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MEET MULTI-GENERATIONAL BASSIST, MARION HAYDEN

April 11, 2018

MEET MULTI-GENERATIONAL BASSIST, MARION HAYDEN

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 11, 2018

I took a brief trip to Detroit, Michigan last month. During my visit, I prowled the city in search of ‘live’ jazz. I was not disappointed. My hometown has consistently birthed and/or inspired a long and stunning succession of jazz icons including Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Della Reese, Harold McKinney, Aretha Franklin (who sang and recorded jazz on Columbia before her hit, R&B records ), Tommy Flanagan, Paul Chambers, Barry Harris, Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, Ron Carter, Curtis Fuller, Frank Foster, Roland Hanna, Donald Byrd, Kenny Cox, Sonny Stitt, Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, Roy Brooks, Pepper Adams, Charles McPherson, Betty Carter, Geri Allen, Rodney Whitaker, Phil Ranelin, James Carter, Regina Carter and Thad Jones. Let me add, this is just a short list. Our own California-based vocalist, Barbara Morrison, who manages the Leimert Park Performing Arts Theater in Los Angeles, has deep roots in Detroit. I want to introduce you to another amazing woman and working musician in Detroit who is a multi-generational bassist, educator, recording artist, wife and mother. In celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, meet Marion Hayden.

Marion Hayden is a double-bass player who has excelled in a mainly male dominated music industry, especially when it comes to females who play the upright bass. She is a phenomenal player; a fast and competent reader of musical charts and she exhibits exquisite tone. Not to mention, her timing is unreproachable. We recently met in her Detroit, Michigan home, where she fixed me a cup of Good Earth, Orange Spice Tea. Sitting in her comfortable kitchen, I found her smile as warm as the tea cup she handed me. Marion Hayden has a way of making people feel comfortable, both on and off stage.

MARION: “My whole thing is multi-generational. I was probably about fourteen or fifteen when I had my first gig with (reedman) Wendell Harrison and I just know that having that relationship with him, and with Marcus (Belgrave), (trumpeter/composer/original member of the Ray Charles band), Buddy Budson and Ursula (Walker), (pianist/producer/arranger and his vocalist wife) iconic drummer, Roy Brooks, those experiences I had were deeply formative for me as a musician. Deeply, deeply important! They made such a difference in my whole understanding of the music and how you put the music together. You know, how to work in an ensemble. My understanding of the whole musical concept was greatly enhanced by my relationships with those people over the years.

“I switched from cello (her first instrument) to bass when I was twelve. I was always a lover of jazz. My father was a huge jazz lover and had a big record collection. He actually played Piano. His listening choices were, … Oscar Petersen and that was probably his big favorite. I remember very distinctly, he had a record player with a long cord that stretched so he could put it outside while he was mowing the lawn. Right in the driveway, he would play some Oscar Petersen or Miles Davis while he was mowing the grass.”

NOTE: A young Marion Hayden would have been listening to the bass work of the great Ray Brown, who was part of the early Petersen trio, along with guitarist Herb Ellis, and Miles Davis would have featured Paul Chambers on the double bass.

MARION: “Then, my cousin, Kamau Kenyatta, you know him. He’s a wonderful pianist and saxophonist. At that time, he and a number of other young people spent many hours in our little young people incubator, playing music with each other. I learned a lot from Kamau. You know, how sometimes you can have a peer mentor? He’s like a brother to me and a peer mentor”

NOTE: Kamau Kenyatta produced groundbreaking, GRAMMY-winning, jazz albums on Gregory Porter and is currently based in California.

MARION: “I listened to a lot of Paul Chambers, a lot of Ray Brown and then one of the records that was really important to me was a record that Quincy Jones did in 1970 and it’s called, “Walking In Space.” It was a big band production, but it had a little contemporary feel at the time. That was one of the records that really helped me to understand the playing of the music and how big bands work. I also really loved Thad Jones’ music. My dad was a big fan of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis. In fact, he took me to see Thad Jones and Mel Lewis once.”

“My other favorite album in the whole world was the Nancy Wilson, Cannonball Adderley album. That was the first record I ever tried to transcribe. The first tune I ever tried to transcribe was “Never Never Will I Marry” from that record.”

NOTE: She was only ten-years-old when the famed Cannonball Adderley collaborative album was released, featuring up-and-coming vocalist, Nancy Wilson. This had to be another album Marion heard her dad, Herbert Hayden, play on his portable record player.

“You know, I had a chance to work with Nancy. Sometimes life will send you that quirky opportunity. It was maybe fifteen years ago, 2003 or 2004, and I was on a date with “Straight Ahead” (the all-girls group she has performed with for decades). I got a call from a friend who was working at the DSO (Detroit Symphony Orchestra) at that time, doing a lot of their programming. He said Nancy’s bass player, John B., couldn’t make the gig. What happened, after 911, they started making it very hard to get basses onto the airplanes. It just got crazy. I can’t even tell you how crazy it got and expensive. So apparently, something happened with John at the airport and he just couldn’t get into Detroit. I could have loaned him a bass. Anyway, my friend John at the DSO said, can you work with Nancy? I was like, YEAH! Needless to say, I could not have been more scared. I didn’t even have a chance to look at any of the charts and back in those days, the internet wasn’t rollin’ like that anyway. They weren’t sending pdf charts and all that stuff. It was paper charts. She had sent her charts ahead of time to the orchestra of course. But not for her bass player, because she had her established trio. I showed up there and tried to keep my little wits about me. That was one of the most thrilling things that happened in my life, because Nancy Wilson is such a hero to me. And she was so beautiful to me. She really treated me nicely. Let’s just be honest. She’s coming in. She doesn’t have her regular bass player and on top of that, a girl shows up on bass. I don’t know how many times even women don’t work with other women. I have to tell the truth about this bass. But I could imagine she was looking at me, a younger woman, and wondering, can she handle this? Is she going to F-up my show? She had to go on complete faith, because when I showed up, at that point, there was nobody else. Those other cats in the orchestra, they might be able to read some notes, but …. of course, I know the idiom. Basically, I had one rehearsal to look at her music. She did some things that I knew. The trio was me, Roy McCurdy and Llew Matthews. Her musicians were very gracious to me. A lot of times, people don’t know this, but the thing not to do, is to not be gracious. They accepted me and made me feel comfortable. I’m going to give myself a B plus. Later, her pianist, Llew Matthews, wrote a very nice compliment to me after that concert.“

I had to stop Marion right there. I know Nancy Wilson’s longtime musical conductor, Llew Matthews, very well. I am positive he would not have given her a compliment, and certainly not written her a letter of commendation if she hadn’t performed an A-plus, number-one job. She told me she had kept that E-mail letter from Llew for all these years. Marion Hayden went into another room and humbly retrieved the printed page to show it to me. It was then and only then that I remembered Llew Matthews sending me that very e-mail to compliment Marion Hayden on her bass excellence accompanying the great Nancy Wilson and working superbly with him and Roy McCurdy. He knew I was from Detroit and that I knew Marion. He hadn’t known how to contact her. So, I had actually forwarded his letter to her and then, totally forgotten about it. We had a laugh about that.

MARION: “Then, I had the chance to work with Llew again. Probably about three or four years ago down at Notre Dame with Jeff Clayton, fabulous alto saxophone player, sounding like Cannonball Adderley and he had Llew Matthews with him. I reminded Llew about the first time we had met and how meaningful that was to me.”

It hasn’t always been a smooth musical path for Marion Hayden. After attending Cass Technical high school and graduating from Henry Ford high school, she took classes at Michigan State University and later attended the University of Michigan, gaining a liberal arts degree with a minor in Entomology. That minor in the study of insects led the developing bassist to a day-job with the Michigan Department of Agriculture. In the 1970’s, Marion found herself frustrated and unsure of her musical career direction. She took a two-year hiatus before the encouraging of mentors, Kenny Cox and Roy Brooks cajoled her back to her instrument.

MARION: “I was in my early twenties and I just got frustrated. You know, it’s like when you say something to your children and it’s something that they probably need to hear and they get a little hurt. You know, when a person has been willing to give you some critical feed- back, especially when you needed it, even if you didn’t like it. But when that person turns around and says something good to you, then that means a lot! So, I love the ones who loved me. I just completely loved Ken Cox. I love Ken’s music. Ken just became someone I completely cherished. I’m very active in keeping his legacy alive. It meant so much to me when somebody turned around and said something like, I feel like I have Paul Chambers behind me … or said, you remind me of Doug Watkins. … Then you feel like you’re on the right path and steeped in the bass legacy. Probably one of the things that has been the most difficult for me is the loss of some of my mentors in the last several years. They just poured so much music into me and I thought, that can’t be the end of it. You’ve got to keep that legacy alive and continue to share it. So, I try to really pour that into the young folks I mentor. It’s just got to go down like that.”

While still working days, at night Marion woodshedded and joined the jazz nightclub circuit, playing with masters like trumpet icon, Marcus Belgrave, pianists, Charles Boles, Teddy Harris Jr, Buddy Budson and Kenny Cox. She added her sturdy bass lines to groups headed by reed master, Donald Walden and saxophonist, George Benson. She found herself very busy in the 1980s. She was part of the Ray Brooks historic group, “The Artistic Truth.” She worked on symphonic and cinematic music, pulling from her classical training. In the late 1970s, she worked with the all-female group, “Venus.” In 1989, She was one of the founders of another all-girls quintet that became quite popular in and around Motown. They called themselves, “Straight Ahead” and featured, Miche Braden on vocals, violinist, Regina Carter, pianist Eilene Orr, drummer Gayelynn McKinney and Marion Hayden on bass. When Braden moved to New York City to pursue an acting career, they replaced her with Cynthia Dewberry. In 1990, “Straight Ahead” opened for the amazing activist/pianist/vocalist Nina Simon at the Montreux-Switzerland Jazz Festival. Soon after, they were signed to Atlantic Records and cut three albums. Another member soon left to pursue a solo career. That was their violinist, Regina Carter, who has found great success on her own. However, the “Straight Ahead” group remains active to date, with the core members, Hayden, McKinney and Orr remaining in tact and close musical friends.

I told Marion that I remember interviewing Betty Carter and how she told me it was difficult to be female in the business of jazz. One reason was because she heard things in her head so far outside the box. Betty instituted a whole new realization of jazz and musicality, thinking more like an instrument than a vocalist. She said her male counterparts gave her a hard time, often not willing or unable to play the arrangements she heard in her head. Consequently, that led Betty Carter to learn to write her own arrangements. Once it was documented on the page, they had to play it. I asked Marion Hayden if she had encountered challenges because she was a female bassist?

MARION: “Well – you know what? It’s hard to say. But I’ll say this. I’m sure there were opportunities that I should have had. But I’ve not always been a person to dwell on such. My way, has always been to blossom where you are planted. Whatever circumstances that were given to me, I tried to enhance those circumstances fully. I tried to be tactful and make my presence known on my instrument. I tried to be a musical force for whoever I was working for. So, that made my presence there meaningful. I’m certain that there were some opportunities that I was probably over-looked for, but I prefer not to really dwell on that. I feel the ones that have come to me have been the ones that were meant for me. Detroit is not New York. True. It’s much smaller. But I have an entire college and jazz incubator in Detroit that I don’t know if I could have gotten in New York. I had my New Orleans education and introduction to traditional music through Charlie Gabrielle. Actually, he was the one that brought it to Marcus Belgrave. Charlie Gabrielle is the head performer with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I don’t know where you would get any better than that! My Ragtime tradition and education came through my girlfriend, Tasilemah Bey, who is probably one of the few black women in the world to spend her entire life studying the music of Scott Joplin. She’s fantastic.

“I got my education in Avant Garde and Free Jazz with Marcus Belgrave, Wendell Harrison and with Spencer Barefield, who brought in people like (legendary saxophonist/composer) Roscoe Mitchell and I worked with Lester Bowie. It’s been a complete education and I’m not sure that I can find that education anywhere else the same way. So, I’m thankful for the opportunities that I’ve had. I believe more will come to me.

“One of my little stories is, and I tell this with love, because I truly love Donald Byrd. He gave me a really beautiful interview before he passed. I worked with him as a teenager and later, as an adult on the gig. Drummer, Roy Brooks put me on the gig. Roy Brooks was a huge supporter of my musicianship. So, we had a quartet with Donald Byrd at Baker’s.”

NOTE: Baker’s Keyboard Lounge is one of the oldest running jazz clubs in the United States.

“He kept a little baby metronome on a little string around his neck. He came up to me and said, we’re going to play “Lover Come Back To Me” about here, 300 beats per minute. Super-Duper fast! I think he was trying to intimidate me. (LAUGHTER)

MARION: “He didn’t know, I cannot be intimidated. He played it wherever he did it at that time and I was up for it. I was about twenty-six-years old. But he didn’t know that I was already in the habit of doing fast tempos, because I was raised by such great players. And I have to say one thing. I really loved these players. They were primarily men that raised me in the rhythm section sense. Because I was female, they didn’t expect any less of me. The bass is a work chair and the rhythm section is the engine of the band. No part of the engine can be weak. Somebody might like you, but they won’t hire you in their rhythm section if you can’t take care of business. That much I already knew. I always felt pretty confident that whatever situation I was in, I could handle it. … The bass is a pretty serious part of the engine. They might take away the piano, but they won’t get rid of the bass. Most people are not going to do without a bass.”

When Marion Hayden was growing up, she enjoyed and participated in confident-building programs like, ‘Metro Arts’ in Detroit. She has made it a point of creating and participating in community and private programs that encourage art and music appreciation in youth. The multi-generational aspect continues to motivate Marion, because she recognizes that what she learned from listening to and performing with music masters, those born in another generation, primed and inspired her. Now it’s her turn to share knowledge with young musicians from another generation. She explained her passion for these programs to me.

MARION: “Well, primarily I teach and I’m involved in some institutional programs; programs that are supported by the Detroit Jazz Festival. I’m the Resident Artist at an elementary and middle school via the Detroit Jazz Festival. I also teach through Michigan State University, a night class for teenagers. I directed a mentoring program that is an outreach program on behalf of the University of Michigan. We went into Detroit Public Schools and brought students from U of M down to work with public school students. I directed a Summer Camp for several years. Those have been very important contributions in a formalized way. I also believe, even more importantly, in the ‘informal’ programs. It’s a unity of one-on-one, in an African centered way. In other words, you come to my house. We play music. I also find performance opportunities for young people.

“Another little thing that I’ve been working on, kind of a little spiritual resurrection of some of Detroit’s places that ‘used to be’. Because one of the things that occurred to me, when you stay in the same place for a long time, … one of the things I noticed about black folks is that our precious cultural things that we develop, using music and art, a lot of times they don’t go on to institutions that are really lofty, high-funded institutions. They go on in little churches; you know? Our music gets developed in bars; in somebody’s basement; in somebody’s house. The cultural things we create in these circumstances are really important. But the environment in which they’re developed are often ephemeral. Playing music in the club, for example. The next thing you know, somebody else leases the club or they come through and bulldoze it. Because they like to bulldoze our black community, so they can put up whatever. Consequently, it occurs to me, that part of our legacy should be preserved. You and I. You have me, I go to your house and we work on music. So, as well as being involved in these beautiful, formalized programs, I try to have a more accessible, informal relationship with these young people. That’s important, because when you study music a certain way, then you start to hear things in thirty-two bar phrases. You know what I mean? And all that stuff is OK. But, you can also totally do it YOUR way.

“I remember, I’d go around the corner, park the car and go into Teddy Harris’s house. I’d go right down to his basement. Say ‘Hi’ to Martha (his wife) on my way down. See all those pictures on the wall of music people. I can’t remember who, but I had a conversation with someone who said, so-and-so is a mentor to you, right? Did they sit down and teach you things? But that’s not how I exactly learned. For me, it was more of an observation.”

Note: Teddy Harris Jr. always had a house full of musicians. He formed and rehearsed a big band regularly made up of seasoned players and young people learning to play. He wrote charts for people and for a while, acted as musical conductor for Motown acts like the Supremes. As well as being steeped in jazz, playing piano and a competent reedman, he was also an arranger and music educator, informally available to the community in his basement studio.

MARION: “I grew up under my mother. My mother was super beautiful and she would show me the details of how to set a table and those things were definitely specific. She was a super fabulous cook. Some things, like cooking, she’d go to the cook book and if it said ‘fold’ she’d show me how to fold the eggs in. Other kinds of things, I just learned by watching.

“The same is true in music. If I spent time on the bandstand with you, I learned by watching. You become one of my mentors. I took a lot of notes. First of all, if someone has you in their sphere on a regular basis, then there’s a reason why they had you there. I didn’t always need someone to sit down and tell me blah – blah – blah. But over time, they may be showing me what they did or how to put a show together; or how the business gets done, or how they write a grant. That’s mentoring as well. The lesson is in the living.

“Recently, I was on a recording session and it was really lengthy. But there were some things that the piano player was doing that were really extraordinary. His comping was really engaging me. Ken Cox and I were both huge fans of Horace Silver. So was Marcus. We loved Horace. One of the strongest parts of Horace Silver as a composer was that his piano comping was not random. His comping was deeply rooted in whatever composition he was performing. People forget about how important piano comping is to setting the rhythm section up to really be an important platform for the soloist or vocalist. Sometimes we get caught up in our egos and we feel the most important contribution we can make is during our solos. But my feeling is, as rhythm section players, you’re contributing on a moment-to-moment basis to the entire musical experience. So, your solo is, frankly, probably ten percent of the whole thing. The solo is fabulous, don’t get me wrong. But if you brought the entire ensemble to a really high level of musicality and expression, what higher importance could you have leant to the whole experience? I’ve had some great time on the stand with some wonderful comping pianists, that were not super fabulous soloists. But just to be in that space with them, and be a part of that engine, is just really what it’s all about.”

Jazz is a music always evolving. I asked Marion Hayden what she saw happening with young musicians today, compared to those coming up in yesteryears.

“I do see a lot of enthusiasm about the music. I really love that. I think that as much as they know, they still need those of us in the earlier generations to fill in the gaps. Just like I needed the musicians of my generation to fill in gaps for me and introduce me to somebody I didn’t know about or give me a different point of reference. … The pursuit of music is difficult and it’s very personal. A lot of times, young musicians may feel like, is anybody hearing me? They may feel a little different. I tell them, yeah – here’s some more people who were different. Don’t worry about that. Some of the people that I really like a lot were very, very different.

“I have a really good student out of Cleveland. You know I taught at the Tri C in Cleveland, Ohio, (Cleveland Community College) for seven years. I have a wonderful student down there. His name is Dean Hewlett. He’s fantastic. He’s one of my students that is just a tremendous young bass player. We have a couple of wonderful young students here in Detroit. One is Jonathon Cotten and another is Brian Juarez, both wonderful, young bass players. Brian’s from California. Then I have a really lovely, super young student who is in the sixth grade. His name is Troy Perkins.”

When Marion Hayden isn’t teaching at the University of Michigan, or giving private lessons, you’ll find her on the bandstand as part of several local ensembles. She is also a member of the Modern Jazz Messengers, led by drummer Sean Dobbins. Before his unexpected death, she was part of the Allan Barnes jazz ensemble. She still tours and does occasional concerts with the “Straight Ahead” girl’s group. She has created the Detroit Legacy Ensemble to carry on the jazz music of her mentors and to celebrate the music of some of our iconic ancestors. You may find her on the stage of The Dirty Dog Club or Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, the oldest jazz club in the United States, or performing in concert at various stadiums, theaters and/or festivals. She is part of the faculty in Michigan’s Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisational Studies and often directs the Carr Center’s summer jazz program. In 2016, she won the Jazz Hero Award from the Jazz Journalist’s Association. She was recently featured on Blue Note TV with an ensemble of outstanding Detroit jazz musicians and performs regularly at the Detroit Institute of the Arts, sometimes supplying music for her husband, abstract painter Safell Gardner’s art shows. Somehow, in between raising two very creative sons as a dedicated mother and loving wife, she has managed to host panels for “Meet the Composer,” participated in the Detroit Council for the Arts, and served as part of the committee for the Detroit Historical Museum. I asked her, as one performing mom to another, how she balanced her career demands with her personal life.

