Archive for the ‘JAZZ MUSIC’ Category

ANGEL VOICES & WORLDLY MUSICAL CHOICES

October 14, 2017

ANGEL VOICES & WORLDLY MUSICAL CHOICES
CD reviews by Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

October 14, 2017

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

MARIE SCHAFER – “TO KNOW LOVE”
Marsch Music

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

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

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

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LYN STANLEY – “THE MOONLIGHT SESSIONS – VOLUME TWO”
A.T. Music LLC

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

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

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

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

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INTRODUCING JULIE BENKO
Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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CAROL ROMAN – “GOING HOME; SONGS OF COMFORT”
Dove Street Music

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

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


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NEOTOLIA – NAZAN NIHAL & UTAR ARTUN – “NEOTOLIA SONG”
Interrobang Records

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

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

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

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

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

If you are looking for something musically unique, you will find it here.
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CORINA BARTRA – “TAKUNDE”
Blue Spiral Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tribute to Jazz Masters and Other Sheroes & Heroes

October 7, 2017

TRIBUTE TO JAZZ MASTERS AND OTHER SHEROES & HEROES
CD reviews by Jazz/Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

October 6, 2017

NESTOR TORRES – “JAZZ FLUTE TRADITIONS”
ALFI RECORDS

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

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

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JOHN BEASLEY – “MONK’ESTRA – VOLUME 2
Mack Ave Records

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

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

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

That pretty much sums up this entire album.

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

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

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JANE IRA BLOOM – “WILD LINES: IMPROVISING EMILY DICKINSON”
Outline Records

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

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

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

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

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THE CHEAP 3NSEMBLE – PATRICK ARTHUR, DANA FITZSIMONS, CHRIS OTTS
Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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JACKIE ALLEN – “ROSE FINGERED DAWN”
Avant Bass

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

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

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

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

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

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ROB SCHNEIDERMAN – “TONE TWISTER”
Hollistic MusicWorks

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

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

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

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NEW CD RELEASES: JAZZ COLORS MUSIC FROM NEW AGE TO OBOE: FROM VOCALS TO BEBOP & STRAIGHT AHEAD

September 14, 2017

NEW CD RELEASES: JAZZ COLORS MUSIC FROM NEW AGE TO OBOE: FROM VOCALS TO BEBOP & STRAIGHT AHEAD
By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

September 14, 2017

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

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

CATHERINE MARIE CHARLTON – THE WYETH ALBUM – “I DREAM ABOUT THIS WORLD”
Phil’s Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information see: wyethalbum.com or visit http://www.CatherineMarieCharlton.com
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SHERMAN IRBY & MOMENTUM – “CERULEAN CANVAS”
Black Warrior Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Produced by bassist Matt Parrish, who has recorded with luminaries like Regina Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Paquito D’Rivera, this is an easy listening music project with songs we love to hear that are well played and well sung.
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JOHN DAVERSA featuring BOB MINTZER – “WOBBLY DANCE FLOWER”
BFM Jazz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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GARY MEEK – “ORIGINALS”
Independent label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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HEAVENLY HORNS

August 24, 2017

HEAVENLY HORNS

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil
August 24, 2017

MANNY ECHAZABAL – “SHORT NOTICE”
Independent Label

Manny Echazabal, saxohones; Tal Cohen, piano; Dion Kerr, bass; David Chiverton, drums.

Manny Echazabal is a young composer and reedman who has written everything on this CD. His compositions are smart, lyrical and inspire improvisation by his talented band members. There’s something pensive and sexy about tunes like, “Out of Sight Out of Mind.”

The title tune races swiftly into the room with the rolling drums of David Chiverton pushing the energy ahead like a bowling ball. When Tal Cohen joins the scene on piano, the pins fall. He strikes with 2-handed ferocity.

I enjoyed “The Green Monk”, a tune with shades of Thelonius peeking through the unforgettable melody. Echazabal is impressive with his composition skills.

Inspired by Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter and Kenny Dorham, Echezabal is a native of Miami and has been developing his style and approach as an aspiring jazz musician since middle school. In high school, he joined the band, where he expanded his talents to playing tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet. Respected as both a composer and bandleader, two of his compositions have already won Downbeat’s award for Outstanding Small Group Performance. (i.e. “Unknown Identity” and Spt”). This is an artist to keep an eye on and an ear out. September 17th is the expected release date on Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

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OSCAR FELDMAN – “GOL”
Zoho Records

Oscar Feldman, alto/soprano saxophones; Antonio Sanchez, drums; John Benitez, acoustic/electric bass; Leo Genovese, piano/keyboards; Guillermo Klein, keyboards/vocals.

Feldman is a native of Cordoba, Argentina. His father was Director of Culture and owned an art gallery. So he has always been around art, music and diverse artists. His love of saxophone started early and he formed a band, “Los Musicos del Centro.” He also worked with a couple of South America’s most influential artists, Hermeto Pascoal and Dino Saluzzi. This led him to relocate to the big city of Buenos Aires. In 1992, Feldman won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston. This scholarship brought him to the United States, where he settled into the fast pace of New York City. Consequently, this recording is a compilation of cultures and creativity.

When I listen to reed instruments, I’m always listening for the sound and style of the player. Oscar Feldman’s alto saxophone approach reflects a thinner sound than I am drawn to, but it’s still pleasant. I enjoy the way he refreshed the Paquito D’Rivera arrangement of “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart” by elongating the tune’s meter. He and his band stretch the outer-limits of the melody like a thick rubber-band.

His soprano sax on “La Cancion Que Falta” is sensitive and sweet. The translation of the song title into English means, “The Song That Is Missing”. It follows a spirited, straight-ahead production and that makes this song sounds like it should be on another CD, featuring easy listening tunes. Their arrangement took me abruptly out of the jazz groove set by their first song, and for some reason, vocals were added that didn’t seem properly mixed into the music. I was perplexed by this song.

“Viva Belgrano” is Feldman’s only original composition on this CD. The melody is poignant and lovely. On this tune, he returns to his alto saxophone and the straight-ahead jazz I love so much. This song celebrates a famous goal that his hometown football team made. You can hear the crowd in the background of the music and the sports announcer’s voice is also mixed in. The title of his CD also celebrates this goal, i.e. “Gol”. Leo Genovese plays a spectacular piano solo and Feldman investigates the outer limits of his horn on this piece, travelling to Avant-Garde places.
Drummer, Antonio Sanchez, gives a long and exciting solo at the song’s fade.

“Murmullo” is a Cuban bolero and it’s beautifully produced, featuring Feldman on soprano saxophone. I appreciate the sound and tone of his soprano saxophone, more so than his alto. I feel his spirit on this song and I wonder if it’s the song or the instrument. I can hear an obvious comfort level. On this 1930 ballad, Benitez gets an opportunity to show us his bass chops, brief but powerful.

This CD begins and ends on a high note. “I Feel Fine” is as exuberant and intoxicating as the first cut.

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DIAL & OATTS; RICH DeROSA & THE WDR BIG BAND – “ REDISCOVERED ELLINGTON”
Zoho Records

Garry Dial, piano/arranger; Dick Oatts, soprano/also Saxophones/flute/arranger; Rich DeRosa, conductor/arranger/big band orchestration; THE WDR BIG BAND: Johan Horlen, alto sax/flute/clarinet; Karolina Strassmayer, alto sax/flute; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor sax/clarinet; Jens Neufang, baritone/bass saxophones/bass clarinet; TRUMPETS: Andy Haderer (lead); Wim Both (alt lead); Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls & John Marshall; TROMBONES: Ludwig Nuss, (lead); Shannon Barnett & Andy Hunter. Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone/flute; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Reedman, Dick Oatts, pianist, Gary Dial and arranger/conductor, Rich DeRosa, have embarked on a project to find and record rare and unheard music by the great Duke Ellington. This is one of the most exciting tributes to Duke that I’ve heard in recent years.

“Hey Baby” is ten-minutes of high energy instrumentation with improvisation propelled by DeRosa’s smart arrangements. The production is very modern, leaving a lot of room for the horns to harmonize and the soloists to be spotlighted. On the second cut, “ Let The Zoomers Drool “, pianist Gary Dial is outstanding and sparkles above the arrangement like the Big Dipper on a clear night. These arrangements are a horn player’s heaven.

The Ellington compositions are fresh, some are unfamiliar, but all are beautifully produced. The WDR Band is sourced with exceptional musicians who captivate with their star-studded performances, whether soloing or playing in concert. This is a project I could not stop listening to and I played it at least seven times before I wrote a word about this exceptional jazz. I am so appreciative to the artists who are featured and to Dial, Oatts and DeRosa for this treasured gift of musical history and legacy.

Stephen James, the nephew of Duke Ellington explained, “In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years. Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington. ‘Rediscovered Ellington’ will bring this beautiful, rarely heard music to the public eye. Garry Dial, Dick Oatts and Rich DeRosa, along with the WDR Big Band, have managed to capture the essence of Ellington. I am proud of their swinging contribution and I know my mother and uncle would be smiling.”

There’s not a bad cut on this recording; not an ill-chosen composition. Everything here is the epitome of excellence. It’s definitely a collector’s item.

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DARREN BARRETT – “dB-ISH – THE OPENER”
dB Studios

Darren Barerett, trumpet/keyboards/percussion; Santiago Bosch, piano/keyboards; Alexander Toth, bass; Anthony Toth, drums; Clay Lyons & Erena Terakubo, alto saxophone; Judith Barrett, percussion; Kurt Rosenwinkel & Nir Felder, guitar; Chad Selph, keyboards.

At first listen, I had a 1950 & 1960 jazz flash-back and I mean that in a good way. That didn’t last long. This is a surprise package of infectious music. First cut, “The Opener,” and title tune sets the energetic precedence of this recording. A fluid piano solo sets the tone for Darren Barrett to flex his trumpet muscles. He brings fire and fury to the bandstand, with drums that sound like gunshots when Anthony Toth pops them. Barrett builds on themes and grooves in a very modern jazz way, but at the same time, his compositions are melodic. His chord changes leave enough room for the power and excitement of talented musicians to explore improvisation and freedom. There’s an element of ‘Hip Hop’ and fusion in the way he produces his music, with loops and grooves prevalent.But on top of it all is undeniable ‘Straight ahead’ jazz.

Cut #3, “dB-lemma” is a perfect example of this and gives bassist Alexander Toth a perfect platform to solo in a very tenacious way.

Impressively, Darren Barrett has composed, arranged, engineered and produced everything on this album of quality music. Barrett is thoroughly entertaining and pushes the boundaries with his horn, with his compositions and his unique production ideas. I was completely entertained and pleasantly pleased from the first cut to the last.

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JORGINHO NETO COLLECTIVE – “HARLEM”
Maria Record Label

Jorginho Neto, trombone/composer; Sidmar Vieira, trumpet; Robson Couto, bass; Gustavo Bugni, piano; Vitor Cabral, drums,Alexandre Mihanovich, guitar; Thiago Alves, contra bass.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice echoes through my living room, muffled by heavenly horn sounds featuring a prominent trombone and an interlude piece based on the gospel song, “Amazing Grace.” Dr. King is speaking his historic speech about the possibility of his not getting to the mountain top, and it moves me back in time, to our struggle for civil rights and the man who believed in non-violent protest. The background music, titled “Gracie” reminds me of a Louisiana funeral procession. But the music of Martin’s day during the 1950’s and 60’s celebrated revolution and change. I recall the year that Dr. King was murdered, Sly & the Family Stone were encouraging people to “Stand” and James Brown was screaming “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In the jazz world, Miles Davis was sweeping the jazz world with his popular, “Sketches In Spain” CD, and Coltrane and Don Cherry were collaborating on the LP, “Avant Garde.” John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” changed that Broadway song into a jazz classic. That’s what was happening during Dr. King’s activist days. but, I suppose this young artist was trying to reference the Christian church with this very dirge sounding music rather than the popular music of that time in history. And of course, that makes sense. I admire that Jorginho Neto wanted to celebrate this Peace Prize recipient who gave his life for good.

