Archive for the ‘CD REVIEWS’ Category

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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JAZZ SPANS CONTINENTS & CULTURES

August 2, 2016

JAZZ SPANS CONTINENTS AND CULTURES
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

August 2, 2016

This month I was inspired by two women who brought culture and unique perspective to jazz with the use of international languages and refreshing productions by amazing, world-class musicians. I’m talking about San Diego’s Allison Adams Tucker and Brazilian diva, Kenia. Speaking of culture, Harold Lopez-Nussa brings us a belly full of Cuban jazz, seasoned with African roots and American jazz and blues. Steve Fidyk, a forceful and creative drummer, charges out of California’s West Coast gates with an all-star group and vocalist, Catherine Russell reminds us of Harlem in the early years of jazz, big bands and chanteuses like Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters. Finally, UK’s own Benn Clatworthy brings his saxophone prowess to the forefront and asks us an appropriate question in today’s United States climate; “What’s Going on?” I tell you all about it in this column of CD Reviews.

ALLISON ADAMS TUCKER – “WANDERLUST”
Origin Records

Allison Adams Tucker, vocals; Josh Nelson, piano/fender Rhodes/pump organ; Scfott Colley, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Chris Potter, bass clarinet/tenor sax/flute; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Romero Lubambo, guitar; Mike Moreno, guitar; Stephane Wrembel, guitar.

This vocalist is quite extraordinary. She sings well in English, French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and Japanese on this groundbreaking recording. Yes, six languages and all sung with emotion, passion and sounding very authentic to this listener’s ear. The singer and her longtime pianist, Josh Nelson, flew to New York and recorded with an International group of musicians. The results is a unique and pleasurable project. Tucker majored in linguistics and minored in music. This album combines both passions. Her sweet soprano voices caresses each song and each language with plenty of expression.

The entire album is a very easy-listening experience and the musicians accentuate each song beautifully. I especially loved the guitar work on “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” by Stephane Wrembel. His guitar licks are rhythmic and enchanting. The arrangement on “Pure Imagination” is stunning and creative. Josh Nelson stands out, like a beaming star in the heavens, with his piano playing and accompaniment. Allison Adams Tucker sparkles with her ability to not only sing in varied languages, but also offers us an exciting menu of music, including Jobim’s popular “Aguas de Marco” sung in Portuguese and Pat Metheny’s “Better Days Ahead” where she shows off mad scat skills. Kudos to Matt Pierson who produced this project and brought the best out of everyone.
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KENIA – “ON WE GO”
Mooka Records

Kenia, vocals; Sandro Albert, acoustic & elec. Guitar; Romero Lubambo, acoustic guitar; Paul Socolow, bass; Adriano Santos, drums; Mark Soskin, keyboards & acoustic piano; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica; Ago Pisztora, surdo; Lucas Ashby, percussion.

Born Kenia Acioly in Rio de Janeiro, Kenia always brings a rich, mellow sound to her music. In the 90’s and 90’s her singing was a pleasant introduction to contemporary Brazilian jazz, blended with pop. On this CD, the songstress reunites with members of her first band after nearly two decades. Her opening song and the title of this CD, “On We Go” is composed by Eric Susoeff with lyrics by Lorraine Feather; (songwriter and jazz historian, Leonard Feather’s little girl). The composer also arranged this tune, but for the majority of the twelve recorded songs, Kenia herself is the accomplished arranger.

She has also penned lyrics for a couple of the compositions. Ivan Lin’s “Closer to me” features the lovely addition of harmonica by Hendrik Meurkens and the rhythmical accompaniment of guitarist, Sandro Albert. This is one of my favorite tunes on this CD. The simplicity of the production draws the listener closer to the lyrical content, and Kenia loves scatting over the track, exemplifying her theme of freedom. Kenia’s voice is like a summer wind, gently rustling the leaves of a palm tree. Her music is soothing and smooth as a cloudless sky. She sings in her native Portuguese as well as English, and sometimes just scats with joyful sounds; no words necessary! Other favorite songs are: “On We Go”, “Melancia” with her voice soaring like an eagle above this well-produced track/no lyrics; “Zureta” and the happy, up-tempo, “Pra Qué Qué Inventaram A Bahia?”
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HAROLD LOPEZ-NUSSA – “EL VIAJE”
Mack Ave Records

Harold Lopez-Nussa, piano/keyboard/backing vocal; Alune Wade, bass/vocal/backing vocal; Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa, drums, percussion/triola/backing vocal; Mayquel Gonzalez, trumpet, flugelhorn; Dreiser Durruthy, tambores bata, vocal; Adel Gonzalez, percussion; Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa, drums.

This Cd enchanted me right from the cover, with a keyboard lying singularly inside an abandoned canoe. The artwork was compelling. The canoe is floating on a rippled lake with the artist’s name and CD title hoovering above it. Then the hum of a male voice appears, singing the melody of an unfamiliar song that strangely sounds as though I should know it. This voice, unpretentious and simple, singing in a language I do not speak nor understand, entices me. I feel the vocalist’s passion and his love. In face, I find this project full of love, life and creativity. Harold Lopez-Nussa, the composer/vocalist /pianist touches me deeply. When his piano playing begins, it both stuns and amazes me. Lopez-Nussa is unequivocally an extremely talented pianist/composer.

This artist, with a dual citizenship in both Cuba and France, is the first to release an album internationally since the Obama lifting of restrictions and the long-standing, U.S. trade embargo. Lopez-Nussa was born into a musical family in Havana on July 13, 1983. Both his father and uncle are working musicians. His deceased mother, Mayra Torres, was a highly regarded piano teacher and by the mere age of eight years old, young Lopez-Nussa was enrolled at the Manuel Saumell Elementary School of Music. After years of classical training, at age eighteen, he discovered jazz. Now, listening to this man’s virtuosity, I can only say his piano mastery is startling, beautiful and undeniable.

“Jazz was scary. Improvisation was scary; that idea of not knowing what you are going to play,” he shares in his liner notes.

Not to worry! Lopez-Nussa has mastered improvisation in the same way he has mastered his instrument and his composition skills. Surrounded by outstanding musicians, including his father (Ruy Francisco Lopez-Nussa) on drums and his younger brother Ruy Adrian Lopez-Nussa on drums and percussion, they never stop surprising me with energy, improvisation and technical skills. His bassist, Alune Wade, is from Senegal and you hear his vocals throughout this recording. On cut #6, trumpeter Mayquel Gonzalez executes a compelling solo. Lopez-Nussa incorporates blues, gospel, call and response, as well as Cuban cultural chants into his arrangements. I find myself totally engrossed in his concepts. Lopez-Nussa has a way of transporting the listener to various places with his music. One moment you are attending a party in Cuba and the next you are in Africa, surrounded by chanting voices and percussion. Then, suddenly you are in New York at a jazz club listening to Thelonius Monk’s popular composition, “Evidence”. All of this wrapped up in one composition, titled “Feria”.

“I’ve always liked the idea of projecting myself to the world from here,” Harold lopez-Nussa says in his liner notes, referring to his beloved Cuba.

This artist moves smoothly between classical, Cuban cultural music, popular and jazz music. His musical notes, wound together in this CD like a tightly wrapped ball of twine, compel the listener to become like a cat, who playfully pokes at the yarn watching the production unravel in creative and beautiful ways.
Release date is September 9, 2016.
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STEVE FIDYK – “ALLIED FORCES”
Posi-tone Records

Steve Fidyk, drums; Brian Charette, organ; Joseph Henson, alto sax; Shawn Purcell, guitar; Doug Webb, tenor sax.

This record company, Posi-tone Records, seems to have a group of musicians who are comrades and they make it a point to support each other by recording in concert and exchanging leaders. Just last month, I reviewed Doug Webb’s CD with most of these same players. However, on this recording, it’s the drummer who is featured as ‘leader.’ Monk’s composition, “Evidence” is a good way to begin any project. All those short, snappy, staccato notes that spell out the melody in that uniquely, creative way, are great for a drummer to be-bop along with and Fidyk takes full advantage of this opportunity. On Fidyk’s original tune, “Good Turns” he approaches the percussion support with a flurry of cymbal crashes and high energy that pulsates the song straight-ahead, rolling it forward like a freight train at top speed. Fidyk turns out to be a competent composer. “Caffe” is another one of his originals and is a lesson in straight-ahead drum chops that uses an awesome horn section to set-up the melody. Then, flying like a bat out of cave on fire, Fidyk pushes this wonderful group of musicians to their limits. The unusual breaks and harmonics remind me of Thelonius Monk’s composer skills. Just when I thought I was going to get all straight-ahead jazz and bebop, Fidyk flicked the switch on “Doin’ the Shake” where he shows he’s equipped to play funk with the best of them. This song gives Purcell a chance to showcase excellent guitar skills and by the way, Purcell wrote this piece. On “Moose the Mooche” the excitement peaks and the listener gets to enjoy Charette’s amazing talents on the organ. I had to play this one twice and both times it left me breathless. Fidyk obviously enjoys playing up-tempo, with challenging breaks and a band that brings the best of what they have to the session. Both horn players, Henson & Webb, perform unforgettable solos throughout, strutting their improvisational talents like finely tailored Italian suits. They’re sharp, trendy and play to impress.

Fidyk comes from a musical family. His father, John Fidyk, who played tenor saxophone in several East Pennsylvania groups, proudly took his eight-year old son (Steve) to gigs and had him sit-in as a substitute drummer when only a mere child. Both parents recognized their son’s musical talents early on. Consequently, they encouraged little Steve to hone his percussive skills. He majored in Music Education at Wilkes University and played drums in several big bands. To date he has performed on over 100 recordings and has an extensive discography. This CD will be a shining star to add to his growing constellation.
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CATHERINE RUSSELL – “HARLEM ON MY MIND”
Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi Records

Catherine Russell, lead vocals/background vocals; Matt Munisteri, guitar/banjo/music director; Mark Shane, piano; Tal Ronen, bass; Mark McLean, drums; Jon-Erik Kellso & Alphonso Horne, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Mark Lopeman, tenor & baritone saxophone/clarinet; Andy Farber, tenor saxophone; Dan Block, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUEST: Fred Staton, tenor saxophone.

Catherine Russell has reached back to the potpourri of 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s African-American music with emphasis on the golden age of Harlem. Compositions like “Blue Turning Grey Over You” by Fats Waller & Andy Razaf or “You’ve Got the Right Key but the Wrong Keyhole” bring Bessie Smith’s memory to the project. Other tunes like Ray Noble’s popular standard, “The Very Thought of You” and “Swing! Brother, Swing!” bring Billie Holiday and Ethel Waters to mind. “Let Me Be the First to Know” was composed by Leroy Kirkland, Pearl Woods, and the queen herself, Ms. Dinah Washington. However, Russell doesn’t sound like Dinah or any of these historic singers. She brings her own vocal stylings to the table. There’s no trace of Dinah’s phrasing or Billie’s poignant style. Russell proffers her own vocal persona, although there are times when her timbre and tone do remind me of Abbey Lincoln.

Russell explains, “It’s about not forgetting your roots. This album is comprised of songs from artists who played at the Apollo in Harlem, where all African American artists of note appeared.”

Ms. Russell comes from strong musical stock. Her father, Luis Russell, was a legendary pianist/composer/bandleader and served as Louis Armstrong’s musical director. Her mother, Carline Ray, was one of the pioneering vocalist/guitarists and bassists who performed with the historic International Sweethearts of Rhythm. These songs recall an era when her mother and father were working musicians. No doubt she heard many of these precious compositions as a youngster while growing up.
This is Russell’s sixth CD release and 2016 has proved to be a very busy year for her. She was featured in an hour-long concert on PBS television’s American Songbook as part of the NJPAC series. As a seasoned and touring background singer, Russell joined fellow members of David Bowie’s last touring band in February of this year for an emotional tribute to Bowie at the 2016 Brit Awards. She appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to sing the grand finale at the 2016 NEA Jazz Masters Award Ceremony, before traveling to L.A. for a live taping at Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli. In December, she will be a guest vocalist with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis on their annual Holiday Tour.
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BENN CLATWORTHY – “WHAT’S GOING ON”
Laughing Lettuce Records

Benn Clatworthy, tenor saxophone; John Donaldson, piano; Simon Thorpe, bass; Matt Home, drums.

Marvin Gaye has written or co-written many amazing songs, but none has stood the test of time, politics, and cultures like “What’s Going On?” Decades after he composed it, I find myself asking that question over and over again, daily; especially in today’s highly charged American political climate. “What’s going on?’ Clatworthy has taken a new look at Marvin’s tune, honing it through the eyes of a jazz perspective (which Marvin would have loved since he was a great lover of jazz) and adding a unique arrangement that moves from the pop version to a double time, walking bass with a flurry of improvisational saxophone notes on the ‘hook’ of the song. Donaldson, on piano, gives us a superlative solo and Matt Home drives the familiar composition at a solid pace with drum sticks crashing and cymbals singing. Thorpe pumps that walking bass with splendid accuracy and locks in with the drums to hold both a ¾ time Segway and an exciting double time that captivates. I heard Clatworthy play this piece “live” at Maverick’s Flat in Los Angeles recently, and it was even more exciting in person using the iconic Henry Franklin on bass and Carl Burnett on drums with young, up-and-coming keyboardist, Sam Hirsh. The breathtakingly beautiful composition, “Here, There and Everywhere,” composed by Lennon and McCartney (of the Beatles fame), is performed with deep emotion and heartfelt sincerity. On “Limehouse Blues,” Matt Home gets to show off massive drum skills on his solo. But it is Clatworthy, with his Coltrane-ish approach to the music and his free form, improvisational skills, along with well-honed technique, who is the star of this recording. Surrounded by gifted musicians, they come together in a cohesive knit that makes us want to slip inside the music, smooth, comfortable and full of quality, like curling up in a cashmere sweater or inside your lover’s arms. This is music you play over and over again.
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COMPOSERS COME TO THE FOREFRONT OFFERING FRESH, JAZZY IDEAS AND INNOVATIONS

June 26, 2016

COMPOSERS COME TO THE FOREFRONT OFFERING FRESH, JAZZY IDEAS AND INNOVATIONS
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

June 26, 2016

As a songwriter myself, it’s always interesting to hear the melodic musing of other composers. I am open to their musical tastes and creative expressions. I enjoy hearing their lyrical ideas and it’s exciting to discover new voices in jazz exploring unique pathways. The composer/artists below each have a little piece of themselves to share with us, should we care to take time and listen. TODD HUNTER uses a jazz trio to interpret his compositional skills. NOVIA M. YUKUMI strives to combine musical genres with keen compositional skills and good producers. RON KING is triumphant on trumpet expressing his original compositions. JOE POLICASTRO’s guitar trio transforms several popular genres into jazz with unique arrangements. JIM SELF AND THE TRICKY LIX LATIN JAZZ BAND show the world how tuba can be relevant in jazz and beyond. Finally,“BRAZZAMERICA” combines Brazilian culture with American jazz roots and comes up with a winning concept. Read all about it below.

TODD HUNTER TRIO – “EAT, DRINK, PLAY”
Dexterity Records

Todd Hunter, piano; Steve Hass & Aaron Serfaty, drums; Dave Robaire, bass; Rufus Philpot, elec. Bass.

With a catchy title like “Eat, Drink, Play”, I figure Todd Hunter and his group must have an exploratory purpose for this recorded music. After all, I’m very familiar with the best-selling book, “Eat, Pray, Love” that documents a woman’s journey across Italy to find herself. It would appear that Todd Hunter has already found himself. He is composer of every song on this CD and arranged them as well. Hunter’s also the producer and pianist. His melodies are memorable and his songs well-written. This is an easy listening project that showcases Hunter’s songwriting/arranging skills, incorporating the talents of Robaire on upright bass and mostly Serfaty on drums with the exception of the final tune, “210 to the 15,” where he uses Rufus Philpot on electric bass and the first tune, “Big Bird,” where Steve Hass is the Trap drum player. BTW, for those unfamiliar with Southern California highways, I have driven that “210 to the 15” that heads to San Diego going South and Las Vegas going North many times. This is a very mellow album, even when Hunter tackles Sambas and ‘Swing’ it pretty much stays at a level keel throughout. Favorite cuts: “I See More Than One” and “Snake In The Bottle”. I wanted to put lyrics to “Moments I Remember”, its melody is so pensive and lovely with unusual and unexpected chord changes. It’s the perfect music for eating, drinking and playing; pleasant and unobtrusive throughout.

https://www.youtube.com/user/toddsounds

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NOVIA M. YUKUMI – “BELIEVER”
Independent label

Novia M. Yukumi, vocals/alto and soprano saxophone; Michael Angel, guitar; Juan Tyus, keyboards; Alex Al Dunbar, bass; Donnell Spencer Jr, drum; Andréa Cole & Charla Emel, background vocals.

I first met this young lady when she was a Japanese student at the Music Performance Academy in Alhambra, California where I was vocal coaching part time. Yukumi was full of excitement about her music and exhibited a beautiful voice, as well as a love of saxophone and songwriting. Now, several years later, it pleases me to listen to her first album release. She has composed, or co-composed, all of the songs on this, her premiere recording endeavor, and clearly is a very good songwriter. The challenge of taking her native language of Japanese, and translating her thoughts into English, makes for some very poetic lyrics. This CD is more Smooth jazz and leaning towards Pop, but it’s well produced by Yukumi and Juan Tyus. On “Flowing In the Water” Michael Angel’s electric guitar brings a Jimi Hendrix, 1960 kind of feel to the jazz and Yukumi’s voice is rather like a folk singer. That makes for a fresh approach to her original compositions and cements her vocal styling as uniquely hers. The arrangements are plush with background vocals and harmonics as rich as a string section. “Little Drops” features Yukumi on Alto saxophone with Dunbar on bass and Spencer Jr on drums pushing the music ahead like a strong freight train climbing up a mountain. Together, with Tyus on keys, they build the excitement. The production is solid. “If You Go To Wherever” utilizes descants with voices singing the lyrics in the background like distant angels interpreting a poignant message of love lost and still staying strong in the face of heartache. Yukumi’s sound on her reed instruments is all her own, just like her vocalization. At times, she makes the Alto saxophone almost sound like a soprano sax; light and feathery. “Inside Color” is another instrumental where she is actually playing soprano sax and it lends itself to funky, Smooth jazz stylings. I am particularly engaged with Yukumi’s composition abilities. The title tune, “Believer” is very catchy. Here is a young star on the rise. I hope she gets the airplay that she deserves on this her first album release. This album could easily be played on Christian radio, Smooth Jazz stations and cross over to Pop.
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RON KING – “TRIUMPH”
Independent Label

Ron King, trumpet/flugelhorn/keyboards; Vienna Spencer, co-producer/vocals; Johann Frank, guitar; Jeff Lorber, piano; Bennett Brandeis, guitar; Preston Shepard, French horn; Andy Langham, piano; Hamilton price, bass; Bob Sheppard, flute/tenor saxophone; Gary Novak, drums; Gina Kronstadt, Kirstin Fife, violin; Brianna Bandy, viola; Stephanie Fife, cello; Rob Lockhart, tenor sax; Tom Ranier, piano; Dave Carpenter, bass; Lanny6 Castro, congas.

Here is an interesting “Smooth Jazz” concept featuring King’s trumpet and exalting him as arranger/ performer and composer of every track on this album. This piece of extraordinary creativity is co-produced by Vienna Spencer and beautifully engineered by Talley Sherwood. On a couple of the songs, King is responsible for playing all the instruments. For example, on “Peace & Love” he is featured singularly on trumpet, rhythm and keyboards. On his composition, “Atlantic Thoughts” he plays trumpet (Harmon mute) and all other instruments except for the piano solo by Andy Langham. Langham is an amazing and gifted pianist. I like the production. The strings are a sweet surprise. My favorite cuts are the more straight-ahead “A Long Home Home”, where Gary Novak on drums and Lenny Castro on Congas offer quite an exciting mixed percussion solo. “If You Could Only Know My Mind” combines Smooth and straight-ahead in a unique way that pleases my ears. Hamilton Price performs an outstanding bass solo. Andy Langham races around the piano keys with technique and purpose, while King wraps his trumpet around this tune, exploring the sweet melody and diving off into creative, improvisational places. This is an artistic musical endeavor you will probably listen to more than once the way I did.

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THE JOE POLICASTRO TRIO – “POPS”
Jerujazz Records

Joe Policastro, bass; Dave Miller, guitar; Mikel Avery, drums. Guest Artists: Andy Brown & Andy Pratt, guitars.

“Wives and Lovers”, the familiar tune by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, opens this CD. Right off the bat, Policastro’s bass seems to be the glue that holds this trio solidly in place. His bass line becomes the unifying element in the first tune’s arrangement, while the guitar sings the melody in a somewhat choppy manner, being played very acoustically. I had to adjust my ears to this stylized acoustic presentation. “Harvest Moon”, the popular Neil Young composition, has a little more finesse and smoothness about the arrangement. I found it more palatable for my taste. Policastro’s trio is used to playing nightly in Chicago’s popular Champagne bar called “Pops for Champagne.” The trio tackles a myriad of popular songs from many genres on this CD, translating them into jazz arrangements with their own unique approach. For example, they play one of my favorite Stevie Wonder compositions, “Creepin” where Policastro takes a brief solo on his double bass, bowing it in a sweet, symphonic kind of way. I enjoyed the sound of their guitar guest, Andy Pratt on the 4th cut “Wave of Mutilation”. Maybe it was because the guitar sound wasn’t so choppy, but had an electronic, pedaled sustain to the tone. There’s a tribute to Prince when they make a medley of “Condition of the Heart” and “Diamonds and Pearls” where Policastro takes a long and creative solo on the intro of the tune. There’s also a tribute to the late, great R&B vocalist, Billy Paul when they play “Me and Mrs. Jones” in a very bluesy way, featuring Andy Brown on guitar. I love his smooth, blues approach. They also play the Bee Gee’s hit, “More Than A Woman” in their own unique way, featuring Andy Brown once again on guitar. I enjoyed Brown’s sound on his guitar instrument the best. He definitely transformed this Pop hit into a respectable jazz arrangement, with flying fingers and beautifully played improvisation. Drummer Mikel Avery gives an impressive solo during this tune.

