International Jazz, A Tribute to Wayne Shorter, Down-Home Blues, Poetry with Big Band Arrangements & More

April 10, 2020


By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 10, 2020


Kiki Valera, Cuatro/guitar/claves/maracas/coros; Coco Freeman, lead vocals; Carlos Cascante, lead vocals; Alexis Baro, trumpet; Jose J. Alayo & Yanill Nario, bass; Pedro Vargas, congas/bongos; Joshuah de Jesus, coros; Steve Guasch, coros.

This is a Cuban production full of happy and joyful music. These musicians create the kind of excitement that encourages you to have a party or at least to get up and dance. Kiki Valera is a Cuban Cuatro master and a member of the Familia Valera Miranda. The ‘Cuatro’ is a stringed instrument, smaller than a guitar and more the size of a violin. It has deep roots in Puerto Rico and is an instrument creation of Puerto Rican people. The Familia Valera Miranda are a respected, century-old group and one of the most important purveyors of the Son Cubano. They carry-on a rich Cuban music legacy. Son Cubano is a genre of music and dance, originating in the Eastern Cuban highlands during the late 19th century. It employs clave rhythm and vocals that celebrate the slave-style of ‘call and response.’ Much of this music is drawn from the Bantu influence and origin. Although the entire album is sung in Spanish, (and I do not speak the language) I could still feel the emotional connections these singers and musicians perform. Their messages stretch like sunrays across our divide and I warm to their international music.

Coco Freeman’s lead baritone vocals are beautifully performed and plush with emotion. You will see that I reference the ‘coros’ above. The common instrumentation of the ‘coros’ is a group that features a viola, a string-less banjo used more as a percussion instrument, claves, guitar, harp and jug bass. But, Coros also references a choir of voices that is part of an artform grown in Havana and other Cuban cities around the 19th century. So, this music shares much historic data with us, as well as cultural roots. Interestingly, many of these compositions grew out of the roots of black slavery in Cuba, similar to the way jazz was birthed in America.

Kiki Valera, who has dedicated himself to performing traditional Cuban music, was also influenced by cassette tapes he listened to as a child. Some of those artistic influences included Pat Metheny, Wes Montgomery and Chick Corea. These jazz inspirations elevate the quality of his Cuatro solos. Valera is a prolific arranger and has arranged much of the original music on this album. Most of the songs are composed by his longtime friend and fellow musician, Coco Freeman. Freeman and Felix Valera Miranda also co-arranged some songs. One of the things I appreciated about this enjoyable album, inside the liner notes (in English) they describe the meaning of each composition. For example: “El Caballo de Curingo” is a humorous tale of Kiki’s uncle whose drinking habits eventually even annoy the horse that brings him home every night. Another original composition, “El Perro de Juan” recalls a night when Kiki’s father was chased up a tree by his brother’s ferocious dog. Another composition, “Homenaje a Panchita” recalls the sad end of the family pig, which had been a pet to the children.

Along with tongue-in-cheek humor and the master musicians Kiki Valera and Coco Freeman employ on this project, you are certain to be thoroughly entertained.
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Vito Dieterle, tenor saxophone; Ben Paterson, organ; Kris Kaiser, guitar; Aaron Seeber, drums.

A Chicago native, Vito Dieterle is one of the world’s young saxophone players who is making his impact on the New York jazz scene. His style has been compared to an inspired mixture of Sonny Stitt and Stan Getz. Vito definitely leans towards the exciting bebop trends that mesmerized the world in the 1960’s and beyond. His choice of sidemen includes Ben Paterson on organ. This brings back memories of the Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff quartets. But Dieterle’s organ trio has a smoother sound. It’s not as gritty and bluesy as Smith and McDuff once were. He opens with “Dream Dancing” a Cole Porter tune arranged at a moderate Latin tempo and featuring the guitar of Kris Kaiser on the introduction, as a duet with Vito’s punchy tenor saxophone. Dieterle can play smooth as raw silk one minute and in the next minute, brightly punch his message from the bell of his horn.

The title of this album, “Anemone” is a plant of the buttercup family and also Vito Dieterle’s only original composition on this CD. My grandmother used to grow Buttercups in her backyard and they were beautiful, brightly colored little flowers. I liked the yellow ones the best, that resembled little bowls of butter. The Anemone plant is sometimes referred to as a ‘windflower’, which seems quite appropriate for a horn player to choose as the title of his album. The windflower is said to open widely when a strong breeze is blowing. Like the anemone, Vito Dieterle’s music is open and flowing. He studied at the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music (at the New School in New York) and has been a professional musician since 1998. In addition to playing jazz, he has also acted as owner-operator of two jazz bars; the Silver Lining in the Roxy Hotel and The Django.

On this release, he interprets the music of Stanley Turrentine (Minor Chant) at a brisk, swing pace and explores two songs written by Billy Strayhorn; “Lush Life” and “Chelsea Bridge” in a more tender and emotionally vulnerable way. Here is when the Stan Getz influence seems to surface. On “Lush Life” drummer Aaron Seeber creates a waltz feel beneath the improvisation of Dieterle and it’s a sweet arrangement. Dizzy Gillespie’s tune, “That’s Earl, Brother” swings hard and gives Paterson a chance to stretch-out on organ. All in all, this is an outstanding quartet production that showcases the talents of Vito Dieterle on his tenor saxophone.
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Jeff Benedict, saxophones; Jonathan Pintoff, bass; Dave Askren, guitar; Chris Garcia, percussion.

Dave Askren and Jeff Benedict celebrate the music of jazz icon and composer, Wayne Shorter, on their “Paraphernalia” album. Askren and Benedict open with the popular tune, E.S.P, culled from the 1965 Miles Davis release, that was originally played at the speed of racing horses. On this arrangement, they have slowed the tune down to a cut tempo, half-time funk beat. This is a strong departure from the straight-ahead groove of the original Miles recording and proffers another musical perspective.

According to Dave Askren, “We didn’t want to just do covers of Wayne’s tunes. We didn’t try to sound like him, because you can’t do better than the original music. You can just do your own thing and make music your own way.”

I thought it was very creative when they broke the tune down to just Jeff Benedict on saxophone and Chris Garcia on percussion. When Dave Askren’s rhythm guitar enters, along with Johnathan Pintoff’s bass, they grow the crescendo. This is followed by “Yes and/or No,” presented with strong Latin infusion, using the guitar to set up the Brazilian-like groove. This tune comes from the Wayne Shorter album, “Juju”, released sometime in 1964. Percussionist, Chris Garcia shines during this mambo arrangement.

“Paraphernalia” is Askren and Benedict’s third recording together as co-leaders. They have pulled Wayne Shorter compositions from his early work in the 1960s, mostly from Miles Davis and Weather Report recordings. Askren played both clarinet and saxophone as a young musician, but was drawn to the guitar when he was fourteen and formed a bond with that instrument. He studied at Berklee College of Music and taught there after graduation. Although he enjoys teaching, he left Boston and transplanted to California’s West Coast music scene, studying at Cal State LA for a graduate degree in classical guitar. That’s where he met Jeff Benedict. Jeff was teaching and leading a jazz band and they became close friends. Benedict has multiple credits as a sideman, using his saxophone talents to compliment artists like Nick Brignola, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Randy Brecker, Billy Taylor and Mel Tormé, to mention just a few. He’s also enjoyed playing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, The Pacific Symphony, The Aspen Festival Orchestra and the Tanglewood fellowship Orchestra. Like his friend, Dave Askren, he has released two small ensemble albums under his own bandleader credentials. Askren has released four CDs as a bandleader.

Together, they create a unique sound and fresh arrangements that are meant to create a heartfelt tribute to the music of Wayne Shorter, an artist/composer that they both greatly admire.
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Aruan Ortiz, piano/voice; Andrew Cyrille, drums; Mauricio Herrera, percussion/voice.

According to Aruan Ortiz, he has long dreamt of making an album that would represent a cascade of rhythms. He Has succeeded on this production. Growing up in Cuba, for the first twenty-three years of his life, Ortiz experienced a multitude of rhythmic sounds and multi-cultural rhythms. He recalls hearing a global symphony each morning when he walked to school in the South-eastern province of Oriente, a community that was the cradle of Afro-Cuban music.

His album, “Inside Rhythmic Falls” draw much of its profundity from his working-class neighborhood and a style of guitar and drum music that was created by slaves in the sugar cane refineries of the early 19th century Cuba. That music style was called, Changüi. It is a fusion of Spanish cancion with Bantu percussion and with Haitian tumba frances; a mixed music culture for good measure. He has transformed and reimagined this historic music into his own algorithm of musical concept. Ortiz refers to his work as having “hidden voices.”

One thing this project clearly has is a number of rhythm patterns and improvised musical passages that drags the listener by the ear, like a reluctant learner. His music magically implores me to pay attention and to let the musical phrases wash over me like Cuba’s El Nicho waterfall. The piano of Aruan Ortiz creates an astounding bed of rhythms and artistic phrases that cascade to the depths of emotional feeling and create a platform for the percussion of Mauricio Herrera and the drums of Andrew Cyrille to dance upon. Aruan Ortiz has composed every song and poem, with the exception of “Para ti Nengón” (a popular Cuban song that closes out this album). With only vocals, percussion and piano, this is an expressive and unique production that layers voices and instruments as sweet as cake. It draws you into the whirlpool of words and music, like a fly drawn to a shiny web. Once you are caught up in the sparkling uniqueness of this music, you will want to stay and hear each piece played again. This is artistic modernism played in a very abstract way. As the liner notes say, “…When music is this glorious, it has the power not just to conjure spirits, but to inspire belief and help us experience the marvelous.”
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Jay Willie, guitar/slide guitar/vocals; James Montgomery, vocals/harmonica; Paul Opalach, bass/lap steel/keyboards/simulated horns; Bobby T. Torello, drums; Lee-Ann Lovelace, vocals; Kyle Mangold, backup vocals.

This album opens with a melody from the children’s song, “Three Blind Mice” and it jubilantly sets the precedence for what is to come. This is an album of Blues, R&B and Rock, featuring Jay willie on guitar, slide guitar and vocals, along with his musical partner, James Montgomery playing harmonica and singing. This music is just pure fun! It reminded me of the Detroit sound and the music of guitar-men and blues singers like Johnny Bassett and John Lee Hooker. When I started reading the promotional package, I discovered James Montgomery is a Detroit-based, blues legend. When Jay Willie first heard him play, he knew he wanted to work with the funky harmonica bluesman in the future. Then, in 1973, Montgomery released a Capricorn Record and later Allen Toussaint produced the Huey Piano Smith song, “Don’t You Just Know It” on Montgomery, under the title of “The Gooba Gooba Song.” Jay Willie was sure there was a musical compatibility in their musical tastes and asked his long-time bandmate and drummer, Bobby T. Torello, to contact James Montgomery. He wanted to see if James might be interested in performing with their group. Jay Willie was overjoyed when Montgomery agreed. Consequently, they performed a concert together in Connecticut. Later, Jay Willie asked James Montgomery if he’d be interested in recording with his group. The result is this Zoho Record release.

Montgomery has toured with Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Allman Brothers Band, and Steve Miller; the legendary Laverne Baker, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Greg Allman, Patti LaBelle and many more. The Jay Willie Blues Band has produced five previous releases for the Zoho Roots label. I am certain this will be another winner for Jay Willie group. It’s bound to brighten up any day and invigorate any party.
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Henry Robinett, guitar; Joe Gilman, piano; Chris Symer, bass; Michael Stephans, drums.

How many times have you looked back on your life, while going through boxes or cleaning garages and closets, only to discover some real gems that had been hidden away for years? Guitarist, Henry Robinett, must have been doing just that when he stumbled upon some old tracks he recorded nineteen years ago.

“Honestly, I don’t know why I left it on the shelf for so long. I grew up listening to bebop and the great bebop players had enormous influence on me. When I wrote and performed my own music, though, I naturally incorporated the wide range of music styles I had played with other bands. I think the jazz standards album was just too different from my other work, which made me hesitant to release it. But after listening to it again, after so many years, I like it. I think it stands up well and shows another side to my playing,” Robinett explained in his liner notes.

I am happy he discovered this beautifully played treasure of standard jazz songs. His group is smokin’ hot and why wouldn’t it be with drummer Michael Stephans manning the trap drums? As always, Stephans adds fire and spark to this project. Joe Gilman is lyrical and freely improvises on “I Hear A Rhapsody.” But it’s always Henry Robinett’s sensitive guitar playing that keeps this music exciting and creative. Robinett has a way of unfolding each song, like the chapters of an intriguing book. He inspires the listener to go forward and hear the next one and the one after that. His tone is pure and he’s a master improviser, using long, eclectic lines in his guitar phrasing. On “Yellow Days or (La Mentira), Joe Gilman exhibits his style of playing, using inspired melodies with both hands on the piano keys, moving in unison at a brisk pace. Then, Chris Symer steps forward, soaking up the spotlight and letting his double bass eloquently do the talking.

A native of California, Henry Robinett was a Cal State University/Sacramento student before joining a popular Northern California group called, The Runners. They played a mixed bag of music, from R&B to Rock, Brazilian and Latin influenced tunes and jazz. Then, in 1978, Robinett turned his music world upside-down when he briefly lived in a New York City apartment with none other than Charlie Mingus. His father was first cousins with Mingus and had a large collection of Mingus music. Young Henry had come up listening to this legendary bassist as a teen. While living with Mingus, the young musician rubbed shoulders with jazz royalty like Sonny Rollins, jazz historians Nat Hentoff and Leonard Feather, Clifford Jordon, Chico Freeman and many others. He happened to be in New York when Mingus was penning music for the iconic Joni Mitchell. Henry Robinett remembers talking to Joni about music and life in general. She also showed Robinett some of her guitar tunings. He admits to carrying those notes in his guitar case for many years.

From New York, he returned to the Bay Area in California rejuvenated and quickly landed gigs at the legendary Keystone Korner. He enjoyed playing with top Bay area artists like pianist, Jessica Williams, performing on her 1981 album “Orgonomic Music” along with Eddie Henderson. His music sensibilities were growing.

With new horizons calling, he spent a year in Munich, Germany doing studio work for the Munich Sound Machine and other artists, while playing with various local bands. His love of music encouraged exploration into various musical styles, including the popular disco style of music that Mitch Klein’s Munich Sound Machine successfully recorded.

Ultimately, Henry Robinett decided to create his own group. He was signed to Artful Balance Record label and his group produced three albums for that label. Always eager to expand his knowledge and have more control over his own music, Henry decided to master studio engineering. Back in California, he built a small studio and many of his subsequent album projects were recorded there. He set up his own Nefertiti record company and was soon producing not only his own records, but recording other artists too.

The Henry Robinett Group was named the Best Jazz Band by the Sacramento News and Review for three straight years. In 2015, he was recording a more contemporary sound of jazz.

For this current album, recorded in 2000, Robinett and his exciting bandmates offer us their interpretation of several jazz songs that we love like “Days of Wine and Roses”, “Just the Way You Look Tonight,” “Ill Wind” and “Invitation” among six others. This production is bebop influenced jazz that never grows old.

“I called the talented drummer, Michael Stephans. He suggested I use Seattle based musician, Chris Symer on bass. I then called my good friend, Joe Gilman and reserved the date at The Hanger recording studio, where I had been working as an engineer and producer,” Henry recalled on his album jacket.

“What I remember was that the session was fun. It is always a challenge being the recording engineer and player. Both are full time jobs. Maybe that’s the reason it sat on the shelf so long. I couldn’t get away from the memory of being ‘split-brained’ at that moment,” he admitted.

“So, I decided to release two albums from the original session. I was so motivated by this recording that we met again in November of 2019 for another fun and productive session. So, this is “Volume 1 – Then” and “Volume 2 – Then Again” is coming soon. It’s been my real pleasure playing this music with these remarkable musicians. I hope you enjoy it,” Henry Robinett graciously spoke.

The release date for this well-produced album is May 1, 2020. I look forward to hearing the follow-up album, after finding such pure pleasure and enjoyment in Robinett’s straight-ahead and bebop infused jazz production.
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Jonah Francese, bandleader/composer/arranger; David Ling, piano/keyboards; Neil Patton, bass; Marshawn Fondren, drums; Caio Afiune & Marc Malsegna, guitars; Kristen Dye, flute; Clay Lyons, alto saxophone; Mark Zaleski, alto & soprano sax; Jonathan Bean & Paul Melhus, tenor saxophones; Austin Yancey, baritone sax; Kai Sandoval, Danny Fratina, Jenn Zevos, Jesse Francese & Taylor Kelly, trumpets; Quinn Carson, Eric Stilwell, Myrish Spell & Rob Krahn, trombones. Brett White, piano on interludes; INTERLUDE SPEAKERS: Jordan Pert, Tangela Mathis, Marshawn Fondren, Puja Ghosh, Kimberlee Chang, Thalea Stokes, Gustavo Hernandez, Allison Burik, Kristen Dye & Myrish Spell.

If you are wondering, during these pandemic times, how the world’s population perceives itself and its surroundings, Jonah Francese has a musical explanation.

“Voices remain unheard in our political environment and the stories these voices can tell are important to the construction of the multicultural intersectionality, of which, most in power choose to ignore.”

The compositions, arrangements and production of Jonah Francese’s big band addresses these inequities with music, poetry and vocals. Opening with Brett White’s piano as a backdrop to a poem recited by Jordan Peart, track one (called an Interlude) sets the political nature of this creative venture. Jonah Francese crosses multiple musical genres in his arranging. By employing strong funk overtures, he delivers a contemporary groove and seamlessly moves into a sweetly arranged big band jazz movement with harmonious horns and a more traditional, orchestrated sound. On track 2, you hear this blend and it keeps the listener both entertained and surprised. The electric guitar solo by Caio Afiune on this tune titled, “Rich Man’s Empty Pocket” is outstanding. This is followed by a short essay extoling the rights and challenges of creative women-of-color by Tangela Mathis.

Most of the compositions on “Reclamation” were inspired and written after the forty-fifth president was elected to office and before our current state of emergency. According to the liner notes, Francese endeavors to find balance between his Mexican heritage from his dad’s side of the family and his white privilege. With this project, he advocates for issues he relates to, as well as those he can illuminate through the voices of others. When Jonah Francese addresses the inspiration for his tune, “Rich man’s Empty Pocket” he says:

“The use of money and power to create systemic racism and classism only goes so far. Money will never unify the rich. Financial greed will always exist, but communities who remain together … united groups, refuse to allow the power of the rich to defeat them. We continue to stand together and so ultimately our pockets are more full than theirs will ever be,” the composer/arranger/conductor asserts.

These brilliant, big band arrangements are driven hard by Marshawn Fondren on drums, who is prominent and tenacious throughout. As well as being a percussive master, he also is one of the interlude speakers on this album who protests how people of color have to be more careful in speech and action. He feels this alienation is eliminated when he sits behind his drums and can simply become a musician.

This interlude piece is followed by “Destroyer of Ignorance” that features Tracy Robertson, singing repetitive scat vocals atop a funky arrangement. This tune comfortably crosses over to a very commercial, smooth jazz production.

“Reclamation – Thinking Big” is a musical project that continues to explore what big band music can be. Jonah Francese is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago currently and is devoting much to his study of race and gender through the field of Ethnomusicology. With the help of these stellar musicians, his awareness and hopefulness are both reflected in this uniquely creative music.
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April 4, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil
APRIL 4, 2020


Joe Davidian,piano; Jamie Ousley,bass; Austin McMahon,drums.

“Leaving Montserrat” is the first track on this outstanding trio album. It races off my CD player like a Boeing 747, roaring into space with energy and precision. Here is straight-ahead jazz at its best. This particular song is the original composition of pianist, Joe Davidian. Every song on their album of ten jazz compositions was written by one of the trio members. The third song, “Won’t You Sing This Song for Me?” was composed by drummer, Austin McMahon. It too swings unapologetically and features a noteworthy trading of fours by the composer on his trap drums and bassist Jamie Ousley. McMahon also contributed the Latin arranged tune, “Sol.” Bassist Jamie Ousley shows his composer skills on the fourth track, “A Minor Waltz.” The melody is warm and memorable. When Ousley pulls out his bow on the ballad, “Sometime, Somehow” I am enchanted with the beauty of his bass and the melody of this song.

“Some contemporary jazz groups focus on complex harmonies or intricate rhythm,” Jamie Ousley explains.

“But we wanted to get back to the idea of melody as the centerpiece of a song,” interjects McMahon.

However, On the very creative, “Before I Forget” composition, you will hear the amazing interplay and contrary motion of piano and bass as they explore the melody and go beyond it. It is really a treat to hear so much harmonic interaction and seamless freedom, as the two musicians play tag with their instruments. They are hotly propelled by the drums of Austin McMahon, who keeps the two improvisational players solidly grounded. This tune was recorded live and you can hear the rich, appreciative applause from their captive audience.

This trio, that has been performing together for the past two decades. Each musician brings their own specific beauty and charisma to each piece played. But it’s obvious the members listen intently and are inspired by each other. They are aligned and in sync, like the moving parts of a Rolex watch. On this production, they challenged themselves to write songs in the style of the jazz standards, with their melodies front-forward and prominent. Thus, the title of this album, “New Songs for Old Souls.”

Joe Davidian is the recent winner of the prestigious 2019 Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition. He has established his talent and diversified accompaniment by working with such artists as the late, great Kevin Mahogany, and Weather Report’s Frank Zappa. Jamie Ousley is one of the most in-demand bassists in South Florida. He’s worked with Benny Golson, George Shearing, James Moody, Arturo Sandoval, Dave Liebman and Maria Schneider and that’s his short list. He is Associate Professor & Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Florida International University.Austin McMahon won the 9th Annual Independent Music Award in the Jazz Song Category. Besides his work with this awesome trio, he performs regularly with Jerry Bergonzi’s Quartet and also is a busy sideman and studio musician, performing and/or recording with folks like Sean Jones, George Garzone, Kate McGarry, Noah Preminger, Jason Palmer and Grace Kelly. Together, these three, outstanding musicians offer a tightly produced and arranged hour of excellent jazz.
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Josh Nelson, piano/keyboard; Alex Boneham, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums.

Josh Nelson is one of those super talented pianist/arranger/composer people who always brings something fresh and inspiring to any recording project. This “Live in Japan” project is no exception. Josh is featuring all his own original compositions, performed by a tight and energetic trio. They open with “Mint Blues.” That song gives Dan Schnelle a number of opportunities to solo and strut his stuff on the trap drums. Alex Boneham walks his bass relentlessly behind the scenes and holds the trio tightly in place, like a bearhug. When he takes his solo, he is both powerful and melodic.

