Archive for September, 2022


September 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

 September 15, 2022


Steven Feifke, piano/co-leader/arrangements/composer/orchestration; Bijon Watson, lead trumpet/flugelhorn/co-leader; Will Brahm, guitar; Dan Chmielinski, bass; Ulysses Owens, Jr., drums; Chad LB, tenor saxophone; Roxy Coss & Thomas Luer, tenor saxophone/flute; Alexa Tarantino & Christopher McBride, alto saxophone/flute; Lauren Sevian, baritone saxophone; Tanya Darby, Mike Rodriguez & Danny Jonokuchi, trumpet/flugelhorn; Sean Jones, trumpet; John Fedchock, Javier Nero & Kalia Vandever, trombone; Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone; Kurt Elling, voice.

This album is combustible!  What could I expect when two jazz giants come together? Celebrated pianist/composer/arranger, Steven Feifke, joins talents with trumpet master Bijon Watson.  Right off the bat, they swing as hard as Jackie Robinson, blasting out with their premier tune “I’ve Got Algorithm.”

The thing that makes this Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra exceptional is that the ensemble is a mixture of seasoned veterans and younger, more contemporary musicians.  The beauty of the convergence with pianist Steven Feifke and trumpet master, Bijon Watson, is that they have created an ensemble to include their heroes, their peers and some talented young people who they have mentored. With the addition of various generations, this band becomes similar to exciting bands like the ones Art Blakey inspired, or bands that Horace Silver led.  Both hired young, talented musicians to mix into their group of elders. Starting from the first tune titled, “I’ve Got Algorithm” they excite me beyond expectations.  It’s written by Steven Feifke and features him brightly on piano. From then on, the horns carry the production featuring saxophonists, Chad LB, Thomas Luer and Roxy Coss. Mike Rodriguez is a plus on trumpet. The drummer, Ulysses Owens, jr., pumps excitement into the arrangement. This tune fills me up with pure happiness and joy.  On Track #2, enter Kurt Elling, singing his jazz vocals, like a human horn on the composition, “Sassy.”  “Inner Urge” is another up-tempo, high-spirited jazz tune that gives an opportunity for Lauren Sevian to shine on baritone saxophone and Alexa Tarantino to soar on tenor saxophone. This entire project gives both Bijon Watson and Steven Feifke opportunities to show their musical mastery.  Bijon Watson plays beautifully on the ballad, “Remember Me” and shares the spotlight with Will Brahm on guitar.  There’s something for everyone on this project. Settle back and enjoy the concert.

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STEVE TURRE – “GENERATIONS” – Smoke Sessions Records

Steve Turre, trombone/shells/composer; Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Corcoran Holt, Derrick Barnett & Buster Williams, bass; Orion Turre, Karl Wright & Lennie White, drums; Emilio Modeste, tenor saxophone; Wallace Roney Jr., trumpet/flugelhorn; Pedrito Martinez, percussion; Andy Bassford, guitar; Trevor Watkis, Fender Rhodes; James Carter, tenor saxophone.

When I see the name, Steve Turre, I am immediately drawn to this CD because I’m certain it’s going to be amazing. I was correct.  The ensemble opens with “Planting the Ceed” and make no bones about playing Turre’s original composition straight-ahead and power-packed. The horns echo each other, the bass line establishes a repeatable melody and builds a strong foundation, cementing the tune into place. Orion Turre slams excitement into the arrangement on drums. Emilio Modeste takes the first solo featuring tenor saxophone, he solidifies the memory of 1960 jazz at its finest peak. Steve Turre comes next, like a thoroughbred racehorse out the gate.  He’s followed by Wallace Roney, Jr. on trumpet.  Isaiah J. Thompson on piano and Corcoran Holt on bass lock-in to create a strong rhythm section with Orion.  When Isaiah steps into the spotlight, he is unapologetic on piano, and clearly has his own style and creative perspective on the piano.  Track #2 is titled “Dinner with Duke” and is absolutely beautiful. Steve Turre uses his trombone to play his story in an exceptionally lovely way. Often, the trombone instrument sounds like a voice and when Wallace Roney, Jr. enters on trumpet, the two have a serious conversation. I love to hear a bass bowed and Corcovan Holt pleases my ears with his warm, wonderful sound. “Blue Smoke” is all bluesy, full of shuffle and spunk. All the music is original and written by Steve Turre except the familiar “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” arranged in a very Afro-Cuban way featuring Pedrito Martinez on percussion. Steve Turre explained this recent project in his liner notes.