MARION: “I just have to say, my husband is a lovely man and he is just super-supportive. Between him and my mother, who really helped us raise these two boys, she never turned me down. I’m talking about road gigs and that kind of stuff. A lot of times, nobody wants to be bothered with your kids; their daddy or their grand mama’s. So, they had a grandmother who was right there. Also, I took my husband, children and mother on a lot of trips with me. That was one of the things that I made a decision about. I did not want to be a musician that went on the road and said ‘Bye bye, I’ll see you later’. So, whenever it was possible, I took my husband and my children on tour with me. They went to Mackinaw twice with us. Once, I took my husband, children, mother and her girlfriend to Jamaica with me. They had a great time. We’ve been on short appearances with me, like to Chicago and we flew down to Atlanta for tour dates. Whenever I could take my family with me, that was one of the ways I coped. It was a financial sacrifice for us sometimes, but it was a gift to have them with me. I could include them as a part of my life on the road. It was good for them and nice for my mother; a little vacation for her.”

Watching their mother perform, sometimes getting the opportunity to tour with her and also observing their talented dad paint and create beauty on canvas, both of her sons have followed a path of creativity.

MARION: “I encourage my youngest son, whose name is Michael Tariq Gardner, but he goes by Tariq. He plays drums in a really beautiful jam session that’s run by John Douglas, who is a wonderful trumpet player. He used to be in Teddy Harris’ band and was one of the younger cats. I totally appreciate him for giving my son an opportunity. Because that’s how you really learn how to play. Tariq’s in school and has some really, really beautiful teachers, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the major part of your growth as a musician will be on the bandstand. That’s really how all the wonderful things that you learn in school, that’s where all that comes together. It takes a good amount of time on the bandstand to really understand the music. He’s got a beautiful sound, a little different sound. Kamau says he reminds him of Joe Chambers plus Tariq is a composer. There’s not a lot of composing drummers. My oldest son, Asukile, just turned twenty-eight and he’s a visual artist like my husband.”

Like Marion Hayden told me, at the beginning of our conversation, it’s all just multi-generational. You encourage and keep passing the legacy on. This talented woman is a perfect example of walking the walk and setting a strong example of not only what to do, but how you do it. I’m honored to document a piece of her legacy as a creative and tenacious life lesson for us all.

http://www.bluenote.com/blue-note-tv/marion-hayden-uncrowned-king-detroit-jazz-cit

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VISIONS OF VOICES DANCE IN MY HEAD

April 5, 2018

VISIONS OF VOCALS DANCE IN MY HEAD
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

April 5, 2018

This month of April, celebrates National Jazz Appreciation Month. For some reason, I have been inundated with an arm full of albums that celebrate the first instrument; voice. In this month’s column, you will read all about GRAMMY Award-winning vocalist, GREGORY PORTER, who performs with the London Studio orchestra in celebration of Nat King Cole. Speaking of jazz legends, ALLAN HARRIS tributes the genius of Eddie Jefferson. Pianist, JOHN PROULX, has expanded his talents to embrace jazz vocals. Contemporary jazz stylist, ERIN McDOUGALD, blends nostalgic, old standards with contemporary arrangements and SHIRLEY CRABBE, whose tone and instrument recalls the legendary Ella Fitzgerald, offers us “Bridges” to cross with a voice that connects us. Also, a Straight-ahead jazz ensemble crossed my desk that was quite exciting by talented drummer, McCLENTY HUNTER JR. Finally, MEG OKURA & THE PAN ASIAN CHAMBER JAZZ ENSEMBLE blends her Japanese heritage and Jewish faith using jazz as a catalyst with the orchestrated production of Okura’s compositions.

ALLAN HARRIS – “THE GENIUS OF EDDIE JEFFERSON”
Resilience Music Alliance

Allan Harris, vocals; Eric Reed, piano; George DeLancey, bass; Willie Jones III, drums; Ralph Moore, tenor saxophone; SPECIAL GUEST, Richie Cole, alto saxophone.

Eddie Jefferson’s awesome sound and vocal summersaults have long been a favorite of mine. Jefferson’s lyrics are superbly written and sung at paces that challenge the average vocalist. I was eager to hear Mr. Allan Harris’s interpretation of the genius of Eddie Jefferson and I was not disappointed. He has chosen some of Jefferson’s challenging melodies and creative prose to express himself. You will hear the familiar “So What,” “Sister Sadie,” and “Filthy McNasty.” Harris has a smooth, balladeer tone, but tackles the Straight-ahead and Swing successfully. He trades fours lyrically with the musicians on “Dexter Digs In” and doesn’t miss a beat. Prior to this production, Allan Harris recorded the songs of Billy Strayhorn and paid homage to Nat King Cole. This may be his most challenging tribute to date. “Billy’s bounce” is a mouth-full of words sung at an up-tempo pace. Harris makes it sound easy, but believe me, it isn’t. The band is a tight fit that supports each song with precision and agility. These musicians really swing! If you love the legacy of Eddie Jefferson, you will enjoy this smooth interpretation of his genius works by the very talented Allan Harris.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

GREGORY PORTER – “NAT KING COLE & ME”
Blue Note

Gregory Porter, vocals; Christian Sands, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Ulysses Owens, drums; SPECIAL GUEST, Terence Blanchard, trumpet; Flutes: Karen Jones, Helen Keen, Anna Noakes; Oboe: John Anderson & Jane Marshall; Clarinets: Jon Carnac, Anthony Pike, David Fuest; Bassoon: Dan Jemison, Gavin McNaughton, Richard Skinner; French Horns; Martin Owen, Richard Watkins, Laurence Davies, Richard Berry, & Pip Eastop; Trumpets: Andrew Crowley, Phil Cobb, Dan Newell, Christian Barraclough; Trombones: Mark Nightingale, Ed Tarrant, Andy Wood; Tuba, Owen Slade; Percussion: Frank Ricotti & Chris Baron; Timpani: Sam Walton & Bill Lockhart; Celeste, John Lenchan; Harp, Hugh Webb; Booth Reader, Tommy Laurence; Librarian, Dave Hage; Celli: Caroline Dale, Tim Gill, Vicky Matthews, Jan Burdge, Chris Worsey, Frank Schaefer, Tony Woollard; Double Bass: Chris Laurence, Stacey Watton, Steve Mair; Violins: Everson Nelson (lead violin), Ian Humphries, Steve Morristt, Roger Garland, Alison Dodstt, Dai Emannuel, Mark Berrowtt, Emil Chakalov, Debbie Widduptt, Philippa Ibbotson, Emlyn Singleton, Maciej Rakowski, Nicky Sweeney, Paul Willey, Natalia Bonner, John Bradbury, John Mills, Kathy Gowers, Cathy Thompson, Magnus Johnston, Patrick Kiernan, Simon Baggs, Rick Koster, Matt Ward, Morven Bryce, Kate Robinson, Daniel Bhattacharya, Dave Williams; Violas: Peter Lale, Bruce White, Andy Parker, Julia Knight, Cathy Bradshaw, Rachel Roberts, Kate Musker, Gillianne Haddow, Martin Humbey, Max Baillie, Ian Rathbone. NOTE: LOS ANGELES STUDIO MUSICIANS played on “Pick Yourself Up” and “Ballerina.” Woodwinds: Sal Lozano, Jeff Driskill, Dan Higgins, Phil O’Conner, Gene Cipriano, Rose Corrigan, John Mitchell; French horns: Steve Becknell, Brad Waarmar, Allen Fogle; Trumpets: Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Gary Grant; Trombones: Andy Martin, Bob McChesney, Ben Devitt; Tuba: Bill Reichenbach; Vibraphone: Emil Richards.

Gregory Porter, one of today’s premiere, male, jazz vocalists, has honored one of the world’s jazz icons on his latest project; the extraordinarily talented, Nat King Cole. Porter’s smooth as satin vocals caress twelve of Nat Cole’s very familiar hit songs, including “Mona Lisa,” “Smile,” “Nature Boy,” “L-o-v-e,” “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas,” and “The Christmas Song,” which features special guest, Terrance Blanchard. Porter is ably assisted by the lush, London Studio Orchestra, under the direction of Vince Mendoza. Although it’s nice to hear Porter’s vocals enriched by an orchestra, it does take away from the fluidity and improvisational qualities that Porter is capable of performing. Orchestration is often restrictive, although beautiful. That being said, on the composition, “L-O-V-E,” the production picks up the tempo and features special guest artist, Terence Blanchard. Until this song, everything on the album was a ballad. It is also a plus to hear Gregory Porter sing “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” in Spanish. The dramatic introduction to “Miss Otis Regrets” soon became another sleepy-time ballad with orchestra strings that flutter like dove wings against a yawning sky. This orchestra arrangement is quite creative and dynamic with the pianist, Christian Sands (from Porter’s trio), unapologetically interjecting the blues on his grand piano. This particular arrangement of Cole Porter’s controversial composition really moved me. Porter is especially powerful vocally on “When Love Was King.” Another heart-felt performance was when Porter sang, “I Wonder Who My Daddy Is.” The listener breathes in the essence of this lyrical story from Porter’s convincing presentation.

All in all, this orchestrated Gregory Porter can be added to his list of amazing accomplishments. However, for this jazz journalist, I am anxiously awaiting Porter’s next album of original music and the freedom and spontaneity that comes with more open spaces and less charted instrumentation.

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ERIN McDOUGALD – “OUTSIDE THE SOIREE”
Miles High Records

Erin McDougald, vocals; Rob Block, piano/guitars; Cliff Schmitt, bassist; Rodney Green, drums & cymbals; Chembo Corniel, percussion; Mark Sherman, vibraphone/percussion; Dan Block, also saxophone, flute & clarinet; David Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones; Tom Harrell, trumpet.

This is the 4th studio recording for Erin McDougald. She had a birthday celebration on March 16th and gifted us with this release. The opening composition, “Don’t Be On the Outside” offers a cute lyric and Erin McDougald’s bright, second-soprano vocals adequately sells the song. She opens her album swinging, and I notice that even when she slows the tempo, she has a swinging lilt to her style and tone. It’s all about timing and McDougald has a handle on that.

On the old standard, “Begin the Beguine” the piano backing uses a very classical approach, note-by-note rather than solid chords, (like a slow arpeggio) that add an eerie, unusual arrangement where McDougald successfully balances her voice on top. She’s confident and talented enough to hold on to that melody, no matter what they throw at her. In Chicago and beyond, Erin McDougald is celebrated as an improvisational jazz singer and a progressive thinker. Although she’s consumed with nostalgia in her artistry, she attaches her vocals and music productions to a yoke of creative resistance and contemporary jazz. Like the above old standard song, she combines the vintage with a more contemporary mood. McDougald is not afraid to infuse jazz into various genres, using rhythm and arrangements to perpetuate her sometimes daring interpretations. Erin McDougald’s voice slides to the notes provocatively at times. At other moments, she uses her talented musicians to color outside the lines on songs like “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime.” They change a popular tune from the American Depression days to a Latin inspired arrangement. On the fade, they vamp into a tasty, Afro-Cuban ending. Trumpet master, Tom Harrell, plays beautifully on “The Man With the Horn.” McDougald becomes a horn herself, allowing her crystal, clear voice to effortlessly hold notes with precision and control. She often harmonizes with Harrell’s horn, blending flawlessly with his instrument. The time changes on “Midnight Sun” are surprising and pleasurable. Erin McDougald makes each song on this musical adventure her own! From her 5/4 arrangement of the 1950 Ballad titled, “Don’t Wait Up for Me” to “The Parting Glass,” a reimagined Irish funeral hymn that becomes a swing tune. On “Linger A While” where she scats her way into the very nostalgic “Avalon,” McDougald creates a unique medley of melancholy songs that, surprisingly, are played double time and with high energy. The musicians fly on this one! I wonder how Rob Block can make his fingers move so swiftly and precisely on his guitar? Any way you unwrap this belated birthday gift from McDougald to we, the listeners, it’s an appreciated and well-played surprise.

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JOHN PROULX – “SAY IT”
ArtistShare

John Proulx, vocals/piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Billy Hulting, auxiliary percussion; Alan Broadbent, string quartet arrangements; Gina Kronstadt, 1st violin/leader/contractor; Susan Chatman 2nd violin; Rodney Wurtz, viola; Stefanie Fife, cello; GUEST VOCALS: Melissa Manchester.

Pianist and vocalist, John Proulx, has always brought the very best of himself to every stage and opportunity. I have long admired his artistry. He’s developed into quite an excellent scat singer and I have watched that evolution. He has a feathery, light tone to his vocals, somewhat reminiscent of Michael Franks on tunes like “Scatsville.” When I look at the liner notes, I realize that song was composed by Michael Franks, another one of my favorite male, jazz, singer/ songwriters. The other artist John Proulx brings to mind is Chet Baker. He has that kind of timing and texture to his tone. On Michael Legrand, Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s composition, “The Summer Knows” John Proulx is complimented by a striking string section and Stefanie Fife’s cello blends beautifully with Proulx’s sensitive vocalization. Proulx has surrounded himself with some of our stellar West Coast musicians, like Larry Koonse on guitar, who offers a memorable solo on the title tune, “Say It.” On the Mose Allison blues tune, “I Don’t Worry About a Thing” the band gets a chance to stretch out, featuring Bob Sheppard on a smokin’ saxophone solo and Koonse once more injecting his guitar mastery into the tune. Proulx’s scat vocals sound like a horn and Joe LaBarbera is given an opportunity to be spotlighted on his drum kit. I wish Proulx would have taken a piano solo and pulled out his piano chops on this blues tune. It would have been the perfect vehicle for him to show the funky, rock-gut side of his piano personality. Because Proulx is a very fine pianist, I was expecting more instrumental songs on this album. I guess John has become a singer who plays piano instead of a pianist who sings, much the way Nat King Cole meta morphed into his singing career. In the liner notes, they mention that Proulx grew up listening to his guitarist grandfather’s record collection, with emphasis on Nat King Cole. So perhaps Cole was an influence early on in Proulx’s musical life. Proulx’s arrangements are sweet and surround his vocals with room and open spaces that allow his voice to shine. His duet with Melissa Manchester on their self-penned tune, “Stained Glass” is the only original included on this project. Their voices blend like bread and butter, tasty, natural and familiar. Proulx’s inclusion of the Strayhorn/Ellington tune, “Something To Live For” introduces us to Proulx’s perfect pitch on a tune that surprises us melodically with unexpected intervals and chordal twists and turns. It also gives us an opportunity to enjoy Proulx at the 88- keys and allows Chuck Berghofer to step forward on his double bass with a melodic solo. This entire album is both pleasurable and artistic, including songs from Joni Mitchell to Duke Ellington; from Alan Broadbent to Frank Loesser. Jazz Vocalist and producer, Judy Wexler, is to be congratulated on her production input. Each interpretation is well executed and rolls off my CD player like scented oil on glass; sweet, smooth, iridescent and difficult to wipe from your memory, in a very pleasant way.


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SHIRLEY CRABBE – “BRIDGES”
MaiSong Music & Entertainment

Shirley Crabbe, vocals; David “The Budman” Budway & Donald Vega, piano; Clovis Nicolas, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr. & Alvester Garnett, drums; Brandon Lee, trumpet; Chris Cardona, violin; Sean Carney, violin; Stephanie Cummins, cello.

I was taken aback from the very first phrase that this amazing woman sang. OMG. She sounds so much like Ella Fitzgerald that I was stunned. Her name is Shirley Crabbe. She has surrounded herself with a group of musicians who add jazzy authenticity to her stellar vocals. Opening with, “Isn’t This A Lovely Day,” accompanied by David “The Budman” Budway, who is a shining star on his piano solo. Ms. Crabbe makes me happy to listen to these old standards, because she brings such freshness and talent to each one. Surprisingly, Shirley Crabbe’s first dream was that of pursuing a career in opera. I say surprising, because I’ve heard many opera singers try to transition into jazz, with minimal success. Crabbe is the exception to that rule. However, fate played a part in bringing her beautiful voice to our jazz audience. A serious medical problem with her vocal cords changed Shirley Crabbe’s operatic plans. For quite a while, she never knew if she would sing again. Thankfully, doctors and surgery restored her voice. Lucky for us, during a long hiatus from performing, Shirley Crabbe began to fall in love with jazz. As I listen to her interpret challenging arrangements like “The Bridge” and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” I realize this woman was destined to become a jazz vocalist. She swings so easy and her clarity, pitch and tone draw me into her music like a whirlpool. The arrangement on this familiar Rodgers and Hart tune is exciting and unique, with Donald Vega setting up the Latin groove beneath her silky, smooth vocals. Ulysses Owens Jr., is strong and rhythmic on drums, as the band moves from Latin to Swing in the wink of an eye. Brandon Lee adds his refreshing solo on trumpet. “The Windmills of your Mind” is arranged with an Afro-Cuban rhythm and Ms. Crabbe lets her voice float above the drums like a chant or a prayer. The timing on this song is challenging, based on Donald Vega’s rhythmic chops on the keyboard and Owens Jr. on drums, Shirley Crabbe is the conduit that brings it all together.

On this, her second released album, the concept of “Bridges” represents our connections with each other. There are bridges we cross, we burn, we build, both visible and invisible bridges that connect humanity in a most unique way. Shirley Crabbe is a musical bridge that each listener will find sturdy, beautiful, cement strong and comfortable to walk across. Her voice is a charming way to bring us all together.

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McCLENTY HUNTER, JR. – “THE GROOVE HUNTER”
Strikezone Label

McClenty Hunter, Jr., drums; Eddie Henderson, trumpet; Donald Harrison, alto saxophone; Stacy Dillard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Eric Reed, piano; Christian Sands, piano/fender Rhodes; Dave Stryker, guitar; Corcoran Holt & Eric Wheeler, bass.

Sometimes I can just read the credits on a CD and know that I am in for a real treat. This was the case when I read who was on the newly released McClenty Hunter Junior production. When it comes to great jazz, these players deliver. It’s always interesting to hear the compositions of a drummer, because they are generally thinking rhythmically first. Hunter has composed four songs on this CD; “Autumn,” “My Love,” “I Remember When” and “Give Thanks.” On “Autumn,” the band establishes a lovely melody right up front, before allowing Eric Reed on piano and Corcoran Holt on bass to stretch out and improvise their way across the rhythm section. Stacy Dillard pumps the tune up with his tenor saxophone solo. Next, the ensemble tackles the Stevie Wonder tune, “That Girl” and they swing hard! Dave Stryker puts the funk and brilliance into the arrangement with his mad guitar solo. McClenty Hunter, Jr. is always underneath the ensemble, creating the energy and building the crescendos in the music with his masterful drum licks. Stryker has co-produced this recording with Hunter and they make a powerful team. Stacy Dillard is a lightning rod on Hunter’s tune “My Love”. I think I expected it to be a ballad. Wrong! It crashes on the scene with exponential power from Hunter. He slaps the musicians into comfortable submission on his original composition. Their laid-back arrangement on “Sack Full of Dreams” is lovely, giving Christian Sands, on piano, a chance to exploit his chops along with Dave Stryker back on guitar.

McClenty Hunter, Jr., has been a busy part of the New York music scene for the last decade. While studying at Howard University, he came under the tutelage of great drummer, Grady Tate. Hunter earned his master degree at Juilliard and studied there with Carl Allen. He’s added his solid drum mastery to a host of great players including three years playing with Kenny Garrett’s quintet.

He’s also performed with Lou Donaldson, Curtis Fuller, Javon Jackson and eight years with Dave Stryker’s trio. Hunter’s roots are in gospel music. He began his career in Maryland, playing with the gospel group, Darin Atwater of Soulful Symphony. Fondly referred to as “Mac, the Groove Hunter,” this premier compact disc clearly establishes that McClenty Hunter, Jr., can play it all, from funky shuffles to Straight-ahead madness. On his original composition, “Give Thanks,” he closes out this album employing mallets with an arrangement that brings a sense of prayer and introspection to the piece. It’s a nice way to end a very powerful new beginning for this talented drum master.

