Archive for April, 2022


April 25, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 25, 2022


Dee Alexander, lead vocals; Keith Brooks II, drums; Larry Brown Jr., guitar/vocals; Marques Carroll, trumpet; Amr Fahmy, Fender Rhodes/Elec. piano/clarinet/organ; John Fournier, tenor saxophone/composer; Victor Garcia, percussion; Dan Leali, tambourine; Andrew Vogt, bass.

If you are a lover of punch-driven, Tower-of-Power type horn harmonics and Earth Wind & Fire music, some of this album by the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective is reminiscent of that musical era.  Tenor saxophonist, John Fournier has composed eight of the songs out of the nine offered.  The musicians do an excellent job of interpreting this original material and Dee Alexander is a powerful lead vocalist.  They open with “Mama Are we There Yet?” which is quite reminiscent of the original Chicago based group, Earth Wind & Fire, featuring unison ensemble singing and funky horn lines with Keith Brooks II clearly slapping the rhythm into place.  Ms. Alexander is the lead singer on their title tune, “On the Way to be Free” arranged at a moderate swing pace.  John Fournier plays a tenor saxophone solo that puts the “J” in jazz as he floats above the funky rhythm track. Marquis Carroll offers a complimentary improvised solo on a tune called “Carry Me” and Larry Brown Jr. shows off his mad guitar skills.  The percussion of Victor Garcia peppers this tune with spicy licks.  “Behind the Crusaders” is a toe-tapping instrumental persuasion that moves and grooves.  The final tune spotlights the beautiful bass work of Andrew Vogt who opens the piece.  This is another instrumental that has a catchy horn line and gives a nod to Mr. Brooks II on drums with an energetic, featured solo by Arm Fahmy on electric piano.  The Chicago Soul Jazz Collective is a very soulful band that blends R&B, funk and jazz into a contemporary mix of excitement that’s interpreted by solid jazz players.

* * * * * * * * *


Solitaire Miles, lead vocals; Tom Hope, piano; Don Stille, Hammond organ; Paul Abella, cajon; Phil Gratteau, drums/percussion; Chris Bernhardt, bass; Neal Alger, guitar; Jack Galagher, trombone; Eric Schneider, saxophone; Howard Levy, harmonica; Dominic Halpin, guest vocalist; Jen Zias, Saalik Ziyad & Mike Harvey, background vocals.

This album of music is a throwback to the bands of the 1950s and 1960s.  It reminds me of the Rock and Roll shows presented in theaters with live bands like Sam the Man Taylor.  Solitaire Miles fronts the Lonesome Fellas with her pleasant voice and spicey attitude.  On “Lucky Lips” the band swings and Neal Alger shines on his guitar solo.  Solitaire Miles celebrates the music of Ruth Brown, re-arranging some of those 1950 hit records and presenting them with her own style and interpretation.   On “Forever Yours” Solitaire is joined by guest vocalist, Dominic Halpin.  After their duet, Howard Levy steps forward with a smart harmonica solo. This song is arranged more like a Country Western tune.  This group reminds me of roadside bars with local, crowd-pleasing entertainment and people two-stepping on sawdust covered floors.  Susie Blue & the Lonesome Fellas is a combination of early Rock and Roll, blues and a sprinkling of jazz. The band rearranges an old rockabilly tune called “She’ll Be Gone” and Solitaire refreshes it nicely with her adaptable vocals.  They shuffle their way through “Give Up That Honey” and the band encourages you to get up and swing dance your way through this energy-driven, up-tempo tune.  This album is just plain fun!  The song repertoire offers catchy lyrics, background voices that know how to punch the tune titles and a band that swings hard.

* * * * * * * * *  


Mark Winkler, vocals/composer/lyricist; David Benoit, Rich Eames, Jamieson Trotter & Jon Mayer, piano/composers/arrangers; Gabe Davis, bass; John Clayton, bass/arranger; Cameron Clayton & Christian Euman, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion. Grant Geissman, guitar; Bob Sheppard, flute/saxophone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Nolan Shaheed, flugelhorn.

Mark Winkler has a way of carefully and deliberately picking a repertoire that suits his style and musicians that embellish his arrangements with their excellence.  Winkler may be a “Late Bloomin’ Jazzman” (whose voice sometimes reminds me of the ‘Rat Pack” days and Dean Martin) but he always brings sincerity and creativity to his projects.  He shares a rollicking, swing arrangement of the Michael Franks tune, “Don’t Be Blue.”  His arrangement will lift the spirits.  Mark is also a talented lyricist and songwriter.  I always look forward to his original compositions.  On this project he has included eight originals out of twelve songs and each one glitters with their own lyrical brilliance. “When All the Lights in the Sign Worked” is a perfect example of Winkler’s creative lyricism written to Joe Pasquale’s beautiful minor melody.  The trumpet of Brian Swartz is a welcome addition to the arrangement and Bob Sheppard’s saxophone embellishes the film noir, poignant story.

“It’s a rainy night on Western, cars are driving much too fast; neon coloring the raindrops, running down the windshield glass.  And the buildings all have fire escapes, but no one’s escaping from here.  Boarded up store fronts and the harms of another year.  …  I keep wondering what it must have been like, when all the lights in the sign worked on a long-gone Hollywood night.”

Gabe Davis opens the title tune with his double bass and provides a background groove for Mark Winkler as he strides into the spotlight, using spoken word to introduce himself.  This song reflects his love of theater and showmanship.  “In Another Way” is a tribute to his lost love.  The Latin inspired “Bossa Nova Days,” penned with Bill Cantos, is one of my favorites.  There is a theme in this album; a theme of aging, maturity and the wiseness that comes from living a full and appreciated life.  Songs like “Before You Leave” remind us of love’s magnet and life’s preciousness.  His tune “Old Enough” reviews a singer, songwriter’s life and the ignorance of youth that eventually teaches us well-lived lessons.  His lyrics on “Marlena’s Memories” is a tribute to his friend who is suffering with Alzheimer disease.  Nolan Shaheed adds a lovely flugelhorn touch to the tune and Jamieson Trotter’s emotional piano solo tells his own tender tale.  Trotter is also the co-writer of this composition.  As a published songwriter myself, I have great admiration and appreciation for Mark Winkler’s songwriting talents, his thought-provoking lyrics; his heartfelt performances and his passionate love of jazz.

* * * * * * * * * *

LADY COCO – “BESIDE MYSELF” – Independent Label

Lady Coco, vocals/songwriter/arranger; Chris Wilson, keyboards; Blake Morris, guitar; Aaron Mason, bass; Lance Lee, drums; Buddy McDaniel, saxophone; Kim Thomas & Charlotte Pope, background vocals; Preston Glass, producer/arranger/composer/piano. SPECIAL GUESTS: Rob Mullins, piano; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Tomoka Nomura-Jarvis, flute; Larry Antonino, electric bass; Cal Rutherford, horns. Will Downing, background vocals; Eric Roberson, duet vocal on “How Could We Know?”

Lady Coco, in coordination with producer Preston Glass, has come up with a very pleasing new CD.  Opening with a catchy tune titled, “Jazz Junkie,” Lady Coco captivates with her crystal clear, soprano vocals and the repeatable ‘hook’ of the song.  She will have you singing along!  “Shoo be doo ya do – do ya – do ya.  Call me a jazz junkie, vibing to the beat.”   Her voice is honest, fun-loving and persuasive.  Lady Coco and producer, Preston Glass collaborated on this song and penned six others on this production.  Rob Mullins appears as a special guest playing a notable piano solo during this opening arrangement.  Lady Coco and Eric Roberson duet on another tune she co-wrote with producer Glass. It’s titled, “How Could We Know?”  Eric Roberson’s voice is a beautiful addition to this R&B mix and Blake Morris is dynamic on electric guitar.  Lady Coco’s project offers a blend of contemporary jazz, blues and pop music.  In the past, I was familiar with the blues-ier side of Lady Coco.  On this recording, she has expanded her talents to expose her composing skills and to explore more versatility in her music.  For example, when she performs the jazz standard, “Mister Magic.”  The band arrangement puts a funk groove into place on this one and spotlights Chris Wilson, who boldly tosses his jazzy saxophone into the mix.  They close this production with another original, “Stay in Your Lane.”  This jazzy arrangement is produced with a very danceable, disco-type groove.  It’s another Glass and Lady Coco composition and a joyful way to end this musical experience.

* * * * * * * * *    


Jackie Messina, vocals; Bruce Barth, piano; Will Galison, harmonica; Paul Beaudry & Ed Howard, bass; Cliff Barbara, drums.

“Necessary Arrangements” is an album by vocalist Jackie Messina to tribute her musical collaboration with the late jazz pianist and educator Enos Payne.  Payne was the former conductor of the Jazz Vocal Workshop at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and this album features unique arrangements from Messina’s five-year musical relationship with her mentor.  The addition of harmonica to her stellar jazz group is a beautiful touch on Messina’s debut album.  Will Galison’s harmonica adds excitement and expression to Jackie Messina’s interpretation of the Frank Loesser tune, “Inchworm.” 

“I Feel Pretty,” the hit song from the Broadway musical “West Side Story” was arranged by the late Enos Payne as a slow swing, rather than the waltz that had Natalie Wood prancing across the screen in the 1961 film of this show-stopper.  Payne’s arrangement compliments Jackie Messina’s voice and delivery.  Messina delves into the blues on “Easy Street” and swings the familiar “Wild is the Wind” with a catchy piano line created by Enos Payne that drives the piece.  Bruce Barth takes a powerful piano solo.    As a Former published poet, Jackie Messina has a great love of lyrics.  You can see this expressed in the Baker’s Dozen’ of tunes that make up her repertoire.  Jackie includes gems like Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem” and the Sinatra recorded lyrics of “I’m a Fool to Want You.”  I can tell that Ms. Messina takes a hard look at the lyrics of each song she performs; songs that lyrically touch her heart and soul. 

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Andy James, vocals/composer; Jon Cowherd, piano/organ/arranger; John Patitucci, bass/arranger; Nate Smith & Marcus Gilmore, drums; Marcus Strickland & Chris Potter, saxophone; Adam Rogers, guitar; Alex Acuna & Rogerio Boccato, percussion; David Mann, flute/alto flute; Chico Pinheiro, nylon guitar; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Marshall Gilkes, trombone; NYC Strings.

Andy James is back with another interpretation of fifteen jazz and pop standards; surrounded by some of the finest jazz musicians in the music business.  On the opening tune, “I’m Gonna Live ‘til I Die” the spotlight shines brightly on drummer Nate Smith.  On track #2, they move from swing to strings.  Chris Potter steps forward to woo us with his saxophone solo, introducing an arrangement by John Patitucci of a song penned by Andy James and Griesun Patitucci titled, “Day Dream.”  I was expecting the Billy Strayhorn tune, but this is another lovely ballad.  Ms. James has chosen a scattering of pop songs to include in this album.  There’s “Walk on By” and “What the World Needs Now” by Burt Bacharach, with arrangements by her pianist, Jon Cowherd.  However, what happened to the chord changes on the popular “People” song?  Something went askew on that arrangement.

Andy James and her husband, owner of the Le Coq Record label, have collaborated as songwriters for this project. Piero Pata and Andy have contributed original songs, “Time to Think” and “Just in Time” for this album.

“Working with Piero has really been easy,” Andy James says of their songwriting experience.  “Wherever I am, he seems to catch and remember the melodies that I’ve been casually humming around the house and later brings them to me with lyrics already attached.”

Andy James has a distinctive tone that makes her a very recognizable jazz stylist.  She and John Patitucci perform a duet on “I’ll Be Seeing You” that is quite poignant and emotional.  After the first time down, the band enters to fatten the sound. The duet blend was striking and impressive with its own stand-alone beauty.  The band closes with an original song Andy and her husband composed that ‘swings’ brightly and features Chris Potter’s saxophone and Marcus Gilmore displaying strength and excitement on drums.

* * * * * * * * *


Mafalda Minnozzi, vocals; Tiago Costa, piano; Sidiel Vieira, acoustic bass; Ricardo Mosca, drums; Paul Ricci, guitars/musical director; Art Hirahara, organ; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Graham Haynes, cornet/electronic FX; Luca Aquino, flugelhorn; Jorginho Neto, trombone.

Vocalist Mafalda Minnozzi celebrates film scores, carefully chosen to represent scenes from the peaks and valleys of her own personal life.   Opening with “La Dolce Vita,” her soprano tones blend instrumentally, performing without words and often sounding like a trumpet rather than a voice.  This music has been plucked from the silver screen and reflect Mafalada Minnozzi’s native Italy.  The distinctive flavor of these compositions is offered by Morricone, Mancini, Cipriani, Coppola and more.  On Mancini and Merrill’s composition, “Loss of Love,” from the Sunflower film, Tiago Costa’s piano solo is inspired and Minnozzi’s voice emotionally colors the lyrics. 

On “Metti Una Sera A Cena” she performs with a hip-swaying Latin rhythm.  It’s a familiar song that she often includes in her Brazilian concerts.  The “Cinema City” album was conceived and recorded in Brazil during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Deanna Durbin sang the “Amapola” song in the 1939 film First Love. This song was also performed in other films by Alberto Rabagliati (1941) and Sara Montiel (La Bella Lola, 1962).  In Gabrielle Roy ‘s “The Tin Flute,” published in 1945, the character, Emmanuel, hums “Amapola”.  Paul Ricci’s guitar sets the mood on the very beautiful Rustichelli/Longo composition, “Amici Miel.”  This was a 1975 comedy film about four inseparable male friends facing a middle life crisis. Minnozzi sings this song and several others in Italian.  She often incorporates her pure vocal tones into the arrangements.  Her vocals become similar to another horn instrument.  Mafalda Minnozzi’s band does an exquisite and supportive job of interpreting these compositions in a very jazz-driven way.  Some of the Award winning songs were familiar to my ear like “Arrivederci Roma” from the 1957 sound track of the Italian-American musical film with the same title, released as Seven Hills of Rome in English.  I remember Mario Lanza singing this song.  I wish Mafalda Minnozzi had written her own lyrics to some of these songs that have no words and perhaps shared them with us in English, infusing them with her own poetic creativity and life experiences.  This is an album that shows how classically based compositions and pop soundtracks can expertly be delivered into the jazz idiom.

* * * * * * * *


Tierney Sutton, voice/arranger/co-producer; Serge Merlaud, guitars/arranger/co-producer; Kevin Axt, basses/co-producer; Hubert Laws, flutes.

This “Paris Sessions 2” album is scheduled for release on May 6, 2022.  Tierney and her new husband, Serge Merlaud, open this album as a duo, with Jobim’s “Triste” lighting their fire in Latin brilliance.  Tierney Sutton’s voice dances around the tune, improvising with scat whispers.  She sings these lyrics in Portuguese.  Track #2 takes a lyrical turn towards the French roots of Serge Merlaud.  It’s a medley combining the composition of Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg, (“April in Paris”) with Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris.”  The familiar “April in Paris” is stretched out, arranged as a very slow ballad, giving Tierney Sutton time to taste each poignant lyric from the 1932 Broadway musical, Walk a Little Faster.  It’s a delightful medley with the unexpected Joni Mitchell flavor added like pepper to the slow boiling stew.

“We got married at the end of 2019, had a ceremony in Paris in October and another in L.A. at the end of December,” Sutton recalls.

Their duet work continues on the Gershwin song, “Isn’t It a Pity (we never ever met before).”  These lyrics perhaps mesh with the duo’s corresponding life path.  Serge Merlaud’s guitar-fills are beautifully placed between the lyrical Sutton’s vocal interpretation.  Merlaud is a sensitive and technically astute player. Their entire quartet makes its appearance on Jobim’s tune, “Zingaro” and features Hubert Laws on alto flute.  This is a precious merging of Tierney’s high soprano notes that are warm against the richness of Hubert’s flute. Tierney Sutton offers this fifteenth album release as a leader and she has dedicated it to the memory of the late Marilyn Bergman who passed away in January of 2022.  Bergman’s songs she has included are “Cinema Paradiso/I Knew I Loved You,” an Alan and Marilyn Bergman composition with Ennio Morricone, “Moonlight” which the married songwriters wrote with John Williams and “A Child is Born” where the Bergman’s collaborated with Dave Grusin.  Tierney and Serge are playful on “Pure Imagination,” where their musical comfort with each other continues to be palpable.  Tierney scats her way through Serge Merlaud’s arrangement of “Doralice,” letting her voice double with the guitar.  She lets her voice set the bass line in place and establishes the tempo, before Kevin Axt enters with his own superb bass support.  The solo by Hubert Laws flies through space like a wild and beautiful bird.  Serge Merlaud takes time to showcase his own unique interpretation of this familiar standard during his brief but power-packed guitar solo.  “Paris Sessions 2” is so well-played I didn’t even miss the drums.

* * * * * * * * *


April 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 15, 2022 


Marco Pignataro, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/poetry creator/arranger/composer; Kenny Werner, piano/back-up vocals/composer/arranger; Nadia Washington, guitar/vocals/arranger; Devon Gates, bass/vocals/arranger. Chase Morrin, arranger.