The very next tune that blasted onto the scene was full of Funk and Fusion. It’s the title tune, “Harlem.” That’s when I turned to the liner notes to read who Jorginho Neto really was. I discovered he started his musical life playing his beloved trombone in church at the age of thirteen. I discovered he’s Brazilian. I could see by his performance, on-line, that indeed he is a young and talented player and obviously, someone who admires Dr. King, but he was not here in our country for that struggle.

His compositions, after the first cut, are all very Herbie-Hancock-like or Fusion jazz. The solemn beginning interlude fades to a joyful sound. Dr. King would have liked that.

But I still wanted to know why he had Dr. King at the top of his CD project and why he named the project, “Harlem.” His CD sleeve is written in Portuguese, so that was no help to me. I called his publicist and asked permission to send a few questions to this talented, Brazilian, trombone player. Here is what he told me.

DEE DEE: Who were your biggest music inspirations?

JORGINHO NETO: “Frank Rosolino, JJ Johnson, Raul de Souza, Tom Jobim, Herbie Hancock, and especially the álbum Head Hunters.”

DEE DEE: Why did you name this CD Harlem?

JORGINHO NETO : “The name of the CD Harlem, because in 2013, I played at the Summer Festival Brazil, in New York. I had the opportunity to stay two weeks in Harlem. I Identified with African American history and culture.”

DEE DEE: Does anything about Harlem and its people remind you of Brazil?

JORGINHO NETO : “Yes, the People of Harlem remind me of the Brazilian People in some ways. The people have have similarities in Joy, perseverance and Struggle.”

DEE DEE: Why did you quote Dr. King? What does he mean to you?

JORGINHO NETO : “Martin Luther King Jr is one of the most important leaders and symbols in the world for all people. Especially African Americans, of course, but he is admired by Brazilian people as well. He is a warrior for racial battles, something the Brazilians experience in our own way too. His “I Have a Dream” speech resonates for all of us.”

DEE DEE: Do you struggle for civil rights in Brazil?

JORGINHO NETO : “Yes, Brazil has struggles with civil rights to this day. I live in a poor neighborhood in Sao Paulo in Brazil and I see injustice economically and racially in my country first hand. There is a lot of corruption in Brazil. Through my music I try to share some of that message and use it as a force to fight against the corruption that plagues us.”

DEE DEE: Music touches all cultures. What do you want people to take from your music?

JORGINHO NETO : “I want people to feel more love. Regardless of color and race or immigrants or not, we are all the same in the end.”

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LANCE BRYANT, CHRISTIAN FABIAN, JASON MARSALIS – “DO FOR YOU?”
Consolidated Artists Productions, Inc (CAP)

Lance Bryant, sax/vocals; Christian Fabian, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums; Special Guest: Gates Thomas, keyboard.

Here is a tenor saxophone tone and style I appreciate. Lance Braynt’s horn is steeped in blues. His melodies are crisp and succinct. No sliding to notes or squeaking tones. This reedman is virtuostic. I like the first tune, “Five Min Blues,” where he and the bass start by playing in unison, strongly selling this song’s melody and then improvise proficiently, from start to finish. This is a unique project by three uniquely gifted musicians. Christian Fabian is substantial in his rhythm position. Without guitar or piano, the trio members must each stand independently strong and yet unified as a connected band. There is an occasional exception when special guest, Gates Thomas adds keyboard effects. Everything was going great until Lance Bryant started to sing. Why do musicians always think singing is easy and disposable, like a wet diaper? I was so upset by this disrespect for vocals that I had to discontinue this review. Too bad, because I started out loving this project.

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THE LEGENDARY SPANKY WILSON RETURNS TO LOS ANGELES: HER PERSONAL STORY

August 14, 2017

THE LEGENDARY SPANKY WILSON RETURNS TO LOS ANGELES:
HER PERSONAL STORY

August 14, 2017

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil

When I think of Spanky Wilson, I think of someone who can swing a song as hard as Muhammad Ali punches. But she can also vocally caress a lyric with so much emotion that it stuns an audience into absolute silence. Still vibrant and youthful, her musical legacy stretches over a period of six decades, because her very first recording was made when she was only four-years-old. But I’ll let her tell you that story.

SPANKY: “My father played guitar and sang. He sounded just like Nat King Cole. My mother told me I used to hear Nat King Cole on the radio and I used to point and say, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ He had that smooth, soft voice like Nat Cole. He was in a group called The Four Blotches. I used to tease him and say, no wonder you all never made it with that name. He used to say, ‘Well, it wasn’t my idea baby.’ He said they chose that name because of the Ink Spots. They all played guitar and sang. No piano or drums. My mother loved him ‘cause he was a real handsome guy. She was from Lewistown, Pennsylvania and daddy was performing in Lewistown. Daddy was there to entertain the troops. It was whatever shows they used to have that entertained the soldiers. Mom went to one of those dances and that’s how they met. After they got married, she started getting jealous, because all those ladies were flirting and fanning their you-know-whats in front of him. So, she wanted him to quite singing. I told him, daddy, I don’t know if I could ever give up singing for anybody. But he gave it up and started working on the docks in Philadelphia. He really loved my mom. He would come home from work and we’d sit on the steps in the evening. He’d teach me all these songs. Just me and him and his guitar. I was three or four-years-old.

“I keep tellin’ people this, but they don’t believe me. Back in Philadelphia, you used to be able to go into a music store where you could buy the sheet music, stuff like that and 78rpm records. You could go in there and they would have booths and the walls were glass. They had about four booths. You could make a record of your own for a certain amount of money. It was a 78rpm record and you could do two songs; one on each side. You paid them and you would leave with the record. I asked daddy, (after I started singing and moving around) what happened to that record we made when I was four years old? ‘Cause I remember the song was ‘Knock Me A Kiss.’ The other song was ‘Without A Song.’”

NOTE: In 1942 Erskine Hawkins had a 78rpm record out with vocals by Ida James, who originally recorded this song. I found it on http://www.youtube.com

SPANKY: “Oh, I was daddy’s little girl and my brother was mama’s boy. Daddy’s the one who gave me the name Spanky, ‘cause my real name is Louella, you know, like Loulla Parsons the journalist from back-in-the-day. Remember her? She used to write a gossip column. I asked my mother, why would you do that to me? You couldn’t even find that name in the baby book. I was always getting into trouble. I was a tomboy. So, he names me Spanky, after that television show. ‘Spanky and Our Gang.’ “

Several amazing entertainers were born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, like Billy Eckstine, Paul Chambers, Kenny Clark, Earl ‘Father’ Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll garner and Ahmad Jamal. Spanky Wilson, although a native of Philadelphia, was raised in Pittsburgh around all that great jazz. As a teenager, she gained notoriety singing around town. Although she loved to sing, she was still shy and insecure about performing on stage. But the local musicians took note. They recognized her blossoming talent and unique voice. That’s how Stanley Turrentine heard about her.

SPANKY: “Stanley Turrentine gave me my first gig. It was on the weekend; Friday and Saturday. The musicians around town knew I could sing, but I was always scared to sing. So, he was looking for a singer and somebody recommended me. When he got in touch, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t remember the name of the club, but it was a famous club on Fulton Street. That was a very popular street in the heart of the Black community. It was 1957 and I was seventeen. I remember very well because Angie was born in 1958. Every time I’d leave my husband, we’d break up and then I’d sneak off with him and make-up. Next thing I know, I’m pregnant and I end up going back to him. I have four children. My last daughter is by my second husband who plays guitar.”

But settling down and being a homemaker was not in the cards for Spanky Wilson. The music bug had bitten deeply. She was hungry for pursuing a career as a singer. In 1967, she joined the Jimmy McGriff band. They piled into a car and drove across the country, gigging from city to city. After a six-week tour, it was June of 1967 when they rolled into Los Angeles.

SPANKY: “We were at Shelly’s Manne Hole. H. B. Barnum heard me there and expressed an interest in my talent. After the gig, I left and went back home, thinking I would never hear from this guy again. … And in September of that year, he called me to say he was ready for me to come back to California and record. I couldn’t believe it. So, He sent for me and I came out here to make a record. I was supposed to be out here no more than two months. So that’s when I went to Smitty’s house.”

NOTE: Smitty is a nickname for Howlett Smith, a prolific L.A. based composer who has written hit songs for both Spanky and Nancy Wilson i.e.: ‘Let’s Go Where The Grass is Greener,’ recorded by Nancy.

SPANKY: “I went to Smitty’s house every day to learn all the songs he had written for me. I went there for five weeks studying songs and then H. B. would choose the ones he liked the best for our session. Then he started getting me these background gigs with O.C. Smith, Lou Rawls, and the great African singer, Letta Mbulu. I kept saying, hey, I wanna go home. I mean I have children. I want to see my kids. I’ve been away too long. So now it’s the end of November, almost Christmas. I said either you send for my kids or I’m leaving. So, he ended up getting me a nice house to live in in West Covina. … I didn’t want to live in the city because they had more decent schools in Covina. I moved here in 1967, brought my kids out to California and re-established myself. I was just giggin’ around town, but I was happy doing that.”

The move to Los Angeles proved lucrative. H. B. Barnum’s production garnered Spanky Wilson an unforgettable jazz record in 1969. Howlett Smith’s hauntingly beautiful song, “The Last Day of Summer” went soaring up the music charts. Jazz stations all across the country were playing it like crazy. It was followed by an album on the same Mothers Records & The Snarf Company label titled, ‘Spankin’ Brand New.’ Her career was on fire. The next album was titled, ‘Doin’ It,’ released in 1969 and followed in 1970 by her third album titled, ‘Let It Be.’ After this release, Spanky decided to leave the label. In 1975, Spanky signed with 20th Century/Westbound Records. The new album was titled, ‘Specialty of The House,’ with the title tune released as a popular single. Spanky sounded wonderful on this recording. Her voice was bell clear. The songs were well-written and the production was lush with horns, strings and background vocals. There were plenty of songs on this album that could have been big hits for the crowd-pleasing singer. However, in the record business, unless you have a strong promotional team in place, a record can die on the vine. Spanky poured her heart out on “I Think I’m Gonna Cry.” There are some songs that were obviously produced in the Motown vein, with Diana Ross Type productions like, “I’ll Stake My Life on You, Boy.” When I looked up the credits, a Motown arranger, (Paul Riser), had arranged this song. That explained why the song reminded me so much of Motown Records. No problem! Spanky rose to the occasion, showing that she could sing anything and proving she had cross-over ability. That’s probably what the record company was looking for at that time. Her song, “Easy Lover,” reflected the appealing impression that Barry White’s hit-record productions had made on 20th Century Records. Her production sounded similar, with Spanky handling the David VanDePitte arrangements with finesse and power. This album offered her fan base and the general public a little taste of everything.

For a few years, she toured America, spending quite a bit of time in my home town of Detroit, Michigan and working at Watts Mozambique jazz club owned by Cornelius Watts. Later, she appeared at Richard Jarrett’s club, “Dummy Georges.” During that time, she was a guest on a recording by Houston Person and Etta Jones titled, “Live at the Club Mozambique” for Eastbound Records. She also was recorded by Ace Records on a compilation album, pairing her with a list of all-star artists including Jack McDuff, Melvin Sparks, Gary Chandler, Etta Jones, Houston Person and Bill Mason titled, “Together.”

