Archive for December, 2022


December 19, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

December 19, 2022


Rob Alley, trumpet/composer; Jon Noffsinger, alto saxophone/composer; Gary Wheat, tenor saxophone/composer; Daniel Western, baritone saxophone/composer; Tom Wolfe, acoustic & electric guitars; Chris Kozak, double & electric basses; Michael Glaser, drum set.

Caught in the Middle – YouTube

The Birmingham Seven ensemble immediately reminds me of the bebop era with their straight-ahead dynamics and swinging arrangements. This is the group’s premier recording, although they have been working together off and on, for over twenty-five years.  They formed this Birmingham Seven ensemble in 2006 and they are not only fine musicians, but they are fine friends too.  Based in Birmingham, Alabama, they offer eleven original compositions by various horn members in the group and every tune sounds like a jazz standard. Daniel Western has composed most of the songs, and his baritone saxophone is beautiful to my ears.  If you are a lover of music by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington’s orchestra, these beautiful melodies, rooted in ‘swing’ and featuring dance tune arrangements is the perfect album for you.

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Santi Debriano, bass/composer/arranger; Adrian Alvarado, guitar; Mamiko Watanabe, piano; Robby Ameen, drums; Emile Turner, trumpet; TK Blue, alto saxophone; Tommy Morimoto, tenor saxophone; Ray Scro, baritone saxophone; Andrea Brachfeld, flute.

Santi Debriano is an emigrant to the United States from Panama.  He arrived here at age four, with music propelling his life and ultimately his career.  As a composer, he has translated the roots of Afro-Caribbean tradition and West African ritual into his compositions. Along with his Arkestra Bembe, bassist Debriano uses the power of music to introduce the listener to Yoruba tribal influence and melodies that celebrate food, drink, music and dance. He incorporates these cultures seamlessly into his music.

Santi Debriano & Arkestra Bembe Imaginary Guinea – YouTube

Santi Debriano is quite well-known on the NYC jazz scene as a communal practitioner, inviting jazz musicians to gather and inspire each other.  His place of music also became a sanctuary for frustrated musicians during the pandemic lockdown.  They came to play and it was during these impromptu sessions that Santi Debriano began composing the songs you will hear on this album. His imagination bloomed and grew like the endangered Quora, an off-white orchid celebrated as the National Flower of Panama.  You will enjoy the sweetness and lovely melodies that Debriano creates, using his Arkestra Bembe to translate this original music from the page to the stage. Favorite tunes on this album are: “Imaginary Guinea” and the happy-go-lucky tune titled “Spunky.”  You will have heard this music on several television shows as a show theme.  Ray Scro thrills me with his baritone saxophone solo on this arrangement. “Basilar” is another unforgettable tune with its staccato horn lines and catchy melody.  When Santi Debriano steps into the spotlight and solos, his rich, solid bass mastery is beautiful and formidable.  Andrea Brachfeld soars like a dancing butterfly on the flute with Debriano’s bass pumping the tune ahead like a steam engine. Whenever Adrian Alvarado enters to spotlight his guitar, I am both stunned and entertained by his improvisational creativity.  “Mr. Monk” sounds a lot like something Thelonious Monk could have composed and of course is a tribute to the American, genius, piano player and composer.  The final tune, “Portrait” is a solo performance by Santi Debriano where he shows his brilliance on the bass. These songs are intimate, spontaneously arranged, and they offer a platform and stage for these amazing musicians to shine warmly. Like Christmas decorations, Santi Debriano & Arkestra Bembe sparkle!

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TED KOOSHIAN, “HUBUB!” – Summit Records

Ted Kooshian, piano/electric keyboard/arranger/composer; Greg Joseph, drums; Dick Sarpola, bass/elec. Bass; David Silliman, percussion; Katie Jacoby, violin; Summer Boggess, cello; John Bailey, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jeff Lederer, tenor saxophone; Jim Mola, vocals.

Ted Kooshian’s fingers skip across the piano and awaken the glee and joy of this holiday season. It’s his fifth album and the first one that showcases Kooshian’s composer talents.  Every tune is spirited, with horn harmonies woven into arrangements like crochet needles into yarn.  The final product is rich, creative and warm like a Christmas sweater. Ted Kooshian started loving jazz in the seventh grade. He grew up in the Bay area of Northern California and after hearing his band director play an Oscar Peterson record, Ted was hooked on jazz.

“Man, that’s what I want to do!”  Ted Kooshian affirmed and never looked back. 

His original compositions traces chapters of his life.  For example, “Sparkplug – She Came to Play” is a tribute to his beloved eleven-year-old dog. Ted’s piano fingers race, as if they are chasing the ball that his dog is sprinting after.  There are dissonant chords, mainly during the introduction, that remind me of the canine tumbling and falling happily in tall grass. 

Sparkplug – She Came to Play – YouTube

The title track was written in 1992, upon Ted’s return to the bustling lifestyle of New York City and leaping into the “hubbub” of it all.  “Wandelen” translates from Dutch to ‘walking,’ a pastime that Ted Kooshian enjoys daily. Trumpeter John Bailey” takes a hearty solo during this animated arrangement, as does Jeff Lederer on tenor saxophone.  The only song on this album that isn’t an original is the familiar “Somewhere” composition by Leonard Bernstein. “Schiermonnikoog” is a mouthful and the title of a song inspired by the smallest Dutch North Sea island,a place he and his wife visited when vacationing in that part of the world. 