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MEG OKURA & THE PAN ASIAN CHAMBER JAZZ ENSEMBLE – “IMA IMA”
Independent label

Meg Okura, violin/composer; Tom Harrell, trumpet/flugelhorn; Anne Drummond, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Sam Newsome, soprano saxophone; Sam Sadigursky, bass clarinet/clarinet; Rez Abbas, guitar; Brian Marsella, piano/electric piano; Riza Printup, harp; Jared Schonig, drums.

I learned from the liner notes that four years ago, Meg Okura converted to Judaism. This is important in describing the title of this album, because the word “Ima” in Japanese means ‘now’ and in Hebrew, it means ‘mom’. Composer/violinist, Okura, celebrates her grandmother and four generations of women with this musical expression. These seven original compositions celebrate her Japanese grandmother, her mother, Meg herself, and her seven-year-old Jewish daughter. Meg Okura sees this album as an exploration of her culture melding with her newly embraced Jewish faith and blending the music of East and West. It is highly classically influenced and orchestrated until “A Night Insomnia” invites ‘funk’ to the spotlight and Brain Marsella adds a bluesy piano to the mix. Up pops Smooth Jazz, with a lushly orchestrated arrangement in support of Meg Okura’s violin excellence.

Okura is no newcomer to music. She toured with the Michael Brecker Quindectet and with Emilio Solta y la Inestable de Brooklyn. Her recording with the latter was nominated for a Grammy. She received the New Music USA Project Grant and American Composer’s Forum’s J-Fund. For some time, she has wanted to assemble a multi-cultural, large chamber jazz ensemble that combines the exotic rhythms and haunting melodies of Asia and the Middle East with the excitement of the African-American jazz of North America. On this project, one of Okura’s dreams is becoming apparent. Utilizing a multi-cultural group of musicians, Okura’s music is all mixed together in a stew of European classical tradition. Meg Okura’s compositions are lush with culture, class, and creativity. Her mastery of the violin is evident and acts as the ribbon that gift-wraps this entire project.

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GUITARS GALORE, THE BRUBECK BROTHERS & MORE

April 1, 2018

GUITARS GALORE, THE BRUBECK BROTHERS & MORE

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 31, 2018

CHARLIE BALLANTINE – “LIFE IS BRIEF”
GMR Records

Charlie Ballantine,guitar;Jesse Wittman,upright bass; Chris Parker,drums;Amanda Gardier,alto saxophone;Rob Dixon,tenor saxophone; Shawn McGowan,organ; Brandon Whyde, acoustic guitar/vocals; Mia Keohane,vocals/Wurlitzer.

This is a tribute album to the music and legacy of Bob Dylan by guitarist, Charlie Ballantine. The difficulty here is that Bob Dylan’s lyrics are as important as his melodies. Being a Folk Singer/ songwriter, Dylan’s messages are fifty percent of the importance of every one of his songs and his melodies are not as intricate or unique as his prose. Folk song melodies generally lend themselves towards simplicity and dance atop rhythmical chords. So, this project is challenged right off the bat, because it is all instrumental; no vocals. “Times They Are-a-Changin’” opens Ballantine’s CD and this melody is more involved than, for instance, “The Death of Emmett Till” that follows as cut #2. Once Dylan sets his melody up, it repeats for every verse of prose. There is rarely a bridge. Now Ballantine is left with an eight or sixteen bar verse of music that repeats over and over again. The way he handles this is to use a lot of echo and overlap techniques on his guitar to compensate. His style is simplistic and the CD mix does not allow for the creativity of drummer, Chris Parker, to be clearly heard, nor Jesse Whitman on double bass to lend rhythm solidity and contrast. On the Emmett Till selection, you get an opportunity to enjoy Whitman’s mastery of the bass during his solo. I enjoyed the Brandon Whyde gravelly vocals on the “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” selection. I enjoyed Whyde’s style and vocal timbre.

In terms of jazz, without improvisation, you cannot truly call yourself a jazz artist. This is a fitting instrumental tribute to the melodies of Bob Dylan, and represent adult listening, easy listening and pop music. However, there is nothing that determines this artists’ individuality or style that represents jazz. He and his group are simply playing iconic music without putting a stamp of their own creatively on the music they play. They never stretch out.

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ROCH LOCKYER – “WHEN FRANK MET DJANGO”
Rochlockmusic Label

Roch Lockyer, guitar/vocals; Ben Powell, violin; Rob Hardt, clarinet; Ed Bennett, bass.

The technique and precision that Roch Lockyer employs to play his guitar is extraordinary. Especially since he was involved in a terrible accident and after two reconstructive surgeries on his arm, for a couple of years he was uncertain about his musical career. His musicianship proves that he has healed and it immediately captures my attention. His singing, I found secondary to his instrument mastery and although he appears to be a young musician on his press photos, his voice sounds much older and wiser than his years. His vocal style reminds me of the strolling cowboys in the movies of yester-year or the voices of popular singers in the 1920s. There’s something historically warm and honest about this artist’s vocals that recalls images of an old grandpa sitting on his front porch and playing guitar, singing alone to himself. On the other hand, Lockyer’s inspired guitar playing definitely conjures up the spirit of Django. This album is a departure from Lockyer’s former recordings that are geared more towards modern jazz and bebop roots. This project is geared to celebrate the music of Frank Sinatra and the style and genius of Django Reinhardt. There is no doubt that Lockyer absolutely represents the style and grandeur guitar technique referred to as “Le Pompe” during this production. Ben Powell’s violin is exquisitely played on “Embraceable You.” Lockyer’s band is supportive and tasty. However, the delicious cake is Roch Lockyer’s sweet guitar mastery that he serves up with no apologies.

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VINNY RANIOLO – “AIR GUITAR – SONGS OF FLIGHT”
Independent Label

Vinny Raniolo, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass.

Vinny Raniolo opens with a swinging rendition of “Come Fly With Me.” This guitarist is very rhythmical in his approach, using tight technique to set the tempo and the groove. He and Elias Bailey are off and flying high. This “Air Guitar” album celebrates flying and the open space. Every tune Raniolo & Bailey have chosen has a reference to flight; the sky, the sun, moon and the freedom that comes with flying.

“Blue Skies” settles down to a back-porch blues with a slow walking bass by Elias Bailey at first, but without a warning, Vinny Raniolo swings this tune into an up-tempo production. These two musicians oscillate with their string instruments and need no drums. They merge into a succinct blend, displaying impeccable timing and each astute and passionate on their instrument. John Denver’s composition, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” is tackled like the other songs, always establishing the melody first and then exploring the chord changes with improvisational creativity, sometimes simple, but always with stalwart musicianship. Bailey is given several bars of solo time on this familiar Denver tune and plucks his way across the big bass strings, bridging the guitar chords like a tightrope walker. Their interpretation of Charmichael’s “Stardust” tune is absolutely lovely as it strolls, moderate tempo, across my listening space. As a touring musician, performer and educator, guitarist Vinny Raniolo takes flight with this premier CD release that celebrates his love of music and flying.

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NOSHIR MODY – “A BURGEONING CONSCIOUSNESS”
Independent Label

Noshir Mody, guitar/composer/arranger; Mike Mullan, alto/tenor saxophone; Benjamin Hankle, trumpet/flugelhorn; Campbell Charshee, piano; John Lenis, bass; Yutaka Uchida, drums.

Noshir Mody’s music has a feeling of New Age wrapped like a blanket around his productions. The first tune on this CD is titled “Secrets In the Wood and Stone.” It opens mysteriously, with bassist John Lenis leading the way. Delicately, the guitar begins to play arpeggio chords across the bass lines. This tune strokes my attention and Mike Mullan adds a very complimentary jazz solo on saxophone. As a fifteen- minute-long composition, it still manages to capture my imagination, without becoming boring or redundant. It allows each musician in Mody’s ensemble to introduce themselves via lengthy solos. The second tune, with rhythm guitar strumming brightly, sets the tempo that quickly branches off into an electronic guitar solo. At first, the guitar seems more improvisational than as an establishing factor that marries itself to a composed melody. However, the melody does arrive, after an extended introduction, and Benjamin Hanide adds beauty to the tune on his trumpet. Noshir Mody has composed and arranged all the tunes on this album. It’s odd, but at times, his style of guitar playing reminds me of a harpist. “Precipice of Courage” explores a more Avant Garde approach to the arrangement, especially from pianist, Campbell Charshee. Perhaps Mody explains his compositions and inspiration for this production best in liner notes that read:

“Regardless of how generations have carved out boundaries, delineating our physical, social and spiritual belief systems, the human experience continues to be a universal one. The development of the human spirit is not in the comforts, conquests, luxuries and acquisitions of our external surroundings, but rather in the conflict of our aspirational selves with our base instincts. These deeply individual and personal conquests then in turn facilitate the collective consciousness moving towards a higher purpose.”

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BRUBECK BROTHERS QUARTET – “1958 TIMELINE”
Blue Forest Records

Chris Brubeck, electric bass/bass trombone; Dan Brubeck, drums/hand drums/percussion; Mike DeMicco, guitar; Chuck Lamb, piano.

Percussive creativity opens the familiar “Blue Rondo A La Turk” tune of Dave Brubeck, father of Chris and Dan Brubeck. These bothers are carrying forward the legacy of their iconic forefather with the assistance of Mike DeMicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano. This is a spirited and more contemporary arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s tune and it’s full of spunk and spirit. Dan Brubeck is the force behind the drums, playing the doumbek, a Middle East type of drum popular in North Africa and East Asia. Chris Brubeck is competent on electric bass and bass trombone. DeMicco’s solo on this first tune establishes his musicality and technical abilities on guitar. Brothers, Chris and Dan worked in Dave’s band for many years, polishing their chops and expanding their musical horizons. Dan’s drumming, while power-punched, is still very melodic. I hear him sing along with melodic lines and it’s extremely impressive. Chris is a fine musician on both bass and trombone, and also leans more towards production and composition. He is exploratory when it comes to writing music, with his interest jumping from symphonic scores to jazz, or from blues, funk and soul to rock and roll. Thus, their unique and often innovative arrangements of their dad’s compositions obviously have repainted the treasured songs with fiery, fresh faces. For example, “Far More Blue” is steeped in funk and drives at a rapid tempo, sparking Dan to excel on his drum solo. He drives the band full-force, like a freight train. “Easy As You Go” features Chris Brubeck on bass trombone. It’s a beautiful ballad and the voice of Chris’s trombone sounds almost human. The Brubeck sibling plays with a great deal of passion and sincerity. I also enjoyed chuck Lamb’s sensitive piano solo on this tune.

This “1958 Timeline” CD celebrates the 60th anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s Historic State Department Tour. In 1958 the United States was deep in the trenches of a cold war with the Soviet Union. The State Department chose jazz music as a secret weapon, sending goodwill and positivity in the form of Brubeck’s 80-concert tour across fourteen countries. The tour was meant to promote and popularize democracy, using Brubeck’s band as an artistic vehicle to build bridges between our country and Russia, among others. Chris Brubeck remembers that tour this way.

“As Dave and Iola Brubeck headed to the airport for a marathon 3-month tour through fourteen countries, Dan, our sister Cathy and I were small children (ages 2,4 and 5). Too young to make the trip. We said our sad goodbyes to our parents. Joining them were our honorary ‘Uncles’, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, and the newest member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Eugene Wright,”said Chris Brubeck.

(NOTE: Eugene Wright is a man this writer fondly knows as ‘The Senator.’)

In this time of stress and political incorrectness between the United States and Russia, the Brubeck brother’s musical celebration seems particularly relevant and inspirational. This is no pastiche. Every tune on this project is exquisitely recorded and musically wonderful with a freshness and energy that compliments their father’s legacy yet expands it. I enjoyed the arrangements and excitement that these four musicians brought to the recording studio. On “Since Love Had its Way,” guitarist Mike DeMicco offers a sparkling solo tribute and Chris Brubeck is fluid, playing his 1969 Rickenbacker fretless bass, while humming along during his inspired solo. Lovely! Chuck Lamb has contributed a few original compositions, as has Chris Brubeck and guitar master, Mike DeMicco. I enjoyed his “North Coast” composition with its Straight-ahead feel and catchy melody.

On this celebratory CD you will discover challenging time signatures, tastes of the blues and touches of world music, refreshing arrangements of familiar Brubeck tunes and the spontaneity that comes when the band is well-rehearsed and unafraid to jump off the roof without a parachute. Bravo to the Brubeck brothers, their amazing team of musicians, and the admirable resurgence of their father’s legacy.

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LELLO MOLINARI – “LELLO’S ITALIAN JOB – VOLUME 2”
Fata Morgana Music

Lello Molinari, electric bass/double bass; Sal Difusco, elec. & acoustic Guitars; Marcello Pelliteri,drums; Dino Govoni,flute, tenor & soprano saxophone/EWI/clarinet; Meena Murthy,violin/cello.

Celebrated bassist, Lello Molinari, has once again returned to his Italian roots on his new CD titled “Lello’s Italian Job – Volume 2”. Molinari left his native Naples, Italy in 1986 to study jazz at Boston’s famed Berklee College of Music. This resulted in him becoming an educator at that same institution of learning. He’s also spent three decades touring as a bandleader with his quintet, in both the United States and Europe. Molinari is a master of both electric and upright, acoustic bass. In the year 2000, he recorded an album titled “Multiple Personalities” that blended three Italian tunes into an album that also included Thelonious Monk Classic compositions and other jazz tunes. He featured renowned Italian vocalist Chiara Civello on this production and saxophone icon, George Garzone. In 2016, he released “Lello’s Italian Job, Vol 1 and included traditional Italian folk songs, classical arias, and pop songs, all arranged in a very jazzy way. This year, his 2018 release continues that trend, offering a second collection of Italian music, transposed into jazz by an ensemble of master musicians who share his Italian heritage. The songs vary from a Respighi tone poem to popular Neapolitan songs, sung for generations. He also has included some original music for this C D.

Guitarist, Sal DiFusco, has composed “Sulla Strada Per Damasco,” a song rich with melody, that moves from what sounds like a Flamingo guitar introduction into a very Straight-ahead groove, allowing Dino Govoni to improvise and soar on his tenor saxophone. Quite unexpectedly, Lello Molinari pumps a double-time feel beneath what, at first, appears to be a ballad. Molinari and Pelliteri, on drums, lock and race the tempo to elevate this composition with a flurry of energy. A familiar song that has been performed in various languages all over the planet, from Perry Como to Andrea Boccelli, is “Anema e Core.” Molinari has chosen to arrange this Italian standard as a duet for bass and guitar. It’s quite moving and gives Molinari a platform to unleash his technique and artistry on his bass instrument.

“I had a desire to reconnect with my roots,” Molinari says. “I also wanted to incorporate these new things that I’ve learned over the years here in the States; take old material and give it a fresh face. … I play with a number of orchestras, so, I’ve reconnected with classical music and opera. Others are Italian Folk songs I grew up hearing, that I’ve known since I was a kid.”

Lello Molinari studied contrabass at the Scuola Civica in Sesto San Giovanni. In Italy. The talented bassist joined the Italian Vocal Ensemble, performing on radio and television and appearing with the group on jazz festivals before relocating to America.

“I guess, as I get more mature, I don’t need to play ‘punk jazz’ any more. … I can enjoy a simple structure, a simple melody. On Lello’s Italian Job Vol. 2, I am reinterpreting old material from a new, contemporary jazz point of view.”

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SOMETIMES LARGE TREASURES COME IN SMALL PACKAGES

March 12, 2018

SOMETIMES LARGE TREASURES COME IN SMALL PACKAGES
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 12, 2018

I find both pleasure and gratitude each time I slip a new jazz compact disc into my CD player. Pleasure because I love the music so much and gratitude that the artform of jazz continues to grow and evolve. This Spring, I discovered how two men could fill up a musical canvas with so much painted sound, I needed nothing more than Mike Jones and Penn Jillette. Fernando Garcia introduced this listener to bomba music during his musical tribute to Puerto Rico. Dave Tull blew my mind with his inimitable lyrics and exceptional melodies, not to mention he sings and plays drums at the same time. The Kevin Sun Trio offers contemporary music, somewhat out-the-box, the result of an all-day recording session and featuring Walter Stinson and Matt Honor. Vocalist Diane Marino tributes the late, great Gloria Lynne and George Kahn transforms pop music into jazz arrangements. Finally, Tom Bruner pays tribute to guitarist, Wes Montgomery.

MIKE JONES & PENN JILLETTE – “THE SHOW BEFORE THE SHOW”
Capri Records, Ltd.

Mike Jones, piano; Penn Jillette, bass.

The musical sounds that this duo expresses are full, rich and full of technical wizardry. I don’t even miss the drums on their up-tempo version of “Broadway.” Both instruments blend with each other, familiar as bread and butter. Jones is creative and innovative on the eighty-eight keys and Penn Jillette holds the pianist’s spontanaety in place with his upright bass. This first song is over seven minutes long and it’s never boring. Both of these gentlemen are masters on their instruments. I was surprised to discover that Jillette is the internationally acclaimed magician who, for over four decades, acted as the verbal half of the magic duo, Penn & Teller. In this setting, he makes magic on a double bass. Jones was formerly the musical director for Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show, starting in 2002. So, there is a familiar and comfortable camaraderie between the two musicians. Mike Jones is exceptionally astute with supplying rhythm on his Kawai piano. His two-fisted solos and arpeggio runs, along with strong , left-handed rhythm chords, puts amazing energy into each song. Penn Jillete is unerringly supportive. Together, they have recorded nine recognizable standard jazz songs and one original song by Mike Jones titled, “Box Viewing Blues.” Every song on this project is excellently performed and showcases the astounding talents of both musicians. From Stride piano to ‘Swing’, Jones plays it all. You won’t hear any ballads. This duo includes blues, Bossa Nova’s, along with good old straight-ahead jazz and shuffle rhythms. Jones and Jillette are so proficient, they recorded this entire production “Live” at the Penn & Teller Theater. Here is a big musical treasure in a small, compact package.

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FERNANDO GARCIA – “GUASABARA PUERTO RICO”
Zoho Records

Fernando Garcia, drums/vocals; Dan Martinez, upright bass/elec. Bass; Gabriel Chakarji, piano; Gabriel Vicens, guitar; Jan Kus, tenor sax; Victor Pablo, percussion/barril/congas; SPECIAL GUEST: Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone.

Fernando Garcia is a master of rhythmicity. Both his style and presentation are deeply soaked in Puerto Rican history. When he met master percussionist and folklore expert, Rafael Maya, Garcia was introduced to bomba, the folkloric music of Puerto Rico. That inspired an important part of his musicality and creativity.

Garcia explained. “Rafael Maya studied a lot of the cultural history of Puerto Rico in the early 1900s. I met him in 2011, when I lived with my parents in Guaynabo and had a recording studio in their garage. Rafael contacted me about recording a bomba CD with his group, Desde Cero, and before I knew it, he started bringing all these really famous bomba musicians into my parents’ garage. So ,I was hanging with these great people who have played those rhythms for their entire life. And it was then that I got hooked on bomba.”

The first original composition on this CD sets the entire tone of Garcia’s uncommon project. Fernando Garcia wrote this composition in 2014, when his address was on Audubon Ave in the Washington Heights section of Northern Manhattan in New York City. He explained it this way.

“I was trying to superimpose the four-feel on top of a big 3-feel. It flows perfectly with this pattern based in three, played by Victor Pablo mimicking bata chachalokafun rhythm on three conga drums. Then there’s this section of the guitar solo, where it goes into this Afro-Cuban bembe feel in three, which actually comes from the 12/8 abakua rhythm. Finally, it goes into the percussion tradings near the end of the tune. So, it’s playing games with the time … without actually shifting the beat.”

Here is a perfect combination of Puerto Rican percussive culture and modern music, fused with Afro-Cuban rhythms and the strong bomba influence throughout. Fernando Garcia takes the listener on a drum excursion, a path beaten through his creative process by Garcia’s trap drum mastery, while adding the fusion excitement of youthful players interpreting Latin jazz and contemporary cross-over. It’s an exciting musical excursion.

