Archive for October, 2021


October 22, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

October 22, 2021


Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, vocals; Tom Ranier & Mike Renzi, piano; Alex Smith, piano/arranger; Paul Francis & Harold Jones, drums; Scott Richie & Marshall Wood, bass; Steve Kroon, percussion; Gray Sargent, guitar; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone; Paul Horn, flute; Steve Kortyka, saxophone/arranger; Brian Newman & George Rabbai, trumpet; Orchestra conductor: Jorge Calandrelli, Marion Evans; Vocal & Rhythm Arrangements: Lee Musiker. Orchestra Members: Susan Jolles, harp; Pamela Sklar & Katherine Fink flutes; Diane Lesser, oboe/English horn; Pavel Vinnitsky, clarinet; Bob Carlisle, Nancy Billman, Theo Primis & Stewart Rose, French horn. VIOLINS: Elena Barere, Jorge Avila, Laura Bald, Sean Carney, Barbara Danilow, Sanguen Han, Karen Karlsrud, Yoon Kwon, Ann Leathers, Nancy McAlhaney, Laura McGinnis, Kristina Musser Gitterman, Alex Sharpe, Catherine Sim, Sebu Serinian, Lisa Tipton, Una Tone, Uri Vodovoz, Xiao-Dong Wang, Nancy Wu, Eric Wyrick & Robert Zubrycki. VIOLAS: Vincent Lionti, Sarah Adams, Katherine Anderson, Kimberly Foster Wallace, Todd Low, Martha Mooke, Alissa Smith, Celli Richard Locker, Diane Barere, Stephanie Cummins, Jeanie LBlanc, Saetunn Thorsteinsdottir & Ellen Westermann. BRASS: Lou Marini & Lawrence Feldman, alto saxophone; Dave Mann & Andy Snitzer, tenor sax; Ron Janelli, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Tony Kadleck, Bob Millikan, John Owens & Bud Burridge. Mike Davis, Larry Farrell & Keith O’Quinn, tenor trombone; George Flynn, bass trombone.

It is with great feelings of expectancy and melancholy that I unwrap Tony Bennett’s final album release, featuring pop star, Lady Gaga.  I’m melancholy because this marks the retirement of one of our great jazz legends after eighty-plus years in the music business.  Tony’s been a working vocalist since the age of thirteen, when he tackled the job of ‘singing waiter’ at Italian restaurants in his Queen’s neighborhood.  Now, pairing with gold-record winning, contemporary singer, Lady Gaga, the two present a spellbinding album that covers tunes we know and love.  Opening with the Cole Porter smash, “Anything Goes,” with Tom Ranier on piano, these two super stars set the pace for what is to follow.  Their energy is contagious as they start with lyrics from verse two of this swinging tune. Creatively, some of the song lyrics have been changed to make them more contemporary.  Sweet!  The vocal arrangements are stellar and there’s a wonderful tenor saxophone solo by the great Joe Lovano.

Throughout this production, the tight, vocal harmonies that Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett share are both challenging and beautiful, with a nod to vocal arranger, Lee Musiker.  Marion Evans has arranged the title tune, “Cheek to Cheek.”  Lady Gaga opens it Legato and then it swings when Tony enters.  Jorge Calandrelli arranged and conducted the orchestra and Marion Evans arranged the brass. The result is spell-binding.  Gaga and Bennett’s interaction feels natural and clearly, they are comfortable with each other.  The two vocalists are as spicy as salt and pepper. Every song is deliciously arranged.  For example, their up-tempo arrangement on “Firefly” is quite exciting and really ‘swings.’ 

Lady Gaga holds her own during this historic production.  What an honor to work with Tony Bennett at this pivotal point in her career.  She could easily transition her pop talents into the jazz mainstream.   It is a challenging task and I mean this to be an admirable compliment.  Not many can transform a pop career into the challenge of singing jazz and Gaga’s vocals resurrect shades of Judy Garland.  

The love and respect between these two super-stars are palpable. You hear it in their unique harmonic blends and you feel it in their emotional deliveries.  Gaga performs Billy Strayhorn’s composition, “Lush Life” on her own.  She does not disappoint. Tony sings “Sophisticated Lady” to his young, jazz protégé and it touches my heart.  With the lovely accompaniment of Mike Renzi on piano, I can hear the whisper of 95 years gently brushing Bennett’s vocal palate. Even though the tones are somewhat muted and no longer crystal-clear, still his vocal artistry is emotional, honest and beautiful. 

Bennett is a master vocalist who has sixty-one studio albums, eleven ‘live’ recordings, thirty-three compilation albums, three video albums and eighty-three single releases to his legendary credit.  Tony teaches us the value of meaning every word you sing and living every moment in the present and to the fullest.  This is a collector’s album that, like Tony Bennett’s voice and legacy, will never grow old.

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Oscar Peterson, piano/composer; Joe Pass, guitar; Dave young, bass; Martin Drew, drums.

It was amazing to receive this historic, 1987 “live” recording by Oscar Peterson’s Quartet.  It’s the result of a recorded concert performed during a long international tour.  Peterson’s remarkable quartet features the iconic Joe Pass on guitar, Dave Young on bass and Martin Drew on drums.  The first set spotlights Peterson’s original compositions exclusively.  They open with “Cool Walk” to much applause and showcasing Martin Drew on drums.  Then, in walks Dave Young who adds his bass magic and Joe Pass whose complimentary guitar licks contribute to the growing rhythm section. More applause radiates from the packed concert hall.  The listener can tell when Oscar Peterson arrives, because the audience goes absolutely wild!  You can hear and feel their excitement. The unfolding “Cool Walk” is just that; a cool walk, steeped in the blues. 

Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass are both historic lions of the jazz industry.  It’s their genius and generosity that set the bar for musical excellence and has inspired so many to learn, pursue and grow jazz music.  When Oscar Peterson begins to improvise, his fingers fly so fast I don’t know how he can hit the keys with such precision.  Peterson has long been one of my favorite pianists to have ever walked the earth.  He and Art Tatum could both make the instrument sound like more than one person was playing it.  “Sushi” is Track #2 and it’s also a scorcher, inflamed with high energy; an energy that gives Joe Pass the opportunity to strut his stuff.  Pass is smooth, quick and melodic with his improvisational abilities.  He’s rhythmic at the same time, never leading us down a groove-less path. His legendary solos challenge and inspire Oscar Peterson.  By the time Peterson enters the scene, there’s nothing he can do but elevate the piece.  Any moment I expect all four of these musicians to start floating into air like helium balloons.  They lift my mood and spirit.  The whole first set is just non-stop and imaginative jazz energy.  Then, we are wow’d by “A Salute to Bach” where Oscar Peterson lays out an enchanting, three-part journey of jazz integrity.  His presentation is mixed with his early classical training skills and his love of Sebastian Bach’s music.  It’s a stunning twenty-minute-long presentation that simply takes my breath away.

The second set features the Peterson Quartet exploring songbook classics we know and love.  This is a two CD set and on CD 2 you will enjoy jazz standards like “How High the Moon,” “Waltz for Debby,” a Duke Ellington medley of songs and the album’s title tune, “A Time for Love.”  Every jazz lover and jazz collector should want this time capsule of musical history in their library.

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Mark Zaleski, alto & soprano saxophone; Glenn Zaleski, piano; Mark Cocheo, guitar; Danny Weller, upright/electric bass; Oscar Suchanek, drums; Michael Mayo, vocals; Jon Bean, tenor saxophone.

