JAZZ BRIDGES CULTURES, COUNTRIES & CONSCIOUSNESS

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.

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

TAUREY BUTLER – “ONE OF THE OTHERS” – Justin Time Records

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.

* * * * * * * * * *

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.

* * * * * * * * *

GONZALO RUBALCABA & AYMÉE NUVIOLA – “LIVE IN MARCIAC” – 5 Passion Records

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.

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

BURTON/McPHERSON TRIO FEATURING DEZRON DOUGLAS – “THE SUMMIT ROCK SESSION AT SENECA VILLAGE” – Giant Step Arts

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.

* * * * * * * * * * *

GORDON GRDINA, MARK HELIAS, MATTHEW SHIPP – “PATHWAYS” – ABG Records

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.

* * * * * * * * * * *

SPANISH HARLEM ORCHESTRA – “IMAGENES LATINAS” – Ovation Rcords

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.

* * * * * * * * * * *

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.            

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

EVGENY POBOZHIY – “ELEMENTS FOR PEACE” –

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.

* * * * * * * * *

Tags:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: