Archive for March, 2023


March 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 25. 2023


Shirley Scott, Hammond B3 organ; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Bobby Durham, drums; Ernie Andrews, voice.

To close out Women’s History Month, here is an archival treasure that Zev Feldman and Cory Weed stumbled upon. Recently, they ran into tapes revered and protected by the Left Bank Jazz Society and former LBJS president, John Fowler. Immediately, the two jazz producers recognized their find as an amazing piece of jazz history.  It was August 20, 1972, when the concert was recorded ‘live’ at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore, Maryland. Now, here’s a double disc set that captures a very special space in time. Shirley Scott was the queen of organ and was a respected musician by the jazz men of that era.  In the liner notes, George Coleman remembered Shirley as a talented musician.

“She was great, man.  She was wonderful, very intelligent and very knowledgeable about harmony and stuff. She played a lot of different little things that I embraced, like some of the triads that she would play on some of the 13th chords.  I was very happy playing those things with her, ‘cause she was really great with the harmony, man, and, you know, she could swing, as you can hear on the album.  We played together with Johnny Hartman too.  She was really wonderful.  I miss her a lot,” George Coleman sang Shirley’s praises.

They open with John Coltrane’s famed “Impressions” tune and the trio is hot and swinging. Shirley lets George Coleman strut his stuff first and he shines on tenor saxophone. Bobby Durham is dynamite and lightening quick on drums. When she enters on organ, the spotlight is all hers.  Scott’s energy blasts through my speakers and her talent is formidable and unforgettable.  Shirley Scott was awe-inspiring!

On the “Never Can Say Goodbye” tune, Bobby Durham cuts loose and his solo is absolutely dynamic and vibrant.  What a talent on those drums!  George Coleman said he was an excellent singer too.  I didn’t know that about Bobby Durham.  Speaking of singers, a wonderful addition to this band was Ernie Andrews. George Coleman said he wasn’t a regular part of the band, but from time to time he would sit-in and he did gigs with them occasionally. Whenever Ernie Andrews took to the stage, he lifted the musical experience up a notch.  The vocalist was a showman and the audiences loved him.  He is featured on “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” with a great lyric and blues melody by Jim Croce. Ernie knows how to sell a song!  He follows this with “Girl Talk” and a mixed bag “Blues.”

Saxophonist Tim Warfield reflected on hearing Ernie Andrews sing.

“What can I say about Ernie Andrews?  I’ve heard him many times, but I got the chance to play with him at a jam session in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in my early years.  He sang “All Blues.”  I’ll never forget the feeling that I got hearing Ernie Andrews for the first time and how intense and beautiful it was.  There’s a certain sort of life wisdom that comes through in his vocal delivery that is unmatched.  He was just very soulful, man, you know?  There was a lot of conviction in what he would do.  I used to just watch how the audience would respond,” Warfield told his story in the liner notes.

About Shirley Scott he said, “Sublime! … It’s really difficult to describe Shirley in one word.  There was an honesty in her playing.  There was a soulfulness. ….  Joyful! Yeah, if I were to use one word, that’s probably what I would use. Joyful! Maybe even communal because there were certain consistencies that I just found fascinating.  I’ve never seen people respond the way I saw them respond to Shirley. …  Shirley was a sweetheart.  She was a nurturer. I don’t know if that was her intent, but it’s certainly who she was. … She was an elder.  She was like my aunt,” the saxophonist said.

I’ve not heard an arrangement quite like the one they play on Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”  It’s just full of excitement and I feel like when I get to Phoenix there’s going to be a big party, for sure.  Bobby Durham opens a version of “Smile” with a flurry of drum sticks and a solo that sets the tempo out the gate, like a horse on fire.  I have surely never heard Charlie Chaplin’s tune played like this before and it’s awesome!  From beginning to end, this is first class, high energy, unrelenting, honest and Straight-ahead jazz at its best.  It is “Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank.”

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Ingrid Laubrock, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Mazz Swift, violin; Tomeka Reid, cello; Brandon Seabrook, guitar; Michael Formanek, double bass; Tom Rainey, drums.

Those of us living in big city life rarely get a taste of quiet.  It evades us like the plague.  Perhaps we are the plague, the scourge of Mother Earth. Our world is full of helicopter sounds, screams, gun shots, sirens, screech of brakes, angry auto horns and the rumbling of tires against asphalt.  Saxophonist and composer, Ingrid Laubrock, is searching for “The Last Quiet Place” and she uses this project to represent her exploration.  After reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s books, ‘The Sixth Extinction’ and ‘Under a White Sky’ Ingrid Laubrock was inspired to compose these six songs.

“Kolbert explains that there’s very little in nature that is pure anymore.  There is nothing that is untouched or that actually functions as it’s supposed to function.  I was thinking of these places that are no longer pristine and I realized that the only quiet place you can look for is within yourself – – and even finding that seems impossible much of the time,” Ingrid Laubrock muses.

Laubrock’s sextet joins musical talents to interpret her six original compositions, beginning with a song called, “Anticipation.”  The sweet strains of string instruments, featuring Mazz Swift on violin, soar across space. There is the feeling of anticipation in the music. Funny, Laubrock seems less desirous of quiet and serenity in these compositions. Instead, there is a burst of energy and chaotic reality that usurps all concept of quietness and instead seems to magnify tension and the opposite of silence.

“I feel like we’re in turmoil all the time. We’re all addicted to news cycles and constantly online, having signals sent to our brain that we must be alert and worried at all times, when it actually serves us better not to be.  I am always searching to maintain a sense of clarity and focus,” Laubrock states in her press package.

“Grammy Season” is the second cut and it begins with Ingrid Laubrock’s tenor saxophone flying amidst a sea of drum rolls with the help of Michael Formanek’s walking double bass.  The tune is busy and fused together with cello and violin riffs, drum slaps, and dissonant melodies strung together like off-colored pearls. 

The motivation for Ingrid Laubrock to tackle this project came from working with drummer Andrew Drury’s quartet and taking long introspective hikes and bike rides.  Her own drummer, Tom Rainey has been one of Ingrid’s close collaborators for some time.  She snatched up the opportunity to work again with bassist Formanek when he moved back to New York.  Ingrid is an experimental saxophonist and composer who broadly explores her musical realms by creating multi-layered sound plateaus, piled upon each other thoughtfully and provocatively.  She wants to make the listener and the players feel the passion and potential she captures in her compositions.  The title tune, “The Last Quiet Place” is quite beautiful, in its own, unique way.  It blows like a breath of fresh air across the listening space.  Then comes “Delusions” that builds the tension again.  Laubrock says it’s based on the same tone row as the title track.  However, they sound nothing alike, and their moods are entirely and extremely different. Brandon Seabrook’s guitar smashes over the strings, broad and powerful as feet stomping purple grapes, until the mood changes and becomes almost prayer-like. I find great beauty in some compositions like “Afterglow” and the final tune, “Chant II” is a modular piece and she says it was inspired by speech patterns. Laubrock seems to be a master of musical moods, much like Mother Nature, who can cast a dark cloud across the face of a sunny day and throw hail down from the ominous eyes of the skies. Ingrid Laubrock’s music affects me in extreme ways.  Clearly, the notion of “The Last Quiet Place” is as ethereal and absent in this album concept as silence itself.  Still, the beauty of her work shines like moonlight on the lake.

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AYMÉE NUVIOLA – “HAVANA NOCTURNE” – Worldwide Entertainment

Aymée Nuviola, vocals; Kemuel Roig, piano; Lowell Ringel, bass; Hilario Bell, drums; Jose ‘Majito’ Aguilera, percussion; Julian Avila, guitar. Backing vocals: Hilario Bell, Kemuel Roig, Jose ‘Majito’ Aguilera & Lowell Ringel.

