Archive for May, 2022


May 16, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 16, 2022


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

Ron Jackson says, “There’s no love like the love of music,” and I agree.  With the able assistance of Ben Wolfe on bass and Willie Jones III on drums, this seven-string guitarist offers us an eleven-song mixture of original music and standard tunes.   I was swept away by the trio’s arrangement of Ron’s composition, “Walk Fast.”  It’s quite melodic and propelled by the dynamism of Willie Jones III on trap drums who offers us an impressive solo.  Jackson’s original, “From Dusk to Dawn” is drenched in the blues and Ben Wolfe’s walking bass line is prominent.  The melody is catchy and Ron’s striking guitar sings it to us unapologetically.  This is a slow swing tune that showcases Jackson’s mastery of his 7-string guitar and spotlights his distinctive style.  Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” is arranged with Willie Jones III slapping a funk beat into place and Ben Wolfe walking his bass briskly beneath the melodic lines.  When the drums and guitar fall silent, Ben takes a solo walk on his upright bass, until they trade fours with Willie’s drums.  There are two compositions on this album that pay tribute to guitarists who have influenced Ron Jackson.  “For Pat” is dedicated to Pat Martino.  “This Nearly Was Mine” (a Rodgers and Hammerstein piece) is dedicated to Bucky Pizzarelli.  Another Jackson composition is dedicated to Ron Luque titled “Roundabout.”

“Ron Luque was a big jazz fan who hired me and other musicians for private events here in New York City. … He lived in Temecula, CA.  His wife Marie commissioned “Roundabout” in October to honor him and his fight with Aphasia.  He (Ron Luque) passed away on March 31st.  He was a happy, energetic, life of the party guy.  … A truly great person.  His wife brought me and his favorite musicians to perform at his memorial in California,” Jackson explained to me the sweet story behind his composition tribute to Ron Luque.

I enjoyed Ron Jackson’s arrangement of the popular Quincy Jones production of “Secret Garden.” I used to love to hear Barry White share his spoken word monologue at the introduction of “Secret Garden” on Quincy’s 1989 “Back on the Block” album.  Jackson’s group adds the organ talents of Brian Ho during this arrangement.  On Track #8, they speed through the tune, “Will You Still Be Mine?” in a straight-ahead way.  Ron Jackson is stellar during this up-tempo performance.  The Trio closes with “Time After Time,” the familiar jazz standard featuring just bass and guitar.  Ben Wolfe and Ron Jackson swagger through the tune, with Jackson lending a shuffle-feel with his rhythm guitar talents and still playing a healthy melodic interpretation.  All in all, Impressive!

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Margaret Slovak, nylon string & electric guitar/composer; Harvie S., bass; Michael Serin, drums.

“I started to play the guitar at age eleven, initially exploring folk, soft-rock and classical music.  But when I was fourteen, in the basement of our parents’ house in Aurora, Colorado, my older brother Paul played me guitarist Pat Metheny’s “Right Size Life” trio LP with bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses.  I was stunned! …  I came to jazz through ECM artists like Pat, Ralph Towner, Egberto Gismonti and John Abercrombie.  Later on, I discovered jazz guitar masters such as Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino, Steve Kohn, Wes Montgomery, Dale Bruning, Gene Bertoncini and Jack Wilkins,” Margaret Slovak explained her journey to jazz.

She had been on a musical path for years when, in 2003, something unexpected occurred. Margaret was an up-and-coming guitarist with great potential, securing her own style and sound.  Then, shockingly she was severely hurt in a car accident.  Margaret’s right hand, her arm and shoulder were seriously damaged.  To her credit, after many operations and years of struggle, she has returned to the jazz scene and her love of guitar.  The result is this album, “Ballad for Brad.”  Ms. Slovak’s trio opens with a jazz waltz titled “Again.” This is followed by a tune that immediately captures my heart called “Flowers for Marie.”  It’s a very lovely ballad that showcases Margaret’s technique and tenacity on nylon guitar.  Harvie S. takes a melodic bass solo during this arrangement.  Drummer, Michael Sarin opens the next tune with a percussive, Latin feel.  It’s called “The Answer Within” and it’s arranged with an Afro Cuban beat, accompanied by Harvie’s bass walking steadily beneath the energy.  At times, it sounds as though he’s having a serious conversation with Margaret’s guitar.  Slovak’s compositions are inspired, often complex and beautifully interpreted.  Her musical melodies are interesting and often surprising, taking paths we don’t necessarily expect.  “Song for Anne” sings like chamber music in a front-room parlor.  According to her press package, the tune “Courage, Truth and Hope” was written to tribute journalist Bill Moyer and gives her bassist a platform to solo upon.  There is a gutsy song called, “Carrot Cake Blues” that’s playful. Michael Sarin puts a funk beat in place behind the blues changes.  Harvie S. has fun spreading his own blues feelings over the chord changes as a prelude to Margaret’s solo.  Towards the conclusion of this arrangement, Sarin takes a brief percussive solo.  The title tune is a loving dedication to Margaret’s husband and on her original composition, “Thirty-three,” Harvie S. gives us a solo creatively bowing his double bass.  This quickly becomes another favorite tune of mine on Margaret’s album.  

When she isn’t in the studio or touring, Margaret Slovak donates time to hospice patients, playing her guitar to sooth, relax and entertain them.  There is a study that shows how healing jazz music can be.  The patients she plays for say that they feel better after her visits.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the striking album cover artwork.  I was surprised to learn it was painted and created by Margaret Slovak herself, clearly a woman of many talents.  It’s light, bright, colorful and imaginative, just like this album of music.

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George Freeman, guitar/composer; Tatsu Aoki, Harrison Bankhead & Penny Pendleton, bass; Alejo Poveda, Phil Thomas, Hamid Drake & Michael Raynor, drums; Ruben Alvarez, timbales/congas; Von Freeman, Lou Gregory & Kirk Brown, piano; Chico Freeman, tenor & soprano saxophone; Eldee Young, bass/vocals; Joanie Pallatto, vocals; John Devlin, 6-string electric bass/accordion; Luiz Ewerling, drums/percussion; Billy Branch, harmonica; Mike Allemana, guitar.

