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INSPIRE ME BIG BANDS, ORCHESTRAS & MORE

May 25, 2019

INSPIRE ME BIG BANDS, ORCHESTRAS & MORE
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
May 25, 2019

RALPH PETERSON & THE MESSENGER LEGACY – “LEGACY ALIVE – VOL. 6 AT THE SIDEDOOR” Onyx Productions

Ralph Peterson,drums/leader;Bill Pierce,tenor saxophone;Bobby Watson,alto saxophone; Brian Lynch,trumpet; Essiet Essiet,bass; Geoffrey Keezer,piano.

This is my straight-ahead dream band. If you love bebop, like I do, this production will totally entertain and inspire you. It’s a two-set CD highlighting the brilliance of Ralph Peterson’s drum talents. That being said, this is not to diminish his ensemble, who are obviously the cream of the crop. Disc One opens with a Curtis Fuller composition, “A La Mode” whose arrangement energizes and excites. The group pulsates through the first three songs before settling down to perform the lovely balled, “My One and Only Love”, featuring Bill Pierce on tenor saxophone and enhanced by the polished piano playing of Geoffrey Keezer. Although this is not a big band, the harmonics and arrangements are lush and have the power and precision of a larger ensemble. On Disc two, Essiet Essiet offers an outstanding solo on “That Ole Feeling.” All in all, there’s not one bad, nor one average or boring tune on this album.

Peterson is determined to keep the legacy of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers alive and well by endeavoring to duplicate Blakey’s hard-swinging arrangements and bebop sensibilities. in the music of his “Legacy Alive” production, Ralph Peterson accomplishes this feat. All of this production is a reminder of the incredible discography of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger’s group. I believe that this October would have been Blakey’s 100th birthday. If you are a Jazz Messenger fan, you will recognize each and every song that Peterson and his group interpret. You’ll enjoy Golson’s “Along Came Betty, Wayne Shorter’s, “Children of the Night” the nursery rhyme, “Three Blind Mice” that Curtis Fuller arranged back in 1962, and Freddie Hubbard’s, “The Core” that was a dedication to the congress of Racial Equality, a 1960’s popular civil rights and action group.

This is exquisitely performed and arranged music. It brought back many warm memories for me and was so well-done, I played both CDs four times, then took a break and came back for more.
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JENTSCH GROUP NO NET – “TOPICS IN AMERICAN HISTORY” Independent Label

Chris Jentsch, electric guitar/composer; Michel Gentile, flutes; Michael McGinnis, clarinets; Jason Rigby, saxophones; David Smith, trumpet/flugelhorn; Brian Drye, trombone; Jacob Sacks, piano; Jim Whitney, acoustic bass; Eric Halvorson, drums/percussion. JC Sanford, conductor.

Guitarist, Chris Jentsch, earned his B.A. in history at Gettysburg College. This album was released late last year. It was recorded during a ‘live’ concert and features guitarist/composer, Jentsch, interpreting seven historic events using his original compositions. For example, the first song is titled, “1491.” The music is meant to explain the influx of Europeans into the Caribbean islands. Did I hear that in the tune? Not really. However, the composition is exploratory and imaginative, like this entire project. The second song, “Manifest Destiny” is composed to exhibit the 1800s and the belief that expansion of the country across North America was unstoppable. The fourth tune is titled “Tempest Tost” a line from the scribe written on the Statue of Liberty and “Suburban Diaspora” was a title I hadn’t heard before. I thought the Diaspora usually referred to the dispersion of people from their homeland. Jentsch has taken this concept a step further. His piece is referring to suburban middle-class families relocating to cities. The final tune, “Meeting at Surratt’s” is a dirge-like composition and when I read the Jentsch explanation, it made perfect sense. Hanged in 1865, Mary Surratt was found guilty of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. She let those who plotted to kill him meet at her home, a few blocks from the Ford Theater. The federal government executed her for complicity.

His ensemble sounds much larger than it is, sparkling with lush arrangements and dramatic interludes, where various musicians step forward to solo. I chose to place this review with my big band reviews because of the richness of the arrangements and the full sound of these creative, orchestral compositions. Chris Jentsch has released five albums and earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami. This current project was commissioned by Chamber Music America/Doris Duke New Jazz Works and was recorded at ShapeShifter Lab in Jentsch’s hometown of Brooklyn. These Chris Jentsch suites are beautiful and mind expansive.
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STEVE HAINES AND THE THIRD FLOOR ORCHESTRA Justin Time Records

Steve Haines, double bass/producer/orchestration; Becca Stevens, vocals; Chad Eby,soprano saxophone; Joey Calderazzo,piano; Greg Hyslop,guitar; Kobie Watkins, drums; Kevin Geraldi,conductor, plus thirty-six various orchestra players.

This is chamber music with human voice. Steve Haines and his Third Floor Orchestra present an eleven-song concert of classically influenced jazz, incorporated with Celtic traditions, original compositions and pop music. It’s an odd combination, but it works. The second track is an original composition by vocalist Becca Stevens, William Stevens and W. Song titled, “No More.” You hardly hear the jazz until Chad Eby’s soprano saxophone enters. The arrangement places percussion licks beneath the horn solo to call attention to Eby’s jazzy sound. Becca Stevens has a voice as sweet as honey. It floats atop the orchestra the way cream rises to the top of milk. Becca introduces the melody and carries the entire piece with her soprano tone, clear and inviting, like a human flute. This is an unusual recording in my collection of music. It does not fit the singular mold of jazz. Even so, it’s quite beautiful; pleasant to the ear and soothing to the spirit. Bassist and group leader, Steve Haines has also composed a few of the songs. This is easy listening music, enhanced by Steve Haines’ orchestral arrangements.

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DARRELL KATZ AND THE JCA ORCHESTRA – “RATS LIVE ON NO EVIL STAR” JCA Recordings

Darrell Katz,guitar/composer/conductor/producer;
The JCA Orchestra consists of 29 talented musicians.

The opening orchestral composition is the title tune and was produced from something Darrell Katz wrote thirty-one years ago. Originally, it was composed for a violin and marimba duo. Consequently, there’s a lot of violin solo work with additional string parts. But you will also hear inspired saxophone solos. The title is off-putting, in that I have no great love for rats. Still, the music itself is compelling, original and imaginative. Katz proudly helped found and is the current Director of the Jazz Composers Alliance (JCA). This orchestra of talented musicians has become a vehicle to feature forward-thinking composers and a home for some of Boston’s best musicians and improvisers. They provide a platform of international community building through music. According to the Boston Phoenix newspaper, “Darrell Katz is one of Boston’s most ambitious and provocative jazz composers.” He incorporates poetry into his orchestra arrangements with words that provoke thought and echo political overtones.

“I am always trying to make the melody and words be unified,” Katz explains. “I am very much trying to put the poetry across, always looking for what seems like a good fit. I really want the listener to pay attention to the words, and I want the music to help them. But it’s hard to describe, a lot of it is intuitive. A lot of meaning and feeling is rather abstract, but it’s what I’m looking to match.”

One of the suites of music called, “How to Clean a Sewer” incorporates three parts. The first is titled, “Three or Four Kinds of Blues,” which does not sound like a blues at all. The second part of the Suite is titled, “Windfall Lemons” (air, earth, water, fire) with ear-catching trombone solos by Bob Pilkington and Dave Harris. There’s a tuba player who also catches my attention. His name is Bill Lowe. The over-all Suite of music is inventive and seems to encourage the various musicians to speak with their individual sounds and voicings. They merge and blend like a crowd of boisterous, talkative families; a taste of avant-garde. Katz uses a pause technique in his compositions and arranging to bring drama and attention to his pieces. The vibraphone occasionally takes stage center, as does the haunting soprano vocals of Rebecca Shrimpton. Now deceased poet, Paula Tatarunis, inspired the “How to Clean A Sewer” song and “To An Angel” features Shrimpton on vocals.

As a change of pace, “The Red Dog Blues” written by Darrell Katz asserts:

“I don’t stop on red. I smoke in bed. I talk back to the boss. I don’t even floss. If there’s a bad choice that’s what I’ll choose. I’m in the doghouse with the red dog blues.”

“…With a big mouth full of lies, and a soul filled with junk, he likes to brag about his tower. And his haircut is bad news. He’s in a solid gold toilet with the red dog blues,” takes a lyrical turn to 2019 political opinion.

Darrell Katz is a guitarist, composer, conductor and producer of this project. He is also a current professor at Berklee College of Music.
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RICHIE BEIRACH – GREGOR HUEBNER DUO with THE WDR BIG BAND – “CROSSING BORDERS” Zoho Music

Richie Beirach, piano; Gregor Huebner, violin; Rich Derosa, conductor/arranger; The WDR Big Band: Johan Horlen, alto saxophone/alto flute/lead; Karolina Strassmayer, alto saxophone/alto flute; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller , tenor sax/clarinet; Jens Neufang, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Andy Haderer & Wim Both, trumpet/flugelhorn (lead);, Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls, & John Marshall, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ludwig Nuss (lead), Andy Hunter & Shannon Barnett, trombone/euphonium; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone/tuba; Joachim Schoenecker, guitar; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Richie Beirach has composed the first two songs, presented as a medley and titled “Rectilinear/Paradox”. It opens with the full big band and then breaks down to a straight-ahead groove featuring Beirach’s piano solo playing brightly with John Goldsby’s bass walking briskly beneath Beirach’s electric piano improvisation. In fact, throughout, Goldsby’s bass is prominent and outstanding. On the second cut, a Violin Concerto No. 3 composed by featured violinist/composer, Gregor Huebner, the beauty of the arrangement and the performances by the musicians pull at the heartstrings. This composition’s first movement is melancholy, but when the horns blare, the bass walks and the violin solos, we move into a big band call to attention. The time doubles and Huebner chases the bass line, making his violin race tornado-like and tenacious.

This “Crossing Borders” project is a conversation between cultures, countries and political agendas using music as the catalyst. It’s a call for unity. An extended musical hand, reaching across differences and holding a big band olive branch. This music has a welcoming spirit and intentionally blends borders between a classical jazz orchestra and big band illumination. Huebner and Beirach have collaborated with each other for some twenty-three years. Their concerto achievements, arrangements and various compositions interlock talents with ease, like entwined fingers or palms pressed together in prayer.

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THE FELIPE SALLES INTERCONNECTIONS ENSEMBLE – “THE LULLABY PROJECT” Tapestry Records

Felipe Salles,soprano saxophone/composer/conductor/arranger/ producer; RHYTHM SECTION:Nando Michelin,piano/melodica;Kevin Grudecki,guitar; Ryan Fedak,vibraphone; Keala Kaumeheiwa,double bass;Bertram Lehmann,drums.

SAXOPHONES/WOODWINDS:Richard Garcia & Jonathan Ball, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Mike Caudill, tenor & soprano saxophone/clarinet; Jacob Shulman, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Tyler Burchfield, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS/FLUGELHONRS:Jeff Holmes & Yuta Yamaguchi, (lead); Eric Smith & Doug Olsen, soloists. TROMBONES:Joel Yennior, (lead); Clayton DeWalt, Dan Hendrix, & Randy Pingrey. Angel Subero, bass trombone.

This is a beautiful execution of five movements for jazz orchestra, composed and arranged by Felipe Salles. He has based this entire project on various Brazilian lullabies, extracting musical segments from these popular lullabies and composing original music of his own. He has also added three compositions that are Tango inspired and arranged for a large jazz ensemble. Every arrangement engages the listener and is motivating the orchestra players, who bring brilliance and shine to a sparkling project. A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dr. Felipe Salles brings an element of his culture, warmly wrapped with American jazz, and blanketed with European classical influence. Throughout these richly written and interpreted compositions, improvisation is woven into the multi-cultural fabric of the Salles compositions and Felipe gives time and spotlight to various orchestra members during provocative solos.

As an Associate Professor of Jazz and African-American Music Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Salles somehow has found time and attention to release seven critically acclaimed recordings as a leader. All his recordings have been highly praised, winning favor by top jazz magazines and peers alike. In 2018, Felipe Salles became a Guggenheim Foundation Composition Fellow. This is only one of many grant winning projects he has created. As an active musician in the United States since 1995, he has performed with and recorded with a long list of prominent jazz artists. Some of those include Randy Brecker, David Liebman, Lionel Loueke, Duduka Da Fonseca, Luciana Souza and Bob Moses. Dr. Salles is a D’Addario Woodwinds Select Reeds Artist and clinician, as well as an Andreas Eastman saxophone artist and clinician. Currently, he leads the Felipe Salles Group and the Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble. He is also a member of the new World Jazz Composers Octet. He has somehow found more open time on his burgeoning schedule, to also participates in the Kyle Saulnier’s Awakening Orchestra and Alex Alvear’s Mango Blue and Gonzalo Grau’s (Grammy Nominated) La Clave Secreta. Felipe Salles’ current Lullaby Project offers 73 minutes and 29 seconds of incredible musicality.
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WAYNE WALLACE LATIN JAZZ QUINTET – “THE RHYTHM OF INVENTION” Patois Records.net

Wayne Wallace,trombone/composer;Murray Low,piano; David Belove,bass;Colin Douglas,drums/percussion;Michael Spiro, congas/percussion.
GUEST MUSICIANS: Mary Fettig,flute/soprano & alto saxophone/bass clarinet; Masaru Koga, tenor saxophone; Melecio Magdaluyo,baritone saxophone; Erik Jekabson & John Worley , trumpet; Brennan Johns,bass trombone; Miro Sobrer,Sean Weber & Matthew Waterman, trombone; Dayren Santamaria, Eugene Chuklov, Niki Fukada, Maria Romero, & Daniel Stein, violins; Edith Szendrey & Rose Wollman, viola; Kelly Knox & Monice Scott, cello; Akida Thomas,spoken word; Dr. David Baker,pre-recorded interview on cut #5.

The Wayne Wallace Latin jazz Quintet has the full and appealing sound of a larger ensemble. If you are looking for a well-balanced, Latin production, danceable tunes and invigorating percussive energy, you will find all of that here. Opening with “Vamanos Pa’l Monte, (written by Eddie Palmieri) the group Salsa-dances its way into your heart. Paul Desmond’s popular “Take Five” composition, widely appreciated for its unique quintuple meter, 5/4-time signature, and unforgettable melody, is tackled as their second cut. Wayne Wallace’s quintet institutes a 5/8 clavé pattern-arrangement, steeping their production in Afro-Cuban richness. It’s well done, preserving the memorable melody and expanding the rhythm towards a 6/8 African-feel and featuring multi-talented Mary Fettig on saxophone. The quintet incorporates solid horn harmonies in the background and a Coro, or Afro-Cuban chant at the fade. It’s a unique arrangement for this top-selling jazz tune.

Akida Thomas adds spoken word to the fifth track and title tune, “The Rhythm of Invention,” also featuring the music of Wayne Wallace. His trombone soars and the lyrics by Akida add commercial and youthful expression. The percussive excellence of Colin Douglas and Michael Spiro support Akida’s spoken word. The strings and horns sail in the background, like waves licking the belly of a freedom ship. Unexpectedly, the voice of Dr. David Baker is super-imposed over this fluid music, with his comments recorded in 1970 at the radio station WFIU of Indiana University. This is exciting and exploratory big band arranging. Wayne Wallace has composed four of the ten songs recorded. His outstanding arrangements elevate this project. I was captivated by the bass work of David Belove on track seven, “El Arroyo,” another Wallace original tune. Belove makes that tune come alive, placing his happy and creative bass lines confidently beneath the music, and adding an exciting bottom for the chords to embellish.

Wayne Wallace, once based in the Bay Area of California, is well-known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Afro-Cuban rhythms. He was music director of the John Santos Machete Ensemble for twenty years. His creation of the Patois Record label, not only is the source of this production, but expands to encompass artists like vocalists Kat Parra and Alexa Weber Morales, as well as highly regarded anthologies of Bay-Area salsa and the Latin jazz scene. As an educator, he taught at San Jose State University and at Stanford University. Currently, he is professor of jazz trombone and practice in jazz studies at the Jacobs School of Music within Indiana University.

Here is a delightful and infectious production that is solidified by the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet and embellished by a host of Guest Musicians, who enhance the arrangements with big band boldness and spoken word.
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WONDER-WOMEN OF JAZZ

May 16, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
May 16, 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BETTY CARTER! In keeping with the Month of May, a month that celebrates mothers with a national holiday, I have concentrated on reviewing recently recorded females in jazz. They are varied and doing a little bit of everything from playing trombone to lighting up the piano keys; from singing to composing, arranging and producing. I also celebrate the great vocalist and improviser, Betty Carter, born May 16th, whose music must never be forgotten. I wonder why some of these female jazz artists aren’t performing more of Ms. Carter’s original works. Her compositions will always stand the test of time. Here is an interview I did with Betty Carter for the Soul & Jazz Record Magazine, which was published back in 1976. And Yes, I’ve been writing about jazz for that many years.

BETTY “BE-BOP” CARTER: EXTRAORDINARY JAZZ INSPIRATION FOR THE WORLD!
Reprinted (in part) from The Soul & Jazz Record Magazine, 3rd quarter issue – 1976; written and personally interviewed by jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil.

I entered Miss Carter’s hotel room attempting a cool composure with whispered awe breathing goose bumps down my neck. She sat there, naked feet propped belligerently on the glass table top, her pale, flowing lounge out-fit clinging to her curves and no make-up. Just a natural, iridescent beauty that peeped through the chocolate freckles peppering her face.

That day, when I originally interviewed her, Betty Carter had been offering the world her unique style for over 30-years. Her music was given freely, with few inhibitions to hamper her unique delivery. She was a true living legend, who weathered the musical storm and witnessed the changes from Be-bop days to R&B/Pop commercialism. However, back then, Betty Carter did not believe her endurance was a big thing. She told me:

“I don’t see me like you see me. I’ve been doing this so long that it’s natural for me. I thought it was OK to learn new music; learn how to write and to arrange your stuff. It took a long time to realize that a lot of singers have other people doing their arrangements. But I wanted to do my own. So, that meant I had to learn about the music. So, I did that when I was with Lionel Hampton. … I couldn’t do anything else if I wanted to. I couldn’t sing like Aretha Franklin … it’s just not my ‘bag’. I was doing nothing but me. I think everybody’s strong and survives in being themselves. I think that’s what you were supposed to do in the first place. I think that’s what ‘the man’ put you here for; to be yourself. He made every one of us different. You’re an individual. Just be you!”

Betty Carter has appeared with practically every great name in jazz and headlined at the Apollo twice a year from 1949 to 1965. She employed a plethora of youthful musicians in her band, helping to skyrocket their fledgling careers. She talked to me about some of the successful shows she performed over the years that defied category. So, what if she’s celebrated as one of the greatest jazz vocalists in the world? She did it all and she did it her way.

“Miles, Monk, Moody, Moms Mabley and me. That was one show. Another show I did was John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Water, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Bo Diddley… alright?!” She looked at me with piercing eyes, weighing my reaction.

“I did one with the Isley Brothers. The Flamingoes … Now!” She settled back in her chair eyeing me carefully and perhaps wondering if I could relate to her struggle, her diversity and her seething talent.

“This put me on through the years. So, nobody could tell me that my thing wasn’t going.”

She was talking about her long fight for acceptance in the business. Whether we like it or not, the music business and jazz is still tightly controlled by men. They don’t make it easy for women to break the jazzy glass ceiling, especially vocalists. It takes a lot of strength of character and big breaks to climb the gold-record-stairs.

“It’s really pathetic at this point, how much we don’t know about our own craft,” Betty shook her head sadly side-to-side.

“We did it to ourselves. … I finally got with a major record company. They wanted to give me some money for my integrity. You know, I would record for a record company for no money if I could just keep my integrity and do what I wanna do. That’s difficult. People don’t want you to do you. They want to tell you who to be. They want their egos stimulated. They need to say, I made that … I groomed that … I … I … I, all over the place.”

Betty Carter, unique, stylized, volatile, outspoken, opinionated, but sincere. She recorded on her own label for years so that she could have artistic freedom. Her strength of character, her tone and composition skills, her arranging tenacity and her take-no-bull-shit attitude, endears her to me. She is one of those great talents we can treasure and remember for generations to come. Enjoy her “Live” Hamburg Jazz Festival of 1993 below with the amazing Geri Allen on piano, Dave Holland on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

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YOKO MIWA TRIO – “KEEP TALKIN’” Ocean blue Tear Music

Yoko Miwa, piano/composer; Will Slater, acoustic bass; Scott Goulding, drums; Brad Barrett, acoustic bass on track 11.

The first thing I notice about pianist, Yoko Miwa, is her ability to bear-hug the blues. Her piano style is rich and radiant with blues tones, obvious and pronounced on her opening original composition, “Keep Talkin’.” She follows up with the popular Monk tune, “In Walked Bud.” It too is saturated with blues tones. Her mood changes slightly on “Secret Rendezvous,” another well-written composition by Ms. Miwa. She brings Latin flavors to this arrangement, encouraging Will Slater to dance, bob and weave on his bass. Yoko Miwa shows that her left hand is as powerful as her right hand on this tune. She rhythmically splashes her arrangement with groove, using the thrust of her bass notes to challenge her right-handed groove chords. It’s a powerful display of her piano dexterity. Scott Goulding is prominent and precise on drums. He continuously propels the music forward, inspiring this trio to swing hard and steady. On “Sunset Lane” they take a breather, slowing the tempo down briefly to let the listener enjoy the lovely melody Yoko Miwa has created. Will Slater makes a prominent statement on acoustic bass and then, Yoko Miwa’s hands make the piano keys tremble and flutter like humming bird wings.

This prolific artist was born in Kobe, Japan, a city famous for its beef and its beautiful and busy seaport. This journalist spent time there in 1995, leaving just two weeks before the huge earthquake that shook the city to its core. Yoko Miwa was greatly inspired and mentored by Minoru Ozone, a Japanese pianist, educator and club owner who instilled in her the importance of playing piano by ear. She learned to absorb the jazz language and mastered listening and transcribing the music. Paying her dues as a waitress at his popular jazz club, she also worked as a music teacher and accompanist. She enrolled at the Koyo Conservatory of Music. That’s a Berklee affiliate school, where she auditioned for a scholarship prize at the main Boston based Berklee College. That first prize win opened the door for her arrival in America, where she fell in love with the city and people of Boston.

“I was the last one to leave a practice room every night at 2 a.m.,” she reminisced. “I was just so excited to meet great musicians, my teachers and fellow students from all over the world.”

Her talent to accompany vocalists led her to work in master classes with the late Kevin Mahogany and also to work on stage with him as part of his group. She has also performed with luminaries like Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Arturo Sandoval, Sheila Jordan, Slide Hampton, Jon Faddis, Johnathan Blake and many, many more. Ms. Miwa participated in the Lincoln Center performance program “Marian McPartland & Friends.” She continues to challenge herself and to inspire others as a Berklee professor in the classroom and a formidable, innovative pianist on stage. This album shines with her strength of talent, her technical prowess and brilliant creativity and composer skills. Yoko Miwa is a musical force. She tackles the music of Charles Mingus, The Beatles, Joni Michell and Thelonious Monk with determination, rhythmical brilliance, power and tenderness. Here is an album you will want to play time and time again.

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ELIZABETH TOMBOULIAN – “LOVE’S IN NEED OF LOVE TODAY” http://www.quantumstarsong.com

Elizabeth Tomboulian, vocals/piano/guitar; Lee Tomboulian, piano/Nord/vocals; Cliff Schmitt, bass; Alvester Garnet, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Ingrid Jensen, trumpet/flugelhorn; Roseanna Vitro, vocals.

