VARIOUS JAZZ POINTS OF VIEW

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 11, 2022

CHRISTIAN JACOB – “NEW JAZZ STANDARDS VOL 5/THE MUSIC OF CARL SAUNDERS” –  Summit Records

Christian Jacob, piano; Darek Oles, bass; Joe Labarbera, drums.

Trumpeter Carl Saunders is one of the jazz world’s great technicians, a composer and improviser. 

“I have been writing tunes all of my life.  I had many of them sitting by the piano, unorganized and looking like a bit of a mess.  I finally decided to print them out and organize them in a folder. … Finally published them into a book which I call New Jazz Standards, which has over 300 songs. I let the artists pick whatever tunes they want to do from the book and interpret them in their own style,” Carl Saunders explained.

That’s how this wonderful album of music was created by French classical and jazz pianist, Christian Jacob, talented bassist Darek Oles and legendary drummer, Joe LaBarbera.  They open with “August in New York” at a moderate but swinging pace.  Another of the twelve Saunders’ tunes is one called “A Ballad for Pete Candoli.” It’s a very beautiful ballad celebrating this iconic jazz trumpeter who played with both the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman big bands. I enjoy the sensitive, light, airy touch Jacob has on piano.  His fingers seem to be skipping over the notes, free as uninhibited children at play.  Next, the trio breaks into a three-four tune titled “Zig Zag Waltz.”  All the Saunders’ tunes are melodic and leave plenty of room for the musicians to explore, improvise and express themselves. Oles offers a brief but awesome bass solo.  LaBarbera solidifies the waltz, first with brushes and then builds the excitement, ending with cymbals ringing and sticks flying. 

The composition titled, “The Hipper They Are the Harder They Fall” is straight-ahead bliss.  In fact, every tune on this CD is brilliantly interpreted and the trio arrangements offer something for everyone’s pleasure and enjoyment.  Other Favorites are: “A Pill for Bill” that races across space like lightening; “Dark Blanket” is a composition warm as a wool poncho and “Sweetness” is a sugar-soaked ballad begging for lyrics. Each of the Saunders compositions light up the universe, bright stars on the horizon. To me, they sound like jazz standards.

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BILL ORTIZ – “POINTS OF VIEW” – Left Angle Records

Bill Ortiz, trumpet/flugelhorn; Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Brian Jackson, piano; Carl Wheeler, Hammond B3 organ; Marcus Shelby, bass; Marc van Wageningen, electric bass; Dennis Chambers, drums; John Santos, percussion/lead & background vocals; Javier Navarrette, percussion/background vocals; Azar Lawrence, tenor saxophone; Terrie Odabi & Christelle Durandy, lead & background vocals; Juan Luis Perez, Larry Batiste & Sandy Griffith, background vocals.

The first music arrangement of Bill Ortiz is robust and rolls out with the propulsive rhythm of Dennis Chambers, on drums, punching the funk into place.  They introduce the Eddie Henderson composition, “Sunburst” and it’s a great way to begin this album.  The trumpet of Ortiz announces the melody like a breath of fresh air and calls my ears to attention.  The arrangement dips and dives, with interludes that calm the tempo, until the drums become prominent again and continue driving the piece forward.  On Track #1, these musicians create a lovely blend of fusion with the more traditional, straight-ahead jazz.

Ortiz has his feet solidly planted in several jazz styles.  This is not surprising since he has spent forty-plus years playing a variety of music.  He toured for sixteen years with Santana and was part of that ensemble when they walked away with their multi-Grammy winning “Smooth” album. 

Bill Ortiz has recorded or performed with a long list of iconic names like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Tito Puente, Pete Escovedo, Boz Scaggs, Buddy Guy, as well as R&B stars like Tony Toni Tone, TLC, En Vogue and Destiny’s Child. Each of the ten pieces of this Ortiz repertoire was chosen to become a vehicle that showcases the Ortiz personal voice on trumpet.  He explained:

“…Music makes people feel something. I wanted “Points of View” to feature important pieces that have been overlooked or forgotten; songs I felt could document the sounds and artists that were important to me in forming my voice, while updating and bringing my personal style to them,” Ortiz said.

