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!

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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