Archive for January, 2022

PIANO REFLECTIONS FROM 2021 AND BEYOND

January 23, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

January 23, 2022

SATOKO FUJII TRIO –THIS IS IT! – “MOSAIC” – Libra Records

Satoko Fujii, piano/composer; Natsuki Tamura, trumpet; Kashi Itani, drums/percussion.

Last year, Satoko Fujii released a solo album and her duet album.  This is the pianist’s first pandemic album recorded in real time.  Amazingly with one band member (Takashi Itani) 400 miles away in a Tokyo suburb and trumpeter Natsuki Tamura at home in Kobe, Japan.  Despite geographic and technical obstacles, this trio sounds as though they are all in the same studio location.

“This pandemic pushed me to find new ways to create that I have never tried before,” Ms. Fujii explained. 

Her attitude and success are not surprising.  She is the kind of artist who seems to thrive off of challenges and who leaps hurdles in a single bound, like the superwoman she is.  Satoko Fujii and her musicians would not be denied. 

“I can make music exchanging files online, but this trio plays spontaneous improvisation and needs the inspiration that we get when we play together.  So, we decided to record a session on the Internet,” she said.

However, Internet connections can sometimes delay transmissions of sound.  Satoko realized quickly that they would have to technically compensate for the time lapses.  So, she made specialized adjustments.  The trio opens with “Habana’s Dream” played fiercely and with Satoko Fujii reminding me somewhat of the great Cecil Taylor on piano.  Natsuki Tamura’s trumpet lines stitches in between the Avant-garde piano performance, like a tailor’s needle, improvising and colorfully matching the musical threads.  The busy and combustible drums of Kashi Itani crash and whisper; frolic and swing.  This first tune of five original compositions is over nine minutes of improvised excitement. The composition, “Dieser Zug” prompts Itani to pick up mallets and walk over to his vibraphone.  The percussionist takes his time, unfolding rich, ringing tones, sweet as Indonesian angklungs or Kobe cow bells. Tamura’s rich orange trumpet tone rises in the background, in my mind like a sunrise.  Although quite successful, Satoko Fujii discussed the challenges of this project in her press package.

“If we play in the same room, listening is as natural as breathing.  I’m almost unaware that I’m doing it.  But on the Internet, it was not like breathing.  My ears worked like listening carefully to another language.  It required a little extra effort, but we found we could make music in this way,” Satoko summarized.

Regardless of the obstacle course this trio travelled, they proudly present us an Avant-garde package of brilliance.  Satoko Fujii is a creative and introspective composer.  In 2020, she became recipient of the ‘Instant Award in Improvised Music’ to recognize her artistic intelligence, her independence and integrity.  You will hear all of this on her current recording with the magic and majesty of her two musical partners. Her trio says it all with their name; ‘This Is It!’

* * * * * * * * * *

DAVE MEDER – “UNAMUNO SONGS AND STORIES” – Outside In Music

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

We all had plenty of time to ourselves in 2021, to think about life, death, love and politics.  Dave Meder uses this recording as a musical response to recent sociopolitical turmoil in the United States.  His unusual and unexpected tempo-changing-arrangements and his original compositions are meant to reflect life with themes of hope, love and peace; but also to raise awareness of the growing threats to our cherished American democracy.

“It feels as though we are at a societal breaking point.  Increasingly, our political discourse pits factually justified positions against pure misinformation, and independently verifiable truth against ‘personal truth.’ It forces us into tribes, so that pride and ego prevent us from evolving in our own understanding of the world,” Dave Meder wrote in his press package.

His recording opens with Meder’s original composition, “Song of Secret Love.”  His quintet plays it with gusto, after Meder opens the arrangement quietly, with his piano trio using a whisper of drums to brush the tempo into place. Marty Jaffe steps stage center on double bass and offers a provocative solo.  Meder’s piano accompaniment is painted in classical colors and quite melodic.  It’s a peaceful, quiet way to begin this musical protest package. 

I wondered about the title of Dave Meder’s project.  Who was Unamuno?  Meder explains, he found himself drawn to Unamuno’s writings during the pandemic and current, political climate in our country.  Turns out, Miguel de Unamuno was a complex political figure and a Basque/Spanish philosopher, poet, novelist, essayist and educator.  He was best celebrated for his work in the lead-up to the Spanish Civil War and he lived from 1864 to 1936.   