This album, “Marco Pignataro’s Dream Alliance Awakening” is a virtual live concert at Boston’s GBH Fraser Studio, located at Berklee College of Music, where Marco Pignataro has served as Managing Director since 2009.  The recording happened in July of 2021 and was sponsored by JazzBoston.  Saxophonist, Marco Pignataro, used this concert to showcase a stream of artistic expression and talented musicians.  They open with Stevie Wonder’s hit record, “Send One Your Love” sung and played by guitarist and vocal queen, Nadia Washington.  Soon, the group joins in and I am captivated by not only the beauty of this song but the lovely way Ms. Washington sings and plays it.  Marco Pignataro’s bird-like soprano saxophone compliments both the vocals and the composition as he flies freely over the perimeter of the song.  Kenny Werner enters on piano for his solo and become another bright and brilliant bird singing his own solo song.   This is followed by Devon gates on bass, accompanied by finger snaps.  They give voice to Nadia Washington who speaks a love poem called, “Resilience of Light.” When Ms. Washington enters with her soul-singing voice to sing “Stand by Me” she is joined by a gospel piano played by Werner, with handclaps.  In the ‘hook’ of the song, she is joined by several other vocals and Marco’s saxophone bleeds into the fray, a horn voice that fits perfectly.  Pignataro opens Track 4, “Naked Absence” with only his saxophone.  That introduces us, after his solo performance, to Washington’s spoken word again.  Then they burst into a song called “Farallina” that celebrates a butterfly.  This project is a study in creativity and freedom.  The legendary Kenny Werner contributes his Grammy-winning composition, “Inspiration.” These artists let their art wave, like magic wands, across the Boston stage to create magical musical moments.  They perpetuate the title of this column.  Their music is both uninhibited and unexpected.  They comprehensively blend pop, R&B, Jazz and poetry into a cohesive package of entertainment.  Performed by a multi-racial group of talented musicians, who span in age from early twenties to nearly seventy, here is warm, melodic music that enriches the soul and poetry that broadly opens the mind. 

* * * * * * * * * *

DAVE BRUBECK TRIO – “LIVE FROM VIENNA 1967” – Brubeck Editions

Dave Brubeck, Piano; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums.

I got so excited when this album came across my desk.  When I saw the photo of Eugene Wright on the cover with Joe Morello and Dave Brubeck it brought a bright smile to my face.  I remember singing with “The Senator” (as we fondly referred to Eugene Wright) with Karen Hernandez on piano at a small club called The Money Tree in Southern California.  That was many years ago when I was a working jazz vocalist.  What an extraordinary bassist he was and a joy to perform with!  The Senator was complimented in the press package, noting that until December 30, 2020, he was the last surviving member of the Dave Brubeck quartet and was always appreciated as the foundation upon which the other members of the quartet relied.

This historic album was recorded ‘live’ in Vienna back in 1967 and is the only available album that features Dave Brubeck in a trio setting.  What an extraordinary rhythm section!  It seems that Paul Desmond got distracted the night before, when he hung out with a friend in Hamburg, Germany and missed their morning flight to Vienna.  As a trio performance, these iconic musicians each was given plenty of space to solo and show off their amazing talents individually. 

“I think, if our dad were alive to hear this Brubeck Trio recording now, he’d be flashing his famous, big smile.  He would be extremely proud to hear how, more than half a century ago, he, Gene and Joe got thrown a curve ball and knocked it out of the park!” Chris Brubeck said of this historic musical treasure.

They open with a rousing rendition of “St. Louis Blues” and the party is on!  This is followed by the Brubeck composition, “One Moment Worth Years.”   His awesome piano technique and style is beautiful to hear.  During this arrangement, he reminds me a lot of Erroll Garner and a wee bit like the jazz pianist Nat King Cole before he ever sang a note.  That being said, Dave Brubeck was his own man and displayed his own, unique talent.  The conversation he and Eugene Wright display is absolutely entertaining.  We hear that big, thick bass sound marching beneath the Brubeck swing and the way Dave tinkles those treble notes is like a voice speaking to the bass.  Joe Morello’s drums pump the swing and become the glue that holds the groove tightly in place.  You will love Dave’s fast-paced arrangement of “Swanee River” with his two hands playing in concert, the left brightly establishing the rhythm and the right hand trembling the treble.   When Dave Brubeck breaks off into his solo, it’s his captivating style that commands attention and respect.  Some of these new jazz pianists need to sit down and study how Brubeck pumps energy into every phrase he plays.  Joe Morello is spectacular during several bars of trading fours on his trap drums.  At this time, you will hear ‘the Senator’s’ bass play double-time notes beneath the drum solos and the creative sparks of energy fly when Brubeck plays piano.  His comping is always unique and never repeated.   A lot of the younger players play the same comp phrase over and over when letting the drums solo.  They should listen to Brubeck.  Every line is different.  When he breaks “Swanee River” down to a smoky blues, playing with the tempos, the audience response is a healthy ovation.  Dave Brubeck’s creativity is inspiring.  

It is absolutely awesome to hear Dave Brubeck and his trio perform in their tight, cohesive way.  Without the horn, Dave Brubeck explores and embellishes each piece they play with rich improvisation and elongated technical brilliance.  This is an unearthed treasure.  It belongs in every jazz collector’s portfolio.  You will enjoy playing this album over and over again.  I know I did!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

JOEY ALEXANDER – “ORIGIN” – Mack Ave Records

Joey Alexander, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Larry Grenadier, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Chris Potter, saxophone.

“Remembering” is the first original on this Joey Alexander album featuring ten songs that he has written and arranged for this project.  It’s the first time Joey has recorded, featuring all original music and also the first recording where he includes an electric piano.  He returns, with this sixth album, as a leader and using the rhythm section from his previous album.  The trio opens their first track with Larry Grenadier on bass and Kendrick Scott at the trap drums.  When reedman Chris Potter joins the party on a tune called, “On the Horizon,” his soprano saxophone paints hopeful pictures in my mind of a sunrise, bursting with orange, yellow and pink colors.  I find Alexander’s piano solo entering, rather pensively, using the treble piano register to improvise briefly.  Larry Grenadier opens “Dear Autumn” on bass, establishing a moderate tempo.  Soon Alexander is flying above the track, encouraged by Scott’s drums, but still thoughtful and laid-back.  Gilad Hekselman brings energy on guitar during their arrangement of “Winter Blues” as does Chris Potter on his saxophone.  Joey Alexander uses his piano chops on the Electric keyboard during this song. 

“To be clear, I didn’t actually write Winter Blues during the winter.  It was actually in the summertime, in New York City, but I was remembering how gloomy it was in the winter during the pandemic and I thought, how can I make the situation upbeat and hopeful,” Joey confessed.

As he peels through the seasons, (there is a song titled “Summer Rising” and another called “Promise of Spring”) followed by Mother Nature moods like “Midnight Waves.”  

On “Rise Up” Hekselman’s guitar introduction tickles the mood.  For a moment, I thought there was going to be some up-beat, transformative energy on this tune to match its title.  I was mistaken.  The music on this project does not “Rise Up.”  Instead, it’s quite peaceful and also beautiful, but lacking energetic spontaneity and enthusiasm.   It’s music to meditate by or the kind of music you hear while you enjoy a massage.  If you are just looking for tranquility and relaxation, this CD is perfect.  I know Joey Alexander can create on-stage energy because I’ve witnessed it.  Check him out on the video below.  I wish he had included a couple of tunes like this one on his recent release, to show his diversity and the soulful way he can play.

“Origin” is Alexander’s first album for Mack Avenue Records and it     will be released May 20 digitally and on CD, with a vinyl release scheduled for June 24.

* * * * * * * * *  

GORDON GRDINA – THE MUSIC OF TIM BERNE – “ODDLY ENOUGH” – ABG Records                                     Gordon Grdina, solo electric & midi guitars/classical guitar/acoustic guitar/oud/dobro. Tim Berne, composer.       


Gordon Grdina, oud; Marc Ribot, guitar; Emad Armoush, vocals/ney; Tim Gerwing, darbuka; Liam MacDonald, rig; Tommy Babin, bass; Kenton Loewen, drums; Francois Houle, clarinet; Christopher Kelly, saxophone; JP Carter, trumpet, Josh Zubot, violin; Jesse Zubot, violin.

Vancouver, Canada-based guitarist and Oud player, Gordon Grdina, is back with an album in collaboration with guitar experimenter, Mark Ribot.  Grdina’s group is called “Haram” (I believe Haram in Arabic means ‘house’), and they have joined forces to present a blend of traditional Iraqi and Arabic folk music with jazz.  This album with Marc Ribot explores improvisation and the creative evolvement of his native music with more modern and experimental music.  However, it is anything but “Night’s Quietest Hour.”  This music is boisterous and energetic; stuffed with chants and Arabian traditional roots.  Marc Ribot is a legendary guitar wizard who waves his magic fingers over the guitar strings to create a rather rock and roll evolvement in Grdina’s music.

“Ribot’s been a hero of mine for a long time.  He added a whole lot of energy and excitement as well as a punk rock aesthetic to these pieces,” Gordon Grdina explains.

Grdina founded his Haram group in 2008 and for his project, “Night’s Quietest Hour,” He also includes authentic Middle Eastern instrumentation inclusive of Emad Armoush playing the ‘ney.’  The ney, (or nay) is a reed instrument made originally from hollow cane with five or six finger holes. Then, there is Liam MacDonald playing the ‘rig.’  I’m assuming this is the guitar rig 6 player that offers a range of modules, components, effects and routing tools.  Finally, Tim Gerwing adds the darbuka drum to the mix.  This is a goblet-shaped percussion instrument popular in the Middle East and North Africa.

