Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

June 23, 2017

June 23 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

DEBBI EBERT AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER

June 18, 2017

DEBBI EBERT AT THE MUCKENTHALER CULTURAL CENTER – THE 2017 SEASON

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

June 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DEE DEE: Are you from California?

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

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

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

DEE DEE: Were they big jazz fans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLACK MUSIC MONTH CELEBRATES THELONIUS MONK AND MORE

June 13, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
June 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Braden explained it best by saying:

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

June 6, 2017 – Tuesday

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

LAURA CAMPISI – “DOUBLE MIRROR”
Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * * * * *

SMOKIN’ NEW MUSIC AND HISTORIC JAZZ CONVERSATIONS

June 1, 2017

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

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

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

Resonance Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McClure recalled Wes Montgomery’s generosity.

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

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

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

JAZZMEIA HORN – “A SOCIAL CALL”
Prestige Records/Concord Record Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The concept that I wanted to present to the people – viewers and listeners of “A Social Call” – stems from the social issues that are alive today. This idea of the birth of a new conscious generation of people is very relevant and timely. It was imperative for the creative album art to reflect that of the creative musical art. A Social Call is a call in peace about issues affecting peace.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

CALABRIA FOTI – “IN THE STILL OF THE NIGHT” (THE MUSIC OF COLE PORTER)
Moco Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

LARRY NEWCOMB QUARTET W/BUCKY PIZZARELLI – “LIVING TRIBUTE”
Essential Messenger Record Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUINSIN NACHOFF’S ETHEREAL TRIO

Whirlwind Recordings

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

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

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

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

ART FRISTOE – “DOUBLEDOWN”

Merry Lane Records, LLC

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

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

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

JAZZ RELEASES HIGHLIGHT NEW COMPOSERS & ARRANGEMENTS OF OLD SONGS

May 16, 2017

May 16, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

If you appreciate the beauty of a jazz flute, you will enjoy two composers who are both outstanding flautists; Lori Bell and Ed Maina. Maina plays all the reed instruments and has composed nearly every tune on his “In the Company of Brothers” CD. Lori Bell, also a fine jazz composer, teams with the very talented guitarist, Ron Satterfield, fitting like ring to finger in a marriage of duo music. Ronny Whyte brings us his compelling piano/vocal mastery. Mari & Leo Nobre celebrate being alive with world music arrangements, covering Gershwin to Jobim and vocalist Sylvia Brooks uses a cast of West Coast, all-star musicians that add sparkle to her production. Enjoy!

LORI BELL – “BLUE(S)”
Independent label

Lori Bell, C flute/alto flute; Ron Satterfield, guitar/vocals.

Tenacious flautist, Lori Bell and guitar master, Ron Satterfield, have joined together, fitting like ring to finger, in a marriage of duo music. The theme of their current CD release is “Blue(s),” using a string of beautiful compositions that include the word ‘blue’ in each title. Beginning with the Lori Bell original composition, “Bell’s Blues”, we enjoy nearly four minutes of a very happy, straight-ahead jazz tune that is punctuated by Satterfield’s guitar, walking bass lines, and his voice echoing the melody. Bell displays her usual flare on flute, swinging hard and freely improvising; even ‘trading fours’ with Satterfield’s innovative scat singing. The Bill Evans composition, “Blue in Green” has a Brazilian arrangement, created by the gentle and persuasive strumming of Satterfield, with Bell’s flute singing sweetly atop the rhythm. Both musicians are so timely and tempo conscious, I don’t even miss the drums. Satterfield has written lyrics to the Evan’s tune and sings his prose after Bell’s awesome solo. You will enjoy the Thelonius tune, “Blue Monk”, the Joni Mitchell song, “Blue”, Oliver Nelson’s “Teenie’s Blues,” McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner”, the Miles Davis jazz standard, “All Blues” and a couple of more original compositions by the talented Ms. Bell. One of her compositions especially touched my heart entitled, “Blue Butterflies” that made the fluttering wings of the insects dance cheerfully off of my CD player. Lori and Ron blend together, like pancakes and syrup; sweet, tasty and satisfying.

