GLORIOUS GUITARS & INNOVATIVE VOICES

December 7, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ jazz journalist

December 7, 2019

PASQUALE GRASSO – “SOLO MONK” Sony Masterworks

As soon as I heard Pasquale Grasso’s rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear,” I was hooked. Here is a guitarist with an exceptionally warm and beautiful presentation. His awesome talent is mesmerizing. No need for other instrumentation. Pasquale Grasso is a one-man-band of the highest order. Obviously, he has honed his technical guitar skills by studying both classical music and jazz. According to his bio, when he first heard “The Unique Thelonious Monk” album of 1956, he was just a small child, but he immediately became a fan. That trio session recording featured Oscar Pettiford and Art Blakey.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFaZmYCZ0Qw (RUBY MY DEAR performed solo)

Pasquale Grasso plays a custom guitar, built in France by Trenier Guitars, and its tone is eloquent. In 2015, Grasso won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition in New York City and confidently took home the $5,000 prize. As I listen to this artist, I see why he won that award and why he will win several more in the future. He’s so fluid and smooth on his instrument. When Pat Metheny was asked to name some younger musician, who had impressed him on guitar, he quickly named Pasquale Grasso saying: “The best guitar player I’ve heard in maybe my entire life is floating around now; Pasquale Grasso.… In a way, it is a little bit of a throwback, because 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 in a way that almost nobody has ever addressed. He’s the most significant new guy I’ve heard in many, many years.”

Pasquale was born in Italy and is now based in New York City. As Pat Metheny said, this young musician has developed a style of playing that embraces bebop and the pioneers of that artform like Monk, Parker, Gillespie and Powell. You can hear it for yourself on his “Solo Standards Vol. 1” CD released in June of 2019; on his August, 2019 release of “Solo Ballads Vol. 1 and now on this amazingly well played tribute to Thelonious Monk on his “Solo Monk” CD that was released in October.

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ISABELLE OLIVIER & REZ ABBASI – “OASIS” Enja/Yellow Bird

Isabelle Olivier, harp/electronics; Rez Abbasi, acoustic guitar; Prabhu Edouard, tabla/kanjira; David Paycha, drums.

In the spirit of the holiday season, this dual talent opens their CD with “My Favorite Things” arranged in a unique way by Rez Abbasi, who is the acoustic guitarist on this project. The harpist, Isabelle Olivier, blends nicely with Abbasi’s guitar. Joining the leaders are percussion master, Prabhu Edouard, on tabla and David Paycha on drums. The quartet does not hesitate to explore the Avant-garde during their exploration of this familiar Richard Rodgers composition. They veer off the beaten path and make inroads into a space beyond the familiar. Additionally, both leaders are composers and contribute their original music to the remaining production.

Rez Abbasi was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but raised in Southern California. He studied at USC and then, the Manhattan School of Music, with emphasis in both classical music and jazz. Taking a pilgrimage to India, he studied with the master percussionist (Ustad Alla Rakha). So, it comes as no surprise, his American, Pakistani and East Indian influences have merged into his music. In Downbeat magazine’s 2013 Critics Poll, he was voted #1 ‘Rising-Star Guitarist.’ With fourteen albums, multiple awards and having several of his compositions commissioned, Abbasi strives to recreate himself musically with each new project. He met Isabelle at a jazz festival in France several years ago. That’s where the idea was born to combine guitar and harp in a recording atmosphere. In 2018, the opportunity to make that dream come true presented itself in the form of a grant from the French American Cultural Exchange. Both artists began writing music for this unique project and both enjoy pushing the limits of creativity, while exploring improvisational freedom.

Jazz-woman and harpist, Isabelle Olivier, brings strong musical personality to the project and is technically astute on the harp. She has composed six of the ten songs on their album. For the past five years, she ‘s divided her time between France and the United States. She’s toured 22 countries, offering her musical creations, playing electronic harp and delivering her composer talents at various concerts. Ms. Olivier has given master classes at the Trinity College in London and is celebrated as a worldwide ambassador for the new electro-acoustic harp. In 2015, she became the first musician and composer to win the Prize from the Villa Le Notre at Versailles. In 2017 she was commissioned by the Art Institute of Chicago to compose and perform “In Between Gauguin.” Isabelle Olivier has recorded eight discs, as well as a DVD of her personal work. The percussive effects add depth and beauty to this ethereal project. I was especially captivated with the 7th track titled, “Road Movie,” that incorporated swiftly played percussion and vocals. Isabelle Olivier composed this song. I also enjoyed the beautiful composition by Rez Abbasi he calls, “Stepping Stone.” Olivier and Abbasi’s music is soothing, sometimes alarmingly different, and manages to stir up all kinds of emotional feelings as you listen. Their sound is rather exotic, embracing world music and blending their wide-ranging cultures. This is a recording that offers fresh, new perspectives on the combination of two string instruments and continually pushes the boundaries of self-expression and musical freedom. This is an artistic diversion from Abbasi’s other bands like the one pictured below as part of the New York Guitar Festival.

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DOUG MACDONALD & THE TARMAC ENSEMBLE – “LIVE AT HANGAR 18 – JAZZ MARATHON 4” Dmac Music

Doug MacDonald,guitar; Charlie Shoemake,vibraphone; Joe Bagg, piano; Harvey Newmark & John B. Williams,bass; Kendall Kay & Roy McCurdy, drums; Kim Richmond,alto saxophone/flute/arranger; Ron Stout,trumpet; Ira Nepus,trombone; Rickey Woodard,tenor saxophone.

This is a “Live” recording that features some of Southern California’s top talent in jazz. The location of this performance was at the restaurant, Hangar 18, a Marriot Hotel restaurant located at the Los Angeles airport. This concert was captured in July of 2019 and features Doug MacDonald on guitar. MacDonald is known for his ability to pull some of the biggest names in jazz together for various recording ventures. This one was sponsored by Executive Producer, Don Thomson and it’s a two CD set that features sixteen songs, mostly jazz standards. MacDonald has contributed two original compositions.

“I first met Don Thomson in Hawaii in the mid-70s. Don has always been a patron of the arts and he wanted to produce a project with me that highlighted my various musical endeavors. We finally produced our first Jazz Marathon in 2014. In the subsequent years, we have released three other live albums. … It’s an honor for me to be able to release this Jazz Marathon 4 which presents large ensemble arrangements from legendary musician/arranger, Kim Richmond, as well as small group selections that I chose in an effort to present a varied program,” explained Doug MacDonald.

Ron Stout’s trumpet is expressive and dynamic on the ensemble’s arrangement of “Maiden Voyage, with a rich, sliding bass line that introduces the tune. The horn section on “Pennies From Heaven” is harmonically impressive and the band swings, issuing in Joe Bagg on a happy-go-lucky piano solo, followed by Ira Nepus letting his slide trombone do the talking. On disc 2., Rickey Woodward swings hard on his tenor saxophone during a boisterous solo on “Where or When,” and Ron Stout’s beautiful trumpet interpretation of “Body and Soul” was spellbinding. Clearly, Disc 2 has become my favorite. The Richmond arrangements are smooth and warm as red velvet comforters and a roaring fireplace.

I wish that Doug MacDonald had designated which drummer and which bass player appeared on which cuts, since he used more than one for this ‘live’ recording. I could have given more appropriate review credits if I had known who played on the various tunes.

Over the years, Doug has performed with a host of great musicians including Rosemary Clooney, John Clayton, Bill Holman, Joe Williams, Jack Sheldon, Buddy Rich, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan and Stan Getz to name just a few of the countless icons who have enjoyed his guitar skills. This two-set recording continues his tradition of playing with the best in the business.
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ERIC HOFBAUER & DYLAN JACK – “REMAINS OF ECHOES” Creative Nation Music

Eric Hofbauer, guitar; Dylan Jack, drums/percussion.

It takes a lot of creativity, technical adeptness and courage to record an entire album with only guitar and drums. Especially when the two musicians are choosing challenging pieces written by the likes of Don Cherry, Sting, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix and Ornette Coleman. That’s a wide range of styles and genius. Hofbauer and Jack do not disappoint. Their sound and this production are unique and actually quite captivating. The title of their album was shortened from a quotation of the great Jimi Hendrix. He once said, “Is it just remains of vibrations, echoes long ago?” Dylan Jack and Eric Hofbauer shortened it to “Remains of Echoes.” These two Boston improvisors open with Sting’s composition, “Walking on the Moon.” They follow this unusual arrangement and delivery with “Bird’s” “Klactoveedsedstene.” The first song being sparsely played and the 2nd track more bebop influenced and giving Hofbauer an opportunity to stretch out on his guitar in a Thelonious Monk-kind-of-way. He plays this one the way I think Monk would have, if he was a guitarist and not a genius pianist. Dylan Jack is especially creative on drums, not only supporting the rhythm but improvising and expressing a percussive freedom that draws the listener into the song with his whirlpool of drum licks. I am caught up and enjoying it. One of my favorites on this album is their interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Up From the Skies” tune. Hofbauer exposes his blues chops on the guitar.

“Using slide guitar is a way for me to express that strong emotional pull that always draws me back to the blues,” Hofbauer declared in the liner notes.

The two musicians play around with various textures, time-registers and rhythms. On Don Cherry’s “Mopti” composition, Dylan Jack takes us back to Africa and gives us quite a solo on his drum set.

“My approach on this record was to be a solo percussionist/drummer in order to get as much music as I could out of the instrument. Whether I was playing melodies, soloing or supporting Eric, I tried to surround his playing with different registers, timbres density and space,” Jack explained.

This is a unique listening experience that combs through the great music of iconic musicians and sweeps us up into a pompadour of sound and intriguing creativity.
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ELLEN EDWARDS – “A NEW YORK SESSION” Stonefire Music Company

Ellen Edwards, vocals/composer; Robbie Kondor, piano; Jeff Mironov, guitar; Will Lee, bass; Gene Loke, drums; Jason Miles, vibes/B3 organ/strings/producer; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Richie Morales, percussion.

Ellen Edwards has written five original compositions for this project to showcase her singer-songwriter skills. The first tune, “Over There” is arranged as a Latin production and the rhythm track is Samba strong. Edwards is based in Atlanta, (The Little Apple), but is originally from the ‘Big Apple’ or more precisely, from Upstate New York. After her move to Atlanta, she met and married her current husband. For a while, she left the music scene to raise their three children. Now, she is back. This is her fourth album release. Randy Brecker’s trumpet spices up her bluesy rendition of “Let the Fire Grow.” Ellen’s voice seems more comfortable with the blues. She continues with “Love Is on My Side” arranged with a gospel/blues feel, using a 6/8 beat. “Blue and Green” has a folk-song-feel and Robbie Kondor adds his sensitive piano accompaniment. Edwards has a strong voice, but is not what I would call a jazz singer. Ellen Edwards is more pop oriented in style and, on this EP of original music, strives to share her songwriting talents with the world.


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TRIO de JANEIRO – LORI BELL, RON SATTERFIELD, TOMMY AROS – “CLOSE YOUR EYES” Independent Label

Lori Bell,flute; Ron Satterfield,guitar/vocals/arrangements; Tommy Aros,percussion.

This project is refreshing and creative. Sometimes less offers much more, as is the case with this trio of fine musicians. Lori Bell never disappoints, always skilled and fluid on her instrument. She’s an award-winning jazz and classical flute virtuoso. Ron Satterfield brings stylized and soulful vocals and a guitar mastery that elevates this project. He is also an innovative arranger. Tommy Aros tastefully adds percussion to the mix, bringing the trio together like super glue. His rhythms are exciting and solidifying. Lori Bell explained their process of recording this way.

“The inspiration for this project is imagining the light of James Taylor refracted through the musical soul of Ron Satterfield. It’s really his baby. He wrote all of the arrangements. Ron connects emotionally to every lyric. He’s exceptionally gifted,” Bell praised her musical comrade.

True, Ron Satterfield has earned multiple awards from SESAC for his compositional and arranging skills and was a Grammy finalist for his work with the eclectic group, Checkfield. However, Bell’s prowess on flute is not to be overlooked or minimized. Her recordings have garnered three Global Music Awards,for playing and composing,including Best Albums of 2016 in Downbeat magazine and she was praised as Best in Jazz 2016 by the Huffington Post newspaper. Tommy Aros brings percussive spice and sprinkles hot sauce over this delicious musical meal.

“He adds so much groove, color and texture to the project,” says Bell.

Tommy Aros is a percussionist who is an in-demand session player and his talents have been recorded on over sixty albums including Freddie Hubbard, Al Dimeola, David Benoit, Dan Segel, Trini Lopez, and for the past 20-years he’s worked with Luis Miguel. I recall when he was a member of the popular San Diego based band, “Fattburger” along with the talented reed man, Hollis Gentry. (R.I.P.)

Together, this Trio de Janeiro decided to celebrate the songwriting of James Taylor. This successful composer’s works are reimagined and rearranged by Ron Satterfield. The result is a striking and memorable reassessment of treasured pop and folk songs that transcend genre, interpreted by this trio that richly steeps them in jazz. Bell’s amazingly improvisational fills and solos make this production soar and enhances Satterfield’s arrangements. Satterfield’s voice is hypnotic and draws me swiftly into the whirlpool of his multi-talents; with strumming fingers and smooth baritone. Tommy Aros whips the production together with percussive brilliance. Their presentation made me re-evaluate the wonderful composing skills of James Taylor and appreciate how jazz can beautifully transform music to a higher level.
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AMBER WEEKES – “PURE IMAGINATION” Amber inn Productions

Amber Weekes, vocals; Peter Smith & Tony Compodonico, pianists; Trevor Ware, bass/co-producer/background vocals; Jeff Littleton, bass; Charles Ruggiero & Nathaniel Scott, drums; Mitchell Long & Ramon Stagnaro, guitars; Justo Almario & Danilo Lazano, flute; Keith Fiddmont, alto & tenor saxophone; Dale Fielder, baritone saxophone; Curtis Taylor, Jeff Kaye & Scotty Barnhart, trumpets; Mark Cargill, violin/string arranger/conductor & co-producer; Munyungo Jackson, David Jackson & Don Littleton, percussionist; Nick Mancini & Gabriel “Slam” Nobles, vibraphone; Sue Raney & Mon David, vocals; Paul Baker, harp; Brian Swartz, horn arrangements; Mark LeVang, accordion; THE BUCKJUMP BRASS BAND: Robbie Hiokie, trombone; Randall Willis, tenor saxophone; Louis Van Taylor, baritone Saxophone; Vince Tividad, sousaphone; Mark Justin, piano; Kenny Sara, bass drum/snare drums/percussion/background vocals/handclaps.

Amber Weekes has a smooth, pleasing style. Her voice is crystal clear and during this repertoire, she pleasantly performs a Baker’s Dozen of notably familiar songs. Opening with the title tune borrowed from the Willy Wonka movie, Amber Weekes invites jazz vocalist Sue Rainey to make a guest appearance. She has studied with Raney and their voices blend nicely. I am struck by the Weekes way of stylizing her music, leaving space for the songs to breathe. Her phrasing is measured, like an instrumentalist rather than a singer. She doesn’t hold the tones out for long periods of time or delve into lengthy legato phrasings. Weekes displays skills by going straight to the notes without sliding. Every word is clearly enunciated and every melody is emotionally enriched. Her choice of tunes shows an expansive appreciation for many genres of music and includes compositions by Paul Simon, Duke Ellington, Oscar Brown Jr., Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer. She introduced me to “When He Makes Music” by Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal. This is a treasure trove of great songs.

The West Coast musicians shine on this Weekes album of fine jazz. Scotty Barnhart is outstanding on trumpet during Amber Weekes’ polished presentation of “The Snake.” Trevor Ware’s big, fat tones on double bass carries the rhythm section effectively during Sunny Skylar’s, “Gotta Be This or That.” Weekes brightly ‘swings’ this tune. On Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Brown Baby” composition, Weekes and Trevor Ware duet, effectively showcasing her voice with only bass accompaniment. Ware pulls out his bow on this one to beautifully sing his solo. Amber Weekes and her producers have employed the talents of numerous studio musicians, handpicked for various sessions and representative of some of the best jazz players in Southern California. For example, she uses Jeff Littleton’s strong bass chops on “When October Goes” and the stellar guitar licks of Ramon Stagnaro blended with a happy flute embellishment by Danilo Lazano. They have arranged this Manilow hit with a Latin flair. Weekes invites Mon David to join her in interpreting, “The Way He Makes Me Feel,” using a harp tastefully added by Paul Baker and Mark Cargill continues to enrich the production with his string arrangements. This Amber Weekes album of music is a fine way to begin your New Year. It’s scheduled for a January 3rd release.
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KINGA – “FOREVER IN MY HEART” Kayla Dream Records

Kinga Heming,vocals; Miles Black, piano/bass/organ/arrangements; Gabriel Mark Hasselbach,trumpet/flugelhorn/flute; Joel Fountain,drums; Bernie Addington,bass; Loni Mager,guitar.

Known simply as ‘Kinga,’ this Canadian artist is a strong singer that oozes emotional connections to her lyrics. She opens with “Forget Me,” displaying a distinctive sound and smooth jazz styling on this haunting melody. She interprets the poignant lyrics with believability. On familiar American songbook tunes like “Almost Like Being in Love” and “Stay as Sweet as You Are,” she displays complete ease and vocal control, with the additional quality of assertively swinging the Lerner and Loewe tune, and even incorporating scat-singing into her presentation as easily as breathing in and out. On the third track, she delivers the “Stay as Sweet as You Are” ballad convincingly.

Producer, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach,encouraged Kinga Heming to choose songs straight from her heart; songs she could honestly relate to and deliver. The chanteuse did just that.

“These were songs that were introduced to me at a very young age. I chose the ones that I felt really connected to; that reflect my life. It’s me telling a story to everybody in my audience. … At the end of the day, I know for myself and from my own perspective. … That’s why I came up with ‘Forever in My Heart,’ because every single part of these stories are held forever in my heart,” Kinga shares in her publicity package. “When I sing a song, it’s not just singing a song. It’s not just reciting the lyrics to make it sound pretty. … Every single song on the record is me telling my story.”

She includes jazz standards like “No More Blues,” and “Whisper Not,” along with “Here’s to Life,” the classic, “Nature Boy” song and a beautiful rendition of “The Very Thought of You.” Polish-born, Kinga Heming, who moved to Ottawa,Ontario in Canada at the age of five, is currently being played on Canadian radio from coast to coast. Hopefully, we’ll hear her on the United States airwaves soon.
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CAROL ALBERT – “STRONGER NOW” Cahara Records

Carol Albert,piano/vocals/keyboards/programming/composer; Ben Babylon, string/French horn arrangements; Paul Brown, guitar/percussion/ production; Sam Sims,bass; Lil John Roberts, drums/percussion/piano; Daniel Baraszu,acoustic guitar.

Carol Albert is a composer, pianist and keyboard programmer. In league with producer and guitarist, Paul Brown, who is a two-time Grammy winning producer and hit record maker, they have created an easy-listening, smooth jazz recording. This is an album that grew out of Carol Albert’s “Sun’s Out” successful single release that raced up the Billboard Smooth Jazz Song list. It’s being played on smooth jazz stations across the country. Carol Albert has the talent of finding a repeatable melody line that sticks like glue and embellishing it with programmed keyboard parts, and tasteful live musicians who bring flavor and technical improvisations to help her music come alive. On keyboard and piano, Albert establishes the melody, but never really stretches out as a jazz improviser. She leaves the fluid improvisation to folks like Paul Brown, strong on his guitar. Lil John Roberts adds his drum licks to hold the grooves strong.

“I met Paul Brown at a show he did in Atlanta through my friend, trumpeter Rob Zinn, and he said to give him a call when I started working on my new album. He took his incredible ear and years of experience working with all kinds of artists to make incredible suggestions, oversee and put everything together, mix it to perfection and truly elevate my work. I’m so impressed with the quality of these musicians and the way all the elements came together. … I think it’s the best work of my career,” Carol gushed.