There is one cover tune on this album of excellence. It’s the Thelonious Monk tune, “Reflections.” You’ll find it the second track of this recorded concert and it gives Josh Nelson a lovely platform to introduce you to his technique and individuality as an improvise- master. His approach to this ballad reminds me a lot of the way Erroll Garner may have played it if he were still alive. The incorporation of “I’ve Got the world on a String” into his improvisational escapade is smooth and becomes a seamless part of his interpretation. The composition, “Kintsugi” is eleven minutes long, but never boring. It’s a very pensive, beautiful song with Schnelle using mallets during his drum accompaniment. It makes me flash back to how Ahmad Jamal incorporated the use of mallets on his extremely popular “Poinciana” record.

This is an entertaining concert full of verve, crescendos and five skillfully written compositions by pianist, Josh Nelson.
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JD Walter, vocals; Jim Ridl, Taylor Eigsti, Marc Cary, Orrin Evans, Jean-Michel Pilc & Julius Rodriguez, piano; Ben Wolfe, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Becca Stevens, Charango/backing vocals.

JD Walter’s first four records were straight ahead jazz, without electronics. Life has a way of polishing us as we grow through circumstance, curve balls and challenges. Somehow through the drama, our best begins to shine as brilliant as a diamond. Often, that metamorphosis exposes the real genius of an artist. This album is a powerful comeback for JD Walter, a singer who recently experienced a life-threatening heart surgery and another surgery on his vocal cords.

“Being a musician is being a verb, an ever-changing force,” the sensitive singer states. “ … I got into electronica and somehow developed the reputation of being the progressive jazz vocalist who does the electronic thing. … It was my own personal exploration and evolution. … I conceived ‘Dressed in A Song’ after realizing I hadn’t done anything this intimate before,” he confesses.

Opening with his self-penned composition and the title tune, his voice is both compelling, distinctive and stylized. Once you hear JD Walter, you will recognize his voice when you hear him again. He’s smooth as a reed instrument, holding the notes beautifully with elongated phrasing and, in this first song, sharing a confessional lyric. It’s performed duo, with the awesome piano accompaniment of Taylor Eigsti. His interpretation of the familiar “You Go to My Head,” jazz standard follows, performed uniquely and with an abundance of freedom, featuring another outstanding pianist, Jim Ridl, who plays as brilliantly, rhythmically and creatively as Walter sings. Both jump from the precipice without a parachute, taking musical liberties on this tune that are enchanting and unexpected. JD Walter shows us he can scat as seamlessly as he sings.

On the third track, he showcases another one of his original compositions titled “The Last Muse.” This arrangement features drums, bass and background vocals. Becca Stevens’ blends vocal harmonies with JD during this haunting ballad and she adds the Charango. Julius Rodriguez mans the piano on this song. He’s part of a trio that invites Ben Wolfe on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums. Another original song, “Brother John” is reflective of suicide and Walter’s friend who took his own life. JD Walter writes in his liner notes about his childhood friend:

“Written for my best friend, John Joseph Maransky, … who tragically took his own life almost a year ago, reflects on my own struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts.”

“What the World Needs Now” is played in 5/4 time and JD Walter’s voice is like a muted trumpet atop the unusual chord changes that Orrin Evans offers on piano. Sometimes I hear shades of Al Jarreau in Walter’s vocal style and other times traces of Chicago jazz master, Kurt Elling. The thing that is missing (for me) is simply the tempo pacing. The vocal mastery of JD Walter shines through, like a sad sun peeping through drawn blinds. I wish he had mixed up his repertoire a little more with tempo changes. I think I would have enjoyed hearing him do some really up-tempo numbers instead of so many slow numbers in a row.
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DAY DREAM – “ORIGINALS” Corner Store Jazz

Steve Rudolph, piano; Drew Gress, bass; Phil Haynes, drums.

The first two compositions, “Zebra (for Claude)” and “Wedding Waltz” are composed by the pianist of this trio, Steve Rudolph. The first tune is performed by Rudolph solo and is quite engaging. It’s a tribute to one of his mentors, Indianapolis musician, Claude Sifferlen. On the “Wedding Waltz” composition, the trio blossoms in its entirety and we are swept away by the beauty of a true jazz waltz.

“Beloved Refracted” is written by the drummer, Phil Haynes, and opens up with a drum introduction. The rich double bass sound of Drew Gress is featured during a solo on this arrangement. The next two compositions, “Afterward” and “Vesper” are both written by Drew Gress. In fact, every song on this Day Dream trio excursion is composed by one of these three talented musicians. Thus, the title of this project (Originals) becomes self-evident. On Track eight they play a joyful Bossa Nova tune (Bossa 21 for Katie) and on track ten we get a taste of a blues-rooted, straight-ahead side of this exquisite Day Dream group. Phil Haynes thrusts this group ahead with busy drum sticks.

Haynes has been featured on more than sixty-five releases on both American and European record labels. Bassist, Drew Gress performs extensively with artists considered on the cutting edge of contemporary improvised music. He was a founding member of the cooperative quartet, Joint Venture, who recorded three albums in the early 1990s. He’s received a SESAC Composer’s Award and grants from Chamber Music America, The National Endowment for the Arts and Meet the Composer. Pianist, Steve Rudolph, has been making professional music for five decades. He has won the Jazziz Magazine Piano Competition at the Seven Springs Jazz Festival in 2000 and was awarded two jazz composition fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In addition, he’s played with a plethora of jazz masters including Louie Bellson, Clark Terry, Terry Gibbs, Rufus Reid and the Mills Brothers. Together, these three individually talented musicians create a formidable trio called, Day Dream.

Below, is sample of this trio’s work from a former release when I couldn’t find anything from this current release available On-line.

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IMPRESSIONS IN BLUE: Alex Goodman, guitar/composer; Ben Van Gelder, alto saxophone; Martin Nevin, bass; Jimmy Macbride, drums. IMPRESSIONS IN RED: Alex Goodman, guitar/composer; Alex Lore, alto saxophone; Rick Rosato, bass; Mark Ferber, drums.

“Impressions in Blue and Red” is Alex Goodman’s seventh album. It offers the listener two hours, on a double set of CDs, featuring beautiful and inspired music. Born in 1987, Alex Goodman was raised in Toronto, but currently lives in New York City. He earned a Master’s degree in jazz performance from the Manhattan School of Music. In 2014, he won First Prize and the Public’s Choice Award at the Montreux Jazz Festival International Guitar Competition. His concept for this album was finding a way musically, to paint with various colors; colors that would make his listening audience connect emotionally.

“Music goes beyond language,”he explains in his press package. “The way I associate color with music isn’t really something that I can explain; it’s based in mood; in feel. That intuitive ‘feel’ is the catalyst for the way I compose,”he asserted.

One compact disc is colored blue and the other CD is colored red. He has composed fifteen instrumentals and covers a few standard jazz tunes, including the Herbie Hancock song, “Toys.” For the most part, this is an album exploring his composer skills with the able assistance of Alex Lore on saxophone, during the ‘Impressions in Red’ production. They are joined by Rick Rosato on bass and Mark Ferber on drums. I was most drawn to the ‘Impressions in Blue’ CD that featured Ben Van Gelder on alto saxophone, Martin Nevin on bass and Jimmy Macbride manning the drums.

Alex Goodwin is the winner of an ASCAP Herb Albert Jazz Composer Award and has composed and recorded a book of solo guitar etudes. On both of these recordings, Goodman is prolific and tonally astute on his guitar. Some of my favorite tunes are: “No man’s Land,” with its straight-ahead feel; “Blue Shade” exhibiting a classically rooted production blended with a bit of blues; “Space Behind Eugene Boch” that gives Jimmy Macbride an opportunity to step out front on his drums; “Cobalt Blue” played at an up-tempo that has Goodman’s fingers flying across the guitar strings and I enjoyed his solo presentation of “I’ll never be the Same.” On the other ‘red’ disc, I particularly enjoyed the very melodic, “In Heaven Everything is Fine” and the ensemble’s rendition of Hancock’s “Toys” featuring Rick Rosato on bass.

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SCHAPIRO 17 – “NEW SHOES: KIND OF BLUE AT 60” Summit Records

Jon Schapiro, composer/conductor/arranger; Roberta Piket, piano; Sebastian Noelle, guitar; Evan Gregor, bass; Jon Wikan, drums; Trumpets: Bryan Davis, Andy Gravish, Eddie Allen & Noyes Bartholomew. Trombones: Deborah Weisz, Alex Jeun, Nick Grinder & Walter Harris, bass trombone. Saxophones: Rob Wilkerson, Ben Kono & Candace DeBartolo, alto saxophones. Paul Carlon, Rob Middleton, tenor saxophones. Matt Hong, baritone sax.

Last year, in 2019, the highly popular and land-breaking Miles Davis album, “Kind of Blue” celebrated its 60th year anniversary. With that in mind. Conductor/composer/arranger, Jon Schapiro set out to tribute five of the Davis compositions that became classics from this album. In addition, he added his own compositions to offer us a unique look at the Davis influence on jazz and on his own composer/arranger skills. You may remember that the Miles Davis sextet included John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans, bassist, Paul Chambers and with Jimmy Cobb on drums. In this recording, Jon Schapiro has arranged for his 17-piece orchestra to explore the Davis jazz standards and his own compositions. They perform with expressive verve and dynamism. On the opening tune, Schapiro’s “Boiled Funk” Paul Carlon takes a memorable solo on tenor-saxophone. It also features trombonist, Deborah Weisz. This straight-ahead, energized composition with the catchy melody and dancing drums sets the standard for what is to follow. The talented arranger plays with time and features his gifted soloists to explore the outer limits of his melodic message. The horns are like a chorus that answer the individual solo players with harmonic energy.

Jon Schapiro has added a composition by the orchestra’s pianist, Roberta Piket, titled “Foiled Bunk.” This second track on the album features Piket’s dynamic skills on the grand piano, solo and classically flavored. This becomes an introduction to the orchestra’s take on the Miles Davis standard, “So What.” It’s certainly painted with a fresh and creative face, showcasing the super talents of Schapiro as a unique and creative arranger. On the standard, “All Blues” Shapiro establishes the familiar melody and stretches out from there, moving out of the realm of jazz waltz and creating an up-tempo and exciting arrangement that features Alex Jeun on trombone and Eddie Allen on trumpet as the solo stars. There is nothing fusty about this orchestrated work. It is modern and creative; effulgent and entertaining. Scheduled for an April 3rd release, this is another gem to add to your big band collection.
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March 28, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil
March 28, 2020

Many new jazz releases blossomed in March. Spring blows across the remnants of winter as CARL SAUNDERS heats things up with his ‘Jazz Trumpet’ recording. The exciting release of a new album by harmonica master, YVONNICK PRENE, showcases his composer skills and demonstrates how his harmonica can be a viable and creative jazz instrument. KARL STERLING calls on a group of first-call musicians and produces an album to raise money to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease. ALBARE plays a Jobim tribute and RJ & THE ASSIGNMENT, based in Las Vegas, bring a contemporary jazz blend that mixes straight ahead with R&B and funk.