Ted Kooshian has been blending his love of music and jazz as a member of the Ed Palermo Big Band for nearly thirty years and explores his love of rock music when touring with groups like, ‘The Who’. You will hear this rock influence during his original composition arrangement of “McQueen.”  This song exposes his love of action heroes as does the tune “Shatner” that’s an ode to one of Kooshian’s lifelong heroes, William Shatner, from the original Star Trek show.   

“I’m a huge fan and have been since the sixties,” Kooshian admits. “I saw his show on Broadway twice and saw him at a Star Trek convention once.  Hopefully he’ll like this tune that I dedicated to him.”

Ted Kooshian’s talented piano hands have accompanied numerous super stars including Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Edgar Winter, Marvin Hamlisch, Sarah Brightman, Blood, Sweat & Tears and II Divo.  He’s also found work on Broadway, playing behind such outstanding hit shows as The Lion Kind, Aida, Mamma Mia and more.  If you’re in New York any time soon, you’ll find him perched behind the grand piano five nights a week at Center Bar, one floor below Jazz at Lincoln Center in the Time/Warner Building.

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David Bloom, alto flute/composer/co-producer; Cliff Colnot, arranger/co-producer; Ryan Cohan, piano; Larry Kohut, acoustic bass; Jose Porcayo, bass; Ron Hall, electric bass; Dana Hall & Khari Parker, drums; Joe Rendon, congas/bongo; Luis Rosario, timbales; Albert Sierra, bongos; Donnie Simmons, percussion; David Bugher, vibraphone; Kraig McCreary, guitar; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Mike Smith, soprano & alto saxophone; Anthony Bruno, tenor saxophone; Scott Burns, Ted Hogarth & Linda Van Dyke, baritone saxophone; Mary Stolper & Jennifer Clippert, alto flute; Tim Munro & Alyce Johnson, flute; Victor Garcia & Joe Clark, trumpet; Constantine Alexander, Rob Parton, Don Sickler & Joe Clark, flugelhorns; Joe Sanchez & John Yeh, clarinet/bass clarinet; Andrew Nogal & Anna Velzo, oboe; Miles Maner & Bill Buchman, bassoon; Steve Duncan, Tim Coffman & Tom Garling, trombones; Anne Bach, English horn; Dave Griffin & Oto Carrillo, horn in F; Alyce Johnson & Jennifer Clippert, piccolo; Scott Metlicka, alto & bass flute. VIOLINS: Stefan Hersh, Brian Hong, Roberta Freier, Paul Zafer, Carmen Abelson, Rika Seko, Carmen Kassinger, Teresa Fream, Yuan-Qing Yu, Minghuan Xu, Peter Labella, Clayton Penrose-Whitmore, Baird Dodge, Robert Hanford, Sheila Hanford, Sharon Polifrone, Brian Ostrega, Myra Hinrichs & Janis Sakai. SOLO VIOLIN: Paul Zafer. CELLOS: Steve Balderston, Brant Taylor, Jocylyn Butler, Hope Shepherd, Joshua Zajac. Bass Cello: Rob Kassinger. SOLO CELLO: Steve Balderston. VIOLA: Sixto Franco Chorda, Li Kua Chang, Anthony Devroye. 

Like so many frustrated musicians during the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, David Bloom found himself composing music like crazy.  It gushed out of him like a faucet, spraying his creative room with ideas and splashing those ideas on music paper. During a time when COVID 19 was ravishing the earth, Bloom composed thirty tunes.  Fifteen of these appear on this album. The ensemble opens with a tribute to one of his students who passed away during these challenging and chaotic times. It’s titled, “Mischievous Mark Colby” and features the soprano saxophone excellence of Dave Liebman. Liebman also appears on the title tune, “Shadow of a Soul.” Bloom joins him on alto flute in a moody arrangement. The composition “Samba” dances off the CD and makes me want to shake hips across the room.  Ryan Cohan is dynamic on piano. Joe Rendon adds percussive pepper and spice to the thick stew of joyful rhythms. To surprise us, Cliff Colnot has arranged strings to compliment this happy tune. Bloom has written a song to celebrate the great Eddie Palmieri titled “For Eddie P” and it swings with a Latin flair that’s flashy and rhythmic. Anthony Bruno soaks up the spotlight, playing his tenor saxophone with gusto and the percussion soars. Trumpeters Victor Garcia and Joe Clark are outstanding, acting as clear motivators for these energetic percussion players. This song will make you happy, no matter what your mood! 

For Eddie P. (Palmieri) Composed by David Bloom – YouTube

David Bloom was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and is multi-talented.  He is a composer, an educator, an artistic painter and a musician.  At age eight he was studying folk guitar and started listening to jazz at eleven years young. He has been a touring musician with several bands, but in 1981, began to concentrate all his efforts on composing. .Bloom is accomplished on alto flute. His arranger and co-producer, Cliff Colnot, is a distinguished conductor who boasts an international and respected reputation in music.  Together, they offer a project that will bring joy and excellence to the ears of any music lover.

