THE COOL MISS “B” STILL GOING STRONG AT 88

February 5, 2018

THE COOL MISS “B” STILL GOING STRONG AT 88 – A Black History Month Documentation

By Jazz journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

FEBRUARY 5, 2018

Betty Bryant, whose friends affectionately call her, ‘the Cool Miss B’, answers the phone with the same joi de vivre and blossoming smile that always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Betty personifies her joy for life in both personality and music. I was excited to interview this music master. As we talked, I realized that Betty’s life seemed to be a series of opportunities she wasn’t really expecting. Almost like her fate was preordained and had nothing-at-all to do with her plans. She hadn’t dreamed of stardom or made a wish board. She hadn’t pictured herself travelling the world or entertaining crowds with her voice and piano playing. It just sort of happened. But wait. I’ll let her explain.

Betty Bryant: “I’ll start when we lived on 25th street in Kansas City, Missouri and I was in the third or fourth grade at that time. I was studying classical music. I had a beautiful baby grand piano that my grandmother had given to me. And I was very lucky in that respect, but I didn’t know it. My grandfather gave my grandmother the piano on their first wedding anniversary, which is also my mother’s birthday. It just sort of got handed down to me. Maybe a prestige gift, since I was the first one in the family to show any talent in music. I had to practice before I went to school and when I came home from school. Yuk.”

We laughed together, because I was around that age when I was taking piano lessons and being compelled to practice. I didn’t always want to be bothered with practicing, so I could relate to how Betty felt.

Betty: “My best friend, Donna Baker, she had nine kids in her family and her father played the piano. I had more fun at her house than I did at mine. Her brother was Ed Baker who played trumpet and wound up with a band in Kansas City, MO. She had an older sister, Betty Baker, who sang with Eddie’s band for a while. The whole family played music and none of them had any training. I can remember Donna and me sitting at the piano and teaching ourselves how to play entrances and endings to songs. And we played Boogie Woogie. Everybody played Boogie Woogie back then.”

Betty hums me a Boogie Woogie line over the phone, and I immediately recognize it. Boogie Woogie is the first thing my dad taught me how to play on the piano. Betty and I both came up before television was a household entertainment center. In our day, you made music, you listened to radio, or you played 78rpm records and albums.

Betty: “I recall the first time we got a console and it had a record player in it (a turn-table) that dropped the records; 78rpm records. Our console came with a sample record. I can’t remember the name of that song, but my father used to play it all the time. It was a group singing. This was in the early 40’s. I was born in 1929. I was hung up on Bull Moose Jackson’s recording of ‘I Just Can’t Go On Without You’ during that period in my life.”

Although she was drawn to music in her youth, Betty never considered it would become a career path. After all, her father, who was an educator, held high hopes she would follow in his esteemed footsteps. The whole town knew her father, Dr.Girard Bryant, and they expected big things from Betty.

“Actually, my father was a school teacher. In fact, I come from a whole long line of school teachers. My maternal grandfather actually wrote speeches for Booker T. Washington. My dad was just sort of insistent that I attend college. I went to Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas and majored in ‘Fine Arts,’ because they told me to do that. So, I got a teaching certificate to please them. I was not really interested in school and I had quit playing the piano. At sixteen, I played my last recital.

“One day, while I was still living in Topeka, I heard this radio show out of Oklahoma; maybe Tulsa. A DJ was interspersing live music with records. Well, I had a friend in Topeka who worked at a radio station and I was telling him about it. He said, oh – that’s interesting. Well, he told his station manager about it and then I got a call asking me if I could come down. Just like that, I was thrown back into music. At that point I knew how to play some blues. I knew ‘Body and Soul’ up to the bridge. (she chuckled)

“I still don’t know the bridge,” Betty confided to me conspiratorially.

“There was a baseball game that came on. The radio station put me on after the baseball game. I never knew how long I was going to be playing. I might have a half an hour show. I might have a fifteen-minute show. It was really a strange re-introduction to the world of ‘live’ music. It’s funny. There was a woman on at that time called, Lonesome Gal and she came on late at night. She had a real low, deep, sexy voice. So, the Station Manager thought I had a naturally sexy voice. All of this was when I was like twenty-one or something. It didn’t make any sense at all to me. But that was my launch back into music. I played records, DJ’d and played piano. I don’t know if their ratings went up, but it was sort of a joke with everybody. Nobody could believe I was doing that. Fresh out of college, with a radio gig.

“I was also working at Menningers at that time. It was the biggest psychiatric hospital in the country. People came from all over the world to train there. I was a secretary.”

Menninger Psychiatric hospital was founded in 1919 by Dr. Charles Menninger and his sons, Karl and William, both doctors as well. The facility consisted of a clinic, a sanatorium and a school of psychiatry. They worked in harmony with the Winter Veteran’s hospital and administration, an army facility also located in Topeka. In 2003, Menninger moved from Topeka, Kansas to Houston, TX, with a stellar reputation of being on the forefront of psychiatric break-through treatment.

BETTY: “At that time, Topeka was the hub of psychiatric treatment. Then there was the Winter General, that was like the army hospital. It was right after World War II, so you had veterans coming in from all over the world to Menninger. That hospital knew more about psychiatry than anybody. The whole city was kind of formed around those hospitals. This is back when they were doing electric-shock treatments and that kind of stuff.”

It didn’t take the young Betty Bryant long to figure out her day-job wasn’t what she wanted to do the rest of her life. With a college degree under her belt, playing piano on the radio broadcast peaked her interest in her instrument again and her love of music was reignited. To self-support, she worked as a secretary for a couple of years, until the gigs started steadily rolling in. One of the first gigs she accepted was with Buddy Brown’s band. He was looking for a singer and Betty snatched the opportunity to expand her repertoire and experience.

Betty: “For a little while, I was a stand-up singer with the Buddy Brown Band. He played trumpet. I don’t remember much more than that. I would say he had maybe an eight-piece band. They had a big-band sound. It was before trios and quartets were popular. It was pre-Nat King Cole. I was singing blues in one form or another; Fast blues, slow blues, happy blues, sad blues. One, four, five forever,” she referred to the chord structure of the blues.

“No standards. It was mainly just keeping that beat so people would keep dancing. Somebody called me yesterday and they were amazed that I actually knew Jay McShann and that we were good friends. He was a very down to earth person. He took me under his wing. When I was twelve, I bought his book and I was trying to stretch my little fingers to walk tenths with my left hand. I learned to do that when I was twelve. It was because of studying that Jay McShann book. I learned how to play “Vine Street Boogie” and “Confessin’ the Blues”.

“But I didn’t actually meet Jay McShann until much later. It was after I came back to Kansas City from Topeka. He was working a gig, and somehow or another, I started going by his gig. He’d get off the stand and let me play piano with his band. It was so much fun and I was so honored to be able to do this. Of course, everything was still segregated at that time. We would play, and then on our breaks the band had to go down in the basement of the place. We couldn’t sit out in the audience with the people. Somebody in the band would run across the street to the liquor store and get a bottle. We’d sit down there for the break and pass the bottle around. They never bought a big bottle to last through the night. They’d go out and get a bottle to last through the break; like a pint. It was a funny time. Then I started working at a place, doing a Single.”

NOTE: A Single is musician talk for one person who plays solo piano and who might also sing.

“The place I worked was near where Jay McShann happened to be playing. I got off earlier than he did and when I got off, I’d go by his gig and hang out with him and his guys. There was Richard White, who became Ahmad Alladeen. He played baritone saxophone. There was a guy named “Jeep” Griddine who played guitar like the Count Basie rhythm guitarist. Jeep couldn’t dance, his feet did not work, but boy could he play that rhythm guitar. “Piggy” played trumpet. His real name was Orville Minor. “Fats” played tenor and Al Duncan played drums. I can’t believe I remembered all those names,” her laugh tinkles across the telephone line like the upper register of the piano.

(NOTE: An historic photo of Betty Bryant with her mentor and friend, Jay McShann, currently hangs in the lobby of her Kansas City ‘American Jazz Museum’.)

I told Betty that I had heard a few people say her piano style reminded them a little of Count Basie. I asked her if she had ever met the Count?

“Really? No, I never met Count Basie. I do have a documentary of Jay McShann, with Count Basie. It’s called “The Last of the Blue Devils”. It’s a great documentary. I have it on a VHF video. Jay sent it to me. You know those little address stickers you get when you donate to something? It’s got one of those little stickers on it that says Jay McShann and his address. It’s not an autograph, but that’s the kind of person that he was. He did that himself. It wasn’t like he had someone handling that for him.”

This VHF treasure that Betty owns and that is titled, “The Last of the Blue Devils” features a host of jazz icons including Lester Young, Max Roach, Big Joe Turner, Charlie Parker, Charles McPherson, Dizzy Gillespie, Jo Jones and Eddie Durham. According to publicity notes about this documentary, written by J. Hailey, during the Kansas City Prohibition days, jazz music was the rage. In the late 1970’s, a bunch of musicians gathered at the Union Hall to discuss that so-called, Pendergast era. The participants included some of the Walter Page Blue Devils, several being musicians who joined Bennie Moten’s band and others who joined and stayed with Count Basie’s band. Highlights of the filmed documentary offer remembrances of Lester Young, stories and discussion about how Charlie Parker got his nickname. There are highlights of Joe Turner’s vocals and McShann’s extraordinary piano playing. A drum clinic is included that’s hosted by Jo Jones. Betty Bryant has one historic piece of film memorabilia in her collection!

In 1955, Betty transplanted to Los Angeles. She had grown as a musician and an artist under the rich tutelage of Jay McShann. Ms. Bryant was quick to tell me Jay McShann had greatly influenced her style of playing. She was also enamored with Nat King Cole’s musicianship. However, the little lady with the bluesy piano and convincing vocals felt it was time for her to leave Kansas City. She was more self-assured and prepared than she had ever been. It was time to spread her wings and fly.

“What happened was, Earl Grant, the piano player/organist, left Kansas City before I did. And I got his job in Kansas City. I basically got the job because everybody knew I was Girard Bryant’s daughter. And that was one of the reason I had to get out of Kansas City, because I never was me. I was always ‘his daughter’. It drove me nuts. After I left, years and years later, when I was playing in Brazil in 1972, something was printed in Kansas City that Dr. Girard Bryant’s daughter is playing in Brazil. I had to get away from there to be myself. So, when Earl left Kansas City, the person who had hired him hired me to take his place in her club. And she was right. At that time, I had no repertoire. By that time, I had added “Laura,” and a few things besides the blues. But I still didn’t have much of a repertoire. I was playing at a club called, Millie’s. I knew Earl from way back. Earl and my sister share a birthday date and they used to share birthday parties when they were really young. So, he came out here and became a fixture. He was playing at Club Pigalle (a popular club located at 4135 South Figuroa that hosted several local acts) and also at this swanky little club in Beverly Hills. When I arrived in town, I got in touch with Earl. He got me a gig in that Beverly Hills club on his night off. It just fell into place.”

Shortly after she arrived in the City of Angels, Betty Bryant enjoyed an intimate observation of the great Billie Holiday performing in a small Hollywood nightspot. Betty told me about that.

“I didn’t see Billie Holiday perform until I moved out here. There was a little place on Wilshire and La Brea. Everything has changed architecturally now, but it was a club that faced Wilshire. If you went across the street and up a block there was another club that faced La Brea and Dizzy Gillespie used to play there. Between those two places, they booked all these big names. There was a lot going on in the fifties. But anyway, I remember I went to see Billie Holiday and Johnny Ray, who had that hit record, ‘The Little White Cloud that Cried.’ I didn’t get to meet Billie Holiday and I didn’t get to speak to her. She was just sort of out-of-it that night. But I had to be there. I went by myself. That was the only time I ever saw her and I’m glad it was in a small club setting. You could feel the whole presence of her. Small clubs are so much better than being in the big venues they have today. They’re so intimate, especially for jazz.

“in those days, Union agents patrolled the clubs. So, you pretty much had to be in the Union and they made sure you paid your dues and your membership was up to date. The agents all had offices in the union and they made sure you didn’t have more than the number of hired musicians on the bandstand. So, if you hired six people, you couldn’t have more than six on the bandstand. That cut out people who just wanted to come jam or sit-in. They would fine you back then.

“When I arrived in Los Angeles, the Union had a thing where you cannot transfer from one Musician’s Union to another. I had to join the one out here and then there’s a three-month waiting period. Because they said you might be taking jobs away from people that already lived here. I could work Casuals, but not a regular job.”

NOTE: A ‘Casual’ in the music business is a one-time, private party or private event.

“So, at first the Union told me, No. It’s not a Casual, because you’re doing it every Monday night. I fought them about it. They finally relented and let me do it. It was obvious I wasn’t taking work away from anyone, because no one had been working on Monday nights.

“You know, when I came out here, it was at the exact same time when civil right were being fought for all over the country. Like in Kansas City, I got the first job downtown for a black musician. You could play the black clubs, but the clubs that were sort of out (in the suburbs), we rarely patronized those clubs. But you could work in them. All of that was happening, just about at that same time I moved here. In a way, I don’t really know how to say this without it coming out wrong, but, when everything became desegregated, it wiped out all the black clubs. Everybody wanted to go to the integrated clubs, whether it was the same music or not.”

Betty has worked several clubs around the Los Angeles area, always expanding her repertoire and popularity. I used to love to hear both Betty and Howlett Smith perform duos with Larry Gales or Tomas Gargano at the now defunct, Bob Burns Restaurant, in Santa Monica. Ms. Bryant is a mainstay of Kansas City jazz, be it as a Single performer, a duo or with a trio or quartet. Her style is distinctive and her beaming personality is infectious.

One unexpected day, Betty Bryant got a call from a friend, Polo Lenna, who asked her if she’d like to perform in Oman. Oman shares borders with Saudi Arabia, Yeman and the United Arab Emirates. Betty figured, why not? She accepted the gig, packed her gowns, sparkle shoes and her music, then off she went for a four-month stint in the Middle East, where she was warmly received.

In 1972, she was walking down the hallway of the Union building when someone called her into their office and introduced her to the drummer who was touring with Sergio Mendes. It seems they were looking for someone just like her to work in Brazil. Auditions were being held at the Sergio Mendes home. More out of curiosity, than for any other reason, Betty went to the audition. The Mendes house did not disappoint her, even though she never saw the main house. Auditions were held in the Mendes pool house that had been converted into a studio. Betty said the sprawling home was still impressive. Surprisingly, they immediately offered her the gig. But at that time, the busy pianist had a seven-year-old son and the responsibility of motherhood. They told her she could bring him with her. Once again, Betty packed her gowns, her music and this time, her young son. They spent the next six months in Rio de Janeio, Brazil.

The globe-trotting Ms. Betty Bryant also spent several years performing at the Tableaux Lounge in Tokyo, Japan. She was one of the featured performers in the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival in Boquete, Panama. Her annual Birthday Bash at the famous Hollywood jazz room, Catalina’s, is always packed with iconic names and faithful followers. In 1987, Betty Bryant Day was declared in Kansas City and she was gifted with the keys to her city. Imagine her surprise and pleasure when she learned, years later and after the Jazz Museum was established in Kansas City, that a historic photograph of herself with Jay McShann hangs in the lobby. In 2011, Linda Morgan’s Jazzabration and Living Legend Society honored Betty Bryant for her many lifetime musical achievements at the Barbara Morrison Performing Art Center in Los Angeles. Additionally, she has received several State and City proclamations and Awards that celebrate her undeniable talents and community involvement. She continues to lend her name and performances each year to the Dolo Coker Foundation event that raises money to support youthful jazz musicians in their educational pursuits.

This year, Betty Bryant is 88-years-young and still going strong. She has decided that what better time to record an album in celebration of her eighty-eight years on the planet and the eighty-eight keys she plays on piano. Her co-producer will be her friend and first choice of saxophone players, Robert Kyle. They will be going into the studio soon to create her 9th album. Betty is a consummate composer and we can expect to hear some of her original material on this new production.

Meantime, she is still busy performing around town. You can catch Betty Bryant on February 8, 2018 at the Vibrato Grill; 2930 Beverly Glen Circle; Los Angeles, CA 90077 on a Thursday night at 8PM. There is a $20 cover charge and you are invited to make a table reservation and enjoy a meal at this very swanky supper club owned by jazz trumpeter and legend, Herb Alpert.

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THE SAM HIRSH TRIO – LIVE AT THE LIGHTHOUSE CAFE IN HERMOSA BEACH

February 1, 2018

THE SAM HIRSH TRIO – LIVE AT THE LIGHTHOUSE CAFÉ IN HERMOSA BEACH, CA

By jazz journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

January 27, 2018 – Live Jazz Review

What a nice surprise to have Detroit pianist/arranger, Bill Meyer, pop into town with his wife Twyla. They arrived on a Thursday and he immediately wanted to know where the jam sessions were in Los Angeles. So, I sent him to the World Stage in Leimert Park. On Saturday, I had time to meet them for brunch at Gloria Cadena’s jazz spot, the famous Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach. I wanted Bill to experience the ambience of a club well-known for its founder, bassist Howard Rumsey and his All-Stars. Some of the original All-Star group were tenor sax man, Bob Cooper, (who was also married to singer June Christy), Bud Shank on alto saxophone, Claude Williamson at the piano and Stan Levey on drums.

Rumsey began the jazz policy in 1949, once he convinced Mr. John Levine, who owned the place, that music would bring people. The Lighthouse Café is a spot walking distance from the Pacific Ocean, an intimate club where local and master jazz cats have worked and recorded for years. Their photographs pepper the walls of this famous nightspot. Iconic musicians like Cannonball Adderley, Cal Jader, Horace Silver, Larry Gales, Mose Allison, Ramsey Lewis, Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Giuffre, Max Roach, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Charles Earland and the list goes on and on. These giants have played on this tiny stage. I even worked this club with the Dwight Dickerson trio on several occasions and also with the Theo Saunders group.

