Archive for February, 2022


February 28, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 1, 2022


Frédéric Viale, melowtone; Andrea Pozza, piano; Aldo Zunino, acoustic bass (contrebasse); Adam Pache, drums (batterie); Emanuele Cisi, saxophone.

I was surprised to receive a package from France a few weeks ago.  It was a new CD release by French accordionist and harmonica player, Frédéric Viale, who has recorded a wonderful tribute album to Toots Thielemans.  The music of Frédéric and his ensemble is both captivating and inspirational, beginning with their delightful interpretation of “Bluesette.”  The tune waltzed joyfully across my listening room.  This was followed by “Scotch on the Rocks” played at an up-tempo pace, with the bass of Alda Zunino walking briskly beneath Frédéric’s melowtone solo.  Andrea Pozza’s piano solo is performed with swift moving fingers and skill.  “Only Trust Your Heart” is arranged with Latin flavors and Frédéric Viale’s instrument dances brightly over his ensemble’s solid track.  The tune “Cool and Easy” becomes a platform for Emanuele Cisi to shine on saxophone and Andrea Pozza to show-off his blues licks on the 88-keys.  Aldo Zunino steps forward and takes an inspired solo on the double bass.  Throughout this production, Adam Pache holds the rhythm tightly in place on trap drums.  On this tune, he trades fours with Frédéric and the band.  Here is an album I will play over and over again.  This traditional jazz recording is a lovely tribute to Toots Thielemans, sent air mail, express from the super talented French jazz community.  It reaffirms how jazz music and creativity cross all cultures and all borders in a wonderful way. 

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Itai Kriss, flute/composer; Cesar Orozco, piano/Fender Rhodes; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Dan Aran, drums; Marcos Lopez, percussion; Wayne Tucker, trumpet/flugelhorn; SPECIAL GUESTS:  Keisel Jimenez & Jonathan Hoard, vocals; Shai Maestro, keyboards/synthesizers; Malaya Sol, background vocals.

 Itai Kriss is a flautist and composer.  Every song on this album was composed by Itai.  This is his third album and features a multicultural ensemble; Televana.  Greatly influenced by the musical styles of Middle Eastern music and Caribbean sensibilities, this jazz is infused with percussive excitement and joy.  The first cut titled, “The Cusp” inspires me to get up and dance.  It’s such happy music and Itai uses his flute to punctuate the tune with elation.  Wayne Tucker also makes an impassioned statement on his horn.  Itai Kriss seems to have an interest in astrology, since nearly every song celebrates the stars and the zodiac signs in some way.  “Aires” was as joyful as “The Cusp” tune.  Both the flute and the electric piano enjoy a musical conversation, while Marcos Lopez grandly expresses himself on percussion.  The title of this album, “Supermoon” represents a concept that attempts to explain our existence in the universe.  The ensemble, “Televana,” has been a regular fixture of the New York City Latin scene and is composed of multi-cultures including musicians who represent Puerto Rico, Israel, Cuba and the United States.  The tune, “Taurus” features Keisel Jimenez speaking to us in Spanish and Dan Aran’s drums lock in with Marcos Lopez to create a cha-cha-cha rhythm.   Cesar Orozco opens the composition, “Gemini” with tinkling piano keys played at a moderate pace.  He is soon joined by Itai Kriss on flute along with the lilting drums and percussions that continuously drive this music through a Baker’s dozen of original tunes.  Their first single release from this album is titled, “Virgo” and features the vocals of Jonathan Hoard adlibbing freely. 

Kriss is an excellent composer.  His songs are melodic, driven by percussive excitement and his tight “Televana” ensemble.  but more importantly, the Kriss music is full of a joy that will lift your heart, inspire happiness and brighten your perspective on life.

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JACOPO FERRAZZA – “FANTASIA” – Teal Dreamers Factory

Jacopo Ferrazza, double bass/synthesizers/composer; Alessandra Diodati, vocals; Enrico Zanisi, piano/synthesizers/live electronics; Valerio Vantaggio, drums; Livia de Romanis, cello; SPECIAL GUESTS: Fabrizio Bosso, trumpet; Marcello Allulli, soprano saxophone.

Jacopo Ferrazza was born in 1989 in Frascati, a city near Rome.  He holds a degree in classical bass and classical piano from the Italian conservatory of Frosinone, “Licinio Refice”.  There is something ethereal and magical about the arrangements on Jacopo Ferrazza’s latest release, his “Fantasia” album.  From the first title tune, I am intrigued by the production and the various elements that mix and swirl together like musical stars in the universe.  Opening with the very classical sounding piano of Enrico Zanisi, after a few bars the sweet, soprano voice of Alessandra Diodati enters and introduces us to the melody.  She hypnotizes with her sound.  Then, with gusto and energy, Fabrizio Bosso enters on his trumpet and whisks us away from dreamland into a bright, jazzy reality.  There is a taste of Avant-Garde style to his trumpet solo when he explores the outer-limits of this tune like a space cadet.  Zanisi teases him on the piano and Diodati reappears with her haunting vocals caressing the tune.  This is a captivating way to open Jacopo Ferrazza’s album.  On Track 2, “The Explorers,” Jacopo’s double bass sets the groove.  Enter Livia de Romanis on cello.  In mere bars, we go from a sweet sounding, melodic ballad to a more contemporary composition, enhanced by Valerio Vantaggio’s drum beats and Ferrazza’s strong double-bass input.  Jacopo walks beneath the production, assertive and creative.  The tempo changes to add interest and excitement to the piece.  I am fascinated by the piano solo, which spotlights Zanisi’s excellent technique on his instrument.  He solos brightly in the upper register while his left hand lays down a rich, chordal base for his right hand to dance upon.  Surprisingly, a synthesizer brings more depth and creativity to the arrangement towards the end of this tune.  Alessandra Diodati, the vocalist, is challenged with difficult melodies and unusual intervals.  No problem.  She performs these songs beautifully and with vocal assertiveness.  On Track 3, “River Theater” they employ a trio arrangement; just piano, Valerio Vantaggio’s drums and Ferrazza on bass, until they invite Alessandra to lend her voice.  She sings prose without rhyme while Ferrazza’s rich, double bass instrument is featured.  Jacopo has recorded two albums as a leader for CAM jazz label, as well as a double bass solo album called “Wood Tales.”  He is also a music educator. 

This is an art project, beautifully produced with unusual and challenging arrangements.  It’s such a creative project that I want to write about each composition and the lovely way Jacopo’s original tunes unfold, like pages of an exciting book; I can’t wait to hear the next chapter.

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Sheila Simmenes, vocals/composer; Per Olav Kobberstad, 8-string guitar; Peter Mesquita & Fredrik Sahlander, bass; Jern Rud & Robertinho Silva, percussion; Bjern Ole Rasch & Eirik Ask, keyboards; Trygve Tambs-Lyche & Per Elling Kobberstad, drums; Tore Brathen, trumpet; Michael Bloch, saxophone; Yeisy Rojas, violin; Sofia Aarvik, Kristin Dahl & Veronica Andersen, background vocals.

The title tune, “Love Was Easy” introduces us to singer, songwriter Sheila Simmenes.  Her roots are in Ipanema Beach, but she is now established miles away, in the Fjords of Bergen, Norway.  Known in the music industry for various co-writing credits, this is her debut solo album and it’s a lovely blend of South American soul, jazz & pop, combined with cultures of Norway, the United States and Brazil.

A strong bass line opens the title tune and her voice floats atop it like an autumn leaf riding on the ripple of a cool lake.  The ‘hook’ is exaggerated by harmonic background singers (Sofia Aarvik, Kristin Dahl & Veronica Andersen) who sing, chant-like, with heavy African influence.  There is a sexy saxophone solo by Michael Bloch. Sheila Simmenes has a style that combines pop and contemporary jazz, with a band that is more jazz traditional.  It’s an enjoyable merger; a good listen!  On “Anywhere You Go,” at the intro, birds sing and a trumpet answers.  Simmenes’ compositions are melodic and lyrically inviting.  They paint pictures of a life that’s happy, positive and carefree. Her voice comes across sounding innocent and honest. You hear that on “Promise Me” where just her vocals, guitar and drums propel the production. Recorded in analog to capture that warm vintage sound, her album features 8-string guitarist, Per Olav Kobberstad, bassist Peter Mesquita and legendary percussionist Robertinho Silva, who has worked with some of the biggest names in jazz history such as Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan and George Duke. 