Admittedly, Meder has composed nine songs based (not only on Unamuno’s philosophy) but on jazz tradition, Bach chorales, blues and Dave is highly influenced by the piano work of Spanish composer, Isaac Albeniz.  Track #2 is titled “Augusto’s Dilemma” and sounds heavily influenced by Thelonious Monk and the blues. “Meditation: Doubt” is Track #3 and propelled by the flying fingers and arpeggio runs of Dave Meder, tinkling up and down the keyboard like a bouncing teeter-totter.  It’s less than a minute long and then bleeds into the fourth cut, “I Look for Religion in War.” This composition reflects more modernistic jazz and Michael Piolet lends hefty support on trap drums as the crescendos build.  Philip Dizack enters on his trumpet and the piece turns Avant-garde.  Soon, the arrangement morphs into a sultry, very pretty ballad with hymnal-like changes.  Marty Jaffe bows his bass and Meder caresses the eighty-eight keys in tender ways.  This arrangement actually seems to move from war to peace.  The one of two cover tunes that Meder and group recorded is the beautiful standard, “If Ever I Would Leave You.”  Dave Meder’s rendition is lovely.  His piano playing is almost harp-like at the start and the ending of this tune, with appropriate support from bassist, Marty Jaffe and drummer, Michael Piolet.  The other cover tune is Roland Hanna’s “Century Rag” and is unexpectedly Latin influenced.  The arrangement is as unique as the cover of this CD designed by Adrien H. Tillmann.  I applaud music artists who seek to match their musical art with cover material as imaginative, creative and captivating as their music. Hands shaped to make a face, inclusive of glasses and the blooming of a beard on the lower part of a thumb joint reflects like shadow hand shapes on the wall.  This album cover gives us a very creative look into the artist himself and what’s important to him.  His senses; sight, smell, taste; and his hands for playing piano and touching us both creatively and spiritually.

Dave Meder is a recent recipient of the prestigious Fulbright US Scholar Award for Visual and Performing Arts, which will bring him to Egypt as a guest artists and lecturer in 2022.

* * * * * * * *

OSCAR HERNANDEZ & ALMA LIBRE – “VISION” – Ovation Records

Oscar Hernandez, piano; Justo Almario, saxophone/flute; Jimmy Branly, drums; Oskar Cartaya, bass; Christian Moraga, congas/percussion.

Decorated pianist, composer, Grammy winner and arranger, Oscar Hernandez is a bona fide Latin music legend. Like so many musicians, the preparation for this recording was created during the worldwide pandemic shutdown.

“The creative process was in full force during that time.  Recording this album was a way to react positively and to counteract the negative circumstances surrounding the pandemic,” Oscar expressed.

In May of 2021, Oscar Hernandez and his Los Angeles based ensemble called ‘Alma Libre’ began to record this “Vision” album.  The title tune opens energetically with a strong melody.  It is one of ten tunes Oscar Hernandez composed for this recording.  Oscar described the inspiration for composing his original composition, “Vision.” 

“When I was young, I was taught by my family that you need to have a vision to accomplish things.  I believe that if you see it and you believe it, you can achieve it,” Oscar asserts.

Hernandez is perhaps best known to modern audiences as the leader and producer of the highly acclaimed, award winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra.  They are a 13-piece all-star, salsa, big band, and under his tutelage they have gone on to win three GRAMMY Awards and release eight critically acclaimed albums.  I am certain this release will follow in those same footsteps.  Oscar first recorded with the Alma Libre ensemble in 2016 when they released their debut CD “The Art of Latin Jazz.”  One of the things I enjoy about the composition talents and bandleader skills of Oscar Hernandez is his sophisticated harmonies, infectious melodies and raw, cultural rhythms.  His “Chick Forever” tune is dedicated to the genius of Chick Corea.  As soon as you hear the melody, you want to hum along.  That is one of the traits of a great songwriter.  Justo Almario steps into the spotlight and offers us a brilliant saxophone solo. Then Oscar Hernandez blows in on the eighty-eight keys, breezing over the piano with energy and precision.  Jimmy Branly brandishes his drum power and Oskar Cartaya plays a joyful bass solo.  Throughout this arrangement, Oscar manages to weave in spicy pieces of the familiar ‘breaks’ from “Spain,” one of many Chick Corea hit records. 