Carl Saunders, trumpet/composer; Josh Nelson, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Joe Labarbera, drums.

Carl Saunders smashes on the scene with the familiar Joe Henderson tune, “Recorda-me.” Supported by an all-star, West Coast trio, including Josh Nelson on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Joe Labarbera on drums. It’s the first track on this CD and brightly introduces us to each player. On elaborate solos, each instrumentalist gives us a clear view of their individual talents. Afterwards, I was surprised to hear other trumpets harmonizing with the Saunders lead trumpet. Nothing was noted in the liner notes about other horn players, so I opened the CD cover to see who else was in the studio. It’s actually Carl overdubbing with himself. Of course, he would be thinking harmonically. Carl Saunders spent years with some of the most highly praised big bands on the jazz scene including his early years playing with Harry James (1961-62), later, with Maynard Ferguson, Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman. Once Saunders settled into the Las Vegas scene, he found himself hired by a number of show bands. You could hear his in-demand lead trumpet with legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet and even Frank Sinatra. He was adaptable enough to also tour with singer/songwriter, Paul Anka, as lead trumpeter and additionally performed with Robert Goulet.

Carl Saunders’ tone and timing makes every familiar jazz composition on this album become reinvented. His ability to swing so fluidly is perhaps a nod to his drum chops. As a youthful musician, he spent part of 1962 through ‘63 touring with Bobby Sherwood’s group and playing drums. Ultimately, trumpet became his instrument of choice. It’s always a joy hearing Carl Saunders play. Once you listen to how he and his group dance through “I thought About You,” with a lively and spontaneous solo by Josh Nelson on piano and Joe Labarbera shining as he trades ‘fours’ with the band on his trap drums.

Not only is Saunders a magnificent and creative player, he is additionally a master composer and has written hundreds of original songs. He shares several with us during this production. “Flim Flam” is one of his originals and it moves at a moderate, but inspired pace. The melody is catchy, with the changes in the chord progressions keeping everyone on their toes, especially on the bridge. His long, legato lines stretch like spandex across the changes and I wonder how he’s able to store up that much breath control. His execution is flawless and beautiful. Another composition by Saunders is the only ballad on this album of fine music. Titled, “Patience,” it settles the listeners down, after six songs that were played speedily and with intense energy. Even on this lovely ballad, Saunders manages to infuse it with a double time solo that lifts and propels the song to higher heights. Nelson, on piano, has an excellent way of making each song his own, when interpreting them. His talents shine throughout. Another favorite is the Saunders composition, “Tofu or Not Tofu.” He uses his trumpet overdub technique on this tune also and it enhances the strong melody.

This is an album I will play over and over again. It embraces the straight-ahead, bebop flavored jazz that I love so much and spotlights the excellence of each musician in a stunning way.
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Yvonnick Prené, harmonica/composer; Brian Charette, Hammond B3 organ; Jordan Young, drums.

This is a captivating album that features Mr. Prené’s harmonica mastery and showcases his composer skills. He is featured along with Brian Charette on Hammond B3 organ and Jordan Young on drums. It’s the 5th release from this acclaimed musician and celebrates the Frenchman’s well-spent time in New York City. You will note that several of his composition titles allude to his experiences in this thriving American metropolis. Yvonnick Prené arrived in New York in 2007, fresh from studying at the legendary Sorbonne in Paris. He had won scholarships to take classes at Columbia University in New York.

Prené grew up listening to his father’s jazz and blues record collection. He discovered a blues mouth-organ lying around his house and began trying to play the harmonica. A friend of his dad’s encouraged the young man’s talent and bought him a properly working instrument. That’s when his study of harmonica became serious. Eventually, he studied with the great French blues artist, Jean Jacques Milleau.

“But then, I was listening to a lot of jazz. I was listening to Charlie Parker when I was fourteen. I didn’t understand anything that was going on in that music, but for some reason I knew I had to dig into it,” Prené says in his liner notes.

Prené searched for information and examples of those who could handle bop lines on the harmonica. He listened to Howard Levy, a Chicago artist who invented a way to elicit sharped notes on the diatonic harmonica, like a trumpeter or a saxophonist. Yvonnick Prené was on a mission. He looked for books on how to play jazz on a blues harp and took a few lessons from Sebastien Charlier. By the time he turned seventeen, the youthful musician was playing professionally in French clubs. But he really expanded his talents once he arrived on American soil and started hanging out with East Coast jazz musicians.

His homage to the great Toots Thieleman on “Very Early” (a Bill Evans tune) is stellar. His original tune “Dear Zlap” is melodically catchy and swings nicely at a moderate pace. Track five titled “Air on A Sunny String” is another original composition by Prené and gives him an opportunity to exercise his bebop chops on this tune that is based on the Sonny Rollins’ song, “Airegin.” Brian Charette begins the arrangement with his organ prowess out-front and speeding ahead to lay the stage for Yvonnick Prené to snatch the spotlight. The brisk and powerful drums of Jordan Young invigorate the music. Young is also given ample solo time during a period of trading ‘fours’.

This album is an exciting exploration into what the harmonica can do, once placed in the capable hands of a master musician. It also introduces us to the budding composer; Yvonnick Prené and celebrates jazz as a music that crosses borders and brings cultures together in a positive, creative way.
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RJ, Acoustic Piano/keyboards/composer; Eric Runquist, double bass; Johnny Johnson, lead guitar; Jason Bolden & Donald Phillips, electric bass; Terry Wesley II, drums; Julian Tanaka, saxophone; Tom Schuman, auxiliary instruments; Kiata Brown, Aja Hawkins, Klaiton Johnson, & Alisha Webster, vocals.

Reginald Johnson, fondly called RJ, is a Las Vegas based musician and composer. His project opens with a contemporary jazz composition called “I’m Trying.” The stunning vocals of Kiata Brown draw you into this production like quicksand. This particular piece is a blend of smooth jazz, R&B, gospel, contemporary jazz and it’s definitely commercially excellent. RJ’s contemporary music tracks cross genre boundaries. Perhaps that’s the reason for the album’s title of Hybrid Harmony. Track 2, is funk based. It’s propelled by the percussion of Terry Wesley and RJ’s keyboard talents. Tom Schuman adds more keyboard magic to fatten the sound. Titled, “My Mean Ol’ Aunt,” during this instrumental, sporadically you will hear a voice that taunts indignations at the invisible person being addressed. The sarcasms add to the funkiness of this piece, shouting out things like “Now I could have called you a pizel-headed, evil-doin’ heathen, but I didn’t.” Clearly, the voice is mimicking that mean ol’ aunt. It’s a playful piece that twines straight-ahead jazz into the funk. It dazzles like brightly colored yarn woven into a plain sweater. But there is nothing ‘plain’ about this production. It holds the interest from tune-to-tune.

Track 3 is a pretty ballad, produced like a hit R&B tune, featuring a female vocalist singing another positive lyric, “Baby – let me Walk in Your Light” is the theme and the drum programming by Oscar Brown II pushes this song in a notable way.

The title tune, “Hybrid Harmony” is completely contemporary and once again dips into a funk bag. Julian Tanaka soars on tenor saxophone during this production and serves up a straight-ahead jazz-shine to the production. On the tune “Prototype” the production features two female voices, Aja Hawkins and Klaiton Johnson, who blend warmly to make this a compelling arrangement by RJ.

Reginald Johnson (RJ), was born and raised in Chicago. He began playing piano by ear in his church. Once he decided on music as a career goal, RJ started working in local clubs, moved to Nevada and studied music at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He earned his Master’s degree and his talents soon found him playing keyboards for well-known artists like Jennifer Hudson, Buddy Guy, and Boys II Men. But his other obvious talents are cemented in producing, arranging and composing. All in all, this is a soulful, contemporary jazz production featuring some very gifted musicians and led by Johnson. It’s RJ’s fourth album release. This newly released RJ & the Assignment production is deserving to be heard on airwaves across the country.
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Albare, guitar; Joe Chindamo, piano/string arrangements/conductor; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Ricardo “Ricky” Rodriquez, bass; Phil Turcio, producer.

This is the 6th collaboration of Albare with his producer, Phil Turcio and it’s the artist’s 12th album release. He also has a long-term musical relationship with Joe Chindamo, who is on five other albums that Albare has released.

It was in 1972, while Albare was watching Marcel Camus’s cult film, Orpheus Negro, that he discovered the magical music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Albare was captivated by the Brazilian composer’s music in the film score. As a young guitarist, he was greatly inspired by Jobim and began to develop his own melodic style of playing.

“As Jobim was such an influence in my playing, I feel this album is overdue and I am now ready to express the intense beauty of these melodies to my own satisfaction,” he explained.

Albare was born in Morocco and grew up in both Israel and France. Joining the Israel Music Conservatory at the youthful age of eight, he spent two years developing his natural musical abilities. But for the most part, Albare was completely self-taught. After losing his central vision faculties due to a genetic illness, Albare currently plays completely by ear and emotion. His passion for the music and his instrument is palpable on this recording. Every song is well-played, beautifully arranged, and delightfully enhanced by Chindamo’s string arrangements. You will hear all your favorite Jobim tunes, played with passion and precision by the gifted guitarist, Albare. Although this was released in December of 2019, it is never too late to listen to timeless music and the amazing artists who play it.
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KARL STERLING – “DREAM” Parkinson’s Global Project / Blue Canoe Records

Drums: Karl Sterling, Archibald Ligonierre, Peter Erskine, Gary Novak & Gergo Borial; Basses: Jimmy Haslip & Naina Kundu; Keys: Scott Kinsey; Guitars: Jeff Richman & Nir Felder; Tenor Saxophone, Bob Reynolds; Alto saxophone, Brandon Fields; Vocals: Mer Sal Comes, Jimmy Keegan, Carolyn Samuelson, Naina Kundu, Amanda Kennan. Recording Engineer: Paul Tavenner

This is an absolutely beautiful, but unusual album release. Karl Sterling began his career as a drummer and then, after thirty-five years as a working musician, he decided to enter the health and wellness industry in an effort to help people live an improved quality of life. Karl quickly realized that Parkinson disease was sorely in need of funding for education and research. Sterling wanted to do something about this dilemma, so he reached back to his musical career contacts and started making calls. This album is the result of those calls. The musicians on this project are long-time friends and the songs were chosen carefully, with the intention of sending a message of positivity and hope. He has assembled some of the most iconic names in music to work on this non-profit production that’s become the Parkinson’s Global Project. 90% of your purchase goes to funding for much needed education and research of this challenging disease.

Every cut on this project is well produced and excellently played. Producers include Jimmy Haslip (former member of The Yellowjackets), Scott Kinsey and Jeff Richman. These three seasoned veterans have produced an exemplary contemporary jazz album that will thoroughly entertain you.

Beginning with “Here to Love You,” a funky tune with a female lead singer, R&B flavored and with the bass player stirring the spoon in this thick musical broth. This is followed by “The Dream” that features a dynamic, smooth jazz saxophone solo. Because this is an Online project, there is no breakdown on who plays on which tunes. That was a frustration for this jazz journalist, because these musicians are incredibly talented and deserve their accolades for these performances. I’ve listed all the players above, but it’s not like giving you a breakdown of who is appearing and playing on the individual songs.