The duo will celebrate the release of this CD during a concert at Dizzy’s in San Diego on Saturday, July 15 at 8PM with special guests Duncan Moore on drums and percussionist Tommy Aros.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
RONNY WHYTE – “SHADES OF WHYTE”
Audiophile Records

Ronny Whyte, piano/vocals/arrangements; Boots Maleson, bass; Sean Harksness, guitar; Lou Caputo, tenor saxophone/flute; Mauricio De Souza & David Silliman, drums; Alex Nguyen, trumpet.

Ronny Whyte is a pianist and jazz singer with a vocal style very reminiscent of Frank Sinatra. This album offers sixteen familiar, standard. jazz tunes that feature Whyte’s sextet. It reminds this listener of sitting in a hotel lounge, sipping cocktails somewhere in America, while enjoying a seasoned veteran share his smooth vocals and competent piano playing. One thing that separates Whyte from a typical lounge singer are his composing skills. He has added five original songs on this recording. “It’s Time for Love” has a strong lyrical base and a happy-go-lucky melody. “I Love the Way You Dance,” is another well-written composition that features Alex Nguyen, resilient on trumpet. Whyte slides smoothly past some pitch problems on this tune, but his songwriting skills are strong. Other self-penned, standard-sounding songs are “Linger Awhile,” “I’ll Tell You What,” and “Blame It on the Movies.” Here is an easy listening CD that I’m certain Ronny Whyte’s fans will gobble up like M&M candy.

******************
ED MAINA – “IN THE COMPANY OF BROTHERS”
Independent Label

Ed Maina, alto & soprano saxophones/clarinet/flute & alto flute/piccolo/percussion/EWI; Rick Krive, piano/vocals; Jim Gaisor & Kemuel Roig, piano; Dave Cabrera, Jonathan Orriols & Gustavo Eraso, guitar; Gabby Vivas, Oskar Cartaya, John DiModica & Abe Laboriel, bass; Hilario Bell, Hector “Pocho” Nuciosup, Daniel Berroa & Charlie Santiago, percussion; Abner Torres, drums; Jim Hacker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ira Sullivan, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Kricker, trombone; Javier Diaz & Carolina Herrera, vocals; Chuk Wu, prayer; Eddy Garcia, kalimba; Flute, Priscilla Wagner.
Ed Maina is a master of several horns. I’m usually prone to Alto and Tenor saxophones, but Maina makes me enjoy the beauty of each horn he plays, coloring the music like a fine portrait painter. “This Is the Moment,” is a composition opening the production. It’s so bluesy that it draws me in like quicksand. Here is smooth jazz at its best, and all the players bring excellence to this project. I’m enthralled with Jonathan Orriol’s guitar solo. The horn arrangements are complimentary and harmonic. In the liner notes, Ed Maina writes:

“My experiences at the University of Miami Jazz Department, opened up so many doors for me to play with some of the best musicians and bands in the industry. Some include Maynard Ferguson, Frank Sinatra, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Jaco Pastorius … the Temptations, the O’Jays and so many more. … In 2004, I was encouraged by a close friend to record my own project. In the challenge of raising a family, teaching school and pursuing a music career … I realize why this project took thirteen years to complete. It’s also challenging to categorize the music that comes from your heart, having been influenced from Mozart to Motown and everyone in between. Obviously, I have a strong jazz and Latin jazz influence coming from South Florida. … What you’ll hear are all those influences, mixed with a lot of beautiful music from musicians I met and played with. “In the Company of Brothers” is the fruit of that endeavor.”

Maina’s self-penned composition, “You’re Still Here With Me” is delicate and emotional, with Maina’s clarinet flying like a bird across the lush, electronic background instrumentation. Gabby Vivas is solid on bass, walking creatively beneath the production and acting as the basement of the band’s structure. Maina adds Alto flute as a lovely appendage to the sensitive face of this production. When I listen to this Waltz, I am enchanted by the melody. Jim Gaisor exhibits expert chops on piano and fattens the sound.