Rumsey is also responsible for opening another famed jazz spot in Redondo Beach, California called, “Concerts By the Sea.” After John Levine sold Rumsey’s Lighthouse club to Rudy Onderwyzer, the jazz policy faded away and a number of other styles of music began to be featured at the popular beach bar. It was producer, Ozzie Cadena, who championed bringing jazz back to the Lighthouse Café. He built up a fine following on Sundays and as the crowds grew, he was able to expand to a few other days in the week. His energetic and determined widow, Gloria Cadena, now keeps the jazz happening at the Lighthouse Café. I was happy to see her this past Saturday when I arrived with my Detroit friends and their daughter.

Much to my delight, Sam Hirsh and his swinging trio were on stage when I walked into the club. I caught the last of their first set. On their second set, they began with the spirited Horace Silver tune entitled “St. Vitus Dance” from his “Blowin’ the Blues Away” album. Hirsh handled Silver’s composition skillfully, fingers flying across the electric keyboard, while Alex Boneham on bass and drummer, Kevin Kanner held the uptempo number in place like a vice. The next tune was an original composition by Hirsh. It shuffled into the room and grooved the audience as waitresses served scrambled eggs with spinach and fried potatoes or bar-b-que chicken pizza’s to the hungry patrons. A strong bassline began the third tune titled, “Minor Rundown,” a Benny Golson tune written for Paul Chambers. This was followed by Tad Dameron’s composition, “Our Delight,“ was played at a maddening pace. The trio solos raced around the room, in a straight-ahead-jazz kind of way and Kevin Kanner on drums took the liberty of showing off his chops on this one. “Sunset Tides” settled the room down as a lovely ballad and let us appreciate Sam Hirsh’s mastery of the piano keys. It was one of his original tunes. “Who to Choose” featured a BeBop arrangement and gave Alex Boneham an opportunity to show his harmonics on the upright bass, using a technique of playing a 2-string solo that was enchanting. This was followed by a jazz waltz tune “Satya” (Sam’s sister’s middle name) and the set closed with a swinging tune titled, “No C,“ that be-bopped us out the door. Sam wrote this original tune because everybody always tries to add a C to his name and it’s spelled with no C. Judging by the strong applause, a good time was had by all.

On Wednesday, February 7th , Sam Hirsh joins the L.A. Jazz Machine group that is comprised of Henry Franklin, bass, Benn Clatworthy, saxophone, and Yayo Morales, drummer at the famous Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach from 6pm to 9pm. It’s their CD release party. No Cover Charge. Be there!

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NEW MUSIC CHALLENGES THE NORM

January 30, 2018

NEW MUSIC CHALLENGES THE NORM
By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

January 30, 2018

LESLIE PINTCHIK – “YOU EAT MY FOOD, YOU DRINK MY WINE,YOU STEAL MY GIRL!
Pintch Hard Label

Leslie Pintchik, piano; Steve Wilson, alto saxophone; Ron Horton, trumpet/flugelhorn; Shoko Nagai, accordion; Scott Hardy, acoustic & electric bass/acoustic & electric guitar; Michael Sarin, drums; Satoshi Takeisi, percussion.

Ms. Pintchik’s odd title tickles the interest. The first cut is also the CD’s title tune. It’s played at a moderate, funk tempo with horns punctuating the arrangement like pins comfortably sticking into a pin cushion. Leslie Pintchik’s piano talents are obvious from the first several bars of her original music. First, she introduces us to a strong melodic line and then jumps off the bridge without a life jacket, splashing into the improvisational unknown.

The second cut stimulates memories of Ahmad Jamal with Michael Sarin on drums reaching back in time to the unforgettable “Poinciana” percussive brilliance. The tune is “I’m Glad There is You” and as Leslie Pintchik sings this lovely melody on the 88-keys, I cling to every note. She’s passionate. Her rendition of Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach’s haunting “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is arranged as a spirited Bossa Nova. Scott Hardy showcases a happy and infectious bass solo on this familiar tune.

Who would believe that this outstanding pianist deserted her doctorate in 17th century English Literature at Columbia University, (and her teaching job) to pursue jazz piano? But I’m glad she did! Not only is this woman talented, she’s got book smarts too. Her seven-minute piano dissertation on “Mortal” is sensuous and Steve Wilson’s alto saxophone plays beautifully, interpreting this song vividly through the sensitive bell of his horn. Ron Horton sings like a brass bird on trumpet. This is really a lovely composition and Pintchik gives her band free-reins to gallop through the changes. From the title of some of her original compositions, I’d say this woman has a fair amount of tongue-in-cheek humor. One example is her title tune and the other is a song she calls, “Your Call Will Be Answered by our Next Available Representative In The Order In Which It Was Received. Please Stay On the Line. Your Call Is Important to us.” Very funny! Most of us have been there, done that. Pintchik has composed six of the eight songs on this recording and every one of them is well-written and well-played. I enjoyed each cut and the addition of accordion on a few of the songs was delightful, with Shoko Nagai’s talents on this instrument adding much to mood and arrangements. This is a masterful, musical artist. I listened to her joyful, and sometimes pensive music, for nearly an hour. Then I played it again. I bet you will too.

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BRAD GARTON & DAVE SOLDER – “THE BRAINWAVE MUSIC PROJECT”
Mulatta Record Label

Dave Solder, musician/neuroscientist; Brad Garton, composer/computer-musician; Dan Trueman, hardanger fiddle; Margaret Lancaster, the solo flute; Terry Pender, the mandolin; William Hooker, trap drums.

When the first Avant Garde musical sounds greeted my inquisitive ears, I immediately thought, this is music you play during meditation. That was such an odd thought for me to have, that I went to the liner notes before the first tune, “Bible School Vacation,” had finished playing. I reviewed the titles of the tunes and they were creative. I read, “Taco Tuesday,” “Harajuku Hiccup,” and “Cerebellum, “just to mention a few. This is New Age music, or is it? I wondered. Their publicist referred to it as jazz, classical and electronic music. Once I read the liner notes, I knew I had to share them, just as Jim Eigo at Jazz Promo Services had written them. They completely describe this music and the fascinating way it was created by a neuroscientist and software.

In 2008, musician/neuroscientist, Dave Solder, approached composer/computer-musician, Brad Garton with an idea. Dave (the neuroscientist) had become aware of fairly inexpensive electroencephalograph or EEG sensors that could measure the electrical output of the brain (ie: brainwaves). Working with these sensors over the past ten years, Brad and Dave developed a set of software tools that could generate music using this brainwave data. As they worked out the system, they have played concerts at Rock festivals, … radio stations, …the New York City Opera, colleges, museums and Cornell University. They even played an hour-long PBS TV special. … They are probably the only avant garde music act to be invited to perform at the National Institutes of Health, where they were ivited by the graduate students.

In shows, typically Dave gives a lecture with slides on the brain’s cortical activity and how it senses and produces rhythm. Brad explains how the waves recorded from the cortex are translated to music. Then, they use their own brainwaves or those of guest musicians to compose in real time, generally with the musicians improvising on their instruments.

An interesting question remains, is this music really ‘composed’? If it is not done intentionally, with the brain always controlling the music making, and in this case, it can create music even when asleep or unconscious. The latest version of these tools were used to produce this CD and the software used will soon be freely available. This uses a process of ‘data sonification’ or the translation of a stream of numbers into musical production and control. The raw data is used to trigger and modify synthetic digital musical instruments.

This concept, I find AMAZING!!!!

The EEG signal is made by the neural activity detected by the sensors, but does not reveal any high-level concepts or ideas that are being ‘thought’ (although the brain activity responds to sensory inputs like the touch of the drumhead and sound and activated movements, then is modulated by mental states).

Dave and Brad decided to exploit this feature by creating a feedback loop of sorts with musicians being invited to play along with themselves, thus generating music with brainwaves resulting from the process of generating that music. For this first complete recording of “The Brainwave Music Project”, four soloists were invited to take part in the sessions. Each plays a solo instrument and the instruments themselves each come laden with a rich musical tradition. The hardanger fiddle, played by Dan Trueman; a solo flute by Margaret Lancaster; Terry Pender on the mandolin and the trap drums played by William Hooker all represent long social and cultural histories. This awareness, as well as the awareness of what and how the musicians are playing, is certainly a part of the brainwave data used to build the synthetic accompaniment for each piece.

I invite you to indulge yourself in this odd listening experience of an even odder musical creation.

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JAMISON ROSS – ALL FOR ONE
Concord Records

Jamison Ross, vocals/drums/composer; Rick Lollar, guitars/background vocals/composer; Chris Pattishall, piano; Cory Irvin, Hammond B-3 organ/Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer/background vocals; Barry Stephenson, bass.

Jamison Ross is an R&B artist who infuses his music with jazz and brings a fresh, new perspective to the forefront of crossover airplay. At times, he reminds me of Jeffrey Osborne. Not in tone or originality, but in his ability to sing pop or rhythm and blues or jazz with the same effectiveness. He offers us sincerity and freshness. His voice is a rainbow of colors that cross the musical genres with ease and beauty. Additionally, he is a competent drummer, composer and bandleader. As a musician/drummer, Ross won the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz International Drum Competition and released his premiere disc as a result of that prestigious award in 2015. This CD expands his talent dimensions by adding ‘vocalist’ to his list of credits.

Starting with his first song, “A Mellow Good Time,” composed by Allen Toussaint, the party begins. “Unspoken” is an original composition by Ross & cowriter, Richard Lollar. The lyrics are poignant, about a couple finding distance between them because one is always gone, but their unspoken commitment keeps them strong. The rhythm is unusual and the soulful melody is tinged with blues. Jamison Ross wrote this song for his wife, Adrienne. But I am really struck by his interpretation of Etta Jone’s hit song, “Don’t Go To Strangers”. He interprets this song beautifully and I believe it’s the first time I’ve heard a man tackle this lyric. Pianist, Chris Pattishall gives solid support during his heart-rending arrangement.

The tone and style of this vocalist/musician is uniquely fresh and endearing. His voice is unforgettable and that is an important factor when you are establishing your artistry. Mose Allison’s “Everybody’s Cryin Mercy” is another touch of jazz and once again showcases this artist’s delightful vocal stylings. His original composition, “Safe In The Arms of Love” sings like a prayer. Once again, I’m struck by this vocalist’s style and tone. The Latin rhythm underneath a lilting melody adds interest and features Ross’s percussive mastery. Perhaps this artist best describes his own product in his liner notes.

“All For One is the second chapter to my story as an artist with a deep understanding of American music. I continue to explore the aroma of jazz using elements of gospel, soul and R&B. I utilize the organ as my string orchestra, tugging as much emotion from a composition as possible. Just like a Sunday morning, I use the soul of my voice to shape a message with conviction with the use of traditional R&B. I preach the need for the world’s love to be united.”

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STEVE SLAGLE – “DEDICATION”
Panorama Records

Steve Slagle, alto/soprano saxophones & flute/composer; Lawrence Fields, piano; Scott Colley, bass; Bill Stewart, drums; Roman Diaz, conga/percussion; Dave Stryker, guitar.

Steve Slagle has composed the majority of these songs, dedicating each one of the nine compositions recorded to a special character or thing directly related to his musical journey. For example, the first tune that comes busting out the gate is “Sun Song.” He dedicated it to the great Sonny Rollins. Although Slagle admires the tone and talent of Rollins, he definitely has his own unique sound.

Slagle was once, many years ago, a member of Carla Bley’s band when bassist/composer Steve Swallow nicknamed him “Niner”. That’s what tune number two represents, the nickname given and one he fondly embraces. Both of these tunes Swing hard and bebop across my room, filling it with energy and ebullience.

As a leader, Slagle is in command at all times. But it’s his bandmates who keep the grooves going strong beneath his flurry of notes and improvisational treks. “Major In Come” flies like a sparrow on amphetamines. This title has a double meaning. It’s built on major chords in five different keys and it’s meant to challenge his band to Swing at an incredible and challenging pace. Lawrence Fields on piano does not disappoint, given several bars to showcase his versatile and improvised solo. Bassist, Scott Colley pounds out the time and grooves hard, hammering the rhythm section together by locking time succinctly with drummer Bill Stewart. On Stewart’s solo, you hear the fire and passion in each stroke of his sticks.

“Triste Beleza” that translates to ‘beautiful sadness’ was composed in tribute to the amazing and spirited music that has come out of Brazil. It sounds a wee bit like ‘Speak Low’, but quickly presents a very different melody for the band to embellish. Stryker adds his guitar magic on this song.

All in all, here is a well-produced album of well-played and excellent compositions by Steve Slagle. He has composed seven of the nine tunes and recorded one song written by his special guest, Dave Stryker titled “Corazon” and included the Wayne Shorter composition, “Charcoal Blues.” This is an album full of excitement and East Coast energy. On “Opener”, another one of my favorites, Roman Diaz makes this production shine with his percussive excellence. Slagle adds a flute towards the end of the tune that lifts the production to higher heights. And by the way, I love the artwork created for the inside cover by Ivan Pazlamatchev and titled for Slagle’s first cut, “Sun Song.” Most of these songs are full of heat and power, like the sun itself. This album is burning hot!

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HART, SCONE & ALBIN – “LEADING THE BRITISH INVASION”
Zoho Roots

John Hart, guitar; Adam Scone, Hammond organ; Rudy Albin Petschauer, drums.

Opening with Amy Winehouse’s popular hit song, “Rehab” this guitar trio paints the tune in bright, happy colors. They’ve speeded the song tempo up, but I think Miss Winehouse would have approved. John Hart, on guitar, is upfront and personal on his instrument, improvising at a steady speed and setting the bar high for Adam Scone on his Hammond B3 Organ. Rudy Albin Petschauer keeps his fellow musicians grounded with solid drum rhythm. Petschauer was a former member of organist Jack McDuff’s group and McDuff was one of my favorite organists back-in-the-day. Adam Scone is said to build his sound from the bottom up on his organ. That means his bass footwork locks in with the drums and represents what it takes to be a real organ player. You can tell, because you don’t miss a bass player on this recording. Then comes John Hart, an adventurous guitar player who is gifted in both rhythm guitar, blues and improvisational solo work. His electronic sound adds spice to this recording and plays nicely off of Scones organ sounds. Hart, like Petschauer, also was a Jack McDuff bandmate. On “Look of Love” the trio’s sound settles into a Bossa Nova groove and Hart proves that he can cover all styles. Now his guitar is more acoustic, nylon string-sounding, and his approach is sweet and tender, even when he double-times his improvisational solo. On this tune, he showcases his inventiveness. I hardly recognized Sade’s “Smooth Operator” tune. They’ve arranged it as a shuffle and it really swings hard. You’ll also enjoy a couple of Adele’s songs on this recording and Pop Star, Joss Stone’s “Don’t Start Lyin’ To Me Now’ is incorporated into their line-up. For this reviewer, some of the fuzzy guitar parts and the rock influenced arrangements interrupt the pure jazz concept of a Jimmy Smith or McDuff band, but that’s a matter of listener taste. It was especially annoying on Adele’s “Rolling In the Deep.” But the trio redeemed themselves on “Blues for the U.K., composed by John Hart.

Perhaps Adam Scone explained the groups concept the best in their liner notes.

“All great organ groups take popular songs and use them as vehicles to churn out organ style hits. … We focus on the modern music of the UK, but follow in the footsteps of the masters.”<

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LITTLE LADY WITH A BIG, BEAUTIFUL VOICE

January 25, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 25, 2018

There are many descriptions of the voice that pours out of this 5’ 3” little lady. For me, her voice is sweet as honey and spicy as cayenne. It soothes you, while caressing the lyrics with tender, emotional touches. But it can bite deep and inspire you to move and dance. Andrea Miller is unique in both style and presentation. She doesn’t sound like anyone in particular, except herself, and that’s a good thing. Ms. Miller has developed her own sound, which is the sign of a great artist. I recently had the opportunity to interview Andrea about her life, her music and her history. While young in the business, she has garnered a string of very impressive accomplishments.

Andrea Miller: “I was born and raised in Salem, Oregon and my parents still live there in the house where I grew up. It’s probably a population of 160,000-plus people. It has a real small- town feel.

“I come from a very musical family, especially on my dad’s side of the family. Both of his parents were music teachers. His dad (George Miller) taught band and his mom, my grandma, (Vona Miller) was a choir teacher. My dad majored in music and he taught high school band at Prineville High school in Oregon for probably the first five years of my life. My brother and I were both little kids and dad was only making about $6 an hour. My mom was a stay-at-home wife and wasn’t working. I remember we ate our cereal breakfast with orange juice, because we couldn’t afford milk. He (dad) got offered a job to move from Prineville to Salem to be an Equitable Life Insurance salesman. Dad took the job and worked his way up to management and stayed with them for the next thirty-five years. But he never stopped playing music. He was a clarinet player and a saxophone player. The clarinet was his main instrument. He played first chair clarinet in the Salem Concert Band and he did that for years.

“My brother is also a musician. He’s a wonderful piano player. He makes his living doing that, teaching music at two different schools in Oregon. He lives there with his wife. He currently has 57 students. Most of them are little kids.”

I asked Andrea what kind of music she listened to as a youth in Oregon.

“On the weekends we had chores and we’d clean the house and vacuum; do the work we were assigned to do. My dad would blast the record player and he would play Benny Goodman, Erroll Garner’s “Concert by the Sea” album and “Rhapsody in Blue.” I heard those albums being played pretty much every weekend. So, I grew up listening to jazz. My dad also made sure he exposed me, at a very early age, to Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. Yes, I got a lot of really good musical tastes from my dad. He tells this story about when I was maybe five-years-old and it was Christmas time. I was sitting on the couch in the family room with him and I was singing “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”, perfectly in tune and with vibrato. The story goes, he turned to my mom and says, ‘honey – I think we have a singer on our hands.’

