Archive for December, 2021


December 15, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

December 15, 2021

In my 2021 “Stocking Stuffer” column, I wanted to offer a little something for everyone.  My idea was to include a variety of jazz recordings that each, in their own unique way, offer something totally unusual and remarkable in the same breath.  I include music icons who have long been established and applauded, alongside fledgling jazz talents who offer us their premiere CD releases.  I have included straight-ahead, bebop, interesting composers, historic vocals and a variety of jazz styles.  You choose and then share. 

JOHN COLTRANE – A LOVE SUPREME: LIVE IN SEATTLE, 1965 – Impulse Records John Coltrane, tenor saxophone/percussion/composer; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, upright bass; Elvin Jones, drums; Donald Rafael Garrett, upright bass; Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone/percussion; Carlos Ward, alto saxophone; Ravi Coltrane, producer.

If you are looking for iconic, legendary jazz to give as a gift, after nearly six decades this private recording of a very rare John Coltrane performance in a Seattle nightclub is currently available.  Joe Brazil, a Seattle saxophonist and educator, has coveted the reel-to-reel tapes of this historic performance.  It features Coltrane’s four-part “A Love Supreme” suite performed ‘live.’   It is an historic revelation, because most jazz buffs believed that the only recorded public performance of “A Love Supreme” happened at a French festival in Juan-Les-Pains, France in July of 1965.  However, this current release dates back to October of 1965, when Coltrane was adding members to his band including Pharoah Sander on a second saxophone and Donald Garrett on a second bass with Jimmy Garrison also solid on upright bass.  Carlos Ward, who back then was just a young and exploratory sax man, sits-in during this live performance.  Surprisingly, here is Coltrane’s only performance and appearance as a bandleader in the city of Seattle, which makes this recording even more rare.  Not to mention, the band of genius musicians on his bandstand who are inclusive of Elvin Jones on drums and McCoy Tyner on piano.  This music was the spiritual path that Coltrane was walking during those mid-60s, enlightened years.  John Coltrane called his composition of “A Love Supreme” his humble offering to the Divine.  In fact, it is considered a sermon by many.  All four parts of this historic work were performed and recorded at The Penthouse in Seattle, Washington.  This is an amazing musical documentation of one of the greatest compositions ever written by John Coltrane, including Part 1: Acknowledgement; Part II: Resolution; Part III: Pursuance and finally, Part IV: Psalm.  Tossed in between are various short interludes of music.  What better way to celebrate the holidays and the generosity of giving, than to stuff someone’s stocking with this Impulse Record masterpiece!

* * * * * * * * *


Andy James, vocals; John Patitucci, bass/arranger; Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, Vinnie Colaiuta & Marcus Gilmore, drums; Jon Cowherd, organ/piano/arranger; Alex Acuna, percussion; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger; John Beasley, piano/Fender Rhodes; Dan Higgins, baritone saxophone/flute/piccolo; Chris Potter & Rick Margitza, saxophones; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Chico Pinheiro & Jake Longley, guitars.

“An Evening with John Patitucci and Andy James” features a bouquet of classic, familiar songs and a stellar ensemble of colorful, musical guests.  They open with the beautiful ballad, “Autumn in New York” lush with string arrangements.  The album doesn’t tell me if this orchestration is synthesized or ‘live,’ but it’s lovely all the same.  John Patitucci steps forward and wows us with his bass solo, followed by a stellar Chris Potter saxophone story.  You will enjoy curling up with a warm drink, or perhaps a fireplace to enjoy this music with songs like “Moonlight in Vermont” and their lovely arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream” tune.  Their arrangement on “Fire & Rain” features Rick Margiza’s expressive saxophone.  Other romantic, sad songs that Ms. James reinvents vocally are “Burn for Love” and “Some Other Time.”  This is a well-produced album with each song turning a page and lyrics interpreted by vocalist, Andy James, to amply describe chapters in a life. 

* * * *


Rich Halley, tenor saxophone; Dan Clucas, cornet; Clyde Reed, bass; Carson Halley, drums.

“Boomslang” features a mix of Rich Halley’s compositions and spontaneous improvisations that showcase the inventiveness of this group.  Rich has composed the second track, “Northern Plains” and the drum beat, supplied by Carson Halley, conjures up American Indian rhythms.  The tenor sax and cornet join hands and dance around the open plains, like a wild, Northern wind.  First their hands are joined, in unison.  But soon, each instrumentalist moves away and finds a spot in the sun all their own.  There is only the bass and drums to hold their rhythm together, so you might say the production is uncluttered. However, it allows the horns to be brightly featured.

The group’s album cover pictures a pile of snake.  Their entire production is named for a type of snake; the Boomslang.  It is a highly poisonous creature based in South Africa. The males are bright green in color and usually seclude themselves in trees.  The female Boomslang is brown.  Halley lives no place near the Boomslang snake, although it resonates in his imagination.  He resides in Portland, Oregon and has been exploring improvisational music for a couple of decades.  To date, he has released twenty-four recordings as a bandleader.  He offers four original compositions for this production of slithery, snake songs that wind their way, using horn solos to twist and turn above the powerhouse drums of Carson Halley and the bass of Clyde Reed. The other five songs are free improvisations, created untethered by the entire quartet.  This is experimental jazz that pushes the outer limits of their creativity and, like the Boomslang snake, manifests itself as unexpected and dangerous in new and unforeseen forms.