The George Freeman album opens with a ‘riff’ that reminds me of an old African American work song called “Pick A Bale of Cotton.”  We used to sing it as children.  George’s rhythm guitar talents set the tempo and the blues saturates this piece like gravy on hot cornbread.  It’s titled, “Peak.” There is a rawness about this recording.  You can hear Freeman conversing with his guitar, singing along with it and sometimes scatting with his guitar lines.  There is a casual freedom to this piece and to this entire production.  It’s like I’m sitting on the front porch steps of his home while he wails on his guitar. 

Track #2 is the familiar standard “There Will Never Be Another You” with the late, great Von Freeman on piano making a joyful sound.  This album, “Everybody Say Yeah,” is a compilation of songs from various, historic releases by George Freeman.  The first song, “Peak” is from the ‘George Still Burns!’ album.  The standard is taken from the Freeman 1995 album release called “Rebellion.”  “My Scenery” was honed from George’s “All in the Family” 2015 album release. They swing with a Latin sway on “It’s Cha Time.” This one is a George Freeman composition that features my old friend and dearly departed Eldee Young on bass and vocals.  On Freeman’s project, various recording sessions feature a variety of players.  But one thing that is absolutely consistent is the swing and the ‘in-the-pocket’ guitar power of George Freeman.  The ensemble’s arrangement on “Summertime” change the familiar tune to a blues with cultural traces of Native American Indian music.   It’s quite unique, especially with Alejo Poveda’s funk drums propelling their groove.  Joanie Pallatto caresses the lyrics with her warm vocal tones and she also scats.  The tune “George Burns” cloned from an album of the same name, swings hard in a bebop style, with bandleader George Freeman slapping those unexpected tasty slides into place on his guitar.  This guitar technique calls for attention in a very musical way.  You will find that each tune on his compilation project offers joy to your ears. There are fourteen tunes included that celebrate George Freeman’s discography on Southport Records.  His music represents a tight-knit and prolific jazz scene in Chicago, Illinois.  On April 10, 2022, George Freeman celebrated his 95th birthday.  This CD release tributes George Freeman’s long and historic musical life. 

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Shiri Zorn, vocals/composer; George Muscatello, guitar/composer; Mauricio Zottarelli, percussion.

Shiri Zorn and George Muscatello have shared a nearly decade-long collaboration.  While incubated during a lockdown demanded by the pandemic, this album idea bloomed.  It is a project produced by Los Angeles based vocalist, Tierney Sutton.  Shiri Zorn’s voice floats and dances above the guitar brilliance of George Muscatello as they open with “Witch Touch,” an original composition.  The stark simplicity of the production draws the listener in and allows an appreciation for each contribution by the guitarist, the percussionist and the vocalist. Their interpretation of “How Deep is the Ocean” is totally unique, propelled by Mauricio’s rich, Brazilian, percussive talents.  George Muscatello creates the fiery rhythm for Shiri Zorn’s soprano voice to flicker above, like a burning match.  The trio blends perfectly, guitar and percussion creating a solid and creative stage where Shiri Zorn scats and improvises.  Track #3 is titled “Zingaro (Retrato Em Branco E Preto).  It is a haunting composition with a challenging melody, at points presented in unison blending Zorn’s voice with Muscatello’s guitar.  But mostly, Shiri Zorn shines in a solo spotlight that illuminates her awesome and powerful vocals.  The familiar tune, “Beautiful Love” is another expressive production illuminating the power of three.  Another original composition by Muscatello & Zorn is titled, “I Wasn’t Ready,” but obviously they are.  There is mutual trust between the players and a comfort level that allows them to veer into unexpected musical territories and to challenge tempos, time and melodic formats in lovely ways.  You will appreciate the way they play with time and their Latin-tinged arrangement on “Willow Weep for Me.”  The spoken word added on the fade of this tune is quite striking and sensual.  it moves from English to a foreign language in the blink of an eye.  Their music is steeped in jazzy talent and rises, hot and steamy like smoke from the tea kettle.  Here is trio music that warms and refreshes while it entertains us; a project that reflects a sacred, explosive, musical expression. This is art!  It will be available June 10th, 2022.

This video was filmed back in April of 2019.

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ALEKSI GLICK – “GUITAR & ME” –  Independent Label

Aleksi Glick, solo guitar/composer.

When you choose to play one of the most popular instruments in the world, it’s imperative that you have an original sound.  This young, New York virtuoso, Aleksi Glick, brings us an album of solo guitar music that is both original, enthusiastic and entertaining.  His sound is uniquely his own and his talent promises us a bright and boisterous future in music. 

Opening with a tune titled, “With Ease” this is one of six original compositions he plays on this album called, “Guitar & Me.”  He composed it after attending a memorable and inspirational time at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Aleksi Glick is rooted in jazz and blues, but Glick’s album pushes the boundaries of genres.  He seamlessly floats through an eclectic mix of styles including R&B, folk, rock, and Bossa Nova.  The title tune starts out smooth and lovely, then quickly takes on a joyful Brazilian flavor with a pretty melody riding on top of Glick’s rhythm guitar licks.  Next, he interprets the popular tune by Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog Jr., “God Bless the Child” draping it in blues and arpeggio guitar lines that stitch through the arrangement like gold threads.  He’s listened to everyone from Jimi Hendrix to John Scofield; from Derek Trucks to Wes Montgomery.  Still, Aleksi Glick has an awesome style all his own and it makes for an intriguing listen.  He covers tunes composed by Jerry Garcia, Paul Simon, Frederic Weatherly’s “Danny Boy” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind.”  Aleksi surprises me by singing at the very end of this “Georgia on My Mind” arrangement.  His vocals are pleasant and honest.  Glick’s original compositions are a force in their own right and brightly showcase his composer talents.  It takes real faculty, guts and aptitude to perform an entire album solo.  There is only you, the musician, standing naked and vulnerable in the spotlight.  But no worries!  Aleksi Glick shines brilliantly as both a composer, guitarist, arranger and obviously a rising-star artist.  I can’t wait to hear his next project!

