June 1, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
June 1, 2020


Pasquale Grasso, guitar.

Pasquale was born in Italy and now resides in New York City. He was busy gigging and working on his technique, when a mention by iconic guitarist, Pat Metheny put a bright spotlight on his career. In an interview for Vintage Guitar magazine in 2016, Metheny referred to Grasso as “The best guitar player I’ve heard in maybe my entire life is floating around now; Pasquale Grasso. This guy is doing something so amazingly musical and so difficult,” Metheny shared with the magazine representative.

Well, that kind of statement can certainly point an important finger at an artist and apply unexpected attention. Pasquale Grasso was probably as surprised as the magazine readers.

“What’s interesting about Pasquale,” Pat Metheny continued, “Mostly what I hear now are guitar players who sound a little bit like me mixed with a little bit of John Scofield and a little bit of Bill Frisell. … He doesn’t sound anything like that. …His model, which is an incredible model to have, is Bud Powell. He has somehow captured the essence of that language from piano onto guitar.”

While listening to this project, I agree with Metheny. It’s nice to hear a developing guitarist gear his style and perfect his ‘chops’ with inspiration from bebop pioneers like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell. You could perhaps compare his style to Joe Pass, maybe a bit of Kenny Burrell’s influence, but in Grasso’s biography he compares his style to Art Tatum. When he became acquainted with Art Tatum records, he says it turned his world upside down.

“I couldn’t believe it. I would just play Art Tatum’s Solo Masterpieces box set all day,” Pasquale admitted.

At that point, Grasso wasn’t sure he understood what he was listening to, but one thing was sure. When Art Tatum, (a historic, master jazz pianist) played, he sounded like two or three people were playing the piano. Pasquale wanted to master that technique on guitar. He exhibits that technique on his current Sony masterworks release. Pasquale Grosso is playing ten standard jazz tunes that are absolutely diamonds for your ears. His technique and mastery sparkle. You hear his unusual mastery of the Tatum Technique on the old favorite “Tea for Two.” It sounds like there are two guitar players playing the instrument. Grasso plays a custom-built guitar, designed in France by Trenier Guitar company.

Although neither of his parents are musicians, both Pasquale and his brother, Luigi, grew up enthralled with music. Brothers Luigi Grasso and Pasquale Grasso have both become celebrated musicians. Luigi is a gifted alto saxophonist, who tours globally as a bandleader. Pasquale, has become this genius guitar player. Raised in Ariano Irpino, a bucolic hillside town in Italy’s Campania region, the young man soaked up the music his dad played on the record player. Instead of looking at television, his father had him listening to Chet Baker and Bud Powell albums. When Agostino Di Giorgio, a New York-raised guitar master, moved to Italy to care for his aging grandparents, he and young Pasquale met and the musician mentored the budding, young guitarist.

In 1998, both brothers attended a jazz workshop under the guidance of the legendary jazz pianist, Barry Harris. Harris helped Pasquale Grosso firm up his jazz perspectives. They remain good friends today. His composition, “I’ll Keep Loving You,” is a tribute to his mentor, Barry Harris.

“I’ll Keep Loving You is dedicated to my teacher, the great pianist Barry Harris. He plays it on every concert. I remember being eight years old, hearing him for the first time in Switzerland. It was the moment when I decided to be a musician.”

Always on a mission to self-improve and to be able to execute what he’s hearing in his head, Pasquale Grosso decided he should study classically. He began to fuse his jazz technique with classical overtones and refinements at the Conservatory of Bologna, tutored by guitarist, Walter Zanetti. In 2012, he relocated to New York. It didn’t take long for his reputation to spread like wild fire. He worked with bands led by Ari Roland, Chris Byars and the late sax man, Charles Davis. He performed with Freddie Redd, Frank Wess, Ray Drummond, the late Bucky Pizzarelli and many, many more. In 2015, Pasquale Grasso won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition.

The result of his consistent desire to grow and perfect his playing is evident on this Sony Masterworks recording. He tackles some of the compositions of great bebop artists that he greatly admires like Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and also icons like Duke Ellington. You will enjoy hearing these familiar jazz standards interpreted by the inspired and uniquely talented, Pasquale Grasso.

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Lauren Henderson, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Eric Wheeler, bass; Allan Mednard, drums.

From the first strains of her voice, I have a flash back to Paris, France. Lauren Henderson’s tone reminds me of the French jazz singers. Perhaps it’s the tremolo in her voice or her emotional warmth. There is something soothing and satisfying about Lauren Henderson’s style and presentation. However, here is a vocalist with roots in the Caribbean, in Panama and the British territory, island of Montserrat. She has picked eight songs that are part of the jazz standard book, beginning with “while We’re Young.” Sullivan Fortner is both supportive and tenacious on piano while accompanying her. Allan Menard knows just when to accent on his drum set and he transitions from jazz to Latin rhythms in a heartbeat. Ms. Henderson moves smoothly from English to Spanish on “Sabor A Mi” and on the familiar Jobim tune, “Meditation” she sings in Portuguese. Her eclectic vocal influences spread across genres smoothly, like caramel icing on a sweet cake. This is jazz with a world music twist. Lauren Henderson’s unique style and sound is both haunting and emotional. Whether she’s swinging “Beautiful Love” or performing “Besame Mucho” in Spanish, her tone and attitude draw us into her songs, quicksand strong! This is a voice to remember. One that is dynamic and recognizable. This is generally the telltale sign of a super successful, vocal powerhouse.

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Gabriel Chakarji, piano/composer/producer/background vocals; Carmela Ramirez, voice/co-producer; Edward Perez, bass; Daniel Prim & Jeickov Vital, percussion/background vocals; Jongkuk Kim, drums; Morgan Guerin, tenor saxophone; Adam O’Farrill, trumpet.

Venezuelan pianist, Gabriel Chakarji, blends jazz, Afro-Latin and Caribbean music like a sweet pionono or jellyroll cake. He rolls the music up in a delicious ball of energy, spicy cultures and rhythmic excitement. Opening with “Mina/San Millan” Chakarji adds vocal chants that remind us of the African influence on South American music and rooted in American jazz. The powerful vocals of Carmela Ramierez are formidable. Gabriel Chakarji explains:

“All my influences of South-American, Caribbean and Black-American music have one source in common: Africa. We’re trying to bring out all the shared elements, the places where many musical traditions live together, instead of focusing on the genres and stereotypes. We need more of this spirit in a society that suffers from racism, prejudice and wars. We want to create a space where music can shift paradigms,” Chakarji shares.

As a pianist and composer, Gabriel Chakarji sets the bar high. His compositions are melodic and are also arranged in very exciting ways that reflect his emotional, hot-blooded, Latin culture. Using percussion to spice his arrangements and horns to punch and propel the pieces, his piano excellence interplays with the band members. He has a style unto himself. After establishing his beautiful melodic phrases, Chakarji dives into improvisation and swiftly swims across the keys. On “New Danza” I enjoy the game of ‘Tag’ his piano played with trumpeter Adam O’Farrill. Daniel Prim and Jeickov Vital excite the music with their percussion work and the addition of Morgan Guerin on tenor saxophone fattens the horn lines. On the fade, the African chants are back and throughout the piece we enjoy the sweet soprano vocals of Ms. Ramierez. She also co-produced this album of fine music. The interplay between Edward Perez on bass and Chakarji’s piano is very effective on the tune titled, “No Me Convence.” It begins quite classically and with one of those melodies that you love to love. The double bass steps from the shadows into the light, with a solo that captures our imagination. It’s a pleasant surprise when this tune turns from ballad to funk, in a smooth flowing way. This song seems to brandish the developing style and technique of this composer/ arranger. He knows how to gently change tempos, moods and music with the flick of his wrist and the dot of his pen. Gabriel Chakarji takes us on a rich, cultural adventure with this production. He both surprises us and pleases us with this innovative direction. His innovation and artfulness is perfectly depicted in the wonderful CD cover artwork of Henry Paz. I wish more artists paid this kind of attention to the way their album covers look, as well as the way it sounds.

“New Beginnings” offers a powerful, signature sound on the piano, established by Gabriel Chakarji’s lovely compositions and musical style. He has planted his roots culture-deep in his music and is open to developing and blossoming the fruit of his labors in unexpected and delicious ways.

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Mayita Dinos, vocals; Bill Cantos & Rich Eames, piano; Gabe Davis, acoustic bass; Hussain Jiffry, electric bass; Dori Amarilio, guitar; Steve Hass, drums; Tiki Pasillas, drums & percussion; Michael Hunter, trumpet/flugelhorn; Alex Budman, flute/clarinet/soprano saxophone.

Multi-media artist, vocalist, painter and landscape designer, Mayita Dinos has chosen a diverse and beautiful repertoire on her premier recording. I must say that her artwork, paintings that don the pages of her CD multi-page booklet-insert, is quite impressive. Opening with the Charlie Parker standard, “Ornithology” (singing her own original lyrics) and then re-interpreting Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright’s tune, “Come Back as a Flower,” Mayita Dinos shows us that she is fearless. These are songs both challenging and demonstrative of her love for a garden. She sings the Thelonious Monk butterfly tune, “Pannonica,” and then, with Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” song, she finally hits her groove. Mayita Dinos sounds more like a folk singer than a jazz singer, no matter how many jazz songs she sings. A repertoire doesn’t make you a jazz singer. It’s the style, the swing, and the ability to improvise and reinterpret songs in a unique way that allow an artist to claim the adjective ‘jazz.’ Still, Mayita Dinos has a pleasing voice and on this premier recording she impressively sings in Spanish and English.

Mayita’s emphasis on and love of gardens is qualified because of her decades-long career as an in-demand landscape designer. She specializes in sustainable landscape & horticulture. At this point, becoming a singer qualifies her as an opsimath. Suddenly, the garden has transformed to her stage. The encouragement and coaching of the late, great pianist and vocal coach, Howlett Smith and vocalist/co-producer on this project, Cathy Segal Garcia, fueled this album concept. With the loving support of her husband, this album has finally blossomed and come to fruition. The hand-picked musicians offer wonderful support. Every track is strong and the music is all jazz. Dori Amarilio has done an outstanding job as a co-producer, arranger, mixer, coach and guitarist. But Mayita’s outstanding talent for me is her painting abilities. She is quite an artist and I fell in love with her CD jacket and each original piece of art that is beautifully reflective of the songs she sings.
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Dave Stryker, guitar/composer; Bob Mintzer, conductor/arranger/tenor saxophone; Hans Dekker, drums; John Goldsby, bass; Billy test, piano/organ; Jens Neufang, baritone saxophone; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor saxophones; Johan Horlen & Karolina Strassmayer, alto saxophones; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone; Ludwig Nuss, Raphael Klemm & Andy Hunter, trombones; Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer & Ruud Breuls, trumpets.

What do you get when you put the WDR Big Band, saxophonist and arranger, Bob Mintzer and guitarist Dave Stryker in the same room? “Blue Soul!” This is an exceptional album of beautifully arranged big band charts, enhanced by the soulful guitar solos of one of New York’s most in-demand producers and guitarists. Stryker has stretched out from his small ensemble recordings to the big-band-stage. He brings his ability to brilliantly infuse blues and soul into any project he touches. Surrounded by the all-star WDR big band players and encouraged by Bob Mintzer’s lush arrangement skills, Stryker shines brighter than ever.

Bob Mintzer is a world-class act on his own. The saxophonist serves as the principal conductor for Cologne, Germany’s WDR Big Band and is applauded widely for his plush big band arrangements and saxophone talents. After making several appearances as a guest with Dave Stryker’s Organ Trio, Mintzer started mulling around the idea of featuring Dave with his popular, world-class, big band. Mintzer thought Dave’s jazzy take on the 70s pop and R&B songs from his “Eight Track” recording series would adapt perfectly as the crux of a big band project. So, Dave was invited to Germany for a week of rehearsing, recording and performing. This project is the result.

“Bob is one of the best musicians and people I know,” Stryker says in his liner notes. “I’ve been a fan of his playing since my early days in New York City and to get the chance to have Bob Arrange and play my music, with the incredible WDR Big Band, is a huge thrill and honor.”

The ensemble covers a number of familiar pop and rhythm and blues songs including a dynamic arrangement of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” tune, Prince’s “When Doves Cry” and Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.” Also included are a number of songs Stryker composed and one written by Mintzer titled, “Aha.” Stryker’s original composition, “Blues Strut” allows Billy Test to show off his organ chops and Bob Mintzer lays down a fiery tenor sax solo. The horn section contributes staccato embellishments, like brass finger-snaps, to the arrangement.

They close this album, swinging hard, with Stanley Turrentine’s tune, “Stan’s Shuffle” giving Mintzer another opportunity to dazzle us on tenor sax. As portrayed by the insightful cover art, this album is steamy hot and makes for a delightful and insightful listen. As always, Dave Stryker shines jazzy headlights on 1970 hit songs, refreshing them with his bluesy and innovative guitar, along with the able assistance of the WDR big band.
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David K. Mathews, piano/organ/keyboards/synthesizers; Jim Nichols, Ray Obiedo, Chris Cain, Carl Lockett & Bruce Conte, guitar; Dewayne Pate & Marc Van Wageningen, Electric bass; Peter Barshay & John Witala, acoustic bass; Billy Johnson, Akira Tana, Deszon Claiborne, Vince Lateano, Kevin Hayes & Brian Collier, drums; Peter Michael Escovedo & Michael Spiro, percussion; Mel Martin & Wayne de Silva, tenor sax; Joe Cohen, Tenor/Alto/baritone sax; Jeff Cressman & Mike Rinta, trombones; Bill Ortiz, Mike Olmos & Louis Fasman, trumpets; Lilan Kane, Kimko Joy & Leah Tysse, background vocals; string septet, Magik*Magik Orchestra: Minna Choi, arranger/conductor; Liana Barube, Stephanie Bibbo & Heather Powell, violin; Phil Brezina, Evan Buttemer & Ivo Bokulic, viola; Michelle Kwon, cello. Featured GUEST VOCALISTS: Tony Lindsay, Amikaeyla, Lady Bianca, Steve Miller, Funky Fred Ross, Glenn Walters, Kenny Washington & Alex Ligertwood.

I usually relegate myself to only reviewing jazz, but some music crosses borders so elegantly, like this one, that I have to slide into a new perspective. This is a musical love letter from David K. Mathews to the best of the Bay area of Northern California. It’s the second release in a series to celebrate David K’s San Francisco roots. Mathews is an eclectic piano performer who joined Tower of Power when he was twenty-three years old. David spent twenty years accompanying Etta James and since 2010, he’s been touring the world as a keyboard member of the great Santana organization. His talents have been utilized and endorsed by such iconic entertainers as India Arie, Boz Scaggs, Maria Muldaur, the amazing Taj Mahal, the legendary Wayne Shorter and Toots Thieleman and even the iconic Latin, Pop, queen, Gloria Estefan, to mention only a handful of artists.

During this soulful production, his gospel chops on the piano are as strong and rooted as his jazz excellence. You clearly hear his gospel influence on the Donny Hathaway composition, “You Had to Know,” where Tony Lindsay’s soulful vocals leave quite an impact.

Opening with a hit record made popular by the Isley Brothers, jazz vocalist Amikaeyla Gaston, puts her mark on “For the Love of You” in a profound way. Amikaeyla is an activist and educator who’s recorded with a number of power players around the San Francisco area and also traveled the world, using music to heal and uplift. Her voice is like honey butter; sweet, smooth and sultry. She also performs Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman” composition, arranged as a medley with Stevie’s “Where Were You When I Needed You?” and the popular Jimmy Webb song, “Wichita Lineman.” The Carl Lockett jazzy guitar solo on “Superwoman” is quite deserving of a thumbs up!

The Ray Charles inspired arrangement of “One Mint Julep” has a plush, big band sound and features David K. Mathews moving from piano to organ. He’s playing those familiar licks I heard Ray play many times over on the ‘Genius + Soul = Jazz’ album. Steve Miller provides the vocals and also plays lead guitar on this tune. Lady Bianca is rhythm and blues royalty in the San Francisco area. David K. Mathew features her powerhouse vocals on the Donny Hathaway hit record, “Giving Up” (a Van McCoy composition).

“She has the kind of power and believability that reminds me a lot of my beloved Etta,” Mathew reminisces. “We go back a long way to when I was a very young and green keyboard player tiptoeing my way through the Oakland soul and blues scene.”

Celebrated jazz vocalist, Kenny Washington, closes this album out singing, “Yesterday.” The San Francisco Chronicle referred to Washington as “the Superman of the Bay Area jazz scene.”

His album title, “Fantasy Sessions” is a double-entendre, referring to both Mathews’ fantasy to put out a series of recordings featuring his favorite singers and musicians in the Bay Area and also to reference the famous studio where he recorded this album, a studio other great artists utilized like Sonny Rollins and Charlie Mingus; the former Fantasy Studios. Sadly, they closed their doors in 2018.

All in all, this is an enjoyable and well-produced album. Mathew’s keyboard work, as well as the Northern California musicians he uses, is stellar. The featured vocalists, he introduces to us, add depth and beauty to the David K. Mathew project.
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Jonathan Barber, drums/composer; Taber Gable, piano/Fender Rhodes/Synthesizer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Mar Vilaseca, vocals/piano on track 1.

Jonathan Barber is a 30-year-old drummer and composer, already having ten years under his belt as a working musician, who strives to incorporate a theme into his music production. The theme of this project is Legacy.

“We all are Legacy Holders. We must stand strong for the cause and assist in making change. The continuation of unity or division relies on us,” Jonathan Barber explains his concept for this album.

One of my favorite tunes on this album is titled “Major” and is straight-ahead, melodic and features Godwin Louis on alto saxophone blowing his solo like life itself depends on it. Afterwards, Taber Gable takes time to unfold his talents across the 88-keys of the grand piano and provides a creative introduction for Barber to solo on trap drums. This is followed by a pretty ballad titled, “Seconds & Seasons.” This arrangement gives bassist, Matt Dwonszyk an opportunity to step forward and soak up the spotlight. Andrew Renfroe’s electric guitar is stellar and changes the complexion of this music in wonderful ways. I found the repetitive piano staccato part a bit redundant and I think it took away from the drum solo rather than supporting it. The original composition, “Son of Hartford” tributes Jonathan Barber’s native roots in Connecticut. It’s a very electronic and blues-based arrangement, with funk injected like a 1960 dose of rock ‘n roll. The guitarist once again leads the way and sets the tone. On the fade, the piano and the drums have a quick conversation. “29” closes the CD out with a more bebop type arrangement. Barber’s drums are busy and inspired in the background, not necessarily grounded in swing or straight-ahead, but rather like a locomotive engine, pushing the production forward. Once again, the piano gets stuck in that staccato repetitiveness and I’m grateful when Jonathan Barber let’s his chops shine during his drum solo without musical support. On this composition, we can clearly hear and experience Barber’s power and drive on his instrument.

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May 22, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 22, 2020


I’m a Netflix subscriber and find this network’s roster of shows to be quite entertaining. Their original shows are diverse and they have a little somethin’- somethin’ for everyone. When I ran across this series, I was both excited and surprised. This original Netflix show, “The Eddy” reminds me of my days enjoying foreign films. It’s a drama, shot in Paris, France, and the language moves from English to French, with subtitles. But the exciting thing about this show (“The Eddy”) is that it takes place in a jazz club with the music front and center. The plot is about the two owners of the club, an Arab and an African American man, and their struggle to stay relative, artistic and in business. The Arab man plays trumpet and handles the business of the club. The black man is a jazz pianist, composer and oversees the house-band. This multi-ethnic cast includes a jazz band that performs a plethora of original music. All of us, in the business of jazz, can appreciate the constant struggle it is to keep our music relevant and alive. Created by six-time GRAMMY winning songwriter, Glen Ballard, this is a story that features the music upfront and in your face, blended with a murder mystery, a struggling relationship between father and daughter, romances and some incredible jazz, performed live. It stars Andre Holland as club owner and jazz pianist (character name, Elliot), Amandla Stenberg as his 16-year-old daughter, (Julie) and sultry singer, Maja, played by Joanna Kulig. Tahir Rahim plays Farid, the co-owner of their jazz club and Leila Bekhti (a popular French film actress) plays his wife. Check out “The Eddy” on Netflix. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. This is the first television series I have seen since “Peter Gunn” that features jazz music.

