Archive for the ‘CD REVIEWS’ Category

BLACK MUSIC MONTH CELEBRATES THELONIUS MONK AND MORE

June 13, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
June 12, 2017

THELONIUS MONK: “Les Laisons Dangerouses” – Double Set CD
Sam Records & Saga

Thelonious Monk, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums; Charlie Rouse & Barney Wilen, tenor Saxophone.

June is Black Music Month. On April 22, 2017, a limited edition, deluxe 2-LP set of never-before-released THELONIUS MONK music, the results of a French film soundtrack, made its debut. It was released as a vinyl, in celebration of Record Store Day. My hands were actually trembling as I broke open this CD package that became available for public consumption this month. I was full of expectation, excitement and anticipation of hearing something amazing by one of my favorite, iconic, American composer/pianists.

Monk’s film score accompanied a 1960 Roger Vadim French film titled, “Les Liasons Dangereuses”. It features Monk’s famous group: Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone, Sam Jones on double bass and Art Taylor drumming. Additionally, the French producer added the popular French, tenor sax man, Barney Wilen. It was Wilen’s old manager, Marcel Romano, that led to this discovery. Romano, who died in 2007, was the custodian of tapes by Barney Wilen. Marcel Romano is the man behind this project and well-respected in both France and the U.S. as a producer, jazz journalist and concert promoter. In his heyday, Romano brought many great jazz artists to the European public attention. The record company was looking for unreleased material by Wilen, the French saxophonist. Imagine their shock when they ran across some reel-to-reel tapes with the label in big bold letters, THELONIUS MONK.

“Rhythm-a-ning opens disc #1 with Thelonius playing solo, but soon joined by the swift, spiritual, virtuoso saxophone of Rouse. In liner notes, Brian Priestley recalls that Monk’s original release of “Rhythm-a-ning” was in 1957 on an album with Art Blakey. His solo introduction on this recording is a bit different. Monk seems to incorporate a piece of Mary Lou Wiliams’ composition, “Walkin’ and Swingin,’ “into the intro. Mary Lou and Monk were good friends and years earlier, Andy Kirk had recorded the Williams composition around 1936. Monk’s intro-lines sound very similar to one of Kirk’s melodic lines and this could be a cordial and creative nod from Monk, in appreciation of Williams, his friend and mentor, by using an interlude from Mary Lou’s composition.

This film score was recorded during Thelonius Monk’s prime in the late 1950s, when he was changing the concept of jazz and jazz piano. He has composed everything on this 2-record set, except “By and By” (We’ll Understand It By and By) composed by Charles Albert Tindley and arranged by Monk. In the studio, Monk was uninterested in observing any time constraints for movie scenes and unconcerned about the motion picture’s theme. He simply went into the studio and recorded three hours of unconstrained music. Later, it would take master editors and the film producer to patch and paste the music into perfect place.

Listening to Monk play the song dedicated to his beloved wife, “Crepuscule with Nellie”, is an experience of pure art appreciation. This double set CD comes with a fifty-six-page booklet that dissects the music with essays and opinions, and offers never-before-seen photos from the recording session at Nola Penthouse Sound Studio in New York City. It was recorded by engineer, Tom Nola, on July 27, 1959.
The songs on this piece of art are familiar. Thelonius Monk didn’t compose anything really new for this film. I was especially pleased with “Well You Needn’t” that stretched past the borders of predictability and into some new musical spaces and spheres.

All you Monk fans will enjoy hearing, back-to-back “Pannonica” played by this legendary pianist/composer, twice as a solo and the third time with his quartet. Blissful!

In 1951, the New York City authorities revoked Thelonius Monk’s Cabaret Card, which left him with six years of struggling to make a living, since without a card you could not perform. It’s said they claimed he possessed heroin, and that the charges were trumped up and false. By the time of this film scoring, the exceptional Mr. Monk was finally working again, non-stop, and had a six-month contract playing at the Five Spot in NYC. His “Brilliant Corners” album was receiving critical acclaim and at last, Monk was busier than he had ever been. At the age of forty, the prolific composer/performer won the coveted Downbeat Magazine Jazz Poll, beating out competitors Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Earl Hines. His manager at that time, Harry Colomby, says he was inundated with gig calls for his now super popular client. With everything going so well, as life has a habit of doing, the tables would soon be turned over, spilling success into the cruel carpet of circumstance.

In 1958, Jim Crow was alive and well, thriving on racism and inequality throughout the great United States. When Monk, Charlie Rouse and the Baroness, Pannonica de Koenigswarter (Nica) got into a car, leaving New York City for a gig in Baltimore, they hadn’t a clue what misfortune lay ahead. Monk was thirsty and they stopped for a drink at the Park Plaza Hotel in New Castle, Delaware. No one thought they would find the ugly practice of prejudice in Delaware. Not only were they refused service, the police were called, and the officers conducted an illegal stop and search, pulling over the $19,000 Bentley the trio was riding in and when Monk objected, he was beaten, handcuffed and tossed to the floor of the patrol car. The arresting officers were furious to find two black men with a white woman, and during their search into Nica’s luggage, they found marijuana and a bottle of pills. After this arrest and the ultimate release of Monk, after he paid a hefty fine, to make a bad situation worse, once again New York City revoked Monk’s Cabaret Card. Shortly after, Thelonius Monk was hospitalized with a complete mental breakdown and spent time in Rivercrest Sanitarium in Long Island. At this same time, his latest LP, “Monk’s Music” was listed as one of the five best albums of that year. So, this was the backdrop for his trip to France and his state of mind for the recording of this rare and sensitive film score.

There is one song on this CD that, until now, had never been studio recorded. A 2-minute-47-second rendition of “Light Blue”. It ends abruptly, as if a scene in the movie had faded to black, with Art Taylor’s drums slapping the listener across the face, in a beautiful way. The rhythm beneath the melody is oddly unique. You will appreciate the extended, fourteen-minute ‘live’ recording of Monk producing “Light Blue” and insisting on this very odd and infectious drum beat he fell in love with and demanded that Art Taylor keep repeating. Monk was captivated by his percussive riff. On Side two of this recording, you hear Monk himself telling his trio how and what to play as he arranges the tune on the spot. I feel like a fly on the wall at the recording session as the trio struggles to come to grips with the piano genius and his unique ideas. You actually hear their conversations and Monk’s insistent instructions.

This is a precious piece of history and a legacy to the composition and arrangement skills of Thelonious Monk. It’s a must for any serious jazz collector. Why? Because Monk transformed and injected this film and the resulting CD with a giant dose of Avant Garde creativity and individuality that allowed the film a legacy of brilliance. Now, I find myself eager to view the motion picture.

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THE NEW VISION SAX ENSEMBLE – “MUSICAL JOURNEY THROUGH TIME”
Independent Label

Diron Holloway, soprano & alto saxophones/clarinet; James Lockhart, alto saxophone; Jason Hainsworth, tenor saxophone: Melton R. Mustafa, baritone saxophone.

Frankly, I miss the piano, bass and drums associated with a standard rhythm section. I’m used to hearing a trio beneath most reed sections. The New Vision Sax Ensemble makes me re-think this premise. Here are four professional educators and musicians who formed an exploratory saxophone group in 1999, founded by the baritone sax player, Melton R. Mustafa. Their idea was to perform standard jazz songs that people know and love, but using only reed instruments. Inspired by the work of the 29th Street Sax Quartet and the World Saxophone Quartet, this coterie began gigging around South Florida and soon became one of the premier sax quartets in that area. They have perfected a ‘flair for entertaining’ according to their liner notes, and have mastered interactivity with their audiences.

Although their repertoire on this CD leans towards jazz, they are known to embrace classical, R&B, pop, Ragtime, Latin, Funk and even Spiritual music in their concerts. My favorites on this recording are “Round Midnight”, that is performed gorgeously and I didn’t miss the rhythm section at all. Additionally, I enjoyed “Selections from Porgy and Bess”, an eleven-minute exploration of Gershwin’s wonderful score from the theatrical and successful “Porgy and Bess” Broadway play. The CD release date is June 12th.

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JORIS TEEPE & DON BRADEN – “CONVERSATIONS” featuring Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson
Creative Perspective Music

Joris Teepe, bass; Don Braden, tenor saxophone/flute; Gene Jackson & Matt Wilson, drums.

Teepe & Braden crossed paths in 1992 and struck up a conversation that has lasted twenty-five-years. Consequently, the title of this CD seems quite appropriate. Adding two drummers to the mix, who contribute singularly on various tracks, these two jazz giants are often booked as the “Trio of Liberty.” Chick Corea’s original composition, “Humpty Dumpty” opens their CD and surprisingly, although composed by the esteemed Mr. Corea, I don’t miss the piano. Braden and Teepe are individually amazing musicians, and their interpretation of this song is interesting, creative and performed with improvisational ebullience. This is my kind of jazz, straight ahead, engaging and with each musician being a musical maven in his own right. Teepe and Braden fill up the space with sound and notes flying like meteors through the night. Joined by either Jackson or Wilson on drums, each song shimmers and shines, star-like, presenting ginormous technical ability and weaving familiar melodies in unfamiliar ways. The two old friends converse with their instruments. When one takes a breath, the other fills the space with musical anecdotes and stories.

Perhaps Braden explained it best by saying:

“Framed by rich and varied tunes, strong and supple grooves and emotional expression, the improvisations are really a manifestation of exuberant adventure for us. We create, exchange, explore and develop all kinds of ideas – melodically, harmonically, rhythmically, dynamically and more. …We really have fun while doing so.”
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June 6, 2017 – Tuesday

The Comey interrogation awoke me early this morning. The former FBI Director, fired by our 45th President of the United States, was giving his side of the contentious relationship he had with President Donald Trump and asserting, that without a doubt, the Russians are deliberately seeking to influence our country in a negative way. After that, I viewed nearly three-hours of Comey’s televised testimony before the congressional committee. Then, I put on Laura Campisi’s new CD to change the energy in the house.

LAURA CAMPISI – “DOUBLE MIRROR”
Independent Label

Laura Campisi, vocals; Ameen Saleem, double bass; Glanluca Renzi, electric bass; Greg Hutchinson, drums; Flavio Li Vigni, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Zach Brock, violin; Giovanni Falzone, trumpet; Jonathan Scales, steel pan; Martin Pantyrer, baritone sax; Vincent Herring, alto sax; Emilio D. Miller, percussion.