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Gebhard Ullmann, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet/composer; Steve Swell, trombone/composer; Fred Lonberg-Holm, cello/electronics; Michael Zerano, drums.

Welcome to the Red Island – YouTube

I have a great love for the country of New Zealand.  It is one of the cleanest, most climate conscious countries I have visited (with the exception of Singapore) and also one of the most beautiful and pristine places on earth.  Consequently, I was eager to hear what Ullmann’s group, “The Chicago Plan” would offer musically.  Saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist and composer, Gebhard Ullmann, decided to celebrate his November 2nd birthday by releasing three exploratory and diverse records.  This production is one of them. It is an avant-garde project and spotlights the Berlin-based musician’s extraordinary talents on reed instruments. This work celebrates 65 years of Ullmann’s life and musical growth.  Steve Swell has composed half of the tunes on this album and Ullmann has composed the other half. 

Gebhard Ullmann was celebrated as one of the finest improvising artists in the world by the late, great Paul Bley. He has recorded over sixty albums, during the course of his career, nearly matching his current age. His music continues to blur the lines between improvisational freedom, contemporary classical, electric avant-garde and jazz.  In 2022, Ullman’s home country of Germany gifted him with the highest honor for music; the Deutscher Jazzpreis for Woodwinds.

“The Chicago Plan,” a transatlantic quartet, opens with a Swell composition and the title tune, “For New Zealand.”  The Swell composition features splashes of sounds and instruments that sometimes groan and roar like wild animals. In other moments, the arrangement captures the listener’s attention with moody, melodic reflections as Ullmann’s saxophone links notes with Swell’s trombone and they dance (arm in arm) across space. On Ullmann’s composition, “Welcome to the Red Island” I love the tone of his bass clarinet.  This tune is also somewhat moody. During the first half of the arrangement, I keep waiting for something to ‘jump out the bushes and grab me.’  But this classical drama piques the interest and pulls at my ear like a scolding parent.  When the trombone solo’s, the blues and jazz appear like a burglar stealing the spotlight from the classical moodiness. Gebhard and Steve are a team.  Ullmann’s musical friendship with trombone innovator, Steve Swell, goes back twenty-years. This album is a tribute, created in 2016, to draw attention to the horrible Christchurch City Mosque shootings that stunned the world.

“Steve and I have always followed our own visions, regardless of the so-called ‘rules’ that you’re supposed to follow to be successful,” Gebhard Ullmann says in his press package.

 Perhaps Ullmann sums it up best when he explains, “We always build on top of a foundation that has been laid by other musicians before us.  It doesn’t make a difference if they are musicians from the contemporary music scene, the avant-garde jazz scene, the contemporary rock scene or whatever.  If it’s good music, it’s good music, and we can find a way to build upon it.  Maybe it takes 65 years to realize that it’s all really one thing!”

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Mathieu Soucy, guitar/composer/arranger; Gentiane MG, piano; Mike De Masi, bass; Jacob Wutzke, drums; Caity Gyorgy, vocals.

Where or When (feat. Caity Gyorgy) – YouTube

Twenty-seven-year old Mathieu Soucy graduated with a degree in jazz performance from Canada’s McGill University in 2019.  He’s a blossoming jazz guitarist exhibiting his own sound and style on this, his premiere record album.  The first song is titled “Lennie’s Changes” and could be a subtle tribute to piano player Lennie Tristano, who was legendary back in the 1940s. This is a solid opening tune, that showcases a swing arrangement with a unique melody and an opportunity for each of Soucy’s musicians to step into the limelight and proffer their unique solos. Once we meet the band, Caity Gyorgy steps stage center to sing the familiar Rodger’s and Hart tune, “Where or When.”  Caity is a strong improviser and shows off her scat capabilities during this arrangement.  You can hear a lot of Ella Fitzgerald’s influence in her phrasing, and that’s a plus!   Mathieu ‘covers’ a Monk tune (Reflections) but the majority of his well-written repertoire celebrates Soucy’s own composer skills.  Here is a young, talented, up-and-coming jazz artist that I believe we will be enjoying here and into the future.

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Sam Blakeslee, trombone/electronics/composer; Chris Coles, alto saxophone; Brandon Coleman, electric guitar/electronics; Matt Wiles, electric bass/Moog synthesizer; Jamey Haddad, percussion; Dan Pugach, drums; Brian Crock, alto flute/bass clarinet.

Busy Body – YouTube

Trombonist and composer, Sam Blakeslee, has music that falls somewhere in the cracks between electronic, fusion jazz and funk.  Blakeslee explained:

“Delving into the vast world of electronic production was a way to cope with the uncertainty of 2020.”