By the way, you can also find some great music documentaries on this independent network including one on Quincy Jones, “Quincy”; a special on Nina Simone, “What Happened Miss Simone?,” the story of the top background singers in the United States, including L.A’s own, Merry Clayton, called “20 Feet from Stardom”; an amazing documentary on Clive Davis titled, “The Soundtrack of Our Lives”; The Miles Davis Story, “Birth of the Cool”; a look at Bob Marley’s life called, “Who Shot the Sheriff?”; the life of Lee Morgan, “I Called Him Morgan,” and so much more. With all this time on our hands, being locked down during a worldwide pandemic becomes the perfect time to sit back and enjoy our music in documentaries and movies.
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The Full album of this unusual music project is available on Apple Music Spotify and Bandcamp. The concept was for musicians and video game music fans to collaborate and create a piece of music to celebrate the great video game songbook. Unique, right? During this production, they employed hundreds of musicians worldwide who created a virtual orchestra. It was recorded remotely from several different countries.

This project is an expansion. The original 8-Bit Big Band is a smaller ensemble of 30-65 members. As I mentioned, their unusual goal is to perform the best themes from video game music. The themes are arranged for their ensemble of musicians, mostly based in New York City. You will hear themes from the ‘Super Mario Brother’s’ game, Final Fantasy, F-Zero, the Zelda Series and more. Charlie Rosen is the twenty-nine-year old bandleader and television composer behind this “Lifelight” project from Super Smash Brothers. His concept grew into 664 contributing virtual participants for one of the largest virtual bands ever created. In the two years since the ensembles original inception, it’s become a virtual, viral phenomenon. Their YouTube channel boasts nearly 100,000 viewers. Check it out.

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On May 23, 2020, the 501 (c) (3) Jazz Journalists Association (JJA) will honor iconic pianist and composer, Ran Blake with the Boston Jazz Hero Award. I fell in love with Ran Blake’s playing when I first heard him performing duos with Jeanne Lee. Blake is one of twenty-seven jazz heroes across the country chosen by their peers for being activists, advocates, altruists, educators, musicians, aiders and abettors of jazz. You are invited to join this ceremony as a Zoom attendee at 7 p.m. Eastern time and 4 p.m. West Coast time, on this Saturday, May 23rd. The popular event becomes a virtual, On-line experience born out of the COVID19 pandemic and the need for humanity to distance themselves. Registration is required.

More and more organizations have turned their in-person meetings and even concerts into Zoom computer events. The Jazz Heroes are named in conjunction with the JJA’s annual Jazz Awards given for excellence in music and music journalism. The complete 2020 honoree list can be viewed at:

Our own L.A. based pianist, composer, producer, recording artist and educator, Mr. Billy Mitchell, will be honored on May 28th for this same award of excellence. The jazz Journalists Association, in concert with the California Jazz Foundation, had each planned a huge gala to present their awards to celebrated jazz artists. When COVID19 raised its ugly head, everything had to be cancelled. Consequently, On-line gatherings began to pop up like bright, yellow dandelions on a pristine lawn. Edythe Bronston, the president of the California Jazz Foundation and Howard Mandel, president of JJA, invite you to please join us at 5:30 p.m. (West Coast time) on May 28th, (a Thursday evening) to tribute Billy Mitchell.

JJA Jazz Heroes go Zoom

Mitchell was scheduled to be presented the “Nica” Award by the California Jazz Foundation back in April along with Johnny Mandel, who was to receive the “Terry” lifetime achievement award. This upcoming, On-line presentation reflects the entertainment legacy statement of, “the show must go on.” Zoom participation is limited. We invite you to register for Billy Mitchell’s award presentation at: no later than midnight, May 27th.
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Pianist, educator, composer, producer and arranger, Tamir Hendelman, is hosting a piano live stream every Saturday evening at 6 p.m. pacific time. He will be tributing various iconic jazz artists and the Great American Songbook. On May 23rd, he’ll be featuring the music of Harold Arlen. On Saturday, May 30th, he’ll tribute Miles Davis. For more information check out:
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May 20, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 20, 2020

BRIAN LANDRUS – “FOR NOW” Blue Land Records

Brian Landrus, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/alto flute/C flute; Fred Hersch, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Billy Hart, drums; Michael Rodriguez, trumpet; Sara Caswell, violin; Joyce Hammann, violin; Lois Martin, viola; Jody Redhage-Ferber, cello.

This is Brian Landrus’ tenth album as a bandleader. He has surrounded himself with luminaries of the jazz industry like Fred Hersch, Drew Gress and Billy Hart who form his outstanding rhythm section. He’s added some young blood to the mix with Michael Rodriguez bringing his trumpet and Sara Caswell with her sweet violin. They open with one of ten original compositions by Landrus, out of a Baker’s Dozen of tunes. “The Signs” gives Rodriguez an opportunity to introduce himself to us on trumpet in a beautiful, Miles Davis-kind-of-way. The piano skips along under the tempered fingers and bright talent of Fred Hersch. Enter Brian Landrus, who puts his mark on the song like an unforgettable tattoo on your cheek. His low woodwind kisses the melody and explores the chord changes, leading the horn ensemble back to the melodic refrain in a sort-of march cadence.

The second song is so incredibly romantic and lovely that I had to play it twice. Titled, “Clarity in Time” the sentimentality and emotional purity of this composition is startling. Landrus has such a rich and royal tone on his horns, that you are almost hypnotically drawn into his music. This song gives Sara Caswell an opportunity to shine sweetly on her violin. The familiar standard, “Invitation” is dressed up with strings; a very smart choice to let his deep horn solos resonate.

“As I was writing For Now, I could feel it coming from a very deep place, directly from some truly difficult and some unforgettably beautiful life experiences,” Landrus says.

This is a truly romantic recording. The tone, shadings and suppleness that Landrus utilizes on his horns tenderly caress these tunes. On a baritone saxophone or a bass clarinet, you might not expect this type of beautiful execution. I usually associate these instruments with a more robust, brash sound. Brian Landrus shatters the mold and sets himself apart from fellow musicians with this production. He offers us his unique and emotional ability on his bass clarinet when he sings the title tune, “For Now.” This love ballad captures his composer strength masterfully, supporting his worldwide popularity as one of the leading voices on low woodwinds. When he tackles tunes like “Round Midnight” solo, just him and his bass clarinet, I am caught in the fluttering net of his instrumental prowess and emotional insight.

Brian Landrus began playing saxophone at twelve years young and was performing professionally by fifteen. Raised in Nevada, he earned his BA Degree from University of Nevada-Reno and has two Master of Music Degrees from New England Conservatory. Today, he a Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist and composer with a PhD in classical composition from Rutgers University and he’s on the faculty at Rutgers as well.
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Charles Pillow, flute/alto flute/clarinet/alto & soprano saxophone/oboe/English horn; Gary Versace, piano/accordion; Jay Anderson & Jeff Campbell, bass; Mark Ferber & Rich Thompson, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Vic Juris, guitar; Todd Groves, bass clarinet/clarinet/flute; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Chris Komer, French horn; Alan Ferber, trombone; Scott Wendholt, trumpet; Hiroko Taguchi, Whitney Lagrange, & Lisa Matricardi, violins; Todd Low & Orlando Wells, viola; Alisa Horn & Allison Seidner, cello; Gary Versace, accordion.

This album is a follow-up to the Charles Pillow critically acclaimed 2018 release. Pillow came up with the concept for this new project titled, “Chamber Jazz” to blend elements of classical music with jazz.

“The project came about as a way to fuse elements of classical music with improvisation and to evolve further as a composer. Playing with a string section is deeply satisfying and by adding bass clarinet and a small brass section to the mix, I found additional captivating tonal palette possibilities,” Charles Pillow shared.

This is an easy listening, romantic production that features four song composed by Charles Pillow and four popular jazz tunes including the Billie Holiday standard “Don’t Explain.” It’s arranged uniquely, beginning with a very Latin flavored guitar introduction by Vic Juris and sexy drums roll beneath, played by mallets. Charles Pillow has known Vic Juris for years and has been playing with him in David Liebman’s Big Band for over a decade. The horns are beautifully harmonized and the strings add emotional drama and romance to this arrangement.

The Hermeto Pascoal composition, “Bebe” is a well-known Brazilian tune. Pillow and his Chamber Jazz group slow the tempo and feature Gary Versace on accordion. On this arrangement, the string section shivers like trembling bird wings and Charles Pillow picks up his clarinet. Some of the songs featured and written by Pillow celebrate his family. There is the tune, “Charlotte and Evan” that is dedicated to his daughter and son. “Abschied Ray” is a tribute to his father who passed during the time this music was being arranged and recorded. Charles Pillow’s Louisiana roots are strung, like a stream of long, blue, gold and white silk ribbons through his compositions. Born in Baton Rouge, LA, he attended college at Loyola University. He earned his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he is currently Assistant Director of Jazz Saxophone. In 1987, Pillow relocated to New York City and was sucked up into the studio session scene. His versatile talent contributed to records by pop icons like Mariah Carey, Jay Z, R&B balladeer, Luther Vandross, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and even Frank Sinatra. He played straight ahead jazz and big band music with luminaries like David Liebman, Tom Harrell, John Scofield and smooth jazz with David Sanborn. But he’s truly at his best when he leads and records his own band. This is a prime example.
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LOU VOLPE –”BEFORE & AFTER” Jazz Guitar Records

Lou Volpe, guitars/arrangements/composer; Stanley Banks, Pete Falbo & Motoki Mihara, bass; Buddy Williams, drums; Gary Fritz, John Romagnoll & Richie Morales, percussion.

Lou Volpe has spent a productive and busy life as a musician, touring with major artists like Bette Midler, Judy Collins and Herbie Mann, while also working as a sideman in studio sessions on a variety of New York jazz sessions.

He plays R&B and pop as easily as he improvises and plays jazz. Consequently, artists like Chet Baker, The Manhattan Transfer, David “Fathead” Newman, Peggy Lee and Joey DeFrancesco all have enlisted his talents on their recording sessions.

On this release as a frontline artist, Volpe shines. He has composed eleven of the thirteen songs offered starting with “Up the Road,” that is a moderate tempo’d, energetic little tune with a strong melody. This song features a very smooth jazz production, but Lou Volpe’s ‘chops’ on his guitar keeps it all jazz. He is the energetic drive behind this production and has included musicians who know how to find a groove and keep it moving. The second track, “Three Rivers” has a country/western feel to it and track three, “Coming My Way” is based in the blues and shows another side of Lou Volpe’s guitar character. Volpe has a distinctive voice on guitar, while his music is both diverse and provides pleasant listening. Sometimes his style and composer abilities lend themselves to the type of music Pat Metheny or George Benson might record. Lou Volpe crosses all boundaries and combines genres seamlessly. His smooth, effortless presentation is a joy to listen to and would brighten and enhance any romantic evening.
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Michael Thomas, alto saxophone/composer/arranger; Jason Palmer, trumpet; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.

I believe that one of the sexiest instruments on the planet is the saxophone. What better way to spend a romantic evening than to put on Charlie Parker with Strings or Cannonball Adderley’s quintet? So, I was eager to listen to the new album by inventive young saxophonist and Grammy winner, Michael Thomas. I have enjoyed his arrangements and work as co-leader of the Terraza Big Band, but this is a departure from that. In fact, I wouldn’t call this production romantic. The album title pretty much says it all. In astronomical terms, an “Event Horizon” is a point of no return. It’s the boundary at the edge of a black hole, where gravitational forces are so powerful that even light cannot escape, verging on mysterious, unexplored territory. On this recording, Michael Thomas is pushing all boundaries, along with his trio comprised of Hans Glawischnig on bass, Johnathan Blake on drums and Jason Palmer on trumpet. There is no piano or guitar to ground the rhythm section. That leaves lots of space for these musicians to fly free and uninhibited. It’s a two-disc set, opening with an original composition Thomas calls, “Distance.” He explains:

“This was the first song I composed for this project and appropriately, serves as album’s opening track. While writing it, I found myself looking out my window at the Manhattan skyline and contemplating the difference between the perceived serenity from my viewpoint, and the chaos experienced when in the middle of the city. These two feelings are a result of my distance from the city and represented by the contrasting parts of this song.”

On track #2, “Drift” Michael Thomas settles down to a more romantic tone and vibe. It begins melancholy and quietly beautiful, letting Thomas soak up the attention by playing his alto saxophone in a smooth, improvised way.

“The title of this composition came from the way the song ‘drifts’ through several uneven phrases, as well as three seemingly unrelated tonal centers,” Michael Thomas shared in his liner notes.

This double set of freedom music was recorded ‘live’ over two nights at New York City’s renowned Jazz Gallery. It allows space for each musician to individually explore and interpret their own musical magic. On “Drift” you get to experience the tenacious power of each player, during solos and as a group ensemble. This is music that will both intrigue and entertain you. I enjoy the tone and execution of Michael Thomas on alto saxophone. Additionally, he’s an expert composer and generous bandleader, unafraid to share the spotlight with his worthy bandmembers, who are each dynamic and talented in their own sweet way. For example, just before the tune “Dr. Teeth,” inspired by The Muppet Show, Hans Glawischnig’s bass solo is stellar, opening the song and directing our attention to his dancing fingers against the double bass strings, during a two-minute introduction. Johnathan Blake is artistically solid on trap drums and is the underlying force beneath Jason Palmer’s trumpet blended harmonically with the saxophone and as a solo player. While a studio session could have been more convenient and esthetically perfect, recording ‘live’ brings the musicians face to face with walking a tightrope above their audience’s upturned faces, with no safety net.

Thanks to the foresight and experience of Jimmy Katz, an award-winning jazz photographer and recording engineer, all the nuances and mastery of these musicians is precisely captured in this ‘live’ environment. He and his wife, Dena Katz, established their non-profit, Giant Step Arts, in January of 2018 to commission and showcase modern jazz’s most innovative artists. Special thanks to the Katz couple for creating an adventurous stage for art, for giving total control to the musicians for their artistic projects and creating both entertainment and financial reward for music excellence. This is another successful production.
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Dave Morgan, baritone saxophone/flute/bandleader; Rob Susman, trombone/ bandleader; Noel Cohen, guitar; Dan Asher, bass; Rex Benincasa, percussion; Peter Grant, drums; Chris Hemingway & Charles Lee, alto saxophones; Stan Killian & John Isley, tenor saxophones; Scott Burrows, trombone; Seneca Black, Chris Anderson, Bryan Davis & Jordan Hirsch, trumpets.

Funk Shui NYC is an all-star band, friends based in New York, who came together to record some new compositions, some fresh arrangement and to have some fun. This album reflects their new beginnings. They’ve added a few familiar tunes like the Barney Miller television show theme song and the over-recorded Summertime song. They also covered Allen Toussaint’s tune, “Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky” and that song pretty much sums up this entire production. It’s funky! You might not even recognize the Barney theme song (What Barney?) because it’s truly funk-a-sized! The horns are definitely spotlighted on these arrangements, pushed by Peter Grant’s drums, that are exciting and powerful. Rex Benincasa’s percussive additions throughout are spot-on and tasty. Dan Asher’s bass drives the funk and Noel Cohen adds his rhythm guitar to round out this tenacious rhythm section.

Band leaders: Dave Morgan and Rob Susman have composed or co-composed five of the ten tunes. The group arrangements are spunky, upbeat and sometimes humorous. The music is sassy and a bit quirky, happily reflecting New York City in all its glory. The horns lift the production, giving a fully orchestrated, plush, big band sound. On “Summertime” Chris Anderson arranged it starting with a Santana-style Latin Rock beat. With horns blaring, it morphs into a traditional Conjunto, with the percussionist propelling the piece. John Isley solos on tenor sax and Anderson follows on trumpet, supported by Asher’s strong bass line. You almost forget you’re listening to Summertime. It’s a very fresh and enjoyable arrangement.

George Harrison’s “Blue Jay Way” is another example of painting a tune with an entirely new face. This was Harrison’s 1967 psychedelic masterpiece and Funk Shui NYC plays it like a funky lounge groove, featuring the arranger and trombonist, Rob Susman. You hear the hip-hop influences when they take Farrell’s groove and mix it into their arrangement of the “I Feel Free” tune. You hear New York traffic and automobile horns in the original composition, “Into the Fourth Dimension.” Rex Benincasa is outstandingly present on percussion instruments.

Although the music is a little brash, if you like a funky groove and coloring outside the lines, you will find this album pleasing to your palate. The tasty way Susman and Morgan have mixed jazz with funk, rock and Latin, adding their own compositions and even ‘hip hop’ is unusually fresh.
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Adam Rudolph, membranophones (fingers & hands)/idiophones/chordophones/overtone singing/ electronic processing; Ralph M. Jones, aerophones/voice; Hamid Drake, membranophones (sticks & hands)/idiophones/voice.

This cd is a jungle of sounds and emotions. Adam Rudolph, Ralph M. Jones and Hamid Drake have reached into the universe of sound to extract unusual combinations of familiarity that tickle our musical imaginations. Rudolph is a master percussionist, as is Drake. Ralph M. Jones is a woodwind master. Together, they create (on this, their second album) a relationship of sound expression, employing spontaneous compositions with the improvisation of sounds and mastery of technique. These sounds can both enthuse and intrigue the listener, taking us back to the beginning of time or whisking us into space with the projection of a more universal future. “Imaginary Archipelagos” (translates to imaginary islands) and certainly takes us back to a more basic and what some might call a more primitive time. But how wonderful to hear music that reminds us of bird calls, plants, the wind rustling trees or the ocean crashing against the shore; carriages with wooden wheels against a dusty plain or broken wind chimes glowing and still desperately singing in island sunsets. This is an exploration into electronic and acoustic instruments, that tempers ancient prayers from Yorubic circles, while also embracing nature and various world cultures. This music is both romantic and avant-garde. It will transport you to wherever your imagination has the courage to wander. It can rejuvenate and excite you, or settle your spirits down like a lullaby from the lips of mother nature. This is a fresh and beautiful recording that transcends explanations using dictionary words. This is music meant to inspire meditation and transformation.

“With every record I make I try to do something that I’ve never done before,” says Rudolph. “I’ve always studied music from all over the world, so I had the idea of inventing some music that was previously undiscovered, which represents the idea that the creative endeavor itself is about discovering and uncovering something new.”

Rudolph and Drake formed a close and bonded relationship starting at age fourteen when they met in a downtown Chicago drum shop. They’ve worked with such iconic jazz musicians as Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Dave Liebman, Fred Anderson and Hassan Hakmoun. Rudolph met Jones in 1974 at the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival. They performed together in groups led by Kenny Cox and Charles Moore. Later, they co-founded the Eternal Wind Quartet with Moore, that Rudolph says is much like this inventive Karuna Trio. Sit back and enjoy.

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Jason Palmer, trumpet; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Edward Perez, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums.

The concept for this album is unusual. In march of 1990, thieves entered Boston’s ‘Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’ disguised as the police. When they exited, they took with them thirteen precious works of art. When trumpeter, composer, Jason Palmer moved from North Carolina to Boston, in 1997, to attend the New England Conservatory of Music, he attended a concert at that very museum. While there, he noticed several empty frames on display. He thought it was odd, but it wasn’t until years later that Jason Palmer found out about the $500 million-dollar heist that had left those frames without artwork. This album is a tribute to the missing art pieces by Rembrandt, Degas and others.

The ‘live’ concert opens with “A Lady and Gentleman in Black” and it gives ample time for each musician in his quintet to solo and introduce themselves to the audience, playing at a brisk pace. When Palmer composed this piece, he used only the black keys of the piano. The second track was composed to describe the Degas painting titled, “Cortege aux Environs do Florence,” drawn sometime around 1857 using pencil and sepia wash on paper. Palmer has composed this tune at a slower tempo, giving tenor saxophonist, Mark Turner, lots of time to adlib and improvise, followed by a lengthy solo by vibraphonist, Joel Ross. Palmer was working from images of the stolen art and drew inspiration from them. The presentation of these twelve original compositions is packaged as a two-set CD. Jason Palmer exhibits a beautiful tone and delivery on his trumpet throughout. He and his group are quite exploratory on these songs. Palmer is establishing a reputation as being one of the most inventive and in-demand trumpeters on the East Coast. He’s performed on over forty albums as a sideman and recorded a baker’s dozen of albums as a bandleader. This album is a far cry from his tribute to the music of Anita Baker, released in September of 2019, but both artistic works show his ability to push the boundaries of music and to stretch his creativity, along with those of his band members.

Jason Palmer has toured and performed in over thirty countries and his quintet has been the house band at Boston’s historic Wally’s Jazz Café for over fifteen years. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Ensembles and Brass at Berklee College of Music and has served as an Assistant Professor at Harvard University.
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ALEX de GRASSI – “THE BRIDGE” Tropo Records/ distributed by Six Degrees Records

Alex de Grassi, guitar/composer/arranger.

