Archive for the ‘JAZZ MUSIC’ Category

KATHY KOSINS: A MULTI-MEDIA ARTIST UNCOVERS HER SOUL

May 22, 2017

AN ARTIST INTERVIEW WITH KATHY KOSINS
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

You can’t just call Kathy Kosins a jazz singer, because her artistry touches all genres of music, from her roots in the soul and R&B music of Motown, to the smooth sultry West Coast jazz singers she emulated on her CD, “Ladies of Cool”. She’s also an award-winning ASCAP songwriter. When you listen to Kathy, you hear Blues, jazz, rock and soul all mixed up, like a beautiful, rich stew.

Kathy’s early love of music led her to songwriting. This blossomed into a career of singing. Recently, I talked to her about some of her roots as a performer in the music business.

KATHY: “It was 1977 or 1978. I had two cassettes made with some of my original song material and it was all R&B. Those cassettes were used for the purpose of taking them around to various recording studios and trying to get in the door as a session singer; a background vocalist. … I heard it from somebody that Michael Henderson was in United Sound studio. It was this humongous studio where Aretha recorded. Everybody was using that studio, because it was a big, popular studio back in the day. I walked in with a couple of cassettes. Michael Henderson was recording that day and he wouldn’t see me, but his manager came out, or his musical director; Eli Fontaine.** He took the music from me and I remember this like it was yesterday. They didn’t even have to buzz me in. I just walked in and I went to the receptionist and asked to see Michael Henderson. … So, Eli Fontaine came out and took the cassettes from me. My phone number was published right on the cassette. About a week went by until I got a phone call, and they said, Michael wants to see you in the studio the next day at 3-o-clock. They needed one more voice to round out the background voices. So, I showed up! Michael Henderson told me himself, I really like what you put on those tapes and I need a third singer.”

** NOTE: Eli Fontaine was a good friend of this journalist in Detroit. He was a well-respected reed player who worked on sessions at numerous Detroit studios. It’s his horn you hear on the top of the historic Marvin Gaye recording of “What’s Going On.”

KATHY: “… When I got there, I was introduced to the girls who sang with the Brides of Funkenstein or backed up Parliament Funkadelic. They were part of George Clinton’s crew. I’m sure he recorded there too. They all did. Sure enough, we went on tour. I wound up doing background vocals for this man’s band for a while. In that band, I met a woman named Carol Hall. She was one of the singers, and then there was this girl from the Parlets. Carol and I went on the road, as background vocalists, and in that band was a guitar player named Randy Jacobs. I knew randy from the Motor city music scene. We were all in bar bands at that time, … playing in bars around town. Carol was in a band. I was in a band. But now, we were on tour with the Michael Henderson band,” Kathy told me.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Michael Henderson, he is an American bassist, lauded for his work playing with Miles Davis and he’s also a competent vocalist. As a Buddah recording artist, Michael Henderson collaborated vocally with the late, great Phyllis Hyman and had several hit records on his own, including the popular “You Are My Starship,” Recording, when he was featured vocalist with Norman Conners. Later, Henderson recorded a duet with Hyman using the same song.

At age twenty-four, Kosins was a seasoned background singer and was busy composing music and singing around town. She ran into David Weiss, better known as David Was and Don Fagenson (aka: Don Was) of the band ‘Was/Not Was’. In 1982, Don Was produced Kathy’s first single release entitled, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, a re-make of the AC/DC tune.

KATHY: “After touring with Michael Henderson, the next thing you know, I did the same thing. I knocked on the door of Sound Sweet recording studios. It was located in a bad part of Detroit and Don Fagenson ( aka: Don Was) was in there making the very first Don Was (Was Not) record. It was the same thing; being in the right place at the right time. Don asked me not only to be a background vocalist for his band, but to hire the other two singers. So, I had to contract singers. Who did I call? Carol Hall and Sheila; I wish I could remember her last name. The same girls from the Henderson tour. One thing led to another, and suddenly I was doing a whole lot of session work in the city of Detroit.”
Kathy Kosins doesn’t come from a musical family. Her father built an empire in Detroit as the owner of the most popular men’s store in the Motor city. During the sixties and seventies, Ford Motor company was employing a multitude of blue-collar workers, business was booming, and Berry Gordy’s Motown was growing to nationwide fame, with Gordy’s hit records pouring out of radios coast-to-coast. Kathy recalled that time in her life.

KATHY: “If you knew Kosin’s clothes, and you did, ‘cause you lived in Detroit,” (she said to me confidentially) “my dad sold to Motown artists. I remember when I was a little kid, my dad used to grab me and he’d say, let’s go for a ride and take mister Gordy his suits. We’d drive up Woodward Avenue to Boston or Chicago Boulevard area to Berry Gordy’s big, white mansion or we’d take clothes to Mayor Coleman Young. My dad sold clothes to pimps, politicians, entertainers, funeral parlors, when they had to bury somebody in a nice-looking suit, or if you were getting married, you got your suit at Kosins,” she told me.

As a youngster, Kathy worked at her father’s popular clothing store and was introduced to celebrities like Dinah Washington, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Lou Rawls and the Four Tops. She learned the art of salesmanship. Later in life, when promoting her own CD projects and her solo career, that talent of selling surfaced to her benefit. To this day, she’s a meticulous business woman.

Kathy and her younger brother both were bitten by the music bug early on. When she was taken to New York by her dad, to attend the Broadway musical play, “Hair”, sitting in the theater with young, impressionable eyes glued to the stage, Kathy knew this was her destiny. She wanted to sing, write music and perform. Her brother, David, played guitar and had gigs in local bands. While he was inspired by and listened to Lester Bowie and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bud Powell, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Kathy was busy listening to soul, blues and rock music, while writing songs and singing her heart out with local bands and in various studios. She says Janis Joplin greatly inspired her.

After her affiliation with the Don Was/Not Was Band, she collaborated with a number of Los Angeles and New York based writers to compose several songs she hoped to present to some popular jazz singers on the scene. Among those she hoped would record her work were vocalists like Dianne Reeves, Nancy Wilson and Diane Schurr. She prepared a number of songs, becoming her own song-plugger. Somehow, her demo fell into the hands of Schoolkids Records and they loved her material. It was 1996 and the next thing Kathy knew, she had a record deal and her debut album was released, entitled, “All In A Dreams Work”. It placed in the top 20 of the Gavin Report.

Her next release was on Chiaroscuro Records, in 2002, titled “Mood Swings” and received rave reviews. In 2006 she followed that success up with the release of “Vintage” on the Mahogany Jazz label. Then, six years later, Resonance Records released her popular “Ladies of Cool” album followed-up with “The Space Between” on Mahogany Jazz label. Kathy told me this 2013 album was a combination of her jazz influenced recordings and her Rhythm and blues roots. It was this turning point in her recording career that has led her to this most recent recording project titled, “Uncovered Soul”.

On her latest endeavor, Kathy Kosins circles back to her soul-infused, blues drenched, Motown roots. This new album introduces a fresh direction, moving Kosin’s from mainstream jazz to a more groove-oriented production. With producer Kamau Kenyatta by her side, she is reaching towards a more global approach to her music and is already being critically acclaimed in the UK music market. Producer, Kenyatta, is praised for his Gold Record, Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Gregory Porter.

The first cut, “ Don’t Get Me Started “ is a sensual, funk-driven production that showcases Kathy’s rich, sultry sound, driven by Eric Harland on drums and written by Gene McDaniels, pleasantly remembered for his hit records, “Compared to What” and “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” Greg Moore’s tasty guitar punches the rhythm and Kathy’s voice is full of expression, warm and inviting.

Aaron Neville first recorded the song, “VooDoo.” Kathy and Kamau produce it as a combination of New Orleans soul and Kem-like grooves. ‘Kem’ is a familiar R&B star, based in Detroit, who has several soul-charted hit records and a signature sound. Mitch Foreman, on synthesizer-organ, adds a jazzy spice to the production and guitarist, Greg Moore, (or G-Moe as he is affectionately called), is gritty, raw and soulful.

Cut #3 is the CD’s title and one of Kathy’s original compositions. It captures a Smooth-Jazz/R&B flavor, and reminds me of a song Phyllis Hyman might sing, with a melody that Kathy’s warm vocals embrace and embellish. Another original is track #6, titled “A to B” and pretty much sums up the artist’s current state of mind. It’s one of my favorites on this CD. The lyrics say it all. For example, she sings:

“Those who came before me had so much to say. I listened to their stories as I try to find my way. … I’m just trying to get from A to B. Nobody ever told me, it don’t come easily. If I ask for inspiration, please shine a light on me. I’m just trying to get from A to B. Don’t try to be impatient, says a whisper in my head. When you trust your good intentions, you’ll be better off instead … Each and every day I’m thankful for following my dreams.”

The new Kathy Kosins’ album, “Uncovered Soul,” is based on the urban landscape of Detroit, pulling from the popular music of the early 1960’s and 70’s, she’s digging deeply into her rock and soul roots. When you combine this with Kathy’s jazz overtones and the hip-hop groove of danceable tracks, you begin to see a new side of this vocalist. Kathy describes her project as “Detroit-centric;” a tribute to her city, with music that paints a picture of an urban Detroit and its rebirth, its repurposing towards prosperity and renewed hope. She uses obscure tunes by gold-record composer/artists that include Bill Withers, Gene McDaniels, the Neville Brothers, Burt Bacharach, Curtis Mayfield and more, to thread a needle of unique artistry that holds the fabric of Kathy’s truth in place like a CD jacket.
Kathy Kosins is a multi-talented singer/songwriter who lives, breathes and paints music. When she’s not working on new songs, recording or touring, this multi-talented woman utilizes time as a visual artist and creates Modernist art.

KATHY: “I paint the sounds that I hear. Strains from Miles Davis’ trumpet, Charlie Parkers’ sax and Bud Powells’ piano translate into color and texture. I never have an idea or color scheme in mind when I pick up a brush. I paint strictly from my intuition. It was no different with the old jazz masters. They could play endless solos all night, using the same form.”

Her paintings bear the names of a number of jazz icons and jazz songs. For instance, the modern abstract painting that once hung in the Los Angeles office of the Monk Institute is called “Monks Dreams.” She began painting in 1990, and examples of other titles for her extensive work are: Miles Ahead, ‘Round Midnight, Corcovado, Joy Spring, Ornette, Green Dolphin Street and November Twilight.

http://www.kathykosins.com/artshow/kathykosins_art/index.html

Although this vocalist has recorded straight-ahead jazz and standards, on her new album, (scheduled for a September release), she reaches back to her beloved beginnings in the music business and combines styles. The result is jazzy and pop, soulful and R&B, uniquely mixed for strong crossover appeal.

Kathy Kosins will preview her “Uncovered Soul” album on June 8, 2017 at Catalina Bar & Grill in Los Angeles, California. Hit time is 8:30pm. See you there.
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CHASING COLTRANE: A FILM DOCUMENTARY

April 26, 2017

CHASING TRANE – A FILM DOCUMENTARY ON THE LIFE OF JOHN COLTRANE
A Film Review by Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

Monday – April 24, 2017 – Laemmle Theater in Pasadena, California

I recently enjoyed an exceptional film, unveiling the short life and times of John Coltrane. It is available at various art theaters throughout the country and gives the public a close-up look at the incredible, historic and genius musical work of saxophone legend, John Coltrane. It opens with a burst of colors and stars sprinkled across the screen, depicting a filmed galaxy that invites us into heaven’s door, accompanied by scattered saxophone sounds from the horn of our beloved jazz master, the unforgettable Coltrane. The marvelous music of this man infiltrates every scene of this motion picture, keeping jazz up front and elevating this bio-pic.

I was blessed enough to hear John Coltrane play in person. Young people today can only hear recordings, so the importance of complimenting this documentary with John Coltrane’s music is of paramount importance. Denzel Washington reads the words of this amazing man, becoming John’s voice in the film. Others talk about Coltrane’s personality, his two marriages and his majestic artistry. Some film participants are iconic musicians, biographers and of course his loving family members.

There are treasured film clips of when he played at Café Bohemia with Miles Davis in 1957, a time when he was just a fledgling player, but already showing the signs of becoming a legend. This was before Miles fired him for severe drug addiction. Benny Golson tells us that Coltrane was a happy addict, but unreliable. Jimmy Heath tells the story of how Miles caught him and Coltrane getting high, shooting up together, and Coltrane promised he would quit, but he couldn’t stop using.

Reggie Workman is on hand to tell the Coltrane story, along with Ashley Kahn, (Coltrane’s biographer), Coltrane’s close friend, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, President Bill Clinton, the great Benny Golson, Dr. Cornel West, our own Los Angeles based reedman, Kamasi Washington, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, his loving step-daughter, Ms. Andrews, his children from his second wife, Alice Coltrane, and the drummer with The Doors, John Paul Densmore.

Coltrane was born in North Carolina in 1926, a time of Jim Crow racism and challenging times for African American’s in America. His dad was a tailor and amateur musician. Both his grandfathers were ministers. His maternal grandfather was the presiding elder of the First A.M.E. Zion church. At twelve years old, the pre-teen lost his favorite grandfather, his father and both uncles. That’s when his mother moved from the Carolinas, first to New Jersey and then to Philadelphia, to better provide for her fatherless family. It was 1943, a tumultuous time in young Coltrane’s life, and he found solace in music. By the time he was sixteen, John Coltrane was already showing awesome style and proficiency on his horn. In 1945, he met and witnessed the genius of Charlie Parker. Shortly after, he wound up in the Navy and worked as part of the Navy band. In the film, we hear and see that young Coltrane mimicking his idol, Charlie Parker and becoming more and more obsessed with his instrument. Upon release from the Navy, he joined the Miles Davis group.

Carlos Santana speaks warmly and sincerely in this film. He praises Coltrane for going ‘cold-turkey’ and cleaning up his drug addiction. As he put it, “… averting the gates of hell.” Coltrane’s children remember how he kicked his heroin habit by himself, at home, and with the nurturing assistance of his loving wife, Alice Coltrane; a dynamic musician in her own right. Coltrane met Alice when she was playing piano with Gerry Gibbs. The film shows a blissful marriage and captures, in home movies, John as a loving and attentive father. His children tell us he was a romantic and wrote little love poems that he left all over the house for his wife to find. When she said she wanted to play the harp, John bought Alice a golden, concert harp.

After he got clean, we watch John Coltrane’s career gain momentum and his style and self-assurance become explosive. He joins Thelonius Monk’s band and this is where his confidence and genius begins to expand. Clean and fully confident, his first solo album is labeled, “Coltrane – the new tenor star”. All the while, the audience sees clips and still photos of his life and times with Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Rashad Ali , Elvin Jones, Wayne Shorter, Miles, and McCoy Tyner. McCoy called that period of Coltrane’s life “beautiful and committed. … A gift that came from the almighty.”

