Archive for January, 2023


January 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 4, 2023


Derrick Gardner, trumpet/composer/arranger; George Caldwell, piano; Obasi Akoto, bass; Kweku Sumbry, drums/African percussion; Robert Dixon, alto & tenor saxophone; Vincent Gardner, trombone.

A shower of drumbeats shatters the quiet of my listening room.  Kweku Sumbry introduces himself to me on percussion, playing a traditional drum piece called “Djemba Kan.” The Djembe drum comes from West African culture and is typically played with the hands. Sumbry is a member of Derrick Gardner & The Jazz Prophets group.  During a 2021 summer of touring the coastal savannas of Ghana, this group visited historic African sites relative to the transatlantic slave trade. Trumpeter Derrick Gardner returned to America and headed for the studio.  The resulting nine tracks of his music strive to honor facets of the African diaspora and his experience in Ghana. This production titled; “Pan Africa” is meant to honor the African American ancestors.

In 1959, Jackie McLean composed a song called “Appointment in Ghana.”  Derrick Gardner and his group open with this song. Sumbry continues propelling the music forward on his goblet shaped Djemba drum. Gardner’s trumpet, Vincent Gardener’s trombone and Robert Dixon’s saxophone stab the melody into place, and I recall this tune from a Jackie McLean album I owned back in the sixties.  With the rhythm section laying down a blistering, up-tempo background, the horns each take spontaneous solos that dance brightly atop the groove.  I enjoy the tight harmonics that Gardner arranges to blend the horns and introduce us to the melody of “10,000 Ships.” The group gives voice to the millions of abducted Africans transported on ships to the Americas, to various islands and to parts of Europe on one horrific journey. Derrick Gardner has also composed the next track entitled, “The Sixth Village.” Africa has been broken up into five distinct pieces that are represented as North, South, East, West and Central Africa.  The African diaspora represents the sixth part, consequently his composition titled “The Sixth Village” reflects the sixth part. A missing piece that some politicians want to eliminate from our school systems and teaching platforms. The percussion brilliance of Sumbry unites with Obasi Akoto’s bass as they lay down an infectious African influenced groove.  George Caldwell steps into the spotlight with his flashy piano solo.  Another original composition by Derrick Gardner is his tribute song to mixed race, General Vincente Ramon Guerrero, who became the first Black Mexican, or person of African descent, to serve as President of Mexico.  He also abolished slavery in Mexico during his tenure. This Derrick Gardner & the Jazz Prophets project is full of history, legacy, spirituality and amazing music.

* * * * * * * * * * *     

LAKECIA BENJAMIN – “PHOENIX” – Whirlwind Recordings

Lakecia Benjamin, alto saxophone/vocals/synths/sound design; Victor Gould, piano/organ/ Fender Rhodes; Anastassiya Petrova, Fender Rhodes/organ; Julius “Orange Julius” Rodriguez, synths; Jahmal Nichols, double bass; Ivan Taylor, double bass & elec. Bass; E. J. Strickland, drums; Negah Santos, percussion; Josh Evans & Wallace Roney Jr., trumpet; Négah Santos, percussion; Josée Klein & Laura Epling, violin; Nicole Neely, viola; Cremaine Booker, cello. SPECIAL GUESTS: Georgia Anne Muldrow, vocals/synthesizer; Patrice Rushen, piano; Dianne Reeves, vocals; Sonia Sanchez, poet; Angela Davis, spoken word; Wayne Shorter, spoken word.

Composer, arranger, and alto saxophone player, Lakecia Benjamin opens this album with the voice of human rights activist, Angela Davis offering her spoken word message over Lakecia’s original music. A siren startles the silence awake. After Angela Davis’ short speech, Lakecia Benjamin enters with her horn section singing the minor melody. After the melodic introduction, Lakecia Benjamin flies free on her alto saxophone and improvises across the open space.  She has composed most of the music for her project and has invited a number of legendary guests to contribute their talents.

“When we came out from the pandemic we weren’t allowed to be broken.  We had to be these beautiful absorbent birds and get to work.  I wanted to highlight each month of that,” Lakecia Benjamin shared.

Consequently, by design, the compositions on “Phoenix” are meant to reflect the skillsets of her triumphant guests; a handful of women in jazz who have influenced Lakecia and the world. Georgia Anne Muldrow is featured vocally on track #3, (the title tune of Phoenix) that employs a rock drum backdrop by E. J. Strickland that beats the piece into place. Synthesizers color the arrangement and the jungle sounds of birds and beasts are somehow blended into the music.  Lakecia’s alto sax soaks up the spotlight like sunrays and she spits out her solo with power and determination.  On “Mercy” Lakecia has invited great jazz singer, Dianne Reeves to the party.  Who else could so beautifully and elegantly interpret Lakecia’s composition?  On this tune, Lakecia and Dianne have a musical conversation, (vocals and saxophone) where both become birds-in-flight, grabbing creativity and freedom by the root, with wings spread as they sail through improvisations. Victor Gould takes a spontaneous solo and strings are added to fatten and beautify the sound. This artist also features renowned poet, Sonia Sanchez who has made such an impact on America’s culture with her wise words.  A phone rings.  The voice of Sonia Sanchez tells us that “life goes on.  Life doesn’t end” inside a poem floating like hope above a solo double bass. “Peace is a Haiku Song” moves into another poem called “Blast” and Sanchez reminds us that peace is a human right.  Lakecia Benjamin also has invited contemporary jazz pianist and composer, Patrice Rushen to the studio.  She brings excitement and joy to the stage with a tune called “Jubilation.”  Lakecia adds her alto saxophone interpretations to these contemporary jazz arrangements.  This is a project of possibilities and performance; of artistic, musical paint that splashes melodic colors, hopes and dreams across an open sky.  This is black history and current events, melted together like warm chocolate icing on sweet cake.  It’s a delivery of opposites; the ying and the yang of what was and what is and what can be.  Lakecia Benjamin honors her mentors and the traditions that paved a path where she could walk tall.  But also, Lakecia strives to create a new way, a new music, a new hope, a fresh dream; one that she can share with the world.  Like the “Phoenix,” Lakecia Benjamin continues to rise towards bright new horizons and fly towards proud, rainbow-colored skies.

* * * * * * * * * *


Josh Sinton, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/alto flute/composer; Jonathan Finlayson, trumpet; Christopher Hoffman, cello; Tom Rainey, drums.

The title of Josh Sinton’s CD, “Four Freedoms” references the freedom from fear, the freedom to be oneself, freedom to love and freedom from advertising. 

“At the time, I was thinking about the enormous debt I owe to the African-American community.  Not just for their cultural achievements, but also everything they’ve taught me about survival, self-sufficiency, community and beauty,” Josh Sinton writes in his press package.

Sinton began work on this project in late summer of 2020, after he received a grant that mandated, he create a new work documenting what he was thinking, feeling and how he was coping at that crucial time in our country’s history. For Sinton, it was a direct reference to the historical awakening Americans wrestled with in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by police.  The nation was weeping in unison in the face of this horrific cruelty.  At the same time, the earth was dealing with a pandemic with millions dying worldwide. The importance of life and survival seemed to be on everyone’s mind.  Josh was inspired to begin this challenging project pulling from the well of his favorite African-American contrapuntists.  He wanted to compose songs that spoke to the sound of a political world; one that he wanted to live in.  A world where everyone could truly be themselves, but still account for and live with other individuals in harmony, and occupying the same time and space. Thus began his composing. His sense of musical counterpoint was informed by great musicians, including a diversity of artists like Henry Threadgill, Duke Ellington, James Brown and J.S. Bach. The conceptual music he created is Avant-garde, melodically lyrical and most importantly free. This reviewer has a deep appreciation for a well-played baritone saxophone.  Josh Sinton does not disappoint and has been one of the leading voices of Brooklyn’s creative music scene since he arrived there in 2004.  His talents have been utilized in the bands of Anthony Braxton, Nate Wooley and Darcy James Argue.  Additionally, Josh Sinton has led his own bands, including Ideal Bread, Predicate Trio and this current Predicate Quartet.  In 2020, he was named ‘Rising Star’ in the baritone saxophone category of the Down Beat Critics’ Poll.  Sinton’s current project offers five songs titled Step, Gateway, Blood, Shards and Violets.  Each of these compositions is reflective of this project’s title, “4 Freedoms” and strives to musically express appreciation for Black History and the continuing African American struggle and their positive contributions to society worldwide.

* * * * * * * * * *

CHRISTIAN McBRIDE – “HEAD BEDLAM” (single release from “PRIME”) – Mack Ave Records

Speaking of Avant-garde, contemporary jazz, bass player Christian McBride has released a single from his “New Jawn Prime” album. 

It moves from wildly chaotic to ultra cool, led by a transition on Christian McBride’s big bad bass. This arrangement features trumpeter, Josh Evans along with Marcus Strickland on saxophone and bass clarinet. The drummer is Nasheet Waits, who was on McBride’s previous Grammy nominated group recording.  I look forward to listening when McBride’s entire CD production is released in 2023.