Joe Policastro is a Chicago Bassist, composer, arranger and educator. He was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio but relocated to Chicago, Illinois in 2003. He has performed and recorded with many jazz luminaries including Diane Schuur, Jeff Hamilton, Phil Woods, Ira Sullivan, David “Fathead” Newman and Billy Hart to name just a few. When he isn’t working with his trio, you can find him composing and arranging for Mulligan Mulligan Mosaics Nonet and his work can be heard on recordings by numerous artists including Ira Sullivan and the Rob Parton Big Band. Guitar buffs should get a kick out of this Policastro Trio recording.
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JIM SELF AND THE TRICKY LIX LATIN JAZZ BAND – “YO”
Basset Hound Music

Jim Self, tuba/fluba; Francisco Torres, trombone; Ron Blake, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rob Hardt, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Andy Langham, piano; Rene Camacho, string bass; Joey De Leon, timbales/bata Shekere; Giancarlo Anderson, congas; George Ortiz, bongos.

Jim Self is a veteran Los Angeles Studio Musician who has added his tuba to over 1500 Movie scores. You might recognize his work as the voice of Mothership in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. This is his 13th solo CD featuring amazing technique on his tuba and undeniable skills as a Latin jazz composer. It’s rare that I receive a CD to review featuring tuba as the lead voice. Jim Self is a master of his instrument, an ingenious composer/arranger. Perhaps Poncho Sanchez said it best.

“Jim Self has brought a fresh, new approach to Latin Jazz with his tuba. Very seldom do you hear this combination in jazz, much less Latin Jazz. If you love good music, you’ll love this!”

And the artist, Jim Self explains in his linear notes:

“Cuban music was very popular dance music in the U.S. before Castro (especially Rumbas, Mambos and Cha Chas) – as a boy, I heard it everywhere. In the 60s I fell in love with the Bossa Nova, followed by the Samba (on my earlier jazz recordings I played several of them). Now my latest love is Latin Jazz. Always, in the back of my mind, I wanted to play in an Afro-Cuban band; but that world is not a place where you would expect to see or hear a tuba. I am stubborn enough to make it happen.”

I’m glad he did! This has become one of my favorite Latin Jazz releases this year. It’s joyful music, flawlessly performed by master musicians and shows the composition skills of trombonist, Francisco Torres. Torres has co-produced this record with Jim Self. They’ve hired the ‘who’s-who’ of West Coast Latin jazz musicians to interpret these beautiful songs, including original music by Jim Self and Torres along with four popular Latin jazz standards; including “Morning” composed by the late Clare Fischer; the Tito Puente composition “Old Arrival”, Eddie Cano’s “Cal’s Pals” and Nat Simon’s popular “Poinciana”. This is definitely a CD I’m proud to have in my collection.

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BRAZZAMERICA
Independent Label

Leco Reis, bassist/educator; Cidinho Teixeira, piano; Edson Ferreira, percussionist/producer.

All three of these talented musicians enjoyed musical success in their native country of Brazil before settling in America. Pianist, Teixeira, is renowned in Brazil and although he’s been living in the United States for two decades, many of the top Brazilian players patronize his gigs whenever they’re in town. He’s an in-demand composer, arranger and pianist who has worked with such luminaries as Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Harry Belafonte, Mark Murphy and Blossom Dearie. Additionally, Cidino Teixeira released half-dozen albums in his own name. Leco Reis, the bassist of this trio, has been working the New York music scene for more than ten years. He’s a Berklee College of Music graduate with an advanced degree from Queens College and he serves on the music faculty of Sacred Heart University. Although he too is soaked in Brazilian cultural music and jazz, he often gigs in more contemporary improvised settings. Dynamic drummer, Edson Ferreira, is a noted percussionist and music producer who studied at Sao Paulo Conservatory. He’s played concerts, clubs and festivals all over the world as both a leader and a sideman. Together, these three talented gentlemen make a formidable music force that has incorporated Brazilian music standards with some of Teixeira’s original compositions and infused everything with American jazz. The results is “Brazzamerica”. Mile Davis’ popular tune, “So What,” is incorporated nicely into “Samba Do Carioca Wav”. “Lim Sim” (Maracatu-Blues) creates a platform for Ferreira to showcase his drum skills and it’s a plush arrangement with the bass line sewing the fabric of the composition together with strong, unforgettable stitching of tone and bass groove. This is an exultant, heartwarming package of music interpreted by three musicians who have been performing together for over five years. The results is a combination of love and respect for each other, with a fusion of their cultural roots and American jazz.
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SUMMER JAZZ RELEASES OFFER A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

June 15, 2016

SUMMER JAZZ RELEASES OFFER A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

June 14, 2016

Summer is a time for convertibles, bar-b-ques in the park, and jazz spraying out of radios, cell phones, tablets and speakers like water from a fire hydrant in Harlem. You just want to soak the music up and cool off with the smooth sounds as you enjoy your day. BOB MINTZER offers us a smokin’ Los Angeles band with great arrangements to match the technical prowess of the players. JOCELYN MICHELLE surprises the listener with her multi-talents; ED ROTH proclaims to be a “Mad Beatnik”. MICHIKA FUKUMORI and her trio are easy listening jazz, while DAN PRATT isn’t afraid to color outside the lines. Read all about it in my Musical Memoirs.

BOB MINTZER – ALL L.A. BAND
Fuzzy Music Mobile LLC

Bob Mintzer, saxophone; Russ Ferrante, piano; Edwin Livingston, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Aaron Serfaty, percussion; Larry Koonse, guitar; Wayne Bergeron, James Blackwell, John Thomas, Chad Willis, and Michael Stever, trumpets; Bob McChesney, Erik Hughes, Julianne Gralle, and Craig Gosnell, trombones; Bob Sheppard and Adam Schroeder, saxophones.

The first cut dances into my listening room with spunk and Latin sparks flying everywhere. I start wiggling in my seat to this high energy band of Los Angeles jazz giants. It’s titled, “El Caborojeno,” an Afro-Cuban composition by Mintzer. He describes it this way.

“When writing this piece, I thought of the wind players as percussion instruments; lots of short accented notes add a percussive quality to the horn passages.”

“Havin’ Some Fun” is a tune written in the style of the great Count Basie Orchestra and that’s right up my alley. It Swings! The harmonics are beautiful and I was super impressed with that baritone sax solo. These charted arrangements are wonderfully creative and the full big band charts are available @bobmintzer.com This gifted saxophonist/composer has joined with master drummer, Peter Erskine, after being band mates and friends for nearly half a century to collaborate on this CD. Now, with gray hair and receding hair lines, they fondly remember spending their high school days in a big band at the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy before graduating and going their separate ways. After traveling around the world separately, but both with various big bands, it’s probably not surprising that since they have now settled into the Los Angeles lifestyle, their big band collaboration would take root here and flower.

This is an amazing piece of creativity from the stand point of composition, arrangements and production. With folks like Edwin Livingston on bass, Bob Sheppard, Mintzer and Adam Schroeder on saxophones, Erskine manning the drums, Larry Koonse on guitar and Russ Ferrante on piano, plus all those technically brilliant horn players, they have created a monster project. Here is an album anyone would be proud to have in their collection.

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JOCELYN MICHELLE – “TIME TO PLAY”
Chicken Coup Records (part of Summit Record Group)

Jocelyn Michelle, organ/piano/guitar; John Rack & Bruce Forman, guitars; Sammy K, drums/percussion; Brad Dutz, percussion; Doub Webb, tenor Saxophone; Steve Mann, tenor/alto & soprano saxophone; Stan Martin & Andrea Lindborg, trumpets; Gina Saputo, vocals on cut #5; Regina Leonard Smyth, vocals on cut #10.

Looking gorgeous in a scanty, red, form-fitting dress and fishnet stockings, from the cover artwork I was prepared for Jocelyn Michelle to be a vocalist. She surprised me. She is, instead, a multi-talented artist who plays the Hammond B3 organ, the piano and jazz guitar. Additionally, this talented woman has composed six out of the ten songs on this CD. Right from the very first cut, her self-penned “Inglewood Cliffs,” roars out of the gate with a powerful Swing groove. Sammy K kills it with his outstanding drum solo. Doug Webb opens the 3rd cut, making a sexy tenor saxophone entrance on Marvin Gaye’s composition “Trouble Man” with some kind of street noises in the background. Was that an intentional play on “What’s Going On” or a mistake? I couldn’t figure out why those noises were there. Never mind! Jocelyn Michelle sprinkles blues into the mix, caressing those organ keys and setting up the groove nicely. I sincerely appreciate Jocelyn’s ability to embrace the blues like a lover. Her talent shines.

This artist has surrounded herself with some of the best musicians in town and they do justice to her compositions, as well as supporting her obvious talents. However, I wish she had eliminated the vocals and (in my humble opinion) the “all over the map” that Jocelyn Michelle talks about in her linear notes distracts from the jazz sensibility of this recording. I didn’t mind the smooth jazz transition on cut #7. I thought the modern arrangement worked on “Last Tango in Paris”. “Never Let Me Go” showed Jocelyn’s tender side and was beautifully performed. But the final song, with gospel overtones, seemed strangely out of place and the vocals were distracting.

Jocelyn Michelle comes from a musical family with her mother playing piano and singing opera. Her father played trumpet. This artist began studying piano at age seven when her parent realized their child could hear a song and play it by ear. She and her guitarist husband, John Rack, have released three CDs prior to this one. With Hawaii currently their home, they’ve been playing jazz and blues on the Big Island since 2013.

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ED ROTH – “MAD BEATNIK”
Warrior Records

Ed “the Wrench” Roth, piano/Hammond B3/Fender Rhodes/Clavinet/all Synthesizers and electronic percussion; Chad “the Big Galute” Smith, all drums; Rock “Astaire” Deadrick, all percussion; James “Big Game” Manning, Andrew “Country Club” Ford and Ed Roth, bass guitar; Joe “El Kabong” Calderon, guitar; Linda “The Queen of Scots” Taylor, guitar; Mitch “Stroybook” Manker, trumpet, valve Trombone, Flugel Horn; Tony “the Magnet” Grant, vocals; Special Guest: Tom “Bard of Light” Scott, saxophone.

It’s been a while since I read or heard the term ‘beatnik’, so I was interested to see what Mr. Ed Roth’s music reflected. Roth is a keyboardist with a strong penchant for funk and blues. He, along with the great Tom Scott on saxophone, let you know from the very first title tune what this project is all about the funk groove. Roth plays an assortment of keyboard instruments including piano, Hammond B3 organ, synthesizers, Fender Rhodes, a clavinet and electronic percussion. Additionally, he has composed the majority of the music on this CD and secured the who’s-who of top LA-based studio musicians to interpret his tunes. It enhances his project to include Grammy winning saxophonist, Tom Scott and Grammy winning drummer, Chad Smith. Smith is also an inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In fact, the first thing I noticed on this CD, after the pianist, was that strong drum line building a backline of powerful rhythm to propel this music into the atmosphere. No wonder! Smith’s history is as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If you love a funk-groove colored with Rhythm, Blues and Smooth jazz overtones, you’ll be quite pleased with this eleven-song production. Roth is a solid composer and his ensemble expertly plays his original music with definitive technique and finesse.

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MICHIKA FUKUMORI “QUALITY TIME”
Summit Records

Michika Fukumori, piano; Aidan O’Donnell, bass; Billy Drummond, drums.

This is an Easy Listening jazz recording. Michika Fukumori is a gifted pianist and she leads her trio with impeccable taste and seasoned technique. I enjoyed Aidan O’Donnell’s bass solo on “The Story I want to tell You;” an original composition by Fukumori. She has written four of the twelve songs recorded. Each is splendidly interpreted, balanced and well represented by these musicians. “Luz” is another original composition, beautifully written and sensually served up as a tender ballad.

Growing up on Japan’s main island, Fukumori was born in the city of Mie and has been playing piano since the impressionable age of three. Almost immediately she began composing her own tunes. She studied classically at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music; then with renowned Japanese pianist Colgen Suzuki. It wasn’t long before she was performing in Japanese jazz clubs. In the year 2000, Michika Fukumori came to New York from Japan to study jazz piano. She has studied for fifteen years with Steve Kuhn, who is the producer of this recording. He’s also her mentor, her friend and her hero. Additionally, she studied with iconic bassist, Ron Carter, and the brilliant pianist, Geri Allen, at City College of New York, earning a Master’s Degree in 2003.

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DAN PRATT “HYMN FOR THE HAPPY MAN”
Same Island Music Imprint

Dan Pratt, tenor/alto saxophone; Mike Eckroth, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.

If you are looking for someone who colors a little outside the lines, look no further. Pratt is painting with broad musical strokes way outside the designated palate. On “Gross Blues” his composition reminds me a bit of Eddie Harris, with those short choppy notes that set up the groove. The thing is, we never really reach that down-home blues feel that Harris was so famous for offering. Instead, Pratt’s tune reminds me more of a deconstructed blues, dancing on the edge of Avant Garde. On “New Day,” he settles down a bit, dropping the staccato to smoothly introduce us to a melody that is challenging and leaves lots of space for his trio to stretch out. Pratt has surrounded himself with some of the best players in the business and they interpret his seven original compositions in a stellar way. This is Pratt’s fourth recording as a leader, following two critically-acclaimed organ flavored CDs. He is a founding member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground collective and a regular participant in the Christian McBride Big Band, the David Smith Quintet and the Tammy Scheffer Sextet. Favorite cuts on this CD are “River” with it’s rich, haunting bass solo by McBride, “Junket” that allows Gregory Hutchinson to flash his drum skills vibrantly and “Hymn for the Happy Man”.

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JAZZ IS MUSIC WITH FREEDOM & ZEST FOR LIFE

May 31, 2016

JAZZ TOUCHES ALL STYLES OF MUSIC WITH FREEDOM & ZEST FOR LIFE
By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

The one thing that amazes and pleases me, is when I listen to recent CD releases and how artists today stretch the boundaries of style and culture in music. Dizzy Gillespie did it when he incorporated Latin culture into his jazz arrangement. The artists I listen to take the music and expound on it; improvise on the chord structures and melodies, while at the same time enhancing each piece of music in a brilliant and positive way. Jazz allows you to get rid of your inhibitions and find freedom in the music. It brings people together. The CD reviews below are great examples of this concept and why jazz is so important to our world. Read all about Brazilian composer/vocalist CARLA HASSET, Flaminco guitarist, JASON McGUIRE, Australian pianist MATT BAKER, composer/conductor, and MATT LAVELLE’s “Solidarity” album leaves me speechless. BERNIE MORA & TANGENT combine R&B, funk and Smooth Jazz in a very successful way and Argentinian, JULIO BOTTI brings us “Sax to Tango” with the University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra; the brilliance of GREGORY PORTER’s new CD is spell-binding and finally, Hawaiian composer/vocalist and pianist, MAGGIE HERRON, brings class and creativity together with her satin smooth voice.

CARLA HASSETT – “+ BLUE”
Paulista Records

Carla Rigolin Hassett, vocalist/composer/guitarist; Joao Pedro Mourao, guitars/viola Caipira/Cavaquinho; Andre de Santanna, elec. & upright bass; Leonardo Costa, drums/percussion; Gibi, Felipe Fraga & Alberto Lopez, percussion; Pablo Medina, Wurlitzer; Chris Bautista, trumpet; JP Floyd, trombone; Wes Smith, flute/alto, tenor and baritone saxophones; Thalma de Freitas, vocals; Bill Brendie, accordion; Ben Lewis, Fender Rhodes & Mellotron; Evan Greer, drums/tambourine; Matt Rhode, Hammond B3 Organ; Caro Pierotto, Grecco Buratto & Felip Fraga, backing vocals; Fabiano do Nascimento, 7-string nylon guitar; Aaron Serfaty, snare & cymbals; Benedikt Braydern, violin; Jacob Hassett, viola; Sarah O’Brien, cello.

There is something soothing about Brazilian jazz. It puts me in a mellow mood and fills my spirit with joy. Carla Bassett brings us a package of delightful, original music sung in Portuguese and English, intermittently. Her vocals are pleasant, light, sweet and fresh as Açaí na tigela or whipped cream on mango. What’s really impressive are her composition skills. Hassett’s songs sound like Brazilian Standards. “Forté” is a melancholy ballad with a rhythmic undertone of guitar and percussion. It’s lovely with a melody I begin to sing along with as though it was a familiar song on the radio. Hassett knows how to create a ‘hook’ to her tunes; one that lingers at the end of each song production in repetitious beauty. She plants the melody in your brain like a fruitful seed. This talented composer has written seven out of ten songs on this CD and they are each well-written and pleasantly produced. Cut #2, “Pois É E Tal” is full of spunk and spice, inviting me to dance around the room without inhibition. On this song, Hassett is joined by Thalma de Freitas on vocals. Freitas is a Brazilian star renowned as the lead singer for Orquestra Imperial, as well as for her role on a popular soap opera. Hassett is also a proficient guitarist and plays as well as sings on one of her compositions, “Guerreira Vai” , that features a rich accordion solo by Bill Brendie. Carla Hassett has cut several different recording sessions, adding musicians and musical instruments as she goes to accentuate her arrangements. Here is an album of world music that inspires gladness and introduces us to a charming singer with an admirable composition and arrangement proficiency.

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JASON McGUIRE – “TERCETO KALI”
Jason McGuire Music

Jason McGuire, Flamenco guitar; Paul Martin Sounder, bass; Marlon Aldana, drums; José Cortés, vocals; Kina Mendez, background vocals; Manuel Gutierrez and Jose Cortes, palmas.

It’s not often that I get to experience an exciting, master Flamenco guitarist like Jason McGuire. In this recording, he is innovative enough to incorporate his flamenco music with jazz. McGuire has composed all of the tunes on this project and they are rich in culture and dynamically produced. According to the press package, McGuire is a native Texan, with Irish roots, who now lives in Northern California. His work is greatly admired by flamenco aficionados across the nation and especially in Spain. McGuire is currently musical director for Caminos Flamencos, a world class dance and music company that is based in the San Francisco Bay area. His music is invigorating and refreshing. It has a much fuller sound than one would expect from such a small group of musicians. On “Mira Mira” the bass and percussion put excitement into the mix to support McGuire’s amazing agility on his guitar. This is a Rhumba with a swift paced energy that will have hips wiggling and feet stomping to the rhythm. McGuire tackles bulerias, tangos, rondena, and everything in between with obvious passion and love for the music. He’s technically astute on his instrument. I learned there are over fifty flamenco styles (or Palos) that are recognized by the structure of their rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, Marlon Aldana on drums is a rhythm master. Palos are also characterized by chord progressions and their area of origin. This is sexy music, from start to finish. It’s written and interpreted by McGuire in a very unforgettable way.

McGuire explained in his linear notes, “Back in Texas, in my early 20’s, I was hungry for music of all sorts. Playing guitar since age 9, inspired mainly by Jimi Hendrix and the British blues players of the late 1960’s, alongside the intense influence of the classical and jazz music I was introduced to at school, seemed to open my musical curiosity. I bounded from one genre to another, ignoring the boundaries between them. Flamenco came to me and stopped me in my tracks at sixteen, and I’ve never looked back …”

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MATT BAKER – “ALMOST BLUE”
Jazzelm Music

Matt Baker, piano/vocals; Lage Lund, guitar; Luques Curtis, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Bashiri Johnson, percussion; Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone.

“This Is the End of a Beautiful Friendship” never sounded so joyful. Baker’s sextet sets the pace and spirit of his CD from the onset of the very first tune. This is the pianist’s fifth CD as a leader and his second since he relocated to New York City from Sydney, Australia. Baker is a deliberate player, one that enjoys presenting the melody of these standard tunes clearly and decisively. As a twelve-year-old, Baker studied piano and by fifteen he was working at a café close to his school. His father is a jazz trombone player. So young Baker grew up listening to an eclectic record collection. His idols are Oscar Peterson, who befriended him when they first met at the Blue Note in New York City. They remained friends until the icon’s passing. He also found encouragement and received gifted knowledge from Herbie Hancock. Baker says he’s inspired by the work of Wynton Kelly, Red Garland, Thelonious Monk and Brad Mehldau. Then there are jazz greats like Bud Powell, Art Tatum and Jacky Terrasson, who he also admires. For the past six years he has been studying with Taylor Eigsti, who introduced Baker to producer Matt Pierson. The outcome is this album.

On cut #7, the title tune of “Almost Blue” gets a nice set up by Curtis on bass and then Baker’s voice sings the haunting story of broken hearts and teary, red eyes that are ‘almost blue’. This song boasts great lyrics with a poignant melody. I enjoyed his vocal interpretation on this song composed by Elvis Costello. However, on the whole, I prefer his piano skills to his vocals. I love what Frahm brings to the project on his tenor saxophone and Lund’s melodic guitar solos and rich rhythm guitar work adds butter to this musical cookie. Calvaire is sweet on drums and hard hitting. He knows just when to punctuate the moment, the phrasing, and when to color the crescendos. I truly enjoyed the group’s arrangement of “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Baker steps outside the realms of what I heard on the first three tunes and explores chordal structure and classical overtures inside his improvisation and experimentation. He touches me deeply during his execution of this song. Luques Curtis plays a compelling solo on his double bass, as does Calvaire on drums. Other favorites are the arrangement and production on “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “Reflections,” and “Lonely Avenue.”