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LEONOR FALCON – “IMAGA MONDO VOL. II” –  FalconGumba Records

Leonor Falcon, violin/viola/composer/arranger; Christof Knoche, bass clarinet/alto saxophone; Juanma Trujillo, guitar; Zachary Swanson, bass; Juan Pablo Carletti, drums/percussion.

“Imaga Mondo” translates to ‘imaginary world’ in Esperanto language.  Leonor Falcon’s debut album was released in 2017 and established her as a stylistic violinist and violist exploring Avant Garde and improvisational music, she was also described by some as an iconoclastic composer.  This album is a continuation of these descriptions and a deep dive into her musical world images.  New York based, Leonor Falcon is a native of Venezuela and is classically trained.  She began playing in the orchestra at age six.  She became part of the acclaimed chamber music group, Virtuosi de Caracas.  At the same time, she was active on her local music scene, performing with pop, rock and Latin groups.  Simultaneously, she was also honing her skills in jazz and improvised music.  In 2007, Leonor attended the Conservatory of Geneva, Switzerland to obtain her Master in Music Performance.  After she succeeded in this accomplishment, Leonor moved to New York City when she completed her second Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance at Queens College.  Then the recording began.

The first tune on this album, “Improv 1” features three core members who played on her first album; Christof Knoche on bass clarinet and alto saxophone. Falcon is assertive on viola during this arrangement.  In the blink of an eye, Leonor Falcon snatches us into her imaginary world.  I am struck by how beautiful Track #2 is with a haunting melody and a blend of harmonic strings.   In the publicity notes, I discover that she composed this ballad when she was pregnant with her first child, named Emilio. 

“Expecting during a pandemic was a transformative experience.  It made me question many things, including the way I’ve been approaching music so far,” Leonor Falcon shared in her press package.

Her Composition, “Cursing Parrots” has a Bluegrass flavor at first, but soon allows the bandmembers to step into their improvisational creativity like a pair of overalls.  There is a stunning solo on electric guitar by Juanma Trujillo that transforms this piece into jazz/rock.    

Her composition titled “Nita” embraces a South American folk music quality.  Her publicist describes it as a combination of Argentine chacarera and a Mexican son jarocho.  The accompanying YouTube video portrays an energetic, playful and innocent little girl, that perhaps represents the childlike freedom and spirit within Leonar Falcon herself.  Children are so honest and innocent, like some of this music.  “The Monks” is a composition that spotlights her bassist Zachary Swanson and the beauty of acoustic Avant-Garde jazz.  On the tune, “A,” Christof Knoche steps stage center to feature his rich, bass clarinet solo.  Leonar Falcon blends her traditional music with classical spices, home-grown Venezuelan roots and peppery hot improvisations.  She seasons this Volume Two release of her imaginary world with South American herbs and stirs the pot of strings, offering us a flavorful jazzy stew that well-represents her “FalconGumba” record label.  In a way, Falcon’s musical compositions embrace the concept of Gumbo, inviting us to taste her delicious bowl of music without preconceived notions or expectations.  Just stick your spoon into the broth and enjoy!

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DAN BRUCE’S :BETA COLLECTIVE – “TIME TO MIND THE MYSTICS” –                          Shifting Paradigm Records

Dan Bruce, electric & nylon string guitar/composer/Ableton live programming; Chris Coles, alto & tenor saxophone; vocoder; Brad Wagner, soprano & tenor saxophones; bass clarinet; Caleb Smith, trombone; Will Wedmedyk, vibraphone; Theron Brown, piano/Fender Rhodes/Melodica; Aidan Plank, acoustic & electric bass; Anthony Taddeo, drums/percussion; Joel Negus/synthesizers.

Dan Bruce leads a group of Midwest-based improvisers.  He describes his musical concept as a way of exploring the nexus between composition and improvisation; tradition and future; constraint and freedom.  In 2020, guitarist Dan Bruce won the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.  Bruce has written all eight compositions for this project.  Once heralded as an important member of the Chicago, Illinois Jazz Scene, Dan Bruce relocated to Ohio.  However, he is active throughout the Midwest United States as a performer, a recording artist, composer and educator.  Over his decades of performing, starting when he was just seventeen years old, he has recorded on more than thirty albums as a sideman and released two albums as a bandleader.  Dan has also enjoyed playing with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.  As a composer, Bruce’s work has been featured in The Chicago Composers Collective series and the Jazz Institute of Chicago NextGen Jazz Series.   His compositions and arrangements have been published in Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine.  Bruce is currently on faculty at Youngstown State University and Cuyahoga Community College.

Opening with the title tune, “Time to Mind the Mystics” Dan Bruce establishes his production style by blending programmers with acoustic and electronic instruments.  It seems to wants to establish technology as an innovation in our current culture and blend it with classical training, jazz improvisation and arrangements that mirror a big band.  Using the horns of Wagner and Coles, along with trombonist Caleb Smith to play the melody of this title tune, he soon takes the spotlight on his electric guitar.  It’s a stunning solo that elevates the mood, employing a rock-band synthesis with a fusion jazz feel.  Some of his “Beta Collective” ensemble also take turns to solo and strut their stuff.  This is ten minutes of mind-expanding music.  “Blueprint” is a tune that invites vibraphonist, Will Wedmedyk to shine.  Drummer, Anthony Taddeo, brilliantly propels the band forward and is quite creative while holding down the rhythm. Dan Bruce somehow blends ring modulators, whirling vocoders, synthesizers, programming and acoustic instruments together in a delicious musical soup.  The taste of his music is both unique and addictive.  You can get lost in the various styles and the musician interpretations of Dan’s compositions.  Aidan Plank, on bass, opens up “Insignificance (a Love Song)” and sets the tempo and mood along with Dan’s innovative guitar.  Later in the arrangement Plank moves impressively into the spotlight to offer a very beautiful bass solo.  These Bruce compositions are all very long, spanning over six and half minutes or more, yet I never got bored. That is because they offer lovely melodies and extraordinary solos, where each musician can explore and share their creativity with us.  They are more like arranged suites of music rather than individual songs. On Track #3, Dan Bruce beautifully explores his nylon string guitar.