A keyboardist is featured briefly before Sheila scats creatively at the end of the song, embracing jazz freedom with sensitive vocals.  I hear some similarity to the style of UK star, Corrine Bailey Rae, but for the most part, Sheila Simmenes offers us her own smooth, stylistic, enticing voice that sings her original songs with confidence, truthfulness and inspiration.  On the Latin tune, “Brazil” she offers us a joyful, energetic production that celebrates her culture as she dips her toes into South American waters.  She may inspire you to join her in that musical celebration.

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Asaf Yuria, tenor saxophone/composer/arranger; Josh Evans, trumpet; Jonathan Voltzok, trombone; Jeremy Manasla, piano; Ben Meigners, bass; Jason Brown, drums.

Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, Yuria was raised on the recordings of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.  I immediately hear that influence as his first original composition peels off my CD player.  It’s titled “The Bell Ringers” and his three-horn ensemble of saxophone, trumpet and trombone harmonize brightly to open this piece.  Asaf Yuria steps confidently into the spotlight.  His tenor saxophone takes full advantage of the moment, swooping and swelling like powerful ocean waves.  Yuria’s tone and creativity shine brightly.  Asaf’s solo is followed by Josh Evans on trumpet.  Evans continues the straight-ahead concept, exhibiting his talent and a tenacious attitude on his instrument.  He is followed by the noteworthy solo of trombonist, Jonathan Voltzok.   The ensemble creates energy and excitement and Asaf Yuria’s composition introduces us to each musician.  This is Asaf Yuria’s sophomore release.  His debut recording as a bandleader was in 2018; “Papa Wawa.” I am thoroughly impressed by Asaf Yuria’s composer skills.  His melodies are beautiful and he has competently arranged every tune.  They ring rich with harmony and create a musical mattress for his ensemble to happily bounce upon.  Clearly, Mr. Yuria draws from the jazz combo traditions of Art Blakey and Lee Morgan.  This is the kind of bebop-based jazz I love. 

“My priority is for each player to be able to use his voice most comfortably and as beautifully as possible, and to try to create the most compelling compositions I can. … It’s the idea of finding your individual voice through the study of the tradition,” Asaf explains.

Asaf’s beautiful ballad, “Wise Eyes” is dedicated to his mother.  The title tune, “Exorcisms” begins with Ben Meigners’ bass plucking a single note repeatedly.  It grabs the attention.  Jason Brown’s drum-roll pulls back the invisible curtain and the ensemble comes into full view.  On the album cover Asaf Yuria says that “Exorcisms” is to free from, or rid of evil spirits or other harmful elements, by works of spell and magical formulas which intend to trigger a magical effect on a person or objects.  He further explained:

“I’m looking for that mysterious condition in which the listeners and the musicians are immersed in the present moment.”

Asaf Yuria’s project is both beautifully played, smoothly arranged and offers us memorable compositions that highlight Yuria’s full range of musical talents.

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Henry Cole, drums/synthesizers/Fender Rhodes/composer; Metropole Orkest; Jahaziel Garcia, trumpet; Jonathan Acevedo, tenor saxophone; Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone; Kalani Trinidad, flute; Benito Diaz, French horn; Randy Roman, trombone; Giovanny de la Rosa & Javier Perez, guitar; Ricardo Rodriguez, bass; Emanuel Rivera Gambaro, keyboards/synthesizer; Alberto ‘Beto’ Torrens, barril; Bryant Huffman, chekere; Duke Amayo, main vocals; Negro Gonzalez, main vocals; Antoinette Rodriguez, Melissa Orsini, Dayanira Arzuaga & Genesis Z. Cordero, backup vocals.

When a fire destroyed Cole’s New York City Apartment, he relocated to his native Puerto Rico and started all over from zero.  Then the pandemic happened and by March of 2020, COVID-19 created a tenuous situation for Henry and the whole world.  Concurrently, Cole was uplifted when the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation gave him a grant.  He is one of the only Puerto Ricans to ever be granted this honor.  Consequently, Henry Cole felt a great responsibility to create music that would represent his vision of determination when faced with life-threatening conditions.  A native of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, Coles has a cross-cultural style that draws on African, island folk music and indigenous music with European influences.  He mixes these with jazz and spices his arrangements and compositions up with twenty-first century rhythms.  Henry Cole opens this recording with one of his compositions being interpreted by the Metropole Orkest.  This fully orchestrated composition begins with strings and a full horn section in a very warm and sweet way.  That quickly dissolves to a moderate, rhythm-driven piece featuring a repetitious melody line that stitches through the song like an iridescent thread.  The horns drive alongside the rhythm of Cole’s drums, bright as the yellow line on an open highway.  At points in the arrangement, Cole lays down almost a funk drum beat beneath the repetitious melody sung by the horns over and over again. 

Henry Cole is a GRAMMY-winning drummer, composer and arranger.  This particular recording was commissioned by Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works.  Over years, Cole has expressed his unique power and versatility by playing with some of the world’s most acclaimed jazz groups.  Those include Miguel Zenon, David Sanchez, Gary Burton, Fabian Almazan and many others.   His ‘Villa Locura’ ensemble features an eclectic cast of top-notch musicians and collaborators.  Track 2 is very ‘Rock’ oriented with the guitar taking center stage in an unforgettable way.  On Track 5, a song titled “De Frente,” he features the rap of Negro Gonzalez against a back-drop of harmonic horns and a power-driven rhythm section and synthesizers.  The bass of Ricardo Rodriguez enforces the rhythm and dances brightly beneath the piece.  Henry Cole has composed music that reflects the human spirit and how we access ‘super powers’ when we face fight or flight situations.

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Danilo Brito, mandolin/composer; Joao Luiz, guitar/arranger.

When the universe smiles and the stars come together, an album like this is born.  Both Danilo Brito and Joao Luiz are each master musicians and play music at an elevated level.   Brazilian native, Joao Luiz, is a respected virtuoso of Brazil’s popular music.  He was trained in classical guitar by Henrique Pinto.  Danilo Brito has been called a genius on mandolin and deemed an authority in Choro.  The Choro style claims the same cultural parents as jazz and blues.  It’s a music that blends African roots with European classical forms and new world, improvised cultural music, adding various rhythms.  These two brilliant musicians first met in 2004 at the Visa Music Award show.  When Danilo Brito heard Joao’s playing, he was captivated.

“I realized that he had a sound of a classical guitarist, but was full of Brazilian swing of the popular music,” Brito mused.

More than a decade later, in 2017, they performed together at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.

“The energy was so good that we went on tour the next year,” said Brito.

This duo brings us a project that is soothing, warm, comfortable and creative.  Opening with “Gargalhada,” it’s a song composed for flute by Pixinguinha back in 1917.   Their duet dance moves from delicate to dynamic.  The classical mastery of each man on his instrument is clear and is richly soaked in Brazilian culture.  They follow this with an original composition by Brito, the title track, “Esquina de Sao Paulo.”   It’s arranged, at first, as a tango with all the passion and familiarity of that popular dance and played exquisitely by the two masters.  Surprisingly and pleasantly, the piece turns into a waltz, concentrating musically on bringing more romance to the arrangement along with their tango passion.  Brito’s mandolin sings like a mixture of flute and treble piano as Luiz pulls all the excitement and emotion to the surface with his guitar genius.  This is a match made in heaven.  It’s their debut recording on the Zoho label and they offer us nine stunning duets, three of which are penned by Danilo Brito.  The tune, “Salsito no Choro” is a combination of Cuban Salsa and Pacquito music.  It opens with the string rhythm established by Joao Luiz and was inspired by the duo’s work with the great Paquito D’Rivera.  This original composition by Brito spins joyfully and energetically from my CD player. 

This is a delightful album, produced by multi-Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, Kabir Sehgal.  It is a duo masterpiece, blending the excellence of two amazing, musical technicians and also a testament to a friendship born through music. 

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Juan Carlos Quintero, guitar/composer; Eddie Resto, bass; Joe Rotondi, piano; Aaron Serfaty, drums; Joey DeLeon, percussion.

