Archive for the ‘JAZZ MUSIC’ Category


May 1, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 1, 2023


Joanie Pallatto, vocals/composer/finger snaps; Fareed Haque, classical & electric guitars/steel string guitar; John Christensen, acoustic bass; Eric Hines, conga/cymbals/chimes; Juan Pastor, cajon/shaker/tambourine/military snare/percussion; Bradley Parker-Sparrow, piano.

December of 2021 live show with Fareed Haque and dancer, Dill Costa

The compositions on Joanie Pallatto’s latest album are composed, using a wide variety of styles and featuring master guitarist, Fareed Haque.  All the music is penned by Pallatto or in collaboration with her husband Bradley Parker-Sparrow or with her featured artist, Fareed Haque.  It is Joanie’s sense of lyrical stories and poetry that weave like silk threads and tie this music together.

On the opening tune, it’s Fareed Haque’s guitar solo that puts the ‘J’ in jazz, while Joanie Pallatto’s voice is a warm alto instrument that is a surprising mix of jazz and folk music. Joanie and her pianist husband have run a recording studio for four decades.  Over the years, Joanie Pallatto has made a successful living as a musician and voiceover artist. She has expertise in all aspects of musical production and is a versatile vocalist, singing lead at times or blending harmonically with various vocal groups.  Pallatto has also sung jingles for hundreds of national radio and television commercials. Inspired by Eddie Palmieri, after listening to his album Joanie wrote the title tune, “Accidental Melody” that’s a salsa arrangement. Many of her songs have a Latin flare, like “A Shooting Star” that she says she wrote specifically for guitarist extraordinaire, Fareed Haque.  Pallatto and husband, Bradley Parker-Sparrow, perform as a duet on their composition, “The melody of You.”  “Don’t Ever Look for Love” has lovely chord changes and a compelling melody that builds and expands, with lyrics aimed at a friend of Joanie’s after a conversation they had about illusive love.  Another favorite is the spicy, Latin flavored “In the Middle of Life.”  Great lyric!  On “Sound” she performs with her pianist and she scats over Bradley Parker-Sparrow’s Avant-garde piano improvisation.

In the 1970s, Joanie Pallatto toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.  She relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where Joanie married and settled down, putting her energy into singing, composing and eventually running her Southport Record company with hubby. This is her thirteenth album release and celebrates Pallatto’s composer talents.  During this performance, you hear the freedom Pallatto feels when she’s singing, improvising and emotionally sharing her original music with us, her attentive audience.

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Matt Barber, vocals; Bradley Young, Day Kelly, & Marc LeBrun, piano; David Enos & Brian Ward, bass; Greg Sadler & Daniel Dennis, drums; Tony Guerrero, flugelhorn; Joakim Toftgaard, trombone; Dori Amarilio & Pablo Sune, guitar; Stephan Oberhoff, strings/guitar; Mack Goldsbury, saxophone/ piccolo; Madison Hardy, backup vocals.

The voice of Matt Barber recalls the ‘Ratpack’ days, when Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. ruled the Las Vegas strip.  Matt does not mimic either famed singer but instead, has his own tone and style.  Barber offers us a dozen standard tunes, easily recognizable, that bring back the Tony Bennett era of well-dressed stage performers and cool jazz.  You will enjoy music by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, Johnny Mercer, Nelson Riddle and Billy Joel, to name just a few.  I enjoyed his interpretation of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” that features the attention pleasing trumpet of Tony Guerrero.  The arrangement is at a ballad tempo with Latin rhythms offering a unique, slow Bossa Nova approach.  Barber’s vocals sounds smooth and comfortable. He currently performs approximately three-hundred concerts per year and also sings at a select handful of exclusive hotels across the country. Since his debut in 2005, Matt Barber has recorded seven albums that have all received stellar reviews.  He dedicates this one to one of his mentors, Los Angeles based pianist and arranger, Bradley Young, who became a victim of the COVID epidemic and left us far too early.

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JOHN ALLEE – “PAST IMPERFECT” – Portuguese Knees Music

John Allee, vocals/piano/background harmony/composer/co-producer; Jeff Peters, co-producer; Adam Bravo, piano; Mike Schnoebelen, bass; John Harvey, drums; Javier Vergara, tenor saxophone; Jeff Kaye, flugelhorn/trumpet; Jane Lui & Cortes Alexander, background vocals.

The double bass opens this album, setting the groove, the rhythm, and the track slow swings for John Allee to vocalize upon. The tune is called “Let’s Hear It” and is one of seventeen songs John has composed. Like many of his original compositions, the melody is catchy and makes you want to hum along.  He scats on this one, and is a hair off-key in some places, but his Sammy Cahn Award-winning songwriting skills are obvious and stellar.  Track #2 is immediately one of my favorites.  The lyrics are so fresh and incredible on this tune called, “Like.”  He writes lines that read:

“You are like the rain. You pitter patter on my windowpane and blow right through me like a hurricane. … You are like the snow.  You’re up above me when I’m down below. You lay your blanket anywhere you go.”

If I were a recording artist, I would gobble-up these excellently written songs and record them myself.  John Allee has a way of painting pictures with his words, as though we are watching a film.  Perhaps that is because he has a background in acting as well as singing and songwriting.  Allee has been working at all three careers for the past four decades.  “Until the Money’s Gone” is a blues that reminds me of that hit record sung by Bobby Gentry, “Ode to Billie Joe” when someone threw something off the Tallahassee Bridge.  John Allee’s lyrics are nothing like that song, but instead, paint a fresh, intricate picture of a character we all can clearly see, with the rhythm section playing blues-changes that cushion his story.  A song called “Hard Sell” is bebop to the bone, played at racehorse speed, with Allee’s vocals keeping pace and telling us a story about a salesman’s life.  This is a song Lambert, Hendrix and Ross would have loved to record.  Javier Vergara makes a strong statement during his tenor saxophone solo.  John Allee has a songwriter’s voice.  What I mean by that, he is not an outstanding jazz vocalist.  Instead, he knows how to sell his songs, tell his stories, emotionally connect with his listening audience, as he feeds us stories that beg to be heard and melodies that caress our ears.  I find myself feeling like a baby bird, awaiting the mother bird’s return to the nest with open beak, eager for the John Allee’s next song. “Past Imperfect” is an album full of tall tales, small tales, character analyzations and unusual situations.  It reminds me of my Motown days when I sat in a room and listened to Ron Miller play piano and compose “For Once in My Life” or hearing Bernard Igner on the A&M lot playing me “Everything Must Change” on their upright piano, long before it was ever recorded by Quincy Jones. We both cried.  John Allee may not be a great singer, but he has that same magic as an exceptional songwriter.  This album will be available May 5, 2023.

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BEN WENDEL – “ALL ONE” Edition Records

Ben Wendel, tenor & soprano saxophone/bassoon/EFX/hand percussion/composer; Cécile McLorin Salvant & Jose James, vocals; Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Bill Frisell, electric/ acoustic guitar/EFX/composer; Elena Pinderhughes, flute/alto flute; Tigran Hamasyan, piano.

Grammy nominated saxophonist, Ben Wendel, offers us his “All One” album that features Wendel’s original compositions and a few familiar standard tunes like the opening Gershwin treasure, “I Love You Porgy” beautifully sung by Cécile McLorin Salvant.  The melodic ideas that harmonically create the main tracks of Wendel’s original music are somewhat Avant-garde. For example, on the “Wanderers” tune, the track is extremely repetitious, despite the addition of Terrance Blanchard on trumpet.  On Bill Frisell’s composition, “Throughout” the band incorporates a lot of dissonance and elongated chords, stretched electronically, with Wendel’s tenor saxophone bursting-out in moments of improvisation, dancing atop the rhythm track. Frisell’s guitar is the lead singer during this arrangement and brings some sense of melody and calm.  “Speak Joy” is another Wendel composition and features Elena Pinderhughes on flute.  There is a fair amount of dissonance in the chordal structure of Wendel’s work and instead of using a bass instrument in this entire production, Ben has chosen to incorporate his bassoon talents into the mix. I love the bassoon instrument, but the songs themselves are melodically unmemorable and the arrangements nest in thick chords of repetition, with the instrumental solos circling each nest like frightened birds afraid to land. The fifth cut is the old and beloved standard of “Tenderly” that Sarah Vaughan made so popular.  José James brings his enjoyable voice to stage center, doing a fine job of presenting the lovely melody, despite the odd band harmonics. Still, Ben Wendel’s tenor saxophone solo is stellar. Here is a project where you should be prepared for the unexpected, shape-shifting variations that Ben Wendel’s imagination dictates. My favorite cut is the first one that features Cécile McLorin Salvant.  However, José James comes in a close second, just for the strength of purpose to vocally hold his own against this challenging arrangement, exposing beautiful tone and mad technical skills.  Although I applaud Ben Wendel’s bassoon mastery and saxophone creativity, some of the arrangements are way over my head.

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Allison Adams Tucker, vocals/composer; Kevin Hays, piano/Fender Rhodes/ melodica/vocals; Tony Scherr, bass/guitar; Kenny Wollesen, drums/vibraphone; Yotam Silberstein & Peter Sprague, guitar/composer; Bashiri Johnson, percussion.

The first thing I think when I listen to Allison Adams Tucker’s premiere song on this, her latest album, is that she is a very strong pop singer. She opens this production by covering a Cat Stevens song called, “The Wind.”  On track #2, her voice rings warm, like a whistle in the wind.  She starts out wordless, just a round “Ooo” sound against the quiet.  Moments later, she breaks into the lyrics of “You’re My Best Friend.”  This too is a pop/folk song arrangement.  Allison also covers the David Bowie song, “Life on Mars” that stretches her range and exhibits what a lovely, pure toned soprano voice she has.  “Wonderland” is an Allison Tucker composition that she co-wrote with guitarist Peter Sprague.  It is a well-written song, but once again, it’s not jazz.  This is a well-produced pop album that features a talented singer covering popular songs by such artists as Paul Simon, Prince, Annie Lennox and Sting.  I am reviewing it because it is so well-produced and because I think Allison Adams Tucker is super talented.  But no way should this album fall under the category of jazz.

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KRIS ALLEN – “JUNE” – Truth Revolution Recording Collective

Kris Allen, alto saxophone/composer; Carmen Staaf, piano; Luques Curtis, bass; Jonathan Barber, drums; Chris Dingman, vibraphone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Michael Mayo & Shenel Johns, vocals.

Alto Saxophonist, Kris Allen, has created a contemplative album of mostly original compositions that are nature themed.  Opening with “Sunlight” Carmen Staaf is outstandingly imaginative on piano, tinkling atop the horn players (Kris Allen on alto sax and Jeremy Pelt on trumpet). Staaf deliciously distracts from their simplistic, but lovely melodic lines, using her own improvisation that’s creative and quite beautiful.  Chris Dingman adds his tasty vibraphone licks and Luques Curtis stands strongly in the spotlight, wearing his heart on his sleeve as he takes his bass solo.  This is a charming, peaceful way to open the Kris Allen album titled “June.” It is his third release as a bandleader. Jackie McLean was one of Allen’s inspirational mentors. 

“The vibe is simple and elemental.  The titles and concepts are really concise, often a single word like ‘Trees” or “Sunlight” or “Ember.” I wanted it to be meditative and to reach for melodies that could be singable,” explains Kris Allen.

The second cut on this album is the famous “Trees” tune, sung by Michael Mayo, … I think that I shall never see, a thing as lovely as a tree …who also scats his clear message across the moderate tempo arrangement with a smooth, clear tone.  Kris Allen has composed “Ember” that begins with the rolling drums of Jonathan Barber who sets the tempo and mood of the song.  Allen’s alto saxophone blasts on the scene like a shooting star streaking across the night sky.  The fire glows from the first percussive ember and grows. This tune is Straight-ahead and the kind of jazz that demands you tap your toe and nod your head in agreement.

 “I Have a Dream” is the only other ‘cover’ tune that Kris Allen plays.  It was composed by Herbie Hancock, an obvious tribute to the late, iconic Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  This is followed by “Morning” featuring the sweet vocals of Shenel Johns, followed by the title tune, “June.”

“June is my pandemic meditation, and the title is meant as a bit of a metaphor for the middle of one’s life.  June is a time of year where I am ever aware of just how much beauty I am continually taking for granted,” Kris Allen shared his love of nature in the summer.

You will find plenty of beauty in this recording, a work of art to be played time and time again provoking much enjoyment.

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Daniel Stein, Keyboards/producer/composer; Stuart Ziff, guitars/producer/composer; Rene Camacho & Travis Carlton, bass; Fred Dinkins, Kevin Stevens, & Rick Latham, drums; Marcos Reyes, percussion; Chris Tedesco, trumpet.

Daniel Stein and Stuart Ziff are old friends, seasoned musicians, composers, and producers who came together with the idea of recording their own original music. Ziff teaches blues guitar, slide guitar, and gives performance workshops incorporating different styles, while Stein teaches piano, live performance, songwriting and synthesis. Veterans of the music business, in front of and behind-the-scenes, Ziff has been the guitarist for the legendary funk band, “War” over two decades and Stein became a top jingle writer, a composer for scripted and reality TV shows, as well as co-founder of the very successful independent music library titled, “Music Box.”  Between the two, they worked in New York City, before relocating to Southern California and were members of several backing bands for Atlantic pop and R&B artists. They each know how to lay down a solid music track, one that will make an artist shine. 

This R for Romeo project offers just that, a plethora of well-produced and well-composed tracks that are screaming for a solo artist to dance atop of these solid grooves.  The musicianship is outstanding, and each piece is unique and compelling to the ear, be it the Marvin Gaye kind-of-blues groove they title “Midtown” (co-written by the two friends) or the funk tune called, “Barney’s Groove” inspired by the hit television sitcom, Barney Miller. They reworked the Barney Miller theme song, expanding on the familiar bassline to create a brand-new composition.  Still, my ear strains to hear a solo artist.  Although every one of these tracks are strong, this well-written background music is begging for a soloist or a vocalist to fuel their wonderfully produced and played music, and set it on fire. 

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Terell Stafford, trumpet; Dick Oatts, alto saxophone; Tim Warfield, tenor saxophone; Bruce Barth, piano/arranger; Mike Boone, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums.

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, has always been a stew pot of jazz music and musicians. It is one of the cities that represents a spicy explosion of America’s classical music called jazz. Four important names were born and raised in the arms of this city, and they are celebrated on this album of extraordinary music.  One was John Coltrane, who grew up in a rowhome at 1511 North 33rd Street in the Strawberry Mansion section of North Philadelphia; McCoy Tyner, who started playing piano inside his mother’s beauty parlor located at the family home in West Philadelphia; trumpeter, Edward Lee Morgan, who was raised at 2035 W. Madison Street in the Tioga neighborhood of North Philly and Jimmy Heath of the Heath Brothers (Percy and Tootie Heath). Jimmy attended Walter George Smith School on the South Side of Philly. 

A Sextet of iconic musicians (in their own right) have come together on this project to play the music of Trane, Heath, Tyner and Morgan.  They represent the jazz faculty at Temple University who are inspiring the next generation of jazz royalty. These six musicians shine while playing the music of their legendary Philadelphian jazz masters.

“For me, this album represents the rich tradition of songs written by Philly composers,” says Bruce Barth.

Barth selected and arranged the four compositions on “Fly With the Wind,” a title pulled from Tyner’s 1976 Milestone debut. They open with Jimmy Heath’s composition, “All Members” that was recorded by Jimmy and his quartet in 1975 on his album, “Picture of Heath.” The Temple Jazz Sextet swings its way into my listening room with Stafford’s trumpet leading the way. I want to wave my white hanky and parade around my house.  Warfield follows with the blues blowing out of his tenor saxophone in a gritty, no-nonsense way and then Dick Oatts enters the musical moment, softening the arrangement with his lyrical solo, but never losing the intensity.  The arranger/pianist, Bruce Barth swings into the spotlight unapologetically and thrills me with his piano improvisation.  Afterwards, Mike Boone struts his stuff on double bass and all the while, Justin Faulkner holds the tempo and the groove tightly in place.  I immediately know I’m in for a pure-pleasure treat!  The rest of this album is all that and more. 

Their arrangement of Coltrane’s “Naima” is so sweet, tender, and emotional that I pause and play it twice.  The warm camaraderie between these players and educators is palpable.  Their choice of tunes certainly honors the legendary composers and Philadelphia jazz icons who they tribute. On the title tune, penned by McCoy Tyner, they play powerfully and without reserve.

“McCoy played with an intensity that’s hard to describe and that we all strive to get to.  The power and depth of his expression came through on the records, but there were a few times hearing him live where it was almost an otherworldly experience,” Barth explained.

This album is fire and flame, sincere and emotional, saucy, and sweet. It’s a beautiful, completely unforgettable tribute to Philadelphian jazz icons.

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BEN CASSARA – “WHAT A WAY TO GO!” – Audiophile

Ben Cassara, vocals; Josh Richman & Ronny Whyte, piano; Boots Maleson, bass; Tim Horner, drums; Harry Allen, saxophone.

Ben Cassara is a Manhattan jazz singer who sounds intimate, casual, and believable.  Cassara started out playing piano and singing at piano bars in Greenwich Village in the 1970s.  Although he was somewhat naïve to the business of jazz back then, Ben’s friends and mentors (Carol Fredette, the late Marlene Ver Planck and Roz Corral) taught him how to deliver a lyric and how to feel the jazz pulse.  Carol Fredette once gave him the key to success when she said, “Don’t think of how you would sing it.  How would you say it?”

Although Ben’s not a smooth crooner like the iconic Billy Eckstein, nor can he swing like the legendary Joe Williams or Frank Sinatra, but Ben Cassara knows how to phrase and sell a song. He applies honesty and emotion to each interpretation.  His repertoire is full of stories we know or we ourselves have lived.  His “What a Way to Go” album of fourteen songs unfolds like a musical movie.  His choice of composers ranges from Dave Frishberg to Antonio Carlos Jobim; from Harry Warren’s ‘I Wish I Knew” to Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson’s “I Just Found Out About Love (and I like it!),” as well as Duke Ellington’s composition, “I Let a Song go out of my Heart.”   He also includes several original compositions by his pianist, Ronny Whyte including, “The Party Upstairs” where Harry Allen plays a jazzy saxophone solo and “Linger Awhile” with lyrics by Roger Shore.  Ronnie Whyte is one of the last of the popular piano bar performers and sometimes is referred to as a saloon singer.  He’s a wonderful accompanist.  In 2013, Cassara released his first CD titled, “Sister Moon.”  In 2014, he debuted his Bobby Troup Project and vocalist, Ben Cassara continues to perform in venues around the New York tri-state area while promoting his latest release, “What a Way to Go!”

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RAMANA VIEIRA – “TUDO DE MIM (ALL OF ME)” – Independent Label

Ramana Vieira, piano/vocals/composer/backing vocals/programed strings; David Parker, bass/co-producer/arranger/backing vocals/drums/keyboards; Jeff Furtado, guitar/lead vocals; Jose Luis Iglesias, guitar; Earl Jackson, percussion/drums; John Clark. Bass.

Ramana Vieira presents a collection of Fado songs, some original and some traditional, inclusive of the historic music that was born back in the 1820s, when Fado was developed as the folk music of Portugal. Vieira is not from Portugal, but is American and hails from Northern California, with a heritage of Portuguese descent. Raised in San Leandro, a city just outside of San Francisco, she grew up with a deep love for music. At sixteen-years-old, she discovered Fado music. Vieira has been spreading the culture and music of Fado ever since.  For the past two decades Ramana Vieira has been recording this Portuguese folk music and this is her sixth album. She plays piano and sings in Portuguese and English. Although I do not understand the Portuguese language, there is power and emotion in her delivery.  On her original composition, “Fado La La La” she sings in English. The melody is quite addictive and folksy. Makes you want to sing along. The song titled, “Mother Mary” is listed as an original song, but clearly it’s based on the popular Ave Maria tune. You can’t just change the title of a historic composition like Ave Maria and expect to claim it as your own.

However, for Fado aficionados, songs like “Trago Fado Nos Sentidos,” where José Luis Iglesias shines on guitar, and “Lambada” featuring Jeff Furtado on lead vocals, are both well executed and bring authenticity to a tradition that Ramana Vieira attempts to modernize and reinvent. 