* * * * * * * * * *


Delfeayo Marsalis, trombone/composer; Mobetta Ledbetter, Jason Stewart & David Pulphus, acoustic bass; Davell Crawford & Kyle Roussel, piano; Arnold Little III, guitar; Chris Severin, bass; Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Glenn Finister Andrews & Herlin Riley, drums; Alexey Marti, congas; Tonya Boyd-Cannon, vocals; Glen David Andrews, whistle/vocals.

UPTOWN JAZZ ORCHESTRA: SAXOPHONES: Roderick Paulin & Scott Johnson, tenor saxophone; Amari Ansari & Khari Allen Lee, alto saxophone; Roger Lewis & Trevarri Huff-Boone, baritone saxophone; Gregory ‘Speedo’ Agid, clarinet. TRUMPETS:  Andrew Baham, Scott Frock, John Gray & Mike Christie. TROMBONES: Terrance ‘Hollywood’ Taplin, T. J. Norris & Ethan Santos. SPECIAL GUEST: Branford Marsalis, tenor & soprano saxophone.

This album is a party in progress!  The shuffle tune titled “Carnival Time” opens this newly released Delfeayo Marsalis CD.  It features Andrew Baham on vocals and a tight, harmonic horn section by the Delfeayo Marsalis Uptown Jazz Orchestra. They splash my listening space with joy.  Track #2 is another rhythm and blues-based tune that mirrors the magic of New Orleans and reflects its historic jazz roots. 

The popularity and development of jazz in New Orleans blossomed from bandleaders like cornetist, Charles ‘Buddy’ Bolden. It began sometime around 1895 when Bolden formed his popular band.  His membership was similar to the Delfeayo Marsalis congregation, although smaller in size.  Buddy Bolden’s ensemble consisted of Cornet, Clarinet, Trombone, guitar, bass and drums.  Like Delfeayo’s group, Bolden’s music was full of joy and inspired dancing.  Other jazz stars that were mentored by the New Orleans jazz scene were Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Joe Oliver and Johnny and Warren Dodds, to name just a few.  Like those before him, Delfeayo Marsalis and his famous brothers were born and bred on this New Orleans jazz scene, being taught and inspired by their legendary father, Ellis Marsalis Jr.  Delfeayo seems to have music history in the palm of his hands and the bell of his horn.

The composition “Big Chief” features Glen David Andrews whistling like a flute to introduce this swinging tune.  Andrews also sings and there is a show-stopping tenor saxophone solo by Branford Marsalis. The orchestra arrangements are plush and joyful, with various drummers punching the rhythm and encouraging me to get up and dance. The song “Uptown Boogie” reminds me of a Ray Charles tune when Ray used to sing “oh-o – o -o, Mary Ann.”  Delfeayo Marsalis composed this one and takes a solo on trombone, introducing us to the melody followed by the trumpet solo of Andrew Baham.  The sensuous sax solo by Branford Marsalis is quite beautiful.  This entire album is stuffed with happiness and proudly displays the roots of jazz with New Orleans flair and gusto.  Delfeayo Marsalis has composed four of the songs on this production. Celebrated as a respected musician, composer and producer, to date Delfeayo has produced over 120 recordings.  He has received one Grammy award and several Grammy nominations.  Marsalis formed the Uptown Jazz Orchestra in 2008.  In the year 2000, Marsalis founded the Uptown Music Theatre, a non-profit organization that empowers youth.  He has also written sixteen musicals and composed over 100 songs that introduce youth to jazz.  He’s proudly reached over ten thousand students nationally with his “Swinging with the Cool School Jazz Workshops.”

“This album is a celebration of the greatness of New Orleans culture.  Mardi Gras is an interesting time because people who are not from New Orleans descend upon the city and want to have a big party. … But when everybody leaves, the community is still here. The music of Earl King of The Meters or Professor Longhair represents how they lived and who they were as humans.  We wanted to do our best to honor that legacy and besides, it’s just so funky!” Delfeayo Marsallis praises his city and his music.

If you’re looking for something to boost your day and brighten your life, every one of the dozen songs on this “Mardi Gras Day” production are well-written, perfectly arranged and full of high-spirited energy. 

* * * * * * * * *


Congratulations to JAVON JACKSON, who I reviewed in my February 2, 2022 column. Javon been nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the “Outstanding Jazz Album” category.  The Saxophonist and composer released “The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni” and that album production is being considered by the 54th Annual Awards event.  The winners will be announced during their ‘Live’ TV special airing Saturday, February 25th, 2023 on BET.  In my column titled “Love Inspired Jazz Recordings” I described Javon Jackson’s CD as a project of love, projected through music with arms tightly wrapped around Christian music, hymns and spiritual songs.  Love has seen us through slavery and tragedy; war, death and rebirth; bondage, survival and the building of golden empires. Javon Jackson’s songs reflect a deep, historic, spiritual love.

* * * * * * * * *


January 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

January 25, 2023


Joe McCarthy, drums/arranger/composer/bandleader; Vince Norman, session conductor/arranger/composer; Boris Kozlov, bass; Luis Perdomo, piano; Samuel Torres, percussion; Vinny Valentino, guitar; Andrew Gould & Alejandro Aviles, alto saxophone; Ben Kano & Luis Hernandez, tenor saxophone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; TRUMPETS: Nick Marchione, John Chudoba, Brandon Lee, & Alex Norris. TROMBONES: Mark Patterson, Ryan Kerberle, John Yao, & James Borowski (bass trombone).

Joe McCarthy’s eighteen-piece, New York Afro Bop Alliance Big Band presents their take on the legendary Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite.  It’s quite astounding how Joe McCarthy and his ensemble manage to keep intact the original, classical, orchestral music and still add spunk and Afro-Cuban spice to each arrangement. This is an absolute mind-bending listening experience. For me, it’s one of the most creative and exceptional big band arranging I have heard in years. Drummer, arranger, bandleader Joe McCarthy has outdone himself on this project.  After all, the Nutcracker Suite is a world-renowned, well respected, musical work by the celebrated composer Pyotr Llyich Tchaikovsky.

“I knew that I could come up with something that had not been done before. … I did an enormous amount of study and preparation for The Pan American Nutcracker Suite.  My job was to honor Tchaikovsky, but also make the music true to a certain sound I was hearing.  We drew on influences from Venezuela, from traditional Chinese drumming, from New Orleans.  In one movement, we swing out of respect to Duke’s version, but we didn’t copy anything.  We’re able to transport people to a different place,” explained Joe McCarthy.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” intrigues me with that beautiful baritone saxophone solo by Frank Basile and the incredible percussive splashes of fire and flame.  McCarthy describes his version of this popular composition as “cha cha meets 6/8 with a touch of adventure in the ensemble writing.”

Joe McCarthy has worked closely with comrade, Vince Norman to compose and arrange this masterpiece.  Although the album was released in Autumn of 2022, I could not forgive myself if I ignored the creativity and amazing beauty of this project. I’m late reviewing it, but this is timeless music in a unique and artistic way. The Afro Bop Alliance Big Band opens the “Chinese Dance” tune with a bizarre, but engaging hammering percussion.  McCarthy says that’s “Traditional Chinese drumming/”

“The groove and vibe bring a retro attitude.  I was fiddling with metallic sounds that stayed on the record,” McCarthy explained.

Joe McCarthy and Vince Norman have employed a variety of musical rhythms and grooves from all over the world.  You’ll hear a Venezuelan groove called Joropo on “Waltz of the Flowers,” propelled by Venezuelan pianist, Luis Perdomo, who set-up that groove with the beat falling on two and three beneath that lovely and familiar waltz melody we recognize. Vinny Valentino’s guitar struts to stage center and improvises freely. The Mambo rhythm is used to infuse “Trepak” and the McCarthy drums open that tune solo, grabbing the listener’s attention and fusing the arrangement with energy.  This is a hybrid work, produced by incorporating Latin rhythms and jazz excellence into a classical and historic music that is respected world-wide. Quoting from the liner notes of Michael Ambrosino:

“Channeling influences like Ray Barretto, Mario Bauza, Chico O’Farrill and the famed Fort Apache Band, McCarthy has honed percussive skills that extend beyond simply keeping time.”

* * * * * * * * *

FALKNER EVANS – “THROUGH THE LENS” –  Consolidated Artists Publications, LLC (CAP)

Falkner Evans, solo piano.

You never know exactly what you are going to get when you read that an album is totally improvised music.  But with the first few verses played by Falkner Evans, on “Through the Lens” (his latest album) I am enchanted by his compositions and piano mastery.  Before his beloved wife Linda passed away, Falkner recalls how he used to sit at the living room piano and play whatever flowed out of his mind, soul and fingers.

