Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


June 4, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 5, 2023

June is BLACK MUSIC MONTH, and of course jazz is the epitome of Black American music created by African Americans and labeled by the Congress of the United States as the only truly original American art form and America’s classical music.  To exemplify this, I have picked just a handful of jazz releases for this particular column.  First, read all about NOAH HAIDU, BUSTER WILLIAMS, LEWIS NASH, STEVE WILSON, & PETER WASHINGTON as they celebrate the “Standards.” JAVIER NERO JAZZ ORCHESTRA is a beautifully composed and well-played orchestra project that explores Kemet, a highly advanced, black civilization. The great saxophonist, CLIFFORD JORDAN, is captured in a 1974 session that’s both a family affair and a historic album release featuring our beloved BILLY HIGGINS, on drums, several other awesome and iconic musicians and members of the Jordan family singing. LONNIE LISTON SMITH joins talents with ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD & ADRIAN YOUNGE with fresh compositions and contemporary piano arrangements.  Reed player, DON BRADEN, celebrates the music of STEVIE WONDER along with EARTH WIND & FIRE in his latest release.  JAVON JACKSON releases his soundtrack for a documentary film titled, “With PETER BRADLEY” that exemplifies the abstract painter’s life and work over the past fifty years.

NOAH HAIDU – “STANDARDS” – Sunnyside Records

Noah Haidu, piano; Buster Williams & Peter Washington, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; Steve Wilson. Guest saxophonist.

This group of all-star musicians has made a sweet bouquet of “Standards” that we know and love.  With bandleader, Noah Haidu at the piano, they offer us gems like “Old Folks,” a rousing, up-tempo arrangement of “Just In Time,” and with Buster Williams, on bass leading the way, they shuffle into “Beautiful Friendship.”  About midway through the production, the arrangement swings hard, like Jackie Robinson; batter up! 

Noah Haidu is a rising star pianist and composer who, with this album, decided to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the release that launched Keith Jarrett’s great “Standards” Trio.  Clearly, Haidu is a lover of Jarrett’s amazing talents and has notably shown his admiration when in 2021 he released a CD titled “Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett.”  The public applause continues with this treasure of an album. 

Noah plays “All the Way” as a heartfelt ballad that displays his amazing technical skills, along with his emotional sensibilities.  Noah Haidu’s artistic freedom and sensitivity is on full display.  The support team he has contracted are all bandleaders themselves and become a springboard that confidently propels Haidu’s talents into a brighter spotlight.  Peter Washington sparkles during “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and Steve Wilson’s saxophone brilliance lifts their arrangement of the tune, “You and the Night and the Music.”

“With these old standards, all you’ve got is your own musicality and the connection you have with the music and the players.  That requires a willingness to let go and see where the song takes you, something that can’t be taught or practiced,” Noah Haidu shares, and I agree.

This journalist listens to over twenty albums per week, and so many exemplify the inability to simply “let go.”  That’s the most difficult and challenging thing for a jazz artist to do. It is exemplary of an important attitude in jazz, which is to improvise.  To reach into your own soul and individual island of expression and offer the listener a genuine piece of yourself is a challenge.  Noah Haidu and his exemplary band of experts do just that. Every song on this production is splendidly produced and played.  On “Skylark” Haidu takes a solo journey, careening through the open blue space like a singular bird in free flight.  On “I thought About You” Noah Haidu shows us his bluesy-side and Peter Washington sings us a bass song you won’t quickly forget.  Lewis Nash, on drums, is always the master freight train conductor, pushing the project forward with relentless drive and steady tempos that hold everything in perfect place.  The final compositions are both Haidu originals titled “Last Dance I” and “Last Dance II”.   They are both dramatic and inspired. One is a short, drama-fused introduction and the other is a jazz waltz. This is music that demands a standing ovation.

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Javier Nero, lead trombone/composer/arranger/vocals/orchestra director; THE JAZZ ORCHESTRA:  Rhythm Section: Michael Kramer, acoustic & Electric guitar; James Collins & Josh Richman, piano; Regan Brough & William Ledbetter, acoustic & Electric bass; Kyle Swan, drums; Auxiliary: Fran Vielma, percussion; Kyle Athayde, vibraphone; Danielle Wertz, vocals; Ben Bokar, alto Flute/flute/clarinet. Saxophones:  Daniel Andrews, lead alto saxophone/soprano/flute; Daniel Dickinson, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Xavier Perez & Clay Pritchard, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Dustin Mollick, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. Trumpets: Josh Kauffman & Ken McGee, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Graham Breedlove, Alec Aldred & Chris Burbank, trumpet/flugelhorn. Trombones: Luke Brimhall, Ben Patterson & Aaron Eckert; Jake Kraft, bass trombone/tuba. SPECIAL GUEST ARTISTS: Sean Jones, trumpet; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Warren Wolf, vibraphone; Tim Green, alto saxophone; Christie Dashiell, vocals. 

“My family‘s history and genetics are very complex.  But all of us would tell you we’re black.  Our last name, ‘Nero’ actually means black in Italian. We are African and European on my father’s side and Hispanic, Native American and European on my mother’s side.  We are very mixed.  But mixture is beautiful isn’t it?” Javier Nero asks us in his liner notes.

 “Kemet translates to ‘The Black Land’ or ‘Land of the Blacks.’  Kemet was a highly advanced civilization that existed thousands of years before the Greco-Roman societies,” Javier continues. 

Nero’s music is meant to reflect that amazing Black civilization, the ancient Egyptian culture, the great society, and the birthplace of higher learning that those people-of-color places produced. He has composed every song and this wonderful jazz orchestra smoothly and efficiently plays his arrangements.  They open with “The Blues Reincarnated,” a piece that is spicy and adds the bass trombone (played by Jake Kraft) for good measure.  Pianist Josh Richman is featured, and the horn lines dance brightly beneath his bluesy performance.  Special guest Warren Wolf soaks up the spotlight on vibraphone.  The tune “Time” begins with an arrangement that sounds like the tick-tock of a pendulum, moving back and forth with the horn lines.  “Track #3, “Reflections on the Dark, Tranquil Water” begins with a very reflective piano introduction, then the horn lines swell, reminiscent of the tide, and wash over the listener with waves of sound. “Discord” is a song with a drum line that reminds me a little bit of Ahmad Jamal’s percussive arrangement in Poinciana.  The vocals of Christie Dashiell add a new freshness to the orchestra and the tasty trumpet of Sean Jones is featured on this song. Javier Nero has surrounded himself with jazz brilliance with special guests like Sean Jones, Randy Brecker, and Tim Green.  Nero holds his own on lead trombone and his arrangements are tight and reflective of the song titles.

“Kemet,” the title tune, begins with joyful handclaps and vivid percussion, playing 6/8 time that’s strung through the arrangement like brightly colored African ribbons.  There are vocals that mimic the horn lines in a pretty way, but I keep waiting for African chants to enter.  After all, this is representative of the famed Kemet of yesteryear.  I found the arrangement perhaps a little too smooth and polished.  I wanted Javier Nero to jump out of his comfort zone and dial back the centuries; reach into the past and pull out the rawness of that historic space and time.  Midway through, the drums do take over and that’s close to the touch I was looking for, but it still leaves something missing, lost on the floor beneath the arrangement table. 

All in all, this is a well-constructed, beautifully composed and well-played orchestra project that features a group of technically astute musicians who give their all to this Javier Nero production. This album’s release date is June 23, 2023.

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Clifford Jordan, tenor saxophone/composer/arranger; Stanley Cowell, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Bill Lee, bass & arrangements; Billy Higgins, drums; Charlie Rouse, bass clarinet; Bernard Fennell, cello; Bill Hardman, trumpet; Dick Griffin, trombone; David Smyrl & Donna Jordan Harris, vocals; Kathy O’Boyle, Denise Williams, & Muriel Winston, backup vocals.

I was thrilled when an album came across my desk featuring the work of iconic jazz composer, arranger and master tenor saxophone player, Clifford Jordan.  Los Angeles drum legend, Billy Higgins is also on this historic release. The band line-up is stellar, featuring Stanley Cowell playing piano, with both Sam Jones and Bill Lee on basses, Charlie Rouse on bass clarinet, Bernard Fennell adding his cello talents, Dick Griffin on trombone and Bill Hardman on trumpet.  Jordan always appreciated vocalists.  I know because he encouraged me when I was a working jazz vocalist, and I even recorded his “Prayer for the People” composition.  On this project, Clifford incorporates a host of vocalists and backup vocalists.  The addition of vocals to the music of Jordan gives a fresh, and somewhat surprising newness to Jordan’s familiar tunes that were usually played acoustically and instrumentally.  The arrangements are courtesy of bass player, Bill Lee.  This is a project that sat on the shelf forty-nine years before Clifford’s widow, Sandra decided to master the tunes and release them. 

According to Dick Griffin, “…He was a multi-instrumentalist, and he could sing. He played around and sang Lush Life at the session where we were recording at Minot Studio in 1974. That was an enjoyable experience.  I believe he later recorded Lush Life on his ‘Live at Ethell’s LP,’ but I haven’t heard it.”

The title tune, Drink Plenty Water and Walk Slow” opens with Bernard Fennell playing his cello and Jordan dueting with him on tenor saxophone. It immediately attracts my undivided attention.  David Smyrl’s voice comes in, reciting his spoken word like a verbal horn, storytelling his solo above the awesome tenor and cello track.  David recites the tale of a musician serving a ten-year prison sentence and reflecting on his situation. 

Clifford Jordan offers us his own take on voicings and jazz, on “I’ve Got a Feeling For You” in all it’s blues beauty.  Jordan incorporates voices to sing the horn parts and lyrics to tell the story.  His daughter, Donna Jordan Harris, is an integral part of this project.

“1974 was the year I figured out how to best communicate with my dad.  It was through music, of course.  At fifteen, it dawned on me that music was the key to his heart, mind, body and soul.  So, when he asked me to sing some of his music, I agreed.  It began with my singing at several Jazz Mobile events.  I was terrified, having so little experience, but my father had great confidence in his first-born-child, and I wanted to be a part of his life.  The most helpful person during that time was drummer Billy Higgins, who always looked happy and made me feel welcome and less afraid at the recording session,” Donna Jordan-Harris explained in the liner notes.

This is Clifford Jordan, the composer, arranger, storyteller, but in a completely different environment than his classic Clifford Jordan Quartet work.  It’s both a family affair and a reflection of the 70s with the Babs Gonzalez spoken word influences. It’s a memorial to when the Last Poets on the East Coast and the Watts Prophets on the West Coast were all the rage and Hip Hop was still an unknown artform. This is a blend of vocal harmonics singing his difficult and challenging tune, “The Highest Mountain” dusted with a completely fresh arrangement, like a new snowfall on the peak of Jordan’s mountain of work.

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LONNIE LISTON SMITH – “JAZZ IS DEAD 17” Jazz is Dead Records

Lonnie Liston Smith, acoustic piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Adrian Younge, electric guitars/ electric bass/alto and soprano saxophones/monophonic synthesizer/clavinet/vibraphone/ percussion/composer; Ali Shaheed Muhammad, fender Rhodes/piano/composer/electric bass; Greg Paul & Malachi Morehead, drums; Loren Oden, Vocals/composer.

Lonnie Liston Smith, born December 28, 1940, recalls gospel musicians like “The Soul Stirrers,” “The Dixie Hummingbirds” and Sam Cooke as visitors to his humble family home in Richmond, Virginia.  His father was a member of the gospel group, “The Harmonizing Four.”   In fact, his father and “The Harmonizing Four” group was invited from Richmond to the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt in 1945 to perform following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Lonnie was drawn to the piano early in his life and was infatuated with the music of Charlie Parker as a teenager.  He also listened to Miles Davis and studied the styles and techniques of great players like Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Earl “Father” Hines, and Erroll Garner.  Lonnie had an ability to not only play well, but to accompany vocalists like Betty Carter, Joe Williams and Ethel Ennis.  After attending Morgan State University, Lonnie moved to NYC and joined Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers.  This opened a floodgate of work for the young pianist, including gigs with Max Roach and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.  He recorded two records with Rahsaan; “Please Don’t Cry Beautiful Edith” and “Here Comes the Whistleman.” 

When Pharoah Sanders came calling in 1968, Lonnie Liston Smith was quickly recognized even further while playing with one of the most publicized and visible ensembles of that day.  It only stands to reason that Lonnie would grow into his own unique artist and venture out as a bandleader himself.

For over five decades, Lonnie Liston Smith has been trailblazing his way across the universe, creating his unique sound on classic albums through the 1970s.  His grooves have been sampled by the Hip Hop community and his work with the vocalist, Leon Thomas, with Miles Davis and the iconic Gato Barbieri are now legendary recordings.  During his performances with Miles, Davis insisted he play organ. 

“Miles gave me two nights to learn how to make music on the thing,” Lonnie Liston Smith recalls.

This current album introduces us to a fresh, smooth jazz sound from Lonnie Liston Smith that moves us into a more contemporary setting and features quite a bit of electronic music, buttered up and roasted by the spicy talents of Ali Shaheed Muhammad on bass and Adrian Younge on a multitude of instruments.  This is a culmination of years-lived, music growing and flourishing, and Lonnie Liston Smith’s talents blooming like beautiful wild orchids in an international garden.  The vocal addition of Loren Oden adds flavor and power to several tracks on this innovative album.

My only complaint is the terrible title of this album and the record company name that issued this album.  Words are powerful!  I feel insulted when I see them printed in large capital letters that read, Jazz is Dead.  This historic and dynamic American folk music and America’s only classical music that was born and bred by African American musicians, the children of slaves who survived to create an amazing music that is now respected and heralded worldwide.  Jazz music will never die!

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DON BRADEN – “EARTH WIND AND WONDER – VOL 2.” – Creative Perspective Music

Don Braden, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute/arranger; Miki Hayama, piano/keyboards; Art Hirahara, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Jeremy Warren, drums; Kahlil Kwame Bell, percussion.

During the celebration of Black Music Month, what better way to celebrate African American musical contributions that to play the music of the musical genius, Stevie Wonder, and the innovative Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire.  Saxophone maestro, Don Braden has released his “Earth Wind and Wonder – Vol. 2” album that features some of the music that these two amazing artists have gifted to the world.  It’s the follow-up to his celebrated Earth Wind and Wonder album that was released in 2018.  Braden reimagines the music of both Wonder and Earth Wind & Fire, employing a jazz perspective and the results are wonderful!

“We are definitely pushing for the next-level of true jazz energy in the performances: more swing, creativity and connection to jazz’s African-American roots,” Braden says in his liner notes.

You really hear this concept when they perform Stevie’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’) composition in the most amazing way, swinging it harder than a Muhammad Ali punch.  The familiar hit song by Earth Wind and Fire “Reasons” is performed a wee bit on the Latin side, with a funk undertone that drives the piece forward and makes me want to dance.  It was written by tenor singer in the EWF group, Philip Bailey, amazing composer, arranger Charles Stepney, and Maurice White.  Don Braden’s saxophone solo is absolutely dynamic.  It stretches the melodic improvisation across the sky like pink bubble gum in the innocent fingers of a child.  It’s sweet, sticky and memorable.  The world-class reedist is also a competent composer and has added his song, “Profusions” to the mix and another original titled, “Arise.”  As soon as I heard “Profusions,” I realized that it was inspired by Stevie Wonder.  In Braden’s liner notes he explains:

“My original, Profusions was inspired by two Stevie Tunes, ‘Confusion,’ which gave me the idea for the main melody and ‘Too High’ which inspired the triad motion.  The bassline in the odd-meter 7/4 is the glue for the piece,” Braden explains his inspiration for this song.

The Braden ensemble performs “Send One Your Love” as a tender ballad with a taste of the blues blowing from the bell of his horn, and Stevie’s popular song, “Creepin’” gives the perfect platform for Don Braden to pull out his flute and soar.  I love their jazz arrangement on “Bird of Beauty.”  In conclusion, this is a well-produced album with songs we know and love front and center, refreshed with sonorous jazz chords and Braden has captured the quiddity of Stevie Wonder and Earth Wind and Fire on this sparkling musical project.

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Javon Jackson, tenor saxophone/arranger/composer; Jeremy Manasia, piano; David Williams, bass; Charles Goold & McClenty Hunter, drums; Greg Glassman, trumpet.

Javon Jackson’s tenor sax plays warm and wonderful throughout this production.  I love the richness Jackson finds in the heart of his instrument’s lower tones.  This music is a tribute to visual artist, Peter Bradley, who has been under-sung in the art world for nearly fifty years.  Bradley is an abstract artist with a healthy love of jazz, a music which often provides the backdrop and inspiration for his paintings.  This film, that premiered at the 2023 Siamdance Film Festival, utilizes the creative compositions of Javon Jackson to color the visuals. The two artistic men have been friends and kindred spirits for several years. So this merger of talents is seamless and natural.

“He’s a jazz musician,” the saxophonist chuckles.  “Only his instrument is paint.”

The first composition is like a brief interlude, named after the artist, “Peter Bradley” and it’s a lovely composition that disappointed me when it ended.  I wanted to hear more.  It was such a beautiful theme. The second track was also quick and to the point called, “The Game.”  “Brother G” is a Javon Jackson original and not a part of the soundtrack, but I’m glad he included it in the mix.  It swiftly becomes another one of my favorites. It offers a poignant melody that wraps around your brain and keeps repeating, like a song you already knew.

Back to the film score, I love his rendition of “Edith Ramsey” that brings to mind church hymnals and a horn that blows life into the lady.  Turns out, this tender musical depiction paints a portrait of Bradley’s adoptive mother.  Greg Glassman adds his trumpet to this arrangement in a bright and brilliant way.  Jeremy Manasia’s piano trembles down the piano keys, splashing tones like a sparkling waterfall of color and power.  Manasia brings a new dimension to the tune.

This film traces the artist’s life and accomplishments, reminding us that he was the first Black Art Dealer on Madison Avenue and he was the curator of the very first integrated modern art show in America! Peter Bradley is perhaps the premiere Black abstract artist represented by a major New York gallery at that time.  Somehow, the years that followed obscured his work and now, he springs forth like buried treasure, Freshly discovered and valuable.

“Amy’s Theme” is a blues and very melodic and contemporary.  It made me want to get to know Amy. David Williams makes a bold statement on his bass instrument during an improvisational solo. The press package explained that this song was dedicated to a close friend’s late wife and “Brother G” was written for Javon’s close friend, Kenny Garrett.

“I approached the film scoring with an open mind,” Jackson says in his press package.  “I knew that Peter loves John Coltrane, Mingus, Clifford Brown and Max Roach, so there are hints of all of them.  From there I just followed the mood of the piece and offered something based on my musical thoughts that would adhere to the scene.”

This work by Javon Jackson and his ensemble is absolutely riveting and entertaining, even without the film.  It makes me want to see Peter Bradley’s paintings and explore this documentary with eyes and ears open wide.  Jackson’s rendition of “Never Let Me Go” took my breath away. 

Javon Jackson is a Missouri-born tenor saxophonist who has played with the iconic Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.  After the death of Blakey, Jackson became a bandleader and released his debut recording, “Me and Mr. Jones” featuring master drummer Elvin Jones, Christian McBride on bass and pianist, James Williams who succumbed to cancer at 53-years young in 2004. 

Jackson has released albums on the Blue Note label, produced by jazz legend and vocalist, Betty Carter.    He launched his own record company (Solid Jackson Records) to release his album, “Celebrating John Coltrane,” and I thoroughly enjoyed his last release on that label, “The Gospel According to Nikki Giovanni” that became a historic, gospel-fused collaboration.  I’m certain this too is another historic work that celebrates abstract painter, Peter Bradley in an unforgettable way.  The album is scheduled for a June 16, 2023 release.

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May 26, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 25, 2023

BRUNO RÅBERG – “SOLO BASS” –  “LOOK INSIDE” – Independent Label

Bruno Råberg, solo bass.

I am a huge lover of the bass instrument.  However, the thought of listening to an entire album of solo bass I found questionable.  Would it be like I was listening to a musician practicing?  What could possibly hold my attention with just the bass singing its solo song?  Once I slipped this disc into my CD player, I quickly put aside my skepticism and settled back to marvel at just how creative and engaging this album by Bruno Råberg is.

He opens with a very melodic “Island Pathways” composition.  The main theme is a melody that sticks in your mind and the repetition of that theme soon has you humming along. 

“This piece is basically an improvisation where I have certain short motives, ‘islands’ that I am improvising around, creating pathways between them,” Råberg describes the essence of his work.

For me, track #2 is more improvisational.  Bruno Råberg invites us to take “A Minor Excursion” with him and his trusty double bass. This composition is called “Kansala” where Råberg has mimicked the sound of an African kalimba on his bass.  The Swedish-born bassist once traveled to West Africa at aged twenty-two.  He also lived two years in Stockholm with an African percussionist.  So, those two inspirations thread through this song like a musical needle. Also, shades of Miles Davis are present in the fabric of this composition.  He has added pieces of Davis classic “Nardis” tune and gives proper credit in his liner notes.  The third composition, “Chennai Reminiscence” brings alive a group of cultures, like a colorful bouquet. Each mood depicts a musical flower blooming, plucked from Råberg’s imaginative mind and the bowing of his bass to the rhythms he creates.  Bruno begins with a very classical presentation of beauty, using his bow, that slides across the bass strings like ice skates on a frozen pond. Then his fingers began to pluck warm rhythm into the piece and (for me) two cultures are represented in that moment; one is the American Indian and the other is East Indian music.