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April 1, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 3, 2023

WALTER BISHOP JR. – “BISH AT THE BANK” Reel to Real Recordings

Walter bishop Jr., piano; Harold Vick, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Lou McIntosh, bass; Dick Berk, drums.

Walter Bishop Junior’s group opens with a powerhouse, speedy arrangement of “Secret Love” using the opening verses to feature Harold Vick on tenor saxophone.  These are tapes from 1966 and 1967, protected and treasured by the Left Bank Jazz Society, founded in 1964.  The group used to put on concerts at a local bar called the Club Owl hole.  It drew perhaps one hundred to a hundred-and-fifty people max.  The jazz concerts became so popular that they expanded to a dance hall called the Famous Ballroom, on Charles Street in Baltimore, Maryland, where the capacity increased to twelve or thirteen hundred people.  The only drawback was that the club was on the second floor and with no elevator, the musicians hated climbing those stairs to the venue.  None the less, once the music began, everyone was happy. 

The third track is their rendition of the familiar “Days of Wine & Roses” played as a swing arrangement.  On August 28, 1966, Walter Bishop and his talented New York band made their debut appearance for the Left Bank Jazz Society first, at The Madison Club.  Luckily, someone was on-hand to record this historic performance. Later, the band would also perform at the Famous Ballroom. Bishop’s reputation proceeded him as a bebop pianist with close ties to such icons as Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham who he recorded with, along with Percy Heath and Philly Joe Jones.  The Junior of his respected ASCAP songwriting father, Walter Bishop Sr., (from Barbados) seemed destined to pursue music.  It’s no wonder that a young Walter fell in love with jazz when he first heard Charlie Parker in 1944 at a St. Nicholas Arena jam session.  After spending two years in the Air Force, he plunged into the Harlem jazz scene and hung out with Sugar Hill folks like Sonny Rollins, Arthur Taylor and Jackie McLean, who were also young brothers coming up in the music business.  By 1948, the great Art Blakey picked Bishop out to join his Jazz Messengers recording session for Blue Note and by 1950, Walter Bishop Jr. was a New York first-call pianist.  He was a lover of Bud Powell, and like Powell, Bishop brought dynamic and emotional attacks to the piano keyboard.

“I started out copying Bud lines, and I got to a point where I learned how to think in those terms, so I didn’t have to rely on copying any more.  One night, Bud paid me a hell of a compliment.  I think I was working with Miles and Max and Tommy Potter at the Three Deuces, and he was there.  He said, Man – – that was weird.  It’s like hearing myself play, but you weren’t playing the same notes.  Bud wasn’t quick with compliments.  He was telling me that I had branched off on more or less my own path,” Walter Bishop Jr. recalled in his liner notes.

This is a two-disc-set that keeps you entertained and mesmerized through every single song.  You’ll hear gems like “If I Were A Bell” by Frank Loesser and Miles Davis’s “So What” and the Davis composition “PFrancing (No Blues)”.  They interpret “Willow Weep for Me” as a jazz waltz with Bishop’s two-fisted approach both dynamic and inspired. 

Walter Bishop Jr., died in 1998, but left behind a trail of amazing recordings to affirm that he was here. When he played piano, he brought something fresh to the stage, proficient in style and technique on his instrument.  He was one of the first beboppers of his generation to explore jazz fusion before it became super popular. He also wrote poetry and some of that is included in the liner-note booklet that’s part of this classic CD release.  All you collectors out there need to scoop this historic album up.  It is a piece of music excellence you will enjoy playing over and over again.

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Vince Ector, drums/composer; Paul Bollenback, guitar; Pat Bianchi, organ; Justin Jones, alto saxophone.

In January of 2020, drummer Vince Ector and his trio (plus one), stepped into The Side Door nightclub as part of their tour promoting Vince’s “Theme for Ms. P” album.  It was his first time performing at the familiar club, not as a sideman but as a bandleader.  His friend, jazz aficionado and club owner, Ken Kitchings asked if they would mind him recording the set and Vince responded in the positive.  Sure, go ahead and record it, he told Kitchings.  This product is the result of that spectacular night. 

Their opening tune shuffles in, an original song by Ector titled, “South Philly Groove.”  Young musician, Justin Jones joined the trio + at the last minute to replace ailing saxophonist, Bruce Knowing.  Bruce sent his student to sub for him, and the young man did a wonderful job.  The rhythm section is so strong, what else could the young alto sax player do but dig in and show out!  Pat Bianchi is strong and relentless on organ and Paul Bollenback is a no-nonsense jazz guitarist.  With Vince Ector spurring the band on and inspiring the infectious energy, they gain my complete attention from the first tune forward.  You can hear the ‘live’ audience members shouting out their approval.  The tune, “Sister Ruth” races Straight-ahead and keeps the energy turned up.  The Benny Carter tune, “The Courtship” settles things down to a slow Latin groove.  It shows us how pretty Justin Jones can play his horn.  Bianchi shines, like the star that he is on organ.   They are back to the jazz roots when they cover Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma” tune.  Then they turn the corner onto R&B sweet street and play the most wonderful rendition of “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.”  They ‘shuffle’ the tune, and their arrangement lifts the piece.  It shows both the versatility and the vulnerability of these talented musicians.  Their spontaneous creativity and tight grooves make this project unforgettable and a delightful listening experience.

“This is our gift to those who love the music we make and it’s dedicated to those we lost since the pandemic struck.  This recording is dedicated to the great Philadelphia organists that I was fortunate enough to know, to witness in the clubs of my hometown of Philadelphia, and eventually record with when I moved to the New York area many years ago. A special dedication to my friend, advocate for and grandmaster of the organ, Joey DeFrancesco, whom we lost a few weeks ago, and just a few weeks after we performed together for the last time,” Vince Ector memorialized his departed friend and thanked his supportive audience. 

This is an album worthy of hearing and enjoying, over and over again.  It swings, grooves and just plain makes me happy!

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Sonny Stitt, alto saxophone/composer; Kenny Barron, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Louis Hayes, drums.

First of all, I was thrilled to receive this historic album by one of my all-time favorite saxophone players, the great Sonny Stitt and his all-star quartet.  What a blessing to hear Kenny Barron on piano, Sam Jones on bass and Louis Hayes on drums.  Stitt is a ‘take no prisoners’ kind of guy.  When he walks onto any stage, he intends to burn it up with energy, technique, creativity, and genius.  He’s like a human asteroid streaking across space.  Like Johnny Griffin once said:

“If Sonny Stitt was in town, saxophone players tended to go into hiding.”

This recording is from a 1973 performance, a time when Stitt had returned to his all-acoustic performances.  For a while, he had incorporated electronics into his work, employing the Varitone attachment on both his horns.  I heard that Stitt had appeared at the Left Bank Jazz Concert with Gene Ammons earlier that year and I wish I could get my hands on that recording, if there is one.  Ammons is another favorite of mine.  On that date, his pianist was Cedar Walton, and L.A.’s own drum treasure, Billy Higgins, with Sam Jones on bass. 

Getting back to this recording, although for some time (mostly in the 1940s) Sonny Stitt was compared to Charlie Parker early in his career.  Even though he obviously idolized ‘the Bird,’ on this recording he has clearly mastered his own sound and perfected his outstanding style.  The quartet opens with “Baltimore Blues” that’s just pure Straight-ahead goodness, like a Sunday morning brunch in the church basement.  It is hearty, delicious and packed with flavor.  Sam Jones walks his double bass underneath the relentless and beautiful horn solos.  Louis Hayes pushes the piece forward, holding the up-tempo tune in place masterfully on drums and Kenny Barron thrills me with a piano solo that bursts on the scene after Stitt stops playing and matches the leader’s intensity. This is energetic, invigorating music that swings harder than a Joe Louis punch.  This is how Disc One of this two-Disc set begins, and it never calms down or wavers in offering us the absolute best of jazz.  They play “Star Eyes” and then woo the listener with “Lover Man,” a song Sonny Stitt has played hundreds of times, yet it is always different and always perfect.  They close this set out with “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”  I slide disc two into my sound system and wait with great anticipation.  They open with “A Different Blues” that’s another Stitt original composition, like the opening tune on Disc One, “Baltimore Blues.”  Next comes the popular “Stella by Starlight” with Sonny Stitt’s saxophone sounding like a storyteller, rich with range, textures and voicings.  Sonny Stitt lights up every composition with his own, multi-colored spotlight, engaging us with his saxophone interpretations. This quickly becomes one of my favorite Sonny Stitt albums.

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TOWNER GALAHER ORGAN TRIO  – “LIVE” – Rhythm Royale Records

Towner Galaher, drums; Lonnie Gasperini, Hammond B-3 organ; Marvin Horne, guitar.

This is a homage to organ trios and the organ masters who made the instrument an important part of jazz music.  Drummer, Towner Galaher has included the compositions of organ icons like Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, and Dr. Lonnie Smith.  Galaher’s organist, Lonnie Gasperini, has composed five tunes for the project.  They recorded them during the COVID lockdown at a popular club located in New London, Connecticut.  Owner, Jack Chaplin, was a big jazz enthusiast and let the band use his facility for recording sessions.  Unfortunately, Mr. Chaplin passed away in 2021 and the club closed down.  Galaher called the tunes and the band played like they were entertaining a full house. Guitarist Marvin Horne and Galaher have been playing together for over fourteen years.

“After sharing the bandstand for so many years, we’ve developed a kind of telepathy.  We didn’t even need to rehearse for this recording.  We are so familiar with each other’s style and approach, that we were locked in from the very first downbeat,” Galaher praised his fellow musician.

Gasperini composed the opening tune, “One for McGriff” (as a tribute to Jimmy McGriff) and the trio truly swings on this one.  They cover the Little Willie John hit record, “Fever” that Peggy Lee also recorded. The Dr. Lonnie Smith composition, “Norleans” caught my attention. It allowed Galaher to show off his funk chops on the drums and musically spirits us down to New Orleans, Louisiana, reliving some hot, humid, happy Mardi Gras nights. On this arrangement, Galaher using a three-beat pulse called a ‘tresillo’ on his drums.  The addition of “Lover Man” slows the tempo and brightly features Marvin Horne on guitar. But they quickly get back to the danceable blues and shuffle wildly on Gasperini’s composition, “Keep Talkin’” that is a swing dancer’s delight.  “North Beach Blues” is another Lonnie Gasperini composition that swings and uses unexpected ‘breaks’ at the top of the tune to introduce it.  This is a real party pleaser, as is the ultra-funky “Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That.”   “Mellow Mood” is a tune I used to love to hear Jimmy Smith play at his club in Southern California many moons ago.  I’m glad Towner Galaher included it in his album.  Galaher started playing drums at nine years young.  He relocated to New York City in 1986 from Portland, Oregon and dived deeply into the East Coast jazz scene.  The drummer shares his vast percussive knowledge with the youth by teaching music in the NYC Public School system.

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Marc Jordan, vocals/songwriter/piano/ background vocals; Lou Pomanti, piano/bass/composer/ background voices; Bruce Gaitsch, guitar/bass guitar; Mark Rogers, bass; Mark Kelso, Paul Leim, Kevan McKenxzie & Doug Yowell, drums; Roly Platt, harmonica; Scott Alexander, bass; Ezra Jordan, background vocals; John Johnson, saxophone; William Carn, trombone; Randy Brecker & Tony Carlucci, trumpet; Prague Smecky Orchestra, strings.

This is the kind of voice and delivery I am always looking for in a singer. Marc Jordan is honest and emotional, because he’s telling believable stories. Marc Jordan is an artist that is relatable.  This was a touching and beautiful album full of truth and human feeling. 

“This was my first project in the era of COVID, so there were challenges. … I think the music somehow has more urgency as a result,” Marc Jordan wrote in his liner notes

His voice is poignant and moving on a tune titled, “Best Day of My Life.”  Marc and Steven MacKinnon wrote this one and the lyrics are honey sweet and romantic.  The melody is lovely, and the lyrics unfold like a good movie script.  Randy Brecker’s trumpet slides across the arrangement, cool as an Olympic ice skater. 

Marc Jordan is an American-born, native of Brooklyn, New York who is now a Canadian singer, songwriter.  He’s produced records, been a session singer, a musician and an actor.  He’s written songs for a large number of artists including Diana Ross, Chicago, Bette Midler, Rod Stewart and Josh Groban.  I find myself intoxicated by his lyrics and vocal delivery, like when he sings, “Coltrane Plays the Blues” or his song “Waiting for the Sun to Rise.”  This is an album that showcases well-written songs, strong arrangements, relatable lyrics and a vocal that touches the spirit.

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WAYNE ESCOFFERY – “LIKE MINDS” –  Smoke Sessions Records

Wayne Escoffery, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; David Kikoski, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Mark Whitfield Jr., drums. SPECIAL GUESTS: Gregory Porter, vocals; Tom Harrell, trumpet; Mike Moreno, guitar; Daniel Sadownick, percussion.

Wayne Escoffery’s latest album release is personal and transitional.  For one, there is a new drummer, Mark Whitfield Jr.  Their former drummer, the great Ralph Peterson, died from cancer in 2021.

“This is a transitional period, for the band and for me,” Escoffery says in his liner notes.

On this project, Escoffery has included a few guest artists.  One of my favorite tunes on this CD is Wayne’s original composition, “Sincerely Yours” that features a dynamic solo by guest guitarist, Mike Moreno and a fast-paced piano solo from David Kikoski.  Mark Whitfield trades fours and shows off his drum skills in a bright and brilliant way.  He was a student of the late Ralph Peterson and Peterson once said that his prize pupil could play everything that he could and then play it backwards. He appears to be merging comfortably into Escoffery’s band, although this journalist is a huge fan of his mentor. No one can really step into those Ralph Peterson big shoes. Clearly, Whitfield will make his own indelible steps and prudently fill his own success space.

The opening song and title tune, “Like Minds” was composed with Whitfield in mind.  It offers a Straight-ahead jazz feel and a complicated melody as a catalyst for this album and a promise of what is to come. Wayne Escoffery’s tenor sax races forward with a no-nonsense attitude, followed by Mike Moreno’s tasty guitar solo.  Escoffery described this composition as “… over the top.  It’s very melodic and fluid, while the underlying content is more intricate.  I really love the sound of tenor and guitar together and Mike has a beautiful sound and facility on the instrument,” Wayne enthuses.  I can also hear Whitfield coloring the tune with his drums and filling in the empty spaces with complimenting and creative drum licks.

Wayne Escoffery has composed several of the songs on this recording including, “My Truth” that is mournful and dirge-like.  Escoffery’s tenor sax cries out in a beautiful, sad and poignant way.  The lyrics express what I felt from his horn when guest artist, Grammy Award winner, Gregory Porter sings: “My truth is love … my truth is freedom … my truth is life … my truth is murder … my truth is war, my truth is peace, my truth is courage, my truth is to be free.”   This song, so full of pain,  has prose lyrics for Porter to explore. Gregory also sings “Rivers of Babylon.”  His tone melts into Escoffery’s harmonic horn and they sound good together.  Whitfield pulls out his mallets and sets a warm, muted tempo on this tune. “Song of Serenity” is a Ralph Peterson Jr. composition and Escoffery paints soprano saxophone colors outside the lines. I love Wayne’s tune, “Treasure Lane” that picks the mood up and waves it like a bright ribbon across space.  Escoffery flies free during this arrangement, his horn reminding me of a nervous moth teasing the flame. The band somewhat settles down on Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments” tune.  They take a bluesy, ballad break.  Wayne Escoffery closes with his original tune,“Shuffle,” that really isn’t a shuffle, in the jazzy sense that we know it.  Escoffery explains:

“I asked Ralph Peterson to play a shuffle-type groove on this tune.  It was really cool, but the ironic thing is, it’s not necessarily a shuffle.  But I’m happy with how Ralph interpreted it, and then how Mark interpreted it after that.  That’s one of the things I love about working with these musicians.  They take my ideas and run with them.”

Wayne Escoffery explained how this tune developed into a unique arrangement and pretty much how he and his band work together to bring us this amazing music, song by song.

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Curt Miller, trombone/bandleader, composer, arranger; Uli Geissendoerfer, piano; Steve Flora, bass; Larry Aberman, drums; Alex Stopa, percussion. TROMBONES:  Nathan Tanouye, Nate Kimball, Andrew Boostrom, Llai Macaggi; Sonny Hernandez & Ralph Pressler, bass trombone. SPECIAL GUEST: Andy Martin.

Way back in 1962, a musician by the name of Abe Nole formed a rehearsal band with a group of top trombonists who lived in the Las Vegas, Nevada area.  It afforded trombonists an opportunity to play jazz in an after-hours setting once their show gigs were over.  Those late-night sessions are now legendary, and they inspired a popular gathering that supported what is now referred to as the Las Vegas Boneheads.  Today, they are led by trombonist, composer, arranger, Curt Miller.  This is their second album release.  Lee Morgan’s composition, “Ceora” is beautifully arranged by Nathan Tanouye and performed impeccably by the Las Vegas Boneheads. Solos include Nathan, Nate Kimball and Uli Geissendoerfer.  Curt Miller’s composition titled “Samba Deez Bones” is well-written and features Alex Stopa on percussion with ‘bone’ solos by Miller and Tanouye.  Also, pianist, Geissendoerfer shines during his solo improvisation. “Home Again” is an arrangement plush with horn harmonics and features the band’s special guest, Andy Martin.  With new arrangements and a young, fresh generation of enthusiastic trombonists, The Las Vegas Boneheads continue the legend, the legacy and the beauty of a trombone band. They play tunes we know and love like “Skylark” by Hoagy Carmichael and Mercer.  They shuffled the familiar “I Thought About You” tune with a strong, walking bass solo by Steve Flora, and they give a stand-up performance of every band’s favorite tune, “Cherokee.”  This “Sixty and Still Cookin” album gives all jazz lovers and trombone aficionados something to enjoy with great pleasure.

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Steve Smith, drums/composer; Manuel Valera, keyboards/piano/composer/arranger; Janek Gwizdala, electric bass. SPECIAL GUESTS: George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Mike Mainieri, vibraphone.

Opening this CD, the Manuel Valera composition “Emergence” features the drums of Steve Smith that brightly call us to attention. This is an album full of energy, funk and excitement.  I am immediately energized. Steve Smith is a powerhouse drummer with a style of his own.  He has the creativity of a Tony Williams and the technique of someone Art Blakey might have mentored. Manuel Valera is a Grammy nominated pianist and composer, as well as a Guggenheim Fellow. On the second track, a Bud Powell tune titled “Tempus Fugue-It” (which translate to Smith’s album’s title, “Time Flies”).  Manuel Valera is magnificent.  The tune speeds ahead like a spaceship and Steve Smith is the rocket fuel on drums.  Janek Gwizdala has an orchestral approach to music, but he knows how to lay down a deep pocket in the music, as well as being a creative and innovative bass soloist. On the bluesy title tune, He locks into Smith’s drums like super glue. These three talented musicians call themselves “Vital Information.” They add the sexy horn of guest artist George Garzone on tenor saxophone and the party begins!  Break out the balloons and soak up the musical refreshments. I love their arrangement on the old standard, “Darn That Dream.”  It turns the tune into a piece of Straight-ahead art and fusion jazz. Janek Gwizdala takes an impressive electric bass solo and Manuel Valera is a masterful arranger. This trio is just smokin’ hot!  Steve Smith shows off his brush skills during Valera’s arrangement. This album makes for a entirely unique piece of art, like a Tiffany and company necklace. Every tune is a gem.

As a special guest, Steve Smith reached out to his longtime friend, George Garzone.  Celebrated as an inspired improviser, George came by the studio and called Coltrane’s “One Down, One Up” tune.  They played it at a burning hot tempo. When Garzone suggested they place the tune like it was a prayer, the result became a second CD of all improvised, one-take examples of their telepathic musicianship. “Vital Information” blends acoustic, electronics and creativity to play the Coltrane piece in a number of ways.  They change tempos and moods, always entertaining and completely brilliant.  As the listener gets involved, “Time flies.”



February 23, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil                                                  

February 23, 2023

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DEWAYNE PATE – “ON THE UPSIDE” – Independent label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 1, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 1, 2022

ALEXANDER SMALLS – “LET US BREAK BREAD TOGETHER” – SmallHouseProductions/Outside In Music

Alexander Smalls, vocals; Joseph Joubert, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Cyrus Chestnut, piano/B3 Hammond organ; Kevin Hays, piano/Fender Rhodes; Reuben Rogers & Ben Williams, upright & electric bass; Ulysses Owens jr., drums/percussion/co-producer; John Ellis, tenor & soprano saxophone/bass clarinet.