“That sounds great.  Have you ever thought about going into the studio and doing something like that?” his wife would ask him. 

In the past he had shrugged the suggestion off.  He didn’t feel ready to approach such a project. But two years after his wife’s unexpected suicide, Falkner has embraced her suggestion and this album is the wonderful result.  He offers us a musical journey into his mindset, glistening with peace and beauty. As I listen to the first two compositions, starting with “Soul Witness,” a song over ten minutes long but never boring, I am drawn into the warmth. This improvised music by Evans radiates a gentle, piano expression of love. “Closeness … Desire” is nearly as long (09:28) and just as lovely, hypnotic and intriguing, like the first track.

“As musicians or as human beings, we’re always trying to find out what works for us, what doesn’t work for us and how we move forward.  I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I knew that I could do this,” Falkner asserts.

“Through the Lens” reveals the aching, loving emotion buried deep inside Falkner Evans.  It pours out of him like sweet honey from the comb.  Like honey, its sticky in the space between disc and ear, demanding we listen and taste the gorgeous freedom of this improvised music. Falkner Evans takes us from the tentative to the tender; from the passionate to prudence.  This is a musical bowl that Falkner Evans fills with equal parts of technique and imagination. He takes his bittersweet memories and adds an equal measure of hope to create a musical palate of bright colors and tear-drenched pastels.  The rainbow of his work is in reinventing his music, along with his life, and being daring enough to share it with the world.

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


Libby York, vocals; Randy Napoleon, guitar; Rodney Whitaker, bass; Keith Hall, drums.

Over a forty-year career, Libby York offers us this, her fifth album release as a bandleader and producer. Once again, she reaches into the pile of respected composer material and extracts several of not-so-familiar tunes by popular songwriters.  She opens with the Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen tune, “Hit the Road to Dreamland.”  Accompanied by the steadfast bass mastery of Rodney Whitaker and the sensitive, accompanying guitar of Randy Napoleon, the listener is drawn to Libby’s warm vocals and her easy way of delivering a song, while embellishing the lyrics with emotion. Track #2 is a somewhat obscure Jobim tune titled “Estrada Branca” (This Happy Madness). Track #3 is the Rodgers and Hart familiar “Mountain Greenery” tune. It skips into my room at an up-tempo pace. On this arrangement, (featuring Whitaker’s bass) Libby York displays her ‘swing’ skills.

York is a Chicago native and comes from a musical family.  Her father sang with big bands occasionally and wrote a nightlife column for Northwestern University student magazine.  Both parents played piano and the house was plush with recordings by Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and others celebrating the Great American Songbook. Libby York discovered singing late in life, moving to New York and studying with renowned jazz singer, composer and activist, Abbey Lincoln.  She honed her vocal abilities by singing with New York big bands. Libby interprets an Abbey Lincoln song, “Throw it Away,” on this recording that has become a jazz standard. In fact, Libby York’s phrasing reminds me a little bit of Abbey Lincoln. Ms. York’s cool, laid-back style propels us back to the days of Peggy Lee, June Christy and Julie London. 

* * * * * * * * * *

WILLIAM CARN – “CHOICES” – Independent Recording

William Carn, keyboards/vocals/trombones; HiFilo (aka: Todd Pentney), keyboards; William Sperandei, trumpet; Kelly Jefferson, tenor saxophone; Jesse Ryan, alto saxophone; Ernesto Cervini, Davide DiRenzo & Larnell Lewis, drums. 

Toronto-based trombonist, pianist and composer, William Carn is one of Canada’s contemporary jazz trombone players.  He has released three critically acclaimed albums that have been Juno nominated when he was part of the band, Carn Davidson 9 (with his wife Tara Davidson).  He is also a part of the Juno winning six-piece group called ‘Turboprop.’  This latest production, by William Carn, showcases his stylistic departure from these other releases. While being locked down, because of the COVID pandemic, Carn began to explore technologically driven music.  This album was composed, recorded, and conceived by Carn at his home. Guest musicians were invited to contribute to the project from their homes via the magic of computers.  Each of William Carn’s compositions represents major events happening over the past two years and were recorded, edited and mixed remotely.  His compositions reference the fear of the unknown that came with the threat of COVID 19, the Black Lives Matter movement and Hong Kong protests, the war in the Ukraine, the death of William’s beloved cat and feelings of gratitude and love.  Opening with “Breathe In” Carn offers an introduction like a meditation tape. When the bass line kicks,  Carn’s trombone takes center stage.  It’s only a minute and sixteen seconds long, so it feels like I just took a quick breath and exhaled.  Suddenly, the tune is over and I’m disappointed, because I wanted to hear more of that sound; that melody; that groove. I think this was a major missed opportunity. “The Inertia of Complacency” is Track #2, followed by “Heroyam Slava” that sounds like a sad hymnal. It was inspired by the tragic Russian invasion and war against Ukraine. The title is in Ukrainian and translates to “Glory to the Heroes.”  “Get Up” is a strong example of the electronic, contemporary sound that William Carn is creating on this production and is my second favorite on this album. The melody lilts along with a funk drive in the rhythm section.  Carn’s trombone takes an improvisational solo, followed by Jesse Ryan providing his own creative alto saxophone solo.  The groove and mood change towards the end of this arrangement, becoming more funk-tified.  It makes for a very interesting arrangement.

William Carn’s song, “Goodbye Old Friend” is a short ballad tributing his cat. Carn ends this musical journey with a short outro titled “Breathe Out.”  Although I enjoy the tone of William Carn’s trombone, I miss the excitement and spontaneity that only a live band can offer, when they play together and exchange the magic that is created between musicians in a studio or during a ‘live’ setting. 

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


Richie Goods, electric & upright bass/composer/vocals; Chien Chien Lu, vibraphone/ marimba/vocals/composer; Quintin Zoto, guitar; Allan Mcdnard, Lil john Roberts & David Frazier Jr., drums; Danny Sadownick, percussion; Big Yuki, keyboards; Shedrick Mitchell, organ/piano; Brett Williams, keyboards/Fender Rhodes; Mike King, Fender Rhodes/organ; VOCALS: Sy Smith (vocals/composer), Jamison Ross & Dr. Adolfus Lacey.

The beautiful vocal of Sy Smith snatches at my ear as her soprano floats above Richie Goods bass and Chien Chien Lu’s vibraphone on their original composition titled “Water.”  This is a perfect way to open this creative project.  It highlights the multi-dimensional, musical conversation between Goods and Lu, including Smith on this first tune.  All three have composed this piece and it’s contemporary jazz with a flair towards the unpredictable. This union between Goods and Lu began during the pandemic lock-down where they became “Connected” (bass and vibes) while hosting livestream concerts.  After this venture, they decided to work together more extensively. Both share a love for finding grooves that solidify the tunes they write and arrangements that support their creative, melodic ideas.  Goods and Lu have contributed six of the ten songs on this album.  The goal of their album is to encourage peace and love, while protesting the unwarranted violence against both African American and Asian communities. “Treasure Mountain” is Track #2, another original by the artistic pair.  This one is more ethereal with a funk beat propelled by David Frazier Jr. on drums and Goods’ rich, raw bass dancing the rhythm along.  When Chien Chien Lu’s mallets enter the picture, it brightens and colors the song. 

“Our work together has been the most natural and organic thing I have done in my career,” Goods remarked of Lu’s contribution to their partnering.

The current single release from this album is “Rain.”  This is electronic, contemporary, funk jazz that is both melodic and rhythmic.  It showcases two musical comrades, who share their compositions and their talent in a rich tapestry of creativity.  They are definitely “Connected.”

* * * * * * * * * * *

JOE LOCKE – “MAKRAM” Label Circle 9 Records

Joe Locke, vibraphone/keyboards/composer; Jim Ridl, piano/keyboards/composer; Lorin Cohen, acoustic & electric bass/composer; Samvel Sarkisyan, drums/cymbals/composer. SPECIAL GUESTS: Doug Beavers, trombone; Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone; Eric C. Davis, French horn; Samir Nasr Eddine, oud; Bahaa Daou, riq (small tambourine); Tim Garland, soprano saxophone/bass clarinet/flute.

Joe Locke is a master of his instrument, and after all these years as a performing vibraphonist, composer and bandleader, this project reiterates that he is still growing and expanding his creativity.  The title, “Makram” is a tribute to Lebanese bassist, Makram Aboul Hosn. This project measures the brilliance and buoyancy of Joe Locke’s fifty-plus-year career in music. It also spotlights the incredible talents of his bandmates. They open the “Makram” album with a familiar, up-tempo jazz arrangement of “Love for Sale.”  On this Track #1, Jim Ridl takes a breathtaking solo on piano, fingers racing across the piece, chasing the fast tempo, and never stumbling or wavering.  Samvel Sarkisyan is tenacious on drums, bright as a shiny piece of gold and just as valuable. Joe Locke follows this exciting, up-tempo arrangement with a beautiful ballad that he has composed called, “Raise Heaven (for Roy).” This arrangement invites horns to the table and the musical meal is bountiful. Some of Locke’s compositions and arrangements border on rock and others on contemporary fusion. Joe Locke attributes his influences on the vibraphone to Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. Some years ago, he and Hutcherson performed a tribute concert to Milt Jackson together. I discovered this historic video (below).