Bruno Råberg has soaked up the music of Bill Evans, listening and studying intently the “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” album and during the Evans trio years, his album “My Man’s Gone Now.”  His mastery on the bass instrument, and the sensitivity of his ears have translated both the piano virtuosity of Bill Evans and the bass lines that supported the Evans’ chords.  These things inspire Råberg. I am intoxicated by Råberg’s art and concept. He has added Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” that sounds quite lovely as a bass solo. On “Gyrating Spheres” he is a drummer, pounding on the historic wooden body of his French double bass made by Gabriel Jacquet-Gand sometime around 1880. The treble sounds he coaches out of this bass are both surprising and appear, like a summer storm, out of nowhere. “June Poem” is a blues, and I love the blues.  You can’t be a true jazz artist unless you understand and play the blues.

Bruno Råberg manages to bring us melodic and rhythm examples of what the bass instrument can do and what he, himself, as a jazz master on his instrument, can bring to the table.  This is a feast of composing excellence and technique.  The combination creates a music-stew that you can almost smell, full of spice, salt, and sugar. 

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TAIKO SAITO – “TEARS OF A CLOUD” – Trouble in the East Records

Taiko Saito, composer/marimba/vibraphone.

Taiko Saito is a female marimba and vibraphonist who stretches music, like a rubber band across space. She offers the universe her solo excursion into complex compositions and free improvisation to display her talent like a banner across the sky.  As an award-winning mallet player and composer, Taiko Saito was born in Sapporo, Japan and studied with marimba virtuoso Keiko Abe.  She mastered classical marimba and percussion at the Toho School of Music.  It was 1997 when she began to improvise and to compose music.  Around the same time, Saito relocated to Berlin to study vibraphone and composition with David Friedman at the Universität der Künste Berlin.  As a composer, the talented Ms. Saito won the originality prize at the International Marimba Competition of 2004. This album clearly shows why she took that prize. “Tears of a Cloud” displays a major marimba and vibraphone talent, one who plays with uninhibited vigor, using improvisation and emotional connection to her instrument.  Taiko Saito strokes our senses alive. In fact, Taiko has totally improvised much of this album with no preconceived ideas or charting.  She has a way of balancing stillness and sound that captivates the listener, and she writes music seamlessly. It just appears to flow from her in a unique and compelling way.

Using heavy, leather mallets that she handmade herself, Saito explores her instrument on the first cut titled “Daichi” leaving lots of silent space to prime the listener for her next exploratory musical phrase. The Japanese title, “Daichi” translates to great land, earth, wisdom, and intellect.  In Japan, it is often a boy’s name. The next track, “Sound Gradation” is more bird-like, as she makes her instrument chirp, sing, and twitter delightfully. Her composition “Under-ground” reminds me of a squeaking door, as she teases the various sound bites out of her instrument. There is something eerie about the piece that paints a picture of shadowy wet caves or secret basement hideaways.  Taiko Saito’s music tickles my imagination.  She creates her unique sound bites by sometimes using the vibraphone’s open pedal and motor to create clouds of resonant notes. Her mallets pluck staccato notes alive, and they pop into space like champagne bubbles.

The title song, “Tears of a Cloud” is full of reverb and melody.  She creates a humming track for her to improvise the treble melody upon, dancing precariously over the throbbing overtones.  Her “Angry Bee” tune reminds me of water rushing over a rocky stream, and then I see the bee. Here is an album that will prod your inner imagination and will also relax you like a musical massage. Taiko Saito’s music may inspire you, as it has this journalist, and like the composer herself, open your heart and your brain to endless possibilities.

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MARK DRESSER – “TINES OF CHANGE” – Pyroclastic Records

Mark Dresser, bass/composer.

Mark Dresser is a Grammy nominated, internationally renowned bass player, improviser, composer, and interdisciplinary collaborator.  The title of this album is not to be mistaken for the familiar ‘times of change’ description, but instead is called “Tines of Change.”  A tine is a sharp pointed or pronged object, like a fork or an antler.  It can poke and prod, the way this solo bass music does when you listen with an open heart.  You see, Dresser has devoted his entire life to the research and performance possibilities of the bass instrument.  On this album, he seems to be searching for every extreme and complimentary tone and texture to pull from this awesome instrument.

Mark even went so far as to collaborate with Colorado-based Kent McLagan, who is a luthier, who constructs basses.  As a bassist himself, McLagan was up for the challenge of building four and five-string instruments for Mark Dresser that would supply him with the breadth and width of what his imagination was exploring.  Dresser’s album title refers to those basses that McLagan built, with unusual features.  First, an array of metal strings affixed to a secondary bridge that can be plucked or bowed.  Another modification that the luthier made was to embed hand-wound, individual magnetic pickups into the fingerboard of the bass.  One set is below the nut and the other is at the octave. These added pickups allow Dresser to play up to three different pitches on each string.  To the layman, like me, this explanation may not mean a great deal.  But to string players, and especially bassists, these changes in the instrument are monumental.

However, also as a layman, a jazz lover, and a journalistic listener, I look forward to creativity and imagination in every project I hear. But I also want to hear melody and get lost in songs and artistic expression. I want to feel something when I listen to music.  Most of the time, I felt as though I was listening to someone practicing musical phrases, instead of creating music. Finally, on track #4 called “Melodine,” Mark Dresser bowed a beautiful melody, exploring both the lower register and the upper, cello-like register of his unique, handmade bass instrument. This artistic obsession that Dresser has of expanding the sonic tones and musical abilities of the bass seem more self-indulgent than trying to touch this listener’s human spirit.

“I realized that the bass has so many different and distinct voices, I wanted to be able to access them and make them speak to one another.  What I’m trying to do with all of these techniques is expand what I hear and feel.  It’s always about trying to find something that registers to me as musical and expressive and something that I want to listen to.  I’m driven by the larger impulses of what is musical,” Dresser explained his premise.

That remains the question.  What is musical?

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DEVIN GRAY – “MOST DEFINITELY”    Rataplan Records NYC/Berlin

Devin Gray, solo drums/electronics/composer.

This journalist is a lover of drums and the incredible support and energy that drummers bring to any given project.  That’s why I was on the edge of my seat when I saw that Devin Gray, an artist I reviewed back in 2018 when he first established Rataplan Records, had released an album featuring his drum skills. Currently living between Brooklyn, NY and Berlin, Germany, Devin has been thinking about recording a solo drum project for quite some time.  As a youngster, he was drawn to drums and the power of non-tonal percussion, but at the same time, Devin Gray is very aware of and attentive to melodic structure.

“The world needs more listening.  As simple as it sounds in my mind, it is the lack of implementation of this critical aural component which is needed to improve a lot of what’s making our world what it isn’t today,” Devin Gray explained this project.

He begins exploration into his solo drumming debut with a composition called “Hunker Down.”  It gently prods our ears to listen to his drum technique in a soft and cymbal colored presentation that does not startle or demand.  Once Gray feels we’re comfortable, he plays the second tune called “Pull to Refresh.”  It’s a lot more aggressive, but so rhythmic you will find your head bobbing and your foot patting wildly.  The even strokes of his drumsticks, and the colors he manages to paint with the various drum sounds is technically brilliant.  He lays down a groove with ease and metronome perfect time.  At moments, the drum strokes are so swift they blur.  Gray is very impressive, on this composition and especially on Track #3, “Bad WiFi,” where he speeds ahead.  The title tune is a solid groove that “Most Definitely” entertains and shows off Gray’s titanic technique and the loud, formidable composition called “Digital Nomads” slams across my listening room in a barrage of Indianapolis Speedway energy.

“This recording ‘Most Definitely’ represents another musical offering … my first ever solo.  I wanted to create a work of high detail, where people can listen closely in more nuanced ways to what it is that I am communicating. … This project took me some time, roughly forty years in the making.  I truly hope you are able to find some fun, as well as a deeper understanding of expression from me and all of the musical artists from the worlds (and planets) of past, present, and future,” speaks Devin Gray in his liner notes.

The release date of this project, June 9th, was planned around Devin’s fortieth birthday.  From copositions that sound like snoring, old men (“Case by Case”) to what could be gunshots in the streets (“Crypto Punks”) here are twenty-three tracks of drum snippets and short listening experiences that tickle the brain and tantalize the ears.

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Gretchen Parlato, voice/percussion; Lionel Loueke, guitar/voice/percussion; Mark Guiliana, drums/percussion; Burniss Travis, electric bass; Marley Guiliana & Lisa Loueke, voices.

Parlato & Loueke offer the listener a contemporary duet, blending two individually talented artists with a collaboration that explores cultures and techniques.  They begin with just the two of them, exploring melodies and rhythms that mirror the African subtleties and America’s jazz/pop culture.  Parlato and Loueke have been close friends for twenty-plus years, and you can hear their warmth and camaraderie in this production.  Lionel Loueke has composed this first song titled, “Akwe” and I wondered if it would set the tone for this album.  His West African Roots shine through. However, the very next tune is a pop song, reinvented by Loueke and Parlato with their sparse, but interesting arrangement. They add Mark Guiliana on drums to drive the rhythm beneath Grechen’s voice.  She sounds very commercially pop on this song, but the track is quite folksy.  These two artists make me want to know more about their cultural backgrounds and musical choices to truly understand this album.  The composition, “If I Knew” is joyful, with lyrics full of questions about life and living.  Parlato has composed this tune and it’s full of

energy, with a melody that lifts the spirits like helium inside rubber balloons. Burniss Travis is featured brightly on electric bass and the drums of Mark Guiliana put the “P” in party.   Loueke’s rhythm guitar strokes Parlato’s voice on the song, “Astroanauta” that reminds me of space, stars, and other universes.  Parlato sings in another language, perhaps Portuguese.  It certainly sounds like she and Lionel have borrowed a page from a Brazilian songbook for this performance.  Throughout their production, both artists sing in a variety of languages.  They explore chants incorporated with jazz scats that become vocal melodies in place of piano or horns.  I wish the booklet tucked inside the CD jacket had explained more about the languages, the song histories and countries that this music represents.  There’s a story to uncover here that is not shared in their press package or the liner notes and perhaps should be.

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May 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 15, 2023

As spring unfolds, a delightful array of beautiful, unique and creative jazz albums come across my desk. ROY McGRATH’s “Menjunje” album (that translates to mixture or concoction) is full of Puerto Rican jazz that puts me in the mood for carnival. BRANDON SEABROOK & Octet offers us his guitar, mandolin, and banjo talents in colorful and unpredictable musical flavors. MARKUS RUTZ offers an album concept that represents a musical novel titled, “Storyteller.” PILC MOUTIN HOENIG is an amazing trio of master musicians who cut this album with no overdubs.  FAREED HAQUE celebrates the Haitian American composer and legendary guitarist, Frantz Casseus.  JOE LOVANO, MARILYN CRISPELL & CARMEN CASTALDI release their 3rd Trio Tapestry recording and offer us beautiful, meditative music.


Roy McGrath, saxophone; Eduardo Zayaz, piano/arranger; Efrain Martinez, drums; Kitt Lyles, acoustic bass; Victor Junito Gonzalez, conga/punteador/barril; Javier Quintana-Ocasio, barril/requinto/ bongo/quinto/campana; Jose A Carrasquillo, Cuatro; Constantine Alexander, trumpet.

When I looked up the word “Menjunje” the English dictionary said it was a concoction or a mixture.  Roy McGrath has titled this album “Menjunje” because of a very personal memory from his Puerto Rican homeland.

“In Puerto Rico, where I grew up, a menjunje is a homemade tonic, a healing drink given to you when you are esmonga, meaning sickly.  A menjunje is improvised on the spur of the moment, often with whatever your grandmother has in her cupboard.  It’s a potent elixir containing a variety of ingredients typically guampo (that means sugar cane juice), ginger, lemon and honey, as well as less appealing additives such as garlic and cayenne pepper.  Essentially, it’s a brew, a hodgepodge of things to heal you and make you feel better, but that don’t necessarily entice your palate,” McGrath shares the recipe for wellness found in his grandma’s house, and captured in the liner notes of his latest release.

This musical project was inspired back in 2017 when Roy McGrath was commissioned by the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago to arrange the music of the iconic, Puerto Rican, singer/songwriter by the name of Antonio Cabán Vale, fondly called El Topo.  For several years, Roy led the center’s youth Afro-Caribbean Jazz Ensemble. So, they were familiar with McGrath’s work ethics, leadership, and his talents as both an arranger and saxophonist. During this project, Roy McGrath has incorporated the concept of “Menjunje” by weaving Puerto Rican musical styles and traditions into the mix, including Plena, Bomba, Sicá, Yubá, Cuembé and Holandé.  Adding his own healthy jazz motif to these Latin arrangements of “El Topo’s” music, along with his original composer skills, Roy McGrath and his octet entertain us in an exciting, percussive and creative way. 

They open with the joyful El Topo tune, “Guamani” with percussion driving the piece powerfully and Roy McGrath flying like a determined eagle above the fray. There is a melody-driven solo by Constantine Alexander on trumpet.  Mid-way through, the Afro-Cuban 6/8-feel changes the groove and the feeling of carnival persists throughout this El Topo composition.  These historic songs are followed by McGrath’s own compositions. His “Cuembé Na’ Má” song begins with exciting percussion introducing the piece. McGrath has a smooth, rich sound on the saxophone as he pumps spirit and sass into the arrangement.  His composition is quite melodic and once again, Constantine Alexander’s trumpet soars as the two horns trade fours and challenge each other. His percussion players are given several bars to explore talents and show off their mastery. The composition, “Groove #4” is a bit more relaxed, offering a laid-back arrangement and is another original, melodic song penned by McGrath. This time Kitt Lyles steps boldly into the spotlight on his double bass and sings his unique, lower-register song. This is a musical, “Menjunje” potion that you will enjoy savoring to the very last, magical drop. 

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Brandon Seabrook, guitar/mandolin/banjo/composer; Henry Fraser & Eivind Opsvik, contra bass; Nava Dunkelman, percussion/glockenspiel/voice; Marika Hughes, cello; Chuck Bettis, electronics/voice; John McCowen, contrabass clarinet/B flat clarinet/alto & bass recorder; Sam Ospovat, drum/chromatic Thai Nipple gongs/vibraphone/concert chimes.

Like a sorcerer mixing his brew, Brandon Seabrook incorporates his composer, guitar, mandolin and banjo talents into a steamy CD of colorful, unpredictable, musical flavors. Opening with the title tune, clearly this group of musicians plans to push the boundaries and transform the box into a circle of music that his ‘Epic Proportions’ octet will redefine.  They push against labels like Avant-garde, modern and contemporary into something quite different.  Seabrook’s music has always thrived on being bold, confrontational, and beautiful in a sometimes-lyrical way. This album continues that perception.

“I wanted to push myself to grow as a composer.  This band is a perfect outlet to do that.  All of these musicians can really do anything, which enables a lot of experimentation,” Brandon Seabrook explains.

Welcome to Seabrook’s debut recording for the Pyroclastic Record label. His Octet evolved from the sextet “Die Trommel Fatale” that released its self-titled album in 2017.  One of the unusual things about this new group is that on most of these Seabrook compositions, the improvisation part is limited or non-existent.  The musicians add accents, punchy lines, and vivid colors to what they play, but there doesn’t seem to be any planned solo space or a place where individuals are spotlighted.  Instead, the intensity of these pieces just grows, and curls and blossoms before our ears.  For instance, on Track #3, “I Wanna Be Chlorophylled II: Thermal Rinse” they capture my imagination inside the wooden structure of the double bass. Their piece grows in creativity and intensity, exploding into a myriad of sounds, gongs, string embellishments and rhythms that spin me like a scientist’s centrifuge.  Then, on Track #5, “From Lucid to Ludicrous,” a very tentative, but lyrical composition emerges and rises like steam from the sorcerer’s cauldron.  This magical music captivates, representative of the amazing album cover, the musicians splash color and brush notes all over our eardrums with a multitude of strokes and vivid brightness.  Kudos to the album designers by Spottswood Erving and July Creek for Janky Defense. Beautiful work!  During this recorded concert, birds seem to twitter and tweet, while tree leaves blow melodies to the wind and sunshine hides inside the strings of Brandon’s guitar and peeks from the bell of the contrabass clarinet, dances atop the drums and burns the nimble fingers plucking songs out of the bass. Brandon Seabrook banjos my brain and challenges us to let go and leap from the mountain of our suppression into the tumultuous pot of spicy music he’s creating.  He wants us to taste it, feel it, gobble it up, swim in it and perhaps share it. This is a group experience, a listening involvement, music without rules or regulations or fear.  Go ahead.  Jump off the precipice without a parachute. Release date is May 26, 2023.

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Markus Rutz, trumpet/composer; Sharel Cassity, saxophone; Adrian Ruiz, piano; Kurt Schweitz & Samuel Peters, bass; Kyle swan, drums; Kyle Asche, guitar.

This album is created to represent a musical novel, featuring tunes identified as “Prologue,” others listed as ‘various chapters,’ and an “Epilogue.” It’s a great idea and concept album. I find myself eager to hear the stories that Rutz and his group intend to share with us.  Chicago-based trumpeter, Markus Rutz, is well respected for his bluesy, soulful style and smooth trumpet tone. However, ‘The Prologue’ composition leaves me confused. It features two songs. One is titled, “Something’s Blowing in” that sounds as if the piano chords don’t fit with the composition’s horn lines. They never quite ‘swing’ on this song. Although the bass line is solid, the groove is missing. Later, when they played “The Everyday Escapades of M&M” in Chapter One, I find beauty in this original Rutz composition, and the band sounds more engaged and harmonious. When referencing this tune, as well as the one after it called “Third Coasting” Rutz explained:

“These songs celebrate everyday living, experiences, and the unexpectedness we all navigate.  Keeping with this moment in time, we seek to express the pause of a weekend to relax, appreciate and enjoy the familiar while discovering something new in the process,” Markus writes in his liner notes.  

For me, it is not until Chapter Two, when they play the Kenny Dorham tune, “Buffalo” that the group hits their stride.  Steeped in blues, they all seem unified and ‘in-the-pocket’ so to speak.  They lock into a strong groove.  Samuel Peters shines on his bass solo and Sharel Cassity consistently pleases the ear with saxophone dexterity and a smooth, bluesy tone that makes me feel happy.  This is followed by a ballad titled “Mr. E.”   The trumpet of Markus Rutz is warm and comforting on this tune, as is the Cassity sax solo. This becomes another one of my favorite compositions by Rutz.  The bass of Kurt Schweitz sings sweetly throughout, creatively supportive in the rhythm section, as well as during his brief solo. I don’t think the vapid ‘interludes,’ Rutz has spliced in between songs, add anything significant to this project.  Happily, Joe Henderson’s composition “Short Story” swings and drummer Kyle Swan is given the spotlight on a boisterous solo. Their interpretation of the Ray Charles hit record, “Just For a Thrill” features Kyle Asche strumming his rhythm guitar beneath the Rutz opening trumpet solo.  When Asche steps into the spotlight, he sparkles during his guitar performance.  Markus sounds beautiful on the Mal Waldron familiar jazz standard, “Soul Eyes.”  He blends perfectly with the Asche guitar. Perhaps Rutz summed it up best when he said:

“Storybook is a personal postcard I am sending to create a soundscape of happiness, pleasure and peace in the lives of the listeners.”

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PILC, MOUTIN, HOENIG – “YOU ARE THE SONG” – Justin time Records

Jean-Michel Pilc, piano; François Moutin, bass; Ari Hoenig, drums.

It has been twelve years since this dynamic trio cut their first album.  Here is their spontaneous effort, with the album being recorded ‘live,’ with no overdubs, at a Brooklyn studio called Big Orange Sheep. 

“This is an important record for us.  We’ve evolved so much as a trio.  Today, we are different from what we were ten years ago.  This was the easiest studio session in my life.  We just started playing and didn’t stop for nearly three hours.  We ended up having enough music to make two or three albums,” Jean Michel Pilc enthused. 

Surprisingly, there are sparkling gems on this album, songs that the group has never played before this recording date. For example, their stellar delivery of John Coltrane’s familiar “Impressions” tune opens this album.  There is a fluidity and fresh excitement captured during this arrangement, possibly because the trio had never attempted to play or rehearse this dynamic composition.  They just called the tune, leaped into it and landed solidly on the listener’s radar, giving us something amazing to hear and enjoy. 

“We know each other so well; we talk with our instruments as we go.  From the first note, the music is going to tell us what to do.  We trust the music,” Pilc explained.

“We’re in a state of concentration.  We don’t want a rational mindset to get in the way.  We are constantly on that crest between control and letting go.  It’s a mystery, but we like to not solve the mystery.  It’s more important to carry the emotion,” François Moutin shared.

Moutin’s description is what jazz is all about. Every song this trio played was fresh, reinvented and well executed.  They are the epitome of a ‘Unique and Inspirational Jazz Release’ that I feature as this column’s title. In my listening room, I reviewed three other current, mediocre album releases before I was electrified-in-place by the Pilc Moutin Hoenig production.

Pilc and Moutin have known each other since their days in France in the 1980s where they attended university together.  In 1995, they both moved to New York. That’s when they united and began working with drummer, Ari Hoenig. You will be both surprised and pleased with their arrangement on “The Song is You”, as well as their very creative treatment of the popular Thelonious Monk tune “Straight No Chaser” and a medley that combines “Alice in Wonderland” with “My Romance.”  They offer one original song, “Searing Congress” with that title created by Moutin and the tune itself composed by Pilc on-the-spot.  According to the press package, this composition is a mix of standard songs including “What is This Thing Called Love” merging into the “Hot House” composition changes and “Take the Coltrane.” 

“It may sound like a weird mix, but we like to mix up tunes to come up with our own compositions.  We make allusions to the forms and the changes, but we build our own trio landscape,” Pilc describes the trio’s unique process.

This is what I look for in an album of jazz.  Players who are masters on their instruments, compositions that groove, improvisation that lifts the production, and arrangements that are creative and offer something unexpected and refreshing to our listening experience.

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FAREED HAQUE _ “CASSEUS!” –  Independent Label

Fareed Haque, guitars/arranger; Kevin Kozol, piano; Alex Austin, bass; Jose Maria Piedra, percussion; Greg Fundis, drums. SPECIAL GUESTS: Juan Pastor, cajon; Paul Cotton, percussion/djembe; Richard Christian, Tabla; Rob Dicke & Paul Wertico, drums; Ugochi Nwaogwugwu, vocals.

