Archive for the ‘JAZZ MUSIC’ Category

UNFORGETTABLE JAZZ VOICES, PAST & PRESENT

February 13, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

I am a huge LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT fan for over half a century. I was super pleased to see that music producer, RALF KEMPER, invested time and talent to produce Scott’s final album and a film documentary at the same time. It was humbling to review this biographical look at Scott’s final days in the studio. and to hear his swan-song recording before the last, life curtain fell. MICHOLE BRIANA WHITE is a new jazz voice on the horizon worthy of attention and ROBERT McCARTHER returns with his second solo album produced by KAMAU KENYATTA. Finally, VIRGINIA SCHNECK offers a very emotional tribute to ABBEY LINCOLN, singing Lincoln’s original compositions, with a ‘kickin’ band supporting her spoken word and vocals. Read all about it below.

February 13, 2017

I GO BACK HOME – A film documentary REVIEW featuring iconic vocalist, LITTLE JIMMY SCOTT

The film opens in 2007. An orchestra is pictured and a man with tussled gray hair is seated in an open field of grass. Fade to a white couch where this same man speaks to the camera in German. I wish there had been English sub-titles. Ralf Kemper is the music producer of this film and the man on the couch. His goal was to tribute the magnificent vocalist, Little Jimmy Scott.

A youthful Scott, with a baby face and slight of frame, appears on the screen in a childhood photo. Fade to Las Vegas, Nevada. This is where Jimmy Scott was living in the final days of his life. We see he and Ralf Kemper reviewing music at Scott’s home. Sheet music clutters the area and then cameras flash to Jimmy donning a black and white tie decorated with a multitude of musical notes. Kemper helps him adjust his tie and then the camera rolls back and we see Little Jimmy Scott being rolled out to a van in a wheel chair. My heart drops at the sight of him in that wheel chair.

I think back to Leimert Park, the Brooklyn-like community of Los Angeles, and the last time I saw Little Jimmy Scott. He was sitting across from me at Fifth Street Dick’s, a popular after-hours spot located on the second floor of a strip-mall building in the black community. There was always a well-attended jam session at this popular jazz room and many celebrities came to the Crenshaw area to participate musically or vocally. Still, I was floored to look over and see the great, Little Jimmy Scott sitting an arms -reach from my chair. He was friendly and kind when I ogled over him, embarrassing myself by telling him in all sincerity, “Little Jimmy Scott, I love you.”

Jimmy Scott is loved by many. You see that in this documentary. One of his admirers is producer, Ralf Kemper. His film captures the additional admiration of several notable super-stars, all who recognize the exceptional talent and impact of Little Jimmy Scott’s talent on our world of music. Among them are David Sanborn, actor Joe Pesci, who is pictured playing guitar and singing a duet with Jimmy Scott in the studio. By the way, Pesci sounds amazing. I didn’t know he could sing jazz like that and I’m impressed as he vocalizes, “I like New York in June, how about you?”

The sound track of this movie features Little Jimmy Scott, the vocalist I have admired and listened to for half a century. Scott’s beautiful vocal style is the one Nancy Wilson patterned herself after, as well as Etta Jones. This man changed the face of jazz with his behind-the-beat approach to music and phrasing. Pesci tells the camera, “Jimmy’s music is a serious spiritual experience.” He’s right!
Ralf Kemper has spent mountains of money on this project. You will view and listen to a full, 60-piece orchestra and a line-up of musical stars that all testify to the amazing capabilities of Little Jimmy Scott and his indelible mark on the music industry. Sadly, he never received the fame or made the kind of sensational money that today’s popular music stars wave, twitter and Instagram in our faces. Unless you are a die-hard jazz fan, you may not even have heard of Little Jimmy Scott. I suggest you Google him.

Monica Mancini is a huge fan. She shares that he inspired her as well as Madonna. Phil Ramone testifies to Jimmy’s ability to ‘swing’ hard, but be subtle at the same time. Quincy Jones remembers when he and Little Jimmy Scott were touring with Lionel Hampton’s big band. He says it was 1951, ‘52 and ’53 when Jimmy had that hit record, “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool.” Black folks couldn’t sleep in white hotels back then, so Quincy said they used to sleep in a funeral parlor with the dead bodies. He shutters at the memory, and so do I
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Fade to James Moody laying down a solo at the Westlake recording studios in Los Angeles. Moody says he used to call him “Cryin’ Jimmy Scott” because of the elongated way he could extend a note. Not to mention the way his emotional delivery could touch souls.