A deep spiritual bass line opens the song, “Wade in the Water” until Alexander Small’s emotional, baritone voice takes stage center.  His vocals are rich and remind me of the ferocious male choir soloists I heard in church; the ones who sang spiritual tunes with gusto, love and power; the ones who had backgrounds in operatic singing.

The second and third tracks feature instrumentals. They highlight the outstanding musicians on this recording, who make the music shine. One of my favorite tunes by Sonny Rollins is “St. Thomas.”  The band has arranged this jazz standard with joy and tenacious energy; first featuring a solo by Kevin Hayes on piano and then Ben Williams on bass.  John Ellis sings his reed song on saxophone and Ulysses Owens Jr., takes a spirited solo on drums.  They follow this with the familiar “Watermelon Man” composition by Herbie Hancock. John Ellis makes a thrilling bass clarinet appearance on “God Bless the Child.” Cyrus Chestnut is featured pianist on this recording and has added his original composition, “Rent Party” as a delightful solo piano piece.

The artist and vocalist, Alexander Smalls, was once a highly respected opera singer. In 1977, he gained international attention, winning a Tony Award and a Grammy for his contributions to the Houston Grand Opera cast that recorded “Porgy and Bess.” Then, his life journey suddenly turned up a path towards becoming a culinary artist.  His love of spiritual music perhaps inspired the title of this album (Let Us Break Bread Together) and also reflects his transformation into the professional world of cooking.  Today, he is celebrated as a renowned chef.  Consequently, this inspired project embraces jazz as a spiritual bridge between Alexander’s love of cuisine and his vocal interpretation of spiritual music.  When he sings, “Let Us Break Bread Together” it is both a prayer and an offer to share the intimacy of both his music and a meal. He makes it comfortable to take a seat at his musical table. 

Small’s rendition of the traditional spiritual “Hush” is beautifully delivered, as is “Poor Little Jesus” with the piano accompaniment of Kevin Hayes tasty and creative.  Ben Williams provides a stunning bass background during the spoken word of Alexander Smalls as he recites the Langston Hughes poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

“Think about the richness of a melody,” Smalls encourages our introspection. “Think about how a melody starts in one’s soul, one’s mind, one’s spirit. People bring these extraordinary sounds sometimes from the depths of who they are,” the artist explains.

Surely Mr. Alexander Smalls has done just that; pulled from the depths of his own soul, exhibiting infectious emotion and talent during this presentation. He shares his spiritual experience with us and inspires the listener with both this spiritual recording and his formidable voice.

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BRIAN LANDRUS – “RED LIST” – Palmetto Records

Brian Landrus, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/flute/alto flute/bass flute; Nir Felder, guitar; Geoffrey Keezer, Fender Rhodes/organ/piano/synthesizers; Lonnie Plaxico, electric & acoustic bass; John Hadfield, percussion; Rudy Royston, drums; Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone; Ron Blake, tenor saxophone; Steve Roach, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Corey King, vocals.

Often times, music is used as a method of calling attention to some cause or life challenge.  Baritone saxophonist, reed master and bass clarinet player, Brian Landrus, has composed and arranged fifteen tunes dedicated to the preservation of some of our endangered, Earth creatures. This is Brian’s eleventh album released as a bandleader. It reflects his spiritual connection to earth and the animal kingdom in a warm, jazzy way.

“I’ve been an animal lover since I was a little kid.  I recently began researching the many endangered species on our planet.  It broke my heart to learn that there are only eight vaquitas, sixty-seven Javan rhinos and fewer than 850 mountain gorillas left on earth. Spreading awareness of this tragic global situation is part of the impetus for this album,” Landrus explains in his press package.

Each composition title exemplifies this purposeful album of music.  Landrus opens with “Canopy of Trees” that has a very orchestrated, smooth-jazz feel.  You can picture a forest of green, with the Landrus horn becoming the prowling creature beneath the lush canopy. On the title tune, “Red List” John Hadfield’s driving percussion energy fuels the arrangement, along with Rudy Royston on drums. Landrus delivers strong melodies and arranges the horns with tight harmonies that balloon the music like helium. The small ensemble sounds much bigger than it is and lifts me.  As I listen to the “Giant Panda,” composition, tenderly featuring a delightful Landrus bass clarinet solo, or “Tigris” pumping us up with a bright tempo and featuring the beautiful guitar talent of Nir Felder, the composer transmits the beauty and importance of protecting all life on earth with his music. He gives us a taste of his flute talents on “The Distant Deeps” and features the warm, husky vocals of Corey King.  I note that His arrangements exhibit the diversity of genres, embracing Straight-ahead jazz in some parts, (especially when Landrus is soloing) blending in easy-listening horn arrangements to buoy the tracks, along with smooth jazz grooves. For example, when he arranged “Save the Elephants” the jazz arrangement embraces a reggae beat. As I soak up this music, my imagination conjures up the elephant families lumbering along towards a drinking pond. Brian Landrus offers us music that is much like life itself, multi-faceted, colorful, uniquely different and beautiful. 

When he’s not composing or recording, Brian Landrus has taken his saxophone talents on the road with other jazz acts such as Esperanza Spalding, Fred Hersch, Billy Hart, George Garzone, the Maria Schneider Orchestra and his mentor Bob Brookmeyer. Landrus is not only a multi-talented musician who has mastered several reed instruments, but he’s adept at various musical genres.  Brain has toured with national pop acts like The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Coasters, The Drifters and Martha Reeves.  He holds a doctorate from Rutgers University and is currently on faculty at the School of Music, California State University Sacramento.

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JAKE LECKIE – “THE GUIDE” – Ropeadope Records

Jake Leckie, double bass; Nadav Peled, acoustic guitar; Elizabeth Goodfellow, drums.

“The Guide” is an acoustic folk-jazz trio with bandleader Jake Leckie at the helm on upright bass.  They open this recording with the title tune, bathed in the blues and slowly unfolding like a lyrical love ballad. Track two is titled “Patience” and features Nadav Peled on his acoustic guitar, dancing across the strings like an acrobat.  All eight of these compositions are composed by Jake Leckie and were recorded old school, on 2-track analog tape. They used no headphones, no isolation booths or overdubs.  This is live music that’s interactive, creative and improvisational.  This trio of musicians play spontaneously. On the “Patience” tune, Elizabeth Goodfellow is given a platform to shine on her trap drums.  This recording celebrates organic, acoustic music, along with creative compositions that are melodic and pleasant to the ear, like the tune “A Thing of Beauty.”  Track #6, “The Good Doctor” allows Jake Leckie to step out front and explore his rich, deep, double bass instrument.  This is a very Latin sounding composition.  The guitar is drenched in Spanish-sounding lyricism.  I wish the drummer had double-timed the rhythm to lift the arrangement and to move away from the same kind of tempo as the songs before this one.  A Samba or Cha Cha groove would have enhanced this well-written, original song, and would have accentuated the unexpected but tasty breaks in Jake’s arrangement.  A fresh, Afro-Cuban 6/8 rhythm dancing beneath Leckie’s bass solo could have been brilliant.  What I found missing in some of these songs was ‘the groove’ that my listening ears kept longing to hear.  The tune, “Adobe” finally slams into a funk groove with Leckie walking his upright bass and Goodfellow slapping the swing into place. Leckie’s composer skills are continuously impressive. The final tune could have been a real show-stopper with its up-tempo racy speed and strong jazz changes.  A spotlight is provided for Elizabeth Goodfellow to shine in, highlighting her drum skills.  However, the jazzy momentum and spiritual excitement that this composition inspires gets lost in the production.  I think a jazz drummer like the late, great Ralph Peterson, or like cutting edge female drummer, Terri Lyne Carrington or the iconic Jeff Hamilton could have elevated this project to a higher level.

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Tom Collier, vibraphone/marimbas.

Tom Collier has been heralded as “One of the best jazz vibraphonists on the planet” by Scott Mercado, a Modern Drummer Magazine contributor.  Collier offers us a solo album, exploring his talents and creativity on three different marimbas; a 1948 Musser Canterbury marimba, a Adams Soloist Model and a Yamaha Model 6100 marimba.  Each song unfolds, like the path amid a forest of tall trees.  His concept is warm and brown, “like the color of wood,” also the title of this album.  Beginning with five reflections on wood, he plays a suite of music that explores his talents as both a marimba player and a composer.

“Inspiration for ‘Five Reflections on Wood’ is based on art and activities from Ruthi Winter, Cindy Kelsey, Jim and Mary Burdett and Adelle Hermann Comfort. … and musical inspiration for over fifty-one years (and still counting) from my lovely wife, Cheryl,” Tom Collier expresses in his liner notes.

This artist shows how layering his marimba talents and expanding his solo horizons, demonstrates he can paint an album with the brilliant colors of a sunrise or capture the sounds of nature with his mallets.  When I listen to Tom Collier’s music, I see vivid images of raindrops kissing the petals of Bluebells and purple Irises.  He inspires me to look for stardust sprinkling down from the big dipper and his songs glimmer like moonglow in love-filled eyes, especially when he interprets Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” composition.  With songs like the Hank Williams favorite, “I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry” Collier reminds us that a well-written song crosses genres and can easily relax in the lovely arms of a jazz arrangement.  His original songs, like “Genesee” and “I Haven’t Seen the Rain” wrap the listener in a blanket of comfort and warmth. 

His song “Hopscotch” is happy and carefree, like a child jumping between the chalk lines on a city sidewalk. This is a musical tribute to the higher good in us all and the spiritual beauty that a master marimba player can bring to his instrument.  In so doing, he lifts us all to an elevated standard of peace, joy and happiness. 

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João Luiz, guitar: Sergio Abreu, 1997; Strings: Augustine Regal Blue.

I always have great admiration and respect for an artist who records an album of solo work.  In this case, not only is João Luiz performing solo, he is also covering famous, classical compositions and doing so displaying mastery on his classical Sergio Abreu guitar.  Sergio Abreu is a Brazilian guitarist and respected guitar maker. Almost all of this classical repertoire are originally written for guitar.  Although I rarely review classical music, this album was so striking and beautiful, I felt compelled to sing praise to the talents of Mr. Luiz.  Particularly since my article is titled “The Spiritual Side of Jazz” and surely this solo guitar music is sparked by spirit and jazz is inclusive of European classical music, along with Blues, American slave songs and the gift of improvisation. That is the one thing missing in this awesome recording; the beauty of improvisation.  In classical music, most of the time the pieces are played as written, without venturing off into improvisation.

This album opens with “Largo non Tanto, Op. 7” written by Fernando Sor, a nineteenth century Spanish composer.  João’s intimate interpretation of both this opus and the “Minueto Op. 25” that follows becomes a wonderful way to introduce us to his mastery of the guitar. The Luiz performance seems effortless and precise.  It is quite amazing to hear a solo guitarist perform with such sincerity and power, yet never echoing a squeak on the fretboard. This is the sign of a master musician. Guitar players will know exactly what I mean.  Some of these songs have been arranged by João Luiz, like “Serenata Espanola” that was composed originally for piano by Joaquin Malats, who was a Barcelona-based pianist.  João Luiz’s chords roll and the ascending lines are quite different from the original arrangement of this familiar classical composition. Perhaps there is a bit of jazz improvisation in this album.

Whether you are a jazz lover or an appreciator of classical music, here is a magnificent guitar presentation that celebrates music “From Spain to Sao Paulo” and pays homage to Spanish composers from the 19th and 20th century.   Two-time, Latin, Grammy-nominated guitarist, educator and composer, João Luiz, began to play the popular music of his native Brazil professionally during his childhood.  He was later trained in classical guitar by his mentor, Henrique Pinto. João’s interests include bridging Classical, Jazz, and Latin American music as a performer and composer.   João is equally at home with classical, Brazilian, jazz and world music. 

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Dana Fitzsimons, drums; Bill Graham, piano; Brandon Boone, bass.

Dana Fitzsimons has been an ardent fan of free-style jazz for years.  Although he started out as a touring musician, the drummer soon had a young, growing family and decided to get his degree from William and Mary Law School. He then pursued a legal career.  However, Fitzsimons never discarded his love of music and today he is both a recording artist and a successful trusts and estates attorney. 

His trio includes two popular musicians who are mainstays on the Atlanta jazz scene.  Pianist Bill Graham has been teaching jazz, improvisation and composition for nearly fifteen years.  As a composer, he has contributed several songs to this album. Bassist, Brandon Boone is a touring musician with both Colonel Bruce Hampton’s Band and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. 

“The music we wanted to make requires a lot of close listening and allowing the music to take you wherever it wants to go, untethered from strict ideas about time, form and harmony.  With all this freedom, it was important to me that the music still be rhythmic and lyrical so that the music invites the listener in, even for people who are not accustomed to free jazz,” Dana Fitzsimons explained his musical concept.

“Slant Anagrams” is the opening track of this project.  It was composed by Bill Graham and is a sort of tribute piece to the iconic Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Paul Motian.  It’s the most Straight-ahead jazz track on the Fitzsimons album.  Rodgers and Hart’s famed “Where or When” tune is the only standard they cover.  The trio also plays the Joni Mitchell tune “Amelia.”  However, the other nine tunes were composed by either Graham or Fitzsimons. Track #3, titled “Crystals” was composed by all three musicians of the trio and it stretches imaginatively, each member contributing their own slice of creativity and improvisation.  The result is as sweet as a piece of fresh-baked pie.  “Ice Bridges Before Road” is dramatic and Graham plays with the upper register of the piano, using it to paint images of ice into the arrangement, along with the colorful drums of Fitzsimons.  With the exception of “Where or When”, arranged beautifully as a ballad with drifting tempos and legato movement; these pieces of music are more abstract than structured.  The musicians play off of one another, reacting and improvising generously during these free-form exchanges.  Their songs are like moods, changing and growing provocatively without structured charts to hold the music tightly in place.  Time and tempos change and flood into each other with tsunami-like strength or soft and whispery like hummingbird wings.  The music on Fault Lines is inventive, spiritual and strikingly free.  Like the California Fault Lines themselves, it may shake something loose inside you, without a warning, and with the unexpected power of an earthquake.

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Simeon Davis, Saxophone/Flute/Composer; Tyler Thomas & Rachel Azbell, vocals; Maria Wellmann & Alex Hand, guitars; Holly Holt, piano/keyboards; Jake Chaffee, Electric Bass; Josh Parker, drums; Aramis Fernandez, congas; Maxima Santana, trombone; Jonathan Shier, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jess Meadoer, violin.

This album is a collection of “Narratives and Nocturnes” brought to life by the Simeon Davis Group.  Exemplified by the titles of the Davis compositions, we are introduced to a cast of characters, places, moods and animals that live inside the mind of Simeon.  Opening with “The Diver” this arrangement is driven by a strong bass line and becomes part of a holistic storytelling experience that transcends genre norms.  The tune is structured more like a suite than a singular song.  It moves through moods and tempos like a restless bird exploring a foreign forest or perhaps a “Diver” searching through a ship wreckage beneath the sea.  There are lots of synthesizer accents and horn lines that leap and jump like notes on steroids.  In the same breath, there are some very beautiful parts to this arrangement that are soothing and melodic.  A voice accents the melody at the beginning and towards the end of the piece, singing wordlessly along with the instrumentation.  I am extremely impressed with the Davis composition, “Seven Come Wednesday” that recalls the brilliance of Chick Corea.  The addition of Tyler Thomas on vocals, singing throughout like a horn and the percussive brilliance of Aramis Fernandez coloring the arrangement along with the effective drumming of Josh Parker, turn this tune quickly into one of my favorites on this project.  The composition “Eden” features the sweet tenor voice of Tyler Thomas singing the melody in unison with the instrumentalists.  It explores the funk genre, with Parker’s drums slapping the groove into place and in your face. “Pleiades” uses handclaps and rhythm to propel the violin stage center. It’s a very lovely composition and continues to herald Simeon Davis as a gifted composer.  Holly Holt uses the piano to compliment and buoy the delicious violin solo by Jeff Meadoer.  I am absolutely captivated by the creativity and unique production that this Simeon Davis Band brings to his project. Simeon Davis lends several bars of his saxophone talent to this tune and “Pleiades” quickly becomes another one of my favorites. I listen to music all day, every day, but I’ve not heard something like this band in many moons. It’s refreshing! 

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Caleb Wheeler Curtis, alto & soprano saxophones/composer; Orrin Evans, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums.

The title tune “Heatmap” is a reference to where the action is happening.  Curtis composed the music for “Heatmap” during an artist residency and retreat in 2021.  Perhaps it was the get-away inspiration, the natural splendor of nature surroundings or the solitude that inspired him to write these ten, amazing jazz tunes. The result of that retreat is formidable music.

“…I like music with space in it.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea of throwing everything at the wall, which, in theory, sounds bigger and more confident.  But I wanted to appreciate the sound of the music in the air.  You can hear the detail in the playing and really hear the musicians as people.  And I’m working with three singular musicians whose playing has real weight,” Caleb explained.

Pianist, Orrin Evans, opens the title tune with a very classically colored introduction.  The thrust of Gerald Cleaver’s drumsticks pushes the arrangement forward and creates momentum.  Once the excitement has soared, Caleb Wheeler Curtis enters with an energetic and restless saxophone.  His solo is both melodic and innovative.  The group cools down with Track #2 titled, “Tossed Aside.”  Cleaver keeps the rhythm light and double-time, dancing beneath the melody like gently moving ocean waves, along with Eric Revis, perfectly in-step on bass.  This celebrated bassist has history with the pianist (Evans) and this musical relationship led Caleb Wheeler Curtis to Eric.  Prior to meeting Caleb, Revis played with Luques Curtis his Brother, recording on his CD. After that, Revis expressed interest in working with this saxophonist and artist. They are a good match.

There is freedom and fluidity throughout this album of original Caleb Wheeler Curtis music.  He allows his bandmates to dance on the chord changes, like acrobats at the circus, swinging from one bar to the next in perfect precision and astounding us with their various twists and turns.  For example, on “Limestone” the Curtis saxophone tumbles over the rolling drums of Cleaver in staccato reed notes and streams of improvisation.  His soprano sax sounds almost flute-like on “Trees for the Forest,” a ballad where Caleb and Orrin (on piano) duet quietly out-front. Cleaver percussively colors in the background and Eric’s bass falls like dark, green leaves on a forest floor. “Trembling” leaps into a speedy tempo, with four musicians racing around the CD like cars on a track. Caleb’s saxophone ‘cuts time’ on top of the energy. The music of Caleb Wheeler Curtis takes you on an adventure. This production is an unexpected rocket ship ride.  Just give yourself to the music and watch the universe explode with promise.

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November 19, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil/ jazz journalist

November 19, 2017

STACEY KENT – “I KNOW I DREAM” – The Orchestral Session
Sony Records

Stacey Kent, vocals; Jim Tomilinson, saxophones/alto flute/percussion; Graham Harvey, piano/Fender Rhodes; John Paricelli, guitars; Jeremy Brown, double bass; Joshua Morrison, drums; Curtis Schwartz, Fender/electric bass; Erika Matsuo, station announcer background voice.

ORCHESTRA MEMBERS: 1st violins: Martin Burgess (leader); Amanda Smith, George Salter, Katie Stillman, Lorraine McAsian, John Mills, Andrew Storey, Richard Milone, Paul Willey, Rob Bishop. 2nd Violins: Jenny Godson (principal second); Catherine Morgan, Matthew Ward, Jeremy Morris, Clare Hayes. Richard Blayden, Richard George, Alison Dods, Susan Briscoe, Takane Funatsu. Violas: Fiona Bonds, James Boyd, Ian Rathbone, Nick Barr, Chian Lim, Reiad Chibah. Celli: Martin Loveday, Nick Cooper, Will Schofield, Judith Herbert, Juliet Welchman, Julia Graham, Vicky Matthews. Basses: Chris Laurence, Richard Pryce, Lucy Shaw; Flutes: Eliza Marshall, Sarah Newbold, Patricia Moynihan, Siobhan Grealy, Holly Cook. Clarinet/Alto flute, Jamie Talbot; Clarinets: Tim Lines, Tom Lessels (bass clarinet), Steve Morris, (contra bass clarinet); French Horns: John Thurgood, Corinne Bailey, Joanna Hensel, Andy Sutton; Harp, Sue Blair; Vibraphone & percussion, Adrian Bending; Keyboard, Graham Harvey.

