Archive for February, 2023


February 23, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil                                                  

February 23, 2023

The Internet has made this world a much smaller place.  This column includes international artists who have submitted their music to me for review, along with artists based all over the United States.  Guitarist ANT LAW and reedman ALEX HITCHCOCK are both well-known and respected in their UK country and heralded as creative, innovative and original voices. VINCE MENDOZA with his METROPOLE ORKEST represent the Netherlands and is heralded as one of the world’s largest, full-time ensembles.  Pianist, vocalist and composer, MAGGIE HERRON brings us jazzy, musical greetings from Hilo, Hawaii.  MATT WILSON, JEFF LEDERER and MIMI JONES have formed the LEAP DAY TRIO and recorded ‘LIVE’ at the historic room, Café  Bohemia when it reopened in the NYC.  Jazz bassoon player, MICHAEL RABINOWITZ is a leader in this field.  TOBIAS HOFFMANN is a German saxophonist and composer who currently lives in Graz, Austria.  His music transcends location and plays to the ears of the world. SATOKO FUJII is a Japanese pianist composer celebrating 100 albums as a leader with her latest release, “Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams.”  Finally, my MUSICAL MEMOIRS column ends with a surprise party for my ears!  It features the bass and original compositions and arrangements of DEWAYNE PATE


Alex Hitchcock, tenor saxophone/composer; Ant Law, guitars/electric & acoustic8-string/composer; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Shai Maestro, piano; Linda May Han Oh & Ben Williams, bass; Eric Harland, Kendrick Scott, Sun-Mi Hong & Jeff Ballard, drums; Tim Garland, bass clarinet.

Ant Law’s repetitive rhythm guitar sets the mood and the groove and is cemented into place by Eric Harland on drums.  Enter Alex Hitchcock on tenor saxophone establishing the contemporary jazz melody.  They open with a tune called “Outliers” composed by Hitchcock. Track #2 leans more towards Straight-ahead jazz and is titled “Haven’t Meta Yet.”  It’s arranged with a funk beat at the top, but when Alex Hitchcock enters, his saxophone turns the tune towards a different realm that is all jazz. Track #3 titled “Low Glow” is another Hitchcock composition and has a catchy melody.  It becomes an opportunity for Shai Maestro to shine on piano.  The fourth track sounds a lot like the third, even though Ant Law composed this one. Hitchcock’s tenor saxophone frolics with Maestro’s piano, their notes tumbling over each other like playful puppies rolling down a hillside. This time the powerful drummer is Kendrick Scott.  On “Chrysalis” with Ant Law introducing the song on his guitar, bassist Ben Williams is featured.  Another drummer brings talent to this project.  It is Sun-Mi Hong, who is quite busy in the background laying intricate rhythm patterns beneath the moderate tempo with wild energy. Jack Ross brings another voice to the party and is featured on vibraphone during their presentation of “Vivid” and the two songs that follow it.

This is a collaborative that was remotely recorded. Even the trading of fours was recorded in this pandemic style.  Both Hitchcock and Law are composers, and each has contributed four songs.  The guitarist, composer, Ant Law, has teamed with tenor sax man, Alex Hitchcock to become co-leaders. They are both well-known and respected in their UK home and heralded as creative, innovative, and original voices.  The closing tune on this album is John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” and is the only ‘cover’ song they offer the listener. Their album title was inspired by Japanese author Hanuki Murakami’s 1999 novel, Sputnik Sweetheart when he wrote:

“We’re both looking at the same moon in the same world.  We’re connected to reality by the same line.”. 

These two musicians and their ensemble join the thousands of musicians who were caught in the sticky web of lockdown during an unexpected pandemic.  They found that reaching out to each other with computers and remote access eased the pain of isolation and allowed them to continue their musical dreams and creativity. This resulting project solidified the fact, they are still artists living under the “Same Moon in the Same World.”

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Vince Mendoza, arranger/composer/orchestra conductor; Hans Vroomans, piano; Peter Tiehuis, guitar; Aram Kersbergen, bass; Martijn Vink, drums; Joke Schonewille, harp; Murk Jiskoot & Eddy Koopman, percussion; Mariel Van Den Bos & Janine Abbas, flute; Maxime Le Minter, oboe; Pieter Hunfeld & Liz Hunfeld-Chell, French horn; DOUBLE BASS: Erik Winkelmann, Arend Liefkes, Walter Van Egeraat, & Marijn Van Prooijen. SAXOPHONES/CLARINETS: Marc Scholten, Paul Van Der Feen, Leo Janssen, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, Max Boeree, Jessie Breve, & David Kweksilber. TRUMPETS: Kay Bruinsma, Martijn de Laat, Nico Schepers & Rik Mol. TROMBONES: Jan Oosting, Ilja Reijgoud, Jan Bastiani, Pablo Martinez Hernandez, Ron Olioschlager, BASS TROMBONES: Martin Van Den Berg & Bart Van Oorp. 1ST VIOLINS: Arlia De Ruiter (concert Master); Vera Laporeva, Sarah Koch, Denis Koenders, Pauline Terlouw, Jasper Van Rosmalen, Federico Nathan, Gideon Nelissen, Ian de Jong, Jenneke Tesselaar. 2nd VIOLINS: Merel Jonker, Herman Van Haaren, Willem Kok, Xaquin Carro Cribeiro, Ruben Margarita, Robert Baba, Ewa Zbyszynska, Jenneke Tesselaar, Christina Knoll. VIOLA: Norman Jansen, Mieke Honingh, Julia Jowett, Iris Schut, Isabella Petersen, Wouter Huizinga. CELLO:  Joel Shepmann, Emile Visser, Jascha Albracht & Annie Tangberg.

The sound of an orchestra performing is one of the most lush and beautiful musical expressions on earth. The Metropole Orkest is a jazz/pop orchestra based in the Netherlands and is heralded as one of the world’s largest, full-time ensembles. No smaller than fifty-two musicians and upwards of ninety-seven musical masters, it is equipped with a double rhythm section. One is utilized for pop and rock and another is employed for jazz. The Netherlands Public Broadcasting both manages and subsidizes the orchestra that was founded in 1945 by Dolf van der Linden.  Metropole Orkest is a regularly featured orchestra at the North Sea Jazz Festival and popular throughout Europe.  Four-time Grammy Award winner, Vince Mendoza, began wielding the baton and conducting the orchestra starting in 2005.  For this album titled “Olympians” he has contracted special guests with Olympian talents to join Metropole Orkest.  This produces an orchestrated love letter and offers the listener an album of magnificent music.