Boston-based bandleader, Mark Zaleski credits Dave Brubeck and his wife, Lola Brubeck, for helping him become the musician he is today.  The Brubeck couple were married seventy years, until Dave’s death in 2012.  Zaleski is one of the early graduates of the prestigious Dave Brubeck Institute in California.  Dave Brubeck composed wonderful music and Mark Zaleski and his band have chosen seven of Brubeck’s songs to celebrate.  He opens with the very famous, “Blue Rondo a la Turk” from his celebrated “Time Out” album.  Dave was inspired, during a 1958 Department of State tour, by Eurasian music he heard and that when he began composing music out of the normal, acceptable time signatures.  The music on this album included tunes written in 9/8 time and 5/4 time (“Take Five”).  The record company was slow to release such an experimental concept and were shocked, when they finally did release it and the album became a Platinum-selling success.  At that time, our own Eugene Wright (who we in the Southern California community fondly called, ‘The Senator’) was Brubeck’s bassist of choice.  Mark Zaleski’s Band offers us an evocative arrangement, very reminiscent of the original, but with a more contemporary flare.   Glenn Zaleski does a formidable job on piano and Jon Bean, on his tenor saxophone, harmonizes comfortably with Mark’s saxophone at the forward part of the tune.  However, once the composition expands, so do the innovative horn solos and the freedom of the group teeters on the Avant-garde.  It’s a very creative and exploratory arrangement. 

On Track #2 they rejuvenate “The Duke,” a song I believe to be celebrating Duke Ellington, was written in 1955 and performed by Brubeck’s Quartet at Basin Street in New York with Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Bob Bates on bass and Joe Dodge on the drums.  Columbia Records recorded that ‘live’ appearance.  Zaleski’s band also reminds us of the Brubeck compositions, “Softly, William, Softly,” (a pretty ballad) and “Unsquare Dance” a full-of-fun, swing number. Michael Mayo’s smooth vocals sing the composition, “They Say I Look Like God.”  It’s a powerful piece written by Dave & Lola Brubeck.  Lola was a strong lyricist and it was originally written for Louis Armstrong to sing.  It’s one of the songs honed from Brubeck’s stage musical, “The Real Ambassadors.” That original, soundtrack album, that featured Louis Armstrong, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, along with Carmen McRae, was a musical performed at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival.   It was supposed to show the world that America’s racism was a thing of the past.  Unfortunately, almost sixty years later, we continue to fight for equal rights and a land where everyone can feel acceptable and equally free.  Zaleski’s band also plays a poignant rendition of “The Golden Horn” and ends with Brubeck’s “Fujiyama” composition.

You will enjoy every one of these milestone original Brubeck songs, re-arranged in a lovely way by the Mark Zaleski Band.  This production is both pleasing to the ear and tributes a jazz legacy.  Mark Zaleski’s band supports the historic beauty of Brubeck, the man and his music.  

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Louis Armstrong, vocals/trumpet; Russell “Big Chief” Moore, trombone; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone/vocals/co-producer; Nicholas Payton, trumpet/co-producer/vocals; Ashland Parker & Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Herlin Riley, drums/vocals/arranger; Danny Barcelona, drums; Roderick Paulin, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Bill Kyle & Courtney Bryan, piano; Davell Crawford, piano/clavichord/vocals/B3 organ; Reginald Veal & Arvell Shaw, bass; Derwin “Big D” Perkins, guitar; Eddie Shu, clarinet; Don Vappie, banjo; Menia Chester, background vocals; Common, spoken work.

A group of top name artists have combined talents to celebrate the legacy of Louis Armstrong, who passed away in 1971 at the age of sixty-nine.  These popular musicians, poet and producers have united their geniuses to produce THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG ALL-STARS.  These young, energetic talents have pulled from five decades of Louie Armstrong music to re-invent tunes like “The Peanut Vendor” (recorded in 1930) to the most successful song Louie Armstrong gifted to humanity, “What a Wonderful World.”

Nicholas Payton has arranged seven of the compositions on this album, “A GIFT TO POPS” adding his brilliant trumpet to the mix.  He has taken a more contemporary approach to arranging Louie’s music.  The recently released single from this album is the Fats Waller song, “Black and Blue,” a very strong protest song back in 1929 with lyrics by Harry Brooks and Andy Razaf.  The song was originally part of a Broadway musical called “Hot Chocolates” by Edith Wilson and is still relevant today.   Poet and rapper, Common, adds his spoken-word take on the tune and trombone master, Wycliffe Gordon commented:

“Common added a different spin to the tune.  It seemed like things we had talked about as a country had changed, but they didn’t, which is why this is important,” Gordon expounded.

The project emanated in 2018 by the LOUIS ARMSTRONG EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION (LAEF) through the recommendation of Jackie Harris, Executive Director of LAEF.  It is meant to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the New York organization founded by Louie Armstrong and his wife Lucille.  This recording is a team effort started by the Foundation and completed by a slew of excellent musicians and creative artists, who each put their own signatures on the songs.  Because of the pandemic and other factors, the 50th anniversary is a little late, but it has finally come to fruition.

You will find the entire album offers some old standards with fresh, brightly painted faces, like “St. Louis Blues” sung very well and emotionally by Herlin Riley.  What a fantastic groove and a very modern arrangement that features some creative drumming and a very bluesy solo by Davell Crawford on piano. There are splashes of genius by Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Roderick Paulin on saxophone and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone.  A special thanks to all who participated in singing, playing and speaking the legacy of Louis Armstrong.

The “Black and Blue” single from the Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All-Stars became available October 15, 2021.

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Paul Jost, vocal/harmonica; Jim Ridl, piano; Dean Johnson, Lorin Cohen & Martin Wind, bass; Tim Horner, drums.

The first thing I heard from Paul Jost’s performance was his extraordinary ability to connect with me on an emotional level.  It wasn’t that he had a smooth, silky jazz voice like Bennett or an exciting, energy-driven performance like Gregory Porter, but similar to those two masters, it was the way Paul Jost transmitted his passion and sincerity through song.  Clearly, Jost has mastered the ability to fly free and to improvise with lyrics and melodic expression.  His technique and excellent creativity profoundly label him a formidable jazz singer.  But Jost has something more.  Some of us in the music business refer to it as the “IT” factor. In addition, this project is politically motivated from the very first medley of songs.  I am totally engaged and intrigued by both the vocals of Paul Jost, his captivating presentation, his poetry and his unique musical arrangements.

“I truly love this country, which is why I open with the melody of ‘Shenandoah’ that ends with a phrase from ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’  I know how lucky I am to be born here and to have the opportunities afforded me.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of room for improvement,” Paul Jost explains his politicized lyrical arrangement. 

On Track #1, “Shenandoah” he plays harmonica and that’s a striking introduction for the poem he recites over this medley of songs.  

“Lies of convenience that we accept light the way to self-inflicted darkness.  If truth becomes too great a weight to bear, too deafening to hear, too blinding to see, hearts can weaken and be convinced that what’s wrong is right; that kindness is weakness or that tolerance is too steep a price …,” Jost recites in part.

Jim Ridl is absolutely stellar on piano, hallmarking his own abilities to both accompany, to solo with brilliance and to improvise on a theme.  Paul Jost improvises too.  He vocalizes over several familiar tunes, implanting his own unique lyrics and political points of view atop the chord changes.  Jost scats and croons.  His voice dips and dives. He seems to think and perform like a jazz horn.  His is both a compelling and unique vocal.

“I like to present songs in ways that perhaps no one has heard before.  It’s not that I’m just trying to be different, but I have my own perspectives that I try to present truthfully and honestly,” Paul Jost says in his press package.

The first song is like a suite and includes “Lies of Convenience” with Bye Bye Blackbird woven into the arrangement, like a deep, dark ribbon.  This song segues into “Forever” with the inspiration being the horrifying death of George Floyd.  Jost composed “Who Says?” and that tune concludes the medley or suite of songs.  Once again, he inserts the jazz standard, Bye Bye Blackbird, with new lyrics that touch on racial injustice. 

Paul Jost, with his husky vocals, caress these songs like sensitive, work-worn fingers.  Still, there’s a softness and vulnerability that is wrapped up in his baritone beauty.  Shades of Sting’s style shadow the production, along with a tad of Mark Murphy’s inflections.   But Paul Jost is ninety-percent Paul Jost.  His creativity and unique approach to singing jazz, reciting spoken word or sometimes playing harmonica, lend themselves to creating a style all his own.  He also explores his tenor voice without hesitancy, like adding an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence.  Paul is a multi-instrumentalist.  He plays guitar and Jost is an amazing drummer, who has played with Mark Murphy, Billy Eckstine, Ron Carter and Ann Hampton Calloway to list only a few.  

