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LIVE REVIEW OF TOM RANIER TRIO TRIBUTE TO ARTIE SHAW

March 29, 2017

LIVE REVIEW OF TOM RANIER TRIO TRIBUTE TO ARTIE SHAW – March 26, 2017
By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

When I have a scheduled gig, I usually don’t plan to do anything else on that date except sing. I’m not sure people realize how much energy it takes to entertain. We musicians give so much of ourselves to others, and we are so appreciative when we receive the love back at our concerts. So usually, I conserve my energy on a day I have to perform in order to bring my best. However, on this particular Sunday afternoon, I broke my rule, because I was eager to hear the music of Tom Ranier, Ron Escheté and Luther Hughes at a private jazz salon in Huntington Beach. Their concert was held earlier than my gig. It started at 2pm and ended at 4:30pm and I would be just minutes away from Baci’s Italian Restaurant, located in the same beach city where I would be working.

I drove 2 hours to get to the California Jazz Arts Society (Cal JAS) event. If you live in Los Angeles, you judge car travel by time rather than mileage distance. Most of the travel time is due to terrible and congested traffic on multiple freeways. I thought I had left early enough to arrive promptly; but I was late, and walked into the Hughes home a few minutes after two. The concert was already in progress. The place was packed and the trio was playing “Lady Be Good” as I tip-toed into their living room. Tom Ranier was sitting behind an electric piano, holding a clarinet to his lips and sounding amazing. The concept of the concert was to celebrate the talents and legacy of Artie Shaw, while raising money for the California Jazz Arts Society. I slid onto one of only three chairs available in the packed room. Sitting against the wall, by the front door, a strong spring wind tousled my hair and cooled the attentive audience. Luther Hughes welcomed me with a wink, as he dug into his solo on double bass.

In between songs, Tom Ranier shared interesting antidotes about Artie Shaw, colored by his obvious admiration for his departed friend and mentor. He told us that he actually bought Shaw’s mouthpiece on EBay. Shaw was working professionally at sixteen-years-old, inspired by Louie Armstrong. Ranier explained that Artie seemed to be a troubled soul early on, who had eight wives during his lifetime, including famed actress Lana Turner, and was in and out of the music business; quitting then coming back again.

Next, the Ranier trio tackled “Rose Room,” a composition that reflects the same chord changes as Duke Ellington’s tune, “In A Mellow Tone”. It was eerie listening to the similarity of the two songs. The trio incorporated both songs into their arrangement, with Ron Escheté sounding creative and spontaneous on guitar and Luther Hughes echoing the melody line of “In A Mellow Tone” on his upright bass. “Rose Room” was written by Art Hickman, with lyrics by Harry Williams, to celebrate the famed room of the White House in the United States. It’s a 1917 jazz standard and enjoyed huge popularity during the Swing Era. Duke Ellington is credited with reviving the popular composition in 1932. Seven years later, Ellington adopted the chord changes and wrote “In A Mellow Tone”. So, the story goes, Charlie Christian made an indelible mark on jazz history when he impressed Benny Goodman, jamming his ‘Rose Room’ solo for nearly forty-five minutes. But it was Artie Shaw who first made the song popular.

Luther introduced his wife and vocalist, Becky Hughes, to sing the next song that recalled another popular recording of Artie Shaw. She performed “Deep Purple,” beautifully reiterating an original arrangement by Peggy Lee. This was followed by the band playing, “Dancing on the Ceiling” at a moderate tempo, and Ranier’s trio really made it ‘Swing.’

President of the Cal JAS organization, Dale Boatman, took to the microphone next to interpret “Day In Day Out” with his smooth baritone vocals.
Tom Ranier moved effortlessly from joining Escheté and Hughes on piano or picking up the clarinet and celebrating Artie Shaw. He gave us brief and not-so-brief anecdotes about the iconic musician’s life. It was a delightful way to share music history and I sat there thinking what a wonderful program this would be for junior high and high school students, to introduce them to jazz and the artists who made jazz unforgettably important to the world.

Set two began with “Begin the Beguine,” a huge big band success for Artie Shaw and his orchestra. Back-tracking a bit, a conversation had developed when the band played “Dancing on the Ceiling.” It was about Fred Astaire and his unforgettable dance number in the MGM film, “Royal Wedding,” where he dances on the walls and ceiling of a room. Astaire also danced to “Begin the Beguine” with Eleanor Powell. Tom Ranier told us that Fred Astaire was of Austrian and Russian decent and his actual name was Frederick Austerlitz. I didn’t know that. Speaking of given names, Artie Shaw’s actual birth name was Arthur Jacob Arshawsky.

Luther reminded the attentive audience that his friend and fellow musician, Tom Ranier, is not only a great pianist and clarinetist, but he is also a gifted arranger who has worked on the popular television show, “Dancing with the Stars” and has also arranged music for the Academy Awards, the Emmy and Golden Globe Award shows. Not to mention he has arranged sound tracks for Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Christina Aguilera, Joe Pass, Barry Manilow and Natalie Cole to name just a sprinkling of the artists he has worked with. Then, we went back to the music at hand.

On Begin the Beguine”, his arrangement set the tempo as a Bolero. Then smooth as Bengali silk, his clarinet melody captivated us. This song was Shaw’s great hit and every audience where he performed it, demanded he play it over and over again. It’s remains as compelling as ever.

Afterwards, Ranier suggested we find the documentary on Artie Shaw called “Time Is All You’ve Got”. He said Artie sued the producer of that film. There is also a Youtube.com viewing available of a documentary called “The Quest for Perfection” with actual interviews given by Artie Shaw. I went right home and enjoyed reviewing the documentaries. One thing I had always heard about Artie Shaw was that he hired Billie Holiday and other black musicians like Roy Eldridge, before it was acceptable behavior to include African Americans in white bands. I admired him for that integration before I knew the rest of his legacy.

Sunday afternoon was a wonderful, educational and musical experience. It tickled my interest into the legacy of Artie Shaw and satisfied my appreciation of great music played by accomplished Los Angeles based musicians. Jazz Salons are becoming more and more popular in various Southern California communities. For a reasonable donation, you get an afternoon of excellent music, all the wine and beer you can drink, snacks and in this case, historic stories from folks who were there and lived it. For more information about the California Jazz Arts Society, see http://www.caljas.org.

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JAZZ CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AND ENRICH A NATION

September 25, 2016

JAZZ CONTINUES TO EVOLVE AND ENRICH A NATION
By Dee Dee McNeil – jazz journalist

September 25, 2016

Like everything else in nature, art evolves and reflects the past and present, wrapped like a beautiful gift that we cannot wait to open and explore. Below are four very different and talented jazz artists who exemplify the evolving nature of jazz. Each, in their own unique way, enrich our culture and encourage their listeners to open their ears and minds to new ways of appreciating jazz music. There is RICHARD SUSSMAN, who believes that fundamental to “The Evolution Ensemble” is the belief that to meet the changing needs and cultural shifts of the twenty-first century, it’s essential for composers and performers to evolve in their aesthetic perspectives by changing the artistic landscape. DAVID GIBSON uses his trombone to pull at his ‘Inner Agent’ inside himself and finds freedom in jazz music. ALLYSA ALLGOOD looks to the past, learning from the masters and putting her own lyrical spin on compositions and jazz melodies created by iconic Blue Note artists, while LOU CAIMANO and ERIC OLSEN endeavor to transform classical Arias into palatable jazzy, new works of art. Each artist has the goal of evolving the music to one extent or another. Here’s my take on what I heard.

RICHARD SUSSMAN – “THE EVOLUTION SUITE”
Zoho Records

Richard Sussman, piano/electronics; Scott Wendholt, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Mike Richmond, acoustic/electric bass; Anthony Pinciotti, drums; The Sirius Quartet includes: Gregor Huebner, violin, Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Ron Lawrence, viola; Jeremy Harman, cello and Special guest Zach Brock, electric violin.

The warm tone of violins opens the first track and the other instruments join in, sporadically building on the strings like busy fingers. Here is an orchestrated suite, composed and arranged by Sussman, that is richly rooted in the classical genre, but incorporates jazz as a means of parading improvised solos atop the base. There are rhythms and percussive textures that sometimes remind me of gun shots. Staccato Horn lines sing, while the piano chords play in a legato fashion beneath, locking horns with the rhythm section to create “Into the Cosmic Kitchen”. Scott Wendholt is splendid on trumpet.

Richard Sussman’s “Evolution Suite” written for Jazz Quintet, String Quartet and Electronics is a labor of love that Sussman admittedly has worked on for almost a decade. The five-movement composition was funded by a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant and premiered in December of 2015 at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia of Symphony Space in NYC. It was recorded live and the results is this unusual and very beautiful production. Somehow, Sussman has brought together electronics, Straight Ahead, contemporary classical and pop music in his unique arrangements. Track two of the 5-part suite delivers a lovely ballad titled “Relaxin’ at Olympus”. There’s a bit of blues in the saxophone that enters after a very classical piano introduction. It’s sultry and sweet, played by Rich Perry, with the string quartet, rich as cream, chiming in to elevate the arrangement in a chamber-music-kind-of-way.
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DAVID GIBSON – “INNER AGENT”
Posi-Tone Records

David Gibson, trombone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet; Theo Hill, piano; Alexander Claffy, bass; Kush Abadey, drums; Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Caleb Curtis, alto saxophone.

I have to begin this review by complimenting Positone Records. Every CD this company has sent to me reflects a high quality of jazz artists. It’s been a joy listening to each and every one of them. David Gibson is no exception to this course of excellence. “Inner Agent”, the title tune, is an original composition by Gibson and sets the mood for this entire project. It’s Straight Ahead, no nonsense jazz, just the way this reviewer likes it. Using a quartet of horns to thicken the musical brew, Gibson graciously shares his stage with a group of seasoned musicians. He lets each one solo and sparkle like jazzy jewels. Hendrix is compelling on trumpet, drawing the listener in with big bold tones and dynamic technique. Doug Webb always brings tenor madness to the studio, playing from the heart and Caleb Curtis on alto is a saxophone force to be enjoyed and celebrated. This is my first time hearing Theo Hill on piano and he’s impressive, innovative and skilled, knowing just how to comp and support the artist, then stretching out with solos that make you pay attention. Abadey on drums is powerful and relentless, giving this band the push and rhythmic inspiration they need to spiral up and over his percussive chops. However, it is Gibson’s trombone voice that bathes in the glow of a singular spotlight. They say that trombone is the closest instrument to human vocals and Gibson sings with emotional dexterity and polished technique. He’s an accomplished composer as well as a musician and offers four original tunes on this project. One is “The Scythe”, a high-powered, Be Bop tune that burns with fiery energy with Gibson’s solo floating solidly atop the rhythm section. You can hear Abadey’s drums throughout, egging the band on like a matador’s cape in front of an angry bull. I love the mix on this recording. Bassist, Alexander Claffy, has written “AJ”, a moderate tempo ballad that allows Gibson to set the melodic theme along with his horn section, sometimes harmonically but mostly in unison. If I were to have any criticism, it would be that Gibson’s improvisational solos are way too short. Gibson tackles two compositions by my Detroit home-boy, trombonist Curtis Fuller; “The Court” and “Sweetness”, where he shows admirable technique and self-expression. This is an album of music to be treasured in any collection. Perhaps Curtis Fuller said it best when he gave Gibson this dynamic compliment:

“Out of all the young players I hear in the music today, David is one of very few who speaks the language of jazz.”

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ALYSSA ALLGOOD – OUT OF THE BLUE
Jeru Jazz Records

Alyssa Allgood, voice; Dan Chase, organ; Tim Fitzgerald, guitar; Chris Madsen, saxophone; Matt Plaskota, drums.

Here is a poet/vocalist who has taken on the challenging task of writing lyrics to some well-recognized, popular jazz standards composed by iconic Blue Note record company artists. Starting with “Watch Me Walk Away” originally titled, “Dig Dis” by Hank Mobley, her poetry is a reflection of her last name, ‘All good’. She sings in the mode of Lambert Hendricks & Ross or Eddie Jefferson; scatting with words. Allgood’s accompaniment is outstanding, with Dan Chase playing a mean organ and Tim Fitzgerald laying down an innovative guitar solo on this very first composition. Mobley’s swinging-shuffle-of-a-tune is a good sounding board to introduce the listener to Allgood’s band of musicians, minus saxophone. Madsen’s sax appears on the second cut, John Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” where Allgood sings Kim Nazarian and Peter Eldridge lyrics. “Speak No Evil,” Wayne Shorter’s composition, features Allgood as a lyricist again and I enjoyed her scat-singing on this cut as well as her poetic storyline. She trades fours with Matt Plaskota’s drums, while singing along with Fitzgerald’s guitar licks. Plaskota is given a moment to shine with his percussive solo taking stage center. Alyssa Allgood is to be commended for tackling some difficult intervals and challenging jazz compositions, like Sam Rivers’ “Beatrice”. Again, she has put lyrics to the Rivers song. But (for me) her voice is lacking that special stylization and ‘Swing’ that jazz demands. Jazz divas like Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Nancy Wilson have set the bar high for style and delivery. On the other hand, she’s pitch-perfect, as well as a fine songwriter. She’s young and has time to develop her style.