“Mom said, ‘Oh all kids sing.’ But my dad recognized my talent that early.

“When I was twelve, I got cast in the Children’s Theater and I was singing in my grade school choir. At twelve-years-old, I got cast as Annie in a big production that was in a neighboring town. I starred in that musical and it ran for two weeks. In the audience, one night, was my future voice teacher. OMG – she’s an angel and she’s still around. Her name is Dr. Myra Brand. She came up to me after the show and offered to be my mentor. She said, if this is something you’d like to do, I’d like to help cultivate your voice and teach you how to sing properly and breathe correctly. I teach opera. My mom asked me, do you want to do it? I said yep. So, every Saturday morning, around eleven-o-clock, we’d drive over to Dr. Brand’s house and I would get my one-hour lesson. I studied opera from age twelve to seventeen with Dr. Myra Brand. I learned how to sing properly, how to breathe. She was just a wonderful teacher, a beautiful spirit and a kind person. She taught me a lot about music but also about being a good person.

“But with opera, it’s all about hitting the mark and there’s not room for a lot of improvisation. I later became really interested in pursuing jazz.”

However, it took time for Andrea Miller to become a jazz vocalist. In the 90’s, she graduated her Oregon high school, winning a grant and a scholarship to attend USC. She had to audition, as well as having a good GPA score. It’s noteworthy that Andrea is not only talented, she’s smart too! For the next four years, she applied those ‘smarts’ as part of the Bachelor of Fine Arts Program in Theater at the prestigious University of Southern California. Her scholarship only lasted two years, but Andrea is resourceful. She knew how to pinch pennies. It took her fifteen years to pay her college debt off, but she told me proudly, I finally did it.

Andrea Miller: “I always wanted to pursue the arts. I quickly realized, within about a year after graduating from college, that it wasn’t acting that was in my heart and soul. My passion was singing. I said to myself, you know what? I’m going to be a singer. I’m going to drop the head shots and the audition calls to pursue my music.

“When I first started singing it was definitely more pop music. I was writing my own songs and collaborating with writers. I was kind of doing the singer/songwriter, coffee house scene. I had my little demo of original songs. Next, I really got into R&B and I was doing a lot of session work. After a while, I got bored. I reminded myself of my days singing opera and the really challenging singing that I used to do. I just kind of got tired of “Ooo baby baby” type songs. That was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. At that time, I loved Mary J. Blige, Lauren Hill and Erykah Badu. I think Erykah Badu was the closest thing to what I was trying to do. I just got a little frustrated and I kind of plateaued.

“It was Drama-Logue magazine that brought about a change. I had a subscription to it. I was really bored one night and I looked at the back of the magazine at a little blurb advertising ‘Open Mic’ night at The Money Tree.” (a local Los Angeles County restaurant and bar). “Everything changed in 2001 when I walked into The Money Tree. That was my changing moment. That night I met Eddie Olivieri on piano, drummer, Frank Wilson and bassist, Clarence Robinson.

“When I was fourteen, my mom and dad got me the 3-tape cassette package of Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. There were maybe 30 songs that she sang. I learned all of them. I listened to those tapes over and over. I still have those cassettes. So, from learning those standard jazz songs, I knew (the Thelonius Monk composition), ‘Round Midnight. When I walked into The Money Tree, I signed my name on the sign-up sheet and when they called me to the bandstand, they asked me what song I was going to sing. I said, ‘Round Midnight. They said, are you sure? I said yes. After that, I started going in there every Tuesday.

“I was practicing and recording my songs at home with these pre-recorded back-up tapes. I was sharing my practice tapes with Frank Wilson (the drummer) and he kind of took me under his wing. He taught me how to ‘trade fours’ and how to sing a line and how people come back in after the musician’s solo. He just guided me. He suggested songs I should learn and the little practice tapes I was giving him, he passed on to a guy named Stephen Boyd, who’s a producer and a pianist. So, Stephen offered to invest and musically produce an album called ‘Perfect Day.’ They played three cuts of it on KJZZ. (KJAZZ is the local Los Angeles 24-hour jazz station).
“One thing led to another and I got my first chance to record a jazz album. We had the late bassist, Bob Maize, on that session. We did that record in 2003 or 2004. Next, I had to figure out how to quit my day job. I was a secretary full time. So, I ended up getting a roommate and sleeping on my living room floor and giving the roommate my bedroom. Consequently, I was able to save up, over a nine-month period, four-thousand dollars. Then I quit my job as a secretary and started doing three nights a week in Korea Town for forty-dollars a show.”
(laughter).

“But I knew I had to start somewhere. Everything has kind of been growing from that moment when I walked into the Money Tree and knew I wanted to be a jazz singer. There’s never any ending point to artistry. You just keep growing. That’s why I love it so much.”

Andrea Miller’s love for music and jazz has opened many doors for her. She shared an amazing experience with me about working with the famous songwriting team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and singing an Ennio Morricone composition.

Ennio Morricone is a famous Italian composer, orchestrator, trumpet player and an iconic conductor. He is heralded as one of the most experimental, influential and versatile composers of our time. From 1946 to present, he’s composed over 500 scores for both cinema and television. Mr. Morricone also composes classical works. His music has been part of the soundtracks of over 70 award-winning films. In 2006, Ennio Morricone was working on a tribute album featuring many of his favorite compositions written for film. He had one song that needed lyrics, so he asked Alan and Marilyn Bergman if they would write lyrics for his song. It was titled, “I Knew I Loved You.”

At one point, (as a ‘day job’), Andrea Miller was assisting a concert promoter who was booking celebrity artists all over the world. One of his artists was popular singer, Celine Dion. That promoter travelled to China during a promotional tour with Celine Dion. It just so happened that Ennio Morricone wanted Celine Dion to sing his song for which Alan and Marilyn Bergman had just penned the lyrics. They needed a demo of that song and Andrea’s employer said he knew the perfect person. The next thing the talented, young singer knew, her phone rang and Alan and Marilyn Bergman were on the other end of the line.

The Bergman’s came to Stephen Boyd’s studio in California’s Valley area of Los Angeles county. There, they met Andrea Miller for the first time. That beginning demo session led to her meeting the great arranger/producer, David Foster, who contributed to finishing the project. Finally, it was ready for Celine Dion to hear. The result was that Celine recorded Mr. Morricone’s beautiful song, using Andrea’s vocal demo as a melodic guide.

The icing on the cake was when Ms. Miller’s boss got her tickets to Celine Dion’s Las Vegas show. Full of excitement about a trip to Las Vegas, seeing the show and meeting Celine Dion in-person, Andrea never expected she would also meet the great producer/arranger, Quincy Jones. You never know who you’ll meet in the entertainment business. But everything doesn’t always fall into perfect place.

For example, one of her first recording experiences was a job called “Betsy Bunny”.

Andrea Miller: “I think it was one of the first sessions I did and I didn’t have a lot of experience. I was only paid $100 and they wanted me to sing some lines from the Bunny Hop. You know, put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and you shake it all about …,” she sang and we laughed out loud.

Andrea was told the session was for a key chain line of bunny’s, but later she discovered that her voice became the vocals inside a stuffed bunny that was marketed widely in America.

Another studio experience she remembers with joy was the “Look to the Sky” session. It happened in 2016. Producer/artist, Eric Wyatt, was a fan of her voice and invited her to perform with him at the Brooklyn Academy of Music after she told him she would be visiting New York. He was recording a new album and asked her if she would perform “My Favorite Things” with him. Of course, she said yes!

Another unusual session was for the Samsung company. She’s recorded three different ‘ring tones’ for that phone corporation. This session proceeded in an unusual way. The Korean producers produced it via Skype. Andrea remembers they demanded of her, “More energy! More energy!” while she was singing the hook, “If you’re gonna make your move, just do it.” She laughed telling me it was the first time she had been produced long-distance, from another country, via Skype.

I asked her what tips she could offer hopeful singers who want to break into studio session work.

Andrea Miller: “Well, I suppose you probably want to have a demo of some sort that you can show or share with perspective clients. I used to travel around with my demo’s and my bio package. I kind of got my session work word of mouth. Someone gave me references. But I would say, in order to keep the job, if you get that kind of opportunity, if your session starts at 1pm, get there at 12:45 and be completely warmed up by one. Bring a bottle of water. Be familiar with the song and be prepared. Be prompt. Be flexible and have a good attitude. Be willing to take direction. When you’re hired to sing something, that person has a special vision of what they want to hear. Be open to taking their direction.”

This writer might add that most studio session singers can read music. The ones who make the most money and get the most calls are those who can read charts. Remember that Ms. Miller has a degree in music and theater.

Other outstanding experiences Andrea Miller has had include her performance with the Salt Lake City Orchestra.

“That was very rewarding,” she told me. “When you sing with specific orchestrated charts, you experience a different kind of nervousness. Unlike working with a trio or quartet, there’s little room for improvisational freedom. That means there’s no room for screwing up!”

Her other great achievement was becoming the opening act for the late, great Al Jarreau in 2016. His manager and his band were so supportive of her talent that they immediately signed her up to become Al’s opening act for an upcoming international tour planned for 2018. Al Jarreau himself spoke about his initial introduction to the little lady with the big, beautiful voice.

“As my countdown to the stage got smaller and smaller, I started to hear some marvelous music coming from the stage, floating through my dressing room window. Our opening act was a brilliant, young singer named Andrea Miller. The whole band was impressed with her song selection, with her bandmates, arrangements and her jazz sensibilities. I enjoyed listening to the little bit I got to hear and the band enjoyed their even closer look,” Al recalled their initial meeting.

Andrea, along with all of us in the jazz world and beyond, became stunned when the great singer/songwriter, Al Jarreau, passed away on February 12, 2017.

This year is starting out fresh and flush with possibilities. Andrea Miller has an engagement in Miami, Florida where she is one of the top finalists in the Conquer Entertainment Talent Contest on February 2, 2018. On the seventeeth of February, she will headline with her jazz group at the Newport Beach Jazz Party in California. On May 25th she’ll be a featured LACMA entertainer and in late Spring, she’ll be recording in Chicago, Illinois for the second time with Michael Cunningham.

Wherever you see her name on the marquee, I invite you to treat yourself to an evening of amazing vocal jazz.

JAZZ NEWS & VIEWS

January 6, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

January 6, 2018

QUINCY JONES LAUNCHES A PREMIERE STREAMING-VIDEO SERVICE FOR JAZZ

Legendary music mogul, Quincy Jones, was very busy last year making sure that America’s proud legacy of jazz continues to flourish. He has founded QWEST TV, a journey into jazz and beyond. Jones, a prolific arranger/producer/composer, launched this Netflix of jazz on December 15, 2017. It’s the world’s first subscription video-on-demand (SVOD), a platform entirely dedicated to jazz and jazz-inspired music forms. Jones has collaborated with French jazz impresario and television producer, Reza Ackbaraly. Surprisingly, interest in the project started on Kickstarter with a crowdfunding campaign in the fall of 2017 and this platform raised $170,000 dollars. The subscription video-streaming service will feature over 100 concerts, documentaries, and interviews of artists including Aretha Franklin, B.B.King, Bobby McFerrin, Robert Glasper, Jacob Collier, Sun Ra, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Kamasi Washington, Erykah Badu, Chick Corea, Gregory Porter and the list goes on and on. Subscriptions are available for a standard cost or at a higher premium. Prices begin around $7.50 per month and the good news is that all subscriptions are ad-free. Interested? You can subscribe at http://www.qwest.tv. Every program will be accompanied by liner notes written by journalists and jazz experts. The launch of this celebrated accomplishment was celebrated in Paris where a list of iconic artists performed a special tribute to Quincy Jones. This concert was livestreamed through Qwest.tv and is available for Video on Demand playback. Soon to be eighty-five years young on March 14th of this year, Quincy Jones explained why he has established this jazz streaming service.

“I have witnessed, first-hand, the power of jazz and all of its off-spring from the blues and R&B to pop, rock and hip-hop, to tear down walls and bring the world together. I believe that a hundred years from now, when people look back at the 20th century, they will view Bird, Miles and Dizzy as our Mozarts, Bachs, Chopins and Tchaikovskys. It’s my hope that Qwest TV will serve to carry forth and build on the great legacy that is jazz for many generations to come.”

Another notable grand-opening that Quincy recently made was in Dubai, a city of great wealth and growth in the United Arab Emeritus. He opened a jazz room in November of 2016 that became quite popular in 2017and features live jazz acts for its cigar bar patrons to enjoy while puffing and drinking. Located in the luxurious Palazzo Versace, a hotel that overlooks a manmade lake, you will discover Q’s Bar and Lounge with a backdrop of straight ahead jazz and a bar menu that includes his famous eight-hour BBQ ribs, chicken wings and a few signature cocktails like the Fresh Prince (of Bel-Air) made with vodka, Chambord and butterscotch liquor. There’s also the ‘Thriller’ cocktail. The bar seats approximately 100 people maximum and is low lit with a blue light theme and a small stage. Probably the most important aspect of this venue is that it’s the first lounge to ever carry the name of the great Quincy Jones, using his familiar nickname of “Q”. Open Monday through Friday, 6pm to 2am with the music starting at 8:30pm nightly. Reservations are suggested. Call 04-556-8888 or See http://www.palazzoversace.ae

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DR. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR DELIVERS KEYNOTE ADDRESS AT FIRST ANNUAL JAZZ CONGRESS

Speaking of iconic men who continue to support and perpetuate jazz, retired NBA legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will host the first annual Jazz Congress conference, co-produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and JazzTimes magazine on January 11 and 12, 2018. The goal of this organization is to bring together artists, media and industry leaders from the global jazz community in a space where they can exchange ideas and resources. It sounds like the re-emergence of a concept called the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) that was quite successful for several years before going bankrupt in 2008. Similar to that now defunct program, the Jazz Congress will present a number of workshops, panelists, moderators and speakers including artists like Terence Blanchard, Aaron Goldberg, Ingrid Jensen, Kenny Barron, Wynton Marsalis and more. Drummer, Terri Lyne Carrington will be presented the Bruce Lundvall Visionary Award, an annual award that recognizes individuals that demonstrate extraordinary leadership and vision in expanding the audience for jazz and a person who has made a real difference for artists, for the music and for the jazz audience. For a complete schedule and more information see http://www.jazzcongress.org

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NEW YEAR, NEW MUSIC

January 4, 2018

NEW YEAR – NEW MUSIC
By Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

January 4, 2018

At the end of last year, 2017, I received two gigantic boxes of music from the University of North Texas. Not only did the two packages contain an assortment of excellent musicianship, some focusing on the complete recordings of all compositions and arrangements by GRAMMY nominated composer, Neil Slater, but the CD box Sets also included a 168-page book featuring hundreds of photos and notes by band members, colleagues and friends that are meant to honor the legacy of Neil Slater. Additionally, it showcased the expert musicianship of young university players who make up the Two O’Clock, Three O’Clock and One O’ Clock Lab Bands. Here is my review of the Two O’Clock Lab Band under the direction of JAY SAUNDERS. I also reviewed vibraphonist, STEVE HOBBS, who has recorded thirteen tunes in tribute to BOBBY HUTCHERSON. ANGELO DIVINO has the crooning style of cabaret singers who love Sinatra, while international artists, MADELEINE AND SALOMON, surprise me with their duo interpretation of culturally rich songs. On their new album, they sing the praise of women and celebrate cultural diversity, choosing to interpret American music from their French perspective. Finally, ALAN and STACEY SCHULMAN (who call themselves, “AS IS”) have recorded an album that is sparsely produced, but showcases the beauty and clarity of great musicianship and vocals.

NICE! JAY SAUNDERS’ BEST OF THE TWO
Division of Jazz Studies – College of Music – University of North Texas

TWO O’CLOCK LAB BAND MEMBERS LISTED BELOW, IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER, Some appear on various sessions, included in this compilation, and extracted from the band’s previous recorded releases.

Rhythm Sections: Lupe Barrera (perc. & drums), Horace Bray (guitar), Nolan Byrd (drums), Anthony Corsaro (perc.), Emily Davis (vocals), Addison Frei (piano), Davian Garcia (piano), Sean Giddings (piano & organ), Jake Greenburg (bass), Young Heo (bass), Matt Hornbeck (guitar), Matt Hurley (perc), Brad Young Chan Kang (guitar), Scott Kruser (guitar), Sean Jacobi (bass), Sean Jones (drums), Melissa McMillan and Tatiana Mayfield (vocals), Evan Oxenhandler (guitar), Sergio Pamies (piano), Danmiel Parr (bass), Marion Powers (vocals), Duran Ritz (drums), Nick Rothouse (perc.),Greg Sadler (drums), Kaela Sinclair & Ashleigh Smith (vocals), Jacob Smith (bass), Roberto Verastegui (piano), Seth Weaver (vocals), Jacob Wise (guitar), Jessica Young (h), Matt Young (drums).
Saxophones: Ben Bohorquez, Ramsey Castaneda,Ted Davis, Devin Eddieman, Seth Ely, Alex Fraile, Steve Friel, Brian Girley, Alex Hahn, Ian Henderson, Adam Hutcheson, Spenser Liszt, Brett McDonald, Dustin Mollick, Matt Morey, Justin Pierce, Kelsey Pickford, Chris Reardon, Chris Reza, Sarah Roberts, Adam Robertson, J.R. Rocha, Niels Rosendahl, Julian Sutherland, Nick Salvucci, Drew Zaremba.
Trumpets: Micah Bell, Jake Boldman, Andy Cresop, Dan Cron, Thomas Davis, Dan Foster, Andrew Golden, Preston Haining, John Hallman, Ally Hany, Ransom Miller, Tyler Mire, Jonathan Mones, Harrell Petersen, Dave Richards, Mike Shields, Tim Schieinat, Kevin Swaim, Chad Willis, Justin Woodward, Li Xiaochuan, Drew Zaremba.
Trombones: Eric Andress, Sean Casey, Matt Corrigan, Kenny Davis, Alex Dubrov, Jon Gauer, Julie Gray, Craig Flentge, Nathan Harvey, Kevin Hicks, Adam Jensen, Carl Lundgren, Jake Macary, Dan Marion, Phillip Menchaca, Sean Nelson, Freddy Ouellette, Kennedy Powers, Chris Sharpe, Austin Short, Zach Steele, Hirochi Wada, Seth Weaver, Nick Wiodarczyk.