As his composition skills grew and blossomed, John began to show a deep spiritual side within his music. He was a quiet man, but talked politics and godliness with his horn. The Birmingham, Alabama bombing of that church where four little Sunday school children were killed, prompted Coltrane to compose the song, “Alabama.” He told McCoy Tyner that Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, after that bombing, inspired his song. He began to combine cultures in his music, picking up the soprano saxophone and having a huge hit playing a unique, Asian tinged arrangement of “My Favorite Things.” In 1965, he recorded “A Love Supreme.” Later, forming a group that changed the direction of his music. He was reaching for new horizons, becoming more Avant Garde, with Rashad Ali on drums, Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Pharoah Sanders came to prominence in this group.

It’s unbelievable to think that a man, whose professional recording and musical career started at age 33, would die of liver cancer at age 40. He gifts us with a body of work that still leaves the listener awe-struck. It’s hard to believe his incredible legacy of recorded music happened in a span of only seven years. This film captures the essence of John Coltrane and his magnificent music.
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ASTUTE ARRANGING AND EXCITING YOUNG TALENT SURFACES ON SPRING CD RELEASES

April 21, 2017

ASTUTE ARRANGING AND EXCITING YOUNG TALENT SURFACES ON SPRING CD RELEASES

April 22, 2017
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

Spring always brings forth new life. To epitomize this, I received a batch of CD releases that both surprised and pleased me. Amazing arranger, MICHAEL ABENE created nine unforgettable orchestral arrangements for the Temple University Studio Orchestra in celebration of Frank Sinatra’s musical genius. He is joined by a full-bodied orchestra ensemble and the talents of trumpeter/educator,TERELL STAFFORD and alto saxophonist/recording artist/clinician,DICK OATTS. I was absolutely floored by the piano talents of CHRISTIAN SANDS. Guitarist,GREG SKAFF, moves jazz into the realm of funk and hard rock, while vocal/composer, MARK WINKLER continues to stride the path of performer/songwriter, featuring a host of jazz dynamo’s and popular recording vocalists like JACKIE RYAN,STEVE TYRELL and CHERYL BENTYNE.

TERELL STAFFORD & DICK OATTS WITH THE TEMPLE UNIVERSITY STUDIO ORCHESTRA – “LUCK BE A LADY – A TRIBUTE TO FRANK”
BCM+D Records

RHYTHM: James Collins, piano; Sam Harris, bass; Donovan Pope, drums; Ethan Fisher, vibraphone; Sean Markey, guitar; PERCUSSION: Travis Goffredo, Ryan Wood, & Jason Yoder; VIOLIN 1: Celine Jeong Kim, Luis Cuevas, Frederic Henry, Ayano Kato, Juana Pinilla-Paez, Amanda Roth & Benjamin Weaver; VIOLIN II: Hanna Lee, Yena Choi, Hannah Jordan, Rachel Miller, Amanda Montera, Emma Scott, Chesy Tronchoni-Bello & Morgan Warner; VIOLA: Jeremy Tonelli-Sippel, Bria Blackshear, Adam Kohibus, Akhmed Mamedov, Deanna Mead, Laura Palm; CELLO: Justin Yoder, Yeliza Aleman-Gaelan, Alyssa Almeida, Christian Parker & Elena Smith; BASS: Neil Walters, Vincent Luciano, Patrick Oberstaedt & David Weiss; FLUTE: Ji Young Lee & Nicholas Hall; OBOE: Danica Cheng & Andrew Dotterer; CLARINET: Elisa Montoya Sanchez & James Campbell; BASSOON: Dominic Panunto & Rebecca Krown; SAXOPHONE:Chris Oatts, alto 1; Simon Crosby-Arreaza, alto II; Christian Lewis, tenor 1; Jack Saint Clair, tenor II; Joshua Lee, baritone; HORNS: Hillary Charen, Michael Fries, Jeffrey Lynch & Martina Smith; TRUMPET: Fareed Simpson-Hankins, Jacob Hernandez, David El-Bakara & Noah Hocker. TROMBONE: Sean McCusker, Hailey Brennel, Neal Williamson & Adam Kowalski. ARRANGER: Michael Abene.

Michael Abene is a man nominated for multi-Grammys, as well as being a Grammy Award winning composer, arranger, producer, band leader and gifted pianist. He’s worked with a few of the biggest names in music including Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie, Patti Austin, Buddy Rich and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. He was musical director and the principal arranger/composer of the WDR Radio Big Band of Cologne, as well as director of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop. Now he injects the Temple University Studio Orchestra with a dose of his amazing and creative arranging skills. The result is dazzling.

The Dean and Vice Provost for the Arts at Temple University is Robert T. Stroker. He commissioned Michael Abene for the college and summed-up this musical project by explaining:

“One of our ambitious goals at Boyer is to regularly commission new works by living composers for our students to perform. This provides the unique opportunity for our students to rehearse and record with composers, giving them insight into the creative and artistic process of composing and arranging.”

On this project, the youthful orchestra is inspired by a host of iconic talents, including trumpeter Terell Stafford, who pianist McCoy Tyner complimented as being “One of the great players of our time.” Stafford has recorded six albums as a leader and as a sideman, he’s infused his trumpet talents on ninety various recordings including such luminaries as Kenny Barron, Diana Krall, Jimmy Heath, John Faddis, Bobby Watson, Shirley Scott and the list goes on and on. In 2013, Stafford was named Artistic Director of the newly formed Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia. Currently, Stafford is Chair of Instrumental Studies and Director of Jazz Studies at Temple University. This has to be very inspirational to the student body.

On this musical endeavor, Stafford pairs his talents with Dick Oatts, a member of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. Oatts is a Steeplechase recording artist and has released six albums as a leader. For three decades, Oatts has appeared at college jazz festivals as a soloist and clinician, not only in the United States, but worldwide. Additionally, Oatts has leant his alto saxophone talents on numerous projects, including work with Red Rodney, Eddie Gomez, Bob Brookmeyer, Fred Hersch, Lalo Schiffrin, Mel Lewis, Paquito D’Rivera and several vocalists including pop/R&B stars, Luther Vandross and James Taylor; also jazz vocal icons including Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Joe Williams. Oatts reflected about this project in the liner notes.

“What influenced me most about Sinatra was how he put himself into the melody and lyrics as much as he did putting himself in a role as an actor. Playing with Terell Stafford is exactly like that for me. It is a different magic every time. Michael Abene and Andreas Delfs brought out the best from our students, who were simply amazing.”

Next, you have conductor, Andreas Delfs, who was acting as music director of the Temple University Symphony Orchestra in 2015. He too boasts exceptional affiliations, including work with Yo-Yo-Ma, Joshua Bell, Renee Fleming and world celebrated ensembles like the London Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, New York City Opera, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and many, many others. Together, these four incredible talents have joined forces to inspire a sixty-three-member orchestra. United, this musical coterie presents an outstanding tribute to the hit recordings of Frank Sinatra. The orchestra’s performance is formidable, filled with conviviality and gusto, tenderness and emotion, to remind us of the man and his music. I nearly wept when I heard their arrangement of “I’m A Fool To Want You.” This newly released project was recorded in 2015 to celebrate Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday and released this season. These young musicians should be loudly lauded for this professional sound-recording.

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CHRISTIAN SANDS – “REACH”
Mack Avenue Records

Christian Sands, piano; Marcus Baylor, drums; Yasushi Nakamura, upright bass; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Cristian Rivera, percussion; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet. SPECIAL GUEST, Christian McBride, bass.

Beginning with “Armando’s Song,” the piano playing of Christian Sands leaps from my compact disc and lights up the room. This young man has a unique style and introduces a crystal-clear path of technique, fingers dancing fluidly along the black and white keys. His sense of continuity and improvisation, mixes like cake batter, thick and sweet to the ear. The first thing I notice is how lush and full this trio sounds and how melodic Sands is, starting with the first two cuts on this recording. He has composed eight of the ten songs recorded and is still evolving as an artist at only twenty-seven years young. But Christian Sands is not young to the music. As a native of New Haven, Connecticut, Sands composed his first song at age five and was well on his way to becoming a professional musician by age ten. His parents realized his musical gifts early-on. They enrolled him in prestigious institutions like the Neighborhood Music School and the Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven. He went on to attain both bachelor and Master degrees from the Manhattan School of Music. Since then, he’s been nominated for five Grammy Awards. Speaking of Grammy Awards, his production team on this recording are both Grammy Award winning musicians; Al Pryor (A&R guru at Mack Ave Records) and bassist Christian McBride.

Sands explained, “…When I first sat in with his (McBride’s) Inside Straight band, I realized that we think about music the same way. When I got signed to Mack Avenue, I asked if Christian could produce me, as someone who knows my playing and what I want to accomplish in my music.”

Sands’ compositions are embellished by Marcus Baylor on drums. He plays a stunning part in delivering the energy and excitement on “Armando’s Song” and elsewhere. On “Song of the Rainbow People,” Yasushi Nakamura is prominent and tenacious on upright bass, echoing the ‘hook’ of cut #2 with deliberate bass breath, supported once again by Baylor’s crashing cymbals and steady excitement throughout. Sands knows how to build crescendos from single notes of beauty into plush, harmonic, two-fisted chords that punch the grand piano into submission. Here is a young artist who brings not just amazing technique, but visceral emotions to his music.

On “Pointing West” and “Freefall” Marcus Strickland joins the group, adding a tasty tenor saxophone. He takes the element of straight ahead jazz to a heightened level. These are another two Sands original compositions. “Pointing West” propels forward at a swift pace. I am intoxicated by the ebullience of this artist’s music. “Freefall” is more thoughtful and provocative, with Sands giving abundant freedom to his fellow bandmates to stretch out and expand their improvisations. He tinkles the keys on top, using the upper, treble register against the tenor saxophone richness. “iÓyeme!” enters like horse hooves against wood, featuring Cristian Rivera on percussion and introducing an Afro-Cuban production that is wildly happy music. Rivera shines, making his drums talk and dance at the same time. Sands keeps the piano rhythms strong in the background, coaching the Latin groove repetitiously, while supplying a platform for his percussionist to soak up the spotlight. It’s a wonderful arrangement! Christian McBride makes a guest appearance on cut #8, during a creative production of the Bill Wither’s hit, “Use Me,” with Hekselman adding his guitar to the mix. Sands puts the Blues into the slowed-down version of Bill’s song and it’s sexy, although hardly recognizable. Christian McBride puts the finishing touches on the arrangement by pulling out his bow and expertly tagging the fade. Every tune and every production on this Christian Sands CD is intoxicating and pleasurable. You will probably play this album over and over again. I did.
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GREG SKAFF – SOULMATION
Zoho Records

Greg Skaff, guitars; Fima Ephron, electric bass; Pat Bianchi, Hammond organ, Jonathan Barber & Charley Drayton, drums.

Here is a tightly mixed package of jazz funk that incorporates the guitar magic of Greg Skaff into productions that ooze soul, blues and Rock-influenced original compositions. Sometime in the 1980’s, Skaff arrived in New York from Wichita, Kansas and landed a gig with Stanley Turrentine that lasted five years. He has added his jazz chops to the bandstands of Freddie Hubbard and David “Fathead” Newman. But always, in the back of his mind, were hardcore Rock innovators like Jeff Beck. In the twelve tunes recorded on this CD, Skaff reaches into his hat of magic tricks and ventures into an amalgamation of musical ideas, pulling styles, like white rabbits, into eclectic view. His music bridges straight-ahead and bebop backgrounds, stretching into a more funk/hard-rock sound. He explores his composer skills and they are impressive. Skaff has written nine of the twelve songs on this recording. A song titled, “Bottom Feeder” is dynamic, with Barber’s drums slamming the tune into the listeners face as hard as cement. Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine” is stimulated by the drums of Jonathan Barber once again and veers from Rock-mode to a Latin-tinged World music. Skaff shows off his flying finger skills and fluid solo work, especially notable on “Porcupine Hat,” where he trades fours with Barber, who once again shines. This is an enjoyable hour of new music by a richly gifted guitar master and his astute crew.


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MARK WINKLER – “THE COMPANY I KEEP”
Café Pacific Records

Mark Winkler, vocals/composer; Jamieson Trotter, piano/Hammond B3; Rich Eames, Eric Reed, Josh Nelson, John Beasley, piano; Lyman Medeiros, John Clayton, bass; Mike Shapiro, Jeff Hamilton, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion/drums; Larry Koonse, Bob Mann, guitar; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ron Blake, Brian Swartz, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Don Shelton, clarinet; Paul Cartwright, violin; GUEST VOCALISTS: Jackie Ryan, Cheryl Bentyne, Steve Tyrell, Claire Martin, Sara Gazarek. Vocal Arrangements, Michele Weir.

Lyman Medeiros walks his big bass sound on the first cut, (a Donald Fagen tune), and Mark Winkler comes in with his caramel smooth vocals, coating the bass background with a lyric that tells a story about rainy days with two lovers making-up as they “Walk Between the Raindrops.” What a great concept. Winkler and Jackie Ryan sell the song, as they swing between the great horn arrangements by Jamieson Trotter. Bob Sheppard puts the ‘P’ in Pizazz on his tenor sax solo. “Strollin” is the music of Prince. Winkler invites vocalist, Cheryl Bentyne, to join him on this one. Michele Weir has written this vocal arrangement and the arrangement for the Donald Fagen cut as well. Bentyne, Winkler and the band easily manage to reconstruct a pop tune into a jazzy arrangement. I love the Medeiros bass line that puts the funk into the tune and Larry Koonse is dynamic on guitar.

This is Winkler’s fifteenth CD release as a leader and over 250 of his songs have been sung or recorded by himself and other artists like Jane Monheit, Dianne Reeves, Liza Minnelli, Cheryl Barnes and several others. He, and co-writer Phil Swann, have penned the lyrics to “Midnight In Paris,” a Bill Cantos tune, soaked in violin and clarinet harmonics, with John Clayton making a guest appearance on bass. ‘But It Still Ain’t So,” is a bluesy shuffle tune by Louis Durra, with a very compelling lyric by Winkler. Steve Tyrell makes a guest appearance with that growly character to his vocals and the ability to Swing as easy as a child at the playground. Great lyrics and a fine delivery by both gentlemen. “That Afternoon in Harlem” is another favorite original composition of mine by Winkler. The production is sparse and his voice carries the story with sincerity and emotion. Winkler knows how to compose stories and he draws you in with his candor. Eric Reed is featured on piano and Jeff Hamilton mans the drums to perfection. Bob McChesney knows just where to add his trombone licks and expands the music of composer, Marilyn Harris, on his solo. “Stolen Moments” features the beautiful voice of Claire Martin, interpreting, (in duet style), the creative lyrics of Mark Murphy and the music of the great Oliver Nelson. I apologize for being unfamiliar with the voice of Claire Martin, but I am now a big fan. “Love Comes Quietly” is lovely with a lyric that is both intriguing and relatable. Winkler is a wonderful lyricist and surrounds himself with the best in the music business to interpret his musical whims and fantasies. For me, it is his songwriting ingenuity that makes this artist so interesting and entertaining. “The Company I Keep” is an album full of master musicians and compelling vocalists who happily find Winkler’s music as titillating and inspirational as I do. He can’t go wrong with this kind of company.

Winkler’s West Coast CD Party will be held Wednesday, May 31st, at the famed Los Angeles jazz club, Catalina’s Bar & Grill in Hollywood at 8:30PM. You’re invited.