Boasting nearly a dozen albums as a leader, Juan Carlos Quintero has established a successful reputation as both an acclaimed guitarist and also as the owner of a successful jazz and World music label; Moondo Music LLC.  Quintero’s music crosses genres and is celebrated on World Music, jazz and smooth jazz radio stations.  His boutique record label nurtures and supports a variety of artists who play jazz, Latin jazz and world music.  This project includes Quintero’s longtime musical companions, Eddie Resto on bass, Joe Rotondi on piano and drummer, Aaron Serfaty.  The quintet is complete with Joey Deleon adding the all-important percussion.  Together, they present ten songs for our listening pleasure, with two being composed by Juan Carlos Quintero.  I am used to hearing Quintero on his nylon string guitar, but this time he has used the semi-hallow, electric guitar.  It highlights the new direction of his music and his record label.   His album, “Table for Five,” offers five jazz standards, three Latin standards and two original compositions.  The title tune, “Table for Five at the Cumbia Inn”, is composed by Quintero, and uses rhythms from the traditional folk music of Columbia.  Quintero always plays a handful of original Cumbias during his live performances.  He wrote this particular song during the recording session.  “Manha De Carnaval” also known as “Black Orpheus” is one of two compositions by Luiz Bonfa.  The band has arranged it as a bolero, with the guitar plush with blues overtones.  It’s a sexy combination.  The entire production is reflective of his birthplace, Medellin, Columbia.  Although he and his talented ensemble play several familiar tunes, like “Song for My Father” by Horace Silver and “Days of Wine and Roses” there is always a Latin persuasion to every arrangement.  Joey DeLeon’s percussion excellence shines throughout, as do Aaron Serfaty’s trap drums.  Juan Carlos Quintero’s arrangements embrace several familiar tunes and reinvents them with Latin-jazz interpretations.  In the process, Quintero reflects an international songbook, mixing the American songs, Cuban and Brazilian standards, with his own Columbian influences.  His beautiful and inspired guitar arrangements bring each song alive as only Juan Carlos Quintero can do.  His original composition, “Porque Si Quieres” will have you dancing in your chair or jumping joyfully to your feet. This is one of my favorites on this well-produced album. 

Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” has a fresh face and Victor Young’s “Beautiful Love” closes this album out in a lovely, emotionally vulnerable way.  Juan Carlos Quintero touches my heart with his awesome delivery on guitar, featured with Resto and Serfaty in a strong trio setting.

“It was a first take.  We know we captured a moment in the studio.  We knew to walk away and let it be,” Quintero described the magical moment they experienced during this recording.

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Oliver Lake, alto & soprano saxophones/composer; Graham Haynes, cornet/electronics/composer; Joe Fonda, double bass/composer; Barry Altschul, drums/percussion/composer.

Four master musicians got together and created the OGJB Quartet based on the initial of each one’s first name; Oliver, Graham, Joe and Barry (OGJB).  Oliver Lake and Barry Altschul are pioneers of modern jazz music.  Their adventure started in the 1960s.  Graham Haynes and Joe Fonda began their exploration into the modern jazz era later, starting their journey in the 1970s.  However, each member of this group is clearly a leader in their own right.  Each musician is a composer.  The title of this current project, “Ode to O” is a tribute to Ornette Coleman penned by Altschul.  It opens this album and cornetist, Graham Haynes, introduces electronics into the arrangement.  Oliver Lake composed Track 2, “Justice” and the eighth cut, “Bass Bottom.”

“Whenever anyone gets the opportunity to play Oliver’s music, they are transported into the Lake universe of sound.  That is where the OGJB Quartet again went when we recorded his two pieces,” explained Joe Fonda.

Joe Fonda is a seasoned bassist, who studied at Berklee College of Music and has recorded with Wadada Leo Smith among others. He co-founded the Fonda/Stevens Group that became the longest lasting of all the collaborative groups he has played with.  He’s also well known for collaborations with Anthony Braxton, as well as being his own bandleader and recording artist.  Graham Haynes grew up in Queens, New York and is always searching for new directions in jazz.  He enjoys fusing genres including Hip Hop and electronic music. Haynes and Steve Coleman formed the ‘Five Elements’ band in 1979 which encouraged improvisers and influenced a group called M-Base Collective.  He was introduced to the ‘Conduction method’ by its originator and now deceased, Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris. Graham Haynes continues to implement that method in various ensembles.  On the other hand, Haynes has composed works for classical ensembles and also composed for films.  Oliver Lake is an accomplished flutist as well as a reedman, a poet and a visual artist.  His hometown is St. Louis and he began his musical career soaked in R&B music.  In the 1960s, he was one of the founders of the Black Artists Group in St. Louis.   Oliver left the country and he lived briefly in Paris before settling in New York.  In 1977 he co-founded the World Saxophone Quartet with David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett.  They recorded twenty albums of modern creative music.  Lake co-founded (with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille) ‘Trio 3’ and they recorded ten albums.  In the eighties, he led a reggae-influenced group called “Jump Up” and clearly is a musician who enjoys exploring various genres of music.  Barry Altshul began drumming at age eleven.  He also studied piano and clarinet. Raised in the local hard bop scene, he enjoyed playing at jam sessions in the Bronx.  His first truly professional gig was with the Paul Bley Trio in 1964.  He’s worked with some of the most influential groups of the 1970s like Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea and Sam Rivers.  After living in Europe for a decade, he returned to the East Coast of the United States and jumped into the new millennium by establishing the FAB trio for Tum Records and leading the ‘3dom Factor’ with saxophonist Jon Irabagon and Joe Fonda.

Together, these awesome musicians are crossing borders and coloring outside the lines.  They have created a project rich with improvisation, creativity and experimentation, once again gifting modern jazz with new perspectives and, like life itself, unexpected realities.

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Jean-Michel Pilc, piano; Remi-Jean LeBlanc, bass; Jim Doxas, drums.

Jean-Michel Pilc was born Oct 19, 1960 in Paris France and currently lives in Montreal, Canada.  Jean-Michel opens with “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” solo, just the piano, exploring the familiar song in his own, unique way.  Several bars in, he is joined by his bassist, Remi-Jean LeBlanc and drummer, Jim Doxas.  I have heard this tune a million times, but never have I heard it played like this.  It’s both refreshing and stunning at the same time.  There is nothing soft or laid-back about this arrangement.  These are three dynamic musicians who are clearly on the attack.  They play the song with power and punch.  Even when Remi-Jean takes a bass solo, the expressive counter melodies and responsive piano support add intrigue to the piece. The trio makes you look at this song with new eyes.    This is followed by a tune called “Sharp” introduced by Jean-Michel Pilc’s brilliant piano musing.  At the top of the tune, Jean-Michel and Remi-Jean on bass seems to be letting their instruments hold a conversation, with Jim Doxas chiming in appropriately and creatively on his trap drums.  I am enthralled at the freedom these three musicians display, taking improvisational liberties that create tension and laying their improv talents out in the spotlight to startle the listener with sparkling possibilities.   Jean-Michel Pilc is a genius on the piano both technically and creatively.  I find myself in awe of his musical ideas and pleased at the response he inspires from both Remi-Jean and Jim Doxas.  The bassist and the drummer are both technical wizards on their instruments and all are spontaneous players.  The “Nardis” composition exposes their softer side, giving Remi-Jean a platform to shine.  “All Blues” is a surprise party, presented in a very ostentatious and unexpected way.  Most jazz aficionados know this tune, but you may not fully recognize it at first.  That’s the beauty of this trio.  Together they are formidable, smart and gifted musicians that keep the audience on the edge of their seats; offering unpredictable, rich arrangements and distinguished talent in abundance. 

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February 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 15, 2022


James Gaiters, drums; Edwin Bayard, tenor saxophone; Kevin Turner, guitar; Robert Mason, Hammond organ.

James Gaiters is a Columbus, Ohio drummer and bandleader.  He’s comfortable in the jazz organ tradition and Gaiters brings that background to us on his recent project.   His Soul Revival group joins him in celebrating the swinging remembrance of jazz pioneer, John Patton.  In 1968, Blue Note records released Patton’s album titled “Understanding” and James Gaiters has reinvented that recording.  Opening with a tune called “Ding Dong,” James Gaiters slaps a funk beat into place.  The familiar R&B hit record, “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave follows.  The improvisations by Kevin Turner on guitar strays from the melody and explores other creative avenues of expression.  This turn takes the group into a rock-based arrangement and features Robert Mason on Hammond organ, James on drums and Turner on guitar in a trio setting.  James was greatly influenced by organist and jazz icon, Jimmy Smith.  Smith certainly cemented the Hammond B3 organ into jazz history with his gutsy, bluesy sound.  James Gaiters’ Soul Revival continues that legacy.  On the Sonny Rollins composition, “Alfie’s Theme” Edwin Bayard steps into the spotlight on tenor saxophone.  The tempo is bright and Gaiters takes advantage of an eight-bar solo section to dance and spin around his drum set.  The Kenny Burrell tune, “Chitlins con Carne” is reinvented and walks slowly, in a very bluesy way onto the scene.  It comes from the Burrell hit recording, “Midnight Blue” that was a huge success for Kenny in 1963. This quartet soulfully embodies tradition and history, applying their own creativity and fresh arrangements in celebration of the master musicians who paved the way for them.

