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February 15, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 15, 2020

Art and music have always inspired resistance and encouraged reform. One of the important elements of Jazz is improvisation or changing the norm into something fresh, unique and different. Each artist I’m reviewing this month brings something outstanding to the table of change and artistry.

THANA ALEXA – “ONA” Independent Label

Thana Alexa, vocals/ keyboards/composer/producer; Carmen Staff, piano/Fender Rhodes/additional keyboards; Jordan Peters, guitar; Matt Brewer, acoustic and electric bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums/percussion/additional keyboards/co-producer; SPECIAL GUESTS: ROSA Vocal Group: Aleksandra Denda, Astrid Kuljanic, Tiffany Wilson, Shilpa Ananth, Valentina Blu Lombardi, Eleni Arapoglou; Nicole Zuraitis, Sofia Rei, Claudia Acuna, Sarah Charles, vocals; Staceyann Chinn, spoken word; Regina Carter, violin; Becca Stevens, vocals/ukulele/charango.

Thana Alexa has Croatian roots and incorporates her Croatian culture into her music. The title of this CD, “Ona” means “SHE” in her native Croatian language. As a composer, she has written most of the music on this revolutionary production. The title tune is embellished with the vocals of Nicole Zuraitis, Sofia Rei, Claudia Acuna and Sarah Charles along with the ROSA Vocal Group. The lyrics are protests against male domination, pay discrimination and is sung in both English and Croatian. The repetitive theme becomes “I am Woman, I am free, I will decide what happens with my body.” Track 2 is titled, “The Resistance” and continues with revolutionary lyrics of protest and declarations of liberty and justice for all.

Ms. Alexa has a clean, clear vocal quality. She not only sings but plays keyboards on this album. On her self-penned, “Pachamama” she features the great Regina Carter on violin, who definitely elevates this musical piece. Thana Alexa’s arrangements are an unusual excursion into unique harmonies, choral voicings and moods created with unexpected crescendos of sound. On this tune, Matt Brewer shines on his bass guitar solo. Thana Alexa’s voice is quite beautiful on this ballad with its poignant lyrics that celebrate motherhood. Her entire album is dedicated to her mother and grandmother, the women she says fought so she could feel free.

This is freedom music. At times, it’s on the edge of vocal Avant Garde and written like a musical diary. Now and then she lets her voice become a scat instrument and manifests cultural sounds into the mix to remind us of her Croatian-American home and family. I spent time in the former Yugoslavia during the terrible war of ethnic cleansing. If her mother and grandmother lived through that difficult time, I totally comprehend the pain and anguish her family may have endured. These are proud people that never forfeited their dignity.

On the composition, “Set Free” she speaks of the way energy can leave one form and become another. Her melodies are as unique as the prose that she puts to music. This is an experimental production. She creates both textures and thought-provoking poems; grooves that grab you and then release you back into soundscapes and places you have not been before. This is the sign of a truly artistic soul.

On “You Taught Me” she bounces from experimental music to smooth jazz; from folk music to percussive pop grooves flavored with Latin rhythms. She layers vocal harmonies that sing, “Don’t let go of your mind. You taught me to fly.” And away we go, flying to fresh, new places with Thana Alexa. A song like “Teardrop” sounds like a time-ticking clock on a universal wall. This is one she did not compose, but I think she probably arranged it. With French vocals in the background and the funk drums of Antonio Sanchez pushing the piece, this song is quite striking. The electric guitar solo by Jordan Peters elevates this arrangement in a jazz/rock kind-of-way.

On the tune, “Cassandra” Grammy Award winning, Antonio Sanchez, is magnificent on his emotional trap drum solo. Thana Alexa shares the spotlight on Track 8 with vocalist Becca Stevens, as they duet on “He Said She Said.”

Like the artist herself, you cannot put this music into a box. It’s as free and wild as the women she celebrates and sings about.
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Warren Wolf, vibraphone/composer; Brett Williams, piano/Fender Rhodes; Richie Goods, electric & acoustic bass; Mark Whitfield, guitar; Carroll “CV” Dashiell III, drums/percussion; Imani-Grace Cooper & Marcellus ‘bassman’ Shepard, vocals.

This is Wolf’s fourth CD and he appears to be a torchbearer in the name of vibe icons like Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson and Roy Ayres. Beginning this musical journey with a tribute to his departed mother, Warren Wolf raises his mallets to play a tune titled, “For Ma”. It’s smooth jazz, woven into R&B grooves provided by the electric bass of Richie Goods, the drums of Carroll “CV” Dashiell III and guitarist Mark Whitfield. Warren Wolf’s mallets beat out an intoxicating melody at a funky pace.

His album opens with a short interlude and the deep, baritone, DJ-smooth, male voice of Marcellus “Baseman” Shepard. He sounds perfect against a backdrop of vibraphone and sets the mood with his spoken words.

“You know some cats swing and some cats groove. But there are few vibests that swing, groove and keep it in the pocket at the same time. You may have heard this brother over the years, but I guarantee you’ve never heard him like this. … It’s Baltimore’s own, Warren Wolf,” the popular East Coast DJ introduces us to this magnificent vibraphonist.

Track three has a Barry White feel to it and features Marcellus Shepard once again along with talented vocalist, Imani-Grace Cooper. This is an R&B crossover ballad that you may want to listen to in front of a roaring fireplace and with someone you love.

Wolf’s composition, “Livin’ the Good Life” sounds like a hit record. It’s another one of his original compositions. He’s written nine out of the ten songs recorded here. Wolf combines straight ahead and smooth jazz in a seamless and delightful way. This album has been a culmination of years in the music industry. Warren Wolf explains in his liner notes.

“I realized I was about to turn forty. I was twenty-one when I first went out on the road as a pro. So, for almost half my life I’ve been playing straight-ahead jazz. But that’s not how my dad, who was my first teacher, raised me musically. Jazz was always a part of it, but he wanted me to play everything; classical, R&B, Hip-hop, ragtime, pop – but those things eventually faded away. Looking toward the second part of my life, I realized I need to bring those aspects back to life,” he summarized this album concept.

“This is just an album about love and feel-good music. At this point in my career, I just wanted to show that I can be versatile in many different styles. I plan to continue to grow and play all the wonderful music that has shaped me as a musician today.”

All this reviewer can say is, mission accomplished!
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Nick Finzer, trombone/composer; Lucas Pino, reeds; Alex Wintz, guitar; Glen Zaleski, piano; Dave Baron, bass; Jimmy MacBride, drums.

“Each of us responds and develops along our journey with the influence of the people we meet along our path. We follow, we depart, we react and we grow in myriad ways based on the experiences we encounter,” Nick Finzer explains his concept for this album of music.

“We laugh, we cry, we celebrate, we learn and we forge our own path on the shoulders of those who came before us. We are both the sum of our experience and the product of our influences. We are who we choose to embrace.”

Finzer is an improviser with a rich, emotional sound on his trombone. As a composer, producer and educator, Nick Finzer has been heralded by many as a supreme musical storyteller. On this CD, titled “Cast of Characters,” he uses his longtime band of A-list musicians to interpret these characters as he visualizes them in the compositions presented on this album. Some have labeled Finzer an Ellingtonian composer, because he arranges parts to suit the specific gifts of his players.

“I wanted to feature everyone doing things I know they’re really great at,” he explains.

A graduate of Eastman School of Music and Juilliard School, Nick Finzer has counted among his trombone mentors people like Steve Turre, J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Wycliffe Gordon. He’s currently the first Assistant Professor of Jazz Trombone at the University of North Texas, a landmark program in the history of jazz education. The music on this album is both versatile and beautiful. Certainly, he is an improviser and can easily slide into modern jazz with baby oil ease. You hear a wee bit of this on “A Sorcerer (Is A Myth)”, the first tune out. It’s a moderate tempo piece that begins with harmonized horns out front of a dominant piano played by Glenn Zaleski. Jimmy MacBride tap dances his sticks atop his busy trap drums. The percussion becomes the backbeat and the stage for the trombone to shine. Finzer’s solo is rich and engaging. Enter Lucas Pino on saxophone, bringing the power of his creativity to the forefront followed by Alex Wintz, whose guitar licks capture the spotlight. Beneath the arrangement rides a crescendo of power from the ensemble. “Evolution of Perspective,” and it’s one minute -thirty-eight second introduction, stretch even further out, balancing on the Avant Garde spectrum. Then the sextet settles into a strong, melody-forward, power paced tune that has bassist Dave Baron’s fingers racing faster than Usain Bolt sprinted to win Olympic Gold. These musicians let you know they are not playing with us. They are playing for us and are seriously prepared, gifted and tenacious in their presentation, both ensemble-wise and individually. I am intrigued by the “Patience” tune, so beautifully introduced by Zaleski’s extraordinary piano playing. This composition settles the listener down and changes the mood. Double time and straight-ahead melts caramel sweet into this lovely ballad. Where the “Brutus” composition was strong and imposing, this song of “Patience” gives bassist Baron an opportunity to solo in a noteworthy way.

As a generous entrepreneur, Nick Finzer has formed his ‘Outside in Music’ company inclusive of a media company and record label. Imposing resistance to the norm, he allows musicians to keep their own publishing rights and is a full-service production company that encourages incorporating visual elements, videos and/or social media promotion of the artists on his label. He embraces new and emerging technology, enjoys bandleading and leans towards elevating great talent. Not to mention, he is his own example of greatness on his trombone, as a composer, arranger, producer and all-round jazz artist. This entire album is a concert I enjoyed attending, from beginning to end.
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GERALD BECKETT – “MOOD” Pear Orchard Records

Gerald Beckett, flutes/composer; Ruben Salcido, alto & tenor saxophones; Larry Douglas & Noah Frank, trumpets; Ari Caprow, guitar; Steve McQuarry &Terry Rodriguez, piano; Carl Herder & Paul Federighi, bass; Greg German & Fred Johnson, drums; Vincent De Jesus, congas.

This album of fine flute-playing opens with a Gerald Beckett original composition entitled, “Down Low.” It is a song steeped in blues and gives Ruben Salcido an opportunity to spread his wings and let the alto saxophone notes fly. Bandleader Beckett is generous with the spotlight and features Carl Herder on a double bass solo, as well as Steve McQuarry on a spirited piano solo.

“Composing this song brought to mind the many juke joints, once owned by relatives and family friends.” Gerald Beckett muses. “In my youth, these were meeting places for old and young. This is where I got to hear live music played by some very fine local musicians who inspired me to want to emulate them.”

Track two celebrates legendary composer Kenny Baron’s tune, “Spirit Song” with Gerald Beckett’s flute leading the way. Beckett has been compared to Herbie Mann, but he holds his own and is a very compelling composer. On his composition, “Club Raven,” he recalls the memories that inspired this original song.

“The Raven was a nightclub from bygone days, in my hometown of Beaumont, Texas, and was part of the Chitlin’ circuit in the 1950s. Greats such as B.B. King, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Muddy Waters and many others performed there regularly. The now famous blues guitarist, Johnny Winter, (from Beaumont) used to sit-in and play with B. B. King when he was young. My father, in his early 20s, worked there part-time.”

Gerald Beckett covers some iconic composers during this production. He and his group play the music of Ron Carter, Harold Mabern, Wynton Marsalis and Cyrus Chestnut. They play hardcore bebop on Chestnut’s tune, “Minor Funk,” giving drummer Greg German an opportunity to showcase his ample chops. However, I found myself drawn to Beckett’s signature compositions that are both well-written and compelling.

“When I attended University of North Texas, ‘Shacktown’ was the name of a predominantly African-American neighborhood,” Beckett shared in his liner notes.

His composition by the same name displays the funkier side of Beckett’s arrangements.

Beckett’s final tune on this album is an ode to friends and relatives who lived 35 miles outside of Beaumont, Tx in a rural area of town near the railroad tracks. This sultry, bluesy composition recalls a character named Raymond Woods in its title and summer nights spent with his relatives. He explained:

“Ode to Ray Wood, represents a place where we, as a family, made frequent visits to my mother’s relatives. Located off Highway 90 …on a road about half a mile long, beyond the railroad tracks were homes of aunts, uncles and cousins. After dark, with no street lights, all you could see was stars and all you could hear was the deafening songs of frogs, crickets, and the occasional trains going by.”

During this arrangement, you hear the wail of a train whistle and you feel the hot, humid Texas night locked inside this bluesy melody.

“Mood” is an album that mirrors the many moods of this gifted musician and his crew. Gerald Beckett takes us on a tour of memories and music, guiding us along with his flute, as a sort of pied piper of jazz. Below he tributes some of the flute Hall of Famers.

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Mark Monts de Oca, piano; Tony Batista, bass; Andre Avelino, guitar; Jimmy Rivera, drums; Reinel Lopez, Brazilian Percussion; Ivan Belvis, percussion; Javier Oquendo, congas; Xavier Barreto, flute; Candido Reyes, guiro; Melvin Jones & Gordon Vernick, trumpets.

Opening with the famous “Seven Steps to heaven” composition, Calle Loiza’s Jazz Project bursts onto the scene spicy as Puerto Rican hot sauce and employing the bomba rhythms.

This is followed by a rhythmic arrangement of “Someday My prince Will Come” featuring solos by Mark Monts de Oca on piano and Tony Batista on bass. They cha-cha-cha this famed Disney song from the Cinderella movie and dress it with a totally fresh look. André Avelino is notable on guitar. Then the trumpet solo enters and Melvin Jones lifts the production with his jazzy improvisation. The fade of the song is infectious with multi percussion instruments and a choir of voices singing a hypnotic chant. Each of these standards is splashed with Latin rhythms, played by technically astute musicians and conjuring up high energy. “Stolen Moments” features an interplay with Xavier Baretto’s flying flute and Melvin Jones’ distinctive, muted trumpet. This ensemble surprises the listener with original and creative arrangements, like the bolero rendition of “Old Folks.” This album is stuffed with Brazilian percussive excitement and Latin rhythms that paint everything joyful and danceable.

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ELSA NILSSON – “HINDSIGHT” Bumblebee Collective

Elsa Nilsson, flutes/composer; Jeff McLaughlin, guitar; Alex Minier, bass; Cody Rahn, drums/cymbals.

Flautist, Elsa Nilsson describes this album project by saying, “Hindsight started as a reaction, November 9, 2016. I was home alone, feeling confused and betrayed after the election. My whole world had changed overnight and my faith in humanity was crushed. As I do in times of turmoil in my life, I turned to my instrument. I remember experiencing this pit in my soul, like we all F—‘d up and everything was about to go dark.”

As she watched a swell of people in the street chanting “We Reject the president elect!” Elsa began writing this album. She describes it as “…every ounce of fear, frustration, rage and hope” being poured onto the musical page.

“Music begins to communicate where traditional language ends,” she expressed. “There is democracy in improvised music. All voices are heard and are integral to the whole, even if one voice is leading the conversation. Each person leads that conversation, at some point or another,”Elsa Nilsson says in her liner notes.

Her record company is called Bumblebee Collective and she often sounds exactly like a swarm of bees when playing her flute. Nilsson has composed all the songs and the opening tune is titled, “Changed in Mid Air.” It was born out of the government imposed ‘Travel Ban’ and hopes to capture the unfolding events at airports after this executive order was put into place. The music shifts suddenly to depict the experience of believing everything is fine while on the flight and suddenly having that not to be true upon arrival.

“This song is meant both to extend an acknowledgement of humanity to anyone who has had to flee their homes and a rebellious statement against those who believe that a refugee’s humanity is somehow less than their own,” She asserted.

Her song “Enough is Enough” is 6-minutes and 20-seconds long. That’s the exact length of time that the gunman was active at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school. It develops its rhythm from chants Elsa heard after that horrific event; chants that came from protestors shouting “We Call BS” and “Enough is Enough.” Her song, “What Can I Do?” is an ode to the Black Lives Matter movement and a protest against institutionalized racism. Clearly, Elsa Nilsson’s entire album of music is a protest piece. It’s often Avant Garde, with telephone rings thrown in to snatch the attention and odd dissonance in the harmonic structure. These compositions are often disturbing. I found some relief in the ballad, “I Believe You.” However, even that one winds up pushing the edges of anger and reflecting feelings of frustration. McLaughlin’s guitar groove on the final song, “We Show Up” brought some small relief, with Nilsson’s sweet melody sung beautifully on her flute. I wish the drummer had been brush-sensitive.

All in all, this sounds more rock music than jazz. Although I support Elsa Nilsson’s activism and share her empathy for political bias and the victims of hate, mass incarceration, legalized slavery and racist ideologies, I find this music so angry it was difficult for me to listen to it. I know that love is stronger and greater than all the other evils of the world. We heal with love, we grow with love, we forgive with love, we become better when we give and receive love. I came away from this artistic experience longing for one composition of redemption, kindness and understanding.
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THE NEW ARTIST SERIES: Featuring Pianists, Joshua White, Sam Hirsh, & Mike Bond.

February 6, 2020

Also featuring CD reviews of Andrea Brachfeld and Robin McKelle

Written and Reviewed by Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

February 6, 2020


It’s a pleasure and an inspiration to see so many fresh faces on the jazz scene. Consequently, I’ve created this New Artist Series to introduce some of these exceptional musicians to you. Just because they are new to us doesn’t mean they haven’t been practicing, developing their skills and consistently performing at various venues around the globe. To paraphrase what Lizzo recently stated on the Grammy Awards show, I guess you have to be constantly performing and working for ten years to become an overnight sensation. Well, Joshua White is a young man who is on his way to becoming a jazz legend. This gifted pianist is a resident of San Diego,California. Born August 17, 1985, Joshua began formal piano training at the age of seven.

“When I was growing up, we had a piano in the house. I guess it was just my natural curiosity about the instrument that intrigued me. I had a love for music as well.”

His love for music led him to explore all the classical masters, to bask in the rich flavors of R&B, Hip Hop and to enjoy Top-40 Pop radio music. He also became the organist and pianist at his local church. By age eighteen, Joshua White found himself drawn to jazz. I asked this talented pianist, what made him move from classical to jazz?

“Well, I wouldn’t say there was a movement from one to the other, because I still listen to Brahms, Schumann, Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky and all of those other artists. I think it was just an expansion. Being introduced to new artists and composers expanded what I was already developing. I also grew up playing in church, which has helped inform me in a different tradition. So, I’m about expanding these traditions and learning as much musical history and as much about musical theory as I possibly can. I don’t feel I moved from one to the other. It was just the addition of more musical knowledge and tradition. Ultimately, it helps me to find what I want to say. All that knowledge provides you with more options in which to ask better, deeper and more profound questions,” Joshua White told me in a telephone interview.

Encouraged and supported by some world-renowned, master musicians like noted pianist Mike Wofford, flautist, Holly Hofmann, innovative bassist, Mark Dresser and composer Anthony Davis, Joshua White continued to grow and flourish. Once Joshua began to make himself known in the Southern California jazz community, he rubbed shoulders and shared stages with many virtuoso players like legendary reedmen, Daniel Jackson and Charles McPherson; bassists, Marshall Hawkins and Rodney Whitaker; drummers, Carl Allen and Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith and trumpeter, Gilbert Castellanos, to mention only a few.

In 2011, Joshua entered the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, performing in Washington, D.C. and he placed second out of 160 competitors. One of the judges was the iconic pianist, composer Herbie Hancock. Hancock told music critic George Varga:

“I was impressed by his (Joshua White’s) daring and courageous approach to improvisation on the cutting edge of innovation. He is his own man. I believe that Thelonious Monk would have been proud of the performance of this great, young artist.” It was a beautiful stamp of approval coming from the Grammy Award winning Hancock.

In 2017, Joshua White released his first recording as a bandleader. Titled, “Thirteen Short Stories” on the Fresh Town Record label out of Barcelona, Spain. It’s available on Amazon and all streaming platforms. It features his original compositions and introduces us to his uniquely, creative and sometimes Avant Garde style.

Below is an example of Joshua White playing solo. His technique fills the room with splashes of continuous sound, a pulsating pedal and a rush of piano mastery that spills, like a waterfall, and floods the room. (You are my Sunshine) at Vibrato

This coming Friday, February 7th Joshua White will perform at the Broad Stage, a 499-seat theater located at 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica, California. His trio includes bassist, Alex Boneham and drummer Tyler Kreutel. Joshua talked about the instrumentalists that he chooses to work with.

“What I look for in musicians is not necessarily a comfort level, but I look for something stimulating within them. What I mean by that, I don’t want to know what you’re going to do. I want someone who wants to be provocative, thought provoking and who has an interesting commentary. Someone who doesn’t look to be told what to do and who has a sort of critical esthetic in terms of how they interpret music. I don’t know if there’s any one thing that I’m looking to express, but I would say that instead of a literal type of expression, it’s more of a curiosity, a question. I ask myself, what are the possibilities of the composition? What are the possibilities in the sounds that I can get from the instrument? What are the possibilities from working in a collaborative environment? Where can we go? What are we constructing?” He elaborates. (At Hollywood concert)

I asked Joshua if he thinks about the lyrics of a song when he plays standards.

“I wouldn’t say that I think of the lyrics when I’m playing, but I would say that I have definitely been informed by the great vocalists from the improvised tradition. Even when I’m learning standards, I’m looking at the vocal versions of the song and listening to the lyrics, you know, from Abbey Lincoln to Betty Carter, to Billie Holiday, Blossom Dearie, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Carmen McCrae, or Carmen Lundy, Dianne Reeves, Nnenna Freelon; everybody,” Joshua lists a number of respected jazz vocalists.

“Also, by playing for the church choir, I learned all the vocal parts. I know how to create vocal arrangements. I’ve even written songs that we’ve played in church. I have a wide range of experience of working with many different kinds of songs and working with many different musicians and many different ensembles; working with different kinds of musicians, configurations and instrumentation. I’ve helped arrange on a small scale, but I would love to have the means and the time to write for a symphony orchestra. I would love to do that.”

You can experience the expansive breadth and width of Joshua White’s ‘live’ trio performance this Friday night in Santa Monica, California at The Broad Stage. The show starts at 8PM.

(Bye Bye Blackbird at Palm Springs concert)
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MIKE BOND – “THE HONORABLE ONES” Bounce Castle Records

Mike Bond, piano/composer/arranger; Ben Wolfe, bass; Anwar Marshall, drums; Josh Evans, trumpet; Steve Wilson, alto & soprano saxophones; SPECIAL GUESTS: Gene Shinozaki, beatbox vocals; Claudia Acuna & Maya Holliday, vocals.

Titled, “Chapter 1: On Your Mark …” the first track is Avant Garde and smashes onto the scene for one minute and fifty-one seconds featuring free, unbridled music. Mike Bond credits his friend and fellow pianist, Orrin Evans, for encouraging him to take off his seatbelt and be willing to put himself out there, no matter what happens; to step into the fire and do what he needed to do in order to grow. Orrin Evans is also the artistic producer of this Mike Bond album.

This track is followed by “Verus Vita” that settles this group down in a sweet way. Bond sets up a piano bass line, in unison with Ben Wolfe. Then the horns enter, with harmonic power, and the melody pours from the bell of Josh Evans’ trumpet, warm with emotion. Both songs are compositions by pianist, Mike Bond, who also arranged ten of the dozen songs he offers us on this album.

“It’s a Long Way Back” is straight-ahead jazz and arranged to feature Steve Wilson on saxophone with Ben Wolfe walking his bass decisively beneath the solos of both Wilson’s sax and Bond’s piano. Anwar Marshall steps up masterfully on trap drums to drive the piece and fiercely trade fours with the band. “The More I See You,” is a familiar standard song, presented (as a ballad) in a rather unusual way and featuring Evans on trumpet and Claudia Acuna singing in a very alto register. She soon explodes into her second soprano upper range. Mike Bond does not take a solo and I would have enjoyed hearing his solo piano somewhere in this arrangement. The title tune, “The Honorable Ones,” is moderate tempo’d. With Bond’s description below, I thought it would have been more exciting and flush with energy. It’s more of a march and utilizes Gene Shinozaki on beatbox vocals, that becomes an undertow for a very repetitious melodic line and arrangement.