“Generations represents the continuum of real jazz music culture, connected through the lens of each generation. … As far back as you can go will directly influence how far forward you can go.  Youth brings enthusiasm, energy and seeking spirit.  Age brings wisdom, control and focus.  They balance each other in a wonderful way,” Turre wrote.

I love the tribute song to Pharoah Sanders, “Pharoah’s Dance” and the staccato horn sweetness of their arrangement on “Flower Power.”  Another favorite tune is “Resistance” and I enjoyed tenor saxophone guest, James Carter on “Sweet Dreams” where the iconic bassist, Buster Williams also made a guest appearance during this pretty ballad presentation.  Here is an album packed with talent, bright, bold compositions and the excellence of Steve Turre on trombone.  It’s a musical production I will play again and again.

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Darren Litzie, piano/composer; Chris Deangelis, bass; John Riley, drums; Nick Biello, flute/soprano saxophone; Andrew Beals, alto saxophone.

Opening with a trio session playing the great Cole Porter song, “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to” Darren Litzie shines a spotlight on his tenacious rhythm section.  Litzie sets the tone on piano, opening the piece with his talents sparkling across the eighty-eight keys.  Track #2 introduces us to Darren Litzie, the composer.  This is the title tune, “My Horizon.”  The trio adds Nick Biello on flute, who plays atop a Latin groove and explores improvisations that fly like a startled sparrow.  Darren has composed five of the ten songs he offers us.  His sense of composition is solidified by strong repeatable melodies and infectious ‘grooves.’ I enjoyed his song, “Faded Portrait” and “Blues for 3” is another trio arrangement with Thelonious Monk influence. On this tune, Darren Litzie shows off his blues chops.  John Riley is given several bars to showcase his mad drum skills. 

Litzie holds a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from the Hartt School, Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at University of Harford, Connecticut. This is an album that spotlights Litzie’s piano mastery and gives a platform for his compositions.  His ‘cover’ of the Thelonious Monk tune “Hackensack”is a nice, straight-ahead way to close this album out.

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CARMEN LUNDY – “FADE TO BLACK” – Afrasia Productions

Carmen Lundy, vocals/composer/arranger/ guitar/percussion/ keyboards/horn arrangements/backing vocals; Julius Rodriguez, piano; Matthew Whitaker, organ/keyboards/string arrangement/programming; Kenny Davis, acoustic & electric bass; Terreon Gully, drums; Curtis Lundy, acoustic bass; Giveton Gelin & Wallace Roney jr., trumpet; Morgan Guerin & Camille Thurman, tenor saxophone.

Carmen Lundy’s sixteenth album release was funded by a New Jazz Works grant from Chamber Music America (CMA).  Her commission was granted during the pandemic.

“My hope is that these songs reflect this time of great loss, sorrow, healing and hope for a brighter, more inclusive future for us all. Thank you to CMA for their dedication and support for the arts and Jazz Composition in particular,” Carmen Lundy explained in liner notes.

Lundy has composed and arranged all the material on this album.  She opens with “Shine A Light,” dedicated to the first responders and hospital workers who showed their selfless bravery during a time of worldwide health crisis.  The melody is catchy and has a few challenging intervals thrown-in for good measure. Melodically, these unexpected intervals do indeed shine a light on Ms. Lundy’s composing skills.  Carmen Lundy has a smooth way of mixing straight ahead and contemporary jazz. This first song is one of my favorites. “So Amazing” is very contemporary and Lundy’s voice uses its full range to sing the message with joy and competence.  “Daughter of the Universe,” showcases a blues groove and a strong bass line by Curtis Lundy at the introduction. It captures my interest immediately.  I enjoy the way Carmen doubles the vocals in specifics places and celebrates her alto voice range. This song and the one that follows, “Ain’t I Human” were inspired by Harriet Tubman’s famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech.  This was during Tubman’s struggle for freedom and equality, not only as an African American, but as a woman in a man-controlled world. The tune “Reverence” is another one of my favorites and is a referendum on privacy. Lundy’s lyrics float like colorful, revolutionary flags, above chords that set a groove pattern beneath the flapping cloth of truth. This is music with a message and Carmen Lundy is a woman with a purpose and a strong creative opinion. She is also a visual artist.  Ms. Lundy has designed the cover of her CD and it’s quite striking! To see more of her artwork, visit

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Miró Henry Sobrer, composer/trombone/co-producer; Ellie Pruneau, piano; Hanna Marks, bass; Rocky Martin, drums; Cole Stover, percussion; Zachary Finnegan, trumpet; Tim Kreis, tenor saxophone; Jimmy Farace, baritone saxophone; Ana Nelson, soprano saxophone; Elena Escudero, Francesca Sobrer & Rivkah Moore, vocals; All the musicians recorded as the chorus.