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SARA SCHOENBECK – Pyroclastic Records

Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon/composer; Matt Mitchell, piano; Robin Holcomb, piano/voice; Wayne Horvitz, piano/electronics; Harris Eisenstadt, drums; Nicole Mitchell, flute; Roscoe Mitchell, soprano saxophone; Nels Cline, electric guitar/electric bass; Mark Dresser, bass; Peggy Lee, cello;

Sara Schoenbeck offers a vivid, wide-ranging consideration for the versatility and beauty of the bassoon, an instrument that remains a rarity in jazz and improvised music circles.  But Sara always heard the potential and possibilities that the bassoon offered.  She explored these qualities on the bassoon, hoping to become a first call instrument on the jazz scene.  Sure enough, Schoenbeck soon became synonymous with the bassoon and successful in reaching her dream. 

“I feel like the bassoon is an incredibly flexible instrument, as well as a really awkward one.  But with that awkwardness can come great beauty.  I set out to play in as many different styles of music as possible, while maintaining the inherent qualities of the bassoon; not making it sound like some other instrument.  I like the bassoon best in an intimate playing situation, because it’s a quiet instrument.  That’s why I thought of recording a series of duos with some of my favorite musicians,” Schoenbeck said.

With that concept in mind, Schoenbeck has hand-picked various musicians to interpret her original music or to play their own compositions with her as duets.  This entire album is one of various duets. 

“Collaboration is so central to my musical life, that when I was offered the opportunity to record as a bandleader, I wanted to make a bit of a survey of the people that I’ve loved playing with and who have made an impact on my musicianship.  Of course, there are many more than are represented on this record, but I also wanted to create a series of vignettes that come together to feel like a single, unified piece,” Sara Schoenbeck explained this concept in her press package.

Schoenbeck opens with her original composition “O’Saris,” a song that is rooted in the B flat mode and presents melodic phrases from the mouth of the bassoon, accompanied by drummer Harris Eisenstadt, a friend and fellow musician Sara has been playing with as a duo since 2000.  On her second track, “Sand Dune Trilogy” (also penned by Schoenbeck) she combines her bassoon with the flute of Nicole Mitchell.  The contrast of the fluttering flute with the low, growl of the bassoon is stunning; like a bear and a bird conversating.  Track three is titled “Lullaby” and features a duet with Nels Cline, a hero of the 1990s Los Angeles improv scene.  Their ballad duet is beautiful, tinged with Rock music magic.  The iconic Roscoe Mitchell, founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, is a master of reed instruments and famous for his free improvisation and Avant-Garde approach to jazz.  He joins Sara on the 4th track, “Chordata” which is completely improvised material.   Schoenbeck and her friends have recorded nine duets, all played at a moderate or slow pace.  Each tune unfolds like a short story of their life and times.  On Robin Holcomb’s song, “Sugar” a haunting voice is added by Holcomb with a lyric that is impressive.  The bassoon dances beneath their interaction in a sugar-sweet way and Holcomb adds piano to the mix.  All in all, these Avant-Garde duets celebrate unusual creativity and freedom, while introducing us to Schoenbeck’s bassoon in unique and lovely ways.

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Steve Million, piano; Steve Cardenas, guitar; John Sims, bass; Ron Vincent, drums.

This is the story of four friends who came together in Kansas City, over five decades ago, to make music.  Today, they are reuniting and going back to their original musical concepts.  Steve Million has composed all the music for this project, including several tunes that the musicians hadn’t played since their 1970 gigs in the Mid-west.  Originally, Arnold Young was on drums, Jeff Rendlen was their bassist and Million was on piano.  When Steve Cardenas joined the band (back in Kansas City) they expanded to a quartet.  Over the years, some of the band members, especially Cardenas and Million, often spoke of getting back together to play original music.  The band was interrupted when Ron Vincent and Steve Million moved from Kansas City to New York City in 1981.  Million moved again in 1988, relocating to Chicago.  That year, he was a semifinalist in the internationally respected Thelonious Monk Piano Competition.  He took a great deal of pride in that and admits, he was greatly influenced by pianist, composer Thelonious Monk.  Million even formed a two-keyboard band that he named “Monk’s Dream.”   Steve Million still performs as a piano duo today, bonding talents with Jeremy Kahn, they call themselves, “Double Monk.”  That being said, this album sounds nothing like Monk, post-bop jazz or be-bop, even though both Steve Cardenas and Ron Vincent have deep roots in various bop music forms. Steve Cardenas was a longstanding member of the Paul Motian Electric Bebop band.  Just the opposite, this album sounds very laid-back, contemporary and is without funk or fire.  The original compositions are melodic and well-played, but there are no explosive moments; no straight-ahead; no blues.  Nothing really exciting here.  Just well-played, unobtrusive music that is pleasant to listen to and provides melodic chords for the musicians to improvise upon.  There is a “Waltz for Mr. Abercrombie.”  Million says that his original band was greatly influenced by the John Abercrombie Quartet.  John Sims takes a noteworthy bass solo during this arrangement.  The title tune has a soft Latin undertone, pushed forward by the drums of Ron Vincent.  But you won’t want to salsa dance, rhumba or cha-cha-cha.  This is music to relax with and to listen to with appreciation for their smooth musicianship. 

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Dee Bell, vocals/arrangements; Marcos Silva, electric piano/acoustic piano/arranger; Al Plank, piano; Romero Lubambo, elec. & acoustic guitars; John Stowell, electric guitar; Scott Thompson, electric bass; Tyler Harlow, elec. & acoustic, bass; John Wiltala, double bass; Celso Alberti, Colin Bailey, Phil Thompson, & Zack Mondlick, drums; Erik Jekabson, flugelhorn; Houston Person & Chris Sullivan, saxophones; Michael Spiro, congas/percussion.

It’s nice to hear a female, whose rich, alto voice interprets these songs so delightfully. Indiana-born Dee Bell is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Pairing her talents with Marcos Silva’s arranging skills, she opens with Abbey Lincoln’s “I Got Thunder (and it Rings)” propelled by Celso Alberti’s rich Samba beat.  Romero Lubambo is featured brightly with a fuzzy electric guitar solo and then Scott Thompson takes a brief solo on electric bass.  The second track is the beautiful standard, “I’ll String Along With You” that features Romero Lubambo’s guitar.  You can feel that these two (Dee Bell and Lubambo) have worked together for a while.  There is a lovely comfort level when this arrangement opens with only voice and guitar.   

Dee Bell has a sound that is seasoned.  Her recordings stretch back to the days of meeting the late, great, jazz vocalist, Eddie Jefferson and being inspired by his words when he told her “That’s a fine sound mama, just keep on singing.”  And she did! Her first two albums were on the Concord Jazz label. These were followed by four albums on the Laser Label.  I enjoy her choice of repertoire.  She sings Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” in a very jazzy way with Chris Sullivan putting the “J” in jazz with his stellar saxophone solo.  One thing bothers me about this album and it’s the ‘mix.’  Sometimes the engineer buries Dee Bell’s beautiful voice in the track.  This is clearly a problem at the top of the “Beijo Partido (Broken Kiss)” tune, and there are other places where this artist is usurped by her band.  I feel her voice just needs to be brought up a couple of notches.  Michael Spiro, on percussion, adds spark and spice to the band’s production of “You’re My Thrill.”  They play the melancholy song up-tempo and it’s an unexpected, but enjoyable arrangement.   Ms. Bell sings in Portuguese on “Boa Nova” and swings on “Watch What Happens.”  Houston Person sounds soulful on saxophone in support of Dee Bells smooth, sultry vocals on this song and two others. 

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Gordon Grdina, guitar/oud/composer; Mat Maneri, viola; Shahzad Ismaily, bass/moog; Christian Lillinger, drums.