The first CD I popped into my player this year was “Nice! – Jay Saunders’ Best of the Two. It features eighteen tracks recorded by the Two O’Clock Lab Band under the direction of trumpeter, Jay Saunders. Saunders is a veteran of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. He’s a well-respected musician on the Dallas, TX Scene for decades and has been teaching lead trumpet and jazz history at the University from 2000 to 2016, as well as directing the One, Two and Three O’Clock Lab Bands. For this recording, Saunders has pulled the best of the best of his students, compiling several works from various earlier released CDs to configure this release. His students play like a well-oiled Mercedes motor, smooth and perfectly coordinated, they run in uninterrupted synchronization. I was especially struck by John Clayton’s arrangement of “I Won’t Dance.” It features the very talented Sean Jacobi on bass. The back-up, session players of this Two O’Clock Lab Band are amazingly artful and professional. I am blown away by their big-band sound that supports various soloists on different tunes. These youthful players give hope that jazz will continue to influence and elevate Earth’s population with its joy and improvisational flavors for years to come.

Although there is not one bad performance on this 2-CD Set, my other favorite tunes plucked from excellence are “Sax Alley”, played at a break-neck speed and featuring the stellar horns of Dustin Mollick and J.R. Rocha on tenor saxophones and “Top Fuel – Pete vs. the Trav-ski,” written by ex-Dallas composer and arranger Phil Kelly. I also enjoyed the Duran Ritz drum solo on “Worth the Wait” (a Peter Erskine composition), along with Sean Giddings on piano, Li Xiaochuan on trumpet and Phillip Menchaca on Trombone. This is the opening tune on Side One and sets the tone for what is to follow. Lastly, “Portuguese Soul,” written by organist Jimmy Smith and arranged by Thad Jones shows Sean Giddings’ smooth and soulful transition from piano to organ, along with Greg Sadler’s mesmerizing drum talents. This song closes out Side One of the two discs. On Disc Two, I loved the Drew Zaremba arrangement of “Sink, Sank, Swunk” which shows the electric/Herbie Hancock-like production by the band members featuring Zoremba on a smokin’ soprano saxophone, and soloists, Seth Weaver on trombone, John Hallman on trumpet and Jake Greenburg on bass. “Detour Ahead” features a sweet vocal by Emily Davis and the Booker T. Jones composition, “Green Onions,” closes out the double set CD with a spirited arrangement by Drew Zaremba. Zaremba is also featured on Alto Sax with Ally Hany on trumpet solo and Chris Reardon on Tenor solo. The background is full of party noises and the music just makes you want to get up and dance. Sounds like a jazzy New Year’s Eve celebration to me. Makes me want to shout out, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!”

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STEVE HOBBS – TRIBUTE TO BOBBY
Challenge Recording Int

Steve Hobbs, marimba/vibes/composer; Adam Kolker, tenor/soprano saxophones; Bill O’Connell, piano; Peter Washington, bass; John Riley, drums; Carol Ingretsen, Maurice Myers & Marvin Thorne, vocals.

Adam Kolker struts his saxophone skills on the first tune titled, “The Craving Phenomenon,” (a Steve Hobbs composition). Beneath him, Washington’s bass and Riley’s drums egg him on energetically. This is one of ten original compositions Hobbs has written for this CD. With a total of thirteen songs, Hobbs offers us a tribute to the late/great Bobby Hutcherson. After Kolker and bandmates set up the premiere song grove and melody, Hobbs slides in to serenade us with his percussive vibraphone mastery. He explained the song in his liner notes:

“…Since it swings so hard … I decided to open with ‘The Craving Phenomenon.’ I love Adam Kolker’s tenor solo on this … He uses lots of bop ideas countered with more modern pentatonic ideas. More important, he is locking in with John (Riley) like crazy! …My solo on marimba has lots of sequential, pentatonic, chromatic stuff and blues runs. John and Peter are locking so hard that I felt safe in playing both in the middle and also in front of the beat at times for that good ‘diesel’ feeling. I felt my solo was also of an original nature sounding more like Chick or Woody Shaw, than my fellow mallet comrades. I really don’t strive to sound like anyone but me and hope you agree that I have my own sound. …I love the dynamic shifts we pulled off here. … really challenging metric modulations and rhythms featuring John Riley on drums. These rhythmic hits played during the drum solo are very hard to play and the way John Plays over them is amazing.”

This is the group’s third recording since 2007. Their sound is tight and these master musicians interact with each other sweet and tasty, like jam and butter. Pianist Bill O’Connell soars on the composition titled, “Into the Storm” and throughout this recording. Hobbs has no compunction about giving free rein to his musicians, unselfishly sharing his spotlight platform. Peter Washington was once a bassist with Bobby Hutcherson’s ensemble and brings a note of nostalgic authenticity to this project. The arrangement on “Besame Mucho” is held tightly in place by Washington’s walking bass line and John Riley’s flashy, but pendulum steady drumming. Steve Hobbs soars on top of the swinging band, taking charge with his mallets and creativity. The ‘fade’ on this tune is very exciting, as they play with time differential and improvisational techniques. “New Creation” is another one of my favorite tunes on this recording. The musicians grab a rich, straight-ahead groove by the body and each member of the ensemble brings their best to match the talent and excitement of their bandleader. This is jazz; free, spontaneous and well played. I was not as impressed with the vocals used on a couple of the tunes. Those songs just didn’t seem to fit the landscape of this ‘Straight Ahead’ album concept. However, as you can see below, when Steve Hobbs swings, he’s right on point.

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ANGELO DIVINO – “LOVE A TO Z”
Independent Label

Angelo Divino, vocals; Rich Eames, piano/synthesizer/keyboard; Adrian Rose, bass; Michael Rosen, drums/harmonica; Doug Webb, saxophone; Jonathan Dane, trumpet/cornet/flugelhorn.

Angelo Divino is a cabaret singer with a smooth style and persuasive tone of delivery. He offers ten original songs on this album that were composed by Z. Overall and does an excellent job of delivering the lyrics, as though he’s sharing stories of his life with us.

In New York, Divino performed as lead vocalist with the Rainbow Room Orchestra at Rockefeller Center and with the Duke Ellington Legacy Band at Birdland. He also sang bari-tenor parts with the vocal quartet, “Afterglow.” This artist starred in a musical play about the life of Duke Ellington called “Lucky So and So” and Divino also wrote and performed “Let Me Be Frank”. On this recording, he sings the many facets of love, covering emotions from A to Z. Favorite cuts are, “Strangers Again,” “If I Love You, Goodbye” where Divino stretches his range into the high tenor register, and “I Remember” that tells a story of recalling one’s hometown and is spiced up by Michael Rosen’s harmonica.

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MADELEINE & SALOMON – “A WOMAN’S JOURNEY”
Tzigart/Promiseland

Clotilde, vocals/flute; Alexandre Saada, piano/Rhodes/Clavinette/background vocals.

As soon as I heard the first familiar strains of Nina Simone’s song, “Image,” I was captivated by this artist’s voice, singing a’cappella and sounding emotionally connected to those striking lyrics and that haunting melody. This song celebrates the beauty of womanhood and that is the crux of this musical production. Clotilde, singing along with her musical partner, Alexandre Saada on piano, bring fresh perspective to some popular American music. On cut #2, “Swallow Song,” backup vocals are added by Saada. These two artists have assumed the group name of ‘Madeleine & Salomon’ and they perform, as a duo, tackling seventeen songs that celebrate ‘A Woman’s Journey’. The lyrics are packaged in the CD and each song is lyrically prolific and explores the female journey. This duo has chosen songs written by American composers that touch on the spirit of womanhood, it’s trials and tributes; it’s joys and endless challenges interpreting songs like Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and the Marvin Gaye,/Al Cleveland/ Renaldo Benson’s composition, “Save the Children”. I was moved and impassioned with their arrangement of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.”

Clotide is a French performer who sings and plays flute. She is also a composer and journalist. Alexandre Saada began playing piano at age four and studied classical piano for ten years. At fifteen, he was beginning to explore jazz, pop and French popular and folk songs. He’s already recorded fifteen albums including seven as a leader, from solo albums to big band recordings. Saada has toured worldwide with artists such as Malia, Martha and the Vandellas, Les Albert and more. He is also a composer and arranger. Together, these two super talented individuals have created a most unusual and entertaining album of musical tribute to women. Clotide explores a rainbow of colors and vocal textures that can both surprise the listener and enhance the songs she sings. She paints the words with alto richness one moment and then, with childlike innocence, in a second soprano voice, she tackles the Minnie Ripperton classic song by Charles Stepney and Richard Rudolph entitled, “Les Fleurs.” I am so impressed! Everything is arranged and sung in a jazzy way, even when she chooses songs like “Mercedes Benz” by Janis Joplin or interprets the Black Panther member/songwriter/poet, Elaine Brown’s “The End of Silence”. Listen below.

Like jazz itself, ‘Madeleine & Salomon’ know no boundaries and explore the outer limits of imagination, improvisation and cultural revolution. This is a musical experience that embraces change and pushes the cage walls further apart, exploring freedom with grandiose conviction.

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AS IS – featuring ALAN & STACEY SCHULMAN – “HERE’S TO LIFE”
Independent label

Stacey Schulman, vocals; Alan Schulman, guitar; Macus Baylor, drums; Rashaan Carter, Matt Geraghty & Kevin Powe, Jr., bass; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; David Binney, saxophone; Alejandro Lucini, percussion; Christie Dashiell, James McKinney & Carl ‘Kokayi’ Walker; Dr. Chelsea Green, Kendall Isidore & Dianna Said, violins; Dawn Johnson, viola’ Elise Cuffy, cello.

Stacey Schulman has a unique tone to her voice and her husband is the perfect accompanist on guitar, supporting her with familiarity and technical talent. They have chosen a dozen songs that explore their combined creativity. This production incorporates various players at different times, beginning with a Kenny Rankin/Estelle Levitt composition titled, “In The Name of Love” where they simply use a guitar trio. Stacey Schulman opens the tune with scat, before interpret-ing the lyrics. Marcus Baylor keeps the bright, uptempo arrangement under his control with brushes that briskly whip-up the tempo and inspire the trio with a tight groove. It’s the perfect touch beneath Stacey’s soprano vocals and a nice way to begin this album. The classic Dizzy Gillespie tune, “A Night in Tunisia” blends background voices into the production as a welcome addition. Their rich harmonics beautifully cushion Stacey Schulman’s performance. Her enunciation is superb and you won’t miss a single word in her songs. Cut number three (“La Belle Dame Sans Regrets”) is sung in French and composed by Sting and Dominic Miller and produced with a Latin flair. The percussive coloring of Alejandro Lucini and Alan Schulman on guitar add frosting to this sweet musical cake. Nothing more is needed. On the fade they add background vocals beneath Stacey’s scat singing.

The sparseness of this production is effective and makes Schulman’s voice twinkle and shine like a Northern star. On the popular Gershwin composition, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” they feature Gregoire Maret on harmonica, playing a’ cappella before he’s joined by Alan’s tasty guitar licks and Stacey singing. This tune develops into a medley that incopororates Burt Bacharach’s “Look of Love” and Carol King’s “It’s Too Late”. As you can see, by this example, they have picked a wide assortment of tunes that range from jazz to pop. Stacey Schulman’s voice adapts perfectly, always putting emotion and sincerity into each well-produced number. Alan Schulman’s dexterity and rhythm guitar become the trampoline where his wife’s vocals can dance and play. Barry Manilow and Johnny Mercer wrote “When October Goes” and it is an emotional ballad. Stacey Schulmnan’s vocals are enhanced with a small string ensemble arranged by James McKinney. Once again, the production is sparse, but lovely.

Stacey Schulman is a native New Yorker, a studio session singer for decades and has been singing professionally since the age of nine. Alan is a Midwesterner, born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He sharpened his bebop chops in Chicago and has appeared with such artists as Anita Baker, Wynton Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and Michael Feinstein. Alan Schulman holds an M.A. in Jazz Arranging & Composition from Howard University, where he studied with both the late, great drummer Grady Tate and legendary pianist, Geri Allen.

Here is a musical experience that’s enjoyable and beautiful in a simplistic way. It allows all the musicians involved to be heard and yet they never interfere with the vocalist’s presentation. The engineer, Scott Jacoby, is to be congratulated for his delightful mixology and producer, James McKinney brings the best out of all participating musicians. This recording will be available February 16, 2018.

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MUSICAL TREASURE & GIFTS FOR CHRISTMAS

December 4, 2017

MUSICAL TREASURES AND GIFTS FOR CHRISTMAS – December 4, 2017
By Dee Dee McNeil

CHRIS PASIN AND FRIENDS – “BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE”
Planet Arts

Chris Pasin, trumpet/flugelhorn/vocal; Arman Donelian, piano; Ira Coleman & Rich Syracuse, bass; Jeff Siegel, drums; Peter Einhorn, guitar; Patricia Dalton Fennell, vocals.

I really enjoyed the jazzy rendition of “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” incorporating a few unusual harmonic chord changes and a warm, appealing vocal by Patricia Dalton Fennell. Chris Pasin is sturdy and improvisational on his trumpet and flugelhorn, breathing brassy life into these familiar holiday favorites. On the trio rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” Ira Coleman is stunning on his bass solo and Armen Donelian makes bold statements on piano. Throughout the entire production, Jeff Siegel keeps the time controlled and inspired on his trap drums. This is a delightful and well produced Christmas album that takes inspirational journeys outside the predictable path and heightens our listening enjoyment. Pasin decorates the production with his shiny, hard bop horn and folks like Peter Einhorn on guitar and Pasin’s trusty trio adds the sparkling tinsel, tying everything together like a jazzy holiday ornament for our ears.

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THE BILLY LESTER TRIO – “ITALY 2016”
Ultra Sound Records

Billy Lester, piano; Marcello Testa, bass; Nicola Stranieri, drums.

Sometimes, when you place a CD into your CD player, with no compunction and no preconceived ideas about what it will sound like, you are blown away by the uniqueness of genius. That’s what happened today when I put on Billy Lester’s trio project recorded in Italy a year ago. Marcello Testa and Nicola Stranieri are iconic European jazz players and these two lauded musicians are featured along with Billy Lester.

The first thing that strikes me about this recording is the unique call and response that Billy Lester ‘s hands create. First, the right hand tinkles a melody and it’s quickly answered by Lester’s left hand.
Sometimes it’s almost an echo technique with creative musical repetition between the ten phalanges. His original composition, “An Evening with Friends” is the perfect vehicle for this technique to fester and grow. The way Lester plays, it’s as though he has four hands and 20 sets of busy fingers. I don’t mean busy as in speed. I mean a contemplative, timely, technical exploration of the 88-keys with precision and thoughtfulness. Lester has composed all six of the compositions you will enjoy on this project and each one is well-written and well-played. He grew up listening to master musicians like Bud Powell and Art Tatum; Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge. You can also hear the influence of Thelonius Monk in his playing and his love of Lester Young comes through in his creative solos and improvisational freshness. He knows how to take a melody and redevelop it.

I fell in love with the rich, melodic sound of Marcello Testa’s bass and the crisp percussive sticks of Nicola Stranieri on drums. Stranieri seems to tap dance, in perfect time, across the cymbals and high hat, while amply supporting this rhythm section. Here is a trio rich in jazz culture and innovation. Any lover of jazz would be thrilled to find this brilliant piece of Bebop/Straight-Ahead stuffed into their stocking this 2017 holiday season.
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DAVID IAN – “VINTAGE CHRISTMAS TRIO”
Prescott Records

David Ian, piano; Jon Estes, upright bass; Josh Hunt, drums/percussion.

Here’s the perfect trio to transform our favorite Christmas compositions into jazz songs for the season. The simplicity of the production is compelling and each musician is technically astute. Together they know how to put the ‘Swing’ into the music. These are Ian’s arrangements and feature instrumental jazz interpretations or all our favorite Christmas songs, starting with “Deck the Halls” and including “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear,” “Joy to the World,” “White Christmas,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” “We Three Kings,” “Up on the Housetop,” “Silver Bells,” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” Jon Estes on upright bass is the garland that wraps the rhythm section in sparkling synchronization. Josh Hunt brings creative percussion-work to the production, adding spice and brightness. The leader, David Ian, is the melody keeper and knows how to veer his fingers over the keys, like a sleigh ride to the warmth of a fireplace and a house full of love. Here is a great stocking stuffer !

Videos!
DECK THE HALLS https://youtu.be/2d0KXAkYXx0
JOY TO THE WORLD https://youtu.be/QjrSzJREVZM
I HEARD THE BELLS https://youtu.be/eQyHNLYFN1M

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TAKAAKI – “NEW KID IN TOWN”
Albany Records

Takaaki Otomo, piano; Noriko Ueda, bass; Jared Schonig, drums.