Oscar Hernandez dazzles us with his piano excellence, his composer talents, his arrangements and his leadership.  Alma Libre is a tight ensemble made up of some of the crème de la crème of musicianship.  They accelerate and infuse Oscar Hernandez’s music and arrangements in the best possible way.  You will want to play this album over and over again.  I did!

* * * * * * *

FRED HERSCH – “BREATH BY BREATH” – Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch, piano/composer; Drew Gress, bass; Jochen Rueckert, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Crosby Street String Quartet: Joyce Hammann & Laura Seaton, violins; Lois Martin, viola; Jody Redhage Ferber, cello.

This is the first recording that the iconic Fred Hersch has produced with a string quartet and all the music on this project celebrates his original compositions.  Hersch says that he has drawn inspiration from his long-time, mindful meditation.  The Crosby Street String Quartet, named for the New York City address where they first rehearsed with Fred Hersch, is comprised of four very busy freelance string players; violinists, Joyce Hammann & Laura Seaton; Lois Martin on viola and Jody Redhage Ferber on cello.

“String quartets have been some of my favorite music to listen to my whole life. I grew up listening to string quartets as a very young musician in Cincinnati. My piano teacher was the wife of the cellist in the famous LaSalle Quartet. I used to lie on the rug in their living room, as an elementary school student while they rehearsed, quietly following along, hearing how the viola part meshed with the first violin, or the second violin and the cello.  Ever since I started studying composition at age eight, almost all of my music has always focused on four melodic parts.  So, string quartets are a natural musical configuration for me,” Hersch exudes excitement just talking about it.

Fred Hersch says his meditation practice saved him during the pandemic’s long, locked-down days.  The first movement on this recording is symbolic of our new year and is simply titled “Begin Again.”  It references the cycle of renewal and his arrangement begins with the piano sounding like a ticking clock or swinging pendulum.  It has a mild Latin rhythm perpetrated by Jochen Rueckert’s drums.  The Hersch piano line pirouettes above the rhythm section, while the string section trembles and sways beneath it.  When Hersch steps out solo, playing his piano singularly, he is soaked in classical waters.  The title tune, “Breath by Breath” has a heartbeat played by the bass that is infectious. We are rewarded when Drew Gress steps out-front and offers his lovely bass solo.  This Hersch composition quickly becomes one of my favorites.  The sweeping strings are featured also, encircling the bass that pulsates beneath their beauty like a living, breathing individual.  Each composition offers a mood for the music to gobble up and improvise upon.  On track #4, Hersch’s piano has a long conversation with the plucking, staccato strings, as though the instruments are engaged in trading fours or having a musical debate. This is followed by another of my favorites, “Rising, Falling” that’s a beautiful ballad and reminds me of a garden full of birds nesting, with tree leaves rustling like the string instruments do.  All in all, this is a peaceful production that provides a platform for Fred Hersch to share his influential creative talents and fulfills his lifelong obsession to incorporate a string quartet into his production.

* * * * * * * * *

GRANT RICHARDS – “BALLYHOO” – Grant Richards Music

Grant Richards, piano/keyboards/composer/arranger; Damian Erskine, electric bass; Reinhardt Melz, drums/percussion; Carmelo Torres, congas/percussion.

Grant Richards, once known as a pianist deeply immersed in bebop and blues, has taken a new direction.  This recording called “Ballyhoo” is an Afro-Cuban celebration and features his special guest percussionist, Carmelo Torres.  Grant’s other players, who comprise his rhythm section, are longtime friends and members of his trio for the past decade.  For several years, Grant Richards had longed to produce an album that celebrated Afro-Cuban music.  The Pandemic of 2020 gave him time to begin composing for just such a recording.  Then he and his group began rehearsing the new music.

“Being able to rehearse these tunes together was the thing that helped me get through 2020,” Grant Richards shared.

