Archive for the ‘JAZZ MUSIC’ Category

CELEBRATING JOHN COLTRANE AND OTHER JAZZ INNOVATORS

July 18, 2017

CELEBRATING JOHN COLTRANE (SEPT 23, 1926 – JULY 17, 1967)
& OTHER JAZZ INNOVATORS
July 17, 2017
By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

On this day, July 17th, fifty-years after the death of our beloved jazz legend, John Coltrane, I wanted to review music that shines in the category of great jazz and music that applauds innovative artists. I was pleased to review DAVE LIEBMAN and JOE LOVANO’s new Resonance Records album, “Compassion – The Music of John Coltrane.” ARUAN ORTIZ brings Avant Garde arrangements to the table. The MICA BETHEA BIG BAND absolutely astonished me with arrangements that span the gamut of funk, fusion and Straight-ahead jazz and finally, DAVE STRYKER releases his 28th CD as a leader and celebrates jazz standards composed by Strayhorn, Wayne Shorter and more, arranging them in his own unique way.

DAVE LIEBMAN/JOE LOVANO – “COMPASSION: THE MUSIC OF JOHN COLTRANE”
Resonance Records

Dave Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones/C flute; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone/autochrome/alto clarinet/Scottish flute; Phil Markowitz, piano; Ron McClure, bass; Billy Hart, drums.

On July 17, 1967, the great John Coltrane passed away. It is appropriate to remember and celebrate his amazing talent this month, as well as his contributions made to jazz music and peace on earth. The thing that wrapped so many up in the music of ‘Trane’ was his ability to connect with us spiritually. He could transport us to a higher place mentally, spiritually and emotionally with his music. His style is still mimicked and contemplated today. Consequently, I was eager to hear what Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano had brought to their current CD release titled, “Compassion – The Music of John Coltrane.”

They open with “Locomotion,” from the ‘Blue Train’ Blue Note album that I used to own. Boy, did I love that album. “Locomotion” is propelled by an all-star rhythm section. Billy Hart’s drums are like a mix-master in cake batter, whirling the sweetness around at a relentless pace. Markowitz on piano leaps to the forefront, making extraordinary statements on piano and McClure on bass never waivers. His strong, solid foundation holds the rhythm together impeccably. Liebman and Lovano blend horns, similar to the Coltrane arrangement, then each one ventures out on independent paths of improvisation. I enjoy their tribute to Coltrane, but I have to say I truly miss the Lee Morgan solo sound on trumpet and Curtis Fuller’s stellar contribution on trombone from the original recording. Never mind! These two iconic players bring their own spicy reeds to the mix.

This album was recorded back on June 22, 2007 at the Clinton Recording Studios in New York City. The recording was made for a BBC Radio Program called “Jazz on 3.” It was a Somethin’ Else Production and recorded a decade ago to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Coltrane’s transition. Half a century later, his music is still alive, well and relevant.

Grammy award winning, Joe Lovano, expounded on the Saxophone Summit that first started in 1999 as a collaboration between him, Dave Liebman and Michael Brecker. They played in New York at Birdland, developing their repertoire as a group, with overtones and influence from the later period of John Coltrane’s recordings and freedom of expression. Perhaps he explained his fascination with the Coltrane era best when he said in the liner notes, “…the ensembles that he had and the way they played together … It wasn’t just what they were playing, it was how they were playing, and we tried to capture that. … “Locomotion” was one of his famous tunes … it’s blues with a bridge. It has intervals in it that are in a lot of his compositions. There’s a lot of spiritual things that happen that are very mysterious in Coltrane’s music.”

Billy Hart kept it simple when he proudly shared with interviewer Zev Feldman, “ John Coltrane is still my major reason for playing this music. He’s my major inspiration. We’re all just unbelievable Coltrane fans.”

Hart continued, “I was out in Los Angeles with Jimmy Smith, but I had the day off and I went to hear Coltrane’s band with Rashied Ali. The music was even a little advanced for me and when Coltrane got off at the end of the set. To my amazement, he walked over to my table. I was so excited. I can’t tell you. It was like my hero came and sat down. I never expected to have a conversation, but I said, John, your music is so advanced. What are you gonna do … about how people feel about your music? He said, you know, Billy, I don’t know what I’m gonna do, but I know I can’t stop. And that was like a rally to me. … I began to tear. I felt like I was going to follow this guy to the ends of the earth. So, I said, John, you’re really beautiful. And he said, I’m just trying to clean up. You can imagine if you didn’t take a bath for twenty years how dirty you would be. I’m just trying to clean up.

“I just wanted to follow this man, and a lot of my training and self-study was to eventually play with him or somebody like him.”

You will find this CD a fine tribute piece to our great legend, John Coltrane. I enjoyed Ron McClure’s bass solo on the end of Olé. When he spoke about his love of John Coltrane, he remembered that ‘Blue Train’ album release in 1957. The one that greatly affected me. He was just sixteen years old and McClure says it changed his life. He said that album and Coltrane’s work with Miles Davis, from “Workin” to the “Kind of Blue” recording (another favorite of mine and millions of others), hooked him and helped to form a kind of concept of jazz for the young bassist.

Phil Markowitz expressed his opinion of Coltrane by noting that like the legendary saxophone artist, he too was in search of beauty and expression in the music along with the constant exploration of the unknown.
You can read various comments and quotes from this album’s participants in the small, CD-size, twenty-four page booklet included with this release and enjoy the photographs too. Perhaps Dave Liebman summed it up best when he said:
“To musicians of our generation, Coltrane raised the bar in so many ways. As a bandleader and improviser; technically, as a tenor saxophonist and in bringing the soprano sax back into vogue. … And, as so clearly evidence on this recording, as a composer who created improvisational formats that were constantly evolving and challenging.”

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ARUAN ORTIZ – “CUB(AN)ISM”
Intakt Records

Aruan Ortiz, solo piano/composer.

Free form; Avant Garde; these are the terms that come to mind as I listen to Aruan Ortiz performing solo on this, his second CD release.
From the very first tune, the left hand of Aruan Ortiz is playing as if it’s separate from his body; as if another pianist is seated at a different piano next to his. He keeps perfect time with that left hand, pumping out phrases, chords and rhythm, while the right-hand races over the keys, playing inspirational melody and unexpected chordal harmonies. You won’t find much to sing along with on this recording. Ortiz is exploring his inner feelings, using music as the translator. His CD is arcane and fat with phantasmagoria. Solo piano is demanding. His technique is obvious, but this is a piece of art that presents visceral compositions. The Ortiz eidetic music sounds like a film score.

On the fifth cut, “Monochrome (Yuba),” his technique is interesting as he strums the piano strings like a guitar. Although his first love was playing the violin, and later the viola, after winning several prizes for his orchestral viola concertos as a teen, he was drawn to the piano in 1992. At the age of nineteen, he buried himself in developing a piano style that blended his Cuban roots with his world travels. In Cuba, piano lessons were an obligatory part of music education, so he was already familiar with the instrument from childhood. In Barcelona, Spain, Ortiz garnered his formal jazz degree. His first released production was in 1996, recorded in Madrid and titled, “Impresion Tropical”.
According to the liner notes, “Cub(an)ism” is the result of an in-depth conversation with a range of musical idioms and styles, and various experiences from the phases of Ortiz’s life, in Cuba, Spain, France and the USA, which have formed his eclectic concept of music.”

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THE MICA BETHEA BIG BAND – “STAGE ‘N STUDIO”
Independent label

Studio Personnel: Aaron Lehrian, Piano/string synthesizer; Josh Bowlus, piano/Rhodes; Ryan Slatko, vides/percussion/piano; James Hogan, guitar; Stan “Piper” & Dennis Marks, bass; Terry “Doc” Handy, percussion; John Lumpkin, Jr., drums; Mike Emmert, bari sax/bass clarinet; Eric Riehm, tenor sax/clarinet; Jose Rojas, Tenor Sax/flute/clarinet; Juan Carlos Rollan, tenor saxophone/flute; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone/ flute/clarinet; Todd DelGiudice, alto & soprano saxophones/flute/clarinet; Gina “Badeedu” Benalcazar, bass trombone; Trombone section: Ryan Bricknell, Corey Wilcox, Lance Reed & Michael Nunez. Trumpet section: Greg Balut, Ray Callender, Jay Forman, Dave Champagne, Jonathan Ward & Robert Vandivier. Linda Cole, vocals.

Stage Personnel: Josh Bowlus, piano/Rhodes; Dennis Marks, bass; John Lumpkin Jr., drums; Terry ‘Doc’ Handy, percussion; Jonah Pierre, vibes/percussion; Steve Gallatin, guitar; Mike Emmert, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Jose Rojas, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Juan Carlos Rollan, tenor saxophone/flute; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Todd DelGiudice, alto & soprano saxohones/flute/clarinet; Gina ‘Badeeduh’ Benalcazar, bass trombone; Trombone section: Ryan Bricknell, Wyatt Thomas, Lance Reed. Trumpet Section: Greg Balut, Dave Champagne, Scott Dickinson, Jonathan Ward, Ray Callender. Linda Cole, vocals.

The first disc I listen to is the studio recorded big band. It opens with Herbie Hancock’s, “Hang Up Your Hang Ups.” The funk leaps off the first tune like sweat from an active boxer. That bass guitar intro jabs you right in the face. Then the drums punch the rhythm forward and the horns fight back, in unison and harmonically, never giving an inch to the powerful players swinging on bass, piano, guitar and drums. Oh, that drummer who enlists the two and four beats like a Joe Louis knock-out combination, has my undivided attention.

The idea of merging contemporary funk-fusion jazz with big band arrangements was questionable in my mind at first, until I heard this marvelous recording. It’s well-executed, with phenomenal arrangements and distinguished players. That baritone saxophone solo by Mike Emmert is breathtakingly beautiful on Herbie’s tune. I was hooked right from the opening cut.

“Birth Rite” quickly becomes another favorite of mine. It’s a Mica Bethea composition and features Joshua Bowlus on piano, opening this arrangement like a Thelonious Monk composition. It quickly drifts into an ethereal space, becoming other-worldly with distinctive horn harmonies and descants. That lovely piano solo by Bowlus and the luscious arrangements on this tune unexpectedly pulled tears to my eyes. It’s a very moving composition.

“Tenderly” is beautifully arranged to showcase a swelling and rhythm that fuses it with Latin grooves, but still keeps the satin-smooth continuity of orchestration that makes big bands so exciting. Bethea’s arrangements are fresh, unpredictable and incorporate a taste of the old-school bands of the 1940’s with a fresh facelift, mixed with fusion funk that propels his music into the twenty-first century.

I’m impressed with Bethea as a composer as well as his arranging skills. He offers us comparison between a “Live” performance and a studio recording of his big band, including some of the same songs so we can balance our opinions of the band’s performance, using our own personal music scales. This is a double set recording with two unique discs. Everything about this music is enthralling and technically brilliant. There is such strength and power in this man’s arrangements. Then I read the bio on him that’s included in the Cd package and I see where his forcefulness and aggressive arrangements come from.
In 2005, Mica Bethea was driving back to his North Florida University in Jacksonville, when a big rig going 85 miles an hour plowed into his car. He was standing still, completely stopped in traffic. The result of this accident is that this amazing arranger/composer is now a quadriplegic. I only mention this because I believe it shows the character and resilience of this creative artist. This young music student had the courage and determination to return to school, three years later, and complete his Bachelor’s Degree and attain his Master’s Degree in Jazz. Both his parents were musicians. His father played trumpet and piano and his mother sang. His dad was also a radio disc jockey in the 70’s and Mica Bethea learned to love jazz at an early age. Proficient in both piano and saxophone, after the accident Bethea could no longer play, so he focused his talents on arranging and composition. He cites Gil Evans, Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer as big influences in his big band arrangements. He explained his project this way:

“This was a very interesting experiment. On the studio CD, I could control the environment and get exactly the sounds I wanted. There’s a very pleasing, almost pristine quality to it. But on the live performance, you can hear that the musicians are more relaxed and stretch out more. The sound isn’t as clean, but that’s more than made up for by the vitality of the performance.”

This writer can honestly assert there is not one bad cut on these dual discs. I spent all week listening to them with excitement and infused pleasure. Not to mention, these are crème-de-la-crème musicians who interpret the compositions and arrangements of Mica Bethea with memorable gusto. For example, on the ‘Live’ recording, the cut titled “Self Defense” spotlights John Lumpkin Jr.’s amazing drum skills and also features reedman, Todd DelGiudice. I love the guitar wah-wah pedaled sound in the background. There’s just so much to hear in this CD, like exploring a treasure chest. You just keep finding unexpected and precious gifts.
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DAVE STRYKER – “STRYKIN’ AHEAD”
StrikeZone Records

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

Stryker turns out albums like Ford Motor Company rolls cars off the assembly line. This is his twenty-eighth CD as a leader and once again, he features some of his favorite players. I always enjoy guitar and organ trios. For a second time, Stryker has added Steve Nelson’s excellent vibraphone talents, expanding his group to a quartet. Their last recording together in 2016 was called Eight Track II and previewed a jazz approach to pop and R&B standard tunes from the days of Eight Track tape recorders. This time, Stryker leaves no doubt that he is all about jazz. The tunes he’s picked make that perfectly clear; Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”, Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower,” and Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring”. You will find this recording a laid-back, re-harmonization of these standards as only Stryker can do. He enjoys giving familiar compositions a make-over. For example, on the second cut, “Footprints,” he switches the time to 5/4 and opens with a 5/4 melodic groove to introduce this familiar standard. At first, it’s unrecognizable, but then the melody kicks in and you get a smooth jazz kind of arrangement. “New You” uses the chord changes of “There Will Never Be Another You” with a distinctly different melody. It’s a nice ‘Swing’ piece, played at a moderate pace, that Stryker has composed. I enjoy Jared Golds bass line underneath Billy Strayhorn’s “Passion Flower” and the Latin groove McClenty Hunter lays down on the drums. Very nice indeed. As always, Dave Stryker shines with star qualities on guitar. At the same time, he is generous with his other magicians, giving them plenty of room to spread their improvised solos around, sweet as jelly on toast. Stryker is a fine composer. Both “Shadowboxing” and “Strykin’ Ahead” are energetic tunes that leave plenty of room for exploration and improvisation, while showcasing Dave Stryker’s competence and aesthetics on his guitar. “Blues Down Deep” delivers on its promise.

All in all, here is an album, produced by Stryker, that genuinely supports the title of this project, “Strykin’ Ahead” and holds true to its presumption of straight-ahead jazz, creatively arranged standards, and well composed original music.
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WOMEN IN JAZZ BRING CULTURE AND CREATIVITY TO DISC

July 6, 2017

July 6, 2017

WOMEN IN JAZZ BRING CULTURE AND CREATIVITY TO DISC
CD Reviews by Jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

HYESEON HONG JAZZ ORCHESTRA – EE – YA – GI with Rich Perry & Ingrid Jensen
Mama Records

Hyeseon Hong, composer/arranger/director; Matt Panayides, guitar; Broc Hempel, piano; John Lenis, bass; Mark Ferber, drums; Ben Kono, alto/soprano saxophones; flute; Matt Vashlishan, alto saxophone/EWI/flute; Rich Perry, tenor sax; Jeremy Powell, tenor sax/clarinet; Andrew Hadro, bari/bass clarinet; Augie Haas, Ingrid Jensen, Jason Wiseman, Colin Brigstocke, Trumpets; Ron Wilkens, Daniel Linden, Ric Becker, Becca Patterson, trombones; EJ Park & Subin Park, vocalists.
Hyeseon Hong (pronounced hay-son-hong) migrated to New York City from Seoul, Korea pursuing an extended education in music education. From the ages of twelve to eighteen, she studied art in Korea, but that was her second passion. The first was music. As a child, her family realized she had perfect pitch and she studied and played piano in church and gave piano lessons to others when she was only nine years old. Her interest in music evolved to composition, arranging and a powerful urge to form and direct an orchestra. She could hear all the arrangements in her head.

Coming to America to further her music education, at New York University, she honed her composition skills and began arranging for her 10-piece band and gigging around the city. For a while, she returned to her native Korea and taught college classes. But she was bitten by the East Coast music bug. The energy and cultural diversity of NYC were infectious. Ms. Hong returned and over the past fifteen years, she has been a band leader/composer and arranger. This year, 2017, she was awarded a grant for this recording from the prestigious Aaron Copland Fund for Music. The results equal this work titled, “Ee-Ya-Gi.”

I was struck by cut #3 on this 18-piece, orchestrated CD titled, “Para Mi Amigo Distante.” It begins with Ben Kono’s reed talents singing the melody sweetly on soprano saxophone. Then, the Bossa beat kicks in, thanks to Matt Panayides’ rhythm guitar licks and the orchestra supports the haunting melody that Ms. Hyeseon Hong wrote with ebullience. She says it is meant to celebrate Latin America and others who feel misplaced in another country. This composition recalls traveling to foreign shores, making new friends, then leaving and how those friendships come and go; how they inspire us and make memories that are ever-lasting. I also enjoyed the jazzy “Friends or Lovers” arrangement, which leant itself to Swing and Matt Panayides, once again, showed great competence on his guitar.

Cut #4 follows. It’s culturally rich with Subin Park as guest vocalist, opening the piece singing in Korean. “Boat Song” also features the tenor saxophone of Rich Perry. He brings jazz to the forefront in a lovely, unforgettable way with the orchestra oily-smooth in the background, laying down a royal foundation for his exquisite horn solo. Then Park’s voice re-enters, like raindrops on the rooftop, tinkling a different sound against the orchestration and sometimes singing in unison with the orchestrated melody.

I met Ingrid Jenson in Detroit, while reviewing her with her own ensemble. She was part of the Motor City’s historic Free Annual Jazz Festival and boy, could she swing! I was absolutely blown away by this lady’s tenacity on trumpet. She mesmerized the audience. So, of course I was eager to hear her with this orchestra, in a totally different setting. On the last cut, “Love Song: Story of the First Love,” she plays a pretty, legato solo, but I felt that the piece did not allow Jensen to stretch out into a place of freedom and improvisation, the way I witnessed her with her own group. I found the orchestration somewhat confining and very classical in format. Ingrid Jensen was also featured on “Trash Digging Queen: Story of Nica, the Dog,” which I found to be a fascinating title. On this composition by Ms. Hong, Jensen was given a lot more leeway to pursue self-expression on her instrument. I thought Andrew Hadro’s baritone saxophone added great depth and interest to this piece, while Rich Perry’s tenor brought jazz riffs and spontaneity to the tune. But the composition itself, is a strange combination of marching band influence mixed with orchestral whole tones and repetitive harmonics that just don’t necessarily bring jazz to my consciousness. On Cut #1, that opens this project, is titled “Harvest Dance,” and seems to signal a World Music vernacular, with hints of Asian influence. It also features the trumpet improv of Ms. Jensen. Perhaps this song demonstrates the point of this CD project. It weaves various cultures and styles together into a cohesive world musical exploration. The artist previews her composition skills, as well as her arrangements of self-expression and beauty during this Hyeseon Hong production.

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PEGGY DUQUESNEL – “LOVELY SKIES” – Piano Orchestrations
Joyspring Productions

Peggy Duquesnel, piano/keyboard/organ/composer/producer; Steve Hall & Steve Donovan, piano; Jeff Lorber, Andre Mayeux, & Edo Guidotti, keyboards/organ; David Patt, Michael Higgins, Michael Thompson & Grant Geissman, guitar; Jimmy Haslip, Ernie Nunez, Gordon Rustvold & Dave Stone, bass; Jimmy Branley, Gary Novak, Dave Owens, Tony Moore, Suzanne Morrisette & Sinclair Lott, drums/percussion; Dee Dee McNeil, background vocals.

Starting with “Rainy Days and Mondays” pianist Peggy Duquesnel sets the smooth jazz groove for an exceptional album of easy listening, contemporary music. This CD contains sixteen songs that are well- produced. Some are familiar and even Ms. Duquesnel’s original compositions sound like songs we’ve heard before and are pleasant to the ear, like “Bird on a Leash.”

Her piano talents are like delicate touches on a table full of delicious songs. It’s her simplistic way of delivering a melody that makes listening to this production so compelling. You find yourself humming along with her songs after just one listen. The rhythm sections are strong and super supportive, with appearances by bass man and former member of the famed Yellow Jackets, Jimmy Haslett, and keyboard master, Jeff Lorber. Also, long time bandmate of Duquesnel is bassist, Ernie Nunez, who plays with gusto on several of her original song productions. You will hear some of the top horn players in the Orange County/Los Angeles area including Greg Vail on saxophone and flute, as well as Tony Guerrero and Ric Braun on trumpets and flugel horns.

“When I Think of You” is a catchy original written by Lorber and Duquesnel, featuring Duqeusnel injection of that funky, blues feeling on her piano. She has a happiness that radiates off the keys. To add to the magic, Lorber is a master of grooves and delivers his special talents on keyboards. I also enjoy Guerrero’s muted trumpet solo. All in all, Peggy Duquesnel shares her composer/arranger/piano and production talents with us, featuring the double fisted talents of several musical friends.
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MICHELLE BRADLEY – “BODY AND SOUL”
Merry Lane Records

Michelle Bradley, vocals; Art Fristoe, piano; Tim Ruiz, bass; Jerre Jackson & Richard Cholakian, drums; Andre Hayward, trombone; Shelley Carrol, flue/saxophone; Brennen Nase & Greg Petito, guitars.

Michelle Bradley has a soprano voice with a great deal of judder to her tone; an appealing tremor similar to Beyoncé, but in an operatic way. I enjoyed the arrangement of “Body and Soul” as a Bossa/Swing combination and featuring an impressive guitar solo by Brennan Nase. Bradley’s band is supportive and her melodic ideas are stylized and obvious in “Misty”, where the melodic liberties she takes are lovely and sometimes unexpected. I felt she was reaching for an identity during the execution of this song and I look forward to hearing more from this artist in the future. The first thing that caught my ear was that Ms. Bradley employs a very opera-like vocal quality to her interpretation of jazz standards.

Sadly, so many people think singing jazz is easy, but it takes a certain ability, just as it takes serious practice and technical skill to sing Opera. When Ms. Bradley tackles “How High the Moon,” Her rendition, falls short of the copy she implemented by mimicking Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “How High The Moon.” With her pitch and range, Ella Fitzgerald could have easily sung operatically, but her gift was that she could ‘Swing.’ Ella was a true jazz singer and you have to be able to ‘Swing’ to copy Ella. When Ms. Bradley repeats Ella’s ‘live’ performance of this song, she sings Ella’s improvised words “… We’re swinging it just for you …”. Unfortunately, Michelle Bradley does not ‘Swing’ and has not yet mastered the ability to ‘Swing’ the music. In her liner notes, I read that she is currently seeking jazz vocal coaching and that’s a good step forward.

In the same breath, Michelle Bradley has a beautiful voice and has made an impact as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City. Ms. Bradley also spent time as a featured singer at the legendary Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. Bob Dorough was scoring a film and found a certain intoxication with Bradley rich, operatic tones. He and pianist, Art Fristoe, hired her to sing a tune he wrote with Fran Landesman titled, “A Few Days of Glory.” Bradley’s voice on this gospel tune, as part of the soundtrack, was released on Eulalia label and becomes one of her first recordings. She can only grow from this point forward.
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KELLYE GRAY – “RENDERING” ( A double disc release)
Independent Label

RENDERING: Kellye Gray, vocals; Pamela York, piano; David Craig, bass; Sebastian Whittaker, drums; Warren Sneed, saxophone; Andre Hayward, trombone.
STANDARDS IN GRAY Disc: Kellye Gray, voice; Dave Catney, piano; Tom Anastacio, bass; Sebastian Whittaker, drums; Warren Sneed, saxophone.

On “Don’t Explain,” the opening song on one of Kellye Gray’s dual disc set, the artist offers a compelling performance. Ms. Gray sings like she means it. She’s expressive and vocally demonstrative, using all of her range and power. This vocalist has a way of changing the melody of songs to suit her vocal arrangement. Most horn players and vocalists learn to sing the song down once as written by the composer, then improvise on the theme and chord changes. Still, the changes and melody adjustments sung by Kellye Gray are creative and not unlikeable. Jazz certainly gives you the freedom to find your own voice. That’s the whole point of singing jazz.

You can tell, this is a woman whose known pain, up-close and personal. It infects her vocals and colors her songs. One of the discs features a younger Kellye Gray, with dark, short cropped hair and innocent eyes. Her accompanying group on this CD labeled, “Standards in Gray” is stellar. Her interpretation of “The Island” is lovely. Although living for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area, this entire project was recorded ‘live’ over three days, at the Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, Texas; her hometown. It was recorded on two-track analog tape, what we call old-school recording and before Sibelius and ProTools were available. I am attracted to the rich, warm sound the engineer manages to capture on tape and it transfers beautifully to disc. There’s no overdubbing here. So, congratulations are in order to Kellye Gray and her band for their musical competence in recording ‘live’.

On “All Blues” her vocals sound like a trombone, instead of a human voice. Dave Catney soars on piano. For my taste, this is clearly the better jazz ensemble with Anastacio on bass and Catney on keys. They seem more cohesive. You can hear Kellye Gray’s style developing on this project, recorded over two decades ago. At times, I hear shades of the great Morgana King in her alto tones.
Kellye Gray paints “Morning” by the late, great Clare Fischer, with a familiar face, but adds her own stylistic coloring to this musical portrait. “How Long Has This Been Going On” is one of those songs sung often. Gray knows how to sell a ballad and puts her spin on the song. One minute, with sweet whispery tones and the next, with vocal crescendos that sometimes soar over-the-top. She’s appropriately or inappropriately dramatic, depending on how you look at it. This is a seasoned vocalist who offers you her fledgling talents on one disc and her current, more mature style on another. Her repertoire is rich with emotion and her vocals definitely pack a punch.
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KATHY SANBORN – “RECOLLECTING YOU”
Pacific Coast Jazz

Kathy Sanborn, vocals/composer; Keerthy Narayanan, keyboards/bass; Aman Almeida, piano; Abhinav Khanna, drums; Wayne Ricci, trumpet; Rocio Marron, violin; Vito Gregoli & Ciro Hurtado, guitars.

Here is a smoky voice, with Peggy Lee character and contemporary jazz arrangements She has composed all the tunes on this, her eighth CD release. In partnership with Narayanan, her producer, keyboard man and bass player, they have a finished product that’s polished and smooth-jazz-friendly.

Sanborn has a comfortable style to her voice, cozy, soft and sexy like a favorite cashmere sweater. You slip into her music and curl up on the couch. This is romantic music, not only the artist’s voice, but her accompanying ensemble make her compositions come alive. Her music breathes, whispers and flows. Her poems have been put to music. They don’t always rhyme, but they are prose that capture the moment and tell vivid stories. Each original composition flows into the next, like lovers, breathing as one. Kathy Sanborn was a 2015 American Songwriting Award winner.

Wayne Ricci is simplistic, but strikingly present on his trumpet as he improvises around Sanborn’s vocals. Pianist, Aman Almeida, is mixed perfectly into the arrangements and adds his attentive accompaniment in all the perfect places, cushioning her warm tones. There is something ethereal and captivating about this artist, about her band and her stories. The freedom they personify is striking, both musically and lyrically. The producer, and multi-talented musician, Keerthy Narayanan, is to be congratulated. Thanks to the combination of his talent with hers, you’ll remember the Kathy Sanborn sound long after the last tune has finished.
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KRIS RUSSELL – “DOWN IN BRAZIL”
A single release – Independent Label

As soon as you hear the first strains of Russell’s mellow tones, you think Michael Franks. I look for the writer’s credits, and Voila! Michael Franks.
Russell sounds smooth and comfortable on this contemporary arrangement of the Frank’s tune along with her “mystery ensemble” (as she refers to her band). They are more than ample and lay down a fat, well-produced track.
I think it is both unfortunate and disrespectful to record music and not give your band members credit. That’s how folks used to do it years ago, but that behavior is frowned upon today. With the vocal artist, Kris Russell, taking all the credit, it made me less inclined to give her any credit at all.

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NOTE: Kris Russell responded to my review and I was happy to post her response.

—–Original Message—–
From: Kris Russell
To: ddmcneil
Cc: kris_russell_
Sent: Mon, Jul 10, 2017 4:32 pm
Subject: Kris Russell Down in Brazil

Hello Dee Dee …..I appreciate the kind words about my new single and I would like to answer the critical part about my self and not naming the musicians on the CD ….and just let you know that the contract/agreement between myself and the musicians for Down in Brazil my new release calls for that. The musicians don’t want their names/and or credit on the CD..for now…and there are very good reasons why! You are making assumptions that you shouldn’t be making and I have done nothing wrong in keeping with what the musicians themselves want and what the contract/agreement calls for! I thank you for the opportunity to answer what probably will concern other reviewers too. I hope I have answered your concerns and questions? I would have given them credit if not for other circumstances that they and I know about! Sincerely Kris Russell

On Monday, July 10, 2017 9:02 PM, Dee Dee wrote:

Hi Kris,

Thank you for reaching out. Having been in the business for some years, I understand that contractually some musicians are not supposed to record outside their labels. Perhaps this is the situation. I’m really happy to hear from you and that you would happily give the musicians credit if you could. That makes me feel a lot better. If you like, I can post your response and mine on the website.

Kris responded: Yes.. that would be great. I knew from your years in Jazz that you would understand the many problems in recording that can come up. I’m following you at LaJazz.com on twitter also. Thanks so much! Kris

CELEBRATING INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED PIANIST, GERI ALLEN

June 28, 2017

June 28, 2017

CELEBRATING INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED PIANIST, GERI ALLEN:
June 12, 1957 – June 27, 2017

Geri Allen brought something fresh and exciting to the virtuosity of jazz piano. In a music world dominated by male musicians and record company executives, Geri Allen ranks right up there with trend setters and innovators like Herbie Hancock. Her style and technical skills were powerful. Once you heard this amazing woman play the piano, you would never forget it. She was fearless, energetic, freshly creative with ideas and harmonics that both startled and surprised her audiences. I had the honor of meeting this piano master once, when I was home in Detroit, enjoying the annual and largest free jazz festival in the country. She carried herself with an elegance in both dress and manner. I read that she assumed her stylish stage persona from tutoring by Mary Wells, whom she toured with at the very beginning of her dazzling career in 1982.
Ms. Allen is another one of the long list of astoundingly talented musicians who have received their early education at Cass Technical High School in Detroit. She was part of the Jazz Development Workshop, under the mentorship of our mutual friend, trumpet master/educator, Marcus Belgrave. Geri Allen graduated from Howard University with a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies and promptly moved to New York City. She was a protégé of iconic pianist, Kenny Barron and later, attended the University of Pittsburgh, attaining her Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology.

With deep roots in Motown, and the Berry Gordy music magic that took the whole world by storm, Allen combined her love of R & B with her passion for jazz, stretching the limits of her instrument and her physical technique on the piano. She was a monster on the keys. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a female pianist play with such exciting dynamism. Perhaps the only ones I could personally compare Ms. Allen’s talents to would be Nina Simone and Dorothy Donegan. Both of these valiant and earth-shattering talents brought the same vivacity, classical technique, cultural awareness and jazz innovation that Geri Allen brought to the stage. Ms. Allen, like Simone and Donegan, was always stretching the boundaries of her artform.

In the mid-eighties, she rubbed shoulders in New York with all the young, jazz, shakers and movers. Ms. Allen expanded her musical horizons as part of the Black Rock Coalition and the Brooklyn M-Base movement. During this time, she was part of collectives that featured Greg Osby, Gary Thomas and vocalist Cassandra Wilson, as well as Steve Coleman, who she recorded with on his first album, “Motherland Pulse.”

It took a German record company to be the first to offer Ms. Allen a deal on the Minor Music label. Her debut trio recording was “The Printmakers,” featuring Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille. You can hear her intensity and infatuation with rhythm on this, the first of her iconic works. Listen to her imaginative harmonics, in their developmental stage on this premiere album.

In 2000, Sitting at the home of Shahida Nurullah, a Detroit vocalist and music educator, I listened to Shahida’s featured vocal work on Geri Allen’s 1986 release entitled, “Open On All Sides In the Middle.” The arrangements were as stunning as the album title, incorporating both modern and Avant Garde jazz forms. It was this album that really peaked my interest into this phenomenal pianist. It featured a bunch of Detroit jazz players, including trumpeters Racy Biggs and Marcus Belgrave, along with bassist Jaribu Abdurahman Shahid (natal name, Ben Henderson) and reminded me of the freedom and master musicianship found in the Chicago Art Ensemble music. In fact, Jaribu Shahid would later go on to play with the Art Ensemble of Chicago in 2004. You can feel the energy dancing off this disc, propelled by Ms. Allen’s composition skills and challenging arrangements. This was her 3rd CD and perhaps set the precedence for what was to follow. Beautiful, sensitive melodies surrounded lushly by chord arranging that enveloped that beauty, while still leaving room for improvisational forays from Geri Allen and the other players. You Will hear her love of dancers, especially tap dancers, on both this record (ie: The Dancer) and later in her career when she featured dancers as part of her concert presentations. Allen believed in mixing artforms and fusing artistic talents. Listen to her song “Forbidden Place” to see how complicated and artistically challenging her arrangements were at an early stage of her career.

An album, “Twenty One,” released in 1994, was her third album for the Blue Note label, and was recorded with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Famously, they were an integral part of the all-star musicians holding down Miles Davis. So, you know, it doesn’t get much better than that! That’s the league of competence and respect that Geri Allen garnered. You can hear her growth in this recording, her tenth release in a string of art as valuable and rare as Tahitian, black pearls.

Geri Allen’s 2012 release of “Grand River Crossings” is another one of my favorite recordings, where she celebrates her native roots in Detroit. I reviewed and praised that recording for http://www.lajazz.com. Ms. Allen leaves behind a hand-print on the historic contribution of dynamic women in jazz. She will be remembered and celebrated for years to come.

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REMEMBERING THE GREAT DRUMMER, BILL DOWDY (Aug 15, 1932 – May 12, 2017)

June 23, 2017

June 23 2017

I am saddened to hear that my friend, and the original drummer with the Three Sounds, Bill Dowdy, has made his transition. Pictured here, Bill Dowdy, pianist Claude Black, me and bassist, Elgin Vines when we recorded a “Live” concert in Battle Creek, Michigan, where Bill Dowdy lived. He was a wonderful, talented, gentleman and I am honored to have known him and to have recorded with him. R.I.P. Bill, after a life well-lived.

Bill Dowdy, August 15, 1932 – May 12, 2017

I have always been a huge fan of The Three Sounds. Nobody could play that blues-infused jazz and capture that down-home groove on vinyl like pianist, Gene Harris, drummer, Bill Dowdy and bassist, Andy Simpkins. Later in my professional life, while working at United Artists/Blue Note Records in publicity and under the direction of the company president, Mike Stewart, I got to meet both Andy Simpkins and Gene Harris. I even got to work with Andy Simpkins many times as a jazz vocalist. He was one of my favorite bass players. But it was not until the year 2000, that I got to meet the amazing Mr. Dowdy.

Bill had heard good things about me from various Michigan-based musicians and invited me to do a concert with him in Battle Creek. At the time, I was just healing from a bad accident I had in Detroit, Michigan on a visit to see my mom and family. That was December of 1999, and as a healthy entrepreneur and jazz vocalist, without any health insurance, running the beach daily in Southern California and never even considering that I would fall ill, the fall I took was on an ice-covered street in Detroit. For a minute, it stopped my life and my career. After surgery and three months on a walker, then three months on crutches, I was finally up and walking again. I got busy producing musical plays and working locally at jazz clubs.

When Bill Dowdy called me, I was absolutely honored to drive to Battle Creek and become part of Bill’s Concert experience. When I arrived, I discovered that our concert was going to be recorded. I asked Bill who owned the tapes? He said that he did. I suggested that if the tapes came out with a good mix, we should consider putting out a CD. Well, Bill was surprised by that suggestion. He said that he had never thought of distributing his own product. He confessed to me, he didn’t have a clue how to do it. So, I sat down with Bill and showed him, on paper, how it would work. He said that for years Blue Note had been selling his music and his talent and that he hadn’t gotten paid for albums that were still selling today, nearly half a century later. It was the same old story of how record companies rip-off great talent . They collect the majority of the funds for the sales of those records and those company executives don’t write a tune, don’t sing a note, and many don’t know a thing about music or the creative process. Unfortunately, the artists who make the records hardly make pennies on the sales. If they don’t get out there and do concert tours, they don’t make any money at all. When I showed Bill how much it would take to invest in ourselves and what he could make on the sales of pressing up our own project, he was in awe.

“Dee Dee, I wish I had understood this years ago,” he confided.

The result of our concert and our conversation was “Live! at the Discovery Theatre – The Bill Dowdy Jazz Trio plus Dee Dee McNeil.” I was full of gratitude to be headlinging with the dynamic Bill Dowdy and his famous trio.

Bill hired Claude Black, a master pianist who was living in Toledo Ohio at the time and boasted over five decades of music mastery. Like me, he was a native Detroiter and we had worked together a few times at the famed jazz club, “Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.” Claude had worked with such international talent as Dakota Staton, Aretha Franklin, Lorez Alexandria, Ernie Andrews, Johnny Harman, Austin Cramer, Earl Bostic, Eddie Jefferson, Sonny Stitt, Arnett Cobb and Kenny Burrell.

Elgin Vines was hired to play bass on our project. Elgin has been described as one of the most sought-after jazz bassists in Western Michigan, stroking the strings professionally for over forty years. He has been a mainstay in the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra Jazz Ensemble, played with the Aquinas College Evening Jazz Ensemble, the Ray Gill Orchestra and the Muskrat Ramblers. In more contemporary days, he recorded for Gamble & Huff and appeared on The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show and even the famed and historic, Ed Sullivan Show. Elgin acted as backup musician for such popular acts as Leslie Uggums, Frank Sinatra Sr. and Jr., Phyllis Hyman, Eloise Laws, Ruth Brown, Connie Stevens, Bobby Darin, and Steve Allen. For years he has led his own group, “Elgin Vines & Company.”

But it was Bill Dowdy who impressed me the most. After all, I had fallen in love with his drum chops back in 1958, when I was still a young teen and just discovering jazz. That was the year Mr. Dowdy recorded with the legendary jazz trio he founded, “The Three Sounds.” Their music has transcended the years with unique stamina and undying popularity.

Bill started out as a session drummer for Chess Records. Later, he recorded and toured for years on the Blue Note and the Mercury record labels in support of “The Three Sounds.” He left the group in 1966, ten years after he founded the group. Bill Dowdy settled down in his senior years to become a percussion educator at the Community Music School sponsored by the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra. He created a Substance-abuse Prevention Program that he titled, “Drumming for Life” and taught master classes at Kellogg Community College, Western Michigan and Michigan State Universities. His legacy performances include working with Art Farmer, John Hicks, Nancy Wilson, Nat Adderly, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Ernestine Anderson, Percy Mayfield and Johnny Griffin, as well as his undeniable recording legacy as one-third of The Three Sounds. I am humbled and thankful that I knew this great gentleman and had the unique opportunity of performing on-stage with him. He as a kind and generous soul who I will never forget.

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DEBBI EBERT AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER

June 18, 2017

DEBBI EBERT AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER – THE 2017 SEASON

A performance review & intimate interview by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

June 15, 2017

It was the perfect, balmy, summer night for jazz under the stars. The Muckenthaler Cultural Center is located in Fullerton, California and its mission is to “provide the public with experiences that stimulate creativity and imagination, while conserving the heritage and architecture of the Muckenthaler Estate.”

The first time I was ever at this lovely, 18-room, 8.5-acre mansion was when I attended a wedding on the premises. This time, I’m exploring the backyard of this hilltop mansion, that includes a full stage with soundman, professional lighting and small round tables with picnic-type benches and seating in tiered rows up a hillside that slopes down to the stage. In its 52nd year of cultural, community programs, the Muckenthaler Center, (fondly referred to as, “The Muck”), produces more than 60 performances, festivals, special events and gallery exhibits annually. They are proud to expound their outreach sites, offering more than 6,000 hours of arts education at the “Muck” and 42 outreach sites. Thanks to the generous donation of Walter and Adella Muckenthaler, they serve more than 41,000 people every year. Tonight, every seat is full and faces are upturned towards the trio on stage who are about to perform as part of the Muckenthaler Jazz Series. Ron Kobayashi takes a seat at the grand piano. Luther Hughes mans the upright bass and Paul Kreibich swings into action behind the trap drums. They break into the familiar standard tune, “There Will Never Be Another You.”

After one song, the star is announced; Ms. Debbi Ebert. The songbird of the evening opens with Rio de Janiero Blues, setting a polished tone, with Paul Kreibich rumbling out a moderate-tempo’d-Bossa Nova beat that has the audience swaying in their seats.

Picnic baskets and snacks are allowed at these outdoor concerts and you can also buy food and drinks at the facility. I pour myself a glass of Merlot in a blue, plastic goblet, and settled back to enjoy a lovely evening of jazz.

For her second song, Ms. Ebert performs the familiar “On A Clear Day” featuring a spirited and fresh arrangement by Fred Katz (R.I.P), former cellist with the Chico Hamilton group. His arrangement gives the vocalist lots of ‘scat’ room to show off her improvisational assets. “Higher Vibe” is a waltz and its melody is impressive, with whole notes held like a vocal banner by Debbi Ebert. She exhibits powerful, perfect control and a well-executed, 3- 1/2 to 4 octave vocal range. The lyrics of “Higher Vibe” were very positive and unifying.

Her trio transforms “Night and Day” into a well-received arrangement, many in the audience humming along. The next song was “Mr. Magic”, a 1975 hit record by saxophonist, Grover Washington Jr. Afterwards, Debbi announces that the next couple of songs had been hand-picked by her audience. Prior to this performance, she sent out a request to her mailing list, encouraging them to tell her what songs they would enjoy hearing at her Muckenthaler concert. The fans responded in mass. They overwhelming voted for the hit record by Etta James, “At Last”. Ms. Ebert opened with a gospel intro, encouraging each instrument to echo her gospel moans and scats, like call and response. It was suddenly Bro. Kobayashi on piano, Deacon Hughes on bass, and Rev. Kreibich on drums. Debbi called them her pulpit and the crowd said, “Amen”! That one was so much fun. The second was a tribute to one of our jazz giants, Louie Armstrong. “What A Wonderful World” is always a crowd pleaser. Ms. Ebert dedicated this song to the troops, who protect and defend our Democracy, and she received warm applause for her sentiment. Joined on this song by another excellent pianist/composer, enter Richard Ihara, the composer of Freddie Hubbard’s 1967 hit record, “Little Sunflower.” Ihara is also an excellent vocalist and he does a very persuasive mimicry of Louis Armstrong, adding even more familiarity to the tune by walking on-stage with a microphone and sounding very much like Pops Armstrong himself. He and Ms. Ebert interact vocally on this tune, thus, ending the first set.

Ebert returned for a second set in celebration of the iconic Miss Nancy Wilson. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to leave after the first set. However, judging by the huge and appreciative applause at the end of set number one, I am positive that Debbi Ebert did justice to the songs of Ms. Wilson and continued her evening of excellence.

I recently had the opportunity of chatting with Debbi Ebert about her life and music. She has been a mainstay of the Orange County jazz scene for over three decades.

DEE DEE: Are you from California?

DEBBI: “Yeah – born and raised in South Central California and went to Freemont High School. I grew up on 75th and Central.”

DEE DEE: Oh – Central Avenue! That’s where all the music was happening, right? You probably weren’t born when Central Avenue was hot and thriving.

DEBBI: “No. I wasn’t but my parents were. They were familiar with Central Avenue and they would talk about it.”

DEE DEE: Were they big jazz fans?

DEBBI: “Not necessarily jazz. My father was a huge music guy. He was more into the gospel stuff. So, when I was about four-years-old, he had already been singing with different male gospel groups. They would do the big concerts hosted by Rev. Henderson, who was producing concerts in some of those old theaters where they used to have the jazz concerts. They’d bring in the gospel music; Rosetta Thorpe, The Hummingbirds, The Ward Singers, all of those people were a part of that circuit. Our family group was called ‘The Gospel Fireballs’. I was just a kid, so, I don’t remember a lot. My brothers are gone now, so I don’t have anyone to reference that history. But I remember a lot of those people coming through those concerts. My father, Willie Sam Goldston, was a big promoter of our family gospel group. He always got our little name on the promotional billboards. That would have been the mid-60’s (‘64, ‘65, ‘66) right in there. There were the three of us and my father would play guitar. We travelled a little bit. We had our little gigs all over. And then he passed away.”

DEE DEE: Oh honey, that was hard. You were just a kid. I’m so sorry. Was it unexpected?

DEBBI: “You know, in those days, my father was what you would call a jack of all trades. He was a welder by trade. He took other odd jobs and he was always a special duty officer. He always wanted to be a policeman. He wanted to make a difference as a law enforcement officer. In those days, they didn’t let blacks into the LAPD. … He would try every year, when they had an opening, to get into the LAPD. It never worked. But he took Security work and he took a job at that FatBurger down there on Central Avenue. … That’s where he got killed. It was a horrible, tragic accident. There was a guy there who was drunk and he and my father got into some kind of tussle. A gun went off. That was that.

DEE DEE: That’s a heartbreaking story. Let’s talk about when you decided to do music professionally.

DEBBI: There’s not a long time in my life where there was no music. I’ve always been involved with music. Once I grew up, I always sang wherever I could. I sang in church and at weddings. I always maintained music in my life, but I didn’t really pick it back up professionally until I moved to Orange County. That would have been 1983 and 1984. Those were the days you would come to town and work certain O.C. venues. You and Barbara Morrison. I always knew your names. Barbara McNair used to come to town and work in Orange County all the time too. That’s when I picked music back up. I did my first play at the local black actor’s theater and met my now, husband, Richard Abraham, through that theater. That’s when I started my career as a nightclub singer. He played piano and I sang. And I’ve worked steadily ever since. I have two CD releases. My first one is “Definitely Debbi” and my second one is called, “Taking a Chance.” I’m primarily a singer. I would not ever refer to myself as a composer, but there was a play called “Black Woman’s Blues” that was performed at the Regency West Theater in Los Angeles, with Dwan Lewis, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and Vanessa Bell Calloway. I did the underscoring for it. The dialogue was set to saxophone and I wrote the music to play underneath that dialogue. I sang it to my husband and he charted the notes. But I wouldn’t call myself a composer. However, I do enjoy arranging and coming up with unique ideas for vocals and vocal harmony.”

For those of you who missed the Muckenthaler Concert, you can catch Debbi Ebert’s tribute to Nancy Wilson on July 26, a Wednesday evening, at the GEM Theater in Garden Grove. I guarantee you will be thoroughly entertained.
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BLACK MUSIC MONTH CELEBRATES THELONIUS MONK AND MORE

June 13, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
June 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Braden explained it best by saying:

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

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

LAURA CAMPISI – “DOUBLE MIRROR”
Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SMOKIN’ NEW MUSIC AND HISTORIC JAZZ CONVERSATIONS

June 1, 2017

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

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

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

Resonance Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McClure recalled Wes Montgomery’s generosity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whirlwind Recordings

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

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

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

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

Merry Lane Records, LLC

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

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

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

May 22, 2017

AN ARTIST INTERVIEW WITH KATHY KOSINS
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

You can’t just call Kathy Kosins a jazz singer, because her artistry touches all genres of music, from her roots in the soul and R&B music of Motown, to the smooth sultry West Coast jazz singers she emulated on her CD, “Ladies of Cool”. She’s also an award-winning ASCAP songwriter. When you listen to Kathy, you hear Blues, jazz, rock and soul all mixed up, like a beautiful, rich stew.