Dan Bruce explains his creation as a collection of thought experiments. 

“At the core is the idea that our embrace of technological innovation cannot come at the sacrifice of generational knowledge and ancient wisdom.  Our humanity needs to be celebrated and technology should play a supporting role,” reflects Dan Bruce.

This jazz journalist feels Dan Bruce has discovered a happy balance in both his concept (humanity and technology) and his modern jazz music.                            

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Dan “Chimy” Chmielinski, bass; Martina Dasilva, vocals/composer; SPECIAL GUESTS: Marquis Hill, trumpet; Grace Kelly, alto saxophone; Lucas Pino, tenor saxophone; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Ken Kubota, cello; Andrew Renfroe, guitar.

Chimytina is the name of a vocal-bass duo celebrated for their innovative arrangements of jazz classics.  Marquis Hill, their special guest on trumpet, shines like a star on their opening tune “I Want to Be Happy.”  Dan “Chimy” Chmielinski trades fours briefly on bass with his partner, Martina Dasilva on vocals.  Martina’s soft, warm voice floats over the melody of “As Praias Desertas” singing in Portuguese the melodic composition of Jobim.  Marina first caught the ear of the universe in 2014 when she released a series of duo performance videos.  She racked up thousands of views on social media.  In 2019, the duo released their debut album, “A Very ChimyTina Christmas.”  These two talented musicians (Chmielinski & Dasilva) offer unique arrangements, exceptional talent on their instruments (bass and voice) and have combined this with outstanding musical guests.  For example, “Deep Night” features the awesome guitar work of Andrew Renfroe. 

“A good word for this album is trust,” Chimy, the bassist, explains.  “We’re trusting that the world will return and we’ll be able to do what we love again,” he refers to the way the pandemic of COVID has challenged touring and performing.

Martina sings “Nice Work If You Can Get It” on top of Chimy’s walking bass and the saxophone intersperses the arrangement with tasty licks.  The voice becomes a horn and harmonizes with the saxophone, trading fours with Dan on bass.  Martina’s choice of repertoire is perfect and she throws in a couple of original songs including “Twin Flame” and “My Universe.”  Both are well-written and superbly delivered.  On the tune, “I’ll Never Be the Same” Lucas Pino makes a star-studded appearance on tenor sax.  His solo is wonderful, but even more impressive is the way he interjects his instrument into Martina’s vocals.  It’s very artsy and tasteful.  Some of these compositions are songs I haven’t heard before like “It’s All in Your Mind” by Charles La Vere.  The lyrics are smart and the melody is quite captivating.  Chimy takes time to improvise on the theme, letting his bass sing melodically across space until Renfroe enters with smooth guitar licks.  Marina and Chimy turn a Country/Western tune (“Cold Cold Heart” by Hank Williams) into a jazzy experience with just bass and vocals swinging through the universe like shooting stars.  I always enjoy the inclusion of a vibraphone into jazz arrangements.  Joel Ross displays a master solo on the “My Universe” tune penned by Martina.  The vocal half of ‘Chimytina,’ (Martina) sings the blues using the familiar song “Trouble in Mind” as a vehicle and featuring the talented alto saxophonist, Grace Kelly with Dan Chmielinski swinging briskly on bass beneath both vocals and saxophone.  He’s so strong with the groove that you won’t even miss the drums.  They close with “Lush Life,” Billy Strayhorn’s masterpiece.  The arrangement whisks us into a chamber music space.  Chimy bows his bass in a beautiful way.  The duo shines and sparkles.   This is definitely an album I will enjoy time and time again!

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PASQUALE GRASSO – “BE BOP!” – Sony Music Masterworks

Pasquale Grasso, guitar; Ari Roland, bass; Keith Balla, drummer. SPECIAL GUEST: Samara Joy, vocals.

Pasquale Grasso’s single from the album “Be-Bop!” is “A Night in Tunisia” played with zest by this awesome guitar virtuoso.  He’s a native of Southern Italy’s Campania region and relocated to New York City in 2009.  Before long, until his reputation on the guitar was in demand.  His approach to guitar playing commands amazing technique of the fretboard, moving like lightening between single notes and chords, while at the same time showcasing independent bass lines.  Many have compared his guitar playing to the master pianist, Art Tatum.  What a great testament to Pasquale’s ability and talent. 

Since I was a little kid, I always had this sound in my head, then slowly it’s coming out,” he explained. “I was never too much influenced by guitar players, for some reason. I grew up listening to Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Those were my guys. For guitar, I always liked Charlie Christian and Oscar Moore, but I never really listened to too much guitar players. Of course, when I hear Barney Kessel and Chuck Wayne and Jimmy Raney, I love them. They’re all great artists but they never really got me when I was a kid. I was more into Bird and Bud, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge and Louis Armstrong.   So, I was always more influenced by horn players and piano players than guitar players,” Pasquale Grasso admits.

This upcoming album, due to be released on June 17th, celebrates those same be-bop masters he listened to as a young musician; Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie. They have greatly inspired Pasquale’s growth and technique.  Grasso achieves an astonishing balance of technical wizardry and swing on the guitar, often sounding like two guitars playing simultaneously in concert. In 2015, Pasquale won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition and that included a performance with guitar legend Pat Martino’s organ trio.  After this, he was signed to a deal with Sony Masterworks.  This “Be-Bop” trio album features the talented young vocalist Samara Joy on their tune, “I’m in a Mess” and the musicians offer a super, up-tempo rendition of “Shaw Nuff.”  Other familiar compositions from the be-bop era include Monk’s “Ruby My Dear” and “Ornithology.” 