This is Blakeslee’s second album release, and it takes a turn from chamber jazz music to a more eclectic dive into compositions that cross the lines of genre.  The title tune opens this album and is steeped in funk, perpetuated by the percussion of Jamey Haddad. The fluid alto saxophone work of Chris Coles glides over the groove and the synthesizer electronics fatten the track. When Brandon Coleman enters on electric guitar, he brings spice to the party.  His solo is on fire.  Sam Blakeslee has written all ten tunes on this project, and he incorporates electronic manipulation to diversify his arrangements. “Hollandaise Sauce” is all fusion/funk and makes me want to dance along with Dan Pugach’s drum licks, while the trombone solo of Blakeslee brightens the tune, conversing boldly with the electronics. Yes, this tune will get your body busy!  The “Wistful Thinking” group is an exploratory band project, who richly incorporate electronics into their music.  The synthesized additions are like the corn starch you stir into vegetable stew to thicken it.  It makes Sam Blakeslee’s songs pop!  They are uniquely arranged, with a young, energetic take on a more conservative jazz style. The addition of a Bass clarinet played by Brian Crock on the brief, but powerful production of “Preinterlude” is lovely. Sam steps forward on trombone during the “Wistful Thinking” tune and shows off horn talents that compliment his composer skills.  Track #5, “Klepto” leans heavily towards heavy metal rock music, with Matt Wiles driving full speed ahead on electric bass and Moog synthesizer. It’s only two minutes and twenty-seven seconds long, more like an unexpected interlude than a song.  The music and imaginative mind of Sam Blakeslee offers the jazz listener some alternative music that is both ethereal and unique. His tone and style on trombone are wonderful and his compositions demand that we fly with him, to open spaces and unusual places.

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SIRINTIP – “CARBON”- Ropeadope Records

Sirintip, vocals/vocal effects/vocoder/percussion/programming/synth bass/Thai guitar programming/deforestation & industrial programming/drill/sand/plastic trash percussion/  marimba/composer; Nolan Byrd, drums/marimba/programming synth bass/plastic trash percussion/plastic water jugs/Thai percussion programming/metal trash can/ composer; Kengchakaj Kengkamka, piano/Moog One/Moog Matriarch/Fender Rhodes/ Korg Minilogue/ Buchia 200 series modular system/ Hammond B-3 organ/ marimba/composer; Owen Broder, baritone saxophone/composer; Alex Hahn, flute; Chris McQueen, Moollon guitar; Bangkok Frogs & North Carolina Crickets, Ambient vocal performance; Daniel Migdal, violin/viola; Matthew Peterson, string arrangements; Michael League, electric bass/Minimoog Model D; Nic Hard, vocal scrubbing/synth bass programming/ electric guitar/ deforestation & industrial programming/ cube & drum programming/engineer; Mahasarakham University, Thai electric guitar/Morlam vocals/Thai percussion.

Sirintip ‘Carbon’ – Album Teaser – YouTube

Sirintip is an artist who defies boundaries and boxes.  Her whispery voice and plaintive lyrics inspire.  This project is a blend of Disco music, with pop bass lines that pump the production upward.  The first song titled “Hydrogen” jumps like fireworks from my CD player.  I can picture a smokey, blue dance hall, with speakers larger than life blowing out the walls of the room.  This song is followed by “Agi” (another original composition) that is a little more like smooth jazz than Disco, with layered tracks and layered vocals.  Sirintip uses a vocoder, percussion programming and various electronics including Thai guitar programming.  When you mix the original music, composed by Sirintip and co-writer Nolan Byrd, with assorted synthesized programs, you wind up with a refreshing and unique production that challenges the boundaries and walls of genre. This production lands somewhere between smooth jazz, pop music, Asian Disco and contemporary arrangements.  Sirintip is a master producer with knowledge of using synthesizers and a variety of electronic programs to create her unique sound and enhance her compositions. She borrows from the Hip Hop culture, and mixes in Thai and Swedish roots with a vast pool of endless imagination.  Sirintip is an internationally respected composer and lyricist.  The goal of this album is to appeal to the public and encourage a new conversation about climate change and protecting humanity’s earthly home.

“Climate change is something that affects everyone.  … I didn’t want the project to be preaching. … That’s what the news does.  I thought, what if I don’t put the message in the lyrics?  What if I compose it into the music? Then maybe people, including me, might become more curious to learn new ways for us to interact with our planet,” Sirintip explains. 

“Carbon,” is an unusual album and I’m not convinced it should be labeled jazz. Sirintip offers music that goes way beyond description.  I personally wouldn’t call her music jazz, although it incorporates an air of improvisation and uniqueness. Instead, I think Sirintip’s music leans far more towards the ‘pop’ genre. For example, on Track #12, titled “It’s Alright,” she reminds me of artist Erykah Badu, whose music blends Hip Hop with jazz and R&B.

Sirintip has a pleasurable tone of voice and her lush production, splashed brightly with electronic highlights, is quite contemporary and definitely commercial-friendly.  I applaud her vision of making the world more aware of our climate challenges and clearly, she wants to make a  difference.  This Bangkok-born singer, producer and multi-modal artist is someone to watch.  I just hope her career advisors promote her in the right lane, because she has the makings of a successful pop star.

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December 2, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

December 2, 2022

DIANA PANTON – “BLUE” – Independent Label  

Diana Panton, vocals; Don Thompson, piano/Fender Rhodes; Reg Schwager, guitar; Jim Vivian, bass; Phil Dwyer, saxophone; PENDERECKI QUARTET: Jeremy Bell & Jerzy Kaplanek, violin; Katie Schlaikjer, cello; Christine Vlajk, viola.

