CELEBRATING WOMEN IN MOTION

March 1, 2019

CELEBRATING WOMEN IN MOTION
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 1, 2019

In 1987 the U.S. Congress designated March as Women’s History Month. So, this month, along with other music, I’ll be celebrating females in jazz and beyond. Some are historic music makers and others making history as we listen.

ALICIA OLATUJA – “INTUITION: SONGS FROM THE MINDS OF WOMEN” Resilience Music Alliance

Alicia Olatuja, vocals/arranger; David Rosenthal, arranger/guitar; Billy Childs, arranger/piano; Sullivan Fortner, piano/B3 Hammond Organ; Jon Cowherd, piano; Ben Williams, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., drums; Dayna Stephens & Tommy Pancy, tenor saxophone; Markus Howell, alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt & Etienne Charles, trumpet; Etienne Charles, horn arrangements; Rasul A-Salam, Vuyo Sotashe & Alicia Olatuja, background vocals. Other arrangers on this project: Christian Sands, Josh Nelson, Jon Cowherd, Sullivan Fortner, Michael Olatuja Justine Bradley & Kamau Kenyatta.

This recording of vocalist, Alicia Olatuja, features the compositions of noteworthy female songwriters and is enhanced by a variety of creative arrangements. This artist has a rich tone and a tenacious vocal. With her powerful voice, what better songs to choose than those written by composers like Brenda Russell, Sadé, Angela Bofill and Tracy Chapman, to name only a few.

This production is a comfortable blend of smooth jazz, R&B and pop music. You may recall this talented vocalist from her appearance at President Obama’s second inauguration ceremony in 2013. She was the featured soloist during the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Alicia Olatuja has a career that has snowballed since that historic appearance at the White House. For a while, she performed with various jazz ensembles at The Julliard School. At times, she’s shared the stage with great musicians like Chaka Khan, BeBe Winans, Christian MCBride, Billy Childs and Dr. Lonnie Smith. Ms. Olatuja has appeared on numerous music festivals with her own band.

This album, her second solo artist release, continues to introduce the world to Alicia’s outstanding vocal abilities and to her arranging talents. She seems to be pursuing a soul-pop, or neo-soul-jazz direction. This, her second album as a leader, is leaning heavily towards a rhythm and blues direction. You hear the ‘blues’ in her spirited arrangement of Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” with the funk drums of Ulysses Owens, Jr. propelling the production. On “People Make the World Go ‘Round,” (a solid hit for the Stylistics back-in-the-day and composed by Linda Creed and Tom Bell), Alicia Olatuja dances her voice on the outer limits of Avant-Garde jazz, with Jeremy Pelt exquisite on trumpet.

Obviously, Alicia Olatuja cannot be boxed-in. Ms. Olatuja shows the diversity and emotional connection she brings to every style and recorded musical composition she sings. A clear example of this is her interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “Cherokee Louise” composition. On “Just Wait” she offers us a taste of her own songwriting skills. Her interpretation of Angela Bofill’s “Under the Moon and Over the sky” adds her African roots with background vocal chants that inspire. Perhaps Alicia Olatuja describes this project best with her own powerful words.

“When we hear the word ‘intuition’ we think of a woman’s intuition, that inner, gut-instinct thing that goes beyond mere information. There is something powerful and beautiful and something to be celebrated in that. The sub-title ‘From the Minds of Women’ reminds people that we’re not just intuitive, emotional beings. We are intellectual as well. We do know how to connect the emotional and the rational. And when we do that, especially through our work, beautiful and unimaginably creative things are made.”

Below is a video concert by Alicia Olatuja that promoted her first album, “Timeless,” ‘live at BRIC House.

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ELLEN ROWE OCTET – “MOMENTUM PORTRAITS OF WOMEN IN MOTION”
Smokin’ Sleddog Records

Ellen Rowe, piano; Marion Hayden & Marlene Rosenberg, bass; Allison Miller, drums; Tia Fuller, alto saxophone; Virginia Mayhew, tenor saxophone; Lisa Parrott, baritone saxophone; Janelle Reichman, clarinet; Ingrid Jensen, trumpet; Melissa Gardiner, trombone.

Pianist, Ellen Rowe decided to create an album of original music that celebrates some of her female she-roes. Each of the ladies who inspired these tunes has made an indelible impact on Rowe and her music. Beginning with her “Ain’t I A Woman,” composition, with that sentiment extracted from a speech by Sojourner Truth in 1851. This is a slow bluesy number that Rowe calls a hymn to unsung heroines of the civil rights movement including Mary Bethune Cook, Daisy Bates and Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray.

“Their fierce advocacy for the rights of the oppressed deserves much wider recognition. I was embarrassed to realize how little I knew of them and am a better person for having done research on them in the composition of this piece,” Ellen Rowe shared in her liner notes.

The second track is titled, “R.F.P. (Relentless Forward Progress).”This composition was written to tribute two female distant runners; Joan Benoit Samuelson (winner of the first Olympic Women’s Marathon, 1980) and Canfield Laws, still running at fifty-years-young and Gunhild Swanson, who at age 70 finished a 100-mile Trail Race under the 30-hour cutoff mark.

This journalist should have known Ellen Rowe was a runner. When I met her, three or four years back at the Detroit Jazz Festival, I noticed she was slight of build and very healthy in appearance. In fact, she looks like a runner.

Ellen explained, “Running is a huge part of my life and these women are my inspiration.”

I expected the tempo to be up and vigorous, but instead this is a celebration of horn harmonies atop a moderate rhythm with Allison Miller strong on drums and pushing the energy forward like a serious, strong breeze. Then surprise! I like it when they double-time the rhythm and give Ms. Miller a chance to earnestly showcase her trap drum chops. I can picture those runners taking off and picking up their strides to this bright and inspiring arrangement. “The Soul Keepers” captivated me with a boogie-woogie feel and an undercurrent of shuffle drums. This tune gives Ellen Rowe an opportunity to stretch her nimble fingers across the grand piano keys with brilliance. This one is dedicated to the late, great, Detroit pianist and phenomenal composer, Geri Allen. When the saxophone enters, this composition becomes an unapologetic blues. This is one of my favorite compositions on Ellen’s album of fine music. Her tune “Anthem” is dedicated to the power and sophistication of musicians and songwriters, Joni Mitchell and Carole King who influenced Ellen Rowe early in her career. She features clarinetist, Janelle Reichman on this cut. “The First Lady (No, Not You Melania)” composition made me laugh out loud at her title. This song is dedicated to the grace and class Michelle Obama brought to the White House. The awesome Marion Hayden is featured on this number, playing her acoustic bass and holding the rhythm section tightly in place. Rowe’s composition becomes another one of my favorites. Tia Fuller is outstanding on alto saxophone and Ingrid Jensen is always stellar on trumpet. All the various women that Ellen Rowe tributes are listed on her CD jacket with an in-depth explanation of why she chose them and what they mean to her. Additionally, the music on this recording is amply interpreted by an all-female ensemble. Each one of these women brings the best out of their instruments and make Ellen Rowe’s compositions come brilliantly alive.
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CATHERINE RUSSELL – “ALONE TOGETHER” Dot Time Records

Catherine Russell, vocals; Matt Munisteri, guitar/musical director; Mark Shane, pianist; Tal Ronen,bass; Mark McLean,drums/percussion; Jon-Erik Kellso,trumpet; John Allred,trombone; Evan Arntzen,tenor saxophone; Dana Lyn,violin; Eddy Malave,viola; Marika Hughes,cello.

Catherine Russell has a commanding vocal style that snatches my attention immediately. She’s smooth as velvet, yet she impenitently swings hard. Starting with “Alone Together,” her quartet sounds tight and cohesive.

Together, they have toured four continents and appeared in numerous festivals and concerts along with their stunning lead vocalist, Catherine Russell. She is delightful to hear, embodying jazz with her honest, emotional performances. Ms. Russell brings back an era of jazz from long ago with her arrangements and repertoire choices. But jazz was not always her musical direction. After graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Catherine Russell worked with pop stars like David Bowie, Steely Dan, Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon and Jackson Browne, to name just a few. She has performed as a background singer, an instrumentalist and a lead singer, before finally finding her niche as a jazz singer. After appearing on over 200 albums, lucky for us she decided to produce one of her own. This “Alone Together” masterpiece is her seventh studio album released as a leader. Interpreting the Great American Songbook is not new, but these songs allow an artist to place their unique mark on the music. This vocalist does just that!

Catherine Russell’s roots were always soaked in jazz. Her father, Luis Russell, was a legendary pianist, composer and bandleader. he acted as Louis Armstrong’s long-time musical director. Her mother, Carine Ray, was a vocalist, guitarist and bassist who pioneered for women in jazz. performing as part of the iconic International Sweethearts of Rhythm group. Ms. Russell continues her family legacy with this outstanding piece of musical art. Favorite songs include the title tune, the bluesy “I Wonder,” and “Shake Down the Stars,” brings back an era of 1930s jazz. A unique blues song that I had never heard was, “He May Be Your Dog but He’s Wearing My Collar.” Other gems are, “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew” and her up-tempo arrangement of Nat King Cole’s song, “Errand Girl for Rhythm.”
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LYN STANLEY – “LONDON CALLING” – A Toast to Julie London Independent Label

Lyn Stanley, vocals; John Chiodini, guitar; Mike Garson & Christian Jacob, piano; Chuck Berghofer & Michael Valerio, bass; Paul Kreibich, drums; Aaron Serfaty, drums/percussion; Luis Conte & Brad Dutz, percussion.

Lyn Stanley has sold over 40,000 recordings worldwide. That’s a big deal for an independent artist. All of her albums celebrate the Great American Songbook. In this, her 6th album release, she celebrates the songs that Julie London sang. Julie London was a husky toned, jazz and cabaret singer, popular in the 1950s through the 1970s. It was London’s voice heard on the popular TV detective show, “Peter Gunn.” That was one of the first television shows to feature jazz music as a theme song and as part of the weekly show. Included in Lyn Stanley’s repertoire are familiar compositions like “Goody Goody”, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” I’ve Got A Crush on You” the over-sung “Summertime” and Julie London’s huge hit, “Cry Me A River.” Stanley also tackles the Motown standard, “Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Norman Whitfield and my old friend, Barrett Strong. The arrangement is quite nice with shades of an Ahmad-Jamal-groove and an appealing percussive and drum addition by Aaron Serfaty. Surprisingly, the band turns an R&B hit record into a jazz ballad. It was an interesting production. Although this was not a song that London sang, it was still a very creative addition to Lyn Stanley’s album. This vocalist has a clear, relaxed delivery that lends itself to easy listening music. Appropriately, this romantic music was released Valentine’s Day weekend.

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CAROL SUDHALTER QUARTET – “LIVE AT SAINT PETER’S CHURCH” Alfa Projects

Carol Sudhalter,baritone saxophone/flute/vocals; Patrick Poladian,piano; Kevin Hailey,upright bass; Mike Campenni,drums.

The quartet comes out swinging on Tadd Dameron’s famed “On A Misty Night” composition. Carol Sudhalter grabs the attention right away on her baritone saxophone. The baritone sax has such a distinctive sound, and you rarely see a woman tackle this horn. On Benny Golson’s “Park Avenue Petite” tune, Sudhalter shows the tender side of her saxophone while interpreting this lovely ballad. The Bill Evans composition, “Time Remembered” becomes a platform for Carol Sudhalter to pull out her flute. She and bassist, Kevin Hailey, sing the melody in unison at the top and set the mood. As the song develops, Campenni’s drums Latin shuffle beneath. There are moments in this song when the bass intonation falters, but for the most part, this trio makes a solid foundation for Carol Sudhalter and her reed instruments to stand upon. Later, Hailey is featured on “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You” and is quite outstanding. On Hank Mobley’s bluesy “Funk in Deep Freeze” Carol is back on the baritone and swinging away. Pianist Patrick Poladian performs a noteworthy solo and Mike Campenni sports his stuff on trap drums.

Recording ‘live’ in a church, where there is ample echo and perhaps high ceilings, can be challenging. The mix could have been better on this recording, but you can hear the appreciative applause from the audience. The misstep comes when Carol adds vocals to her showt on one of her original songs titled, “Colin Blues.” Carol is not a vocalist, so this is no credit to her well-written composition and her impressive flute solo. Not to mention, the vocals are not properly mixed into the recording and earlier, some audience member starts loudly coughing during the music. Oh, the tragedies and challenges of recording ‘live’!

Carol Sudhalter has been the leader on ten other albums. All in all, this eleventh recording is a fine vehicle for Carol Sudhalter and her quartet to promote themselves and a worthy product to sell at their gigs.
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PATRICE JEGOU – “IF IT AIN’T LOVE” Prairie Star Records

Patrice Jegou,vocals; The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; Orchestra arranged and conducted by Jorge Calandrelli; Orchestra arranged and conducted by Nan Schwartz; Mike Long,piano/Rhodes; David Lang,Wurlitzer; David Paich,piano/Hammond B-3; Yaron Gershovsky,piano; Dean Parks,guitar; Ramon Stagnaro & Larry Koonse,acoustic guitar; Michael Thompson,elec. Guitar; Kevin Axt, Abraham Laboriel,Sr., Boris Kozlov,bass; Ray Brinker, Steve Ferrone, Cliff Almond & John “J.R.” Robinson,drums; Luis Conte & Lenny Castro,percussion; Tom Scott,tenor saxophone; Mark Kibble, vocals/producer/ percussion; Alvin Chea,vocals; Choir: Bill Cantos,Kurt Lykes,Jamie McCrary,Jason Morales,Melodye Perry,Alfie Silas,Tiffany Smith,Bill Maxwell(choir arranger). Special Guests: Tata Vega; Take 6 & Greg Phillinganes, keyboards. Steve Patrick & Mike Barry,trumpets; Doug Moffet,tenor & baritone saxophone; Sam Levine,alto saxophone; Roy Agee, trombone.

The opening tune on this CD takes me back to the Lambert Hendrix and Ross days. In fact, this entire production recalls the music and style of the 1940’s and 50s, right down to the repertoire and the photos on Ms. Jegou’s CD cover. The old-fashioned microphone and the Betty Grable type dress of choice recalls, ‘Father Knows Best’ Days and John Wayne movies. The layered voices on a production of “Lover Come Back To Me” is an a’cappella adaptation that features the live bass voice of Alvin Chea. Chea and Mark Kibble (Kibble produced this stunning arrangement) are both members of the GRAMMY Award winning Take 6 a’cappella group. It’s an outstanding arrangement and Patrice Jegou keeps up with the high energy harmonics that Take 6 brings. She sounds spectacular as the lead singer. Noticeably, Patrice Jegou has employed some of the top names in music for this project, including The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, composer/producer David Paich (son of great arranger Marty Paich), amazing vocalist, Tata Vega and L.A. studio pianist, Mike Lang. Her repertoire is refreshingly creative and nostalgic, all in the same breath.

Surprisingly, Patrice Jegou’s first love was figure skating and not music. She began skating at age seven and turned pro at eighteen years old. She worked as an ice-skating coach in New Zealand and toured with a circus show in Mexico. That’s when a fellow skater heard her singing to herself and suggested she had a great voice and should pursue vocal lessons. Her resulting studies culminated in attaining a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree in Classical vocal performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. At first, she pursued classical music and opera until her husband, vocalist, physician and musician, Yinka Oyelese, suggested she expand her vocal horizons.

“When I sing Debussy or Mozart or Beethoven, I have to sing it exactly as it was written. Singing jazz is far more spontaneous. You’re free to reinterpret the music. It’s very liberating and creative.”

On “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” she shows off her operatic control, without sounding like an opera singer. She beautifully interprets this lovely song, once made famous by Peggy Lee in 1954 and taken from the Kismet musical score of 1953. Jegou’s version is lovely. The Pointer Sister’s popular hit record, “Yes, We Can Can” is given a fresh face with the drum and bass line putting the funk in the arrangement and the delightful guest appearance of Tata Vega, who duets with Jegou during this production. It’s a spirited arrangement that makes you want to tap and clap. There is an aura of spirituality about this project. Many of the songs are lyrically encouraging and some, like “I’m So Glad I’m Standing Here Today” with background voices that caricature a gospel choir, are jubilant. “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams,” that features Take 6 voices with jazzy harmonies, uplifts.

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra joins the party on “If It Ain’t Love.” Another diamond is her sparkling rendition of “Estate” featuring the emotional accompaniment of Larry Koonse on acoustic guitar. Ms. Jegou sings this one in Italian, showing us her linguist skills. Being a former opera singer, of course she would sing in various languages and she nails this dedication to summer. On her tribute to Stan Getz, “Remembrances,” her performance is enhanced by the additional vocals of Javier Almaráz. This entire project is a pleasurable party, well produced in a most professional way, with bursts of brightly colored songs, like balloons, floating from my CD player.
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JORDAN PETTAY – “FIRST FRUIT” Outside In Music

Jordan Pettay,alto/soprano saxophones/producer; Christian Sands,piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ/producer; Luke Sellick,bass; Jimmy Macbride,drums; Mat Jodrell,trumpet; Joe McDonough,trombone.

As a debut album for Jordan Pettay, this is a captivating piece of art. Her opening number, based on the Wayne Shorter “Speak No Evil” composition, shows her reed power and her bandmates take full advantage of her “Whatever Happens” composition to show that whatever happens can be stellar. Mat Jodrell is awesome on his trumpet solo and Joe McDonough’s trombone solo bounces atop the straight-ahead groove. Christian Sands (who also co-produced this album) is one of the astounding new piano geniuses on the jazz scene. His solo adds excellence and empowers everyone’s creativity. On track two, she blesses her premier album with the gospel song, “I Am Thine O Lord” played intensely on her soprano saxophone. Pettay is obviously still attempting to find her saxophone voice and style. I found it particularly noticeable on this arrangement. However, when the title tune comes, (another Pettay original), Ms. Pettay sounds confident and solid on her horn. This is a well-written composition, where bassist Luke Sellick, along with the pulsating drums of Jimmy Macbride, push Pettay to her highest strengths. Christian Sands is wonderful, whether accompanying her or taking center-stage-piano or keyboard solos. This trio is tight and buoyant. Jordan Pettay dances brightly on top of this cushioned ensemble of excellence. “You Make Me Feel Brand New” offers a wonderful, smooth jazz arrangement. It pleasantly refreshes this melodic R&B hit record. Macbride’s drums produce a rich mallet sound in the background that is quite stunning. Jordan Pettay is smooth and bluesy on her alto saxophone. This song brings happiness into my home and makes me want to dance. It should get a lot of airplay. The horn arrangements and harmonies are rich and royal. They sweetly crown the song.

“For Wayne” I assume is a tribute to the iconic Wayne Shorter. I glance at the liner notes and I’m right. This song once again showcases Pettay’s affinity for the blues and her composition creates an ample stage to spotlight her talented co-producer, (Sands) and the entire trio. This is another one of my favorite songs on her album, with an unusual, but lovely melody progression.

Jordan Pettay explains, “Wayne Shorter is one of my all-time biggest musical influences. I wrote this composition based on the chord changes of 502 Blues (Jimmy Rowland) which Wayne recorded on his album Adam’s Apple.”

“Straight Street”, the John Coltrane tune, is another vehicle to introduce us to Ms. Pettay and her horn. She explained the story behind this title in her liner notes.

“Some time ago, I was reading the biblical account of Saul’s conversion where he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. The impact of this encounter left Saul temporarily blinded and only when a disciple prayed for him at a house on Straight Street was his sight restored and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul later became Saint Paul, the Apostle, one of the most important figures of the early church.”