Anybody who’s been in the business of making records knows that the real money an artist makes comes from being on the road, not from selling records. While record companies are busy raking in the cash from the artists’ talents, an artist has to perform in concerts and clubs to pay the bills. Ms. Wilson let no grass grow under her feet. She’s performed in thirty-five countries including Algeria, Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, the Congo, England, France, Germany, the island of Guam, Ireland, all over Japan, in Luxemburg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Scotland, in virtually every big city in Spain, in Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia and coast-to-coast in the United States. She also toured with the great Benny Carter as part of his “All Star” band.
I asked Spanky about her time leaving the United States and living in France.

SPANKY: “I went there in 1985. Sweets Edison got me a gig there. I had left H. B. Barnum’s label and also the 20th Century Records deal was done. Red Holloway used to use me at the Parisian Room and then Sweets Edison used to get me opening act gigs. That way, I was working all the time. So Sweets and I got to be friends. I was one of the ‘cats’ with those guys. Sweet’s started telling me I should go to Europe and they would love me over there. But I said, hey, I don’t know nobody in Europe. I’d been to Japan and Rio de Janiero in Brazil, but never Europe. But then I said – ok, hook me up, man.

“He got me a gig with the Woody Herman Band in the South of France; in Nice. So I get there, but dig this. Woody Herman’s hands were messed up. He had the Arthritis real bad and he couldn’t play, so he sang a little big. Consequently, he didn’t need a singer. So I’m there, but I’m not going to sing. OMG. I thought, what the hell am I going to do now? I can’t turn around and go back to Los Angeles after I told everybody I was going to this gig in France. So wait a minute. I knew this guy who had something to do with the jazz festival and he said, let me see what I can do. Well, the musicians all stayed in the same hotel. I used to sit in the lobby and try to learn the language and practice my French speaking. You know those dogs that used to save people that had the little canteen around their neck? St. Bernard! Well, I love animals and one day I’m sitting there in the lobby and this guy walked by with this big, huge dog and I said, oh my God, he’s so beautiful! Is he friendly? So, I started talking to the dog. And every day, he would walk down there with the dog and I didn’t know anybody but Sweets and the musicians. Funny, but me and the dog got to be friends. Finally, the dog would see me and break-a-loose from whoever was walking him and jump up on me. To make a long story short, Sweets says hey. I made an appointment for us to go up and see the head man who runs this hotel. It was the Meridien Hotel. I said, ok. He took me up to the guy’s suite and we knock on the door. Some guy opened the door and here was the dog. He jumped up on me and was so happy. He weighed about 500 pounds. That was a huge dog. But this really handsome man steps forward and says, so you’re the one that my guy was telling me about. He had heard there was a lady that sits in the lobby and that his dog was in love with this woman. I said, oh yes. That’s me. So, the hotel manager says Sweets tells me that you can really sing. I’m just going to take his word for it. I don’t need to hear you sing. How would you like to work in Paris? I said I’d love to work in Paris. He said, I’m going to send you to the Meridien Hotel there and the group is already working there. You can sing with them. I said, ok. That’s fine with me. So, the next day, I went to Paris. The Lord works in mysterious ways. They hired me for two weeks. That was in July. I wound up staying there until September.

“Just like we celebrate the Fourth of July here, well everybody that lives in Paris leaves to go on vacation in the summer. Consequently, they never book an international act in the Lionel Hampton room during summertime. They only had a local band. I was working with them. They were called, The Four Bones, and it was four trombones and a rhythm section. Francois Guin, Jean Christophe Vilain, Benny Vasseur and Raymond Fonseque were the trombone players. The pianist with them and the bass player were like my brothers. While I was there, people were coming from different clubs who had heard about me or whatever, and I got work in other clubs after I finished working there. That’s how I ended up staying for a while.”

Unlike America, in France and many parts of Europe, jazz music is embraced, culturally respected and played on the popular airwaves. You might hear Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift and Spanky Wilson all played on the same radio station. Our art form of jazz is highly respected and revered in Europe. Spanky Wilson found steady work and appreciation overseas and she found love. After living together for several years, she married her musical conductor, Philippe Milantia. She explained.

SPANKY: “Yeah, Philippe was my pianist. He is a hell of an arranger and a pianist too. Neither of us wanted to get married. We got married because someone else won the election and the new president was talking about separatism. He said France was for the French. If you didn’t have papers, you had to go home. But I had told Philippe, I didn’t want to get married. I’d been there done that and didn’t want to do it again. He said he didn’t want to get married either, because his mother terrorized his father. I said, well, I ain’t your mama honey, so you don’t have to worry about that. But we had lived together for some time. We only got married to keep me in France. We were together for 13 or 14 years. We married in 1992.

“I’ve met so many record collectors, I mean serious record collectors in Europe. They can put on a record and tell you every guy who’s in the band. That’s how serious they were about jazz. And my husband was one of them. He was an expert on Count Basie. People would call him from all countries to say they had this old record, but they don’t know who’s playing on it. They would play it and he would tell them everybody who was in the band. He played with Count Basie a few times when he came to Paris. The band knew him. Jazz is like a religion to them. Here, in America, it’s stepped on, kicked around. Even the French people that have clubs don’t want French people to sing it. I had friends I met over there who were good singers. I mean really good singers. But they couldn’t get hired, because they weren’t American. They’d say Spanky, could you talk to this guy and tell him that I can sing jazz? The club owners wouldn’t even let them try out. So of course, I spoke up for them. Some of those girls were singin’ their asses off! They had a little accent, but you could understand every lyric they were singing. I helped out two or three girls who were trying to get booked in some of the clubs. You don’t have to be American to sing jazz.”
During her time in France, Spanky continued recording. In 1991, Big Blue Records released, “Singin’ and Swingin’” and another album titled, “Ornicar Big Band/L’Incroyable Huck,” featuring Spanky Wilson. In 1996, she was a guest vocalist on Christian Morin’s “Paradis Melodie” album on Une Musique label. In 1999, she recorded another solo album titled, “Things are Getting Better” for Jazz Aux Remparts label. The last CD she recorded was outside the realm of jazz, with an English group; The Quantic Soul Orchestra, “Live in Paris.”
As her stellar reputation grew, Ms. Wilson was invited to sing with some of the top musicians and French bands such as Gerard Badini’s Swing Machine, Christian Morin and Francois Biensan’s “Ellingtomania,” Marc Laferrier’s group, Claude Tissendier’s “Saxomania” and she appeared regularly with Philippe Milanta’s Trio.

Spanky worked with the iconic reed man, Teddy Edwards, over the years and in 1993 his “Teddy Edwards Quartet” album was released on Verne/PolyGram/Gitanes featuring Spanky Wilson as a special guest along with Christian Escoudé. In 1993, she was also a guest star on “Old School Band/35th Anniversary” on the OSB label.

This lovely lady with the big voice and even bigger personality was flying high. Then the unexpected happened. Both of Spanky’s parents became critically ill at home, in the United States.

SPANKY: “I came back because my mother and my father both were sick. My mother was in a nursing home in Pittsburgh and my father had cancer; Prostate. He lived in Philadelphia. So, I was hopping from one city to another, flying from Paris to Pittsburgh for two weeks. Then, jetting to Philadelphia for two weeks; back and forth. I was coming home every time I could. But you know, that costs money unless you plan it a month in advance. So just to say I’m going today, you spend a lot of money. I was taking my money and then my husband’s money to fly home constantly. I was busy working and I had to beg for days off. I mean listen. Talk about dreams. I thought I was living in a really bad dream.

“When I decided to come back home, I had already told Philippe, hey – I have to go home. I said, you can come with me. He said he didn’t want to come with me, because America is one of the most racist places he had ever heard of. I said, but we’re going to live in California. He said he didn’t give a shit what color you were, but Americans did care about that. He wouldn’t come.
“So, anyway, I had packed up all my stuff and put it on a ship, sending it back to L.A. The week after, I put all my stuff on the ship, my father died. So, back on the plane I went, to buy my father. … I was going back to Paris after I buried him, but then I found out my mom was in a comma. The same day my father died, my brother’s wife went to the nursing home and told my mother that my father had died. I guess when she found out that he had died, she wanted to die. … She always brainwashed me and my kids, saying don’t let them keep me alive on machines. Let me go. … When they took her off the machine, she lasted about fourteen hours. This was about four days after my dad died.

“So when I went back to Paris, all my belongings were on the way here. I had just put my stuff on the ship one week before they called me and told me my daddy had died. I felt like maybe it’s meant for me to come home. They said it would take six weeks for my things to get here, so I stayed in Europe with my husband for about five weeks, caught a plane and came to California.”

Being gone all those years didn’t make it easy to come back to the United States and pick up her career. She had lost her father, her mother and was separated from her beloved husband, who did not want to deal with the racism in America. It felt like she was starting over.

As we know, life always happens while we’re making plans. Without any warning, just as she started gigging and getting settled into Los Angeles living, Spanky was diagnosed with an illness that threatened her life. She returned to Pennsylvania to be with her children, unexpectedly leaving Los Angeles and her career for a few recuperative years.

I was so thrilled to hear that she was returning to California and in August, a year ago, I had the opportunity of welcoming Spanky Wilson home and in-concert at the historic Maverick’s Flat nightclub on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. She performed to a packed house with a swinging band and all the gusto and excitement that a performer of her stature always brings to the stage.

Welcome back, Spanky. We missed you.

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SHOUT SISTER SHOUT – A MUSICAL PLAY REVIEW

August 11, 2017

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT – A MUSICAL PLAY REVIEW
AUGUST 12, 2017 – Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, CA http://www.pasadenaplayhouse.org

By jazz journalist Dee Dee McNeil

Tracy Nicole Chapman does an incredible job of portraying the character of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an American icon, in the musical play, “Shout Sister Shout”. Rosetta Tharpe provided a pathway for women in Rock and Roll to follow, long before it was acceptable for a female to play guitar and entertain along-side of male musicians. Tracy Nicole Chapman exhibited a powerful voice Thursday night, along with the thespian skills to persuade us she was Ms. Tharp.

Starting from the very first song, an original composition by Rosetta Tharp titled “Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air” she had the audience in the palm of her hands. Logan Charles also is to be complimented on his beautiful voice, playing the part of Isaiah, who is a suicidal young man who wants to play guitar like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. God has asked Ms. Tharpe to inspire and save this child from his demons. She is expected to accomplish this before she can leave earth and go to heaven. Rosetta shares her story of triumph and tragedy with the young man, in order to give him a sense of purpose and spirituality; strength and determination. Certainly she had to use those traits to survive in a world that frowned on her dreams and criticized her personal life decisions, while she was in search of her own identity and values. The choral trio who sang “Lay My Burden Down” brought the gospel church into the crowded Pasadena Playhouse. Boise Holmes, Armando Yearwood, Jr. and Thomas Hobson played interactive parts throughout this production with strong voices and dancing abilities. They got the audience to clap and participate in the joy on-stage. Rosetta’s mother is played by Yvette Cason, whose lovely and powerful voice echoed through the theater like an electricity bolt. Her rendition of “The Lonesome Road” was spellbinding and I was truly touched by her interpretation of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Angela Teek Hitchman was persuasive in three key roles. She played a church woman who tells Rosetta’s preacher husband that she saw her playing guitar and singing in a juke joint. She also plays Marie Knight, Rosetta’s love interest after three unsuccessful marriages and adds her tenacious voice to the ensemble pieces, as well as singing memorable duets with Tracy Nicole Chapman.