Diana Panton has a voice that’s warm like soft butter.  She has chosen a group of wonderful songs, some more familiar than others, and all with delightful lyrics containing special stories to share. She is a two-time, Canadian Juno Award winner and this album is the final installment in a trilogy of love and loss recordings. Her first release of the trilogy was titled “Pink” followed by “Red” (an interpretation in song about the passion of true love.) That was in 2015.  Now, with the release of “Blue,” she delves into heartbreak and lost love. All three releases have been carefully spread out, over a decade.

“The release dates were deliberately spread over a decade from the first to the final album in the trilogy for the music to better reflect different stages in a relationship.  I knew that my voice and perspective would be more mature if I waited to record the “Blue” album a little later in my life,” the vocalist explained.

She opens with a favorite composition of mine, “Where Do You Start?” a question that she weaves into the song with emotional believability. Then she interjects another song titled, “Once Upon a Time” and Diana Panton creates a delightful medley. Ms. Panton must have perfect pitch, because she begins this project a’ Cappella, in fine voice and emotionally charged.  About halfway through the lyrics, Don Thompson joins her on piano, and they complete the medley as a duet. Don has been Diana’s musical arranger on all of her recordings. Phil Dwyer’s saxophone brings a fresh presence to this project on her third song, “Without Your Love” that slow swings across space. During this arrangement, Diana Panton’s voice dances along and brings back memories of the 1940s swing era. Her soft, girlish voice is perfectly paired with the Sondheim lyrics to “Losing My Mind” from the 1971 musical “Follies.” I hadn’t heard “This Will Make You Laugh” composed by Irene Higginbotham.  It’s a great song with a well-written lyric that Diana Panton transmits with smooth sincerity.  Each hand-picked flower of a song is carefully unfolded by Diana’s sweet vocals, like the Alan and Marilyn Bergman & Dave Grusin collaboration, “The Trouble with Hello is Goodbye.” I enjoyed the slow bossa nova arrangement of “To Say Goodbye,” with the tinkling piano of Don Thompson sweetly coloring the piece and the addition of the Penderecki String Quartet bolsters the beauty.  Diana Panton reminds us of how important the storyline is to these wonderful compositions and pulls at our heartstrings with the stories she sings.

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Jason Palmer, trumpet; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Edward Perez, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.

During the atrocious pandemic of the 2020’s, Giant Step Arts decided to create an outdoor space for jazz to be performed in NYC.  They called Jason Palmer to come and play, offering a simultaneous recording opportunity at a very historic place on Manhattan Island.  Seneca Village was once a 19th-Century settlement of mostly African American landowners in what is today known as Central Park.  The settlement was located near the current Upper West Side neighborhood, bounded by Central Park West and the axes of 82nd Street, 89th street and Seventh Avenue.  It was the first Black American community in the city after the Dutch rule.  At its peak, the black community has approximately 225 residents, two schools, three churches and three cemeteries.  That community existed until 1857. 

It was here that the stage was set and the participating musicians took their places. The clarity and powerful, ringing tone of Jason Palmer on his trumpet called the people and quickly attracted them to this outdoors location.  Like the walls of Jericho, the invisible walls that separated us during the COVID quarantine years came tumbling down in Central Park, at the Seneca Village location. People flocked to the free jazz concerts. 

On Palmer’s first original tune, “Falling In” He plays the first three minutes a ‘Capella and then Johnathan Blake joins in on drums, making a mighty sound.  Mark Turner harmonizes on the ‘hook’ of the song with Palmer’s trumpet and Edward Perez holds the group down with his succinct bass notes, locking tightly in with Blake’s drums and additionally, soloing.  It was May 31, 2021 and the quartet was perched on Summit Rock, in Seneca Village.  Jason gave the downbeat, and the small ensemble was off and running. This was Jason Palmer’s third recording for Giant Step Arts.  He features Mark Turner on saxophone and bassist Edward Perez.  Track #2 gives the stage completely to Johnathan Blake on trap drums.  It’s an exciting nearly four-and-a-half-minute introduction to this composition “Landscape with an Obelisk (Flinck).”  When Jason Palmer and Mark Turner enter on trumpet and tenor saxophone, the speedy excitement continues.  Jason Palmer mentions in his liner notes how excited he was about this concert because it was his first gig as a leader, featuring his own compositions.  This album is lush with Palmer’s original music and the individual talents of each participating musician.  They are all exceptionally gifted musicians and bring their talents to the stage, not only to interpret the Palmer tunes, but to express their own artistry and explore innovative creativity.  This is a ‘live’ recording that would fatten any jazz lover’s collection of music.

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Richard Williams, piano/bandleader/arranger/composer; Trey Henry, bass; Bernie Dresel, drums; Brady Bills, guitar; SAXOPHONES: Eric Marienthal & Sal Lozano, alto saxophones; Brandon Fields & Dan Kaneyuki, tenor saxophones; Will Vargas, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Wayne Bergeron, Rob Schaer, Kye Palmer & Mitchell Cooper. TROMBONES: Andy Martin, Joey Sellers, Erik Hughes & Robert Todd. VOCALS: Alex Stiles, Nate Bryant, Robecca Lopez, Evon Collett, Connor Ross, Taylor Miranda, Hayley Kirkland, Dmitry Noskov, Benny Benack III, Chelsea Brooke Olson & Julie Seechuck. COMPANY B SINGERS: Hayley Kirkland, Clara Campbell, Kate Plewe. WOMEN’S CHOIR: Jean Williams, Ruth Gardner, Erika Felsted, Rose Lofthouse, Jeri Mellor& Carol Olson.  