“The title track represents an analogy of leaving your comfort zone and entering into the battle zone, to grow and learn from uncomfortable places – to take risks,” Mike Bond explains in his liner notes.

“Time Well Spent” (the 11th track) is one of the more up-tempo pieces that gives us a clearer glimpse into Bond’s piano style and technique. This composition plays with timing and spotlights Mike Bond in a trio setting, without the horns to take his shine away.
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Doxie Records

Robin McKelle, vocals; Shedrick Mitchell, piano/Rhodes/organ/arranger; Richie Goods, acoustic & electric bass; Charles Haynes, drums/percussion; Nir Felder, guitar; Keith Loftis, tenor saxophone; Marquis Hill, trumpet.

Robin McKelle has picked an eclectic group of celebrated ladies-of-song to tribute on this album, starting with the Amy Winehouse hit record, “Back to Black.” I am intrigued immediately, not only by McKelle’s unique tone and quality of voice, but equally by the creative arrangements of Shedrick Mitchell. When Robin McKelle sings Adele’s platinum record, “Rolling In The Deep,” her group adds their own special uniqueness. I am captivated by McKelle’s way of emotionally rendering these poignant lyrics. Nir Felder’s guitar solo is beautiful. The third track on this stunning album of music was composed by Robin McKelle. She is as talented a songwriter as she is a vocalist. This tune is straight-ahead jazz and intoxicating. Robin McKelle tributes the strength of women with these lyrics and celebrates the power of song and singers. Tenor saxophonist Keith Loftis makes a magnificent solo appearance and her rhythm section swings hard and steady. She is a vocalist that displays style, power and strength. Her delivery is believable. Shedrick Mitchell’s piano line introduces “Don’t Explain” in a fresh way. I think Billie Holiday would have loved and appreciated his arrangement. McKelle adds the traditional folk song, Hush Little Baby into her unusual but lovely delivery of this old jazz standard.

She continues to surprise me with her musicality and creative delivery of songs we know and love.

“Born To Die” features Marquis hill on trumpet and then she sings Dolly Parton’s tune “Jolene” in a very bluesy, yet jazzy way. Ms. McKelle has a way of taking a folk song, an R&B song, or a country/western song and transforming them into jazz using her vocal presentation and her very one-of-kind arrangements. For example, “No Ordinary Love,” made so popular by Sadé, is transformed and taken to another level. The same is true for Joni Mitchell’s “River” composition and for Janis Jopin’s rock and roll standard, “Mercedes Benz.” Even Carole King’s treasured “You’ve Got A Friend” tune sounds refreshed and elevated with just Shedrick Mitchell accompanying Robin on piano. Robin McKelle reinvents each song to suit herself and to open our ears and minds to new dimensions and new appreciations of some old, familiar songs. On this production, she has successfully reconstructed and musically elevated some familiar compositions recorded by some of our favorite, female artists.
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Andrea Brachfeld, C flute/alto flute; Bill O’Connell, piano/fender Rhodes; Harvie S., bass; Jason Tiemann, drums; Roni Ben-hur, guitar; Lincoln Goines, elec. bass/surdo; T. Portinho, drums/percussion; Chembo Corniel, percussion/congas.

Andrea Brachfeld is pictured smiling on her CD cover, with her head thrown back, the ocean waves and a tempered blue sky are the backdrop and she’s holding her flute delicately in her left hand. The first track of this album of Brazilian music sounds as happy and relaxed as this picturesque CD cover. It’s a Jobim composition entitled, “Double Rainbow” and it’s new to my ears.

“My main concept was choosing songs that I love and that just felt right to me,” explains Andrea Brachfeld in her liner notes. “Basically, I listened to a lot of Jobim songs and the ones that I really liked are the ones that we recorded. I did a Brazilian-themed concert in Winnipeg, Canada with guitarist Marcus Castillo and the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. He brought out “Double Rainbow” and it was really beautiful.”

Although Andrea Brachfeld is no newcomer to recording, this is her first project dedicated to the music of Brazil. Ms. Brachfeld has chosen six Jobim compositions to interpret on her “Brazilian Whispers” CD. She and pianist, Bill O’Connell have produced this album. O’Connell puts the “J” in jazz whenever he solos on piano and the tight rhythm section swings hard. Her flute dances above the walking bass of Harvie S. and the swinging drums of Jason Tiemann as they interpret “Waters of March.” It’s a great arrangement.

However, for the most part this is a pretty tame rendition of Brazilian music. It’s much more easy listening than the exciting and danceable Latin rhythms I expected. The “Samba Medley” is more representative of the rich African influenced, Latin culture and Portuguese music that we Americans have come to love. Her medley incorporates three tunes; “Piano Na Mangueira,” blended with “Olele Olala” and “O Nosso Amor” with the band adding splashes of percussion to the mix.

Andrea Brachfeld picks up her alto flute to interpret the beautiful ballad, “Never Let Me Go.” This is followed by two, out of three songs that She and Bill O’Connell have composed for this album. Of the three, my favorite is “Espaco Aberto” that closes this album out.
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Sam Hirsh, piano; John Webber, bass; Kevin Kanner, drums; Ralph Moore, tenor saxophone.

Sam Hirsh is a groove master. He opens with his original tune, “Quite Frankly” and it swings hard and strong. His style on the piano brings to mind a combination of the iconic Horace Silver and the legendary Les McCann. Sam Hirsh knows how to find that groove and place it cement solid in your face. He has composed all of the songs on this album except the Jerome Kern tune, “Look For the Silver Lining.” His arrangement on this Kern composition is quite fresh and pleasing to the ears. You are immediately captivated by the double bass line at the top of the tune. John Webber gives the song a face-lift with this catchy bass line. “Pop’s Delight” is the straight-ahead jazz that this reviewer loves. It features Ralph Moore on tenor saxophone, John Webber on bass and Kevin Kanner on drums. This quartet of awesome musicians makes this tune truly swing. Hirsh has got his own style and keyboard charisma that dances off the 88 keys and tells us he is well-rooted in the bebop chops of yesteryear. Still, he brings something fresh and innovative with his piano style and creative arrangements. Kanner takes a spontaneous solo, trading eights on his trap drum set. The tune, “Lil’ Mama Samba,” dances onto the scene in a contemporary jazz way. It’s a bit fast to samba dance, but this rhythm will get your feet to moving and the players lay down a platform for Sam Hirsh to exhibit more of his piano skills. Especially when the tempo doubles and you hear his precision playing rip through the black and white keys. His trio is tenacious and each man is a stellar talent in their own right. This is a dynamic premiere debut by bandleader, Sam Hirsh. “Reminiscing” is a heartfelt ballad that is played with so much passion it pulls at the heartstrings. Sam Hirsh digs deeply into his soul to play music that reflects his friends, family and roots. “No C” (with an exclamation point) is played at an up-tempo that’s bound to get the creative juices flowing. It’s a good set closer with its high energy and repetitive melodic line. “Kyoto Shuffle” is a tribute to where he was born and shines the spotlight on his Japanese roots in a joyful way. This is followed by the composition, “Ways of the Wise.” It could be a tribute to his father or some other wise folks who have passed through his life. Either way, the melody is powerful and sticks to your brain cells like super glue. It’s another moving tribute to the driving jazz of the 1960s. The final song on this album is titled, “Song for Sophie” and it’s a tender ballad, celebrated by the reed work of Ralph Moore on tenor sax and beautifully embellished by Sam Hirsh on piano, still dynamic in the background on this track. Here is a confident and creative debut by a talented, young pianist on the West Coast Jazz Scene who is showing his prowess as a composer, pianist and arranger. We can expect more great things to come from Sam Hirsh. Keep an ear out.
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January 30, 2020


By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 30, 2020


The evening’s moderator steps onstage. He tells us that three years ago the Soraya, a magnificent Center for the Performing Arts, started a jazz club on its premise. Located in “the Valley” of Los Angeles, at 18111 Nordhoff Street in Northridge, California, on the campus of California State University Northridge (CSUN. This huge theatrical facility simulated a smaller area inside the building that features an evening of intimate jazz. It’s my first time visiting this architecturally beautiful, all glass, building. This is the ninth year of the award-winning Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center. Where have I been? The 1,700-seat theater was designed by HGA Architects and Engineers. It was recently cited by the Los Angeles Times as “a growing hub for live music, dance, drama and other cultural events.” Tonight,the small room they’ve created seats about 250 people. Several patrons swarm around the wine-tasting table and there’s a full bar available just outside the jazz room. There is table seating upfront and theater seating in the rear. My friend Dwan and I find a spot close to the stage.

The evening’s featured artist is Luciana Souza. She is a Brazilian vocalist with Sao Paulo roots. She took the stage with two other musicians who she introduced. Ms. Souza told us she met Scott Colley (bassist) in New York and fell in love with his playing. “He is an architect of our music,” she gushed. Next, she introduced Chico Pinheiro, a guitarist also from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Luciana and Chico met at Berklee College of music and Souza told us he is a great storyteller on his instrument and a very popular instrumentalist in Brazil. She went on to say that poetry deepens our humanness. “It’s always fertile ground,” Luciana asserted. That’s why she adopted some of the poetry of Leonard Cohn and set his prose to music. She spoke the words of Cohn over the silence in the packed auditorium. Then, her two-man band began to play. First Scott Colley’s bass set the tempo. Ms. Souza, standing before a snare drum and a single cymbal began gently stroking the cymbal with her brushes. She tilted her head back and began to sing. Enter Chico Pinheiro on guitar. Our concert has begun.

The second tune was more energetic with tempo changes from hot, Latin rhythms reduced fluidly to a sultry ballad. Souza plays her percussion instruments effortlessly, tossing the Portuguese language into the mix on the fade of this song. Her vocal notes fall like shiny pebbles onto a rushing musical stream. At the conclusion of this song, the applause is generous, as she tunes her tambourine in preparation for their third song. Scott opens with a deep, bass solo introduction, setting the mood and tempo. It’s a happy tune that makes me want to dance. I wish Ms. Souza had told us the titles of the songs they played. She mentioned a few along the way, but not many.

“Being from Brazil means a wealth of music we get to drink,” she spoke to the attentive audience. Speaking of drinks, we sat there sipping our wine, enjoying the music with beverages sponsored by WINC, an online wine distributor. Luciana Souza told us one composer she loves is Milton Nascimento. She explained, he was born in a hilly state inside Brazil, lush with mountains and she tells us his music is open and elevated like his countryside. On this tune, she features the poetry of Charles Simic, a Serbian/American poet and former co-poetry editor of the Paris Review.

Continuing,Scott pulls out his bow and the bass trembles in a beautiful way. There are no words on this tune. Souza scats her way atop the music, making warm sounds like tropical bird calls and mountain winds. She is consistently singing and playing percussion, which is impressive. However, I do wish her percussion had been more dynamic, instead of just the whisper of rhythm. It was teasingly pleasing. A few bursts of percussion to vibrantly support these amazing musicians would have escalated her production and elevated her percussive playing. Her voice, however, is a lovely instrument and one of the songs she sang was very much a ‘saudade’ ballad that hauntingly floats across Chico’s beautiful guitar background. It’s almost a blues. On this song, the improvisation between guitar and bass is palpable and excites everyone at my table. Luciana Souza sings long, legato lines, holding the final notes of her phrasing tenderly, as though they are her babies. She swings on the end of this tune and scats. On this song, I finally hear some energy in her percussive playing.

Luciana Souza adds a small taste of activism to her program on her second set. She tells us, “we are living in strange times. I couldn’t vote in Brazil for a while when the military took over. So, I have seen some things,” she shared and then sang:

“These are the roads we travel. I don’t know how to get back to you. … These are the wars we fight. These are the tears we shed. … I don’t know how to get back to you.”

Scott Colley, during his bass solo, is brilliant and her voice is like a soft blanket that gently covers his booming bass sound. His instrument bleeds through, accenting the lyrical content.

“These are the duties of the heart. These are the books we read. These are the roads less travelled. I don’t know how to get back to you,” she sings, floating on a second-soprano cloud across a misty, emotional stage.

I long for a program insert,in the main Performing Arts Booklet,that listed tune titles. I enjoyed her patter between songs, describing her beloved Brazil and sharing spoken word or stories about the poets,but I wish she had told us the titles of her repertoire as she celebrated “The Book of Longing” (her latest CD release) that tributes poets like Leonard Cohen, Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Christina Rossetti with original music.

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Album REF:Now Playing; Erroll Garner; A Night at the Movies; Dreamstreet; Close Up in Swing; One World Concert; Campus Concert; and A New Kind of Love.

I was overwhelmed to receive six classic albums of music by the iconic pianist and composer, Erroll Garner. He is a pianist I grew up listening to and greatly admire. These are the first six released out of a dozen CDs recently re-mastered. They are released on the Mack Avenue Record label. The first one I listened to was lush with strings and a full horn section. It was created from themes Mr. Garner composed for the Paramount film, “A New Kind of Love.” It was Garner’s first and only film score. Leith Stevens conducts the 65-piece orchestra. Erroll Garner expanded on this film score to create this album, “A New Kind of Love.” Some of my favorite songs were “You Brought A New Kind of Love to Me” that opens this album and a beautiful arrangement of his popular “Louise” composition.

Another of Erroll Garner’s CD releases is “One World Concert.” Originally, it was Mr. Garner’s second concert album after his magnificent success with one of my favorite Erroll Garner albums, “Concert by the Sea.” It’s a trio effort with Eddie Calhoun on bass and Kelly Martin on drums. Right away you are drawn to the pounding rhythm in Garner’s left hand, while his right hand masterfully improvises.It sounds like two people are playing the piano instead of one. He was a flamboyant genius. On this album, Mr. Garner covers ten standards we all love including, “The Way You Look Tonight,” a sweet rendition of “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe” and a surprisingly classical introduction for “Mack the Knife” that pleases his ‘live’ and enthusiastic audience. This is a gem! It captures the spirit and brilliant style of Erroll Garner in the early days of his popularity. Over the span of a 40-year career, Erroll Garner published more than 200 compositions. His famed “Misty” is ranked by ASCAP as the twelfth most popular song of the 20th century. Since 1954, no other song has been recorded by more jazz artists except Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll.” “Misty” is a part of this CD production.

On the “Campus Concert” CD he performs the Hoagy Charmichael standard, “Stardust” in a unique and stellar way, making it sparkle and shine like the stars themselves. He adds new voicings to the chord changes and as always, his left hand performs in amazing ways to lay-down the basement for his right hand to build upon. As a pianist myself, I recognize the strength he had in his hands to play in this amazing way and it leaves me awestruck. The audience agrees, with applause that shatters the silence when he pauses in between songs. Also, there is that distinctive little moan he throws into the mix every now and then to remind you that it’s Erroll Garner at the piano.

“CloseUp in Swing” is another Erroll Garner trio production and does not disappoint. It gifts us with ten recognizable standards and the eleventh song is a Garner original titled, “Octave 103.” Next, I popped “Dreamstreet” into my CD player. One of the things I love about the music of Erroll Garner is the innovative way he introduces tunes. You never can be certain what is coming up next. He has an astute ear for arranging and you hear it clearly in his music. This album was originally released in 1959 and sat ‘on the shelf’ and unreleased during a time Garner was fighting for control of his catalog. It was finally marketed in 1961 and features one original composition titled, “By Chance” and nine other songs with an Oklahoma Medley that blends Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ with People Will Say We’re in Love and Surrey With the Fringe on Top in a most unique way.

Finally, “A Night at the Movies” features Erroll playing some of his favorite movie tunes and adding one original composition called, “You and Me.” As usual, he features an extended introduction on solo piano before breaking into a moderate tempo’d melodic composition propelled by his left-handed, rhythmic chords. Listening to Erroll Garner again, after so many years, is pure pleasure.

Garner and his manager, Martha Glaser, founded Octave Records. The12 releases currently being released make up the Octave Remastered Series and is being distributed by Mack Ave Records.
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JOHN VANORE – PRIMARY COLORS Acoustical Concepts, Inc.

John Vanore, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ron Thomas, piano/Fender Rhodes/Yamaha DX-7; Terry Hoffman,recording engineer/Olari MX-70/Sony F-1/Studer 810 2 track/mixing.

John Vanore on trumpet and Ron Thomas on piano and keyboards combine their talents for a lush, full sound. In the duet setting, their music is completely spontaneous. The concept was to pick a tune and record it with only one take. A few times they overdubbed some DX7 programming or cymbals. They also experimented with layering instrumentation on Lionel Richie’s famous “Lady” tune and on “Vanore’s original composition, “Origins of Rude.” But even then, they enhance the music with one-take only.

Surprisingly, the original recordings of these songs took place in 1984 and 1985 on cassette tapes. These tracks were discovered in 2019, with many unusable cassette tapes discarded because of shredding during the passing of time. However, these seven tracks were saved and are more than worthy of introspection and offer an hours-worth of a unique listening experience. Fortunately, they offer amazing clarity and creativity. Ron Thomas (at the time of these recordings) was a pioneer of sorts with the use of the Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer. He was a visionary player that Vanore had gigged with around town over 30-years ago. Their camaraderie and closeness are obvious on this recording. From the liner notes, I learned that the setting was a rehearsal room at Widener University. That was Vanore’s alma mater. He would later make a career there as an educator. Gradually, he outfitted the rehearsal room with recording equipment and with Terry Hoffman’s assistance as their producer and go-to-engineer, they created these beautiful interpretations of familiar songs like “Yesterdays”, Johnny Mandel’s “A Time for Love” along with the ever popular “Secret Love.” Pianist, Ron Thomas penned the opening tune, “Final Down” and Vanore offers two original songs. I found his composition titled, “Return” to be a wistful and melodically beautiful ballad. This is a jazz duet that is a testimony to both technical mastery and the intimacy that musical friendship affirms. The duo’s improvisational empathy was captured on 2-track, transferred to cassettes and ultimately has become this awesome compact disc.
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RHYTHM SECTION:Kyle Roussel & Ryan Hanseler,piano; David Pulphus, bass; Joseph Dyson, Jr., drums/percussion; Alexey Marti, congas/percussion; Raymond Weber, Jr., & Willie Green, drums; Detroit Brooks, guitar; TRUMPETS: Scott frock, Andrew Baham, Dr. Brice Miller, John Gray & Michael Christie; SAXOPHONES: Khari Allen Lee, alto/soprano; Roderick Paulin, tenor soprano; Amari Ansari, alto; Scott Johnson, tenor/alto; Roger Lewis, baritone; Gregory Agid,clarinet; Trevarri Huff-Boone,tenor/baritone; TROMBONES:Terrance Taplin, Delfeayo Marsalis, Christopher Butcher & T.J. Norris; VOCALS: Tonya Boyd-Cannon, Karen Livers, Dr. Brice Miller & UJO.

A strong vocalization by Tonya Boyd-Cannon, scats its way into my room, singing a horn line and soon joined by the horn section. She sings the title tune, promising us “We’re gonna have a jazz party and have some fun. So, if you’re feeling bad, come on and party til the blues is gone.” This sets the happy, celebratory tone of this Delfeayo Marsalis production.

Acclaimed trombonist, producer and composer, Delfeayo Marsalis, has spent most Wednesday nights leading his dynamic Uptown Jazz Orchestra for the past ten years. In residency at Snug Harbor in New Orleans, this recording marks his seventh release as a bandleader and features several of his original compositions. He has also arranged six out of the eleven songs featured on this album. The horns swing sumptuously and the tracks give you a sense of excitement. It makes you want to join the party.

“Jazz, the indigenous American music, is a music of celebration and optimism,” Delfeayo Marsalis shares.“The Uptown Jazz Orchestra is such a fun band that I wanted to capture its uniqueness. The idea was to keep the wide variety of styles that we play but to really capture the joy that is a central trademark of the band.”

The joy is definitely captured throughout this celebration featuring great musicians and wonderful compositions. On “Seventh Ward Boogaloo” tenor saxophonist Roderick Paulin represents the great New Orleans saxophone tradition with his soulful solo and Kyle Roussel is stellar on piano. For a brief moment, this tune sounds a whole lot like ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands.’ Then it takes off on its own melodic path. I love the way Marsalis incorporates modern jazz into the mix of his arrangements. You can hear it brightly color the orchestra when they play “Raid on the Mingus House Party.” That arrangement was so good, I had to play that track twice before I could continue listening to this album of brilliant, celebratory jazz. It was a good one! “Mboya’s Midnight Cocktail” brings the blues to the forefront and adds spoken word by Karen Livers to the mix. It is meant to create a common barroom scenario and it does.

Delfeayo Marsalis and his Uptown jazz Orchestra wraps the legacy of Jelly Roll Morton, Lee Dorsey, Sidney Bechet, Allen Toussaint and Louis Armstrong into an unraveling ball of musical yarn that weaves itself into a shawl of beauty we can proudly wear and say, “Made in America.”
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Mack Ave Records

Aaron Diehl, piano; Paul Sikivie, double bass; Gregory Hutchinson, drums.

The first thing that captures my attention, as I review this trio, is the beautiful yet Simplistic way Aaron Diehl forms musical phrases and melodies. His style is quite unique,using arpeggios and music box treble notes that dance and flutter into the universe. The first original composition by Aaron Diehl is titled, “Polaris” and sets the high bar for what is to come. I note that occasionally the pianist repeats musical phrases to emphatically make his point and perhaps to embellish his style. This technique produces effulgent results. His fingers dance over the keys expressing celerity. There are moments drenched in classical European style, but that quickly turns into improvisation, both creative and fluid. Aaron Diehl has composed seven of the eleven songs and he has arranged everything on this album.

Amply supported by Paul Sikivie on bass and with Gregory Hutchinson manning the drums, this is an enjoyable adventure into the mind and mastery of Aaron Diehl. In 2002, Diehl was awarded “Outstanding Soloist” during the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Essentially Ellington Competition and invited to tour Europe with the Wynton Marsalis Septet. More recently, he’s served as the long-time musical director for Grammy Award winning vocalist,Cecile McLorin Salvant.
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Rhythm Section: Henrik Gunde, piano; Per Gade, guitar; Kasper Vadsholt, bass; Soren Frost, drums; Trumpets: Dave Vreuls, Bjarke Nikolajsen, Thomas Kjergaard, Mads La Cour, Gerard Presencer & Lars Vissing; Saxophones: Peter Fugolsang, Nicolai Schultz, Hans Ulrik, Anders Banke, Frederick Menzies, Anders Gaardmand &Jan Harbeck. Trombones: Peter Dahlgren, Vincent Nilsson, Kevin Christenson, Annette Saxe & Jakob Munck. Guest Musicians:Rune Harder Olesen & Luis Conte, percussion; Background vocals: Sille Gronbert, Birgitte Soojin, Ninna Milner Juel, Maja Hanghoj, & Alice Carren.

Here is the kind of jazz voice that snatches your attention from the very first note to the last. Her plush, tonal quality and ability to ‘swing’ endears Sinne Eeg to this reviewer. Not to mention, she is an excellent composer. The first song, co-written with American lyricists Mark Winkler and S. Nyman, is stunningly apropos to begin this album of fine music. It swings hard and also lets the orchestra show off the stellar talents of their all-star players. Tenor saxophonist Hans Ulrik plays a head-turning solo and Peter Jensen’s arrangement is exciting and beautiful. I had to play this one twice before continuing on to another Eeg original composition.

“Like A Song” is arranged as a waltz. Sinne Eeg has written both music and poignant lyrics. Henrik Gunde’s piano solo is well played and succinct. Her third track is also an original composition, a ballad called, “Those Ordinary Things.” The starting line reminds me just a tiny bit of Janis Ian’s writing style.

“I co-wrote the lyrics to that with a Danish colleague, Helle Hansen. I started writing the song about how we, in general, tend to miss the little details in everyday life and how we often don’t understand the importance of things until they’ve gone. As I wrote the lyric, I decided to turn it into a love story,” the songwriter explained.

The other original song on this ten-song production is “Samba Em Comum,” a tune this vocalist co-wrote and she sings in both English and Portuguese.