On his other release, Grdina performs solo playing Tim Berne’s compositions.  This production was captured in the studio just before the COVID pandemic choked the world in a strangle-hold.  Grdina found himself sitting before a computer and communicating with fellow musician, Tim Berne (saxophonist and composer).  Grdina was sending his musical ideas over the Internet and Berne responding in-kind. This went on for nearly a year, before Grdina had enough material for their album, “Oddly Enough.”  Grdina’s solo album was sent to me simultaneously with his second recording.  Grdina was inspired to design a new guitar that was able to simultaneously record Midi data, both electric and acoustic on his project with Tim Berne.

“The pieces were incredibly challenging, yet beautiful and aligned with what I had been exploring in my own writing. …  Tim’s music is personal and immediately recognizable, yet can be continuously phrased and interpreted differently. Tim has created his own world with its own sense of logic; for me, that is the most inspiring thing an artist can do,” Grdina affirmed in his press package.

Gordon Grdina is a JUNO Award-winning oud/guitarist whose career has spanned continents and decades.  This is avant-garde jazz, modern improvisation, Middle-Eastern-based music that blends with contemporary indie-rock, refreshing like black tea and honey.

* * * * * * * * *


Roberto Occhipinti, bass; Adrean Farrugia, piano; Larnell Lewis, drums; Llaria Crociante, vocals.

A very classical double-bass tone drifts into my listening room, bowed by the astute hands of Roberto Occhipinti, an established presence on both the Canadian and International jazz scenes.  He captures my ear immediately with the beauty of his singular instrument.  When the music-box voicings of Adrean Farrugia’s piano enter, the melodic piece is already locked into my mind.  It’s a peaceful and lovely composition that is also the album title; “The Next Step.”  Mr. Occhipinti has been working with Canada’s top-tier orchestras and a group of cutting-edge contemporary musicians.  he also plays his bass on Latin American performances and works with musicians from Africa to Asia; from John Cage and Terry Riley to the studios of Stevie Wonder.  Roberto has also recorded with a number of Cuban artists like Hilario Duran and Jane Bunnet in particular.  What he hadn’t really done yet was become the bandleader of a jazz trio.  This is Occhipinti’s debut trio recording as a leader.

“It’s always been a favorite form of mine, from the time I started playing bass, after hearing Ray Brown in the Oscar Peterson Trio; then moving on to the classic Bill Evans trio with Scott LaFaro and finally in my work with the Hilario Duran Trio,” Roberto Occhipinti tells us in his press package.

Roberto has composed six of the songs on this project.  Track #2 is called, “Emancipation Day” and Occhipinti takes time to explore a long and creative bass solo during this arrangement.  “The Peacocks” is a standard jazz tune composed by Jimmy Rowles.  Roberto Occhipinti pulls out his bow again and rubs it sensually across the upright bass strings.  He pulls the melody out of the instrument, thick and sweet as taffy.  His solo delivery is stunningly beautiful.  On Roberto’s composition, “II Muro” Larnell Lewis takes an opportunity to show-off his drumming talents.  On the Alessandro Scarlatti composition, “O Cessate Di Piagarmi” he invites the warm vocals of Ilaria Crociante to briefly join the trio.  I found the “Steveland” song to be very beautiful and I wondered if it was a tribute to Stevie Wonder, whose given name Is Steveland.  The chord changes remind me of something Stevie would write.  All in all, this is a well-produced, beautifully played album of quality compositions and excellent musicianship.

* * * * * * * * *


Oz Noy, guitar; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Ray Marchica, drums.

This trio is made up of New York-based musicians and this is their first release on the Outside In Music label.  Until this union, each one was working consistently in various other situations.  The bassist, Ugonna Okegwo has been a celebrated sideman with both the Jacky Terrasson and Tom Harrell bands.  Ray Marchica is an exceptional drummer who stays busy playing studio sessions and working on Broadway.  He also has two albums to his credit as a bandleader.  The guitarist, Oz Noy, is one of fusion’s most sought after and unique guitar voices.  When the pandemic hit and the world shut down, these three frustrated musicians decided to meet-up in New York’s Riverside Park and play music on little bandstand-like coves; the ones that nature offered.

When they first started playing, there was nobody in the park, but by October, their crowd-gathering, outdoor concerts had become noticeable and popular.  They held their impromptu sessions throughout the summer months, until winter weather made them quit.

Ray Marchica said, “It saved me.  It saved all of us – musically and mentally.”

The result of those park concerts was that their trio was born.  They played standard tunes and three personalities became like one.  Arrangements were born and their creativity merged into a plan.  By the time winter arrived, they were prepared to go into the studio and cut this entertaining production.

On “Anthropology” Ray Marchica takes a stunning drum solo.  They swing on “Have You Met Miss Jones” with Oz Noy setting the tempo on his guitar and leading the band down a path of improvisational twists and turns.  He may have been a popular fusion player, but on this project, Oz Noy shines in the straight-ahead spotlight.  Ugonna Okegwo takes a solid, steady and melodic bass solo during this familiar song and that solo is quite imaginative. They offer us ten familiar jazz standard tunes.   All are well-played and allow each musician to dangle their creativity before us like a hypnotist’s pendant.  I enjoy the way Oz Noy plays his guitar in the upper register, tickling the tenor strings and creating delightful, harmonic sounds pleasant to the ear.  On Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” the trio turns it into a provocative, slow blues arrangement.  They also play “Donna Lee” and “Out of Nowhere” by Charlie Parker, making those tunes their own.  Noy offers his own composition titled “Riverside Blues” that shuffles in a happy-go-lucky way and is very well-played by this trio.  Drummer, Marchica, has composed the “6/8 Lunch Break” and he opens the tune with an Afro-waltz beat flamboyantly leading the way.  His drums sing melodically, coming alive beneath his sticks as he offers us the best of himself.  Ray Marchica shows us that he needs no accompaniment.  He performs like a one-man band.  Afterwards, they reinvent “The Start of Something Big” and end this production with a rip-roaring rendition of “Sunny” at a lightening-strike speed.  Noy’s guitar magic is notable on this tune and quite impressive.  I hope these three talented musicians bring the world lots more of their incredible trio music.

* * * * * * * * *

OTOK – “CABRIOLES CEREBRALES OF ACCIDENTS PSYCHOTIQUES” –                                    LFDS Records/France

Hamza Touré, saxophone; Thomas Zielinski, guitar; Yoram Rosilio, double bass; Julien Catherine, drums.

OTOK is a French-based Avant-garde jazz quartet.  Each member is a composer, with double bassist, Yoram Rosilio, being the most prolific composer on this recording.  He has penned seven out of the ten tunes and he also designed and provided the artwork for their album cover.  ‘OTOK’ opens with “Kromagnon,” nearly six minutes of explosive energy, often reminding me of New York City rush-hour traffic.  “Kabessita” is another Rosilio composition. It features counterpoint musical phrases between saxophone and guitar at the top of the tune.  Thomas Zielinski’s guitar takes precedence, developing the melody atop a repeated discourse in the background.  Julien Catherine’s trap drums roll, chop and pound underneath Hamza Touré’s busy saxophone that summersaults across space.  On the “Interlude,” Yoram Rosilio solo-walks his bass briskly, but briefly.  Track #4 sounds like a blues and it’s entitled “Elena’s Circle” featuring the warm sound of Touré’s saxophone in conversation with Rosilio’s contrabass.  It starts out like a warm, intoxicating ballad and soon veers off into outer-space with uncontained improvisation and driving drums.  The saxophone takes on jungle and animalistic sounds and the guitar plays rhythm and also improvises wildly.  “Elena’s Circle” turns into a full-fledged tornado of sounds, before settling back down to the blues that invited and intoxicated me at first.  Each “Interlude” features one of the four players showing off their musical skills.  Track #10, titled “Otok,” sounds like a happy carnival and a time of cotton candy sweetness and joy.  As a whole, the OTOK album is a lesson in extremes; a walk on the wild side.

* * * * * * * * * 

ECHOES – “LASTING” – Unit Records

Matt DiBiase, vibraphone/malletkat/synthesizers/keyboard/composer; Max Bessesen, saxophones/flute/keyboard/composer; Evan Levine, upright bass/electric bass/guitar/composer; Chase Kuesel, acoustic & electric drums/composer.

Every now and then an album comes across my desk that sounds exactly like the soundtrack to a movie.  This is one such album.  There are no outstanding solo instruments that come out-front to shine in the spotlight on every track.  Instead, various players solo spontaneously and present themselves as a solid unit.  Echoes’ music is cohesive, tight, well-played and appealing.  It’s a mixture of futuristic electronic sounds, loops, synthesizers and traditional jazz.  This album arrived with no press information to enlighten or sway me.  I know the names of the players, listed on the inner cover, and the instruments they play.  That’s it!  They give special thanks to Avaloch Farm Music Institute for making their album possible.  All the musicians play multiple instruments and create interesting songs.  I don’t know who the composers are until I go On-line.  They don’t list the composers or the publisher credits on the CD.  That’s unusual.  On-line I’m sent a bio from their publicist that tells me Chase Kuesel is a composer and drummer based in Brooklyn, New York.  The group’s reedman, Max Bessesen, has composed the opening tune called “Jam Fest” and also plays keyboard.  Matt DiBiase is a California-based multimedia artist who has penned “Off Switch” and a song called “Flipbook” that he describes as: “syncopated and playful with a melody meant to paint the story of an animated cartoon character.”  Evan Levine contributes an original song “Asbury” named after his hometown of Asbury Park in New Jersey. 