Joey DeFrancesco appears on organ, pumping out the blues the fantastic way that he and he alone can do. Jimmy sits in his wheelchair, headphones on his ears, head tilted back and all this power and expression spewing out of his mouth; sweet as honey; mystical as fairy dust. The man is magic!

David Ritz, autobiographer and co-writer of Jimmy’s autobiography, “Faith In Time” is interviewed during the filming. He explains, Jimmy Scott led a troubled life. His father was an alcoholic. Jimmy was devoted to his loving mother, but she died in a horrific car accident when he was just twelve years old. At which point, Jimmy and his siblings were put into an orphanage. At age fifteen, doctors diagnosed Jimmy Scott with a hormone disease that stopped his growth. His voice would never mature, nor would his body. Thus, he grew no mannish body hair and his high tenor vocals remained strong his entire adult career. Add to this, his singing style and demeanor that were like nothing anyone had heard before or since. None of this made for an easy life. Scott was bullied and taken advantage of, in one form or another, his entire career.

Ray Charles said Little Jimmy Scott was the only singer who could make him cry. When no one would give Scott a record deal, Ray stepped up to the plate and the resulting production was released briefly in 1963. Everyone thought that album would be a big hit for Little Jimmy Scott. That’s when a small time record company owner, (a man named Labinsky) popped up to claim that Scott was still under contract to his company. The record album was pulled from the market and sat on a shelf gathering dust until 2004 when it was finally re-released.

Scott worked as a nurse’s orderly and even an elevator operator to make ends meet. Doc Pomus, a historic songwriter, who also has a wonderful documentary on the market that I reviewed, was so angry about the way Little Jimmy Scott was being treated by the music industry that he wrote an open letter to Billboard Magazine challenging Music Executives and demanding they give Jimmy Scott a record deal. Unfortunately, Doc Pomus died before he saw any movement by the music industry to offer Scott a recording contract. Strange how some things work. Little Jimmy Scott was invited to sing at the Doc Pomus funeral services. His stunning version of “Someone to Watch Over Me” captivated the crowd and several music moguls were present. As if Pomus was working magic from heaven, Little Jimmy Scott was rediscovered at his friend’s celebration of life. This resulted in Scott teaming up with Tommy Li Puma to make the beautiful album entitled, “All the Way.”

If you know of this man’s incredible work, or if you don’t, this documentary film will introduce you to a jazz vocalist deserving of accolades. The plethora of jazz giants who play on this production and testify to the greatness of Little Jimmy Scott is also worth your time and attention.

On the accompanying CD release and the final Little Jimmy Scott album, you will enjoy the star-studded contributions of Kenny Barron, Joey DeFrancesco, Martin Gjakonovski, Hans Dekker, Joe Pesci, Michael Valerio, Peter Erskine, Oscar Castro-Neves, Gregoire Maret, John Pisano, Renee Olstead, Till Bronner, Bob Mintzer, Monica Mancini, Arturo Sandoval, James Moody and the HBR Symphony Orchestra.
Opening with “Motherless Child” featuring Joey DeFrancesco on organ, Scott speaks the words to the song before breaking into a heart-wrenching interpretation of this old and beautiful standard. On film, you see him struggle to hold notes that used to be strong, but the emotion and style of his voice are no less magnificent, even at this weak point in his life. Despite failing health and fatigue, he manages to sell each song and capture our attentiveness in a web of sincerity. His duet with Joe Pesci, an old comrade from back-in-the-day, is impressive. You can hear Little Jimmy Scott’s influence on Pesci’s style and delivery. “For Once in my Life” is a memorable duet with Dee Bridgewater.