* * * *

DELICATE CHARMS LIVE AT THE GREEN MILL – Woolgathering Records Matt Ulery, double bass/composer; Paul Bedal, piano; Quin Kirchner, drums; James Davis, trumpet; Greg Ward, alto saxophone.
In April of this year, after the COVID pandemic had shut down music venues to protect the population, the Delicate Charms quintet was excited to perform ‘live’.  Matt Ulery had been busy composing new music during their self-imposed lock-down.  This project explores six of the master bassist’s new compositions, created during the 2020 pandemic. 

Ulery explained: “The tunes on this record have long, dynamic forms requiring intense engagement of the musicians. …I wanted to create something new (to me) that has the composure of chamber music while having the agility through these forms only potent improvisers can bring to the flow. … These guys absolutely crushed the new material.”

The Green Mill is a legendary Chicago institution and was a great way to record Delicate Charm’s music. It was presented over two days, with the band playing six sets from 8pm to midnight each night.  Wow! Six sets!  Proprietor Dave Jemilo mixed and recorded the live music.  The result is an album containing half a dozen of Ulery compositions, played to a responsive and appreciative audience.  The new music features James Davis on trumpet and Greg Ward on alto saxophone.  The horns present and explore the melodies on most of these arrangements.  Paul Bedal steps into the spotlight during some of these tunes, like on “The Arrival,” to display his piano tenacity, as he improvises on the musical theme.  Quin Kirchner, on drums, and Ulery on bass, sustain the rhythm section adeptly, holding everything in place like a lock and key.  Kirchner plays brilliantly during this arrangement, crashing his rhythms to incendiary levels while Bedal solos. The audience is responsive and exhilarated during their exciting improvised performance.  You hear people shout, comment and clap for this very Avant-garde performance.  Throughout their concert, the listener can feel the patron’s hungry anticipation on a night of musical freedom.  After so many months of being locked-down and starving for ‘live’ music, the audience appreciation is palpable and responsive to Delicate Charms’ musical energy. 

* * * *

JOSH SINTON – “b.” – FIP Recordings
Josh Sinton, baritone saxophone.

I am a lover of the rich, full, bass sound of a baritone saxophone.  As a solo artist, Josh Sinton has created an album that explores the various tones and jazzy ideas he can express on this unique instrument.  Clearly, he entered the studio with an idea to record improvisational ideas and explore an album of possibilities.

In his press release, Josh Sinton explains, “When I was nineteen, I made a very conscious decision to commit myself to a life in music.  Even back then, I knew this was going to obligate me to try to manifest every part of my life in a musical format.  Given that some of my life was very intellectual and some of it very emotional, some of it very angry and some of it very laconic; my music was going to cover a lot of ground. …Being nineteen, I didn’t realize just how long it was going to take me to acquire the technical facility and listening experience this kind of proposition demanded.”With this premise, his project is a sonic manifestation and philosophic use of musical notes, instead of words.  The stories, that unfold like chapters, are perhaps to display the difference between improvisation and composition.  This album, “b,” embraces methods and techniques, using sounds and ‘riffs’ as compositions.  However, I did not relate to them as songs.  The challenge for this artist is that for the layman ears, his Avant-garde production may sound like someone practicing on the baritone saxophone. I longed to hear just one beautifully played, melodic song to caress my ears and to touch my emotions.  Track 4, “b.1.iv,” almost delivers this experience, as it develops a melody with bluesy infusions and an experience I could almost whistle along with.  Track #5 is totally exploratory and introduces me to sounds I didn’t even know the baritone saxophone could produce.  In conclusion, for the open and super creative mind, or for a saxophone player or studied musician, this could be a unique and stimulating gift to stuff their stocking.

* * * *

ERIC GOLETZ – “A NEW LIGHT” – Consolidated Artist Publications, LLC (CAP Records)
Eric Goletz, trombone/keyboards/composer/arranger; Jim Ridl, piano; Allen Farnham, keyboards; Henry Heinitsh, guitar; Marco Panasola, bass; Steve Johns, drums; Joe Mowatt, percussion; Will DeVos, French horn; Bob Magnuson, alto saxophone; TRUMPETS: Tony Gorruso, Freddie Maxwell, Kent Smith. TROMBONES: Erick Storckman, Chris Rinaman & Jonathan Greenberg, bass trombone; Matt Ingman, tuba; THE STRINGS: Robin Zeh & Paul Woodiel, violins; Michael Roth & David Gold, violas; Sarah Hewitt-Roth, cello.