Aymée Nuviola is an internationally acclaimed artist who has won multi-GRAMMY awards including Latin Grammy awards.  This artist has consistently kept Cuban music front and center, but also has captivated audiences with her musical versatility. You hear this versatility on the very first tune, “Imagenes” composed by Frank Dominguez.  Her voice dips and dives across the melody.  She scats and sings in Spanish with gusto and emotion.  She is both cool and captivating, surrounded by all-star musicians like Kemuel Roig on piano.  A form of Latin jazz became the heartbeat of Cuba in the late 1940’s into the early 1960’s called ‘Filin’music. In English, the word ‘filin’ translates to feelings. This Cuban music genre started when youthful musicians began to explore Cuban bolero music, seeking more freedom when performing this genre. It was a music greatly influenced by American music, with the spotlight on popular jazz vocalists of that day.  American artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, even Nat King Cole, helped to popularize the Filin style of song and performance.  The genre blended wholesomely with the Cuban music essence. Folks gathered around this Filin music at social clubs, jam sessions, house parties and concerts. Although Aymée Nuviola was born after that culturally rich filin popularity, she sounds as though she was influenced by it.  In fact, she has earned the moniker, ‘The Voice of El Filin of her Generation.’  One of the pioneers of this bolero-filin genre was a composer named Jose Antonio Mendez and Aymée Nuviola has covered two of his songs on this project; “Novia Mia” and “Me Faltabass tu.”  This Filin movement has sense spread from Cuba to New York, to Mexico and even to Puerto Rico.  Where Bolero music was always danceable, but bolero-filin did not lock the rhythm into perfect place, but often improvised both melodies and tempos. The melodies were often more challenging and complicated. When Aymee sings the Mendez composition, “Novia Mia” she takes vocal liberties and puts the ‘Swing’ into the arrangement after the first few verses that are sung more bolero. Julian Avilla’s sensitive guitar beautifully opens the second Jose A. Mendez tune, “Me Faitabas Tu.”  Lowell Ringel’s bass adds a strong basement to the building that Aymée Nuviola’s voice builds.  Although I do not speak nor understand Spanish, I feel Aymée Nuviola’s music. I connect to her spirit and her emotional delivery.  Sometimes her voice is quite like a horn and extremely jazzy in her presentation.  At times, like her rendition of “Rosa Mustia” I hear snippets of Billie Holiday’s influence. Aymee Nuviola drags us willingly through the enchanting streets of Havana and offers us her take on classic bolero-filin compositions by a dozen famous and legendary Cuban composers.  On “Obsession” (a Pedro Flores composition) she and the band fade into an Afro-Cuban chant towards the end of the arrangement, and Kemuel Roig takes an exciting and splendid solo. When she sings “El Jamaiquino” we are transported to a carnival or a dance, and this arrangement gives Jose ‘Majito ’Aguilera an opportunity to shine on percussion along with drummer, Hilario Bell. This artist has composed one song for this unique project. It’s titled “Quédate” and it starts as a beautiful ballad. Then, quickly doubles the time and adds percussion and guitar to brighten the arrangement.  Background voices smoothly color and fill in the vacant spaces.  Martha Valdés is a female composer from the bolero-filin era, and Aymée Nuviola sings her “Tu no Sospechas” tune to remind us of both history and Aymée’s ability to transform the music into a more contemporary era with her smooth vocals and range. Mr. Roig is such an amazing jazz pianist, that whenever he takes a solo, he lifts the production a notch.  Aymée’s voice spreads the joy around like jelly on sweet bread. 

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Ludovica Burtone, violin/composer; Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Marta Sanchez, piano; Matt Aronoff, bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell, drums; Leonor Falcon Pasquali, viola; Mariel Roberts, cello. SPECIAL GUESTS: Leandro Pellegrino, guitar; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Sami Stevens, vocals; Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Roberto Giaquinto, drums.

Violinist Ludovica Burtone has composed all but one of the songs on this beautifully produced project.  Ludovica is an Italian violinist with outstanding composer talents, and a history of appearances working in classical quartets, with Brazilian bands and also contemporary jazz.  During this debut project, Ms. Burtone is fusing her passion for string quartet music with a number of guest artists.  They help her interpret the songs on this autobiographical album. “Sparks” tells the story of Burtone’s journey to the United States from Italy and her passage from classical music to jazz, then embracing world music and beyond.  She paints a very personal narrative, spreading her composer colors across the universe with musical notes and rhythm brushes. Ludovica Burtone introduces the listener to global stories, using her violin as the musical pen and ink.  Beginning with “Blazing Sun,” she duets with Fung Chern Hwei on violin and they build and crescendo this original composition, leaving space for Marta Sanchez to brightly solo on piano. The piano upper register improvisation sounds a lot like a jewelry music box.  Track #2 is titled “Sinha” and features Leandro Pellegrino on guitar, with Rogerio Boccato on percussion.  They fatten the sound, like bacon in the stew, bringing flavor to the musical pot.  This is the only composition that Ms. Burtone didn’t write.  It’s a happy-go-lucky tune, showcasing the happiness a violin can bring to your life, and spotlighting an exciting guitar solo by Pellegrino.  On Track #4, “Awakening” Burtone’s special guest, Melissa Aldana soars on tenor saxophone.  I am super impressed with their collaboration.

Ludovica Burtone’s work “Sparks” is sure to catch fire and burn a pathway towards more stories, more dreams, and more brilliant music.

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Hailey Brinnel, vocals/trombone/composer; Silas Irvine, piano; Dan Monaghan, drums; Joe Plowman, bass; Terell Stafford & Andrew Carson, trumpet;  Chris Oatts, alto & soprano saxophones.

The opening tune on Hailey Brinnel’s sophomore album swings and delivers a positive message.  Written by Richard & Robert Sherman, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” has inspired Ms. Brinnel’s album title, “Beautiful Tomorrow” and it is a great lyrical way to introduce us to this trombonist and vocalist.  Chris Oatts takes a spirited alto saxophone solo after Hailey Brinnel sings the song down once.  Her voice reminds me of the Fred Astaire musical motion picture days.  She has a clear, pleasant tone and enunciates every word, like those actresses in the movies.  I enjoy the horn arrangements that are full and lush, sounding more like six or more horns instead of only three. Critics have regaled her budding talent and praised her versatile arranging sensibilities. Hailey’s style remains true to the old-school, jazz tradition, while incorporating youthful, contemporary nuances. In addition to playing trombone and singing, she is a fine composer. Both the blues changes and the smart lyrics of her original song, “I Might be Evil,” showcase her composer skills. Her trombone solo celebrates her musician strength. She has also composed “The Sound,” a song that spotlights her straight-ahead jazz sensibility. Here is a song where the tempo races and the pulse of the piece pushes the lyrics briskly, like a freight train in a hurry. Dan Monaghan on drums is the steam in the engine, and Joe Plowman on bass takes a noteworthy solo.  This tune sounds like something the late, great Betty “Be Bop” Carter might have written and sung. Hailey Brinnel has a lot of bebop in her style. I enjoyed her take on the Donald Fagen tune, “Walk Between Raindrops,” and once again the horn section shines!  Silas Irvine has a light touch on the piano keys, as though his fingers are skipping.  But don’t get it twisted!  He’s quite tenacious and power-packed with creativity and technique on his instrument. The band flies on “Tea for Two” and Hailey Brinnel sings and scats, showing the world she has roots in both the swing and bebop traditions.

“I like pushing the limits of the idiom, while staying true to jazz,” Hailey states.

She arranged and produced “Wayfaring Stranger” like a New Orleans dirge with Andrew Carson’s trumpet sparkling brightly during his solo. Brinnel’s vocals are sung like a horn, sometimes slamming her upper register in our faces.  She has a good range, but probably needs coaching on those soprano notes and how to elongate them with emotional smoothness and control. This is not meant to be a criticism, but more of an observation. I do enjoy Hailey Brinnel’s tone and her emotional delivery.

I also found her arrangements creative and surprising, like the way she sang “Tea for Two” and “There Will Never Be” by Botkin Jr., and Garfield.  Her trombone carries happiness in its’ bell and spreads it around when she plays “I Want to be Happy.” Irvine’s piano also dances joyfully.  Joe Plowman walks his double bass beneath her interpretation of the familiar tune, “Candy” as they present a stunning duo presentation.  Every song on this album is performed well and gives this listener encouragement that young people are carrying on jazz music in capable hands and good standing. 

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SANAH KADOURA – “DUALITY” – Independent Label

Sanah Kadoura, drums/background vocals/composer/arranger; Flavio Silva, guitar; Michael King, piano/Fender Rhodes/organ; Jonathan Michel, upright bass/electric bass; Virginia MacDonald, clarinet; Rachel Therrien, flugelhorn/trumpet; Stacy Dillard, soprano saxophone; Parham Haghigh & Joanna Majoko, vocals.