Meantime, her talented group carries her with fortitude and professional tenacity. All in all, this is a well-produced CD and when she becomes an instrument, scatting instead of singing words, I find myself more comfortably drawn to Allgood’s music. That’s when she really swings. Allgood has won several jazz awards already in her young career including the 2014 DownBeat Magazine Student Music Award for Best Undergraduate Vocal Jazz Soloist and was recently named a 2016 Luminart’s Jazz Fellow through the Lumninarts Cultural Foundation in Chicago.

Allgood is based in Chicago and her organist and co-arranger, Dan Chase, along with her entire ensemble, are lauded as mainstays on the Chicago jazz scene. Chase is endorsed by Hammond Organ. Tim Fitzgerald has a critically acclaimed book titled “625 Alive: The Wes Montgomery BBC Performance Transcribed” said to be among the ’50 greatest guitar books’ of all time. Chris Madsen has performed with and written for Wynton Marsalis, Victor Goines, Wycliffe Gordon, Bobby Short and more. Drummer, Matt Plaskota, is an educator who performs regularly throughout the Midwest area.
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LOU CAIMANO/ERIC OLSEN – “DYAD PLAYS JAZZ ARIAS”
Ringwood Records

Eric Olsen, piano; Lous Caimano, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUESTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ted Nash, tenor saxophone.

If you are a lover of classical music, you will find this melding of jazz with master aria composers like Bizet, Verdi and Mozart quite interesting. Using only piano as the rhythm section, Olsen lays down a lush classical track for Caimano’s alto saxophone to improvise on top of, allowing jazz and the classics like “Habanera” to co-mingle. The result is a challenging blend of musical freedom with the more structured classical arias. On the very first cut, “Finch’ han dal Vino” by W.A. Mozart, Randy Brecker breaks the icy and repetitive piano line with his creative approach on trumpet. It was Brecker’s instrumentation that held my attention captive during the duet. Having studied piano, this jazz journalist has a limited background in the classical compositions. However, I believe that when you enter the world of jazz, you have to be able to ‘swing’ and to transform classical ideas from the structured to a dance of freedom. Although competent and obviously, technique-wise, astute on his instrument, I never heard Olsen get totally free on his piano during this premiere aria. I applaud the arrangements and the producing of an album that attempts to marry these two musical styles. I know that Ellington has attempted the same thing in the past, as has George Gershwin when he composed, “Rhapsody in Blue”. However, taking well-known operatic arias and transforming them into jazz arias will take more than a concept to birth a healthy and well-favored baby.

This duo has been performing together for sixteen years under the name of DYAD. The meaning of the word ‘Dyad’ is “two persons in a continuing relationship involving interaction.” Five of these recorded arrangements were written by Olsen with two arias having the arranging credit shared by his musical partner, Caimano; (“Flower Duet” and “Meditation”). I enjoyed the jazz waltz arrangement on the Léo Delibes’ composition, “Flower Duet”, that was written exclusively for two soprano singers in classical ¾ time. Like the operatic singers, Ted Nash and Lou Caimano harmonize beautifully, then break out into individual solos. I was impressed with Olsen’s walking, left-handed bass-line, while his right hand deftly kept the rhythm with opulent, harmonic chords. I also found their final tune, “Dio! mi potevi scagliar” very well adjusted to jazz and converted from classical in a most creative and unique way; almost sounding Avant Garde at times. Again, it features both saxophonists Lou Caimano and Ted Nash, and pulls the best out of each musician in a jazzy way that transcends musical boundaries. I suppose that was the goal of this recording in the first place. On these two songs, mission accomplished.

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THE BIG BAND THEORY AND A TRIBUTE TO JOHN COLTRANE

August 12, 2016

THE BIG BAND THEORY AND A TRIBUTE TO JOHN COLTRANE
By: Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

AUGUST 15, 2016

I had fun this month, listening to numerous and varied big band arrangements. There was MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS who took me back to the 1930’s and ‘40’s with his Swing arrangements. HECTOR MARTIGNON’S BANDA GRANDE infused his band with Latin roots. RICARDO BACELAR blends Brazilian music with jazz fusion in a ‘Live’ concert recording. LOU CAPUTO delivers a big sound from his “Not So Big Band, Uh Oh!” and STEVE HECKMAN gives us a heartfelt tribute to John Coltrane. Finally, MICHAEL DAVIS and his HIP-BONE BIG BAND take a more modern approach with funk/fusion and punchy horn lines while celebrating big band excellence.

MICHAEL GAMBLE AND THE RHYTHM SERENADERS “RS”
Organic Records

Michael Gamble, bass; Jonathan Stout, lead guitar; Keenan McKenzie & Paul Cosentino, clarinet/all saxes; Russ Wilson & Laura Windley, vocals; Brooks Prumo, rhythm guitar; Gordon Au, & Noah Hocker, trumpets; Craig Gildner & James Posedel, piano; Josh Collazo, drums; Lucien Cobb & David Wilken, trombones.

If you love the music of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, this is a production that will bring you great happiness and joy. It is reminiscent of the big band era of Harry James, Stan Kenton, and Charlie Barnet. Michael Gamble has carefully chosen musicians who obviously “honor the legacy of this genre with integrity.” You can picture those girls in bobby socks and ballooning, full skirts Jitterbug dancing to this music with hands, feet and skirts flying in all directions. This is a tribute to big bands at a season when they were the popular music of the day; filling dance halls with young, stomping feet and majestically orchestrated big band sounds. From the very first cut, with the vocals of Laura Windley, we are transported to that time and space on “Back In Your Own Back Yard”. Boy, I haven’t heard that song since I was a little girl. Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Woodie Herman set the precedence for dance music and orchestrated jazz in my mother and Father’s Day. Gamble has proudly taken their baton and directed his orchestra in the same, historic manner.


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HECTOR MARTIGNON’S BANDA GRANDE – “THE BIG BAND THEORY”
Zoho Records

Hector Martignon, piano/accordion/conductor/composer/arranger saxophones; John Benitez, bass; Vince Cherico, drums; Samuel Torres, congas/maracas; Chistos Rafalides, vibraphone; Andy Hunter, Rafi Makiel, Luis Bonilla, Alvin Walker, Chris Washburne, Trombones; John Walsh, Seneca Black, Steve Gluzband, Julie Desbordes, Fabio Morgera, trumpets; Enrique Fernandez, Chelsea Baratz, Alejandro Aviles, David De Jesus, Jason Arce & Alex Han, saxophones; String Quartet: Nuine Melikian, Everhard Paredes, Samuel Marchan, & Diego Garcia. SPECIAL GUESTS: Brenda Feliciano, vocals; Joe Burgstaller, solo trumpet; Edmar Castaneda, Colombian Harp; Jorge Glem, cuatro; Roberto Quintero, cajon; Martin Vejarano, gaita (a Columbian flute)/tambura/maracon.

“The Big Band Theory” brings us a completely different look at orchestration and presentation. Hector Martignon is aggressive in arranging and celebrates a Latin perspective, along with showcasing his composer skills on this recording. There is nothing old-school about this production. I love the addition of vibraphone, which I first prominently noticed on “99 MacDougall Street”. This is Martignon’s third CD release, after being GRAMMY nominated twice. Colombian-born and now living in Harlem, New York, pianist Hector Martignon offers us daring, somewhat visionary arrangements, including compositions by Classical composers Bach & Mozart and the great jazz composer/pianist, Bill Evans. He dives into a composition of Brazilian songwriter, Hermeto Pascoal and surprisingly mixes things up by tossing Mozart in the mix. Martignon speaks of the 1990’s and the turbulent 1960’s era in the United States as inspirational, as well as his time in Germany during the Christmas holiday season. His music composition celebrating the “Trombone Chorale” is reflective of the pulsating rivers of people streaming like worker ants in and out of subways and/or trains, with Christmas music playing in the background. I found the arrangement on “Estate” to be awe inspiring. Martignon is an artist whose brush becomes his fingers across the 88 keys of his piano or placed colorfully on his accordion. He merges the music and emotion of his Colombian culture into jazz and classical music with strong strokes of creativity and genius.

Below is his take on the Bill Evans composition “Interplay” featuring the art of Wassily Kandinsky.


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RICARDO BACELAR – “Concerto Para Moviola ao Vivo”
Independent label

Ricardo Bacelar, acoustic piano/keyboards; Ronaldo Pessoa, guitar; Luizinho Duarte, drums; Miquélas dos Santos, bass; Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, violin; Marcio Resende, soprano/tenor/ & flute; Hoto Junior, percussion; Maria Helena Lage Pessoa, keyboards & percussion.

This CD begins as a well-orchestrated tribute to one of America’s premiere producer/arrangers; Mr. Quincy Jones. The Brazilian band plays Joe Zawinul’s “Birdland” composition and “Killer Joe” (by Benny Golson), two songs famously arranged and recorded by ‘Q’. The orchestration is lush and mirrors Quincy’s original arrangements. They were always favorites of mine. Ricardo Bacelar is a Brazilian pianist, as well as a composer and arranger himself. On this project, his focal point is the 1970s and 1980s jazz fusion era, featuring familiar compositions by Weather Report, Pat Metheny, the Yellowjackets, Moacir Santos and Antonio Carlos Jobim. This CD was recorded “Live” during the Guaramiranga Jazz and Blues Festival in Brazil and is his second album release as a leader. Michel Legrand’s tune, “The Windmills of Your Mind” is beautifully executed featuring the violin of Marcus Vinicius Cardoso, as well as a rousing electric guitar solo by Ronaldo Pessoa. The funk undertone keeps the familiar pop tune modern. Ricardo Bacelar has composed four tunes on this jazz fusion adventure and offers us a very enjoyable hour-plus of fine, well-executed music. Because the band is recorded live, you can hear that the audience is enthusiastic and receptive.


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LOU CAPUTO – “NOT SO BIG BAND, UH OH!”
Jazzcat 47 Records

Lou Caputo, baritone/soprano saxophones/flute; Joel Perry, guitar; Bill Crow, bass; Don Stein, piano; Dave Smith & John Eckert, trumpet/flugelhorn; Virginia Mayhew, tenor saxophone; Jason Ingram, trombone; Dale Turk, tuba; Geoffrey Burke, alto saxophone/flute; Warren Smith, vibraphone; Mike Campenni & Rudy Petschauer, drums; Eddie Montalvo, conga; Leopoldo Fleming, percussion.

On cut number one, the very first thing I hear that grabs my attention is the rich, exciting sound of a baritone saxophone soloing on “Black Nile,” a familiar Wayne Shorter composition. I turn to the CD jacket to see who’s playing that baritone sax solo. It’s Lou Caputo. As the disc spins and various musicians are featured on solo bars, I’m impressed with their individual master musicianship. Virginia Mayhew swings hard on tenor saxophone and so does Dave Smith on his trumpet during the delivery of this Wayne Shorter tune. And wow! Who was that rolling across those drums like that? Rudy Petschauer is powerful! Caputo has gathered a sparkling array of New York’s best to play these “not so big band” arrangements and make them shine. On the Don Elliot composition, “Uh Oh!” I enjoy Warren Smith’s vibraphone talents. One of the impressive things about this recording is the excellence of ‘the Mix’. Bravo to the engineers that mixed and mastered this recording. Was that you, Mike Marcianao at Systems Two? You can hear every nuance of instrumentation; every brush across the drums and each percussive expression on the conga. Bill Crow is balanced perfectly on bass to lock in with Don Stein on piano, Joel Perry on guitar and either Petschauer or Mike Campenni on drums. Here is a delightful, jazz adventure with rich, well written arrangements by Caputo and the late Chris White, that explore straight ahead jazz at its best. The “Not So Big Band” (which by the way sounds way big!) has been performing for over a decade in New York City and various concert venues. I’ll be playing this CD over and over again for years to come.


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STEVE HECKMAN – “LEGACY: A COLTRANE TRIBUTE”
Jazzed Media

Steve Heckman, tenor & soprano saxophones; Grant Levin, piano; Eric Markowitz, bass; Smith Dobson V, drums.