He began in the children’s choir, moved on to playing bass and finally fell in love with the trombone. From the very beginning, Miro Henry Sobrer chose a path of music. This album embraces poetic lines, translated by Sobrer’s deceased father from the Catalan language of Spain. Professor Pep Sobrer, who was a Barcelona-born scholar, writer, translator, and educator, taught Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana State University for almost three decades.  The professor passed away in 2015.  His son has incorporated his father’s work into this tender tribute album, along with his own musical interpretations and compositions inspired by the Catalan poems, his father’s legacy, and his love of music.  Miro henry Sobrer has also incorporated a tarot card into the project, both as the title of this album and another source of inspiration. The Deuces in the tarot cards, generally represent science, labor and the astrological sign of Virgo. “Two of Swords” has a divinatory significance of over-work with an inner interpretation of martyrdom. 

I listened to this album with great interest to see if the music captured the factors mentioned above. Miró incorporated his father’s passion, Spanish culture and the always present art of jazz. This is a multi-dimensional project of music and spoken word, culture and consciousness.  Miró Henry Sobrer’s trombone is smooth as satin and on “Deep Waters” you become warmly acquainted with the tone and texture of his instrument. Ellie Pruneau’s piano is light and lovely, contrasting with the trombone’s beautiful low tones and dragging us happily into “Deep Waters” with the solo she plays. All the while, Rocky Martin is prominent on his drums and Cole Stover’s percussion excellence rides, like waves beneath the bass solo of Hannah Marks. Miro Henry adds a warm blend of horns, an arrangement that sings harmonically to punctuate the piece.  

“Trinity Dance Part One” incorporates a chorus of voices that chant Hara Krishna vibes into the background.  Miro Henry Sobrer plays a sorrowful trombone song, full of passionate sadness and love notes. There is a mixture of languages during this production and for lyric translations, Sobrer directs us to visit These three Trinity Dance compositions he has written are a bridge between Hindustani classical music, traditional Catalan dance music and Latin Jazz. Part Three of this triad presentation obviously celebrates the Latin influence. Sobrer’s young, talented cast of musical characters were drawn from Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music. Trumpeter Zach Finnegan, tenor sax man, Tim Kreis and baritone saxophonist, Jimmy Farace add a fullness to the mix. Although Sobrer has borrowed melodies and ‘licks’ from Oliver Nelson’s unforgettable arrangement of “Stolen Moments” and Cannonball Adderley’s classic “Autumn Leaves” arrangement, his compositions are well-written and artistic, like the concept of this album.  He was encouraged and assisted as co-producer by one of his mentors, composer, educator, Wayne Wallace, a multi-Grammy Award nominee.  You will clearly hear Miro Henry Sobrer’s influence of East Indian classical music study and his love of Latin music and Afro-Cuban music.  Miro developed his writing and arranging skills under the mentorship of Wallace and has had his arrangements performed by the Latin Jazz Ensemble at Jacobs School of Music.

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Jim McNeely, Conductor/composer/arranger; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone/composer; Thomas Heidepriem, bass; Martin Scales, guitar; Peter Reiter, piano; Jean Paul Höchstadter, drums; Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn & Oliver Leicht, alto/tenor, and soprano saxophones/flute/clarinet/piccolo; Tony Lakatos, tenor saxophone/flute; Steffen Weber, tenor/soprano, baritone saxophones/flute/clarinet; Rainer Heute, baritone saxophone/baritone clarinet; Frank Wellert, Thomas Vogel, Martin Auer, & Axel Schlosser, trumpet/flugelhorn; Gunter Bollmann, Peter Feil, Christian Jaksjö, trombone; Manfred Honetschläger, bass trombone.