In support of this new project, Pasquale Grasso starts an international tour this month, performing worldwide throughout the summer and finally reaches California shores on October 1st when he will appear at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa and on October second, he zips up to half Moon Bay, California in concert at “Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.”  If you have the opportunity, be there!

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May 2, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 2, 2022


Oscar Peñas, Guitars/composer/arranger; Marta Sanchez, piano/Fender Rhodes; Ron Carter & Pablo Asian, bass; Richie Barshay, drums; HARLEM QUARTET: Limar Gavilan & Melisa White, violins; James Amador, viola; Jody Redhage-Ferber, cello.

Oscar Peñas has created an album that draws inspiration from a fishing tradition that reflects Andalucian culture thousands of years ago.  Here are twelve original tracks of music meant to celebrate man and his infinite dance with nature.  To interpret the Peñas compositions, Oscar enlisted the talents of master bassist, Ron Carter and another extraordinary bass man, Pablo Aslan, along with sensitive pianist, Marta Sanchez and dynamic Richie Barshay on drums.  As whipped cream on top of this deliciously sweet musical sundae, he adds the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet.  Peñas opens with the tune, “Traveling Through Water” where the Catalonian guitarist combines his classical and flamenco flavors.  This piece prompts my imagination to visualize a calm ocean and a sailboat floating above the gentle waves.  Especially when Ron Carter takes his solo and mimics slapping the waves against the hull of the ship with sliding notes from his bass.  This is a beautiful, peaceful tune, energized by Barshay’s tasty drums and designed to be exemplary of an ancient fishing tradition.

“Almadraba is an Arabic name,” Peñas explains the title of his album.  “It’s a sustainable fishing method first practiced by the Phoenicians and brought to Andalusian, Spain about 2000 years ago.  It’s still in practice today in fact, on the coast of Cadiz.  Schools of bluefin tuna travel from the North Sea to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean to spawn.  On the first full moon in May, the fishermen there set up the labyrinth of nets to force the fish into a center area and then pull them out, very dramatically, and take only the biggest ones.  The rest are returned to the sea,” Peñas describes the long history of a Spanish fishing tradition that is dear to his heart. 

This is the fifth album by this artist.  It perpetuates the customs and beauty of his culture through the lens of jazz, comfortably blended with classical roots and Iberian essences.  Although this music is peaceful and calming, the actual battle of the fisherman, with poles and lines, struggling on the wet and slippery wood of their boats is pretty dramatic.  You hear a bit of this during the Peñas arrangement of “Almadraba’s Waltz” where he adds strings for both beauty and excitement.  Tunes like “Habanera de la Almadraba” pull at the heartstrings with its romantic melody.  Marta’s piano solo dances like sunlight on ocean waves.  The struggle of the fishermen becomes more obvious during the arrangement of “La Levanta” with Ron Carter’s bass prominent and tenacious and the Harlem Quartet letting their strings splash like captured fish on the boat’s floor. 

Oscar explains that on land, the big tunas are filleted for auction and on ‘El Ronqueo’ Senior Peñas evokes the sound of the fishermen’s knives scraping on fish bones.  This suite of music has finally satisfied Oscar’s need to combine his love of jazz with his classical roots and his rich, Spanish culture. The salty spice of bebop and afro-Cuban music permeates some compositions, but the string quartet softens and bolsters the pieces.  There is sensitive beauty in this production and the compositions cover us, like the nets of the fisherman of Cadiz.   

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SAN GABRIEL 7 – “UNDER THE STARS” – Independent Label

Sinne Eeg, lead vocals/background vocals/composer; Andrea Miller, Fletcher Sheridan & Trist Curless, background vocals; Jim Lewis, trombone; Kye Palmer, trumpet/flugelhorn; Glen Berger, alto, soprano & tenor saxophone/ /flute/alto flute/oboe/English horn; Alex Budman, alto & tenor saxophone; baritone sax/flute/clarinet/bass clarinet; Dave Holben, tuba; Chad Edwards, piano/Hammond B3; Steve Gregory, guitars; Chris Gordon, piano/arranger/producer; Jonathan Pintoff, upright bass; Randy Drake, drums; Scott Breadman, percussion.

The group, San Gabriel 7, was formed by trombonist Jim Lewis.  Surprisingly, he was a spacecraft engineer who worked at JPL, a federally funded research and development center managed for NASA by Caltech and located in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley.  At first the group was made up of JPL employees who played instruments, with Lewis being the bandleader.  The San Gabriel 7 has changed music personnel over time but keeps the same emphasis on a tight horn section and exciting arrangements.  Soon after the 9/11 incident, Jim Lewis, who was also an active member of the National Guard, was deployed to Afghanistan.  He asked Dave Cushman to lead the San Gabriel 7 band.  Under new direction, Cushman enlisted a number of top L.A. jazz players to join the group as guest artists.  The group also engaged vocalists.  Jim Lewis was especially fond of singer/songwriters.  The San Gabriel 7 popularity spread.

This recent San Gabriel 7 release, “Under the Stars,” features the regular band members and the lovely talents of lead vocalist, Sinne Eeg.  She is considered the preeminent jazz vocalist in Scandinavia and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Danish Music Award, won four times for ‘Best Danish Jazz Vocal Album.’   She’s also the first vocalist to receive the Ben Webster Prize, France’s prestigious Prix du Jazz Award.  As an awesome composer, Sinne Eeg brings not only her brilliant vocals to the project, but she has written or co-written every song on this production.  Chris Gordon has done an outstanding job of arranging and producing most of the music.  They open with Sinne’s “Rocket Blues” a 13-bar wordless song where Ms. Eeg scats her way through the tune, becoming a human horn.  “I’m In the Mood for Love” is a jazz waltz with wonderful, harmonic horn parts and a delightful melody with original lyrics.  Both these songs sound like they could be jazz standards and Glen Berger’s saxophone solo sounds like a beautiful wild bird. 