The bass player has penned “Interwoven Hues” and it’s a strong composition with a bebop, straight-ahead feel.  Lorin Cohen steps forward to take an impressive bass solo after Jim Ridl sparkles on the eight-eight keys. This is one of my favorite tunes on Locke’s album, along with Joe Locke’s “Elegy For Us All,” a song that mirrors Locke’s activist-side and his concern with the dark forces that threaten democracy in the United States. Locke is concerned about attempts to roll-back decades of progress made since the Civil Rights era. Joe Locke’s tenderness and mastery on his instrument continues and is quite evident on the beautiful jazz standard by Strayhorn, “Lush Life.”  His vibraphone solo closes this impressive album with shining flair and sweet resolve.

Locke found joy in playing drums and studying piano at age eight. Five years later, he was smitten by his love for the vibraphone. He began playing in rock bands at first. As a teenager, he discovered the beauty and intoxication of jazz. This infatuation with music continued academically. He attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  In 1981, he moved to New York City and found work as a sideman with legendary musicians like Kenny Barron, Freddy Cole, Marvin “Smitty” Smith and Eddie Henderson.  As a bandleader he has recorded nearly thirty albums and has contributed his talents, playing with notable artists like Grover Washington, Cecil Taylor, Dianne Reeves, Eddie Palmieri, Ron Carter and even the Beastie Boys. This album will surely become another strong notch in a belt that has encircled the jazz scene for over half century.

* * * * * * * * * *


Doug MacDonald, guitar/composer/bandleader; Bill Cunliffe & Andy Langham, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Paul Kreibich, drums; SAXOPHONES: Kim Richmond, Alex Budman, Rickey Woodard & Glen Bergre, tenor saxophones; Tim McKay, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Mike Campagna, Dan Fornero, Carl Saunders & Aaron Janik. TROMBONES: Ira Nepus, Les Benedict, Ivan Malespin & Rich Bullock (bass trombone).

Southern California based guitarist, Doug MacDonald enters 2023 with a new release featuring his “Big Band Extravaganza.”  This is his first all-star, 17-piece jazz orchestra project that features all original music except the standard, “But Not For Me.”  Throughout his career, Doug MacDonald has released several recordings in a variety of settings, but this is his first-time recording, composing and arranging for a big band.  They open swinging hard on Doug’s composition, “Toluca Lake Jazz.”  Led by the bass of Chuck Berghofer, Track #2 is called “Rashomon” and is arranged in a light Latin way with Kim Richmond flying like a wild bird above the melodic rhythm track before Doug MacDonald enters with his guitar solo.  “Luces Azules” is soaked in the blues and “Aventura En Triadas” spotlights Doug MacDonald’s guitar talents and a lovely baritone saxophone solo by Tim McKay.  On “Desert Jazz” tenor sax man, Rickey Woodard takes stage center along with trumpeter Aaron Janik.  On every one of these nine original songs penned by MacDonald, he soaks up the spotlight on his guitar. However, he has arranged these big band charts to include the diversity of Southern California talent he has invited to the studio. The crème de la crème of Los Angeles jazz players make magic with MacDonald’s arrangements and interpret his songs with precision and creativity.

* * * * * * * * * *


January 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

January 15, 2023


Jesse Davis, alto saxophone; Spike Wilner, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.

After listening to five minutes of this amazing alto saxophone player, I was wondering why I had never heard of Jesse Davis.  It could be because this album was produced on the East Coast with New York players, but more likely it’s because Jesse Davis has been living in Italy for nearly twenty years, as basically a treasure and a gift to the European jazz scene.  On this “Live” encounter at Smalls Jazz Club in NYC he merges with Peter Washington on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums and Spike Wilner on piano to let us all know he’s back on the American scene in a wonderful way!

They open with Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy.”  Each of these stellar players takes time to introduce themselves into the arrangements with brilliant solos.  This is the kind of bebop that pulls me into the production like an ocean whirlpool.  Jesse Davis has been playing his jazzy horn for almost forty years and his tone and timing takes me back to the 1950 – 1960 jazz days when jazz wasn’t just an artform, but it was a way of life. It was a time when the hip crowd lived and breathed jazz. Jesse Davis and his quartet push the hands of the clock back to those cool days when Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lester Young, Milt Jackson, Chet Baker and vocalists like Betty ‘Bebop’ Carter and Carmen McCrae were all the rage. John Coltrane’s “Impressions” was being played on radio stations across the globe and Herbie Hancock was making history with his “Maiden Voyage.”  “All Blues” was on my record player 24/7 and Charlie Parker had set the bar high for the jazz scene to jump over and above. This quartet brings back memories of that time and place, when Horace Silver and Ahmad Jamal were stirring things up and I was dancing in Detroit blue-lit basements to “Poinciana.”   On Track #2, the familiar jazz anthem of “Ceora” features Spike Wilner showing off his mastery on grand piano. 

Jesse Davis arrived in New York City in the late 1980s from New Orleans where he had studied with Ellis Marsalis at the New Orleans Centre for Creative Arts.  Spike Wilner describes Jesse as “….an old man even when he was a kid.  I can’t think of any other jazz musicians from my generation as authentic as Jesse Davis.  Jesse is the real deal!” The pianist sings his bandleader’s praises.

On “These Foolish Things” Jesse Davis pours so much sweetness into the tune he could put sugar out of business.  Peter Washington struts his stuff on an impressive double bass solo.  They make this lovely old ballad brand new and shiny. On The Monk tune, “Rhythm-a-Ning,” Joe Farnsworth steps into the spotlight on drums and is dynamic. Every tune is masterfully played, and this is an album featuring great musicians and awesome jazz compositions. I will play this Jesse Davis recording over and over again.  His music makes for a very Happy New Year! 

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


Trevor Dunn, bass/composer; Mary Halvorson, guitar; Ches Smith, drums/timpani/conga; Carla Kihlstedt, viola/violin’ Oscar Noriega, bass clarinet/clarinet in B flat; Mariel Roberts, cello; Anna Webber, alto flute/flute in C.

According to the Dunn press package, Trevor Dunn was born in 1968, and at age thirteen, he discovered the electric bass. Four years later, at seventeen, he co-founded the Avant-rock band, ‘Mr. Bungle.’  Ever since recognizing that music was his path, he has been torn between rock music, jazz, chamber music and the Avant-garde.  This album reflects his conundrum, moving between musical worlds like a restless hawk searching for prey. It also explores eclectic inspirations from a 1962 album by saxophone great, Paul Desmond and guitarist, Jim Hall (that was paired with strings).  Somehow, he has mixed his love of chamber music and jazz with a very unique and historic time in French Christian history, when an 18th century sect developed their music, prayers and fevered worship into forms of convulsions and miracles; sometimes orgiastic displays of the divine and often challenging, transcendent music born of séance chants. Thus, the title he has chosen for this production reflects that call to the dead and departed in the form of “Seances.”

Trevor Dunn is referring to some, historically considered heretics by fellow servants of God in the 18th century France community. After the death of a beloved deacon, the deacon’s tomb became the center of certain phenomena.  People began to say they were healed when they visited his tomb and several miracles are documented.  Eventually, the church of Saint Medard was built on that site, but closed in 1732 because of all the strange stories and consistent activity.  The Convulsionnaires were banished, but they kept up their seances in private homes.  (Note the title of Dunn’s quartet is named after them; Convulsant.)  Trevor Dunn braids that historic information into this project with musical arrangements that both intimidate and fracture the space between compact disc and the listener ears. 

Dunn explains: “The name of the band comes from a Surrealist concept.  So, when I read about the Convulsionnaires, it felt like returning back to the origins of that.  Whether you believe these miracles happened or not, the idea of mass hysteria and group belief is fascinating to me.  So, this one, weird, obscure concept became a kind of unifying principle for this album. I don’t know how much my research informed the actual music beyond the subliminal, but interesting accidents happen sometimes, and I like to grab onto those accidents.”

This is a production that crashes into space with molecular force, explodes all around the listener, floating like confetti through the air, with broken pieces of improvisation and strips of melodies that flutter in the air like a New Year’s Eve celebration.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano; Eric Harland, drums; Matt Brewer, bass.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba has composed all the music for this Trio D’ete album and it is brilliant, like his piano playing, his orchestration, his arranging and his creativity.  When I see his name, I know I am about to experience something amazing and completely unique. This new album, by Grammy Award winning pianist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, introduces a new trio to his fans.  The last trio production he recorded featured Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette on “Skyline” and they won a Grammy Award in 2022 for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.  I loved that album, and I find this recent endeavor just as beautiful, complex, and worthy of an award or two.  The week before Christmas, Eric Harland and Matt Brewer met with Gonzalo to discuss this project and rehearse for two days before entering the studio for a 3-day session. There is a warm camaraderie between these musicians.