From the first strains of Fareed Haque’s guitar on the opening “Prelude” of this album, I am inspired to be quiet and attentive.  Fareed has that effect on me. During this project, he introduces the world to Frantz Casseus, re-imagined.  It has been said that Casseus, a Haitian American guitarist and composer, (who lived from 1915 to 1993), could be one of the most overlooked figures in the modern classical music world.  Casseus fused European classical tradition with Haitian folk music in a most unusual and spectacular way.  He added the driving rhythms of his culture and contrapuntal complexity on his guitar. 

Fareed Haque, the son of a Pakistani father and a Chilean mother, heard the dynamic music of Casseus and was smitten!  Fareed is a virtuoso guitar player, Chicago-based, who studied music at both North Texas State University and classical music at Northwestern University before leaping head-first into a music career.  He has worked with a plethora of jazz names you will quickly recognize, including tours with Joe Zawinul, Dave Holland, Billy Cobham and just this spring, he recorded as a special guest with singer/songwriter, Joanie Pallatto on her album “Accidental Melody” released in May of 2023. 

His interpretation of the composition simply titled, “Congo” set up a groove that made me want to move to and dance. It was perpetuated with a sexy, rhythmic groove.  Pianist Kevin Kozol adds a jazz perspective to a somewhat folksy arrangement. The tune veers off onto a fresh, more modern path.  Fareed Haque’s arranger talents have reinvented this music in a wonderful way.

“There’s such strong ideas in Casseus’ music.  It definitely comes out of the melodic tradition of Haitian music, so there’s an inherent connection to the French language, French phrasing, French words, French impressionistic music.  I’m sure the influence of Ravel and Debussy was very strong in someone like Casseus.  So, it is elegant music with a French feeling in there, but there’s also an African feeling coming through in the rhythm.  And to me, if you could take all of this incredible impressionistic music and distill it down to its essence and put it on one guitar, that would be Casseus,” Fareed Haque explains his obsession with composer, guitarist Casseus.

“Rara” is a composition that has a percussive drive, inspiring Fareed’s beautiful execution of the melody on guitar.  But it is the Afro-Cuban influence on “Estamos Aqui” that snatches my attention and sprinkles 6/8 rhythms all over my listening space.  The percussionist and drummers are featured, and it is not only rhythmic, but very melodic as well.  If you listen closely to a master drummer, you can always hear melodies being played. “Dance of the Hounsies” brings Fareed back into the spotlight and delivers a very somber but hypnotic piece of music.  Once again, Kevin Kozol, (the pianist) brings the blues and jazz into the window of this world music.  He adds excitement and improvisation that lifts the arrangement.  Fareed Haque answers him with guitar conversation.  They each improvise and take this music to another level.

This is an album that not only celebrates the art and contributions of Frantz Casseus, but also highlights the mastery of Fareed Haque as both a guitarist and arranger. His musical ensemble is entirely excellent.

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TOMAS JANZON – “NOMADIC” – Changes Music

Tomas Janzon, guitar/composer; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Hillard Greene & Jeff Littleton, bass; Tony Austin & Chuck McPherson, drums.

“Nomadic” is the sixth release for Tomas Janzon as a bandleader.  Immediately, I hear the lyricism in his first original composition titled, “Out Door Valley.”  Janzon is a very melodic player, and his songs are well composed.  They settle into a groove that’s both rhythmic and pleasant, even when (according to his press package) the tune is a waltz in 9/4 time.  “Rob’s Piano” is a blues based original tune that allows space for Steve Nelson to solo on vibraphone and Hillard Greene contributes a solid bass lick that pushes the tune forward along with Chuck McPherson’s drums. 

Janzon has also composed “Letter From JSB” with initials that refer to the great composer, Johann Sebastian Bach, and features Tomas in a duet with vibraphonist, Steve Nelson.  The second part of the album changes rhythm sections and becomes a trio presentation featuring Jeff Littleton on bass and Tony Austin manning the drums.  They open the trio portion of this album with McCoy Tyner’s tune, “Search for Peace.”  Littleton’s expressive walking bass lines add artistically to the arrangement.  “Valse Hot” is a Sonny Rollins tune, arranged as a jazz waltz with Tomas Janzon skipping over the tightly woven rhythm with smooth melodic guitar licks. Littleton takes a notable bass solo, while Austin holds the tune in perfect tempo on drums.  Janzon combines Lee Konitz music with Tadd Dameron’s talents on a medley combining “Subconscious-Lee” and “Hot House.”  Nelson is back on vibraphone, while the quartet swings hard, in a very mellow way.  Janzon’s publicist calls this ‘quietly inventive jazz’ and I would agree with that description. The artist’s composer talents shine throughout.

Born in Stockholm, Sweden, Tomas Janzon played recorder at age seven, studied the cello when he was eight-years-old, and spent four years performing with a chamber orchestra before deciding he wanted to play the guitar. He has toured all over Europe and composed music for television and film. Janzon lived, played and worked in Los Angeles for thirteen years before moving to New York in 2010. He has toured and recorded with some of L.A.’s best including drummers, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Donald Dean, and Ben Dixon, bassist Nedra Wheeler, the late pianists, Art Hillery and William Henderson.

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Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone/tarogato/gongs/composer; Marilyn Crispell, piano; Carmen Castaldi, drums/gong/temple bells.

A very lovely piano introduction by Marilyn Crispell sets the mood for the first composition titled, “All Twelve” laying a winding path for Joe Lovano to walk, with his tenor saxophone leading the way.  Carmen Castaldi adds his percussive talents, and this trio skips along at a moderate pace.  Track two begins with gongs, like a call to prayer, and similar to the first composition, displays the trio’s smooth, luxurious sound. This album makes me feel peaceful and positive.  Joe Lovano has composed all the music, celebrating the group’s third trio Tapestry recording.  It is meditative and beautiful throughout, feeding us musically like “Our Daily Bread.”

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May 8, 2023

                                                By Dee Dee McNeil

The Ramsey Lewis biography with Aaron Cohen – Release Date: May 9, 2023

This Is a step-by-step chronicle, from childhood classical piano lessons and playing gospel at church, to Ramsey Lewis becoming a gold record recording artist.  Born May 27, 1935, Ramsey Lewis grew up in Chicago’s Cabrini Green community. His first love of piano was under the tutelage of Ernestine Bruce, the organist and pianist at his parent’s local church, starting at age four.  At twelve years old, Miss Bruce suggested that his parents (Pauline and Ramsey Lewis Sr.) take young Ramsey to the Chicago Musical College.  She had instilled the music basics and guided him as far as she could.  Consequently, Dorothy Mendelsohn took the baton and carried the young talent forward.  Ramsey developed a deep and growing love for the classical composers like Bach, Beethoven’s sonatas, and Chopin’s etudes.

The young pianist’s first gigs were playing piano with a group called The West Side Clefs. The drummer was Isaac “Redd” Holt who would become an integral part of Ramsey’s musical journey through the years.  It was Redd who introduced Lewis to jazz and bebop.  But first, Ramsey had to master playing R&B and the blues.  It was a leap from playing classical music to Top 40 tunes and playing the blues.  But Ramsey Lewis moved smoothly from his strict classical background into the world of popular music.  The teen was a quick learner and hungry for expanding his piano talents, so he gobbled up all the new music he was being shown.  Suddenly, his real interest turned out to be jazz.  By that time, Ramsey and Redd Holt had joined forces with a young bass player by the name of Eldee Devon Young.  Ramsey was nineteen, Redd Holt was twenty-two and Eldee was eighteen when they landed their first record deal.  At that time, the youthful musicians had their ears tuned to the radio.  They were particularly fond of the Modern Jazz Quartet, established in 1952 and featuring, over time, a list of legendary musicians. Including Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke, John Lewis, Percy Heath, Connie Kay, Mickey Roker, and Albert ‘Tootie’ Heath.

            Ramsey recalled, “We got a lot from the MJQ, especially when I think of their brilliant pianist, John Lewis.  Eldee used to play golf with the quartet’s bassist, Percy heath. When I listen to one of the pieces I wrote for the album, ‘Tres,’ I hear the classical influence and gospel … and some of John Lewis’ touch.  On another piece I wrote for that album, ‘Fantasia for Drums.’ You can hear that special way Redd played the trap set with his hands. I must have been about nineteen or twenty when I wrote those tunes, but I’ve never thought about how young or old I was, then or now.  I was just doing my job as musical director for the group.  But I do know that melody was very important to us and to everybody around us.”

            The newly signed recording artists were also inspired by the Chico Hamilton Quintet.  They were friendly with his jazz cellist, Fred Katz, and included his tune, “Seven Valleys” on their debut Gentle-Men of Jazz album.Back in the 1950s, it wasn’t like people were jammin’ in the jazz world using the cello.  Fred Katz may be one of the first to use that instrument in jazz. Eldee played both bass and cello and sounded exceptional on both, even though he was barely nineteen years old. 

            Patterning themselves after the jazz groups they admired, the young men dressed sharp in polished shoes, starched shirts, suits and ties, even top hats as pictured on their initial release.  Ramsey would continue to be a smooth dressed gentlemen throughout his life.  On this initial recording, you can hear the Ramsey Lewis style developing.  He had a natural, relaxed way of blending funk, R&B, gospel, and blues with classical music and transforming it into jazz.  I would say that it was Ramsey Lewis who opened the door for so-called, Smooth Jazz.  That era would blossom much later in the Twentieth century where rhythm and blues or ‘soul music’ was the root of a new type of jazz, featuring soulful drums and horns dancing on top of these funk-driven rhythm sections.

GRP President, Carl Griffin, spoke about Ramsey’s unique approach to style.  “The contemporary jazz format didn’t start out as funky as Ramsey was. … Grover Washington Jr., George Benson, Spyro Gyra, didn’t start out as funky.  But Ramsey had a style . . . He incorporated all of his gospel, blues, R&B music into that format and it became a signature, because nobody to this day plays like Ramsey Lewis, period!”

In January of 1958, after the release of The Gentle-men of Jazz 33-1/3rpm record, Jet Magazine named Ramsey one of the bright stars of that year, along with jazz vocalist, Dakota Staton, soul singer, Frankie Lymon (of the Teenagers group) and Chicago crooner, Sam Cooke.  By the time Ramsey was twenty-three years old, he was a big talent on the Chicago jazz scene and the album release spiraled his name nationally.  Clearly, his talent and potential were obvious and immense, as well as the members of his trio. 

When African American manager, John Levy heard the group, he immediately signed them.  At the time, Levy was an internationally respected name in management.  He was managing singer/songwriter, Oscar Brown Jr., saxophone star, Cannonball Adderley, the iconic pianist, Shirley Horn and blind pianist, George Shearing. 

One of Ramsey’s good friends was drummer, Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire fame.  They pretty much came-up in the Chicago music business together.  Maurice was the house drummer for Chess Records but told Ramsey he had dreams of forming a group that would take the world by storm.  That dream would be prophetic. For a time, The Ramsey Lewis Trio was signed to Chess and one evening, while in Detroit performing at a popular jazz coffee house called The Minor Key, Lewis got a call from the record company owner, Phil Chess, to say they had a hit record.  In September of 1965, Ramsey’s single that covered the popular Billy Page pop song, “In Crowd” rocketed up the Billboard charts to the #2 spot, and stayed on the chart for fourteen-weeks.  It sold half a million copies and that was a pretty big deal for a jazz record!  At that time, Ramsey Lewis had just turned thirty, was married to Geri Lewis and they had seven children. He won the Grammy Award that year for Best Jazz Performance.

This book chronicles a list of Chicago legends that Ramsey knew and worked with including the talented singer, Minnie Ripperton.  The trio played on her solo album, “Come to My Garden.”  He was also friends with the great conductor and arranger, Richard Evans, who worked on Ramsey’s “Wade in the Water” album. 

            He was close to and eventually hired bassist Cleveland Eaton to join his trio along with Maurice White on drums when Eldee and Redd left the group.  He also knew vocalist, Jean Dushon and the iconic arranger Charles Stepney.  It was Stepney who encouraged Ramsey to step into the electronic jazz age.  He went, at first kicking and screaming, but Lewis rose to the challenge and eventually embraced the smooth jazz electronic sound, fascinated by the various sounds an electric piano could make.  Over the years, he continued to work with a number of amazing musicians.  In 1969, he met and worked with guitarist Phil Upchurch.  Others who took to the stage with Ramsey as part of his group were Morris Jennings who took White’s place when he left to establish Earth, Wind & Fire.  Ramsey and Nancy Wilson were good friends and in 1984 Dr. George Butler recorded them together for Columbia Records on the “Just the Two of Us” album.

Another great friend of Ramsey’s was Stevie Wonder, who also composed songs for Lewis. Frankie Donaldson and Bill Dickens would eventually man the drums in his trio.  Felton Crews appeared on the 1981 album “Three Piece Suite” playing bass.  His gold records include “The In Crowd,” “Hang On Ramsey!” “Wade in the Water,” “Sound of Christmas” and “Sun Goddess” where Earth, Wind & Fire make a guest appearance. 

This book explores the personal side of Ramsey’s family life and love life. It explains his transition into radio and television, hosting his own shows and honoring the history of jazz music.  He released eighty albums over his lifetime and crisscrossed genres, making him one of the most popular jazz pianists of all time. A National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and Top 10 hitmaker, his influence can be heard today in Hip-Hop music, R&B and jazz.

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April 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 25 , 2023


Omer Klein, piano/composer; Haggai Cohen-Milo, bass; Amir Bresler, drums.

Opening with a composition titled, “The Ravens,” this is one of ten songs that pianist Omer Klein has written. It’s a pensive piece, moderate tempo and features Klein’s piano.  On the second cut, “Song No. 2” Amir Bresler’s drums soak up the spotlight, introducing the tune and he provides a solid pavement beneath the trio’s journey as they plow ahead. This song, with all its Thelonious Monk qualities, immediately catches my attention and becomes one of my favorites on this production.  Israeli-born Omer Klein, currently based in Frankfurt, Germany, has been playing with his trio members for a decade. At this point, they are not only musical partners, they are also three good friends. On Klein’s “¾ Mantra” tune, bassist Haggai Cohen-Milo takes a provocative solo and Amir Bresler is rock steady on drums.  The way children build with Legos, Omer Klein uses his creativity and piano technique to build his compositions like bricks and mortar, creating towers of melody with arrangements that spiral. For example, on the song “Cantando” the arrangement is fused with Latin rhythms.  His piano sets the scene, unraveling like a foreign film in black and white. The time and tempo challenge the ear, the way a foreign language might need translation with strips of closed captions running across the base of the film screen. Also, during the production of the song, “One Step at a Time” you will hear this technique once again, as he builds the song dramatically, than quietly ends it.

“In the past few years, I’ve learned how to achieve more control … while at the same time, letting go.  That’s precisely what improvising means for me.  It’s as though I’m writing a novel and changing the plot in real time while I’m writing,” Klein explains.

His song, “One Step at a Time” is rooted in classical music and quite beautiful.  It steps away from the classical genre halfway through the arrangement, placing one leg knee-deep into the jazz idiom. Klein’s music is a melting pot of cultures and influences. Omer and his trio hope you find “Life & Fire” to be as eclectic as they are and that the music embraces you with a message of diversity and unity, one step at a time.

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John Pizzarelli, guitar, vocals; Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Michael Karn, double bass.

On April 21, 2023, Palmetto Records released John Pizzarelli’s album called “Stage & Screen.” This project celebrates songs from Broadway musicals and Hollywood films.  Pizzarelli opens with the familiar “Too Close for Comfort” singing and playing the tune to spotlight his smooth, singer/songwriter kind of voice and his brilliant guitar skills.  This tune is plucked from the 1956 musical, Mr. Wonderful.  In a sweet way, it’s a tribute to his famous father, Bucky Pizzarelli who performed it with iconic sax man, Zoot Sims. John had been intrigued with a video of that performance for years.  The happy little song called “I Like Betsy” is a Jason Robert Brown tune with a wonderful lyric, some of which was updated into a concise three-verse song that happens to mention the love that Beyonce and Jay Z have for each other, bringing the song’s message into the twenty-first century.  Some of the lyrics read:

“I like taxis, I like trains, I like Brooklyn when it rains, but I love Betsy. I like walking after dark.  I like jogging past that park, but I love Betsy.  … Just like Jay Z and Beyonce, I will make her my fiancé, I love Betsy and she loves me.”

One of the things that endears me to John Pizzarelli’s mad talent is the way he scats along to his guitar improvisation so fluidly, as though the notes are penned across his brain, a comfortable music-stand in his mind.  To form the trio, he is joined by bassist Mike Karn and piano player, Isaiah J. Thompson.  Karn has been performing with Pizzarelli for seven years, with Thompson adding his amazing piano skills to the mix for the past three years.  They make for a tight and inspiring trio. Each takes a solo on “I Want to be Happy” played at a speedy, swinging tempo, and explicitly shows the listening audience their individual talents.  Pizzarelli’s seven-string guitar mastery is prominent during this sparkling arrangement.   John incorporates several songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Oklahoma!” that he wraps into a creative arrangement he calls “Oklahoma Suite.”  Michael Karn uses his bow to pull a beautiful, double bass solo into my listening space.  They open the medley with “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” and also incorporate “People Will Say We’re In Love” along with “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” into Pizzarelli’s Oklahoma Suite. These songs, along with other Oklahoma show tunes, celebrate the genius of Rogers & Hammerstein on this, the first Broadway score they had ever collaborated on together.  I love John’s silky-smooth ballad rendition of “Tea for Two” that also includes the rarely heard verse.  Written by Vincent Youmans, with lyrics by Irving Caesar, this popular song was introduced in May of 1924 during a Chicago premier of the pre-Broadway musical, “No, No, Nanette.” Pizzarelli is quite a crooner on this tune.  John Pizzarelli has been heralded as a singer and guitarist who has “… reinvigorated the Great American Songbook and re-popularizing jazz” says the Boston Globe.  He continues that important journey here, striding along the path with nimble fingers, his seven-string guitar singing and swinging, while also featuring his awesome vocal talents.  You will enjoy every song this trio plays.

“The idea of taking these songs out of the context of their shows or movies was interesting to me.  With a new arrangement you can change the meaning of a song.  That’s what we’ve been doing all of our lives as jazz musicians, trying to figure out how to make these classic songs different, whether it’s a songbook standard or a Beatles hit.  It’s always a lot of fun,” Pizzarelli concludes. 

I concur.

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Anthony E. Nelson, tenor saxophone/composer; Kyle Koehler, Hammond B3 organ; Cecil Brooks III, drums.

The smooth, illustrious sound of Anthony E. Nelson Jr.’s tenor saxophone is music to my ears.  With this wonderful new album, he is bringing homage to some of the great jazz organ trios that were hugely popular in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s.   Nelson has a sound that’s warm and fluid.  He reminds me of Gene Ammons, without the thick blues inflections.  Ammons was one of my favorite jazz saxophonists back-in-the-day, so comparing Mr. Nelson to Ammons is a huge compliment.

“The organ was a big part of my church upbringing and a big part of the music education I received in the clubs in Harlem and New Jersey.  I have also played on numerous organ trio gigs.  For this album, I wanted to honor the cats who knew how to do an organ trio right.  But I also wanted to pay homage to the great sax players that shaped my understanding of the music.  I have great love for artists like Gene Ammons, Houston Person, Stanley Turrentine, and other sax giants without whom I wouldn’t be the musician I am today,” Anthony E. Nelson Jr. explains.

This is Nelson’s fifth CD release as a leader. Not only does he play a mean tenor saxophone, but the artist is also competent on flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet (although these instruments are not played during this album). 

Nelson and his swinging trio open this project with a song made famous in the 1960s, on a Prestige album I owned by Gene Ammons titled, “Boss Tenor.”  Nelson’s treatment of the song is smooth and liquid as olive oil.  His tenor saxophone just slides through the chord changes.  Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk” is always a crowd pleaser, with Nelson giving it a very bluesy feel and inviting Kyle Koehler into the spotlight on his Hammond B3 organ.  Koehler does not disappoint.  He is a New York City first-call player and when Anthony E. Nelson Jr., and drummer Cecil Brooks III invited him to join them in the studio, he agreed.  It was a situation where Cecil had come into town from the West Coast and looked up his former student, Nelson Jr.  Cecil suggested they record while he was in town, and the rest is history.  Nelson composed “Uno Mas Por Roberto” for his uncle Bob, who speaks fluent Spanish. Cecil brooks III shines on the drums during this arrangement, pumping energy into the piece that swings with a Latin persuasion. There is a variety of good music on this album.  The trio sounds like they’ve been together forever, even though this was a happenstance recording.  Anthony E. Nelson Jr. brings his A-game, soaking his tenor saxophone solos in deep gospel juices and exposing blues roots on tunes like “These Foolish Things.” I used to love to hear Joe Williams sing this old standard. A talented saxophonist, Nelson plays this music like he, himself, is singing the lyrics and to my ears, that makes him a super sensitive and emotional player.   

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April 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 15, 2023

CHET BAKER – “BLUE ROOM” –  Jazz Detective

Chet Baker, trumpet/vocals/composer; Phil Markowitz, piano; Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, bass; Charles Rice, drums. 2nd DISCFrans Elsen, piano;  Victor Kaihatu, bass; Eric Ineke, drums.

Nearly thirty-five years after his passing, people still revere and search for music by trumpeter, Chet Baker.  In 1979, possibly at one of the peaks in his illustrious career, Baker recorded at VARA Studio 2 in Hilversum, the Netherlands.  Some forty-four years later, thanks to Frank Jochemsen of the Netherlands along with Jazz aficionado and producer, Zev Feldman, who stumbled across these pristine tapes, we have the “Blue Room.”  With partners Jordi Soley, Carlos Agustin and Elemental Music, Zev has released a double set album of Chet’s historic music from the 1970s VARA Studio Sessions in Holland.” 