“The Rite of Spring,” by Igor Stravinsky, is regarded as a key work of 20th century classical music, that premiered in Paris in the year 1913.  A tribute to this extraordinary work is the central role of this “Rituals” album, played by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.  Conducted by Jim McNeely, who also composed this commissioned works specifically to feature American tenor saxophonist Chris Potter. Here is a rare listening experience. The Stravinsky “Le Sacre du Printemps” (The Rite of Spring) was originally composed using dissonant tonal structures and multi-rhythms.  The original music inspired McNeely, but he came up with a completely different concept of his own creation. Conductor McNeely not only composed the six-part “Rituals” suite for Potter, he has also arranged four pieces from the Chris Potter catalogue.

Chris Potter is one of our great American contemporary saxophonists and he becomes the main, solo instrumental voice for this project. Born Jan 1, 1921 in Chicago, Illinois, but raised in Columbia, South Carolina, his love of music led him to play guitar, piano and after hearing Paul Desmond, settle on learning to play the saxophone. As a leader, he has released twenty-three albums from 1993 to present. His amazing interpretation of “Rituals Adoration III” sets my listening room on fire.  He opens, playing singularly and flying about the melody like a wild bird across clear skies. When the Frankfurt Radio Big Band joins in, it’s dynamic and beautiful. This suite is only two minutes and eighteen seconds long, but it is thrilling and impactful. 

They smoothly slide into “Rituals Sacrifice 1” the 4th Track of this outstanding album.  This is a true mix of European classical music and the freedom and improvisational nature of jazz, America’s own, unique classical music. The arrangements of Jim McNeely give special attention to their featured artist and set an impressive stage for Chris Potter to shine and sparkle in the arranger’s brilliance. Potter’s fluidity and tone on tenor saxophone is formidable.  At times, he reminds me of the way Charlie Parker played; free, forceful and spiritually connected to a greater good. On “The Wheel” tune, Potter and the band stretch out and have some fun. This tune has a New Orleans feel to it, and the band makes me think of a house party with kids playing double-dutch on the sidewalk.  The harmonic horns talk like party-goers would, bouncing with energy.  Suddenly the tempo changes and the mood flows into another room, another time, another place.  Just as suddenly, drummer Jean Paul Höchstadter kicks the groove back into place and the party resumes.  On the song, “Wine Dark Sea,” both Chris Potter and Heinz Dieter Sauerborn solo beautifully. This album demonstrates how music crosses cultures and how similar and complimentary classical music and jazz can be.

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Doug MacDonald, guitar; Tamir Hendelman, piano; John Clayton, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Doug MacDonald’s quartet rejuvenates an old tune called, “I’ll See You In My Dreams, with creativity and precision.  His guitar is beautifully supported by three of the top musicians based on the West Coast; Tamir Hendelman on piano, John Clayton on bass and Jeff Hamilton on drums. 

This quartet’s interpretation of Duke Ellington’s bluesy “I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” unfolds like shiny Christmas paper over a delicate gift.  Their lovely musicianship is the present wrapped inside all that glitter and glam. On “Don’Cha Go ‘Way Mad” they shuffle on down the road, slow swinging their way along, while happily dragging the listener by the ear.  John Clayton takes a bass solo, concentrating on the melodic structure with his bow sliding against the strings in a beautiful way.  When Tamir comes in, with his funky, blues-driven solo piano, his excellence is prominent. Doug MacDonald is no newcomer to the music scene. He has over two dozen album releases as a bandleader and his crisp, individualized style on guitar always appreciates the melody. Clearly, this is the case on these nine well-produced songs.  On “My Ship” the quartet surprises us with an up-tempo Latin version of the song, highlighting the brilliance of drummer Jeff Hamilton.  Another highlight of this album is Doug’s original composition “New mark” where the group settles into a rot-gut blues introduction that snatches my attention and takes the music all the way back to its roots.  I was so happy that MacDonald chose to include his original and celebrate the blues. Then, he changes the groove and swings his way into another key and another groove that steps out of the blues and changes into a straight-ahead groove, perfect for swing dancers to enjoy and slide across the dance floor.  Clayton’s walking bass locks into Hamilton’s driving drums and the party is on!  

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Grant Stewart, tenor saxophone; David Wong, bass; Tardo Hammer, piano; Phil Stewart, drums; Bruce Harris, trumpet.