Dianne Reeves interprets the lyrics of Kurt Elling on the composition by Mendoza called “Esperanto.”  As always, her warm tones, perfect enunciation and smooth tone caresses this song with an emotional delivery. Reeves adds a measure of scat singing that proudly embraces African and African American roots. The Orchestra also utilizes the talents of vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, saxophonists Chris Potter and David Binney, percussionist Alex Acuna and the late, great guitarist, Ramon Stagnaro as special guests. This album follows 2021’s “Freedom Over Everything” release that landed Vince Mendoza a Grammy.

“The term ‘Olympians’ is something that I use quite often while on the podium with Metropole, as I feel that this orchestra continues to play difficult music with grace, enthusiasm, and accuracy,” Mendoza explained in his press package.

Vince Mendoza has continued his legacy of incorporating a cluster of genres in his compositions and arrangements that embraces everything from classical roots to Brazilian Sambas; from contemporary music to indigenous influences, jazz being the freedom that resonates in his outstanding, creative, arrangements and compositions.  You hear this quite clearly when David Binney breaths flame and excitement into his solo on the composition “Lake Fire,” or when the tender soprano voice of Cecile McLorin Salvant interprets the poignant lyrics of Norma Winstone during their arrangement of “House of Reflections.”  The ‘hip’ jazz solos provided by guest artists and individual orchestra members highlight the jazz artform’s importance and uniqueness during this Mendoza masterpiece. Prior to this release he has worked with such extraordinary performers as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Chaka Khan as noted below.

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MAGGIE HERRON – “MY STORY IN SONG” – Herron Song Records

Maggie Herron, vocals/piano/composer; Mitch Foreman, Hammond B3 organ/piano; Bill Cunliffe & Romain Collin, piano; David Enos & Darek Oles, bass; Grant Geissman, John Storie & Larry Koonse, guitar; John Ferraro & Dan Schnelle, drums; Andrew Neu, soprano saxophone/horn arrangements/         flute/clarinet/bass clarinet; Michael Stever & Kye Palmer, trumpet; Nick Lane, trombone; Steve Velez, cello; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Duane Padilla, string arrangements; Rachel Handman, violins/viola; Daniel Frankhuizen, cello; Alex Acuna, percussion..

Maggie Herron has that one-of-a-kind voice that you recognize as soon as you hear it. It’s the blessing of being a jazz stylist. Her music is immediately recognizable, like Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Julie London or Nancy Wilson. Maggie is also a talented composer, and this album reflects nine of her original tunes, beginning with a song she co-wrote with her daughter, Dawn Herron, titled “Devils’ in the Details.”  She swings hard on this shuffle tune that features a big band arrangement with blaring horns and John Ferraro pushing the tune forward on drums. Her tribute song to her daughter titled, “Dawn,” was composed by Mexican jazz vocalist Magos Herrera. Mark Kibble (of Take Six fame) offers his vocal and harmonic arrangements to enhance this arrangement.  It’s a beautiful composition that had lyrics reminding Maggie Herron of her beloved daughter. Another ‘cover’ tune is a favorite blues of mine called “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.” Herron always does the blues justice with her husky, emotional vocals. “The Big Seduction” is a swing tune about Los Angeles being a seductive city and an unattainable lover. Also, Maggie has put to music a lovely poem by her daughter, Dawn Herron, called “Footsteps.”  It features the beautiful compliment of Steve Velez on cello. The artist closes in prayer, singing and accompanying herself on piano performing the popular Leonard Cohen composition, “Hallelujah” with string arrangements written by Duane Padilla.  Ms. Herron has surrounded herself with stellar musicians, many based in Los Angeles, like pianist, producer Bill Cunliffe, reed master Bob Sheppard, guitarists Grant Geissman, Larry Koonse, and award-winning percussionist, Alex Acuna. Everyone clearly brings their best to this project, creatively interpreting Maggie Herron’s latest album entitled, “My Story in Song.”  This is a very personal diary, translated by lyrics, melodies, memories, and talent. It is easy listening jazz, featuring Herron’s composer skills, with tightly woven arrangements.  In 2015, with the help of bass virtuoso, Brian Bromberg, her album “Good Thing” won the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Jazz Album of the year. This began a string of ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ awards including 2019’s “Renditions” album and 2018’s “A Ton of Trouble.” She is one of the leading jazz forces in Hawaii and special thanks must be offered to her engineer, Paul Tavenner, who put these tracks together throughout 2021-22 during the pandemic lockdown.  He managed to perfectly weave together contributions from masterful artists like Cunliffe, Acuna, bassist Darek Oles, French-born pianist Romain Collin, Mitch Forman, Geissman, John Storie and Larry Koonse.  This is Maggie Herron’s seventh album release.

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Matt Wilson, drums; Mimi Jones, bass; Jeff Lederer, tenor saxophone.

The Leap Day Trio are three musicians who liken themselves to a Leap Day that rolls around about every fourth year.  Like the trio, the day pops up unexpectedly and offers an attentive audience, surprises that are both audacious and innovative. That is why drummer, Matt Wilson, bassist Mimi Jones and Jeff Lederer on tenor saxophone have titled their group, ‘Leap Day Trio.’  This ‘live’ album features the birth of their unique group and the rebirth of a New York City historic venue.  Charlie Parker used to live across the street from the Café Bohemia and played there for free drinks.  He was just one of a slew of huge jazz names that honed their talents on the club’s modest stage.  Folks like Art Blakey, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach appeared there regularly. The Leap Day Trio’s gig took place on the historic Leap Day and Leap Day Eve of 2020, four months after the Café Bohemia jazz club reopened.  This music was recorded ‘live’ and sponsored by GiantStepArts and produced by Jimmy Katz.  After almost six decades, located in the basement of the Barrow Street Ale House in Greenwich Village, the club reopened in late 2019. This album was recorded in early 2020.