“I’ve seen Matt’s evolution quite closely. He’s very open minded, curious to learn and absorb as much as he can. … We toured, including Havana Jazz Festival with Pedrito Martinez as a guest.  After the concert, Matt and Marcus (Gilmore) visited many well-known people related to Afro-Cuban religions and Afro-Cuban music and tried to absorb as much of the ambience that they could.  Matt actually bought a set of bata, and brought it to his house in New York, where he studied with Roman Diaz. That helps a lot when we play together,” Gonzalo Rubalcaba expressed.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Eric Harland have known each other since 2007, when they were part of the Monterey All-Star unit that toured the United States and they recorded one album.

This recent album opens with a tune called “Infantil,” an original composition Rubalcaba wrote for guitar legend, John McLaughlin.  The structure employs metric modulations, with staccato chords that move from funk to Latin to straight-ahead jazz. Rubalcaba’s fingers move as swiftly as hummingbird wings across the black and white keys. Harland’s drums punctuate in all the right places.

“He’s (John McLaughlin) always had the feeling of someone who has remained fresh and active and curious over so many decades, keeping the attitude of a young rebel,” Gonzalo explained the powerful and creative  arrangement he wrote that  tributes McLaughlin.

Throughout this awesome album, the rhythms are challenging and often become angular with complex timing that mixes melodies, harmonies and rhythms in various and surprise situations.  Perhaps Harland best explained this ability and complex musical challenge in the “Turning Point” liner notes.  He talks about the instant simpatico between himself and Rubalcaba.

“Gonzalo’s first instrument was classical percussion and my first instrument was piano,” says Harland. “So, we both have an understanding of harmony and also how rhythm can be moved around.  We feel the relationship between drums and piano.”

“Turning” is straight-ahead beautiful and up-tempo.  It speeds off the cd like a car hitting a patch of black ice. 

This is an album plush with brilliance, Bolero’s, unique compositions and master musicianship that showcases the mind and talent of composer/pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and his bandmates. 

* * * * * * * * * *


Harvie S., acoustic bass/composer; Roni Ben-Hur, guitar/composer; Sylvia Cuenca, drums.

The combination of two string instruments and a set of trap drums is comforting in its simplicity.  This trio opens with the Miles Davis/Gil Evans composition, “Boplicity.”  I enjoy the way first the guitar sings the melody and then the bass sings the next verse.  They are gently edged forward by the prodding drum sticks of Sylvia Cuenca. When the bass solos, the guitar gently chords rhythm changes in the background and when Roni Ben-Hur solos on guitar, Harvie S. walks his bass, providing a strong rhythm track to support his guitar brilliance.  On track #2, “For Duke P.” (a Bobby Hutcherson composition), Roni Ben-Hur takes off like a jet plane, doubling the tempo on his guitar and racing into the universe, accompanied by Sylvia’s steady drum beat.  The trio is straight-ahead and pushing through space with a steady drive; a musical spaceship. Even with the energy and up-tempo, there is still a feeling of warmth and comfort that radiates from these three musicians.

“We listen intently, and we play with a lot of generosity toward each other,” Roni Ben-Hur explained their warm camaraderie in the liner notes.

On “The Gentle Art of Love” their lovely ballad arrangement features a stunning solo by Harvie S. on upright bass, playing the melody and shimmering in the spotlight.  This is a beautiful Oscar Pettiford tune and while Roni Ben-Hur strums his guitar, the bass offering is like a warm blanket. It covers us with its quiet, rich beauty and warmth.  When Ben-Hur enters on guitar, he brings his own magic to the forefront.  The Harvie S. original composition, simply titled, “Ray,” features Harvie S. on bass, setting the tempo, along with Sylvia Cuenca at the top.  He introduces the melody and after one verse, Roni Ben-Hur joins in on guitar and they sing the melody in unison. It’s a very catchy, happy melody that will make you want to sing along. This song was written for the great bassist, Ray Brown.  Like Harvie S., Co-leader, Roni Ben-Hur has composed one song for this project.  It’s called “What Was” and is infused with Latin rhythm. Both Harvie S. and Roni Ben-Hur are very melodic composers. Their repertoire also sparkles with jazz standards we know and love  This album is very easy on the ears and leaves a sweet taste on your musical palate that might make you go back for one more taste.

* * * * * * * * * * *


John Paul McGee, piano/vocals/composer; Joel Powell, bass; Tyson Jackson, drums; Michael Walton, saxophone; Zebulon Ellis, Kenneth Lowe, Wendi Henderson-Wyatt & Amber Bullock, vocals; string arrangements by Roy Cotton.

John Paul McGee may arguably be one of the most gifted, classically trained millennial piano players to incorporate gospel, jazz and European classical music into one brilliant project.  At age four, John Paul’s mother noticed her son’s ability to play and reproduce church hymns and familiar songs he heard on the radio at the piano.  She made sure he got a solid education in music to enhance his natural, God-given abilities.  Fondly called ‘JP’ by friends and family, his talents have projected him onto the stages of prominent gospel artists including Yolanda Adams, The Clark Sisters, Donnie McClurkin, and the NFL Players Choir.  He has also performed with legends like Patti Labelle, Najee and in 2014, John Paul McGee released his own instrumental holiday project called, “A Christmas With John Paul.”  That album debuted in the top 10 on Billboard’s Gospel chart. 

JP’s current release offers the listener seventeen songs that John Paul McGee has arranged, including several gospel compositions, a couple of jazz tunes, as well as one of his original compositions. I am captivated by Track #3, the familiar “Amazing Grace” gospel song, that features Michael Walton on saxophone.  It was taped during a ‘live’ concert and John Paul McGee’s piano skills glisten in the spotlight. The ensemble’s arrangement is all jazz when presenting this age-old spiritual.  It makes for a creative transformation. This is followed by “The Fount.”  The original title is “Come Thou Fount” and is a spiritual song that JP has re-arranged. It too was performed ‘live’ to a receptive and appreciative audience. His piano playing has a way of drawing the listener into the music.  The first six songs on this “Gospejazzical” album are reflections about the gift of life.  The second six songs on this project reflect  life after the human experience has ended.  On Artie Butler’s standard song, “Here’s To Life” Roy Cotton adds string arrangements to fatten the beautiful, piano accompaniment by John Paul. Featured vocalist, Wendi Henderson-Wyatt, does a lovely job of interpreting this song, often taking liberties with the melody that are quite surprising.  Her interpretation is improvisational, gospel and quite jazzy. 

This is followed by John Paul’s original composition titled “Manifest” that is introduced by a very classical, one-minute and thirty-three second “Manifest Overture.”  “When we all Get to Heaven” is another awesome combination of gospel music and jazz, with a straight-ahead feel that manages to incorporate a shuffle into the arrangement.  Joel Powell’s bass solo is outstanding.  Tyson Jackson also takes time to shine, exhibiting his talents on trap drums during this arrangement.  John Paul McGee’s fingers dance across the keyboard like acrobats.  JP’s piano playing on “The Lord Will Make A Way” features Kenneth Lowe on vocals, and reminds me of a Les McCann-type groove. This is an exciting introduction to John Paul McGee and his unique style of combining deep rooted spirituality with gospel, jazz and his classical training.  He incorporates several talented people into this production, but the star of this album is absolutely John Paul McGee and his amazing piano brilliance.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Loren Daniels, piano/vocals/background vocals; Belden Bullock, bass; Jonathon Peretz, drums. GUEST APPEARANCE: Reggie Pittman, flugelhorn.

Pianist and vocalist, Loren Daniels, has transformed the John Lennon and Paul McCartney pop music of the 1960s into 21st Century modernized jazz.  With originality and the help of Belden Bullock on bass and Jonathon Peretz on drums, Daniels reintroduces us to familiar songs like “Drive My Car” and “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride.”   I enjoy the Les McCann-take on “Drive My Car” with a strong R&B influenced groove.  On “Ticket to Ride” Jonathon Peretz cuts loose and slams a drum solo into place that’s memorable. The funk feeling on “I’m Only Sleeping” is propelled by Bullock’s bass line and the Peretz drumsticks.  Daniels lets his voice float atop the track, soft as puffy clouds across a blue sky.  He layers background voices that keep the arrangement modern and surprises the listener. The vocal arrangements grab my attention with their closely applied harmonics.  This is a wonderful adventure into the Beatles music with delightful, new, and pleasing arrangements.  For example, “Eight Days A Week” is arranged in 5/4 time and it makes the song sound brand new.  On the fade of many of the songs, Loren Daniels shows off his scat skills.  The familiar “Come Together” tune reinvents itself with an unexpected bass line and jazzy background voices that sound like the ‘Take 6’ group. Although Loren Daniels is not a great jazz vocalist, he is an amazing vocal arranger, and he shines as a producer and pianist.  This album made me appreciate the music of McCartney and Lennon in a whole new light.

