Archive for June, 2022


June 25, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 25, 2022


Clemens Grassman, drums/composer/arranger; Cole Davis, bass; Chris McCarty, piano; Chris Bittner & Sam Dillon, tenor saxophones; David Milazzo, alto saxophone; Aaron Bahr, trumpet.

The path of jazz has widened and merged; forked and wandered to new and various places along the pandemic way.  But the road ‘Straight-ahead’ remains one that I love the most.  This new project by Clemens Grassmann and his Grass Machine takes us on the long and precious road to ‘Straight-ahead’ jazz.  Starting from the very first tune titled, “Re.Cursive Op.Timization” I am in love with this recording.  Lately I’ve been inundated with music by drummers who not only play music but title themselves composers.  I have to say this is the best album composed by a drummer that I have heard in the past two years.  Many of the other projects I listened to had troubled melodies, no bridges, and were more like ‘loops’ than songs.  Clemens Grassmann has developed each song to its maximum creativity, with chords that allow his fellow musicians to improvise comfortable and creatively.  This first song holds my ears prisoner and then comes “Chicken on a Trane.” I assume this is a testament and a nod to the talents of John Coltrane.  It is a bright and boisterous tune that features Aaron Bahr on trumpet, David Milazzo on Alto Sax and Bittner and Dillon on tenor, blowing their hearts out with intricate harmonics.  Bahr steps out from the ensemble to solo and we are off and running at a vigorous pace.   He is followed briskly by the saxophone players, each stellar in their own spotlight.  Cole Davis takes a noteworthy solo on bass and all the while, Clemens Grassmann does what he seems to love.  He pumps the music up on his drums.  Grassmann never allows the rhythm to slack up, the tune to become boring or the energy to dive.  I am swept along with the musicians, enjoying every creative moment.  Chris McCarthy shows his superb talents on piano and then the bassist and Grassmann hold court, talking to each other like an attorney with his client.  Oh yes – throughout these arrangements you will hear musical conversations and arrangements that are both challenging and energized.

I must also compliment the art director and designer, Hollis King.  The CD cover is a winner!  I would pick this up and want to listen to it any day of the week.  I do wish the credits on the back cover had used a larger font for seasoned eyes.  All of the musician names should be in bright lights, because they all deserve it!

When Clemens Grassmann walked into the studio to record this project, they told him:

“We left the drums the way Billy Hart had set them up,” Grassmann recalled. 

“As I entered the drum booth, I had never felt such a sensation; a magical mix of devotion, humility and excitement.  To record my music at Rudy Van Gelder’s Studios, in the exact same room that gave birth to John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme,’ Herbie Hancock’s ‘Maiden Voyage’ or Wayne Shorter’s ‘Adams Apple’ … ,” the young drummer shared his awe in the liner notes and I could almost hear him sigh. 

“As the pandemic shut down NYC, it offered a vessel to pour my emotions into, assemble a group of extraordinary musicians and create a connection back to the roots…” Clemens Grassmann summed up exactly what this jazz journalist was feeling. 

Straight-ahead and back to the roots!

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PECK ALLMOND QUARTET featuring ED KELLY – “LIVE AT YOSHI’S 1994” – Eastlawn Records

Peck Allmond, tenor saxophone/trumpet/producer; Ed Kelly, piano; John Wiitala, double bass; Bud Spangler, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Kenny Brooks, tenor saxophone; R.J. Spangler, co-producer.

Peck Allmond is proficiently multi-talented.  He plays trumpet, saxophone, flute and is often in demand for his valve trombone talents, clarinet and bass clarinet mastery. This is an historic album, tracing back to 1992 when Peck made a move from the Bay Area to Brooklyn, New York.  With all his skills and himself, a competent band leader and composer, he quickly became a highly sought-after sideman.  A year later, on July 5, 1994, Allmond returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to perform at the famous Nightclub, Yoshi’s.

“Hearing this lovely music now, with a distance of three decades and 3,000 miles, I’m grateful.  Grateful I grew up in the SF Bay Area, where an incredible public school music program allowed me to fall in love with jazz,” Peck Allmond wrote in his album liner notes.

This magnificent tribute to the straight-ahead jazz of the 1990s opens with Peck Allmond flying through the changes of the Sonny Rollins tune, “Tenor Madness” quick as a 747-jet plane.  Ed Kelly takes a spirited piano solo.  Ed was a highly respected musician on the Bay Area jazz scene who performed with Pharoah Sanders, Bobby Hutcherson, John Handy and many other iconic names.

“Ed Kelly was … a mentor. He, of course, is one of the giants of Bay Area jazz; true royalty. I had been listening to him since high school.  When he began hiring me a lot around 1987, I felt unready to play with him.  But he was patient.  Playing with him and just hearing him each night was a masterclass,” Peck Allmond recalled.

The band is inspired by Allmond at the lead and the able drums of Bud Spangler.  Spangler made his debut in Detroit, Michigan first, as a radio personality and music producer.  He added musician to those credits, playing and producing for such labels as Strata Records and Tribe Records.  In the Bay area, Bud Spangler continued his radio career at both KJAZ and later, KCSM radio as a disc jockey, producer and engineer. Spangler produced several Grammy-nominated recordings, including work with Shirley Horn, Denise Perrier, Mimi Fox, Ed Reed, Mary Stallings, Cedar Walton and more.  His drum talents are a welcome addition to the swing and straight-ahead spirit of this music. 

The bass solo on “Like Someone in Love” showcases John Wiitala’s awesome creativity and talent. John was a member of Peck’s regular working band for years.  There is a special camaraderie and comfort between the two.  Wiitala has also performed with James Moody, Jessica Williams, Arturo Sandoval and Joe Henderson to list only a few.  Peck’s solo on this tune, as well as all the others, is clever and hard-bop to the bone.  Allmond weaves in a piece of “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” seamlessly.  Listen for it. When the band silences, to let Ed Kelly soak up the spotlight, he mesmerizes me and the ‘live’ audience with his solo piano brilliance.  This band is smokin’ hot!  Everything on this album is dynamically played and soulfully infused with each musician’s raw emotions.  For example, their interpretation of the blues ballad, “I’m confessin’ (that I Love You)” with Allmond’s sexy saxophone caressing our ears, hearts and minds is impressive.  Wiitala’s upright bass dancing beneath the mix in the sweetest way.  At the second half of this tune, Allmond picks up his trumpet and blows our minds with his brilliant talent on this horn too. I am totally entertained by the follow-up of Ed Kelly’s solo piano arrangement on “Moment’s Notice” and the group’s unique interpretation of the familiar tune “Invitation.”  This is an album of music I will play over and over again.  What a sparkling, historic gem for any jazz collection!

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NYO JAZZ – “WE’RE STILL HERE” – Carnegie Hall Weill Music Institute

Sean Jones, Artistic Director/trumpeter/bandleader; Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone; RHYTHM: Tyler Bullock II & Hannah Mayer, piano; Kai Burns, guitar; Aidan McCarthy & Ryoma Takenaga, bass; Colman Burks & Koleby Royston, drums. REEDS: Ebban Dorsey, Alto & baritone saxophones; Connor MacLeod, alto saxophone/flute; Emre Tekmen, alto saxophone; Ephraim Dorsey & Matthew Garcia, tenor saxophone; Noa Zebley, baritone saxophone. TROMBONES: Braxton Hart, Denali Kauffman, Oliver Tuttle, Kenji Wagner & Darien Baldwin, bass trombone. TRUMPETS: Cameron Davidson, Kellin Hanas, Nathan King, Levi Rozek, Ace Williams & Jonah Hieb, trumpet/flugelhorn. Gianna Pedregon, violin.

“The big band has always been America’s orchestral format and one of the most wide-ranging ensembles ever devised,” said Artistic Director and bandleader of NYO Jazz, Sean Jones.

