Archive for November, 2022


November 18, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

November 18, 2022

EYAL VILNER BIG BAND – “THE JAM!”  –  Independent Label

Eyal Vilner, alto saxophone/clarinet/flute/conductor/arranger/composer; Imani Rousselle, Brianna Thomas & Brandon Bain, vocals; Caleb Teicher, tap shoes; Jon Thomas & Jordan Piper, piano; Ian Hutchison, bass; Eran Fink, drums; TRUMPETS: John Lake, Brandon Lee, Bryan Davis, Michael Sailors & James Zollar. SAXOPHONES: Bill Todd & Jordan Pettay, alto saxophone; Julieta Eugenio, Michael Hashim & Evan Arntzen; Josh Lee & Eden Bareket, baritone saxophone. TROMBONES: Ron Wilkins, Robert Edwards & Mariel Bildsten.

Born in Tel Aviv, Eyal Vilner moved to New York in 2007 and by the following year he had formed his big band.  His band became a popular accompaniment for New York City’s swing dance clubs.  The band has also appeared as part of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s lineup, The Guggenheim Museum, Birdland, Dizzy’s Club, Smalls Jazz Club and Minton’s Playhouse.  In fact, bandleader Eyal Vilner got so inspired watching the swing dancers, he decided to take swing dance lessons himself. This led to a venture with professional dancer Gaby Cook, who encouraged him to provide live band music as inspiration for the dancers.  That working union wound up inspiring Vilner himself.

“I get inspired by a syncopated move.  It can be just as inspiring as hearing a great musician or reading a book.  There’s open conversation between swing music and swing dancing. Both of these are forms rooted in improvisation,” Vilner explained.

The Eyal Vilner Big Band opens with the familiar Duke Ellington Orchestra tune “Just a Lucky So and So” with the contemporary voice of Imani Rousselle singing the lead lyric.  This band swings and I can see why the dancers flock to Eyal Vilner’s Big Band music. The next four tunes are penned by Eyal Vilner.  He is brightly featured on Track #2, “Chabichou,” that happens to be named after Vilner’s favorite cheese and features the composer playing alto saxophone. Pianist John Thomas is spot lit on Track #3, using licks that remind us of Thelonious Monk’s music.  “Another Time” is a song Vilner wrote many years ago when he first relocated to NYC. The polka beat behind the Monk-esck tune is a little surprising to my ear, but I admit it’s unique. “The Jam” takes us back to a swing dance mode giving Eran Fink a time to shine on drums. The idea of writing about the pandemic quarantine becomes a tongue-in-cheek comedic lyric where the quarantine word is pronounced like the word ‘valentine,’ titled, “Will you Be My Quarantine?” This song is sung by Ms. Rousselle.  It’s a creative and laughable lyric, sung to a catchy melody.  She sings the lyrics from a song co-written by Tal Ronen.

“We will spend our lonely days together.  Taking pictures of our food and wine. If you’ll just remove your mask, long enough to ask, baby, will you be my quarantine?”

This joyful Big Band also plays ‘cover’ tunes you will probably recognize like “Hard Hearted Hannah” and the 1939 hit, “Tain’t What You Do” by Sy Oliver & Trummy Young, where the band vocalizes as background voices chanting the title behind Brianna Thomas, who’s the featured lead singer. This is a song I remember Ella Fitzgerald once made popular. All in all, this album is just plain joy!

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Scott Whitfield, trombone/bass trombone/bandleader/arranger/vocals; Jeff Colello, piano; Jennifer Latham, bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Rusty Higgins, alto & soprano saxophone/flute/piccolo; Kersten Edkins, tenor & soprano saxophone/clarinet; Brian Williams, baritone saxophone; Dave Richards, lead trumpet; Kye Palmer & Anne King, trumpet flugelhorn; Tony Bonsera, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Gary Tole & Ira Nepus, trombones; Rich Bullock, bass trombone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Pete Christlieb & Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Dick Nash, trombone; Brad Dutz, percussion.

This project has pulled several favorite songs from motion picture scores and titled the project, “Postcards from Hollywood.”  You will hear songs that became popular from films like Gone with the Wind (1940), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Cleopatra (1963).  Prior to his arrival in Southern California, Scott Whitfield developed a keen interest in film soundtracks.  He even wound up studying the art form at a UCLA Extension course.

“My goal with this recording is to pay homage to a cross-section of the greats, through the medium of my Jazz Orchestra West. Some of these themes will be very familiar to the listener, while others are much more obscure.  In some cases, I stayed pretty close to the original concept of the piece.  In others, the muse led me on a much more circuitous route,” he wrote in his liner notes.

They open with “The Magnificent Seven”, a main theme from the movie of the same title.  Kye Palmer makes a soaring statement on his trumpet solo and Kendall Kay is magnificent on drums.  “Sally’s Tomato” from the “Breakfast at Tiffany” film is a warm, lilting, Latin arrangement where Jennifer Latham offers a memorable bass solo and Scott Whitfield’s trombone shines, center stage.  Whitfield has included special guests in this production and familiar names on the Southern California scene like Rickey Woodard and Pete Christlieb on saxophones, Brad Dutz on percussion and Dick Nash on trombone.  The bandleader has also built a band that celebrates the wealth of Los Angeles talent including respected names like Jeff Colello on piano, and Anne King on trumpet and flugelhorn. Speaking of King, she plays beautifully while soloing during the “Tara’s Theme” arrangement as does Rusty Higgins on soprano saxophone.  Other favorites on this album are arrangements of “A Time for Love” plucked from the “An American Dream” film.  Kirsten Edkins offers a lovely tenor saxophone solo and Kye Palmer plays a mean flugelhorn.  But it’s Whitfield who sparkles and swings in the spotlight with his trombone talent.  Uniting with the strong bass support of Jennifer Latham on her upright instrument, Whitfield puts down his trombone and shows off his vocals, singing “Spellbound” from the movie of the same title.  On “The Pawnbroker” Rickey Woodard plays with his usual soulful dexterity and emotional sincerity during his tenor saxophone solo. This might be my favorite tune on the whole album.

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Jon Cowherd, piano/composer/arranger/Hammond B-3 organ; John Patitucci, Acoustic & Elec. Bass/composer/arranger; Brian Blade, drums/ composer/arranger; Chris Potter, tenor & soprano saxophone; Alex Neciosup Acuña, percussion.

