma, charm and mixed genres of music that both inspire and entertain.  This project also spotlights the exceptional talents of Lukasz Pawlik as a composer, producer and master pianist.  

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Chuck Owen, accordion/hammered dulcimer/bandleader/composer; Per Danielsson, piano; LaRue Nickelson, guitar; Corey Christiansen, Dobro/nylon string & steel string guitars; 12-string guitar; Mark Neuenschwander, bass; Danny Gottlieb, drums; Beth Gottlieb, Djembe; Sara Caswell, violin. WOODWINDS: Tami Danielsson, Steve Wilson, Jack Wilkins, Rex Wertz & Matt Vance. TRUMPETS: Frank Greene, Jay Coble, Mike Lapichino & Clay Jenkins. TROMBONES: Keith Oshiro, Tom Brantley, Jerald Shynett & Jim Hall. GUEST SOLOIST:  Warren Wolf, vibes/marimba.

If you love big band music the way I do, you will sink your teeth into this wonderful celebration of twenty-five years of THE JAZZ SURGE playing great music and bringing us delightful musical moments.  This is a contemporary jazz big band that interprets the compositions of bandleader Chuck Owens, along with the music of the legendary Miles Davis and the late, great Chick Corea.  On this recording, they open with the Chick Corea composition, “Chelsea Shuffle,” featuring a solo by Steve Wilson on soprano saxophone and Warren Wolf with a spirited solo on vibraphone.  The big band horns accent the piece and build the energy.  Then Mark Nuenschwander comes walking in on his big bad bass to soak up the spotlight.  Danny Gottlieb is powerful on drums.  Composer, Chick Corea was supposed to be a featured artist on this project.  Sadly, the legendary pianist made an unexpected transition from this life after a terminal illness. This band has earned seven Grammy nominations in the past and I have little doubt this album will become another. “Trail of the Ancients” is Track #2 and this Chuck Owen composition celebrates our country’s American Indian culture.  It was written to honor those who have come before us and features a sweet violin excursion by Sara Caswell. 

This 19-piece, tight-knit ensemble includes some members who have been with the big band since it’s self-titled 1996 debut.  The Jazz Surge was founded as an extension of Chuck Owen’s professorship at the University of South Florida.  Owen will retire from his position at the University this summer after teaching there forty years.

“I’m incredibly grateful to be commemorating 25-years with this band.  It really changed the trajectory of my career and gave me a newfound focus for my writing.  I now had specific people that I was writing for and through them, I discovered so many things.  Ultimately, it’s allowed me to take more artistic risks based on the fact that I have wonderful musicians that are willing to go on the ride with me,” Chuck Owen shared.

Every composition on this masterful album is well-played.  You will enjoy each one.  To solidify my opinion, the Chuck Owens original material was recognized by a Guggenheim Fellowship Award.  Over the years, this capable and artistic big band has hosted special guests and icons including Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, Dave Douglas and Gerald Wilson.

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Jared Dubin, trombonist/composer; Russ Flynn, electric bass; Danny Wolf, drums; Sebastien Ammann, Fender Rhodes/piano; Syberen Van Munster, guitar; Nick Biello, alto saxophone.

As a child, Jaren Dubin listened to his parents playing Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Weather Report and Pat Metheny.  At a young age, his grandfather introduced him to the Swing Era and turned him on to “The Glenn Miller Story.  That’s when he became interested in the trombone. By the time he was in high school, teenaged Dubin was digging deeper into the jazz tradition and began studying the tone, technique and genius of Slide Hampton, J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Steve Turre and Steve Davis.  He also turned to younger musicians like Terence Blanchard and D’Angelo.  Jared Dubin studied classical trombone with L. Fernando Jiminez and also with Steve Davis, while attending Jazz Studies classes at Western Connecticut State University. Later, he played on cruise ships, jumped feet first into New York City’s jazz scene and made the rounds of jam sessions. For a while, he taught music and became a high school band director. 