This music is rolling right up my lane. Coltrane is one of my favorite jazz artists and Steve Heckman has performed a heartfelt tribute to the master, daring to record it in ‘live performance’ at the Hillside Club in Berkeley, California. When I say ‘dare’ I mean it as a great compliment. So many artists these days go into the studio and lay down tracks, then use technology to fix things. Heckman shows his listening audience that he is up for the task at hand and needs no technology to enhance his recording. He does it ‘old school’. Walks up to the microphone and plays the music from his heart, using his own unique technique and expression. Heckman is well supported by Grant Levin on piano, Smith Dobson V on drums and Eric Markowitz on bass. I appreciated, enjoyed and respected the group’s ability and tenacity to tackle Coltrane’s astonishing legacy. This is an hour-long concert that brought me pure bliss and reminded me of the amazing talent and awesome body of work that John Coltrane left us to enjoy. It’s Heckman’s fifth CD as a leader. He resides in the San Francisco Bay area and All eight songs on this project are Coltrane compositions, with the exception of Rodgers & Hart’s “It’s Easy to Remember” from ‘Tranes’ 1963 ballad album. This gorgeous ballad was one of my favorite cuts on his album. The title tune, “Legacy” was composed by Heckman himself. It’s well-written and well-played, just like all the cuts on this ‘live’ production.

Heckman’s own legacy includes playing with trumpeters Eddie Henderson, Howard McGhee, Chet Baker and Tom Harrell; trombonist Roswell Rudd; pianists Andrew Hill, Benny Green, Jessica Williams, Jim McNeely, George Cables and guitarists John Abercrombie, Mimi Fox and Bruce Foreman. Let’s not forget drummers Jimmy Cobb, Eddie Moore, Donald Bailey and Pete Escovedo or vocalists Jackie Ryan, Madeline Eastman and Kellye Gray. And his legacy continues.
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MICHAEL DAVIS – “HIP-BONE BIG BAND”
Hip-Bone Music

Michael Davis, composer/arranger/producer/trombone; Andy Ezrin, piano; David Finck, bass; Will Kennedy & Jared Schonig, drums; SAXOPHONES: Dick Oatts & David Mann, alto; Bob Malach, Andy Snitzer and Charles Pillow, tenor; Roger Rosenberg, baritone; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Nick Marchione, Jim Hynes, Tony Kadleck, Scott Wendholt, Kent Smith, and Zaq Dvis; TROMBONES: Michael Davis, Marshall Gilkes, Nick Finzer, Keith O’Quinn, Conrad Herwig, Bob Chesney, Andy Martin, Birch Johnson, Michael Dease and Amy Salo; Jeff Nelson. George Flynn and Bill Reichenback, Bass trombones.

New York trombonist and educator, Michael Davis, has put together his eleventh CD release to celebrate his composing and arranging skills, with the help of Kickstarter donations. From 1994 to 2007 Davis was the trombonist for the Rolling Stones. He also toured and recorded with Frank Sinatra from 1988 – 1994. He’s used his trombone skills to perform or record with a wealth of diverse talent including Michael Jackson, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Aerosmith, Tony Bennett, Jay Z, Sarah Vaughan, Sting, Branford Marsalis, Bob Mintzer, Paul Simon, David Sanborn and Terence Blanchard, just to name a handful. He’s composed over one-hundred-fifty songs, ten of them he is featuring on this recent recording of a dozen songs. The first two compositions, “Butter Ball” and “Zag Attack,” feature horn lines that are punchy and repetitious, acting as a harmonic trampoline for the soloists to leap and dance upon. “Butter Ball” has a funky drum line that motivates this arrangement and Will Kennedy definitely is inspired on his drum kit. Davis’ composition, “Zona,” has a ‘Smooth Jazz’ feel with a catchy melody, where Davis takes a solo and so does Dick Oatts on alto saxophone. Davis had made sure that many of his band members get an opportunity to solo and show their masterful skills throughout this project. But for the most part, eighty percent of the Davis music is arranged for ensemble playing by the big band. Because he uses a more modern approach in arranging, with funk drums as a solid base for the players to dance atop of, I would never have guessed that at age 21 he was working as part of the Buddy Rich big band for two years. Later, he landed a position in Sinatra’s touring band that lasted seven illustrious years. Keeping this kind of company so early in his career had to greatly inspire and educate him. However, in this project there is no “Swing”. Instead, he has seamlessly blended today’s hip-hop/fusion sound into his big band production; thanks to the power and smash of drummers Kennedy and Jared Schonig.

One of my favorite tunes on this CD is the old standard “Sentimental” with Bob McChesney offering a triumphant trombone solo. I love Davis’ arrangement on this beautiful ballad. I also enjoyed “Show Up”, composed by Michael Davis & Cole Davis, that had an Avant Garde flair floating above the funky drums and amidst the fusion-like-harmonics of the horn section. Credit would have to be given to Bob Malach on tenor saxophone, Scott Wendholt on trumpet and Andy Ezin on piano who all added improvisational depth and character to the arrangement with their individual solos.
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NEW CD RELEASES REFLECT SOUNDS OF SUMMER and CELEBRATE MEN OF JAZZ

July 15, 2016

NEW CD RELEASES REFLECT SOUNDS OF SUMMER and CELEBRATE MEN OF JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

July 15, 2016

BOB HOLZ – “A VISION FORWARD”
MVD Records

Bob Holz, drums/percussion; Larry Coryell, guitar; Mike Stern, guitar; Bob Wolfman, guitar; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Billy Steinway, keyboards; Steve Weingart, keyboard solos on 8 & 9; John Viavattine, Jr., bass; Jesse Collins, alto saxophone; Ada Rovatti, saxophone; John Viavattine Sr., flute/tenor & soprano saxophone; Ethan Wojcik, trombone; Tori Higley, vocals.

Drummer, Bob Holz, has surrounded himself with the crème de la crème of smooth jazz nobility including appearances by Larry Coryell, Mike Stern, Randy Brecker and Steve Weingart. The first cut on this CD, “Moving Eyes” pulsates with repeatable melodic lines, haunting voices, as well as a formidable guitar solo by Mike Stern. The second cut, “A Vision Forward” and the title of this production, also has an easily remembered melody line and is heavily funk influenced. Here is a contemporary, smooth-jazz CD that incorporates rhythm and blues, rock and pop in a pleasant, easy listening way. Cut #4, “Avalon Canyon” reminds me of a Quincy Jones arrangement; a throw-back to the 70’s. It’s a moderate shuffle that features Viavattine Sr on flute. Holz captures a strong groove with sticks flashing and time locked down, cement hard. His publicist notes that on the upcoming touring group, Detroit-based Ralphe Armstrong will join the band as their bassist. I’m quite familiar with Armstrong’s notable talent from his days as a 16-year-old prodigy with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra to his illustrious career playing with the likes of Frank Zappa, Herbie Hancock, Jean-Luc Ponty, Santana, Aretha Franklin and more. I had the pleasure of working with Ralphe extensively when I was singing jazz at home in Detroit. He’s an amazing bass player and will make a premium addition to the Holz group.

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

Holz began his career in Boston, attending Berklee College of Music. He went on to study with Billy Cobham in New York and would later share the stage with a host of iconic musicians like David “Fat Head” Newman, Cornell Dupree, Maria Muldaur, Dr. John, Les McCann, George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic and Robben Ford. He has co-composed all of the songs on this album. Holz sums it up by saying his goal is:
“To learn from the past, embrace the present and chart new musical explorations.”
Mission accomplished.
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ANTHONY E. NELSON JR. – “SWIFT TO HEAR, SLOW TO SPEAK”
Music Stand Records

Anthony E. Nelson Jr, soprano & tenor saxophones; Brandon McCune, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Chris Beck, drums; Bruce Williams, alto saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet.

If you have ever been in the throes of doing taxes or bookkeeping, you know how miserable and often stressful it can be. At least, it is for me. Numbers just aren’t my best friends and that kind of work drives me up the wall. I decided to put on some music while I was tediously entering numbers into my Excel program. I grabbed a new CD I had just received and WOW! Anthony E. Nelson Jr was just what I needed at that very moment. He made the work I actually hate doing a more pleasant experience. His original jazz music soothed my stress, be-bopping me into a pleasant mood. This is the type of jazz I love. Good music is so healing! Right from the title tune, I was captivated and entertained. The arrangement on “Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak” is clean and well-rehearsed with strong, harmonic horn lines that punch the melody out like a cookie cutter. Chris Beck took a stellar solo on drums and I was properly introduced to the composer by a group of excellent musicians including Nelson Jr on saxophones. He and Josh Evans on trumpet, along with Bruce Williams on alto sax, create a smooth blend of horns. This was my first time hearing the work of Anthony E. Nelson Jr., perhaps because he’s based on the East Coast, some 3000 miles away from Southern California. But I am now a definite fan. “Peter’s First Step” is another winning composition that whips me back to the late sixties when Art Blakey was swinging hard and Miles and Coltrane were breaking new ground. There is something comforting about Nelson’s compositions. Something spiritual and familiar. When I listen to this CD, I feel better. “Softly She Said” is a tale of two women, presented as an emotion ballad, soaked in blues, with Brandon McCune sounding amazing on piano and Kenny Davis rich and unobtrusive on bass, but solidly locking that groove down and making sure you know he’s there. Davis plays some very melodic bass lines, but never lets that blues-groove get away.

From the titles of these songs and the linear notes, I soon learn that Nelson brings strong Christian faith to his music. For example, the tune I mentioned above and one that I like very much, “Peter’s First Step” is a composition based on Matthew 16:13 – 19.

Nelson explains, “It’s really about what God does when we pray and listen first.”

Mr. Nelson has endeavored to inject hope into his music; hope and praise and peace. That’s what I got from it. New Jersey native, Anthony E. Nelson Jr is a musician, composer, arranger and most importantly, a man of significant spirituality and religious substance. I salute his numinous concepts and celebrate his creativity, channeled from the great beyond and offered to us like a gift or a rainbow.
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JOHN BEASLEY presents “MONK’ESTRA”
Mack Ave Records

John Beasley, piano/arranger/conductor/Fender Rhodes/minimoog; Benjamin J. Shepherd, Reggie Hamilton, and Rickey Minor bass; Gary Burton, vibes; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; Terreon Gully, drums; Tom Luer, tenor saxophone; Danny Janklow, alto saxophone; Ryan Dragon, trombone; Tom Peterson, bass clarinet; Gabriel Johnson, trumpet; Francisco Torres, trombone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Bob Sheppard, alto & soprano saxophones; Bijon Watson, trumpet; Gary Novak, drums. Thelonius Monk voice excerpt from French interview. Jamie Hovorka, Gabriel Johnson, Mike Cottone & James Ford, trumpets; Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Lemar Guillary, Eric Miller, Paul Young & Steve Hughes, trombones; Justo Almario,saxophone; Tom Peterson, Jeff Driskill & Alex Budman, woodwinds; Adam Schroeder, baritone sax; Joey De Leon, percussion.

A cacophony of sound bursts from my CD player and startles me into alertness. It’s not really dissonant, but more like organized chaos. It’s the second cut on John Beasley’s newest Compact Disc release that has snatched my attention. This entire recording celebrates the great work of composer/pianist Thelonius Monk. The tune is “Skippy,” where the horn section is beautifully arranged and Bob Sheppard shines on alto and soprano saxophones. Bravo to Brian Swartz and Bijon Watson on trumpets with Gary Novak holding everything in place on drums and taking a stellar solo. The musicianship, the arrangements, the compositions; they are all thee wrapped in a bundle of energy that only someone brilliant like Beasley could organize.

Beasley is joined by two other creative and competent producers; Ran Pink and Gavin Lurssen. Beasley, however, has arranged and conducted this entire album. The take on “Round Midnight” is beautiful in an odd way; perhaps I should have referred to it as an ‘odd beauty.’ Of course we all know how beautiful this Thelonius Monk composition is, but Beasley has taken it to new depths with funky, hip hop drum licks and unexpected chord changes that hauntingly thrust the listener into another dimension of understanding. The transmogrification of this standard, Monk jazz tune shows how daring and delicious Thelonius, the composer, really was and how talented and improvisational Beasley is. He, like Monk, is one of those people with his ears and inspiration in the outer limits of music. The orchestration on this project is awesome, as is the musicianship. Bravo to every member of the orchestra that brought Beasley’s arrangements to life. Gary Burton offers a wonderful vibe solo on “Epistrophy”. On “Oska T,” you actually hear Monk speaking about his musicianship and its effect on fellow musicians. Surprisingly (I discovered in the liner notes) both Beasley and Monk were born on the same October 10th day, but several years apart. If you appreciate and admire the music of Monk, this Beasley tribute CD is a must-add to your collection.
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SENRI OE – “ANSWER JULY”
PND Records

Senri Oe, piano/composer; Jim Robertson, bass; Reggie Quinerly, Andy Watson & E.J. Strickland, drums; Yacine Boulares, saxophone; Olga Trofilmova, trombone; Paul Tafoya, trumpet; SPECIAL GUESTS: Sheila Jordan, Lauren Kinhan, Theo Bleckmann, Becca Stevens and Dylan Pramuk; Also vocals by Junko Arita, Mitch Wilson. The New School Singers and Travon Anderson.