The final songs introduce the listener to three spiritual, Christian-based, and beautifully produced jazz arrangements of “Exalt Thee”, “Surrender All” and “Are You Washed in the Blood?” This is a subtle spiritual journey for both Jordan Pettay, her musicians and her audience. I think this project is a musical blessing and prayer to the universe.

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RAN BLAKE & CLAIRE RITTER – “ECLIPSE ORANGE” Zoning Recordings

Ran Blake,piano/arranger/composer; Claire Ritter,piano/arranger; Kent O’Doherty, saxophone.

This is a unique exploration of two pianists, who have combined talents to explore twenty songs on this one-of-a-kind album. It was recorded ‘live’ at Queen’s University in Claire Ritter’s native North Carolina. The concert was meant to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Thelonious Monk. Consequently, many of the songs herein are Monk’s compositions. However, the majority of songs are composed by Claire Ritter, who has reached out to one of her mentors, the astoundingly talented, Ran Blake, to embark on this duet project.The title tune, “Eclipse Orange,” is absolutely beautiful and features both pianists, as does “Blue Monk.” Ritter’s composition, “Backbone” is also played simultaneously by both pianists with heavy shades of Thelonious Monk influence and a nod to another pianist and inspiration who Ritter greatly admires, Mary Lou Williams. Ran Blake has composed “Short Life of Barbara Monk” (a remembrance of the daughter of Thelonious) and together, this duo offers a beautiful and emotionally charged ballad. Ritter and Black met in 1981, at the New England Conservatory. Blake has been an instructor there for over fifty years. Ritter says their collaboration as peers began in 1988, when Blake performed as a guest on her debut album, “In Between.”

“Ran is a great motivator and stimulator of the imagination. His genius lies in his harmonic structures, in recomposing any kind of piece in any kind of idiom. He stimulated the composer in me, bringing out a lot of color, unpredictability and ways of thinking about melodic phrasing in more interesting ways, by encouraging me to listen to a very wide range of different types of music,” Ritter proclaimed in her liner notes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MURLwWfymjQ&list=OLAK5uy_mV9_6El9KDtvNbb HGbA6tbteoV4R82ZT0

Occasionally, you will hear the saxophone of Australian-born, Kent O’Doherty, but for the majority of this artistic endeavor, Blake and Ritter perform as a duo or with each pianist sometimes playing solo. Often the arrangements are by Ran Blake. This is a true artistic endeavor that rewards our ears with gold medal music.

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March 4th and March 10th, PBS television will feature an amazing new vocalist on the scene. Remember this name: Sheléa. Taped in Los Angeles, she will sings a variety of music including a Whitney Houston medley, a tribute to Aretha and a song made famous by Barbra Streisand.

https://www.pbssocal.org/programs/quincy-jones-presents-shelea/?pagename=d&AddInterest=1322&utm_source=Shelea&utm_medium=email&utm_
campaign=dedicated&utm_content=Shelea

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FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH I CELEBRATE: SONGS OF FREEDOM

February 22, 2019

SONGS OF FREEDOM, STANDARDS AND AFRICAN INFLUENCED JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

ULYSSES OWENS, JR. – “SONGS OF FREEDOM” Resilience Music Alliance

Ulysses Owens, Jr., drums/musical director; Reuben Rogers, bass; David Rosenthal, acoustic and electric guitars; Allyn Johnson, piano/Hammond B3 organ/Fender Rhodes keyboard. Featured Vocalists: Alicia Olatuja, Rene Marie, Theo Blackmann, & Joanna Majoko.

This entire project is a celebration of freedom songs in tribute to three female entertainers who were each revolutionary in their own right; Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln and Joni Mitchell. It’s an idea developed by drummer Ulysses Owens Jr., and it’s quite appropriate for Black History Month and beyond. Owen’s quartet provides ample support to the four, featured vocalists, Rene Marie, Theo Blackmann, Alicia Olatuja and Joanna Majoko.

“Everything Must Change” opens this album of music. It’s performed by the stunning voice of Alicia Olatuja, accompanied by guitarist David Rosenthal, who’s an awesome talent and competent accompanist. “Everything Must Change” always brings back warm memories for me. In 1973, I was working at A&M Records as a publicist and one of their contract songwriters, and my friend, was the great composer, Bernard Ighner. He wrote this beautiful song during that time and when he played and sang it to me on the A&M lot, we both wept. Alicia Olatuja brings out the same poignant, ever-lasting beauty of this great composition.

The second track is Rene Marie’s tribute to Nina Simone’s performance and composer skills. Nina Simone’s song, documenting the terrible injustices of racism in Mississippi has become an historic protest song titled, “Mississippi God Damn.” This is followed by the healing strains of “Balm in Gilead.”

Ulysses Owens Jr.’s dynamic drums propel this music like a full-fledged storm. He has creatively arranged the “Baltimore” tune by Randy Newman into a rich, reggae presentation. He’s chosen a couple of tunes co-written by drummer, Max Roach, and the iconic Oscar Brown Jr.; “Freedom Day” and Driva Man.” Both compositions were popularized on Roach’s “Freedom Now Suite” album that featured his wife at the time, Abbey Lincoln. Owens is spontaneous and assertive throughout. You can hear his spectacular straight-ahead moments on” Freedom Day” featuring the vocals of Joanna Mojoko. On “Driva Man” he slaps the blues alive with busy drum sticks and David Rosenthal is electrifying during his guitar solo. Interspersed throughout this production are short monologues and poetry that preface the songs. Unfortunately, the album cover does not reflect the correct order of the music. But that graphic-design mistake does not interrupt the proficiency of these musicians or the excellence of this production.

Ulysses Owens Jr was inspired to produce this “Songs of Freedom” CD when Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Director of Programming asked him to participate in a concert playing songs from 1960 to the present. Owens decided to pull meaningful songs of freedom from that period. He chose songs that proudly highlight the African American rebellious and tenacious spirit; a spirit that continuously fights against evil and propels humanity towards the higher good.
If you want to experience vibrant, virtuoso rhythms that paint percussive portraits of freedom, then here is a project to gratify, uplift and entertain you.

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WADADA LEO SMITH – “ROSA PARKS: PURE LOVE. An oratorio of seven songs.”
TUM Records

Wadada Leo Smith, composer/trumpet; Diamond Voices: Min Xiao-Fen (voice, pipa), Carmina Escobar, & Karen Parks; RedKoral Quartet: Shalini Vijayan & Mona Tian, violin; Andrew McIntosh, viola; Ashley Walters, cello; Blue Trumpet Quartet: Wadada Leo Smith, Ted Daniel, Hugh Ragin, trumpets; Graham Haynes, cornet Janus Duo: Pheeroan akLaff, drum-set; Hardedge, electronics.

If Rosa Parks was still alive, she would have turned 106 on February 4, 2019. Wadada Leo Smith decided that this month was the perfect time to release his tribute album to the rebellious Rosa Parks, who sat down in a vacant seat at the front of a public bus where only white customers were supposed to be seated. This defiant act by heroine Parks helped to desegregate busses and called attention to the continuing and ludicrous racist attitudes in our country. Wadada Leo Smith has endeavored to capture that time of inequity and rebellion in this extended composition inspired by the United States’ Civil Rights Movement. His CD includes a tiny 38-page booklet as part of the jacket with photos of his musical crew, stories about them, photos of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr and in-depth information about this production. It also celebrates Smith’s prose, where he explains each suite of music.

The first song, titled “The Montgomery Bus Boycott – 381 Days of Fire” opens this CD with a roll of drums and Wadada Leo Smith’s trumpet mixing with the RedKoral Quartet (a string quartet), and also the Blue Trumpet Quartet that features Smith with Ted Aniel, Hugh Ragin and Graham Haynes. This is conceptual and modern jazz, Avant Garde and combustible creativity born of Wadada Leo Smith’s deep appreciation for Sister Parks and her legacy to the World community and to Black History in general. Smith describes his composition as “a philosophical and spiritual narrative about my vision of Rosa Parks.” The violins bring sweetness to the second track, titled “The First Light, Gold”. Intermingled with the musicians are three lovely voices: Karen Parks, known principally for her operatic work, but confident singing gospel, pop music, jazz and musical theater. Also featured is Min Xiao-Fen, born in Nanjing, China. She is respected internationally for her virtuosity on the pipa, working with various symphonies as well as chamber ensembles. Min is also a singer/composer. Carmina Escobar is an improviser of modern, contemporary music, using sound and vocal techniques to investigate sometimes radical ideas and concepts. These are the perfect three voices to explore Wadada Leo Smith’s own radical and intense compositional concepts and political relevance that is always a part of his musical packaging.

For those of you unfamiliar with the astounding works of Wadada Leo Smith, it began when he became part of the first generation of musicians who came out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the AACM. There, he established himself as both an exceptional composer but also a performer of creative and contemporary jazz music. In the late 1960s, Smith joined forces with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and violinist Leroy Jenkins to form a trio. They later expanded to a quartet when they added Steve McCall on drums.

Wadada Leo Smith has always been a leader, not only of musical groups and ensembles, but as one who is always thinking ahead and performing to challenge himself musically, academically, but mostly spiritually. Smith has received numerous awards over the years heralding him as Jazz Artist of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year, Trumpeter of the Year, winning DownBeat Magazine’s Critic’s Poll and has been named Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. Wadada Leo Smith continues to push the envelope and step outside the norm with his unusually creative concepts and surprising music productions.

He spoke about an earlier work, civil rights and women’s rights on youtube.com. See below.

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ON THE CORNER LIVE! THE MUSIC OF MILES DAVIS featuring various musicians Ear Up Records

David Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophone/flute; Jeff Coffin, tenor/soprano/electric saxophone/flute/clarinet; Victor Wooten, electric bass; Chester Thompson, drums; Chris Walters, keyboards; James DaSilva, guitar.

Growing up in Detroit, Michigan, as a teenager I was absolutely fascinated by Miles Davis and captivated by his “Sketches in Spain” album and his iconic, recorded masterpiece, “Kind of Blue.” But Miles Dewey Davis III had much more music inside of him; music that was eager to be composed and delivered to his adoring public. Miles, born May 26, 1926, became one of the most influential and uniquely original jazz trumpeters and composers of the twentieth century. His over five-decade career moved from Bebop to the fringes of hip-hop music, venturing into contemporary jazz and a period dedicated to more electric jazz. It was new music, rooted in funk and fusion. In 1972, he recorded the “On the Corner” album for Columbia Records.

He incorporated bassist/vocalist Michael Henderson, who is a recording artist in his own right, leaning heavily towards R&B roots. John McLaughlin joined Dave Creamer and Reggie Lucas on guitar. Both Chick Corea, Harold Ivory Williams and Herbie Hancock played keyboards at various sessions and times. Cedric Lawson was masterful on organ. This was exploratory, fusion jazz, highly electronic and experimental. Miles used various drummers including Al Foster, Billy Hart, Don Alias and Jack DeJohnette. James Mtume manned the percussion and he added sitar players and Badal Roy on tabla. Bennie Maupin was on bass clarinet and both Carlos Garnett and Dave Liebman played soprano and tenor saxophones on this unique production.

Coming full circle, in 2015, Dave Liebman found himself celebrating this unforgettable period of the Miles Davis fusion music in Nashville, Tennessee. It was the original idea of reedman, Jeff Coffin. When Dave Liebman appeared in Nashville, Coffin swooped him up to be a part of his project. Afterall, Liebman was an alumnus of the original recording session with Miles nearly fifty years ago. The other players Coffin called are some of the whose-who, top musicians in Nashville. Their concert was well-attended and a huge success. More importantly, it produced this nostalgic album of recorded music. Although Miles Davis died on September 28, 1991, his music is as relevant and entertaining right now, in 2019. as it was throughout his career.

This tribute album opens with a monologue by David Liebman. He talks about how revolutionary the music of Miles Davis was back in the early 70’s. They begin with the Joe Zawinal tune, “In A Silent Way.” It plays like a prayer. Then the Miles Davis composition, “On the Corner,” follows and the fireworks begin. I remember how angry and confused the acoustic instrument lovers and bebop fans were when Miles Davis released this album. There was much protest and accusations that he had ‘sold out.’ These newly assembled musicians bring that period of the Davis career alive again.

Other Miles compositions on this production are “Will (for Dave)”, that was co-written by David Liebman. Bassist Victor Wooten adds an interlude between this song and “Black Satin.” They also celebrate the Miles Davis compositions, “Ife,” “Mojo,” and “Jean Pierre.” Guitarist, James DaSilva is featured on a short interlude, as is Chester Thompson, who takes a drum solo exploration interlude between “ife” and “Mojo.”. This album has a March 1st release date.
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DOUYÉ– “QUATRO BOSSA NOVA DELUXE” Rhombus Records

Douyé, vocals; Otmaro Ruiz , Mike Eckroth, John Di Martino & Lex Korkten, piano; Romero Lubambo, Marcel Camargo & Paul Meyers, acoustic Guitar; Angelo Metz & Gabe Schnider, guitar; Edwin Livingston, Benjamin Tiberio & Mat Muntz, bass; Boris Kozlov, electric bass; Eduardo Guedes, Zack O’Farrill, Evan Hyde & Duduka Da Fonseca, drums; Manolo Badrena, Leo Costa & Nanny Assis, percussion; Jed Levy, soprano saxophone; Justo Almario, saxophone/flute; Dominic Carioti, tenor saxophone; TRUMPETS: Rachel Therrien, Adam O’Farrill, Nolan Tsang & David Adewumi, (solo trumpet); San Beyfekdm & Freddie Hendrix, flugehorn,.WOODWINDS: Nathan Bellott, Alejandro Aviles, Jed Levy, Mercedes Beckman, Xavier Del Castilo & Larry Bustamante. TROMBONES: Corey Wallace, Aboulrahman Rocky Amer, Beserat Tafesse & Jesus Viramontes (bass trombone.

Douyé is a Nigerian artist currently based in Los Angeles, California. She opens her CD with the popular Kenny Durham composition, “Blue Bossa.” Romero Lubambo offers an outstanding solo on acoustic guitar, as does the great Justo Almario on saxophone. Douyé has a rich, second soprano/alto voice that caresses the lyrics of Blue Bossa with warm tones. Latin music suits Douyé’s style of mixing Latin, Brazilian, American jazz and African roots in these arrangements. She explained it this way.

“My dad would play all kinds of jazz from African jazz like Fela Kuti to more traditional American and European jazz to Latin and Brazilian jazz. I didn’t want to make a typical Bossa Nova album like I’ve heard ten trillion times before. I wanted to add my own thing to it; my own identity, my own sound, my own style. The true essence of this project is my African heritage. As an artist, part of my duty is to infuse my heritage and identity into my music.”

She uses various instrumentalists on different studio sessions. I thought perhaps this would taint the music with inconsistency, but for the most part, all the back-up music is beautifully arranged, produced and played. Douyé is using longtime Mingus Big Band music director and bassist, Boris Kozlov and Weather Report percussionist, (who also worked with Ahmad Jamal), Monolo Badrena. Drummer Zack O’Farrill is also an arranger for Douyé and the two collaborated on her former album titled, “Daddy Said So.” His stunning arrangement on “Aqua De Beber” features busy horns in the background with Douyé’s voice floating above the creative rhythms and harmonies. She adds scat singing on the fade of this song. She also uses educator, Edwin Livingston on bass, who has worked with a plethora of great musicians including the late Natalie Cole.

Douyé has a timbre and tone similar to the iconic Nina Simone. It’s a sound that is unique and establishes this vocalist as a stylist. In other words, when you hear her once, you will probably recognize her the second time around. This album of music is packed with familiar Latin compositions, sixteen in total. On tunes like “Once I Loved,” the musicians seem to desert the singer, playing for themselves instead of complimenting what she hears and feels. On the other hand, some might consider this individual freedom of expression. You listen and decide.

Other favorite tunes on this album are “Corcovado,” “Summer Samba (So Nice),” is a lovely arrangement with Jed Levy tasty on flute and tenor saxophone; “Desafinado” gives the listener a clear opportunity to enjoy Douyé’s voice because of the sparse arrangement. Hear Douyé with just the acoustic guitar licks of Marcel Camargo. Leo Costa’s percussive talents keep the rhythm held snugly in place and brightly color the arrangement. These two musicians are all Douyé needs to sell this song. Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father” is nicely represented as is “Nica’s Dream,” that features a very fresh arrangement featuring Zack O’Farrill’s exciting drums and a big band feel with punching horns. Douyé closes with a Poignant duo rendition of “Dindi” featuring the sensitive guitar accompaniment of Romero Lubambo. Beautiful!

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RON JACKSON – “STANDARDS AND OTHER SONGS” Roni Music

Ron Jackson, string guitar/arranger/producer; Nathan Brown, acoustic bass; Darrell Green, drums.

Ron Jackson is a first rate, 7-string guitarist who has just completed his ninth album as a leader and this recent accomplishment titled, “Standards and Other Songs” is a work of pure art. Opening with “Moondance” he refreshes an old pop standard with plush chords and unique creativity. Jackson’s technique is impressive. Folks like George Benson, Van Morrison, Bill Withers, Bucky Pizzarelli and Grant Green, inspired Jackson to polished his craft and style. He’s become a formidable artist in his own right. Ron Jackson’s guitar shines like a brilliant jewel, supported by Nathan Brown on bass and Darrell Green on drums. They are the solid gold shank that holds his jewel in place.

Jackson explained, “The energy that my trio and I brought to this music uncovered amazing connections between jazz and popular songs. It’s a very special project.”

For example, he covers a song by hip-hop superstar, Drake titled, “Passionfruit.” He rejuvenates a rap song with a very jazzy arrangement, paying attention to the melody and playing with the rhythm of the rapper’s words on his guitar strings. On the Bill Wither’s song, “Lovely Day” Ron Jackson breathes helium life into the song, as his guitar notes float through space like loose party balloons. When he plays old standards like “Blame It On My Youth” and “More Than You Know” he infuses these beautiful compositions with his mastery of the 7-string guitar and the special sound it brings to these arrangements. The trio races into “From This Moment On” at break-neck speed and features Darrell Green showcasing his trap drums in a bright spotlight with Nathan Brown tenaciously walking his upright bass, steady beneath the excitement. “Pensitiva” by Clare Fischer brought a taste of Latin jazz to this album in a beautiful way.

Jackson is a jazz and guitar instructor, working as a faculty member of the New jersey Performing Arts Center. He believes in giving back to the community and inspiring young musicians the way he was inspired by the masters that preceded him. Consequently, he has shared his talent and experience at the Wells Fargo Jazz for Teens Program and also at the Brooklyn/Queens Conservatory of Music.

During his formative years of playing guitar, he lived in Paris, France and has certainly adopted some of his style from that French community experience. Born and raised in the Philippines, he plays six, seven and twelve string guitars, electric bass and has appeared on over forty albums as a side man. This project is sure to be another successful musical notch on his leather guitar strap.
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CONGRATULATIONS TO JAZZ GRAMMY WINNERS in 2019

Best Jazz Vocal Album – “The Window” – CECILE McLORIN SALVANT

Best jazz Instrumental Album – “Emanon” – The WAYNE SHORTER QUARTET

Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A’Cappella – “Stars & Stripes Forever” –
JOHN DAVERSA

Best Music Film – “Quincy” – QUINCY JONES; ALAN HICKS & RASHIDA JONES; Video Directors: PAULA DUPRE PESMEN, Video Producer

Best Improvised Jazz Solo – “Don’t Fence Me In” – JOHN DAVERSA from the “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom” album.

Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album – JOHN DAVERSA BIG BAND featuring DACA Artists – “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom”

Best Latin Jazz Album – “Back to the Sunset” – DAFINIS PRIETO BIG BAND

BLACK HISTORY MONTH: I REMEMBER DIANE WITHERSPOON & CEDAR WALTON

February 15, 2019

REMEMBERING DIANE WITHERSPOON AND CEDAR WALTON
by Dee Dee McNeil – Jazz Journalist

“YOU MAY NEVER KNOW” – THE MUSIC OF CEDAR WALTON/THE LYRICS OF JOHN & PAULA HACKETT
Koch Jazz

Diane Witherspoon, vocals; (1948 – 2016) Cedar Walton, piano (Jan 1934 – Aug 2013); Tony Dumas & John Heard, bass; Billy Higgins, drums (Oct 1936 – May 2001).

One of the recorded gems in my collection of music is my dearly departed friend and vocalist, Diane Witherspoon. She is celebrating the music of Cedar Walton with lyrics supplied by brother and sister songwriting team, John & Paula Hackett. It was recorded when Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins were both alive and still making magic on the bandstand. Thankfully, we still have bassists, Tony Dumas and John Heard on Earth. These gentlemen made up the dynamic group of musicians who gathered together in the studio to support Diane Witherspoon’s stellar recording session. It was 1999 and Diane was home, performing in Southern California, after an extensive international tour.

However, Diane Witherspoon wasn’t originally from California. In fact, she was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was one of nine siblings. Her first solo performance was at age nine with her church choir. As a fledgling songbird, she was listening to the recordings of Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan and was also inspired by her older sister, Ms. Shirley Witherspoon, who sang with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. Another relative (her second cousin) was popular blues vocalist, Jimmy Witherspoon. But jazz was Diane’s musical direction. In 1972, she relocated to the Bay Area of Northern California, where she rubbed musical shoulders with iconic musicians like Bobby McFerrin, John Handy and Calvin Keys. Then she moved to Southern California and was mentored by jazz saxophonist, producer and composer, Teddy Edwards and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, as well as another late, great reed man, Frank Morgan. It was during this period that the popular singer learned to mimic a horn and developed an ear for saxophone players and the desire to scat sing. While living in Northern California, she also developed a friendly relationship with the brother and sister songwriting team of John and Paula Hackett. They were busy writing lyrics to pianist and composer, Cedar Walton’s incredible music. That’s how Diane became interested in interpreting those songs.

“I met Cedar Walton through John and Paula Hackett. They gave me several of his tunes to learn, and to sing their lyrics. We went to hear Cedar and Billy Higgins at Milestones jazz club in San Francisco. I got the opportunity to sit in and sing with them and Cedar was so impressed that he decided I would be great recording his tunes. Billy Higgins concurred,” Diane recalled during an interview promoting the Koch record release and an album they called, “You May Never Know.”

Like many jazz singers who are unsigned with a major record label, for nearly four decades Diane Witherspoon made her living travelling worldwide and performing in a variety of countries. She released a total of seven albums. She also spent time as a vocal coach and educator, both at home and overseas.

Now, as I listen to this musical masterpiece featuring Diane Witherspoon’s lovely vocals caressing the challenging melodies of Cedar Walton and interpreting the lyrics of John and Paula Hackett, I remember the ease and purity of her voice. She always brought honesty to the stage and to her lyrical interpretations. I admired Diane’s style and grace. Her repertoire was inspiring and she seemed to enjoy challenging herself musically. We were often late -night buddies on the computer, playing Internet games with each other. After the gig, that was my way of winding down at two in the morning, and she was the same.
When she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, didn’t see Diane anymore, but we sometimes talked on-line. Although this popular songbird made her flight from Earth back in 2016, her unforgettable music lives on. Since this is Black History Month, I wanted to celebrate both Diane Witherspoon and Cedar Walton. As I listened to them blend talents on this one-of-a-kind CD release, it’s easy to recognize the legacy they have left us. If you can find it, this recording is worth a place in any jazz aficionado’s collection.

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CEDAR WALTON

Back in the 1980’s, there was a popular jazz club called Café Lido located in Newport Beach, California and owned by Joe Sperazzo and his wife. Newport Beach is a ritzy Southern California community that caters to a wealthy, upper-echelon crowd. I used to work there quite often with the Dwight Dickerson Trio and one thing that always thrilled us was when some of our outstanding jazz musicians popped in to support the music or just to hang-out. Cedar Walton was often in our audience. I always felt humbled to be performing in front of such an iconic jazz composer, pianist, recording artist and internationally celebrated hard-bop performer. Plus, he was just a down-to-earth, nice guy. Over the years, I’ve found that most jazz musicians are unpretentious and, in general, they’re pretty laid-back.
Cedar Walton was born a few weeks after Christmas in Dallas, Texas on January 17, 1934. Someone once said that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Cedar Walton’s mother was a respected and aspiring concert pianist and became his initial piano instructor. She noticed her son’s talent early in life and took him to several jazz performances including great jazz geniuses like Nat King Cole, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum. These historic jazz pianists became Cedar Walton’s major influences.

His educational path took him from Dillard University in New Orleans to the West coast of the country, where he enrolled at the University of Denver, majoring in composition. Here, while pursuing a degree in music education, Cedar concentrated on arranging for various instruments. This came in handy when he joined the historic Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger group. In 1955, Cedar Walton left Denver, driving cross country to New York City with a friend. Although NYC welcomed the young and talented Walton with open arms, the United States government scooped him up in their draft. He wound up in the army and stationed in Germany where he met Leo Wright, Don Ellis and Eddie Harris. Discharged after two years, he quickly returned to the East Coast and in 1958 became the piano player on Kenny Dorham’s album, “This is the Moment!” That’s when his whirlwind career began to bloom. He joined a jazz-tet led by Benny Golson and Art Farmer from 1958 to 1961. This was followed by his pianist-arranger gig with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. At that time both Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard were in the group. He recorded with a long list of notable jazz men while working as a contract pianist for the Prestige Record Company. Cedar recorded with two of my favorite jazz saxophone players; Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. For a short while, he was musical conductor for Abby Lincoln and arranged and recorded with Etta James in the 90’s when she did a tribute album featuring songs of Billie Holiday for RCA. That production won them a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Walton’s composition skills were admired by all who knew him and many have become jazz standards that are recorded time and time again. Songs like “Bolivia”, “Holy Land” and “Ugetsu” are often recorded by jazz musicians, as well as tunes like, “Firm Roots” and “Cedar’s Blues”. Freddie Hubbard was the first to record his popular, “Polar AC”.

In January of 2010, Cedar Walton became another distinguished inductee to the National endowment for the Arts Jazz Master list. He made his transition on August 19, 2013 in Brooklyn, New York, but will never be forgotten.

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Black History Month Celebrates: Ernie Watts

February 10, 2019

ERNIE WATTS QUARTET – “HOME LIGHT”
Flying Dolphin Records

Ernie Watts, tenor saxophone; Christof Saenger,piano; Rudi Engel,acoustic bass; Heinrich Koebberling,drums.

Ernie Watts is one of our heroic African American jazz cats, one I’m proud to celebrate during Black History Month. Ernie was born in Norfolk, Virginia on October 23, 1945 and his birth name is Ernest James Watts. He is another great alumnus from the world-respected, Berklee College of Music and proficient in soprano, alto and tenor saxophones. This Berklee music school opportunity was thanks to a Down Beat magazine scholarship. It didn’t take long for people to notice the flare, style and exciting energy that Watts brings to any bandstand. Early in his career, in the 1960s, Ernie Watts was hired by Buddy Rich to become part of his big band. He played alto saxophone in Buddy’s band. Next, he was scooped up to become part of Oliver Nelson’s group and eventually found his way into Doc Severinsen’s Tonight Show Band on NBC television. That prestigious gig lasted twenty years.

The wonderful thing about Ernie Watts is how versatile he is on his horns. He’s a proficient jazz and bebop player, but he’s just as comfortable playing on a Marvin Gaye or Chaka Khan album. As a studio session musician, he was a very busy horn player, adding his powerful playing to recordings by pop icon, Paul Anka, and in the next breath, playing on Willie Bobo’s 1977 album, “Tomorrow is Here.” He recorded on Kenny Burrell’s Fantasy Record release, “Both Feet on the Ground” in 1973 and as early as 1969, at age twenty-four, he recorded with Milt Jackson on his “Memphis Jackson” album for Impulse records. It’s the horn of Ernie Watts that you hear on Marvin Gaye’s hit albums, “Let’s Get It On” and “I Want You.” This reedman’s list of contributions to great jazz music stretches from Dizzy Gillespie and Bobby Hutcherson to Gene Ammons and Quincy Jones. He’s featured on nine Charlie Haden albums and then adds his disco licks to the Donna Summer “Eponymous” project, recorded in 1982. His abilities landed Ernie on four Gerald Wilson albums. He recorded with Carmen McRae on “Can’t Hide Love” for Blue Note, with Blue Mitchell on the Mainstream label, with the great Brazilian composer, Moacir Santos, on his famous “Carnival of the Spirits” album, and too many more to mention here. When Ernie Watts isn’t touring or recording albums, he’s on call by the film industry. You can hear his saxophone on movies like, “Grease” and “The Color Purple.” He also played on Kurt Elling’s album, “Dedicated to You” that won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album back in 2011.

As a leader, Ernie Watts has twenty-one album releases covering the years from 1969 (Planet Love on Pacific Jazz Records) to this current release on the Flying Dolphin label. His group has been together for eighteen years and you can hear the tight cohesiveness these musicians share. This comes with time and consistently performing together. Their music feels communal. Each one of these gentlemen is a composer and has a serious love for the music and for each other. This extended family connection adds depth and strength, joy and just plain great jazz on Ernie’s current release titled, “Home Light.”

He has dedicated this “Home Light” album to his dear friend, Ndugu Chancler, who (to the music community’s great sorrow) made his transition in 2018. The title tune was written in Chancler’s memory. The album opens with an Ernie Watts composition titled, “I Forgot August,” that is based on the jazz standard, “I Remember April.” Right off the bat, this song flies like a Jackie Robinson homerun. It’s bebop, unstoppable, straight-ahead and wonderful. Rudi Engel’s walking, acoustic bass rips beneath the energy, locking the rhythm with Heinrich Koebberling’s drums and Christof Saenger’s grand piano. They create a blanket of sound for Ernie Watts to lay his saxophone melody atop. Kubberling has composed “Cafe Central 2am” and it’s a bluesy tune that let’s pianist, Christof Saenger, get down and dirty on the keys. The Ernie Watts composition, “Frequie Flyiers” explores the outer limits of creativity at a quick pace, with challenging intervals and interesting band breaks. Ernie Watts and Heinrich Koebberling take an exciting duo solo where Koebberling actually sings the melody on trap drums in unison with Watts’ saxophone. It’s very inspiring.

“Horizon” is a songwriting collaboration between pianist, Saenger and Ernie. It’s a lovely ballad and shows the softer side of these musicians.

There is something for everyone on this production. Here is Ernie Watts’ new release that celebrates the man and his music. It’s another accomplishment to add to the string of black pearls that Ernie Watts has woven into a musical necklace, inviting us to admire and enjoy.

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JAZZ REFLECTS MUSIC OF THE UNIVERSE AND BEYOND

February 1, 2019

JAZZ REFLECTS MUSIC OF THE UNIVERSE AND BEYOND
By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

January 31, 2019

JOEY DEFRANCESCO – “IN THE KEY OF THE UNIVERSE” Mack Ave Records

Joey DeFrancesco, organ/trumpet/composer; Billy Hart, drums; Troy Roberts, tenor/soprano/alto saxophone / acoustic bass; Sammy Figueroa, percussion. SPECIAL GUEST: Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone/vocals.

The sweet strains of the Troy Roberts soprano saxophone open the first cut of Joey DeFrancisco’s latest CD. This is one of nine original compositions by DeFrancesco, titled, “Inner Being.” It’s richly colored by the sensitive percussion work of Sammy Figueroa and Billy Hart’s tactical and creative trap drums. I gather, from the album title and from some of the original song titles, that DeFrancesco is on a fresh, spiritual journey. Consequently, it seems apropos that he has chosen the great Pharoah Sanders as a special guest on his project.

Nearly fifty years ago, Sanders released his prophetic “Karma” album to much acclaim. This legendary reedman has been exploring spirituality in his music for decades. Pharoah appears on the title tune, “In The Key of the Universe” and on the band’s cover of Pharoah’s standard hit song, “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Sanders also plays on, “And So It Is.” I am very enthused to enjoy both of these master musicians on the same recording.

The second cut on Joey DeFrancesco’s album is titled, “Vibrations in Blue.” It becomes a vehicle for this master organist to boldly express himself. Whether his feet are pedaling or his fingers are racing across the organ keys, Joey DeFrancesco is a musical force to be applauded and appreciated. He’s a soulful player with plenty of technique and a plethora of energy. That musical energy spills across space and engages his audience, whether in person or in the recording studio. That’s what I love about Joey DeFrancesco; his soulful energy. “Awake and Blissed” continues the excitement with a keyboard solo by Joey DeFrancesco after a strong organ solo that establishes the fast-moving tempo and melody. Billy hart masterfully holds the tempo in place. It’s one of my favorite compositions on this project. Track #4 is called “It Swung Wide Open” and swing it does! This up-tempo gem gives drummer Billy Hart an opportunity to cut loose and wrap the arrangement around his powerful drum sticks. Joey DeFrancesco trades fours with the saxophone and creatively sings harmonic lines with Troy Roberts, establishing a strong, musical theme. DeFrancesco’s title composition swings hard, the way Joey DeFrancesco likes it. He mixes straight-ahead and funk like whiskey and water. It’s a delicious mix, with a kick to it. Pharoah repaints the open spaces with his sensual tenor saxophone improvisation, sometimes harmonizing at points with the horn of Troy Roberts and emphasizing the hook of the song. Once again, drummer Billy Hart keeps the musicians inspired and on-point, climaxing at the end of this song was a giant gong. This is another favorite cut for this reviewer.

The Pharoah Sanders jazz standard, “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” is arranged with fresh and creative melodic passages. It’s beautifully expressed, with Joey DeFrancesco merging with this saxophone master to create an original and lovely approach to his historic and familiar tune. We even hear Pharoah Sanders sing on this cut.

DeFrancesco explains this new direction in his liner notes.

“I pride myself on being a musical chameleon. There’s so much good music that it’s hard to stay in one place. …I love being able to go in any direction and lately that’s sent my music in a more free jazz direction… As I grow older, I find myself attracted to a more spiritual vibe.”

Speaking of various directions, “A Path Through the Noise” is a beautiful composition, a ballad, that showcases an awe-inspired trumpet solo by Joey DeFrancesco. Not only does he play a soulful organ, but he has mastered the trumpet too.

Joey DeFrancesco is a celebrity who is a part of the Philadelphia Walk of Fame, has recorded over thirty albums and he keeps the Hammond jazz organ alive and well. DeFrancesco is a third generation musician. His grandfather, Joseph DeFrancesco, played saxophone and clarinet. His father, Papa John DeFrancesco, was an organist who received the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame Living Legend Award. At age four, a precocious Joey DeFrancesco was learning to play songs he heard by Jimmy Smith. By the time he turned ten-years-old, he was in a Philadelphia jazz band that included Hank Mobley and they were opening shows for Wynton Marsalis and B.B. King. The youthful musician signed his first recording contract with Columbia Records when he was just sixteen-years-old. Christian McBride was one of his high school classmates. He’s a member of the Hammond Hall of Fame along with his mentor, Jimmy Smith, Brian Auger, Billy Preston, and Steve Winwood. I enjoyed this powerful new release so much that I played it three times in a row.
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PETRA VAN NUIS & DENNIS LUXION – “BECAUSE WE’RE NIGHT PEOPLE”
String Damper Records

Petra van Nuis,vocals; Dennis Luxion,piano.

Petra van Nuis has a sweetness to her voice that reverberates innocence when she sings. Dennis Luxion accompanies her adequately on the grand piano. Beginning with “Street of Dreams,” she has added the introduction verse that we rarely hear. That was a nice surprise. Their repertoire is rich with a variety of songs that are based on the shades and beauty of night. Tunes like Moonlight Saving Time, You and the Night and the Music, Dreamsville, and many others perpetuate the mood of night. The duo recorded their ‘live’ concert at the PianoForte performance space. You can hear the audience’s appreciative applause. Great songs like “Small Day Tomorrow,” holds this listener’s interest. Duo gigs are challenging. These two seem very familiar and comfortable with each other. No Moon At all picked up the tempo a little and I was happy to hear something with a little spark to it. Luxion uses a Thelonious Monk tune as the intro, and I thought that was creative. I wish Petra had stuck a little closer to the original melody (at least the first time around), but I enjoyed their playful arrangement. The Night We Called It a Day is a beautiful ballad and Petra van Nuis sings it like a horn; smooth and emotional. Petra has picked out all the music and the duo closes with “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” by Irvin Berlin. This is a well-paced, sensitive duo concert on disc for the world to enjoy.

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CHARLIE DENNARD – “DEEP BLUE”
Independent Label

Charlie Dennard, piano, organ, keyboards; Max Moran, acoustic & electric bass; Doug Belote, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Brad Walker, tenor saxophone; Ray Moore, Flute/alto & tenor saxophone; Jason Mindledorf, tenor saxophone /bass clarinet; Marc Solis, flute/alto & tenor saxophones/clarinet; Carlos Lopez, percussion; Andrew McLean, table,/sarod; Josh Geisler, bansuri flute; Eric Lucero, trumpet/flugelhorn; Steve Masakowski, acoustic guitar; Brian Seeger, guitar; Rick Trolsen, trombone.

On Charlie Dennard’s first tune, shades of Ahmad Jamal’s style splashes across the quiet. A happy, medium tempo composition titled, “St. Charles Strut” emanates from Charlie Dennard’s “Deep Blue” release. Based on lovely, melodic lines from the standard song, “Secret Love,” it’s a great tune to begin this musical excursion. The trio swings and sets the ambience for this treasure trove of original songs composed by Charles T. Dennard Jr. His songwriting skills are fervent, robust and compelling. Doug Belote adds zest and punctuation to the musical production on trap drums. He has an opportunity to stretch out and spotlight his percussive talents on track-two, “Mojave” when the arrangement lends itself to a stellar drum solo. Max Moron builds a basement of strength on his bass instrument, solidifying each song with his strong foundation. There are several guests who appear on “Mojave” and the arrangement is a pleasant blend of smooth jazz and straight-ahead. The flautist is haunting and provocative. Right away, I hear Charlie Dennard as a thoughtful, sensitive pianist and composer.

On “Wonderlust” (a tune he co-wrote with Brian Seeger), you hear his emotional and tender side. Steve Masakowski adds another texture to the trio on acoustic guitar. Dennard gives us a taste of his talents on grand piano, on organ and electric keyboard. He is tasteful and improvisational with great attention to the melodic content of his music. There is an underlying force of funk that qualifies his compositions and stretches them, like spandex, across musical genres. His music holds me tightly in his palms, with two fisted precision, he unwraps his composed gifts with busy fingers.

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DAVE RUDOLPH QUINTET = “RESONANCE”
Independent Release

Dave Rudolph, drums/composer; Larue Nickelson, guitar; Pablo Arencibia, piano; Alejandro Arenas, bass; Dave Rudolph, drums; Zach Bornheimer, tenor saxophone; Whitney James, vocals.