To assist him, Bill Ortiz has selected a stellar ensemble of musicians including the flying fingers of Matt Clark on piano.  Clark is always innovative as a soloist and complimentary as a solid rhythm player and accompanist. You hear this on Track #4, “In Search of Truth,” a sweet and lovely ballad with piano lines cascading like small waterfalls. Azar Lawrence, on tenor saxophone, sings the melody in unison with Ortiz on trumpet.  On Track #6, “A Toast to the People” written by Brian Jackson and Gil Scott Heron, features Terrie Odabi on lead vocals.  She adds her special flavor to the mix and rejuvenates this Gil Scott Heron gem of a tune.  Track #9 is a favorite arrangement of mine, composed by Wayne Shorter, and titled, “Oriental Folk Song” and inclusive of the “John Coltrane” melodic line dancing through the melody.  It makes me want to sing, “John Col – Trane” over and over again. Fueled by percussive spirit, Azar Lawrence takes a star-studded tenor solo. I also enjoyed Track #3, the Wilton Felder tune, “Ain’t Gon Change a Thang” that features another inspired solo by Azar with Bill Ortiz spicing it up by adding various effects to the arrangement.  All in all, this is a delightful mix of talent and repertoire. The mastery of Bill Ortiz on trumpet and flugelhorn is consistently obvious, awesome and spellbinding.  Perhaps Ortiz described his project best when he said:

“I like players who, like me, color outside the lines and strive for exciting interactions that make people listen and react, so that every time they play it, it tells a different story and goes to fresh, unheard places.  I wanted these guys to play off each other and jump into the oblivion of the unknown.  Afro Cuban music is a huge part of my life, and I welcomed genre greats like John Santos, who could inspire me to take that passion to the next level.”

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EVAN DRYBREAD – “TIGER TAIL” – Independent Label

Evan Drybread, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Mark Buselli, trumpet/flugelhorn; Christopher Pitts, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Scott Pazera, electric & upright basses; Kenny Phelps, drum/percussion.

Evan Drybread reflects the era of bebop, inspired by the hard bop records from back in the early popular Blue Note years.  He admires musicians like Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.  These musicians inspired Drybread to compose and pursue an album that reflected his love of saxophone and straight-ahead jazz.  Drybread opens this album with a wonderful original tune he wrote titled, “Blackball.”  Although he obviously has a deep love for bebop, Drybread was actually raised on fusion.  He wrote and included a tune to express that side of his jazz affections titled, “High Priestess” incorporating electronics.  He replaces the piano with a Fender Rhodes and Drybread pulls out his soprano saxophone during this arrangement. Kenny Phelps is absolutely inspirational on drums, taking a long and exciting solo.  The composition, “The Queen of Cups” slows the energy down and invites the trumpet of Mark Buselli to express himself.  He brings a warm, lovely tone to the party.

“Tiger Tail is my most recent composition.  I have been greatly inspired by the John Coltrane Quartet and wanted to capture the energy and spirituality of his music of the 60s.  I wanted to have a big, driving bass line in 6/4 with a soaring tenor melody.  This tune, in many ways, feels like my self-portrait, especially from the last seven years of my life. It has been a period filled with both personal and musical growth, but also great pain physically and emotionally.  Like a tiger, this song shows great strength, but also vulnerability,” Evan Drybread describes the title tune of his album.

In summary, I found Drybread’s album to be both innovative and enjoyable.  His composer qualities shine. 

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PETER ERSKINE TRIO – “LIVE IN ITALY” – Fuzzy Music

Peter Erskine, drums/composer; Alan Pasqua, piano/composer; Darek Oles, bass/composer.

The first original composition by Alan Pasqua, “Agrodolce” is sultry, pensive and drenched in classical music.  Pasqua opens, playing solo piano for the first half of this arrangement.  When the other two musicians join him, Peter Erskine’s brushes brighten the tempo and Darek Oles steps up to offer us a salty bass solo that’s both lyrical and relaxing. There is something comfortable and warm about this Peter Erskine Trio.  Their ‘live’ concert music draws me in.  Their repertoire is listed on the CD in the format of a restaurant menu.  Track #2 is titled “New Hope.” It’s another Pasqua original with a laid-back tempo, but beautifully written and played. “Old School Blues” struts onto the concert scene with Darek’s bass walking briskly beneath the groove that Peter Erskine’s drums lay down. Erskine’s drumming is strong and flavorful, like a thick Italian red sauce on fresh spaghetti. It’s a delicious arrangement. I tap my toes along with his swinging beat.

This is an easy listening trio of jazz played by three iconic gentlemen and recorded before a ‘live’ audience in Camogli, Italy on November 19, 2021.  The trio was in the midst of a two-week Italian tour. It was their first tour since the coronavirus lockdown. The Peter Erskine Trio offers a lip-smacking, toe taping menu of mostly original compositions. Erskine’s pepper-hot drums splatter across their arrangements with masterful sticks and brushes. He takes several solo spaces to sprinkle his talent over the captive audience. They reward him with appreciative applause. Erskine has composed “Three-Quarter Molly” that gives another platform for Pasqua to showcase his skillful piano creativity.  The tune “Turnaround” by Alan Pasqua is more energetic and tumultuous; a perfect platform for Erskine to shine, tap and tickle his drums.  Peter’s percussion opens the famed Dizzy tune, “Con Alma” tap-dancing on skins that double time beneath Pasqua and Oles. Darek Oles spotlights his bass in a dramatic solo during this tune. As the concert comes to an end, their audience responds with explosive hand claps.  The people demonstrate how much they appreciate what they heard.  I strongly concur.