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JAZZ WOMEN TO WATCH, LISTEN TO AND ADMIRE

April 12, 2017

JAZZ WOMEN TO WATCH, LISTEN TO AND ADMIRE – April 12, 2017
by Dee Dee McNeil

April is a month dedicated to the celebration of jazz. Set up in 2001 as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), it was established to promote jazz both as an historic and contemporary art form. Jazz, created by African Americans, is the only indigenous musical art form born and bred in the United States. Celebrated worldwide, Jazz Appreciation Month is recognized in 40 countries and every state of the United States. This month, I decided to feature some WOMEN IN JAZZ.

When I got a call from my good friend and phenomenal bassist, Tomas Gargano, who currently resides in New York City, he told me about a young vocalist named Jazzmeia Horn and my interest was piqued. Her new album is titled, “A Social Call” and is scheduled for a May, 2017 release on Prestige Records. Check her out!

JAZZMEIA HORN is an East Coast based vocalist who brings a fresh, sincere and carefully honed voice to the forefront. Originally from Dallas, Texas, she started singing in the church and her singing background was originally tinged with gospel, rhythm and blues. However, she was hungry for more freedom of expression and she had a desire to challenge her artistry. That’s when she discovered Sarah Vaughan and jazz. Winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition and the 2013 Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, Jazzmeia Horn is definitely a youthful, exciting talent who I predict, if she continues along this musical path, will become a bright star for the jazz generation to come. She’s a singer unique in both presentation, creativity and style. I’ve been awaiting a female singer like this for many decades. A young voice who combines jazz with poetry and is not afraid to tackle social issues. She also displays a tenacious desire for freedom and dives into this music without fear or restriction. That’s the true mark of a jazz artist. Check her out on youtube.com.

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SYBIL COKER KEEPING JAZZ ALIVE ONE TALENT AT A TIME

I have admired Sybil’s tenacity and determination over the years. She has been keeping her beloved husband’s name alive and supporting the legacy of jazz by investing in talented youth for the past 34 years. Two such people are cousins and grandchildren of the great drummer, Donald Dean Sr.; Jamael & Darryn Dean.

“Tamir Hendelman and Jason Goldman came through Dolo Coker Foundation. Robin DeMaggio, who played drums on the Arsenio Hall show came through Dolo Coker. Eric Reed is doing very well. He won three years in a row, first place. And Kamasi Washington is one of my children,” Sybil Coker shared with me proudly.

Sybil J. Thomas Coker is the President and Founder of the Charles (Dolo) Coker Jazz Scholarship Foundation. Scholarships are awarded to full-time high school and college students who have demonstrated an aptitude in jazz. Her Scholarship Foundation has awarded over $400,000 to date. Applications are available on-line at http://dolocokerjazz.org

Parents with talented, jazz-minded, music students take note! And all you jazz music students who are in school full time and need financial assistance should consider applying.

The Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation is a tax-exempt, non-profit established on Wednesday, April 13, 1983 in memory of pianist extraordinaire, Dolo Coker, and to assist talented students pursuing careers in the field of jazz. The hope is to perpetuate jazz, America’s only musical indigenous art form.

Recently, I acted as one of several judges for the Dolo Coker Scholarship Auditions. I was astounded by the amazing, young, local jazz talent that filled up the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center. They were all trying to qualify for a scholarship by showing off their proficiency on a variety of instruments. There was even a young jazz vocalist among the Auditioners,(Darynn Dean), sounding a bit like a fledgling Sarah Vaughan. The young people were multi-cultural and came from as far away as San Diego to audition. It was exciting to see and hear so many young musicians pursuing jazz.

Let me tell you a little bit about the woman who makes all of this possible. Sybil Coker was born in Elizabeth, Louisiana. Her parents decided to relocate to Southern California and Sybil told me their emphasis was on her getting the best possible education.

Sybil Coker is a perpetual lover of music. Like many African-American girls during her early childhood, Sybil was encouraged to take vocal and piano lessons. Later, while attending Cal State Los Angeles and working on her Elementary School Credential, she once again studied piano.

“And then I went to West L.A. College and took piano. I was doing pretty well until I lost Dolo in 1983 and in 1987 I lost my father. My mind was so unhappy, even though the teacher begged me to please keep up my piano studies, I had to stop. When you lose someone that significant to you, sometimes you wonder will you ever laugh again or will I ever be happy?” Sybil explained.

Although Sybil and Dolo never had children of their own, both had several Godchildren and Sybil always had a desire to inspire and teach children. She spent 48 years in our public school system, both teaching and counseling youth until she retired. While teaching in the Los Angeles public schools and Headstart arenas, Ms. Coker also worked as a respected journalist for many years and wrote for the Entertainment Digest. She has been an active historian for the Los Angeles Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Chapter and was Chapter journalist for a number of years.. She was the women’s editor for the Herald Dispatch and also wrote for the Pittsburgh Courier. In fact, while she was on assignment for the Courier to write a feature on Kenny Dennis, Sybil was first introduced to the man who would become her husband; Dolo Coker.

She told me, “Kenny Dennis (the iconic jazz drummer) introduced me to Dolo. It was on Adams and Western at the Rubiyat. It was a black owned hotel and on Monday nights they had jazz. So Kenny had Dolo (in the band), Richie Kamuca and I think Leroy (Vinnegar). I was doing a story for the Pittsburgh Courier on Kenny and when they finished the set he called Dolo over and said, Come on over here. I want you to meet this lady. So Dolo came over and said in a very proper and super formal voice, ‘How do you do?’ Then he went over to the bar and pal’d around with his friends and that’s how we originally met. We dated nine years. He wanted to be debt free. He wanted to be able to provide for us when we married.”

And provide for them he did, while playing with numerous historic and iconic jazz musicians like Ben Webster, The Heath Brothers, Gene Ammons, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt, Philly Joe Jones, Dexter Gordon, Frank Morgan and he recorded four albums for Xanadu Records featuring Harold Land, Leroy Vinnegar, Blue Mitchell, Frank Butler, and Art Pepper as part of his ensemble.

Sybil told me “The Dolo Coker foundation’s application process is easy and it’s on the website.

“Auditions happen annually, the third Saturday of March, and applicants need to bring their bio, two letters of recommendation and verification that they are full-time students. They can be in public school, private school, on-line, home-schooled, or in charter schools, as long as it’s legitimate, licensed and can be verified.”

I asked her to name some of the students who have been funded by the Dolo Coker Foundation and who have gone on to become professional, active musicians.
“Tamir Hendelman and Jason Goldman came through Dolo Coker Foundation. Robin DeMaggio, who played drums on the Arsenio Hall show came through Dolo Coker. Eric Reed is doing very well. He won three years in a row, first place. And Kamasi Washington is one of my children. He and Miles Mosley came and played at my retirement celebration. Vernell Brown (Jr)., I don’t know what Vernell is doing at this time, but he was endorsed by Yamaha piano; wonderful pianist. Michael McTaggart was on the deans list every year at USC. He’s a guitarist and he also was a gold ribbon winner of NAACP ACT-SO program for years, every year.”

The NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics is a year-long achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among African-American high school students. ACT-SO includes 26 categories of competition in the sciences, humanities, business, performing and visual arts. More than 260,000 young people have participated in the program since its inception.

In fact, one of the young performers I witnessed during the Dolo Coker Foundation auditions was Aaron Shaw, who won the 2013 ACT-SO, Silver Medal in Music Composition award. Another was Jamael Dean, who won in the Music Contemporary competition, also garnering a Silver Medal. His cousin, Darynn Dean, who I mentioned as the youthful vocalist who is influenced by Sarah Vaughan, won the Gold in the Vocal Contemporary competition.

“Ryan Porter and Corey Hogan, we bought their first instruments when they were students at Washington Prep,” Sybil continued. “See, because a lot of these school musicians only get to play the school instruments when they are at school. Patrick and Eliot Douglas were our first two scholarship recipients. Eliot lives in Las Vegas and he’s under contract to the New York New York Casino.”

Other names you may recognize who have received encouragement and support from the Dolo Coker Foundation are Los Angeles bassist, Ryan Cross. Mahesh Balasooriya was a 1st Place Dolo Coker Award winner in 2001 and 2003, winning for his amazing piano skills. Bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux won first place in the vocal category and went on to achieve success with her jazz quartet, and Donald Vega Gutierrez, a former Nicaraguan student at Crenshaw high school, won first place in 1996 and later recorded his “Spiritual Nature” CD with Christian McBride and Lewis Nash making up the rhythm section. See his mini documentary on this Resonance Records recording project by clicking the Video tab with this story.

In 2012, Joshua Crumbly won first place and went on to perform with Terence Blanchard among others. And, in 2013, Teira Lockhart Church, a junior at UCLA, won the vocalist award, and Aaron Shaw, an 11th-grade tenor saxophone player, tied with her for first place. The list goes on and on.

In 2011, Sybil Coker was honored at Linda Morgan’s “Living Legend” Awards program for her amazing and supportive work with youth over the years and especially her interest in supporting young jazz artists. You can honor her and her non-profit foundation by donating today or attending her upcoming event on Sunday, April 23, 2017. This will be the Thirty-fourth Annual Tribute to Dolo Coker and will take place from 2:30 PM to 6:00 PM at Macy’s on Crenshaw; the third floor inside the Museum of African-American Art; 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd; Los Angeles, CA 90008. James Janisse will emcee the event. Featured artists in concert that afternoon include the legendary Ernie Andrews, Betty Bryant and The Donald Dean Jazz All Stars plus special guests.

For more information contact The Charles Dolo Coker Jazz Scholarship Foundation, Inc. at P.O. Box 480028; Los Angeles, CA 90048 or call Phone/Fax (323) 935-1374, or go to http://www.dolocokerjazz.org

Note: This article appeared ‘in part’ at http://www.lajazz.com in 2014 as part of my jazz column.

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ANGIE WELLS & RAPHAEL LEMONNIER – “LOVE AND MISCHIEF”
Independent Label

Angie Wells, vocals; Raphael Lemonnier, piano; James Leary, bass; Kenny Elliott & Washington Rucker, drums; Mathis Haug, guitar; Harry Kim, trumpet; Bili Redd, guest vocals.

Sometimes a CD cover can snatch consumer attention and create interest in a recording project before one even listens to the artist. Angie Wells delivers on such a cover, classy in her white, skin-tight dress with a large, red flower decorating her shoulder. The music is as dynamic as the gorgeous photo cover by Chad Finley. Wells opens with Blossom Dearie’s jazz standard, “Peel Me A Grape.” She has her own unique sound and style. This artist exemplifies, from her very first tune, that she’s willing, able and determined to put the “S” in Swing. I love the Kenny Elliott drums on this production. Those drums push the group and accentuate the crescendos and excitement inspired by the vocalist.

“The Moon is Swinging on A Line” is an original composition by pianist, Raphael Lemonnier, with lyrics by her guitarist, Mathis Haug. Wells also contributes to the lyric al content. It’s a haunting ballad, with bluesy changes that engage the artist’s smoky voice to deliver the story of a New Orleans street and a lost love affair. She sings with expressive conviction. The tempo and minor changes are dirge-like, with Haug’s guitar prominent on the fade and during his solo. I wish I could have heard more of Haug’s rhythm guitar licks throughout. I feel he is mixed way too low during the mastering of this project. “She Ain’t the Kinda Girl” is another original by Lemonnier & Wells, arranged as a blues shuffle, where James Leary pumps his upright bass like a weight-lifter pumping iron. He lifts the bar and makes the music sweat, while Lemonnier pounds the piano in a raucous, downhome-bluesy way. His solo is outstanding and gospel tinged, reminding me a lot of the late-great Gene Harris. Wells sings lyrics with raw emotion and sincerity. You hear this quite clearly on “You’re My Thrill.” Harry Kim is sensitive and tasty, with trumpet improvisations that enhance the vocalist’s delivery and sweeten the mood of the song. I love those Elliott mallets on “Nature Boy” that percussively propel this ballad into a Bolero. Bili Redd brings his silky, smooth baritone to a couple of duets with Ms. Wells, on an “I’m In the Mood for Love” medley incorporating “Moody’s Mood for Love” and also on “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This Is a fine start for a premier recording that introduces us to a naturally endowed jazz singer on her way towards a propitious outcome.
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“WORDS & MUSIC” BY JEANNIE TANNER
Tanner Time Records

Jeannie Tanner, trumpet/composer/lyricist;Dan Murphy, piano/Fender Rhodes/ Hammond B3 Organ/arranger/producer; Cory Biggerstaff, bass; Neal Alger & Andy Pratt, Guitar; Darre Scorza, drums; Chris Madsen, saxophone; Elaine Dame,flute; Adam Thornburg, trombone; HAWK string Quartet: Katherine Huges & Carol Kalvonijan, violins; Benton Wedge, viola; Jill Kaeding, cello.

This is an unusual project in that the songwriter/composer, Jeannie Tanner, is listed as the ‘Artist’ but instead of performing, she has written a collection of songs and hired twelve of Chicago’s talented vocalists to sing her compositions. In other words, this is more like a collection of high quality demos, normally used to promote the songwriter. Ms. Tanner is an award-winning composer, vocalist and trumpeter. She performs and records with her own band in the Windy City, known as the Jeannie Tanner Quartet. Her original music has already been licensed for both television and film.

With this recording, you, the listener, can sample the composer’s work and enjoy a compilation of various Chicago vocalists. Each one puts their own spin on Tanner’s songs. Dan Murphy is persuasive on piano, always keeping the melody in the forefront, even when he improvises. He aptly accompanies these singers with sensitivity and care. Drummer, Darren Scorza, makes a powerful statement on his trap drums, especially on the introduction to “Reflections in Mirrors.” In fact, Tanner’s musicians carry this unique project with their professional talents, lending the perfect stage for this sampling of singers and songs. Favorite cuts: “Wait For Me” featuring Jeff Meegan; “You Can Kiss Me into Anything” and “I Am Strong,” featuring Typhanie Monique; “You’ll Always Have My Heart,” a swinging arrangement featuring Abigail Riccards and “Promise Me the Moon” featuring Rose Collela, with tasty horn licks by Chris Madsen on saxophone.

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CATHY SEGAL-GARCIA – “IN2UITION”
Dash Hoffman Records

Pianists: Otmaro Ruiz, John Beasley, Gary Fukushima, Varden Ovespian, Karen Hammack, Jane Getz, Bevan Manson, Dave Moscoe, Llew Matthews, Josh Nelson. Violin, Calabria Foti.