Prolific, Vancouver-based guitarist and Oud player, Gordon Grdina, has a new album and it is to mark the official debut of his Attaboygirl Record label.  The label debuted in late October of last year and it is a partnership with Genevieve Monro, a photographer and his collaborative business partner.  Currently, it is a vehicle to promote and press Gordon’s own Avant-Garde material. The company name echoes a saying Gordon’s father used to use often and also alludes to the merger of a boy and girl, (woman and man) going into business together.  Eventually, the label plans to expand to include other artists.  “Square Peg” is an exploratory quartet that Grdina has formed in support of his masterful playing of guitar and Oud.  The Oud is an ancient, wooden, string instrument that is considered by Arabs to be one of the oldest instruments on earth.  It has a lovely pear-shaped body and a fretless neck.

For this album, Gordon Grdina penned several short, modular compositions.  They tie together like a pearl necklace, each one becoming part of the complete and beautiful piece of sparkling bling.  The guitarist continues to evolve his work, using traditional Iraqi and Arabic folk music like a necklace clasp, holding the jewels together.  He blends cultures with his own unique creativity.  On “Sulphur City” I am taken by the way he strings the melody of the composition through the arrangement, using Mat Maneri’s viola.  It weaves like a deep green thread throughout the piece, while Christian Lillinger’s drums push and inspire the tempo with energy.  Gordon Grdina’s guitar-fingers pluck and pull the improvisation to the surface and seem to be having a conversation with the viola.  Shahzad Ismaily’s bass cements the rhythm section in place with Lillinger’s drums.  The piece builds and swells, inspiring my imagination to picture a bright morning sunrise.  I can visualize a swarm of Starlings unexpectedly flying across the orange and gold sky.  This piece almost moves from jazz to a rock arrangement.

“It’s very complex music, rhythmically, harmonically, melodically and in the way every piece fits together.  These guys really can do anything.  Since the last album, the group has solidified its unique sound, which is exciting to hear develop on this second record,” Gordon praised his band.

Gordon Grdina is a Canadian, JUNO Award-winning oud and guitar artist.  His Avant-Garde career has spanned continents.  He has performed in a wide range of collaborative efforts with important artists like Gary Peacock, Paul Motion, Marc Ribot, Mark Feldman, Eyvind Kang and many others.  Currently, he leads multiple ensembles in both Vancouver and New York, blending his Avant-Garde composing talents with his Arabic, Persian and Sudanese repertoire.  This is fascinating music combining cultures, creativity and freedom in a very unique way.

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Alex “Apolo” Ayala, bass/composer/arranger; Ivan Renta, alto & soprano saxophones; Fernando Garcia, drums; Nelson Mateo Gonzalez, barril de bomba (bomba drum); small percussion; Anna Louise Andersson, vocals.

Alex “Apolo” Ayala combines Afro-Caribbean music with jazz on his debut album.  The title “Bambula” in the Bantu language means the memory of a forgotten place, finding yourself and tapping into the collective unconscious.  Also, the “Bambula” is the oldest known rhythm of the Bomba drums, that are so predominant in Puerto Rico’s oldest and purest musical art form.  According to Alex’s press package, Bomba is the music that his African ancestors brought with them to the Americas and “the most authentic expression of Puerto Rican blackness” the bassist explains.  

On his composition, “Jibaro Negro” he employs the 6/8 rhythms popular in Afro-Cuban music.  While this debut album is his first as a leader, Alex “Apolo” Ayala is well-appreciated on the East coast and on the New York City Latin music circuit.  During this song, he steps forward on his bass instrument to expose his skills, while Ivan Renta explores improvisation on saxophone above the Fernando Garcia drum work.  I enjoyed the excitement and cultural roots woven into the tune “Bozales.”

Every song Ayala has composed for this project is specific to a memory, a piece of history or a life lesson he has lived and learned.  He reimagines his musical arrangements and compositions to embrace the memories of Cirita Barrios Pastrana and Esther Ratrana Audain, his beloved mother and grandmother; He blends those memories with authentic expressions of Puerto Rican culture, as a tribute to his ancestors.  Track 5 was written for Esther Pastrana Audain and is titled “Matriarca” to celebrate the matriarch of Ayala’s family and Alex “Apolo” Ayala takes an extended bass solo during this arrangement.  On “Café y Bomba Eh” the drums are appropriately featured along with the powerful vocals of Anna Louise Andersson.  Her voice chants the cultural beauty of the song forward, before bursting into vocal scats that show her powerful ability to improvise and perform traditional jazz along with her Latin jazz sensibility.  I enjoy the bass and drum introduction to the tune, “Agosto” that features the soprano saxophone of Ivan Renta.  It’s quite beautiful in its uncluttered simplicity.  Once again, Alex steps forward to woo us with his creative and sincere bass work.  Here is a cultural gift, wrapped in Latin music arrangements and steeped in creativity that inspires and entertains us.

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MICHAEL MAYO – “BONES” – Mack Ave Records

Michael Mayo, songwriter/vocal arranger/composer/vocalist; Jacob Mann & Andrew Freedman, keyboards/synthesizers; Nick Campbell, elec. bass/synth bass; Ryan McDiarmid & Robin Baytas, drums; Eli Wolf, programming/producer.

“The Way” is a single from his upcoming album.

This new jazz vocalist brings something fresh and exciting to the jazz player’s table.  His songwriting and vocal arranging are fresh and thought provoking.  Keep an eye out for this new artist whose CD “Bones” will soon be released on the Mack Ave Record Label.  He braids Hip Hop into traditional harmonies and creates lovely melodies with lyrics that tickle the brain.  His voice is smooth and delicious as freshly baked bread.  This is a new male artist on the jazz scene who is reimagining the music of freedom in uniquely creative and unexpected ways.  

“20/20” is another single from the upcoming album release.

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Ron Jackson, 7-string guitar/composer; Willie Jones III, drums; Ben Wolfe, bass; SPECIAL GUESTS: Brian Ho, Hammond B3 Organ; Clark Gayton, trombone.

The latest release by guitar master, Ron Jackson, is a sequel to his earlier albums where Jackson played standards, some pop music and even a rap song that was adapted to jazz.

“This one is standards and my original compositions.  I took a couple of hits like the soft rock tune, ‘Brandy’ and R&B tune, ‘Secret Garden’ by Quincy Jones, adapting them to jazz,” Jackson stated in his press package.

On “Brandy,” Willie Jones III smacks the rhythm into place and puts the funk in gear on his trap drums.  He and Ben Wolfe lock tightly to form a duo rhythm section (bass and drums) while Ron Jackson explores the tune’s melody on guitar.  I enjoyed track #2 titled “Walk Fast.”  This composition showcases Ron Jackson’s mastery of his guitar instrument more vividly than the opening number.  Jackson’s arrangement gives Willie Jones III several bars to showcase an exciting drum solo.  The melody is catchy and the trio keeps it moving at a jazzy, up-tempo, post-bebop pace.  I find Jackson’s original composition, “From Dusk to Dawn” enjoyable and stewed in the blues.  In his press package Ron Jackson says that this tune was inspired by Freddie Hubbard.  The guitarist’s salute to one of his mentors, Pat Martino, is heard on the ballad, “For Pat” where Ben Wolfe is given an opportunity to show-off his bass skills. You can hear other influences in his guitar style, including Wes Montgomery and also George Benson, but Jackson is quick to tell you he has studied with a range of other iconic guitarists like Bucky Pizzarelli, who is the one that encouraged Ron’s interest in the seven-string guitar a decade ago.  Ron made it his business to not only study the 7-string instrument, but to perfect and hone his guitar interpretations on it.  I enjoyed his arrangement of one of my favorite tunes from Quincy’s “Back on the Block” album, that featured the sexy monologue of Barry White and the vocals of James Ingram and El Debarge; “Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite).”  During this arrangement, you hear Ron Jackson utilize the full range of his guitar.

Born in the Philippines, but raised mostly just outside of Boston, Ron Jackson was initially drawn to Rock music.  Once he heard Wes Montgomery, George Benson and Pat Metheny, Jackson switched to jazz.  He studied at Berklee School of Music and for a while, he lived and worked in Paris, France.  Upon his arrival in New York City, Ron found himself in demand as a studio session musician and recorded on dozens of albums including Ron Blake, T.K. Blue and Hal Singer.  He also was called to work with super stars like Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gary Bartz and Randy Weston; not to mention he also found plenty of work on Broadway theater gigs.  This is an album that, in its trio simplicity, brightly spotlights three exceptionally talented musicians.  At the same time, it paints guitarist Ron Jackson in brilliant, rainbow colors.  When I finished listening to this recording, I had great appreciation for Jackson’s undeniable talents that shimmer and glow like the ultimate pot of gold at the rainbow’s end.