“I’ve been listening to so much Brazilian music. You can probably hear that in some of my own compositions. My husband has lived and worked in Brazil and he shares this passion for Brazilian music with me. He speaks the language and helps me with the pronunciation,”Eeg shares in her liner notes.

On “Come Love” Sinne Eeg shows she can put authentic blues tones into her jazz story, additionally scatting with ease and precision.

Scheduled for a February 21st release, here is a vocalist, a linguist, and a composer who has joined forces with the amazing Danish Radio Big Band and producer, Andre Fischer, to present an exciting array of original music, standard songs and big-band-beauty. Conducted by Nikolai Bogelund with arrangements by Jesper Riis, Peter Jensen and the late Roger Neumann, Sinne Eeg’s voice floats above the lovely music like an ivory lily pad on a Claude Monet painting. Like those classic artworks, she is one of a kind.
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January 10, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil
JANUARY 10, 2020

Program director and jazz pianist, Billy Mitchell, has announced the 2020 WINTER SESSION begins Tuesday, Jan 14th 2020 for the WATTS-WILLOWBROOK CONSERVATORY & YOUTH SYMPHONY. Applications are now available on-line at: Ages 6 – 18 years old are welcome. Sign your child up now.


RHYTHM SECTION: Andy Nevala, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B-3 organ; Matt Casey, electric slide guitar; Tom Wolfe, electric guitar; David Ray, Chris Kozak & Abe Becker, acoustic/elec. bass; Mark Lanter, drums; Dave Crenshaw, percussion. SAXOPHONES: Dick Aven, tenor & soprano saxophones; Jimmy Bowland, alto saxophone; Steve Collins, baritone saxophone; Mace Hibbard & Kelley O’Neal, alto saxophones. Nathan McLeod, tenor saxophone. TRUMPETS: Rob Alley, Mart Avant, Barney Floyd & Chris Gordon, trumpet/flugelhorn. TROMBONES: Billy Bargetzi, Chad Fisher & Bill Huber, trombone; Brandon Slocumb, bass trombone.

This recording sounds like a bright, boisterous party. From Andy Nevala’s jazzy piano introduction, to the first slide guitar magic of Matt Casey, to the brilliant vocal stylings of Marc Broussard; I am enchanted by the premier tune, “Statesboro Blues.” To my surprise and satisfaction, this Big Band of Brothers has taken on a project of paying tribute to the legendary Allman Brothers. They’ve wrapped the blues inside the arms of jazz, with the crush of rock music evident in their soulful, appreciative hug. Their 2nd track features the talented Wycliffe Gordon on soprano trombone and the third track features Ruthie Foster singing the gospel-influenced, blues tune, “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” with the prevalent Hammond B-3 organ played by Nevala. Dick Aven showcases a soulful, saxophone solo and the Big Band of Brothers shines on this tune with their powerful horn arrangements. Mark Lanter, on trap drums, is a strong force throughout, with adequate assistance from percussionist, Dave Crenshaw. On “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” they blend a Latin arrangement with smooth jazz quite nicely. of+brothers+-+a+jazz+celebration+of+the+allman+brothers+band

The Big Band of Brothers has released their album in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the premier recording by the Allman Brothers Band, whose album hit the streets back on November 4, 1969. Fifty years ago, it was celebrated as a Southern Rock recording. Gregg Allman and his brother Duane (along with their band members) travelled from Macon, Georgia to New York and cut their first classic, authentic southern rock and roll album. Many of the songs on the Big Band of Brothers CD are pulled from that first album including, Dreams, Whipping Post, It’s Not My Cross to Bear and Don’t Want You No More.

During an early interview, with journalist Bob Beatty, the original Allman Brothers Band admitted their love of jazz and how their drummer, “Jaimoe” (Jai Johnny Johanson) introduced them to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, saying “Kind of Blue” was always spinning on their turntable. They also loved Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things.”

Those familiar with the Allman Brothers music would have to agree it is richly inspired by the blues and gospel of the African American community. The Big Band of Brothers manages to generously mix that blues and gospel rooted music, along with strong rock and roll sensibilities, into a musical stew pot of improvisational jazz and groove. This is a party waiting to be played.
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Matt Herskowitz, solo piano/composer.

One of the most difficult things a musician can do is to produce a completely solo album. It takes courage, creativity, and mastery to stand alone on the performance stage and offer your solo talent to the world. As I listen, it is immediately obvious that this pianist is steeped in classical music and technique. However, there is also a blues curve in some of his presentations and a strong need to improvise, which is the mark of a true jazz musician.

Based in Montreal, Canada, Matt Herskowitz has composed and arranged everything you will hear on this album, except the beautiful standard, “My One and Only Love.” That song closes this album out. On his third track, I hear subtle shades of “Body and Soul,” inside the strains of his pretty ballad titled, “Song for Katya.” The title tune, “Mirror Image” is more energetic, as his fingers briskly dance across the 88-keys. It allows his piano technique to shine brightly, including the fade of the song when he adds unexpected percussion with his fingers. “Reve Cinematique” is the seventh track and features a magnificent melody. Interestingly, his poignant tune called, “The Last Hope” incorporates gospel and blues onto his classical canvas.

His liner notes probably express, in Herskowitz’s own words, the reason and inspiration for recording this work of musical art.

“For my second solo album with Justin Time, I wanted to explore what’s become an increasingly prominent theme in my playing and composition: the reconciliation of my jazz and classical sides. I’ve been blending elements of both for a few years now. But one always seemed to favor the other. And, after two albums of Bach arrangements, a Chopin project with my jazz trio and a few other hybrid outings, I wanted to explore this fusion as it relates to my own music as well as through classical compositions. But this time, just me and the piano; pure and simple.”

Amidst the tinkling arpeggios of his piano technique and the often-challenging composer melodies he has created, there is a haunting tenderness to the music of Matt Herskowitz. You can also hear his love of classical composers like Robert Schumann and J.S. Bach. When he fuses the two art forms together, European classical music and America jazz, he brings something fresh and whimsical to the ear.
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JOHN BAILEY – “CAN YOU IMAGINE?” Freedom Road Records

John Bailey, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Stacy Dillard, tenor/soprano saxophones; Stafford Hunter,trombone; Edsel Gomez,piano; Mike Karn, bass; Victor Lewis,drums/cymbals/percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: Janet Axelrod,flute/alto flute/bass flute; Earl McIntyre, bass trombone/tuba.

The opening tune is called “Pebbles in the Pocket” and it’s a John Bailey original. According to the composer/trumpeter, this composition represents the pebbles of wisdom that we each carry around with us, and it’s an ardent tribute to loved ones, mentors or anyone who has come before us and shared important knowledge. It gives each horn player ample time to step forward and solo. As for the title of this album, John Bailey describes it in this way:

“Can You Imagine is an open question,” Bailey says. “Here we are in 2019 and there’s a lack of compassion and basic decency in our leadership and in our culture. I’m just asking, where would our culture be today if someone like Dizzy Gillespie had actually occupied the White House in 1965.”

Bailey is talking about a time when Dizzy Gillespie announced his candidacy for President of the United States in 1964. Of course, the iconic jazz trumpeter was probably being satirical, proudly naming members of his cabinet as being Duke Ellington as Secretary of State, Louis Armstrong as Secretary of Agriculture and Miles Davis as CIA Director. I recall 1964 as being one of the most heated and revolutionary periods of the Civil Rights movement. Unfortunately, we still wrestle with many of the same challenges and conflicts today that plagued us then. Looking at our political situation in 2020, perhaps it wouldn’t have been such a terrible idea to let jazz musicians attempt to run our country. Bailey is offering this album title as a rhetorical question in response to the fact that, as of the beginning of this new decade, too many of us seem not to have learned the lessons of empathy and human decency offered graciously and continuously by our country’s artistic giants. If artists inspire peace, love and empathy, maybe we should reconsider taking music and art out of our public education systems.

Consequently, the centerpiece of Bailey’s album is his three-part, twelve-minute “President Gillespie Suite.” It traces the candidate from when Gillespie promised to rechristen the ‘White House’ into the ‘Blues House.’ Earl McIntyre’s bass trombone is featured with his classic plunger solo style over the theme. Bailey’s trumpet sets the tone and sings the pretty melody. In the suite’s second movement, Bailey incorporates a whisper of ‘Salt Peanuts’ and Stevie Wonder’s “Do Yourself a Favor” tune. Stevie’s lyrics read, “Do yourself a favor, educate your mind.” This entire album seems to encourage this theme of education and elevation. The great drummer, Victor Lewis, has contributed a couple of original songs on this project including, “The Touch of her Vibe” and “From the Heart.”

It seems John Bailey has a love affair with John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie; both his music and his politics. This is John Bailey’s second album as a leader and it reflects his desire to advance social justice in America and beyond. After decades of being one of the most in-demand trumpeters in jazz, John Bailey first stepped out-front in 2018 with his critically acclaimed recording,‘In Real Time.’ On this second project release, he has rallied a group of all-star musicians including saxophonist Stacy Dillard, pianist Edsel Gomez, bass man, Mike Karn and trombonist, Stafford Hunter. The only female in his ensemble, flautist, Janet Axelrod, adds beauty and feminine softness on Stacy Dillard’s composition, “Elite State of Mind,” and Stacy Dillard sparkles on his saxophone solo. Axelrod’s flute mastery is also featured on “Valsa Rancho.”

This is an album of fine music, with a deep political consciousness and a prayer that music can inspire positive growth and change in a troubled world. It celebrates the influence of Dizzy Gillespie, who always represented brotherhood and world peace. It closes with the popular song, “People” (people who need people are the luckiest people in the world) poignantly sung by John Bailey’s trumpet, beautifully accompanied by pianist Edsel Gomez. Their duet is classic! If music were a magic wand, I would wave this album generously over the entire universe.
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Dillon Vado,drums; Justin Rock,guitar; Tyler Harlow,bass; Aaron Wolf, saxophones; Josh D. Reed,trumpet.

Oakland,California drummer and vibraphonist,Dillon Vado,had a dream. He wanted to form a group, as a young bandleader and composer, to not only play his music, but to express it with a distinctive and unique sound. Carefully selecting his musicians, he has put together an ensemble of merit that he named, “Never Weather.” Vado has composed every piece of music on this CD with the exception of the Thelonious Monk composition, “Introspection” and a song by Justin Rock (the guitarist) titled, “There Is No Secret.”

Growing up in San Jose, Vado started playing drums at eight-years-old. In addition to this “Never Weather” album, he wears his drum hat in other ensembles including “Beyond Words: Jazz & Poetry.” That’s a project he co-leads with poet, Amos White. He plays vibraphone and marimba in a group called “The Table Trio” and for the past five years he’s performed with various Northern California music masters. Taking all that musical experience and wrapping it, like a present, in a creative ball of composition and technical ability, the result becomes this project.

As the ensemble moves, seamlessly, from one composition to the next, there is a hard edge to most of these arrangements. “Blissonance”(the title tune) reminds me of a calm piece of water and a time for meditation. The dissonance in harmonics simulates the ripples on the surface, just like we have ripples of discontent in our otherwise peaceful lives. Josh D. Reed finds a place to solo his trumpet above the repetitive chord changes, until they fade away altogether. This gives Dillon Vado and Josh Reed an opportunity to dance as a duo; drums and trumpet alone on this imaginary lake.

These compositions take us into the creative mind and experimentation of Vado as a composer. They also explore opportunities for the ensemble players to express themselves in unique and improvisational ways. There are thick patches of Avant Garde jazz obvious in this groups make-up. On their short interpretation of the Monk tune, “Introspection,” bassist Tyler Harlow steps into the spotlight to sing a solo song on his double bass, along with Aaron Wolf on soprano saxophone. I wish this cover tune had been allowed to play longer. It was nice to hear Monk’s defined melody.

Never Weather’s CD cover is striking, with a span of sea and one soul individual on a surf board riding a huge wave. It’s a photograph by award winning National Geographic photographer,Tom Schifanella. I wish more artists realized the importance of the artwork on their product. Obviously, Dillon Vado took the task of picking his cover artwork very seriously. I applaud that. The cover art reflects the CD title, “BLISSONANCE.” Blissonance is explained as “when an otherwise blissful experience in nature is wedded to or disrupted by the recognition that one is having an adverse impact on that place they are enjoying, just by being there.”

Enough said!
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Corbin Andrick,reeds; Andrew Lawrence,keys/lasers; Andrew Vogt, bass/pedals; Zack Marks,drums.

The Bonzo Squad represents a number of strong R&B-influenced tracks that lack improvisation. Clearly, these musicians know how to provide strong back-up tracks. Take for instance their infectious tune titled, “Remedy.” It’s probably the best song on this album.

It’s obvious, they are a tight ensemble band and each player has composer skills. But they only produce background tracks. They write strong, repetitious chord changes, but no one steps out front to solo and put the sparkle on this project. Bonzo Squad is an ensemble in desperate need of a lead singer or lead instrumentalist.
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Jason Miles, piano/keyboards/composer/arranger; Reggie Washington, electric bass;Gene Lake,drums; Steven Wolf & Jimmy Bralower,drum programming; Philip Dizack,trumpet; Jay Rodrigues,saxophones/bass clarinet/flute.

Producer and keyboardist, Jason Miles, has led an interesting musical journey, interacting with a number of iconic jazz, R&B and pop musicians over his career. He was the synthesizer programmer on Miles Davis albums like “Tutu” in 1986 and in 1989,“Amandia” and “Music from Siesta.” According to Jason Miles, it was Miles Davis who amplified his career.

From his biography,I learned that Jason has a hunger for music and an appreciation for many genres of music. This album release features fusion jazz, but as a teenager, he was consumed by an interest in Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery and of course, Miles Davis. He probably never imagined that one day he would actually find himself in the studio with Miles.

For eighteen years, Jason Miles studied piano with Lucy Greene, who encouraged him to find his own voice. He soaked up the music of chick Corea, Monk, Bud Powell, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul and Bill Evans. But it was the Miles Davis recording of “Bitches Brew” that changed his life in 1970. This was the closest thing he had ever heard to what he wanted to play. It was where he felt his piano style could find total expression. The pianist fell in love with fusion jazz. Jason Miles was fascinated with the use and expression of synthesizers and electronic keyboards. This love of electronic music led him to collaborations with Miles Davis, Luther Vandross, Grover Washington Jr., David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, Michael Brecker, The Crusaders, Ruben Blades, Freddy Cole, Joe Sample, Herb Alpert, Vanessa Williams and the release of his own CDs. He’s also added the finishing touches to legendary music by Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, George Benson and Chaka Khan.

Once again, with this album release, he steps outside the role of finishing touches and collaborator, to bandleader and composer. Out of ten songs on his recent release,he has penned nine songs and covered one Miles Davis composition titled, “Jean Pierre.” That song is one of my favorites on this album along with “Kats Eye” (co-composed with trumpeter, Ingrid Jensen) and the organ propelled “Street Vibe,” that features a healthy dose of Gene Lake on drums and the horns of trumpeter, Philip Dizack, along with saxophonist, Jay Rodriguez. These musicians make this music come alive. Also, the title tune (Black Magic) features the prominent electric bass of Reggie Washington and is smooth jazz with a touch of funk and quite airplay friendly. Jason Miles manages to always find a way of inserting groove, melody and fusion funk with his keyboard and electronic programming abilities.

About the title of this new project, Jason Miles explained:

“My entire career as a keyboard player/synthesizer programmer has evolved with a certain kind of magic. So, I decided to call the album, Black Magic.”
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Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer/arranger; Dave Ellis, tenor & soprano saxophones; Dave MacNab,guitar; John Wiitala,bass; David Flores,drums; John Santos,congas/percussion; Afotcja,vocal & poetry; Mads Tolling & Alisa Rose,violin.

David Flores on drums makes himself known on the first song of this album. It’s titled “Days of Haze” and the drummer takes an explosive solo. The 2nd track, “Dusk” slows the pace and gives Erik Jekabson an opportunity to introduce his tenacious trumpet. He adds a slow, funk tune with “Brother Todd.” This is one of my favorite tunes and it features a very expressive solo by Dave MacNab on guitar. A slow percussive beat introduces the title tune that includes a spoken word prose piece by the poet, Avotcja. It sums up the collective consciousness of this recording and its titled, “I Cry Creativity.” The horns set the stage for the poetry to begin, using long tones and adding string instruments to set the mood.

“I was asleep,” the male voice speaks. “Secure and comfortably asleep; dreaming of peace & love; hypnotized by a mirage of unity and togetherness. Dancing away demons of war and hate in what I thought was a land of plenty; In what I’d been taught was the land of the free. And I opened my eyes, was slapped in the face by a wide awake nightmare; a senseless suicidal madness of world of selfishness, insatiable gluttony and rampid homelessness created by shortsighted masters of fantasy, so used to dealing from their deck of unfulfillable promises that they could no longer feel anything real. … all I could do was cry. … if we artists could bottle our tears, no one would ever die of thirst. … We artists might be able to heal the world, one note at a time.”

The poem was far more powerful than the music. After the poetry stopped flowing,I wanted Erik Jekabson to jump in there and give me that same powerful realness and honesty that the poetry exalted.I wanted Erik to solo like his life depended on it. But he just kept the same repetitive background music going and that was certainly a lost opportunity.

On the 6th track, “Full House”Jekabson steps brightly into the spotlight with his horn and redeems himself. The percussion mastery of John Santos is infectious and delightful. Also, Dave Ellis on tenor saxophone takes a spirited solo. Another favorite on this production is a tune titled, “Shaker Funk” that lends itself to energy and gives space for the musicians to stretch-out and improvise. Erik Jekabson has a beautiful tone on his trumpet and flugelhorn. However, his compositions are often lugubrious and lack verve. With more compositions in keeping with the energy first presented on track one, this could have been a more exciting production.

Well respected in the Bay Area of Northern California, Erik Jekabson is said to have been key in bringing several of the exceptional local talents into the national spotlight. As a composer and bandleader, Jekabson is well-known as the founder of an ensemble called, “Electric Squeezebox Orchestra,” but also has a dedicated following for this all-star sextet. As an educator, he’s a regular instructor at JazzCamp West, The Stanford Jazz Workshop, the Lafayette Summer Jazz Workshop and the Brubeck Institute. He runs the Young Musicians Program at the California Jazz Conservatory. When he’s not performing with his popular sextet, another group called ‘The String-tet,’ or his orchestra, you may have seen him on stage or in the studio with Illinois Jacquet, John Mayer, the Howard Fishman Quartet or Galactic. Erik Jekabson holds a Batchelor’s Degree from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and a Master’s Degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and is a published author of two books on jazz duets for trumpet.

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January 1, 2020

By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil
January 1, 2020

ANTHONY JEFFERSON – “ALL I AM” Independent Label

Anthony Jefferson, vocals; Corey Allen, piano/keyboards; Federico Mendez, guitar; Pengbian Sang, bass; Esar Simo, bass; Guy Frometa, drums; Sly de Moya, drums/percussion; Tom McCauley, guitar/percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: Mark Rapp, trumpet; Patricia Pereyra, vocals; Gustavo A. Hostos, vocals; The CORRY ALLEN STRINGS: Milena Zivkovic, Igor Vasiljevic & Zvezdana Radojkovic. The CORRY ALLEN HORNS: Ernesto Nunez & Pedro Liberato, trumpet; Sandy Gabriel, alto saxophone; Jesus Abru, tenor saxophone; Gabriel Parra, baritone saxophone; Carlos Torres, trombone. Background Vocals: Sabrina Estepan, Benny Hiraldo, Emmanuel Pena & Fende Sincere.

His voice is butter smooth. The opening tune invites you into the world of Anthony Jefferson who says, quite believably, “if you look in my heart, you’ll find that I’m someone who loves you; that’s what I am.” And I believe him! Written by Al Jarreau and George Benson, this opening song was so melodic and the lyrics so poignant, I pushed replay. Anthony Jefferson has a voice that’s fireplace warm and just as inviting. His tone and phrasing sometimes reminds me of Nat King Cole. Coincidentally, the second track on this album, “Marnie,” happens to be a composition by Bernard Hermann and Nat Cole penned the lyrics. It opens with the Corey Allen strings beautifully setting the mood. Arranged like a Latin ballad, Jefferson’s baritone voice soars emotionally above this lovely production. He has used some of the finest musicians in the Dominican Republic to record these eleven romantic tunes.

Anthony Jefferson has been living in the Dominican Republic for a decade, but was born and raised in New Orleans, the heartbeat of jazz music. He studied piano from age five to thirteen and sang in his church choir. Drawn to California, he moved to Los Angeles and attended Los Angeles City College, studying musical theater. Later, he auditioned to attend the school created by Walt Disney, the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), to hone his vocal skills. He was accepted with a full scholarship and studied classical music first, then transferred to the jazz department. After two years, the Dean suggested he attend Berklee College of Music in Boston. So, the globetrotter headed East. When Jefferson’s mother passed away, soon after his studies at Berklee were completed, he returned to New Orleans. There he was mentored by Ellis Marsalis and enrolled in the University of New Orleans.

When Anthony Jefferson sings “Besame Mucho” his rendition is both classical, sexy and soulful. He begins in Spanish. He’s then joined by award-winning Dominican singer, Patricia Pereyra. She too oozes emotion during her amazing vocal contribution. Together, this arrangement is stunning and features the talented Federico Mendez who adds a captivating guitar solo.

This entire album is romantic and combines selections from the great American Songbook, (Night and Day, Summertime, Willow Weep for Me), mixed with more recent and popular songs like “Rainy Night in Georgia” and the R&B hit record by Billy Paul, “Me and Mrs. Jones.” There’s also an original song by Jefferson and his writing partner, an outstanding trumpeter, Mark Rapp. Their song is titled, “In The Presence Of.” Anthony Jefferson adds the pop tune, “You’ve Got A Friend” which may be popular during his stage acts, but for this reviewer, he peels the polish off of an otherwise sparkling, jazz-fused presentation.

Although I can hear shades of Al Jarreau in the voice of Anthony Jefferson and the influence of Nat Cole, he is definitely his own man and a compelling artist. One of the things that can crown an artist with success is when that artist has a signature sound. The other thing is the ability of such an artist to record both the emotion and tone of their voice during a studio session. Some artists are amazing in person, but cannot transmit that when participating in a recording session. Anthony Jefferson can clearly do it all. Every song on this project is effectively produced, well-sung and believable. Additionally, the musicians featured on his project are crème-de-la-crème. Sandy Gabriel on alto saxophone is dynamic and inspired. I love the instrumental tracks. Listening to this production is a wonderful way to begin the New Year. Anthony Jefferson’s romantic release will be available January 20, 2020.
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Early Bird Records

Julien Hucq, alto saxophone; Claudio Roditi, trumpet; George Cables, piano; Marcos Varela, bass; Victor Lewis, drums.

Employing the line-up of these iconic musicians, how can reedman, Julien Hucq, present us with anything but a powerful and enjoyable project? This album is named for the Monk composition, “Light Blue,” so I had a preconceived notion that it was going to be a bebop jazz album. It starts out with straight-ahead energy on “Mudd’s Mode” and I am not disappointed. On track #2, “Light,” Claudio Roditi is outstanding on his trumpet and during his solo exploration of the chord changes, the rhythm section really swings hard. George Cables skips along masterfully on the piano keys and bassist, Marcos Varela holds the tempo and solidifies the rhythm section, in step and locked tightly with Victor Lewis on drums. Julien Hucq has written this original tune and it’s melodically catchy. Roditi has composed track #3, “This One Is For Us” with co-writer Ricardo Silviera. It brightens this production with a Latin theme and dancing horn harmonics. Julien Hucq’s alto saxophone glides through the changes of this song like warm honey, sweet and fluid during his solo. Varela steps stage center on his double bass and commands the attention, followed by a brief drum improvisation by Victor Lewis. On the familiar, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” George Cables is the star on piano, giving an emotional and inspired delivery on the 88 keys. After performing the title tune, this ensemble closes their recording with another composition by Hucq titled, “6-X.” It’s a spirited piece, with horn harmonies dominant between Julien Hucq and Claudio Roditi to introduce and end this arrangement.