Sanah Kadoura is a Lebanese-Canadian drummer, composer, educator and producer.  “Duality” is her second album release and a follow-up to her 2018 release of “Hawk Eyes.”  This time, her concept is the duality of light and dark.   

“As we all navigate through our own internal balance, this album is an offering of healing, guidance and love. We all have our own battles, and I think it’s easier for us as humans to connect with each other through darkness, and find the light together,” Sanah shares her concept for this album.

“The Geminis” is Track #1 of this project and it’s contemporary jazz, featuring Sanah Kadoura compelling on drums, Virginia MacDonald on clarinet and Sanah, Joanna Majoko and Parham Haghigh singing wordlessly, like horns, in the background. This concept is used throughout Kadoura’s recording arrangements.  On the second and third tracks you can hear her Lebanese culture in Sanah’s original compositions.  One of my favorites on this album is Track #4, “Hidden Realities” that is more like Straight-ahead jazz and features a powerful solo by Michael King on piano, along with the inspired soprano saxophone work of Stacy Dillard.  Sanah steps into stage center with her trap drums and shows off both technique and spontaneity.  Track #8 is another thumbs up arrangement, titled “Dijon’ dres Deal” that waves Straight-ahead jazz like a banner above our heads.  It is a refreshing composition, up-tempo and giving both pianist Michael King and soprano saxophonist, Stacy Dillard a platform to speak their musical truths. The final song, “Rise,” features Joanna Majoko on lead vocals and her voice is lovely.  All the songs on this project were composed, arranged and produced by Sanah Kadoura and propelled forward by her astute trap drum skills.

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Alyse Korn, piano/vocals/composer; Robert Kyle, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute/surdo/guiro/ composer; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Hussain Jiffry & Ahmet Turkmenoglu, bass; Leonice Shinnerman, tabla; Howard & Phyllis Silverstein, finger snaps.

The first tune on this project is titled, “Gratitude” and its warm, Brazilian arrangement wraps musical arms around me.  Alyse Korn is the composer.  She has a sweet voice that caresses the melody, singing along with the piano part at the top of the song, wordless, but emotional.  Robert Kyle is known for his round, comforting saxophone sound on both tenor and soprano saxophones.  His entry into the song delivers that warmth.  He and the vocalist appear to have a conversation, with the saxophone posing a fluid musical sentence and the voice answering with tone and no lyrics. The simplicity of the arrangement is very affective and rather intriguing.  The next composition is composed by Kyle and this time he pulls out his flute. The thing that both compositions have in common is a sense of comfort, peace and meditation.  This is easy listening, contemporary jazz, strongly influenced by Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music.  Kevin Winard’s drums add ample and creative support throughout.

“There’s a lot of turmoil in the world today.  We hope that when people listen to our music, they will feel the peace that we feel when we play it,” Alyse explains their musical point of view.

Track #3 (“Your Light”) is a lovely ballad with beautiful changes.  Korn’s piano tinkles in the upper register and teases our senses as an introduction.   It makes me want to lean forward to hear what’s coming next on this Robert Kyle composition.  Kyle wrote this song to capture the grace and kindness he finds in Alyse, his wife. The title tune has an intriguing melody and the harmonics that Kyle has in his head are magical and completely on display during this tune. 

Kyle shared, “I’ve made several albums paired with just a guitar or piano, but this one is special because this one is with Alyse, and Tuesday’s Child is our child,” he’s referring to their recently released album.

On the tune called “Blue Jack” Kyle plays his tenor saxophone and tributes his favorite uncle.  This time, the composition is a bit bluesy and finger snaps were a cool way to add a jazzy, club-like ambience to the production.  Turkmenoglu adds his bass to thicken the production.  Hussain Jiffry brings his bass to the party on “Vivian’s Danzon,” however it’s Winard’s tasty percussive licks that wrap this package of Latin goodness with bright ribbon colors.  Kyle’s exquisite flute dances stage center and captivates. Alyse Korn shows off her piano technique during a brief but provocative solo.  Her sensitive touch and under-stated piano technique blends seamlessly with Robert Kyles reed mastery.  Together this husband-and-wife team, project a feeling of tranquility, love and peace of mind.  What more do you need?

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Erica Seguine, composer/arranger/conductor; Shon Baker, composer/alto & soprano saxophone; Carmen Staaf, piano; Evan Gregor, bass; Paolo Cantarella, drums; Eric Burns, guitar; Tammy Scheffer, vocals; Meg Okura, violin/electric violin; Kalia Vandever & Nick Grinder, trombone; Scott Reeves, trombone/alto flugelhorn; Becca Patterson, bass trombone/tuba; Adam Horowitz, Jonathan Saraga, John Lake, & Nathan Eklund, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Lowery, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/flute; Peter Hess & Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/ flute/clarinet; Ben Kono, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Remy Le Boeuf, alto saxophone/flute/alto flute/piccolo/clarinet.

In the ever-growing, contemporary, big band jazz scene, the Erica Seguine/Shon Baker Orchestra has made quite an impact.  Since 2011, the co-founders (Erica & Shon) have combined their compositional integrity and masterful arrangements to create a beautiful platform for big band interpretation. In a sea of dissonance and unexpected harmonics, there is a palpable beauty in this project.  The creativity of these seven arrangements pulls at the soul and tantalizes the imagination.  The resulting production is an artistic reflection of the human condition and various cultures. For example, the opening composition by Erica Seguine is titled, “Reel” and has a Celtic influence that almost makes you want to get up and dance a jig.  Eric Burns and Meg Okura are featured, soloing on guitar and violin.  Shon Baker wrote “States” that opens with a music box quality played by Carmen Staff on piano. It is a sweet, sensitive piece of music at first, but quickly builds, expands and adds Tammy Scheffer’s voice that blends with the full orchestra. “Tangoing with Delusion” is a tango written by Erica, that features Shon on saxophone.  The title tune and ballad is written by Shon Baker, with Scheffer singing his poem. In terms of keeping the essence of jazz alive and well, I did not hear one swing tune, or one blues infused arrangement, both which universally represent the roots of  jazz.  However, these are big, bold orchestrations that flow and ebb like the ocean.  With each splash of orchestration comes other unexpected musical surprises.

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Emilie-Claire Barlow, vocals/arranger; Steve Webster, arranger; Reg Schwager, guitar/arranger; Justin Abedin, guitar; Jon Maharaj, bass; Amanda Tosoff, piano/arranger; Chris Donnelly, piano; Hannah Barstow, electric piano; Ben Riley, drums; Kelly Jefferson, tenor saxophone; Celso Alberti, percussion; Drew Jurecko, viola/violins/String arrangement; Lydia Munchinsky, cello; Bill McBirnie, flute; Rachel Therrien, trumpet.

Perpetuating a theme of birds, Emilie-Claire Barlow has created an album featuring her warm, soprano voice.  She has chosen eight songs, most referring to the passerine community.  Track two is sung in French and she sounds lovely singing in that romantic language. Her voice caresses each word in the song, “Fais Comme L’oiseau.”  During this arrangement, her vocals blend beautifully with the sensitive guitar accompaniment of Reg Schwager.  Emilie-Claire’s rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Bird of Beauty” composition is sung using the Portuguese lyrics of Sergio Mendes, before she breaks into English.  The Brazilian arrangement is wonderful.

Ms. Barlow is not your typical jazz voice.  Emilie-Claire can obviously sing anything and sing it well.  When she vocalizes Gershwin’s “Little Jazz Bird” Barlow adds her own jazz vocalese, singing in unison with the Schwager guitar.  She has added lyrics to the solo instrumental part, in the spirit of Lambert, Hendrix and Ross.  A true jazz singer should be able to improvise as part of the jazz mosaic, and I didn’t hear much of that.  Still, I enjoy this vocalist’s lovely tone and her emotional rendering of each song.  Emilie-Claire closes her unique album singing in, what sounds like Spanish, “Pajaros de Barro.”  During this production, Emilie-Claire Barlow takes us on a journey of birds, spiced with a variety of languages and a voice as pure and natural as the wind itself.  You may find yourself flying along with her on the wings of her songs.