This is a double set CD, minimally produced, and basically featuring Cathy Segal-Garcia singing with various jazz pianists. Having worked many years as a duo in various hotels myself, I know how serious and demanding duo work can be. Garcia is up for the challenge and so are her hand-picked accompanists, many of whom are international recording artists in their own right. Starting with Josh Nelson on “I Love You,“ Garcia spices the song up with scat singing, seasoning the familiar standard with her improvisational skills. John Beasley is the next pianist performing with Garcia on the Thelonious Monk composition, “Ruby My Dear”. Beasley was nominated for a Grammy this year for his own orchestrated work of Monk. He is an exceptional accompanist and a master musician who brings beauty and a strong sense of individuality to his music. Garcia performs, unintimidated, deft with full-bodied tone against whatever creative chord Beasley throws at her, holding the melody like a baby, precious against her bosom. I believe her when she sings this story of a broken-hearted woman named Ruby. Beasley’s solo performance is as breath-takingly beautiful as Garcia’s lyrical interpretation. He turns the grand piano into a very hip and unprecedented music box. On Garcia’s original composition, “The Room” she adds a violin played by Calabria Foti to compliment the piano work of Karen Hammack. This song is very folksy and not jazzy at all. I remember when Nina Simone used to record in this fashion, throwing in a pop song or a folk song on a recording or concert of serious jazz. I suppose it’s the artist’s prerogative. “Bonita, a Jobim composition, features Otmaro Ruiz on piano. He prepares a solid foundation for the vocalist to sing this beautiful ballad. I long for Latin rhythms, instead of classical chording, but it is a very beautiful production by the two artists, despite my personal desire for some Brazilian fire. This is followed by another ballad and then a burst of energy with Gary Fukushima on, “I Want To Be Happy.” Disc #1 ends with the popular Rodgers & Hart tune, “It Never Entered My Mind.” David Moscoe sensitively accompanies Garcia at a very slow, melancholy pace, allowing the listener to hear her draw each note out and hold those whole tones with very little vibrato and unabashed technique.

Cathy Segal-Garcia explains this recording in the liner notes. “I’m a person who loves varied possibilities. In my musical life, I’ve played with so many wonderful musicians. At this moment, I feel change in the human existence. Relationships are almost the only important thing in the here and now.”

I must agree with her assessment that our positive relationships with each other can be a catalyst towards peace and love. It would seem, using this production as the measure, that her relationship with these various pianists reflects intimacy and trust. She ends Disk 2 with Llew Matthews playing a soulful, gospel arrangement of “America.” America, America, God shed his grace on thee…. Cathy sings. That prayer seems to be very appropriate these politically challenging days.
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PATRICIA TERRY-ROSS – 2017 KRESGE EMINENT AWARD RECIPIENT

“My grandmother said to me when I was six years old that I was given a gift and it’s not a gift unless you can give it away; and to do honor to my gift. I’ve been playing with the opera for 30 years. I’m the longest serving member.”

So said Patricia Terry-Ross from the Stage of the Opera House in Detroit, Michigan on a recent video presentation I viewed.

As many of us know, the world calls jazz ‘America’s Classical Music.’ When I wrote songs for Motown, it was the local jazz musicians who were recording all the studio work and thus, developing the famed ‘Motown Sound.’ I wanted to highlight Patricia Terry-Ross, who is a classical harpist, educator and was one of those session players of Motor City fame. Back in the day, she played her harp on several Motown hits like “My Cherie Amour”, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” as a sought after studio musician.

Today, seated at the harp, her close cropped white hair sparkles in the spotlight. In her youth, she was once a music major, attending Cass Technical High school, where she was drawn to the harp. At the time, she was a competent pianist, with music as her passion. Jazz harpists, Alice McLeod-Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby, also attended the famed Cass Technical High School, as did trumpet master Donald Byrd, pianist, Kirk Lighsey, iconic guitarist, Kenny Burrell, bebop singer, Sheila Jordan and many more. So many jazz artists graduated from Cass Technical High school that I published an entire article about them in Michigan History magazine. Cass has the oldest harp program of any public high school in the United States and has the only harp and vocal program. Mrs. Terry-Ross later headed that harp program at her Detroit alma mater that once inspired and educated her years earlier. This year, She will be honored by the Kresge Arts in Detroit Program for her outstanding work in music. Congratulations to this exemplary woman, musician and educator.
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MARCH GOES OUT LIKE A LION & MUSIC MARCHES STRONGLY INTO SPRING

March 21, 2017

By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

March 21, 2017

I’m excited about the worldwide, new music I’ve been listening to and the youthful jazz talent I see developing in and around the Los Angeles community. With pride, I recently was one of several judges for the 34-year-old Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation that funds young people pursuing musical careers in jazz. It’s good to know that there are youth who are interested in playing America’s indigenous treasure of jazz. It’s also enlightening that people like Sybil Coker are carrying on the legacy of her jazz musician husband, Dolo Coker, to fund young talent. Especially when we have a current political administration that is deleting art in the schools and destroying positive programs like the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and suggesting the deletion of government funding for PBS (Public Broadcasting System). So it was good to see students, some as young as fifteen-years-old, auditioning for Scholarships and playing jazz standards as their songs of choice. Very impressive! See http://dolocokerjazz.org

As this month goes out like a lion, Spring arrives, bringing a rebirth of talent and good music. The newly released music is colorful and peeks like flowers through the snow. I’d like to suggest some of the compact discs I found particularly entertaining. MICHAEL RABINOWITZ brings the bassoon front and center as a significant instrument for interpreting jazz. ALMA MATTERS is a group made up of musicians who are two generations of San Francisco area jazz masters, related by friendship and family. Reed man, JIMMY GREENE releases a second tribute album to his departed six-year-old daughter, who was murdered during the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, along with nineteen other students and six educators. Brazilian pianist, ANTONIO ADOLFO, celebrates the music of Wayne Shorter, blending cultures and LUKE SELLICK, a gifted composer and bassist, attempts to transform his compositions from mundane to magic and paper sheet music to gold. Below is my opinion.

MICHAEL RABINOWITZ – “UNCHARTED WATERS”
Catz Paw Records

Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon; Rusian Khain, bass; Nat Harris, guitar; Vince Ector, drums.

Listening to a bassoon sing jazz is a distinctive pleasure. After hearing Bennie Maupin and Yusef Lateef tackle this instrument, I have a certain appreciation and expectation of the bassoon’s power and persuasion. Michael Rabinowitz appreciates and exploits the acoustic characteristics of the bassoon and this makes his “Uncharted Waters” CD a joy to my ears. He does use pick-ups and electronic effects at times, but for the most part, Rabinowitz seems to be enthralled with featuring and preserving the raw beauty of the bassoon. He has composed four out of nine songs on this CD and I thoroughly appreciate his composer skills. Starting with the first cut and title tune, Rabinowitz brings the bassoon front and center to a stage of improvisational excellence. He is supported by three conscientious musicians on bass, drums and guitar. They give cement support to this artist, as he drives across their solid rhythm section. “Harold’s Blues” is the next original tune. The melody is infectious, with an arrangement steeped in staccato rhythms and a mind-blowing, improvisational solo by Rabinowitz twice; once at the introduction, featuring just the bassoon, with Vince Ector on drums. Ector has been an occasional drummer for the Charles Mingus Orchestra, where Rabinowitz first met him. This percussion master plays hard beneath the improvisation, making his trap drums dance and sing, while all the time supporting Rabinowitz’s artistic expression. Nat Harris, on guitar, offers an impressive 44-bar solo and takes the song to another level along with Rusian Khain, who walks his double bass emphatically beneath like a series of exclamation marks on the page. Speaking of Khain, he too gets his share of attention during this arrangement, both as a soloist and as the thick, bluesy, musical foundation always present just below the surface. He holds the rhythm section firmly together like Elmer’s glue. I played cut #2 over three times in a row. Perhaps because I enjoy the blues, but mainly because the musicianship is so well-executed and blended. “Caravan” is played at the speed of light. Fasten your seat belts. Rabinowitz has written a Bossa Nova song for his mom and dad titled, “Kiki’s Theme” that is quite lovely with lots of minor changes. Michael Rabinowitz’s mother played violin with the New Haven Symphony and was accepted to Julliard. His father was an abstract, expressionist painter and art teacher. They obviously bequeathed their love of art and music to their son. Wes Montgomery’s composition, “So Do It” is celebrated royally as a straight-ahead jazz arrangement. Rabinowitz is king on the bassoon, crowning the tune with improvisational creativity. This delightful CD is scheduled for an April 2017 release.

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ALMA MATTERS
Independent Label

Peter Apfelbaum, keys/tenor sax/flute/drums/percussion/string/woodwinds arrangement; Samora Pinderhughes & Ben Heveroh, keys; Jonathan Stein & David Belove, bass; Mark Whitfield, Jr., Mathias Kunzli & Charlie Ferguson, drums; Josh Jones, drums/percussion; Ivan Jackson, trumpet; Natalie Cressman, vocals/trombone/brass arrangements; Elena Pinderhughes, flute/vocals; Jeff Cressman, trombone/cornet/bass/Engelhart castanets; John Schott, guitar; Jill Ryan, vocals/alto saxophone; Will Bernard, guitar; Sandy Cressman, vocals; Paul Hanson, bassoon/clarinet; Erik Jekabson, flugelhorn/ trumpet; Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Marcus Rojas, tube; Robin Bonnel, cello; Rachel Durling, violin; Tony Lindsay, Julianna Cressman, Destani Wolf, & Terrance Kelly, vocals; SPECIAL GUEST: Jeff Weinmann, vocals/flute.

Lovely horn harmonics open this recording like a red velvet curtain parting to introduce a lush theatrical performance. Natalie Cressman’s lead vocals appear like the central character. Her voice is light and lilting, soaking up the warm, yellow spotlight. She has also composed this tune titled, “The Unknown” and she’s featured playing trombone. Talented lady. Jeff Weinmann is the creative force behind Alma Matter’s musical production, gathering two generations of San Francisco area jazz masters for his Tone Traveler Production company. It took four years to record this project, because one of the main creative forces, (co-producer Jeff Cressman, who’s also a sound engineer) was consistently on the road with the Grammy Award winning group, Santana. Weinmann explained:

“We’d record over holidays when everybody’s around. …I’m the facilitator … the project is really about celebrating these long and sustaining relationships.”

Peter Apfelbaum (another co-producer) has composed the next two songs. They are as different as sunrise and sunset. He brings his multi-talented skills playing keys, tenor saxophone, flute, drums and percussion. On the first composition, “Shadow Woman,” Jeff Cressman joins him playing trombone and bass. John Schott adds rhythm guitar on this high-spirited, Latin fusion production. The next composition, “Use It All,” is folksy, with Apfelbaum adding gospel overtones on the keys. Voices carry the melody, but it’s the horns that bring the element of jazz front and center.

This is a fresh and innovative group of seasoned musicians, talented instrumentalists, composers and vocalists. More and more, especially from the youthful Millennial musicians, I’m hearing the combining of cultures and musical styles on a single project. Perhaps, since art reflects society, this is an example of the world coming closer together. I certainly hope so. On the other hand, it challenges the labeling of styles for air play, while embracing artistic differences. As an example, this production suddenly becomes a hodge-podge of art forms. Cuts #5 and #6 issue in “Hold On” as a pop tune and “Get Involved” is a composition by George Jackson that sounds like a song Soul Man, James Brown would record. The jazz horns turn into back-up band “licks” from the Soulful Seventies, similar to Brown’s famed orchestra, Tower of Power or The Ohio Players. Cut #7, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is a traditional gospel hymn with added lyrics by Jeff Weinmann. The track itself could have been a Gil Scott Heron track or the background music from a scene in “Shaft”. There is obviously a great influence of the 1970s soul-music era reiterated by this group. Jonathan Stein’s bass groove on “You’ll Never Follow” sounds like a song Erykah Badu might record. So now we have moved into Hip Hop/Soul fusion, featuring the stunning vocals of Elena Pinderhughes. This is one of the cuts that sounds quite commercial. Is it jazz? Not really! But it’s still one of my favorite songs on this recording.

Percussionist, Josh Jones, makes a memorable performance solo on “Gospel Sermon” that sounds more jazzy than gospel. With strong horn arrangements throughout and the addition of voices, Negro Spirituals and even a South African flavored production of “Wade In the Water,” I am reminded of a Broadway Production. These musical choices leave me a bit confused, but definitely entertained.
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JIMMY GREENE – FLOWERS – BEAUTIFUL LIFE, VOLUME 2
Mack Ave Records

Jimmy Greene, soprano, alto, tenor & baritone saxophones; Jean Baylor, vocals; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Otis Brown III, drums/percussion; Kevin Hays, piano/Rhodes elec piano; Mike Moreno, guitar; John Patitucci, acoustic and elec. Bass; Sheena Rattai, vocals; Renee Rosnes, piano/Rhodes elec. piano; Jeff “Tain” Watts, drums; Ben Williams, bass.

Green is Assistant Professor of Music and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut. Previously, he served as Assistant Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the University of Manitoba. Jimmy Greene is not only a prolific reed player and educator, he’s also a consummate composer and has composed every song except for one on this CD.

Three years ago, Greene suffered the unexpected murder of his six-year-old daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, as one of nineteen other children and six educators who were killed during the despicable Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. His first CD released on Mack Ave Records was “Beautiful Life” and celebrated his young daughter’s life.

With this new recording, Greene uses his talents to honor and memorialize the child’s life once again, with a superb collection of original compositions that strive to capture his daughter’s love of dance and singing.
Green recalls a comment Horace Silver made to him after listening to the reed player’s first commercial release. He told Greene he wanted to hear more songs that folks could tap their feet to and a more danceable groove. Jimmy Greene paid attention to the jazz giant. who was a frequent employer of his talents during the late 1990’s.

Jimmy Greene’s departed daughter once had a special greeting for her six-and-a-half-foot-tall dad. She used to say “Hey, big guy” and that becomes the title of Green’s first tune on this CD. The artist explains in liner notes that he used a 20-year-old piece of sheet music by Jackie McLean as his inspiration for this song’s chord changes, but came up with his own unique melody. Kevin Hays is both prominent and complimentary on both grand piano and Fender Rhodes, sometimes sounding like a tinkling descant to Greene’s flowery tenor saxophone horn lines. Ben Williams races his walking bass, keeping up with the swiftly played drums of Otis Brown the third, turning this tune into a hard, Swinging bebop.

“Stanky Leg” is Latin inspired. Greene picks up his soprano sax for this tune and is joined by the distinctive bass playing of John Patitucci. Patitucci plays both acoustic and electric basses on this composition. Renee Rosnes adds grand piano and electric piano to the track. It’s an interesting concept to use both acoustic and electric on the same session, fattening the track and preparing a solid platform for Jeff “Tain” Watts to explore his drums. The production is expanded by Rogerio Boccato’s tasty percussion work. The title tune, “Flowers” has lyrics that tear at my heartstrings, performed by vocalist Sheena Rattai. Her soprano voice floats above this solid production like petals blowing in the breeze. Rattai sweetly delivers the song, with a perfumed voice that lingers in your mind; especially the way she hits that high “F” so pure and beautifully. Greene employs all four horns on this tune, over-dubbing harmonics to express himself and letting his soprano saxophone fly like a bird atop the lush production.

When Greene returned home, after a long vigil on the same day his beloved, little girl was killed, he remembers finding a book of hand-drawn, hand-colored flowers inscribed ‘from Ana to Dad,’ in his daughter’s playroom. Consequently, the CD title was inspired.

“It was Christmas time, but it wasn’t supposed to be a Christmas gift. She just wanted to do something nice for Dad. She’d normally do things like that for no other reason than to brighten someone’s day. That is indicative of who my little girl was.”