Julien Hucq is a native of Charleroi, Belgium and comes from a family of musicians. He is heralded as a composer, arranger, performer and bandleader. Hucq currently resides in New York City, since relocating to the United States in 2012. Determined to make jazz music his life and career path, Hucq graduated with a Master of Arts degree from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, City University of New York. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the Jazz Department of Conservatoire de Lausanne, in Switzerland in alto saxophone and composition. Also, he is proud of his Diplome d’Etudes Musicales from the Jazz Department of Conservatoire National de la Region de Paris, CNR, France, in alto saxophone.

On the whole, this is an album deeply influenced by Bebop and straight-ahead jazz. Julien Hucq shows great promise as a composer and by surrounding himself with stable and legendary talent like George Cables, Victor Lewis and Claudio Roditi, he offers us this, his sixth album release. This is a talented, alto saxophone player, soaring towards rainbow dreams and striving for the ultimate pot of gold.
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MARIA MENDES – “CLOSE TO ME” featuring Metropole Orkest & John Beasley Justin Time Records

Maria Mendes, vocals/percussion/composer; John Beasley, keyboards/orchestration/ arranger/percussion/conductor; Karel Boehlee, piano; Jasper Samsen,acoustic bass; Jasper van Hulten,drums/percussion; Vincent Houdijk,vibraphone; Metropol Orkest.

The challenge of reviewing this beautiful piece of music is that I cannot speak nor understand the language. However, I can clearly feel the passion when Maria Mendes is singing, and I enjoy her lovely soprano tones. She explained her project in this way:

“Fado music is eternal and undeniable for the Portuguese. It is our way to evoke ‘saudade;’ Longing for the past and hoping it becomes present once again. But it is also universal. We all have those feelings in life. I still remember hearing Mariza singing ‘Barco Negro’ at age 18. The emotions I felt that day are indescribable. It all changed for me in that very moment. The words, melody, delivery … all I could do was surrender,” Maria Mendes confesses.

I found the beauty of Maria Mendes’ voice and the mastery of producer, arranger, John Beasley to be a perfect match. Of course, I would love to know what her lyrics are saying. Perhaps she could have indulged we English-speaking fans and included an English lyric sheet for the benefit of those who do not speak Portuguese. Still, the orchestra is magnificent and the John Beasley’s production and musicianship is infectious.

Maria spoke about the orchestra. “Working with John Beasley and the Metropole Orkest has really opened up new, musical possibilities. We found a lighter, more adventurous spirit that is still respectful to the poetry and intensity of the tradition. It felt like many of these songs were calling to us, yearning for a connection to a new age. And we answered in a new language. … I have been able to explore my relationship to my homeland and what being Portuguese means to me. I cherish my heritage, but I also realize that being so far away from home over the past 13 years has made me the artist and woman I am. I am thankful for that.”

Maria Mendes has been living in the Netherlands for several years, yet her connection to Portugal is absolutely strong and undeniable. She has composed three songs on this CD. They are Danca do Amor, Fado Da Invejosa and Tempo Emotive. Maria considers herself a singer/songwriter and Consequently, this project unfolds as a symphonic jazz approach to Fado.

“It is not Fado,”Maria clarifies. “I only used the music and poetry from this genre, but made a completely personal interpretation of it, with new arrangements.”

The thing this reviewer can attest to, while listening to Maria Mendes’ range and presentation, is that she often sounds like a jungle bird. She seems aligned to nature in her vocal delivery and there is a freedom in her singing that sounds improvised and uncharted in a lovely way.

“I turned to some of our greatest musical masters including Carlos Paredes and Amalia Rodrigues. They also inspired me to write my own songs; to combine my love of jazz with my affection for Portugal. A project was taking shape and magical things began to happen,” Maria marveled at the power of music and culture to wrap their arms around each other.

Incorporating the repertoire of Portuguese greats such as Carlos Paredes and Amalia Rodrigues, Maria Mendes explores her love for jazz, tenderly blending that musical love into her affection for Portugal. Her musical gurus, the Brazilian legend, Hermeto Pascoal, even wrote a Fado song especially for her to interpret; “Hermeto’s Fado for Maria.” To explore this new music, the multi-GRAMMY award winning Metropole Orkest stepped forward. They include thirty musicians led by conductor and Grammy Award-nominated jazz pianist and composer, John Beasley. Beasley wrote the orchestrations and plays piano and percussion on this unique project. “Close To Me” is the third album for Mendes and was released internationally. Although there will be those of us who do not understand the language, that does not keep us from relating to the passion and beauty of Maria Mendes’ amazing voice. Her vocal interpretations are expressive, emotive and honest; full of deep, down human feelings, coming from an emotional space, where we all can relate.
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Lila Ammons,vocals; Robert Everest,guest vocal; Bryan Nichols, Javier Santiago & Benny Weinbeck,keys; Jeff Bailey,acoustic & electric bass; Arthur “LA” Bruckner & Kevin Washington,drums; Robert Everest,acoustic guitar; David Feily,electric guitar; Pete Whitman,tenor saxophone/flute.

As soon as I saw the name ‘Ammons’ I wondered if Lila Ammons was related to the late, great Gene Ammons. It turns out, she is his niece. For many years, I was a big fan of the Gene Ammons jazz saxophone style. He leaves big shoes to fill. Lila Ammons celebrates his legacy richly on her “Genealogy” release. Like her famous uncle, Lila has a distinctive sound and approach to interpreting some of the familiar jazz standards we have embraced over the years. She is both expressive and emotional on tunes like Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.” She sometimes takes melodic liberties with the original melody, but never before she sings the song down once the way the composer wrote it. This is an old-school, unspoken law passed down from jazz master to jazz master. With her wide range and tone, Lila breathes new life into songs like “No Moon at All” and “Old Folks.”

She surprises me by singing in Portuguese on “E Precisco Perdoar,” where she’s joined by the smooth vocals of Robert Everest. The combination of their voices is silky smooth and compelling. Kevin Washington’s bright drums propel this spirited Brazilian tune forcefully.

Lila Ammons is diverse in her eclectic choice of tunes. Track #5 is a low-down blues titled,“Blues, You’re the Mother of Sin,” and features Benny Weinbeck presenting a soulful, bluesy piano accompaniment. On Track #6, enter Pete Whitman, fluid on his tenor saxophone and pulling us back to the jazzy side on the tune, “I Feel You” composed by Bill Cantos. At times, Lila’s vocal style reminds me of Esther Sattersfield, but for sure she has her own vocal identity. I felt some of the arrangements were unappreciative of this singer’s talents, like the Monk tune, “Man, That Was A Dream” or (Monk’s Dream). Lila Ammons is undeterred by the dissonance and stays on melodic point, but the arrangement takes away from her smooth delivery of this famous Thelonious Monk composition. Her attention to an emotional delivery on ballads like “Sophisticated Lady” showcases Lila’s control and classical technique. Lila Ammons summed up her expectations for this production in her liner notes.

“Music has taken me from opera to classic blues, to jazz, and this CD is a reflection of all of these experiences and expressions. I’ve wanted to sing jazz for a long time and also to find a way to celebrate my family legacy. “Genealogy” is allowing me to do both. I am celebrating my grandfather, Albert Ammons and uncle, Gene Ammons; paying homage to jazz heritage.”
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BRIAN SCANLON – “BRAIN SCAN” Independent Label

Brian Scanlon, tenor & alto saxophones/composer; Ed Czach & Tom Ranier, piano; Trey Henry, acoustic & Elec. bass; Peter Erskine, drums; Avery Scanlon, Andrew Synowic & Larry Koonse, Guitar; Joey De Leon, percussion.

The first thing I noticed about this album release is that ‘brain’ is an anagram for Brian and ‘scan’ is the front half of Brian Scanlon’s last name. This gave me a clue into the artist’s personality and I presume he’s a deep-thinker and probably quite intelligent. Reading from his biography, I discover this saxophonist has created quite a career over the past three decades as a studio musician, making a lucrative living performing on movie soundtracks like Crazy Rich Asians, La La Land, The Secret Life of Pets and TV shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, Mad Men, Murder She Wrote and American Dad. This exemplifies that Brian Scanlon is a studied musician and one who reads music swiftly and accurately. Those kinds of quick-reading players usually get the movie and TV calls. Scanlon has worked in a variety of band settings, including holding the first tenor saxophone chair with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band and he was part of the Life in the Bubble CD, recorded by that band. They won a Grammy in 2015 for Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

While growing up in New Jersey, young Scanlon began playing the saxophone in the fourth grade. He was probably inspired by his grandfather, who was a professional sax man. He remembers sitting on his grandfather’s lap and blowing into the horn while his grandpa fingered the levered keys. Years later, he would attain his Master’s degree in Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Shortly after graduation, he landed a job with a touring company for the musical, Pippin’. Because of this tour, he relocated to Los Angeles at age 26 and quickly found session work. The rest is history. He’s been a closet composer for twenty-five years and he finally decided to step into the spotlight and record his own CD, featuring his original music.

His music is a lovely blend of straight-ahead jazz and smooth jazz. Scanlon knows just when to add the funk to his arrangements and has employed a number of West Coast jazz musicians who more than adequately interpret his compositions. Scanlon’s original music is diverse and reflects his eclectic attitude towards music. After all, he’s played in so many various situations and with a variety of talents including Ben Vereen, Dizzy Gillespie, Doc Severinsen, Seth McFarlane, Bob Dylan, Arturo Sandoval, Randy Newman, Tony Bennett and Phil Woods, to list just a scattering of the various influences who have shaped his musical taste. Over time, he has mastered just about all the saxophones and woodwind instruments, but he’s featured on tenor and alto saxophones during this project. Some of my favorite pieces are his quite original arrangement of “Harlem Nocturne” and his original composition titled, “El Entrometido,” where Tom Ranier offers an outstanding piano solo and Peter Erskine trades fours and then takes time to show us his excellence on the trap drums. Joey De Leon adds brightness with his percussion input. On Harlem Nocturne, you can hear Scanlon’s love for the music of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker surface. Also, his love of blues pours through the bell of his horn like honey.

Another favorite, that’s more smooth jazz flavored, is “Re-Entry” that he wrote as an homage to Grover Washington and David Sanborn. This explores the more commercial side of Scanlon and gives guitarist, Andrew Synowiec a time to shine. Scanlon’s horn solo reminds me a lot of Ernie Watts on this tune. His saxophone is both melodic and forceful, stepping away from straight-ahead and putting his feet solidly into an R&B groove with a flair for contemporary arranging. This song makes me think, hand me my dancing shoes! I like the way Scanlon paces his album. I hear so many projects that just get stuck in one specific tempo and never explore their instrumental uniqueness or potential. You won’t find that true with Brian Scanlon. He is both unique, exploratory and his compositions are well-written and melodic. This project is never boring. Quite the opposite. An example is the pretty ballad he wrote for Nancy, (“Not Watching”) that brings peace and pleasure to the ear. It still exudes energy, with that slow-jam-funk riding underneath provided by drummer, Peter Erskine. Here is a project full of creativity, technique and musical surprises.
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Valery Ponomarev, bandleader/trumpet/arranger; Victor Jones,drums; Rusian Khain, bass; Mamiko Watanabe,piano; Todd Bashore & Chris Hemingway,alto saxophones; Peter Brainin & Steve Carrington,tenor saxophones; Anthony Nelson,baritone sax; Stafford Hunter, Alvin Walker, Jimmy O’Connel & Jack Jeffers,trombones; Rick Henly, David Neves, Antoine Drye & Waldon Ricks,trumpets.

In tribute to the works of the great drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey, and in celebration of what would have been his 100th birthday, Valery Ponomarev assembled some of New York City’s finest jazz cats. This is Ponomarev’s second big band recording and he has used this recording to show his passion about never forgetting the music, nor the spirit of Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers.

Opening with Wayne Shorter’s “Tell It Like It Is” Valery Ponomarev takes a trumpet solo, along with Peter Brainin on tenor saxophone. Alvin Walker offers a featured bass solo and there’s a spirited drum solo by Victor Jones. Like the announcer says at the racetrack, We are off and running!

Bandleader and trumpeter, Valery Ponomarev, carries his father’s Russian name, but he never knew his father. He has often said that Art Blakey became his father figure during the time he arrived in America and played as part of the Jazz Messengers. That was from 1976 to 1980. Blakey’s group set high standards for all the bebop and hardbop groups that followed. Ponomarev still marvels that as a totally unknown musician from Russia, Art Blakey chose him to fill the trumpet spot in his Jazz Messenger group. Just contemplating the legacy that followed still gives Valery pause. He marvels at the iconic names of those who (after him) became part of the Jazz Messenger legacy like Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Bill Hardman, Wynton Marsalis and so many other talented trumpet players.

Although Valery Ponomarev is only featured on trumpet twice during this project, he is proud of his inspired arrangements and the talented musicians who play those arrangements. This jazz journalist was struck by the baritone saxophone solo of Anthony Nelson on “One by One,” and Mamiko Watanabe’s creative and improvisational piano solos are stellar throughout. It is obvious that Mr. Ponomarev knows how to capture the energy and essence of Art Blakey. The band ‘smokes’ on “Caravan” and features a fiery solo by Todd Bashore on alto saxophone, with Nelson on Bari sax again and Valery Ponomarev on trumpet. Once again, the sensuous fingers of Mamiko Watanabe pull the best out of the 88-keys. There are a number of other soloists who are super stars in their own rights like Stafford Hunter on trombone and trumpeter, Antoine Drye. The appreciation and responsive applause from a ‘live’ audience solidifies this reviewer’s opinion that Valery Ponomarev’s big band makes magical music. Peter Brainin dances his tenor saxophone all over the tune, “Webb City” written by Bud Powell. On “Quick Silver” the horn lines swing and sing at a brisk tempo. Their repeated harmonic refrain pulls the curtains open for various soloists to step forward and bask in the spotlight. Chris Hemmingway shines on his alto sax and Waldron Ricks is bright and formidable on trumpet.

You will enjoy playing this gutsy, energized, hardbop album over and over again.
Special thanks to arranger, bandleader Valery Ponomarev for his fabulous tribute album and Happy Birthday to Art Blakey. May his musical candles never be blown out and may his amazing legacy be celebrated, like a jazzy birthday party, from one generation to the next.
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DAVE SOLDIER – “ZAJAL” Mulatta Records

Dave Soldier, guitar/keyboards/composer/arrangements; Ana Nimouz, Triana Bautista, David Castellano, Barbara Martinez, Ismael Fernandez, Anais Tekarian, vocals; Maurice Chedid,oud/vocals; Ratzo Harris,bass; Chris Washburne, Dan Blacksberg, trombones; Phillip Payton, Rebecca Cherry,solo violins; Alan Kushan,sentur; Lefteris Bournias,clarinet; Mahmoud Hamadani,recitation; Jose Moreno, hand percussion/trap drums/vocals; Robby Ameen,timbales; Ismael Fernandez & Sonia Olla, palmas/jaleo; Neli Tirado,palmas; Roxy Young,additional keyboards & samples.

I learned,from the publicity package,that Dave Soldier is celebrating popular songs from 1000 years ago that intersected and embraced Muslim, Jewish and Christian cultures in Southern Spain. Zajal features the lyrics of medieval Andalusia. The lyrics are by the major Arabic and Hebrew poets of medieval Spain. There is one song by the Persian contemporary of these poets, Rumi, who writes in Farsi. Many of these songs are still sung and celebrated in places like Lebanon. Dave Soldier became fascinated with this music during a trip to Spain. This is definitely a World Music production. It features vocalization in foreign languages including Arabic, Hebrew, early Spanish and Farsi from Andalusia. This reviewer was captivated by the Arabian influences, the minor modes of Jewish music tradition and the similarities between the three religious cultures translated to music. The first tune titled, “The Spy” is full of energy and rhythm. Lead singer,Ana Nimouz, has a beautiful, hypnotic tone to her voice.

Dave Soldier’s guitar implementation is prominent on the 5th track, “Bi-moa” which means, ‘Without Myself.’ This one is sung in Farsi. Track six is the only one where Dave Soldier wrote both music and lyrics. He calls this composition, “The Stars of Country Music Greet the Spring.”

Although many of the musicians on this album are jazz musicians, this is not jazz. Still, I found Dave Soldier’s production quite entertaining and very unique. Since we are living in an ever-expanding time of connection to the world (thanks to technology), I think this music is important to review. If you are looking to bathe your ears in some music that is fresh and culturally different, this recording may be the very thing to get your creative juices flowing. It is certainly a sweet, musical surprise.
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December 20, 2019

By Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

December 20, 2019


Temple University Studio Orchestra;Vince Mendoza,conductor/composer/arranger; SPECIAL GUESTS:Terell Stafford,trumpet; Dick Oatts,alto saxophone.

This album is a great way to enrich and introduce the New Year. As 2019 fades into the distance, I would be remiss if I did not mention the music of Vince Mendoza and his “Constant Renaissance” CD release. Mendoza presented this world premiere at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA on March 24, 2019. Lucky for us, his music was later translated to disc and is available in three vivid suites for our listening pleasure. Stellar composer and renowned conductor, Vince Mendoza, says he chose to compose “Constant Renaissance” around three musical innovators who he feels changed the course of jazz forever; Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and John Coltrane. To assist him in interpreting his brilliant compositions and under his conductor’s baton, I am impressed and immersed in the musical skills of the Temple University Studio Orchestra. They play brilliantly and become a rich backdrop for Terell Stafford’s trumpet excellence and the amazing alto saxophone talents of Dick Oatts.

Vince Mendoza has often been cited as the man who closely emulates the genius of Gil Evans and could possibly become his successor. Mendoza is the composer in residence with the West Deutsche Rundfunk in Koln and the conductor Laureate of the Netherlands Metropole Orkest. He’s appeared as a guest conductor of both the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonic orchestras, as well as several European and Japanese orchestras. You may have seen him at our own Hollywood Bowl, or perhaps enjoyed his talents at the Monterey, Montreux or North Sea Jazz Festivals. Mendoza’s arranging magnificence is in demand. He has enhanced the music of such well-known talents as Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Diana Krall, Bjork, Joni Mitchell and Sting to name only a few.

His special, guest, trumpet-master, Terell Stafford, has performed with some of the legendary jazz names of our time. Since the mid-1990’s he’s been a part of Benny Golson’s Sextet, McCoy Tyner’s sextet, the Kenny Barron Quintet and the Frank Wess Quintet. Terell played in both Jimmy Heath’s big band and his quintet. He was part of the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Alumni band, not to mention, he was featured on Diana Krall’s Grammy nominated “From this Moment on” CD. Terell Stafford is a member of the Vanguard jazz Orchestra that won a 2009 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Instrumental Album and has recorded on over 130 albums. His poignant tone and emotional rendering on this Mendoza project are spellbinding. Recognized around the world as an educator, clinician, bandleader and definitive performer, Terell Stafford is also Laura H. Carnell Professor of Jazz, Chair of Instrumental Studies and Director of Jazz Studies at Temple University. He’s founder and leader of the Terell Stafford Quintet and somehow manages to find time to be Artistic Director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia and Artistic Director for Jazz with the Philly Pops. On the first suite of music, titled “Bebop Elation” Terell Stafford makes himself known immediately and boldly introduces us to his prowess on trumpet from his very first notes played in concert with the Oatts saxophone and the orchestra. His solo dances and pirouettes off my CD player, graceful yet tenacious.

Dick Oatts is the other special guest artist on this project. He was introduced to jazz and the saxophone by his father, the late Jack Oatts. Young Dick Oatts began a professional music career in 1972. When he arrived in New York from Minneapolis/St. Paul (around 1977), he secured immediate work with the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra. He’s been in demand ever since! Oatts has accompanied some iconic jazz artists like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé, Nneena Freelon and performed with a host of ensembles that include the WDR Big Band, Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, Danish Redo Big Band, High Coast Jazz Orchestra, the Winnipeg Jazz Band and the Wellington jazz Orchestra, as well as working with jazz vocal icon, Joe Williams. In between performances and recording sessions, Dick Oatts is Professor of Jazz at Temple University and has been Artist-in-Residence at the Amsterdam Conservatory since 1998. His beautiful alto saxophone work on this project heightens the excitement and enhances the interpretation of the Mendoza suites in a beautiful way. This entire album makes for joyful listening.
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Martina DaSilva, voice; Dan Chmielinski (“Chimy”),bass; Lucas Pino,tenor saxophone; Gabe Schnider,guitar; Ben Wolfe,bass; Joel Ross,vibraphone.

This is a lovely production that features vocalist, Marina DaSilva and bassist Dan Chmielinski. It’s a very clean production, with no drums and a spattering of musical friends who add depth to the comfortable harmonics of Martina with her bass man, Dan Chmielinski. Combined, they become affectionately known as ChimyTina. These two are quite comfortable with each other and perform a host of holiday song favorites as a duo. Occasionally, someone like Joel Ross joins them on vibraphone or Gabe Schnider adds his tasty guitar licks. But for the most part, these two are tenacious and talented enough to perform intricate arrangements featuring just the two of them. Starting out with “Greensleeves” where Martina’s voice is studio-layered and she creates absolutely beautiful harmonics with Dan masterfully accompanying on bass. On “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” Lucas Pino adds saxophone to the mix and Dan Chmielinski builds from the basement up with his double bass magic. They swing this one, and once again Martina adds a few studio harmonics to enhance the production. However, her voice is perfectly capable of performing these songs without enhancement of any kind. She has great timing, beautiful pitch and superb tone. Although this is their debut recording, they have already formed a fan base from their viral duo presentations of online videos that have caused quite a sensation. The demand for more of their music encouraged the duo to go into the studio and make this album that offers the listener “A Very Chimytina Christmas.” Their interpretations of some unusual holiday songs like “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and the way they spice up more familiar old favorites like “The Christmas Song” and “My Favorite Things” makes the holiday a little brighter.

However, this is not just a Christmas album, but it is an innovative musical exploration into unusual harmonics, jazzy arrangements and an exercise in showing the world what an exceptional voice can do when merged with a Julliard musician who has obviously mastered his bass instrument.
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Santiago Bosch,Fender Rhodes/synthesizer/piano/composer; Jared Henderson,double bass; Juan Ale Saenz,drums; Vasilis Kostas,Laouto; Dany Anka,electric bass; Tucker Antell,tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS:Tim Miller,guitar; George Garzone,tenor saxophone; Darren Barrett,trumpet.

This is fusion jazz, stretching the hands and creativity of Santiago Bosch across several pianos, synthesizers and keyboards. All the music on this album is composed by Bosch and represents his life journey. He was introduced to jazz by his father, Jaime Bosch, who was a Venezuelan saxophone player. At the age of fifteen, the younger Bosch was already recording and touring Venezuela. He eventually found his way to the famed Berklee College of Music in the United States and graduated suma cum laude in 2017. His first album, “Guaro Report,” was released in 2011. He continues his quest to be an international force on the jazz scene as both a composer, bandleader, producer, arranger and pianist. Surrounding himself with a group of talented musicians, on his latest album, “Galactic Warrior,” the tune, “Transition,” features special guest, Darren Barrett, soaring on trumpet. The title tune, “Galactic Warrior” roars onto the scene with Santiago Bosch racing across the keyboard, with two fisted power. Track 6, titled “Main Menu,” features a strong bass line by Dany Anka, as Bosch layers his keyboard chords and improvisations. Much of this “Galactic Warrior” music sounds like it could be the background track for a video game. The Santiago Bosch project is a blend of electronic music, funk, fusion and smooth jazz, with the drums of Juan Ale Saenz enlightening and warming this production like solar energy.

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ENGLISH MUSICIANS: Cliff Hall, Roy Hilton & John Pearce,piano; Andy Macintosh,saxophone/arranger; Simon Gardner,trumpet; Paul Morgan,acoustic bass; Laurence Cottle,electric bass; Ian Thomas,drums; SPECIAL GUEST VOCALIST:Norma Winstone. U.S. MUSICIANS: Isamu McGregor, piano/Rhodes; Carey Frank,B3 organ; John Leftwich,bass/synth pads/producer/arranger; Bili Redd & Irene Cathaway,background vocals.