Here is an interesting and artistic project. Pianist, Senri Oe, born September 6th in Osaka, Japan, has chosen a variety of vocalists to sing his original compositions. Back in the day, songwriters searched for voices that could properly sing and sell their songs. Burt Bacharach and Hal David were very lucky when a vocalist named Dionne Warwick arrived at the studio to demo their compositions. The Gold Record results were a blessing to both songwriters and singer. I don’t hear any outstanding Pop stylings on this CD, but I do hear some pretty awesome songwriting and some excellent deliveries by a number of singers whose credits firmly establish them as working professionals. One iconic voice is that of Sheila Jordan, who (at 87) is still interpreting jazz and is on the move, teaching, gigging and traveling worldwide. Senri Oe has often mentioned her as inspirational and she interprets his first song titled “Tiny Snow” quite well. Saxoponist, Yacine Boulares, also adds his talents to the song in an unforgettable way.

Lauren Kinhan might not be a household name, but her singing career is distinguished, with stints as part of the New York Voices and Bobby McFerrin’s Vocabulaires group. She’s also toured with Ornette Coleman. Kinhan sings “Very Secret Spring”. Becca Stevens vocalizes the title tune, “Answer July.” What a beautiful composition! She has also penned the words for “Answer July.” For some reason it reminds me of UK pop singer/songwriter, Corinne Bailey Rae. Another favorite of mine is “Just A Little Wine” with a haunting melody that recalls composer Janis Ian’s song styles from the 1970s. Jon Hendrick’s lyrics are beautifully interpreted by Theo Bleckmann. This is a lovely tribute to the talented pianist/composer and artist, Senri Oe.
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DOUG WEBB – “Bright Side”
Posi-Tone Records

Doug Webb, tenor saxophone; Joe Magnarelli, trumpet; Brian Charette, organ; Ed Cherry, guitar; Steve Fidyk, drums.

From the very first, sweet strains of tenor saxophone that leap from my CD player, I know it’s Doug Webb. I’ve been listening to his style and enjoying the excitement he creates on stage for three decades. Webb has been featured on over 150 jazz recordings and has added his blues soaked style to tracks used in hundreds of television programs and movies. He’s an on-demand, Southern California, saxophone session man for television and film. This, his seventh album release, is funk-based with Manarelli on trumpet blending well with Webb’s saxophone licks. Webb has penned seven out of the twelve songs on this CD. His composition skills showcase smooth technique and a love of melody. The addition of Charette on organ spices things up and thickens the stew when Webb puts the pots on to boil. This is particularly obvious on cut #3, “The Drive”, where everyone of the musicians seem powered up and propel their improvisational skills at a fast clip. I found Webb’s composition, “Melody for Margie” to be beautiful, promoting a visceral emotion. Another of his compositions I enjoyed immensely is “One For Hank” where Cherry on guitar gers to stretch out, as well as Charette on organ. All in all, this CD swings and Webb is flying above the solid rhythm section, as daring as a man on a trapeze. His music is exciting.


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GOLD RECORD BASSIST HENRY “THE SKIPPER” FRANKLIN HERALDED WORLDWIDE

July 13, 2016

GOLD RECORD BASSIST HENRY “THE SKIPPER” FRANKLIN HERALDED WORLDWIDE
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. In Henry Franklin’s case, it’s absolutely true. His father, “Samuel “Sammy” Franklin, made his mark in Denver, Colorado first playing violin, then trombone and finally mastering the trumpet. For years he performed with the George Morrison Band and honing his craft as part of the popular YMCA band in Denver. Later, he found himself in Kansas City as part of the Benny Moten Band. He also played in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra, Andy Kirks band, and a number of others before he decided to form his own musical organization in Los Angeles. The Sammy Franklin Orchestra entertained at various west coast clubs, as well as fraternity and sorority dances. Once settled into the Los Angeles music scene, probably one of the things he found most attractive (other than the good weather and crush of music jobs) was pretty, little Vera Wysinger, a native of California and a registered nurse. They married and up popped Henry Carl Franklin, who today his friends fondly refer to as, “the Skipper”.

I recently asked Henry Franklin how he got that nick name of “the Skipper”?

“I borrowed it from my son. On our first album for Black Jazz Records in 1971, we titled it, ‘The Skipper.’ Pianist, Bill Henderson (Kamon), had written a tune for his God son, (who is my son) and he named it Skipper. People associated the album title with my name and they started calling me ‘The Skipper’. My son’s a Junior, but he’s the original Skipper”.

When I asked Henry about his dad and the music business he said, “He had a popular society dance band in Los Angeles, but he wasn’t into Bebop. I turned him on to that. I used to bring the cats over to our house and that’s when he heard it. His main message to me was to practice, practice, practice.”
At eighteen years old, Henry Franklin had followed his dad’s instructions and was already part of a popular local group with vibraphonist, Roy Ayers.

“Roy had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson (piano), sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me and Carl Burnett (drums). After high school, Elmo left and went to school at Howard University. Nobody’s heard from or seen him since,” Henry told me.

Ayer’s Latin Jazz Quintet played at Frat Houses, private parties and eventually night clubs. The fledgling group used to follow Cal Tjader around every time he would come to town. People would hire Cal for entertainment when they hosted parties and Henry said their group would go in and play on Cal’s intermission.

“Cal liked Roy Ayers and our band, so he let us play on their break and it turned out to be a thing. Every time they came into town, we’d be hanging with Cal and his group.“

It had to be very inspirational to Henry and his group of youthful musicians striving to be jazz artists, hanging out with the likes of Callen Radcliffe Tjader, born in 1925, who was already firmly established in the music business. Tjader was combining the music of Cuba and the Caribbean with acid jazz and rock. The 1960’s may have been one of Tjader’s most prolific periods. Franklin would have been rubbing shoulders with Tjader’s historic bandmates like Lonnie Hewlett, known for his singing and piano playing; Armando Peraza on percussion; bassist Eugene Wright (fondly called, the Senator), drummer Al Torre, and pianist Vince Guaraldi. During the Verve years Tjader worked with Donald Byrd, Lalo Schifrin, Willie Bobo, a young Chick Corea, Clare Fischer, Jimmy Heath and Kenny Burrell. So Franklin was surrounded by examples of excellence early on. At that time in his career, Paul Chambers was Franklin’s hero.

It wasn’t long before Henry was married and working for the City of Los Angeles in Animal Regulations. At night, he still pursued his music and on weekends sometimes traveled to nearby cities to perform. For a while, Franklin played with a group called Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet, formed in 1963 by Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero. In 1967 their group, featuring Little Joe on Vibes, Franklin on bass, Bill “Kamon” Henderson on piano, Varner Barlow on drums and Jack Fulks on flute and alto saxophone, was performing in San Francisco.

“I was in San Francisco working with Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet. We had a little light-weight hit record with the same instrumentation as Cal Tjader; vibes and stuff. We got this gig. Our first time out of town, we went to San Francisco for a weekend. It just so happened that Willie Bobo was working around the corner at a club; the Matadore. He came in on his break and checked out the band. I guess he liked me ‘cause he asked me if I wanted to join his band in New York. I said yes, but you know, I didn’t believe him. Three days later, he sent me a ticket. I had a little day job then, because I was married with a family to support. So, I talked it over with my wife and she said, yeah – go ahead. Right away, I quit that City job and moved to New York. I was really blessed and lucky ‘cause I got to stay at Roy Ayer’s house and didn’t have to pay rent or anything. He had gone to New York before me with Herbie Mann. Yeah, that happened a lot in those days. You know, the East Coast band would hear somebody from the West Coast and they’d call them to work; Roy Ayers, Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Higgins, Herbie Lewis, all those guys got calls. So it was my turn. I got the opportunity and I took it.”

It was about a year of touring before Henry would wind up back in Los Angeles at the famous Memory Lane Supper Club, a hot jazz spot in the African American community. That’s when Henry decided he’d had enough of being on the road with Willie Bobo.

“So I gave two-weeks-notice and it just so happened that in the audience one night was the South African jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masekela. He was just starting up a new band and asked me if I’d like to join his group. I said, heck yeah. The result was my first Gold Record for the hit recording of “Grazin’ In the Grass”.

Henry Franklin has found his way onto the recording sessions of several icons and not all of them were jazz musicians. Stevie Wonder called him to add his solid, double-bass, low notes to the “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” album. Boom! That became another Gold record accomplishment.

Franklin recorded with Gene Harris and the Three Sounds on “Soul Symphony” for Blue Note Records in 1969 and “Live at the It Club” in 1970, Volume one and two. In 1972, he joined Woody Shaw in the studio to record “Song of Songs” for Contemporary Records. By 1973, he was playing with Hampton Hawes and recorded for the Prestige label, the “Blues for Walls” album. That same year he was recording with Bobbi Humphrey on her “Bobbi Humphrey Live: Cookin’ with Blue Note at Montreux.”

Franklin was a hot commodity on bass back then. No sooner did he finish his stint with Humprey, he was back in the studio with Julian Priester on the “Love, Love” album for ECM. If he wasn’t in the studio, he was on the road with jazz nobility like Freddie Hubbard, Willie Bobo, Archie Shepp, O.C. Smith, Count Basie and Al Jarreau. He had already started composing and one of his original compositions was sampled by the musical group, “A Tribe Called Quest.” He’s been on the bandstand working with such icons as Don Cherry and Billy Higgins. Henry pushed his musical limits. He experimented outside the bebop music that he loved so deeply, working with John Carter and Bobby Bradford. Henry recorded two albums; “Self-Determination Music” and “Secrets.” He worked with the great Pharoah Sanders, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, jazz vocalist Joe Williams and Bobby Hutcherson. He’s appeared on more than 150 albums as part of their rhythm section and worked with some of the biggest names in jazz history.

Henry expressed disappointment with some of the jazz releases and styles of youthful players in today’s jazz spotlight.

He told me, “I miss the melodies in the music. There’s no melodies anymore like there used to be. You used to be able to identify a song with an artist. You can’t do that anymore. See, If I asked you to name five Freddie Hubbard songs, you could tell me. But if I asked you to tell me a Wynton Marsalis song, you probably wouldn’t be able to think of one. There’s a lot of feeling with these young musicians and a lot of great technique, but I come from the bebop era, where music and composition is more than just technique.”

Speaking of technique and instrumentation, I asked Henry Franklin if he played Fender bass.

“I did and I don’t. When I was with Freddie Hubbard he had me playing fender bass and O.C. Smith liked that sound too. I like German bases. Both of my upright basses are built in the 1940’s. They’re not that old but the sound is what counts. One’s a Hoyer and the other’s a Wilfer. Unfortunately, you can’t just play acoustic bass on a gig anymore. These days everybody uses an amplifier.”

Henry decided to start his own SP record label in 1990. He was frustrated with big record labels and various hired producers telling him what to play and how to play it. He wanted a platform to market and produce his own creative compositions and ideas. Even more importantly, he wanted to perform and record the bebop music he has loved so passionately over the years. The result is a roster of seventeen albums on SP Records, with the ninth one being released April 15, 2016. It’s titled, “High Voltage” and is a tribute to McCoy Tyner featuring a group he calls, Three More Sounds. They include Bill Heid on piano, Henry on bass, Carl Burnett on drums, with special guest, Chuck Manning on saxophone.