Dave Rudolph is a drummer based in Tampa, Florida and right out the gate, “Atonement” dashes, settling into a moderate tempo and establishing the ambience of this album. The tune is arranged and written in a very modern jazz way by Rudolph, who has composed all nine songs on this recording. They span a broad range of musical genres and showcase his talented musical ensemble and their ability to play many kinds of jazz. Pianist Pablo Arencibia shines on this premiere tune. Zach Bornheimer is very prominent in establishing the melodies of these compositions on tenor saxophone and right up-front, at the top of each tune.

“Those Clumsy Words” is a waltz that gives Bornheimer another melodic opportunity to express himself, improvising broadly on his solo. Alejandro Arenas’ bass kicks the waltz into gear, walking briskly beneath the arrangement and invigorating it with energy. Rudolph is given an opportunity to solo on his trap drums at the song’s ending, championing his instrument with technical bravado. “Lonely Train” is folksy and laid-back, like a slow walk along some Floridian beach. Track-four is titled “The Vine” and has interesting chord changes enhance a memorable melody. It’s very smooth jazz, with Rudolph’s drums propelling the piece with fluid technique and magnetic beneath the group’s arrangement. It is always Dave Rudolph who holds the ensemble tightly in place. I enjoyed the creative conversation between drums and piano on this tune. This song may be one of my favorite compositions by Rudolph. “Bounce” is a tune reminiscent of Thelonious Monk’s style of composing. Rudolph shines on drums during the many breaks in this arrangement and performs an unforgettable solo. Also, Larue Nicklelson‘s guitar solo is impressive. The title tune features vocalist Whitney James. It’s a wordless composition, using the vocals like a horn to introduce us to the lovely melody. I wish the pianist had filled some of the open spaces with improvisational runs instead of just chording, but that’s just the arranger in me. “Night Squirrel” is a playful tune with a New Orleans feel and arrangement. This is another favorite of mine on Dave Rudolph’s album. The final tune, “Brushstrokes,” delves into the space of Avant-garde and allows Bornheimer to test the outer-limits of his creativity on tenor saxophone. It also becomes a trampoline platform for Rudolph to bounce his percussive ideas around.

Dave Rudolph was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and started playing drums when he was eleven years old. He was highly influenced by the music of Chick Corea, Tom Petty, Al DiMeola and Lanny White. He attended the University of South Florida and settled in the Tampa area, where he got busy playing drums around town. This album is dedicated to his close friend, Jessica Hiltabidle.

“She described our communications as having a special ‘resonance’ and I have tried to recreate how important this resonance was to me,” Rudolph explained in his liner notes.

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KYLE NASSER – “PERSISTENT FANCY” Rodeadope Records

Kyle Nasser,tenor & soprano saxophones/composer/arranger; Roman Filiu, alto saxophone; Jeff Miles,guitar; Dov Manski,piano/synthesizer; Nick Jost, bass; Allan Mednard,drums.

Tenor and soprano saxophonist, Kyle Nasser, turns his composer talents into the merge of classical baroque, suites and sonata forms, with modern jazz chops pushing the music towards improvisational outer limits. Nasser’s melodies are deeply esoteric and his musical ideas become enhanced by the excellent musicianship of his bandmates. This is an unexpected blend of chordal dissonant, contrapuntal movement and complex arrangements that pair Nasser’s saxophones with the solid and rich sound of Roman Filiu’s alto saxophone. As the two horns talk to each other, they are thrust forward with each creative strike of Allan Mednard’s drum sticks. On the cut titled, “Eros Suite II Desire,” Mednard is given free rein to explore and share his stellar percussion technique on trap drums. On track #13, “Arioso” the mood settles like a nested dove. This composition (by Paul Hindemith) is the only one that Nasser did not compose. It offers the listener a pretty ballad, established by Dov Manski on piano and arranged by Nasser. It struck me like a breath of fresh air after a red-hot summer day. It was such a change from Nasser’s compositions. “Coffee and Cannabis” closes this album, with a funk feel and this tune is quite different from all the others on his project. It’s more contemporary than modern jazz based on classical baroque. But, as explained in his liner notes, Kyle Nasser blends the intellectual and the emotional, demanding that they coexist and encouraging his band to dig deeply, finding a happy medium between the cerebral and the sensual.

“I was thinking about the way that thoughts tend to recur over and over again. Even if they’re not the deepest thoughts in the world, they can be insistent … so you can’t shake them. That’s not imagination, it’s not earth-shattering. It’s fancy – persistent fancy,” Kyle Nasser describes his album title and the catalyst for composing this collection of modern jazz music.

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THE NEWEST SOUNDS YOU’VE NEVER HEARD

January 15, 2019

THE NEWEST SOUNDS YOU’VE NEVER HEARD
By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

January 15, 2019

As the New Year begins, a cluster of newly released compact discs invite me to listen. Here are some of the best and newest sounds you’ve never heard, spinning into the universe. Check out these various artists and the creative gifts they offer us.

ALFREDO RODRIGUEZ & PEDRITO MARTINEZ – “DUOLOGUE” Mack Ave Records

Alfredo Rodriquez, piano/Rhodes/keyboards/vocals/composer; Pedrito Martinez, all percussion, vocals/composer.

It’s hard to believe that just two men could make all this rich and encompassing music. From the very first cut, I am struck by the fullness of their sound. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez syphon the best out of the musical universe. Both musicians sing, as well as play instruments. Their “Africa” chant celebrates the title of this opening original tune; a song that encompasses their Cuban heritage and points back to their African influences. The two men grew up in Havana, Cuba, but would not meet until years later. They separately established musical careers in Cuba, then packed up their creativity and eventually, both headed to the United States. Rodriguez comes from a musical family. His dad was a popular Cuban singer and TV host. Alfredo Rodriguez was dubbed a prodigy early in life and studied classical piano at the Conservatorio Amadeo Roidan and Instituto Superior de Arte. At night, he played popular music in his father’s orchestra. One exceptional evening, while performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2006, he was noticed by his future mentor and producer, Quincy Jones. That changed everything!

Pedrito Martinez was a street musician in Havana, expressing himself through vocals and his deeply- rooted Afro-Cuban percussion styles. He also mastered Cuba’s hypnotic rhythms extracted from their religious music. This percussionist is nearly ten years older than Rodriquez and he arrived in the United States in 1998. Martinez was also chasing musical dreams. Soon after arriving, he was awarded first place at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Afro-Latin Hand Drum Competition. Next, he co-founded a Latin fusion group called Yerba Buena. His group toured extensively and recorded. As Pedrito Martinez’s fame grew, he performed and/or recorded with folks like Wynton Marsalis, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Angelique Kidjo, Chucho Valdez and pop star James Taylor. His diversified mastery of percussion was in demand. One day, Alfredo Rodriguez caught a performance by Pedrito Martinez. The extraordinary pianist, composer knew immediately he wanted to work with this awesome percussionist. Consequently, on Rodriguez’s second recording “The Invasion Parade,” he invited Martinez to participate. Quincy Jones was producing it.

“Every artist on the planet would be lucky to work with Quincy. just having his name on any record is like a trampoline. You don’t go step by step, but you automatically jump five steps up,”Pedrito Martinez gushed in the liner notes.

Pianist, Alfredo Rodriguez, admits that he always wanted to be a drummer himself and has great admiration for those who have mastered the drums.

“I love playing with great percussionists and Pedrito is the best example when it comes to Cuban percussion. He really touches my heart,”Alfredo complimented his musical partner.

Together they have arranged and composed eight of the eleven songs on their premiere CD. They cover Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” hit, written by Rod Temperton, and it’s freshly painted with bright Latin colors. But it is their original music that I find most intriguing and compelling. Their venture into a smooth jazz groove with track #7, “Flor,” is beautiful and melodically enticing. It’s enriched with Rodriguez’s keyboard work and the two men incorporate chants that resonate and hypnotize. Cut #8, “Jardin Sonador” is another favorite, with haunting vocals and featuring the exotic piano and percussion duo at their best. “Mariposa” spotlights the classical roots of Alfredo Rodriquez and is a beautiful ballad. It has a music box quality that introduces those haunting vocal chants that these two so dramatically produce. The final tune, “Yo Volveré” incorporates those exciting, Martinez, Afro-Cuban rhythms, stunning vocals, a taste of Reggae, and the always surprising piano and keyboard mastery of Rodriguez. Their composition skills mesmerize. Here is a shiny and fresh-faced musical production that excites the spirit.

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JEANNE LEE with RAN BLAKE – “THE NEWEST SOUND YOU NEVER HEARD” A-Side Records

Jeanne Lee, vocals; Ran Blake, piano.

Adventurous. Unique. Improvisational. Shrouded in technique, theory and expressionism. These are adjectives that come to mind when I listen to Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake. Here are two individuals who steep themselves in rare and contemporary performances. Jeanne Lee opens the CD, telling us “she is the rose,” and acts as an improvisational introduction to Ran Blake’s impressionistic approach of the Fats Waller composition, “Honeysuckle Rose.” Blake performs as a solo pianist, but not for long. Jeanne Lee joins Blake like a bird in flight; a pitch-perfect vocal master; an unafraid improviser. I haven’t heard many recorded vocalists who move me the way Jeanne Lee does. Every jazz vocalist should listen to this unrivaled duo project. This project is fresh, interesting, creative and the epitome of what real jazz and freedom sounds like.

“Green Dolphin Street” never sounded so good. Starting slowly, it’s performed in Jeanne Lee’s rich alto tone. Her voice captures my attention immediately. Ran Blake accompanies her, with an air of freedom that embraces Fats Waller and Keith Jarrett at the same time. Blake is a master of his instrument and challenges any vocalist to keep up with his experimental chords and rhythms. But clearly, Jeanne Lee is no push-over on the bandstand. She holds her own, with a voice as solid and dependable as titanium. Never mind time changes and key changes. Her voice soars from alto to soprano effortlessly. “Hard Days Night” is another challenging arrangement by Blake and Lee. Jeanne Lee shows any ‘want-to-be jazz vocalist’ the importance of knowing your melody, in spite of what happens in the background. Ms. Lee feels totally comfortable, painting each song with a fresh face, but nailing the melody like a concert poster stapled to a wooden lamp post.

It was 1961when these two musicians (who originally met at Bard College) went into the studio and emerged with this project titled, “The Newest Sound You Never Heard.” The awesome merging of Ran Blake, a gifted pianist, with Jeanne Lee’s perfectly balanced and pleasing vocals is as adventurous as the 1960s themselves. Nearly six decades ago, there was a Hippie Movement in the United States and a pressure to explore and color outside the lines. That’s the best way to describe this project. They are definitely coloring outside the lines, with vividly bright paint and splashes of sparkling silver and gold. This duo is unparalleled; not like anything I’ve ever heard before or since. The late Belgian composer, producer and Jazz Middelheim festival founder, Elias Gistelinck, took the pair to a Belgian radio and television station to record them. He added a live performance the duo recorded in Brussels. The tapes remained in the VRT archives for almost forty-years. Now they have been rediscovered to inspire and entertain us. Ran Blake and Jeanne Lee remind us of what magic two extraordinary musicians can create. They perform it all; Pop, Folk music, Ellington classics and Charlie Parker standards. They do it their way. Be it one of Ornette Coleman’s mystical compositions or an Abbey Lincoln song; a rendition of the Beatles or an old, familiar standard. They do each song in such a fresh and unapologetic way that you are caught up in the comfortable cage of their creativity. They are poetry in song. Her lyrics are vividly projected and enunciated. His grand piano is grandly played, as only a master could do. In a career that spanned nearly six decades, pianist Ran Blake is an improvisational master, an artist for sure, and an educator. He spent fifty-years teaching at Boston’s New England Conservatory.

He and Jeanne Lee met and musically merged in 1956. They were freshmen at Bard University when they found common ground in their experimental approach to jazz. They were propelled by their mutual love of Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk. Speaking of Monk, Jeanne Lee grew up in the Bronx and lived next door to Monk’s sister-in-law named Skippy. The duo toured the world, burning up stages with their fiery approach, mesmerizing audiences with their musical storytelling and unexpected arrangements that both stunned and captivated. Before her departure from this Earth, Jeanne Lee left a fearless legacy, collaborating with innovative jazz icons like Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Mal Waldron, Marion Brown, John Cage and Gunter Hampel. She also contributed to Carla Bley’s masterpiece, “Elevator Over the Hill.”

“There is no one like Jeanne Lee in the world,”declared Blake in the liner notes. “She was the most incredible human being. Her sage wisdom, her charm, her wittiness, her humor, her feelings for humanity and her kindness to everybody in the world. She was such a vibrant personality and of course, what a voice!”

This album will be available January 25th of this year 2019. Had Jeanne Lee lived, she would be turning 80-years-old just a few days after its release. As a double-set recording, you get a double dose of this duo’s very best. It is everything any jazz musician strives to be and any jazz aficionado loves to hear; freedom, musical proficiency and otherworldly.
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CARLA CAMPOPIANO TRIO – “CHICAGO/BUENOS AIRES CONNECTIONS” Independent Label

Carla Campopiano,flute/arranger;Angel Colacilli,guitar/bass/arranger; Gustavo Cortinas,drums/percussion/arranger; Julian “el Piljo” Lopez,guitar on track #5.

Argentina-born Carla Campopiano is a mainstay in Tango music, currently based in Chicago, Illinois. She is a proficient flautist, who soaked herself in the melodies and rhythms of candombe, chacarera, milonga and tango, popular in her native culture. Before coming to America, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from Empa Escuela De Musica Popular de Avellaneda in Argentina. Once she arrived in Chi-town, Carla Campopiano formed a Tango ensemble and began to acclimate to her new surroundings. Drawn to American jazz and blues, Carla soon found herself incorporating these musical styles into her Tango productions. The result is this album. Campopiano’s bandmates include Mexican guitarist Angel Collacilli, who is supportive and rhythmic throughout. When Julian “el Piojo” Lopez plays guitar on the tune, “Zita,” Colacilli takes to the bass. On the whole, this is a low energy production that showcases Carla Campopiano’s love of Tango music and her excellent talents on the flute. I miss hearing the solid bass perpetuation of dance music and the arrangements never moved to an uptempo, but stayed in a somewhat melancholy, mid-tempo range throughout. The composition, “Sacachispas” opens this six -song album with strong Tango rhythms and Campopiano’s flute brightly floats atop. I wish Gustavo Corinas’ drums and percussion had been mixed more to the forefront. I think that would have helped propel this project to a higher energy level, had the ‘mix and mastery’ been better. That being said, Carla Campopiano’s flute is fluid and dances birdlike along with Colacilli’s always-present guitar. The second song, “Melancolico” showcases Campopiano’s fine talents on her instrument. If Campopiano’s goal is to combine her native Buenos Aires, Argentina cultural music with the infectious blues and jazz she discovered in Chicago, I believe she has succeeded.

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DAN BONSANTI & THE 14 JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “THE FUTURE AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE” Dabon Music LLC

Dan Bonsanti, producer/arranger/director; Matt Bonelli & Tim Smith, elec. Bass; Richard Bravo, percussion; Jack Ciano, Lee Levin, Marco Masrcinko & Danny Gottlieb, drums; Mark Egan, fretless bass; Jim Gasior, piano/keyboard; TRUMPETS: Jack Wengrosky,Steve Reid,Cisco Dimas,Ray Chicalo, Randy Brecker. TROMBONES: Dante Luciani, Major Bailey.REEDS:Ed Maina,alto saxophone/flute/piccolo; Ed Calle, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Neal Bonsanti, tenor saxophone/English horn/flute/ clarinet; Peter Brewer, baritone sax/bass clarinet/flute; Mark Colby & Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone.

The infectious rhumba that rolls off my CD player excites my dance spirit. The horns bounce and Ed Calle, on soprano saxophone,takes a vigorous and playful solo. “Armando’s Rhumba” (a Chick Corea tune) sounds like a party. Cut #2, “Firewater,” cools the mood with an orchestrated strut, a walking bass and punchy horn lines. Mark Colby’s sexy tenor saxophone steps up to the microphone and tells his story, along with a sweet, driving solo by trumpeter, Cisco Dimas. Here is a tightly knit orchestra playing the arrangements of Dan Bonsanti, who is a fixture in the jazz community of South Miami. Bonsanti is a talented arranger and orchestra leader who celebrates the compositions of some familiar jazz icons on this project. His mixture of blues, straight-ahead and funk on the Chick Corea tune titled, “Blue Miles” is pure pleasure to my ears. This tune features a strong and emotional piano solo by Jim Gasior. Jim puts the “B” in blues.

You will also hear Jobim’s “Triste” and Wayne Shorter’s “Dance Cadaverous”, the pop tune “16 Tons (Give or Take)” and the classic standard, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” Bonsanti makes the best of every professional player on his bandstand, many who are college music professors and all who are masters of their instruments. Dan Bonsanti has performed as a saxophonist with the Jaco Pastorius Word of Mouth Orchestra, with Doc Severinsen’s band and also with the historic Stan Kenton. As a composer/arranger, Bonsanti leant his skills to the Jaco Pastorius Big Band before finally taking the leap to establish his own ensemble, “The 14 Jazz Orchestra.” This organization features four reeds, three trumpets, two trombones and a 4-piece rhythm section. Ed Calle is featured throughout on tenor and soprano saxophones. To his credit, Calle is a mutli-talented musician, who also excels on flute, clarinet, EWI, keyboards and he’s a competent engineer who occasionally sings, composes and arranges music himself. He was nominated three times for a Latin Grammy Award and is tenured as full professor of Music Business and Production at Miami Dade College. Also featured on this recording is the talented artist and trumpeter, Randy Brecker, who makes a guest appearance on three tracks. As you will hear, Dan Bonsanti surrounds himself with excellent musicians and excels on arranging and producing music you will recognize and enjoy. However, I couldn’t figure out the title of this recording. There is no composition that matches the title and since we only are aware of the present and the past, (unless we have a crystal ball), “The Future Ain’t What it Used To Be” is a puzzling CD title.

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JAKE LECKIE – “THE ABODE” Outside In Music

Jake Leckie,bass/composer; Sebastien Ammann,piano; Nathan Ellman Bell,drums; Kenny Warren,trumpet/flugelhorn; Caroline Davis,saxophone; Alexis Morrast,vocals; Daniel Prim,Percussion; Andrei Matorin & Tomoko Omura,violins; Agustin Uriburu, cello; Ivey Paige,organ; Brenda Trotter-Workman,tambourine.

If you love straight-ahead jazz and funk, you will immediate enjoy track one of Jake Leckie’s debut release. This bassist has composed all the songs and enlisted a group of stellar musicians to interpret his work. Composition-one is the title tune, “The Abode,” and it swings hard, giving the talented Kenny Warren an opportunity to shine on an uproarious trumpet solo. Jake Leckie opens the second cut with his bass profundities. He set’s the mood and groove with his upright instrument always dominant, Leckie plainly anchors his group. This composition, “Metis” is bluesy, folksy and Sebastien Ammann takes time at the piano to explore the melody and lock in with the rhythm section. Leckie’s compositions always seem to have some gospel influence blended into his jazzy arrangements. At the end of this song, Nathan Ellman Bell is featured on a long and interesting drum solo.

