Archive for the ‘CD REVIEWS’ Category

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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JAZZ AND BEYOND: A LOOK AT NEW MUSIC & UNIQUE ARTISTS

October 11, 2016

JAZZ AND BEYOND: A LOOK AT NEW MUSIC & UNIQUE ARTISTS
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

October 10, 2016

This month’s music celebrates unique artists and various musical genres including jazz and beyond. From Brazilian duo, IAN FAQUINI and PAULA SANTORO, who ‘wow’ me with their inspirational simplicity, to the bluesy MATTHEW KAMINSKI QUARTET who uses his organ to slap the blues up-front and in your face. VALERIE GHENT began recording her latest release in France titled “Velour” and crosses musical genre’s and styles with her original compositions and vocal stylings. Guitarist/composer GREG DIAMOND writes songs to celebrate his mixed heritage and his New York community, while WADADA LEO SMITH writes a 28-page suite of music to celebrate America’s National Parks. BRENT FISCHER thrills me once again with his unique arrangements and Latin Jazz Big Band. They focus on playing the music of his famous father, DR. CLARE FISCHER, using some of the biggest names in Latin Jazz, with guest appearances by the amazing, ROBERTA GAMBARINI and SHEILA E. Finally, all the way from Singapore, ALEMAY FERNANDEZ brings a refreshing album of original music that embraces jazz, but also delves into performances that recall the famous Andrew Sisters and duets that are spiced with pop and R&B overtones. If you’ve been seeking unique artistic performances, you may find them in this group of CD releases.

IAN FAQUINI + PAULA SANTORO – “METAL NA MADEIRA” (Metal on Wood)
Ridgeway Records

Paula Santoro, vocals; Ian Faquini, acoustic guitar/vocals/producer; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; Vitor Goncalves, accordion/Fender Rhodes; Sergio Krakowski, pandeiro; Scott Thompson, bass; Jeff Cressman, trombone; Havery Wainapel, alto saxophone/clarinet/some arrangements; Spok, soprano saxophone/spoken word/arrangements;Vivien Monica Golcwajg & Sandy Cressman, background vocals.

As soon as the first strains of the premiere tune played, I knew I would love this recording. It’s rich, warm and beautifully simplistic. Just voice and guitar pop out, blending like sugar and soft butter, to offer us something sweet for our ears. This is a luscious desert after sitting in my office and listening to a plethora of music mediocrity. Here is something fresh and lovely. Never mind that I can’t understand the lyrics. I can feel them. On cut #1, Paula’s whispery Brazilian vocals float above Scott Thompson’s solid bass line and Rafael Barata’s percussive drums. The beat swirls and dances beneath Paula Santoro’s vocals like a musical whirlpool. They pull us into the ‘mix’. Ian Faquini joins in with his acoustic guitar rhythms and we begin our world music journey.

The linear notes explain the concept and the CD title (“Metal on Wood”). The artists have extracted inspiration from Xylography, a traditional art form popular in Northeastern Brazil in which the artist develops an image by engraving wood with a metal object. Similarly, Faquini and Santoro endeavor to create their own art with metallic harmonics and warm, wooden tones from Faquini’s guitar and from Santoro’s compelling and effortless vocals. Sometimes Faquini sings with her, as if inspired to improvise and harmonize. It’s easy and spiritual, like morning prayer.

On “Dorival Pescador” It’s just the two artists, voice & guitar, entertaining us very intimately. On the very romantic and emotional, “Maeda Lua,” Viter Goncalves is exquisite on accordion. When the two main artists return to their exciting duo production on “Aos Olhosda Tarde” you get to enjoy Santoro’s honey-thick-alto voice. Her range is impressive.

Guitarist, Faquini, has co-written every song on this production. He’s born in Brasilia, but has lived in Berkeley, California since age eight. As a graduate of the California Jazz Conservatory, he was immediately invited to join their faculty and teaches guitar and Brazilian music at his alma mater.

Santoro was born in Minas Gerais where her career began. She toured Brazil as lead singer and established her style as a mix of jazz and Brazilian Popular Music. This vocalist is well-known worldwide for her various recordings and frequent television appearances. She won the Troféu Faisca Award, the Visa Award and has earned wide critical acclaim in both Brazil and Europe. Together, they make magic happen in the studio and on the stage. Judge for yourself.

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THE MATTHEW KAMINSKI QUARTET w/Special Guest KIMBERLY GORDON
LIVE AT CHURCHILL GROUNDS

Chicken Coup Record Label

Matthew Kaminski, Hammond SK2 Organ; Chris Burroughs, drums; Rod Harris, Jr., guitar; Will Scruggs, tenor saxophone; Kimberley Gordon, vocals.

Opening with a slow blues, Kaminski (on organ) leads his group onto center stage with a spirited tune called “Sail On Sailor”, followed by Lou Donaldson’s tune, “Hot Dog”. Both are full of spunk and funk with drummer, Chris Burroughs, spitting fire all over his trap drum set. Kaminski has put together a royal, blues sound with this group of expert musicians. Rod Harris, Jr., plays his guitar, both complimenting Kaminski’s organ and celebrating his own style and technique with outstanding and gut-wrenching solos. Will Scruggs elevates the energy on tenor saxophone and recalls ‘Sam-the-man-Taylor’ from back in the fifties when Rock & Roll groups were ruling the concert stages, but a bit more jazzy. This CD is nothing but jazz and blues. Kaminski celebrates the late, great Jimmy Smith, playing the masters composition, “Midnight Special” and doing it justice! I’m a sucker for an organ ensemble, so this recording is one that I found very appealing. On “If I Had You” the group’s guest vocalist steps forward and swings hard. Kimberley Gordon has a memorable voice and brings a strong jazz style to the forefront. You can tell that Ms. Gordon admires both Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, although still maintaining her own vocal personality and integrity. Like a succulent Thanksgiving turkey, every song on this recording is stuffed with blues. Even when they play Jobim’s popular “So Danco Samba” and the rhythm has your feet tapping and your hips longing to dance, the blues is predominant in Will Scruggs’ horn. “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dream” is one of my favorite jazz standards and Gordon performs it beautifully. There’s not one bad tune on this album. It’s totally entertaining, well produced and well-played. This is particularly impressive because it was recorded “live” at Churchill Grounds in Atlanta, Georgia. No studio tricks here. This is pure talent from all participants and you can tell the audience loved it as much as I did by their approval applause.