I listened to the soon to be released “High Voltage” CD featuring seasoned veterans of jazz, all intent on celebrating McCoy Tyner. This CD showcases Henry Franklin’s tenacious bass and also introduced me to the composer skills of Bill Heid. The trio opens with “Brother George,” a laid back groove and memorable melody that makes you want to whistle along, reminding me somewhat of Tin Tin Deo. Heid has a crisp, clean approach in the upper register of the piano, with busy fingers tinkling the piano keys like waterfall droplets. There is something refreshing about his playing. On this first cut, Franklin’s solo is a crowd-pleaser, with his deep contra bass always present and supportive in the background. Franklin is just as magnificent when upfront and in-your-face as a solo artist. On Heid’s composition, “Unit 8”, Chuck Manning leads the way with gusto and verve on his tenor saxophone to establish the melody. The trio follows brightly, marching full force ahead, waving flags of musical brilliance with Carl Burnett propelling the group on drums, straight-ahead, and putting the ‘con brio’ in the piece. Heid utilizes all eighty-eight keys on this one, flaunting his piano skills in a polished, delightful way. The mix is so clean that I feel I am sitting front-row-center at some cozy jazz club enjoying these gentlemen in person. Having worked with West Coast engineer Nolan Shaheed myself, I’m not surprised at the clarity his engineering skills bring to this recording. Both the McCoy Tyner songs they feature, “The Greeting” and “Mellow Minor” are performed in majestic ways, like one would expect from kings of instrumentation. I’m sure McCoy would be well pleased. Franklin has contributed an original composition titled, Under Tanzanian Skies.” It’s very melodic. Manning immediately captures my attention with his sweet, sexy, soprano saxophone solo. Heid’s right hand continues to mesmerize in the upper register and he gets to dig deeply into his blues roots on this tune. “High Voltage” featuring ‘Three More Sounds’ is a beautifully produced piece of art from beginning to end. You are guaranteed nearly fifty minutes of continuous, jazzy listening pleasure on this Henry Franklin Production and record label. His legacy continues, full speed ahead!
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James Leary: A Solid Bass Brick In The Foundation Of Jazz

July 6, 2016

James Leary: A Solid Bass Brick In The Foundation Of Jazz
Originally published (Jan 25, 2015, 11:41 AM PST) – by http://www.lajazz.com as part of Dee Dee’s Jazz Diary.

Interviewed & Written by Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

James spoke with conviction. “People like James Brown, you know, he and his audience recognized that everybody listens to the bass. Well, you know in the South, bass was always something that people loved. When the bass solo came or the bass voice, everybody shouted ‘Yeah’ ”

James Leary is a mild mannered, soft spoken, humble bassist with a well documented history in jazz. Not one to toot his own horn, he’s remained a solid brick in the foundation of several iconic bands including Bobby Hutcherson, Earl Hines, Nancy Wilson, Dizzy Gillespie, and the Count Basie Orchestra. He played with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Johnny Hartman, Rosemary Clooney, Max Roach, Esther Phillips, Eartha Kitt, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vincent, Major Lance, Red Garland, Randy Weston, John Handy, Don Shirley, and many more. I’m honored to say he even played on my recently released CD entitled, “Storyteller”.

His big bass sound is majestically performed on a Bernedel upright bass built in 1834, or on his English Panormo bass built in 1909. He also plays an electric Fender bass and entertains around the Los Angeles area and beyond. Surprisingly, his first jobs in music were as a rhythm and blues pianist in Little Rock, Arkansas. Leary played piano in bands featuring Teroy Betton, Ben Pruitt, Thomas East, Robert Trezvant, David ii, Jimmy Mayers and York Wilborn; groups that worked all over the Arkansas area.

JAMES: “My mother’s brother, Cornelius Torrence, who later moved to Chicago, played great boogie-woogie piano. My father’s brother played a little boogie-woogie piano. They both played by ear and I learned from both of them by watching their hands. All of my grandparents owned pianos. My mother’s mother, Ethel Torrence, is the one who bought a piano and my mother was kind of a musician. She played trumpet, bugle and a little piano.

I grew up in the South end of Little Rock, down below Roosevelt (aka 25th St). That was the black area. Above 25th was the white area. Then there was a conclave of white folks below 25th on Broadway, a beautiful neighborhood that stretched down into the hood. Little Rock was really strange. It had enclaves of white and black. They could be up the street from each other, but without interaction. There was a street called West 9th Street that had black businesses – grocery stores, drug stores, pool halls, cleaners, the Gem Movie Theater, etcetera. We didn’t even deal with white folks at all because of Jim Crow and segregation. If you wanted to get a job, all the bus drivers were white; all the municipal workers were white. After a while that stopped, but maybe the first ten years of my life I never saw a black postman. They probably were the first ones to integrate. My grandmother knew some of her white neighbors, but I don’t think they ever had a friendship.

“My grandmother bought a piano when I was six or seven and I took lessons. My cousin, Pat (Mpata) and my sister Barbara played piano. They were so much better than me that I quit and decided to be a football player. I was really a good football player too, until at the age of fourteen I broke my leg. I had to stay home and a visiting teacher came to the house. At that point, the piano became my best friend.

“At fifteen, I had a teacher named Art Porter, Sr. who was the Horace Mann High School choir director and also a jazz pianist. He would sometimes have his jazz trio play at Horace Mann and I was already trying to be a piano player, ’cause I had heard Ahmad Jamal and I was trying to play ‘Poinciana.’ And also I played on talent shows behind different people including ‘the Lyrics’ because my name was Leary and sounded a little like lyric, they named the group after me. My neighborhood friends, Jack Gay and Tomas East were very interested in music. Jack Gay’s brother-in-law had a record collection and we would go over and listen to it. I had been listening to Ahmad Jamal and I would put my ear to the speaker to hear that bass. I was already leaning towards the bass, when I heard this piano player named Charles Thomas playing and I said, I’ll never be able to do that. He sounded like Wynton Kelly. So, even though I was making gigs as a pianist, at fifteen I found myself loving the bass. When I heard Art Porter’s trio and the bass player, I think that pushed me over the edge.

“At the time, I was a working pianist. I think I was making $30 a week playing piano with a rock and roll or rhythm and blues band. But I went down to the music store and bought this bass. I had been down there looking at it 3 or 4 times. I decided, ok that’s it. I’m getting that bass. It cost $135, was painted black and had a hole in the side. So that’s when I became curious about playing the bass; around the tenth grade.

“Israel Crosby is the one who was playing with Ahmad Jamal and if you played piano, you had to play Israel Crosby’s bass line and rhythm. So Israel Crosby was my first inspiration. Then my English teacher gave me the record “All Blues.” When I heard Paul Chambers it was over. It was Israel Crosby and Paul Chambers. I didn’t know about Mingus until a little later on a Columbia sampler album I heard, ‘Mingus Ah Um’ (Leary starts singing the bass line to me in his rich baritone voice) and on the same sampler album, Dave Brubeck with ‘Blue Rondo A La Turk’. You know, I started listening to the bass as a piano player.

“Art Porter, my choir teacher in the eleventh grade, started a big band. It was the first time my high school had ever had a big band. So I played bass in the big band and I didn’t even know where F was. I was starting to learn. I sang baritone in the choir. I wasn’t really good enough to step out there as a soloist (he mimics the famed Leon Thomas jazz yodel) and I probably would have had to work really hard to be a solo singer, but I was a good ensemble guy.

“One guy who played trumpet, a great musician; his name was Teroy Betton and he embellished my piano playing. Teroy taught me the changes that Hank Crawford played on ‘Misty.’ He (Crawford) had an arrangement on Misty that ‘swung’. So then I started analyzing Hank Crawford while I was still playing piano. I didn’t play bass then. Later, when I played the bass, I would always figure out what the rest of the chord was from what was played in the bass line, because that’s how I played piano.

“Art Porter gave me a five or six night a week job on my new bass with the hole in the side. So I quit my rhythm and blues gig, which really pissed off the R&B band leader because we had jackets printed ‘York Wilborn and the Thrillers’ and I was their reliable piano player.

“I’m saying that the bass is half of the music, the way we like to hear the music. In the gospel church you hear that organ bass rollin’. You know I used to go to the sanctified church just to listen to that organ. We always paid attention to the bass. People like James Brown, you know, he and his audience recognized that everybody listens to the bass.
Well, you know in the South, bass was always something that people loved. When the bass solo came or the bass voice, everybody shouted ‘Yeah’ (Leary sings to me the 1951 hit record by Billy Ward and the Dominos, ‘Sixty Minute Man’ and we laugh).

“When I left high school and Art Porter, I went to North Texas State. I had my first bass lesson with Alan Richardson. I also met guys who were mentors and who were students. One guy’s name was Mike Lawrence. Mike Lawrence showed me quite a few things, mainly chords. I was learning melodies to some of the Art Blakey tunes. And another musician there was Billy Harper, the saxophonist who played with Lee Morgan. He was with Lee Morgan when Lee Morgan got killed. We (Harper) would go play gigs with folks like Fathead Newman and people who were coming through like Marcus Belgrave (trumpeter) and the guy that played tuba and baritone saxophone, Howard Johnson. This is when I was a freshman in college. I’d be with all these musicians and learn all these other tunes. I also took an Improv class. That’s when I started realizing there was more than standards. There was this other music over here. And that’s when I started learning other kinds of harmony. I knew hundreds of standards, but then I started learning the music that the beboppers were playing. You know, Coltrane and all those kind of songs.

“I later met Pharaoh Saunders in the driveway of my Little Rock home where my mother had moved. Pharoah was visiting relatives in North Little Rock and was leaving to join John Coltrane. He lived in New York and encouraged me to move there.

“I left North Texas State and I spent 3 years at a black college in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. It was called Arkansas AM & N but now it’s known as UAPB (U of Arkansas, Pine Bluff). Then, I didn’t have a real bass teacher and I reverted back to keyboard playing with various R&B bands. But I played bass with jazz groups. I would listen to records, transcribe things off records, and … sometimes guys would have sheet music from other professional groups and I would study those. I studied intensely. There was another guy named John Stubblefield who played tenor saxophone and another piano player named Sonelius Smith, although I think I showed him more on piano than he could show me. Sonelius Smith is still a pianist right now in New York. And there was Joe Gardner, a trumpet player who used to take songs off of Lee Morgan records and we would play all this music. 1967, our group participated at Intercollegiate Jazz Festivals in Little Rock and in 1968 (in St. Louis) I met George Duke. He was with a group from San Francisco State. I graduated from UAPB in ’68 and remembered that conversation with George Duke about San Francisco. In addition, my maternal Aunt Lois and Uncle Scotty lived there. That made it easy to move to San Francisco where I reconnected with George Duke. The second day there, I met local musicians Bill Bell and Mike Nock. Mike recommended me to John Handy, who was using Mike White, a violinist. Nock and White had started a band called Fourth Way. We rehearsed daily and finally we played a night at Both/And. After that, I started playing with major artists at the Both/And Club after Delano Dean, (the owner) found out about me. To my amazement, the first group was the Bobby Hutcherson/Harold Land quintet.

“I also worked with Thelonius Monk from 1970 into 1971. John Heard had moved to Los Angeles in 1968 and George Duke started to hire me. I enrolled in Grad school at San Francisco State during that time studying Bass with Charles Siani at SF State and a virtuoso bassist named Ortiz Walton who lived in Berkeley. Independent of Siani, Walton guided me thru some technical aspects which helped improve my tone and musicianship.

“In 1972, I was working with the great vocalist, Joe Williams at The Boarding House with local piano master Bill Bell, the great Eddie Marshall and me on bass. I also was working with the great swinging pianist, Martha Young, at a Berkeley, Ca Marina hangout, 2 days a week; a large restaurant with a piano bar area called Solomon Grundys. John Heard was subbing with the Basie Band and had to split back to LA. I was called for a rehearsal as a temporary, one-time sub (so I thought) with Basie’s Band at the Fairmount Hotel Ballroom. Their run was over at the hotel. To my surprise, Basie asked me to see his wife about something. I thought it was to be paid for the rehearsal. Mrs. Basie offered me the Basie gig and hired me after that rehearsal. Six months later, in May of 1982, I was given notice from the Basie Band. I was told Cleveland Eaton came off of temporary leave. That was not the understanding I had, but that’s the music business, so I returned to the Bay area. During the next period of time I freelanced around San Francisco and did a recording session with Jon Hendricks and Company, featuring Michele Hendricks. About a year later, I rented a U-haul truck and moved to Los Angeles to study Film scoring privately with the great Nobel nominee, Orchestrator/Composer and former UCLA professor, Albert Harris. I started working with Maxine Weldon playing Fender Bass. My friend, Randy Randolph was her pianist and versatile Washington I. Rucker was the drummer. Randy also got me on a gig with Jake Porter. Jake Porter auditioned me for his regular Sat/Sun Brunch engagement at the Bonaventure Hotel. That was 1983 and into 1984. Hank Crawford had hired me on Electric Bass during that time in 1983 and in April of 1984, I quit Jake Porter’s gig at the hotel. I asked my good friend, bassist Al Mckibbon, (father of beautiful Allison Mckibbon) to fill the required two weeks notice as a favor. I then played a two week engagement in Oakland ,Ca. with Hank Crawford featuring drummer Jimmy Smith and Calvin Newborn, a great guitarist from Memphis, Tennessee. I always played Fender bass with Hank.

“I returned to Los Angeles and got a call from conductor, George Rhodes. In March of 1984, I started my 5 year stint with Sammy Davis Jr. Life is movement!!!

Dee Dee: Tell me about your latest project – the “James Leary Tribute Choir Recording Project.”