She has a little-girl, high-pitched voice that sounds innocent and vulnerable. Campisi’s style is unique and recognizable. She sings with a distinct foreign accent; one that I could not readily identify. On cut #3, Giovanni Falzone’s trumpet addition is sometimes dissonant to Campisi’s melody. His horn growls passionately in the background during his muted performance. Nevermind! Campisi is strong in her projection and pitch. She can hold her own. “Double Mirror” is her artistic debut, a recorded venture featuring her voice and songwriting skills. Her original concept was to keep the production simple and use just a trio for accompaniment, but she changed her mind. To reflect her new life, she uses two rhythm sections; one American and the other Italian. The trumpet, sax and violin players came later.

I learn, from the CD notes, that Laura Campisi arrived in New York City from Palermo, Sicily in Italy. She sings and speaks in English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Sicilian, Neapolitan and Punjabi. Impressive! However, I wish she had included her lyrics in her CD packaging, because I cannot always understand her words. I reach for my headphones to listen more intently. She has composed seven of thirteen songs featured on this recording. I’m enchanted with the World Music arrangements and her sparkling, crystal clean vocals that tinkle and spray the room with improvised sounds and lyrical stories. For example, on cut #8, “Nardis”, she mimics wild birds and restless animals before giving us spoken word over drums and bass. Enter a classical-sounding, electric bass and her song begins. She’s singng in tribute to “Nardis”, a miles Davis composition. After listening to her rendition, I played the Miles Davis arrangement featuring Hank Jones on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums. It was recorded ‘Live’ at the Village Vanguard and It’s miles away from her interpretation. On her recording, Campisi and the bass and drums play tag with their instruments, chasing each other playfully. Shei tells us it’s our lucky day because we are going to meet Nardis, who is like an ocean shore. As she begins calling him, the groove is set up and finally, after a prolonged introduction, she sings the Miles Davis melody, one time down and then it’s over.

On “I Love You Porgy” she performs with upright bass, electric bass guitar and drums, strutting her voice out front like a reed instrument. Laura Campisi incorporates jazz into a World Music Stage. Her music reflects her Italian roots, her love of Mediterranean influences and she spices it up with the South American music of Argentina. You see, she recorded her vocals in Buenos Aires, where she added stellar new Latin players to this project. Her rendition of the popular “Porgy” Nina Simone hit record is very emotional and she makes it uniquely her own.

Listening to this project, I hear shades of Rock and Folk music. The jazz comes in as an interplay between her band members, who find freedom improvising over her original chord changes and her vocals. Of course, improvisation is one of the most important elements of jazz, but I’m not sure this CD falls completely into the jazz category. On more recognizable and familiar tunes like “Love For Sale,” you can hear Campisi’s extraordinary ability to change the familiar into the unexpected.
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URBANITY – “URBAN SOUL”
Alfi Records

Albare, guitars/sitar; Phil Turcio, keyboards/piano/programming.

At the age of eighteen, Albert Dadon, known artistically as Albare, was in search of a pianist for his band. Phil Turcio took the job. They became good friends and musical soulmates, with their paths intersecting for the next twenty-seven-years. So it’s not surprising that they call themselves Urbanity and have recorded this project together. To promote this CD, they currently are touring the United States, however, they are based in Melbourne, Australia.

Utilizing keyboard, piano, synthesizer programmer, guitar and sitar, these two musicians have created a fat, smooth jazz sound. It’s hard to believe that just two musicians have put together such an orchestrated album of music, using drum machines and programming to set the grooves, embellished by their creativity, they establish repeatable and catchy melodic phrases.

Starting with “The Mind Reader,” they manage to present a medium tempo, danceable groove with the two and the four beats slapping like hand-claps on the drum programmer. Albare’s guitar work is outstanding and Phil Turcio compliments each tune with his keyboard and piano talents. He’s also responsible for the synthesized programing. “You’re in my Dreams” has a haunting melody against a backdrop of jazz chord-changes, with the programming giving the arrangement an ethereal feel. I was surprised when I realized that they use a line very close to the verse of Michael Jackson’s hit record, “I Can’t Help it”, written by Susaye Green and Stevie Wonder. It’s not enough to be accused of sampling the melody, but it tip-toes around the well-respected tune at certain unexpected places.

Another one of my favorite cuts on this CD is “Angie”, the only song written by other composers. (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards). It has energy and an interesting melody. Another favorite is “Something Sweet”. Urbanity’s arrangements are hot and this is easy listening R & B at its best, with jazz overtones.

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SMOKIN’ NEW MUSIC AND HISTORIC JAZZ CONVERSATIONS

June 1, 2017

CD REVIEWS ENCOMPASS HISTORY, PAST AND PRESENT
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

As June arrives, reminding us half a year is already gone, I am bombarded by new CD releases. Among the treasures and gems I’ve received are the Wynton Kelly Trio with Wes Montgomery, a never before released ‘live’ session recorded in 1966. You will read historic quotes, interviews and see memorable photos in the liner notes. Speaking of amazing jazz work, Jazzmeia Horn is a force of nature to be watched and listened to as she showcases her multi-talents on a premiere album titled, “A Social Call.” Then, easy on the ear, I listen to the silky, sexy-smooth vocals of Calabria Foti, and enjoyed the Larry Newcomb Quartet with legendary guitarist, Bucky Pizzarelli. The Quinsin Nachoff Ethereal Trio takes music into the stratosphere with avant-garde jazz mixed with classical substance. The Art Fristoe Trio is a double set CD, and is the off-shoot of a film score that Fristoe participated in as both thespian and musician. Read all about it!

WYNTON KELLY TRIO/WES MONTGOMERY
“SMOKIN’ IN SEATTLE, LIVE AT THE PENTHOUSE”

Resonance Records

Wes Montgomery, guitar; Wynton Kelly, piano; Ron McClure, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums.

What a thrill! I excitedly place this CD into my system and then settle back into the arms of historic, musician mastery. Somehow, this amazing ‘live’ performance by four jazz icons has laid dormant for fifty-one-years; over half a century. It was recorded at the Penthouse jazz club in Seattle, Washington, on April 14 and April 21, 1966. Here is a treasure trove of musical genius, clumped together, like your favorite dark chocolate and almond candy bar; packaged to please. It’s a sweet discovery and I’m absolutely enthralled by the music of men who have left us a legacy of non-replicable, jazz recordings, setting the bar high for future musicians.

Opening with “There is No Greater Love,” Kelly’s fingers skip over the notes lightly, creatively, in an upbeat, timely manner, pushed like a steam roller by Cobb’s drums and Ron McClure’s bass. It’s straight-ahead all the way.

The original Montgomery and Kelly group included Paul Chambers on bass, with Jimmy Cobb. All you jazz buffs know that they were the force de jour backing up Miles Davis from about 1959 to 1963. When Kelly and Montgomery first recorded together, it was 1962. The result was a ‘live’ album called, “Full House,” recorded in Berkeley, California. Just before this newly released musical exploration from 1966, they cut “Smokin’ at the Half Note.” That was in June of 1965. Shortly after that recording, Chambers left the trio and was replaced with Ron McClure, who was only twenty-four years old at that time. In spite of his youth, McClure had already worked with Buddy Rich, Herbie Mann and Maynard Ferguson. Ron McClure recalls how he met Montgomery and Kelly.

“I first met Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb and Wes Montgomery in the summer of 1965. I had listened to them from the time I was a teenager, but I had never met them or played with them until ’65. I was playing with Maynard Ferguson’s big band when I met them. We had a gig in Atlantic City. The billing was Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio and the Maynard Ferguson Big band was the opening act. So, of course, everyone in Maynard’s band was sitting in the front row of this giant club in Atlantic City, after our set, waiting to hear Wes, Jimmy and Wynton. They came on stage and waited, but there was no Paul Chambers. After a little while, Jimmy Cobb hit a few rim shots and with his Capricorn, billy-goat look, he stared at me, pointed at me with his drumstick and said, ‘Get up here’! It wasn’t a request. It was a demand. … He (Chambers) was in a very bad state at that point and died shortly afterward. … I had listened to Paul Chambers from the time that he played with Miles in 1956. … I digested every note on those records – like all bass players did – because he set the standard. He had the best circular looping time feel…. So, they could see right away that I knew what to play.”

Wes Montgomery first appeared at the Penthouse Jazz Club with The Montgomery Brothers in the summer of 1962. The next time he appeared there, it was 1966 and this recording was made. He was forty-three years old and his career was on fire. His Verve album, “Goin’ Out of My Head” had reached #12 on the Billboard R&B album chart. Yes – I said R&B Chart, not in the jazz category. It would later land a Grammy award in 1967, after selling a million vinyl copies. This achievement was Montgomery’s preface to super success.

Reminiscing about the band, Jimmy Cobb shared, “Wes was a nice guy, man. He was very comedic … like he would say funny things and do funny things. But he was a sweet guy. Wynton was also a sweet guy. So, we all got along together pretty good and the playing was exceptional for the four of us.”

McClure recalled Wes Montgomery’s generosity.

“Wes was like Santa Claus. He gave me the keys to his Cadillac Coupe de Ville on night. We were playing at Lennie’s-on-the-Turnpike, outside of Cambridge. I was talking to some girl I knew at the bar and he said, ‘Here Boom. Here’s the keys. Take her home in my Cadillac.’ … At that time, I drove a Volkswagen; a Beetle. The Coupe de Ville was like driving the Queen Mary across the bridge into Boston and back. I was terrified. But that’s the kind of guy he was.”

This album is pure pleasure! On “If You Could See Me Now” the gentlemen of jazz start out playing this great standard as a ballad, but before long, Wynton’s blues roots take over and Cobb and McClure push the trio tempo into a blues shuffle. The groove is as deep as a muddy Mississippi road after a tractor trailer drives over it. Then it turns sweet again, like magnolia blossoms floating on a Southern breeze. To end it dynamically, Kelly uses arpeggios, crescendos and the strength of mad technique.