Carol Albert manages to capture moods with her music. For example,her tinkling,arpeggio piano parts on the “Winter Rain” tune expands the imagination and paints pictures of rain with the piano. The warm groove that supports this song embellishes it like winter winds brushing back and forth in the midst of a peaceful storm. All of her songs are peaceful and easy-listening. On the current single, the one that’s making so much joyful noise on the Billboard charts, Carol Albert adds her vocals as part of the musical mix; no words necessary. On “I Am Fine” she does sing lyrics. The words give us a positive mantra to repeat; “I am fine now. I am fine.” On the song, “Perfect Sunday,” Paul Brown once again adds his brilliant guitar work and production techniques that make this a stand-out composition. For me, Carol Albert is more pop than jazz, but Brown’s guitar adds that slice of jazz improvisation and freedom that strays from Albert’s sing-song melodies and gives us a taste of the precious and important third element of jazz, which is improvisation. The final original composition by Carol Albert titled, “Til We Meet Again,” features the tasty talents of Daniel Baraszu on acoustic guitar. All in all, this is a smooth jazz mixture of classically based piano with a pop/jazz production twist. It’s a soothing way to brighten your day or to enhance your winter evening.
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HAPPY THANKSGIVING ECHOES ‘LOVE THY NEIGHBOR’ – A GRATITUDE MESSAGE IN MUSIC

November 27, 2019

HAPPY THANKSGIVING ECHOES ‘LOVE THY NEIGHBOR’ – A GRATITUDE MESSAGE IN MUSIC
By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

November 27, 2019

The Grand Ole Opry will salute Ray Charles in a program set to air in Los Angeles on KCET Public Television on Thursday, November 28th at 10:00PM. So, after your hearty, Thanksgiving Celebration, tune-in to enjoy a 90-minute television special that features the songs of Ray Charles and the influence this revolutionary African American artist had on country music. The impressive line-up of talent will feature host, Darius Rucker and special performances by Boyz II Men, Cam, Brett Eldredge, Leela James, Jessie Key, Ronnie Milsap, Lukas Nelson, LeAnn Rimes, Allen Stone, Travis Tritt, Charlie Wilson, Trisha Yearwood and Chris Young. We will forever be “thankful” for the music and genius of Ray Charles.


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JEFF DENSON, ROMAIN PILON, BRIAN BLADE – “BETWEEN TWO WORLDS” Ridgeway Records

Jeff Denson, double bass; Romain Pilon, guitar; Brian Blade, drums.

This project celebrates a collaboration between two countries, bringing together French guitarist, Romain Pilon, celebrated U.S. drummer, Brian Blade and internationally acclaimed U.S. bassist/composer, Jeff Denson. Denson first played with Brian Blade in 2017 after he got a call to tour with Joel Harrison’s ‘Spirit House Quintet.’ Jeff Denson knew that Brian Blade was the group’s drummer. Consequently, he took the gig, because he was a big fan of Blades.

“I said, YES! Absolutely, without question. I’ll do back flips if you want,” Denson recalls his enthusiasm when he accepted a gig he was truly “thankful” to land and eager to lend his talents.

“Jeff and I could communicate right away, as musicians and as people too,” said drummer Blade as he remembered their first musical encounter. “We had the kind of relationship where you don’t have to say too much or to explain.”

Of course, the relationship between any bass player and drummer is extremely important in any group. They form the basement that the musical structure is built upon. Enter, Romain Pilon, who Denson first met at Berklee College of Music some twenty years ago. After playing together off and on, once in New York and later for a tour in California, they talked about doing a project together. It seemed like a perfect fit for the three, musical, kindred spirits. “Between Two Worlds” features all original compositions, including five written by Jeff Denson and five contributed by Romain Pilon. The composers built a legacy on this album.

“As musicians, we float between two worlds. One, a physical plane and the other, a powerful reality that can only be found with the most open of ears, hearts and minds,” Denson explained.

Romain Pilon has recorded three albums as a co-leader and four as a leader. His talents, as an improviser and composer, have earned him praise in the international press as one of the standout musicians currently living in Paris. He can play all types of jazz; swing, bebop, modern and avant-garde music. That makes him an ‘in-demand’ sideman and also a prestigious instructor with strict guideline and high standards. He is fluid and innovative on this recording.

Brian Blade was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. He’s drenched in the Gospel music of his youth. His father, Brady L. Blade, Sr., is a respected pastor since 1961. Brian Blade’s drum skills have been in demand for years and he is a member of Wayne Shorter’s quartet since 2000. He’s recorded with Joni Mitchell, Kenny Garrett, Ellis Marsalis, Norah Jones, and even Bob Dylan. In 2009, he released his first album as a singer/songwriter; “Mama Rosa” that featured songs dedicated to his grandmother.

Bassist, Jeff Denson, is also a vocalist and educator who was born in Arlington, Virginia and grew up in Washington, DC. He started out playing alto sax, but switched to bass and vocals during high school. Denson relocated to the San Francisco, California Bay area in 2011 and became a professor at California Jazz Conservatory where he serves as Dean of Instruction. Denson has been heralded as one of the leading bassists of contemporary jazz and has released fourteen albums as a leader or co-leader. He also spearheads Ridgeway Arts, a nonprofit to enhance educational initiatives, concert presentations and recordings released on Denson’s Ridgeway Record label.
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BERNIE MORA AND TANGENT – “NO AGENDA” Rhombus Records

Bernie Mora, guitar/composer/bandleader; Charles Godfrey, drums/percussion; Daniel Becker, elec. & acoustic 12-string bass; Doug Webb, saxophones/flute; Corey Alley, keyboards; Lee Thornberg, trumpets/trombone; GUEST ARTISTS: Eric Unsworth, fretless bass; Leilani Rivera Low, vocal Hawaiian chant.

This album is an excellent blend of rock music and jazz. According to the liner notes, guitarist Bernie Mora never plays music that lacks fire, power and purpose. He certainly captures all of that on this production. “No Agenda” is his latest recording that features his fusion jazz sensibilities. It showcases nine new original compositions by Bernie Mora that display infectious rhythm and jazzy rock. The horn section is stupendous, including the talents of Doug Webb and Lee Thornburg. “Later Daze” is one of my favorites on this CD, beginning with a very jazz-infused introduction by Doug Webb’s saxophone solo. It quickly turns into a high-energy, drum boosted arrangements that will encourage you to get up off your seat and dance. The staccato breaks and punchy horn lines remind me of the Tower of Power horn section. The title tune is a sexy, bluesy arrangement that showcases the brilliance of Bernie Mora on his guitar. Once again, the drummer was an important dynamic in this arrangement. However, there is an album note that I should mention.

Former drummer, “Doc the Clock” (as Doc Anthony was lovingly referred to), was a big part of the Tangent group’s creative process and rhythm section on their last two albums. His already-recorded drum parts were used for this recording at the request of the group’s new percussionist,Charles Godfrey. Bernie Mora explained his thankfulness for having collaborated with “Doc the Clock.”

“Doc Anthony was a great friend to all of us, as well as the ultimate timekeeper! He not only brought great drum chops, but shared wisdom. …I played with him for many years off and on and … we definitely felt his presence on some of our tracking sessions. This song is for you Doc, my best friend. You were taken from us suddenly, but live on in our music forever!”

Bernie Mora is based in San Antonio, Texas, but frequently utilizes top musicians from Los Angeles and has been the bandleader for his group, Tangent, for many years. Mora is an awesome composer, framing melodies, that stick melodically in your consciousness, with bright rhythms and fusion excitement. This is an original and well-produced combination of fusion, jazz and rock music. The group, Tangent, is cohesive and each player brings quality and memorable art to the project.
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THE DIVA JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “DIVA AND THE BOYS” MCG Jazz

The DIVA Jazz orchestra: Alexa Tarantino, lead alto saxophone/soprano sax/flute/clarinet; Scheila Gonzales, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Janell Reichman, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Roxy Coss, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Leigh Pilzer, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Tanya Darby, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Jami Daubar, Rachel Therrien & Barbara Laronga , trumpet/flugelhorn; Jennifer Krupa, lead trombone; Linda Landis, trombone; Leslie havens, bass trombone; Tomoko Ohno, piano; Noriko Ueda, bass; Sherrie Maricle, drummer/bandleader; Stanley Kay, founder. The Boys: Ken Peplowski, clarinet, Claudio Roditi, trumpet/ piccolo trumpet; Jay Ashby, trombone/percussion; Marty Ashby, guitar/ producer.

This is an orchestra of female musicians, incorporated with some male guest musicians, which explains the title of this CD, “Diva and the Boys.” On track #1, titled “Slipped Disc,” Ken Peplowski is featured on clarinet. The arrangement and Peplowski’s performance winds the clock back to the Benny Goodman Big Band swing days. When I read the composer credits, to my surprise, I discover that Benny Goodman actually wrote this song. This entire album has a 1930’s or 1940’s feel to it. The arrangements are often colored by Dixieland music styles, even though they include original compositions and Latin standards.

The inspiration for DIVA’s formation came from Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band where Sherrie Maricle was playing the drums. Thankfully, because Stanley was so mesmerized by her extraordinary percussive talent, he began to consider finding other women players with comparable musical proficiency, with the objective of forming a female orchestra. It wasn’t hard to do. By 1994, this all-women congregation was regularly performing concerts for Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) and being enthusiastically received.

Jobim’s familiar composition “A Felicidade” is always a crowd pleaser. It features special guest Claudio Roditi on trumpet and Roxy Coss on tenor saxophone. The arrangement is smooth, but lacks the excitement and energy I usually expect this song to muster. I miss hearing the familiar chant, “Oo-bah, Oo-bah, Oo-bah” and wish they had turned Sherrie Maricle’s inspired drums up, much louder in the mix. I think that would have helped propel this production forward. Noriko Ueda plays a lovely bass solo and the horn harmonies crescendo and encourage the energy.

Jay Ashby’s composition “Deference to Diz” gives pianist, Tomoko Ohno a time to shine and Ashby himself performs formidably on trombone, as does Claudio Roditi on trumpet and Peplowski on clarinet. “Bucket of Blues,” composed by the great saxophonist, Plas Johnson, gives Sherrie Maricle a chance to step forward and sweep her busy drum sticks across the skins with passionate precision. It was good to hear the ladies in the woodwind department finally step forward and solo with gusto. This tune is the energy I was looking forward to hearing throughout their project. When the DIVA’s stepped up, they brought an explosion of energy with them.

Here is a well-produced album and these talented women bring beauty and passion to what they play. I would just like to hear them do some more contemporary arrangements, with more energy and spice in the mix.
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RALPH PETERSON’S GEN-NEXT BIG BAND – “LISTEN UP” Onyx Records

Ralph Peterson, conductor/drums/cornet/muted trumpet; SPECIAL GUEST SOLOIST: Kuumba Frank Lacy, trombone. RHYTHM: Samuel Bolduc & Christian Napoleon, drums; Youngchae Jeong &Nikos Chatzitsakos, bass; Ido Hammovich, piano/electric piano; Manfredi Caputo, percussion; SAXOPHONES: Eric Nakanishi, (lead alto/soprano & section captain); Craig Jackson, 2nd alto; Solomon Alber, 2nd tenor; Tim Murphy, 1st tenor; Gabe Nekrutman, baritone; Morga Faw, soloist/arranger; Joe Melnicove, flute. TROMBONES: Brandon Lin (section captain) 2nd bone; Stephan Tenney, (lead); Dean Scarlett, 3rd bone; Ethan Santos, bass bone. TRUMPETS: Robert Vega-Dowda (Section captain) 2nd trpt; Yuta Yamagichi, (lead); Milena Casado Faquet, 3rd trpt; Will Mallard, 4th trpt; John Michael Bradford, 5th trpt.

When I see Ralph Peterson’s name, I immediately know I’m going to listen to a high quality, high energy project. Thankfully, this CD did not disappoint. “Listen Up” is the first studio CD from the Peterson popular student band. I believe the former Gen-Next Big Band was recorded ‘live.’ On this production, all of the arranging (except for two songs) was done by Berklee music students and they recorded ‘live’ in the studio. Peterson praised them saying:

“They demonstrate maturity, finesse and exuberance as arrangers and players.”

This is Peterson’s second album celebrating the legacy of legendary drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey and his famed Jazz Messengers. This is a follow-up to the Gen-Next Band’s 2018 debut release titled, “I Remember Bu.” I reviewed that first release and it too was full of energy and excellence. Roger H. Brown, the President of Berklee College of Music spoke highly of Ralph Peterson.

“Ralph teaches jazz the way he and many of the greatest players learned their craft, from making the music with a torch bearer committed to passing on the knowledge. Ralph has toured with Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Michael Brecker, Branford Marsalis and many of the greatest players of this music. His students deeply appreciate him and learn about composition, arranging, performance and life. The commitment the students make is remarkable,” spoke Berklee’s president.

This journalist listens to hundreds of projects each year and these young musicians and students sound as professional as some of the name jazz musicians I review. In some cases, they sound more professional. The Gen-Next Big Band opens with a Curtis Fuller composition titled, “Arabia.” It’s an up-tempo arrangement by Will Mallard and a great way for the band to make a grand entrance. Mallard also solos on trumpet, as does baritone saxophonist Gabe Nekrutman. But what surprised me was that Ralph Peterson soloed too, not on drums (as I expected) but on muted trumpet. I enjoy the time changes during this arrangement and the flute solo by Joe Melnicove was awesome.

Track 2 is a Ralph Peterson composition, “Acceptance,” and Peterson is back behind his drum set, trading drum solos with the talented drummer, Christian Napoleon. The band plays a couple of Bobby J. Watson’s compositions and on Hoagy Carmichael’s beautiful “Skylark” tune, they add the sweet vocals of Chole Brisson. Freddie Hubbard’s “Down Under” composition ‘swings’ and is propelled by the magic in Peterson’s drum sticks. It’s not often you hear a bass trombone solo, but Ethan Santos surprises us with his improvisation on this instrument. John Michael Bradford is impressive during his trumpet solo.

Ralph Peterson’s Gen-Next Big Band is a wonderful listening experience and made me want to grab my flat shoes and a swing-dance partner, then hurry to the dance floor! Congratulations are in order to each of these young musicians who contributed to an excellent project in an entirely professional way.
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DARREN BARRETT – “THE EVI SESSIONS – MR. STEINER” dB Studios

Darren Barrett, EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument)/trumpet/piccolo trumpet/keyboards; Santiago Bosch, keyboards; Daniel Ashkenazy & Conn Shani, bass; Mathéo Techer & Roni Kaspi, drums; Judy Barrett, percussion; Chad Selph, organ; Roy Ben Bashat, Francois Chanvallon , Jeffrey Lockhart, guitar; SPECIAL GUESTS: Kenny Garrett, soprano saxophone; Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone; Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar.

This Is a blend of electronic jazz, using the Hip Hop concept of looping to open Darren Barrett’s album, while incorporating straight-ahead jazz susceptibilities. With a repetitive melody line played beneath his compositions, Barrett builds on this basement of sound, using the most important element of jazz; improvisation.

Barrett’s production concept is unique, because of the use of the EVI. His first original composition, titled Mr. Steiner” is meant to celebrate the synthesis guru, Nyle Steiner, who is credited for the invention of the EVI or Electronic Valve Instrument. Steiner also invented the EWI (Electric Wind Instrument). The jazz audience may have become familiar with this invention when it was employed popularly by saxophonist, Michael Brecker. Darren Barrett’s creative concept is to pair the full potential of the EVI with other instruments thus, creating a fresh, unique approach to his arrangements. The EVI is a midi wind controller. It’s a wind instrument that is capable of controlling any midi synthesizer, using breath control as an important component for expression. Similar to a trumpet, octaves are achieved through the octave roller with the left hand. Notes are played with the right hand, based on conventional trumpet finger-rings. The players air-wind controls both volume and brightness.

Darren Barrett exudes, “The EVI, for the trumpeter, is just another instrument one can add to their arsenal just like the Flugelhorn or mutes. It’s not only fun to play, it opens up your mind to new things.”

Track 2 incorporates a laid-back, Smooth -jazz feel titled, “Keep It Moving,” Darren Barrett brightly features this EVI instrument. Roy Ben Bashat adds electric guitar. The EVI and guitar make a compatible soundboard. Santiago Bosch offers his keyboard magic and Mathéo Techer waves his drum sticks like a magician’s wand. This composition by Darren Barrett once again uses a repetitive ‘hook,’ or refrain, that the band continuously goes back to play. Barrett is a very melodic composer. Another interesting use of the EVI is that it can be played as a mono-tone or can harmonize with itself as a polyphonic tone, using two or more notes at the same time. Barrett employs this technique on “Nu Vibrations.” The poly-harmonics, along with synthesized voicings, paint an unexpectedly rich, palate of sound on this fourth track.

This project of composing and arranging music with Barrett’s concept of celebrating the EVI instrument took the trumpeter about a year of preparation. He has added some celebrated musicians in contemporary music as his special guests. They include the soprano saxophone of Kenny Garrett on “dB Plus KG” and tenor saxophonist, Noah Preminger is spotlighted on “Botnick.” Barrett also features talented guitarist, Kurt Rosenwinkel on his composition, “Deal for Real.”

To assist him with EVI issues, with programming, and to serve as a technical consultant, Darren Barrett invited Mark Steiner, nephew of Nyle Steiner to the studio. The result of combining a list of gifted musicians, special guests, and employing his own composer, arranger and production talents, is a strong musical package. Darren Barrett stretches the boundaries of contemporary jazz in a fresh and notable way. He is grateful for the new technology. This is his eleventh album release as a leader. It may be one of his more exceptional productions, blending electronic invention with ingenuity.

It all started with this project below titled, “dB-ish” back in 2017.

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SKIP & DAN WILKINS QUARTET – “SOMEDAY” Deer Head Records

Skip Wilkins, piano; Dan Wilkins, tenor saxophone; Tony Marino, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums.

This is a delightful album of somewhat obscure compositions by some of the most iconic American composers in the business of music. Skip and Dan Wilkins use their excellent talents to introduce us to songs like, “Spring Isn’t Spring Anymore” by Matt Dennis, “Remind Me” by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields and “Ever Again” by Alec Wilder and Johnny Mercer, among others. Dan Wilkins has a smooth, intoxicating sound on tenor saxophone. Skip Wilkins is an amazingly competent and creative pianist. Together, with Tony Marino on bass and Bill Goodwin at the drum set, this is a thoroughly entertaining quartet. “Someday” is a love letter to the historic Deer Head Inn of Pennsylvania. It’s one of the oldest, continuously running jazz clubs in the country. Open since the 1940’s, it’s situated in the Pocono Mountains, a historic area of Pennsylvania called Delaware Water Gap. Many legendary jazz artists have performed there and in 1992, Keith Jarrett recorded a ‘live’ album on the premises and his album title reflected that home of jazz. Skip & Dan Wilkins have done the same, displaying a photograph of the legendary jazz hotel on the cover of this current CD.

Pianist, Skip Wilkins is quite familiar with this respected jazz establishment. He has resided in an upstairs apartment, above what used to be the carriage house, since 2012. Surprisingly, I read in the liner notes that the drummer on this project, Bill Goodwin, is also a fellow resident at Deer Head Inn. Perhaps this musical residency is something to be thankful for, since it brought these talented gentlemen closely together for this project.

On the first tune, “We’ll Meet Again” father and son team, Skip and Dan Wilkins, offer us a lovely rendition of the Parker & Charles composition, “We’ll Meet Again.” The chord changes sound very much like “This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship” and I find myself wondering which tune came first? Like this quartet, I too have a passion for the American Songbook. The Skip & Dan Wilkins quartet brings each composition alive with skill, dexterity and emotional deliveries. Longtime collaborator, Tony Marino, is strong and steady on his upright bass. You can tell that this group of musicians are quite familiar with each other and their comfort-level and technical abilities merge to create a beautiful album of historic relevance. They offer an hour of exceptional jazz music. In fact, I found myself playing this album again, just for the pure enjoyment of it.
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YELLOW HOUSE ORCHESTRA – “POP” Studio C Music

Michael Cerda, bass/vocals/guitar; Doug Beavers, trombone/producer/arranger; Andrew Gould, saxophone; Pete Nater & Jonathan Powell, trumpet; Beserat Tafesse, trombone; Robby Ameen, drums; George Delgado, Willy Torres, Luisito Quintero, Camilo Molina, percussion; Chris Phillips, guitar/lead vocalist; Marco Bermudez, Carlos Cascante, Jeremy Bosch, Herman Olivera, & Willy Torres, Spanish vocals; Chevy Chevis, backing vocals.