Jake Leckie endeavors to create music that not only elevates but engages his musicians and his listening audience with both acoustic and organic substance. With his composition, “After the Flood,” he sympathizes with the people of Houston, Texas and Puerto Rico after they suffered their great loss due to Mother Nature’s rampage. Alexis Morrast competently sings lyrics penned by Leckie’s wife, Becca Leckie. The lyrics have a double-entendre meaning and I found them very well-written. This could be a love song or a song of explanation regarding the flooding and devastation. Morrast has an engaging voice and vocal style. I would enjoy hearing more of this vocalist. Leckie takes a brief, but powerful solo on bass ,reaffirming the lovely melody of his composition.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Leckie studied with john Lockwood and Michael Formanek. His passion for composition has led to several of his songs being placed in films and his compositions were featured in the Baltimore Museum of Art, the documentary “Off in the Far Away Somewhere” and the absurdist dance comedy film, “Snow Bing Bongs,” to list just a few. Currently, Jake Leckie lives in Southern California and he moonlights as an audio-engineer. His composition “Negev” is one of my favorites. In the liner notes, we’re told it is inspired by Abraham’s journey through the Negev desert after he was banished from Egypt. This tune moves at a straight-ahead, up-tempo pace with Leckie pumping his bass like a heartbeat. This album is due for release on January 25, 2019. Keep an ear out.

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BRAD WHITELEY – “PRESENCE” Destiny Records

Brad Whiteley, piano/composer; Matt Pavolka, bass; Kenneth Salters, drums; Tom Guarna, guitar; Michael Eaton, saxophone.

The introduction to the first song on Brad Whiteley’s CD project is long and repetitious. It becomes a theme and pulsates through his composition, driving the arrangement like racing, wild horses. This song is titled, “Dusk” and it’s one of eleven original compositions on Whiteley’s project. This arrangement inspired nervousness rather than a peaceful dusk at sunset. The 2nd track, “Sunset Park” is buttered in blues and more towards my taste. I let a sigh of relief escape. The tempo constantly changes during this tune, but the theme is catchy. Whiteley settles down to express himself on grand piano in a very distinct way. Matt Pavolka walks his bass briskly beside the pianist/composer. Guarna, on guitar, takes an opportunity to make himself known by presenting a stellar solo. Moment to moment, between tempo changes and grooves, this ensemble interprets Whiteley’s songs with technical precision. Michael Eaton is formidable on saxophone. Track three, “The Unwinding,” begins as a pensive ballad, but quickly develops into an energetic piece, propelled by drummer, Kenneth Salters and Guarna’s rhythm guitar. Whiteley has a way of settling into a theme and developing it provocatively. As the piece grows, so does the energy. Whiteley’s piano solo unfolds delicately at first, but soon stretches out to build a crescendo of sound. His compositions create a trampoline for the other soloists to bounce upon, showcasing their musical calisthenics. Perhaps Whiteley describes his composer-skills the best when he said:

“ …it’s all about the song, heightened by the performance. With “Presence,” I strived for the tunes to be as strong as possible, with the composed material on equal footing with the improvised parts. And I always play to the core of a song when improvising, thinking melodically and structurally. L I also learned lessons about the power of song in my gig with the church in the Bronx. Each number you play is an attempt to move people, spiritually and emotionally. That’s something I keep with me in whatever music I play.”

This artist has been influenced by the likes of Duke Ellington and McCoy Tyner, although I find his compositions to be less melodic and not as memorable as compositions like Satin Doll, Do Nothing ‘til You Hear From Me, or A-Train remain. Still, he is developing his own style and finding his own, unique voice in jazz. That is to be respected. His ensemble is tight and supportive, giving their all to his textured arrangements, but too often mired in repetitious innuendos. For the most part, they slide into his compositions comfortably, like custom-made suits. They wear the music, adapting to Whiteley’s various styles and performing accordingly.

The title of this album, “Presence,” celebrates Brad Whiteley’s recent celebration of parenthood and being present in the moment when his little daughter was born; being present and genuine while composing, performing and collaborating with his ensemble members and finally, “Presence” tributes being present in the moment of awareness shared by their audiences during their listening period.

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BEVERLEY CHURCH HOGAN – “CAN’T GET OUT OF THIS MOOD”
Café Pacific Records

Beverley Church Hogan,vocals; John Proulx, iano/producer; Ron Stout, trumpet/ flugelhorn; Graham Dechter,guitar; Doug Webb,flute/tenor saxophone; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Clayton Cameron,drums; Kevin Winard,percussion. Barbara Brighton,vocal producer.

Her repertoire is a perfectly picked group of songs with rich lyrics and lovely melodies. Beverley Church Hogan handles this fresh bouquet of music and words with tenderness and emotion. The first song, a composition by jazz singer, Rene Marie, is titled, “Take My Breath Away.” This vocalist draws me in like quick sand, pulling my attention gently away from everything except her vocals and the stories she tells. I can tell she is a seasoned veteran of selling songs and living life. I can hear it in her delivery. I can feel it in her sincerity. Not to mention, her back-up band is compiled of first-call musicians who are each exceptional in their own right. John Proulx on piano is himself a recording artist, Grammy winning composer and vocalist. Ron Stout is a trumpet and flugelhorn expert. Graham Dechter, a guitar specialist, opens “You’re Looking at Me” by playing “Midnight Sun” that fits smoothly into this Bobby Troup composition. It’s a nice arrangement. Clayton Cameron, on drums, brings his wonderful percussive specialties to the party after spending years as Sammy Davis Jr’s drummer of choice and later touring several years with the iconic Mr. Tony Bennett. Doug Webb is always dynamic when he puts his flute or his tenor saxophone to expressive lips. Kevin Winard makes a percussive performance on the opening tune and Lyman Medeiros is the solid acoustic bass player throughout. The title tune, “Can’t Get Out of This Mood,” features a short but beautiful solo by Stout. All in all, this is a well-produced album that gathers a handful of Southern California’s top musicians to support Beverley Church Hogan’s celebration of the American songbook. You’ll hear her interpret familiar pieces like “Speak Low,” “I’m Through with Love,” and “Time After Time.” You’ll also enjoy some not so familiar songs.

Years ago,Capitol Records offered her a recording contract with a fifty-eight week tour attached. She was twenty-one, newly married and raising a one-year-old child. Like many women in the music industry, she had to choose between family and career. Hogan chose her family. Decades passed. Then, in 2002, she was invited to sing at the famous Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood. That successful concert propelled her back into the spotlight, singing the music she loves. A dozen years later, she entered the studio. With the guidance of producer, pianist and arranger, John Proulx and producer, vocal coach, Barbara Brighton, the result is Hogan’s premier album. Never mind that Beverley Church Hogan recently turned 84-years-young. The wisdom that accompanies a life well-lived is notable throughout this musical accomplishment. Judge for yourself.

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JUSTIN MORELL – “CONCERTO FOR GUITAR AND JAZZ ORCHESTRA” featuring ADAM ROGERS & directed by JOHN DAVERSA – FROST CONCERT JAZZ BAND
ArtistShare

Justin Morell, composer/arranger; Adam Rogers, solo featured guitarist; John Daversa, director/conductor; RHYTHM:Jake Shapiro, piano; Josh Bermudez, guitar’ Mackenzie Karbon, vibraphone/glockenspiel; Lowell Ringel, bass; Garrett Fracol, drums.TROMBONES:Derek Pyle (lead); Will Wulfeck, Eli Feingold, Wesley Thompson, bass trombone. TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Russell Macklem,(split lead); Michael Dudley,(split lead); Aaron Mutchler, Greg Chaimson. WOODWINDS: Tom Kelley,alto/soprano saxophones; Brian Bibb, alto saxophone/flute; Chris Thompson-Taylor,tenor saxophone/clarinet;Seth Crail,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Clint Bleil,baritone saxophone/bass clarinet.

A striking CD cover catches my eye, with its circular orange ball sprouting legs and the scribbled outline of a conductor or perhaps a musician connected with wiggly strings to instruments that float across the vanilla cover in childlike cartoon sketches. It invites me to listen to this project. Kudos to Mackenzie Karbon who designed this album art and took the photographs. Album covers do matter!

Here is an arranged concert for guitar and jazz orchestra directed by the talented John Daversa and featuring Adam Rogers as the solo guitarist. His talent is evident on the orchestrated track one of this thirty-eight- minute recorded concert. This production features three movements; I. Lost, Found and Lost, 2. Life and Times and 3. Terraforming. One of the unique features of this recording is Justin Morell’s incorporation of classical music by Mozart, Hayden and Beethoven into his compositions, with the guitar being free to create a jazzy musical language atop the concerto-style tracks. Guitarist Rogers is improvising freely and smoothly in the mix of classical composers, with Morell’s creativity and America’s original classical music merging beautifully. This project is the conception of guitarist, composer, arranger, Justin Morell, who secured his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in both composition and jazz performance. He currently acts as Assistant Professor of Music in Composition and Theory at Pennsylvania ‘s Lebanon Valley College. Morell has composed many concert-works and has released six jazz CDs as a leader. This seems to be a recorded experiment dear to his heart and is the first production that utilizes guitar as the consistent lead instrument featured with an orchestra.

John Daversa is a Grammy-nominated trumpeter and EVI player, a composer, arranger, producer and in this case, has taken the baton to direct this accomplished orchestra. As Chair of Studio Music and Jazz at the Frost School of Music in Miami, he and Morell go way back. They’ve known each other for decades. Both of their fathers were musicians and friends on the Los Angeles studio scene, so they met as young people. Morell and Daversa grew up enjoying and eventually playing music together. Both men decided to bring a virtuoso guitarist to this project. One who was proficient in both jazz and classical guitar. Their choice became Adam Rogers, an amazing addition to this creative work, dazzling us with his guitar mastery and musical fluidity. As the featured guitarist on this production, he brings life and energy to very difficult and intricate written passages. To his credit, he has performed with a number of familiar jazz names like Michael Brecker, vocalists, Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones, Marcus Miller, Terence Blanchard, John Pattitucci and even the great Bill Evans. As a plus, Adam Rogers is completely comfortable reading music, improvising and playing classical guitar. He’s perfect for this project.

With these three formidable musicians at the forefront, The Frost Concert Jazz Band supplies the tightly prepared musical stage. They are a part of the University of Miami’s School of Music and, under the direction of John Daversa, these fledgling musicians do a highly professional and admirable job of interpreting the compositions of Justin Morell and buoying the talents of Adam Rogers.

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CD RELEASES EXEMPLIFY SPACE, LOVE, SOLILOQUY AND EXTRAORDINARY ENTERTAINMENT

January 10, 2019

CD RELEASES EXEMPLIFY SPACE, LOVE, SOLILOQUY AND EXTRAORDINARY ENTERTAINMENT
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

January 10, 2019

KENNY WERNER – “THE SPACE” Pirquet Records

Kenny Werner, piano.

Master musician, Kenny Werner, makes us feel as though we are sitting in the front room of our own home, at the foot of a master. Here is a listening experience that is vividly simplistic, yet deeply creative and provocative. Simplistic only because no other instruments are involved. This is a dynamic grand piano concert Opening with “The Space,” Werner’s own original composition and title tune. He plays with our attention and pulls us into his music with palpable fingers. His talent hypnotizes our senses. His nimble and profound hands both staccato and arpeggio the keys. To our delight, he intrigues us. Kenny Werner not only interprets his own compositions, he also includes the work of Keith Jarrett, Michel Legrand, Jason Seizer , Ralph Ranger and Leo Robin. Here are eight songs, interpreted on eight-eight keys by a confident and creative solo musician. Although the title tune is over fifteen minutes of a very classical sounding concert, it is never boring!

Kenny Werner is technically astute and well-rooted in the jazz community. He has worked with the legendary Toots Thielemans and sax man, Joe Lovano, the iconic Charles Mingus, as well as the Mel Lewis Big Band. Quincy Jones has called him, “…360 degrees of soul and science in one human being.” Reviewer, Nate Chinen of the New York Times described him as “… a pianist who tempers fearsome technique with a questing spiritualism.” But it is the words of Werner himself that self-describe this new work, calling his album, The Space.

“It’s the most important title I’ve ever had for my music. It’s about being in the moment, content with what is,” Warner explained.

Also a journalist, Werner wrote a landmark book back in 1996 titled, “Effortless Mastery, Liberating the Master Musician Within.” As an educator, he has lectured worldwide, written articles on how musicians, artists or even business people can allow their master creator within to lift their performances to a higher level. He is currently the artistic director of The Effortless Mastery Institute at Berklee College of Music. A sought-after educator, Kenny Werner has also taught at The New School, The Banff Center, New York University and others. He’s the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts award, The New Jersey Council of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, being awarded the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship Award for his seminal work of exploring tragedy and loss, death and transition and the path from one lifetime to the next. Now, he allows us a peek into his mastery and imaginative exploration of the piano. Perhaps he sums it up best when he writes in his liner notes:

On ‘The Space’ recording project, it’s “the place where every note I play is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.”

I concur.

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POWER OF THREE – “SOUND UNDERGROUND” Independent Label

David Leon, alto saxophone/bells/composer; Alec Aldred, trumpet/composer; Jonah Udall, guitar/composer.

I wondered, as I placed this CD into my CD player, what kind of sound would be produced by a trio of guitar, trumpet and alto saxophone. That’s an unusual mix that only is relying on a single guitar to provide a rhythm section. I fastened my seatbelt.

The ‘Power of Three’ trio is unique in both composition and sound mass. They create a musical experience that is unlike any I’ve heard before, and perhaps that’s a plus. Their composing skills are rich with Avant-garde style and each of the three musicians are composers. They’ve been touring steadily. So, they made the decision to go into the studio and record ‘live’, without any isolation, as though they were on-stage and in-concert. There are continuous moments of musicality that show the talent and tenaciousness of each person. At times, I find myself desiring more melody and less improvisation. At first, I missed hearing a theme or a refrain. I also missed a rhythm section and the groove that a bass and a drummer provide. However, this trio of musicians are full of imagination and are tightly wired to each other. They won me over. On “Demon Dance” I finally hear a theme of sorts and that particular song, composed by Udall, drew me in. I also found Aldred’s original composition titled, “Feet in the Ground,” to be melodic and soothing to the ear. The unexpected harmonies that these three musicians create fill lovely space on track 7, “The Potentialist.” Surprisingly, each man hails from a various part of the United States, (Udall from Berkeley, California, Aldred from Waukesha, Wisconsin and Leon from Miami, Florida). Together they musically find common ground. The trio was formed in 2013. If you are looking for a unique sound and a fresh, exploratory approach to music and jazz, this project is the one!

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VANESSA RUBIN SINGS TADD DAMERON – “THE DREAM IS YOU” Nibur Records

Vanessa Rubin, vocals; John Cowherd, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Carl Allen, drums; Eddie Allen, trumpet; Patience Higgins, tenor saxophone; Bruce Williams, alto saxophone; Clifton Anderson, trombone; Alex Harding, baritone saxophone; Arrangers: Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Frank Foster, Willie Smith & Bobby Watson.

“Lady Bird” opens this recorded concert, with arrangements by Frank Foster. Vanessa Rubin’s voice swings and swoops like a happy dove. The horns are complimentary and lush. She sings along with them, becoming a sweet vocal horn. The music of Tadd Dameron is a project long overdue. Known as one of America’s iconic bebop composers, his music remains timeless and beautiful. This is the first album that features a vocalist recording only Dameron’s compositions and what better voice than the celebrated vocals of Vanessa Rubin to interpret this master? A jazz master in her own right, she approaches each composition with great care and attentive emotions. “Kitchenette Across the Hall” has a story to tell and Rubin delivers it with pianist John Cowherd playing in the realm of 1940 jazz accompaniment. “If You Could See Me Now” is a jazz standard with a melody that once heard becomes indelible in your brain. Of course, this is a familiar Tadd Dameron composition that many have recorded and interpreted. But Ms. Rubin includes others that are fresh to the ear. Seven of the compositions herein are recorded with original lyrics as intended. The remaining five had lyrics added for Rubin to sing. She penned the words for “The Dream Is You”, retitling it to “Reveries Do Come True”. Rubin expresses a hope that this project will bring Tadd Dameron’s awesome talents to the forefront once again and open new vocal doors for singers to embrace and illuminate his work. For example, on the popular Dameron instrumental, “On A Misty Night” I believe this is the first time I’ve heard the lyrics. Rubin scats with words on this cut and there are great horn lines that keep the slow swing melodically strong. “Never Been In Love” is one of my favorites on this album with lyrics by Irving Reid. It’s a pretty ballad with a Latin feel and a sweet solo by trumpeter, Eddie Allen. Another lovely ballad is “Next Time Around” or “SoulTrane” with great lyrics by Chris Caswell. Kevin Davis takes an opportunity to solo, quite melodically, on bass. That’s the thing about Tadd Dameron’s compositions. They are all very melodic. Rubin has often brought the music of masters and contemporary composers to her recordings. On her “New Horizons” CD she celebrated Stevie Wonder.

Dameron’s roots extend into the historic legacy of Billy Eckstine. Dameron was involved in the formation of Eckstine’s ground-breaking orchestra. Tadd Dameron was a mentor to great vocalists like Sarah Vaughan and influenced Miles Davis, Benny Golson, Billy Paul and Charlie Rouse. Vanessa Rubin chose Dameron’s contemporaries who were familiar with his contributions to bebop, but also to his composer skills. Afterall, Dameron was a friend and colleague of Kenny Clarke, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. One of the chosen arrangers on this project, Benny Golson, wrote forwards for two books about Tadd Dameron. He recalls days of touring with Dameron and riding in a car with him during their tenure with Bull Moose Jackson. Frank Foster admits that he learned essential writing and arranging skills listening to Tadd’s recordings in the late 1940s. Vanessa Rubin has spent twenty-five years of her illustrious career singing Dameron’s music as part of her repertoire. Now, she shares her admiration for the composer’s genius with us.

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GIL DEFAY – “IT’S ALL LOVE” Independent label

Gil Defay, trumpet/flugelhorn/vocals; Ansy Defay, saxophones/vocals; Rakiem Walker, alto saxophone; Antonio Penalva, guitar; Joel Desroches, keyboards; Matthew Smythe, organ/Wurlitzer; Toku Jazz, flugelhorn/vocals; Parker McAllister &Michael Tiny Lindsey, bass; Ben Nicolas, drums; Bendji Allonce, percussion; Patrick Pelissier, vocoder.

Gil Defay’s original music is well -arranged and full of pleasant surprises. He has composed everything on this production and has enlisted a large ensemble of talented musicians to interpret his work. From the first track, “D. Bros Groove” the curtains part and the horns take stage center. It sounds like theme-song-music for a splendid show. There is a solid solo by Joel Desroches on keyboard and a breathtaking organ solo by Matthew Smythe, with a funk drum beat established boldly to promote the groove. Gil Defay lets his rhythm section showcase their skills before taking to the spotlight. Then Antonio Penalva celebrates his guitar chops in a joyful way. In fact, this entire album is joyful. This production is a nice blend of contemporary smooth jazz with straight ahead nuances. Michael “Tiny” Lindsey introduces his electric bass talents, followed by Ben Nicolas soloing on drums. This first cut allows each, talented player to take a bow and strut their stuff.

The horn lines are tight and punchy throughout. On the second cut we join the turn-table-party with an up-tempo, danceable tune titled, “Le Cri.” It’s propelled by the spunky drums of Nicolas. If I had one criticism, it would not be the music, the production or the engineering. It would be the cover design. Gil Defay’s music is bright, happy, and memorable. The cover is dark; so dark you can hardly read the credits. I think artists should be as concerned with their album designs as their recorded messages. The title is “It’s All Love” and love is light. That’s not reflected on this CD jacket. Otherwise, here is a beautiful recording, featuring Gil Defay, a wonderful composer and a technically astute musician. I was surprised that Defay sampled the work of Thelonious Monk on the final tune titled, “Epistrophication,” and still took all the credit for composing this obvious celebration of Monk’s Epistrophy” composition. That bothered me.