“This tune (Asbury) takes a lot of the group’s rock influences and uses layers to create a powerful groove with a sweet, relaxed melody skating over the top of it.  Think about drinking a beer on the beach.  It’s hot outside, but the water is cold,” explains Evan Levine, painting a picture to describe his composition.

I agree that the group’s music paints scenes and tickles the imagination.  This is a project that I believe should seek licensing for film, for video games or perhaps television show sound-bites.  

* * * * * * * * *


Deanna Witkowski, piano; Daniel Foose & Dwayne Dolphin, bass; Roger Humphries & Scott Latzky, drums; Clay Jenkins, trumpet.

Deanna Witkowski is a dynamic pianist, composer, educator and arranger, who is a great admirer of the famed jazz pianist, Mary Lou Williams. “Force of Nature” caps off twenty-years of immersive research into the life and work of Mary Lou Williams, the woman known as ‘The First Lady of Jazz.’  To fans and students of Ms. Williams’ legacy, she stands tall as one of the best-known but unfortunately, undervalued women in jazz history.  Born in 1910, she lived a musical life until 1981 and left behind marvelous pioneering compositions and arrangements.  Once hired by Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams was an influential player and educator, proficient and exploratory during the bebop era.  She was one of the first jazz artists to infuse her music with her Catholic faith.  Most notable are her compositions under the banner of “Jazz Masses.”

Ms. Witkowski has intricately woven into Track #4, titled “Cancer” (taken from Mary Lou’s Zodiac Suite), a piece of the Mary Lou Mass titled, “Act of Contrition.”   It’s quite beautiful and Deanna Witkowski performs this medley with emotional creativity and technical dexterity.  This lovely ballad is a far cry from the inspirational opening number that is full of boisterous blues.  “Gjon Mill Jam Session” is one of many Mary Lou Williams tunes that Deanna Witkowski celebrates during this production.  “Lonely Moments” blasts on the scene with the Clay Jenkins playing a tenacious trumpet out-front and inspired. Witkowski infuses the piece with consistent moments of power and straight-ahead swing.  They add staccato breaks in the arrangement to feature Scott Latzky on drums, never losing the swing or excitement of this piece.  “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?” is a Mary Lou Williams blues composition that was stolen and became a big hit record called “Black Coffee.”  The music business can be cold-blooded!  Deanna Witkowski puts her heart and soul into interpreting this standard jazz song.  Daniel Foose offers us a delightful bass solo.  But it is always the piano playing of Deanna Witkowski that shines throughout this album of excellence.  Even on ballads, her strength and powerful delivery are captivating; never boring.  She is, like the album’s title, a pure “Force of Nature” and this album documents the spiritual connection she shares with the music of Mary Lou Williams.  The title tune was composed by Witkowski especially for Mary Lou.

“I composed “Force of Nature” while I was renting a house (without a piano) on Euclid Street in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood; the same street that Mary lived on for part of her childhood.  Walking a few blocks to East Liberty Presbyterian Church, in order to practice on an acoustic instrument, I wrote this piece over two sessions,” Deanna Witkowski explained how this title tune came about.

This is an exciting tribute to the great, female, composer and pianist, Mary Lou Williams, but it also is a testament to the talent and power of the artist herself, Deanna Witkowski.  She brings alive the music of Ms. Williams but also shines like a diamond in her own brilliance.

* * * * * * * * *


Luis Mario Ochoa, vocals/guitar/bandleader/arranger; Hilario Duran, piano/arranger; Luis Orbegoso, percussion/chorus; Louis Simao & Roberto Riveron, bass/chorus; Jonathan Amador, bass; Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon, drums/timbales/castanets; Amhed Mitchel, drums/chorus; Jorge Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’, congas; Reimundo Sosa, bata drums.

Luis Mario Ochoa is a strong and emotional vocalist, a guitar master who received a Bachelor of Arts in classical guitar at the University of Havana, Instituto Superior de Artes.  He is also a composer, arranger and bandleader.  Luis emigrated from Cuba to Toronto, Canada in 1990.  There, his musical career blossomed.  His first album was released in 1995 and it was the premiere Canadian-based Latin album to be produced by a Cuban-born artist in that country.  This was the beginning of several releases by Luis Mario Ochoa.  Three more albums followed: La Fiesta, Cimarron and Momentos Cubanos.  Tracks from these albums were so powerful, they were used in Canadian television productions on major networks.  His music is also featured in a mini-series called, “Traders” on CBC; The Associates (CTV) and in films like “Brave New Girl” and “Bailey’s Billions.”  This recent album is a tribute to a famous composer, Ernesto Lecuona, celebrated as the “Gershwin of Cuba.”  His music is said to be a blend of Cuban, African and Spanish influences.  When Luis Mario Ochoa relocated to Miami, Florida in 2014, he began a new chapter in his life and career.  This album is a reflection of that move.  Ochoa’s music embraces historic cultural roots.  You will hear boleros, criollas, Afro-Cuban beats and a Sevillana flavored song.  Much of composer, Ernesto Lecuona’s music was introduced to American audiences by Desi Arnez, the Cuban bandleader and husband of American actress Lucille Ball.

Luis opens with “La Mulata Chancletera” his tenor voice soaring above bright rhythms and singing Spanish lyrics about a light-skinned girl (a mulatto) who is beautiful and has a joyful personality.  In Webster’s dictionary, a mulatto is a child who has one white parent and one black parent.  This tune is a theme song from the Zarzuela Operetta, “Maria La O.”  Luis continues this theme with Track #3, titled for this operetta and describing a woman with a broken heart.  It’s vocally quite dramatic and shows off Ochoa’s rich voice range.  One of my favorite songs is “Siempre En Mi Corazon” which translates to Always in My Heart.  I enjoy the instrumental portions of this album where we can hear Ochoa’s great talents on guitar.  This Lecuona composition was part of the soundtrack of a classic Hollywood film of the same title and was nominated for an Oscar in 1942.  It’s absolutely beautiful.  “Para Vigo Me Voy” is talking about the town of Vigo in Spain.  It’s an up-tempo tune, meant to inspire a conga line.  The arrangement invites the listeners to get up and dance.   There is a bright solo by the pianist followed by Jonathan Amador‘s brief electric bass solo in concert with drummer, Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon (who also plays timbales) and Jorge Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’ on congas.  Another favorite is “Y La Negra Bailaba” an instrumental that showcases the tight ensemble Luis Mario Ochoa has put together for this recording.   All the composition of Lecuona are pleasant to the ear with memorable with intoxicating melodies.  “Danza Lucumi” is performed solo by Luis Mario Ochoa on his guitar and represents a tune based on the ethnic Yoruba ancestry that blended their roots with Catholicism.  It reflects a time when African slaves were prohibited from practicing their cultural religion.  It’s extremely pleasurable to hear guitar master, Ochoa, interpret this piece solo.  The final tune on this album of ten songs is titled, “Damisela Encantadora” (the Enchanted Young Lady) and once again features Luis offering us his tenor vocals.  This time he is joined by a chorus of voices that chant the song title and he’s given ample opportunity to once again express himself on guitar.  When this musical expression is complete, I feel as though I have learned much about Cuban music, the historic Mr. Ernesto Lecuona and the multi-talented artist, Luis Mario Ochoa. * * * * * * * *


April 5, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 5, 2022

This month I was both pleased and surprised to see how much music was released that was tribute oriented.  KEITH OXMAN and his quartet use their talents to celebrate JOEY PEARLMAN, a young bass student who passed away unexpectedly.  HENRY FRANKLIN, ROBERT TURNER and CARL BURNETT celebrate the legacy of The Three Sounds, naming themselves 3 MORE SOUNDS as they celebrate the music of Ray Charles.  The BREV SULLIVAN and the BLUE ROAD RECORDS STUDIO SESSIONS BAND, tributes the music of Ira Sullivan.  Resonance Records has discovered “The Lost Album from Ronnie Scotts” by CHARLES MINGUS.  The MICHAEL LEONHART ORCHESTRA plays original music by Michael Leonhart that tributes Leonhart’s dog, “THE NORMYN SUITES.”  Pianist, composer LYNNE ARRIALE and her TRIO reflect, with reverence, on the life-changing events of the past two years and DAGGERBOARD is an ensemble of California musicians who feature bass master HENRY FRANKLIN on their latest album.  Live tapes were discovered of the iconic PEPPER ADAMS with the TOMMY BANKS TRIO.  Their music is so beautiful, it nearly brought me to tears.  Enjoy reading all about these amazing artists.


Keith Oxman, tenor saxophone/composer; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Mark Simon, bass; Todd Reid, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Joey Pearlman, bass; Stevie Pearlman, drums.