Planning a party? The first track on this album exudes happiness. If you are looking for a New Year’s Eve party album that features World music, this is it! Yellow House orchestra is pop, rock, jazz and Latin all rolled into one cross-cultural ball of multi-colored music. The first cut and title tune, “Pop” goes from funk to reggae in the blink of an eye and the slap of a drum stick. Then the arrangement embraces Latin grooves, all within the same six minutes of energetic, well-played music. Drummer, Robby Ameen, is to be heralded as a super-star. He plays it all! Michael Cerda is the composer and is certainly musically explorative and definitely artistic. He sings, plays bass, guitar and writes the songs for the group. Grammy winning trombonist, Doug Beaver, is the arranger and producer of this self-contained ensemble. Here is a project, ultimately about openness and inclusiveness. It appears to be a part of something bigger than oneself, with the goal of showing the amazing diversity in music. Just like humanity, this project is colorful and beautiful. Cerda is joined by a tight harmonic group of backing vocals that sing in both Spanish and English.

Based in San Francisco and New York City, (a wide range of miles apart), like the wide range of music they explore, Yellow House Orchestra is a unique musical experience. They are definitely a party band. These musicians show up to enjoy, to interact, to explore and spotlight how human differences enhance the world of music and the world itself. They string styles of music together like a rare, jeweled necklace. Then they gift that unique piece of musical creativity to us. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to enjoy its incomparable beauty.
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HOLIDAY MUSIC TO UPLIFT THE SEASON

November 17, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

NOVEMBER 17, 2019

DAVE STRYKER – “EIGHT TRACK CHRISTMAS” Strikezone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar; Stefon Harris, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums/percussion; Special Guest: Steve Nelson, vibraphone on track #10.

I have come to look forward to the Dave Stryker “Eight Track” series and was quite interested in hearing this one that celebrates the Christmas season. Stryker is a producer, guitarist, arranger and studio session musician who plays Gibson and Benedetto guitars. On this, his fourth eight-track project, he is employing the same steadfast band he’s used in the past. Stefon Harris brings joy to any project with his mastery of the vibraphone. The organ of Jared Gold, blends perfectly with Stryker’s guitar and recalls the days of great organ bands like Jimmy smith with Terry Evans on guitar or reminds us of the magic created by Kenny Burrell with Jack McDuff. These were popular organ/guitar bands from back-in-the-day, a time when we were popping an ‘eight-track’ into our car players. Now we just plug our cell phones into our stereo system or tell ‘Alexa ‘what we want to hear. Wow – We’ve come a long way baby.

Dave Stryker reaches back to the ‘eight-track’ days for a style of playing that rejuvenates that time period. His exciting mix of the ‘Soulful Strut’ classic song mixed in with “Frosty the Snowman” is an excellent example of bringing us back to the roots of an eight-track zeitgeist. He calls this blend of music, a “Soulful Frosty.” You will enjoy ten holiday standards on this release including John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” tune, shades of Ramsey Lewis and the Peanuts cartoon with “Christmas Time Is Here,” a bluesy, Country/Western-feel on “Blue Christmas” and an organ drenched, up-tempo arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” is played at a brisk trot. You can just picture a horse-drawn sleigh being pulled down a snow-covered lane by a galloping steed. McClenty Hunter is given an ample drum solo on this tune and deservingly so! Stefon Harris has flying mallets and Dave Stryker’s guitar skips along, leading the ensemble in a joyful way.


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JONATHAN BUTLER – “CHRISTMAS TOGETHER” Mack Avenue Records

Jonathan Butler, vocals/guitar/electronic programming; Donald Hayes, saxophones/flutes/additional programming; Dan Lutz, bass; Gorden Campbell, drums; Keiko Matsui & Ruslan Sirota, acoustic piano; Marcus Anderson, flutes; Nicholas Cole, Marcus Anderson, drum programming/keyboards, SFX; Kurt Lykes, Jonathan Butler, Shelea & Jodie Butler, background vocals; Dave Koz, soprano saxophone; The Kroma Ensemble String Quartet: Crystal Alforque & Nadira Kimberly Scruggs-Butler, violin; Nikk Shorts, viola; Adrienne Woods, cello; Nicole Neely, string arranger. Gerald Albright, alto & tenor saxophones; Donald Hayes, horns/saxophones/flutes/additional programming/horn arrangements. Rick Braun, trumpet/valve trombone/percussion; Stephen Oberheu, sousaphone.

The first thing that struck me about the Jonathan Butler album was the bright and beautiful artwork on the cover. Mr. Butler is an ambassador of the Lalela Organization in South Africa which provides educational arts for at-risk youth. The program works to spark creative thinking and awaken the entrepreneurial spirit. The cover and other paintings were created by the children of Lalela. Jonathan Butler opens this album with “Winter Wonderland.” Butler is richly influenced by the vocal style of Stevie Wonder and is additionally, an amazingly accomplished guitarist. I thoroughly enjoy Butler’s rendition of this familiar holiday song. Another stellar vocal presentation is the duet between Shelea and Jonathan Butler on the “Mary Did You Know?” composition.

Keiko Matsui is a special guest acoustic pianist on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” produced in a very smooth jazz way. “Joy To The World” is also smooth jazz and features Dave Koz on soprano saxophone. “Love Is,” an original song written by Shelea Melody Frazier & Jonathan Butler is the only original composition on this production. It’s performed as an instrumental with the ‘hook’ being sung by Shelea and Butler.
This is a lovely stocking stuffer for your holiday season.
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THE ALLIGATOR RECORDS CHRISTMAS COLLECTION Alligator Records

A BLUES COMPILATION

This is a collection of holiday blues songs that feature a bright and sparkling array of unforgettable blues artists. You will enjoy KoKo Taylor singing a funky, blues number titled “Merry, Merry Christmas.”

This track is followed by Kenny Neal singing “Christmas Time In The Country.” Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials come dancing in next on a bright shuffle rendition of “I’m Your Santa.” Katie Webster is a pianist and vocalist who offers “Deck the Halls With Boogie Woogie” instead of boughs of holly. William Clarke slows down the groove to a slow blues on “Please let Me Be Your Santa Claus.” Tinsley Ellis brings us a more rock/blues groove on “Santa Claus Wants some Lovin.” Of course, this album compilation includes the great Charles Brown singing “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” with Kenny Washington shuffling his drums underneath the groove. One of my favorites is when Son Seals picks up his guitar and sings, “I wanna be home to help you decorate our Christmas tree, but I’ll be thinkin’ of you and I know you’ll think of me“ on his “Lonesome Christmas ” tune. Plus, he plucks a mean guitar. This is followed by Lonnie Brooks who sings about “Christmas on the Bayou” with a Chuck Berry groove and a rock and roll sensibility. Little Charlie and the Nightcats feature Rick Estrin on a magnificent harmonica arrangement. Estrin plays harmonica and sings in between his riffs. Estrin is singing his self-composed, “Santa Claus” song and it swings hard, with Jay Peterson strongly walking his bass. Elvin Bishop brings the electric guitar alive on “The Little Drummer Boy” with his prominent slide technique. Saffire is a group of all female musicians who pride themselves in being called, ‘the Uppity Blues Women.’ They sing a holiday song called, “One Parent Christmas” about the trials and tribulations of making Christmas work in a single-parent home. It wasn’t my favorite on this album. The very popular Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown wrote a song simply called, “Christmas.” He uplifts the CD with a positive spin lyrically and a style of songwriting reminiscent of the late, great Alberta Hunter. Bob Hoban plays a mean blues piano on this tune. The album closes out with Charlie Musselwhite crooning us “Silent Night” on his blues harmonica. There’s sure to be more than one gem that pleases you in this shiny array of blues jewels.
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KRISTIN KORB – “THAT TIME OF YEAR” Storyville Records

Kristen Korb, bass/vocals; Magnus Hjorth, piano; Snorre Kirk, drums; Mathias Heise, harmonica.

Kristin Korb offers us a musical holiday gift with some fresh, new Christmas songs to add to the familiar pile of music we hear every year. “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas” is a well-written lyric and beautiful melody that could easily become a standard holiday ballad. Korb is not only a great interpreter of lyrics, she is also an outstanding scat-singer and the arrangements of these standard Christmas songs bring fresh appeal to well-worn music. On “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” drummer, Snorre Kirk, summersaults and dances all over the trap drums. Another beauty of a composition is “That’s What I Want for Christmas.” Kristin Korb plays the bass and sings, smooth and seamlessly, floating like warm breath on icy air. Her vocals are as soft as a cloud, bearing stories that drop sweetly from her lips like peppermint drops.

Born in Montana, Kristin Korb attended Eastern Montana College and then completed her studies at the University of California, San Diego. She studied with legendary bassist, Ray Brown and released her first record under Brown’s tutelage in 1996. I had wondered whatever happened to Kristin Korb, because I hadn’t heard about her performing in the California area for some time. In 2011, she married Morten Stove, the Danish co-founder of DPA Microphones, and moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. In Europe, her career continues with a band featuring Snorre Kirk on drums, Magnus Hjorth on piano and herself on bass. The addition of the sensational harmonica player, Mathias Heise, adds an exciting flavor to her holiday album.

Every song delivered is freshly arranged. There is nothing mundane or ordinary about this project. Even though the public will recognize most of these endearing Christmas songs, they are all painted with unexpectedly unique and jazzy colors. Korb cover’s Dave Frishberg ‘s composition, “Snowbound” with a slow, swing tempo. She sings the “Up On the Housetop” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” medley at a speedy pace and the group plays the French traditional hymn, “Angels We Have Heard on High” as an instrumental with a Latin-swing -feel. They also introduce this writer to an Irving Berlin composition titled, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” that I don’t remember ever hearing. Or perhaps, their excellent arrangement and delivery just makes me feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. Here is an album containing a Baker’s Dozen of holiday music that you will enjoy playing season after season.


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ACCENT – “CHRISTMAS ALL THE WAY” Independent Label

Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, tenor 1 vocal/France; Simon Akesson, tenor 2 vocal, Sweden; Danny Fong, tenor 3 vocal, Canada; Andrew Kesler, tenor 4 vocal/Canada; James Rose, Baritone/UK; Evan Sanders, bass/USA; Gordon Goodman’s Big Phat Band; Strings provided by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra; Arturo Sandoval, trumpet; The Barbershop Quartet cameo by Ringmasters; Don Shelton, clarinet; The Estonian Voices feature Jo Goldscmith-Etes & Sam Robson; Orchestral arrangement by Nan Schwartz on O Holy Night; Additional vocals by: Richard Bourne, Paul Cooper, David Dos, Skip Dolt, Hideaki Onaru, Benoit Pupin, Richard Owen Oz Ryan, Colb Uhlemann & Leonard Zerbib.

ACCENT is an a ‘Capella vocal group comprised of six male voices from diverse backgrounds. Simon Akesson is a tenor vocalist from Sweden. Jean-Baptiste Craipeau (or “JB” as they fondly call him) also sings tenor who is from France. Andrew Kesler and Danny Fong are both tenors from Canada. The baritone in the group is James Rose (who also composed the song “Winter Winds”). He is from the UK and the bass voice is Evan Sanders, an American. Surprisingly, unlike how groups used to get together beneath big-city street lamps and in barbershops to sing harmonically and without accompaniment, these gentlemen found each other Online and they collaborate via the Internet. This is their Christmas project and they have recorded old and well-loved holiday music in a very new and contemporary way. Some songs are totally a ’Capella and others have the assistance of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. They are featured on “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Let It Snow.” They are also joined by some special guest vocalists including the Estonian voices, who are a popular European vocal group. Sam Robson, a widely recognized YouTube artist based in London, was invited to sing with them and Jo Goldscmith-Eteson was invited from the UK group who call themselves, The Swingles. You will hear a trio on tracks 3 & 7 and string arrangements on tracks 3 & 10. This is a pleasant mix of strong a ‘Capella vocal arrangements with complimentary music added. Their previous recordings have celebrated jazz and pop tunes arranged for vocal jazz, and covering tunes like Whitney Houston’s song, “All At Once,” and The Weekends gold record recording, “I Can’t Feel My Face.”

I prefer them without a band. However, ACCENT with a little help from their friends, has produced an enjoyable holiday album of music. Their creative and challenging vocal arrangements feature the arranging talents of each of these international singers.
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THE JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA WITH WYNTON MARSALIS – BIG BAND HOLIDAYS II Blue Engine Records

Victor Goines, music director (2018)/tenor & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Walter Blanding (2015-17) /tenor saxophone/clarinet/shaker; Paul Nedzela, baritone & soprano saxophones / bass clarinet; Camille Thurman (2018) / tenor & soprano saxophones; RHYTHM SECTION: Dan Nimmer, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; Ali Jackson (2015 – 2016), drums; Marion Felder (2017), drums; Charles Goold (2018), drums; TRUMPETS: Wynton Marsalis (music director, 2017-18); Marcus Printup, Kenny Rampton, Ryan Kisor, Greg Gisbert, Bruce Harris, Tatum Greenblatt. TROMBONES: Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, Elliot Mason, Sam Chess & Eric Miller. FEATURED GUESTS: Aretha Franklin, Audrey Shakir, Denzal Sinclaire, Catherine Russell & Veronica Swift on vocals.

The Wynton Marsalis Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has cherry-picked holiday songs from several of their ‘live’ concerts between the years of 2015 to 2018. If you love the rich, full sound of a jazz orchestra, this is an album you will relish. Opening with “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Pianist, Dan Nimmer, takes a bright solo and the flute of Ted Nash flickers brightly like Christmas lights on this first track. The horns execute smooth harmonic changes in support of this holiday favorite that’s arranged by Wynton Marsalis. Wynton is also featured soloist on this one, along with Victor Goines on clarinet and Chris Crenshaw on trombone. At the completion, the audience bursts into appreciative applause, and rightly so. Next, vocalist Catherine Russell, swings a tune called “Cool Yule.” Soloists include Walter Blanding on tenor sax and Sherman Irby on alto saxophone. Irby also arranged this tune. Then, on “We Three Kings” the silky lead vocals of Denzal Sinclaire are featured. Once again, the piano solo of Dan Nimmer shines like a star at the top of a holiday tree. The straight-ahead, innovative arrangement by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., becomes one of my favorites, with Paul Nedzela’s baritone saxophone solo adding to the shine. The sweet surprise is the ‘live’ appearance of Aretha Franklin, who sits down at the grand piano and accompanies herself while singing “O Tannenbaum,” in English and in German! What a treat. It’s a beautiful moment by a beautiful artist. The Queen of Soul once again personifies a talent we must never forget.

“Rise Up Shepherd and Follow” is a Ted Nash arrangement that uses call and response horn lines that are exciting and demonstrative. They seem to speak brightly to each other, harmonically intertwining and interacting, like voices instead of instruments. There is a deep spiritual conversation going on for all to hear, spearheaded by the trumpet of Marcus Printup. Jazz vocalist, Veronica Swift, (whose wonderful, solo album I reviewed in my July 26, 2019 column) introduces us to a composition titled, “Everybody’s Waitin’ for the Man with the Bag.” It’s fun-filled arrangement and showcases Swift’s stellar vocals that bounce into scat singing as easily as she sells the song lyrics. There is something here that is reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald herself.

One of the spectacular things about Wynton’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is that they introduce us to bright, new arrangements of familiar holiday tunes and to songs that aren’t as familiar, like “What Will Santa Claus Say When he Finds Everybody Swingin’?” This arrangement opens with playful saxophone parts, featuring an impressive baritone saxophone solo by Paul Nedzela that introduces us to the groove and melody. Enter Catherine Russell, with sparkling vocals that deliver fresh, inspired lyrics. The orchestra also gives the drummer some and Ali Jackson does not disappoint. Louie Prima composed this one.

“Brazilian Sleigh Bells” is an up-tempo, Latin arrangement that will have your hips swinging like wild, winter winds. Sherman Early is featured on saxophone. Ms. Russell once again offers us her vocal gift and is splendid singing, “Silver Bells.” “Silent Night” is a great arrangement by Victor Goines. Surprisingly, it’s a blues and features Denzal Sinclaire and Audrey Shakir on vocals. Audrey adds a soulful quality to the song, while Denzal soothes you as soon as you hear his rich baritone voice. The orchestra is dynamic throughout this entire production and will enhance any holiday get-together. Also, the singular, guest and solo appearance of Aretha Franklin, appearing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, along with Wynton Marsalis, makes this a genuine collector’s item.
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JOHN BASILE – “SILENT NIGHT”
Independent Label

John Basile, electric & nylon guitars/midi guitar programing/arranging/ engineering/synthesizers.

This is a rich and beautiful contemporary Christmas album, interpreting timeless holiday songs we know and love. John Basile is an expressive guitarist with a warm, comfortable sound on both electric and nylon stringed guitars. I was quite surprised that he used midi programming, rather than live musicians, because the sound is so natural and perfectly recorded. Basile uses technology to create colorful textures beneath his ‘live’ jazz guitar improvisations. You will enjoy holiday standards like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” arranged in a very contemporary way, with a Latin flair using bright percussions.

“Baby it’s Cold Outside,” is as warm and comfortable as a fur coat. “Lulladay” is the only original song on this album of music. It’s very melodic, romantic-sounding and poignant. “Silver Bells” is joyful and up-tempo, while “Silent Night” is more traditional. Basile’s technique on guitar is spotlighted passionately. He’s been playing his instrument since age twelve, honing his skills by performing with R&B show bands and playing in jazzy organ groups. He graduated to straight-ahead jazz after studying at Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. He toured with an octet led by Count Basie and worked with respected singers like Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney, Mark Murphy and Tony Bennett, to list just a few. His talent on guitar has been utilized by instrumentalists like john Abercrombie, Tom Harrell, Jim Hall, Michael Brecker and Red Mitchell. This is perfect background music for a quiet, wintry evening with a roaring fireplace, burning brightly, and surrounded by the ones you love.
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VERVE PRESENTS THE VERY BEST OF CHRISTMAS JAZZ Verve – A compilation CD

For those of you looking for a compilation that pulls from the years 1937 to 1996 and features some of the greatest names in jazz music, this is the holiday compilation CD for you. It features legendary singers and musicians like Louie Armstrong, Kenny Burrell, Joe Williams, Shirley Horn, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald with the Frank Devol Orchestra . Ella sings “Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer.” Here’s some trivia for you about that popular ‘Rudolph’ song. Before it was a song, it was a poem written by a guy named Robert L. May. In 1939, it was created as a holiday marketing tool for the department store, Montegomery Ward’s. Ten years later, a songwriter named Johnny Marks converted the poetry into song lyrics and added music. It is reputed to have been recorded over 300 times and has sold 50-million records. The biggest one was the Gene Autry rendition, that became one of the biggest selling Christmas songs of all times. For all you youthful readers, Autry was an actor and country singer who was known for his cowboy films. The songwriter, Johnny Marks, went on to write two other popular holiday songs; “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”

Kenny Burrell performs with the Richard Evans Orchestra. The great Charles Stepney is on piano and organ. Cleveland Eaton mans the bass. In 1953, at a Los Angeles studio, Billy Eckstine recorded a song titled, “Christmas Eve” and in 1961, the original Ramsey Lewis trio featuring bassist Eldee Young and Redd Holt cut the track “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This compilation also features John Coltrane playing “Greensleeves” with McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass. The silky-smooth vocals of Mel Torme sing “The Christmas Song” and Louis Armstrong asks, “Zat You, Santa Claus?” Pianist/composer extraordinaire, B ill Evans, plays “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” Then comes Count Basie and his orchestra to play “Good Morning Blues,” that was recorded ,with an all-star band, August 9, 1937 with folks like Lester Young on clarinet and tenor saxophone and legendary guitarist, Freddie Green, along with Walter Page on bass and featuring vocalist, Jimmy Rushing. Organ great, Jimmy Smith performs his version of Jingle Bells. Finally, Dinah Washington sings “Silent Night” and the iconic Oscar Peterson plays “A Child is Born.” If that isn’t an all-star, jazzy Christmas, I don’t know what is! This CD is available on Amazon.com.
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DIANA ROSS – “WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS TIME” Ross Records

For all of you Diana Ross fans, “Wonderful Christmas Time” is a very jazzy record that frames Ms. Ross’s crystal-clear tones with lush orchestration, choirs and beautifully, boffo string arrangements. The title tune is penned by Paul McCartney and opens this album in a joyful way. The addition of meaningful songs like Someday at Christmas, What the World Needs Now and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” are songs that embrace the spirit of Christmas, along with well-arranged and charmingly sung gems like “Winter Wonderland, It’s Christmas Time” and “White Christmas.” Diana Ross sparkles on this production. The pleasant surprise is her rendition of several religious offerings like “His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Ave Maria” and “Amazing Grace.” Five of the songs feature the fabulous London Symphony Orchestra.