I hear so many amazing jazz albums all year round, and I try not to review the same person twice; at least not in close proximity, because I strive to give everyone a fair opportunity to be reviewed. So, after recently reviewing Cathy Segal-Garcia’s “Dreamsville” release, I was surprised to receive another new release in my in-box titled, “Straight Ahead to the U.K.” When I ran into Cathy recently, I commented that she turns out CDs like a Christmas Baker makes cookies. I mean, this vocalist is so creative that, (like the proverbial proud Baker) she’s always bringing something fresh and sweet to the studio and to her public audience. One minute she’s recording with a host of pianists, just featuring the 88-keys and her voice. The next moment she’s recording with guitar and piano, or with a jazz chamber ensemble, and in the blink of an eye, she’s singing with an a ‘Capella group. This time, there is a poignant story behind her CD release. The production is a terrific mix of both American and UK musicians and the combination of two very different studio sessions.

In 1975, Cathy was dating an alto saxophonist named Andy Macintosh. He came from England to the United States to perform with Maynard Ferguson, Louie Bellson and others. Their romantic encounter didn’t last and soon, Macintosh returned to the UK. For years, they had no contact until one day in 2011, Andy discovered Cathy on Facebook. It was three and a half decades later that Andy Macintosh invited her to come to England and record with some of the best jazz cats in the business. Cathy packed her bags.

Unfortunately, that project sat dormant because Andy was diagnosed with Cancer. Sadly, he died in 2013. Nearly a decade later, while listening to that 2011 recording, Cathy recognized it had merit and potential. First, she wanted to redo her vocals and tighten up some of the arrangements. She called on one of my favorite Southern California bassists to assist her in preparing new arrangements; Mr. John Leftwich.

“John is very creative and detailed. He’s a superb musician and a top-notch engineer.I was thrilled that he was interested in working together on this album,” Cathy complimented the talented bassist, engineer and producer/arranger.

Leftwich brought in top players like Isamu McGregor on acoustic piano and Fender Rhodes. He added Carey Frank on B3 organ and Katisse Buckingham on saxophone. Brad Dutz colorfully added his percussion excellence to the mix. The first thing I noticed, while listening to this amazing production,is the high quality of all the musicians involved. This is jazz music excellently played and Cathy gives lots of moments to these musicians, allowing them to shine brightly during their awesome instrumentation. She includes an original tune called, “Shake It Down” based on the changes of the Fats Domino hit record, I’m Walkin’. It’s a fun, swinging tune that Cathy says her good friend, Linda, inspired, because Linda loves to dance. The lyrics are well-written and catchy. The saxophone solo is smokin’ hot! But, for me, Cathy finds her niche when she sings ballads. Her interpretation of Hoagy Charmichael’s, “I Get Along Without You” is a stellar representation of how to sell a song. English pianist, Roy Hilton, is an amazing accompanist on this tune and Simon Gardner’s sweet trumpet solo pulls at the heartstrings.

Another original composition titled, “Recipe of Love” fits into my assessment of Cathy as a prime and productive Baker. It’s another well-written tune this singer/songwriter has composed. She adds a pinch of scat-singing, just to spice things up and remind you, she can do that too!

I was surprised when I read that this is the only ‘straight-ahead’ jazz recording that Cathy Segal-Garcia has ever made. It becomes another sheet of cookies on the Baker’s prize shelf.

“Many years have passed since the very beginning of this line – many lifetimes, much growth pleasures and pains. Andy passed away in October of 2013. He left lifetimes of music, friends, family and many, many laughs. Here’s to you my friend. Thanks for it all,” Cathy writes in her liner notes.
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FRANK COLON – “LATIN LOUNGE” Technoprimal Music, Unltd.

Frank Colon, percussion/programming/vocals/composer; Jose Arimateia,trumpet; Raphael Batista,violin; Julio Falavigna,drums; Jamie Glaser,acoustic guitar; Estevao Lima, bass; Jr. Lobbo,elec. guitar; Luana Mallet,vocals; Carlos Malta, flute/bass flute; Kleyton Martins,keyboards; Ramon Miroshnichenko,flamenco guitar; Elton Ricardo, fender Rhodes; Christiano Rocha,drums; Jose Staneck,harmonica; Cristiano Venezo, violin/viola/cello; Mateus Viano,accordion.

This album of Brazilian flavored jazz was recorded in Rio de Janeiro. It features the talents of several top Brazilian musicians, who are interpreting the original compositions of Frank Colon. Each song is propelled by the percussive excellence of Colon’s infectious Latin grooves. Colon not only plays percussion on this recording, he also has programmed synthesizer parts and added vocals. All songs were not only composed, but arranged by Frank Colon. On the first cut, “Emerald Coast” you hear the sound of rushing water beneath the bass line of Estevao Lima and that effect enhances the percussive drums of both Colon and Julio Falavigna. Carlos Malta’s bass flute sets a poignant mood during this moderate tempo production and the violin of Cristiano Veneza sweetly embellishes Colon’s original composition. There are tunes that employ a funk undertow, emulating a smooth jazz arrangement, like “Summer Cocktail.” The composition titled, “Samba Gitano” is rich with percussion and strings. There is a feeling of double-time, but for the most part, this album stays at one moderate tempo. Sometimes the bird-like percussion sounds transport us to Brazilian jungles. On track 8, Colon finally investigates adding funk to his Brazilian production and the result makes “Wishful Thinking” come alive and breaks up the monotony tempo of this entire album.

The addition of organ lifts the piece and the addition of vibes is a nice touch by Kleyton Martins on keyboards. The Accordion, played by Mateus Viano, and Roman Miroshnichenko on Flamenco guitar elevate the “Tango Lucumi” tune, giving us a glance into Brazilian folk music. This is an easy-listening experience, with a mellow production, motored by percussion and persuasive melodies.

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RICKY SWEUM – “EARTH SONG” Ninjazz Records

Ricky Sweum,composer/tenor & soprano saxophones; Dennis Lambert,piano; Zak Craxall,elec. bass; Britt Ciampa,drums; Benjamin Paille,trumpet; Julie Bradley, vocal.

Clearly,the trumpeter and saxophone player are the stars of this production. Ricky Sweum adds his technique on both tenor and soprano saxophones. He has also composed all the music. The rhythm section is decent, but not exceptional in technique nor creativity. The vocals of Julie Bradley on the title tune, “Earth Song” offers a positive lyric that proclaims:

“…ancient story told of how we used to love the earth and how we lived in harmony with all things.”

It begs humanity to once again celebrate this concept and embrace peace and love, instead of hating on each other and disrespecting our environment. On this tune, the solo by Sweum on saxophone is smooth and well-played. However, the pianist lacks imagination. The drummer sounds more like a rock player than a jazz drummer.

Ricky Sweum manages to start each song with a strong melody and a groove, but the songs need more development melodically and players who can better improvise on his themes. The third track, “Majestic,” starts out sounding like the first line of “Oh Danny Boy.” Left to the rhythm section to develop this tune, the song becomes redundant and unexpressive. “Prayer” sounds like a homage to John Coltrane, mixed with horn motion that moves in waves beneath the solo saxophone. This is one of the more interesting tunes on this CD. Unfortunately, the repetitiveness of these song ideas begs for a ‘bridge’ or a rhythm change; a Bossa Nova or a waltz. Something to break-up the monotony of the same chord changes repeated over and over again and similar rhythm tempos. They do try to change things up with a marching rhythm on “Energy Dance,” but the tune does not radiate energy. It’s another moderate tempo with repetitious chord changes. On the positive tip, Ricky Sweum’s composer talents are budding and the horn lines and horn technique keeps this project tied together like gift paper and cellophane tape.

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Nomar Negroni, drums/composer; José Ramon Negroni, piano/composer;Josh Allen, bass.

Negroni’s Trio combines a father and son team with virtuoso bassist, Josh Allen. Both of the Negroni musicians are also composers and with the exception of Bud Powell’s composition “Tempus Fugit,” and their cover of the late, great, Noro Morales song, ”Maria Cervantes” along with the 1941 hit composition, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” they have penned every other tune on this album. The father, Jose Ramon Negroni, has a definitive style on piano and keyboard, that blends jazz sensibilities with his Puerto Rican, Latin roots. The son, Nomar, is constantly polishing his drum licks and powerful percussive style. Nomar won a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music and you can appreciate his unique approach to drumming on track three, one of my favorite original compositions, where Nomar lets loose with spontaneous combustion on his trap drums. It’s titled “I Remember You” and features many breaks and time changes that seem to portray a fluid personality with many moods. The Negroni recordings are played on over 600 radio stations worldwide. This is their eleventh album release. The song, “Puerta Del Sol” showcases an ethereal ballad arrangement that employs a Tango feel, with Josh Allen holding the groove tightly in place with his seductive bass line. On the fade of the tune, Nomar brightly spotlights his drum skills. José Ramon let’s his fingers fly, like humming bird wings, across the piano keys. He introduces us to “Maria Cervantes.” His mastery of his instrument is obvious, as he performs solo during the first part of this celebrated Puerto Rican jazz composer’s famous song. On the powerfully produced, “No Me Voy De Aqui” the Negroni’s add vocals, with Spanish chants and Josh Allen steps center stage to deliver an awesome improvisation on his bass.

Each song is a pleasant surprise package of unique arranging and melodic beauty. This is a delightful blend of Latin culture, European classical styles and African American jazz roots. It is richly energized with a fusion of technique by each master musician and showcases excellent compositions by the Negroni’s.
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Palmetto Records

Fred Hersch,piano; John Hebert,bass; Eric McPherson,drums.

What better way to close out the year, 2019, than to celebrate the historic talents of pianist/composer, Fred Hersch. This box set of brilliance includes work from his album, “Whirl” released in 2010, “Alive at the Vanguard” released in 2012, “Floating” a 2014 release, “Sunday Night at the Vanguard” from 2016 and “Live in Europe” a 2018 album release. Fred Hersch is said to be a clear enunciator of the jazz language and unafraid to take innovative chances to explore his boundless imagination at the piano. Fred Hersch remains what the Los Angeles Times refers to as, “…an elegant force of musical invention.” This is plainly exhibited on this decade of recorded excellence. Fred Hersch is a living legend, not only as a superb musician, but also as a jazz journalist. His 2017 autobiography, “Good Things Happen Slowly” has been heralded for that year’s best memoirs in both the Washington Post and the New York Times. Fred Hersch has accomplished much as a respected musician, but he is also heralded as one of the most sensitive and astute accompanists on the planet. For starters, just ask Janis Siegel of the Manhattan Transfer, Charlie Haden, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Bill Frisell, Joe Henderson, Audra McDonald, Nancy King or Kurt Elling.

The Hersch bassist of choice and also a respected composer, John Hebert, is both celebrated and in-demand on the improvised-music scene. New Orleans born, Hebert has joined forces with many jazz giants including Andrew Hill, Lee Konitz, Paul Bley, Toots Thielemans, Maria Schneider and many others. The Fred Hersch drummer, Eric McPherson, was named after Eric Dolphy by his dancer-choreographer mom. McPherson studied with saxophone master, Jackie McLean during a scholarship at the university of Hartford’s Hartt School and also with master drummer and educator, Michael Carvin. Eric McPherson has worked with iconic artists like Andrew Hill, Pharoah Sanders, Greg Osby, Jason Moran and now, with the legendary, Fred Hersch. If you have a sweet tooth, this six-album set offers hours of ear-candy.

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December 7, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ jazz journalist

December 7, 2019


As soon as I heard Pasquale Grasso’s rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “Ruby My Dear,” I was hooked. Here is a guitarist with an exceptionally warm and beautiful presentation. His awesome talent is mesmerizing. No need for other instrumentation. Pasquale Grasso is a one-man-band of the highest order. Obviously, he has honed his technical guitar skills by studying both classical music and jazz. According to his bio, when he first heard “The Unique Thelonious Monk” album of 1956, he was just a small child, but he immediately became a fan. That trio session recording featured Oscar Pettiford and Art Blakey. (RUBY MY DEAR performed solo)

Pasquale Grasso plays a custom guitar, built in France by Trenier Guitars, and its tone is eloquent. In 2015, Grasso won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition in New York City and confidently took home the $5,000 prize. As I listen to this artist, I see why he won that award and why he will win several more in the future. He’s so fluid and smooth on his instrument. When Pat Metheny was asked to name some younger musician, who had impressed him on guitar, he quickly named Pasquale Grasso saying: “The best guitar player I’ve heard in maybe my entire life is floating around now; Pasquale Grasso.… In a way, it is a little bit of a throwback, because his model, which is an incredible model to have, is Bud Powell. He has somehow captured the essence of that language from piano onto guitar in a way that almost nobody has ever addressed. He’s the most significant new guy I’ve heard in many, many years.”

Pasquale was born in Italy and is now based in New York City. As Pat Metheny said, this young musician has developed a style of playing that embraces bebop and the pioneers of that artform like Monk, Parker, Gillespie and Powell. You can hear it for yourself on his “Solo Standards Vol. 1” CD released in June of 2019; on his August, 2019 release of “Solo Ballads Vol. 1 and now on this amazingly well played tribute to Thelonious Monk on his “Solo Monk” CD that was released in October.

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Isabelle Olivier, harp/electronics; Rez Abbasi, acoustic guitar; Prabhu Edouard, tabla/kanjira; David Paycha, drums.

In the spirit of the holiday season, this dual talent opens their CD with “My Favorite Things” arranged in a unique way by Rez Abbasi, who is the acoustic guitarist on this project. The harpist, Isabelle Olivier, blends nicely with Abbasi’s guitar. Joining the leaders are percussion master, Prabhu Edouard, on tabla and David Paycha on drums. The quartet does not hesitate to explore the Avant-garde during their exploration of this familiar Richard Rodgers composition. They veer off the beaten path and make inroads into a space beyond the familiar. Additionally, both leaders are composers and contribute their original music to the remaining production.

Rez Abbasi was born in Karachi, Pakistan, but raised in Southern California. He studied at USC and then, the Manhattan School of Music, with emphasis in both classical music and jazz. Taking a pilgrimage to India, he studied with the master percussionist (Ustad Alla Rakha). So, it comes as no surprise, his American, Pakistani and East Indian influences have merged into his music. In Downbeat magazine’s 2013 Critics Poll, he was voted #1 ‘Rising-Star Guitarist.’ With fourteen albums, multiple awards and having several of his compositions commissioned, Abbasi strives to recreate himself musically with each new project. He met Isabelle at a jazz festival in France several years ago. That’s where the idea was born to combine guitar and harp in a recording atmosphere. In 2018, the opportunity to make that dream come true presented itself in the form of a grant from the French American Cultural Exchange. Both artists began writing music for this unique project and both enjoy pushing the limits of creativity, while exploring improvisational freedom.

Jazz-woman and harpist, Isabelle Olivier, brings strong musical personality to the project and is technically astute on the harp. She has composed six of the ten songs on their album. For the past five years, she ‘s divided her time between France and the United States. She’s toured 22 countries, offering her musical creations, playing electronic harp and delivering her composer talents at various concerts. Ms. Olivier has given master classes at the Trinity College in London and is celebrated as a worldwide ambassador for the new electro-acoustic harp. In 2015, she became the first musician and composer to win the Prize from the Villa Le Notre at Versailles. In 2017 she was commissioned by the Art Institute of Chicago to compose and perform “In Between Gauguin.” Isabelle Olivier has recorded eight discs, as well as a DVD of her personal work. The percussive effects add depth and beauty to this ethereal project. I was especially captivated with the 7th track titled, “Road Movie,” that incorporated swiftly played percussion and vocals. Isabelle Olivier composed this song. I also enjoyed the beautiful composition by Rez Abbasi he calls, “Stepping Stone.” Olivier and Abbasi’s music is soothing, sometimes alarmingly different, and manages to stir up all kinds of emotional feelings as you listen. Their sound is rather exotic, embracing world music and blending their wide-ranging cultures. This is a recording that offers fresh, new perspectives on the combination of two string instruments and continually pushes the boundaries of self-expression and musical freedom. This is an artistic diversion from Abbasi’s other bands like the one pictured below as part of the New York Guitar Festival.

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Doug MacDonald,guitar; Charlie Shoemake,vibraphone; Joe Bagg, piano; Harvey Newmark & John B. Williams,bass; Kendall Kay & Roy McCurdy, drums; Kim Richmond,alto saxophone/flute/arranger; Ron Stout,trumpet; Ira Nepus,trombone; Rickey Woodard,tenor saxophone.

This is a “Live” recording that features some of Southern California’s top talent in jazz. The location of this performance was at the restaurant, Hangar 18, a Marriot Hotel restaurant located at the Los Angeles airport. This concert was captured in July of 2019 and features Doug MacDonald on guitar. MacDonald is known for his ability to pull some of the biggest names in jazz together for various recording ventures. This one was sponsored by Executive Producer, Don Thomson and it’s a two CD set that features sixteen songs, mostly jazz standards. MacDonald has contributed two original compositions.

“I first met Don Thomson in Hawaii in the mid-70s. Don has always been a patron of the arts and he wanted to produce a project with me that highlighted my various musical endeavors. We finally produced our first Jazz Marathon in 2014. In the subsequent years, we have released three other live albums. … It’s an honor for me to be able to release this Jazz Marathon 4 which presents large ensemble arrangements from legendary musician/arranger, Kim Richmond, as well as small group selections that I chose in an effort to present a varied program,” explained Doug MacDonald.

Ron Stout’s trumpet is expressive and dynamic on the ensemble’s arrangement of “Maiden Voyage, with a rich, sliding bass line that introduces the tune. The horn section on “Pennies From Heaven” is harmonically impressive and the band swings, issuing in Joe Bagg on a happy-go-lucky piano solo, followed by Ira Nepus letting his slide trombone do the talking. On disc 2., Rickey Woodward swings hard on his tenor saxophone during a boisterous solo on “Where or When,” and Ron Stout’s beautiful trumpet interpretation of “Body and Soul” was spellbinding. Clearly, Disc 2 has become my favorite. The Richmond arrangements are smooth and warm as red velvet comforters and a roaring fireplace.

I wish that Doug MacDonald had designated which drummer and which bass player appeared on which cuts, since he used more than one for this ‘live’ recording. I could have given more appropriate review credits if I had known who played on the various tunes.

Over the years, Doug has performed with a host of great musicians including Rosemary Clooney, John Clayton, Bill Holman, Joe Williams, Jack Sheldon, Buddy Rich, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan and Stan Getz to name just a few of the countless icons who have enjoyed his guitar skills. This two-set recording continues his tradition of playing with the best in the business.
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Eric Hofbauer, guitar; Dylan Jack, drums/percussion.

It takes a lot of creativity, technical adeptness and courage to record an entire album with only guitar and drums. Especially when the two musicians are choosing challenging pieces written by the likes of Don Cherry, Sting, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix and Ornette Coleman. That’s a wide range of styles and genius. Hofbauer and Jack do not disappoint. Their sound and this production are unique and actually quite captivating. The title of their album was shortened from a quotation of the great Jimi Hendrix. He once said, “Is it just remains of vibrations, echoes long ago?” Dylan Jack and Eric Hofbauer shortened it to “Remains of Echoes.” These two Boston improvisors open with Sting’s composition, “Walking on the Moon.” They follow this unusual arrangement and delivery with “Bird’s” “Klactoveedsedstene.” The first song being sparsely played and the 2nd track more bebop influenced and giving Hofbauer an opportunity to stretch out on his guitar in a Thelonious Monk-kind-of-way. He plays this one the way I think Monk would have, if he was a guitarist and not a genius pianist. Dylan Jack is especially creative on drums, not only supporting the rhythm but improvising and expressing a percussive freedom that draws the listener into the song with his whirlpool of drum licks. I am caught up and enjoying it. One of my favorites on this album is their interpretation of Jimi Hendrix’s “Up From the Skies” tune. Hofbauer exposes his blues chops on the guitar.

“Using slide guitar is a way for me to express that strong emotional pull that always draws me back to the blues,” Hofbauer declared in the liner notes.

The two musicians play around with various textures, time-registers and rhythms. On Don Cherry’s “Mopti” composition, Dylan Jack takes us back to Africa and gives us quite a solo on his drum set.

“My approach on this record was to be a solo percussionist/drummer in order to get as much music as I could out of the instrument. Whether I was playing melodies, soloing or supporting Eric, I tried to surround his playing with different registers, timbres density and space,” Jack explained.

This is a unique listening experience that combs through the great music of iconic musicians and sweeps us up into a pompadour of sound and intriguing creativity.
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ELLEN EDWARDS – “A NEW YORK SESSION” Stonefire Music Company

Ellen Edwards, vocals/composer; Robbie Kondor, piano; Jeff Mironov, guitar; Will Lee, bass; Gene Loke, drums; Jason Miles, vibes/B3 organ/strings/producer; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Richie Morales, percussion.

Ellen Edwards has written five original compositions for this project to showcase her singer-songwriter skills. The first tune, “Over There” is arranged as a Latin production and the rhythm track is Samba strong. Edwards is based in Atlanta, (The Little Apple), but is originally from the ‘Big Apple’ or more precisely, from Upstate New York. After her move to Atlanta, she met and married her current husband. For a while, she left the music scene to raise their three children. Now, she is back. This is her fourth album release. Randy Brecker’s trumpet spices up her bluesy rendition of “Let the Fire Grow.” Ellen’s voice seems more comfortable with the blues. She continues with “Love Is on My Side” arranged with a gospel/blues feel, using a 6/8 beat. “Blue and Green” has a folk-song-feel and Robbie Kondor adds his sensitive piano accompaniment. Edwards has a strong voice, but is not what I would call a jazz singer. Ellen Edwards is more pop oriented in style and, on this EP of original music, strives to share her songwriting talents with the world.

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Lori Bell,flute; Ron Satterfield,guitar/vocals/arrangements; Tommy Aros,percussion.

This project is refreshing and creative. Sometimes less offers much more, as is the case with this trio of fine musicians. Lori Bell never disappoints, always skilled and fluid on her instrument. She’s an award-winning jazz and classical flute virtuoso. Ron Satterfield brings stylized and soulful vocals and a guitar mastery that elevates this project. He is also an innovative arranger. Tommy Aros tastefully adds percussion to the mix, bringing the trio together like super glue. His rhythms are exciting and solidifying. Lori Bell explained their process of recording this way.

“The inspiration for this project is imagining the light of James Taylor refracted through the musical soul of Ron Satterfield. It’s really his baby. He wrote all of the arrangements. Ron connects emotionally to every lyric. He’s exceptionally gifted,” Bell praised her musical comrade.

True, Ron Satterfield has earned multiple awards from SESAC for his compositional and arranging skills and was a Grammy finalist for his work with the eclectic group, Checkfield. However, Bell’s prowess on flute is not to be overlooked or minimized. Her recordings have garnered three Global Music Awards,for playing and composing,including Best Albums of 2016 in Downbeat magazine and she was praised as Best in Jazz 2016 by the Huffington Post newspaper. Tommy Aros brings percussive spice and sprinkles hot sauce over this delicious musical meal.

“He adds so much groove, color and texture to the project,” says Bell.

Tommy Aros is a percussionist who is an in-demand session player and his talents have been recorded on over sixty albums including Freddie Hubbard, Al Dimeola, David Benoit, Dan Segel, Trini Lopez, and for the past 20-years he’s worked with Luis Miguel. I recall when he was a member of the popular San Diego based band, “Fattburger” along with the talented reed man, Hollis Gentry. (R.I.P.)