Here Is a recording of memories and spiritual emotions that endeavor to conjure up the spirit of his daughter and the tenderness, joy and sweetness she freely shared during her short time on Earth. Like a bouquet of gorgeous flowers, these colorful tunes are offered lovingly to the public.
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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “HYBRIDO”- From Rio to Wayne Shorter
AAM Records

Antonio Adolfo, piano/elec. Piano/arrangements; Lula Galvao, elec. Guitar; Claudio Spiewak, acoustic guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; Andre Siqueira, percussion; Jessé Sadoc, trumpet; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Serginho Trombone, trombone; Ze Renato, vocals.

With this recording, Antonio Adolfo celebrates the amazing music of Wayne Shorter. On the hand-painted cover, it states, “From Rio to Wayne Shorter,” and it was recorded in December of 2016 in Brazil. Adolfo explains:

“The music of the great Wayne Shorter … has especially inspired me through his melodies and harmonies. … This repertoire presented here is mostly from the ‘60’s and, as incredible as it may seem, is of an unusual relevance, giving us the chance to travel musically; infinitely. … Finally, the musicians and I gave the musical mixture our viralata (mongrel) and mestizo touch, to translate it into what is presented on this new CD.”

Adolfo opens with “Deluge” where you immediately hear him combining cultures and musical genres. Rafael Barata and Andre Siqueira fire it up percussively. Adolfo’s arrangements cushion the horn players with a rhythm section that works like a springboard. Jesse Sadoc stretches out on trumpet, with a colorful solo, as does Marcelo Martins on saxophone. Adolfo has taken familiar pieces like “Footprints,” “Black Nile,” and “Speak No Evil,” infusing these treasured jazz compositions with Latin rhythms and his own unique arranging skills. Every song on this artistic work is composed by Shorter with the exception of Antonio Adolfo’s original titled, “Afosamba.” On Footprints, he features vocals by Zé Renato and Claudio Spiewak adds a pleasing acoustic guitar solo. Antonio Adolfo’s piano prowess is notable throughout, leading this group of highly qualified musicians fearlessly and with intent and purpose. Martins’ flute solo on “Beauty and the Beast” is stellar. On “Prince of Darkness” Adolfo paints a canvas of colors with his piano melodies and rhythms. Unlike the tune’s title, his arrangement is light and bright. Jorge Helder’s double bass is always busy building a strong foundation for the others to rest upon. Here is a work of art I will play over and over again that brings continuous audio joy, peace and happiness.

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LUKE SELLICK – “ALCHEMIST”
Cellar Live Recods

Luke Sellick, double bass/composer; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Kush Abadey & Jimmy Macbride, drums; Jimmy Greene, tenor saxophone; Jordan Pettay, alto saxophone; Andrew Gutauskas, bass clarinet; Benny Benack III & Mat Jodrell, trumpet.

Luke Sellick is a gifted composer and demonstrates this by presenting nine original songs on his album entitled, “Alchemist”. According to Webster’s Dictionary, one of the definitions of an alchemist is one who transforms creation in a magical process or scientifically can convert base metals into gold or find a universal elixir. Sellick’s attempt to create magic with his music is successful.

He employs his talents on double bass to solidify this group of expert musical technicians. They transform his ideas from paper sheet music into a beautiful recording. “Q-Tippin” is Latin jazz with a no-apologies, straight ahead feel and features Jimmy Greene on saxophone and trumpeter, Mat Jodrell. The horn refrain is catchy and melodic; their solos soar like wild birds in flight. His composition, “Brothers” is more laid back, medium tempo, but energetic. It allows Sellick to step into the spotlight and take a big, double bass bow, introducing his solo early in the tune and locking down the rhythm section along with the steady drum sticks of Jimmy Macbride. Macbride’s drumming on this tune recalls the beat of Ahmad Jamal’s ever popular “Poinciana,” using mallets and performing with rhythmic fluidity. On the Sellick composition titled, “Hymn”, Adam Birnbaum makes the piano dance and sing, joined by the sensuous tenor saxophone of Greene. Underneath their innovative creativity, another stellar drummer, Kush Abadey, adds color and crescendo wherever necessary. “Dog Days” brings the blues front and center. Sellick’s compositions are strong and memorable. This ensemble of musicians certainly embellish his music with beauty, power and technique, while telling his story of the alchemist in subtle, yet provocative ways.
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OUTSTANDING PIANISTS, A GUTSY GUITARIST, BASS BAND LEADERS & EPIC ENSEMBLES

March 4, 2017

JAZZ INSTRUMENTALISTS: OUTSTANDING PIANISTS, A GUTSY GUITARIST, BASS BANDLEADERS AND EPIC ENSEMBLES
CD Reviews by jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

March 3, 2017

This month, I celebrate some gifted jazz musicians who have recorded an array of excellent music for our listening pleasure. BILLY CHILDS is an internationally respected pianist (based in Los Angeles) whose “REBIRTH” CD celebrates his composing, arranging and producing skills. BILL O’CONNELL offers a solo piano recording, ‘Live’ at the Carnegie Farian Room in Rockland County, New York. The MICHAEL LE VAN TRIO beautifully interprets Le Van’s original compositions. Double bass player, STEVE MESSICK, leads his Endemic Ensemble onto the scene featuring all original material. Vibraphonist, ARTHUR LIPNER, brings us the best of himself in “Two Hands, One Heart” and guitarist, STEVE KHAN, chooses several standard jazz and pop songs, then transforms them into Latin soaked, musical gems.

BILLY CHILDS – “REBIRTH”
Mack Avenue Records

Billy Childs, piano/producer; Steve Wilson, alto & soprano saxophone; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Eric Harland, drums; Claudia Acuna & Alicia Loatuja, vocals; Ido Meshulam, trombone; Rogerio Boccato, percussion.

I remember many years ago, watching Billy Childs walk up to the grand piano where Detroit jazz icon, Tommy Flanagan, was playing. Childs took a seat on the floor at the foot of the master, folded his long, slender legs under himself, and watched with focused eyes every move, every nuance that the gifted pianist made. What a tribute to the master jazz icon and to Billy Child’s own unique journey towards perfection and honing his own extraordinary talent. Today, Billy Childs is a master himself.

From the first few bars of “Backwards Bop” Childs’ establishes his amazing style and precision with crisp, clean accuracy. No wonder he has been nominated for thirteen Grammys and won four Grammy awards. It is his arrangement capabilities and accompaniment that led vocalist Dianne Reeves to jazz popularity. He has also added his playing and arranging skills to the music of Sting and Yo-Yo Ma; Kenny Burrell, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis and J.J. Johnson, to name just a sprinkling of the great talents he has worked with. Childs produced Claudia Acuna’s 2002 “Rhythm of Life” album as well as arranging and orchestrating it. Acuna co-wrote the title tune on this project, “Rebirth,” with Childs. It celebrates a re-emergence and warm reminder of Billy Childs’ genius. Who can play this swiftly with such accuracy on both note and rhythm? Who flushes out such gritty, tender, exciting emotions from the 88 keys like Billy Childs? No One! He builds his own hurdles of excellence and then works on leaping each one, raising the bar higher every time.

Surrounded by a group of other amazing artists, this ensemble holds his compositions up like a banner for the world to see and hear. Childs’ technique is impeccable. He thrills me and challenges listener-ears and human feelings to embrace his arrangements, both rhythmically unusual and aggressive. Childs’ offers melodies that haunt. For example, “Stay”, featuring vocalist Alicia Olatuja. The harmonics move in one direction beneath her powerfully beautiful voice, while the melody Childs composed challenges her pitch and perfection as it floats on top. The melody reminds me of a leaf, adrift in the swirling sea of music beneath it, while Olatuja’s voice pulls at our senses in an unforgettable way. “Tightrope” is another memorable and rich composition, offering Hans Glawischnig an opportunity to sing his expressive bass solo in the spotlight. He captivates. But it is always Childs who magnifies the production and arrangements with his inspired piano playing. He is the catalyst that creates the fire that Steve Wilson brings front and center on “The Starry Night”. Child’s opens this song, tinkling the keys like an antique music box. He is the shimmering star here, shooting across the galaxy, offering us a great crescendo of remarkable music.
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BILL O’CONNELL – “MONK’S CHA CHA LIVE AT THE CARNEGIE-FARIAN ROOM”
Savant Records

Bill O’Connell, pianist/arranger/composer/producer.

I was somewhat misled by the title of this CD, incorrectly assuming that O’Connell would be celebrating the music of Thelonius Monk, perhaps with Latin overtones. Instead I find that composer/pianist, Bill O’connell, has included the works of Kern and Hammerstein, Jobim, Burke/Van Heusen and Mongo Santamaria, along with his own compositions. Never the less, here is an engaging production, that celebrates solo piano. From the very first strains of “The Song Is You”, (played at a maddening pace and executed with technical perfection), I find myself captivated.

O’Connell’s lush work of musical art is captured ‘Live’ at a concert venue in Rockland County, New York. This gifted pianist sits at the grand piano, absolutely vulnerable and accessible to audience and critics alike. I am impressed with the way he builds each song, establishing the melody and then taking creative liberty to grow his self-expression with fluid improvisation. He plays proficiently, with no other accompaniment to enhance or color this production and O’Connell exhibits unwavering time. You immediately recognize him as imaginative and technically astute. He showcases his gift of improvisation on this recording, as well as reinventing standard songs like “Dindi, “Afro Blue” and “It Could Happen to You,” sharing his own talent and unique, solo arrangements. Here is a magnificent representation of singular piano excellence.
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MICHAEL LE VAN TRIO – “A DIFFERENT SHADE OF BLUE”
Independent label

Michael Le Van, Piano; David Enos, bass; John Ferraro, drums

I became acquainted with Michael Le Van last month when he sat-in with my trio in Huntington Beach, California. The first thing I noticed was his rich harmonic creativity. That evening, he inputted chords and inversions into the standard composition,m “Lover Man,” that I was not used to hearing. Consequently, I was curious to listen to his new CD, featuring all of his own creative compositions. His recording did not disappoint me. Beginning with “Do You Know What I mean,” once again I was captivated by his sense of harmony. This composition crossed genre’s, touching on Smooth Jazz one moment and Straight Ahead the next, with overtones of Latin jazz. David Enos is featured on a bass solo that is inspired. The title tune, “A Different Shade of Blue” is a lovely ballad with a poignant melody. Perhaps Michael explained this song best in his liner notes.

“The creative process is difficult to describe; inspiration comes to me in various ways. sometimes I associate colors with a particular harmony or musical idea. “A Different Shade of Blue” is an example of this, where the harmonic contour brought to mind a distinct shade of luminous blue. But for the most part, the act of composing is a fascinating struggle. I battle over which chord is most perfect and beautiful at the right place. … I can spend sleepless nights before I’m satisfied.”

Speaking of satisfied, I especially enjoyed hearing John Ferraro cut loose on drums during their presentation of “Fantasia In G Minor”, a spirited, Straight Ahead composition that captured my complete attention. Le Van answered my unspoken question, “but can you play the blues?” with his composition, “Remember That”. It Swings hard and gives all three players a chance to rubber-band-stretch their talents during improvisational escapades. I think that listeners will find this piece of CD art totally satisfying. Le Van and his competent trio present a flowing ribbon of original music that is both expressive and classically based jazz. Add to that, the expert musicianship of Ferraro, Enos and the artist himself. You will enjoy a colorful array of hand-painted, musical notes that reflect the canvas of Le Van’s innovative and artistic mind.

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ENDEMIC ENSEMBLE – “TANGLED”
Opus Funkus Music

Steve Messick, double bass/band leader; Travis Ranney, tenor & soprano saxophones; Matso Limtiaco, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; David Franklin, piano; Christian Krehbiel, drums.

Endemic Ensemble’s first tune dances into the room waltz-time, with the horn section harmonically delivering the melody. Travis Ranney leaps to the forefront with a smooth, yet aggressive sax solo, followed by Matso Limtiaco. Then the two horns play tag across the silver disc, trading fours and challenging each other creatively. Enter Steve Messick on his double bass, calming the moment with tonal security and his big bass sound. Messick is not only the bandleader and bassist, but he has composed this first tune titled, “Sugar Art” and sweet it is! The second cut was composed by pianist, David Franklin, and is the title tune, “Tangled.” We get an opportunity to hear the trio up close and personal. They are a tightly woven garment that supports the horns like Spanks.

“The Snort” makes good use of the baritone saxophone and staccato notes. Although it sounds nothing like “The Pink Panther” song, it reminds me of it because of the production. Once again, Messick is the songwriter.

Based in Washington State, this ensemble has a signature sound by prominently adding a baritone saxophone and with three of the six players contributing original compositions. They have a group cohesiveness and their original music is well-written and well-produced. The horn arrangements are excellent, although no credit for same is given in the liner notes. I do wish I had heard a few tunes that were more fiery and explosive. The moderate tempo throughout leaves this listener with a desire for something more. “The Tolovana Stomp” almost satisfies my yearning when Limtiaco steps it up, playing double time on his saxophone solo, along with Ranney on tenor sax. Perhaps, if the drums had been mixed to the surface a bit more, this would have fused the group’s music with more energy. Trap drummer, Christian Krehbiel, cuts loose and plays an ear catching solo on “The Tolovana Stomp” and I would have enjoyed hearing more of his drums in the mix throughout.

All in all, here is a wonderful recording full of creative compositions and musicians who work together like a well-oiled machine.
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ARTHUR LIPNER, BEST OF – “TWO HANDS, ONE HEART”
Malletworks Media

ACOUSTIC MUSICIANS: Arthur Lipner, vibraphone, marimba; Jack DeSalvo, classical guitar; Bob Rodriguez & Fred Hirsh, piano; Todd Urban & Harvis S., double bass; Jon Berger, percussion; Vic Juris, acoustic guitar; Nelson Faria & Manny Moreira, acoustic guitar; Nanny Assis, Ney Rosauro & Glen Velez, percussion; David Darling, cello; Joe Meo, flute; Mike LaValle, bass; Bruce Williamson, clarinet.

ELECTRIC MUSICIANS: Arthur Lipner, vibes/marimba/steel drums; Bruce Williamson, soprano sax/keys; Adriano Souza, piano; Glenn Alexander, Vic Juris, Bill Bickford & Jerome Harris, elec. Guitar; Paul Adamy, Tom Barney, David Fink, Mike LaValle, David Dunaway & Randy Landau, elec. Bass; Nick Bariluk, keys; Ze Luis Oliverira & Vanderlei Pereira, percussion; Tommy Igoe, Mauricio Zotarelli, Jim Mola, Warren Odze & Joel Rosenblatt, drums; Bob Mintzer, tenor sax; Gary Schreiner, harmonica; Nanny Assis, lead vocal/percussion; Wycliffe Gordon, trombone/vocals; Chip Gawle, trumpet; Vanessa Falabella & Kathy Caprino, background vocals; Joyce Stovall, vocals.