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JORGE GARCIA – “DEDICATED TO YOU” – Independent label

Jorge Garcia, guitar/composer; Richie Cole, saxophone; Rick Doll & Jamie Ousley, bass; James Cotmon & John Yarling, drums; Paul Banman, piano; Hendrick Meurkens, harmonica; Gino Castillo, percussion; Wendy Pedersen, vocals.

Although I was not familiar with the talent of Cuban-born guitarist, Jorge Garcia, his work with several iconic jazz talents clearly establishes him as crème de la crème and supports his credibility.  He has worked with respected names like Tony Bennett, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Chuck Redd, Jon Faddis and Ignacio Berroa.  On this project, he is joined by the great Richie Cole and the celebrated harmonica master, Hendrik Meurkens.  The ensemble opens like trailblazers dancing to an up-tempo rhythm that flies at racehorse speed.  The tune is “Minority” and was the Richie Cole choice when asked what he wanted to record.  Back in 2009, Cole was visiting South Florida (where Jorge Garcia was based) and playing dates.  When Jorge Garcia suggested they do some recording at a local studio he chose “Minority,” a Gigi Gryce tune.  It allows Cole to race across space on his saxophone, powerful as a jet plane.  Rick Doll’s bass solo is impressive, although it needed to be raised up in the mix when mastered.  Jorge Garcia matches their energy, note for note and his improvisational ability on guitar is impressive.  James Cotmon mans the drums and whips the tempo into place, egging the musicians onward to perform at their very best.  Jorge composed “This One’s for Richie” and it swings hard!  Jorge Garcia is based in Florida and he was Richie Cole’s first-call guitarist whenever Richie was performing in that state.  Sadly, Richie passed away in May of 2020.  Another one of my favorites on this album is Garcia’s interpretation of “You Fascinate Me So” and the groups fast paced arrangement of “S’Wonderful” featuring an exciting, speedy and technically brilliant guitar solo by Jorge over the burning hot rhythm section of Ousley, Banman and Cotmon. The final tune, an original by Jorge Garcia is the title tune, “Dedicated to You.”  It slows the pace, presenting us with a lovely ballad played atop a synthesized string section.  Garcia sounds pensive and emotionally connected to this closing, original composition.  It’s only one-and-a-half minutes long, but it’s a warm and beautiful way to end this album.

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Tony Malaby, tenor & soprano saxophones; Ben Monder, guitar; Michael Formanek, double bass; Tom Rainey, drums.

The pandemic caused a shift in humanity’s consciousness.  It tested our patience.  To date, it’s killed over 900,000 Americans and terrorized communities worldwide.  It stabbed at our political consciousness and challenged our patience, work ethics and survival skills.  To help him cope, saxophonist, Tony Malaby, began hosting regular sessions underneath a turnpike-overpass near his home in New Jersey. 

“My artistic discipline comes from playing sessions.  I just couldn’t let that go.  It was something I needed just to keep my head above water with everything that was happening; the pandemic and the presidential election.  Everything was nuts!  So, I just had to go down there and throw sound with my guys.  It got me through and kept me positive,” Malaby divulged how music sustained him through difficult times.

These self-same turnpike sessions inspired much of this project.  That melding of wind, pedestrian and automobile sounds, bird calls mingling with their instruments and nature changing the atmosphere and the scenery every new day inspired Malaby and his group of determined musicians.  “The Cave of Winds” became his nickname for the unusual rehearsal space, later reimagined in the recording studio.

“It was like a tunnel down there.  Wild, crazy things would happen while we were playing in that cavern.  Trucks were rolling by, sirens going off, birds singing.  We would be down there in 30-degree February weather and the wind would be howling.  It was incredible,” Malaby recalled.

Resultantly, you hear all of that frustration, excitement, determination and inspired creativity in Malaby’s music.  It is saturated with their artistic fortitude and Avant-Garde brilliance.  Opening with Tony Malaby’s tenor saxophone leading the way, “Corinthian Leather” sets the stage, played at a moderate but powerful pace.  Picking up his soprano saxophone, Tony whispers to us like a singing bird begging our attention.  Michael Formanek plucks the strings of his double bass and Ben Monder chords quietly on his guitar.  Tom Rainey colors the piece with cymbals flashing like siren lights and mallets encouraging muted drum sounds.   The tune is titled, “Recrudescence” which means “Revival of material or behavior that had previously quiesced or been recovered.”  The entire ensemble improvised and created this piece as a unit.  It seems to clearly mirror the overpass experience.  Malaby has composed all the other songs.  I was completely taken by Track 3, “Scratch the Horse” whose opening introduction features a fuzzy guitar.  That jerked me out of my jazz sensibility and back to the Jimi Hendrix days of rock and raucous stage shows.  Rainey’s drums pound and groove, while Malaby’s tenor spits improvised protest across the track.  Malaby is tornado wind tough and free as a bird call.  He rips across Rainey’s drums and the guitar fuzz is like a hot sunbeam parting the clouds and burning its way to earth. 

Malaby has been celebrated by ‘All About Jazz’ as one of the most distinctive artists of his time.  He’s adventurous and blends post-bop jazz with free improvisation in extraordinary ways.  I was particularly taken by the title tune, “The Cave of Winds” where Tony begins the piece a ‘Capella.  When Michael Formanek joins him on double bass, playing counter melodies, they are soon joined by Monder’s sweet guitar improvisation and Rainey’s propelling drums.  This is a ballad of sorts, that twists and turns its way across my disc.  I am intrigued by this piece that lasts 18:26 minutes. 

An Arizona native, Tony Malaby has been based in New York City for the past two and a half decades.  His former affiliations include being part of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra, Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, Mark Helias’ open Loose ensemble and the Fred Hersch Quintet.  Not only is he on the faculty of Berklee College of Music as a respected educator, he is also a bandleader of several projects including: Apparitions, The Tony Malaby Cello Trio, the Quartet Paloma Recio and the Trio Tamarindo.  

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February 2, 2022

BY Dee Dee McNeil

February 2, 2022

There are so many sides to love and this is the season we celebrate it the most in the USA.  We revere Valentine’s Day as we shower each other with hearts, candy, romantic dinners and song.  Here are some artists who have reached inside their souls to use their various instruments to remind us of the beauty and healing properties that music and love bring to our lives. 


Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone; Jeremy Manasia, piano; David Williams, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums; Nikki Giovanni, vocals; Christina Greer, spoken word.

In this project, love, as projected through music, has arms tightly wrapped around Christian music, hymns and spiritual songs.  Love has seen us through slavery and tragedy; war, death and rebirth; bondage survival and the building of golden empires.   These songs reflect a deep, historic, spiritual love.

This project opens with the familiar gospel tune, “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” featuring a spirited rendition by Javon Jackson on tenor saxophone.  It was originally made popular by the great Paul Robeson in 1937.  This is followed by “Wade in the Water” played at a mid-tempo swing pace with the bass of David Williams walking briskly next to McClenty Hunter’s syncopated ride-cymbal.  The hymns, spirituals and gospel songs for this project were hand-picked by Nikki Giovanni, a journalist and poet who was the first person to be awarded the Rosa L. Parks Women of Courage Award.  Ms. Giovanni has long been an admired part of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s.  Christina Greer speaks the words of Nikki Giovanni at the very fade of “Wade in the Water” in the African-American spoken word tradition. 

“I want to write an image, like a log cabin quilt pattern and stretch it across all the lonely people who just don’t fit in.  We might make a world if I do that.  I want to boil a stew with all the leftover folk whose bodies are full of empty lives.  We might feed a world if I do that.  Twice in our lives we need direction.  When we’re young and innocent; when we’re old and cynical.  Since the old refused to discipline us, we now refuse to discipline them… ,” she recites the Nikki Giovanni words.  

This is followed by an amazingly beautiful rendition of “Night Song.”  Javon Jackson’s tenor saxophone is like a tender lullaby being sung at the cradle of Christ himself.  Nikki Giovanni surprises me and sings this lyric.   Her reason being, she identifies with her close friend, the late, iconic, civil rights activist and entertainer, Nina Simone.  She said it was one of Nina’s favorite songs. Ms. Giovanni is not a jazz vocalist, but her sincerity and determination make us pay attention to the lyrics.