The iconic reedman and composer, Clifford Jordan, was a friend of mine and I was happy to see that tenor saxophonist, Grant Stewart, covered a few of his songs on this album, starting with “Little Spain.”  The arrangement invites a spontaneous and electrifying solo by drummer Phil Stewart.  The other Clifford Jordan tune that Grant Stewart covers is “Bearcat.”  Grant penned Track #2, “A Piece of Art,” and his liquid saxophone notes pour out of his horn like warm honey. I appreciate the tone and style of Grant Stewart on his tenor saxophone. He and Bruce Harris, on trumpet, harmonize and spar with each other at an up-tempo pace. Tardo Hammer takes an inspired piano solo, then steps out the way for the drums to spit out their rhythmic message.  “Ghose of a Chance” is a favorite tune of mine and Stewart does the song proud, slowing the pace down and caressing the melody with his horn.  On the tune, “Mo is On” they fly at jet plane speed. Grant Stewart plays “I’m a Fool to Want You” with so much passion and feeling I am overcome with emotion. This is a lovely album of music, with all the warmth and naturalness of enjoying them up-close and personal.  It feels like I’m at a local jazz spot listening to them ‘live.’  Grant Stewart’s music is intimate.

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September 1, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

  September 1, 2022

ANA NELSON – “BRIDGES” – Independent Label

Ana Nelson, alto saxophone/clarinet/composer; Jamaal Baptiste, piano; Jeremy Allen & Brendan Keller-Tuberg, bass; Steve Houghton & Carter Pearson, drums; Garrett Fasig, tenor saxophone;  Bill Nelson, tenor saxophone; Marina Alba Lopez & Jodi Dunn, violin; Alice Ford, viola; Kevin Flynn, cello.

Ana Nelson has composed all the songs offered on this, her debut, full-length album.  They are variously arranged, with strong classical sensibilities featuring Ana on both alto saxophone and clarinet.  “Wanderlust” introduces the project and is a smooth, medium tempo arrangement with Ana on alto sax and Carter Pearson on drums, prodding the music ahead with creativity and zest.  He is the spice in this musical stew who plays on the first four compositions.  Ana’s warm, hypnotic clarinet opens Track #2.  The piano solo of Jamaal Baptiste is very classical with long scale-like runs and arpeggio finger paths, while the drum solo soars.  “Blue Flower” opens with solo percussion and when Ana’s sweet alto saxophone enters, a budding flower opens atop the lush, earthy piano arpeggios of Baptiste.  My ears perk up.  This is a truly beautiful composition. On track #6, strings open this song called “Let the Light In.”  Ana Nelson’s clarinet blends beautifully with the string arrangements.   This is peaceful music, like the morning sun streaming through partially closed curtains and tickling sleepy eyes awake.  At last, on Track #7, “Fruit of the Groove” invites Straight-ahead jazz to the get-together, and the stage lights up!  Here is a serious jazz arrangement that spills across my listening space and drenches me with a horn ensemble windstorm.  On this tune, she is joined by her father, tenor saxophonist, Bill Nelson, drummer Steve Houghton, and bassist Jeremy Allen.  They swing hard!

“As a classical musician who fell in love with jazz, then later discovered Brazilian music, it’s difficult for me to label this album as any one specific genre. … I view it more of a melding of music and people I love.  The title, ‘Bridges’ is my way of reflecting that cross-blending,” Ana explains her music.

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Taurey Butler, piano/composer; Morgan Moore, bass; Wali Muhammad, drums.

I first heard Taurey Butler, a native of East Orange, New Jersey, play piano in Singapore. We were both touring Asia, thousands of miles from home. Taurey’s power and precision stunned me as his fingers raced over the piano keys.  Clearly, he was going on to bigger and better things.  He’s currently living in Montreal, Québec Canada and this is Butler’s second release for Justin Time records.  His first was his self-titled debut recording in 2011.  The Taurey Butler trio opens with the title tune, an original composition by Butler that makes for a powerful introduction to his style and technique. Morgan Moore takes a walking bass solo and Wali Muhammad fuels the piece with shuffle drums. Track #2 is a jazz waltz Taurey titles, “Artis’ Truth.”  On the fourth tune, “On the Natch” Taurey introduces his funky blues side.  This song reminds me of the early Ramsey Lewis days, when “I’m In With the In Crowd” was popping on all the radio stations. This could have been inspired by the time Taurey Butler spent touring with the great Eldee Young, the original bass player with Ramsey Lewis. 