Of course, Wes Montgomery puts his signature sound on everything and anything he plays. I love his interpretation of “O Morro Nao Tem Vez” with his staccato chorded melodies and impeccable timing. Wynton Kelly’s trio opens for Montgomery and then Wes is on-stage, adding zest and zeal to every tune. This album is inexplicably joyful and offers us a great listening experience, as well as a taste of history. The inside jacket includes great quotes and several memories and historic photos of these musicians, during their time of triumph. In my opinion, no jazz collection will be complete without this gem of a recording.
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JAZZMEIA HORN – “A SOCIAL CALL”
Prestige Records/Concord Record Group

Jazzmeia Horn, vocals; Victor Gould, piano; Ben Williams, bass; Jerome Jennings, drums/percussion; Stacy Dillard, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet; Frank Lacy, trombone.

The great Betty Carter must be smiling down from heaven as she listens to Jazzmeia Horn, singing her original composition, “Tight” played and sung at a speedy pace on Jazzmeia’s premiere CD release. This young voice is fluid, like her last name; “horn”. One minute she’s a beautiful bird, the next a cool breeze blowing notes into the universe like bubbles from a child’s lips. She’s buoyant, fresh sounding, spontaneous and fearless. I am her new, biggest fan!

On this recording, Jazzmeia Horn epitomizes everything a jazz singer should be. On the opening tune, she exhibits creativity, spontaneity and innovative timing. She’s free, playing with the melody and also scatting like an instrument. Jazzmeia Horn sets the bar high. On “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” her lovely voice sells the lyric above Ben Williams’ singular bass line that supports her melodic movement. I hear a lot of Betty Carter influence in Horn’s performance style, but she is definitely her own character and has established a signature sound. A signature sound is something many singers lack. That is to say, you will recognize this singer’s style and execution when you hear her again. Her range is as amazing as her carefully chosen repertoire. When Victor Gould joins on piano, along with Jerome Jennings on drums, the musical pudding thickens. Their musicality elevates the production. On this tune, I hear Ms. Horn add some of Sarah Vaughan’s signature riffs, like a warm vocal nod to the ancestors. I’m intrigued.

“Up Above My Head” is a Myron Butler composition and the ensemble flavors it with a hip-hop groove. On this song, Jazzmeia Horn slips in a riff that, (if I’m not mistaken), is from an Erykah Badu tune. Then comes “Social Call,” written by Gigi Gryce and Jon Hendricks. She establishes how jazz should be sung, with lyrics clearly enunciated and understood, and the bass racing double time beneath her vocals; impeccable timing. When the band joins them they slow it down for a second or two before racing back and forth between blues and double time; always straight ahead. Gould is tough as nails on his speedy piano improvisation, drilling into the melodic chord changes, like pointed steele. Now I hear shades of Dakota Staton in Jazzmeia Horn’s vocal presentation.

Tom Bell and Linda Creed wrote a great song when they penned, “People Make the World Go Round” for the popular R&B group, The Stylistics. Ms. Horn and her ensemble of innovative musicians arrange this hit song into a jazz treasure. Williams, on bass, sets up the groove. Ms. Horn begins to speak to us about the state of our world; starving people, corrupt leaders, our food being poisoned, the atmosphere full of unhealthy chemicals, police brutality, crime, junk food, mis-education, pollution, poverty, leaky nuclear plants and her lists goes on. Then the song begins with the spray of Josh Evan’s trumpet tones and Frank Lacy’s trombone notes; enter Stacy Dillard’s tenor saxophone protest. It’s very Avant Garde at first, until Ms. Horn settles them down with a lovely melody and the important lyrics floating on top. This tune glows and shimmers like a diamond in the sand.

Ms. Horn takes the African American National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and makes it a medley, adding “Moanin” to the presentation. They melt together seamlessly. And if you are still not convinced that this little lady is a force of jazz nature, take a listen to “The Peacocks (A Timeless Place).” If you’re a vocalist, tackle these intervals and sing this challenging melody without hesitation. This vocalist makes what is extremely difficult sound as easy as breathing in and out. Hers is a voice to be both admired and cherished for keeping the true jazz tradition alive. Her range is strikingly wide and she doesn’t hesitate to race up and down the scales, exhibiting her abilities with ease and at all the right places. She is also a poet, who interjects her poetic balm into our consciousness, for example, during the “Afro Blue” medley; ie “Eye See You”.
Perhaps Jazzmeia J. Horn sums it up best by saying:

“The concept that I wanted to present to the people – viewers and listeners of “A Social Call” – stems from the social issues that are alive today. This idea of the birth of a new conscious generation of people is very relevant and timely. It was imperative for the creative album art to reflect that of the creative musical art. A Social Call is a call in peace about issues affecting peace.”
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CALABRIA FOTI – “IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT” (THE MUSIC OF COLE PORTER)
Moco Records

Calabria Foti, vocals; Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Michael Patterson, piano; Richard Locker, cello; Jared Schonig, drums; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ike Sturm, bass.

Calabria Foti’s voice is caramel sweet, soft, smooth and delicious to the ears. She has chosen to purpose her talent by interpreting the music of the great Cole Porter. Here are several familiar and popular songs, stretching from the 1920’s to the present day, and still impactful all these years later. Ms. Foti recalls the days of West Coast cool voices, like Julie London and Chris Conner. But she doesn’t simply sing these songs. This vocalist puts her heart and soul into each melodic fairytale, convincing us of the storyline with honesty, sincerity and her beautiful delivery.

Opening with “Just One of Those Things,” originally appearing in the 1935 musical, Jubilee, Foti features a very tasteful Eddie Daniels on Clarinet. His delicate accompaniment blends perfectly with Ms. Foti’s eloquent execution of tone and pitch. He also solos on “It’s Alright With Me” (extracted from the 1953 musical, Can Can) and “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (from the 1929 musical Wake Up and Dream). Daniels is also prominently featured on “Night and Day” (extracted from the stage play, Gay Divorce) and once again on “Get Out of Town.” Foti and Daniels have a special musical connection on this project. Their unique instruments blend beautifully.

Calabria Foti sounds a lot like Diana Krall. I enjoyed her interpretation of “Anything Goes,” popular from the 1934 musical of the same title. Enter McChesney’s smooth trombone. It never gets in the way of Foti’s infectious vocals, but rather supports the vocalist, secure and dependable as a life jacket.

Richard Locker fools us with his solo cello work, bowing “My One and Only Love,” before Michael Patterson (who also produced these sessions) enters on piano, joined by Calabria Foti’s voice, alerting us that, in fact, this is the recognizable and familiar Gershwin tune, “I Concentrate on You.” Richard Locker’s cello is absolutely gorgeous as an introduction, and once again, the jazzy trombone accompaniment of Bob McChesney is attentive and masterful.

Because of the excellence of Ms. Foti’s vocals, I am absolutely intrigued by this project. The mix and mastering by Michael Aarvold is perfect and deserves complimenting because he allows us to hear the artist brightly, above the track, along with all the instruments cleanly and clearly, as though we are sitting in the recording booth. This is a CD worthy of extensive airplay on both jazz and easy listening stations. Calabria Foti is a force of excellence, churning with emotion, inside a very laid-back and buttery smooth performance.
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LARRY NEWCOMB QUARTET W/BUCKY PIZZARELLI – “LIVING TRIBUTE”
Essential Messenger Record Label

Larry Newcomb, elec. Guitar; Bucky Pizzarelli, acoustic archtop guitar; Eric Olsen, piano; Dmitri Kolesnik, bass; Jimmy Madison, drums; Leigh Jonaitis, vocals.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “Dick Hall was the first master guitarist I ever met. His influence was pivotal. We became bandmates, college roommates and lifelong friends. Dick passed away in June of 2016. I am inspired to express my gratitude for Dick’s musicianship, his friendship, his family and our mutual friends with this album – a living tribute to individuals who have had an immensely positive impact on me.”

“I Remember You” is dedicated to Dick Hall in the liner notes and is presented with a very Dixieland, 1940s themed production, with Pizzarelli strumming his acoustic archtop guitar and Newcomb, playing the melody brightly on his electric axe.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “I remember first meeting Dick Hall at the University of Main in 1970. The keyboardist in my college rock band said, there’s someone you must meet! He took me to Dick’s dorm room. When the door opened, there stood a lanky Abe Lincoln look-alike wearing corduroy pants with the wale worn off at the knees. … I thought to myself, I like this guy. He’s different. He’s himself!”

“You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” is dedicated to Jim Hall and continues with the same shuffle, two-step kind of dance feel.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “After hearing Jim’s version of this Cole Porter gem, I knew I wanted to be a jazz guitarist.”

Continuing with a shuffle feel and featuring the strong, walking-bass of Dmitri Kolesnik, the ensemble plays “Morningside Heights” next. It’s a tribute to the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli.

LARRY NEWCOMB:
“From 2000 – 2015, my wife Mary and I lived in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City, adjacent to Columbia University. Having heard Bucky ‘live’ in Florida in the 1980s, I aspired to study guitar with him. As a favor, Ed Benson, (publisher of Just Jazz Guitar) contacted Bucky to inquire if I might call to set up a lesson. Bucky said yes. I rented a car and drove to New Jersey for my first of many lessons. Bucky makes the complex and difficult techniques of jazz guitar understandable and playable. … I am always delighted with the things Bucky shows me. Recording with Bucky has been a fabulous experience.”

There is a song for everyone here. The listening audience, Newcomb’s three sons (Jonah, Jake & Ian), his wife, family and friends. There is a Horace Silver tune titled, “Peace” that’s dedicated to Prem Rawai, who taught Larry Newcomb how to find inner peace.

LARRY NEWCOMB: “…For the past forty-five years, I’ve imperfectly, but constantly practiced connecting to the stillness, clarity and joy inside of me.”

You too will connect to the joy and clarity inside Pizzarelli and Newcomb’s album of excellence. The quartet is tight and you can feel the camaraderie between the players. Newcomb celebrates the lives of those he treasures with several self-penned compositions and a hand-full of standard jazz tunes. I was deeply appreciative of his arrangement on “Alone Together.” This “Living Tribute” album is scheduled for release on June 2, 2017.
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QUINSIN NACHOFF’S ETHEREAL TRIO

Whirlwind Recordings

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/composer; Mark Hellas, double bass; Dan Weiss, drums.