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BERNIE MORA & TANGENT – “TRANSFORMATION”
Rhombus Records

Bernie Mora, guitars; Doc Anthony, drums; Robert Vance, bass; Doug Webb, saxophones; Corey Allen, keyboards; Lee Thornburg, horns; Charles Godfrey, percussion; Special Guest: Brian Brombert, fretless & upright bass.

Bernie Mora has composed or co-written all the songs on this explosively energetic album. The cover of this CD is eye-catching. The artwork is by the late, great Ray McNiece and it is a beautiful painting. Inside, you will find a blend of Smooth Jazz, R&B, Straight-ahead and pop music. Yes, you read it right. All those genres are wrapped up in one small package. The horn section reminds me of 1980’s R&B groups like Tower of Power, the Ohio Players, Average White Band, or even the James Brown Orchestra. The punch and energy that this group of musicians produces is exciting and infectious. Mora incorporates the ‘funk’ in everything he writes. “Blue Moon Funk” is a perfect example of a track reminiscent of a James Brown album before he laid down his vocals. This production is extremely tight musically, fun to listen to and well-arranged and produced. Mora plays a dramatic guitar solo on Cut #4, titled, “For Cryin’ Out Loud” where his guitar sounds like it’s actually weeping, screaming and hungry for attention. There’s a Latin/Spanish undertone to this composition and, at the same time, a Jimi Hendrix Rock influence. Meantime, the saxophone solo brings us back to Smooth Jazz in a comfortable, but surprising transition. All of that in one tune keeps me alert and actively listening. Corey Allen ‘Swings’ on keyboards when “Take That” follows as Cut #5. When Allen’s keyboard sweeps into Latin grooves from ‘Swing’ mode, it makes my ears perk up. Then comes Vance on bass, soloing at an exciting tempo just before the tune ends in a blast of horns and staccato notes. Wow! On the tune “Reckless” Mora does it again. He makes that guitar talk!

Perhaps Bernie Mora explained it best when he wrote in his linear notes, “We like to think of it as soulful. Experience the variety and layers we have created for you. Hopefully, you will be transformed as we were.”

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MATT LAVELLE’S 12 HOUSES – “SOLIDARITY”
Unseen Rain Records

Matt Lavelle, cornet/flugelhorn/alto clarinet & conductor; Lee Odom, soprano saxophone/clarinet; Charles Waters, alto saxophone/clarinet; Ras Moshe Burnett, tenor and soprano saxophone/flue/bells; Tim Stocker, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Mary Cherney, flute,piccolo; Claire de Brunner, bassoon; Chris Forbes, piano; Laura Ortman, violin; Gil Selinger,, cello; Anders Nillson, guitar; Jack DeSalvo, banjo, mandola; John Pietaro, vibraphone, percussion; Francois Grillot, double bass; Ryan Sawyer, drums; Anais Maviel, voice.

The first song Is dark, full of strings and horns that remind me of gardens packed with honey bees and flies. The instrumentation encourages strings to be bowed and tones to be bent. Consequently, they sound very much like insects to me. It’s titled “solidarity”, the same as the CD. The composer must have had something specific in mind, but I probably would have titled it, ‘Spring Garden.’ Lavelle has composed everything on this production. He is the conductor and plays cornet, flugelhorn and alto clarinet. His concept is to hire master jazz players and challenge them to improvise on his musical themes using both traditional, classical instruments. This includes Claire de Brunner on bassoon and Gil Selinger on cello; Ras Moshe Burnett on reeds and Charles Waters on alto sax and clarinet. It’s not an odd premise to throw traditionally classical instruments into the arms of jazz musicians, since jazz is often referred to as America’s unique classical art form. However, this project seems to be melting chamber orchestra and big band music together over an unusual premise of improvisation, freedom and Avant Garde. The song “Faith” gives us a taste of New Orleans verve and Kansas City spicy ‘Swing’. However, the resulting responsiveness between players fosters explosive musicality to interpret Lavelle’s compositional focus. His desire to mix genres is both interesting and challenging. It leaves the final review to be culminated by the ears and in the hands of you, the listener.

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JULIO BOTTI – “SAX TO TANGO”
Zoho Records
Julio Botti, soprano & tenor saxophones; Pablo Ziegler, piano/music director & producer; Saul Zaks, conductor; The University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra.

Here is an impressive example of jazz saxophone featured with a symphony orchestra that is playing tangos. It’s rich, absolutely compelling, sexy and dramatic from start to finish. Of course it’s more structured and less improvisational, but you can still here the culture of Latin America and the culture of American jazz brought together in a very unexpected way. Under the direction of pianist/ arranger/composer and orchestrator/producer, Pablo Ziegler, and conducted by the magical baton of Saul Zaks, the University of Southern Denmark Symphony Orchestra is beyond beautiful as they interpret nine iconic Astor Piazzolla Nuevo tangos, one tango standard and three compositions by Ziegler. What an amazing backdrop for Julio Botti to float on top, letting his brilliant reed playing become an important voice throughout this production. Ziegler, on piano, adds his own jazzy zest to this recording. These two gentlemen (Botti & Ziegler) have collaborated in the past. Their first artistic success was “Tango Nostalgias” featured in a quintet setting and recorded in both New York and Buenos Aires. It achieved a Latin Grammy nomination in the “Best Tango Album” category. That was in 2013. This album marks their second collaboration and is far more ambitious than their first. I learned something when Ziegler wrote in the linear notes:

“Saxophone was never a traditional tango instrument, but Julio Botti found a way to express Nuevo Tango through the saxophone, just like a tango singer. That is why I consider Julio an extremely unique and talented artist.”

I agree! With ‘improvisation’ being the most important element of jazz music, Ziegler is opening new doors with this project by adding a saxophone as a primary soloist voice in the tango genre. That’s what jazz is all about; stretching the boundaries and striving for freedom while employing improvisation to create something fresh and new. Mission accomplished.

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GREGORY PORTER – “Take Me To The Alley”
BlueNote Records

Gregory Porter, vocals/songwriter/producer; Alicia Olatuja, voice; Chip Crawford, piano; Aaron James, bass; Emanuel Harrold, drums; Keyon Harrold, trumpet; Yosuke Sato, alto saxophone; Tivon Pennicott, tenor saxophone; Ondrej Pivec, organ.

The music of Gregory Porter is compelling and honest. In an artistic way, it reminds me of the compositions of Bill Withers. Porter touches the listener with melodies that stick like fly paper to our ears and with lyrics that tug at the truth. We understand his blues and celebrate his joyfulness. When he sings “…though my past has left me bruised, I ain’t hiding from the truth, when the truth won’t let me lie right next to you,” we can relate. That relatability and his beautiful voice continue to bounce this unique singer/songwriter up the charts. At times his tone reminds one of Lou Rawls, at other moments he takes us to a gospel church in Harlem and fires us up. He can weave a folk song around us and make us hear poetry in his words with unquestionable sincerity in his delivery. Songs like “Holding On” and “Take Me to the Alley” give the listener pause, perhaps to dig deeply into our human frailness.

These songs encourage us to be better than we were moments ago. Alicia Olatuja sweetly harmonizes with Porter’s vocals. They blend comfortably like honey and herb tea. “Consequence of Love” is pure poetry put to music. The simplicity of this production allows us to hear and digest these words of wisdom and contemplate their meaning. The melodies make me want to hum along. Porter has reunited with Kamau Kenyatta to produce this gem of a recording and they just keep turning out masterpieces. I was pleasantly impressed when I recognized the artist, Kem, singing along with Porter on “Holding On”. Another special guest is the amazing Lalah Hathaway on Porter’s tune, “Insanity”. It’s a beautiful song with a deep lyrics. I love the Keyon Harrold muted trumpet solo. “Don’t Be A Fool” recalls the Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack duets in tone and groove. I expect this to be another Grammy Nominated album that sells millions.

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MAGGIE HERRON – “BETWEEN THE MUSIC & THE MOON”
Independent Label

Maggie Herron, vocals/piano/producer; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger/producer; Grant Geissman, guitar; Dean Taba, bass; Abe Lagrimas, drums/ukulele; Bob Sheppard, saxophone/flute; Brian Scanlon, baritone, sax; Bob McChesney, trombone; Ron Stout, trumpet/flugelhorn; Alex Acuna, percussion; Ramon Stagnaro, guitar; DeShannon Higa, Guest trumpet solo;

Right from the first smoky vocals, I was hooked on Maggie Herron’s style and a few minutes later on her composing skills. This lady is a prolific songwriter. The first cut, “Wolf,” is a creative play on the story of Little Red Riding Hood and real life drama. It’s very smartly written, by Maggie & Dwan Herron. Vocally, Herron has a rich alto voice and a tone reminiscent of the great UK Diva, Cleo Laine. The studio band elegantly supports her vocal talents, with arrangements on this song by Bill Cunliffe and a stellar sax solo by Bob Sheppard. Cut #2 is another well-written original composition titled, “I Can’t Get To Sleep”. Herron shows off her piano chops on this tune, featuring a sweet Ukelele solo by Abe Lagrimas, who also competently plays drums throughout this production. The title tune come next and it’s beautifully written, arranged and produced. Bill Cunliffe is the pianist and arranger and this song is a diamond stud in my ear. It sparkles even brighter when Ron Stout plays a sexy flugelhorn solo. Jazz vocalist Denise Donatelli adds her harmony vocals to strengthen the ‘hook’ that is hauntingly beautiful. The first five compositions on this CD are written by mother and daughter and the combination is perfect. “I lie Just A Little” focuses on a bluesy delivery with just vocals and bass. I listened to this CD for two days straight, admiring the lyrical content, catchy melodies, smart arrangements and Maggie Herron’s obvious multi talents.

She’s winner of Hawaii’s prestigious 2015 Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Jazz Album of the Year for her CD, “Good Thing”. She has another CD titled, “In the Wings.” With the release of “Between the Music & the Moon,” she offers fifteen original and well-written songs that she successfully interprets with her beautiful voice. Additionally, she woos us in French on “Notre Amour” and in Spanish, “Ritmo Latino”. Impressive.

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THE NEW ARTIST SERIES: YUKO MABUCHI

May 3, 2016

THE NEW ARTIST SERIES: YUKO MABUCHI

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

May 14, 2016

Yuko Mabuchi is a wisp of a woman, petite and delicate, until she sits down at the piano. Then, before our very eyes, she transforms into a mighty giant! The packed audience at the historic Maverick’s Flat witnessed this on May 8 of this year when she was a special guest of piano master, Billy Mitchell. Once her slender fingers touched the piano keys, we were all captivated by her enormous energy and spirited performance. She gets so wound up in her music that several times she jumped up from the piano bench and never lost a beat. Her leg kicks out (reminding me a bit of the late-great Dorothy Donegan). Yuko throws her head back, caught in the joy of the moment. She catches the groove and won’t let it go, smiling that secret smile as her feet dance, unencumbered beneath the piano bench.

Born June 21st in Fukui, Japan, a small city West of Tokyo and near the ocean, little Yuko was surrounded by music early on. Her mother is a classical piano teacher and Yuko began studying the piano at age four. Her father played Earth, Wind and Fire records and listened to Latin music and the Brazilian jazz of Jobim. As a child, Yuko was surrounded by a variety of musical genres and she embraced them all. She played piano by ear, picking out the melodies and soaking up the grooves of the popular music scene, including pop and hip hop. But there was a freedom she found in jazz and it touched something deep inside her.

As a teenager, Yuko tuned-in to the Japanese jazz station on her radio. It was there, she became familiar with Oscar Petersen and Herbie Hancock. She started attending concerts in Japan and was inspired by the work of Gerald Clayton Jr., Donald Vega, Kenny Baron, Junior Mance, Hiromi and Cyrus Chestnut. She was still studying classical music, but after high school Yuko attended the AN School of Music in Kyoto, Japan under the tutelage of Kunihiro Kameda. Right away, he noticed her amazing potential and blooming talent. Professor Kameda had once lived in the United States and had played with our own West Coast drummer, Kenny Elliott. He suggested that if Yuko really was serious about pursuing jazz, she should go to America where is was bred and born. Yuko’s father agreed, although both he and his wife were concerned about their daughters jazz direction. Her mother had hoped their talented daughter would become a famous, classical, concert pianist. Neither parent had in mind that their first born would pursue a career as a jazz artist.

Once she decided to go to America, Yuko auditioned to attend the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston and received a Scholarship. But instead, she chose to come to Los Angeles. In 2010, Yuko Mabuchi arrived in Southern California and enrolled at the Music Performance Academy in Alhambra, a California community of mainly Asian and Latino cultures with a sprinkling of others. MPA (Music Performance Academy) was Japanese owned and brought many Japanese students to America encouraging the study of American music and artistic culture. This is where I first met Yuko, because I taught at that school for approximately three years; part time. Yuko was studying with Billy Mitchell and Gary Shunk, while soaking up the recordings of Monte Alexander, George Duke and Gene Harris. She hunkered down in the school, learning the funk and groove that Mitchell was teaching her and the technique and improvisation that Shunk inspired. She studied voice and artist development with me and I saw her growth and willingness to practice and challenge herself. It was under the direction of her mentor, Billy Mitchell, that she recorded her first demo project entitled, “Red Special.” It was sponsored by MPA and featured all original compositions.

Yuko donated her time as the accompanist for the Watts-Willowbrook Youth Symphony and took great pride in inspiring young people from that Los Angeles inner-city. It wasn’t long before she began performing all over town; at Catalina Jazz Bar, downtown at the Biltmore Hotel, in Old Town Pasadena at the Levitt Pavilion Summer Concert Series, at small jazz clubs and popular hotel chains like the Crowne Plaza. Her name and reputation were growing.

Yuko Mabuchi’s first full length CD was released in 2012 on Vista Records titled, “Waves”. Again, it featured her original compositions. In 2013, Yuko returned home triumphant, new CD in hand and with her artistic development evident. She busied herself with work, forming a jazz trio and performing at the Jazz Spot J in Shinjuku, Tokyo and also as a participant of the Fukui Jazz Festival in 2014 and 2015. She also appears as a regular soloist at Keio Plaza in Tokyo.

Yuko’s next CD release on Vista Records was “My Life.” Again, her composer skills were flowering and featured. This time, she added jazz reedman, the great Justo Almario on flute as well as smooth jazz saxophonist, Andre Delano. This album is a testament to her growth and polish as an artist and jazz musician.

Yuko enjoys teaching and inspiring young people, but her goal is to become a great musician and to work at her craft, tour the world, and leave her mark as a respected jazz artist. That dream is unfolding right before our eyes.
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TRIO’S, TRIBUTES AND BRAZILIAN JAZZ

CD Reviews by Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

May 2, 2016

Recently, I was sent several trio CDs to listen to. It was refreshing to hear the clarity and expression that three people bring to jazz. I found each trio unique in its own way. There was the JOE MULHOLLAND TRIO, MIKE BOGLE TRIO, and JANE IRA BLOOM who stretched the boundaries by recording a trio of soprano sax, bass and drums. DICK OATTS and MATS HOLMQUIST, along with the NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA celebrated the genius of Herbie Hancock and the ROCCO JOHN QUARTET celebrated people and their inherent need for inspirational change. Bassist, MARCOS VARELA captivated me with his ingenuity and talent, while ANTONIO ADOLFO and CAROLINA SABOYA brought me to the tropical shores of Brazil and bathed me in Portuguese culture. Finally, the BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET, featuring KURT ELLING on vocals, took me on an “Upward Spiral.” Read all about it.

JOE MULHOLLAND TRIO – “RUNAWAY TRAIN”
Zoho Records

Joe Mulholland, piano; Bob Nieske, bass; Bob Tamagni, drums

Bob Tamagni was the ‘Runaway Train’ on cut number one, taking a drum solo, at the very top of the tune that was animated and inspired. Mulholland sets up the melody at the ‘get-go’ and establishes his composition skills. Then he proceeds to take us on a journey of smartly written original music (six out of nine tunes) with two songs celebrating the iconic Jimmy Giuffre and Miles Davis, along with the beautiful “Alone Together” by Dietz and Schwartz. Based in Boston, Mulholland is professor of Jazz Harmony at Berklee College. This is his debut CD for Zoho Records. His trio is tight, moving methodically, like the well-oiled wheels of an Amtrak train. I enjoyed Nieske’s underlying heartbeat of a base line, dancing beneath another Mulholland original titled, “The Same Sky”. He definitely compliments the simplistic style of Mulholland, whose focus seems to be more on chordal structure and harmony than racing arpeggios or smart improvisational scales. I found the arrangement on “Alone Together,” quite nice, with a call and response attitude between piano and drums at the top. Tamagni, on the trap drums, keeps the tune moving like a freight train. This is a spirited, easy listening, debut album on Zoho Records, bound to travel through many jazz stations and pick up a multitude of listening passengers on the way.
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MIKE BOGLE TRIO – “MIKE BOGLE TRIO LIVE AT STONEY’S”
MBP/GROOVE! Records

Mike Bogle, piano; Lou Harlas, bass; Steve Barnes, drums

Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” opens this CD as the first cut and sets the tone for what is to follow. With Bogle’s fingers racing like someone whipping up scrambled eggs, the piano comes alive under his masterful touch. Steve Barnes is magnificent on drums. After his solo, you hear patrons holler their support and appreciation. You can really see what musicians have going for them in a ‘Live’, intimate setting. There’s no studio knobs to protect you. When performing ‘live’ you are vulnerable. Joey Lamas, their recording engineer, is to be congratulated on the clarity and tone of this CD.

At age fourteen, Mike Bogle wrote his first big band chart. At sixteen he graduated high school and enrolled in the Miami School of Studio Music and Jazz, on a scholarship. By seventeen he was performing with such stellar artists as Tom Jones, Burt Bacharach, Diana Ross and Linda Carter. By age 30, he was Grammy nominated for “Best Arrangement” of Chick Corea’s “Got A Match?” He’s a fine composer and that is evident on this recording.

“Speak Like a Child” follows the trio’s first cut and is a Herbie Hancock composition. It’s tender instead of tenacious like the Corea tune and Bogle slyly incorporates strings into the Latin feel at apropos times. His piano work on this song reminds me of fluttering hummingbird wings; light, swift and airy. Barnes on trap drums keeps a double time feel underneath that perpetuates the energy as Bogle tinkles ‘Figaro, Figaro, Figaro’ above the solid rhythm. Harlas offers a heartfelt solo on double bass until the melody and the strings make a resurgence. Nice arrangement! “Ninguno Experiment” (a Bogle original) has a Latin feel and features Bogle keeping solid rhythm with his right hand while roaring around the bass clef of the piano with his left hand and walking like a bass player. In fact, I think he’s doubling with the bassist. Lou Harlas brings the ‘Swing’ with his authentic bass instrument. He walks the blues right into the tune. I am hooked and feeling captivated, just like those club patrons had to be. Dexter Gordon’s “Fried Bananas” is performed light and breezy at a pleasing moderate tempo. Bogle always manages to put a little blues on the stove when he cooks. This is an outstanding jazz trio that I would pay big money to see in the intimacy of a club, or on the grand stage of a concert hall. Bravo!
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MARCOS VARELA – “SAN YGNACIO”
Origin Records

Marcos Varela, bass; George Cables, piano; Billy Hart, drums; Eden Ladin, piano on cuts 2 &7; Kush Abadey, drums on cuts 2 & 7; Logan Richardson, alto saxophone; Clifton Anderson, trombone; Dayna Stephens, tenor saxophone; Arnold Lee, alto saxophone.

Careful! This CD is combustible. From the very first arrangement of “I Should Care”, the ‘familiar’ transitions to the ‘awesome.’ George Cables’ arrangement of this old standard turns it upside down and gives it a fresh face. The tune is flush with excitement and dynamic harmonics. Varela is ever present and complicit on bass. Billy Hart (as always), dances masterfully around his trap drums with sticks of power and aggressive perfection. He cuts loose on the track called, “Mitsuru,” and his solo is answered by Varela with big, fat tones on his upright bass. This is the kind of jazz that inspires the listener and reminds me that this is our indigenous American classical art form and how important it is. These musicians take the music and mold it into art, right before our ears. Every single cut entertains me with the compositions being played by master musicians and interpreted with such caring and love that I am hypnotized by the beauty of it all.

Who is this bass player that has captivated me with his ingenuity and musical skills? Marcos Varela was born and raised in Houston, but traces his ancestry back to San Ygnacio, Texas where his family has lived on the same ranch since the 1750s. Thus, the title of this album is a reflection of his heritage and family roots. Varela’s composition, “Colinas de Santa Maria” is the name of his family’s ranch. Eden Ladin is featured on piano this time, along with Kush Abadey on drums. Varela has been living and working in NYC for the past dozen years and has built solid relationships with drummer and mentor, Billy Hart, jazz giant and piano master, George Cables, and longtime employer, Clifton Anderson on trombone. As a graduate of Houston’s renowned high school for the Performing & Visual Arts, he joins a notable list of accomplished entertainers in the music field like Jason Moran, Robert Glasper and even Beyoncé. New York has allowed this young bass man to perform with a wide range of artists including pianist Geri Allen, the Mingus Big Band and even The Last Poets. He is blossoming as a composer and has several film and TV projects under his proverbial belt.

Perhaps legendary bassist Ron Carter sums it up best when he writes in the linear notes, “Varela’s tone, choice of notes and compositions will place his playing and name on the list of bassists to be heard.”

I agree.
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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “TROPICAL INFINITO”
AAM Records

Antonio Adolfo, piano & arrangements; Leo Amuedo, electric guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums; André Siqueira & Rafael Barata, percussion; Serginho Trombone, trombone; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophone; Jessé Sadoc, trumpet & flugelhorn.