The Crash of Matt Wilson’s cymbals opens the trio’s first tune titled “Dewey Spirit.”  Jeff Lederer joins the rhythm that Wilson creates, flying free as an eagle.  Mimi Jones steps forward on bass, singing her own song with strength and power.  When the tune turns from Avant-garde into a Straight-ahead swing tune, Jones is right there walking her double bass fiercely to hold the rhythm tightly in place. 

“Her spirit is to me very reminiscent of an era of bassists that I’ve been very fortunate to get to play with: folks like Cecil McBee, Buster Williams, Rufus Reid and Calvin Hill. They’re grounded but also have a great sense of adventure,” Matt Wilson explained why they added Mimi Jones to their trio.

Lederer and Wilson met some years back, in 1993 when the drummer first moved to New York City.  They met at a rehearsal and Wilson recalls being impressed with the saxophonist’s sound and execution.

“Any relationship I have with a musician usually starts with the sound coming up through the ride cymbal and with Jeff, the sound and the feel were so hard-hitting,” Matt Wilson recalled.

This first song is named for the drummer’s mentor, saxophonist Dewey Redman, but for the most part there are no composer credits offered because these works are more communal than individual expression.  They come together on a spiritually free level.  What spills out is free music, artistry and passion. 

“I loved the way it felt. The way we play in this trio is pretty distinct … There’s something about the openness of it and Mimi brings a very flowing feel to it.  There’s just a lot of breath in the sound,” Jeff Lederer described his feelings about this new unit.

Matt Wilson joined in the conversation. “Our spirits are aligned in a lot of ways.  We all have differences, of course, but the overall spirit of adventure and kindness comes through.  The trio only rehearsed twice before the gig.”

Their composition, “The Dream Weaver” quickly becomes one of my favorites, with its pretty melody.  Track #4, “Ghost Town” is a haunting tune that first features Mimi Jones telling us stories during a provocative bass solo.  She is so rhythmic and creative; I find myself fascinated by her musical ideas and improvisations.  Lederer is bluesy on saxophone.  Matt Wilson presents his own spark of solidarity, cementing the piece into place with his trap drums.  This is an album, wildly supported by the attending audience as they shout out supportive catcalls like “Yeah, baby” or applaud loudly at the end of each piece.  “Strival for Survival” is all energy and excitement pouring from the bell of Lederer’s saxophone and stoked by the sticks of Matt Wilson’s drums.  Each tune the Leap Day Trio presents captivates and inspires.  Clearly, all three are master musicians.  When I hear Lederer turn the tenor saxophone into a high-pitched whistle, I fasten my imaginary seatbelt. This tune becomes another one of my favorites of their concert. There is something beautiful about the way these three souls blend, metamorphosize and express themselves, both individually and as a unit.  I look forward to hearing many more recordings by The Leap Day Trio.

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MICHAEL RABINOWITZ – “NEXT CHAPTER” – Blue Ridge Bassoon Records

Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon/composer; Matt King, piano/composer; Andy McKee, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums.

The first song on this album is titled “Lydian Dream” and it features a beautiful melody and the bassoon solo of Michael Rabinowitz. Jazz is not the first thing that comes to mind, when one thinks of a bassoon, but Michael Rabinowitz has been performing jazz bassoon for over four decades and heralding it as a jazz instrument. Rabinowitz has composed this first song on his album. Although it begins as a lovely ballad, it soon transforms into a Latin rhythmed swing tune, where Matt King takes a solid piano solo, showing off his chops in a grand way. He is followed by Andy McKee, walking his bass boldly into the spotlight. This is Michael Rabinowitz’s seventh recording release as a bandleader, and he has composed six of the eight tunes.  Michael Rabinowitz lets his bassoon open Track #2, on “Minor Blues Experiment” setting the mood for his pianist, Matt King, to put the B in blues. Tommy Campbell steps forward with his drums leading the way.  Andy McKee plays an intriguing bass line that changes the song’s mood and groove halfway through the arrangement. This original composition embraces a minor blues, a slow jam and a jazz waltz.  Somehow, all these rhythm transitions happen seamlessly. The title tune, “Next Chapter,” allows Michael Rabinowitz to step forward with bassoon in hand and serenade us in the sweetest way.  I enjoy the smooth, rich tone of his instrument.  This time the quartet is featured on an original song by Matt King, who named the composition for his bandleader. It’s called “MRab.”  You may recognize some of the other songs.  “Twelve Note Samba” is Matt King’s take on Jobim’s “One Note Samba.”  Track #8, “Emily Alt Line” is based on the chord changes of Johnny Mandel’s very popular “Emily” tune, but with an entirely different melody.  If you know the jazz standard called “Four” you will recognize that Rabinowitz has used the chord changes to create “One Four All.”  They close with “Tuesday Blues.”  With this “Next Chapter” release, Michael Rabinowitz once again certifies that the bassoon is a well-executed instrument of jazz and that he is a leader in his field.

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Tobias Hoffmann, soprano & tenor saxophone/composer/arranger/bandleader; Philipp Nykrin, piano; Andreas Waelti, bass; Michael Prowaznik, drums; Christopher Pawluk, guitar; Fabian Rucker, bass clarinet/baritone saxophone; Daniel Holzleitner, trombone; Stefan Gottfried, alto saxophone; Simon Plötzeneder, trumpet/flugelhorn.