Nachoff’s tenor saxophone enters sweetly, and for a moment you think this is going to be a ballad. As drummer, Dan Weiss’s mallots join in, you feel the momentum picking up. Then Mark Hellas makes a brief solo appearance on bass, soaking up the spotlight like a black hole in space. Suddenly all the star players are joined together, an asterism against the midnight hour of my bedroom. Their notes melt together, like a constellation of beauty. Quinsin Nachoff, Mak Hellia and Dan Weiss perform forty-three minutes of free-form jazz expression and classical-avant-garde.

Nachoff is a New York-based transplant from Canada who explained this project in his linear notes.

“I enjoy writing this way. … It gives me two distinct voices that I can really work with. As a bassist, Mark Helias is such an experienced musician, I can compose harmonically or contrapuntally and he always expands it to such an extent that we’re never missing harmony. If we play in more of an open setting, it leaves us more freedom. Don Weiss is a master of dealing with anything rhythmically, so he can be very free within, even something very structured. All three of us love to investigate different colors and extended techniques. so many different directions are possible. Once we’ve understood what the direction is for each composition, that’s when the magic starts to happen.”
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ART FRISTOE – “DOUBLEDOWN”

Merry Lane Records, LLC

Art Fristoe, piano; Tim Ruiz, bass; Daleton Lee & Richard Cholakian, drums; Ilya Janos, percussion.

J.W. Peine, co-producer and executive producer, admits that although this recording had been in the planning stages for some time, he had no idea it would evolve as part of an Art-House film that he, Daniel Jircik and Bob Dorough were making. The film is described as a fantastical musical about the nature of everything. Art Fristoe was invited to become part of the cast and to add his piano and vocal talents. Fristoe’s size is compelling. He is physically six-feet-six-inches with huge hands and his presence in any room is formidable. He’s a serious student of jazz history, jazz knowledge and has studied classically as a vocal tenor, later focusing on jazz piano. As an educator, Fristoe taught at HSPVA (Houston High School for Performing and Visual Arts). He comes from a proud, hard-swinging West Texas tradition, as son of jazz bassist, Joe Fristoe.

Art Fristoe has composed five tunes on this double set of music and utilizes two different drummers at various sessions along with a percussionist on tunes like Jobim’s, “Ela E Carioca.” His original compositions appear to reflect tricks of time and tempo. For example, on “Forgetting I knew You,” this song seems to explore bars of seven more readily than a melody. However, on his original composition, “Better Lately,” he settles down to sing the song on black and white keys, with a solo piano rendition that is beautiful and heartfelt. I missed a definitive drummer in his trio, setting a solid groove to support Fristoe when he’s exploring his creativity. At other times, I found his piano-playing-style assertive to the point of pounding. Some tunes on this CD quickly become lack-luster, because of repetitive chording and very little improvisational exploration. On the whole, perhaps the music would be better appreciated by this journalist in the context of the film.
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ASTUTE ARRANGING AND EXCITING YOUNG TALENT SURFACES ON SPRING CD RELEASES

April 21, 2017

ASTUTE ARRANGING AND EXCITING YOUNG TALENT SURFACES ON SPRING CD RELEASES

April 22, 2017
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CHRISTIAN SANDS – “REACH”
Mack Avenue Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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MARCH GOES OUT LIKE A LION & MUSIC MARCHES STRONGLY INTO SPRING

March 21, 2017

By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

March 21, 2017

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

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

MICHAEL RABINOWITZ – “UNCHARTED WATERS”
Catz Paw Records

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

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

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ALMA MATTERS
Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LUKE SELLICK – “ALCHEMIST”
Cellar Live Recods

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

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

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

March 4, 2017

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

March 3, 2017

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

BILLY CHILDS – “REBIRTH”
Mack Avenue Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ENDEMIC ENSEMBLE – “TANGLED”
Opus Funkus Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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STEVE KHAN – “BACKLOG”
ToneCenter Records

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

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

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

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

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

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WINTER WEATHER: TIME TO WARM UP WITH HOT JAZZ MUSIC

February 2, 2017

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
February 2, 2017

VOCALISTS, TUBA PLAYERS & ABSTRACT PRODUCTIONS SURPRISE ME

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

BOB HOLZ – “VISIONS & FRIENDS”
MVD Records

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

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

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SIDNEY JACOBS – “FIRST MAN”
Baby Chubs Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are looking for a fresh approach to jazz and the classics, you will find this project both defineably different and strangely beautiful.
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A NEW YEAR UNLEASHES INVENTIVE COMPOSERS AND CREATIVE LYRICISTS

January 4, 2017

January 4, 2017
CD Reviews by jazz journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

As the New Year rolls into town with bells and whistles, a few new CD releases offer an ear full of creative composing and arranging. Among them are RON BOUSTEAD with his be-bop vocals and exciting lyrics, LISA HILTON as a prolific composer and pianist, along with DAVID WISE, another fresh composer and jazz saxophonist. CHRIS ROGERS woo’d me with his Straight-ahead compositions and master band. Each offers a specific style and invites us into their world of songwriting, poetic license and self-proclaimed composition and arranging talents. Here’s my take on them.

RON BOUSTEAD – “UNLIKELY VALENTINE”
Art-Rock Music

Ron Boustead, lyricist/vocals; Bill Cunliffe, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ; Mitchel Forman, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ/accordion; John Leftwich, acoustic bass; Jake Reed, drums/percussion; Pat Kelley, acoustic and elec. Guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxes/flute; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ron Stout, flugal horn; Fabiana Passoni, guest vocalist.

One thing that has been missing or limited from the jazz scene is a male vocal in the style of Jon Hendricks. On the first cut, Boustead offers the listener some extraordinarily creative lyrics, sung in a swift-paced, be-bop style. It conjures up the image and artistry of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. The following song is familiar, picked from the 1950s Era of doo-wop records popularized by crooner groups with eccentric stories, like “Love Potion #9.” This hit record was originally recorded by The Clovers. Several others covered this song, but I remember the Clovers rendition the best. Boustead’s arrangement is quite jazzy and far from the R&B roots of this Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber composition, thanks to the creative Bill Cunliffe arrangements. “Coffee” is a lovely ballad extolling the plea of a gentleman asking someone out for a frothy latté or a cup of French Roast. Boustead’s lyrics are believable and compliment these melodies rhythmically. He exhibits a songwriting gift to be admired. “I Won’t Scat” shows me that indeed, he has studied the vocal somersaults of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, because he mentions them in this catchy tune with comedic poetry that pokes fun at ‘scatting.’ The addition of a B3 organ to this tune lifts it to another degree of hotness. An example of Boustead’s unique lyrical composing is in the ‘hook’ of this song.

“… I won’t scat, tell you flat, off the bat, Keep my hat, kiss a rat, but not that .. I’m just not that cat…”

Surrounded by arrangers that push the boundaries of jazz like Mitchel Forman, Bll Cunliffe and Pat Kelley, Boustead basks in their rich glow. Together they bring new perspectives to old standards like “Autumn Leaves” and, as mentioned above, the Rhythm and Blues tune, “Love Portion #9”. The band is tight, supportive and features some of the best musicians that Los Angeles has to offer. Ron Stout sounds amazing and engages us on his flugelhorn during a provocative solo on, “Love’s Carousel.”

I find Ron Boustead totally engrossing and fresh. Some shades of Dave Frishberg dance in these catchy lyrics, but Boustead’s voice is a lot smoother and less nasal. He’s pleasant to the creative palate and tasty with his honest, sometimes spicy, poetic stories. This album is scheduled for a Valentine’s Day release and would make a sweet surprise for you or your loved one.
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LISA HILTON – “DAY & NIGHT”
Ruby Slippers Productions

Lisa Hilton, Steinway & Sons piano. Al Schmitt & Gavin Lurssen, GRAMMY award winning engineers.

A solo performance of any kind leaves an artist totally vulnerable and objectifies their art to the eyes of the public. It takes a very talented and confident artist to record a complete album as a soloist. In the spotlight, Lisa Hilton blossoms, presenting us with a package of original compositions that, she explains in her liner notes, are a tribute to one of her favorite composers; Cole Porter. Thus the title tune, “Day and Night” referencing in a round-about way Porter’s famed song, “Night and Day”. In her own words, Hilton describes the song as “… my commitment to discover and savor every day moments; to see the beauty in a day from the first glow of sunrise to the dimming sky at sunset, and to acknowledge and share these rich times with others.”

Hilton’s work is steeped in classical music, obvious right from the very first original composition, “Caffeinated Culture.” She has composed nine of ten songs, including one Cole Porter standard, “Begin the Beguine.” On “Sunrise” you can hear her blues roots. Although hugely inspired by Cole Porter, Hilton admits she is also influenced by jazz pianist/composers Horace Silver and Count Basie, as well as Blues by B.B. King and Brownie McGhee. You can hear Latin influences in her solo piano during cut #6 titled, “A Spark in the Night.” It brandishes a memorable melody and two-handed rhythms that encourage the feet to pat or dance a tango. Unafraid of the treble register, her fingers race around the 88-keys, demanding the best from all the notes, with special attention to the upper ends, especially notable on “Seduction.” “Dark Sky Day” is unforgettable and sexy, with smooth key changes, blues undertones and a beautiful melody that pleads for lyrics.

As an independent artist, Hilton has produced and released a total of nineteen albums. When not tickling the Steinway keys and playing solo piano, or working on her original compositions, you will find Lisa Hilton collaborating with such jazz luminaries as Christian McBride, Sean Jones, Marcus Gilmore, Lewis Nash, Billy Hart and many other jazz notables on various music projects. However, if you are a lover of piano and originality, here is a lovely album to add to your collection.
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DAVID WISE – “TILL THEY LAY ME DOWN”
Independent Label

David Wise, tenor and baritone saxophone/vocals on track 8 & 9; Bruce Forman, guitar; Alex Frank, bass; Jake Reed, drums; Special Guests: Mitchell Cooper, trumpet; Glenn Morrisette, alto sax; R.W. Enoch, tenor sax; Amy K. Bormet, keyboard; Mikala Schmitz, cello; Jason Joseph & Laura Mace, vocals; Josh Smith, guitar.