Jost and his talented musicians presents a double set CD of 33 songs, all performed ‘live’ at the Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn, New York, recorded over a period of five months.  If you are hungry for something deliciously fresh and organic, this is it!  Any forward-thinking, artistic and jazz-loving person will find these recordings inspirational, thought-provoking and musically grand. Thank you, Paul Jost, for sharing your musical genius with us; serving it unadulterated with a huge helping of food-for-thought and lots of pepper and spice. 

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October 11, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

October 11, 2021


Jeremy Monteiro, piano/composer; Alberto Marsico, organ/composer; Eugene Pao, guitar; Shawn Kelley, drums; Miz Dee Logwood, vocals; Shawn Letts, tenor saxophone.

Alberto Marsico opens this album by setting a groove on his B3 organ that reminds me of days gone by, sitting in ‘The Valley’ community of Los Angeles at Jimmy Smith’s Supper club and listening to the great organist and his merry men hypnotize the crowd.  Jeremy Monteiro and Marsico partner on organ and piano to bring us a blues-infused, “Opening Act;” an original composition by Alberto Marsico. This tune was so nice, I had to play it twice! 

This is Jeremy Monteiro’s 46th album release as a bandleader.  He is world-renowned, but also very loved and respected in his native Singapore as one of their foremost jazz musicians.  Jeremy has teamed up with one of the most celebrated B3 players in all of Europe, Alberto Marsico.  They met several years ago when the organist was performing in Singapore.  As it happened, Marsico called Jeremy for help when he could not locate a Hammond B3 organ in Jeremy’s Asian city.  That call led to a long-lasting friendship and of course, Jeremy helped Alberto find an organ to play.

On the opening tune, Shawn Letts (originally from Oklahoma) adds a tenor saxophone solo that dips, dives and swings.  Next, we are introduced to the guitar skills of Eugene Pao, a Hong Kong native who has worked with a number of names you may recognize including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner.  The drums of Shawn Kelley hold the rhythm section in place like super glue.  Shawn is a native of Syracuse, New York who has lived in Southeast Asia for many years and performed locally, as well as with artists like Ernie Watts, James Moody and Eric Marienthal.   Tune Two is an anthem to the Olympics that Jeremy penned.  He was inspired while watching the television broadcast of the Olympics on television during a Los Angeles visit.   This tune actually made its debut on an Ernie Watts album back in 2012 and the video below features Los Angeles native, Christy Smith on bass.

Their guest vocalist, Miz Dee Logwood comes from Northern California and brings the blues.  This band offers the perfect accompaniment for this soul singer and they squeeze out every drop of the blues, spraying it all over the bandstand.  Miz Dee is also featured on the Etta James showstopper titled, “I’d Rather Go Blind” that was recorded ‘live’ at the prestigious Elgar Room in the Royal Albert Hall of London.  Monteiro composed “Mount Olive” in tribute to the Mount Olive Baptist Church he visited in Washington, D.C.   Jeremy was so enraptured by the church music he witnessed, that he composed this tribute.  Their arrangement is richly emersed in traditional gospel music.  Marsico composed “Lou” in tribute to Lou Rawls.  It’s a slow, poignant ballad enhanced by the sax solo of Shawn Letts.  Alberto Marsico is a native of Turin, Italy, who has lived in both Europe and Asia.  He has also spent time and recorded in the San Francisco Bay area.  Jeremy Monteiro became a professional jazz pianist when he was sixteen years old in his native Singapore.  As a mere teenager, he was already leading a house band at a local jazz club.  Jeremy’s a jingle writer, with over five-hundred jingles for major companies to his credit and he has proudly composed the Singapore National song, “One People, One Nation, One Singapore” which has a similarity to “America the Beautiful” in the USA.

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Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone/composer; Russ Lossing, piano; Billy Mintz, drums; Cameron Brown, bass.

Lena Bloch’s unique Feathery quartet was founded in 2014, with inspiration drawn from jazz, Middle Eastern music, Eastern European musical concepts and 20th – 21st century classical music.  All of Feathery’s music is original and penned by either Lena Bloch or pianist, Russ Lossing.  Their concept is based on collective improvisation and spontaneous invention during their interpretation of these original composition.  The results are beauty, creativity and an imaginative blend of European culture with the American art from of jazz.

Bloch is a Russian-born saxophonist, composer and bandleader who currently resides in New York.  She’s been performing her original music since 1990, traveling to Israel, Europe and throughout the United States.  Her ensemble’s name perhaps best describes the key to her originality and purpose.  She and her quartet offer light, flexible music that floats like a feather, drifting in various directions and flowing freely.  Their music is propelled by an invisible energy that touches our hearts and souls like a cool, Autumn wind.  It ruffles our senses.  Lena Bloch has composed the first two songs, “Promise of Return” and “Mad Mirror.”  The first composition opens with Cameron Brown’s melodic and rhythmic bass line to establish the tune’s melody.  Once the group joins this Middle Eastern, minor mode arrangement, Russ Lossing colors the composition with sparkling piano improvisation.  Billy Mintz holds the piece in place with the snap of unrelenting drums. The piano and horn sing in unison and captivate the attention.  At the other end of the spectrum, “Mad Mirror” is more reflective; no pun intended.  The music is thoughtful and allows Lena Bloch to sing her saxophone song solo, wrapping the tone around us like paper mâché streamers blowing in the breeze. When Russ Lossing adds his piano perspective to the mix, I am captivated by their windswept duet.  This is music that makes me visualize ballerinas and wild birds flying above the stage.  Steeped in classical technique, strong as Israeli tea leaves, the flavor of their artistic work is full of sweetness and surprise.

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Nicholas Payton, trumpet/piano/Fender Rhodes; Ron Carter, bass; Karriem Riggins, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: George Coleman, tenor saxophone.

Karriem Riggins opens Track #1 with a funk drum beat for the first eight bars.  Then he’s joined by the bluesy piano of Nicholas Payton and the solid bass beat of Ron Carter.  The party has begun!  

With a deep admiration for Miles Davis and his 1966 album “Four and More,” Nicholas Payton invited two legendary musicians who played with Davis on that very album (Ron Carter and George Coleman) to join him on this project.  Payton has composed all composition except “No Lonely Nights” by Keith Jarrett and “Toys” by Herbie Hancock.  This album opens with “Hangin’ in and Jivin’” that reflects both the Afro-American slang and the Seventies African American, soul culture.  It becomes a platform for Payton to establish his strength on piano, as well as on trumpet.  When the piano disappears, it’s because Nicholas Payton has picked up his horn.  Although, extraordinarily, there are places where Nicholas Payton actually chords on the piano while playing his trumpet.  He, along with Ron Carter’s bass and Karriem’s well-executed drums, become a formidable trio.  

Payton explains that this first composition is an homage to artist/painter, Ernie Barnes, whose work I also admire.  You may remember Mr. Barnes provided the artwork for Marvin Gaye’s famed album, “I Want You.”  The painting was actually called “Sugar Shack” and also appeared on the “Good Times” television show.  “Big George” is the second track and serves as a springboard for the iconic George Coleman to bounce his tenor saxophone upon.  It’s a laid-back groove, very open and inviting, somewhat influenced by the current trend of hip-hop mixed with a taste of soul music.  At the same time, it’s straight-ahead jazz that leans mightily towards bebop roots.  Yes, Payton’s compositions embrace all these concepts with a fluidity that is impressive.  The genres seem to flow and swim into each other, like various breeds of fish mingling in an expansive ocean.  One moment you think Nicholas Payton has composed some contemporary jazz music and then, with a wink, Ron Carter is leading you down a rabbit hole of strong swing.  Carter walks his bass proudly down traditional-sounding interludes, always veering onto a creative and unexpected path.  Carter represents quintessential acoustic bass mastery, perfected over six decades of working on his instrument, his style and playing with the masters.  Nicholas Payton has long admired Ron Carter and he’s been looking forward to recording with the icon for quite some time.  On this album, it has finally happened.   Ron Carter had his own opinions.