We learn that Rosetta Tharpe and her mother were Evangelist preachers and singers with a strong belief in the holy bible. But Rosetta’s talents on vocals and guitar were established early on and she longed to play other music. After her first marriage to an older preacher-man, she went back to making music as a solo artist. She was the first to cross-over gospel music into the realm of pop and blues; performing at the Cotton Club and even Carnegie Hall. Chuck Berry stole his famous duck-walk from none other than the popular Rosetta Tharpe. She was the first to do that move on stage. She was also the first cross-over gospel star to work with the Lucky Millander Orchestra. She was one of the few African American artists featured in the popular Life Magazine and Rosetta inspired and encouraged artists like Little Richard and Johnny Cash.

I wish the character Isaiah had turned out to be one of the many famous people that Rosetta inspired during her climb to fame like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis, rather than a non-descript person. I think that would have added to this treasured biography, because those men were influenced by Rosetta. However, all in all, this is an enjoyable musical full of history and happy music.

The band is spectacularly led by Orchestra Conductor/pianist, Rahn Coleman. Ron Bishop is superb on piano/keyboard and organ. Quentin Dennard propels the aggregation with his drums and Carl Vincent plays a mean upright bass and electric bass. Charles Fearing is the wonderful guitarist behind the scenes, who adds spunk and believability to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s outstanding guitar solos. This is a musical play for the whole family to enjoy and an important piece of music history. It runs through August 20, 2017.

DRUMS AND THE PEOPLE WHO PROPEL THE MUSIC

July 31, 2017

DRUMS and THE PEOPLE WHO PROPEL THE MUSIC
By Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist

FRANK DEVITO: HISTORIC, LEGENDARY DRUMMER GOING STRONG AFTER SEVEN DECADES
August 1, 2017

The month of June challenged my health and patience. I broke my baby toe. Never mind! All you can do is tape the poor thing to the toe next to it. It takes about a month to heal. My computer was infected with a malware and my tape recorder broke during a long-distance interview with a popular jazz artist. I had to cancel my gig in Huntington Beach because of my broken toe. So today, July 23rd, I’m looking forward to returning to my singing job. I’m excited about my band because, today I’m working with Rick Olson on piano, Luther Hughes on bass and the legendary Frank DeVito on drums.

Have you ever tried to lift that big black case that drummers lug around to all their gigs? Well I have. I couldn’t budge it and I wondered, how do they do it? Frank DeVito is small of stature, but strong as a locomotive pulling a freight train. When I take a look at his accomplishments over the past sixty-plus years, I am in absolute awe. He’s been lugging that case all over the planet. DeVito has worked with so many legendary music figures and jazz icons, that I’m both mesmerized and astounded. In fact, I’m humbled to have had the opportunity to work with Frank DeVito.

A few days after this gig, I took an opportunity to chat with Frank about his life and accomplishments. Here is an eye-opening interview that gives you a peek into the life and times of a legend.

FRANK DEVITO: “At first, I didn’t know that my family was into music at all. Starting out as a kid, hanging around Utica, New York, there was a group of young actors from New York City; a group of young neighborhood guys called ‘The Dead End Kids.’ I saw the movie called “Blues In the Night” and they had these kids in there, The Dead End Kids. I was fascinated by watching one of the guys banging on the drums and looking like he was having a good time. So, I thought, wow – that looks like fun. I started playing shortly after that and was in the band at school. Then, one day my father said, ‘Oh my brother used to play the drums. He was a big Vaudeville entertainer who spent a lot of time in Europe and touring all over the world under the name of DeVito and Denny.’ Who knew? My uncles name was Al DeVito. Then dad told me his mother, my paternal grandmother, had four brothers who were all musicians. This was the Zito side of the family. Torrie Zito has passed away now, but he was a very well-known writer/composer. He conducted and wrote for Tony Bennett for a while; Tony Bennett and Paul Anka. He went to New York in his early twenties and became very successful. His slightly younger brother, we grew up together. I ended up in New York a little before him. He came down to the city from Utica. Torrie’s brother is in New York now. He’s about ten years younger than I am and he plays in the show, “Chicago” on Broadway. Ronnie Zito. They’re going into their twentieth year. He’s the drummer. There were four Zito brothers and they were all musicians. One was Frankie Zito, a trombone player, who played with Stan Kenton and a bunch of people. He’s gone now.

“We grew up in a section of Utica, New York called “Little Harlem.” We were an Italian family and like many Italian families, we all lived together in one place. When my grandparents first came over to America, they spoke no English and all they knew how to do was work hard. They came over from the Southern part of Italy near Naples. My grandparents had a little apartment inside the house and my parents and I had another little apartment on the second floor and my uncle had the attic apartment. My uncle Tubby and his wife lived up top and he was a book maker and a Purple Heart recipient from World War II. I idolized my uncle Tubby. He was a sharp guy. He loved nightclubs and I loved hanging out with my uncle Tubby. He was a book-maker, a gambler, and he always had a new Cadillac that he rode me around in and a big wad of money in his pocket. He was a beautiful guy and he was a war hero. He always clowned around, but he was tough. The American Italians were highly decorated in World War II. Live bands would come perform in Utica at the Stanley Theater. Count Basie’s band would come in and we’d go sit there all evening and watch these bands.

“I was in New York, just a kid scufflin’ around. And there was a little band and the leader was Benny Ventura. He was Charlie Ventura’s brother. Charlie Ventura was very famous. Well, I joined that band and guess who our girl singer was? Morgana King. She was our singer and we’re the same age. I haven’t seen her in years. She played Mama in The Godfather movie. A nice Italian girl. So, here’s what happened. We’re booked in Baltimore, Maryland, I think for a week or two, and Billie Holiday is the star; (the headliner). She didn’t bring a drummer or a bass player. It was very intimidating. She didn’t really talk to us. She’d look around at us and she was great. She had this big dog with her. The dog’s name was ‘Mister’ and he was like a big police dog. And he would be in the dressing room in between shows and she always had some friends around. It was fun. I was only eighteen or nineteen years old and I learned how to be an accompanist and how to play for a singer starting with her. I learned how to get a little stronger and how to build the tension on the drums; how to play with brushes behind her and use legato strokes. She did all those tunes, “Strange Fruit” and she was singing good. She was drinking quite a bit, but it didn’t seem to affect her singing. That’s the only time I ever worked with her. So, Morgana had to just hang out. She couldn’t sing because of Billie being there. So, at any rate that was a great experience.
“I was with Buddy DeFranco’s first band. I worked with him from the age of eighteen off and on for years and years. You know who we worked with a lot? Nat King Cole. The first gig we had was at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. It was our band and the star was Nat Cole. And we were young guys; inexperienced. But I’ll never forget how he (Nat Cole) was so patient and such a beautiful guy. Before the show he says to me, ‘What’s your name again?’ and I say Frankie. He says, ‘Look Frankie, when Buzzy is introducing me I want you to look over at this side of the stage, look at me, and I’m going to be giving you the tempo. Just watch me.’ Because Buddy wasn’t always calling the tempos right. So, I end up watching Nat and then giving Buddy the cue. I still remember the song we opened with.”

He sings, “That’s my girl, take a look at her, she belongs to me.”

We both break into easy laughter. Frank has flashed back to that memory and that moment with happiness that radiates through the telephone. He has a pretty good voice too. I feel honored that he’s sharing the memory with me.

“Nat was beautiful,” he continues. “Years later, when I was working with Sinatra, I would do a lot of work with Nelson Riddle. Nelson would go out and conduct for Nat and he was writing a lot of stuff and conducting Nat’s records. I don’t recall recording with Nat, but I sure worked a lot of gigs with him. I’d go out with Nelson’s band too, you know. We’d go out to Phoenix or up to San Francisco on tour.

“There was a lot of work back then. One of the first jobs I had when I settled in L.A. in my twenties, I worked six nights a week with a very famous tenor (saxophone) player, Georgie Auld. Anybody in the music business would know who he was. He played with all the big bands like Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman; those kind of bands. We had a five-piece band. Do you remember the movie with Robert Deniero and Liza Minelli, New York New York? Well, in the movie, Deniero plays a tenor sax player. My friend, who I worked with, Georgie Auld, coached Deniero for that part. I was playing in a club in Hollywood and Georgie Auld comes in one night with Deniero. I was playing there with Terry Gibbs.

“I was on the road with Terry Gibbs for two-years. You’re from Detroit, right? Our piano player was Terry Pollard from Detroit. She was brilliant. We were together for two years. She was married to a bass player from Detroit, Ernie Farrow, I think his name was. We had a quartet with Herman Wright on bass and it was great fun. We played a club in Atlantic City. It was owned by a Black Couple and the clientele was 90% black and it was a swinging joint. We started at Midnight and we’d play until four or five in the morning. It was a regular club and It was legal back then and not after-hours. We worked there with Terry Gibbs, Terri Pollard, myself and Herman Wright. With Terry Gibbs Quartet, we worked a lot at Birdland. We worked there a lot opposite folks like Count Basie, Dizzy (Gillespie), Bird (Charlie Parker), and I got to know Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, Max Roach, all these great drummers. So, I’m playing with Terry Gibbs and one-week, Roy Haynes is playing with the Birdland All-stars. That week it was Charlie Parker, Budd Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, the bass player was Tommy Potter or Curley Russell. Those were the two bass players that worked a lot with Monk, Bird and the rest. This particular time, Roy Haynes said, ‘Hey. I’m gonna be late tomorrow. I’ve got a record date. Can you play the first set with Bird?” I said, yeah. Ok. But Charlie Parker was the nicest man. Like Dizzy, he was beautiful. Those guys were class acts. When you see the movies about them, …well, I didn’t like their depiction of them. I worked on the movie about Bird, but I wasn’t happy with it. You know, Clint Eastwood, who’s a lover of jazz … produced it. But at any rate, Charlie Parker, even though he was into drugs and alcohol, he always appeared clean. When I say clean, I mean he never looked stoned. Never. Nobody could figure out where he got this vocabulary and there was this eloquence about him. He came from Kansas City and he wasn’t highly educated, but he had this wonderful vocabulary. … He and Dizzy were so nice to the young players back then. They would offer their suggestions and encouragement. … We worked opposite them in Chicago too and we were all staying at the same hotel. Charlie Persip was playing with Dizzy at the time. Charlie and I would hang out. We’d go out to the drum factory together. We all stayed at the Croydon Hotel on Rush Street in Chicago. The Eckstines, the Basie Band, everybody stayed there.

“We came out here (to Los Angeles) in the summer of 1954. We worked our way across the country, playing jazz clubs. In fact, we used to work in 1953 and 1954, fifty weeks a year.”

Dee Dee: How was it working with Mel Torme?

FRANK DEVITO: “Oh it was great working with him. A very nice guy; very talented. He wrote all his arrangements and he played drums really well. I worked with him in the 50’s at the Macombo on Sunset Strip and I worked with him in Vegas.”

Dee Dee: What musicians inspired you the most?

FRANK DEVITO: “I was inspired by Charlie Parker and Dizzy. Max Roach was an amazing drummer. Early on, growing up in my formative years, Gene Krupa was my idol. I got to know Gene. He was a great guy. He came from a Polish family in Chicago who were very religious. And Gene was studying, at the beginning, for the priesthood. He was a sweetheart. A very nice man and they made him look like a dope fiend in the press. His band boy was going back stage or something and he had a couple of joints in his pocket and they said, where you going with that? He was a kid, you know. The press blew it all out of proportion.
“For me, the world’s greatest drummer of all time, as far as every drummer that ever lived, was Buddy Rich. Max was great, but Max was a little reserved. He was a more conservative guy. Whereas Art Blakey was a down-home cat.