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DAVE TULL – “TEXTING AND DRIVING”
Toy Car Label

Dave Tull, drums/vocals; Randy Porter & Randy Waldman, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; Kevin Axt, basses; Wayne Bergeron, trumper; Doug Webb, Saxophones/clarinet; Cheryl Bentyne, vocal; George Stone, piano/flugethorn/trumper; Les Benedict, trombone; Inga Swearingen, vocals’ Peter Olstad & Mike Guitierrez, trumpet.

With historic respect for artists like Eddie Jefferson, James Moody, Lambert, (Jon) Hendricks & Ross, this artist keeps the Bebop tradition going strong. Dave Tull, with his tongue in cheek humor, begins this album singing and playing, “The Texting Song,” a featured big band arrangement and original composition by Tull. I recognize immediately that not only is he a master lyricist, he’s also a masterful scat singer. His lyrics, like his scat singing, fly across the chord structure swiftly and artfully. Their comical message tickles my ears and my sense of humor. I play the cut again, just to make sure I heard every word.

Surrounded by a group of swinging musicians, Dave Tull starts out so strong, I wonder how in the world will he keep that kind of energy going throughout this production. After all, it’s no easy task playing drums and singing simultaneously. Tull manages to keep the excellence consistent. He’s showcased as both composer and lyricist on this project, as well as drummer and vocalist. Impressive, is the adjective that comes to mind. Is he a Frank Sinatra smooth vocalist? No. But he is an amazing songwriter, and he can Swing vocally the same way he swings on his drums. His melodies are challenging and beautiful, while his lyrics are compelling and creative. His scat singing is one of my favorite things on this CD. Plus, while he makes you laugh with some song messages, others inspire introspection and soul-searching. Some inspire romantic feelings and vulnerability. “Please Tell Me Your Name” made me fall out laughing, because I’ve been-there-done-that and wanted to melt into the floor when I ran into someone I knew, but suddenly couldn’t remember their name. I haven’t laughed that hard at a song lyric since I first heard Howlett Smith’s composition, “There’ll be Chitlin’s in the White House One Day.” This album made me want to meet and get to know Mr. Tull better. I loved his 2009 release “I Just Want to Get Paid,” which often is the case after the gig. It’s a familiar story to most musicians. This is the same songwriter/musician, who has been busy playing drums for a decade with Chuck Mangione’s band and accompanied Barbra Streisand on three of her most recent tours. It’s his proficiency and love of his drums that developed his unique scatting ability. He started by scatting with his drum licks and learned to improvise vocally in that manner. That was before melody became important. This ability sets Dave Tull clearly apart from other jazz singers.

Dave Tull started singing in the 1990s during his performances as part of Page Cavanaugh’s trio. He also became a lead vocalist with Chuck Mangione’s band. He’s played on eight of Cheryl Bentyne’s solo projects and accompanied her on six Japanese tours.

The arrangement by George Stone on “The Moment” is absolutely beautiful and features the lovely vocals of Inga Swearingen, singing harmony, like horn parts, with Dave Tull and increasing the beauty of this composition. Tull has amassed a stellar group of Southern California musicians and their talents add zest and passion to this project. For example, reedman Doug Webb makes a memorable saxophone solo on “Clapping On One and Three” and he plays a clarinet arrangement written by Dave Tull on Tull’s composition, “Tell Me That I’m Wrong”. Between laughing hilariously at his composition, “Watch Your Kid,” Randy Porter is featured on a brisk and happy-go-lucky piano solo played against the waltz back-drop of the band. To give an example of his sarcastic humor, Dave Tull sings:

“I’m thinking, who did I invite? Who would put jello on the chair? Then your three-year-old runs by with mashed potatoes in his hair. You’re so deep in conversation, you’re completely unaware. Won’t you please, please watch your kid. All the items that were on my desk, he’s strewn about the den. On my wall I find his artwork made with Sharpie and a pen. Like a bomb, my speaker blows, he cranked the volume up to ten. Won’t you please, please watch your kid. He’s found the thermostat and now the house is 95 degrees. The phone is hanging off the hook and someone’s speaking Japanese. This isn’t working cuz you’re shirking your responsibilities! ,… he just flushed the potpourri and you’re a total absentee, I can’t believe you didn’t see what he just did. Won’t you please, please watch your kid.”

Besides his astute sense of humor, Dave Tull is an extraordinary songwriter, an exceptional drummer and a stylized singer. I continue to ask myself, how can he play drums with such excellence and sing Bebop at the same time? This CD previews all of his talents in the most profound and engaging way. Enjoy.

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KEVIN SUN TRIO
Endectomorph Music (EMM) Label

Kevin Sun, tenor saxophone/C-melody saxophone/
clarinet/composer; Walter Stinson, bass; Matt Honor, drums.

These three contemporary musicians have combined complex compositions and talent on their premiere album release. Reedman, Kevin Sun, has composed the majority of this original music.

“Composing for three voices, I feel like I can really challenge myself,” Sun says. “There’s plenty of room to make something happen when you have three musicians interacting with each other. I picture it as a triangle versus a square: it’s still very sturdy, but you have to give it a point.”

This music was created during an all-day recording session. Thinking of himself as a modern jazz, contemporary composer and innovator, Kevin Sun assembled Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums to workshop the music and see what it would evolve into. They soon became a tight-knit group.

Sun is well-known for his ability to be proficient at solo transcriptions. In fact, he’s published more than 120 on his blog, including solos by John Coltrane, Steve Coleman, Joe Henderson, Clifford Brown and Vijay Iyer. Currently living in Brooklyn, New York, Sun is also contributor to Jazz Speaks, the official blog of the Jazz Gallery, where he has conducted interviews with notable musicians like Herbie Hancock and Joshua Redman.

The fear of transcribing the masters is that someone may become caught up in the style and repetition of repeating the works of jazz icons. Kevin Sun and his trio have made it apparent they are establishing their own style, executing their own presentation and freely improvising. However, according to the liner notes, they have been inspired by jazz legends like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on the “Misanthrope” tune, inspired by “Anthropology.” Another tune, Bittergreen” is loosely based on “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

The first song on this CD, “Transaccidentation” is written in 15/8, challenging in itself. Now add the freedom of wide-ranged intervals that make up an open-ended melody and you begin to embrace the freedom of sound and space that this trio represents. Kevin Sun’s tone on the tenor saxophone is light and flighty. It’s fluid and may sometimes recall the timbre and style of Stan Getz. Admittedly, Sun listened intently to the Stan Getz recordings when he was just a teenager. Others have compared him to Paul Desmond and/or Art Pepper, perhaps even Lester Young. There is a cohesiveness and comfort level between these three musicians. They elevate the Avant Garde and contemporary music concept in their own sweet way.

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DIANE MARINO – “SOUL SERENADE” – THE GLORIA LYNNE PROJECT
M&M Records

Diane Marino, vocals; Brad Cole, piano/keyboards/B-3 organ; arrangements/orchestrations; Chris Brown, drums; Frank Marino, bass; Mark Christian & Doug Munro, guitar; Dann Sherrill, percussion; Don Aliquo, alto, tenor, baritone & soprano saxophones; Harry Kim & Scott Ducaj, trumpet; Roy Agee, trombone; David Davidson & David Angell, violin; Monisa Angell, viola; Carole Rabinowitz, cello; Tom Moore, bassoon; Deanna Loveland, harp.

Gloria Lynne is one of my all-time great vocal She-roes. I was so excited to see that someone was going to tribute this fabulous jazz icon. Bravo Diane Marino. Good idea! That being said, as the music unfolds, although the premise is perfect and the arrangements are tight, the vocalist leaves me wanting more. The one thing that the dynamic Miss Lynne could do was to sell a song. She would sing it and swing it! Diane Marino has a good voice and the Brad Cole arrangements are extraordinary. However, on tunes like “Soul Serenade” and “Sweet Pumpkin,” both made popular for the ‘Swing’ that Gloria Lynne interjected, Ms. Marino just isn’t convincing. She did bring the vocal magic on ballads like “Blue Gardenia” and “Out of This World.” I enjoyed Frank Marino ‘s solo on double bass during this lovely arrangement. Brad Cole skips over the keys on piano and knows just when to build this song to crescendos that amply support the vocalist. “The Jazz in You” is produced as a sultry blues number and Marino steps up to the plate and hits a home run with this tune. She has a cute, bluesy tone to her vocal presentation that explores a different side of this singer. I enjoyed the addition of Brad Cole’s organ on this song arrangement. I believe Diane Marino really enjoyed singing this composition and put her heart and soul into performing it. On “Happy Shoes” I hear the same dedication to storytelling when Marino sings these lyrics. She seems more comfortable interpreting blues-tinged songs than on ‘Swing’ productions. Because I have seen her play piano and sing with an all-star band, I know Diane Marino can swing with the best of them. Her live performances are full of joy and excitement. The tune, “Speaking of Happiness,” is produced very much like the old standard pop song, “Fever,” once again richly engrained with blues and befitting Marino’s voice and style.

This band is outstanding. During the song “For You,” Doug Munro lays down a solid guitar solo and the whole ensemble puts fire and spunk into this arrangement. Chris Brown trades formidable fours on his trap drums sharing the spotlight with other members of this hot, swinging ensemble. Frank Marino is solid as cement on bass. He’s featured during the vocalist’s arrangement of “Sweet Pumpkin,” opening as a duet, with her vocals on the top of his walking bass line. Marino holds the rhythm section tightly in place with drummer Chris Brown. I found all these Brad Cole arrangements to be compelling and lush, with strings and horns complimenting the various compositions to the benefit of this vocalist. The tracks are an amazing platform for her to stand tall on and be heard.

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GEORGE KAHN – “STRAIGHT AHEAD”
Playing Records

George Kahn, piano; Alex Acuña, drums; Lyman Medeiros, bass.

I have only heard George Kahn in a large ensemble setting with three vocalists and horns, so I was looking forward to his new trio project. This pianist has joined forces with Alex Acuña and Lyman Medeiros . Alex Acuña is legendary and young Lyman Medeiros is bound to be one of our blooming jazz giants.

Alex Acuña is a treasured Peruvian drummer and percussionist who has worked with a list of the whos-who in the music world over his long career. Acuña is brilliant on this recording, holding the entire production in place with his undeniable percussive talent. In 1974, he relocated from Puerto Rico to Las Vegas and started working with Elvis Presley and Diana Ross. Soon after, he joined the jazz-fusion group, Weather Report. You can hear him on their “Black Market” and “Heavy Weather” recordings. He left that group in 1978 to become a very busy session musician in California. His ability to play all kinds of music kept him busy and among the long list of those he worked with or recorded with are Paul McCartney, Ella Fitzgerald, Joni Mitchell, Whitney Houston, Placido Domingo, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Roberta Flack, Al Jarreau and Bette Midler. Now that diversity! Acuña has also worked as a popular educator at both Berklee College of Music in Boston and the University of Califonria, Los Angeles.

Lyman Medeiros, is an educator and bassist. When he’s not recording or performing, he teaches R&B performance and offers private lessons at the MI College of Contemporary Music. Medeiros holds a Master of Music Degree from Western Michigan University and also attended the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles. Raised in Honoulu, Hawaii, he was born to Portuguese/Polynesian/Irish parents. It was Ray Brown that inspired him as a teenager to pick up the bass and begin to study it. He immediately developed a passion for jazz and earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana where his family had moved. Medeiros has a rich, thick sound on his bass and has recorded with Steve Tyrell and shared stages with Randy Brecker, Jane Monheit, the Boston Pops , Plas Johnson, Shelly Berg, N’dugu Chancellor, Kenny Rankin, Greg Field, Bill Cunliffe, Patti Austin and many more. In the summer of 2003, he toured the world with vocal sensation, Michael Buble. Lyman Medeiros is part of the Buble 2004 CD/DVD release, “Come Fly With Me.” He also appears on Steve Tyrell’s 2008 recording, “Back to Bacharach.”

As you can see, George Kahn is in excellent company with these two musicians. Kahn has composed seven original songs for this album and in his liner notes he explains:

“The seven original compositions all borrow from and are inspired by the jazz piano giants upon whose shoulders I stand.”

For example, “Wonton Kelly” is a tribute to Wynton Kelly and allows Alex Acuña to offer us a powerful drum solo and his percussive presence is strongly apparent. “Roger Killowatt” is Kahn’s tribute to Roger Kellaway. “Get Naked” is in recognition of Joe Sample and “Secrets” tributes Dave Brubeck. On the tune, “Red’s Riff” he is praising Red Garland and Count Basie. “Follow Your Heart” tributes Bill Evans and “Dreamin’” is dedicated to his wife, Diana, and features a melodic solo by Medeiros. George Kahn also includes interpretations of pop songs like Adele’s “Rumour Has It.” In the original Adele production of this song, it was driven by a powerful drum line with a strong R&B feel. On Khan’s arrangement, he has changed it drastically into a smooth jazz, easy listening piece where he focuses more on the melody and less on the percussion. Still, Alex Acuña very forcefully adds a Latin feel to this arrangement and flavors the piece with much needed energy. It’s quite an interesting and creative change from Adele’s version. Another hit record Kahn tackles is The Weekend’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.” Once again, He’s created an easy-listening, smooth jazz-feel to interpret this best-selling piece of pop/R&B history. Lyman Medeiros’ strong bass lines add vibrancy and color to an otherwise pale palate. As a song so popular for its urgent exciting hook line and for the funk, it was difficult for me to embrace this particular arrangement. It’s Medeiros who shines on his bass solo and perks up the presentation. “Thieves in the Temple” is a very beautiful Prince composition. Kahn has put a little bit of blues into his arrangement and it works.

On the whole, I found myself more impressed with George Kahn’s original compositions. His tribute to Roger Kellaway is a swinging little number, where Kahn gets to stretch out on piano, while Medeiros walks his powerful bass beneath. He and Acuña hold the groove tightly in place. This song sounds very much like “I’m Beginning to see the Light.” Medeiros co-wrote “Get Naked” with Kahn. It’s very popish. For an album labeled, “Straight Ahead” I have to say you won’t hear any of that on this production. For the most part, this is smooth jazz/easy listening music, even when he plays tunes like “Red’s Riff” that is very bluesy. Kahn’s music doesn’t ever get into the hardcore or ‘Straight Ahead’ side of jazz. But, if you’re looking for adult contemporary, give a listen to George Kahn’s Trio album. In keeping with his promise to help the homeless population of Los Angeles, one dollar from all album sales will be donated to PATH, People Assisting the Homeless. I commend him for addressing this important social issue.

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TOM BRUNER – “PLAYS THE BALLADS OF WES MONTGOMERY HOMAGE TO A HERO”
Independent label

Tom Bruner, guitar/arranger. No other musician credits were listed on this album.

Mr. Bruner has prepared a two-disk set to celebrate the unforgettable genius of Wes Montgomery. Using a Heritage Super Eagle F-hole guitar with 13s strings, played through a Polytone amplifier , He explores a number of memorable ballads that Montgomery recorded. Tom Bruner adds orchestra accompaniment, that he has beautifully arranged, exploring nineteen songs and creating a couple of hours of easy-listening jazz reflections. I do miss the ‘Swing’ that Wes Montgomery brought to everything he played and I thought the over-all mix could have been better mastered to celebrate the tone and style of Tom Bruner on his instrument. But that being said, this is a lovely commemoration of an icon that memorializes Wes Montgomery’s contribution to jazz guitar.

“I recorded all the guitar tracks using a Shure SM57 mic. I did record my guitar-playing in a small home studio to alleviate the ‘stress’ of having to always look at the clock in an expensive studio. I also mixed and mastered the album in this home studio,” Tom told me.

“I was able to record the various orchestra tracks in a way that did not bankrupt me financially, using overdubbing, multi-track recording and layering, especially in the strings. I also had the keyboardist sweeten some of the string tracks, lower strings especially, with some ‘synth’ strings as a technique to fatten the sound and make the string section sound a little larger than the one I could afford – a practice all music producers use for recordings of all kinds.”

Tom Bruner has spent over half a century in the music industry, originally inspired and influenced by jazz guitarist Barney Kessel. He studied music at the University of North Texas College of Music and played guitar and arranged music for the United States Air Force Academy Band. Upon release from the armed forces, Hollywood beckoned. He quickly secured work as a studio musician and worked on countless film soundtracks, television shows, jingles and various recording sessions. For twenty years he has worked as an arranger, conductor and musical director. Currently he resides in Las Vegas, NV where he teaches Film Scoring classes at UNLV, along with Music Theory, Film Music and Music Appreciation classes at the College of So. Nevada.

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WONDERFUL WOMEN IN MUSIC & OTHER UNEXPECTED TREASURES

March 4, 2018

WONDERFUL WOMEN IN MUSIC & OTHER UNEXPECTED TREASURES

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 4, 2018

March is women’s history month. Some of the wonderful women of music I celebrate this month are saxophonist/composer, Sharel Cassity; pianist/composer and bird-lover, Diane Moser; Detroit-based vocalist, DJ Holiday and Nicole Zuraitis, who is the secret weapon on guitarist, Dan Pugach’s project. I also review Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra featuring the wonderful Steve Wilson on alto saxophone and Carolyn Leonhart on vocals, along with Rob Clearfield’s innovative solo piano album. Finally, vocalist, Kate McGarry joins Keith Ganz and Gary Versace to create a trio sound for the discriminating taste of true jazz lovers. By the way, in live performance on March 25, 2018, a young songbird by the name of Darynn Dean will perform at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Los Angeles. Check out my review of all these musical treasures.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

The Mimi Melnick Double M Jazz Salon continues at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum, featuring vocalist Darynn Dean on Sunday, March 25th at 2PM. Ms. Dean is twenty years old and already displays a vocal maturity way past her years. Currently attending the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, she has garnered a bushel basket of awards and opportunities including a Bronze Medal at the NAACP’s Act-So Competition, First Place in the Dolo Coker Foundation Awards and a coveted Roderick D. Jones Scholarship. In 2014, she was a member of the Grammy Foundation’s Jazz Choir, appearing with Delfeayo Marsalis, Hubert Laws and Dave Koz. She won a Gold Medal in the Young Arts Competition and a Spotlight Award in 2015. She has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., participated as part of the Central Avenue Jazz Festival and was featured at the famed Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. Early show begins at 2PM.

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SHAREL CASSITY & ELEKTRA – “EVOLVE”
Relsha Music

Sharel Cassity, saxophone/flute; Christie Dashiell, vocals; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Marcus Printup, trumpet; Freddie Hendrix, flugelhorn; Mark Whitfield, guitar; Miki Hayama, Rhodes/piano/synth; Richard Johnson, keyboard; Linda Oh, bass; Jonathan Barber &Lucianna Padmore, drums; Riza Printup, harp.

Sharel Cassity has combined jazz genres, using her composition tools as the glue that sticks them all together. Opening with “Evolve,” a song that features tight horn harmonics and an ensemble arrangement, Cassity makes her presence known on saxophone. This is Cassity’s fourth album as a leader. This time around, she features a new assemblage of players called ‘Elektra’. However, her big band influence is prominent in most of these arrangements. She has previously been associated with the Revive Big Band led by Ignar Thomas and Nicholas Payton’s Television Studio Orchestra. This current offering of music is more funk-driven, Smooth Jazz that creates a strong trampoline for Sharel Cassity to bounce her saxophone skills upon.

The second tune is one that Cassity did not compose. It was written by pop star, Alicia Keys and is titled, “New Day.” With vocals by Christie Dashiell, it’s very pop-ish with Jonathan Barber’s drums pumping a funk groove beneath the production and stellar on his solo. When this song invites an all-instrumental performance, it is much more representative of Smooth Jazz. The powerful playing I heard on the first cut returns once the instrumentalists take over on the song production. Seven of the nine compositions are the original work of Cassity. She has chosen a ‘social change’ position with this music as the roots of her unspoken activism. Perhaps, using the song titles, she explains it best in her liner notes. The capitalized words are all song titles.