In 2007, Takaaki Otomo won first prize in a Japanese jazz competition. He relocated to New York City in 2014 and has steadily climbed the ladder of success. This recording opens with one of Takaaki’s original compositions entitled, “Evening Glow.” On a crisp, cold winter evening, this song oozes warmth with its beauty and melodic charm. Beneath the melody, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer, Jared Shonig dance together in a synchronized effort to create groove and ambience. They are busy, while Takaaki takes his time developing the song atop their spirited rhythm. I like the arrangement that moves from solo piano (with classical overtones) to a more Straight-Ahead rendition of the song and then, in comes the bass, walking with the blues tinging her style, becoming a powerful introduction into Noriko Ueda’s memorable solo. Afterwards, the group resorts back to a slow but enthusiastic ‘Swing’. Always, Takaaki is the master and captain of this musical ship, steering it with his impactful piano performance.

Born and raised in Kobe, Japan, Takaaki studied classical piano from age five for a decade. At age fifteen, he fell in love with jazz and changed directions. Listening to the music of Oscar Peterson, he was inspired. Under the direction of Tadao Kitano, a famous piano teacher in the city of Kobe, Takaaki grew and flowered into a sensitive and innovative pianist. When producer, Bernard Hoffer first heard him at a local NYC restaurant, he was impressed enough to offer him an opportunity to record.

Takaaki’s bassist is female. Noriko Ueda is originally born and raised in Hyogo, Japan and she too studied classical piano at the early age of four. At sweet sixteen, she began to play the electric bass and at eighteen, switched to the double bass. As a B.E.S.T. scholarship recipient, Noriko Ueda majored in jazz composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and relocated to New York City. She’s no new comer to the jazz scene. Ueda has performed at Lincoln Center, the Blue Note Jazz Club and even Carnegie Hall. Her credits include working with the legendary Frank Wess Quintet, The Ted Rosenthal Trio, Grady Tate’s band and Sherrie Maricle with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, among others. She was featured on a Japanese documentary TV show called Gutto Chikyu-bin, and was the winner of the 3rd Annual BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize for her original big band arrangement, “Castle in the North” in 2002.

Drummer Jared Schonig was born and raised in Los Angeles and has been honing his skills on drums since age fourteen. He’s won seven Downbeat Student Music Awards before graduating from the Eastman School of Music in 2005. Schonig’s either toured or recorded with the likes of Dr. Lonnie Smith, Nicholas Payton, Fred Hersch, Wycliffe Gordon and Ernie Watts. Recently, he held the drum chair for the critically acclaimed Tony, Grammy and Emmy-award winning Broadway Revival of. “The Color Purple.”

So Takaaki Otomo has surrounded himself with the crème-de-la-crème of jazz proficiency and the proof is in their stellar performance, produced by Bernard Hoffer. Take an opportunity to enjoy the “New Kid in Town.”
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JASON PAUL CURTIS – “THESE CHRISTMAS DAYS”
Independent Label

SWINGLAB: Jason Paul Curtis, vocals/songwriter; Ray Mabaiot, piano; Ephriam Woffolk, bass; Woody Hume, drums; Dave Schiff, woodwinds; John Albertson, guitar; Ray Caddell, flugelhorn; Isabella Curtis, vocals. SWING SHIFT BIG BAND: Saxophones: Tom Anderson, David Link, Jonathan Bell, Greg Plush, Bob Houts. Trombones: Geoff Cos, Paul Hamilton, Chris Callier, Jeff Bonk. Trumpets: Mike Barber, David Jenkins, Billy Brooks, Jack Seaver. Rhythm: Ray Mabalot, Dave Marsh, Matt Trimboli, Jeff Johnson.

If big band jazz is your preference, here is a holiday recording bound to please. Jason Paul Curtis has a smooth Tony Bennett/Eddie Fischer style of voice. He offers several new Christmas songs to please your holiday palate, sweet as a plate of reindeer sugar cookies. Starting with “Everybody’s Waitin’ for the Man With the Bag” a song that Swings hard and was composed by Irving Taylor and Dorothy Brooks. This is followed by, “I’ll Feel Christmas” with a more polka-like arrangement. Jason Paul Curtis lets his voice soar smoothly as he delivers the lyrics with excitement and punch, stating: “I’ll feel Christmas as long as you’re with me….”. Obviously, Curtis is a prolific songwriter as well as an excellent singer. He has written every song on this collection of fine music with the exception of “Man With the Bag” and the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields familiar standard, “The Way You Look Tonight,” that’s arranged as a lovely Bossa Nova. “Christmas Breakfast” mashes a sleigh full of words together, with a flair for rhyme and his smooth enunciation unfolding a unique and heartfelt story. I enjoy this gentleman’s creative and poetic way with words. They match his melodies and his style perfectly. “December Again” celebrates his daughter and their special bond at Christmas time. She even proffers a small singing part on the tune and shows us that the caramel-coated apple on a stick doesn’t fall far from the tree. You will enjoy his wonderful orchestration and big band arrangements, as well as listening to some fresh holiday songs, offered with joy and love at Christmas time. Jason Paul Curtis may have a Christmas standard tucked into this preview of nine original holiday compositions. I’ll let you be the judge.

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EMMA FRANK – “OCEAN AV”
Susan Records

Emma Frank, voice/composer/arranger; Aaron Parks, piano/synthesizer/Rhodes; Franky Rousseau, guitar; Jim Black, drums/percussion; Rick Rosato, bass; Simon Millerd, trumpet; Pedro Barquinha, OP-1.

If you are listening for a unique and whispery voice, with a resoundingly original style and the gift of composer skills, may I suggest you take a listen to Emma Frank. She has composed, co-arranged and sung all of the compositions on this production. Beginning with “Magnolia” a song that combines new age, folk and jazz music in a very compatible way. The closest singer I can think of that has similar phrasing and comparable style is Gretchen Parlato. But Emma Frank is very much her own artist. I wish her enunciation of lyrics had been clearer, especially on cut #2. Perhaps this could have been enhanced in the mix. Ms. Frank is very much like an instrument and sometimes gets lost in the production. She often layers her voice in harmonic background, dripping over the arrangements like honey from a cone. Her prose are thought provoking when she sings lines like “… wade through my shadows, weather my storms … making way for new life.” The whispering background voices that Emma Frank overdubs add depth and they help you to remember melodic themes that she produces so richly. Aaron Parks adds much with the tinkling synthesizer bits he feeds into her songs. Also, the dominant guitar of Franky Rousseau brings richness to this project.

I put my headphones on in order not to miss a single word from this poet/wordsmith. I wish she had put the lyrics into the compact disc package so I could read them. “Gradually” is very classically influenced, wrapping around her prose like sparkling Christmas paper. With this song, there is a little bit of a throw-back to the days of Joni Mitchell. Joni’s style is peeking out at me through the unique melody and the dancing range that dips and dives all over the place. Yes – this woman, Emma Frank, is an artist, following her own beaten path and listening to her own drum.

If you are looking for something uniquely different, you will find it in the music of Emma Frank. I cannot categorize it. One minute it’s folk and new age. The next it’s pop and jazz all mish-mashed up together in a hodge-podge of goodness, like grandma’s beef stew crockpot. Take a taste.

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ANDREW DISTEL – “IT ONLY TAKES TIME”
JeruJazz Records

Andrew Distel, vocals/trumpet; Peter Martin, piano; Carlos Enriquez, bass; George Fludas, drums; Jim Gailloretto, woodwinds; Howard Levy, harmonica; Dave Onderdonk, guitar; Geraldo De Oliveira, percussion; Brian Schwab, trumpet; Raphael Crawford, trombone. VIOLINS: Mark Agnor, Inger Carle, Kathryn Hughes, Carol Kalvonjian, Andrea Tolzmann, Jeff Yang, Thomas Yang. VIOLAS: Charles Bontrager, Benton Wedge. CELLO: Jill Kaeding.

Like Chet Baker, Andrew Distel not only sings, he plays trumpet and dabbles in arranging and composing. On this recording project he has chosen a number of recognizable standard tunes and employed a number of Chicago’s finest jazz cats to lay down the tracks. In 2007, Distel released his premiere CD (Stepping Out of a Dream) with the musical and contracting support of first-call drummer, George Fludas. Once again, he calls on his friend’s support and input. Together, they added pianist Peter Martin who performed on and arranged Diane Reeve’s Grammy Award winning CD, Good Night and Good Luck. Next, a call went out to bassist Carlos Enriquez, who performs with the Wynton Marsalis Septet and with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. That makes for a powerful rhythm section.

As Distel carefully chose players and layered their talents, he just as carefully chose tunes to perform. Andrew Distel has a creamy smooth vocal style that embellishes these songs with suave emotion. He slowly Swings “Speak Low”, then sincerely delivers Bacharach/David’s poignant lyric, “Alfie”. This is followed by “One Morningstar Away,” a song I’d never heard before his tender presentation. For a sweet change of pace, Distel sings “Amor” in Portuguese and features the lovely talents of Dave Onderdonk on a nylon string guitar. I was interested in listening to the original compositions that Distel co-wrote. One is titled, “Wait For Me” and features a spirited production by the band, moving at a swift tempo, with much percussive power and Fludas properly pushing the players with his fluid and demanding drums. An unfamiliar Gershwin song, “Who Cares,” is produced as a moderate Swing tune and Distel scat sings a bit on this tune. Peter Martin flies through an impressive solo on piano. This song showcases great melody and lyrics. Andrew Distel sings the ballad, “Too Soon to Tell,” with all the honesty and tenderness of a real storyteller, reminding me a bit of Kenny Rankin’s style during this presentation. Here is another song he offers to the listener that is well-written and one that I’ve never heard before this album. My mom used to listen to the Ink Spots sing “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” and I enjoyed hearing Distel’s arrangement and interpretation of this oldie but goodie. He modernized it with a funk drum and some nice woodwind harmonics to complement his silky-smooth vocals. “Your Last Song” was composed by Kenny Dorham/J. Adams Oaks and Andrew Distel. I am assuming Andrew Distel wrote the lyrics. It’s a Straight Ahead/Bebop tune. One of my favorite songs on this album is the final track that features just Peter Martin on piano and Andrew Distel singing a tune written by Johnny Mandel and Dave Frishberg titled, “You Are There.” This dynamic duo garners all my attention, with each musician as bright and special as that shiny star atop the holiday tree. They interpret this beautifully written song with amazing dexterity and sincerity. I replayed it three times.

But, you’ll have to wait until after Christmas, for this CD to be released on January 20, 2018. You may want to put it on your Wish List. It will brighten your New Year!

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JAZZY LADIES RELEASE REMARKABLE CDs

November 19, 2017

JAZZY LADIES RELEASE REMARKABLE CDS
By Dee Dee McNeil/ jazz journalist

November 19, 2017

STACEY KENT – “I KNOW I DREAM” – The Orchestral Session
Sony Records

Stacey Kent, vocals; Jim Tomilinson, saxophones/alto flute/percussion; Graham Harvey, piano/Fender Rhodes; John Paricelli, guitars; Jeremy Brown, double bass; Joshua Morrison, drums; Curtis Schwartz, Fender/electric bass; Erika Matsuo, station announcer background voice.

ORCHESTRA MEMBERS: 1st violins: Martin Burgess (leader); Amanda Smith, George Salter, Katie Stillman, Lorraine McAsian, John Mills, Andrew Storey, Richard Milone, Paul Willey, Rob Bishop. 2nd Violins: Jenny Godson (principal second); Catherine Morgan, Matthew Ward, Jeremy Morris, Clare Hayes. Richard Blayden, Richard George, Alison Dods, Susan Briscoe, Takane Funatsu. Violas: Fiona Bonds, James Boyd, Ian Rathbone, Nick Barr, Chian Lim, Reiad Chibah. Celli: Martin Loveday, Nick Cooper, Will Schofield, Judith Herbert, Juliet Welchman, Julia Graham, Vicky Matthews. Basses: Chris Laurence, Richard Pryce, Lucy Shaw; Flutes: Eliza Marshall, Sarah Newbold, Patricia Moynihan, Siobhan Grealy, Holly Cook. Clarinet/Alto flute, Jamie Talbot; Clarinets: Tim Lines, Tom Lessels (bass clarinet), Steve Morris, (contra bass clarinet); French Horns: John Thurgood, Corinne Bailey, Joanna Hensel, Andy Sutton; Harp, Sue Blair; Vibraphone & percussion, Adrian Bending; Keyboard, Graham Harvey.

The orchestra on this CD is so beautiful, I could not stop listening. From the very first “Double Rainbow” tune, puffed up by all the lush strings and harmonic horn arrangements, I was hooked. The orchestra supports Stacey Kent’s velvet soft tones with precision. On “Photograph,” Sue Blair’s tender harp,at the top of the tune, is dreamy and lovely. I find this is a perfect project of music to play when you want to just cool down, meditate or be romantic. It’s a very soothing production and Kent has an easy listening voice that enunciates every word clearly and puts great emotion into each song interpretation. She’s also competent in French, fluently singing a sexy arrangement of “Les Amours Perdues.”

Kudos to Tommy Laurence, who arranged this masterpiece and to Jim Tomlinson, the orchestra conductor. The song choices are superb, inclusive of several original compositions co-penned by Jim Tomlinson. I was particularly drawn to “Make It Up” that features original lyrics to match a happy-go-lucky arrangement and the title tune is also magnificent. Kent’s interpretation of Lani Hall & Torquato Neto’s song, “To Say Goodbye” will be etched in my memory forever. Stacey Kent’s honey-smooth, sweet tones bring each composition alive in a delightful way. This is an elegant, classy piece of art that you will enjoy listening to time after time.
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YUKO MABUCHI TRIO
Yarlung Records

Yuko Mabuchi, piano; Del Atkins, bass; Bobby Breton, drums

This ‘live’ recording is an awe-inspiring work of art. Pianist Yuko Mabuchi is as exciting on recording as she is in person. Here is a production that sparkles with improvisational creativity, energy, and the piano talents of a young and developing super star. Yarlung, founder of Yarlung Records, first heard the Yuko Mabuchi Trio at Catalina Bar and Grill in Hollywood. The very next day he offered to record their album. This concert was recorded at the USC campus Cammilleri Hall. This space is used for master-classes and recitals. It’s the same concert venue designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, where Yarlung previously recorded Sophisticated Lady Jazz Quartet in 2014. Jazz pianist and educator, Billy Mitchell, served as associate producer on this project.

Opening with Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love,” Mabuchi introduces a unique arrangement that showcases her bassist and drummer, as well as accentuating her classical training. She moves from Swing to a Latin a tinged arrangement that acts as the perfect platform for Bobby Breton to present his energetic drum solo. I am intrigued with Mabuchi’s piano style. She often sounds like two people are playing piano instead of one, using cross-hand techniques and showing that she is as fluid with her left hand as she is with her right hand. Del Atkins shows himself to be a very melodic bassist, creative and improvisational on his solo. The Mabuchi Trio’s transitions from Swing to Latin are as smooth as velvet. They work in concert and as close as perfectly fitted puzzle pieces. You can tell this trio has been playing together for some time. Their familiarity offers their listening audience a certain level of comfort. On songs like “Valse Noire” composed by Mark Louis Lehman, Mabuchi plays with so much emotion and sincerity, I had to stop everything I was doing just so I could give her my entire attention. She plays two-handed ‘call and response,’ toying with the melody. Here is a ballad, once again showing how her technique sounds as though there are four hands at two pianos, instead of one petite and gifted woman poised above the 88-keys. At first, she begins solo. When her band joins in, she digs deep and pulls the blues out of this song, interspersing the arrangement with classical overtones. When the drums and bass drop out once again, the arrangement allows her to successfully solo and familiarize us with the beauty of the melody. This is followed by “Green Dolphin Street,” played nice and easy, with Del Atkins’ bass arrangement holding the trio solidly in place and locking the slow swing tempo solidly with Breton’s tasty drums. Mabuchi rolls atop their rock-solid rhythm section, like sweet butter across a hot pan.

Yuko Mabuchi interprets pop singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles’ composition, “Seriously,” in a fresh, jazzy way. Then she follows up by creating a medley of Ellington, Jerome Kern and Billy Strayhorn. In celebration of her heritage, she includes a Japanese Medley of “Hazy Moon,” “Cherry Blossom”, and “Look At the Sky” combining composers Teiichi Okano, Anon, and Hachidai Nakamura. Speaking of composers, she offers us one of her original tunes titled, “Sona’s Song” and closes with “St. Thomas” by Sonny Rollins.

This is a soulful CD, combining cultures, like serving grits and gravy with delicious miso soup. This talented lady and her trio are a force of nature that bring musical excellence and energetic excitement to an unforgettable jazz production.

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CHERYL BENTYNE “REARRANGEMENTS OF SHADOWS” – The music of Stephen Sondheim
Artist Share Label

Cheryl Bentyne, vocals; John Beasley & Tom Zink, piano; Bevan Manson, piano/electric piano; Rafi Rishik, violin; Jennie Hansen, viola; Tom McCauley, percussion/guitar; Armen Ksajikian, cello; Brad Dutz, percussion; John Arrucci, marimba; Kevin Axt, bass; Dave Tul, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Janis Siegel & Tierney Sutton, vocals; Mark Kibble & Armand Hutton,vocals.

The tinkle of the piano’s upper register opens this CD, like raindrops against windowpanes. When Cheryl Bentyne sings, “I remember sky, it was blue as ink … Rain, like things and changing things like me,” you are totally attentive to her voice and her stories. I find myself sitting motionless at that window, looking into her life. That’s the telltale mark of a good storyteller. One who can whisk you away from your everyday melodrama into the pictures they paint with the words of a song. Bentyne is excellent at doing just that. Her voice is the brush against the canvas of our imaginations.

The piano is also the star of this first song. I look to see who it is and not surprisingly, it’s Grammy-nominated John Beasley. No wonder it’s so creative and outstanding.