Butler’s arrangement on “Smile” is wonderful, artistic and inspired as he plays with time and tempo.  Morgan Moore steps forward with his solo and afterwards the trio falls into a blues shuffle that satisfies the soul.  After the bass solo, a freefall piano exploration expands my imagination and I can clearly see Charlie Chaplin racing around a black and white screen on a silent film.  While Taurey’s arrangement of the actor, composer’s song plays, it inspires my imagination and I can see the Chaplin moves.  One of Taurey’s poignant moments at the piano is on the final track, “I Can Only Be Me” written by Stevie Wonder.  Perhaps Taurey Butler summed up this musical experience best when he said:

“Revisiting the theme of this project, individuality and uniqueness, I realized this Stevie Wonder song would be the perfect way to wrap a bow on the project.  In new locations, situations and circumstances, when it’s all said and done, we have no option but to be ourselves.  We all have unique gifts and when we let them shine, we find ourselves able to navigate through any obstacle successfully,” Taurey stated in his liner notes.

This project will be released on October 7, 2022.

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TRACYE EILEEN – “YOU HIT THE SPOT” –  Honey Crystal Records

Tracye Eileen, vocals; Jeremy Kahn & Dennis Luxion, piano; Jon Deitemyer & Linard Stroud, drums; Stewart Miller & Paul Martin, bass; Steve Eisen, reeds; Raphael Crawford, trombone; Victor Garcia, trumpet.

Chicago, Illinois artist, Tracye Eileen, blasts into my listening room with the popular “I Love Being Here With You.” The first thing I note about this vocalist is that she has her own style and timbre.  Tracye doesn’t sound like anyone accept herself, and that’s a good thing. Additionally, she has surrounded herself with a wonderful group of musicians who add authenticity and art to this project.  The tune “You Hit the Spot,” swings and is kind of a homecoming for Tracye, who was raised by a jazz drummer.  Her father, Ed Smith, missed a chance to join Count Basie’s band because he was drafted into the army and sent instead to Vietnam.

“My father, an accomplished jazz percussionist, was a major influence in my life.  His inspiration many years ago led to successful roles as lead singer in my high school and college jazz bands and my continued love of jazz music,” Tracye shared.

This is Tracye Eileen’s fourth album release.  She launched her recording career in 2012 with an album called “Love’s Journey” where she sang many of the familiar jazz songs she grew up listening to at her home. She was a student at the Bloom School of Jazz in Chicago and the owner encouraged her talent, briefly serving as her manager and he was very supportive of her album debut.  The second album was released in 2018.  This time Tracye dipped into her soul and R&B bag, showing the world she could sing it all.  Her third album, released in 2020, delved into Smooth jazz. Today, she comes full circle with “You Hit the Spot” singing eight familiar standard jazz tunes in her own, unique way.  Producer, arranger Thomas Gunther gives her some challenging arrangements with big band sensibilities, even though this is a small ensemble. They sound powerful throughout.  For example, on “The End of a Love Affair” the band introduces the tune with an under-current of well-orchestrated blues. Tracye digs deep, selling each lyric with honest emotion.  Steve Eisen adds his saxophone solo and lifts the production a notch.  At the end of this song, Tracye Eileen shows off her range, hitting a high note that rings across the room like morning church bells.

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Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano; Aymée Nuviola, vocals/composer.

Wow.  When I listen to the first number I am enchanted by this magical duo.  Gonzalo Rubalcaba is such a rich and unpredictably creative pianist.  Aymée Nuviola is an emotional and competent vocalist who brings her style and grace to the stage with her own powerful statement. Gonzalo hears so many dynamic and exceptionally creative harmonics, that his playing is intriguing, as well as challenging.  Aymée sounds as comfortable as a warm chair by the fireplace.  This is jazz.  This is innovation, bypassing expectation or boundaries.  This is what jazz is all about, as she sings “Besamé Mucho” in Spanish, nothing is left unsaid or unfelt.  These two pull at your heartstrings and stroke your excitement.  There is a comfort level here between two dynamic artists.  They have been friends since childhood, and both are internationally respected and world renowned.  “Live in Marciac” captures a historic concert of expressive and familiar Latin jazz classics, a few original compositions and Gonazlo Rubalcab’s undeniable mastery on piano that inspires and supports Aymée Nuviola’s powerful vocals.  Her timing and improvisational moments of surprise intoxicate and command. She is an entertainer and easily communicates with the audience at their ‘live’ concert.  She has them singing, clapping, stomping with anticipation and excitement. This is a musical art experience that you will want to relive time and time again.

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Abraham Burton, tenor saxophone; Dezron Douglas, bass; Eric McPherson, drums.