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March 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 15, 2023

They say if the month of March roars in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb.  So far, the new music I have been sent is terrifically innovative and energetic.  These CD’s have blown in like a lion, album after album continues to arrive with music at a high level of innovation and creativity.  Check out these awesome recordings by the masterful pianist, BILLY CHILDS.  Los Angeles guitar player DAVE ASKREN and L.A. based sax man JEFF BENEDICT have produced a new album called “The Denver Sessions” featuring vibraphonist TED PILZECKER, bass man, PATRICK McDEVITT and drummer, PAUL ROMAINE.  An exciting new album by the CHEMBO CORNIEL QUINTET is an impressive production that features Afro-Puerto Rican Latin jazz that promises non-stop energy. THE MOTET is an instrumental group, leaning heavily towards R&B, funk and smooth jazz.  PIERRE L. CHAMBERS is a silky, smooth baritone vocalist with scat as his second language and ERIC REED reflects on the outstanding beauty of African American composers and his own relationship to music reflected on his “Black, Brown and Blue” album.  Finally, JOSÉ LUIZ MARTINS is a Brazilian pianist and composer promoting his “Reflections” CD.


Billy Childs, piano; Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Scott Colley, bass; Brian Blade, drums.

From the very first musical phrase, Billy Childs explores all his brilliance and beauty, not only as an outstanding pianist, but also as a gifted composer. “The Great Western Loop” is the first composition and opens with Childs playing a solo lick that circles the spirit of this song.  It is repeated throughout his arrangement, with Billy’s fingers flying over the 88-keys, showing purpose and determination.  Brian Blade colors the tune on drums, percussively precise with tempo, yet offering a freedom that acts like an impressive adjective in Child’s musical sentences.  When Ambrose Akinmusire joins the trio, his fluid trumpet solo lifts the arrangement another notch.  This is a great Billy Childs composition.  I had to play Track #1 twice.  The title tune follows, settling down the spirit and magnificence of Billy’s premiere song into what begins as a lovely ballad. But like ‘The Winds of Change’ themselves, the listener is invited on a magic carpet ride that dips and dives.  It teases our senses with the dynamic touch of Billy Childs and the energetic way he introduces the melody and mood of this composition.  A jazz waltz spews from the keys and sooths us one minute, before the time signature changes, and the trumpeter blows the waltz away.  The music of Billy Childs is both engaging and unpredictable, in a creative, uninhibited way.  His hands are as powerful as his technique, first tinkling at the melody in the treble clef and then, with full attack, applying classical crescendos.  While improvising with his right hand, his left hand powerfully paws the rhythm track alive, amply assisted by Scott Colley on bass and Blade’s relentless drums.  This is jazz at its finest.

Billy Childs – The End of Innocence (Official Audio) – YouTube

On “The End of Innocence” tune, Colley’s bass solo is innovative. The composition, “Crystal Silence” was so beautiful it made my eyes tear up.  From start to finish, Billy Childs once again shows the universe what a sensitive, masterful pianist he is and, what a magnificent composer he has become.  This is Grammy Award winning music. 

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Dave Askren, guitar/producer/composer; Jeff Benedict, producer/composer; Ted Piltzecker, vibraphone/composer; Patrick McDevitt, bass; Paul Romaine, drums.

Guitarist, Dave Askren and reedman, Jeff Benedict have been making music together in and around the Southern California area for three decades.  This release celebrates their 12th recording partnered together, and their fourth as bandleaders.  Each time they took to the studio, the duo featured a different line-up of musicians.  For this project, they have added New York-based vibraphonist, Ted Piltzecker to the mix, along with drummer, Paul Romaine and bass man, Patrick McDevitt.  Both are from Denver, Colorado.  Paul is a childhood friend of Jeff Benedict’s and a first-call drummer who has toured with Eddie Harris, Benny Golson and James Moody. Benedict earned his master’s degree at University of Denver and spent ten years in Colorado soaking up the jazz scene before relocating to Los Angeles. Their carefully chosen drummer had a warm relationship with Patrick McDevitt (the bass player) and so, he completed their quintet.

“It turned from a recording date into a week-long hang, with a series of gigs culminating in the session,” guitarist Dave Askren reflects. 

Listening to this project, I would never guess that these players barely knew each other musically when they walked into the recording studio.  They exude a warmth and a musical camaraderie that makes this production sound like old friends playing together.  The vibraphonist has composed the fourth cut, “Poised” and it floats and dances across my listening room in a very melodious way.  Beyond being a virtuoso vibraphonist, Piltzecker is clearly a fine composer. Surprisingly, he also earned a degree in trumpet at Eastman School of Music.

“Ted’s always a great hang!  He juggles, he rides a unicycle, he’s a pilot and he just happens to play vibes really well.  He’s a great person to collaborate on music with, because he’s got big ears and listens to all kinds of music,” Jeff Benedict sings the praises of their guest vibraphonist.

Benedict has composed the bluesy “Ennui, Anyone” tune. He adds his saxophone mastery to the mix, soaking up the spotlight like a thirsty sponge.  His horn sets the mood and establishes the groove.  Piltzecker steps right in on vibes and keeps the blues thick and palpable, producing melodic rhythm and laid-back sweetness.  Dave Askren’s guitar is warm and inviting, settling into that slow swing, like a musician reclining in a hammock.  McDevitt takes a brief bass solo and cushions the horn and guitar harmonics that mimic a full horn section.  Askren enhances the slow shuffle groove on his guitar, while the Romaine drums propel their band forward.  This album is packed with music that’s amazingly comfortable.  It’s the kind of jazz that sooths the soul, pulling inspiration from the mid-sixties jazz scene that introduced the world to vibraphone masters like Milt Jackson and later, Bobby Hutcherson. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of the Stan Getz years.

“On the surface there are several different jazz genres thrown together here.  What’s cool is it’s all the same guys with our own styles, so by the end, it really sounds like a band.,” Askren brags, happy with their Denver Session results. 

The camaraderie shared by the members of this band forges a chemistry and a bonding that makes their production completely entertaining and inspired.  From the boisterous “Orange Express” that showcases Paul Romaine’s drum skills, to a more contemporary jazz style. There is the Latin fused, melodic original composition by Benedict dedicated to his mother titled, “Marie Adele.”  You will hear diversity in this project.  For example, Dave Askren’s composition that opens this album, “Jackie’s Idea” is one of my favorite tunes and may be referencing Jackie McLean and recalling his Blue Note Record days of Straight-ahead jazz.  These five musicians bring joy, love and happiness to a project rich with potential.

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Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Philip Norris, bass; TJ Reddick & Domo Branch, drums; Julian Lee, tenor saxophone.

Isaiah J. Thompson is a rising star.  He’s a blossoming pianist who has already performed with several iconic jazz musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Steve Turre, John Pizzareli and Buster Williams.  Additionally, Isaiah is a sensitive and prolific composer.  Perhaps you watched him on the NPR Tiny Desk concert.  He has also been a special guest performer at Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s “Handful of Keys.” 

Isaiah J. Thompson Quartet: Tiny Desk Concert – YouTube

His album will be released on March 16, 2023, recorded during a live performance at “Jazz at Lincoln Center.”  His stellar album opens with a tune called, “The IT Department” that he released as a single a few weeks ago.  The title is a play on Thompson’s initials and a tribute to his father.  This single release landed Thompson on the cover of “Tidal’s Rising Jazz Playlist.”  Julian Lee’s awesome tenor saxophone solo is as powerful as Isaiah’s piano work.  I enjoyed the way Philip Norris soaked up the spotlight during his bass solo. Isaiah Thompson has the technique and a style that reminds me of Erroll Garner one moment and Cedar Walton the next.  In his press package, Thompson says he admires Bobby Timmons and Phineas Newborn Jr., but clearly, he’s blazing his own path.  In fact, he has composed a song “For Phineas” that opens with the Norris bass front and center.  Playing solo, Philip Norris sets the tone, the groove and the rhythm for this piece before Isaiah and his quartet join in.  It is a very exciting bass solo, played with passion and fervor. When Isaiah enters the piece, his fingers fly as does the tempo, and he mesmerizes with the power of his solo. Drummer, Domo Branch, is given an opportunity to express himself solo and he too is dynamic!  The live audience applauds wildly after this tune.  Another ‘single’ from this album is “Tales of the Elephant and Butterfly.”  Every composition on this album is a testimony to Thompson’s talent and prowess. This is a debut release for Isaiah J. Thompson that reflects spontaneous creativity and spirit.  It introduces us to the depth of talent and power of spirit that Isaiah J. Thompson brings to the music.   Sit back and enjoy!