All in all, the players listed above come together to present a tightly woven carpet of music that rolls out in a stream of plush arrangements and undeniable musicianship. Favorite cuts are: “D. Bros Groove,” “You’re So Good,” “The Lean,” and “Wonderful” (a ballad that makes creative use of synthesizers, like splashes of paint on canvas.); also, the very funky, “On That NYC” and “Le Cri.”
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ALAN PASQUA – “SOLILOQUY” Gretabelle Label

Alan Pasqua, Steinway piano.

Solo piano is a challenge. You sit in the glaring spotlight and settle into your talent at the grand piano with no other musical support but your talent and imagination. You bare your soul. It takes an amazing musician to perform solo and Alan Pasqua is just such a musician. He has performed in concert and in recording studios with a long list of iconic jazz musicians including Jack Dejohnette, Gary Peacock, Gary Bartz, Reggie Workman, Gary Burton, Stanley Clarke, Joe Henderson, Randy Becker, The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, and vocalists Sheila Jordan and Joe Williams. There are many more, but you can see from this short list the breadth and width of Alan Pasqua’s awesome and in-demand talent. Musically, Pasqua has not stayed in one lane. Although he embraces his jazz roots, in the world of pop music Pasqua recorded two albums with Bob Dylan and performed with John Fogerty on his album, “Eye of the Zombie.” Alan Pasqua added his diversified chops with Starship on their album, “No Protection.” He was the keyboardist with Carlos Santana during his recordings of “Marathon, Zebop!” And on his “Havana Moon” album. Obviously, the talented Mr. Pasqua can cross musical genre’s as easily as he crosses a California boulevard. The appropriate title of his CD is described in Webster’s Dictionary as: “SOLILOQUY: The act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when alone.”

Pasqua was once a member of the New Tony Williams Lifetime group and co-leader on many critically acclaimed jazz recordings, including joining forces with Peter Erskine and Dave Carpenter to make a Grammy-nominated trio album of standards. The culmination of so many musical experiences is previewed in this new project, Recorded at Pasqua’s Santa Monica, California studio, he invites us to a very intimate, demonstrative and introspective concert. As a solo performer, he’s both vulnerable and artistic. This pianist brings us a beautiful bouquet of our favorite standard songs on this solo recording titled, “Soliloquy.” Sit back and enjoy.

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NORMAN JOHNSON – “THE ART OF LIFE” Independent label

Norman Johnson, guitar/bass/piano/vocals/composer; Chris Herbert & John Mastroianni, saxophones; Bill Holloman, horns; Jeff Holms, trumpet; Steve Davis, trombone; Ejd Fast, drums; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Mitch Chakour, piano/organ; Alex Nakhimovsky, piano’ Graysong Hugh, June Bisantz, Atla Dechamplain, Poller Messer, & Lisa Marien, vocals.

From the very first strains of Norman Johnson’s guitar magic, I am under his spell. His music is full of joy for life. Johnson’s melodies are infectuous. On the first tune, “Slide” he makes me want to skip across the room. There is something light and carefree about this production of Johnson’s compositions. “Sing On” is another original composition by Norman Johnson that encourages us to come together as a people and features Grayson Hugh on vocals. This song is a blend of R&B, Pop and jazz. The repeatable ‘hook’ of the song reminds me a small bit of a Curtis Mayfield production. Johnson has written five of the six songs showcased on this recording. He offers very ‘smooth jazz’ arrangements with beautiful melodies. His use of vocal background singers is tasty on the title tune, “the Art of Life.” It is obvious that he has been inspired by Earl Klugh and George Benson, but Norman Johnson is a strong player in his own right and his composing skills are admirable. On the Latin tinged, “It’s You” he introduces us to the pretty voice of June Bisantz and Johnson takes a stellar guitar solo, followed by a short, but rich saxophone solo. Ms. Bisantz is also co-writer of this happy piece of music along with pianist, Alex Nakhimovsky. “Summer Dance” closes this album out with a bang. Johnson knows how to put the groove into his productions and he has a love for the nylon-string guitar sound.

Norman Johnson has appeared on over thirty recordings as a sideman with great players like Steve Gadd, Bill Mays and Harvie Swartz. He’s performed with Dave Brubeck and this is his third CD release as a leader. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he studied at the Hartford Conservatory of Music and the Hartt School of Music. Although a late bloomer, Norman Johnson has perfected his style. This latest release is a testimony to his strength as a musician and composer.

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MAGELA HERRERA –“EXPLICACIONES” Brontosaurus Records

Magela Herrera, voice/flute/composer/arranger; Tal Cohen, piano; Nestor Del Prado & Dion Keith Kerr, bass; Hilario Bell & David Chiverton, drums; Greg Diamond, guitar; Jean Caze, trumpet; Philbert Armenteros, bata drums.

With much excitement and riveting musicianship, Magela Herrera arrives, using her original composition, “Two Sidewalks” to burst onto the scene like an unexpected shower of fireworks. Tal Cohen demands the spotlight on piano, followed by Herrera’s stellar flute improvisation. Finally, the drums are given free reins to gallop through the arrangement with creative exuberance. Her musical arrangements and compositions offer platforms for the creative juices to flow from her individual ensemble players. They each bring their “A” game to the bandstand, embracing the freedom, while expanding their musical ideas. I enjoy Magela Herrera’s musical concepts and her melodic structure. She also has a lovely command of the flute. On “Principios,” Ms. Herrera gives her bass player ample time to speak his solo-mind. The bass solo is beautiful. Magela Herrera explains her music this way.

“I honestly wanted to make an album much earlier in my career, but I was too shy and I could never complete a tune. At the time, I was limiting myself to Cuban music and hadn’t really explored other styles. I consider my time in Norway to be my ‘aha’ moment. All my professors there were more into inspiring and pushing students to find our own sound, whatever genre it happened to be. They didn’t force us to follow rules. I found it more comfortable to write music outside a strict pattern, to create whatever was in my head. On “Explicaciones,”applying that freedom to classic Cuban tunes really helped me hone in on my sound as an artist.”

Magela Herrera’s applies haunting vocals on track four, “Explicaciones,”the title tune of this album, further endearing her to this reviewer. Her vocals are honest and compelling. She sings in her native Spanish. Although I do not speak that language, I am still intrigued and attentive to every word.

The listener will find a sprinkling of standard jazz in this project, like Herrera’s unusual rendition of “My One and Only Love,” and her vocal interpretation of “Besame Mucho.” She puts spark and spunk into everything she plays and sings. Her arrangement of the Cuban classic, “Que Te Pedi” is brilliant and dances at a medium tempo, with her flute playing atop the melody sweet as decorative icing on a musical cake. Every cut on this album is like another slice of goodness. I guarantee you will want to come back for more and more of Magela Herrera’s authentic blend of Cuban jazz, European classical influence and her own soulful interpretive compositions and arrangements. This is delicious music!

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JON LUNDBOM & BIG FIVE CHORD – “HARDER ON THE OUTSIDE” Hot Cup Records

Jon Lundbom, guitar; Justin Wood, alto & soprano saxophones; Bryan Murray, tenor/balto saxophones; Moppa Elliott, bass; Dan Monaghan, drums.

Jon Lundbom’s guitar floats above this storm of music like a rainbow. Julian Wood’s and Bryan Murray’s saxophones are the thunder and lightning dancing wildly in space. Murray shares his talents on his trademark ‘balto! Saxophone.’ He shows us what to do with an alto saxophone, using a baritone mouthpiece and a plastic reed. Here is Avant-garde, experimental jazz at its best, showcasing expansive creativity with strong improvisation. The Big Five Chord group exhibits combustible ideas. Londbom has composed six of the seven cuts on this CD, adding a bonus track at the end. It’s actually a repeat of track two, yet totally different and unique with the ensemble’s fresh interpretation. Dan Monaghan, on drums, thrives on a diet of funk and groove. Bassist, Moppa Elliott, plays solid and melodic lines that hold down the rhythm section. This group pushes the musical boundaries and, in the process, expands visions and possibilities. Part of the unique arrangements are enhanced by Lundbom playing a Fender Jazzmaster guitar retrofitted with experimental pickups built by Chicago’s Duneland Labs. Lundbom’s guitar and the horns dance like helium balloons in the wind.

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MUSIC THAT BRINGS THE NEW YEAR IN WITH A JAZZY BANG!

December 30, 2018

MUSIC THAT BRINGS THE NEW YEAR IN WITH A JAZZY BANG!
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

December 30, 2018

Let me start by wishing each and every one of you reading this column a very happy New Year. I thank you for your support of ‘Live” jazz and jazz recordings and pray that 2019 will bring us more great music and unity on earth. I know that music heals and inspires us. It’s a universal language that brings people together. So, keep listening, keep creating, continue playing and singing, recording, reading and enjoying jazz music and the incredible people who perpetuate it. Share the love!

BETTY BRYANT – “PROJECT 88” Bry-Mar Music

Betty Bryant,piano/vocals/composer/arranger;Tony Guerrero,trumpet/arranger;Tomas Gargano,Hussain Jiffry & Richard Simon,bass;James Gadson,Kenny Elliott & Quentin Dennard Sr.,drums;Robert Kyle,tenor saxophone/producer/arranger;Jeff Driskill,alto saxophone;Jay Mason,baritone saxophone;Ryan Dragon,trombone;Cassio Duarte, percussion;Kleber Jorge,guitar/vocal.

In celebration of her 88th birthday last year, Betty Bryant planned her ninth studio release. She calls it “Project 88”. Her music, like the lady herself, is timeless. Ms. Bryant’s piano playing and composer skills are solid as freshly poured cement. She’s lyrical and, while performing, she always reflects her complete involvement and obvious love that’s wrapped in the music she shares with us. We are swept up in her honest delivery. Betty Bryant has a lovely personality and a smooth, polished look. Born and bred in one of the jazz capitals of the world, (Kansas City, Missouri) she’s a student of the great Jay McShann, who took her under his wing when she was a fledgling performer. Her original compositions are lyrically honest, sometimes humorous and always melodically memorable. Additionally, she often presents a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that her adoring fans love.

Take her bluesy rendition of “Catfish Man”, where she quips:

“Catfish man, catch me if you can. Your lying ways just got to stop. You looked so fine, when I saw you on-line. Then I found out it was just photo shopped.”

“Catfish Man” is a raunchy, Kansas City blues. Robert Kyle’s tenor saxophone puts the “B” in the blues and Tomas Gargano (who flew in from New York City to record with his dear friend) holds the trio tightly rooted on acoustic bass, along with the iconic drummer, James Gadson. Betty Bryant’s opening tune is also an original composition titled, “Love Came and Went.” It swings hard. The jazz standard, “Lady Be Good” is performed as an instrumental and Ms. Bryant’s superb talents on piano shine in the spotlight. Her ballads are plush with emotion. On “But Beautiful”, you feel her sincerity, the way Billie Holiday made us feel with every lyric she sang. Speaking of Billie Holiday, Tony Guerrero makes his muted trumpet a shiny star on “Ain’t Nobody’s Business.” Betty Bryant’s “Cho Cho” composition transports us to Brazil with Robert Kyle’s flute dancing brightly to the catchy melody. Kleber Jorge makes an appealing statement on guitar and his voice sings along with the melody and makes me want to sing along too. The creative arrangement by Betty Bryant on “They Say It’s Wonderful,” gives the musicians a moderate tempo swing to dig their teeth into. Kenny Elliott takes a short, but swinging, drum solo on this number. Producer, Robert Kyle and Bryant switched the rhythm sections around to create a variety of sounds and grooves for this project. You will hear various bass players and drummers, all first-call Los Angeles musicians, including Richard Simon and Hussain Jiffry who adds his electric bass magic to the mix. The final two songs are both Ms. Bryant’s original compositions. “My Beloved” is a slow rhumba, letting Cassio Duarte’s colorful percussive brilliance propel the tune, along with Quentin Dennard Sr. on drums. It’s an instrumental that becomes the perfect backdrop for Robert Kyle’s provocative flute playing. Betty Bryant’s final song is titled, “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye” and has a great horn arrangement by Tony Guerrero. Guerrero, Robert Kyle, Ryan Dragon on trombone, Jeff Driskill on alto saxophone and Jay mason on baritone sax make a small ensemble sound like a big band arrangement.

There’s something for everyone on this album including outstanding musicianship, memorable melodies and smart lyrics that are fresh and fun. For example, Ms. Bryant sings:

“You’re the most, just cinnamon toast, and it’s hard to say goodbye. You’re oow – you’re ahhh, you’re Baklava, and it’s hard to say goodbye. You’re so ice cream at midnight. I like your style. You’re truffles and pheasants and oh, it’s so pleasant to bask in the warmth of your style.”

That’s how I felt about Betty Bryant when this album ends. She’s sweet as Baklava or cinnamon toast and just as addictive. I played it again!

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RALPH PETERSON’S AGGREGATE PRIME – “INWARD VENTURE ALIVE VOL. 5 AT THE SIDE DOOR”
Onyx Productions

Ralph Peterson,drums; Gary Thomas,tenor sax/flute; Mark Whitfield,guitar; Davis Whitfield,piano;Curtis Lundy,bass.

The interesting thing about drummer,Ralph Peterson,is that his recordings are as diversified and inspirational as his ability to play and record various styles of music.

The first track, “Gazelloni” is an excursion into the deep waters of Avant-garde jazz. Davis Whitfield explores all the 88-keys on his piano, with Curtis Lundy walking briskly alongside of him on acoustic bass. Peterson is the jet fuel that mans this rocket-ship as it takes off into unknown territories. The ensemble offers us an Eric Dolphy composition and the musicians well represent this legendary reed man’s composition. Gary Thomas and Mark Whitfield play tag with each other. Thomas flutters on flute and Whitfield chases him on guitar. I am immediately intrigued and engaged. Since this is a ‘live’ recording, the audience appreciation is heard loud and long. The second cut, “I Hear a Rhapsody,” calms the mood with familiarity. It’s played sweetly by Thomas, this time he’s featured on tenor saxophone, atop a moderate tempo swing arrangement. I enjoy Whitfield’s guitar solo. He’s innovative and creatively improvisational. Peterson always shares his stage platform with excellent musicians. They each handle the spotlight with technical agility, professional talent and confidence. However, Peterson’s percussive drive is always dominant to be the available catalyst that infuses each solo. Ralph Peterson shows his composer skills on “Soweto 6”, an eight-minute long presentation that is never boring and always features kinetic energy. This is an album of modern jazz, high energy and musician excellence.

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JOHN RAYMOND – “REAL FEELS LIVE VOL. 2” Sunnyside Records

John Raymond, flugelhorn/composer;Gilad Hekselman,guitar;Colin Stranahan,drums.

John Raymond waltzes into my room on his flugelhorn. The first track of his CD splashes across space pleasantly, like calm winter waves on a lakeshore. It’s titled “Follower” and receives generous applause from his live audience at its conclusion. Raymond has composed three of the six songs on this recording and he presents them with Gilad Hekselman on guitar and Colin Stranahan on drums. The trio is a unified ensemble and they sound as if they’ve been playing together for a while. However, I don’t like the mix. I had to keep turning the volume up and down and I found that annoying. Cut #2 has a New Age arrangement with a lot of echo on the horn and the guitar. Drummer Stranahan is dependable and exploratory throughout, holding the beat strongly in place and always creative, coloring the music brightly. On this track titled, “Minnesota, WI,” I’m confused. There is clearly a bass player holding the funk in place. Did guitarist Gilad Hekselman overdub on electric bass guitar? This song is ten minutes long and after a while, it becomes a wee bit repetitious, in spite of Hekselman’s dynamic solo and all the looping and Raymond’s electronic pedaling.

This is experimental jazz, developed by a group that spends much time on the road touring. Instead of typical improvisational jazz solos, they have developed a style of loops and grooves, that was perhaps developed while the band was on tour and inspired by their ‘live’ audience responses. They close this album with Bob Dylan’s iconic song, The Times They Are a Changin’ played at a slow ballad pace. This is more New Age and less jazz. All in all, this is an easy-listening experience, where Raymond’s smooth sound on trumpet is pivotal.

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THE EBONY HILLBILLIES –“5 MILES FROM TOWN” Independent Label

Henrique Prince, violin/vocals;Norris Washington Bennett,banjo/mountain dulcimer/guitar/vocals;Gloria Thomas Gassaway,bones/percussion/vocals; William (Salty Bill) Salter, acoustic bass; Allanah Salter,shaker/percussion/vocals; Newman Taylor Baker,washboard percussion; A.R. (Ali Rahman or Cowboy),percussion.

Violinist, Regina Carter first introduced me to roots of African-American Hillbilly music. As soon as the first track peeled off this CD, I was familiar with the genre. This first track is titled “Hog Eyed Man” and it’s a happy, celebratory composition. Willie Dixon is one of my favorite blues composers and blues artists. He wrote the next song this ensemble performs titled, “Wang Dang Doodle”. The Ebony Hillbillies make me feel comfortable and happy, like I’m at a family gathering. The string-work of this unique group revives a musical history from the past. They sound ‘country’ and Appalachian, but are actually from New York. This recording was made in Jamaica, Queens. The Ebony Hillbillies include some modern music, like Bonnie Raitt’s hit record, “I Can’t Make You Love Me”. But their arrangement is tinged with the American legacy string-band sound. This ensemble also dips into a political bag, taking up community issues with their music and documenting them in song. For example, the ongoing problem that is prevalent between policemen across America and people of color is addressed on “Another Man Done Gone/Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”

For the most part, their outlandishly joyful music and honest interpretations of an art form rarely heard is infectious. Heralded as the premier African-American string band in America, this unique ensemble has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and made various TV appearances including on the BBC and ABC’s “Good Morning America. Led by violinists Henrique Prince, they blend bluegrass, folk songs, jazz, country blues and pop, giving each tune their own unique stamp of approval. Everything they sing is infused with African-American gospel church roots and the historic work songs of slave farmers. Their style and reflective presenta- tion are endearing and they offer listeners a freshness and honesty poured into their music that is addictive. This is their fifth group release. Others available on CD are: Sabrina’s Holiday, I Thought You Knew, Barefoot and Flying, and finally their 2015 release titled, Slappin’ A Rabbit – Live!
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BOB DOROUGH TRIO – “BUT FOR NOW” featuring MICHAEL HORNSTEIN Enja Records

Bob Dorough, piano/vocals; Michael Hornstein, alto saxophone; Tony Marino, bass.

In the fall of 2014,a young at heart Bob Dorough turned the ripe age of ninety-one and was in the studio recording his final album. This is the last chapter in a life well-lived. Dorough left this earthly place in April of 2018, but his musical life was a non-stop whirlwind of accomplishments. Born in Arkansas, his career began as the pianist for legendary singing-boxer,Sugar Ray Robinson.

However, this led to much bigger fish to fry. Soon he was playing with Charlie Parker, he recorded two songs with Miles Davis, and his recordings on various labels are numerous. One of his big accomplishments was becoming musical director of the hit, children’s TV show called, “Schoolhouse Rock.”

During his current musical journey, Bob Dorough dials the years back, opening with Hoagy Charmichael’s famed “Baltimore Oriole” tune. His piano-style brings back a time gone bye and his voice isn’t what it used to be, but he can still sell the song. He draws you into the lyric with his passion for performing and he convinces you that he means every word. Sometimes he breaks into an off-handed scat during his songs, reminding me of Louis Armstrong’s style of singing. His scatting doesn’t seem to be planned, but just jazzy; something spontaneous that he felt in the moment.