Kathy’s early love of music led her to songwriting. This blossomed into a career of singing. Recently, I talked to her about some of her roots as a performer in the music business.

KATHY: “It was 1977 or 1978. I had two cassettes made with some of my original song material and it was all R&B. Those cassettes were used for the purpose of taking them around to various recording studios and trying to get in the door as a session singer; a background vocalist. … I heard it from somebody that Michael Henderson was in United Sound studio. It was this humongous studio where Aretha recorded. Everybody was using that studio, because it was a big, popular studio back in the day. I walked in with a couple of cassettes. Michael Henderson was recording that day and he wouldn’t see me, but his manager came out, or his musical director; Eli Fontaine.** He took the music from me and I remember this like it was yesterday. They didn’t even have to buzz me in. I just walked in and I went to the receptionist and asked to see Michael Henderson. … So, Eli Fontaine came out and took the cassettes from me. My phone number was published right on the cassette. About a week went by until I got a phone call, and they said, Michael wants to see you in the studio the next day at 3-o-clock. They needed one more voice to round out the background voices. So, I showed up! Michael Henderson told me himself, I really like what you put on those tapes and I need a third singer.”

** NOTE: Eli Fontaine was a good friend of this journalist in Detroit. He was a well-respected reed player who worked on sessions at numerous Detroit studios. It’s his horn you hear on the top of the historic Marvin Gaye recording of “What’s Going On.”

KATHY: “… When I got there, I was introduced to the girls who sang with the Brides of Funkenstein or backed up Parliament Funkadelic. They were part of George Clinton’s crew. I’m sure he recorded there too. They all did. Sure enough, we went on tour. I wound up doing background vocals for this man’s band for a while. In that band, I met a woman named Carol Hall. She was one of the singers, and then there was this girl from the Parlets. Carol and I went on the road, as background vocalists, and in that band was a guitar player named Randy Jacobs. I knew randy from the Motor city music scene. We were all in bar bands at that time, … playing in bars around town. Carol was in a band. I was in a band. But now, we were on tour with the Michael Henderson band,” Kathy told me.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Michael Henderson, he is an American bassist, lauded for his work playing with Miles Davis and he’s also a competent vocalist. As a Buddah recording artist, Michael Henderson collaborated vocally with the late, great Phyllis Hyman and had several hit records on his own, including the popular “You Are My Starship,” Recording, when he was featured vocalist with Norman Conners. Later, Henderson recorded a duet with Hyman using the same song.

At age twenty-four, Kosins was a seasoned background singer and was busy composing music and singing around town. She ran into David Weiss, better known as David Was and Don Fagenson (aka: Don Was) of the band ‘Was/Not Was’. In 1982, Don Was produced Kathy’s first single release entitled, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, a re-make of the AC/DC tune.

KATHY: “After touring with Michael Henderson, the next thing you know, I did the same thing. I knocked on the door of Sound Sweet recording studios. It was located in a bad part of Detroit and Don Fagenson ( aka: Don Was) was in there making the very first Don Was (Was Not) record. It was the same thing; being in the right place at the right time. Don asked me not only to be a background vocalist for his band, but to hire the other two singers. So, I had to contract singers. Who did I call? Carol Hall and Sheila; I wish I could remember her last name. The same girls from the Henderson tour. One thing led to another, and suddenly I was doing a whole lot of session work in the city of Detroit.”
Kathy Kosins doesn’t come from a musical family. Her father built an empire in Detroit as the owner of the most popular men’s store in the Motor city. During the sixties and seventies, Ford Motor company was employing a multitude of blue-collar workers, business was booming, and Berry Gordy’s Motown was growing to nationwide fame, with Gordy’s hit records pouring out of radios coast-to-coast. Kathy recalled that time in her life.

KATHY: “If you knew Kosin’s clothes, and you did, ‘cause you lived in Detroit,” (she said to me confidentially) “my dad sold to Motown artists. I remember when I was a little kid, my dad used to grab me and he’d say, let’s go for a ride and take mister Gordy his suits. We’d drive up Woodward Avenue to Boston or Chicago Boulevard area to Berry Gordy’s big, white mansion or we’d take clothes to Mayor Coleman Young. My dad sold clothes to pimps, politicians, entertainers, funeral parlors, when they had to bury somebody in a nice-looking suit, or if you were getting married, you got your suit at Kosins,” she told me.

As a youngster, Kathy worked at her father’s popular clothing store and was introduced to celebrities like Dinah Washington, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, Lou Rawls and the Four Tops. She learned the art of salesmanship. Later in life, when promoting her own CD projects and her solo career, that talent of selling surfaced to her benefit. To this day, she’s a meticulous business woman.

Kathy and her younger brother both were bitten by the music bug early on. When she was taken to New York by her dad, to attend the Broadway musical play, “Hair”, sitting in the theater with young, impressionable eyes glued to the stage, Kathy knew this was her destiny. She wanted to sing, write music and perform. Her brother, David, played guitar and had gigs in local bands. While he was inspired by and listened to Lester Bowie and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Bud Powell, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Kathy was busy listening to soul, blues and rock music, while writing songs and singing her heart out with local bands and in various studios. She says Janis Joplin greatly inspired her.

After her affiliation with the Don Was/Not Was Band, she collaborated with a number of Los Angeles and New York based writers to compose several songs she hoped to present to some popular jazz singers on the scene. Among those she hoped would record her work were vocalists like Dianne Reeves, Nancy Wilson and Diane Schurr. She prepared a number of songs, becoming her own song-plugger. Somehow, her demo fell into the hands of Schoolkids Records and they loved her material. It was 1996 and the next thing Kathy knew, she had a record deal and her debut album was released, entitled, “All In A Dreams Work”. It placed in the top 20 of the Gavin Report.

Her next release was on Chiaroscuro Records, in 2002, titled “Mood Swings” and received rave reviews. In 2006 she followed that success up with the release of “Vintage” on the Mahogany Jazz label. Then, six years later, Resonance Records released her popular “Ladies of Cool” album followed-up with “The Space Between” on Mahogany Jazz label. Kathy told me this 2013 album was a combination of her jazz influenced recordings and her Rhythm and blues roots. It was this turning point in her recording career that has led her to this most recent recording project titled, “Uncovered Soul”.

On her latest endeavor, Kathy Kosins circles back to her soul-infused, blues drenched, Motown roots. This new album introduces a fresh direction, moving Kosin’s from mainstream jazz to a more groove-oriented production. With producer Kamau Kenyatta by her side, she is reaching towards a more global approach to her music and is already being critically acclaimed in the UK music market. Producer, Kenyatta, is praised for his Gold Record, Grammy Award-winning collaboration with Gregory Porter.

The first cut, “ Don’t Get Me Started “ is a sensual, funk-driven production that showcases Kathy’s rich, sultry sound, driven by Eric Harland on drums and written by Gene McDaniels, pleasantly remembered for his hit records, “Compared to What” and “A Hundred Pounds of Clay.” Greg Moore’s tasty guitar punches the rhythm and Kathy’s voice is full of expression, warm and inviting.

Aaron Neville first recorded the song, “VooDoo.” Kathy and Kamau produce it as a combination of New Orleans soul and Kem-like grooves. ‘Kem’ is a familiar R&B star, based in Detroit, who has several soul-charted hit records and a signature sound. Mitch Foreman, on synthesizer-organ, adds a jazzy spice to the production and guitarist, Greg Moore, (or G-Moe as he is affectionately called), is gritty, raw and soulful.