The same way that Billie Holiday could affect an audience, Little Jimmy Scott’s vocals move me in a way that stretches my heart strings and makes my eyes tear-up. Joined by Brazilian star, Oscar Castro Neves, “Love Letters” becomes a lilting Latin tune. Every vocalist should take a listen and a lesson from this great, talented man. May he never be forgotten.
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MICHOLE BRIANA WHITE – “THE OTHER SIDE OF ME”
Independent label

Michole Briana White, vocals; Eric Reed, piano; James Leary, bass; Billy Higgins, drums; Charles Owens, saxophone.

“You Don’t Know What Love Is” is performed uniquely and memorably; from soft, fuzzy, warm ballad to a double time that separates this vocalist from a million others who have sung this song. Ms. White is a force to be reckoned with and she performs with a freedom and expressiveness that is both fresh and uniquely interesting. On “You’ve Changed” she delivers the aches and pain that love can bring, selling us the lyric, but somehow using her vocals to show resilience and power instead of whining or giving up. Eric Reed, as always, is more than competent as an accompanist and exceptional as a soloist. James Leary, on bass, shows what magnificent stuff he’s made of in the realm of talent, proficiency and his exceptional ability to feel the artists around him and pull the rhythm section tight as a sling shot. When he lets go, with power and technique, it is his solid basement that supports this jazz house. Speaking of iconic support, posthumously, Billy Higgins appears on drums. This project was recorded when he was alive, some years ago, and has been sitting in the ‘can’ until this apropos moment. His drums propel the third cut on this EP, “Yesterdays,” with clean, crisp rhythm and unbreakable time that pushes Michole Briana White to her maximum potential. What a trio. Bravo! This talented vocalist brings something fresh and unexpected to each song. She delivers on her promise to entertain us, but never forgets the importance of telling a story to her audience. Ms. White has a wonderful range, good execution and more importantly, she doesn’t sound like anyone else on today’s jazz scene. She’s also pitch perfect. The bonus track, after a heart-felt rendition of “Don’t Explain” is one of her original compositions titled “Game Over” and was co-written by Kurt Farquhar and Jared Keith Griffin. All the vocal overdubs are her own harmonics and she has a natural, hip-hop, new age sound on this bonus track. Here is a vocalist that can sing it all and probably will.
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ROBERT McCARTHER – “STRANGER IN TOWN”
Independent Label

Robert McCarther, vocal; Kamau Kenyatta, piano/ soprano saxophone; Marion Hayden, bass; Thadieus Dixon, drums; Curtis Taylor & Dwight Adams, trumpet; Alex Rogowski, lead guitar; Vincent Bowens, tenor saxophone.

Robert McCarther brings a fresh perspective to the jazz scene with velvet, smooth, baritone vocals and his astute ability to ‘Swing’. After reviewing his premiere recording (“That’s Me”), I was waiting impatiently for this release. Accompanied by some of the best Motown jazz musicians, his second solo CD tackles compositions by Thelonius Monk to Bill Withers and Paul Williams. When I listen to the musical interpretations of Robert McCarther, I feel great joy. Here is a vocalist who consistently makes you pay attention to the lyrics. For example, on “Hi Fly,“ tastefully recorded in three-quarter waltz time, I was very familiar with this song’s melody, yet somehow I felt I was hearing the words for the very first time. The title tune, “Stranger In Town” sets the tone for McCarther’s entire recording. It features the sensational trumpet work of Curtis Taylor with complimentary horn arrangements by Kamau Kenyatta. This song exudes energy, while setting the tone for an album of straight-ahead jazz. Kamau Kenyatta also produced these sessions and is probably best known for his work with Gregory Porter’s Grammy Award winning albums. He’s also pianist on these sessions.

McCarther is no newcomer to jazz. His dad, Louie Barnett, played saxophone with the Maurice King big band. As a young man, Robert often went on ‘the road’ and sang with that historic band. McCarther was also a strong contributor to the “Broadnax Voices”, a Detroit jazz choral group that was put together by composer/arranger and Motown writer, Morris Broadnax. The jazz vocal group was born upon McCarther’s insistence. Robert explained, “I was over Aretha’s (Franklin) house one day and Nax (Morris Broadnax nickname) came by and (as usual) I started singing his tunes. I suggested he start a vocal group that just sang his many, jazzy compositions. Eventually, he did it. We were very popular, working in and around Detroit for several years.”