“Then there’s Roy Haynes. You know Roy Haynes is ninety years old and still playing. Roy is a little short guy, shorter than me, and the world’s greatest dresser. Back then the guys had suits and ties and everything. We’d be standing out in front of Birdland. All the musicians would come over to Roy and say, hey – what you got on today? Where’d you buy that? Roy would look at them and say, well – there’s a place uptown where I purchased this suit. Look at this, he’d say. You like this shirt? Look at the collar. Back then, you know, we used to wear the Mister B collars. That’s what we called them. That referred to Billy Eckstine. I don’t know if you know this, but he was a great guy. I worked with Eckstine for a week, downtown L.A. at the convention center. That was a lot of fun. He was the nicest man. Remember Billy Daniels? I worked with him for a month or six weeks at the Stardust in Las Vegas.”

Dee Dee: I know Earl Palmer was a friend of yours.

FRANK DEVITO: “Earl Palmer! He got me started in the recording business. He and his wife had a beautiful home in Studio City. My wife and I had a house in studio city too and they would invite us over all the time. Red Callendar and his wife would be there. You remember the great bassist, Red Callendar? Red goes way back to the thirties. He pre-dated Earl. I was playing down on LaBrea for a while. There was a little theater where they did jazz. I was playing there one week with Buddy DeFranco and Earl came in. He was in the audience. I had never met him, but I had heard about him, of course! And he came around back stage later. Right away, we became friends. A very nice guy. No ego, you know, even though he was one of the top guys. Sometimes I’d be in a record date next to his” (in the studio next door), “and somebody would say Earl’s next door recording with so-and-so. And during our break, he would take me by the arm, up to the bandleader or the contractor, and introduce me. He’d say this is my friend Frankie Devito. You should use him in case I’m busy.
“Irv Cottler was a great drummer and he also recommended me for a lot of dates. The drummer who did most of the work for Capital Records was Alvin Stoller. Those guys were very, very busy in the studio. They didn’t travel. But I was young. So, if I go a call to go out with Frank Sinatra, I was gonna go. I had a ball. I toured with Frank Sinatra for three years. Then, when I was home, I got referrals and got to record in the studios. With Frank, we were at the Sands and a lot of weekends we were on the road. Guitar player, Nick Bonny was from Buffalo and worked with Frank about a year before me. He wasn’t on the record dates and I wasn’t on Frank’s record dates either. So, this one day, I go up to Frank. I said Frank, Nick and I would love to be on the next recording date. Next thing I know, we got the call. I got to play on the session when we recorded, Witchcraft and others on Capital Records. I was also recorded on the Live Album, Sinatra ’57. It wasn’t released on CD until 1999. Later, in the 1960’s, I played on “Summer Winds” which was part of the Strangers in the Night album. It was Hal Blaine’s record date, but he contracted me to play on a few tunes also. It was on the Reprise label.”

Dee Dee: What about Phil Spector?

FRANK DEVITO: “Yeah. I got to play with Phil Spector. Sometimes he had three or four drummers all banging away at the same time. Most of the time it would be Hal Blane, Earl Palmer and then the other guys played. Sometimes, I’d play percussion. On a record date with that crazy guy, Phil Spector, He had me playing castanets on his recording and he kept yelling at me, louder, louder. Consequently, the instrument broke, because it wasn’t made very well. So, the next day, I knew we were scheduled to do the same thing. I took the castanet home and tried to repair it and make it better. It worked so great after my improvement that I brought it down a week or so later to the drum shop on Vine Street. I showed it to the owner. He said oh, that’s great man. You should make a bunch of those and sell them. Years later, when I wasn’t that busy in the studios, I started to get busy into some of that creativity. It was nothing gigantic, but it was nice. I had a small company that made those, but I never let anything get in the way of my playing. It always came first.”

It’s obvious that Frank DeVito’s passion for his instrument came first. If you’ve heard Frank Sinatra crooning “The Summer Wind” or the Mills Brothers singing their 1952 hit record, “Glow Little Glow Worm” then you’ve heard the skillful accompaniment of Frank DeVito on drums. A percussive jazz icon, DeVito’s diversified talents also held the beat down for the Beach Boys on their “Surfin’ USA” record. He toured three-years with Sinatra and is on the 1999 CD release of the historic, “Sinatra ’57 In Concert.” As part of, ‘Baja Marimba Band’ he made ten television appearances on Johnny Carson’s legendary “Tonight Show” and he played with Herb Alpert’s famed, Tijuana Brass, on their, “Whipped Cream” album. Also, that’s him playing behind Cher on her hit record, ‘Bang Bang.’ He’s worked with everyone from jazz vocalist Billie Holiday to actress Betty Hutton; from Charlie Parker to Buddy DeFranco; from Nat King Cole and Nelson Riddle to Elvis Presley. I couldn’t wait to ask this legend what he thought about the jazz scene in Los Angeles today?

FRANK DEVITO: “Well, we’ve got all of these great young players, so many, but there’s not that much work. No place to play. We used to have all these places like Zardis and The Peacock and a whole lot of other clubs. At least you could get booked for a week or two. Jazz City was another club back then. There really weren’t that many players, but there was a lot of work. It’s opposite today. There are plenty of players and singers, but not enough clubs. And with the advent of simplistic music, popular on radio, like rock and roll and rap, that really helped to kill jazz.

“When I was coming up, teenagers did not control the business. My friend, Remo Bailey, who invented the plastic drum head; he’s gone now, but he said something very wise one time. He was talking about what happened to jazz and so forth. He said jazz had a certain amount of fans for many years and they were very devoted fans. But it wasn’t popular with the majority of American people. It’s an art form. When something came along with the rhythm section and the drums simplifying everything. He said, something came along that anybody could do. The Rock and Roll thing. It was simplistic rock. Boom-bap – Boom-Bap. It was simple. You didn’t have to be a great player to do that. It’s sad because it’s the only pure American art form we have. Also, what I am really unhappy about is that for so many years, our government never gave it its due. Let’s talk about the music called jazz and talk about the early jazz guys; Kenton, Dizzy, Bird, Ellington and all those creative people who came along. Our government ought to keep jazz on the airwaves and jazz ought to be played in the clubs. Let’s keep jazz alive.

See more at http://www.FrankDeVitodrummer.com

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BILLY JONES – 3’S A CROWD
Acoustical Concepts
Billy Jones, drums; EAST COAST MUSICIANS: George Young, alto saxophone; John Vanore, trumpet; George Genna & Mick Rossi, piano; Tony Micelli, vibraphone; Tyrone Brown, bass; WEST COAST MUSICIANS: Scotty Wright, vocal; Kenny Stahl, flute; Stu Reynolds, bass clarinet; Gary Meek, tenor saxophone.
Billy Jones had a concept. He wanted to record a complete CD by using the interaction of two instruments; his drums and one other. Thus, the title, “3’s A Crowd”. The ten songs on this CD all feature Jones and various musicians playing as a duo and feeding off of each other in the improvisational way that jazz music demands.
Billy Jones explained it this way: “The challenge now is to raise the drums from its traditional role of accompaniment, to that of partner to that other voice.”
Opening with George Young on alto saxophone, they have composed the title tune. This is an unusual concept album, deserving of a listen simply because of its unique nature. The first thing I noticed was that whoever mixed this project forgot to turn the drums up. After all, it is the Billy Jones project. There are only two instruments on every track, so why is it difficult to properly showcase the main artist? George Young’s saxophone and Billy Jones’ drum set are playful and engaging. They tease and mimic each other in the most musically prolific way. I enjoyed “Song for Meg” with Tony Micelli on vibraphone. Jones was very creative, although his percussive chops were totally outweighed in volume by the ‘vibes.’ Shame on the mixologist.

John Vanore’s beautiful trumpet on “The Call” encourages Jones to explore rhythm and he lays down an African 6/8 groove beneath the rich trumpet solo. Pianist, Mark Rossi, brings a more Avant Garde spark to light Billy Jones’ fire. This freedom continues when tenor saxophonist, Gary Meeks and Jones celebrate John Coltrane and Elvin Jones on a song titled, “For John and Elvin.” I was particularly taken with Stu Reynolds very creative bass clarinet duo with Jones. Vocalist, Scotty Wright, offers a “Chant of the Soul” that scats with the drums, a’capella and without words. As a vocalist myself, I know that was hard work. One of the few jazz voices I’ve heard who can do that successfully is Bobby McFerrin. Wright is up for the challenge and performs well in this unique situation.
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IGNACIO BERROA TRIO – “STRAIGHT AHEAD FROM HAVANA”
Independent Label
Ignacio Berroa, drums; Martin Bejerano, piano; Josh Allen & Lowell Ringel, upright bass; SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrado “Coky” Garcia, percussion; Ruben Blades, lead vocal.

Playing Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Evans drum heads and Vic Firthsticks, Berroa surrounds himself with outstanding equipment and musicians. Pianist, Martin Bejerano, has a terrific style and technique. He exhibits this on the very first song, “Alma Con Alma”. His arrangement flies speedily into a double-time, straight ahead excitement and this song introduces us to some of his talented group of musicians. Josh Allen takes an impressive bass solo on his double bass that sounds amazingly electric. Berroa’s drum solos, during a spirited cycle of trading fours, are impressive and energetic.
Berroa has chosen a repertoire from tunes that resonate with him from his Cuban youth in Havana. For years, the drummer dreamed about taking seasoned Cuban songs that he heard in his youth and reinventing them into straight ahead jazz arrangements. This project seems to have propitious consequences.
Drummer, Ignacio Berroa started exploring his arrangement dreams during his tenure with Dizzy Gillespie that began in 1981, when Berroa arrived in New York and joined the Gillespie quartet. It took decades of planning and growth to finally approach the moment of conception. Berroa maintains the integrity of each composition, reflecting his cultural roots, while using his sticks and brushes to paint every arrangement with straight ahead jazz and a colorful standard of excellence. This is an album of wonderful music and expressive musicians. Together, they cover the spectrum of Latin culture and reinvents it with serious jazz flavors, infused greatly by the stellar arrangements of pianist, Martin Bejerano.
Special guest, Ruben Blades, offers smooth vocals that glide atop Allen’s rich bass notes and enhance the “Negro de Socredad” tune, along with Afro-Cuban chants as background. Guest bassist, Lowell Ringel, offers an appealing solo on cut #6, “De Ja Que Siga Solo,” by Maria Valdes. Other favorites on this outstanding production are: “Los Tres Galpes” with the expert percussive addition of Conrad “Coky” Garcia and Berroa sounds amazing when he cuts loose on seven minutes of “Si Me Puderas Querer.”
This music is scheduled for an August 5th release.

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JULIAN GERSTIN SEXTET – “THE ONE WHO MAKES YOU HAPPY”
Independent Label

Julian Gerstin, tanbou bélé/congas/tupan/ percussion/segunda/percussion; Eugene Uman, piano/Nord keyboard; Wes Brown, bass; Ben James, drums; Ricky Aguilar, paila/shekere; Jesus Gonzalez, tumba/quinto/chorus; Philip Pasmanick, chorus; Anna Patton, clarinet; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn.