Until I read the liner notes of this album, I never knew that in 1825, Central Park was a community called Seneca Village founded by free Black Americans.  It was the first such community in the city of New York and at that time, still under Dutch rule.  It was comprised of a complex of African-owned farms north of New Amsterdam and was controlled by people considered ‘half free.’  At its peak, this community had around 225 residents, three churches, two schools and three cemeteries.  Before the inhabitants were demanded to leave and the property was deemed ‘eminent domain,’ both Irish and German immigrants were also living there.  In the mid-1850s, all their houses and those homey, small town places were torn down and the construction of Central Park began. 

When Jimmy Katz, the current leader of the innovative non-profit, Giant Step Arts project, was strolling through Central Park during the pandemic, he got an idea of producing concerts there.  The area I have described above became the area of the park he chose for this music to be presented and produced.  He created a safe, socially distant environment where people could come hear the jazz without fear.  Summit Rock is the highest natural point of Central Park and is a part of Seneca Village.  Katz hosted thirty concerts there that began in September of 2020.  Stepping stage forward during this amazing series is Abraham Burton on tenor saxophone, Eric McPherson on drums and Bassist Dezron Douglas. They recorded on June 20th of 2021.  It captures their first ‘live’ performance since the shut-down impact of the pandemic. When Abraham Burton plays “If You Could See Me Now” my heart just opened up and received his emotional delivery like earth soaks up sunshine.  It was just natural and absolutely beautiful. The interplay between Abraham and Dezron Douglas on bass was perfect.  Burton also presented a new composition immortalizing the site called “Seneca Blues.”  It’s eight-minutes and fifty-five seconds of Straight-ahead, freely improvised modern jazz.  You can feel their incredible energy on this tune and on “Dance Little Mandisa” with Eric McPherson, on his trap drums, shining brightly, like the North Star. This recording captures the trio’s excitement to play and interact with a live audience after so many months of lockdown.  This is a supreme music experience from beginning to end.

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Gordon Grdina, guitar/oud/composer; Mark Helias, bass; Matthew Shipp, piano.

Gordon Grdina has recently enjoyed one of the most productive, ambitious and fruitful periods of his career.  Based in Vancouver, Canada, he launched his own Attaboygirl Record label in 2021 and he has released a plethora of artists for public consumption as a record company owner. As an artist, Gordon is a master oud player, a respected guitarist and an inventive composer and improviser.  “Pathways” is his latest production as an artist. It features Mark Helias on bass and Matthew Shipp on piano.  The trio wanders through nine of Grdina’s original compositions, treading unknown paths, using their individual instruments to whack away at the unexpected, structured music patterns and to unveil brand new tributaries of creativity.  This Avant-garde jazz cements each song into place, like a highway to someone’s dreams or someone’s fears, depending on how the listener receives their creative production.

Gordon Grdina is a JUNO Award-winning oud and guitarist, whose career has spanned continents and decades. He is highly respected in the jazz-improv world and is globally popular for his unusual envisioning of Arabic, Persian and Sudanese music through the lens of free form improvisation, Avant-garde jazz and contemporary music.  This is his second merger with legendary pianist, Matthew Shipp and innovative bassist, Mark Helias, who are both exceptionally creative and technically astute.

“I can write anything for this band,” Grdina brags.  “It’s very complex music, rhythmically, harmonically, melodically, and in the way every piece fits together.  Those guys really can do anything.  Since the last album, the group has solidified its unique sound, which is exciting to hear develop on this second record. … We met at East Side Sound three years later and picked up right where we left off,” Gordon Grdina explained.

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Oscar Hernandez, piano/arranger/Musical Director; Marco Bermudez, vocals/coro/composer; Carlos Cascante, vocals/coro; Jeremy Bosch, vocals/coro/flute; Jerry Madera, bass; Jorge Gonzalez, bongos; George Delgado, congas; Luisito Quintero, timbales/maracas/güiro; Mitch Frohman, baritone saxophone/flute; Juan Gabriel Lakunza & Doug Beavers, trombones; Alex Norris & Manuel “Maneco” Ruiz, trumpets.