The Jon Cowherd Trio expands to a quintet on the very, first composition that Cowherd has penned, “Grand Mesa.”  Cowherd, Blade and Patitucci add the stellar saxophonist, Chris Potter, to the mix along with exceptional percussionist, Alex Acuña.  Cowherd has written and arranged six out of the eight songs on this album.  I am particularly impressed with “The Colorado Experiment” where John Patitucci shines and sparkles during his bass solo.  Cowherd’s composition skill is quite evident on this tune. I love the way he begins the arrangement with just acoustic piano and his left hand and right-hand shadow boxing around the melody.  During Cowherd’s solo, Brian Blade is powerful and creative on drums, not only holding down the tempo, but coloring the bandleader’s solo with interesting and effective drum licks. Clearly, Jon Cowherd has surrounded himself with creme de la crème musicians.  Track #3 becomes one of my favorites on this album.  Cowherd’s composition, “Honest Man (For Ellis Marsalis)” is a pensive, beautifully constructed arrangement that celebrates the Marsalis music legend in a lovely way.  The title tune, “Pride and Joy,” once again expands the trio to a quintet with the percussion of Alex Acuña pumping excitement into the production.  This is Straight-ahead jazz that gives the great Chris Potter a platform to steal the spotlight during his saxophone solo.  Listen as his notes glitter and glide through the arrangement. Potter is a talent to be reckoned with, spurred ahead by the awesome drums of Brian Blade. This is another one of my favorites on Jon Cowherd’s album.  Cowherd and drummer, Blade, share a close friendship ever since they met at New Orleans Loyola University some twenty-three years ago. It was through Blade that Jon met Patitucci.  At the time, John Patitucci and Brian Blade were performing as part of the Wayne Shorter Quartet.  This album is titled as a reference to Jon Cowherd’s three-year-old daughter who, of course, is his “Pride and Joy.”  The compositions are well written, and the group’s energy is palpable. I also enjoyed the Patitucci composition, “Chickmonk” that gives Jon Cowherd not only an opportunity to play acoustic piano, but also invites him to add his talents on B-3 organ. Patitucci has arranged his original song contribution. Brian Blade is given time to play a highly creative solo on trap drums, singing his own rhythmic melody. They close with an original composition by the drummer called “Quilt City Blues.”   It features Jon Cowherd on solo piano, sounding more like a country/western tune than a blues. 

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Marco Pignataro, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/composer; John Patitucci, bass/composer; Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Anastassiya Petrova, piano; Nadia Washington, vocals/composer; Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet/alto flute/mezzo soprano sax/composer.

If you listen closely, you can hear the rich spectrum of rhythms, melodies, and natural sounds in our universe, as Mother Nature plays them each and every day.  There is always music around us.  The whistle in the wind.  The tinkling sound of raindrops on the roof.  The flap of bird wings disturbing space, or the splash of ocean against the shore; perhaps a solo cricket’s song. Marco Pignataro has obviously been inspired by these amazing natural Earth wonders. He has incorporated nature sounds into his “Chant for our Planet” project. Marco hopes this music will jolt us out of complacency and infuse our interest in the beauty of Mother Earth.  After all, this is the planet we call home. The Pignataro project is meant to advocate for reforming climate policies. It’s a mandate to inspire us and a plea for more care given to our world.

“Jazz music has historically been a powerful artistic medium to inspire, educate, empower and advocate for social change in our community,” Marco Pignataro explains his musical journey.

You can get a sense of his theme from the tune titles of Pignataro’s repertoire. The master bassist, John Patitucci has composed the first suite of music that opens this album.  Titled “Terra – Mare- Cielo” (Earth, Sea & Sky). It unfolds in three parts, propelled by the mastery of Terri Lyne Carrington on drums and colorfully intoxicated by the vocals of Nadia Washington. Anastassiya Petrova’s piano opens the familiar Jobim tune, “Aqua de Beber” (Water to Drink), sung in Portuguese by Nadia Washington.  Antonio Carlos Jobim reminds us that, without clean water for humanity to drink, we will not survive.  Chico Pinheiro takes a notable solo on guitar and Marco Pignataro soars on tenor saxophone. On Pignataro’s composition, “Moon Threads” I fall under the spell of his alto saxophone presentation.  This piece is very meditative, with shades of Middle Eastern minor mode influences. The legendary Joe Lovano has contributed a composition titled, “As It Should Be” that ventures into the realms of Avant-garde music. On “Irene’s Path,” Pignataro’s composition was inspired by the destructive Hurricane Irene and its horrific aftermath.  The powerful storm wreaked havoc from West Africa to the Americas, causing significant damage. 

Pignataro has surrounded himself with master musicians who play seamlessly together and with the musical intent and purpose to tackle the conversation about climate change.  Like the beauty and importance of jazz, Marco Pignataro believes the security and protection of our planet should be paramount in our minds. We must make sure our world is safe and secure for future generations and treasure it, the way we treasure jazz music. Marco Pignataro musically provides art, beauty and original music to inspire humanity towards love and respect for our planet.

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MATT ULERY – “BECOME GIANT” – Woolgathering Records

Matt Ulery, double bass/composer; Zach Brock, lead violin; Jon Deitemyer, drums; KAIA String Quartet: Victoria Moreiera & Joy Curtin, violins; Oana Tatu, viola; Hope DeCelle, cello.

If strings are your thing, this current project produced and composed by bassist, Matt Ulery, features Zach Brock on lead violin, a string quartet, his own double bass and Jon Deitemyer on drums. Nearly five years ago, Nathan Cole, First Associate Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, reached out to Ulery.  Mr. Cole was looking to feature a guest composer at the Chamber Music Festival in Lexington, Kentucky.  He wanted a piece written expressly for Cole’s string quartet, with world renowned violinist, Zach Brock acting as the violin soloist. This album is the result of that project.

“The music I write is usually recorded and released pretty quickly from when I start the process of writing it and playing it live.  So, this is the first time I’ve ever had a piece active for such a long time before recording. It’s been growing steadily between sets,” Matt Ulery explained the transitions that his compositions have made in five years.

What began as a commission for a single festival has turned into a beautiful gift that keeps on giving.  It’s a work that has unfolded across the United States, pre-pandemic.  The group, including and using the brilliant Chicago-based KAIA String Quartet, has toured and worked on their arrangements and blended their musical identities in support of the iconic violinist, Zach Brock.  Now, the suite is lovely, polished, whimsical and expertly played, culminating into this recording that was released in August of this year. Titled “Become Giant” here is nearly forty minutes of music, written in six movements, with a closing composition entitled “Shine Faintly with a Wavering Glow” that closes this album. Here is a gorgeous parlor presentation, intimate and classically infused, that highlights the beauty of string chamber music. Cuddle up next to a warm fire or a warm body and enjoy.

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Steve Tintweiss, 5-string double bass/melodica/voice/composer/bandleader; Charles Brackeen, tenor & soprano saxophones; Byard Lancaster, alto & soprano saxophones/flute/piccolo/bass clarinet; Genie Sherman, vocals/spoken word; Lou Grassi, drums/percussion.

One introspective day, Steve Tintweiss pulled a dusty tape from his shelf and listened to his ‘live’ concert recording from way back in 1980.  It was his ‘Spacelight Band’ performing a music series at the Loeb Student Center of New York University. At that time, Steve was already a respected avant-garde bassist who had performed on the final tour of saxophone icon, Albert Ayler.