The notable thing that makes this music swing are the percussive accents. Mixed out-front & prominent, they drive this production relentlessly. No wonder. The star of this show is Julian Gerstin. It’s his sextet and he’s written every song and he’s the dynamic percussionist who adds the tanbou Bélé, congas, tupan and other percussive instruments to this self-produced mix. Instead of being just the salt and pepper on this hot dish of music, he and a few other percussion players become the thick gravy that soaks it with delicious spices and flavor. His trio is stalwart and I found Eugene Uman to be exploratory and interesting on his piano and keyboard solos. Anna Patton on clarinet seems to bring a Middle Eastern influence when I hear her solo work. She and Don Anderson blend their horns well, and Anderson’s trumpet skills are commendable. On the whole, this CD feels more easy-listening, World Music than jazz. The disconnect could be in the lack of strong composition skills. However, the participating musicians bring technical dexterity and energy to Gerstin’s recording session and on tunes like “Child Left Behind” they give it their all and cross the threshold of an interesting blend of jazz and Latin improvisation. Other favorite songs are “Apprendiendo Como Amar” with vocal chants that clearly define a melody. This was co-written by Phillip Pasmanick, who adds his voice to the track over a rich percussive background; and I enjoyed their interpretation of Gerstin’s “ Dig It Deeper”.

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CELEBRATING JOHN COLTRANE AND OTHER JAZZ INNOVATORS

July 18, 2017

CELEBRATING JOHN COLTRANE (SEPT 23, 1926 – JULY 17, 1967)
& OTHER JAZZ INNOVATORS
July 17, 2017
By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

On this day, July 17th, fifty-years after the death of our beloved jazz legend, John Coltrane, I wanted to review music that shines in the category of great jazz and music that applauds innovative artists. I was pleased to review DAVE LIEBMAN and JOE LOVANO’s new Resonance Records album, “Compassion – The Music of John Coltrane.” ARUAN ORTIZ brings Avant Garde arrangements to the table. The MICA BETHEA BIG BAND absolutely astonished me with arrangements that span the gamut of funk, fusion and Straight-ahead jazz and finally, DAVE STRYKER releases his 28th CD as a leader and celebrates jazz standards composed by Strayhorn, Wayne Shorter and more, arranging them in his own unique way.

DAVE LIEBMAN/JOE LOVANO – “COMPASSION: THE MUSIC OF JOHN COLTRANE”
Resonance Records

Dave Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones/C flute; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone/autochrome/alto clarinet/Scottish flute; Phil Markowitz, piano; Ron McClure, bass; Billy Hart, drums.

On July 17, 1967, the great John Coltrane passed away. It is appropriate to remember and celebrate his amazing talent this month, as well as his contributions made to jazz music and peace on earth. The thing that wrapped so many up in the music of ‘Trane’ was his ability to connect with us spiritually. He could transport us to a higher place mentally, spiritually and emotionally with his music. His style is still mimicked and contemplated today. Consequently, I was eager to hear what Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano had brought to their current CD release titled, “Compassion – The Music of John Coltrane.”

They open with “Locomotion,” from the ‘Blue Train’ Blue Note album that I used to own. Boy, did I love that album. “Locomotion” is propelled by an all-star rhythm section. Billy Hart’s drums are like a mix-master in cake batter, whirling the sweetness around at a relentless pace. Markowitz on piano leaps to the forefront, making extraordinary statements on piano and McClure on bass never waivers. His strong, solid foundation holds the rhythm together impeccably. Liebman and Lovano blend horns, similar to the Coltrane arrangement, then each one ventures out on independent paths of improvisation. I enjoy their tribute to Coltrane, but I have to say I truly miss the Lee Morgan solo sound on trumpet and Curtis Fuller’s stellar contribution on trombone from the original recording. Never mind! These two iconic players bring their own spicy reeds to the mix.

This album was recorded back on June 22, 2007 at the Clinton Recording Studios in New York City. The recording was made for a BBC Radio Program called “Jazz on 3.” It was a Somethin’ Else Production and recorded a decade ago to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Coltrane’s transition. Half a century later, his music is still alive, well and relevant.

Grammy award winning, Joe Lovano, expounded on the Saxophone Summit that first started in 1999 as a collaboration between him, Dave Liebman and Michael Brecker. They played in New York at Birdland, developing their repertoire as a group, with overtones and influence from the later period of John Coltrane’s recordings and freedom of expression. Perhaps he explained his fascination with the Coltrane era best when he said in the liner notes, “…the ensembles that he had and the way they played together … It wasn’t just what they were playing, it was how they were playing, and we tried to capture that. … “Locomotion” was one of his famous tunes … it’s blues with a bridge. It has intervals in it that are in a lot of his compositions. There’s a lot of spiritual things that happen that are very mysterious in Coltrane’s music.”

Billy Hart kept it simple when he proudly shared with interviewer Zev Feldman, “ John Coltrane is still my major reason for playing this music. He’s my major inspiration. We’re all just unbelievable Coltrane fans.”

Hart continued, “I was out in Los Angeles with Jimmy Smith, but I had the day off and I went to hear Coltrane’s band with Rashied Ali. The music was even a little advanced for me and when Coltrane got off at the end of the set. To my amazement, he walked over to my table. I was so excited. I can’t tell you. It was like my hero came and sat down. I never expected to have a conversation, but I said, John, your music is so advanced. What are you gonna do … about how people feel about your music? He said, you know, Billy, I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I know I can’t stop. And that was like a rally to me. … I began to tear. I felt like I was going to follow this guy to the ends of the earth. So, I said, John, you’re really beautiful. And he said, I’m just trying to clean up. You can imagine if you didn’t take a bath for twenty years how dirty you would be. I’m just trying to clean up.

“I just wanted to follow this man, and a lot of my training and self-study was to eventually play with him or somebody like him.”

You will find this CD a fine tribute piece to our great legend, John Coltrane. I enjoyed Ron McClure’s bass solo on the end of Olé. When he spoke about his love of John Coltrane, he remembered that ‘Blue Train’ album release in 1957. The one that greatly affected me. He was just sixteen years old and McClure says it changed his life. He said that album and Coltrane’s work with Miles Davis, from “Workin” to the “Kind of Blue” recording (another favorite of mine and millions of others), hooked him and helped to form a kind of concept of jazz for the young bassist.

Phil Markowitz expressed his opinion of Coltrane by noting that like the legendary saxophone artist, he too was in search of beauty and expression in the music along with the constant exploration of the unknown.
You can read various comments and quotes from this album’s participants in the small, CD-size, twenty-four page booklet included with this release and enjoy the photographs too. Perhaps Dave Liebman summed it up best when he said:
“To musicians of our generation, Coltrane raised the bar in so many ways. As a bandleader and improviser; technically, as a tenor saxophonist and in bringing the soprano sax back into vogue. … And, as so clearly evidence on this recording, as a composer who created improvisational formats that were constantly evolving and challenging.”

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ARUAN ORTIZ – “CUB(AN)ISM”
Intakt Records

Aruan Ortiz, solo piano/composer.

Free form; Avant Garde; these are the terms that come to mind as I listen to Aruan Ortiz performing solo on this, his second CD release.
From the very first tune, the left hand of Aruan Ortiz is playing as if it’s separate from his body; as if another pianist is seated at a different piano next to his. He keeps perfect time with that left hand, pumping out phrases, chords and rhythm, while the right-hand races over the keys, playing inspirational melody and unexpected chordal harmonies. You won’t find much to sing along with on this recording. Ortiz is exploring his inner feelings, using music as the translator. His CD is arcane and fat with phantasmagoria. Solo piano is demanding. His technique is obvious, but this is a piece of art that presents visceral compositions. The Ortiz eidetic music sounds like a film score.

On the fifth cut, “Monochrome (Yuba),” his technique is interesting as he strums the piano strings like a guitar. Although his first love was playing the violin, and later the viola, after winning several prizes for his orchestral viola concertos as a teen, he was drawn to the piano in 1992. At the age of nineteen, he buried himself in developing a piano style that blended his Cuban roots with his world travels. In Cuba, piano lessons were an obligatory part of music education, so he was already familiar with the instrument from childhood. In Barcelona, Spain, Ortiz garnered his formal jazz degree. His first released production was in 1996, recorded in Madrid and titled, “Impresion Tropical”.
According to the liner notes, “Cub(an)ism” is the result of an in-depth conversation with a range of musical idioms and styles, and various experiences from the phases of Ortiz’s life, in Cuba, Spain, France and the USA, which have formed his eclectic concept of music.”

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THE MICA BETHEA BIG BAND – “STAGE ‘N STUDIO”
Independent label

Studio Personnel: Aaron Lehrian, Piano/string synthesizer; Josh Bowlus, piano/Rhodes; Ryan Slatko, vides/percussion/piano; James Hogan, guitar; Stan “Piper” & Dennis Marks, bass; Terry “Doc” Handy, percussion; John Lumpkin, Jr., drums; Mike Emmert, bari sax/bass clarinet; Eric Riehm, tenor sax/clarinet; Jose Rojas, Tenor Sax/flute/clarinet; Juan Carlos Rollan, tenor saxophone/flute; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone/ flute/clarinet; Todd DelGiudice, alto & soprano saxophones/flute/clarinet; Gina “Badeedu” Benalcazar, bass trombone; Trombone section: Ryan Bricknell, Corey Wilcox, Lance Reed & Michael Nunez. Trumpet section: Greg Balut, Ray Callender, Jay Forman, Dave Champagne, Jonathan Ward & Robert Vandivier. Linda Cole, vocals.

Stage Personnel: Josh Bowlus, piano/Rhodes; Dennis Marks, bass; John Lumpkin Jr., drums; Terry ‘Doc’ Handy, percussion; Jonah Pierre, vibes/percussion; Steve Gallatin, guitar; Mike Emmert, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Jose Rojas, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Juan Carlos Rollan, tenor saxophone/flute; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Todd DelGiudice, alto & soprano saxohones/flute/clarinet; Gina ‘Badeeduh’ Benalcazar, bass trombone; Trombone section: Ryan Bricknell, Wyatt Thomas, Lance Reed. Trumpet Section: Greg Balut, Dave Champagne, Scott Dickinson, Jonathan Ward, Ray Callender. Linda Cole, vocals.

The first disc I listen to is the studio recorded big band. It opens with Herbie Hancock’s, “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” The funk leaps off the first tune like sweat from an active boxer. That bass guitar intro jabs you right in the face. Then the drums punch the rhythm forward and the horns fight back, in unison and harmonically, never giving an inch to the powerful players swinging on bass, piano, guitar and drums. Oh, that drummer who enlists the two and four beats like a Joe Louis knock-out combination, has my undivided attention.

The idea of merging contemporary funk-fusion jazz with big band arrangements was questionable in my mind at first, until I heard this marvelous recording. It’s well-executed, with phenomenal arrangements and distinguished players. That baritone saxophone solo by Mike Emmert is breathtakingly beautiful on Herbie’s tune. I was hooked right from the opening cut.

“Birth Rite” quickly becomes another favorite of mine. It’s a Mica Bethea composition and features Joshua Bowlus on piano, opening this arrangement like a Thelonious Monk composition. It quickly drifts into an ethereal space, becoming other-worldly with distinctive horn harmonies and descants. That lovely piano solo by Bowlus and the luscious arrangements on this tune unexpectedly pulled tears to my eyes. It’s a very moving composition.

“Tenderly” is beautifully arranged to showcase a swelling and rhythm that fuses it with Latin grooves, but still keeps the satin-smooth continuity of orchestration that makes big bands so exciting. Bethea’s arrangements are fresh, unpredictable and incorporate a taste of the old-school bands of the 1940’s with a fresh facelift, mixed with fusion funk that propels his music into the twenty-first century.