Here is a rich, swinging basket full of original tunes and delicious arrangements performed by NYO Jazz (an extension of the National youth Orchestra) in all their big band beauty.  Opening with a Miguel Zenón composition entitled, “Oyelo” this group of outstanding music makers lets us know, right off the bat, that they are not only still here representing big bands, but they are swinging as hard as ever.  The energized Zenón composition features Melissa Aldana on tenor saxophone, singing her song atop the ever-spirited drums of Colman Burks and a horn section that swells and fills the piece with energy.  Kenji Wagner is featured on a notable trombone solo and Jonah Hieb adds his sweet trumpet talents to the mix.  Track #2, “Mr. Jones and Co.” was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and composed by Ayn Inserto.  It moves like the fast-pasted Pennsylvania turnpike, with the horns hitting their harmonic, hard-bop chords with precision and gusto.  The curtains part and Sean Jones steps out front featuring his exciting trumpet solo.  It is with the Sean Jones leadership that NYO is showcasing the astonishing potential of these super talented, young musicians; many who are only between sixteen to nineteen years old.  These special, youthful talents will soon find themselves touring and carrying the ever-evolving tradition of big band jazz around the world. Their goal is to impart knowledge and the pride of playing jazz, a music that is America’s indigenous musical artform.  Sean Jones realizes it is up to those who have come before these young people, to inspire and help them climb securely upon the shoulders of jazz veterans like himself.

“I try to make sure that the students bring their whole selves to jazz – – their minds, bodies, souls, spirits; so that they can offer the best versions of themselves in the music. Jazz is ultimately about individualism. I try to make sure they are being themselves, while respecting the tradition of jazz … making sure it is preserved for generations to come,” Sean explains some of his technique.

Under the direction of Jones and sometimes joined by Dianne Reeves and Kurt Elling, the NYO (launched in 2018) has already toured Europe.  These gifted students have already performed in some of Europe’s most prestigious concert halls and festivals. They’ve also toured Asia, debuting their big band jazz in Taichung, Beijing, Shanghai, Zhuhai and Hong Kong.  Their energy and enthusiasm are contagious.  When you listen to this album, you will not think that these are students of jazz.  They sound seasoned and confident.  The title tune, penned by the iconic trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon, is expressive.  It includes orchestra, vocal participation as Wycliffe prods and inspires the band to repeat after him on this Mardi Gras influenced music.  Music that makes you want to dance and shout. The “Hambone-hambone, have you heard” line is offered by the horns.  Then Wycliffe sings out and the voices repeat after him, letting the listeners know (with syncopated handclaps and a band that swings hard) this NYO Jazz group means it when they say, “We’re Here to Stay!”

Below is a video of the NYO Jazz performing the great Ralph Peterson piece “The Art of War.”  See for yourself why I’m so excited about this magnificent organization.

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JOHN LEE – “THE ARTIST” – Cellar Music

John Lee, bass/composer; Carl Allen, drums; Miles Black, piano; Cory Weeds, tenor saxophone.

Bassist John Lee is an in-demand player on the Vancouver, Canada jazz scene.  South Korea born, John Lee has established himself as a respected multi-instrumentalist in his Canadian community and beyond.  It was time for him to record an album.  He questioned himself about which instrument to choose and showcase on his debut recording project, because he is a master of many instruments.  Lee plays not only double bass but is quite proficient on drums, piano, organ and guitar.

“I’ve never considered any instrument to be my main instrument.  So, it was very difficult to choose what I would play on my first record,” he admitted in his press package.

Only twenty-eight years old, John Lee demonstrates a musicality and talent far beyond his nearly three decades on this earth.  He is sensitive and creative on the bass, while also proffering his composer skills and arranging strengths for our consumption.  The result is an album that is both delicious, refreshing and delightful.

Surrounded by brilliant sidemen, who are also independent artists in their own rights, the group opens with Mulgrew Miller’s “Soul Leo” tune.  John Lee’s acoustic bass sets the groove with Carl Allen joining him on drums.  This tune is the whistle that sets the quartet off and running.  They are competent and straight-ahead.  Cory Weeds races around on his tenor saxophone.  Weeds is a frequent collaborator with John Lee and also a respected mentor. He appears on only three of the eight songs recorded.   Miles Black brings brilliance to the party, his piano notes dancing like confetti sprinkled around my listening room.  John Lee takes a big, beautiful, but brief, bass solo and also closes the tune out soloing.  His music reminds me of a guest leaving the party feeling happy and fulfilled.  Track #2 is “Carl’s Blues” and spotlights the power and drive of Miles Black at the piano.  Carl Allen is fluid and driving on the drums, a percussive inspiration, continuously inspiring his fellow players.  He solos brightly during this trio track and, for our listening pleasure, let’s his awesome talents soar. I can see that John Lee relishes hard bop, swing and straight-ahead jazz in a most obvious way.  His music infuses me with energy and joyful feelings.  Each one of these players is absolutely and uniquely gifted. They make this project one that thrills and satisfies the listener.  I enjoyed the blues tones they added to “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise.”

“The musicians I chose to play with me all understand where I am coming from musically and not much had to be worked out in the studio.  We just went in and swung our asses off,” John Lee boasted.

I absolutely agree with him!  This quartet swings non-stop.  When they do take a breath, for instance, on the composition “Life is a Beautiful Thing” (an original song by John) their tenderness and attentiveness to detail and each other touches me like a warm hug.  John Lee is given an opening solo to establish the lovely melody and then hands the torch to Miles Black.  His sensual approach to this John Lee composition is admirable.  However, it’s the sweet and very poignant solo of Lee’s double bass that sings this well-written melody into my heart.  The trio is swinging again on one of my favorite tunes, “September in the Rain.”  Carl Allen’s drum licks sound like rhythmic raindrops on a tin roof and Miles Black is stormy and succinct on piano.  When John Lee enters to sing his solo, his bass becomes sunshine after the storm.  The title tune, “The Artist” is a great way to describe this multi-talented musician.  John Lee’s album introduces us to a young man on the rise.  Like a many-faceted diamond, Lee is bound to show us his multi-musical sides (on this project and those in the future) shiny and sparkling inside a jazz universe that eagerly awaits his promise.

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Felipe Salles, tenor saxophone/arranger; Zaccai Curtis, piano; Avery Sharpe, bass; Jonathan Barber, drums. Tiyo Attallah Salah-El has written every composition.

It takes strength and determination to be imprisoned without the possibility of parole, and to still develop a creative outlet while keeping your self-respect. The late saxophonist, Tiyo Attallah Salah-El managed to become a prolific composer, author and activist while serving a life-long sentence inside a Pennsylvania State prison. He spent nearly half a century incarcerated before dying in 2018. Somehow, with the efforts and determination of a prison abolitionist named Lois Ahrens, today we can hear Salah-El’s music.  Ms. Ahrens is the founder of the Real Cost of Prisons Project and they provided blank sheets of music paper to Mr. Salah-El in 2005.  The composer quickly reciprocated by filling those blank sheets with his original compositions. 

Now, thanks to the talented tenor saxophonist and arranger, Felipe Salles, with Zaccai Curtis on the piano, Avery Sharpe on bass and Jonathan Barber stroking the drums, the music of Tiyo Attallah Salah-El is available today for public ears.  This is an album of extraordinary music, personifying straight-ahead jazz.  This quartet of musicians brings the composer’s work to life in a brilliant way. 

Starting with “Toetappin’ Tastey,” this composition is seven minutes and six seconds of a hard swinging jazz waltz.  Avery Sharpe walks his double bass into the spotlight, singing his creative solo until Zaccai Curtis takes over on piano.  Jonathan Barber’s powerful drums hold the piece rhythmically in place.  On Track #2, a “Blues to Change Your Views – On Stage in a Cage” we hear music that embraces bebop and offers the listener a well-written, sing-along melody. Salles is brilliant on tenor saxophone, establishing the melody and stretching out with his own unique improvisations on the theme.  The quartet swings harder than a Joe Louis punch. 

“When Lois contacted me, out of the blue, what interested me was the opportunity to make a musical connection to things that I actually cared about that were not necessarily musical.  We refer to incarceration as a correctional system, but it’s really just a punishment system, one that doesn’t treat people with dignity,” Felipe Salles expressed in his press package. 

“The system is so distorted that it becomes very difficult for anybody to succeed in being reformed.  So, prison just becomes a place where people rot and get worse and worse,” Salles concluded.

In the case of “Tiyo’s Songs of Life,” this composer was not the average prisoner.  He never gave up and the prison system did not break him.  His music is extraordinarily potent, with original songs that sound like jazz standards and titles that reflect hope, love and fortitude. Felipe Salles, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, uses his tenor saxophone to interpret these songs with sincere emotion and tenacious talent.  “Steppin’ Up” is arranged in a Latin format and “Live a Life of Love” recalls the days of John Coltrane’s inspired music at the arrangement’s introduction.  “My Love is Deep Inside” was composed for Lois Ahrens and it’s a lovely ballad.  On the tune “12 in 5” Avery Sharpe is brightly featured on bass and the ensemble challenges us to count the time.  This production is full of surprises and the arrangements by Salles are inventive and entertaining.