As both a pianist and vocalist, Elizabeth Tomboulian has been performing all over the country; from her native Arkansas to Houston, New Jersey to Louisiana, Wisconsin to New York, in Tennessee and on the West Coast. Her second song on this premier Cd is probably the one she should have opened this recording with. Why? because of the way her sincere voice and the minimal production touches the heart of this listener. The first song felt contrived and commercial, but “Time After Time” by composer, Cindy Lauper, makes an impression. I also appreciate the arrangement, replacing some of the expected piano chords with unique voicings. Her husband, Lee Tomboulian, is also a pianist and does much of the accompaniment on this album. There is a special blend of vocals and energy when the married couple sings together. This is obvious on cut #3, a medley of “Nutty” and “If I Love Again,” where Elizabeth trades fours, scatting in between the bass solo by Cliff Schmitt and the drum solo by Alvester Garnet. During the opening intro and on the fade, she and Lee Tomboulian sweetly harmonize on the “Nutty” melody. It’s a great arrangement. This could have been an outstanding album opening tune. “For Tomorrow” clearly shows Elizabeth Tomboulian’s clean tones and easy ability to perform a true jazz tune. Her voice is rich as cream and believable. Ingrid Jensen’s wonderful trumpet solo flies over the moon on this song. When Lee Tomboulian adds his harmonic voice to the mix, after the solos, they lift the arrangement with their smooth harmonies and perfect blend. On the “Ballad of the Snow Leopard and the Tanqueray Cowboy,” Elizabeth Tomboulian accompanies herself on piano and reverts back to her blues and folk roots, performing as a single artist. She and her piano present a convincing duo. Elizabeth shows off her blues chops on “Good Old Wagon,” playing piano and singing the popular American folk song by Dave Van Ronk. She adds a little scat singing to keep things jazzy. On her live performance of this song, she sometimes plays guitar.

Elizabeth Tomboulian is a lover of Latin music and I wish I could have gotten a taste of songs from her history of recording and performing with her Latin group called, Circo. I think the blend of her voice with her husbands would have been spectacular on Latin songs. In fact, the Stevie Wonder title tune could have become a great Latin arrangement.

The highlight of this album were songs that featured the married couple performed together vocally. As explained by Elizabeth, she hopes this album of music reflects the “Loves in Need of Love Today” theme from the Tomboulian’s repertoire into our listening hearts.

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LAUREN DESBERG – “OUT FOR DELIVERY” Independent Label

Lauren Desberg, vocals/composer; Kris Bowers, piano; Ben Shepherd, electric bass; Jonathan Barber, drums; Braxton Cook, saxophone; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Russell Hall, acoustic bass; Will Wells, executive producer/composer.

Lauren Desberg is a consummate songwriter, with stories that evolve like a painting, colorful and sometimes abstract. On her opening tune, “The Way you Feel Inside” she explores the thoughts of a woman who is searching for her inner self. Andrew Renfroe’s electric guitar sings a stellar solo and fades the tune with an echo-filled studio enhancement. Desberg displays a little-girl voice full of innocence and sincerity when she sings “Yes Unless” and warns some unsuspecting guy, not to take her too seriously. This album of music showcases the artist’s composer cleverness. It’s more pop than jazz, but the compositions hold your attention. The productions are supported by her band, incorporating a lot of echo effects and the beautiful baritone voice of some mystery man who is not mentioned on the album credits. Songs like “Come With me” and “Something Wrong with Me” are melodically memorable with strong lyrics and very strong productions.

Sometimes the effects used in the production take away from the purity of Desberg’s stylized voice. She’s like a pop Erykah Badu in tone and uniqueness. The synthesized parts often play over-the-top, but certainly add an unusual perspective to this album, as do the seconds-long vocal intervals like “Hold On” that pop upon the scene and too-soon leave us longing to hear more of the song. Perhaps the “Falling Dominoes” lyrics describe an overall view of this project’s positive message.

“… No fear – no doubt, ‘til everything I found I figured out comes crashing down without a sound. Struggling to see the light. The end of the tunnel nowhere in sight. The voice is right, we can make it easy if we try, to see we’re right where we belong. The world will keep on spinning and I will keep on singing … believing is just a state of mind. You’ll find a way to smile, tomorrow.”

Lauren Desberg throws in a familiar standard, “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” The track is fresh and while Russell Hall walks his double bass, Jonathan Barber slaps a shuffle in place and Kris Bowers plays an unexpected and classical type piano lick. It makes for a nice listen and gives the listener a recognizable song they can hum along to. Braxton Cook’s saxophone adds a nice, jazzy touch. She only sings two standards. The second is Rogers & Hammerstein tune, “The Sweetest Sounds” establishing her as a singer who can excel at pop and jazz. I do feel that sometimes the production overwhelms the vocals and her voice could have been pulled out in the mix, just a hair. On the whole, this is an enjoyable voyage into waters that bubble around a very talented vocalist and songwriter.

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NATALIE CRESSMAN & IAN FAQUINI – “SETTING RAYS OF SUMMER” Cressman Music

Natalie Cressman, trombone/vocals/producer; Ian Faquini, guitar/vocals/producer

This is a duo whose music projects a folk/world music attitude and beauty. Ian Faquini and Natalie Cressman each have lovely voices that sound delightful in solo settings and mesh warmly, like sunshine sparkling on calm seas, when they harmonize. Their music rolls over us in gentle waves. All the music is composed by Ian Faquini and Ms. Cressman lends her lyrical poetry. They sing mostly in Portuguese, sometimes in French, but for the most part his acoustic guitar and her trombone celebrate Brazilian roots. Both artists have albums of their own. This is Cressman’s fifth release as a leader and Faquini’s third. Together, it becomes their debut collaboration. The opening song is titled, “Tere” and the story is explained in the liner notes. It is an angry, social outcry deriding the violence against women. I wish they had included English lyrics in their album jacket, because the majority of these songs are not sung in English.

Faquini’s guitar is busy, rhythmic and incorporates baiao, samba and ijexa in the various arrangements. Ijexa is a Brazilian folk music influenced greatly by African rhythms. Natalie Cressman has penned the French lyrics to the “L’aube” song. This is followed by “Debandada” imploring the ijexa musical legacy. She plays a soothing trombone solo on this composition. We hear her sing in English on the title tune, “Setting Rays of Summer.” It has a very compelling melody and Natalie Cressman’s sincere and intimate vocal delivery sells the song and shines against Ian Faquini’s sensitive guitar accompaniment. Cressman wrote these lyrics too. Their voices duet and dance on “Mandingueira” in Portuguese. It is an up-tempo composition that begs for a drummer and a percussionist. Faquini himself adds vocal percussiveness at the introduction. Perhaps it is the simplicity of this production that beckons the listener to come closer, with open hearts, and to soak up the purity of their musical message. This music is not what I would call jazz, but it is drenched in the folklore and the hypnotic rhythms and language of Brazil. It’s a sweet listen.

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BEATA PATER – “TET” B&B Records

Beata Pater, vocal; Hiromu Aoki, piano; Dan Feiszli bass; Brynn Albanese & Emily Lanzone, violin; Peter Jandula-Hudson, viola; Barbara Spencer, cello; Steffen Kuehn, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Gove, trombone; Meredith Brown, French horn; Aaron Lington, bass clarinet/flute.

This is Beata Pater’s ninth CD release and “Tet,” the album title, is the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, as well as the symbol for nine. In numerology it stands for completion. Beata Pater explained her description of “Tet.”

“It is symbolic of creativity; a vessel which holds something within a womb for creation. Goodness is hidden within it.”

Opening with the Freddie Hubbard gem of a tune, “Little Sunflower”, Beata Pater’s smoky voice tenderly caresses his song. There is something about this vocalists’ voice that creates a signature sound, much like the great Morgana King or the memorable Shirley Horn. Once you hear Beata Pater, you will remember her sound. She has a unique tremolo, along with her rich alto tones that suddenly soar into a sweet, second soprano. She slides sleepily and laid-back up and down the scale on “It’s a Lazy Afternoon.”

Pater’s vocalization is hypnotic. Hiromu Aoki’s piano solo tinkles the upper register, with the string ensemble beautifully cushioning their arrangement. It’s an intriguing arrangement that highlights Beata Pater’s vocals, expertly framing the colorful tones of her voice. There’s also the hint of an accent to uniquely make her style unforgettable. She tackles some challenging melodies on this album like Chick Corea’s “Crystal Silence” and the haunting song, “Invitation.” Alex Danson’s string arrangements are stunning, as are the rhythm section arrangements that Hiromu Aoki and Beata created. As a violinist herself, Beata Pater pulls from her multi-musical talents and worldwide experiences. After all, she draws from Polish roots, has lived in England, and spent a decade in Japan. Currently, she has settled in San Francisco.

On this project, she scats and plays with the familiar “Old Devil Moon” tune, making it one of the few up-tempo arrangements she offers us. With her serious classical studies and playing concert violin for several years in her native Poland, she brings a fresh face to these old standards, perhaps thinking more like a violinist than a vocalist. During the ten years she spent playing, teaching and performing in Japan, she met Aoki, who is one of Tokyo’s top, first-call accompanist for singers. They work well together, with neither afraid to jump off the mountain top without a parachute.

In celebration of her album title, Beata Pater has recorded nine songs and puts her own stamp on each one. This project is a tribute to modern jazz singing and arranging. Beata Pater has surrounded herself with outstanding musicians who play beautifully behind her unique and one-of-a-kind voice. She is the epitome of jazz, in her own delightful way.

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JUDY WEXLER – “CROWDED HEART” Jewel City Jazz

Judy Wexler, vocals/producer; Alan Pasqua, piano/melodica/whistling/co-producer/arranger; Larry Koonse, guitar; Josh Johnson, alto saxophone; Bob Sheppard, alto flute; Stefanie Fife, cello; Darek Oles, bass; Steve Hass, drums; Aaron Serfaty, percussion.

Vocalist, Judy Wexler, has chosen ten songs for this project, some by a group of younger composers on the jazz scene. A few of them are female jazz singers like Sinne Egg and René Marie. Sinne Egg’s “Crowded Heart” song is an extraordinary composition with a creative, challenging and lovely melody. It is the title tune of this album of fine jazz. Alan Pasqua’s arrangements shine on this song and all the others. Judy’s interpretation of Grammy Award Winning composer and artist, Gregory Porter, titled “Painted on Canvas” is sincere. It features a lilting saxophone solo by Josh Johnson. Porter is another fresh composer of lyrical jazz compositions that tickle the brain. “Stars” by Fred Hersch and Norma Winstone, becomes another fabulous pick, joining this abundant basket of winning compositions for Wexler to interpret. It allows Pasqua’s flying fingers to sound-paint original pictures on piano and Judy Wexler is once again challenged by a difficult melody with unusual intervals. She rises to that challenge fearlessly. Wexler has good pitch and enunciates perfectly, so her audience can enjoy every poetic nuance of the lyrics. However, her tone is sometimes quite nasal. This may cause her style to lean towards an acquired taste.

Alan Broadbent and Georgia Mancio’s “The Last Goodbye” is one of my favorites on this recording. This composition, tenderly explored by Judy Wexler, highlights her natural, chest register and her lower tones. The lyrics are rich and captivating.

In fact, all the lyrics of these well-chosen songs are beautifully written and gently scratch at the palate of the listener’s creative heart. Another song that rewards and inspires is René Marie’s “Take My breath Away.” The striking guitar of Larry Koonse introduces her final tune, “And We Will Fly.” This is arranged as a sultry, ebullient Brazilian song with Wexler’s voice bubbling happily above the ensemble. Steve Hass is king on drums.

Judy Wexler and her band of mighty men (plus Stephanie Fife on cello) celebrate songs we’ve heard but may not have listened to. They encourage us to appreciate newer, more modern composers and great lyrics. I commend her for steering away from the over-sung standards and choosing such a royal and ear-opening repertoire.
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PUSHING BOUNDARIES: JOYFUL AND STRAIGHT-AHEAD

May 7, 2019

PUSHING BOUNDARIES: JOYFUL AND STRAIGHT-AHEAD
By Dee Dee McNeil

May 7, 2019

JOHNATHAN BLAKE – “TRION” Giant Step Arts

Johnathan Blake, drums; Chris Potter, tenor saxophone; Linda May Han Oh, bass.

This is a two-record set that features the amazing dexterity and charisma of drummer, Johnathan Blake. On Disc 2, (that for some reason I listen to first) Blake opens cut #1. titled, “Bedrum,” with a flurry of trap drum power and innovation. No other instruments are necessary. He says it all. The next tune titled, “Good Hope” is a platform for Chris Potter, on tenor saxophone, Linda May Han Oh on bass and Blake on drums to explore Potter’s original composition. This song was originally inspired by South Africa and Potter uses a unique percussive approach on his saxophone. Blake is expert and captivating on his drum set.

The album title, “Trion,” is a physics term that determines a singlet state formed from three atoms of different colors. Blake originally created this trio as a collective. They called themselves, the BOP Trio, inspired not only by a reference to bebop, but definitely representing the initials of each member’s last name (Blake, Oh and Potter). They’ve been playing together for some time, not only as BOP, but in various other musical settings. Consequently, there is a chemistry and closeness evident on this recording. This music was captured and recorded ‘live’ at New York City’s famed Jazz Gallery before a spellbound audience. Blake plays drums with fire and power. He commands the attention throughout this recording. Johnathan Blake has jazz running through his DNA. His father was the late jazz violinist, John Blake Jr.

Linda May Han Oh begins the introduction of the “Eagle” composition on her bass. Both she and reed master, Chris Potter are impressive modern jazz players. Ms. Oh is given a lengthy opportunity to solo during this composition and throughout this recording. Potter is creative and formidable on his tenor axe, lending consistent powerful solos.

“I’m in awe of both Linda and Chris. This was a really beautiful chance for us to make some honest music together and I really enjoyed the process. We all felt very comfortable in the cordless format. We really know how to fill up the space without getting in each other’s way, which gives each one of us the opportunity to have our shining moments,” Blake shared his appreciation for his bandmates in his liner notes.

Blake, also a composer, wrote some original music for this project that reflects his early days, growing up in Philadelphia’s Germantown and embracing the hip hop and funk music of his younger years, incorporating it smoothly into a jazz format. This trio’s music definitely reflects freedom as they continuously explore expert and creative improvisation.
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MARK DRESSER SEVEN – “AIN’T NOTHING BUT A CYBER COUP & YOU” Cleanfeed Records

Mark Dresser, double bass /Mclagan Tines/composer; Nicole Mitchell, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Marty Ehrlich, clarinet/bass clarinet/alto saxophone; Keir Gogwilt, violin; Michael Dessen, trombone; Joshua White, piano; Jim Black, drums/percussion.

“Black Arthur’s Bounce” opens this CD. Bassist/leader, Mark Dresser has composed this song and all ten of the compositions on this album. His opening tune is avant-garde, with plenty of dissonance and shocking horn harmonies to awaken the senses. It’s written in memory of alto saxophonist, Arthur Blythe, who left a legacy of experimental and extreme modern jazz for the public to consume. Nicole Mitchell’s flute adds brightness and bounce to these dark chords. This is a twelve-minute tune, allowing each ensemble member to step forward and spray improvisational notes all over the place. Joshua White’s piano solo provokes my attention. He’s fluid, strong and attacks his solo with two-fisted, ten-finger power. Jim Black, on drums, never stops inspiring these musicians. His trap drums beat consistently and tenaciously throughout, propelling each song and accenting each musician’s creative improvisation. Here is a musical excursion into the outer limits. Both Marty Ehrlich (reedman) and leader Mark Dresser played with Arthur Blythe’s band before his departure from this Earth on March 27, 2017. Consequently, there is a warm and close connection to their friend and musical mentor.

The waltz composition, “Gloaming” is very melodic and beautiful, showing the tender side of Dresser. The violin addition by Keir Gogwilt sings sweetly. There is no question, Dresser writes lovely melodies and the tunes inspire the spirit, if the listener can let go and dive deep. Between the composed works, Dresser includes short bass solos and improvisations on the McLagan Tines. The McLagan Times instrument is a set of seven graduated steel rods, looking similar to a kalimba, but with larger, rounder tines. This may be another salute to Arthur Blythe, who always included various odd and little-known instruments into his concerts and recordings.

The title tune, “Ain’t Nothing but a Cyber Coup & You” cries out to his public in an activist voice, perhaps referring to the Russian intervention into our elections and using the internet to hack, mislead and influence American voters. In his liner notes, Dresser gives credit for this composition and title to a column written by journalist, Paul Krugman, a New York Times opinion columnist. Dresser describes his piece as an honorarium to the current “reality-horror-show of corruption, malice, xenophobia and class warfare” apparent under the current administration and trickling from the top, downward.

“Let Them Eat Paper Towels” is another protest title that refers to the horrible way Donald Trump treated the victims of Hurricane Maria upon visiting a devastated Puerto Rico. Any news-watcher will recall how America’s rogue president visited the island and shocked us by disrespectfully tossing paper towels into the crowd. The bass line of this tune is an abstraction of the melody of “Que Bonita Bandera” that is the unofficial national anthem of Puerto Rico. Dresser built the counter-lines on this musical basement.

All in all, this is an hour’s worth of creative, ethereal and modern jazz expression, encapsulated and cushioned in avant-garde arrangements and the freedom of technically trained and proficient musicians who showcase Mark Dresser’s composing skills.
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PABLO LENOUGUERE – “ECLECTICO” Independent Label

Pablo Lanouguere, upright & electric bass/composer; Nick Danielson, violin; Fredrico Diaz, guitar; Emilio Teubal, piano; Franco Pinna, drums; Fernando Otero & Antonio Boyadjian, synthesizer.

Argentinian bassist, Pablo Lenouguere, is a composer who offers a dozen original tunes on this album. Born in Buenos Aires, he earned a degree in jazz from the Escuela de Musica Popular de Avellaneda. Six years ago, he moved to New York. His original music embraces modern tango, classical music and his Argentine culture. The first composition showcases the strength and character of his drummer, Franco Pinna. Pianist, Emilio Teubal, plays a very classical role on this track. Pablo Lenouguere’s composition titled, “Piano Piano” features time changes that create suspense and space for his ensemble to improvise, with Nick Danielson’s violin often playing in unison with the piano’s melodic lines. On Cut #3, “Villa,” Lanouguere steps forward on his bass to also sing the tune’s melody, doubling with the piano once again. His compositions are very classically influenced and sometimes melodically repetitious. Lenouguere’s style seems to be based in looping the melodies. These melodies play over and overagain during these compositions, the way hip-hop artists loop their background music. The difference is, this production is quite classical, dramatic and splashed with Tango elements.

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

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MARK TURNER MEETS GARY FOSTER Capri Records

Gary Foster, alto saxophone; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Putter Smith, bass; Joe LaBarbera, drums.

On this recording, you will find long, suite-like pieces of music, featuring alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass and drums. With the dynamic Putter Smith on bass and the iconic Joe LaBabera at the drums, Mark Turner and Gary Foster are left with plenty of room for saxophone freedom of expression. This project was recorded live and encompasses a two-CD set of brilliant bebop and straight-ahead music. This first tune, “Background Music” offers twelve minutes of recording space for each of these four master musicians to explore their instruments and spotlight their sparkling talents. Below is a recording that features Gary Foster with Joe LaBabera, John Heard on bass and Jimmy Rowles manning the piano.

Although three decades separate Foster and Turner, there is a kindred spirit that connects them musically. Gary Foster, born May 25, 1936, has played on soundtracks that celebrate the work of such iconic artists as Toshiko Akioshi, Lew Tabackin, Barbra Streisand, Mel Torme, Frank Sinatra and too many more to list. He’s been around the jazz and music scenes for over half a century and his talents have meshed with Clare Fischer, Louie Bellson, Jimmy Rowles, Poncho Sanchez and Cal Tjader. Gary Foster’s influences on saxophone embrace historic players like Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Stan Getz. He moved from Leavenworth, Kansas to Los Angeles in 1961 and established a friendship with the great composer/arranger Clare Fischer and composer/tenor saxophonist, Warne Marsh. In fact, Marsh composed the opening song on this album. Foster is a popular studio musician who can easily adapt to any musical style. He plays pop music as flawlessly as jazz and also enjoys his work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the L.A. Opera orchestra. He has also played on Grammy, Emmy, and Oscar-winning soundtracks.

Mark Turner is a Scorpio, born in 1965, nearly thirty years after Gary Foster’s birth. Turner grew up in Fairborn, Ohio, the son of a family whose house was always full of jubilant music. In their African-American, mid-western home, there was R&B, jazz, soul and gospel being played consistently. In elementary school, young Turner played clarinet before gravitating to the saxophone. His professional parents instilled in him a strong work ethic. In search of becoming the best he could be, young Turner studied the music of Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, John Coltrane and Warne Marsh, to name just a few. Little did he suspect that one day he would meet and play with someone who had been a dear friend of Warne Marsh. Turner graduated Berklee College of Music in 1990 and recorded five albums of his own. He has developed a style that leans heavily on melodic resourcefulness and modern jazz creativity. For example, listen to the ingenuity he uses during the cadenza introduction to the standard, “Come Rain or Come Shine.” But there is a story behind this unique recording with Gary Foster. Foster explained their meeting this way.

“What follows is my recollection of the details of the concert that became the new Capri CD. It was February 2003. Mark Masters brought Mark Turner to perform on a concert series that Masters and faculty member of Claremont College, Ron Teeples, had established at the school. I had heard, but had not met Mark Turner prior to that date. We had one brief rehearsal. The inclusion of the Konitz-Marsh-Tristano originals and the standards were common repertoire and were chosen at that rehearsal. All of the Claremont events were recorded and, I believe, that when Mark Masters and Tom Burns decided to release this CD, the original recording required no sound or performance editing. Masters, Turner and I were together in 2017 for the Capri recording “Our Metier” and spoke then of the 2003 concert at Claremont,” Mr. Foster told me.

Because these two horn players share mutual idols including Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano, in spite of the fact that they had not played together until that 2003 college concert, they sound perfectly matched, inventive and comfortable on this recording. Additionally, you will enjoy their interpretation of the Sonny Red tune, “Teef” and thrown in for good measure, two quickly recognized standards; “What’s New?” and “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
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BILLY BRANDT – “CITY NOIR” Independent Label

Billy Brandt, vocals/composer/guitar; Chris Symer, acoustic & elec. bass; Emmanuel del Casal, acoustic bass; Jamie Maschler, accordion; Bradley Hawkins, cello; Tim Kennedy & John Hansen, piano; Alexey Nikolaev, saxophone; Jeff Bush, percussion; Brad Boal, drums/bongo; Jamael Nance, drums; Brian Monroney, acoustic guitar/12-string guitar/baritone guitar; Joe Doria, Hammond B3 Organ; David Arteaga, Hans Brehmer, Kelly Ash & Darelle Holden, backup vocals.

Based in Seattle, Billy Brandt is a composer, vocalist, guitarist and bandleader. This album is based on his concept of a black and white film of Seattle City, portraying lives and scenes with poetry, lyrics and music that he has composed. The music is a blend of jazz, R&B and soul music. To my ears, he sounds like a storyteller/songwriter rather than a jazz singer. His music is more blues than jazz, and leans more towards soul and R&B. Brandt’s lyrics reflect contemporary city life and the people entrapped in big, city blues and struggle. From the “Frances Doesn’t Care for the Blues” tune to “Ooh Sha Dooby,” (the title garnered from a Rolling Stone tune), he paints lyrical pictures of hard times and dead-end streets. The composer is definitely a poet and his lyrics are strikingly picturesque. However, musically, his melodies are repetitive and sound more like folk music than jazz; almost rock-folk. His product appears to be more like a songwriter’s well-produced demo, than an artist’s album. The band makes this record praiseworthy. At the end of his production, the addition of David Arteaga as a background vocal on the Cuban Reprise of “Ooh Sha Dooby,” rejuvenates Brandt’s composition and brings life to this project.
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ERNEST TURNER – “MY AMERICANA” Independent Label

Ernest Turner, piano; Lance Scott Jr., bass; Jon Curry, drums.