“As everything must EVOLVE, so must we as musicians. … We must be brave enough to BE THE CHANGE and take a stand against inequality for all. …the HERE, THE NOW is the only place and time to seize opportunity and live your truth. … If you remember that ALL IS FULL OF LOVE, you will spread positivity to yourself and others. This era is a NEW DAY, we should celebrate it while still pushing forward. If you are in a tough time, look up and find a WISHING STAR. In quiet moments, I may hear ECHOES AT HOME that bring me back to my early days with family. QUITTER is written for those who are least expected to succeed, but persist in the face of all adversity. Please enjoy this offering. It is an honest representation of what I feel.”

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DIANE MOSER – “BIRDSONGS”
Planet Arts

Diane Moser, piano; Anton Denner, flute/piccolo; Ken Filano, contrabass.

This is a stunningly original package of music that celebrates birds in a very jazzy way. Here are three very talented human beings who desire to commemorate birdsongs on their instruments. I find them to be incredibly successful. This is a very beautiful production of original music by Diane Moser, capably interpreted by her stellar piano skills and the two talented musicians who accompany her on bass, flute and piccolo. Moser explains that as early as kindergarten age, she was composing music and her first avian-influenced song was written at age five. While on a 2008 residency in the woods, she was inspired and drawn to the songs of birds. Consequently, she spent time playing music to her aviary friends and enjoying their talk-back, sing-song responses.

“I would play, they would answer me and so on. In the evening, I edited those recordings. Subsequently, transcribed them and then arranged them for my various ensembles and solo piano,” she explained.


Having performed her birdsong suites all over the United States, I’m happy that she has recorded them for mass listening pleasure. They are not only beautiful in sound and structure, but this is extremely relaxing music.

“Our world is overrun with all kinds of sounds that are not always good for your health, or mental and emotional well-being. I wanted this recording to be a respite from that, so those who listen can feel relieved from their daily stress and feel refreshed and positive,” Diane shared.

Mission accomplished Diane Moser!

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DJ HOLIDAY – “BEFORE I GO”
Bill Meyer Music

DJ Holiday, vocals; Bill Meyer, piano/producer/arranger; Ralphe Armstrong & Ibrahim Jones, bass; Gayelynn McKinney & Butter Hawkins, drums; Charlie Gabriel & James Carter, saxophone; Carl Cafagna, saxophone/clarinet; Edward Gooche, trombone; Michele Ramo, violin; Perry Hughes, guitar; Rayse Biggs, trumpet.

I first met and listened to DJ Holiday in Detroit, Michigan where she was singing at a jam session inside a popular night spot called, Bert’s Marketplace, located in Detroit’s downtown area across the street from a popular outdoor produce market called, Eastern Market. Back in 2000, I initiated that very jam session using a trio with Spider Webb on drums, Hubie Crawford on bass and Bill Meyer on piano. I hosted the Jam that invited poets, singers and instrumentalists to perform. I’m happy to hear that jam session is still going strong today. Because of platforms like Bert’s Open Mic and the Jazz Jam session at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge (that I also instituted before the one at Berts), musicians and singers can hone their crafts. Young players can interact with more seasoned veterans and expand their knowledge and repertoires.

DJ Holiday was a veteran singer who was searching for a stage to express herself. She found one every Thursday at Bert’s Marketplace. Two years ago, pianist Bill Meyer produced an album to celebrate DJ Holiday’s life and music. Whispering fans said that she was ill and Meyer wanted to record her for posterity. Some of the older musicians in town knew DJ Holiday from when she first came to Detroit in 1968, arriving from the New York area. Back in those days, they thought she phrased a lot like Carmen McCrae. Once arriving in Detroit, DJ Holiday was always full of music, singing anywhere and anytime she could. Somehow, over the years, a gravelly quality tinged her smooth vocals. At times, she was homeless. With time and circumstance not always being kind, she changed her repertoire, singing songs that Billie Holiday sang, perhaps illuminating the fact she may have suffered from some of the same traumatic circumstances that Billie did. Originally, her birth name was Barnaggo Honey Jazz Defreece. Saxophonist, Charlie Gabriel shortened the Jazz Defreece part of her name to Dr. Jazz and that later became, DJ. Perhaps she assumed the Holiday name to celebrate her idol, Billie Holiday.

On this recording she covers many of the songs the legendary Ms. Holiday made popular like “Don’t Explain”, “Jim,” “You’ve Changed,” “Them There Eyes,” and “The Man I love,” just to name a few. This CD is divided into two recording sessions. One is with the RGB trio and guests. The other half is with the Detroit New Orleans Band. Both ensembles are made up of an assembly of some of the best musicians the Motor City has to offer.

Here is an album that celebrates Billie Holiday in both style and repertoire and memorializes DJ Holiday. It is prominently elevated by the nationally recognized talents of saxophonist ,James Carter, violinist, Michele Ramo, New Orleans styled reedman, Charlie Gabriel and bassist Ralphe Armstrong along with other notable musicians from the Motor City.

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KATE McGARRY, KEITH GANZ, GARY VERSACE – “THE SUBJECT TONIGHT IS LOVE”
Binxtown Records

Kate McGarry, vocals; Keith Gantz, acoustic & electric guitar/acoustic bass guitar; Gary Versace, piano/keyboard/organ/accordion. SPECIAL GUESTS:Ron Miles, trumpet; Obed Calvaire, drums.

A short poem from the 14th century written by mystic, Hafiz, is recited at the start of this CD. It’s part of the brief musical prologue and mixed way too low. It gets lost in the music. Then comes the familiar standard, “Secret Love,” vocals performed by Kate McGarry. She is accompanied by Keith Ganz on guitar and Gary Versace on piano. This is a no-frill production without drums or bass to cement the groove. The production is completely dependent on guitar and piano to produce the rhythm section. On the very first cut, I miss the drums and bass. McGarry has a feathery, light sound and needs something strong and deep to contrast and embellish her style. Still, on the instrumental solos, Ganz and Versace create their own musical adhesive. When McGarry’s wispy soprano voice re-enters, she is improvisational and bell-like. This artistic work is interesting. The “Climb Down” medley is dark and melancholy. Accordingly, McGarry’s voice lowers to her Second Soprano register and takes a turn towards the blues. I appreciate the sparseness of instrumentation on this arrangement, unlike the first production. On this song, we clearly get to hear McGarry’s unique style and her ability to sell the song is clearly evident. I do think her voice is poorly mixed too far down in the track. There are only two other instruments involved, so why have her at the same level as the background when she’s soloing? It annoyed me so much, that I put this CD on two different sound systems trying to hear and appreciate the full value of her style and presentation. That aside, these three musicians are each strongly invested in their instruments and their art. Keith Ganz has produced five critically acclaimed albums with McGarry, including one Grammy nominated production titled, “If Less is More Nothing Is Everything.” He’s an in-demand accompanist having worked with Harry Connick Jr., Kurt Elling, Luciana Souza, Gretchen Parlato, Andy Bey and several other jazz vocalists. He’s also played his guitar with Victor Lewis, Christian McBride, Fred Hersch and others. Jazz pianist, Gary Versace, stays busy being featured in bands led by John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Al Foster, Regina Carter and others. He appeared as an accordionist on Maria Schneider’s Grammy-winning project, “The Thompson Fields.” He plays a variety of instruments on this production. Finally, the talented Ms. McGarry has recorded seven critically acclaimed CDs, one of which (Girl Talk) garnered her four-stars in DownBeat Magazine.

In 2014, McGarry and husband/guitarist Keith Ganz, celebrated ten years of musical and life partnership. I am enamored with Kate McGarry’s interpretation of “Fair Weather”. She is a jazz singer with control, range and she often offers us unusual vocal timing, punctuated by interesting intervals and improvisations that are adventurous. On “Gone With the Wind,” I’m happy to hear Ganz pull out his electric bass. It’s especially appealing when the song starts to ‘Swing’. McGarry is also adept at scatting, smoothly creating fresh melodies over inspired chords. Additionally, she’s a composer/lyricist who writes very poetic prose that are enclosed in this CD jacket. Here is an album for discerning ears and discriminating tastes.

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ROB CLEARFIELD – “WHEREVER YOU’RE STARTING FROM”
Woolgathering Records

Rob Clearfield, piano

The crystal clear soprano register of the grand piano tinkles, like shimmering snowflakes that cascade from heaven, Rob Clearfield sets a mood with his music. It’s ethereal at first, moving down the piano register on his three-minute prologue, like water in a clean stream. This pianist paints pictures with his music. “Starchild” follows, taking the same path of a melodic mixture of chords, played arpeggio with soprano notes, shining like shooting stars and dancing on top. It sounds like an improvisational, in-the-moment concert by this instrumentalist, rather than a structured piece. The music flutters and moves, like bird wings or waving grains of wheat. When I look at Clearfield’s CD cover, I read the poetry he has written. Suddenly, I know that I’m on the right path, describing his amazing art on the 88 keys. He is obviously a connoisseur of the piano, but there is something special about the way he composes and shares himself with his listening audience. As though I have tapped into his emotions and he, into mine, we become connected in a very artistic way. His classical base is always obviously present, but his interpretive genius moves the music in the type of improvisational way that perhaps only a jazz lover could embrace. As I stated above, this artist appears to be expressing himself, ‘in the moment’.

Rob Clearfield’s liner notes read, in part:

“Rain. Falling shards of glass, a broken necklace tinkling to the ground. Running through the park with friends, my best friend. Scooping them all up, the many beads, not broken not lost, just scattered, uncertain. I thought it was beautiful.”

This is a recorded musical experience, a 12-track opus, that reeks of honest and sincere exploration into feelings expressed by Rob Clearfield and channeled through his adept fingers and the piano keys that he plays. Two of Clearfield’s musical heroes are Johannes Brahms and John Coltrane. You will hear the inclusion of both iconic composers and musicians in his solo piano work. His interpretation of these two genius musicians is worthy of a listen and signal a tribute to America itself, by blending African-American history and musical art with European music. After all, that is the basis of jazz itself.

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DAN PUGACH NONET – “PLUS ONE”
Unit Records

Dan Pugach, drums/composer/arranger; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Jorn Swart & Carmen Staaf, piano; Nicole Zuraitis, voice; Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Jeremy Powell, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Andrew Gould, alto saxophone/flute; Jen Hinkle, bass trombone; Mike Fahie, trombone; David Smith & Ingrid Jensen, trumpet.

Titled “Brooklyn Blues,” the first cut begins with drummer Dan Pugach snapping the rhythm into place like a hydraulic breaker. It’s a swinging little composition by Pugach with a catchy, melodic hook. The horns have a good time soloing on this one, enhanced by punchy horn harmonics that dance underneath. “Coming Here” is another Pugach composition, a pretty ballad that features Ingrid Jensen on trumpet. It’s Dan Pugach’s arrangement that make this entire production shine. Mike Holober, one of his college instructors, agrees with me. He was pleasantly surprised by Dan Pugach’s arranging skills after his student completely reimagined Horace Silver’s “Silver’s Serenade,” and exclaimed:

“Your arrangement departed from the original song. It wasn’t just an adaptation, but a rearrangement. Dude, you’re going to thrive as an arranger/composer.”

On “Jolene” (the Dolly Parton hit record) with the assistance of co-arranger/vocalist Nicole Zuraitis, their arrangement is so jazzy and fresh, at first you don’t recognize the song. Then, the undeniable hook rolls around and you find yourself familiarly singing along with it. Nicole Zuraitis adds her sublime vocal stylings and Carmen Staaf is powerful during the piano solo.

“Nicole is my secret weapon,” Dan Pugach confides.

We hear Nicole’s stunningly clear and concise soprano voice soar on “Crystal Silence,” somewhat operatic, but very pleasing to the ear and comfortable in a jazz setting. She also does a fine job of interpreting “Love Dance.”

Ten years since arriving in the United States from Israel, after attending both Berklee College of Music and the City College of New York, this composer/drummer/arranger has finally released his premiere CD and it’s sure to provoke high acclaim and great reviews. He has called it a ‘Nonet’ which generally speaking means a group of 9 musicians. I’m assuming, in this case, it’s referring to the nine original compositions, because he uses thirteen musicians on this production and, I might add, they sound full and rich, like a big band. Once again, I have to compliment Pugach’s excellent arrangement skills.

This is a piece of musical art I will listen to over and over again.

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SCOTT REEVES JAZZ ORCHESTRA – featuring STEVE WILSON & CAROLYN LEONHART – “WITHOUT A TRACE”
Origin Records

Scott Reeves, conductor/arranger/composer/trombone/alto flugelhorn; Jim Ridl, piano; Dave Ellson, vibes; Todd Coolman, bass; Andy Watson, drums; Carolyn Leonhard, vocals; SAXOPHONES: Steve Wilson, soprano & alto saxophones/flute; Vito Chiavuzzo, alto sax/flute; Rob Middleton, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Tim Armacost, tenor saxophone; Terry Goss & Jay Brandford, baritone sax. TRUMPETS: Seneca Black, lead; Nathan Eklund, Chris Rogers, Bill Mobley & Andy Gravish. TROMBONES: Tim Sessions, lead; Matt McDonald, Matt Haviland & Max Siegel, bass trombone.

This winter, a plethora of big band and orchestra CDs have crossed my desk. The Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra is another very fine example of precision arrangements and excellent musicianship in pursuance of jazz orchestration. From the first Latin strains of cut #1, “Speak Low,” I was captivated. This familiar jazz standard features alto saxophonist Steve Wilson and trumpeter Chris Rogers. Each soloist is dynamic and technically astute. An Afro-Cuban rhythm stirs up the creativity and propels the orchestra. Thank you, Andy Watson on drums. Reeves has composed and arranged over half of the seven tunes on this production. His arrangements are lush and lovely, giving opportunity to his orchestra members to step forward and solo in meaningful ways. “Without a Trace” is an edgy tune with shocking intervals and a challenging melody. Carolyn Leonhart is featured vocalist and her soprano tones are expressive and pure. This is no easy melody to sing and I commend Leonhart’s pitch and timing. Jim Ridl performs a masterful solo on piano. The mixologist did an extraordinary job of capturing all the orchestra’s delicate nuances and packaging their energy appropriately. Tim Armacost on tenor saxophone puts the “S” in sexy during his solo, changing up the arrangement by interjecting a new mood with his horn.

Scott Reeves is a trombonist who also plays flugelhorn, composes, arranges, conducts and finds time to be an author and college jazz educator. His two books, “Creative Jazz Imrovisation” and “Creative Beginnings” are widely used texts in their field. He’s a native of Chicago, Illinois and somehow finds time to perform regularly with the Dave Liebman Big Band, the Bill Mobley Big Band and the Valery Ponomarev Big Band. He often subs in a variety of orchestras, while keeping his own seventeen-piece jazz orchestra alive, well and working. You will find this album to be a treasure-trove of well-written original songs and arrangements, as well as a couple of familiar songs with refreshing and exploratory arrangements that celebrate Scott Reeves and his multi-talents at their best.

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BIG BAND BEAUTY AND COMBO CREATIVITY

February 28, 2018

BIG BAND BEAUTY AND COMBO CREATIVITY

By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

February 28, 2018

IRA B. LISS BIG BAND JAZZ MACHINE – “TASTY TUNES”
Tall Man Productions

Ira B. Liss, producer; Steve Sibley, piano; Lance Jeppesen, bass; Alex Ciavarelli, guitar; Charlie Mcghee, drums; Mark Lamson, percussion; Janet Hammer, vocals. SAXOPHONES: Christopher Hollyday & Richard McGuane, alto/soprano saxophones; Tyler Richardson, alto saxophone; David Castel de Oro, tenor sax/flute; Joel Ginsberg, tenor & soprano sax; Ross Rizzo Jr., baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Randy Aviles, lead; Mark Nicholson, Peter Green, Collin Reichow, & Carlos Roldan. TROMBONES: Gary Bucher. Lead. David Bernard, David Murray, & Tim Hall, bass trombone. ARRANGERS: Eric Richards, Tom Kubis, Drew Zaremba, Mike Crotty, Carl Murr, Alan Baylock, Peter Herbolzheimer, Mike Abene and Dean Brown. SPECIAL GUESTS: Bob Mintzer, tenor sax/composer; Holly Hofmann, alto flute; Dean Brown, guitar/composer; Eric Marienthal, alto saxophone.

Right out of the gate, this big band races into the sound space with the fastest rendition of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” that I’ve ever heard. It was an exciting production with arrangements full of ebullition. Steve Sibley’s piano solo is impressive. Hats off to Eric Richards who is the arranger that transformed this tender ballad, elevating it to a maddening pace. The Ira B. Liss Big Band Jazz Machine is an 18-piece orchestra and has been a fixture in the southern California area for nearly four decades. The band’s leader, Ira B. Lisa, is six-foot-seven-inches tall and like his music, he towers head and shoulders above other local bands as a leader and producer.

“Early Autumn” is arranged by Tom Kubis and features Eric Marienthal wailing away on alto saxophone. It’s a lovely ballad, and Marienthal brings a visceral presence, especially once the tune is double-timed and the big band swings it into a power-house production. Janet Hammer is lead vocalist on “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and her smooth presentation also transforms to become a harmonic addition to the horn section. Bob Mintzer’s original composition, “When the Lady Dances,” is a strong swing tune with an intricate melody line and lots of punchy horns that dance along harmonically and inspire the rhythm section. Special guest, Holly Hofmann, captures the essence of “Nature Boy“ with an inspired flute solo. Drummer, Charlie McGhee, is the star on “Recon” an original composition by Dean Brown. McGhee steals the spotlight during his drum solo and beyond. All in all, every track on this CD is well produced and delightfully arranged. If you are a lover of big band music, this is the ultimate box of chocolates. Each tune becomes a unique and pleasant surprise.

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THE BIG BAND SIDE OF ANDREW NEU – “CATWALK”
CGN Records

Andrew Neu, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute; SAXOPHONES: Jeff Driskill, lead alto; Dan Kaneyuki, alto; Vince Trombetta, tenor; Ken Fisher, baritone. TRUMPETS: Anthony Bonsera, lead; Jeff Jarvis, Jamie Hovorka,split lead; Mike Stever. TROMBONES: Andrew Lippman, lead; Paul Young, split lead; Charlie Morillas, split lead; Dve Ryan, split lead; Steve Hughes, bass trombone. RHYTHM: Andy Langham, piano; Matt Hornbeck, guitar; David Hughes, bass; Jamey Tate, drums/percussion; Craig Fundyga, vibes; Stephanie O’Keefe, French horn.

After years of dreaming about it and planning for it, Andrew Neu has decided to concentrate his talents inside this debut big band project. The result is a formidable production. This is a far call from his four earlier releases as a solo artist, where he recorded more contemporary jazz CDs. I’ve always enjoyed Neu’s saxophone sensibilities in the past, so I was eager to hear the new music. For this project, Neu reaches back to the historic and awe-inspiring music of some of his idols; music masters like Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Neal Hefti, Thad Jones, Stan Kenton, Chuck Mangione and more have inspired this young arranger and saxophonist. Andrew Neu has composed eight of the eleven songs on this album and is ably assisted by some stellar players in Southern California. He dedicates this work of art to the masters who paved the way for his own creativity to blossom. This project is produced by Brian Bromberg and some of his featured guests are Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Wayne Bergeron, Eric Marienthal, Gordon Goodwin and Rick Braun. All pieces are arranged and conducted by Andrew Neu and his big band charts are available at Kendor Music and Marina Music.

On The opening original song, “Juggernaut,” Andrew Lippman solos on trombone, an instrument that always reminds me of the human voice. Andrew Neu flies across the music on his tenor saxophone. This composition is both spirited and melodic, leaving lots of room for the orchestra harmonics to soar. Another of Neu’s original compositions is “Zerrano.” It features a joyful arrangement, sewn with Latin influences, running like stitches through the rhythms that strongly hold the fabric of this song together. Randy Brecker plays a fluid and emotional trumpet solo. Jamey Tate is spectacular on drums, covering every note of this tune with a blanket of rhythm mastery and percussive surprise. As a composer, Andrew Neu does not disappoint. His arrangements are full of spunk and beauty. Every cut on this project is a sparkling stone set in a crown of musical achievement.

