Archive for the ‘CD REVIEWS’ Category

RACING “STRAIGHT-AHEAD” INTO THE NEW YEAR – CD REVIEWS

December 14, 2016

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

STEVE SLAGLE – “ALTO MANHATTAN”
Panorama Records

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

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

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

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

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

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EL TORO – “ZARABANDE”
Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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HOLIDAY MUSIC & NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017

November 22, 2016

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

November 21, 2016

JEFF COLLINS – THE KEYS TO CHRISTMAS
Crossroads Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MISHA – “DREAMING WITH EYES WIDE AWAKE
Independent label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WALTZING TOWARDS THE END OF 2016

November 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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MARCELLO PELLITTERI – “AQUARIUS WOMAN”
Marpel Music

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

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

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

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

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CAROL ROBBINS – “TAYLOR STREET”
Jazzcats Record Label

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

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

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

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

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

Carol Liebowitz, piano; Nick Lyons, alto saxophone

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

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BRENT GALLAHER – “MOVING FORWARD”
V&B Records

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

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


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

October 11, 2016

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

October 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken Coup Record Label

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

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

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VALERIE GHENT – “VELOURS”
Independent Label

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

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

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GREG DIAMOND – “AVENIDA GRAHAM”
Zoho Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 11, 2016

VOLUMES OF JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

September 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DAVE STRYKER – EIGHT TRACK II
Strikezone Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 26, 2016

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

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

August 26, 2016

TOM McCORMICK – “South Beat”
Manatee Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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