“I was quite pleased and had fun playing with him as a piano player as well as a trumpet player.  Listen to him play trumpet.  He’s listening to my response to what he does.  If the trumpet players of today want to try to put him in a place, he should be up there, because he listens to what the bass player contributes to his solo,” Ron Carter praised Nicholas Payton.

The music that Payton has composed is fresh and inspired.  It’s creative and intriguing.  On “Levin’s Lope” he blends Latin music into the arrangement gently, like folding eggs into a rich cake batter.  The result is sweet!   Payton seems fascinated by harmonies and is unafraid to venture off the familiar path into harmonic risk-taking.  Karriem Riggins always adds something unexpected and tasty to his drum licks as he pushes the music forward.  The bass line on this tune is repurposed from another Payton composition titled “Cyborg Swing” and the title of the tune celebrates Ron Carter’s middle name.

“The sound of how I hear bass in an ensemble comes basically from Ron Carter and Ray Brown, so a lot of the music that I write is tailor made for what Ron Does.  I didn’t have to make any alterations to accommodate him, because I write with his sound in mind anyway,” Nicholas Payton explained.

In pursuit of mastering the piano, Payton found inspiration from Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett.  His love of music has expanded and he’s embraced instruments the same way he embraces genres and styles.  Consequently, his piano talents are as impressive as his trumpet skills.  I enjoyed “No Lonely Nights” and the interplay between Carter and Payton, when the ballad turned to a double-time tempo. It was exciting and flush with freedom.  The dirge-like composition dedicated to Danny Barker, a New Orleans music legend, is a two-parter and titled, “Lullaby for a Lamppost.” 

“Danny Barker gave me my first regular gig at this club on Bourbon Street in New Orleans called the Famous Door,” Payton says in his press package.

George Coleman beautifully compliments the “Turn-a-Ron” tune.  “Q for Quincy Jones” is another song that tributes one of our jazz icons and richly swings.  Once again, the camaraderie between Payton and Carter is as sweet and natural as pancakes with syrup. 

Payton’s compositions are brilliantly written and engaging. When he picks up his horn, great joy comes barreling out of the bell.  This is definitely a collector’s album.  The chemistry and communication between the elder and the younger generation of musicians who perform on this project are a testament that jazz lives and will live on.

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Shedrick Mitchell, piano/keyboards/producer/composer; Travis Sayles, additional keyboards; Charles Haynes, drums; Burniss Travis, Thaddaeus Tribbett & David Ginyard, bass; Nir Felder & Sherrod Barnes, guitar; Immanuel Wilkins, saxophone; Pablo Battiste, percussion; Aaron Marcellus, Ayana George & Helen White, vocals; Oswin Benjamin, rap/spoken word; STRING PLAYERS: Andrew Griffin, Susan Mandel, Nicole Neely, Orlando Wells, Lody Jess, Alicia Enstrom & Njioma Grevious; Nicole Neely & Geoffrey Keezer, string arrangements.

This is an album that’s a joy to my ears! Shedrick Mitchell checks all the creative and musical boxes.  Jazz is exploratory and improvisational.  Jazz swings and speaks to the heart.  Jazz stands as a beacon of light for freedom and ever propagating change.  This album is a montage of genres and talent that embraces all of this and more.  The group incorporates bebop and straight-ahead with the same energy and talent they use to explore hip hop culture, R&B and spoken word.  Mitchell wraps strong arms, hands and fingers around every tune this pianist has composed.  He and his musicians produce a ribbon of protest and pride, to encircle their package of love and beauty.  Shedrick Mitchell is obviously one of this generation’s influential and significant musical voices, unafraid to blend soul, R&B, Hip Hop and jazz in this masterwork of originality. 

“It’s hard to put certain music in a box,” Shedrick Mitchell explains in his press package.  “Jazz, to me, is improvisation and whatever that means, but I just love music.  The project connotes jazz and you hear us improvising and taking solos, but for me, this album is about what I embody.  I want this record to be all of who I am.”

Pianist, producer, composer and bandleader, Mitchell definitely has accomplished his goal.  From the melodic tune, “The Truth, The Way, The Light,” that opens with the solid drums of Charles Haynes setting the tone, this song offers a melody that flows like autumn sunshine through my listening-room window.  This Shedrick Mitchell composition is similar to a portrait of a young girl in a mini-dress wearing her grandmother’s pearls.  It’s a perfect balance of smooth jazz and traditional jazz. 

The title tune, “What Do You Say?” is sung by two magnificent voices as a duet between Aaron Marcellus and Ayana George. “Memories” incorporates a choir of vocal harmonies and features Nir Felder on guitar.  “E.A.D.B.” starts out quite contemporary and becomes a platform for Shedrick to spotlight his piano talents.  His fingers race across the keys with style and purpose.  There is no doubt about his jazz sensibilities as Shedrick introduces us to both his technique and his straight-ahead composing skills.  Immanuel Wilkins takes a stunning saxophone solo and hammers the straight-ahead piece into place.  This quickly becomes one of my favorites on this album.  “The Don Medley” song employs strings, voices and gospel music; a layer cake of musical sweetness.  The vocals of Aaron Marcellus touch my very soul.  This beautifully arranged medley shifts from Shedrick’s original music to “On My Own” that Patti LaBelle made so famous and morphs into Stevie Wonder’s hit “Overjoyed.”  The arrangement is painted richly with string parts that elevate the production in lovely ways. 

His song, “Faith,” once again features Aaron on vocals, but also uses strings to grow the music and blossom the flower that is Shedrick Mitchell on piano.   His fingers swiftly execute the notes, precise and fast as humming bird wings.  They draw out the sweet nectar of the song.  Oswin Benjamin’s spoken word is powerful on the song “Black Lives Matter.”  

St. Louis native, Shedrick Mitchell, brings us the best of himself and his accompanying musicians.  Here is a concert of music I played two days in a row with great appreciation. 

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Rosana Eckert, vocalist/keyboard; Denny Robinson, keyboards/piano; Tom Burchill, acoustic & Electric guitars; Brian Warthen, bass/percussion; Jose Aponte, drums/percussion; Ricardo Bozas, percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: Drew Zarembe, flute/tenor saxophone; Jeff Robbins, tenor saxophone/flute; Daniel Pardo, flutes/melodica.

“Brasuka” is the name of this band.  They are based in Dallas, Texas and steeped in the joy and beauty of Brazilian music.  The six-member ensemble, along with three special guests, also dabble in splashes of rock, reggae and Latin spiced jazz.  They formed their group ten years ago as an offshoot of a Sergio Mendes tribute where Rosana Eckert and Ricardo Bozas both performed.  Eckert said they discussed forming a band after that musical meeting.

“Four years later, we started writing our own songs.  Oftentimes, we’d write together.  We’d start with a nugget and then explode it,” Rosana Eckert recalls the very beginning of their dream group.

As a collective, there’s no one leader.  The band is comprised of experienced musicians and educators.  Many are participating in other bands, but they came together in rehearsals and to collaborate as composers and arrangers.  Today, they stand, solid as a rock, influenced by music from Sergio Mendes to Ivan Lins.  They are a multi-ethnic organization.  Eckert is Mexican-American.  Bozas was born in Uruguay and Denny Robinson is Cuban.  Tom Burchill and Brian Warthen are American. Drummer, Jose Aponte, is Puerto Rican.

“Samba Jiji” (written by Rosana Eckert) introduces us to a beautiful, lilting Brazilian groove reminiscent of the music of Moacir Santos.  The melody is lovely and the voice of Rosana blends wordlessly with the rhythmic track like rainbows in thunder skies.  The saxophone solo by Jeff Robbins is smooth as butter. 