This is a twenty-song offering of absolutely beautiful holiday music originally released in 1994 when Ms. Ross was at the peak of her astounding career. Some of it is performed ‘live’ with the audience’s appreciative applause commending one of America’s musical icons. This album is perfectly produced and arranged for a stellar listen during the holiday season and beyond.
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THE BEST OF MOTOWN CHRISTMAS – “THE CHRISTMAS COLLECTION “ 20th Century Masters

Motown Christmas opens with a young Michael Jackson singing a boisterous “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” along with his brothers, The Jackson Five. This is followed by a waltz-time arrangement of “My Favorite Things” sung by Diana Ross and the Supremes, accompanied by an orchestra. In the forty-plus years since The Supremes performed this song on the popular Ed Sullivan variety Show, Motown Christmas songs make annual returns. A very young Stevie Wonder sings “Someday at Christmas,” (penned by Motown composer, Ron Miller) and historically reaching back to when Smokey Robinson was the lead singer with The Miracles, we hear “It’s Christmas Time,” written by Stevie Wonder. Both of these songs have become modern-day Christmas standards. The Temptation group offers their unique, rich harmonies on “Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer,” when Melvin Franklin was singing bass and Eddie Kendricks was the high tenor voice. This Norman Whitfield production was recorded back in 1970. Here is truly a historic collection that includes a merging of the Temptations and Smokey Robinson singing their rendition of “The Christmas Song.” Sweet!

The Four Tops serenade us, with Levi Stubbs’ beautiful, unique lead voice and emotional delivery. Shockingly, the angelic and soulful voice of Aretha Franklin steps forward to improvise over their instrumental break, adding holiday songs to deliciously delight our musical palate. She makes “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “The Christmas Song” somehow fit into this mix, in an improvisational way. Four Tops member, Lawrence Payton co-composed this 1995 holiday song and was close friends with the Queen of Soul. I bet he asked her into the studio to improvise on their track. Sexy crooner, Marvin Gaye co-wrote a song with Forrest Hairston titled, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas” about a prisoner of war. This one is not uplifting and as wonderful as Marvin’s vocals are, this song is depressing. The Funk Brothers, who were the instrumental catalyst behind all the Motown hit records, play “Winter Wonderland” with gusto and they’re followed by Kim Weston’s strong and lovely voice singing, “Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The now famous rendition of “Silent Night” is sung by my old friend and extraordinary bass singer, Melvin Franklin, with the harmonic support of The Temptations. It’s always a pleasure to hear this one. This album closes with the voice of Florence Ballard, one of the original members of the Supremes, singing the lead on “Oh Holy Night,” produced by Harvey Fuqua and released on a Christmas album in 2002. Give yourself the gift of a collector’s album with this musical piece of Motown history.

https://soulfuldetroit.com/showthread.php?7360-Florence-Ballard-the-Supremes-Oh-Holy-Night!
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THE BEST OF B. B. KING – THE CHRISTMAS COLLECTION 20th Century Masters/RCA Records

James Bolden, bandleader/trumpet; Walter R. King, contractor; Calep Emphrey Jr., drums; Melvin Jackson, saxophone; Leon Warren, guitar; Michael Doster, bass; James Sells Toney, keyboards; Stanley Abernathy, trumpet. The Nashville String Machine also appears on three songs.

If blues is your bag, this is a sack full of gutsy blues songs by a legendary bluesmaster. Few do it better than the great B. B. King. This is a seasoned holiday release that will never grow old. There will be songs you recognize and a few original Christmas songs penned by B. B. King himself. “Lonesome Christmas” is a shuffle and doesn’t sound lonesome at all. “Back Door Santa,” is a slow shuffle blues with risqué lyrics. “Christmas in Heaven,” employs the Nashville String Machine to fatten the arrangement in a sweet way. Every blues lover should add this 2003 historic recording by the late, great B. B. King in their Christmas collection.
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JAZZ CROSSES BORDERS & MARKS HISTORY

November 9, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

November 9, 2019

In a world that grows smaller and smaller because of technology and our ability to reach across continents and oceans, with the use of the Internet, jazz thrives. We see how it touches people, no matter their ethnicity or political views. This month, I’ve been inundated with music from world artists who have adopted jazz as their source of expression. In this article, I introduce you to some of them. Canadian artist, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach; Hungarian vocalist, Rozina Patkái; Petros Klapanis from Greece, and Moscow-born, Evgeny Sivtsov. I slip in an awesome, Chicago vocalist named Jackie Allen, who you have just got to hear. At the same time, I celebrate the iconic lives of trend-setters like American born and bred pianist-extraordinaire and singer, Nat King Cole, eighty-year-old Roger Kellaway and French reed legend, Barney Wilen. Enjoy!

BARNEY WILEN QUARTET – “LIVE IN TOKYO ‘91”
Elemental Records

Barney Wilen, tenor & soprano saxophone;Olivier Hutman,piano/elec.piano; Gilles Naturel,bass;Peter Gritz,drums.

Bernard Jean (Barney) Wilen was born in Nice, France to an American dentist and French mother. As a Jewish family, they wound up fleeing Europe and resettling in America during the second World War. Young Barney returned to France in 1946. As early as five or six-years-old, his love of music and his talent playing reed instruments became apparent.

René Urtreger, a noted French pianist, recalls meeting and playing with Barney Wilen when he was nineteen and Barney was only sixteen.

“Barney and I won an amateur poll at a Parisian Town Hall. Barney blew us away. He played baritone saxophone in the cool jazz category and I played piano. Everybody watched this sixteen-year-old guy coming to the stage. It was incredible. He was playing like an American.”

At age eighteen, in 1954, Barney Wilen made his first recording with producer and pianist Henri Renaud. Jazz journalist, Leonard Feather, called young Wilen a prodigy. Obviously, he was correct. Just three years later, in 1957, then twenty-year-old Wilen was sitting on a stage next to Miles Davis and he received the ‘Django Reinhardt Award’ from the French Academie du Jazz.

“We participated in Miles Davis’ unforgettable soundtrack for the ‘Ascenseur Pour L’echafaud’ film in 1957,” Rene Urtreger recalled.

Wilen’s primary influences were Lester young, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, of course Charlie Parker and Al Cohn. But his style is all his own. His fluidity on saxophone and his ability to improvise, always honoring the original melody of the tune, but flying free with those velvet smooth phrases endears the listener to Barney Wilen. Legendary musicians shared the same appreciation for Barney’s saxophone gift. He worked with icons like Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, J.J. Johnson, John Lewis and Bud Powell, to list just a few. When American musicians arrived on French soil, they often hired Barney Wilen to become part of their group. When he wasn’t touring, Barney Wilen became quite notable for composing jazz soundtracks for a number of French motion pictures. He also played with a variety of musicians, including rock musicians, East Indian musicians and he studied African music.

This is a double set live recording made in Tokyo, Japan in 1991. He was a reed master, able to play excellently on soprano, baritone or tenor saxophone. In 1958, Barney Wilen played on the same stage as Coleman Hawkins and Stan Getz. He is revered for being one of the first French jazz musicians to play Thelonious Monk compositions in and around Paris in the 1960’s. While playing in all the Parisian jazz spots, he was often seen playing with Bud Powell. French jazz pianist and author, Laurent de Wilde, was one of the musicians who accompanied Barney Wilen’s to Japan and had this to share.

“Barney was born in 1937 and I in 1960, but that didn’t create any distance between him and the younger players who backed him during that 1994 Japanese tour. … We anxiously awaited his delightful anecdotes. After all, the guy recorded with Monk, on tour. … Bebop fell on him like grace.”

Barney Wilen died of Cancer in 1996, at the age of fifty-nine, but this awesome double-set CD keeps his legacy alive and well.
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ROZINA PATKAI – “TALADIM” Tom Tom Records

Rozina Patkái, vocal/composer; János Avéd, tenor & soprano saxophone/piano; István Tóth Jr.,acoustic guitar; Ditta Rohmann,cello; András Dés, acoustic and electronic percussions; Márton Fenyvesi,synth bass/arranger.

This music is fresh and inviting. Rozina Patkái’s vocals are comfortable, like your favorite sweater. Her voice is warm and envelopes the room with honest emotion woven into her original songwriting. Based in Budapest, Hungary, she has two other albums released where she employed her love for Brazilian music. More recently, she’s become involved in putting the poetry of famous poets to music. The result is this creative album. Opening with “Taladim” the story of a forever love-promise; one that mirrors two people who are trying hard to make their love work. Rozina Patkái’s slight accent, evident while singing English, is infectious in a sweet way. The percussion work of András Dés lends depth to this arrangement. Track 2 is more romantic, enhanced by István Tóth Jr.’s acoustic guitar and arranged with a Latin twist. It’s titled, “Lorelei” and Ms. Patkái’s soft, enchanting voice floats like a folksong atop the percussive-driven piece. It’s her sing-song melodies that captivate. They are almost nursery rhyme simple and stick in your mind like glue. Márton Fenyveal’s unique arranging talents are sparse but effective. This band leans more towards world music than jazz. Track 9, “Llagas De Amor Intro” is absolutely gorgeous, showcasing the talents of Ditta Rohmann on cello.

Rozina Patkái is a student of Intermedia Art at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. Although she is in the fledgling stages of her musical career, her potential is obvious. Rozina has been the leader of several jazz groups since 2011 and boasts a continuing penchant for composing. She is multi-lingual and sings in several languages. Her haunting melodies are as easy to digest, like peppermint candy, and just as sweet.

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PETROS KLAMPANIS – “IRRATIONALITIES” Enja Yellowbird Records

Petros Klampanis, double bass/voice/glockenspiel; Kristjan Randalu, piano; Bodek Janke, drums/percussion.

This is music recorded at Sierre Studios in Athens, Greece two years ago. It’s trio jazz with strong classical undertones. Petros Klampanis has composed and arranged all but two tracks on this production and his music is quite lovely. His comrades on piano and drums are as masterful on their instruments as Petros is on his upright bass. They support the quality of his compositions grandly.

James Farber at Shelter Island Sound studios in New York is to be congratulated on the crispness and beauty of the ‘mix.’ The Klampanis original song, “Easy Come Easy Go” is a universal expression of hold and release that we all can relate to and It’s the title of their first track. Kristjan Randalu’s piano brilliance is obvious right off the bat, with the fingers of his right-hand marching across the treble keys while his left hand keeps the rhythm locked tightly in step with Bodek Janke on drums. Petros Klampanis steps into the spotlight to solo on his bass, against the repetitious left-hand, melodic chords of Randalu. It’s a very interesting and challenging arrangement. This first song gives us a peek into the mind of the composer and into the talented musicians who are playing his music. “Seeing You Behind My Eyes” offers a poignant melody, a sweet ballad, quite classical and it conjures up memories of my early days playing Shubert and Bach. I did wish for less repetition and more improvisation on this arrangement. Midway through, my wish is granted as Klampanis solos on his bass and veers off the melody path, skipping freely over the chord changes. There is a crescendo of excitement and power, spiked by Bodek Janke’s trap drums. Then we wind down to the original melody and the sweet ballad returns. The third cut is “Temporary Secret III” that incorporates sirens, and nature noises to entice our ear s to listen. On the fourth track, Petros Klampanis brings his vocals forward in a jazzy, scat-kind-of-way.

This is experimental music, heavy on the classical side, but very captivating in its simplicity and beauty. On the title tune, “Irrationality” they give the stage to the drummer and let him solo for a bit. Klampanis is obviously a very technically proficient bassist. His arrangements draw you into his original music, like a swinging pendulum can hypnotize. This music is magnetic. I also want to mention the expressive CD cover artwork by Katerina Karali and photographer, Patrick Marek. The artistic creativity absolutely expresses this music in a modern-art way. I believe album covers are as important as the music inside.

The ensemble closes with the only jazz standard on this album and one of my favorite songs; “Blame it on my Youth.” It features the talented bassist Petros Klampanis soloing until the second verse when Randalu takes over the lead instrumentation on piano. It’s a lovely way to end forty minutes of a very interesting trio production, that delicately blends and bends classical proficiency into the arms of jazzy freedom.

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A ROMANTIC EVENING WITH JACKIE ALLEN – “LIVE AT THE ROCOCO” Avant Bass

Jackie Allen,vocals; Bob Sheppard,tenor & soprano saxophone/flute; John Moulder, guitar; Ben Lewis,keyboards; Hans Sturm,double bass; Dane Richeson, drums/ percussion.

Opening with a spirited version of “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” I am immediately struck by the smooth tone and honest emotion that Jackie Allen conveys. The band is stellar and they complement her spark and energy. Ben Lewis exhibits his stride piano techniques on this first track. It’s followed by Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful ballad, “Day Dream.” Bob Sheppard, who was flown in from Los Angeles to participate in this recorded concert, takes a tenacious solo on his soprano saxophone, stirring much applause from the ‘live’ audience. Hans Sturm, on double bass, is solid and creative beneath the melody. His big bass dances creatively, glowing in the background, as part of the tight rhythm section. “Lazy Afternoon” is arranged in a very African way, featuring what sounds like a kalimba or thumb piano. Delightful!

I read in the publicity package that Jackie Allen and bassist Hans Sturm are husband and wife. They are originally from Chicago and have been living in Lincoln, Nebraska for several years. The Rococo Theater is a popular venue in the city of Lincoln. Promoted by Ann Chang, artistic director of the distinguished Lied Center for the Arts, the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) decided to video tape the Rococo concert. The result is a PBS television project. It took two years for the editing and scheduling, but recently, 275 member stations in 46 states enjoyed “A Romantic Evening with Jackie Allen.” This CD is the sound track.

Ms. Allen and her diverse ensemble include a few pop tunes, like Billy Preston’s standard, “You Are So Beautiful” and Smokey Robinson’s R&B hit on the Temptations, “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” Jackie Allen switches styles as easily as breathing in and out. She can swing an R&B standard or reinvent a Paul Simon pop song like “Still Crazy After All These Years” and make each song her very own. She Is a gifted vocalist with a unique and quite pleasing tone. She opens this Simon composition with only her voice and bass. Soon, Ben Lewis joins them on keyboard, changing the mood to a blues with an organ accompaniment. “My Funny Valentine” is presented like a fast-moving Samba. Her lyrical melody cuts time across the double-time feel and an old standard is freshly and provocatively arranged. Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s tune, “This Guy’s in Love With You” follows and features the very talented John Moulder on guitar, with Dane Richeson brushing the drum skins tastefully. Bob Sheppard shows off his skills on flute. They close the set with “Nobody Does It Better,” a song extracted from the 1977 James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. This Marvin Hamlisch and Carol Bayer Sager tune swings them right off the stage, with a lilting Latin feel put to the arrangement. The title is quite appropriate for this concert and this awesome vocalist. I feel quite confident saying, truly, nobody does it better.

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ROGER KELLAWAY – “THE MANY OPEN MINDS OF ROGER KELLAWAY” IPO Recordings

Roger Kellaway, piano; Bruce Forman, guitar; Dan Lutz, bass.

No question, Roger Kellaway is a master musician. He turns eighty this year and his career spans a rainbow of iconic artists who he has played with including Duke Ellington, Barbara Streisand, Elvis Presley and Yo-Yo Ma. This is a huge, colorful variety of music, showing his adaptability and piano genius. How many can go from playing with Sonny Rollins one night and Bobby Darin the next? How could he perform with Van Morrison and be just as comfortable on the bandstand with Ben Webster? Few musicians can claim to have excelled in their craft by playing with such a wide variety of unforgettable artists. Roger Kellaway is a living, breathing legend. That being said, on this newest release as a unique piano artist and musician, who shows us his jazzier side and his amazing style and execution on the 88-keys. Teaming with Bruce Forman on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass, Roger Kellaway brings a fresh and spirited interpretation to seven well-known jazz standards. As I listen to Roger and his trio, I am reminded of a very young Nat King Cole. He too often performed without a drummer and Nat Cole could play those piano-runs at top speed, (like Roger Kellaway) never losing the beat or stumbling over the tempo. Roger Kellaway’s fingers fly smoothly across the piano, like Olympic skaters across ice. On the Monk tune, “52nd Street Theme” his arrangement with that Forman rhythm-guitar strumming away, reminds me of the jazz of the 1930’s and 40’s. When Forman leaps out front to improvise, he is sonorous and impressive on his guitar, while Kellaway comps underneath Bruce Forman’s guitar solo at a brisk pace. Dan Lutz, on bass, holds them together like Velcro. This is an entertaining and masterful trio. Every song played is memorable. “Have You met Miss Jones” is celebrated by Kellaway’s solo piano, laying down the melody rubato, using unexpected chords, with new and very harmonic voicings. I am intrigued. When the other musicians join him, they lift this arrangement into an up-tempo shuffle that’s both joyous and somewhat reminiscent of Erroll Garner’s unforgettable style.

This is a ‘live’ recording. No over-dubbing here or studio summersaults to elevate this project. It is absolutely authentic and perfect just the way it is. From Sonny Rollins’ composition, “Doxy” to Paul Desmond’s “Take Five;” from “A Train” to “Night and Day,” and the all familiar, “Caravan,” each one is uniquely arranged and performed with punctilious beauty.
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EVGENY SIVTSOV – “ZOO” Rainy Days

Evgeny Sivtsov,piano; Dan Chmielinski,bass; Shawn Baltazor,drums.

Evgeny Sivtsov is a Moscow born-and-based pianist. He has composed every song on this album of music that was recorded towards the end of Sivtsov’s nine-year residence in New York City. His music is both experimental and straight-ahead. It’s modern jazz with a classical music underbelly. His style seems to lean towards soloing with his right hand, with very little chording to establish rhythm or harmonics. At least, on this first title tune, he concentrates on melody and leaves the rhythm to Shawn Baltazor on drums and Dan Chmielinski on bass. There’s not a lot of two-fisted piano on this arrangement. You will hear him play the same melody line in unison, using both hands, occasionally breaking into brief runs of 2-note harmony. Shawn Baltazor’s busy drums solo throughout. The drummer is very busy. I keep wishing he would just settle into a supportive rhythm beneath the piano. That never happens. Track 2, “Happy Hippo,” reveals another side to this pianist. Unlike the first track, this original composition uses more chording and both hands remain quite active throughout. This tune is a slow swing, but the happy hippopotamus seems a little sluggish. I hear some Thelonious Monk influence in Evgeny Sivtsov’s composition. However, with all of Monk’s eccentricity, he could really ‘swing.’ One of the keystones in the structure of jazz music is the ability to ‘swing.’ You can play a million notes and interpret thousands of pretty melodies, but if you can’t ‘swing’ you’re not a true jazz musician. This composition seems stiff and laborious. Again, I believe the drummer has a lot to do with this. He’s always so busy and never seems to settle down and support the pianist. The third track, “Post-Wild” is another tune that is full of notes and lacks groove. It starts out rubato and very pretty. The liner notes suggest we should try and dissect the meaning of each song relating to the animal it was written to represent. The ballad quickly moves from slow to what could have been a swing or a shuffle. But the drums don’t join the party. As Mr. Sivtsov solos, so does Mr. Baltazor. A jazz waltz follows, with a similar groove to the famed Miles Davis “All Blues” tune. Sivtsov uses it as an introduction. I was eager to hear the rest. This composition is titled, “New Anthill.” Suddenly, it turns into a march. Well – we’ve all seen ants marching, so I get that reference. Somehow, the jazz waltz gets lost in the transition.