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CHEMBO CORNIEL QUINTET:  Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Jr., tumbadoras/Cajon/Barril de Bomba/bata/quinto/shekere/gua-gua/clave/guiro/miscellaneous percussion; Carlos Cuevas, piano/Fender Rhodes; Ian Stewart, electric bass; Joel E. Mateo, drums/Bomba cua/clave; Hery Paz, tenor saxophone/flute.  INVITED GUESTS: Eliado “Don Pancho” Terry, shekere/vocals; Hector Martignon, Elio Villafranca, Adan Perez, piano; Vince Cherico & Ivan Llanes, drums;  Ruben Rodriguez & Mike Viñas, acoustic bass; Andrea Brachfeld, flute; Paul Carlon & Ivan Renta, tenor saxophone; Agustin Someillan Garcia, trumpet; Angel “Cuqui” Lebron, trombones; Nelson Matthew Gonzalez, primo barril & maraca; Ben Lapidus, Cuban tres/coros; Juan Aldahondo, Puerto Rican cuatro; Victor Rendon, Bata lya/shekere; Yasuyo Kimura, shekere; Cascadu Escayg, bata Okonkolo; Jose Acosta, maracas; Felipe Luciano & Ismael “East” Carlo, poets.

“Lagrima De Monte” – Chembo Corniel Quintet 2023 – YouTube

From the first flurry of notes by the Chembo Corniel Quintet, their percussive excellence and enthusiasm startles the listener to attention.  Their percussion art absolutely propels this project and infuses it with African, Puerto Rican, Spanish and Island culture.  When you mix these rhythms into the jazz mosaic, the product is a delicious stew of cultures and music. Here is music that wets the musical appetite and delights the senses.  Ismael “East” Carlo, a poet, recites spoken word at the top of a tune called P.R.I.D.E and Carlos Cuevas inspires me with his piano solo. Andrea Brachfeld makes a guest appearance on flute after Paul Carlon puts his stamp of approval on the tune, using his tenor saxophone solo to propel this arrangement into the high heavens.  Once again, the percussion shines and binds the musicians tightly together.  This piece becomes a shooting star that sparkles across space and properly entertains us with its brilliance. 

This is the sixth album release for Chembo Corniel and it may be his best.  “Artistas, Musicos Y Poetas” celebrates Chembo Corniel’s 20th anniversary as a bandleader.  He has surrounded himself with guest artists, along with his steadfast quintet, to interpret nine exciting and diverse compositions, including the familiar Monk tune, “Evidence” that sounds completely natural arranged as Afro-Cuban and Eddie Palmieri’s “Pa’ La Ocha Tambo” composition that features Agustin Someillan Garcia on trumpet. On the fourth track, “Child of Wisdom” the electric bass solo by Ian Stewart is stellar.  Chembo has arranged all of the songs and contributes one original composition named after the Brooklyn area of Red Hook where he grew up, “Red Hook Rumba.”  Chembo Corniel has been a major part of the Afro-Caribbean jazz scene for decades.  He has worked with such notables as Chucho Valdes, Hilton Ruiz, Tito Puente, Machito, Larry Harlow, Joe Bataan, Willie Colon, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Grady Tate, Jane Bunnett’s Spirits of Havana, the Chico O’Farrill Orchestra and the Bobby Sanabria Big Band to name just a few.  The energy and musicianship on this album is outrageous. Hopefully this production will be submitted for Grammy consideration.  It is just that good!

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Pierre L. Chambers, vocals; Karen Hammack, piano; Henry Franklin, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums; Jeff Kaye, flugelhorn; Dori Amarilio, guitar; Cathy Segal-Garcia, background vocals/producer.

Son of the iconic, jazz bassist, Paul Chambers, Pierre L. Chambers brings his own warm, expressive jazz expression to stage center.  The vocalist opens with the popular Nat Adderley composition, “Work Song.”  Pierre exhibits his ability to caress the song with his silky, baritone vocals and then slips into scat singing like a favorite pair of slippers. This vocalist is smooth and compelling.  Accompanied only by the bass of Henry Franklin, he flawlessly performs “The Nearness of You.”  Clearly, Chambers is no newcomer to singing, even though this is his debut album.  He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and his mother played music in the house from sunup to sundown.  He heard jazz, blues, rock, soul, classical, Latin and even East Indian music.  At age thirteen, he was the only kid on his block that could scat to the Mile Davis hit album, “Sketches of Spain.”  Pierre enjoyed singing and he wrote poetry. Chambers took up the study of saxophone and clarinet in high school, playing in the school band and he sang in church choirs.  In 1982, he moved to New Jersey where he met Lance Hayward, a jazz pianist, and joined The Lance Hayward Singers.  It was a 24-voice jazz ensemble.  They sang classical music, show tunes, standards, and jazz tunes.  Pierre was a member from 1985 to 1993.  In 1991, he joined the Family Tree Singers under the tutelage of leader, Bill Lee, father of Spike Lee.  They sang all the music from Spike Lee’s first four movies.  In 1996, Chambers moved to Los Angeles, where he met Dolores Peterson.  She was the host of a local jam session and introduced him to singers, Lisa Herbert and Mitch Ellis. Together they formed Chambers, Herbert & Ellis, a vocal trio who sang the music of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.  They performed for a year at the famed Gardenia Lounge in Hollywood.  Pierre Chambers has dedicated this album and his singing career to his mother and father, Paul and Annie Chambers.  “Dear Ann” is one of his father’s compositions and Pierre contributed the lyrics.  Here is an enjoyable recording where Pierre L. Chambers offers vocal interpretations of several familiar jazz tunes including “Paper Moon.”  He takes creative liberties to arrange it in his very own unique way, extending the time in some places and artistically adding unexpected notes that make the song totally his.  He also offers us swinging arrangements of “My Shining Hour” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”  Here is a male voice, somewhat reminiscent of Joe Williams, who presents his distinctive and stylized take on the old standards, painting them brand new and weaving into the mix his original poetry.

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THE MOTET – “ALL DAY” –  Independent Label

Dave Watts, drums/composer; Garrett Sayers, bass/composer; Joey Porter, keyboards/composer; Ryan Jalbert, guitar/composer; Drew Sayers, saxophone & keyboards/composer; Jason Hann, percussion.

The Motet – Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO – 7/12/2019 – YouTube

Since the word ‘motet’ means a short piece of sacred choral music, I was not expecting an album of instrumental funk and R&B, however that’s what this music is, and it is very well played.  In fact, I rarely review this type of production, but because the musicianship is so excellent and the songs are so well-written, I decided to make an exception. This is party music, rhythmic and upbeat. I suppose you could put this music into the contemporary smooth jazz category, although for me, it’s just strong, emotional R&B. This band brings to mind the music of the 80s that blended jazz, funk and R&B reflected in groups like Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Gap Band.  Dave Watts slaps the ‘happy’ into this album on drums. Jalbert’s rhythm guitar spurs the compositions alive and danceable, while Garrett Sayers (on bass) locks the rhythm track into place.  Drew Sayers adds keyboard electronics and saxophone solos to the mix, as does Joey Porter on keyboard.  Each musician contributes a song or two and each of the compositions adds zest and spice to this project.  If you love funk, R&B and a band that puts the “P” into party, The Motet will do that for you “All Day” long!

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ERIC REED – “BLACK, BROWN AND BLUE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Eric Reed, piano/composer; Luca Alemanno, bass/composer; Reggie Quinerly, drums/composer; Calvin B. Rhone & David Daughtry, vocals.