“Much of my composing is melody driven.  I might write something with a bar missing or an extra bar.  I just like to keep in the flow of the melody.  A song may wind up with a tricky, mixed meter; but it usually makes sense because the melody makes sense,” Sinne Eeg described her writing style.

Percussion opens their arrangement of “The Barista” and features the propelling drums of Randy Drake and Scott Breadman on percussion.  Kye Palmer’s trumpet sings a happy, spontaneous solo and the lyrics reflect having a crush on the coffee shop guy who prepares her cappuccino.  It’s a cute lyrical message.  The title tune, “Under the Stars” is a lilting ballad with a Latin, smooth-jazz flavor and allows space for Sinne’s creative melody to blossom and her scat vocals to dance atop the interesting chord changes.  I enjoyed the piano solo of Chad Edwards and the tightly arranged horn parts.  “Getting Along with Love” has an R&B flair and shows the soulful side of Sinne Eeg.  This tune brings to mind a Bobby Caldwell production.  I could see this tune easily crossing over to pop stations for air play.  This composition is playful and invites you to sing along with those catchy horn lines.  When the background voices come on the scene, they really slap the groove into place during the fade.  This is a well-produced album of excellent material and great arrangements.  Talented composer, Sinne Eeg has a voice that floats atop the melodies like oil on water and you won’t miss a lyric.  Her enunciation is wonderful and her style is her own. 

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MANEL FORTIA – “DESPERTAR” – Segell Microscopi

Manel Fortia, upright bass/composer/arranger; Marco Mezquida, piano; Raphael Pannier, drums.

Barcelona-born bassist and composer, Manel Fortia, bridges his Spanish, classical influenced music and his Mediterranean roots with modern New York jazz.  The result is an amazing trio album of sustenance and beauty.  It features three extraordinary talents who combine their charming creativity to interpret the compositions of Manel Fortia in a rich and rewarding way.  I am enchanted by the tenderness and vulnerability I hear in the first tune titled, “Dormir.” In a way, it reminds me of a lullaby without the waltz.  On “Circular” I am possessed by the drums of Raphael Pannier.  His technique and percussive capabilities shine.  In concert with the strength of the drums is Marco Mezquida on piano, who moves his fingers rapidly over the keys, projecting mad technique, motion and energy.  When Manel Fortia steps into the spotlight, his bass continues the storytelling.  On the album credits, Manel says that the JFK Air-Train inspired this original composition and the piece is absolutely full of movement.  On the fade, Mezquida challenges Pannier’s drums on piano.  Pannier sparkles brightly, making the drums sound like fast-moving wheels against asphalt or steel sparking against train tracks.  At the conclusion, the instruments chug slowly to a stop.  This entire production has a European classical edge to it that is both lovely and relaxing, but still, there’s obvious energy that these musicians bring to the project.  On the third cut, Marco Mezquida makes me feel as though I’m at a classical concert.  His piano chops are spellbinding.  Manel enters, a whispered bass voice that calms the music and sings melodically to his captive audience. On “Espiritual” (an ode to Harlem) Mezquida pulls a gospel groove out of the piano in the sweetest way.  Manel Fortia sings along on his bass, not only acting as the root of the rhythm section, but singing his own inspired song. 

Marco Mezquida is a multi-award-winning Spanish pianist who has worked with Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman, Bill McHenry, Chicuelo and Noa.  Clearly, he is closely connected to Manel’s music and he brings dynamism to the project.  You can tell the musicians listen closely to each other, as does their French drummer, Raphael Pannier.  These three super-talented musicians complement each other.  On track #5, you hear all the richness in Manel’s bass instrument.  This original song is titled “El dia después” and it’s a song for his beloved Barcelona. He also is broadly featured on “Aires de Libertad” a celebration of prospect Park.   From beginning to end, I heard this album as a message of peace and beauty.

“This album is very important to me because it reflects one of the most transcendent moments in my artistic life.  I feel that living in New York City changed me tremendously and I grew a lot there.  It is also the first time I recorded a full album featuring all my compositions … playing them with two of my favorite musicians with whom I have a great connection personally and musically is like a dream come true,” Manel Fortia says in his press package.

Perhaps the title of this album and the last tune sums up the total picture of Manel Fortia’s project.  The Spanish title “Despertar” translates to ‘awakening.’  This production has been an awakening of sorts for both the composer and his bandmates.  They offer us a very melodic, original, dreamy journey that’s full of brilliance and sparkle along the way. 

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ERIK PALMBERG – “IN BETWEEN” – Prophone Swedish Jazz

Erik Palmberg, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Anton Dromberg, piano; Niklas Wennstrom & Robert Erlandsson, double bass; Sebastian Voegler & Jonas Backman, drums; Karin Hammer, trombone; Hampus T. Adams, baritone saxophone.