Adjectives this CD brings to mind are beautiful, stunning, easy-listening, innovatively excellent, and ear-candy. From the first tinkling notes of his vibraphone on “Crystal Mallet,” the listener is whisked into a space of imagination and jazzy comfort. “Rio”, the second cut, takes us on a Latin ride with guitarist Jack DeSalvo setting the mood. Lipner’s music makes me happy. This is a two CD set. The first CD is all acoustic jazz and the second focuses on his electronic side. Wycliff Gordon is featured on trombone & scat vocals, setting fire to a Jimmy Guiffre composition called, “Four Brothers.” The tracks Lipner show-cases are pulled from recordings that date back to 1990 through 2015. For the most part, they are original compositions. He explained in his liner notes:
“Every moment is of the present, uniquely singular. For me it’s always the same, whether my album, or a United Airlines commercial; put on the headphones, shutout all else. Hear magic. Paint with sound.”

And paint with sound he does, surrounded by a diverse group of contributing musicians, Lipner brings us a surprise package wrapped in artistic expression and tied with bow-ribbons of classical-rooted technique and anatomical musicianship. This generous and well-produced CD offers twenty-four songs and a few precious hours of non-stop, easy-listening entertainment.

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STEVE KHAN – “BACKLOG”
ToneCenter Records

Steve Khan, guitar; Ruben Rodriguez, baby bass & elec. Bass; Mark Walker, drums; Marc Quinones, timbal/bongo/percussion; Bobby Allende, conga/bongo; SPECIAL GUEST ARTISTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone; Mike Mainieri, vibes; Rob Mounsey, keyboards; Tatiana Parra, voice.

The Khan arrangement of Thelonius Monk’s tune, “Criss Cross,” is surprisingly infused with Latin rhythms and quite creative. You’ll want to slip on your Bossa Nova shoes for this one and prepare to swivel those hips. Productions like cut #4, “Our Town” (a Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen composition) lilts along at a moderate pace, pushed by sensitive percussions and enhanced by Rob Mounsey’s keyboard strings. It’s easy to visualize horseback riding along a peaceful lake, with this song as the back drop. I love a bolero!

Khan’s guitar is always in command and at the forefront of his ensemble. On the Bobby Hutcherson tune, “Head Start”, Khan adds vibraphone to the mix, featuring Mike Mainieri in their spirited production. Once again, it’s Walker on drums and Quinones and Allende on percussion who drive this music hard, like cattle ranchers.
According to the liner notes, this is Khan’s fifth studio album since returning to solo recordings after nearly a decade. “Backlog” is perhaps his most innovative reimagining of musical material, generously splashing this repertoire with Latin and Afro/Cuban overtones. Compositions by Ornette Coleman, Greg Osby and even an infectious song written by Stevie Wonder called “Go Home” are all steeped in Latino rhythms. On Stevie’s composition, right from the first couple of bars, Ruben Rodriguez drops the bass groove down like a whip; crisp and commanding. Then Khan’s guitar brings the blues front and center on this Motown icon’s work.

This body of work celebrates Khan’s extraordinary creativity and technical abilities on his axe. The artist introduces special guests on this creative project, like Bob Mintzer, who lavishly sprays tenor saxophone colors on Ornette Coleman’s tune, “Invisible”. Randy Brecker also makes a guest appearance on Ornette’s “Latin Genetics” composition. As I listen to the final piece, Andrew Hill’s “Catta,” this innovative guitarist adds harmonic voices, singing like horns to enhance his production. For a brief moment, Khan’s guitar style reminds me poignantly of Wes Montgomery on this particular production. All in all, here is a recording that brings pleasure, energy, Latin rhythms and the innovative spirit that jazz inspires. Perhaps Khan explains it best.

“Because my general sound is intended to be big and warm, an impression of a jazz guitar sound, people don’t realize how loud and tough we’re all playing. The music …is very physical and intense. We were hittin’ hard!”

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UNFORGETTABLE JAZZ VOICES, PAST & PRESENT

February 13, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

I am a huge LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT fan for over half a century. I was super pleased to see that music producer, RALF KEMPER, invested time and talent to produce Scott’s final album and a film documentary at the same time. It was humbling to review this biographical look at Scott’s final days in the studio. and to hear his swan-song recording before the last, life curtain fell. MICHOLE BRIANA WHITE is a new jazz voice on the horizon worthy of attention and ROBERT McCARTHER returns with his second solo album produced by KAMAU KENYATTA. Finally, VIRGINIA SCHNECK offers a very emotional tribute to ABBEY LINCOLN, singing Lincoln’s original compositions, with a ‘kickin’ band supporting her spoken word and vocals. Read all about it below.

February 13, 2017

I GO BACK HOME – A film documentary REVIEW featuring iconic vocalist, LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT

The film opens in 2007. An orchestra is pictured and a man with tussled gray hair is seated in an open field of grass. Fade to a white couch where this same man speaks to the camera in German. I wish there had been English sub-titles. Ralf Kemper is the music producer of this film and the man on the couch. His goal was to tribute the magnificent vocalist, Little Jimmy Scott.

A youthful Scott, with a baby face and slight of frame, appears on the screen in a childhood photo. Fade to Las Vegas, Nevada. This is where Jimmy Scott was living in the final days of his life. We see he and Ralf Kemper reviewing music at Scott’s home. Sheet music clutters the area and then cameras flash to Jimmy donning a black and white tie decorated with a multitude of musical notes. Kemper helps him adjust his tie and then the camera rolls back and we see Little Jimmy Scott being rolled out to a van in a wheel chair. My heart drops at the sight of him in that wheel chair.

I think back to Leimert Park, the Brooklyn-like community of Los Angeles, and the last time I saw Little Jimmy Scott. He was sitting across from me at Fifth Street Dick’s, a popular after-hours spot located on the second floor of a strip-mall building in the black community. There was always a well-attended jam session at this popular jazz room and many celebrities came to the Crenshaw area to participate musically or vocally. Still, I was floored to look over and see the great, Little Jimmy Scott sitting an arms -reach from my chair. He was friendly and kind when I ogled over him, embarrassing myself by telling him in all sincerity, “Little Jimmy Scott, I love you.”

Jimmy Scott is loved by many. You see that in this documentary. One of his admirers is producer, Ralf Kemper. His film captures the additional admiration of several notable super-stars, all who recognize the exceptional talent and impact of Little Jimmy Scott’s talent on our world of music. Among them are David Sanborn, actor Joe Pesci, who is pictured playing guitar and singing a duet with Jimmy Scott in the studio. By the way, Pesci sounds amazing. I didn’t know he could sing jazz like that and I’m impressed as he vocalizes, “I like New York in June, how about you?”

The sound track of this movie features Little Jimmy Scott, the vocalist I have admired and listened to for half a century. Scott’s beautiful vocal style is the one Nancy Wilson patterned herself after, as well as Etta Jones. This man changed the face of jazz with his behind-the-beat approach to music and phrasing. Pesci tells the camera, “Jimmy’s music is a serious spiritual experience.” He’s right!
Ralf Kemper has spent mountains of money on this project. You will view and listen to a full, 60-piece orchestra and a line-up of musical stars that all testify to the amazing capabilities of Little Jimmy Scott and his indelible mark on the music industry. Sadly, he never received the fame or made the kind of sensational money that today’s popular music stars wave, twitter and Instagram in our faces. Unless you are a die-hard jazz fan, you may not even have heard of Little Jimmy Scott. I suggest you Google him.

Monica Mancini is a huge fan. She shares that he inspired her as well as Madonna. Phil Ramone testifies to Jimmy’s ability to ‘swing’ hard, but be subtle at the same time. Quincy Jones remembers when he and Little Jimmy Scott were touring with Lionel Hampton’s big band. He says it was 1951, ‘52 and ’53 when Jimmy had that hit record, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.” Black folks couldn’t sleep in white hotels back then, so Quincy said they used to sleep in a funeral parlor with the dead bodies. He shutters at the memory, and so do I
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Fade to James Moody laying down a solo at the Westlake recording studios in Los Angeles. Moody says he used to call him “Cryin’ Jimmy Scott” because of the elongated way he could extend a note. Not to mention the way his emotional delivery could touch souls.

Joey DeFrancesco appears on organ, pumping out the blues the fantastic way that he and he alone can do. Jimmy sits in his wheelchair, headphones on his ears, head tilted back and all this power and expression spewing out of his mouth; sweet as honey; mystical as fairy dust. The man is magic!

David Ritz, autobiographer and co-writer of Jimmy’s autobiography, “Faith In Time” is interviewed during the filming. He explains, Jimmy Scott led a troubled life. His father was an alcoholic. Jimmy was devoted to his loving mother, but she died in a horrific car accident when he was just twelve years old. At which point, Jimmy and his siblings were put into an orphanage. At age fifteen, doctors diagnosed Jimmy Scott with a hormone disease that stopped his growth. His voice would never mature, nor would his body. Thus, he grew no mannish body hair and his high tenor vocals remained strong his entire adult career. Add to this, his singing style and demeanor that were like nothing anyone had heard before or since. None of this made for an easy life. Scott was bullied and taken advantage of, in one form or another, his entire career.

Ray Charles said Little Jimmy Scott was the only singer who could make him cry. When no one would give Scott a record deal, Ray stepped up to the plate and the resulting production was released briefly in 1963. Everyone thought that album would be a big hit for Little Jimmy Scott. That’s when a small time record company owner, (a man named Labinsky) popped up to claim that Scott was still under contract to his company. The record album was pulled from the market and sat on a shelf gathering dust until 2004 when it was finally re-released.

Scott worked as a nurse’s orderly and even an elevator operator to make ends meet. Doc Pomus, a historic songwriter, who also has a wonderful documentary on the market that I reviewed, was so angry about the way Little Jimmy Scott was being treated by the music industry that he wrote an open letter to Billboard Magazine challenging Music Executives and demanding they give Jimmy Scott a record deal. Unfortunately, Doc Pomus died before he saw any movement by the music industry to offer Scott a recording contract. Strange how some things work. Little Jimmy Scott was invited to sing at the Doc Pomus funeral services. His stunning version of “Someone to Watch Over Me” captivated the crowd and several music moguls were present. As if Pomus was working magic from heaven, Little Jimmy Scott was rediscovered at his friend’s celebration of life. This resulted in Scott teaming up with Tommy Li Puma to make the beautiful album entitled, “All the Way.”

If you know of this man’s incredible work, or if you don’t, this documentary film will introduce you to a jazz vocalist deserving of accolades. The plethora of jazz giants who play on this production and testify to the greatness of Little Jimmy Scott is also worth your time and attention.

On the accompanying CD release and the final Little Jimmy Scott album, you will enjoy the star-studded contributions of Kenny Barron, Joey DeFrancesco, Martin Gjakonovski, Hans Dekker, Joe Pesci, Michael Valerio, Peter Erskine, Oscar Castro-Neves, Gregoire Maret, John Pisano, Renee Olstead, Till Bronner, Bob Mintzer, Monica Mancini, Arturo Sandoval, James Moody and the HBR Symphony Orchestra.
Opening with “Motherless Child” featuring Joey DeFrancesco on organ, Scott speaks the words to the song before breaking into a heart-wrenching interpretation of this old and beautiful standard. On film, you see him struggle to hold notes that used to be strong, but the emotion and style of his voice are no less magnificent, even at this weak point in his life. Despite failing health and fatigue, he manages to sell each song and capture our attentiveness in a web of sincerity. His duet with Joe Pesci, an old comrade from back-in-the-day, is impressive. You can hear Little Jimmy Scott’s influence on Pesci’s style and delivery. “For Once in my Life” is a memorable duet with Dee Bridgewater.

The same way that Billie Holiday could affect an audience, Little Jimmy Scott’s vocals move me in a way that stretches my heart strings and makes my eyes tear-up. Joined by Brazilian star, Oscar Castro Neves, “Love Letters” becomes a lilting Latin tune. Every vocalist should take a listen and a lesson from this great, talented man. May he never be forgotten.
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MICHOLE BRIANA WHITE – “THE OTHER SIDE OF ME”
Independent label

Michole Briana White, vocals; Eric Reed, piano; James Leary, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; Charles Owens, saxophone.

“You Don’t Know What Love Is” is performed uniquely and memorably; from soft, fuzzy, warm ballad to a double time that separates this vocalist from a million others who have sung this song. Ms. White is a force to be reckoned with and she performs with a freedom and expressiveness that is both fresh and uniquely interesting. On “You’ve Changed” she delivers the aches and pain that love can bring, selling us the lyric, but somehow using her vocals to show resilience and power instead of whining or giving up. Eric Reed, as always, is more than competent as an accompanist and exceptional as a soloist. James Leary, on bass, shows what magnificent stuff he’s made of in the realm of talent, proficiency and his exceptional ability to feel the artists around him and pull the rhythm section tight as a sling shot. When he lets go, with power and technique, it is his solid basement that supports this jazz house. Speaking of iconic support, posthumously, Billy Higgins appears on drums. This project was recorded when he was alive, some years ago, and has been sitting in the ‘can’ until this apropos moment. His drums propel the third cut on this EP, “Yesterdays,” with clean, crisp rhythm and unbreakable time that pushes Michole Briana White to her maximum potential. What a trio. Bravo! This talented vocalist brings something fresh and unexpected to each song. She delivers on her promise to entertain us, but never forgets the importance of telling a story to her audience. Ms. White has a wonderful range, good execution and more importantly, she doesn’t sound like anyone else on today’s jazz scene. She’s also pitch perfect. The bonus track, after a heart-felt rendition of “Don’t Explain” is one of her original compositions titled “Game Over” and was co-written by Kurt Farquhar and Jared Keith Griffin. All the vocal overdubs are her own harmonics and she has a natural, hip-hop, new age sound on this bonus track. Here is a vocalist that can sing it all and probably will.
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ROBERT McCARTHER – “STRANGER IN TOWN”
Independent Label

Robert McCarther, vocal; Kamau Kenyatta, piano/ soprano saxophone; Marion Hayden, bass; Thadieus Dixon, drums; Curtis Taylor & Dwight Adams, trumpet; Alex Rogowski, lead guitar; Vincent Bowens, tenor saxophone.

Robert McCarther brings a fresh perspective to the jazz scene with velvet, smooth, baritone vocals and his astute ability to ‘Swing’. After reviewing his premiere recording (“That’s Me”), I was waiting impatiently for this release. Accompanied by some of the best Motown jazz musicians, his second solo CD tackles compositions by Thelonius Monk to Bill Withers and Paul Williams. When I listen to the musical interpretations of Robert McCarther, I feel great joy. Here is a vocalist who consistently makes you pay attention to the lyrics. For example, on “Hi Fly,“ tastefully recorded in three-quarter waltz time, I was very familiar with this song’s melody, yet somehow I felt I was hearing the words for the very first time. The title tune, “Stranger In Town” sets the tone for McCarther’s entire recording. It features the sensational trumpet work of Curtis Taylor with complimentary horn arrangements by Kamau Kenyatta. This song exudes energy, while setting the tone for an album of straight-ahead jazz. Kamau Kenyatta also produced these sessions and is probably best known for his work with Gregory Porter’s Grammy Award winning albums. He’s also pianist on these sessions.