Felipe Salles is a professor of Jazz and African-American Music Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  He has been teaching there since 2010. Salles is also an active musician with his musical credits embracing a long list of major names who he has played or recorded with since 1995.  Salles has released eight critically acclaimed recordings as a bandleader. I found his ambitious CD/DVD set titled, “The New Immigrant Experience” to be groundbreaking and inspiring. That work took on an activist tone and dealt with the topic of immigration, employing an explosive big band to interpret the topic. Lois Ahrens made a wise choice sharing Tiyo’s song charts and original music with Felipe’s magnificent quartet.  These four gentlemen have certainly honored the spirit and artistic brilliance of Salah-El’s music.

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Kali Rodriguez-Peña, trumpet/composer/arranger; Gabriel Chakarji, piano/keyboards/Fender Rhodes; Bam Bam Rodriguez, acoustic & electric bass; Zack O’Farrill, drums; Victor Pablo Garcia, congas/barril/percussion; Kazemde George, tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Gina D’Soto & Jeremy Bosch, vocals/ Aruan Ortiz, piano.

Cuban born trumpeter, Kali Rodriguez-Peña, showcases his composer talents during this beautifully produced Straight-ahead jazz album.  His passion and tenacity fuel this project.  His power-driven group opens this album with a Wayne Shorter tune, “Yes or No.”  These musicians come out the gate like Kentucky Derby racehorses.  Track #2 reminds me of the music of Thelonious Monk combined with something Charles Mingus might compose.  It is an original composition by Kali titled, “A Student is Not a Disciple.”  Kali Rodriguez-Peña, currently based in the New York City area, has been polishing this band for the past five years.  The title of his album, “Mélange” is a French word for ‘mixture’ and Kali feels it succinctly describes his music, drawn from bebop and post-pop, Cuban timba, salsa and rumba and the world music of India and the Caribbean.

“They say most people listen to music today – the playlist – is a mélange of different albums and artists,” explains Kali. “I call it 21st century music, millennial music or playlist mode music,” he says.

As I soak up Kali’s music, the arrangements of his original tunes stretch the boundaries of just Straight-ahead into the freedom of modern jazz.  On his “La Historia de Erendira” composition, Kali’s beautiful trumpet playing takes the spotlight.  This song is full of energy and ebullience, inspired by Kali’s wonderful mastery of his instrument.  When he hands over the solo position to Gabriel Chakarji, on piano, he offers us a moment of brilliance and energy-driven improvisation.  On the traditional tune, “Drum Mobila,” I enjoy the lead vocals of Gina D’Soto singing in Spanish with Kali Rodriguez-Peña tastily interjecting his trumpet voice into the mix.  It’s as though Gina and Kali are having a serious and very personal conversation. This arrangement is hypnotic. On the familiar standard, “Like Someone in Love” Kali offers a very Cuban musical take on this arrangement, with a hot, percussive, double-time drive and Kazemde George sings his tenor saxophone song atop the rhythmic joy.   Chakarji’s piano solo cools the heat, but never lessens the energy.

Kali Rodriguez-Peña is a fresh voice on the jazz horizon, beaming like an orange and gold sunrise and promising us new music, fresh ideas and determined excellence.

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Michael Zaporski, piano; Matt LoRusso, guitar; Shannon Wade, string bass; RJ Spangler, drums/bandleader/background vocals/announcer; Justin Jozwiak, alto saxophone; Jim Holden, tenor saxophone/musical director; Goode Wyche III, baritone saxophone; James O’Donnell, 1st trumpet/co-leader/background vocals; Charlie Miller, trumpet; Tbone Paxton, trombone/lead vocals; Camille Price & Leonard King, vocals.

One ‘swinging’ afternoon in Detroit, Michigan, at the Scarab Club, drummer RJ Spangler led an all-star band of Motown musicians in a ‘live’ performance concert.  The thing that made this concert so unique was that the group, “Planet D Nonet” was performing songs by 1940’s popular pianist, singer, songwriter and big band leader, Buddy Johnson.  It was 2018 when this album became a tribute to Buddy Johnson as these musicians recorded sixteen of his original tunes.  These songs were radio and dance hall favorites back-in-the-day.  Buddy Johnson was popular during the evolution of rock and roll, a music that borrowed from rhythm and blues.  Johnson’s music was a bridge between original R&B and the new rock music that became popular in the 1960s.  He employed big band jazz harmonics, swing and shuffle rhythms, along with catchy lyrics that please enthusiastic audiences and dancers alike. 

Planet D Nonet has contracted Camile Price, Leonard King and Tbone Paxton to sing some of these lyrics that helped make Buddy Johnson’s songs so popular.  The trumpet of James O’Donnell invites the first song, “South Main” to shuffle into the Scarab Ballroom.  The horns are arranged in a 1940 big-band-way and encourage swing dancers to the dance floor.  Michael Zaporski has a light, melodic touch on the piano and Shannon Wade makes a brief, but impressive double bass solo statement.  “Dr. Jive Jives” is a slow swing tune with bandleader and drummer, RJ Spangler, egging the ensemble on with his powerhouse ‘two and four’ rhythm.  The horns swing too, giving us a familiar, repeatable melody to sing along with.  Johnson’s music always offered his fans music they felt comfortable humming along with; melodies they could enjoy.  You clearly hear this in “Hello Sweet Potato” with vocals by Tbone Paxton.  In the 1940s, this was the popular and commercial music of the day.  You hear the boogie-woogie infused arrangement of “Walk ‘Em” next.  It features the guitar of Matt LoRusso with a warm, tight-knit horn section.  Goode Wyche III plays a spirited baritone saxophone solo on “Crazy ‘Bout a Saxophone” and the tune is just plain fun!  There’s a chorus of voices shouting, “Go – go – go” that the audience enjoys, shown by their loud, spontaneous applause.  Track #7, “Lil Dog” is a finger-snappin’, hand-clapping arrangement by Matt LoRusso and we get a generous taste of the blues on Buddy Johnson’s tune “Root Man Blues.”  It’s sung with emotional sincerity by Leonard King.   

This project is a wonderful, historic tribute to the talent and legacy of Buddy Johnson.  Although it is not ‘Straight-ahead’ jazz, Buddy’s music is a bridge between the 1930’s speakeasy jazz and the 1940’s rhythm and blues scene.  It’s what was happening just as Charlie Parker’s career was taking off, before Straight-ahead jazz was brought vividly to the public’s attention.  Things began to change after those trail-blazing arrangement Parker made to the tune “Cherokee” and I would say bebop developed and then Straight-ahead jazz.  Buddy Johnson came after speakeasies, when jazz was blossoming and just before bebop transformed and Straight-ahead was born.

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June 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 15, 2022


Joel Frahm, tenor & soprano saxophones; Dan Loomis, bass; Ernesto Cervini, drums.

“The Bright Side” is the debut record release for The Joel Frahm Trio.  Each trio member is a composer and contributes their talent featuring original music.   Joel Frahm first became acquainted with the piano-less trio concept as a teenager.  He felt this chord-less approach to music allowed a soaring freedom of expression.   After exploring this musical concept for the past decade, both as a bandleader and a member of various chord-less trios, Joel Frahm and current players, Ernesto Cervini on drums and Dan Loomis on bass celebrate the release of their debut album with a 2022 summer tour.  The Joel Frahm Trio is scheduled to appear on the West Coast of the United States in July at the following venues.  Catch them if you can.

July 16 – San Diego Jazz Ventures (

July 18 – Kuumbwa Jazz Center (
July 19 – Bird & Beckett (San Francisco) (
July 20 – Sac Yard Tap House (Sacramento) (
July 22 – The Sound Room (Oakland) (
July 23 – Jack London Revue (Portland) (
July 24 – The Royal Room (Seattle) (

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Kresten Osgood, Hammond organ; Fridolin Nordse, guitar; Ludamir Dietl, drums; Arto Eriksen, percussion.