“Dragonfliesis,” finally picks up the pace and Mr. Sivtsov uses his piano technique to exemplify the fast- fluttering wings of this insect. The trio plays this one at a very up-tempo pace, but again, the groove is entirely missing. Clearly Evgeny Sivtsov can play very swiftly and he sails across the 88-keys with gusto, but there is no groove. He invites Shawn Baltazor to solo on drums. The drummer is usually the musician who sets the groove, acts as a metronome and who punches the two and the four in jazz. The drummer holds the ensemble steady. This drummer sounds as frantic as Sivtsov’s flying fingers. They close with a dirge-like composition that celebrates “The Death of the Last Dinosaur.” Evgeny Sivtsov plays solo piano at the beginning of this particular arrangement, using several unexpected breaks that do not add to the presentation, but at first made me think my CD was skipping. I found this entire presentation lacking in emotion and disappointing. Some of this may be due to Mr. Sivtsov’s compositions, and some may be due to lack of imagination on the part of the composer and his musicians. This is an enigmatic project that sadly floundered.
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GABRIEL MARK HASSELBACH – “MIDCENTURY MODERN – VOL. 2”
WindtunnelRecords.com

Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, trumpet/flugelhorn/flute/valve trombone; Miles Black, piano/organ/bass; Joel Fountain,drums; Cory Weeds,saxophone; Ernie Watts,saxophone; Gord Lemon,electric bass; Olaf DeShield,guitar; Laurence Mullerup,acoustic bass.

Trumpet master and multi-talented musician, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach opens with a tune called, “Superblue.” This composition is a super slick and straight-ahead, featuring Miles Black, brilliant on an attention-getting piano solo. Gabriel is a gifted horn player who enjoys crossing genres and blending styles. He can play it all, from Bebop to R&B; Pop to Smooth jazz. The repertoire and melodies on this volume 2 “MidCentury Modern” production are catchy. They’re familiar. the horn lines punch bright, staccato lines that punctuate these unforgettable tunes. The Hasselbach arrangements are well-written. On the second track, “Driftin’, “Cory Weeds steps into the spotlight on saxophone and he swings hard. The 3rd track on this album proffers a Latin groove, combined with a straight-ahead jazz production that reminds me of the infectious music of the late, great Eddie Harris. Gabriel Mark Hasselbach records party jazz. His music makes me happy. You feel joyful energy and emotion from these musicians. In Hasselbach’s discography of fifteen album releases, there are only a few mainstream albums. Most of his music has been geared towards the contemporary jazz market. This has earned Hasselbach ten Billboard hits and an album of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year Awards. I’m used to hearing albums that include Hasselbach’s original music and a more Smooth Jazz approach. However, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach is just as effective and prolific playing bebop and straight-ahead jazz as he is in the contemporary category. Gabriel explained, in his liner notes, the direction of his current album release.

“On this project, rather than recording predominantly original material as I often do, I chose soulful tunes from the 50’s and 60’s that have influenced me and have a timeless quality. This album is the complete me; a seamless melding of mainstream, contemporary and NOLA styles. … a trifecta of jazz where the sum is greater than the parts.”

On the familiar tune, “Jazz ‘n Samba” Gabriel Mark Hasselbach picks up his flute to add more spice to this already spicy Latin production. It’s unusual for a trumpet player to also master a reed instrument, but Hasselbach is not your usual suspect. He performs beautifully on the flute.

“This album is a tasty homage to the classic jazz flag-bearers I grew up listening to: Blue Mitchell, Carmell Jones, Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Clifford Brown, Joe Gordon, Hank Mobley, Herbie Mann, Jobim and many others,” Gabriel Mark Hasselbach explains. “Jazz is in my bones and I am sure I’ll die clutching my horn to my chest.”

I am deeply moved by Gabriel’s interpretation of the very beautiful “Nature Boy” composition. On “Sister Sadie,” he reminds us of the genius of Horace Silver and his many hit jazz standard compositions, like this one. On the tune, “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’,” Hasselbach plunges his horn for a gritty, soulful effect and Mike Black uses an organ to embellish this production. Every song on this album is well-played and beautifully produced by Gabriel Mark Hasselbach. This is a compact disc you will enjoy playing time after time.
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NAT KING COLE – “HITTIN’ THE RAMP – THE EARLY YEARS (1936-1943) Resonance Records

This amazing deluxe, seven-CD or 10-LP package of music reminds us that Nat King Cole was a piano master. This delicious compilation of Nat Cole’s early years, between 1936 to 1943, offers nearly 200 recorded tracks by the illustrious jazz musician before he ever signed with Capitol Records.

“This is a really important project for Resonance,” says co-president or the label, Zev Feldman. “We’ve done some pretty substantial packages over the years, such as our three-disc Eric Dolphy and Jaco Pastorius sets with 100-page booklets, but this Nat King Cole box is truly a definitive, king-sized set.”

Many people only recall Nat King Cole as the silky, satin-smooth voice that made the “Christmas Song” a forever-hit-holiday standard. When Nat Cole sang, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose …” the entire universe swooned. But long before he became a popular voice on the recording scene, Nat was inspiring great piano players like Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and George Shearing with his amazing style and technique. You can also hear his influence on the great Ray Charles. One of the tunes recorded in this collection is “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town.” It was recorded ‘live’ at the 331 Club in 1942. Years later, Ray Charles made that song a hit record with his own rendition. Ray Charles also relates, in his autobiography, how he mimicked the vocal style of Nat King Cole in his early years. Actually, mimicry is the highest form of compliment an artist can get. The illustrious Johnny Mathis also claims that Nat Cole was his idol.

“As a young boy, studying the art of vocalizing, Nat was everything I needed,” Johnny Mathis shared. “All I did was listen and learn.”

Nat King Cole grew up in the jazz business, listening to icons like Earl “Fatha’ Hines and Art Tatum, who certainly inspired him. You can clearly hear some of their influence in this amazing set of early Nat King Cole recordings.

The tune,“With Plenty of Money and You” was cut in 1938. Nat King Cole is playing piano so swiftly he sounds like the studio engineers speeded up the tape. He has perfect time as his finger race across the piano keys. It’s just a spectacular listen, with Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on bass. This was the very first recording session for Nat’s trio and unique because there was no drummer. Even before this release, the very first recordings Nat Cole made was with his brother Eddie for Decca Records. He was only seventeen-years-old, but it was obvious, even then, that Nat King Cole was a piano prodigy. You will enjoy Nat’s first versions of “Sweet Lorraine” in this collection, that later in his career became a huge R&B and pop record hit. You can hear how his tone and vocal style developed, from the 1930’s to his expansive success in the 1960s. but even more significant is Nat King Cole’s amazing abilities on the piano. This recording documents his astonishing talents on piano, as well as bringing several unforgettable songs alive that we may have forgotten and deserve to be remembered like, “All for You,” and “There’s No Anesthetic for Love.” This is a ‘must-have’ for any jazz collector’s library!

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VOICES ON FIRE, A CELEBRATION OF ART BLAKEY & SAXOPHONE SERENADES

October 28, 2019

VOICES ON FIRE, A CELEBRATION OF ART BLAKEY AND SAXOPHONE SERENADES
BY Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 28, 2019

CALABRIA FOTI – “PRELUDE TO A KISS” Moco Records

Calabria Foti, vocals/violin/arranger; Roger Kellaway,piano; Trey Henry, bass; Peter Erskine,drums; Larry Koonse,guitar; Bob McChesney,trombone; George Doering, guitar; Luis Conte,percussion; John Pizzarelli,vocals/guitar; WOODWINDS: Dan Higgins,flute/alto flute/clarinet; Gene Cipriano,oboe; Glen Berger, oboe/bass clarinet; Geoff Nudell,flute/clarinet; Rose Corrigan & Bob Carr,bassoon; Terry Harrington,flute/clarinet; Bob Crosby, clarinet/bass clarinet; FRENCH HORNS: Jim Thatcher(principal); Jenny Kim, Katie Faraudo, & Dan Kelley; VIOLINS: Charlie Bisharat, concertmaster; Songa Lee, Principal second; Kevin Connolly, Lucia Micarelli, Nina Evtuhov, Joselina Vergara, Radu Pieptea, Tereza Stanistav, Armen Anassian, Marisa Kuney, Kevin Kumar, Ben Jacobsen, Michele Richards, & Jackie Brand; VIOLAS: Brian Dembow, principal; Andrew Duckles, Alma Fernandez & Rob Brophy. CELLOS: Armen Ksajkian, principal; Cameron Stone, Tina Soule & Jacob Braun; HARP: Gail levant.

The string sections sweeps into the room like an ocean wave of beauty. Calabria Foti’s amazingly velvet-smooth vocals float atop the string orchestra arrangements like a custom-built yacht. This is her fourth album release and it may be her best to date. With Charlie Bisharat conducting the orchestra and the arrangements by such talents as Johnny Mandel, Roger Kellaway, Bob McChesney, Jorge Calandrelli and Jeremy Lubbock, how could she miss? Their creative support and instrumental mastery make this project sparkle and constellate.

Opening with the title tune, “Prelude to a Kiss” the listener is gently propelled into a musical world of peace and beauty. Duke Ellington must be smiling and nodding approval from heaven. Her various song choices are perfectly adept to both Calabria Foti’s style and range. The second tune, “I Had to Fall in Love with You,” is another lovely ballad, presented with much emotion and a guitar solo by Larry Koonse. Then, on track three, Calabria Foti refurbishes “On the Street Where You Live.” She arranged it herself and she swings the popular standard with the spirited drums of Peter Erskine propelling the piece at a brisk pace. Calabria Foti takes this opportunity to show-off her jazzy scat singing abilities. Foti shows us she is also an amazing arranger and has arranged and/or co-arranged some of these songs, as well as being a very competent violinist. “Waltz for Debby,” is a challenging tune by Bill Evans and Calabria Foti makes it sound as easy as breathing in and out. Her voice gently caresses the melody and shares the poetry. Calabria Foti has a way of connecting with her listening audience and drawing you into her stories, quicksand deep. This is followed by a song I hadn’t heard before and I love it. “When I Look in Your Eyes.” (another pretty ballad) is both lyrically and melodically pleasing. Her medley, “Back in Your Own Backyard,” just using a small ensemble, with a jazzy, walking bass by Trey Henry, allows Foti to swing a couple of great tunes in a glistening chain of jazzy inuendoes, including “Give Me the Simple Life” and “The Love Nest.”

This is an album I will play over and over again. In fact, these song arrangements and this wonderful vocalist, with the support of master instrumentalists, will light up any room. They offer spectacular, fiery performances. One more thing, the vocal duet on “It’s the Mood That I’m In,” with dynamic guitarist, John Pizzarelli, is spellbinding. Calabria adds her violin chops on this arrangement. Also, her tender orchestrated interpretation of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” delights! This musical production is bound to warm any chilly evening and would make a great gift. Better get two. You’ll want to keep one for yourself.

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MIKE CADY –“TWICE AS NICE” Independent Label

Mike Cady,vocals; Mike Levine, piano; Jamie Ousley,bass; Lenny Steinberg,drums; Joe Donato, saxophone.

Mike Cady has reached back into the 1950’s jazz archives, when King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson were writing lyrics to horn solos, and the Lambert Hendricks & Ross vocal group was spitting vocalese to vinyl. Cady opens with “Little Boy Don’t Get Scared,” a composition by Stan Getz with lyrics by Jon Hendricks and King Pleasure. Mike Cady swings hard on this opening tune, reminding us of an artform that broke ground for Hip Hop, before it was a twinkle in the twentieth century eye. The lyrics flow fast and powerfully, like a saxophone spitting words. On the second track, his delivery of the ballad, “Never Let Me Go,” is tender and believable. Mike Cady’s rich baritone voice proffers us a unique style all his own and that’s what makes for a memorable jazz artist. Mike Levine plays a lovely, piano solo on this tune. Cady follows this up with the Sam Jones composition, “Del Sasser” that the Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet epitomized on their “Them Dirty Blues” Capitol Jazz album. Carmen McRae wrote the lyrics to this song and retitled it, “If You Never Fall in Love with Me.” Mike Cady does a great job of re-interpreting this jazz standard. Jamie Ousley pumps his double bass on this one, locking in the ‘swing’ with Lenny Steinberg on drums. Together, they make a rich rhythm section for Mike Levine to dance brightly across the 88-keys.

He rejuvenates a song from the Lou Rawls vinyl, 33-1/3 rpm-record-days titled, “One Life to Live.” The lyrics perpetuate a hopeful attitude and a reminder that we all have only one life to live so live it in peace, live it in truth, live it in love. The theme of Cady’s album (on the lyrical-side) seems to remind us that we need to take a serious look at living our lives to the fullest extent and to appreciate living and loving. Cady tackles “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” and takes some liberties with the melody, a melody that is already so amazing, it probably needs no changing; especially that first, opening line. That being said, Cady knows how to sell a song and puts much emotion into his presentations. “Come Back to Me,” is another bebop swing arrangement. The trio is dynamic and pushes this vocalist with their power. It’s a pleasant surprise when Cady sings, “Something Cool,” the song that June Christy made famous in 1953. Cady is a supreme storyteller and you feel that he is singing this story directly to you. His vocal style breaks the words up like flashy pieces of confetti that he sprinkles around the room. This is Cady’s debut album and it’s a joyful celebration, perfect for the holidays.
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THE JOSHUA BREAKSTONE TRIO – “CHILDREN OF ART” (A TRIBUTE TO ART BLAKEY’S JAZZ MESSENGERS Capri Records

Joshua Breakstone,guitar; Eliot Zigmund,drums; Martin Wind,bass.

Opening with Lee Morgan’s composition, “The Witchdoctor,” Joshua Breakstone take the lead on his guitar and sets the pace for this celebration of what would have been Art Blakey’s 100th birthday year. Breakstone has chosen a cluster of songs that were composed by members of the famous Jazz Messengers’ congregation. Eliot Zigmund, on drums, offers a powerful solo and then slaps the trio back to a brisk medium tempo groove. Their second track, “Splendid” shines the spotlight on bassist, Martin Wind. He opens this tune with a melodic improvisation and displays a rich tone on his double bass. Breakstone keeps the rhythm tightly apparent beneath Wind’s solo, strumming his guitar and locking-in with Zigmund’s drums. This trio presents a tightly knit package of jazz that features Joshua Breakstone’s guitar. Breakstone is solid as the bricks and mortar of the Fillmore East theater where his sister used to work as a light technician. He remembers sitting in the theater and soaking up the music of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. His love of music developed early. Soon, he became infatuated with jazz and shortly thereafter, deeply influenced by Charlie Parker and Lee Morgan. One of my favorite cuts on this CD is Cedar Walton’s “Holy Land.”

As a serious student of guitarist, Sal Salvador in Manhattan, helped Joshua hone his chops. Later, he enrolled at the new College of the University of South Florida. They have a legacy of turning out a slew of jazz giants and the university continuously features popular jazz bands. Joshua also attended Berklee College of Music. With his lust for learning, the gypsy in his soul led him to Brazil. Once he returned to New York City, Breakstone began to get studio session calls and worked with several music giants including, saxophonist Glen Hall, Joanne Brackeen and Cecil McBee, as well as Billy Hart. In 1983, Joshua Breakstone recorded his debut album titled, “Wonderful.” Three and a half decades and twenty-one recordings later, he offers us this stellar trio production. This is his eighth recording for Capri records and it’s a beauty.
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CHRIS MADSEN – “BONFIRE” Outside In Music

Chris Madsen,tenor saxophone/composer; Stu Mindeman,piano; Clark Sommers,bass; Dana Hall,drums.

Chicago-based saxophonist, Chris Madsen, prowled through his old music scores and recorded ideas of songs he had written or was beginning to write in order to create this recent album of music. Madsen discovered songs that had lain dormant for years and began to re-work them into fresh arrangements and to polish his ideas. In so doing, he began to build a ladder of inner emotions. As Chris Madsen climbed inside himself, ever striving to reach the highest good in his music and in his composing, he has created gems like, “Lone Wolf.” This second track on his CD gives Clark Sommers an opportunity to use his double bass to interpret the crux of this song. It moves from a thoughtful, slow melody to a speedy, straight-ahead, powerhouse of sound. Madsen’s tenor saxophone smoothly rides the chordal waves, pushed by Dana Hall’s drums, as Sommers’ fast-walks his bass line. On the title tune, “Bonfire” pianist Stu Mindeman sets the tempo and groove, laying down a solid undertow of chords and piano technique that provides a richness beneath the tenor horn solo. Once Mindeman steps forward to solo, I find his improvisation skills to unfold tentatively, like a painter carefully choosing the shade of blue he wants to use and then splashing it across the canvas. He harmonizes with the tenor saxophone, using staccato notes that create a hook; a refrain that ties the piece together after ribbons of solo freedom.

There is lots of energy in this group. Dana Hall is responsible for quite a bit of this energy, providing his flashing drum sticks and crashing cymbals in all the right places. Chris Madsen and his ensemble build and crescendo on the composer’s various themes. Like a fire, they flicker at first and then burst into flame. This saxophonist has become more refined over the years. Together, his group creates a burning, hot and combustible piece of modern jazz, with a hard bop core. Other favorites on this album are the tune, “Hundred Center,” enhanced by Dana Hall’s mallets and offering almost a smooth jazz feel; surprising after three solid, modern jazz compositions; and “Cool Sun” offers a taste of R&B drum licks and punchy bass lines. But make no mistake, this is all jazz, top to bottom.
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SVETLANA –“NIGHT AT THE MOVIES” Starr Records

Svetlana Shmulyian, vocals; Wycliffe Gordon, vocals/trombone; Isabel Braun, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano; John Chin, piano/Fender Rhodes; Pasquale Grasso & Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass; Matt Wilson & Rob Garcia, drums; Rogerio Bocatto, percussion; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Sam Sadigursky, reeds; Michael Davis, trombone; Antoine Silverman & Entcho Todorov, violins; Chris Cardona, viola; Emily Brausa, cello.

Some singers just have the “It” factor in their tone and presentation. Svetlana has a voice you will remember and you will probably recognize that voice immediately once you hear it again. This is often the sign of a stylist, rather than just another vocalist swimming in an over-crowded singer’s pool. She also has just the tinge of an accent coloring her English. Svetlana’s latest album celebrates love tunes from motion pictures. She opens with an Alan & Marilyn Bergman/ John Williams song titled, “Moonlight,” from the 1995 motion picture, “Sabrina.”

Svetlana is a soviet Russian who, as a young, artistic-driven girl, found excitement and dreamy escape in a Moscow, underground movie theater that played Western films. It became a window into a world Svetlana envisioned, where she would become a part of the art and music freedom of expression. Consequently, the title of this album seems quite appropriate; “Night at the Movies.” Years later, Svetlana immigrated to New York City and now, here she is, living her dream.