One disc was recorded in 1978 during November and December, while the other was recorded in March and April of 1979.  In the 1970s, Chet Baker was particularly prolific and toured non-stop, blazing a trail of recordings across Europe and even when playing the same tunes in concert, they were never identical.  Baker continued to surprise his audiences with his creativity, performing to stellar, sold-out concerts.  On this album you will hear American pianist, Phil Markowitz, (twenty-something at the time). The young player must have been thrilled to be touring with Baker.  On bass, Chet invited Jean-Louis Rassinfosse from Belgium (another twenty-eight-year-old) and old-timer Charlie Rice on drums, who had been his drummer in New York in 1964 and 1965.  Chet Baker had recorded the popular “Baby Breeze” album in 1965 with Charlie.  This was after spending a poorly spent year-and-a-half in a Lucca Italian prison for drug use.

Although most of his adult life Chet Baker fought for sobriety, a heroin habit is difficult to break.  Still, his artistic fortitude and God-given talent prevailed and is clearly visible on this album.  His music hangs like precious diamond earrings, sparkling to my ears.  On the Burke/Van Heusen tune “Oh, You Crazy Moon,” Chet’s warm vocals are like butter.  He sings and scats and plays his horn in an easy, uninhibited way.  Baker’s interpretation of the Miles Davis tune “Down” is stellar.

The second disc continues with the same quartet performing Chet Baker’s “Blue Gilles” composition that lasts nearly eleven well-played minutes.  It begins with Baker’s solo horn telling hiss story in crisp, clear tones. When the band members enter, the tune moves from ballad to slow swing.  The second tune is the familiar “Nardis” composed by Miles.  The bassist and a musician who worked with Baker from 1976 to 1985 recalls playing with the gifted trumpeter on this particular project.

“He was in very good shape. He had good chops on these recordings … being able to record with Chet Baker was an honor.  I learned half of what I know in music through Chet Baker,” Rassinfosse said.

After the first two tunes on Disc #2, the personnel changes.  Frans Elsen takes over at the piano and brings a more bluesy approach to his jazz accompaniment.   Victor Kaihatu mans the bass and Eric Ineke is on drums.  This group begins with Chet Baker singing Candy in his own inimitable way.  They then take a “shuffle” groove on the tune “Luscious Lou” and you hear how blues fused Frans Elsen is, as Chet perhaps turns back the clock to 1956 when he first played this tune with his band and tenor saxophonist Phil Urso, who (by the way) composed this song. I thoroughly enjoy their arrangement. 

There’s a CD sized booklet included in this double disc package that gives outstanding, historic information about these various studio sessions.  With this new trio of musicians, Chet Baker had no chord changes documented.  Like many of the American Jazz musicians, he expected these new, European players to hear his melodic phrasing and improvise, but it wasn’t that simple.  The rhythm section had to figure out what the trumpet player wanted and that took more time than the former musicians who were familiar with his work.  You won’t notice this, because the playing is smooth and well connected. But this is because they rehearsed before recording.  Baker sings “My Ideal” as cut number five and then they close the album out with “Old Devil Moon” played at a fiery, up-tempo speed where Victor Kaihatu walks his bass briskly beneath the Eric Ineke swinging drums. 

Born in 1929, Chet was christened Chesney Henry Baker Jr. and lived, as an only child, on a farm outside Yale, Oklahoma. His mom had him when she was eighteen and worked at a local perfumery, while his dad was a part time Country/Western musician and jack-of-all-trades to make ends meet.  The enclosed booklet tells wonderful and insightful stories about Chet Baker, his history and his musicianship.  There are in-depth antidotes given by the various musicians on these historic studio tapings. 

Chet Baker made his tragic transition on May 13, 1988 when he toppled from his second floor hotel room window to the street below.  He was well known by the neighborhood, sitting on the windowsill, hunched over his horn and blowing trumpet beauty into the wind.  His legacy is captured in numerous books, recordings and films, and this newly released CD entitled “Chet Baker Blue Room” is another piece of a complicated but beautiful jazz puzzle.

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TOM COLLIER – “BOOMER VIBES – VOL. 1. “ –  Summit Records

Tom Collier, Vanderplas electric vibraphone/acoustic vibraphone/marimba/piano/Wurlitzer electric piano/Rhodes electric piano/organ/synthesizer/synth bass/ drums/drum programming; Eddie “Pick” McCord, guitar; Ed Kraft, acoustic bass.

Vibraphonist, Tom Collier has spent the last forty years of his life in the music business.  This album is one of three albums that will be issued on Summit Records, documenting songs that were important during his life story.  This album, Volume One, choses songs from the 1960s through the 1970s. Collier calls this his ‘do it yourself’ album because he plays multiple instruments. He only enlists musicians on two of the tracks, a guitarist on Track #2, “At Last” and he adds Ed Kraft on acoustic bass on the song, “Just a Little Lovin.”  Collier plays the first tune solo, overlapping instrumentation to play his version of Frank Zappa’s “Magic Fingers” tune. In 1975, he arrived in Los Angeles from Seattle and was hired by a studio percussionist named Emil Richards to sub for him. Collier discovered it was at Frank Zappa rehearsal, where Zappa was preparing for an orchestra concert at Royce Hall on UCLA’s campus. Tom was thrilled to be working with the legendary musician.  Little did he know that Zappa was also impressed to work with Tom Collier.  It seems Zappa noticed that Tom Collier could play the rather complex percussion parts without any problem.  A few months later, Tom Collier got a call to join the “Mothers of Invention rehearsal” and, when Zappa’s mallet player and percussionist left that band, Frank offered the gig to Tom Collier.  Unfortunately, at that time it just wasn’t the best fit for Collier to accept Zappa’s offer. But he always loved Zappa’s music and it shows during this funk-driven, contemporary music production. Tom plays all the instruments; bass, bass synthesizer, electric piano, marimba, acoustic vibraphone, and Vanderplas electric vibraphone.  It’s a very impressive production.  On Track #2, that features the R&B standard, “At Last,” Tom invites Eddie Pick McCord on guitar to fatten the arrangement.  Believe it or not, way before Etta James wrapped her emotional delivery around this ‘doo-wap’ tune, it was recorded in 1942 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. 

“… My recording of the song is somewhat patterned after Etta’s recording and I was inspired to emulate her bluesy vocal style on the least likely of blues instruments, the marimba,” Tom shared.  

Collier covers Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” Thom Bell and Linda Creed’s “People Make the World Go Round” and several other songs from the 60s and 70s, including Mick Jagger’s famed “Wild Horses.”  Although the multi-tracking process is easier today, with the advent of computer-based recording technology, I still prefer the warm sound of analog tracks and the camaraderie of live musicians. Still, Collier is exposing the beauty and creativity he has inside of himself using this technique.  The music pours out of him like a rainbow as he plays every instrument, with the exception of the two tracks I mentioned earlier. This is a celebration, by a talented vibraphonist and multi-talented musician, that spotlights his ability to create product as a solo multi-instrumentalist.

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DAVE BASS – “THE TRIO Vol. 3” – Dave Bass Music

Dave Bass, piano/composer; Kerry Kashiwagi, double bass; Scott Gordon, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Barry Finnerty, guitar.

Pianist and composer, Dave Bass, offers us his latest release, the sixth CD as a bandleader, and it celebrates “The Trio” as a Volume three.  Volume two was released in 2022 and Volume one hit the market in 2021.  All were very well-received and I’m certain this one will be also.  Bassist Kerry Kashiwagi and drummer, Scott Gordon both appeared on the first two trio albums mentioned above.  Barry Finnerty, who has recorded with Miles Davis, the Brecker Brothers, Hubert Laws and Ray Barretto, adds spice to this production playing guitar.

The Dave Bass name may sound familiar to Californians.  In 1996 Bass was a Deputy Attorney General with the California Office of the Attorney General.  He eventually joined the Civil Rights Enforcement and was knee-deep in his legal career when he rediscovered his piano chops. In the 1970s, he was part of the vibrant San Francisco jazz scene, including Latin music and Dave led his own group.  He often found himself in the company of good friends and fellow musicians like Babatunde Lea, jazz vocalists Jackie Ryan and Bobby McFerrin.  Unexpectedly, Dave Bass took a bad fall, fractured his wrist, and that stopped his piano playing.  He was shocked when doctors told him he would never play again.  That led him to UCLA School of Law and a whole new world. 

Unexpectedly, in 2005 he realized indeed, he could play again; he would play again, and Dave Bass returned to music. Bass was attending a party when the guest asked him to doodle on the piano a few tunes. Hesitantly, Dave took up the challenge and was well received. Thus, his return to the piano instrument and music career he loved stemmed from that experience.  This album reflects his appreciation of pianist, composer Thelonious Monk.  The trio plays “Criss Cross” and “Played Twice,” with Dave Bass sounding stellar on piano.  Bass has contributed three original songs to this project; “Endless Waltz,” a song with lyrics that jazz singer Karrin Allyson sang on one of her recordings, and a Straight-ahead arrangement of “Agenbite of Inwit” whose title puzzled me.  I did some research and discovered this phrase literally means the ‘again-biting of inner wit’ and was taken from a James Joyce book, where the phrase means “Prick of conscience.”  Guest star, Barry Finnerty adds a blistering guitar solo to this arrangement. The final original is titled, “Another Ending.  The trio played “With A Song in My Heart” and Kerry Kashiwagi sparkles during his solid bass solo.  This trio definitely put a song in my heart. All three of these gentlemen exhibit efflorescence and mastery of their instruments.  Together they offer us nearly an hour of stellar performances and awesome music.  Their album’s release date is May 12, 2023.

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Scott Petito, bass/piccolo bass/bass loops/bass guitar/piano/composer; Bob Mintzer, EWI/soprano saxophone; Randy Brecker, trumpet; Anna Maria Jopek, vocals; Rachel Z Hakim & Kevin Hays, keyboards; Mike Mainieri, vibraphone; Steve Gadd, Omar Hakim, Peter Erskine & Simon Phillips, drums; Larry Grenadier, bass; Bashiri Johnson & Minu Cinelu, percussion.

Scott Petito is a talented composer.  He has penned seven of the eight contemporary pieces on this production.  He is also a gifted musician who plays several bass instruments and the piano. His “Many Worlds” project is an opportunity for the bandleader to show off his skilled production chops and his engineering vulnerability, as he capitalizes on the pandemic days. Days that locked down so many creative musicians in their home studios. Scott has created a delicious mix of tunes and included musical friends who came together like salt and pepper to season this contemporary jazz stew.  The opening tune, “Dabwala,” incorporates vocals with the instrumental mix, introducing a floaty, warm, medium tempo tune featuring a lovely melody. Bashiri Johnson provides percussion that pushes the production forward along with legendary drummer, Steve Gadd.  Rachel Z Hakim provides a jazzy keyboard solo, showing off her improvisational skills and lifting the arrangement.  This is followed by “The Alchemist,” a much more funk-based ballad that immediately has your toes tapping.  It made me want to slow dance with somebody, as Omar Hakim slaps the two and the four into place.  Randy Brecker takes a brief, but power-driven solo on trumpet.

One thing that is perfectly clear. Scott Petito is an amazing composer and producer.  This album is beautifully produced and each song is like a perfectly cut diamond sparking in a necklace of sound. Here is an album of contemporary music that incorporates fusion, funk, Latin licks and R&B grooves to create a solid package representing “Many Worlds.”

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Ikue Mori, electronics; Christian Pruvost, trumpet/flugelhorn; Natsuki Tamura, trumpet; Satoko Fujii, piano; Peter Orins, drums.

A door creaks open.  The hinges sound rusty. Then a cold wind races inside and startles the floorboards alive.  So begins the album of Kaze & Ikue Mori, titled “Crustal Movement.”  Enter the trumpets, with Christian Pruvost and Natsuki Tamura bringing melodic sound excursions into the room, blowing wildly with the wind. Ikue Mori, who is a master of electronics, chases the horns around the space with provocative synthesizer sounds and rhythms.  Peter Orins adds his drum improvisations and a nearly twelve-minute composition titled, “Masoandro Mitsoka” transports me to another time and place. 

They recorded in Kobe, a city I’ve visited in Japan, famous for its Kobe beef and Japanese rice wine called sake. Satoko Fujii plays every part of the piano, the keys, the strings.  Kaze is a collective group of musicians who each bring a composition to the remote studio.

“We all composed a structure and made a blueprint.  In most cases, we made a chart on paper, not on music paper.  The blueprints have time durations and instrumentation and some instructions. For instance, play fast or play quietly,” Fujii explains.

This is contemporary, Avant-garde jazz.  If you have viewed the Kaze players ‘live,’ you may find this music to be a bit more conservative and quieter than their on-stage intensity.  Satoko Fujii is often referred to as one of the most brilliant and original voices in jazz today.  She has recorded over 100 albums as a bandleader during the past two and a half decades. In 2020, she became the recipient of the “Instant Award in Improvised Music.”  Natsuki Tamura is internationally applauded as one who has mastered Avant-garde rock, and jazz fusion.  Since 2005, he has focused on blending European folk music and sound abstraction with artists like Gato Libre.  He’s recorded four albums of solo trumpet and is a frequent member of Satoko Fujii’s impressive bands.  Christian Pruvost is also a trumpeter, a composer and improviser who is quite inventive and serves as Artistic Director for multiple projects. Peter Orins is a French drummer who has been playing experimental jazz music since the mid-1990’s. Since 2004, Orins has managed an artist-run record label that has released over 100 recordings.  Ikue Mori relocated from Tokyo to New York in 1977 and played drums in a band she formed called “No Wave Band DNA.”  Her radical rhythms caught the attention of anyone who heard her play.  In the 1980s, she incorporated her creative ideas into electronic drum machines and then moved to laptop computers to expand on her signature sound.  Together, this unusual quartet, along with Ikue Mori, create an exploration of tones, sounds, rhythms, melodies and free-falling ideas that rain across the airwaves like a tropical storm, hot and intense.  As we are drenched in the sound storm, the creativity encourages us to let the Avant-guard compositions soak us to the bone. 

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JASON KUSH – “FINALLY FRIDAY” – Independent Label

Jason Kush, tenor saxophone; Alton Merrell, piano; Jeff Grubs, bass; David Glover, drums.

Dr. Jason Kush is an active saxophonist, an educator, a prolific composer and he has penned every tune on this album. Dr. Kush has extensive experience as an orchestral musician.  In 2013, he established the Three Rivers New Music Consortium.  It is an international, non-profit organization with a goal to unite musicians, arts enthusiasts, and musical composers in a common quest for newly composed music.  Kush earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Saxophone Performance from the University of Miami and this album reflects both his awesome talent on the tenor saxophone, but also celebrates his composer skills. 

From the first flurry of notes on “Hasty J” Dr. Kush makes it plain that he is in it to win it.  The quartet comes out swinging harder than Muhammad Ali on this tune and it is so well-written, I thought it was a standard jazz song.  Alton Merrell is Stellar on piano and takes a burning hot solo. The group is propelled by the flying drum sticks of David Glover.  This is one of those albums that will just, plain make you happy.  The title tune follows and it is well written and engaging, with Jason Kush taking an explosive solo towards the end of the arrangement.  Other favorites on this album are: “Slipping Through the Cracks” that gives drummer David Glover an opportunity to step center stage and show off his drum chops during this Straight-ahead arrangement. “With Thoughts of Agnes” is a pretty ballad and “Easy Going” is a slow swing with a catchy melody.  Jeff Grubbs takes a bass solo that dances across the room, smooth as Fred Astaire.  They close with “Razor Burn” which is fiery hot and played at a speedy tempo, just the way I like it. There’s something for every jazz lover on this album, and it’s all original music that’s well-written and pleasant to the ear.

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Bill Warfield, trumpets/flugelhorn/orchestra leader; Chrissi Poland, vocals; Matt Owens, trumpets/flugelhorn; John Eckert, flugelhorn; Colin Brigstocke, trumpet; Pete Brainin, alto saxophone; Lou Marini, alto saxophone/flute; Dave Rickenberg, tenor saxophone/clarinet/flute; Kurt Bachur, baritone saxophone; Matt Hong, baritone saxophone/alto saxophone/flute; Charley Gordon, trombone/bass trombone; Matt Chertkoff, guitar; Cecilia Coleman, piano; Paul Shaffer, Hammond organ; Steve Count, bass; Scott Neumann, drums;

Bill Warfield’s Funk Orchestra begins their album with a message to the world featuring Chrissi Poland singing, “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free.”  I enjoyed their arrangement of the Flora Purim and Stanley Clarke composition, “Light as a Feather” and was genuinely impressed with their funky big band interpretation of the James Brown/Pee Wee Ellis medley of “Cold Sweat/I Got the Feeling.”  The orchestra’s interpretation of the Temptation’s big hit, “Just My Imagination” features Chrissi’s sweet and capable vocals again, with the Motown string lines that everybody loves echoed by the orchestra.  There are other gems like Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” and Bacharach and David’s “Alfie” composition. 

“My interests are so varied.  I love classical music.  I love commercial music.  With this band and these horns, I can do anything I want,” Bill Warfield praised his orchestra members.

This album is like the title says, a “Time Capsule” of the orchestra leader’s greatest musical influences that have become the soundtrack of his life and experiences.

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March 25, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 25. 2023


Shirley Scott, Hammond B3 organ; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Bobby Durham, drums; Ernie Andrews, voice.

To close out Women’s History Month, here is an archival treasure that Zev Feldman and Cory Weed stumbled upon. Recently, they ran into tapes revered and protected by the Left Bank Jazz Society and former LBJS president, John Fowler. Immediately, the two jazz producers recognized their find as an amazing piece of jazz history.  It was August 20, 1972, when the concert was recorded ‘live’ at the Famous Ballroom in Baltimore, Maryland. Now, here’s a double disc set that captures a very special space in time. Shirley Scott was the queen of organ and was a respected musician by the jazz men of that era.  In the liner notes, George Coleman remembered Shirley as a talented musician.

“She was great, man.  She was wonderful, very intelligent and very knowledgeable about harmony and stuff. She played a lot of different little things that I embraced, like some of the triads that she would play on some of the 13th chords.  I was very happy playing those things with her, ‘cause she was really great with the harmony, man, and, you know, she could swing, as you can hear on the album.  We played together with Johnny Hartman too.  She was really wonderful.  I miss her a lot,” George Coleman sang Shirley’s praises.

They open with John Coltrane’s famed “Impressions” tune and the trio is hot and swinging. Shirley lets George Coleman strut his stuff first and he shines on tenor saxophone. Bobby Durham is dynamite and lightening quick on drums. When she enters on organ, the spotlight is all hers.  Scott’s energy blasts through my speakers and her talent is formidable and unforgettable.  Shirley Scott was awe-inspiring!

On the “Never Can Say Goodbye” tune, Bobby Durham cuts loose and his solo is absolutely dynamic and vibrant.  What a talent on those drums!  George Coleman said he was an excellent singer too.  I didn’t know that about Bobby Durham.  Speaking of singers, a wonderful addition to this band was Ernie Andrews. George Coleman said he wasn’t a regular part of the band, but from time to time he would sit-in and he did gigs with them occasionally. Whenever Ernie Andrews took to the stage, he lifted the musical experience up a notch.  The vocalist was a showman and the audiences loved him.  He is featured on “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” with a great lyric and blues melody by Jim Croce. Ernie knows how to sell a song!  He follows this with “Girl Talk” and a mixed bag “Blues.”

Saxophonist Tim Warfield reflected on hearing Ernie Andrews sing.

“What can I say about Ernie Andrews?  I’ve heard him many times, but I got the chance to play with him at a jam session in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in my early years.  He sang “All Blues.”  I’ll never forget the feeling that I got hearing Ernie Andrews for the first time and how intense and beautiful it was.  There’s a certain sort of life wisdom that comes through in his vocal delivery that is unmatched.  He was just very soulful, man, you know?  There was a lot of conviction in what he would do.  I used to just watch how the audience would respond,” Warfield told his story in the liner notes.

About Shirley Scott he said, “Sublime! … It’s really difficult to describe Shirley in one word.  There was an honesty in her playing.  There was a soulfulness. ….  Joyful! Yeah, if I were to use one word, that’s probably what I would use. Joyful! Maybe even communal because there were certain consistencies that I just found fascinating.  I’ve never seen people respond the way I saw them respond to Shirley. …  Shirley was a sweetheart.  She was a nurturer. I don’t know if that was her intent, but it’s certainly who she was. … She was an elder.  She was like my aunt,” the saxophonist said.

I’ve not heard an arrangement quite like the one they play on Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”  It’s just full of excitement and I feel like when I get to Phoenix there’s going to be a big party, for sure.  Bobby Durham opens a version of “Smile” with a flurry of drum sticks and a solo that sets the tempo out the gate, like a horse on fire.  I have surely never heard Charlie Chaplin’s tune played like this before and it’s awesome!  From beginning to end, this is first class, high energy, unrelenting, honest and Straight-ahead jazz at its best.  It is “Queen Talk: Live at the Left Bank.”

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Ingrid Laubrock, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Mazz Swift, violin; Tomeka Reid, cello; Brandon Seabrook, guitar; Michael Formanek, double bass; Tom Rainey, drums.

Those of us living in big city life rarely get a taste of quiet.  It evades us like the plague.  Perhaps we are the plague, the scourge of Mother Earth. Our world is full of helicopter sounds, screams, gun shots, sirens, screech of brakes, angry auto horns and the rumbling of tires against asphalt.  Saxophonist and composer, Ingrid Laubrock, is searching for “The Last Quiet Place” and she uses this project to represent her exploration.  After reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s books, ‘The Sixth Extinction’ and ‘Under a White Sky’ Ingrid Laubrock was inspired to compose these six songs.