During his high school years, Tobias Hoffmann fell in love with the saxophone.  Born in Germany and currently living inbetween Vienna and Graz, Austria, his jazz music transcends location and plays to the ears of the world.  The first thing I notice on his “Retrospective” project is his attention to melody.  He is obviously a gifted composer and has garnered several awards in that category.  In 2021, one of his compositions was awarded third prize at the “Bill Conti Big Band Arranging & Composition Competition” of the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers in Los Angeles.  This project, Tobias Hoffmann Nonet, won first prized in the ‘Band’ category at an international online competition called “Made in New York Jazz Competition – 2019” with all-star judges including Lenny White, Randy Brecker and Mike Stern.  In 2021, Hoffmann was a guest of the NDR Big Band in Hamburg, Germany, participating in the “Podium for Arrangers” and recording his original compositions with the famed big band.  In 2022, he won a prize in the Spanish composition contest “Big Band de Canarias” and won first prize in the “Original Composition” category at the 17th “Scrivere in Jazz” an Italian competition organized by “Orchestra Jazz Della Sardegna.”  All of that being said, this “Retrospective” album certainly showcases international appreciation of his music.  The album spotlights his composer and arranging talents. It’s a lovely example of  Hoffman’s creativity in both realms, as well as his talent on soprano and tenor saxophones.  Tobias Hoffmann has composed every song on this project, and he has surrounded himself with awesome musicians who do a wonderful job of interpreting his music.  His small ensemble arrangements utilize big band harmonics and high energy.  I found every song on this project to be compelling and entertaining.  However, if I had to pick any favorites they would be “Procrastinator” that employs both Avant-garde arranging and exploration of his musicians with tight, big band horn harmonies and powerful solos. I also enjoyed “Propulsion” with its mood changing arrangements and lovely melody, where guitarist Christopher Pawluk steps center stage offering an impressive solo.  Hoffmann manages to weave Contemporary Jazz into this arrangement in a very cool and unexpected way. “Who’s to Blame?” was a composition written for Hoffmann’s pianist, Philipp Nykrin and features one of my favorite instruments, a solo by Fabian Rucker on baritone saxophone.  The horns become a curtain that blows beautifully behind the piano solo, cushioning Philipp’s creativity with their tight harmonies, but leaving lots of room for Nykrin’s improvised piano solo to shine. This arrangement is all big band bravado.  His ballad “Remembrance” is arranged so interestingly, at one point with the Andreas Woelti bass playing a counterpoint melody against the responding horn lines that I found fascinating. That closing tune, “Am Ende des Tages,” translates to ‘At the End of the Day’ in English.  It’s a sexy, bluesy piece featuring an impressive bass solo and with the spotlight brightly on the Hoffman’s saxophone. Finally, the title tune and opening arrangement of “Retrospective” is fiery hot and engaging.  I don’t know if Tobias Hoffmann has distribution in the United States, but he certainly should have.

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Satoko Fujii, piano/composer; Chris Corsano & Tom Rainey, drums; Brandon Lopez, bass; Ikue Mori, electronics; Natsuki Tamura & Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon; Ingrid Laubrock, tenor saxophone.

It never fails that when I hear the music of Satoko Fujii, I always hear the voice of Mother Nature.  This album is no exception.  It celebrates Satoko Fujii’s completion of 100 album releases.  The Japanese word of ‘Hyaku’ on the album’s cover translates to 100.  For this momentous occasion, Satoko Fujii has gathered and assembled a one-of-a-kind aggregation of all-star players including iconic trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Natsuki Tamura.  Fujii treats bandmembers as equal contributors and offers them generous solo time.  The album is divided into five parts and each one carries the same title, “One Hundred Dreams, Part One,” then “One Hundred Dreams, Part Two,” etc.  Her triumphant recordings magnify the work and creativity that flows through her fingers, her mind, and her heart to become a legacy of compositions, as thick and thriving as a forest floor or a botanical garden. Like nature itself, she houses so many types of creations and living products.  Satoko Fujii brings her compositions alive with these legendary musicians and a combination of jazz, Avant-garde, rock, and chamber music, all infused with collective improvisation.  For more than a quarter of a century, Satoko Fujii has offered the world a unique and personal voice in music that breathes freely, like wind; exhales in a flurry of musical notes and expressions, like a rainstorm; burns with fire and spunk, hot as the sun and just as predictable.  No matter the weather, she has been there, spanning the genres and shining through them the way the sun shines through cloud cover.  As a composer and pianist, Satoko Fujii is changeable as the seasons.  She displays her compositions, rich with independence, innovative with artistic expression and tenacious in her ability to blend instrumentation and improvisation.  This suite of music unfolds like a field of multi-colored flowers racing up and down hillsides.  Her work is colorful, unpredictable, abstract, and independent, like Mother Nature herself.

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DEWAYNE PATE – “ON THE UPSIDE” – Independent label

Dewayne Pate, electric bass/composer/arranger; Dennis Chambers, Jason Lewi, David Garibaldi, Kevin Hayes & Brian Collier, drums; Ray Obiedo, Stef Burns, Robben Ford, Barry Finnerty, Jim Nichols & Chris Cain, guitar; Ray Obiedo, rhythm guitar;  Peter Horvath & David Kirk Mathews, piano/B3 organ/synthesizer; Frank Martin, Rhodes/synthesizers; Rita Thies, flute; Frank Martin, synthesizer; Norbert Stachel, soprano & tenor saxophone/flute; Johnnie Bamont, tenor & baritone saxophones; Marc Rousso, alto saxophone;  Joel Behrman, trumpet; Mike Olmos, trumpet/flugelhorn;  Mike Rinta/Dewayne Pate, horn arrangements; Tony Lindsay, Juan Luis Perez, Amikaeyla Gaston, vocals; Michael Spiro & Karl Perazzo, percussion.

Dewayne Pate is a master of many styles and genres.  He has performed around the world with iconic artists like Maria Muldaur, Robben Ford, Arturo Sandoval, Huey Lewis, Boz Scaggs and Tower of Power.  In fact, many of these arrangements remind me of the Tower of Power days.  Born and raised in San Francisco, California, Pate’s first gig was as part of his grandfather’s country/western band.  His grandad was a guitar player and the band performed at state fairs and local public venues.  Dewayne’s intention had been to pursue jazz on upright bass in junior high school, and he did.  In high school, the school jazz band needed an electric bass player.  Dewayne had intended on switching his instrument to guitar but landed the job as electric bass player instead.  This was the start of his long and successful career in music.  A student of John Patitucci and while attending the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, he studied with jeff Berlin, a jazz fusion bass icon. Dewayne Pate soon landed a job with the Ford Blues Band.  They toured the United States and worldwide for two years. Mostly working as a sideman, the pandemic happened and that lockdown inspired Dewayne Pate to get busy composing his own music and expanding his musical vocabulary. 