I wish she had arranged the second track, “Sooner or Later” as a ‘swing’ tune. It would have been dynamic with a pumping, walking bass and those lyrics would have danced as a swing arrangement. That being said, Svetlana competently performs this arrangement of the tune pulled from the movie, “Tracy.” She interprets it with cabaret style, featuring Sullivan Fortner on a bluesy piano solo. I get my wish for a ‘swing’ feel from this talented lady on “Cheek to Cheek,” where she vocally duets with Wycliffe Gordon. They offer us a play on Ella and Louie Armstrong’s strong duet recordings. Trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon, has a timbre and tone very similar to the iconic Armstrong. This tune is familiar to our ears, but I didn’t realize it dates all the way back to 1935 as part of the film, “Top Hat.” The arrangement and horn licks remind us of that 1930s era. ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ gave us the gem of a tune, “Pure Imagination.” Svetlana presents it employing a slow, sexy Latin production. John-Erik Kellso takes a sweet trumpet solo. The hit record, “Happy” penned by Pharrell Williams, is reinvented in a very jazzy way. It still maintains its happy-go-lucky attitude as it swings along propelled by John Chin on piano and Rob Garcia’s brisk drum licks. This is another vocal duet with Svetlana and Wycliffe Gordon joining forces. If you’ve forgotten, this popular song that garnered gold-record -status, it was actually from the movie, “Despicable Me.”

I was glad to hear her sing, “No One’s Home” that she sings in her native Russian tongue. It’s a pretty tune with a Bossa Nova feel, taken from the production, “Irony of Fate”. This script became one of the most successful Soviet television programs and remains quite popular even today in modern Russia. Here is a vocalist who followed her dreams across continents. In the process, she built a fresh reality. How appropriate that Svetlana closes this CD with the ‘Wizard of Oz’ classic, “Over the Rainbow.” Surely, Svetlana has clicked her heels and flown over the rainbow to a world she heard of once in a lullaby. Now she sings that lullaby to us.
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LYNN CARDONA – “OPHELIA” Independent Label

Lynne Cardona,vocals/composer; Josh Nelson, acoustic & elec. Piano; Nazomi Yamaguchi,guitar; Michael Hunter,flugelhorn; Dave Robaire,upright & elec. Bass; Dan Schnelle,drums.

This is an EP, which means it’s is an album of music that offers only three songs, less than a normal album of music. However, it’s well produced and insightful into the artist. Lynn Cardona is labeled (by her publicist), a soul/jazz artist and singer/songwriter. The first cut, “A Little Too Late” is a happy production, with sad lyrics.

“When the leaves all beg the trees to let them go. … I’m reminded of a fellow that I know. Maybe he loves me, because he let me go. … And then springtime comes around and I’m swept away with daydreams and flowery fantasies. All the colors and the beauty offer themselves to me.”

The lyrics are quite insightful. The sadness in the rubato opening dissolves to an up-tempo, contemporary jazz production that becomes more hopeful, like Ms. Cardona’s poetic offering.

The second cut, “Mother Earth” celebrates womanhood and mother earth. Another poem put to music asking humanity to respect the earth, a home to us all, and in the same breath, to respect women. Like Mother Earth, who births nature, women carry the seed of man and perpetrate human life.

Matt Politano is to be congratulated on his sensitive and demonstrative arrangements for Lynn Cardona’s songs. She wrote “A Little Too Late” with Matt, who is a popular pianist around the Los Angeles jazz scene. This recording features the dynamic Josh Nelson on both acoustic and electric piano, interpreting these arrangements. On “Mother Earth” Lynn Cardona has collaborated with guitarist, Nazomi Yamaguchi. The final composition and EP title, “Ophelia” has a haunting melody that features a sensuous flugelhorn solo by Michael Hunter. Lynn co-wrote this song with Memphis organist, Charlie Wood. Sometimes Ms. Cardona reminds me a bit of Corinne Bailey Rae, an English singer/songwriter whose poetic lyrics capture the heart. The two vocalists have different vocal styles, but both write interesting and thoughtful lyrics. Lynn Cardona’s unique tone and composer skills can carry her far. Although only three songs, each offers quite thought-provoking words of wisdom.
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BRIA SKONBERG – “NOTHING NEVER HAPPENS” Independent Label

Bria Skonberg,vocals/trumpet/composer; Mathis Picard,piano; Devin Starks,bass; Doug Wamble,guitar; Jon Cowherd,Hammond B3; Darrian Douglas, drums/percussion; Patrick Bartley,saxophone.

The bass of Devin Starks powerfully opens this first track titled, “Blackout.” He sets the groove and garners the listener’s attention. When Bria Skonberg’s whispery, soprano vocals enter she establishes a pretty melody. Eli Wolf has produced this CD and obviously, he believes that simplicity will showcase this artist’s mastery of both her voice and her horn. I would have to agree. The sparseness in the production draws us to her unique sound and makes both her trumpet and her voice a star in the spotlight. Bria Skonberg sparkles. She is not only a delightful vocalist, but she’s a composer who writes interesting lyrics and unforgettable melodies. The second track, “So Is the Day,” mirrors the dirge -like groove of New Orleans jazz. Her horn is the exclamation mark on each original composition.

On the tune, “Square One,” her vocal timbre and style reminds me a little bit of Norah Jones. Skonberg has written six of the eight songs on this project and all are well-written, well-produced and well-played. “Villain Vanguard” gallops onto the scene with drum licks by Darrian Douglas that sound like horse hooves. This is an energy-driven song that draws the curtains open on Skonberg’s trumpet prowess She lets her horn do all the singing. The tempos unexpectedly change, like mood swings. Patrick Bartley joins her on saxophone and Skonberg delves into the realm of modern jazz and exploratory improvisation. There are many sides to Ms. Bria Skonberg’s multi-talents. The two songs she did not compose are the popular Beatle’s tune, “Blackbird Fantasy,” that is arranged in a trad jazz kind-of-way and features both piano and organ. The other cover song is the Sonny and Cher hit record, “Bang Bang,” featuring Doug Wamble’s poignant guitar and Skonberg’s canonical trumpet. The tune is arranged like a dramatic tango. “What Now?” is an original song with a bluesy undertone and gives Patrick Bartley an opportunity to solo on saxophone.

Bria Skonberg has a pop/jazz vocal style, but is all jazz on her trumpet. She’s a budding composer and these arrangements embrace the jazzy roots of New Orleans, whispers of a Dixieland influence, and an infusion of a younger, funkier style prominent on the closing instrumental, “I Want to Break Free.” The final song was somewhat marred by the drummer, who surprisingly remained slightly off-beat throughout this particular song. Compliments to the beautiful artwork on the CD cover by Lisa Lockhart. I would hang this on my wall!
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REMEMBERING CONRAD ISIDORE – DOMINICAN DRUM MASTER

October 23, 2019

REMEMBERING CONRAD ISIDORE – DOMINICAN DRUM MASTER
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 23, 2019

I met Conrad Isidore in the mid-seventies, three or four years after I first arrived in Los Angeles. He was a good friend of Fritz DeJean, my percussionist at that time. Like Fritz, Conrad too was a drummer and in late 1969, before he came to America, he was popular with a crew of London-based musicians. They recorded at Trident Studios, that was located in the heart of Soho in London, England. Conrad joined guitarist Alan Marshall on lead vocals and Bobby Sass on keyboards, Brent Forbes on bass, Kevin Fogerty on lead guitar and Norman Leppard on reeds. The resulting album featured hit songs like, “Stop Pulling and Pushing Me” and “Nearer the Bone.” It was released on the Fontana Record label. The group referred to themselves as “One.” As I said, the bassist in the Trident recording session was Brent Forbes and during an interview, Forbes had good things to say about percussionist, Conrad Isidore.

“Conrad was a fantastic influence for me. Great feel! He sat down one day and said to me, Brent, the notes are all right but it’s the feel … in other words, he made me think about that and I managed to maintain it and got a reputation for it over the years,” Brent praised Conrad Isidore for helping him find the ‘groove’ in his bass licks and encouraging him to express his feelings through his instrument.

This journalist remembers Conrad as very sincere, caring and a persuasive person. When Conrad spoke to you, you listened and you paid attention. He had a warm, genuine smile and was Mr. personality plus.

Conrad Isidore was a Dominican born drummer and percussionist who, in the late 1960s, had been playing around town with Joe E. Young &The Toniks, a London-based R&B group. Before that, he had played with a group called “The Links” and later with “The Grendades.” While he was with The Toniks, their bassist was Calvin ‘Fuzzy’ Samuels who ended up being featured with Bob Marley as a prominent sideman. He was called ‘Fuzzy’ because he was using a fuzz box on his bass at that time. Isidore and Samuels formed a group called, The Sundae Times, with a lead singer and guitarist named, Wendell Richardson. Calvin Samuels and Conrad Isidore were close friends, busy musicians and gained good reputations for their excellence on bass and drums. Conrad could feel the groove and transmit it through his drums.

The day that Stephen Stills heard Conrad and bass man, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels perform, he was so impressed, Stills quickly recruited both musicians to participate in his solo LP session. That iconic recording was released in May of 1970. This was the Stephen Stills, American singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whom you may recall from his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash. He’s the Stephen Stills whose work has garnered a combined sale of over 35 million albums. Today, you can hear Conrad Isidore’s drums on “The Best of Stephen Stills” album, initially released in 1976, and still available. It features the drums of Conrad Isidore propelling Still’s band from that 1970’s session that introduced Stephen Stills to the world on Atlantic Records.

Once Conrad relocated to the United States, he got busy acquainting himself to the U.S. music scene. It didn’t take long for people to notice Isidore’s percussion talent and he started playing sessions with folks like soulful singer, Joe Coker, vocalist Linda Lewis, Terry Reid, Vinegar Joe, (a group that evolved out of a 12-piece, Stax-influenced, fusion band), and Eddy Grant. Conrad played drums and sang on Eddy Grant’s record. He became part of Junior Marvin’s band for a while (Junior Marvin of the Wailers) and also worked with a group called Hummingbird. Isidore wrote many of the songs on the initial Hummingbird album and he sang on these recordings. They released three albums on the A&M Record label. This group featured drummer/songwriter, Conrad Isidore, with Bobby Tench, guitar and vocals; Max Middleton on keyboards, Clive Chaman on bass, Jeff Beck on guitar, Robert Ahwai & Bernie Holland (also guitarists) and after their first 1974 recording, Bernard Purdie joined them as their drummer.

Fritz DeJean recalled when his friend, Conrad Isidore was living in Inglewood, California.

“Conrad was kind of like me, hard-headed and independent. He wanted to do things his own way. Conrad was a multi-instrumentalist. He could sing and he could play bass and guitar. He helped me cut my first song in a home studio. He played guitar for me. He played bass, as well as piano. He could play all of it. He’s one of the very few guys on drums who I enjoyed playing with besides Munyungo (Jackson) and Lou Wilson from the Mandrill group. Conrad knew rhythm inside out. He loved Reggae and his heart was into African drums. He loved Marley and all those cats. He played with some huge, recording people, but he never made a big deal about it. Conrad was a humble man. We talked about the African roots all the time; the Nigerian rhythms. He admired the guys that played with Traffic, a group that blends African rhythms, funk and jazz. He was a wealth of information. His brother Gus is still alive. Gus Isidore is another rock musician, a guitarist.”

Always in demand, Conrad also recorded with Jimi Hendrix and Memphis Slim. On BadCat Records he recorded with Willie Bobo backing up vocalist and guitarist, Terry Reid. See the musiciansolympus.blogspot.com for a complete discography.

More recently, Conrad Isidore had relocated to Finland. He had his own band and is seen in this video on congas with Niklas Mansner on guitar; Rob Dominis on keyboards; Janne Rajala, bassist; Jori Lindell on saxophone and Leo Kylatasku on trumpet. The trap drummer is Thomas Tornroos. This video was filmed at the Bar Soho in Porvoo, Finland. Conrad also sang lead with this group.

Conrad Isidore made his transition on October 20, 2019. He left a legacy of his recorded music, featuring his brilliant and nurturing drums that covered jazz, blues, R&B and rock music. He was an inspirational, world-class musician, with a heart as big as the universe itself.

References: http://musiciansolympus.blogspot.com/2011/02/conradisidore-drums.html
https://garagehangover.com/tag/conrad-isidore
Interview with Fritz DeJean

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CELEBRATING WILLIAM “BILL” HENDERSON, AKA: KEMANG SUNDUZA

October 22, 2019

CELEBRATING WILLIAM “BILL” HENDERSON III – AKA: KEMANG SUNDUZA (1945 – 2019)

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 21, 2019

The last time I saw Kemang perform (I always pronounce his name Kamon) was in Detroit, Michigan at the annual Jazz Festival five years ago. He was playing piano with the great Pharoah Sanders and as usual, he was innovative and artistic on his instrument. He’d been working with Pharoah Sanders for over three decades. In 2007, he recorded on both the “Moon Child” and the “Finest” albums with Pharoah Sanders. Before that, as far back as 1985, Bill Henderson recorded with Pharoah on “Softly for Shyla” and again in 1993, Pharoah released that same title on a different record label. You may remember when Pharoah Sanders featured vocalist, Leon Thomas, on his “Shukuru” LP. I believe that was in 1985. Kemang played on that one too. In 2010, the talented pianist recorded with John Carter and Bobby Bradford on the Mosaic label, a three-record box set. In 2013, Verve Records released a Hugh Masekela project he played piano on titled, “Grazing in the Grass.” In 2017, he joined Bob Shad’s production of “In the Back, In the Corner, In the Dark.” It was labeled a record that resonated spiritual funk and jazz gems. Back-in-the-day, he also was part of the Bobby Hutcherson Quartet and recorded on Hutcherson’s album, “With A Song in My Heart” in 2006. He’s been on a number of other recordings including The Ray Charles “Spirit of Christmas” CD and the Billy Higgins 1994 album release, “3/4 For Peace.” He joined Eddie Harris to be part of the popular LP, “The Real Electrifying Eddie Harris” in 1983. Bill Henderson has been making amazing music in and around Los Angeles and worldwide for many years. I found him to be a quiet, thoughtful man until he sat down at the piano and his fingers began battering those 88-keys. He was a passionate player. In the early 70’s, Henderson (our beloved Kemang) recorded with iconic reedman, Harold Land Sr. on an album called “Our Home” and later, on a couple of albums with bassist Henry Franklin. Bill Henderson appeared on the “Henry Franklin – The Skipper” LP in 1972 and “Blue Lights” was another Henry Franklin recording in 1976. In 1977, he played the blues on Big Bear Records, as part of a compilation album titled, “Homesick Blues Again.” I remember him working with the original female singer with Earth, Wind and Fire, Ms. Sherry Scott. That was back in the early 1970’s, when he was playing in her band. There have been more recordings, so many more performances in festivals and concerts across the globe.

Kemang was also a fine composer and an arranger. In 2016, I interviewed jazz bassist, Henry Franklin. Henry was very close to Bill Henderson. That was clear when Henry was explaining to me how he got his nickname of “The Skipper.”

“On our first album for Black Jazz Records in 1971, we titled the LP, The Skipper,’” Henry shared. “Pianist, Bill Henderson (Kemang), had written a tune for my son, (who is his God son) and he named the composition, Skipper. People associated the album title with my name and they started calling me ‘The Skipper’. My son’s a Junior, but he’s the original Skipper.

“Early on, Roy Ayers (the iconic vibraphonist) had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson on piano, or sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me, and Carl Burnett on drums. After high school, Elmo left and went to school at Howard University. Nobody’s heard from or seen Elmo since,” Henry told me.

Henry Franklin was only eighteen years old at that time and Bill Henderson was a teenager too. Still, at that young age they were both serious musicians determined to make their mark in the jazz world. For a while, Franklin played with a group called Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet. They formed that ensemble in 1963. It was led by Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero. In 1967 their group featured Little Joe on Vibes, Franklin on bass and Bill ‘Kemang’ Henderson on piano. Varner Barlow was on drums and Jack Fulks played flute and alto saxophone.

Over his long and passionate career, Bill Henderson worked with legends like Donald Byrd, Billy Higgins, The Afro Blues Quintet Plus One, Cannonball Adderley and Brazilian master, Moacir Santos, to list just a few. He was a highly praised pianist and the jazz community warmly embraced him.

It’s with a heavy heart that I received the news, a few days ago, that William Henderson III had left his seat at the piano to join the heavenly jazz band in the ever-after. You will be missed, Kemang, but never forgotten. Rest in Peace, my brother.

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DIANNE FRASER PRODUCES FUNDRAISING CABARET FOR ACTORS FUND

October 17, 2019

DIANNE FRASER PRODUCES FUNDRAISING CABARET FOR ACTORS FUND THIS WEEKEND

By Dee Dee McNeil

October 17, 2019

Singer/producer, Dianne Fraser, wants the community to know that cabaret is alive and well in Los Angeles. To support this supposition, Fraser and director, David Galligan, are presenting three nights of cabaret on October 18, 19 & 20th at two venues. On Friday, Oct 18th the opening concert will be at Feinstein’s at Vitello in Studio City, California. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, the excitement will continue at Tom Rolla’s Gardenia. This 3-night event is a benefit concert weekend to support the Actors Fund and will celebrate the American and Broadway songbooks featuring some of LA.’s top cabaret singers, actors and actresses. This is their sixth year of raising funds to benefit the Actors fund. This Fund fosters stability and resiliency to provide a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals.

Dianne Fraser, of Fraser Entertainment Group, has been presenting “An Evening of Classic Broadway” for the past five years and this upcoming weekend event is an extension of her concept. Ms. Fraser’s former shows have been critically praised and nominated for several awards, including the prestigious Eddon Award and the Robby Award; both award organizations support the best theater work in the Los Angeles area.

“I produce cabaret shows around Los Angeles. I do Line-up shows. This particular event, I produce annually and it’s the sixth year. This year, we have three different piano players, one for each night: Rick Hils, Tom Griep and Gerald Sternbach. We will feature a lively array of talented duos from the worlds of musical theater, film and television,” Dianne Fraser told me.

Tickets for Friday, Oct 18: https://bit.ly/2oBRGwj @ Vitellos
Tickets for Saturday and Sunday Oct 19 – 20 at Tom Rolla’s Gardenia room must include dinner reservations for guaranteed seating. Call: 323- 467-7444.

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SEXY HORNS BLOW ACROSS CONTINENTS & TRIBUTE JAZZ LEGENDS

October 15, 2019

SEXY HORNS BLOW ACROSS CONTINENTS AND TRIBUTE JAZZ LEGENDS

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 15, 2019

T.K. BLUE – “THE RHYTHMS CONTINUE” JAJA Records

T.K. Blue, alto & soprano saxophones;flute;kalimba;sanza, lukembi & mbira; Alex Blake,bass; Chief Baba Neil Clarke,percussion; Vince Ector,drums; Billy Harper, tenor saxophone; Min Xiao Fen, pipa; Sharp Radway, Mike King, Keith Brown & Kelly Green, piano.

Saxophonist T. K. Blue’s new suite is composed and dedicated to the memory of T.K.’s long-time bandleader, mentor and NEA Jazz Master, Dr. Randy Weston. Jazz composer and pianist, Randy Weston, passed away in September of 2018. Not only has T.K. Blue composed many of the songs on this album, he has also included compositions by Randy Weston and the late, great Melba Liston. Melba and Randy were dear friends and musical partners.

“Randy Weston was born during the era of extreme racism, segregation and discrimination in the United States,” explained T.K. Blue. “Randy was a warrior for the elevation of African-American pride and culture. His compositions, disseminating the richness and beauty of the African aesthetic, are unparalleled. His life’s mission was one of unfolding the curtain that concealed the wonderful greatness and extraordinary accomplishments inherent on the African continent.”

T.K. BLUE composed the first song,“Kasbah” and explained this title and tribute to Randy Weston.

“Dedicated to Randy’s home on Lafayette Avenue in Port Greene, Brooklyn. A ‘Kasbah’ can be described as a fortress; a safe haven. It’s a place to exchange ideas with people from many different backgrounds. Randy’s home was like a shrine, complete with a vast library of books on Africa, the African diaspora and African-American history, culture and music.”