As energy and awesome musicianship leaps from my CD player, I’m enthralled. Ernest Turner comes out like a heavy weight boxer, strong and challenging on the piano. “Return of Thanos” is an exciting original composition and one of three that Turner has composed and arranged for this production. He is ably assisted in the delivery of an outstanding jazz project by Lance Scott Jr., on bass and Jon Curry, dynamic on drums. Turner punches his piano with two-fisted determination. Jon Curry smashes his trap drums in the most amazing way.

“Dienda” is a lovely ballad composed by Kenny Kirkland. I once heard Sting sing this song and it’s very beautiful, both melodically and lyrically. The melodic bass lines of Lance Scott Jr., support Ernest Turner’s musical storytelling in a rhythmic and sensitive way.

“In thinking about “My Americana,” I wanted to cover songs that reflected how I grew up. So I focused on what I call the ‘Black American songbook,’ including songs from the church and spiritual traditions, while running the pop/jazz gamut from Stevie Wonder to Thelonious Monk and Kenny Kirkland,” Turner explained in his liner notes.

Both artistic and creative, this pianist has worked with iconic musicians including Frank Foster, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, the Heath Brothers, Ron Blake, Nnenna Freelon and some of the Marsalis family; like Delfeayo and Jason. He’s also leant his piano mastery to ‘pop’ and soulful arenas including a collaboration with John Legend on his recent Christmas album.

Every song on this album is well-played and enjoyable, from “Monk’s Dream” to the Fats Waller standard of “Ain’t Misbehavin” and the Stevie Wonder Classic, “If It’s Magic.” He blesses us with Thomas Dorsey’s classic church hymn, “Precious Lord” and finalizes his CD with the Civil Rights hymnal, “We Shall Overcome.” Well done!
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CHRISTIAN LI & MIKE BONO – “VISITORS” Tone Rogue Records

Mike Bono, guitar; Christian Li, piano; Jared Henderson, bass; Lee Fish, drums; Alex Hargreaves, violin; Chris Marion, strings; Dayna Stephens, saxophone; Jimmy Macbride, drums.

Mike Bono’s guitar solo becomes the focus on his opening composition titled, “Puddles.” Although this is a small ensemble, their arrangements are plush and fat. I regret that it took me so long to listen to this well-written and well-played CD.

Christian Li has composed the second cut, “Little Rascals” and the pianist’s racing fingers, paired with an improvised drum solo by Lee Fish splashes into my room with colorful improvisation and creativity. Bono and Li have composed all of this repertoire for their production and the compositions are memorable. This is quality improvised music, utilizing piano and guitar as the centerfold of arrangements that spreads open like a glossy, well-read magazine. Here is imaginative and sensuous music that incorporates Alex Hargreaves violin excellence, Dayna Stephens saxophone skills, and Jared Henderson’s double bass. Chris Marion adds synthesized strings on track nine and along with the drum power of Lee Fish, Jimmy Macbride plays trap drums on a couple of tracks. These music masters project Bono and Li’s original compositions with gusto and technical precision. You will hear an improvisational and melodic beauty to every arrangement.
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TIERNEY SUTTON BAND – “SCREENPLAY” BFM Jazz

Tierney Sutton, vocals; Christian Jacob, piano; Kevin Axt, & Trey Henry, bass; Ray Brinker, drums/percussion. SPECIAL GUESTS: Serge Merlaud, guitar; Alan Bergman, vocals.

Tierney Sutton has a voice as warm and inviting as a summer sunrise. This outstanding jazz vocalist has chosen to interpret songs from screenplays as her project’s theme. She opens with the popular and haunting song, “The Windmills of Your Mind,” an Academy Award winning composition by Michel Legrand with lyrics penned by the Bergman’s. Not only is Ms. Sutton an interpreter of the lyrical content, she lends believability to the stories. Tierney Sutton ventures easily into scat singing, using the full power of her vocal excellence and whimsical imagination.

One of the outstanding things about this project are the arrangements. On her first song, for example, with only sparse accompaniment, Tierney Sutton’s voice sings legato above Christian Jacob’s piano and the creative drum licks of Ray Brinker. Sutton draws us into the melody with her inventive arrangement of this tune. Her choice of songs explores nearly eighty years of American film. You will be entertained by fifteen tracks of familiar music including, “Moon River,” that always recalls the Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie. She makes this presentation a medley, adding “Calling You,” and borrowing this arrangement from one of my favorite Natalie Cole albums, while she and Trey Henry add a little arrangement twist of their own.

Other familiar songs you will enjoy are, “How Do you Keep the Music Playing,” “If I Only Had A Brain” from the Wizard of Oz, and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” On the popular standard, “On A Clear Day,” Christian Jacob is dynamite on piano. The double-time trap drums, by Ray Brinker, masterfully inject a spirited pulse into this tune. Tierney Sutton and her band always entertain with excellence and creativity, painting each arrangement with fresh colors and allowing the brightness of Sutton’s soprano voice to apply the finishing touches.
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SMALL COMBOS WITH BIG SOUNDS

April 27, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

April 27, 2019

JORDON DIXON – “ON!” Independent label

Jordon Dixon, tenor saxophone; Allyn Johnson, piano; Herman Burney, bass; Carroll V. Dashiell III, drums; J. S. Williams, trumpet.

Composer, tenor saxophone player, Jordon Dixon has a gritty, blues-laced sound on his horn. On the first composition, “Notes From the Nook,” and one of my favorite cuts on this CD, his ensemble steps out with a bang. Pianist, Allyn Johnson, is featured and is a member of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) faculty. He spearheads their jazz program. Once Jordon Dixon offers up his melody, groove and inspired saxophone solo, Johnson lays down his own improvisational beauty on the grand piano.

Bassist, Herman Burney, has been greatly influenced by the church, inspired by artists like Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin and James Cleveland. In younger years he played clarinet, drums and tuba, before embracing his love for the bass instrument. This could have been inspired by the booming bass voice of his father, who sang the bass part in an a‘Capella group.

Drummer, Carroll V. Dashiell III has a stellar resume. Among many accomplishments, he was the Kelvin Washington Orchestra drummer. Then, from 2005 – 2012, he performed on the Congressional Black Caucus Awards Television Show, with the Clarence Knight Orchestra. He also has his own CD release, “Heir to the Throne.”

The talented group leader, Jordon Dixon, is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He began playing saxophone at twelve-years-old. By the time he was a teen, you could see him sitting-in at the local jam sessions where folks realized and praised his talent and determination. When he turned nineteen, Dixon joined the U.S. Marines and for the next eleven years, he played his horn with their orchestra. Once honorably discharged, he pursued a music education degree at UDC. Jordon Dixon was heralded by the Washington City Paper as “the Best Tenor Saxophonist of 2016.” This album clearly supports that tribute. His lovely ballad, “We Kin” whose title I interpret two ways, an homage to family and a slang spelling of ‘we can,’ has got a lilting, afro-Cuban feel that stages a groove and platform for Jordon Dixon to explore and share his tenor talents. The title tune, “On!” is ethereal and unfolds in a magical way with arpeggio piano and a heavy brush of cymbals. Then it bebops into my room with a swagger, like a well-dressed, eye-candy, catching my undivided attention.

Dixon’s composer skills are evident and the players mesh and blend into each other comfortably, like old friends or family. I enjoy Burney’s big, beautiful bass skills on the double bass. When he opens the next tune, “Flame and Friction” he establishes the melody and sings it strongly before Dixon and his guest trumpeter, J.S. Williams, join him. This is a deep-seeded blues number that gives Williams an opportunity to strut his trumpet stuff with excellence and verve. This quickly becomes another one of my favorites on this remarkable recording. I do love me some good blues! All in all, I would have to say that every single cut on this album is worthy of several enjoyable listening experiences. Jordon Dixon is an important member of the Washington, D.C. jazz community and bound to make a prominent, soulful and hard-bop-mark on the worldwide jazz scene with this release.
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EHUD ASHERIE TRIO – “WILD MAN BLUES” Capri Records, Ltd.

Ehud Asherie, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Rodney Green, drums.

This is an entertaining and creative exploration into early New Orleans jazz by pianist Ehud Asherie. His dynamic trio opens with the title tune, “Wild Man Blues,” a Louis Armstrong composition. This melodic journey gives us an opportunity to meet all three players; Asherie on piano, Peter Washington, persuasive on bass and Rodney Green, forceful and tasty on drums.

“Parker’s Mood gives the ‘blues’ a twirl around the compact disc dance floor. They pick up the pace on “Flying Down to Rio,” and clearly Ehud Asherie has the chops and the timing to explore the outer limits of this tune with integrity and technique on the grand piano. He has chosen a repertoire that embraces the American song book and adds popular jazz standards for good measure. His interpretation of “Chasin’ the Bird” Is fresh and ear-appealing. His piano arrangement embraces the contrapuntal, two-horn lines in a very innovative way on the 88-keys.

A fresh face on the international jazz scene, born in 1979, Asherie is a native of Israel, who lived for six years in Italy and then moved to New York with his family. Surprisingly, he is largely self-taught and cut his jazz teeth sitting in at Smalls in NYC and becoming a fixture at the jam sessions. The late Frank Hewitt took young Asherie under his wing and mentored him. He has studied and mastered the art of stride piano and he can swing with the best of them. One of his acclaimed albums celebrates the music of Eubie Blake. He also plays organ and has recorded duet projects featuring saxophonist, Harry Allen. His recording accomplishments include being one of the players on “Boardwalk Empire” that won the 2010 Grammy Award for the soundtrack of that HBO televised program. Both Peter Washington and Rodney Green are genuine forces in their own musical rights and add spice and flavor to this project.
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AKIRA TANA & OTONOWA “AI SAN SAN – LOVE’S RADIANCE” Vega Records

Akira Tana, drums/fan drums/bongos; Noriyuki Ken Okada, bass; Art Hirahara, piano; Masaru Koga, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute/shakuhachi; GUEST MUSICIANS: Shoko Hikage, koto (Japanese zither); Kenny Endo, taiko & percussion; Tetsuya Tatsumi, cornet.

The First tune, “Antagata Dokosa” is a traditional Japanese song arranged in such a way that the group seems to celebrate John Coltrane in style and presentation. It’s bebop smart, melodic and straight-ahead. I think to myself, if this is a sample of the music I’m about to hear, I’m all in!

But the second song becomes a tribute to pan-piper music. “Ai San San”, the title tune is poignant and features Masaru Koga moving from tenor saxophone to flute. Although well-played, it’s a pretty drastic change from the first composition and arrangement. The flute he plays is the shakuhachi flute and the song is also featuring Kenny Endo on taiko drums. However, when you set the bar so high on the first tune, to trade straight-ahead jazz magic for smooth jazz is a bit shocking to the senses.

The third tune is another moderate-tempo ballad. It’s not until I read the liner notes that I realize what this group of musicians called, Otonowa, is trying to accomplish. They are arranging traditional Japanese songs into jazz and, at the same time, making tribute to the people affected by that horrific Eastern earthquake and tsunami that occurred in March of 2011. That nature-event destroyed much of the coastal regions of Northern Japan and claimed over 20,000 lives. This Cd is made to pay homage to the survivors and those who lost their lives to this terrible event. “Ai San San” translates to “Love’s Radiance.”

The fifth tune is joyful, arranged by bassist Noriyuki Ken Okada, and is obviously based on the Sonny Rollins hit, “St. Thomas.” It gives us an opportunity to enjoy the likes of drum maestro, Akira Tana, and the bass perfection of Okada-san. The sixth composition, “Hamabe No Uta,” reminds me of the sensitivity and melodic beauty of “Danny Boy,” a beloved Irish composition, enjoyed worldwide. On composition number 7, “Summer” (a theme from “Kikujiro No Natsu”), master drummer, Akira Tana cuts loose and shows off his powerful ‘chops.’ On cut #8, we return to the energy of the opening song. It’s been composed to remember and tribute Coltrane and it’s titled, “Taiyo Ni Hoero” with notable arrangements by bassist, Okada. Art Hirahara shines brilliantly on piano, Akira Tana keeps the rhythm section pumped up on trap drums and Masaru Koga flies powerfully on his horn, like a wild eagle into the wind. Akira Tana takes to the bongos on “Kando,” introducing this tune rhythmically before the ensemble joins him. This composition has an afro-Cuban-feel to it, blended uniquely with Asian minor chords and melodies. It was written in tribute to Chris Kando lijima, a pioneer of the Asian/American movement and founder of Asian Americans for Action, a civil rights organization of the sixties. Finally, they close with Horace Silver’s popular composition, “Peace.” This is World Music, flavored by Japanese culture and interpreted using American jazz as the catalyst.
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SKIP WILKINS QUARTET FEATURING DANIEL WILKINS – “CZECH WISHES” New Port line

Skip Wilkins, piano; Tomas “Kastan” Baros, bass; Marek Urbanek, drums; Daniel Wilkins, tenor saxophone; Miroslav Hloucal, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Daniel Wilkins has a sweet, husky sound on his tenor saxophone as he opens this CD with a tune titled, “Teacher.”. Daniel and Skip Wilkins have been collaborating musically since 2012, when they released a Cd titled, “Father and Son. Skip is the father and his son, Daniel, is his featured saxophonist on this project. It was developed after Skip Wilkins travelled, on tour, to the Czech Republic and fell in love with their music, art and culture. Consequently, these original compositions mirror a Prague/ Pennsylvania connection. Beginning with his “Teacher” composition. I think, perhaps it reflects the sabbatical he took from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania to write a collection of original works. However,the liner notes tell me it was written for his Czech language teacher.

For a decade, Skip Wilkins had an opportunity to teach and perform throughout Europe. But it was the Czech Republic that stuck an arrow into the heart of his music. Below, view one of his ‘live’ performances at AghaRTA Jazz Club in Prague.

Wilkins has incorporated young Czech musicians into this project. In 2016, the logistical planning for “Czech Wishes” began. That’s when Skip Wilkins began composing for this CD. It was January of that year, and he was touring. He knew what Czech musicians he was going to use, and they are the ones listed above, including Miroslav Hloucal, a virtuoso trumpeter. I enjoyed his solo on the first cut.
Skip Wilkins writes very melodically and plays piano with passionate exuberance. His arrangements leave plenty of room for these musicians to showcase their individual talents. Daniel Wilkins brings saxophone fire and energy to the group. Marek Urbanek shows his drum skills, especially obvious on “Munchkins of Karlovy Vary” where the ensemble swings hard and up-tempo. Urbanek takes advantage of the appropriate breaks in the arrangement, showing awesome prowess on his trap drums. On “The Box-Checkers” you can hear the grit and gusto in Tomas “Kastan” Baros’ bass playing. He’s walking that double bass at a swift pace, chasing Skip Wilkins’ bright piano licks and flying fingers.

This is an album full of bright, harmonic horn lines, fresh compositions and inspiring arrangements. All the musicians are skillful and their repertoire covers hard bop, blues, Ballads, and a blend of American and Czech jazz that captivates and entertains.
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BEN WINKELMAN TRIO: MATT PENMAN, OBED CALVAIRE – “BALANCE” OA2 Record Label

Ben Winkelman, piano; Matt Penman, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums.

Pianist/composer, Ben Winkelman was born in Eugene, Oregon, but grew up in Melbourne, Australia. He’s been living and working in New York City since 2010. This is his fifth album release and his goal is to find balance between composition and improvisation; planning and spontaneity. His music is wrapped in the originality of his compositions as he and his trio strive for balance between the intellectual and the intuitive. I am drawn into his work on the third tune titled, “Wheels.” It’s hard bop at its best, with Winkelman’s fingers flying across the keys precisely and with astute technique. Matt Penman is up for the challenge, making the double bass swing and sing at maximum speed. His bass solo is beautiful and his timing is impeccable. Obed Calvaire, on drums, pushes the trio energy with maximum, but tasty power, soloing on the fade. Yes, this tune sounds gospel-based, but races straight-ahead, like its title, “Wheels” that could be attached to cars at the Indianapolis 500 races.

“Santiago” is beautifully performed by Winkelman, taking tender time in the upper-register of the grand piano, with Penman once again creating a lush bottom of bass for the pianist to sit upon.

All tracks have been composed by Ben Winkelman with the one exception, “Bye-Ya” by Thelonious Monk. Winkelman has arranged tune in his own way and states, in liner notes, that Monk is one of his favorite jazz composers. “Merri Creek” becomes a great platform for Obed Calvaire to dance on his trap drums. He and Winkelman seem to have a contrary motion moment at the introduction and before they settle into a moderate tempo, Latin-tinged tune. I enjoy the blend of Latin and straight-ahead that Winkelman integrates within this arrangement.

Winkelman is an award-winning pianist and recording artist, who has utilized grant support from the Australia Council and other arts organizations. He holds a Master of Music degree from SUNY Purchase College and has toured Europe, Asia and extensively in Australia.
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NICK SANDERS TRIO – “PLAYTIME 2050” Sunnyside Communications, Inc.

Nick Sanders, piano/composer; Henry Fraser, bass; Connor Baker, drums.

The cover of Nick Sanders’ album is startling. New Mexico-based artist, Leah Saulnier has painted a young girl in pigtails, wearing a gas mask, cuddling her stuffed rabbit, also donning a gas mask.

“When I first saws the image, I found it really interesting and weird, not to mention starkly different from any artwork I’ve seen in the jazz world. I liked its tongue in cheek look at the state of the world today, with the silver-lining being that it’s clearly about surviving,” explained Sanders.

The Sanders album reflects, in art and music, a warning and inference to protect our air and our planet. It also, by way of Nick Sanders playful piano excellence and the little girl on the cover, seems to personify the innocence and hopefulness that children always reflect in their forgiving, hopeful attitudes. The style and personality of Sanders’ piano delivery has been shaped by his New Orleans roots, combined with his respect and inspiration from mentors like Jason Moran and his love of influential composers like Herbie Nichols, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman. With that in mind, his “Live Normal” composition, as well as cut two, “Manic Maniac” are both built on solid melodies before stretching out like bubble gum being pulled playfully from a child’s mouth. Sanders stretches the limits as far as arms-length and fingers allow. His improvisations are thoughtful and deliberate. Henry Fraser, on bass, roots the music and holds the chord changes solidly in place, especially noticeable with the sudden time element changes and fluctuations. “Playtime 2050,” the title tune, is more bebop than modern jazz and pleases this listener’s musical palate. Nick Sanders manages to insert his style and new, modern jazz ideas into this tune, with Connor Baker on drums and Fraser’s walking bass becoming the sturdy tree from which Sanders can branch out. There’s a saying in the music community that “you can’t lose when you choose the blues” and the Nick Sanders original composition titled, “Prepared for the Blues” shows us he can get down and dirty with the best of them.

When this young talent first tackled the piano, he was a second-grade student. His classical performances won him numerous regional and national competitions, before jazz lured him away with her sensuous freedom. You can hear the deep classical roots inside Sanders’ collection of thirteen original compositions. During the time of polishing his craft and student studies at the New England Conservatory, he studied with such luminaries as John McNeil, Ran Blake, Cecil McBee and Fred Hersch.
Nick Sanders concludes, “This is my contribution to the idea of pushing the music forward, which I think is extremely crucial in keeping the music alive and culturally important.”
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RUSS JOHNSON – “HEADLANDS” WOOLGATHERINGRECORDS.COM

Russ Johnson, trumpet/composer; Rob Clearfield, keyboard; Matt Ulery, bass; Jon Deitemyer, drums.

In 2015, Russ Johnson was commissioned to premiere a set of compositions for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in Chicago. The result is this album, a Suite, featuring six compositions connected by solo improvised passages that gives each member of Johnson’s ensemble an opportunity to spread wings and fly. His music is modern jazz, open and elasticized to allow maximum freedom and flexibility by each musician. Johnson’s trumpet enters and calms the fray. With Jon Deitemyer brilliant and bashing on drums, Russ Johnson walks his trumpet to center stage and brings a magical, meditative effect during the second track, titled “Serpent Kane.” His tone is soothing and the stories his horn tells are engaging. Johnson’s trumpet solo morphs into cut #3 titled, “Transition” where Johnson makes an a ‘Capella, solo debut. These ‘transitions’ happen throughout this recording, affording each musician a solo time to make their musical statement. There is no space between tunes, so the suite of music plays smooth and uninterrupted. It’s a compelling and creative album that mixes styles like a thick stew, baked in a modern jazz pie crust and seasoned generously with classical technique.

“This is music that takes risks; the goal is not finding ‘perfection’ within a performance, but to truly create the Suite anew with every new opportunity,” summarizes Russ Johnson.
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DAVE STRYKER – “EIGHT TRACK III” Strikezone Records

Dave Striker, guitar/producer; Stefon Harris, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums; Mayra Casales, congas/percussion.

I was looking forward to listening to this new Dave Stryker album, because he has a way of using organ and guitar groups to reinvent R&B and funk tunes into very jazzy arrangements. Starting with Curtis Mayfield’s, “Move On Up,” he and Jared Gold on organ establish a swinging rendition of this tune. McClenty Hunter smacks the groove into the production with unrelenting drum licks and Stefon Harris brightens this arrangement on the vibraphone. Cut #2 reaches into the Motown archives and pulls out the popular “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” that the Temptation group turned into Gold record history. Hunter lays down that solid drum lick so popular on the original tune, and they keep the bass line as well. Stryker offers the melody on his capable guitar and Gold’s organ puts the swing into the song. There are some real gems on this album. They’ve reinvented two of Stevie Wonder’s iconic hits including “Joy Inside My Tears” and “Too high”.

The Roy Ayers hit record, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” will invigorate you on Harris’ stellar solo, but I miss the groove from the original recording. Mayra Casales’ percussive additions help elevate the arrangement. However, the melodic line of this song gets lost in Stryker’s arrangement. The Leon Ware/Marvin Gaye collaboration of “After the Dance” is perfectly re-arranged into a bop-shuffle, with Stryker’s guitar singing the melody atop the rich organ chords of Jared Gold and McClenty Hunter shuffles his drums provocatively to keep the motion moving.

Their interpretation of “We’ve Only Just Begun” composed by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams, is performed as a beautiful ballad, giving space for featured guest, Stefon Harris, to solo on vibes. Karen Carpenter’s amazing vocals are unforgettable. The ensemble swings hard on “This Guy’s in Love With You” a Bacharach and David classic. This arrangement made me wish for a swing dance partner and had me rocking back and forth in my office chair.

Stryker always had in mind creating a trilogy of music by producing three albums that reinvented classic songs from R&B, funk and pop groups, turning them into jazzy standards with his talented trio of musicians. Their repertoire was pulled mostly from the days of Eight Track tape recorders, wide-legged pants and Super Fly attitudes. I enjoyed his first two albums. With the addition of his special guest and friend, Stefon Harris, the trilogy dream is now complete.
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THE OGJB QUARTET – “BAMAKO” TUM Label

Oliver Lake, alto & soprano saxophones; Graham Haynes, cornet/doussin gouni; Joe Fonda, bass; Barry Altschul, drums/percussion/mbira.