“My introduction to the Hammond organ came in 1991, when I was a fourteen-year-old kid growing up on the West coast of Denmark.  One summer, lying on the beach and listening to my cassette Walkman, I heard the soundtrack from the film ‘The Commitments.‘ …  When I started high school in 1992, they had a Hammond X5 and I began turning it on and trying to copy some of the sounds I heard,” Kresten Osgood recalls his first infatuation with the organ.

Today, Kresten Osgood is a talented organist.  He has come a long way from those early realizations of an organ instrument he came to love; especially since Osgood was initially celebrated as a Denmark-based drummer. In that capacity, he has worked with Yusef Lateef, Sam Rivers, Wadada Leo Smith, Mouse on Mars, John Tchicai, Billy Preston, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Sam Yahel, just to list a few.  This is his debut album as an organist, although he sounds quite seasoned on the instrument.  He is joined by a drummer and guitarist who are both well-known pop producers and respected musicians on the Danish music scene. 

Kresten Osgood was inspired to jazz through some Lou Donaldson’s albums.  His first jazz heroes were Donaldson, Idris Muhammad, Dr. Lonnie Smith, (who he later played with as a drummer), Leon Spencer and Charles Earland. 

“I met Dr. Lonnie Smith in 2002 and recorded the now legendary album, ‘Hammond Rens’ (ILK Records – 2003) with him and Micael Blake.  Being right next to Lonnie and following his every move brought me closer to the source,” Osgood shares that experience in his liner notes.

Osgood’s current album is propelled by Ludomir Dietl’s drums with a strong funk, rock beat.  However, when I listen to the way Osgood approaches the organ, I hear so much jazz that I would love to hear him play with someone like the late, great Ralph Peterson.  I don’t mind the rock-fusion, electric guitar of Fridolin Nordso.  I think the fusion guitar solo adds to the arrangement of “Baby Let Me Take You in My Arms,” a song written by Abrim Tilman of the Detroit Emeralds; an artist from my hometown of Michigan’s famed Motown.  

Clearly, the percussionist is very talented.  His drum support on Ahmad Jamal’s historic “Poinciana” tune lends a thick, Latin base to the group’s arrangement and is very exciting.  Perhaps they chose to utilize the rock drums on some tunes to make the album lean more towards pop commercialism.  But undeniably, Kresten Osgood is a jazz organ player, with or without the rock-oriented drums. 

“… I transcribed a bunch of Grant Green, Lou Donaldson and Charles Earland tunes.  I formed a band.  We began performing around the town of Holstebro in Western Denmark,” Osgood recalls the early days of his playing organ.

Nearly thirty years after he first heard the organ instrument, while lying on a Denmark beach, Osgood claims he still gets goosebumps whenever he turns-on his instrument.  You feel that sincerity and excitement in this recording, along with Kresten Osgood’s dedication to respecting the legacy of great jazz organ performances. 

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John Wasson, arranger/composer/producer/XOBrass performing artist/bass trombone; RHYTHM: Noel Johnston, guitar; Paul Lees, piano/B-3 organ; Eric Hitt, acoustic & electric basses; Mike Drake, drums; Mike Medina, percussion; WOODWINDS: Bruce Bohnstengel, soprano & alto saxophone/flute; Tim Ishii, alto saxophone/flute; Jeff Robbins, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Michael Morrison, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Chris Beaty, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Keith Jourdan, Miles Johnson, Jack Evans & Pete Clagett; TROMBONES: Tony Baker, David Butler, Chris Seiter, with Paul Birk & John Wasson on Bass trombone. 

That big, beautiful swell of excitement and glory that a big band brings to music is magical.  This album opens with that kind of energy on “Heat-seeker.”  The horns make a bright, tightly harmonized exclamation mark.  Then they crawl up the scale, offering their melody to my attentive ears and totally grabbing my attention.  Pete Clagett is featured on a brilliant trumpet and Jeff Robbins soars on his tenor saxophone solo.  John Wasson has composed and arranged this piece of music.  It’s melodic and cheerful.  In fact, he offers four original compositions to this delightful album, out of the nine songs in the big band’s recorded repertoire.  The bandleader’s song, “Funk City” exhibits that kind of funky energy, driven by the powerful drums of Mike Drake.  Chris Beaty is fluid and stellar on tenor saxophone.  And is that John Wasson on the bass trombone, dancing beneath the rhythm like a bassist?  I love this arrangement.  On “Senor Salsa” (another Wasson composition) the band will make you want to move and dance.  The musicians do a bang-up job of interpreting “Maria” from the popular West Side Story score.  I was eager to hear their arrangement of “Blues for Alice” by Charlie Parker.  I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  They fly through the arrangement on the wings of ‘straight-ahead jazz’ featuring three trombonists who solo like preening birds; David Butler, Paul Birk and Tony Baker.  The Yoko Kanno tune, “Tanki,” features Paul Lees on his organ and Bruce Bohnstengel strutting his stuff on alto saxophone, utilizing the entire range of his instrument.  It opens with the bass of Eric Hitt setting the mood and the quick tempo.  There are some smart tempo changes in this arrangement that call the listener to attention.  John Wynn’s “Song for Kate” is ethereal and dances along at a moderate pace.  It’s refreshing to hear Noel Johnston step into the spotlight on his guitar and the Robbins’ flute darts above the rich orchestration like a narcissistic bird, singing sweetly, look at me. Look at me!  Mike Drake is given several bars to show-off his drum skills.  On this final tune, “The Detective Chronicles” written by Wesson, was inspired by 1960 television shows.  I remember the Peter Gunn series around that time.  That was the first show I ever heard jazz featured as background music.  There is surprise and drama in this Wesson arrangement.

Here is an album of smart arrangements and incredible energy, sparked by the talented musicians who play the music.  John Wesson, composer, arranger, bandleader and extraordinary musician describes this project in his own words. I found them quite succinct, humble and honest.

“I consider all the musical influences in my life as unofficial teachers and mentors. … I am indebted to the great players in the band, who have brought this music to life.  As a creator of big band music, it is clear to me that the written page is only the beginning.  It’s the great performers that ultimately bring the music to life.  This band has given voice to sounds previously heard only in my imagination and I could not be more grateful.  Thank you, guys!”

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OR BAREKET – “SAHAR” – Enja Records

Or Bareket, upright bass/composer/arranger; Morgan Guerin, tenor saxophone/EWI/organ/ arranger; Jeremy Corren, piano/Fender Rhodes/arranger; Savannah Harris, drums/percussion/arranger; Joel Ross, auxiliary percussion/co-arranger/producer.

Bassist, Or Bareket was born in Jerusalem and raised between Buenos Aires and Tel-Aviv.  Consequently, his music is infused with Mediterranean, South American and North African music styles. He incorporates those cultural elements in his jazz arrangements. Ten years ago, he won the International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Competition.  As a young bass player, he was highly motivated by the music of Jaco Pastorius and began his musical journey playing the electric bass at age sixteen. A few years later, he began to study the double bass and started his classical training with Teddy Kling, the principal bassist with the Israeli Philharmonic.  Bareket’s bass jazz study began with Avishai Cohen.  Currently residing in New York, this album, titled “Sahar,” translates to ‘crescent’ in modern Hebrew.  In Arabic dialects, “Sahar” means ‘just before dawn’ or early morning.  Sometimes it is translated as insomnia.   Bareket’s album becomes a vehicle to explore the poetic meaning of this title.

Bareket has composed all the music on this project, starting with the opening tune “Root System” featuring his bass, out-front and melodic.  I can imagine a new day dawning, with the orange, early morning sun rising in a burst of warmth.  On Bareket’s composition “Soil,” Morgan Guerin uses his EWI to infuse the music with fusion expression and Jeremy Corren answers the dips and dives that Guerin expresses on his wind instrument with piano conversation.  Savannah Harris pumps the drums beneath their musical exchange until the arrangement abruptly stops.  The composition, “Hiraeth” is more pensive.  The tempo slows and the melody drips like molasses poured in winter.  The bass sets the tone, repetitive and determined.  Perhaps this song reflects a dream-like state of mind, as if someone has stayed up all night and is now perplexed and foggy in the early dawn of a new day.  There are song titles that seem to reflect other languages like Track #4 titled “Oyen” and Track #7, “Kapara.”  I wish the liner notes had explained fully the meaning of these titles.  Thanks to Google I discovered ‘kapara’ means atonement and ‘Oyen’ is Dutch (or North German) to describe someone who lives by a water meadow.  In Spanish, it’s the verb ‘to hear.’  I prefer the water meadow description.  Corren finally steps forward on piano to solo during “Oyen.”  It’s a very modern jazz piece, with lots of room for Guerin’s saxophone to push musical boundaries. Savanah Harris is given a space to explore his drums near the end of the song, an arrangement that once again ends abruptly, the way Track #2 did.  “Temperance” is a pretty composition that seems to be part of “Oyen” with a similar melody and key, as though the two songs are part of the same suite.  Harris is brightly featured on drums, which helps to lift a redundant melody line. The atonement tune (Kapara) gives the listener an opportunity to enjoy Or Bareket’s mastery of the bass at the introduction and inside the belly of the tune.  The song “A Lullaby for Troubled Ancestors” quickly becomes one of my favorites with its warm melodic line.  The album “Sahar” is an artistic project that introduces us to Or Bareket as a bassist and blossoming composer. 