“Nina was a friend of mine and I knew that one of her favorite songs was ‘Night Song’ and even though I’m not a singer, I told Javon I wanted to sing it because I just wanted Nina to be remembered,” Nikki explained in the press package.

This merge of talents and history came about when Javon Jackson, a faculty member of the Hartt School at the University of Hartford and director of its Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz invited Giovanni to speak to his students.

“I felt that the school would be well-served to bring great scholars of color and scholars who were freedom fighters and activists, if you will.  So, I brought in Dr. Cornel West, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis and Michael Eric Dyson.  Then in February of 2020, I brought Nikki Giovanni,” Javon Jackson explained how this project came about.

That meeting and performance culminated in Ms. Giovanni receiving an honorary doctorate degree.  After she spoke to the students, Nikki paid rapt attention to the music being played in the auditorium.  It was Hank Jones and Charlie Haden who had recorded hymns and spirituals on a recording done in 1994 titled “Steal Away.”  She expressed to Javon how much she loved their album and the importance of these spirituals and Christian hymnals.  Two day later, Nikki’s phone rang at her home in Roanoke, Virginia.  It was Javon calling and she had inspired him.  He explained he was calling to see if she would be interested in selecting ten hymns for his next recording project.   

Javon Jackson’s arrangement of “Mary had A Baby, Yes Lord” is another one of my favorites on this album.  Most impressive are the piano talents of Jeremy Manasia during this arrangement.  Each carefully selected song is a gem that glitters and shines like gold.  Mahalia Jackson once made famous the hymn, “I’ve Been Buked” and Javon Jackson lets the bow of David Williams open this arrangement, on his upright bass.  It’s quite dynamic. “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is produced as a calypso number, infused with Latin rhythms, after Javon introduces the tune on tenor sax with a dynamic solo. 

“This music is something that people will probably be a little surprised to see coming from me,” Jackson admits.  “But given the state of the world, it could be just in time.  Both poet and saxophonist stand on the shoulders of their ancestors on The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni.”

This CD will be available February 18, 2022.

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Brad Felt, euphonium; John Dana, double bass.

There is something soothing, smooth and organic when I listen to Brad Felt’s euphonium.  This duet recording with Dana Session was released posthumously in 2021, over a decade after these sessions has been recorded.  Felt introduces us to the euphonium as an instrument of modern jazz.  Many refer to the euphonium as the little cousin of the tuba and it’s never been a popular spotlighted instrument in jazz.  That is, until Brad Felt showed us how beautifully it could become the centerpiece of a jazz concert.   The euphonium is a three to four valve brass instrument, somewhat bulky in appearance and can be played in the bass clef (as a non-transposing instrument) or it can be played in the treble clef as a transposing instrument.  Many big bands, especially European big bands, use it as a treble-clef instrument.  When I listen to  the Euphonium, it has a very similar sound to the baritone horn, although many say the conical shaped instrument has a more mellow sound than the cylindrical baritone sax.   Brad Felt, originally a trumpeter until about aged ten, switched to the tuba and later the euphonium instrument as a teen.  In music college, he realized their potential as a featured instrument in jazz, consequently he introduced them as a possibility in modern jazz music.  That’s what you will hear on this duet album with bassist, Dana Sessions.  You hear the possibilities and the beauty of the euphonium instrument as a lead instrument interpreting jazz.  The inclusion of two original songs; a ballad titled, “You Walked Away” by Brad Felt and “Sometime in the Fall” introduce us to the composer side of this musician.   His tune “Sometime in the Fall” swings hard and has a strong melody line.

Other songs you will recognize and enjoy are “Star Eyes”, “Stablemates” the old standards “Darn that Dream” and “Up Jumped Spring.”  Brad Felt and his duo partner, John Dana also remind us of how beautiful songs like “I Wish I Knew” are, as well as a song I used to enjoy hearing Johnny Hartman sing, “You Are Too Beautiful.”   This is a collector’s item that establishes the euphonium as worthy solo instrument in a modern jazz setting.

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Anna Laura Quinn, vocals; Ed Barrett, guitar; Ben Fox, upright bass; Brad Webb, drums; Kate Campbell-Strauss, tenor & baritone saxophones; Brent Ross, tenor saxophone/flute.

The late, great Abbey Lincoln has left us a legacy of original compositions that reflect her unique style and talent.  It’s nice to see young artists choose to ‘cover’ Ms. Lincoln’s tunes.  New Orleans-based vocalist, Anna Laura Quinn, opens with Abbey’s “Talking to the Sun.”  This arrangement features Ms. Quinn’s sweet, crystal-clear vocal singing a’ Capella.  Soon, she is joined by percussion and we hear only her voice with drums. Finally, the band enters and Brent Rose offers us a lovely flute solo.  The last riff by Anna’s smooth vocals ends this song and it’s musically inspired.  “Comes Love” is sprinkled with blues, from the Ben Fox double bass bottom to the light, airy vocal rendition celebrating the catchy lyrics by Ms. Quinn.  This entire album is delightfully arranged and the choice of repertoire embraces old standards like “Speak Low,” (a well-loved composition from the American songbook) as well as French and Brazilian music.  Anna reminds us of more contemporary composers like Abbey Lincoln and Ellis Marsalis with her interpretation of his “Cry Again.”   She has named her album for the Betty Carter tune, “Open the Door” and also reminds us of the majesty of Duke Ellington by arranging “The Single Petal of a Rose,” featuring Kate Campbell-Strauss on baritone saxophone.    There is something for everyone on this unique and delightful album of jazz.  The horn arrangements are stellar and the inclusion of jazz vocals backing up Anna Laura Quinn on “Very Good Advice” (I assume all the voicings are sung by this artist) add a unique and ear-pleasing quality to the composition.  This album was a well-received surprise package I’m glad I opened. 

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MATT GORDY – “BE WITH ME” – Independent label

Matt Gordy, drums/arranger/composer; Alan Pasqua, piano; Chris Colangelo, double & electric bass; Ido Meshulam, trombone/valve trombone; Ron Stout, trumpet/flugelhorn; Sherry Williams, vocals. FEATURED GUEST: Jeff Ellwood, tenor/soprano saxophones.

The Matt Gordy Jazz Tonite Sextet roars into view, propelled by that popular Eddie Durham tune called, “Topsy.”  Matt Gordy invites the band in on his drum set, setting the up-tempo time and joining Chris Colangelo’s quick stepping bass.  Alan Pasqua steps front and center, innovative and creative on piano.  I enjoyed the arrangement of just drums and piano at this tune’s introduction.  Then, the ensemble swings hard, giving Ron Stout’s horn an opportunity to shine.  Next, Ido Meshulam soaks up the spotlight on trombone, followed by featured guest artist, Jeff Ellwood on his sensuous tenor saxophone.  Matt’s album features four of his original compositions and six standard tunes.

This talented percussionist moved to Los Angeles in 2006, from a successful career in Boston as one of their busiest drummers around town.  Upon arriving on the West Coast, he made the rounds of popular jazz spots, playing at Herb Alpert’s Club Vibrato, at the now defunct Blue Whale and Charlie O clubs, the popular Vitello’s and historic Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach.  His reputation spread like California wild fires.  Throughout this album, Matt Gordy is the exemplary force and motion behind his talented sextet.  Funny how lives sometimes go full circle.  In the case of pianist Alan Pasqua and Gordy, these two musicians have known each other for half a century.  They were both students at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston when they first met.

“His playing kills me!  He singlehandedly steered the direction through the music on every tune.  He has the ears to do that on the fly,” Matt Gordy praised Alan Pasqua’s piano talents. 