“Whenever I show up for a blues gig with my 6-string bass, people look at me funny.  But for those gigs, I just play it like a regular 4-string bass,” he admitted.

However, his love of the five and six-string basses encouraged his affinity towards jazz and fusion gigs.  As his musicianship grew and blossomed, Dewayne Pate embraced Latin, fusion, funk and contemporary jazz adding to his proficiency as a bass player.  “On the Upside” is an album that musically expands his horizons and introduces Pate’s skills as both a composer, bandleader, and performer.

An original titled “4 The 5 of It” leaves me thoroughly impressed by the drummer, Dennis Chambers. This is the type of drumming I love.  Creative, spontaneous and yet always holding the tempo solidly in the palm of his hands. Pate’s bass locks into the drums with a steady line that enhances the funk.  When the tempo slows, Norbert Stachel steps into the limelight on soprano saxophone, improvising wildly until Chambers slaps the rhythm back into place.  Amidst several verses of staccato chords, Dennis Chambers solos on his trap drums and sparkles with excitement.  I played this first tune twice, because there was so much creativity to take in and to absorb.  Track #2 is “Iceman,” a blues sung by the talented Tony Lindsay and taking us back to Dewayne Pate’s blues roots.  This is a party song, full of joy and inspiring folks to the dance floor. Pate’s song, “Ellen” is a ballad infused with electronics soaked in the blues.  One of my favorite tunes on this project is “Oliver’s Twist” another Dewayne Pate original composition that features an awesome solo by Norbert Stachel on tenor saxophone.  This one is pure jazz that quickly becomes contemporary, spurred by the funky drums of Dennis Chambers and the keyboard of David Kirk Mathews.  Towards the end of the tune, Dewayne takes over on his electric bass and sparkles like diamonds during his solo.  Track 5, “Imperial Strut” embraces a contemporary jazz introduction that surprisingly morphs into a Latin arrangement featuring Michael Spiro on percussion, with vocals by Juan Luis Perez. This is an outstanding arrangement of a Russell Ferrante tune, and quickly becomes another one of my favorites.  Dewayne also covers Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” song featuring vocals by Amikaeyla Gaston.  I enjoy the diversity on this album.  “Blues for Monmouth” is another original composition by Dewayne Pate that shuffles hard with a hot horn section and becomes another favorite!  Dewayne describes it this way.

“This tune has my dream rhythm section with Kevin Hayes on drums, Dave Mathews on organ, and Robben Ford on guitar.”

This album is just pure fun and it’s a surprise party for my ears!

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February 13, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

Feb 13, 2023


Marina Pacowski, vocals/arranger; John Clayton, Trevor Ware & Mike Gurrola, bass; Roy McCurdy, George Green & Peter Erskine, drums; Josh Nelson, Jon Mayer, Serge Kasimoff, Mark Massey & Bevan Manson, piano; Larry Koonse & Brad Rabuchin, guitar; Brent Fischer & Harry Smallenburg, vibraphone; Nolan Shaheed, flugelhorn; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Alan Goldman, flute; Carl Saunders & Bobby Rodriguez, trumpet.

Marina Pacowski’s musical journey began in the Southwestern French city of Biarritz.  Her dream had always been to come to America, because she was fascinated by the American music of jazz. Her father was a surgeon who loved jazz and played clarinet and saxophone as a creative outlet.  Her brother played guitar and worked in a New Orleans style jazz band.  Marina studied classical piano and loved to sing. She and her mother spent hours enjoying the songs from American musicals and singing along with jazz standards. As a teen, she challenged herself to sing the challenging solos of Charlie Parker and Stan Getz. You will hear her powerful scat abilities on this, her premier album, while performing challenging jazz tunes like “Inner Urge” by Joe Henderson and the popular “Donna Lee” a Parker composition. Her scat vocals are impressive, because of the way she handles improvisation, with good tone and pitch. 

Surrounded on this recording by some of the best players in Southern California, Marina Pacowski has picked a Baker’s dozen of jazz standards that are both challenging and many that are more memorable in an instrumental setting. For a vocalist to interpret tunes like “Solar” by Miles Davis, “Inner Urge” and “Donna Lee” is impressive. On “I’m Old Fashioned” she shows that she can ‘swing,’ and Scott Whitfield’s trombone solo lifts this arrangement to a higher level.  A competent pianist, Pacowski has arranged all of these tunes except one (East of the Sun) that Scott Whitfield arranged.  Marina has her own sound, often resembling a horn with her vocal phrasing. On “La Vie En Rose” she reverts back to her native tongue, singing the French love anthem with only Mark Massey accompanying her on piano and Nolan Shaheed adding his flugelhorn for good measure when he performs a sweet solo. Carl Saunders brings his trumpet to the party on “Up Jumped Spring” (the Freddie Hubbard composition) and plays an impressive introduction before Marina Pacowski’s vocals enter.  Larry Koonse offers a hot guitar solo until Pacowski takes an opportunity to scat her way through a couple of verses. I enjoy and admire her scat singing and the melodic ideas that she uses when improvising.  Marina is also a very fine arranger.  But is she a vocal jazz stylist yet?  Would I recognize her tone and style upon hearing it, like you recognize Ella, or Billie or Sarah?  She is, however, another determined singer who has chosen to interpret jazz and has surrounded herself with some of the best musicians in the business of music. That makes for a strong debut album.

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BEN WOLFE – “UNJUST” – Resident Arts Records

Ben Wolfe, bass/composer; Aaron Kimmel, drums; Orrin Evans & Addison Frei, piano; Nicholas Payton, trumpet; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Nicole Glover, tenor saxophone; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone.