Together, this Trio de Janeiro decided to celebrate the songwriting of James Taylor. This successful composer’s works are reimagined and rearranged by Ron Satterfield. The result is a striking and memorable reassessment of treasured pop and folk songs that transcend genre, interpreted by this trio that richly steeps them in jazz. Bell’s amazingly improvisational fills and solos make this production soar and enhances Satterfield’s arrangements. Satterfield’s voice is hypnotic and draws me swiftly into the whirlpool of his multi-talents; with strumming fingers and smooth baritone. Tommy Aros whips the production together with percussive brilliance. Their presentation made me re-evaluate the wonderful composing skills of James Taylor and appreciate how jazz can beautifully transform music to a higher level.
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Amber Weekes, vocals; Peter Smith & Tony Compodonico, pianists; Trevor Ware, bass/co-producer/background vocals; Jeff Littleton, bass; Charles Ruggiero & Nathaniel Scott, drums; Mitchell Long & Ramon Stagnaro, guitars; Justo Almario & Danilo Lazano, flute; Keith Fiddmont, alto & tenor saxophone; Dale Fielder, baritone saxophone; Curtis Taylor, Jeff Kaye & Scotty Barnhart, trumpets; Mark Cargill, violin/string arranger/conductor & co-producer; Munyungo Jackson, David Jackson & Don Littleton, percussionist; Nick Mancini & Gabriel “Slam” Nobles, vibraphone; Sue Raney & Mon David, vocals; Paul Baker, harp; Brian Swartz, horn arrangements; Mark LeVang, accordion; THE BUCKJUMP BRASS BAND: Robbie Hiokie, trombone; Randall Willis, tenor saxophone; Louis Van Taylor, baritone Saxophone; Vince Tividad, sousaphone; Mark Justin, piano; Kenny Sara, bass drum/snare drums/percussion/background vocals/handclaps.

Amber Weekes has a smooth, pleasing style. Her voice is crystal clear and during this repertoire, she pleasantly performs a Baker’s Dozen of notably familiar songs. Opening with the title tune borrowed from the Willy Wonka movie, Amber Weekes invites jazz vocalist Sue Rainey to make a guest appearance. She has studied with Raney and their voices blend nicely. I am struck by the Weekes way of stylizing her music, leaving space for the songs to breathe. Her phrasing is measured, like an instrumentalist rather than a singer. She doesn’t hold the tones out for long periods of time or delve into lengthy legato phrasings. Weekes displays skills by going straight to the notes without sliding. Every word is clearly enunciated and every melody is emotionally enriched. Her choice of tunes shows an expansive appreciation for many genres of music and includes compositions by Paul Simon, Duke Ellington, Oscar Brown Jr., Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer. She introduced me to “When He Makes Music” by Marvin Fisher and Jack Segal. This is a treasure trove of great songs.

The West Coast musicians shine on this Weekes album of fine jazz. Scotty Barnhart is outstanding on trumpet during Amber Weekes’ polished presentation of “The Snake.” Trevor Ware’s big, fat tones on double bass carries the rhythm section effectively during Sunny Skylar’s, “Gotta Be This or That.” Weekes brightly ‘swings’ this tune. On Oscar Brown Jr.’s “Brown Baby” composition, Weekes and Trevor Ware duet, effectively showcasing her voice with only bass accompaniment. Ware pulls out his bow on this one to beautifully sing his solo. Amber Weekes and her producers have employed the talents of numerous studio musicians, handpicked for various sessions and representative of some of the best jazz players in Southern California. For example, she uses Jeff Littleton’s strong bass chops on “When October Goes” and the stellar guitar licks of Ramon Stagnaro blended with a happy flute embellishment by Danilo Lazano. They have arranged this Manilow hit with a Latin flair. Weekes invites Mon David to join her in interpreting, “The Way He Makes Me Feel,” using a harp tastefully added by Paul Baker and Mark Cargill continues to enrich the production with his string arrangements. This Amber Weekes album of music is a fine way to begin your New Year. It’s scheduled for a January 3rd release.
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KINGA – “FOREVER IN MY HEART” Kayla Dream Records

Kinga Heming,vocals; Miles Black, piano/bass/organ/arrangements; Gabriel Mark Hasselbach,trumpet/flugelhorn/flute; Joel Fountain,drums; Bernie Addington,bass; Loni Mager,guitar.

Known simply as ‘Kinga,’ this Canadian artist is a strong singer that oozes emotional connections to her lyrics. She opens with “Forget Me,” displaying a distinctive sound and smooth jazz styling on this haunting melody. She interprets the poignant lyrics with believability. On familiar American songbook tunes like “Almost Like Being in Love” and “Stay as Sweet as You Are,” she displays complete ease and vocal control, with the additional quality of assertively swinging the Lerner and Loewe tune, and even incorporating scat-singing into her presentation as easily as breathing in and out. On the third track, she delivers the “Stay as Sweet as You Are” ballad convincingly.

Producer, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach,encouraged Kinga Heming to choose songs straight from her heart; songs she could honestly relate to and deliver. The chanteuse did just that.

“These were songs that were introduced to me at a very young age. I chose the ones that I felt really connected to; that reflect my life. It’s me telling a story to everybody in my audience. … At the end of the day, I know for myself and from my own perspective. … That’s why I came up with ‘Forever in My Heart,’ because every single part of these stories are held forever in my heart,” Kinga shares in her publicity package. “When I sing a song, it’s not just singing a song. It’s not just reciting the lyrics to make it sound pretty. … Every single song on the record is me telling my story.”

She includes jazz standards like “No More Blues,” and “Whisper Not,” along with “Here’s to Life,” the classic, “Nature Boy” song and a beautiful rendition of “The Very Thought of You.” Polish-born, Kinga Heming, who moved to Ottawa,Ontario in Canada at the age of five, is currently being played on Canadian radio from coast to coast. Hopefully, we’ll hear her on the United States airwaves soon.
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Carol Albert,piano/vocals/keyboards/programming/composer; Ben Babylon, string/French horn arrangements; Paul Brown, guitar/percussion/ production; Sam Sims,bass; Lil John Roberts, drums/percussion/piano; Daniel Baraszu,acoustic guitar.

Carol Albert is a composer, pianist and keyboard programmer. In league with producer and guitarist, Paul Brown, who is a two-time Grammy winning producer and hit record maker, they have created an easy-listening, smooth jazz recording. This is an album that grew out of Carol Albert’s “Sun’s Out” successful single release that raced up the Billboard Smooth Jazz Song list. It’s being played on smooth jazz stations across the country. Carol Albert has the talent of finding a repeatable melody line that sticks like glue and embellishing it with programmed keyboard parts, and tasteful live musicians who bring flavor and technical improvisations to help her music come alive. On keyboard and piano, Albert establishes the melody, but never really stretches out as a jazz improviser. She leaves the fluid improvisation to folks like Paul Brown, strong on his guitar. Lil John Roberts adds his drum licks to hold the grooves strong.

“I met Paul Brown at a show he did in Atlanta through my friend, trumpeter Rob Zinn, and he said to give him a call when I started working on my new album. He took his incredible ear and years of experience working with all kinds of artists to make incredible suggestions, oversee and put everything together, mix it to perfection and truly elevate my work. I’m so impressed with the quality of these musicians and the way all the elements came together. … I think it’s the best work of my career,” Carol gushed.

Carol Albert manages to capture moods with her music. For example,her tinkling,arpeggio piano parts on the “Winter Rain” tune expands the imagination and paints pictures of rain with the piano. The warm groove that supports this song embellishes it like winter winds brushing back and forth in the midst of a peaceful storm. All of her songs are peaceful and easy-listening. On the current single, the one that’s making so much joyful noise on the Billboard charts, Carol Albert adds her vocals as part of the musical mix; no words necessary. On “I Am Fine” she does sing lyrics. The words give us a positive mantra to repeat; “I am fine now. I am fine.” On the song, “Perfect Sunday,” Paul Brown once again adds his brilliant guitar work and production techniques that make this a stand-out composition. For me, Carol Albert is more pop than jazz, but Brown’s guitar adds that slice of jazz improvisation and freedom that strays from Albert’s sing-song melodies and gives us a taste of the precious and important third element of jazz, which is improvisation. The final original composition by Carol Albert titled, “Til We Meet Again,” features the tasty talents of Daniel Baraszu on acoustic guitar. All in all, this is a smooth jazz mixture of classically based piano with a pop/jazz production twist. It’s a soothing way to brighten your day or to enhance your winter evening.
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November 27, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

November 27, 2019

The Grand Ole Opry will salute Ray Charles in a program set to air in Los Angeles on KCET Public Television on Thursday, November 28th at 10:00PM. So, after your hearty, Thanksgiving Celebration, tune-in to enjoy a 90-minute television special that features the songs of Ray Charles and the influence this revolutionary African American artist had on country music. The impressive line-up of talent will feature host, Darius Rucker and special performances by Boyz II Men, Cam, Brett Eldredge, Leela James, Jessie Key, Ronnie Milsap, Lukas Nelson, LeAnn Rimes, Allen Stone, Travis Tritt, Charlie Wilson, Trisha Yearwood and Chris Young. We will forever be “thankful” for the music and genius of Ray Charles.

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Jeff Denson, double bass; Romain Pilon, guitar; Brian Blade, drums.

This project celebrates a collaboration between two countries, bringing together French guitarist, Romain Pilon, celebrated U.S. drummer, Brian Blade and internationally acclaimed U.S. bassist/composer, Jeff Denson. Denson first played with Brian Blade in 2017 after he got a call to tour with Joel Harrison’s ‘Spirit House Quintet.’ Jeff Denson knew that Brian Blade was the group’s drummer. Consequently, he took the gig, because he was a big fan of Blades.

“I said, YES! Absolutely, without question. I’ll do back flips if you want,” Denson recalls his enthusiasm when he accepted a gig he was truly “thankful” to land and eager to lend his talents.

“Jeff and I could communicate right away, as musicians and as people too,” said drummer Blade as he remembered their first musical encounter. “We had the kind of relationship where you don’t have to say too much or to explain.”

Of course, the relationship between any bass player and drummer is extremely important in any group. They form the basement that the musical structure is built upon. Enter, Romain Pilon, who Denson first met at Berklee College of Music some twenty years ago. After playing together off and on, once in New York and later for a tour in California, they talked about doing a project together. It seemed like a perfect fit for the three, musical, kindred spirits. “Between Two Worlds” features all original compositions, including five written by Jeff Denson and five contributed by Romain Pilon. The composers built a legacy on this album.

“As musicians, we float between two worlds. One, a physical plane and the other, a powerful reality that can only be found with the most open of ears, hearts and minds,” Denson explained.

Romain Pilon has recorded three albums as a co-leader and four as a leader. His talents, as an improviser and composer, have earned him praise in the international press as one of the standout musicians currently living in Paris. He can play all types of jazz; swing, bebop, modern and avant-garde music. That makes him an ‘in-demand’ sideman and also a prestigious instructor with strict guideline and high standards. He is fluid and innovative on this recording.

Brian Blade was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. He’s drenched in the Gospel music of his youth. His father, Brady L. Blade, Sr., is a respected pastor since 1961. Brian Blade’s drum skills have been in demand for years and he is a member of Wayne Shorter’s quartet since 2000. He’s recorded with Joni Mitchell, Kenny Garrett, Ellis Marsalis, Norah Jones, and even Bob Dylan. In 2009, he released his first album as a singer/songwriter; “Mama Rosa” that featured songs dedicated to his grandmother.

Bassist, Jeff Denson, is also a vocalist and educator who was born in Arlington, Virginia and grew up in Washington, DC. He started out playing alto sax, but switched to bass and vocals during high school. Denson relocated to the San Francisco, California Bay area in 2011 and became a professor at California Jazz Conservatory where he serves as Dean of Instruction. Denson has been heralded as one of the leading bassists of contemporary jazz and has released fourteen albums as a leader or co-leader. He also spearheads Ridgeway Arts, a nonprofit to enhance educational initiatives, concert presentations and recordings released on Denson’s Ridgeway Record label.
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Bernie Mora, guitar/composer/bandleader; Charles Godfrey, drums/percussion; Daniel Becker, elec. & acoustic 12-string bass; Doug Webb, saxophones/flute; Corey Alley, keyboards; Lee Thornberg, trumpets/trombone; GUEST ARTISTS: Eric Unsworth, fretless bass; Leilani Rivera Low, vocal Hawaiian chant.

This album is an excellent blend of rock music and jazz. According to the liner notes, guitarist Bernie Mora never plays music that lacks fire, power and purpose. He certainly captures all of that on this production. “No Agenda” is his latest recording that features his fusion jazz sensibilities. It showcases nine new original compositions by Bernie Mora that display infectious rhythm and jazzy rock. The horn section is stupendous, including the talents of Doug Webb and Lee Thornburg. “Later Daze” is one of my favorites on this CD, beginning with a very jazz-infused introduction by Doug Webb’s saxophone solo. It quickly turns into a high-energy, drum boosted arrangements that will encourage you to get up off your seat and dance. The staccato breaks and punchy horn lines remind me of the Tower of Power horn section. The title tune is a sexy, bluesy arrangement that showcases the brilliance of Bernie Mora on his guitar. Once again, the drummer was an important dynamic in this arrangement. However, there is an album note that I should mention.

Former drummer, “Doc the Clock” (as Doc Anthony was lovingly referred to), was a big part of the Tangent group’s creative process and rhythm section on their last two albums. His already-recorded drum parts were used for this recording at the request of the group’s new percussionist,Charles Godfrey. Bernie Mora explained his thankfulness for having collaborated with “Doc the Clock.”

“Doc Anthony was a great friend to all of us, as well as the ultimate timekeeper! He not only brought great drum chops, but shared wisdom. …I played with him for many years off and on and … we definitely felt his presence on some of our tracking sessions. This song is for you Doc, my best friend. You were taken from us suddenly, but live on in our music forever!”

Bernie Mora is based in San Antonio, Texas, but frequently utilizes top musicians from Los Angeles and has been the bandleader for his group, Tangent, for many years. Mora is an awesome composer, framing melodies, that stick melodically in your consciousness, with bright rhythms and fusion excitement. This is an original and well-produced combination of fusion, jazz and rock music. The group, Tangent, is cohesive and each player brings quality and memorable art to the project.
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The DIVA Jazz orchestra: Alexa Tarantino, lead alto saxophone/soprano sax/flute/clarinet; Scheila Gonzales, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Janell Reichman, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Roxy Coss, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Leigh Pilzer, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Tanya Darby, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Jami Daubar, Rachel Therrien & Barbara Laronga , trumpet/flugelhorn; Jennifer Krupa, lead trombone; Linda Landis, trombone; Leslie havens, bass trombone; Tomoko Ohno, piano; Noriko Ueda, bass; Sherrie Maricle, drummer/bandleader; Stanley Kay, founder. The Boys: Ken Peplowski, clarinet, Claudio Roditi, trumpet/ piccolo trumpet; Jay Ashby, trombone/percussion; Marty Ashby, guitar/ producer.

This is an orchestra of female musicians, incorporated with some male guest musicians, which explains the title of this CD, “Diva and the Boys.” On track #1, titled “Slipped Disc,” Ken Peplowski is featured on clarinet. The arrangement and Peplowski’s performance winds the clock back to the Benny Goodman Big Band swing days. When I read the composer credits, to my surprise, I discover that Benny Goodman actually wrote this song. This entire album has a 1930’s or 1940’s feel to it. The arrangements are often colored by Dixieland music styles, even though they include original compositions and Latin standards.

The inspiration for DIVA’s formation came from Stanley Kay, one-time manager and relief drummer for Buddy Rich. In 1990, Kay was conducting a band where Sherrie Maricle was playing the drums. Thankfully, because Stanley was so mesmerized by her extraordinary percussive talent, he began to consider finding other women players with comparable musical proficiency, with the objective of forming a female orchestra. It wasn’t hard to do. By 1994, this all-women congregation was regularly performing concerts for Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG) and being enthusiastically received.

Jobim’s familiar composition “A Felicidade” is always a crowd pleaser. It features special guest Claudio Roditi on trumpet and Roxy Coss on tenor saxophone. The arrangement is smooth, but lacks the excitement and energy I usually expect this song to muster. I miss hearing the familiar chant, “Oo-bah, Oo-bah, Oo-bah” and wish they had turned Sherrie Maricle’s inspired drums up, much louder in the mix. I think that would have helped propel this production forward. Noriko Ueda plays a lovely bass solo and the horn harmonies crescendo and encourage the energy.

Jay Ashby’s composition “Deference to Diz” gives pianist, Tomoko Ohno a time to shine and Ashby himself performs formidably on trombone, as does Claudio Roditi on trumpet and Peplowski on clarinet. “Bucket of Blues,” composed by the great saxophonist, Plas Johnson, gives Sherrie Maricle a chance to step forward and sweep her busy drum sticks across the skins with passionate precision. It was good to hear the ladies in the woodwind department finally step forward and solo with gusto. This tune is the energy I was looking forward to hearing throughout their project. When the DIVA’s stepped up, they brought an explosion of energy with them.

Here is a well-produced album and these talented women bring beauty and passion to what they play. I would just like to hear them do some more contemporary arrangements, with more energy and spice in the mix.
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Ralph Peterson, conductor/drums/cornet/muted trumpet; SPECIAL GUEST SOLOIST: Kuumba Frank Lacy, trombone. RHYTHM: Samuel Bolduc & Christian Napoleon, drums; Youngchae Jeong &Nikos Chatzitsakos, bass; Ido Hammovich, piano/electric piano; Manfredi Caputo, percussion; SAXOPHONES: Eric Nakanishi, (lead alto/soprano & section captain); Craig Jackson, 2nd alto; Solomon Alber, 2nd tenor; Tim Murphy, 1st tenor; Gabe Nekrutman, baritone; Morga Faw, soloist/arranger; Joe Melnicove, flute. TROMBONES: Brandon Lin (section captain) 2nd bone; Stephan Tenney, (lead); Dean Scarlett, 3rd bone; Ethan Santos, bass bone. TRUMPETS: Robert Vega-Dowda (Section captain) 2nd trpt; Yuta Yamagichi, (lead); Milena Casado Faquet, 3rd trpt; Will Mallard, 4th trpt; John Michael Bradford, 5th trpt.

When I see Ralph Peterson’s name, I immediately know I’m going to listen to a high quality, high energy project. Thankfully, this CD did not disappoint. “Listen Up” is the first studio CD from the Peterson popular student band. I believe the former Gen-Next Big Band was recorded ‘live.’ On this production, all of the arranging (except for two songs) was done by Berklee music students and they recorded ‘live’ in the studio. Peterson praised them saying:

“They demonstrate maturity, finesse and exuberance as arrangers and players.”

This is Peterson’s second album celebrating the legacy of legendary drummer and bandleader, Art Blakey and his famed Jazz Messengers. This is a follow-up to the Gen-Next Band’s 2018 debut release titled, “I Remember Bu.” I reviewed that first release and it too was full of energy and excellence. Roger H. Brown, the President of Berklee College of Music spoke highly of Ralph Peterson.

“Ralph teaches jazz the way he and many of the greatest players learned their craft, from making the music with a torch bearer committed to passing on the knowledge. Ralph has toured with Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Michael Brecker, Branford Marsalis and many of the greatest players of this music. His students deeply appreciate him and learn about composition, arranging, performance and life. The commitment the students make is remarkable,” spoke Berklee’s president.

This journalist listens to hundreds of projects each year and these young musicians and students sound as professional as some of the name jazz musicians I review. In some cases, they sound more professional. The Gen-Next Big Band opens with a Curtis Fuller composition titled, “Arabia.” It’s an up-tempo arrangement by Will Mallard and a great way for the band to make a grand entrance. Mallard also solos on trumpet, as does baritone saxophonist Gabe Nekrutman. But what surprised me was that Ralph Peterson soloed too, not on drums (as I expected) but on muted trumpet. I enjoy the time changes during this arrangement and the flute solo by Joe Melnicove was awesome.

Track 2 is a Ralph Peterson composition, “Acceptance,” and Peterson is back behind his drum set, trading drum solos with the talented drummer, Christian Napoleon. The band plays a couple of Bobby J. Watson’s compositions and on Hoagy Carmichael’s beautiful “Skylark” tune, they add the sweet vocals of Chole Brisson. Freddie Hubbard’s “Down Under” composition ‘swings’ and is propelled by the magic in Peterson’s drum sticks. It’s not often you hear a bass trombone solo, but Ethan Santos surprises us with his improvisation on this instrument. John Michael Bradford is impressive during his trumpet solo.

Ralph Peterson’s Gen-Next Big Band is a wonderful listening experience and made me want to grab my flat shoes and a swing-dance partner, then hurry to the dance floor! Congratulations are in order to each of these young musicians who contributed to an excellent project in an entirely professional way.
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Darren Barrett, EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument)/trumpet/piccolo trumpet/keyboards; Santiago Bosch, keyboards; Daniel Ashkenazy & Conn Shani, bass; Mathéo Techer & Roni Kaspi, drums; Judy Barrett, percussion; Chad Selph, organ; Roy Ben Bashat, Francois Chanvallon , Jeffrey Lockhart, guitar; SPECIAL GUESTS: Kenny Garrett, soprano saxophone; Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone; Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar.

This Is a blend of electronic jazz, using the Hip Hop concept of looping to open Darren Barrett’s album, while incorporating straight-ahead jazz susceptibilities. With a repetitive melody line played beneath his compositions, Barrett builds on this basement of sound, using the most important element of jazz; improvisation.

Barrett’s production concept is unique, because of the use of the EVI. His first original composition, titled Mr. Steiner” is meant to celebrate the synthesis guru, Nyle Steiner, who is credited for the invention of the EVI or Electronic Valve Instrument. Steiner also invented the EWI (Electric Wind Instrument). The jazz audience may have become familiar with this invention when it was employed popularly by saxophonist, Michael Brecker. Darren Barrett’s creative concept is to pair the full potential of the EVI with other instruments thus, creating a fresh, unique approach to his arrangements. The EVI is a midi wind controller. It’s a wind instrument that is capable of controlling any midi synthesizer, using breath control as an important component for expression. Similar to a trumpet, octaves are achieved through the octave roller with the left hand. Notes are played with the right hand, based on conventional trumpet finger-rings. The players air-wind controls both volume and brightness.

Darren Barrett exudes, “The EVI, for the trumpeter, is just another instrument one can add to their arsenal just like the Flugelhorn or mutes. It’s not only fun to play, it opens up your mind to new things.”

Track 2 incorporates a laid-back, Smooth -jazz feel titled, “Keep It Moving,” Darren Barrett brightly features this EVI instrument. Roy Ben Bashat adds electric guitar. The EVI and guitar make a compatible soundboard. Santiago Bosch offers his keyboard magic and Mathéo Techer waves his drum sticks like a magician’s wand. This composition by Darren Barrett once again uses a repetitive ‘hook,’ or refrain, that the band continuously goes back to play. Barrett is a very melodic composer. Another interesting use of the EVI is that it can be played as a mono-tone or can harmonize with itself as a polyphonic tone, using two or more notes at the same time. Barrett employs this technique on “Nu Vibrations.” The poly-harmonics, along with synthesized voicings, paint an unexpectedly rich, palate of sound on this fourth track.

This project of composing and arranging music with Barrett’s concept of celebrating the EVI instrument took the trumpeter about a year of preparation. He has added some celebrated musicians in contemporary music as his special guests. They include the soprano saxophone of Kenny Garrett on “dB Plus KG” and tenor saxophonist, Noah Preminger is spotlighted on “Botnick.” Barrett also features talented guitarist, Kurt Rosenwinkel on his composition, “Deal for Real.”

To assist him with EVI issues, with programming, and to serve as a technical consultant, Darren Barrett invited Mark Steiner, nephew of Nyle Steiner to the studio. The result of combining a list of gifted musicians, special guests, and employing his own composer, arranger and production talents, is a strong musical package. Darren Barrett stretches the boundaries of contemporary jazz in a fresh and notable way. He is grateful for the new technology. This is his eleventh album release as a leader. It may be one of his more exceptional productions, blending electronic invention with ingenuity.

It all started with this project below titled, “dB-ish” back in 2017.

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Skip Wilkins, piano; Dan Wilkins, tenor saxophone; Tony Marino, bass; Bill Goodwin, drums.