Tintweiss had also played on the “Patty Waters Sings” 1969 album as part of the Marzette Watts Ensemble, characterized as a bone-chilling underground milestone.  The music on this ‘live’ historic concert production that Steve Tintweiss stumbled upon is also, at times, bone-chilling. The Spacelight Band certainly pushes the boundaries of experimental jazz. This current CD is a double disc release, offering nearly two hours of free-flowing experimentation and improvisation of the Steve Tintweiss compositions.  On the opening cut of Disc #1, Genie Sherman adds wordless vocals to the mix, exploring her high soprano notes, then swooping to her lower register. Lou Grassi opens the composition with his marching drums cementing the tempo into place.  He is known to have one foot planted in Straight-ahead jazz and the other in experimental music.  Byard Lancaster’s flute pierces the auditorium silence.  Charles Brackeen joins in, playing his tenor sax in unison with the flute and then with the voice.  Tintweiss plucks the strings of his 5-string double bass and seems to inspire Genie’s improvised vocal sounds as they become more aggressive.  When they recorded this, it was Saturday, November 8, 1980, and students with IDs gained concert access for $2.50, while the general public paid an additional dollar for admission.  The concert was funded by the “Meet the Composer’ group.  Steve Tintweiss formed this band in 1976 and they stayed together until 2003. The third track on Disc One is titled “Whistle Stop Tour” and has a catchy melody that the vocalist explores with freedom and scats.  She sometimes adds the title as a lyric and then takes liberties to explore the chord changes with her improvisational voice.  Once the music becomes more instrumental and less vocal, we get an opportune chance to enjoy each musician’s talent and technique.  On “Risk-O-Disc” Steve Tintweiss lays down a bass groove that is hypnotic and the flute of Byard Lancaster (who is a multi-reedist) is dominant and beautiful. This quickly becomes one of my favorite tunes.  If you are looking for something free and improvisational, inspired by the compositions of Tintweiss and uniquely presenting itself as a cord-less ensemble, this historic project will satisfy any avant-garde lover.

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Stephen Anderson, piano/composer/band director; Baron Tymas, guitar; Jason Foureman & Christopher Law, bass; Dan Davis & Michael Shekwoaga Ode, drums; Juan Alamo, marimba/percussion; Emma Gonzalez & Ramuné Marcinkeviciute, voice; Alex Upton, alto saxophone; Rahsaan Barber, alto/tenor & baritone saxophone.  SPECIAL GUESTS: Rachel Therrien, trumpet; Roland Barber, trombone.

For a small ensemble, this group has a very big band sound. They are an interactive ensemble, comprised of faculty and students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Their goal is to demonstrate jazz as a living art form and bring awareness publicly to the rich history of jazz. The project opens with “What Now?” a composition by pianist and band director, Stephen Anderson.  Stephen’s piano solo is wonderful.  Enter special guest, Rachel Therrien, a female French-Canadian trumpeter, composer, producer and winner of the 2015 TD Grand Prize Jazz Award at the renowned Montreal International Jazz Festival.  She also, in 2016, won the Stingray Jazz Rising Star Award.  Her tone is as smooth as fresh frozen ice and just as cool. Juan Alamo is stellar on marimba and Rahsaan Barber’s saxophone strength is prominent.  Barber is the Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies and Saxophone at the University of North Carolina.  He’s played with a plethora of musicians including Christian McBride, Brian Blade, The Temptations, Delfeayo Marsalis, the famed Spanish Harlem Orchestra, the iconic Taj Mahal, pop star Cyndi Lauper, gospel legend, Kirk Franklin and gold record artist Meghan Trainor, to list just a few.  As you can see, his horn is a diversified tool and he competently crosses genres.  On this first cut, you meet the musicians, who step up to interpret Stephen Anderson’s composition, giving it their very best.  The second track is also an Anderson composition, “False Pretense,” where you get to enjoy Anderson’s piano solo, sometimes richly infused with the blues.  We also get to meet drummer, Michael Shekwoaga Ode, on this tune.  He is masterful on his instrument, given free rein to explore excitement and creativity on his drums.  At the fade, he steals the spotlight during a memorable drum solo. As a Nigerian American composer, drummer, bandleader and educator, Mr. Ode was born in Philadelphia but spent developmental years in North Carolina.  Michael received a scholarship to study at Oberlin Conservatory under jazz legend, Billy Hart.  Track #3, “Adversities” features the beautiful vocals of Ramuné Marcinkeviċiuté.  Bass player, Christopher Law takes a solo and soaks up the spotlight, while drummer Dan Davis sounds spectacular on this cut.  “Open Sesame” is composed by saxophone master, Rahsaan Barber and arrives in a splash of a Straight-ahead jazz arrangement.  This time the bassist is Jason Foureman, who steps forward with confidence and creativity on a melodic solo, followed by the composer on his saxophone, exploring all his improvisational possibilities. On Disc #2, the “Latindia” tune composed by Barber turns up the Latin Heat and gives percussionist Juan Alamo an opportunity to shine.  I love the baritone saxophone that Barber uses to color this arrangement. Baron Tymas has written “Looking Up” and uses his piece to showcase his mad guitar skills.  I love the addition of Alamo’s marimba.  On the standard song, “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” the composition recalls the voices of both Lena Horne and Ethel Waters.  Although Emma Gonzalez has a lovely voice, I don’t believe she sold us the lyrical content.  It’s a woman who loves her man, in spite of his behavior.  It’s a story of painful, unconditional love and Emma sounds pretty, but not believably distraught.  All in all, Disc 1. & Disc 2 of this double disc set of music is entertaining, well-written and arranged, as well as played and interpreted by a group of excellent musicians.

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Tobias Hoffmann, co-producer/composer/conductor; RHYTHM: Vilkka Wahl, guitar; Philipp Nykrin, piano/synthesizer; Ivar Roban Krizic, double & electric bass; Reinhold Schmölzer, drums/electronics; SAXOPHONES/WOODWINDS: Patrick Dunst, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Andy Schofield, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Robert Unterköfler, tenor & soprano saxophone/clarinet; Martin Harms, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Jonas Brinckmann, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet.  TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Dominic Pessl, Bernhard Nolf, Felix Meyer, Simon Plötzeneder, Jakob Helling. TROMBONES: Kasperi Sarikoski & Daniel Holzleitner, trombone; Robert Bachner, trombone/euphonium; Johannes Oppel, bass trombone/tuba.

The title tune, also the album opener, is dynamic. The orchestra soars.  Tobias Hoffmann, the composer and conductor of this entertaining orchestra says, “This is one of the most challenging compositions I have ever written. … I am very proud that this composition was awarded the 3rd prize at the Bill Conti Big Band Contest of 2021, which was organized by the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers based in Los Angeles.”

The thing that struck this journalist, about his composition, was the many layers of emotion and mood changes Hoffmann’s music projected.  The tenor saxophone solo by Robert Unterköfler is beautifully executed and puts the ‘J’ in jazz.  “Elegy” slows the tempo to a sweet ballad that features the horn section only, no rhythm section.  No problem.  They don’t need one. The closely knit harmonies of the horn section run beautifully through this project, like an uninhibited river.  “Awakening” is a composition that’s dark and brooding.