I’m impressed with Bethea as a composer as well as his arranging skills. He offers us comparison between a “Live” performance and a studio recording of his big band, including some of the same songs so we can balance our opinions of the band’s performance, using our own personal music scales. This is a double set recording with two unique discs. Everything about this music is enthralling and technically brilliant. There is such strength and power in this man’s arrangements. Then I read the bio on him that’s included in the Cd package and I see where his forcefulness and aggressive arrangements come from.
In 2005, Mica Bethea was driving back to his North Florida University in Jacksonville, when a big rig going 85 miles an hour plowed into his car. He was standing still, completely stopped in traffic. The result of this accident is that this amazing arranger/composer is now a quadriplegic. I only mention this because I believe it shows the character and resilience of this creative artist. This young music student had the courage and determination to return to school, three years later, and complete his Bachelor’s Degree and attain his Master’s Degree in Jazz. Both his parents were musicians. His father played trumpet and piano and his mother sang. His dad was also a radio disc jockey in the 70’s and Mica Bethea learned to love jazz at an early age. Proficient in both piano and saxophone, after the accident Bethea could no longer play, so he focused his talents on arranging and composition. He cites Gil Evans, Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer as big influences in his big band arrangements. He explained his project this way:

“This was a very interesting experiment. On the studio CD, I could control the environment and get exactly the sounds I wanted. There’s a very pleasing, almost pristine quality to it. But on the live performance, you can hear that the musicians are more relaxed and stretch out more. The sound isn’t as clean, but that’s more than made up for by the vitality of the performance.”

This writer can honestly assert there is not one bad cut on these dual discs. I spent all week listening to them with excitement and infused pleasure. Not to mention, these are crème-de-la-crème musicians who interpret the compositions and arrangements of Mica Bethea with memorable gusto. For example, on the ‘Live’ recording, the cut titled “Self Defense” spotlights John Lumpkin Jr.’s amazing drum skills and also features reedman, Todd DelGiudice. I love the guitar wah-wah pedaled sound in the background. There’s just so much to hear in this CD, like exploring a treasure chest. You just keep finding unexpected and precious gifts.
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DAVE STRYKER – “STRYKIN’ AHEAD”
StrikeZone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums.

Stryker turns out albums like Ford Motor Company rolls cars off the assembly line. This is his twenty-eighth CD as a leader and once again, he features some of his favorite players. I always enjoy guitar and organ trios. For a second time, Stryker has added Steve Nelson’s excellent vibraphone talents, expanding his group to a quartet. Their last recording together in 2016 was called Eight Track II and previewed a jazz approach to pop and R&B standard tunes from the days of Eight Track tape recorders. This time, Stryker leaves no doubt that he is all about jazz. The tunes he’s picked make that perfectly clear; Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”, Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower,” and Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring”. You will find this recording a laid-back, re-harmonization of these standards as only Stryker can do. He enjoys giving familiar compositions a make-over. For example, on the second cut, “Footprints,” he switches the time to 5/4 and opens with a 5/4 melodic groove to introduce this familiar standard. At first, it’s unrecognizable, but then the melody kicks in and you get a smooth jazz kind of arrangement. “New You” uses the chord changes of “There Will Never Be Another You” with a distinctly different melody. It’s a nice ‘Swing’ piece, played at a moderate pace, that Stryker has composed. I enjoy Jared Golds bass line underneath Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” and the Latin groove McClenty Hunter lays down on the drums. Very nice indeed. As always, Dave Stryker shines with star qualities on guitar. At the same time, he is generous with his other magicians, giving them plenty of room to spread their improvised solos around, sweet as jelly on toast. Stryker is a fine composer. Both “Shadowboxing” and “Strykin’ Ahead” are energetic tunes that leave plenty of room for exploration and improvisation, while showcasing Dave Stryker’s competence and aesthetics on his guitar. “Blues Down Deep” delivers on its promise.

All in all, here is an album, produced by Stryker, that genuinely supports the title of this project, “Strykin’ Ahead” and holds true to its presumption of straight-ahead jazz, creatively arranged standards, and well composed original music.
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WOMEN IN JAZZ BRING CULTURE AND CREATIVITY TO DISC

July 6, 2017

July 6, 2017

WOMEN IN JAZZ BRING CULTURE AND CREATIVITY TO DISC
CD Reviews by Jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

HYESEON HONG JAZZ ORCHESTRA – EE – YA – GI with Rich Perry & Ingrid Jensen
Mama Records

Hyeseon Hong, composer/arranger/director; Matt Panayides, guitar; Broc Hempel, piano; John Lenis, bass; Mark Ferber, drums; Ben Kono, alto/soprano saxophones; flute; Matt Vashlishan, alto saxophone/EWI/flute; Rich Perry, tenor sax; Jeremy Powell, tenor sax/clarinet; Andrew Hadro, bari/bass clarinet; Augie Haas, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Wiseman, Colin Brigstocke, Trumpets; Ron Wilkens, Daniel Linden, Ric Becker, Becca Patterson, trombones; EJ Park & Subin Park, vocalists.
Hyeseon Hong (pronounced hay-son-hong) migrated to New York City from Seoul, Korea pursuing an extended education in music education. From the ages of twelve to eighteen, she studied art in Korea, but that was her second passion. The first was music. As a child, her family realized she had perfect pitch and she studied and played piano in church and gave piano lessons to others when she was only nine years old. Her interest in music evolved to composition, arranging and a powerful urge to form and direct an orchestra. She could hear all the arrangements in her head.

Coming to America to further her music education, at New York University, she honed her composition skills and began arranging for her 10-piece band and gigging around the city. For a while, she returned to her native Korea and taught college classes. But she was bitten by the East Coast music bug. The energy and cultural diversity of NYC were infectious. Ms. Hong returned and over the past fifteen years, she has been a band leader/composer and arranger. This year, 2017, she was awarded a grant for this recording from the prestigious Aaron Copland Fund for Music. The results equal this work titled, “Ee-Ya-Gi.”

I was struck by cut #3 on this 18-piece, orchestrated CD titled, “Para Mi Amigo Distante.” It begins with Ben Kono’s reed talents singing the melody sweetly on soprano saxophone. Then, the Bossa beat kicks in, thanks to Matt Panayides’ rhythm guitar licks and the orchestra supports the haunting melody that Ms. Hyeseon Hong wrote with ebullience. She says it is meant to celebrate Latin America and others who feel misplaced in another country. This composition recalls traveling to foreign shores, making new friends, then leaving and how those friendships come and go; how they inspire us and make memories that are ever-lasting. I also enjoyed the jazzy “Friends or Lovers” arrangement, which leant itself to Swing and Matt Panayides, once again, showed great competence on his guitar.

Cut #4 follows. It’s culturally rich with Subin Park as guest vocalist, opening the piece singing in Korean. “Boat Song” also features the tenor saxophone of Rich Perry. He brings jazz to the forefront in a lovely, unforgettable way with the orchestra oily-smooth in the background, laying down a royal foundation for his exquisite horn solo. Then Park’s voice re-enters, like raindrops on the rooftop, tinkling a different sound against the orchestration and sometimes singing in unison with the orchestrated melody.

I met Ingrid Jenson in Detroit, while reviewing her with her own ensemble. She was part of the Motor City’s historic Free Annual Jazz Festival and boy, could she swing! I was absolutely blown away by this lady’s tenacity on trumpet. She mesmerized the audience. So, of course I was eager to hear her with this orchestra, in a totally different setting. On the last cut, “Love Song: Story of the First Love,” she plays a pretty, legato solo, but I felt that the piece did not allow Jensen to stretch out into a place of freedom and improvisation, the way I witnessed her with her own group. I found the orchestration somewhat confining and very classical in format. Ingrid Jensen was also featured on “Trash Digging Queen: Story of Nica, the Dog,” which I found to be a fascinating title. On this composition by Ms. Hong, Jensen was given a lot more leeway to pursue self-expression on her instrument. I thought Andrew Hadro’s baritone saxophone added great depth and interest to this piece, while Rich Perry’s tenor brought jazz riffs and spontaneity to the tune. But the composition itself, is a strange combination of marching band influence mixed with orchestral whole tones and repetitive harmonics that just don’t necessarily bring jazz to my consciousness. On Cut #1, that opens this project, is titled “Harvest Dance,” and seems to signal a World Music vernacular, with hints of Asian influence. It also features the trumpet improv of Ms. Jensen. Perhaps this song demonstrates the point of this CD project. It weaves various cultures and styles together into a cohesive world musical exploration. The artist previews her composition skills, as well as her arrangements of self-expression and beauty during this Hyeseon Hong production.

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PEGGY DUQUESNEL – “LOVELY SKIES” – Piano Orchestrations
Joyspring Productions

Peggy Duquesnel, piano/keyboard/organ/composer/producer; Steve Hall & Steve Donovan, piano; Jeff Lorber, Andre Mayeux, & Edo Guidotti, keyboards/organ; David Patt, Michael Higgins, Michael Thompson & Grant Geissman, guitar; Jimmy Haslip, Ernie Nunez, Gordon Rustvold & Dave Stone, bass; Jimmy Branley, Gary Novak, Dave Owens, Tony Moore, Suzanne Morrisette & Sinclair Lott, drums/percussion; Dee Dee McNeil, background vocals.

Starting with “Rainy Days and Mondays” pianist Peggy Duquesnel sets the smooth jazz groove for an exceptional album of easy listening, contemporary music. This CD contains sixteen songs that are well- produced. Some are familiar and even Ms. Duquesnel’s original compositions sound like songs we’ve heard before and are pleasant to the ear, like “Bird on a Leash.”

Her piano talents are like delicate touches on a table full of delicious songs. It’s her simplistic way of delivering a melody that makes listening to this production so compelling. You find yourself humming along with her songs after just one listen. The rhythm sections are strong and super supportive, with appearances by bass man and former member of the famed Yellow Jackets, Jimmy Haslett, and keyboard master, Jeff Lorber. Also, long time bandmate of Duquesnel is bassist, Ernie Nunez, who plays with gusto on several of her original song productions. You will hear some of the top horn players in the Orange County/Los Angeles area including Greg Vail on saxophone and flute, as well as Tony Guerrero and Ric Braun on trumpets and flugel horns.

“When I Think of You” is a catchy original written by Lorber and Duquesnel, featuring Duqeusnel injection of that funky, blues feeling on her piano. She has a happiness that radiates off the keys. To add to the magic, Lorber is a master of grooves and delivers his special talents on keyboards. I also enjoy Guerrero’s muted trumpet solo. All in all, Peggy Duquesnel shares her composer/arranger/piano and production talents with us, featuring the double fisted talents of several musical friends.
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MICHELLE BRADLEY – “BODY AND SOUL”
Merry Lane Records

Michelle Bradley, vocals; Art Fristoe, piano; Tim Ruiz, bass; Jerre Jackson & Richard Cholakian, drums; Andre Hayward, trombone; Shelley Carrol, flue/saxophone; Brennen Nase & Greg Petito, guitars.

Michelle Bradley has a soprano voice with a great deal of judder to her tone; an appealing tremor similar to Beyoncé, but in an operatic way. I enjoyed the arrangement of “Body and Soul” as a Bossa/Swing combination and featuring an impressive guitar solo by Brennan Nase. Bradley’s band is supportive and her melodic ideas are stylized and obvious in “Misty”, where the melodic liberties she takes are lovely and sometimes unexpected. I felt she was reaching for an identity during the execution of this song and I look forward to hearing more from this artist in the future. The first thing that caught my ear was that Ms. Bradley employs a very opera-like vocal quality to her interpretation of jazz standards.

Sadly, so many people think singing jazz is easy, but it takes a certain ability, just as it takes serious practice and technical skill to sing Opera. When Ms. Bradley tackles “How High the Moon,” Her rendition, falls short of the copy she implemented by mimicking Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “How High The Moon.” With her pitch and range, Ella Fitzgerald could have easily sung operatically, but her gift was that she could ‘Swing.’ Ella was a true jazz singer and you have to be able to ‘Swing’ to copy Ella. When Ms. Bradley repeats Ella’s ‘live’ performance of this song, she sings Ella’s improvised words “… We’re swinging it just for you …”. Unfortunately, Michelle Bradley does not ‘Swing’ and has not yet mastered the ability to ‘Swing’ the music. In her liner notes, I read that she is currently seeking jazz vocal coaching and that’s a good step forward.