I believe this is the first time I’ve heard a Latin production of “Killer Joe” and it’s quite entertaining and solid. The horns add depth and excitement to this entire album production. They are tastefully placed and make for a very celebratory experience. Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” is the second cut on this very upbeat production, and Golson’s song is always a pleasure to hear. The horn solo on this tune is perfection. Adolfo has a flair for arranging. He makes this project come alive with his unique gifts. There is joy wrapped up in these hand-picked compositions and the musicians make me want to dance and clap my hands with happiness. Antonio Adolfo clearly captures the exhilarating Brazilian culture in his music. He has been a longtime educator of Brazilian music and music history. Featuring his new octet, Adolfo explores jazz of the 1960s, using richly arranged Sambas, punchy percussive rhythms and harmonic horn arrangements. Everything reflects a mixture of America’s indigenous art form, generously spiced with Brazilian expressiveness. His original compositions are well written and fit right in with these master composers, including Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments”, Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” and Hammerstein & Kern’s “All The Things You Are.” Adolfo’s compositions deserve to be played, center stage, along-side the excellence of these composer celebrities. His songs are just that good. Here is a pianist/producer/composer/arranger who surrounds himself with excellent players and together, they make this project shine with brilliance.
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JANE IRA BLOOM – “EARLY AMERICANS”
Outline Records

Jane Ira Bloom, soprano saxophone; Mark Helias, bass; Bobby Previte, drums.

Mark Helias walks his big, bad bass into the song and sets the mood for Jane Ira Bloom to plant her soprano saxophone powerfully on top. This is a trio of bass, drums and saxophone, unique and clean cut; leaving the listener to enjoy the simplicity of the production and the mastery of these three musicians. Bloom is unafraid to step out front and blow the lid off the music, letting it bubble up like the goodness locked inside a chilled bottle of expensive champagne. She’s the real deal. Her tone and technique are evident and her artistry is an example of the freedom that jazz brings to the listener’s palate. This is a delicious and triumphant approach to freedom of expression and composition. Bloom has composed all twelve songs. Track #3, “Hips and Sticks” is beautiful and features her singular horn blowing like a bird song in the wind. On cut #9 titled “Cornets of Paradise” the energy and excitement is fused by drummer, Bobby Previte who solos under Bloom’s tenacious saxophone splendor. She closes this, her sixteenth CD as a leader, with a performance of Bernstein & Sondheim’s composition, “Somewhere” and it’s dynamic, with no one but Bloom pouring the melody out of her horn, sweet honey from the cone. As it says in her press package, these are “fearless jazz explorers who share a commitment to beauty and adventure.”
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CAROLINA SABOYA – “Carolina Saboya”
AAM Music

Carolina Saboya, vocal; Antonio Adolfo, piano; Jorge Helder, double bass; Claudio Spiewak, acoustic guitar on cut #9; Leo Amuedo, guitar; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; André Siequeira, percussion; Marcelo Martins, flute/alto flute/soprano saxophone.

This production of Carolina Saboya is minimal and celebrates her voice. She is a Brazilian vocalist with a wispy, soft and compelling sound. I would have enjoyed hearing more of a rhythmic double bass to contrast and compliment her light and appealing style on the first cut. I missed that thick, prominent bottom that propels Brazilian music. The percussion is mixed upfront and delicately, to support the arrangements. On cut #2, the bass is more prominent and dances solidly beneath clusters of vocal notes that race in unison with the busy flute played by Marcelo Martins. Carolina Saboya sings three songs by Jobim and two by the 2016 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Djavan. Most of this CD is performed in her native tongue of Portuguese as she celebrates popular Brazilian composers. At times, she uses her own scat sensibilities to merge with the ensemble in a very musical and instrumental way, like on cut # 10, “Zanzibar,” where her voice mimics an instrument and wordlessly joins the band. This is one of my favorite tracks along with the very melancholy “Faltando um Pedaco.” In English she sings the Sting composition, “Fragile” and “Hello Goodbye” by John Lennon. Her voice is pleasant and easy listening at its best.
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DICK OATTS/MATS HOLMQUIST NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “A TRIBUTE TO HERBIE +1”
Summit Records

Mats Holmquist, arranger; Dick Oatts, lead alto & soprano saxophones; Mark Gross, alto & Soprano saxophones; Walt Weiskopf & Robert Nordmark, tenor saxophone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; Paul Meyers, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Martin Wind, bass; John Riley, drums; Nick Marchione, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Jon Shaw, Tatum Greenblatt, Frank Brodahl, & Joe Magnarelli on Trumpets/flugelhorns; Jakob Gudmundsson, trumpet on “Eye of the Hurricane”; Larry Farrell & Steen Nikolaj Hansen, trombones; Max Seigel, bass trombone; John Mosca, lead trombone.
I was excited when I saw that a jazz orchestra had tackled compositions by Herbie Hancock. Here is a Grammy winning, jazz changing, innovator and pianist of our times who certainly is deserving of such a tribute. Opening with the familiar and popular “Cantaloupe Island” composition, I enjoyed the way arranger, Mats Holmquist layered the horn harmonics, almost giving an echo effect to the brass. The alto saxophone solo by Mark Gross is ear-pleasing. On “Chameleon” I found the arrangements to be a little redundant for my taste. I felt all the brass repetition got in the way of the song. The arrangement was over eleven minutes long and I thought it could have been edited down. The arranger states in his linear notes that his premise was to create chaos; and that he does as the song progresses. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when “Dolphin Dance” made an appearance. Everything on this recording seems brash, as though it’s being played at a serious forté throughout. I wanted some relief from the constant attack of the horns. It comes when various soloists perform, but nothing was sweet and gentle. If you love busy, brass harmonies sung forte throughout, then you will enjoy this production. John Riley, on drums, is a magnificent manifestation of energy that propels the instrumentation forward relentlessly. I was especially impressed with his prowess on “Eye of the Hurricane”. “Jessica” was performed with a lovely bass introduction by Martin Wind. All too soon the layered brass came marching onto the scene to take over the sweetness with power and tenacity. Birnbaum on piano and Wind on his bass, superbly plucking and bowing it, brought relief midway through with candy sweet solo interludes. It’s the only ballad on this recording. Dick Oatts made a memorable statement on soprano sax and is featured throughout. All the cuts on this recording are approximately seven minutes long or longer. I thought the orchestra presentation and Holmquist’s arrangement on “Toys” was smart. Weiskopf and Nordmark’s tenor solos added spunk and soul to the presentation. Riley once again comes to the forefront with his powerful drum solo and inspired drum licks. I think “Toys” is one of my favorites on this album.
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BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET & KURT ELLING – “UPWARD SPIRAL”
OKeh Records

Branford Marsalis, saxophone; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums; Special Guest, Kurt Elling on vocals

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s new CD scheduled for a June 10, 2016 release. “There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” combines the crystal clear vocal tones of special guest, Kurt Elling, with the saxophone excitement of Branford Marsalis. The melody is challenging. The swift pace and ‘swing’ of the arrangement represents New York City very well and acts as a springboard for these amazing musicians to leap and play. Calderazzo on piano takes a spirited solo, dancing around the melody, plunging through chord changes with improvisational skill, until Elling swings his way back into the song.

Marsalis explained why he added a vocalist on this project.

“The goal here, even though he sings lyrics, was to highlight Kurt’s voice as an instrument.”

I was wondering how they picked the songs for the “Upward Spiral” album. Branford Marsalis explained.

“For example, I had been listening to the Oscar Brown song `Long as You’re Living’ for two years before the date. The first time I heard Sting’s `Practical Arrangement,’ I called him and asked for a lead sheet, because I wanted to play that song with the quartet even before the idea of recording with Kurt came up. I also chose `Só Tinha de Ser Com Você,’ a Jobim song that has not been done to death. I told everyone to study Elis Regina’s version, because I wanted us to sound authentic rather than generic. Doing `Blue Gardenia’ was my idea, while Eric originally suggested Chris Whitley’s `From One Island’ when we were talking about more recent songs. Elling also brought ideas and songs to the partnership. He suggested ‘Doxy,’ the Sonny Rollins classic with lyrics that Mark Murphy introduced; ‘West Virginia Rose,’ with music and lyrics by pianist Fred Hersch; and ‘Momma Said,’ with the quartet responding spontaneously in the studio to the Calvin Forbes poem.”

“Blue Gardenia” is one of this reviewer’s favorite ballads. The blend of Marsalis’s horn with Elling in tight harmony grabbed me by the ear and happily pulled me into the song. They have recorded a tender and sweet rendition of this composition; one I first heard Dinah Washington sing many years ago. I love the way Elling’s voice and the Marsalis horn blend. “From One Island to Another” is a song I’ve never heard before with a soaring arrangement that moves like a whirlpool, twisting and turning as the momentum builds on the piano solo. Elling is clearly the storyteller in his own distinctive way, until the band comes crashing in, like waves against a quiet island shore. When Marsalis comes to the forefront, he brings more swirling energy, with innovative notes that fall over each other; sound-pebbles rolling down a mountainside. “I’m A Fool to Want You” is stunning with just voice and saxophone making a duo statement. Finally, “Blue Velvet” was another production that was poignant and beautifully produced. Based on these four songs as an example of what this new Branford Marsalis Quartet recording is all about, then “upward Spiral” appears to be a perfect addition to any jazz lover’s music collection. Maybe even a Grammy winner.
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ROCCO JOHN QUARTET – “EMBRACE THE CHANGE”
Unseen Rain Records

Rocco John Iacovone, alto & soprano saxophones; Rich Rosenthal, guitar; Francois Grillot, double bass; Tom Cabrera, drums.

If the eclectic and Avant Garde is your cup of tea, sit back and pour yourself a cup of the Rocco John Quartet. Drums and saxophone explode on the scene with intensity and purpose. Every song on this production is composed by Rocco John Iacovone. His bandmates unweave the story inside each composition with sincerity and creativity. The composer says his music is meant to be a comment on our evolution as human beings. I find his music eerie, but strangely beautiful. On a song called “72’s” the drums and cymbals color the presentation as Rosenthal’s guitar astutely explores melodies and emotions. When the sax enters, it brings another character to the forefront and the three begin a sensitive conversation. Musical phrases pour out of them in streams of tempo and scales, spurred by Cabrera’s deft percussion. It sings to me in a minor mode. I am intoxicated by this track. When Grillot bows his bass, it changes the mood and texture of this composition. Each cut on this eight composition album brings a theme of exploration. This is thought provoking music. There is the unexpected, always present and looming in the next musical phrase. Yet, there is also something soothing about this recording.

Rocco John Iacovone’s has studied with the legendary Lee Konitz and Sam Rivers. His preoccupation with composition led him to the doorstep of Nadia Boulanger. This artist hopes that he and his talented band elicit unmitigated passion and interest in the listener. Perhaps the composer said it best in his linear notes:
“While we all hear the loud voices telling us what to do and how to do it, we really need to quiet down and listen to the whispers of our inner self.”
His music seems to encourage us to ‘embrace the change.’
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JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH/APRIL 2016 – REVIEW OF NEW JAZZ CD RELEASES & FEATURES

April 9, 2016

April 16, 2016

GOLD RECORD BASSIST HENRY “THE SKIPPER” FRANKLIN HERALDED WORLDWIDE
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In Henry Franklin’s case, it’s absolutely true. His father, “Samuel “Sammy” Franklin, made his mark in Denver, Colorado first playing violin, then trombone and finally mastering the trumpet. For years he performed with the George Morrison Band and honing his craft as part of the popular YMCA band in Denver. Later, he found himself in Kansas City as part of the Benny Moten Band. He also played in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra, Andy Kirks band, and a number of others before he decided to form his own musical organization in Los Angeles. The Sammy Franklin Orchestra entertained at various west coast clubs, as well as fraternity and sorority dances. Once settled into the Los Angeles music scene, probably one of the things he found most attractive (other than the good weather and crush of music jobs) was pretty, little Vera Wysinger, a native of California and a registered nurse. They married and up popped Henry Carl Franklin, who today his friends fondly refer to as, “the Skipper”.

I recently asked Henry Franklin how he got that nick name of “the Skipper”?

“I borrowed it from my son. On our first album for Black Jazz Records in 1971, we titled it, ‘The Skipper.’ Pianist, Bill Henderson (Kamon), had written a tune for his God son, (who is my son) and he named it Skipper. People associated the album title with my name and they started calling me ‘The Skipper’. My son’s a Junior, but he’s the original Skipper”.

When I asked Henry about his dad and the music business he said, “He had a popular society dance band in Los Angeles, but he wasn’t into Bebop. I turned him on to that. I used to bring the cats over to our house and that’s when he heard it. His main message to me was to practice, practice, practice.”

At eighteen years old, Henry Franklin had followed his dad’s instructions and was already part of a popular local group with vibraphonist, Roy Ayers.

“Roy had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson (piano), sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me and Carl Burnett (drums). After high school, Elmo left and went to school at Howard University. Nobody’s heard from or seen him since,” Henry told me.

Ayer’s Latin Jazz Quintet played at Frat Houses, private parties and eventually night clubs. The fledgling group used to follow Cal Tjader around every time he would come to town. People would hire Cal for entertainment when they hosted parties and Henry said their group would go in and play on Cal’s intermission.

“Cal liked Roy Ayers and our band, so he let us play on their break and it turned out to be a thing. Every time they came into town, we’d be hanging with Cal and his group.“

It had to be very inspirational to Henry and his group of youthful musicians striving to be jazz artists, hanging out with the likes of Callen Radcliffe Tjader, born in 1925, who was already firmly established in the music business. Tjader was combining the music of Cuba and the Caribbean with acid jazz and rock. The 1960’s may have been one of Tjader’s most prolific periods. Franklin would have been rubbing shoulders with Tjader’s historic band mates like Lonnie Hewlett, known for his singing and piano playing; Armando Peraza on percussion; bassist Eugene Wright (fondly called, the Senator), drummer Al Torre, and pianist Vince Guaraldi. During the Verve years Tjader worked with Donald Byrd, Lalo Schifrin, Willie Bobo, a young Chick Corea, Clare Fischer, Jimmy Heath and Kenny Burrell. So Franklin was surrounded by examples of excellence early on. At that time in his career, Paul Chambers was Franklin’s hero.

It wasn’t long before Henry was married and working for the City of Los Angeles in Animal Regulations. At night, he still pursued his music and on weekends sometimes traveled to nearby cities to perform. For a while, Franklin played with a group called Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet, formed in 1963 by Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero. In 1967 their group, featuring Little Joe on Vibes, Franklin on bass, Bill “Kamon” Henderson on piano, Varner Barlow on drums and Jack Fulks on flute and alto saxophone, was performing in San Francisco.

“I was in San Francisco working with Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet. We had a little light-weight hit record with the same instrumentation as Cal Tjader; vibes and stuff. We got this gig. Our first time out of town, we went to San Francisco for a weekend. It just so happened that Willie Bobo was working around the corner at a club; the Matadore. He came in on his break and checked out the band. I guess he liked me ‘cause he asked me if I wanted to join his band in New York. I said yes, but you know, I didn’t believe him. Three days later, he sent me a ticket. I had a little day job then, because I was married with a family to support. So, I talked it over with my wife and she said, yeah – go ahead. Right away, I quit that City job and moved to New York. I was really blessed and lucky ‘cause I got to stay at Roy Ayers’ house and didn’t have to pay rent or anything. He had gone to New York before me with Herbie Mann. Yeah, that happened a lot in those days. You know, the East Coast band would hear somebody from the West Coast and they’d call them to work; Roy Ayers, Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Higgins, Herbie Lewis, all those guys got calls. So it was my turn. I got the opportunity and I took it.”

It was about a year of touring before Henry would wind up back in Los Angeles at the famous Memory Lane Supper Club, a hot jazz spot in the African American community. That’s when Henry decided he’d had enough of being on the road with Willie Bobo.

“So I gave two-weeks-notice and it just so happened that in the audience one night was the South African jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masekela. He was just starting up a new band and asked me if I’d like to join his group. I said, heck yeah. The result was my first Gold Record for the hit recording of “Grazin’ In the Grass”.

Henry Franklin has found his way onto the recording sessions of several icons and not all of them were jazz musicians. Stevie Wonder called him to add his solid, double-bass, low notes to the “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” album. Boom! That became another Gold record accomplishment.

Franklin recorded with Gene Harris and the Three Sounds on “Soul Symphony” for Blue Note Records in 1969 and “Live at the It Club” in 1970, Volume one and two. In 1972, he joined Woody Shaw in the studio to record “Song of Songs” for Contemporary Records. By 1973, he was playing with Hampton Hawes and recorded for the Prestige label, the “Blues for Walls” album. That same year he was recording with Bobbi Humphrey on her “Bobbi Humphrey Live: Cookin’ with Blue Note at Montreux.” Franklin was a hot commodity on bass back then. No sooner did he finish his stint with Humprey, he was back in the studio with Julian Priester on the “Love, Love” album for ECM. If he wasn’t in the studio, he was on the road with jazz nobility like Freddie Hubbard, Willie Bobo, Archie Shepp, O.C. Smith, Count Basie and Al Jarreau. He had already started composing and one of his original compositions was sampled by the musical group, “A Tribe Called Quest.” He’s been on the bandstand working with such icons as Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. Henry pushed his musical limits. He experimented outside the bebop music that he loved so deeply, working with John Carter and Bobby Bradford. Henry recorded two albums; “Self-Determination Music” and “Secrets.” He worked with the great Pharoah Sanders, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, jazz vocalist Joe Williams and Bobby Hutcherson. He’s appeared on more than 150 albums as part of their rhythm section and worked with some of the biggest names in jazz history.

Henry expressed disappointment with some of the jazz releases and styles of youthful players in today’s jazz spotlight.

He told me, “I miss the melodies in the music. There’s no melodies anymore like there used to be. You used to be able to identify a song with an artist. You can’t do that anymore. See, If I asked you to name five Freddie Hubbard songs, you could tell me. But if I asked you to tell me a Wynton Marsalis song, you probably wouldn’t be able to think of one. There’s a lot of feeling with these young musicians and a lot of great technique, but I come from the bebop era, where music and composition is more than just technique.”

Speaking of technique and instrumentation, I asked Henry Franklin if he played Fender bass.

“I did and I don’t. When I was with Freddie Hubbard he had me playing fender bass and O.C. Smith liked that sound too. I like German bases. Both of my upright basses are built in the 1940’s. They’re not that old but the sound is what counts. One’s a Hoyer and the other’s a Wilfer. Unfortunately, you can’t just play acoustic bass on a gig anymore. These days everybody uses an amplifier.”

Henry decided to start his own SP record label in 1990. He was frustrated with big record labels and various hired producers telling him what to play and how to play it. He wanted a platform to market and produce his own creative compositions and ideas. Even more importantly, he wanted to perform and record the bebop music he has loved so passionately over the years. The result is a roster of seventeen albums on SP Records, with the ninth one being released April 15, 2016. It’s titled, “High Voltage” and is a tribute to McCoy Tyner featuring a group he calls, Three More Sounds. They include Bill Heid on piano, Henry on bass, Carl Burnett on drums, with special guest, Chuck Manning on saxophone.

I listened to the soon to be released “High Voltage” CD featuring seasoned veterans of jazz, all intent on celebrating McCoy Tyner. This CD showcases Henry Franklin’s tenacious bass and also introduced me to the composer skills of Bill Heid. The trio opens with “Brother George,” a laid back groove and memorable melody that makes you want to whistle along, reminding me somewhat of Tin Tin Deo. Heid has a crisp, clean approach in the upper register of the piano, with busy fingers tinkling the piano keys like waterfall droplets. There is something refreshing about his playing. On this first cut, Franklin’s solo is a crowd-pleaser, with his deep contra bass always present and supportive in the background. Franklin is just as magnificent when upfront and in-your-face as a solo artist. On Heid’s composition, “Unit 8”, Chuck Manning leads the way with gusto and verve on his tenor saxophone to establish the melody. The trio follows brightly, marching full force ahead, waving flags of musical brilliance with Carl Burnett propelling the group on drums, straight-ahead, and putting the ‘con brio’ in the piece. Heid utilizes all eighty-eight keys on this one, flaunting his piano skills in a polished, delightful way. The mix is so clean that I feel I am sitting front-row-center at some cozy jazz club enjoying these gentlemen in person. Having worked with West Coast engineer Nolan Shaheed myself, I’m not surprised at the clarity his engineering skills bring to this recording. Both the McCoy Tyner songs they feature, “The Greeting” and “Mellow Minor” are performed in majestic ways, like one would expect from kings of instrumentation. I’m sure McCoy would be well pleased. Franklin has contributed an original composition titled, Under Tanzanian Skies.” It’s very melodic. Manning immediately captures my attention with his sweet, sexy, soprano saxophone solo. Heid’s right hand continues to mesmerize in the upper register and he gets to dig deeply into his blues roots on this tune. “High Voltage” featuring ‘Three More Sounds’ is a beautifully produced piece of art from beginning to end. You are guaranteed nearly fifty minutes of continuous, jazzy listening pleasure on this Henry Franklin Production and record label. His legacy continues, full speed ahead!
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JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH/APRIL 2016 – REVIEW OF NEW JAZZ CD RELEASES & FEATURES
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

April 14, 2016

This is a month of rejuvenation, spring cleaning and April showers that bring May flowers. It also marks the official Jazz Appreciation Month. I’ve interviewed some of our Los Angeles jazz icons, out of respect for the historic value of jazz music. This month, you can read in depth interviews with vocalist/actor, Mel Carter and below, see my tribute to the legendary jazz vocalist, Bill Henderson (R.I.P). I appreciate all artists who put energy, practice, heart and soul into performing and recording jazz, our music of freedom. Below are some of those folks who continue to push the boundaries of our jazz universe. I both applaud them and sometimes (with critical reviews), encourage them to reach past mediocrity. Read my take on the Jazz Avant Garde groups paired with gospel soprano, Tiffany Jackson in a group called “A Balm in Gilead”; pianist, Louis Heriveaux; guitarist, Yu Ooka; vocalist,Daria; saxophonist, Ernie Watts; South African trumpeter, Darren English; pianist/composer Ari Erev, The Danny Green Trio and reed man, Dave Anderson. Enjoy.