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John Kolivas, bass/founder/composer; Tim Tsukiyama, saxophone/composer; Dan Del Negro, piano/ composer; Noel Okimoto, drums/composer.

Bassist, John Kolivas formed The Honolulu Jazz Quartet in September of 2001.  They have become Hawaii’s most enduring jazz quartet.  This is their fourth record release in celebration of twenty years together making wonderful music.  They open with “Scarborough Fair” drenched in blues and it’s one of the best arrangements I’ve heard of this familiar tune.  Their sax man has composed a tune called “Right Back with the Snack” that borrows licks from Eddie Harris and Cannonball Adderley to compliment this party tune.  The drums of Noel Okimoto drive this funk tune forward.  This ensemble reminds me of the Kahala Hilton where I spent many an evening in the 1980s enjoying the Hawaii-based live jazz.  It reminds me of enjoying nights out listening to pianist Betty Loo Taylor and her trio and my old friend, Jimmy Borges.  I was not surprised when I read that drummer Noel Okimoto used to work with the legendary entertainer, Gabe Baltazar, with Betty Loo and also satin smooth vocalist, Jimmy Borges. This is the type of group who plays a little bit of everything, all locked together with jazzy, original arrangements that refresh familiar Gershwin tunes like “Bess You is my Woman Now” or “Fascinating Rhythm” beautifully arranged as a Latin tune. 

Meantime, each member of the group is a composer and they offer us their best of both worlds on this album.  For example, Noel Okimoto, the drummer, has composed a tune simply called “Blues” that the group plays Straight-ahead.  The arrangement gives John Kolivas an opportunity to solo on his upright bass and Okimoto to cut loose on his drum set.  Dan Del Negro shines and sparkles on piano.  Surprise!  “Economic Blues” penned by Kolivas, is a jazz waltz with a catchy melody and some unexpected tempo changes in the arrangement.  Dan Del Negro has a piano style that is deeply rooted in the blues.  You hear that throughout this recording as he punctuates each solo with bluesy chops.  I also enjoyed John’s composition, “They Grow Up Too Fast” and the way Tim Tsukiyama’s saxophone interprets that tune.  

Here is an album that introduces us to a Hawaiian ensemble of jazz musicians and composers, who incorporate everything from blues to reggae; standards pulled from the American Songbook to Latin; pop tunes like “Wichita Lineman” and of course, a whole bunch of “Straight Ahead.”

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Jed Wilson, pianist/composer; Josh Sinton, reeds/composer; Tony Falco, drummer/composer.

Jed Wilson’s piano notes cascades across space like a splashing waterfall.  The notes tumble over each other; melodic droplets.  Josh Sinton plays his saxophone atop the rhythm section with purpose and sensitivity. Tony Falco stirs the sticks around his drum set, accenting generously while holding the rhythm tightly in place.  I feel as though these musicians have been playing together for a while.  There is a notable comfort level between them.

“These two musicians are dear friends of mine,” says Tony Falco in their press package. “There is no greater blessing, as a musician, than to play with those you love.”

The title of this album is “adumbration.”  Adumbration means to foreshadow vaguely; to suggest, disclose or partially outline a plan.

Rather than give titles, these musicians have simply numbered the six songs they’ve recorded.  Consequently, they refer to them as Adumbrations 1, Adumbrations 2, etc.  The album cover is as artistic as the music and was created by the multi-talented drummer, Tony Falco. The trio shares in all composing credits. 

These three friends have known each other since their student days at the New England Conservatory.  Although they kept in contact over the years, it wasn’t until autumn of 2021 that Wilson, Sinton and Falco joined forces to create this debut album.  Each of these players has worked with Avant-garde bands and expanded their creative and improvisational talents.  During their exploration of Adumbrations 2, reed player Sinton offers his first ever flute recording, flying like a bright, beautiful bird above the track.  On Adumbrations 3, Sinton puts down the flute and picks up his bass clarinet.  Jed Wilson uses the treble clef of the piano to creatively whisper beneath Sinton’s rich, bass clarinet notes.  It’s a very effective communication between two instruments.  Sinton is one of New York’s most striking baritone saxophonists and in 2020, he was named “Rising Star” in the baritone saxophone category of Down Beat’s Critics Poll.  Jed Wilson is a new England-based pianist, primarily expressing himself with free improvisation.  Drummer, Tony Falco, is a renowned improviser, recording and mixing engineer and visual artist based in Greenfield, MA.  He often works with Avant-garde guitar legend, Tisziji Munoz and has performed and recorded with a host of others.  One thing about these three musicians is consistent.  They listen, react, create and spontaneously adlib with each other in a very comfortable way. Their music is improvisational, impacting and original.  “Adumbration” gives rise to their new music, as fresh and diverse as a new sunrise. 

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ALBARE & CO – “FREEDOM” – Alfi Records

Albare, guitars/composer; Phil Turcio, piano/composer/arranger; Phil Rex, bass; Felix Bloxom, drums; Randy Brecker, flugelhorn/trumpet; Ada Rovatti, alto & tenor saxophones.

Albert Dadon is better known by his stage name of Albare.  He began playing music at age eight, when his mother gifted him with a classic acoustic guitar for his birthday.  Consequently, he became one of the first guitar students in the newly opened Conservatory of Music in Dimona, Israel.  His love of the instrument was obvious by the time he turned ten.  Influenced by Django Reinhardt, Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery and Antonio Carlos Jobim, Albare has spent his lifetime in study, composing and playing jazz.  In this time of political chaos in our country and a deep divide between people and belief systems, jazz continues to be a music that steps outside the boundaries of discontent to celebrate freedom.  Thus, the title Albare has chosen for this newly released music; “Freedom.”  Jazz has often been called the first music of activism.  It is the poster child for emancipation and liberty, which is why (in the past) so many communist countries banned jazz music, including Russia, Communist China and North Korea. 

Albare’s keen sense of purpose and melody is evident in all ten of his original songs.  He has composed, or co-written with pianist Phil Turcio, all the music included on this album.  With the talents of Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, along with the tasty saxophone playing of Ada Rovatti, this is heartfelt music.  Each track is inspired by the busy drums of Felix Bloxom and a hearty rhythm section. Albare’s brilliant guitar leads the way.  I enjoyed their arrangement of “Adues” that let’s Phil Rex step in front of the curtain to briefly feature his power on the bass instrument.  On “Lost Compass,” Albare picks up his electric guitar and the jazz turns fusion.  This is another one of my favorite tunes, with Brecker’s bright trumpet a wonderful example of freedom.  The composition, “Love is Always” has a flare of tango music incorporated into its pretty melody and arrangement.  On The other side of the spectrum, “Randy Makes me Smile” is straight-ahead bliss.  The composition “Shimmozle” is a beautiful ballad that becomes an emotional platform for Albare’s awesome guitar tenacity.  “Sunny Samba” makes me want to cha-cha-cha across the floor and something about the title tune, “Freedom,” brings Wes Montgomery to mind in a sweet way.  All in all, this is happy music that makes me want to whistle, dance and smile.

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SIDNEY JACOBS – “IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN” – Independent label

Sidney Jacobs, vocals/keyboards/percussion/composer/arranger; Gene Coye, drums; Solomon Dorsey, electric & acoustic bass; Josh Nelson, piano/keyboards; Ron Feuer, keyboards; Greg Poree, acoustic guitar; Josh Johnson, alto saxophone/flute; Chris Lawrence, trumpet; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet/flugelhorn; Joakim Toftgaard, trombone; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Munyungo Jackson, percussion.