Then comes “Quelly’s Song,” an ebullient, Latin number where Abner Torres on trap drums locks the groove down along with Hector ‘Pocho’ Nuciosup and Charlie Santiago on percussions. A nice, smooth guitar solo by Gustavo Eraso pushes the music gently ahead. Pianist Rick Krive adds his vocals to accent certain riffs with scat doubling. All the while, Maina’s supreme flute playing dominates this tune’s production. Maina features several original compositions on his CD and they are all sexy and plush with emotional character. One of the things I look for in a music project is believability and emotion. I really want to feel something when I listen and Maina’s musicianship is full of expression. This ensemble plays it all, from Latin fusion to funk; straight ahead to blues. I also love Maina’s saxophone expertise. Ed Maina and his band fit together like familiar garden plants rooted in rich soil. They blossom and grow, bursting with color and fragrance with each song. Here is a bouquet of exquisite music that brightens my home, like bunches of wild flowers or pots of fragrant, fresh herbs. It’s good for the soul.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

MARI NOBRE’S JAZZ BAND – “LIVE AND ALIVE”
Chrome Records

Mari Nobre, vocals; Leo Nobre, bass; Justo Almario, sax/flute; Angelo Metz, acoustic/electric guitar; Sandro Feliciano, drums; Daniel Szabo, piano.

On this celebration of life CD, multi-linqual vocalist, Mari Nobre, interprets songs from Benny Golson’s “Whisper Not” to Jobim’s “Corcovado” and “Chega de Saudade”. Ms. Nobre sings in Portuguese, in Spanish and in English during a ‘live’ recorded concert at the Jan Popper Theater on the campus of UCLA. Surrounded by her husband/arranger, Leo Nobre on bass, and the incomparable Justo Almario on reeds, this Italian queen holds a jazzy court. Mari Nobre was born and raised in Naples, Italy and began singing at age fourteen. She transplanted to New York , met Leo Nobre, who was playing bass with Sergio Mendes at that time. They married and moved to Los Angeles.

This project was recorded last year, only three weeks after Mari Nobre had an operation to remove cancer from her body. Thus, this musical expression becomes Nobre’s testament to life and the healing power of music. Their Brazilian arrangement on Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm” is jubilant and showcases Almario’s flute and Nobre’s voice flying freely. They are like two improvisational birds. The thoughtful solo of Angelo Metz on guitar is a warm introduction to Daniel Szabo’s piano improvisation on “Corcovado”. Mari Nobre has composed one song with co-writer, Patrick Lockwood. It’s titled, “Linda” and moves at a happy Samba pace, with a staccato melody that punctuates the title. Actually, (I read in the liner notes) the Portuguese meaning of “Linda” is ‘beautiful’. Mari Nobre dedicated this song to the beauty of womanhood. “Dance Me to the End of Love” gives Leo Nobre a chance to solo on his electric bass and Almario adds his jazzy saxophone to the mix. “Frenesi” is a familiar song to my ear and Nobre lets her second soprano voice sing it with gusto. It’s a proper and energetic way to end this album.

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

SYLVIA BROOKS – “THE ARRANGEMENT”
Independent label

Sylvia Brooks, vocals; Otmaro Ruiz , Jeff Colella & Quinn Johnson, piano; Christian Jacob, piano/Fender Rhodes; Sezin Ahmet Turkmenoglu, Chris Colangelo, David Hughes & Trey Henry, bass; Aaron Serfaty, drums/percussion; Tom Brechtlein, Jamey Tate & Kendall Kay, drums; Kim Richmond, alto saxophone, Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Francisco Torres, trombone; Juliane Gralle, bass trombone; Brian Swartz & Michael Stver, trumpet; Ron Stout, flugelhorn; Jeff Driskill, sax; Will Brahm & Larry Koonse, guitar; Bruce Babad, flutes/sax;;