A BALM IN GILEAD
Stanza USA Music

Rex Cadwallader, piano; Mike Asetta, bass; Arti Dixson, drums; Tiffany Jackson, soprano vocals.

Imagine an operatic soprano voice soaring over modern jazz chords and arrangements. Now add a group of gospel standards to the mix and you have an unusual, but compelling album of creative Christianity. Tiffany Jackson’s voice is warm, emotional and rich. Rex Cadwallader’s tentative, but well positioned piano chords play beneath the vocals in obvious support during their “A Balm in Gilead” production. This group introduces me to a concept I find new and unexpectedly pleasant. On “Deep River”, Jackson seems to start in one key with Cadwallader taking a moment to join her, playing rich harmonics beneath the first few bars; harmonics that seem not to match the vocalist’s melody at all. Never mind! She doesn’t hesitate or stumble. This melding of the traditional with ‘modern jazz’ is complex. Just the two of them play through this old spiritual song as a duet and Cadwallader becomes the river she is wading through, with strong steps. “This Little Light of Mine” is more of the same, but now she is joined by Mike Asetta on bass along with Arti Dixson on drums. The double bass is dominant and plays counterpoint to her rich soprano tones. This peculiar, but appealing contraflow of music captures the attention like a traffic accident. But nothing here is accidental. This is superbly arranged music that highlights the freedom found in modern jazz and the love of GOD in choice of repertoire. Here is something like nothing I’ve heard before or since. It opens me up to new horizons in a very creative and persuasive way, conceived by Cadwallader and paired as two very different and distinct styles of music; spiritual with free improvisation. This quartet of musicians work flawlessly together. The musical interludes without vocals are impressive as well. So here you have Avant Garde jazz born in the 1950’s, celebrated along with slave songs and spirituals that date back to the birthing of America and cotton-field-work songs. An interesting concept and strangely captivating, as only genius can be.
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LOUIS HERIVEAUX – “TRIADIC EPISODE”
Hot Shoe Records

Louis Heriveaux, piano; Curtis Lundy, bass; Terreon Gully, drums.

‘Triadic’ is an adjective derived from the noun, ‘triad’ described as “a set of three connected people or things.” On this recording, you will hear three amazing musicians locked together on common ground, forming a spiritual trine with purpose to express great joy in their music. There is nothing I enjoy better than a trio that can ‘Swing’. These master musicians do just that. Heriveaux is a sensitive, expressive pianist who takes time to interpret these standard jazz tunes as though he was singing the lyrics vocally. This is particularly obvious on his beautiful piano interpretation of “Body and Soul”. I also must praise these three musicians for sharing the spotlight equally and with verve. The title tune, “Triadic Episode” was co-written by Heriveaux and Lundy. It is plush with blues overtones featuring Lundy walking his bass hard and steady and Gully slapping the groove into the song with impeccable time and technique. Heriveaux has spiced this album up with some pretty impressive original compositions. “Theme for Doslyn” sounds like a jazz standard. The trio plays it at a fast clip, with Lundy’s melodic bass lines singing tastefully beneath their straight-ahead groove. Gully and Lundy make a solid platform for Heriveaux to stretch out, fingers flying over the keys with riffs and runs that are even and precise. Heriveaux continues this precision and speed on Cole Porter’s, “Everything I Love”. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this song played at the speed of light; but it works. Gully gets a chance to snatch an impressive solo and dangles it in the air like thunder and rainbows, full of color and percussive dynamics. Here is a lush, well-produced album that I will play over and over again, finding fresh joy and art each time it spins across my CD player.
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YU – “VEGAS DRIVE”
Bellthecat Music

Yu Ooka, guitars & 3 string banjo called Shamisen; Patrice Rushen, Billy Mitchell, Boy Katindig on Piano; Jervonny “JV” Collier & Dan Lutz, bass; Kimo Cornwell, Derek Nakamoto and Shun Suzaki on Keyboards; Kenny Elliott & Excel Mangare on drums; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Nolan Shaheed, flugelhorn; Michael Paulo & Eric Marienthal, saxophone. Barbara Morrison, vocals; Ken Stacey, Valerie Pinkston, backup vocals.

This recording make me happy when I listen to it. From the very first original composition and title song by guitarist Yu Ooka, (“Vegas Drive”) the ensemble rolls out like a force of nature. What do I mean by that? Their music tickles my imagination and paints a picture of clear skies and open highways. I visualize a convertible with the top down, flying along Route 66 at a fast clip headed to Las Vegas. Kenny Elliott on drums and Munyungo Jackson on percussion both push the pedal to the metal, locking the rhythm in place the same way you adjust your cruise control. Kimo Cornwell on keyboards along with Michael Paulo on saxophone emphasize the strong melody line and Cornwell makes a bold statement on his keyboard instrument. This song sets the mood for an energetic, smooth jazz production. Yu shows his prowess as both a rhythm guitarist and soloist. On the Nora Jones hit record, “Don’t Know Why,” vocalist Barbara Morrison successfully puts her own spin on the tune, accompanied by iconic pianist Patrice Rushen. Yu has surrounded himself with some of the best jazz musicians in the business on his premiere artistic effort. You’ll hear pianists like Billy Mitchell and Boy Katindig. JV collier plays on six of the ten tunes and his powerful electric bass presence lends punch and intensity to the music. Eight of the ten songs are composed by ‘Yu’ and display depth and melodic integrity. This talented guitar master should get lots of airplay with this, his first solo release. Favorites cuts #1, #3, #8, and #10.
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DARIA – “STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER” (SONGS BY THE BEATLES)
OA2 Records

Daria, vocals & background vocals; Jonathan Alford, piano, Rhodes & organ; Sam Bevan, bass, keyboards & guitar; Deszon Claiborne, drums; Michaelle Goerlitz & Colin Douglas, percussion; Jean Michel Huré, guitar; Henry Hung, trumpet; Mike Rinta, trombone; Sheldon Brown & Melecio Magdaluyo, (soloist) saxophones; Matthew Charles Hewlitt, guitar solo; Joseph Cohen, sitar; Matt Eakle, flute; Alex Kelly, cello; Roberta Donnay & Annie Stocking, backup vocals; Annie Stocking, vocal production.

Daria’s vocals rise above a dynamic horn section and expressive percussion work that puts a strong groove into “When I’m Sixty-four.” That opens her album as this vocalist brings the listening audience an interesting assortment of Beatle tunes with fresh jazzy arrangements. Sam Bevan and Daria have collaborated on arranging these popular compositions in a most unique way. I loudly applaud these arrangements and the talented musicians who interpret them. Henry Hung, on trumpet, adds his impeccable talents to Cut #4, “Fixing A Hole.” His solo is dynamic and he tastefully enhances Daria’s performance, knowing just where to place improvised ‘riffs’ and ‘fills’. I believe he inspired her to cut loose and fly free vocally on this number, letting her vocals mimic a horn and even blend with the horn section at times. I Love this arrangement. I enjoyed her ‘swing’ arrangement of “Can’t Buy Me Love”. She gives us a small taste of her scat singing abilities here. The “Bird” medley is well-done. I think Daria is not afraid to take chances with her production and arranging capabilities. She combines a medley of three tunes in a most interesting way on cut #6, incorporating “Bye Bye Blackbird” with the Beatles “Blackbird” and “Icarus” tunes. The big band sounding arrangement on “The Fool On the Hill” is spectacular, as is the Latin flavored, “If I Fell.” I think Daria may be a very excellent jazz producer and arranger, trapped inside a pop singer’s body.
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ERNIE WATTS QUARTET – “WHEEL OF TIME”
Flying Dolphin Records

Ernie Watts, tenor saxophone; Christof Saenger, piano; Rudi Engel, acoustic bass; Heinrich Koebberling, drums.

As to be expected from the great Ernie Watts, his first composition comes out swinging as hard and strong as Muhammad Ali. This Ernie Watts original composition, “Letter From Home,” firmly establishes the mood and musicianship interpreting his music. He races full speed and straight ahead from this point forward. “Inner Urge” is an up-tempo piece that showcases the signature Watts energy and innovation. Koebberling gets to show off his percussive excellence, trading fours on this tune and taking a solo that highlights his innovative technique. Rudi Engel offers an exceptional bass performance on Cut #4, “Andi’s Blues”. This is an Engle original composition. It’s well written and Swings in an easy-kind-of-way, at a moderate pace. Christof Saenger is apropos on piano, showing off a flair for skillfully played improvisational scales, performed with perfect time and technique. Koebberling roots the music on trap drums, holding the group firmly in place and adding flair and color in appropriate places. But Watts is clearly the star here, shining brightly on his Keilwerth tenor saxophone. The Watts composition, “Velocity” makes me wonder how he can play that fast, with that intensely and go that long without taking a breath. But then, ‘velocity’ does mean “the speed of something in a given direction.” Favorite cuts #1, #3, #4, #7 and #10.
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DARREN ENGLISH – “IMAGINE NATION”
Hot Shoe Records

Darren English, trumpet; Kenny Banks, jr., piano; Billy Thornton, bass; Chris Burroughs, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Carmen Bradford, vocals; Greg Tardy, tenor saxophone; Russell Gunn, trumpet; Joe Grandsden, trumpet.

Darren English’s lovely tone on trumpet is like a wiggling finger from across the room, compelling me to come closer and crawl inside the music. “Imagine Nation” is one of this trumpeter’s original compositions and it opens a very creative album of music, incorporating song and spoken word. Kenny Banks, Jr., on piano, hypnotizes my attention with an improvisational solo, showing brilliance with both hands dancing across the keys. Chris Burroughs on drums punctuates every musical move, every cadence and crescendo in his own magnificent way. On “Body and Soul” Billy Thornton sings the bass line underneath to colorfully support English on trumpet. The bass does not just walk, it jogs and pirouettes from the recording, playing unexpected lines of beauty and rhythm. I’m intrigued. On “What A Little Moonlight Can Do” when Grammy Award winning vocalist, Carmen Bradford joins the ensemble and adds pizazz to the jazz with her ever-excellent, smooth vocals. English and the band fly at an incredible pace on this tune, until the end when they break down the rhythm into a blues and simply jam and scat their way out of it. When Nelson Mandela’s distinctive voice enters the scene on cut #5, “Pledge for Peace” it comes as a welcome surprise. In the press package, English explains that “Imagine Nation,” “Pledge for Peace,” and “The Birth” are part of a suite he composed that pays tribute to this great South African leader. English melts jazz and Mr. Mandela’s spoken-word-speech together tastefully, like maize and mealie porridge.

English is also from Cape Town, South Africa and has studied music at home in Africa, in Norway and finished his education with a Master’s degree at Georgia State University. He lived in Italy for a while, but now he has returned to the States, settling in Atlanta and bringing his multi-cultural influences along to sweeten the music like Melktert, a popular South African dessert. His arrangements (amply supported by an amazing group of musicians) are intense, compelling and uplifting. English is a young lion new to the jazz scene. I look forward to many more recordings by this talented artist.
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DANNY GREEN TRIO – “ALTERED NARRATIVES”
OA2 Records

Danny Green, piano; Justin Grinnell, bass; Julien Cantelm, drums; Antoine Silverman, violin; Max Moston, violin; Chris Cardona, viola; Anja Wood, cello.

This album features the compositions of Danny Green as well as his skills on the piano. I found his compositions to be interesting, melodic and memorable. I especially liked track #1 with its heavy blues influence, reminding me a lot of the “Killer Joe” song. I was all set for more. Then came track #2, “The Merge” which was totally different and pleasing in an entirely different kind of way. Track #3, “October Ballad” is very classically inspired and beautiful, with a rich bass solo by Justin Grinnell. Another favorite of mine was Track #5, where Green has arranged the string section, once again leaning heavily towards classical music. I thought cut #9 brought me back to the jazz feel, but what I found puzzling was the production. This CD was recorded very acoustically and yet I found some compositions that leant themselves more to a smooth jazz approach. It was also a hodge-podge of styles and productions. Sometimes, they were heavily classical rather than the standard or straight-ahead jazz. Also, far too much echo on the grand piano. You can really hear it on track #5 in contrast to all those beautiful string parts that Green has written to compliment his composition titled, “Second Chance.” It’s the higher piano register that suffers from this mix. Still, the talent of Danny Green and his trio far exceeds a troubling ‘Mix’. However, because of the diversity of the styles and compositions, it was hard for this reviewer to hone in on who this dynamic, young pianist really is. I would chance to guess that he, himself, is still searching to find himself musically. The final tune on this album, “Serious Fun” is just that; serious fun! Julien Cantelm gets an opportunity to show off his drumming skills in a big way. He made this song pop and explode with emotion and drive. One thing I can definitely attest to is that Green is a fine composer and has surrounded himself with talented musicians who play his work beautifully and enhance it with their musical expertise. Perhaps he explained his approach best in his linear notes.

“I have always been the type to immerse myself in one genre of music, artist, or composer for months to years at a time. From Nirvana, ska and Latin jazz to Brazilian music, straight ahead jazz and wagner operas; all these different musical phases that I went through helped shape who I am as a pianist and composer.”
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ARI EREV – FLOW
Independent Label

Ari Erev, piano; Eli Magen, double bass; Ron Almog, drums; Yuval Cohen, soprano sax; Gilad Dobrecky, percussion.

This is a very melodic, easy listening project featuring some original compositions and the piano art of Ari Erev. There are some Latin tinged tunes that lift the spirit like “Jumping on the Water” that features exciting trap drum work by Ron Almog and strong percussion by Gilad Dobrecky. “Latin Currents”, cut #10, is also an up-tempo, happy little tune. But for the most part, here is 68-muinutes of a very laid-back production, featuring mostly moderate tempos with heavy classical overtones.
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DAVE ANDERSON – “BLUE INNUENDO”
Label 1

Dave Anderson, tenor & soprano saxophones; Pat Bianchi, organ; Tom Guarna, guitar; Matt Wilson, drums.

This is a spirited new release by reed man, Dave Anderson, featuring Pat Bianchi, who swings hard on organ, feet pedaling like crazy, and reminds me of the days of Jimmy Smith’s fine quartet. Guarna jumps right into the mix on guitar and their first tune, “Urban Dilemmea” is fast paced and very impressive. All the music on this CD is composed by Anderson. He offers a nice variety of moods and arrangements with one consistent trait; they all are played with high energy and excellence. Moving from Modern Jazz to funk, Matt Wilson is a beast on drums, executing his skills consistently and firing up the other musicians. On “22 Doors” he pushes the musical envelop with improvisation and flair. “Blue Innuendo” is Anderson’s first, New York-based, record release after releasing two well-received albums in Seattle. Bianchi’s organ reminds me of the jazz of the 1960’s, while Anderson’s smart arrangements and composition mastery explore Modern jazz with a flair for the funk. His multi-saxophone skills on both tenor and soprano sax are evident throughout. This CD is full of impressive original music, high energy, and expert musicianship. I thoroughly enjoyed every tune they played, but favorites include the first two mentioned above, along with “12-Step Blues” and “Genealogy”.
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April 9, 2016

“MEL CARTER CONTINUES” TO STAND THE TEST OF TIME
by Dee Dee McNeil

Mel Carter’s new CD is titled, “Mel Carter Continues”. He is one of Southern California’s historic entertainers living in the Los Angeles area for decades. From the very early years of young Mel Carter’s life it was obvious that he was destined to be a singer. Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio and regularly attending New Prospect Baptist Church, his vocal talents quickly became evident to the congregation and his family. In 1943, he was already a soloist at a mere four years old.

“I even have a ticket of when I used to do gospel church concerts and they have printed on it Master Melvin Carter,” Mel shared with me.
‘Master’ was the pronoun they used to describe children at that time. But indeed, this child prodigy was a bonafide master at singing. It didn’t take long for the entire community to take note.

“I could sing like an adult. Not sing with the power and everything, but I never sounded just like a little kid. That’s what I’m told. I sang in church all the time, but when I was six years old, I was on a television show called “Betty and the Boys” broadcasted on WKRC. They used to sit me on the piano to sing. “Betty and the Boys” was like a jazz trio. Betty played the piano. At that time, I was the popular kid that sang in Cincinnati, so they had me on that show.

“I was entered into contests. I had a reputation as a talented youngster. In those days, they used to have stage shows and musical contests where you could win a prize. On Saturdays they would have musical contests, sometimes inside movie theaters. The winner got to work with the band that was playing there. At nine years old, I was singing with those bands. I thought that was normal. Some of the other kids around town were doing it too, like Otis Williams and the Charms and the Shropshire singers. They were a gospel group and we were related. We were all in the group together. One of my cousins was Louise Shropshire, Alice was her sister and Mary her niece. Then there was cousin Olie, my mother, Claudia and myself. So, I grew up around them and always singing.”

Mel Carter comes from historic music stock. The granddaughter of slaves, Louise Shropshire, born February 15, 1913, was the original founder of the Gospel choir that still carries the Shropshire name. Louise was a composer of hymns. In 1935, she was discovered by the famous Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey at the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses (the NCGCC). It is believed that her song, “If My Jesus Wills” (commonly known as “I’ll Overcome,” was adapted to become the very popular “We Shall Overcome” civil rights song. It was taught to Pete Seeger by folk singer Zilphia Horton. Mel’s cousin, Louise Shropshire copyrighted “If My Jesus Wills” in 1954. She recorded an additional copyright that same year for the song as part of a suite of eleven original gospel hymns entitled, “His Precious Blood.”

Little Melvin Carter was born April 22, 1939 at University Hospital. The first part of his life he lived downtown in what was referred to as Cincinnati’s West End; Lincoln Courts and John Street. Later, they moved to the Avondale section of the city. During that time, he attended Samuel Ach Junior High School. That school was built around 1907 and was demolished between 1975 and ’76.

It was Mel’s Aunt Dorothy, (Uncle John’s wife), who recognized his amazing talents right off the bat. Both his parents were very young when Mel was born. But before Mel even got to know his father, Melvin Thompson, died of Tuberculosis. They didn’t have a cure for TB at that time. This left his teenage mother to raise little Melvin as a single parent. She later remarried Albert Carter and he became the main father figure that Mel remembers. However, all his dad and mom’s brothers helped to raise him. He is the product of that saying, “it takes a village to raise a child.”

As a young man, Carter recorded with The Raymond Rasberry Singers and had a hit gospel record called, “No Tears In Heaven.” See ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alt7HkO7Who). He was signed to the Tri-State Record Label in Cincinnati and in 1958, he performed on the WCIN program called “New Stars.” Prior to that, Carter enjoyed singing with the Robert Anderson Singers. They were another popular gospel group of that day. But Mel’s ears were open to a variety of music styles and he was hungry to explore more musical avenues.

“I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great, great musicians down through the years. While singing in Chicago, I sat in with Jimmy Smith (organist). I got to sing “Misty” at Marty’s On the Hill” when it used to be on 57th and Broadway with the great composer of that tune, Erroll Garner on piano. When I was a teenager, I sang with Bill Doggett in Cincinnati. Bill Doggett used to work there and I used to play at a club over at the Manse Hotel in the Lounge. In those days you had to be a musician in order to get paid Union scale. I played the Cocktail drum in order to sing. The reason that I met all those people was because King Records was in Cincinnati. When people were recording at King Records they came there and stayed over at the Manse Hotel. I met Caldonia. There was a real lady named Caldonia, not just the song. When I met her, she was appearing with Eddie Cleanhead Vincent at the Wine Bar in Avondale. She was a singer. Maybe she’s the one they wrote that song about. I met Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vincent there. Cincinnati’s State Theater and Regal Theater was part of that performance group, all in arms reach from each other in that neighborhood. So I have memorable moments of performing with, or rubbing shoulders with, some of these iconic legends.”

Mel is recalling a piece of Cincinnati history. NOTE: According to http://www.african-americanchamber.com/media-press-releases

There was a period where black athletes and black musicians could not stay in the Downtown hotels because of the color of their skin. So, my father took it upon himself to do something about it,” states Horvena Sudduth Alexander, the daughter of serial entrepreneur Horace Sudduth as she expounds on the creation of the Manse Hotel in Walnut Hills. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Josephine Baker and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, signed the guest book of that 108-room Walnut Hills landmark. These music greats often crossed paths with Manse guests who made their living playing baseball. That group included no fewer than five future Hall-of-Famers: the Cincinnati Reds’ Frank Robinson, the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, the Braves’ Hank Aaron and the Giants’ Willie Mays. Today, the Manse Hotel has been converted into apartment buildings.

“I met Sam Cooke in Chicago, when I moved there and was singing with the Robert Anderson Singers. We used to be part of Gospel packages that travelled and sang together. That’s when I first met Sam. Later, when I came to L.A. in 1959, it was only natural for me to contact Sam Cooke. In those days, you literally went to people’s offices. But before Sam and I got together, I was signed to Doris Day’s company. In fact, Doris Day was responsible for me getting that record deal because she was there at the office the day that I went in to audition. Her office was on North Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. We had an audition scheduled, and like I said, when you went in you had to sing ‘live.’ She had them sign me on the spot. This was before going to Sam Cooke’s label. On Doris Day’s label, Arwin Records, I had a release called ‘I’m Coming Home’. I stayed on her label about a year.”

Mel later signed a record deal with Quincy Jones on Mercury Records, where a hit single was released featuring popular Los Angeles session vocalist, Clydie King. IT was called, “The Wrong Side of Town” on the Phillips label, part of the Mercury family. They also released, Mel on a record called, “I Need You So”.