The orchestra on this CD is so beautiful, I could not stop listening. From the very first “Double Rainbow” tune, puffed up by all the lush strings and harmonic horn arrangements, I was hooked. The orchestra supports Stacey Kent’s velvet soft tones with precision. On “Photograph,” Sue Blair’s tender harp,at the top of the tune, is dreamy and lovely. I find this is a perfect project of music to play when you want to just cool down, meditate or be romantic. It’s a very soothing production and Kent has an easy listening voice that enunciates every word clearly and puts great emotion into each song interpretation. She’s also competent in French, fluently singing a sexy arrangement of “Les Amours Perdues.”

Kudos to Tommy Laurence, who arranged this masterpiece and to Jim Tomlinson, the orchestra conductor. The song choices are superb, inclusive of several original compositions co-penned by Jim Tomlinson. I was particularly drawn to “Make It Up” that features original lyrics to match a happy-go-lucky arrangement and the title tune is also magnificent. Kent’s interpretation of Lani Hall & Torquato Neto’s song, “To Say Goodbye” will be etched in my memory forever. Stacey Kent’s honey-smooth, sweet tones bring each composition alive in a delightful way. This is an elegant, classy piece of art that you will enjoy listening to time after time.
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Yarlung Records

Yuko Mabuchi, piano; Del Atkins, bass; Bobby Breton, drums

This ‘live’ recording is an awe-inspiring work of art. Pianist Yuko Mabuchi is as exciting on recording as she is in person. Here is a production that sparkles with improvisational creativity, energy, and the piano talents of a young and developing super star. Yarlung, founder of Yarlung Records, first heard the Yuko Mabuchi Trio at Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood. The very next day he offered to record their album. This concert was recorded at the USC campus Cammilleri Hall. This space is used for master-classes and recitals. It’s the same concert venue designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, where Yarlung previously recorded Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet in 2014. Jazz pianist and educator, Billy Mitchell, served as associate producer on this project.

Opening with Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love,” Mabuchi introduces a unique arrangement that showcases her bassist and drummer, as well as accentuating her classical training. She moves from Swing to a Latin a tinged arrangement that acts as the perfect platform for Bobby Breton to present his energetic drum solo. I am intrigued with Mabuchi’s piano style. She often sounds like two people are playing piano instead of one, using cross-hand techniques and showing that she is as fluid with her left hand as she is with her right hand. Del Atkins shows himself to be a very melodic bassist, creative and improvisational on his solo. The Mabuchi Trio’s transitions from Swing to Latin are as smooth as velvet. They work in concert and as close as perfectly fitted puzzle pieces. You can tell this trio has been playing together for some time. Their familiarity offers their listening audience a certain level of comfort. On songs like “Valse Noire” composed by Mark Louis Lehman, Mabuchi plays with so much emotion and sincerity, I had to stop everything I was doing just so I could give her my entire attention. She plays two-handed ‘call and response,’ toying with the melody. Here is a ballad, once again showing how her technique sounds as though there are four hands at two pianos, instead of one petite and gifted woman poised above the 88-keys. At first, she begins solo. When her band joins in, she digs deep and pulls the blues out of this song, interspersing the arrangement with classical overtones. When the drums and bass drop out once again, the arrangement allows her to successfully solo and familiarize us with the beauty of the melody. This is followed by “Green Dolphin Street,” played nice and easy, with Del Atkins’ bass arrangement holding the trio solidly in place and locking the slow swing tempo solidly with Breton’s tasty drums. Mabuchi rolls atop their rock-solid rhythm section, like sweet butter across a hot pan.

Yuko Mabuchi interprets pop singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles’ composition, “Seriously,” in a fresh, jazzy way. Then she follows up by creating a medley of Ellington, Jerome Kern and Billy Strayhorn. In celebration of her heritage, she includes a Japanese Medley of “Hazy Moon,” “Cherry Blossom”, and “Look At the Sky” combining composers Teiichi Okano, Anon, and Hachidai Nakamura. Speaking of composers, she offers us one of her original tunes titled, “Sona’s Song” and closes with “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins.

This is a soulful CD, combining cultures, like serving grits and gravy with delicious miso soup. This talented lady and her trio are a force of nature that bring musical excellence and energetic excitement to an unforgettable jazz production.

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Artist Share Label

Cheryl Bentyne, vocals; John Beasley & Tom Zink, piano; Bevan Manson, piano/electric piano; Rafi Rishik, violin; Jennie Hansen, viola; Tom McCauley, percussion/guitar; Armen Ksajikian, cello; Brad Dutz, percussion; John Arrucci, marimba; Kevin Axt, bass; Dave Tul, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Janis Siegel & Tierney Sutton, vocals; Mark Kibble & Armand Hutton,vocals.

The tinkle of the piano’s upper register opens this CD, like raindrops against windowpanes. When Cheryl Bentyne sings, “I remember sky, it was blue as ink … Rain, like things and changing things like me,” you are totally attentive to her voice and her stories. I find myself sitting motionless at that window, looking into her life. That’s the telltale mark of a good storyteller. One who can whisk you away from your everyday melodrama into the pictures they paint with the words of a song. Bentyne is excellent at doing just that. Her voice is the brush against the canvas of our imaginations.

The piano is also the star of this first song. I look to see who it is and not surprisingly, it’s Grammy-nominated John Beasley. No wonder it’s so creative and outstanding.

Bentyne celebrates ten tunes composed by the Broadway icon, Stephen Sondheim. His “Send in the Clowns” is scratched into the memory-bank of the universe. Bentyne helps us reacquaint ourselves with some of his other amazingly well-written songs. At thirteen she was already singing with her father’s Dixieland band and she studied acting and performed in plays when she was a student at Skagit Valley College. So naturally, she would be attracted to Sondheim’s music. On this CD, she’s invited Janis Siegel and Tierney Sutton to join her on a Swing version of “The Ladies Who Lunch” from the play, “Company.” I am a big fan of Seigel & Bentyne, two Grammy Award-winning singers. I remember them from their days as members of the popular vocal quartet, The Manhattan Transfer. They were the 20th century replication of the Lambert, Hendrix and Ross style, and that quartet brought jazz vocal harmonies back to the forefront of popular music. I also admire jazz vocalist,Tierney Sutton.

You get a taste of the Manhattan Transfer style during her arrangement of “Send in the Clowns”. This is my favorite song on her whole album and I’m sure it will get lots of air play.

I’m happy to hear the Manhattan Transfer group is still performing, but currently, Bentyne has travelled her own musical path with emphasis on her stellar soprano vocal gift and her desire to interpret Broadway music. This is a continuation of that journey. If you love Sondheim compositions, you’ll find Bentyne’s rendition of his music well-produced and sincere.

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Telarc Label/Concord Music Group

Hiromi,piano;Edmar Castaneda,harp.

Live in Montreal at the 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival, pianist/composer ‘Hiromi’ and Colombian composer/harpist, Edmar Castaneda take us on an excursion into the outer limits of jazz with a special, duet and musical bonding. I could not imagine how two people could present such a rich and exciting partnership, using only harp and piano. They prove their strength of style, technique and purpose by playing Avant Garde jazz on their very first cut titled, “A Harp in New York.” I find myself captivated. Castaneda has composed this tune and it’s full of spunk and energy.

Edmar Castaneda described his talent in this way. “I was born to play the harp. It is a gift from God and like every gift from God, it has a purpose. The purpose of my music is to worship Him and bring his presence and unconditional love to people.”

Castaneda brings a totally original voice to jazz on his harp. He studied the instrument during his teens, starting by playing Colombian folkloric music. He was introduced to the jazz community by Paquito D’Rivera, who recognized the young man’s talent and helped direct him to musicians and situations that could utilize his unique approach to the harp. Castaneda has worked with bassists Marcus Miller and John Patitucci. One of the first things I noticed about Castaneda’s unusual approach to harp was how he could make it sound like a bass. This was particularly obvious on their second cut when he sets the stage with funk and fusion. It was very Jaco Pastoria sounding. When I looked for the title on the album credits, imagine my surprise when the tune was called, “For Jaco.” Well Hiromi and Castaneda definitely capture the iconic bass players spirit on this original composition.

Hiromi is also an amazing musician. Her first Telarc CD release was in 2003 titled, “Another Mind,” but this duo project has her veering off into a whole new direction. Born in Hamamasu, Shizuoka, Japan on March 26, 1979, she started piano lessons as a six-year-old girl. Her piano teacher, Hikida-san, introduced her to jazz and the music of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson. In 1999, she matriculated to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her professor, bassist/arranger Richard Evans, took special care to introduce Hiromi in-person, to the legendary pianist/bandleader, Ahmad Jamal. Both men were very encouraging to the fledgling pianist. Evans actually co-produced her debut CD titled, “Another Mind.” These two musicians (Evans & Jamal) had a lot to do with helping Hiromi find her own artistic path and helping her develop her unique style. That debut CD had critical success in both America and Japan. The album shipped gold (which means 100,000 plus units sold) and received the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s (RIAJ) award for “Jazz Album of the Year”. Her awards have piled up over the years. Another highlight of her musical life was recording with pianist Chick Corea, who she met in Japan, when she was only seventeen. The release was simply called, “Duet.” She later appeared on bassist, Stanley Clarke’s “Heads Up” international release; (“Jazz in the Garden”). In 2011, The Stanley Clarke Band CD, featuring Hiromi, won the GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

This latest album is a new chapter in Hiromi’s musical life. It’s amazing how much music this duo can get out of only two instruments. I never knew the harp was so versatile and could emulate the sound of so many instruments. One minute it sounded like a guitar, the next a sitar, and then an electric bass, always coming back to it’s unique, angelic, harp roots. Hiromi’s talent and energy seems to propel Castaneda to his highest heights and he reciprocates, inspiring her on piano. You will embrace and enjoy her extraordinary manipulation of the piano keys, drawing beauty out of the instrument from treble to the bass clef. Additionally, she shuts the piano and the wooden key-cover becomes a percussive instrument where she becomes a drummer on the tune, “Fire.” I found her composition, “Moonlight Sunshine” to be a very beautiful exploration of a melodic ballad. She was inspired to write this after the devastating tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan in 2011. It’s a perfect vehicle for these two instruments to explore their passion and virtuosity.

Perhaps Hiromi explained it best by saying:

“When I heard Edmar play I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. It was a jaw-dropping experience. I didn’t realize the harp could create such rhythm and groove. I only knew about classical harp. … His way of playing was pure energy, full of passion. I was just blown away.”

They are currently touring and will be appearing in San Francisco November 16 through November 19. If you’re in that part of the world, don’t miss their extraordinary performance, or just check them out below.

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Independent Label

Kelly Green, piano/vocals; Christian McBride, Tamir Shmerling & Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Noam Israeli & Kush Abadey, drums; Josh Evans, trumpet; Mike Troy, alto saxophone; Jovan Alexandre, tenor saxophone.

Kelly Green is a composer, pianist and vocalist. This is her debut recording effort and she has chosen some lovely Frank Loesser tunes and other ‘Standards’ that celebrate composers like Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn. I hadn’t heard someone sing “Never Will I Marry” since Nancy Wilson sang it with the Cannonball Adderley group years ago. Green does a superb job of interpreting this song, with its challenging melody and range. She tackles it in her own inimitable way. Her piano playing is impressive and sensitive. I enjoyed the standards, but I was more interested in her original compositions. She has composed seven of the thirteen recorded tunes. “My Little Daffodil” is melodically well written, with an arrangement that goes from Pink Panther stealth and slow swing into double time. I enjoyed the addition of Steve Nelson’s vibraphone. “If You Thought to Ask Me,” is a slow, sexy ballad with compelling and harmonic horns introducing the melody and no lyrics. Green’s solo is tentative and purposeful without a lot of fluff and flare.

“Culture Shock” is Straight Ahead jazz; no vocals. A soaring saxophone takes flight (unlisted as to who is soloing in the CD credits), consequently I’m not sure if it’s Jovan Alexandre or Mike Troy. The tune also features Josh Evans on trumpet. Her original compositions all display strong melodies and that makes up for the composer’s sometimes lack-luster lyrics. One exception is “I Sing” that unfolds a lyrical story of interest and gives bassist Christian McBride a chance to shine, echoing her haunting melody on his instrument. Noam Israell, on drums, takes a percussive bow during his solo and throughout. McBride also is featured on an inspired solo during the old standard, “I Should Care” and holds the rhythm section together throughout like musical paste. The title tune, “Life Rearranged” is lyrically reflective and the changes are stunning. Her melody unfolds beautifully, with unexpected notes that are haunting. I don’t understand the subway sounds I keep hearing throughout, during songs and in between songs. I wonder, what was the purpose for the sound effects? I keep awaiting the composition called B Train or Subway Song, but no such gift arrives to make sense of the odd sound effects. Otherwise, here is a talented singer/composer/pianist who shares her “Life Rearranged” moments with us unpretentiously.

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Suite 28 Records

Reta Watkins, vocals; Jason Webb, piano; Danny O’Lannerghty, upright bass/electric bass; Scott Williamson, drums/percussion; Trumpets: Steve Patrick, Mike Haynes, Mike Barry, Keith Smith. Trombones: Barry Green, Jeremy Wilson, Chris McDonald, Prentis Hobbs, Roy Agee. French Horns: Jennifer Kummer, Anna Spina. Woodwinds: Mark Douthit, Sam Levine, Jeff Coffin, Doug Moffet, Jimmy Bowland. Violins: David Davidson (concert master); David Angell, Conni Ellisor, Karen Winkelmann, Mary Kathryn Vanosdale, Janet Darnall, Jenny Bifano, Carolym Bailey, Alicia Enstrom. Violas: Maniso Angell, Elizabeth Lamb, Chris Ferrell. Cello: Anthony Lamarchina, Sari Reist, Emily Nelson, Carole Rabinowitz. Arco Bass: Craig Nelson, Jack Jezioro. Harp: Kristin Copely.

Reta Watkins has a full orchestra accompaniment for this musical holiday greeting. It’s the perfect music for the season. Her second-soprano voice is bright and clear, with the orchestra arrangements by Jason Webb beautifully written and performed. Webb’s blues tinged arrangement of “Mary Did You Know” is a pleasant surprise. Reta Watkins sells the song with sincerity and good timing.

The string arrangements on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” are awesome. It was lovely to hear Watkins sing the verse, often unsung, and certainly worthy of being heard. She sings all the American favorites and adds a couple of new songs composed by Jeremy Johnson and Paul Marino. One is a heartfelt tribute to a soul departed titled, “Christmas in Heaven.” The melody is absolutely beautiful and the lyrics are startlingly poetic and tender.

“Is the snow falling down on the streets of gold?
Are the mansions all covered in white?
Are you singing with angels ‘Silent Night’?
I wonder what Christmas in Heaven is like?”

Another song I can’t remember hearing is “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Behold Emmanuel” is a second song composed by Johnson and Marino. Other songs included in this heavily orchestrated gem of a Christmas album are, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas.” Here is the perfect, uplifting music to play during this season of peace and love.

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Ruby Slippers Production

Lisa Hilton, piano; Gregg August, bass; Rudy Royston, drums; JD Allen, sax; Terrell Stafford, trumpet.

This is the 20th album release for pianist, Lisa Hilton. Spectacularly, she has recorded an album a year since 1997. This project is different from the others, because she wanted to provide a feeling of uplift and rejuvenation with this new body of musical work. She has composed nine of the ten songs on this project and hopes that they bring peace and positive energy to a world basking in disruption and climate catastrophe. I do not feel this is all jazz music. Some of the arrangements, like “Meltdown” are more like easy listening. Others are modernistic. However, then comes “Too Hot” that is very jazzy and steps outside the realms of Straight Ahead to become more Avant Garde and free flowing. JD Allen brings a feeling of peace and meditation with his sexy saxophone. Terell Stafford stabs at the senses with his trumpet, while Hilton’s floating rhythmic piano line beneath the horn improvisation comes in waves of sultry sound. Her unique arrangement of the only standard jazz song on this project, “On A Clear Day,” is fresh and uninhibited, taking musical paths less trodden and using expressive and unique chords to sing this old familiar song. Unfortunately, I could find no video for her recent recording to share with you. The one attached is older music, recorded at L.A.’s prestigious Vibrato Club.

Perhaps Lisa Hilton described this album best when she wrote in her liner notes:

“Artists have an important role in our culture and community. It is through art and music that our souls and spirits can be energized, balanced and entertained … We all need to “escape” from our challenges. I want our music to be a positive force, whether you’re listening on the subway, while at work or lounging on a tropical island. Our music embraces the good experiences in our world.”

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November 8, 2017

by Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

November 8, 2017


To open this review of horn players, I had to begin with a young man who is leading a group of youthful jazz giants. His name is Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah and I enjoyed his ‘live’ performance on NPR’s Small Desk Concert. He is joined by Elena Pinderhughes on flute (20-years-old), Braxton Cook on Alto saxophone (24-years-old), Lawrence Fields on piano, (with the longest fingers I’ve seen in quite some time), Dominic Minix on guitar (21-years-old), Kris Funn on bass (with an effervescent smile as contagious as the bass grooves he was laying down) and Corey Fonville on percussion. The first song they played was obviously a blend of African and American jazz styles. After their performance was completed, the trumpet leader explained that he was the grandson of Donald Harrison Senior, a respected Chief of four Black Indian tribes in New Orleans. As a young musician, he was tutored by his uncle, saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., before leaving to study at Berklee College of Music. Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah decided to open his set in tribute to those tribes his grandfather represents and his family’s African roots. He does this by incorporating rhythms from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Cuba, the Caribbean and finally, New Orleans, Louisiana. I could hear all of those cultures in his music and enjoyed the tune titled, “Twin.” He describes it as a reflection of his own life as a twin. His twin brother is a film director and protégé of Spike Lee. It would appear that creativity and art run in his family. In search of his African American roots, the youthful trumpeter composed this original song.

The second song was “West of the West” and featured Braxton Cook on alto saxophone. This song was introduced with a strong funk guitar played by Dominic Minix. The final taste of this jazz ensemble’s latest CD release was a song inspired by a treacherous encounter with the New Orleans police department that Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah explains in detail on film. This composition is titled, Klu Klux Police.

Here is a young group of jazz musicians who bring their art and their activism as a complete musical package to be examined and ingested.

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Independent Label

Samuel Pompeo, baritone & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Dino Barioni, guitar; Fabio Leandro, piano; Gibson, Freitas, contra bass; Paulinho Vicente, drums.

Samuel Pompeo’s baritone saxophone is startling! To hear a baritone being played at this double-time pace is quite exciting. That’s the way this CD begins, at a maddening pace and exploiting the spot-on technique and strength of this Brazilian reedman. The song itself is an odd blend of 1920, Ragtime jazz piano and a more modern, straight-ahead horn, with an undertow of Latin rhythms that corral the musicians like a bunch of wild horses, squeezing them tightly together in a blend of cultures and artforms. The tempos change and fluctuate intentionally. It’s a fascinating arrangement of “De Cachimbo”. The next song was composed by Pompeo’s guitarist, Dino Barioni. It’s titled, “Agua Na Chaleira,” and once again it combines musical cultures in a most unique way. The liner notes explain it in uncomplicated terms. In the 20th century, one new genre of music formed in Rio de Janeiro Brazil and another in New Orleans, Louisiana. Both uniquely blended (from 19th century influences) European polkas, Classical music, Scottish and Mazurca, mixing all genres together with African music and rhythms. Up popped ‘Choro’ in Brazil and ‘jazz’ in America. The only addition I might have is that African Americans created jazz. So, we cannot forget, it also came from the bowels of slavery and the slave ‘work songs’ created in America.

In track #3, an original composition by Pompeo, (“Cave Du 38”), you hear a clarinet or soprano saxophone soloing. It reminds me of the Benny Goodman days of big bands and Swing dancing. This is followed by the very beautiful “Janeiro 15,” another composition by Pompeo. I love the tone and fluidity that Pompeo produces on his baritone saxophone. Another favorite tune of mine is “Choro Vermelho” by Daniel Grajew. It’s a happy-go-lucky arrangement, giving Fabio Leandro time to solo on piano and Barioni to excel on guitar. Pompeo moves from one saxophone to another, showing that his dexterity and technique is unlimited.