Ben Wolfe has brought his bass brilliance to the recordings of Wynton Marsalis and is part of the select membership in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  This association allowed him to perform with such legendary jazz musicians as Joe Henderson, Doc Cheatham, Jon Hendricks, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Billy Higgins and many, many more.  His composer talents have been celebrated and he’s received a multitude of awards. Wolfe has composed over one-hundred songs, several published on ten different albums where he was the bandleader. He is also a two-time recipient of the “Chamber Music America’s New Works: Creation and Presentation Program Grant” through the Doris Duke Foundation.  During his fledgling career, Ben Wolfe performed on Grammy award-winning, platinum-selling albums with both Harry Connick Jr., and pianist, singer Diana Krall.  That was Wolfe’s bass pumping away on the soundtrack of the movie, “When Harry Met Sally.”  Back in 2010 he recorded the Ben Wolfe Quintet with Marcus Strickland, Ryan Kisor, Luis Perdomo and Gregory Hutchinson.  More recently, (2019) Wolfe released “Fatherhood” to critical acclaim.

On his current 2023 release, “Unjust” he presents twelve original songs from his vast catalogue of compositions. With this current production, Ben explores a range of arrangements that stretch from swing to waltzes and from straight-ahead to Avant-garde. On their opening tune, “The Heckler” he features Nicholas Payton on trumpet and the piece moves at a rapid pace with Joel Ross’s vibraphone creating bright colors in the rhythm section.  Addison Frei is on piano and Aaron Kimmel plays powerful drums in lockstep with Wolfe’s bass.  The first track crashes onto the scene like prayer cymbals.

“Nicholas Payton, whom I have known for many years, is someone I’ve always had great respect for.  We’ve been on the road together (often spending a good amount of off time playing duets, with me on piano and Nicholas on bass) we’ve played in each other’s groups and recorded together as sidemen,” Ben Wolfe surprised me with how he and the trumpet player played instruments other than those we expected.

This tune is followed by “Hats Off to Rebay” with Wolfe’s walking bass inspiring the band and leading the way.  This tune is one of my favorites on his album.  Immanuel Wilkins is featured on alto saxophone along with the Ross vibraphone touches.  “Lullaby in D” quickly becomes another favorite of mine.  This time Nicole Glover is featured on a sexy, tenor saxophone presentation, smoothly soloing over the beautiful chord changes of this ballad. She presented the melody in such a sincere way that the music stopped me dead in my tracks. This is a love song I’m immediately drawn to, a captivated moth to a flame. I played this track twice.

Every song that Ben Wolfe has composed is well-written and pleasant listening. A tune he calls “Bob French” is a slow swing with harmonic horn parts and Orrin Evans dancing across the piano keys. “The Corridor” gives vibraphonist Joel Ross an opportunity to shine. Then, in struts Ben Wolfe making his own creative statement on double bass. In fact, throughout this production, the bass is the heartbeat of this project.  Speaking of hearts, this is the perfect album to play while serving a Valentine dinner in a candle-lit room to someone you love.

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Ben Rosenblum, piano/composer/accordion; Marty Jaffe, bass; Rafael Rosa, guitar; Ben Zweig, drums/percussion; Xavier Del Castillo, tenor saxophone/flute; Jasper Dutz, alto saxophone/bass clarinet/alto flute; Wayne Tucker, trumpet/flugelhorn.

This is an international party with melodic streamers flapping across space, flowing from instrumentalists who represent Bulgarian vocal polyphone, Northern Brazil, Afro Caribbean rhythms and traditional Irish music.  Ben Rosenblum offers us his “Nebula Project” inclusive of young improvisers and global jazz that features his talents as a pianist, composer, and accordionist.  Rosenblum has a passion for combining cultural music.  In the opening tune, “Catamaran” he was greatly influenced by European classical music, with Irish influence.  The accordion-driven slip jig section of this song was inspired by a lesson with Irish accordion virtuoso, Jimmy Keane.  Rosenblum spent many inquisitive and inspiring nights playing Irish music on Monday nights in New York City’s Landmark Tavern located in Hell’s Kitchen. Track #2 was inspired by Rosenblum’s appreciation of the All-Woman Bulgarian Vocal Ensemble, Les Voix Mysteres des Bulgares.  Consequently, it’s titled “Bulgares” and the arrangement sounds quite Spanish.  It reminds me of bull fights and matadors.  The musical emphasis is on Rosenblum’s accordion and the clarinet of Jasper Dutz.  The title tune, “A Thousand Pebbles” is a suite of compositions, encompassing Track #3 through #6.  The ensemble opens with a hymnal-type arrangement featuring horns clearly playing a line from the hymn “Jesus Loves Me” and I sing along; “The Bible tells me so.”  This becomes an introduction to “Road to Recollection” that swings hard and gives Ben Rosenblum an opportunity to play an impressive piano solo.  Marty Jaffe, who is part of Rosenblum’s regular trio, steps through the curtains on his bass and presents a Straight-ahead, swing solo brilliantly propelled forward by Ben Zwieg on drums. This part of the Suite quickly becomes my favorite. 

“I think of this suite more as a reflection on childhood than a spiritual journey, trying to understand these huge forces and concepts, trying to find your own meaning in all these huge forces and concepts.  Trying to find your own meaning in all these different traditions,” Ben Rosenblum explains his concept for this suite of music

Ben Rosenblum’s Nebula Project becomes a unique stage to showcase the knowledge that Ben has gleaned over the years.  Veteran vocalist, Doborah Davis, scooped him under her wings and taught him the art of vocal accompaniment.  Bass master, Curtis Lundy was another invaluable mentor. Ben began studying accordion only seven years ago.  Under the tuteledge of Brazilian master, Vitor Goncalves Ben’s talent grew and he started landing accordion gigs playing South American music, also Klezmer, Romanian and Irish music.

To assist in this production, Rosenblum has hand-picked talented musicians like Wayne Tucker on trumpet and flugelhorn, who has performed with Dee Dee Bridgewater, Kurt Elling and Cyrille Aimee. Jasper Dutz holds the lead alto saxophone chair in the Arturo O’Farrill Afro-Latin Jazz Alliance. Together, with his trio, the Nebula Project offers the listener a collision of cultures and a variety of musical influences. The band also interprets the original compositions of Ben Rosenblum.  If you glue together “A Thousand Pebbles” you will surely come up with a solid rock made up of many shapes, sizes and colors, as artistic and three dimensional as this unique production.

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John Daversa, trumpet/Evi master/composer/vocals; Tal Cohen, piano/composer.

