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. * * * * * * * * * *


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