“This song best represents the band.  It’s based on the Partido Alto rhythm which is a different kind of samba that is modern and funky,” Rosana Eckert explains.

Track #2, “A Vida Com Paizao” (translates to A Life With Passion).  it has a reggae feel.  The synthesizer solo is an outstanding addition to this arrangement along with what sounds like steel drums.  The composition “Road to Hermeto” was written by all band members.  It’s inspired by innovative Brazilian composer, Hermeto Pasqual, who was notorious for his complex melodies.  I enjoyed the flute solo and the modern jazz harmonics used by the vocal chorus.  “Marakandombe” has a smooth jazz flavor and is composed by Eckert & Bozas.  They combine Uruguayan candombe and Brazilian maracatu with a nod to rock music, incorporating Burchill’s scorching guitar solo.  “Reina’s song” showcases the beauty of vocalist/ keyboardist Rosana Ecker’s ability to emotionally connect to a song’s lyrics.  Perhaps that’s because she also composed this song.   “Praia Felix” is joy-filled and happy.  The percussion tap-tap-tapping with movement and energy propels this music.  It’s sung in both Portuguese and English. 

Denny Robinson wrote a song inspired by a fig tree, titled “La Higuera.”  The pianist uses his voice to sing this composition, his vocals dancing on top of the strong percussion. They employ a candombe groove.  Brian Warthen offers a mellow, bass solo.  The arrangement bursts into a sing-along party on “Confundido” reflecting Robinson’s Cuban heritage.  This song stirs it up with Latin fusion and straight-ahead jazz.  Brasuka is an exploratory and talented group to keep our eye on.  I believe they have a bright future.

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Randy Larkin, guitar/composer; Gary Feist & Marty Mitchell, bass; Kenny Felton, drums; Andrew Malay, saxophone; Shane Pitsch, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Randy Larkin is the guitarist and composer for the group “Jazz Daddies” who are based in Austin, Texas.  He has contributed all the original compositions for this entertaining album of music.  The group sometimes performs as a quintet and, at other times, as a quartet.  Either way, they are a tightly knit ball of entertainment that incorporates a taste of the seventy’s music with the more modern jazz of today. 

Kenny Felton, their drummer, is a graduate of Indiana University and also leads his own local band, ‘Gumbo Ya Ya.’  Felton has established a nonprofit music education program for school aged youth in the Austin area.  Saxophone player, Andrew Malay, is a product of North Texas State University and holds a Master’s degree in music. Malay has a warm, honey-sweet tone on his saxophone.  Trumpeter, Shane Pitsch, boasts a PhD in trumpet performance from UT Austin and leads his own band, as well as being a productive member of the “Jazz Daddies” ensemble.  Marty Mitchell is one of two bass players used in the group and he’s self-taught.  You can enjoy his big, bass sound on this group’s premier track, “Voyage to Nepal” where he solos and struts his stuff.  He did attend university and helped pay for his education by playing in a popular college band.  Marty also sings.  Gary Feist is the other bassist and a professional videographer and photographer who owns a company called Yellowdog Films.  His company creates commercials.  Gary is a strong vocalist as well as a bass player with deep roots in the New Orleans music culture. You hear his electric bass style on the tune, “Cool Island Walk.”

Their title tune, “Moontower Nights” sounds as if it’s based on the changes of Wes Montgomery’s “Tequila” tune.  In case you were wondering, a Moontower was a popular way of street-lighting before the construction of Austin’s city lights.  They are currently iconic and protected structures in Austin, Texas.  The most popular one serves as a colorful, annual Christmas tree of lights in Austin’s Ziker Park.

This is an album that mixes jazz with strong R&B grooves.  For example, “Hot Dog” is a Randy Larkin composition that invites the musicians to shout out the title at choreographed spots during the arrangement.  It’s a happy song, lending the spotlight to Andrew Malay on saxophone and the bright, energetic trumpet of Shane Pitsch spices the tune up.  Kenny Felton pumps his drums and infuses the group with dynamism.

This “Jazz Daddies” group blends swing, blues, bebop, Latin and funk music, offering us ten well-played original songs.  “On Call” is a jazz waltz and “Bossa Verde” encourages me to cha-cha-cha across the room as does the tune, “Rico,” with its catchy guitar melody highlighted by Kenny’s solid percussion and splashed with jazzy colors from Andrew Malay’s sax solo.

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AL HAMMERMAN – “JUST A DANCE” –  Independent Label

Al Hammerman, composer/lyricist; Mark Maher, keyboards; Phil Ring, guitar; Zeb Briskovich, bass; Miles Vandiver, drums; R. Scott Bryan, percussion; Jason Swagler, alto saxophone; Ben Reece, tenor & alto saxophone/flute; Andy Tichenor & Garrett Schmidt, trumpets; Cody Henry & Jim Owens, trombone; Abbie Steiling & Emily Rockers Bowman, violins; William Bauer, viola; Andy Hainz, cello; FEATURED VOCALISTS: Erin Bode, Feyza Eren, Arvell Keithley, Brian Owens & Alan Ox; Background vocals: Valencia Branch & Amber Sweet.  

Al Hammerman is a talented songwriter and his first song brings back the golden days of Las Vegas male singers and the “Rat Pack” fame with Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  I would quickly learn this is a compilation Cd featuring various vocals and song styles.  Alan Ox sings Track 1, “What Else.”  He opens Hammerman’s album with his super smooth vocals.  However, the challenge with this recording is that after Alan Ox opens, the songwriter then incorporates an entirely different vocalist with a different sound and approach.  She delivers his second song, “Everybody Knows.”   The same challenge continues with track #3; a new song, a new vocalist.  I suddenly realize, this album is like a songwriter’s ‘pitch’ tape.  If Hammerman had stuck with the smooth vocals of Alan Ox throughout, he might have produced a stunning album that really showcased both his songwriting talents and the talented male singer.

The composer, Al Hammerman, stands tall in his own bright light.  You may have heard his music in movies like Passengers, Gotti and Kin or on popular television shows like Criminal Minds, The Kominsky Method, Drop Dead Diva and Dynasty. This production offers a dozen of his well-written songs. 

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MICHAEL ECKROTH GROUP – “PLENA” – Truth Revolution Recording Collective

Michael Eckroth, piano/composer; Alex “Apolo” Ayala & Edward Perez, bass; Joel Mateo & Juan Felipe Mayorga, drums; Mauricio Herrera, congas; Peter Brainin, tenor & soprano saxophone/percussion; Carlos Maldonado, percussion; Samuel Torres, congas; John Fedchock, trombone; Brian Lynch, trumpet.

The first thing I did was look up the meaning for the word “Plena.”  The Collins Dictionary described it as: an enclosure containing gas at a higher pressure than the surrounding environmentThe Oxford Dictionary had a very different meaning: a traditional style of singing and dancing showing African influences and characterized by a highly syncopated rhythm and often satirical lyricsWikipedia said it was a music from Puerto Rico That was a result of the mixing of the culturally diverse popular class, where their workplace, neighborhood, and life experiences met to create an expressive, satirical style of music.In the press package it was labeled ‘Latin Jazz.’  Now I was ready to apprise this piece of art and decide which meaning best fit.

A wonderful percussive drive opens the album, with the inclusion of Joel Mateo on drums, Mauricio Herrera on congas, along with a couple of percussion masters.  They definitely present an Afro-rhythm based, Latin flavored production. Like gas under pressure, this group is explosive. 

The piano genius of Michael Eckroth is very technically European classical, brightly mixed with jazz and tinged with Latin cultural roots.  The Eckroth compositions are often modern and contemporary and the group itself is a tight-knit, cohesive band.  For example, on the first cut “And So It Goes” Eckroth leads the band on a merry chase across the black and white keys.  Peter Brainin, on tenor saxophone, plays the jazz card and trumps the arrangement; steals the spotlight. When the drums arrive, they rip open the curtain so we can enjoy the rich, cultural, Latin rhythms. The Alex “Apolo” Ayala bass lines beneath the beauty of this tune are perfectly placed and solid.  The Puerto Rican style of folk music, “Plena” is explored on Track #4 as their title tune.      