This album, featuring the undeniable talents of Alex de Grassi on guitar, is a lesson in technical skills. Starting with the up-tempo tune, “Mr. B Takes A walk In the Rain” the listener finds themselves rushing alongside Mr. B, soaking up the excitement Alex de Grassi creates on his instrument with flying fingers. The second track has a more folksy arrangement. There is a warmth to de Grassi’s music that’s both comforting and entertaining. Surprisingly, “The Bridge” is Alex’s first solo guitar album in seventeen years. He found a special bond with Grammy Award winning engineer, Leslie Ann Jones at her legendary Skywalker Studio in Northern California. This is what he had to say about their collaboration.

“I had played on a live audiophile broadcast at Skywalker the year before and after taking my guitar out of the case and playing a couple of notes in that space, I knew I wanted to make my next solo recording there. It’s a truly amazing sounding room, and with Leslie Ann on the other side of the glass, I knew we would capture the sound of the best concert halls I’ve ever performed in. I wasn’t disappointed!”

He recorded without pickups, nor headphones to monitor and with simply great mics and four guitars (including his signature model Lowden), Alex felt like he was performing in one of his favorite concert venues. I should also mention that this production features sound engineer, Steven Miller, renowned for his work with many acoustic guitarists (including Michael Hedges landmark recording Aerial Boundaries) and various Windham Hill artists. Miller mixed the post production and Grammy award winner Gavin Lurssen of Lurssen Mastering in Los Angeles beautifully mastered this de Grassi solo album.

You will enjoy ten acoustic songs, with some of the original compositions by Alex de Grassi included. The album title was inspired by the last wooden bridge on the California coast, located as part of the popular Highway One. It’s a narrow, trestle bridge that stretches 173 feet above the Albion river.

“I imagined a lot of stories/scenarios about the people crossing that bridge,” Alex shared in his liner notes.

“The Bridge” also focuses on bridging together many types of music and cultures that Alex de Grassi loves. Along with his original compositions you will enjoy tunes by Hendrix, traditional folk songs, some Gershwin, some blues and Celtic melodies all stirred up together, infused with his classical training and jazz roots. Alex reflected about his title tune and that original composition:

“At night, headlights of cars crossing the bridge create a steady rhythm of flickering light between the uprights of the railing. That rhythm became the basis for this piece, a steady ostinato over which the long, syncopated notes of the melody unfold slowly. I wanted to convey both that image as well as the perspective of the driver approaching, crossing, and then arriving at the other side. For me, there is a sense of mystery, a little bit of danger, as well as getting lost in the thoughts of the unknown driver behind the wheel.”

This absolutely intoxicating work of art, by Alex de Grassi, will have you daydreaming or reaching into the depths of your own mind. His music is not only hypnotic, it’s also extremely enjoyable and thought provoking. You feel his passion as he plays his instrument and you will enjoy the emotion he pours into every performance. Alex de Grassi’s music is captivating and spotlights his unique ability to balance rhythm guitar with melodic integrity.
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May 10, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 10, 2020


Dave Glasser, alto saxophone/soprano saxophone/flute/composer; Andy Milne, piano; Ben Allison, bass; Matt Wilson, drums/percussion.

This is an album whose style and composition succinctly recalls Thelonious Monk in sound and production. The “Monk” style of this historic composer/pianist is obvious throughout this well-produced album. That being said, reedman, Dave Glasser, is a very fine composer in his on right and all four of these musicians are both stellar and steadfast in presenting their very best. Glasser admits in his liner notes:

“My roots are in the history of this music. That’s where my inspiration comes from. These guys have all worked in different areas doing their own thing. So, this is a group of people who have come together from very far-flung places. … Yet, we’ve managed to unite to find the things that we have in common instead of thinking about our differences. I think that parallels artistically what I see as a big problem facing society right now. People are focused on their differences, so they’re warring and arguing and blaming as opposed to looking at what they have in common.”

The title of this album, as well as the composition titles, stand as tall and speak as loudly as protest signs. Beginning with Glasser’s original tune, “Knit Wit” that reflects the rise of misunderstandings between human beings, via a difference in perception and or politics. It’s followed by track #2, “Justice” and there’s another song titled, “Freedom.” “Freedom” is one of my favorite cuts on this album, with Matt Wilson’s skillful drums prominent and fiery. Glasser rises to the occasion, both innovative and performing with tenor verve.

Dave Glasser comes from a social justice background. His father, Ira Glasser, was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for more than 20-years. Young Dave met civil libertarian and notable jazz critic, Nat Hentoff when the budding saxophonist was pursuing excellence on his horn. It was Nat Hentoff who recommended Dave Glasser study with Lee Konitz. (Sadly, just last month we lost the great Lee Konitz when he became a casualty of the Coronavirus pandemic.) Dave Glasser tributes Mr. Konitz in his composition titled, “Glee for Lee.” He and drummer, Matt Wilson, duet on this piece. They are formidable. Wilson is a former collaborator with the late, great Konitz. Together, the two create a riveting arrangement. This album’s only non-original tune is the Disney classic, “It’s a Small World.” Dave Glasser interprets this tune using his flute. The quartet presents this familiar song thoughtfully, with Ben Allison’s bass the only instrument amply supporting the flute solo at first. When the other musicians enter, Andy Milne finds the most interesting and unusual chording to perpetuate the mood and melody. The quartet’s sense of freedom and inspired deliveries make this arrangement shimmer and glow.

Glasser is currently the lead altoist in the Count Basie Orchestra and he’s also a veteran of the Clark Terry quintet. He’s played with a plethora of legendary musicians including Barry Harris, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie and with the Basie band when it was under the direction of Frank Foster. A faculty member at the New School for over twenty-three years, Glasser enjoys mentoring many of the blossoming young jazz musicians of today. This is an album you will enjoy playing time and time again. It’s full of excitement and beauty; history and inventiveness. It touches on the pulse of the past and races into the future with the same jazzy exuberance.
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Arturo O’Farrill, piano/composer/arranger/conductor; Dr. Cornel West, orator; Ricardo Rodriguez & Gregg August, bass; Alison Deane, piano; Tony Rosa & Roland Guerrero, congas; Carly Maldonado, bongos/percussion; Joe Gonzalez, bongos; Vince Cherico, drums; TRUMPETS: Bryan Davis, Jim Seeley, Seneca Black, Adam O’Farrill, John Bailey, Jonathan Powell & David Smith. SAXES: Peter Brainin, Bobby Porcelli, Ivan Renta, Jeremy Powell, Larry Bustmante, Jason Marshall & David DeJesus. TROMBONES: Rafi Malkiel, Tokunori Kajiwara, Frank Cohen, Earl McIntyre, bass trombone & tuba; Seneca Black, voice. GUESTS: Jana Ballard, choral preparation; Aubrey Johnson & Edda Fransdottir, soprano solos; Sharon Moe, French horn; DJ Logic, turntables.

An avid supporter of all the arts, Arturo O’Farrill is the Professor of Global Jazz Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Herb Alpert School of Music. He is also on the faculty at The New School of The Manhattan School of Music, (where he received some of his formal music education). Born in Mexico, O’Farrill grew up in New York and began his professional career with the legendary Carla Bley Band. He was a mere nineteen-years-old. O’Farrill credits Carla Bley for teaching him about integrity and the importance of art. She drilled into the talented teenager that it was more important to perform and compose for the sake of art and not just for fame and money. The young pianist took that wise encouragement to heart.

As his reputation blossomed, he also worked with such legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, Steve Turre and Harry Belafonte. In 2007, Arturo O’Farrill founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (ALJA) as a non-profit organization dedicated to the performance, education and preservation of Afro Latin music. (

They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Arturo is the son of renowned jazz trumpeter, bandleader and arranger, Chico O’ Farrill. His father was originally from Havana, Cuba. Arturo’s mother was a Mexican vocalist. Consequently, their house was always ripe with music. In 1965, they relocated to the United States. At age six, young Arturo was less than enthusiastic about taking piano lessons. However, he came to love the instrument and was greatly influenced by Bud Powell and Chick Corea. Although he studied and played a number of genres with various bands, in the 1990s Arturo returned to his Latin roots. In 1995 he became Music Director of his famous father’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra.

When Wynton Marsalis asked Arturo to pull together and lead an Afro-Cuban Jazz Band to perform at the Lincoln Center, that’s when O’Farrill formed the Afro Latin jazz Orchestra (ALJO). The rest is history.

“Baby Jack” is the first track on the Afro-Latin, Jazz Orchestra’s current album. The Brass section blares! Arturo O’Farrill’s piano enters the picture like a referee, stepping in between the dueling horns and bringing a melody that moves like an ascending staircase. We are lifted up. When the sexy saxophone comes into the picture, (featuring David DeJesus) the mood changes to pensive and seductive. This arrangement is both enchanting and captivating. Track #2 is titled “Jazz Twins” and is dedicated to Arnold and Donald Stanley from Los Angeles; two close knit staples of the jazz community. But it’s the third tune and the title tune, “Four Questions” that combines O’Farrill and his 18-piece orchestra with the spoken word and the revolutionary spirit of Dr. Cornel West. Together, they usher in a jolt of truth that demands that we, as a concerned people, come face-to-face with the social and political horrors of this time in world history. Like many true artists, Arturo O’ Farrill seeks to incorporate honesty and political awareness into his musical conversation. He uses his full orchestra, with a choir of voices, to express these unique arrangements.

The “Four Questions” that Dr. Cornel West addresses on this album were actually posed by the great African American civil rights activist and journalist, W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1903 book, “The Souls of Black Folk.” Dr. West based his book, “Black Prophetic Fire” on these very important “Four Questions.”

What does integrity do in the face of adversity and oppression? 2) What does honesty do in the face of lies and deception? 3) What does decency do in the face of insult? and 4) How does virtue meet brute force?

Amidst dramatic horns and orchestral contrary motion, a rhythmic groove is established to support the Dr. West eloquent oratory. He speaks about everybody being for sale. But where is integrity? “It’s in your struggle,” he says. “It’s in the music.”

To address the second question, he reminds us that we live in an age of criminality. Crimes rage on Wall Street, but they don’t go to jail. We have a corrupted system of incarceration.

“Are we willing to tell the truth; to unveil honesty?” he asks.

The dynamic arrangements of Arturo O’Farrill accentuate the Dr. West verbal diatribe. His music brings beauty to an ugly truth. The drums embrace cultures and blend into the presentation like the cultures within our own country. Music and art call attention to the tribe of humanity that populates Earth. This is sixteen minutes and fourteen seconds of historic realization.

Dr. West asks us: “How do you preserve the humanity of the others who are dehumanizing you? How do you preserve your spirit? Folks can’t ride your back unless it’s bent,” the learned man asserts.

Arturo O’Farrill’s music crosses cultures, blends borders and scratches against our brains like the spoken words of Dr. West. In harmony, they speak to us. Demand to be heard. This piece ends with an old, gospel spiritual song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” the horns ask us. Arturo Asks us. Dr. Cornel West asks us. The piano asks us. The orchestra whispers and weeps.

This is a project of pleasure and pain, like life itself. I will be surprised if this doesn’t join the list of Grammy Awards that Arturo O’Farrill has already won. At the 2008, 51st Grammy Award Ceremony, he won Best Latin Jazz Album for his “Song for Chico.”

In 2014, Arturo O’Farrill and the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Album titled, “Final Night at Birdland.” In 2015, he released “The Offense of the Drum” and Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra won a Grammy Award for Best Latin jazz Album. In August of 2015, Arturo and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra released “Cuba: The Conversation Continues”, which was recorded in Havana 48 hours after President Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba. This album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble in 2016. Meantime, his “Afro Latin Jazz Suite” won the 2015 Best Instrumental Composition Award. Again, in 2017, he won for Best Instrumental Composition for “Three Revolutions.”

Perhaps Arturo O’Farrill best summed-up his music and his artistic direction with this quote:

“I made one rule for myself, and I really try to live it: Play music you love, with people you love, for people you love. If I can’t be that kind of musician, I’ll drive a cab.”
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Felipe salles, composer/arranger/conductor; RHYTHM SECTION: Nando Michelin, piano; Kevin Grudecki, guitar; Ryan Fedak, vibraphone/marimba/Glockenspiel; Keala Kaumeheiwa, bass; Bertram Lehmann, drums/percussion. WOODWINDS: Jonathan Ball, alto & soprano saxophones/flute/piccolo; Aaron Dutton, alto & soprano saxes/flute; Mike Caudill, tenor & soprano saxes/flute/clarinet; Rick DiMuzio, tenor sax/clarinet; Tyler Burchfield, bari sax/bass clarinet/clarinet; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Jeff Holmes, Don Clough, Yuta Yamaguchi, Eric Smith & Doug Olsen. TROMBONES: Clayton DeWait, Randy Pingrey, Bulut Gulen & Angel Subero on bass trombone.

This is music inspired by conversations with ‘Dreamers’. Felipe Salles is a musician and immigrant from Sao Paulo, Brazil who came to the United States in 1995. Consequently, he can relate to the lives and challenges faced by today’s seven-hundred-thousand young people who make up the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program. Using his 18-piece Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble, he’s recorded two CDs and a DVD, in this triple disc release, to feature his orchestra and to share speech cadences and melodic motifs that tell ‘Dreamer’ stories. Videos of the interviews, documenting individual stories and experiences, were created by Fernanda Faya. These are mixed into emotional musical journeys, using orchestral textures and big band power to present a sounding board for these immigrants.

Mr. Salles, the composer, arranger and conductor, has won numerous awards including a Guggenheim Foundation Composition Fellowship in 2018. In 2015, Salles was awarded a NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant. in 2009, he won a French American jazz Exchange Grant and in 2005 was granted a Chamber Music America grant for New Works. Felipe Salles’ arrangements and compositions have been performed by some of the top groups in the world including The Metropole Orchestra, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra and the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra. Additionally, he has released seven critically acclaimed recordings as a bandleader. Spectacularly, he was listed in Downbeat Magazine’s Best Albums of the Year list in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019. On this project he has composed, arranged and conducted works specific to the new immigrant experience.

One of my favorite composition on the first disc was the funk driven, contemporary arrangement titled, “A Part and Not the Other.” It makes use of several mood and timing changes that intoxicate the listener’s interest. The exciting orchestral arrangements are unpredictable and exploratory.

“When I set out to create this project, I had no idea how much it would change my life. It has been an incredibly emotional two years of personal and artistic growth and I cannot express how grateful I am for this opportunity. It was an honor to meet all of my interviewees and to be given the gift of telling their story through my music. I hope this work will make a difference in educating people about the issues Dreamers and other immigrants face in America today,” Felipe Salles shared in his liner notes.

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CHICAGO YESTET – “NOT THERE YET” – Tiddlywinks Music

Joel Adams, conductor/composer/trombonist/bandleader; Maggie Burrell, vocals/lyrics; Keith Harris, spoken word/lyricist; Xavier Breaker, drums; Clark Sommers, bass; Stu Mindeman, piano; Mike Allemana, guitar; Tom Garling, trombone; Chuck Parrish & Russ Johnson, trumpets; Chris Madsen & Geof Bradfield, tenor saxophones; Nick Mazzarella, alto sax.

A distinct drum lick sets the pace and the groove. Electric piano chords play and compliment, while a police siren sings in the background. At first, it sounds like smooth jazz. Then, the arrangement transforms with Keith Harris adding spoken word to the lush orchestration created by Joel Adams. The words call attention to racial issues and a corrupted justice system. When Maggie Burrell’s sweet voice enters, she continues that story singing:

“… We search for reasons why; murder can be justified. …choke hold can’t be undone. A cigar or cigarettes; can’t you see we’re not there yet.”

This 13-piece, Chicago Yestet is directed by Joel Adams and has a mission. This is their third CD release and this power-house band continues to document the spirit, creativity and commitment to the music of artists who share a vision for art as a force for good.

“I am forever indebted to them for their invaluable contributions to this project and for the sacrifices they’ve made to help keep the band going and the music alive,” Adams proclaims.

These arrangements are smooth-jazz one moment, R&B funk the next and then they swing hard and make a sharp turn into the realms of straight-ahead jazz. Joel Adams is a very melodic composer and has penned all these songs except track #7, composed by John Coltrane. As the album rolls along, Joel’s arrangements merge hip hop with old school bebop into a unique and comfortable ball. You can hear it plainly on track #2 titled, “The Long Neglect.” Keith Harris is back to the microphone, rapping hard and strong. The band supports his lyrical tirade with a funk-groove, but once he steps away from the mic, they settle into a more bebop, big band sound. Joel Adams explains it this way:

Not There Yet reflects not only my admiration for Thad Jones and other big bands from the 1960s and 70s, but also my love for James Brown and Donny Hathaway. The Chicago Yestet is committed to grooving and not afraid to play simply and even pretty. We’re also willing to take on political issues through music,”
Adams says in his liner notes.

In 2019, the band was gifted a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency that made this recording possible. Formed in 2008, the Chicago Yestet performs original music with an emphasis on groove and truth. You’ll hear some musical phrases that will remind you of a Jill Scott production. Then something explosive happens, like the horns of the Basie Band. The soloists exemplify that they are musicians of high caliber with their technique and also, the honesty in their playing translates to a wonderful blend of youthfulness and history. They blend today’s popular musical genre and yesteryears jazzy and amazing big band era. This is a project that will both entertain and open the ears of the listeners to a multiplicity of fresh musical ideas and protest.
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Christian McBride, composer/arranger/bassist; J.D. Steele, choir arranger/lead vocals; Alicia Olatuja, lead vocals; SPOKEN WORD NARRATIVE: Sonia Sanchez, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Dion Graham, Wendell Pierce. Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Warren Wolf, vibraphone/tambourine/timpani; Terreon Gully, drums; Michael Dease, Steve Davis & James Burton, trombones; Doug Purviance, bass trombone; Steve Wilson, alto saxophone/flute; Todd Bashore, alto sax; Ron Blake, tenor & soprano saxophone; Loren Schoenberg, tenor sax; Carl Marachi, baritone saxophone. CHOIR VOICES: Marvel Allen, Shani P. Baker, Jeffrey S. Bolding, Jeff Hamer, Susann Miles, Deborah Newallo, Eunice Newkirk, Claudine Recker, Trevor Smith & Melissa Walker.

Although this CD was released in February of this year,(during black history month), I felt it was a perfect fit for this column. I love the messages, positive, reflective and uplifting references by some of the black leaders born and bred in the United States of America. The various speakers reiterate the words of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Beneath their words a loop of sound repeats itself. I expected Christian McBride to write something more creatively musical beneath their introductory, opening, poignant words. I thought this would have been a perfect place for his bass to interpret and support their messages. That was a little disappointing. However, that being said, after the lyrical speeches stop, he offers us a complete and exciting jazz big band arrangement that swings hard and strong. Also, I might add, in the suite dedicated to Malcolm X, McBride does use his bass talents to support the words of this great revolutionary. So, eventually my wish was granted a little further on in the production.

This suite of music was first written in 1998 as a result of a commission from the Portland (ME) Arts Society. Christian McBride explained:

“At that time, there was no big band involved. Just simply my quartet and a choir. …The commission specifically requested a choral element. I had little experience writing lyrics, much less writing for a choir.”

That’s where J.D. Steele comes to the rescue. He became McBride’s partner in this piece and did a monumental job arranging and orchestrating the voices. McBride’s original quartet, along with a small choir, played four concerts in seven days travelling to Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Idaho. Ten years later, in 2008, while Christian McBride was beginning his third season as the Los Angeles Philharmonic Creative Chair for Jazz, he was offered an opportunity to replay this project at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and with a full big band. The big band had been his dream all along, so McBride quickly agreed. Thus, developed this four-part suite for jazz big-band, small jazz group, gospel choir and four narrators. For the voice of Rosa Parks, McBride chose poet, author and activist, Sonia Sanchez.

“Sonia is one of our greatest voices. She was part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and early 70s,” McBride explained.

For the voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he invited Wendell Pierce, the character actor from ‘The Wire’ and ‘Treme’. He also included actors Vondie Curtis-Hall and Dion Graham to play Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The suite begins with the spotlight on Sister Rosa Parks. It moves to Malcolm X, with an introduction by the words of Rosa Parks. Malcolm’s suite includes the rich, emotional lead vocals of Alicia Olatuja singing Malcolm’s praises. The narrator-voice of Malcolm X eventually introduces his friend and follower, boxing champion and Muslim activist, Cassius Clay, who would change his name to Muhammad Ali. The fourth suite celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King. There is a fifth suite added to celebrate the election of President Barack Obama titled, “Apotheosis, November 4, 2008.” This came about after Christian McBride was invited to present his historic suite of music at the Detroit Jazz Festival and to expand it to include a tribute piece to our then, African-American, 44th President of the United States. This artistic and historic piece of music ends with quotes from Obama’s victory speech.

“It’s the answer spoken by young and old. Rich and poor. Democrat and Republicans. Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled; Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America. … In this country we rise and fall as one people,” spoke President Obama.