I’m always sure to have a good time when I listen to an album by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra.  They are culturally rich, energized and powerful.  Their music simply demands you feel joyful.  Led by the great pianist, composer and Musical Director, Oscar Hernandez, this three-time GRAMMY winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra honors the tradition of great Latin music and they are a bright light on the salsa reconstruction movement.  Some of my favorite tunes on this album are composed by Oscar Hernandez including the melodic “Romance Divino” with voices and harmonic horns telling the story with gusto.  The percussion is driving and demands you take to the dance floor. Jorge Gonzalez on bongos, George Delgado on congas and Luisito Quintero on timbales, maracas and Guiro, pump the band with excitement. “Como te Amo” is a slow, beautiful mambo composed by Hernandez with lyrics by Marco Bermudez.  “Mambo 2021” is another Hernandez original with a wonderful baritone sax solo from Mitch Frohman.  Another favorite is Track #10, “Mi Amor Sincero” co-written by vocalist, Marco Bemudez and Gil Lopez.    This is an all-star band of musicians who put spice and authenticity into every note they play.  The Hernandez arrangements are superb, and the repertoire is uplifting, happy and sincere.  You will play this album more than once and come away smiling broadly every time.

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MARSHALL GILKES – “CYCLIC JOURNEY”  –  Alternate Side Records

Marshall Gilkes, trombone/composer; Aaron Parks, piano; Linda May Han Oh, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums; Brandon Ridenour, trumpet/piccolo trumpet/flugelhorn; Ethan Bensdorf & Tony Kadleck, trumpet/flugelhorn; Adam Unsworth, horn; Joseph Alessi, trombone; Demondrae Thurman, euphonium; Nick Schwartz, bass Trombone; Marcus Rojas, tuba.

Marshall Gilkes composed the music for this creative adventure in March and April of 2022.

“I’ve had this idea, to bring these two worlds together, for quite some time and in terms of the theme, it really came to light through reflection on what’s most familiar to me.  That’s how I arrived at the idea to write a soundtrack to my daily external and internal existence,” Gilkes wrote in his liner notes.

So, this album, a musical diary of sorts, is actually a nine-movement suite inspired by Marshall Gilkes’ day-to-day life as a family man, an artist, a musician and composer. Track one, “First Light” opens like a sunrise with the horns blending warmly.   

“It’s really about the gears of life starting to turn at the beginning of each day,” explains Gilkes.

For the most part, the horns introduce us to the melody, while Gilkes is as smooth as butter on his trombone solos. Aaron Parks steps into the spotlight on grand piano and struts his stuff. Part II of this unusual suite is titled “Up and Down.”  It seamlessly flows into “The Calm” a very beautiful ballad with Linda May Han Oh taking a pensive solo on her double bass.

On “Respite” Gilkes lets his trombone shine, tackling the melody with bold tones and legato phrases. This has got to be one of my favorite tunes and arrangements.  This album is an interesting blend of classical music and jazz.  This is meditative jazz that seem to reflect the Gilkes days as full of peace and calm.  Surely, he has a couple of days when he’s feeling bluesy or just plain wants to ‘swing’ or shuffle or jump for joy.  I missed those life emotions that are such a stalworth aspect of jazz music.  Still, that takes nothing from the beauty of the Marshall Gilkes’ project, missing those elements of jazz, but reflecting a lovely album of moods and melancholy.            

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Evgeny Pobozhly, guitar/compositions; Ben Wendel, saxophone; Aaron Parks, piano; Matt Brewer, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums.

Evgeny Pobozhiy’s career took a promising turn in 2019.  The guitarist became the first Russian winner of the prestigious Herbie Hancock Prize in New York.  This jazz musician is hoping that his debut album can represent “Elements for Peace” during a war-torn time in our world.  He opens with a fusion influenced, high energy arrangement of a song called “Subliminal.” Evgeny Pobozhiy’s electric guitar soars and sings. This opening tune is a solid confirmation of good composition by Evgeny. He has composed seven of the nine songs on this album including “Song for my Daughter” that’s a very melodic tune.  Evgeny shows off his guitar techniques during this arrangement. The ensemble’s interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s jazz standard, “Infant Eyes,” is beautiful, as is Evgeny Pobozhiy’s featured guitar.  Another of my favorites is “Elements” the up-tempo tune that spotlights the saxophone of Ben Wendel.  The song Evgeny wrote for his wife, “Alina” is a lovely ballad that is so full of peace and love, anyone who is stressed out should just put this song on their CD player, close their eyes and relax.  Here is a wonderful debut album that introduces us to a young, talented composer and guitarist.  Meet Evgeny Pobozhiy.

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