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 Sequine, 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 Sequine/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 Sequine 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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February 23, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil                                                  

February 23, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DEWAYNE PATE – “ON THE UPSIDE” – Independent label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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February 13, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

Feb 13, 2023


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

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

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

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BEN WOLFE – “UNJUST” – Resident Arts Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BRIAN THOMAS – “ON THE BONE” – Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 4, 2023


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

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

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

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LAKECIA BENJAMIN – “PHOENIX” – Whirlwind Recordings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

January 25, 2023


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falkner Evans, solo piano.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WILLIAM CARN – “CHOICES” – Independent Recording

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JOE LOCKE – “MAKRAM” Label Circle 9 Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

January 15, 2023


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EDDIE PALMIERI PRESENTS SONIDO SOLAR – Truth Revolution Recording Collective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 2, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

January 2, 2023


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE HEAVY HITTERS – Cellar Music Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DAVE STRYKER – “PRIME” – Strikezone Records

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

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

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

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

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KENNY BARRON – “THE SOURCE” – Artwork Records

Kenny Barron, solo piano.

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

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

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

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

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CLAUDIA ACUÑA – “DUO” Ropeadope Records

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

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

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December 19, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

December 19, 2022


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

Caught in the Middle – YouTube

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

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

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

Santi Debriano & Arkestra Bembe Imaginary Guinea – YouTube

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

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TED KOOSHIAN, “HUBUB!” – Summit Records

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

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

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

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

Sparkplug – She Came to Play – YouTube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the Red Island – YouTube

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where or When (feat. Caity Gyorgy) – YouTube

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

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

Busy Body – YouTube

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

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

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

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SIRINTIP – “CARBON”- Ropeadope Records

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

Sirintip ‘Carbon’ – Album Teaser – YouTube

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

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

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

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

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