This vocalist is wrapped tightly with a blanket of excellent arrangements and wonderful musicians, who create a bed of comfort for her voice. Otmaro Ruiz, one of the pianist/arrangers on this project, has prepared silky smooth musical sheets, with his horn section punching at just the right spaces on Sylvia Brooks’ premiere tune; “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.” Aaron Serfaty’s percussion greatly compliments her arrangement, enhancing the Latin-feel. The Hank Williams country/western tune, “Cold Cold Heart” is performed as a smart blues, once again featuring a well arranged horn section. I love the production and arrangements on this CD. The vocalist has good pitch and a pretty voice. However, do I believe her lyrical stories? That is the question. Part of being a believable singer is to sell the songs and infuse them with strong, individual emotion. However, the musical productions are so strong, you easily give Ms. Brooks a pass. For example, the awesome arrangement of “Body and Soul” by Jeff Colella is fresh and captivating. Her song choices are to be commended. She offers the listener fourteen well-respected and recognizably popular songs from the Beatles to Matt Dennis; from Cole Porter to Sammy Cahn.

As a composer, Brooks co-wrote two original songs that have good lyrics and memorable melodies; “What Was I thinking (The Mirage)” and “Sweet Surrender” are well-written with stellar horn arrangements. Bravo for hiring all these amazing and accomplished musicians and arrangers. Sylvia Brooks collaboration with some of the best jazz musicians in Southern California make this project sparkle.

Sylvia Brooks will appear in concert to release her new CD on June 7, 2017 at the famed Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. Hit time is 8:30PM.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

POLITICS AND POINTS OF VIEW REFLECTED IN TODAY’S MUSIC

May 2, 2017

POLITICS & POINTS OF VIEW REFLECTED IN TODAY’S MUSIC
New CD reviews by Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist – May 1, 2017

TINA RAYMOND – “LEFT RIGHT LEFT”
Orenda Records

Tina Raymond, drums; Art Lande, piano; Putter Smith, bass.

The thing that strikes me right away about this recording is that the drums are mixed crisply and upfront. Steadfast and timely, Tina Raymond steps forward, obviously, the leader on her trap drum instrument. She is exceptionally creative and her drum talents stand out in situations of musical production that usually call for the percussion to be in the background. Raymond can roll those drum sticks, smooth and rhythmically, like an expert baker. The resulting pie, of both sweet and peppery sounds, invites us to taste her percussion mastery.

Glancing down at the titles of the songs she picked for this premiere recording, it is obvious Tina Raymond is intent on making a statement with her music. Musically, Raymond is calling our attention to a sadness and frustration that she claims to have felt in the days following our most recent presidential election. Starting with “Pastures of Plenty” by Woody Guthrie and followed by, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, “America”, “Union Maid”, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and “Saigon Bride” (by Joan Baez), and inclusive of the CD title, “Left Right Left,” she depicts two extreme political factors in the United States. Raymond explains in her liner notes:

“As a drummer and percussion teacher, I say the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ often. I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what combinations of left and right are the most efficient way to execute rhythms. … In politics, the terms ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ date back to the French Revolution … two opposing parties in relation to the king. I was very disillusioned when a man with no qualifications defeated a woman, who is probably one of the most qualified people ever to run for president. I think America still doesn’t respect women. … The name of my CD refers to the political landscape of the U.S.”

Art Lande on piano and bassist, Putter Smith each rise to the task at hand, delivering artistically the very best of themselves. Both are lauded and seasoned players. Lande is Grammy-nominated and extremely improvisational on piano. You can hear his Avant Garde harmonics brightly supporting the diametrically opposed left and right on “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Putter Smith is as solid as a judge’s gavel, pounding out the rhythm on his double bass with power and authority. Smith has worked with Art Blakey, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, Percy Faith, Art Pepper and a host of others. Lande has seventeen albums released as a leader and his piano skills are clearly a catalyst in the arrangements on this recording. I was taken by the sweetness and sincerity he infused during the composition, “Union Maid.” Although the lyrics, by Woody Guthrie, strongly support American work unions from a fearless woman’s point of view, Lande’s piano execution is sensitive and lovely. The song lyrics read, “There was a union maid, she never was afraid of goons and ginks and company finks and the deputy sheriffs who made the raid.”