Erik Palmberg has a very distinctive sound on his trumpet and flugelhorn.  He is also a composer and has penned nine of the ten songs on this album.  The only exception is “Taking a Chance on Love” written by Vernon Duke and presented as a lilting, effective, Latin arrangement.  The challenge for this group comes at the very end of this tune, when the horns begin to improvise loosely.  Perhaps this area needs to have written horn arrangements that would keep their harmonic sound tight and cohesive.  At the album’s introduction, Erik’s ensemble opens with a song called “Pathways” that gives the spotlight to Hampus T. Adams on baritone sax.  I also enjoyed Anton Dromberg’s light and airy solo on piano.  The title tune, “In Between” is very contemporary sounding, with a melodic melody played at a moderate tempo.  The rhythm section creates a strong platform for Palmberg’s horn to solo upon.  The creative arrangement, with the piano’s repetitive line driving the music underneath the trumpet’s melody, is splendid.  On Palmberg’s composition “Frost Flowers,” Niklas Wennstrom’s bass steps stage center and soaks up the spotlight with his improvised solo.  Once the trumpet takes over, the piece is elevated, grows and blossoms, spurred by the drums of Sebastian Voegler and the power of Erik’s horn.  A tune called “The Lighthouse” is moody and pensive.  I can picture a quiet ocean and the white lights flashing warning signals across the lapping waves.  On Track #8, “Conversations” the trombonist and the trumpeter hold a spirited musical discussion.  Robert Erlandsson bows his bass instrument at the top of a tune called “Lingering Thoughts” and catches my ear.  He’s almost hidden beneath the horn lines.  Still, Erlandsson steps out from behind the curtains to set the tempo and provides the mood for this song with a single upright bass note.  When it’s his turn to solo, Erlandsson slow-swings across my listening space with impressive creativity.  Erik Palmberg and his jazz band are based in Sweden.  He grew up listening to his father playing trumpet and French horn.  As a youth, his parents played jazz around the house and he studied trumpet until age twelve.  For a while, he put the instrument aside, but in his twenties, Erik was drawn back to the horn.  He was accepted at the Royal College of music in Stockholm where the great Peter Asplund became his trumpet teacher during his college days.  

“I started playing in different projects at the school, but also gigs around Stockholm. My last year of studies was done at the Jazz -Institut -Berlin as an erasmus student. … One of my inspiring teachers was of course my main trumpet professor, Gerard Presencer.  Since I finished my studies in 2010, I have had the opportunity to play with a lot of prominent jazz artists and interesting projects in Sweden; but also, around Europe, especially in Germany where I have done several tours,” Erik explains at his website.

In 2018, Erik Palmberg released his debut album “First Lines” recorded in 2017 for Stockholm Jazz Records and this production is his sophomore album, released in December of 2021.

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CHRIS STANDRING – “SIMPLE THINGS” – Ultimate Vibe Recordings

Chris Standring, guitar/keyboards/programming/arranging/composer; Rodney Lee, keyboards; Andre Berry, bass; Chris Coleman, drums; Kevin Axt upright bass; Gary Meek, tenor saxophone.

On the very first tune of Chris Standring’s recording titled, “Shadow of Doubt” I hear shades of Wes Montgomery.  There is something about the strong ‘groove’ Chris establishes that reminds me of Wes.  With the powerful drumming of Chris Coleman slapping the funk into place, Standring’s music just makes me happy.  Indeed, according to his publicist’s notes, Standring says:

“…the theme of this album is joy, positivity, hope and because I’m a sucker for a beautiful melody, a little sadness as well.”

This is well-played, contemporary jazz played by seasoned jazz veterans.  I was a part of the Motown staff in Detroit as a songwriter and almost all the amazing players on those early Motown studio sessions were competent jazz players.  The groove and the funk I hear from Andre Berry on bass and Rodney Lee on keyboards reminds me of those early Detroit days.  These ‘Chris Standring’ arrangements make me want to dance.  Standring soars on his Benedetto guitar and makes a joyful sound against the excellence of his rhythm section. 

“I saw a YouTube video of Bootsy explaining his basic funk formula.  The bass line he demonstrated is so funky that it inspired me to write Something of my own.  Of course, I had to thank him which I did on my tune, “Thank You Bootsy,”

On the pretty ballad, “A Thousand Words (for Samantha)” Kevin Axt makes a guest appearance on upright bass.  The melody is compelling and the bridge is absolutely beautiful.  Chris has composed all eleven songs on this, his 14th CD, and I found each one to be a sparkling gem.  As a prolific composer he has penned or co-written over one-hundred compositions.

Standring, a native of England and currently based in Southern California, has had thirteen billboard Top 10 singles and six singles that reached number one on the Billboard Chart.  He began studying classical guitar when he was just six years old.  He was drawn to jazz early-on and became a serious jazz musician when he attended the London College of Music.  His mentors were great bebop players like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Budd Powell and Chet Baker. Later he became a fan of Joe Pass and Pat Martino.  When you listen to this album, it is obvious he is also a lover of funk, Rhythm and Blues. 

“I’m a big fan of Prince, who learned about funk studying the music of people like Bootsy Collins.  I wrote the opening track, ‘Shadow of Doubt’ after hearing a particular bass line by Prince that I really liked and wondered what I could do with something similar,” Chris Standring shared.

You can clearly hear the Prince influence on other tunes like “Face to Face” and “Ain’t Nothin’ but A Thing” featuring Rodney Lee on organ.  There is also a trace of James Brown influence in these funky, danceable compositions. 

Chris Standring moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and he was quickly embraced by the West Coast music scene.  He found himself recording with gospel artists, Bebe and Cece Winans, pop artist, Jody Watley and smooth-jazz artists like Rick Braun; Bob James, Richard Elliott, Peter White, Kirk Whalum, Marc Antoine and Al Stewart. He often writes music for others to record and for Track #3, “Change the World” that was the case.  At the last minute, Standring decided to keep the song for himself.  He released it as a single and the song powered up to #1 on the Billboard Chart. 

The song “Too Close for Comfort” was written after his health scare last year.   Chest pains and a trip to the hospital reminded Chris how fragile life really is.  Thus, the title of this album, “Simple Things” is a reminder for him to appreciate every moment of life and to spend time with loved ones and be present in each moment of every day.  This is a musical message I will enjoy listening to and playing over and over again.

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MIKE ALLEMANA – “VONOLOGY” – Ears&Eyes Records

Mike Allemana, guitar/composer/arranger; Michael Raynor, drums; Matt Ferguson, acoustic bass; Tomeka Reid, cello; Kendall Moore, trombone; Geof Bradfield, tenor saxophone; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Victor Garcia, trumpet/flugelhorn. VOCALS: Sue Demel, Gabriela Allemana, Austin Burgett, Alton Smith, Angel Rodriguez, Bill Brickey & Lindsay Weinberg.