Sidney Jacobs is a strong, baritone vocalist, who exhibits shades of Al Jarreau’s style during his  arrangement of “On A Clear Day.”  I can hear how Jarreau has influenced this singer.  Like Jarreau, Sidney Jacobs enjoys pushing the boundaries of music and challenging his vocal prowess.  He stretches and explores all the range and possibilities of his voice.  In fact, this entire project colors outside the lines and is still a very beautiful and artistic recording.  Jacobs has an amazingly powerful understanding of the language of ‘scat.’  He gives us a taste during his performance of the standard, “On a Clear Day” and also on his original composition, “Weave the Tale” that becomes a tour de force with a bebop infused presentation of Jacobs’ wordless clarity.  

Sidney Jacobs is a composer who has slipped in snippets of original tunes, like musical paper clips holding his repertoire in place.  He offers a thirty second rendition of “We All,” a twenty-four second snippet of “Stay Up” and a thirty-two second musical interlude that is encapsulated with smart vocal harmonies.  Jacobs gives us his own, fresh and creative interpretation of the hit song by Corinne Bailey Rae, “Like a Star.”  Surprisingly, He has chosen a group of songs for this album that reflects female-oriented songs. 

“I wanted to create a different listening experience and find songs that had personal relevance to me and songs that marked some very specific times in my life,” Sidney explained.

For example, he sings the H.E.R composition “Facts,” a song performed by Lalah Hathaway titled “I’m Coming Back” and “Been So Long” written and sung by Anita Baker in 1986.  But I really get a kick out of the Jacobs rendition of Barbra Streisand’s Broadway tune, “I Feel Pretty.”  It’s such a unique way of looking at this song, through the eyes of a guy. He also flavors the arrangement with scat singing, like hot pepper flakes in the soup.  He has his own spin on my friend and co-writer, Morris Broadnax and Stevie Wonder’s song, “Until you Come Back to Me.”  Sadly, the melody of the song, which is so beautiful, gets lost in the multi-layered vocal harmonics and Jacobs’ own melodic ideas change the tune beyond recognition.  This arrangement is disappointing.  His obsession with voice harmonies throughout this production probably are inspired by Sidney Jacobs’ time singing with the Fifth Dimensions vocal group.  Also, when he was eighteen, he became a principal singer with the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers and travelled the world with that famous and formidable chorale group.  Another female oriented song he covers is the Gladys Knight gold record, “If I Were Your Woman.”  That was another surprising choice of songs.  I wondered why he didn’t sing, if you were my woman and I was your man? But no, he remains true to the composer’s original lyrics.  Not so much the melody.  I know jazz is celebrated for its freedom and individuality, however some songwriter melodies are important enough to be sung as written.  I do have to applaud Sidney Jacobs for being original.  It takes an artist with talent, a sense of daring, an attitude that’s sure of himself and emotional security to pull this project off.

Surrounded by some of the best musicians the West Coast has to offer, these smokin’ hot tracks celebrate the awesome talents of folks like Greg Poree on acoustic guitar, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet and flugelhorn, Josh Nelson on piano and keyboards, Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone and Munyungo Jackson on percussion, to name just a few of the stellar players who infuse this project with excellence.  The complete list of participating musicians is noted above.

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June 1, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 1, 2022

STEVE DAVIS  – “BLUESTHETIC” – Smoke Sessions Records

Steve Davis, trombone/composer/arranger; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Willie Jones III, drums.

This album offers ‘straight-ahead’ trombone bliss.  Steve Davis is a master of his instrument and has encircled himself with other musicians who bring their A-game to this “Bluesthetic” project.

“We all had major fun working with Stevie-D on this new album,” Christian McBride gushed on the liner notes, calling Davis by his nickname, Stevie D.  “This was simply a musical family reunion playing great music written by Steve.  Willie Jones III, Geoff Keezer, Steve Nelson and Peter Bernstein are all top-notch, well-established giants on their respective instruments. … But Steve’s got blue fire coming out of his horn.” 

Opening with one of ten original compositions by Steve Davis, “Encouragement” is a perfect vehicle to showcase the Davis ensemble.  The melodic integrity of the tune makes you want to whistle along.  Steve opens things up on trombone followed by an inspired solo from Peter Bernstein on guitar.  One of my favorite additions to the Davis sextet is Steve Nelson on vibraphone.  Geoffrey Keezer explores the eighty-eight keys during his piano solo, followed by Christian McBride’s power-packed bass improvisation.  All the while, Willie Jones III makes the music dance and swing on his trap drums.

You hear the strength of a great composer when you listen to these Davis tunes.  “Silver at Sundown” is another melody that inspires me to hum along.  His compositions and chord arrangements create the perfect, melodic stage for these awesome musicians to blow, bounce and bow.  Perhaps Christian McBride described it best when he said:

“If you take any song from this album and put a soul groove on it, you potentially have a top-ten, R&B hit on your hands,” McBride asserted.

I get that!  As a former songwriter for Detroit’s Motown Records, I know a well-written song when I hear one and Steve Davis composes great songs.  A well-written song can be translated to jazz, country, reggae or pop along with any good arrangement.  I found each of these ten original songs to be well-arranged and beautifully composed.  In the liner notes, McBride echoed my feelings.

“The music went from hip and swingin’ like “Off the Cuff” to the hip and sublime, “Bluesthetic.”  Every song is strong with a rebar-like harmonic and melodic sense,” McBride described their production.

This album is delightful from beginning to end.   Steve Davis’s satin smooth sound on the trombone is as beautiful as these arrangements and the sextet showcases his mastery as a composer.

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Jonathan Barber, drums/composer; Taber Gable, Fender Rhodes/composer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar/ composer; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone/composer.

Jonathan Barber is such a dynamic drummer, you hear it right from the first four bars of his opening tune, “Poetic.”  The melody is introduced by Godwin Louis on alto saxophone, but the energy and poetry of the song is being played by Jonathan Barber on trap drums.  Track #2 titled “Gathering” is a composition penned by the group guitarist, Andrew Renfroe.  Taber Gable is spotlighted on Fender Rhodes piano during this arrangement and Renfroe also adds his own guitar solo, improvising freely.  The song by reedman Godwin Louis, “Give Us This Day” seems to be based on lines from the Lord’s Prayer with Barber’s driving drums peppering the rhythm.  “Acceptance” once again gives wings to Taber Gable on Fender Rhodes.  He also composed this song.  One of my favorite tunes on this album is “Denim” which has a well-constructed melody.  Otherwise, this seems to be an album made up of ‘loops’ and repetitive music phrases, mostly presented at a moderate tempo.

I would like to have heard more tempo changes to allow Jonathan Barber a stage to showcase his mad drum skills.  How about a jazz waltz, an Afro-Cuban 6/8 tune, a five/four piece or seven/four composition?  Jonathan did utilize the final tune to briefly spotlight his drum prowess, once again dancing brightly atop repetitive chord changes.  This is easy listening jazz, but I didn’t hear a tune that could become a standard like “A-Train” or “Misty;” “Hearts of Fire,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” or “Girl from Ipanema.”  Writing, producing and playing music the world wants to sing is a formidable goal.

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RHYTHM: Sr. MSgt., Geoff Reecer, guitar; Tech Sgt., Chris Ziemba, piano; Tech Sgt., Ben Thomas, bass; Master Sgt., David McDonald, drums. VOCALS: Master Sgt., Paige Wroble & Diane Schuur (Special Guest). SAXOPHONES: Master Sgt., Kristian Baarsvik, lead alto flute; Tech. Sgt., Mike Cemprola, second alto flute; Master Sgt., Tedd Baker, lead tenor clarinet; Sr. Master Sgt., Grant Langford, second tenor/clarinet; Master Sgt. (Ret.), Doug Morgan, baritone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Staff Sgt., Joshua Kauffman; Chief Master Sgt, Kevin Burns; Master Sgt., Luke Brandon/producer/Musical Director; Technical Sgt., Logan Keese; TROMBONES: Tech. Sgt., Matt Hettwer; Master Sgt. (Ret.), Jeff Martin; Master Sgt., Kevin Cerovich; Master Sgt., Benjamin Polk.