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VALERIE GHENT – “VELOURS”
Independent Label

Valerie Ghent, lead vocals/background vocals/piano/ Hammond B3 organ/Clavinet/Fender Rhodes; Jerome Buigues, guitar/backing vocals/bass; Robin Macatangay, guitars; Pierre Siibille, synthesizer/Hammond B3/harmonica; Philippe Jardin, Kevin Johnson & Franck Taieb, drums; Bashiri Johnson, percussion; Eluriel “Tinker” Barfield, bass; Paul Shapiro, tenor saxophone; Nicolas Baudino, alto and tenor saxophones; Briggan Krauss, baritone sax; Steven Bernstein, trumpet; Rob Mounsey, strings; Dave Eggar, cello; Katie Kresek, violin/viola; Alfa Anderson, Dennis Collins, Keith fluitt; Dan Levine, trombone; John James, Keith Fluitt, Dennis Collins, Alfa Anderson & Ada Dyer, backing vocals; Special Guest: Mano “Korani” Camara, lead vocal on cut #1.

Clearly Valerie Ghent is not someone I would classify as a jazz artist. However, after listening to her music I had to give her a thumbs up for songwriting, producing and arranging. She has composed or co-written every song on this recording. “Velours” is her fourth solo album and showcases her prolific songwriting ability, one that embraces Soul music, R&B, Reggae and funk. I guarantee songs like the infectious, “Love Divine” will be played on Smooth Jazz radio stations time and time again. This production definitely lends itself to World Music. On “Love Divine,” the complimentary lead vocals of Mano “Korani” Camara are striking and stylized. I would love to hear more from this artist. Ghent’s syncopation on “It’s Got To Be You” is captivating. This is a project that features strong compositions, good productions and excellent musicianship.
Ghent has worked with music icons, touring with the likes of Ashford & Simpson and Debbie Harry. She’s shared the stage with Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson and Billy Preston, but she is tenaciously her own artistic person. During childhood, as a native New Yorker who grew up in Greenwich Village and was raised by a musical family, she fell asleep listening to her mom’s string quartet rehearsals or Ornette Coleman practicing upstairs in their apartment building. Consequently, Ghent developed a rich and diverse love of music.
Ghent is the founder of Songwriter’s Beat, a monthly night for performing songwriters. She’s also well noted in New York for creating an arts education nonprofit called “Feel the Music”, a program that uses music and art to heal. This album was recorded in New York and France, because she entertains overseas often. As you can see by the attached video, she’s also a proficient pianist.

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GREG DIAMOND – “AVENIDA GRAHAM”
Zoho Records

Greg Diamond, guitar; Stacy Dillard, tenor/soprano saxophones; Seamus Blake, tenor saxophone; Mike Eckroth, piano; Peter Slavov, bass; Henry Cole, drums; Mauricio Herrera, congas/percussion.

In his biography, Guitarist/composer, Greg Diamond tells us he is half Eastern European Jewish and half Columbian. His father, a former opera singer and classical pianist, is New York born and his mother is Colombian. Diamond spent two years in Colombia right after graduating high school. That gave him an even deeper knowledge of his Latin roots. According to his liner notes, this recording is a reflection of both cultural roots and his New York City experience. The opening composition “Synesthesia” is a bit too repetitive for my taste. The melody is drilled into my head like a dentist needle for seven minutes and fifty-eight seconds. The second cut, “Rastros” gives drummer, Henry Cole, a blank canvas to splash his sticks and brushes against. His percussive excellence is palatable. On “Hint of Jasmin” I can finally listen to Diamond. He opens the tune very acoustically. It’s a tender ballad and he plays his guitar with great emotion and technique. This particular original composition is one of my favorites. “Gentrix” is written in five/four time and Diamond incorporates Mauricio Herrera on percussion to fatten the sound. Sometimes it was rhythmically confusing, veering off into an Afro Cuban mood, somewhat scattered like puzzle pieces on a cardboard table that suddenly settled back into the ‘five’ structure as a sort of hook to pull the composed picture back together. On”Laia” Peter Slavov sets the tune up with only his bass as an introduction, while Diamond sits, strumming his guitar using arpeggio chords in the background. Stacy Dillard sings the melody on saxophone, when suddenly the Latin rhythm enters. It lifts this song and refreshes the arrangement. Mike Eckroth is the one who sets up the Latin feel on piano. To this point, I never heard Eckroth solo on the 88 keys and I thought that was odd. When at last Eckroth is allowed to solo on piano, I found it lack-luster. “Ultima Palabra” is another favorite of mine, melancholy and gives us a pure taste of Diamond’s talent. Pulling at, what sounds like nylon strings, he offers his emotional delivery with sincerity.

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WADADA LEO SMITH – “AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS”
Cuneiform Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet/director of the ensemble; Anthony Davis, piano; Ashley Walters, cello; John Lindberg, bass; Pheeroan Aklaff, drums; Jesse Gilbert, video artist.

This is a double-set CD set that uses modern jazz to describe America’s National parks with music. It’s an intriguing concept and features Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and director of the ensemble. Together, these musicians present a tightly woven, six-movement suite of inspired jazz to celebrate the history and importance of the spiritual nature that is captured in the United States national park system. Smith’s music is appropriately released amidst celebration of the centennial of National Park Services. The Park Services were acknowledged by an act of Congress way back in August of 1916. This album was inspired (in part) by the outstanding Ken Burns twelve-hour documentary series about the National Parks system, but Smith has a slightly different outlook than nature being ike a cathedral.

“The idea that Ken Burns explored in his documentary was that the grandeur of nature was like a religion or a cathedral,” Smith stated. “I reject that image, because the natural phenomenon in creation, just like man and stars and light and water is all one thing, just a diffusion of energy. My focus is on the spiritual and psychological dimensions of the idea of setting aside reserves for common property of the American citizens.”

Smith’s concept is a recording of improvisation and imagination. The suites are long, (by radio-play standards), and heavily soaked in classical music. There are traces of blues and each musician adds dynamic and technically beautiful talent to the exploration of 28 pages of Smith’s music score. He has worked with this line-up of musical excellence for the past 16 years and you can detect a sensitivity and familiarity in their playing. You probably won’t be humming any of these modern jazz, free-form melodies, but the music they make offers a lovely background or inspiration for a modern dance group, or for a journalist, like me, sitting at the computer, writing something creative or reviewing compact discs.