Dorough and saxophonist Michael Hornstein are old friends. Hornstein’s godmother was the half-sister of Dorough’s wife, so they were more like family than friends. You can feel their closeness in every song. When Hornstein was only nineteen, Bob Dorough took him to a neighbor’s house, who just happened to be Phil Woods. That’s when Hornstein was just discovering jazz and was a fledgling saxophone player. It’s possible this meeting with the historic Phil Woods greatly influenced Hornstein’s playing. For several years Dorough and Hornstein lost touch, but now they are reunited. It’s obvious that Bob Dorough is quite comfortable and persuasive in this trio setting, even though their reunion has been a long time coming. Bassist Tony Marino is solid and steady, holding the time tightly together by locking in with Dorough’s fluid piano playing along with Hornstein’s melodic improvisations and interpretations.

The title tune is an original composition that Dorough wrote for his beloved wife, Corine. It’s the title tune and he sings it with much emotion. All the other songs are ones you recognize immediately, like “Take Five” or “Body and Soul”; “Georgia on my mind” and “Prelude to a Kiss”. He talked about the addition of one popular standard song and the memories it tickled.

“We were in a house in the Big Sur. Johnny Mandel was visiting the set where “The Sandpiper” was being filmed nearby. He came up to see me and Al Schackman, my guitarist at the time. As I remember, he wanted to show us a theme he’d just composed for the film. It was on a little page of paper and it was “the Shadow of Your Smile” in 3/4 time, without words. The three of us hummed it and kicked it around and might even have said it could be done in swing time too.”

This is surely a piece of music history. Sometimes less is just enough. Bob Dorough needs no orchestra or big band to support his piano talents. You can tell he’s perfectly comfortable singing and playing piano, letting his bassist and sax man dance along beside him. The joy he shares, while making music, is palpable. Grab a handful for yourself.

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KELLY GREEN TRIO – “VOLUME ONE” Independent Label

Kelly Green, piano/vocals; Alex Tremblay, bass; Evan Hyde, drums.

Kelly Green is a pianist and vocalist with a pleasant, second-soprano voice and an astute command of the piano. She is amply supported by Alex Tremblay on bass and Evan Hyde on drums. The trio offers eight familiar jazz songs starting with “I’m Old Fashioned” where Green’s colorful interpretation of the lovely lyrics is accompanied by her piano dexterity, tinkling the upper register notes to mimic rain on the windowpane and adding big crescendos of strength and passion on her instrument. Her arrangements are very modern. “I Wish I knew” is a song I always enjoyed hearing Little Jimmy Scott interpret. This was the first time I heard the intro-verse. It was a nice touch for Green to include the composer’s rarely recorded introduction. Kelly Green doesn’t lay down the melody slowly and behind the beat like Scott did. Instead, she plays with the melodic lines like a true jazz musician, changing the notes within the chord structure just enough to make the arrangement uniquely her own and using the full range of her vocal gift like a horn player. She sometimes successfully scats with words. Kelly Green is a formidable talent. On this recording, she includes compositions by Charlie Parker and Fats Waller, wrapping them in a creative medley. Green challenges herself to sing and play the work of Charles Mingus’ with lyrics by Joni Mitchell. These are stimulating arrangements, but Green is up for the task. Sometimes, she reminds me of Betty Carter; not in tone, but in phrasing, always singing like a horn. This is particularly noticeable on the ballad, “I Understand.” The contrary motion of her piano grooves and her vocalizations is a feat to be appreciated and showcases Kelly Green’s musicality. This album was recorded ‘live’ in the studio, (the old-school way of recording) without overdubs and studio tricks. They recorded it after a month-long tour when the trio was tightly immersed in the spirit and camaraderie of playing music together.

“Musicians and non-musicians alike get excited and emotional in our performances as they watch our stories unfold. We strive to bring audiences to a place outside of themselves and take them on a journey through each song,” Ms. Green expressed in the liner notes.

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THE GIL EVANS ORCHESTRA –“HIDDEN TREASURES MONDAY NIGHTS, VOL.ONE”
Bopper Spock Suns Music Geo

Miles Evans, trumpet/producer/arranger; Noah Evans, producer; Kenwood Dennard, drums; Mino Cinelu, percussion; Mark Egan, bass; Pete Levin, keyboards; Shunzo Ohno, trumpet; David Taylor, bass trombone; John Clark, French horn; Chris Hunter, alto saxophone/flute; Alex Foster, tenor & soprano saxophone; Darryl Jones, bass; Matthew Garrison, bass & bass solo; Vernon Reid, guitar; Paul Shaffer, Fender Rhodes; David Mann, alto saxophone; Gil Goldstein, piano; Delmar Brown & Charles Blenziz, synthesizer; Gabby Abularach, guitars; Jon Faddis, trumpet; Dave Bargeron, trombone; Gary Smulyan, baritone saxophone; Birch Johnson, trompone; Alex Spiagin, trumpet; Alden Banta, Baritone saxophone.

The music and arrangements of Gil Evans have become an international treasure to jazz. Evans is not an American conductor and arranger, but rather a Canadian-born jazz pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader. In the jazz world, I was endeared to Evans when I heard the “Miles Ahead” album and the Miles Davis masterpiece, “Sketches in Spain.” But Gil Evans had been involved with many other jazz artists, including Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Cleveland, Kenny Burrell and many, many more.

Born in Toronto, (May 13, 1912) his family came to the United States when he was a youngster. They settled in Stockton, California. His mom had remarried, consequently that changed the family’s last name from Green to Evans. In 1946, young Gil Evans moved to New York City and lived in an Artists Community called Westbeth. Between 1941 and 1948, Evans worked with Claude Thornhill’s orchestra. Even though he was a fledgling arranger, he was quickly respected by the band members, who often complained about the intricacies and challenge of his arrangements. Thornhill immediately recognized the amazing talent and potential that Gil Evans exhibited. He scooped him up. Gil Evans left this Earth in 1988, but his music lives on.

This album is the first studio recording in tribute to Gil Evans’ music in forty-plus years. Evans is celebrated for setting the gold standard in modern jazz recordings with arrangements that cross genres. In the 1970’s, The Gil Evans Orchestra made appearances at the famed Greenwich Village club every Monday night for many years. Most of the first-call jazz musicians in New York appeared in his orchestra or visited that very room to hear the Evans band. This album is a tribute to those hot, orchestrated Mondays. It also tributes the arranger’s ability to straddle jazz styles,and interject funk and fusion into his cool jazz ensemble. The concept here is to play songs the orchestra used to play in the 1970s and 80s and is spearheaded by his two sons, Miles and Noah.

The first cut is bluesy and beautiful, featuring stunning solos by trombonist, Dave Bergman, trumpeter Miles Evans and tenor saxophonist, Alex Foster. The tune is called “Subway” and the arrangement mimics the speeding underground transportation accurately with many twists and turns. As usual, the tight horn harmonics build and ebb in interesting crescendos. The second track features electric bass player Darryl Jones and Matthew Garrison’s bass solo pushes the big band towards a funk agenda and a fusion sound. The 4th track, peels back the fluid orchestration and shines the spotlight on percussionist,Kenwood Dennard. He’s both stimulating and colorful throughout this recording.

This is a delightful celebration of the Gil Evans legacy and his unforgettable orchestration by a band of extraordinary musicians.

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TED PILTZECKER – BRINDICA Zoho Records

Ted Piltzecker, vibraphone, marimba, talking drum, bell,keyboard,clapping,vocal percussion; Fenando Martinez,drums; Mauricio Dawid,acoustic bass; Miguel Marengo, piano; Carlos Michelini,alto saxophone; Jon Faddis,trumpet; Ralph Latama,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Matt Mall, trombone; Gary Smulyan,baritone saxophone; John Wooton,steel pan/drums; Tara Halen O’Conner,flute/alto flute; Ayako Oshima, clarinet; Taylor Burgess,voice; Jansel Torres,bata/ congas/bongos/bell/clapping; Dave Lewitt,percussion/djembe bell; Angel Lau,conga/bell.

All the compositions on this project are by the artist,Ted Piltzecker. The first track is “Great Idea! Who Pays?” It’s a happy tune featuring a moderate, Afro-Cuban tempo with the steel Pan played by John Wooton. This arrangement, including this unique instrument, brings back warm memories of my time spent in Indonesia. Ted Piltzecker is a multi-talented vibraphonist who also plays marimba, several percussion instruments and piano. His compositions are quite melodic, featuring repetitive lines, that often encourage this listener to hum along.

“Brindica” is his fifth album as a leader. In it, he explores world music influences combining with jazz and embraces cultural and traditional music from Brazil, Africa, India, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Bali and Argentina. He blends these into New Orleans jazz styles with East Coast energy to celebrate jazz’s African-American roots. On track 8, “What Happened to a Dream Deferred?” He tributes the poetry of historic poet, Langston Hughes, utilizing the vocals of Taylor Burgess, who sings the entire poem in a tribute to this magnificent poet and his enduring message. Miguel Marengo’s haunting piano accompaniment creates a mood for Taylors pretty alto/second soprano voice to caress the lyrics. This song reminds us of the African-American struggle in America and everyone’s universal struggle to keep their dreams alive in spite of obstacles and hardship. I wonder if Mr. Piltzecker realizes that this song has already been put to music in the past?

Piltzecker’s vibraphone solo continues the journey down a beautiful, ballad-path, with Taylor scatting atop it like a lonely dove and then singing, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore and then run? …”

This entire album is beautifully produced and recorded by a host of outstanding musicians who represent the best of their cultures and their instruments. There is a wide variety of music proffered by Piltzecker’s well-written compositions. He explained his intention this way:

“I still love bop and bluegrass, Indian and Brazilian music, Argentinian tangos, music from Africa and Brahms. All these influences have entered my thinking and collectively have become a point of view. It’s a great joy to be able to share this music and I’m grateful to the extraordinary musicians on board. … I go to Argentina frequently to play the International Festival of Percussion in Patagonia, and that’s where I met Fernando Martinez.”

Piltzecker is referencing his pianist of choice on this project, Fernando Martinez. He’s surrounded by a number of international music icons on this recording. At one point, he adds Xhosa click singing to the mix. I remember first hearing this style of singing on Harry Belafonte records that featured Miriam Makeba. You will also enjoy rich Latin American percussive-driven songs like “Feliz Paseo” and the funk fused, “Uncle Peck”.

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CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS & THE FIRST HUMAN INSTRUMENT: THE VOICE

December 9, 2018

CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS AND THE FIRST HUMAN INSTRUMENT: THE VOICE
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
December 9, 2018

MARIA SCHAFER & SHANE SAVALA – “CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY” Independent label

Maria Schafer, vocals/composer; Shane Savala, guitar/composer.

Maria Schafer doesn’t need a huge production to enhance her lovely voice and celebrate the season. Every bright light shines a little brighter when spotlighting this lady’s vocal talents. Shane Savala is the glitter on the garland that drapes her warm tones. His guitar accompaniment is lovely, technically astute, sensitive and warm as a friendly family gathering around the holiday table. This is a seasonal album that is perfectly beautiful. Maria Schafer has included holiday songs we love like “It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas,” Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”, “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow”.

Her original songs, “Shape Your Light” and “Brings Me Back” that she and Savala have composed, are well written and make for enjoyable listening. Her original music is jazzy in a folksy-kind of way.

This is an awesome stocking stuffer that can be found by contacting maria@mariaschafer.com or http://www.MarschMusic.com.
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JOHN MINNOCK – “RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER” Independent Label

John Minnock, vocals/composer; Tony DePaolo, guitar; Enrique Haneline, piano/fender Rhodes; Carlos Mena & Will Woodard, bass; Pablo Eluchans & Diego Voglino, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: Dave Liebman

This CD is a delightful surprise. On the first track, after a short, interesting introduction that features the tinkling upper-register piano notes of Enrique Haneline, I did not expect to hear a vocalization. I presumed this was an instrumental album. Enter John Minnock. On “Get Happy” I experience a totally unique production of a popular Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler tune. Minnock’s expressive tenor voice floats beautifully above the unusual track. It’s jazzy in a very classical mode. This complete project, is fresh, creative and inspired.

The original composition, “Right Around the Corner” moves us from jazz to the Broadway stage. Minnock is a strong and powerful vocalist. That sweet tenor that caressed “Get Happy” disappears and becomes a powerful baritone vocal on this song. It unexpectedly turns the mood and comfort level of this recording towards a new direction. This is followed by, “Do You Know What It Means?”, the song that celebrates New Orleans and showcases Minnock’s emotional and tender vocal delivery once again. It’s arranged as a ballad. John Minnock obviously admires Tony Bennett. I hear his influence during this production, and that’s meant to be a definite compliment. I love pianist Enrique Haneline, whose contributions to this musical endeavor are brilliant. Also, special guest and outstanding reedman, Dave Liebman, lends awesome credibility and challenge to this project by putting the ‘J’ in jazz. On “New York, New York” (composed by Jay Brannon & featuring Liebman on saxophone), the arrangement is reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things”, but the vocals reflect a Broadway musical. Strange! Strange because this artist has the voice and style to have become a Tony-Bennett-strong and emotionally believable artist on this arrangement. However, he misses the mark. Perhaps because he needs a jazz producer who could have brought out the best of his obvious talents, directing him to stay true to a more jazz directed vocal and to match the amazing track created by his musical ensemble.
That being said, this is clearly an album mixing various musical styles inclusive of Cabaret, boisterous Broadway and straight-ahead jazz, as well as tender ballads. Speaking of tender ballads, Minnock and his accomplished pianist have co-written “Are We All Alone?” It’s a beautiful composition and sung with sincerity and poignant emotion. In the same jazzy mode, “Moon River” is produced as a Latin-flavored medium-tempo’d arrangement and features the talented Tony DePaolo on guitar. Minnock reminds me a wee bit of Al Jarreau on this vocal presentation. However, I have to say that Minnock,(although influenced by some of our jazz icons) definitely has his own unique style and sound. His sincerity and his ability to transmit an emotional presentation inside the restrictive walls of the recording studio is to be commended.

I’m touched by his awesome presentation of “You Don’t Know What Love is.” His triple tempo on the blues song “Love Being Here with You” turns it into a straight-ahead, Lambert, Hendrix & Ross type production that swings hard. On this recording, Minnock shows us he can sing it all. He is clearly an artist who pushes the boundaries of music and art with his vocal instrument.
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ADA BIRD WOLFE – “BIRDIE” Independent label

Ada Bird Wolfe, vocals; Jamieson Trotter, piano/organ; Dan Lutz, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums/percussion; Scott Mayo, tenor saxophone; Jamelle Adisa, trumpet; Kleber Jorge, Nathaniel LaPointe & Hideaki Tokunaga, guitars.

The famous Billie Holiday popularized the song, “Lover Man” and that composition opens this production as a swift-moving samba. The track is killer! Ada Bird Wolfe’s voice dances atop the music like an instrument. That being said, this is a sad, heart-wrenching lyrical song that has suddenly become a happy Latin-infused arrangement. As an instrumental, this would probably work perfectly. However, with the lyrics being sung, Wolfe seems to make light of the sadness because of her happy arrangement. I’m sure that wasn’t her intention. Notably, Jamieson Trotter is dynamite on piano, setting the groove and freely improvising throughout. On the second track, Ms. Wolfe surprises with a fluid performance in Portuguese, “Doralice,” that is a composition by Joáo Gilberto. She honors the roots of the song by performing it in its original language form, although slightly off-key in several places. Later, on “Mon Fantome” Wolfe sings in French, obviously showing her penchant and ear for languages. Using rich alto tones to caress each song choice, I can tell that Ada Bird Wolfe admires Carmen McCrae’s vocal style. It is reflected in both her song choices and vocal presentation. She sings several Thelonious Monk songs whose lyrical content and vocal style was freshly introduced to us by McCrae’s awesome, recorded tribute to Monk back in 1988 when she released “Carmen Sings Monk.” Ms. Wolfe also tackles the famous Miles Davis tune, “All Blues” and tributes Charles Mingus with Joni Mitchell’s composition, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”. Her repertoire is admirable. At times, her pitch falls ever-so-slightly below the notes and this is somewhat annoying to those with keenly alert ears. It’s particularly noticeable on “Monk’s Dream” and she misses the melodic mark entirely on “Round Midnight.” Thelonious Monk’s music is not to be trifled with.

She is more persuasive with ballads, but Ada Bird Wolfe endeavors to swing on the jazz standard, “Four.” Sadly, she appears out of breath and unable to keep pace with her stellar band. For the most part, listeners can expect to be entertained with a group of familiar jazz songs by famed composers and a musical ensemble that is both competent and fearsome.
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JAKE EHRENREICH with the ROGER KELLAWAY TRIO – “TREASURY OF JEWISH CHRISTMAS SONGS” Independent Label

Jake Ehrenreich, vocals; Roger Kellaway, piano; Bruce Forman, guitars; Dan Lutz, bass; Kevin Winard, percussion.

I found the title of this album to be a bit puzzling, since we know that the Jewish religion celebrates Hanukah and not Christmas. However, on the CD cover it clearly states this is a “cool jazz tribute to the Jewish songwriters” of several Christmas songs. That explains it. Jake Enrenreich is the satin smooth vocalist who celebrates these stellar composers. He has a tone and ambience that appears to be greatly influenced by Sinatra and Tony Bennett. That being said, it’s a pleasure and a joyful experience to listen to Jake Ehrenreich sing. Beginning with “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” we are immediately off and swinging our way into the holiday season. Ehrenreich’s voice is full of joy and it’s contagious. The Roger Kellaway trio is brick-solid beneath the spotlighted vocals. I enjoyed the addition of Bruce Forman on guitar during the Brazilian-flavored arrangement of “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Roger Kellaway is a master musician and accompanist. He gives beautiful and creative support to the vocals of Ehrenreich. On “Christmas Time is Here,” Kellaway steps outside the realm of support and dives into his own improvisational display of independence and talent during his brief but poignant piano solo. I enjoy the walking bass of Dan Lutz on “Home for the Holidays” and the strumming guitar that puts the “S” in shuffle during this blues tinged rendition of a seasonal song. Written by Robert Allen Deitcher and Albert Silverman, I don’t remember hearing this song before now. Great song! Enrenreich’s awesome delivery makes you listen to and embrace every lyric and each note. He’s quite a storyteller.

“A Christmas Love Song” is quite beautifully presented by Jake Ehrenreich and features the always inspiring lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and the magnificent music of Johnny Mandel. Once again, Kellaway is amazing on piano. This is the perfect album to light the fireplace, mix the drinks, pour the wine, and cuddle up in the soft glow of Christmas lights to be inspired by this fine vocalist and his holiday repertoire.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI9g3Zp3M2k&index=10&list=PLWOK64HMzr6K _hgfLP7 ErsN0DZjSF7SLM
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SIMONE KOPMAJER – “SPOTLIGHT ON JAZZ” Lucky Mojo Records

Simone Kopmajer, vocals/composer; Terry Myers, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Paul Urbanek, piano; Martin Spitzer, guitar; Karl Sayeer, bass; Reinhardt Winkler, drums.