“Don’t Give Up” is well sung by a female and male vocalist. The production is big and fat, well arranged and this song encompasses rock and pop with a strong, positive lyrical message. “Song 4 Barry” offers a Reggae feel as a joyful instrumental. Midway through the tune, background voices appear like a group of singing children in the distance. A thumb piano dresses the song with African colors. The drummer is amazing on this cut.

On the song, “For a Child,” the vocalist floats above a hypnotic track. The music is cotton candy sweet and beautiful. The lyrical story is a little heart breaking, as the vocalist sings:
“Love is the answer to a child … if dreams fly over the rainbow … so many children making that short trip from the cradle to the grave.”

The guitar solo at the song’s end is smooth as velvet and just as appealing.

Track six is “Where Are You Now?” The piano is all jazz. The vocals sing the melody, but beneath that vocal, a stinging rhythm section surges. It’s a dynamic and unique arrangement. You will also enjoy the arrangement of Pharrell’s famous hit record, “Happy” and the ensemble closes with “Little Star.”

I loved everything on this album of wonderfully produced music. You can donate to this worthy project and be rewarded with an awesome, tax-deductible music project for your listening pleasure.
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March 15, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

March 15, 2020

March is Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the role of women both past and present. March is a time of year that calls for extra love and support of women in jazz who are making a difference. I want to introduce you to some of today’s women in jazz who are changing the face of music in their own sweet ways. READ ALL ABOUT: President of the California Jazz Foundation, EDYTHE BRONSTON; pianist/singer, KANDACE SPRINGS; pianist/composer, CONNIE HAN; Singer/songwriter/ producer and pianist, LAILA BALIA and the immortal NINA SIMONE has a new CD release.


Edythe Bronston is the founder and president of The California Jazz Foundation. Their nonprofit organization’s mission is to aid and assist California jazz musicians when they find themselves in financial or medical crisis.

The California Jazz Foundation was created in 2006 when Edythe Bronston realized a respected jazz musician in Northern California was in crisis. She called her friend and business associate, Dominic LoBuglio and said she wanted to start a nonprofit that would support jazz musicians in need. With Dominic’s CPA background and her legal expertise as a successful Los Angeles attorney, they created this awesome organization. Both music lovers reached out to friends who had the same love and passion for jazz music. Their associates had to be caring, compassionate and empathetic human beings. At the first meeting of their consortium, they sat around Edythe’s dining room table and agreed that something had to be done for jazz musicians, many without health insurance and some sporadically unemployed. Consequently, those musicians often found themselves in dire financial straits. For these players of America’s highly respected and indigenous art form, there were rarely unemployment benefits or health insurance available. As long as they were healthy and had gigs lined up, they went to work and made people happy with their music. But when the unexpected happened or when musicians began to age or faced health challenges, where could they turn?

Edythe and Dominic proceeded to incorporate and apply for nonprofit status and that first evening, the small, concerned group passed the hat around Edythe’s dining room table to help their first jazz musician in need. It would be almost a year later, in 2007, when they finally attained the 501(c)(3) status they needed to be a tax-exempt organization. To date, they have assisted and supported over three-hundred musicians and have 630 members.

I asked Edythe when she fell in love with jazz?

“I was fifteen years old and my best friend was this guy who was sixteen years old. He said to me one summer night, he had just gotten his driver’s license and he said to me, I’m going to take you tomorrow night to hear jazz. I said what’s jazz? He said you’ll know it when you hear it. So, he took me to this roadhouse to hear Ray Anthony and his Orchestra.”

“Because he had just gotten his driver’s license, we went really early while it was still light out. We got there and I don’t know whether you remember Ray Anthony, the band conductor, but he was very handsome and was known as ‘the poor man’s Cary Grant.’ We walked into this roadhouse and it was a great big place, like a banquet hall, with a huge dance floor. That early, there was nobody there but us. Ray Anthony was at one end of the room with his band when we walked in. There I was in my fifteen-year-old glory, with my crinoline skirt on and he winked at me. Oh, he was very handsome. By the end of the night, I was smitten and I thought I loved jazz. I didn’t know that wasn’t really jazz. (laughter) So, I became a jazz fan at fifteen. It was quite a revelation for me when I discovered Stan Kenton and, of course, my all-time favorite is Charlie Parker.”

Like myself, Edythe Bronston believes that jazz is freedom music. She knows this courageous and doughty music was born out of slave songs, church hymnals, the blues, European classical music and a longing for freedom of expression. This music effloresced through the bell of Louie Armstrong’s trumpet and the creativity of Charlie Parker’s inventive saxophone. Improvisation was born. Both the music and the musicians who play it are an important and undeniable part of our American culture.

On April 25, 2020, at 5:30pm in downtown Los Angeles, the Annual Gala presented by Edythe Bronston and her California Jazz Foundation called, “Give the Band A Hand” will honor iconic composer/arranger Johnny Mandel and pianist, bandleader, journalist and educator, Billy Mitchell. This is the group’s annual fundraiser to support their ongoing program throughout the year.

“What I’ve learned, when you talk to a jazz musician, there’s no hidden agenda. What you see is what you get. And that’s the beautiful part of it. As long as they have a job, a gig, and as long as they have their health, they’re good. They don’t internalize that something could happen to them. They don’t think about getting older or what if they have an accident or they get sick. They don’t have any cushion. It’s just such a tragedy. Terry Gibbs is a good friend of mine and he told me that when he started out with his first band, he was paying musicians more than any other bandleader was at that time. Shockingly, the amount that he was paying is the same amount that they are being paid today. It’s tragic!” Atty. Bronston’s voice is full of compassion.

But where is the corporate support for the California Jazz Foundation? Why aren’t companies like Gretsch, who has literally cornered the endorsement market of the jazz scene, and who boasts a popular line of jazz drum kits, or Ludwig drums, Yamaha, or DW drums, contributing to this important nonprofit effort? Why aren’t Piedmont piano company, or Steinway, or Shadd Pianos, named for Warren Shadd, the first African-American piano producer contributing? Jazz musicians play all the popular instrument brands and many advertise for these companies and their products. How about VISA and MASTERCARD and airline companies that fly these musicians around the world to perform? The California Jazz Foundation needs and is looking for corporate sponsors.

“Well, I think that’s why Billy Mitchell has been so successful …because he’s dealing with children and corporations care about kids. We haven’t seen the same kind of support for the master musicians who are playing the music and continuing the legacy of jazz. We always say, the L.A. Jazz Society takes care of the kids (through their program ‘Jazz in the Schools’) and we take care of the sick and the older musicians. We’re two groups who are very friendly and refer back and forth. They seem to have an easier time getting grants than we do, probably because people care more about children. We’ve been able to survive, but with more corporate grants, we would be able to help more musicians. We’ve helped over 300 musicians and 77% of our grants, from the very beginning, have gone to alleviate homelessness by paying rent, mortgage payments and taxes, in addition to assisting with health challenges,” Edythe Bronston sighs.

Speaking of pianist, Billy Mitchell, not only will he be receiving an award from the California Jazz Foundation, but he will also be given an award by the Jazz Journalist Association at this April 25th Gala event. Mitchell has been based in Los Angeles since 1970 and has backed up artists like Gloria Lynn, Esther Phillips, Billy Paul, Randy Crawford, Linda Hopkins, Barbara Morrison, Cheryl Barnes and many more. He is a member of the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited headed by jazz legend, Kenny Burrell. Mitchell has appeared in the Clint Eastwood motion picture, “Bird.” As a journalist and clinician, he’s written and published books and his articles in Gig Magazine chronicle his life and love of the music he performs and teaches. As founder of SAPPA, the Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy, and founder, director of the Watts-Willowbrook Conservatory & Youth Symphony, he transforms lives every day, reaching into the under-served communities of Southern California to inspire young musicians.

The other recipient of the California Jazz Foundation’s “Terry Award” is Johnny Alfred Mandel. As a composer, arranger and conductor, his songs for film soundtracks have become iconic, including the Grammy and Academy Award winning, “The Shadow of Your Smile” and the beautiful, “A Time for Love.” A former trombonist and trumpet player in big bands, he has worked with Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Diane Schuur, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Horn, Ann Hampton Callaway and countless more. He penned the popular Television theme song for the M.A.S.H show. In 2018, Johnny Mandel received the Grammy Trustee Award from The Recording Academy for “individuals who, during their careers in music, have made significant contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording”. He’s also the recipient of the NEA Jazz Masters Award.

The California Jazz Foundation is proud to honor these two legendary and locally based Southern California musicians.

“Our programs create excitement,” Edythe Bronston says with pride and conviction. “So many of our jazz musicians and our stars are dying. It’s always a wonderful evening and it has buzz. We have people who come every year. You never know who will attend and the music is always amazing. We invite everyone to purchase tickets or to support our mission by becoming members. Everywhere I go, I meet new friends who wish to join our cause, simply because of their abiding love of the music and the musicians who give so much of themselves. We celebrated our fourteenth year on January 30th of 2020. Please help us by making a tax-deductible donation. With your support and generosity, we will always be here to assist our jazz musicians.”

You can visit the California Jazz Foundation (CJF) Online at:
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Feb 22, 2020/Samueli Theater in the Segerstrom Art Center

The Segerstrom Art Center is a state of the arts complex in Costa Mesa, California, a very affluent area of Los Angeles County. It offers several parking structures and theaters of various sizes and a wealth of talent for the community to enjoy. The room where Kandace Springs is performing Is set up like a nightclub venue. The round tables are draped in white table cloths with a small, flickering lamps in the center that made the space feel cozy and intimate. All the tables on the main floor housed four chairs. A balcony, with tables for two, sat above the main floor on both sides of the room. It’s a comfortable cabaret set-up with a capacity to hold 320 people. Tonight, it was full.

A female drummer saunters on stage, sits behind her trap drums and began to solo with gusto. Another female enters, picks up the double bass and joins in. They set up a funky, smooth jazz, soulful groove. Then Kandace Springs prowls across the stage like a lioness. Dressed in black pants, she sits down at the electric piano, soaking up the center spotlight. The show has begun. This pianist/vocalist has a head of hair like a lion’s mane and it bobs and moves with her tenacious delivery on the piano keys. Her voice is husky and rooted in gospel. It’s somewhat reflective of Stevie Wonder when she makes certain vocal ‘runs.’ I’ve seen this artist on YouTube performing with Kenny G, Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oats) and a big band. During the opening number, her bassist sings harmony with Kandace.

Because I’ve been in the music business for such a long time, I can tell this is a new band. Still, their voices blend beautifully. The longer they perform together, the tighter this ensemble will become. Kandace Springs moves from the electric piano to the grand piano to perform the second tune, “Gentle Rain.” Afterwards, she announces that she has a new CD coming out in March on the Blue Note label. Tonight, we are getting a live preview of this new recording. She tells us, her friend, Christian McBride, is playing bass on her Blue Note production. However, “tonight Caylen Bryant (on bass) will accompany me on “Devil May Care,” she says giving a nod to her bassist. Kandace swings this arrangement, propelled by the talented Taylor Moore on drums and amply supported by her multi-talented bassist. In between each song, Ms. Springs interacts with her audience, offering a warm exchange of information. She shares that she and Norah Jones are Blue Note sisters and they perform a duet on her new album celebrating Ella Fitzgerald. “Norah Jones plays the Steinway grand piano and I play the electric piano on the tune, Angel Eyes,” she tells us. The trio digs into this tune, featuring Caylen duetting vocally with Kandice, and on the fade of this song, all three female musicians sing a haunting, harmony part. It’s extremely effective, with a wee bit of gospel flavor to it.