This is a feel-good album that reflects reverence and respect (the title of this column), in a beautiful and heartfelt way.  It’s a tribute to a young bassist who made his transition from this earth way too soon. Tenor saxophone master, Keith Oxman, took the death very personally.  As an educator, who mentored Joey Pearlman, Mr. Oxman saw great promise in his student.

“After thirty years of teaching music, I can count a handful of accomplished students who were destined to accomplish great feats.  Notable among those students was the brilliant bassist, Joey Pearlman, whose music and personality brightened every day for us at East High School.  Joey was taken from this world too soon.  His presence brought joy to our music room as he challenged us with his brilliant compositions and performances.  Joey’s musical influence on his classmates, as well as his one-of-a-kind sense of humor, had an undeniable and positive influence on what was really most important in our program; human and musical interaction,” Keith Oxman painted a verbal portrait of his former student and capsulized his inspiration for this album. 

Opening the album with “The Gojon Jazz Messengers” the quartet swings hard with Keith Oxman’s brilliant tenor saxophone out-front and his leadership shining.  The bright, complimentary drums of Todd Reid slam the tempo down and push the band forward with strength and power.  He is given a bright solo opportunity in the spotlight about midway through the song, executing his tenacious drum talent.  When Jeff Jenkins enters, you get to appreciate more, raw, technique and talent.  His innovative approach on the piano adds spice to the arrangement.  The quartet follows this with another Keith Oxman original composition titled, “Lady Vera.”  Mark Simon steps quietly forward on his double bass to ‘wow’ us with a very melodic solo.  This quartet sounds like a group of close-knit friends, anticipating each other and working warmly in conjunction with Oxman’s accomplished compositions. I enjoy Oxman’s melodies and his attention to detail in the arrangements. 

One of my favorite tunes is “Joshua Fought the Battle Against Trump & Co” that reminds me of the exciting Coltrane days of jazz.  Jenkins is wildly creative on piano.  Keith Oxman’s saxophone has a smooth, mellow tone that still manages to capture and encompass power and excitement during his delivery.   This tune sounds like a jazz standard.  Pianist Jenkins has composed “Waltz for Joey” to immortalize the youthful musician who passed away in February of 2021 at the age of twenty-four. 

On this album, you will enjoy a Baker’s Dozen of songs, all well-played and beautifully arranged.  Oxman included a composition by his former student, Joey Pearlman, titled “Garden Song.”  It exhibits the young man’s complex composing talents, obvious even though he was merely a high school student when he penned it.  The final tune is titled “John Paul Jones” (a John Coltrane composition) that was recorded by the deceased Joey Pearlman on bass with his twin brother Stevie playing drums.  Denver has a very tight jazz scene.  All the participants on this project knew Joey and encouraged his talent.  Some had been part of his mentoring process.  After all, East High School in Denver boasts an impressive alumnus including trumpeter, cornetist Ron Miles, guitarist Bill Frisell, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves and even bandleader Paul Whiteman from back in the 1900s.

According to Thomas Burns of Capri Records, “Most involved contributed their time and some, their money, to make this (project) a reality.”

* * * * * * * *


Henry Franklin, bass; Robert Turner, piano; Carl Burnett, drums.

This is my kind of trio; bluesy and swinging!   These three incredibly talented musicians have chosen to celebrate the unforgettable brilliance of Ray Charles.  Well, to do that you have to be able to play the blues, drenched in gospel, and also know how to swing.  No problem!  Each of these players are more than proficient to do just that!  Opening with “Let the Good Times Roll,” this trio splashes on the scene with confidence and credibility.  You have to be amazing players to reference the legendary Three Sounds, a jazz group who was originally comprised of Gene Harris, Bill Dowdy and Andy Simpkins.  These three gentlemen were some of my favorite jazz musicians on the planet and man, could they swing!  Franklin, Turner and Burnett wave the “swing” flag brightly and precociously.  Each is a master musician in their own right.  Just listen to their take on Ray’s “Unchain My Heart” or “Hit the Road Jack” smokin’ with gospel flavor, straight-ahead arrangements and solid jazz swing.  When they play, “Georgia” I am captured by the dexterity and deep, blues inuendoes that Robert Turner plays on the piano.  What a wonderful and uniquely talented pianist he is! 

Robert Turner gained his first musical “chops” playing at local Baptist churches in California before studying music at LA City College and Sacramento State University.  You quickly hear how Turner is influenced by piano genius Gene Harris and perhaps he was also inspired by Erroll Garner.  On a more contemporary note, Robert Turner has performed with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Dr. Dre.  Turner spent 5 years in Japan, partly studying music at the Yamaha school of music in Nagoya and the other part of the time, “gigging.”  Later he relocated to Shanghai, China and became a steady member of the band PGP, as well as working as a featured and award-winning artist with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.  Turner has scored music for films such as “Contradictions of the Heart” and produced several CDs including “China Piano,” “Silent Night,” and “Blues for Gene” (referencing Gene Harris).

Henry Franklin has long been a mainstay of jazz bass in the Southern California community.  At age eighteen, he was the bassist with the now historic Roy Ayres congregation.

“Roy had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson (piano), sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me and Carl Burnett (drums),” Henry recalled.

Henry has worked with Billy Higgins, Willie Bobo, and was part of the Hugh Masekela ensemble that recorded the historically famous “Grazin’ in the Grass” hit single.  He recorded with Stevie Wonder on the “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” album and recorded with Gene Harris for Blue Note’s “Soul Symphony” release and “Live at the IT Club.”  Franklin has toured with jazz nobility like Freddie Hubbard, Archie Shepp, O.C. Smith, Count Basie and Al Jarreau, just to name a few.  He continues to be an in-demand bandleader and sideman.

Carl Burnett, the drummer in this 3 More Sounds group, has also experienced an illustrious career.  Carl’s drums have backed artists ranging from Sarah Vaughn, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Childs, Art Pepper and Eddie Harris to Marvin Gaye and O.C. Smith.  He can be heard on albums by Horace Silver, Art Pepper, the Three Sounds,FreddieHubbard and Kenny Burrell, among others.  Together, these three very impressive gentlemen offer an album beautifully produced and exquisitely played to tribute not only Ray Charles, but the unforgettable memory and music of The Three Sounds. 

* * * * * * * * * * *


Brev Sullivan and Leo Quintero, lead guitars; Miriam Stone, acoustic & electric guitars; Javier Espinoza, bass; Yainer Horta, Keyboards/saxophone; Kevin Abanto, drums/percussion.

American jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist, flautist, saxophonist, and composer, Ira Sullivan, passed away in 2020 at the ripe old age of eighty-nine, leaving behind a legacy of musical compositions and recordings for the world to enjoy.  The Blue Road Records Studio Sessions Band is composed of South Florida’s crème-de-la-crème music makers. The band has an international flair inclusive of lead guitarists, Brev Sullivan (U.S. born) and Leo Quintero who was born in Venezuela.  Bassist, Javier Espinoza, also hails from Venezuela and percussionist Kevin Abanto arrived on the U.S. music scene from Peru.  Keyboardist and saxophone master, Yainer Horta is Cuban and Miriam Stone (also a proficient guitarist on both electric and acoustic guitars) has Cuban roots.  Miriam Stone and Brev Sullivan became fast friends and decided, shortly after Ira Sullivan died, to produce a tribute album.  Brev is actually Ira Sullivan’s son and has performed on stage with his father.

Brev explained, “I wanted to make this album to not only preserve his legacy, but also preserve the memory of those moments that are dear to me when I performed with him on stage.”

Miriam Stone recalls what inspired her to join this project. 

“I was privileged to have met Ira at one of his concerts.  The band was exquisite and Brev was with him.  I felt that Ira and I had formed a personal connection.  I knew making this album would be challenging, because the music is so complex.  But it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a musician,” Miriam confessed.

Although this Blue Road Records Band has rock-roots and Ira Sullivan was cut from a bebop cloth, this project manages to compliment and enrich the Sullivan legacy.  They open with the familiar Cole Porter standard,” I Get a Kick Out of You” swinging from the very first licks of Kevin Abanto’s busy drums.  He establishes a brisk pace and interjects a boisterous drum solo at the top of the tune that is star quality.  The guitar solo runs alongside the rhythm like a racehorse towards the finish line.  “Monday’s Dance” is a wonderful opportunity for Brev Sullivan and Leo Quintero to let their lead guitars soak up the spotlight.  This is an Ira Sullivan composition that opens with a melodic line that reminds me of the Wichita Lineman song.  I wonder if Jimmy Webb heard Ira’s beautiful “Monday’s Dance” tune and was inspired or vice versa? 