Opening with the popular “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Richard Williams features the smooth, jazzy vocals of Alex Stiles. Stiles is also featured vocalist on “The Christmas Song.”  Williams has orchestrated these familiar holiday songs to revisit big band jazz and Christmas orchestral music. He’s created a nice, easy-listening ride through this holiday season. 

Williams was born in Utah, but his family relocated to Salinas, CA.  As a youth, he performed in his school band beginning in early, elementary days and learned to play several instruments including trombone, clarinet, saxophones, trumpet and piano.  At a very young age he was mesmerized by the music in his mind and Richard began composing.  In college, he majored in film scoring and Japanese.  You can tell by this lush production that orchestra music is Richard Williams’ first love. He captures Christmas with a diverse choir of voices and orchestral lushness.

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Thana Alexa, vocals/percussion/additional keyboards/production; Nicole Zuraitis, vocals/keyboards; Julia Adamy, vocals/bass/synth bass; Ross Pederson, Dan Pugach & Antonio Sanchez, drums.

This trio of talented women open with a siren like chant that reminds me of the fictitious sea maidens who were purported to sing to passing sailors at sea and wrap their spell around them.  These female voices blend beautifully on “Doyenne,” their original song, as they present their specialized contemporary jazz style for our consumption. Track #2 reminds me of The Pointer Sisters and features drummer Ross Pederson propelling their tight harmonics and chant-like arrangement. Their debut recording was produced straight out of Alexa’s home studio in Queens, New York. Recognizing that the human voice is a powerful instrument and the original instrument, before instruments were even created.  These three music divas not only look spectacular, but their harmonies spill out as natural as earth, wind and water. Together they have written all the music and Nicole adds her keyboard talents. A sought-after studio musician, Julia Adamy plays the bass.  Thana Alexa plays keyboards and percussion.  After years of working together in various collaborative performances, these three women enter a space of their own called “Sonica.”  This album is fresh and unique, as the talented ladies blend jazz with elements of pop music, soul, electronics and even folk.  They throw in a spoken word piece for good measure.  A pleasant surprise was Julia Adamy’s arrangement of “Loves In Need of Love Today.” The Stevie Wonder composition is reborn in a very creative way. However, I do miss some of Stevie’s piano chord changes and the hook is totally reinvented.  Still, I look forward to their next recording to see what they come up with, because this debut product is fascinating, entertaining, well-written and just the beginning of something that may become very big.

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AKIKO AOKI – “PURE IMAGINATION” –  Independent Label

Akiko Aoki, vocals; Tim Ray, piano/synthesizer/arranger; Marshall Wood, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums; Mark Walker, drums/percussion; John Baboian, guitar/arranger; Greg Hopkins, trumpet; Ken Peplowski, tenor saxophone; Mike Monaghan, saxophone; Hiro Honshuku, flute; Mari Aoki, vocals.

Akiko Aoki grew up in Sendai, Japan but was born in Morioka.  She sang in choruses throughout her school years.  At seventeen, young Akiko performed in local television shows and by the time she turned nineteen, she was singing professionally in clubs. She came to the United States to study at the famous Berklee College of Music. After obtaining her degree, the young, talented lady returned to Tokyo, Japan where she taught in music schools and performed in a number of jazz festivals. Like many female artists, she put aside her musical touring career when she got married and started a family. Staying close to home, she raised her children, taught Japanese and voice and managed her husband’s restaurant business.  She also sang at the restaurants. After the death of her husband, Akiko was drawn back into her passion of expression and decided to record this album.  Accompanied by the Tim Ray trio and several special guests, she offers us thirteen familiar tunes.  They open with “Almost Like Being in Love.”  It’s the Ken Peplowski saxophone that takes center stage and makes this old standard swing. This song introduces us to the full ensemble, each stepping into the spotlight to give us brief solos and expose their individual talents.  I enjoyed the song “Yesterday I heard the Rain” which was fresh and new to my ears.  Akiko has a sweet voice and uses long legato lines to express her melodies and lyrics. Sometimes, when you swing a song, you have to use a more staccato technique to really capture the jazzy feel. However, when she tackles challenging songs like Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road” her legato tones gently caress each note and her emotional attachment to the lyrics is clearly evident. Tim Ray takes a long and lovely piano solo during this arrangement. On “No More Blues” she joins the horn section at the top and the band taps out a Bossa beat as Akiko sings the Jon Hendricks lyrics to Jobim’s famed composition. This production becomes a family affair when Akiko and her mother sing together on “Moondance,” on the Bill Withers classic, “Just the Two of Us” and on “Smile.”  Although this reminds one of family get-togethers where family members gather around the piano and recklessly share their hidden and unexplored talents in the comfort of their own home, it detracts from the professionality of this project.

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OUTSIDE – “A NEW BEGINNING” – Dorado Records

Matt Cooper, keyboard/drums/multi-instruments; Nichol Thomson, bass; Matt White, guitar; Francesco Sales, slide guitar; Vancho Manoilovich, drums/percussion; Cleveland Watkiss, piano; Jim Knight, additional synthesizer.