“Kolbert explains that there’s very little in nature that is pure anymore.  There is nothing that is untouched or that actually functions as it’s supposed to function.  I was thinking of these places that are no longer pristine and I realized that the only quiet place you can look for is within yourself – – and even finding that seems impossible much of the time,” Ingrid Laubrock muses.

Laubrock’s sextet joins musical talents to interpret her six original compositions, beginning with a song called, “Anticipation.”  The sweet strains of string instruments, featuring Mazz Swift on violin, soar across space. There is the feeling of anticipation in the music. Funny, Laubrock seems less desirous of quiet and serenity in these compositions. Instead, there is a burst of energy and chaotic reality that usurps all concept of quietness and instead seems to magnify tension and the opposite of silence.

“I feel like we’re in turmoil all the time. We’re all addicted to news cycles and constantly online, having signals sent to our brain that we must be alert and worried at all times, when it actually serves us better not to be.  I am always searching to maintain a sense of clarity and focus,” Laubrock states in her press package.

“Grammy Season” is the second cut and it begins with Ingrid Laubrock’s tenor saxophone flying amidst a sea of drum rolls with the help of Michael Formanek’s walking double bass.  The tune is busy and fused together with cello and violin riffs, drum slaps, and dissonant melodies strung together like off-colored pearls. 

The motivation for Ingrid Laubrock to tackle this project came from working with drummer Andrew Drury’s quartet and taking long introspective hikes and bike rides.  Her own drummer, Tom Rainey has been one of Ingrid’s close collaborators for some time.  She snatched up the opportunity to work again with bassist Formanek when he moved back to New York.  Ingrid is an experimental saxophonist and composer who broadly explores her musical realms by creating multi-layered sound plateaus, piled upon each other thoughtfully and provocatively.  She wants to make the listener and the players feel the passion and potential she captures in her compositions.  The title tune, “The Last Quiet Place” is quite beautiful, in its own, unique way.  It blows like a breath of fresh air across the listening space.  Then comes “Delusions” that builds the tension again.  Laubrock says it’s based on the same tone row as the title track.  However, they sound nothing alike, and their moods are entirely and extremely different. Brandon Seabrook’s guitar smashes over the strings, broad and powerful as feet stomping purple grapes, until the mood changes and becomes almost prayer-like. I find great beauty in some compositions like “Afterglow” and the final tune, “Chant II” is a modular piece and she says it was inspired by speech patterns. Laubrock seems to be a master of musical moods, much like Mother Nature, who can cast a dark cloud across the face of a sunny day and throw hail down from the ominous eyes of the skies. Ingrid Laubrock’s music affects me in extreme ways.  Clearly, the notion of “The Last Quiet Place” is as ethereal and absent in this album concept as silence itself.  Still, the beauty of her work shines like moonlight on the lake.

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AYMÉE NUVIOLA – “HAVANA NOCTURNE” – Worldwide Entertainment

Aymée Nuviola, vocals; Kemuel Roig, piano; Lowell Ringel, bass; Hilario Bell, drums; Jose ‘Majito’ Aguilera, percussion; Julian Avila, guitar. Backing vocals: Hilario Bell, Kemuel Roig, Jose ‘Majito’ Aguilera & Lowell Ringel.

Aymée Nuviola is an internationally acclaimed artist who has won multi-GRAMMY awards including Latin Grammy awards.  This artist has consistently kept Cuban music front and center, but also has captivated audiences with her musical versatility. You hear this versatility on the very first tune, “Imagenes” composed by Frank Dominguez.  Her voice dips and dives across the melody.  She scats and sings in Spanish with gusto and emotion.  She is both cool and captivating, surrounded by all-star musicians like Kemuel Roig on piano.  A form of Latin jazz became the heartbeat of Cuba in the late 1940’s into the early 1960’s called ‘Filin’music. In English, the word ‘filin’ translates to feelings. This Cuban music genre started when youthful musicians began to explore Cuban bolero music, seeking more freedom when performing this genre. It was a music greatly influenced by American music, with the spotlight on popular jazz vocalists of that day.  American artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, even Nat King Cole, helped to popularize the Filin style of song and performance.  The genre blended wholesomely with the Cuban music essence. Folks gathered around this Filin music at social clubs, jam sessions, house parties and concerts. Although Aymée Nuviola was born after that culturally rich filin popularity, she sounds as though she was influenced by it.  In fact, she has earned the moniker, ‘The Voice of El Filin of her Generation.’  One of the pioneers of this bolero-filin genre was a composer named Jose Antonio Mendez and Aymée Nuviola has covered two of his songs on this project; “Novia Mia” and “Me Faltabass tu.”  This Filin movement has sense spread from Cuba to New York, to Mexico and even to Puerto Rico.  Where Bolero music was always danceable, but bolero-filin did not lock the rhythm into perfect place, but often improvised both melodies and tempos. The melodies were often more challenging and complicated. When Aymee sings the Mendez composition, “Novia Mia” she takes vocal liberties and puts the ‘Swing’ into the arrangement after the first few verses that are sung more bolero. Julian Avilla’s sensitive guitar beautifully opens the second Jose A. Mendez tune, “Me Faitabas Tu.”  Lowell Ringel’s bass adds a strong basement to the building that Aymée Nuviola’s voice builds.  Although I do not speak nor understand Spanish, I feel Aymée Nuviola’s music. I connect to her spirit and her emotional delivery.  Sometimes her voice is quite like a horn and extremely jazzy in her presentation.  At times, like her rendition of “Rosa Mustia” I hear snippets of Billie Holiday’s influence. Aymee Nuviola drags us willingly through the enchanting streets of Havana and offers us her take on classic bolero-filin compositions by a dozen famous and legendary Cuban composers.  On “Obsession” (a Pedro Flores composition) she and the band fade into an Afro-Cuban chant towards the end of the arrangement, and Kemuel Roig takes an exciting and splendid solo. When she sings “El Jamaiquino” we are transported to a carnival or a dance, and this arrangement gives Jose ‘Majito ’Aguilera an opportunity to shine on percussion along with drummer, Hilario Bell. This artist has composed one song for this unique project. It’s titled “Quédate” and it starts as a beautiful ballad. Then, quickly doubles the time and adds percussion and guitar to brighten the arrangement.  Background voices smoothly color and fill in the vacant spaces.  Martha Valdés is a female composer from the bolero-filin era, and Aymée Nuviola sings her “Tu no Sospechas” tune to remind us of both history and Aymée’s ability to transform the music into a more contemporary era with her smooth vocals and range. Mr. Roig is such an amazing jazz pianist, that whenever he takes a solo, he lifts the production a notch.  Aymée’s voice spreads the joy around like jelly on sweet bread. 

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Ludovica Burtone, violin/composer; Fung Chern Hwei, violin; Marta Sanchez, piano; Matt Aronoff, bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell, drums; Leonor Falcon Pasquali, viola; Mariel Roberts, cello. SPECIAL GUESTS: Leandro Pellegrino, guitar; Rogerio Boccato, percussion; Sami Stevens, vocals; Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Roberto Giaquinto, drums.

Violinist Ludovica Burtone has composed all but one of the songs on this beautifully produced project.  Ludovica is an Italian violinist with outstanding composer talents, and a history of appearances working in classical quartets, with Brazilian bands and also contemporary jazz.  During this debut project, Ms. Burtone is fusing her passion for string quartet music with a number of guest artists.  They help her interpret the songs on this autobiographical album. “Sparks” tells the story of Burtone’s journey to the United States from Italy and her passage from classical music to jazz, then embracing world music and beyond.  She paints a very personal narrative, spreading her composer colors across the universe with musical notes and rhythm brushes. Ludovica Burtone introduces the listener to global stories, using her violin as the musical pen and ink.  Beginning with “Blazing Sun,” she duets with Fung Chern Hwei on violin and they build and crescendo this original composition, leaving space for Marta Sanchez to brightly solo on piano. The piano upper register improvisation sounds a lot like a jewelry music box.  Track #2 is titled “Sinha” and features Leandro Pellegrino on guitar, with Rogerio Boccato on percussion.  They fatten the sound, like bacon in the stew, bringing flavor to the musical pot.  This is the only composition that Ms. Burtone didn’t write.  It’s a happy-go-lucky tune, showcasing the happiness a violin can bring to your life, and spotlighting an exciting guitar solo by Pellegrino.  On Track #4, “Awakening” Burtone’s special guest, Melissa Aldana soars on tenor saxophone.  I am super impressed with their collaboration.

Ludovica Burtone’s work “Sparks” is sure to catch fire and burn a pathway towards more stories, more dreams, and more brilliant music.

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Hailey Brinnel, vocals/trombone/composer; Silas Irvine, piano; Dan Monaghan, drums; Joe Plowman, bass; Terell Stafford & Andrew Carson, trumpet;  Chris Oatts, alto & soprano saxophones.

The opening tune on Hailey Brinnel’s sophomore album swings and delivers a positive message.  Written by Richard & Robert Sherman, “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” has inspired Ms. Brinnel’s album title, “Beautiful Tomorrow” and it is a great lyrical way to introduce us to this trombonist and vocalist.  Chris Oatts takes a spirited alto saxophone solo after Hailey Brinnel sings the song down once.  Her voice reminds me of the Fred Astaire musical motion picture days.  She has a clear, pleasant tone and enunciates every word, like those actresses in the movies.  I enjoy the horn arrangements that are full and lush, sounding more like six or more horns instead of only three. Critics have regaled her budding talent and praised her versatile arranging sensibilities. Hailey’s style remains true to the old-school, jazz tradition, while incorporating youthful, contemporary nuances. In addition to playing trombone and singing, she is a fine composer. Both the blues changes and the smart lyrics of her original song, “I Might be Evil,” showcase her composer skills. Her trombone solo celebrates her musician strength. She has also composed “The Sound,” a song that spotlights her straight-ahead jazz sensibility. Here is a song where the tempo races and the pulse of the piece pushes the lyrics briskly, like a freight train in a hurry. Dan Monaghan on drums is the steam in the engine, and Joe Plowman on bass takes a noteworthy solo.  This tune sounds like something the late, great Betty “Be Bop” Carter might have written and sung. Hailey Brinnel has a lot of bebop in her style. I enjoyed her take on the Donald Fagen tune, “Walk Between Raindrops,” and once again the horn section shines!  Silas Irvine has a light touch on the piano keys, as though his fingers are skipping.  But don’t get it twisted!  He’s quite tenacious and power-packed with creativity and technique on his instrument. The band flies on “Tea for Two” and Hailey Brinnel sings and scats, showing the world she has roots in both the swing and bebop traditions.

“I like pushing the limits of the idiom, while staying true to jazz,” Hailey states.

She arranged and produced “Wayfaring Stranger” like a New Orleans dirge with Andrew Carson’s trumpet sparkling brightly during his solo. Brinnel’s vocals are sung like a horn, sometimes slamming her upper register in our faces.  She has a good range, but probably needs coaching on those soprano notes and how to elongate them with emotional smoothness and control. This is not meant to be a criticism, but more of an observation. I do enjoy Hailey Brinnel’s tone and her emotional delivery.

I also found her arrangements creative and surprising, like the way she sang “Tea for Two” and “There Will Never Be” by Botkin Jr., and Garfield.  Her trombone carries happiness in its’ bell and spreads it around when she plays “I Want to be Happy.” Irvine’s piano also dances joyfully.  Joe Plowman walks his double bass beneath her interpretation of the familiar tune, “Candy” as they present a stunning duo presentation.  Every song on this album is performed well and gives this listener encouragement that young people are carrying on jazz music in capable hands and good standing. 

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SANAH KADOURA – “DUALITY” – Independent Label

Sanah Kadoura, drums/background vocals/composer/arranger; Flavio Silva, guitar; Michael King, piano/Fender Rhodes/organ; Jonathan Michel, upright bass/electric bass; Virginia MacDonald, clarinet; Rachel Therrien, flugelhorn/trumpet; Stacy Dillard, soprano saxophone; Parham Haghigh & Joanna Majoko, vocals.

Sanah Kadoura is a Lebanese-Canadian drummer, composer, educator and producer.  “Duality” is her second album release and a follow-up to her 2018 release of “Hawk Eyes.”  This time, her concept is the duality of light and dark.   

“As we all navigate through our own internal balance, this album is an offering of healing, guidance and love. We all have our own battles, and I think it’s easier for us as humans to connect with each other through darkness, and find the light together,” Sanah shares her concept for this album.

“The Geminis” is Track #1 of this project and it’s contemporary jazz, featuring Sanah Kadoura compelling on drums, Virginia MacDonald on clarinet and Sanah, Joanna Majoko and Parham Haghigh singing wordlessly, like horns, in the background. This concept is used throughout Kadoura’s recording arrangements.  On the second and third tracks you can hear her Lebanese culture in Sanah’s original compositions.  One of my favorites on this album is Track #4, “Hidden Realities” that is more like Straight-ahead jazz and features a powerful solo by Michael King on piano, along with the inspired soprano saxophone work of Stacy Dillard.  Sanah steps into stage center with her trap drums and shows off both technique and spontaneity.  Track #8 is another thumbs up arrangement, titled “Dijon’ dres Deal” that waves Straight-ahead jazz like a banner above our heads.  It is a refreshing composition, up-tempo and giving both pianist Michael King and soprano saxophonist, Stacy Dillard a platform to speak their musical truths. The final song, “Rise,” features Joanna Majoko on lead vocals and her voice is lovely.  All the songs on this project were composed, arranged and produced by Sanah Kadoura and propelled forward by her astute trap drum skills.

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Alyse Korn, piano/vocals/composer; Robert Kyle, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute/surdo/guiro/ composer; Kevin Winard, drums/percussion; Hussain Jiffry & Ahmet Turkmenoglu, bass; Leonice Shinnerman, tabla; Howard & Phyllis Silverstein, finger snaps.

The first tune on this project is titled, “Gratitude” and its warm, Brazilian arrangement wraps musical arms around me.  Alyse Korn is the composer.  She has a sweet voice that caresses the melody, singing along with the piano part at the top of the song, wordless, but emotional.  Robert Kyle is known for his round, comforting saxophone sound on both tenor and soprano saxophones.  His entry into the song delivers that warmth.  He and the vocalist appear to have a conversation, with the saxophone posing a fluid musical sentence and the voice answering with tone and no lyrics. The simplicity of the arrangement is very affective and rather intriguing.  The next composition is composed by Kyle and this time he pulls out his flute. The thing that both compositions have in common is a sense of comfort, peace and meditation.  This is easy listening, contemporary jazz, strongly influenced by Brazilian and Afro-Cuban music.  Kevin Winard’s drums add ample and creative support throughout.

“There’s a lot of turmoil in the world today.  We hope that when people listen to our music, they will feel the peace that we feel when we play it,” Alyse explains their musical point of view.

Track #3 (“Your Light”) is a lovely ballad with beautiful changes.  Korn’s piano tinkles in the upper register and teases our senses as an introduction.   It makes me want to lean forward to hear what’s coming next on this Robert Kyle composition.  Kyle wrote this song to capture the grace and kindness he finds in Alyse, his wife. The title tune has an intriguing melody and the harmonics that Kyle has in his head are magical and completely on display during this tune. 

Kyle shared, “I’ve made several albums paired with just a guitar or piano, but this one is special because this one is with Alyse, and Tuesday’s Child is our child,” he’s referring to their recently released album.

On the tune called “Blue Jack” Kyle plays his tenor saxophone and tributes his favorite uncle.  This time, the composition is a bit bluesy and finger snaps were a cool way to add a jazzy, club-like ambience to the production.  Turkmenoglu adds his bass to thicken the production.  Hussain Jiffry brings his bass to the party on “Vivian’s Danzon,” however it’s Winard’s tasty percussive licks that wrap this package of Latin goodness with bright ribbon colors.  Kyle’s exquisite flute dances stage center and captivates. Alyse Korn shows off her piano technique during a brief but provocative solo.  Her sensitive touch and under-stated piano technique blends seamlessly with Robert Kyles reed mastery.  Together this husband-and-wife team, project a feeling of tranquility, love and peace of mind.  What more do you need?

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Erica Seguine, composer/arranger/conductor; Shon Baker, composer/alto & soprano saxophone; Carmen Staaf, piano; Evan Gregor, bass; Paolo Cantarella, drums; Eric Burns, guitar; Tammy Scheffer, vocals; Meg Okura, violin/electric violin; Kalia Vandever & Nick Grinder, trombone; Scott Reeves, trombone/alto flugelhorn; Becca Patterson, bass trombone/tuba; Adam Horowitz, Jonathan Saraga, John Lake, & Nathan Eklund, trumpet/flugelhorn; John Lowery, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Andrew Hadro, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/flute; Peter Hess & Quinsin Nachoff, tenor saxophone/ flute/clarinet; Ben Kono, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Remy Le Boeuf, alto saxophone/flute/alto flute/piccolo/clarinet.

In the ever-growing, contemporary, big band jazz scene, the Erica Seguine/Shon Baker Orchestra has made quite an impact.  Since 2011, the co-founders (Erica & Shon) have combined their compositional integrity and masterful arrangements to create a beautiful platform for big band interpretation. In a sea of dissonance and unexpected harmonics, there is a palpable beauty in this project.  The creativity of these seven arrangements pulls at the soul and tantalizes the imagination.  The resulting production is an artistic reflection of the human condition and various cultures. For example, the opening composition by Erica Seguine is titled, “Reel” and has a Celtic influence that almost makes you want to get up and dance a jig.  Eric Burns and Meg Okura are featured, soloing on guitar and violin.  Shon Baker wrote “States” that opens with a music box quality played by Carmen Staff on piano. It is a sweet, sensitive piece of music at first, but quickly builds, expands and adds Tammy Scheffer’s voice that blends with the full orchestra. “Tangoing with Delusion” is a tango written by Erica, that features Shon on saxophone.  The title tune and ballad is written by Shon Baker, with Scheffer singing his poem. In terms of keeping the essence of jazz alive and well, I did not hear one swing tune, or one blues infused arrangement, both which universally represent the roots of  jazz.  However, these are big, bold orchestrations that flow and ebb like the ocean.  With each splash of orchestration comes other unexpected musical surprises.

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Emilie-Claire Barlow, vocals/arranger; Steve Webster, arranger; Reg Schwager, guitar/arranger; Justin Abedin, guitar; Jon Maharaj, bass; Amanda Tosoff, piano/arranger; Chris Donnelly, piano; Hannah Barstow, electric piano; Ben Riley, drums; Kelly Jefferson, tenor saxophone; Celso Alberti, percussion; Drew Jurecko, viola/violins/String arrangement; Lydia Munchinsky, cello; Bill McBirnie, flute; Rachel Therrien, trumpet.

Perpetuating a theme of birds, Emilie-Claire Barlow has created an album featuring her warm, soprano voice.  She has chosen eight songs, most referring to the passerine community.  Track two is sung in French and she sounds lovely singing in that romantic language. Her voice caresses each word in the song, “Fais Comme L’oiseau.”  During this arrangement, her vocals blend beautifully with the sensitive guitar accompaniment of Reg Schwager.  Emilie-Claire’s rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Bird of Beauty” composition is sung using the Portuguese lyrics of Sergio Mendes, before she breaks into English.  The Brazilian arrangement is wonderful.

Ms. Barlow is not your typical jazz voice.  Emilie-Claire can obviously sing anything and sing it well.  When she vocalizes Gershwin’s “Little Jazz Bird” Barlow adds her own jazz vocalese, singing in unison with the Schwager guitar.  She has added lyrics to the solo instrumental part, in the spirit of Lambert, Hendrix and Ross.  A true jazz singer should be able to improvise as part of the jazz mosaic, and I didn’t hear much of that.  Still, I enjoy this vocalist’s lovely tone and her emotional rendering of each song.  Emilie-Claire closes her unique album singing in, what sounds like Spanish, “Pajaros de Barro.”  During this production, Emilie-Claire Barlow takes us on a journey of birds, spiced with a variety of languages and a voice as pure and natural as the wind itself.  You may find yourself flying along with her on the wings of her songs.

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March 15, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 15, 2023

They say if the month of March roars in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb.  So far, the new music I have been sent is terrifically innovative and energetic.  These CD’s have blown in like a lion, album after album continues to arrive with music at a high level of innovation and creativity.  Check out these awesome recordings by the masterful pianist, BILLY CHILDS.  Los Angeles guitar player DAVE ASKREN and L.A. based sax man JEFF BENEDICT have produced a new album called “The Denver Sessions” featuring vibraphonist TED PILZECKER, bass man, PATRICK McDEVITT and drummer, PAUL ROMAINE.  An exciting new album by the CHEMBO CORNIEL QUINTET is an impressive production that features Afro-Puerto Rican Latin jazz that promises non-stop energy. THE MOTET is an instrumental group, leaning heavily towards R&B, funk and smooth jazz.  PIERRE L. CHAMBERS is a silky, smooth baritone vocalist with scat as his second language and ERIC REED reflects on the outstanding beauty of African American composers and his own relationship to music reflected on his “Black, Brown and Blue” album.  Finally, JOSÉ LUIZ MARTINS is a Brazilian pianist and composer promoting his “Reflections” CD.


Billy Childs, piano; Ambrose Akinmusire, trumpet; Scott Colley, bass; Brian Blade, drums.