McCarther is no newcomer to jazz. His dad, Louie Barnett, played saxophone with the Maurice King big band. As a young man, Robert often went on ‘the road’ and sang with that historic band. McCarther was also a strong contributor to the “Broadnax Voices”, a Detroit jazz choral group that was put together by composer/arranger and Motown writer, Morris Broadnax. The jazz vocal group was born upon McCarther’s insistence. Robert explained, “I was over Aretha’s (Franklin) house one day and Nax (Morris Broadnax nickname) came by and (as usual) I started singing his tunes. I suggested he start a vocal group that just sang his many, jazzy compositions. Eventually, he did it. We were very popular, working in and around Detroit for several years.”

During McCarther’s six year tenure with “The Broadnax Voices,” McCarther sang harmonics in the background, as well as front-lining for the group as a solo artist. In fact, he and Broadnax have collaborated on one of these album songs as co-writers titled, “Ya’ll”, a swinging little tune about self-realization. Broadnax also contributed two more tunes to this recording project, including the title tune, co-written with myself and his self-penned, “Lately.” You will find Robert McCarther’s choice of repertoire both unique and introspective. He seems to be drawn to songs that not only have a strong melodic line, but also offer the listener prose that tickle our minds and stories of life that mirror our own. Here is a jazz vocalist who puts love and sincerity into every word he sings, while keeping the time like a master percussionist and inspiring us with his straight-ahead, musical truth.
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VIRGINIA SCHENCK – “AMINATA MOSEKA: AN ABBEY LINCOLN TRIBUTE
Independent Label

Virgina Schneck, vocals; Kevin Bales, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Marlon Patton, drums; Special Guest: Kebbi Williams, alto saxophone.

Abbey Lincoln, who is also recognized as Aminata Moseka, an African name gifted to her during a trip to the motherland. She was a friend of mine who I deeply admired. Abbey Lincoln was a force of nature with her musical abilities and thespian artistry. She wasn’t always easy on the establishment or the ‘powers that be’ and she and I met during our revolutionary activism days back in the 1970’s. I was part of the Watts Writers Workshop and she was often down the street at the Mafundi Institute. We often appeared on the same stages during these Black-and-Proud days. She was using music as her catalyst and I, as part of the Watts Prophets, was using a combination of poetry and music. We had two other things in common. We were both songwriters and we both studied vocals with the iconic vocal coach and pianist, Eddie Beal. In fact, when I established (along with Dwan Smith and Shirley Washington), The Eddie Beal Foundation, Abbey Lincoln bought a full-page ad in our Eddie Beal brochure. So, it was with extreme interest that I listened to this tribute to my friend and her compositions.

Lincoln’s songs are lyrically beautiful and rich with stories. I’m appreciative that Ms. Schenck has chosen to celebrate Lincoln’s songwriting talents. Some of her melodies are challenging with melodic movement that confronts the vocal range, while others are sing-song simple. You can clearly hear the melodic intervals challenge the vocalist in the very first song, “Talking to the Sun.” The trio is staunch and amply provides Schenck with tenacious support. There are some pitch problems in this opening tune, but Virginia Schenck’s emotional connection to these songs is to be applauded. On the 2nd cut, “Another World” the arrangement is extremely interesting with voice & bass playing tag with each other. This unique arrangement grabs the attention like the jaws of life. Kevin Bales shows his prowess on piano during their interpretation of “Bird Alone”. “The River” celebrates the Abbey Lincoln I remember with her husband, iconic jazz drummer, Max Roach, when they were recording very Avant Garde jazz music in her early career. It also recalls Lincoln’s penchant for acting, as Schenck recites the words like poetry. The musicians are awe-inspiring throughout. On this piece, they feature special guest, Kebbi Williams, soaring freely on alto saxophone. I thoroughly enjoyed their take on “Blue Monk” with an outstanding bass solo by Rodney Jordan. I do wish Schenck had not taken so many liberties with Lincoln’s amazing melodies. For the composition’s sake, as singers we usually sing a song down once the way the composer wrote it. Then, in the jazz vein, we improvise with the freedom jazz inspires. Being a published poet myself, I do applaud Schenck for including this art form in her recording and for celebrating the mastery of Maya Angelou with Abbey Lincoln’s music on,” Caged Bird”.

This is important work, not just for introducing us to the vocalist, but for reintroducing the world to the unforgettable compositions and the exceptional composing talents of Abbey Lincoln. Thank you for that, Virginia Schenck. I look forward to enjoying other vocalists, who will be inspired to tackle Lincoln’s smart, lyrical material.
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WINTER WEATHER: TIME TO WARM UP WITH HOT JAZZ MUSIC

February 2, 2017

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
February 2, 2017

VOCALISTS, TUBA PLAYERS & ABSTRACT PRODUCTIONS SURPRISE ME

On a winter night, warming up with some hot jazz is a lovely way to spend time. I recently enjoyed listening to a number of new CD releases including extraordinary drummer BOB HOLZ, and a new, male, jazz vocalist and composer, SIDNEY JACOBS. HOWARD JOHNSON and his GRAVITY group absolutely floored me by presenting the tuba as a unique and forceful jazz instrument. Guitarist, BARON TYMAS, celebrates Montreal, Quebec on his latest release and a few CDs that came across my desk truly surprised me, like BEATA PATER, who exercises a completely new methodology to vocalizing and expressing herself on her new CD, “Fire Dance.” JOSH GREEN, a Herb Alpert ‘Young Jazz Composer recipient,’ presents an album that is quite abstract and truly unusual.

BOB HOLZ – “VISIONS & FRIENDS”
MVD Records

Bob Holz, drums/percussion; Larry Coryell, guitar; Ralphe Armstrong, bass; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Billy Steinway, keyboards; Alex Machacek, guitar; Mike Schoetter, bass; David Goldberg, saxophone; Rob Stathis, accompanying piano; Scott Gerling, percussion; Zoe Stathis-Sandor & Tori Higley, vocals;

Here is a production that comes on strong from the first high energy composition titled, “Flat Out”. The dynamic percussion is infectious. The Holz trap drums push the entire ensemble to their maximum potential. An attention demanding trumpet sings the melody and dances along with the undisputable groove that Holz perpetrates. Mike Schoettler lays down a tenacious bass solo and holds the rhythm section in place like super-glue. Holz has composed this song and the next one, “Take if From Maurice” with co-writer, Billy Steinway. Steinway also mans the keyboards on this project. This original composition is an ode to Maurice White of ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ fame. Larry Coryell is featured guitarist on this second track and Detroit’s iconic bass man, Ralphe Armstrong, struts his stuff in his own inimitable way. “Take It From Maurice” has a very catchy melodic line and once again, although more moderate in tempo, Holz makes it memorable with his steady sticks and solid rhythm chops. “Five Times the Winner” is a Coryell composition and it challenges time and space, with Armstrong walking his bass underneath Coryell’s creative improvisation. This recording is a joyful piece of creativity that celebrates wonderful compositions, contemporary jazz, funk-fusion and excellent musicianship.

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SIDNEY JACOBS – “FIRST MAN”
Baby Chubs Records

Sidney Jacobs, vocals/composer; Josh Nelson, piano; Michael Jarvey, piano/elec. Piano/viola; Zephyr Avalon, acoustic bass/electric bass; Efa Etoroma Jr., drums/percussion; Wendell Kelly, trombone; Greg Poree, guitar; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet; Justin Thomas, vibraphone/marimba; Francesco Canas, violin; Cathy Segal-Garcia, background vocals.

Sidney Jacobs has a powerful voice that he has directed towards jazz, but often veers into the vernacular of Pop and/or Rhythm and Blues music. As a composer, he opens with “First” and then “First Man,” showcasing very smooth and fluid scatting. On “First” he features Greg Poree on guitar and no words are mouthed. Jacobs sets the jazz bar high with his scatting abilities. “First Man” (another original composition), could be compared a wee bit to Al Jarreau’s substantial sound and influence. On “My Favorite Things”, Efa Etoroma Jr opens the tune with an exciting drum solo. Jacob’s rich, baritone vocals float on top like silky water lilies. He continues spicing up the interludes between verses with his scatting abilities. I enjoyed Justin Thomas’ vibraphone sound on this tune, that lightened and brightened the arrangement. As a composer, Jacobs has a pronounced style that is uniquely his own. I can hear the Hip-Hop influence in his writing, especially lyrically. However, as an old-school composer myself, I miss hearing a distinctive ‘hook’ and its importance to the story being told. At times, there is a trace of Gil Scott Heron’s tonal quality in Jacobs style and even reflected in some of the Smooth Jazz productions like cut #6, “Sabine’s Grind,” that is another Jacobs original bending Hip-Hop, funk and R&B into his jazz production. On “Fly” he sings prose, with little to no rhyme on this tune. It’s an original and surprisingly, his voice distinctly reminds me of the great Dwight Trible’s style and vocal technique. Consequently, I believe this young talent is still in search of his own unique sound. He seems on the path to developing a style, and in time he will establish his own distinct sound.

I found myself more interested in Jacobs approach to standard or familiar songs and composers like, “Lonely Town Lonely Street” by Bill Withers, where I could listen for emotional connection in his vocals and the way he interprets a song. I was disappointed, because the ‘groove,’ which is always paramount in every Wither’s compositions, was distinctly missing. Next, I was excited to hear how he would interpret youthful R&B/Hip-Hop composer/Rapper, Kendrick Lamar’s song, “You Ain’t Gotta Lie.” Once again, he loses the ‘groove’ by slowing it down, without the funk drums and the double time lyrics dancing on top. This causes the lyrics and melody to lose power. Perhaps Jacobs needs a producer to bring out the best of his talents. He certainly has the vocal chops. Sacha Distel’s “The Good Life” is one of my favorite songs and Jacobs begins with just bass and voice. Josh Nelson brings a sensitivity and excellence to this arrangement on piano. No drums on this one. I finally get a clear glimpse of Sidney Jacobs, where his style and delivery is upfront and the production uncluttered. There is just bass, piano and voice to sell the song. Sometimes that’s all you need.
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BARON TYMAS – “MONTREAL”
TMDC Records

Baron Tymas, guitar; Joshua Rager, piano; Sage Reynolds, acoustic & elec. Basses; Jim Doxas, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jeri Brown, vocals; Charles Ellison, trumpet.

The very first original composition on this album captivated me. The melody is catchy and I was soon singing along with it, as though it was a jazz standard. “The Laval Syndicate” is a very well written song by artist/guitarist, Baron Tymas. It features special guest, Charles Ellison, on trumpet and Ellison’s sensitive horn is the perfect interpreter of this Straight-Ahead melody. Tymas is a fine composer and a seasoned guitarist with strong improvisational skills. On “Orange et Veret,” Jim Doxas offers a stellar drum solo. Each one of the Tymas ensemble brings excellence to the forefront. On “Do Right,” bassist Sage Reynolds is allowed to explore his creative side on a long and very interesting double bass solo. Tymas doesn’t mind sharing his stage and it expands and drives his music, letting us get acquainted with his musicians and his compositions. The addition of the award-winning voice of Jeri Brown, a legendary Canadian jazz singer, adds interest on “And Oui,” (Oui meaning ‘yes’ in English). Her rich, classically trained voice curls and scats around the melody. There are no lyrics; only scatting. Joshua Rager, on piano, is always supportive in the rhythm section and during his frequent solos, one can appreciate his even and perfectly timed innovative qualities. “Wishbone” gives Tymas an opportunity to dig into the realms of Smooth jazz and funk, as does “Chicken on the Beach”. However, I am more enamored with the Tymas Straight-Ahead compositions. In the video included, Tymas is the guitarist to the far left in the suit.

This recording, and its gifted band, represent the city of Montreal, Quebec in Canada. Tymas wrote most of these original compositions, during his tenure of being a Fulbright Fellow at Concordia University in late 2015. The music here is based on the sights, sounds and people of this amazing Canadian city and performed by some of Canada’s premiere jazz musicians.
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HOWARD JOHNSON AND GRAVITY – “TESTIMONY”
Tuscarora Records

Howard Johnson, BB flat Tuba/F Tuba/baritone saxophone/penny whistle; Velvet Brown, ENS/Lead F Tuba; Dave Bargeron, E flat tuba; Earl McIntyre, E flat tuba; Joseph Daley, BB flat tuba; Bob Stewart, CC tuba; Carlton Holmes, piano; Melissa Slocum, bass; Buddy Williams, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Nedra Johnson, vocals; Joe Exley, CC Tuba; CJ Wright, Butch Watson & Mem Nahadr,background vocals.

This is an infectious album of great music, including a few original compositions by co-writers, Howard Johnson and Nedra Johnson. It’s unexpectedly pleasurable listening to Tubas play Straight-Ahead jazz with such energy and precision. I was very impressed with Johnson’s horn solo on the McCoy Tyler tune, “Fly with the Wind” and fly he does! This tune also features Dave Bargeron on E flat tuba. Carlton Holmes on piano is dynamic throughout, but I was enthralled with his solo on McCoy’s tune.

The next cut, Carole King’s famed “Natural Woman” composition, features Johnson pushing the blues through his tuba like no other I’ve ever heard. Velvet Brown adds a tenacious solo along with Johnson. Yes, Howard Johnson is full of surprises. After digging deeply into the soulful, rich, deep sound of both B flat and F Tubas, and sometimes playing baritone saxophone, he picks up a ‘penny whistle’ and serenades us on his self-penned, “Little Black Lucille.” I enjoyed Howard Johnson’s blues composition, “Working Hard for the Joneses” where he shows off his vocal skills and his ensemble adds tasty background vocals, reminding me of Jeanie and Jimmy Cheatham’s famed blues band, back in the 1980’s.
Howard Johnson is no new comer to the jazz scene. Critic Nate Chinen crowned Johnson, “…the figure most responsible for the tuba’s current status as a full-fledged jazz voice.” There wasn’t an existing repertoire for tuba in jazz in the early 1960s. Johnson caught the interest of the iconic, jazz bassist Charles Mingus and Mingus wrote adventurous parts for him to play. It’s said that even seasoned trombonists didn’t want to play those challenging notes written on the musical page. Johnson was also admired by Gil Evans and Carla Bley. When you listen to this album of creative and inspirational music, you too will become a fan.
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BEATA PATER – “FIRE DANCE”
B & B Records

Beata Pater, vocals; Sam Newsome, soprano saxophone; Anton Schwartz, tenor saxophone; Aaron Lington, baritone saxophone; Scott collard, keyboard; Aaron Germain, bass; Alan Hall, drums; Brian Rice, percussion.