During McCarther’s six year tenure with “The Broadnax Voices,” McCarther sang harmonics in the background, as well as front-lining for the group as a solo artist. In fact, he and Broadnax have collaborated on one of these album songs as co-writers titled, “Ya’ll”, a swinging little tune about self-realization. Broadnax also contributed two more tunes to this recording project, including the title tune, co-written with myself and his self-penned, “Lately.” You will find Robert McCarther’s choice of repertoire both unique and introspective. He seems to be drawn to songs that not only have a strong melodic line, but also offer the listener prose that tickle our minds and stories of life that mirror our own. Here is a jazz vocalist who puts love and sincerity into every word he sings, while keeping the time like a master percussionist and inspiring us with his straight-ahead, musical truth.
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VIRGINIA SCHENCK – “AMINATA MOSEKA: AN ABBEY LINCOLN TRIBUTE
Independent Label

Virgina Schneck, vocals; Kevin Bales, piano; Rodney Jordan, bass; Marlon Patton, drums; Special Guest: Kebbi Williams, alto saxophone.

Abbey Lincoln, who is also recognized as Aminata Moseka, an African name gifted to her during a trip to the motherland. She was a friend of mine who I deeply admired. Abbey Lincoln was a force of nature with her musical abilities and thespian artistry. She wasn’t always easy on the establishment or the ‘powers that be’ and she and I met during our revolutionary activism days back in the 1970’s. I was part of the Watts Writers Workshop and she was often down the street at the Mafundi Institute. We often appeared on the same stages during these Black-and-Proud days. She was using music as her catalyst and I, as part of the Watts Prophets, was using a combination of poetry and music. We had two other things in common. We were both songwriters and we both studied vocals with the iconic vocal coach and pianist, Eddie Beal. In fact, when I established (along with Dwan Smith and Shirley Washington), The Eddie Beal Foundation, Abbey Lincoln bought a full-page ad in our Eddie Beal brochure. So, it was with extreme interest that I listened to this tribute to my friend and her compositions.

Lincoln’s songs are lyrically beautiful and rich with stories. I’m appreciative that Ms. Schenck has chosen to celebrate Lincoln’s songwriting talents. Some of her melodies are challenging with melodic movement that confronts the vocal range, while others are sing-song simple. You can clearly hear the melodic intervals challenge the vocalist in the very first song, “Talking to the Sun.” The trio is staunch and amply provides Schenck with tenacious support. There are some pitch problems in this opening tune, but Virginia Schenck’s emotional connection to these songs is to be applauded. On the 2nd cut, “Another World” the arrangement is extremely interesting with voice & bass playing tag with each other. This unique arrangement grabs the attention like the jaws of life. Kevin Bales shows his prowess on piano during their interpretation of “Bird Alone”. “The River” celebrates the Abbey Lincoln I remember with her husband, iconic jazz drummer, Max Roach, when they were recording very Avant Garde jazz music in her early career. It also recalls Lincoln’s penchant for acting, as Schenck recites the words like poetry. The musicians are awe-inspiring throughout. On this piece, they feature special guest, Kebbi Williams, soaring freely on alto saxophone. I thoroughly enjoyed their take on “Blue Monk” with an outstanding bass solo by Rodney Jordan. I do wish Schenck had not taken so many liberties with Lincoln’s amazing melodies. For the composition’s sake, as singers we usually sing a song down once the way the composer wrote it. Then, in the jazz vein, we improvise with the freedom jazz inspires. Being a published poet myself, I do applaud Schenck for including this art form in her recording and for celebrating the mastery of Maya Angelou with Abbey Lincoln’s music on,” Caged Bird”.

This is important work, not just for introducing us to the vocalist, but for reintroducing the world to the unforgettable compositions and the exceptional composing talents of Abbey Lincoln. Thank you for that, Virginia Schenck. I look forward to enjoying other vocalists, who will be inspired to tackle Lincoln’s smart, lyrical material.
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WINTER WEATHER: TIME TO WARM UP WITH HOT JAZZ MUSIC