Here is an experiment in sound and harmony that pushes the boundaries of familiarity and explores the sanctity of freedom.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about; freedom!  Von Freeman was a charismatic music master in Chicago for many years and an inspiration to his community and the world.  He was an NEA Jazz Master saxophonist and celebrated as one of the founders of the Chicago School of Jazz.  To name just a sprinkling of lives he touched, Von Freeman mentored three generations of rising stars including his son, Chico Freeman, celebrated jazz vocalist, Kurt Elling, award winning reed man, Steve Coleman and trumpeter Brad Goode, to name only a few.  Mike Allemana worked for fourteen years in the Freeman quartet.  Von Freeman is lovingly celebrated with Allemana’s project titled, “Vonology,” a play on Astrology and Von’s name.

“Numerous musicians of Von’s generation interpret the world to some degree using an astrological lens.  Because of Von’s interest in astrology, I decided to investigate his natal horoscope … a Libra born in October 1923.  …  This is not a tribute in the traditional sense, but an original work that represents, through sound and text, the ways in which Von musically and spiritually connected with others and transformed people’s lives,” Mike Allemana explained.

Allemana has composed all of the music.  His expressive pieces move like suites of sound and expression offering nearly forty-minutes of creativity.  The composer incorporates voices and rich, harmonic horn lines to punctuate his arrangements.  I am hypnotized by Track #3, “Communion and Renewal” that’s beautifully performed by both Allemana on his beguiling guitar solo and saxophonist Greg Ward, who warmly blankets the tune with his reed mastery.  This sensuous ballad quickly becomes one of my favorite pieces on Allemana’s unique presentation of original compositions. 

“Von told me that he judges musicians not on technical prowess, but whether they can perform a ballad convincingly, with emotion…” Allemana shared.

All I can say is, Mike Allemana has done Von Freeman proud.  From the first tune, “Welcome, Enter” that moves like a cyclone through space, with tenor sax man, Geof Bradfield referencing one aspect of Freeman’s tone; perhaps displaying the guttural edges during his blistering solo.  Kendall Moore follows with a poignant trombone solo and the movement climaxes with drummer Michael Raynor, who played in Freeman’s band for more than two decades, power-housing through the musical bars.  On the closing composition, “The mentor’s Benediction” there is spoken word presented by vocalist, Bill Brickey, to encapsulate Von’s philosophy and written by Brian Allemana.  This suite of music tinkers with bebop to incorporate Freeman’s *AACM-period of growth and spontaneous creativity, including inspiration from Sun Ra’s Arkestra, a group Freeman played with for a brief period of time and a band that brightly colored outside any confining lines.  This is a dynamic and poignant tribute to the late, great Von Freeman and an example of the talent and ingenuity of Mike Allemana, a guitarist who competently composed and arranged music to celebrate his friend and fellow musician.  This project also becomes a formidable stage for Allemana’s talented band members and spotlights their excellence.

NOTE: *AACM = Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a Chicago organization formed in 1965.

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Chris Torkewitz, conductor/composer/tenor saxophone/flute. JAZZ CHAMBER ENSEMBLE: Jay Rattman, clarinet; Curtis Stewart, violin; Vicky Chow, piano; Kathryn Andrews, harp; Lisa Dispigno, flute; Amanda Gookin, cello; Aleksandr Karjaka, bass clarinet; Adam Matthes, viola; Jannina Norpoth, violin; Markus Schieferdecker, bass; Austin Walker, drums.  JAZZ ORCHESTRA: Rhythm:  Olli Hirvonen, guitar; Florian Hoefner, piano; Markus Schieferdecker, bass; Austin Walker, drums. Saxes & Woodwinds: Dave Ashton, alto & soprano saxophone/flute; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone/flute; Jim Saltzman & Ben Bryden, tenor saxophone; Mat Schumer, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. Trombones: Tim Vaughn, Bradley Madsen & Isaac Kaplan; Max Seigel, bass trombone. Trumpets & Flugelhorns: Sam Hoyt, David Smith, Dan Blankinship & John Raymond.

If great jazz orchestration, lyrical classical compositions and melodic chamber music is your thing, then this album by Chris Torkewitz will be very satisfying.  I find myself both soothed and captivated by the Torkewitz blend of classical music arrangements with jazz sensibilities.  Composer, arranger, saxophonist, flutist and pianist, Torkewitz, had one of the highpoints on his many careers on March 21, 2013.  That’s when he presented a concert of his original music with the support of his Jazz Chamber Ensemble and Jazz Orchestra.  Today, in 2022, he is releasing a recording of this concert entitled, “NY Ensembles.”  It opens with four Chamber Suites: Vista, Farbtoene, Noticias and Epilogo.   

“Vista, this suite was born out of a piano sketch with Afro-Cuban leanings that nagged at me,” Torkewitz described the inspiration for his first suite.

Farbtoene is a quieter string arrangement and Noticias (that translates to ‘news’) was realized as a cluster of ideas strung together like newsworthy articles.  “Epilogo” concludes the four suites, featuring the piano of Vicky Chow and performed quickly, like a dinner prayer by a hungry father.  Then the Torkewitz 17-piece Jazz Orchestra takes over with a flamboyant piece called “Filou.”  It draws me into the music, clearly displaying a jazzy attitude, giving drummer Austin Walker an opportunity to shine and the muted trumpet of David Smith somehow conjures up the ghost of Miles Davis during his modern jazz, fusion era. It also gives a platform for Olli Hirvonen’s guitar and the soprano-saxophone solo of David Ashton.  

Chris Torkewitz is originally from Germany and began composing music at age eighteen.  Once arriving in the United States, he earned degrees at the Manhattan School of Music, served on the school’s faculty and led a trio. When he returned to Germany, he became a professor of popular music at the University of Arts and Applied Sciences in Freiburg.  When not educating and inspiring students, he tours worldwide. This recording was a long time coming, but definitely worth the wait.

NOTE: Special thanks to Joe Dimino for the video of The Neon Jazz YouTube Channel interview.

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