This is a swinging big band and they start off their Heritage Series by playing the very popular “Alright, Okay, You Win” that popularly featured vocalist Joe Williams back in the mid-1960s with Count Basie’s Big Band.  This time, MSgt Paige Wroble lends us her strong vocal rendition of this tune with gusto.  The second track titled, “Touch and Go” features the brilliant piano playing of TSgt Chris Ziemba and special guest trumpeter, Sean Jones.  There is also a star-studded space made for TSgt Mike Cemprola on alto saxophone and drummer MSgt David McDonald also offers a spirited solo on drums. 

This ‘Airmen of Note’ organization is the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force.  They formed in 1950 to carry on Major Glenn Miller’s legacy.  They are an exemplary armed forces band and you will enjoy their high energy and professional musicianship throughout.

“Into the Sun” immediately caught my ear.  The horns fly and the excitement is palpable on this tune, penned by guest trumpeter, Sean Jones and arranged beautifully by Paul Ferguson. Special guest, Ted Nash is featured on saxophone atop a fusion jazz background propelled by the drums of David McDonald.  The band moves from fusion to straight ahead at the pop of a drum.  There is a flurry of interaction between trumpet and saxophone during the fade of this tune and a stellar, harmonic horn ending.  The Chick Corea composition, “Tones for Joan’s Bones” offers an opportunity for the horn players to step stage center and show-off their individual talents.  On the composition “You Can have It” award-winning vocalist, Diane Schuur steps forward.  The United States Air Force Band also has arranged and performed one of Ms. Schuur’s compositions, “Deedle’s Blues.”  They close with the familiar “Besame Mucho” tune that features Sean Jones on trumpet, Ted Nash on saxophone and Diane Schuur on vocals.  The ‘Airmen of Note’ performances on this disc represent a sample of the excellence and professionalism exemplified around the world in both music and in peace-keeping by the United States Air Force.

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Rique Pantoja, keyboards/piano/composer/arranger; Jimmy Earl, bass; Joel Taylor, drums; Ricardo Silveira, guitar; Cassio Duarte, percussion; Steve Tavaglione, saxophones/flute.

This artistic pianist has recorded and performed with some of the biggest names in both American and Brazilian jazz for over forty years.  The music of Rique Pantoja is a vision of peace, beauty and love.   In collaboration with his old friend, Juan Carlos Qintero, (owner of Moondo Music) this album became the perfect fit, representing the high-quality and artistically rendered jazz that Moondo Music distributes.

A native of Brazil, Pantoja attended a university to study engineering.  But this was his father’s vision and not Rique’s heart’s desire.  That’s strange, because both his father and his uncles all played musical instruments.  Maybe his father was trying to protect Rique from the rocky road of choosing music as a career.  After a frustrating year of engineering study, Rique’s father finally relented and sent his son to study in the United States and eventually at Berklee College of Music.  After all, Rique Pantoja had been studying classical guitar since the age of eight and switched to piano at thirteen years young.  By sixteen, he was already composing music. Rique Pantoja lived in the United States for a while as an exchange student.  During this time, the teenager won a talent show for his composing talents as a high school student. This encouraged him to keep composing.  The next step was attending Berklee School of Music. After graduating Berklee, the young pianist packed up his Fender Rhodes and relocated to Paris, France.  There, he formed a band consisting of French and Brazilian musicians that played all original compositions.  One night, the great Chet Baker heard the band playing in a club next door to where Chet was performing.  Baker popped into the club next door and was really impressed. In 1980, Rique’s band recorded with trumpet master Chet Baker, who, much to the surprise and excitement of young Rique Pantoja, came on board and decided to interpret Rique’s original songs.  That album is called, “Chet Baker and the Boto Brazilian Quartet.”

Once Rique Pantoja returned to Brazil, with success under his belt, he discovered his reputation burned like a five-alarm fire. He was in demand.  Pantoja toured two years with the great Milton Nascimento and became Musical Director for singer/songwriter, Djavan.  He was also an in-demand session player.  In 1991, at his wife’s insistence, the very busy Rique Pantoja needed a break and desired to spend more time with his family.  They moved to Los Angeles where the couple had many friends, including Ivan Lins. That short break turned into thirty fruitful years making music with California as his base.

Pantoja plays it all: classical, jazz, pop, gospel and of course Brazilian and international music.  Because of his diversity and excellent musical skills, Pantoja worked with a number of huge music names like Carlos Santana, Ernie Watts, Ricky Martin, classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, Gloria Estefan, Abraham Laboriel, Justo Almario, Lee Ritenour, Kirk Whalum and a score of others.  He has also written popular jingles for major brands like Coca Cola, Honda, Shell oil, Globo Reporter, DeBeers Diamonds, Pepsi, Nissan and Toshiba. 

Now, you can enjoy him on “Live in Los Angeles” working with some brilliant players like Steve Tavaglione on saxophone and flute, Jimmy Earl on bass, Joel Taylor, drums and Cassio Duarte on percussion.  He also includes Moondo Music labelmate, Ricardo Silveira on guitar.  This project shows Rique Pantoja’s exceptional visions on his instrument and spotlights his awesome composer talents.  Opening with “Arpoador” (that means harpooner in Portuguese).  Arpoador is also a small community, a peninsula, between Ipanema and Copacabana.  It’s an exciting and beautiful way to open this album, with changing moods and tempos, along with synthesizer brilliance during a solo that lifts the arrangement sky-high!

“Julinho” has a haunting melody interpreted by Steve Tavaglione’s sensual saxophone.  These two opening pieces quickly become two of my favorites on this album.  But let me say this.  Every Pantoja composition on this recording is brilliant.  Every arrangement is stellar and Rique Pantoja’s piano mastery infuses this music beautifully, giving each musician a musical palate to paint their hearts out.  “1000 Watts” is a tribute to Pantoja’s friend and popular, reedman, Ernie Watts and it’s drenched in funk.  His song, “Da Baiana” is based on an Afro-Cuban rhythm.  Pantoja’s composition “Be-Bop” kid introduces us to his vocal side.  Rique has a voice that’s honest and emotional.  I expected an up-tempo tune to exemplify be-bop.  Instead, this is a ballad and he sings the lyrical story in his native Portuguese with plentiful emotion. Then the arrangement changes, pendulum quick.  The ballad becomes a pop groove with Latin tinges.  Rique’s music is just pure fun!  As he plays the piano, he sings a scat line in unison with the melody.  His piano sparkles across each song, like sunshine on restless waves.  The flute solo by Tavaglione warms this arrangement, flying above the chord changes like a hungry seagull.  Also, the guitar solo by Ricardo Silveira is formidable.  For a moment, I am also captivated by the electric bass solo of Jimmy Earl.   Each song on this “Live in Los Angeles” album offers something more to entertain and surprise us.   It is a vision of complexity and artistic beauty you will enjoy listening to time and time again.

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RHYTHM: Ben Markley, piano/keyboards/composer/arranger/bandleader; Evan Gregor, basses; Steve Kovalcheck, guitar; Ari Hoenig, drums/composer. SAXOPHONES: Will Swindler, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Scott Turpen, alto saxophone; Peter Sommer, tenor saxophone; John Gunther, tenor saxophone; Sam Williams, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Peter Olstad, Alan Hood, Greg Gisbert & Dan Jonas. TROMBONES: Adam Bartczak, Rob Borger, John Gauer & Paul McKee.

Pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader, Ben Markley feels this album is one of his most ambitious projects to date.  It all began in 2019 when Ben Markley and Ari Hoenig found themselves performing together at the Tarleton Jazz Festival in Texas.  As Markley began learning Hoenig’s original music and preparing for their performance, he was intrigued by the drummer’s melodic compositions.  Woven into Ari’s keen sense of rhythm were the most beautiful melodies.  Now, three years later, Ben Markley has arranged a big band album featuring the music of drummer Art Hoenig with the composer solid and powerful in the drum chair.

They open with “Birdless” featuring Will Swindler on alto saxophone.  Ben Markley’s piano expertise is featured and Steve Kovalcheck’s electric guitar soars.  This Markley arrangement makes certain to spotlight Ari Hoenig, popping and explosive on drums.  The horns dance and are drenched in ensemble harmonics.  This song is the perfect way to open up an innovative Markley big band album.  It establishes the energy and excitement that these musicians bring to the public ear.  Every song on this album is composed by Ari Hoenig.  “Lyric” is another gem, with a sparkling, bright melody explored by tenor saxophonist, John Gunther and Kovalcheck on guitar.  Markley’s sensitive arrangements always leave space to feature the composer.  Hot and heavy on his drum set, Ari remains the catalyst of this band with all his technical, percussive brilliance on display.  Ben Markley’s production flies each song like a proud flag, featuring various band members.  Also, his arrangements richly saturate the pieces in horn harmonies and punctuate the presentations rhythmically.  That’s one of the interesting things about these Hoenig compositions; the way rhythms, unexpected breaks, staccato punches and drum solos propel this project forward. 

