EXCITING ARTISTS SHINE LIKE SPOTLIGHTS

By Dee Dee McNeil

 September 15, 2022

STEVEN FEIFKE & BIJON WATSON – “GENERATION GAP JAZZ ORCHESTRA – Cellar Music Group

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 – “MY HORIZON” – Summit Records

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 http://www.carmenlundy.com.

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MIRÓ HENRY SOBRER – “TWO OF SWORDS” – Patois Records

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 http://www.mirohenrymusic.com. 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 FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND FEATURING CHRIS POTTER – “RITUALS”- Double Moon Records

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 – “I’LL SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS” – Dmac Music

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 QUARTET featuring BRUCE HARRIS – “THE LIGHTING OF THE LAMPS” – Cellar Music Group

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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