This spirited, big band album features trombonist, Eric Goletz.  It’s scheduled for release January 21, 2022.  You won’t be able to stuff your Christmas stocking with this upbeat treasure, but do make a note to yourself to look for it first of next year.  Here is a production bursting with energy and percussive excitement that features all original compositions by Eric Goletz with the exception of “Dig” by Miles Davis, the familiar “Sunrise Sunset” and “Song for Elizabeth” written by Jonathan Butler.  Goletz grew up in Denver, Colorado but moved to New York City, pursuing his musical career, where he instantly became busy as an in-demand sideman and studio musician.  Eric loved composing early on and wrote for Sal Salvador’s album, “Lorinda’s Kitchen.”  (Salvador was Stan Kenton’s former guitarist.)  With the release of “A New Light,” Goletz shows an expansion of his original ideas and compositions by creating complex arrangements for an expanded horn section and adding a string ensemble.  He is dynamite on his trombone and his arrangements push the limits of his all-star band members.  The tunes are up-tempo and reflect happiness and joy.  The title tune, “A New Light” opens the album and sets the pace.  This is followed by “Edge of Night” and “Dig” that both swing hard.  Track #5, “Enchanted” slows the pace with Latin overtones and sweet string lines that enhance Eric Goletz’s trombone solo.  Eric writes beautifully and he’s an astute and creative arranger.  This trombonist also knows how to lay down a groove and mix R&B excitement, (sometimes reminiscent of a Earth, Wind & Fire repertoire) into his unique jazzy arrangements.  Steve Johns is a master on trap drums and Joe Mowatt pushes the rhythm forward with percussive authority.  I enjoy all of the Eric Goletz powerful composing skills and appreciate the way he arranges his music.  For example, “Don’t Gimme That!” establishes a bright, memorable melody before inviting Allen Farnham on organ-keyboards to soak up the spotlight. When Eric Goletz presses the trombone to his lips, out spills improvisation and energy that inspires.  Randy Brecker shines on his trumpet and then he and Goletz play tag, trading fours mid-way through the tune.   I love the percussion that is happening in the background, showing how skillful Mowatt is; always present, but never getting in the way of solos or melody. He’s steady and dependable as a ceiling fan; being just as cool!  The tune titled, “The Mirror” is funky, jazzy and tastily mixes ‘rock’ into the mix.  The final song, “After the Light” uses themes from all the other tunes on this disc to create a fascinating medley of the entire recorded concert.  There’s something for everyone on this album.  If you love orchestrated energy, creative arranging and trombone brilliance, slide this into your CD player, sit back and enjoy.

* * * * * * * *

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet/composer; Vijay Iyer, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B-3/electronics/ composer; Jack DeJohnette, drums/percussion/composer

If you are looking to explore the inner and outer limits of space, time and music, this is the stocking stuffer for you.  Three jazz icons have united to bring us a tribute to Billie Holiday.  Jack DeJohnette opens the title tune with a flurry of sensuous drum power, tinged with cymbal splashes. Using mallets, he softens the percussive sounds to sing this song of “Billie Holiday: A Love Sonnet.”   Wadada Leo Smith first met and played with Jack DeJohnette in the late 1960s.  More recently, the two have collaborated with increasing frequency.  DeJohnette participated in the first recording of Smith’s Golden Quartet over two decades ago. In a later gathering of the Golden Quartet, Wadada Leo Smith had his first collaboration with Iyer’s piano virtuosity. 

“A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday” marks the first time all three have participated in a recorded production. This first song, “Billie Holiday: A Love Sonnet” was composed by Smith, but all three musicians have contributed their composer talents to this album.  DeJohnette composed “Song for World Forgiveness” and Iyer contributed “Deep Time No. 1” with Malcolm X’s voice layered beneath the electronics with words from one of his historic speeches.  There is often a haunting and beautiful quality to Wadada’s award winning trumpet.  I find that Wadada magic here, exploring Iyer’s track #2.  Jack DeJohnette incorporates his drums liberally, along with an excitement and creativity to match Smith’s and with Vijay Iyer’s piano and keyboard excellence intermingled, they reach a spiritual and musical high.  There is both freedom, originality and beauty in this trio’s exploration.  We are pulled along like gold miners, pausing to shake musical pans and explore them for shiny, sparkling nuggets of inspiration.

“The keyboards, drum-set/percussion and trumpet … create their own sonic ranges. … with no bass at the bottom of the music, Vijay, Jack and Wadada’s instruments realize wider horizontal sonic fields and emotional ranges. Therefore, the performers reveal a complete and complex melodic and harmonic spectrum in a clear, musical exposition,”
Wadada Leo Smith explained.

No more need be said.
* * * * * * * *

Doug MacDonald, guitar/composer; Noel Okimoto, vibraphone; Dean Taba, bass; Darryl Pellegrini, drum.

Funny how things in life somehow go full circle.  In Doug MacDonald’s case, although based for years in Southern California, he actually began his career performing in Hawaii with Trummy Young, Gabe Balthazar and Del Courtney.  His latest release, “Live in Hawaii” immortalizes his triumphant return to playing straight-ahead jazz in Honolulu. Fellow bandmates include bassist Dean Taba, who grew up in Hawaii and worked in Los Angeles for years playing with a plethora of jazz masters.  Also included in his impressive quartet is Noel Okimoto, best known as a drummer, but super-talented on Vibraphone.  He is a native of Honolulu.  On drums with MacDonald’s group is Darryl Pellegrini who has worked with Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie.  Pellegrini currently lives and teaches on the island. Together this quartet swings hard and this may be one of my favorite recordings by Doug MacDonald.  They open with the stellar composition by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, “My Shining Hour.”  Their six-minute, up-tempo arrangement sets the tone for this entire production. Recorded live at the Hawaii Public Radio Atherton Performing Arts Studio, their audience excitement is palpable.  After each creative and classic solo, the attending patrons give supportive and spontaneous applause.  Okimoto sounds amazing on vibraphone and Dean Taba takes a splendid bass solo, followed by Doug MacDonald and Darryl Pellegrini trading fours and focusing the spotlight on the drummer. 

I enjoyed MacDonald’s composition, “Cat City Samba.”  They do a gutsy arrangement of Oscar Pettiford’s popular “Blues in the Closet.”  This entire concert was broadcast on HPR’s Sunday Morning show called, “Applause in a Small Room” by host and sound engineer Jason Almirez-Taglianetti.  I enjoyed the unique interaction between Doug’s guitar and Noel Okimoto’s vibes. Replacing the expected standard piano as the center of the rhythm section, MacDonald plays both lead and rhythm guitar with ease.  You will enjoy sitting on the edge of your seat, tapping your toes and listening to this spontaneous and energetic jazz quartet, led by Los Angeles based guitarist, Doug MacDonald.  Other favorites on this album are “Star Eyes,” Doug’s original “Bossa Don” presented at a moderate, sexy tempo, propelled by Pellegrini’s warm drums and a nice surprise was hearing the wonderful “Stranger in Paradise” tune.
* * * * * * * *

IGOR BUTMAN – “ ONLY NOW“ – Butman Music Records
Igor Butman, tenor saxophone/composer; Evgeny Pobozhly, guitar; Oleg Akkuratov, piano; Eddie Gomez & Matt Brewer, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums.

This Is Russian saxophonist, Igor Butman’s eighteenth studio album as a bandleader.  He opens with “Egyptian Nights” that features Antonio Sanchez on drums setting the groove in a ‘Cozy Cole’ kind of way.  The tune is straight-ahead jazz with a spirited piano solo by Oleg Akkuratov, who is also a talented vocalist.  Oleg recently won the Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition.  Igor Butman has a smooth, seamless way of blending Straight-ahead jazz with a contemporary flavor, but never loses the power and prestige of traditional jazz.  You clearly hear this on track #2, “Verdict” that swings harder than a Muhammad Ali punch.  The Russian sax man is joined by longtime friend and the first-ever Russian Herbie Hancock Prize winner, Evgeny Pobozhly, who is creatively astute and spontaneous on guitar. 

The tune “You’ve Got E-mail” is spurred by the funk drums of Sanchez and the sweet strains of Butman’s tenor saxophone sings the melody and sets a more contemporary groove with his soulful, bluesy tone. The keyboard of Oleg Akkuratov improvises brightly and is always compelling.  “Golden Sun Ray” shows Igor Butman’s tender side.  He has such a distinctive sound on his saxophone and it was pleasant to hear him settle down from all the energetic songs to introduce this contemporary ballad with a groove that drops-in like an unexpected rain storm.  Evgeny’s guitar solo is colorful as a rainbow and Butman’s saxophone is warm as sun shining through puffy rainclouds.  Every song on this album is sure to please the astute jazz listener.  The original tunes are well-written and arranged by Igor Butman.  On track #5, the quintet is back to business as usual, burning hot on “Only Now.”  Butman has tributed his long-time friend, Wynton Marsalis, with two tunes he composed called Blues for Wynton, Pt. 1. and Pt. 2.  He adds the magic of two American bassists on this project; Matt Brewer and Eddie Gomez.  One of them steps stage front to give us an impressive solo on this tune.  “Falling Grace” is exciting and spontaneous featuring another strong bass solo. “Baby I Love You’ was written by Wynton Marsalis and Bobby McFerrin and is vocalized by Oleg Akkuratov, who (I might remind you) is also the group’s magnificent pianist.  Igor Butman is building jazzy bridges between Moscow and New York.  His unique blend of cultures and countries is the perfect stocking stuffer and shows us how jazz music unifies and excels in the name of unity, peace and freedom.
* * * *

Chad Lawson, pianist; Dinah Washington, vocals; other musician information not provided.