Tobias Hoffmann recorded this project in Vienna, Austria, the last week of August 2021. The conductor was born in Goppingen, Germany in 1988.  He quickly discovered his passion for music and began to seriously play saxophone during high school.  He studied at the University for Music, Drama and Media in Hannover and graduated from Prins Claus Conservatorium Groningen in the Netherlands with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in 2013. Hoffmann also studied Jazz-Saxophone at the Musik und Kunst Universitat Wien, and also studied Jazz Composition and Arranging, receiving a Master of Arts degree with distinction in 2015.  Tobias Hoffmann’s compositions have won numerous awards.  A sample of that is on Track #5, “Relentless” that won first prize in the “Original Composition, Large Ensemble category at the 2022 45th Annual Downbeat Student Music Awards.”  Patrick Dunst is the main soloist on alto saxophone.  I enjoy a good baritone saxophone solo and Jonas Brinkmann is given the opportunity to strut his stuff on the straight-ahead composition titled, “Trailblazers.” 

You will enjoy the brilliance of an amazing orchestra, along with the unique arrangements of gifted composer, Tobias Hoffmann, who has a warm place in his heart for horns and the beautiful music they make. 

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Skip Wilkins, piano; Dan Wilkins, saxophones; Tony Marino, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums.

Here is a project bursting with bebop.  You hear the joy played by veteran pianist and composer, Skip Wilkins, after a too-long hibernation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Like so many, Skip Wilkins found himself on lockdown at his home in the Delaware Water Gap. Wilkins had just completed a recording that featured his son Dan on saxophone and his regular and longtime friends and musicians, Tony Marino on bass and Bill Goodwin on drums. The project had been scheduled for release in 2020, but the pandemic was raging and there were no tours planned to promote their album.  With unexpected time on their hands, the locked-down musicians practiced, played solo, learned new tunes and waited.  This recent release is titled “In The Stars.” It includes a carefully chosen repertoire that celebrates jazz master Phil Woods, a friend and musician that Skip played with frequently as a member of the Festival Orchestra. The Wilkins Quartet breathes new life into classic songs, some familiar, but many underappreciated gems that they have polished up.  This album sparkles like stars, with well-arranged, great American tunes played by a fan-friendly quartet. 

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PAUL MARINARO – “NOT QUITE YET” – Independent Label

Paul Marinaro, vocals/composer; Mike Allemana, guitar/arranger; Tom Vaitsas, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ; John Tate, bass; George Fludas, drums; Jim Gailloreto, flute; Rajiv Halim, clarinet; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Chris Madsen, tenor saxophone; Raphael Crawford, trombone; Marques Carroll, trumpet; KAIA STRING QUARTET: Victoria Moreira & Naomi Culp, violin; Amanda Grimm, viola; Hope DeCelle, cello. Alyssa Allgood & Sarah Marie Young, backup vocals.

Opening with the popular Mel Torme & Robert Wells composition, “Born to be Blue,” Marinaro’s voice is cushioned by this lush big band arrangement. The dramatic production supports Paul Marinaro’s voice as it splashes onto the scene.  With waves of rhythm guitar, provided by Mike Allemana (who is also the all-star arranger of this project), Track #2 sets the tone and creates a Brazilian rhythm tempo.  The Jobim tune, “Someone to Light Up My Life” is effervescent.  Singer, Paul Marinaro has a style all his own.  It’s a good thing not to sound like anyone but yourself.  Marinaro’s voice may be familiar to his Chicago, IL audiences and probably to New Yorkers who have enjoyed his jazzy style at the Birdland Jazz Club in NYC.  However, his vocals are new to me.  I find Paul’s voice fresh and pleasant to the ears.  His choice of repertoire shows off his ability to swing hard and to sell a lyric.  “Make Me Rainbows” is a perfect example of this, with the delightful lyrics written by Marilyn and Alan Bergman to a John Williams melody.  On the David Bowie tune, “5:15 The Angels Have Gone” Paul Marinaro is elbow-deep in the pop genre.  I can tell that Marinaro is influenced by the platinum recording artist, David Bowie.  He has plucked the title of this album, “Not Quite Yet,” from a Bowie song called “No Plan.” Which, by the way, Paul also covers this Bowie tune on his album.  He includes the blues tune, “No One Ever Tells You,” showing another side to his voice. I think Paul knows that If you claim to be a jazz singer, you have to be able to sing the blues.  He accomplishes that musical style with ease.  I appreciate Marinaro’s tender tones, like the ones that caress the lyrics during his presentation of “The Island.”   Sometimes his style reminds me of the tremolo voice of Johnny Mathis, but Marinaro definitely has his own style.  At times, his big, long, legato notes overpower the emotion of his interpretations and become more vocal technique instead of emotional surrender.  A big plus are the arrangements of Mike Allemana that shine and sparkle like Christmas tree ornaments.  These arrangements definitely decorate the singer’s repertoire in a beautiful way.  Paul Marinaro and his ensemble offer fourteen songs, several pulled from the great American songbook.  As a songwriter, the vocalist has collaborated with A. Barosso on a tune called “Searching” that displays great lyrics, a strong melody and is delightfully arranged as a Bossa Nova. Marinaro also introduces us to not so familiar tunes like the great song “On A Wonderful Day Like Today.”  Paul Marinaro puts happiness into the moment and hope into our hearts.

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November 5, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

November 5, 2022


Gustavo Cortinas, drums; Meghan Stagl, vocals/piano; Erik Skov, guitar; Katie Ernst, upright bass; Emily Kuhn, trumpet.

In 2021, Gustavo Cortinas released Desafio Candente, an album that earned a place on the Jazziz Magazine list of the Best Releases of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if this album also becomes an award winner. This time, the subject matter is focused on the immigrant experience in the United States.  The CD album cover features a seesaw with two brown children riding on the playground equipment.  The body of the moving seesaw is stuck through a fence that divides Mexico and the United States.  Gustavo’s music begins with a piece titled, “I Hope You Have a Good Phone Call Today” sung by the light, bright voice of Meghan Stagl.  Her delivery is appealing, honest and innocent-sounding, very much like a child’s voice.  Her soprano vocals drew me into music.  All of Gustavo’s music is pleasing to the ear.  His compositions are well-written and have a definite groove.  But of course, they would have a groove, because Gustavo Cortinas is an amazing drummer.  His creative rhythms propel this production and enhance his compositions. Gustavo has also written the lyrics to his songs.  Some are performed in English and others are sung in Spanish.  Gustavo explains his concept and inspiration for this music.

”Kind Regards gives life, through music, to words that attempt to build bridges and understanding in times of borders and ignorance; words that focus on our feet and the dust on which they walk, instead of the stars under which they dream,” the bandleader and composer shares these words of wisdom in his press package to describe this lovely, musical work of art.

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AHMAD JAMAL – “EMERALD CITY NIGHTS / LIVE AT THE PENTHOUSE (1965-1966) – Jazz Detective / Deep Digs Music Group

Ahmad Jamal, piano/composer; Jamil Nasser, bass; Chuck Lampkin, Vernel Fournier & Frank Gant, drums.