The beauty of this project is the open, spontaneous, and effortless interaction between two masterful musicians. John Daversa is a three-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and Evi master.  Tal Cohen is an internationally acclaimed jazz pianist.  This album reflects the camaraderie and amazing talents between two masters who blend and bend the tunes like soft clay.  When I listen to familiar pieces like “But Beautiful,” I am enthralled by their improvisations and their highly creative arrangement.  In their press package they explain it simply as “Everything that we play comes from the heart, not the mind.  It’s not a science project.  It’s a human project.”

You will hear the most wonderful interpretations of familiar songs like “On A Clear Day” and Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.”  You will also enjoy the original compositions of John Daversa and Tal Cohen.  On an original tune Daversa calls “Little Black Spider” he bursts into song and tells the story of having a chat with a small black spider climbing up a wall, sounding a wee bit like Mose Allison.  The song he calls “The Fool and the Emperor” is another exploration of freedom, melody, and improvisation. The two instruments, (trumpet and piano) fill up my room with creative sound.  I don’t need anyone else to join them.  They perform perfectly together.  Tal Cohen contributes “The Art of Sanity” as his original composition and it is a lovely tune where he and Daversa’s muted trumpet dance fluidly together.  They stretch my imagination. I picture playful swans in a pond.  This is lovely music to play while sharing cocktails or conversation, or to sit quietly in a blue room.  What better way to surround yourself with the absolute and expert beauty of these two imaginative musicians?  Here is an album of pure and unfiltered improvisation, exciting experimentation, and exceptional musicianship that both entertains and surprises the listener. 

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Diane Marino, vocals/piano/arranger/producer; Frank Marino, bass/rhythm guitar/producer; Chris Brown, drums/percussion; Pat Bergeson, guitar; Joel Frahm & Cole Burgess, saxophones; Chuck Redo, vibraphone; Brad Cole, keyboards; Wycliffe Gordon & Desmond NG, trombone; Leif Shires, trumpet.

Diane Marino has chosen a dozen familiar jazz standards to interpret along with her swinging band. She is an accomplished pianist, arranger and adds vocals as the whipped cream atop her musical sundae. I enjoyed Ms. Marino’s rendition of the blues classic, “Ain’t No Use” with Chuck Redo featured on vibraphone. She turns the title tune, “I Hear Music” upside down and on its head with her fast-tempo, Latin-fused arrangement. Diane delivers a beautiful rendition of the Buddy Kaye/Bill Reid ballad, “I’ll Close My Eyes.” She shines on piano during the “Let Me Off Uptown” arrangement and Joel Frahm swings hard on his tenor saxophone.  Equally at home singing a tender ballad, plush with emotions, or swinging a jazz tune in the traditional, jazzy way, Diane Marino shows she is comfortable with either one.  She also has a deep appreciation for Brazilian and Latin flavored music, although on this production she is singing and playing mostly swing tunes and pretty ballads.  Here is an album perfect for a Valentine dinner, or dancing with your sweetheart in front of a roaring fireplace.

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MARK ORTWEIN – “IT WAS TIME” – Terra Voce Records

Mark Ortwein, bass clarinet/tenor, alto, soprano saxophones/electrified bassoon/baritone saxophone/flute/ clarinet/bassoon/composer; Olas Ortwein, fretless bass/guitar/bass/keyboards; Peter Hansen, bass; John Fell, guitar; Frank Glover, piano/string patches; Paul Langford & Gary Walters, piano; Frances Wyatt, Craig Hetrick, Carrington Clinton, Johnny Concannon & Matt McGraw, drums; Pavel Polaco-Safadit, piano/congas/cowbell; Josh Kaufman, vocals; Jon Crabiel, percussion; Kenny Rampton, trumpet.

The opening tune unwraps like a surprise package, with a synthesized string section setting a mood of expectancy.  The pianist appears for a brief solo.  Frank Glover plays both piano and creates the string patches.  Mark Ortwein first blows the title tune’s beautiful melody from his bass clarinet, then picks up his tenor saxophone and tells a further story. His solo transforms the delivered package to a piece of art and I just sit here, stunned. This is jazz!  The composition had a double entendre.  “It Was Time” was written for his mother, who passed away a couple of years ago.  It was her time to go, but also it was time for Ortwein to begin working on his own project. A lovely instrumental album to play while sipping drinks and cuddling next to loved ones.  Ortwein has composed or co-written many of the songs.  Track #2 is another example of his composer skills titled “Pepperoni Grande Con Queso Mas.” The tune dances across space with Latin complexities and rhythmic gusto. Pavel Polanco-Safadit  plays piano, congas and cowbell, while Matt McGraw holds the tempo steady on drums.  Olas Ortwein solidifies the rhythm section on bass and they support Mark Ortwein’s electrified bassoon and baritone saxophone.  I am intrigued.  On the familiar tune “I Can’t Make You Love Me: the voice of his friend, Josh Kaufman spices the Bonnie Raitt hit record up a notch.  You may recall Josh Kaufman from the NBC television 6th season of “The Voice.” In fact, he won that season appearing on Usher’s team. This recording clearly defines why he won. Ortwein’s project is deliciously creative. I am a big fan of the baritone saxophone, the bassoon and bass clarinet.  Mark Ortwein gives us a taste of his talent on each instrument.  He is currently the Assistant Principal Bassoonist and Contra-bassoonist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.  Ortwein is a multi-instrumentalist, a performing artist who has performed worldwide and in a range of venues. playing a mix of genres. He’s played in Carnegie Hall and the Grand Ole Opry; on MTV and with symphony orchestras.  Mark Ortwein has added his talents to jazz, R&B, classical orchestras, chamber ensembles and musical theater.  This man known no boundaries. Additionally, he leads his own jazz group (the Ortwein JazzTet) and is a university professor.

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BRIAN THOMAS – “ON THE BONE” – Independent Label

Brian Thomas, trombone/composer/arranger; Johnny Trama, guitar; Darby Wolf, Hammond B3 organ; Tom Arey, drums; Yahuba Garcia-Torres, congas/percussion; Scott Mayo, alto saxophone; Mike Tucker, tenor saxophone.