This is a delightful album of somewhat obscure compositions by some of the most iconic American composers in the business of music. Skip and Dan Wilkins use their excellent talents to introduce us to songs like, “Spring Isn’t Spring Anymore” by Matt Dennis, “Remind Me” by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields and “Ever Again” by Alec Wilder and Johnny Mercer, among others. Dan Wilkins has a smooth, intoxicating sound on tenor saxophone. Skip Wilkins is an amazingly competent and creative pianist. Together, with Tony Marino on bass and Bill Goodwin at the drum set, this is a thoroughly entertaining quartet. “Someday” is a love letter to the historic Deer Head Inn of Pennsylvania. It’s one of the oldest, continuously running jazz clubs in the country. Open since the 1940’s, it’s situated in the Pocono Mountains, a historic area of Pennsylvania called Delaware Water Gap. Many legendary jazz artists have performed there and in 1992, Keith Jarrett recorded a ‘live’ album on the premises and his album title reflected that home of jazz. Skip & Dan Wilkins have done the same, displaying a photograph of the legendary jazz hotel on the cover of this current CD.

Pianist, Skip Wilkins is quite familiar with this respected jazz establishment. He has resided in an upstairs apartment, above what used to be the carriage house, since 2012. Surprisingly, I read in the liner notes that the drummer on this project, Bill Goodwin, is also a fellow resident at Deer Head Inn. Perhaps this musical residency is something to be thankful for, since it brought these talented gentlemen closely together for this project.

On the first tune, “We’ll Meet Again” father and son team, Skip and Dan Wilkins, offer us a lovely rendition of the Parker & Charles composition, “We’ll Meet Again.” The chord changes sound very much like “This is the End of a Beautiful Friendship” and I find myself wondering which tune came first? Like this quartet, I too have a passion for the American Songbook. The Skip & Dan Wilkins quartet brings each composition alive with skill, dexterity and emotional deliveries. Longtime collaborator, Tony Marino, is strong and steady on his upright bass. You can tell that this group of musicians are quite familiar with each other and their comfort-level and technical abilities merge to create a beautiful album of historic relevance. They offer an hour of exceptional jazz music. In fact, I found myself playing this album again, just for the pure enjoyment of it.
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Michael Cerda, bass/vocals/guitar; Doug Beavers, trombone/producer/arranger; Andrew Gould, saxophone; Pete Nater & Jonathan Powell, trumpet; Beserat Tafesse, trombone; Robby Ameen, drums; George Delgado, Willy Torres, Luisito Quintero, Camilo Molina, percussion; Chris Phillips, guitar/lead vocalist; Marco Bermudez, Carlos Cascante, Jeremy Bosch, Herman Olivera, & Willy Torres, Spanish vocals; Chevy Chevis, backing vocals.

Planning a party? The first track on this album exudes happiness. If you are looking for a New Year’s Eve party album that features World music, this is it! Yellow House orchestra is pop, rock, jazz and Latin all rolled into one cross-cultural ball of multi-colored music. The first cut and title tune, “Pop” goes from funk to reggae in the blink of an eye and the slap of a drum stick. Then the arrangement embraces Latin grooves, all within the same six minutes of energetic, well-played music. Drummer, Robby Ameen, is to be heralded as a super-star. He plays it all! Michael Cerda is the composer and is certainly musically explorative and definitely artistic. He sings, plays bass, guitar and writes the songs for the group. Grammy winning trombonist, Doug Beaver, is the arranger and producer of this self-contained ensemble. Here is a project, ultimately about openness and inclusiveness. It appears to be a part of something bigger than oneself, with the goal of showing the amazing diversity in music. Just like humanity, this project is colorful and beautiful. Cerda is joined by a tight harmonic group of backing vocals that sing in both Spanish and English.

Based in San Francisco and New York City, (a wide range of miles apart), like the wide range of music they explore, Yellow House Orchestra is a unique musical experience. They are definitely a party band. These musicians show up to enjoy, to interact, to explore and spotlight how human differences enhance the world of music and the world itself. They string styles of music together like a rare, jeweled necklace. Then they gift that unique piece of musical creativity to us. Thankfully, we have the opportunity to enjoy its incomparable beauty.
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November 17, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

NOVEMBER 17, 2019


Dave Stryker, guitar; Stefon Harris, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums/percussion; Special Guest: Steve Nelson, vibraphone on track #10.

I have come to look forward to the Dave Stryker “Eight Track” series and was quite interested in hearing this one that celebrates the Christmas season. Stryker is a producer, guitarist, arranger and studio session musician who plays Gibson and Benedetto guitars. On this, his fourth eight-track project, he is employing the same steadfast band he’s used in the past. Stefon Harris brings joy to any project with his mastery of the vibraphone. The organ of Jared Gold, blends perfectly with Stryker’s guitar and recalls the days of great organ bands like Jimmy smith with Terry Evans on guitar or reminds us of the magic created by Kenny Burrell with Jack McDuff. These were popular organ/guitar bands from back-in-the-day, a time when we were popping an ‘eight-track’ into our car players. Now we just plug our cell phones into our stereo system or tell ‘Alexa ‘what we want to hear. Wow – We’ve come a long way baby.

Dave Stryker reaches back to the ‘eight-track’ days for a style of playing that rejuvenates that time period. His exciting mix of the ‘Soulful Strut’ classic song mixed in with “Frosty the Snowman” is an excellent example of bringing us back to the roots of an eight-track zeitgeist. He calls this blend of music, a “Soulful Frosty.” You will enjoy ten holiday standards on this release including John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” tune, shades of Ramsey Lewis and the Peanuts cartoon with “Christmas Time Is Here,” a bluesy, Country/Western-feel on “Blue Christmas” and an organ drenched, up-tempo arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” is played at a brisk trot. You can just picture a horse-drawn sleigh being pulled down a snow-covered lane by a galloping steed. McClenty Hunter is given an ample drum solo on this tune and deservingly so! Stefon Harris has flying mallets and Dave Stryker’s guitar skips along, leading the ensemble in a joyful way.

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Jonathan Butler, vocals/guitar/electronic programming; Donald Hayes, saxophones/flutes/additional programming; Dan Lutz, bass; Gorden Campbell, drums; Keiko Matsui & Ruslan Sirota, acoustic piano; Marcus Anderson, flutes; Nicholas Cole, Marcus Anderson, drum programming/keyboards, SFX; Kurt Lykes, Jonathan Butler, Shelea & Jodie Butler, background vocals; Dave Koz, soprano saxophone; The Kroma Ensemble String Quartet: Crystal Alforque & Nadira Kimberly Scruggs-Butler, violin; Nikk Shorts, viola; Adrienne Woods, cello; Nicole Neely, string arranger. Gerald Albright, alto & tenor saxophones; Donald Hayes, horns/saxophones/flutes/additional programming/horn arrangements. Rick Braun, trumpet/valve trombone/percussion; Stephen Oberheu, sousaphone.

The first thing that struck me about the Jonathan Butler album was the bright and beautiful artwork on the cover. Mr. Butler is an ambassador of the Lalela Organization in South Africa which provides educational arts for at-risk youth. The program works to spark creative thinking and awaken the entrepreneurial spirit. The cover and other paintings were created by the children of Lalela. Jonathan Butler opens this album with “Winter Wonderland.” Butler is richly influenced by the vocal style of Stevie Wonder and is additionally, an amazingly accomplished guitarist. I thoroughly enjoy Butler’s rendition of this familiar holiday song. Another stellar vocal presentation is the duet between Shelea and Jonathan Butler on the “Mary Did You Know?” composition.

Keiko Matsui is a special guest acoustic pianist on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” produced in a very smooth jazz way. “Joy To The World” is also smooth jazz and features Dave Koz on soprano saxophone. “Love Is,” an original song written by Shelea Melody Frazier & Jonathan Butler is the only original composition on this production. It’s performed as an instrumental with the ‘hook’ being sung by Shelea and Butler.
This is a lovely stocking stuffer for your holiday season.
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This is a collection of holiday blues songs that feature a bright and sparkling array of unforgettable blues artists. You will enjoy KoKo Taylor singing a funky, blues number titled “Merry, Merry Christmas.”

This track is followed by Kenny Neal singing “Christmas Time In The Country.” Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials come dancing in next on a bright shuffle rendition of “I’m Your Santa.” Katie Webster is a pianist and vocalist who offers “Deck the Halls With Boogie Woogie” instead of boughs of holly. William Clarke slows down the groove to a slow blues on “Please let Me Be Your Santa Claus.” Tinsley Ellis brings us a more rock/blues groove on “Santa Claus Wants some Lovin.” Of course, this album compilation includes the great Charles Brown singing “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” with Kenny Washington shuffling his drums underneath the groove. One of my favorites is when Son Seals picks up his guitar and sings, “I wanna be home to help you decorate our Christmas tree, but I’ll be thinkin’ of you and I know you’ll think of me“ on his “Lonesome Christmas ” tune. Plus, he plucks a mean guitar. This is followed by Lonnie Brooks who sings about “Christmas on the Bayou” with a Chuck Berry groove and a rock and roll sensibility. Little Charlie and the Nightcats feature Rick Estrin on a magnificent harmonica arrangement. Estrin plays harmonica and sings in between his riffs. Estrin is singing his self-composed, “Santa Claus” song and it swings hard, with Jay Peterson strongly walking his bass. Elvin Bishop brings the electric guitar alive on “The Little Drummer Boy” with his prominent slide technique. Saffire is a group of all female musicians who pride themselves in being called, ‘the Uppity Blues Women.’ They sing a holiday song called, “One Parent Christmas” about the trials and tribulations of making Christmas work in a single-parent home. It wasn’t my favorite on this album. The very popular Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown wrote a song simply called, “Christmas.” He uplifts the CD with a positive spin lyrically and a style of songwriting reminiscent of the late, great Alberta Hunter. Bob Hoban plays a mean blues piano on this tune. The album closes out with Charlie Musselwhite crooning us “Silent Night” on his blues harmonica. There’s sure to be more than one gem that pleases you in this shiny array of blues jewels.
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Kristen Korb, bass/vocals; Magnus Hjorth, piano; Snorre Kirk, drums; Mathias Heise, harmonica.

Kristin Korb offers us a musical holiday gift with some fresh, new Christmas songs to add to the familiar pile of music we hear every year. “Christmas Will Really Be Christmas” is a well-written lyric and beautiful melody that could easily become a standard holiday ballad. Korb is not only a great interpreter of lyrics, she is also an outstanding scat-singer and the arrangements of these standard Christmas songs bring fresh appeal to well-worn music. On “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” drummer, Snorre Kirk, summersaults and dances all over the trap drums. Another beauty of a composition is “That’s What I Want for Christmas.” Kristin Korb plays the bass and sings, smooth and seamlessly, floating like warm breath on icy air. Her vocals are as soft as a cloud, bearing stories that drop sweetly from her lips like peppermint drops.

Born in Montana, Kristin Korb attended Eastern Montana College and then completed her studies at the University of California, San Diego. She studied with legendary bassist, Ray Brown and released her first record under Brown’s tutelage in 1996. I had wondered whatever happened to Kristin Korb, because I hadn’t heard about her performing in the California area for some time. In 2011, she married Morten Stove, the Danish co-founder of DPA Microphones, and moved to Copenhagen, Denmark. In Europe, her career continues with a band featuring Snorre Kirk on drums, Magnus Hjorth on piano and herself on bass. The addition of the sensational harmonica player, Mathias Heise, adds an exciting flavor to her holiday album.

Every song delivered is freshly arranged. There is nothing mundane or ordinary about this project. Even though the public will recognize most of these endearing Christmas songs, they are all painted with unexpectedly unique and jazzy colors. Korb cover’s Dave Frishberg ‘s composition, “Snowbound” with a slow, swing tempo. She sings the “Up On the Housetop” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” medley at a speedy pace and the group plays the French traditional hymn, “Angels We Have Heard on High” as an instrumental with a Latin-swing -feel. They also introduce this writer to an Irving Berlin composition titled, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” that I don’t remember ever hearing. Or perhaps, their excellent arrangement and delivery just makes me feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. Here is an album containing a Baker’s Dozen of holiday music that you will enjoy playing season after season.

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Jean-Baptiste Craipeau, tenor 1 vocal/France; Simon Akesson, tenor 2 vocal, Sweden; Danny Fong, tenor 3 vocal, Canada; Andrew Kesler, tenor 4 vocal/Canada; James Rose, Baritone/UK; Evan Sanders, bass/USA; Gordon Goodman’s Big Phat Band; Strings provided by the Budapest Scoring Orchestra; Arturo Sandoval, trumpet; The Barbershop Quartet cameo by Ringmasters; Don Shelton, clarinet; The Estonian Voices feature Jo Goldscmith-Etes & Sam Robson; Orchestral arrangement by Nan Schwartz on O Holy Night; Additional vocals by: Richard Bourne, Paul Cooper, David Dos, Skip Dolt, Hideaki Onaru, Benoit Pupin, Richard Owen Oz Ryan, Colb Uhlemann & Leonard Zerbib.

ACCENT is an a ‘Capella vocal group comprised of six male voices from diverse backgrounds. Simon Akesson is a tenor vocalist from Sweden. Jean-Baptiste Craipeau (or “JB” as they fondly call him) also sings tenor who is from France. Andrew Kesler and Danny Fong are both tenors from Canada. The baritone in the group is James Rose (who also composed the song “Winter Winds”). He is from the UK and the bass voice is Evan Sanders, an American. Surprisingly, unlike how groups used to get together beneath big-city street lamps and in barbershops to sing harmonically and without accompaniment, these gentlemen found each other Online and they collaborate via the Internet. This is their Christmas project and they have recorded old and well-loved holiday music in a very new and contemporary way. Some songs are totally a ’Capella and others have the assistance of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. They are featured on “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Let It Snow.” They are also joined by some special guest vocalists including the Estonian voices, who are a popular European vocal group. Sam Robson, a widely recognized YouTube artist based in London, was invited to sing with them and Jo Goldscmith-Eteson was invited from the UK group who call themselves, The Swingles. You will hear a trio on tracks 3 & 7 and string arrangements on tracks 3 & 10. This is a pleasant mix of strong a ‘Capella vocal arrangements with complimentary music added. Their previous recordings have celebrated jazz and pop tunes arranged for vocal jazz, and covering tunes like Whitney Houston’s song, “All At Once,” and The Weekends gold record recording, “I Can’t Feel My Face.”

I prefer them without a band. However, ACCENT with a little help from their friends, has produced an enjoyable holiday album of music. Their creative and challenging vocal arrangements feature the arranging talents of each of these international singers.
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Victor Goines, music director (2018)/tenor & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Walter Blanding (2015-17) /tenor saxophone/clarinet/shaker; Paul Nedzela, baritone & soprano saxophones / bass clarinet; Camille Thurman (2018) / tenor & soprano saxophones; RHYTHM SECTION: Dan Nimmer, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; Ali Jackson (2015 – 2016), drums; Marion Felder (2017), drums; Charles Goold (2018), drums; TRUMPETS: Wynton Marsalis (music director, 2017-18); Marcus Printup, Kenny Rampton, Ryan Kisor, Greg Gisbert, Bruce Harris, Tatum Greenblatt. TROMBONES: Vincent Gardner, Chris Crenshaw, Elliot Mason, Sam Chess & Eric Miller. FEATURED GUESTS: Aretha Franklin, Audrey Shakir, Denzal Sinclaire, Catherine Russell & Veronica Swift on vocals.

The Wynton Marsalis Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has cherry-picked holiday songs from several of their ‘live’ concerts between the years of 2015 to 2018. If you love the rich, full sound of a jazz orchestra, this is an album you will relish. Opening with “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Pianist, Dan Nimmer, takes a bright solo and the flute of Ted Nash flickers brightly like Christmas lights on this first track. The horns execute smooth harmonic changes in support of this holiday favorite that’s arranged by Wynton Marsalis. Wynton is also featured soloist on this one, along with Victor Goines on clarinet and Chris Crenshaw on trombone. At the completion, the audience bursts into appreciative applause, and rightly so. Next, vocalist Catherine Russell, swings a tune called “Cool Yule.” Soloists include Walter Blanding on tenor sax and Sherman Irby on alto saxophone. Irby also arranged this tune. Then, on “We Three Kings” the silky lead vocals of Denzal Sinclaire are featured. Once again, the piano solo of Dan Nimmer shines like a star at the top of a holiday tree. The straight-ahead, innovative arrangement by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., becomes one of my favorites, with Paul Nedzela’s baritone saxophone solo adding to the shine. The sweet surprise is the ‘live’ appearance of Aretha Franklin, who sits down at the grand piano and accompanies herself while singing “O Tannenbaum,” in English and in German! What a treat. It’s a beautiful moment by a beautiful artist. The Queen of Soul once again personifies a talent we must never forget.

“Rise Up Shepherd and Follow” is a Ted Nash arrangement that uses call and response horn lines that are exciting and demonstrative. They seem to speak brightly to each other, harmonically intertwining and interacting, like voices instead of instruments. There is a deep spiritual conversation going on for all to hear, spearheaded by the trumpet of Marcus Printup. Jazz vocalist, Veronica Swift, (whose wonderful, solo album I reviewed in my July 26, 2019 column) introduces us to a composition titled, “Everybody’s Waitin’ for the Man with the Bag.” It’s fun-filled arrangement and showcases Swift’s stellar vocals that bounce into scat singing as easily as she sells the song lyrics. There is something here that is reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald herself.

One of the spectacular things about Wynton’s Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra is that they introduce us to bright, new arrangements of familiar holiday tunes and to songs that aren’t as familiar, like “What Will Santa Claus Say When he Finds Everybody Swingin’?” This arrangement opens with playful saxophone parts, featuring an impressive baritone saxophone solo by Paul Nedzela that introduces us to the groove and melody. Enter Catherine Russell, with sparkling vocals that deliver fresh, inspired lyrics. The orchestra also gives the drummer some and Ali Jackson does not disappoint. Louie Prima composed this one.

“Brazilian Sleigh Bells” is an up-tempo, Latin arrangement that will have your hips swinging like wild, winter winds. Sherman Early is featured on saxophone. Ms. Russell once again offers us her vocal gift and is splendid singing, “Silver Bells.” “Silent Night” is a great arrangement by Victor Goines. Surprisingly, it’s a blues and features Denzal Sinclaire and Audrey Shakir on vocals. Audrey adds a soulful quality to the song, while Denzal soothes you as soon as you hear his rich baritone voice. The orchestra is dynamic throughout this entire production and will enhance any holiday get-together. Also, the singular, guest and solo appearance of Aretha Franklin, appearing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, along with Wynton Marsalis, makes this a genuine collector’s item.
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Independent Label

John Basile, electric & nylon guitars/midi guitar programing/arranging/ engineering/synthesizers.

This is a rich and beautiful contemporary Christmas album, interpreting timeless holiday songs we know and love. John Basile is an expressive guitarist with a warm, comfortable sound on both electric and nylon stringed guitars. I was quite surprised that he used midi programming, rather than live musicians, because the sound is so natural and perfectly recorded. Basile uses technology to create colorful textures beneath his ‘live’ jazz guitar improvisations. You will enjoy holiday standards like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” arranged in a very contemporary way, with a Latin flair using bright percussions.

“Baby it’s Cold Outside,” is as warm and comfortable as a fur coat. “Lulladay” is the only original song on this album of music. It’s very melodic, romantic-sounding and poignant. “Silver Bells” is joyful and up-tempo, while “Silent Night” is more traditional. Basile’s technique on guitar is spotlighted passionately. He’s been playing his instrument since age twelve, honing his skills by performing with R&B show bands and playing in jazzy organ groups. He graduated to straight-ahead jazz after studying at Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. He toured with an octet led by Count Basie and worked with respected singers like Peggy Lee, Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney, Mark Murphy and Tony Bennett, to list just a few. His talent on guitar has been utilized by instrumentalists like john Abercrombie, Tom Harrell, Jim Hall, Michael Brecker and Red Mitchell. This is perfect background music for a quiet, wintry evening with a roaring fireplace, burning brightly, and surrounded by the ones you love.
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For those of you looking for a compilation that pulls from the years 1937 to 1996 and features some of the greatest names in jazz music, this is the holiday compilation CD for you. It features legendary singers and musicians like Louie Armstrong, Kenny Burrell, Joe Williams, Shirley Horn, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald with the Frank Devol Orchestra . Ella sings “Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer.” Here’s some trivia for you about that popular ‘Rudolph’ song. Before it was a song, it was a poem written by a guy named Robert L. May. In 1939, it was created as a holiday marketing tool for the department store, Montegomery Ward’s. Ten years later, a songwriter named Johnny Marks converted the poetry into song lyrics and added music. It is reputed to have been recorded over 300 times and has sold 50-million records. The biggest one was the Gene Autry rendition, that became one of the biggest selling Christmas songs of all times. For all you youthful readers, Autry was an actor and country singer who was known for his cowboy films. The songwriter, Johnny Marks, went on to write two other popular holiday songs; “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”

Kenny Burrell performs with the Richard Evans Orchestra. The great Charles Stepney is on piano and organ. Cleveland Eaton mans the bass. In 1953, at a Los Angeles studio, Billy Eckstine recorded a song titled, “Christmas Eve” and in 1961, the original Ramsey Lewis trio featuring bassist Eldee Young and Redd Holt cut the track “Here Comes Santa Claus.” This compilation also features John Coltrane playing “Greensleeves” with McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass. The silky-smooth vocals of Mel Torme sing “The Christmas Song” and Louis Armstrong asks, “Zat You, Santa Claus?” Pianist/composer extraordinaire, B ill Evans, plays “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.” Then comes Count Basie and his orchestra to play “Good Morning Blues,” that was recorded ,with an all-star band, August 9, 1937 with folks like Lester Young on clarinet and tenor saxophone and legendary guitarist, Freddie Green, along with Walter Page on bass and featuring vocalist, Jimmy Rushing. Organ great, Jimmy Smith performs his version of Jingle Bells. Finally, Dinah Washington sings “Silent Night” and the iconic Oscar Peterson plays “A Child is Born.” If that isn’t an all-star, jazzy Christmas, I don’t know what is! This CD is available on
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For all of you Diana Ross fans, “Wonderful Christmas Time” is a very jazzy record that frames Ms. Ross’s crystal-clear tones with lush orchestration, choirs and beautifully, boffo string arrangements. The title tune is penned by Paul McCartney and opens this album in a joyful way. The addition of meaningful songs like Someday at Christmas, What the World Needs Now and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” are songs that embrace the spirit of Christmas, along with well-arranged and charmingly sung gems like “Winter Wonderland, It’s Christmas Time” and “White Christmas.” Diana Ross sparkles on this production. The pleasant surprise is her rendition of several religious offerings like “His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, Ave Maria” and “Amazing Grace.” Five of the songs feature the fabulous London Symphony Orchestra.

This is a twenty-song offering of absolutely beautiful holiday music originally released in 1994 when Ms. Ross was at the peak of her astounding career. Some of it is performed ‘live’ with the audience’s appreciative applause commending one of America’s musical icons. This album is perfectly produced and arranged for a stellar listen during the holiday season and beyond.
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Motown Christmas opens with a young Michael Jackson singing a boisterous “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” along with his brothers, The Jackson Five. This is followed by a waltz-time arrangement of “My Favorite Things” sung by Diana Ross and the Supremes, accompanied by an orchestra. In the forty-plus years since The Supremes performed this song on the popular Ed Sullivan variety Show, Motown Christmas songs make annual returns. A very young Stevie Wonder sings “Someday at Christmas,” (penned by Motown composer, Ron Miller) and historically reaching back to when Smokey Robinson was the lead singer with The Miracles, we hear “It’s Christmas Time,” written by Stevie Wonder. Both of these songs have become modern-day Christmas standards. The Temptation group offers their unique, rich harmonies on “Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer,” when Melvin Franklin was singing bass and Eddie Kendricks was the high tenor voice. This Norman Whitfield production was recorded back in 1970. Here is truly a historic collection that includes a merging of the Temptations and Smokey Robinson singing their rendition of “The Christmas Song.” Sweet!