If you are looking for something totally unique, pianist, Chad Lawson, has recorded four-tracks on an EP with one ‘cut’ that features the iconic voice of Dinah Washington.  The Queen of Blues sings “Silent Night” in all her glory.  What a gift to hear her dynamic voice again!  Chad Lawson follows this with “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas” featuring a string quartet and “The Christmas Waltz” played solo piano as well as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Lawson is one of America’s post-classical artists who has surpassed over 140 million global streams for a track called “Stay” that is a celebrated fixture on the Top 25 Billboard Classical chart for 74 consecutive weeks. 

A former jazz musician, Chad spent two years touring with Julio Iglesias before turning his direction to the classical market.  He’s been introducing the new generation to classical music using contemporary techniques and interpretations.  Now, he introduces a young generation to the legendary vocals of Dinah Washington, one of America’s greatest jazz and blues singers.   Thanks, Chad Lawson!

* * * * * * * * * *

Alan Schulman, Rhythm/lead guitar; Stacey Schulman, lead vocal; Leonardo Lucini, bass; Alejandro Lucini, drums/percussion.

When Native Brazilian brothers, Leonardo and Alejandro Lucini merged their South American rhythmic talents with Alan Schulman’s tasty guitar and Stacey Schulman’s crystal-clear vocals, they created a fresh sound for the familiar Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.”  Alan and Stacey perform under the banner of “AS IS” and with the addition of this bassist and percussionist, they have re-imagined a holiday favorite in a brilliant way.  It was released as a ‘single’ on December 3rd and adds Latin spice to the joy of the season!

* * * *


Every now and then a voice comes along that is not categorized as ‘jazz’ but when you hear that voice, you know it can cross all genres.  Los Angeles based, Phil Perry, is one such artist.  He is often listed as a soul or R&B artist; however, his beautiful vocals have also recorded on several contemporary jazz albums.  This season, I want to remind you of his album of holiday music that I believe each and every one of you would enjoy.  Phil Perry’s amazing vocals rise from rich baritone to an exhilarating tenor and exhibit a powerful range, technique and tone that thrills the listener.  I think his holiday album makes an amazing stocking stuffer.  Phil Perry is a renowned singer, songwriter and actor, who has recorded a vast discography of songs since 1969 in the R&B & Jazz genres.  He is known for his soulful and captivating stage performances throughout the world; not only with his own group but with jazz icons like Quincy Jones, Lee Ritenour, Ernie Watts, Anita Baker, George Duke and Najee, just to list a few.  On June 23, 2021, Phil was rewarded for his 50-years of recorded music excellence, by becoming inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame.  His “Soul of the Holidays” album and his contribution on “A Contemporary Christmas” CD are memorable recordings and will make stellar stocking stuffers.

* * * *

By the way, Norah Jones has a holiday album released this year titled, “I Dream of Christmas”.  Here’s a small taste.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, everyone.  From me, Dee Dee McNeil, I’m praying for more peace, joy and love in the coming New Year and lots more jazz!

* * * * *


December 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

December 1, 2021


Jeff Hamilton, drums; Jon Hamar, bass; Tamir Hendelman, piano.

At this time of year, there is absolutely nothing that brings me more joy than a swinging trio who offers a concert of holiday jazz.  This is a recording that features Jeff Hamilton’s favorite Christmas tunes, along with his powerful drumming.  Here are three awesome players, known to bring the best to whatever they play.  In this instance, it’s holiday music that will definitely put you in the mood for the season.

They open with a smoking rendition of Kay Thompson’s “It’s the Holiday Season.”  Back in the day, vocalist Andy Williams recorded this song that was played on radio stations coast-to-coast.  Hamilton recalls hearing it as a youngster.   I also enjoy their arrangement of “Caroling, Caroling,” where Jeff Hamilton propels the music ahead with his creative and always inspired drumming.  

“I’ve always enjoyed holiday music and have been planning on doing a Christmas project for many years.  I finally did it during the pandemic and got my trio into the studio to record it direct to 2-track; like I used to do.  We were very happy with the outcome. We put together these arrangements and got the recording done in only a few hours,” Jeff explained his mindset for the production of this holiday album.

“The Little Drummer Boy” is given a new and inspired arrangement with Hamilton’s unique drum arrangements on brushes spurring the production.  I enjoy the tasty and pensive way that Tamir Hendelman unfolds the tune, exploring new and jazzy chord changes.  It’s an absolutely beautiful arrangement of this familiar Christmas song.  I had to play it twice. 

I like the crisp, clean arrangement on “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let it Snow!” Jon Hamar steps briefly into the spotlight to share his bass virtuosity with us.  Hamilton learned “Bright Bright the Holly Berries” from a ‘Singers Unlimited” recording.  This trio performs it as a jazz waltz.   If you like the blues and a good shuffle, you will love their arrangement of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” followed by the Gene Autry composition, “Here Comes Santa Claus.”  For all you young folks, Gene Autry was a popular cowboy on early black and white television shows.   Not many people remember that he was a songwriter and collected a lot of royalties for his hit record of “Here Comes Santa Clause.”  For history’s sake, I found this old 1947 video of him performing the song in a movie.  Then, you can enjoy how Hamilton’s group jazzes it up.