“One evening Sam Cooke came down to a club where I was singing. It was the California Club, where they used to have an open jam session during the week. Then I was working at a club on Manchester and Broadway. He came there. After that, I went to his office, maybe the next day, and he signed me. You know, it was more than just quick, because He had written a song, ‘When A Boy Falls In Love’ and was thinking about launching his ‘pop’ label. There was nobody like me on his label. He had The Simms Twins, the Valentinos (who were Bobby Womack and his brothers), Bobby Womack, Johnny Taylor and Lou Rawls. There were too many words in that song, but It was magical to me. Right out the gate, that was the first national hit I had and it launched Sam’s Derby Record Label. That became his Pop division. His was one of the pioneer Black owned companies to have a black artist cross over to the Pop market. That was 1963. In 1964 he would be shot dead. He was only 33 years old.

“After my successful record on Sam Cooke’s label, I had the opportunity to go to Imperial Records. We had a meeting with Sam and he said he didn’t want to be the person who stood in my way. That’s the kind of guy he was. He let me out of my contract. At that time, Liberty records was the mother company of Imperial and the #6 record company in the country. We signed with Eddie Ray, who ran Imperial Records at that time. Bob Skaff, the head of the A&R department at Liberty, was responsible for bringing “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” to me and giving Nick DeCaro his first arranging assignment.”

Mel’s signing with Imperial went well. The first record that they released was ‘The Richest Man Alive’. In 1965, Billboard listed his song in the Regional Break-Out Singles Category and he appeared on American Bandstand, the popular television dance and music show hosted by the iconic Dick Clark. See him perform here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ja8dvVzNO-c
This was the beginning of a string of appearances that Mel Carter made on the Dick Clark show. The next time he appeared on American Bandstand, he performed his hit, “When A Boy Falls In Love”.

But it was when Nick DeCaro wrote his unique and ear catching arrangement on Mel Carter’s next release that definitely put Carter on the national map.
“If you notice, my song, ‘Hold me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me’ has the most identifiable opening with that String orchestra sweep by Nick DeCaro. Funny thing is, I hated that song because I fancied myself as a jazz singer. I didn’t feel as though it fit my style. So when we did the song, I had to be directed to sing on the beat.”
Watch his recent standing ovation here:


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“Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” was a #8 hit in 1965 on the Billboard Top 100 Charts and #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening Chart. Interestingly enough, Mel was not the first person to record this music. The original song, written by Harry Noble, was recorded first in 1952 by Karen Chandler, who became a one-hit-wonder with that song. It was also a moderate success for Sonny Til and the Orioles on the R&B charts. Much later, in 1959 Connie Francis covered the tune. After Mel’s success with the song, it was recorded again in 1969 by Shirley Bassey; then by Johnny Mathis and Bobby Vinton in 1977 and finally, in 1994, by Gloria Estefan. But the most successful version continues to be Mel Carter’s.

Years of hard work and singing was finally paying off big time. Mel found himself appearing on several popular variety shows including “The Tonight Show”, “Hullabaloo,” “Shindig,” “The Pat Boone Show,” “Rosie Grier’s Show,” and “Merv Griffin’s Show.” Mel’s life and career was rolling along smoothly until Halloween night in 1969. Then something unspeakable happened that changed everything.

“On Halloween night (1969) a friend and I were coming down La Cienega Avenue and right before we got to Pico Blvd, the car conked out. At that time, the area was upper/middle class with very few people of color living there. Unexpectedly, the police cruised by and just my luck, one of those irresponsible policemen happened to be having a bad night. He approached us with a negative attitude. I tried to explain about the car, but he didn’t want to hear any of that. Next thing we know, they called for back-up. Now there were four cops. Two were just standing there, watching. They asked me to sign a ticket they issued and as I was signing the ticket, the next thing I knew I was coughing up blood and spitting up dirt in the gutter. This one policeman had used his Billy-club and choked me from behind. Consequently, I lost my singing voice because of that. it took a year or so for me to sing again, all because of his unwarranted actions. He injured my vocal chords. I sued the L.A.P.D. and eventually won my case.”

As horrible as this incident was, Mel rebounded in an unexpected way. Because of his injuries, he couldn’t sing for quite a while. All his concerts and tours had to be cancelled. The doctors couldn’t say when he would be well enough to return to his singing career and the bills were rolling in. So his agent suggested he begin to audition for acting roles. Mel followed his agent’s lead and thus began a lucrative acting career. He found his way onto television comedies like the popular “Sanford & Son” starring Red Foxx, “The New Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Good Times” and “New Love American Style,” to name just a few. He appeared on drama shows like “The Outcasts” “Marcus Welby, M.D.”, “David Cassidy,” an NBC soap called “Santa Barbara,” “Quincy” and “Magnum, P.I.” with Tom Sellick.

“We filmed three pilots for the Magnum P.I. Show in Los Angeles. I played the Dewie Wilson character. He was the guy who played piano in the club. But when they moved to Hawaii, they changed all that. They didn’t reproduce that club. I would have been a regular on the Tom Sellick show, if it weren’t for that move. Looking back, acting was just a natural progression of things. Doing the speaking and doing the acting opened me up more as a performer.”

Thankfully, Mel Carter’s voice healed and in time, he returned to concerts and what he loved the most; singing. More recently, he has released a trilogy of three CD projects.

Mel explained, “The first one was Heart & Soul with Mel Carter. With the second, that was called, Mel Carter: The Other Standards, and now it’s Mel Carter Continues. Early on in my career, I did all the Gershwin, Arlen and sang all those standards that everybody does over and over again. But I went back to the people who I grew up listening to on my most recent release. To me, their songs are Standards too. Some would call them R&B Standards or Pop Standards of that era. I recorded music made popular by the Inkspots, Johnny Ace and Little Willie John on this recent CD. They were artists who inspired me back in the day.”

Mel Carter’s rich tenor voice has only become stronger with the years. On his recent, self-produced recording project, he has chosen a bushel basket full of oldies-but-goodies and refreshed them with his own unique and personal style. On “Just in Time” embellished with a big band arrangement, he adds the rarely heard verse of the song and his bell-clear tones prove his vocals are still powerful and plush with emotion. “Pledging My Love” was made popular in the 50’s by Johnny Ace and Carter does a superb job of reinventing this old doo-wop classic tune into an emotional ballad. The gospel song, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands” is arranged with a big band background and it ‘Swings.’ John Rodby is credited for all the arrangements with the exception of “The Legends of Rock & Roll” that was arranged by Eric Butler and composed by Carter. This original composition is a duet with Lenny Welsh. Mel’s album showcases a rich heritage in music as he interprets classic songs by some of his favorite artists including Little Willie John, The Ink Spots, Annie Laurie, Ivory Joe Hunter and more. It’s a pleasant and nostalgic experience for someone like me, who remembers those classic popular songs from the 50’s and 60’s. But it will certainly please the more youthful ears, bringing to the forefront songs that have strongly stood the test of time for over half a century, the same way this artist has.

April 8, 2016

TRIBUTE TO BILL HENDERSON, A JAZZ VOCAL ICON (March 19, 1926 – April 3, 2016)
By Dee Dee McNeil

Those of us in Los Angeles haven’t seen William Randall “Bill” Henderson in a couple of years. Close friends and associates whispered that he was having some health challenges. He wasn’t in the audiences of what’s left of jazz clubs in L.A.; not the way he used to be. I remember being totally blown away to see him in the audience when I was performing with the Bennie Maupin Orchestra during a fundraising for the California Jazz Foundation several years back. I ran over to his seat, after my songs, and thanked him for being there and for his unforgettable contributions to the legacy of jazz. He smiled at me and thanked me for my talent and for carrying the jazz torch forward. He was a humble and sensitive human being. I feel blessed to have met him, let alone to have received a compliment from him.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, (March 19, 1926), Henderson had a style, tone and presence that was smooth as black velvet, tinged with a rich vibrato and a style all his own. In 1952 his professional music career notably upgraded when he joined with Ramsey Lewis and began recording as a leader. In 1958, he moved to New York and was quickly embraced by that jazz community. It was his tasty vocals that made Horace Silver’s “Senor Blues” tune a splash hit record. It remains one of the Blue Note label’s top-selling singles. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdko41PwfXM).

Next, he began to perform and eventually record with world renowned pianist, Oscar Peterson. Their album was titled, “Bill Henderson with the Oscar Peterson Trio.” It wasn’t long before he was headlining with iconic jazz masters like organist, Jimmy Smith, big band leader, Count Basie, reed virtuoso, Yusef Lateef and Eddie Harris. Trumpeter Booker Little was among his sidemen when Vee Jay Records recorded “Bill Henderson Sings” in 1958. His backup bands were always made up of the very best in the business. Stars like the Tommy Flanagan Quartet and Thad Jones’ Big Band played behind this big man with the captivating voice. His discography offers more than thirty recordings for you to dial up and enjoy at your computer.

On April 3, 2016, our dear Bill Henderson made his transition and left his voice behind for us to enjoy. With technology the way it is, those of you not lucky enough to hear him in person, should take time to listen now. He is a part of the jazz legacy we have loved and lost. All you hopeful male vocalists out there, perk up your ears, dial up http://www.youtube.com and hear how a master interprets lyrics, delivers phrases with meaning and purpose, and interprets each song in his own inimitable way. Bill Henderson, you will be missed.
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JAZZ FROM THE LATIN SIDE

March 1, 2016

JAZZ FROM THE LATIN SIDE

CD Reviews by jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

March 12, 2016

Jazz has influenced music worldwide. It’s inspirational to discover sweet, surprise packages of well-rounded and complex musical expressions. I recently received a slew of recordings by a variety of Latin artists. Here is American jazz represented by many who have migrated from other countries in pursuit of their dreams. Read all about Fernando Huergo from Argentina with his rock/funk/fusion/folkloric jazz roots; San Francisco based Jemal Ramierez featuring internationally acclaimed vibe master, Warren Wolf; the Trio Da Paz, the Nonch Harpin’ group and Buyepongo’s odd mix of afro-Cuban, Spanish hip hop and pop grooves; Renato Braz with his haunting Brazilian vocals; Mike Freeman’s tribute to Cal Tjader. Finally, and for good measure, female pianist/American composer Leslie Pintchik offers a new CD titled “True North” with Latin overtones in some of her arrangements. Enjoy!

FERNANDO HUERGO – “HASHTAG”
Zoho Records

Fernando Huergo, electric bass; Yulia Musayelyan, flute; Rick Dimuzio, tenor saxophone; Leo Genovese, piano/Fender Rhodes/Electric piano; Franco Pinna, drums.

Fernando Huergo’s recording showcases his composer skills. This electric bassist and Berklee educator has composed eight out of the twelve songs on this project. His writing is provocative and beautiful, steeped in Argentinean Tango, Folk music and American jazz.

Gathering a handful of carefully picked musicians, the first thing I noticed was the fullness of their sound. At times they seem to be more than a septet. Each masterful in his own right, they competently represent Huergo’s “Hashtag” project. Rick Dimuzo’s tenor saxophone work is formidable and always uplifting. This production is both robust and improvisational in a Modern Jazz kind of way. Dimuzo first grabs my undivided attention on Huergo’s lovely composition titled, “Cerca”. The emotion that these musicians put into that ballad is palpable.

On Thelonius Monk’s “Evidence” the drummer, Franco Pinna, is outstanding. He is from the city of Tucuman located in Northern Argentina. That part of the country is rich in Folkloric music and Franco has mastered those homeland rhythms. The arrangement of tempos and the combination of cultures gives Leo Genovese an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of his piano excellence. You also hear Pinna’s rhythm mastery of these Argentine roots on “Trunca”, another original composition by Huergo.

The blend of Yulia Musayelyan’s flute and Dimuzo’s saxophone meld together like oil and fire, creating a hot, harmonic mix of reeds that enhance these arrangements, along with the addition of electric piano and sometimes harmonizing with the bass. The only female in the group, Musayelyan, brings Russian musicality to the ensemble.
Huergo seems to have been richly influenced by Jaco Pastorious, who we lost way too soon back in 1987. This talented Argentinian composer celebrates ‘Weather Report’ with a tune he simply calls, “Weather” as a sort of tribute to that jazz fusion era and a band that tore down musical boundaries in the 70’s and 80’s. This CD surprised me. I had expected a more Latino approach, but Huergo lifted and entertained me with his well-constructed songs and funk/rock fusion overtones. Don’t get it twisted. He does not leave ‘straight ahead’ or his Latin roots unattended on the doorstep. These musicians play it all with competence and emotional dynamics.
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JEMAL RAMIREZ – “POMPONIO”
First Orbit Sounds Music

Jemal Ramirez, drums & cymbals; Warren Wolf, marimba & vibraphone; Howard Wiley, soprano/alto/tenor saxophones; Joel Behrman, trumpet; Matthew Clark, piano; John Shifflett, double bass; John Santos, percussion.

Drummer, Jemal Ramirez, offers a high velocity album of Salsa and Mambo music with repetitious undertones that build tension in the music and a platform for some stellar jazz musicians to cut loose and fly free. Like a moving pendulum, the drums and the repetitive chords encourage hips to sway and feet to dance. Horn lines float in thick harmony above the rhythm section. I love the addition of vibes and marimba to this mix, featuring internationally heralded Warren Wolf. The title tune, “Pomponio” is a Bobby Hutcherson composition that gives Wolf a platform to introduce himself on the vibraphone as cut number one.

Pomponio is a name for an early California rebel or bandit, according to Ramierez’s linear notes, and it’s also an Italian name. In Latin the name means “lover of grandeur and the open plains.”

Ramirez includes this research of the name because his DNA traces roots back to Italy, and also Mexico, American Indian, Spanish and French. Consequently, this record project brings together an assortment of players and tunes that reflect his heritage and embraces the diversity that only America celebrates. Take that diversity, mix in the freedom of jazz music, and you have an album worthy of celebration, full of grandeur and the openness that cultural creativity brings.
Ramirez has pulled jazz tunes from some of the major jazz composers of our time including Wayne Shorter, Bobby Watson, Hutcherson, Tony Williams, Kenny Garret and more. The arrangements are tightly produced without suffocating the freedom that jazz inspires. Clark’s piano playing is appropriately matched with Shifflett’s strong acoustic bass. Together with Ramirez, they lay down a strong rhythm section. Wiley brings magic on his saxophones, waving fluid notes like a magic wand above the musical excitement. Each soloist builds on the rooted music and brings pleasure to this listener’s ears. The drums are mixed beautifully and dominate this recording in a natural and unobtrusive way.

Ramirez is definitely the guiding light and flash of spirit that leads this band and applies just the right amount of sass and virtuosity to inspire excellence. Santos sparks the scene with his percussive riffs and supports the rhythm in all the right ways. This is a recording, produced by Ramirez and Wolf, racing fresh out the gate like a prime stallion, hot to trot and entertaining all the way to the finish line.
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TRIO DA PAZ – “30”
Zoho Records

Romero Lubambo, acoustic & electric guitars, Nilson Matta, acoustic bass, Duduka Da Fonseca, drums.

Although the style of guitar playing is nothing like Wes Montgomery, the sound emanating off of this recording reminds me of this great master. Here are three Brazilian musicians who have been playing together for three decades.
Consequently, this album is titled in honor of their long time collaboration, “30”.

There’s a happy feeling of joy and exuberance for life folded into this repertoire. I regret that whoever mixed and recorded this session did not pay more attention to the bass drum. The importance of that steady heartbeat in the music is unfortunately overlooked, although the upper sticks, brushes and high-hat are loud and dominant. For me, that is somewhat troubling. All three musicians are fine composers and have written and arranged nine of the ten songs herein contained. I found Lubambo’s “Outono” to be quite beautiful and melodically pleasing to the ear. Baden Powell’s “Samba Triste” is exciting and speeds along at a challenging pace, showcasing the mastery of all three musicians as fingers fly and drum sticks roll. I thought the chord changes in Matta’s “Aguas Brasileiras” were lovely, and I waited impatiently for him to solo. I was somewhat disappointed with the shortness of his featured spot. Lubambo has written a piece entitled “Sweeping the Chimney” that reminds me of a rushing freight train, with Matta’s trap drum percussion rushing along at a fast clip and Lubambo’s fingers keeping pace with a swiftness hard to imagine. I was really excited to hear them let Da Fonseca loose on his drums for an exciting, but too short solo. I thought the drummer’s “Flying Over Rio” would have been an uptempo piece, but instead it’s a mellow, mid-tempo and delightful groove that makes me want to cha cha across the room. One of the more interesting compositions was the final one, composed by Matta that quite suddenly changed tempo from ballad to double time, giving Da Fonseca a chance to show off all his drum abilities with an illustrious solo. All in all, this is an easy listening experience infused with the energy of old friends who are comfortable playing together and bursting with composition creativity.
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NONCH HARPIN’ – “NATIVE SONS”
Nonch Harpin’ Records

Shawn Ellis, double bass; Andy Markham, Elec & Acoustic guitars; Daneil Raynaud, keyboards/piano; Alan Spearot, drums; Chini Tran, tenor & soprano saxophones.

The first thing I noticed was the fullness of this five-man-group. At times, the arrangements almost took on a big band ampleness. For example, on cut #4, “Li’l Antonin Scalia” sounded more like a lush orchestration than just a simple five-piece combo. This group is a blend of funk, acid and electric fusion jazz that defies categorization. They like to refer to themselves as a “do-it-yourself” kind of group or DIY. The title of this group of excellent musicians was pulled from a jargon supposedly only developed and spoken in Northern California called “Boontling”. The group name, ‘Nonch Harpin’, is pulled from that idiom. It’s a term that loosely could be translated to ‘dirty talk’. But there is nothing dirty, muddy, or low-down in this music. It’s fresh, crystal clean and uplifting. Take “Melody for A Woodland Cabana” for example. It’s beautifully melodic and full of percussive verve by Alan Spearot. Chini Tran, their saxophonist, composed this tune and the whole group got together in a free form musical meeting to arrange it. Most of the arrangements on this creative endeavor are by Markham and the entire group. Guitarist ‘Markham” has also composed cuts 1,4,5,6,7,8 and 10. The mixture of Shawn Ellis’s upright bass with the electronics of Markham’s guitars and Daniel Raynaud’s keyboards has a rich, grounding effect. Spearot is ever-present with his drums not only holding the group in place like Elmer’s glue, but he also is very exploratory and creatively complimentary. The album artwork by Tom Fedro captivated me and made me open this CD package before the stack of others on my reviewer’s desk. His artwork is striking. Perhaps the group best described their music by saying:

“We aim to make odd meters groovable, to infuse Americana modes with downtown formalism, and to sneak into Modern Jazz through the back door.”
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BUYEPONGO – “TODO MUNDO”
Independent Label

Core members of Buyepongo are: Jorge “Yuka” Vallejo, guitar/accordion/clarinet/vocals; Randy Modesto, bass; Angel Hernandez, saxophone/flute/concha; Edgar “Meshlee” Modesto, conguira/ guachraca/vocals; Kris Castro, keyboards; Larry Harvey, percussionist/kpanlogo/ashiko/conga; Fernanda Ulibarre, backup vocals; Intro/outro beats produced by Artos of Westology.

This is the debut album release for the Los Angeles based group, “Buyepongo”. The first cut opens with spoken-word over electronic chord changes. A voice tells us, “Tomorrow won’t be the same as yesterday” and encourages us to “appreciate the gift of life and the gift of death; to laugh/love/eat and take care of one another.” My interest is peeked. The second cut begins with drums and soon the Spanish voices bounce and dance above a Latin groove. Not being a Spanish speaking person, I do not know what the lyrics are saying. According to the linear notes, Buyepongo translates to “causing a ruckus” or a riotous mash-up of influences. They claim to be mixing hip-hop, punk rock, funk and jazz in a stew of styles, with music being the common denominator. For this reviewer, their music is way too simple to exemplify the wildly creative freedom and technical prowess of jazz. On the other hand, this group has incorporated a Pan-Latin sound with lots of percussion and vocals used as chants. The musicality of their project is limited, although it does exhibit a danceable rhythm throughout, relying on percussion to carry the project along with repetitive voicings. Buyepongo claims to employ an experimental technique as their base, developing this sound after backpacking through Belize and Guatemala. You can hear the folk music influences throughout, like on Track 7. They layer the music with Latino chants in Spanish and danceable rhythms along with genre smashing sounds and effects. At a grunge party or dance hall, I believe they would be well received. But from a purely musical standpoint, they leave me with much to be desired. I don’t hear the ‘funk’ or the ‘hip-hop’ they claim to be incorporating, unless they’re referring to the ‘loop’ techniques they employ. I do admit, their sound is uniquely their own. I identify quite a bit of Afro-Cuban influence and some merengue-like grooves. They sometimes incorporate an accordion sound. Over-all, there is a feeling of happiness and life celebration throughout. I found the artwork of their CD jacket by Alfonso Aceves, of @kalli arte, to be compelling and the artist is to be congratulated. I wish the music had been as colorful and intricate as that artwork.
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RENATO BRAZ – “SAUDADE”
Living Music Label

Renato Braz, guitar/vocals; Paul Winter, soprano sax/producer; Dori Caymmi, guitar; Theo de Barros, guitar; Don Grusin, piano; Paul Sullivan, piano; Nelson Ayres, piano; Ivan Lins, keyboard/voice; Eliot Wadopian, bass; Siza͂o Machado, bass; Nilson Matta, bass; Sergio Brandao, bass; Eugene Friesen, cello; Paul McCandless, oboe/English horn; Gordon Gottlieb, drums; Jamey Haddad, drums; Bré, percussion; Café, percussion; Toninho Ferragutti, accordion; Dmitri Pokrovsky Ensemble, chorus.

From the first strains of “Anabela” I am hypnotized by the haunting voice of Renato Braz. He has a smooth, melancholy, infectious style that heralds Brazilian culture with romantic, Portuguese tones. I don’t need to understand the lyrics, because the beauty of his voice and his emotional delivery says it all. At times his phrasing and tone reminds me of Nina Simone, especially on cut #8, “Chora Brasileira”.