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CLARE FISCHER LATIN JAZZ BIG BAND DIRECTED BY BRENT FISCHER – “INTENSO!”
Clavo Records

Dr. Clare Fischer, composer/arranger/keyboards (except where noted),vocals; Brent Fischer, producer/arranger/conductor/mallet instruments/electric bass (except where noted), guitar, auxillary keyboards; Guest Artists: Sheila E., timbales on Solar Patrol; Roberta Gambarini, vocals on Gaviota & The Butterfly Samba; Scott Whitfield, vocals/trombone on the Butterfly Samba; Luis Conte & Kevin Ricard, all percussion; Walfredo Reyes, Ron Manaog & Tris Imboden, drums; Quinn Johnson, keyboards; Ken Wild, elec. Bass; Woodwinds: Alex Budman, soprano & alto saxophone/flute/piccolo/clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, soprano & alto saxes/flute/clarinet/ Don Shelton, soprano sax/flute; Brian Clancy, tenor sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet/Recorder; Sean Franz, tenor sax/flute/clarinet/bass clarinet/recorder; Ron Hardt, tenor sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet; Lee Callet, baritone sax/flute/alto flute/clarinet/recorder; Bob Carr, bass sax/flute/piccolo/E flat contrabass clarinet. Trumpets: Carl Saunders, Ron Stout, Rob Schaer, James Blackwell, Brian Mantz, Michael Stever, Anthony Bonsera. Trombones: Scott Whitfield, Francisco Torres, Phillip Menchaca, Jacques Voyemant, Steve Hughes, bass trombone.

Here is a stellar piece of work that is well-produced and brilliantly arranged. Brent Fischer continues to keep his father’s legacy alive and in the forefront of the music industry for on-air and public consumption. This is another example of his father’s incredible talent as a prolific composer/pianist/arranger and the younger Fischer’s brilliance as a producer, arranger and musician. From the very first piece, “Algo Bueno” (something good) to the second cut, “Gaviota” (seagull) featuring the silky smooth vocals of Roberta Gambarini and an all-star group of big band connoisseurs, it was evident this was going to be a piece of music to be revered and enjoyed. Brent explained the first couple of pieces in his liner notes.

“My father, having written all the arrangements for Dizzy Gillespie’s Portrait of Duke Ellinton, was a longtime friend and admirer of Diz. His arrangement of Diz’s Manteca on his own album of the same name is legendary. This piece, also known as Woody ‘n’ You, was turned by Clare Fischer into a Salsa master piece… alternating between afro-Cuban 6/8 and Mambo. In the manner he added fifteen horns to many of his small group arrangements, I have done the same here, creating a new big band arrangement based on his original version. On Gaviota, featuring the incomparable Roberta Gambarini on vocals … my horn arrangement is specifically tailored to the way he (dad) played it in the twilight of his life after so much creative evolution.”

This reviewer was so taken with the arrangement on “Gaviota” that I had to play it three times in a row to soak in all the tasty nuances and the beauty of Ms. Gambarini’s voice. She is amazing! On “The Butterfly Samba”, singing at the speed of sound, she is joined by Scott Whitfield, who shines on vocals and trombone.
The “O Canto” arrangement was plush with harmonics embracing five and six part harmonies. Brent Fischer embellished the composition by playing both six string bass and his guitar, plus vibraphone. Carl Saunders sounds magnificent on trumpet and Clare Fischer himself is soloing at the keyboard while singing along. His son used electronics to include his father’s recorded performances. Brent Fischer says this is the only recorded example he knows of his father soloing on “O Canto” and singing along. Dr. Clare Fischer’s legendary playing is heard on seven out of ten new tracks of mostly his original music with a few standards that are completely reinvented. Not only is this a historic recording of Dr. Fischer’s work, interpreted by his son, along with iconic jazz musicians, but it’s a true work of art that is pleasing to the ear and the spirit.
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ALEMAY FERNANDEZ – “HARD TO IMAGINE”
Interrobang Records

Alemay Fernandez, vocals/producer/arranger; Shawn Letts, Music Director/producer/tenor saxophonist/pianist; Kerong Chok & Oliver von Essen, piano/organ; Christy Smith & Ben Poh, double bass; William Gathright & Casey Subramaniam, electric bass; Pablo Calzado, Rizal Sanip, Wenming Soh, Eddie Layman & Erik Hargrove, drums. Navin Kumar Nagpal, percussion; Munir Alsagoff, guitar; Steve Cannon, Mark Kelly & Dave Newdick, trumpet; Marques “Q sound” Young, trombone; Guest Performers: Vanessa Fernandez, Sabina Fernandez & Michaela Therese, vocals; Richard Jackson, duet vocalist.

Alemay Fernandez is based in Singapore and is revered in that community as “Singapore’s Most Well-Loved Jazz Singer”. Her album’s title tune is performed with only the double bass as an accompanist on video at her website. She and Internationally acclaimed bassist, Christy Smith, perform her song as a jazz duo. This vocalist’s voice is smoky rich and powerful. You can tell she is self-assured and pitch perfect. Watch her with the Count Basie Orchestra below.

The simplicity of this recorded production features her timbre and tone riding boldly atop her band. On “Being You”, penned by Alemay Fernandez and William Gathright (her electric bass player), you hear her approach to a more commercially fluid song that could be categorized as Pop or Smooth Jazz. “Spare me the Details” has a delightfully honest lyric that Fernandez delivers with jazzy conviction. It was composed by Will Kern and Shawn Letts who is her musical director and tenor sax man. This cut is bluesy and believable. “I Believe”, a popular pop song from the 1950s, is revamped into a harmonic treasure featuring Fernandez with Featured guests, Vanessa Fernandez, Sabina Fernandez and Michaela Therese (who did the vocal arrangements). They sound like a jazzy Andrew Sisters kind of girl group. It’s a pleasant vocal surprise and showcases Kerong Chok on organ. Some of the tunes are a little too pop-ish to call jazz, but all are performed with strength and clarity by Fernandez. Richard Jackson’s beautiful R&B tinged vocals add a Luther-Vandross-like feel to “Heaven Wrote A Song”, when he duets with Fernandez. She closes with a Latin tinged tune called, “I Got the Feelin’”, another original composition Fernandez co-wrote with Shawn Letts. This composition is full of percussive spark and energy, featuring Navin Kumar Nagpal’s percussive accents. This Fernandez CD, her second solo recording, re-introduces this talented, singer/songwriter to the world and makes for a pleasant listening experience.
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VOLUMES OF JAZZ

September 11, 2016

VOLUMES OF JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

September 11, 2016

This month I was sent quite a few CDs that boasted Vol 1 or Vol 2 of several musical projects by a diversity of artists. First was RAY OBIEDO whose Latin jazz album was beautifully produced and offers a volume one full of pleasant listening. AL STRONG boasted about his “Love Strong” music and also labeled his premier recorded release, volume one. His musical venture was more Be-Bop. On the flip side, CRAIG HARTLEY called his “Books on Tape” volume two, featuring a trio presentation. LITTLE JOHNNY RIVERO brought volumes of energy to the table and DAVE STRYKER brought back his ‘Eight Track’ concept for the second time around, with volumes of oldies-but-goodies repurposed and wonderful. MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL blends Turkish roots with American jazz along with a group of master musicians calling themselves, “Whatsnext”. Finally, CAROL BACH-Y-RITA adds her vocal, percussive improvisation to the mix. Thus my title, “Volumes of Jazz” takes on a double entendre, encompassing several hours of music and various CDs that reference volumes of work and also offer volumes of talent.