You’ll also find provocative, jazzy productions of “Santa Baby,” “O Tannenbaum” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  All of these songs not only mirror this holiday season, but reflect peace, happiness and love in every arrangement.  You will probably enjoy playing this album all year round.

* * * * * * * * *


Ginny Carr Goldberg, Robert McBride, Holly Shockey & Lane Stowe, vocals; Frank Russo, drums; Max Murray, bass; Alan Blackman, piano; Donato Soviero, guitar; Chuck Redd, vibraphone. SPECIAL GUEST: Keith Carr, Irish Bouzouki.

There’s nothing like a good vocal chorus to enhance the holiday spirit.  These four talented singers bring not only their best voices to interpret familiar holiday tunes, but they also offer a few new, original songs for us to consider.  The title tune, “Fool for Yule” is a slow swing with a memorable melody and cute lyrics.  It was composed by CD arranger and group vocalist, Ginny Carr Goldberg.  Chuck Redd adds a vibraphone solo that is perfectly festive for the season.  Other favorites on this jazz vocal Christmas album are: Christmas Time Is Here, Winter Wonderland and Silent Night.  Their original ballad, “Whisper” (another Goldberg composition) showcases their tightly woven harmonies and Alan Blackman takes a well-executed solo on piano.  Goldberg has also penned a song in French titled, “L’Amour Nous Entoure Ce Soir” that translates to “Love surrounds us this evening.”  This arrangement has Latin overtones wrapped in laid-back joy.  “The Christmas Song” is all vocals and shows off the mastery of these a cappella voices.  The song, “Santa Dear, Where’s Mine?” is sung from the perspective of Mrs. Clause and it offers a very comical take on the holiday and reflective of a wife who feels a bit neglected by her busy, working husband.  Frank Russo shuffles his drums and Max Murray briskly walks his bass.  This is a very humorous tune written by Marilyn Shockey.  For those of you who love classical music, they have added “St. Ita’s Vision,” arranged by vocal member, Robert McBride and features one of the female vocalists in the group.  Unfortunately, this CD does not designate who the featured vocalist is on this number.  “It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas” is another original song by Goldberg, whose lyrics tell the story of missing a loved one at Christmas.  The group closes with a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night.”  Here is an album of holiday music that will warm any chilly winter evening with their lovely harmonics and beautiful vocal arrangements.

* * * * * * * * *

MICK KOLASSA – “UNCLE MICK’S CHRISTMAS ALBUM” – The Blues Foundation/ Endless Blues Records, Inc.

Mick Kolassa, vocals/guitar/producer/arranger/composer; Jeff Jensen, guitar/arranger; Bill Ruffino, bass; Rick Steff, keyboards; James Cunningham, drums; Eric Hughes, harmonica; Marc Franklin, trumpet; Reba Russell & Susan Marshall, back-up vocals.

Here is a Christmas album that was recorded on a ninety-five-degree day in Memphis, Tennessee. This blues album is 100% Memphis; every musician, the engineers and even the special guests call Memphis home.  So, if it’s a bluesy holiday you’re looking for, this is the album you’ll enjoy popping into your CD player.  They open with the Mariah Carey/Walter Afanasleff pop tune, “All I want for Christmas Is You.”  However, you won’t recognize it the way Mick Kolassa has arranged it.  It’s brand new and all blues!  “Frosty the Snowman” is a Second Line kind of arrangement that reminds us of New Orleans jazz bands with Marc Franklin’s trumpet brightening the production, along with Eric Hughes pumping his harmonica into the mix for good measure.  Mick Kolassa not only sings all vocals on this production, but he also has written some of the tunes.  “The Best Christmas Ever” is one of his tunes he composed and arranged with funk drums and female background singers.  Another original where he rocks out is “Christmas Morning Blues.”  This is a blues jam session that celebrates Christmas from a Memphis point of view.

                                                                                * * * * * * *


Jan Daley, vocals/piano arrangements; Mischa Segal & Craig Garfinkle, orchestrations & performances; David Cohen & Misha Segal, piano & strings; Craig Garfinkle, piano/guitar/bass & strings; Nate Light, bass; David Johnstone, drums/percussion.  

Jan Daley has a warm, inviting voice.  She has chosen a Baker’s Dozen of holiday songs, presented to us like piping hot Christmas cookies just pulled from the oven.   Her rendition of “The Christmas Song” is a delicious show-stopper, with a fresh arrangement, tinged by Latin rhythms and an unusual piano accompaniment that is bound to please.  She approaches songs we know and love with very creative productions.  Take for instance her wonderful arrangement on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  She has repainted the face of this song with warm orchestrations and a piano part at the top of the tune that catches the attention in a lovely way.  The piano sounds like a pendulum swinging or a clock ticking down to a bewitching hour where all the toys beneath the tree will come alive.  There is something magical about the way Ms. Daley presents this song.  In fact, Jan Daley sprinkles each song with holiday cheer.  Her vocal delivery is festive, like wreaths of holly or silver bells hanging from the Christmas tree. Her voice sparkles and dances. This is a delightful holiday album, containing many of your favorite songs including, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “O Holy Night,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “White Christmas.”   You will also enjoy songs you may not be that familiar with, like Barbra Streisand’s “The Best Gift,” or the David Foster and Linda Thompson tune, “Grown-up Christmas List,” where Daley sings: “no more lives torn apart; that wars would never start … that everyone would have a friend… and love would never end.”  We certainly need more of that mindset.  Also, this was my first time enjoying the Alan & Marilyn Bergman composition, “A Christmas Love Song.”   Jan Daley’s album is just like Christmas morning; full of sugar-sweet surprises.