Matt cooper, who is recording again, under the name of ‘Outside,’ brings us four (4) EP tracks after a twenty-year creative hiatus.  If you are a lover of contemporary jazz and electronic music, then this recording is the perfect one to stuff into your stocking.  Matt plays both keyboard, drums and several other instruments on this project that was conceived during the 2020 pandemic lockdown.  He co-produced this beautiful production with Valentina Pahor, recording in both London and Portugal.  Writing and playing solo, the same way he did at the height of his career in 1993. Cooper offers us four beautiful compositions that spotlight his unique musical vision.

“I’ve evolved the mixture of modern and retro.  That’s the ‘Outside’ sound,” Cooper explained.

It was Matt Cooper who was one of the rebellious and creative innovators of the 1990s London music revolution.  His music was released on the experimental Dorado Label, known for their Acid Jazz and founded by Ollie Buckwell.  Dorado Records celebrates three decades in business this year.

“I wanted to make quality records that would stand the test of time.  I was blown away by Matt’s talent,” Buckwell praised the artist.

Opening with the title tune, the electronic bass line and the funk drums are infectious on “A New Beginning.”  Track two is titled “Searching, Finding” and features the beautiful, haunting talents of Francesco Sales on slide guitar.

Cooper is part of the UK soul act ‘Incognito’ acting as Musical Director and has worked as M.D. and an instrumentalist for legendary artists like Chaka Khan, Jocelyn Brown, Whitney Houston, Terry Callier, Leon Ware, Marlena Shaw, Freddie Hubbard and Ronnie Laws.

Matt Cooper’s piano/keyboard work drives this project, along with his ability to manipulate electronic rhythms that compliment his hypnotic grooves.  This is sexy music.  Pop the bubbly by a roaring fire and play this EP in the background.  Magic! 

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Kirk Lightsey, Piano; Santi Debriano, bass; Mark Whitfield, guitar; Victor Lewis, drums.

For nearly seventy years, Detroit, Michigan native Kirk Lightsey has made his mark in the jazz world as a pianist, composer and recording artist. What a blessing to hear Lightsey, in the company of his longtime and masterful friends, perform ‘live’ as part of the SmallsLIVE Living Masters Series. They open jubilantly with “In Your Own Sweet Way” letting Mark Whitfield’s guitar shine dynamically. On Track #2, “Freedom Jazz Dance” Lightsey takes the reins and rides the familiar Eddie Harris tune into my listening room, uniquely arranged and spiced-up by Victor Lewis on trap drums.  Lewis makes sure every accent, every nuance is carefully measured and rhythmically placed.  Lightsey has added a Latin groove to this arrangement that inspires me to cha cha around my room.  His original composition, “Heaven Dance” has a rich bass line that weaves its way throughout this presentation, first on the piano and then carried solidly by Santi Debriano on bass.  Whitfield’s guitar soaks up the spotlight during his solo and Victor’s drums punch the song with funk drums that give the tune a contemporary feel.  J. J. Johnson’s composition, “Lament” is a lovely ballad.  Kirk Lightsey caresses this tune with his piano tenderness and Mark Whitfield explores every bar of the song with his tenacious guitar. When Santi Debriano takes out his bow and dances it across the double bass strings, it’s a wonderful moment of improvised art. All in all, here is a historic recording by four jazz legends that represent the beauty, legacy and bountifulness of Kirk Lightsey and his inimitable quartet. 

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PATRICIA BRENNAN – “MORE TOUCH” – Pyroclastic Records

Patricia Brennan, vibraphone with electronics/marimba/composer; Marcus Gilmore, drummer; Mauricio Herrera, percussion; Kim Cass, bass.

The first thing I noticed about this unique project is the electronic manipulation of the vibraphone.  The blurred lines between quarter tones slip and slide from key to key, creating an other-worldly sound. It’s both hypnotic and beautiful.  The second thing I notice is the strange album cover, that might have made sense if the title of the album was ‘Fingerprint.’  But then, we do use “More Touch” when we feel things with our fingertips, so perhaps this black background with a fingerprint on it does imply the album title.

While attending Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, Patricia Brennan participated in several percussion ensembles.  You can hear her love for percussion and infatuation with rhythm throughout this album. We are introduced to it immediately on the very first tune, “Unquiet Respect.”

“A percussion quartet is all about creating a collective texture or timbre.  At the same time, there’s a very strong improvisational culture in my hometown of Veracruz, because of the Afro-Cuban music and Son Jarocho influence,” Patricia explains.

Referring to her percussionist, Brennan says that Mauricio knows these traditions inside and out as a Cuban-born master percussionist.  He also spent four years in Mexico, soaking up their percussive culture, before relocating to New York.  Her drummer, Marcus Gilmore, is a modern jazz player who is rich in the traditions of Cuban, African and Carnatic music. Kim Cass provides the grounding element.  His bass instrument is the sturdy foundation for their music, along with Brennan’s vibraphone and marimba contributions.  Kim can also become his own lead voice, both melodic and rhythmic. His presence is clearly showcased on the compositions “Convergences” and “The Woman Who Weeps.”  All the original music of this album has been written and arranged by Patricia Brennan. The “Women Who Weep” is a song dedicated to Patricia’s aunt and godmother, Gloria, who passed away in January of 2021.  This original song represents a search for comfort during moments of despair. Each tune on this album unfolds, similar to the intriguing pages of a well-written novel.  The compositions bring surprise and intrigue, emotional connection and thoughtful phrases of beauty and mystery to the music. “Square Bimagic” reflects happiness and gaiety, dancing from my CD player like a bright, joyous party.