This is an unusual and inspirational suite of music that should be a teaching aid in schools across the world and a collector’s gem in all jazz collections.

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April 29, 2020

BY Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
April 29 , 2020


Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone; Joel Forrester, piano.

Although Vito Dieterle and Joel Forrester are products of different musical generations, they both share the same love for Thelonious Monk’s genius. As a duo project, they delve into this master composer/musician’s art and music.

Forrester is a respected composer himself. If you listen to the Terry Gross program on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ radio show, that theme song was penned by Joel Forrester. He has been the leader on ten CD releases for the Ride Symbol record label. His duo partner, Vito Dieterle is one of the young, energetic saxophonists based in New York who is rooted in bebop and straight-ahead jazz. Together, they offer a dynamic and entertaining production as a tribute to the great Thelonious Monk.

When you play a duo gig, you are basically stepping out there on your own. The mastery of your instrument is imperative. Also, listening to your fellow musician and reacting both creatively and sensitively is essential. These two musicians work like hand and glove. They obviously have an ease and comfort with each other. Additionally, both musicians are absolutely excellent on their instruments, as well as fluid improvisation specialists. You won’t miss the drums, bass or any other instrument. This pianist and saxophonist are enough to satisfy our critical jazz palates. Beginning with “Work,” recorded below with Percy Heath on bass, Art Blakey manning the drums & Thelonious Monk at the helm.

You will enjoy a dozen Monk songs, well-played and beautifully interpreted on this album. I thought Vito Dieterle’s explanation of his relationship with Joel Forrester on this project was very insightful.

“Joel does not shy away from vulnerability and is, in that way, relentlessly uncommon. Because of this quality, he often elevates his fellow musicians beyond their comfort zone. This vulnerability is what improvising is about. It’s what art is about,” Vito affirms.

Pianist, Joel Forrester, commented on his relationship with Dieterle, his saxophone partner in this way:

“Vito Dieterle has become a resolute and singular voice on tenor sax. If there’s a more interesting tenor player out there, I haven’t heard him/her. … We share a deep, abiding connection (rhythmic, harmonic, iconic) with Thelonious Monk. His sense of freedom, his swing, his involved detachment speaks to both of us. … We knew we could pull off an unaccompanied duo recording because Monk’s time would help keep us together.”

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Bobby Selvaggio, alto saxophone/pedals; Theron Brown, piano/keyboards; Paul Thompson, acoustic & electric bass; Dan Wilson, electric guitar; Zaire Darden, drums; Tommy Lehman, flugelhorn; Liz Carney, clarinet; Summer Cantor, bassoon;Kent Larmee, horn in F.

For some time, and particularly during these Corona-Virus-days, hot beds of jazz in big cities is fading away. For lack of performance spaces and even worse, lack of audiences, even before the Covid19, jazz musicians were leaving. The Northeast Ohio Music Scene has suffered greatly due to the closing of many concert venues and some of an elite music community have moved away to pursue their careers elsewhere.
Composer and alto saxophone player, Bobby Selvaggio, is an Ohio native who has endeavored to make a difference. First of all, he has stayed put. Secondly, he’s provided encouragement, leadership and mentorship for youthful musicians. Some of these musicians have become key members in his quartet like drummer Zaire Darden and pianist, Theron Brown. On this recording, Bobby adds Pittsburgh bassist, Paul Thompson. Using Bobby Selvaggio’s compositions as the crux of their creativity, these songs trace Selvaggio’s career, over the years, like a musical diary.

On this evening, as soon as Bobby Selvaggio and his jazz ensemble stepped onto the stage, there was magic captured in one of Cleveland’s premiere jazz clubs; the Bop Stop. The night of this ‘Live’ recording, the Cleveland club was sold-out. The ensemble’s program begins with one of Selvaggio’s original compositions, Times A Changin.’ The drums are busy in the background, but I did not feel the groove was always held tightly in place. Selvaggio employs the use of a woodwind quartet to fatten the sound. The next tune is titled, “Hope” and it is moderately paced. I keep waiting on the bebop to begin. On track #3, we finally arrive at bebop headquarters with a tune called, “Run Away.”

“Spy Movie” employs pedals and electronic sounds that takes the music outside of the bebop realm and into a more contemporary, experimental bag. The familiar “Blackbird” tune by famed composer/musician Paul McCartney is the only ‘cover’ tune on this album. It is performed as a smooth-jazz arrangement. On “Bella” Bobby Selvaggio flies free on his alto saxophone and Zaire Darden’s drum- licks fire up the production.

The final tune, “Too Soon” is a moderately paced tune that lilts along, giving Theron Brown an opportunity to solo on piano and showing the strength and powerful chops that Paul Thompson has on his double bass. Selvaggio enters on alto saxophone to stretch the boundaries of his original composition, extending and snapping the notes out of his horn like rubber-bands. He receives much applause. Thompson soaks up the spotlight with an appealing bass solo. This arrangement is once again fattened by Tommy Lehman on flugelhorn, Kent Larmee on horn in F, Liz Carney on clarinet and Summer Cantor on bassoon. I am reminded a little bit of the Gil Evans arrangement style with the addition of these woodwind players.

Bobby Selvaggio offers us an hour-long concert that puts one of Cleveland’s top, jazz night spots on the national map. Here’s to keeping jazz alive in his Mid-Western Ohio community at The Bop Stop.
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KEN FOWSER – “MORNING LIGHT” Posi-tone Records

Ken Fowser, tenor saxophone/composer; Josh Bruneau, trumpet/flugelhorn; Tadataka Unno, piano; Vince Dupont, bass; Joe Strasser, drums.

This is straight-ahead, bebop-based jazz at its best. Beginning with the up-tempo and melodic tune titled, “Moving Forward” this ensemble, led by Ken Fowser’s full-bodied, tenor saxophone, sets the pulse of this production right off the bat. Fowser spotlights Josh Bruneau on trumpet, who offers a stunning solo. Then Tadataka Unno takes stage center on piano for an impressive showcase. Joe Strasser pushes the group with his strong drum force and Vince Dupont is pumping that double bass, locked like cement into the tenacious rhythm section’s unity. Track 2 introduces a jazz waltz tune titled, “Three For Leathers.” Mr. Unno manages to infuse it with the blues during his grand piano improvisation. When Fowser enters on his tenor sax, he elevates the composition with energy and style. A tune called, “In the Blue” walks briskly into my room with a bebop swag. This group is absolutely on point when it comes to swing and Ken Fowser knows how to emotionally engage his audience. Bruneau’s horn is also alluring and his trumpet and flugelhorn prowess add an important element of style and bop to this original music. I like the way they arranged the melody on this tune, with a unison presentation of horns. The bass and drums dance beneath, setting the groove and holding it steady. His tune “Seventy Sixers” spotlights a melody both beautiful and memorable. Fowser is a superb composer. His group interprets his original music flawlessly. They sound like they’ve been playing together for quite some time. This is invigorating music that will make you want to get up and do something or put the pedal to the metal and hit the open highway. These players bring energy and joy to their project.

On a tune he calls, “The Instigator” Fowser let’s drummer, Joe Strasser, get completely loose, to show off his tenacious technique. This is followed by a pretty tune, “Without Saying,” wearing a Latin arrangement like a bright red dress. It’s about the closest thing you’ll get to a ballad on this album of great songs. I was happy to finally enjoy a bass solo by Vince Dupont on the “Firefly” tune.

Fowser has added his tasty saxophone licks to various projects around the New York jazz scene including work with David Hazeltine, Donald Vega, Willie Jones III, Jimmy Cobb and Rodney Green to mention just a few. A native of Philadelphia, he attended the University of the Arts in the early 2000s, where he studied with Tony Salicandro and Chris Farr. When he transferred to William Paterson University in New Jersey, he was mentored by NEA Jazz Master and pianist, Harold Mabern. Another strong influence on his style and playing has been the great George Coleman. Fowser also studied with more contemporary legends of the saxophone like Ralph Lalama, Grant Stewart and Eric Alexander.

“Morning Light” is Fowser’s fifth album as a leader for PosiTone Records and it features eleven of his original compositions. Every tune on this album is exquisitely played and well-written. I’d be willing to wager that this is bound to be one of his best recordings to date.

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J. C. Hopkin, piano/composer/bandleader; Jesse Gelber, piano; Alicyn Yaffe, guitar; Kaisa Maensivu, upright bass; Evan Hyde, drums; Wignall Ismel, percussion; Drew Vanderwinckle, tenor saxophone; Jason Marshall, baritone, sax; Julian Pressley, alto sax; Beserat Tafesse, trombone; Walter Cano, trumpet. STARRING: Nico Sarbanes, vocals/trumpet; Joy Hanson, Vanisha-Arleen Gould, Shawn Whitehorn & Alicyn Yaffee, vocals.

The J.C. Hopkins Biggish Band is a New York based big band that gives us a flash-back to the 1940 – 1950 popular dance bands of those bygone days. They are a band that has appeared consistently on Saturday nights at the historic Minton’s Playhouse in New York City. In the 1940s, this was the spot that featured jam sessions led by Dizzy Gillespie. It’s said that the days of Bebop were developed at this nightspot, led by Thelonious Monk and others.

Many important musicians have moved through the J.C. Hopkins well- established band including the now world-renowned vocalist, Norah Jones. She was one of his featured singers in the early days of his big band. Hopkins has featured other great jazz singers including Madeleine Peyroux, Queen Esther, Jazzmeia Horn, Alicia Olatuja and Brianna Thomas. On this recording, the voice of Nico Sarbanes is heard, with his Frank Sinatra stylized vocals. Sarbanes is also an excellent trumpeter. He duets with the soprano stylings of Joy Hanson on the love song, “Beguiled” and also on “What Would you Say.” Additionally, Sarbanes is a co-writer with J.C. Hopkins on the tune, “We Can Change the World.” In fact, Hopkins has composed or co-written all the songs on this project with the exception of the Charlie Mingus tune, “Better Git It in Your Soul.” I enjoyed the vocalist, Vanisha Gould, who sang “Sublime Beauty” with honesty and whose vocal style is both distinct and memorable. This is a swinging ensemble that reflects a piece of jazz big band history, giving young musicians an opportunity to spread their wings and fly.
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Gregory Goodloe, guitar/composer/producer; Bob Baldwin, keyboards/programmer/producer.

This is a sultry, grooving production that’s driven by Gregory Goodloe’s powerful guitar presence. The Denver,Colorado resident had just released his latest single in March, when the Corona Virus pandemic shut down everything and threatened the entire world. Consequently, the title of his latest recording became even more relevant. He’s encouraging us to chill out and be “Cool Like That” and not let this current state of our country keep us frozen in place and frustrated.

“Like every other musician right now, we’re going through a transition. We don’t know what’s going to be at the end of the rainbow. We don’t know if everything is going to be more condensed. Is it the end of concerts? Is it the end of festivals? Is everything going to be digital now? Are we just going to be in-house songwriters? That’s the kind of thing that’s going through my mind. This time is about being able to work through that; to have to change, but not let it defeat me. To move like water into the flow of whatever change has to happen in order to continue to create music,” the guitarist speaks his mind.

“Cool Like That” is Goodloe’s first single since last June, 2019 when he garnered the Billboard No. 1 single placement titled, “Stylin’.” That song also slid up the Smooth Jazz Top 20 Chart. This current original composition was produced and co-written by pianist and jazz icon, Bob Baldwin. You can hear jazz influences in Goodloe’s playing that remind us of George Benson, Earl Klugh and Wes Montgomery.

Bob Baldwin is a contemporary jazz composer, an author, a radio host, programmer and music producer. Together, this dynamic duo creates gold-record product. Gregory Goodloe and Bob Baldwin are currently planning to release an entire “Cool Like That” album, once this pandemic quarantine is over. I look forward to hearing their album, because Gregory Goodloe’s music is joyful, inspiring and uplifting. We’ll need plenty of that good feeling once this challenging time of pandemic illness and deadly virus has passed. Music like Gregory Goodloe’s is great for the soul and can elevate our spirits.
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Claude Diallo, piano/composer; Luques Curtis, bass; Andy Bauer, drums.

Pianist, Claude Diallo was born in St. Gallen, Switzerland to a Swiss mother and French father. He comes from a richly musical family. Both parents played violin in Symphony orchestras. Young Claude was drawn to the piano, but pulled away from classical music to pursue a career in jazz. He was inspired by the legendary Oscar Peterson. His desire to expand his musical knowledge and to bathe in the American art form of jazz encouraged his move to the United States. In Boston, he studied at the famous Berklee School of Music. After attaining his Bachelor Degree in Performance, Claude Diallo moved to New York City. It was 2007, and he was working in and around New York while attending the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queen’s College. Claude Diallo earned his Master’s Degree and during that time, he formed a trio. They cut their musical teeth on ‘the road.’ Diallo’s various groups traveled from Singapore to Thailand; from Hong Kong to Malaysia and Taiwan; then to Brazil, Berlin, Munich, Madrid, the Dominican Republic and more. He began recording as a bandleader in 2006 and has released six trio albums. This newest one, titled “I Found A New Home,” is his seventh recorded release. All of his recordings have featured different trios and although he has performed with these current band members since 2005, this is their first time recording together.

Consequently, Claude Diallo is establishing a new home with this new trio. He also has moved back to Switzerland, to establish a new home and family. The titles of his original compositions, included on this project, refer to ‘home’ in various ways. For example, coming to America was finding a new home. Here, he met Lorraine Bolling, daughter of the first African-American senator of Massachusetts. She was a big fan of his music. When she passed away, in memory of her, Claude composed, “One Last Prayer for You.” Then there’s the blues-based title tune, “I Found a New Home,” that is one of my favorites on this CD. On this tune, Claude Diallo clearly shows off his awesome piano skills and the trio swings hard.

You can recognize that Diallo has a deep love of family. He wrote “Nina’s Theme” to celebrate the 70th birthday of his aunt, Nina Zafran, who is a classically trained pianist. The song “Leo Mathieu” is composed for his two-year-old son. It’s a beautiful, lilting tune, very classically infused and played as a solo piano piece. The composition, “Yours” is dedicated to his wife Daniela. On this arrangement, he adds a taste of funk, with the drums grabbing our attention and Luques Curtis laying down a funky bass line.

Claude Diallo is a superb composer and he proves that on this album. He has composed six of the seven recorded songs. His drummer and studio engineer, Andy Bauer, composed “Animation’s Contemplation.” On this arrangement, Luques Curtis steps forward on his bass and share a very creative and inspired solo. Underneath, Bauer’s power on the trap drums is obvious and the rhythm dances brightly. The melody of this song is very reminiscent of something Thelonious Monk might have written. Claude Diallo’s trio can swing hard and play straight-ahead jazz with the same intensity and sincerity that they deliver a blues or a ballad. Closing with “McCoy Meets Monk” Claude Diallo shows the full range of his ‘chops.’ This song gives Bauer a platform to showcase his percussive technique during a tenacious solo. The production is propelled by Diallo’s two-fisted power on the keys, ripping up and down the scales while delivering a memorable melody. It’s a great way to end this project, with the title of the song paying tribute to two iconic piano players. These masters, McCoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk, have obviously inspired Claude Diallo along his jazz journey. This production adequately reflects Diallo’s inspired talent and composer-power.
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Rachel Therrien, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Daniel Gassin, piano; Dario Guibert, bass; Mareike Wiening, drums; Irving Acao, saxophone guest.

When Rachel Therrien puts the trumpet to her lips, she does so to interpret her unique compositions and to share the emotional content it takes to write music. A gypsy of sorts, she was born in Quebec, Canada, lived in New York and spent considerable time studying her craft in Havana, Cuba. Music has taken her to far off lands. For example, she toured the Ukraine and has spent time in Europe. Her Ukraine adventure inspired Rachel to write “Bilka’s Story,” a tune that sports a pretty melody and moves at a moderate pace with Latin over-tones. On this composition, her melodic lines seem very modern-jazz. She features Mareike Wiening on a long trap drum solo and Irving Acao is effective on saxophone as a special guest. He lifts the music with his saxophone individuality and smoothly blends with Therrien’s trumpet. Her song, “V for Vena” is one of my favorites on this project. Melodically, it soars and dips, leaving plenty of room for Rachel Therrien to show off her trumpet tenacity.

The fifth track was written for her father’s birthday and is titled, “75 Pages of Happiness.” Her original tune, “Assata” starts out sounding very Latin and then, with Guibert’s walking bass and Mareike Wiening’s straight-ahead drums in the lead, Therrien’s arrangement turns straight-ahead and engaging. This tune moves back and forth between moods and grooves, including an ending that invites the drums to center stage. It’s interesting. But will I remember the melody like I would “Ipanema” or “Satin Doll” or “Ruby My Dear?” Not really.

One thing I found, while listening to Rachel Therrien’s composer style, I noticed she uses interesting chord changes that give motion to her music. However, the melodies are not ones that are easy to sing along with or repeat. In other words, you can improvise freely over her chord changes, but, I long for more memorable melodies. The melody is perhaps the most important part of any song.

Therrien has a very sweet tone on her instruments and is able to play smoothly in the higher trumpet and flugelhorn register. There is a lot of contrary motion going on in her arrangements between the instrumentalists. This creates interesting tension in some arrangements. Her composition, “Synchronicity” uses beautiful horn harmonics between trumpet and saxophone to deliver a pensive, sultry mood. Acao’s solo on saxophone is smooth and dynamic. Therrien and her group dive into “Just Playing” full force and full speed ahead. This tune is bebop at its best, giving each soloist time to stretch their creative limits. I applaud Rachel Therrien for determination to be heard and seen in a very male oriented business and to present the very best of herself, while striving for gender equality and musical freedom.

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FRED RANDOLPH – “MOOD WALK” Independent Label

Fred Randolph, basses; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn; Sheldon Brown, tenor saxophone/flute; Greg Wyser-Pratte, drums; Dan Zemelman, piano;Greg Sankovich, keyboards/organ; Silvestre Martinez, percussion; Brian Rice, percussion; Dillon Vado, vibes.

Fred Randolph grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was one of those children who was always full of musicality. In Honolulu he began taking ukulele lessons and had dreams of becoming a rock star. At eleven years old, he switched to guitar and began to emulate the great Jimi Hendrix. In high school he discovered jazz and his musical direction took an extreme turn towards albums by organist Jimmy Smith and guitarist/singer, George Benson. Randolph moved to San Diego, California to attend the state university, but soon switched schools to UC Berkley in Northern California. He put down his guitar and picked up a saxophone. For the next twelve years he played the sax. Then, while working on his Master’s degree in Composition at CSU Hayward, Randolph fell in love with the bass.

“I was …captivated by its endless possibilities and sounds. The acoustic and electric basses became my main instruments and I started to study intensively. I listened to all types of jazz solos on other instruments and adapted them to the bass,” he recalled.

As you can see, this inquisitive and gifted musician was the type to be interested in all genres of music. He spent two years as a member of the Diablo Symphony Orchestra, but still was playing jazz on the side and leading his own group. He also took plenty of sideman jobs playing rock, salsa, classical, samba and jazz. All of those experiences have culminated in this, his fourth CD release as a bandleader.

This album is an intriguing group of eleven original compositions that Fred Randolph has penned and arranged. Each one is beautifully written and exquisitely played by these talented musicians. Beginning with “On the Upside” Fred and his band of merry men are off and running. This is a solid swing tune with bebop roots and Erik Jekabson struts out on his trumpet to set the mood. Sheldon Brown follows with a stellar tenor saxophone solo. Then comes the leader of the group, playing his upright bass with gusto and verve. Dan Zemelman trades fours on piano with Greg Wyser-Pratte on drums. The group is cooking on all five burners!

On the second track, “Unaware” Randolph adds a special guest on vibes; Dillon Vado. This tune is a little more ‘laid-back’ and consequently, more easy listening. “T-Bone Slide” is Latin Flavored with a funk under-tone provided by Randolph’s bass groove locked into the drums of Greg Wyser-Pratte. The title tune, “Mood Walk” is back to his bebop roots and is straight-ahead jazz at its best. Additionally, the melody is happy and memorable. Fred Randolph is a very gifted composer. You will find your head bobbing and your toes tapping to much of the music on his album. Also, the addition of Greg Sankovich’s organ is tasty on “T-Bone Slide,” “Todd’s Idea” and “Funky N.O. Thing,” a tune that closes this album. Everyone gets to solo on this final tune. You will immediately applaud that Fred Randolph’s band features some of the finest musicians in Northern California. Sit back and enjoy.
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April 21, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz journalist
April 21, 2020

As we remain sequestered in our homes, perhaps frustrated during this 2020-worldwide pandemic, I find myself drawn to music and embracing its healing powers. Music is such a universal language and gives us joy and hope in subtle ways. Here are some albums that lifted me up during this challenging time of chaos and health crisis.