JAMES: “Art Porter taught his high school choir how to be great for competitions and all kinds of stuff. So I already realized the depths and the sound and the sonority of a choir. I decided to go all out for this project when I was subbing with the Luckman Orchestra and we were playing “Shout,” Mary Lou Williams’ music with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Albert McNeil Jubilee singers, featuring Carmen Lundy and Cedric Berry. With those 250 voices behind me in that ensemble, well I had never heard anything like that before; perfectly in tune; flowing with the pauses and all the dynamics. That’s when I knew I had to compose for a choir.

“I like big band music too. I started writing music for the big band in college. I didn’t start writing for choir until later. When I got the Finale Softwear Music Notation program, I was subbing for Phyllis Battle (the vocal instructor at Billy Higgins’ World Stage music space) and this is maybe ’95, around that time. Before that, I was writing for a small vocal group. Even in high school I wrote for voices, because usually I arranged the songs for a small group of guys in a singing group. But later on, somehow it morphed into writing for a choir. I knew the depths of a choir. When I heard the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Albert McNeil singers together, that pushed me into wanting to get that caliber of performance from a choir.

“I’ve been a composer ever since I was fourteen years old. So, I would just hear something and I would arrange it for choir, because I had Finale Softwear, where you could actually hear the voices back at you as you write them. I started writing more and more, because I like the sound of it. Sometimes I would write something for instruments and then transfer that to choir. At times instrumentalists say, man – your music is challenging, and singers have said the same thing. But I want to have a certain sound.

“In order to get that, I needed a person who could read and sing it right then; the first time down. I tried to get some of my original music sung, asking this conductor, Dwight Dickerson’s brother, Charles Dickerson to help. We went over to Nolan’s studio (the No Sound Studio in Pasadena) and these singers Dickerson recommended arrived. But I had to go one by one and teach them the music, even though they could read. So Carmen Twillie, a friend of Nolan’s, (the studio owner/engineer) saw me toiling line by line to teach them and recording everybody one-by-one. She said, oh no – no – no. I’ve got some people who can do this right now. So Carmen Twillie called these three people that I never heard before and they were studio session singers. They walked in the studio and they were standing in the middle of the studio with my written music when I heard all four voices sung together masterfully. I worked with this group because I could afford four people. They were super pros and made performance suggestions from time to time that enhanced the music tremendously. So that’s when I was determined to try and get a larger choir with the caliber of the Master Chorale. Because my music is challenging and also, these master singers don’t really have time to stop and donate their services. They’re excellent and they deserve to make the paper.”

James leary recently concluded an Indiegogo effort for his “James Leary Tribute Choir Recording Project”. You can hear samples of this music at http://www.jameslearymusic.com. You can also enjoy his YouTube performances with greats like Sammy Davis Jr. and George Rhodes, the Count Basie Orchestra, 5 Basses play Mingus’ “Boogie Stop Shuffle” with Donald Dean on drums and John Clayton & Nedra Wheeler among the featured bass players and more.

When he’s not composing, performing or producing, you’ll find Leary teaching and inspiring children at the Vision Theater in Leimert Park as part of MusicLA, a community arts outreach program. He provides piano lessons to local youth. Here is another jazz icon living here in our Los Angeles community, deserving of our adoration and support.

THE NEW ARTIST SERIES: JAMAEL DEAN

June 3, 2016

NEW ARTIST SERIES: JAMAEL DEAN
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

It’s preposterous to realize that the young man I see sitting on that well-worn piano bench is only a senior in high school. How can someone who plays piano so masterfully still be a teenager?

I’m sitting at the Dolo Coker Scholarship Foundation auditions and listening to a variety of hopeful, young jazz musicians. Jamael Dean is one of them and his talent is astonishing! He wound up winning the scholarship that year and then again, the next year. Everyone was buzzing about his piano chops. I went to someone who knew him well to gather history on this developing jazz artist. Here’s what his grandfather told me.

His grandfather, Donald Dean Sr., has been a jazz drummer for nearly five decades. He’s the one laying that groove down on the 1969 Atlantic Records release, “Swiss Movement” with Les McCann and Eddie Harris ‘Live’ at the Montreux Jazz Festival. He’s worked with Kenny Dorham, Ernie Andrews, organist Jimmy Smith, and a host of other notable jazz names. Donald is beaming with pride about his grandson.

“Remember when we used to do those school gigs back in the day?” He reminds me.
As the narrator for a program that taught young people the three elements of jazz, I remember those days very well.

“Well, I still do these school gigs every year for black history month,” Donald Dean Sr. told me. “So Jamael had a great ear for music and he started playing piano by ear as a kid; Picking out all these tunes on the piano when he was about seven years old. That’s when I first noticed it. In school, he started off playing violin. But his piano chops were so good that I kept challenging him. I would give him music to listen to, like Thelonius Monk. I would take him to the schools with me, when I was playing the school circuit. The musicians that were on those gigs were folks like saxophonist, Charles Owens and four or five of us would be playing. The schools were so impressed with this kid and so were we, because he would hear it and he could play it. You know, he would listen to Stevie Wonder and all that kind of stuff and learn to play it. Each year he got better and better. I would challenge him to listen to a plethora of people and I would tell him, listen to this and play that for me. I’d put it on a disc for him and he’d go home and come back with it sounding exactly like the disc. Back then, he was playing by ear. At the University up there in Bakersfield, they took an interest in him and started teaching him to read music. I had a little piano at home and I had a few books. We would sit down and the guys would come over, you know like Art Hillary, René Van Helsdingen and Phil Wright. They’d show him a few things and he loved it. That female bassist, Nedra Wheeler, she helped him. So did trumpeter Richard Grant. But all the credit is due to him, because he wanted to do it. It wasn’t about showing him. He wanted the music bad.”

Jamael’s father, Bill Dean, remembers that as early as age two, Jamael seemed smitten with music. In an article written by Richard Simon and published in LA Jazz Scene newspaper, his father spoke about his son’s obsession with music.

“Jamael would pull out pots and pans and beat on them as if they were drums. He would get his sister’s clarinet and try to play it. He started playing the violin at his school in the third grade. I bought him a little keyboard just before he was nine. His mother and I were surprised at what he could do on the piano without any lessons.”

While interviewing Jamael himself, I asked exactly what had turned his interest to jazz and he was quick to say it was his grandpa.

Jamael told me, “I used to go to gigs with my grandpa and he would just have tons of fun with his friends. I thought, oh man, that’s what I want to do.”

I asked Jamael, “What made you choose piano because your grandpa is a drummer?”

He responded, “Well, I couldn’t play with grandpa if I played drums.”

We laughed about that, but it made sense.

“When I would listen to my grandpa with Les McCann, like … Les’s approach to piano made it seem so cool. I was influenced by Les McCann, Bobby Timmons and Ahmad Jamal when I was just a kid.”

Jamael is a quiet, unobtrusive individual. He’s appropriately hesitant to sing his own praises, but his grandfather was quick to tell me how multi-talented he is.
Donald Dean Senior said, “You know I was teaching him drums too. He’s multi-talented. He can play the drums. He’s got a saxophone, he’s got a trumpet, he’s got a bass, he’s got a guitar and he tinkers around with all of these things. He started on violin, when he was in grade school, and it was donated to him by my good friend, bassist, Louie Spears. I’m so proud to have a grandson that’s interested in jazz.”

I spoke to master bassist and educator, Richard Simon, who remembers Jamael as an eleven or twelve-year-old piano prodigy who participated in the JazzAmerica Foundation.

“Back in 2010, I was playing a private party in the Baldwin Hills area of Los Angeles. It was just before Christmas. Donald Dean was the drummer and he asked me if his grandson could play a tune on the piano when the band took a break. I wasn’t the leader, but I said I thought it would be fine. A very thin, shy youngster of about 11 0r 12 years old climbed onto the piano bench and proceeded to play Monk’s ‘Ruby My Dear’. That’s a daunting piece, even for older folks, never mind a pipsqueak pre-teen. But Jamael played it with so much soulfulness it was clear that he possessed a rare depth of understanding about the music. When he finished and the raucous ovation subsided, I practically tackled him and said, you’re not leaving this room until I get your name and phone number. We have a jazz program on Saturday mornings and you’d be perfect for it. His dad said that they lived in Bakersfield, some 90 miles away, but he said the family would discuss bringing Jamael to Hollywood once a week. Apparently there was one teacher up there helping nurture Jamael’s interest in jazz, but no program like JazzAmerica for group instruction.

“Buddy Collette was a co-founder of JazzAmerica in 1994. In the first several years, JA operated on two tracks; Saturday ‘Master Classes’ for high school musicians and weekday jazz instruction at four middle schools and Fairfax High School as an After-School program. The original mentors on Saturdays included Gerald Wiggins, Bobby Bryant, Ndugu Chancler, Tony White, Buddy (Collette) himself and yours truly. We were supported by the Music Center of the County of Los Angeles, which gave us access to the rehearsal rooms adjacent to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The first several summers, we served ninety students. Later, we solicited the help of the Skirball Cultural Center in the Sepulveda Pass at Mulholland for new funding, hired school buses to bring in kids from the city, and performed at Skirball’s annual arts fairs. One special year there, 2005, we were blessed with the likes of Katie Thiroux, (now a successful professional bassist), and Austin Peralta, the phenomenally talented pianist who later died tragically in his early 20’s. Today, we’re still in business, more canoe than cruise ship, but nonetheless, buoyed by a handful of organizations and propelled by the interest in jazz that still beats within the heart of the community. In twenty-two years, we have provided a home for a thousand youngsters. On July 31, JazzAmerica youth will open the second day of the 2016 Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

“Getting back to when I first met Jamael, our program resumed in early January of 2011. The Dean family car was usually the first one in the Musicians Union’s parking lot. Jamael was the quietest student in the band and the most focused. He clearly had listened to the recordings of the pieces we rehearsed and arrived at each rehearsal ready to play. He had an instinctive feel for the way jazz piano supports the collective improvisation of the brass and saxes in traditional jazz. He crafted his solos, creating personally meaningful phrases that incorporated the jazz vocabulary without clichés. Music is simply in his blood and in his soul.”

When I interviewed Jamael Dean, he explained how he was influenced by McCann, Timmons and Ahmad Jamal. But it didn’t take long for his taste in music and musical concepts to grow.

“Now, I’ve kind of gravitated more towards Herbie Hancock, Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Sun Ra. They were definitely trying to reach a higher place … and I’m trying to tap into that,” Jamael shared with youthful sincerity.

When he was in the 8th grade, they had a program called the Bill Green Mentorship. Jamael was still living in Bakersfield, California, where he attended Compton Junior High school. Many young students, who have an interest in music and jazz, are unable to afford private music lessons and need the opportunity to grow and become professional musicians. Initiated in 1998, the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Bill Green Mentorship Program provides that opportunity for qualified students every year. The purpose of the program is to supplement the education of promising young jazz students and encourage their development as future professional jazz artists. They invested wisely in the blossoming talent of Jamael Dean.
At a point when he was graduating from Junior High School to High School, his family moved from Bakersfield to Los Angeles so their gifted son could attend The Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. Jamael lit up when he talked about his school.

“My school gives me a lot of opportunities, like going up to the Generation Jazz Festival and also the people they bring in for Master classes are great. For example, this guy named Dayna Stephens (a saxophone player from New York), he’s a bad dude. He came a couple of times and Gerald Clayton visited us. The Thelonius Monk Institute always comes up to our school as well. I plan to go to the Brubeck Institute next and then I was going to try and go to The New School in New York. I have a scholarship already,” he spoke quietly, but with a determined firmness to his tone.

“My musical dreams and goals are kind of eclectic. I started off playing R&B and gospel music. I really just want to tie all of the genre’s together to show that it comes from the same place. It all comes from improvisation from the beginning and bridging the gap between musicians and people who aren’t musicians. Because musicians like a certain type of music and audiences might not be able to deal with it sometimes (for lack of a better term) the intellectualness of it. So, I want to be able to find the complexities and make it come across as simplicities and all the simplicities come across as complexities. After all, clearly music is a universal language.”

In the summer of 2015, Jamael spent 10 days in Vienna, Austria as a scholarship recipient for the Zawinul Foundation for Achievement.

“I’m actually going to get to go to Japan this summer, touring with (saxophonist) Kamasi Washington. That’ll be pretty cool. I’ve always wanted to visit Japan,” Jamael told me.

This is only the first trip, in a string of many, that I visualize for this talented pianist. I won’t be surprised when he is leading his own band and touring to promote his own CD. Meantime, keep the name of Jamael Dean on your radar, and listen for his amazing talents as he plays around town. Watch him jamming with Jon Baptiste in the video below, and I’ll be featuring him on Sunday, June 12th, with the amazing Michael Session sextet, in concert at Maverick’s Flat in the historic Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, as part of my Sunday Best Jazz Series.