“Lines of Oppression” reminds me of a powerful locomotive plundering forward.  Track #4 is called “Bert’s Playground” and it’s a happy, joyful composition that gives bassist, Evan Gregor, an opportunity to dance stage center on his double bass. The background horns mimic the sound of ambulance sirens, grabbing my attention, and then they break into a joyful sound of their own.  Paul McKee’s trombone steps out of the fray, richly improvising on the theme.  Greg Gisbert’s trumpet introduces us to a lovely ballad titled “For Tracy.”  Ben Markley opens this piece up with a poignant solo piano at the introduction.  The background horns swell and are dynamic against the sweetness of Gisbert’s horn.  “Arrows and Loops” sounds like something the Whirling Dervishes would dance to and Ben Markley takes a rousing solo on piano. The Ben Markley Big Band closes with a funky arrangement of “Green Spleen” which embraces modern jazz, contemporary fusion jazz, with even a taste of Charlie Mingus brilliance.  You will be thoroughly entertained by these Hoenig compositions and the Ben Markley Big Band interpretations of “Ari’s Fun-House.” 

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John Yao, trombone/composer; Robert Sabin, bass; Mark Ferber, drums; Billy Drewes, soprano & alto saxophones; Jon Irabagon, tenor & soprano saxophones.

Trombonist and composer, John Yao, vividly captures a sense of risk-taking and improvisational invention to create this boldly unpredictable album.  His vision is captured in the title “Off-Kilter” as he reunites his three-horn ‘Triceratops’ from an earlier album debut in 2019.  Once again, saxophonists Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon join Yao along with drummer, Mark Ferber and bassist Robert Sabin. Sabin and Yao are longtime collaborators, once merging talents in Yao’s 17-piece big band.  On this recording, John Yao aims to be even more open and free.  He implements more complex compositions this time around, using plenty of open space for his counterparts to improvise and engage each other. 

What strikes me, right from the first tune, is the chordless structure of the band.  Leaning heavily on Sabin’s bass and Mark Ferber’s outstanding drum talents, the horns flutter and dance to their own content.  “Labyrinth” quickly becomes one of my favorites of Yao’s original compositions.  The pop of horns, using staccato unison notes, give Ferber’s drums a space to roll, solo and soar.  When the piece finally settles in, there is Robert Sabin’s walking bass holding the group solidly in place.  You can hear Yao’s love of big band harmonies in the way he has arranged the horn parts, lacing through the space like a bright, red, harmonic ribbon.  Yao’s trombone marches steadfast and straight-ahead, letting the background horns cheer him on.  Ferber’s drum licks double and clap like an inspired audience.  When Robert Sabin steps forward to solo on bass, his solo is exacerbated by the exciting compliment of Ferber’s improvisational drums that sing and soar, never losing the rhythm or dropping the tempo.  There are two interludes on this album. The first acts as a bridge between “Labyrinth” and a composition called, “Quietly.”  Both interludes are warm with horn harmonies and fired by the Ferber drums.  When the ballad “Quietly” appears, like a shy queen peeking out at the world behind lush, velvet horn harmonies, John Yao’s trombone is king.  Sabin’s bass sets the tone and tempo and the groove is Latin-esque.  It makes me tap my toe and want to cha cha across the room. 

“I love this band’s ability to go wherever everyone collectively or individually feels like they want to go, … to be part of something you can’t predict when you write a piece of music,” Yao explains his experience with the ensemble’s exploration of his original tunes.

This is an inspiring and creative exploration into the mindset and vision of John Yao, who has formerly contributed his trombone prowess with various Grammy-award winning ensembles including the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.  They have certainly inspired him creatively.  He has also performed with Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, Danilo Perez, Chris Potter and Kurt Elling.  You hear his love of Latin music in the introduction to his composition “Crosstalk” combined with his appreciation of funk music, jazz swing and the blues.  All four music genres are wrapped in a ball of energy and excitement that dares the Triceratop-horns to fly free.  Amid their openness and rich improvisations, the three horns still manage to merge together harmonically, repeating a melodic theme and stitching the piece together like a seamstress’s needle.  I find John Yao’s compositions to be innovative and diverse.  His trombone talent is formidable.  This is musical art, showcasing all five players like a Broadway spotlight on the red carpet.   This album release date is June 10, 2022.

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AARON SEEBER – “FIRST MOVE” – Cellar Music Group

Aaron Seeber, drums/composer; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Tim Green, alto saxophone; Warren Wolf, vibraphone.

This is drummer, Aaron Seeber’s first recording as a bandleader and it’s a powerhouse debut.  It was recorded ‘live’ in Brooklyn at the Ornithology Jazz Club in October of last year.  The band’s energy is palpable and Seeber has surrounded himself with some of New York’s best jazz musicians.  They are the new wave of jazz with a vision and perspective all their own.  Aaron Seeber has chosen seven jazz tunes by recognizable composers and added one of his own originals for good measure called, “First Move.” That, of course, is the title of this, his first album.  The tune “Brandyn” is a great way to kick off this production with excitement and allows each member of the quintet to step forward offering creative solos.  I enjoy Warren Wolf on vibraphone.  He’s an asset and punctuation mark to this ensemble.  Seeber first met Warren Wolf on a Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra date.  Then, Tim Green, who shared many of Seeber’s first major performances with him, steps stage center on alto saxophone to woo the crowd.  Sullivan Fortner lays down the tune’s melody in unison with the vibes and sax.  Seeber has experienced a long association with the celebrated pianist, Sullivan Fortner since they first played together at New York City’s Fat Cat club.  They were both in the band of trumpeter Greg Glassman. Sullivan lays down a busy, but very tasty, piano accompaniment beneath the solo of Tim Green.  It’s almost as though the two instruments are wildly gossiping with each other, but in a very comfortable way.  Bass man, Ugonna Okegwo, began to play with Seeber several years ago and they are frequently heard together as part of the Pete Malinverni Trio.  Sullivan Fortner really stretches out on Track #2, “Out of the Past” by Benny Golson, a tune that calms the mood, but not the energy.  These musicians are pumped briskly by the drum mastery of Aaron Seeber, even on this moderate tempo.  Ugonna Okegwo is given his debut in the spotlight, making his double bass soulfully saunter and sing.  This is a really pretty tune by Golson that these musicians reinvent, celebrate and refresh in a most inspirational way. 

Aaron Seeber inspires excitement on the introduction to “Eleventh Hour.”  The alto sax and vibraphone speak in unison tones and Seeber answers them, sticks slapping across his drum set with a voice of their own.  These musicians are off and flying faster than a hungry hawk diving to catch its prey.  Wolf’s mallets race across his instrument and the audience spontaneously applauds, shouting words of encouragement and praise.  I want to do the same in my listening space. This group is on fire!  Green’s saxophone solo duets with Seeber’s drums being the catalyst.  It’s a wonderful arrangement that showcases both instruments simultaneously.  Towards the fade of this composition, Aaron Seeber steps forward to wildly display his incredible skills on the drums.  This is one of my favorite arrangements on this album, reminding us of the brilliance of composer Mulgrew Miller, and the live audience seems to agree, shouting their appreciation.

Aaron Seeber is a native of Washington, D.C. and is influenced by Billy Hart, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Connie Kay, Mickey Roker and Otis “Candy” Finch to name just a few.  While attending high school in Washington, D.C., young Seeber attended Paul Carr’s Jazz Academy of Music (JAM) Camp.  Later, he attended SUNY Purchase, studying jazz drums with the renowned Kenny Washington and John Riley. Hungry for the music, he gobbled up opportunities to perform with greats like Eric Reed, Pete Malinverni, Cyrille Aimée, Freddie Redd, The Warren Wolf Trio and the award-winning group, The New York Voices to name only a few.  Currently, he leads his own quintet at the legendary Smalls Jazz Club. This debut album is bound to catapult this talented, young drummer into the stratosphere and beyond.

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