Clark Sommers, bass/composer; Geof Bradfield, tenor & soprano saxophones; Dana Hall, drums/cymbals.

Clark Sommers is a Grammy award winning bassist who cut his jazz teeth in Chicago, Illinois. This is his Ba(SH) band’s second recording, after his first release in August of 2013 received critical acclaim.

In 2017 he released an album, as bandleader titled, “By A Thread,” with a full ensemble playing his original compositions.

But Sommers wanted to get back to his original, 2013, open-ended Ba(SH) concept. So, on this recording, Sommers departs from the expected trio, once again eliminates piano or guitar, presenting a chord-less trio format. This gives his bass pure freedom to explore harmony, melody and texture with the creative support of Geof Bradfield on saxophone and Dana Hall’s tasty licks on drums. Clark Sommers is a serious composer and his original songs are played dynamically by this unique trio.

“I’ve been playing with them for over 20 years and they’re two of my closest friends and collaborators,” Clark commented.

I feel these three players beat as one heart. They merge together like blood and bone. The result is stunning, entertaining and inspired.
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Kathleen Grace, vocals/guitar/songwriter/producer; Larry Goldings, piano/keyboards/organ/pocket piano/glockenspiel/producer; David Piltch & Darek Oleszkiewicz, bass; Gabe Witcher, violin.

Opening with the tune, “Tie Me to You,” that this singer/songwriter co-wrote with Larry Golding, the haunting melody wraps around me like hungry arms. There is something captivating about this minimalist production. I find something striking about Kathleen Grace’s emotional deliveries. They are not bogged down with a huge production or colored with vocal riffs and scats. Instead, it’s Kathleen’s crystal-clear voice and delivery that vividly buoys this production. Larry Goldings’ arrangements are unexpected, unique and their creativity brings out the best in Kathleen’s voice. For example, “Where or When” offers an unusual piano arrangement that reminds me of a Norwegian music box I once owned, with the tiny ballerina spinning and twirling around in front of a tiny mirror. Kathleen Grace’s tone is clear and precise. Her notes dance, delicate but strong, like ballet choreography. This vocalist offers no nasal overtones. Her style is pure, jazzy and folksy, especially on tunes like her original composition, “Everywhere” with Gabe Witcher’s violin adding a touch of Americana to their production of this song.

Kathleen impresses me with her emotional delivery of “John the Revelator” as a solid blues. She discovered this song when her friend and guitarist Anthony Wilson shared the version made famous by blues great Son house.

“We recorded that song in one take and it felt incredible,” she shared.

This is a genre-less CD. Kathleen Grace explained in her liner notes that this was her intention.

“Jazz is a value system. I may not always be creating music specific to that space, but I try to let its deepest truths of freedom, listening and trust guide my path; my choices. Larry and I agreed to leave genre at the door,” she explains.

When I hear her heart-breaking rendition of “What’ll I do,” I feel drawn into the lyric of that song like a fly caught inside a whirlpool. There’s no getting away from her honest, tear-jerking expressiveness. It sucks you into its depth without apology or pretense. You hear the same honest projection and deeply personal emotion when she sings, “The Thrill is Gone.” I’ve heard that song a million times, but never sung in this way and that makes her rendition particularly inviting and lovely.

Kathleen Grace grew up in Tucson, Arizona and relocated to Los Angeles. Her musical career has blossomed and taken her around the globe. But sometimes, when relationships change or end, we women find ourselves eclipsed by deep emotions. Often, these dark, purple and painful feelings birth incredibly warm and wonderful in the light of realization. In this artist’s voice, I hear both the hopeful light and the shattering pain that life changing, broken love can inspire. Consequently, this album becomes a piece of art that is bound to capture the ear and interest of people worldwide. In its honest simplicity, this may be one of the best things she’s done to date.
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Vanderlei Pereira, drums/percussion/composer/arranger/producer; Jorge Continentino, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute/pifano; Rodrigo Ursaia, tenor saxophone; Susan Pereira, voice/percussion; Deanna Witkowski, piano; Paul Meyers, acoustic guitar; Gustavo Amarante, electric bass; Itaiguara Brandao, electric bass.

This is the debut release for Brazilian drummer, Vanderlei Pereira. He has lived in the United States for over thirty years and has made quite a name for himself working with music legends like Arutro O’Farrill’s Afro Latin jazz Orchestra, Paul Winter, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, Toots Thielemans, Tito Puente, Claudio Roditi, Hendrik Meurkens and a host of others. Speaking of Airto, Vanderlei Pereira opens this CD with the Moreira composition, “Misturada.” It’s a happy, up-tempo 7/4 Samba tune with Susan Pereira’s vocals in unison with the melodic flute of Jorge Continentino. Together, they set the pace. We are off and running, with the percussive drums of Vanderlei Pereira leading the way. Susan Pereira’s voice is used throughout as part of the ensemble. Her scat instrument is a lovely addition to the tracks. Paul Meyers takes an in depth and innovative solo on acoustic guitar. After hearing this first track, I’m all in and captured by the energy and beauty of this band. The second tune “Point of Departure” (Ponto de Partida) is an original composition by Vanderlei. It’s rhythmic and joyful. Like the first song, this one also makes me tap my toe to the infectious rhythms. This time the tenor saxophone of Continentino is featured. Also, pianist Deanna Witkowski steps forward to soak up some of the glittering spotlight. Every tune that follows encourages the listener to move and/or dance. Continentino adds the pifano to the list of instruments he plays during this project. The pifano is a wind instrument from the Northeast region of Brazil. It dates back to the days of fifes that Christian settlers used to play in honor of the Virgin Mary during Christmas celebrations.

Born in Macaé, Brazil, Vanderlei Pereira started playing drums professionally when he was just fifteen. He studied music and received his degree from the Academia de Musica Lorenzo Fernandes in Rio de Janeiro. There, he performed with the prestigious Orquestra Sinfonica Brasileira. Due to an inherited retinitis pigmentosa, he became blind in his early thirties. But he didn’t let this stop his career. Since Vanderlei Pereira could no long read charts, he concentrated on becoming a top jazz and samba drummer. After transplanting to New York in 1988, he quickly became an in-demand trap drummer on the Brazilian jazz scene. Continuing his music studies, he earned a degree in Jazz Studies from the Mannes College of Music. This awesome recording shows that not only is Vanderlei Pereira an amazing drummer, he is also a masterful and significant bandleader, composer and arranger.
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Amina Figarova, piano/keyboards/composer/arranger; Rez Abbasi, guitars; Bart Platteau, B flat flute d’Amore/EWI; Yasushi Nakamura, electric/acoustic bass; Rudy Royston, drums. SPECIAL APPEARANCES BY: Paul Jost, vocals; JSwiss, lyrics/rapper; Skye’s World, spoken word/vocals.

This album marks a year of new horizons for Azerbaijani-born pianist, Amina Figarova. After 20-years leading an acclaimed acoustic sextet and touring the world, she decided to make a sharp left turn into unexplored waters. “Persistence” is the title of her new album and lets electronic music wash over us, like salty waves. Figarova employs an eclectic band that grooves hard and mixes genres. You will hear fusion jazz, R&B grooves and hip-hop expressions, all mixed up with progressive funk.

Rudy Royston’s pronounced and dynamic drums are both evident and colorful on every track. His rhythms and sensitive embellishments lift Amina Figarova’s piano mastery. She plays a number of keyboards and adds keyboard techniques that enhance this production. On “Lil Poem,” one of seven original compositions she has penned, you hear her straight-ahead jazz chops. Her fingers make the keys sing and swing. She never deserts her jazz sensibilities, even though she is exploring new territory. The addition of Bart Platteau’s free wielding EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) adds depth and creativity to this arrangement. Yasushi Nakamura’s bass lines dance beneath, making subtle statements while always holding the rhythm tightly in place, along with Royston’s drums. I played this song twice, before moving on. It captures the imagination.

On “I’ve Got No Time,” the staccato piano chords set up the tune and the B flat flute plays tag in the open spaces in between. The drums tap like a metronome or the pendulum of a grandfather clock. Enter JSWISS, who offers a jazzy rap.

On “R Song,” the “R” stands for Rez, her guitarist (Rez Abbasi) and was written as kind of a gift for his birthday. His guitar solo mesmerizes. Amina is not to be denied her place in the spotlight featuring her undeniable piano excellence. I like the way the song grooves at the end and allows a space for the drums to solo atop the piano chords.

Each song on this ingenious recording brings forth its own magic. Each composition pulls a fresh surprise from Amina Figarova’s magician’s hat. They pop-up and entertain us, like technicolor rabbits. Her arrangements are individually unique and each one brings something enchanting to keep our attention on-point and our ears alert. On the final tune titled, “Bliss” Skye’s World, brings us a spoken word poem that perhaps capsulizes all we have heard.

“Like jungle flowers, that bloom, when we are cut too soon; our beauty fades quicker than our destination …” he speaks.

This album is like a freshly cut bouquet, full of exotic sounds and colors. Each musician brings something unique and exceptional to the table. Perhaps the brightest colors are the ones painted by composer, arranger, pianist and bandleader, Amina Figarova. Here is a project I will listen to time and time again.
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Kent Miller, bass; Darius Scott, piano; Greg Holloway, drums; Benny Russell, tenor & soprano saxophones; Antonio Parker, alto saxophone.

Legendary bassist, Sam Jones, was born November 12, 1924 in Jacksonville, Florida. He moved to New York in 1955, when he was nearly thirty-one years old. It didn’t take long for folks to notice Jones’ genius. He recorded with Bill Evans in the 1950s. He was soon working with legends like Kenny Dorham, Bobby Timmons, Gene Ammons, Illinois Jacquet, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie and even Thelonious Monk. However, some of his most amazing composer skills became visibly apparent when he was part of Cannonball Adderley’s group from 1959 to 1965. After that, he worked four years as part of the Oscar Peterson group and later played with Cedar Walton.

The TNEK Jazz Quintet concentrates on the work of Sam Jones when he was with Cannonball’s aggregation. It was bass player, Kent Miller who came up with the idea of recording an album of the music of Sam Jones. All the songs on this tribute CD are familiar to most jazz heads, but I wonder how many people actually know that the great Sam Jones composed every single song the TNEK band interprets. The exception is the final tune on this album, “Tragic Magic,” written by Kenny Barron. This super talented ensemble of musicians brings fire and spontaneity to the music. Pianist, Darius Scott, is soulful and prolific on his instrument. Greg Holloway is the dynamic drummer and Antonio Parker and Benny Russell add the intricate horn lines that Sam Jones wrote. They open with “Unit Seven,” a song Cannonball often used as his unofficial theme song. Adderley and his brother Nat were famous for playing this familiar jazz tune. This TNEK group covers all the popular jazz standard songs that Sam Jones famously penned. After “Unit Seven” comes “Bittersuite.” This is followed by “Some More of Dat” and then “Lillie”, “O.P” and “Del Sasser.”

Bass player, Kent Miller has been a part of the Washington, D.C. jazz community since 1995. He relocated there after leaving New York and put together the TNEK group. Their debut album was titled, “Contributions.” These talented musicians and old friends have an exciting ability to swing hard and fit together perfectly with the familiarity and a cohesiveness that breeds excellence.

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ANDY MILNE & UNISON – “THE REMISSION” Sunnyside Communications/Contrology Records

Andy Milne, piano; John Hebert, bass; Clarence Penn, drums.

‘Unison’is the name of Andy Milne’s new trio. That name translates to working together as one. Milne thought about Forming a trio for many years, but never dived into the concept until now. Playing in a trio setting is a new and untrodden path for Andy Milne. However, this new group sounds seasoned and energetically compatible.

Sometimes shocking, life-changing challenges redirect purposeful plans. In 2017, this pianist/composer and bandleader was diagnosed with Cancer. The title of this album is his current status; “The Remission.”

“I began to reflect on how a trio might influence a musical course change. The jazz pianist’s venerable formation stared me squarely in the eyes and I realized now was the time,” Milne mused.

At first, he considered recording a trio album that featured standard jazz songs. Then, he began composing, specifically with his trio in mind. Two of his good friends of thirty-years, Benoit Delbecq and Ralph Alessi introduced him to bass player, John Hebert. Milne and Hebert formed an immediate musical bond. Andy chose Clarence Penn as his drummer, even though they had never played together. The two musicians had arrived in New York around the same time and had known each other for years. Over time, Milne found himself intoxicated with the way Penn played drums in other groups, always adding something special to the mix.

“Every time I heard him perform, I found myself fixated by how his sound, time and finesse elevated whatever band with whom he was performing,” Milne recalls.

Once these two musicians were onboard, the trio was born. This album of fine music features eight of Andy Milne’s original compositions out of ten tunes. The opening composition, “Passion Dance” was penned by McCoy Tyner and the closing tune on this album was written by Benny Golson titled, “Sad to Say.” Everything in between is fresh, new and composed by Milne.

“Vertical on Opening Night” is introduced by John Hebert’s double bass in a strong and provocative way. The piano accompaniment by Andy Milne gives tenacious support to Hebert’s melodic bass playing. I found this arrangement very interesting. “Drive By – the Fall” centers the spotlight on Clarence Penn. His spirited drum solo is the introduction to this tune and he carries this piece throughout like a weight-lifter. Milne enters with his piano melody spilling over the space in a very classical way. Throughout, this is a merge of modern jazz with classical overtones spurred by the creative juices of each musical member. Another favorite was their interpretation of McCoy’s tune.

“In jazz, the trio is perhaps one of the most heralded and revered configurations for pianists. … As a stand-alone entity, the piano trio has often been the backdrop wherein pianists establish their reputations and define their pianistic vision. For me, the decision to present who I have become as an artist, in the trio setting, involved a reckoning and a certain degree of artistic and technical evolution in order to both embody my past projects and forge a new path forward,” Andy Milne asserts.

That pretty much sums it up!
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Chris McCarthy, piano/composer; Sam Minaie, bass; JK Kim, drums; Michael Blake, tenor saxophone/flute; Takuya Kuroda, trumpet.

As a journalist and published songwriter myself, I recognize how important semantics can be. So, I was wondering what the title of this album meant to the artist. He explains in his liner notes.

“There’s always ‘still Time to Quit’ music, but there’s also time to fulfill one’s creative and professional dreams and goals,” Chris McCarthy says.

On this, his debut album for Ropeadope Records, McCarthy fulfills one of those dreams. The first cut storms off of the CD with driving power. It’s spontaneous; shockingly and technically astute. This pianist/composer gives us a peek at his piano prowess and composition skills. The tune is titled, “That’s All you Get” and it’s one of eight songs on this recording that the pianist has penned. Although short (at two minutes and eight seconds long), this song packs a punch.

McCarthy gives free range to his band members, who take the opportunity to improvise on composer’s provided themes and melodies. Takuya Kuroda on trumpet shines on “Ready, Steady, here You Go!” It’s the second song on this album. McCarthy shows off his blues chops on “Shockingly Effective,” however before he can settle into the tune on piano, the horns are already repeating staccato horn lines that take away his luster. This tune turns into avant-garde-busy and leaves blues and melody standing on a New York street corner by themselves and forgotten. A tune called, “Toasty” brings the spotlight briefly back to the artist. It quickly becomes a repetitive melody, sung by the horn section again and again as I await the pianist to step forward and strut his stuff. On “Happy Tired” I finally get to hear Chris McCarthy take a meaningful piano solo, but it’s lack-luster. Clearly this is a group effort, rather than an album that introduces us to Chris McCarthy. We meet his compositions, but not his piano mastery.
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Aubrey Johnson, vocals/composer; Chris Ziemba, piano; Matt Aronoff, bass; Jeremy Noller, drums; Michael Sachs, bass clarinet/alto saxophone; Tomoko Omura, violin; Vitor Goncalves, accordion.

It’s a little unusual to hear a soprano jazz singer who utilizes her upper range vocals like a horn when interpreting lyrics. You hear this type of voice that Aubrey Johnson has more in folk or pop vocals. That being said, her tone and pitch are appealing and in addition to being a vocalist, she’s a composer and offers us four original songs on this production. Her back-up band is all jazz and they make a formidable palate for her to vocal-paint this lovely canvas of sound. From the very first song, Aubrey Johnson combines scats with lyrical phrases. She writes very jazzy tunes and she sounds as if she thinks like a horn. You can clearly hear this on her opening tune, “No More I Love You’s” and on “Unraveled,” the title tune and one of her originals. Here, she layers her voicings, like a horn section, moving fluidly from lyrics to scat singing. Pianist, Chris Ziemba, is not only a fine accompanist, but a very gifted pianist. Aubrey Johnson reminds me of a Joni Mitchell type singer, with hints of a modern-day Annie Ross. There is a freedom to her music in the way her melodies move in unexpected intervals that captivate. I found her vocal interpretations so interesting that I listened with headphones. She reminds me of someone who is comfortable singing in a group with other singers. When I read her press package, I discovered she has indeed performed with a number of other vocalists, including the inimitable Bobby McFerrin on his 2010 Grammy-nominated album, VOCAbularies.

On the tune, “Voice is Magic” she sounds birdlike and precise. The arrangement is enhanced by the beautiful violin solo or Tomoko Omura. “The Peacocks” (composed by J. Rowles and N. Winstone) is a very challenging jazz tune. Aubrey Johnson makes it sound fluid, smooth and easy. Michael Sachs plays a ‘mean’ alto saxophone solo on this arrangement. Then she sings the familiar and beautiful song, “Dindi” in Portuguese and then in English. What a treat.

This is an album of fresh, innovative music by a singer whose voice defies category and who reinvents herself on each individual tune. Her distinctive sound is unlike one I have heard in other ensembles or on the recent jazz scene. Her vocals take us on a creative journey to places we’ve never been. She invites all adventurous jazz gypsies to come on board and enjoy.
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International Jazz, A Tribute to Wayne Shorter, Down-Home Blues, Poetry with Big Band Arrangements & More

April 10, 2020


By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 10, 2020


Kiki Valera, Cuatro/guitar/claves/maracas/coros; Coco Freeman, lead vocals; Carlos Cascante, lead vocals; Alexis Baro, trumpet; Jose J. Alayo & Yanill Nario, bass; Pedro Vargas, congas/bongos; Joshuah de Jesus, coros; Steve Guasch, coros.

This is a Cuban production full of happy and joyful music. These musicians create the kind of excitement that encourages you to have a party or at least to get up and dance. Kiki Valera is a Cuban Cuatro master and a member of the Familia Valera Miranda. The ‘Cuatro’ is a stringed instrument, smaller than a guitar and more the size of a violin. It has deep roots in Puerto Rico and is an instrument creation of Puerto Rican people. The Familia Valera Miranda are a respected, century-old group and one of the most important purveyors of the Son Cubano. They carry-on a rich Cuban music legacy. Son Cubano is a genre of music and dance, originating in the Eastern Cuban highlands during the late 19th century. It employs clave rhythm and vocals that celebrate the slave-style of ‘call and response.’ Much of this music is drawn from the Bantu influence and origin. Although the entire album is sung in Spanish, (and I do not speak the language) I could still feel the emotional connections these singers and musicians perform. Their messages stretch like sunrays across our divide and I warm to their international music.

Coco Freeman’s lead baritone vocals are beautifully performed and plush with emotion. You will see that I reference the ‘coros’ above. The common instrumentation of the ‘coros’ is a group that features a viola, a string-less banjo used more as a percussion instrument, claves, guitar, harp and jug bass. But, Coros also references a choir of voices that is part of an artform grown in Havana and other Cuban cities around the 19th century. So, this music shares much historic data with us, as well as cultural roots. Interestingly, many of these compositions grew out of the roots of black slavery in Cuba, similar to the way jazz was birthed in America.

Kiki Valera, who has dedicated himself to performing traditional Cuban music, was also influenced by cassette tapes he listened to as a child. Some of those artistic influences included Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery and Chick Corea. These jazz inspirations elevate the quality of his Cuatro solos. Valera is a prolific arranger and has arranged much of the original music on this album. Most of the songs are composed by his longtime friend and fellow musician, Coco Freeman. Freeman and Felix Valera Miranda also co-arranged some songs. One of the things I appreciated about this enjoyable album, inside the liner notes (in English) they describe the meaning of each composition. For example: “El Caballo de Curingo” is a humorous tale of Kiki’s uncle whose drinking habits eventually even annoy the horse that brings him home every night. Another original composition, “El Perro de Juan” recalls a night when Kiki’s father was chased up a tree by his brother’s ferocious dog. Another composition, “Homenaje a Panchita” recalls the sad end of the family pig, which had been a pet to the children.