From the very first musical phrase, Billy Childs explores all his brilliance and beauty, not only as an outstanding pianist, but also as a gifted composer. “The Great Western Loop” is the first composition and opens with Childs playing a solo lick that circles the spirit of this song.  It is repeated throughout his arrangement, with Billy’s fingers flying over the 88-keys, showing purpose and determination.  Brian Blade colors the tune on drums, percussively precise with tempo, yet offering a freedom that acts like an impressive adjective in Child’s musical sentences.  When Ambrose Akinmusire joins the trio, his fluid trumpet solo lifts the arrangement another notch.  This is a great Billy Childs composition.  I had to play Track #1 twice.  The title tune follows, settling down the spirit and magnificence of Billy’s premiere song into what begins as a lovely ballad. But like ‘The Winds of Change’ themselves, the listener is invited on a magic carpet ride that dips and dives.  It teases our senses with the dynamic touch of Billy Childs and the energetic way he introduces the melody and mood of this composition.  A jazz waltz spews from the keys and sooths us one minute, before the time signature changes, and the trumpeter blows the waltz away.  The music of Billy Childs is both engaging and unpredictable, in a creative, uninhibited way.  His hands are as powerful as his technique, first tinkling at the melody in the treble clef and then, with full attack, applying classical crescendos.  While improvising with his right hand, his left hand powerfully paws the rhythm track alive, amply assisted by Scott Colley on bass and Blade’s relentless drums.  This is jazz at its finest.

Billy Childs – The End of Innocence (Official Audio) – YouTube

On “The End of Innocence” tune, Colley’s bass solo is innovative. The composition, “Crystal Silence” was so beautiful it made my eyes tear up.  From start to finish, Billy Childs once again shows the universe what a sensitive, masterful pianist he is and, what a magnificent composer he has become.  This is Grammy Award winning music. 

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Dave Askren, guitar/producer/composer; Jeff Benedict, producer/composer; Ted Piltzecker, vibraphone/composer; Patrick McDevitt, bass; Paul Romaine, drums.

Guitarist, Dave Askren and reedman, Jeff Benedict have been making music together in and around the Southern California area for three decades.  This release celebrates their 12th recording partnered together, and their fourth as bandleaders.  Each time they took to the studio, the duo featured a different line-up of musicians.  For this project, they have added New York-based vibraphonist, Ted Piltzecker to the mix, along with drummer, Paul Romaine and bass man, Patrick McDevitt.  Both are from Denver, Colorado.  Paul is a childhood friend of Jeff Benedict’s and a first-call drummer who has toured with Eddie Harris, Benny Golson and James Moody. Benedict earned his master’s degree at University of Denver and spent ten years in Colorado soaking up the jazz scene before relocating to Los Angeles. Their carefully chosen drummer had a warm relationship with Patrick McDevitt (the bass player) and so, he completed their quintet.

“It turned from a recording date into a week-long hang, with a series of gigs culminating in the session,” guitarist Dave Askren reflects. 

Listening to this project, I would never guess that these players barely knew each other musically when they walked into the recording studio.  They exude a warmth and a musical camaraderie that makes this production sound like old friends playing together.  The vibraphonist has composed the fourth cut, “Poised” and it floats and dances across my listening room in a very melodious way.  Beyond being a virtuoso vibraphonist, Piltzecker is clearly a fine composer. Surprisingly, he also earned a degree in trumpet at Eastman School of Music.

“Ted’s always a great hang!  He juggles, he rides a unicycle, he’s a pilot and he just happens to play vibes really well.  He’s a great person to collaborate on music with, because he’s got big ears and listens to all kinds of music,” Jeff Benedict sings the praises of their guest vibraphonist.

Benedict has composed the bluesy “Ennui, Anyone” tune. He adds his saxophone mastery to the mix, soaking up the spotlight like a thirsty sponge.  His horn sets the mood and establishes the groove.  Piltzecker steps right in on vibes and keeps the blues thick and palpable, producing melodic rhythm and laid-back sweetness.  Dave Askren’s guitar is warm and inviting, settling into that slow swing, like a musician reclining in a hammock.  McDevitt takes a brief bass solo and cushions the horn and guitar harmonics that mimic a full horn section.  Askren enhances the slow shuffle groove on his guitar, while the Romaine drums propel their band forward.  This album is packed with music that’s amazingly comfortable.  It’s the kind of jazz that sooths the soul, pulling inspiration from the mid-sixties jazz scene that introduced the world to vibraphone masters like Milt Jackson and later, Bobby Hutcherson. Sometimes it’s reminiscent of the Stan Getz years.

“On the surface there are several different jazz genres thrown together here.  What’s cool is it’s all the same guys with our own styles, so by the end, it really sounds like a band.,” Askren brags, happy with their Denver Session results. 

The camaraderie shared by the members of this band forges a chemistry and a bonding that makes their production completely entertaining and inspired.  From the boisterous “Orange Express” that showcases Paul Romaine’s drum skills, to a more contemporary jazz style. There is the Latin fused, melodic original composition by Benedict dedicated to his mother titled, “Marie Adele.”  You will hear diversity in this project.  For example, Dave Askren’s composition that opens this album, “Jackie’s Idea” is one of my favorite tunes and may be referencing Jackie McLean and recalling his Blue Note Record days of Straight-ahead jazz.  These five musicians bring joy, love and happiness to a project rich with potential.

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Isaiah J. Thompson, piano; Philip Norris, bass; TJ Reddick & Domo Branch, drums; Julian Lee, tenor saxophone.

Isaiah J. Thompson is a rising star.  He’s a blossoming pianist who has already performed with several iconic jazz musicians including Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Steve Turre, John Pizzareli and Buster Williams.  Additionally, Isaiah is a sensitive and prolific composer.  Perhaps you watched him on the NPR Tiny Desk concert.  He has also been a special guest performer at Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s “Handful of Keys.” 

Isaiah J. Thompson Quartet: Tiny Desk Concert – YouTube

His album will be released on March 16, 2023, recorded during a live performance at “Jazz at Lincoln Center.”  His stellar album opens with a tune called, “The IT Department” that he released as a single a few weeks ago.  The title is a play on Thompson’s initials and a tribute to his father.  This single release landed Thompson on the cover of “Tidal’s Rising Jazz Playlist.”  Julian Lee’s awesome tenor saxophone solo is as powerful as Isaiah’s piano work.  I enjoyed the way Philip Norris soaked up the spotlight during his bass solo. Isaiah Thompson has the technique and a style that reminds me of Erroll Garner one moment and Cedar Walton the next.  In his press package, Thompson says he admires Bobby Timmons and Phineas Newborn Jr., but clearly, he’s blazing his own path.  In fact, he has composed a song “For Phineas” that opens with the Norris bass front and center.  Playing solo, Philip Norris sets the tone, the groove and the rhythm for this piece before Isaiah and his quartet join in.  It is a very exciting bass solo, played with passion and fervor. When Isaiah enters the piece, his fingers fly as does the tempo, and he mesmerizes with the power of his solo. Drummer, Domo Branch, is given an opportunity to express himself solo and he too is dynamic!  The live audience applauds wildly after this tune.  Another ‘single’ from this album is “Tales of the Elephant and Butterfly.”  Every composition on this album is a testimony to Thompson’s talent and prowess. This is a debut release for Isaiah J. Thompson that reflects spontaneous creativity and spirit.  It introduces us to the depth of talent and power of spirit that Isaiah J. Thompson brings to the music.   Sit back and enjoy!

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CHEMBO CORNIEL QUINTET:  Wilson “Chembo” Corniel, Jr., tumbadoras/Cajon/Barril de Bomba/bata/quinto/shekere/gua-gua/clave/guiro/miscellaneous percussion; Carlos Cuevas, piano/Fender Rhodes; Ian Stewart, electric bass; Joel E. Mateo, drums/Bomba cua/clave; Hery Paz, tenor saxophone/flute.  INVITED GUESTS: Eliado “Don Pancho” Terry, shekere/vocals; Hector Martignon, Elio Villafranca, Adan Perez, piano; Vince Cherico & Ivan Llanes, drums;  Ruben Rodriguez & Mike Viñas, acoustic bass; Andrea Brachfeld, flute; Paul Carlon & Ivan Renta, tenor saxophone; Agustin Someillan Garcia, trumpet; Angel “Cuqui” Lebron, trombones; Nelson Matthew Gonzalez, primo barril & maraca; Ben Lapidus, Cuban tres/coros; Juan Aldahondo, Puerto Rican cuatro; Victor Rendon, Bata lya/shekere; Yasuyo Kimura, shekere; Cascadu Escayg, bata Okonkolo; Jose Acosta, maracas; Felipe Luciano & Ismael “East” Carlo, poets.

“Lagrima De Monte” – Chembo Corniel Quintet 2023 – YouTube

From the first flurry of notes by the Chembo Corniel Quintet, their percussive excellence and enthusiasm startles the listener to attention.  Their percussion art absolutely propels this project and infuses it with African, Puerto Rican, Spanish and Island culture.  When you mix these rhythms into the jazz mosaic, the product is a delicious stew of cultures and music. Here is music that wets the musical appetite and delights the senses.  Ismael “East” Carlo, a poet, recites spoken word at the top of a tune called P.R.I.D.E and Carlos Cuevas inspires me with his piano solo. Andrea Brachfeld makes a guest appearance on flute after Paul Carlon puts his stamp of approval on the tune, using his tenor saxophone solo to propel this arrangement into the high heavens.  Once again, the percussion shines and binds the musicians tightly together.  This piece becomes a shooting star that sparkles across space and properly entertains us with its brilliance. 

This is the sixth album release for Chembo Corniel and it may be his best.  “Artistas, Musicos Y Poetas” celebrates Chembo Corniel’s 20th anniversary as a bandleader.  He has surrounded himself with guest artists, along with his steadfast quintet, to interpret nine exciting and diverse compositions, including the familiar Monk tune, “Evidence” that sounds completely natural arranged as Afro-Cuban and Eddie Palmieri’s “Pa’ La Ocha Tambo” composition that features Agustin Someillan Garcia on trumpet. On the fourth track, “Child of Wisdom” the electric bass solo by Ian Stewart is stellar.  Chembo has arranged all of the songs and contributes one original composition named after the Brooklyn area of Red Hook where he grew up, “Red Hook Rumba.”  Chembo Corniel has been a major part of the Afro-Caribbean jazz scene for decades.  He has worked with such notables as Chucho Valdes, Hilton Ruiz, Tito Puente, Machito, Larry Harlow, Joe Bataan, Willie Colon, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Grady Tate, Jane Bunnett’s Spirits of Havana, the Chico O’Farrill Orchestra and the Bobby Sanabria Big Band to name just a few.  The energy and musicianship on this album is outrageous. Hopefully this production will be submitted for Grammy consideration.  It is just that good!

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Pierre L. Chambers, vocals; Karen Hammack, piano; Henry Franklin, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums; Jeff Kaye, flugelhorn; Dori Amarilio, guitar; Cathy Segal-Garcia, background vocals/producer.

Son of the iconic, jazz bassist, Paul Chambers, Pierre L. Chambers brings his own warm, expressive jazz expression to stage center.  The vocalist opens with the popular Nat Adderley composition, “Work Song.”  Pierre exhibits his ability to caress the song with his silky, baritone vocals and then slips into scat singing like a favorite pair of slippers. This vocalist is smooth and compelling.  Accompanied only by the bass of Henry Franklin, he flawlessly performs “The Nearness of You.”  Clearly, Chambers is no newcomer to singing, even though this is his debut album.  He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and his mother played music in the house from sunup to sundown.  He heard jazz, blues, rock, soul, classical, Latin and even East Indian music.  At age thirteen, he was the only kid on his block that could scat to the Mile Davis hit album, “Sketches of Spain.”  Pierre enjoyed singing and he wrote poetry. Chambers took up the study of saxophone and clarinet in high school, playing in the school band and he sang in church choirs.  In 1982, he moved to New Jersey where he met Lance Hayward, a jazz pianist, and joined The Lance Hayward Singers.  It was a 24-voice jazz ensemble.  They sang classical music, show tunes, standards, and jazz tunes.  Pierre was a member from 1985 to 1993.  In 1991, he joined the Family Tree Singers under the tutelage of leader, Bill Lee, father of Spike Lee.  They sang all the music from Spike Lee’s first four movies.  In 1996, Chambers moved to Los Angeles, where he met Dolores Peterson.  She was the host of a local jam session and introduced him to singers, Lisa Herbert and Mitch Ellis. Together they formed Chambers, Herbert & Ellis, a vocal trio who sang the music of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross.  They performed for a year at the famed Gardenia Lounge in Hollywood.  Pierre Chambers has dedicated this album and his singing career to his mother and father, Paul and Annie Chambers.  “Dear Ann” is one of his father’s compositions and Pierre contributed the lyrics.  Here is an enjoyable recording where Pierre L. Chambers offers vocal interpretations of several familiar jazz tunes including “Paper Moon.”  He takes creative liberties to arrange it in his very own unique way, extending the time in some places and artistically adding unexpected notes that make the song totally his.  He also offers us swinging arrangements of “My Shining Hour” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”  Here is a male voice, somewhat reminiscent of Joe Williams, who presents his distinctive and stylized take on the old standards, painting them brand new and weaving into the mix his original poetry.

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THE MOTET – “ALL DAY” –  Independent Label

Dave Watts, drums/composer; Garrett Sayers, bass/composer; Joey Porter, keyboards/composer; Ryan Jalbert, guitar/composer; Drew Sayers, saxophone & keyboards/composer; Jason Hann, percussion.

The Motet – Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO – 7/12/2019 – YouTube

Since the word ‘motet’ means a short piece of sacred choral music, I was not expecting an album of instrumental funk and R&B, however that’s what this music is, and it is very well played.  In fact, I rarely review this type of production, but because the musicianship is so excellent and the songs are so well-written, I decided to make an exception. This is party music, rhythmic and upbeat. I suppose you could put this music into the contemporary smooth jazz category, although for me, it’s just strong, emotional R&B. This band brings to mind the music of the 80s that blended jazz, funk and R&B reflected in groups like Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind & Fire, and the Gap Band.  Dave Watts slaps the ‘happy’ into this album on drums. Jalbert’s rhythm guitar spurs the compositions alive and danceable, while Garrett Sayers (on bass) locks the rhythm track into place.  Drew Sayers adds keyboard electronics and saxophone solos to the mix, as does Joey Porter on keyboard.  Each musician contributes a song or two and each of the compositions adds zest and spice to this project.  If you love funk, R&B and a band that puts the “P” into party, The Motet will do that for you “All Day” long!

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ERIC REED – “BLACK, BROWN AND BLUE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Eric Reed, piano/composer; Luca Alemanno, bass/composer; Reggie Quinerly, drums/composer; Calvin B. Rhone & David Daughtry, vocals.

Eric Reed “Black, Brown, and Blue” video – YouTube

Eric Reed’s piano notes fall crisply across space.  There is an even-ness about the improvised lines, a measured accuracy that reflects not only excellence in technique, but thoughtful placement of each note, each phrase, each provocative crescendo.  Eric Reed makes the Buster Williams composition, “Christina” sounds like teardrops falling from heavenly clouds. I am especially touched by this song, where Luca Alemanno’s bass is the welcoming earth, the foundation of the tune that both supports and soaks up the beauty of Reed’s piano notes. The emotion Eric Reed puts into each arrangement is palpable. On Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes,” a song I grew up with, playing Shorter’s album over and over on my mother’s worn turntable, Eric Reed adds Reggie Quinerly on drums along with Alemanno’s bass.  The trio slowly unpeels Shorter’s beautiful melody, exposing it piece by piece with Reed’s fingers noodling the blues into the arrangement along with traces of Gospel music.

“All of our music could be considered the ‘blues’ metaphysically and emotionally, regardless of what region of the world we inhabit.  When we sprinkle the ‘blues’; onto the gray cares of the world, life seems to feel a bit less ponderous,” Eric Reed expresses.

Reed opens this album with a solo piano arrangement that plays the title tune he has written. I was intrigued by his interpretation of Duke Ellington’s “I Got it Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” as a slow, sexy, trio ballad. The arrangement is lovely.  He is eloquent while playing McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace.”  You will hear some of the amazing and timeless music created by African American composer on this album.  Reed also features more contemporary works by his trio members, Alemanno (“One for E”) and Quinerly, (who wrote “Variation Twenty-Four) have each contributed a single composition. This dynamic pianist is holding up the banner of  black culture, saying loudly and creatively, don’t forget Wayne Shorter, Buddy Collette, Bill Withers, Buster Williams, McCoy Tyner, Duke Ellington, Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Stevie Wonder and Thelonious Monk.  Their contributions to our world, to our culture, to our music must never be forgotten.  He is also reminding us that his music is here too, and he has something to contribute, something important to say.

“The feeling I get when I interpret “Ugly Beauty” (or any Thelonious Monk piece) allows me to drown out the sound of hate and the feeling of injustice that prevails outside of the walls of a performance space – – For a few minutes, at least.  This album’s renderings of Stevie Wonder’s Pastime Paradise, (sung by David Daughtry) and Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” (sung by Calvin Rhone) remind me that the sound of the ‘Blues’ is the source of all Black American music and that jazz, Gospel, blues, R&B, et al, are its offspring.  It was for this reason that I chose to treat Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes” as a Gospel-tinged dirge,” Eric Reed explains in his liner notes.

When I finished listening and reviewing this piece of distinctive art, I replayed it two more times.  That says it all!

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JOSÉ LUIZ MARTINS – “REFLECTIONS” –  Independent label

Jose Luiz Martins, piano/composer/arranger; Michael Chylewski & Doug Weiss, acoustic bass; Jorge Rossy, drums/vibes; Chase Elodia, drums; Tian Long Li, harmonica; Alex Hamburger, vocals.

José Luiz Martins – Beijo Partido (Toninho Horta) – YouTube

“Reflections” is José Luiz Martins’ third album and includes his original music along with Brazilian and American composers. They open with “Beijo Partido” by famed Brazilian composer, Toninho Horta.  José Luiz Martins is also a Brazilian pianist, composer and producer, originally from Sao Paulo, who currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area. On this first track, José Luis takes this opportunity to offer us a lovely piano improvisation recorded at the Jazz Campus Studio in Basel, Switzerland.  The music crescendos towards the end, employing vocal chants blended deliciously into the production on the fade.  Track #2 is the Lennie Trestano tune, “317 East 32nd Street” where Jorge Rossy puts down his drum sticks and adds vibraphone to the mix.  It’s a delightful arrangement switch, that turns a bright light on this drummer as he dances around the band’s happy swing tune with mallets instead of drum sticks.  Michael Chylewski does an excellent job of holding the rhythm solidly in place on bass, with Chase Elodia joining him on drums.  José Luiz puts the “S” in swing during his piano solo.  Track #3 is titled, “Bolero” and it’s an original composition by José Luiz.  He has also contributed “Morning Tune” to this project.  This composition features an up-tempo arrangement with Rossy on vibes. They close with the old standard, “Stairway to the Stars” featuring the sweet vocals of Alex Hamburger.  José Luiz Martins exhibits his accompaniment talents during this production.  Although the vocal addition is like a bright bow ribbon on the giftbox, the star of this album is clearly José Luiz Martins.  He and his piano are the whole package, and all extra additions are just frills and sparkles that decorate his amazing talent. 

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March 3, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 3, 2023


Rachel Therrien, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer/arranger; Michel Medrano Brindis, drums; Miguel de Armas, Julian Gutierrez, Gabriel Chakarji, Manuel Valera, Danae Olano & Willy Soto Barreto, piano; Aklex Bellegarde, John Benitez, Roberto Riveron & Luis Izquierdo, bass; Lazoro Martinez, timbales/congas; Artuo Zegarro, bongos/timbales; Melissa Lavergne, congas/bongos; Keisel Jimenez, congas; Carlos Maldonado, cajon/bongos/quinto; Victor Pablo, congas; Magdelys Savigne, batos; Roman Filiu & Nestor Rodriguez, saxophone.

Rachel Therrien has honed her super talents on trumpet and Latin music for over a decade. Her passion led the Juno-nominated artist to Cuba, in search of research and the study of Latin music and trumpet applications. Clearly, her interest in Afro Cuban and Latin jazz has paid off with the release of this “Mi Hogar” album.

“The experience changed my life and is probably the reason why I am still a musician today.  I always felt good playing Latin-influenced music.  It is where I feel I can express myself the most musically.  I have been dreaming of doing this project for many, many years and now I am finally sharing this with the world,” Rachel Therrien shared her heart’s desire with us.

Rachel Therrien – LATIN JAZZ PROJECT – YouTube

The ensemble opens with Francisco Torregal’s composition “Capricho Arabe” that dances into my listening room with a bright and joyful arrangement by Rachel Therrien.  Her trumpet is out front and intoxicating throughout this production. Track #2 is the familiar John Coltrane tune, “Moment’s Notice” arranged by Rachel and quite captivating both with her horn and the exciting percussive additions.  Therrien has composed the next song that’s titled, “The Wizard” and has a melody that signals Middle Eastern influences and injects the rhythm with the Cajon percussion instrument played by Carlos Maldonado and the congas of Keisel Jimenez. The musicians make a space for John Benitez to spotlight his talents on bass. All the while, Rachel Therrien, joined by the saxophone of Roman Filiu spiral the tune upward. On Track #5, Manuel Valera offers us an awesome piano solo on the Dizzy Gillespie composition “Con Almo” another original song by Rachel Therrien is titled, “Odessa” and the wonderful percussion work of Magdelys Savigne on batas colors the arrangement beautifully. I enjoyed the bass solo of Roberto Riveron.  They close with a raucous arrangement of Terrien’s “Porceloneso” composition that puts me in the mood for carnivals and cotton candy.  Rachel Terrien’s entire album is sweet with joy and full of flair and spice. 