Bentyne celebrates ten tunes composed by the Broadway icon, Stephen Sondheim. His “Send in the Clowns” is scratched into the memory-bank of the universe. Bentyne helps us reacquaint ourselves with some of his other amazingly well-written songs. At thirteen she was already singing with her father’s Dixieland band and she studied acting and performed in plays when she was a student at Skagit Valley College. So naturally, she would be attracted to Sondheim’s music. On this CD, she’s invited Janis Siegel and Tierney Sutton to join her on a Swing version of “The Ladies Who Lunch” from the play, “Company.” I am a big fan of Seigel & Bentyne, two Grammy Award-winning singers. I remember them from their days as members of the popular vocal quartet, The Manhattan Transfer. They were the 20th century replication of the Lambert, Hendrix and Ross style, and that quartet brought jazz vocal harmonies back to the forefront of popular music. I also admire jazz vocalist,Tierney Sutton.

You get a taste of the Manhattan Transfer style during her arrangement of “Send in the Clowns”. This is my favorite song on her whole album and I’m sure it will get lots of air play.

I’m happy to hear the Manhattan Transfer group is still performing, but currently, Bentyne has travelled her own musical path with emphasis on her stellar soprano vocal gift and her desire to interpret Broadway music. This is a continuation of that journey. If you love Sondheim compositions, you’ll find Bentyne’s rendition of his music well-produced and sincere.

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HIROMI & EDMAR CASTANEDA – “LIVE IN MONTREAL”
Telarc Label/Concord Music Group

Hiromi,piano;Edmar Castaneda,harp.

Live in Montreal at the 2017 Montreal International Jazz Festival, pianist/composer ‘Hiromi’ and Colombian composer/harpist, Edmar Castaneda take us on an excursion into the outer limits of jazz with a special, duet and musical bonding. I could not imagine how two people could present such a rich and exciting partnership, using only harp and piano. They prove their strength of style, technique and purpose by playing Avant Garde jazz on their very first cut titled, “A Harp in New York.” I find myself captivated. Castaneda has composed this tune and it’s full of spunk and energy.

Edmar Castaneda described his talent in this way. “I was born to play the harp. It is a gift from God and like every gift from God, it has a purpose. The purpose of my music is to worship Him and bring his presence and unconditional love to people.”

Castaneda brings a totally original voice to jazz on his harp. He studied the instrument during his teens, starting by playing Colombian folkloric music. He was introduced to the jazz community by Paquito D’Rivera, who recognized the young man’s talent and helped direct him to musicians and situations that could utilize his unique approach to the harp. Castaneda has worked with bassists Marcus Miller and John Patitucci. One of the first things I noticed about Castaneda’s unusual approach to harp was how he could make it sound like a bass. This was particularly obvious on their second cut when he sets the stage with funk and fusion. It was very Jaco Pastoria sounding. When I looked for the title on the album credits, imagine my surprise when the tune was called, “For Jaco.” Well Hiromi and Castaneda definitely capture the iconic bass players spirit on this original composition.

Hiromi is also an amazing musician. Her first Telarc CD release was in 2003 titled, “Another Mind,” but this duo project has her veering off into a whole new direction. Born in Hamamasu, Shizuoka, Japan on March 26, 1979, she started piano lessons as a six-year-old girl. Her piano teacher, Hikida-san, introduced her to jazz and the music of Erroll Garner and Oscar Peterson. In 1999, she matriculated to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her professor, bassist/arranger Richard Evans, took special care to introduce Hiromi in-person, to the legendary pianist/bandleader, Ahmad Jamal. Both men were very encouraging to the fledgling pianist. Evans actually co-produced her debut CD titled, “Another Mind.” These two musicians (Evans & Jamal) had a lot to do with helping Hiromi find her own artistic path and helping her develop her unique style. That debut CD had critical success in both America and Japan. The album shipped gold (which means 100,000 plus units sold) and received the Recording Industry Association of Japan’s (RIAJ) award for “Jazz Album of the Year”. Her awards have piled up over the years. Another highlight of her musical life was recording with pianist Chick Corea, who she met in Japan, when she was only seventeen. The release was simply called, “Duet.” She later appeared on bassist, Stanley Clarke’s “Heads Up” international release; (“Jazz in the Garden”). In 2011, The Stanley Clarke Band CD, featuring Hiromi, won the GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album.

This latest album is a new chapter in Hiromi’s musical life. It’s amazing how much music this duo can get out of only two instruments. I never knew the harp was so versatile and could emulate the sound of so many instruments. One minute it sounded like a guitar, the next a sitar, and then an electric bass, always coming back to it’s unique, angelic, harp roots. Hiromi’s talent and energy seems to propel Castaneda to his highest heights and he reciprocates, inspiring her on piano. You will embrace and enjoy her extraordinary manipulation of the piano keys, drawing beauty out of the instrument from treble to the bass clef. Additionally, she shuts the piano and the wooden key-cover becomes a percussive instrument where she becomes a drummer on the tune, “Fire.” I found her composition, “Moonlight Sunshine” to be a very beautiful exploration of a melodic ballad. She was inspired to write this after the devastating tsunami and earthquake that hit Japan in 2011. It’s a perfect vehicle for these two instruments to explore their passion and virtuosity.

Perhaps Hiromi explained it best by saying:

“When I heard Edmar play I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. It was a jaw-dropping experience. I didn’t realize the harp could create such rhythm and groove. I only knew about classical harp. … His way of playing was pure energy, full of passion. I was just blown away.”

They are currently touring and will be appearing in San Francisco November 16 through November 19. If you’re in that part of the world, don’t miss their extraordinary performance, or just check them out below.

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KELLY GREEN – “LIFE REARRANGED”
Independent Label

Kelly Green, piano/vocals; Christian McBride, Tamir Shmerling & Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Noam Israeli & Kush Abadey, drums; Josh Evans, trumpet; Mike Troy, alto saxophone; Jovan Alexandre, tenor saxophone.

Kelly Green is a composer, pianist and vocalist. This is her debut recording effort and she has chosen some lovely Frank Loesser tunes and other ‘Standards’ that celebrate composers like Cole Porter and Sammy Cahn. I hadn’t heard someone sing “Never Will I Marry” since Nancy Wilson sang it with the Cannonball Adderley group years ago. Green does a superb job of interpreting this song, with its challenging melody and range. She tackles it in her own inimitable way. Her piano playing is impressive and sensitive. I enjoyed the standards, but I was more interested in her original compositions. She has composed seven of the thirteen recorded tunes. “My Little Daffodil” is melodically well written, with an arrangement that goes from Pink Panther stealth and slow swing into double time. I enjoyed the addition of Steve Nelson’s vibraphone. “If You Thought to Ask Me,” is a slow, sexy ballad with compelling and harmonic horns introducing the melody and no lyrics. Green’s solo is tentative and purposeful without a lot of fluff and flare.

“Culture Shock” is Straight Ahead jazz; no vocals. A soaring saxophone takes flight (unlisted as to who is soloing in the CD credits), consequently I’m not sure if it’s Jovan Alexandre or Mike Troy. The tune also features Josh Evans on trumpet. Her original compositions all display strong melodies and that makes up for the composer’s sometimes lack-luster lyrics. One exception is “I Sing” that unfolds a lyrical story of interest and gives bassist Christian McBride a chance to shine, echoing her haunting melody on his instrument. Noam Israell, on drums, takes a percussive bow during his solo and throughout. McBride also is featured on an inspired solo during the old standard, “I Should Care” and holds the rhythm section together throughout like musical paste. The title tune, “Life Rearranged” is lyrically reflective and the changes are stunning. Her melody unfolds beautifully, with unexpected notes that are haunting. I don’t understand the subway sounds I keep hearing throughout, during songs and in between songs. I wonder, what was the purpose for the sound effects? I keep awaiting the composition called B Train or Subway Song, but no such gift arrives to make sense of the odd sound effects. Otherwise, here is a talented singer/composer/pianist who shares her “Life Rearranged” moments with us unpretentiously.

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RETA WATKINS – “THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING”
Suite 28 Records

Reta Watkins, vocals; Jason Webb, piano; Danny O’Lannerghty, upright bass/electric bass; Scott Williamson, drums/percussion; Trumpets: Steve Patrick, Mike Haynes, Mike Barry, Keith Smith. Trombones: Barry Green, Jeremy Wilson, Chris McDonald, Prentis Hobbs, Roy Agee. French Horns: Jennifer Kummer, Anna Spina. Woodwinds: Mark Douthit, Sam Levine, Jeff Coffin, Doug Moffet, Jimmy Bowland. Violins: David Davidson (concert master); David Angell, Conni Ellisor, Karen Winkelmann, Mary Kathryn Vanosdale, Janet Darnall, Jenny Bifano, Carolym Bailey, Alicia Enstrom. Violas: Maniso Angell, Elizabeth Lamb, Chris Ferrell. Cello: Anthony Lamarchina, Sari Reist, Emily Nelson, Carole Rabinowitz. Arco Bass: Craig Nelson, Jack Jezioro. Harp: Kristin Copely.

Reta Watkins has a full orchestra accompaniment for this musical holiday greeting. It’s the perfect music for the season. Her second-soprano voice is bright and clear, with the orchestra arrangements by Jason Webb beautifully written and performed. Webb’s blues tinged arrangement of “Mary Did You Know” is a pleasant surprise. Reta Watkins sells the song with sincerity and good timing.

The string arrangements on “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” are awesome. It was lovely to hear Watkins sing the verse, often unsung, and certainly worthy of being heard. She sings all the American favorites and adds a couple of new songs composed by Jeremy Johnson and Paul Marino. One is a heartfelt tribute to a soul departed titled, “Christmas in Heaven.” The melody is absolutely beautiful and the lyrics are startlingly poetic and tender.

“Is the snow falling down on the streets of gold?
Are the mansions all covered in white?
Are you singing with angels ‘Silent Night’?
I wonder what Christmas in Heaven is like?”

Another song I can’t remember hearing is “Wonderful Christmastime” and “Behold Emmanuel” is a second song composed by Johnson and Marino. Other songs included in this heavily orchestrated gem of a Christmas album are, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “The Christmas Song” and “White Christmas.” Here is the perfect, uplifting music to play during this season of peace and love.

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LISA HILTON – “ESCAPISM”
Ruby Slippers Production

Lisa Hilton, piano; Gregg August, bass; Rudy Royston, drums; JD Allen, sax; Terrell Stafford, trumpet.

This is the 20th album release for pianist, Lisa Hilton. Spectacularly, she has recorded an album a year since 1997. This project is different from the others, because she wanted to provide a feeling of uplift and rejuvenation with this new body of musical work. She has composed nine of the ten songs on this project and hopes that they bring peace and positive energy to a world basking in disruption and climate catastrophe. I do not feel this is all jazz music. Some of the arrangements, like “Meltdown” are more like easy listening. Others are modernistic. However, then comes “Too Hot” that is very jazzy and steps outside the realms of Straight Ahead to become more Avant Garde and free flowing. JD Allen brings a feeling of peace and meditation with his sexy saxophone. Terell Stafford stabs at the senses with his trumpet, while Hilton’s floating rhythmic piano line beneath the horn improvisation comes in waves of sultry sound. Her unique arrangement of the only standard jazz song on this project, “On A Clear Day,” is fresh and uninhibited, taking musical paths less trodden and using expressive and unique chords to sing this old familiar song. Unfortunately, I could find no video for her recent recording to share with you. The one attached is older music, recorded at L.A.’s prestigious Vibrato Club.

Perhaps Lisa Hilton described this album best when she wrote in her liner notes:

“Artists have an important role in our culture and community. It is through art and music that our souls and spirits can be energized, balanced and entertained … We all need to “escape” from our challenges. I want our music to be a positive force, whether you’re listening on the subway, while at work or lounging on a tropical island. Our music embraces the good experiences in our world.”

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FEEL THE HORN – CD REVIEWS

November 8, 2017

FEEL THE HORN – CD REVIEWS
by Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

November 8, 2017

CHRISTIAN SCOTT A TUNDE ADJUAH

To open this review of horn players, I had to begin with a young man who is leading a group of youthful jazz giants. His name is Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah and I enjoyed his ‘live’ performance on NPR’s Small Desk Concert. He is joined by Elena Pinderhughes on flute (20-years-old), Braxton Cook on Alto saxophone (24-years-old), Lawrence Fields on piano, (with the longest fingers I’ve seen in quite some time), Dominic Minix on guitar (21-years-old), Kris Funn on bass (with an effervescent smile as contagious as the bass grooves he was laying down) and Corey Fonville on percussion. The first song they played was obviously a blend of African and American jazz styles. After their performance was completed, the trumpet leader explained that he was the grandson of Donald Harrison Senior, a respected Chief of four Black Indian tribes in New Orleans. As a young musician, he was tutored by his uncle, saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., before leaving to study at Berklee College of Music. Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah decided to open his set in tribute to those tribes his grandfather represents and his family’s African roots. He does this by incorporating rhythms from Mali, Gambia, Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Cuba, the Caribbean and finally, New Orleans, Louisiana. I could hear all of those cultures in his music and enjoyed the tune titled, “Twin.” He describes it as a reflection of his own life as a twin. His twin brother is a film director and protégé of Spike Lee. It would appear that creativity and art run in his family. In search of his African American roots, the youthful trumpeter composed this original song.

The second song was “West of the West” and featured Braxton Cook on alto saxophone. This song was introduced with a strong funk guitar played by Dominic Minix. The final taste of this jazz ensemble’s latest CD release was a song inspired by a treacherous encounter with the New Orleans police department that Christian Scott a Tunde Adjuah explains in detail on film. This composition is titled, Klu Klux Police.

Here is a young group of jazz musicians who bring their art and their activism as a complete musical package to be examined and ingested.

http://www.christianscott.tv/

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SAMUEL POMPEO QUINTETO – “QUE DESCAIDA”
Independent Label

Samuel Pompeo, baritone & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Dino Barioni, guitar; Fabio Leandro, piano; Gibson, Freitas, contra bass; Paulinho Vicente, drums.

Samuel Pompeo’s baritone saxophone is startling! To hear a baritone being played at this double-time pace is quite exciting. That’s the way this CD begins, at a maddening pace and exploiting the spot-on technique and strength of this Brazilian reedman. The song itself is an odd blend of 1920, Ragtime jazz piano and a more modern, straight-ahead horn, with an undertow of Latin rhythms that corral the musicians like a bunch of wild horses, squeezing them tightly together in a blend of cultures and artforms. The tempos change and fluctuate intentionally. It’s a fascinating arrangement of “De Cachimbo”. The next song was composed by Pompeo’s guitarist, Dino Barioni. It’s titled, “Agua Na Chaleira,” and once again it combines musical cultures in a most unique way. The liner notes explain it in uncomplicated terms. In the 20th century, one new genre of music formed in Rio de Janeiro Brazil and another in New Orleans, Louisiana. Both uniquely blended (from 19th century influences) European polkas, Classical music, Scottish and Mazurca, mixing all genres together with African music and rhythms. Up popped ‘Choro’ in Brazil and ‘jazz’ in America. The only addition I might have is that African Americans created jazz. So, we cannot forget, it also came from the bowels of slavery and the slave ‘work songs’ created in America.

In track #3, an original composition by Pompeo, (“Cave Du 38”), you hear a clarinet or soprano saxophone soloing. It reminds me of the Benny Goodman days of big bands and Swing dancing. This is followed by the very beautiful “Janeiro 15,” another composition by Pompeo. I love the tone and fluidity that Pompeo produces on his baritone saxophone. Another favorite tune of mine is “Choro Vermelho” by Daniel Grajew. It’s a happy-go-lucky arrangement, giving Fabio Leandro time to solo on piano and Barioni to excel on guitar. Pompeo moves from one saxophone to another, showing that his dexterity and technique is unlimited.

The concept of this recording seems to be relating the two musical forms, (Choro and jazz) to create a conceptual album that embraces both African American jazz roots and Brazilian roots. The flowering offspring is both artistic and innovative.
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BOB FERREL’S featuring DWIGHT WEST – “JAZZTOPIAN DREAM”
BFM Productions

Bob Ferrel, trombone; Dwight West, vocals; Vinnie Cutro, trumpet; Rob Henke, trumpet; Joe Ford, Alto saxophone; Frank Elmo, alto saxophone; Frank Elmo, alto/tenor saxophones; Roy Nicolosi, alto/tenor/baritone saxophone/trumpet; Sharp Radway & Hector Davila, piano; Daryl Johns, acoustic bass; Ruben Rodriguez, Zorko baby bass; Steve Johns, drums; Frank Valdes, Latin percussion.

Bob Ferrell has been touring with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, under the direction of Mercer Ellington, for many years. He’s backed up the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson and even Johnny Hartman. He’s also backed pop stars like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and blues man Stevie Ray Vaughan. But with this CD, he’s venturing into a space all his own. Singing “My Secret Love” on his trusty trombone, Ferrel plays at an incredible speed with all the dexterity and technique that his bio acclaims. Bob Ferrel is no joke. He’s impressive from the very first tune. His musical ensemble is as sweet as a fresh baked cake. He is the delicious icing, dripping his trombone tones over the hot mix of arrangements. Dwight West, on vocals, adds ice cream to the cake. He’s cool and creamy smooth on “Yardbird Suite”, singing the lyrics down once before he breaks into the Eddie Jefferson-like improvised lyrics. West can swing with the best of them.