Along with tongue-in-cheek humor and the master musicians Kiki Valera and Coco Freeman employ on this project, you are certain to be thoroughly entertained.
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Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone; Ben Paterson, organ; Kris Kaiser, guitar; Aaron Seeber, drums.

A Chicago native, Vito Dieterle is one of the world’s young saxophone players who is making his impact on the New York jazz scene. His style has been compared to an inspired mixture of Sonny Stitt and Stan Getz. Vito definitely leans towards the exciting bebop trends that mesmerized the world in the 1960’s and beyond. His choice of sidemen includes Ben Paterson on organ. This brings back memories of the Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff quartets. But Dieterle’s organ trio has a smoother sound. It’s not as gritty and bluesy as Smith and McDuff once were. He opens with “Dream Dancing” a Cole Porter tune arranged at a moderate Latin tempo and featuring the guitar of Kris Kaiser on the introduction, as a duet with Vito’s punchy tenor saxophone. Dieterle can play smooth as raw silk one minute and in the next minute, brightly punch his message from the bell of his horn.

The title of this album, “Anemone” is a plant of the buttercup family and also Vito Dieterle’s only original composition on this CD. My grandmother used to grow Buttercups in her backyard and they were beautiful, brightly colored little flowers. I liked the yellow ones the best, that resembled little bowls of butter. The Anemone plant is sometimes referred to as a ‘windflower’, which seems quite appropriate for a horn player to choose as the title of his album. The windflower is said to open widely when a strong breeze is blowing. Like the anemone, Vito Dieterle’s music is open and flowing. He studied at the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music (at the New School in New York) and has been a professional musician since 1998. In addition to playing jazz, he has also acted as owner-operator of two jazz bars; the Silver Lining in the Roxy Hotel and The Django.

On this release, he interprets the music of Stanley Turrentine (Minor Chant) at a brisk, swing pace and explores two songs written by Billy Strayhorn; “Lush Life” and “Chelsea Bridge” in a more tender and emotionally vulnerable way. Here is when the Stan Getz influence seems to surface. On “Lush Life” drummer Aaron Seeber creates a waltz feel beneath the improvisation of Dieterle and it’s a sweet arrangement. Dizzy Gillespie’s tune, “That’s Earl, Brother” swings hard and gives Paterson a chance to stretch-out on organ. All in all, this is an outstanding quartet production that showcases the talents of Vito Dieterle on his tenor saxophone.
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Jeff Benedict, saxophones; Jonathan Pintoff, bass; Dave Askren, guitar; Chris Garcia, percussion.

Dave Askren and Jeff Benedict celebrate the music of jazz icon and composer, Wayne Shorter, on their “Paraphernalia” album. Askren and Benedict open with the popular tune, E.S.P, culled from the 1965 Miles Davis release, that was originally played at the speed of racing horses. On this arrangement, they have slowed the tune down to a cut tempo, half-time funk beat. This is a strong departure from the straight-ahead groove of the original Miles recording and proffers another musical perspective.

According to Dave Askren, “We didn’t want to just do covers of Wayne’s tunes. We didn’t try to sound like him, because you can’t do better than the original music. You can just do your own thing and make music your own way.”

I thought it was very creative when they broke the tune down to just Jeff Benedict on saxophone and Chris Garcia on percussion. When Dave Askren’s rhythm guitar enters, along with Johnathan Pintoff’s bass, they grow the crescendo. This is followed by “Yes and/or No,” presented with strong Latin infusion, using the guitar to set up the Brazilian-like groove. This tune comes from the Wayne Shorter album, “Juju”, released sometime in 1964. Percussionist, Chris Garcia shines during this mambo arrangement.

“Paraphernalia” is Askren and Benedict’s third recording together as co-leaders. They have pulled Wayne Shorter compositions from his early work in the 1960s, mostly from Miles Davis and Weather Report recordings. Askren played both clarinet and saxophone as a young musician, but was drawn to the guitar when he was fourteen and formed a bond with that instrument. He studied at Berklee College of Music and taught there after graduation. Although he enjoys teaching, he left Boston and transplanted to California’s West Coast music scene, studying at Cal State LA for a graduate degree in classical guitar. That’s where he met Jeff Benedict. Jeff was teaching and leading a jazz band and they became close friends. Benedict has multiple credits as a sideman, using his saxophone talents to compliment artists like Nick Brignola, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Randy Brecker, Billy Taylor and Mel Tormé, to mention just a few. He’s also enjoyed playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, The Pacific Symphony, The Aspen Festival Orchestra and the Tanglewood fellowship Orchestra. Like his friend, Dave Askren, he has released two small ensemble albums under his own bandleader credentials. Askren has released four CDs as a bandleader.

Together, they create a unique sound and fresh arrangements that are meant to create a heartfelt tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter, an artist/composer that they both greatly admire.
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Aruan Ortiz, piano/voice; Andrew Cyrille, drums; Mauricio Herrera, percussion/voice.

According to Aruan Ortiz, he has long dreamt of making an album that would represent a cascade of rhythms. He Has succeeded on this production. Growing up in Cuba, for the first twenty-three years of his life, Ortiz experienced a multitude of rhythmic sounds and multi-cultural rhythms. He recalls hearing a global symphony each morning when he walked to school in the South-eastern province of Oriente, a community that was the cradle of Afro-Cuban music.

His album, “Inside Rhythmic Falls” draw much of its profundity from his working-class neighborhood and a style of guitar and drum music that was created by slaves in the sugar cane refineries of the early 19th century Cuba. That music style was called, Changüi. It is a fusion of Spanish cancion with Bantu percussion and with Haitian tumba frances; a mixed music culture for good measure. He has transformed and reimagined this historic music into his own algorithm of musical concept. Ortiz refers to his work as having “hidden voices.”

One thing this project clearly has is a number of rhythm patterns and improvised musical passages that drags the listener by the ear, like a reluctant learner. His music magically implores me to pay attention and to let the musical phrases wash over me like Cuba’s El Nicho waterfall. The piano of Aruan Ortiz creates an astounding bed of rhythms and artistic phrases that cascade to the depths of emotional feeling and create a platform for the percussion of Mauricio Herrera and the drums of Andrew Cyrille to dance upon. Aruan Ortiz has composed every song and poem, with the exception of “Para ti Nengón” (a popular Cuban song that closes out this album). With only vocals, percussion and piano, this is an expressive and unique production that layers voices and instruments as sweet as cake. It draws you into the whirlpool of words and music, like a fly drawn to a shiny web. Once you are caught up in the sparkling uniqueness of this music, you will want to stay and hear each piece played again. This is artistic modernism played in a very abstract way. As the liner notes say, “…When music is this glorious, it has the power not just to conjure spirits, but to inspire belief and help us experience the marvelous.”
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Jay Willie, guitar/slide guitar/vocals; James Montgomery, vocals/harmonica; Paul Opalach, bass/lap steel/keyboards/simulated horns; Bobby T. Torello, drums; Lee-Ann Lovelace, vocals; Kyle Mangold, backup vocals.

This album opens with a melody from the children’s song, “Three Blind Mice” and it jubilantly sets the precedence for what is to come. This is an album of Blues, R&B and Rock, featuring Jay willie on guitar, slide guitar and vocals, along with his musical partner, James Montgomery playing harmonica and singing. This music is just pure fun! It reminded me of the Detroit sound and the music of guitar-men and blues singers like Johnny Bassett and John Lee Hooker. When I started reading the promotional package, I discovered James Montgomery is a Detroit-based, blues legend. When Jay Willie first heard him play, he knew he wanted to work with the funky harmonica bluesman in the future. Then, in 1973, Montgomery released a Capricorn Record and later Allen Toussaint produced the Huey Piano Smith song, “Don’t You Just Know It” on Montgomery, under the title of “The Gooba Gooba Song.” Jay Willie was sure there was a musical compatibility in their musical tastes and asked his long-time bandmate and drummer, Bobby T. Torello, to contact James Montgomery. He wanted to see if James might be interested in performing with their group. Jay Willie was overjoyed when Montgomery agreed. Consequently, they performed a concert together in Connecticut. Later, Jay Willie asked James Montgomery if he’d be interested in recording with his group. The result is this Zoho Record release.

Montgomery has toured with Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Allman Brothers Band, and Steve Miller; the legendary Laverne Baker, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Greg Allman, Patti LaBelle and many more. The Jay Willie Blues Band has produced five previous releases for the Zoho Roots label. I am certain this will be another winner for Jay Willie group. It’s bound to brighten up any day and invigorate any party.
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Henry Robinett, guitar; Joe Gilman, piano; Chris Symer, bass; Michael Stephans, drums.

How many times have you looked back on your life, while going through boxes or cleaning garages and closets, only to discover some real gems that had been hidden away for years? Guitarist, Henry Robinett, must have been doing just that when he stumbled upon some old tracks he recorded nineteen years ago.

“Honestly, I don’t know why I left it on the shelf for so long. I grew up listening to bebop and the great bebop players had enormous influence on me. When I wrote and performed my own music, though, I naturally incorporated the wide range of music styles I had played with other bands. I think the jazz standards album was just too different from my other work, which made me hesitant to release it. But after listening to it again, after so many years, I like it. I think it stands up well and shows another side to my playing,” Robinett explained in his liner notes.

I am happy he discovered this beautifully played treasure of standard jazz songs. His group is smokin’ hot and why wouldn’t it be with drummer Michael Stephans manning the trap drums? As always, Stephans adds fire and spark to this project. Joe Gilman is lyrical and freely improvises on “I Hear A Rhapsody.” But it’s always Henry Robinett’s sensitive guitar playing that keeps this music exciting and creative. Robinett has a way of unfolding each song, like the chapters of an intriguing book. He inspires the listener to go forward and hear the next one and the one after that. His tone is pure and he’s a master improviser, using long, eclectic lines in his guitar phrasing. On “Yellow Days or (La Mentira), Joe Gilman exhibits his style of playing, using inspired melodies with both hands on the piano keys, moving in unison at a brisk pace. Then, Chris Symer steps forward, soaking up the spotlight and letting his double bass eloquently do the talking.

A native of California, Henry Robinett was a Cal State University/Sacramento student before joining a popular Northern California group called, The Runners. They played a mixed bag of music, from R&B to Rock, Brazilian and Latin influenced tunes and jazz. Then, in 1978, Robinett turned his music world upside-down when he briefly lived in a New York City apartment with none other than Charlie Mingus. His father was first cousins with Mingus and had a large collection of Mingus music. Young Henry had come up listening to this legendary bassist as a teen. While living with Mingus, the young musician rubbed shoulders with jazz royalty like Sonny Rollins, jazz historians Nat Hentoff and Leonard Feather, Clifford Jordon, Chico Freeman and many others. He happened to be in New York when Mingus was penning music for the iconic Joni Mitchell. Henry Robinett remembers talking to Joni about music and life in general. She also showed Robinett some of her guitar tunings. He admits to carrying those notes in his guitar case for many years.

From New York, he returned to the Bay Area in California rejuvenated and quickly landed gigs at the legendary Keystone Korner. He enjoyed playing with top Bay area artists like pianist, Jessica Williams, performing on her 1981 album “Orgonomic Music” along with Eddie Henderson. His music sensibilities were growing.

With new horizons calling, he spent a year in Munich, Germany doing studio work for the Munich Sound Machine and other artists, while playing with various local bands. His love of music encouraged exploration into various musical styles, including the popular disco style of music that Mitch Klein’s Munich Sound Machine successfully recorded.

Ultimately, Henry Robinett decided to create his own group. He was signed to Artful Balance Record label and his group produced three albums for that label. Always eager to expand his knowledge and have more control over his own music, Henry decided to master studio engineering. Back in California, he built a small studio and many of his subsequent album projects were recorded there. He set up his own Nefertiti record company and was soon producing not only his own records, but recording other artists too.

The Henry Robinett Group was named the Best Jazz Band by the Sacramento News and Review for three straight years. In 2015, he was recording a more contemporary sound of jazz.

For this current album, recorded in 2000, Robinett and his exciting bandmates offer us their interpretation of several jazz songs that we love like “Days of Wine and Roses”, “Just the Way You Look Tonight,” “Ill Wind” and “Invitation” among six others. This production is bebop influenced jazz that never grows old.

“I called the talented drummer, Michael Stephans. He suggested I use Seattle based musician, Chris Symer on bass. I then called my good friend, Joe Gilman and reserved the date at The Hanger recording studio, where I had been working as an engineer and producer,” Henry recalled on his album jacket.

“What I remember was that the session was fun. It is always a challenge being the recording engineer and player. Both are full time jobs. Maybe that’s the reason it sat on the shelf so long. I couldn’t get away from the memory of being ‘split-brained’ at that moment,” he admitted.

“So, I decided to release two albums from the original session. I was so motivated by this recording that we met again in November of 2019 for another fun and productive session. So, this is “Volume 1 – Then” and “Volume 2 – Then Again” is coming soon. It’s been my real pleasure playing this music with these remarkable musicians. I hope you enjoy it,” Henry Robinett graciously spoke.

The release date for this well-produced album is May 1, 2020. I look forward to hearing the follow-up album, after finding such pure pleasure and enjoyment in Robinett’s straight-ahead and bebop infused jazz production.
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Jonah Francese, bandleader/composer/arranger; David Ling, piano/keyboards; Neil Patton, bass; Marshawn Fondren, drums; Caio Afiune & Marc Malsegna, guitars; Kristen Dye, flute; Clay Lyons, alto saxophone; Mark Zaleski, alto & soprano sax; Jonathan Bean & Paul Melhus, tenor saxophones; Austin Yancey, baritone sax; Kai Sandoval, Danny Fratina, Jenn Zevos, Jesse Francese & Taylor Kelly, trumpets; Quinn Carson, Eric Stilwell, Myrish Spell & Rob Krahn, trombones. Brett White, piano on interludes; INTERLUDE SPEAKERS: Jordan Pert, Tangela Mathis, Marshawn Fondren, Puja Ghosh, Kimberlee Chang, Thalea Stokes, Gustavo Hernandez, Allison Burik, Kristen Dye & Myrish Spell.

If you are wondering, during these pandemic times, how the world’s population perceives itself and its surroundings, Jonah Francese has a musical explanation.

“Voices remain unheard in our political environment and the stories these voices can tell are important to the construction of the multicultural intersectionality, of which, most in power choose to ignore.”

The compositions, arrangements and production of Jonah Francese’s big band addresses these inequities with music, poetry and vocals. Opening with Brett White’s piano as a backdrop to a poem recited by Jordan Peart, track one (called an Interlude) sets the political nature of this creative venture. Jonah Francese crosses multiple musical genres in his arranging. By employing strong funk overtures, he delivers a contemporary groove and seamlessly moves into a sweetly arranged big band jazz movement with harmonious horns and a more traditional, orchestrated sound. On track 2, you hear this blend and it keeps the listener both entertained and surprised. The electric guitar solo by Caio Afiune on this tune titled, “Rich Man’s Empty Pocket” is outstanding. This is followed by a short essay extoling the rights and challenges of creative women-of-color by Tangela Mathis.

Most of the compositions on “Reclamation” were inspired and written after the forty-fifth president was elected to office and before our current state of emergency. According to the liner notes, Francese endeavors to find balance between his Mexican heritage from his dad’s side of the family and his white privilege. With this project, he advocates for issues he relates to, as well as those he can illuminate through the voices of others. When Jonah Francese addresses the inspiration for his tune, “Rich man’s Empty Pocket” he says:

“The use of money and power to create systemic racism and classism only goes so far. Money will never unify the rich. Financial greed will always exist, but communities who remain together … united groups, refuse to allow the power of the rich to defeat them. We continue to stand together and so ultimately our pockets are more full than theirs will ever be,” the composer/arranger/conductor asserts.

These brilliant, big band arrangements are driven hard by Marshawn Fondren on drums, who is prominent and tenacious throughout. As well as being a percussive master, he also is one of the interlude speakers on this album who protests how people of color have to be more careful in speech and action. He feels this alienation is eliminated when he sits behind his drums and can simply become a musician.

This interlude piece is followed by “Destroyer of Ignorance” that features Tracy Robertson, singing repetitive scat vocals atop a funky arrangement. This tune comfortably crosses over to a very commercial, smooth jazz production.

“Reclamation – Thinking Big” is a musical project that continues to explore what big band music can be. Jonah Francese is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago currently and is devoting much to his study of race and gender through the field of Ethnomusicology. With the help of these stellar musicians, his awareness and hopefulness are both reflected in this uniquely creative music.
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April 4, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil
APRIL 4, 2020


Joe Davidian,piano; Jamie Ousley,bass; Austin McMahon,drums.

“Leaving Montserrat” is the first track on this outstanding trio album. It races off my CD player like a Boeing 747, roaring into space with energy and precision. Here is straight-ahead jazz at its best. This particular song is the original composition of pianist, Joe Davidian. Every song on their album of ten jazz compositions was written by one of the trio members. The third song, “Won’t You Sing This Song for Me?” was composed by drummer, Austin McMahon. It too swings unapologetically and features a noteworthy trading of fours by the composer on his trap drums and bassist Jamie Ousley. McMahon also contributed the Latin arranged tune, “Sol.” Bassist Jamie Ousley shows his composer skills on the fourth track, “A Minor Waltz.” The melody is warm and memorable. When Ousley pulls out his bow on the ballad, “Sometime, Somehow” I am enchanted with the beauty of his bass and the melody of this song.

“Some contemporary jazz groups focus on complex harmonies or intricate rhythm,” Jamie Ousley explains.

“But we wanted to get back to the idea of melody as the centerpiece of a song,” interjects McMahon.

However, On the very creative, “Before I Forget” composition, you will hear the amazing interplay and contrary motion of piano and bass as they explore the melody and go beyond it. It is really a treat to hear so much harmonic interaction and seamless freedom, as the two musicians play tag with their instruments. They are hotly propelled by the drums of Austin McMahon, who keeps the two improvisational players solidly grounded. This tune was recorded live and you can hear the rich, appreciative applause from their captive audience.

This trio, that has been performing together for the past two decades. Each musician brings their own specific beauty and charisma to each piece played. But it’s obvious the members listen intently and are inspired by each other. They are aligned and in sync, like the moving parts of a Rolex watch. On this production, they challenged themselves to write songs in the style of the jazz standards, with their melodies front-forward and prominent. Thus, the title of this album, “New Songs for Old Souls.”

Joe Davidian is the recent winner of the prestigious 2019 Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition. He has established his talent and diversified accompaniment by working with such artists as the late, great Kevin Mahogany, and Weather Report’s Frank Zappa. Jamie Ousley is one of the most in-demand bassists in South Florida. He’s worked with Benny Golson, George Shearing, James Moody, Arturo Sandoval, Dave Liebman and Maria Schneider and that’s his short list. He is Associate Professor & Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Florida International University.Austin McMahon won the 9th Annual Independent Music Award in the Jazz Song Category. Besides his work with this awesome trio, he performs regularly with Jerry Bergonzi’s Quartet and also is a busy sideman and studio musician, performing and/or recording with folks like Sean Jones, George Garzone, Kate McGarry, Noah Preminger, Jason Palmer and Grace Kelly. Together, these three, outstanding musicians offer a tightly produced and arranged hour of excellent jazz.
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Josh Nelson, piano/keyboard; Alex Boneham, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums.

Josh Nelson is one of those super talented pianist/arranger/composer people who always brings something fresh and inspiring to any recording project. This “Live in Japan” project is no exception. Josh is featuring all his own original compositions, performed by a tight and energetic trio. They open with “Mint Blues.” That song gives Dan Schnelle a number of opportunities to solo and strut his stuff on the trap drums. Alex Boneham walks his bass relentlessly behind the scenes and holds the trio tightly in place, like a bearhug. When he takes his solo, he is both powerful and melodic.

There is one cover tune on this album of excellence. It’s the Thelonious Monk tune, “Reflections.” You’ll find it the second track of this recorded concert and it gives Josh Nelson a lovely platform to introduce you to his technique and individuality as an improvise- master. His approach to this ballad reminds me a lot of the way Erroll Garner may have played it if he were still alive. The incorporation of “I’ve Got the world on a String” into his improvisational escapade is smooth and becomes a seamless part of his interpretation. The composition, “Kintsugi” is eleven minutes long, but never boring. It’s a very pensive, beautiful song with Schnelle using mallets during his drum accompaniment. It makes me flash back to how Ahmad Jamal incorporated the use of mallets on his extremely popular “Poinciana” record.

This is an entertaining concert full of verve, crescendos and five skillfully written compositions by pianist, Josh Nelson.
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JD Walter, vocals; Jim Ridl, Taylor Eigsti, Marc Cary, Orrin Evans, Jean-Michel Pilc & Julius Rodriguez, piano; Ben Wolfe, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Becca Stevens, Charango/backing vocals.