RAY OBIEDO – “LATIN JAZZ PROJECT VOL. 1”
Rhythmus Records

Ray Obiedo, acoustic & electric guitars/synthesizers; David Belove & Marc van Wageningen, bass; David K. Mathews, piano/organ; Paul van Wageningen, drums; Karl Perazzo, congas/timbales; Roger Glenn, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Elena Pinderhughes flute; Sandy Cressman, vocals; Peter Michael Escovedo, bongo/timbales; Derek Rolando, congas; Norbert Stachel, tenor/soprano saxophones/flute; Phil Hawkins, steel pans; Michael Spiro, percussion; Peter Horvath,piano solo; Bob Mintzer,tenor saxophone; Orestes Vilato, timbales; Mike Olmos, trumpet; Ray Vega, trumpet solo; Jeff Cressman,trombone; Jon Bendich, congas; Sheila E., conga solo/percussion; Mike Rinta,trombone/horn arrangements.

The first thing that grabs me about this project is the percussive excellence. From the very first notes, it’s the drums and percussion that sweep me into a musical moment of danceable, Latin jazz. I am propelled along by the sweet double time excitement of the drums on Tito Puente’s composition, “Picadillo”. When Obiedo enters on his guitar, he picks his solo with precision and improvisation, after the ensemble has properly established the melody in concert and with gusto. But throughout, thanks to a sensitive mix and mastering, Karl Perazzo on congas and timbales, with ginormous support from Paul van Wageningen on trap drums, supports this music like a cinder block basement, along with several other guest percussionists. The addition of Sandy Cressman’s background vocals on cut #2, “Coral Keys” and on “Vera Cruz” takes this production to another level, embracing smooth jazz and easy listening at the same time. “Coral Keys” prominently features the flautist, Elena Pinderhughes. Obiedo bounces around from acoustic to electric guitars, throwing in synthiziser for good measure, and gives ample solo time to his all-star cast of characters. “Caravan” features Norbert Stachel on soprano saxophone. Siblings, Sheila E and Pete Escovedo Jr., are also featured on this project, presenting a forceful final number called, “Cool for Now”. Mathews is tasteful and impressive on piano throughout and another special guest is the talented reedman, Bob Mintzer. I enjoy the rhythm guitar licks on “Vera Cruz” and the groove is infectious. “St Thomas” is one of my favorite Sonny Rollins tunes and Obiedo paints it with fresh, bright, Latin colors, much like the cover of this CD, shiny with blue and bright orange, brilliant yellow and rich green buildings. There is a colorful fusion feel to this production of the Rollins tune. Mintzer brings Straight-Ahead to the Latin party on tenor saxophone during cut #6, “Cubo Azul”. This happens to be one of three original compositions by the artist, Ray Obiedo. Bassist, Marc van Wageningen, (not to be confused with Paul) is a mainstay of lock-down rhythms, blending his bass licks with the drums to offer a strong foundation for the ensemble to build upon. Another of Obiedo’s original compositions that I enjoyed immensely is “Child’s Dance,” where both the artist and his bassist show off their talent and instrument techniques with spontaneous solos. This entire album of Latin jazz resonates splendid joy and happiness.
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CRAIG HARTLEY – “BOOKS ON TAPE VOL. II – STANDARD EDITION”
Independent Label

Craig Harley, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons, drums.

Sometimes the simplicity of just a trio is all you need to enjoy a collection of jazz standards. It’s like a good book, the “standard Edition”, on a chilly night by the fireplace. You curl up with the musical story and enjoy. Craig Hartley is very creative on piano, with improvisation pouring out of his right hand while his left hand deftly keeps the time with appropriate chords. “Jitterbug Waltz” never sounded so good.

Clemons on drums knows just when to crescendo and when to dance softly beneath the music. De Rosa is cleverly and skillfully present on bass. When they complexly blend Miles Davis with Bach, I am totally impressed. Hartley has arranged the jazz standard “Solar” as part of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude No. 2 in C minor.” The artist explains in his liner notes:

“Here I am able to show how my eclectic interests and inspirations allowed me to intertwine two major standards from two different genres.”

When they move from a classical presentation to hard-bop swing, I am enchanted. I enjoyed hearing Carlo De Rosa’s double bass solo on this arrangement and was fascinated with how Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons complimented that solo on drums in a most unique and artistic way.

The stories this trio tells is represented by the works of Duke Ellington, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, J.S. Bach, Fats Waller and Paul McCartney. Although the songs are familiar, they have been completely re-arranged and consequently reinvented. These compositions sound fresh and revitalized, from the much recorded “Caravan” to the beautiful and somewhat obsolete composition by McCartney titled, “Junk.” The faces of these musical masterpieces are presented in uniquely different lights. Here are three dynamic musicians who smartly bring be-bop, pop and classical music together seamlessly and wrap us warmly in their musical garment. The release date for this awesome recording is October 7, 2016.
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AL STRONG – “LOVE STRONG – VOLUME 1”
Independent Label

Al Strong, trumpet/flugelhorn/steelpan; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons & Lajhi Hampden, drums; Lance Scott, bass; Ameen Saleem, acoustic bass; Ryan Hanseler, piano/Fender Rhodes; Lovell Bradford, piano/organ/Wurly; Joel Holloway & Charles Robinson, Hammond B-3 organ; JC Martin, guitar; Brevan Hampden, percussion; Shaena Ryan Martin, baritone saxophone; Bluford Thompson, tenor saxophone; James ‘Saxmo’ Gates, alto saxophone; Alan Thompson, soprano saxophone; Jordan Baker, Charles Robinson, Jeremy “bean” Clemons & Bluford Thompson, Jr, Party Boys vocals; SPECIAL GUESTS: Ira Wiggins, alto flute; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Devonne Harris, Fender Rhodes; Ameen Saleem, Acoustic bass; Brian Miller, tenor saxophone; Lummie Spann, Jr., alto sax; The KidzNotes Mozart Chorus – Children’s Voices.