Cut #3 is the CD’s title and one of Kathy’s original compositions. It captures a Smooth-Jazz/R&B flavor, and reminds me of a song Phyllis Hyman might sing, with a melody that Kathy’s warm vocals embrace and embellish. Another original is track #6, titled “A to B” and pretty much sums up the artist’s current state of mind. It’s one of my favorites on this CD. The lyrics say it all. For example, she sings:

“Those who came before me had so much to say. I listened to their stories as I try to find my way. … I’m just trying to get from A to B. Nobody ever told me, it don’t come easily. If I ask for inspiration, please shine a light on me. I’m just trying to get from A to B. Don’t try to be impatient, says a whisper in my head. When you trust your good intentions, you’ll be better off instead … Each and every day I’m thankful for following my dreams.”

The new Kathy Kosins’ album, “Uncovered Soul,” is based on the urban landscape of Detroit, pulling from the popular music of the early 1960’s and 70’s, she’s digging deeply into her rock and soul roots. When you combine this with Kathy’s jazz overtones and the hip-hop groove of danceable tracks, you begin to see a new side of this vocalist. Kathy describes her project as “Detroit-centric;” a tribute to her city, with music that paints a picture of an urban Detroit and its rebirth, its repurposing towards prosperity and renewed hope. She uses obscure tunes by gold-record composer/artists that include Bill Withers, Gene McDaniels, the Neville Brothers, Burt Bacharach, Curtis Mayfield and more, to thread a needle of unique artistry that holds the fabric of Kathy’s truth in place like a CD jacket.
Kathy Kosins is a multi-talented singer/songwriter who lives, breathes and paints music. When she’s not working on new songs, recording or touring, this multi-talented woman utilizes time as a visual artist and creates Modernist art.

KATHY: “I paint the sounds that I hear. Strains from Miles Davis’ trumpet, Charlie Parkers’ sax and Bud Powells’ piano translate into color and texture. I never have an idea or color scheme in mind when I pick up a brush. I paint strictly from my intuition. It was no different with the old jazz masters. They could play endless solos all night, using the same form.”

Her paintings bear the names of a number of jazz icons and jazz songs. For instance, the modern abstract painting that once hung in the Los Angeles office of the Monk Institute is called “Monks Dreams.” She began painting in 1990, and examples of other titles for her extensive work are: Miles Ahead, ‘Round Midnight, Corcovado, Joy Spring, Ornette, Green Dolphin Street and November Twilight.

http://www.kathykosins.com/artshow/kathykosins_art/index.html

Although this vocalist has recorded straight-ahead jazz and standards, on her new album, (scheduled for a September release), she reaches back to her beloved beginnings in the music business and combines styles. The result is jazzy and pop, soulful and R&B, uniquely mixed for strong crossover appeal.

Kathy Kosins will preview her “Uncovered Soul” album on June 8, 2017 at Catalina Bar & Grill in Los Angeles, California. Hit time is 8:30pm. See you there.
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CHASING COLTRANE: A FILM DOCUMENTARY

April 26, 2017

CHASING TRANE – A FILM DOCUMENTARY ON THE LIFE OF JOHN COLTRANE
A Film Review by Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

Monday – April 24, 2017 – Laemmle Theater in Pasadena, California

I recently enjoyed an exceptional film, unveiling the short life and times of John Coltrane. It is available at various art theaters throughout the country and gives the public a close-up look at the incredible, historic and genius musical work of saxophone legend, John Coltrane. It opens with a burst of colors and stars sprinkled across the screen, depicting a filmed galaxy that invites us into heaven’s door, accompanied by scattered saxophone sounds from the horn of our beloved jazz master, the unforgettable Coltrane. The marvelous music of this man infiltrates every scene of this motion picture, keeping jazz up front and elevating this bio-pic.

I was blessed enough to hear John Coltrane play in person. Young people today can only hear recordings, so the importance of complimenting this documentary with John Coltrane’s music is of paramount importance. Denzel Washington reads the words of this amazing man, becoming John’s voice in the film. Others talk about Coltrane’s personality, his two marriages and his majestic artistry. Some film participants are iconic musicians, biographers and of course his loving family members.

There are treasured film clips of when he played at Café Bohemia with Miles Davis in 1957, a time when he was just a fledgling player, but already showing the signs of becoming a legend. This was before Miles fired him for severe drug addiction. Benny Golson tells us that Coltrane was a happy addict, but unreliable. Jimmy Heath tells the story of how Miles caught him and Coltrane getting high, shooting up together, and Coltrane promised he would quit, but he couldn’t stop using.

Reggie Workman is on hand to tell the Coltrane story, along with Ashley Kahn, (Coltrane’s biographer), Coltrane’s close friend, saxophonist Sonny Rollins, President Bill Clinton, the great Benny Golson, Dr. Cornel West, our own Los Angeles based reedman, Kamasi Washington, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, his loving step-daughter, Ms. Andrews, his children from his second wife, Alice Coltrane, and the drummer with The Doors, John Paul Densmore.

Coltrane was born in North Carolina in 1926, a time of Jim Crow racism and challenging times for African American’s in America. His dad was a tailor and amateur musician. Both his grandfathers were ministers. His maternal grandfather was the presiding elder of the First A.M.E. Zion church. At twelve years old, the pre-teen lost his favorite grandfather, his father and both uncles. That’s when his mother moved from the Carolinas, first to New Jersey and then to Philadelphia, to better provide for her fatherless family. It was 1943, a tumultuous time in young Coltrane’s life, and he found solace in music. By the time he was sixteen, John Coltrane was already showing awesome style and proficiency on his horn. In 1945, he met and witnessed the genius of Charlie Parker. Shortly after, he wound up in the Navy and worked as part of the Navy band. In the film, we hear and see that young Coltrane mimicking his idol, Charlie Parker and becoming more and more obsessed with his instrument. Upon release from the Navy, he joined the Miles Davis group.

Carlos Santana speaks warmly and sincerely in this film. He praises Coltrane for going ‘cold-turkey’ and cleaning up his drug addiction. As he put it, “… averting the gates of hell.” Coltrane’s children remember how he kicked his heroin habit by himself, at home, and with the nurturing assistance of his loving wife, Alice Coltrane; a dynamic musician in her own right. Coltrane met Alice when she was playing piano with Gerry Gibbs. The film shows a blissful marriage and captures, in home movies, John as a loving and attentive father. His children tell us he was a romantic and wrote little love poems that he left all over the house for his wife to find. When she said she wanted to play the harp, John bought Alice a golden, concert harp.

After he got clean, we watch John Coltrane’s career gain momentum and his style and self-assurance become explosive. He joins Thelonius Monk’s band and this is where his confidence and genius begins to expand. Clean and fully confident, his first solo album is labeled, “Coltrane – the new tenor star”. All the while, the audience sees clips and still photos of his life and times with Dizzy Gillespie, Monk, Rashad Ali , Elvin Jones, Wayne Shorter, Miles, and McCoy Tyner. McCoy called that period of Coltrane’s life “beautiful and committed. … A gift that came from the almighty.”

As his composition skills grew and blossomed, John began to show a deep spiritual side within his music. He was a quiet man, but talked politics and godliness with his horn. The Birmingham, Alabama bombing of that church where four little Sunday school children were killed, prompted Coltrane to compose the song, “Alabama.” He told McCoy Tyner that Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, after that bombing, inspired his song. He began to combine cultures in his music, picking up the soprano saxophone and having a huge hit playing a unique, Asian tinged arrangement of “My Favorite Things.” In 1965, he recorded “A Love Supreme.” Later, forming a group that changed the direction of his music. He was reaching for new horizons, becoming more Avant Garde, with Rashad Ali on drums, Alice Coltrane on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Pharoah Sanders came to prominence in this group.

It’s unbelievable to think that a man, whose professional recording and musical career started at age 33, would die of liver cancer at age 40. He gifts us with a body of work that still leaves the listener awe-struck. It’s hard to believe his incredible legacy of recorded music happened in a span of only seven years. This film captures the essence of John Coltrane and his magnificent music.
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ASTUTE ARRANGING AND EXCITING YOUNG TALENT SURFACES ON SPRING CD RELEASES

April 21, 2017

ASTUTE ARRANGING AND EXCITING YOUNG TALENT SURFACES ON SPRING CD RELEASES

April 22, 2017
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CHRISTIAN SANDS – “REACH”
Mack Avenue Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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