“I’m not attempting to recreate folkloric playing styles.  This is carving out an individualistic path, all with respect to the creators of these varied folkloric and jazz forms,” Michael Eckroth assures us.

“Invernadero” is track #5 and exudes energy, giving Edward Perez (on bass) a wide opportunity to solo and it’s a wonderful, musical experience.  Eckroth trades fours with the percussionists, showing off his piano mastery in brief snatches of brilliance.  This up-tempo original composition becomes one of his arrangements I particularly enjoyed.  “Soul Cha” is another favorite, based on afro rhythms and the blues.  It gives Brian Lynch an opportunity to add his spicy trumpet solo to the mix. “Exotic particles” is two minutes and fifty-six seconds of bright melodies played by the horn section and Eckroth’s unique exploration of the piano.  The drums are dominate and splash the tunes with colorful patterns of rhythm.  “Rain Song” is another well-written composition by Michael Eckroth that closes this album out in a thought-provoking way.  This is not only jazz, it’s international music that can make the world smile.

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October 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

October 1, 2021


Ron Carter, bass/composer; Jack DeJohnette, drums/composer; Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano/composer.

As soon as I saw these three iconic names, meshed together as a trio, I was intrigued.  What will you hear when you put Grammy Award-winning, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba into the studio with NEA Jazz Masters Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette?  Something wonderful was about to happen; I was certain!

These music masters open with “Lagrimas Negras,” a Miguel Matamoros composition, full of Latin spice, bolero and the fluidity and stamp of these three iconic musicians.  The melody is beautiful and established by Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano.  He soon invites Ron Carter to spotlight his talent on bass with a rhythmic, inventive and dynamic solo.  Jack DeJohnette prods the music along with steady sticks and percussive brilliance. Track #2 opens like a whispered secret, with Carter’s bass having a solo conversation.  Gonzalo answers him on piano, using sparse notes, staccato bleeps and finally lush chords to speak his piece.  The contrast of a soprano, single, piano-note played against the walking bass of Carter’s monologue is distinctively different.  It pulls at the listener’s ear.  Jack DeJohnette adds dancing drums beneath the conversation, joining his friends to express this “Gypsy” tune that Ron Carter has penned.  Each of these master musicians have contributed their own original compositions to this passionate work.  “Gypsy” develops from a whisper to a scream, allowing Rubalcaba’s imaginative and technically precise piano playing to dominate and grow the music.  He is genuinely supported and his intensity is matched by both Carter’s racing bass notes and DeJohnette’s expressive drum licks.  This arrangement is exciting!

These three musicians have known each other for many years. “Skyline” is an ambitious project to reunite Gonzalo with mentors from his youth.   In 1993, Gonzalo Rubalcaba stepped into the McClear studios with Ron Carter on bass and Cuban drummer, Julio Barreto.  They recorded an album of bebop songs released on the album “Diz.”  This Carter-Rubalcaba-Barreto trio toured briefly. 

“Great rhythm player,” Carter recalls thinking at that time about Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s piano talent.

One amazing thing about this magical album is that only Gonzalo Rubalcaba was fully familiar with all the music before they recorded.  However, Rubalcaba managed to convince Carter and DeJohnette that it would be fine.  The music would guide them and they would be creative and spontaneous in the moment.  You hear their improvisation and exceptional brilliance on every single composition.  On Rubalcaba’s original, “Promenade” the pianist explains that this song was actually dedicated to Ron Carter and debuted on a 1998 Blue Note label with the late bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Ignacio Berroa.  Imagine Gonzalo’s pleasure in hearing Ron Carter explore the tune and put his magic touch on a song written with him in mind.  There is also a brief but powerful drum solo taken by Jack DeJohnette.  Another of Rubalcaba’s original compositions is “Siempre Maria.”  It’s a lovely bolero ballad that was recorded back in 1992, but has been reharmonized and repurposed for this session.

Ron Carter mused about the project saying, “…We go into a date where two of the three have no concept going in, and the guy who’s in charge has to convince us that his way of doing this is going to be ok.  He has to convince us that his music, which goes in so many directions, is a good choice for the band and that he’s picked the right partners to make this project successful. … It’s interesting that, three years after we made the record, everything holds up.”

“We had a four-hour rehearsal in the studio and then started recording,” Gonzalo explained.

Carter contributed “Quite Place,” Track #6, and (at the beginning) it’s very classical sounding and soothing to the spirit. Quickly, it breaks into other musical realms, exploding with the sounds of freedom.  Jack DeJohnette contributed “Silver Hollow” and “Ahmad the Terrible” to the project, per Rubalcaba’s request.  His “Silver Hollow” tune was first recorded in 1978 for ECM with Lester Bowie, John Abercrombie and Eddie Gomez.  Later, in 1990, it was recorded by Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland. In 1991, Rubalcaba recorded it himself on “The Blessing,” an album with Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden on bass.  The ninth and final tune is titled RonJackRuba and is written by all three members of the trio.  The collaboration is soaked in blues, with funk laced through the tune like red, cayenne pepper flakes.  The always engaging, but never predictable piano playing of Gonzalo Rubalcaba is the cloth and Carter and DeJohnette are sharp needles, shiny in the light, and zipping in and out to create the fabric of the tune, each stitching their mark in a beautiful way.  You will want this piece of intricate, musical, crochet art in your collection.

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Andy Farber, bandleader/arranger/composer/Alto & baritone saxophones; SPECIAL GUEST: Catherine Russell, vocals; James Chirillo, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums; SAXOPHONES: Mark Gross, also & soprano saxophones/flute; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone/ flute/clarinet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone/clarinet/flute/piccolo; Lance Bryant, tenor saxophone/ clarinet; Carl Maraghi, bass saxophone/bass clarinet; TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, Bruce Harris, James Zollar, Shawn Edmonds & Alphonso Home; TROMBONES: Wayne Goodman, Art Baron & Dion Tucker.

The first tune, “Don’t Tell Me What To Do,” is blues basted and bursting with flavor.  The clarinet solo by Dan Block is salty and tasty.  James Zollar is hot as ghost pepper on his trumpet and Art Baron’s trombone solo is the silky-smooth gravy.  Andy Farber has composed nine of the eleven delicious tunes on this album.  His arrangements bring back the golden era of big band popularity.  Farber’s arrangements give his stellar bandmembers an opportunity to showcase their amazing, individual talents.  Each one steps forward to soak up the spotlight and to interpret Farber’s very well-written compositions.  New Yorkers got to know the band when they were a weekly act at Birdland in the mid-2000’s.  Farber uses some of the best jazz cats in the area to spice up his orchestra.  For example, on Track #2, “Feet and Frames” pianist Adam Birnbaum offers a notable solo and the dynamic Alvester Garnett draws attention with his powerful and rhythm-steady drums. “The Holidaymakers” is infused with Latin rhythms and horn harmonies that punch the music forward. “Aircheck” sounds very Count Basie-ish.  The band swings hard and steady!  Lance Bryant takes a sparkling solo on tenor saxophone.  The title tune is satin smooth and features Godwin Louis on Alto saxophone.  It’s a beautiful composition with a melody that is begging for lyrics.  Speaking of lyrics, Catherine Russell is the singer on “How Am I To Know” and she sounds amazing when she sweetly, but powerfully, compliments the orchestra.  The song “Portrait of Joe Temperley” takes my breath away with its beautiful melody and interpretation by bandleader, composer Andy Farber on baritone saxophone. 

There is a little something for everyone on this Andy Farber album of great songs including awesome arrangements and a jazz orchestra that shines brighter than a Broadway theater’s opening night.   

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Tod Dickow, tenor saxophone; Murray Low, keyboards; Aaron Germain, acoustic & Electric basses; Jon Krosnick, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Omar Ledezma, congas.