Similar to the lyrics of that song, Tina Raymond is another strong female, a forward thinker and a change-maker. She isn’t afraid to express her revolutionary spirit on this compact disc of music. Her arrangements are powerful and expressive. Her artistry; undeniable. Endorsed by Sabian, Regal Tip and Remo drum manufacturers, and currently a professor of music at Los Angeles City College, she is one of a few women throughout the country in a full-time faculty position in jazz. Even more importantly, she is an exceptional drummer. Every cut on this CD is an exclamation mark on the word excellent.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ROCCO JOHN IACOVONE – “PEACE AND LOVE”
Unseen Rain Records

Rocco John Iacovone, alto & soprano saxophone/piano; Ras Moshe Burnett, bells/tenor saxophone/flute; Sana Nagano, violin; Michael Lytle, bass clarinet; Rich Rosenthal, guitar; Phil Sirois, bass; John Pietaro, percussion; Dalius Naujo, drums.

I was eager to review this piece of art, mainly because of the CD title. I, myself, always answer my phone, “Peace and love” and it’s really my life mantra. Like Rocco John Iacovone, I recognize we need people to reflect and embrace more peace and love on earth. Consequently, I was eager to experience music that boasted an inspiration for the goodness of love and peace in three musical Suites. The first reflects the “Aurora Borealis”; the second is composed in consideration of “Evolution” and the last Suite is titled, “What If the Moon Were Made Out of Jazz?”

Rocco John Iacovone has long been a major influence in New York’s improvisatory musician’s community. As a student of Sam Rivers and Lee Konitz, his alto and soprano saxophone talents reflect Avant Garde inspiration. He founded the Improvisational Composers Ensemble (ICE) as an outlet for music specific to featuring improv as a major compositional element. “Peace and Love” is his fourth album as a leader and composer. His ensemble generously reflects the premise of freedom and creativity. They band together to compliment his original music, with ample time given each musician to express themselves within each suite. This recording was made “Live” inside “the Stone” (John Zorn’s place) to a standing-room-only audience. It is dedicated to the memory of Will Connell, who had encouraged Rocco’s residency and ultimate recording venture, but passed away November 19, 2014, before he could witness the dream come to fruition. Connell received a CAPS grant for orchestral composition and as a copyist/arranger/sideman, Will Connell worked for musicians ranging from Stevie Wonder and Roberta Flack to Horace Tapscott, Sam Rivers, Elton John, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and King of Pop, Michael Jackson.

Rocco said, “Will used to sign his emails, “Peas and Lub”. So this CD, ‘Peace and Love,’ is dedicated with much love to the spirit of Will Connell.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

GREGORY LEWIS – “ORGAN MONK, THE BREATHE SUITE”
Independent Label

Gregory Lewis, Hammond B3 Organ; Nasheet Waits & Jeremy “Bean” Clemons, drums; Marc Ribot, guitar; Reggie Woods, tenor saxophone; Riley Mullins, trumpet.

Gregory Lewis brings together a federation of musicians who have joined in musical protest to remember the names of African Americans who have become symbols of the racial divide in America. The first name, “Michael Brown” opens ethereally, with a musical freedom and Avant Garde attitude that leaves plenty of room for solo expression. “Chronicles of Michael Brown” allows each musician in the Gregory Lewis ensemble to step forward and make an improvisational statement. We experience the musical mood-changes dramatically. Reggie Woods brings a moody blues with his tenor saxophone. Riley Mullins doubles the tempo and melodically screeches his trumpet protest to the wind. Nasheet Waits is a monster on drums, sometimes frenzied and powerful, other times beating a slow funk rhythm into the pulse of the music. As an example, he holds the groove in place beneath Marc Ribot’s soulful, electric guitar solo. This solo quickly accelerates in pace, pushing crescendos of energy into a mild explosion of sound and cymbals. Lewis uses the organ’s upper register to calm the group, with a staccato approach, playing repetitious notes that dance on rolling trap drums like water drops in hot grease. This first movement sets the tone of his album and takes the listener to some unexpected places. For those who don’t remember, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white, Ferguson police officer and that sparked civil unrest in the streets of this Missouri city.