February 2, 2017

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
February 2, 2017

VOCALISTS, TUBA PLAYERS & ABSTRACT PRODUCTIONS SURPRISE ME

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

BOB HOLZ – “VISIONS & FRIENDS”
MVD Records

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

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

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SIDNEY JACOBS – “FIRST MAN”
Baby Chubs Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are looking for a fresh approach to jazz and the classics, you will find this project both defineably different and strangely beautiful.
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CONCERT REVIEW: JOSH NELSON’S DISCOVERY PROJECT

January 30, 2017

CONCERT REVIEW: JOSH NELSON’S DISCOVERY PROJECT
By: Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

Concert on Saturday, January 28, 2017

Remembering the last time I attended The Blue Whale, I arrived early in order to get a good seat. The place is generally packed. For those of you who haven’t joined the youthful and high energy downtown Los Angeles scene, for a moment you might feel you are in Tokyo or New York. The Weller Court Plaza is near a five-star hotel and sparkles with green and blue lights inside a tunnel like entrance off of 2nd Street. The Little Tokyo courtyard is peppered with small shops and the second and third floors feature a multitude of restaurant choices. A huge amber umbrella stretches above the courtyard and many people sit on the outdoor benches, even though the night is a little windy and quite cool.

Doors open at 8pm and I find a cushion against the wall where I can rest my back. I’m surprised to see that the club has added concert seating in fold-out chairs. When it first opened, there was only Japanese style seating on low-to-the-ground square cushions. For Westerners, the added seating is a big improvement. The unelevated stage space was cluttered with music stands and chairs. A grand piano sat stage front, a guitar propped-up near bye; drums, vocal microphones off to the side and a projector of his CD Cover, “The Discovery Project” in black and white sat on a movie screen hanging above the piano. It was also reflected as a backdrop behind the band. The standing room only crowd was half way to the door by the time Josh Nelson and his ensemble took to the stage.

Nelson featured a narrator, Robert Peterson, who is also a historian. For this multi-media experience, Petersen stepped to the mic and introduced us to pieces of Los Angeles history, while Nelson tinkled the keys beneath the narration. This introduced us to “Bridges and Tunnels”. The screen filled up with black and white movie scenes, famous L.A. tunnels and bridges featured predominately, while the original composition serenaded us. The collage of moving images was punctuated by a harmonic horn section.

Nelson welcomed the crowd after the first song and told us he was raised in Long Beach and loves Los Angeles. Thus, began this tribute to the city of his upbringing. At thirty-eight-years young, he has already performed as musical director for Natalie Cole, accompanied Sheila Jordan, Sara Gazarek, played with Dave Koz, Kurt Elling, John Pizzarelli, Lewis Nash, Peter Erskine, John Clayton, Benny Golson and too many more to list here. Nelson is a well-respected, jazz pianist, composer, educator and recording artist. He introduced us to his band. His guitarist, the son of the late, great, big band leader, Gerald Wilson, Anthony Wilson. Alex Boneham on bass; Dan Schnelle on drums; Brian Walsh on clarinet; Josh Johnson on saxophone; Chris Lawrence manning the trumpet; Kathleen Grace & Lillian Sengpiehl , both featured vocalists. Nelson thanked them all, including Travis Flournoy for his live video projections and Jesse Ottinger and Claudia Carballada for their scenography.

Peterson, the historian and narrator, once again stood behind the mic to give us a brief history of Griffith Park. We were told it was named for an alcoholic man who terrorized his wife, Tina. Because of his jealous personality, he wound up shooting the poor woman in her face one evening during a drunken rage. Although she survived and he was incarcerated, we learned that Griffith only spent two years in jail for this heinous act and built the City of Los Angeles, (and the political powers that be), the famed Griffith Park Theater and Griffith Park Conservatory. There was a collective gasp in the room.

The song that followed featured lyrics that professed, “The cities different but the sky remains the same” and was performed beautifully by guest vocalist, Kathleen Grace. Drummer Dan Schnelle slapped a back beat into the song and Nelson told us that featured vocalist, Grace, had co-written the piece with him.
The next composition, (“Stairways”) celebrated the Los Angeles’ four-hundred-and-fifty historic stairways that wind up and down hillside areas. On this original composition, Nelson made the 88-keys climb, while we watched black and white films of men in suits running and sometimes struggling up brick and cement stairs built into L.A.’s hilly terrain. This song featured amazingly beautiful solos by trumpeter, Chris Lawrence and saxophonist, josh Johnson. The groove in this song was warm and washed across the audience like island waves. Throughout, bassist, Alex Boneham, swings like a pendulum and was rich with tonality. In the movie sequence, when a woman in a black dress obviously struggles up the stairs on some hillside, Nelson plucks the grand piano strings to create a musical ambience along with experienced and stellar chops on the keys. I found humor in the film, but swallowed my laughter, because the musical arrangement was so stunning that laughing was inappropriate.