The concept of this recording seems to be relating the two musical forms, (Choro and jazz) to create a conceptual album that embraces both African American jazz roots and Brazilian roots. The flowering offspring is both artistic and innovative.
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BFM Productions

Bob Ferrel, trombone; Dwight West, vocals; Vinnie Cutro, trumpet; Rob Henke, trumpet; Joe Ford, Alto saxophone; Frank Elmo, alto saxophone; Frank Elmo, alto/tenor saxophones; Roy Nicolosi, alto/tenor/baritone saxophone/trumpet; Sharp Radway & Hector Davila, piano; Daryl Johns, acoustic bass; Ruben Rodriguez, Zorko baby bass; Steve Johns, drums; Frank Valdes, Latin percussion.

Bob Ferrell has been touring with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, under the direction of Mercer Ellington, for many years. He’s backed up the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and even Johnny Hartman. He’s also backed pop stars like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and blues man Stevie Ray Vaughan. But with this CD, he’s venturing into a space all his own. Singing “My Secret Love” on his trusty trombone, Ferrel plays at an incredible speed with all the dexterity and technique that his bio acclaims. Bob Ferrel is no joke. He’s impressive from the very first tune. His musical ensemble is as sweet as a fresh baked cake. He is the delicious icing, dripping his trombone tones over the hot mix of arrangements. Dwight West, on vocals, adds ice cream to the cake. He’s cool and creamy smooth on “Yardbird Suite”, singing the lyrics down once before he breaks into the Eddie Jefferson-like improvised lyrics. West can swing with the best of them.

McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Glimpse” composition allows Sharp Radway to stretch his fingers across the piano keys and give us a glimmer of his talents. He plays with power and energy, letting his left hand hold the rhythm strongly in place, while his right hands races across the keys in the treble clef. Radway’s solo is short, but memorable, as is Vinnie Cutro’s trumpet improvisation on this cut. Other favorites are “Don’t Go To Strangers,” sung and played as an up-tempo swing tune, unlike Etta Jones’ sultry rendition. Another tune, “We Began With A Kiss,” is a happy Latin arrangement with nice horn harmonics and appropriately punched by Frank Valdes’ Latin percussion and Hector Davila’s pumping piano parts.

But always, Bob Ferrel is the clasp on this string of musical pearls, holding the ensemble firmly in place and glittering like solid gold.
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JL Music

Roy McGrath, tenor saxophone; Bill Cessna, piano; Joseph Kitt Lyles, bass; Jonathon Wenzel, drums; Ivelisse Diaz, Barril de Bomba-Buleador; Victor “Junito” Gonzalez, congas.

This is a very creative piece of music. In 2015, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago commissioned composer/tenor saxophonist, Roy McGrath, to compose an Afro-Caribbean jazz suite in honor of Puerto Rican poet, Julia de Burgos. Thus, began a studio journey with the destination becoming this CD project. Roy McGrath is a Puerto Rican musician who happily embraced the Julia de Burgos concept and four tunes were born. The other compositions on this project are the result of McGrath’s memories of his homeland, his family and the new roots he’s planted in the United States. This music is grown from those seeds.

The first song, “Cancion De La Verdad Sencilla,” features poetry by Julia de Burgos. Her poetry is spoken in Spanish over the jazz by Puerto Rican born actress, Rosanna Sanchez. In English, a poet of Puerto Rican descent, Claritza Maldonado, reads her own poem in concert with Sanchez. Maldonado’s poem compliments Julia de Burgos by celebrating her own mother and grandmother. These two female, poet voices span three-quarters of a century and 3000 miles of ocean with their words. See below:

“When My mother’s mother became an ocean, I wonder who waved at her?
Upon her transformation, she became an ocean but still had to tread water, still had to swim.
I never knew her, but I knew she must have been a good swimmer
Because my mother also became an ocean
Became the waves between Puerto Rico and America.
She began holding her breath in 1898
sank to the bottom; always manages to rise back up to shore.
My mother is an ocean, because when you attempt to hyphenate her
she waves back, and smiles.”
A poem written by Claritza Maldonado

The song is played, employing a Bomba Sica rhythm performed by Ivelisse Diaz and Joseph Kitt Lyles steps out front with his bass, taking a short, but inspirational solo. Roy McGrath solidifies the arrangement with his emotional saxophone. This piece takes my breath away. I re-play it three times.

During a time when Puerto Rico has undergone such calamity because of Hurricane Maria’s recent devastation, this message is strong and appropriate. It inspires and uplifts. I hang my head in shame that our government has not been more forthcoming with aid and solid support for our American families in Puerto Rico. Roy McGrath’s music, and the added poetry, certainly magnify and flag determination, beauty and the power of the Puerto Rican people. Although Roy McGrath composed this piece two years prior to this horrendous natural disaster, his music lives in the here and now. It not only entertains us, but make us think about the value of human life and family. After all, we are all connected. That’s what I got out of this tenor saxophonist’s artistic endeavor; a divine connection.

“Por Ti Estoy” translates to ‘because of you I am.’ It was composed by McGrath in celebration of his mother and her support of his musical career. It’s a slow swing, with blues over-tones, where McGrath plays with another emotional tenor saxophone attack.

His themes, throughout this project, relate to the universal human experience. In celebration of the CD title, “Remembranzas,” that is a Spanish word meaning a memory flashback or a point from the past that is influencing the present. That title tune is another blues rooted composition that features pianist, Bill Cessna, giving him time and freedom to express himself. However, it’s always Roy McGrath who pushes boundaries and inspires his ensemble to reach for internal places; pushing their feelings into the universe like endless rainbows of sound and beauty.

PostScript: Someone needs to tell the artistic album cover designer this reviewer could hardly read the words on your cover because of the pink and white against the gray. Not only was the print extremely small, it was almost illegible because of the coloring. Remind your next graphic artist that the information on your album cover is as important as your music.

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Hollistic Music Works

Jared Hall, trumpet/composer/arranger; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone; Tal Cohen & Martin Bejerano, piano; Josh Allen, bass; Kyle Swan, drums.

Trumpeter Jared Hall has written and arranged every song on this spectacular new release as part of the Mentor Series. On “Wanderer”, the very first composition on this production, each participating musician makes a dynamic statement. There is a space where Kyle Swan lets loose on drums and Troy Roberts sparkles on tenor saxophone, both provocative and enthusiastic. However, Hall is the nut and bolt of this music, twisting everything tightly into place with melodic horn lines and staccato harmonic arrangements. His trumpet solo is delivered tenaciously and with obvious technique and control. Martin Bejerano, on piano, displays a call and response kind of musicality, letting the horns be the answering choir to his two-fisted piano grit. You hear more of this pianist on “Hallways”. It’s a mysterious tune, with a horn unison approach to the melody presentation at the top of the tune. I’m impressed and pleased by Jared Hall’s compositional skills. His music moves me. Josh Allen takes a solo on this ‘cut’, letting his bass explore the outer perimeter of the chord structure atop the lush chords that Bejerano supplies on piano.

I find myself eager to hear the next song and enthralled by this composer and his tightknit band. “Love, Laugh and Cry,” is a slow swing with Allen walking his bass and setting the groove in perfect sync with Swan on drums. Roberts adds a swig of blues from the depths of his tenor saxophone, as does Hall, pouring it generously out of the bell of his instrument. I am intoxicated by their presentation.

As a debut project for this well-mentored trumpeter, this is an extraordinary recording. I was particularly impressed by Swan, who improvises on his drums beneath the surface of the song, without ever loosing or compromising the tempo or texture of the music. “Allure” (the fourth ‘cut’) was co-written by Sherrine Mostin and is a very pretty composition with Swan adding a Latin feel with his percussive art and Bejerano stepping center stage for a sweet solo. I enjoyed the interplay between saxophone and trumpet, as if they were trading fours or challenging each other with improvisational swords.

Tal Cohen takes a seat on the piano bench for “Visions and Dreams” and three other tunes on this CD. He brings a music-box quality to the piano to interpret this composition. I can see the little ballerina twirling in front of the box mirror as I listen to his tinkling, soprano notes and chords that support the bass solo. Jared Hall grounds the tune with his trumpet solo and the image is momentarily wiped away. On “Meditations” I enjoyed the drum mallets and their warm, comforting, rhythmic sound. “Tones for Jones” is right up my groove alley, with blues leaping out to startle my attention. Finally, I get to hear Cohen stretch out on piano with perfectly timed improvised runs and an obvious love of the upper register. I enjoyed his sense of harmony.

This is a recording to be enjoyed over and over again. The ensemble is as comfortable and close-fitting as hand to glove. Jared Hall’s compositions are well-written, well-played and his talent and tone on trumpet, undeniably pleasant.
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Mack Ave Records

Dave Bennett, clarinet; Dave Restivo, piano; Reg Schwager, guitar; Jim Vivian, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Davide Direnzo, percussion.

I am not familiar with clarinetist, Dave Bennett, but Pete Siers is one of my favorite drummers. I enjoyed working with him when I lived in Detroit. This project is a lovely combination of Smooth Jazz and Easy Listening, starting with the very first title tune. Bennett has joined talents with Toronto-based composer, arranger and bassist, Shelly Berger. Together they have composed five of the eleven tunes on this CD, including “Blood Moon.” Bennett has a warm, silky smooth tone on clarinet. From a spiritual perspective, Bennett shares in the liner notes that he had named a few of his original composition from scripture. The title tune evolved that way and so did “Falling Sky.” This is the third cut on his album and it’s a brooding ballad, with a melody line that reminds me a tiny bit of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Jim Vivian plays a beautiful bass solo during this arrangement.

Dave Bennett is not only a clarinet virtuoso, but he’s a multi-talented musician who also plays electric guitar, drums and sings. Inspired by Benny Goodman records when he was only ten years old, by the age of twelve he played well-enough to join trumpeter Doc Cheatham on the bandstand of New York City’s Sweet Basil jazz stage. It’s been an upward climb ever since. Bennett’s been a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops and has played his tribute to Benny Goodman with fifty other orchestras. If you like the tone and legacy of Benny Goodman, you will enjoy Dave Bennett’s contemporary merging of that historic sound with present-day, twenty-first century jazz.

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Zoho Records

Gil Spitzer, alto saxophone; Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Julian Shore, piano; Nilson Matta, producer/acoustic bass; Mauricio Zottarelli & Steve Johns, drums; Fernando Saci, percussion; Monica Davis & Amanda Lo, violin; Angela Pickett, viola; Jessie Reagen Man, Cello.

Speaking of those days of Stan Getz and Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, I was immediately reminded of that era of big band swing while listening to Gil Spitzer’s album. Gil Spitzer has a sound that is as fluid and adhesive as oil on your hands. He reminds me a lot of Getz. My mother played Stan Getz albums often in our house, and I’m very familiar with that sound and style. On the first cut, Spitzer’s band takes time to step forward and musically introduce themselves. The tune is “Angel Eyes”. Each musician is technically astute and competent. Together, they form a solid skillet for this butter smooth saxophonist to heat up and pop the music.

Spitzer’s debut album project for Zoho records is a lovely listening experience. Chico Pinheiro lays down a consistent and supportive rhythm guitar line beneath both “Angel Eyes” and the Bossa Nova arrangement of “Embraceable You.” Fernando Saci adds percussion magic to the wooden wands of both Mauricio Zottarelli and Steve Johns on drums. Producer and bass connoisseur, Nilson Matta, plays a mean acoustic bass throughout.

Gil Spitzer is no newcomer to the world of jazz. Not surprisingly, he grew up admiring Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges and that era of jazz. Brazilian bassist and the producer of this session, Nilson Matta, explained it best when he said:

“He’s got that lyrical thing, which is very charming and also nice tone; great taste. He embraces all of those things and he plays with a lot of spirit.”

The CD title, Falando Docemente, translates to ‘Speak Sweet.’ Matta assembled a band of Brazilian compatriots to support Spitzer’s candy-sweet sound and to enhance the authenticity of several Bossa Nova arrangements on this CD. Spitzer’s choice of tunes is as honey-coated as his alto saxophone sound.

In the liner notes, Gil Spitzer confessed another strong musical influence. It was jazz singer and pianist, Nat King Cole.

“My inspiration on both “The Very Thought of You” and “Nature Boy” was Nat Cole,” he said. “While it’s hard to convey his voice through an alto saxophone, that sound was in my head and what I was feeling when we recorded those two songs.”

Producer Matta hired a rising star pianist/composer named Julian Shore to write string quartet arrangements on both of the songs mentioned above and on the Sonny Rollins’ composition, “Valse Hot”. He also plays piano on most of the studio tracks.

Every song on this recording is as rewarding as a piece of peppermint candy or as slice of hot pumpkin pie. Gil Spitzer’s nostalgic music matches the decadent sweetness of your favorite dessert.

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Krug Park Music

Ken Wiley, French horn; Wally Minko, piano/electric piano; Trey Henry, acoustic bass/electric bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; Mike Miller, acoustic Guitar; Dan Higgins, flute/alto flute/alto, tenor & soprano saxophones; Chuck Findley, trumpet; Gary Grant, trumpet/Harmon trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Sheppard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Brass background: Ken Wiley & Gary Grant.

It’s not often I get to enjoy a French Horn player indulging in straight-ahead jazz as an upfront soloist. This is Ken Wiley’s fourth recording as a leader, but it’s his first project that focuses on straight-ahead jazz and he covers some of jazz music’s greatest musician/composers. When I review the list of songs on this CD, I see work by Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Eddie Harris, John Coltrane, Antonio Jobim and Clare Fischer. That’s a stellar list of iconic talent. Next, I saw the list of popular California session musicians who joined Ken Wiley on this production and I was even more impressed.

The first song is Freddie Hubbard’s popular, “Little Sunflower.” Ken Wiley steps out and tattoos this standard with his smooth, elegant French horn sound. He allows plenty of room for his band members to solo and you can’t help but hum along with their production. Gary Grant adds a spicy flugelhorn solo to one of my favorite Milt Jackson tunes, “Bag’s Groove.” Grant and Wiley have co-produced this project and created all the brass backgrounds. Wiley has rounded up the crème de la crème of Southern California jazz names like drummer Kendal Kay and percussionist, Luis Conte; saxophonist, Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Chuck Findley, to name just a few. They do a superb job of supporting Wiley’s arrangements and his unique talent.

Ken Wiley is no newcomer to the music business. His career has spanned many types and styles of music, building his brilliant reputation as a ‘top-drawer’ studio musician and sideman. He’s played with the likes of tenor titan, Charlie Rouse; bass icon, John Patitucci and worked with Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra. He’s composed for and played on a number of film scores and sound tracks including the “American Dad,” an animated TV series and the TV show, “Family Guy.” Additionally, he’s performed with rock star, Lenny Kravitz. You could have seen him at the Playboy Jazz Festival or participating in a UCLA Jazz Concert, at the Julliard New Music Festival, The Coleman Hawkins Jazz Festival or perhaps attended one of his many clinics on playing jazz on the French horn. On this latest album, Ken Wiley places the French Horn front and center, establishing it as a viable and sensitive instrument to interpret jazz.

He started out as a rock and roll player, concentrating on playing piano. For some reason, his mother had a French Horn laying around the house. So, when he was in the seventh grade in St. Joseph, Missouri, Ken Wiley started playing the horn. He joined a six or seven-piece band as a young musician, playing French Horn and congas. After banging around the Kansas City rock scene for a while, he decided to move to Los Angeles in hopes of pursuing a career in jazz. He had no mentors for playing jazz on the French Horn. In fact, most of his instructors didn’t encourage the idea. But Ken Wiley was determined. That determination paid off. It was the late seventies/early eighties when he began composing his own music. Once he was accepted into the Motion Picture Sound Union, the fledgling jazz player started making enough money to do his own thing and truly pursue honing his jazz style on French Horn. He landed a gig with Charlie Rouse and my good friend, bassist Larry Gales, at a small local L.A. jazz club. Wiley was thrilled to be working with guys who had played as part of the Thelonious Monk band. Charlie Rouse had used the French Horn in his groups before, so Ken Wiley fit right in. These kinds of experiences encouraged Wiley to continue honing his talent and polishing his passion on the French Horn. This album is a culmination of a musical life well-lived and dreams fulfilled.

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October 25, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil – jazz journalist

October 25, 2017

The amount of new and creative music I receive is to be celebrated. Starting with THE MYRON MCKINNEY TRIO, freshly formed in 2014, led by the musical conductor of Earth Wind & Fire, bursting with composer creativity and great musicianship. Haunting. Beautiful. Melodic. Soothing. Melancholy. These are the adjectives that come to mind when the very first cut of GUILLERMO NOJECHOWICZ’s CD spins off my Compact disc player. Vocalist, GABRIELE TRANCHINA has recorded an album featuring several of her talented husband’s compositions. STEVE HECKMAN & MATT CLARK share their saxophone/piano duo sessions and WADADA LEO SMITH christens an entire album of Thelonious Monk music with his solo trumpet. Conductor/composer, CHUCK OWEN and THE JAZZ SURGE offer orchestrated compositions that celebrate Owen’s great love for the outdoors. LUPA SANTIAGO & ANDERS VESTERGARD QUARTET make a memorable statement combining Latin, Brazilian, Contemporary and Straight-ahead jazz with hybrid rhythms. Finally, bassist JEFF DINGLER composes all the songs on an album produced to encompass American Jazz and Ethiopian influences. Here are a group of dazzling new and also seasoned talents, who paint jazz with fresh faces.

Yah Entertainment / S.M. Entertainment

Myron McKinley, piano; Ian Martin, bass; Stacey Lamont Sydnor, drums.

A rich, dynamic roll of drums open this EP. They are recorded with precision and sound ‘live’ and inspired. The tune is called “Baidoa” and when Myron McKinley’s piano enters, it sprints across the space like a track runner gliding easily around the track. This trio moves in synchromesh. They’re tightly bound and their sound is lovely. The treble improvisation McKinley plays on the grand piano brings light and luster to his bass player’s solo, softly and effectively played beneath Ian Martin’s improv. This song is nine minutes long and never boring. I enjoyed every nuance; every note; every solo. The next song, “Labyrinth” has a smooth jazz sound. McKinley is now on electric keyboard and the group sounds more contemporary. Perhaps he was always on electric piano. Today, synthesized keyboards are made to sound just like a grand piano. I have no liner notes to check the instrumentation. Just my ears and they are pleased with what they hear.

I find this second composition not as memorable as the first one, but it is still well-played. “E-12” is the next piece and it’s more energetic with a smart melody. Suddenly it moves from energy to ballad. There are several time changes that keep this piece interesting and feature McKinley’s two- handed arpeggios and melodies played in unison, using two-fisted octaves. The bassist is busy and solidifies the free-form improvisation of drums and piano with his solid strokes. The ballad explodes into a flight of flying fingers and percussive brilliance.

All three of these musicians exhibit amazing talents. The commercial recording of Eleanor Rigby is electronic and funky. This trio can play it all. Stacey Lamont Sydnor on drums is powerful and steady, putting the ‘funk’ in the arrangement and pushing the trio to their highest limits. All the while, they keep the jazz reined in and obvious, never losing their ability to improvise, while the music dances and pulsates. Finally, “Man in the Mirror” made so famous by Michael Jackson, is interpreted like another Smooth Jazz arrangement with a little Country/ Western twist. It’s flavored liberally with strings.

The video below includes Verdine White and Stanley Clarke making guest appearances.

The Myron McKinley Trio officially formed in 2014 and recently appeared at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles. It all began when they were performing at NAMM and a fan posted a video on Facebook. That clip went viral. Each member has an impressive list of credits. McKinley, who is the music director and keyboardist for Earth, Wind & Fire, has also worked with Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Harry Connick Jr., Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Tupac. Bassist, Ian Martin, has teamed with David Foster, Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand. Percussionist Stacey Lamont Sydnor has collaborated with The Jacksons, P. Diddy and Alicia Keys, among others. Together, they make a formidable group, blending their unique approach to jazz with R&B/funk overtones, composing fresh and interesting songs, and painting familiar tunes with spontaneity and dazzling talent.