Richards was born in Portland, Oregon and surprisingly, recorded his first album as a leader at age fourteen.  It was comprised entirely of his own compositions and he did all the arranging.  Before being accepted in college, Downbeat Magazine had already honored him with prestigious Student Music Awards including Best Solo Instrumentalist; Best Jazz Arrangement and Best High School Arrangement.  That was back in 2004, 2005 and 2006.  In 2009, Grant Richards enrolled in Berklee College of Music. Later, he accepted a teaching position at an international music school in Tokyo, Japan for two and a half years.  Now, back in NYC, Richards, who was always drawn to the grooves and excitement of Afro-Cuban music, decided to challenge himself.  He set out to compose songs that would embrace Afro-Cuban arrangements.  Richards is a big fan of Eddie Palmieri and Danilo Perez.  “Bonenkai” opens his CD with energy and great input from the percussionist.  On the title tune, “Ballyhoo” you hear joyfulness as the celebratory music bounces and rolls around the room.  Richards and his musicians bring a collective groove to this arrangement, along with his special guest percussionist, Carmelo Torres.

They keep the easy-going, Latin groove on track #4, “The Bloom,” but their arrangement lacks the spice and flavor of “Ballyhoo” or “Bonenkai.”  The ballad “Elizabeth” is absolutely beautiful and becomes another one of my favorites of this production.  We are back to groove-city on the “Portmanteau” composition.  It starts out like a slow rubato and quickly changes pace, spurred by the congas of Carmelo and Grant Richards supplying dynamic piano energy.  Damian Erskine is ever-present and supportive on electric bass, locking in with Reinhardt Melz on drums.  Track #7 starts out with all percussion and the surprise is when the Thelonious Monk composition comes bursting out the gate like a Cuban racehorse.  It’s “Bye-ya” arranged in a total Afro-Cuban way.  I love it!  This is followed by four suites of music written for bass, and an original called “Space,” that employs synthesized effects to tease our perception of the universe.  Grant Richards and his ensemble close with the popular, “Secret Love” tune, played in a very afro-Cuban way that’s pleasing to the ear.  Its up-tempo flavor is propelled by creative, percussive inspiration.  At the fade, the drums take over and dance their way home.

* * * * * * * *   

PETE MALINVERNI PLAYS LEONARD BERNSTEIN – “ON THE TOWN” – Planet Arts

Pete Malinverni, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Often times on the path of life, we encounter a person or experience an unexpected meeting or opportunity that influences our direction deeply.  It was several years ago, when a young pianist named Pete Malinverni was working one of those ritzy New York restaurant gigs playing solo piano.  He was informed that on the following night a bevy of opera buffs would be gathering at the club and management asked Pete to entertain them by playing arias on that evening.  So, on the following opening night, there he sat at the club during a cast party for Franco Zeffirelli’s production “Tosca.” Many celebrities were in attendance, but when Pete Malinverni saw Leonard Bernstein stride into the room, he was star-struck.  Malinverni, a huge Bernstein fan, immediately broke into Bernstein’s tune, “Lucky To Be Me.”  That tune was like a rainbow that stretched across the room and drew Mr. Bernstein to the pianist, sitting at his pot of gold and celebrating Bernstein’s music.  That momentous meeting is one that would change Pete’s life forever.  This project has been simmering in Malinverni’s gut ever since.   During his piano performance, he and Leonard Bernstein chatted about music and life all that evening.  The young, solo pianist was astounded at how down-to-earth and accessible the great composer was and they quickly established that both Pete Malinverni and Leonard Bernstein shared a deep love for New York.  You clearly hear that love shimmering like gold dust throughout these original arrangements of Bernstein’s music. 

Pete Malinverni is joined by the creative Ugonna Okegwo on bass and the expert drumming of Jeff Hamilton.  Togther, this trio unravels the music of Leonard Bernstein like a banner across the sky. 

“…this music really took on a life of its own,” Pete Malinverni commented in the press package.

“Ugonna Okegwo and Jeff Hamilton are real artists.  You know, if you go scuba diving you discover that there are just as many colors underwater, but the spectrum is the reverse of what you see up here on the surface.  I found that in playing Bernstein’s music with these amazing musicians, there were all these textures and colors underneath the music that they could really bring to light.”

Pete has recorded fourteen albums as a bandleader.  He loves playing trio, but has also recorded solo piano, quartet, quintet, big band and in the choral context.  Currently, Pete Malinverni serves as Head of Jazz Studies at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, State University of New York.  This current album tribute to Leonard Bernstein was released January 14, 2022.

* * * * * * * * * *

MATHIS PICARD – “LIVE AT THE MUSEUM”  Inside Out Music

Mathis Picard, solo piano/composer.