“Kasbah” is my kind of jazz, straight-ahead and unapologetic! It’s the first of nineteen tracks on this CD of abundant and excellent music. Alex Blake is one of those bass players who grunts and mouths the music as he pumps his instrument. His solo is outstanding and pulls the curtains open for Sharp Radway on piano to glide forward and lift us with his improvisation on the 88-keys. But the star on the stage is composer, reedman, T. K. Blue. The second track titled, “The Wise One Speaks” features kalimba and percussion, along with soprano saxophone. It offers the listener a very beautiful arrangement that transports us to Africa, Brazil or the Middle East. This is world music. The T.K. Blue melodies are infectious. He’s a dynamic composer. On the fourth track, Blue begins to feature the music of his mentor. His solo horn to interpret Weston’s composition, “Night in Medina” is startlingly effective and the horn harmonics added to the mix are lovely. Billy Harper is featured on tenor saxophone during the Weston tune, “Kucheza Blues” that is proudly propelled by the percussion brilliance of Chief Baba Neil Clarke. These arrangements are stunning and exciting. It’s also wonderful to see that R.K. Blue is celebrating the talents of Melba Liston, a female trombonist, composer and arranger who broke down doors for female musicians and arrangers to walk through. Her “Insomnia” composition is well played by T.K. Blue and Sharp Radway on piano.

This is an awesome album of music and tribute. Perhaps T.K. described it best when he said: “The Rhythms Continue is my humble offering to say thank you (Randy Weston) for being a mentor, elder and teacher by sharing your infinite wisdom, and giving all of us pride in knowing who we are and valuing the brilliant cultural legacy of Africa that sustains and nourishes our existence.”

The release date for this project is November 1, 2019.
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KENYATTA BEASLEY SEPTET – “FRANK FOSTER SONGBOOK” Sony Records/The Orchard

Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet/arranger/leader; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Mark Gross, alto saxophone; Keith Loftis, tenor & soprano saxophone; Alvester Garnett, drums; Dezron Douglas, bass; Anthony Wonsey, piano. SPECIAL GUESTS: Wynton Marsalis,trumpet; Mark Whitfield,guitar; Carla Cook,vocals; Eric Wyatt,tenor saxophone.

If you are not familiar with the amazing work of Frank Foster, Kenyatta Beasley’s Septet will introduce you to Foster’s genius jazz sensibilities. For most of Frank Foster’s career, he was soaking up the mastery of Count Basie and his unforgettable orchestra. Foster is a famous composer, arranger, a gifted tenor saxophonist, as well as an educator. From 1953 – 1964, Frank Foster was a sideman and star soloist with the Basie Band. After the Count’s death, from 1986 to 1995, Foster spear-headed the Count’s historic orchestra. Over four decades, Frank foster wrote compositions that have become jazz standards.

Trumpeter, Kenyatta Beasley, was working with students at Ohio State University, as part of their faculty, when he came up with the idea of adding Foster’s original music to their jazz education program. While working on this concept, Kenyatta Beasley decided to take on this recording project. He has woven his own arrangements into those of Foster’s, while endeavoring to keep the energy and beauty of Foster’s work pristine. This is a ‘live’ concert, introduced by Harold Valle. Beasley’s Septet swings hard and plays tenaciously, opening with a tune titled, “Hip Shakin.’ “Kenyatta Beasley says he chose songs that promote swing dancing.

“We wanted to be up onstage having as good a time as the audience was,” Beasley shared.

Carla Cook joins this exploration of Foster’s music, performing the lovely melody of “Simone” with her smooth vocals and Keith Loftis soars on saxophone. Track two is one of my favorite cuts. Pianist, Anthony Wonsey, takes a noteworthy solo on “Cidade Alta” as does dynamic drummer, Alvester Garnett on trap drums. This tune is infused with Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Kenyatta Beasley steps into the spotlight on the sensual arrangement of “House That Love Built,” letting his trumpet present a compelling and emotional melodic serenade. On disc 2, I love the Loftis interpretation of “Grey Thursday,” a sexy, sultry ballad. Dezron Douglas, on double bass, offers a beautiful solo on this tune. On “Katherine the Great” Kenyatta Beasley brought up his friend, Wynton Marsalis from the audience. Consequently, Marsalis happily becomes an unexpected guest artist on this project.

Kenyatta Beasley has a master’s degree in film scoring from New York University, but his roots are deeply entrenched in his native New Orleans. He has written music to over twenty short films, three feature films and he’s written music for countless TV and radio ads. Under the tutelage of his father, Kenyatta began playing trumpet at age three. He’s performed on various musical genres and productions including Shakira, Wynton Marsalis and Mary J. Blige. Beasley has performed with the Saturday Night Live Band and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His star continues to rise and shine with this double-set CD release celebrating his mentor and friend, the great Frank Foster. This project, recorded ‘live’ at the Jazz 966 in Brooklyn, is bound to be another celebrated musical victory for Kenyatta Beasley and is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Frank Foster.
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FOSTINA DIXON – “VERTICAL ALIGNMENT” Independent Label

Fostina Dixon, alto, soprano & baritone saxophones/composer; Al Turner, bass/keyboard/percussion/ drums/producer/composer; Jeffrey Murrell, vocals; Monty Q. Pollard, piano; Mike ‘Big Mike’ Hart, Rick Watford , Gary Johnson, Wayne Gerard & Joe Foster, guitar; Ron Otis & Jeff Canady, drums; Charles Scales, keyboards; Herb Middleton, keyboard & drum programming/bass guitar/composer; Kali Douglas, piano/organ; Wado Brown “Petawayne”, background vocals; J.J. Evans vocals & vocal arranging; SPECIAL GUEST: Ray Chew, all instruments on “Thank You” plus composition credit.

Fostina Dixon has spent a long and impressive career in the music business. Not only is she exceptionally gifted on reed instruments, she composes music and has toured and/or recorded with a host of legendary musicians. She played in the Gerald Wilson Big Band, toured with the iconic Marvin Gaye, added her horn to the stages of Abbey Lincoln, Frank Foster, Roy Ayers and worked with the great Melba Liston. Her passion for teaching and inspiring young people is as legendary as her music credentials. She has been a community artisan and outstanding art educator in the Wilmington, Delaware area for many years. She is Founder and longtime Executive Director of the Wilmington Youth Jazz Band and received a Christi Award for her promotion of arts in her community.

This latest album release is pure joy and big fun! Fostina knows how to combine straight-ahead jazz and funk in a way that immediately engages the listener. Beginning with “Good Vibes” a tune penned by producer/bassist, Al Turner, this solid group of musicians have me grooving to the beat. Turner also plays keyboard, percussion and drums on this cut. Together with Big Mike Hart, who lays down a bluesy guitar and Monty Q. Pollard, who’s pumping the piano, a tight rhythm section track is created. Fostina Dixon uses their stellar support to take the spotlight on alto saxophone. She continues her spotlight appearance on alto in the next tune titled, “More.” And this reviewer certainly wants more after those two delightful original compositions. The title tune, “Vertical Alignment,” has Ms. Dixon sliding in on her saxophone, presenting a solid melody and introducing us to some new players in the band. Ron Otis mans the trap drums, Charles Scales takes to the keyboards, with the rhythm guitar of Joe Foster keeping the music flowing like a restless river. We are swept along in the jazzy, fluid spirit that infuses everything Fostina Dixon plays. The fourth cut, “The Best is Yet to Come” introduces us to vocalist Jeffrey Murrell. He’s smooth as velvet and his vocals are very soulful. Fostina Dixon puts down her alto saxophone and picks up the soprano sax for this arrangement.

Fontina wrote a tune called “Thank You” that features an infectious Latin Funk arrangement. She shows off her baritone Sax chops on this tune along with her alto. Jeff Canady is terrific on drums. Dixon never lets up with creating memorable and toe -tappin’ grooves. This is definitely a party production. “Neckbrace” features her special guest, the dynamic Ray Chew who also wrote this funky composition. I love the happy, percussive colors that paint this song brightly. This is the kind of music I want to pop into my automobile CD player and ride with. It’s energetic and inspirational. Shades of Thelonious Monk’s influence can be heard on Dixon’s composition, “Strutt’n Down Fulton Street.” Fostina Dixon reminds me of the infectious music of Grover Washington or Eddie Harris. She’s easily become one of my favorite female reed players.
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MAKAR KASHITSYN – “JAZZ ANIMALS” Rainy Days Records

Makar Kashitsyn,alto saxophone; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet/flugelhorn; Sasha Mashin,drums; Alexey Podymkin,piano/Rhodes; Alexey Polubabkin,guitar; Makar Novikov,double & electric bass; Hiske Oosterwijk,vocals.

Rainy Days is a Russian record label dedicated to introducing Russia’s finest musicians to the international jazz scene. This group headed by alto saxophonist, Makar Kashitsyn, is made up of American rising stars, saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpeter, Josh Evans, along with Dutch vocalist, Hiske Oosterwijk. The rest of the band are Russian musicians. All of the songs herein are composed by Makar Kashitsyn, with the exception of track 4 that was written by Nikita Mochalin and the sixth track, composed by tenor sax man, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. On the title tune, we are introduced to the various players. It’s a lilting tune, a nice cross between a straight-ahead arrangement and smooth jazz, with Makar Novikov pumping his bass in a modern way. Alexey Polubabkin gets my attention with his impressive guitar work. Nineteen-year-old Makar Kashitsyn flies freely and improvises above the rhythm section’s groove. Labeled a prodigy from Moscow, he is showcasing his composer skills and saxophone chops. Both are quite impressive. The next tune, “Going to Ekaterinburg” is strongly hard bop and pianist Alexey Podymkin is brilliant on piano. Both Makar Kashitsyn and Chad Leftkowitz-Brown take opportunities to express themselves on their respective horns. The horn section itself carries the melody, as well as harmonizing and punching the rhythm throughout. They settle down on “Confession,” slowing the tempo and giving Josh Evans (who is featured on both trumpet and flugelhorn) an opportunity to step forward and sing his song. It doesn’t take long for the ensemble to change the groove and go into a walking bass line and a slow swing mood when Kashitsyn steps forward to play his innovative saxophone solo. The fifth track starts out bluesy and incorporates the vocals of Hiske Oosterwijk, whose soprano voice sings along with the horn lines. Also, at one-point, electronic equipment enters the scene, transforming the production and bringing a contemporary jazz feel to this project. Makar Kashitsyn’s compositions allow repetitious chord changes to inspire improvisation, but I miss the strength that a good and memorable melody always brings to timeless, standard jazz tunes. On “Our Song” Sasha Mashin cuts loose on drums in an impressive way. However, sometimes the improvising, especially on the fades of the songs, stops being interesting enough to hold my attention. On the final song, the vocalist finally sings lyrics on a tune titled, “Phone Call.” The lyrics do not support the title. This composition starts out as a ballad and quickly becomes a straight-ahead arrangement, moving at a double-time pace. The challenge with improvisation, that is one of the trademarks of jazz music, is that musicians come up with consistently fresh, creative and different improvisation. It should never just sound like scales or repeatable lines. When the vocalist re-enters, they bring the arrangement back to a solemn ballad. The talent and energy of this coterie is obvious and clearly these youthful musicians will continue to grow and blossom with time. This debut effort by Makar Kashitsyn displays his propitious talents.


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CHIP STEPHENS/GLENN WILSON – “SADNESS & SOUL” Capri Records

Glenn Wilson, 1946 Selmer balanced action baritone saxophone; Chip Stephens, 1876 style 3 Steinway piano/prepared piano.

This is a unique duo of baritone saxophone and piano, each featured on historic instrument. Chip Stephens plays an over-one-hundred-year-old piano, made in 1876. Glenn Wilson blows life into a 1946 Selmer baritone sax. Together, these two musicians create a full and uninhibited sound. Harmonically they blend so well that on the familiar, “Giant Steps” tune, I didn’t miss bass and drums. The old, familiar standard, “My Romance” whispers its way into our hearts from Glenn’s demonstrative horn. Chip Stephens offers continuous rhythm support on piano, walking his left hand like a double bass would and very comping with his right. These two musicians sound like old friends who know each other very well. They fill us up with their mastery and creative genius. I am astounded at how much freshness they add to an old standard like “My Romance.” The title track, “Sadness and Soul” is a Stephens original. It’s arranged as a subdued Bossa Nova and dances off my CD player in the Brazilian tradition, with colorful flamboyance. I do miss the drums on this one. “Adams Park” is a tribute to the great Pepper Adams and it’s composed by Glenn Wilson. Pepper Adams and Wilson were friends. This baritone player has incorporated some of Pepper’s pet phrases, stringing them together and like a rare pearl necklace and they become this beautiful ballad. “Adams Park” is melodically challenging, but lovely.

This is a unique collaboration by two master musicians. Chip Stephens brings a background of recording on almost seventy various releases as a sideman and/or leader. He’s performed on both Grammy and Emmy winning recordings. Glenn Wilson has been a professional jazz saxophonist for half a century. He was awarded a gold record for his participation and arrangements on Bruce Hornsby’s record, “Harbor Lights,” and both of these gentlemen are active touring, performing clinics, concerts and in clubs around the world.


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ROXY COSS – “QUINTET” Outside In Music

Roxy Coss,tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Miki Yamanaka,piano; Alex Wintz, guitar; Rick Rosato,bass; Jimmy Macbride,drums.

This is the fifth album featuring bandleader and stellar reed-woman, Roxy Coss. She has composed every song on this production (except “All or Nothing at All”) and continues her legacy of award-winning composer. It was 2016 when she received the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award. This album titled, “Quintet” not only marks her favorite size of group ensemble, but it also celebrates her #5 album release.

Roxy Coss explained her latest inspiration for composing new original works.

“…My writings changed. …I started thinking about how guitar could function as a melodic, harmonic and accompanying instrument. I like writing harmonies, strong melodies and counter melodies. I’m influenced by modern jazz saxophone and guitar pairings. … By putting the guitar in the group, I could get greater flexibility and create different combinations of textures.”

Surrounded by excellent musicians, the Roxy Coss brash and distinctive sound on both tenor and soprano saxophone push this album forward with energy and passion. Her technique and tone have elicited praise by DownBeat Magazine in their Critics’ Polls for five consecutive years. This album has actually taken original music she previously recorded and reinvigorated her arrangements with this quintet. It’s an enjoyable listen, but I would have been very happy to hear some newly composed compositions. Ms. Coss is also an activist and a respected jazz educator. She’s on the Jazz Education Network’s (JEN) board of directors and on the jazz faculty of the Julliard School, the New School and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Roxy Coss is also the founder of the important Women in Jazz Organization. If her activist voice stays as loud and boisterous as her saxophone voice, we can expect more great accomplishments and improvisational change from this talented young woman. Favorite cuts on this CD: “Don’t Cross the Coss,” “All or Nothing at All,” “Free to be,” and “Females Are Strong as Hell.”


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KEVIN SUN – “THE SUSTAIN OF MEMORY” Endectomorph Music

Kevin Sun,tenor saxophone/clarinet/composer; Adam O’Farrill,trumpet; Dana Saul, piano; Walter Stinson & Simon Willson,bass; Matt Honor & Dayeon Seok,drums.

The piano of Saul Dana opens the first suite of music. Saul and saxophonist Kevin Sun met when they were roommates at the Banff Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music in 2012. They reconnected after Sun moved to New York City in 2015.

“For a while, I had a sort of phobia about writing music for chordal instruments; almost like a fear of being locked into something,” say Kevin Sun. “But that’s not an issue with Dana because he constantly reinvents and extrapolates, so it’s always a surprise.”

This is a double CD release that reflects Kevin Sun’s meditation on space and sound. The first piece on the album is titled, “The Middle of Tensions” and Sun composed it in the latter half of 2018. This work progresses through six movements where Sun and his bandmates explore contemporary improvisation and modern jazz. Based in New York City, this saxophonist formed his trio back in 2016 and has a comfort level with bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor. They’ve released a “Trio” CD to rave reviews.

He also utilizes the talents of Simon Willson on bass. They were bandmates dating back to their New England Conservatory days. Sun met drummer, Dayeon Seok, in New York through a mutual friend. The addition of Adam O’ Farrill on trumpet adds interest and depth to his frontline. He and O’Farrill played together weekly in an ensemble at the Manhattan School of Music in 2009. Kevin Sun is an in-demand sideman on the improvised, East Coast music scenes and has also performed across China, serving as Artistic Director of the Blue Note China Jazz Orchestra in Beijing.

This is untethered music that explores the creativity and outer edges of artistic development and freedom. Kevin Sun explained this project in his liner notes.

“I hope that people feel some sense of immersion when listening. I’d want nothing more than to give the feeling of stepping into another world, as my favorite artists do.”
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HAILEY NISWANGER’S GROUP –”MAE.SUN – VOL 2: INTO THE FLOW” maesunmusic.com

Hailey Niswanger,saxophone/flute/vocals; Nikara Warren,vibraphone; Axel Laugart, keyboards; Andrew Renfroe,guitar; Aaron Liao, bass; David Frazier Jr.,drums; Jake Sherman,synthesizer; Amber Navran & Kate K-S,vocals.

Hailey Niswanger has composed all the music on this album. Her production embraces a number of jazz styles. Each song reflects a one-word title, beginning with “Awaken.” The first couple of bars reminds me of a sunrise with ethereal, electric sounds setting the mood. Listening, I can almost picture a huge orange sun rising in the East and bathing the new day in brilliant light. This is electronic music, with Aaron Liao’s bass locking down the groove along with David Frazier Jr. on drums. Jake Sherman’s synthesizer creates various sounds and effects, while Hailey Niswanger uses her reeds, effectively dancing a melody atop the rhythm section. This is jazz with a rich, funk undertone. On track three titled, “Bond” Niswanger has added the whispery vocals of Amber Navran to the electronic jazz creativity. It’s very effective. Amber’s voice is beautiful. This album of music features Hailey Niswanger on saxophone, flute and vocals, and is like none of the other horn albums I reviewed for this column. This music is totally unique and exhibits a freedom and fresh creativity that is both entertaining and commercial. It could fall under the category of Smooth Jazz. But as I listen, this music is more than that. It’s new age, contemporary, funk and fusion all wrapped up together like a colorful ball of yarn. There’s even a taste of rhythm and blues and Hip Hop in this production. On the song, “Ascension” Kate K-S is another featured singer. She too has a soothing style and a lovely tone. “Acceptance” and “Free” are the final two songs on this inspirational CD. Hailey Niswanger is definitely an excellent composer. Nikara Warren adds a hypnotic vibraphone sound to the tune, “Acceptance.” These songs are rich with well-written melodies and strong ‘hooks.’ The players and the arrangements feel youthful, hopeful and spirited.
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Speaking of youthful, energetic music and jazz sensibilities, I ran across the group below On-line, at the Jazz in_Marciac Festival, 2019. They are called KOKOROKO “Adwa” and feature three female horn players up front and powerful. I just had to share their video with you. This group is culturally rich and based in Britain. Check them out.

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A QUILTED PATCHWORK OF HOT JAZZ TO WARM YOUR WINTER

October 7, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

October 7, 2019

JOHN COLTRANE – “BLUE WORLD” Impulse Records

John Coltrane,tenor saxophone; McCoy Tyner,piano; Jimmy Garrison,bass; Elvin Jones,drums.

It seems that several tapes originating at the Rudy Van Gelder studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, have been recently re-discovered and resurrected. Among them is this classic John Coltrane recording session that was saved to analog tape in June of 1964. This was during a time when Coltrane’s spiritual recordings were soaring in popularity and transforming his career path. They were also reinventing the world of jazz. This music was recorded between the release of his “Crescent” album and Coltrane’s super successful, “A Love Supreme.” The songs on this new project may be familiar, but the actual recordings have never been heard, in their entirety, before this release. The classic Coltrane band is in place, featuring all-stars, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Of course, John Coltrane was on tenor saxophone and you will hear the legendary musicians playing “Naima,” a take One and take two exploration of this beautiful composition that begins and ends this album.

This recording came about when filmmaker, Gilles Groulx, approached John Coltrane to score a French film titled, “Le Chat Dans le Sac,” (translated to The Cat in the Bag). No one was sure Coltrane would do it. Monsieur Groulx explained it was a love story, taking place in Montreal, Canada, with political undertones. The unexpected result of this request was that John Coltrane agreed and brought his band into the studio to revisit songs he had already recorded. Their session was recorded on quarter inch, analog, mono tape and mixed by Rudy Van Gelder. Groulx happily took the master to Canada to use in his film. The final film production only included ten minutes of Coltrane’s 37-minutes of recording time. Now, we can hear his entire session.