Brian Thomas brings soul-jazz to stage center, using his original writing and arranging talents to produce this album.  He opens with “Turn On” (composed by his mentor, woodwind specialist Roger Eckers).  It features Scott Mayo on alto saxophone, Darby Wolf on organ, a soulful guitar solo by Johnny Trama and is propelled in the “Hambone, hambone … have you heard?” fashion by drummer, Tom Arey.  All the other tunes are composed by Brian Thomas.  “Orange Tape” continues the funk groove with a soul-jazz-fusion arrangement. The horns take stage front and blast their message. Thomas recalls a memory of riding in his dad’s car and seeing him pop an orange cassette tape into the car’s tape player.  This is a tribute to that time in his life and the memorable orange tape he loved to listen to while riding down the avenue with his dad.  This entire production is reminiscent of the Tower of Power days, when jazz, big band and R&B held hands and created a danceable circle of energy in the 1970s. This is an energetic production, rhythmically perpetuated and melodically sweet.

“All these songs were recorded in a very old-school way. I have been working with this crew of musicians in many different settings for nearly two decades. … I handpicked this crew to bring these blue-based compositions to life, as each of them have spent their lives studying and performing roots, blues, jazz and soul music with the best in the business.  Each song on the album delivers a deep groove, funky pocket and space for each musician to share their voice,” says Brian Thomas.

The title tune, “On the Bone” features one of those James Brown grooves, where Mike Tucker offers a sensational tenor saxophone solo and Brian Thomas delivers his own unforgettable solo on his trombone. When he isn’t recording or performing, Brian Thomas shares his knowledge with youth as an educator at Canton High School where he directs four instrumental ensembles. Additionally, he has a busy calendar of performance shows in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the Boston area this winter.

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Stefano Travaglini, composer/pianist; Achille Succi, bass clarinet/alto saxophone.

Opening with a song that sounds like something from suite of the bumblebees, composer Stefano Travaglini lets his fingers buzz across the piano keys.  The production is full, even though only two instruments are present.  Travaglini sounds a bit like two pianists, with his left hand repeatedly playing a melodic groove and his right-hand busy interpreting and improvising.  It’s a little like patting your head with one hand and circling your stomach with the other. It takes precise practice and concentration.  When Achille Succi enters on his alto saxophone, he fattens the sound with his improvisational lines.  Now there’s a bee and a bird flying around my listening space with energy and determination.

“Book of Innocence” is Travaglini’s fifth album as bandleader or co-leader.  This is a pensive, emotionally rich, duo album that features eight original compositions by Travaglini out of nine songs.  These two Italian artists, who are based in Italy, have developed a very artistic album using inspiration from a variety of sources.  For one, on the first original composition titled, “Rothko”, Travaglini was stimulated by the visual art of Russian-born abstract expressionist, Mark Rothko. This first tune reminds me of a bee and a bird.  Their second duo presentation is called “Bauci” and takes its inspiration from the novel ‘Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino. On this tune, Achille puts down his alto sax and picks up his bass clarinet for a beautiful expression of melody that intricately locks into the harmonics of Travaglini’s piano chords.  This jazz is strongly based in classical music, but the quality of improvisation propels Travaglini and Succi into the realms of freedom that jazz inspires. On Track #3, “Silent Moon” I can feel the nocturnal scene this music represents as these two extraordinary musicians contrive the moon, casting it’s glow across my listening room with a piano, a bass clarinet and a creative spirit.  This is art!  Pat Metheny’s “Travels” tune is the only ‘cover’ song on this album and is uniquely arranged to interpret the 1983 original release by Metheny in their own unique manner.  On this tune, Achille Succi’s saxophone is drenched in the blues. 

Recorded, mixed and mastered at Studio Sequenza in Montreuit, Paris, this is an international production that reaches across the ocean to signal how incredibly the African-American music called jazz has touched all continents and cultures with sensuous fingers.  I do wish I could have heard one ‘swing’ or ‘shuffle’ tune to represent the roots of jazz.  But they do signal the jazz blues roots during their presentation of Travaglini’s original composition, “Blues for Days to Come.”  Throughout, Stefano Travaglini thrills the listener with his own extraordinary talents on piano, complimented by the equally gifted and talented reedman, Achille Succi.  This entire duo project is like a long love letter, full of sweet and intoxicating musical melodies, with secrets that enhance each moment and musical passage. Their duo music is as sweet as chocolates or bubbly champagne. It’s mellow music that will inspire warm hugs and deep, delicious moments of bliss.

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Dave Liebman, saxophones; Leo Genovese, piano; John Hébert, bass; Tyshawn Sorey, drums; Peter Evans, trumpet.

As soon as I see the name Dave Liebman, I know that I will be entertained by good solid jazz. This ‘live’ recording at the famed Small’s in NYC is another exhilarating musical experiment by Liebman and his extraordinary group of musicians.  The first tune, “The Beginning” is a fourteen minute display of jazz brilliance.  I am absolutely intrigued by Leo Genovese on piano, who performs a stellar solo before NEA Jazz Master, Dave Liebman, enters and soaks up the spotlight. 

“I have been recording since I was sixteen years old. I’ve played everything and particularly a lot of the jazz language on over five-hundred records.  I would like to spend this next stage of my artistic life focusing on playing free,” Liebman reflected. 

You will hear and enjoy lots of freedom in this delightful and masterful recording.  On this premier tune, each musician comes forward to explore their own creativity.  John Hébert takes a spontaneous and high-powered bass solo, egged on by Tyshawn Sorey’s drums and the tinkle of Genovese’s piano accompaniment.  Perhaps this exploratory album is a throwback to Liebman’s days with Chick Corea and Dave Holland, back in the late 1960’s when the three shared a downtown loft and living space where they exclusively played ‘free’. 

“We’d play four or five hours at a time without pause, never calling tunes, keys or tempos.  John Coltrane’s epic recording, “Ascension” was a model for us and still carries the weight of John’s music today,” Liebman explained this album’s concept.

The three songs on this album are “The Beginning,” “The Middle” and “The End.”  They are long, innovative compositions that move like the wind, with various directions and velocity.  You will be thoroughly entertained and inspired by this improvised concert.

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