From the first strains of music, this quartet has a big sound. They are only four musicians, but they sound like a much larger group. The powerful drums of Barry Altschul immediately grab my attention as they roll and race beneath the opening tune titled, “Listen to Dr. Cornel West.” The modern jazz spewing from my Cd player is aggressive and in-your-face, like the speeches and comments of Dr. West. Saxophonist Oliver Lake and cornet player, Graham Haynes shout at each other and sometimes harmonize tightly, locking horns like arms. Joe Fonda rolls and rubs his double bass, finally stepping out front to take a solo and quieting the other members of this boisterous ensemble. The OGJB Quartet is a collaborative effort based in New York. Members Lake and Altschul are pioneers of modern, improvised music since the 1960s. The other two members, Haynes and Fonda began their association with the genre in the late 70s. All four artists are composers and each is highly acclaimed on their instrument. Haynes, Fonda and Altschul are all New Yorkers. Oliver Lake is a native of St. Louis and respected as one of the founders of the Black Artists Group (BAG). Lake lived briefly in Paris, France and finally settled in New York where he founded the World Saxophone Quartet with David Murray, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. He’s also a co-founder of Trio 3, comprised of himself with Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille.

Flexing a full, rich sound, the OGJB Quartet lifts the listener with music that inspires. This is no easy task, since the expected guitar and/or piano, as part of the rhythm section, is missing. However, it does not hinder or minimize the creative juices of these players and their magnificent presence and sound.

Graham Haynes, on cornet and doussin gouni, grew up in Queens. He enjoys fusing jazz with elements of electronic music and hip-hop. Back in 1979, he and alto saxophonist Steve Coleman played together as a group called Five Elements. Haynes always incorporates African, Arabic and South Asian music into his performances. He too spent time living and playing his horn in Paris before returning to New York. When he’s not performing on stage or touring, you will find him bent over music paper and composing for films.

Joe Fonda attended Berklee College of Music. On bass, he’s recorded with Wadada Leo Smith and has collaborated with Anthony Braxton. Fonda wrote the opening composition, “Listen to Dr. Cornel West”.

On cut #2, Oliver Lake recites his poem, “Broken In Parts” atop the title tune, “Bamako” with Asian sounding music unfolding beneath the spoken word. The music runs like a stream, moving briskly and uniquely in the background. It was written by Graham Haynes and he is featured on the doussin gouni, a guitar-like string instrument from the African continent.

Barry Altschul soars on drums during his solo on the original composition, “GS #2.” He steals the attention with his powerful sticks and technique. Altschul is an old pro, having honed his percussive teeth working with highly influential and iconic musicians like Paul Bley, Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea and Sam Rivers. These were some of the hottest bebop/freebop players to gain notoriety in the 1970s and 80s. After living a decade in Europe, he returned to New York to teach and inspire young musicians. Altschul established the FAB Trio and recorded the “History of Jazz in Reverse” CD and led the 3dom Factor with saxophonist Jon Irabagon and Joe Fonda, both produced for the TUM label. When you wrap all four of these unique and world-class musicians together, they create a quartet offering spontaneous combustion, creativity and jazz originality.
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THE PSYCHOLOGICAL INFLUENCE OF JAZZ

April 14, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
April 14, 2019

This time, some of the music I’ve reviewed highlights the amazing psychological influence jazz has on both listeners and the players. According to recent studies, jazz listeners are twenty-five percent less depressed than non-listeners. Scientists discovered that those who listen to jazz after a stroke improve their verbal memory, their moods and cranial focus by sixty percent, compared to non-jazz listeners who improved only seventeen percent. On the physical side, it was discovered that jazz boosts the immune system. So, let’s put aside the aspirin and listen to some jazz instead.

ANDY MILNE & HIS DAPP THEORY BAND have used psycho dynamics to create his new music. LARRY FULLER inspires listeners with blues-soaked jazz. BIRCKHEAD is a composer/activist. AIMEE NOLTE is “Looking for the Answers” on her newest release. ALEX SILLS uses smooth jazz to explore “Experiences: Real and Imaginary.” PABLO ASLAN is a Latin Grammy Award Nominated bassist and producer. GREG WARD introduces us to a Rogue Parade.GREGOR HUEBNER offers his shockingly beautiful violin mastery and LAUREN WHITE is the latest vocalist produced by Mark Winkler.

ANDY MILNE & DAPP THEORY – “THE SEASONS OF BEING” Sunnyside Records

Andy Milne, piano/composer;/poet; Aaron Kruziki, soprano saxophone/clarinet/bass clarinet/douduk; John Moon, spoken word vocals; Christopher Tordini, acoustic & electric bass; Kenny Grohowski, drums; FEATURED GUESTS: Ben Monder, guitar; Ralph Alessi, trumpet; La Tanya Hall, vocals/spoken word; Michael Attias, alto & baritone saxophone; Christopher Hoffman & Jody Redhage, cello.

From the cover of this compact disc, it would appear that the creator of this music loves dogs. There are several pedigrees pictured. Yet the album is titled “The Seasons of Being.” Hmmm. That’s a teaser for my brain. I’m anxious to listen. On the opening tune, dancing atop a piano background, a female voice tells me this is an “ …Exploration into psycho dynamic forces … changing brain waves … healing”. Then a male voice enters, accompanied by bass and drums. He tells me that “Each of us is made of flesh and bones/ hearts and minds/customized by our environment.” The voice explains, “ … music has the power … a blueprint that acknowledges and incorporates our emotional character.” Andy Milne’s poetry pulls at your mind, while a double bass solo soars over the repetitive background track. The pianist, poet and composer here is Milne. He strives to incorporate ‘spoken word’ with modern jazz, applying the principles of homeopathic healing and improvisation to interpret his “Dapp Theory Ensemble”. The result is fresh and creatively inviting.

During a life crisis, where Andy was fighting Prostate Cancer, he sought to better understand homeopathic healing. His study of that subject led him to a project he calls, Chamber Music America. This project is meant to broaden the range of musical expression for not only the participating musicians, but to stimulate the listener and perhaps even become a catalyst for healing. As a professor at the University of Michigan, Andy Milne and his Dapp Theory ensemble endeavor to stretch the boundaries of modern jazz and mix the music in such a way that it not only entertains, but also informs the listener. Perhaps music infuses the cells of the body and not just the ear-ways.

On track three, “The Guardian” features the sweet, soprano vocals of La Tanya Hall, who sings a very difficult melody of unexpected and challenging intervals. She is also the voice that transmits some of Milne’s prose throughout this recording. Jody Redhage’s cello work on this song is a lovely addition to the arrangement. Aaron Kruziki’s soprano saxophone is stunning and takes flight on the fade of this song in a beautiful way. John Moon is another ‘spoken word-smith.’ He adds Andy Milne’s rap-like flavor on the “Scotopia” tune. We hear Andy Milne’s piano solo on this ‘cut,’demanding our attention in an enchanting and sugar-sweet way. Ralph Alessi’s trumpet slaps the jazz into place, merging from solo to unity with the saxophonist. Kenny Grohowski’s fluid and powerful drum licks demand to be acknowledged and he holds the rhythm firmly in place. On the original composition, “Three-Way Mirror,” Christopher Hoffman bows an impressive cello solo.

This is an interesting album, dependent on merging several artists beneath a colorful umbrella of Andy Milne’s creativity. This is his novel approach to composing and merging a group awareness, epitomizing a democratic approach to collective music, adding prose mixed with instrumental freedom, wrapped in emotional deliveries.

However, I still don’t know why there are dogs on the cover.
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LARRY FULLER – “OVERJOYED” Capri Records

Larry Fuller, piano; Hassan Shakur, bass; Lewis Nash, drums.

Larry Fuller opens with a Wes Montgomery composition titled, “Fried Pies.” It’s beautifully performed by Fuller, who intricately laces his bebop arrangement with deft touches of the blues. Fuller’s music is rooted with blues tones, although he is clearly a serious jazz player. I am immediately enthralled with his piano playing and technique. Hassan Shakur steps into the spotlight on bass. He’s technically and creatively brilliant. The dynamic Lewis Nash brings his powerful drumming stage center, and offers an exciting solo. The title tune is the second track and absolutely beautiful with Fuller tenderly caressing the melody on the eighty-eight keys; first performing alone and I am already completely engaged by Fuller’s solo piano introduction, when, after several bars, Nash and Shakur join him. Stevie Wonder’s tune is excellently performed.

“Lined with a Groove” is a Ray Brown composition. Larry Fuller had the pleasure of performing with the iconic bassist, Ray Brown, up until Ray’s death in 2002. Brown always chose to work with pianists who could ‘swing’ and who had blues-based roots. Larry Fuller is just such a pianist.

After the death of Brown, Fuller joined the John Pizarelli Band and stayed for nearly ten years. His piano mastery has been in demand over his stellar career by such masters as Stanley Turrentine, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Phil Woods and Clark Terry.

As a native of Toledo, Ohio, Fuller started playing professionally before he was a teenager. For a time, vocal legend, Ernestine Anderson scooped him up as her pianist and musical director. That says to me that Larry Fuller is not only an amazing pianist, but he’s also a sensitive and talented accompanist. This recording is a work of art, seriously executed by three wonderful musicians. Larry Fuller described his musical intentions.

“My goal is to uplift people with the joyous spirit of the music. To Play with joy, to swing and play the blues; these are the hallmarks of jazz that inspired me as a child. They are traditions that I continue to aspire to.”

That says it all.
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BIRCKHEAD Ivory Antidote Music

Brent Birckhead, alto saxophone/composer; Corey Wallace, trombone; Samir Moulay, guitar; Mark Meadows, piano/Rhodes; Romeir Mendez, bass; Carroll Dashiell III, drums.

Brent Birckhead is a composer, an activist and an alto saxophone player based in Baltimore, Md. His music is hardcore, straight-ahead and energized. Punctuated by the bold use of a mononym, (only his last name of Birckhead), this reed player is seeking to establish a musical legacy. With this, his debut album as a band leader, he has composed all the music with the exception of the Donny Hathaway tune, “Someday We’ll All Be Free.” His ensemble features some of the best players in Baltimore.

The first cut is stuffed with blues. The melody is catchy and Birckhead’s saxophone introduces us to it, along with Corey Wallace on Trombone. It’s a short interlude that quickly fades into Birckhead’s original composition, “The Alchemist,” where Mendez’s swiftly walking bass doubles the time and encourages the band to race along beside him. Birckhead takes this opportunity to establish his talent and to display freedom on his instrument. Next, Samir Moulay steps out front to dynamically solo on his guitar.

Cut #4 is a nice blend of groove and straight-ahead with Birckhead’s alto saxophone supreme and prominent. This is one of my favorite tracks on his CD. Mark Meadows offers an energy-driven piano solo showcasing captivating character and technical prowess. “Song for Nicole” is a beautiful ballad, that shows off a different tone and side of Birckhead’s masterful saxophone work. Track 9 is titled, “The Witching Hour” featuring a racing tempo with a repetitive bass line played by Romeir Mendez. His bass pumps the rhythm along with Carroll Dashiell III on drums. Birckhead chases the wind on this one.

Their arrangement of Donny Hathaway’s composition, “Someday We’ll All Be Free” is full of protest and freedom. Birckhead’s saxophone captures the unsung lyrics in a flurry of notes and emotions. This is a very artistic, melodic and well-produced jazz album. Birckhead and his band combine soul music, R&B and Bebop innovation as a subtle catalyst for the serious jazz Birckhead’s original compositions offer the listener.
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AIMEE NOLTE – “LOOKING FOR THE ANSWERS” Aimee Nolte Music

Aimee Nolte, piano/voice/composer/organ/synth bass; John Clayton, bass; Bruce Lett, bass; James Yoshizawa, drums; Mike Scott & Jason Neubauer, guitar; Doug Webb & John Reilly, woodwinds.

Her voice is full of poetry and worldliness. Her production is wrapped in a musical ball of emotional delivery. Right away, I know she is a songwriter. After listening to only a few tracks, I am certain that Aimee Nolte wrote these stories from her heart and she’s probably playing piano. I look in the liner notes to discover I’m correct. She’s a composer and a pianist; a producer, arranger and a poet.

Aimee Nolte is fresh and interesting to my ears. She’s a mixture of pop, folk and jazz music; a singer who tells stories in a very sweet way. The opening song, “The Loveliest Girl” was written by her guitarist friend, Matthew Clark, and is quite folksy, with a unique story that Aimee Nolte shares, expressing beautifully the lyrical lines. For example:

“ … the sun was running his fingers through my hair to make it glow … I was born in the center of the sun; … all the other sunbeams, we were the same; preparing ourselves for a long and lonely journey into space.”

This song sticks in my mind, lyrically and melodically. However, in my opinion, “Falling Snow” is the hit record on this CD. It’s Michael Frank-ish intoxication and Brazilian influence dances across this CD with melodic precision.

Aimee’s jazzy scat-side shows itself brightly on track 5, bathed in a Latin arrangement, and again on track 7 when John Clayton joins her and they duet on “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Her spontaneous scat-singing is fresh as she rejuvenates this old standard without words. This entire production is a pleasant excursion into the world of a talented singer/songwriter/pianist who boasts over 140,000 subscribers on YouTube, where she shares music and educational videos, featuring various music topics like harmony, arranging and advanced jazz piano.
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ALEX SILL – “EXPERIENCES: REAL AND IMAGINARY” Independent Label

Alex Sill, Electric & acoustic guitar/composer/keyboard/ programming/vocals; Otmaro Ruiz & Vardan Ovsepian,piano; Dave Grusin,piano/keyboard; Benjamin j. Shepherd,electric & acoustic Bass;Gene Coye,drums;Danny Jankow, alto saxophone; Jacob Scesney,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Mike Cottone,trumpet;Oliver Schnee, vocals.

Easy listening, smooth jazz saunters off my CD player. A lovely piano solo by Otmaro Ruiz tickles the senses and Danny Jankow’s saxophone plays tag with Alex Sill’s electric guitar. Sill has a quiet style of playing that captures the attention because of the emotions he instills in his music. Janklow has a special tone on saxophone that catches my ear once again on cut #4 titled, “Chaparral.” On the whole, this is a very classical music production, featuring the original music of Alex Sill and incorporating vocal harmonies and saxophone to flavor his competent trio. It’s beautiful music, albeit very ‘laid back.’ Every cut is in the realm of moderate tempo. I would have enjoyed hearing Sill stretch out more on his guitar in a more exciting, up-tempo, Bebop way. He is certainly technically astute on his instrument and more than capable of playing just about anything. However, on this project, clearly Alex Sill has his own intent and purpose. Perhaps, he explains that purpose best in his own words.

“More than being a collection of original compositions, ‘Experiences: Real and Imaginary’ is a concept record of sorts, allowing me to explore the connections between music, imagery, and the psychological implications of the two. …In high school, I began studying the topic in depth. … It wasn’t until my college years at Cal Arts that I came across the work of Carl Jung, one of the founders of analytical psychology. …Towards the end of his life, Dr. Jung became very interested in the connections between archetypal behavior in humans and music. … This music was more or less designed to allow listeners to tap into their imaginative, storytelling centers; … allows you to fill in the blanks with your own, internal cinema.”
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PABLO ASLAN – “CONTRABAJO” Sound Brush Records

Pablo Aslan, bass; Cuarteto Petrus: Pablo Saravi, violin; Hernan Briatico, violin; Adrian Felizia, viola; Gloria Pankaeva, violoncello; SPEICAL GUESTS: Paquito D’Rivera, clarinet; Raul Jaurena, bandoneon.

Pablo Aslan is a Latin Grammy Award Nominated bassist and producer. He is best celebrated for his work in combining tango and jazz. This album is a lovely and memorable combination of double bass with string instruments. Aslan’s project is meant to show that the bass instrument is not just the foundational driver of the rhythm section, but it’s also a melodic instrument. Pablo Aslan quickly shows us this concept in his various presentations and improvisations using the double bass instrument as the center of attention. With the exception of his special guests, Paquito D’Rivera, playing clarinet on one song (“Tanguajira”) and Raul Jaurena adding his bandoneon talents on “La Cumparsita”, the remaining songs are all bass accompanied by strings. Latin culture and classical music flavor are richly shared throughout this production more-so than jazz, with the exception of the beautiful Duke Ellington composition, “Come Sunday.”

Aslan’s friend and mentor, Gabriel Senanes (who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina), wrote, produced and arranged several pieces on this CD. When Pablo Aslan reached out to other close friends to contribute compositions, he picked out several that leant themselves to his premise of bass and chamber-type string accompaniment. The result is an innovative and very beautiful tribute to the double bass, performed by the amazing talents of Pablo Aslan and his ensemble of top-notch string instrumentalists.
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GREG WARD PRESENTS ROGUE PARADE – “STOMPING OFF FROM GREENWOOD” Greenleaf Music

Greg Ward, alto saxophone/composer; Matt Gold & Dave Miller, guitar & effects; Matt Ulery, acoustic & Electric bass; Quin Kirchner, drums.

Greg Ward is dramatic with his presentations, compositions and arrangements. This album explores his songwriting and features eight original tunes and one Hoagy Charmichael classic; “Stardust.” His decision to incorporate guitars into his ensemble, with drums, and both electric and acoustic bass gives this production a sense of space. Synthesizers and electronic effects also permeate his arrangements. These things create a unique musical platform for Ward’s saxophone to play upon. Ward is inventive and exploratory with both his arranging and composing skills, albeit repetitive. Some of the bass lines, locked-in with the drums on “The Contender” are annoyingly repetitious for my taste. However, I’m relieved when the guitar solo steps outside that repetitive box and at last, Greg Ward steps forward on his alto saxophone. I also hear the excitement that Quin Kichner kicks up on drums, beneath the fray.

“The Fourth Reverie” is modern jazz and explosive; obviously in search of continuous freedom. I do wish I could hear more of Ward’s saxophone solos. There is a lot of time spent with the guitar and saxophone playing repetitive melody lines. Perhaps because his compositions are often rooted in repetition and sometimes, like on “Let Him In”, I start feeling like I’m in a traffic jam with angry drivers honking horns at me. That destroys the musicality and pushes me out of my musical comfort zone. On the tune, “Black Woods” Matt Ulery is featured on acoustic bass and quiets the mood, training our vision on his bass beauty while displaying technical power on his instrument. When the arrangement brings the rest of the ensemble in, we immediately race into modern and avant-garde jazz realms. That is the premise that pushes this entire project. Sometimes I just feel Greg Ward obfuscates his musical intentions.
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GREGOR HUEBNER – “EL VIOLIN LATINO VOL. 3 – LOS SONADORES” Zoho Records

Gregor Huebner,electric & acoustic violin/octave violin/vocals; Yumarya, voice; Klaus Mueller,piano; John Benitez,bass; Louie Bauzo,congas/bongas/quinto/caja; Jerome Doldschmidt,congos/bata/cachimbo/vocals; Ludwig Afonso,drums; Edmar Castaneda, harp; Karen Joseph, flute; Ruben Rodriguez, bass; Johnny Almendra, timbales; Mappy Torres, vocals.

A shockingly beautiful violin opens the second track of Gregor Huebner’s album and it stops everything I’m doing. The song is “Obsesion,” hauntingly interpreted by vocalist, Yumara. When Gregor Huebner re-enters the arrangement on violin, I am once again captivated by his talents. He makes that violin dance sweetly, floating like cherry blossoms in the wind. This song is a 1935 bolero, sung in Spanish and locked into a clavé-based groove. The next track is a protest song about leaving the land of your roots, where you should have felt safe, and venturing to new spaces to begin anew. Once again, Gregor uses the voice of Yumara to sing this ode to finding freedom. She performs in both English and Spanish. It’s a moderate tempo, with driving percussions and a melody that sings like a chant. Huebner uses his violin to interject the sweetness into a tragic story. John Benitez and Louie Bauzo pump the percussion up and their rhythms are infectious.

On track 5, “Para Un Mejor Mundo” Gregor Huebner once again takes stage center to sing his awesome song on violin. He plays with magnificent passion that grips your attention. Edmar Castaneda takes a significant solo on harp.

This album of fine, Cuban music is full of spice and splendor. I especially enjoyed the Afro-Cuban blend of rhythms and chants. “Yuruban Fantasy” is a composition written by Huebner that mirrors the marriage of African and Cuban spiritual music.

This artist/activist offers us an album that speaks to what is going on in the world and also encourages us to effect positive change. He is using music to inspire us and to be a catalyst for change. Herein, you will marvel at maestro Huebner and his amazing violin talents. He joins the ranks of many of today’s musicians, who hope their recordings touch something within the listener’s spirit that provokes the good and lights the darkness.
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LAUREN WHITE – “LIFE IN THE MODERN WORLD” Café Pacific Records

Lauren White, vocals; Quinn Johnson, piano/arranger; Mark Winkler, producer/vocals/lyricist; Kevin Axt & David Finck, bass; Marvin “Smitty” Smith & Chris Wabich, drums; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Grant Geissman, guitar; Alex Budman, saxophone; Tatum Greenblatt & Michael Stever, flugelhorn/trumpet; Francisco Torres, trombone; Dave Mann, flute.

Lauren White’s repertoire is rich and includes songs with great melodies and introspective lyrics for her to interpret. The musical ensemble is fabulous and the tracks swing and are perfectly produced. Producer, Mark Winkler, a solid entertainer and recording artist himself, continues to showcase unexposed talent from the Southern California jazz and cabaret arena. Ms. White is one such artist. She has a voice that is pleasant enough, but without a notable style of her own. That is to say, when you hear Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee or Diane Schurr, you immediately recognize their singular vocal style and tone. Lauren White sounds like a million other singers. However, her choice of songs and wonderful back-up band make this recording a pleasant listen.

Along with her artistic, recording and singing-side, the multi-talented Ms. White has found success as a producer on one of my favorite HBO series called, “Homeland.”
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CONTINENT TO CONTINENT: JAZZ REIGNS

April 2, 2019

CONTINENT TO CONTINENT: JAZZ REIGNS
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
April 2, 2019

IRO HAARLA, ULF KROKFORS & BARRY ALTSCHUL –“AROUND AGAIN –THE MUSIC OF CARLA BLEY” TUM Records

Iro Haarla, piano; Ulf Krokfors, double bass; Barry Altachul, drums.

TUM Records is a Finnish record label, established in May of 2003. They proudly produce high-quality, modern-jazz-based recordings, in a very selective fashion. They also sponsor such events as the TUMfest in Helsinki. Consequently, it is not surprising that they have chosen to record this Finnish trio of musicians who are celebrating the music of Avant-garde composer/pianist, Carla Bley.

This is free music, thoughtful, unpredictable, soothing, shockingly beautiful and very classically-based jazz. Pianist, Iro Haarla, wraps her fingers around the keys with technical execution, tenderness and drama. She makes Carla Bley’s music comes alive with pulse and power, in her own sweet way. Ulf Krokfors is dynamic and creative on his double bass. He has a way of finding balance between listening and playing, carefully adding his bass support, while offering necessary space for his band members to shine. He’s sensitive that way.

Drummer, Barry Altachui, explains in the liner notes that he first met Carla Bley when Paul Bley hired him as part of their trio. Consequently, he brings deep authenticity to the bandstand. That was a time of great creativity and inventiveness for Barry Altachui. His drumming blossomed during this period of his life. As he comments in the liner notes, Carla Bley left quite an impression on him.

“When performing her music, you find that it is not only interesting and creatively challenging to play, but also a lot of fun,” Altachui shares on the CD jacket.

To accompany Iro Haarla’s piano interpretations, he admits to changing his approach somewhat in order to support and compliment her unique and inspired interpretation of Bley’s music.