Al Strong comes be-boppin’ into the room complimenting his name; strong! The cut is titled “Get Away 9” and these musicians exemplify the concept of taking flight and ‘getting away’ excellently, starting with Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons on drums. He rumbles onto the set and spurs the horns into action right from the first four bars of this up-tempo-get-away. Wait! Didn’t I just hear this drummer on another CD I recently reviewed by Craig Hartley? Looks like he gets around in the studio. The featured artist, horn to lips, blows with gusto on this, his original composition and conveys a story of a possible road trip where musical friends indulge in spirited conversation along the way. They each have a lot to say, reflecting the magic of this project from the very first solos by Ameen Saleem, solid on acoustic bass. Other conversationalists are Clemons, dynamic on drums; Lavell Bradford, improvisational on piano and Bluford Thompson on tenor saxophone. Between Thompson’s commanding solo and Al Strong playing with time on his horn and riffin’ trumpet descants against the tenor sax lines, this listener experiences a conversation of sorts between ‘the cats’. Saleem is no slouch on his big, fat bass notes that support the entire ensemble throughout this song. This is a jazzy party, in the basement with the blue light on! I played this interestingly arranged tune four times before I could go on to the rest of the album.
The children’s voices caught me off guard on cut number two; (the kidzNotes Mozart Chorus). Singing a’cappella with innocence and sincerity, they performed the familiar “Itsy Bitsy spider” nursery rhyme. Strong has developed this happy-go-lucky childhood memory into a jazz tune worthy of a listen. He puts the blues into the mix, along with modern jazz, inclusive of free-flowing improvisational solos going on beneath his solo, like the walking bass and Ira Wiggins on a fluid alto flute. This time Lajhi Hampden is on drums.

It appears Al Strong has gathered a number of musicians, hand-picking those he felt would best interpret his arrangements and original compositions. “Lilly’s Lullaby” plays like a dirge and features the sensitive accompaniment of Joey Calderazzo on piano. But it’s always Al Strong, whose trumpet sensitivity and technique bring musical magic to each song. Be it familiar or original, he pours his heart and soul into playing it. I also found the freedom in his arrangements glamorize his accompaniment in extraordinary ways. It’s not often that an artist so lovingly and openly let’s his musicians shine with such strength and clarity. Often, they play simultaneous to solos. I find myself listening to the background musicians and instrumentation as much as the front line players. Strong is to be complimented on his deftness as a producer, arranger and free spirited musician.
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LITTLE JOHNNY RIVERO – “MUSIC IN ME”
Truth Revolution Records

Little Johnny Rivero, congas/bongo/timbales/talking drums/Quinto/barril de bomba/chants & minor percussion; Zaccai Curtis, piano/Fender Rhodes; Luques Curtis, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums; Brian Lynch, trumpet/Louis Fouche, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrad Herwig, trombone; Jonathan Powell, trumpet; Alfredo De La Fe, violin; Natalie Fernandez, vocals; Anthony Carrillo, bongo/bata/barril de bomba/cuas/maracas; Luisito Quintero, timbales; Giovanni Almonte, poem; Manny Mieles, chant vocals; Edwin Ramos, coro.

Now here we have a bright, happy music project that is a true pleasure to attend and enjoy. My feet start patting and I am invigorated by the percussive energy, delightful horn licks and master musicianship. Percussionist/composer, Little Johnny Rivero successfully combines New York City East Coast energy with his Puerto Rican roots and infuses his production with Afro-Cuban rhythms. The very first tune, “Mr. LP” sets the standard for this entire project. Danceable and energetic, Rivero dedicates his composition to L.P. Founder, Martin Cohen, who he refers to as a dear friend and father figure in his liner notes. Special guest, Conrad Herwig, brings substance and creativity on his trombone. However, it’s Luques Curtis on bass and Rivero who steal the spotlight with their exciting rhythms and the locked down tempo and groove dancing beneath the Zaccai Curtis piano solo and Herwig’s trombone talents. Jonathan Powell, on trumpet, is also powerful on this cut. “Music in Me”, the title tune, is a sweet, Latin, jazz Rhumba with the intro melody playing cut-time atop multi percussive double-time rhythms. Brian Lynch’s trumpet solo is formidable, followed by the smooth, sexy sound of Louis Fouché on alto saxophone. Pianist, Z. Curtis, and Rivero have co-written this composition and it’s dynamic in production. I enjoyed the “La, la, la” vocals of Natalie Fernandez on “Palmieri, Much Respect”, cut #5. Fernandez has a unique timbre and tone that immediately catches the attention, even though she sang not one word, except “La-la” to reference the melody. It was an interesting concept that worked. In fact, this entire musical menu is delicious to the creative palate and to the discerning taste of this jazz aficionado.

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DAVE STRYKER – EIGHT TRACK II
Strikezone Records

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

Once again, guitarist Dave Stryker has taken a basket full of hit pop and R&B tunes, then transformed them into jazz using organ, vibraphone, guitar and drums. He opens with “Harvest for the World” a popular Isley Brothers hit record. The problem for me, right off the bat, is that I miss the strong bass line that pumps tunes like this up into the Billboard top ten. No matter how hard excellent drummer McClenty Hunter plays, he can’t compensate for the lack of that strong bass line. I enjoy Stryker’s unexpected introduction on “What’s Going On”, made famous by Marvin Gaye and recorded a million times by many other musicians. Once again, the lack of a strong bass line takes away from the strength of this arrangement. Although Nelson’s vibraphone work is admirable and Gold’s organ accompaniment and solo are well played, I am still missing that bass line. I can hear the organ bass line on “When Doves Cry” way in the background. Perhaps it’s the mix on this project that is troubling me. That being said, I commend Stryker for choosing a list of eleven popular songs for us to rediscover in a jazzy way. He offers “Trouble Man”, “Midnight Cowboy”, Stevie Wonder’s, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Send One Your Love”; the Temptations, “I Can’t Get Next to You” (written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield). These Motown gems for sure deserve to be ‘funk’ infused somewhere. “Send One Your Love” is very sweetly done, almost like a Bossa Nova, but not quite. Hunter tears the drums up on “I Can’t Get Next to You”, putting funk into the production, but without that all important bass line, it’s still lack-luster. To his credit, Stryker always manages to give a new perspective to these old, familiar songs and all the players manage to improvise so well that at times you totally forget what hit-parade composition they are improvising over. This is the case with “I Can’t Get Next to You.” Every solo is spirited and exciting, in spite of the lack of bass groove. Then, on the very end of the song, I hear that organ bass line being pumped out in a ‘walking bass’ that is intriguing. I think on “Time of the Season” they finally got Gold’s bass line delivered, where it sounds mixed into the production properly. The ensemble found a strong ‘Swing’ shuffle groove on this composition. When the musicians Traded Fours it stamped this Zombies tune with jazz approval.