THE NEW ARTIST SERIES: YUKO MABUCHI

May 3, 2016

THE NEW ARTIST SERIES: YUKO MABUCHI

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

May 14, 2016

Yuko Mabuchi is a wisp of a woman, petite and delicate, until she sits down at the piano. Then, before our very eyes, she transforms into a mighty giant! The packed audience at the historic Maverick’s Flat witnessed this on May 8 of this year when she was a special guest of piano master, Billy Mitchell. Once her slender fingers touched the piano keys, we were all captivated by her enormous energy and spirited performance. She gets so wound up in her music that several times she jumped up from the piano bench and never lost a beat. Her leg kicks out (reminding me a bit of the late-great Dorothy Donegan). Yuko throws her head back, caught in the joy of the moment. She catches the groove and won’t let it go, smiling that secret smile as her feet dance, unencumbered beneath the piano bench.

Born June 21st in Fukui, Japan, a small city West of Tokyo and near the ocean, little Yuko was surrounded by music early on. Her mother is a classical piano teacher and Yuko began studying the piano at age four. Her father played Earth, Wind and Fire records and listened to Latin music and the Brazilian jazz of Jobim. As a child, Yuko was surrounded by a variety of musical genres and she embraced them all. She played piano by ear, picking out the melodies and soaking up the grooves of the popular music scene, including pop and hip hop. But there was a freedom she found in jazz and it touched something deep inside her.

As a teenager, Yuko tuned-in to the Japanese jazz station on her radio. It was there, she became familiar with Oscar Petersen and Herbie Hancock. She started attending concerts in Japan and was inspired by the work of Gerald Clayton Jr., Donald Vega, Kenny Baron, Junior Mance, Hiromi and Cyrus Chestnut. She was still studying classical music, but after high school Yuko attended the AN School of Music in Kyoto, Japan under the tutelage of Kunihiro Kameda. Right away, he noticed her amazing potential and blooming talent. Professor Kameda had once lived in the United States and had played with our own West Coast drummer, Kenny Elliott. He suggested that if Yuko really was serious about pursuing jazz, she should go to America where is was bred and born. Yuko’s father agreed, although both he and his wife were concerned about their daughters jazz direction. Her mother had hoped their talented daughter would become a famous, classical, concert pianist. Neither parent had in mind that their first born would pursue a career as a jazz artist.

Once she decided to go to America, Yuko auditioned to attend the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston and received a Scholarship. But instead, she chose to come to Los Angeles. In 2010, Yuko Mabuchi arrived in Southern California and enrolled at the Music Performance Academy in Alhambra, a California community of mainly Asian and Latino cultures with a sprinkling of others. MPA (Music Performance Academy) was Japanese owned and brought many Japanese students to America encouraging the study of American music and artistic culture. This is where I first met Yuko, because I taught at that school for approximately three years; part time. Yuko was studying with Billy Mitchell and Gary Shunk, while soaking up the recordings of Monte Alexander, George Duke and Gene Harris. She hunkered down in the school, learning the funk and groove that Mitchell was teaching her and the technique and improvisation that Shunk inspired. She studied voice and artist development with me and I saw her growth and willingness to practice and challenge herself. It was under the direction of her mentor, Billy Mitchell, that she recorded her first demo project entitled, “Red Special.” It was sponsored by MPA and featured all original compositions.

Yuko donated her time as the accompanist for the Watts-Willowbrook Youth Symphony and took great pride in inspiring young people from that Los Angeles inner-city. It wasn’t long before she began performing all over town; at Catalina Jazz Bar, downtown at the Biltmore Hotel, in Old Town Pasadena at the Levitt Pavilion Summer Concert Series, at small jazz clubs and popular hotel chains like the Crowne Plaza. Her name and reputation were growing.

Yuko Mabuchi’s first full length CD was released in 2012 on Vista Records titled, “Waves”. Again, it featured her original compositions. In 2013, Yuko returned home triumphant, new CD in hand and with her artistic development evident. She busied herself with work, forming a jazz trio and performing at the Jazz Spot J in Shinjuku, Tokyo and also as a participant of the Fukui Jazz Festival in 2014 and 2015. She also appears as a regular soloist at Keio Plaza in Tokyo.

Yuko’s next CD release on Vista Records was “My Life.” Again, her composer skills were flowering and featured. This time, she added jazz reedman, the great Justo Almario on flute as well as smooth jazz saxophonist, Andre Delano. This album is a testament to her growth and polish as an artist and jazz musician.

Yuko enjoys teaching and inspiring young people, but her goal is to become a great musician and to work at her craft, tour the world, and leave her mark as a respected jazz artist. That dream is unfolding right before our eyes.
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TRIO’S, TRIBUTES AND BRAZILIAN JAZZ

CD Reviews by Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

May 2, 2016

Recently, I was sent several trio CDs to listen to. It was refreshing to hear the clarity and expression that three people bring to jazz. I found each trio unique in its own way. There was the JOE MULHOLLAND TRIO, MIKE BOGLE TRIO, and JANE IRA BLOOM who stretched the boundaries by recording a trio of soprano sax, bass and drums. DICK OATTS and MATS HOLMQUIST, along with the NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA celebrated the genius of Herbie Hancock and the ROCCO JOHN QUARTET celebrated people and their inherent need for inspirational change. Bassist, MARCOS VARELA captivated me with his ingenuity and talent, while ANTONIO ADOLFO and CAROLINA SABOYA brought me to the tropical shores of Brazil and bathed me in Portuguese culture. Finally, the BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET, featuring KURT ELLING on vocals, took me on an “Upward Spiral.” Read all about it.

JOE MULHOLLAND TRIO – “RUNAWAY TRAIN”
Zoho Records

Joe Mulholland, piano; Bob Nieske, bass; Bob Tamagni, drums

Bob Tamagni was the ‘Runaway Train’ on cut number one, taking a drum solo, at the very top of the tune that was animated and inspired. Mulholland sets up the melody at the ‘get-go’ and establishes his composition skills. Then he proceeds to take us on a journey of smartly written original music (six out of nine tunes) with two songs celebrating the iconic Jimmy Giuffre and Miles Davis, along with the beautiful “Alone Together” by Dietz and Schwartz. Based in Boston, Mulholland is professor of Jazz Harmony at Berklee College. This is his debut CD for Zoho Records. His trio is tight, moving methodically, like the well-oiled wheels of an Amtrak train. I enjoyed Nieske’s underlying heartbeat of a base line, dancing beneath another Mulholland original titled, “The Same Sky”. He definitely compliments the simplistic style of Mulholland, whose focus seems to be more on chordal structure and harmony than racing arpeggios or smart improvisational scales. I found the arrangement on “Alone Together,” quite nice, with a call and response attitude between piano and drums at the top. Tamagni, on the trap drums, keeps the tune moving like a freight train. This is a spirited, easy listening, debut album on Zoho Records, bound to travel through many jazz stations and pick up a multitude of listening passengers on the way.
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MIKE BOGLE TRIO – “MIKE BOGLE TRIO LIVE AT STONEY’S”
MBP/GROOVE! Records

Mike Bogle, piano; Lou Harlas, bass; Steve Barnes, drums

Chick Corea’s “Humpty Dumpty” opens this CD as the first cut and sets the tone for what is to follow. With Bogle’s fingers racing like someone whipping up scrambled eggs, the piano comes alive under his masterful touch. Steve Barnes is magnificent on drums. After his solo, you hear patrons holler their support and appreciation. You can really see what musicians have going for them in a ‘Live’, intimate setting. There’s no studio knobs to protect you. When performing ‘live’ you are vulnerable. Joey Lamas, their recording engineer, is to be congratulated on the clarity and tone of this CD.

At age fourteen, Mike Bogle wrote his first big band chart. At sixteen he graduated high school and enrolled in the Miami School of Studio Music and Jazz, on a scholarship. By seventeen he was performing with such stellar artists as Tom Jones, Burt Bacharach, Diana Ross and Linda Carter. By age 30, he was Grammy nominated for “Best Arrangement” of Chick Corea’s “Got A Match?” He’s a fine composer and that is evident on this recording.

“Speak Like a Child” follows the trio’s first cut and is a Herbie Hancock composition. It’s tender instead of tenacious like the Corea tune and Bogle slyly incorporates strings into the Latin feel at apropos times. His piano work on this song reminds me of fluttering hummingbird wings; light, swift and airy. Barnes on trap drums keeps a double time feel underneath that perpetuates the energy as Bogle tinkles ‘Figaro, Figaro, Figaro’ above the solid rhythm. Harlas offers a heartfelt solo on double bass until the melody and the strings make a resurgence. Nice arrangement! “Ninguno Experiment” (a Bogle original) has a Latin feel and features Bogle keeping solid rhythm with his right hand while roaring around the bass clef of the piano with his left hand and walking like a bass player. In fact, I think he’s doubling with the bassist. Lou Harlas brings the ‘Swing’ with his authentic bass instrument. He walks the blues right into the tune. I am hooked and feeling captivated, just like those club patrons had to be. Dexter Gordon’s “Fried Bananas” is performed light and breezy at a pleasing moderate tempo. Bogle always manages to put a little blues on the stove when he cooks. This is an outstanding jazz trio that I would pay big money to see in the intimacy of a club, or on the grand stage of a concert hall. Bravo!
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MARCOS VARELA – “SAN YGNACIO”
Origin Records

Marcos Varela, bass; George Cables, piano; Billy Hart, drums; Eden Ladin, piano on cuts 2 &7; Kush Abadey, drums on cuts 2 & 7; Logan Richardson, alto saxophone; Clifton Anderson, trombone; Dayna Stephens, tenor saxophone; Arnold Lee, alto saxophone.

Careful! This CD is combustible. From the very first arrangement of “I Should Care”, the ‘familiar’ transitions to the ‘awesome.’ George Cables’ arrangement of this old standard turns it upside down and gives it a fresh face. The tune is flush with excitement and dynamic harmonics. Varela is ever present and complicit on bass. Billy Hart (as always), dances masterfully around his trap drums with sticks of power and aggressive perfection. He cuts loose on the track called, “Mitsuru,” and his solo is answered by Varela with big, fat tones on his upright bass. This is the kind of jazz that inspires the listener and reminds me that this is our indigenous American classical art form and how important it is. These musicians take the music and mold it into art, right before our ears. Every single cut entertains me with the compositions being played by master musicians and interpreted with such caring and love that I am hypnotized by the beauty of it all.

Who is this bass player that has captivated me with his ingenuity and musical skills? Marcos Varela was born and raised in Houston, but traces his ancestry back to San Ygnacio, Texas where his family has lived on the same ranch since the 1750s. Thus, the title of this album is a reflection of his heritage and family roots. Varela’s composition, “Colinas de Santa Maria” is the name of his family’s ranch. Eden Ladin is featured on piano this time, along with Kush Abadey on drums. Varela has been living and working in NYC for the past dozen years and has built solid relationships with drummer and mentor, Billy Hart, jazz giant and piano master, George Cables, and longtime employer, Clifton Anderson on trombone. As a graduate of Houston’s renowned high school for the Performing & Visual Arts, he joins a notable list of accomplished entertainers in the music field like Jason Moran, Robert Glasper and even Beyoncé. New York has allowed this young bass man to perform with a wide range of artists including pianist Geri Allen, the Mingus Big Band and even The Last Poets. He is blossoming as a composer and has several film and TV projects under his proverbial belt.

Perhaps legendary bassist Ron Carter sums it up best when he writes in the linear notes, “Varela’s tone, choice of notes and compositions will place his playing and name on the list of bassists to be heard.”

I agree.
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ANTONIO ADOLFO – “TROPICAL INFINITO”
AAM Records

Antonio Adolfo, piano & arrangements; Leo Amuedo, electric guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums; André Siqueira & Rafael Barata, percussion; Serginho Trombone, trombone; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophone; Jessé Sadoc, trumpet & flugelhorn.