* * * * * * * * * *


John Bailey, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; George Cables, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Victor Lewis, drums/cymbals.

If straight-ahead jazz is your ‘thing,’ this album is one that you will certainly enjoy.  With “Time Bandits” horn master John Bailey explores the vitality of the jazz trumpet tradition.  The opening, original composition by John Bailey is the title tune.  It blasts from my CD player like the starting point of the Indianapolis 500 racetrack. These players sound, not only like masters of their instruments, but they also sound hungry to play.  This is Bailey’s third album as a bandleader and the quartet laid these tracks down at Van Gelder’s Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey in early 2022.  It’s a dream team, for sure.  Bailey is proud to have each member of his trio onboard.

“George (Cables) is deeply inspiring.  He first blew me away when I heard Dexter Gordon’s ‘Manhattan Symphonie’ as a teen.  When we met, I quickly felt his warmth and generosity, both musically and personally,” John Bailey shared.

When Bailey speaks about in-demand bassist, Scott Colley, he says: “At the Village Vanguard, performing duo with guitarist Jim Hall, I could see that he was not only a virtuoso on his instrument, but also a stunningly empathic musician.  Great pitch, great swing and great ears; all qualities that musicians value highly!”

To top off the excellence of his rhythm section is the great Victor Lewis on drums.  Lewis has performed with Grover Washington, Johnny Griffin, Art Farmer and was a main stay of the Kenny Barron Quintet. He passes on his legacy as part of the faculty at Rutgers University in New Jersey, inspiring drummers and coaching jazz combos.

On this project, John Bailey shows his composer skills to the maximum, starting with the title tune, then with “Various Nefarious” that is a jab at the COVID virus and the resulting pandemic with its nefarious variants.  It has a gospel feel to the arrangement which is not surprising since Bailey spent many years with the Ray Charles ensemble.  “Rose” is a twelve-tone composition, with staccato breaks and a bass/trumpet duet that opens the tune. Throughout, Victor Lewis is creative and tenacious on drums, driving the tunes forward and always on point. He takes a spirited solo towards the end of this tune that soaks up the spotlight like a bright yellow sponge.  They close with a John Bailey original titled “Groove Samba.” It’s a song that makes me glad to be alive.  A hip-shaking, foot-tapping, finger-snapping tune where George Cable dances over the eighty-eight keys, laying down not only melodic lines but grooving with blues chords and rhythmic piano excitement.  He inspires John Bailey into action on his trumpet and then provides a soulful cushion for Scott Colley to strut his bass solo. Drummer Victor Lewis smashes onto the fade like gangbusters and New Year’s Eve fireworks.    

* * * * * * * * *

EDDIE PALMIERI PRESENTS SONIDO SOLAR – Truth Revolution Recording Collective

Zaccai Curtis, piano/arranger; Luques Curtis, bass/arranger; Marcos Lopez, bongos/cowbell; Reinaldo de Jesus, congas; Camilo Molina, timbales/drums; Jeremy Powell, tenor saxophone; Joe Fiedler, trombone; Jonathan Powell, trumpet/arranger; Louis Fouche, alto saxophone/arranger.  SPECIAL GUEST: Eddie Palmieri, piano.

On December 18th, Eddie Palmieri celebrated his eight-fifth birthday.  The NEA Jazz Master continues to explore his musical horizons by experimenting with new ensemble settings and investing in the younger music generation.  This album was recorded to celebrate his iconic Latin musicianship and legend by presenting an album that calls itself “Sonido Solar.”  That translates to Solar Sound.  Palmieri, who is celebrated as “The Sun of Latin Music” makes a guest appearance on track seven and eight, but for the other seven songs the production features pianist, Zaccai Curtis and his youthful bandmates. Every tune is full of joy. The remarkable happiness that salsa and Latin jazz brings to the world is reflected in this repertoire. 

“I would put my reputation on the line with these musicians and countless others that have graced my performances.  But I must say the last decade has rejuvenated me more than ever.  The young musicians that are on this musical project have given me the fortitude to write and play piano at another level,” Palmieri shares in his press package.

Favorite tunes for this reviewer are “Mambo Inn” arranged by trumpeter, Jonathan Powell.  This is a tune that will pull every wallflower onto the dance floor with a melody that’s hypnotizing.  Another favorite is the Clare Fischer composition, “Morning” that is arranged by the bassist, Luques Curtis. The brilliant percussion of Camilo Molina on timbales and drums and Reinaldo de Jesus on congas propels this music forward like a bullet train.  Marcos Lopez, on bongos and cowbell, greatly assists with the energy and rhythm.  On Track six, “Obsesion,” the percussion players are given free rein and they shine!  The horns punch the tune emphatically, lifting the arrangement with their power and precision. On “Picadillo,” a song that features the great Eddie Palmieri on piano, Luques Curtis opens the tune with a strong bass solo and Palmieri quickly soaks up the spotlight with his creativity on the eighty-eight keys. By the time the horns enter, the fire has been set and with the horn solos, the band is set aflame. The music is spicy hot. This is a nine-track production of beloved Latin jazz standards and an Eddie Palmieri and Louis Fouche original tune called “Suite 176.”  If your spirit needs lifting, just pop this CD into your player and enjoy.

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


Kari Kirkland, vocals; Shelly Berg, keyboards/arranger; Peter Erskine, drums; Dean Parks, guitar; Brian Kilgore, percussion; Kevin Axt &  Carlitos del Puerto, bass; Terrel Stafford, Michael Gutierrez & Camilo Molina, trumpet; Jason Arkins & David Mason, saxophone; Brandon Bryant, trombone; Budapest Scoring Orchestra, strings.

Kari Kirkland opens this project by ‘covering’ Michael Jackson’s hit record, “I Can’t Help It” reinventing the pop smash into a contemporary jazz arrangement. Her whispery voice merges with her talented musicians, floating atop their jazzy interpretation of “Since I Fell For You” in a very sexy and vulnerable way.  The guitar solo by Dean Parks settles the blues/pop tune into a comfortable jazz arena, followed by pianist, producer/arranger, Shelly Berg’s solo.  I love the way these musicians and Kirkland reinvent these familiar pop tunes into a comfortable jazz format.  At the fade of this song, bassist Kevin Axt steps stage center with a short but dynamic presence.  There is something innocent about Kari Kirkland’s tone and presentation.  A trumpet fits perfectly, complimenting her tone and the arrangement on the Coldplay hit, “Fix It.”  When the guitar enters, the arrangement moves from jazz to rock and the background voices fatten the sound, with the drummer slamming the ‘rock’ into place.  As the child of two touring musicians, it’s not surprising that Kari landed in the music business after being a trapeze artist, a circus performer and producer, also a private chef who sang gigs at night.  There is heart and soul in her singing that comes from living life to its fullest.  It’s not that she has a stylized jazz voice or spectacular range, but it’s the honesty and sincerity you feel as she sings you these stories that draws you to the artist.  Kari Kirkland knows how to touch your heart with her emotional deliveries.  She also has chosen songs that fit her range and suit the title of this album perfectly. Her bluesy, sincere delivery of “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On,” makes every lyric come alive and meaningful.  Kari Kirkland knows how to sell a song. 

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


January 2, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

January 2, 2023


Eric Goletz, trombone/arranger/piano.  SPECIAL GUESTS: Don Braden, soprano saxophone; LaJuan Carter, vocals. THE BAND:  Henry Heinitsh, guitar; Jim Ridl, piano; Brian Glassman, acoustic & electric bass/contra bass; Marco Panascia, electric bass; Steve Johns, drums; Joe Mowatt, percussion.  THE STRINGS: Robin Zeh & Paul Woodiel, violins; Michael Roth & David Gold, violas; Sarah Hewitt-Roth, cello.

This ensemble opens with the familiar jazz standard, “Now’s the Time” a Charlie Parker classic.  The arrangement is hip and swings hard, featuring Don Braden on soprano saxophone.  This is an album of standards arranged by trombonist and featured artist, Eric Goletz.  Jim Ridl is outstanding on piano throughout, and he shows off his creativity and dexterity on “Just in Time.” The tune “Caravan” is arranged as a sexy, slow ballad rather than the speedy, up-temp approach of many bands.  On this tune, Eric Goletz shines on trombone. 