As always, Stryker remains tenacious in delivery and improvisation on his six-string guitar. After 30 plus years in the music business, he continues to showcase his power as an arranger, as well as a player. Jaren Gold is also to be commended on his arrangement input on tracks 1, 2, 5 and 6. One of my favorites was Striker’s arrangement of “One Hundred Ways” and “Sunshine of Your Love”. All in all, just subject to the nostalgia that these wonderful songs conjure up, Stryker should get plenty of airplay on this, his 27th CD release as a leader.
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MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL & WHATSNEXT? – “RESOLUTION”
Dunya Records

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, conductor/composer/arranger/harpsichord/clavinet/oog prodigy/keyboards/ney/cumbus/ud/talking drum/wter pot/vocals; Utar Artun, piano/Phil Sargent, electric guitar; Fernando Huergo, electric bass; Bertram Lehmann, drums; George Lernis, bongos/darbuka/def/tamvourine/cymbals; Mark Zaleski, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Dave Milazzo, alto sax/clarinet; Rick DiMuzio/tenor saxophone/clarinet; Aaron Henry, tenor saxophone; Jared Sims, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Mike Peipman, trumpet; Jeff Claassen, Tom Halter & Jerry Sabatini, trumpet/flugel horn; Chris Gagne, Clayton DeWalt & Tim Lienhard, trombone; Gabe Langfur, bass trombone. GUEST ARTISTS: Anat Cohen, clarinet; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Tiger Okoshi, trumpet; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Nedelka Prescod, vocals.

From Turkish rhythms to full, swinging, big-band-arrangements, here is a project that speaks volumes about how jazz touches cultures and how cultures embrace jazz as the epitome of freedom and self-expression. I own a middle Eastern keyboard that has a multitude of cultural rhythms programmed into it. I was interested in hearing how this creative effort might embrace Malfouf, Fallahi, Maksum, Kazak, Saidi and various other Middle East rhythms. Starting with the very first cut, “The Turkish 2nd Line (New Orleans Ciftetellisi)”, this multi-talented artist opens with Middle East microtones and rhythms that quickly liquesce into something resembling a New Orleans orchestra. The production features lush horn harmonics built upon a rhythm section that sounds very Turkish in origin. This complete project is music Sanlikol (the artist) composed in the summer of 2015 and is meant to reflect the point where two cultures meet; his Turkish roots and American jazz. It was Mehmet Ali Sanlikol’s desire to discover his musical roots that led to a decade or more of unearthing Turkish music and soaking up microtones, Middle Eastern modes and rhythms.

“When I realized that I didn’t know much about my roots, that was a big shock and I think it triggered something in me that’s deep,” he explained in liner notes.
The second composition, full of minor modes and a male voice that sings like a distant chant or prayer over unusual rhythms and sparse orchestration, takes us back to a time and place far from American shores. So does cut #3, “Whirl Around.” This third composition takes us through a series of moods and musical revelations that are both interesting and creatively compelling, this time featuring a male voice and female vocalist, Nedelka Prescod, who moves from Turkish mode with English lyrics to improvisational scat at the snap of a finger. It’s an interesting concept. This music is unlike any jazz album I’ve heard before and that is quite a statement for this jazz journalist to make. I’ve listened intently to jazz music for most of my life and this concept is fresh.

When “Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Jazz Orchestra in C” begins to play, I am enthralled with the various song cycles. One is titled, “Ballad, Reminiscence.” I am taken aback by the bluesy beauty of this composition. This production lends itself to an Ellingtonian sound with lovely horn arrangements and featuring emotional and moving solos by Dave Liebman with the jazz orchestra.

Mehmet Ali Sanliko was born in Istanbul and studied piano with his mother. He began performing publicly at age five. Winning a scholarship, he arrived in Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music and earned both Master’s and Doctorate Degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music. Dunya is a Boston-based independent record label that he co-founded and it’s used as a collective vehicle for contemporary music influenced by Turkish traditions.
The titles of these compositions, like the music itself, I found challenging, creatively excellent, intricate, and plush with styles, rhythms and musical persuasions that cross borders and fully entertain the listener.
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CAROL BACH-Y-RITA – “MINHA CASA / MY HOUSE”
Arugula Records

Carol Bach-y-rita, vocals; Bill Cantos, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; John Leftwich, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums/percussion; Dudu Fuentes, percussion on track 9.

From the first cut, I have the feeling this is going to be a special musical offering. “Morning Coffee” is creative and cohesive, with a wonderful lyric and catchy, memorable melody. It’s composed by pianist Bill Cantos. Bach-y-rita sells the song and adds percussive vocals for good measure. She makes the song come alive and fades with just her voice and percussion. Nice! I love the arrangement on the old standard “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to” with the guitar trio employing a Latin, 6/8 feel that makes it a unique listening experience. Carol Bach-y-rita has a propensity for using her voice to scat percussion and I appreciate her technique and creativity. It sets her apart from the average singers and enhances her platform as a jazz vocalist. I am impressed with her timing and tackling Eddie Jefferson’s version of “Night in Tunisia” is not for the faint of heart. Obviously, she has picked a group of amazing songs to sing and thanks to unusually fresh arrangements, as well as the sensitive group of musicians she is working with, here is a collection of pure talent. The last time I enjoyed “Tis Autumn” was when I heard Gloria Lynn sing it. Ms. Bach-y-rita has changed all that with her successful vocal on this beautiful jazz standard. Larry Koonse is a sensitive and established guitar accompanist. To top off the ice cream sundae of a musical experience, both sweet and tantalizing, this vocal artist tackles the Joni Mitchell and Charlie Mingus composition, “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines.” It’s arranged by herself and reedman, Robert Kyle. They call it a Samba Reggae. LOL. Refreshing! I thought I had heard “Nature Boy” in every type of arrangement until Carol Bach-y-rita decided to sing it for us as a duet with drums. Just in case you had any doubts that she is a real jazz singer, this arrangement will put them to rest! Drummer, Mike Shapiro, plays beautifully and totally supports the artist with percussive excellence. The two of them have written and arranged “Trust”, a composition that follows, utilizing a Maracatu rhythm beneath the haunting melody. The artist performs in Portuguese with no problem and great emotion. I learned, from reading the liner notes, that she is conversant in five languages. Impressive!