Patricia Brenna has performed with top symphony orchestras in Mexico while in her teenaged years. She is steeped in Classical music and was a member of several orchestras including the Grammy-nominated John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble.  Brennan’s percussive quartet explores her composing skills and unique musical capabilities.  She re-introduces us to both the marimba and vibraphone with a peek into her very creative mind.  Obviously, Patricia Brennan is a person who pushes the boundaries of her instrument with imagination and gusto.  Brennan’s music is inspirational and Avant-garde in a modern jazz, contemporary kind of way. This is visionary music and Brennan introduces us to it with stark originality.

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Joel Quarrington, bass #1; Travis Harrison, Joseph Phillips & Roberto Occhipinti, bass; Don Thompson, piano/arranger/composer.

This project opens with a magnificent bass solo, bowed by the very talented Joel Quarrington and grandly supported by Don Thompson on piano.  I guarantee, you have never heard an arrangement of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square” quite like this one. In fact, I had to play it three times in a row to soak up all the awesome tenderness, technical beauty of the bass and jazzy merger of this duo, with Don Thompson at the piano. Joel Quarrington is a highly praised classical bassist.

“A few years ago, Joel called me again and this time, he was asking me to write a piece for him to play at a concert in Rochester, New York.  He told me how, on a break from a rehearsal, he’d gone to sleep under the piano and was awakened by me playing it. I was playing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and as he was listening, he was thinking that he’d like to play that song with me someday with those chords.  I’d been playing with George Shearing and Mel Torme for a few years, and Nightingale was one of their showstoppers, so I knew it really well.  The challenge for me was to find a way to write it so it would be special for Joel. I thought that going into a Brazilian feel after the melody would work nicely with the chords, and I remembered that cadenza that John Coltrane played at the end of ‘I Want to Talk About You’ so, I guess my arrangement was inspired by Mel Torme, John Coltrane and Jobim,” Don Thompson explained how this arrangement came about.

“I remember well, the first rehearsal we had for the piece.  Joel drove down from Ottawa … and came into my studio. … We just played it straight through, cadenza and all, without stopping.  Then, he asked me just what exactly I had in mind.  I said I wanted it to sound like a combination of Phil Dwyer and John Coltrane.  (Phil is one of the greatest musicians in Canada and a fantastic saxophone player) and Joel said, Oh, I know exactly what you want.  I won’t waste any more of your time now.  I’ll take it home and learn it.  And he did!  A couple of weeks later, he came back, and I think he’d memorized most of it.  It was amazing.  We played it in Rochester, and it was a huge success,” Don Thompson recalled.

This recording by Joel Quarrington is a unique and exceptional meeting of musicians from jazz and classical backgrounds.  They perform music specifically written for this project by bassist Joel Quarrington, considered one of the greatest classical bass players in the world today.  To add to that brilliance, it’s a collaboration with the great jazz artist and pianist, Don Thompson, who not only is renowned as a bassist, but is equally gifted as both a pianist and vibraphonist. This is an extraordinary listening experience.

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Chris Ruggiero, vocals; Christian Tamburr & Rick Krive, piano; Lindsey Blair, acoustic & electric guitars; Nicky Orta, electric bass; Matthew Rybicki, elec. Bass & double bass; Mike Harvey & Al Sergel, drums; Armando Arce, percussion; Ed Calle, tenor saxophone/flute; Mike Brignola, baritone saxophone/flute; Jim Hacker & Peter Francis, trumpet/flugelhorn; Francisco Dimas & Wayne Bergeron, trumpet; John Kricker, trombone; Joseph Mirrione, Leesa Richards & Jimmy Gallagher, background vocals. Tom Schizzano, additional instrumentation.

This is a warm, easy listening Christmas album.  Chris Ruggiero has a fireside, friendly vocal approach that iHeart radio has recently added to their broadcast platform.  They are showcasing his album on the national adult contemporary holiday playlist.  You may have enjoyed one of his national PBS-Television appearances, honed from the thirty-seven-city tour he just completed. Chris Ruggiero lets no grass grow under his feet or slippery snow slow his pace.  His vocals are cushioned by the beautiful arrangements of Charles Calello and Christian Tamburr. These creative arrangers reinvent several standard Christmas songs we love to hear, including some blues songs like “Please come home for Christmas” and the famed Spector pop song, “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”  Chris has invited the legendary Darlene Love to duet with him on “Grown-Up Christmas List” which is a beautiful song featuring a dynamic melody with a sweeping arrangement to accentuate the interesting bridge, and blossoming hook of the song. Ruggiero has a voice that can crisscross genres with ease.  His jazzy arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas “is joyful and improvisational, featuring Wayne Bergeron on an outstanding trumpet solo. Chris Ruggiero’s tenor voice is sweet, jazzy, emotional, and relaxing. Also, the musicality of this production is exceptional.

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