The title tune, “Blue World,” opens with Jimmy Garrison setting up the tempo and mood on his double bass, soon joined by the piano chords of McCoy Tyner and the skipping drum sticks of Elvin Jones, galloping across the piece with precision and inspired time. John Coltrane takes his stance into the spotlight with slow deliberation, making the tenor saxophone sing in only the way he can. Blasting into a crescendo ending, with Elvin Jones going wild on trap drums and the music building to a frenzied pitch, the finale of this song is dramatic. “Village Blues” is recorded three times and you will enjoy all three takes. Additionally, there is the “Like Sonny” composition and an over seven-minute rendition of “Traneing In.” This mix is crystal clear and I think the tracks are better than the original, previous recordings. They sound freshly improvised and crisp, like new money.
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STEVE KHAN – “PATCHWORK” Tone Center Records

Steve Khan, guitar/vocals; Ruben Rodriguez, baby bass/electric bass; Dennis Chambers, drums; Marc Quinones, timbale/bongo/percussion; Bobby Allende, conga; Rob Mounsey, keyboards/orchestration; GUEST ARTISTS: Randy Brecker, flugelhorn; Bob Mintzer,tenor saxophone; Tatiana Parra,voice; Jorge Estrada, keyboards/arranger.

Guitarist, Steve Khan has spent years developing and achieving a unique style of his own that blends jazz and Latin sensibilities. You can immediately hear that fusion in his beautiful arrangement of the Monk and Kenny Clarke “Epistrophy” composition. Driven by Latin percussive creativity and Khan’s guitar brilliance, this tune is transformed and resurrected.

The track that follows is Ornette Coleman’s composition, “C. & D.” Khan’s all-star group personifies his love of Latin music. Folks like Ruben Rodriguez on bass and Latin music giants like percussion masters, Marc Quinones and Bobby Allende add bravura to the project. Special guest, Bob Mintzer, is on tenor saxophone and enhances their Cuban arrangement. They transform Ornette’s song, using a Latin music style referred to as ‘montuno.’ Mintzer playfully presents the zig-zag melody on his horn, dancing above the percussion excitement.

Another guest, Randy Brecker, uses his tenacious flugelhorn to elevate Joe Henderson’s song, “A Shade of Jade.” This arrangement is also solidly Lain fused, but it’s straight-ahead too. I enjoy the warm sound of Khan’s guitar. During his solo, the music seems to transform the mood with a caballo-feel. The singular original composition that Steve Khan adds to this recorded repertoire is titled, “Naan Issue.” It’s a Cha Cha arrangement and may reflect some influence from celebrated composer/arranger, Clare Fischer. Steve Khan’s guitar style is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery on this tune and will make you want to get up and dance. All in all, this is a lovely listen.
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KELLEY JOHNSON – “SOMETHING GOOD” OA2 Records

Kelley Johnson,vocals/whistle; John Hansen,piano; Michael Glynn,bass; Kendrick Scott,drums; Jay Thomas,soprano & tenor saxophone/trumpet.

Vocalist Kelley Johnson chooses songs that are golden, with lyrics that sparkle like diamonds. She opens with a Stephen Sondheim composition, “Anyone Can Whistle.” The whistle ballad turns into a scat, and Ms. Johnson shows how smoothly she can transition from storyteller to jazzy scat singer. Surprisingly, she does know how to whistle and blows a little whistle on the fade of this song. Another plus is that Kelley Johnson knows how to swing. That’s such an important characteristic of a jazz singer and Kelley shows off this skill on “You Do Something To Me,” slow-swinging her way through this tune and creatively improvising the melody, stretching her vocals rubber-band taunt to reach unexpected intervals, like a human horn. She applies her jazz sensibilities throughout a tour of standard jazz songs like “Some Other Time”, “Let’s Do it,” and the Richard Rodgers’ popular “Something Good,” composition. There are some gems that were not that familiar to me like, “Tip-Toe Gently” by Matt Matthews and Paulette Girard and “You For Me” by Bob Haymes.
John Hansen is a joy on piano and expertly accompanies Kelley Johnson, as well as co-arranging most of the music. He’s a fabulous player and musical director. Their blend is tasty, like ice cream and cake; sweet and very cool. This is a project packed with great songs delivered fluidly by Kelley Johnson and her all-star band.
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FIMA CHUPAKHIM – “WATER’ Independent Label

Fima Chupakhin,piano/Rhodes; Vuyo Sotashe,vocals; Sergey Avanesov,saxophone; Josh Evans,trumpet; Yoav Eshed,guitar; James Robbins,bass; Jonathan Barber,drums.

This is the debut album release by pianist, composer, Fima Chupakhin. As a first-time leader of his own group, he and his band of six energetically interpret Fima’s original compositions, plus a traditional hymn and two jazz standards. From the very first tune, “Don’t Let It Get You Down” this group of Brooklyn-based musicians set the mood for hard bop and straight-ahead jazz. The title tune, “Water,” is explored by the lovely vocals of Vuyo Sotashe. This composition is fluid and full of melodic motion, perfectly describing water and its unpredictable movements. There are no words here. Just the vocals singing the melody, horn-like. Enter Fima Chupakhim on grand piano,with James Robbins strong on double bass and Jonathan Barber steady on trap drums.

“Dedication to Roy” immediately brought to my mind an image of Roy Ayers, because of the strong groove and pretty melody. I don’t know who the ‘Roy’ is that Chupakhim was thinking of, but I could clearly hear Roy Ayers putting his vibraphone mallets to work on this tune.

The actual inspirational icons that Fima Chupakhin mentions in his liner notes are legends like Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Barry Harris and Mulgrew Miller. Chupakhin earned his Master’s Degree at William Paterson University, where he spent two intense years studying piano with maestro James Weidman. After this accomplishment, he returned to his native Ukraine, where he is celebrated as a cross-genre keyboardist and film composer, as well as for his jazz sensibilities. After a short time, the pianist found himself once again hungry for the energy and challenge of New York City. He returned to the United States on an artist visa in 2015. Surrounded by the excellence of Sergey Avanesov on saxophone, Josh Evans on trumpet and adding guitarist Yoav Eshed to his rhythm section, Fima Chupakhin’s music is a formidable blend of European and African American music styles. Chupakhim is a strong composer, showcasing very memorable melodies. He describes his music as “anchored in jazz, classical and improvised music.” When I listen to this work of fine art that Fima Chupakhim has created, I hear a great appreciation for the freedom that jazz inspires, sprinkled with hard bop overtones that splash and move like water and waves. His ensemble arrangements float his compositions like colorful boats. Settle back and take a cruise with Fima Chupakhim across the deep waters of his creative mind.
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EZRA WEISS BIG BAND – “WE LIMIT NOT THE TRUTH OF GOD” OA2 Origin Records

Ezra Weiss, conductor/composer/arranger; RHYTHM: Jasnam Daye Singh, piano; Eric Gruber, bass; Alan Jones, drums; Carlton Jackson, percussion. WOODWINDS: John Nastos,alto & soprano saxophones/ clarinet; John Savage,alto saxophone/flute/alto flute; Renato Caranto,tenor saxophone; Rob Davis, Tenor & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Mieke Bruggeman,baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS:Greg Garrett, Thomas Barber, Derek Sims, & Farnell Newton; TROMBONES: Stan Bock, Jeff Uusitalo, Denzel Mendoza & Douglas Peebles on bass trombone. SPECIAL GUEST: The Camas High School Choir with director,Ethan Chessin.

A small boy stands in a forested area, head bowed, looking downward, as if examining all the challenges of the world spread at his feet. This is the black and white art I see on the cover of Ezra Weiss’s album. It’s thought-provoking. I wish more artists realized the importance that artistic album covers make in marketing and promotion. I receive so much product with album covers poorly designed and unreflective of the magical music inside.

In this debut album for Ezra Weiss and his big band, the composer, bandleader and conductor has penned and conducted somewhat of a confessional and impassioned suite that is meant to be a loving message passed down from a father to his children; from his conductor’s baton to the beating of a parent’s heart and from his concerned political awareness to our ears. After the first composition, “Fanfare for a Newborn,” Ezra takes the microphone to explain his current, musical project. His monologue describes his own frustrations and anxieties with our rapidly changing and increasingly divisive world.

“…This music is my way of coping; of praying for better. … I conceived this project in 2015 and worried these themes would be outdated by the time I finished writing this music. But the truth is, the world today is much, much worse than it was a few years ago. … I’m calling this suite, ‘We Limit Not the truth of God.’ So, what is God’s truth? … When you were a toddler, I would take you to the park. You would walk over to a large tree and bow to it. Then you’d walk up to another tree and bow to it; and another. I don’t know what you saw to make you bow? Spirit? The ancestors? An angel? … I suspect it was the truth of God. … You felt a connection to those trees; awe and unity with our world. … When you feel that connection with the world, then you also feel the world suffering. … Today, people in power are exploiting … they use lies and what they call alternative facts. All this to maintain power.”

This issues in a tune he calls, “Blues and the Alternative Fact,” that features Mieke Bruggeman on baritone saxophone and the talents of Stan Bock on trombone. The powerhouse drumming of Alan Jones and the strong bass line of Eric Gruber support this piece of the suite in a dynamic way. It’s refreshing to hear a baritone saxophonist step out-front and solo.

Throughout this production, Ezra Weiss adds his narration in between the music. Some of this could have been edited for a more concise delivery. Perhaps he should have scored band music to dynamically enhance his monologues. That being said, this production is unique and a bit like listening to someone sharing their diary with us. As an activist, he shares comparison stories about he and his own kindergarten-aged children and the plight of children from other countries who fled to our country, only to be separated from their parents at the border. He tells the story of Jose, a child from South America, who was yanked from the loving arms of his father and flown to a foster family in Michigan. That family said the child had drawn a picture of his mother, father and sibling; another himself and his father, wearing a baseball hat and mustache. The foster parents said the traumatized child held onto his artwork for dear life. This is followed by the band’s presentation of, “Jose’s Drawing.” A beautiful ballad that gives Renato Caranto, on tenor saxophone, an opportunity to fly free above the lush orchestration.

At one point, Ezra’s voice cracks as he talks about the African American’s who have been killed by police, listing names. His voice chokes up again as he talks about children persecuted because they’re autistic; elementary students shot in their schools; people terrorized because of their religious beliefs. For this monologue, he does add music, but it’s not the kind of compositions that allow musical relief. Perhaps using a groove to lift the heaviness of his statements would have soothed a bombarded audience. Sometimes the truth can be painful, problematic and discouraging. This reviewer would like to have heard some up-tempo, joyful music to sooth the savagery of his honest, heartfelt words.

This entire album was recorded before a ‘live’ audience. Judging by the broad, appreciative applause, Ezra Weiss’ project was well-received at the Alberta Abbey in Portland, Oregon.
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MICHELLE LORDI – “BREAK UP WITH THE SOUND” Cabinet of Wonder Productions

Michelle Lordi, vocals/composer; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone; Tim Motzer, guitar/electronics; Matthew Parrish, bass; Rudy Royston, drums.

Michelle Lordi is multi-talented. Not only does she sing and compose music, but she is the artist who artistically designed her compact disc cover. The opening track, “Poor Bird” is an original song and she presents it with her vocals sounding like an unusual blend of jazz and soft rock. Donny McCaslin, however, is all jazz on his tenor saxophone. He takes a simple tune and embellishes it, along with the powerful drummer, Rudy Royston, they take the music way outside of simplicity. Enter Tim Motzer on electric guitar to bring a country/Western arrangement to track two; “Wayward Wind.” The thing about reviewing this project of eclectic music is that Michelle Lordi does not seem to have a genre in mind. She enjoys singing songs and she sings them well enough, but without the apparent labels. Speaking of labels, she seems to be more a pop singer than jazz. On her original songs, there are some pitch problems evident, like on the tune, “Double-Crossed.” On the familiar Cole Porter standard, “True Love” her voice sounds tender, innocent and very Country/Western. This repertoire makes me wonder what direction and on what musical path this singer wants to walk. Generally, it is important to market your music in the lane where it will receive the best airplay and exposure. Eva Cassidy is one of the few artists I know who could straddle the music genres successfully. On Michelle Lordi’s original “Before” I am reminded of the style and flavor of Fleetwood Mac. Her Rendition of “Lover Man” is definitely a jazzy, emotional delivery. But one jazz ballad on a project doesn’t make the vocalist a jazz singer. Consequently, this reviewer’s humble suggestion to Michelle Lordi would be to put together a soft rock band that also plays blues and country/western music. I think Michelle could be quite commercially successful with those styles of music.


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KARL BERGER – JASON KAO HWANG – “CONJURE” True Sound Recordings

Karl Berger, piano/vibraphone; J.K. Hwang, violin/viola.

This is modern jazz and exploratory music was recorded spontaneously and without rehearsal. Jason Kao Hwang drove up to Woodstock, California in March to meet Karl Berger at his home studio. Berger founded that music studio with Ornette Coleman and Ingrid Sertso. Hwang had an idea of what to expect, because he had been a part of Karl’s Creative Music Orchestra. They had discussed the fluid parameters of the music and Hwang knew it would be unpredictable and without written scores or predeterminations. The two men share a common goal during this recording; to ‘Conjure’ up the best of themselves and each other, during a recording opportunity that would stretch and expand their artistry. That pretty much explains this project.

Pianist, Karl Berger, 84 years young, is a six-time winner of the DownBeat Critics Poll as a jazz soloist, as well as several other celebrated awards. He began working as a pianist in Heidelberg, Germany when he was just a teenager. Berger soaked up modern jazz techniques from American jazz musicians he met along his life path. He’s recorded and/or performed internationally with avant-garde musicians like Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra, Carla Bley and he is creative leader of the Creative Music Studio. His piano virtuosity has accompanied Lee Konitz, John McLaughlin, Gunther Schuller, Dave Brubeck, Ingrid Sertso, Dave Holland, Ray Anderson, James Blood Ulmer, Hozan Yamamoto and Carlos Ward, to list only a few. Karl Berger is also proficient on the vibraphone.

Jason Kao Hwang is a composer and master of both the violin and the viola. For years he has been exploring the vibrations and language of his existence through self-penned compositions during his transformative life journey. Currently, he leads the octet, “Burning Bridge,” the quintet, “Sing House,” the “Critical Response” and a trio called “Human Rites.” On three different occasions, including this year, the El Intruso Jazz Critics Poll voted him Violinist of the Year. In the past, DownBeat Critics’ Poll voted Mr. Hwang a “Rising Star for Violin.” He has worked with such luminaries as Tomeka Reid, William Parker, Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris, Oliver Lake, Pauline Oliveros, Henry Threadgill, Reggie Workman, Ivo Perlman and Patrick Brennan. These are just a few names from a long list of collaborators. Mr. Hwang often blends Western and Chinese instruments on his projects. He currently teaches ‘Sound Image’ in New York University’s Undergraduate Department of Film and television.

Together, these two talented instrumentalists color outside the lines with an audacity and freedom that startles the senses.
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LESLIE PINTCHIK TRIO LIVE – “SAME DAY DELIVERY” Independent Label/PintchHard

Leslie Pintchik, piano/composer; Scott Hardy, bass; Michael Sabin, drums.

Applause opens this project, so we know we are now part of a live audience, listening to an amazing trio. They open with “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” a song I rarely hear in the 21st century. It’s still as beautiful as ever and Leslie Pintchick delivers it with gusto. This trio presents a lilting, Latin arrangement of this tune and it ‘swings’ hard.

The second track is as spectacular as the first and just as familiar. It’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” For some reason, this pianist reminds me of an early Ahmad Jamal; substantive and dynamic, but at the same time under-stated on her instrument. Ms. Pintchik’s solo soars until Scott Hardy, on bass, makes a spotlight appearance on his upright instrument. Soon after, Michael Sabin rolls across the trap drums, smashing his percussive message into the universe and making quite an impression. Now I have met and immersed myself into each of these three wonderful musicians, I discover that Leslie Pintchik has self-penned Tracks 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. They are all composed by Ms. Pintchik and manage to be as well-written as they are well-played. This trio has me wrapped around their flying fingers on her tune, “There You Go.” The straight-ahead attitude sweeps me up into their energy like a helium balloon. Sabin is given lots of time to solo and once again shows all his technique exposing the various colors he paints with busy drum sticks. I enjoy the original compositions of Leslie Pintchik as much as I enjoy the standards she embellishes. This composer has a sense of humor too. I can tell from the name of her sixth tune, “Your Call Will be Answered by Our Next Available Representative in the Order in which it Was Received. Please Stay on The Line. Your Call Is Important to Us.” This original has several unexpected breaks and pauses, much like what we go through when we’re trying to get some company representative on the telephone these days. We are more than likely to get an “Alexa-type” voice-robot advising us to hold on and someone will be with us shortly. But all too often, they never come soon. They always come late and without apology or emotion for keeping you dangling, hoping you won’t be disconnected after waiting ten-minutes or more for some representative to pick up. Her composition is meant to explain all this and perhaps she composed it one of those moments she was waiting for someone to pick up the phone.

Leslie explained how this recording came about. “In some ways, the release of this CD is a happy accident. It was recorded casually, on a Wednesday evening gig at ‘Jazz on Kitano ‘in Manhattan, just so that I might listen back, at my leisure, to the live performance. When I did listen to the recording, it felt like a special evening; we were fortunate to have had a packed house as well as supportive listeners with generous ears.”

The Leslie Pintchik Trio is based in New York. If they were anywhere close to Southern California, I’d drop everything and rush out to let my generous ears enjoy this amazing unit of musicians. For now, I’ll just play this CD again.
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ANNE PHILLIPS – “LIVE AT THE JAZZ BAKERY” Conawaga Records

Anne Phillips, vocals/composer; Roger Kellaway, piano; Bob Kindred, tenor saxophone; Chuck Berghoffer, bass.

Recorded before a ‘live’ audience, Anne Phillips shows she has the style, class and vocal control to interpret her repertoire. Not only does she deliver her songs like stories of life, she’s also a competent composer who offers us seven excellently written original songs on this recording. She opens this project with “I’m Gonna Lay My Heart on the Line” arranged as a waltz that swings.

Anne Phillips’ album was recorded at the Jazz Bakery, founded in 1992, as a concert company manned by jazz vocalist, Ruth Price for the last twenty-seven-years. Once her lease on the Culver City, California establishment was exhausted, Ms. Price found herself floating from space to space. The Jazz Bakery became a moveable feast, housing jazz concerts at music schools, colleges, and the Moss theater space or other venues that opened their doors to jazz. Consequently, Ruth’s dream of providing Los Angeles County with a well-respected jazz club continues. It became the perfect spot for Anne Phlilips to resurrect her jazz career and record this album.

The years have raced since her debut album was recorded in 1959. For the past several decades, Anne Phillips has made a living using her vocal talents to sing behind the scenes, in the commercial music industry. She also did some songwriting for theatrical shows. The night of this recording at the Jazz Bakery, Phillips features her original repertoire, spiced with a few standards. The concert is presented like a one-woman-show. Her vocals are convincing, because you can tell she’s lived her life and she knows these lyrics like reading a diary in her palms. Having Roger Kellaway as her musical conductor certainly lifts this production. He is the consummate accompanist and a superior pianist. Chuck Berghoffer on bass is also excellent, as is Bob Kindred on tenor saxophone. This trio ‘swings’ in spite of the fact that there is no drummer on this gig.

Anne’s patter in between her songs explains her life writing television ad commercials, songs for musical plays and singing background in New York session studios. She talks about how music has changed from 1959 to 2019, melodically, lyrically and commercially. Although her voice is not the voice of her youth, she can still sell a song. Compositions like “Hey, Look Where I Am” and the bluesy “New York Night Time Blues” tunes are compelling. Also, the poignant “After All These Years” show us that her composer talents are definitely the star of this one-woman concert.
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