McCoy Tyner’s “Inner Glimpse” composition allows Sharp Radway to stretch his fingers across the piano keys and give us a glimmer of his talents. He plays with power and energy, letting his left hand hold the rhythm strongly in place, while his right hands races across the keys in the treble clef. Radway’s solo is short, but memorable, as is Vinnie Cutro’s trumpet improvisation on this cut. Other favorites are “Don’t Go To Strangers,” sung and played as an up-tempo swing tune, unlike Etta Jones’ sultry rendition. Another tune, “We Began With A Kiss,” is a happy Latin arrangement with nice horn harmonics and appropriately punched by Frank Valdes’ Latin percussion and Hector Davila’s pumping piano parts.

But always, Bob Ferrel is the clasp on this string of musical pearls, holding the ensemble firmly in place and glittering like solid gold.
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ROY McGRATH – “REMEMBRANZAS”
JL Music

Roy McGrath, tenor saxophone; Bill Cessna, piano; Joseph Kitt Lyles, bass; Jonathon Wenzel, drums; Ivelisse Diaz, Barril de Bomba-Buleador; Victor “Junito” Gonzalez, congas.

This is a very creative piece of music. In 2015, the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center in Chicago commissioned composer/tenor saxophonist, Roy McGrath, to compose an Afro-Caribbean jazz suite in honor of Puerto Rican poet, Julia de Burgos. Thus, began a studio journey with the destination becoming this CD project. Roy McGrath is a Puerto Rican musician who happily embraced the Julia de Burgos concept and four tunes were born. The other compositions on this project are the result of McGrath’s memories of his homeland, his family and the new roots he’s planted in the United States. This music is grown from those seeds.

The first song, “Cancion De La Verdad Sencilla,” features poetry by Julia de Burgos. Her poetry is spoken in Spanish over the jazz by Puerto Rican born actress, Rosanna Sanchez. In English, a poet of Puerto Rican descent, Claritza Maldonado, reads her own poem in concert with Sanchez. Maldonado’s poem compliments Julia de Burgos by celebrating her own mother and grandmother. These two female, poet voices span three-quarters of a century and 3000 miles of ocean with their words. See below:

“When My mother’s mother became an ocean, I wonder who waved at her?
Upon her transformation, she became an ocean but still had to tread water, still had to swim.
I never knew her, but I knew she must have been a good swimmer
Because my mother also became an ocean
Became the waves between Puerto Rico and America.
She began holding her breath in 1898
sank to the bottom; always manages to rise back up to shore.
My mother is an ocean, because when you attempt to hyphenate her
she waves back, and smiles.”
A poem written by Claritza Maldonado

The song is played, employing a Bomba Sica rhythm performed by Ivelisse Diaz and Joseph Kitt Lyles steps out front with his bass, taking a short, but inspirational solo. Roy McGrath solidifies the arrangement with his emotional saxophone. This piece takes my breath away. I re-play it three times.

During a time when Puerto Rico has undergone such calamity because of Hurricane Maria’s recent devastation, this message is strong and appropriate. It inspires and uplifts. I hang my head in shame that our government has not been more forthcoming with aid and solid support for our American families in Puerto Rico. Roy McGrath’s music, and the added poetry, certainly magnify and flag determination, beauty and the power of the Puerto Rican people. Although Roy McGrath composed this piece two years prior to this horrendous natural disaster, his music lives in the here and now. It not only entertains us, but make us think about the value of human life and family. After all, we are all connected. That’s what I got out of this tenor saxophonist’s artistic endeavor; a divine connection.

“Por Ti Estoy” translates to ‘because of you I am.’ It was composed by McGrath in celebration of his mother and her support of his musical career. It’s a slow swing, with blues over-tones, where McGrath plays with another emotional tenor saxophone attack.

His themes, throughout this project, relate to the universal human experience. In celebration of the CD title, “Remembranzas,” that is a Spanish word meaning a memory flashback or a point from the past that is influencing the present. That title tune is another blues rooted composition that features pianist, Bill Cessna, giving him time and freedom to express himself. However, it’s always Roy McGrath who pushes boundaries and inspires his ensemble to reach for internal places; pushing their feelings into the universe like endless rainbows of sound and beauty.

PostScript: Someone needs to tell the artistic album cover designer this reviewer could hardly read the words on your cover because of the pink and white against the gray. Not only was the print extremely small, it was almost illegible because of the coloring. Remind your next graphic artist that the information on your album cover is as important as your music.

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JARED HALL – “HALLWAYS”
Hollistic Music Works

Jared Hall, trumpet/composer/arranger; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone; Tal Cohen & Martin Bejerano, piano; Josh Allen, bass; Kyle Swan, drums.

Trumpeter Jared Hall has written and arranged every song on this spectacular new release as part of the Mentor Series. On “Wanderer”, the very first composition on this production, each participating musician makes a dynamic statement. There is a space where Kyle Swan lets loose on drums and Troy Roberts sparkles on tenor saxophone, both provocative and enthusiastic. However, Hall is the nut and bolt of this music, twisting everything tightly into place with melodic horn lines and staccato harmonic arrangements. His trumpet solo is delivered tenaciously and with obvious technique and control. Martin Bejerano, on piano, displays a call and response kind of musicality, letting the horns be the answering choir to his two-fisted piano grit. You hear more of this pianist on “Hallways”. It’s a mysterious tune, with a horn unison approach to the melody presentation at the top of the tune. I’m impressed and pleased by Jared Hall’s compositional skills. His music moves me. Josh Allen takes a solo on this ‘cut’, letting his bass explore the outer perimeter of the chord structure atop the lush chords that Bejerano supplies on piano.

I find myself eager to hear the next song and enthralled by this composer and his tightknit band. “Love, Laugh and Cry,” is a slow swing with Allen walking his bass and setting the groove in perfect sync with Swan on drums. Roberts adds a swig of blues from the depths of his tenor saxophone, as does Hall, pouring it generously out of the bell of his instrument. I am intoxicated by their presentation.

As a debut project for this well-mentored trumpeter, this is an extraordinary recording. I was particularly impressed by Swan, who improvises on his drums beneath the surface of the song, without ever loosing or compromising the tempo or texture of the music. “Allure” (the fourth ‘cut’) was co-written by Sherrine Mostin and is a very pretty composition with Swan adding a Latin feel with his percussive art and Bejerano stepping center stage for a sweet solo. I enjoyed the interplay between saxophone and trumpet, as if they were trading fours or challenging each other with improvisational swords.

Tal Cohen takes a seat on the piano bench for “Visions and Dreams” and three other tunes on this CD. He brings a music-box quality to the piano to interpret this composition. I can see the little ballerina twirling in front of the box mirror as I listen to his tinkling, soprano notes and chords that support the bass solo. Jared Hall grounds the tune with his trumpet solo and the image is momentarily wiped away. On “Meditations” I enjoyed the drum mallets and their warm, comforting, rhythmic sound. “Tones for Jones” is right up my groove alley, with blues leaping out to startle my attention. Finally, I get to hear Cohen stretch out on piano with perfectly timed improvised runs and an obvious love of the upper register. I enjoyed his sense of harmony.

This is a recording to be enjoyed over and over again. The ensemble is as comfortable and close-fitting as hand to glove. Jared Hall’s compositions are well-written, well-played and his talent and tone on trumpet, undeniably pleasant.
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DAVE BENNETT – “BLOOD MOON”

Mack Ave Records

Dave Bennett, clarinet; Dave Restivo, piano; Reg Schwager, guitar; Jim Vivian, bass; Pete Siers, drums; Davide Direnzo, percussion.

I am not familiar with clarinetist, Dave Bennett, but Pete Siers is one of my favorite drummers. I enjoyed working with him when I lived in Detroit. This project is a lovely combination of Smooth Jazz and Easy Listening, starting with the very first title tune. Bennett has joined talents with Toronto-based composer, arranger and bassist, Shelly Berger. Together they have composed five of the eleven tunes on this CD, including “Blood Moon.” Bennett has a warm, silky smooth tone on clarinet. From a spiritual perspective, Bennett shares in the liner notes that he had named a few of his original composition from scripture. The title tune evolved that way and so did “Falling Sky.” This is the third cut on his album and it’s a brooding ballad, with a melody line that reminds me a tiny bit of Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz.” Jim Vivian plays a beautiful bass solo during this arrangement.

Dave Bennett is not only a clarinet virtuoso, but he’s a multi-talented musician who also plays electric guitar, drums and sings. Inspired by Benny Goodman records when he was only ten years old, by the age of twelve he played well-enough to join trumpeter Doc Cheatham on the bandstand of New York City’s Sweet Basil jazz stage. It’s been an upward climb ever since. Bennett’s been a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops and has played his tribute to Benny Goodman with fifty other orchestras. If you like the tone and legacy of Benny Goodman, you will enjoy Dave Bennett’s contemporary merging of that historic sound with present-day, twenty-first century jazz.

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GIL SPITZER – “FALANDO DOCEMENTE”
Zoho Records

Gil Spitzer, alto saxophone; Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Harry Allen, tenor saxophone; Julian Shore, piano; Nilson Matta, producer/acoustic bass; Mauricio Zottarelli & Steve Johns, drums; Fernando Saci, percussion; Monica Davis & Amanda Lo, violin; Angela Pickett, viola; Jessie Reagen Man, Cello.

Speaking of those days of Stan Getz and Benny Goodman’s Orchestra, I was immediately reminded of that era of big band swing while listening to Gil Spitzer’s album. Gil Spitzer has a sound that is as fluid and adhesive as oil on your hands. He reminds me a lot of Getz. My mother played Stan Getz albums often in our house, and I’m very familiar with that sound and style. On the first cut, Spitzer’s band takes time to step forward and musically introduce themselves. The tune is “Angel Eyes”. Each musician is technically astute and competent. Together, they form a solid skillet for this butter smooth saxophonist to heat up and pop the music.

Spitzer’s debut album project for Zoho records is a lovely listening experience. Chico Pinheiro lays down a consistent and supportive rhythm guitar line beneath both “Angel Eyes” and the Bossa Nova arrangement of “Embraceable You.” Fernando Saci adds percussion magic to the wooden wands of both Mauricio Zottarelli and Steve Johns on drums. Producer and bass connoisseur, Nilson Matta, plays a mean acoustic bass throughout.

Gil Spitzer is no newcomer to the world of jazz. Not surprisingly, he grew up admiring Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges and that era of jazz. Brazilian bassist and the producer of this session, Nilson Matta, explained it best when he said:

“He’s got that lyrical thing, which is very charming and also nice tone; great taste. He embraces all of those things and he plays with a lot of spirit.”

The CD title, Falando Docemente, translates to ‘Speak Sweet.’ Matta assembled a band of Brazilian compatriots to support Spitzer’s candy-sweet sound and to enhance the authenticity of several Bossa Nova arrangements on this CD. Spitzer’s choice of tunes is as honey-coated as his alto saxophone sound.

In the liner notes, Gil Spitzer confessed another strong musical influence. It was jazz singer and pianist, Nat King Cole.

“My inspiration on both “The Very Thought of You” and “Nature Boy” was Nat Cole,” he said. “While it’s hard to convey his voice through an alto saxophone, that sound was in my head and what I was feeling when we recorded those two songs.”

Producer Matta hired a rising star pianist/composer named Julian Shore to write string quartet arrangements on both of the songs mentioned above and on the Sonny Rollins’ composition, “Valse Hot”. He also plays piano on most of the studio tracks.

Every song on this recording is as rewarding as a piece of peppermint candy or as slice of hot pumpkin pie. Gil Spitzer’s nostalgic music matches the decadent sweetness of your favorite dessert.

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KEN WILEY – “JAZZ HORN REDUX”

Krug Park Music

Ken Wiley, French horn; Wally Minko, piano/electric piano; Trey Henry, acoustic bass/electric bass; Kendall Kay, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; Mike Miller, acoustic Guitar; Dan Higgins, flute/alto flute/alto, tenor & soprano saxophones; Chuck Findley, trumpet; Gary Grant, trumpet/Harmon trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Sheppard, tenor & soprano saxophones; Brass background: Ken Wiley & Gary Grant.

It’s not often I get to enjoy a French Horn player indulging in straight-ahead jazz as an upfront soloist. This is Ken Wiley’s fourth recording as a leader, but it’s his first project that focuses on straight-ahead jazz and he covers some of jazz music’s greatest musician/composers. When I review the list of songs on this CD, I see work by Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Eddie Harris, John Coltrane, Antonio Jobim and Clare Fischer. That’s a stellar list of iconic talent. Next, I saw the list of popular California session musicians who joined Ken Wiley on this production and I was even more impressed.

The first song is Freddie Hubbard’s popular, “Little Sunflower.” Ken Wiley steps out and tattoos this standard with his smooth, elegant French horn sound. He allows plenty of room for his band members to solo and you can’t help but hum along with their production. Gary Grant adds a spicy flugelhorn solo to one of my favorite Milt Jackson tunes, “Bag’s Groove.” Grant and Wiley have co-produced this project and created all the brass backgrounds. Wiley has rounded up the crème de la crème of Southern California jazz names like drummer Kendal Kay and percussionist, Luis Conte; saxophonist, Bob Sheppard and trumpeter Chuck Findley, to name just a few. They do a superb job of supporting Wiley’s arrangements and his unique talent.

Ken Wiley is no newcomer to the music business. His career has spanned many types and styles of music, building his brilliant reputation as a ‘top-drawer’ studio musician and sideman. He’s played with the likes of tenor titan, Charlie Rouse; bass icon, John Patitucci and worked with Charlie Haden and the Liberation Music Orchestra. He’s composed for and played on a number of film scores and sound tracks including the “American Dad,” an animated TV series and the TV show, “Family Guy.” Additionally, he’s performed with rock star, Lenny Kravitz. You could have seen him at the Playboy Jazz Festival or participating in a UCLA Jazz Concert, at the Julliard New Music Festival, The Coleman Hawkins Jazz Festival or perhaps attended one of his many clinics on playing jazz on the French horn. On this latest album, Ken Wiley places the French Horn front and center, establishing it as a viable and sensitive instrument to interpret jazz.

He started out as a rock and roll player, concentrating on playing piano. For some reason, his mother had a French Horn laying around the house. So, when he was in the seventh grade in St. Joseph, Missouri, Ken Wiley started playing the horn. He joined a six or seven-piece band as a young musician, playing French Horn and congas. After banging around the Kansas City rock scene for a while, he decided to move to Los Angeles in hopes of pursuing a career in jazz. He had no mentors for playing jazz on the French Horn. In fact, most of his instructors didn’t encourage the idea. But Ken Wiley was determined. That determination paid off. It was the late seventies/early eighties when he began composing his own music. Once he was accepted into the Motion Picture Sound Union, the fledgling jazz player started making enough money to do his own thing and truly pursue honing his jazz style on French Horn. He landed a gig with Charlie Rouse and my good friend, bassist Larry Gales, at a small local L.A. jazz club. Wiley was thrilled to be working with guys who had played as part of the Thelonious Monk band. Charlie Rouse had used the French Horn in his groups before, so Ken Wiley fit right in. These kinds of experiences encouraged Wiley to continue honing his talent and polishing his passion on the French Horn. This album is a culmination of a musical life well-lived and dreams fulfilled.

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DAZZLING NEW TALENT PAINTS JAZZ WITH FRESH FACES

October 25, 2017

DAZZLING NEW TALENT PAINTS JAZZ WITH FRESH FACES
By Dee Dee McNeil – jazz journalist

October 25, 2017

The amount of new and creative music I receive is to be celebrated. Starting with THE MYRON MCKINNEY TRIO, freshly formed in 2014, led by the musical conductor of Earth Wind & Fire, bursting with composer creativity and great musicianship. Haunting. Beautiful. Melodic. Soothing. Melancholy. These are the adjectives that come to mind when the very first cut of GUILLERMO NOJECHOWICZ’s CD spins off my Compact disc player. Vocalist, GABRIELE TRANCHINA has recorded an album featuring several of her talented husband’s compositions. STEVE HECKMAN & MATT CLARK share their saxophone/piano duo sessions and WADADA LEO SMITH christens an entire album of Thelonious Monk music with his solo trumpet. Conductor/composer, CHUCK OWEN and THE JAZZ SURGE offer orchestrated compositions that celebrate Owen’s great love for the outdoors. LUPA SANTIAGO & ANDERS VESTERGARD QUARTET make a memorable statement combining Latin, Brazilian, Contemporary and Straight-ahead jazz with hybrid rhythms. Finally, bassist JEFF DINGLER composes all the songs on an album produced to encompass American Jazz and Ethiopian influences. Here are a group of dazzling new and also seasoned talents, who paint jazz with fresh faces.

MYRON McKINLEY TRIO – “TIME” EP
Yah Entertainment / S.M. Entertainment

Myron McKinley, piano; Ian Martin, bass; Stacey Lamont Sydnor, drums.

A rich, dynamic roll of drums open this EP. They are recorded with precision and sound ‘live’ and inspired. The tune is called “Baidoa” and when Myron McKinley’s piano enters, it sprints across the space like a track runner gliding easily around the track. This trio moves in synchromesh. They’re tightly bound and their sound is lovely. The treble improvisation McKinley plays on the grand piano brings light and luster to his bass player’s solo, softly and effectively played beneath Ian Martin’s improv. This song is nine minutes long and never boring. I enjoyed every nuance; every note; every solo. The next song, “Labyrinth” has a smooth jazz sound. McKinley is now on electric keyboard and the group sounds more contemporary. Perhaps he was always on electric piano. Today, synthesized keyboards are made to sound just like a grand piano. I have no liner notes to check the instrumentation. Just my ears and they are pleased with what they hear.

I find this second composition not as memorable as the first one, but it is still well-played. “E-12” is the next piece and it’s more energetic with a smart melody. Suddenly it moves from energy to ballad. There are several time changes that keep this piece interesting and feature McKinley’s two- handed arpeggios and melodies played in unison, using two-fisted octaves. The bassist is busy and solidifies the free-form improvisation of drums and piano with his solid strokes. The ballad explodes into a flight of flying fingers and percussive brilliance.