It’s a funny thing, but just two days ago I was searching my amazing album collection for an Ahmad Jamal record to enjoy. I found a recent album by Mr. Jamal, but the newly arranged “Poinciana” on that album did not satisfy me the way the one I loved from the 1960s did.  So, I was thrilled to receive this double set, two-album release of Ahmad Jamal’s Trio performing ‘Live’ in Seattle at “the Penthouse.”  There the song, “Poinciana” was, on CD #2, Track #4 in all its glory!  There is just something so hypnotic about that drum lick and that bass line that merges with Ahmad Jamal’s awesome piano playing. To my ears, the 1960s rendition is perfection just the way it is.  Of course, the ‘live’ rendition is not exactly like the one on my old licorice pizza album of yore, (1958 “Live at the Pershing”) but it’s close and I found great satisfaction listening to music that I grew up with in the 1960s.

These recordings take me back in time to 1963 through 1968, when a series of performances at The Penthouse, located not high up in the air, but a club on the ground floor of the Kenneth Hotel.  This project was being recorded ‘live’ for KING – FM radio. The concerts were hosted by famed disc jockey, Jim Wilke.  At that time, Charlie Puzzo Sr was the owner of the Penthouse and engineered these recordings.  Currently, his son, Charlie Puzzo Jr., keeps his father’s jazz tape collection safe and archived. Thankfully, Mr. Jamal was happy with these recordings and approved their current release.

Born July 2, 1930, Jamal was referred to as a child prodigy.  He was trained in both European and American classical music by respected singer and educator, Mary Caldwell Dawson. She founded the Negro Opera Company. Meantime, by fourteen, Ahmad Jamal was playing all around Pittsburgh and was a card-carrying member of the local Musician’s Union. Ahmad left home in 1948, touring with the George Hudson Big Band and consequently settled in Chicago, Illinois. He garnered deep respect from his peers, as well as those following in his esteemed footsteps.  In fact, Miles Davis wrote in his autobiography:

“All my inspiration comes from Jamal,” Miles quoted.  “He knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement and the way he phrased notes and chords and passages … I loved his lyricism on piano.” 

On records, Miles Davis proved his appreciation for Ahmad Jamal’s talents by recording songs Jamal made notable like, “A Gal in Calico” “New Rhumba” and “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”

Ahmad had his own view on the music he was playing.  Quoted in his liner notes of this CD he said, “I studied Ravel, Debussy, Duke Ellington and Art Tatum along with all my other European works; Czerny and so on.  So, I never called it jazz.  I called it American classical music.  I started playing American classical music at three years old… Now, I’m ninety-two.”

I can let greater voices than mine speak for Ahmad Jamal’s historic and intriguing music. When they asked Ramsey Lewis for his opinion on the iconic pianist.

“He uses the whole 88-keys on the piano.  With many jazz piano players, the left-hand comps and the right hand does a lot of work. … Ahmad is one of the ‘both-hands’ piano players.  Left hand, right hand.  Ahmad can take care of business,” Ramsey Lewis sang his praises.

Jon Batiste said, “When you hang with Jamal, you realize he’s a spontaneous composer, in the same way that someone would improvise a solo.  He has the ability to compose at that level of hyper speed.”

Kenny Barron said, “The first time I heard Ahmad, I was in high school.  I was getting ready to go to bed and I had the jazz station on.  This was in Philadelphia, where I’m from, of course.  And this song came on, ‘Music! Music! Music! (Put Another Nickel In)’ which I remembered from having heard Theresa Brewer do it.  So, it was a song I knew and somebody was playing piano on it.  As I was listening, I was asking myself, “Who the hell is that?” Because it was just so unbelievable.  The radio announcer said it was Ahmad Jamal, whom I’d never heard of before.  It was on Ahmad Jamal’s album, ‘Ahmad Jamal Trio at the Pershing/But Not for Me.’  Theresa Brewer’s record was a hit when I was in junior high school.  And then I heard Ahmad Jamal’s version on the radio and the piano trio, and I just couldn’t believe it. I immediately went out and bought the record the next day, because it was just so fantastic.  And I’ve been an Ahmad Jamal fan ever since then.”

Me too, Kenny Barron.  Me too!

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Julius Rodriguez, piano/Fender Rhodes; drums/organ/moog bass/producer/composer/arranger; Ben Wolfe & Philip Norris, double bass; Joe Saylor, Jongkook Kim, Giveton Gelin & Brian Richburg Jr., drums; Morgan Guerin, electric bass/saxophone; Daryl Johns, bass; Marian Cameron & Samara Joy, lead vocals; Vuyo Sotashe & Nick Hakim, background vocals; Hailey Knox, vocals; Giveton Gelin, trumpet.

The new single from the Julius Rodriguez album is the Stevie Wonder, Morris Broadnax song, “All I Do” and it features Rodriguez’s childhood friend and singer, Mariah Cameron.   She sings the lead on a very well-produced arrangement of this gold-record-song.  Ms. Cameron has a crystal-clear voice that rings with power.  Julius wows us on both drums and piano, an obvious master on both.  Referred to in several press releases as a rising jazz phenom, Julius Rodriguez brings us a new perspective on the Wonder song and rejuvenates it in his own unique way.  His drumming is as impressive as his piano skills and he’s also a gifted composer.

Applause opens the initial tune on this album.  The listener joins the ‘live’ audience as part of the enthralled ears that soak up this Rodriguez music.  Julius Rodriguez swings hard on the piano as he and his trio introduce us to “Blues at the Barn,” an original composition with Philip Norris chasing Julius’s piano agility on his fast-moving, double bass.  Joe Saylor adds tenacious drums to the mix.  In my opinion, they could have left the short “Interlude” piece off the album.  It doesn’t add anything to the brilliance of this overall project.  The first single release from “Let Sound Tell All” is “Gift of the Moon” and it is the fourth track on this project. “Two Way Street” is a dance between the saxophone of Morgan Guerin and Julius Rodriguez on piano.  This tune moves seamlessly into the album’s title tune, “Let Sound Tell All.”  “Where Grace Abounds” features Julius Rodriguez on both organ and piano, playing a song that sounds like a religious standard.  The arrangement changes halfway through when the drums of Brian Richburg Jr., lay down a funk groove.  The composition, “Elegy (For Cam)” opens with the bass line of Philip Norris setting the tempo and groove.  Julius Rodriguez lends a tenderness to his piano playing that touches the soul.  The vocals of Hailey Knox round out the production, playing sweetly in the background, they fatten the production.  The thing about the Rodriguez compositions is that they sometime take a surprising turn, using tempo and production skills to change the arrangement suddenly and creatively.  This is the case during the very beautiful presentation of this song.  “In Heaven” was written by Darlene Andrews and is sung soulfully by Samara joy. This song and arrangement moved me!  The sensitive piano playing of Julius Rodriguez is as heartfelt as Ms. Joy’s amazing vocal presentation.