Jared Dubin’s debut album called “Excuses Excuses” was recorded in 2012.  We see and hear people leaning heavily on ‘excuses,’ like crutches, for things they meant to do and didn’t; goals they set and fell short of completing and this album also reflects Dubin’s unforgiving pursuit of the arts. This he does with no excuses at all.  He offers us a strong production that showcases his talents as a composer, a bandleader, as well as a trombonist.  The first tune, “The Breaks” is melodic and Danny Wolf on drums implements the groove.  Dubin and Nick Biello harmonize their horns and drill the melody into our heads.  I like this tune a lot.  Almost immediately I’m singing along with it.  “Ain’t No Thang” is a slang expression for ‘don’t worry, be happy.’  Jared Dubin has a measured, warm tone on the trombone and he and Biello exchange eight bars like a vocal conversation.  Musically, this album draws influence from both jazz fusion, post-bop and 1990s modern jazz.  During Track 2, Dubin shares the spotlight with pianist Sebastien Ammann on Fender Rhodes and features a solo by drummer Danny Wolf.  The composition “Time Apart” is a pretty ballad that once again calls attention to Dubin’s love of melody.   He plays it beautifully and I also enjoyed the bass solo by Russ Flynn and the lovely piano solo by Ammann, this time on grand piano.  “Passive Aggressive” is the name of Track #4, spurred by a piano bass line, with a counter-line provided by the horns. I enjoyed the spontaneous guitar work of Syberen van Munster on “Worry Go Round” and once again, Dubin ties the arrangement together, like a giant bow ribbon, with his rich, warm trombone solo.  The title tune is very fusion influenced with a strong funk groove pushing the melody forward. This is an impressive debut album that introduces us to Jared Dubin.

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JOE FARNSWORTH – “CITY OF SOUNDS” – Smoke Session Records

Joe Farnsworth, drums; Kenny Barron, piano; Peter Washington, bass.

Joe Farnsworth swings, shuffles, improvises and dances on his trap drums.  You can hear and see his love of his instrument and his respect for those percussion masters who paved the way. I recently found an impromptu tribute he did celebrating LA’s historic drummer, Billy Higgins.

With the Farnsworth drum sticks flying, this dynamic trio opens with a “New York Attitude.”  It’s a Kenny Barron composition.  I am caught up in the bebop groove and the expressive mastery of these musicians.  Together they swing hard and unapologetically.  Their straight-ahead magic continues on “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”  Kenny Barron’s interpretation of this song is both creative and totally unique.  I’ve heard this tune a million times, but Barron paints a new face on an old favorite and the arrangement soars.  They give Joe Farnsworth a bright spotlight towards the end of the tune to show off his drum skills and he does not disappoint.  Although he opened with brushes at a brisk pace, the tune grew, like a crescendo, and exploded with energy.   “Ojos Carinosos” is an original composition by Farnsworth that’s dipped in blues and boiled in Latin spices.  The tune gallops slowly out the gate with a tango-feel and a warm melody, introduced to us by Barron’s sensuous delivery on the piano. 

“Kenny Barron is jazz piano royalty, along with the likes of Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton,” Joe Farnsworth praises the trio’s pianist. 

But George Cables calls attention to Joe Farnsworth’s tender-side.

“When I think of Joe Farnsworth, I think of no-nonsense swinging.  That’s why his composition “Ojos Carinosos” caught me by surprise.  I do know that he can be sensitive and tender, but the fact that this lyrical, Latin-esque piece, played so beautifully by Mr. Barron and company, came from the pen of Mr. Farnsworth, reveals a truly tender and loving soul,” Cables wrote in the liner notes.