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ESTHESIS QUARTET – “ESTHESIS QUARTET” –  Orenda Records

Dawn Clement, piano; Elsa Nilsson, flute/vocals; Emma Dayhuff, bass; Tina Raymond, drums.

This is a spirited, all-female quartet.  The first tune on the ‘Esthesis’ album is titled, “Cricket.” However, it sounds more like a boxing match than a chirping cricket.  I do enjoy the energy and excitement that this quartet produces. At the intro, Elsa Nilsson chirps like a cricket on her flute and Emma Dayhuff, on bass, mimics the cricket sounds briefly. But very quickly, Tina Raymond punches the drums in all the vulnerable spots and the staccato breaks remind me of gloves swinging and colliding with flesh. Dayhuff solos on bass and the energy grows. Nilsson’s flute flies in a flurry of punches and I’m caught up in the splendid excitement these four musicians create.  When Tina takes an extended drum solo, I can clearly see the two boxers duking it out at the end of the tenth round and then, boom!  Knock-out!  The song abruptly ends. “Two Moons” is track two. The moody melody is played sweetly on Elsa Nilsson’s flute.  This arrangement is burrowed in thigh deep blues.  The story behind the title is one that celebrates an American Indian Cheyenne chief.  He traveled to Washington, D.C. many times to discuss and negotiate a future for his Northern Cheyenne people. In fact, it is “Two Moons” who is featured on the American Buffalo Nickel coin.  Dawn Clement is brightly featured on piano during this arrangement, shining with creativity. Clement and Nilsson have collaborated on “Partial” with Nilsson writing the music and Clement has penned the lyrics.  Nilsson sings.

The quartet adopted the name ‘Esthesis’ which means: elementary sensations of touch.  They were formed as a creative support group to keep compositions coming and creative juices flowing during the awful COVID-19 pandemic.  After spending several sessions together on the Zoom app, the members headed to Los Angeles and recorded this, their debut album. Dawn Clement is a Denver, Colorado-based pianist and educator.  Currently she holds the role of Assistant Professor and Area Coordinator of the Jazz and American Music Department at Metropolitan State University in Denver.  Drummer, Tina Raymond is currently Assistant Professor and the Director of Jazz studies at California State University, Northridge.  Raymond blends traditional jazz percussion vocabulary with African polyrhythms and classical percussion techniques.  You hear this powerful blending on the quartet’s arrangement of “We Watch It All Burn” written by Nilsson.  Nilsson, who is now New York City based, originally came to the States from Gothenburg, Sweden.  She is an adjunct professor at the New School Paul Rauch and performs regularly at various New York venues.  Bassist, Emma Dayhuff, is a graduate from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance and only the fifth woman to ever participate in this prestigious program.  Dayhuff lives in Chicago and is pursuing a DMA at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Illinois.  She takes an extended solo journey during the “We Watch It All Burn” tune, exploring the full range of her upright bass and her unique creative instincts.  Raymond is by her side the entire way, fueling the solo piece with percussive intensity.  The song ends, like someone just blew out a candle and the burn abruptly stops.  Drummer, Tina Raymond, has composed “The Gardener” and it’s passive and precious introduction by Nilsson’s sensuous flute makes me want to gather my watering can and my spade to venture into my own garden. Like this music, there is a peacefulness to working with the earth.  The sixth and final tune on this very enjoyable musical concert is titled “Finding What’s Lost.” This song tributes Elsa Nilsson’s father, who passed away and her journey to finding a path back to life out of grief.  She vocalizes the melody, without words, in a scat-like way, dancing above the track in melodic whispers. This album was released May 27, 2022.