For those of you unfamiliar with “The Baked Potato,” it’s not a carb, but a popular night spot in Los Angeles that features a host of iconic musicians, especially known for their showcasing of fusion and contemporary jazz artists.  The Northern California based group ‘Charged Particles’ performed in Los Angeles to record and capture the essence and musical spirit of the late, great Michael Brecker.  This recording investigates Brecker’s tunes spanning three decades.  On March 17, 2019, Tod Dickow joined the band of ‘Charged Particles’ to perform in Studio City, California at that intimate, but famed ‘Baked Potato’ nightspot.  The band opened with Brecker’s composition “Peep” from the saxophone icon’s third Impulse Release titled, “1990’s Now You See It … (Now You Don’t).”  It’s an energy driven and exciting arrangement that begins with a flurry of drum sticks and solo rhythm conjured up by Jon Krosnick on trap drums.  His sticks tore open the stage curtains for Tod Dickow to march through.

“I was a Coltrane/Brecker/Bob Berg/Liebman/Grossman kind of guy ever since the ‘70s,” Tod Dickow lists his influences. 

“I certainly listened to enough of Mike’s music that it’s going to come out in my playing, but it’s not really like I’ve ever outright tried to imitate him.  I just know that some of the devices he used have become a part of my playing,” Dickow elaborated in the liner notes.

Michael Brecker (who died January 13, 2007) after a prolonged illness, left this earth at fifty-seven-years-young.  He left behind a massive stack of compositions and an impressive recording discography that features his unique and gifted articulation on the saxophone.  Reed man, Tod Dickow, has captured the magic and brilliance of Brecker during this excursion into Michael Brecker’s music and legacy.  On “Arc of the Pendulum,” keyboard master, Murray Low, adds organ to the mix, while Tod Dickow continues to saturate the group with saxophone power and purpose.  With their feet solidly planted in fusion fields and contemporary jazz arrangements, this ‘Charged Particles’ group has been working in the Bay area since 2011.  Drummer Jon Krosnick is the founder of the group, originally formed in Ohio back in 1993. They made a name for themselves in the Bay area by tackling the challenging material of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.  At first, they were a trio.  Then they decided to add a reed player and they all agreed that Tod Dickow was the man.

“This band has always been willing to take on difficult compositions like Mike’s,” said Krosnick.  “… We’ve spent tremendous amounts of time rehearsing as a group and practicing on our own.  When people listen to us, they realize that we’ve done the homework to put on a show that took preparation and has lots of dramatic value and communicative power as a result.”

All three rhythm section members bring excitement and creativity to the bandstand and into the studio.  During this live recording, Murray Low segued from piano to organ and sampled sounds, using assorted synthesizers during their set.  These complicated splits on his keyboard allowed Murray to cover multiple parts at the same time and his inventiveness captured the richness of Brecker’s original studio recordings.  Aaron Germain switches between upright bass and electric bass with ease and accuracy.  This is a joyful listen, full of the spark and spunk that Michael Brecker’s group always brought to the stage, but also incorporating the creativity and integrity of these four musicians.  ‘Charged Particles’ has a big, fat, funky sound and although they are tributing Michael Brecker, they are all master musicians themselves.  ‘Charged Particles’ brings their own sense of power and play to this recording, along with the historic legacy of the man they are tributing. 

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Jazzmiea Horn, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano/Musical Director; Keith Brown, piano; Eric Wheeler, bass; Anwar Marshall, drums; Bruce Williams, saxophone. 

NOTE: I attempted, but was unable to contact the new label for Jazzmiea Horn to list other members of ‘Noble Force.’  My style is to give all the musicians credit on my reviews.

Jazzmiea Horn and her 15-piece, Noble Force musicians ask us, “Where Is Freedom!?” on her new album titled, “Dear Love.”  As one of young America’s newest jazz vocalists, this song steps out of the jazz medium and into funk and R&B.  The groove is like a Sly & the Family Stone remake and the lyrics are reflective of other eras, like the ‘peace & love’ Hippie movement when music and culture called out for freedom.  “Strive to Be” is more like the Jazzmiea Horn vocals that first captivated me when I first heard them.  Those long, controlled, legato notes that float above the stage like colorful helium balloons.  Ribbons of color and emotion unravel before our ears and stream across space to draw us into her realm.  She’s emotional. You can hear her desire to be a horn, reflected in her vocal acrobatics.  This song reminisces about her grandmother in spoken word, followed by vocal freedom of expression with scats that flip, fly, leap and twirl in space. Her horn section is supportive, featuring an emotional solo by one of the members. The ‘Noble Force’ arrangement of “He Could Be Perfect” is a tribute to big band beauty.  It’s a slow swing, with tight horn lines and rich harmonies.  But it’s tunes like “Lover Come Back to Me” where Jazzmiea swings so hard and so strong that it’s an example of what jazz singing is all about, that truly endears this vocalist to me.  The blues-rooted “Let Us (Take Our Time)” with its breaks and staccato parts that use silence to accentuate melody and horn harmonics are arranged to compliment her sweet voice.  They introduce us to jazzmiea’s poetry and (as a published poet myself) I love that.  The up-tempo, straight-ahead music and delivery of “He’s My Guy” shows off the band’s majesty and her voice crowns them with her simple, honest, love message.  That high soprano note on the end of the song; the one that she holds so powerfully, is both shocking and provocative. 

The sugar-sweet sound of her vocals on “Nia” with a warm vibrato tickling the notes on their endings is typical Jazzmeia Horn.  The multi-genre surprises that Ms. Horn offers in this new musical package underlines her growth vocally and her skillful talents as both a composer and poetess.  The Noble Force Band is undoubtably an exciting and talented addition to this new production under the direction of Musical Director, Sullivan Fortner.   

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Mauricio J. Rodriguez, six string E. Bass/fretless E. Bass/double bass/composer/arranger; Ahmed Barroso, guitar; Gabriel Hernandez Cadenas, piano/elec. piano; Reinier Guerra & Lucio Vieira, drums; Orlando “Landy” Mosqueda, udu/afro-percussion/timbal/Cuban percussion; Tomasito Cruz, bata drums; Andy Fornet, cajon; Jose M. Sardinas, clarinet; Zachary Bornheimer & Jorge Pinelo, saxophones; Richie Viruet, trumpet; Jose Pradas, violoncello; Adrianna Foster, Jorge Quintero & Big Johnny Boffa, vocals.

A song called “Casualty” opens this album in a rather melancholy way, featuring saxophonist, Jorge Pinelo, who has a very singular tone and style on his saxophone.  He captures the listeners attention while Gabriel Hernandez Cadenas tinkles the upper register piano keys, having a continuous piano conversation with the saxophonist.  I fall in love with the Mauricio Rodriguez original song “Monday.”  The chord changes are lovely and the arrangement moves in a comfortable gallop across my listening space.  This time Zachary Bornheimer is on saxophone, as part of a horn ensemble and as a soloist, introducing us to the melody.  Then, Cadenas adds his electric piano chops to the mix.  Drummer, Reinier Guerra locks in with the bass of Mauricio Rodriguez to push the song forward like a railroad engine. “Es el Amor” adds the lovely, emotional vocals of Adrianna Foster.  She sings this dreamy ballad in Spanish and the cello of Jose Pradas is richly featured.

Mauricio J. Rodriguez is a native of Cuba.  He was a member of the Fervet Opus Jazz Quartet, a group that toured worldwide and appeared in many festivals.  He spent time living in Venezuela and performed with the Aragua Symphony Orchestra and taught at the Aragua Conservatory.  In 2001, Rodriguez relocated to the United States, where he has explored fusion Latin Jazz and played with a number of ensembles.  You hear his fusion exploratory arrangement on his composition “Tuesday,” where he features his six string dancing bass beneath the ensemble’s groove.  The Chucho Valdez tune, “Claudia” reflects Rodriguez’s classical training and also his mastery of his bass instrument.  The electronic coloring gently pushes this song into fusion territory.  “Luz” (the title tune) is sung by Jorge Quintero in Spanish and did not touch my spirit the way Ms. Foster’s voice did.  I enjoyed hearing her sweet soprano again on the old standard, “My Funny Valentine” with just Adrianna and Rodriguez performing as a duet.  You can clearly hear his love of classical music and counter melodic structure. They close with “Vocalize” another Vicente Viloria composition.  Viloria has contributed four songs to this album. His solid compositions are beautiful with strong melodies.  Mauricio J. Rodriguez is both a master bassist and a creative arranger and composer, who expands the world of Latin jazz in interesting and creative ways.  He is the Composer-in-Residence of the Miami Symphony Orchestra and The Miami International Academy of the Bass.