Mathis Picard offers an album of solo piano featuring classical music, standard jazz tunes and original compositions.  He was performing ‘Live’ at the National jazz Museum of Harlem and opens with John Lewis’s composition, “The Creation of the World.”  This is followed by “Cuttin’ Out” composed by Willie ‘the Lion’ Smith.  Picard’s arrangement delves into stride piano references and prominently displays the pianist’s busy, rhythmic left hand.  Clearly, Mr. Picard is a gifted pianist with stellar classical training and a creative mind.  This, his second album release, honors the works of the great classical and jazz composers who were influential to Picard’s personal musical journey.  I was looking forward to his composer skills.  The first I heard was “Earthalude,” followed by another original titled, “Snake Song.”  I did not find either melody memorable, although Mathis Picard did lay down a very full-sounding, solo piano track in support of his original arrangements.  Still, there was no prominent melody.  I did enjoy his original song, “Like, Blue.” 

His arrangement of “Leia’s Theme” by John Williams is beautifully played and the melody is stunning.  Consequently, I might lean more towards Mathis Picard’s talents as a gifted pianist and a developing composer.

* * * * * * *

NEW JAZZ RELEASES FOR THE NEW YEAR

January 4, 2022

BY Dee Dee McNeil

January 3, 2022

MARTIN WIND QUARTET – “MY ASTORIAN QUEEN” – Laika Records

Martin Wind, bass/composer; Bill Mays, piano; Matt Wilson, drums/percussion; Scott Robinson, tenor & bass saxophone/clarinet/trumpet.

As soon as I heard this quartet play the first two verses of the Thad Jones composition, “Mean What You Say” I felt like I was home.  There was something warm and comfortable about this quartet’s music like a roaring fireplace on a winter’s eve.  Martin Wind’s quartet swings hard on this tune and Scott Robinson shows off his skills on both trumpet and clarinet.  Wind, the Bassist and bandleader, locks into the rhythm section, tight as the lock on a Brink’s truck.  Bill Mays plays powerful piano and briskly trades fours with Matt Wilson on drums.  An original composition by Martin Wind follows.  It’s titled “Solitude” and is a ballad played in a minor mode.  Martin Wind steps forward to feature his big, beautiful bass sound during his stellar solo.  Robinson’s clarinet sings like a soaring bird circling above the track.  I enjoy the bass saxophone on the familiar tune, “Broadway” that I used to love hearing Dakota Stanton sing.  It’s not often that you get to enjoy a smooth, uninhibited bass sax solo being played in a quartet setting.  Martin Wind’s bass dances in the background, not only holding the rhythm secure, but creatively sparkling and coloring the arrangement as it walks boldly beneath the Mays piano solo and beyond.  This is the kind of swinging, well-played group of musicians that surprise and please the jazz palate, like peppermint candies or hot chocolate with rich whipped cream.  Like the cream, these jazz cats rise to the top!

* * * * * * * *

SAMUEL MÖSCHING – “ETHEREAL KINKS” – Bronzeville Music

Samuel Mӧsching, guitars/basses/drums and synthesizers; Renda “Victoria” Jackson & Jeremiah Hunt, bass; Juan Pastor & Reuben Gingrich, drums.

For the majority of these original compositions by Samuel Mӧsching, he is playing all the instruments; guitar, bass, drums or synthesizer.  He was born and raised in Switzerland and began playing guitar when he was ten years old.  Two years later, he was captivated by John Coltrane before he was even a teenager.  On the first song, “No Dancing” he employs the tasty bass instrument of Renda “Victoria” Jackson to establish both rhythm and groove.  It’s a funky song that, in spite of its title, makes you want to dance.  Samuel Mӧsching supplies the catchy melody on his guitar. Mӧsching displays an obvious talent as a one-man-band and composer.  However, sometimes when you layer a production, you lose the spontaneity and the human factor of interacting with other personalities and musicians.  Samuel Mӧsching has a very laid-back approach to his production and often establishes a strong guitar melody, but the bass lines don’t always match or elevate the production.  I could hear the difference when he added Juan Pastor on drums during his “Modesta” arrangement.  Later, adding Jeremiah Hunt on bass and Reuben Gingrich on drums during the “Winnemac” tune, Mӧsching seemed to play more freely atop the track they laid down.   I thought this song showed off his guitar skills in a way I hadn’t heard on earlier cuts.  His production on “Strict Dancer” was very creative and this song caught my ear, but a little over one minute in, it was over before it even got started.  His original tune “Indigenous” is fused with blues.  Mӧsching closes this album with his “The Belief in Magic” composition, where you can enjoy his guitar licks and spontaneous improvising techniques.  Once again, he plays all the instruments and provides a strong groove on drums.  This song exhibits more energy and becomes one of my favorites. It’s a great way to end his guitar concert and to show his mastery on a variety of instruments.