The suggestions for airplay of this album reads, “File under jazz/vocal/Brazilian/world.” However, I say this is simply great music, featuring a beautifully recorded artist, who is shades of a female Al Jarreau or Bobby McFerrin and who is not afraid to jump off the precipice of music without a parachute.
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A MUSIC SOUP: SMOOTH JAZZ, BLUES, LATIN AND AVANT GARDE TAKE CENTER STAGE

August 26, 2016

A MUSIC SOUP: SMOOTH JAZZ, BLUES, LATIN AND AVANT GARDE TAKE CENTER STAGE

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

August 26, 2016

TOM McCORMICK – “South Beat”
Manatee Records

Tom McCormick, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Pete Wallace, piano; Nicky Orta, electric bass; Eric England, acoustic & electric bass; Carlomagno Araya, drums/percussion; David Chiverton, drums; Edwin Bonilla, congas/bongos; Humberto Ibarra, guiro; Doug Michels, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Kricker, trombone. Special Guest Artists: Jonathan Kreisberg, guitar; Leo Quintero, guitar; John Lovell, trumpet/flugelhorn solos.

Energetic funk horns bounce into my listening room with gusto. The tune is “South Beat”, the title of this musical package and an original composition by the artist. McCormick offers pick-you-up music. Jazz that rejuvenates. After putting on three or four CDs that disappointed me, I was really pleased to hear this production. McCormick brings a fresh face to old standards and previews some original compositions that sound like they could easily become jazz standards. For example, two of his compositions, with strong Latin influence like “Iridescence” and “Blue Cha,” sound as though I have heard them before and are well produced and beautifully melodic. Carlomagno Araya on drums and Edwin Bonilla, percussion, dance away with rhythm personified. McCormick solos strongly on tenor and soprano saxophones throughout, while the horn section appropriately embellishes the production on “Iridescence”. McCormick has written all arrangements and co-produced tracks 1,2,4,8 & 10 with Araya. Another favorite original composition is “Mantra” with a stellar solo by guest artist, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar and this tune delivers a catchy melody. You’re bound to sing along with this one. John Coltrane’s “Naima” is always a treat to hear and this group of musicians does it justice with Pete Wallace basking in the spotlight on his piano solo. Another favorite of mine is Victor Young & Ned Washington’s tune, “My Foolish Heart”. It’s such a beautiful song, featuring a very bluesy, sexy solo by McCormick, with Eric England making a stand-out, solo statement on double bass. This group transitions easily from straight-ahead to funk; from Brazilian and Cuban beats to rich blues and strong swinging arrangements. I played this Compact Disc four times and liked it more with each spin.

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MUSIC SOUP – “CUT TO THE CHASE”
Chicken Coup/Summit Records

Evgenia Karlafti, organ/piano/vocals; Nestor Dimopoulos, guitar; Vagelis Kotzabasis, drums; Anastasis Gouliaris, drums; Dimitris Popadopoulos, trumpet; Dimitri Vassilakis, tenor saxophone; Antonis Andreou, trombone.

No one loves an organ based jazz group more than I do, so when I heard that organ on the first song of “Music Soup’s” recording, I was happily expectant. “Cut to the Chase” is the title of this Cd and the song title of cut number one. It was composed by keyboardist, Evgenia Karlafti and guitarist, Nestor Dimopoulos. In fact, they have individually written or co-written every song on this project. The title tune bounces the time from 5/4 to 6/4 to 5/8 and races at top speed. I recognize immediately that these serious musicians are challenging the listener and themselves to play outside the box. Their next offering, titled “The Theme,” features Karlafti singing as well as playing organ. I prefer them as an instrumental group and I miss the B-3 organ bass pedal licks, but Karlafti is definitely multi-talented.

Music Soup is a good name for this trio of musicians because they embrace a mixed bag of styles and musical concepts that mirror their decade of playing together and their individual personalities. Nestor summed it up by saying, “We don’t limit ourselves stylistically.”

This organ trio, based in Athens, Greece, is an integral part of the Greek jazz scene. According to the liner notes, Athenian music conservatories began offering jazz programs in the late 90s and jam sessions sprung up all around the city. Jazz audiences and interest kept growing and today, their Greek National University has a Department for Jazz Studies that offers in-depth jazz courses. Here is a rich example of how our indigenous, American musical art form has inspired musicians from continent to continent. Because they have been working together for ten years, Music Soup has a tight, cohesive sound. Their music is well written and produced. On “Your Song” horns join the group. Special guests Dimitris Papadopoulos on trumpet, Dimitri Vassilakis on tenor sax and Antonis Andreou on trombone fatten the sound. However these horns, (nicely arranged by Haris Ziouva) are merely icing on the creative cake that Karlafti and Dimopoulos have baked. Nestor’s bluesy guitar and Evgenia Karlafti’s organ mastery are the fireworks of this production.
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DAVE BRADSHAW JR – “SET ME FREE”
Independent label

Dave Bradshaw, piano/synthesizer/organ/string programing/drum programming; Darren Rahn, tenor saxophone/keyboards/synthesized bass/drum programming/horn section/Wurli; Allen Hinds, guitar; Mel Brown & Ken Friend, bass; Tarell Martin, drums; Jason Rahn, trumpet; Christian Teele, percussion; Marqueal Jordan, vocals.

I’ve been looking forward to Dave Bradshaw Jr. being set free to do his solo project and show the world his composition skills and piano/keyboard technique. This is super happy music and well worth the wait. Bradshaw has co-written every song on his newly released CD with producer Darren Rahn. The first cut, “West Coast Jammin’” is playful and funky with Bradshaw playing piano and synthesizer and Rahn adding tenor saxophone, keyboards, synthesized bass and drum programming. Allen Hinds on guitar is musically strong throughout, but he comes to life on the second cut. This song sounds like it was based on the popular “Sunny” composition, but it has a fresh melody and Bradshaw overdubs his outstanding piano parts with organ and synthesizer. Tarell Martin brings fire and funk to the project with real drums replacing the programmed ones. “Guys’ Night Out” quickly becomes one of my favorite cuts on this CD. I especially like the fact that Bradshaw brings passion to the piano and isn’t afraid to stretch out and improvise over the tenacious tracks he’s laid down. Another favorite of mine is “Saboroso: with its Latin flavors and exciting percussive work by Teele and Martin. Mel Brown plays a strong groove throughout on bass. This is Smooth Jazz at its best, with Bradshaw bringing his knowledge of ‘Straight Ahead’, blues and swing, then mixing it up with funk and fusion. The blend is as natural and delicious as ice cream with cake. And Bradshaw’s premiere CD endeavor is as joyful as a birthday party. It will make you want to get up and dance.