This singer/guitarist has roots in all three of Brazil’s cultures; Indian, African and European. His parents are Guarani Indians from Mato Grosso. His mother remarried a Baiano from Bahia in the Northeast of Brazil where the African tradition is rooted deeply. Renato has lived many years in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He met Producer, Paul Winter, in 2004 and they have been working together ever since. On his first CD release in the U.S., he offers fifteen songs bred and beloved in Brazil. His elegant delivery entices you to love them too.
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MIKE FREEMAN – “Blue Tjade”
VOF Recordings

Mike Freeman, vibraphone, marimba, flexatone, kalimba; Jim Gailloreto, tenor saxophone/flute; Ruben Rodriguez, bass; Chembo Corniel, congas, bongos, campana, shekere percussion; Willie Martinez, drums, guiro, campana, maracas, claves.

Composer/vibraphonist, Mike Freeman, celebrates the Cal Tjader legacy with his project “Blue Tjade”. Freeman has embraced and nurtured Latin influence in his music for the past twenty years. This recording is a culmination of those twenty years featuring ten of his excellent original compositions. He’s surrounded himself with musicians who share his passion for Latin music and bring the fire and professional technique to make this project brilliant. The drummer, Willie Martinez, locks in the rhythm along with conga master, Chembo Corniel. They put the high polish on the grooves. The addition of flute and saxophone by Chicago’s esteemed reed player, Jim Gailloreto, is like putting custom rims on a highly prized and waxed low rider. Ruben Rodriguez builds the basement with his solid bass techniques. Freeman brings the Latin jazz vibe tradition front and center, parking it vividly and beautifully in our faces.

Mike Freeman is respected and known by fans worldwide for his affiliation and recordings with acclaimed Latin groups including Ray Mantilla’s Good Vibrations; Lucho Cueto’s all-star salsa group, Black Sugar, Son Boricua with Jose Mangual Jr., as well as the late Jimmy Sabater.

While the Salsa on this project is as hot as red chili peppers, at the same time the music is as smooth and sweet as crème caramel. Favorite tunes are the very joyful “Dance of the Dead”, “Pendulum”, “Making Conversation” (that makes my toes tap and hips wiggle), and the 6/8 tempo’d “Agua y Piedra”.
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LESLIE PINTCHIK – “TRUE NORTH”
Pintchhard Records

Leslie Pintchik, piano; Scott Hardy, bass; Satoshi Takeishi, percussion; Steve Wilson, alto/soprano saxophones; Ron Horton, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Leslie Pintchik is a composer/pianist/arranger who leaves a feeling of open space in her work. Even the album cover seems to personify a space of openness, done in simple black and white with a lone figure walking the beach as if in meditation. The very first cut, “Let’s Get Lucky” seems to match this scene, giving me a chance to breathe in Pintchik’s talents on the eighty-eight keys. On this Samba, she has a way of establishing the composition’s melody and then inviting her fellow band mates to the forefront to solo and embellish the musical house she is building. Steve Wilson has a smooth, rich sound on saxophone and soars like a perusing bird above the solid rhythm section. He and Horton on trumpet (or sometimes flugelhorn), make lush harmony to implant the melody in my brain or to add soft and unobtrusive instrumental background voices as part of Pintchik’s smart arrangements. Pintchik has composed six of the ten songs on this body of art. She approaches each song with simplicity, deliberate timing and powerful emotion and technique. Her band members have been with her for some time and that breeds familiarity, comfort and style. Perhaps she explained it best when she said:

“I like to cook and my inner chef has a small, musical/gastronomic epiphany of sorts in the recording studio when it occurred to me that these marvelous musicians, so quick to respond to the feeling and character of each tune, worked their magic … like salt … they amplified the flavor of each tune…”

My favorite cuts are: “Let’s Get Lucky”, the highly spirited, “Crooked as a Dog’s Hind Legs”, her bluesy take on the old standard, “Falling In Love Again”, the Latin flavored original composition, “Discreet” and the ‘Live’ performance of “For All We Know” with an adhesive and beautiful bass line by Hardy that glues the trio together in a very solid way, along with Takeishi’s funky drum expertise.

Like the CD cover, with a crush of seagulls scattered across a gray sky, this album takes flight and lifts me when I listen.

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JAZZ VOICES SING IN THE NEW YEAR

March 1, 2016

Both people voices and instrumental voices are singing in the New Year of 2016. Here are some reviews of recently released and soon-to-be released jazz CDs. Jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil, shares her views about Lyn Stanley, duets by Wendy Pedersen and Jim Gasior, Socrates Garcia and his Latin Jazz Orchestra, Mel Carter, Cristian Perez, Todd Coolman and High Voltage featuring Henry Franklin, Carl Burnett, Bill Reid and Chuck Manning. Read all about it below.

LYN STANLEY – “Interludes”
A.T. Music LLC

Lyn Stanley, vocals/producer; Bill Cunliffe, piano; Mike Garson, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; John Chiodini, guitar; Ray Brinker, drums; Paul Kreibich, drums; Bob McChesney, trombone; Henrick Meurkens, harmonica; Brad Dutz, percussion; Cecilia Tsan, cello. Steve Rawlins, fingersnaps.

Cut one, “How Long Has This Been Going On?” features an exceptional trombone solo and accompaniment by Bob McChesney, who tastily compliments the lovely lounge singing of Lyn Stanley. Stanley has gathered a bouquet of sweet standards for this CD, and surrounded each flowery tune with colorful arrangements by some of the best jazz musicians on the West Coast jazz scene today. McChesney’s trombone solo on “Just One of those things” is played at a swift pace and once again grabs the spotlight. The production on this recording is outstanding. How can you miss with folks like Bill Cunliffe on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Paul Kriebich on drums. Pianist, Tamir Hendleman had a hand in arranging some of these songs for Stanley. Guitarist John Chiodini has contributed as an arranger and is a welcome addition to the rhythm section with credits that read like the who’s who of jazz guitarists, having played with iconic jazz folks like Tony Bennett, Louis Bellson, Buddy DeFranco, Maynard Ferguson, Natalie Cole, Peggy Lee, Shirley Horn, Lainie Kazan, Hubert Laws and too many more to list here. Steve Rawlins and Cunliffe also arrange tunes, as well as adding their musician mastery to this record. I enjoyed hearing Artie Butler’s “It’s Crazy” composition that I hadn’t heard before, with Sammy Cahn’s moving lyrics and Meurkien’s warm harmonica solo. On this, her third CD release, Stanley wears a producer’s hat along with co-producers Steve Rawlins, Steve Genewick and Paul Tavenner. When a smooth, sultry vocalist such as Ms. Stanley surrounds herself with the best of the best musical accompaniment, she’s bound to have a successful, well-produced recording project.
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WENDY PEDERSEN & JIM GASIOR – “WE TWO”
Independent Record Label

Wendy Pedersen, vocals; Jim Gasior, piano.

Here is a straight-forward approach to jazz tunes offered in their simplistic form as a duo, featuring Pedersen vocally with her accompanist, Jim Gasior on grand piano. I enjoyed their interpretation of Monk’s “Round Midnight” with Gasior’s bell tones on the keys and Pedersen floating atop with sadness squeezed out of every phrase; every note. Here is a vocalist that knows how to sell-a-song, with terrific range and pitch. The pianist is a distinctive artist himself, creating a jazzy, richly classical stage for both the singer and himself to be spotlighted. I never heard her sing the same thing twice. That’s one of the marks of a true jazz singer. The dozen songs they have picked are familiar, like Dakota Staten’s hit record, “The Late Late Show”. This duo makes the song their own. Wendy Pedersen is soulful, knows just when to ‘swing’ the vocals and is emotionally connected to each lyric. Gasior keeps perfect time and compliments the vocalist with strong support and musicality. This was an artistic listening experience, not just another female singer claiming to sing jazz. Pedersen is a jazz vocalist who can sing anything, but has a respectful allegiance to the Great American Songbook. The completely clever way they arranged “My Favorite Things” in 11/8 meter makes for a pleasant surprise on this musical journey. Pedersen sings the song down and scats her way across the strange, but pleasant tempo, with no compunction and great breath control. “Jitterbug Waltz” is no easy tune to sing and Gasior puts a bit of Thelonius Monk in his piano playing, with a strong bass hand that roots the tune. The two tamper with time on purpose to express the lyrics. Pedersen sings “Besame Mucho” in Spanish and with much verve and flair. I bet this duo is fun to see in person. You’ll probably have to go to South Florida, where they have quite a large and loyal following.
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MEL CARTER – “CONTINUES”
CSP Records

Mel Carter, vocals: John Rodby, piano/electric piano/synthesized strings; Ron Hershewe & Grant Geissman, guitar; James Leary, bass; Steve Pemberton & Mark Stevens, drums; Harry Kim, 1st Trumpet/flugelhorn; Nolan Shaheed, 3td trumpet/flugelhorn; Wendell Kelly & Duane Benjamin, trombone; Robbie Hioki, bass trombone; Fred Jackson, 1st Alto sax/flute; George Shelby, 2nd Alto Saxophone; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone and solos on “Talk To Me” and “If I didn’t Care”; Louis Van Taylor, baritone saxophone. Special Guest: Lenny Welch, vocals.

Mel Carter’s rich tenor voice has only become stronger with the years. On this self-produced recording project, he has chosen a bushel basket full of oldies-but-goodies and refreshed them with his own unique and personal style. On “Just in Time” embellished with a big band arrangement, he adds the rarely heard verse of the song and his crystal-clear tones prove his vocals are still powerful and plush with emotion. “Pledging My Love” was made popular in the 50’s by Johnny Ace and Carter does a superb job of reinventing this old doo-wop, R&B classic tune into an emotional ballad. The gospel song made hugely popular by Mahalia Jackson, “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” is arranged with a big band background and it ‘Swings.’ John Rodby is credited for all the arrangements, with the exception of “The Legends of Rock & Roll” that was arranged by Eric Butler and composed by Carter.

No newcomer to the business of music, Mel Carter has been signed to a list of record labels over the past half a century. It was the iconic Quincy Jones who first signed him to Mercury records. He was later signed to Phillips, and then Sam Cooke’s ‘Derby label’, that produced Carter’s first big hit record titled, “When A Boy Falls In Love.” This song soared up the music charts in the U.S. and the U.K., becoming #1 on the West Coast. He also had releases on Imperial records, the Liberty label and more. Carter traveled with Dick Clark’s popular Caravan of Stars and has performed in several stage plays, films and television productions as both an actor and singer. In 1985, his album “Willing” won him a Grammy nomination for Best Male Gospel Performance. His voice crosses genres and defies classification. He sings Jazz as easily as he embraces Gospel or Pop music. This album showcases a rich heritage in music as he interprets classic songs by some of his favorite artists including Little Willie John, The Ink Spots, Annie Laurie, Ivory Joe Hunter and more. It’s a pleasant and nostalgic experience for someone like me, who remembers those classic popular songs from the 50’s and 60’s. But it will certainly please the more youthful ears, bringing to the forefront songs that have strongly stood the test of time for over half a century, the same way this artist has.
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SOCRATES GARCIA LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “BACK HOME”
MAA Record label

Socrates Garcia, composer/arranger/conductor/producer/guitar; Manuel Tejada, piano; Pengbian Sang, bass; Steve Kovalcheck, guitar; Helen De La Rosa, drums; Felix “Abuelo” Garcia, tambura, congas, atabales & vocals; Rafael Almengod, atabales, tambu; Josue Reynoso, guira; Otoniel Nicolas, timbales; Wil Swindler, alto, soprano, flute; Briana Harris, alto, flute; Kenyon Brenner, tenor, flute, clarinet; Brielle Frost, flute; Joel Harris, tenor, clarinet; Ryan Middagh, baritone, bass clarinet; Brad Goode, Dave Rajewski, Jordan Skomal, Miles Roth, Trumpets/flugalhorns; Joe Chisholm, Frank Cook, Jonathan Zimny, & Guillermo Rivera: Trombones; Gary Mayne, bass trombone; Hovernys Santana, Lia Nova & Rafael Almengod, vocals.

This recording is smart, well arranged and mixed to perfection. The percussion stands out as strong as the horn lines and draws me in from the very first few bars. All the music on this project is composed, arranged and conducted by Socrates Garcia. Believe me, the arrangements are dynamic and beautiful. The orchestration is lush and the musicians are masterfully articulate.

Garcia claims his music to be “autobiographical” as in “… a point of arrival and departure, arriving to a place where I could combine my heritage with the aesthetics of jazz; departure, towards a promising future for this symbiotic relationship.”

On “Vantage Point,” stewing in ‘merengue’ and allowing Felix ‘Abuelo’ Garcia to flex his percussive muscles, I am hooked. The rhythms are contagious and make me want to dance and celebrate life. Garcia brings his Dominican Republic roots to the party. The musicians sparkle like stars over the cities of Santo Domingo or Santiago de los Caballeros. Each song has a generous story included in the linear notes to explain what prompted that particular composition. There is mention of ‘bachata’ being a type of music currently accepted worldwide that grew, like the USA blues, from the underground. For many years, bachata was considered a second-class music. It is represented prominently in the title tune, “Back Home” that Garcia claims is a brief journey through his musical career. He has bridged cultures, using pillars of Heavy Metal, Dominican folk music and jazz to support his extravagantly structured arrangements and compositions. Because of the clarity of this recording, I must give credit to Garcia and Greg Heimbecker for their mixologist expertise and to Heimbecker for the final mastering; beautifully executed!

Socrates Garcia is the Director of Music Technology at University of Northern Colorado where he teaches courses in Music Technology, Digital Composition and Recording Techniques. This is also where he recorded this project. Dr. Garcia’s credits include the album Yo Por Ti by Puerto Rican artist Olga Tañon, Grammy Award winner of Merengue Album of the Year 2001; musical director/keyboardist for Los Ilegales in their 1997-1998 Latin American tour; keyboardist for multi-Grammy winner Juan Luis Guerra; and guest performer with the Dominican Republic’s National Symphony Orchestra, among others. His first solo CD titled “Suenos”, was released in 2005. This contemporary jazz big band project is bound to be another feather in the cap of a scholar and creative genius who brings multi-culture and flair to the big band stage. You can find Scores/Parts available at http://www.uncjazzpress.com.
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CRISTIAN PEREZ – “Anima Mundi”
Independent Label

Christian Perez, nylon string guitar/charango/mandolin/elec guitar/ steel string guitar/ fretless guitar/ bombo/percussion; Yana Hristova, flute/piccolo; Emmanuel Trifilio, bandoneon; Daniel Brown, double bass; Joe McCarthy, drums/percussion; Bruno Lucini, drums and percussion; Devree Lewis, cello; Lynn Veronneau, vocals; Victor Provost, steel pan; Haroon Alam, tablas; Kevin Elam, backup vocals/low whistle.

This is a very acoustic album featuring Cristian Perez on nylon string guitar throughout and a variety of other string instruments. The first cut has a haunting melody and Perez employs charango on this Daniel Robles composition that celebrates the Condor. Constant on this recording are the animal sounds of Earth that emanate from various instrumentation. You immediately get the impression that Perez is an environmentalist. Yana Hristova brings her complimentary flute to the party and also a whistle high piccolo, while Joe McCarthy adds sparse drums and percussion on this first cut. Daniel Brown has a brief, but effective bass solo on “El Condor Pasa” and this first tune sets the tone for the entire album. Perez tributes the Earth, titling his musical production ‘Anima Mundi’ which translate from Latin as ‘Soul of the World’. Perez states in his linear notes:

“As natural creatures, our very lives are inherently intertwined with the forces of nature – a reality which has consistently shaped our religious, spirituality, art and music.”

This is not an album this writer would describe as ‘jazz’. It is more Eastern or Asian in musical influence and something you might hear on an Easy Listening radio station, World Music stations or even a popular radio station in India or the Middle East. Perez is the Argentinian composer featuring seven out of eleven original tunes on this musical work of art. His goal appears to be the combination of cultures with classical roots. This results in a tree of work where his compositions mirror nature in lovely ways. Some of his original titles are “The Flower I Never Gave You” (La Flor Que Nunca Te Di), “The Persistent Elephant,” “Journey of an Exhausted Penguin,” “Luna Firtiva” (Furtive Moon), “Hojas Podridas”(Rotten Leaves) and so on. Lynn Veronneau sounds vocally exquisite on a fresh arrangement of “Moon River.” All in all, Perez’s excellent guitar talents colorfully carry this project in string baskets twisted and braided with various cultures in the style of a pan-piper production. He also exhibits his talents on several string instruments that uniquely color each composition, along with a rainbow of talented musicians who amply support his musical ideas.
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TODD COOLMAN – “Collectables” featuring a trio called, “Trifecta”
Sunnyside Record Label

Todd Coolman, bass; Bill Cunliffe, piano; Dennis Mackrel, drums.

This CD begins in a very Ahmad Jamal-ish way with both composition and production featuring Jamal’s style and tune, “New Rhumba”. From the first cut, you can feel the excitement of this trio. They are combustible with many explosions of brilliance. Every now and then I run across a recording where every tune knocks me out. This is that type of musical experience. Here is a piece of jazz art soaked in creativity, using master manipulation of chords and cadences. Cunliff is a spectacular joy to listen to with his unexpected transpositions and improvisational arrangements that challenge the ears and the senses. Dennis Mackrel on drums is solid as Fort Knox and just as golden. Todd Coolman, the bassist and star of this production, swings hard and is melodic when it’s solo time. His catchy bass lines intricately support the groove on tunes like “You’re My Everything” by Harry Warren and Victor Feldman’s “Joshua” . The “Coolman” is always there, flush in your face, dynamic, but never intrusive.

Coolman claims to be a collector of sorts in various categories from books to watches. However, in this case he has a collected a group of amazing compositions to interpret with a trio he labels, “Trifecta”.

As he explained, “…the prefix “tri” suggest ‘three’ but “Trifecta” is a term derived from thoroughbred horse racing and Pari-Mutuel betting. Since this trio first performed several years ago in Saratoga Springs, New York, home of one of the world’s major thoroughbred racing tracks, and this very recording took place in Saratoga Springs, the name seems fitting.”

If I were giving out stars or accolades, on a scale of one to ten, in this reviewer’s vision, the Trifecta recording is an eleven.
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HIGH VOLTAGE – A Tribute to McCoy Tyner
SP Records

Bill Heid, piano; Henry Franklin, bass; Carl Burnett, drums; Special Guest: Chuck Manning, soprano & tenor saxophones.

Henry “Skipper” Franklin continues to build his jazz label catalogue with this new “High Voltage” release featuring old friends and seasoned veterans of jazz intent on celebrating McCoy Tyner and introducing us to the composer skills of Bill Heid. The trio opens with “Brother George,” a laid back groove and memorable melody that makes you want to whistle along; shades of “Tin Tin Deo.” Heid has a crisp, clean approach on the upper register of the piano, with busy fingers tinkling the piano keys like waterfall droplets. There is something refreshing about his playing. On this first cut, Franklin’s solo is a crowd-pleaser, with his deep contra bass always present and supportive in the background, but magnificent when upfront and relevant as a solo artist himself. On heid’s composition, “Unit 8”, Chuck Manning leads the way with gusto and verve on his tenor saxophone to establish the melody. The trio follows brightly, marching full force ahead, waving flags of musical brilliance with Carl Burnett propelling the group on drums, straight-ahead, and putting the ‘con brio’ in the piece. Heid utilizes all eighty-eight keys on this one, flaunting his piano skills in a polished, delightful way. The mix is so clean that I feel I am sitting front-row-center at the jazz club enjoying these gentlemen in person. Having worked with West Coast engineer Nolan Shaheed myself, I’m not surprised at the clarity his skills bring to this recording. Both the McCoy Tyner songs they feature, “The Greeting” and “Mellow Minor” are performed in majestic ways, like the kings of instrumentation that they are. I’m sure McCoy would be well pleased. Franklin has contributed an original composition titled, Under Tanzanian Skies” to this project and Manning immediately captures my attention with his sweet, sexy, soprano saxophone solo. Heid’s right hand continues to mesmerize in the upper register and he gets to dig deeply into his blues roots on this tune. This is a beautifully produced piece of art from beginning to end. You are guaranteed nearly fifty minutes of continuous, jazzy listening pleasure. This treasure is scheduled for an April, 2016 release date.
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BIG BANDS BRING GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC TO THE SPOTLIGHT & MORE

February 2, 2016

BIG BANDS BRING GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC TO THE SPOTLIGHT & MORE

February 14, 2016
Cd reviews by jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

THE GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC ENSEMBLE – “All In The Game”
Jazzed Media Records

Doug Richards, director/arranger/producer; Weldon Hill, piano/electric Piano; Victor Dvoskin,bass; Howard Curtis,drums/percussion; Marty Nau,lead alto saxophone/soprano saxophone/clarinet; Jim Nesbit, alto, soprano, baritone saxophones/basset horn/bass clarinet/bassoon/contra bassoon/Assistant Producer; Skip Gailes, tenor,soprano,alto saxophones/flute/bass clarinet; John Winn, tenor, soprano,alto saxophones/clarinet/bass clarinet; Rob Holmes, baritone, alto saxophones/flute/bass clarinet; Roy Muth,lead trumpet/ flugelhorn; Bob Ransom, trumpet/Flugelhorn; John D’earth, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rob DeDominick, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jim McFalls, lead trombone; Dean Englert, trombone, euphonium; Lee Gause, bass trombone. Special Guests: Rene Marie, vocalist; Jon Faddis, trumpeter; Joe Kennedy, Jr., violinist.

Doug Richards has assembled a stellar line-up of musicians to interpret his creative arrangements. From the very first composition, “In The Mood”, I am enthralled by the unusual horn harmonics and energy of this ensemble. As a small girl, I used to love to hear Lena Horne sing their number two selection. Special guest, Rene Marie, adds her sexy, smoky vocals to this song and thoughtfully includes the introductory verse. “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man of Mine” never sounded so good. I especially enjoyed the Rob Holmes baritone saxophone solo. Adding this instrument in contrast to Ms. Marie’s soprano vocal gymnastics was a stroke of genius.