Track 4, “Bud-Like,” by Barron, yanks us back to an energy-driven arrangement where Farnsworth shines.  This is followed by one of my favorite standards, “Moonlight in Vermont.”   When Peter Washington enters on double bass, his solo is absolutely lush, rich and regal.    The title tune, “City of Sounds” is composed by Farnsworth and is blues personified.  I am swept away by this tune, flashing back to the days of ‘The Three Sounds’ and loving how Peter Washington steps up, front and center, to sing his rich bass sound, while Mr. Barron continues to shine and patter on piano.  “No Fills” is just plain straight-ahead goodness that races into my listening room like the lightening bugs outside my window, sparkling with brightness and playful excitement.  This red-hot trio closes with “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” and I feel like I just attended the best jazz concert ever!  I think I’ll play this album again, and again and again!

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Dave Meder, piano/composer; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Michael Pilet, drums; Marty Jaffe, bass; Philip Dizack, trumpet.

The opening tune, “Song of Secret Love” is absolutely lovely, featuring an awesome bass solo by Marty Jaffe and the fluid piano of critically acclaimed composer, Dave Meder.  Meder was inspired to compose these nine songs as a reflection of the vivid, colorful, and timely writings of Spanish Civil War-era philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno.  Unamuno supported a free press, human rights and civil liberties. Dave Meder hopes that his songs personify the relationships and dichotomies between democracy and authoritarianism; internationalism and nationalism; faith and non-belief.  Track #2 is a composition titled “Augusto’s Dilemma” and peels back time to a 1920s jazz-feel.  Meder’s piano solo conjures up Eubie Blake, Ragtime and a period in American history when Gershwin and Irving Berlin were pop kings, creating music for the Great American Songbook.  Remember, the Roaring Twenties introduced the public to some incredible jazz music; i.e. Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Duke Ellington.  Dave Meder is a soulful and thoughtful composer/pianist who brings a delightfully different perspective to the bandstand.  His music is purposeful and melodic.  Meder displays bright, classical traits that scale his pieces, but he also travels other adventuresome, musical paths.  His piano art intrigues and entertains the listener.  Track #4 is more Avant-garde.  The trio adds a horn to the mix, Philip Dizack is featured on trumpet.  The song is called “I Look For Religion in War” and once again, Jaffe takes a sweet solo on double bass, pulling out his bow and intoxicating us with his creativity.  Returning to a trio format, “If Ever I Would Leave You” is such a beautiful ballad and Dave Meder pulls the best out of this song, inserting several unique chordal changes that color this song with unexpected exquisiteness.   Meder’s recent single release from this album is “The Lake and The Mountain” featuring Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone.  It’s a tune that changes tempos and moods in a very bi-polar way; somewhat extreme but always beautifully played.  This composition seems more like a suite than a singular song.  All in all, Dave Meder’s entire project is well produced.  Every song becomes a singular and memorable concert in itself.

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RAY OBIEDO – “LATIN JAZZ PROJECT, VOL. 2” – Rhythmus Records

Ray Obiedo, guitar/composer/arranger/producer/keyboards; Peter Horvath & Bob Crawford, piano; David K. Mathews, keyboards/piano/organ; Peter Michel Escovedo, congas/bongo/timbale/percussion; Michael Spiro, guiro/tambourine/shaker/maracas/percussion; David Belove, Marc van Wageningen & Dewayne Pate, bass; Phil Hawkins, Billy Johnson, David Garibaldi & Paul van Wageningen, drums; Karl Perazzo, timbales/percussion; Colin Douglas, wood block; Jeff Cressman, trombone/horn arrangements; Mike Rinta, bass trombone/trombone/horn arrangements; Erik Jekabson, flugelhorn; Mike Olmos, trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone;  Joe Cohen, tenor saxophone; Doug Rowan, baritone saxophone; Melecio Magdaluyo, flute/tenor & alto saxophones; Rita Thies, flute/alto flute/bass flute; Sheila E. & Jon Bendich, congas; Phil Hawkins, steel pans; Norbert Stachel, flute/alto flute; Lilan Kane, vocals; Sandy Cressman & Jenny Meltzer, background vocals.