* * * * * * * * *


Benny Benack III, trumpet/vocals; Steven Feifke, piano/conductor; Sasha Berliner &Warren Wolf, vibraphone; Dan Chmiellnski, Griffin Fink & Emiliano Lasansky, bass; Joe Perl, Charles Goold, TJ Reddick & Bryan Carter, drums; Alita Moses, lead vocals on duet; SAXOPHONES: Andrew Gould & Alex LoRe, alto saxophone/flute; Sam Dillon & Michael Stephenson, tenor saxophone; Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Alexa Tarantino, alto & tenor saxophones/flute; Lauren Sevian, baritone Saxophone. TRUMPETS: Max Darché, John Lake, Walter Cano, Bijon Watson & Gabriel King Medd. TROMBONE: Robert Edwards, Javier Nero, Armando Vergara & Gina Benalcazar, bass trombone. VIOLINS: Lavinia Pavlish & Caroline Drexler.  Laura Sacks, Viola; Susan D. Mandel, violincello.

Benny Benack III has a voice as smooth as a holiday sharkskin suit.  He opens up with a very comedic holiday song titled, “My Girlfriend is an Elf.”  After singing the tune down once he picks up his trumpet and shows off his other awesome talent as a talented horn player.  Benny has composed this cute tune and bandleader, Steven Feifke, has arranged and orchestrated it.   They follow up with the beautifully orchestrated familiar ballad, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”  Track #3 is another Benny Benack original composition; “My Wishlist Is You” and features a duet with the lovely voice of Alita Moses.  I enjoyed his interpretation of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” where Benny Benack III shows that he not only is a crooner, but he’s also a talented improviser and scat singer.  The big band of Steven Feifke is superb and their repertoire is both familiar and enjoyable.  You will appreciate “The Christmas Song” and an up-tempo arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” (featuring Benack on trumpet).  They include “The Dreidel Song” and “Ma’oz Tzur” is a song of Hanukah sung in Yiddish.   Also, there are two more original songs introduced: “When Christmas Time Comes Around,” co-written by Benack with Steven Feifke and “A Midnight Wish” closes the CD out with multiple songwriters.  If you enjoy smooth voices similar to Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, you will enjoy Benny Benack III and the wonderful Steven Feifke Big Band.

* * * * * * * * * *


Kirk Whalum, soprano, tenor & baritone saxophone/composer/flute; Mark Jaimes, guitar; Kortland Whalum, Chantae Cann & Kevin Whalum, lead vocals; James McMillan, keyboards/trumpet/trombone/ programming; Mark Edwards, piano; Kyle Whalum, bass; Marcus Finnie, drums; John Stoddart, keyboards; Take 6 & John Stoddart, background vocals.

Grammy Award-winning saxophonist, Kirk Whalum offers us an album of holiday music that is refreshing and fun.  Some of the songs are original and Whalum features a few talented relatives including his nephew, Kortland Whalum, who is featured as lead vocalist and his son, Kyle, handling the bass duties.  The title song establishes the tone for this beautifully produced holiday record.

“My discography is always about family and this record is no different.  Whenever I record music, I’d be crazy not to use my son who plays with Kelly Clarkson, my nephew who is out doing Broadway shows and my other nephew who plays with Bruno Mars,” Kirk Whalum proudly brags about his talented family members.

The relative who is currently part of the Bruno Mars aggregation is trombonist Kameron Whalum.  Currently, he’s so busy touring with Bruno Mars, he was unable to participate in his uncles Christmas album.  However, the other two are Kirk’s son, Kyle Whalum who plays bass, Kevin Whalum who sings lead and his nephew, Kortland Whalum, who is a talented actor and singer featured on Kirk’s original song, “How Does Christmas Sound?”

Track #2 features the familiar Mariah Carey song, “All I Want for Christmas” but it’s rearranged as a ballad with Kirk Whalum’s sexy saxophone setting the tone.  I love his expressive and fluid presentation of “What Are You Doing New Years?”   This is followed by “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” where Kirk picks up his flute to explore the melody and pleasantly surprise the listener.  Pianist, Mark Edwards, shows off during his spotlight solo.

“We had to sit out a Christmas.  I realized, during the pandemic, that Christmas means more to me now than it ever did.  Like my faith, Christmas is axiomatic to my life and I have evolved spiritually in so many ways,” Kirk Whalum reflected.