Their beautifully prepared CD package has an extensive biographic description of Carla Bley and her music, including four-color photographs and bios on each of these trio members. However, it is the lovely music they offer the listener that brings the most pleasure and invites us to embrace this tribute to Carla Bley. Iro Haarla’s openness and delicate approach on her instrument draws us through a straw of intricacy and expression. Together, these amazing musicians document history in their own proficient and exquisite way.
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JOHN PATITUCCI – “SOUL OF THE BASS” Independent Label

John Patitucci, acoustic bass/6-string electric bass guitar/electric bass/piccolo electric bass; Nate Smith, drums; Greisun, vocals; Isabella Patitucci, vocals; Sachi Patitucci, cello.

All you beat-makers out there, this is a must have disc for study and inspiration. For all you bass players, this is an enormous insight into a legendary musician’s musical mind and an educational experience. Here is John Patitucci’s sixteenth solo record and perhaps his most intimate one to date.

From the very first solo, acoustic bass notes played on “Soul of the Bass,” I am drawn, like quicksand, into his artistic work. For all you musicians and songwriters out there, you will clearly understand when Patitucci says this piece of bass magic has an AABA form. You may even be inspired to write lyrics and melody to his tenacious bass line. The second cut, “Seeds of Change” features Nate Smith’s drums and Patitucci soloing on his six-string bass, setting up a killer-groove. If you want to hear a haunting and soulful blues line, wish granted on “Morning Train.” Patitucci slides in-and-out of notes like a country-blues guitarist or a blues singer. This bass riff is borrowed from a Mississippi spiritual by Fred McDowell. I’ve heard this line in many other songs and once you listen to it, you’ll find it sticks to your brain forever. “The Call”, that is the fourth cut, is the epitome of funk tracks, with a Weather-Report-feel and an infectious energy.

Track-by-track, Patitucci shares his brilliance and talent in a very intimate way. This project has been in his heart for several years and it could be referred to a follow-up to his 1991 effort, “Heart of the Bass” that was nested in an orchestral setting and also featured his acoustic bass and 6-string bass guitar. But this is John Patitucci’s first truly solo bass statement, and I found it masterful.

Inspired by our current political climate, he has chosen several titles for these affective bass lines that mirror hope and introspection. Perhaps he explains it best in his liner notes:

“Right now, it seems like we’re at a low point when it comes to topics like truth and care and empathy for the poor and for immigrants. As a person of faith, I’m committed to fighting against racial and social injustice. I like to use the artistic platform I’m fortunate to have to speak out, engage people and try to be uplifting.”

On the Bach inspired, “Allemande in D minor,” his bass line rings almost prayer-like. On the eleventh cut titled, “Sarab” he adds Isabella Patitucci on vocals along with Greisun. Their voices lend a mysterious and spiritual essence to this original composition by Patitucci. He has composed every bass line melody herein. Closing with “Truth” Patitucci incorporates Sachi Patitucci on cello and mingles the feeling of chamber music into the mix.

I found this album of personal history highlighting John Patitucci’s musical life to be highly inspirational and uplifting. His soulful bass delivery is iconic and motivating, reflective of the great impression he has made in this wellspring of the music business.
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SENOR GROOVE – “LITTLE HAVANA” Zoho Records

Roddy Smith, guitar; Tim Smith, bass; Marcelo Perez, drums; Martin Bejerano, piano; Murph Aucamp, percussion; Tom Kelley, saxophones; Tim Gordon, saxophone/flute/bass clarinet; David Sneider, trumpet; SPECIAL GUESTS: Ed Calle, saxophone; John Daversa, EWI; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Andre Bernier, organ; Nick Lamb, synthesizer; Roxana Amed, vocals; Gary Lindsay, string arrangement; David Davidson, Karen Winkelman & David Anell, violin; Monisa Angell, viola; Carole Rabinowitz, cello.

Little Havana is just west of downtown Miami. It’s a vibrant neighborhood developed in the 1960s by folks who fled Cuba, looking for freedom in the United States. Impressionably, it’s a neighborhood rich with Latin culture, food and music. Tim Smith has long been intrigued by Little Havana. He moved to Florida in 2014 to attend the Frost School at the University of Miami. After graduation, he joined the university staff to become a professor of bass studies. Tim stems from a musical family; he and his brother Roddy Smith blossomed that way. Roddy is a master guitarist who’s based in Nashville, Tennessee. The brothers have a history of recording hot groove bands for the Zoho label, from being part of a back-up band for Bonnie Bramlett’s “Roots Blues and Jazz” to producing a straight-ahead jazz album with Boots Randolph on saxophone.

When Tim met the remarkable drummer, Marcelo Perez in 2014, they had an immediate musical connection. A new band was conceived and this is their premier recording as “Senor Groove.” The core of that group are the Smith brothers, drummer Perez, Martin Bejerano on piano and percussionist, Murph Aucamp. Several other musicians sweeten the pot.

Senor Groove’s songs start out more like easy listening than the exciting, danceable Cuban music I am prone to enjoy. Their original composition, “3.5X2,”is a pretty tune based on 7/4 timing and what some refer to as, ‘laid-back.’ Tom Kelley is featured on saxophone. On track two, “Drume Negrita” the drums shine diamond bright with Murph Aucomp the percussion star on this cut. The compelling voice of Roxana Amed, (an Argentinian singer), interprets this Cuban lullaby in a lovely way. I hear all-kinds-of-blues in the piano solo or Martin Berjerano. The title tune Is propelled by Tim Smith’s staunch bass line and embellished with unison horn activity and melody lines. Finally, on “Little Havana” the fire in the music burns through and the salsa is invigorating. Tim Gordon is king on flute, until the tune abruptly fades out, just when I was about to leap from my chair and dance around the house. I wanted more! The “Linville Falls” composition, (by The Smith brothers and R. Ogdin) is a unique blend of Bluegrass and Latin music. It’s an up-tempo number with plenty of happy grooves to invigorate the listener. This CD exudes Latin culture, funk grooves, and a plethora of talented musicians who, for the most part, interpret the original music of the Smith Brothers.
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NICK GRINDER – “FARALLON” Outside In Music

Nick Grinder, trombone/composer; Ethan Helm, saxophone; Juanma Trujillo, guitar; Walter Stinson, bass; Matt Honor, drums.

I wondered what the title of Nick Grinder’s album meant. So, of course I looked it up and in Spanish, it means cliff. The liner notes explained it is also the name of a group of islands that lie thirty- miles west of the Bay Area’s Golden Gate Bridge. These islands are off-limits to human beings and occupied instead by a rich variety of marine mammals and seabirds.

“When you grow up in a place, you have these markers that end up having a special meaning and feeling that sneaks in and helps to define who we are,” Grinder says. “If you grow up in a city, it’s the streets that you walk on every day or the route you drive to work; inconsequential things you don’t even think about until you move away. The Farallon Islands were a backdrop to my youth in the Bay Area and I feel that music is like that. It has a visceral impact that can follow you throughout your life.”

Consequently, as I listened to his original compositions, I was listening for that island; for that wild life and that seclusion; for musical hints of nature’s beauty and free-flying seagulls. The first track is titled, “New and Happy.” It’s full of contrary motion and happy horn harmonies as an introduction. Then Walter Stinson pumps his double bass and Nick Grinder takes a smooth-sailing trombone solo. Several bars in, Juanma Trujillo, (Nick’s former classmate at Cal State Northridge) adds his rhythmic guitar licks to the mix. Enter Ethan Helm on saxophone and Matt Honor locks everything down with his powerhouse drums. I picture waves crashing and seals pulling their shiny-wet, brown bodies upon the rocks.

Grinder has composed all the music on this project with the exception of one of my favorite Thelonious Monk compositions titled, “Reflections.” Grinder explains that he has been greatly influenced by Monk as an artist and composer.

Grinder explained, “He writes tunes that are so lush, especially his ballads, but then his style of playing is so stripped down and unique, and I love that juxtaposition. Everyone wants to write the perfect song, and “Reflections” is an example of something that I think achieves that.”

Nick Grinder has been complimented by Slide Hampton as “an important future voice in jazz trombone.” Grinder began playing professionally at age fifteen. He studied with Bob McChesney and obtained his master’s degree at NYU. He’s played in the pit orchestras of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, then recorded with artists such as Patti LaBelle, DMX, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Grinder released his first solo album in 2014. As a sideman, he prides himself in being diversified and working with Alan Ferber’s big band and then playing with the Mambo legends Orchestra in the next breath. He’s enjoyed stints with Wycliffe Gordon, Jimmy Owens, Ralph Alessi and many more too numerous to list. Some of my favorite tunes that he composed on this recording are: “New and Happy,” “Inaction,” where his somber tones were inspired by the murder of Trayvon Martin. His trombone tones are velvet smooth and full of expression. His melodies are rich with emotion. “Deciduous” which means a tree is shedding its leaves annually. This composition flies freely, allowing space for improvisation and instrumental introspection. This song is very modern jazz and cutting edge, leaning towards Avant-Garde. The Title tune, “Farallon” gives the string instruments an opportunity to sing the melody and improvise a bit before Nick Grinder enters on his elegiac trombone. My only criticism would be that I wish there was more joy and less pathos in these compositions.
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TOM CULVER – “DUKE’S PLACE” Café Pacific Records

Tom Culver, vocals; Rich Eames & Josh Nelson, piano/arranger; Ric Hils/co-arranger; Larry Koonse & Pat Kelley, guitar; Rickey Woodard, saxophone; Nolan Shaheed, coronet; Gabe Davis, bass; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Mark Winkler, duet vocal.

Los Angeles veteran vocalist, Tom Culver, has chosen the music of Duke Ellington for his latest recording. The songs are as timeless as the voice of Culver, who displays a smooth, silky delivery and pleasing tone. Beginning with “Duke’s Place,” Culver comes out swinging, surrounded by a band of masters including Rickey Woodard on saxophone, who plays a straight-ahead solo and fills every empty musical space with joy. The rhythm section, led by Rich Eames on piano, shuffles along in deft support. There is something relaxed and inviting about the way this vocalist sings. You can tell he’s seasoned in his art and comfortable with telling stories and selling lyrics. Other familiar Ellington gems that he tackles are “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart,”(performed as a slow shuffle), “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” (featuring the bluesy guitar of Larry Koonse and a tasty, soulful coronet solo by Nolan Shaheed), “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” (featuring Josh Nelson playing stride piano), “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady” and “Caravan.”

Tom Culver also introduced me to an Ellington song I hadn’t heard before titled, “Everything But You.” It was co-written by Harry James, with Don George writing the catchy lyrics. Great song. All in all, you will enjoy Duke Ellington’s great composer skills, interpreted by this vocalist. This is his fifth album and Tom Culver is an artist who incorporates his life-long passion for music into each recorded delivery.
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SCOTT ROBINSON – “TENORMORE” Jazz Arbors Label

Scott Robinson, tenor saxophone/composer; Helen Sung, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Dennis Mackrel, drums; Martin Wind, string bass/acoustic bass guitar; SPECIAL GUEST: Sharon Robinson, flute.

The highest, sweetest notes push out from Robinson’s tenor saxophone, alone and uncensored. They are solo, with no accompaniment and I think, wow – listen to those tenor notes flying like a whistle in the night. Then he goes down an octave, to a sound I’m more accustomed to hearing played on the tenor saxophone. Without a warning, Robinson flies back up to the whistle sound that first grabbed my attention. McCartney’s composition, “And I love Her” never sounded so unique; so good. Although admittedly, he’s not a big Beatle fan, Scott Robinson says the tune stuck in his head one night and after the band left the recording studio, he tried exorcising it from his brain by recording it a ‘Capella. It only took one take, with a split reed, to forever memorializing the exhaustion of a day’s recording and a life full of emotion and expression. This is the way he begins his newest CD.

Scott Robinson’s composition, “tenor Eleven,” follows. It swings, straight ahead and unapologetic. When his group enters, Robinson is already soaring though the ethereal vision of his original composition. His horn flies like a wayward, gypsy bird. The ensemble adds their driving compliment to his up-tempo piece that features Helen Sung on piano and Dennis Mackrel, dynamic on his drum solo. This album is full of surprises.

“Put On A Happy Face” is performed as a slow ballad, and I’ve never heard that song arranged this way. It’s poignant and anything but ‘happy’. But never mind! It’s clear that Scott Robinson is an artist who loves the element of surprise and artistic freedom. He takes a hauntingly beautiful solo on this familiar standard jazz tune, making way for Helen Sung to enter on the upper register of her grand piano. The pianist sings her blues in her own inimitable way. Sung has a light touch and an expressive approach to harmonics, with her right hand singing improvisational melodies atop chords of consequence and beauty. As soon as Scott Robinson rejoins the bluesy party, his saxophone cries atop the strong rhythm section. He makes me feel every teardrop in the universe. This arrangement is so striking that I pause to play that cut again.

Robinson is a fine composer, as well as a fluid and expressive reedman. “Morning Star” is another great original composition that could easily become a jazz standard. Celebrated with just saxophone and bass, it is a moving and melodic composition; very bebop. By the time the drums and piano enter, the tune is already established and moving at a moderate-tempo pace. I’m intrigued with this recording, recorded as part of concerts at Birdland in New York City on June 21 and June 22, 2018.

“Tenormore” is a very natural step for me,” Robinson shares in his liner notes. “The tenor saxophone is my main instrument, my home base, my comfort zone, if there is one. It’s like the sun, and all the other instruments are like planets that revolve at varying distances. So, I felt like it was time to make this album, to come out and make a statement: I’m still a tenor player at the core.”

“The Good Life,” starts out modern jazz and freely improvised on the tenor. It unexpectedly appears, unique like the hat Robinson wears on the cover of this CD, fashioned from 177 reeds that he’s played with over the years. He blows all this wonderful music out of a silver 1924 Conn that he rescued from a Maryland antique shop in 1975. He’s played it ever since. His treasured horn has become like an alter-ego, or a best friend over time.

“I often say that we two are like an old married couple. We roll our eyes but forgive each other’s faults, because we’ve been together long enough to realize that we’re better together than apart,” he describes his relationship with the horn.

His wife, who he’s been cohabitating with him longer than his horn, makes a guest appearance on “The Weaver,” playing flute. Sharon Robinson sounds beautiful and establishes the melody of her man’s composition before he brings his expressive horn onto the scene to color outside the lines and push the boundaries. Another favorite on this album is his funk arrangement of “The Nearness of You,” that adds an element of smooth jazz or contemporary jazz to his mix.

Scott Robinson has been heard in fifty-five nations and is recorded on over two-hundred-fifty sessions. Primarily a tenor saxophonist and composer, he is also a writer of essays, has written liner notes and was an invited speaker before the Congressional Black Caucus. Not to mention, he was selected as one of the Jazz Ambassador’s for the State Department. His music speaks for itself and certainly brightened my evening in a most entertaining and unforgettable way. Below is one of his ‘live’ performances with a different ensemble than the one featured on this CD.

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SOUL MESSAGE BAND – “SOULFUL DAYS” Delmark Label

Chris Foreman, organ; Greg Rockingham, drums; Lee Rothenberg, guitar; Greg Ward & Geof Bradfield, saxophone.

The Soul Message Band makes me want to have a party. They are full of energy, they groove hard and play soulfully. No wonder they have selected their band name to include the word ‘Soul.’ They are the epitome of that! This is their debut recording for the Delmark label and organ master, Chris Foreman, comes out swinging on the Lee Rothenberg tune, “Sir Charles.” I’m immediately captivated by this band because there’s nothing I love more than a jazz organ and guitar performance. Greg Rockingham solidifies the group on drums. He’s a powerhouse. The whipped cream on this sweet combination of driving rhythms and soulful melodies is the addition of saxophone. Greg Ward and Geof Bradfield are each stellar in their own right on reeds. Rockingham and Foreman have history. They were two-thirds of the popular Chicago band, Deep Blue Organ Trio. This organ master and drum connoisseur have played together for over two decades. You can feel their chemistry, dancing from the grooves of this compact disc.

Saxophonist, Geof Bradfield, remembers:

“I was doing a gig with Earland and Lonnie Smith at Chicago’s Green Dolphin Street in 1997. Great as those two masters were, a highlight was Chris Foreman showing up and bringing the house down. Earland was so excited by the groove Rock (Greg Rockingham) and Chris were hitting, he even borrowed my tenor and played a couple choruses.”

I was excited by Chris Foreman’s organ and this entire group of proficient and soulful musicians. You can immediately hear the influence of the late, great Jimmy Smith, but it was Jimmy McGriff who shared the organ bench with Foreman for years at the New Apartment Lounge on Chicago’s South-side. So, both organ masters played a big part in inspiring Chris Foreman’s technique and appreciation of the organ. Still, he brings his own awesome energy and emotion to these tunes. Lee Rothenberg is spicy and provocative on guitar, holding the rhythm down and always ready to take a spotlight solo. Every cut on this production is excellently produced.

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“ORGANISM” AND PERPETUAL OPTIMISM HIGHLIGHT NEW CD RELEASES

March 20, 2019

“ORGANISM” AND PERPETUAL OPTIMISM HIGHLIGHT NEW CD RELEASES
By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

March 20, 2019

Music keeps this journalist optimistic. Whether it’s played in Los Angeles, Boston, Columbus, Ohio; Hawaii, New York, Brazil, Africa, Everywhere U.S.A., Asia or Europe, jazz permeates the world with hopefulness and freedom. Meet some of the newly recorded artists who continue to keep jazz and optimism alive and read my feature interview with guitarist Doug MacDonald.

DOUG MACDONALD QUARTET – “ORGANISMS” Independent Label

Doug MacDonald, guitar; Carey Frank, Hammond B3 Organ; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Ben Scholz, drums.

Doug MacDonald is one of Southern California’s premiere guitarists. This is his fourteenth album release and his third recorded organ project. I’ve witnessed Doug MacDonald with a multitude of musical ensembles, from big band to trios; from combos to his 13-piece ensemble called, The Jazz Coalition. I’ve seen him work with jazz vocalists and in fact, I’ve had the pleasure of working with him myself. He’s an attentive accompanist and a provocative bandmate, who improvises freely and can also set down a strong rhythm guitar groove. He’s diversified, playing be-bop, blues, ballads and straight-ahead jazz fluidly, but also creating arrangements for ensemble productions, as well as producing concerts in and around Los Angeles.

MacDonald was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At age five or six, he and his family moved to Las Vegas and then, before puberty, the family moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. Doug became infatuated with music as a youth, playing in the school band. Surprisingly, he started out playing trombone

“There I am in Hawaii. … It was kind of a culture shock. I didn’t expect it to be so modern. I thought it would be like the old Hawaii I saw in books, with a king and a queen,“ he chuckles. “I was in Hawaii at about nine years old, until I would say I was about thirteen. I started trombone in the school band and guitar at the same time. The guitar won out. But I will say, being a trombone player, it got me interested in writing. I didn’t stay at it long enough to get good at playing the trombone. The breathing was very important, as you know. Sinatra learned breathing from Tommy Dorsey on the trombone. I liked everybody. I liked Wes Montgomery. I certainly liked George Van Eps and Johnny Smith.” *

*NOTE: In case my readers are unfamiliar with Johnny Smith, he was born in June of 1922, a native of Birmingham, Alabama. Guild, Heritage and even Gibson guitar manufacturers all designed models as signature guitars for Johnny Smith. This great musician died at ninety on June 11, 2013. Johnny Smith is lauded as being one of the most versatile guitar players of the 1940s and 50s. He was an in-demand studio session player and arranged music for NBC. He also composed music. He knew all the standards and could hang out with the jazz cats at Birdland in New York and then go sight-read a score in the orchestra pit of the New York Philharmonic. Smith recorded on the Roost label and on Verve. His highly praised record was “Moonlight in Vermont” listed as one of DownBeat Magazine’s top jazz records in 1952.

When I listen to Doug MacDonald’s new CD, I hear a lot of Johnny Smith’s brilliant and subtle influence. MacDonald’s playing sometimes voices closed-position chords with a flurry of rapidly played melodic lines racing smoothly across the strings. At the same time, MacDonald strums an intense rhythmic undertone that both supports and enhances each song he plays. Starting out with “It’s You or No One,” MacDonald’s quartet sets the pace briskly. But it’s Doug MacDonald’s composer talents that really gets my attention. “Jazz For All Occasions” has a bit of a Latin flavor and a solid melody line for the quartet to embrace and improvise around. Carey Frank is astute on the Hammond B3 organ. There’s nothing I like better than the merger of guitar and organ. MacDonald and Frank do not disappoint. Each takes a stellar solo, fluttering mid-tempo around the chord changes with dominance and creativity. Bob Sheppard reinforces the melody on saxophone. “L&T” is another original composition by MacDonald that showcases his more straight-ahead side. Chatting with Doug over the phone today, he continued sharing his background with me, as I enjoyed his newly released CD.

“I kind of liked and listened to everybody. Miles Davis said years ago, you pour everything out, like into a funnel, and then you use it. You come up with your own combination. I started out as a blues guitarist. I liked B.B. King and T-Bone Walker. Then I ended up becoming more jazzy, because I thought, well – I’m not a singer. I thought it would make more sense to play what I call the classical music of America, which is jazz. In Hawaii, I started playing publicly and got to play with Gabe Baltazar, a fine jazz saxophonist and also trombonist, Trummy Young. I worked with Del Courtney at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Early on, I had an interest in ensembles from playing the trombone as a kid. I got into writing and arranging later. I think blues was a good place to start. That’s the roots of jazz.”

You hear the blues in MacDonald’s playing clearly on cut number seven, “Centerpiece,” where he and Carey Frank on organ, along with the smooth tenor saxophone of Bob Sheppard get loose and accelerate their talents in a dark blue direction. Ben Scholz is steady and pronounced on trap drums, holding the ensemble tightly on-course. Next comes the tune, “Too Late Now.” They play it as a ballad, but it too is thick with blues tones. Sheppard’s tenor sax sings a smoky, sexy song and Frank’s Hammond B3 organ brings back memories of nights at the Jimmy Smith supper club many years ago in ‘the Valley’ of Los Angeles. Enter Doug MacDonald, playing his heart out and taking an oh-so-blue solo.

“My parents always liked music,” Doug told me. “When we moved to Vegas, I remember they had the recordings of a lot of people (who were up on the billboards) like when you drove down ‘the strip’ You’d see Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin photos on the billboards. And I’d think, oh – we have their records at home. I think my mother played piano, but actually, I was the only musician in the family. They didn’t understand jazz music that well. They didn’t get what it was. They were into commercial music. In Vegas I got to play a little bit with (trombonist) Carl Fontana” (who played with Woody Herman and Lionel Hampton’s big band), “and I performed in lounges and showrooms with greats like Joe Williams and Tenor saxophonist, Jack Montrose.

“I always liked the idea of an ensemble. So, arranging and composing, I studied that later on. I studied with Spud Murphy’s student, David Blumberg. And I studied with spud Murphy himself. He was quite a bit older then, but he was quite helpful. I studied conducting with Jack Fierlen who was a wonderful conductor and arranger in Los Angeles. I didn’t really study that much until I moved from New York to Los Angeles. And ahh – when I got to L.A., I played with great talents like Snooky Young, Buddy Collete, a whole bunch of people; Jack Sheldon. In Southern California I found a variety of work with folks like Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Buddy Rich, Sarah Vaughan, Stan Getz and the iconic Hank Jones on piano and bass icon, Ray Brown.”

“Organisms” is Doug MacDonald’s fourteenth album as a leader. He enjoys recording with his own combo and his 13-piece ensemble, but this project is also dear to his heart. It features a quartet made up of some of the top jazz musicians in the music business. The group closes out this album with an exciting arrangement of “On the Alamo.” It swings so hard, I had to play it three times.