Then came a piano solo where Kandace Springs shows us, she definitely has ‘chops’ and is a classically trained pianist. Her love of piano started at age ten when her dad brought home a piano. Kandace comes from a musical family. Her father was a popular, working soul singer in a country-western town. His name is Scat Springs and he had his own Nashville band. His vocals were so strong that he sang backup for several well-known musicians like Brian McKnight, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Michael McDonald and Donna Summer. A daddy’s girl, she tagged along to his sessions. It was her father that introduced her to legendary singers like ‘Ella’, Eva Cassidy and Nina Simone. Her dad helped her record a demo at age fifteen and it got a lot of buzz.

For her next song, Kandace celebrated Carmen McCrae, performing solo, just her piano and voice singing a soulful rendition of “In My Solitude.”

Then she ripped into a classical-sounding composition to show she was a studied musician. I heard shades of Rachmaninoff, Shubert and Bach. This interlude faded seamlessly into Jobim’s tune, “How Insensitive.” Kandace liberally shares her spotlight with the two talented ladies in her band. She features them next. Taylor Moore on drums is an amazing technician on her instrument. She really fired-up the crowd.

Caylen Bryant lays down her double bass and straps on her electric instrument. The trio does a unique arrangement of Sade’s tune, “Love is Stronger than Pride” with the drummer and bassist singing back-up vocals that enhance Kandace Springs’ smokey delivery of this popular song. Next, Kandace tells us she credits Norah Jones for inspiring her to learn and perform the first standard she ever played and sang before an audience. Then she performs, “Nearness of You.” This was followed by a funky, but still very jazzy rendition of “People Make the World Go Round.” She stunned the audience when she sang and played Billie Holiday’s tear-jerking song, “Strange Fruit.” It was a very moving performance. The trio rebounded from this emotional ballad to a song the group ‘War’ made so popular; “The World Is A Ghetto.” Judging from these two songs, Kandace Springs seems to have a little bit of an activist edge to her music. The drummer tears into her solo on this arrangement and the audience goes crazy.

The jazz community has had an open space available for a female pianist and jazz vocalist. We have been waiting for someone to soulfully fill the hole that legends like Nina Simone, Roberta Flack and Shirley Horn left in our musical fabric. That’s why I was happy to hear Kandace tribute Roberta Flack, going back to the grand piano to play and sing a beautiful rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” She closed out their concert with a fiery arrangement of Nina Simone’s, “I Put A Spell on You.”

The room rose in a unified standing ovation to show the three talented ladies how much they were appreciated. I look forward to hearing the new album by Kandace Springs titled, “The Women Who Raised Me.” Like two of her idols, Norah Jones and also Diana Krall, she continues to break new ground, playing piano and singing. Her choice of blending musical genres, with a youthful jazz infusion, while celebrating the spirit of her jazz elders like Carmen McCrae, Nina and Sarah Vaughan, (who all played piano beautifully) makes Kandace Springs a fresh, blossoming talent in my New Artist series.

(Note: This Kandace Springs article was previously featured Cover Story at
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Connie Han, piano/composer; Bill Wysaske, drums/producer/composer; Ivan Taylor, bass; Walter Smith, saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet.

This is pianist, Connie Han’s follow-up album to her debut “Crime Zone” production. Although only twenty-three years young, her style, technique and presentation are seasoned and powerful. Her playing echoes the influence of innovators like McCoy Tyner and Hank Jones; Kenny Kirkland and Bill Evans. The first song is an original composition by Ms. Han and it races ‘straight-ahead’ and dynamic. It’s the title tune, “Iron Starlet.” Her photos on the album are seductive and dominatrix. Tunes like her “Iron Starlet” composition, or the third cut, “Mr. Dominator” reflect the CD artwork. Jeremy Pelt’s trumpet rolls across the rhythm section like a whip. Ms. Han’s piano playing is exciting and plush with energy. On the composition titled, “For the O.G” Connie Han showcases both interesting and technically adept prowess on the piano. She is a strong player and one with great melodic ideas that she develops, like a well-written novel, turning the pages slowly on this Track 4, letting us simmer in the heat of her story. She gives drummer, composer and producer, Bill Wysaske, an opportunity to solo on his trap drums. Wysaske has written “Boy Toy” and “Captain’s Song,” for this project. Bassist, Ivan Taylor, also takes a notable solo on this “O.G.” song that Connie has penned. The saxophone of Walter Smith III adds touches of sophistication and embellishes the production.
When Han describes her long time partnership with Wysaske and his drums she explains:
“We subscribe to a philosophy of music that is driven by complex and sophisticated rhythm. The Rhythm isn’t hard just to be hard. It all comes from a place of pure human instinct.”

On “Hello to The Wind” Connie Han shows a softer side to her playing during the interpretation of this Chambers & Gene McDaniel’s composition. Another familiar jazz tune that she includes on this “Iron Starlet” production is “Detour Ahead”. Drummer, Bill Wysaske, has arranged both of these songs.

Every tune is charismatic, like the pretty artist herself. Her left hand is often busy beating rhythm into her mix, while her right-hand races around the treble clef, searching for creative ways to explore the unknown and make it visible. She’s aggressive and tenacious on both the grand piano and the Fender Rhodes. When she does settle down, there is a tenderness on the keys that is palpable. For example, on the waltz arrangement of “The Forsaken,” another original composition by Connie Han, Bill Wysaske pulls out his brushes to support the tune and bassist,Ivan Taylor, who soaks up the spotlight like a sponge. His double bass solo is sensitive and exploratory.

Over time, I’ve learned to listen closely to what people say and play. Especially when they describe themselves and their art. I’ve learned to believe them. This is a “play it again” project! That means I’ll listen to it more than once. Perhaps Connie Han summed things up best in her liner notes when she wrote:

“This band can go from the blues to the esoteric. But we always strive to bring out the darkness, grit and depth in this music as much as possible. Those are the elements that we’re inspired by and the values that we hold quite dear.”
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LAILA BIALI – “OUT OF DUST” Chronograph Records

Here is an artist who blends jazz and pop/soul and folk music in a way that still crowns ‘jazz’ king. Her voice crosses genres. She has a tenacious delivery and exhibits a soaring vocal range on the very first tune of her album. As an awesome pianist and a competent composer, her song “Revival” talks about global turmoil and elicits a call-to-arms, encouraging the world community to unify.

She sings: “women fighting for equality … six million more united into one … paint your signs, pick up your shoes; take a stand, there’s no excuse …”

Her next song is titled, “The Monolith.” Webster’s dictionary describes monolith as a large, single upright block of stone or concrete, especially a pillar or monument; also it could be a large organization or pillar of the community. In this scenario, Laila Biali lyrically describes a woman trying to break through something as strong as stone in her life. Her vocal tone is haunting and the mallets of the drums adds to the drama. The original composition titled, “Glass House” was co-written with her husband and album co-producer, Ben Wittman. She layers voices in warm harmony during this arrangement. Here is a song addressing the epic challenge of suicide in our communities and the after-effects of their very personal family member’s suicide. On “Wendy’s Song,” she plays a piano ballad that is dedicated to a close friend who she lost to cancer. The melody moves from alto to soprano like a sunrise. Laila Biali’s voice is smooth and full of shine and luster. The soprano saxophone solo adds a smooth jazz flavor to what sounds more like a folk song at the beginning of this arrangement. Even though these events are heartbreaking, Laila Biali manages to find hope in the debris of tears and sadness. She finds reasons to lift herself, her loved ones and the world “Out of the Dust.” This is an album of resilience and fortitude.

“These new songs took shape as I processed my own feelings of doubt and loss,” Biali reveals. “I believe that nothing is wasted, that even life’s greatest challenges can produce something meaningful, even if only to make us more aware of and empathetic to the struggles of those around us.”

The song “Sugar” is a jazzy, bebop production with a repeatable ‘hook’ that’s catchy and melodic. This is a song with unexpected modulations and it’s quite joyful. Additionally, Liala Biali adds the most wonderful rendition of “Take Me to the Alley” written by singer, songwriter, Gregory Porter. Liala’s voice is tender, warm and emotional on this great composition that tributes the down-trodden being lifted up.

Liala Biali has already been honored as SOCAN Composer of the Year at the 2005 National jazz Awards. She’s been consistently performing worldwide and in spite of her own personal challenges, she has used those obstacles to create music and inspire others. She’s won a Juno Award in her native Canada. This is a Canadian award that mirrors our United States Grammy Award. She’s worked with both award-winning trumpeter, Chris Botti and the awesome and talented singer/songwriter, Sting. This is a woman who is making history, one step at a time, and is proud to rise up, “Out of Dust.”
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Recorded in 1982, not long after she moved to Paris, Fodder On My Wings is said to be one of Nina Simone’s favorite albums, yet has remained one of her most obscure. Originally recorded for a small French label and only sporadically available since its initial release, Fodder On My Wings will be reissued in a variety of formats including CD and LP, as well as widely available digitally for the first time, in both standard and hi-res audio, on April 3 via Verve/UMe. The original album will be expanded, with three bonus tracks from the recording sessions, a rare French reissue released in 1988. Nina’s legacy lives on!

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March 8, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

March 8, 2020

In this column, I also review The Pacific Mambo Orchestra’s new CD with special guest, Jon Faddis, and Sarah Elgeti with her quartet. Sarah plays tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet and writes both lyrics and music. Paul Shaw is a drummer and bandleader who features Alex Sipiagin on trumpet as part of his talented quintet. I listened to the stunning new CD by Keith Oxman who features Houston Person. Having two lead tenor saxophone players on the same CD explores the uniqueness of both. Finally, I review John DiMartino, a pianist who is celebrating the music of the iconic Billy Strayhorn and he features Eric Alexander on tenor sax as part of his dynamic ensemble. Also, a reminder that there will be a memorial service for the great saxophonist, Jimmy Heath, on March 12th in NYC. R.I.P Jimmy Heath. On a lighter note, I was so pleased to get a one-on-one interview with Charles Owens, our very own Los Angeles treasure, a respected educator and master woodwind player.

Born April 5, 1937, Charles Owens has been a mainstay of our jazz community for nearly half a century. Charlie O, as I sometimes fondly call him, is a master woodwind musician. His passion and love of the saxophone started when he was a small child. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, his mother and father divorced during his early years. When Charles’ mother met and married William Owens, their family moved from Phoenix to Portland Oregon.

“Right around the beginning of the second World War, we moved to Portland, Oregon. My parents were looking for work in the shipyard, because they were making ships in Oregon. We lived in Oregon until the end of the war and then in 1945, on Thanksgiving weekend, we moved from Portland, Oregon to San Diego. I remember because the car broke down on our way and we had to stay at the filling-station all week-end, because the guy wouldn’t open up and fix the transmission. Finally, the mechanic came back on Monday, after the holiday weekend, and fixed it. We went on to San Diego. My mother and stepfather moved there because the aircraft industry at Convair was hiring. I went to elementary school, all the way through part of college in San Diego. We lived in Logan Heights,” Charles told me.

Shortly after, Charles and his parents traveled to Oklahoma on a short vacation. He was around nine years old.