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GAETANO LETIZIA – ‘CHARTREUSE” – Independent Artist  

Gaetano Letizia, guitars/composer/arranger; Theron Brown, organ/piano; Matthew DeRubertis, electric bass; Bob Esterle, saxophones; Bill Ransom, drums/percussion.

This is the eleventh album release for Gaetano Letizia as a bandleader and it is multi-layered with genres that include R&B, blues, funk, reggae and jazz.  A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Letizia dreamed of being a musician when he was a mere four-years-old.  He was inspired by watching his Auntie play the accordion.  However, it wasn’t until he was fifteen-years-old that he began to study guitar, after hearing Jimi Hendrix play “Purple Haze.”  At seventeen, he was playing in a rock band and at twenty, he discovered George Benson, with all his jazzy, smooth guitar licks and silky voice. 

The first composition on this album is the title tune and features stellar solos by both Gaetano and his sax man, Bob Esterle.  It’s a tribute to his aunt, who owned a chartreuse ’57 Chevy.  Although I enjoyed the solos and the center of the tune, I found the repeated hook of the song, inserted at the very beginning of the composition, and throughout, to be somewhat boring with its constant repetition. Track #2 is called “Expanding Reality” and opens with Bill Ransom setting the afro-centric groove and tempo on percussion.  When the band enters, there are several bars of dissonant groove.  Mr. Letizia seems more interested in following technique in composing, using augmentation and pieces of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition to write these songs, instead of depending on emotion and soulful feelings.  I prefer listening to songs that make me feel the music.  It’s obvious these musicians are well-seasoned players and talented.  I’m not sure these compositions bring out their best.  “Back and Blue” is the first straight-ahead piece of music that I hear on this album.  It gives us a peek at how Gaetano Letizia hears and interprets jazz, but soon his arrangements lean towards ‘fusion.’  In the publicity notes, Letizia says that he based this composition on a tune Jaco Pastorius wrote called, “Chicken.”  Theron Brown is featured on organ.  This composition is followed by a ballad called, “Paradise Found.”  Sometimes the arrangements are too busy during the soloist explorations.  Instead of complimenting the solos, they over-power and often collide with the solo parts in dissonant ways.  “Genrecide” is another funk tune with a catchy melody that moves from funk to reggae in the blink of an eye.  His song “Blue Ionosphere” is the first time we hear Letizia play nylon string guitar. 

This quintet’s challenge seems to be interpreting these original compositions by Gaetano Letizia without the musicians crashing into each other.  The listener’s challenge is to either avoid or to embrace the dissonance. 

“Punch Drunk” is a funk/R&B groove that would set any dancehall or bar-b-que house party on fire.  It’s danceable and enhances the strong flavor of R&B drums with Letizia adding a bluesy guitar solo.   Throughout this album, the categories and musical genres jump around from fusion jazz to modern jazz and incorporate a lot of funk and R&B grooves. That makes it difficult to label the music of Letizia’s Jazz Quintet.  But then again, who needs labels? 

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Carlos Henriquez, bass/coro/guiro/spoken word; Jeremy Bosch, flute/vocals/coro; Robert Rodriguez, piano/Fender Rhodes; Obed Calvaire, drums; Anthony Almonte, congas/coro; Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Michael Rodriguez & Terell Stafford, trumpet; Marshall Gilkes, trombone.

Carlos Henriquez has been a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for over twenty years. His gifts are that he is a master of both jazz and Afro-Latin traditions; a bilingual, bass musician, a composer and a member of the Bronx community.  Carlos is proud that he comes from the community that has nurtured local legends like Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. 

“Jazz is American, born out of the melting pot of our Afro-American experience.  In the American spirit, jazz has adapted with different cultures, cities, people and places and become an expression of one’s identity.  This project represents just that; the tragedy, violence and history isn’t over.  But there is hope in the future.  Music, dance and the arts can bring that all together and transcend to showcase a common humanity,” Carlos Henriquez explained his inspiration in creating this awesome work of art.

Carlos Henriquez uses this, his third album as a bandleader, to explore his Puerto Rican roots, growing up in the South Bronx and to celebrate his vibrant, culture and music.

“The South Bronx Story” is a suite of pieces that speak to the things that made this environment so special to me,” he affirms.

 Beginning with a straight-ahead jazz feel on “The South Bronx” expressed through the tenor saxophone of Melissa Aldana, Henriquez captures the excitement and energy of youth, recalling the fun he had as a child of the Bronx. Henriquez’s bass pushes the groove forward, introducing the rhythm and melody line at the top of the tune.  The music rolls out from there, with horn harmonies dancing across the fluid Latin rhythm section, pushed by Obed Calvaire’s drums and Anthony Almonte’s congas.  There is a celebratory trumpet solo by Terel Stafford that expresses the grit and the grandeur of Henriquez’s neighborhood in a very musical way.   Track #2 is a musical depiction of times when Carlos Henriquez was jumping carefree through the waters of the fire hydrant on hot Bronx days.  The CD cover recreates this water-play with childhood friends.  Jeremy Bosch uses his smooth baritone vocals to caress the story of water on “Hydrants Love All.”  The melody and the rhythms are infectious and joyful, like the represented laughter and playful spirit of children getting summer-wet in the streets.  The horn arrangements are wonderfully written and played by these master musicians.  On “Boro of Fire” Carlos Henriquez is recalling a time when greedy landlords and corrupt politicians allowed buildings to burn for illegal profit and at that time, the South Bronx was nicknamed, “The Burning Boro.”  It’s a very up-tempo tune with lots of horn power. As the rhythm stirs and escalates, you can almost picture the flames leaping.  Henriquez’s snappy bass line introduces “Moses on the Cross” in a provocative way and sets the mood.  This song celebrates Robert Moses, the creator of the Cross Bronx Expressway.  Carlos Henriquez explains:

“The Cross Bronx ‘unified’ New York by destroying ethnic neighborhoods and deepening the racial and economic divide between citizens.  As a result, property values on the North side of the highway soared and those on the South side declined.  In my hood, we all hated this freeway, because it destroyed culture.”

Every composition that Henriquez has written is explained in a CD insert.  It is informative and clearly exposes the social consciousness and concern that this wonderful bassist has for his community.  He advocates with music. His musical message is both refreshing and admirable. You will hear songs that applaud the work of “Mama Lorraine”, a ballad inspired by Lorraine Montenegro, the daughter of the founder of “The United Bronx Parents” organization.  His song, “Soy Humano” (I am Human) protests the government systems’ way of minimizing families and rewarding families for being broken.  It’s a strong piece, like the message itself.  Henriquez tributes his father with the song, “El Guajeo De Papi” and remembers a gang negotiator with his composition “Black Benji.” This composition recalls the murdered Cornell Benjamin, himself a gang member, who tried to implement peace between Black and Latino gangs.  In the process, he lost his life. Carlos Henriquez celebrates Benjamin’s legacy with jazz and spoken word.

This is a musical journey that is biographical in nature and Carlos Henriquez hopes his lyrics, his poetry and composing skills, along with this awesome group of musicians, express to the listener the magic and the madness of his community.   He wants his production to capture the joy and the injustice within his neighborhood, like so many neighborhoods across America’s vast landscape.  Although rooted in social issues, Carlos Henriquez’s music absolutely makes you want to dance, to sing, to hope and to leave your troubles on the doorstep.

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