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HENDRIK MEURKENS THE WDR BIG BAND – “SAMBA JAZZ ODYSSEY” – Zoho Records

Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica/composer/arranger; Michael Philip Mossman, conductor/composer/ arranger; SAXOPHONES: Johan Hörlén, Pascal Bartoszak, Olivier Peters, Paul Heller, Jens Neufang. TRUMPETS: Andy Haderer, Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls. TROMBONES: Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm, Andy Hunter, Mattis Cederberg. RHYTHM: Paul Shigihara, guitar; Billy Test, piano; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Hendrik Meurkens is a German born, New York City based composer and harmonica player, with his own unique, recognizable sound and inspired by a deep love of Latin jazz.  Over his illustrious career, he has traveled to a number of countries and those influences of cultures and historic experiences is reflected in this album, “Samba Jazz Odyssey.” The big band opens with the Meurkens’ flamboyant composition, “A Night in Jakarta.” In my mind, I can still picture the colorful garments of Indonesian women with covered heads and I can hear the angklund instruments of Indonesia, locked melodically into my memory.  Meurkens competently captures the colors and energy of this Indonesian capital with the arrangements conducted by Michael Philip Mossman, a Grammy-nominated arranger.  Paul Heller on tenor saxophone and Raphael Klemm on trombone are brightly featured soloists, along with the harmonica brilliance of Meurkens himself. This is the beginning tune of a vivid voyage through samba jazz, featuring the composer skills of Meurkens.

Track #2 is titled “Manhattan Samba” and dances its way onto the scene, propelled by the able drums of Hans Dekker. Pascal Bartoszak on flute adds a light touch to the piece, with the horns pumping staccato beneath the excitement.  The Meurkens original tune, “Prague in March” is one of his compositions that has been ‘covered’ by many accomplished artists including Claudio Roditi, the popular Brazilian trumpet player. It’s a slow, sexy samba with a lovely melody that Meurkens wrote just before he immigrated to the United States and one year after the Berlin Wall fell.   “Sambatropolis” is a joyful composition, arranged so that Johan Hörlén, on alto saxophone, can engage in a lilting conversation with the harmonica of Meurkens.  I also love the baritone saxophone lines written into this arrangement that help keep the mood buoyant and happy. Meurkens was on a ride from Denver to Aspen, Colorado and while travelling through the American West, he was so inspired by the Rocky Mountains and their natural beauty that he composed “Mountain Drive.” The motion and movement of this tune makes me want to get in my car and head for the highway.  Conductor Mossman has composed a tune that lets the big band act as if they are a local jam session.  “You Again” spotlights Andy Hunter on trombone and Mattis Cederberg on bass trombone.  Jens Neufang, on baritone sax, gives us a true bebop influenced solo and Hans Dekker pushes the band forward on his powerhouse drums.  Paul Shigihara takes a noteworthy guitar exploration and Rob Bruynen soars on trumpet.  It sounds like a true jam session.

Every composition, every arrangement and each of these competent and talented musicians make this an album meant for your listening pleasure.

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DAN OLIVO – “DAY BY DAY” – Ava Maria Records

Dan Olivo, vocals; Ian Robbins, guitar; Lyman Medeiros, bass/ukulele/vocals/arranger; Joe Bagg, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Kyle O’Donnell, tenor saxophone; Jamelle Adisa, trumpet; Garrett Smith, trombone; Renee Myara Cibelli, vocals.

Dan Olivo has a smooth, comforting voice; one you might hear and enjoy at a supper club or an intimate jazz room.  He has surrounded himself with an amazing cast of musicians who create tight, jazzy tracks and feature bright, outstanding instrumental solos.  Dan has chosen a dozen familiar songs for his repertoire.  He sings each one with sincerity and the well-written arrangements by Ian Robbins compliment Olivo’s vocal delivery.  Dan Olivo opens with the title tune, and the band swings as hard as a big band.  Olivo has a strong handle on music, having played saxophone in his Junior high school band and beyond.  It was during that period of his teen life that Dan was introduced to Harry Connick Jr.  Young Olivo watched and listened in awe as Connick Jr. fronted his big band and the teenager felt that he could do that too.  Soon he was also listening to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Nat ‘King’ Cole and Michael Bublé. You clearly hear these influences in this album presentation. I enjoyed his rendition of the Latin flavored tune, “Sway” competently colored by the drums of Kevin Winard.

Olivo is also an actor with work in theaters, on film projects and appearances on television shows.  He blends his love of acting with his love of music, picking tunes like the 1924 song, once performed during Vaudeville stage acts called, “How Come You Do me Like You Do?” and the popular tune from the Broadway play, “The Great Magoo” titled “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”  He delivers each composition with crystal clear enunciation and this male vocalist could be categorized as a new-comer to the ‘crooners’ society.  By the way, he also does a good job of swinging his way through tunes like “L.O.V.E.”, “I’m Walkin’” and the up-tempo version of “Time After Time.”