Julius Rodriguez closes with a very short tune called, “Philip’s Thump” which could be a tribute to his bassist, Philip Norris.  The bassist is certainly thumping away during this arrangement.  It’s only one minute and four seconds long, but every note is perfectly effective in this brief time. Perhaps Rodriguez will develop this into a full-fledged, extended arrangement for the next recording.  I look forward to it.

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SeaJun Kwon, bass/composer/bandleader; Erez Dessel & Jacob Hiser, piano; Avery Logan & Charles Weller, drums; Aaron Dutton, alto saxophone; Jacob Schulman, tenor saxophone; Michael Prentky, tuba.

Korean-born and New York based, SeaJun Kwon enjoys exploring “micro-naps” in his music.  You may ask, “What is a micro-nap?” 

Kwon explains, “A micro-nap is an example of non-linear and broken moments.  Usually, these extremely short, non-linear moments are dense, noisy, and full of energy.  … This album reflects my emotional frustrations, non-linearity, the transience of feelings, and the emptiness of noise, as well as my attraction to them.”

SeaJun’s band features three horns upfront and an Avant-Garde presentation.  He enjoys the sextet format, because it exists somewhere in between a small, intimate group and the intricate arrangements demanded by larger bands.  As an exchange student, SeaJun Kwon came from Seoul, South Korea to study computer science and machines.  At that point, he was tinkering with an electric bass, but he didn’t consider the bass a career option. That quickly changed.

“I really liked listening to jazz.  So, I took a lesson on acoustic bass.  It became serious when I realized that I really liked learning it.  I had no formal music education before that.  From that point on, I had to learn everything very fast!” Kwon explained.

Kwon graduated from Boston’s New England Conservatory (NEC) and settled into a Brooklyn lifestyle.  He’s been leading the group ‘Walking Cliché Sextet’ since 2019 and it’s made up of fellow students from his NEC days. Track #1 features a piano that at times sounds like a music box. As the intensity grows, this concept changes into a more aggressive arrangement. Track #3, the growling, title tune, pretty much capsulizes the entire Avant-garde project of unexplainable, unpredictable music. The addition of Michael Prentsky’s tuba is a fresh touch and tone. Although the sextet members obviously are interpreting cord changes composed by SeaJun Kwon, they push boundaries with their ability to veer into realms of improvisation and often dissonance that challenges these arrangement walls. The musicians boldly repaint these abstract, musical portraits.  The sextet members step outside the box.  On Track #4, there is a monumental drum solo by Avery Logan that ends the piece. Track #5 titled “Rumination” settles the ensemble down to a slower pace and spotlights a lovely saxophone solo that opens the composition.  Both track #6 & #7 are part of a suite that Kwon calls “Transient.”  For me, it conjures up imaginative pictures of a mad scientist, standing amidst a huge pot of steam and possibilities.  This music paints test tubes in my mind and swirling, whirling centrifuges of sound and motion. Jacob Hiser plays piano on this composition and repeatedly stings the keys with a continuous, circular melody.  He changes the mood of the piece, using his left hand to darken the emotion with the bass register. This climatic piece is repetitious and titled, “Trio interlude.”  It lasts over seven minutes.  The final part of this suite culminates with the “Transient” title and lets the horns lead the way.  These last two closing pieces of the ‘Transient Suite’ fall, like puzzle pieces, into perfect place.  There is something quite beautiful about their finality. Where, in the earlier pieces, I was sometimes tempted to lift the invisible victrola needle from the licorice-pizza spinning beneath, I now find myself quite interested and enthralled by this composition, with the pianist pulling random lines from Duke Ellington’s A-Train and the sextet finally sounding like a connected and beautiful jazz ensemble that comes together as a whole.  I play this final composition again, for good measure.

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Mariel Mayz, solo piano; Leo Brouwer, composer.

Leo Brouwer is an acclaimed Cuban composer and conductor.  He has been heralded as a modern-day Mozart.  His compositions and arrangements have spanned formats from quartets to orchestras.  Since Brouwer is a masterful guitarist, who was classically trained, many compositions are written expressly for guitar.  He also writes for solo piano and that’s where Mariel Mayz come into the picture.

This original music is dramatic, deeply emotional, and beautifully played by pianist, Mariel Mayz.  This CD is completely composed by Leo Brouwer.  It opens with ten suites of music under the banner of “Diez Bocetos” and composed by Brouwer between 1961 and 2007.  Each Piece is titled after a Cuban visual artist.  From the title of the album, I expected a rhythmic, very Latin-fused production.  Instead, I found this music to be delightfully meditative and some of the pieces are very easy-listening, soothing, and peaceful.  In fact, while listening, I nearly nodded off.  “Nuevos Bocetos Para Piano” translates to new sketches for piano and consists of three Brouwer pieces he composed and completed more recently in 2021.  They were sent to Mayz in early 2022.  Mayz, as a gifted pianist who liberally shares her artistry and technical ability during this solo performance.  The blending of these two unique talents is vividly on display and they both shine brightly in a rich, multi-colored spotlight.

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Jeff Coffin, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone & electro saxophones/Tarogato/piccolo/ alto & bass flutes/C flute/clarinet/bass clarinet/melodica/vocals/percussion/coke bottles; Vincente Archer, Tony Hall, Michael League, Stefan Lessard, Felix Pastorius, Alana Rocklin, Jonathan Wires and Chris Wood, bassists; Richard Aspinwall, Mike Baggetta, Robben Ford, Marcus King, Bob Lanzetti, guitarists; Keith Carlock, Kris Myers, Jordan Perlson, Derrek Phillips, Chester Thompson & Derico Watson, drums/percussion; Jeff Babko, Nigel Hall, David Rodgers, Buddy Strong, & Chris Walters, keyboards. Emmanuel Echem & Bill Fanning, trumpets; Ray Mason, trombone; Bernardo Agular, Brazilian percussion; Michael League, Moroccan Frame drums; Sarah Ariche, vocals/Ngoni; Jennifer Hartswick, vocals; DJ Logic, turntables.

If you are a lover of contemporary jazz, Jeff Coffin’s new project will satisfy your soul.  Opening with “Vinnie the Crow” we take flight, funky wings spread upwards and racing towards outer space.  If you’re willing and ready, this music will carry you along.  The sing-song melody is full of joy and makes you want to sing along to this Jeff Coffin composition, co-written with Alex Clayton.  In fact, other than this collaboration, Coffin has singularly penned all ten songs on this funk-driven exploration into modern jazz.  Jeff Coffin has contracted a variety of amazing players to participate on this project. Listed above are eight bass players, seven drummers, five guitar players, four keyboardists, Moroccan vocals, Brazilian percussion, a set of Middle Eastern frame drums, a turntable artist, multiple horns, an ice cream truck, a Hungarian Tarogato, an African Ngoni and a Partridge in a pear tree.  Lol.  Just kidding about the Partridge.  Not to mention, Jeff Coffin spotlights his talents on soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and electro saxophones.  He also plays the Tarogato, the piccolo, alto and bass flutes, the C flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, melodica, and he adds vocals to the list, percussion and even plays coke bottles.  The man’s talents overwhelm me. This production took two years in pandemic isolation to create. Coffin says each component felt like an unexpected jigsaw puzzle piece that fell perfectly into place.  Favorite tunes are: Vinnie the Crow, Ruthie (featuring Jeff Babko on keyboards and Bob Lanzetti coloring the piece with his electric guitar licks), Tip the Band, (a soulful funk piece), Behind the 8 Ball, Busting Out All Over, (where Derico Watson & Jordan Perlson pump their percussive drums and push energy into this arrangement along with Coffin’s saxophone), and the very Middle Eastern arranged composition titled “When Birds Sing” with Jeff Coffin showing off his vocal skills.  This album is stuffed with joy!