This month I was listening for music that healed and uplifted.  Ray Obiedo’s music has consistently done just that!  He offers a new package of lilting, percussive, harmonic music flavored with spicy Latin influence.  Guitarist and composer, Ray Obiedo has written and arranged ten compositions for his Volume Two Latin Jazz Project and enlisted the input of stellar musicians, like percussive dynamo, Sheila E., Santana’s keyboardist David K. Mathews, the Yellowjacket’s reed man, Bob Mintzer, flautist Norbert Stachel and trumpet master, Mike Olmos along with several others listed above.  The opening tune “Still Life” is anything but still.  It’s a cha-cha originally written for Pete Escovedo’s Orchestra.  The song is an energetic tune, in a very smooth jazz, laid-back kind of way and it’s harmonically beautiful.  The horns sing the melody and you may find yourself whistling along.  This is joyful music and music that makes you want get up and dance or do something.  Obiedo’s music has a modern edge, with roots in R&B music that blossoms into contemporary jazz.   However, all of his arrangements are clearly soaked in Latin, Cuban and Brazilian music.  On the tune, “Criss Cross,” Sheila E. excites our attention with her percussive prowess and bassist, Dave Belove, holds the piece tightly in place with his original bass lines. Ray Obiedo establishes a carefree melody on his guitar, while the horns and flutes color the piece in bright and brilliant ways.  David K. Mathews takes a solo on piano, then steps back so Sheila E. can showcase her conga drum expertise.  The song “Beatnik” features Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone and a funk groove is propelled by Billy Johnson on drums.  On the “Santa Lucia” composition Norbert Satchel adds his flute, fluttering above the rhythms like a happy bird.  “Belafonte” is a Bossa Nova that adds vocals to the mix to enhance the beauty of the arrangement.  Once again, it’s Ray Obeido’s guitar that leads the way.  He delineates the melody and sets the mood of the piece. This arrangement is supported by Stachel’s strong flute power.  There is one cover tune, a composition by the great bandleader Gerald Wilson (R.I.P.) titled, “Viva Tirado.”  According to Obeido, this tune has a cool ‘low rider’ groove and Ray was taken by the way the Latin/rock group El Chicano recorded it.  The Mathews piano solo is very contemporary, jazzy and expressive. Wilson’s composition is the only tune on this album that Ray didn’t compose. 

Ray Obeido is also a skilled producer, an engineer and in addition to producing ten album releases as a bandleader, he has engineered or produced several other CDs for various artists.  His talents combine to bring out the very best in his original composition arrangements and he inspires the magnificent group of musicians who appear on this project.  Every song is a gem, sparkling like rubies and diamonds in a king’s crown.

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Kirk Lightsey, solo piano.

What better way to end a column about healing music than to celebrate the iconic and legendary, Mr. Kirk Lightsey.  He is a member of my hometown and the eminent Detroit school of jazz piano.  His music is timeless and beautiful.  Opening with the title tune, that is one of Mr. Lightsey’s original compositions. The tenderness leaps from the CD.  This is followed by the Wayne Shorter “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” composition that is explored by Lightsey’s complex chording and frolicking fingers.  His hands play counter melodies with the bass line steady and in perfect tempo mode.  Everybody’s got a “Pee Wee” in their cast of neighborhood characters.  Tony Williams composed the song and Kirk Lightsey tells us all about “Pee Wee” with his creative, solo piano characterization.  Lightsey reinvents “Infant Eyes” (by Wayne Shorter) using chords I could never even imagine.  That’s why this pianist/composer/recording artist is such a genius.  It’s those unusual but absolutely lovely chords he blends together, fitting them together like magnetic puzzle pieces.  You will enjoy his interpretation of Phil Woods’ “Goodbye Mr. Evans” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” tremble and shake beneath Lightsey’s touch.  He thrills us with his concepts and his staccato stops; his smooth, poignant introductions and lush phrases that intoxicate. His imaginative mind speaks to your soul, if you listen hard enough.

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