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GUILLERMO NOJECHOWICZ – “Puerto de Buenos Aires 1933”
Zoho Records

Guillermo Nojechowicz, drums/percussion/vocals; Helio Alves, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Kim Nazarian, vocals/percussion; Marco Pignataro, tenor & soprano saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet. SPECIAL GUESTS: Franco Pinna, bombo leguero/percussion; Roberto Cassan, accordion; Megumi Lewis, violin; Ethan Wood, violin; Sarah Darling, viola; Leo Eguchi, cello; Nando Michelin,string arrangements.

Haunting. Beautiful. Melodic. Soothing. Melancholy. These are the adjectives that come to mind when the very first cut of Guillermo Nojechowicz’s CD spins off my Compact disc player. This tune is based on a Uruguayan rhythm and Italian accordion player, Roberto Cassan, (R.I.P) adds a Piazzolla-esque quality to the arrangement. I learned that this musician died in Italy from a heart attack shortly after completing this recording. As I listened, I looked at the album title and wondered, what does the year 1933 mean to this artist? I found out in the liner notes, where Mr. Nojechowicz wrote:

“This project has been developed through many years. It began on one of my trips to Buenos Aires when I found a passport issued in the early 1930s with images of my grandmother and my dad. … I knew they came to Argentina to escape the economic hardships at the time. … Those who stayed behind, died in the concentration camps.”

The title, “Puerto de Buenos Aires” translates to “Port of Buenos Aires.” I’ve been to that thriving metropolis and you find many Germans who settled there and have lived there since the Second World War. Many Nazi’s also escaped to Buenos Aires after the war. It’s a lovely city with wide avenues, sometimes 8 lanes across.

“The music is very image-driven. … I tried to picture my grandmother in the 1930s, …winter, taking the train with a little kid, my dad, who at the time was three-years-old. What emerged for me was the pain, the difficulty of moving to a new country; not knowing the language or the culture. So yeah – it’s very personal, from a very dark time,” Guillermo Nojechowicz continued explaining his project concept.

The second track, “Trains” continues to perpetuate historic images. Nazarian’s beautiful voice sings “Oh my son, we must go very far, time has come for us to leave our home” and the music moves at a lumbering pace, in 7/4 time, with Njechowicz’s drums conjuring up the Euro-rail system that helped his grandmother escape her homeland. Kim Nazarian’s voice stretches across octaves and soars with emotion and spontaneity. Helio Alves on piano is an intricate part of this perfect rhythm section and Fernando Huergo tells heartfelt stories with his bass solo on Track three, “Europe 1933.” Guillermo Nojecowicz is quite a composer and has written eight of the ten songs on this project. His melodies are stunning and his band knows just how to best interpret his work. Brian Lynch on trumpet and Marco Pignataro punch the horn lines with gusto and sometimes include Nazarian as a third vocal horn. The blend is lovely.

Here is a musical photo album of another time and place, propelled by Nojechowicz’s sense of time and space on drums and the magic accompaniment of his musician friends. He incorporates many world rhythms, including the Argentinean chacarera that pumps life in the “Puerto de Buenios Aires” composition, implementing the Brazilian single-string percussion instrument and he also incorporates the ‘talking drum’ in his work. This is an exciting album of new jazz music, flavored delicately with World Music and telling emotional stories of his life and family history.

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Rainchant Electric Records

Gabriele Tranchina, vocals; background vocals; Joe Vincent Tranchina, keyboards/melodica/programming/claves/background voices/composer; Carlo de Rose, upright & electric bass; Vince Cherico, drums/percussion; Renato Thomas, percussion.

Gabriele Tranchina’s light, second soprano voice bounces across these tunes with a happy tone. Several of the songs are composed and arranged by her husband, Joe Vincent Tranchina, who also co-produced along with producer, Rick Savage. Mr. Tranchina is a fine composer and his wife takes care to color his compositions with emotional character. On “Bossa Ballad and Blue” Carlo de Rose lays down a lovely bass solo. I wish the composer had believed in his vocalist enough to let her sell his challenging melody without him playing it on the piano along with her vocals. That was annoying. Still, Mrs. Tranchina pulls it off.

She also sings in both Portuguese and French on this project, using Jobim’s “O Morro Nao Tem Vez” to showcase a Brazilian flair and “Je Crois Entendre Encore” to feature her French language skills. Later in the CD she features more linguist skills, singing fluently in Spanish. With all the advantage of language use and unique compositions, this vocalist reflects a cross between Easy Listening and World Music. However, I found her voice so similar to so many others I’ve heard, that it made her somewhat banal as a singer.

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World City Music

Steve Heckman, tenor & soprano saxophone; Matt Clark, piano.

Starting with a tune Steve Heckman has penned titled, “Admiring-Lee,” he and pianist Matt Clark are off and running ‘straight-ahead’ down a jazzy path. This duo’s first tune is followed by Thelonious Monk’s popular composition, “Ugly Beauty”. Here is an acoustic jazz performance in it’s pure form; just two talented musicians, both august and sincere in their approach.

This duo has chosen to perform songs we know and love. They weave their talents around the music like homespun sweaters. Their music is warm and comfortable; unobtrusive, yet culturally opulent. For example, after Monk, they delve into a familiar tune from the 1944 musical, ‘On the Town,’ titled, “Some Other Time.” It’s a beautiful and poignant ballad that let’s each artist experiment and improvise.

Pianist, Matt Clark adds one self-penned composition on this project titled, “Foregone Conclusions”. He’s composed a jazz waltz whose melody Heckman sings, using his soprano saxophone. Clark gets to stretch the 88-key limits during his solo. His talents were honed at Oberlin College and he is a proud protégé of Detroit’s Iconic pianist, Barry Harris. Clark has played with my dear friend and reed man, Teddy Edwards, with Frank Morgan, and vibraphonist, Bobby Hutcherson among other luminaires like Vincent Herring, Eric Alexander, Madeline Eastman and Kellye Gray. Matt Clark is also the founding member of the Marcus Shelby Trio, a mainstay on the San Francisco, California jazz scene.

His duo partner, Steve Heckman, is a renowned reed man who’s worked with Chet Baker, Howard McGhee, Andrew Hill, Benny Green, Eddie Henderson, guitarist John Abercrombie, drummers Billy Higgins and Donald Bailey. He’s also accompanied vocalists like Jackie Ryan, Julie Kelly, Judy Wexler and more. Heckman’s been featured on several albums with other great jazz players and his fifth solo album, “Legacy: A Coltrane Tribute” received rave reviews and was played nationwide. I suspect this album will receive the same kind of appreciation and exposure. (a group video at Yoshi’s in San Francisco)

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Tum Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet.

Here is a bold and beautiful solo statement to celebrate both the birth and life of Thelonious Monk. 100 years ago, this historic and profoundly impactful pianist/composer came into being and still influences our universe with music that lives boldly, like the air we breathe.How tenacious for Wadada Leo Smith to step out on a stage, naked and alone, in order to play music that respects and revels this iconic jazz master.

Unafraid and totally prepared, Wadada Leo Smith was part of the first generation of musicians to come out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Over years, he has established himself as a leading composer and performer of creative, contemporary music. Smith has received awards for Jazz Artist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year (for America’s National Parks) and Trumpeter of the Year in DownBeat’s 65th Annual Critics Poll. He was named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association.

Wadada Leo Smith opens with “Ruby, My Dear.” He wanders around the melody line, like an inquisitive sleuth. For nine plus moments, he probes the entire meaning of this Monk composition. His trumpet sings with stamina and determination. On “Reflections” he mutes his trusty trumpet and tenderly caresses this composition with tonal abilities that come from years of study and practice.

In his liner notes, Mr. Smith shares: “Most people would never realize that I am closer to Thelonious Monk than to any other artist. What connects us is a vision of composition and its forms, music psychology, and our articulation of the ensemble as a trashing field for new information.”

Speaking of composing, Wadada Leo Smith has composed three works of art for this project. One is called, “Monk and the Five Point Ring at the Fire Spot Café.” The second is titled, “Adagio: Monkishness – A Cinematic Vision of Monk Playing Solo Piano.” The final piece is called, “Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium – A Mystery.”

When speaking about his composing skills, Smith wrote:

“In the 1950s, I began to think of myself as a composer after getting my first trumpet and writing my first piece at the age of twelve. I started buying records by Bird, Dizzy, Monk and others. …Out of everything I heard, it was Monk, his ideas of a band and composition, that were the closest to what I dreamed of being as an artist. … I would go back and forth between him and Duke Ellington, …but Monk had the upper hand in the end. … The essence of Monk is, I believe, in his solo performances. Even in live performances, with his band, he always played unaccompanied solos. So, what does that mean? To me, that means that Monk now has a chance to be as fluent as he can be in his own musical language without any other distractions. He does not have to play with anybody. He plays with himself.”

That’s what you will hear on this recording, a trumpet artist playing by himself, without a rhythm section or harmony. A soloist, interpreting his innermost feelings through the bell of his horn and singing his song, like a giant, metallic bird, throwing his emotions boldly into the wind.

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Mama Records

Chuck Owen, accordian/Hammond dulcimer/conductor;Per Danielsson, piano; Corey Christiansen, dobro/nylonstrin,steel string, 12-string guitars; LaRue Nickelson, guitar; Mark Neuenschwander, bass; Danny Gottlieb, drums;WOODWINDS: Tamara Danielsson, Valerie Gillespie, Jack Wilkins, Rex Wertz, & Matt Vance; TRUMPETS: Frank Greene, Jay Coble, Mike Iapichino & Clay Jenkins; TROMBONES: Keith Oshiro, Tom Brantley, Jerald Shynett & Jim Hall (bass trombone). FEATURED GUEST SOLOISTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; Sara Caswell, violin.

Chuck Owen is the producer of this orchestrated recording project that has brought the wild, wild west into a jazz album with vivid arrangements and super talented players. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Owen had a great love for the outdoors and the gifts that nature bestows on a small boy’s imagination. This project endeavors to reach back to nostalgic memories of wind, weather, tradition, simple values and lifestyles and to create an ode to cowboys, colorful heroes and folklore. I might as well be listening to the musical backdrop of a Western motion picture, when I listen to “Warped Cowboy”. The poignant violin solo of Sara Caswell sets the scene and the other instrumentation colors the piece with wind and spacious skies, painted by tones that celebrate the great American outdoors. The drums thunder like Indian pony hooves against the dusty plains. Owen has intentionally used a number of traditional instruments from that era of American development and culture inclusive of harmonica, dobro, accordion, violin, steel guitar and hammered dulcimer.

This is the sixth release for Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge. All have been critically acclaimed. As a recipient of the 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, Owen has had his compositions performed by the Netherlands’ Metropole Orchestra, the Aarhus Jazz Orchestra I Denmark, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra and Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. As a distinguished professor at the University of South Florida, he has spent thirty-five years as a celebrated jazz educator, a guest conductor, clinician and lecturer. Chuck Owen currently serves as President / founder of ISJAC, (International Society of Jazz Arrangers & Composers). Previously he served as President of IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education). He continues to give opportunity and inspiration to young jazz musicians by composing works that challenge their talents and creativity. This project is a strong example of the results of such challenges.

On track #2, “All Hat, No Saddle”, Corey Christiansen’s guitar solo made me sit up and take note. Then came “A Phares of the Heart” where the harmonica of Gregoire Maret sweetly spiced this lovely ballad, along with Per Danielsson’s tinkling piano keys. Both Clay Jenkins on solo trumpet and Rex Wertz on tenor saxophone made pertinent and memorable musical statements. One moment the arrangements are folk-like and background music and then someone like Randy Brecker on trumpet swings into the picture and elevates a song like “Into the Blue” to pure blissful jazz. LaRue Nickerson’s electric guitar adds a swift pulse to the arrangement and Chuck Owen has composed something that crosses jazz genres from straight-ahead to contemporary; from folk to funk.

This is an artistic and creative project exploiting the wonderful talents of Southern Florida’s skillful jazz musicians, along with the composition skills, arrangements and conductorship of Chuck Owen. Owen’s influences seem grounded in eclectic jazz tradition, yet he blends classical, folk and rock music with funk and contemporary colors. He is a painter with sound. My ears were on the edge of their seat the whole time this album played.

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Drum Voice Records

Lupa Santiago, guitar; Anders Vestergard, drums; Rodrigo Ursaia, saxophone; Mattias Hjorth, bass.

This project is explosive. From the very first strains of guitar and drums, the title tune sets the bar high by a musical ensemble that is bursting with energy and excitement. “Inside Turnabout” was recorded outside Malmo, Sweden. It was the result of touring, collaborating and ultimately composing with Brazilian saxophonist, Rodrigo Ursaia. Ursaia and Santiago are longtime musical friends, so the collaboration was comfortable. It just so happened they wound up touring Europe at the same time and seized that opportunity to experiment with a new group and a new repertoire. This album is the result of that experiment. Santiago, Vestergard and Ursaia do all the composing. Mattias Hjorth holds everything solidly in place with his bass, bringing a contemporary flair to the project. Vestergard locks the rhythm down, hard as a mallot. Ursaia’s saxophone is pure jazz, always satin smooth and improvisational atop a mixture of Latin, Brazilian and hybrid rhythms, woven into Straight-ahead feels and contemporary jazz stylings.

The title tune gives Vestergard a chance to cut loose on his drum set and his improvisational solo is stunning and powerful. He has composed this first tune and it allows all the musicians to freely improvise and exhibit their strongest talents. “Caixa Cubo” is played at a more moderate pace. Ursaia takes the lead on saxophone, with Vestergard invigorated and ever-present, showering percussive excellence in support of the production. Enter Santiago on guitar, moving smoothly from a stellar solo back to the rhythm section and often doubling the melody with Ursaia, very effectively. The “New Houser” composition gives us an insight into the composer talents of guitarist, Lupa Santiago.

All three composers on this recording present polished pieces of music for the band to interpret. The grooves are tightly woven, like an acrobat’s net, where the others can bounce and explore. This is an imaginative and high-energy project that celebrates the diverse and excellent talents of four astronomical musicians. They are musically and spiritually locked, like four hands pressed tightly together in prayer.

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Independent Label

Jeff Dingler,bassist/composer; Brad Shepik, guitar; Lou Rainone, piano; Gusten Rudolph, drums; Josh Bailey, percussion.

Jeff Dingler has composed every song on this project. He has expanding his jazz experience from being a member of Nelson Riddle’s Orchestra to stints with several trios and quintets over the years. With an ear for eclectic music and an interest in travel and cultures, Dingler has blended various genres into these compositions. This project is highly influenced by his current experience in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he is teaching Bass Music Theory and Composition at Mekene Yesus University. The transition of his musical experiences and years of playing bass, from blues and swing to bebop, are now combined with Ethiopian culture and African styles of music.

Brad Shepik shines on guitar, dancing across the strong drums of Gusten Rudolph and the percussion of Josh Bailey. Together, they set up a groove where pianist Lou Rainone can play fluidly. Shepik plays rhythm guitar and also offers a strong solo on “Bati Celebration.” Dingler’s melody is catchy and memorable on this first album tune. On “Orange Clouds” you hear more of Dingler’s strong bass line that grounds this ballad in blues and contemporary smooth jazz changes. His tender solo is the star of this composition. I found myself fascinated by the “Addis Blues”composition. I could hear all the African influences in the minor blues changes of this song. Rainone’s piano improvisation tinkles like bells in a distant marketplace and once again, Dingler takes time to share a lyrical solo on bass. “Tiptoe” might be my favorite tune, getting back to a straight-ahead, melodically lyrical feel. This is an interesting jazz album that dabbles in World Music and blends cultures. It tickles the imagination and reminds us that music is limitless.

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October 14, 2017

CD reviews by Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

October 14, 2017

I am happy to see so much young talent popping up on the jazz scene, like the very talented MARIE SCHAFER. Even more importantly, it’s good to see so many women who are bringing their concern and nurturing spirits to the forefront in order to protest war, the disparaging of women and peace on earth with various voices of protest like SINNE EEG,JULIE BENKO, LESLIE LEWIS and even journalist turned singer, RONDI CHARLESTON. LYN STANLEY reminds us that the Great American songbook is alive and well with the help of excellent Los Angeles based musicians. Pianist/composer, CAROL ROMAN creates music for the departed and in hopes that we never forget nine-eleven in New York City. The group, NEOTOLIA,featuring vocalist NAZAN NIHAL and composer, UTAR ARTUN bring us World Music from Turkey, with a little help from featured vocalist, JOEY BLAKE and CORINA BARTRA combines cultures, exploring jazz as an Afro-Peruvian vocalist. It’s eye-opening to see how much jazz has touched the music of other countries and encouraged freedom and protest. These artists have veered away from the predictable and mundane. Here are my reviews of angel voices and other worldly music choices.

Marsch Music

Maria Schafer, vocals; Shane Savala, guitar; Joe Butts, bass; Kyle Sharamitaro, drums; Brad Black, trumpet.

This CD opens with the familiar, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” but it’s freshly arranged with only percussion and bass laying like a carpet of musical excellence for the vocalist to strut her stuff. Shane Savala’s flamingo sounding guitar adds a lovely flavor to the production. Ms. Schafer offers sweet vocal improvisation and there is a splatter of Latin percussion implemented. “The More I See You” is performed rubato at the top and moves into a slow swing with the bass pumping like a weightlifter. This vocalist is a throw-back to the days of June Christy or Chris Conner. When Marie Schafer breaks into a foreign language on the third album cut, “Estrada Branco”, I am enchanted. It’s a Jobim/De Moraes composition, featuring only guitar accompaniment. Ms. Schafer lets the listening world know that she can hold her own in the simplicity of this duo moment. However, there is nothing simple about Schafer’s improvisational skills and satin-smooth tone. She is a master of her craft.

Here is a collection of familiar, standard songs, that sound brand new because of their outstanding and creative arrangements. An example of one unique arrangement was when I heard her sing “Estate” with only bass and drums. Impressive!
Obviously, Schafer can sooth or swing at the drop of a beat. This is clearly visible on “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” where tempos melt into each other , labeling this arrangement both challenging and creative. Whatever her musicians do, they only enhance Marie Schafer’s style and beauty. She is the diamond necklace hanging around the necks of these band members and glittering brightly.

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A.T. Music LLC

Lyn Stanley, piano; Mike Garson, Christian Jacob, Tamir Hendelman, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Ray Brinker, Bernie Dresel, Joe LaBarbera, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; John Chiodini, guitar; Chuck Findley, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Bob McChesney, trombone; Hendrik Meukens, harmonica; Corky Hale, Carol Robbins, harp; Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra, strings.

Lyn Stanley has consistently turned out a string of albums that celebrate the great American songbook, interpreting songs we know and love. Her smooth, silky sound embellishes the lyrics, stroking the melodies with husky vocal intention. Stanley always employs the best of Southern California’s jazz musician scene when she records. This heightens her compact discs with creative excellence. You will enjoy fourteen standard songs that sing her story and feature songs that reflect Stanley’s own life and heartbreak. The addition of strings by the Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra, combined with top horn players like Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone, Chuck Findley on trumpet/flugelhorn and Bob McChesney on trombone, make this project not only jazz, but Easy Listening.

Ms. Stanley has a rich alto range and emotional sensibilities to color each tune with believability. This comes from living life to the fullest and turning those life lessons into a musical diary, using deep and memorable compositions. The classical piano of Christian Jacob on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is stunningly fresh, with a musical introduction that allows Ms. Stanley to surprise us with the Judy Garland standard when she enters the song vocally. Nice! Chuck Findley’s muted trumpet on “You’ve Changed” adds interest and art to her vocal presentation, although she is somewhat whinny at times. Woodard’s bluesy, tenor saxophone puts sassy sexiness into Stanley’s rendition of “Since I Fell For You.”

Here is a production and voice that will please and entertain you for years to come.

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Independent Label

Julie Benko, vocals; Jason Yeager, piano; Danny Weller, bass; Jay Sawyer, drums; Andy Warren, trumpet; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Walter Harris, trombone; Andrew Mulherkar, tenor saxophone; Vinny Raniolo, guitar; Jason Anick, violin; JP Jofre, bandoneon; Alon Bisk, cello.

There is a Dixieland-feel to this songbird’s production on the very first cut of her debut CD. Titled, “Tomorrow is a Day For You.” It’s a joyful composition penned by Benko and she explains in the liner notes that she wrote it as a celebration following the US Supreme Court decisions defending same-sex marriage. She has penned three songs on this project and all relate to her response to the world around her.