Kirk has included some familiar songs and some contemporary music, like the popular “Mary Did you Know” sung beautifully by the whispery vocals of Chantae Cann.   There is a little something for every listener, from the Black National Anthem of “Lift Every Voice & Sing” to little known holiday gems like “Thorns In the Straw” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  Using a bit of studio magic, Kirk Whalum layers three of his saxophones (tenor, soprano and baritone) for a unique arrangement on “Angels We Have Heard on High.”  He creates percussion sounds using the hammering of his saxophone keys. Kirk’s second original song on this project is titled “Seven” and features Kirk Whalen’s lead vocals with the background voices of Take 6 providing lush harmonies.  This is an amazing holiday album that brought me great peace and comfort as I listened to it.  I appreciate the diversity in repertoire and the creative arrangements that highlight the multi-saxophone talents of the brilliant and blessed, Kirk Whalum.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Monty Alexander, piano; Eugene Wright, bass; Montego Joe, percussion; Duffy Jackson, drums.

Duffy Jackson sets up a brisk pace on drums, introducing the opening tune and Monty Alexander leaps in with both hands busy and creative.  “Montevideo” swings in a very Latin way.  Alexander is famous for blending jazz with the sounds of his Jamaican culture.  All of the songs on this exceptional album have been remastered from his original analogue master tapes of 1972.  Consequently, they have a very warm and inviting sound.  If you were looking for an album that offers piano brilliance, happy, Caribbean calypso overtones, along with the percussive excitement of Montego Joe and the virtuoso bass work of Dave Brubeck’s longtime bassist, Eugene Wright, you will find great pleasure with this production. 

Monty Alexander manages to mix the blues into every corner of his music, be it Latin, swing or ballad.  You hear his brilliant ability on track #2, “Where Is Love?”  The talented pianist introduces the listener to the lovely melody, all the while soaking the song in shades of turquoise, navy and royal Caribbean blues.  Next, Alexander transforms the Beatle’s popular “Here Comes the Sun” into a blues-laced, Latin inspired arrangement in a most untraditional, but complimentary manner.  It’s bright, up-tempo and funky with Montego Joe’s percussion licks stroking the groove that dynamic Duffy Jackson lays down on trap drums.  Eugene Wright, who we used to fondly refer to as ‘The Senator,’ sways his double bass in perpetual motion and I just want to get up and dance!  Towards the end of the tune, Alexander punches out a boogie-woogie lick that both surprises and pleases me.  On “Love Walked In,” track #4, Alexander continues to swing and demonstrates his straight-ahead jazz chops.  The quartet joins in without reserve, racing along with the piano master, while Wright walks his bass at the swift speed of a fast-moving locomotive.  Duffy Jackson is given a bright spotlight to showcase his magic on the trap drums.  They about-face and step back into a calypso groove on their adaptation of “Brown Skin Girl.”   You’ll enjoy the happiness that spins and circles from this disc.  The quartet’s pretty arrangement of “This Dream of Mine,” along with a ten-minute arrangement of the Miles Davis’s standard, “So What” completes their concert.  This is perfect music for any holiday party or Christmas get-together.  For all your jazz friends, who love to swing hard, who appreciate be-bop and iconic piano playing, this album is a flawless stocking stuffer.  

* * * * * * * * * * *


Gene Puerling, group leader/founder/vocals; Len Dresslar, Bonnie Herman and Don Shelton, vocals.

Legendary jazz singer, Jon Hendricks once compared Gene Puerling’s ‘Singers Unlimited’ a cappella group to iconic, ground-breaking saxophonist, Charlie Parker.

“Gene broadened the harmonies, like Bird did with bebop,” Jon Hendricks proclaimed.

This album has been remastered from the original analogue master tapes dating back to their historic 1971 studio sessions.  This timeless work of art features harmonic concepts that influenced groups like Manhattan Transfer, Take Six and Brian Wilson.  The Singers Unlimited group recorded fifteen albums for MPS Record label, but this “Christmas” album is best-known by fans of the popular a cappella singers. The talented quartet presents traditional Christmas music like Deck the Halls, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Joy to the World and Silent night. They also add jazzy arrangements on more modern tunes, including seven original compositions by trumpeter, Alfred Burt.  The vocal quartet was first formed to record commercials.  They were such a tight unit that it didn’t take long for MPS Records to convince them to sign-on as recording artists.  They recorded for MPS from 1971 to 1982.  Gene Puerling’s vocal arrangements are dynamic, unique and respected by many in the jazz community.  Their bass singer, Len Dresslar, was best known as ‘The Jolly Green Giant’ voice after he made the canned food jingle famous with his ‘Ho ho ho’ bass line.  Bonnie Herman made the State Farm Insurance Company commercial famous for her line, “Like a Good Neighbor” that she sang.  That line continues to be popular today and a trademark for the popular State Farm Company.  Bonnie was also the daughter of musician and band leader Lawrence Welk.

This is an historic album of beautiful, harmonic voices delivering Christmas holiday music you will enjoy listening to year after year.

* * * * * * * *