JD Walter’s first four records were straight ahead jazz, without electronics. Life has a way of polishing us as we grow through circumstance, curve balls and challenges. Somehow through the drama, our best begins to shine as brilliant as a diamond. Often, that metamorphosis exposes the real genius of an artist. This album is a powerful comeback for JD Walter, a singer who recently experienced a life-threatening heart surgery and another surgery on his vocal cords.

“Being a musician is being a verb, an ever-changing force,” the sensitive singer states. “ … I got into electronica and somehow developed the reputation of being the progressive jazz vocalist who does the electronic thing. … It was my own personal exploration and evolution. … I conceived ‘Dressed in A Song’ after realizing I hadn’t done anything this intimate before,” he confesses.

Opening with his self-penned composition and the title tune, his voice is both compelling, distinctive and stylized. Once you hear JD Walter, you will recognize his voice when you hear him again. He’s smooth as a reed instrument, holding the notes beautifully with elongated phrasing and, in this first song, sharing a confessional lyric. It’s performed duo, with the awesome piano accompaniment of Taylor Eigsti. His interpretation of the familiar “You Go to My Head,” jazz standard follows, performed uniquely and with an abundance of freedom, featuring another outstanding pianist, Jim Ridl, who plays as brilliantly, rhythmically and creatively as Walter sings. Both jump from the precipice without a parachute, taking musical liberties on this tune that are enchanting and unexpected. JD Walter shows us he can scat as seamlessly as he sings.

On the third track, he showcases another one of his original compositions titled “The Last Muse.” This arrangement features drums, bass and background vocals. Becca Stevens’ blends vocal harmonies with JD during this haunting ballad and she adds the Charango. Julius Rodriguez mans the piano on this song. He’s part of a trio that invites Ben Wolfe on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums. Another original song, “Brother John” is reflective of suicide and Walter’s friend who took his own life. JD Walter writes in his liner notes about his childhood friend:

“Written for my best friend, John Joseph Maransky, … who tragically took his own life almost a year ago, reflects on my own struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.”

“What the World Needs Now” is played in 5/4 time and JD Walter’s voice is like a muted trumpet atop the unusual chord changes that Orrin Evans offers on piano. Sometimes I hear shades of Al Jarreau in Walter’s vocal style and other times traces of Chicago jazz master, Kurt Elling. The thing that is missing (for me) is simply the tempo pacing. The vocal mastery of JD Walter shines through, like a sad sun peeping through drawn blinds. I wish he had mixed up his repertoire a little more with tempo changes. I think I would have enjoyed hearing him do some really up-tempo numbers instead of so many slow numbers in a row.
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DAY DREAM – “ORIGINALS” Corner Store Jazz

Steve Rudolph, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Phil Haynes, drums.

The first two compositions, “Zebra (for Claude)” and “Wedding Waltz” are composed by the pianist of this trio, Steve Rudolph. The first tune is performed by Rudolph solo and is quite engaging. It’s a tribute to one of his mentors, Indianapolis musician, Claude Sifferlen. On the “Wedding Waltz” composition, the trio blossoms in its entirety and we are swept away by the beauty of a true jazz waltz.

“Beloved Refracted” is written by the drummer, Phil Haynes, and opens up with a drum introduction. The rich double bass sound of Drew Gress is featured during a solo on this arrangement. The next two compositions, “Afterward” and “Vesper” are both written by Drew Gress. In fact, every song on this Day Dream trio excursion is composed by one of these three talented musicians. Thus, the title of this project (Originals) becomes self-evident. On Track eight they play a joyful Bossa Nova tune (Bossa 21 for Katie) and on track ten we get a taste of a blues-rooted, straight-ahead side of this exquisite Day Dream group. Phil Haynes thrusts this group ahead with busy drum sticks.

Haynes has been featured on more than sixty-five releases on both American and European record labels. Bassist, Drew Gress performs extensively with artists considered on the cutting edge of contemporary improvised music. He was a founding member of the cooperative quartet, Joint Venture, who recorded three albums in the early 1990s. He’s received a SESAC Composer’s Award and grants from Chamber Music America, The National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer. Pianist, Steve Rudolph, has been making professional music for five decades. He has won the Jazziz Magazine Piano Competition at the Seven Springs Jazz Festival in 2000 and was awarded two jazz composition fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In addition, he’s played with a plethora of jazz masters including Louie Bellson, Clark Terry, Terry Gibbs, Rufus Reid and the Mills Brothers. Together, these three individually talented musicians create a formidable trio called, Day Dream.

Below, is sample of this trio’s work from a former release when I couldn’t find anything from this current release available On-line.

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IMPRESSIONS IN BLUE: Alex Goodman, guitar/composer; Ben Van Gelder, alto saxophone; Martin Nevin, bass; Jimmy Macbride, drums. IMPRESSIONS IN RED: Alex Goodman, guitar/composer; Alex Lore, alto saxophone; Rick Rosato, bass; Mark Ferber, drums.

“Impressions in Blue and Red” is Alex Goodman’s seventh album. It offers the listener two hours, on a double set of CDs, featuring beautiful and inspired music. Born in 1987, Alex Goodman was raised in Toronto, but currently lives in New York City. He earned a Master’s degree in jazz performance from the Manhattan School of Music. In 2014, he won First Prize and the Public’s Choice Award at the Montreux Jazz Festival International Guitar Competition. His concept for this album was finding a way musically, to paint with various colors; colors that would make his listening audience connect emotionally.

“Music goes beyond language,”he explains in his press package. “The way I associate color with music isn’t really something that I can explain; it’s based in mood; in feel. That intuitive ‘feel’ is the catalyst for the way I compose,”he asserted.

One compact disc is colored blue and the other CD is colored red. He has composed fifteen instrumentals and covers a few standard jazz tunes, including the Herbie Hancock song, “Toys.” For the most part, this is an album exploring his composer skills with the able assistance of Alex Lore on saxophone, during the ‘Impressions in Red’ production. They are joined by Rick Rosato on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. I was most drawn to the ‘Impressions in Blue’ CD that featured Ben Van Gelder on alto saxophone, Martin Nevin on bass and Jimmy Macbride manning the drums.

Alex Goodwin is the winner of an ASCAP Herb Albert Jazz Composer Award and has composed and recorded a book of solo guitar etudes. On both of these recordings, Goodman is prolific and tonally astute on his guitar. Some of my favorite tunes are: “No man’s Land,” with its straight-ahead feel; “Blue Shade” exhibiting a classically rooted production blended with a bit of blues; “Space Behind Eugene Boch” that gives Jimmy Macbride an opportunity to step out front on his drums; “Cobalt Blue” played at an up-tempo that has Goodman’s fingers flying across the guitar strings and I enjoyed his solo presentation of “I’ll never be the Same.” On the other ‘red’ disc, I particularly enjoyed the very melodic, “In Heaven Everything is Fine” and the ensemble’s rendition of Hancock’s “Toys” featuring Rick Rosato on bass.

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SCHAPIRO 17 – “NEW SHOES: KIND OF BLUE AT 60” Summit Records

Jon Schapiro, composer/conductor/arranger; Roberta Piket, piano; Sebastian Noelle, guitar; Evan Gregor, bass; Jon Wikan, drums; Trumpets: Bryan Davis, Andy Gravish, Eddie Allen & Noyes Bartholomew. Trombones: Deborah Weisz, Alex Jeun, Nick Grinder & Walter Harris, bass trombone. Saxophones: Rob Wilkerson, Ben Kono & Candace DeBartolo, alto saxophones. Paul Carlon, Rob Middleton, tenor saxophones. Matt Hong, baritone sax.

Last year, in 2019, the highly popular and land-breaking Miles Davis album, “Kind of Blue” celebrated its 60th year anniversary. With that in mind. Conductor/composer/arranger, Jon Schapiro set out to tribute five of the Davis compositions that became classics from this album. In addition, he added his own compositions to offer us a unique look at the Davis influence on jazz and on his own composer/arranger skills. You may remember that the Miles Davis sextet included John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans, bassist, Paul Chambers and with Jimmy Cobb on drums. In this recording, Jon Schapiro has arranged for his 17-piece orchestra to explore the Davis jazz standards and his own compositions. They perform with expressive verve and dynamism. On the opening tune, Schapiro’s “Boiled Funk” Paul Carlon takes a memorable solo on tenor-saxophone. It also features trombonist, Deborah Weisz. This straight-ahead, energized composition with the catchy melody and dancing drums sets the standard for what is to follow. The talented arranger plays with time and features his gifted soloists to explore the outer limits of his melodic message. The horns are like a chorus that answer the individual solo players with harmonic energy.

Jon Schapiro has added a composition by the orchestra’s pianist, Roberta Piket, titled “Foiled Bunk.” This second track on the album features Piket’s dynamic skills on the grand piano, solo and classically flavored. This becomes an introduction to the orchestra’s take on the Miles Davis standard, “So What.” It’s certainly painted with a fresh and creative face, showcasing the super talents of Schapiro as a unique and creative arranger. On the standard, “All Blues” Shapiro establishes the familiar melody and stretches out from there, moving out of the realm of jazz waltz and creating an up-tempo and exciting arrangement that features Alex Jeun on trombone and Eddie Allen on trumpet as the solo stars. There is nothing fusty about this orchestrated work. It is modern and creative; effulgent and entertaining. Scheduled for an April 3rd release, this is another gem to add to your big band collection.
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March 28, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil
March 28, 2020

Many new jazz releases blossomed in March. Spring blows across the remnants of winter as CARL SAUNDERS heats things up with his ‘Jazz Trumpet’ recording. The exciting release of a new album by harmonica master, YVONNICK PRENE, showcases his composer skills and demonstrates how his harmonica can be a viable and creative jazz instrument. KARL STERLING calls on a group of first-call musicians and produces an album to raise money to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. ALBARE plays a Jobim tribute and RJ & THE ASSIGNMENT, based in Las Vegas, bring a contemporary jazz blend that mixes straight ahead with R&B and funk.


Carl Saunders, trumpet/composer; Josh Nelson, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe Labarbera, drums.

Carl Saunders smashes on the scene with the familiar Joe Henderson tune, “Recorda-me.” Supported by an all-star, West Coast trio, including Josh Nelson on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Joe Labarbera on drums. It’s the first track on this CD and brightly introduces us to each player. On elaborate solos, each instrumentalist gives us a clear view of their individual talents. Afterwards, I was surprised to hear other trumpets harmonizing with the Saunders lead trumpet. Nothing was noted in the liner notes about other horn players, so I opened the CD cover to see who else was in the studio. It’s actually Carl overdubbing with himself. Of course, he would be thinking harmonically. Carl Saunders spent years with some of the most highly praised big bands on the jazz scene including his early years playing with Harry James (1961-62), later, with Maynard Ferguson, Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman. Once Saunders settled into the Las Vegas scene, he found himself hired by a number of show bands. You could hear his in-demand lead trumpet with legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet and even Frank Sinatra. He was adaptable enough to also tour with singer/songwriter, Paul Anka, as lead trumpeter and additionally performed with Robert Goulet.

Carl Saunders’ tone and timing makes every familiar jazz composition on this album become reinvented. His ability to swing so fluidly is perhaps a nod to his drum chops. As a youthful musician, he spent part of 1962 through ‘63 touring with Bobby Sherwood’s group and playing drums. Ultimately, trumpet became his instrument of choice. It’s always a joy hearing Carl Saunders play. Once you listen to how he and his group dance through “I thought About You,” with a lively and spontaneous solo by Josh Nelson on piano and Joe Labarbera shining as he trades ‘fours’ with the band on his trap drums.

Not only is Saunders a magnificent and creative player, he is additionally a master composer and has written hundreds of original songs. He shares several with us during this production. “Flim Flam” is one of his originals and it moves at a moderate, but inspired pace. The melody is catchy, with the changes in the chord progressions keeping everyone on their toes, especially on the bridge. His long, legato lines stretch like spandex across the changes and I wonder how he’s able to store up that much breath control. His execution is flawless and beautiful. Another composition by Saunders is the only ballad on this album of fine music. Titled, “Patience,” it settles the listeners down, after six songs that were played speedily and with intense energy. Even on this lovely ballad, Saunders manages to infuse it with a double time solo that lifts and propels the song to higher heights. Nelson, on piano, has an excellent way of making each song his own, when interpreting them. His talents shine throughout. Another favorite is the Saunders composition, “Tofu or Not Tofu.” He uses his trumpet overdub technique on this tune also and it enhances the strong melody.

This is an album I will play over and over again. It embraces the straight-ahead, bebop flavored jazz that I love so much and spotlights the excellence of each musician in a stunning way.
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Yvonnick Prené, harmonica/composer; Brian Charette, Hammond B3 organ; Jordan Young, drums.

This is a captivating album that features Mr. Prené’s harmonica mastery and showcases his composer skills. He is featured along with Brian Charette on Hammond B3 organ and Jordan Young on drums. It’s the 5th release from this acclaimed musician and celebrates the Frenchman’s well-spent time in New York City. You will note that several of his composition titles allude to his experiences in this thriving American metropolis. Yvonnick Prené arrived in New York in 2007, fresh from studying at the legendary Sorbonne in Paris. He had won scholarships to take classes at Columbia University in New York.

Prené grew up listening to his father’s jazz and blues record collection. He discovered a blues mouth-organ lying around his house and began trying to play the harmonica. A friend of his dad’s encouraged the young man’s talent and bought him a properly working instrument. That’s when his study of harmonica became serious. Eventually, he studied with the great French blues artist, Jean Jacques Milleau.

“But then, I was listening to a lot of jazz. I was listening to Charlie Parker when I was fourteen. I didn’t understand anything that was going on in that music, but for some reason I knew I had to dig into it,” Prené says in his liner notes.

Prené searched for information and examples of those who could handle bop lines on the harmonica. He listened to Howard Levy, a Chicago artist who invented a way to elicit sharped notes on the diatonic harmonica, like a trumpeter or a saxophonist. Yvonnick Prené was on a mission. He looked for books on how to play jazz on a blues harp and took a few lessons from Sebastien Charlier. By the time he turned seventeen, the youthful musician was playing professionally in French clubs. But he really expanded his talents once he arrived on American soil and started hanging out with East Coast jazz musicians.

His homage to the great Toots Thieleman on “Very Early” (a Bill Evans tune) is stellar. His original tune “Dear Zlap” is melodically catchy and swings nicely at a moderate pace. Track five titled “Air on A Sunny String” is another original composition by Prené and gives him an opportunity to exercise his bebop chops on this tune that is based on the Sonny Rollins’ song, “Airegin.” Brian Charette begins the arrangement with his organ prowess out-front and speeding ahead to lay the stage for Yvonnick Prené to snatch the spotlight. The brisk and powerful drums of Jordan Young invigorate the music. Young is also given ample solo time during a period of trading ‘fours’.

This album is an exciting exploration into what the harmonica can do, once placed in the capable hands of a master musician. It also introduces us to the budding composer; Yvonnick Prené and celebrates jazz as a music that crosses borders and brings cultures together in a positive, creative way.
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RJ, Acoustic Piano/keyboards/composer; Eric Runquist, double bass; Johnny Johnson, lead guitar; Jason Bolden & Donald Phillips, electric bass; Terry Wesley II, drums; Julian Tanaka, saxophone; Tom Schuman, auxiliary instruments; Kiata Brown, Aja Hawkins, Klaiton Johnson, & Alisha Webster, vocals.

Reginald Johnson, fondly called RJ, is a Las Vegas based musician and composer. His project opens with a contemporary jazz composition called “I’m Trying.” The stunning vocals of Kiata Brown draw you into this production like quicksand. This particular piece is a blend of smooth jazz, R&B, gospel, contemporary jazz and it’s definitely commercially excellent. RJ’s contemporary music tracks cross genre boundaries. Perhaps that’s the reason for the album’s title of Hybrid Harmony. Track 2, is funk based. It’s propelled by the percussion of Terry Wesley and RJ’s keyboard talents. Tom Schuman adds more keyboard magic to fatten the sound. Titled, “My Mean Ol’ Aunt,” during this instrumental, sporadically you will hear a voice that taunts indignations at the invisible person being addressed. The sarcasms add to the funkiness of this piece, shouting out things like “Now I could have called you a pizel-headed, evil-doin’ heathen, but I didn’t.” Clearly, the voice is mimicking that mean ol’ aunt. It’s a playful piece that twines straight-ahead jazz into the funk. It dazzles like brightly colored yarn woven into a plain sweater. But there is nothing ‘plain’ about this production. It holds the interest from tune-to-tune.

Track 3 is a pretty ballad, produced like a hit R&B tune, featuring a female vocalist singing another positive lyric, “Baby – let me Walk in Your Light” is the theme and the drum programming by Oscar Brown II pushes this song in a notable way.

The title tune, “Hybrid Harmony” is completely contemporary and once again dips into a funk bag. Julian Tanaka soars on tenor saxophone during this production and serves up a straight-ahead jazz-shine to the production. On the tune “Prototype” the production features two female voices, Aja Hawkins and Klaiton Johnson, who blend warmly to make this a compelling arrangement by RJ.

Reginald Johnson (RJ), was born and raised in Chicago. He began playing piano by ear in his church. Once he decided on music as a career goal, RJ started working in local clubs, moved to Nevada and studied music at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He earned his Master’s degree and his talents soon found him playing keyboards for well-known artists like Jennifer Hudson, Buddy Guy, and Boys II Men. But his other obvious talents are cemented in producing, arranging and composing. All in all, this is a soulful, contemporary jazz production featuring some very gifted musicians and led by Johnson. It’s RJ’s fourth album release. This newly released RJ & the Assignment production is deserving to be heard on airwaves across the country.
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Albare, guitar; Joe Chindamo, piano/string arrangements/conductor; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Ricardo “Ricky” Rodriquez, bass; Phil Turcio, producer.

This is the 6th collaboration of Albare with his producer, Phil Turcio and it’s the artist’s 12th album release. He also has a long-term musical relationship with Joe Chindamo, who is on five other albums that Albare has released.

It was in 1972, while Albare was watching Marcel Camus’s cult film, Orpheus Negro, that he discovered the magical music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Albare was captivated by the Brazilian composer’s music in the film score. As a young guitarist, he was greatly inspired by Jobim and began to develop his own melodic style of playing.

“As Jobim was such an influence in my playing, I feel this album is overdue and I am now ready to express the intense beauty of these melodies to my own satisfaction,” he explained.

Albare was born in Morocco and grew up in both Israel and France. Joining the Israel Music Conservatory at the youthful age of eight, he spent two years developing his natural musical abilities. But for the most part, Albare was completely self-taught. After losing his central vision faculties due to a genetic illness, Albare currently plays completely by ear and emotion. His passion for the music and his instrument is palpable on this recording. Every song is well-played, beautifully arranged, and delightfully enhanced by Chindamo’s string arrangements. You will hear all your favorite Jobim tunes, played with passion and precision by the gifted guitarist, Albare. Although this was released in December of 2019, it is never too late to listen to timeless music and the amazing artists who play it.
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KARL STERLING – “DREAM” Parkinson’s Global Project / Blue Canoe Records

Drums: Karl Sterling, Archibald Ligonierre, Peter Erskine, Gary Novak & Gergo Borial; Basses: Jimmy Haslip & Naina Kundu; Keys: Scott Kinsey; Guitars: Jeff Richman & Nir Felder; Tenor Saxophone, Bob Reynolds; Alto saxophone, Brandon Fields; Vocals: Mer Sal Comes, Jimmy Keegan, Carolyn Samuelson, Naina Kundu, Amanda Kennan. Recording Engineer: Paul Tavenner

This is an absolutely beautiful, but unusual album release. Karl Sterling began his career as a drummer and then, after thirty-five years as a working musician, he decided to enter the health and wellness industry in an effort to help people live an improved quality of life. Karl quickly realized that Parkinson disease was sorely in need of funding for education and research. Sterling wanted to do something about this dilemma, so he reached back to his musical career contacts and started making calls. This album is the result of those calls. The musicians on this project are long-time friends and the songs were chosen carefully, with the intention of sending a message of positivity and hope. He has assembled some of the most iconic names in music to work on this non-profit production that’s become the Parkinson’s Global Project. 90% of your purchase goes to funding for much needed education and research of this challenging disease.

Every cut on this project is well produced and excellently played. Producers include Jimmy Haslip (former member of The Yellowjackets), Scott Kinsey and Jeff Richman. These three seasoned veterans have produced an exemplary contemporary jazz album that will thoroughly entertain you.