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Elsa Nilsson, flutes/FX/composer; Dawn Clement, piano/voice/composer; Emma Dayhuff, bass/composer; Tina Raymond, drums/composer;

Esthesis Quartet: Time Zones EPK – YouTube

Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed resolutions authorizing that in the United States, March of each year would be Women’s History Month. Esthesis Quartet features four amazing female musicians who have recorded this, their second album, in Los Angeles. Surprisingly, the group members are scattered around the country. One of the four talented women is flautist Elsa Nilsson who lives in Brooklyn, NY but hails from Gothenburg, Sweden. She has released seven albums as a leader and is an adjunct professor at The New School College of Performing Arts. Another member, pianist, vocalist and composer, Dawn Clement has recorded six albums as a bandleader and is the recipient of the CMA Performance Plus Grant, that supported her project to compose music for the Esthesis Quartet. Emma Dayhuff graduated from the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance in Los Angeles and is only the fifth woman to participate in this prestigious program. Emma is a gifted bassist and resides in Chicago.  The fourth member of the Esthesis Quartet is Tina Raymond, the Director of Jazz Studies at California State University Northridge. She is also President-elect of the California Alliance for Jazz, as well as a powerful drummer and composer. This “Time Zones” release is the second album they have made as a cohesive unit. It began during the pandemic lock-down when they started playing together on Zoom meetings. They were geographically challenged, living in various parts of the United States, when they began sharing their talents and composer ideas with each other over the Internet.  This led them to meet in Los Angeles to record their first album in 2021. 

Clement shows off her composer talents on Track #3, titled “The New Yorker.”  She sings her lyrics and plays piano to tell the story of a good friend and collaborator who moved to Paris. This song is also inspired by contemporary poet, Megan Fernandez.  This is one of my favorite songs on her album.  Track #4, “Hollywood” is a feisty composition and another original song by Dawn Clement that inspires a powerful and compelling drum solo by Tina Raymond. It also gives Elsa Nilsson a platform to spread wings and fly over the chord changes with her flute. Dawn Clement snatches this opportunity to share her piano improvisational solo with us. This is another one of my favorites on their album.  On this mixture of “Time Zones,” Nilsson is representing Eastern Standard time, Clement lives in Mountain Standard time, Emma Dayhuff resides in Central Standard time and Tina Raymond represents Pacific Standard time.  They turn the musical hands of the clock in perfect synchronization, beating to the pulse of four women representing tempo, melody and creativity with their own improvisations flowing from various “Time Zones.”

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Fella Cedarbaum, poet/composer/musician.

Here is an artist who brings her spoken word poetry to life incorporating her own original music. There is simplicity in her piano accompaniment, as her food for thought presentation floats on top. Cederbaum recites a thought-provoking set of thirteen poems meant to stimulate conversation and public dialogue.  She hopes to give the listener reasons to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.  Fella Cederbaum asks questions like, “If we know what we know, are we being willfully blind?” Her spoken word asks us to look within and demands that we examine ourselves from the inside core and out.

In her press package I learn that she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and was raised in post-World War II Germany. In her teens, Fella moved to England and later lived in Israel.  Interestingly, she earned a degree in psychology and on the artistic side, she became deputy director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra. At some point, she moved to Boston, MA and is still based in both Boston and Israel. In between writing poetry, painting and recording, she runs a successful psychotherapist business.  Cederbaum has painted her album cover.  Her painting exhibits have been featured at Germany’s Munchner Stadtmuseum and at the Boston Holocaust Memorial event. 

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Emily Braden, vocals/composer/lyricist; Misha Platigorsky, pianist/keyboards/arranger/producer; Danton Boller, upright & electric bass; Rudy Royston, drums; Freddie Bryant, guitar; Tatum Greenblatt, trumpet.

Swell – Emily Braden – Studio Version – YouTube

“Swell” is the second cut and an original composition by the artist, Emily Braden, on her new album, “Cannon & Sparrow.”  She’s a vocalist, songwriter and lyricist boasting an award-winning gift as New York City’s “Best of the Best Jazzmobile Vocal Competition.”  On this song, she layers her vocals, doubling them for a lush arrangement and then bursts into harmonies that remind me of the jazzy presentation of groups like “Take 6.” The song swings hard!  “Sweet Little Dream” is a soulful, bluesy song she has composed, co-writing with pianist and longtime musical partner, Misha Platigorsky.  Braden is a resident artist at New York’s famous 55 Bar.  She tested and polished many of these album tunes onstage at this popular club. Braden has a lovely voice with a provocative range, using it to swoop up and down the scales and to interpret her unique melodies.  “Super Hero” is another original song with a challenging, jazzy melody and strong lyrics.  Danton Boller offers a power-packed bass solo that juxtaposes Misha’s impressive piano solo.  Rudy Royston is the glue that holds this piece in perfect place on drums. When Braden chooses to introduce her vocal take on the jazz standard, “On A Clear Day,” I enjoy her crystal-clear tones, her vocal control and technique, as well as her creative interpretation of this song.  Here is a unique arrangement that lifts the song from familiarity to innovative and creative heights.  Braden includes her own vocal style of scat singing, presenting an imaginative rearrangement of the melody in very impressive ways. However, her choice of covering the Whitney Houston hit record and pop song, “How Will I Know” takes the ‘J’ our of jazz for me.  This is a song Braden probably performs ‘live’ in her club performance but, in my opinion, it doesn’t really fit into the framework of this well-produced jazz album.

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THE OSTARA PROJECT – Cellar 20 Music Group

Allison Au, alto saxophone/composer; Jocelyn Gould, guitar/composer; Sanah Kadoura, drums/composer; Joanna Majoko, vocals; Jodi Proznick, bass/producer/composer; Rachel Therrien, trumpet/composer; Amanda Tosoff, piano/producer/composer.

This debut album brings together a creative collective of talented female musicians. Individual awardees, they have accumulated nine JUNO nominations, three JUNO awards, and a slew of National jazz awards between them.  Each of these talented artists are also individual bandleaders and composers. These talented ladies represent various cultural and ethnic diversities of the Canadian mosaic.  In a music industry and jazz genre that consistently has under-represented female musicians, the Ostara Project hopes to be a powerful example of talent, perseverance, excellence, and ethnic diversity.  They chose the name ‘Ostara’ because it represents a Germanic goddess of the spring equinox.  That name symbolizes a time of rebirth and fresh growth.  The music of The Ostara Project is significantly new, fresh and entertaining.

 Delta Sky – YouTube

Their first tune, “Delta Sky” is hip, ambling along at a medium-tempo, swinging, and gives various players a time to solo and showcase their individual musical talents.  Starting with Jocelyn Gould on guitar, she steps into the spotlight first, followed by Allison Au on alto saxophone, who offers a stellar solo. The group incorporates the vocals of Joanna Majoko as part of the horn section.  Also, Amanda Tosoff takes a noteworthy solo on piano.

Although they are all obviously professional and proficient musicians, I felt they were struggling to find a theme during this debut project. The first song is my favorite on the album and well represents the group’s jazz sensibility. Track #2, “Storms and Oceans” is smooth jazz with West African drumbeats propelling their arrangement. The vocalist spotlighted lyrically and also scat singing is Joanna Majoko. The mood of this music changes again on the ballad “Little One,” composed by Tosoff and Proznick, that features the vocalist once again.  But my favorite solo is Amanda Tosoff’s piano improvisation during this arrangement and the tasty trumpet solo that comes to life at the fade of the song. On the trumpeter’s composition, “Lluviona,” drummer Sanah Kadoura parts the curtains to strut her stuff, while Rachel and Joanna spar like boxers, with voice and trumpet dancing around the ring. Proznick’s bass takes a notable solo and this tune quickly becomes another favorite. The only cover tune the group has added is “Bye Bye Blackbird” where Allison Au’s alto saxophone shines, as does Rachel’s awesome trumpet talents. These women are formidable musicians!  This is a group that, should they continue to collaborate, will mesh and continue to find a closer unity and musical purpose.

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Nadia Washington, vocals/bass/Aux percussion/guitar/aug FX/handclaps/congas/harp/glockenspiel/Aux synth/Moog bass; Jesse Fischer, piano/keyboards/handclaps/aux keys/synth/aux percussion/organ/ Rhodes/acoustic & electric guitar; Nicholas Semrad & Jiri Nedoma, keyboard; Brad Allen Williams, Sean Cronin, & Dylan Day, guitar; Josh Hari & Kyle Miles, bass; John Davis, Coran Henley & Zach Millings, drums; Mario Lopez, percussion; Jake Sherman, organ; Morgan Guerin, congas/handclaps; Nicholas Payton, trumpet/horn arrangement.

Nadia Washington – Hope Resurgence (Live Recording) – YouTube

Her voice is like a diamond sparkling in the sun. It’s clear, tonally pleasing and glittering with emotion.  The title tune flies off the CD with a contemporary flair.  It was composed by Ms. Washington, who is also playing guitar. Her singing style is reminiscent of Stephanie Mills; strong, stylized and distinctive.  The keyboard man, Jesse Fischer, adds his magic to the mix on this first song.  There is a warmth radiating from Nadia Washington’s performance. This album was released February 24 of 2023.  It took six years for her to be totally satisfied with this artistic project as a collective representation of her talent.  Several years ago she did a beautiful job ‘covering’ the lovely Stevie Wonder song “Send One Your Love.”  Impressively, she is featured playing her guitar and singing without other instrumental accompaniment.  But this time, she has composed all the music on her project. 

“I wanted to make sure the music and arrangements reflected my inner growth personally and musically,” Nadia shared.

Her music is a sweet combination of genres, embracing R&B and pop, spiced together with contemporary jazz musicianship.  Nadia Washington is a multi-instrumentalist, able to play guitar, piano, bass, synthesizers and percussion instruments.

Nadia was born and nurtured in Dallas, Texas.  Her family quickly noticed their daughter’s entertainment talents at her young age of three.  The little girl was inspired by her singing mother, (Nelda Washington) who took the Dallas hotel bar and lounge circuit by storm.  As a single parent, her mom often brought little Nadia with her and into studio sessions and gigs. She has been surrounded by music ever since she can remember.  The young Washington even sang on some of her mother’s studio jingle sessions.  Although this is her debut as a bandleader, she has been performing with the likes of Terri Lyne Carrington, esperanza spalding, Lalah Hathaway and the late George Duke.  Here is a blossoming singer/songwriter and musician, a talented woman who I expect to create much more exciting new music in the future.

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JO LAWRY – “ACROBATS” – Whirlwind Records

Jo Lawry, vocals; Allison Miller, drums; Linda May Hah Oh, double bass.

Australian vocalist, Jo Lawry, has a global fan base that represents an impressive solo career. This album is a self-challenge to Jo Lawry by Jo Lawry. 

“I thought, what is the hardest thing I could do? And the answer was a trio album, voice, bass and drums.  I’m trying to function like a horn player and we’re providing the whole landscape without the benefit of chords,” Jo Lawry explained her concept for this project.

She has chosen three Frank Loesser tunes for this production.  They open with his famous composition, “Travelling Light.” Drummer, Allison Miller, soaks up the spotlight on this opening tune with fervor and zest. She is dynamic. Jo Lawry’s crisp, clear tones dance atop the percussive rhythm track with vocal ease.

This is a trio of women.  Linda May Hah Oh plays double bass and holds the rhythm tightly in place.  The title tune, “Acrobats,” is Track #2 and has a challenging, rangy melody that Jo Lawry handles with the affluence, showing off her vocal agility.  I enjoy Linda May’s smart bass accompaniment.

Acrobats – YouTube

This is my first time hearing a whole trio album comprised of vocals, drums and bass. A vocalist has to be top in her field to record an entire album with only bass and drums.  Jo Lawry has the voice and the credentials to broach such a project.  She has performed with some of the best in the business including Sting, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel.  Lawry released two albums before recording this one. She is no novice to the business of music.  However, this is probably her most difficult and unconventional project to date.  With Linda May Han Oh’s bass walking beneath Jo’s excursion of “Taking A Chance on Love” the listener can hear Lawry’s capacity for creativity and the improvisational talent that inspires her to tackle this project. Allison Miller is right there, always supportive and creatively coloring each tune with solid drum technique.  I would like to have heard more bass mixed higher in the track to balance Lawry’s soprano tones. Still, throughout this production, Jo Lawry exhibits tenacious scat abilities.  On the whole, because of the ‘mix’ and the arrangements, this is like listening to an album of a’cappella vocals.  Lacking variety, after the first several songs, although Jo Lawry clearly has a beautiful voice, her concept (vocals without chords) loses its original luster.

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Sara Caswell, violin/composer; Jesse Lewis, guitar; Ike Sturm, bass; Jared Schonig, drums; Chris Dingman, vibraphone.

Violinist Sarah Caswell has surrounded herself with some of New York City’s most in-demand jazz musicians.  Caswell’s artistry spills like honey from the hive, buzzing with sweetness and energy. The first cut on this album is quite contemporary, composed by Sara’s friend, Australian trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis.  Ms. Noordhuis created this work to reflect Caswell’s close connection to her musicologist father, Austin Caswell.  Standing tall as a world-class violinist and bandleader, Sara Caswell plays a 1908 Stefano Scarampella violin on this project, as well as a 2013 Salve Hakedal hardanger d’amore violin. 

“The Hardanger d’Amore has a rich, resonant, and haunting tone that brings out a different aspect of my musical voice.  It has taken time for me to experiment and discover how I might blend it into my creative palette,” Sara Caswell shares.

Her instrument becomes a paint brush, sweeping the tones and melodies across space in intricate patterns and bursts of color.  She is celebrated as one of several emerging, young jazz stars and has been both soloist and sideman with groups led by esperanza spalding, Linda Oh and David Krakauer, to name just a few.  Caswell has picked songs by a variety of composers you will recognize like Carlos Jobim’s “O Que Tinha de Ser” where she employs her Hardanger d’Amore hybrid violin, and on Kenny Barron’s tune, “Voyage” she uses techniques taught to her by a mentor, jazz musician, composer and teacher, David N. Baker. 

“From day one of my jazz studies with David Baker, I was transcribing solos, specifically those by horn players, pianist and guitarists; Miles, Bird, Dizzy, Sonny, Wes, Cannonball … I’d challenge myself.  Can I make my violin sound like another instrument?  Like these artists?” she wondered.

The title tune is written by Michel LeGrand with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Her violin serenades us without words.  Sara Caswell has also added three of her own compositions including “Warren’s Way,” (a waltz with funk drums and a distorted electric guitar solo by Jesse Lewis) and “Spinning,” that quickly becomes another favorite of mine on this album. It was composed while she was thinking of bicycling and has a lovely melody. The addition of Chris Dingman on vibraphone lifts the tune and colorfully elevates the arrangement.  Another song she composed, “Last Call,” was co-written with drummer, Michael W. Davis, and guitarist, Dave Stryker, who I often review as a bandleader and artist on his own albums. 

Sara Caswell Quartet: “O Que Tinha De Ser” by Antonio Carlos Jobim – YouTube

The final tune, Jobim’s composition, is another favorite!  It’s moody, painted in shades of dark purple and deep turquoise blues by her emotional violin.  This songs weeps tears and drenches space with Sara Caswell’s deeply personal expression.  It blows through her instrument like snow showers and soft, puffy clouds.  Sara’s work is palatable and touches the listener with artistic sincerity.

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ANGIE WELLS – “TRUTH BE TOLD” –  Café Pacific Records

Angie Wells, vocals/composer/arranger; Larry Koonse, guitar; Clayton Cameron, drums; Josh Nelson, piano/composer/arranger; Trevor Ware, bass; Katisse Buckingham, flute; Carey Frank-Hammond, B# organ; Ivan Malespin, trombone; Kye Palmer, flugelhorn/trumpet; Jacob Scesney, tenor saxophone; Lynne Fiddmont & Valerie Geason, background vocals. SPECIAL GUESTS: John Clayton, bass/ producer/composer; Zion G, vocals.

Surrounded by some of the best musicians in Southern California, Angie Wells showcases not only her vocals, but her songwriting skills.  She has co-written several songs with Josh nelson and the first one I hear and appreciate is titled, “Where the Livin’ Is Good.”  It is the story of a homeless person setting up a tent in an upscale neighborhood.  Kye Palmer’s rich flugelhorn solo is much appreciated.

Where The Livin’ Is Good – YouTube

“Truth Be Told” is sung a ‘cappella.  Angie tells the story of several African Americans across the nation who have died at the hands of the police.  Wells has arranged background vocal harmonies as a hook that melodiously follows her verses.  Towards the end of this composition, Clayton Cameron joins them on drums to accent her message on drums. 

“In the summer of 2020 many of us witnessed the brutal death of George Floyd and the worldwide protests for justice and peace that followed.  Although I was sad and angry, I felt a glimmer of hope as I watched people of all races, nationalities, cultures, sexual orientations, and religions take to the streets together,” Angie explained the inspiration for this revolutionary song.

Angie follows this sad and provocative song that lists the familiar names that represent victims of racism with the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer song, “Accentuate the Positive” and Abertina Walker’s composition, “I’ve Got a Feeling (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright)” is presented as a brief instrumental.   I enjoyed Angie Wells’ take on the popular Bonnie Raitt tune, “Nick of Time” as well as her interpretation of “Here’s to Life.”   “Talkin’ All Under My Clothes” is another Nelson and Wells original song that features the bass of Trevor Ware at the introduction.  Ivan Malespin steps into the spotlight during his trombone solo, shuffling along with the band, followed by Josh Nelson soloing on piano and Trevor Ware on bass.  Speaking of bass players, John Clayton makes an impressive guest appearance on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” soloing beneath Angie’s warm, alto vocals by bowing his double bass in a most provocative way.  The simplicity of the arrangement, (although John Clayton’s awesome playing is never simple) allows us to hear the nuances and beauty of Angie Wells and her honey-warm vocal style. 

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February 23, 2023

By Dee Dee McNeil                                                  

February 23, 2023

The Internet has made this world a much smaller place.  This column includes international artists who have submitted their music to me for review, along with artists based all over the United States.  Guitarist ANT LAW and reedman ALEX HITCHCOCK are both well-known and respected in their UK country and heralded as creative, innovative and original voices. VINCE MENDOZA with his METROPOLE ORKEST represent the Netherlands and is heralded as one of the world’s largest, full-time ensembles.  Pianist, vocalist and composer, MAGGIE HERRON brings us jazzy, musical greetings from Hilo, Hawaii.  MATT WILSON, JEFF LEDERER and MIMI JONES have formed the LEAP DAY TRIO and recorded ‘LIVE’ at the historic room, Café  Bohemia when it reopened in the NYC.  Jazz bassoon player, MICHAEL RABINOWITZ is a leader in this field.  TOBIAS HOFFMANN is a German saxophonist and composer who currently lives in Graz, Austria.  His music transcends location and plays to the ears of the world. SATOKO FUJII is a Japanese pianist composer celebrating 100 albums as a leader with her latest release, “Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams.”  Finally, my MUSICAL MEMOIRS column ends with a surprise party for my ears!  It features the bass and original compositions and arrangements of DEWAYNE PATE


Alex Hitchcock, tenor saxophone/composer; Ant Law, guitars/electric & acoustic8-string/composer; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Shai Maestro, piano; Linda May Han Oh & Ben Williams, bass; Eric Harland, Kendrick Scott, Sun-Mi Hong & Jeff Ballard, drums; Tim Garland, bass clarinet.

Ant Law’s repetitive rhythm guitar sets the mood and the groove and is cemented into place by Eric Harland on drums.  Enter Alex Hitchcock on tenor saxophone establishing the contemporary jazz melody.  They open with a tune called “Outliers” composed by Hitchcock. Track #2 leans more towards Straight-ahead jazz and is titled “Haven’t Meta Yet.”  It’s arranged with a funk beat at the top, but when Alex Hitchcock enters, his saxophone turns the tune towards a different realm that is all jazz. Track #3 titled “Low Glow” is another Hitchcock composition and has a catchy melody.  It becomes an opportunity for Shai Maestro to shine on piano.  The fourth track sounds a lot like the third, even though Ant Law composed this one. Hitchcock’s tenor saxophone frolics with Maestro’s piano, their notes tumbling over each other like playful puppies rolling down a hillside. This time the powerful drummer is Kendrick Scott.  On “Chrysalis” with Ant Law introducing the song on his guitar, bassist Ben Williams is featured.  Another drummer brings talent to this project.  It is Sun-Mi Hong, who is quite busy in the background laying intricate rhythm patterns beneath the moderate tempo with wild energy. Jack Ross brings another voice to the party and is featured on vibraphone during their presentation of “Vivid” and the two songs that follow it.

This is a collaborative that was remotely recorded. Even the trading of fours was recorded in this pandemic style.  Both Hitchcock and Law are composers, and each has contributed four songs.  The guitarist, composer, Ant Law, has teamed with tenor sax man, Alex Hitchcock to become co-leaders. They are both well-known and respected in their UK home and heralded as creative, innovative, and original voices.  The closing tune on this album is John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” and is the only ‘cover’ song they offer the listener. Their album title was inspired by Japanese author Hanuki Murakami’s 1999 novel, Sputnik Sweetheart when he wrote:

“We’re both looking at the same moon in the same world.  We’re connected to reality by the same line.”. 

These two musicians and their ensemble join the thousands of musicians who were caught in the sticky web of lockdown during an unexpected pandemic.  They found that reaching out to each other with computers and remote access eased the pain of isolation and allowed them to continue their musical dreams and creativity. This resulting project solidified the fact, they are still artists living under the “Same Moon in the Same World.”

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Vince Mendoza, arranger/composer/orchestra conductor; Hans Vroomans, piano; Peter Tiehuis, guitar; Aram Kersbergen, bass; Martijn Vink, drums; Joke Schonewille, harp; Murk Jiskoot & Eddy Koopman, percussion; Mariel Van Den Bos & Janine Abbas, flute; Maxime Le Minter, oboe; Pieter Hunfeld & Liz Hunfeld-Chell, French horn; DOUBLE BASS: Erik Winkelmann, Arend Liefkes, Walter Van Egeraat, & Marijn Van Prooijen. SAXOPHONES/CLARINETS: Marc Scholten, Paul Van Der Feen, Leo Janssen, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen, Max Boeree, Jessie Breve, & David Kweksilber. TRUMPETS: Kay Bruinsma, Martijn de Laat, Nico Schepers & Rik Mol. TROMBONES: Jan Oosting, Ilja Reijgoud, Jan Bastiani, Pablo Martinez Hernandez, Ron Olioschlager, BASS TROMBONES: Martin Van Den Berg & Bart Van Oorp. 1ST VIOLINS: Arlia De Ruiter (concert Master); Vera Laporeva, Sarah Koch, Denis Koenders, Pauline Terlouw, Jasper Van Rosmalen, Federico Nathan, Gideon Nelissen, Ian de Jong, Jenneke Tesselaar. 2nd VIOLINS: Merel Jonker, Herman Van Haaren, Willem Kok, Xaquin Carro Cribeiro, Ruben Margarita, Robert Baba, Ewa Zbyszynska, Jenneke Tesselaar, Christina Knoll. VIOLA: Norman Jansen, Mieke Honingh, Julia Jowett, Iris Schut, Isabella Petersen, Wouter Huizinga. CELLO:  Joel Shepmann, Emile Visser, Jascha Albracht & Annie Tangberg.