“Water” was the next topic and referenced the Roman Polanski film of 1974, “Chinatown,” nominated for eleven Academy Awards. Nelson’s arrangement was ripe with blues. Josh danced atop the multi-media and rhythm trio like a finger ballerina; twirling, spinning, skipping triplets up and down the ivory and ebony keys. His fingers caressed waterfalls out of the instrument before us. He made the ‘water’ topic came alive. Trumpeter Lawrence once again was awe inspiring, as was Anthony Wilson on guitar. Underneath, the splash of drums colored the film of the Los Angeles aqueduct bursting. As the water breached and flooded L.A., the band became Avant Garde, letting modern jazz and improvisation spill across the room. On film, the dam broke and their music exemplified that power, freedom, urgency and destruction. Impressive!

There was a visual artist (Claudia Carballada) who began to draw during one of the musical presentations and that was interesting.

All in all, it was a highly creative and innovative production. Jazz and multi-media make for a happy marriage.

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GREGORY PORTER AND MAVIS STAPLES RECEIVE STANDING OVATIONS

January 25, 2017

GREGORY PORTER AND MAVIS STAPLES RECEIVE STANDING OVATIONS
Concert Review by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 20, 2017

It rained in sheets, reminding me of Thailand’s monsoon rain storms. The Inland Empire, (often referred to as the I.E.) was wet with water and blown by wild winds that gusted up to fifty-miles-per-hour. Ms. Ruby Kia, my ten-year-old, red SUV that still looks young and vibrant, crept down the Cajon pass from 4300 feet above sea level to Orange County. For those of you who don’t reside in California, that’s about a 100- mile trek down the I-15 freeway; a well-traveled passageway that winds from San Diego, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. As Nick & Valorie Simpson sang, “No wind – no rain – will keep me from you baby.” No way was I going to miss this Gregory Porter and Mavis Staples concert at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. My long-time, Detroit friend, (Ricky) had bought these tickets way in advance. Even though I have seen both iconic vocalists before, I was still excited. To my sweet surprise, we were seated in the front row. Sitting before us was a cow-bell, a tambourine, a vocal microphone stand and another stand that would soon support an electronic tablet of music. No more paper music scores. Technology has come a long way in the last 20 years.

Enter Mavis Staples, dressed in black pants, a floaty black chiffon like blouse decorated with a long, gold chain. Her band took to the stage a few minutes before her appearance. Vicki Randle stood in position before the percussion set-up and locked her tablet into place. You may have seen Ms. Randle before as part of Kevin Eubanks’ Primetime Band on the former Late Show hosted by Jay Leno. Jeff Turmes on electric bass walked across the large wooden stage. Rick Holmstrom cradled his guitar and plugged-in, while Stephen Hodges settled behind the trap drums. Deacon Donny Gerrard stood next to Vicki, an amazing background vocalist who would shine during this performance, harmonizing with Vicki and sometimes letting his amazing range show-off using a killer tenor vocal. Right from the first stoke of Jeff Turmes’ fingers on the bass guitar, he set the groove and commanded the stage for the petite and iconic gospel star with the big voice. Mavis joined them with dimples flashing.

They opened with “Come Go With Me,” a song that sounds very similar to her big hit, “I’ll Take You There.” Then, from her album, “Livin’ On A High Note“ she sang “Take Us Back”, a song about family and people sticking together in support of each other. Vicki Randle was outstanding on vocals and percussion, blending smoothly with Deacon Donny’s voice to support the always energetic and spirited Ms. Staples. Ms. Randle commanded the cow bell and tambourine with a deft hand. The David Burke composition that The Staple Singers recorded back in 1982, “He’s Alright,” was rich with gospel musicality. Their hit record, “Respect Yourself” brought back warm memories. When she sang “What you gonna do when death comes creepin’ in your room,” the low down blues guitar had the concert audience captivated. Mavis Staples was animated on the song her talented father, “Pop Staples,” wrote for the MLK Selma march to Montgomery. She sang, “March Up Freedom’s Highway” with gusto. Her hour plus opening concert for Gregory Porter resulted in a standing ovation by the sold-out crowd. As an encore, she took us back down memory lane, turning the clock hands back to her 1971 hit, “I’ll Take you There.” The audience was again on their feet and demonstratively joyful. She received a second standing ovation.