All three of these musicians exhibit amazing talents. The commercial recording of Eleanor Rigby is electronic and funky. This trio can play it all. Stacey Lamont Sydnor on drums is powerful and steady, putting the ‘funk’ in the arrangement and pushing the trio to their highest limits. All the while, they keep the jazz reined in and obvious, never losing their ability to improvise, while the music dances and pulsates. Finally, “Man in the Mirror” made so famous by Michael Jackson, is interpreted like another Smooth Jazz arrangement with a little Country/ Western twist. It’s flavored liberally with strings.

The video below includes Verdine White and Stanley Clarke making guest appearances.

The Myron McKinley Trio officially formed in 2014 and recently appeared at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles. It all began when they were performing at NAMM and a fan posted a video on Facebook. That clip went viral. Each member has an impressive list of credits. McKinley, who is the music director and keyboardist for Earth, Wind & Fire, has also worked with Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Harry Connick Jr., Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston and Tupac. Bassist, Ian Martin, has teamed with David Foster, Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand. Percussionist Stacey Lamont Sydnor has collaborated with The Jacksons, P. Diddy and Alicia Keys, among others. Together, they make a formidable group, blending their unique approach to jazz with R&B/funk overtones, composing fresh and interesting songs, and painting familiar tunes with spontaneity and dazzling talent.

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GUILLERMO NOJECHOWICZ – “Puerto de Buenos Aires 1933”
Zoho Records

Guillermo Nojechowicz, drums/percussion/vocals; Helio Alves, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Kim Nazarian, vocals/percussion; Marco Pignataro, tenor & soprano saxophone; Brian Lynch, trumpet. SPECIAL GUESTS: Franco Pinna, bombo leguero/percussion; Roberto Cassan, accordion; Megumi Lewis, violin; Ethan Wood, violin; Sarah Darling, viola; Leo Eguchi, cello; Nando Michelin,string arrangements.

Haunting. Beautiful. Melodic. Soothing. Melancholy. These are the adjectives that come to mind when the very first cut of Guillermo Nojechowicz’s CD spins off my Compact disc player. This tune is based on a Uruguayan rhythm and Italian accordion player, Roberto Cassan, (R.I.P) adds a Piazzolla-esque quality to the arrangement. I learned that this musician died in Italy from a heart attack shortly after completing this recording. As I listened, I looked at the album title and wondered, what does the year 1933 mean to this artist? I found out in the liner notes, where Mr. Nojechowicz wrote:

“This project has been developed through many years. It began on one of my trips to Buenos Aires when I found a passport issued in the early 1930s with images of my grandmother and my dad. … I knew they came to Argentina to escape the economic hardships at the time. … Those who stayed behind, died in the concentration camps.”

The title, “Puerto de Buenos Aires” translates to “Port of Buenos Aires.” I’ve been to that thriving metropolis and you find many Germans who settled there and have lived there since the Second World War. Many Nazi’s also escaped to Buenos Aires after the war. It’s a lovely city with wide avenues, sometimes 8 lanes across.

“The music is very image-driven. … I tried to picture my grandmother in the 1930s, …winter, taking the train with a little kid, my dad, who at the time was three-years-old. What emerged for me was the pain, the difficulty of moving to a new country; not knowing the language or the culture. So yeah – it’s very personal, from a very dark time,” Guillermo Nojechowicz continued explaining his project concept.

The second track, “Trains” continues to perpetuate historic images. Nazarian’s beautiful voice sings “Oh my son, we must go very far, time has come for us to leave our home” and the music moves at a lumbering pace, in 7/4 time, with Njechowicz’s drums conjuring up the Euro-rail system that helped his grandmother escape her homeland. Kim Nazarian’s voice stretches across octaves and soars with emotion and spontaneity. Helio Alves on piano is an intricate part of this perfect rhythm section and Fernando Huergo tells heartfelt stories with his bass solo on Track three, “Europe 1933.” Guillermo Nojecowicz is quite a composer and has written eight of the ten songs on this project. His melodies are stunning and his band knows just how to best interpret his work. Brian Lynch on trumpet and Marco Pignataro punch the horn lines with gusto and sometimes include Nazarian as a third vocal horn. The blend is lovely.

Here is a musical photo album of another time and place, propelled by Nojechowicz’s sense of time and space on drums and the magic accompaniment of his musician friends. He incorporates many world rhythms, including the Argentinean chacarera that pumps life in the “Puerto de Buenios Aires” composition, implementing the Brazilian single-string percussion instrument and he also incorporates the ‘talking drum’ in his work. This is an exciting album of new jazz music, flavored delicately with World Music and telling emotional stories of his life and family history.

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GABRIELE TRANCHINA – “OF SAILING SHIPS AND THE STARS IN YOUR EYES”
Rainchant Electric Records

Gabriele Tranchina, vocals; background vocals; Joe Vincent Tranchina, keyboards/melodica/programming/claves/background voices/composer; Carlo de Rose, upright & electric bass; Vince Cherico, drums/percussion; Renato Thomas, percussion.

Gabriele Tranchina’s light, second soprano voice bounces across these tunes with a happy tone. Several of the songs are composed and arranged by her husband, Joe Vincent Tranchina, who also co-produced along with producer, Rick Savage. Mr. Tranchina is a fine composer and his wife takes care to color his compositions with emotional character. On “Bossa Ballad and Blue” Carlo de Rose lays down a lovely bass solo. I wish the composer had believed in his vocalist enough to let her sell his challenging melody without him playing it on the piano along with her vocals. That was annoying. Still, Mrs. Tranchina pulls it off.

She also sings in both Portuguese and French on this project, using Jobim’s “O Morro Nao Tem Vez” to showcase a Brazilian flair and “Je Crois Entendre Encore” to feature her French language skills. Later in the CD she features more linguist skills, singing fluently in Spanish. With all the advantage of language use and unique compositions, this vocalist reflects a cross between Easy Listening and World Music. However, I found her voice so similar to so many others I’ve heard, that it made her somewhat banal as a singer.

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STEVE HECKMAN & MATT CLARK – “SOME OTHER TIME/SLOW CAFÉ”
World City Music

Steve Heckman, tenor & soprano saxophone; Matt Clark, piano.

Starting with a tune Steve Heckman has penned titled, “Admiring-Lee,” he and pianist Matt Clark are off and running ‘straight-ahead’ down a jazzy path. This duo’s first tune is followed by Thelonious Monk’s popular composition, “Ugly Beauty”. Here is an acoustic jazz performance in it’s pure form; just two talented musicians, both august and sincere in their approach.

This duo has chosen to perform songs we know and love. They weave their talents around the music like homespun sweaters. Their music is warm and comfortable; unobtrusive, yet culturally opulent. For example, after Monk, they delve into a familiar tune from the 1944 musical, ‘On the Town,’ titled, “Some Other Time.” It’s a beautiful and poignant ballad that let’s each artist experiment and improvise.

Pianist, Matt Clark adds one self-penned composition on this project titled, “Foregone Conclusions”. He’s composed a jazz waltz whose melody Heckman sings, using his soprano saxophone. Clark gets to stretch the 88-key limits during his solo. His talents were honed at Oberlin College and he is a proud protégé of Detroit’s Iconic pianist, Barry Harris. Clark has played with my dear friend and reed man, Teddy Edwards, with Frank Morgan, and vibraphonist, Bobby Hutcherson among other luminaires like Vincent Herring, Eric Alexander, Madeline Eastman and Kellye Gray. Matt Clark is also the founding member of the Marcus Shelby Trio, a mainstay on the San Francisco, California jazz scene.

His duo partner, Steve Heckman, is a renowned reed man who’s worked with Chet Baker, Howard McGhee, Andrew Hill, Benny Green, Eddie Henderson, guitarist John Abercrombie, drummers Billy Higgins and Donald Bailey. He’s also accompanied vocalists like Jackie Ryan, Julie Kelly, Judy Wexler and more. Heckman’s been featured on several albums with other great jazz players and his fifth solo album, “Legacy: A Coltrane Tribute” received rave reviews and was played nationwide. I suspect this album will receive the same kind of appreciation and exposure.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdTr7_4fLgM (a group video at Yoshi’s in San Francisco)

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WADADA LEO SMITH – “REFLECTIONS AND MEDITATIONS ON MONK”
Tum Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet.

Here is a bold and beautiful solo statement to celebrate both the birth and life of Thelonious Monk. 100 years ago, this historic and profoundly impactful pianist/composer came into being and still influences our universe with music that lives boldly, like the air we breathe.How tenacious for Wadada Leo Smith to step out on a stage, naked and alone, in order to play music that respects and revels this iconic jazz master.

Unafraid and totally prepared, Wadada Leo Smith was part of the first generation of musicians to come out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Over years, he has established himself as a leading composer and performer of creative, contemporary music. Smith has received awards for Jazz Artist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year (for America’s National Parks) and Trumpeter of the Year in DownBeat’s 65th Annual Critics Poll. He was named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalist Association.

Wadada Leo Smith opens with “Ruby, My Dear.” He wanders around the melody line, like an inquisitive sleuth. For nine plus moments, he probes the entire meaning of this Monk composition. His trumpet sings with stamina and determination. On “Reflections” he mutes his trusty trumpet and tenderly caresses this composition with tonal abilities that come from years of study and practice.

In his liner notes, Mr. Smith shares: “Most people would never realize that I am closer to Thelonious Monk than to any other artist. What connects us is a vision of composition and its forms, music psychology, and our articulation of the ensemble as a trashing field for new information.”

Speaking of composing, Wadada Leo Smith has composed three works of art for this project. One is called, “Monk and the Five Point Ring at the Fire Spot Café.” The second is titled, “Adagio: Monkishness – A Cinematic Vision of Monk Playing Solo Piano.” The final piece is called, “Monk and Bud Powell at Shea Stadium – A Mystery.”

When speaking about his composing skills, Smith wrote:

“In the 1950s, I began to think of myself as a composer after getting my first trumpet and writing my first piece at the age of twelve. I started buying records by Bird, Dizzy, Monk and others. …Out of everything I heard, it was Monk, his ideas of a band and composition, that were the closest to what I dreamed of being as an artist. … I would go back and forth between him and Duke Ellington, …but Monk had the upper hand in the end. … The essence of Monk is, I believe, in his solo performances. Even in live performances, with his band, he always played unaccompanied solos. So, what does that mean? To me, that means that Monk now has a chance to be as fluent as he can be in his own musical language without any other distractions. He does not have to play with anybody. He plays with himself.”

That’s what you will hear on this recording, a trumpet artist playing by himself, without a rhythm section or harmony. A soloist, interpreting his innermost feelings through the bell of his horn and singing his song, like a giant, metallic bird, throwing his emotions boldly into the wind.

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CHUCK OWEN AND THE JAZZ SURGE – “WHISPERS ON THE WIND”
Mama Records

Chuck Owen, accordian/Hammond dulcimer/conductor;Per Danielsson, piano; Corey Christiansen, dobro/nylonstrin,steel string, 12-string guitars; LaRue Nickelson, guitar; Mark Neuenschwander, bass; Danny Gottlieb, drums;WOODWINDS: Tamara Danielsson, Valerie Gillespie, Jack Wilkins, Rex Wertz, & Matt Vance; TRUMPETS: Frank Greene, Jay Coble, Mike Iapichino & Clay Jenkins; TROMBONES: Keith Oshiro, Tom Brantley, Jerald Shynett & Jim Hall (bass trombone). FEATURED GUEST SOLOISTS: Randy Brecker, trumpet; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; Sara Caswell, violin.

Chuck Owen is the producer of this orchestrated recording project that has brought the wild, wild west into a jazz album with vivid arrangements and super talented players. Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, Owen had a great love for the outdoors and the gifts that nature bestows on a small boy’s imagination. This project endeavors to reach back to nostalgic memories of wind, weather, tradition, simple values and lifestyles and to create an ode to cowboys, colorful heroes and folklore. I might as well be listening to the musical backdrop of a Western motion picture, when I listen to “Warped Cowboy”. The poignant violin solo of Sara Caswell sets the scene and the other instrumentation colors the piece with wind and spacious skies, painted by tones that celebrate the great American outdoors. The drums thunder like Indian pony hooves against the dusty plains. Owen has intentionally used a number of traditional instruments from that era of American development and culture inclusive of harmonica, dobro, accordion, violin, steel guitar and hammered dulcimer.

This is the sixth release for Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge. All have been critically acclaimed. As a recipient of the 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, Owen has had his compositions performed by the Netherlands’ Metropole Orchestra, the Aarhus Jazz Orchestra I Denmark, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra and Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. As a distinguished professor at the University of South Florida, he has spent thirty-five years as a celebrated jazz educator, a guest conductor, clinician and lecturer. Chuck Owen currently serves as President / founder of ISJAC, (International Society of Jazz Arrangers & Composers). Previously he served as President of IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education). He continues to give opportunity and inspiration to young jazz musicians by composing works that challenge their talents and creativity. This project is a strong example of the results of such challenges.

On track #2, “All Hat, No Saddle”, Corey Christiansen’s guitar solo made me sit up and take note. Then came “A Phares of the Heart” where the harmonica of Gregoire Maret sweetly spiced this lovely ballad, along with Per Danielsson’s tinkling piano keys. Both Clay Jenkins on solo trumpet and Rex Wertz on tenor saxophone made pertinent and memorable musical statements. One moment the arrangements are folk-like and background music and then someone like Randy Brecker on trumpet swings into the picture and elevates a song like “Into the Blue” to pure blissful jazz. LaRue Nickerson’s electric guitar adds a swift pulse to the arrangement and Chuck Owen has composed something that crosses jazz genres from straight-ahead to contemporary; from folk to funk.

This is an artistic and creative project exploiting the wonderful talents of Southern Florida’s skillful jazz musicians, along with the composition skills, arrangements and conductorship of Chuck Owen. Owen’s influences seem grounded in eclectic jazz tradition, yet he blends classical, folk and rock music with funk and contemporary colors. He is a painter with sound. My ears were on the edge of their seat the whole time this album played.

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LUPA SANTIAGO & ANDERS VESTERGARD QUARTET – “INSIDE TURNABOUT”
Drum Voice Records

Lupa Santiago, guitar; Anders Vestergard, drums; Rodrigo Ursaia, saxophone; Mattias Hjorth, bass.

This project is explosive. From the very first strains of guitar and drums, the title tune sets the bar high by a musical ensemble that is bursting with energy and excitement. “Inside Turnabout” was recorded outside Malmo, Sweden. It was the result of touring, collaborating and ultimately composing with Brazilian saxophonist, Rodrigo Ursaia. Ursaia and Santiago are longtime musical friends, so the collaboration was comfortable. It just so happened they wound up touring Europe at the same time and seized that opportunity to experiment with a new group and a new repertoire. This album is the result of that experiment. Santiago, Vestergard and Ursaia do all the composing. Mattias Hjorth holds everything solidly in place with his bass, bringing a contemporary flair to the project. Vestergard locks the rhythm down, hard as a mallot. Ursaia’s saxophone is pure jazz, always satin smooth and improvisational atop a mixture of Latin, Brazilian and hybrid rhythms, woven into Straight-ahead feels and contemporary jazz stylings.

The title tune gives Vestergard a chance to cut loose on his drum set and his improvisational solo is stunning and powerful. He has composed this first tune and it allows all the musicians to freely improvise and exhibit their strongest talents. “Caixa Cubo” is played at a more moderate pace. Ursaia takes the lead on saxophone, with Vestergard invigorated and ever-present, showering percussive excellence in support of the production. Enter Santiago on guitar, moving smoothly from a stellar solo back to the rhythm section and often doubling the melody with Ursaia, very effectively. The “New Houser” composition gives us an insight into the composer talents of guitarist, Lupa Santiago.

All three composers on this recording present polished pieces of music for the band to interpret. The grooves are tightly woven, like an acrobat’s net, where the others can bounce and explore. This is an imaginative and high-energy project that celebrates the diverse and excellent talents of four astronomical musicians. They are musically and spiritually locked, like four hands pressed tightly together in prayer.

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JEFF DINGLER – “IN TRANSIT”
Independent Label

Jeff Dingler,bassist/composer; Brad Shepik, guitar; Lou Rainone, piano; Gusten Rudolph, drums; Josh Bailey, percussion.

Jeff Dingler has composed every song on this project. He has expanding his jazz experience from being a member of Nelson Riddle’s Orchestra to stints with several trios and quintets over the years. With an ear for eclectic music and an interest in travel and cultures, Dingler has blended various genres into these compositions. This project is highly influenced by his current experience in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he is teaching Bass Music Theory and Composition at Mekene Yesus University. The transition of his musical experiences and years of playing bass, from blues and swing to bebop, are now combined with Ethiopian culture and African styles of music.

Brad Shepik shines on guitar, dancing across the strong drums of Gusten Rudolph and the percussion of Josh Bailey. Together, they set up a groove where pianist Lou Rainone can play fluidly. Shepik plays rhythm guitar and also offers a strong solo on “Bati Celebration.” Dingler’s melody is catchy and memorable on this first album tune. On “Orange Clouds” you hear more of Dingler’s strong bass line that grounds this ballad in blues and contemporary smooth jazz changes. His tender solo is the star of this composition. I found myself fascinated by the “Addis Blues”composition. I could hear all the African influences in the minor blues changes of this song. Rainone’s piano improvisation tinkles like bells in a distant marketplace and once again, Dingler takes time to share a lyrical solo on bass. “Tiptoe” might be my favorite tune, getting back to a straight-ahead, melodically lyrical feel. This is an interesting jazz album that dabbles in World Music and blends cultures. It tickles the imagination and reminds us that music is limitless.

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