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HERLIN RILEY – “PERPETUAL OPTIMISM” Mack Avenue Records

Herlin Riley, drums/vocals; Emmet Cohen, piano; Russell Hall, bass; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Bruce Harris, trumpet.

This CD title is certainly representative of Herlin Riley’s musical vibration. This production is joyful and represents absolute “Perpetual Optimism.” Riley, an awesome drummer, makes music that makes me happy. On the first ‘cut’ titled, “Rush Hour” these amazing musicians let their talents speed to the forefront. Bassist Russell Hall garners my immediate attention with his staggeringly creative bass lines that enrich this production, but still hold the rhythm section down. Bruce Harris on trumpet and Godwin Louis on alto saxophone spark the piece with rich horn harmonies and staccato horn lines that propel the music. Beneath the bright creativity of these players, Herlin Riley is stronger than titanium on the trap drums. His ensemble sweeps me up with their enthusiasm and energy.

Emmet Cohen is masterful on the piano and really soars on cut number three, “Borders Without Lines.” Mr. Riley lets his technique shine on this production, taking a mesmerizing solo on drums at a maddening pace. The tempo spurs genius playing from the entire ensemble and yes, they push the borders. Obviously, these are not people to be placed in a box. These musicians are brutally brilliant and technically proficient. They engage the listener tight as a magnet hugs my refrigerator door. This is America’s classical music at its best.

Herlin Riley has long-established ties to Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra via his connection to Wynton’s dad and Riley’s mentor, Ellis Marsalis. He was performing with Ellis Marsalis at the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival when Wynton first heard him. In fact, Riley pays homage to his mentor on the final, funky arrangement of an Ellis Marsalis tune called “Twelve’s It.” He also celebrates the music of one of my favorite blues composers, Willie Dixon, with “Wang Dang Doodle,” where Riley adds his own interpretive vocalization. The arrangement is stunning and very jazzy, with an African twelve-eight-feel. Riley explained that when he asked a New Orleans vocal great, (Germaine Bazzle), about her energetic, on-stage persona and her vocal mastery she told him something that would forever stick with him.

“You have to allow yourself to become emotionally naked when you’re on the bandstand,” Bazzle told him.

Herlin Riley and his wonderful ensemble have taken that encouragement to heart. Obviously, this percussion master is not a singer, however he throws himself into his singular vocal opportunity full-throttle. Throughout this recording, Riley’s entire band lay their souls bare for our pure appreciation and enjoyment. Herlin Riley’s stellar playing on his Mapex drum set and Zildjian cymbals captivates and satisfies.

Herman explained it this way: “I just do what I do and I have the audacity to be uninhibited.”
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MANU LAFER – “GIMME 5” Megaforce Records

Manu Lafer, vocals/composition; Sandro Albert, guitar/arranger/producer; Toninho Horta, singer/guitarist; Lionel Cardew & Cliff Almond, drums; Mark Egan, bass; Helio Alves, piano; Bashiri Johnson & Mino Cinelu, percussion; Cindy Mizelle & Sachal Vasandani, background vocals. Special Guests: Michael O’Brien, Michael Rorby, Rodngo Ursaia & James Zoller.

Composer/vocalist Manu Lafer begins his “Gimme 5” recording with a song that is very melodic. You immediately feel like you know his song and begin humming along. This is often the sign of a well-written composition. The simplicity of Lafer’s melody reminds me of a children’s song as it skips from my CD player. Surprisingly, this Brazilian musician is also a pediatrician from Sao Paulo. In spite of his dual careers, Dr. Lafer has composed over three-hundred songs, with more than one-hundred already published and recorded. I found the arrangements to lean towards easy-listening rather than jazz. I believe Manu Lafer’s music could have been showcased with more up-tempo and energetic arrangements. Instead, this production is reminiscent of panpipe music. The arranger also seems stuck in a moderate tempo realm for each unique composition. A change of tempo would have easily heightened this musical experience. Manu Lafer has a silky, smooth voice that caresses our ears with the beauty of his Portuguese language. This album showcases a baker’s dozen of Manu Lafer’s well-written original compositions. His band is made up of some top-name players, but once again, I feel the arrangements keep them from showcasing their awesome talents and enabling them to stretch out with more improvisational freedom. As it is, these songs turn into a series of sweet lullabies.

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URBANITY BY URBANITY Alfi Records

Albare,guitars/composer;Phil Turcio,keyboards/programming/
composer;Bernard Fowler,vocals;Tim Ries,tenor saxophone.

Urbanity is a band co-led by Latin Grammy Award nominated producer and guitarist, Albare. The other leader of this band is also a Grammy Award nominee, Phil Turcio. Albare is best known for his pioneering of the ‘acid jazz’ scene in Australia during the late 1980s. He performs both in the United States and abroad. On this release, Albare embraces a smooth jazz production with the fluid help of Phil Turcio on keyboards and synthesized programming. This is Contemporary jazz at its best and showcases Albare’s outstanding guitar playing with a little help from friends like Bernard Fowler singing on the “I Say” original composition by Albare and from the Rolling Stones Touring Band, Tim Ries on tenor saxophone. All ten compositions, except for one (“Desperado”), are composed either by Phil Turcio or Albare. Both musicians are talented composers and players. This is a lovely album, beautifully produced, easy-listening and air-wave-ready, contemporary music.

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SIVAN ARBEL – “CHANGE OF LIGHT” Independent label

Sivan Arbel, voice/composition; Shai Portugaly, piano; Pera Krstajic, bass; Yogev Gabay, drums; Shai Wetzer, percussion; Ron Warburg, Trumpet; Jack Sheehan, alto saxophone; Ori Jacobson, tenor saxophone. STRING QUARTET: Meitar Farkash, violin 1.; Audrey Hayes, violin 2.; Yumi Oshima, viola; Terrence Thornhill, cello.

Sivan Arbel’s lovely, expressive voice captures my attention right away. However, she’s hard to understand. Her lyrics get lost in the production and while the melodies are appealing, I would like to have enjoyed her lyrics. Since she is featuring her songwriting on this album, understanding her original prose is paramount. Perhaps she should have printed her prose on the CD jacket. According to the bio from her publicist, “Change of Light” is made up of seven original stories. With the exception of the classic Israeli folk composition, “Water Song,” Arbel is the composer of all other songs. The first track, “Change” has a very contemporary feel and a melody full of unexpected intervals. The musical arrangements are more modern jazz and once the vocals drop out, the band soars; full of crescendos and waves of improvisational opportunities. They sound like a cross between jazz and world music, in an unusual way. Ms. Arbel mixes international influences from Morocco, Brazil, classical Indian music and her Israeli Middle Eastern roots. The arrangements on this first song are often busy and sometimes over-power the vocalist with horn lines that could have been mixed down or dropped out entirely when the voice was soloing. Afterall, Sivan Arbel is the artist being featured.

That being said, without clear enunciation, this listener misses the stories that Ms. Arbel insists expose what is lurking in her heart. Some compositions sound more like chamber music than jazz; for example, her “Solitude” song. These melodies she creates are challenging and the average person will not be singing or even humming along. Clearly, Sivan Arbel is a unique artist with a fresh, dramatic perspective, apart from the average jazz vocalist and traveling the less trodden musical path.

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PLANET RADIO – “STAY AWAKE” Independent Label

Carl Eisman, vocals/guitar/composer; Leah Randazzo, vocals; Jeff D’Antona, keyboards; Mark Zaleski, bass/alto & baritone saxophone; Jon Bean, saxophones; Patrick Simard, drums/percussion/janky shaker.

The first track on Planet Radio’s recording is a neo-soul surprise. The vocals by Leah Randazzo are beautiful and stylized in an Erykah Badu kind-of-way. This tune is an original composition by guitarist and vocalist, Carl Eisman, titled “Voodoo.” It’s a catchy song that sets the mood for the group’s entire album.

Most of their songs are written or co-written by Eisman. Planet Radio is a tight ensemble of musicians who pump the music up with funk and R&B, delicately coloring their arrangements with jazz overtones. You clearly hear the melding of musical styles on the title tune, “Stay Awake,” that blends vocal harmonies on the very pretty, repetitive ‘hook’ of this song. It gives the horns an opportunity to improvise and bring smooth jazz into the mix. The thing I like about this group is that they definitely have their own sound. As a very popular, working group, all are alumni and/or professors of the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. Truly, their diverse musical perspectives blend uniquely, as their musicianship interprets Hip Hop flavored original music, funk and jazz. Back In the late seventies and early eighties, there was a jazz fusion group that Planet Radio reminds me of called, “SeaWind.“ They too featured interesting horn lines, funky drums, original songwriting and stellar vocals. There has certainly been a vacancy in the music industry for such an ensemble as Planet Radio.

Patrick Simard’s drums energize the group and gives the listener a strong beat, encouraging us to bob our heads to his infectious rhythm. Mark Zaleski’s bass is tenacious and crucial in setting the grooves. Zaleski has also arranged all the horn parts. Eisman and Randazzo have voices that smoothly blend in an ice cream and cake, natural way. Jeff D’Antonio plays keyboards with a strong sense of funk. You can hear it in his self-penned song, “Time For Us,” co-written with Leah Schulman. (NOTE: I have a feeling that may be the same person as Leah Randazzo.) There’s a smokin’ saxophone solo on this tune. I don’t know if it’s Jon Bean or Mark Zaleski, playing saxophone, but it’s hot as red coals. “Find A Way” reminds me of the soul-singer Al Green’s iconic arrangements. Leah Randazzo’s voice smooths the vocals on top of the track, becoming icing on their musical cake. There’s something for everyone in this sweet production, with thought-provoking, positive lyrics, danceable arrangements and excellent musicianship; it’s the ultimate smooth jazz party record.

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JASON PALMER – “RHYME AND REASON” Giant Step Arts

Jason Palmer, trumpet/composer; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Matt Brewer, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums.

Jason Palmer has taken advantage of the generosity and support of Giant Step Arts, founded by two renowned photographers, Jimmy and Dena Katz. Their non-profit organization is dedicated to helping jazz innovators become free of commercial pressure. They look for ground-breaking, modern jazz artists, then record these performers in one-of-a-kind concert performance. The artists keep ownership of their masters and the Katz’s provide CDs and digital downloads that artists can sell directly.It’s a great deal to introduce us to this trumpeter and his band. This release contains a double set of discs for the listener to enjoy. On a tune called, “The Hampton Inn (for Alan),” saxophonist Mark Turner soars on tenor saxophone and harmonizes tightly with Palmer’s trumpet. Jason Palmer wrote in his liner notes about Turner:
“I’ve had the great pleasure and honor of working with this tenor titan for about three years, having toured in his band, as well as having him on several of my previous projects. … Any ardent listener of this modern music can identify Mark’s signature tone as well as his fluid expression throughout the entire range of the tenor saxophone.”

Bassist, Matt Brewer, opens cut number two on the second disc, soloing during the introduction of “Mark’s Place” until Kendrick Scott adds drums. The music crescendos with the entrance of Jason Palmer’s trumpet and Turner on tenor. Matt Brewer and Jason Palmer are long-time friends and bandmates. They each started out together in Greg Osby’s Quintet back in the early 2000s.

“I remember hearing him play a Coltrane solo on his bass, note-for-note, and having my conscious opened up to the possibilities of the acoustic bass. Matt is one of the most in-demand bassists of our generation,” Jason Palmer shared.

About his drummer, Kendrick Scott, Palmer said: “Whether it’s on the basketball court or the bandstand, I’ve always had fun … with Kendrick. We’ve been playing for just about twenty years. This is the fourth recording I’ve been able to feature Kendrick’s gifts on and the first ‘live’ one.”

Jason Palmer has composed all eight songs on this double set. This is adventurous music with plenty of room to let each man in his talented quartet explore and expand their talents. This is Palmer’s ninth album as a leader and he is becoming recognized as one of the most inventive musicians of this generation. Palmer has garnered several awards including the 2014 French American Cultural Exchange Jazz Fellowship. In 2011, he was named a Fellow in Music Composition by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Palmer has toured over 30 countries and he also maintains a rewarding schedule as an educator, as well as acting Vice President of JazzBoston.org. This is an organization that connects, promotes and advocates for musicians, audiences and venues of greater Boston’s dynamic jazz community. They spread the music and the message of jazz, while celebrating Boston as one of the world’s great jazz cities. Currently Jason Palmer is an Assistant Professor of Ensembles and Brass at Berklee College of Music and a Visiting Professor at Harvard University. On this project, he offers modern jazz and new compositions presented ‘live’ before an enthusiastic audience and steeped in “Rhyme and Reason.”

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TONY MONACO – “THE DEFINITION OF INSANITY” Chicken Coup Records

Tony Monaco, Hammond B3 organ/piano/accordion/voice; Derek DiCenzo, guitar; Tony McClung, drums; Asako Monaco, piano.

Tony Monaco has arranged and produced this album, featuring his bluesy organ style on the Hammond B3, also on the accordion and occasionally, the piano. He swings hard. Not to mention, on the beautiful ballad, “Never Let Me Go,“ he adds his vocals to the mix. Monaco has engineered, mixed and mastered this project. With all hands on, he starts this CD with “Cars Trucks Buses.” Monaco clearly shows his propensity for the blues. Tony McClung takes a noteworthy drum solo on this arrangement. The melody is catchy and the groove infectious. This is followed by the very familiar and popular Lee Morgan jazz tune, “Ceora.” One of Tony Monaco’s inspirations was the late, great Jimmy Smith. Monaco has recorded one of Smith’s compositions, “Root Down.” His arrangement is funk-driven, with Tony McClung’s drums punching the rhythm like a boxing bag.

In his home town of Columbus, Ohio, Monaco has a regular Monday night club gig celebrated as Monaco Monday, where his fans pack the place. One song that he gets many requests to perform is the Grateful Dead song, “Truckin’.” You will find it included, as part of this album’s repertoire. It’s another arrangement packed with blues grooves and funk drums. Their production will have you wiggling in your chair or dancing across the floor. Digging deeply into his cultural roots, Tony Monaco chooses a traditional Neapolitan song and sings “Non Ti Scordare Di Me” in Italian.

All in all, this recording is a joyful exploration of the Hammond B3 organ by an artist who has spent the better part of his life soaking up the jazz tradition and sharing it with his loyal following.
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FROM VISIONARY TO INFINITY: JAZZ IS THE CATALYST

March 8, 2019

FROM VISIONARY TO INFINITY: JAZZ IS THE CATALYST
BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 6, 2019

During March, I continue to celebrate Women’s History Month by including several reviews of women in jazz. I’m also including some very talented men who have new recordings on the market. Daniel Szabo gives us a taste of his visionary work by arranging new music for jazz trio and chamber ensemble. Karina Corradini tributes the late Zane Musa with her “Bridge to Infinity” album. Cathy Segal-Garcia joins Larry Koonse and Josh Nelson as they travel to “Dreamsville.” Kevin Hays and Chiara Izzi meld pop, smooth jazz and world music on their CD, “Across the Sea.” Quinsin Nachoff’s Flux group colors way outside the lines with “Path of Totality.” Cyrille Aimee celebrates the music of Sondheim and Settings for Three sits us down at the table of Drew Gress, Phil Haynes and David Liebman for some delicious be-bop and straight-ahead. This column reviews the artistic diversity of jazz and music in general, while introducing you to new artists and seasoned veterans.

DANIEL SZABO – “VISIONARY” Fuzzy Music

Daniel Szabo, piano/composer; Edwin Livingston, acoustic bass; Mike Valerio, bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Sara Andon, flute; Bob Sheppard, flute/tenor saxophone; Chris Bleth, oboe; John Yoakum, English Horn; Kim Richmond, clarinet/alto & soprano saxophone; Phil O’Connor, bass Clarinet; Chad Smith, bassoon; Charlie Bisharat, 1st violin; Joel Pargman, 2nd violin; Andrew Duckles, viola; Charlie Tyler, cello.

Daniel Szabo is a stellar pianist whose music reflects a desire to blend genres, styles and instrumentation in a unique and visionary way. Thus, the title of this album reflects and represent this composer’s newest music for jazz trio and chamber ensemble. He explains it in his liner notes.

“If I were a true ‘visionary,’ I could possibly see a future in which boundaries are less important than connections; where integration wins over isolation and community prevails over individualism. Then, I believe, our life experience would become cosmic.”

I do find Daniel Szabo’s music to be visionary. His blend of chamber music, as a very classical backdrop for his jazz trio, seems inspired. Szabo’s piano solos are freely motivational and dazzling. As the strings staccato in the background of his composition, “Cosmic,” his piano improvisations dance, light and bright as fireflies on a June night. Bob Sheppard makes a jazzy appearance on tenor saxophone and Peter Erskine’s stunning drum solo takes the spotlight. Those drums are an exciting introduction for the string section that flows back on the scene like a wave of ocean water; sweet and salty. The tempos change, rise and fall like the tide. This is an album of musical mastery, featuring the orchestration and compositions of Daniel Szabo. All the original music is Szabo’s except the historic “Infant Eyes” composition by Wayne Shorter. Combining Szabo’s love of jazz, folk, classical and film score music, this composer weaves together a production of beauty.

Daniel Szabo is an Associate Professor at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music and earned his doctorate degree from the University of Southern California (USC). Daniel Szabo has appeared as leader on eight recorded and released albums. This may be one of his crowning successes, as he challenges stylistic boundaries, endeavoring to be an inspirational catalyst that merges technique and talent to bring music, (like people), together harmoniously and without boundaries.
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KARINA CORRADINI – “BRIDGE TO INFINITY” A tribute to Zane Musa Independent Label

Karina Corradini, vocals/producer; Mahesh Balasooriya, piano; Christian McBride, producer/bassist; Rene Camacho, bass; Marty “Smitty” Smith, drums; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Zane Musa, saxophone; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet.

Right from the first cut on this album, “You Turned the Tables On Me,” Karina Corradini, shows that she can ‘swing’ with the best of them. This vocalist has surrounded herself with a host of marvelous musicians including Christian McBride on bass (who co-produced this album), Mahesh Balasooriya on piano, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet and Munyungo Jackson on percussion. She is tributing her beloved friend, reedman Zane Musa, who left Earth much too early. Zane Musa put his saxophone blessings on this recording before his passing. Ms. Corradini sings a number of great old standards, with rich arrangements and great sincerity. Her lyrics are tinged with just the hint of an accent and I wondered where she’s from. When she sings, “What A Difference A Day Makes” in Portuguese, I hear her Brazilian roots shine through and flower. But I discover (from her publicist) that she is not Brazilian at all, but instead is a mixture of Argentinian and Italian, born in San Isidro, Argentina. Still, she delivers a lovely rendition in both English and Portuguese. I enjoyed the slow, swaying Samba rendition of “I Could Have Told You,” with Munyungo Jackson’s warm, percussive additions highlighting the rhythm and an outstanding solo by Mahesh Balasooriya on the eighty-eight keys.

On “Doralice” by great composer, Dorival Caymmi, Karina Corradini is back to Portuguese and the up-temp, happy excitement of Brazilian music is infectious on “Cai Dentro.” Marvin “Smitty” Smith is the catalyst that pushes the music ahead on trap drums and locks a tight groove with Christian McBride on the bass. Ms. Corradini used the arrangements of Eric Bulling, who penned them for Ella Fitzgerald’s album, “Ella Braca Jobim.” When Karina Corradini settles down to deliver the beautiful ballad, “If You Went Away,” her delivery makes me want to fall in love again. This is an elegant, sincere vocalist who knows how to sell lyrics and deliver them with the tone and emotional fortitude that keeps an audience engaged and captivated.
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CYRILLE AIMEE – “MOVE ON: A SONDHEIM ADVENTURE” Mack Ave Records

Cyrille Aimee, vocals; Assaf Gleizner, piano/Fender Rhodes; Thomas Enhco, piano; Jeremy Bruyere, upright & fretless bass; Yoann Serra, drums; Abraham MansFaroll, percussion; Adrien Moignard, acoustic guitar; Sebastien Giniaux, acoustic guitar/cello; Ralph Lavital, electric guitar; Diego Figueredo, nylon guitar; Warren Walker, tenor saxophone & effects; Maxime Berton, soprano saxophone; Patrick Bartley, alto saxophone; Bill Todd, tenor saxophone; Wayne Tucker, trumpet; VIOLINS: Mathias Levy, Gregor Huebor & Fung Chern Hwes, 1st Violin; Julie Goodale, viola; Rubin Kodheli, cello.

The rich compositions of Stephen Sondheim create a challenging repertoire for Cyrille Aimee to sing. She brings her own, unique style and arrangements to the Sondheim songs. Her ability to scat and to reinterpret these Broadway and very theatrical compositions is interesting. She refreshes the music with her little-girl voice and grown-up character, using her own womanly experiences to interpret lyrics she felt encapsulated parts of her own life story.

The talented Mr. Sondheim has received an Academy Award, eight Tony Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Theater from the Tony’s. He’s won eight Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and in 2015 he received the coveted Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sondheim was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II, who was like a father to him. At an early age, young Sondheim found that he loved theater and music. Naturally, the next step was writing a musical. His schoolmates encouraged his talent and performed his musical. Thus, began Sondheim’s illustrious career.

I know him best for “Send In the Clowns,” but Cyrille Aimee has chosen a basket full of his songs, some I’m unfamiliar with like, “Take Me to the World” from his Evening Primrose movie. “Love I Hear” is from his theatrical success, “A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum.” Mathias Levy on violin adds a lovely dimension to the arrangement and Aimee’s soprano voice lightly caresses the beautiful melody. “Loving You” was recorded by Barbra Streisand in 2016 and she put her stamp on that tune. The thing about this recording is that I find the drama is sometimes missing. I’ve reviewed Ms. Aimee in the past and she’s more a jazz singer than a Broadway vocalist. Truly, her idea of celebrating these historic compositions is both unique and challenging. However, I found myself not always believing her when she interprets Sondheim’s lyrics and melodies. There is an effort to capture the theatrical songs in a net of jazzy arrangements, but even when she bursts into scat-singing, it’s difficult to transform songs written for stage plays into jazz treasures. Notably, pianist, Thomas Enhco, is up for the challenge during his solo on “Loving You.” When I hear Bernadette Peters sing “Being Alive,” I am a believer. Although I commend the Latin, up-tempo arrangement of this song that Aimee’s group presents, somehow she misses the mark in selling these lyrics. Her scat on the fade of the song is joyful and happy, but these lyrics are not happy nor jubilant. They are soul-searching lyrics begging somebody to make her feel alive. “Somebody crown me with love, somebody force me to care,” is a plea. “Somebody need me too much. Somebody know me too well…. Somebody put me through hell.” These are lyrics that tear at the heart. This arrangement does not relate to the song’s lyrical content.

What this project did for me was to introduce me to more of the work of Sondheim in a new and unusual way. I commend Cyrille Aimee for choosing this project and endeavoring to change theatrical songs to jazzy arrangements. I thought she was successful on “Not While I’m Around,” and on “They Ask Me Why I Believe In You” with just voice and bass. Also, the gospel, R&B flavored, “No One Is Alone” is well sung with shades of Billie Holiday tones to Cyrille Aimee’s vocals. This song features a wonderful guitar solo by Ralph Lavital. He brings the blues into this project. This arrangement suits both the song and the vocalist. The ballad, “I Remember,” is emotionally delivered as is the title tune, “Move On.” Finally, her up-tempo performance on “With So Little To Be Sure of” is a great way to close this album, with just vocals and the nylon guitar of Dego Figuriedo. Dynamic!
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SETTINGS FOR THREE – “NO FAST FOOD” CornerStore Jazz

David Liebman, woodwinds; Phil Haynes, drums; Drew Gress, bass.