“We went down to Sapulpa,Oklahoma to visit my father’s people. There were all kinds of instruments laying around their house; trombones, saxophones, drums, piano, whatever. I was there for a week and I had a chance to try all of them. I fell in love with a Silvertone alto saxophone made by Sears & Roebuck. Everyone in my dad’s family played an instrument. My Uncle Harry played the saxophone. My Uncle Herman played the trumpet and was pretty good. Aunt Eloise, my father’s sister, played piano and somebody played the drums. My dad liked to sing. He sounded a lot like the smooth lead singer of the Inkspot group. So, I just had a ball that week making all kinds of noise on all those horns and instruments. When I got back to San Diego, I asked my mom if I could get that Silvertone alto saxophone. She bought it for me and it cost fifty bucks,” Charles recalled.

I asked Charles who was his early influence on saxophone.

“Well, my first was Charlie Parker. I saw him in a movie and he had on this white coat and he was decked out, looking good and playing alto. Just something lit up in me. It was the best feeling. It was just beautiful to hear Bird play. I was eight or nine-years-old. I went to the Victory theater and there was Bird playing on the big screen. it was just heavenly. He thrilled my soul and made me happy.

“Everybody in my little gang of friends played saxophone. There was a guy named Johnny Hodges (not the famous Johnny Hodges) and then Daniel Jackson. Daniel would come by the house. We had a piano in the front room. He would play the piano and I would play saxophone. Then I would play piano and he would play saxophone. We’d learn songs together like,’I Remember April’ and ‘Cherokee’. Then there was James Hatcher. He played alto and we’re still buddies today. I got this gig with Tommy Wilson and the Kingsmen. They were the hottest band around San Diego during my high school years. We bought our little cars and kept them running off the gigs we played on the weekends. We had San Diego sewed up. Every time they had a house-party, people had to have Tommy Wilson and the Kingsmen. I was also inspired by Teddy Pico. He was a large, wonderful saxophone man and a big influence on all of us aspiring saxophone players. Daniel Jackson was another one of my main influences. He would show me stuff that would take me years to learn on my own. Growing up, I also loved Stan Getz. He played so pretty. Also, Gene Ammons was a big influence on me. I remember, as a kid, walking home from school and past this hole-in-the-wall joint that had a juke box. I’d hear Gene Ammons playing “My Foolish Heart” and it really spoke to me. I’d stand outside and listen.

“I majored in music and went to San Diego State for a couple of years and then went to Prayer View A & M University just outside of Houston, Texas. That’s where I met my wife, Mildred. We came back to San Diego from Houston. I was working at a ‘Jack in the Box’ making burgers and I thought, if I’m going to be in music, I’ve got to make a living some kind of way. So, I joined the Air Force to be in their band. That’s what kept me in music after college. My wife went on to college and I went to March Air Force base. It was a wonderful experience.”

When Charles Owens completed his stint in the Air Force, he continued his music education at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“I met Dwight Dickerson at Berklee. Dwight and I were playing in a strip joint. Dwight was playing piano. Hershel Dwellingham was playing drums and I was playing saxophone. We had a good time and made $125/week. I played the afternoon shift; 4 to 9PM. Dwight played from 9pm to whatever. Some kind of way, we became best friends. I’ll never forget this beautiful Puerto Rican lady. Oh, she hated my guts. She complained constantly that I never played the melody. He’s always playing some outside shit, she said. I did play the melody once, but after that, she was right. I was trying to be Coltrane,” Charles chuckled.

Charles Owens played with the Buddy Rich band from 1968 to 1970. He recorded with Buddy Rich in ’68, playing on an album titled, “The New One!” and he did some arranging on another album titled, “Mercy, Mercy.” In 1970, Charles began to play regularly with Mongo Santamaria and was a guest player on Mongo’s 1969 release of their “Afro-American Latin” album. On May 10, 1971, Owens relocated to Los Angeles and with the help of Ernie Watts and Don Menza, he became active as a studio session musician. The same year,Owens appeared on the Bobby Bryant CD, “Swahili Strut” and released his first album on the Discovery label titled, “Mother Lode.” In 1973, he played saxophone on Henry Franklin’s album, “The Skipper.” He talked to me about some of those studio sessions and television specials that he worked on.

“I had the pleasure of recording with Natalie Cole several times. I recorded with Marvin Gaye on the ‘Here My Dear’ album and Les McCann from time to time on his small band stuff. I didn’t record with Diana Ross, but I did play with her on tour for six weeks. I think I made $3,000 on that gig. That paid for my daughter’s birth. I worked with Michael Jackson too. It was a funny thing. He recorded all that great music, but he couldn’t sing the melody to A-Train. It was during a television taping and they tried and tried to teach him the melody,” Charles Owens sings me the melody that challenged Michael.

“But he just couldn’t learn that one part, so they discarded the idea of Michael singing A-Train. Another time, I worked with James Brown and this one night he forgot the words to ‘Livin’ in America’. He couldn’t remember the words to a song he had written, so they had to cancel the TV show we were taping. I also worked with H. B. Barnum and he was producing a lot of stuff. That work definitely helped me raise my family. By that time, we had a daughter and two sons.”

In 1978, he recorded with jazz vocalist, Lorez Alexandria, on an album titled, “A Woman Knows.” For this project he played flute and both soprano and tenor saxophones. Then, in 1979, Charles recorded his second album as bandleader, “The Two Quartets” for Discovery Records, featuring John Heard and Louie Spears as bassists, Alex Acuna and Carl Burnett on drums, Dwight Dickerson and Theo Saunders as pianists and Charles playing his tenor saxophone.

When the 80s rolled around, Charles Owens was in serious demand. He got the call to join the Ellington Orchestra under the direction of Mercer Ellington.

“He would fly me out to New York.I’d make my little money and come back to L.A.,” Charles told me.

“It was a great inspiration to be around all of those truly wise and great players like Johnny Hodges, and hang out with Chuck Conners, a famous bass trombone player with the Duke Ellington orchestra. Also, Rudy Woods was another trombone player I met and Bubber (Miley). These are legendary Duke Ellington trombone players. It was like getting the stamp of approval for being a jazz player. It these cats dug you, they’d give you their flask and say, take a drink buddy. You’re alright. I was living my whole life, not wasting it. Being accepted by these real giants in the business, gave me that stamp of approval. Being around Mercer and Barrie Lee Hall Jr., a trumpet player that took the Cootie Williams spot in the orchestra, was great!”

NOTE:(Barrie Lee Hall was given Cootie William’s last trumpet when he joined the Ellington Orchestra. Barrie Lee was praised as one of the greatest plunger players of all times. He led the orchestra for about a year and sometime took over for Mercer Ellington in a leadership role when Mercer was absent.)

Around the same time,(1980), Charles recorded another album called, “Charles Owens New York Art Ensemble” with a group of iconic jazz players including bassist Ray Brown, pianist George Cables, drummer Roy McCurdy, that also featured James Newton and Red Callender. On this studio project they celebrated the music of Harry Warren. However, the album Charles Owens calls his ‘greatest achievement’ is the “Joy” album. That was released in 2010.

“That recording is the last one I did with Ron Carter, Mulgrew Miller and Lewis Nash on it. I flew back to New Jersey to record it in Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. He was one of the greatest A&R men and that was my greatest achievement. It was a dream come true and I’m elated how it turned out. I believe it’s the best thing I ever put on a CD,”Charles shares with me.

There are many, many more albums that Charles Owens can be heard on. As a leader, back in 2007 he released the “So Far So Good” CD that he recorded in Europe, March 26th and 27th, right around his birthday.

Charles told me, “For the ‘So Far So Good’ recording, I flew to Germany. We played outside of Munich in a little town where this guy Steffan had a wonderful studio in the woods. Kirk Lightsey, Reggie Johnson and Doug Sides were living over there. It was really, really special working with Kirk Lightsey. Reggie Johnson is the bass player, that when Charlie Mingus died, he took Charlie Mingus’s place in the Mingus ensemble. He’s a great bass player. The record was released on the Organic Music label.”

Currently,the great Charles Owens has been sharing his talent, experience and knowledge with a plethora of young musicians, teaching both at UCLA and privately. Owens has an eye for talent. Back in the eighties, before anyone had ever really heard about saxophonist Rickey Woodard, Charles sent him to New Zealand to be our featured act at the grand opening of the first downtown jazz club in Auckland, that Dwight Dickerson and I hosted. Charles Owens was also one of the first to start singing the praises of Kamasi Washington. Both of these L.A. based musicians have skyrocketed in the jazz business and have become popular recording artists. Two other young lions he mentored are Azar Lawrence and Louis Taylor. He suggested Azar go to New York to further develop his career. The next thing he heard; Azar had landed a gig with McCoy Tyner. Charles tells me that Mr. Hamilton (who teaches at Berkley High School in Northern California) has sent him a number of excellent saxophone and bass students. A couple of young musicians that he recently has been mentoring are a San Diego trumpeter named Sam Kirdica and a Santa Barbara based saxophonist named Zane St. Andre. Professor Owens has high hopes for these two young talents.

The day I interviewed Charles, he told me he was leaving for Chicago, Illinois in the morning.

“I’m going to Chicago tomorrow to play with the Clayton/Hamilton orchestra and I’ll be back home Sunday. I’ve been playing in their band for about thirty years,” Charles alerted me.

I might add, he has recorded with this popular band on several occasions. Most recently, Owen’s recorded with the Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra featuring Barbara Morrison and Ernie Andrews. The album is called,” The L.A. Treasures Project: Live at Alvas Showroom.” In 1995, he was part of their “Absolutely!” recording and in 1999 he played clarinet and tenor saxophone on their album titled, “Explosive.” In 2000, Owens played soprano and tenor sax on their “Shout Me Out!” album and again in 2005 on the “Live at MCG” recording.

“Speaking of big bands, I have my big band that’s going to be playing over at a French school on Pico near Beverly Glen this month. It’s a French private school where the children have to speak French and English in their curriculums. Then tomorrow we’ll be playing jazz in the Palisades for three and four-year-olds. The kids liked it so much last time we did it that the teacher wanted us to come back and do it again. Drummer, Donald Dean Sr. and I have been promoting jazz in the schools for several years. We have a Black History Month concert tomorrow on 108th Street. We did one yesterday at the 52nd St School and we were very well received,”
pride colors the tone of the reedman’s voice.

While riding to gigs that inspire our youth to appreciate jazz, you will find him playing “Soul Eyes” by John Coltrane on his car stereo system.

“That’s my favorite song right now. After teaching, I get into my car, turn it on and if I’m in traffic, it cools me right out. On ‘Soul Eyes’ Coltrane is really playing from the heart.”

When it comes to teaching and mentoring, Charles Owens has strong views about the best way to inspire students.

“I think it helps to have an older person, that knows what they’re doing, to tell you what to do and to be kind and offer positive suggestions. I try to explore what students can do better. I may encourage them to work on their tone or to practice, … but I always try to be nice. A teacher has to be able to inspire people. Sometimes you need to tell someone something to help them improve, but no matter how nice you tell them, they don’t want to hear it. A teacher’s job is to make them aware of what they have to do and to help them get to the next step. I’ve discovered that sometimes that helps me get to the next step. Teaching has taught me how to treat people. It’s so easy to give a person a compliment, along with the lesson, and see their face light up,” Charles counsels.

Finally, I asked Charles Owens, since he has lived on both coasts of the United States, what he thought the difference was between West Coast Jazz and East Coast Jazz?