The opening song, “What More Could One Man Want?” is an original composition sung by special guest Jason Joseph. It’s dirge-like in feel and harmonic changes. I can almost see a New Orleans funeral procession marching slowly down a Louisiana avenue playing this catchy melody and celebrating the life of some departed soul. The lyrics have nothing at all to do with my reflection, but that’s how the music itself moved this listener. I thought it was beautifully mournful. Josh Smith, on guitar, performs an unforgettable and electric solo. The horn arrangements share the harmonic spotlight and feature some special guests who only appear on that particular cut including Cooper, Morrisette, Enoch and Bormet. The Wise composition, “Sylvia,” uses the same one-line melody as “I Love You Porgy” to open the verse. It’s a pretty ballad, but I wonder if he realizes he borrowed that well-sung line from the Porgy and Bess song? “Here’s That Rainy Day” swings, as does Alex Frank, who plays a powerful walking bass to keep the groove intact.
There is a touching sadness to all of the Wise original tunes, buried in his arrangements like tears flowing from woeful eyes. For example, the ballad, “Home” has lovely changes, but wreaks of blues. Nothing wrong with blues! I love a good blues and Wise flies through this song on his saxophone with emotion and admirable technique. Bruce Foreman’s guitar solo on this gutsy tune is lovely. They work together quite well, Forman being professor of jazz guitar at the University of Southern California and touring regularly with David Wise as a part of the “Cow Bop” group that Forman leads. “Kol Nidre” is a traditional Jewish song celebrating Yom Kippur and Wise takes an opportunity to play it solo on his baritone saxophone. “Till They Lay Me Down” is another blues tune that Wise explains, “ means that for as long as I’m here, I’ll be me and I’ll carry, as a part of me, every single person I’ve ever met and every single thing I’ve seen heard, smelled, tasted and done. You know who you are.”

Wise sometimes has a gritty, breathy signature sound on his horn and his band brings out the best of his compositions. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, Wise received a Bachelor of Arts from Oberlin College in African-American Studies, as well as a Bachelor of Music from Oberlin Conservatory in Jazz Saxophone Performance, and was mentored by Gary Bartz. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
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CHRIS ROGERS – VOYAGE HOME
Art of Life Records, LLC

Chris Rogers, trumpet/keyboards/composer; Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; Ted Nash, tenor & alto saxophone; Steve Khan, guitar; Xavier Davis, piano; Jan Anderson, bass; Steve Johns, drums; Guest Musicians, Barry Rogers, trombone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax; Art Baron, trombone. Additional musicians: Mark Falchook, synthesizer/keyboards; Willie Martinez, congas/percussion.

From the first flowing notes of a tune called, “Counter Change,” I was in love with this album of straight-ahead jazz featuring original compositions by Chris Rogers. Rogers not only has composed all nine songs on this project, he has also arranged them. The late, great Michael Brecker made a guest appearance on the first and third track, (“Whit’s End”) and is stellar on both. A flurry of bass notes open the premiere tune and bassist, Jan Anderson, definitely snatches my attention. Pianist Xavier Davis adds solid support to the rhythm section throughout and his solo on this cut soars. “Voyage Home” is sexy and blue, with Ted Nash adding his own creative saxophone licks on this arrangement and Rogers selling the lovely melody with trumpet bravado. I enjoyed the way Rogers and Nash interacted with each other on the fade, offering a sense of freedom with their splendid improvisation. The horn harmonics and arrangements on “Ballad for B.R.” are lush and enhanced the melody sweetly. Willie Martinez’s percussion on cut #6, “Rebecca,” added spice and excitement to this composition, as did Steve Khan’s rhythm guitar. The Afro Cuban flavor infused this project, lifting it to another dimension. I enjoyed every song Rogers composed and his bandmates interpret his artistry to perfection.

The liner notes explain that Rogers celebrates his multiple families by creating this musical treasure. His father is a legendary Salsa and jazz trombonist, (Barry Rogers), and consequently his son was exposed to excellent music and musicians his entire life. These artists included the Brecker Brothers, who his dad played with during their jazz fusion ensemble, ‘Dreams’. For his premiere recording, Chris Rogers has surrounded himself with some of the best musicians the East Coast has to offer and they become his extended family. On this journey to becoming a solo artist, he has wandered a musical path that put him on stages and in studios with icons like Chaka Khan, Mongo Santamaria, Maria Schneider, Ray Barretto, Lee Konitz, Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Eddie Palmieri and Gerry Mulligan. I had never heard of this talented trumpeter before this recording, but I will be listening for him from this moment forward. Here is a conglomerate of great music to be enjoyed over and over again. The Chris Rogers album is scheduled for a February 3 release.
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RACING “STRAIGHT-AHEAD” INTO THE NEW YEAR – CD REVIEWS

December 14, 2016

RACING “STRAIGHT-AHEAD” INTO THE NEW YEAR – CD REVIEWS
By jazz journalist – Dee Dee McNeil

STEVE SLAGLE – “ALTO MANHATTAN”
Panorama Records

Steve Slagle, alto saxophone/flute; Lawrence Fields, piano; Gerald Cannon, bass; Roman Diaz, congas; Bill Stewart, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone (1 & 7 track)/G mezzo soprano sax (8)

The title of this latest Slagle CD release, “Alto Manhattan” translates to the ‘Upper Manahattan’ neighborhood of New York City, and is a slang by the Latino community to depict ‘the Heights’. Slagle has called this area home for the past twenty years. The drums propel his first cut with hurricane force. Bill Stewart on trap drums and Roman Diaz on congas light fire under this sextet. Lawrence Fields is no slouch on piano. His harmonics and comping chords punch the rhythm with a force that matches the power of Cannon on bass. You can really hear them merge and become the adhesive that holds the rhythm section tightly in place on the title tune, “Alto Manhattan”. There is all the NYC energy and magnificence wrapped up in this Slagle composition.

I was wow’d by the first take, but later on down the line, they add Joe Lavano to the mix and cut this tune again. It’s powerful both times. Slagle gives his band a break and records his own rendition of “Body & Soul,” simply solo. Playing a’cappela makes a memorable, musical statement. This tune and another one of my favorites, “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” are the only two songs that are not composed exclusively by Slagle. I enjoyed his bluesy take on “I Know That You Know,” where Cannon took an opportunity to give us a creative and gutsy bass solo. “Inception” is another straight-ahead, original composition and favorite of this reviewer. Each musician takes a definitive solo-space to splash their creativity across the space canvas. Yes! Here is an album of jazz I will play over and over again.
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LAURA DUBIN TRIO – “LIVE AT THE XEROX ROCHESTER INTERNATIONAL JAZZ FESTIVAL”
Independent Label

Laura Dubin, piano; Klaran Hanlon, bass; Antonio H. Guerrero, drums

Here is a live recording that reflects the mastery and high energy of three awesome musicians and places the listener, thanks to the incredible ‘mix’ job, in the front row of a concert production. I was enraptured by their sound and Dubin’s notable technique, beginning with the Steve Allen composition, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” Right away, Laura Dubin establishes her breadth of power and musical persuasion. She has a light touch, never ignoring the piano’s treble register, but she’s powerful at the same time. This standard jazz tune is played at a clipping pace. Ms. Dubin jogs across the black and white keys to establish the catchy melody and then plunges into improvisation with style and creativity. The trio’s excellence continues non-stop. “Thunderstorm” features Dubin’s compositional skills and is beautiful, forceful and well-written. Hanlon on bass and Guerrero on drums are the perfect partners for interpreting her music and establishing a trio sound that mirrors the perfect trine. Per the title, this composition sounds like a thunder and lightning experience thanks to the astute attention to detail of Guerrero, on trap drums, as well as Hanlon’s solidity on bass. You can enjoy Halon’s solo and get to know him better on “Ode to O.P.”, another Dubin original that really swings. Everything on this recording rewards our ears and places the big “S” firmly in grooves that “Swing” non-stop. Bravo! This is a concert you will want to attend over and over again. By the Way, this is a two-disc recording that includes a taste of the jazz festival on video and press photographs.

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EL TORO – “ZARABANDE”
Independent Label

El Toro (Alfred Flores), marimba/malletKat/producer; Joe Caploe, vibraphone/percussion; Mark Little, piano; Pete Ojeda, bass; Dean Macomber, drums.

Mark Little’s grand piano chords are solid, demanding and grand. They take stage front immediately, from the first bar of the first track of this CD. This group is forceful and jazz is at the forefront, in-your-face and fearless. When the vibraphone arrives, like the pulsing hooves of “El Toro”, the mood changes from straight-ahead to Latin. El Toro’s marimba mallets fly and we are off and running. The vibraphonist, Joe Caploe has composed the first tune and two others on this production. From the very first composition, I am hooked. Pianist, Mark Little, has composed all the other songs. El Toro, (Alfred Flores) is a force to be reckoned with on Marimba and MalletKat, pulling from West African cultures and Latino roots. On the Title tune, “Zarabande,” Dean Macomber gets to showcase gargantuan talents on drums. On the third tune, “The West Wind,” the music changes to a more Pop/Smooth jazz style, showing the diversity of the group. Another favorite of mine is cut #6, titled “Praise”; a beautiful ballad. It’s unusual to combine a vibraphonist and marimba player on the same recording, but Flores and Caploe make it work effortlessly. Alfred Flores remains the bull, racing across the face of the music with lightning-fast mallets. His group works in concert, like matadors flashing their bright, red capes.
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ANDREA CLABURN – “NIGHTSHADE”
Lot 49 Labs, LLC – Independent label

Andrea Claburn, vocals/arrangements; Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Sam Bevan, acoustic/electric basses; Alan Hall, drums; John Santos, percussion; Terrence Brewer, acoustic/electric guitars; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn; Kasey Knudsen, alto sax; Teddy Raven, tenor sax; Rob Ewing, trombone; Mads Tolling, violin/viola; Joseph Herbert, cello.