Track #2 is a swing version of “You and the Night and the Music” that Gordy dedicates to the late pianist Mulgrew Miller.  Gordy’s arrangement is based on Mulgrew’s solo on the drummer Tony Williams trio album.  This song is followed by a Gordy original titled, “Camouflage,” where the bassist, Chris Colangelo, dances brightly beneath the horn lines, hand-in-hand with Gordy’s warm drum beats and somehow reminds me of an Ahmad Jamal record I used to love.  The sextet has a fireside warmth on this tune, with the horns flaming brightly like red-glowing coals.  “Spring Ahead” follows and the musicians are back to a solid swing arrangement.  Jeff Ellwood flies on his saxophone, like a joyful bird.  Ron Stout joins him in flight on trumpet.  I enjoy the undertow of a melody that counters the solos and is played like a refrain that captures your imagination.  I find myself whistling along with it, as though it’s an old familiar tune.  This is the sign of a well-written composition.  I enjoy Matt Gordy’s creative arrangements.  “Chole” is a pretty ballad written as a gift for his granddaughter’s tenth birthday. Gordy’s final original composition is the title tune; “Be With Me,” vocalized by Sherry Williams with lyrics by Gregg Arthur.  She also sings the commercial pop tune, “Sunny” arranged in a very sweet and jazzy way.  I enjoyed, ”Soul Eyes,” spiced and splashed with blues and inspired by McCoy Tyner’s version on the 1962 John Coltrane release.  The familiar “My Shining Hour” is included and Gordy’s arrangement uses five pedal points (played by Colangelo on bass) to add tension and interest to the tune.  Matt shares that he learned this technique from Charlie Banacos, a Boston educator who mentored several jazz musicians in composing and arranging back in the day. 

This project is a culmination of Matt Gordy’s extensive and successful world of percussion excellence.  He has mastered many types of playing, accompaniment and styles because of his diverse and challenging career.  Right after college, Matt Gordy was offered a gig with the world-renowned Maracaibo Symphony Orchestra in Venezuela.  He thrived and blossomed in that 100-piece orchestra of mostly foreign nationals, including thirty Americans.  He grew to love the people and culture of Venezuela, even falling in love and marrying an Argentine woman he met there.  They lived nine years in Maracaibo, but in the 1980s, the government and the economy began collapsing.  The couple moved back to the United States, arriving home to Boston, Massachusetts.  In 1988, Matt got a call to play with the Boston Ballet who were performing Prokoviev’s “Romeo & Juliet.”  Consequently, Matt Gordy spent the next twenty-one-years playing a multitude of classical gigs, performing with the Boston Pops and building a reputation as a musician who could play just about any style from Latin, to jazz, to pop and was proficient in classical music too.  He wound up working with some famous names you might recognize; Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, and Frank Sinatra Jr.

This album, his latest accomplishment, mixes all the many facets and talents of this wonderful drummer in a both memorable and enjoyable way.

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Danilo Perez, piano/gankeke bell/lyricist/arranger/composer; Tareq Rantisi, percussionist (multi-instruments); Vasilis Kostas, laouto player; Layth Sidiq, violinist/vocals; Naseem Alatrash, cello; Farayi Malek, vocals; GUEST MUSICIANS: Roman Diaz, bata drums/spoken word; Faris Ishaq, Ney flute; Erini Tornesaki, vocals; Patricia Zarate Perez, spoken word; Kalesma Children’s Choir of the Ark of the World.

The Danilo Perez album is romantic, colored by parlor strings and harmonic background vocals.  Pianist, composer, humanitarian and activist, Danilo Perez, believes in a global perspective for the arts and that social justice are keys to moving humanity forward in harmony.  This Grammy Award winning pianist, composer, educator and social activist offers us his latest album titled, “Crisálida.” For this project, Perez has convened his Global Messengers, who are former Berklee College of Music students with worldwide roots including Palestine, Greece, Cuba, Chile, the U.S. and Jordan.  He’s asked them to contribute their musical talents and their respective cultural influences.  Perez’s goal is to build community through music without borders.  His is a love song to the world.

Danilo recently received the 2021 Doris Duke Artist Award. He’s a 3x GRAMMY® Award-winning Artist, Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF, UNESCO Artist for Peace, Cultural Ambassador to the Republic of Panama.  He’s also the Founder and Artistic Director of the Panama Jazz Festival and has been a member of Wayne Shorter Quartet since 2010.  His inspiration for this group that he calls ‘Global Messengers’ was Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra.  In fact, that organization helped launch Perez’s international career.

“I envision “Crisálida” as a protected space where we all come together, whether we’re addressing immigration issues, climate change, environmental justice, science, interconnecting different art forms; we need to work together to build our new Crisálida, which to me, is the emotional, mental and physical state of protection in our early development,” Danilo Perez explained his concept for this musical journey.

This album is made up of suites, beginning with a four-part “La Muralla (Glass Walls) suite.  It opens with a composition called, “Rise From Love” that features the vocals of Farayi Malek and the sweet youthful voices of the Kalesma Children’s Choir of the Ark of the World.  The melody is lovely and makes you immediately want to hum along with it.  The song is flavored with batá drums played by Cuban born, Román Diaz.  Perez explains that these drums are a symbol of Africa arriving to the Western World and the African worldwide influence on music.  The next part of the suite, “Pathways” features the exciting string work of Layth Sidiq and Naseem Alatrash, with the prize-winning piano beauty of Danilo Perez always assertive and inspiring throughout these arrangements.  This project is a delicious blend of classical beauty, jazz improvisation and world music.  Middle Eastern, minor melodies loop through these compositions and suites like a bright, red ribbon.  Various languages are both spoken and sung during the production.  On the third part of the first suite, percussionist Tareq Rantisi makes a bold percussive statement at the top of the tune and rhythmically propels it forward.  The brilliant Perez piano is part of the propulsion and continuous energy.  This entire production seems to be a love call for change and a prayer to the divine. 

“I want to continue my journey of exploring this pathway of using the power of music to unite and humanize.  I want to promote music that acts as a bridge and to inspire younger artists to continue the journey and leave something positive that other generations can draw upon,” Danilo says in his press package.  

I believe this will be another proud moment in Danilo Perez’s amazing career, both musically and spiritually. This album will be available on March 18, 2022.

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Christiane Karam, vocals/Bendir/Tupan/spoken word; Vadim Neselovskyi, piano; Naseem Alatrash, cello; Peter Slavov, bass; Keita Ogawa, percussion.

The Christiane Karam Quintet is a love letter to Beirut.  The project opens with Middle Eastern melodies sung by Christiane Karam against the beat of Keita Ogawa’s percussion excellence.  There is an upright bass that joins the mix along with Vadim Neselovskyi on piano, playing thick, staccato chords.  Ms. Karam’s voice is wordless.  She creates sound with tones and melody leaving lyrics behind.  This is modern jazz infused with a multilingual and Lebanon cultural musical tapestry.  “Nar” is Christiane Karam’s fourth album release, but it’s a first using a quintet.  She grappled to explain what had compelled her to compose and produce this album.

“Something was shifting and it was time to document who I was now becoming, both as an artist and as a composer,” she shared in her press package.

When tragedy struck Karam’s hometown of Beirut in 2020, when that horrible explosion destroyed one-third of the city and left mass human casualties, Karam was draped in grief.  Christiane turned to her music to help heal her pain, at the same time to express her emotion. 

“The process of making this record in the midst of the pandemic and the tragedy in Beirut was raw, exhilarating, childlike and profound all at once,” Christiane Karam described her studio experience while creating this album.

“Nar” was taken from the Arabic word for ‘fire.’  Fire burns whatever it touches and makes room for something new to replace the charred remains of the past.  Christiane Karam’s Quintet burns away any preconceptions of what their music will be.  The musicians are multi-cultural, coming from various nations across the globe.  They offer us something bright, beautiful and fresh that combines world music, modern jazz and Beirut culture with their own international talents. This artist, Christiane Karam,  is also a poet and includes her spoken word during these arrangements.  I find the quintet’s production to be beautifully hypnotic and sweet to the ear, including Ms. Karam’s interesting and melodic original compositions, like the title tune and “Petlite Peyat” where Maseem Alatrash offers his cello talents as a lovely, musical voice, while Christiane weeps her message across the string accompaniment in words I do not understand, but feelings that touch my soul. 

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TENOR TIME – Afar Music

Scott Burns, John Wojciechowski, Geof Bradfield, tenor saxophones; Richard D. Johnson, piano/Fender Rhodes; Clark Sommers, bass; Greg Artry, drums.

If it’s just plain straight-ahead bliss that you’ve been searching for, Tenor Time is the project for you.  Three of Chicago’s finest tenor players have joined horns to display energy-driven brilliance; Scott Burns, John Wojciechowski and Geof Bradfield. The pianist in the group, Richard D. Johnson, established the record company and these jazz titans marched into the studio along with bassist Clark Sommers and drummer, Greg Artry.  The rest is history.  All their material is original, well-written and well-played. The composers are the three tenor players and the pianist.  Here’s perfect music to pop into your CD player while enjoying a romantic Valentines dinner or cuddled in front of a roaring fireplace.  Favorite tunes: All of them!

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