* * * * * * * * *

THE DAVE WILSON QUARTET – “STRETCHING SUPREME” – Dave Wilson Music

Dave Wilson, tenor & soprano saxophone; Kirk Reese, piano; Tony Marino, bass; Alex Ritz & Dan Monaghan, drums.

Dave Wilson and his quartet explore the music of John Coltrane on this, Wilson’s sixth release, including ‘live’ performances that were recorded at a premiere music venue called the Chris Jazz Café in Philadelphia.  Wilson is not only a musician who plays tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet and flute, but he also is a successful entrepreneur.  The jazz reed player runs his Dave Wilson Musical Instrument business, specializing in buying and selling vintage and contemporary woodwind and brass instruments in Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley area.  Simultaneously, Wilson’s quartet tours and plays concerts in and around the Central Pennsylvania area, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and New York City. The quartet opens with the first two movements of Coltrane’s suite from “A Love Supreme” including “Acknowledgement and “Resolution.”  The ‘live’ recording was made March of 2018, without the group’s knowledge.  Resident club sound engineer, Sean Svadlenak, recorded the group’s performance that night in 2018 and afterwards, offered the recording casually for Wilson to take a listen.  Wilson was so pleased with their performance that he immediately decided to use five of seven recorded tunes.  Consequently, they became the root of this “Stretching Supreme” album.  Later, Wilson added “On the Prairie,” an original composition, and the familiar “Days of Wine and Roses.” Coltrane’s “Dear Lord” prayerful composition and “Naima” close out this production.  For me, Dave Wilson’s post-bop flavored presentation showcases his love of John Coltrane’s influence and skills, but clearly spotlights Wilson’s own dexterity and style on woodwinds.  You will enjoy his free form exploration of this music, especially on his singular, original composition.  Wilson said he awoke from a dream, where he first heard “On the Prairie,” and immediately sketched-out the chord changes.  It has become one of the quartet’s favorites.  I also enjoyed their exploration of “Days of Wine and Roses” lending a fresh and innovative arrangement on a tune as familiar as the back of my hand.  The quartet was quite improvisational and Kirk Reese is given time to show us his piano creativity during a spirited solo.  Dan Monaghan fuels the piece on his trap drums and Tony Marino finally steps out from the rhythm section and offers us a rich, double bass solo that explores the entire range of his instrument. This is an innovative project that I enjoyed from start to finish.  

* * * * * * * *  

HILARY KOLE – “SOPHISTICATED LADY” – Hilary Kole Music

Hilary Kole, vocals; Chris Byars, woodwinds/arranger/orchestrator; John Hart, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Paul Gill, bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums; Tom Beckham, vibraphone.

New York City staple, Hilary Kole, is a breath of fresh air on a cold winter afternoon.  Her voice is clear and captivating.  She scats and croons and caresses each tune in her own unique and sincere way.  Known as the youngest vocalist to ever perform at NYC’s legendary Rainbow Room for a year and a half.  She honed her craft performing six night a week at this popular and historic venue.

“When I was contemplating making a new record, I thought back to my days as a young singer at the Rainbow Room.  Most of the standards I sang then were the songs one could always call with a pick-up band.  Every musician at the time knew them.  As I transitioned into more headline work and the worlds of jazz and cabaret, it became clear to me that it was important not to sing the same songs that everybody knew,” Hilary Kole reminisced.