There are many opportunities for these musicians to shine while executing Richards’ dazzling arrangements. Jon Faddis adds his creative virtuoso on trumpet to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” performed here as a moderate tempo Bossa Nova. This ‘Standard’ soon morphs into a double bass swing tune with Faddis pushing the boundaries of his trumpet into bird songs that mimic what a flautist might play. “Wow,” is all this journalist can say. As usual, Faddis is phenomenal.

The arrangements on this recording are spectacular. At first, the late Joe Kennedy, Jr. plucks his violin, like a southern steel guitar player, introducing us to “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South.” Nice touch when the horn section moans and harmonizes in the background, amply supporting his unusual interpretation. Once Kennedy begins to bow that violin, the beauty flows warm and thick like honey. Howard Curtis drives the ensemble with expert precision and tasty licks on drums and percussion. All in all, there are several wonderful surprises on this project that will both delight and inspire the listener.

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VALERY PONOMAREV JAZZ BIG BAND – “Our Father Who Art Blakey”
Zoho Records

Valery Ponomarev, trumpet/composer/arranger/conductor; Todd Bashore, lead reed player; Chris Hemingway, alto saxophone; Steven Carrington, tenor saxophonist; Peter Brainin, lead tenor saxophone; Andrew Gould, tenor sax; Anthony Nelson, baritone sax; Josh Evans, trumpet; Chris Rogers, trumpet; Waldron Ricks, trumpet; Stafford Hunter, lead trombone; Alvin Walker, trombone; David White, trombone; Jack Jeffers, trombone; Corey Wallace, trombone; Danny Hall, trombone; Mamiko Watanabe, piano; Rusian Khain, bass; Victor Jones, drums; Special guest: Benny Golson (on Moanin’ and Blues March)

Valery Ponomarev arrived in NYC from his Russian homeland with his trumpet clutched to his chest along with his dreams. Ponomarev’s story is documented in an autobiography called “On the Flip Side of Sound.” It later became an award winning documentary by Edward Topol titled, “Trumpeter From Russia.” In New York, Ponomarev met one of his idols, Art Blakey, who became his mentor and ‘jazz father’. This painstaking work of creativity pays tribute to Blakey’s drum mastery and influence. The incredibly talented trumpeter/arranger/ conductor has transformed Blakey’s work into big band charts. He explained why in his linear notes:

“If you listen closely, (Blakey’s music) is a big band already. Art Blakey’s concept, Art Blakey’s way of playing, his whole approach to music comes from big bands. … Art Blakey played with Duke Ellington, he played with Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, he was the drummer in Billy Eckstine’s big band. The original Messengers of 1949 was a big band. That’s where his learning came from. He was not a small group player yet. In Russia, the first record I got was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, with Lee Morgan, playing Moanin. That was it! … If you ask me what to send to outer space as an example of jazz music, I would send that record and that would be it.”

This recording is a conscious decision to celebrate songs that Art Blakey recorded over the years. The second cut is “Moanin”, after the one minute “Ovature.” According to the linear notes, this Bobby Timmons composition was originally a funky little phrase the pianist played on gigs to call the rest of the Messengers back to the bandstand after their break. Ponomarev’s special guest on this album, ‘Benny Golson’, was the one who encouraged Timmons to develop the riff into a complete composition. Thus was born, “Moanin”.

Ponomarev makes sure, throughout his project, that he celebrates some of the original solos by the great musicians who created them. If you listen closely, you will hear him salute trumpeter Lee Morgan and pianist Timmoms too, weaving in familiar ‘licks’ and ‘phrases’ in his arrangements that came from that original 1958 recording of “Moanin.”

“In the arrangements I write, very often I quote complete solos because that solo in itself becomes a piece of music, like a written tune, except it was not written. It was improvised. So it’s music and it should be preserved.”

Here is an arranger/conductor who likes to hear the horns move as rapidly as a Charlie Parker riff, in harmony and perfectly on point. I love that concept. You can hear it quite clearly on “Jordu” composed by Duke Jordan. This tune quickly became one of my favorite cuts on this straight-ahead jazz band project. Clifford Brown is associated with this tune and Ponomarev praises the iconic trumpeter with being one of his heroes. He also explains that in 1954 Brown was a member of Blakey’s 1954 “A Night at Birdland” edition of the Messengers. At the top of the tune, the intricate horn lines that follow the head are actually transcribed and harmonized from Brownie’s splendid solo. Chris Rogers is outstanding on trumpet.

Benny Golson appears on “Moanin’” and also on the seventh cut, “Blues March”, that Golson composed. He was inspired by Blakey’s remark to him that he had never recorded a march. So Golson set out to write a New Orleans flavored march for his friend and band-mate, rooted in blues and gospel. This composition is the results. It was recorded “Live” at the “Zinc Bar” in NYC. You can hear the excitement and appreciation from the attentive audience as they enthusiastically applaud throughout.

This CD is a winner, featuring a number of fine jazz musicians like Josh Evans on trumpet, Mamiko Watanabe on piano (who stretches out on the “Blues March” and is the only female in this band). Steven Carrington is a force to be reckoned with on Freddie Hubbard’s tune, “Crisis” and Anthony Nelson on baritone saxophone thrilled me with his solo on “Gina’s Cooking”.

Special kudos to the gifted drummer Victor Jones, who holds this project in place like a steel bolt in the Hudson River Bridge. I believe that Art Blakey must be smiling down from heaven with pride and pleasure.

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PEDRO GIRAUDO BIG BAND – “Cuentos”
Zoho Records

Pedro Giraudo, acoustic & electric basses/composer/arranger; Jess Jurkovic, piano; Claudio Ragazzi, guest guitarist; Franco Pinna, drums; Paulo Stagnaro, percussion; Ryan Keberle, Mike Fahie, Mark Miller, Nate Mayland, trombones; Jonathan Powell, Miki Hirose, Mat Jodrell, Josh Deutsch, trumpets & flugelhorns; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Luke Batson, tenor, saxophone/flute clarinet; John Ellis, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Alejandro Aviles, alto/soprano saxophones/flute; Todd Bashore, alto & soprano saxophones/flute.

This recording celebrates the composer/arranger skills of Pedro Giraudo. The title “Cuentos” is Spanish for “Tales” or stories. Each composition unveils an individual chapter of the composer’s imagination and experience, while also blending the rhythms and culture of Venezuela, Argentina, with the freedom of American jazz. Giraudo is no newcomer to recording. After fourteen years of composing and releasing albums for septets and 12-piece jazz orchestras, he has tackled composing and arranging for a big band with great joy and eagerness.

This arranger seems to prefer a clean slate, where soloists begin to sketch their sound-stories without much help from the big band at first. Giraudo brings the harmonics in tentatively behind the solos on the “Angela Suite.” Within the five parts of this suite, he sometimes lets the instrumentation fly free, as if a tornado has ripped through the band and all the instruments start going crazy in one crashing, crescendo of free-form-phrasing. Giraudo’s a dramatic composer/ arranger that enjoys surprising his listeners in a more classical tradition. The eighth cut on this recording, “Push Gift” is a good example of this.

I miss the melodic element that made people around the world embrace compositions like Ellington’s “Satin Doll”. After listening to this album twice, I still could not hum or remember one song melody. As a composer, you hope that people will remember your songs and sing them again and again. It would be challenging to do so in this case. However, I found the composition “Nube”, the final cut on this CD, intoxicating. What a haunting and beautiful description of ‘clouds’. Carl Maraghl’s baritone saxophone is sensuous and impressive as a soloist on this tune. But once again, although I enjoyed the arrangement, the melody escaped me after several bars. Here is a concert of cultures and harmonics that is interesting, engaging and incredibly dramatic. If the composer/arranger was seeking to produce an emotionally sensitive, visceral project, he has succeeded.

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THE STRYKER/SLAGLE BAND EXPANDED – “Routes”
Strikezone Records

Dave Stryker, guitar; Steve Slagle, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; John Clark, French horn; Billy Drewes, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Clark Gayton, trombone/tuba; Bill O’Connell, piano/Fender Rhodes; Gerald Cannon, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums.

The Steve Slagle composition, “City of Angels” opens this CD with a memorable melody line and great harmonics by the horn section. It was written in tribute to Los Angeles where Slagle grew up. Slagle and Stryker have composed every song on this CD, with the exception of one Mingus tune entitled, “Self-Portrait in Three Colors.” It’s a beautiful ballad that Slagle has embellished with lovely arrangements for their four horn expansion. This project, like the many others they have recorded over the decades, is full of expressive energy.

Perhaps, even more importantly, on this recording these two close friends and musical partners have written music that explores their geographical paths through life and the intrinsic, personal routes that music has mapped out for them. Stryker’s title tune, “Routes” gives him a platform to stretch-out on his guitar and he’s never sounded better. Slagle always brings the blues into his playing when he picks up his horn. Bill O’Connell, on piano, adds a new dimension and depth to the song and the group. “Ft. Green Scene” is a nice combination of funk and straight-ahead jazz, celebrating Slagle’s neighborhood in Brooklyn where he resided for eight years. In fact, this is where the initial collaborations with Stryker began. “Great Plains” recalls Stryker’s Midwestern roots. He grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s a laid-back tempo, once again letting Slagle’s lovely horn arrangements support the melody with the same passion that Stryker pulls from the strings of his guitar. The last cut is “Lickety Split Lounge.” That was a bar in Harlem where Stryker went to audition for Jack McDuff’s band when he first moved to New York. As fate would have it, this is where he first met Steve Slagle who was already a part of McDuff’s ensemble. The rest is history.

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MATT KANE & THE KANSAS CITY GENERATIONS SEXTET – “Acknowledgement”
Independent Label

Matt Kane, drums; Ben Leifer, bass; Andrew Oullette, piano; Michael Shultz, alto saxophone; Steve Lambert, tenor saxophone; Hermon Mehari, trumpet.

On this compact disc, a suite of horns sings compositions by Bobby Watson, Ahmad Alaadeen and Pat Metheny, while the drums march and push them ahead like the hands of an impatient grandfather. Even before I looked at the CD credits, I knew the drummer was the star of this production. Matt Kane is a Kansas City transplant who spent several years in New York City and has recently returned home to his Midwestern roots in search of young musicians to light the fire under his creativity. Kane had the premise and desire to celebrate Kansas City icons. The percussive master quickly found just who he needed at the UMKC Conservatory of Music, his alma mater.

He explained, “The musicians in the band come from small towns around the Midwest. The choices (to celebrate) Ahmad Alaadeen and Bobby Watson were very obvious because they had been direct mentors to myself and the others in the band.”

Alaadeen was born in Kansas City on July 24, 1934 and remains a respected and legendary jazz saxophonist and revered mentor, even after his passing in 2010. Watson is another jazz saxophonist, composer, arranger and educator, who was born nearby in Lawrence, KS, grew up in Bonner Springs and became a historic member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. After playing with a plethora of jazz icons, Watson accepted the position of Director of Jazz Studies at Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music. Pat Metheny was born August 12, 1954 in Lee’s Summit, Mo, a suburb just southeast of Kansas City. He is a respected guitarist, arranger, recording artist and composer.

Kane wanted to record a project that had substance and meaning, not just another project of jazz standards. Consequently, he picked these three important musicians and composers who shared roots with himself and his bandmates. The result is a well-produced package of great compositions, properly arranged and creatively played in a very straight-ahead way. Although I enjoyed every composition on this compact disc, my favorite cuts are “Timeline (For Elvin)” by Metheny, “Jewel” composed by Watson, “And the Beauty of It All” by Alaadeen is beautiful and gives Andrew Oullette a melodic space to showcase his piano skills. “The Burning Sand” also by Alaadeen is exciting and Avant Garde, allowing all the members of this sextet to cut loose and stretch out.

“So, this album is a spotlight on what’s happening in KC now, our first CD viewing that through the lens of Metheny, Alaadeen and Watson,” Matt Kane shares his perspective.

Matt Kane’s percussive majesty crowns him king of this empirical sextet. As linear notes explain, “Acknowledgement” is recorded to epitomize the amazing talents of three Kansas City musical icons, as played by a group of their talented peers. Mission accomplished.

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THELONIUS MONK CONTINUES TO INFLUENCE MUSIC OF THE 21ST CENTURY and OTHER TRANSCENDENT WORKS

CD reviews by jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

February 1, 2016

Read all about the “Hidden Voices” inside the Aruan Ortiz trio project; the Arturo Farrill Sextet, Jamieo Brown’s Work Song CD and Bruce Torff’s recent release.

ARUAN ORTIZ TRIO – “Hidden Voices”
Intakt CD 258/2016

Aruan Ortiz, piano/composition; Eric Revis, bass; Gerald Cleaver, drums.

Aruan Ortiz has composed and arranged a number of songs on this compact disc. In linear notes, he explains that he’s bringing his Cuban roots to this project, creatively mixed with Brooklyn, NY influences and a tenacious classical background. Brooklyn is where he currently resides, but as a world traveler he has lived from Spain to Massachusetts; attending Berklee School of Music in Boston.

“Fractal Sketches” is nine minutes of improvisation featuring Avant Garde jazz expression. Ortiz feels this musical work reflects memories of his Santiago de Cuba neighborhood, where folks could walk down streets peppered with groups playing popular music, dance companies entertaining on street corners, or musicians rehearsing, jamming and singing; even choirs performing randomly. His neighborhood streets were full of Tumba Francesa being played by Cuban-Haitian folkloric groups. This music still pumps through his artistic heart.

There are also iconic American Jazz influences on this recording. Ortiz shows love for Ornette Coleman by recording a medley of his compositions, “Open & Close/The Sphinx” as cut number two.

“I was still in Cuba when I discovered Ornette with Pat Metheny’s Song X which is like an incredible cathedral of music. When I was living in Spain, I heard ‘Free Jazz’ and it changed my life. … I like the idea of strong melody with no attachment to any tonal center, but following a very clear system,” Ortiz stated in linear notes.

He also shows respect for Thelonius Monk’s talents, ie: “Skippy” performed in a sort of deconstructed way.

“He (Monk) was a great composer with a sincere appreciation for the music as an art form, who pushed the boundaries of jazz harmony, and his rhythmic understanding was very solid. Technically he knew exactly what he was doing, with an incredible precision and very accurate concept and with the blues always present,” Ortiz states.

If you love the sound and revolutionary spirit expressed by ‘Free Jazz’, this CD will satisfy your soul. It’s like drinking a hot cup of Cuban expresso on a cold New York morning. It’s rich with flavor and it will fire you up!
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ARTURO O’FARRILL SEXTET – “Boss Level”
Zoho Records

Arturo O’Farrill, piano; Shawn Conley, bass; Zack O’Farrill, drums; Travis Reuter, guitar; Adam O’Farrill, trumpet; Livio Almeida, tenor saxophone.

The first thing I heard on this CD had me rushing to the CD Jacket. Who was that on the bass playing so prominently on “Miss Stephanie” and capturing my attention like a siren?

Bassist Shawn Conley displays artistic proficiency and talent on his instrument and enhances this production. The “Miss Stephanie” composition was written to celebrate Stephanie Simon of New York One Cable News network. They mention her support of jazz artists in the CD linear notes.

Arturo expresses himself on piano with shades of Monk dancing through his fingers. It’s especially prominent on tunes like “True That”. Reuter shares a fuzzy guitar solo, espousing Avant Garde qualities and musical freedom in the realm of 1960 Hendrix.

I was wondering, after reading the musician’s credits, if this was a family based group since there were so many O’Farrills listed. Then I read Arturo’s linear notes and he explained it this way.

“I have worked with my sons, Zack and Adam O’Farrill, many times, however, I don’t think of this as a family band. These are just great young musicians that are thrilling to play with. They are fearless. They need no safety net. They jump through meters and fly amongst changes with impunity.”

It would appear, from the credits, that the O’Farrill clan are publishers and songwriters as well as musicians. Arturo composed “Miss Stephanie”; one of my favorites on this album. In fact, all the O’Farrill musicians have written one or more songs on this project. On the whole, this is a well-produced CD of mostly original music that is expressive and offers a very pleasurable ear full of jazz musicality.

Perhaps Arturo O’Farrill sums it up best when he said:

“…When I look out across the stage and see my sons playing at such an incredibly accomplished level, I am not so much impressed by their skill as by their humanity. More than great musicians, they’re truly cool people; humble, fun, funny, simple and most importantly, as generous as any human beings I’ve known. This is the secret of their musical mastery. The same can be said of our friends whom we hang out with on this recording. They are all really cool and humble people. Of that I’m proud.”

According to the Recording Academy, “ALOE BLACC, HEART, AND ARTURO O’FARRILL
TO PERFORM AT 2016 GRAMMY CELEBRATION® ”
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JAIMEO BROWN TRANSCENDENCE – “Work Songs”
Motema Records

Jaimeo Brown, drums/electronics; Big Yuki, keyboards; James Francies, keyboards; China Pettway, vocals; Mary Ann Pettway, vocals; Revil Mosely, vocals; Larine Pettway, vocals; Falu, vocals; Chris Sholar, guitar/electronics; Brandon McCune, organ; Marcia Miget, flute; Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone; JD Allen, tenor saxophone. Guest Vocalists: Lester Chambers, Falu, Marisha Rodriquez, Cadence Brown and the Gee’s Bend Quilters.

Did you know that one important musical part of American history has been literally unheard of on United States airwaves? Jaimeo Brown has corrected that with this recording. These songs, reflect strife and slavery; incarceration, both justified and unjustified, and are expressions of an era when music was sometimes the only thing that supported persecuted people. As a culture, we have always found freedom of expression in art and music. Art mirrors life experiences. Jaimeo Brown hangs ancient hopes and dreams on a clothesline strung between work songs, classical music and free form jazz.

“Hidden Angel” begins with the sound of mallets hitting hard objects and the chant of workers or prisoners. An organ cries in the background and melts into percussive accompaniment. Then comes the saxophone, weeping and wailing atop the chants. I am transformed to a place of bondage and servitude. Yet Brown’s music seem to squash sadness with eternal hope. This production is absolutely brilliant.

“Mississippi” has a melody that sounds surprisingly like the Beatles hit record, “Come Together”. Underneath the musical production, a train struggles up a Southern track and the guest vocalists sing with so much pain tinging the lyrics that my eyes tear-up. The harmonica is apropos and icing on a bitter cake.

Jaimeo Brown performs “For Mama Lucy” as a mournful plea and a tribute story. The lyric puts to melody a story about a five-dollar loss of pride and the resulting punishment. When a rock/jazz production turns the arrangement around, it usurps the sadness and adlibs into Avant Garde with a saxophone solo that flies above the sorrow. Somewhere between call and response, blended with improvisational freedom, a rock blues arrangement creeps in and absolutely hypnotizes me with its unusual blend of cultures and musical styles.

“Safflower” starts out so pretty and transforms us to somewhere in Asia. A female voice sings in an unfamiliar language and the minor mode slants the mood with Asian umbrella shadows. In my imagination, porcelain doll shapes dressed in ornate kimonos, play instruments that paint the scene multi-cultural. A jazz saxophone pulls us back to the States and to the African American jazz roots buried in Southern plantation soil. Brown unearths work songs we’ve been hiding from. There is something wild, free and beautiful about this saxophone work combined with primal drums. In the ‘mix’, the female voices are mermaid like and nasal. They float in the background and we become sailors, intrigued with the foreign voices as if they are mermaids calling to us from a musical place beyond our wildest dreams.

Bravo producers Jaimeo Brown and Chris Sholar! This is new, exciting music, both historic and undeniable. It’s a fresh face of freedom in the arts. This recording is plush with songs of suffering and blatantly reminds us, in a musical way, of the unforgettable importance of Human Rights and our struggles to elevate our humanity.

Beginning with his grandparents, Jaimeo Brown comes from a family with a rich heritage of music education. His parents worked with the National Endowment for the Arts, ‘Jazz Artist in Schools Program’ of the 80′s and have been teaching and performing throughout the country ever since his birth. Jaimeo earned his bachelor’s degree in Jazz studies from William Paterson University in 2001 and was a recipient of the respected Ralphe Bunche Fellowship. Brown earned his MA from Rutgers University in 2008 with a 4.0 G.P.A. He was one of a very few graduate students trusted to take over classes for his mentor, the composer and drummer, Victor Lewis.
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BRUCE TORFF – “Down the Line”
Summit Records

Bruce Torff, keyboards; Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone; Pete McCann, guitars; Ben Wittman, drums; Lew Soloff, trumpet.

This is an easy listening, smooth jazz recording, well produced and featuring eleven conscientiously-constructed compositions by Torff. Welcome to Torff’s second CD for Summit Records. He continues to offer a pattern of music excellence. The title tune, “Down the Line” is infectious with both rhythm and melody, shuffling along with Wittman on drums, holding the groove comfortably in place. On the 3rd cut, “Wave of Silence”, Frahm on tenor sax brings a bit of straight-ahead jazz to the party. I enjoyed the arrangement on this composition and the astutely clean mix brings each of these musicians upfront and prominent. At the same time, the mix ensures a perfect ensemble blend. Congratulations to mixologist, Michael Brorby, who also co-produced this CD with Torff.

On “This I Promise You”, I fell in love with the sweet trumpet work of Lew Soloff, who passed away from a heart attack just two weeks after recording this project.

Torff’s bio is interesting. Born and raised in Chicago, the family is musical with his brother, Brian, established as a ‘renowned bassist’. No slouch in academia, Bruce Torff received a Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music before earning two more Master degrees and a doctorate in education from Harvard. He became a highly successful professor of educational psychology at Hofstra University, a college near New York City. But music continues to be an exciting outlet and passion for his left-side-brain. His creativity and talent explodes on this recording.
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