This project is unusual in that the artist’s vocals are used entirely like an instrument; no words spoken nor stories unfolding. This is comfortable background music that explores the art of scatting with the concentration on melody rather than storytelling. Beata Pater uses vocal layering as a technique to interpret eleven compositions. She invited Alex Danson to the project as her unique and gifted composer. Pater’s concept is to utilize her extraordinary vocal range and sing multi-parts, from deep alto to high soprano, sometimes using as many as sixteen studio tracks to accomplish her determined goal. At times, her sound reminds me of someone using a vocoder or vocal harmonizing device. According to the liner notes, Ms. Pater would rather be considered a lead instrumentalist than a vocalist, flipping the idea upside down that a jazz group has to simply support the singer. Instead, she melts her unique vocals into the world-music stew pot, becoming the meat of the matter. Yes, I said ‘World Music’ because this is not Be-bop, like Manhattan Transfer, or ‘Swing ‘ Jazz. The Danson compositions lend themselves to various cultures and musical credos. There’s nothing “Straight Ahead” here, but rather a comfortable blend of easy listening, instrumental productions. You might easily hear this recording on a World Music program, NPR, or alternative and smooth jazz stations. From an artistic perspective, I appreciate Beata Pater’s desire to color her music outside the designated lines and vocally step outside the box. However, as a lover of jazz and improvisation, and because improvisation is one of the most important facets of jazz music, the structured way this project is recorded appears more classical than spontaneous; especially when it comes to the vocals. Additionally, I miss hearing a story or lyrics delivered emotionally by the vocalist. Without the use of a vocoder, I wonder how this concept could be reproduced on concert stages as a ‘live’ performance. However, as a recorded project, her concept is fresh and Pater’s vocal intonation is stellar.

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JOSH GREEN & THE CYBORG ORCHESTRA – “GREEN TELEPATHY AND BOP”
Independent Label

Josh Green, composer/band leader ; Charles Pillow, oboe/alto and tenor saxophones; Todd Groves, EWI/flute/alto and tenor saxophones/E flat clarinet/contrabass clarinet; Jay Hassler, B flat clarinet/bass clarinet; Nathan Schram, viola; Nick Revel, viola; Clarice Jenson, cello; PUBLIQuartet: Curtis Stewart, violin; Jannina Norpoth, violin; Nick Revel, viola; Amanda Gookin, cello; John Lake, trumpet; Chris Mich-Bloxdorf, trombone; Nathan Kochi, accordion; Sungwon Kim, guitar; Michael Verselli, piano; Brian Courage, bass; Josh Bailey, drum.

If you are looking for the officially abstract approach to jazz and orchestral arrangements, Josh Green and his sixteen-piece Cyborg Orchestra will fulfill those desires. Beginning with “Boy & Dog in a Johnnypump,” Green’s strange string arrangements and punchy horn lines unfold in a cacophony of sounds and energy. As a composer, Joshua Green could easily be labeled quirky. He seems to concentrate on melting modernistic jazz on top of classical roots, like A candy-cane scented wax candle melted a top a giant ice cream sundae of multi-colored flavors. It’s an odd combination. From the very first ‘cut,’ you find yourself transported to the outer-limits of musical boundaries and floating in an open space where anything can happen. On “Lauer Faceplant – Based on a True Story”, the music begins as odd as the title and very classical in nature. The contrary motion of a monk-like melody line played against a smooth and charming counter melody sets the stage for an inspired saxophone improvisation. According to the liner notes, this tune was composed in tribute to a strange meeting the composer had with TV celebrity anchor, Matt Lauer.

I was touched by “La Victoire,” arranged like a sensitive ballad and featuring Todd Groves on saxophone. Finally the composer’s beautiful side settles down into something I can consciously enjoy in its lovely simplicity. “La Victoire” is an artistic ballad. I discover (in the liner notes) that this composition is based on an image by artist Magritte and is one that is also played in a condominium commercial scored by Green. Another favorite is “Improvisation & Nebula,” featuring some Avant-Garde piano playing by Michael Verselli.

Joshua Green was recently awarded a Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award from ASCAP and he is a Music Supervisor for ITV America, producing soundtracks for multiple film and television projects. He also contributes his composing and arranging talents to Broadway musicals. His Cyborg Orchestra includes some un-traditional instrumentation like accordion, the Electronic Wind Instrument (EWI) and unexpected voices.

If you are looking for a fresh approach to jazz and the classics, you will find this project both defineably different and strangely beautiful.
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CONCERT REVIEW: JOSH NELSON’S DISCOVERY PROJECT

January 30, 2017

CONCERT REVIEW: JOSH NELSON’S DISCOVERY PROJECT
By: Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

Concert on Saturday, January 28, 2017

Remembering the last time I attended The Blue Whale, I arrived early in order to get a good seat. The place is generally packed. For those of you who haven’t joined the youthful and high energy downtown Los Angeles scene, for a moment you might feel you are in Tokyo or New York. The Weller Court Plaza is near a five-star hotel and sparkles with green and blue lights inside a tunnel like entrance off of 2nd Street. The Little Tokyo courtyard is peppered with small shops and the second and third floors feature a multitude of restaurant choices. A huge amber umbrella stretches above the courtyard and many people sit on the outdoor benches, even though the night is a little windy and quite cool.

Doors open at 8pm and I find a cushion against the wall where I can rest my back. I’m surprised to see that the club has added concert seating in fold-out chairs. When it first opened, there was only Japanese style seating on low-to-the-ground square cushions. For Westerners, the added seating is a big improvement. The unelevated stage space was cluttered with music stands and chairs. A grand piano sat stage front, a guitar propped-up near bye; drums, vocal microphones off to the side and a projector of his CD Cover, “The Discovery Project” in black and white sat on a movie screen hanging above the piano. It was also reflected as a backdrop behind the band. The standing room only crowd was half way to the door by the time Josh Nelson and his ensemble took to the stage.

Nelson featured a narrator, Robert Peterson, who is also a historian. For this multi-media experience, Petersen stepped to the mic and introduced us to pieces of Los Angeles history, while Nelson tinkled the keys beneath the narration. This introduced us to “Bridges and Tunnels”. The screen filled up with black and white movie scenes, famous L.A. tunnels and bridges featured predominately, while the original composition serenaded us. The collage of moving images was punctuated by a harmonic horn section.

Nelson welcomed the crowd after the first song and told us he was raised in Long Beach and loves Los Angeles. Thus, began this tribute to the city of his upbringing. At thirty-eight-years young, he has already performed as musical director for Natalie Cole, accompanied Sheila Jordan, Sara Gazarek, played with Dave Koz, Kurt Elling, John Pizzarelli, Lewis Nash, Peter Erskine, John Clayton, Benny Golson and too many more to list here. Nelson is a well-respected, jazz pianist, composer, educator and recording artist. He introduced us to his band. His guitarist, the son of the late, great, big band leader, Gerald Wilson, Anthony Wilson. Alex Boneham on bass; Dan Schnelle on drums; Brian Walsh on clarinet; Josh Johnson on saxophone; Chris Lawrence manning the trumpet; Kathleen Grace & Lillian Sengpiehl , both featured vocalists. Nelson thanked them all, including Travis Flournoy for his live video projections and Jesse Ottinger and Claudia Carballada for their scenography.

Peterson, the historian and narrator, once again stood behind the mic to give us a brief history of Griffith Park. We were told it was named for an alcoholic man who terrorized his wife, Tina. Because of his jealous personality, he wound up shooting the poor woman in her face one evening during a drunken rage. Although she survived and he was incarcerated, we learned that Griffith only spent two years in jail for this heinous act and built the City of Los Angeles, (and the political powers that be), the famed Griffith Park Theater and Griffith Park Conservatory. There was a collective gasp in the room.

The song that followed featured lyrics that professed, “The cities different but the sky remains the same” and was performed beautifully by guest vocalist, Kathleen Grace. Drummer Dan Schnelle slapped a back beat into the song and Nelson told us that featured vocalist, Grace, had co-written the piece with him.
The next composition, (“Stairways”) celebrated the Los Angeles’ four-hundred-and-fifty historic stairways that wind up and down hillside areas. On this original composition, Nelson made the 88-keys climb, while we watched black and white films of men in suits running and sometimes struggling up brick and cement stairs built into L.A.’s hilly terrain. This song featured amazingly beautiful solos by trumpeter, Chris Lawrence and saxophonist, josh Johnson. The groove in this song was warm and washed across the audience like island waves. Throughout, bassist, Alex Boneham, swings like a pendulum and was rich with tonality. In the movie sequence, when a woman in a black dress obviously struggles up the stairs on some hillside, Nelson plucks the grand piano strings to create a musical ambience along with experienced and stellar chops on the keys. I found humor in the film, but swallowed my laughter, because the musical arrangement was so stunning that laughing was inappropriate.

“Water” was the next topic and referenced the Roman Polanski film of 1974, “Chinatown,” nominated for eleven Academy Awards. Nelson’s arrangement was ripe with blues. Josh danced atop the multi-media and rhythm trio like a finger ballerina; twirling, spinning, skipping triplets up and down the ivory and ebony keys. His fingers caressed waterfalls out of the instrument before us. He made the ‘water’ topic came alive. Trumpeter Lawrence once again was awe inspiring, as was Anthony Wilson on guitar. Underneath, the splash of drums colored the film of the Los Angeles aqueduct bursting. As the water breached and flooded L.A., the band became Avant Garde, letting modern jazz and improvisation spill across the room. On film, the dam broke and their music exemplified that power, freedom, urgency and destruction. Impressive!

There was a visual artist (Claudia Carballada) who began to draw during one of the musical presentations and that was interesting.

All in all, it was a highly creative and innovative production. Jazz and multi-media make for a happy marriage.

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GREGORY PORTER AND MAVIS STAPLES RECEIVE STANDING OVATIONS

January 25, 2017

GREGORY PORTER AND MAVIS STAPLES RECEIVE STANDING OVATIONS
Concert Review by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 20, 2017

It rained in sheets, reminding me of Thailand’s monsoon rain storms. The Inland Empire, (often referred to as the I.E.) was wet with water and blown by wild winds that gusted up to fifty-miles-per-hour. Ms. Ruby Kia, my ten-year-old, red SUV that still looks young and vibrant, crept down the Cajon pass from 4300 feet above sea level to Orange County. For those of you who don’t reside in California, that’s about a 100- mile trek down the I-15 freeway; a well-traveled passageway that winds from San Diego, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. As Nick & Valorie Simpson sang, “No wind – no rain – will keep me from you baby.” No way was I going to miss this Gregory Porter and Mavis Staples concert at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. My long-time, Detroit friend, (Ricky) had bought these tickets way in advance. Even though I have seen both iconic vocalists before, I was still excited. To my sweet surprise, we were seated in the front row. Sitting before us was a cow-bell, a tambourine, a vocal microphone stand and another stand that would soon support an electronic tablet of music. No more paper music scores. Technology has come a long way in the last 20 years.

Enter Mavis Staples, dressed in black pants, a floaty black chiffon like blouse decorated with a long, gold chain. Her band took to the stage a few minutes before her appearance. Vicki Randle stood in position before the percussion set-up and locked her tablet into place. You may have seen Ms. Randle before as part of Kevin Eubanks’ Primetime Band on the former Late Show hosted by Jay Leno. Jeff Turmes on electric bass walked across the large wooden stage. Rick Holmstrom cradled his guitar and plugged-in, while Stephen Hodges settled behind the trap drums. Deacon Donny Gerrard stood next to Vicki, an amazing background vocalist who would shine during this performance, harmonizing with Vicki and sometimes letting his amazing range show-off using a killer tenor vocal. Right from the first stoke of Jeff Turmes’ fingers on the bass guitar, he set the groove and commanded the stage for the petite and iconic gospel star with the big voice. Mavis joined them with dimples flashing.

They opened with “Come Go With Me,” a song that sounds very similar to her big hit, “I’ll Take You There.” Then, from her album, “Livin’ On A High Note“ she sang “Take Us Back”, a song about family and people sticking together in support of each other. Vicki Randle was outstanding on vocals and percussion, blending smoothly with Deacon Donny’s voice to support the always energetic and spirited Ms. Staples. Ms. Randle commanded the cow bell and tambourine with a deft hand. The David Burke composition that The Staple Singers recorded back in 1982, “He’s Alright,” was rich with gospel musicality. Their hit record, “Respect Yourself” brought back warm memories. When she sang “What you gonna do when death comes creepin’ in your room,” the low down blues guitar had the concert audience captivated. Mavis Staples was animated on the song her talented father, “Pop Staples,” wrote for the MLK Selma march to Montgomery. She sang, “March Up Freedom’s Highway” with gusto. Her hour plus opening concert for Gregory Porter resulted in a standing ovation by the sold-out crowd. As an encore, she took us back down memory lane, turning the clock hands back to her 1971 hit, “I’ll Take you There.” The audience was again on their feet and demonstratively joyful. She received a second standing ovation.

After a short break, Gregory Porter and his high-energy band arrived, cool as a rainy California night. One of the most captivating things about this jazz vocalist is Porter’s ability to fly freely over his multi-talented rhythm section and make every familiar, original composition brand new. These are songs we love and play over and over from his hit albums. Yet, believe it or not, he makes each one fresh and more beautiful and exciting than the recordings we hold so dear. Porter opened with “Holding on,” encouraging Emanuel Harrold to fire the band up with his drum skills. Mr. Porter held the crowd in the palm of his huge hands as he sang, “On My Way to Harlem,” a song from his “Water” CD. He serenaded us with the title tune from his recent CD release, “Take Me To The Alley” and told us that his mother taught him about having an open heart and inspired the writing of this very spiritual song. He also thanked a young woman on FaceBook that he had viewed singing his song with conviction and talent. He said she reminded him of his mother and her spiritual passion.

Porter delivers a song like a prayer. He inspired the audience to shout and emote and say “Hallelujah,” as though we were in some Baptist church instead of a concert hall. Yes – We were all fired up by the ensemble’s offering of “Liquid Spirit” that had the entire concert hall flush with hand-clapping and featured young, Marietta, Georgia saxophonist, Tivon Pennicott. Porter is friendly with his audiences and honest, like a best friend. He tells us that there is a young man,(Pointing to the theater balcony) the son of a college mate from his time at San Diego State University, to whom he dedicates his next song. With gusto and power he sings, “Young Man, I’m Counting On You.” You can’t help but feel this artist is sincere and genuinely cares about people and his community. “The Consequence of Love” is so beautiful that it bullies my emotions and tears well up in my eyes. Behind him, his super talented bass player, Jahmal Nichols, plays with a smile as wide and colorful as a rainbow. He offered up an amazing bass solo that set the stage for Porter to surprise us with a Motown Standard song, originally sung by The Temptations. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” never sounded so good. After one verse and a chorus, the bass player took over once again and Nichols led the ensemble into “I Do Not Agree … Musical Genocide.” Chip Crawford, the pianist who has been with Porter since his first recording, played an inspired piano solo, incorporating several songs into the chord changes from Reggae to “America the Beautiful”. Gregory entered with his rich baritone voice resting against our ears like a plush, cashmere blanket. He wrapped the attentive audience in a magical cocoon when he sang, “Leave your innocents and vulnerability with me.” When I left that concert hall, I felt I had done just that. All my emotions were scattered like puzzle pieces on the floor beneath my seat, spent in hand-clapping, tears and shouts of praise. These things could not begin to express the healing I received from Gregory Porter’s songs. The oneness of an enthusiastic audience, coming together to enjoy this master musician’s vocals and songwriting skills, was amazing. We found incomparable love and compassion in his presentation. We fed him bits and pieces of praise with two standing ovations. His encore, dedicated to our outgoing United States President and our incoming President, was carefully chosen. He sang us his message (as only he can) and filled our minds with love, hope and prayer; “When Love Was King.”


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