Although Ira Sullivan was a bebop musician at heart, having played with the likes of Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Red Rodney and Roland Kirk, in later years he embraced a younger generation of musicians.  He liked Pat Metheny and mentored Jaco Pastorius at one point.  Ira enjoyed the fusion era of music and some of his charts reflect that change of musical heart.   You hear this on Sullivan’s tune, “Multimedia” where the band employs solid Latin rhythms and energetically arranges a song Ira says he wrote to capture the sounds of his students practicing.  This song is stuffed with fusion inspiration and the electric guitar sings like a happy bird on steroids.  Both “Monday’s Dance” and “Multimedia” are some of my favorites on this album.  The fusion input continues on the Sullivan tune, “Nineveh” with shades of blues and rock brightly coloring the arrangement.  Tad Dameron’s “Our Delight” reverts back to bebop and swing roots. The band sounds great and shuffles us into “Little Train of Caipira” on Track #8.  It opens quietly, celebrating the guitar playing a’ cappella before the band joins in.  The drums mimic the sound of a locomotive picking up speed, playing double time underneath the pretty melody.  “Espresso Bueno” is another Sullivan composition and another favorite.  It’s saturated in Latin rhythms that make me want to dance. The music lifts my spirits, especially when Yainer Horta takes a soaring solo on saxophone.  Abanto once again struts his stuff on percussive drums.  They close with “Amazing Grace,” offering a guitar prayer whispered to the wind. 

* * * * * * * *


Michael Leonhart, orchestra conductor/composer/arranger/trumpet/drums/guitar/accordion/ mellotron/optigon/organ/pump organ. ORCHESTRA:  Peter Schwartz, organ; Robbie Mangano, Luke O’Malley & Caruso Srebnick, guitar; Danton Boller, Richie Goods, Jay Leonhart & Joe Martin, bass; Nicholas Movshon, Daniel Freedman, Homer Steinweiss & E.J. Strickland, drums; Elizabeth Pupo-Walker, Kevin Raczka, Jens Jungkurth, Mauro Refosco, Joey Waronker, Stephane San Juan, Leo Sidran & Daniel Yvinek, percussion; BRASS: Frank Greene, Keyon Harrold, Freddie Hendrix, Tony Kadleck, Jordan McLean, Billy Aukstik, Eric Biondo, Jeff Pierce, Scott Wendholt, Carter Yasutake, trumpet; Todd Simon, trumpet/euphonium; Michael Leonhart, trumpet/mellophonium/French horn/trombone; Nathan Koci, French horn; Ray Mason, trombone; Ryan Keberle & Jeff Nelson, bass trombone; John Altieri, sousaphone.  SAXOPHONES/WOODWINDS:  Chris Bullock,bassclarinet/piccolo flute/flute/alto flute/bass flute; Michael Blake, tenor saxophone/flute; Stuart Bogie, clarinet; John Ellis, Daniel Srebnick, Morgan Price & Brandon Wright, flute; Sam Sadigursky, piccolo flute/flute; Chris Potter, bass clarinet; Jason Marshall & Cochemea Gastelum, baritone saxophone/flute; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon. STRINGS: Pauline Kim & Claudia Chopek, violins; Ludovica Burtone, viola/violin; Emily Hope-Price & Erik Friedlander, cello. CHOIR: Elvis Costello, Catherine Russell, Rebecca Haviland, Donna Leonhart, Jamie Leonhart, Carolyn Leonhart, La Tanya Hall, Paul Brill, Milo Leonhart & Vaughn Escoffery. FEATURED SOLOISTS: Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone; JSwiss, rapper; Bill Frisell, guitar; Jim Pugh, trombone; Walt Weiskopf, tenor saxophone; Nels Cline, guitar; Michael Leonhart, trumpet; Larry Goldings, Hammond B3 organ; Chris Potter, bass clarinet; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone.

It begins like a funk tune, inviting a guitar to pluck a groove and then the voice of Elvis Costello starts to sing. A rap is injected, spoken word by JSwiss.  Frankly, I wasn’t expecting this kind of contemporary music under the banner of an orchestra.  The orchestra itself is powerful, creating a groove and inviting a sax solo by Joshua Redman that lifts this opening piece (“Shut Him Down”) out of commerciality and into jazz reverence.  All tracks have been composed, arranged and conducted by Michael Leonhart, a respected trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist.  Leonhart was a longtime member of Steely Dan, a popular commercial rock group from the 1970’s.  “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” became one of their hit records, rising to #1 on the Pop charts. They were a group blending rock, R&B, pop and, on this arrangement, using the popular jazz riff from a Horace Silver tune (Song for My Father) to open their pop record.

Orchestra conductor, Michael Leonhart, has written this double suite of music to tribute his fifteen-year- old dog, a female mini-Dachshund named Normyn.  In addition to trumpet, Leonhart is also a singer, pianist, songwriter, organist, accordionist and film composer.  His studio session credits are diversified.  He played on the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit record, “Uptown Funk” and he produced the Donald Fagen “Sunken Condos” 2012 album release.  So, you see how connected he is to the element of funk and fun.

However, after the opening song of his own album with this orchestra, the songs are, although beautiful, more remorseful and lethargic.  “The Normyn Suite #1” is divided into titles like: Denial, Anger, Catharsis, Nostalgia and Acceptance.  Still, during this production the Michael Leonhart Orchestra traverses a great deal of musical terrain, epitomized in their exploration of the “Radio is Everything” composition. It opens with spoken word and a lush orchestrated background.  The male voice speaks poetic:

 “They say I have a perfect face for radio and a trumpet for listening.”

I’m intrigued by the poetry and by Michael Leonhart’s mournful cry on trumpet.  This is followed by The Normyn Suite #2, featuring six songs that celebrate love and loss.  This music plays like a film soundtrack.  It’s very beautiful, but sad.  The addition of harmonic voices brings a warmth to the tracks.  Especially emotional and poignant is the twelfth track, “La Preghiera” that features beautiful piano work.  There are two bonus quartet tracks.  One is titled “Kenny Dorham” and the other is called, “Wayne Shorter.”  These tracks are full of rhythm and a happy lightness, featuring Michael Leonhart on trumpet and Donny McCaslin on saxophone.  They appear last on the album, but are worth the wait!

* * * * * * * * *


Lynne Arriale, piano; Jasper Somsen, double bass; E. J. Strickland, drums.

Welcome to Lynne Arriale’s sixteenth album release as a leader.  It’s her third trio recording.  This album is meant to reflect the life-changing events of the past two years.  Several of her original compositions reflect heroes around the world, some who served as caregivers during the horrible COVID pandemic.  She tributes them with reverence and respect, opening with “March On.”  This phrase was common around my home and neighborhood, as people tried to protect themselves from the virus and still manage to march forward with their individually affected lives.  For Lynne, this is a tribute to activists around the world who kept pushing forward through the fear, the disease and the political unrest.  Track #2 is infused with classical European music and quite beautiful.   The melody is inviting, like the title itself; “The Lights Are Always On.”  Track #3 is called “Sisters” and is soaked in gospel richness.  Lynne Arriale has included a composition to tribute Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman titled, “Honor.”  He stood up for ‘right’ in the face of heavy, political backlash.  He must have been torn to have to speak up during a time of such political turmoil in our country and in Ukraine.  Arriale’s blending of two melodic ideas creatively recalls that decision-making time and shows, with music, how two very different opinions can merge to reinforce each other.  Jasper Somsen brings his double bass to the forefront and adds a delightful solo song.  This composition is meant to characterize one American patriot’s unwavering pride in country and commitment to do what is honest and good.  Her song, “Loved Ones” takes my breath away with its beauty.  Lynne’s artistic fingers dance happily across the piano keys and her melody is springtime bright.  She also tributes “The Notorious RBG” with a song to remind us of the amazing stamina and legal fortitude that Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg brought to our court system and to our nation. This melody is regal.  It rings true to something deep inside of me and makes me want to sing along; march along; play it again.  It becomes one of my favorites on this album of original Arriale compositions. I also love “Into the Breach” that somehow reminds me of the John Coltrane days and, for me, tickles bebop memories.  Actually, her press package explains this song was written in remembrance of the January 6th insurrection and the heroes that saved democracy on that day.  “Walk In My shoes” is dedicated to the memory and work of civil rights icon and conscientious congressman, John Lewis.   She closes with “Heroes.” That title pretty much sums up all of these musical tributes.  It’s also a heartfelt ballad, composed by Arriale, in recognition of those who have brought light to a very dark period of our United States history.  She offers her music, like a beacon of hope.

* * * * * * * *


Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Roger Glenn, vibes; Russ Howe, guitar/composer/arranger; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn/arranger/composer; Henry Franklin, bass/composer; Gregory Howe, percussion/composer; Mike Hughes, drums; Mads Tolling & Anthony Blea, violins; Charith Premawardhana, viola; Ben Davis, Cello.

On their recent release, the Daggerboard group is featuring the big, bad bass of Henry Franklin.  As usual, they have a tight, cohesive sound as an ensemble.  However, on this project they have added the beauty of strings that gives these arrangements a peaceful, lovely ambience.  When people speak the name Henry Franklin, or ‘The Skipper’ (as he is lovingly referred to) you might see those people smiling.  There is a certain respect and reverence attached to this historic bassist.  He has played with such a long list of luminaries; it would take the whole page to list their names.  ‘The Skipper’ has a gold record for his “Grazin’ in the Grass” hit record recorded with the late, great Hugh Masekela.  He was part of the Roy Ayers ensemble when they were all fledgling musicians.  Based in Southern California, you may have seen him working the jazz scene in a number of places.  Most recently he has recorded with and toured with drummer Carl Burnett and pianist, Robert Turner under the banner of “3 More Sounds.”

