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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