Funny how music can paint pictures in your mind when you listen. There is something in the first cut on this album, reflected in the flute music, that reminds me of open plains and wide, blue spaces of sky. Drew Gress’s bass line solidifies the windy whistle of David Liebman’s flute. Gress grounds the piece until Phil Haynes joins the party on drums. Liebman picks up his saxophone and we all take flight. This ensemble is like a wave of sound energy rushing across space. They are in sync and unified, like a flock of startled starlings. Their ensemble work is modern jazz and dedicated to the memory of Paul Smoker, a jazz trumpeter and composer, who frequently worked with drummer Phil Haynes. Consequently, the first song played is appropriately titled, “El-Smoke.” Although this composition lasts over ten minutes in length, it’s never boring or redundant. The tune titled, “Joy” sounds a little pensive and anything but joyful. The third cut, “Blue Dop” is puffed up with blues and feels straight ahead. Haynes takes an inspiring solo on drums.

All three of these musicians are the best of the best. You will enjoy their master technique and undeniable adventurism during each arrangement and production. Their music is steaming hot, drifting up from a well-seasoned pot of musical stew. They’ll make you want to come back for more. This is “No Fast Food,” but both savory and succulent to your artistic palate.
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CATHY SEGAL GARCIA – LARRY KOONSE – JOSH NELSON – “DREAMSVILLE” Dash Hoffman Records

Cathy Segal Garcia, vocals; Larry Koonse, guitar; Josh Nelson, piano.

Cathy Segal Garcia’s CD opens with “Dreamsville.” The arrangement, like the singer’s voice, is dreamy and warm. Cathy’s vocal style draw you in, as does the emotional piano playing of Josh Nelson and the attentive accompaniment and rhythm of Larry Koonse on guitar.

Cathy’s original composition, “The Three of Us” is beautifully offered, like a Sunday morning prayer. In fact, the first three songs of this production unfold, using dreams as the centrifugal force that spins the compositions together with a common purpose. Picking two of the best jazz session players and artists in Southern California to match her emotional delivery is smart. The clarity of their production gives some of her choices a world music-feel, like the Jobim tune, “Zingaro,” where Cathy melts into the guitar and synthesizer accompaniment, using her voice like an instrument. Lyric-less. Melodic. Free. Spontaneous. It exemplifies her need to experiment and push the boundaries of her music art. Dave Frishberg’s composition, “You Are There” is stunning and hypnotic, with Garcia gently sharing the lyrics with us, like a sweet, honest story. Cathy Segal-Garcia has her own vocal style and tone, easily recognizable and perhaps most closely compared to Joni Mitchell. She is forever challenging herself and her music. The simplicity of this production leaves the trio vulnerable, in a good way. They are each Southern California veterans of our music community and world-travelers who have spread their talents across continents. When I listen, I hear poetry. These songs pour sweetly across my early Saturday, like warm honey on my morning toast. Mostly made up of ballads, Cathy Segal-Garcia proffers us two original compositions on this album; “The Three of Us” and “Rewind the Years.” Each is sentimental and left open, like a diary page we are meant to read.
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QUINSIN NACHOFF’S FLUX – “PATH OF TOTALITY” Whirlwind Recordings

Quinsin Nachoff, tenor & soprano saxophone; Matt Mitchell, piano/prophet 6/modular synthesizer/novachord/harpsichord/Estey pump harmonium; Kenny Wollesen, drums/Wollosonic percussion; Nate Wood, drums. David Binney, Alto & C melody saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS:Jason Barnsley, 1924 Kimball Theatre Organ; Mark Duggan, marimba/vibraphone/glockenspiel/crotales/Tibetan singing bowls; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Dan Urness & Matt Holman, trumpets; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Alan Ferber, trombone/bass trombone; Orlando Hernandez, tap dance; David Travers-Smith, Buchia 200E Analog Modular System/EMS synthi 100 Analog/Digital Hybrid Synthesizer/Arp Chroma (Rhodes) Analog Synthesizer/ Clavioline/Oberheim SEM Modular Moog.

Modern jazz Composer/saxophonist and unconventional spirit, Quinsin Nachoff, traces the shadow of the sun on this, his second release of the genre-eclipsing band, Flux. Nachoff, who admits to drawing inspiration from the wonders of the universe, was inspired to compose this album in 2017 after witnessing the August eclipse of the sun. In fact, it was 2017 when I last reviewed a Nachoff project. It was his Ehereal Trio, that envisioned a musical asterism, against the midnight hour of my bedroom. It was a constellation of inspired sound.

His current musical adventure continues the exploration of space, this time with no bass instrument, but mostly using piano to twinkle like distant planets and horns to enhance the open feeling of space and outer-limits. This is a journey into the depths of Avant Garde jazz and the mind of the composer. Quinsin Nachoff’s music is unpredictably beautiful, like on track #3, “Toy Piano Meditation” that gives Matt Mitchell a sufficient time to paint pictures, using his 88 keys and synthesizer magic against a canvas of free horns, dancing like wild apparitions. Kenny Wollesen’s trap drums and Mark Duggan’s marimba, vibraphone, Tibetan singing bowls and other percussive gifts become the wind beneath the ensemble’s wings. On his composition, “Bounce,” the drum and percussion excitements of Nate Wood is the result of a mathematical break-down of how a bouncing ball moves. Here is a double record set of unusually creative arrangements, improvisations and compositions by Quinsin Nachoff and his Flux ensemble. Like the heaven’s themselves, this project is an adventure, rich with unexpected and timeless beauty.

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CHIARA IZZI & KEVIN HAYS –“ACROSS THE SEA” Jando Music/Via Veneto Jazz

Chiara Izzi, vocals/composer; Kevin Hays, piano/voice/Rhodes/composer; Rob Jost, acoustic and electric bass/French horn; Greg Joseph, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Chris Potter, tenor & soprano saxophone; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; Nir Felder, electric & acoustic guitar; Omer Avital, oud.

I listen to so many CDs, so much music daily, that it takes something or someone very special to flag my attention. Chiara Izzi has a voice full of innocence and passion that immediately garnered my consideration. Opening with her self-penned “Circles of the Mind,” (that perhaps gives us a glimpse of what runs through her head at times), I am captivated. It does not rhyme, but instead is thoughtful prose. The melody is beautiful and memorable. At the end, as the musicians improvise and fly free, Chiara Izzi joins them with scat-singing, more a pleasant wail than a scat. The lyrics of each song interpreted on this album are printed inside the CD jacket. Izzi has contributed four compositions, exhibiting her songwriting skills. Other songs include the work of Loewe and Lerner, Pat Metheny, James Taylor, Miles Davis and Henry Mancini. This wide range of composers showcases an equal range of vocal prowess by both Izzi and pianist, Kevin Hays. He has also contributed his own songwriting talents, co-writing “James,” a Pat Metheny composition, and co-composing with Izzi on “Viaggo Elegiaco.”

Hays is sensitive on his piano instrument while accompanying the vocalist. He is also the other half of this vocal team. They duet on “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” blending their two voices with just his piano accompaniment. Very smooth and reminiscent of a hotel lounge act. Grégoire Maret’s harmonica opens the James Taylor tune and we move from jazz to pop in the blink of an eye. Here, Kevin Hays lends his voice to background harmony.

This is mostly a Smooth jazz/pop music album. On the popular “Secret O’ Life” tune, Chris Potter brings the jazz on his saxophone solo. But for the most part, the vocal duet by Izzi and Hays is pop music. The title tune allows us to once again enjoy just Chiara Izzi, as she interprets another one of her original composition, featuring Mr. Maret on harmonica and a jazzy piano solo by Hays. The duet brings a Mediterranean quality to their music, and on “Viaggo Elegiaco” Izzi reverts back to her Italian heritage, displaying her multi-linguist abilities. “Verso Il Mare” is fun, arranged very Latin and once again features Chiara Izzi singing in Italian. Bravo to Izzi for selecting the difficult interpretation of the Miles Davis/Yanina Lombardi composition, “Tierna Nardis.” Nir Felder’s guitar support is smokin’ hot on this arrangement. This adds world music to the mix and invites us to open our minds and hearts to how music crosses all boundaries and how it joins us, like love, across the continents and worldly divides.

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CELEBRATING WOMEN IN MOTION

March 1, 2019

CELEBRATING WOMEN IN MOTION
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 1, 2019

In 1987 the U.S. Congress designated March as Women’s History Month. So, this month, along with other music, I’ll be celebrating females in jazz and beyond. Some are historic music makers and others making history as we listen.

ALICIA OLATUJA – “INTUITION: SONGS FROM THE MINDS OF WOMEN” Resilience Music Alliance

Alicia Olatuja, vocals/arranger; David Rosenthal, arranger/guitar; Billy Childs, arranger/piano; Sullivan Fortner, piano/B3 Hammond Organ; Jon Cowherd, piano; Ben Williams, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., drums; Dayna Stephens & Tommy Pancy, tenor saxophone; Markus Howell, alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt & Etienne Charles, trumpet; Etienne Charles, horn arrangements; Rasul A-Salam, Vuyo Sotashe & Alicia Olatuja, background vocals. Other arrangers on this project: Christian Sands, Josh Nelson, Jon Cowherd, Sullivan Fortner, Michael Olatuja Justine Bradley & Kamau Kenyatta.

This recording of vocalist, Alicia Olatuja, features the compositions of noteworthy female songwriters and is enhanced by a variety of creative arrangements. This artist has a rich tone and a tenacious vocal. With her powerful voice, what better songs to choose than those written by composers like Brenda Russell, Sadé, Angela Bofill and Tracy Chapman, to name only a few.

This production is a comfortable blend of smooth jazz, R&B and pop music. You may recall this talented vocalist from her appearance at President Obama’s second inauguration ceremony in 2013. She was the featured soloist during the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Alicia Olatuja has a career that has snowballed since that historic appearance at the White House. For a while, she performed with various jazz ensembles at The Julliard School. At times, she’s shared the stage with great musicians like Chaka Khan, BeBe Winans, Christian MCBride, Billy Childs and Dr. Lonnie Smith. Ms. Olatuja has appeared on numerous music festivals with her own band.

This album, her second solo artist release, continues to introduce the world to Alicia’s outstanding vocal abilities and to her arranging talents. She seems to be pursuing a soul-pop, or neo-soul-jazz direction. This, her second album as a leader, is leaning heavily towards a rhythm and blues direction. You hear the ‘blues’ in her spirited arrangement of Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” with the funk drums of Ulysses Owens, Jr. propelling the production. On “People Make the World Go ‘Round,” (a solid hit for the Stylistics back-in-the-day and composed by Linda Creed and Tom Bell), Alicia Olatuja dances her voice on the outer limits of Avant-Garde jazz, with Jeremy Pelt exquisite on trumpet.

Obviously, Alicia Olatuja cannot be boxed-in. Ms. Olatuja shows the diversity and emotional connection she brings to every style and recorded musical composition she sings. A clear example of this is her interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “Cherokee Louise” composition. On “Just Wait” she offers us a taste of her own songwriting skills. Her interpretation of Angela Bofill’s “Under the Moon and Over the sky” adds her African roots with background vocal chants that inspire. Perhaps Alicia Olatuja describes this project best with her own powerful words.

“When we hear the word ‘intuition’ we think of a woman’s intuition, that inner, gut-instinct thing that goes beyond mere information. There is something powerful and beautiful and something to be celebrated in that. The sub-title ‘From the Minds of Women’ reminds people that we’re not just intuitive, emotional beings. We are intellectual as well. We do know how to connect the emotional and the rational. And when we do that, especially through our work, beautiful and unimaginably creative things are made.”

Below is a video concert by Alicia Olatuja that promoted her first album, “Timeless,” ‘live at BRIC House.

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ELLEN ROWE OCTET – “MOMENTUM PORTRAITS OF WOMEN IN MOTION”
Smokin’ Sleddog Records

Ellen Rowe, piano; Marion Hayden & Marlene Rosenberg, bass; Allison Miller, drums; Tia Fuller, alto saxophone; Virginia Mayhew, tenor saxophone; Lisa Parrott, baritone saxophone; Janelle Reichman, clarinet; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Melissa Gardiner, trombone.

Pianist, Ellen Rowe decided to create an album of original music that celebrates some of her female she-roes. Each of the ladies who inspired these tunes has made an indelible impact on Rowe and her music. Beginning with her “Ain’t I A Woman,” composition, with that sentiment extracted from a speech by Sojourner Truth in 1851. This is a slow bluesy number that Rowe calls a hymn to unsung heroines of the civil rights movement including Mary Bethune Cook, Daisy Bates and Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray.

“Their fierce advocacy for the rights of the oppressed deserves much wider recognition. I was embarrassed to realize how little I knew of them and am a better person for having done research on them in the composition of this piece,” Ellen Rowe shared in her liner notes.

The second track is titled, “R.F.P. (Relentless Forward Progress).”This composition was written to tribute two female distant runners; Joan Benoit Samuelson (winner of the first Olympic Women’s Marathon, 1980) and Canfield Laws, still running at fifty-years-young and Gunhild Swanson, who at age 70 finished a 100-mile Trail Race under the 30-hour cutoff mark.

This journalist should have known Ellen Rowe was a runner. When I met her, three or four years back at the Detroit Jazz Festival, I noticed she was slight of build and very healthy in appearance. In fact, she looks like a runner.

Ellen explained, “Running is a huge part of my life and these women are my inspiration.”

I expected the tempo to be up and vigorous, but instead this is a celebration of horn harmonies atop a moderate rhythm with Allison Miller strong on drums and pushing the energy forward like a serious, strong breeze. Then surprise! I like it when they double-time the rhythm and give Ms. Miller a chance to earnestly showcase her trap drum chops. I can picture those runners taking off and picking up their strides to this bright and inspiring arrangement. “The Soul Keepers” captivated me with a boogie-woogie feel and an undercurrent of shuffle drums. This tune gives Ellen Rowe an opportunity to stretch her nimble fingers across the grand piano keys with brilliance. This one is dedicated to the late, great, Detroit pianist and phenomenal composer, Geri Allen. When the saxophone enters, this composition becomes an unapologetic blues. This is one of my favorite compositions on Ellen’s album of fine music. Her tune “Anthem” is dedicated to the power and sophistication of musicians and songwriters, Joni Mitchell and Carole King who influenced Ellen Rowe early in her career. She features clarinetist, Janelle Reichman on this cut. “The First Lady (No, Not You Melania)” composition made me laugh out loud at her title. This song is dedicated to the grace and class Michelle Obama brought to the White House. The awesome Marion Hayden is featured on this number, playing her acoustic bass and holding the rhythm section tightly in place. Rowe’s composition becomes another one of my favorites. Tia Fuller is outstanding on alto saxophone and Ingrid Jensen is always stellar on trumpet. All the various women that Ellen Rowe tributes are listed on her CD jacket with an in-depth explanation of why she chose them and what they mean to her. Additionally, the music on this recording is amply interpreted by an all-female ensemble. Each one of these women brings the best out of their instruments and make Ellen Rowe’s compositions come brilliantly alive.
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CATHERINE RUSSELL – “ALONE TOGETHER” Dot Time Records

Catherine Russell, vocals; Matt Munisteri, guitar/musical director; Mark Shane, pianist; Tal Ronen,bass; Mark McLean,drums/percussion; Jon-Erik Kellso,trumpet; John Allred,trombone; Evan Arntzen,tenor saxophone; Dana Lyn,violin; Eddy Malave,viola; Marika Hughes,cello.

Catherine Russell has a commanding vocal style that snatches my attention immediately. She’s smooth as velvet, yet she impenitently swings hard. Starting with “Alone Together,” her quartet sounds tight and cohesive.

Together, they have toured four continents and appeared in numerous festivals and concerts along with their stunning lead vocalist, Catherine Russell. She is delightful to hear, embodying jazz with her honest, emotional performances. Ms. Russell brings back an era of jazz from long ago with her arrangements and repertoire choices. But jazz was not always her musical direction. After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Catherine Russell worked with pop stars like David Bowie, Steely Dan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon and Jackson Browne, to name just a few. She has performed as a background singer, an instrumentalist and a lead singer, before finally finding her niche as a jazz singer. After appearing on over 200 albums, lucky for us she decided to produce one of her own. This “Alone Together” masterpiece is her seventh studio album released as a leader. Interpreting the Great American Songbook is not new, but these songs allow an artist to place their unique mark on the music. This vocalist does just that!

Catherine Russell’s roots were always soaked in jazz. Her father, Luis Russell, was a legendary pianist, composer and bandleader. he acted as Louis Armstrong’s long-time musical director. Her mother, Carine Ray, was a vocalist, guitarist and bassist who pioneered for women in jazz. performing as part of the iconic International Sweethearts of Rhythm group. Ms. Russell continues her family legacy with this outstanding piece of musical art. Favorite songs include the title tune, the bluesy “I Wonder,” and “Shake Down the Stars,” brings back an era of 1930s jazz. A unique blues song that I had never heard was, “He May Be Your Dog but He’s Wearing My Collar.” Other gems are, “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew” and her up-tempo arrangement of Nat King Cole’s song, “Errand Girl for Rhythm.”
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LYN STANLEY – “LONDON CALLING” – A Toast to Julie London Independent Label

Lyn Stanley, vocals; John Chiodini, guitar; Mike Garson & Christian Jacob, piano; Chuck Berghofer & Michael Valerio, bass; Paul Kreibich, drums; Aaron Serfaty, drums/percussion; Luis Conte & Brad Dutz, percussion.

Lyn Stanley has sold over 40,000 recordings worldwide. That’s a big deal for an independent artist. All of her albums celebrate the Great American Songbook. In this, her 6th album release, she celebrates the songs that Julie London sang. Julie London was a husky toned, jazz and cabaret singer, popular in the 1950s through the 1970s. It was London’s voice heard on the popular TV detective show, “Peter Gunn.” That was one of the first television shows to feature jazz music as a theme song and as part of the weekly show. Included in Lyn Stanley’s repertoire are familiar compositions like “Goody Goody”, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” I’ve Got A Crush on You” the over-sung “Summertime” and Julie London’s huge hit, “Cry Me A River.” Stanley also tackles the Motown standard, “Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Norman Whitfield and my old friend, Barrett Strong. The arrangement is quite nice with shades of an Ahmad-Jamal-groove and an appealing percussive and drum addition by Aaron Serfaty. Surprisingly, the band turns an R&B hit record into a jazz ballad. It was an interesting production. Although this was not a song that London sang, it was still a very creative addition to Lyn Stanley’s album. This vocalist has a clear, relaxed delivery that lends itself to easy listening music. Appropriately, this romantic music was released Valentine’s Day weekend.

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CAROL SUDHALTER QUARTET – “LIVE AT SAINT PETER’S CHURCH” Alfa Projects

Carol Sudhalter,baritone saxophone/flute/vocals; Patrick Poladian,piano; Kevin Hailey,upright bass; Mike Campenni,drums.

The quartet comes out swinging on Tadd Dameron’s famed “On A Misty Night” composition. Carol Sudhalter grabs the attention right away on her baritone saxophone. The baritone sax has such a distinctive sound, and you rarely see a woman tackle this horn. On Benny Golson’s “Park Avenue Petite” tune, Sudhalter shows the tender side of her saxophone while interpreting this lovely ballad. The Bill Evans composition, “Time Remembered” becomes a platform for Carol Sudhalter to pull out her flute. She and bassist, Kevin Hailey, sing the melody in unison at the top and set the mood. As the song develops, Campenni’s drums Latin shuffle beneath. There are moments in this song when the bass intonation falters, but for the most part, this trio makes a solid foundation for Carol Sudhalter and her reed instruments to stand upon. Later, Hailey is featured on “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” and is quite outstanding. On Hank Mobley’s bluesy “Funk in Deep Freeze” Carol is back on the baritone and swinging away. Pianist Patrick Poladian performs a noteworthy solo and Mike Campenni sports his stuff on trap drums.

Recording ‘live’ in a church, where there is ample echo and perhaps high ceilings, can be challenging. The mix could have been better on this recording, but you can hear the appreciative applause from the audience. The misstep comes when Carol adds vocals to her showt on one of her original songs titled, “Colin Blues.” Carol is not a vocalist, so this is no credit to her well-written composition and her impressive flute solo. Not to mention, the vocals are not properly mixed into the recording and earlier, some audience member starts loudly coughing during the music. Oh, the tragedies and challenges of recording ‘live’!

Carol Sudhalter has been the leader on ten other albums. All in all, this eleventh recording is a fine vehicle for Carol Sudhalter and her quartet to promote themselves and a worthy product to sell at their gigs.
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PATRICE JEGOU – “IF IT AIN’T LOVE” Prairie Star Records

Patrice Jegou,vocals; The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; Orchestra arranged and conducted by Jorge Calandrelli; Orchestra arranged and conducted by Nan Schwartz; Mike Long,piano/Rhodes; David Lang,Wurlitzer; David Paich,piano/Hammond B-3; Yaron Gershovsky,piano; Dean Parks,guitar; Ramon Stagnaro & Larry Koonse,acoustic guitar; Michael Thompson,elec. Guitar; Kevin Axt, Abraham Laboriel,Sr., Boris Kozlov,bass; Ray Brinker, Steve Ferrone, Cliff Almond & John “J.R.” Robinson,drums; Luis Conte & Lenny Castro,percussion; Tom Scott,tenor saxophone; Mark Kibble, vocals/producer/ percussion; Alvin Chea,vocals; Choir: Bill Cantos,Kurt Lykes,Jamie McCrary,Jason Morales,Melodye Perry,Alfie Silas,Tiffany Smith,Bill Maxwell(choir arranger). Special Guests: Tata Vega; Take 6 & Greg Phillinganes, keyboards. Steve Patrick & Mike Barry,trumpets; Doug Moffet,tenor & baritone saxophone; Sam Levine,alto saxophone; Roy Agee, trombone.

The opening tune on this CD takes me back to the Lambert Hendrix and Ross days. In fact, this entire production recalls the music and style of the 1940’s and 50s, right down to the repertoire and the photos on Ms. Jegou’s CD cover. The old-fashioned microphone and the Betty Grable type dress of choice recalls, ‘Father Knows Best’ Days and John Wayne movies. The layered voices on a production of “Lover Come Back To Me” is an a’cappella adaptation that features the live bass voice of Alvin Chea. Chea and Mark Kibble (Kibble produced this stunning arrangement) are both members of the GRAMMY Award winning Take 6 a’cappella group. It’s an outstanding arrangement and Patrice Jegou keeps up with the high energy harmonics that Take 6 brings. She sounds spectacular as the lead singer. Noticeably, Patrice Jegou has employed some of the top names in music for this project, including The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, composer/producer David Paich (son of great arranger Marty Paich), amazing vocalist, Tata Vega and L.A. studio pianist, Mike Lang. Her repertoire is refreshingly creative and nostalgic, all in the same breath.

Surprisingly, Patrice Jegou’s first love was figure skating and not music. She began skating at age seven and turned pro at eighteen years old. She worked as an ice-skating coach in New Zealand and toured with a circus show in Mexico. That’s when a fellow skater heard her singing to herself and suggested she had a great voice and should pursue vocal lessons. Her resulting studies culminated in attaining a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Classical vocal performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. At first, she pursued classical music and opera until her husband, vocalist, physician and musician, Yinka Oyelese, suggested she expand her vocal horizons.

“When I sing Debussy or Mozart or Beethoven, I have to sing it exactly as it was written. Singing jazz is far more spontaneous. You’re free to reinterpret the music. It’s very liberating and creative.”