This conglomerate of jazz musicians bursts on the scene and sets the tone for a stunning recording project. As I listen to the amazing musicianship, they remind me of the bands that Betty Carter used to mentor; strong players, who are a force of nature on their own. I wonder what the vocalist will sound like. I don’t have long to find out. Andrea Claburn has composed this first cut and the lyrics race, like the jazz ensemble accompanying her. It’s not her voice that catches my interest, but instead her songwriting skills that grab my attention. Cut #2, “Bird On A Wire” she has co-written with Pat Metheny. Once again, her lyrics and her attention to the details of a challenging melody captures me creatively. I love this song! Claburn has a degree in ‘Jazz Studies’ from California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, California. She has arranged all tunes on this CD except “Skylark.” The other eleven arrangements are all hers and are very well done. Seven of the dozen songs recorded are her original compositions, some co-written with others. This is an interesting blend of challenging jazz compositions by respected composers mixed with Claburn’s own songwriting. The arrangements are exquisite and the musicianship is top notch. I applaud her composition talents and although she uses her voice like an instrument, the one thing I listen for in a jazz singer is that special ‘it-factor’ represented by quality of style and tone. Carmen McRae had it; Ella had it; Nancy Wilson has it; Chris Connor had it; Diana Reeves has it. Billy Holiday had it. Betty Carter had it. Ann Hampton Calloway has it. Cyrille Aimee has it and Sarah Vaughan had it. Claburn’s vocal style is indistinctive. However, I think she is a dynamic composer/lyricist and arranger. Much of her music swings hard,the way good jazz should.

Check her out “Live” below singing a Monk tune.

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HOLIDAY MUSIC & NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017

November 22, 2016

HOLIDAY MUSIC AND NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017
By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil

November 21, 2016

JEFF COLLINS – THE KEYS TO CHRISTMAS
Crossroads Records

Jeff Collins, piano/keyboards; Tony Creasman, drums/percussion; David Johnson, elec. & acoustic guitars; Jeremy Medkiff, elec. & acoustic guitars; Jason Web, Hammond B3 organ; Roger Fortner & Tim Surrett, Upright bass; Sam Levine, saxophone; David Davidson, violin’; Steve Patrick, flugelhorn & trumpet; Cody McVey, orchestra arrangements. ORCHESTRA: David Davidson, concertmaster; Conni Ellisor, David Angell, Karen Winkelmann, Alicia Enstrom, Janet Darnall, Katelyn Westergard/violins; Jim Grisjean, Elizabeth Lamb/violas; Julie Tanner, Nick Gold, Sari Reist/celli; Craig E. Nelson, double bass; Sam Levine, flute/piccolo/clarinet; Somerlie Depasquale, oboe/English horn; Phyliss Sparks, harp; Steve Patrick, flugelhorn/trumpet/concertmaster; Mike Haynes & Jeff Bailey, trumpets/flugelhorns; Ernie Collins, Chris McDonald, Prentiss Hobbs, trombones; Gilbert Long, tuba; Jennifer Kummer, Beth Beeson, Leslie Norton, French Horns; Mark Douthit, Sam Levine, Jimmy Bowland, saxophones; Sam Bacco, percussion; Cody McVey & Kris Crunk, Programming.

Jeff Collins, pianist/keyboardist/producer and co-owner of Crossroads Marketing and Entertainment has put together a well-produced Christmas album including several favorite holiday songs and adding an orchestral arrangement. This is his second release of Christmas music; not because he’s a touring musician, but simply out of love for the holiday season. The core group of this recording include Collins on piano and keyboards; Tony Creasman on drums and percussion; David Johnson and Jeremy Medkiff on both electric and acoustic guitars; Jason Webb on Hammond B3 organ, with Tim Surrett and Roger Fortner on basses. Then, along comes Cody McVey to add orchestra arrangements. Here is the perfect holiday recording to pour a cup of eggnog or hot cider and snuggle up in front of a brightly lit Christmas tree or a roaring fireplace. The carefully picked tunes will set the mood and the talented musicians will offer you an in-house concert you will thoroughly enjoy.

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THE SWISS YOUTH JAZZ ORCHESTRA – LIVE AT JAZZAAR FESTIVAL 2016 – “HEAVEN HELP US ALL”
Shanti Records

Directed by Fritz K. Renold with SPECIAL GUESTS: Billy Cobham, drums; Oli Rockberger, vocals/keyboard; Neil Jason, bass ; Frank Greene, trumpet ;Tony Lakatos, tenor saxophone; Marques Young, trombone; THE YOUTH ORCHESTRA is comprised of: Mary Rassohovatskaya, keyboards; Claude Stucki, guitar; Roberto Carella, drums; Rit Xu, flute; Sara El Hachimi, alto saxophone; Felix Peringer, tenor saxophone/ewi; Mia Stauffacher, baritone saxophone; Gergo Szax, trumpet; Dmitry Zinakov, trumpet; Florian Weiss, trombone; Sebastian Wey, trombone; Sharon Renold, vocal/bass.

It’s wonderful to see how jazz has touched the lives of people all around the world. Here is a perfect example of how this amazing music continues to inspire people of all ages and nations. Track one is an overture written by George Duke and performed flawlessly by the Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra, comprised of young players between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six years old. The orchestra consists of not only Switzerland youth but four Russians, a Hungarian and a Singaporean. Also in the mix are seasoned jazz veterans like Billy Cobham who makes a guest appearance along with UK born singer/songwriter/ keyboardist, Oli Rockberger.

This delightful recording introduces us to a fresh voice by the name of Sharon Renold, who happens to be the daughter of the producer and musical director of this orchestra. She caught my attention immediately when she covered Randy Crawford’s hit record, “Street Life” singing it impressively well. She has a unique vocal style that is completely recognizable once heard. This can make a strong impression on the public and immediately categorizes her as a jazz/blues stylist. I have to add blues as a description, because this young woman exhibits rich, blues overtones and both a soulful and emotional approach to her singing. At the time of this recording she was only eighteen years old. I expect the world will be hearing great things from this young talent. Her mother, Helen Savari-Renold is the CEO of Jazzaar Festival where this was recorded “Live” in Switzerland. Mom graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1988, with a degree in Jazz Composition and Arrangement. She ventured into music education in Switzerland. A surprising choice of relocations, since she’s originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Married to the producer and Musical Director of the Jazzaar Festival, they instituted the “Bandstand Learning with Role Models” program, now twenty-two years in operation in the city of Aarau.

The orchestra’s delivery on the Billy Cobham composition, “Red Baron” was exceptionally good with a strong funk drum pushing the soloists to spit out their best improvisations featuring Dmitry Zinakov on trumpet, Marques Young on trombone and Oli Rockberger on keyboard. I love the arrangement by Tim Akers. This tune really ‘swings’! The guest artists, all professional musicians, tutored twelve young talents and the results is this incredibly well-done recording. It was recorded “Live” at the annual Jazzaar Festival before an expressive and appreciative audience. You can hear it in their applause. “Crosswind” is another Cobham composition, this time arranged by Fritz K. Renold and well-played with energy and excitement. Mr. Renold has composed a couple of tunes on this project, including “Blues for George” that gives student pianist, Mary Rassohovatskaya an opportunity to shine with splendid technique and verve. I also enjoyed the flute spontaneity by Rit Xu and the spirited trumpet solo by Dmitry Zinakov.
There is not one bad tune on this entire artistic production. The title of their CD is taken from a song that my friend, Ron Miller, wrote during his tenure at Motown Records titled, “Heaven Help Us All.” Ron was a super talented composer (R.I.P) and I’m sure he would be very pleased with The Swiss Youth Jazz Orchestra’s arrangement and interpretation of his composition. I know I was!

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MISHA – “DREAMING WITH EYES WIDE AWAKE
Independent label

Misha, vocals/arranger/composer; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica/vibraphone; Glauco Lima, piano; Michat Jaros, bass; Samuel Maretinelle, drums.

Misha Steinhauer’s melodies are lovely and Hendrik Meurkens supports those melodies on harmonica, enhancing this recording tremendously. Misha is a singer/songwriter with a knack for singing non-rhyming prose in a very melodic way. Her accompanying musicians have tastefully put together just enough of a track to let her voice float atop their backdrop. When the vocals stop, and the band is allowed to stretch out and improvise, I am intrigued and entertained by their talented playing. Meurkens moves from harmonica to vibraphone with ease and proficiency. Glauco Lima is innovative and creative on piano. Bassist, Michaet Jaros, locks the time and groove down with the astute help of time-keeper Samuel Martinelle on drums. It is this quartet that makes Misha’s recording interesting and turns her folksy songs into jazz compositions. On “Family Games,” after singing her no-rhyme story, Misha creatively scats her way through a couple of choruses. I recognize, with appreciation, that she is a fine composer musically. Her lyrics however, although rich with stories, do not necessarily lend themselves to be remembered right away. On most, there’s no hook or prominent, catchy, repeatable line. But the chord changes become a lush trampoline for the musicians to jump and play upon. Sometimes I feel Misha is influenced by the great Joni Mitchell, with her unusual melody lines and soaring intervals. Finally, when the title tune begins to play, I hear a “hook” clearly for the first time. It’s a ¾ waltz tempo’d-tune that’s ear-catching and the title is artsy; “Dreaming with Eyes Wide Awake.”
German-born Steinhauer has been based in NYC since 2014. She has studied and gigged throughout Europe, based in Moscow for a decade. I applaud Misha’s freedom and ambition. Here is a recording of all original songs by the artist, who proffers strong melodies and interesting chord changes. While listening, because of her range and pitch, I found her voice to be more like an instrument than a storyteller. But I kept thinking, I would have better enjoyed her work played instrumentally.
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THE SUGAR HILL TRIO – THE DRIVE
Goschart Music

Helge Christian Torkewitz, tenor sax & flute; Austin Walker, drums; Leon Boykins, double Bass on 1,2,3,4,5,6 & 11; Dylan Shamat, double bass on cuts 7,8,9 & 10.
A roll of Austin Walker’s Drums open the first cut on this CD in a spectacular way and then Helge Christian Torkewitz comes marching in on tenor saxophone, to leave his imprint on our ears. Leon Boykins pulls the strings of his double bass at a maddening pace and keeps the tension beneath the saxophone during Torkewitz’s several-bar solo. When it’s Boykin’s turn to become the soloist, the bass man doesn’t disappoint. Titled “The Drive”, this CD keeps the energy bursting from the premiere composition by Gigi Gryce, (“Minority”) to the last cut, “Theme for Basie.” There’s no guitar or piano to root the music, so the concept is very open and innovative. This trio obviously embraces modern jazz and avant garde concepts, while picking classic jazz tunes to rediscover and explore. Songs like Coltranes’ “Spiral” takes flight in creative ways, embracing the Afro-Cuban rhythm culture, mixed with a straight-ahead feel on saxophone and with Boykins always holding things firmly in place on double bass.