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Jason Kao Hwang, Tucker Barrett solid-body electric violin with a Richard Barbera bridge, Atomic amplifier 12 multi-FX processor (overdrive, distortion, fuzz, wah-wah, phaser, whammy, pitch shift, delay); J.A. Deane, electronics (Sensei Morph touch controller, Spacecraft granular synthesizer software, Akai MPC Live Digital Audio Workstation).

When I heard this album, I felt as though I was being transported from Earth to outer space.  It’s an Avant-garde production with emphasis on electronics.  J.A. Deane was an electronic master.  Unfortunately, he passed away before this album came to fruition.  Dino (as his friends called him) had a long history of being in the music business, starting with a stint with Tina Turner.  In the 1980s, he was playing with the Butch Morris Ensemble.  More recently, after the death of his longtime partner, Colleen Mulvihill, J.A. Deane left Denver, Colorado and moved into a tiny house placed in a remote, rural field in Cortez, Colorado.  His mission was to write and complete his biography. In December of 2020, he sent the finished product to his friend and fellow musician, Jason Kao Hwang.  In return, Hwang sent J.A. Deane a couple of his duo albums, including one with Karl Berger.  That was a recording Deane was particularly drawn to and he soon contacted Jason to suggest they record a duo project together.  That’s how this album came to be.

“Despite the pandemic, we agreed to collaborate.  I heard his zoom concert for the Red Room in Baltimore.  Dino’s phantasmagoric symphonies, vivid and luxuriant, with unique sounds, were stunningly beautiful. … Dino proposed that I send him five to ten minutes of solo acoustic violin improvisations.  He would work with it, then send me tracks to overdub.  In March of 2021, I sent him my tracks.  Every track on this CD, from both Dino and myself, are completely improvised,” Jason Kao Hwang reminisced.

I am completely in awe of Jason Kao Hwang’s lovely and quite unique approach to playing the electric violin. He masterfully incorporates his spontaneous creativity and technical abilities into the modern music that he and J.A. Deane have composed.  Hwang’s most recent releases include “The Human Rites Trio” and “Conjure.” Both recordings have received critical acclaim.  I completely understand why the El Intruso International Critics Poll voted him #1 for violin and viola music recordings in 2012, 2013, 2018, 2019 and 2020. His rich, sensuous sound punctuates this current production with beauty and surprise.

J.A. Deane was a pioneer of live electronics.  He worked for some time with a popular San Francisco art/punk band called ‘Indoor Life.’  Deane originated the technique of ‘live sampling.’  He often incorporated this technique live and onstage.  Today, live sampling permeates this generation’s music.  Deane would record members of the band singularly while they were performing live, then manipulate the audio and play it back as though it were an instrument.  He also created theatrical sound designs for many artists. He and his longtime love (Colleen) created over fifty works of musical art.  Other artists who he collaborated with are Sam Shepard and Julie Hebert.  In November of 2020, J.A. Deane published his book, “Becoming Music: Conduction and Improvisation as forms of QiGong.”  In 2021, J.A. Deane transitioned from this world to the next, but he leaves behind a legacy of electronic music and innovation for us to enjoy.

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Clark Sommers, bass/composer; Matt Gold guitar; Dana Hall, drums/cymbals; Chris Madsen, tenor saxophone; Geof Bradfield, bass clarinet/soprano & tenor saxophone.

Bass man, Clark Sommers is a huge fan of Donny Hathaway and was greatly influenced by Hathaway’s bassist, Willie Weeks.  So much so, that Clark composed a song to honor the bass player that he titled, “Weeks & Weeks.”  He also draws inspiration from Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles.  These are all rock, pop and rhythm and blues stars, popular for their innovation and energy. But Sommers music is not necessarily energized and leans heavily into contemporary jazz.  His ensemble opens with a waltz feel on “Also Tomorrow” that introduces the players in Sommers band, each stepping forward to showcase their talents during solo spots.  I try to figure out what the drummer is doing on this tune and I’m left puzzled.  The ¾ tempo is being played by the ensemble, but not accented by the trap drums. This music is not lively or particularly dynamic, which is surprising since Clark Sommers clearly notes artists he admires, and they are each very powerful and full of vitality.  This production, on the other hand, is very ‘laid-back.’  Where his heroes are famous for their ‘groove,’ I found the groove lacking on many of these tunes.  However, the intent is there.  The compositions by Sommers are well-written.  On “James Marshall” Track #2, Sommers opens the piece on his double bass and hands the spotlight over to Matt Gold on guitar.  This piece is saturated in the blues, but again, the groove just never shows up.  The horns appear and they are strong with emotional solos, but once again I’m frustrated with what Dana Hall is playing on drums.  “Second Guesses” is a straight-ahead jazz number with arrangements that accentuate breaks and are meant to highlight the catchy melody.  Once they get into the meat of the matter, the saxophone is off and running. This tune quickly became one of my favorites on this album. Another favorite is the joyful “Silent Observer” that doesn’t play silent at all.  With just the woodwind instrument and drums performing a duet, Dana Hall finally shines and Geof Bradfield soaks up the spotlight in a shiny and talent specific way.  This is a great tune and a powerful arrangement.  It should have opened this album.  The musicians sound in perfect synchronization with each other and the song itself is a formidable composition by Sommers.  Other favorites: “Invisible Arrow” and “Nichols on the Quarter.”

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Eric Vloeimans, trumpet; Will Holshouser, accordion.