After a short break, Gregory Porter and his high-energy band arrived, cool as a rainy California night. One of the most captivating things about this jazz vocalist is Porter’s ability to fly freely over his multi-talented rhythm section and make every familiar, original composition brand new. These are songs we love and play over and over from his hit albums. Yet, believe it or not, he makes each one fresh and more beautiful and exciting than the recordings we hold so dear. Porter opened with “Holding on,” encouraging Emanuel Harrold to fire the band up with his drum skills. Mr. Porter held the crowd in the palm of his huge hands as he sang, “On My Way to Harlem,” a song from his “Water” CD. He serenaded us with the title tune from his recent CD release, “Take Me To The Alley” and told us that his mother taught him about having an open heart and inspired the writing of this very spiritual song. He also thanked a young woman on FaceBook that he had viewed singing his song with conviction and talent. He said she reminded him of his mother and her spiritual passion.

Porter delivers a song like a prayer. He inspired the audience to shout and emote and say “Hallelujah,” as though we were in some Baptist church instead of a concert hall. Yes – We were all fired up by the ensemble’s offering of “Liquid Spirit” that had the entire concert hall flush with hand-clapping and featured young, Marietta, Georgia saxophonist, Tivon Pennicott. Porter is friendly with his audiences and honest, like a best friend. He tells us that there is a young man,(Pointing to the theater balcony) the son of a college mate from his time at San Diego State University, to whom he dedicates his next song. With gusto and power he sings, “Young Man, I’m Counting On You.” You can’t help but feel this artist is sincere and genuinely cares about people and his community. “The Consequence of Love” is so beautiful that it bullies my emotions and tears well up in my eyes. Behind him, his super talented bass player, Jahmal Nichols, plays with a smile as wide and colorful as a rainbow. He offered up an amazing bass solo that set the stage for Porter to surprise us with a Motown Standard song, originally sung by The Temptations. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” never sounded so good. After one verse and a chorus, the bass player took over once again and Nichols led the ensemble into “I Do Not Agree … Musical Genocide.” Chip Crawford, the pianist who has been with Porter since his first recording, played an inspired piano solo, incorporating several songs into the chord changes from Reggae to “America the Beautiful”. Gregory entered with his rich baritone voice resting against our ears like a plush, cashmere blanket. He wrapped the attentive audience in a magical cocoon when he sang, “Leave your innocents and vulnerability with me.” When I left that concert hall, I felt I had done just that. All my emotions were scattered like puzzle pieces on the floor beneath my seat, spent in hand-clapping, tears and shouts of praise. These things could not begin to express the healing I received from Gregory Porter’s songs. The oneness of an enthusiastic audience, coming together to enjoy this master musician’s vocals and songwriting skills, was amazing. We found incomparable love and compassion in his presentation. We fed him bits and pieces of praise with two standing ovations. His encore, dedicated to our outgoing United States President and our incoming President, was carefully chosen. He sang us his message (as only he can) and filled our minds with love, hope and prayer; “When Love Was King.”