Torkewitz has thrown in a couple of original compositions. One is “Sunbeams,” where he pulls out his flute to offer a delightful change of musical pace and a more melodic approach, rather than the expected avant garde. Other favorite cuts are “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes”, Oliver Nelson’s, “The Drive” (which is the title tune) and “Theme for Basie” composed by Phineas Newborn Jr. These musicians fit well together, like a familiar key sliding into a front door lock. Their music feels comfortable, like home. Release date is January 6, 2017.
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YELENA ECKEMOFF QUINTET – BLOOMING TALL PHLOX
L & M Productoins

Yelena Eckemoff, piano/composer; Verneri Pohjola, trumpet/flugelhorn; Panu Savolainen, vibraphone; Antti Lotjonen, double bass; Olavi Louhivuori, drums/percussion.

As the very first tune plays on this exotic production, the music recalls ice chips and cracking icicles. At least, that’s what the music conjures up in my imagination. There is something cold, crisp and white as winter about this composition called, “Blooming Tall Phlox.”. But as the piano solo deepens, so does the season. Suddenly I see butterflies in the music, pollinating new growth and suckling budding flowers. It is Spring and the sun streams in rays of vibraphone music. On cut #2, “Apples laid out on the floor”, bassist Antti Lotojonen takes a solo that has me picturing green plants pushing their heads through brown earth, soaking up yellow sunshine and growing tiny leaves right before my eyes. This is the kind of album that taps into creative imagery with its free form movement and modern jazz approach to Eckemoff’s memories of her childhood in Russia. Over the course of six years, producing ten albums along the way, Eckemoff seems to be expanding her visions and artistry on this recording. It’s CD number eleven and features her concept of composing music that celebrates summer smells and winter smells. Intriguing! “Old Fashioned Bread Store” has blues under-tones and Olavi Louhivuori’s drums add a delicious, unpredictable flavor beneath the various tempos. He enhances the surprises that Eckemoff has in store for her listeners. She manages to blend classical technique and the sweet sounds of jazz like an expert baker. Eckemoff explains it best in her liner notes:

“I had the idea of writing music about smell for some time before I met with drummer Otavi Louhivuon in Finland. The idea came into focus when I saw how much Finland reminded me of Russia. It became obvious to me that it would be the best place to record an album about various aromas. I brought fifteen songs to the session, already named and designed to express certain smells. Writing the poetry came later, even though I nurtured my ideas along with the music. Then I had to select a title for the album. … It became clear that there is one smell that triggers my childhood memories; the smell of the phlox. So I decided to paint a picture of myself in my grandparent’s garden, sniffing the phlox, based on a black and white photograph from that time.”

The resulting, beautiful hand-painted CD cover is a testament to Eckemoff’s vast creativity and exceptional artistic talents. It’s a 2-CD set and I found the “Winter Smells” side to be my favorite, with a beautiful combination of seven classical and jazz soaked songs reminiscent of Miles Davis’ “Sketches In Spain” era. Verneri Pohjola adds lovely dynamics and mood to this audio treasure on trumpet and flugelhorn. Panu Savolainen’s stunning addition of xylophone throughout creates a textured or layered effects in the music, much like the painting on the cover; colorful and artistic. Ekemoff’s CD will be available January 20, 2017.
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MADS TOLLING & THE MAD MEN – “PLAYING THE 60s”
Madman Records

Mads Tolling, violin/viola/baritone violin; Colin Hogan, piano/Hammond B-3 organ/Fender Rhodes & accordion; Sam Bevan & Dan Feiszli, bass; Eric Garland, drums; Ricardo Peixoto, guitar; Joe Hebert & Susanna Porte, cello; SPECIAL GUESTS: Stanley Clarke, bass on track 15; Kenny Washington, Spencer Day & Kalil Wilson, vocals.

Here is a brand new and beautiful piece of audio art that entertained me from the first cut to the last. There are too few violinist who play jazz and play it well. Mads Tolling is one person who has mastered his instrument and can ‘swing’ with the best of them, starting with the first cut, “A Taste of Honey”. A strong, jazzy piano bass line establishes the groove and sets the tempo. Then the violin struts in like a self-assured rooster. Tolling takes control and leads the band with spirited technique and confidence. Colin Hogan offers an attention-getting solo on piano, utilizing the full dimension of the grand piano with fingers racing up and down the 88 keys. Sam Bevon, solid throughout on bass, becomes the sole buffer for Eric Garland on drums to express himself. This tune establishes the excellence of musicianship that Tolling’s album reflects continuously. “Meet the Flintstones” is played at an incredible speed, with Tolling racing like a shooting star across the strings of his instrument, in perfect control. Hogan once again shines brightly during his piano solo.

“Georgia” is performed with poignant emotion and very sweetly. Tolling has enormous talent and I was eager to hear their arrangement on “My Girl”, a popular Motown tune that originally featured the Temptations. On this cut, the strong vocals of Kalil Wilson add interest and contemporary flavor to a song that is creatively arranged in a very jazzy way. You wouldn’t be able to tell it’s the R&B hit record from the interesting introduction that is also repetitiously played throughout the first part of each verse. It’s very catchy, with classical undertones provided by Tollings string arrangement. “The Pink Panther” featured a spirited solo by bassist, Sam Bevan, who sang along with his improvisational solo. “Look of Love” is sexy and features Spencer Day on vocals. All fifteen songs on this album are well-produced, delightfully performed and completely entertaining. Every musician on this project is excellent and Tolling must be congratulated on his playing and production skills.

No wonder I listened to this CD seven times in a row. I just couldn’t get enough. Once I opened the accompanying press package I read that Mads Tolling is a two-time Grammy Award-winning violinist from Denmark and it all made sense. The concept of his project is based on Tolling’s love of the early 1960s and the AMC award-winning television series, “Mad Men.” You will find these compositions reflect television themes like “Meet the Flintstones”, “Hawaii 5-0”, “Mission Impossible” and films like “The Pink Panther” or “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”. His CD title reflects this concept. Tolling brings new life to old songs, but (in my book) he could make nursery rhymes sound like exquisite jazz pieces on his violin and with this group of talented musicians. Release date is January 20, 2017. A must listen!

WALTZING TOWARDS THE END OF 2016

November 2, 2016

WALTZING TOWARDS THE END OF 2016, I CELEBRATE JAZZ TALENT FROM SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA TO THE MIDWEST & NEW YORK / NEW RELEASES, SOME SCHEDULED FOR THE NEW YEAR OF 2017.
By Jazz Journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

As we approach the end of this year, (2016), and head towards a new year with our new president and the hope of a better future, it is music that continues to bring healing and entertainment to a troubled planet. Below find my “live” review of a man who will soon turn 100-years-young and is still expressing his joy for life in song, (BENSFORD ‘SHEP’ SHEPHERD); a single-song-release by ANGIE WELLS, a terrific West coast jazz vocalist; a father who tributes his recording to the memory and memorial fund for his departed daughter (MR. MARCELLO PELLITTERI); a harpist, CAROL ROBBINS, who recalls for me, the era of Dorothy Ashby; a duo, CAROL LIEBOWITZ AND NICK LYONS, who express their modern, Avant Garde jazz in a flurry of freedom and creativity, as well as BRENT GALLAHER, who is deeply rooted in the classic tenor sax style of Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane or Joe Henderson. Read all about it!

ANGIE WELLS – “PEEL ME A GRAPE” SINGLE RELEASE
Independent label

Raphael Lemonnier, piano/arranger; James Leary, bass; Kenny Elliot, drums; Harry Kim, trumpet.

Opening with an African 6/8 rhythm, this is a really original arrangement of the Blossom Dearie standard, “Peel Me A Grape.” Angie Wells woos us with her amazing tone and style. She’s all jazz. Her group moves swiftly and smoothly from 6/8 to a solid 4/4 swing. Ms. Wells is a Southern California vocalist, who I feel has never gotten the crowning accolades she so deserves. If this is a sample of her upcoming album release, it’s bound to be a big hit.


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SADDLEBACK COLLEGE BIG BAND – Featuring BERISFORD “SHEP” SHEPHERD – “SWINGIN’ WITH SHEP!”

I first heard Shep Shepherd when I was a thirteen-year-old teenager working in my dad & Aunt Maude’s Triple M Shrimp Hut back in Detroit, Michigan. I played “Honky Tonk” on their store juke box just about every day! The family-owned, shrimp shack was located not too far from the Flame Show Bar and the popular Hastings Street music scene. Shep Shepherd was the drummer on my favorite Bill Doggett hit record.
When you see Shep Shepherd step up to the bandstand with confidence and ‘swag’, you might assume that he is somewhere between 55 and 60-years-old. I was very surprised to learn that he was born January 19, 1917. That would make him a sweet 100-years-old when the new year of 2017 unfolds. After hearing him sit-in at Baci’s Italian Restaurant in Huntington Beach, California a few nights ago, I was intrigued to hear his recording with Joey Sellers’ popular 2016 Saddleback College Big Band.

Let me give you a little background on Shep. Shepherd’s parents were West Indian. His dad worked on the Panama Canal and decided to send his pregnant wife to Philadelphia in the United States. She didn’t make it. Shep was born in route, popping out into the world in Honduras. When his mom finally did arrive in Philadelphia, he was raised in a mostly Jewish neighborhood of Philly. Early on, the family noticed Shepherd had an overwhelming interest in music, particularly drumming. By age fourteen he was being paid to play drums on gigs and he was proficient in reading sheet music for percussion instruments. In the 1930s, Shepherd worked in Philadelphia for band leader, Jimmy Gorham. By 1941, Benny Carter had contacted Shepherd, shortly after hearing him play, and encouraged him to move to New York City. Soon thereafter, Shep arrived in the big apple and among others, was working for Artie Shaw. On the side, he hustled work as a music copyist and also worked as a session musician for various recordings. He soon expanded his musicianship, playing both vibraphone and xylophone. During a four-year stint in the United States Army, Shepherd wound up conducting, arranging and composing for the Army band, as well as playing trombone. For a while, he played with Cab Calloway’s Band and later became Calloway’s go-to-arranger. Then, in 1952, he was part of Bill Doggett’s swinging group and is the drummer on Doggett’s signature song, “Honky Tonk,” one of my favorite 45rpm records.