The second movement, dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin, a young African American teenager whose life was taken by an impetuous police-wanna-be, (citizen patrol person) as Trayvon was walking back to his father’s house on private property. Lewis’ organ style on this composition reminds me of the late, great Jimmy Smith with a bebop feel and melodic organ improv. The arrangement is quick and assertive, like the unpredictable fight between the killer and the boy, ending in the unarmed man-child’s life being taken. I’m impressed by the way the organ melody and the drums of Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons play in unison at the top of this tune. Clemons displays the same kind of high energy and precision drumming as Waits and plays on four out of these six tunes.

The third Movement is in memory of Little seven-year-old, Aiyana Jones, and titled “Aiyana’s Jones Song,” beginning with Lewis on organ and Ribot on guitar setting an Eerie, dirge like mood. It reminds us of how police officers raided a house in Detroit, Michigan, May 16, 2010, and shot and killed the child lying innocent on her couch. Officer Joseph Weekley was charged, with reckless endangerment with a gun and involuntary manslaughter, in the child’s death. Two different trials ended in mistrials. The dirge-like music soon lightens, with melodies that are playful and happy, perhaps representing the spirit of the little girl before this horrendous incident.

The Fourth Movement is in tribute to Eric Garner, a man accused of selling single cigarettes, in July of 2014, and ultimately NYPD officers put the large man in a choke hold that led to him mumbling “I can’t breathe” and soon after he died from that police altercation. On this musical reflection, the arrangement is other-worldly and ominous.

Gregory Lewis is providing a musical platform for the stories of African American casualties from horrific episodes brought to public light by cell phone recordings and multi-cultural defiance against unnecessary violence, by police, against people of color. Thus, the rise of movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and protests nationwide. Lewis feels these are incidents and names we must never forget. He explained himself by saying:

“I can’t protest, because if I protest I go to jail. And if I go to jail, I can’t feed my five kids. So, what I can do is what I do. I write music. I want to get this record to each of the people, even if it brings joy for just a minute to these families.”

Lewis closed with the Fifth Movement titled “Osiris Ausar and the Race4 Soldiers.” It’s a speedy, Straight Ahead number that bebops its way across space and reflects the story of Ausar that begins in the ancient kingdom of Kush or what is presently known as Sudan. Ausar was a genius leader and scholar, who taught agriculture, theology and is said to have known the language of the Gods. He married Auset or Isis, and was later murdered in his sleep by his jealous brother. His body was dismembered into fourteen parts and the various body parts were left in diverse territories of Kemet. Ausar’s wife, Isis, searched until she found thirteen of his fourteen missing body parts, washed each one, anointed each with oil and wrapped each in linen for a proper burial. Later, she bore a son, who grew up and killed the evil uncle and retook their land. His son, Heru, is commemorated over several temples in Egypt as a carved, winged sun, known as the Heru Bedet. It is meant to serve as a reminder of virtue and order and a warning against jealousy and hedonism. Osiris is known, to this day, as an Egyptian God, usually identified as presiding over the afterlife.

This “Osiris Ausar and the Race4 Soldiers” composition seems to be a final blessing on those souls departed and the legacy they left behind. There is a sixth cut on this CD that is a reprise of the fifth. My only criticism of this piece of musical art is that at times, the organ is not pulled up enough in the ‘mix’.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
HIROE SEKINE – “ONE WORLD ONE SUN”
Sony Music

Hiroe Sekine, piano/composer; Yukihiro Isso, Nokan/Dengakubue; Kazuhiko Kondo, soprano saxophone/bass clarinet; Michael Valerio, acoustic bass/fretless bass/elec. bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Alex Acuña, cajon/bombo/drums; Antonio de Jerez, palmas & voz; Kaori Aoi, Sanshin; Paul Livingstone, sitar; Brad Dutz, tabla; Charlie Bisharet, violin; Eric Rigler, Uilleann pips; Geoff Dent, Gendér/Reyong; Dimitris Mahlis, oud; Larry Koones, tenor ukulele; Edgar Huaman Vera, zampoña; SPECIAL GUEST: Hiromitsu Agatsuma, Tsugaru-Shamisen player.