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” from the Broadway production, seems to mirror this vocalist’s sensibilities and style. Obviously, Julie Benko has ‘pipes’; a slang for very strong vocals. She sings with power and gusto. I recognized immediately that she has a stage voice ready to soar onto Broadway stages. When I later read her bio, I discovered I was right. She recently performed on Broadway in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’

I enjoyed the Jason Anick violin solo on “Love For Sale”. The Jason Yeager arrangement is lovely, presenting the old standard as a tango. This vocalist executes the song well, but I don’t believe her when she interprets the lyrics. This is important, because part of the singers duty is to sell her musical stories to the listening public. Still, Ms. Benko has chosen a number of other recognizable and popular songs to interpret and for the most part, she is very successful. Ms. Benko has co-produced this album with her pianist, Jason Yeager and I would distinguish her as a musical theater vocalist with pop overtones.
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An ArtistShare fan funded project

Sinne Eeg, vocals/composition; Jacob Christoffersen, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; Joey Baron, drums; Scott Colley, bass; background vocals, Sinne Eeg, Warny Mandrup, Lasse Nilsson & Jenny Nilsson.

Here is a female artist who can compose as well as sing. It’s always a plus when you add songwriting talents to your recording project. Ms. Eeg opens with “The Bitter End” which has a country/blues feel. I wish Koonse, on guitar, had over-dubbed some really down and dirty blues guitar to embellish the vocalist’s arrangement. However, the composition itself is well-written and Larry Koonse is steady and tenacious on rhythm guitar. On “Head Over High Heels,” Sinne Eeg shows off her scatting skills. Her vocals are smooth and warm as sweet butter on hot waffles. The thing that draws you into this artist’s presentation is her rich, honest, tonal quality. I appreciate Sinne Eeg not being whinny or nasal, but singing full voice, squeezing emotion out of each lyrical expression with sincerity. “Love Song” is another original composition and quite beautiful. Scott Colley’s big bass sound solidifies the ballad and grounds the arrangement. The double bass is as solid as cement. With only drums to accompany her voice, she swings her way into the familiar tune, “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Eeg is a real jazz singer. She’s not another Easy Listening vocalist or another singer of standard love songs. She’s not re-singing the great American Songbook. Instead, she rejuvenates and explores her music, searching for new expression and stretching the boundaries of her creativity. That’s really what jazz is all about. She also makes a political statement with her composition, “Aleppo,” musically interpreting a sad song about the strife and genocide in this Syrian city. Her lyric about war and the innocent victims of our human rage for power and greed, paints the picture of a small child trying to survive the ravages of senseless killing. Other favorites are “Time To Go,” and her creative arrangement of “I’ll Remember April”.

Sinne Eeg is the real deal. Here is a project I can wrap my mind around and play over and over again without getting bored or feeling short-changed. Her band is super-supportive and each member, a master musician in their own right. They decorate the stage for Sinne Eeg to perform with brilliance and jazzy improvisation.
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Resilience Music Alliance

Rondi Charleston, vocals/songwriter; Dave Stryker, guitar/musical director/songwriter; Brandon McCune, piano; Ed Howard, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums; Mayra Casales, percussion. Featured soloists: Tim Ries, tenor saxophone; Alex Norris, flugelhorn.

With the exception of Clifford Brown’s “Joyspring” composition and two other songs, Charleston has co-written all the songs on this album. It’s an interesting collaboration with Musical Director, Dave Stryker. The songs sound pop, but are arranged in a jazzy way. When Charleston tackles “Joyspring” she exhibits her ability to scat and swing. The thing is, when vocalists are freshly learning to improvise, they often think scatting is repeating the melody without singing words. A true scat artist improvises, changing the melody on top of the familiar chord changes. Still, I have to admire Charleston’s ability to spit out all those lyrics at a rapid rate, with good pitch and she swings hard. “Joyspring” is no easy composition to sing.

Her song, “Scrapbook” sounds more like a jazz tune than the first two songs. “Refugee” is produced as a jazz waltz and describes a female character feeling like an outcast, but still striving against all odds to compete and achieve, in spite of being different in a judgmental society. Charleston uses her composition skills to attack social issues with competent and well-written lyrics. This should not be surprising since Rondi Charleston is an award-winning journalist turned jazz singer. She has won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award as a field producer for ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Charleston has a background in acting and sang opera at Julliard before entering the world of investigative journalism. With this album project, she is living out a long-time dream to be a musical poet and jazz singer. The band is ‘kickin’ and totally supportive of her dreams. Tim Ries on tenor saxophone is smokin’ hot on the Eli Yamin tune titled, “A Healing Song.” Dave Stryker has done a great job of co-producing this compact disc with Charleston. However, this artist has a way to go in order to find her musical sweet spot and to develop her vocal jazz style. This is certainly a good start.

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Dove Street Music

Carol Roman, composer/pianist/arranger; Michael Higgins, guitarist; Charles Holt, Clydene Jackson, Leslie Lewis, Tina Meeks, Margaret Owens, Nadine Risha & Shantih Haast guest vocalists; Richard Jennings, flute/soprano saxophone.

I’ve known Carol Roman for several years, but I never knew about her talents as a pianist and songwriter. She was coming to jazz shows and that’s how we met, both being jazz aficionados. So, when she shyly handed me her latest CD, I was surprised. The music on this CD is in memoriam of several people dear to Ms. Roman, as well as the victims of the 9/11 tragedy in NYC. It’s easy listening, classically flavored music that is simply produced. The composition quality, I found beautiful and peaceful. Featuring mostly Carol Roman’s talents on piano, the first instrumental tune also includes the complimentary flute licks of Richard Jennings. Ms. Roman has composed all the music except track six, written by Shantih Haast. She has also written most of the lyrics. Clydene Jackson interprets vocally on “A Time Gone By,” a song that celebrates the strength of the human spirit, living, loving and praying for peace, while protecting freedom. Ms. Roman has utilized a large group of guest artists from Los Angeles’ talented singer’s pool, to interpret her original songs, with much success. Michael Higgins adds guitar to the mix on “Bud’s Song.” Amy Jahn was the lyricist for this original composition by Carol Roman. Nadine Risha’s lovely vocals are featured. I was surprised to see that Leslie Lewis is also one of the voices who is singing on this album of Roman’s original music. Surprised because I also had received a new album from Ms. Lewis to review. Carol Roman is not jazz. It’s easy listening and features several angel voices who sing tribute songs to the dearly departed, making for an unusual and touching topic of inspiration.

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Interrobang Records

Nazan Nihal, vocals/lyricist/composer; Utar Artun, composer/pianist/arranger; Jussi Reijonan & David Fluczynski , fretless electric guitar; Bruno Raberg, acoustic bass; Bassam Saba, ney; Tahi Aydogdu, Qanun; Arto Tuncboyacryan, vocals/percussion; Dave Wecki, drum; Yazhi Guo, dizi; Bruno Raberg, acoustic bass; Jussi Reijonen, guitar/oud; Giuseppe Paradiso, Drums & percussion; Galen G. Willett, Elec bass; Tao He, Erhu; Joey Blake, vocals; Naseem Alatrash, cello; Layth Sidiq, violin.

It was unique listening to this album, because it is sung in an unfamiliar language. For that occurrence, this reviewer had to peel her ears to the melodic structure, the production, the captured emotion of foreign vocalists, and then I read the translated words of the lyrics in the liner notes. Nazan Nihal is a stunning lyricist who is reaching out to the world with words asking us to make a change for the betterment of humanity. The first song is titled “Once Upon A Life.” It has a very haunting melody and the production is ethereal, making me see heavenly constellations and a sky full of sparkling stars as I listen. Nihal’s soprano voice soars operatically, then settles smoothly into her chest register as she sings, “Souls wither in time unless watered by love.” This “Once Upon A Life” composition touches my heart.

“Song of the Monastery” sounds like a pop song. I learn that it’s a traditional Turkish Folk song and it’s the story of a pond and fountain, located in the middle of a monastery where young girls dance and play music.

“Neotolia” is an international band of diverse and skilled musicians, under the leadership of pianist/ composer, Utar Artun, and singer/songwriter Nazan Nihal. They are Turkish and this music is steeped in the rich culture of Eastern Europe, Western Asia and the Mediterranean. Much of it reminds me of the prayers I heard during my travels to Turkey, Palestine and Dubai. This is not jazz. However, I did hear a very fluid scat part performed perfectly by Joey Blake on “Rondo Afro Turea,” another original composition by Utar Artun.

Here is a production that is basically World Music and I decided to review it because these musicians are using music to dissolve prejudice and hierarchies across the board, using both lyrics and their musical arrangements to combine cultures.

If you are looking for something musically unique, you will find it here.
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Blue Spiral Music

Corina Bartra, vocals; Steve Sandberg, piano; Victor Murillo, bass; Jay Rodriguez, saxophone; Seth Johnson, guitar; Perico Diaz, cajon; Vince Cherico, drums.

I have one more World Music project that I feel compelled to mention. It features the rich, rhythmic vocals of Corina Bartra who blends the music of Peru, Brazil and Cuba on this new production. Bartra is categorized as a jazz/World Music artist. I hear lots of Afro-Cuban influence in her vocals and once again, I am left to ‘feel’ the music and connect with the emotional production, since I cannot understand her language on many of her lyrics. This is happy music. Music that makes you want to move, dance and hum along with the melodies. Corina Bartra is a human bird whose phrasing and vocal gymnastics explore her wonderful vocal range and presentation. On her original composition, “Ecstasy Green” she shows off her minor chordal tones and lets her soprano notes dance atop the music, like flags waving in the breeze. This is followed by her rendition of “Bridge Over Trouble Waters” sung in English, but colored by unexpected inflections of a foreign language and her unusual tonal style. There is something cat-like about the way she purrs and whines her way through these lyrics. Shades of Eartha Kitt creep from her vocal style and I am reminded of this great American Jazz vocalist and actress by Ms. Bartra’s vocals. Jay Rodriguez adds his screaming saxophone to this song, quite appropriately. “El Guaranguito” is joyful music. It’s noted as an Afro-Peruvian traditional composition on the album cover. This is followed by a Jobim composition, “Samba de Aviao” that switches and sways off the compact disc, like the well-built hips of a well-endowed mambo dancer.

Bartra has composed six of the twelve songs on this CD. Her compositions stretch her vocals to their limits and she inspires her energetic band to pop like rubberbands. They snap with rhythm and enthusiasm. She takes chances with vocal acrobatics, sliding to the notes and using staccato to punch lines and melodies. She has a bigger range than the late Abbey Lincoln, but there are moments when her tone is similar to this iconic American jazz singer. Sometimes I found brief seconds of pitchiness, that interrupted my enjoyment, like stepping bare-footed on a hot stone. But Most importantly, Bartra embraces the element that has made jazz so popular across the globe; improvisation! She boasts degrees in jazz percussion and a Master’s degree in vocal performance from Queens College.

This is my first time hearing an Afro-Peruvian jazz singer/songwriter, who combines Criolla music with jazz. It was an excursion into the unknown that was pleasantly surprising.
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Surf Cove Jazz

Leslie Lewis, vocals; Gerard Hagen, piano; Peter Giron, bass; Mourad Benbammou, drums.

From the first rich tones of this astoundingly provocative singer, I am corralled by the emotion she exudes and her unique tonal style. Leslie Lewis’ band and arrangements propel this singer into the realm of memorable inspiration. For example, on the Beatles “Come Together” hit song, they have transformed this pop hit into a very acceptable jazz standard. All the arrangements are attributed to the talents of Leslie’s gifted husband, pianist, Gerard Hagen. Together, this Orange County, California couple relocated to Paris in 2012, where their plates became full of French bread, fine wine and gigs.

The title tune, “Fragile,” reminds us that violence and war threaten the delicate balance of humanity and the earth itself. “Hallelujah” is recorded with a blues/waltz feel and sung quite powerfully by Lewis. She has the kind of power-house voice that could mesmerize audiences from a Broadway stage. “Feeling Good” has a more jazzy sound, as her voice sparkles above Mourad Benbammou’s drums during the initial introductive prelude.

One of my favorite cuts on this recording is “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” a song that brings back memories of the early seventies when Carley Simon’s voice was all over the pop radio stations that were playing her music. But Ms. Lewis is no pop singer. She is jazz through and through. I have seen her perform in person, and she also exudes that “It” factor that no one can explain. She knows how to mesmerize a crowd. In the same breath, that gift is often difficult to capture in the recording booth. It is often something you need to be present to experience.

Lewis’ interpretation of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time” is done as a Smooth Jazz funk arrangement. Finally, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” finalizes the album with one of Gerard Hagen’s unusually creative arrangements. This R&B hit record by Ann Peoples has been transformed into a funk-jazz production and it works!

“Fragile” is the 5th recording by Leslie Lewis on the Surf Cove Jazz label. In total, this couple (Hagen & Lewis) has recorded eight compact discs that are being distributed and played all over the United States, Asia and Europe. Ms. Lewis has also performed as featured vocalist with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Pacific Symphony, the Jazz Tap Ensemble and has performed with members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Gerard Hagen is an active performer and when not recording, producing, arranging or playing piano for Leslie Lewis, he can be found at the International Music Educators of Paris College of Music, where he currently teaches.

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Tribute to Jazz Masters and Other Sheroes & Heroes

October 7, 2017

CD reviews by Jazz/Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

October 6, 2017


Nestor Torres, flute; Silvano Monasterios, piano; Jamie Ousley, bass; Michael Piolet, drums; Jose Gregorio Hernandez, percussion. SPECIAL GUESTS: WDNA SCHOLARSHIP Recipients: Miguel Russell, percussion; Ian Munoz, alto saxophone; Marcus Grant, drums (on ‘Cute’).

Silvano Monasterios opens this CD with some ‘down-home-blues’ piano playing. When Nestor Torres enters on his flute, he reminds me of a Herbie Mann album I used to listen to as a teenager. “Swingin’ Shepherds Blues” brought back wonderful memories of learning about jazz and listening to a jazzy flute during my high school years. “Memphis Underground” is the second cut on this recording, and it spews happiness. This song features scholarship recipient, Miguel Russell on percussion and it swings hard in a very Latin inspired way. Also, the young alto sax player is Ian Munoz, who offers an appealing solo performance. On the fade of this tune, Torres inspires the younger players to get ‘free’ and to express themselves during an improvisational spotlight. They shine! Every tune on this up-beat production is draped in energy and flavored with Caribbean rhythmic excitement, creating musical wonder. Torres reached into the lovely “Spain” composition to slow the production down briefly, before flying full force and energetically into the popular Chick Corea composition. The arrangement is well played technically and challenging. Once again, pianist Monasterios is dynamic and impressive on the keys. Every carefully picked jazz song is played with the utmost care and consideration. You will hear the work of Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, Neal Hefti’s “Cute”, (that features young Marcus Grant on drums), and even some Cole Porter tunes. I enjoyed every single cut on this compact disc. Nestor Torres brings out the best of his ensemble and is thoroughly inspirational on flute, propelling the music forward like a wizard with a silvery, magic wand. The music is captivating. This eleven-song recording is meant to be a homage to early flute masters like Frank Wess and Moe Koffman, as well as legendary modern flautists like Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann and Yusef Lateef. Well done!

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Mack Ave Records

John Beasley,piano/synthesizer/conductor/arranger; Ben Shepherd, acoustic/ electric bass; terreon Gully & Gene Coye, drums; TRUMPETS: Bijon Watson, Jamie Hovorka, Jmaes Ford, Brian Swartz, Brandyn Philips. TROMBONES: Francisco Torres, Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Steve Hughes, Ido Meshulam. WOODWINDS: Bob Sheppard, Danny Janklow, Tom Luer, Thomas Peterson, Adam Schroeder, Alex Budman. SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrad Herwig (trombone); Kamasi Washington, tenor saxophone; Pedrito Martinez, (percussion); Dianne Reeves, (vocals); Regina Carter, (violin); and Dontae Winslow, (trumpet/spoken word).

September of 2017 issued in a slew of new music to treasure and enjoy. Among them was John Beasley’s recent release. He is a master musician, pianist/arranger/conductor and this is his second escapade with big band arrangements that celebrate Thelonious Monk. The first tune, “Brake’s Sake,” is full of powerful funk and hip hop. It features the rhymes of Dontae Winslow and the trumpet mastery of the same young man. I am reminded of Quincy Jones on this arrangement. Some years back, Quincy like Beasley, incorporated modern music with old-school jazz sensibilities. This song bring back memories of the seventies and eighties, when I remember how Quincy used the poetry of the Watts Prophets, featuring Otis Smith-O’Solomon’s poem, “Beautiful Black Girl” on his album titled, “Mellow Madness.”

Speaking of “Q”, he has written in Beasley’s CD liner notes, “Thelonius Monk was one of a kind, and so is John Beasley. He hears things in Monk’s music that no one imagined. And he can make an orchestra sing like an uncaged bird.”

That pretty much sums up this entire album.

Beasley has a way of reinventing Monk’s music, while staying true to the composer’s original concepts and melodies. He incorporates a host of impressive guest artists on this Volume Two “Monk’estra” project. You will hear the jazz violin of Detroiter, Regina Carter; the Avant Garde, fluidity of tenor saxophonist, Kamasi Washington; the vocal prowess of Diane Reeves, along with the percussive brilliance of Pedrito Martinez. Another featured, young, up-and-coming reedman is Danny Janklow, solid on alto saxophone. Conrad Herwig is a special guest on trombone.

The Thelonious Monk compositions are well chosen and for the most part, familiar. I enjoyed being re-introduced to “Brake’s Sake”, “Played Twice,” “Light Blue” and “Work.” All you Monk lovers will be thoroughly entertained.

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Outline Records

Jane Ira Bloom, soprano saxophone; Dawn Clement, piano; Mark Helias, bass; Bobby Previte, drums; Deborah Rush, voice.

It seems more and more that artists are melding their instruments with other art forms in order to express a multi-artistic platform for their music. Jane Ira Bloom has embraced the writing talents of visionary poet, Emily Dickinson and created a 2-pack CD of innovative soprano saxophone compositions for her jazz quartet to interpret.

Winner of the 2017 Downbeat Critics Poll for Soprano Sax, Bloom is always challenging herself to re-imagine her musical goals. I learned, from Bloom’s liner notes, that Emily Dickinson was a pianist and improviser herself. Using fragments from Dickinson’s poetic works, Bloom has composed pieces that celebrate words like: “I felt a cleaving in my mind – as if my brain had split – I tried to match it – seam by seam, but could not make them fit.”

Jane Ira Bloom makes the music fit the prose. She has been sharing her soprano saxophone talents with the world for four decades and has won several awards for her always unique body of music, including being a ten-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association Award for soprano sax and the Charlie Parker Award for Jazz Innovation. She’s won too many awards to list them all here, but a few others are the Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award for Lifetime Service to Jazz. Jane Ira Bloom was the first musician commissioned by the NASA Art Program and was honored to have an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union. This CD is another example of her musical innovation and brilliance.

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Independent Label

Dana Fitzsimons, drums; Chris Otts, tenor saxophone; Patrick Arthur, guitar.

Here is a Jazz ensemble, featuring Atlanta-based drummer, Dana Fitzsimons. He’s in musical partnership with two other Atlanta jazz musicians; Chris Otts on tenor saxophone and Patrick Arthur on guitar. Otts recently received his Master’s degree in Jazz Studies and has his own debut album titled, “Layers”. Arthur just finished his degree in Jazz Performance and has his own performance group called, “Grut”. Fitzsimons reflects the least amount of performance skills, because he has been busy being a successful attorney dealing with trusts and estates, with a Juris Doctor degree from William and Mary Law School. However, he has a degree from Ithaca College in music, and has always longed to record an album. Surrounded by excellence, this is his premier attempt.

It’s an unusual blend of instrumentation, eliminating the expected piano, bass and drums trio and using instead, drums, guitar and saxophone. The challenge with this combination of musical instruments, is that you have to pursue prominent solos, unusual arrangements and exceptional musicianship to pull it off. This project disappoints with lack luster energy. Although Chris Otts is an award-winning performer/composer and arranger, He cannot save this easy-listening and somewhat Avant Garde concept.