On this project, she comes full circle, reverting to the early Rainbow Room days and picking classic standard songs that will please your selective palate.  Her arrangements are sweet to the ear. Opening with “Sophisticated Lady” Hilary Kole shows us what a smooth and unique voice she has.  Other familiar old favorites that she offers us are “Old Devil Moon” with a lovely arrangement by woodwind player, Chris Byars (playing flute) while Tom Beckham is featured quite tastily on vibes. Kole’s soprano voice blends beautifully with the flute.   On “Somebody Loves me” she adds the little-heard verse and then swings into the melody we know so well.  There are traces of Ella Fitzgerald’s influence on some phrasing that Ms. Kole offers, but she is clearly her own person and exhibits her own style on every presentation.  I enjoyed the amazing bass solo by Paul Gill, who pulls out his bow and still swings across the double bass strings.  “Make Me A Rainbow” is a surprise piece with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and a melody by Johnny Williams.  It features Adam Birnbaum on piano, wooing us with his inventive solo. This time Paul Gill puts his bow aside and plucks the bass with confidence and rhythm.  We also get to enjoy the guitar mastery of John Hart on this arrangement.  Throughout, Aaron Kimmel pops the drums into place, dancing hotly like corn kernels in a hot, covered skillet.   Hilary Kole is an impressive and spirited vocalist.  Her repertoire is fulfilling and her musicians are excellent.  They add their own magic to this project.  Every song is well played and beautifully sung for your listening pleasure.     

* * * * * * * * *

CECIL TAYLOR UNIT – “THE COMPLETE, LEGENDARY, LIVE RETURN CONCERT at THE TOWN HALL, NYC – NOVEMBER 4, 1973” – Oblivion Records

Cecil Taylor, piano/composer; Andrew Cyrille, percussion; Sirone, bass; Jimmy Lyons, alto saxophone.

Back in the early 1970s, Avant-garde jazz was thriving.  Cecil Taylor had long been celebrated as one of the innovators of this music, but had taken a hiatus from performing to teach as a visiting professor at Antioch College and University of Wisconsin-Madison.  For five years, he had taught and concentrated on composing in his free time.  So, when Cecil was offered an opportunity to reunite with Jimmy Lyons and put a quartet together for a concert performance at New York City’s Town Hall, he embraced the idea as a tantalizing prospect.  Alto saxophonist, Jimmy Lyons, had been a mainstay member of Cecil Taylor’s unit from its inception.  Lyons and Taylor had been playing together for a decade and both were searching for artistic freedom.  This concert also reunited Taylor with Andrew Cyrille and new bassist on the scene, Sirone.  Cecil Taylor has long been referred to as a giant of free improvisation and you hear it right off the bat on the very first disc of a double set.  Disc 1 features “Autumn/Parade” eighty-eight minutes of exciting improvisational performances by this unit.  Cecil Taylor’s fingers fly over the keys as easy as a winter breeze blows smoke from a fireplace chimney.  Taylor speaks to the improvisation of Jimmy Lyons’ alto saxophone and they hold a spirited conversation of instruments. In the final half hour of this gripping composition, the two musicians seem to reach a musical peak with many crescendos of creative expression.  Lyons pulls sounds out of his alto saxophone that surprise me and Cecil Taylor splashes piano chords across space like waterfalls rushing downhill.  Their music is spontaneous and energy driven.  Disc 2 features “Spring of Two Blue-J’s”, first presented solo and then produced as a quartet offering.  The “Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert by Cecil Taylor will be available as a digital streaming release on February 11, 2022.  Accompanying this release is a beautiful, twenty-three-page booklet with liner notes written in long-hand by Cecil Taylor and an essay by journalist, Alan Goodman.   Alan was a DJ and engineer at WKCR, where he also produced news and cultural programming. This is an important and historic recording where you will hear Cecil Taylor at his best, displaying perhaps his most impressive piano with brilliant inventions. 

* * * * * * * * *

ADRIANNE DUNCAN – “GEMINI” – Independent Label

Adrianne Duncan, vocals; Ian Herman, piano/musical director; Nick Mancini, vibraphone; Dan Lutz, bass; Jimmy Branly, drums; Katisse Buckingham, flute/saxophone; John Tegmeyer, clarinet.

Adrianne Duncan is a multi-talented musician who plays piano, sings, composes and arranges her own music.  An Atlanta native, who has recently relocated to Los Angeles, Adrianne is the daughter of the renowned classical guitarist, Charles Duncan.  She studied classical piano from a young age and won several major competitions.  She also plays celeste, organ and keyboards, as well as once performing as a member of the Atlanta Youth Symphony.  She has studied theater, gaining a degree from Northwestern University and she also was writing fiction and screenwriting during high school.  Her well-written lyrics reflect her love of journalism.