Eric Reed “Black, Brown, and Blue” video – YouTube

Eric Reed’s piano notes fall crisply across space.  There is an even-ness about the improvised lines, a measured accuracy that reflects not only excellence in technique, but thoughtful placement of each note, each phrase, each provocative crescendo.  Eric Reed makes the Buster Williams composition, “Christina” sounds like teardrops falling from heavenly clouds. I am especially touched by this song, where Luca Alemanno’s bass is the welcoming earth, the foundation of the tune that both supports and soaks up the beauty of Reed’s piano notes. The emotion Eric Reed puts into each arrangement is palpable. On Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” a song I grew up with, playing Shorter’s album over and over on my mother’s worn turntable, Eric Reed adds Reggie Quinerly on drums along with Alemanno’s bass.  The trio slowly unpeels Shorter’s beautiful melody, exposing it piece by piece with Reed’s fingers noodling the blues into the arrangement along with traces of Gospel music.

“All of our music could be considered the ‘blues’ metaphysically and emotionally, regardless of what region of the world we inhabit.  When we sprinkle the ‘blues’; onto the gray cares of the world, life seems to feel a bit less ponderous,” Eric Reed expresses.

Reed opens this album with a solo piano arrangement that plays the title tune he has written. I was intrigued by his interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” as a slow, sexy, trio ballad. The arrangement is lovely.  He is eloquent while playing McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace.”  You will hear some of the amazing and timeless music created by African American composer on this album.  Reed also features more contemporary works by his trio members, Alemanno (“One for E”) and Quinerly, (who wrote “Variation Twenty-Four) have each contributed a single composition. This dynamic pianist is holding up the banner of  black culture, saying loudly and creatively, don’t forget Wayne Shorter, Buddy Collette, Bill Withers, Buster Williams, McCoy Tyner, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Stevie Wonder and Thelonious Monk.  Their contributions to our world, to our culture, to our music must never be forgotten.  He is also reminding us that his music is here too, and he has something to contribute, something important to say.

“The feeling I get when I interpret “Ugly Beauty” (or any Thelonious Monk piece) allows me to drown out the sound of hate and the feeling of injustice that prevails outside of the walls of a performance space – – For a few minutes, at least.  This album’s renderings of Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise, (sung by David Daughtry) and Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (sung by Calvin Rhone) remind me that the sound of the ‘Blues’ is the source of all Black American music and that jazz, Gospel, blues, R&B, et al, are its offspring.  It was for this reason that I chose to treat Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” as a Gospel-tinged dirge,” Eric Reed explains in his liner notes.

When I finished listening and reviewing this piece of distinctive art, I replayed it two more times.  That says it all!

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JOSÉ LUIZ MARTINS – “REFLECTIONS” –  Independent label

Jose Luiz Martins, piano/composer/arranger; Michael Chylewski & Doug Weiss, acoustic bass; Jorge Rossy, drums/vibes; Chase Elodia, drums; Tian Long Li, harmonica; Alex Hamburger, vocals.

José Luiz Martins – Beijo Partido (Toninho Horta) – YouTube

“Reflections” is José Luiz Martins’ third album and includes his original music along with Brazilian and American composers. They open with “Beijo Partido” by famed Brazilian composer, Toninho Horta.  José Luiz Martins is also a Brazilian pianist, composer and producer, originally from Sao Paulo, who currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area. On this first track, José Luis takes this opportunity to offer us a lovely piano improvisation recorded at the Jazz Campus Studio in Basel, Switzerland.  The music crescendos towards the end, employing vocal chants blended deliciously into the production on the fade.  Track #2 is the Lennie Trestano tune, “317 East 32nd Street” where Jorge Rossy puts down his drum sticks and adds vibraphone to the mix.  It’s a delightful arrangement switch, that turns a bright light on this drummer as he dances around the band’s happy swing tune with mallets instead of drum sticks.  Michael Chylewski does an excellent job of holding the rhythm solidly in place on bass, with Chase Elodia joining him on drums.  José Luiz puts the “S” in swing during his piano solo.  Track #3 is titled, “Bolero” and it’s an original composition by José Luiz.  He has also contributed “Morning Tune” to this project.  This composition features an up-tempo arrangement with Rossy on vibes. They close with the old standard, “Stairway to the Stars” featuring the sweet vocals of Alex Hamburger.  José Luiz Martins exhibits his accompaniment talents during this production.  Although the vocal addition is like a bright bow ribbon on the giftbox, the star of this album is clearly José Luiz Martins.  He and his piano are the whole package, and all extra additions are just frills and sparkles that decorate his amazing talent. 

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March 3, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 3, 2023


Rachel Therrien, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer/arranger; Michel Medrano Brindis, drums; Miguel de Armas, Julian Gutierrez, Gabriel Chakarji, Manuel Valera, Danae Olano & Willy Soto Barreto, piano; Aklex Bellegarde, John Benitez, Roberto Riveron & Luis Izquierdo, bass; Lazoro Martinez, timbales/congas; Artuo Zegarro, bongos/timbales; Melissa Lavergne, congas/bongos; Keisel Jimenez, congas; Carlos Maldonado, cajon/bongos/quinto; Victor Pablo, congas; Magdelys Savigne, batos; Roman Filiu & Nestor Rodriguez, saxophone.

Rachel Therrien has honed her super talents on trumpet and Latin music for over a decade. Her passion led the Juno-nominated artist to Cuba, in search of research and the study of Latin music and trumpet applications. Clearly, her interest in Afro Cuban and Latin jazz has paid off with the release of this “Mi Hogar” album.

“The experience changed my life and is probably the reason why I am still a musician today.  I always felt good playing Latin-influenced music.  It is where I feel I can express myself the most musically.  I have been dreaming of doing this project for many, many years and now I am finally sharing this with the world,” Rachel Therrien shared her heart’s desire with us.

Rachel Therrien – LATIN JAZZ PROJECT – YouTube

The ensemble opens with Francisco Torregal’s composition “Capricho Arabe” that dances into my listening room with a bright and joyful arrangement by Rachel Therrien.  Her trumpet is out front and intoxicating throughout this production. Track #2 is the familiar John Coltrane tune, “Moment’s Notice” arranged by Rachel and quite captivating both with her horn and the exciting percussive additions.  Therrien has composed the next song that’s titled, “The Wizard” and has a melody that signals Middle Eastern influences and injects the rhythm with the Cajon percussion instrument played by Carlos Maldonado and the congas of Keisel Jimenez. The musicians make a space for John Benitez to spotlight his talents on bass. All the while, Rachel Therrien, joined by the saxophone of Roman Filiu spiral the tune upward. On Track #5, Manuel Valera offers us an awesome piano solo on the Dizzy Gillespie composition “Con Almo” another original song by Rachel Therrien is titled, “Odessa” and the wonderful percussion work of Magdelys Savigne on batas colors the arrangement beautifully. I enjoyed the bass solo of Roberto Riveron.  They close with a raucous arrangement of Terrien’s “Porceloneso” composition that puts me in the mood for carnivals and cotton candy.  Rachel Terrien’s entire album is sweet with joy and full of flair and spice. 

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Elsa Nilsson, flutes/FX/composer; Dawn Clement, piano/voice/composer; Emma Dayhuff, bass/composer; Tina Raymond, drums/composer;

Esthesis Quartet: Time Zones EPK – YouTube

Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed resolutions authorizing that in the United States, March of each year would be Women’s History Month. Esthesis Quartet features four amazing female musicians who have recorded this, their second album, in Los Angeles. Surprisingly, the group members are scattered around the country. One of the four talented women is flautist Elsa Nilsson who lives in Brooklyn, NY but hails from Gothenburg, Sweden. She has released seven albums as a leader and is an adjunct professor at The New School College of Performing Arts. Another member, pianist, vocalist and composer, Dawn Clement has recorded six albums as a bandleader and is the recipient of the CMA Performance Plus Grant, that supported her project to compose music for the Esthesis Quartet. Emma Dayhuff graduated from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance in Los Angeles and is only the fifth woman to participate in this prestigious program. Emma is a gifted bassist and resides in Chicago.  The fourth member of the Esthesis Quartet is Tina Raymond, the Director of Jazz Studies at California State University Northridge. She is also President-elect of the California Alliance for Jazz, as well as a powerful drummer and composer. This “Time Zones” release is the second album they have made as a cohesive unit. It began during the pandemic lock-down when they started playing together on Zoom meetings. They were geographically challenged, living in various parts of the United States, when they began sharing their talents and composer ideas with each other over the Internet.  This led them to meet in Los Angeles to record their first album in 2021. 