In the same breath, Michelle Bradley has a beautiful voice and has made an impact as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City. Ms. Bradley also spent time as a featured singer at the legendary Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Bob Dorough was scoring a film and found a certain intoxication with Bradley rich, operatic tones. He and pianist, Art Fristoe, hired her to sing a tune he wrote with Fran Landesman titled, “A Few Days of Glory.” Bradley’s voice on this gospel tune, as part of the soundtrack, was released on Eulalia label and becomes one of her first recordings. She can only grow from this point forward.
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KELLYE GRAY – “RENDERING” ( A double disc release)
Independent Label

RENDERING: Kellye Gray, vocals; Pamela York, piano; David Craig, bass; Sebastian Whittaker, drums; Warren Sneed, saxophone; Andre Hayward, trombone.
STANDARDS IN GRAY Disc: Kellye Gray, voice; Dave Catney, piano; Tom Anastacio, bass; Sebastian Whittaker, drums; Warren Sneed, saxophone.

On “Don’t Explain,” the opening song on one of Kellye Gray’s dual disc set, the artist offers a compelling performance. Ms. Gray sings like she means it. She’s expressive and vocally demonstrative, using all of her range and power. This vocalist has a way of changing the melody of songs to suit her vocal arrangement. Most horn players and vocalists learn to sing the song down once as written by the composer, then improvise on the theme and chord changes. Still, the changes and melody adjustments sung by Kellye Gray are creative and not unlikeable. Jazz certainly gives you the freedom to find your own voice. That’s the whole point of singing jazz.

You can tell, this is a woman whose known pain, up-close and personal. It infects her vocals and colors her songs. One of the discs features a younger Kellye Gray, with dark, short cropped hair and innocent eyes. Her accompanying group on this CD labeled, “Standards in Gray” is stellar. Her interpretation of “The Island” is lovely. Although living for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area, this entire project was recorded ‘live’ over three days, at the Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, Texas; her hometown. It was recorded on two-track analog tape, what we call old-school recording and before Sibelius and ProTools were available. I am attracted to the rich, warm sound the engineer manages to capture on tape and it transfers beautifully to disc. There’s no overdubbing here. So, congratulations are in order to Kellye Gray and her band for their musical competence in recording ‘live’.

On “All Blues” her vocals sound like a trombone, instead of a human voice. Dave Catney soars on piano. For my taste, this is clearly the better jazz ensemble with Anastacio on bass and Catney on keys. They seem more cohesive. You can hear Kellye Gray’s style developing on this project, recorded over two decades ago. At times, I hear shades of the great Morgana King in her alto tones.
Kellye Gray paints “Morning” by the late, great Clare Fischer, with a familiar face, but adds her own stylistic coloring to this musical portrait. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is one of those songs sung often. Gray knows how to sell a ballad and puts her spin on the song. One minute, with sweet whispery tones and the next, with vocal crescendos that sometimes soar over-the-top. She’s appropriately or inappropriately dramatic, depending on how you look at it. This is a seasoned vocalist who offers you her fledgling talents on one disc and her current, more mature style on another. Her repertoire is rich with emotion and her vocals definitely pack a punch.
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KATHY SANBORN – “RECOLLECTING YOU”
Pacific Coast Jazz

Kathy Sanborn, vocals/composer; Keerthy Narayanan, keyboards/bass; Aman Almeida, piano; Abhinav Khanna, drums; Wayne Ricci, trumpet; Rocio Marron, violin; Vito Gregoli & Ciro Hurtado, guitars.

Here is a smoky voice, with Peggy Lee character and contemporary jazz arrangements She has composed all the tunes on this, her eighth CD release. In partnership with Narayanan, her producer, keyboard man and bass player, they have a finished product that’s polished and smooth-jazz-friendly.

Sanborn has a comfortable style to her voice, cozy, soft and sexy like a favorite cashmere sweater. You slip into her music and curl up on the couch. This is romantic music, not only the artist’s voice, but her accompanying ensemble make her compositions come alive. Her music breathes, whispers and flows. Her poems have been put to music. They don’t always rhyme, but they are prose that capture the moment and tell vivid stories. Each original composition flows into the next, like lovers, breathing as one. Kathy Sanborn was a 2015 American Songwriting Award winner.

Wayne Ricci is simplistic, but strikingly present on his trumpet as he improvises around Sanborn’s vocals. Pianist, Aman Almeida, is mixed perfectly into the arrangements and adds his attentive accompaniment in all the perfect places, cushioning her warm tones. There is something ethereal and captivating about this artist, about her band and her stories. The freedom they personify is striking, both musically and lyrically. The producer, and multi-talented musician, Keerthy Narayanan, is to be congratulated. Thanks to the combination of his talent with hers, you’ll remember the Kathy Sanborn sound long after the last tune has finished.
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KRIS RUSSELL – “DOWN IN BRAZIL”
A single release – Independent Label

As soon as you hear the first strains of Russell’s mellow tones, you think Michael Franks. I look for the writer’s credits, and Voila! Michael Franks.
Russell sounds smooth and comfortable on this contemporary arrangement of the Frank’s tune along with her “mystery ensemble” (as she refers to her band). They are more than ample and lay down a fat, well-produced track.
I think it is both unfortunate and disrespectful to record music and not give your band members credit. That’s how folks used to do it years ago, but that behavior is frowned upon today. With the vocal artist, Kris Russell, taking all the credit, it made me less inclined to give her any credit at all.

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NOTE: Kris Russell responded to my review and I was happy to post her response.

—–Original Message—–
From: Kris Russell
To: ddmcneil
Cc: kris_russell_
Sent: Mon, Jul 10, 2017 4:32 pm
Subject: Kris Russell Down in Brazil

Hello Dee Dee …..I appreciate the kind words about my new single and I would like to answer the critical part about my self and not naming the musicians on the CD ….and just let you know that the contract/agreement between myself and the musicians for Down in Brazil my new release calls for that. The musicians don’t want their names/and or credit on the CD..for now…and there are very good reasons why! You are making assumptions that you shouldn’t be making and I have done nothing wrong in keeping with what the musicians themselves want and what the contract/agreement calls for! I thank you for the opportunity to answer what probably will concern other reviewers too. I hope I have answered your concerns and questions? I would have given them credit if not for other circumstances that they and I know about! Sincerely Kris Russell

On Monday, July 10, 2017 9:02 PM, Dee Dee wrote:

Hi Kris,

Thank you for reaching out. Having been in the business for some years, I understand that contractually some musicians are not supposed to record outside their labels. Perhaps this is the situation. I’m really happy to hear from you and that you would happily give the musicians credit if you could. That makes me feel a lot better. If you like, I can post your response and mine on the website.

Kris responded: Yes.. that would be great. I knew from your years in Jazz that you would understand the many problems in recording that can come up. I’m following you at LaJazz.com on twitter also. Thanks so much! Kris

CELEBRATING INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED PIANIST, GERI ALLEN

June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017

CELEBRATING INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED PIANIST, GERI ALLEN:
June 12, 1957 – June 27, 2017

Geri Allen brought something fresh and exciting to the virtuosity of jazz piano. In a music world dominated by male musicians and record company executives, Geri Allen ranks right up there with trend setters and innovators like Herbie Hancock. Her style and technical skills were powerful. Once you heard this amazing woman play the piano, you would never forget it. She was fearless, energetic, freshly creative with ideas and harmonics that both startled and surprised her audiences. I had the honor of meeting this piano master once, when I was home in Detroit, enjoying the annual and largest free jazz festival in the country. She carried herself with an elegance in both dress and manner. I read that she assumed her stylish stage persona from tutoring by Mary Wells, whom she toured with at the very beginning of her dazzling career in 1982.
Ms. Allen is another one of the long list of astoundingly talented musicians who have received their early education at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. She was part of the Jazz Development Workshop, under the mentorship of our mutual friend, trumpet master/educator, Marcus Belgrave. Geri Allen graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies and promptly moved to New York City. She was a protégé of iconic pianist, Kenny Barron and later, attended the University of Pittsburgh, attaining her Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology.

With deep roots in Motown, and the Berry Gordy music magic that took the whole world by storm, Allen combined her love of R & B with her passion for jazz, stretching the limits of her instrument and her physical technique on the piano. She was a monster on the keys. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female pianist play with such exciting dynamism. Perhaps the only ones I could personally compare Ms. Allen’s talents to would be Nina Simone and Dorothy Donegan. Both of these valiant and earth-shattering talents brought the same vivacity, classical technique, cultural awareness and jazz innovation that Geri Allen brought to the stage. Ms. Allen, like Simone and Donegan, was always stretching the boundaries of her artform.

In the mid-eighties, she rubbed shoulders in New York with all the young, jazz, shakers and movers. Ms. Allen expanded her musical horizons as part of the Black Rock Coalition and the Brooklyn M-Base movement. During this time, she was part of collectives that featured Greg Osby, Gary Thomas and vocalist Cassandra Wilson, as well as Steve Coleman, who she recorded with on his first album, “Motherland Pulse.”

It took a German record company to be the first to offer Ms. Allen a deal on the Minor Music label. Her debut trio recording was “The Printmakers,” featuring Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille. You can hear her intensity and infatuation with rhythm on this, the first of her iconic works. Listen to her imaginative harmonics, in their developmental stage on this premiere album.

In 2000, Sitting at the home of Shahida Nurullah, a Detroit vocalist and music educator, I listened to Shahida’s featured vocal work on Geri Allen’s 1986 release entitled, “Open On All Sides In the Middle.” The arrangements were as stunning as the album title, incorporating both modern and Avant Garde jazz forms. It was this album that really peaked my interest into this phenomenal pianist. It featured a bunch of Detroit jazz players, including trumpeters Racy Biggs and Marcus Belgrave, along with bassist Jaribu Abdurahman Shahid (natal name, Ben Henderson) and reminded me of the freedom and master musicianship found in the Chicago Art Ensemble music. In fact, Jaribu Shahid would later go on to play with the Art Ensemble of Chicago in 2004. You can feel the energy dancing off this disc, propelled by Ms. Allen’s composition skills and challenging arrangements. This was her 3rd CD and perhaps set the precedence for what was to follow. Beautiful, sensitive melodies surrounded lushly by chord arranging that enveloped that beauty, while still leaving room for improvisational forays from Geri Allen and the other players. You Will hear her love of dancers, especially tap dancers, on both this record (ie: The Dancer) and later in her career when she featured dancers as part of her concert presentations. Allen believed in mixing artforms and fusing artistic talents. Listen to her song “Forbidden Place” to see how complicated and artistically challenging her arrangements were at an early stage of her career.

An album, “Twenty One,” released in 1994, was her third album for the Blue Note label, and was recorded with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Famously, they were an integral part of the all-star musicians holding down Miles Davis. So, you know, it doesn’t get much better than that! That’s the league of competence and respect that Geri Allen garnered. You can hear her growth in this recording, her tenth release in a string of art as valuable and rare as Tahitian, black pearls.

Geri Allen’s 2012 release of “Grand River Crossings” is another one of my favorite recordings, where she celebrates her native roots in Detroit. I reviewed and praised that recording for http://www.lajazz.com. Ms. Allen leaves behind a hand-print on the historic contribution of dynamic women in jazz. She will be remembered and celebrated for years to come.

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