“My starting to write was a direct result of studying jazz piano,” Adrianne Duncan shared in her press package.

“… My intention was just to start accompanying myself.  I studied with John Novello, who’s a fantastic B3 player, and I was learning all the Bill Evans voicings.  I made flashcards, put them in a box and shook them up and I’d randomly get some chords next to each other.  That’s how I started writing,” she unwrapped her composer secret like a gift.

Her voice is clear with a delicate tremolo frosting the tail-end of her tones.  She definitely has a style all her own, although I’m not quite sure it falls completely into a jazz category.  I would say it leans heavily towards pop/folk.  However, the first tune, “He’s Not Quite You” is very jazzy indeed with a wonderful lyric. The addition of Nick Mancini’s vibraphone lends jazz and sparkle to her arrangement. It’s always refreshing to hear lyrics that are relatable and not like any we’ve heard before. For example:

“But it isn’t quite right.  I never used to want to turn out the light, or be polite; it isn’t quite right.” 

Duncan’s composition, “Elijah” paints the song with vivid words, setting the scene; dark road, winter night, sharp moonlight cutting across her face.  Duncan is quite a lyricist. 

But I believe the arrangements and the voicing of certain chord changes could have added much more interest to this song.  The lyrics are so strong and beg for a tenacious arrangement.  Sometimes when an artist tries to wear all the hats, they lose a wee bit of clarity and/or creativity.  She is the producer, the arranger, the composer and the artist.  That’s a lot of hats to wear at the same time.  However, her brilliance is duly noted on other projects including Otmaro Ruiz and Catina DeLuna on the Grammy-nominated Lado B Brazilian Project and she toured Brazil with them, playing keyboards and singing.  She recorded on ‘The Jazz Chamber’ with the iconic, multi-reed player Bennie Maupin.  She also performs regularly with her vocal improvisation collective with Cathy Garcia, the “Fish to Birds” vocal ensemble.  Duncan’s gifted enough to act as Musical Director of a show called “Twins” during its premiere in Berlin, Germany.   Her piano playing can be heard on film soundtracks including The Chameleon and The Young Kieslowski.  All those accolades, I applaud.  However, it’s the musician who make this project pure jazz.  Kotisse Buckingham’s bright and fluttering flute on “Home at Last” raises the bar on this arrangement from a repetitive folk melody to an improvisational jazz piece.  I enjoyed the title tune, “Gemini” with its odd meters and strong bass piano line, showing off Ms. Duncan’s strength as a pianist/composer.  Next time around, I would like to see someone like John Beasley, Billy Childs or Quincy Jones produce and arrange some of Adrianne Duncan’s unique and well-written compositions.

* * * * * *

DAWN DEROW – “MY SHIP – SONGS FROM 1941” – Zoho Records

Dawn Derow, vocals; Ian Herman, Musical director/pianist; Tom Hubbard, bass; Daniel Glass, drums/percussion; Sean Harkness, guitar; Robin Zeh, Joyce Hammann & Paul ‘Dale’ Woodie, violins; Katarzyna Bryla, viola; Deborah Assael, cello; Benny Benack III, trumpet/cornet; Aaron Heick, saxophone/flute/clarinet; Dan Levine, trombone; Paul Rolnick, producer.

Dawn Derow’s repertoire brings back good memories of music from the 1940’s.  In fact, this album title (Songs From 1941) makes her choices clear and reflect gems from that era like “My Ship,” “Loverman” and “Chattanooga Choo Leverman.” This production takes us back to the World War II era and the music that calmed the nerves of a country and a world full of pain and turmoil.  Dwan Derow is a polished cabaret vocalist with a full- bodied range and crystal-clear tone.  She caresses tunes like “Skylark” and “White Christmas” then belts out the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy Medley.”   She swings “Let’s Get Away from It All” in medley with “How About You” and teases us with “Why Don’t We Do This More Often?”  “My Ship – Songs from 1941” is a well-produced, musical tribute to that 1940’s era of Glenn Miller music, The Andrews Sisters, Tommy Dorsey, Jo Stafford and Bing Crosby’s vocals. 

* * * * * * * * *