Here is a duo album that features the unusual combination of trumpet and accordion.  The accordionist is based in New York and the trumpeter is best-known in his native country of the Netherlands.  Eric Vloeimans has won four Edison prizes, which is their Dutch Grammy.  He’s quite famous in Europe and has toured through the continent of Asia, as well as the United States working with artists like Mercer Ellington, John Taylor, Peter Erskine, various orchestras and of course his own group.  Both musicians share an eclectic musical background and the music that I hear is steeped deeply in the European classical realm.  Both are respected composers, and they have each added their own compositions to this project.  The challenge for me is that one of the premises of jazz is the ability to improvise on a theme. That’s what has immortalized jazz to the attentive ears of the world.  Also, jazz was born of slave songs, gospel and blues music. This root of the music developed into ‘swing’ and ‘shuffles’ and eventually Avant-garde, modern jazz, bebop and more.  When I listen to Vloeimans and Holshouser, I hear two amazingly and technically talented musicians, but am I listening to jazz?  Their music is made up of original compositions and I hear the chord changes and melody, because I too am a musician.  Then I wait to see if they are going to improvise on their themes or swing or shuffle along.  I do hear the blues on Track #5, “Innermission 2,” composed by Eric Vloeimans.  Every song up to that point is clearly classical and not what I would call jazz.  This album reflects a chamber music concept without the strings. As mentioned in their press package, “…several pieces range from introspective, almost Schubert-like meditations…”  “Redbud Winter” begins as an up-tempo composition reflective of a type of folk music and composed by Will Holshouser.  It moves through a number of tempo and mood changes, the way a soundtrack for a motion picture might move.  I have heard Will Holshouser perform with his trio and with Musette Explosion. These groups remind me of polka bands. I was looking forward to hearing Track #10, dedicated to Louis Armstrong, and I enjoyed this ballad drenched in New Orleans soulfulness.  At last, an arrangement and production that sounds like jazz music.  However, for the most part, “Two for the Road” is an interesting musical concept played by two acclaimed musicians, who are quite innovative, but I wouldn’t necessarily put this entire album into a jazz category.

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Jason Yeager, piano/synthesizer/composer; Jay Sawyer, drums; Danny Weller, upright & elec. Bass; Yuhan Su, vibraphone; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Lucas Pino, clarinet/bass clarinet/tenor saxophone; Patrick Laslie, tenor saxophone/flute/bass clarinet; Alphonso Horne & Riley Mulherkar, trumpet & flugelhorn; Mike Rahie, trombone.

Jason Yeager is a New York based pianist/composer and a committed educator.  He is currently Assistant Professor of Piano at Berklee College of Music in Boston. For this project, he chose to celebrate novelist, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., born November 11, 1922. Vonnegut Jr. was an American writer, famous for his dark humor and satirical novels.  Within his five-decade career, he successfully published fourteen novels, three short-story collections, five plays and five nonfiction works.  He died in Manhattan on April 11, 2007.  This year, the journalist would have turned one-hundred years old. Jason Yeager is a big fan!  He has turned the pages of many Vonnegut books and decided to pay tribute to this novelist by composing eleven new compositions for Vonnegut’s centennial.  The release will happen on Vonnegut’s birthday (Nov. 11th) at the Vonnegut Library and Museum in Indianapolis, IN.  Jason knew that Vonnegut once had a secret desire.  The author had voiced it aloud saying:

“What I would really like to have been, given a perfect world, is a jazz pianist.  I mean jazz.  I don’t mean rock and roll.  I mean the never-the-same-twice music the American black people gave the world,” Vonnegut once announced.

So, jazz pianist, Jason Yeager, decided to gift the spirit of Vonnegut with this suite of music. He was inspired by the science fiction novels Vonnegut created.  Cut #1 is titled, “Now It’s The Women’s Turn” and it’s a beautiful, melodic piece with a lilting drumbeat provided by Jay Sawyer and an outstanding clarinet solo by Lucas Pino.  When Jason Yeager enters the piece on piano, he brings his double fisted charm to the party. It took Yeager nearly a decade to compose all these songs.  This first one reflects what Yeager thinks is one of the underrated masterpieces by Kurt Vonnegut titled ‘Bluebeard.’  “Ballad for Old Salo” is moody and written for a character that appears in several of Vonnegut’s stories; a character that has one huge eye and stands two feet tall and in need of love. Yeager’s piano solo during this arrangement is quite classical and Yuhan Su’s vibraphone brings a sweet touch to the arrangement.  The horns used in these arrangements are lushly provocative and beautifully cushion the melodic solos.  Yeager says that he sees Kurt Vonnegut something of a Thelonious Monk figure in the world of fiction.  He broke a lot of literary rules and it took time for both artists to become accepted and with wide audience appeal.

“Monk is one of my musical touchstones and Vonnegut has a similarly unique voice and is unapologetically himself,” Yeager asserts.

“Kilgore’s Creed” is a straight-ahead composition that depicts a scientist character from Vonnegut’s “Timequake” novel and was described as the journalist’s alter-ego.  “Unk’s Fate” employs a march tempo to mirror the Martian military march that takes place in “Sirens of Titan.”   In “So It Goes” Yeager adds spoken word voices that repeat the title and grab the attention from the Avant-garde background music tinkling behind the voices. Yeager also gives us a taste of the blues in his piano excursions. Speaking of blues, “Blues for Billy Pilgrim” digs deeply into another one of Vonnegut’s characters from his World War II novel, “Slaughterhouse Five.”  All of these Yeager compositions certainly makes me want to read the books of Kurt Vonnegut. What a wonderful tribute to the author’s brilliance and creativity, with a whole musical jazz album devoted to exploring his characterizations. Here is a truly unique project, one that explores all the nuances of jazz and introduces us to an American literary author through the composition skills of Jason Yeager. Impressive!

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LUIS DENIZ – “EL TINAJON” – Modica Music

Luis Deniz, alto & soprano saxophones/composer; Rafael Zaldivar, piano/keyboards; Roberto Occhipinti, acoustic bass; Ahmed Mitchel, drums/vocals; Adis Galindo, vocals; Jorge Luis Torres (Papiosco), percussion/congas/Bata drums.

The sound of Luis Deniz’s horn is so sweet, it stops me in my tracks.  At first, the arrangement has the Deniz alto saxophone soloing alone, but then the percussion joins him, smoothly, like horse hooves against cobblestone. There is something historic, archaic, tribal in this arrangement. The saxophone notes soar and flutter, a restless bird in flight.  This tune is titled “Reflexiones” and introduces us to this gifted artist, Luis Deniz.  There is no full rhythm section on this opening composition by Deniz. No need. Jorge Luis Torres is enough to accompany the bandleader, Deniz.  Jorge’s brilliant on percussion.  The rhythm section steps stage center on Track #2, “La Ceiba de Mayuya” where we meet Roberto Occhipinti on double bass, Rafael Zaldivar on piano and trap drums played by Ahmed Mitchel.  The pianist reminds me of butterfly wings flapping wildly across sky and space.  The original music of Luis Deniz is intoxicating and hypnotic.  Track #3 employs the voices of the band members, chanting and reflecting Afro-Cuban roots on “Rumba Para Camaguey/Equality.”  This is the debut album from Luis Deniz, a Cuban-born, Toronto, Canada-based saxophonist. The album’s title, “El Tinajon” reflects the name of a clay pot, brought to Cuba by the Spanish in the early 1500s.  These pots were originally used to collect rainwater and for Luis, they represent his humble beginnings and the importance of water to the survival of humanity and consequently, the survival of human art.  None of us can live or be productive without water.   His compositions are beautifully written and mirror his musicality and polished technique.

“As a composer, I really just let myself write what I hear.  I’m not preoccupied with compositions sounding hard, difficult, or anything of the sort.  To me, music is about people, and songs should reflect emotions,” Luis Deniz reflects in his press package.

I agree with his sentiments.  Clearly, he has succeeded in his intent. * * * * * * * * * *