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GENERATION BLUES EXPERIENCE – “PRIVATE ANGEL”
R Music, Inc

Ray Goren, Rhythm guitar/lead guitar/vocals; Jamie Powell, rhythm guitar/vocals; Sammy Lee, harmonica/vocals; Lester Lands, bass/rhythm guitar/vocals; Albert Trepagnier, Jr; drums; Tadg Galleran, keyboard; Rhythm guitar, Terry DeRouse; Andrew Bush, keyboards; Bobby ‘Hurricane’ Spencer, musical director/horn arranger/tenor saxophone; Dan Weinstein, Cornet/trombone; Retha Petruzates, Lester Lands, Robert Spender, Background vocals.

I visited the Seabird Lounge in Long Beach on Friday night and I was in for an exceptional treat. The Generation Blues Experience Band was performing and they put on a high energy, exciting show. The audience was literally dancing in the aisles and standing up to testify. Each of the male group not only played instruments but could sing lead and background vocals. Similar to this album, each took a turn to perform a solo song, every musician exhibiting a unique sound and vocal timbre. Sammy Lee is magnificent on harmonica and his voice is rich and gritty all at the same time. When he sings “Little Mama,” the women in the audience scream and shout. Pianist, Tadg Galleran, brought the house down when he sang “Even White Boys Get the Blues”, falling to his knees on the last chorus and, at one point, playing Ray Gorens guitar while Goren went to the keyboard to play an impressive blues solo. Speaking of Goren, his soulful rendition of the Bill Withers composition, “Ain’t No Sunshine” coming from a young man who is only sixteen years old, was surprising. But what really got the applause was his amazing technique on guitar. I could tell immediately that this youthful blues player is going to be a huge star.

Goren sings three songs on this album including “Ain’t No Sunshine”, “Rainin’” (co-written with Goren by drummer, Albert Trepagnier, Jr.) and “Private Angel” that Goren co-wrote with the band’s musical director, Bobby Spencer. I remember Lester Lands on bass from recently seeing him playing with a blues group at La Louisianne in Los Angeles. He stepped up to the microphone, still laying down a solid bass- line while singing “Shake, Rattle and Roll”. The audience chimed in on the ‘hook’ of the song. Every time Lester sang “Shake”, we all gladly came in with the familiar lyrics, “rattle and roll”. And the party was on! Ray Goren gave an exquisite guitar blues solo and once again I could hardly believe that someone so young could play with such finesse and expression. Lady GG came to the stage and entertained us with a couple of songs including an emotional rendition of “The Sky Is Crying”. She is not on the album, but she appeared with the band during their live performance Friday at the Seabird. She exhibited a strong voice and much rolling of the hips. Her songs ooze emotion. Drummer, Albert Trepagnier, has a beautiful voice and closed the second set out playing drums and singing. He’s not featured as a vocalist on this album, but I hope he will be on the next one.

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SONUS INENARRABILIS – “NINE LIVE plays the music of JOHN CLARK”
High Records

John Clark, composer/French horn; Kinan Azmeh, clarinet; Lynn Bechtold, violin; Dan Cooper, 7-string electric bass; Jennifer DeVore, cello; Stephanie Griffin, viola; Cesare Papetti, drums; Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon; Rob Stephens, keyboards; Thomas Carlo Bo, conductor.

This work of art is an EP rather than a CD, featuring only six songs, but still giving us the full breath and width of each composition by playing them each over five minutes. Consequently, you end up with nearly 40 minutes of music. The unusual CD title translates to “underfinable sound”. I note that the credits on the CD jacket list instruments one would consider more like chamber music than jazz instrumentation. Once the first cut, “Sibilia Colubri” begins to play, I find the composition very classically constructed. Rob Stephens’ keyboard work introduces us to a lovely melody and puts the jazz component into this piece. Clark’s French horn is unique unto itself and the strings add a touch of symphonic or string quartet magic to the mix. About mid-way through, Cesare Papetti kicks in on his trap drums, putting a funk face on the piece. I enjoy this unusual and creative arrangement, although I find the tune itself repetitive. The melody keeps repeating over and over, using various instruments to sing the same melodic line. Perhaps a bridge in the song would have helped. “Die Kreuzotter” is dark and ominous in tone and presentation. I can picture a villain creeping into a shadowy room with a hood over his head and a weapon in his hand. Come to think of it, the more I listen to the music of John Clark, I think he could submit this project to some motion picture company or perhaps consider scoring for film. He knows how to build tension in his music and the repetitious lines lend themselves to film scoring. The title “Nine Live” pertains to the nine musicians who have recorded this album. Just like the CD title boasts, Clark’s musical ensemble and his compositions come without boundaries and are difficult to define.

John Clark is no newcomer to the world of jazz. Early on he played with several NEA jazz masters like McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, George Russell and Gil Evans. He was a familiar participant with the Gil Evans Monday Night Orchestra that reigned supremely popular at New York City’s Sweet Basil jazz venue in the 1980’s. Currently, Clark is on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music and passing the baton to the next generation of musicians.
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QUINSIN NACHOFF – “FLUX”
Independent label

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/composer; David Binney, alto saxophone; Matt Mitchell, piano/fender Rhodes/Wurlizer/moog rogue/organ; Kenny Wollesen, drums/timpani/tubular bells/handcrafted percussion.

If you enjoy Avant Garde jazz and exploring unknown musical territory, Quinsin Nachoff’s newly released CD is perfect for you. Here is an artist that stirs up the territory between modern jazz and contemporary classical in a most unique way. Nachoff is unafraid of exploring the depth of untested musical waters. He dives right in with no restrictions, no life preserver and no limits. This bass-less ensemble includes musicians who are all leaders in their own right. Drummer, Kenny Wollesen, is the founding member of ‘the New Klezmer Trio’ and ‘Sex Mob,’ but has also worked with Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Tom Waits and John Zorn. Matt Mitchell, is the pianist and keyboard expert. He’s worked as part of the faculty of the New York-based Center for Improvisational Music. Reed man, David Binney’s Mythology label is releasing this album and Binney is a prolific player/composer/producer who has collaborated with Donny McCaslin, Uri Caine and Chris Potter.

Tenor saxophonist, Quinsin Nachoff, is a graduate of the University of Toronto and has composed music for a variety of ensembles including the Toronto Jazz Orchestra, the Cecilia String Quartet, his own Horizons Ensemble and more. He also leads the Pyramid Project that brings together a saxophone brass quintet with drums. He has coached at the Banff Centre for the Arts, taught at the University of Toronto, at Humber College and served as artist-in-residence at the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane, Australia. He has composed all the music recorded on this compact disc and all four of these talented music men breathe vivid life into his work, at times sounding like way more than just a quartet.

These arrangements are pulled and stretched like a huge rubber band across the universe, using staccato like a sling shot and bouncing the tones around like polished stones against the sky. Here is an unconventional recording, featuring a quartet minus the bass, obviously on a quest for unbridled freedom.
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