Goletz has a thirty-year career as a studio musician.  He’s a native of Denver, Colorado, but has been based in New York City for many years.  His father was a pianist and a lover of big bands.  Young Goletz studied classical guitar, piano and music theory starting at age six.  By age fourteen, Eric had fallen madly in love with the trombone and was certain music would be his career path.  Surrounded by a number of excellent musicians, Goletz presents standard jazz songs we know and love, arranged and inspired by his vivid creativity.  You will hear his jazzy take on pop songs like “Windmills of Your Mind” and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” where Eric Goletz plays piano and trombone.  Some of my favorites on this album are “Nutville” and the R&B tinted vocals of LaJuan Carter sparkle on “Nature Boy.” His vocals are unique and powerfully delivered, with strings sprucing things up in the background.  I enjoyed the “Train Shuffle” and the jazz waltz arrangement on “Jungle Juice.”  Brian Glassman opens with the Horace Silver composition, “Mayreh” featuring a slow swing walking bass, but the arrangement soon doubles the tempo and speeds ahead, buoyed by the busy drum sticks of Steve Johns.  This quickly becomes one of my favorites, with all the bebop flair, fire, and groove that I love!

* * * * * * * * * * *


Steve Fidyk, drums/composer/producer; Christopher Ziemba, Piano; Brian Charette, organ; Jeff Barone, Michael Kramer, Parris Spivey, & Jack Wilkins, guitar; Regan Brough Micah Jones, Nathan Kawaller, & Jack Synoski, bass; SAXOPHONES: Mark Allen, Mike Cemprola, Chris Farr, Daniel Henson, Joseph Henson, Josh Lee, Xavier Perez & Walt Weiskopf. TRUMPETS: Luke Brandon, Graham Breedlove, Kevin Burns, Andrew Carson, Thomas Eby, Tamela Fidyk, Matt Gallagher, Chris Kaplan, Tim Leahey, Tyler Mire & Fareed Simpson-Hankins. TROMBONES: Scott Blanke, Hailey Brinnel, Kevin Cerovich, Sam Gellerstein, Ian Kaufman, Jake Kraft, Randy Kapralick, Omeed E. Nyman & Harry Watters.

Drummer, Steve FIdyk and his Live Wire Broad Band have partnered with “Team No Kid Hungry” to create a project showcasing swinging, big band arrangements and Fidyk’s wonderful, original compositions.  A portion of CD sales will be donated to this worthy non-profit organization.  Opening with “Bebop Operations,” one of nine original compositions by Fidyk, the band comes storming onto the scene.   Tim Leahey steps into the spotlight on trumpet and Walt Weiskopf also pleases the ear with his tenor saxophone solo.  Track #2, “The Flip Flopper” features Brian Charette on organ and Kevin Cerovich on trombone with Steve Fidyk solid and powerful on drums, always pushing the arrangements ahead like a snowplow. 

“As a jazz drummer, I’m always searching for new, rhythmic combinations that I can integrate into my playing style (as well as my writing).  The opening phrases of “Untimely” are constructed with segments of 5/8 and 7/8-time signatures.  Each phrase is then coupled with a two-measure drum solo break that acts as a conduit for the next section of the form,” Steve Fidyk explained about his tune titled, “Untimely.” Jack Wilkins sounds amazing on guitar and the horn harmonies are arranged beautifully by Andrew Carson.  In fact, all the arrangements of these original compositions by Fidyk are tight, creative and exciting.  They exploit the merging of contemporary styles with big band swing and bebop jazz.  Fidyk’s polyrhythmic message is both engaging and tenacious.  This is his fourth date as a leader and features all-star band members pulled from popular bands like the Buddy Rich Big Band, the Count Basie Orchestra, The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia, Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau, The Army Blues, The Navy Commodores and The Airmen of Note. What’s not to love?  This product will be available in February of 2023.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 


Skip Grasso, guitar/composer; Harvie S, bass; Anthony Pocetti, piano/organ/electric piano; Billy Drummond, drums.

Skip Grasso’s guitar solo floats off my CD player like a cotton-candy cloud; sweet, ethereal, and tasty to my senses.  The tune is called “Belew’s Knot” and it’s one of eight original songs on this album that Grasso has written.  “Becoming” is his album debut as a bandleader and showcases Skip Grasso’s composer talents with well-written and melodic tunes, as well as his mastery of the guitar.   Grasso has earned a Masters of Music from the University of North Texas and currently inspires others as an adjunct professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University.  He also teaches privately.  Somewhere, in whatever spare time is left, he has managed to author two books of guitar transcriptions.  One is Vital Blues Guitar: Freddie King and the other is Vital Blues Guitar: Gatemouth Brown.  Anthony Pocetti adds organ to a song called “Three Simple Truths” that blends beautifully with Grasso’s guitar.  It’s arranged as a haunting ballad, but Skip Grasso double times some of his guitar solo and the piece has a deeply rooted blues attitude that permeates their arrangement. They pick up the tempo on “Don’t Forget,” a samba composition by Grasso.  The bandleader is admired and respected in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. area, where he has been working consistently as a single, a trio, in jazz combos and big bands alike.  A gig is a gig is a gig, as they say. 

His quartet is supportive, and they give life to his compositions with their expert musicianship.  The happy-go-lucky tune titled “Garry on a Bike Ride” is played at a moderate tempo and there is interesting and creative interplay between Grasso’s guitar solo followed by Anthony Pocetti’s Piano offering.  The final tune slow-swings its way onto the scene and is called “Spring Forward.”  I imagine this is only the start for Skip Grasso as a recording artist, and it’s the beginning of a fine climb up the ladder towards further musical accomplishments and success.  The release date for his album is February 1, 2023.

* * * * * * * * * * *

FRED HERSCH & esperanza spalding – “ALIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD” – Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch, piano/composer; esperanza spalding, vocals.

When you put two prolific and masterful musicians together, performing as a free-form duo, they let their improvisational ideas lead the way.  Consequently, we get a memorable and magical recording.  During this live performance, recorded in October of 2018 at the Village Vanguard in NYC, Fred Hersch and esperanza spalding (her name purposefully spelled in all small letters) offer us a glimpse into the eccentricity and freedom jazz inspires.  Both artists are at the top of their game. They have joined forces to show what two jazz musicians can do to reinterpret songs we know and love and some we may not even recognize.  For example, Fred Hersch has composed “Dream of Monk” and they present an innovative production of his original song that isn’t as familiar at the Gershwin tune, “But Not For Me.” They open their first set with this old standard.  esperanza spalding talks freely to her audience, creating soprano melodies atop the sound track that Hersch creates on Charlie Parker’s “Little Suede Shoes.”  This type of recording is both unique and captivating.  It distinguishes the real jazz artists from those who claim to be jazz musicians.  A true jazz artist takes risks and can improvise freely over chord changes without practice or memorized rehearsals.  This music of Hersch and spalding shows the art and genius of an improvised concert.  This is Fred Hersch’s sixth recording at the heralded Village Vanguard jazz club. 

“I like to live on the edge in my music, but I find myself trying things that I usually wouldn’t when I play with him, (Fred), finding new spaces to explore in the realm of improvised lyrics,” explains the bassist and jazz vocalist. 

Although esperanza spalding, as a rule, doesn’t sing standards, on this partnership with Fred Hersch she puts aside her bass and explores her vocal range, her scatting and in-person relationship with the audience. 

“I don’t think anybody’s heard Esperanza sing like this.  She’s a fearless vocalist and is one of the biggest talents I know,” Hersch sings her praises.

Fred Hersch himself, is a creative force of energy at the piano, as well as being a composer, arranger and superb accompanist. Together they jump from the recognizable to the impromptu, from the expected to the unforeseen and from the sizzling skillet to the roaring flame. Both award winning artists push the envelope edges to their maximum points of expression. They fascinate us with their creativity and startling freedom.  Neither is afraid to jump from their musical helicopter without a parachute, and they take us along, on the plunging, joyful, exciting ride to somewhere we never expected to go.

* * * * * * * * * *

THE HEAVY HITTERS – Cellar Music Group

Mike LeDonne, piano/composer; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone/composer; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Vincent Herring, alto Saxophone; Peter Washington, bass; Kenny Washington, drums; Rale Micic, guitar.

The horns enter like a proclamation calling the royal court to order.  Drummer, Kenny Washington, soaks up the attention with his amazing and dramatic drum fills.  I expect to see the king appear, like a computer generated holographic, rising from this royal recording as it spins on my CD player. These horns announce a royal entrance, then. boldly, the kings of jazz wave their instruments and make the music come alive.  This first tune comes racing at the speed of lightening, burning up everything in its path.  Mike LeDonne is formidable on piano, a force of nature!  He is also one of the main composers on this project.  On “Hub,” the title of track one, I had to play it twice to ingest all the various musical nuances and to enjoy these master musicians as they soloed.  Jeremy Pelt’s trumpet solo startles my ears with beauty and power.  LeDonne’s song, “Silverdust” sounds like a jazz standard as it shuffles across my listening space.  I’m a bebop lover, so this album becomes high on my list of excellence for the New Year.  Every song is well-arranged, and co-leader, Eric Alexander has composed two songs; “Chainsaw” that features Rale Micic on guitar and “This is Something New” that reminds me of the ‘Miles Ahead’ days.  Their tribute to Cedar Walton with LeDonne’s “Cedar Land” gives Mike LeDonne an opportunity to explore the eighty-eight keys in his own inimitable way.  Peter Washington is given a bright platform to showcase his bass skills during the tune “Bluesit” and the arrangement spotlights a drum solo by Kenny Washington.