Clement shows off her composer talents on Track #3, titled “The New Yorker.”  She sings her lyrics and plays piano to tell the story of a good friend and collaborator who moved to Paris. This song is also inspired by contemporary poet, Megan Fernandez.  This is one of my favorite songs on her album.  Track #4, “Hollywood” is a feisty composition and another original song by Dawn Clement that inspires a powerful and compelling drum solo by Tina Raymond. It also gives Elsa Nilsson a platform to spread wings and fly over the chord changes with her flute. Dawn Clement snatches this opportunity to share her piano improvisational solo with us. This is another one of my favorites on their album.  On this mixture of “Time Zones,” Nilsson is representing Eastern Standard time, Clement lives in Mountain Standard time, Emma Dayhuff resides in Central Standard time and Tina Raymond represents Pacific Standard time.  They turn the musical hands of the clock in perfect synchronization, beating to the pulse of four women representing tempo, melody and creativity with their own improvisations flowing from various “Time Zones.”

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Fella Cedarbaum, poet/composer/musician.

Here is an artist who brings her spoken word poetry to life incorporating her own original music. There is simplicity in her piano accompaniment, as her food for thought presentation floats on top. Cederbaum recites a thought-provoking set of thirteen poems meant to stimulate conversation and public dialogue.  She hopes to give the listener reasons to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.  Fella Cederbaum asks questions like, “If we know what we know, are we being willfully blind?” Her spoken word asks us to look within and demands that we examine ourselves from the inside core and out.

In her press package I learn that she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and was raised in post-World War II Germany. In her teens, Fella moved to England and later lived in Israel.  Interestingly, she earned a degree in psychology and on the artistic side, she became deputy director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra. At some point, she moved to Boston, MA and is still based in both Boston and Israel. In between writing poetry, painting and recording, she runs a successful psychotherapist business.  Cederbaum has painted her album cover.  Her painting exhibits have been featured at Germany’s Munchner Stadtmuseum and at the Boston Holocaust Memorial event. 

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Emily Braden, vocals/composer/lyricist; Misha Platigorsky, pianist/keyboards/arranger/producer; Danton Boller, upright & electric bass; Rudy Royston, drums; Freddie Bryant, guitar; Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet.

Swell – Emily Braden – Studio Version – YouTube

“Swell” is the second cut and an original composition by the artist, Emily Braden, on her new album, “Cannon & Sparrow.”  She’s a vocalist, songwriter and lyricist boasting an award-winning gift as New York City’s “Best of the Best Jazzmobile Vocal Competition.”  On this song, she layers her vocals, doubling them for a lush arrangement and then bursts into harmonies that remind me of the jazzy presentation of groups like “Take 6.” The song swings hard!  “Sweet Little Dream” is a soulful, bluesy song she has composed, co-writing with pianist and longtime musical partner, Misha Platigorsky.  Braden is a resident artist at New York’s famous 55 Bar.  She tested and polished many of these album tunes onstage at this popular club. Braden has a lovely voice with a provocative range, using it to swoop up and down the scales and to interpret her unique melodies.  “Super Hero” is another original song with a challenging, jazzy melody and strong lyrics.  Danton Boller offers a power-packed bass solo that juxtaposes Misha’s impressive piano solo.  Rudy Royston is the glue that holds this piece in perfect place on drums. When Braden chooses to introduce her vocal take on the jazz standard, “On A Clear Day,” I enjoy her crystal-clear tones, her vocal control and technique, as well as her creative interpretation of this song.  Here is a unique arrangement that lifts the song from familiarity to innovative and creative heights.  Braden includes her own vocal style of scat singing, presenting an imaginative rearrangement of the melody in very impressive ways. However, her choice of covering the Whitney Houston hit record and pop song, “How Will I Know” takes the ‘J’ our of jazz for me.  This is a song Braden probably performs ‘live’ in her club performance but, in my opinion, it doesn’t really fit into the framework of this well-produced jazz album.

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THE OSTARA PROJECT – Cellar 20 Music Group

Allison Au, alto saxophone/composer; Jocelyn Gould, guitar/composer; Sanah Kadoura, drums/composer; Joanna Majoko, vocals; Jodi Proznick, bass/producer/composer; Rachel Therrien, trumpet/composer; Amanda Tosoff, piano/producer/composer.

This debut album brings together a creative collective of talented female musicians. Individual awardees, they have accumulated nine JUNO nominations, three JUNO awards, and a slew of National jazz awards between them.  Each of these talented artists are also individual bandleaders and composers. These talented ladies represent various cultural and ethnic diversities of the Canadian mosaic.  In a music industry and jazz genre that consistently has under-represented female musicians, the Ostara Project hopes to be a powerful example of talent, perseverance, excellence, and ethnic diversity.  They chose the name ‘Ostara’ because it represents a Germanic goddess of the spring equinox.  That name symbolizes a time of rebirth and fresh growth.  The music of The Ostara Project is significantly new, fresh and entertaining.

 Delta Sky – YouTube

Their first tune, “Delta Sky” is hip, ambling along at a medium-tempo, swinging, and gives various players a time to solo and showcase their individual musical talents.  Starting with Jocelyn Gould on guitar, she steps into the spotlight first, followed by Allison Au on alto saxophone, who offers a stellar solo. The group incorporates the vocals of Joanna Majoko as part of the horn section.  Also, Amanda Tosoff takes a noteworthy solo on piano.

Although they are all obviously professional and proficient musicians, I felt they were struggling to find a theme during this debut project. The first song is my favorite on the album and well represents the group’s jazz sensibility. Track #2, “Storms and Oceans” is smooth jazz with West African drumbeats propelling their arrangement. The vocalist spotlighted lyrically and also scat singing is Joanna Majoko. The mood of this music changes again on the ballad “Little One,” composed by Tosoff and Proznick, that features the vocalist once again.  But my favorite solo is Amanda Tosoff’s piano improvisation during this arrangement and the tasty trumpet solo that comes to life at the fade of the song. On the trumpeter’s composition, “Lluviona,” drummer Sanah Kadoura parts the curtains to strut her stuff, while Rachel and Joanna spar like boxers, with voice and trumpet dancing around the ring. Proznick’s bass takes a notable solo and this tune quickly becomes another favorite. The only cover tune the group has added is “Bye Bye Blackbird” where Allison Au’s alto saxophone shines, as does Rachel’s awesome trumpet talents. These women are formidable musicians!  This is a group that, should they continue to collaborate, will mesh and continue to find a closer unity and musical purpose.

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Nadia Washington, vocals/bass/Aux percussion/guitar/aug FX/handclaps/congas/harp/glockenspiel/Aux synth/Moog bass; Jesse Fischer, piano/keyboards/handclaps/aux keys/synth/aux percussion/organ/ Rhodes/acoustic & electric guitar; Nicholas Semrad & Jiri Nedoma, keyboard; Brad Allen Williams, Sean Cronin, & Dylan Day, guitar; Josh Hari & Kyle Miles, bass; John Davis, Coran Henley & Zach Millings, drums; Mario Lopez, percussion; Jake Sherman, organ; Morgan Guerin, congas/handclaps; Nicholas Payton, trumpet/horn arrangement.

Nadia Washington – Hope Resurgence (Live Recording) – YouTube

Her voice is like a diamond sparkling in the sun. It’s clear, tonally pleasing and glittering with emotion.  The title tune flies off the CD with a contemporary flair.  It was composed by Ms. Washington, who is also playing guitar. Her singing style is reminiscent of Stephanie Mills; strong, stylized and distinctive.  The keyboard man, Jesse Fischer, adds his magic to the mix on this first song.  There is a warmth radiating from Nadia Washington’s performance. This album was released February 24 of 2023.  It took six years for her to be totally satisfied with this artistic project as a collective representation of her talent.  Several years ago she did a beautiful job ‘covering’ the lovely Stevie Wonder song “Send One Your Love.”  Impressively, she is featured playing her guitar and singing without other instrumental accompaniment.  But this time, she has composed all the music on her project. 

“I wanted to make sure the music and arrangements reflected my inner growth personally and musically,” Nadia shared.

Her music is a sweet combination of genres, embracing R&B and pop, spiced together with contemporary jazz musicianship.  Nadia Washington is a multi-instrumentalist, able to play guitar, piano, bass, synthesizers and percussion instruments.