On this current big band CD, Shepherd is the vocalist and he manages this with eloquent timing and singing lyrics that he makes you believe. For what he lacks in technique, he compensates for with emotion and heartfelt rendering of great standard songs from the past. This CD is a joy to listen to and the Saddleback College Band ‘swings’ hard. So does “Shep” Shepherd! He’s an incredible, living piece of jazz history and I salute his magnificent talent and tenacious drive to keep the music playing. Also, credit must be given to Joey Sellers who runs the jazz program at Saddleback College and put this whole thing together.
Recorded ‘live’ March 22, 2016, in concert and on campus, my favorite tunes are: “’S Wonderful”, “Make Someone Happy” and “When You’re Smiling”. Great arrangements, especially nice on “Shiny Stockings” where drummer, Bret Kramer, got to show-off his skills. Also “You Make Me Feel So Young,” where Shep makes you believe every word he’s singing with astonishing energy and commitment to the lyric. Finally, one of my all-time favorite tunes, “Blame it on my Youth,” has a stellar arrangement and Kudos to guitarist, Rymmy Andre, for his touching accompaniment of Shep’s sincere rendition of this song.

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MARCELLO PELLITTERI – “AQUARIUS WOMAN”
Marpel Music

Marcello Pellitteri, drums; Orazio Maugeri, alto saxophone; Salvatore Bonafede, acoustic piano/elec. Piano; Gabrio Bevilacqua, acoustic bass. Special Guests: George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Veronica Pelliteri, spoken word; Nedelka Prescod, vocals; Rino Cirinna, tenor saxophone; Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Yvonnick Prene, harmonica; Marcello Todaro, electric guitar/spoken words.

After hearing the very first tune on this CD, I said to myself, here is a musical treasure for the serious jazz lover to embrace and enjoy. Pellitteri composed this first cut titled, “Chasin’ the Zone” and it’s an exciting, high energy piece that lets special guest, George Garzone stretch out on tenor saxophone and Orazio Maugeri fly like a bird on alto saxophone. The horn harmonies splendidly sing the song’s melody and Pellitteri rolls across the drum kit like an Amtrak engine at full throttle. Marcello Pellitteri has also composed cut #2, titled “Longing”. It’s a moderately tempo’d tune with a strong walking bass line provided by Gabrio Bevilacqua and a simplistic, but tasty, solo by pianist, Salvatore Bonafede.
This album has been recorded as a sensitive tribute to Pellitteri’s daughter, Veronica, who left this earth way too early at the young age of twenty-three, only two years ago. She was born under the astrological sign of Aquarius, thus the title, “Aquarius Woman”. Pellitteri is an Italian drummer, composer and arranger based in New York City and is the drummer of choice for the iconic vocal group New York Voices. On the title tune, Pellitteri uses the voice of his daughter, recorded before her departure. Veronica is reciting one of her favorite works by Indonesian poet, Murtiningrum; a woman arrested and abused by the Indonesian military in the 1960s. it’s a poem about hope that Marcello had saved on his computer. He composed the lovely melody as a ballad accompaniment to his daughter’s recitation.

The Alicia Keys song was a surprise. The vocalist, Nedelka Prescod, adds a unique delivery and arrangement, adjusting the melody to her style and emotional performance. She reminds me of the great gospel vocalist, Kim Burrell. Pellitteri chose to include this song and a Stevie Wonder composition, “Ribbon in the Sky,” because they were two of his daughter’s favorite songs. One thing I didn’t understand was why the saxophonist felt he had to play the melody when the vocalist was perfectly singing it. “If I Ain’t Got You” lost some of its unique charm because that arrangement was confusing. Why didn’t the sax just play fills? The vocalist wound up being the instrument that sang the fills and I thought that was creatively clever at the end of the song. However, the saxophonist singing her melody throughout was definitely a distraction and I found it troubling. To the singer’s credit, Prescod stood strong throughout and held her own. Cut #11 was another one of my favorites, when the music returned to the ‘straight ahead’ mode on “Saxando”.

Because Pellitteri’s daughter Veronica was beloved by so many and in her honor, this talented artist is donating all the profits from this CD to the Veronica Pellitteri Memorial Fund, administered by Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. Release date is November 30, 2016.

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CAROL ROBBINS – “TAYLOR STREET”
Jazzcats Record Label

Carol Robbins, harp/composer; Billy Childs, piano/Fender Rhodes; Bob Sheppard, saxophone/clarinet; Larry Koonse, guitar; Curtis Taylor, trumpet; Darek Oles, bass; Gary Novak, drums; Ben Shepherd, electric bass.

The harp is such a lovely, ethereal instrument. I was eager to hear what Ms. Robbins would bring to this jazz recording featuring her harp. The lineup of iconic West Coast musicians is impressive and I suspected I was in for a treat. I was correct. From the very first arpeggio of harp strings and brush of Gary Novaks drum sticks, “The Flight” took off like an American jet plane down the LAX runway. Billy Childs jumped in with a speedy and beautiful solo. Curtis Taylor gave an eyebrow-raising performance, boldly showing his technique and improvisational skills on trumpet. Carol Robbins is a wonderful composer and her melodic songs appear to inspire creativity, prodding these musicians to bring their best to the studio.

There’s been an empty space available ever since Dorothy Jeanne Thompson, (popularily known as Dorothy Ashby), died on April 13 of 1986. Ashby set the standard for jazz harp and Robbins seems to be carrying the torch like an Olympic runner. She’s not as modernistic or Avant Garde as Alice Coltrane, but she’s melodic like Ashby and all nine songs on this CD are well-composed by Ms. Robbins. Below is a sample of her work from a 2012 performance with many of the same players on this upcoming CD release. Listen while you read.

Some songs paint a colorful portrait of Robbins’ life story, like “Taylor Street” (one of my favorite cuts) and it is the title track of this CD as well. The composition is describing, with musical notes, the street in Chicago’s ‘Little Italy’ neighborhood where Robbins’ Italian grandparents and mother lived. It features Childs on electric Fender Rhodes piano, with a pumping electric bass solo by Ben Shepherd. “Deep Canyon” was inspired by the tucked away and winding Benedict Canyon Road in Southern California. Many homes of stars and music icons are hidden in those canyon hills. The jazz waltz she’s composed, “Full Circle”, is beautifully written and performed, but I find myself wondering, when is her time to solo and shine? The all-star musicians seem to take over this song and run with it. After all, it is Ms. Robbin’s artistic CD and I would like to have heard more of her on the harp and less jam session. That being said, she is prominent and upfront on her composition” Trekker” where Gary Novak sparkles on drums and propels the band. On “Smooth Ride,” Robbins explores a more contemporary sound and I enjoyed the interplay between the harp and Darek Oles on bass towards the end of this arrangement. “The Chill” reminds me, in an odd sort of way, of Burt Bacharach, whose composing skills I love and admire. I’d have to say it’s rather Pop-ish, until Bob Sheppard enters on saxophone and makes it very clear that this is jazz and only jazz. Here Robbins blends nicely with guitarist Larry Koonse in a jazz-waltz that makes me feel like singing, “Hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your make up…”. All in all, this is a well-produced, well-composed and very swinging production that properly introduces us to Carol Robbins and her jazz harp in a most prolific way. The music world has been awaiting someone just like Robbins to bring the jazz harp happily back into musical focus. Release date is scheduled for January 6, 2017.

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CAROL LIEBOWITZ/NICK LYONS – “FIRST SET”
Linearts Record.com

Carol Liebowitz, piano; Nick Lyons, alto saxophone

On a rainy night in the desert, this CD was the perfect musical glow to beam beneath this odd-man, thunder storm that is lighting up our sky. We sometimes get lightning storms 4300 feet above sea level, but not that much in the way of rain and thunder in the San Bernardino mountains. It’s a nice, Avant Garde change of nature. So is this recording; a nice, Avant Garde production of piano and alto saxophone. It’s a duet of freedom. Recorded ‘live’ in Brooklyn, New York at Connie Crother’s loft, Liebowitz and Lyons bring their original compositions and improvisational concept to much appreciative applause. If you are looking for distinctive melodies and meters that make sense, you won’t find them here. This music, like the artists, are free to interpret their feelings and creativity in a rich and unencumbered way. It’s perfect listening for a late-night rain storm, or introducing you to two very talented musicians. Release date is January 6, 2017.
The attached video includes an extra player, but will give you a glimpse of Liebowitz & Lyons’ Avante Garde style. It also features Ryan Messina on trumpet (who is not on this CD).

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BRENT GALLAHER – “MOVING FORWARD”
V&B Records

Brent Gallaher, tenor saxophone; Alex Pope Norris, trumpet/flugelhorn; Dan Karlsberg, piano; Aaron Jacobs, bass; Anthony Lee, drums.

Gallaher’s original composition, “Serendipity” opens this project with ‘Straight Ahead’ energy perpetuated by the healthy trap drum excellence of Anthony Lee. Gallaher, with Norris on trumpet, begin the tune with horn harmonics and to establish the melody. Cut #3, “Gratitude” is exquisitely beautiful with an outstanding piano solo by Dan Karlsberg. It’s a ballad where Gallaher gets to stretch out his emotions for the listener’s examination. His style is deeply influenced by John Coltrane, Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter. Brent Gallaher is a jazz reedman favored and solid on the Cincinnati jazz scene. This project should help him become more well-known country-wide. Other favorite tunes are “Cesar”, written by pianist Karlsberg and “Moving Forward”, the title tune composed by Gallaher. “Cesar” caught my attention because of its odd intervals and melodic structure. It gives a sparkling platform for Aaron Jacobs to step center stage and bask in the light with his double bass. This album is scheduled for a January 6, 2017 release date.


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