The Four Tops serenade us, with Levi Stubbs’ beautiful, unique lead voice and emotional delivery. Shockingly, the angelic and soulful voice of Aretha Franklin steps forward to improvise over their instrumental break, adding holiday songs to deliciously delight our musical palate. She makes “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “The Christmas Song” somehow fit into this mix, in an improvisational way. Four Tops member, Lawrence Payton co-composed this 1995 holiday song and was close friends with the Queen of Soul. I bet he asked her into the studio to improvise on their track. Sexy crooner, Marvin Gaye co-wrote a song with Forrest Hairston titled, “I Want to Come Home for Christmas” about a prisoner of war. This one is not uplifting and as wonderful as Marvin’s vocals are, this song is depressing. The Funk Brothers, who were the instrumental catalyst behind all the Motown hit records, play “Winter Wonderland” with gusto and they’re followed by Kim Weston’s strong and lovely voice singing, “Wish You A Merry Christmas.” The now famous rendition of “Silent Night” is sung by my old friend and extraordinary bass singer, Melvin Franklin, with the harmonic support of The Temptations. It’s always a pleasure to hear this one. This album closes with the voice of Florence Ballard, one of the original members of the Supremes, singing the lead on “Oh Holy Night,” produced by Harvey Fuqua and released on a Christmas album in 2002. Give yourself the gift of a collector’s album with this musical piece of Motown history.!
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James Bolden, bandleader/trumpet; Walter R. King, contractor; Calep Emphrey Jr., drums; Melvin Jackson, saxophone; Leon Warren, guitar; Michael Doster, bass; James Sells Toney, keyboards; Stanley Abernathy, trumpet. The Nashville String Machine also appears on three songs.

If blues is your bag, this is a sack full of gutsy blues songs by a legendary bluesmaster. Few do it better than the great B. B. King. This is a seasoned holiday release that will never grow old. There will be songs you recognize and a few original Christmas songs penned by B. B. King himself. “Lonesome Christmas” is a shuffle and doesn’t sound lonesome at all. “Back Door Santa,” is a slow shuffle blues with risqué lyrics. “Christmas in Heaven,” employs the Nashville String Machine to fatten the arrangement in a sweet way. Every blues lover should add this 2003 historic recording by the late, great B. B. King in their Christmas collection.
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November 9, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

November 9, 2019

In a world that grows smaller and smaller because of technology and our ability to reach across continents and oceans, with the use of the Internet, jazz thrives. We see how it touches people, no matter their ethnicity or political views. This month, I’ve been inundated with music from world artists who have adopted jazz as their source of expression. In this article, I introduce you to some of them. Canadian artist, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach; Hungarian vocalist, Rozina Patkái; Petros Klapanis from Greece, and Moscow-born, Evgeny Sivtsov. I slip in an awesome, Chicago vocalist named Jackie Allen, who you have just got to hear. At the same time, I celebrate the iconic lives of trend-setters like American born and bred pianist-extraordinaire and singer, Nat King Cole, eighty-year-old Roger Kellaway and French reed legend, Barney Wilen. Enjoy!

Elemental Records

Barney Wilen, tenor & soprano saxophone;Olivier Hutman,piano/elec.piano; Gilles Naturel,bass;Peter Gritz,drums.

Bernard Jean (Barney) Wilen was born in Nice, France to an American dentist and French mother. As a Jewish family, they wound up fleeing Europe and resettling in America during the second World War. Young Barney returned to France in 1946. As early as five or six-years-old, his love of music and his talent playing reed instruments became apparent.

René Urtreger, a noted French pianist, recalls meeting and playing with Barney Wilen when he was nineteen and Barney was only sixteen.

“Barney and I won an amateur poll at a Parisian Town Hall. Barney blew us away. He played baritone saxophone in the cool jazz category and I played piano. Everybody watched this sixteen-year-old guy coming to the stage. It was incredible. He was playing like an American.”

At age eighteen, in 1954, Barney Wilen made his first recording with producer and pianist Henri Renaud. Jazz journalist, Leonard Feather, called young Wilen a prodigy. Obviously, he was correct. Just three years later, in 1957, then twenty-year-old Wilen was sitting on a stage next to Miles Davis and he received the ‘Django Reinhardt Award’ from the French Academie du Jazz.

“We participated in Miles Davis’ unforgettable soundtrack for the ‘Ascenseur Pour L’echafaud’ film in 1957,” Rene Urtreger recalled.

Wilen’s primary influences were Lester young, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, of course Charlie Parker and Al Cohn. But his style is all his own. His fluidity on saxophone and his ability to improvise, always honoring the original melody of the tune, but flying free with those velvet smooth phrases endears the listener to Barney Wilen. Legendary musicians shared the same appreciation for Barney’s saxophone gift. He worked with icons like Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, J.J. Johnson, John Lewis and Bud Powell, to list just a few. When American musicians arrived on French soil, they often hired Barney Wilen to become part of their group. When he wasn’t touring, Barney Wilen became quite notable for composing jazz soundtracks for a number of French motion pictures. He also played with a variety of musicians, including rock musicians, East Indian musicians and he studied African music.

This is a double set live recording made in Tokyo, Japan in 1991. He was a reed master, able to play excellently on soprano, baritone or tenor saxophone. In 1958, Barney Wilen played on the same stage as Coleman Hawkins and Stan Getz. He is revered for being one of the first French jazz musicians to play Thelonious Monk compositions in and around Paris in the 1960’s. While playing in all the Parisian jazz spots, he was often seen playing with Bud Powell. French jazz pianist and author, Laurent de Wilde, was one of the musicians who accompanied Barney Wilen’s to Japan and had this to share.

“Barney was born in 1937 and I in 1960, but that didn’t create any distance between him and the younger players who backed him during that 1994 Japanese tour. … We anxiously awaited his delightful anecdotes. After all, the guy recorded with Monk, on tour. … Bebop fell on him like grace.”

Barney Wilen died of Cancer in 1996, at the age of fifty-nine, but this awesome double-set CD keeps his legacy alive and well.
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Rozina Patkái, vocal/composer; János Avéd, tenor & soprano saxophone/piano; István Tóth Jr.,acoustic guitar; Ditta Rohmann,cello; András Dés, acoustic and electronic percussions; Márton Fenyvesi,synth bass/arranger.

This music is fresh and inviting. Rozina Patkái’s vocals are comfortable, like your favorite sweater. Her voice is warm and envelopes the room with honest emotion woven into her original songwriting. Based in Budapest, Hungary, she has two other albums released where she employed her love for Brazilian music. More recently, she’s become involved in putting the poetry of famous poets to music. The result is this creative album. Opening with “Taladim” the story of a forever love-promise; one that mirrors two people who are trying hard to make their love work. Rozina Patkái’s slight accent, evident while singing English, is infectious in a sweet way. The percussion work of András Dés lends depth to this arrangement. Track 2 is more romantic, enhanced by István Tóth Jr.’s acoustic guitar and arranged with a Latin twist. It’s titled, “Lorelei” and Ms. Patkái’s soft, enchanting voice floats like a folksong atop the percussive-driven piece. It’s her sing-song melodies that captivate. They are almost nursery rhyme simple and stick in your mind like glue. Márton Fenyveal’s unique arranging talents are sparse but effective. This band leans more towards world music than jazz. Track 9, “Llagas De Amor Intro” is absolutely gorgeous, showcasing the talents of Ditta Rohmann on cello.

Rozina Patkái is a student of Intermedia Art at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. Although she is in the fledgling stages of her musical career, her potential is obvious. Rozina has been the leader of several jazz groups since 2011 and boasts a continuing penchant for composing. She is multi-lingual and sings in several languages. Her haunting melodies are as easy to digest, like peppermint candy, and just as sweet.

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Petros Klampanis, double bass/voice/glockenspiel; Kristjan Randalu, piano; Bodek Janke, drums/percussion.

This is music recorded at Sierre Studios in Athens, Greece two years ago. It’s trio jazz with strong classical undertones. Petros Klampanis has composed and arranged all but two tracks on this production and his music is quite lovely. His comrades on piano and drums are as masterful on their instruments as Petros is on his upright bass. They support the quality of his compositions grandly.

James Farber at Shelter Island Sound studios in New York is to be congratulated on the crispness and beauty of the ‘mix.’ The Klampanis original song, “Easy Come Easy Go” is a universal expression of hold and release that we all can relate to and It’s the title of their first track. Kristjan Randalu’s piano brilliance is obvious right off the bat, with the fingers of his right-hand marching across the treble keys while his left hand keeps the rhythm locked tightly in step with Bodek Janke on drums. Petros Klampanis steps into the spotlight to solo on his bass, against the repetitious left-hand, melodic chords of Randalu. It’s a very interesting and challenging arrangement. This first song gives us a peek into the mind of the composer and into the talented musicians who are playing his music. “Seeing You Behind My Eyes” offers a poignant melody, a sweet ballad, quite classical and it conjures up memories of my early days playing Shubert and Bach. I did wish for less repetition and more improvisation on this arrangement. Midway through, my wish is granted as Klampanis solos on his bass and veers off the melody path, skipping freely over the chord changes. There is a crescendo of excitement and power, spiked by Bodek Janke’s trap drums. Then we wind down to the original melody and the sweet ballad returns. The third cut is “Temporary Secret III” that incorporates sirens, and nature noises to entice our ear s to listen. On the fourth track, Petros Klampanis brings his vocals forward in a jazzy, scat-kind-of-way.

This is experimental music, heavy on the classical side, but very captivating in its simplicity and beauty. On the title tune, “Irrationality” they give the stage to the drummer and let him solo for a bit. Klampanis is obviously a very technically proficient bassist. His arrangements draw you into his original music, like a swinging pendulum can hypnotize. This music is magnetic. I also want to mention the expressive CD cover artwork by Katerina Karali and photographer, Patrick Marek. The artistic creativity absolutely expresses this music in a modern-art way. I believe album covers are as important as the music inside.

The ensemble closes with the only jazz standard on this album and one of my favorite songs; “Blame it on my Youth.” It features the talented bassist Petros Klampanis soloing until the second verse when Randalu takes over the lead instrumentation on piano. It’s a lovely way to end forty minutes of a very interesting trio production, that delicately blends and bends classical proficiency into the arms of jazzy freedom.

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Jackie Allen,vocals; Bob Sheppard,tenor & soprano saxophone/flute; John Moulder, guitar; Ben Lewis,keyboards; Hans Sturm,double bass; Dane Richeson, drums/ percussion.

Opening with a spirited version of “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” I am immediately struck by the smooth tone and honest emotion that Jackie Allen conveys. The band is stellar and they complement her spark and energy. Ben Lewis exhibits his stride piano techniques on this first track. It’s followed by Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful ballad, “Day Dream.” Bob Sheppard, who was flown in from Los Angeles to participate in this recorded concert, takes a tenacious solo on his soprano saxophone, stirring much applause from the ‘live’ audience. Hans Sturm, on double bass, is solid and creative beneath the melody. His big bass dances creatively, glowing in the background, as part of the tight rhythm section. “Lazy Afternoon” is arranged in a very African way, featuring what sounds like a kalimba or thumb piano. Delightful!

I read in the publicity package that Jackie Allen and bassist Hans Sturm are husband and wife. They are originally from Chicago and have been living in Lincoln, Nebraska for several years. The Rococo Theater is a popular venue in the city of Lincoln. Promoted by Ann Chang, artistic director of the distinguished Lied Center for the Arts, the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA) decided to video tape the Rococo concert. The result is a PBS television project. It took two years for the editing and scheduling, but recently, 275 member stations in 46 states enjoyed “A Romantic Evening with Jackie Allen.” This CD is the sound track.

Ms. Allen and her diverse ensemble include a few pop tunes, like Billy Preston’s standard, “You Are So Beautiful” and Smokey Robinson’s R&B hit on the Temptations, “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” Jackie Allen switches styles as easily as breathing in and out. She can swing an R&B standard or reinvent a Paul Simon pop song like “Still Crazy After All These Years” and make each song her very own. She Is a gifted vocalist with a unique and quite pleasing tone. She opens this Simon composition with only her voice and bass. Soon, Ben Lewis joins them on keyboard, changing the mood to a blues with an organ accompaniment. “My Funny Valentine” is presented like a fast-moving Samba. Her lyrical melody cuts time across the double-time feel and an old standard is freshly and provocatively arranged. Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s tune, “This Guy’s in Love With You” follows and features the very talented John Moulder on guitar, with Dane Richeson brushing the drum skins tastefully. Bob Sheppard shows off his skills on flute. They close the set with “Nobody Does It Better,” a song extracted from the 1977 James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me. This Marvin Hamlisch and Carol Bayer Sager tune swings them right off the stage, with a lilting Latin feel put to the arrangement. The title is quite appropriate for this concert and this awesome vocalist. I feel quite confident saying, truly, nobody does it better.

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Roger Kellaway, piano; Bruce Forman, guitar; Dan Lutz, bass.

No question, Roger Kellaway is a master musician. He turns eighty this year and his career spans a rainbow of iconic artists who he has played with including Duke Ellington, Barbara Streisand, Elvis Presley and Yo-Yo Ma. This is a huge, colorful variety of music, showing his adaptability and piano genius. How many can go from playing with Sonny Rollins one night and Bobby Darin the next? How could he perform with Van Morrison and be just as comfortable on the bandstand with Ben Webster? Few musicians can claim to have excelled in their craft by playing with such a wide variety of unforgettable artists. Roger Kellaway is a living, breathing legend. That being said, on this newest release as a unique piano artist and musician, who shows us his jazzier side and his amazing style and execution on the 88-keys. Teaming with Bruce Forman on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass, Roger Kellaway brings a fresh and spirited interpretation to seven well-known jazz standards. As I listen to Roger and his trio, I am reminded of a very young Nat King Cole. He too often performed without a drummer and Nat Cole could play those piano-runs at top speed, (like Roger Kellaway) never losing the beat or stumbling over the tempo. Roger Kellaway’s fingers fly smoothly across the piano, like Olympic skaters across ice. On the Monk tune, “52nd Street Theme” his arrangement with that Forman rhythm-guitar strumming away, reminds me of the jazz of the 1930’s and 40’s. When Forman leaps out front to improvise, he is sonorous and impressive on his guitar, while Kellaway comps underneath Bruce Forman’s guitar solo at a brisk pace. Dan Lutz, on bass, holds them together like Velcro. This is an entertaining and masterful trio. Every song played is memorable. “Have You met Miss Jones” is celebrated by Kellaway’s solo piano, laying down the melody rubato, using unexpected chords, with new and very harmonic voicings. I am intrigued. When the other musicians join him, they lift this arrangement into an up-tempo shuffle that’s both joyous and somewhat reminiscent of Erroll Garner’s unforgettable style.

This is a ‘live’ recording. No over-dubbing here or studio summersaults to elevate this project. It is absolutely authentic and perfect just the way it is. From Sonny Rollins’ composition, “Doxy” to Paul Desmond’s “Take Five;” from “A Train” to “Night and Day,” and the all familiar, “Caravan,” each one is uniquely arranged and performed with punctilious beauty.
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Evgeny Sivtsov,piano; Dan Chmielinski,bass; Shawn Baltazor,drums.

Evgeny Sivtsov is a Moscow born-and-based pianist. He has composed every song on this album of music that was recorded towards the end of Sivtsov’s nine-year residence in New York City. His music is both experimental and straight-ahead. It’s modern jazz with a classical music underbelly. His style seems to lean towards soloing with his right hand, with very little chording to establish rhythm or harmonics. At least, on this first title tune, he concentrates on melody and leaves the rhythm to Shawn Baltazor on drums and Dan Chmielinski on bass. There’s not a lot of two-fisted piano on this arrangement. You will hear him play the same melody line in unison, using both hands, occasionally breaking into brief runs of 2-note harmony. Shawn Baltazor’s busy drums solo throughout. The drummer is very busy. I keep wishing he would just settle into a supportive rhythm beneath the piano. That never happens. Track 2, “Happy Hippo,” reveals another side to this pianist. Unlike the first track, this original composition uses more chording and both hands remain quite active throughout. This tune is a slow swing, but the happy hippopotamus seems a little sluggish. I hear some Thelonious Monk influence in Evgeny Sivtsov’s composition. However, with all of Monk’s eccentricity, he could really ‘swing.’ One of the keystones in the structure of jazz music is the ability to ‘swing.’ You can play a million notes and interpret thousands of pretty melodies, but if you can’t ‘swing’ you’re not a true jazz musician. This composition seems stiff and laborious. Again, I believe the drummer has a lot to do with this. He’s always so busy and never seems to settle down and support the pianist. The third track, “Post-Wild” is another tune that is full of notes and lacks groove. It starts out rubato and very pretty. The liner notes suggest we should try and dissect the meaning of each song relating to the animal it was written to represent. The ballad quickly moves from slow to what could have been a swing or a shuffle. But the drums don’t join the party. As Mr. Sivtsov solos, so does Mr. Baltazor. A jazz waltz follows, with a similar groove to the famed Miles Davis “All Blues” tune. Sivtsov uses it as an introduction. I was eager to hear the rest. This composition is titled, “New Anthill.” Suddenly, it turns into a march. Well – we’ve all seen ants marching, so I get that reference. Somehow, the jazz waltz gets lost in the transition.

“Dragonfliesis,” finally picks up the pace and Mr. Sivtsov uses his piano technique to exemplify the fast- fluttering wings of this insect. The trio plays this one at a very up-tempo pace, but again, the groove is entirely missing. Clearly Evgeny Sivtsov can play very swiftly and he sails across the 88-keys with gusto, but there is no groove. He invites Shawn Baltazor to solo on drums. The drummer is usually the musician who sets the groove, acts as a metronome and who punches the two and the four in jazz. The drummer holds the ensemble steady. This drummer sounds as frantic as Sivtsov’s flying fingers. They close with a dirge-like composition that celebrates “The Death of the Last Dinosaur.” Evgeny Sivtsov plays solo piano at the beginning of this particular arrangement, using several unexpected breaks that do not add to the presentation, but at first made me think my CD was skipping. I found this entire presentation lacking in emotion and disappointing. Some of this may be due to Mr. Sivtsov’s compositions, and some may be due to lack of imagination on the part of the composer and his musicians. This is an enigmatic project that sadly floundered.
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Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, trumpet/flugelhorn/flute/valve trombone; Miles Black, piano/organ/bass; Joel Fountain,drums; Cory Weeds,saxophone; Ernie Watts,saxophone; Gord Lemon,electric bass; Olaf DeShield,guitar; Laurence Mullerup,acoustic bass.

Trumpet master and multi-talented musician, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach opens with a tune called, “Superblue.” This composition is a super slick and straight-ahead, featuring Miles Black, brilliant on an attention-getting piano solo. Gabriel is a gifted horn player who enjoys crossing genres and blending styles. He can play it all, from Bebop to R&B; Pop to Smooth jazz. The repertoire and melodies on this volume 2 “MidCentury Modern” production are catchy. They’re familiar. the horn lines punch bright, staccato lines that punctuate these unforgettable tunes. The Hasselbach arrangements are well-written. On the second track, “Driftin’, “Cory Weeds steps into the spotlight on saxophone and he swings hard. The 3rd track on this album proffers a Latin groove, combined with a straight-ahead jazz production that reminds me of the infectious music of the late, great Eddie Harris. Gabriel Mark Hasselbach records party jazz. His music makes me happy. You feel joyful energy and emotion from these musicians. In Hasselbach’s discography of fifteen album releases, there are only a few mainstream albums. Most of his music has been geared towards the contemporary jazz market. This has earned Hasselbach ten Billboard hits and an album of the Year and Instrumentalist of the Year Awards. I’m used to hearing albums that include Hasselbach’s original music and a more Smooth Jazz approach. However, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach is just as effective and prolific playing bebop and straight-ahead jazz as he is in the contemporary category. Gabriel explained, in his liner notes, the direction of his current album release.

“On this project, rather than recording predominantly original material as I often do, I chose soulful tunes from the 50’s and 60’s that have influenced me and have a timeless quality. This album is the complete me; a seamless melding of mainstream, contemporary and NOLA styles. … a trifecta of jazz where the sum is greater than the parts.”

On the familiar tune, “Jazz ‘n Samba” Gabriel Mark Hasselbach picks up his flute to add more spice to this already spicy Latin production. It’s unusual for a trumpet player to also master a reed instrument, but Hasselbach is not your usual suspect. He performs beautifully on the flute.

“This album is a tasty homage to the classic jazz flag-bearers I grew up listening to: Blue Mitchell, Carmell Jones, Horace Silver, Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Clifford Brown, Joe Gordon, Hank Mobley, Herbie Mann, Jobim and many others,” Gabriel Mark Hasselbach explains. “Jazz is in my bones and I am sure I’ll die clutching my horn to my chest.”

I am deeply moved by Gabriel’s interpretation of the very beautiful “Nature Boy” composition. On “Sister Sadie,” he reminds us of the genius of Horace Silver and his many hit jazz standard compositions, like this one. On the tune, “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’,” Hasselbach plunges his horn for a gritty, soulful effect and Mike Black uses an organ to embellish this production. Every song on this album is well-played and beautifully produced by Gabriel Mark Hasselbach. This is a compact disc you will enjoy playing time after time.
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NAT KING COLE – “HITTIN’ THE RAMP – THE EARLY YEARS (1936-1943) Resonance Records

This amazing deluxe, seven-CD or 10-LP package of music reminds us that Nat King Cole was a piano master. This delicious compilation of Nat Cole’s early years, between 1936 to 1943, offers nearly 200 recorded tracks by the illustrious jazz musician before he ever signed with Capitol Records.

“This is a really important project for Resonance,” says co-president or the label, Zev Feldman. “We’ve done some pretty substantial packages over the years, such as our three-disc Eric Dolphy and Jaco Pastorius sets with 100-page booklets, but this Nat King Cole box is truly a definitive, king-sized set.”

Many people only recall Nat King Cole as the silky, satin-smooth voice that made the “Christmas Song” a forever-hit-holiday standard. When Nat Cole sang, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose …” the entire universe swooned. But long before he became a popular voice on the recording scene, Nat was inspiring great piano players like Oscar Peterson, Erroll Garner and George Shearing with his amazing style and technique. You can also hear his influence on the great Ray Charles. One of the tunes recorded in this collection is “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town.” It was recorded ‘live’ at the 331 Club in 1942. Years later, Ray Charles made that song a hit record with his own rendition. Ray Charles also relates, in his autobiography, how he mimicked the vocal style of Nat King Cole in his early years. Actually, mimicry is the highest form of compliment an artist can get. The illustrious Johnny Mathis also claims that Nat Cole was his idol.

“As a young boy, studying the art of vocalizing, Nat was everything I needed,” Johnny Mathis shared. “All I did was listen and learn.”

Nat King Cole grew up in the jazz business, listening to icons like Earl “Fatha’ Hines and Art Tatum, who certainly inspired him. You can clearly hear some of their influence in this amazing set of early Nat King Cole recordings.

The tune,“With Plenty of Money and You” was cut in 1938. Nat King Cole is playing piano so swiftly he sounds like the studio engineers speeded up the tape. He has perfect time as his finger race across the piano keys. It’s just a spectacular listen, with Oscar Moore on guitar and Wesley Prince on bass. This was the very first recording session for Nat’s trio and unique because there was no drummer. Even before this release, the very first recordings Nat Cole made was with his brother Eddie for Decca Records. He was only seventeen-years-old, but it was obvious, even then, that Nat King Cole was a piano prodigy. You will enjoy Nat’s first versions of “Sweet Lorraine” in this collection, that later in his career became a huge R&B and pop record hit. You can hear how his tone and vocal style developed, from the 1930’s to his expansive success in the 1960s. but even more significant is Nat King Cole’s amazing abilities on the piano. This recording documents his astonishing talents on piano, as well as bringing several unforgettable songs alive that we may have forgotten and deserve to be remembered like, “All for You,” and “There’s No Anesthetic for Love.” This is a ‘must-have’ for any jazz collector’s library!

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