Beginning with “Here to Love You,” a funky tune with a female lead singer, R&B flavored and with the bass player stirring the spoon in this thick musical broth. This is followed by “The Dream” that features a dynamic, smooth jazz saxophone solo. Because this is an Online project, there is no breakdown on who plays on which tunes. That was a frustration for this jazz journalist, because these musicians are incredibly talented and deserve their accolades for these performances. I’ve listed all the players above, but it’s not like giving you a breakdown of who is appearing and playing on the individual songs.

“Don’t Give Up” is well sung by a female and male vocalist. The production is big and fat, well arranged and this song encompasses rock and pop with a strong, positive lyrical message. “Song 4 Barry” offers a Reggae feel as a joyful instrumental. Midway through the tune, background voices appear like a group of singing children in the distance. A thumb piano dresses the song with African colors. The drummer is amazing on this cut.

On the song, “For a Child,” the vocalist floats above a hypnotic track. The music is cotton candy sweet and beautiful. The lyrical story is a little heart breaking, as the vocalist sings:
“Love is the answer to a child … if dreams fly over the rainbow … so many children making that short trip from the cradle to the grave.”

The guitar solo at the song’s end is smooth as velvet and just as appealing.

Track six is “Where Are You Now?” The piano is all jazz. The vocals sing the melody, but beneath that vocal, a stinging rhythm section surges. It’s a dynamic and unique arrangement. You will also enjoy the arrangement of Pharrell’s famous hit record, “Happy” and the ensemble closes with “Little Star.”

I loved everything on this album of wonderfully produced music. You can donate to this worthy project and be rewarded with an awesome, tax-deductible music project for your listening pleasure.
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March 15, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

March 15, 2020

March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the role of women both past and present. March is a time of year that calls for extra love and support of women in jazz who are making a difference. I want to introduce you to some of today’s women in jazz who are changing the face of music in their own sweet ways. READ ALL ABOUT: President of the California Jazz Foundation, EDYTHE BRONSTON; pianist/singer, KANDACE SPRINGS; pianist/composer, CONNIE HAN; Singer/songwriter/ producer and pianist, LAILA BALIA and the immortal NINA SIMONE has a new CD release.


Edythe Bronston is the founder and president of The California Jazz Foundation. Their nonprofit organization’s mission is to aid and assist California jazz musicians when they find themselves in financial or medical crisis.

The California Jazz Foundation was created in 2006 when Edythe Bronston realized a respected jazz musician in Northern California was in crisis. She called her friend and business associate, Dominic LoBuglio and said she wanted to start a nonprofit that would support jazz musicians in need. With Dominic’s CPA background and her legal expertise as a successful Los Angeles attorney, they created this awesome organization. Both music lovers reached out to friends who had the same love and passion for jazz music. Their associates had to be caring, compassionate and empathetic human beings. At the first meeting of their consortium, they sat around Edythe’s dining room table and agreed that something had to be done for jazz musicians, many without health insurance and some sporadically unemployed. Consequently, those musicians often found themselves in dire financial straits. For these players of America’s highly respected and indigenous art form, there were rarely unemployment benefits or health insurance available. As long as they were healthy and had gigs lined up, they went to work and made people happy with their music. But when the unexpected happened or when musicians began to age or faced health challenges, where could they turn?

Edythe and Dominic proceeded to incorporate and apply for nonprofit status and that first evening, the small, concerned group passed the hat around Edythe’s dining room table to help their first jazz musician in need. It would be almost a year later, in 2007, when they finally attained the 501(c)(3) status they needed to be a tax-exempt organization. To date, they have assisted and supported over three-hundred musicians and have 630 members.

I asked Edythe when she fell in love with jazz?

“I was fifteen years old and my best friend was this guy who was sixteen years old. He said to me one summer night, he had just gotten his driver’s license and he said to me, I’m going to take you tomorrow night to hear jazz. I said what’s jazz? He said you’ll know it when you hear it. So, he took me to this roadhouse to hear Ray Anthony and his Orchestra.”

“Because he had just gotten his driver’s license, we went really early while it was still light out. We got there and I don’t know whether you remember Ray Anthony, the band conductor, but he was very handsome and was known as ‘the poor man’s Cary Grant.’ We walked into this roadhouse and it was a great big place, like a banquet hall, with a huge dance floor. That early, there was nobody there but us. Ray Anthony was at one end of the room with his band when we walked in. There I was in my fifteen-year-old glory, with my crinoline skirt on and he winked at me. Oh, he was very handsome. By the end of the night, I was smitten and I thought I loved jazz. I didn’t know that wasn’t really jazz. (laughter) So, I became a jazz fan at fifteen. It was quite a revelation for me when I discovered Stan Kenton and, of course, my all-time favorite is Charlie Parker.”

Like myself, Edythe Bronston believes that jazz is freedom music. She knows this courageous and doughty music was born out of slave songs, church hymnals, the blues, European classical music and a longing for freedom of expression. This music effloresced through the bell of Louie Armstrong’s trumpet and the creativity of Charlie Parker’s inventive saxophone. Improvisation was born. Both the music and the musicians who play it are an important and undeniable part of our American culture.

On April 25, 2020, at 5:30pm in downtown Los Angeles, the Annual Gala presented by Edythe Bronston and her California Jazz Foundation called, “Give the Band A Hand” will honor iconic composer/arranger Johnny Mandel and pianist, bandleader, journalist and educator, Billy Mitchell. This is the group’s annual fundraiser to support their ongoing program throughout the year.

“What I’ve learned, when you talk to a jazz musician, there’s no hidden agenda. What you see is what you get. And that’s the beautiful part of it. As long as they have a job, a gig, and as long as they have their health, they’re good. They don’t internalize that something could happen to them. They don’t think about getting older or what if they have an accident or they get sick. They don’t have any cushion. It’s just such a tragedy. Terry Gibbs is a good friend of mine and he told me that when he started out with his first band, he was paying musicians more than any other bandleader was at that time. Shockingly, the amount that he was paying is the same amount that they are being paid today. It’s tragic!” Atty. Bronston’s voice is full of compassion.

But where is the corporate support for the California Jazz Foundation? Why aren’t companies like Gretsch, who has literally cornered the endorsement market of the jazz scene, and who boasts a popular line of jazz drum kits, or Ludwig drums, Yamaha, or DW drums, contributing to this important nonprofit effort? Why aren’t Piedmont piano company, or Steinway, or Shadd Pianos, named for Warren Shadd, the first African-American piano producer contributing? Jazz musicians play all the popular instrument brands and many advertise for these companies and their products. How about VISA and MASTERCARD and airline companies that fly these musicians around the world to perform? The California Jazz Foundation needs and is looking for corporate sponsors.

“Well, I think that’s why Billy Mitchell has been so successful …because he’s dealing with children and corporations care about kids. We haven’t seen the same kind of support for the master musicians who are playing the music and continuing the legacy of jazz. We always say, the L.A. Jazz Society takes care of the kids (through their program ‘Jazz in the Schools’) and we take care of the sick and the older musicians. We’re two groups who are very friendly and refer back and forth. They seem to have an easier time getting grants than we do, probably because people care more about children. We’ve been able to survive, but with more corporate grants, we would be able to help more musicians. We’ve helped over 300 musicians and 77% of our grants, from the very beginning, have gone to alleviate homelessness by paying rent, mortgage payments and taxes, in addition to assisting with health challenges,” Edythe Bronston sighs.

Speaking of pianist, Billy Mitchell, not only will he be receiving an award from the California Jazz Foundation, but he will also be given an award by the Jazz Journalist Association at this April 25th Gala event. Mitchell has been based in Los Angeles since 1970 and has backed up artists like Gloria Lynn, Esther Phillips, Billy Paul, Randy Crawford, Linda Hopkins, Barbara Morrison, Cheryl Barnes and many more. He is a member of the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited headed by jazz legend, Kenny Burrell. Mitchell has appeared in the Clint Eastwood motion picture, “Bird.” As a journalist and clinician, he’s written and published books and his articles in Gig Magazine chronicle his life and love of the music he performs and teaches. As founder of SAPPA, the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy, and founder, director of the Watts-Willowbrook Conservatory & Youth Symphony, he transforms lives every day, reaching into the under-served communities of Southern California to inspire young musicians.

The other recipient of the California Jazz Foundation’s “Terry Award” is Johnny Alfred Mandel. As a composer, arranger and conductor, his songs for film soundtracks have become iconic, including the Grammy and Academy Award winning, “The Shadow of Your Smile” and the beautiful, “A Time for Love.” A former trombonist and trumpet player in big bands, he has worked with Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Diane Schuur, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Horn, Ann Hampton Callaway and countless more. He penned the popular Television theme song for the M.A.S.H show. In 2018, Johnny Mandel received the Grammy Trustee Award from The Recording Academy for “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording”. He’s also the recipient of the NEA Jazz Masters Award.

The California Jazz Foundation is proud to honor these two legendary and locally based Southern California musicians.

“Our programs create excitement,” Edythe Bronston says with pride and conviction. “So many of our jazz musicians and our stars are dying. It’s always a wonderful evening and it has buzz. We have people who come every year. You never know who will attend and the music is always amazing. We invite everyone to purchase tickets or to support our mission by becoming members. Everywhere I go, I meet new friends who wish to join our cause, simply because of their abiding love of the music and the musicians who give so much of themselves. We celebrated our fourteenth year on January 30th of 2020. Please help us by making a tax-deductible donation. With your support and generosity, we will always be here to assist our jazz musicians.”

You can visit the California Jazz Foundation (CJF) Online at:
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Feb 22, 2020/Samueli Theater in the Segerstrom Art Center

The Segerstrom Art Center is a state of the arts complex in Costa Mesa, California, a very affluent area of Los Angeles County. It offers several parking structures and theaters of various sizes and a wealth of talent for the community to enjoy. The room where Kandace Springs is performing Is set up like a nightclub venue. The round tables are draped in white table cloths with a small, flickering lamps in the center that made the space feel cozy and intimate. All the tables on the main floor housed four chairs. A balcony, with tables for two, sat above the main floor on both sides of the room. It’s a comfortable cabaret set-up with a capacity to hold 320 people. Tonight, it was full.

A female drummer saunters on stage, sits behind her trap drums and began to solo with gusto. Another female enters, picks up the double bass and joins in. They set up a funky, smooth jazz, soulful groove. Then Kandace Springs prowls across the stage like a lioness. Dressed in black pants, she sits down at the electric piano, soaking up the center spotlight. The show has begun. This pianist/vocalist has a head of hair like a lion’s mane and it bobs and moves with her tenacious delivery on the piano keys. Her voice is husky and rooted in gospel. It’s somewhat reflective of Stevie Wonder when she makes certain vocal ‘runs.’ I’ve seen this artist on YouTube performing with Kenny G, Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oats) and a big band. During the opening number, her bassist sings harmony with Kandace.

Because I’ve been in the music business for such a long time, I can tell this is a new band. Still, their voices blend beautifully. The longer they perform together, the tighter this ensemble will become. Kandace Springs moves from the electric piano to the grand piano to perform the second tune, “Gentle Rain.” Afterwards, she announces that she has a new CD coming out in March on the Blue Note label. Tonight, we are getting a live preview of this new recording. She tells us, her friend, Christian McBride, is playing bass on her Blue Note production. However, “tonight Caylen Bryant (on bass) will accompany me on “Devil May Care,” she says giving a nod to her bassist. Kandace swings this arrangement, propelled by the talented Taylor Moore on drums and amply supported by her multi-talented bassist. In between each song, Ms. Springs interacts with her audience, offering a warm exchange of information. She shares that she and Norah Jones are Blue Note sisters and they perform a duet on her new album celebrating Ella Fitzgerald. “Norah Jones plays the Steinway grand piano and I play the electric piano on the tune, Angel Eyes,” she tells us. The trio digs into this tune, featuring Caylen duetting vocally with Kandice, and on the fade of this song, all three female musicians sing a haunting, harmony part. It’s extremely effective, with a wee bit of gospel flavor to it.

Then came a piano solo where Kandace Springs shows us, she definitely has ‘chops’ and is a classically trained pianist. Her love of piano started at age ten when her dad brought home a piano. Kandace comes from a musical family. Her father was a popular, working soul singer in a country-western town. His name is Scat Springs and he had his own Nashville band. His vocals were so strong that he sang backup for several well-known musicians like Brian McKnight, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Michael McDonald and Donna Summer. A daddy’s girl, she tagged along to his sessions. It was her father that introduced her to legendary singers like ‘Ella’, Eva Cassidy and Nina Simone. Her dad helped her record a demo at age fifteen and it got a lot of buzz.

For her next song, Kandace celebrated Carmen McCrae, performing solo, just her piano and voice singing a soulful rendition of “In My Solitude.”

Then she ripped into a classical-sounding composition to show she was a studied musician. I heard shades of Rachmaninoff, Shubert and Bach. This interlude faded seamlessly into Jobim’s tune, “How Insensitive.” Kandace liberally shares her spotlight with the two talented ladies in her band. She features them next. Taylor Moore on drums is an amazing technician on her instrument. She really fired-up the crowd.

Caylen Bryant lays down her double bass and straps on her electric instrument. The trio does a unique arrangement of Sade’s tune, “Love is Stronger than Pride” with the drummer and bassist singing back-up vocals that enhance Kandace Springs’ smokey delivery of this popular song. Next, Kandace tells us she credits Norah Jones for inspiring her to learn and perform the first standard she ever played and sang before an audience. Then she performs, “Nearness of You.” This was followed by a funky, but still very jazzy rendition of “People Make the World Go Round.” She stunned the audience when she sang and played Billie Holiday’s tear-jerking song, “Strange Fruit.” It was a very moving performance. The trio rebounded from this emotional ballad to a song the group ‘War’ made so popular; “The World Is A Ghetto.” Judging from these two songs, Kandace Springs seems to have a little bit of an activist edge to her music. The drummer tears into her solo on this arrangement and the audience goes crazy.

The jazz community has had an open space available for a female pianist and jazz vocalist. We have been waiting for someone to soulfully fill the hole that legends like Nina Simone, Roberta Flack and Shirley Horn left in our musical fabric. That’s why I was happy to hear Kandace tribute Roberta Flack, going back to the grand piano to play and sing a beautiful rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” She closed out their concert with a fiery arrangement of Nina Simone’s, “I Put A Spell on You.”

The room rose in a unified standing ovation to show the three talented ladies how much they were appreciated. I look forward to hearing the new album by Kandace Springs titled, “The Women Who Raised Me.” Like two of her idols, Norah Jones and also Diana Krall, she continues to break new ground, playing piano and singing. Her choice of blending musical genres, with a youthful jazz infusion, while celebrating the spirit of her jazz elders like Carmen McCrae, Nina and Sarah Vaughan, (who all played piano beautifully) makes Kandace Springs a fresh, blossoming talent in my New Artist series.

(Note: This Kandace Springs article was previously featured Cover Story at
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Connie Han, piano/composer; Bill Wysaske, drums/producer/composer; Ivan Taylor, bass; Walter Smith, saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet.

This is pianist, Connie Han’s follow-up album to her debut “Crime Zone” production. Although only twenty-three years young, her style, technique and presentation are seasoned and powerful. Her playing echoes the influence of innovators like McCoy Tyner and Hank Jones; Kenny Kirkland and Bill Evans. The first song is an original composition by Ms. Han and it races ‘straight-ahead’ and dynamic. It’s the title tune, “Iron Starlet.” Her photos on the album are seductive and dominatrix. Tunes like her “Iron Starlet” composition, or the third cut, “Mr. Dominator” reflect the CD artwork. Jeremy Pelt’s trumpet rolls across the rhythm section like a whip. Ms. Han’s piano playing is exciting and plush with energy. On the composition titled, “For the O.G” Connie Han showcases both interesting and technically adept prowess on the piano. She is a strong player and one with great melodic ideas that she develops, like a well-written novel, turning the pages slowly on this Track 4, letting us simmer in the heat of her story. She gives drummer, composer and producer, Bill Wysaske, an opportunity to solo on his trap drums. Wysaske has written “Boy Toy” and “Captain’s Song,” for this project. Bassist, Ivan Taylor, also takes a notable solo on this “O.G.” song that Connie has penned. The saxophone of Walter Smith III adds touches of sophistication and embellishes the production.
When Han describes her long time partnership with Wysaske and his drums she explains:
“We subscribe to a philosophy of music that is driven by complex and sophisticated rhythm. The Rhythm isn’t hard just to be hard. It all comes from a place of pure human instinct.”

On “Hello to The Wind” Connie Han shows a softer side to her playing during the interpretation of this Chambers & Gene McDaniel’s composition. Another familiar jazz tune that she includes on this “Iron Starlet” production is “Detour Ahead”. Drummer, Bill Wysaske, has arranged both of these songs.

Every tune is charismatic, like the pretty artist herself. Her left hand is often busy beating rhythm into her mix, while her right-hand races around the treble clef, searching for creative ways to explore the unknown and make it visible. She’s aggressive and tenacious on both the grand piano and the Fender Rhodes. When she does settle down, there is a tenderness on the keys that is palpable. For example, on the waltz arrangement of “The Forsaken,” another original composition by Connie Han, Bill Wysaske pulls out his brushes to support the tune and bassist,Ivan Taylor, who soaks up the spotlight like a sponge. His double bass solo is sensitive and exploratory.

Over time, I’ve learned to listen closely to what people say and play. Especially when they describe themselves and their art. I’ve learned to believe them. This is a “play it again” project! That means I’ll listen to it more than once. Perhaps Connie Han summed things up best in her liner notes when she wrote:

“This band can go from the blues to the esoteric. But we always strive to bring out the darkness, grit and depth in this music as much as possible. Those are the elements that we’re inspired by and the values that we hold quite dear.”
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LAILA BIALI – “OUT OF DUST” Chronograph Records

Here is an artist who blends jazz and pop/soul and folk music in a way that still crowns ‘jazz’ king. Her voice crosses genres. She has a tenacious delivery and exhibits a soaring vocal range on the very first tune of her album. As an awesome pianist and a competent composer, her song “Revival” talks about global turmoil and elicits a call-to-arms, encouraging the world community to unify.

She sings: “women fighting for equality … six million more united into one … paint your signs, pick up your shoes; take a stand, there’s no excuse …”

Her next song is titled, “The Monolith.” Webster’s dictionary describes monolith as a large, single upright block of stone or concrete, especially a pillar or monument; also it could be a large organization or pillar of the community. In this scenario, Laila Biali lyrically describes a woman trying to break through something as strong as stone in her life. Her vocal tone is haunting and the mallets of the drums adds to the drama. The original composition titled, “Glass House” was co-written with her husband and album co-producer, Ben Wittman. She layers voices in warm harmony during this arrangement. Here is a song addressing the epic challenge of suicide in our communities and the after-effects of their very personal family member’s suicide. On “Wendy’s Song,” she plays a piano ballad that is dedicated to a close friend who she lost to cancer. The melody moves from alto to soprano like a sunrise. Laila Biali’s voice is smooth and full of shine and luster. The soprano saxophone solo adds a smooth jazz flavor to what sounds more like a folk song at the beginning of this arrangement. Even though these events are heartbreaking, Laila Biali manages to find hope in the debris of tears and sadness. She finds reasons to lift herself, her loved ones and the world “Out of the Dust.” This is an album of resilience and fortitude.

“These new songs took shape as I processed my own feelings of doubt and loss,” Biali reveals. “I believe that nothing is wasted, that even life’s greatest challenges can produce something meaningful, even if only to make us more aware of and empathetic to the struggles of those around us.”

The song “Sugar” is a jazzy, bebop production with a repeatable ‘hook’ that’s catchy and melodic. This is a song with unexpected modulations and it’s quite joyful. Additionally, Liala Biali adds the most wonderful rendition of “Take Me to the Alley” written by singer, songwriter, Gregory Porter. Liala’s voice is tender, warm and emotional on this great composition that tributes the down-trodden being lifted up.

Liala Biali has already been honored as SOCAN Composer of the Year at the 2005 National jazz Awards. She’s been consistently performing worldwide and in spite of her own personal challenges, she has used those obstacles to create music and inspire others. She’s won a Juno Award in her native Canada. This is a Canadian award that mirrors our United States Grammy Award. She’s worked with both award-winning trumpeter, Chris Botti and the awesome and talented singer/songwriter, Sting. This is a woman who is making history, one step at a time, and is proud to rise up, “Out of Dust.”
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Recorded in 1982, not long after she moved to Paris, Fodder On My Wings is said to be one of Nina Simone’s favorite albums, yet has remained one of her most obscure. Originally recorded for a small French label and only sporadically available since its initial release, Fodder On My Wings will be reissued in a variety of formats including CD and LP, as well as widely available digitally for the first time, in both standard and hi-res audio, on April 3 via Verve/UMe. The original album will be expanded, with three bonus tracks from the recording sessions, a rare French reissue released in 1988. Nina’s legacy lives on!

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