Franklin (The Skipper) opens the first tune of this album, “The Dream Within a Dream,” with a funky bass line that sets the mood and tempo.  The strings hoover, like a circling bird and then the guitar of Ross Howe takes over.  It sounds like the soundtrack to a Western film.  The drums shuffle like horse hooves and the trumpet of Erik Jekabson soars above the groove.  It’s a compelling composition.  Track #2, “Agapanthus” is the name of a lavender ‘Lily of the Nile’ plant and becomes a springboard for trumpeter Erik Jekabson to explore.  He has a smooth relaxed approach to his solo exploration.   On Track #3 titled “Involuntary Separation” the arrangement reminds me of the Miles Davis ‘Sketches in Spain’ album.  It’s not the tone of Jekabson’s horn, but the ‘vibe’ of the production that recalls the Davis history-breaking album.  The featured artist, Henry Franklin, has contributed one original composition for this project called “Henry’s Garden.”  He opens the piece on double bass and it’s a heartfelt solo that grabs the attention immediately.  Oaxaca is a city in Mexico, and Daggerboard’s “Oaxacan Standoff” tune is very Spanish-influenced composition that features guitarist Russ Howe and the spectacular drums of Gregory Howe and Mike Hughes.  Gregory Howe has written seven of the nine songs on this album in collaboration with Erik Jekabson.  The strings are given a bright spotlight on a tune called “Video Culture.”  Mads Tolling and Anthony Blea on violin, along with Charith Premawardhana on viola and Ben Davis on Cello whisk me away to imaginative places where fiddles gather around a campfire in the wild, wild West and people dance into the fire-lit night.  This is a lovely listen.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Pepper Adams, baritone saxophone/composer; Tommy Banks, piano; Bobby Cairns, electric bass; Tom Doran, drums.

There is rarely something as beautiful as Pepper Adams playing his baritone saxophone.  I was absolutely excited when I heard that the Cellar Music Group’s archival imprint, Reel to Real, was releasing a two-disc set recorded ‘live’ on September 25, 1972.  The Tommy Banks trio, featuring Pepper Adams, was performing at the University of Alberta in Canada.  Pepper was born in Highland Park, Michigan, Oct 8, 1930, and is known for his work with John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd and a plethora of other iconic jazz legends.  Some say Pepper Adams often felt as though he had been overlooked and perhaps, even disparaged as a bandleader.  This amazing concert should put all such thoughts and rumors aside.  Here we have a cultural artifact that clearly justifies the Adams mastery of his instrument and upholds his position as bandleader and a legendary baritone player.

According to the 28-page booklet included in this double set release, Coleman Hawkins was one of Pepper’s biggest fans.  One of Adams’ closest friends was Don Byas.  He too adored Pepper’s style and talent.  In 1985, Dizzy Gillespie confided in Cecil Bridgewater how much he admired Pepper Adams and how his mastery utilized the baritone sax in a completely different and unexpected way from other players.  In the booklet, a number of Pepper’s peers shower him with praise and accolades.  As I listen to “Oleo” played at a maddening pace and challenging even the layman’s snap of fingers, Pepper Adams makes the fast-paced tune sound as casual and natural as breathing in and out.  It’s nineteen minutes of pure bliss!  Tommy Banks jumps stage front and executes a splendid solo on piano.  He’s followed by Bobby Cairns on an electric bass, playing non-stop Straight-ahead and I don’t even mind that it’s an electronic solo.  Cairns sounds great!  They follow the bass solo by trading fours and giving Tom Doran a time to shine on trap drums.  It’s quite exciting and I feel that I’m in the room and spellbound along with the rest of the appreciative audience.  This is the opening number on Disc two and it thrills me!  They follow this with “Tis” a composition only two minutes and thirty-some seconds long, but still inspired and fiery.  “Time On My Hands” is a tune I usually enjoy hearing a vocalist sing; especially Little Jimmy Scott.  However, Pepper Adams makes me appreciate the song without lyrics and simply enjoy the way he interprets it.  They perform it as a slow swing and I love it.  The baritone saxophone sings, swoops and dives through the melody like a wild bird.  I wonder how he can take a breath deep enough to spit out all those jazzy, non-stop phrases.  His playing is so beautiful, it nearly brings tears to my eyes.  Disc #2 closes with a bonus track, “Stella by Starlight,” that begins already in progress and is flying fast as a 747-jet plane. 

Disc One is also stellar and inspired.  It opens with “Three and One” (a Thad Jones composition) where Pepper Adams plays a blistering and spellbinding solo to exhibit his genius.  In the accompanying CD booklet, they reveal that virtually nothing exists of Pepper Adams recording with a trio during that 1970s period.  In 1968 he did record with Zoot Sims, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones.  In 1973 there was a quartet recording for Spotlite Records with Roland Hanna, George Mraz and Mel Lewis. But this current release gives Pepper the spotlight on long, illustrious solos, something he rarely got a chance to show-off during other recordings.  He’s free to let loose during these ‘live’ performances and play as long as he feels the spirit move him. He also plays two original compositions: “Patrice” and “Civilization and its Discontents.”   This music took my breath away! The LP releases April 23, 2022 and the CD & digitals will be released May 6, 2022.

* * * * * * * * *


Charles Mingus, bass/composer; John Foster, piano/vocals; Roy Brooks, drums/musical saw; Jon Faddis, trumpet; Charles McPherson, alto saxophone; Bobby Jones, tenor saxophone/clarinet.

Resonance Records has released a three-album glimpse into the music of Charles Mingus, during the prime of his career.  Resonance Records has established itself as top-of-the-line in the business of independent labels who search for unreleased jazz treasures. Surely, this is one of their big discoveries. It was recorded ‘live’ at the famed London-based, Ronnie Scott’s Club in 1972 and will be released this month to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Charles Mingus this year.  The ‘live’ set is comprised of almost two-and-a-half hours of music that originally was recorded professionally on eight-track tapes. 

“This is a lost chapter in Mingus’ history.  Originally intended to be an official album release by Mingus, it never materialized. … It’s especially exciting to be celebrating Mingus with this release in his centennial year,” said Zev Feldman, Resonance Records co-president.

What a line-up of musicianship!  Mingus is joined by the legendary Detroit musician, Roy Brooks on drums and musical saw; by the brilliance of nineteen-year-old Jon Faddis on trumpet, blowing holes through the ceiling with those very high notes he plays, and the now iconic Charles McPherson on alto saxophone.  Bobby Jones played tenor sax and clarinet, while John Foster was new on the ‘set’ and had replaced pianist Jaki Byard on the 88-keys.  With personnel like that on the bandstand, you can only expect greatness. Their very first tune on CD #1 is titled “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues” and the conversation between the Charles Mingus bass and the Faddis trumpet is formidable and exciting.  Their first song runs thirty-plus-minutes long and is stuffed with blues interludes and improvisational master moments.

During his time in England, Mingus was interviewed by a journalist named Brian Priestley who published the book, “Mingus: A Critical Biography.” 

Mingus philosophized, “Life has many changes.  Tomorrow it may rain and it’s supposed to be sunshine because it’s summertime.  But God’s got a funny soul.  He plays like Charlie Parker.  He may run some thunder on you.  He may take the sun up and put it in the nighttime, the way it looks to me.”    

“Noddin’ Ya Head Blues” completes the two-tune CD #1 in the most Mingus way.  He opens solo on the double bass and sets the rhythm and tone for the piece.  Then John Foster’s voice enters the scene, singing the story.  Turns out, not only is Foster an amazing pianist, he’s also a very good blues singer and gives a nod to Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vincent during the performance. Roy Brooks introduces the audience to his wood-cutting-saw solo, to much appreciation and applause.

Charles McPherson described the music of Mingus by saying, “… Organized chaos is the term because that’s the way Mingus’s music really did sound.  It did have almost this free-wheeling kind of vibe and yet, you can tell it’s written out; it’s thought about.  It has all the elements of organization, but still, it has the elements of spontaneity.”

Along with three discs of Mingus music, you will also be gifted with a booklet stuffed with information about these master players, photographs, the complete interview transcript of Brian Priestley questioning Charles Mingus and Charles McPherson in 1972.  There is a section in the booklet where Fran Lebowitz remembers her very personal connection to Charles Mingus.  It’s great reading!  I laughed out loud at some of Fran’s stories.  There is also an excerpt from the autobiography “Tonight at Noon: A Love Story” by Sue Graham-Mingus.  It’s a sixty-four-page booklet that is full of historic music information, serious and comedic memoirs, plus gives an in-depth insight into Charles Mingus, the man.  You can lie there and listen to his unique brilliance on disc, while reading all about him while you listen. 

   * * * * * * * * * *