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A NEW YEAR UNLEASHES INVENTIVE COMPOSERS AND CREATIVE LYRICISTS

January 4, 2017

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

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

RON BOUSTEAD – “UNLIKELY VALENTINE”
Art-Rock Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 14, 2016

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

STEVE SLAGLE – “ALTO MANHATTAN”
Panorama Records

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

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

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

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

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

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EL TORO – “ZARABANDE”
Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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HOLIDAY MUSIC & NEW CD RELEASES FOR 2017

November 22, 2016

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

November 21, 2016

JEFF COLLINS – THE KEYS TO CHRISTMAS
Crossroads Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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MISHA – “DREAMING WITH EYES WIDE AWAKE
Independent label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHEN JAZZ HAD THE BLUES

November 21, 2016

http://www.plays411.com
WHEN JAZZ HAD THE BLUES
A “Live Production” Review by jazz journalist Dee Dee McNeil – Nov. 19, 2016

A musical play has opened in West Hollywood depicting the very private and personal life of Billy Strayhorn, directed by John Henry Davis. Billed as a “New Musical World Premiere” and written by Carole Eglash-Kosoff, I attended their opening weekend on Saturday, November 19, 2016. The producer, Leigh Fortier, has already garnered over 20 LA Weekly Awards for prior productions, so I anticipated an entertaining evening. “When Jazz Had the Blues” stars Frank Lawson as Billy Strayhorn, Michole Briana White as Lena Horne, Gilbert Glenn Brown as Strayhorn’s lover, (Aaron Bridgers), Boise Holmes as Duke Ellington and Katherine Washington as Trixie, the married Ellington’s mistress. Pianist, Rahn Coleman is the Musical Director and has put together a tight six-piece jazz ensemble featuring himself, Quentin Dennard on drums, Michael Saucier on bass, Stephan Terry on Keyboard II, Rickey Woodard on alto saxophone and Eric Butler on trumpet. They are somehow squeezed onto a tiny raised stage to the left of the 99-seat Matrix Theater on Melrose Avenue. Happily, the small quarters do not obstruct their big, beautiful, jazzy sound. The night I attended Ricky Woodard was missing and a sub was present.

The first scene features actor Boise Holmes playing a dual role as Strayhorn’s father, camouflaged in a long trench coat and floppy hat, trying to beat the ‘sweetness’ out of his son. Later, Mr. Holmes transforms himself into the very believable character of Duke Ellington. For those who are not familiar with Billy Strayhorn’s biography and legacy, many of his legendary compositions were stolen by Ellington, who often took credit or shared credit for tunes he did not pen, including “Take the A-Train.” The play shows how this transpired and how Strayhorn was bilked out of thousands of dollars; royalty money he rightfully should have received. Michole Briana White, plays a convincing part of a love-smitten Lena Horne who has fallen deeply for Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn unfortunately thinks of Lena more as a sister and has no interest in the opposite sex. Ms. White has a forceful and dynamic singing style and brought the house down with her renditions of “When the Sun Comes Out” and “Lady Is a Tramp.” Below is an original composition by this singer/thespian to give you a taste of her voice.

Frank Lawson is believable as the character of Strayhorn with his horn-rimmed glasses and meek personality. However, there is nothing meek or frail about his voice. He sang a beautiful rendition of “Sentimental Mood” where his voice soared and was plush with emotion. He also was quite convincing as a pianist, although it was Musical Director Rahn Coleman that was actually playing the 88 keys behind the scenes.

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

Gilbert Glenn Brown, who plays Strayhorn’s love interest, also offered a powerful voice and performance. I enjoyed his rich, baritone rendition of “Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me.” I would be remiss if I did not mention Michael Covert, who did an outstanding job of singing “My Romance”, although hidden behind a screen where only his profile along with a shadow dancer were shown. They were a back drop during an intimate conversation with Lena and Billy Strayhorn, but his vocals propelled that scene; smooth and memorable. I would like to have seen the songs listed in the program and the names of those actors performing these memorable jazz compositions.

This play deals with three complex relationships that Billy Strayhorn had with Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Aaron Bridgers. Strayhorn is plagued with unrequited love, alcoholism and frustrated by the business of music. This production shows a side of America’s great, jazz genius that many may find sadly surprising.

Unfortunately, I thought the second scene of the play dragged a bit and I found some of the ensemble scenes unnecessary. On the other hand, the casting was superb and so was the music. I also would have enjoyed less unison and more harmony in the choral scenes. Historically, this play is informative. It reminds us of years ago, when Billy Strayhorn was standing proudly for who he was in a society that was quite unaccepting of gay rights. It also reminds us that Lena Horne was standing tall for civil rights when discrimination of African Americans was acceptable behavior in America. This artistic production is a reminder, and may we never forget, our important fight for equal rights and human dignity. http://www.plays411.com

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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