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AKIRA TANA – “JAZZaNOVA”
Vega Label

Akira Tana, drums/producer; Peter Horvath, piano/Fender Rhodes; Ricardo Peixoto, acoustic/electric guitars; Gary Brown, acoustic bass; Michael Spiro, percussion; Claudio Amaral, Sandy Cressman, Carla Helmbrcht, Jackie Ryan, Claudia Villeta & Maria Volonte, vocals; SPECIAL GUESTS: Branford Marsalis, saxophone; Arturo Sandoval, trumpeter.

I have long been fascinated by the Brazilian songbook and its talented composers. The exciting artists who interpret this infectious South American music have been hand-picked by this drummer/producer. Percussive expert, Akiro Tano, has gathered an impressive list of talent together for this project. This project is sweet and beautiful, like a scattering of Cattleya labiate or Corsage Orchids in a big, colorful basket of songs. Opening with “Aquas de Marco”, (a Jobim composition) Arturo Sandoval is featured on trumpet and Claudio Amaral vocally duets with Claudia Villela. One of my favorite compositions by Ivan Lins with co-writers, Paul Williams, Vitor Martins and Gilson Peranzzetta is “Love Dance.” Carla Helmbrecht is the vocalist who smoothly interprets these poetic lyrics. Branford Marsalis adds tenor saxophone in appropriate places, enhancing this perfect sound-painting with light brush strokes of genius. His sensitivity is worthy of mention and praise. Akira Tana moves from this emotional ballad to an uptempo, danceable arrangement of “Chega de Saudade.” Ricardo Peixoto has arranged this Jobim tune and transports us to Carnival, surrounded by the happy voices of Jackie Ryan and Maria Volonte who share both Portuguese and English versions of the lyrics. I’m familiar with this composition as “No More Blues.” You cannot possibly be blue or melancholy while listening to this ebullient production. Akira Tana punches the rhythm, shuffling beneath the well-sung lyrics like a freight train. The drums are always pushing this production forward. I do wish there were a few more up-tempo, exuberant arrangements on this well-produced CD. I miss the Brazilian excitement and Carnival atmosphere of double time and more allegro-inspired tempos. Still, the talent and production itself shines with musical proficiency and these musicians celebrate Easy Listening Brazilian jazz at its best with Akira Tana as the percussive combustible force.

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JAMES HALL – “LATTICE”
Outside In Music

James Hall, trombone; Jamie Baum, flute/alto flute; Deanna Witkowski, piano/Rhodes; Tom DiCarlo, bass; Allan Mednard, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: Sharei Cassity, alto saxophone.

Trombonist James Hall has composed six of the eight songs on this production. Hall weaves together flute and trombone in a smooth combination of contrasts, blending tone and arrangements that prominently feature Jamie Baum on various flutes. James Hall, a native of Nebraska who is now New York City based, has dabbled in several projects that have included jazz, classical, Latin and pop music. He has won three ASCAPlus Awards for composition, and holds degrees from the Lawrence Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin and the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York. I found the horn lines arranged on “Black Narcissus,” a Joe Henderson composition, to reflect a big band sound, even though this is a small combo. Part of the fullness of sound could be due to the addition of Sharel Cassity on alto saxophone. The title tune, “Lattice” (which Thesaurus describes as a matrix, a framework or mesh web) I found to be ethereal and beautiful, giving the trombonist an opportunity to sing atop the Fender Rhodes piano in a lovely way. This tune is other-worldly and draws me into the composition like quicksand. The melody is haunting. I learn from the liner notes that Lattice is dedicated to his wife, Kristen, and can also mean two pieces crossing. Hall says that this composition highlights their romance, engagement and marriage. It’s a very tender tune.

On the other hand, “Brittle Stitch” is more up-tempo and adds swing to the mix, featuring a bluesy solo exploration by pianist Deanna Witkowski. This journalist enjoyed every cut on this CD and I appreciate the concept of a lattice, inclusive of world events, relationships, musical textures and musicians. All have inspired Hall’s dynamic project.
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THE MICA BETHEA BIG BAND – “SUITE THEORY”
Independent Label

Mica Bethea, arranger/composer; Josh Bowlus, piano/Rhodes; James Hogan, guitar; Dennis Marks, bass; John Lumpkin Jr., drums; Terry ‘Doc’ Handy, percussion; TRUMPETS: Greg Balut, Dave Champagne, Daniel Rollan, Ray Callender. TROMBONES: Michael Deese, Diego Herrada ‘de la Vega’ Ventura, & Lance Reed. Gina ‘Badeeduh’ Benalcazar, bass trombone. Todd DelGiudice & Daniel Dickinson, alto,tenor, soprano saxophone/flute. Juan Carlos Rollan, tenor & alto saxophone/flute. Jose Rojas, tenor & also saxophones/clarinet; Seth Ebersole, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet.

In July of 2017, I first experienced the work of Mica Bethea and his extraordinary big band arrangements while reviewing his CD, “Stage ‘N Studio.” On this former CD, he was experimenting with merging contemporary funk-fusion with big band arrangements and he blew my mind! As I wrote back in 2017, ‘I was hooked right from the opening cut.’

On this new project, Bethea has composed all original music. With both parents as musicians, his dad playing trumpet and piano and his mom as a vocalist, he was exposed to jazz at a very early age. His father was also a radio disc jockey in the 1970’s. So, music was always a very present part of the household and the young man’s life. This current project is an exploration of Mica Bethea’s life from the inside out. It was written while he was studying for his Master’s degree at the University of Northern Florida. He has written it in four movements, each corresponding to a period of his life. The first movement is titled, “Crystal Clear” and is representative of his carefree early childhood days, all the way up to age twenty-one. The music is bright, full of hope and promise. It’s exploratory, happy and enthusiastic music, capturing the freedom children feel. Featuring Ray Callender on trumpet, Dennis Marks on bass, Michael Deese on a stunning trombone solo, and Juan Carlos Rollan, stellar on saxophone. Rollan puts the blues into the mix with his horn. Then comes the second movement, “Destiny’s Boat.” It is more pensive, with harmonies and crescendos leading up to some soul-searching music.

This is a biographical project. You should probably be aware of the stories behind each suite to further appreciate the composer’s candor. Mica Bethea was studying music at the University of Northern Florida in Jacksonville. He took a brief vacation, driving home to visit family and on his return trip, as he sat, stopped in traffic, he was crashed into by a big rig truck going 85mph. The results changed his life. Although he survived the crash, he was left a quadriplegic. “Destiny’s Boat” is a musical representation of awaking after that accident. As a young, vibrant music student, with his whole life ahead of him, you can imagine how devastating this incident was. He could no longer play. He was no longer mobile. After the depression that followed this realization, he had a rebirth of sorts, but it was a long and tedious process. Josh Bowlus brings brightness and hope with his keyboard skills and Todd DelGiudice is featured prominently on reeds. He brings the confusion and frustration that Mica must have felt, delivering it during his inspired solos. Bethea appreciated DelGiudice’s performance so much that he included an alternate take on this suite as part of this release. John Lumpkin Jr. and Terry “Doc” Handy also add spunk and fire with their percussive accompaniment.

The final suite, “Guardian of Forever” is dedicated to his mother, who quit her job to nurse her son and to inspire his grit and determination. She knew he had to carry-on, in spite of his injuries. She knew he had precious gifts to share with the world.

The most difficult thing about composing an album of all original work is grabbing the attention of the listener’s ear. We are an audience often listening for the familiar strains of melodies and arrangements we recognize. There is none of that on this recording, but you will still find big band goodness and greatness, expressed in both the composing skills and arranging talents of Mica Bethea. Here is another precious, musical gift he offers to the world.

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MICHAEL MOSS ACCIDENTAL ORCHESTRA – “HELIX “
4th Stream Records

Michael Moss, composer/producer/artistic Director/B flat clarinet; VIOLINS: Jason Kao Hwang, Rosi Hertlein & Fung Chem Hwei; Stephanie Griffin, viola; Lenny Mims & Carol Buck, cellos; Steve Swell, trombone; Vincent Chance, French horn; Waldron Mahdi Ricks, trumpet; Richard Keene, oboe; Elliott Levin, flute/tenor saxophone; Ras Moshe Burnett, soprano & tenor saxophones; Michael Lytle, bass clarinet; Steve Cohn, piano; Billy Stein, guitar; Rick Lannacone, ambient guitar; Larry Roland, string bass; Warren Smith, percussion/vibraphones; Badal Roy, tabla; Chuck Fertal, drums.

If Avant Garde, free-form jazz is your preference, you will enjoy listening to the outer limits of Dr. Michael Moss’s artistic creativity. Michael Moss is a 50-year veteran of the New York “free” jazz scene. He’s a multi-instrumentalist and a composer, Chicago-born. At times, this music reminds me of the Chicago Art Ensemble, except that this production features a twenty-two piece orchestra. The Moss production is all over the place, spewing energy and combining instruments and notes in a unique and often dissonant manner. The title of this album, “Helix,” can mean an object that is three dimensional or a chain of atoms. Certainly, this music evolves like a chain of interpretations described by suites.
He has labeled the first suite of music, “The Old One” (that is Einstein’s name for God) and there are five parts included: “Inception”, “Bridge,” “Qabbala,” “Bardo,” and “The Mind of God.” The final twenty-minute song is titled in all caps, “SEE SHARP OR BE FLAT/C# OR B flat. Thus, on this project, we are introduced to Moss debuting two major compositions.

On “Qabbala” we finally hear some semblance of melody and orthodox structure, with delightful percussion bouncing the production around like a children’s rental, backyard, bounce house. It’s very Middle Eastern influenced and reminds me of some background music you would hear behind the HBO “Homeland” series. “Bardo” exposes a softer side of Michael Moss, using lots of strings and fly-away horns that squeak, moan and groan their messages, reverberating animalism. This is an inimitable project that Moss describes as an initiation into sacred ground. He views it as part of a musical tradition stretching from early ritual over the dead to Bach’s Mass in B Minor. He musically incorporates Native American rites of passage into the spirit world, the Jewish mourner’s Kaddish ceremony and Buddhist funeral rituals into this presentation. I was particularly drawn to the final “SEE SHARP OR BE FLAT” composition that features a provocative violin solo with complimentary string ensemble support. This composition gives more opportunity for individual players to step forward and solo. I found the guitar solo to be outstanding with Warren Smith’s percussion bright and tasty beneath it. Speaking of drums, there is as lengthy and pleasing drum and percussion solo towards the end of this twenty-minute production that is worth the wait. If you have a taste for a project that’s out-of-the-ordinary, the Accidental Orchestra will sooth your palate.

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INTERNATIONAL THEMES & MUSICIANS IMPACT NEW JAZZ RELEASES

February 17, 2018

BY Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

February 17,2018

Today, it appears we are in a time of world-wide turmoil. We have mass shootings in America that are killing our young people in unacceptable numbers, on our streets and in our schools. We have wars between countries all over this Earth. We have discord and disfunction in our United States government agencies and a congress that seems confused and unable to address the needs of ‘we the people,’ who actually pay their salaries and send them to Washington to do our bidding. Music becomes a wellspring of goodness that soothes during a time when our world seems so chaotic and unpredictable. If only we could get along, like the musical notes on a page that work together to create harmony. Some of these albums may hold the key to a few hours of pleasure and enlightened relaxation.

ACCENT – “IN THIS TOGETHER”
Independent Label

Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, vocal tenor 1; Simon Akesson, vocal tenor 2; Danny Fong, vocal tenor 3; Andrew Kesler, vocal tenor 4; James Rose, vocal baritone; Evan Sanders, vocal bass.

If you are a fan of vocal harmonization and beautiful a’Capella voices, you will enjoy this smart, well-performed recording. These voices are as silky-smooth and pleasant as scented oil. Their tones fit together, meticulously and musically, as precise as the innards of an antique clock. Indeed, the hum of the human voice is antique in that it is the first and earliest instrument. This group pays homage to that concept.

Accent is a group of harmonious male vocals, blended together to interpret songs that range from message music to lullabies. The members are an international blend, from France, Sweden, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, has co-produced this project with Simon Akesson ( Swedish), Canadian members, Andrew Kesler and Danny Fong, James Rose of the UK and bass singer Evan Sanders (USA). The message of their music reflects a theme of peace and love. Heaven knows we certainly need music that inspires love and harmony on Earth, especially during these tumultuous, challenging political times. “Love Is Just That Way” is an uplifting, moderate-tempo’d piece, “Who You Are” offers an intricate waltz arrangement. I do wish they had included the lyrics as part of their compact disc package, because sometimes the lyrical message becomes lost in the harmonic vocalizations.

My favorite cut on this album is “Only One Love” that is truly a jazz arrangement and swings hard. Composed by Ian Prince, with lyrics by extraordinary vocalist/songwriter, Siedah Garrett, this last tune is the star of the show.

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EL ECO with GUILLERMO NOJECHOWICZ – “PUERTO DE BUENOS AIRES 1933”
Zoho Records

Guillermo Nojechowicz, drums/percussion/vocals; Helio Alves, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Kim Nazarian, vocals/percussion; Marco Pignataro, tenor & soprano saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet. SPECIAL GUESTS: Franco Pinna, bombo legũero/percussion; Robert Cassan, accordion; Megumi Stohs Lewis, violin; Ethan Wood, violin; Sarah Darling, viola; Leo Eguchi, cello; Nando Michelin,string arrangements.

The sultry, sexy vocals of Kim Nazarian mirrors Helio Alves’ piano melody and sets the mood for this lovely, but melancholy ballad. It’s a haunting tune that captures the attention and imagination of the listener. In the liner notes, they describe this composition titled, “Milonga Para Los Nino.” The sorrowful accordion of Roberto Cassan adds substance and mood. Percussive artist, Guillermo Nojechowicz, flavors this piece with Uruguayan rhythms and underscores it with his solid snare work. The snare represents the ugly march that Jewish captives made to concentration camps. This song was inspired by a passport that Nojechowicz’s Polish grandmother carried when she fled Warsaw for Argentina in 1933. She sheltered her grandson, Guillermo Nojechowicz’s father, on their journey to freedom, crossing Europe by train, in fear for their lives. That trip spared them from the Holocaust. This Latin jazz suite is a chronicle of their uncertain journey to safety and becomes the centerpiece of El ECO’s new recording. Each of the compositions, all written by Guilermo Nojechowicz, with the exception of Track eight, by Fernando Huergo (the bassist on this project), represent the fear, the hope, the strength of those persecuted and seeking freedom. We see the same situation reflected in the unfortunate status of ‘the Dreamers’ who were raised in America and are now being rounded up like unfortunate refugees and hunted down like prey. Even though they were brought here as children and consider this their home and their country, and most contribute positively to our society, we have people in power who want to expel them from our country.

Hopefully, this beautiful and sensitive music will remind us that we are all connected by our humanity, regardless of our religious choices, our skin tones, out cultures, or our political differences. We are all human beings. Great music bridges all these differences. We should be more like the musical notes on the page, working together in harmony.

For more about this album, see my initial review that was published, October 25, 2017, in Musical Memoirs. This CD became available in January of 2018.

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OWEN BRODER – “HERITAGE: THE AMERICAN ROOTS PROJECT”
ArtistShare Records

Owen Broder, woodwinds; Sara Casell, violin; Scott Wendhold, trumpet/flugelhorn; Nick Finzer, trombone; James Shipp, vibraphone/percussion; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Jay Anderson, bass; Matt Wilson, drums; Wendy Gilles, Kate McGarry & Yuyo Sotashe, vocals.

The first tune sounds like the film soundtrack for a Western movie. But soon, this “Goin’ Up Home” composition becomes a swinging tribute to the big band era. It transitions from melodic simplicity to a very hearty and healthy harmonic experience. The exciting addition of James Shipp on vibraphone lifts the music and brings jazz to the mix, along with the driving drums of Matt Wilson. In his liner notes, Broder says he was inspired to compose this opening song by Appalachian folk music. He just earned a 2018 Herb Albert Young Jazz Composer Award for this piece of music.

The composers of these hand-picked ‘Heritage’ songs include Owen Broder, Miho Hazama, Bill Holman, Alphonso Horne, Jim McNeely and Ryan Truesdell. They also use traditional American Folk and spiritual music. I enjoyed the solemn and unique arrangement of “Wayfaring Stranger” by Ryan Truesdell. The arranger utilizes haunting, soulful vocals by Wendy Gilles, Kate McGarry and Yuyo Sotashe. You may remember Truesdell’s name as the founder of the celebrated Gil Evans Project he produced. All the musicians and arrangers on this CD appear to have enjoyed interpreting American root music. Their talent and exuberance is obvious, stemming from New Orleans Cajun folks songs to Appalachian mountains music; from Bluegrass and gospel, to jazz. You will hear it all on this recording and unique blend of cultures and musical styles.

“Wherever the Road Leads” makes me want to Square Dance. It was composed by Miho Hazama, who is not American, but was intrigued by Appalachian music. This arranger incorporates harmonic progressions that are based on a twelve-tone idea. “Jambalaya” opens poignantly with Sara Caswell’s expressive violin. However, very slyly, the arrangement picks up tempo and excitement, adding a taste of ‘Swing’ to the mix and perhaps a tongue-in-cheek salute to the Birth of the Cool era. “The People Could Fly” has used Bantu folk music from South Africa as an inspiration. Arranger, Alphonso Horne says he was brought up in a family with South African roots and learned to sing Bantu songs in their community church. This song is based on the folk tale that a village of Africans once knew how to fly. When they were captured and put into slavery, they forgot. One elder recalled their secret gift and kept that dream alive. One day, he reminded them and they all flew away together from slavery in America back to Africa. Nick Finzer is featured prominently on Trombone. The gospel claps give the song credence and interject the slave experience of African American roots. The vocals also elevate the native African experience.

This is an interesting album, showcasing reedman/composer, Owen Broder, who is based in New York City and adds his talents to this mix of Americana music on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. He has traveled with The Temptations, The Four Tops and has his own soul band called ‘Bitchin’ Kitchen’. His musical tastes are diverse, like this album of music. He’s worked as both bandleader and sideman and has a jazz quintet called, ‘Cowboys & Frenchmen’ that received critical acclaim for its 2015 album release, ‘Rodeo’ and a 2017 follow-up, ‘Bluer Than You Think’. He’s performed with Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project and Trio Globo.

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DOLORES SCOZZESI – “HERE COMES THE SUN”
Café Pacific Records

Dolores Scozzesi, vocals; Quinn Johnson & Andy Langham, piano; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Kevin Winard, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Dori Amarillio, guitar; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet.

Dolores Scozzesi tackles the Great American Songbook with an ensemble made up of Los Angeles’ best and busiest musicians. Rich Eames has done some of the arranging and the talented performer/ composer, Mark Winkler, has produced this recording. Ms. Scozzesi takes a strong cabaret approach to familiar tunes like “It’s Alright With Me,” “I’m In The Mood for Love,” and “Wild Is the Wind,” arranged as a lovely Latin Samba. Her interpretation of “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” offers tongue-in-cheek humor and is butter brushed with stage sassiness and drama. Pianist, Quinn Johnson, arranged this Randy Newman composition and it features a stellar solo by trumpeter, Nolan Shaheed. The title tune, “Here Comes The Sun,” is another Latin flavored arrangement and is happily interpreted by Dolores Scozzesi, who admits in her liner notes that she is drawn to Latin and World music. You can hear the emotion and sincerity in this artist’s voice. She is unpretentious, with an attitude and presentation emanating from someone who is obviously a seasoned performer.

Vocalist, Dolores Scozzesi, has been developing her recognizable style for several years. This New York transplant appears in jazz and cabaret rooms from France to California. In Southern California, she began her professional singing career at Budd Friedman’s popular Improvisation Comedy Club, where she sang in between comedy acts. Working here, she witnessed many budding stars perform between her singing sets like Robin Williams, Larry David and Jay Leno.

“I always try to get to the truth of who I am when I perform, and I’m entranced by singers who are totally authentic,” Ms. Scozzesi shares.

On this recording project, you will hear her absolute commitment to the lyrics and her worldly and well-lived, expressive delivery.
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JOHN RAYMOND & REAL FEELS – “JOY RIDE”
Sunnyside Records

John Raymond, flugelhorn; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Colin Stranahan, drums.