This record was born from a close relationship between LeDonne and Eric Alexander over a twenty-five-year friendship.  They are co-leaders of this project.  LeDonne, best known for his sideman work with Milt Jackson and Benny Golson, is heralded as an astounding hard bop pianist.  Eric Alexander is known for his harmonic imagination and beautiful tone.  He’s a working studio musician with his horn gracing over eighty albums and several album releases as a bandleader.  Together, these two ‘Heavy Hitters’ offer us a smokin’ hot production featuring five other heavy-hitters and a product plush with crème de la crème of both musicianship and original compositions.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Ann Hampton Callaway, vocals; Ted Rosenthal, piano; Martin Wind, bass; Tim Horner, drums; Bob Mann, guitar. SPECIAL GUEST: John Pizzarelli, guitar/vocals.

Ann Hampton Callaway tributes the voice, legacy and repertoire of the great Peggy Lee on this, her most recent album release.  She opens with the hit record that put both Peggy Lee, and the original recording artist, Little Willie John on the map; “Fever.”  She has plucked some wonderful standards from Ms. Lee’s recordings including “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” and the R&B hit, “The Glory of Love.”  I enjoy the swing arrangement by John Proulx of “I Don’t Know Enough About You.” Additionally, there are very artistic pieces, like “Clair De Lune” that Ann Hampton Callaway arranged to include an unpublished poem by Peggy Lee is beautifully executed. Ann Hampton Callaway puts on her blues shoes and steps into the tune “Black Coffee” with emotional conviction.  “The Other Part of Me” was co-written by Peggy Lee for the 1983 Broadway Musical “Peg” with music and arrangement by Paul Horner.  “Johnny Guitar” features the mastery of Bob Mann inserting a brief, but poignant solo on guitar and Ann’s rendition of “Where Can I Go Without You?” brought back a mass of wonderful memories.  I wonder why more vocalists don’t sing this one?  It’s such a great lyric.  Bob Mann is back with a guitar solo, and he also arranged this tune.  Hampton Callaway’s vocals dance atop the bass line of Martin Wind to open her medley of “This is a Very Special Day” blended with “It’s a Good Day.”  The band shuffles this one in a happy-go-lucky-way.   Ann Hampton Callaway speaks warmly about Peggy Lee and her contributions to music in the liner notes of this album.

“Peggy Lee’s voice was one of the first to awaken my musical imagination.  Her sultry, soulful sounds were purring on my parents’ Hi-Fi from the get-go. . . .  And that inimitable voice belonged to a trailblazer who, by being tenaciously true to herself, paved the way for artists like me to forge an adventurous, creative life.  I think of her as the first famous female singer-songwriter.  In a world dominated by men, she stepped off the canary confines of the bandstand and into the spotlight, cultivating her singing and writing talents with the best and brightest in music.  Though she was a bombshell beauty, she never allowed herself to be merely an object – – she was always the ‘subject.’  Her intelligence charged her sex appeal and music with a timeless allure. . . . She was that rare jazz singer who taught me that it’s not enough to sing songs; you must live, act and become them,” Ann expressed.

Ann Hampton Callaway took those lessons to heart, as you will hear on this recording.         

* * * * * * * * * *          

DAVE STRYKER – “PRIME” – Strikezone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar/composer/producer; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums.

After the Dave Stryker trio came off an exciting summer tour opening for Steely Dan, they packaged that energy and raced into the studio to edit and master “Prime.”  On the very first album track (the title tune), they come out the gate like impatient horses at the Kentucky Derby.  Stryker sets the mood with his powerful guitar solo, followed by Jared Gold on organ who matches the leader’s tenacity.  Drummer, McClenty Hunter, as always, is a driving force for the trio.  Stryker has penned eight compositions for this project and added the standard, “I Should Care” for good measure.  This music was recorded ‘live’ and you can feel the spontaneity and camaraderie between these old friends.  Dave explained how the project came to be.

“Due to the pandemic, in lieu of travelling, we were given the opportunity to tape a show that could be streamed by the venue.  Inspired by getting the chance to play together again, after eight months in lockdown and knowing we would be in the studio, I was motivated to write an album of new music. … I decided we would record live in the studio with just one take per song and no overdubbing.  The connection, interplay and fire of the group was captured on that day and we’re happy to now share with you the music of our trio in its ‘Prime’,” Stryker wrote in his press package.

Per usual, Dave Stryker and his trio unit give us an excellent production of organ, drums and guitar mastery.  This album will be released February 3, 2023. 

* * * * * * * * * * *

KENNY BARRON – “THE SOURCE” – Artwork Records

Kenny Barron, solo piano.

The great Kenny Barron, an NEA Jazz Master, has not recorded a solo piano album since 1981, more than forty years ago.  In the interim, he has been nominated for eleven Grammy awards.  Barron is a legend in the jazz music world and a man who breaks down walls and hurdles over obstacles to create new music and reinvent the old.  He is forever challenging himself to move forward and upward.  Kenny Barron is his own worst critic.

“Playing solo is still nerve-racking.  After the first song, it usually goes away.  It’s the initial feeling of sitting down alone.  You realize there’s no one else to cover you if you make a mistake.  You’re out there by yourself.  Which is okay.  But it always takes a minute to realize that it’s okay,” Barron shares his truth with sincerity. 

“You’re always your most critical peer.  You always hear what you missed, what you didn’t play right.  But the listener can’t react to what your intentions are.  They can only react to what they hear.  If you’re connecting with them on an emotional level, that’s what matters,” the amazing piano master explains.

“The Source” is an album consisting of four Kenny Barron original compositions and five standard jazz tunes.  “What If” challenges his rhythmic left hand to hold the tempo steady as his right hand syncopates the melody atop his almost stride piano arrangement.  Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington’s tune, “Isfahan” settles things down and allows the listener to catch their breath after the stunning first track.  You will hear Barron reinterpret Thelonious Monk songs, reinvent the tune “I’m Confessin’” and introduce us to his originality on compositions like the exciting Sunshower, Phantoms and the beautiful, Dolores Street, SF. His solo piano concert is masterful and entertaining.  Always brilliant on piano, Kenny Barron is a joy to behold and a talent to salute.

* * * * * * * * * * *

CLAUDIA ACUÑA – “DUO” Ropeadope Records

Claudia Acuña, voice/Bombo Leguero; Kenny Barron, Carolina Calvache, Fred Hersch & Arturo O’Farrill, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Russell Malone, guitar; Regina Carter, violin.

The tone and talent of Claudia Acuña is wrapped in pure emotion, like a unexpected, gorgeous gift.  When you hear her songs, you feel their depth.  It doesn’t matter whether you speak Spanish or not.  She will engage you with her passion.  On this recording Claudia joins a group of brilliant musicians, recording each selection individually with one pianist, guitarist, violinist or bassist at a time.  Thus, the title of this album is “Duo.”  She and Kenny Barron open with “Media Noche” that brims with drama. Enter Christian McBride on track #2, titled “Eclipse de Luna” with his bass setting the groove and tempo during the introduction. Claudia Acuña’s voice glows atop his bass line with power and enthusiasm as she sings her story of the moon.  The tinkling of notes in the upper register of the piano signal the accompaniment of Carolina Calvache on piano during the arrangement of “Razon de Vivir.” On this unique project, seven of the songs come from composers hailing from Chile, Cuba, Argentina and Mexico, with one, “Crystal Silence” coming from the pen of Chick Corea that Claudia performs solo.  Fred Hersch joins Acuña during their interpretation of “Jurame” and it’s reflective and beautiful!  Her vocals dip and dive, sounding the way we talk when we excitedly tell a story to a friend. The melody is lovely, and their interaction unfolds like the petals of a rose; rich and fragrant.  Another stunning song was “Manifesto” that links Claudia Acuña’s performance with the magic and mystic violin of Regina Carter. This may be one of my favorites on this album of brilliance, although I do also love “Jurame.”  The violin and Acuña’s voice seem to have a natural affinity with each other, natural as two friends linking arms and dancing down the avenue. Other duets include the brilliance of Russell Malone on guitar.  There is a palpable warmth between the two artists as Claudia hums along with his warm chords. Finally, the legendary Arturo O’Farrill sits before the piano.  There is excitement and tenderness that resonates from this duet presentation, with much emotion, Latin fire and spark flying from both O’Farrill and Acuña.  Claudia Acuña closes the album out with her own composition, “Yo” playing the Bombo Leguero percussion instrument. Here is an album of art and creativity that should win another Grammy nomination or better yet, the award itself. 

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