In a world perforated by bullets of war and muddied by cultural misunderstandings, Hiroe Sekine endeavors to bring people together with new music that celebrates a variety of countries, pulled lovingly under the umbrella of jazz. She has composed every track on this compact disc with the obvious intention of showing us how much alike we are and unified, instead of divided. Music can do that.

Pianist Sekine has incorporated instrumentation from various parts of the world to color her melodies and expand her arrangements, starting with “Nippon Barre, (a Japanese Sunny Day),” that reflects her own culture and the country of Japan. Incorporating the native instruments of Nokan an Dengakubue and using minor mode harmonies and scales, this artist brings her country to our ears. The Nokan is a flute from the Japanese Yokobue Edo period that dates back to the 1800s. The famed player, Hiromitsu Agatsuma (Courtesy of NIPPON Columbia Records) brings ancient authenticity with the Tsugaru-Shamisen instrument that resembles a banjo in appearance, but is very, very different in sound and frets. Upon listening to this song, I am transported to Nagoya, with it’s beautiful and ornate, outdoor, winter ice sculptors or Kyoto, full of temples, castles and supreme noodle shops. There is a very warm spot In my heart for Japanese culture and jazz. My first solo gig as a jazz singer was in Nagoya, Japan with a very excellent Japanese jazz band.

Hiroe Sekine whisks us off to Spain on cut #2 titled, “Brillo del Sol” translating to Sunshine. Kazuhiko Kondo is stellar on his soprano saxophone solo and Michael Valerio tells an engaging double bass story. Sekine’s melody runs like a thread throughout this song and connects everyone with needle-like precision, the same way her theme of sunshine touches the title of every tune. It’s a very charming composition and concept.

Tune number three has a reggae feel, so I immediately know we are somewhere in the Caribbean. “Sunshine (Caribbean)” unfolds, and I wish I had felt more ‘joi de vivre’ in this song. I’ve spent time in those islands, where energy and music is married and infectious. Sekine’s arrangement is a bit too laid-back for my taste, featuring Russell Ferrante’s melodica, and sounding rather like easy-listening instead of jazz. I did enjoy the addition of steel drums, but they still couldn’t lift the music by themselves.

Representing the people, culture and music of India, the fourth composition is titled, “Soorya Kaa Prakaasha” or Sunlight. The sitar of Paul Livingstone sings the melody along with Sekine and Brad Dutz adds the Tabla, a south Asian percussive instrument similar to bongos. Livingstone brings out the beauty on this song with his sitar solo, playing tag with Hiroe Sekine’s piano runs. ON “Tidanu Hikari (Rays of the Sun – Okinawa), Sekine steps forward to lay a lovely ballad at our feet like a gift, wrapped in the warm cloak of Kaori Aoi’s Sanshin instrument. I found this composition very beautiful. The Sanshin is a traditional Japanese instrument that has a very banjo-like quality of sound.

Sekine is quite generous with her musical space, giving several guests free-wheel to roll around this disc, exploring her memorable melodies with solos and improvisation. She completes this album by reflecting the music of Ireland, (incorporating violin and Uillean pipes). She celebrates Indonesia, with the distinctive sounds of Gendér and Reyong instruments, followed by tributes to Morocco, Hawaii and Peru. Each original composition mirrors the brazen and necessary beauty and warmth of our sun, as well as the title of this album, “One World One Sun.” Without the sun and each other, we will surely perish.

* * * * * * * * * *

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.

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

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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.”

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

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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.

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

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.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.


• * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.
• * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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.


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