John Raymond’s beautiful tone on his flugelhorn is the first thing that impresses me on this CD. For the past four years, this artist has been developing an identifiable trio sound, minus the bass. This creates a kind of openness in his work that is unusual. Gilad Hekselman, on guitar, brings solidarity and harmonic structure to the sound stage and Colin Stranahan holds the rhythm in place on trap drums. After the first of Raymond’s original tunes, my ear became adjusted to this bass-less production and I enjoyed the Paul Simon tune, “I’d Do It For Your Love.” Stranahan seemed not to mind that there was no bass to help him buckle down the rhythm section. He and Hekselman do a fine job on their own. The original composition, “Follower” weaves a web of melody that is set up by Raymond on his horn and later, properly explored by Hekselman on guitar. Once again, they draw me in and I’m impressed with how Stranahan holds the rhythm firmly in place all by himself. I appreciated the electric guitar’s improvisational exploration on the song, “Minnesota, WI.” Hekselman’s creativity was stunning as he danced atop his looped rhythm guitar licks. “Be Still My Soul” is a song both poignant and dirge-like, with Raymond’s flugelhorn becoming the solid nail that holds this trio in place. At times, Raymond explores the Avant Garde while soloing. I enjoyed the freedom that Stranahan displayed on his drum set, rolling the rhythm out like a bowling ball, with cymbal crashes that fall like pens at the end of a musical alley.

John Raymond is originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota but currently lives in New York City. Downbeat Magazine labeled him a ‘Rising Star Trumpeter’ in 2016. He formed this trio in 2014 and calls them ‘Real Feels.’ Raymond claims to be influenced by Art Farmer, Jim Hall and various collaborations by Ron Miles, Bill Frisell and Brian Blade. His unique trio, (“Real Feels”) have released two albums in 2016 and they continue to pave new paths down the jazzy highway, featuring their unique sounds and creativity on this “Joy Ride.” recording.
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ARNAN RAZ – “CHAINS OF STORIES
Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit Records

Arnan Raz, tenor saxophone; Eyal Hai, alto saxophone, Daniel Meron, piano; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Dani Danor, drums.

Israeli tenor saxophonist, Arnan Raz has created a CD based on a game he and his childhood friends once played. They took a single piece of paper and one person wrote a sentence in private, folded the paper to cover that sentence, then the next person wrote their sentence. They folded the paper to hide the new phrase and the next child added their sentence. At the end, ‘Chain of stories’ was created. The page was unfolded and read aloud. It had become one coherent essay. Focusing on sound, instead of words, Raz has attempted to produce his ‘chain of stories’ as an album concept. Thus, his composition titles trail like a formation of birds flying zig-zag across the back of his CD jacket. Arnan Raz explained:

“When I wrote the title song for this album, I experimented and wrote one short phrase each day without overthinking it. … After a few weeks, I had an entire song written.”

The title tune is played at a comfortable, moderate tempo and has a strong melody that does not appear to be written using distinctly different phases. Surprisingly, the haphazardly pasted music chords and melodies, strung together like random thoughts, do create a lovely melody. I think this experimental saxophonist came up with a pretty decent composition named for his childhood game. It is punctuated by Eyal Hai on alto saxophone and Dani Danor slapping his drum licks in support of a funky undertow. Tamir Shmerling adds sporadic solos on bass in between the harmonic horn punches. I found the fade on this first ‘cut’ to be a bit long and uninspired. Perhaps pianist, Daniel Meron, could have soloed on top of this repetitious horn-play. Meron opens “Her Story” the very next composition, with his piano playing in a very classical style. Arnan Raz has composed all of the music on this album. Although I commend him as a composer, I found this second tune to be repetitious and the arrangement uninspired. On the other hand, the third composition of this CD titled, “We Used to Fly” was well written and once again, further showcased the talents of Daniel Meron on piano with the tenor saxophone of Raz and the alto sax of Eyal Hai flying above the rhythm section like wild birds. All improvisational solos were inspired and expressed freedom as they unfolded. The tempo throughout this production was moderate and a more diversified rhythm arrangement on the compositions would have elevated this recording. Other favorite original tunes on this CD are “Ella,” “Two Worlds One Soul” and “Soul Talk”.

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SIMON PILBROW with the BRENT FISCHER ORCHESTRA – “COLORS OF SOUND”
Clavo Records

Simon Pilbrow, composer/piano; Brent Fischer, producer/arranger/conductor/ vibraphone/marimba/electric bass; SPECIAL GUEST ARTISTS: Ken Peplowski, clarinet; Bobby Shew, trumpet; Larry Koonse,guitar. Chuck Berghofer, acoustic bass; Ray Brinker, drums; WOODWINDS: Bob Sheppard, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/alto flute; Sal Lozano, alto sax; Alex Budman, soprano, alto & tenor saxes/flute/alto flute/clarinet & bass clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, alto sax/alto flute; Brian Clancy, tenor sax/alto flute/clarinet; Sean Franz, clarinet; Gene Cipriano, bass clarinet; Bob Carr, baritone sax; Lee Callet, baritone sax/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Rob Schaer, Mike Stever, Kye Palmer, Jeff Bunnell, Ron Stout, Carl Saunders. TROMBONES: Charlie Loper, Andy Martin, Bob McChsney, Scott Whitfield. BASS TROMBONE: Craig Gosnell, Steve Hughes. STRINGS: Assa Drori, Concertmaster/principal violin; Alex Gorlovsky, Raphael Rishik, & Susan Rishik, violin; Elizabeth Wilson & Lynn Grants, viola; Maurice Grants & Kevan Torfeh, cello; Oscar Hildalgo, contrabass.

Whenever I see the name of Brent Fischer, I know that I am going to hear something of quality and excellence. Pianist, Simon Pilbrow, is very active on the Melboune, Australia jazz scene and he is a composer, with some of his copyrights held in our Library of Congress as part of the Gerry Mulligan Collection. With the direction and skills of Brent Fischer, this recording features thirty-years of Pilbrow’s composing. Music has not always been his career, but rather his passion and these songs were composed while he maintained a medical practice. Simon Pilbrow was also a fan of Brent’s famous father, Clare Fischer. Perhaps it was preordained that Pilbrow’s labor of love would be embraced by Brent Fischer, and ultimately he would make Simon Pilbrow’s original music come to life in the recording studio.

This CD opens with a happy-go-lucky arrangement, full of verve and spunk provided by soloists Carl Saunders on trumpet, trombonist Scott Whitfield and young tenor player, Brian Clancy. The tune, “Australia,” is entirely entertaining and will have you tapping your toe to the ‘Swing’ rhythm and tight horn harmonics. Pilbrow adds his piano expression, with a taste of blues glittering during his solo. “A New Beginning” is a waltz that was inspired by Pilbrow’s wife when they were courting back in 1989. Over the years, he has composed several waltzes with Jean (his wife) in mind, however this was the first one. “Studio City,” a popular Los Angeles County community, was written recently (2015) to celebrate Pilbrow’s time spent and the hospitality he felt at the home of Brent Fischer and his wife while they worked on this project.

On this recording, you will find warmth and melodic substance, arrangements that are plush with harmonics and some of the best players and studio musicians in Southern California interpreting the compositions of Simon Pilbrow. Brent Fischer and composer, Pilbrow unite to find a diverse orchestral approach with Fischer’s arrangements, sometimes using small ensembles and other times using full-blast, big band vigor or beautiful string accompaniments. It’s a heavenly match, with both the presentations and the compositions sure to please.

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THE COOL MISS “B” STILL GOING STRONG AT 88

February 5, 2018

THE COOL MISS “B” STILL GOING STRONG AT 88 – A Black History Month Documentation

By Jazz journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

FEBRUARY 5, 2018

Betty Bryant, whose friends affectionately call her, ‘the Cool Miss B’, answers the phone with the same joi de vivre and blossoming smile that always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Betty personifies her joy for life in both personality and music. I was excited to interview this music master. As we talked, I realized that Betty’s life seemed to be a series of opportunities she wasn’t really expecting. Almost like her fate was preordained and had nothing-at-all to do with her plans. She hadn’t dreamed of stardom or made a wish board. She hadn’t pictured herself travelling the world or entertaining crowds with her voice and piano playing. It just sort of happened. But wait. I’ll let her explain.

Betty Bryant: “I’ll start when we lived on 25th street in Kansas City, Missouri and I was in the third or fourth grade at that time. I was studying classical music. I had a beautiful baby grand piano that my grandmother had given to me. And I was very lucky in that respect, but I didn’t know it. My grandfather gave my grandmother the piano on their first wedding anniversary, which is also my mother’s birthday. It just sort of got handed down to me. Maybe a prestige gift, since I was the first one in the family to show any talent in music. I had to practice before I went to school and when I came home from school. Yuk.”

We laughed together, because I was around that age when I was taking piano lessons and being compelled to practice. I didn’t always want to be bothered with practicing, so I could relate to how Betty felt.

Betty: “My best friend, Donna Baker, she had nine kids in her family and her father played the piano. I had more fun at her house than I did at mine. Her brother was Ed Baker who played trumpet and wound up with a band in Kansas City, MO. She had an older sister, Betty Baker, who sang with Eddie’s band for a while. The whole family played music and none of them had any training. I can remember Donna and me sitting at the piano and teaching ourselves how to play entrances and endings to songs. And we played Boogie Woogie. Everybody played Boogie Woogie back then.”

Betty hums me a Boogie Woogie line over the phone, and I immediately recognize it. Boogie Woogie is the first thing my dad taught me how to play on the piano. Betty and I both came up before television was a household entertainment center. In our day, you made music, you listened to radio, or you played 78rpm records and albums.

Betty: “I recall the first time we got a console and it had a record player in it (a turn-table) that dropped the records; 78rpm records. Our console came with a sample record. I can’t remember the name of that song, but my father used to play it all the time. It was a group singing. This was in the early 40’s. I was born in 1929. I was hung up on Bull Moose Jackson’s recording of ‘I Just Can’t Go On Without You’ during that period in my life.”

Although she was drawn to music in her youth, Betty never considered it would become a career path. After all, her father, who was an educator, held high hopes she would follow in his esteemed footsteps. The whole town knew her father, Dr.Girard Bryant, and they expected big things from Betty.

“Actually, my father was a school teacher. In fact, I come from a whole long line of school teachers. My maternal grandfather actually wrote speeches for Booker T. Washington. My dad was just sort of insistent that I attend college. I went to Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and majored in ‘Fine Arts,’ because they told me to do that. So, I got a teaching certificate to please them. I was not really interested in school and I had quit playing the piano. At sixteen, I played my last recital.

“One day, while I was still living in Topeka, I heard this radio show out of Oklahoma; maybe Tulsa. A DJ was interspersing live music with records. Well, I had a friend in Topeka who worked at a radio station and I was telling him about it. He said, oh – that’s interesting. Well, he told his station manager about it and then I got a call asking me if I could come down. Just like that, I was thrown back into music. At that point I knew how to play some blues. I knew ‘Body and Soul’ up to the bridge. (she chuckled)

“I still don’t know the bridge,” Betty confided to me conspiratorially.

“There was a baseball game that came on. The radio station put me on after the baseball game. I never knew how long I was going to be playing. I might have a half an hour show. I might have a fifteen-minute show. It was really a strange re-introduction to the world of ‘live’ music. It’s funny. There was a woman on at that time called, Lonesome Gal and she came on late at night. She had a real low, deep, sexy voice. So, the Station Manager thought I had a naturally sexy voice. All of this was when I was like twenty-one or something. It didn’t make any sense at all to me. But that was my launch back into music. I played records, DJ’d and played piano. I don’t know if their ratings went up, but it was sort of a joke with everybody. Nobody could believe I was doing that. Fresh out of college, with a radio gig.

“I was also working at Menningers at that time. It was the biggest psychiatric hospital in the country. People came from all over the world to train there. I was a secretary.”

Menninger Psychiatric hospital was founded in 1919 by Dr. Charles Menninger and his sons, Karl and William, both doctors as well. The facility consisted of a clinic, a sanatorium and a school of psychiatry. They worked in harmony with the Winter Veteran’s hospital and administration, an army facility also located in Topeka. In 2003, Menninger moved from Topeka, Kansas to Houston, TX, with a stellar reputation of being on the forefront of psychiatric break-through treatment.

BETTY: “At that time, Topeka was the hub of psychiatric treatment. Then there was the Winter General, that was like the army hospital. It was right after World War II, so you had veterans coming in from all over the world to Menninger. That hospital knew more about psychiatry than anybody. The whole city was kind of formed around those hospitals. This is back when they were doing electric-shock treatments and that kind of stuff.”

It didn’t take the young Betty Bryant long to figure out her day-job wasn’t what she wanted to do the rest of her life. With a college degree under her belt, playing piano on the radio broadcast peaked her interest in her instrument again and her love of music was reignited. To self-support, she worked as a secretary for a couple of years, until the gigs started steadily rolling in. One of the first gigs she accepted was with Buddy Brown’s band. He was looking for a singer and Betty snatched the opportunity to expand her repertoire and experience.

Betty: “For a little while, I was a stand-up singer with the Buddy Brown Band. He played trumpet. I don’t remember much more than that. I would say he had maybe an eight-piece band. They had a big-band sound. It was before trios and quartets were popular. It was pre-Nat King Cole. I was singing blues in one form or another; Fast blues, slow blues, happy blues, sad blues. One, four, five forever,” she referred to the chord structure of the blues.

“No standards. It was mainly just keeping that beat so people would keep dancing. Somebody called me yesterday and they were amazed that I actually knew Jay McShann and that we were good friends. He was a very down to earth person. He took me under his wing. When I was twelve, I bought his book and I was trying to stretch my little fingers to walk tenths with my left hand. I learned to do that when I was twelve. It was because of studying that Jay McShann book. I learned how to play “Vine Street Boogie” and “Confessin’ the Blues”.

“But I didn’t actually meet Jay McShann until much later. It was after I came back to Kansas City from Topeka. He was working a gig, and somehow or another, I started going by his gig. He’d get off the stand and let me play piano with his band. It was so much fun and I was so honored to be able to do this. Of course, everything was still segregated at that time. We would play, and then on our breaks the band had to go down in the basement of the place. We couldn’t sit out in the audience with the people. Somebody in the band would run across the street to the liquor store and get a bottle. We’d sit down there for the break and pass the bottle around. They never bought a big bottle to last through the night. They’d go out and get a bottle to last through the break; like a pint. It was a funny time. Then I started working at a place, doing a Single.”

NOTE: A Single is musician talk for one person who plays solo piano and who might also sing.

“The place I worked was near where Jay McShann happened to be playing. I got off earlier than he did and when I got off, I’d go by his gig and hang out with him and his guys. There was Richard White, who became Ahmad Alladeen. He played baritone saxophone. There was a guy named “Jeep” Griddine who played guitar like the Count Basie rhythm guitarist. Jeep couldn’t dance, his feet did not work, but boy could he play that rhythm guitar. “Piggy” played trumpet. His real name was Orville Minor. “Fats” played tenor and Al Duncan played drums. I can’t believe I remembered all those names,” her laugh tinkles across the telephone line like the upper register of the piano.

(NOTE: An historic photo of Betty Bryant with her mentor and friend, Jay McShann, currently hangs in the lobby of her Kansas City ‘American Jazz Museum’.)

I told Betty that I had heard a few people say her piano style reminded them a little of Count Basie. I asked her if she had ever met the Count?

“Really? No, I never met Count Basie. I do have a documentary of Jay McShann, with Count Basie. It’s called “The Last of the Blue Devils”. It’s a great documentary. I have it on a VHF video. Jay sent it to me. You know those little address stickers you get when you donate to something? It’s got one of those little stickers on it that says Jay McShann and his address. It’s not an autograph, but that’s the kind of person that he was. He did that himself. It wasn’t like he had someone handling that for him.”

This VHF treasure that Betty owns and that is titled, “The Last of the Blue Devils” features a host of jazz icons including Lester Young, Max Roach, Big Joe Turner, Charlie Parker, Charles McPherson, Dizzy Gillespie, Jo Jones and Eddie Durham. According to publicity notes about this documentary, written by J. Hailey, during the Kansas City Prohibition days, jazz music was the rage. In the late 1970’s, a bunch of musicians gathered at the Union Hall to discuss that so-called, Pendergast era. The participants included some of the Walter Page Blue Devils, several being musicians who joined Bennie Moten’s band and others who joined and stayed with Count Basie’s band. Highlights of the filmed documentary offer remembrances of Lester Young, stories and discussion about how Charlie Parker got his nickname. There are highlights of Joe Turner’s vocals and McShann’s extraordinary piano playing. A drum clinic is included that’s hosted by Jo Jones. Betty Bryant has one historic piece of film memorabilia in her collection!

In 1955, Betty transplanted to Los Angeles. She had grown as a musician and an artist under the rich tutelage of Jay McShann. Ms. Bryant was quick to tell me Jay McShann had greatly influenced her style of playing. She was also enamored with Nat King Cole’s musicianship. However, the little lady with the bluesy piano and convincing vocals felt it was time for her to leave Kansas City. She was more self-assured and prepared than she had ever been. It was time to spread her wings and fly.

“What happened was, Earl Grant, the piano player/organist, left Kansas City before I did. And I got his job in Kansas City. I basically got the job because everybody knew I was Girard Bryant’s daughter. And that was one of the reason I had to get out of Kansas City, because I never was me. I was always ‘his daughter’. It drove me nuts. After I left, years and years later, when I was playing in Brazil in 1972, something was printed in Kansas City that Dr. Girard Bryant’s daughter is playing in Brazil. I had to get away from there to be myself. So, when Earl left Kansas City, the person who had hired him hired me to take his place in her club. And she was right. At that time, I had no repertoire. By that time, I had added “Laura,” and a few things besides the blues. But I still didn’t have much of a repertoire. I was playing at a club called, Millie’s. I knew Earl from way back. Earl and my sister share a birthday date and they used to share birthday parties when they were really young. So, he came out here and became a fixture. He was playing at Club Pigalle (a popular club located at 4135 South Figuroa that hosted several local acts) and also at this swanky little club in Beverly Hills. When I arrived in town, I got in touch with Earl. He got me a gig in that Beverly Hills club on his night off. It just fell into place.”

Shortly after she arrived in the City of Angels, Betty Bryant enjoyed an intimate observation of the great Billie Holiday performing in a small Hollywood nightspot. Betty told me about that.

“I didn’t see Billie Holiday perform until I moved out here. There was a little place on Wilshire and La Brea. Everything has changed architecturally now, but it was a club that faced Wilshire. If you went across the street and up a block there was another club that faced La Brea and Dizzy Gillespie used to play there. Between those two places, they booked all these big names. There was a lot going on in the fifties. But anyway, I remember I went to see Billie Holiday and Johnny Ray, who had that hit record, ‘The Little White Cloud that Cried.’ I didn’t get to meet Billie Holiday and I didn’t get to speak to her. She was just sort of out-of-it that night. But I had to be there. I went by myself. That was the only time I ever saw her and I’m glad it was in a small club setting. You could feel the whole presence of her. Small clubs are so much better than being in the big venues they have today. They’re so intimate, especially for jazz.

“in those days, Union agents patrolled the clubs. So, you pretty much had to be in the Union and they made sure you paid your dues and your membership was up to date. The agents all had offices in the union and they made sure you didn’t have more than the number of hired musicians on the bandstand. So, if you hired six people, you couldn’t have more than six on the bandstand. That cut out people who just wanted to come jam or sit-in. They would fine you back then.

“When I arrived in Los Angeles, the Union had a thing where you cannot transfer from one Musician’s Union to another. I had to join the one out here and then there’s a three-month waiting period. Because they said you might be taking jobs away from people that already lived here. I could work Casuals, but not a regular job.”

NOTE: A ‘Casual’ in the music business is a one-time, private party or private event.

“So, at first the Union told me, No. It’s not a Casual, because you’re doing it every Monday night. I fought them about it. They finally relented and let me do it. It was obvious I wasn’t taking work away from anyone, because no one had been working on Monday nights.