On “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” she shows off her operatic control, without sounding like an opera singer. She beautifully interprets this lovely song, once made famous by Peggy Lee in 1954 and taken from the Kismet musical score of 1953. Jegou’s version is lovely. The Pointer Sister’s popular hit record, “Yes, We Can Can” is given a fresh face with the drum and bass line putting the funk in the arrangement and the delightful guest appearance of Tata Vega, who duets with Jegou during this production. It’s a spirited arrangement that makes you want to tap and clap. There is an aura of spirituality about this project. Many of the songs are lyrically encouraging and some, like “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today” with background voices that caricature a gospel choir, are jubilant. “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” that features Take 6 voices with jazzy harmonies, uplifts.

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra joins the party on “If It Ain’t Love.” Another diamond is her sparkling rendition of “Estate” featuring the emotional accompaniment of Larry Koonse on acoustic guitar. Ms. Jegou sings this one in Italian, showing us her linguist skills. Being a former opera singer, of course she would sing in various languages and she nails this dedication to summer. On her tribute to Stan Getz, “Remembrances,” her performance is enhanced by the additional vocals of Javier Almaráz. This entire project is a pleasurable party, well produced in a most professional way, with bursts of brightly colored songs, like balloons, floating from my CD player.
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JORDAN PETTAY – “FIRST FRUIT” Outside In Music

Jordan Pettay,alto/soprano saxophones/producer; Christian Sands,piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ/producer; Luke Sellick,bass; Jimmy Macbride,drums; Mat Jodrell,trumpet; Joe McDonough,trombone.

As a debut album for Jordan Pettay, this is a captivating piece of art. Her opening number, based on the Wayne Shorter “Speak No Evil” composition, shows her reed power and her bandmates take full advantage of her “Whatever Happens” composition to show that whatever happens can be stellar. Mat Jodrell is awesome on his trumpet solo and Joe McDonough’s trombone solo bounces atop the straight-ahead groove. Christian Sands (who also co-produced this album) is one of the astounding new piano geniuses on the jazz scene. His solo adds excellence and empowers everyone’s creativity. On track two, she blesses her premier album with the gospel song, “I Am Thine O Lord” played intensely on her soprano saxophone. Pettay is obviously still attempting to find her saxophone voice and style. I found it particularly noticeable on this arrangement. However, when the title tune comes, (another Pettay original), Ms. Pettay sounds confident and solid on her horn. This is a well-written composition, where bassist Luke Sellick, along with the pulsating drums of Jimmy Macbride, push Pettay to her highest strengths. Christian Sands is wonderful, whether accompanying her or taking center-stage-piano or keyboard solos. This trio is tight and buoyant. Jordan Pettay dances brightly on top of this cushioned ensemble of excellence. “You Make Me Feel Brand New” offers a wonderful, smooth jazz arrangement. It pleasantly refreshes this melodic R&B hit record. Macbride’s drums produce a rich mallet sound in the background that is quite stunning. Jordan Pettay is smooth and bluesy on her alto saxophone. This song brings happiness into my home and makes me want to dance. It should get a lot of airplay. The horn arrangements and harmonies are rich and royal. They sweetly crown the song.

“For Wayne” I assume is a tribute to the iconic Wayne Shorter. I glance at the liner notes and I’m right. This song once again showcases Pettay’s affinity for the blues and her composition creates an ample stage to spotlight her talented co-producer, (Sands) and the entire trio. This is another one of my favorite songs on her album, with an unusual, but lovely melody progression.

Jordan Pettay explains, “Wayne Shorter is one of my all-time biggest musical influences. I wrote this composition based on the chord changes of 502 Blues (Jimmy Rowland) which Wayne recorded on his album Adam’s Apple.”

“Straight Street”, the John Coltrane tune, is another vehicle to introduce us to Ms. Pettay and her horn. She explained the story behind this title in her liner notes.

“Some time ago, I was reading the biblical account of Saul’s conversion where he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. The impact of this encounter left Saul temporarily blinded and only when a disciple prayed for him at a house on Straight Street was his sight restored and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul later became Saint Paul, the Apostle, one of the most important figures of the early church.”

The final songs introduce the listener to three spiritual, Christian-based, and beautifully produced jazz arrangements of “Exalt Thee”, “Surrender All” and “Are You Washed in the Blood?” This is a subtle spiritual journey for both Jordan Pettay, her musicians and her audience. I think this project is a musical blessing and prayer to the universe.

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RAN BLAKE & CLAIRE RITTER – “ECLIPSE ORANGE” Zoning Recordings

Ran Blake,piano/arranger/composer; Claire Ritter,piano/arranger; Kent O’Doherty, saxophone.

This is a unique exploration of two pianists, who have combined talents to explore twenty songs on this one-of-a-kind album. It was recorded ‘live’ at Queen’s University in Claire Ritter’s native North Carolina. The concert was meant to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Thelonious Monk. Consequently, many of the songs herein are Monk’s compositions. However, the majority of songs are composed by Claire Ritter, who has reached out to one of her mentors, the astoundingly talented, Ran Blake, to embark on this duet project.The title tune, “Eclipse Orange,” is absolutely beautiful and features both pianists, as does “Blue Monk.” Ritter’s composition, “Backbone” is also played simultaneously by both pianists with heavy shades of Thelonious Monk influence and a nod to another pianist and inspiration who Ritter greatly admires, Mary Lou Williams. Ran Blake has composed “Short Life of Barbara Monk” (a remembrance of the daughter of Thelonious) and together, this duo offers a beautiful and emotionally charged ballad. Ritter and Black met in 1981, at the New England Conservatory. Blake has been an instructor there for over fifty years. Ritter says their collaboration as peers began in 1988, when Blake performed as a guest on her debut album, “In Between.”

“Ran is a great motivator and stimulator of the imagination. His genius lies in his harmonic structures, in recomposing any kind of piece in any kind of idiom. He stimulated the composer in me, bringing out a lot of color, unpredictability and ways of thinking about melodic phrasing in more interesting ways, by encouraging me to listen to a very wide range of different types of music,” Ritter proclaimed in her liner notes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MURLwWfymjQ&list=OLAK5uy_mV9_6El9KDtvNbb HGbA6tbteoV4R82ZT0

Occasionally, you will hear the saxophone of Australian-born, Kent O’Doherty, but for the majority of this artistic endeavor, Blake and Ritter perform as a duo or with each pianist sometimes playing solo. Often the arrangements are by Ran Blake. This is a true artistic endeavor that rewards our ears with gold medal music.

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March 4th and March 10th, PBS television will feature an amazing new vocalist on the scene. Remember this name: Sheléa. Taped in Los Angeles, she will sings a variety of music including a Whitney Houston medley, a tribute to Aretha and a song made famous by Barbra Streisand.

https://www.pbssocal.org/programs/quincy-jones-presents-shelea/?pagename=d&AddInterest=1322&utm_source=Shelea&utm_medium=email&utm_
campaign=dedicated&utm_content=Shelea

FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH I CELEBRATE: SONGS OF FREEDOM

February 22, 2019

SONGS OF FREEDOM, STANDARDS AND AFRICAN INFLUENCED JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

ULYSSES OWENS, JR. – “SONGS OF FREEDOM” Resilience Music Alliance

Ulysses Owens, Jr., drums/musical director; Reuben Rogers, bass; David Rosenthal, acoustic and electric guitars; Allyn Johnson, piano/Hammond B3 organ/Fender Rhodes keyboard. Featured Vocalists: Alicia Olatuja, Rene Marie, Theo Blackmann, & Joanna Majoko.

This entire project is a celebration of freedom songs in tribute to three female entertainers who were each revolutionary in their own right; Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and Joni Mitchell. It’s an idea developed by drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., and it’s quite appropriate for Black History Month and beyond. Owen’s quartet provides ample support to the four, featured vocalists, Rene Marie, Theo Blackmann, Alicia Olatuja and Joanna Majoko.

“Everything Must Change” opens this album of music. It’s performed by the stunning voice of Alicia Olatuja, accompanied by guitarist David Rosenthal, who’s an awesome talent and competent accompanist. “Everything Must Change” always brings back warm memories for me. In 1973, I was working at A&M Records as a publicist and one of their contract songwriters, and my friend, was the great composer, Bernard Ighner. He wrote this beautiful song during that time and when he played and sang it to me on the A&M lot, we both wept. Alicia Olatuja brings out the same poignant, ever-lasting beauty of this great composition.

The second track is Rene Marie’s tribute to Nina Simone’s performance and composer skills. Nina Simone’s song, documenting the terrible injustices of racism in Mississippi has become an historic protest song titled, “Mississippi God Damn.” This is followed by the healing strains of “Balm in Gilead.”

Ulysses Owens Jr.’s dynamic drums propel this music like a full-fledged storm. He has creatively arranged the “Baltimore” tune by Randy Newman into a rich, reggae presentation. He’s chosen a couple of tunes co-written by drummer, Max Roach, and the iconic Oscar Brown Jr.; “Freedom Day” and Driva Man.” Both compositions were popularized on Roach’s “Freedom Now Suite” album that featured his wife at the time, Abbey Lincoln. Owens is spontaneous and assertive throughout. You can hear his spectacular straight-ahead moments on” Freedom Day” featuring the vocals of Joanna Mojoko. On “Driva Man” he slaps the blues alive with busy drum sticks and David Rosenthal is electrifying during his guitar solo. Interspersed throughout this production are short monologues and poetry that preface the songs. Unfortunately, the album cover does not reflect the correct order of the music. But that graphic-design mistake does not interrupt the proficiency of these musicians or the excellence of this production.

Ulysses Owens Jr was inspired to produce this “Songs of Freedom” CD when Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Director of Programming asked him to participate in a concert playing songs from 1960 to the present. Owens decided to pull meaningful songs of freedom from that period. He chose songs that proudly highlight the African American rebellious and tenacious spirit; a spirit that continuously fights against evil and propels humanity towards the higher good.
If you want to experience vibrant, virtuoso rhythms that paint percussive portraits of freedom, then here is a project to gratify, uplift and entertain you.

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WADADA LEO SMITH – “ROSA PARKS: PURE LOVE. An oratorio of seven songs.”
TUM Records

Wadada Leo Smith, composer/trumpet; Diamond Voices: Min Xiao-Fen (voice, pipa), Carmina Escobar, & Karen Parks; RedKoral Quartet: Shalini Vijayan & Mona Tian, violin; Andrew McIntosh, viola; Ashley Walters, cello; Blue Trumpet Quartet: Wadada Leo Smith, Ted Daniel, Hugh Ragin, trumpets; Graham Haynes, cornet Janus Duo: Pheeroan akLaff, drum-set; Hardedge, electronics.

If Rosa Parks was still alive, she would have turned 106 on February 4, 2019. Wadada Leo Smith decided that this month was the perfect time to release his tribute album to the rebellious Rosa Parks, who sat down in a vacant seat at the front of a public bus where only white customers were supposed to be seated. This defiant act by heroine Parks helped to desegregate busses and called attention to the continuing and ludicrous racist attitudes in our country. Wadada Leo Smith has endeavored to capture that time of inequity and rebellion in this extended composition inspired by the United States’ Civil Rights Movement. His CD includes a tiny 38-page booklet as part of the jacket with photos of his musical crew, stories about them, photos of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr and in-depth information about this production. It also celebrates Smith’s prose, where he explains each suite of music.

The first song, titled “The Montgomery Bus Boycott – 381 Days of Fire” opens this CD with a roll of drums and Wadada Leo Smith’s trumpet mixing with the RedKoral Quartet (a string quartet), and also the Blue Trumpet Quartet that features Smith with Ted Aniel, Hugh Ragin and Graham Haynes. This is conceptual and modern jazz, Avant Garde and combustible creativity born of Wadada Leo Smith’s deep appreciation for Sister Parks and her legacy to the World community and to Black History in general. Smith describes his composition as “a philosophical and spiritual narrative about my vision of Rosa Parks.” The violins bring sweetness to the second track, titled “The First Light, Gold”. Intermingled with the musicians are three lovely voices: Karen Parks, known principally for her operatic work, but confident singing gospel, pop music, jazz and musical theater. Also featured is Min Xiao-Fen, born in Nanjing, China. She is respected internationally for her virtuosity on the pipa, working with various symphonies as well as chamber ensembles. Min is also a singer/composer. Carmina Escobar is an improviser of modern, contemporary music, using sound and vocal techniques to investigate sometimes radical ideas and concepts. These are the perfect three voices to explore Wadada Leo Smith’s own radical and intense compositional concepts and political relevance that is always a part of his musical packaging.

For those of you unfamiliar with the astounding works of Wadada Leo Smith, it began when he became part of the first generation of musicians who came out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the AACM. There, he established himself as both an exceptional composer but also a performer of creative and contemporary jazz music. In the late 1960s, Smith joined forces with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and violinist Leroy Jenkins to form a trio. They later expanded to a quartet when they added Steve McCall on drums.

Wadada Leo Smith has always been a leader, not only of musical groups and ensembles, but as one who is always thinking ahead and performing to challenge himself musically, academically, but mostly spiritually. Smith has received numerous awards over the years heralding him as Jazz Artist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year, Trumpeter of the Year, winning DownBeat Magazine’s Critic’s Poll and has been named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. Wadada Leo Smith continues to push the envelope and step outside the norm with his unusually creative concepts and surprising music productions.

He spoke about an earlier work, civil rights and women’s rights on youtube.com. See below.

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ON THE CORNER LIVE! THE MUSIC OF MILES DAVIS featuring various musicians Ear Up Records

David Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophone/flute; Jeff Coffin, tenor/soprano/electric saxophone/flute/clarinet; Victor Wooten, electric bass; Chester Thompson, drums; Chris Walters, keyboards; James DaSilva, guitar.

Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, as a teenager I was absolutely fascinated by Miles Davis and captivated by his “Sketches in Spain” album and his iconic, recorded masterpiece, “Kind of Blue.” But Miles Dewey Davis III had much more music inside of him; music that was eager to be composed and delivered to his adoring public. Miles, born May 26, 1926, became one of the most influential and uniquely original jazz trumpeters and composers of the twentieth century. His over five-decade career moved from Bebop to the fringes of hip-hop music, venturing into contemporary jazz and a period dedicated to more electric jazz. It was new music, rooted in funk and fusion. In 1972, he recorded the “On the Corner” album for Columbia Records.

He incorporated bassist/vocalist Michael Henderson, who is a recording artist in his own right, leaning heavily towards R&B roots. John McLaughlin joined Dave Creamer and Reggie Lucas on guitar. Both Chick Corea, Harold Ivory Williams and Herbie Hancock played keyboards at various sessions and times. Cedric Lawson was masterful on organ. This was exploratory, fusion jazz, highly electronic and experimental. Miles used various drummers including Al Foster, Billy Hart, Don Alias and Jack DeJohnette. James Mtume manned the percussion and he added sitar players and Badal Roy on tabla. Bennie Maupin was on bass clarinet and both Carlos Garnett and Dave Liebman played soprano and tenor saxophones on this unique production.

Coming full circle, in 2015, Dave Liebman found himself celebrating this unforgettable period of the Miles Davis fusion music in Nashville, Tennessee. It was the original idea of reedman, Jeff Coffin. When Dave Liebman appeared in Nashville, Coffin swooped him up to be a part of his project. Afterall, Liebman was an alumnus of the original recording session with Miles nearly fifty years ago. The other players Coffin called are some of the whose-who, top musicians in Nashville. Their concert was well-attended and a huge success. More importantly, it produced this nostalgic album of recorded music. Although Miles Davis died on September 28, 1991, his music is as relevant and entertaining right now, in 2019. as it was throughout his career.

This tribute album opens with a monologue by David Liebman. He talks about how revolutionary the music of Miles Davis was back in the early 70’s. They begin with the Joe Zawinal tune, “In A Silent Way.” It plays like a prayer. Then the Miles Davis composition, “On the Corner,” follows and the fireworks begin. I remember how angry and confused the acoustic instrument lovers and bebop fans were when Miles Davis released this album. There was much protest and accusations that he had ‘sold out.’ These newly assembled musicians bring that period of the Davis career alive again.

Other Miles compositions on this production are “Will (for Dave)”, that was co-written by David Liebman. Bassist Victor Wooten adds an interlude between this song and “Black Satin.” They also celebrate the Miles Davis compositions, “Ife,” “Mojo,” and “Jean Pierre.” Guitarist, James DaSilva is featured on a short interlude, as is Chester Thompson, who takes a drum solo exploration interlude between “ife” and “Mojo.”. This album has a March 1st release date.
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DOUYÉ– “QUATRO BOSSA NOVA DELUXE” Rhombus Records

Douyé, vocals; Otmaro Ruiz , Mike Eckroth, John Di Martino & Lex Korkten, piano; Romero Lubambo, Marcel Camargo & Paul Meyers, acoustic Guitar; Angelo Metz & Gabe Schnider, guitar; Edwin Livingston, Benjamin Tiberio & Mat Muntz, bass; Boris Kozlov, electric bass; Eduardo Guedes, Zack O’Farrill, Evan Hyde & Duduka Da Fonseca, drums; Manolo Badrena, Leo Costa & Nanny Assis, percussion; Jed Levy, soprano saxophone; Justo Almario, saxophone/flute; Dominic Carioti, tenor saxophone; TRUMPETS: Rachel Therrien, Adam O’Farrill, Nolan Tsang & David Adewumi, (solo trumpet); San Beyfekdm & Freddie Hendrix, flugehorn,.WOODWINDS: Nathan Bellott, Alejandro Aviles, Jed Levy, Mercedes Beckman, Xavier Del Castilo & Larry Bustamante. TROMBONES: Corey Wallace, Aboulrahman Rocky Amer, Beserat Tafesse & Jesus Viramontes (bass trombone.

Douyé is a Nigerian artist currently based in Los Angeles, California. She opens her CD with the popular Kenny Durham composition, “Blue Bossa.” Romero Lubambo offers an outstanding solo on acoustic guitar, as does the great Justo Almario on saxophone. Douyé has a rich, second soprano/alto voice that caresses the lyrics of Blue Bossa with warm tones. Latin music suits Douyé’s style of mixing Latin, Brazilian, American jazz and African roots in these arrangements. She explained it this way.

“My dad would play all kinds of jazz from African jazz like Fela Kuti to more traditional American and European jazz to Latin and Brazilian jazz. I didn’t want to make a typical Bossa Nova album like I’ve heard ten trillion times before. I wanted to add my own thing to it; my own identity, my own sound, my own style. The true essence of this project is my African heritage. As an artist, part of my duty is to infuse my heritage and identity into my music.”

She uses various instrumentalists on different studio sessions. I thought perhaps this would taint the music with inconsistency, but for the most part, all the back-up music is beautifully arranged, produced and played. Douyé is using longtime Mingus Big Band music director and bassist, Boris Kozlov and Weather Report percussionist, (who also worked with Ahmad Jamal), Monolo Badrena. Drummer Zack O’Farrill is also an arranger for Douyé and the two collaborated on her former album titled, “Daddy Said So.” His stunning arrangement on “Aqua De Beber” features busy horns in the background with Douyé’s voice floating above the creative rhythms and harmonies. She adds scat singing on the fade of this song. She also uses educator, Edwin Livingston on bass, who has worked with a plethora of great musicians including the late Natalie Cole.

Douyé has a timbre and tone similar to the iconic Nina Simone. It’s a sound that is unique and establishes this vocalist as a stylist. In other words, when you hear her once, you will probably recognize her the second time around. This album of music is packed with familiar Latin compositions, sixteen in total. On tunes like “Once I Loved,” the musicians seem to desert the singer, playing for themselves instead of complimenting what she hears and feels. On the other hand, some might consider this individual freedom of expression. You listen and decide.

Other favorite tunes on this album are “Corcovado,” “Summer Samba (So Nice),” is a lovely arrangement with Jed Levy tasty on flute and tenor saxophone; “Desafinado” gives the listener a clear opportunity to enjoy Douyé’s voice because of the sparse arrangement. Hear Douyé with just the acoustic guitar licks of Marcel Camargo. Leo Costa’s percussive talents keep the rhythm held snugly in place and brightly color the arrangement. These two musicians are all Douyé needs to sell this song. Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” is nicely represented as is “Nica’s Dream,” that features a very fresh arrangement featuring Zack O’Farrill’s exciting drums and a big band feel with punching horns. Douyé closes with a Poignant duo rendition of “Dindi” featuring the sensitive guitar accompaniment of Romero Lubambo. Beautiful!

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RON JACKSON – “STANDARDS AND OTHER SONGS” Roni Music

Ron Jackson, string guitar/arranger/producer; Nathan Brown, acoustic bass; Darrell Green, drums.

Ron Jackson is a first rate, 7-string guitarist who has just completed his ninth album as a leader and this recent accomplishment titled, “Standards and Other Songs” is a work of pure art. Opening with “Moondance” he refreshes an old pop standard with plush chords and unique creativity. Jackson’s technique is impressive. Folks like George Benson, Van Morrison, Bill Withers, Bucky Pizzarelli and Grant Green, inspired Jackson to polished his craft and style. He’s become a formidable artist in his own right. Ron Jackson’s guitar shines like a brilliant jewel, supported by Nathan Brown on bass and Darrell Green on drums. They are the solid gold shank that holds his jewel in place.

Jackson explained, “The energy that my trio and I brought to this music uncovered amazing connections between jazz and popular songs. It’s a very special project.”

For example, he covers a song by hip-hop superstar, Drake titled, “Passionfruit.” He rejuvenates a rap song with a very jazzy arrangement, paying attention to the melody and playing with the rhythm of the rapper’s words on his guitar strings. On the Bill Wither’s song, “Lovely Day” Ron Jackson breathes helium life into the song, as his guitar notes float through space like loose party balloons. When he plays old standards like “Blame It On My Youth” and “More Than You Know” he infuses these beautiful compositions with his mastery of the 7-string guitar and the special sound it brings to these arrangements. The trio races into “From This Moment On” at break-neck speed and features Darrell Green showcasing his trap drums in a bright spotlight with Nathan Brown tenaciously walking his upright bass, steady beneath the excitement. “Pensitiva” by Clare Fischer brought a taste of Latin jazz to this album in a beautiful way.

Jackson is a jazz and guitar instructor, working as a faculty member of the New jersey Performing Arts Center. He believes in giving back to the community and inspiring young musicians the way he was inspired by the masters that preceded him. Consequently, he has shared his talent and experience at the Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens Program and also at the Brooklyn/Queens Conservatory of Music.

During his formative years of playing guitar, he lived in Paris, France and has certainly adopted some of his style from that French community experience. Born and raised in the Philippines, he plays six, seven and twelve string guitars, electric bass and has appeared on over forty albums as a side man. This project is sure to be another successful musical notch on his leather guitar strap.
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CONGRATULATIONS TO JAZZ GRAMMY WINNERS in 2019

Best Jazz Vocal Album – “The Window” – CECILE McLORIN SALVANT

Best jazz Instrumental Album – “Emanon” – The WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET

Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A’Cappella – “Stars & Stripes Forever” –
JOHN DAVERSA

Best Music Film – “Quincy” – QUINCY JONES; ALAN HICKS & RASHIDA JONES; Video Directors: PAULA DUPRE PESMEN, Video Producer

Best Improvised Jazz Solo – “Don’t Fence Me In” – JOHN DAVERSA from the “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom” album.

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album – JOHN DAVERSA BIG BAND featuring DACA Artists – “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom”

Best Latin Jazz Album – “Back to the Sunset” – DAFINIS PRIETO BIG BAND