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NATE WOOLEY – “ANCIENT SONGS OF BURLAP HEROES” – Pyroclastic Records

Nate Wooley, trumpet/composer/amplifier. COLUMBIA ICEFIELD: Mary Halvorson, guitar; Susan Alcorn, pedal steel guitar; Ryan Sawyer, drums. Mat Maneri, viola; Trevor Dunn, electric bass.

In the wake-up call of the 2022 Supreme Court of the United States, the determination to expel environmental protection laws, this album seems particularly important.  Trumpeter, Nate Wooley, has joined forces with Mary Halvorson’s dynamic guitar, Ryan Sawyers power-house drums and Susan Alcorn’s creatively played pedal steel guitar.  They copiously interpret his original compositions. 

“I Am the Sea That Sings of Dust” is eighteen-plus minutes of sounds and music that seem to reflect nature and predict some kind of bleak destruction or disintegration. You will hear the seagull’s song in this composition and the wind; the sea gently roaring like a sleeping giant and even raindrops.  It was such an interesting production, I played it twice.  According to Nate Wooley’s press agent, this music is meant to describe the gravitational force of a shifting glacier.  It utilizes an hour-long platform.  The production seems to be warning us about the possible catastrophic results of not loving and protecting mother earth.  Are we simply watching the natural beauty of our planet unravel? Are we ignoring glaciers melting, shifting, floating away?  Mat Maneri adds his viola to the mix and the screech of strings against the Ryan Sawyer drums becomes cataclysmic, with instruments sounding like wind gusts in an ice storm.  Ten minutes into this suite of music, the mood changes to a pensive, quiet alternate universe, where Nate Wooley’s trumpet appears, muted, like sunrays through a shuttered window.

This production features a suite of compositions, interpreted as three titles.  “A Catastrophic Legend” was penned by Wooley as a love letter to his mentor, Ron Miles, who passed away in March.  The final title is called “Returning to Drown Myself Finally” and is based on a Swedish religious song called “Nu ar midsommar natt.” All in all, this project, like the album cover itself, is dark and ominous.  The Wooley compositions and improvised trumpet parts melt into amplification, feedback, vocalization and sometimes disturbing music that ruffles the spirit and tickles the brain.

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MATTHEW MUÑESES – “NOLI ME TANGERE” – Next Level Records

Matthew Muñeses, alto saxophone/composer; Miguel Zenon, tenor saxophone; Zubin Edaji, trumpet; Stu Mindeman, piano; Clark Sommers, bass; Dana Hall, drums.

According to reedman, composer and educator, Matthew Muñeses, he has composed music to interpret his impressions of the Phillipines’ revolt against Spanish control in 1896.  The opening track, “Alin Mang Lahi” expresses the 19th Century Filipino desire for sovereignty. Both this track and the second track are based in minor keys and brightly powered by the drums of Dana Hall and the saxophone of Matthew Muñeses. “Kundiman ni Rizal” is a love song generally sung by a young man to the desired woman of his dreams. Both compositions are written by José Rizal.  This ballad had a melody penned by Francisco Buencamino, who put music to the poetry of Rizal. Clearly Matthew Muñeses admires Jose Rizal, who is a poet, novelist and National hero of the Philippines.

Four songs on this production are composed by Matthew Muñeses and represent parts of the suite he wrote.  The Muñeses publicist says that a Rizal Novel titled “Provoked” inspired Matthew to write this suite of music in 2019. Those four compositions blossomed into this recording. Not only does this music intend to call attention to the early Filipino revolution, it also is a musical means of calling attention to continuing racism and separatism that Muñeses has experienced as a Filipino man growing up in America.  Songs from the composer’s suite titled, “Noli me Tangere” features compositions like “A Son Returns” and “Cruelty and Injustice.”

This suite refers to Matthew’s own soul-searching and him coming to terms with his racial mix, being half Filipino and half American. The piano solo by Stu Mindeman is quite stunning and inventive on Cruelty and Injustice (the second tune in the Muñeses suite).  Dana Hall also takes a notable drum solo during this arrangement. Matthew Muñeses hopes to connect the history of Philippine independence from Spain to the post-colonial Phillippines and finally, to the current battle for justice in America existing in the 21st Century.  His suite, “Noli Me Tangere” is a musical call for a more equitable and fair society.  Part three is titled “Education for All” and the fourth and final part of the suite is “Revolution and Liberation” which seems to take us back to the original premise of the 1896 through 1898 revolution.  Sadly, the circle of discontent just seems to repeat itself, whether on European soil, in the islands, in Asia, in America or in this music.

This is modern jazz, with the Muñeses and Rizal compositions providing chord changes that encourage improvisation and freedom.  The music is the revolving door we keep pushing forward.

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