“You know, when I came out here, it was at the exact same time when civil right were being fought for all over the country. Like in Kansas City, I got the first job downtown for a black musician. You could play the black clubs, but the clubs that were sort of out (in the suburbs), we rarely patronized those clubs. But you could work in them. All of that was happening, just about at that same time I moved here. In a way, I don’t really know how to say this without it coming out wrong, but, when everything became desegregated, it wiped out all the black clubs. Everybody wanted to go to the integrated clubs, whether it was the same music or not.”

Betty has worked several clubs around the Los Angeles area, always expanding her repertoire and popularity. I used to love to hear both Betty and Howlett Smith perform duos with Larry Gales or Tomas Gargano at the now defunct, Bob Burns Restaurant, in Santa Monica. Ms. Bryant is a mainstay of Kansas City jazz, be it as a Single performer, a duo or with a trio or quartet. Her style is distinctive and her beaming personality is infectious.

One unexpected day, Betty Bryant got a call from a friend, Polo Lenna, who asked her if she’d like to perform in Oman. Oman shares borders with Saudi Arabia, Yeman and the United Arab Emirates. Betty figured, why not? She accepted the gig, packed her gowns, sparkle shoes and her music, then off she went for a four-month stint in the Middle East, where she was warmly received.

In 1972, she was walking down the hallway of the Union building when someone called her into their office and introduced her to the drummer who was touring with Sergio Mendes. It seems they were looking for someone just like her to work in Brazil. Auditions were being held at the Sergio Mendes home. More out of curiosity, than for any other reason, Betty went to the audition. The Mendes house did not disappoint her, even though she never saw the main house. Auditions were held in the Mendes pool house that had been converted into a studio. Betty said the sprawling home was still impressive. Surprisingly, they immediately offered her the gig. But at that time, the busy pianist had a seven-year-old son and the responsibility of motherhood. They told her she could bring him with her. Once again, Betty packed her gowns, her music and this time, her young son. They spent the next six months in Rio de Janeio, Brazil.

The globe-trotting Ms. Betty Bryant also spent several years performing at the Tableaux Lounge in Tokyo, Japan. She was one of the featured performers in the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival in Boquete, Panama. Her annual Birthday Bash at the famous Hollywood jazz room, Catalina’s, is always packed with iconic names and faithful followers. In 1987, Betty Bryant Day was declared in Kansas City and she was gifted with the keys to her city. Imagine her surprise and pleasure when she learned, years later and after the Jazz Museum was established in Kansas City, that a historic photograph of herself with Jay McShann hangs in the lobby. In 2011, Linda Morgan’s Jazzabration and Living Legend Society honored Betty Bryant for her many lifetime musical achievements at the Barbara Morrison Performing Art Center in Los Angeles. Additionally, she has received several State and City proclamations and Awards that celebrate her undeniable talents and community involvement. She continues to lend her name and performances each year to the Dolo Coker Foundation event that raises money to support youthful jazz musicians in their educational pursuits.

This year, Betty Bryant is 88-years-young and still going strong. She has decided that what better time to record an album in celebration of her eighty-eight years on the planet and the eighty-eight keys she plays on piano. Her co-producer will be her friend and first choice of saxophone players, Robert Kyle. They will be going into the studio soon to create her 9th album. Betty is a consummate composer and we can expect to hear some of her original material on this new production.

Meantime, she is still busy performing around town. You can catch Betty Bryant on February 8, 2018 at the Vibrato Grill; 2930 Beverly Glen Circle; Los Angeles, CA 90077 on a Thursday night at 8PM. There is a $20 cover charge and you are invited to make a table reservation and enjoy a meal at this very swanky supper club owned by jazz trumpeter and legend, Herb Alpert.

THE SAM HIRSH TRIO – LIVE AT THE LIGHTHOUSE CAFE IN HERMOSA BEACH

February 1, 2018

THE SAM HIRSH TRIO – LIVE AT THE LIGHTHOUSE CAFÉ IN HERMOSA BEACH, CA

By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

January 27, 2018 – Live Jazz Review

What a nice surprise to have Detroit pianist/arranger, Bill Meyer, pop into town with his wife Twyla. They arrived on a Thursday and he immediately wanted to know where the jam sessions were in Los Angeles. So, I sent him to the World Stage in Leimert Park. On Saturday, I had time to meet them for brunch at Gloria Cadena’s jazz spot, the famous Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach. I wanted Bill to experience the ambience of a club well-known for its founder, bassist Howard Rumsey and his All-Stars. Some of the original All-Star group were tenor sax man, Bob Cooper, (who was also married to singer June Christy), Bud Shank on alto saxophone, Claude Williamson at the piano and Stan Levey on drums.

Rumsey began the jazz policy in 1949, once he convinced Mr. John Levine, who owned the place, that music would bring people. The Lighthouse Café is a spot walking distance from the Pacific Ocean, an intimate club where local and master jazz cats have worked and recorded for years. Their photographs pepper the walls of this famous nightspot. Iconic musicians like Cannonball Adderley, Cal Jader, Horace Silver, Larry Gales, Mose Allison, Ramsey Lewis, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, Max Roach, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Charles Earland and the list goes on and on. These giants have played on this tiny stage. I even worked this club with the Dwight Dickerson trio on several occasions and also with the Theo Saunders group.

Rumsey is also responsible for opening another famed jazz spot in Redondo Beach, California called, “Concerts By the Sea.” After John Levine sold Rumsey’s Lighthouse club to Rudy Onderwyzer, the jazz policy faded away and a number of other styles of music began to be featured at the popular beach bar. It was producer, Ozzie Cadena, who championed bringing jazz back to the Lighthouse Café. He built up a fine following on Sundays and as the crowds grew, he was able to expand to a few other days in the week. His energetic and determined widow, Gloria Cadena, now keeps the jazz happening at the Lighthouse Café. I was happy to see her this past Saturday when I arrived with my Detroit friends and their daughter.

Much to my delight, Sam Hirsh and his swinging trio were on stage when I walked into the club. I caught the last of their first set. On their second set, they began with the spirited Horace Silver tune entitled “St. Vitus Dance” from his “Blowin’ the Blues Away” album. Hirsh handled Silver’s composition skillfully, fingers flying across the electric keyboard, while Alex Boneham on bass and drummer, Kevin Kanner held the uptempo number in place like a vice. The next tune was an original composition by Hirsh. It shuffled into the room and grooved the audience as waitresses served scrambled eggs with spinach and fried potatoes or bar-b-que chicken pizza’s to the hungry patrons. A strong bassline began the third tune titled, “Minor Rundown,” a Benny Golson tune written for Paul Chambers. This was followed by Tad Dameron’s composition, “Our Delight,“ was played at a maddening pace. The trio solos raced around the room, in a straight-ahead-jazz kind of way and Kevin Kanner on drums took the liberty of showing off his chops on this one. “Sunset Tides” settled the room down as a lovely ballad and let us appreciate Sam Hirsh’s mastery of the piano keys. It was one of his original tunes. “Who to Choose” featured a BeBop arrangement and gave Alex Boneham an opportunity to show his harmonics on the upright bass, using a technique of playing a 2-string solo that was enchanting. This was followed by a jazz waltz tune “Satya” (Sam’s sister’s middle name) and the set closed with a swinging tune titled, “No C,“ that be-bopped us out the door. Sam wrote this original tune because everybody always tries to add a C to his name and it’s spelled with no C. Judging by the strong applause, a good time was had by all.

On Wednesday, February 7th , Sam Hirsh joins the L.A. Jazz Machine group that is comprised of Henry Franklin, bass, Benn Clatworthy, saxophone, and Yayo Morales, drummer at the famous Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach from 6pm to 9pm. It’s their CD release party. No Cover Charge. Be there!

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NEW MUSIC CHALLENGES THE NORM

January 30, 2018

NEW MUSIC CHALLENGES THE NORM
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

January 30, 2018

LESLIE PINTCHIK – “YOU EAT MY FOOD, YOU DRINK MY WINE,YOU STEAL MY GIRL!
Pintch Hard Label

Leslie Pintchik, piano; Steve Wilson, alto saxophone; Ron Horton, trumpet/flugelhorn; Shoko Nagai, accordion; Scott Hardy, acoustic & electric bass/acoustic & electric guitar; Michael Sarin, drums; Satoshi Takeisi, percussion.

Ms. Pintchik’s odd title tickles the interest. The first cut is also the CD’s title tune. It’s played at a moderate, funk tempo with horns punctuating the arrangement like pins comfortably sticking into a pin cushion. Leslie Pintchik’s piano talents are obvious from the first several bars of her original music. First, she introduces us to a strong melodic line and then jumps off the bridge without a life jacket, splashing into the improvisational unknown.

The second cut stimulates memories of Ahmad Jamal with Michael Sarin on drums reaching back in time to the unforgettable “Poinciana” percussive brilliance. The tune is “I’m Glad There is You” and as Leslie Pintchik sings this lovely melody on the 88-keys, I cling to every note. She’s passionate. Her rendition of Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach’s haunting “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is arranged as a spirited Bossa Nova. Scott Hardy showcases a happy and infectious bass solo on this familiar tune.

Who would believe that this outstanding pianist deserted her doctorate in 17th century English Literature at Columbia University, (and her teaching job) to pursue jazz piano? But I’m glad she did! Not only is this woman talented, she’s got book smarts too. Her seven-minute piano dissertation on “Mortal” is sensuous and Steve Wilson’s alto saxophone plays beautifully, interpreting this song vividly through the sensitive bell of his horn. Ron Horton sings like a brass bird on trumpet. This is really a lovely composition and Pintchik gives her band free-reins to gallop through the changes. From the title of some of her original compositions, I’d say this woman has a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek humor. One example is her title tune and the other is a song she calls, “Your Call Will Be Answered by our Next Available Representative In The Order In Which It Was Received. Please Stay On the Line. Your Call Is Important to us.” Very funny! Most of us have been there, done that. Pintchik has composed six of the eight songs on this recording and every one of them is well-written and well-played. I enjoyed each cut and the addition of accordion on a few of the songs was delightful, with Shoko Nagai’s talents on this instrument adding much to mood and arrangements. This is a masterful, musical artist. I listened to her joyful, and sometimes pensive music, for nearly an hour. Then I played it again. I bet you will too.

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BRAD GARTON & DAVE SOLDER – “THE BRAINWAVE MUSIC PROJECT”
Mulatta Record Label

Dave Solder, musician/neuroscientist; Brad Garton, composer/computer-musician; Dan Trueman, hardanger fiddle; Margaret Lancaster, the solo flute; Terry Pender, the mandolin; William Hooker, trap drums.

When the first Avant Garde musical sounds greeted my inquisitive ears, I immediately thought, this is music you play during meditation. That was such an odd thought for me to have, that I went to the liner notes before the first tune, “Bible School Vacation,” had finished playing. I reviewed the titles of the tunes and they were creative. I read, “Taco Tuesday,” “Harajuku Hiccup,” and “Cerebellum, “just to mention a few. This is New Age music, or is it? I wondered. Their publicist referred to it as jazz, classical and electronic music. Once I read the liner notes, I knew I had to share them, just as Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo Services had written them. They completely describe this music and the fascinating way it was created by a neuroscientist and software.

In 2008, musician/neuroscientist, Dave Solder, approached composer/computer-musician, Brad Garton with an idea. Dave (the neuroscientist) had become aware of fairly inexpensive electroencephalograph or EEG sensors that could measure the electrical output of the brain (ie: brainwaves). Working with these sensors over the past ten years, Brad and Dave developed a set of software tools that could generate music using this brainwave data. As they worked out the system, they have played concerts at Rock festivals, … radio stations, …the New York City Opera, colleges, museums and Cornell University. They even played an hour-long PBS TV special. … They are probably the only avant garde music act to be invited to perform at the National Institutes of Health, where they were ivited by the graduate students.

In shows, typically Dave gives a lecture with slides on the brain’s cortical activity and how it senses and produces rhythm. Brad explains how the waves recorded from the cortex are translated to music. Then, they use their own brainwaves or those of guest musicians to compose in real time, generally with the musicians improvising on their instruments.

An interesting question remains, is this music really ‘composed’? If it is not done intentionally, with the brain always controlling the music making, and in this case, it can create music even when asleep or unconscious. The latest version of these tools were used to produce this CD and the software used will soon be freely available. This uses a process of ‘data sonification’ or the translation of a stream of numbers into musical production and control. The raw data is used to trigger and modify synthetic digital musical instruments.

This concept, I find AMAZING!!!!

The EEG signal is made by the neural activity detected by the sensors, but does not reveal any high-level concepts or ideas that are being ‘thought’ (although the brain activity responds to sensory inputs like the touch of the drumhead and sound and activated movements, then is modulated by mental states).

Dave and Brad decided to exploit this feature by creating a feedback loop of sorts with musicians being invited to play along with themselves, thus generating music with brainwaves resulting from the process of generating that music. For this first complete recording of “The Brainwave Music Project”, four soloists were invited to take part in the sessions. Each plays a solo instrument and the instruments themselves each come laden with a rich musical tradition. The hardanger fiddle, played by Dan Trueman; a solo flute by Margaret Lancaster; Terry Pender on the mandolin and the trap drums played by William Hooker all represent long social and cultural histories. This awareness, as well as the awareness of what and how the musicians are playing, is certainly a part of the brainwave data used to build the synthetic accompaniment for each piece.

I invite you to indulge yourself in this odd listening experience of an even odder musical creation.

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JAMISON ROSS – ALL FOR ONE
Concord Records

Jamison Ross, vocals/drums/composer; Rick Lollar, guitars/background vocals/composer; Chris Pattishall, piano; Cory Irvin, Hammond B-3 organ/Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer/background vocals; Barry Stephenson, bass.

Jamison Ross is an R&B artist who infuses his music with jazz and brings a fresh, new perspective to the forefront of crossover airplay. At times, he reminds me of Jeffrey Osborne. Not in tone or originality, but in his ability to sing pop or rhythm and blues or jazz with the same effectiveness. He offers us sincerity and freshness. His voice is a rainbow of colors that cross the musical genres with ease and beauty. Additionally, he is a competent drummer, composer and bandleader. As a musician/drummer, Ross won the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz International Drum Competition and released his premiere disc as a result of that prestigious award in 2015. This CD expands his talent dimensions by adding ‘vocalist’ to his list of credits.

Starting with his first song, “A Mellow Good Time,” composed by Allen Toussaint, the party begins. “Unspoken” is an original composition by Ross & cowriter, Richard Lollar. The lyrics are poignant, about a couple finding distance between them because one is always gone, but their unspoken commitment keeps them strong. The rhythm is unusual and the soulful melody is tinged with blues. Jamison Ross wrote this song for his wife, Adrienne. But I am really struck by his interpretation of Etta Jone’s hit song, “Don’t Go To Strangers”. He interprets this song beautifully and I believe it’s the first time I’ve heard a man tackle this lyric. Pianist, Chris Pattishall gives solid support during his heart-rending arrangement.

The tone and style of this vocalist/musician is uniquely fresh and endearing. His voice is unforgettable and that is an important factor when you are establishing your artistry. Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Cryin Mercy” is another touch of jazz and once again showcases this artist’s delightful vocal stylings. His original composition, “Safe In The Arms of Love” sings like a prayer. Once again, I’m struck by this vocalist’s style and tone. The Latin rhythm underneath a lilting melody adds interest and features Ross’s percussive mastery. Perhaps this artist best describes his own product in his liner notes.

“All For One is the second chapter to my story as an artist with a deep understanding of American music. I continue to explore the aroma of jazz using elements of gospel, soul and R&B. I utilize the organ as my string orchestra, tugging as much emotion from a composition as possible. Just like a Sunday morning, I use the soul of my voice to shape a message with conviction with the use of traditional R&B. I preach the need for the world’s love to be united.”

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STEVE SLAGLE – “DEDICATION”
Panorama Records

Steve Slagle, alto/soprano saxophones & flute/composer; Lawrence Fields, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Bill Stewart, drums; Roman Diaz, conga/percussion; Dave Stryker, guitar.

Steve Slagle has composed the majority of these songs, dedicating each one of the nine compositions recorded to a special character or thing directly related to his musical journey. For example, the first tune that comes busting out the gate is “Sun Song.” He dedicated it to the great Sonny Rollins. Although Slagle admires the tone and talent of Rollins, he definitely has his own unique sound.

Slagle was once, many years ago, a member of Carla Bley’s band when bassist/composer Steve Swallow nicknamed him “Niner”. That’s what tune number two represents, the nickname given and one he fondly embraces. Both of these tunes Swing hard and bebop across my room, filling it with energy and ebullience.

As a leader, Slagle is in command at all times. But it’s his bandmates who keep the grooves going strong beneath his flurry of notes and improvisational treks. “Major In Come” flies like a sparrow on amphetamines. This title has a double meaning. It’s built on major chords in five different keys and it’s meant to challenge his band to Swing at an incredible and challenging pace. Lawrence Fields on piano does not disappoint, given several bars to showcase his versatile and improvised solo. Bassist, Scott Colley pounds out the time and grooves hard, hammering the rhythm section together by locking time succinctly with drummer Bill Stewart. On Stewart’s solo, you hear the fire and passion in each stroke of his sticks.

“Triste Beleza” that translates to ‘beautiful sadness’ was composed in tribute to the amazing and spirited music that has come out of Brazil. It sounds a wee bit like ‘Speak Low’, but quickly presents a very different melody for the band to embellish. Stryker adds his guitar magic on this song.

All in all, here is a well-produced album of well-played and excellent compositions by Steve Slagle. He has composed seven of the nine tunes and recorded one song written by his special guest, Dave Stryker titled “Corazon” and included the Wayne Shorter composition, “Charcoal Blues.” This is an album full of excitement and East Coast energy. On “Opener”, another one of my favorites, Roman Diaz makes this production shine with his percussive excellence. Slagle adds a flute towards the end of the tune that lifts the production to higher heights. And by the way, I love the artwork created for the inside cover by Ivan Pazlamatchev and titled for Slagle’s first cut, “Sun Song.” Most of these songs are full of heat and power, like the sun itself. This album is burning hot!

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HART, SCONE & ALBIN – “LEADING THE BRITISH INVASION”
Zoho Roots

John Hart, guitar; Adam Scone, Hammond organ; Rudy Albin Petschauer, drums.

Opening with Amy Winehouse’s popular hit song, “Rehab” this guitar trio paints the tune in bright, happy colors. They’ve speeded the song tempo up, but I think Miss Winehouse would have approved. John Hart, on guitar, is upfront and personal on his instrument, improvising at a steady speed and setting the bar high for Adam Scone on his Hammond B3 Organ. Rudy Albin Petschauer keeps his fellow musicians grounded with solid drum rhythm. Petschauer was a former member of organist Jack McDuff’s group and McDuff was one of my favorite organists back-in-the-day. Adam Scone is said to build his sound from the bottom up on his organ. That means his bass footwork locks in with the drums and represents what it takes to be a real organ player. You can tell, because you don’t miss a bass player on this recording. Then comes John Hart, an adventurous guitar player who is gifted in both rhythm guitar, blues and improvisational solo work. His electronic sound adds spice to this recording and plays nicely off of Scones organ sounds. Hart, like Petschauer, also was a Jack McDuff bandmate. On “Look of Love” the trio’s sound settles into a Bossa Nova groove and Hart proves that he can cover all styles. Now his guitar is more acoustic, nylon string-sounding, and his approach is sweet and tender, even when he double-times his improvisational solo. On this tune, he showcases his inventiveness. I hardly recognized Sade’s “Smooth Operator” tune. They’ve arranged it as a shuffle and it really swings hard. You’ll also enjoy a couple of Adele’s songs on this recording and Pop Star, Joss Stone’s “Don’t Start Lyin’ To Me Now’ is incorporated into their line-up. For this reviewer, some of the fuzzy guitar parts and the rock influenced arrangements interrupt the pure jazz concept of a Jimmy Smith or McDuff band, but that’s a matter of listener taste. It was especially annoying on Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep.” But the trio redeemed themselves on “Blues for the U.K., composed by John Hart.

Perhaps Adam Scone explained the groups concept the best in their liner notes.

“All great organ groups take popular songs and use them as vehicles to churn out organ style hits. … We focus on the modern music of the UK, but follow in the footsteps of the masters.”<

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