I believe this is the first time I’ve heard a Latin production of “Killer Joe” and it’s quite entertaining and solid. The horns add depth and excitement to this entire album production. They are tastefully placed and make for a very celebratory experience. Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” is the second cut on this very upbeat production, and Golson’s song is always a pleasure to hear. The horn solo on this tune is perfection. Adolfo has a flair for arranging. He makes this project come alive with his unique gifts. There is joy wrapped up in these hand-picked compositions and the musicians make me want to dance and clap my hands with happiness. Antonio Adolfo clearly captures the exhilarating Brazilian culture in his music. He has been a longtime educator of Brazilian music and music history. Featuring his new octet, Adolfo explores jazz of the 1960s, using richly arranged Sambas, punchy percussive rhythms and harmonic horn arrangements. Everything reflects a mixture of America’s indigenous art form, generously spiced with Brazilian expressiveness. His original compositions are well written and fit right in with these master composers, including Oliver Nelson’s “Stolen Moments”, Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” and Hammerstein & Kern’s “All The Things You Are.” Adolfo’s compositions deserve to be played, center stage, along-side the excellence of these composer celebrities. His songs are just that good. Here is a pianist/producer/composer/arranger who surrounds himself with excellent players and together, they make this project shine with brilliance.
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JANE IRA BLOOM – “EARLY AMERICANS”
Outline Records

Jane Ira Bloom, soprano saxophone; Mark Helias, bass; Bobby Previte, drums.

Mark Helias walks his big, bad bass into the song and sets the mood for Jane Ira Bloom to plant her soprano saxophone powerfully on top. This is a trio of bass, drums and saxophone, unique and clean cut; leaving the listener to enjoy the simplicity of the production and the mastery of these three musicians. Bloom is unafraid to step out front and blow the lid off the music, letting it bubble up like the goodness locked inside a chilled bottle of expensive champagne. She’s the real deal. Her tone and technique are evident and her artistry is an example of the freedom that jazz brings to the listener’s palate. This is a delicious and triumphant approach to freedom of expression and composition. Bloom has composed all twelve songs. Track #3, “Hips and Sticks” is beautiful and features her singular horn blowing like a bird song in the wind. On cut #9 titled “Cornets of Paradise” the energy and excitement is fused by drummer, Bobby Previte who solos under Bloom’s tenacious saxophone splendor. She closes this, her sixteenth CD as a leader, with a performance of Bernstein & Sondheim’s composition, “Somewhere” and it’s dynamic, with no one but Bloom pouring the melody out of her horn, sweet honey from the cone. As it says in her press package, these are “fearless jazz explorers who share a commitment to beauty and adventure.”
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CAROLINA SABOYA – “Carolina Saboya”
AAM Music

Carolina Saboya, vocal; Antonio Adolfo, piano; Jorge Helder, double bass; Claudio Spiewak, acoustic guitar on cut #9; Leo Amuedo, guitar; Rafael Barata, drums/percussion; André Siequeira, percussion; Marcelo Martins, flute/alto flute/soprano saxophone.

This production of Carolina Saboya is minimal and celebrates her voice. She is a Brazilian vocalist with a wispy, soft and compelling sound. I would have enjoyed hearing more of a rhythmic double bass to contrast and compliment her light and appealing style on the first cut. I missed that thick, prominent bottom that propels Brazilian music. The percussion is mixed upfront and delicately, to support the arrangements. On cut #2, the bass is more prominent and dances solidly beneath clusters of vocal notes that race in unison with the busy flute played by Marcelo Martins. Carolina Saboya sings three songs by Jobim and two by the 2016 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Djavan. Most of this CD is performed in her native tongue of Portuguese as she celebrates popular Brazilian composers. At times, she uses her own scat sensibilities to merge with the ensemble in a very musical and instrumental way, like on cut # 10, “Zanzibar,” where her voice mimics an instrument and wordlessly joins the band. This is one of my favorite tracks along with the very melancholy “Faltando um Pedaco.” In English she sings the Sting composition, “Fragile” and “Hello Goodbye” by John Lennon. Her voice is pleasant and easy listening at its best.
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DICK OATTS/MATS HOLMQUIST NEW YORK JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “A TRIBUTE TO HERBIE +1”
Summit Records

Mats Holmquist, arranger; Dick Oatts, lead alto & soprano saxophones; Mark Gross, alto & Soprano saxophones; Walt Weiskopf & Robert Nordmark, tenor saxophone; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone; Paul Meyers, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Martin Wind, bass; John Riley, drums; Nick Marchione, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Jon Shaw, Tatum Greenblatt, Frank Brodahl, & Joe Magnarelli on Trumpets/flugelhorns; Jakob Gudmundsson, trumpet on “Eye of the Hurricane”; Larry Farrell & Steen Nikolaj Hansen, trombones; Max Seigel, bass trombone; John Mosca, lead trombone.
I was excited when I saw that a jazz orchestra had tackled compositions by Herbie Hancock. Here is a Grammy winning, jazz changing, innovator and pianist of our times who certainly is deserving of such a tribute. Opening with the familiar and popular “Cantaloupe Island” composition, I enjoyed the way arranger, Mats Holmquist layered the horn harmonics, almost giving an echo effect to the brass. The alto saxophone solo by Mark Gross is ear-pleasing. On “Chameleon” I found the arrangements to be a little redundant for my taste. I felt all the brass repetition got in the way of the song. The arrangement was over eleven minutes long and I thought it could have been edited down. The arranger states in his linear notes that his premise was to create chaos; and that he does as the song progresses. I breathed a deep sigh of relief when “Dolphin Dance” made an appearance. Everything on this recording seems brash, as though it’s being played at a serious forté throughout. I wanted some relief from the constant attack of the horns. It comes when various soloists perform, but nothing was sweet and gentle. If you love busy, brass harmonies sung forte throughout, then you will enjoy this production. John Riley, on drums, is a magnificent manifestation of energy that propels the instrumentation forward relentlessly. I was especially impressed with his prowess on “Eye of the Hurricane”. “Jessica” was performed with a lovely bass introduction by Martin Wind. All too soon the layered brass came marching onto the scene to take over the sweetness with power and tenacity. Birnbaum on piano and Wind on his bass, superbly plucking and bowing it, brought relief midway through with candy sweet solo interludes. It’s the only ballad on this recording. Dick Oatts made a memorable statement on soprano sax and is featured throughout. All the cuts on this recording are approximately seven minutes long or longer. I thought the orchestra presentation and Holmquist’s arrangement on “Toys” was smart. Weiskopf and Nordmark’s tenor solos added spunk and soul to the presentation. Riley once again comes to the forefront with his powerful drum solo and inspired drum licks. I think “Toys” is one of my favorites on this album.
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BRANFORD MARSALIS QUARTET & KURT ELLING – “UPWARD SPIRAL”
OKeh Records

Branford Marsalis, saxophone; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Eric Revis, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums; Special Guest, Kurt Elling on vocals

I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s new CD scheduled for a June 10, 2016 release. “There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” combines the crystal clear vocal tones of special guest, Kurt Elling, with the saxophone excitement of Branford Marsalis. The melody is challenging. The swift pace and ‘swing’ of the arrangement represents New York City very well and acts as a springboard for these amazing musicians to leap and play. Calderazzo on piano takes a spirited solo, dancing around the melody, plunging through chord changes with improvisational skill, until Elling swings his way back into the song.

Marsalis explained why he added a vocalist on this project.

“The goal here, even though he sings lyrics, was to highlight Kurt’s voice as an instrument.”

I was wondering how they picked the songs for the “Upward Spiral” album. Branford Marsalis explained.

“For example, I had been listening to the Oscar Brown song `Long as You’re Living’ for two years before the date. The first time I heard Sting’s `Practical Arrangement,’ I called him and asked for a lead sheet, because I wanted to play that song with the quartet even before the idea of recording with Kurt came up. I also chose `Só Tinha de Ser Com Você,’ a Jobim song that has not been done to death. I told everyone to study Elis Regina’s version, because I wanted us to sound authentic rather than generic. Doing `Blue Gardenia’ was my idea, while Eric originally suggested Chris Whitley’s `From One Island’ when we were talking about more recent songs. Elling also brought ideas and songs to the partnership. He suggested ‘Doxy,’ the Sonny Rollins classic with lyrics that Mark Murphy introduced; ‘West Virginia Rose,’ with music and lyrics by pianist Fred Hersch; and ‘Momma Said,’ with the quartet responding spontaneously in the studio to the Calvin Forbes poem.”

“Blue Gardenia” is one of this reviewer’s favorite ballads. The blend of Marsalis’s horn with Elling in tight harmony grabbed me by the ear and happily pulled me into the song. They have recorded a tender and sweet rendition of this composition; one I first heard Dinah Washington sing many years ago. I love the way Elling’s voice and the Marsalis horn blend. “From One Island to Another” is a song I’ve never heard before with a soaring arrangement that moves like a whirlpool, twisting and turning as the momentum builds on the piano solo. Elling is clearly the storyteller in his own distinctive way, until the band comes crashing in, like waves against a quiet island shore. When Marsalis comes to the forefront, he brings more swirling energy, with innovative notes that fall over each other; sound-pebbles rolling down a mountainside. “I’m A Fool to Want You” is stunning with just voice and saxophone making a duo statement. Finally, “Blue Velvet” was another production that was poignant and beautifully produced. Based on these four songs as an example of what this new Branford Marsalis Quartet recording is all about, then “upward Spiral” appears to be a perfect addition to any jazz lover’s music collection. Maybe even a Grammy winner.
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ROCCO JOHN QUARTET – “EMBRACE THE CHANGE”
Unseen Rain Records

Rocco John Iacovone, alto & soprano saxophones; Rich Rosenthal, guitar; Francois Grillot, double bass; Tom Cabrera, drums.

If the eclectic and Avant Garde is your cup of tea, sit back and pour yourself a cup of the Rocco John Quartet. Drums and saxophone explode on the scene with intensity and purpose. Every song on this production is composed by Rocco John Iacovone. His bandmates unweave the story inside each composition with sincerity and creativity. The composer says his music is meant to be a comment on our evolution as human beings. I find his music eerie, but strangely beautiful. On a song called “72’s” the drums and cymbals color the presentation as Rosenthal’s guitar astutely explores melodies and emotions. When the sax enters, it brings another character to the forefront and the three begin a sensitive conversation. Musical phrases pour out of them in streams of tempo and scales, spurred by Cabrera’s deft percussion. It sings to me in a minor mode. I am intoxicated by this track. When Grillot bows his bass, it changes the mood and texture of this composition. Each cut on this eight composition album brings a theme of exploration. This is thought provoking music. There is the unexpected, always present and looming in the next musical phrase. Yet, there is also something soothing about this recording.

Rocco John Iacovone’s has studied with the legendary Lee Konitz and Sam Rivers. His preoccupation with composition led him to the doorstep of Nadia Boulanger. This artist hopes that he and his talented band elicit unmitigated passion and interest in the listener. Perhaps the composer said it best in his linear notes:
“While we all hear the loud voices telling us what to do and how to do it, we really need to quiet down and listen to the whispers of our inner self.”
His music seems to encourage us to ‘embrace the change.’
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CELESTIAL GREEN MONSTER CD REVIEW

February 26, 2010

If you’re prone to something a bit “outside” the predictable; something that’s gutsy and challenges the status quo on all fronts, this is definitely your cup of jazz tea. Drink up! The liner notes of this Celestial Green Monster CD applaud Fred Ho’s love and dedication to Big Band Music. Fred refers to Big Bands as “the quintessential American Orchestra.” The first number on his CD, Spiderman Theme, is well done, and harmonically lush. It encircles the essence of Big Band “swing” with strong arrangement arms. The next medley of original compositions, (cuts 2 through 6*), explore a number of unexpected techniques and percussive rhythms. Asian and African scales create unique melodies, along with dissonant harmonics. Abraham Gomez-Delgado is featured prominently on vocals. Regrettably, I found his interpretations irritating. On a brighter note, Haleh Abghari sings interesting Persian chants, adding a new flavor atop the big band tracks. Both vocalists are incorporated in this 6-movement concerto, followed by horns that sometimes sound like frenzied zoo animals. Randy Woolf assisted with the arranging. Sixteen minutes long, this piece exhibits artistic freedom and incorporates a number of cultural roots, all neatly packaged under the umbrella of improvisation. There are moments, however, when the music appears more rock than jazz. Cut 7, Liberation Genesis, was written by the baritone saxophone player and bandleader (Fred Ho) back in 1975. No matter. This piece is timeless and interesting. It moves from ballad to swing, than to straight-ahead, warp-speed in the blink of an eye. The Green Monster Big Band obviously is comprised of a number of dedicated and crème de la crème musicians who perform masterfully. Here is a CD you will either love or hate for its extreme and uncompromising musical deviations. It’s an avant-garde work of art, right down to Fred Ho posing nude on the cover, painted green (as in the jolly green giant commercial), with his baritone saxophone appropriately placed. Born and bred in Brooklyn, New York, you can check out more about this unique project at http://www.bigredmediainc.com or http://www.mutablemusic.com.

* Original compositions 2-6 by Doug Ingle of Iron Butterfly, Inc.

written and reviewed by Dee Dee McNeil aka: musicalmemoirs

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February 26, 2010

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