The sound of an orchestra performing is one of the most lush and beautiful musical expressions on earth. The Metropole Orkest is a jazz/pop orchestra based in the Netherlands and is heralded as one of the world’s largest, full-time ensembles. No smaller than fifty-two musicians and upwards of ninety-seven musical masters, it is equipped with a double rhythm section. One is utilized for pop and rock and another is employed for jazz. The Netherlands Public Broadcasting both manages and subsidizes the orchestra that was founded in 1945 by Dolf van der Linden.  Metropole Orkest is a regularly featured orchestra at the North Sea Jazz Festival and popular throughout Europe.  Four-time Grammy Award winner, Vince Mendoza, began wielding the baton and conducting the orchestra starting in 2005.  For this album titled “Olympians” he has contracted special guests with Olympian talents to join Metropole Orkest.  This produces an orchestrated love letter and offers the listener an album of magnificent music.

Dianne Reeves interprets the lyrics of Kurt Elling on the composition by Mendoza called “Esperanto.”  As always, her warm tones, perfect enunciation and smooth tone caresses this song with an emotional delivery. Reeves adds a measure of scat singing that proudly embraces African and African American roots. The Orchestra also utilizes the talents of vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, saxophonists Chris Potter and David Binney, percussionist Alex Acuna and the late, great guitarist, Ramon Stagnaro as special guests. This album follows 2021’s “Freedom Over Everything” release that landed Vince Mendoza a Grammy.

“The term ‘Olympians’ is something that I use quite often while on the podium with Metropole, as I feel that this orchestra continues to play difficult music with grace, enthusiasm, and accuracy,” Mendoza explained in his press package.

Vince Mendoza has continued his legacy of incorporating a cluster of genres in his compositions and arrangements that embraces everything from classical roots to Brazilian Sambas; from contemporary music to indigenous influences, jazz being the freedom that resonates in his outstanding, creative, arrangements and compositions.  You hear this quite clearly when David Binney breaths flame and excitement into his solo on the composition “Lake Fire,” or when the tender soprano voice of Cecile McLorin Salvant interprets the poignant lyrics of Norma Winstone during their arrangement of “House of Reflections.”  The ‘hip’ jazz solos provided by guest artists and individual orchestra members highlight the jazz artform’s importance and uniqueness during this Mendoza masterpiece. Prior to this release he has worked with such extraordinary performers as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Chaka Khan as noted below.

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MAGGIE HERRON – “MY STORY IN SONG” – Herron Song Records

Maggie Herron, vocals/piano/composer; Mitch Foreman, Hammond B3 organ/piano; Bill Cunliffe & Romain Collin, piano; David Enos & Darek Oles, bass; Grant Geissman, John Storie & Larry Koonse, guitar; John Ferraro & Dan Schnelle, drums; Andrew Neu, soprano saxophone/horn arrangements/         flute/clarinet/bass clarinet; Michael Stever & Kye Palmer, trumpet; Nick Lane, trombone; Steve Velez, cello; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Duane Padilla, string arrangements; Rachel Handman, violins/viola; Daniel Frankhuizen, cello; Alex Acuna, percussion..

Maggie Herron has that one-of-a-kind voice that you recognize as soon as you hear it. It’s the blessing of being a jazz stylist. Her music is immediately recognizable, like Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Julie London or Nancy Wilson. Maggie is also a talented composer, and this album reflects nine of her original tunes, beginning with a song she co-wrote with her daughter, Dawn Herron, titled “Devils’ in the Details.”  She swings hard on this shuffle tune that features a big band arrangement with blaring horns and John Ferraro pushing the tune forward on drums. Her tribute song to her daughter titled, “Dawn,” was composed by Mexican jazz vocalist Magos Herrera. Mark Kibble (of Take Six fame) offers his vocal and harmonic arrangements to enhance this arrangement.  It’s a beautiful composition that had lyrics reminding Maggie Herron of her beloved daughter. Another ‘cover’ tune is a favorite blues of mine called “Never Make Your Move Too Soon.” Herron always does the blues justice with her husky, emotional vocals. “The Big Seduction” is a swing tune about Los Angeles being a seductive city and an unattainable lover. Also, Maggie has put to music a lovely poem by her daughter, Dawn Herron, called “Footsteps.”  It features the beautiful compliment of Steve Velez on cello. The artist closes in prayer, singing and accompanying herself on piano performing the popular Leonard Cohen composition, “Hallelujah” with string arrangements written by Duane Padilla.  Ms. Herron has surrounded herself with stellar musicians, many based in Los Angeles, like pianist, producer Bill Cunliffe, reed master Bob Sheppard, guitarists Grant Geissman, Larry Koonse, and award-winning percussionist, Alex Acuna. Everyone clearly brings their best to this project, creatively interpreting Maggie Herron’s latest album entitled, “My Story in Song.”  This is a very personal diary, translated by lyrics, melodies, memories, and talent. It is easy listening jazz, featuring Herron’s composer skills, with tightly woven arrangements.  In 2015, with the help of bass virtuoso, Brian Bromberg, her album “Good Thing” won the Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Jazz Album of the year. This began a string of ‘Jazz Album of the Year’ awards including 2019’s “Renditions” album and 2018’s “A Ton of Trouble.” She is one of the leading jazz forces in Hawaii and special thanks must be offered to her engineer, Paul Tavenner, who put these tracks together throughout 2021-22 during the pandemic lockdown.  He managed to perfectly weave together contributions from masterful artists like Cunliffe, Acuna, bassist Darek Oles, French-born pianist Romain Collin, Mitch Forman, Geissman, John Storie and Larry Koonse.  This is Maggie Herron’s seventh album release.

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Matt Wilson, drums; Mimi Jones, bass; Jeff Lederer, tenor saxophone.

The Leap Day Trio are three musicians who liken themselves to a Leap Day that rolls around about every fourth year.  Like the trio, the day pops up unexpectedly and offers an attentive audience, surprises that are both audacious and innovative. That is why drummer, Matt Wilson, bassist Mimi Jones and Jeff Lederer on tenor saxophone have titled their group, ‘Leap Day Trio.’  This ‘live’ album features the birth of their unique group and the rebirth of a New York City historic venue.  Charlie Parker used to live across the street from the Café Bohemia and played there for free drinks.  He was just one of a slew of huge jazz names that honed their talents on the club’s modest stage.  Folks like Art Blakey, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach appeared there regularly. The Leap Day Trio’s gig took place on the historic Leap Day and Leap Day Eve of 2020, four months after the Café Bohemia jazz club reopened.  This music was recorded ‘live’ and sponsored by GiantStepArts and produced by Jimmy Katz.  After almost six decades, located in the basement of the Barrow Street Ale House in Greenwich Village, the club reopened in late 2019. This album was recorded in early 2020.

The Crash of Matt Wilson’s cymbals opens the trio’s first tune titled “Dewey Spirit.”  Jeff Lederer joins the rhythm that Wilson creates, flying free as an eagle.  Mimi Jones steps forward on bass, singing her own song with strength and power.  When the tune turns from Avant-garde into a Straight-ahead swing tune, Jones is right there walking her double bass fiercely to hold the rhythm tightly in place. 

“Her spirit is to me very reminiscent of an era of bassists that I’ve been very fortunate to get to play with: folks like Cecil McBee, Buster Williams, Rufus Reid and Calvin Hill. They’re grounded but also have a great sense of adventure,” Matt Wilson explained why they added Mimi Jones to their trio.

Lederer and Wilson met some years back, in 1993 when the drummer first moved to New York City.  They met at a rehearsal and Wilson recalls being impressed with the saxophonist’s sound and execution.

“Any relationship I have with a musician usually starts with the sound coming up through the ride cymbal and with Jeff, the sound and the feel were so hard-hitting,” Matt Wilson recalled.

This first song is named for the drummer’s mentor, saxophonist Dewey Redman, but for the most part there are no composer credits offered because these works are more communal than individual expression.  They come together on a spiritually free level.  What spills out is free music, artistry and passion. 

“I loved the way it felt. The way we play in this trio is pretty distinct … There’s something about the openness of it and Mimi brings a very flowing feel to it.  There’s just a lot of breath in the sound,” Jeff Lederer described his feelings about this new unit.

Matt Wilson joined in the conversation. “Our spirits are aligned in a lot of ways.  We all have differences, of course, but the overall spirit of adventure and kindness comes through.  The trio only rehearsed twice before the gig.”

Their composition, “The Dream Weaver” quickly becomes one of my favorites, with its pretty melody.  Track #4, “Ghost Town” is a haunting tune that first features Mimi Jones telling us stories during a provocative bass solo.  She is so rhythmic and creative; I find myself fascinated by her musical ideas and improvisations.  Lederer is bluesy on saxophone.  Matt Wilson presents his own spark of solidarity, cementing the piece into place with his trap drums.  This is an album, wildly supported by the attending audience as they shout out supportive catcalls like “Yeah, baby” or applaud loudly at the end of each piece.  “Strival for Survival” is all energy and excitement pouring from the bell of Lederer’s saxophone and stoked by the sticks of Matt Wilson’s drums.  Each tune the Leap Day Trio presents captivates and inspires.  Clearly, all three are master musicians.  When I hear Lederer turn the tenor saxophone into a high-pitched whistle, I fasten my imaginary seatbelt. This tune becomes another one of my favorites of their concert. There is something beautiful about the way these three souls blend, metamorphosize and express themselves, both individually and as a unit.  I look forward to hearing many more recordings by The Leap Day Trio.

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MICHAEL RABINOWITZ – “NEXT CHAPTER” – Blue Ridge Bassoon Records

Michael Rabinowitz, bassoon/composer; Matt King, piano/composer; Andy McKee, bass; Tommy Campbell, drums.

The first song on this album is titled “Lydian Dream” and it features a beautiful melody and the bassoon solo of Michael Rabinowitz. Jazz is not the first thing that comes to mind, when one thinks of a bassoon, but Michael Rabinowitz has been performing jazz bassoon for over four decades and heralding it as a jazz instrument. Rabinowitz has composed this first song on his album. Although it begins as a lovely ballad, it soon transforms into a Latin rhythmed swing tune, where Matt King takes a solid piano solo, showing off his chops in a grand way. He is followed by Andy McKee, walking his bass boldly into the spotlight. This is Michael Rabinowitz’s seventh recording release as a bandleader, and he has composed six of the eight tunes.  Michael Rabinowitz lets his bassoon open Track #2, on “Minor Blues Experiment” setting the mood for his pianist, Matt King, to put the B in blues. Tommy Campbell steps forward with his drums leading the way.  Andy McKee plays an intriguing bass line that changes the song’s mood and groove halfway through the arrangement. This original composition embraces a minor blues, a slow jam and a jazz waltz.  Somehow, all these rhythm transitions happen seamlessly. The title tune, “Next Chapter,” allows Michael Rabinowitz to step forward with bassoon in hand and serenade us in the sweetest way.  I enjoy the smooth, rich tone of his instrument.  This time the quartet is featured on an original song by Matt King, who named the composition for his bandleader. It’s called “MRab.”  You may recognize some of the other songs.  “Twelve Note Samba” is Matt King’s take on Jobim’s “One Note Samba.”  Track #8, “Emily Alt Line” is based on the chord changes of Johnny Mandel’s very popular “Emily” tune, but with an entirely different melody.  If you know the jazz standard called “Four” you will recognize that Rabinowitz has used the chord changes to create “One Four All.”  They close with “Tuesday Blues.”  With this “Next Chapter” release, Michael Rabinowitz once again certifies that the bassoon is a well-executed instrument of jazz and that he is a leader in his field.

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Tobias Hoffmann, soprano & tenor saxophone/composer/arranger/bandleader; Philipp Nykrin, piano; Andreas Waelti, bass; Michael Prowaznik, drums; Christopher Pawluk, guitar; Fabian Rucker, bass clarinet/baritone saxophone; Daniel Holzleitner, trombone; Stefan Gottfried, alto saxophone; Simon Plötzeneder, trumpet/flugelhorn.

During his high school years, Tobias Hoffmann fell in love with the saxophone.  Born in Germany and currently living inbetween Vienna and Graz, Austria, his jazz music transcends location and plays to the ears of the world.  The first thing I notice on his “Retrospective” project is his attention to melody.  He is obviously a gifted composer and has garnered several awards in that category.  In 2021, one of his compositions was awarded third prize at the “Bill Conti Big Band Arranging & Composition Competition” of the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers in Los Angeles.  This project, Tobias Hoffmann Nonet, won first prized in the ‘Band’ category at an international online competition called “Made in New York Jazz Competition – 2019” with all-star judges including Lenny White, Randy Brecker and Mike Stern.  In 2021, Hoffmann was a guest of the NDR Big Band in Hamburg, Germany, participating in the “Podium for Arrangers” and recording his original compositions with the famed big band.  In 2022, he won a prize in the Spanish composition contest “Big Band de Canarias” and won first prize in the “Original Composition” category at the 17th “Scrivere in Jazz” an Italian competition organized by “Orchestra Jazz Della Sardegna.”  All of that being said, this “Retrospective” album certainly showcases international appreciation of his music.  The album spotlights his composer and arranging talents. It’s a lovely example of  Hoffman’s creativity in both realms, as well as his talent on soprano and tenor saxophones.  Tobias Hoffmann has composed every song on this project, and he has surrounded himself with awesome musicians who do a wonderful job of interpreting his music.  His small ensemble arrangements utilize big band harmonics and high energy.  I found every song on this project to be compelling and entertaining.  However, if I had to pick any favorites they would be “Procrastinator” that employs both Avant-garde arranging and exploration of his musicians with tight, big band horn harmonies and powerful solos. I also enjoyed “Propulsion” with its mood changing arrangements and lovely melody, where guitarist Christopher Pawluk steps center stage offering an impressive solo.  Hoffmann manages to weave Contemporary Jazz into this arrangement in a very cool and unexpected way. “Who’s to Blame?” was a composition written for Hoffmann’s pianist, Philipp Nykrin and features one of my favorite instruments, a solo by Fabian Rucker on baritone saxophone.  The horns become a curtain that blows beautifully behind the piano solo, cushioning Philipp’s creativity with their tight harmonies, but leaving lots of room for Nykrin’s improvised piano solo to shine. This arrangement is all big band bravado.  His ballad “Remembrance” is arranged so interestingly, at one point with the Andreas Woelti bass playing a counterpoint melody against the responding horn lines that I found fascinating. That closing tune, “Am Ende des Tages,” translates to ‘At the End of the Day’ in English.  It’s a sexy, bluesy piece featuring an impressive bass solo and with the spotlight brightly on the Hoffman’s saxophone. Finally, the title tune and opening arrangement of “Retrospective” is fiery hot and engaging.  I don’t know if Tobias Hoffmann has distribution in the United States, but he certainly should have.

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Satoko Fujii, piano/composer; Chris Corsano & Tom Rainey, drums; Brandon Lopez, bass; Ikue Mori, electronics; Natsuki Tamura & Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon; Ingrid Laubrock, tenor saxophone.

It never fails that when I hear the music of Satoko Fujii, I always hear the voice of Mother Nature.  This album is no exception.  It celebrates Satoko Fujii’s completion of 100 album releases.  The Japanese word of ‘Hyaku’ on the album’s cover translates to 100.  For this momentous occasion, Satoko Fujii has gathered and assembled a one-of-a-kind aggregation of all-star players including iconic trumpeters Wadada Leo Smith and Natsuki Tamura.  Fujii treats bandmembers as equal contributors and offers them generous solo time.  The album is divided into five parts and each one carries the same title, “One Hundred Dreams, Part One,” then “One Hundred Dreams, Part Two,” etc.  Her triumphant recordings magnify the work and creativity that flows through her fingers, her mind, and her heart to become a legacy of compositions, as thick and thriving as a forest floor or a botanical garden. Like nature itself, she houses so many types of creations and living products.  Satoko Fujii brings her compositions alive with these legendary musicians and a combination of jazz, Avant-garde, rock, and chamber music, all infused with collective improvisation.  For more than a quarter of a century, Satoko Fujii has offered the world a unique and personal voice in music that breathes freely, like wind; exhales in a flurry of musical notes and expressions, like a rainstorm; burns with fire and spunk, hot as the sun and just as predictable.  No matter the weather, she has been there, spanning the genres and shining through them the way the sun shines through cloud cover.  As a composer and pianist, Satoko Fujii is changeable as the seasons.  She displays her compositions, rich with independence, innovative with artistic expression and tenacious in her ability to blend instrumentation and improvisation.  This suite of music unfolds like a field of multi-colored flowers racing up and down hillsides.  Her work is colorful, unpredictable, abstract, and independent, like Mother Nature herself.

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DEWAYNE PATE – “ON THE UPSIDE” – Independent label

Dewayne Pate, electric bass/composer/arranger; Dennis Chambers, Jason Lewi, David Garibaldi, Kevin Hayes & Brian Collier, drums; Ray Obiedo, Stef Burns, Robben Ford, Barry Finnerty, Jim Nichols & Chris Cain, guitar; Ray Obiedo, rhythm guitar;  Peter Horvath & David Kirk Mathews, piano/B3 organ/synthesizer; Frank Martin, Rhodes/synthesizers; Rita Thies, flute; Frank Martin, synthesizer; Norbert Stachel, soprano & tenor saxophone/flute; Johnnie Bamont, tenor & baritone saxophones; Marc Rousso, alto saxophone;  Joel Behrman, trumpet; Mike Olmos, trumpet/flugelhorn;  Mike Rinta/Dewayne Pate, horn arrangements; Tony Lindsay, Juan Luis Perez, Amikaeyla Gaston, vocals; Michael Spiro & Karl Perazzo, percussion.

Dewayne Pate is a master of many styles and genres.  He has performed around the world with iconic artists like Maria Muldaur, Robben Ford, Arturo Sandoval, Huey Lewis, Boz Scaggs and Tower of Power.  In fact, many of these arrangements remind me of the Tower of Power days.  Born and raised in San Francisco, California, Pate’s first gig was as part of his grandfather’s country/western band.  His grandad was a guitar player and the band performed at state fairs and local public venues.  Dewayne’s intention had been to pursue jazz on upright bass in junior high school, and he did.  In high school, the school jazz band needed an electric bass player.  Dewayne had intended on switching his instrument to guitar but landed the job as electric bass player instead.  This was the start of his long and successful career in music.  A student of John Patitucci and while attending the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, he studied with jeff Berlin, a jazz fusion bass icon. Dewayne Pate soon landed a job with the Ford Blues Band.  They toured the United States and worldwide for two years. Mostly working as a sideman, the pandemic happened and that lockdown inspired Dewayne Pate to get busy composing his own music and expanding his musical vocabulary. 

“Whenever I show up for a blues gig with my 6-string bass, people look at me funny.  But for those gigs, I just play it like a regular 4-string bass,” he admitted.

However, his love of the five and six-string basses encouraged his affinity towards jazz and fusion gigs.  As his musicianship grew and blossomed, Dewayne Pate embraced Latin, fusion, funk and contemporary jazz adding to his proficiency as a bass player.  “On the Upside” is an album that musically expands his horizons and introduces Pate’s skills as both a composer, bandleader, and performer.

An original titled “4 The 5 of It” leaves me thoroughly impressed by the drummer, Dennis Chambers. This is the type of drumming I love.  Creative, spontaneous and yet always holding the tempo solidly in the palm of his hands. Pate’s bass locks into the drums with a steady line that enhances the funk.  When the tempo slows, Norbert Stachel steps into the limelight on soprano saxophone, improvising wildly until Chambers slaps the rhythm back into place.  Amidst several verses of staccato chords, Dennis Chambers solos on his trap drums and sparkles with excitement.  I played this first tune twice, because there was so much creativity to take in and to absorb.  Track #2 is “Iceman,” a blues sung by the talented Tony Lindsay and taking us back to Dewayne Pate’s blues roots.  This is a party song, full of joy and inspiring folks to the dance floor. Pate’s song, “Ellen” is a ballad infused with electronics soaked in the blues.  One of my favorite tunes on this project is “Oliver’s Twist” another Dewayne Pate original composition that features an awesome solo by Norbert Stachel on tenor saxophone.  This one is pure jazz that quickly becomes contemporary, spurred by the funky drums of Dennis Chambers and the keyboard of David Kirk Mathews.  Towards the end of the tune, Dewayne takes over on his electric bass and sparkles like diamonds during his solo.  Track 5, “Imperial Strut” embraces a contemporary jazz introduction that surprisingly morphs into a Latin arrangement featuring Michael Spiro on percussion, with vocals by Juan Luis Perez. This is an outstanding arrangement of a Russell Ferrante tune, and quickly becomes another one of my favorites.  Dewayne also covers Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” song featuring vocals by Amikaeyla Gaston.  I enjoy the diversity on this album.  “Blues for Monmouth” is another original composition by Dewayne Pate that shuffles hard with a hot horn section and becomes another favorite!  Dewayne describes it this way.

“This tune has my dream rhythm section with Kevin Hayes on drums, Dave Mathews on organ, and Robben Ford on guitar.”

This album is just pure fun and it’s a surprise party for my ears!

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