“Well, the New York musicians tend to be a little more adventurous and a little less in tune than the West Coast musicians. The West Coast musicians are better musicians, because for a while there was so much work out here and you could get it if you could play in tune and if you could blend. Because of the studio sessions and the recording and performance band opportunities, West Coast musicians are a little more thoughtful about what they play. The New York musicians are more original and play a little more out of tune. That’s the difference I found,” Charles answered.

You can catch the Charles Owens Quartet on March 28th at the World Stage in Leimert Park. He will also be in concert at The Merc in Temecula, California at the Sherry Williams venue for jazz on April 2nd.
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Christian Tumalan, piano/director/producer; Steffen Kuehn, trumpet/director/producer; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jon Faddis, trumpet; Dafnis Prieto, drums; Herman Olivera, vocals; Alex Britti, guitar.

The Pacific Mambo Orchestra is a Latin flavored orchestra full of celebration and celebrity. Now in their tenth year, PMO finally gained well-overdue recognition in 2013, when their crowd-funded, self-titled, debut album took home the GRAMMY for Best Tropical Latin Album. No newcomer to the big band circuit, they have performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, San Francisco’s California Jazz Festival, The Aspen Jazz Fest, and many, many more. They are a popular orchestra that recently sold out their run at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland, California. You never know who is going to be featured with this ensemble of super talented musicians. The 20-piece orchestra is comprised of the Bay Area’s top talent featured with iconic names like Poncho Sanchez, Pete Escovedo, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Prince and on this recording, trumpet legend Jon Faddis appears with the other well-known special guests listed above.

The orchestra’s take on the Chaka Khan hit recording, “Through the Fire” features Armando Cordobo and plush horn harmonics, along with Latin rhythms that happily dance and transform this R&B hit to a Latin treasure. The background voices add spiciness to the arrangement. The familiar, “A Night in Tunisia” tune features the stellar trumpet talents of Jon Faddis as soloist, and Dafnis Prieto is outstanding on drums. At times the Faddis trumpet sounds more like a whistle than a horn. His upper register notes are always mind-blowing.

Here is a musical project that never stops propelling you forward with energy, producing tune after tune that is danceable and joyful. This music will brighten any day and burns as hot and beautiful as any South American sunny day.
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Sarah Elgeti, tenor saxophone/flute/bass clarinet/arranger/composer; Sidsel Storm, vocals; Anders Krogh Fjeldsted, bass; Henrik Holst Hansen, drums; Nils Raae, keys/harmonica; Alexander Kraglund, violin; Soren Birkelund, clarinet; Marianne Caecillia Eriksen, baritone saxophone.

“Magical Thinking” opens this album with Sarah Elgeti’s flute smoothly delivering the melody. Ander Krogh Fjeldsted takes a brief but engaging solo on bass, followed by the piano keyboard creativity of Nils Raae. It’s an electronic presentation that layers instrumentation and makes the project very apropos for meditating and thinking magical thoughts. Sarah Elgeti has headed her own quartet since 2007. She is both composer and arranger, bringing her Scandinavian background and cultural heritage into play on this project. The multi-talented Ms. Elgeti plays tenor saxophone, flute, bass clarinet and writes both lyrics and music. On Track 2 she has Sidsel Storm interpret her composition, “Whereto?” with a soft, lyrical voice. Sidsel sings, “You have beheaded dragon after dragon, bathed in his blood. Did not become invulnerable nor tired…moving on your way again and again … transcending limitations.”

The arranger’s detail to blending woodwinds gives this production a pan piper feel of easy listening jazz. The pianist also has the distinction of being quite adept at playing harmonica and offers a solo that swings on the tune, “Changing Whispers.” Sarah Elgeti is a smooth reed player. She originally studied guitar and bass as a youth in Denmark, but at fifteen, began to play the tenor saxophone in her school orchestra. She found a passion for that instrument and you can hear this on their third track. She expanded her love of the reed instruments by mastering flute and the clarinet. Consequently, she has worked as a studio musician, performed in theatrical productions, played both classically and in a variety of ensembles. She’s worked as an educator and conducted big bands, so the lady from Denmark is quite versatile. Since forming this quartet, Sarah Elgeti has toured throughout Europe and Japan, featuring her original compositions and arrangements. This is the group’s fourth album release and on the whole, the music is very soothing and quite ‘laid-back.’
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Paul Shaw, drums/composer; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet; Brad Shepik, guitar; Gary Versace, piano; Drew Gress, acoustic bass.

Paul Shaw grew up in Southern New Jersey and was a child drummer who began playing the instrument at five-years-old. During a stint in the military, he gained experience by playing in their jazz orchestra in the 1st Marine Division Band at Camp Pendleton. Shaw moved from the Marines to the Air Force as a big band drummer. During his time in the Air Force, he performed with a variety of Air Force bands throughout Europe and the United States, including the United States Air Force Falconaires.

“Heartland” is the first tune and introduces us to Brad Shepik on guitar and the trumpeter, Alex Sipiagin. Gary Versace, on piano, lends a brilliant solo to this track. The tune is of moderate tempo with a well written melody that gives the ensemble players an opportunity to stretch out and improvise. Drummer, Paul Shaw, has composed every song on this album. On Track three, the ensemble introduces a pretty tune titled “Song for Everyone.” Once again, Shaw’s melody is prominent and repeatable, setting the stage for his musicians to dance atop the chord changes and fully express themselves. He graciously shares the spotlight with his ensemble members. It isn’t until the fifth song of this production that Paul Shaw steps out front and takes a dynamic drum solo. He shines on the song, “Peekaboo” and there’s nothing hidden about his talent on the trap drums.

Paul Shaw has played with quite a few notable jazz giants including Rufus Reid, Bill Watrous, Tom Coster, Johnny O’Neal, L.A. based guitarist and bandleader, Jacques Lesure, Donald Harrison and Oscar Brown Jr., to name just a few. But Shaw is not limited to jazz. He’s diverse. His drum chops have propelled the music of Wynonna Judd from the Country Western world and Celine Dion from the pop music charts. He has also worked with gospel icons, CeCe and BeBe Winans and in the next breath, he’s holding the rhythm in place behind the Blues Traveler. For a while he was a member of the Atlanta based quartet, The Swing Association, voted best jazz group in Atlanta. Currently living and working in New York City, this album is a successful representation of his drum mastery and his expert composer skills.

I also found the cover art by Mikela Swenson to be eye-catching and creative. It made me want to put the Paul Shaw Quintet CD on my CD player and spend the next fifty-plus minutes enjoying the quintet’s concert. This album will be released March 27, 2020.
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Keith Oxman & Houston Person, tenor saxophones; Annette Murrell, vocals; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Ken Walker, bass; Paul Romaine, drums.

Keith Oxman is a Denver-based saxophonist who has enjoyed collaborating with some very iconic players over the years. He’s recorded with saxophone master, Dave Liebman, great trombonist Curtis Fuller and San Diego based, famous reedman, Charles McPherson. This time, he has chosen the soulful player, Houston Person to join him on his “Two Cigarettes in the Dark” project. The two awesome sax players open with “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.” Oxman plays alone on Track two, to express his original composition titled, “Voss Is Boss.” During this arrangement, Paul Romaine is given an opportunity to showcase his creativity during a spirited trap drum solo. On “Everything Happens to Me” Oxman features Annette Murrell on vocals to sell these unique and beautiful lyrics. She does a delightful and believable job of telling the story, followed by Houston Person’s sexy sax solo and Keith Oxman’s satin smooth tenor playing. Both players are uniquely gifted and each offers their own specific style. Perhaps Charles McPherson described them best in the liner notes.

“I have known and been familiar with Houston Person’s great talent for years and consider him to be one of the important tenor stylists of note today. Keith, with his long flowing lines and Houston with his warm, soulful rich tone and melodic strength create a contrast of tenor styles which works well on this CD,” wrote McPherson.

When not gigging or recording, Keith Oxman has been teaching at Denver’s East High School for the past twenty years. Perhaps with some sarcastic humor, he has named one of his original compositions ‘Murphy’s Law Impacts L.E.A.P.’ This refers to a controversial program for Colorado teachers that is less than popular.

On the title tune, “Two Cigarettes in the Dark” Jeff Jenkins soars on the 88-keys, making his musical statement on the piano with strong mastery. The Hank Mobley tune, “Bossa for Baby” is Latin flavored, but Houston Person and Keith Oxman manage to pump a bluesy feel throughout the tune.

Benny Golson hailed Keith Oxman as a musician ‘of great consequence.’ NPR Radio Network described Houston Person as ‘one of the most soulful jazz players on the scene.’ Put them together and you are blessed with an album of virtuosity and joy.
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John Di Martino, piano/arranger; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Boris Kozlov, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; Raul Midon, vocals.

If you are a lover of Billy Strayhorn and his incredible legacy of compositions, this is an album you must add to your collection. Pianist, John DiMartino has chosen fourteen of Strayhorn’s awesome songs to interpret on this album and every one of them is well-played and beautifully arranged. Strayhorn is certainly one of America’s greatest composers of the 20th century and was an integral part of Duke Ellington’s legacy and orchestra. On this album, you will hear those familiar tunes that have become jazz standards and a sprinkling of those that may not be as familiar. But every single song and Di Martino’s arrangement on each, is noteworthy. The tenor saxophone of Eric Alexander pleasantly captures the spotlight and compliments Di Martino’s excellent piano creativity. On “Isfahan (Elf)”, the fifth cut on this project, dynamic drummer Lewis Nash is featured and trades fours with gusto. We also get to enjoy the big bass sound of Boris Kozlov during this tune. Kozlov echoes the melody of the song, playing tag with Eric Alexander’s sax lines and it makes for a very interesting arrangement. “Lush Life” features the warm vocals of Raul Midon. “Chelsea Bridge” is radiantly interpreted by Eric Alexander and when John Di Martino follows with his solo, we are reminded how beautiful this Strayhorn composition really is. You will enjoy all your Billy Strayhorn favorites including “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” “Daydream” and of course, “A-Train.” I could not find video of his current trio, but here is John DiMartino playing “Daydream” solo.

The title tune, “Passion Flower” is often tooted as one of Strayhorn’s finest compositions. The great composer seems to have had a love affair with flowers. You will also hear this quartet’s renditions of “Absinthe (Lament for an Orchid)” and “Lotus Blossom.” Whichever tune is your favorite, they are all represented well by the quality and passion of these musicians.
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In conclusion, On March 12, 2020, inside the Rose Theater of the Jazz at Lincoln Center venue, a legendary saxophonist, composer, bandleader, educator and NEA Jazz Master will be honored in New York. We lost the great Jimmy Heath on Jan 19, 2020. This will be his memorial celebration. Doors open at 6:30pm and the event will begin promptly at 7pm. General seating is first come first serve. His celebration of life will be webcast live via
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February 15, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 15, 2020

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

THANA ALEXA – “ONA” Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ELSA NILSSON – “HINDSIGHT” Bumblebee Collective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 6, 2020

Also featuring CD reviews of Andrea Brachfeld and Robin McKelle

Written and Reviewed by Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

February 6, 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 30, 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dee Dee McNeil
JANUARY 10, 2020

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 1, 2020

By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil
January 1, 2020

ANTHONY JEFFERSON – “ALL I AM” Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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