Nadia was born and nurtured in Dallas, Texas.  Her family quickly noticed their daughter’s entertainment talents at her young age of three.  The little girl was inspired by her singing mother, (Nelda Washington) who took the Dallas hotel bar and lounge circuit by storm.  As a single parent, her mom often brought little Nadia with her and into studio sessions and gigs. She has been surrounded by music ever since she can remember.  The young Washington even sang on some of her mother’s studio jingle sessions.  Although this is her debut as a bandleader, she has been performing with the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, esperanza spalding, Lalah Hathaway and the late George Duke.  Here is a blossoming singer/songwriter and musician, a talented woman who I expect to create much more exciting new music in the future.

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JO LAWRY – “ACROBATS” – Whirlwind Records

Jo Lawry, vocals; Allison Miller, drums; Linda May Hah Oh, double bass.

Australian vocalist, Jo Lawry, has a global fan base that represents an impressive solo career. This album is a self-challenge to Jo Lawry by Jo Lawry. 

“I thought, what is the hardest thing I could do? And the answer was a trio album, voice, bass and drums.  I’m trying to function like a horn player and we’re providing the whole landscape without the benefit of chords,” Jo Lawry explained her concept for this project.

She has chosen three Frank Loesser tunes for this production.  They open with his famous composition, “Travelling Light.” Drummer, Allison Miller, soaks up the spotlight on this opening tune with fervor and zest. She is dynamic. Jo Lawry’s crisp, clear tones dance atop the percussive rhythm track with vocal ease.

This is a trio of women.  Linda May Hah Oh plays double bass and holds the rhythm tightly in place.  The title tune, “Acrobats,” is Track #2 and has a challenging, rangy melody that Jo Lawry handles with the affluence, showing off her vocal agility.  I enjoy Linda May’s smart bass accompaniment.

Acrobats – YouTube

This is my first time hearing a whole trio album comprised of vocals, drums and bass. A vocalist has to be top in her field to record an entire album with only bass and drums.  Jo Lawry has the voice and the credentials to broach such a project.  She has performed with some of the best in the business including Sting, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel.  Lawry released two albums before recording this one. She is no novice to the business of music.  However, this is probably her most difficult and unconventional project to date.  With Linda May Han Oh’s bass walking beneath Jo’s excursion of “Taking A Chance on Love” the listener can hear Lawry’s capacity for creativity and the improvisational talent that inspires her to tackle this project. Allison Miller is right there, always supportive and creatively coloring each tune with solid drum technique.  I would like to have heard more bass mixed higher in the track to balance Lawry’s soprano tones. Still, throughout this production, Jo Lawry exhibits tenacious scat abilities.  On the whole, because of the ‘mix’ and the arrangements, this is like listening to an album of a’cappella vocals.  Lacking variety, after the first several songs, although Jo Lawry clearly has a beautiful voice, her concept (vocals without chords) loses its original luster.

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Sara Caswell, violin/composer; Jesse Lewis, guitar; Ike Sturm, bass; Jared Schonig, drums; Chris Dingman, vibraphone.

Violinist Sarah Caswell has surrounded herself with some of New York City’s most in-demand jazz musicians.  Caswell’s artistry spills like honey from the hive, buzzing with sweetness and energy. The first cut on this album is quite contemporary, composed by Sara’s friend, Australian trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis.  Ms. Noordhuis created this work to reflect Caswell’s close connection to her musicologist father, Austin Caswell.  Standing tall as a world-class violinist and bandleader, Sara Caswell plays a 1908 Stefano Scarampella violin on this project, as well as a 2013 Salve Hakedal hardanger d’amore violin. 

“The Hardanger d’Amore has a rich, resonant, and haunting tone that brings out a different aspect of my musical voice.  It has taken time for me to experiment and discover how I might blend it into my creative palette,” Sara Caswell shares.

Her instrument becomes a paint brush, sweeping the tones and melodies across space in intricate patterns and bursts of color.  She is celebrated as one of several emerging, young jazz stars and has been both soloist and sideman with groups led by esperanza spalding, Linda Oh and David Krakauer, to name just a few.  Caswell has picked songs by a variety of composers you will recognize like Carlos Jobim’s “O Que Tinha de Ser” where she employs her Hardanger d’Amore hybrid violin, and on Kenny Barron’s tune, “Voyage” she uses techniques taught to her by a mentor, jazz musician, composer and teacher, David N. Baker. 

“From day one of my jazz studies with David Baker, I was transcribing solos, specifically those by horn players, pianist and guitarists; Miles, Bird, Dizzy, Sonny, Wes, Cannonball … I’d challenge myself.  Can I make my violin sound like another instrument?  Like these artists?” she wondered.

The title tune is written by Michel LeGrand with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Her violin serenades us without words.  Sara Caswell has also added three of her own compositions including “Warren’s Way,” (a waltz with funk drums and a distorted electric guitar solo by Jesse Lewis) and “Spinning,” that quickly becomes another favorite of mine on this album. It was composed while she was thinking of bicycling and has a lovely melody. The addition of Chris Dingman on vibraphone lifts the tune and colorfully elevates the arrangement.  Another song she composed, “Last Call,” was co-written with drummer, Michael W. Davis, and guitarist, Dave Stryker, who I often review as a bandleader and artist on his own albums. 

Sara Caswell Quartet: “O Que Tinha De Ser” by Antonio Carlos Jobim – YouTube

The final tune, Jobim’s composition, is another favorite!  It’s moody, painted in shades of dark purple and deep turquoise blues by her emotional violin.  This songs weeps tears and drenches space with Sara Caswell’s deeply personal expression.  It blows through her instrument like snow showers and soft, puffy clouds.  Sara’s work is palatable and touches the listener with artistic sincerity.

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ANGIE WELLS – “TRUTH BE TOLD” –  Café Pacific Records

Angie Wells, vocals/composer/arranger; Larry Koonse, guitar; Clayton Cameron, drums; Josh Nelson, piano/composer/arranger; Trevor Ware, bass; Katisse Buckingham, flute; Carey Frank-Hammond, B# organ; Ivan Malespin, trombone; Kye Palmer, flugelhorn/trumpet; Jacob Scesney, tenor saxophone; Lynne Fiddmont & Valerie Geason, background vocals. SPECIAL GUESTS: John Clayton, bass/ producer/composer; Zion G, vocals.

Surrounded by some of the best musicians in Southern California, Angie Wells showcases not only her vocals, but her songwriting skills.  She has co-written several songs with Josh nelson and the first one I hear and appreciate is titled, “Where the Livin’ Is Good.”  It is the story of a homeless person setting up a tent in an upscale neighborhood.  Kye Palmer’s rich flugelhorn solo is much appreciated.

Where The Livin’ Is Good – YouTube

“Truth Be Told” is sung a ‘cappella.  Angie tells the story of several African Americans across the nation who have died at the hands of the police.  Wells has arranged background vocal harmonies as a hook that melodiously follows her verses.  Towards the end of this composition, Clayton Cameron joins them on drums to accent her message on drums. 

“In the summer of 2020 many of us witnessed the brutal death of George Floyd and the worldwide protests for justice and peace that followed.  Although I was sad and angry, I felt a glimmer of hope as I watched people of all races, nationalities, cultures, sexual orientations, and religions take to the streets together,” Angie explained the inspiration for this revolutionary song.

Angie follows this sad and provocative song that lists the familiar names that represent victims of racism with the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer song, “Accentuate the Positive” and Abertina Walker’s composition, “I’ve Got a Feeling (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright)” is presented as a brief instrumental.   I enjoyed Angie Wells’ take on the popular Bonnie Raitt tune, “Nick of Time” as well as her interpretation of “Here’s to Life.”   “Talkin’ All Under My Clothes” is another Nelson and Wells original song that features the bass of Trevor Ware at the introduction.  Ivan Malespin steps into the spotlight during his trombone solo, shuffling along with the band, followed by Josh Nelson soloing on piano and Trevor Ware on bass.  Speaking of bass players, John Clayton makes an impressive guest appearance on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” soloing beneath Angie’s warm, alto vocals by bowing his double bass in a most provocative way.  The simplicity of the arrangement, (although John Clayton’s awesome playing is never simple) allows us to hear the nuances and beauty of Angie Wells and her honey-warm vocal style. 

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