According to the liner notes, Fitzsimons wanted to move away from the ‘Swing’ tradition and eliminate the need to lock in the time with a bass player. Instead, he has chosen sustained sounds and less rhythm to interpret familiar songs like “Poor Butterfly” and “Pure Imagination”. They tackle Chick Corea’s “Matrix” composition and Bruce Hornsby’s “Fortunate Son”. The Hornsby composition was included to celebrate, Williamsburg, Virginia where Fitzsimons lived, studied drums, law and raised two children. This is meditative music, but nothing to pop your fingers to or make you want to dance or paint or write. I found it repetitive and very low energy.

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Avant Bass

Jackie Allen, vocals; Hans Sturm, composer/bass/producer; John Moulder, guitars; Tom Larson, keyboards; Dane Richeson, drums/percussion; Geoff Bradfield, soprano & tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Victor Garcia, trumpet; Andy Baker, trombone.

This album opens with what sounds like poetry and prayer . Here is a project with an unusual blend of song choices and spoken word. The liner notes describe this first cut as a Ghanian Islamic chant of welcome. It features drummer, Dane Richeson. The music floats from a Flamingo sounding guitar to a big band sounding blues. After the spoken words, (that hints at spells and Voodoo secrets) arrives this old-school arrangement, heralding rhythm and blues with a jazzy New Orleans horn section punching lines in the background. There is a soulful organ solo by Tom Larson on keyboard. Obviously, these artists and this collection of songs, shun categorization.

This is a conglomerate of original compositions, composed by bassist/producer, Hans Sturm. Allen and Sturm are musical partners, as well as husband and wife. They’ve been performing together since the early 1980s. Back then, they were a voice and bass duo act. Sometimes the music is pop/folksy. On tunes like “The Laugh That is You” the group swings in a jazzy way. “Moon’s On the Rise” exhibits more of a Latin production theme, in a smooth jazz sort-of-way. John Moulder is nicely spotlighted on guitar.

Jackie Allen puts her heart and soul into this music, be it blues, swing or ballad. Here is an art adventure, not necessarily restricted to jazz. Instead, it seems musically open-ended. However, meter-wise and as a published songwriter myself, I sometimes had difficulty making the lyrics fit the rhythm of the melodic line. I realize that it’s a matter of artistic taste. Despite this critique, the compositions shine with beautiful and quite poetic lyrics by Sturm. Those lyrics are printed on the CD insert, so you can read the prose along with Jackie Allen’s sincere interpretations.

This CD has been five years in the making and I would have to say, it’s uncategorical art.

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Hollistic MusicWorks

Rob Schneiderman, piano; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Ralph Moore, tenor Saxophone; Gerald Cannon, bass; Pete Van Nostrand, drums.

Here is a CD full of compositional diversity. Schneiderman is a prolific songwriter and presents a variety of arrangements that range from Smooth Jazz Funk on “Left Coast Lullaby” to the Latin fused “Footloose Freestyle”. He offers mellow ballads like the standard, “Unforgettable,” to “Distant Memory,” a Straight Ahead composition where Schneiderman stretches his fingers across the keys like a restless butterfly. His arpeggio runs and bright solo work stimulate this project.
I believe I may have witnessed Schneiderman working with Charles McPherson in the early 1980’s when I was often in San Diego enjoying the jazz scene. “Slap Dance-Tap Stick” is very Thelonious- Monk-sounding. The liner notes describe this work’s harmonic structure as based loosely on “I Got Rhythm.” Another composition, “Windblown,” is a melodic waltz. The amazing talents of Brian Lynch on trumpet and Ralph Moore on saxophone certainly add spark and creativity with their horn lines and individual solos on this tune and throughout the album. Schneiderman’s choice of band members is superb and each brings their genius into play on this project. All eight of Schneiderman’s original compositions are works of art that are brought alive by these competent players. I was particularly taken by “The Lion’s Tale” that ends this album.

As someone who has worked with some of the most iconic jazz players of our time, including Eddie Harris, James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Clifford Jordan, Art Farmer and the TanaReid quintet co-led by drummer Akira Tana and bassist Rufus Reid, you will hear this seasoned veteran reflect his many influences in both his compositions and piano style. Every cut on this production is wonderfully arranged and celebrated by Schneiderman and his star-studded band. This is the kind of jazz album that never grows old.

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September 14, 2017

By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

September 14, 2017

As summer winds down, I’ve received a number of newly released CDs that merit time and attention. I had to pry myself away from the television and the heart wrenching videos of families, homes and lives torn apart by Hurricane Irma, a storm that devastated Florida, the Virgin Islands and touched down in other states like North Carolina and Georgia. Before that, there was Hurricane Harvey that flooded and battered Texas. I believe music is healing and sometimes calming to the nerves. Today, I needed calming, as I continue to pray for the millions affected by these sever hurricanes, I put my music on.

Speaking of calming, the first CD I listen to is by CATHERINE MARIE CHARLTON, a pianist/composer who creates New Age music in celebration of painter, Andrew Wyeth. Next, SHERMAN IRBY & MOMENTUM offer an ensemble of iconic jazz men and original music that is straight-ahead jazz at its best. Vocalist, MICHELLE LORDI, serenades her listeners with familiar jazz standards. Trumpet connoisseur, JOHN DAVERSA, featuring BOB MINTZER, has penned an album of wonderful original compositions and so has vocalist, composer, pianist, CAROL ALBERT. There’s a beautiful, innovative album by GARY MEEK, another excellent composer who plays a mean tenor saxophone. Finally, there’s PAUL McCANDLESS and his adventures with oboe, featuring PAUL WINTER CONSORT. Explore these artists in my latest column at

Phil’s Records

Catherine Marie Charlton, piano/composer/arranger; David Darling, cello; Nancy Rumbel, English horn

New Age would be the description I would use for this piano music by Catherine Marie Charlton. Grammy Award-winning producer, Phil Nicolo, has established a new record company and has signed this artist to be one of the first on his label.

The reference to ‘The Wyeth Album’ refers to a fascination Charlton has for the paintings of Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009) and his illustrator and artistic father, N.C. Wyeth (1882 – 1945). As Catherine Marie Charlton searched for inspiration to compose and play her beloved piano, she found a connection with these two artists.

Here is a smooth blend of classical, easy-listening and New Age music. She debuted her music from this album on June 29th at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, during the opening week of an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of Andrew Wyeth’s birth. Most of her recorded music features Charlton’s original compositions and Charlton says that she uses painted art, nature and poetry as catalysts and meditative touchstones to create her music.

Charlton claims to have found her ‘authentic’ self during the creation of this album and has expressed it musically through her self-penned compositions. Notable covers include “Die Luft 1st Blau”, a solo piano improvisation on a Schubert melody and her world premiere of a chorale composition by Andrew Wyeth’s sister (Ann Wyeth McCoy) “Helga Suite:Chorale”. She also incorporates Opus 75, No. 5, by Jean Sibelius in cut #2, Granen (The Spruce).

I found Charlton’s music both compelling and spiritual. There is something other-worldly about her connection with the piano in these sparse, but provocative arrangements. It’s a music I would recommend listening to during meditation or moments of contemplation. It’s the kind of peaceful music you hear at the Spa during your massage. There is something spiritual here that reverberates with each song played. Her careful collaborations with New Age GRAMMY® Award-winners, cellist David Darling and English horn player and producer, Nancy Rumbel are lovely. Also, she collaborated with producer Will Ackerman on this project.

Charlton earned a degree in both engineering and music at Cornell University. She was named one of the “Top Ten College Women” in U.S. GLAMOUR Magazine. She’s been a Steinway Artist and Independent Music Awards winner, noted for her classically-based improvisations that bridge Jazz and New Age music styles. Like Wyeth’s paintings, this album of music is definitely a work of art.

For more information see: or visit
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Black Warrior Records

Sherman Irby, alto saxophone; Eric Reed, piano; Gerald Cannon, bass; Willie Jones III, drums; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Elliot Mason & Vincent Gardner, trombones.

Cerulean is a deep, blue color glowing like a clean, clear sky, and this CD is steeped in shades of blues. Starting with “Racine,” this arrangement offers an introduction, like a prayer or a meditation featuring bassist, Gerald Cannon. The song suddenly bursts into a moderate tempo’d, straight-ahead masterpiece of both composition and musicianship. From the very first strains of this original jazz composition by Irby, I am hooked. The harmonic horn arrangements brightly color the theme and allow a platform for the individual solos to be spotlighted. Sherman Irby embodies his musical influences, including Cannonball Adderley, Benny Carter, Jimmy Dorsey, Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker. However, Irby’s saxophone sound, tone and style are all his own.

The second cut, “Blues for Poppa Reed,” allows pianist, Eric Reed, to stretch out his busy fingers and to interpret his inner-most feelings, carving creativity across the black and white keys. On the Mulgrew Miller tune, “From Day to Day,” Irby tributes the pianist/composer who left us way too soon, (Miller passed at fifty-seven-years-young), and was a personal friend of Irby’s.

This is Irby’s eighth album as a leader. His outstanding cast of musical characters make up the group he titles, Momentum, each member, a genius artist in their own right. Irby has written “Willie’s Beat” (aka: The Sweet Science), to showcase the talents of Willie Jones III. Jones makes good with every swipe of his sticks and each polished rumble of his masterful trap drums. There is a very melodic ‘hook’ to this song that sets up a memorable groove where the musicians can solo and Jones makes technical magic on his several bar solo. He’s also ever present and powerful beneath the band.

Wynton Marsalis makes a couple of guest appearances on cut # 8 and cut #10. The eighth tune is titled “John Bishop Blues” and it is a nitty-gritty, low-down blues with Irby and the bass setting the production firmly in place at the introductory top, before piano and drums join them. When Marsalis adds his distinctive trumpet voice to the mix, it soulfully encapsulates both gospel and New Orleans jazz flavors. The trumpet and saxophone harmonics, interplaying between Reed’s soul-laced piano improv, reminded me of an old White House Coffee sponsored jazz show out of Chicago that I used to listen to on radio many, many years ago. There was something nostalgic about Irby’s blues tune.

Irby has shared his talents as an artistic member of such groups led by Marcus Roberts, Roy Hargrove, Elvin Jones, Papo Vazquez and more recently, as part of the tour with McCoy Tyner. He participated in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program and leant his talents to youth education, as part of the Jazz Masters Workshop.
Everything recorded here puts the capital E in excellence. The arrangements are astonishing and the song choices apropos to represent legendary jazz history with 21st century influence. For example, Irby adopts songs like Stevie Wonder’s composition, “Smile Please” as a straight-ahead jazz production and succeeds in a marvelous way. I admire Irby’s smart and innovative sax solo on this tune. This project inspires happiness and after all, that sums up the title of Wonder’s tune, doesn’t it?
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Independent Label

Michelle Lordi, vocals: Bill Avayou, drums; Mike Frank, piano; Larry McKenna, tenor sax; Matthew Parrish, bass/producer; John Swana,. Trombone; Sonny Troy, guitar; Jay Webb, trumpet.

Michelle Lordi opens with the title tune of her new CD and sets the precedence for what will follow. She has a pleasant, inviting tone and vocal style. Her ensemble is seasoned, featuring Philadelphia jazz veterans who support her with well-performed musical strength and sensitivity. The horn section is nicely arranged and compliments Lordi’s vocal execution. This is especially evident on Irving Berlin’s popular song, “They Say It’s Wonderful,” and on “No Moon At All.” Larry McKenna has written stellar arrangements and Jay Webb’s trumpet solo is memorable on “No Moon At All.” Guitarist, Sonny Troy, executes a short, but very well played solo on “The Lamp Is Low” followed by Larry McKenna on tenor saxophone. Mike Frank adds his bluesy artistry at the piano and trumpeter Jay Webb gets to add his say-so before the vocalist rejoins the group to complete the song.

Produced by bassist Matt Parrish, who has recorded with luminaries like Regina Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Paquito D’Rivera, this is an easy listening music project with songs we love to hear that are well played and well sung.
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BFM Jazz

John Daversa, trumpet/EVI; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet/EWI; Zane Carney, guitar; Joe Bagg, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Jerry Watts, Jr., bass/U-bass; Gene Coye, drums.

Publicity notes describe Grammy-nominated artist, John Daversa as an internationally respected performer, trumpeter, EVI player, composer, arranger, producer, bandleader, educator and BFM Jazz recording artist. That’s quite a list of accolades, so I was eager to hear him play. I was not disappointed.

The very first cut, “Ms. Turkey” struts out the gate playfully and flies straight-ahead into the room. After Daversa sets the tone and tempo with his smooth, trumpet sound, Bob Mintzer joins in on tenor saxophone to solo. Joe Bagg adds Hammond B3 organ charm to the mix and as the chord changes climb the progressive ladder, the ensemble builds the energy to a fever pitch and pops the ending in our face like a champagne cork. The music bubbles with energy.

On the jazz standard, “Donna Lee” the ensemble settles into a blues shuffle, with Coye’s drums slapping the groove into place. After Daversa’s solo, the band doubles the time and enter Bob Mintzer on bass clarinet, flying around the disc with improvisational gusto. Joe Bagg takes a turn on piano, with Gene Coye continuously pushing the rhythm with flawless drums. Both tunes are a great way to start this CD and to introduce the listening audience to these masterful musicians. Bassist, Jerry Watts, Jr. locks horns with the drummer and they hold the rhythm solidly in place. Zane Carney’s guitar is a fluid rhythm throughout.

Daversa continues to play at the speed of sound, racing through the changes on “Be Free” until the rhythm suddenly turns down, from a hot boil to a slow stew. They retard the rhythm and the energy, creating an open effect for imaginations to run wild. It’s a bit Avant Garde and dissonant at times, in a pleasing kind of way. When Watts, Jr. starts walking his bass swiftly, the ensemble follows his pace. They continue to exhibit the title of this tune, being free with their improvisational skills. The melody reminds me a bit of the Thelonious Monk tune, “Rhythm-a-Ning”.

The CD’s title tune was named by Daversa’s six-year-old daughter. “Wobbly Dance Flower” is delightful of spirit and tone, challenging the music to march with a touch of Latin charm and big band flavor. This sextet has a big, bold sound on this tune. While Daversa seems to take great pleasure in exploring the full register of his instrument, Gene Coye is given free reins to let loose on his trap drums. He speeds away, like an untethered, wild horse.

John Daversa has won the Herb Alpert Award, the David Joel Miller Award and awarded winner of the Best in Show and Awards of Excellence in Creativity/Originality and Production in the Global Music Awards. He is currently the chair of Studio Music and Jazz at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. This is his fifth album as a leader and I’m certain we will be hearing and enjoying many more to come.
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Independent label

Carol Albert, keyboards/bass programming/lead vocals/piano/producer/arranger; Trammell Starks, drum programming/keyboard/producer/horn arrangements; Rafael Pereira, percussion; Sam Skelton, saxophone/flute; Alfreda Gerald, Tony Hightower, Cheryl Rogers, background vocals; Susan Bennett and Ivette Ballara, spoken word Spanish; Sam Sims, Chocolat Costa & Joe Reda, bass; Chris Blackwell, guitar; Melvin Miller & Darren English, trumpets; Scott Meeder & Wayne Viar, drums.

She’s a singer/songwriter and pianist. This talented woman has recorded a unique and lovely album of her original compositions. She has written every song, with the exception of the very popular “Mas Que Nada” that she plays and sings with silky smooth vocals. This is an easy-listening project, perfect for Smooth Jazz radio airplay. Favorite cuts are: #4, “Across the Sky” that reflects shades of Marvin Gaye and Sadé, wrapped richly in her production and in the arrangement grooves. Cut #5, “One Way” sounds like you should be listening to it while on a highway, driving at maximum speed, and covered by blue skies, sunshine dreams and chasing a ‘Fly Away Butterfly’.

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Independent label

Gary Meek, tenor saxophone/composer; Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Brian Bromberg, acoustic bass; Michel Forman, piano; Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Bruce Forman & Michael Lent, guitar; Airto Moreira, percussion.

Surrounded by a cast of characters who are some of the A-list of jazz musicians, Gary Meek has written a complete CD of original tunes and Mack Avenue Records artist, Brian Bromberg, has produced it. This is an exciting array of talent, compositions and arranging that explores the virtuosic reed talents of a man who boasts several decades on the jazz scene. Gary Meek has contributed to over 150 recording projects. In the eighties, he toured with Dionne Warwick and also the popular Brazilian jazz artists, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim. Airto is a special guest on this current project. For five years, Meek toured with José Neto and a group they formed called, “Fourth World.” Winding their way from continent to continent, they performed in Asia, Europe, and South Africa. Afterward, in 1991, Meek released his first CD as a leader. This production is the follow-up to that project. No matter that it’s fifteen years later, because his sense of excitement, innovative ideas and great composer skills has definitely been worth the wait.

Starting from the tune, “What Happened to My Good Shoes?” the CD is off and running like a bull after the matador. It’s a tenacious composition, fiery and straight-ahead. Brian Bromberg makes a masterful statement on bass during his solo and Meek is solid and stellar on his tenor saxophone throughout, whether soloing or playing harmonies with Randy Brecker. “When You’re A Monk” keeps the motion and movement of this CD high energy and compelling. The melody line strings the solos together like a necklace of freshwater pearls. “Suite for Maureen” is more Smooth Jazz and once again exemplifies Gary Meek’s talent for melody. His compositions leave plenty of room for musicians to be innovative, but he never forgets the importance of melodic basics and he’s good at establishing the sing-able lines right up-front and memorably. I enjoyed the echoed unison lines and the change of pace, three-minutes in, elevating this tune with tinges of Latin joy and percussive beauty. Brecker shines on his trumpet during a spell-binding solo. Airto and Terri Lyne Carrington are amazing on their respective percussive instruments and pump the music up with enthusiasm. Mitchel Forman soaks up the spotlight, opening “Spiritual for Iris” with a tender, acoustic piano solo. But it’s Gary Meek, on his tenor saxophone, that caresses and pets this song alive. He makes me feel the spirituality cocooned inside his music.

To sum it up, I hear a great deal of love obviously wrapped inside each production and every song. Meek has placed his compositions into the hands of stellar players who clearly enjoyed performing the music as much as Meek enjoyed writing it.
Other tunes I found compelling were “Stella on the Stairs”, written for his chihuahua dog and playful with horn lines and solos that race around a minor blues mode. “Pacific Grove Fog” is sexy and reflective of the foggy seaside neighborhood Meek calls home. It is one of my favorite compositions on this CD. There is not one bad tune on this project. You will find beauty from beginning to end.
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PAUL McCANDLESS – “MORNING SUN ADVENTURES WITH OBOE” featuring the Paul Winter Consort – A Retrospective
Living Music

Paul McCandless, oboe/English horn; Paul Winter, soprano & alto saxophone; David Darling, cello; Ralph Towner, 12-string guitar/classical guitar; Oscar Castro-Neves & Webster Santos, guitar; Herb Bushler & Glen Moore, Eliot Wadopian, Gary King & Szao Machado, bass; Collin Walcott, Bré & Glen Velez, Guello & Cafe, percussions; John Clark, French horn; Paul Halley, piano/organ; Don Grusin, keyboard; Paul Sullivan, piano; John-Carlos Perea, Jim Scott & Renato Braz, voice; Jamey Haddad & Steve Gadd, drums; Tim Brumfield, organ; Gordon Gottlieb, timpani; Steve Gorn, bansuri.

This musical journey is a blend of classical, easy listening and fine orchestration. It’s a compilation of tunes pulled from various albums. Paul McCandless comes from a very musical family. His paternal grandfather was a multi-instrumentalist who played oboe, violin and the baritone saxophone. His dad taught band orchestra, football band, choir, music theory and counterpoint in the Public-School system. His mom was also a music teacher, who took over her husband’s job as high school band director when he joined the United States army.

At age nine, young Paul McCandless took up saxophone and oboe. His parents encouraged him to concentrate on the oboe. The rest is history. Paul McCandless started playing with the Paul Winter Consort in 1968 and they recorded many albums. This project is a result of several recordings, among them, the Charles Ives Show in 1974, when McCandless and Winter were dark haired and wearing hippie shirts. Other music has been pulled from the Common Ground album in 1977; the 1985 Canyon album, the Icarus album, the Crestone album and more. This is a project that embraces double-reed master, Paul McCandless, recording with the Paul Winter Consort over the past 45 years. If you are a lover of oboe and English horn, here is a musician that brings the very best out of both instruments, complimented by the Paul Winter Consort group.

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