This is an easy listening jazz production. It feels as though I am front-row-center in an intimate club setting with Kopmajer’s sweet tones swirling around me along with her sextet’s smart accompaniment. Simone Kopmajer has co-composed the opening tune, “Spotlights”. It’s a moderate swing that introduces us to this smooth, polished singer. She takes me back to the so-called ‘cool’ West Coast jazz scene with her vocal style and these arrangements. This recording conjures up shades of Edie Gormé, Julie London (without her sexy, smoky sound), June Christy and/or Chris Connor. These were some of the West Coast female recorded voices who were popular during that Southern California jazz scene in the 1950’s and 60s. Kopmajer’s voice takes me back to that time in jazz history. I enjoyed her interpretation of Ahmad Jamal’s wonderful hit song, “Poinciana”. She floats brightly over her ensemble’s music track, her voice dancing like moonlight on a rushing river. Terry Myers adds saxophone and clarinet-fills throughout this album, executing his instrumentation to sensitively highlight and support Kopmajer’s melodic vocals.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQVFz9HKNT8&list=OLAK5uy_npFFxcxjaJviKoXtLM6pHQJTV Gajyyod8

Simone Kopmajer is quite popular in Southeast Asia and Japan, as well as all over Europe. Born in Schladming, Austria, she started singing at age eight, studied piano and saxophone and by the time she turned twelve, young Simone was performing with her father’s big band. After obtaining a Master’s Degree at the University of Music and Dramatic Arts in Graz, She honed her jazz skills with well-known artists like Sheila Jordan, Mark Murphy, Michele Hendricks, Jay Clayton and the New York Voices. This is her thirteenth album release as a leader and she offers fourteen songs of fine music for our listening pleasure.
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KRIS ADAMS:STEVE PROSSER,THE MUSIC OF – “WE SHOULD HAVE DANCED” Jazzbird Records

Kris Adams, vocals/lyrics; Steve Prosser, composer; Tim Ray, piano/arranger; Paul Del Nero, acoustic bass; Fernando Brandáo, flutes.

“We Should Have Danced” celebrates the music of Steve Prosser by a select ensemble of musicians. Kris Adams take on the project with one of those crystal-clean vocals, clear enunciation, and a handle on complimentary scatting that blends easily with the piano, flute and bass on this project. There are no drums, yet the rhythm of this ensemble is solid and steady. The widow of Steve Prosser, Kris Adams, has written lyrics to the music of her talented husband. These sensual and intimate lyrics are noted on the inside of the CD jacket. Adams tells their love story with music and vocals. It is not her voice as much as the arrangements that touch me. I do feel her vocal sincerity throughout. These compositions are well written and the music is quite melodic. The lyrics are memorable and honest. Often Kris Adams uses her voice like a secondary flute, harmonizing with Fernando Brandáo’s instrument. Sometimes she simply soars in her own space, blowing her song like a feather in the wind. This is particularly true on the title tune, where Fernando Brandáo is king on flute. I was particularly taken by this song, “We Should Have Danced.” Pianist, Tim Ray, took on the huge, challenging project of arranging these original songs and accompanying Kris Adams on piano while she explored her musical diary. Songs like “Imaginings” challenge Adam’s range and voice with a haunting and rangy melody. Paul Del Nero on acoustic bass plays a noteworthy solo. “Another Time” swings hard with the intense walking bass of Paul Del Nero. He and Tim Ray provide a rhythmic stage to spotlight the driving vocals of Kris Adams. She is a singing poet.

If you are looking for a project of fresh, original material and well-written lyrics, here is an artistic project to tribute a composer’s work, celebrate a life well-lived and spotlight a romantic love. Although it is meant to be a tribute to the composer, Steve Prosser, it is also a recording that showcases the arranging talents and piano excellence of Tim Ray, the lyrical abilities and vocal agility of Kris Adams and it is colored with the beautiful flute playing of Fernando Brandáo. Paul Del Nero is another star of this production on acoustic bass and he is like super glue when it comes to holding the rhythm tightly in place.
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LAURA DICKINSON 17 – “AULD LANG SYNE” Music & Mirror Records

As this recording opens, I flash back to the Andrew Sisters and their harmonic, swing-hit-records of the 1930s through the 1950’s. They sold over 75-million records with hits like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”. Laura Dickinson’s first song on this holiday recording is a medley of “Happy Holidays” and “The Holiday Season” and definitely brings the Andrew Sisters to mind with her harmony layered delivery. It’s both festive and big-band swinging.

Dickinson has a crystal-clear soprano voice that soars, dips and glides like a wild dove in flight. On the second track, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” her high notes sparkle. This vocalist sounds like a well-seasoned veteran of the recording studio and of session work. As I begin to read her biography, I realize why I detected this studio ease and professionalism in her recording. She’s celebrated as one of the busiest studio voices in Southern California. Her television and radio commercial success has featured her vocals promoting KFC, Maybelline, Target, and Priceline. She’s sung on hit TV shows like Modern Family, Son of Zorn and Supernatural. Her vocals have been heard on motion picture tracks galore and Laura Dickinson has been Michael Buble’s vocal contractor since 2015. In fact, in whatever spare time this lady has left, she manages to contract vocalists for projects like Englebert Humperdinck’s 2018 Christmas album and Mr. Buble’s promotional tour for his November 2018 CD release, “The Christmas Chronicles” with Kurt Russell. In 2017, Laura Dickinson won three Grammy awards for her work as music producer on the Ted Nash Big Band: Presidential Suite album. She was also vocal contractor that year on “Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin.” This exemplifies her seamless approach to appreciating and singing a multitude of musical styles. For example, her Andrew Sisters tribute on the arrangement that opens this CD moves fluidly to present a solo rendition of an old standard in the next breath, with a more modern, pop/ funk arrangement. Her voice sounds innocent and sweet; almost child-like on this number. Yet her maturity in the control of notes, tone and delivery is evident. Her rendition of “Christmas is Starting Now” comes from the Disney cartoon “Phineas and Ferb”, that is featured in a music video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KSiHNVccz0). I prefer Dickinson’s swinging presentation to the original. Her voice puts youth and happiness into the mix.

This is an album of eleven wintery, holiday songs that add to the joy and celebration of the season. She even tackles the soaring Mariah Carey composition, “Miss You Most (At Christmas Time)” sung as a touching ballad. Her big band arrangements are tightly played and beautiful. They feature some top arrangers including Brent Fischer, Larry Blank, James A. McMillan (who has arranged five of the elven songs herein), Bill Liston, Johnny Mandel, Alan Steinberger, Andrew Synowiec and Ms. Dickinson herself. I love the arrangement complexity on “Let It Snow.” The trumpet work of former member of the Tonight Show Band, Kye Palmer, is outstanding on several solos. Laura Dickinson has an infectious voice that capsulizes the spirit of the season. Her folksy rendition of the title tune is supported by the sensitive accompaniment of Grammy-winning guitarist, Andrew Synowiec. Ms. Dickinson introduces me to a number of holiday songs I have not heard before and her forever-young tonal quality brushes the cold windy season with warmth and sincerity.
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MUSICAL INGENUITY: FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELT!

November 29, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

November 29, 2018

MARIEL AUSTIN – “RUNNER IN THE RAIN” Futura Productions

Mariel Austin Rock-Jazz Orchestra featuring Mariel Austin, trombone/vocals/ composer/ arranger/ bandleader. RHYTHM: Andria Nicodemou, vibraphone; Vaughn Stoffey, guitar; James Fernando & Chris McCarthy, piano; Neil Patton, bass; Dor Herskovits, drums. SAXOPHONES: Noah Preminger, tenor sax; Nigel Yancey, alto sax/flute; Richard Garcia, alto sax/clarinet; Gustavo D’Amico, tenor sax/flute; Travis Bliss, tenor sax; Austin Yancey, baritone sax/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Danny Fratina, Kai Sandoval, David Adewumi, Jon Weidley, & Jordan Skomal. TROMBONES:Dorsey Minns, Grant Randall, Yoshie Nakayama & Joe Ricard, bass trombone. VIOLINS: Jakub Trasak, Rafael Natan, Marnen Laibow-Koser & Ludovica Burtone. VIOLAS: Georgina McKay Lodge & Sofia Basile; CELLOS: Valerie Thompson & Jason Coleman.

A busy bass, spirited drums and a flurry of horns opens this production. They introduce a short piano interlude. Then, lush with orchestration, the song unfolds. A flute warbles. Trumpets blare and then sweetly sing. There are classical crescendos that build, blast and ebb. Drums are formidable beneath the production and the ‘mix’ is delightfully clear and clean. You can appreciate the dynamic contribution of each instrumentalist. The first track titled, “A Rough, Unsorted Compiling of Ways Not to Exist” begins as a boisterous production with many twists and turns in the arrangements. It’s a long piece, like the title; (six minutes and thirty-nine seconds). Four out of five composition and all arrangements on this production are by Mariel Austin. On this debut recording, Mariel Austin features four original compositions. Although the number of songs is short on this EP, the length of each song gives you nearly forty minutes of very creative music. She pulled her project together by On-line-fundraising.

Her approach on the Wayne Shorter tune,“Night Dreamer”leans more towards big band jazz than orchestral plushness. This is one of my favorite Shorter compositions and I like her arrangement approach. Andria Nicodemou adds a nice touch on vibraphone.

Mariel Austin offers a fresh voice in big band arranging and composing. Already, Ms. Austin has won a number of impressive awards, including the ASCAP Foundation Phoebe Jacobs Prize that is part of the 2018 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Awards. She was also commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony to compose a piece for their 2015-2016 jazz band.

A native of Berkeley, CA, Mariel Austin was enamored with music from a young age. She dabbled in playing flute, piano, clarinet and alto saxophone. But while attending a concert, when she heard the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble play a Charlie Mingus tune, “Fables of Faubus” she fell in love with the bass trombone. Although torn between majoring in music or in fashion design, at Cal State Northridge she settled on music and became a member of the CSN jazz “A” Band. Her outstanding mastery of the trombone led her to many television gigs on popular shows like American Idol and The Voice. Austin continued her music education at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she attained a Master’s Degree in Jazz Composition. Her composing and arranging skills mirror complexity, ingenuity and creativity. With heroes like Wayne Shorter, Mingus and George Russell, it is not surprising that she thinks outside the sharp edges of a box. One of her teachers and inspirations has also been Bob McChesney.

Mariel Austin’s music breathes and pulsates. She leaves unexpected space and creates tension that builds and ebbs like ocean waves. Austin generously shares the solo spotlight with her talented players, many who are Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory students. This is her first recording project and I’m certain it’s a preface for many more to come.
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JASON KAO HWANG BURNING BRIDGE – “BLOOD” Independent Label

Jason Kao Hwang, violin/viola/composer; Taylor Ho Bynum, cornet/flugelhorn; Joseph Daley, tuba; Andrew Drury, drums; Ken Filiano, double bass; Sun Li, pipa; Steve Swell, trombone; Wang Guowei, erhu.

“Driving down on an unlit highway, my headlights flashed upon the bleeding carcass of a deer,” explained Jason Kao Hwang. ”My heart rate thundered and air abandoned my lungs with explosive force as I swerved away, narrowly avoiding a collision. This shock made me reflect upon my mother’s harrowing experiences in China during World War II. While in a Changsha pharmacy, she was knocked unconscious by a Japanese bomb. She awoke as the lone survivor surrounded by the dead. I also thought about Butch Morris and Billy Bang, musicians I’ve worked with who fought in Viet Nam. The magnitude of pain and sorrow that they endured is unimaginable.”

“Blood meditates upon the emotional traumas of war retained within the body as unspoken vibrations that reverberate throughout communities and across generations. Through blood, the violence of deeply held memories are not relived, but transposed into our sound. Blood in our sound rises within our voice to defy humanity’s constant state of war. Blood liberates our song. Blood regenerates into wholeness and strength.”

The excerpt above is taken from the Jason Kao Hwang liner notes. It explains the inspiration for this unique musical adventure, using the artist’s own words. During the first track, “Breath Within the Bomb” you hear the fear, frustration and calamity within his music. I could imagine pieces of debris swirling around in the air and unconscious or injured bodies lying on the ground. Sometimes the instruments sound like painful cries, or mimic animal voices of protest and pain. Taylor Ho Bynum’s use of both cornet and flugelhorn on this project add notable highlights, as does the tuba.

This is Avant-garde jazz music, not always easily understood or reviewed. Hwang’s violin is ever-present, sometimes plucked, sometimes bowed. He has incorporated a number of string instruments that merge to become his Burning Bridge group and to illustrate his concept of “Blood,” the essence of human life. Among these instrumentalists, it is unique to add the Chinese two-stringed, bowed musical instrument called the ‘erhu’. It’s similar to a spiked fiddle or sometimes it’s referred to as a Southern Fiddle. Others refer to it as a Chinese violin. It is mastered by Wang Guowei. Another Asian instrument that’s blended into this production is the ‘pipa’, a four-stringed Chinese instrument, also referred to as a Chinese lute. It has a pear-shaped, wooden body and can encompass a varying number of frets, ranging from a dozen frets and up to twenty-six frets. It is showcased by Sun Li. Jason Kao Hwang continues his search for self-expression by unifying both Eastern and Western music and musical instruments. He incorporates the tuba, featuring Joseph Daley. Steve Swell adds trombone magic to the mix. On the third track titled, “Surge (Part 2.)” Andrew Drury is the catalyst on trap drums, dashing and dynamic on his instrument. Kenny Filiano sets a blues tone beneath the freedom of expression performed by the strings, walking his double bass deliberately through the fray. He’s a seasoned technician on his instrument. I remember Kenny from his days living and playing in Southern California. He’s always been a strong and confident player.

Jason Kao Hwang has received support from Chamber Music America, US Artists International, the NEA, the Rockefeller Foundation and some others who have supported his unique composer talents. As a violinist, he has played with Karl Berger, Anthony Braxton, William Parker, Butch Morris, Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman and many other notables. His music is not for the faint of heart or those of closed minds. This is an unapologetic, Avant-garde experience full of creativity and protest, played by a number of talented and uninhibited musicians. Fasten your seat belt.
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KEITH OXMAN – “GLIMPSES” Capri Records

Keith Oxman, tenor saxophone/composer; David Liebman, soprano/tenor saxophone; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Ken Walker, bass; Todd Reid, drums.

There’s nothing I love more than a bluesy saxophone and Keith Oxman graciously offers just that. This recording opens with his original composition titled, “Shai.” His tenor saxophone flies above the solid rhythm section, as powerful as a jet plane painting white smoky pictures against shades of blue sky. Jeff Jenkins is wonderful on grand piano and takes a noteworthy solo. Then enters special guest, David Liebman, also on tenor saxophone. Oxman is a solid composer, steeped in the old-school vein of jazz from the days of John Coltrane’s popularity. After listening to several amazing cuts on this CD, I began to read the liner notes and realized that both Oxman and Liebman are devotees of the late, great Coltrane and that’s another cement-solid bond that joins them. The camaraderie of Liebman and Oxman is particularly interesting since they are both accomplished reed men and both extremely competent on their instruments. You would expect that Oxman would have chosen a trumpeter as a recording comrade, rather than another reedman, but it works beautifully. Liebman explained:

“I really enjoyed Keith’s compositions that have challenging and interesting harmonic twists and turns, always framed with lyrical melodic content.”

You can hear the tenderness and oneness of their merger on every tune. However, I was completely engaged on the ballad, “Lenny.”

Every composition of Oxman’s invites me into his musical world with welcome arms. The ensemble’s warm and comforting tone makes you want to hug the music. For good measure, Oxman has included a couple of songs we know and love like Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” and Cedar Walton’s “Afreaka”. Still, I am just as illuminated by Oxman’s own composition skills. The arrangement of only piano and horn on the Ellington tune is a lovely way to showcase the exquisite melody of this song and punctuates the outstanding talent of the iconic David Liebman. As a duo performance, Jeff Jenkins is both a sensitive accompanist and powerful player.

On track three, the two saxophonists play tag during the Cedar Walton tune, each showing off their own unique skills on their instruments. It’s a joyful arrangement full of spunk and sport. They sound amazing as a team. Ken Walker gets to walk his big, bad bass during a rousing solo and I applaud the way the sound man brought the piano way down to showcase every nuance of Walker’s bass solo performance. Tedd Reid is solid as a redwood tree throughout, lending his trap drum licks in comfortable support of the ensemble. On Track six, “Louminus,” you can hear Reid wailing away and pumping the group up with his inspirational percussive prowess.

The title tune, “Glimpses” is composed by NEA Jazz master, David Liebman. Liebman’s career stretches over nearly five decades and he has leant his talents to the bandstands of Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, McCoy Tyner and more. As an educator and author, he also markets instructional jazz DVDs and books. David Liebman has performed on over 500 recordings.

This is Keith Oxman’s tenth album release on the Capri label. He has played with a number of great musicians including Art Blakey, Buddy Rich, Red Holloway, Jack McDuff, Pete Christlieb, Tom Harrell, Phil Woods, Dave Brubeck, Curtis Fuller and many, many more. A Denver native, he has inspired youth as a music instructor and band leader at East High School. He’s a competent studio musician, composer and producer, as well as a distinctive artist with great chops and a deep love of bebop. Every cut on this CD is smokin’ hot and beautifully played.
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JORGE NILA –“ TRIBUTE TO THE TENOR MASTERS, TENOR TIME” Independent label

Jorge Nila, tenor saxophone; Dave Stryker, guitar; Mitch Towne, organ, Dana Murray, drums.

Jorge Nila opens with a smokin’ hot rendition of Dexter Gordon’s popular, “Fried Bananas” composition. Nila was inspired to tribute several iconic reedmen on this “Tenor Time” project, as well as legendary composers like Tadd Dameron and Stevie Wonder. It was a plus to hear Mitch Towne on organ. The addition of an organ to this project brings back happy musical memories of the 1960s jazz scene. Nila’s quartet swings hard on “Fried Bananas”, with Dana Murray pushing the music ahead on trap drums, adding Charisma and excitement to the project. Dave Stryker is always a pleasure to hear on his guitar. He’s not only a prime player on this project, but he produced it as well. The Hank Mobley classic tune, “Soul Station,” slows the tempo, but remains rich with groove. That’s one thing you will find abundant on this CD; the groove and the swing. “On A Misty Night,” composed by the great Tadd Dameron, lends an unforgettable melody worthy of this instrumental ‘cover.’ Jorge Nila does the tune high justice, exhibiting his undeniable talents on tenor saxophone. Stevie Wonders “Rocket Love” soars and swoops, using close harmonies between the organ and saxophone and lending itself to a funk with Murray’s drums leading the way. Other reedmen who are celebrated on this album are Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, Harold Vick and Sonny Stitt. This production carries the joy and spirit of the holidays inside the bell of Jorge Nila’s tenor saxophone, while giving praise to the elders and the unforgettable gifts they left behind.
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DANIEL ROTEM – “SERENADING THE FUTURE” Independent Label

Daniel Rotem, tenor/soprano saxophones/composer/arranger; Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, 5-string violin; Miro Sprague, piano; Alex Boneham, bass; Roberto Giaquinto, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jeff Parker, guitar; Erin Bentlage, vocals.

The first song on Daniel Rotem’s double-disc-album opens like a sunrise. There is something open, spatial and universal about Rotem’s musical approach. You hear it in his music. He’s passionate and his music resonates the beauty of life and living. Special guest, Jeff Parker takes stage center on this first tune, to entertain with a moving guitar solo that expands over a synthesized-sounding background of electronic chords and the tinkling of a grand piano. Could that be a five-string violin making all that beautiful music behind the soloist? When Miguel Atwood Ferguson enters on his violin, the mood changes sweetly, as his solo becomes the center of attention. Daniel Rotem’s sound on his horn is breathy, warm and wonderful. I am captivated by the first tune of Disc 1., titled, “Different But the Same,” where Rotem implements stellar saxophone talent. On “Who Is It?” (Track 2.) we are introduced to the inspirational playing of Alex Boneham on bass and more attention is given to Miro Sprague on piano. Daniel Rotem picks up his tenor saxophone to serenade us. By the way, he has composed and arranged all the songs on this production. According to the liner notes, the compositions were written with the idea of creating a musical landscape to highlight the relevance of each human life and the breadth and beauty of our collective humanity. The title tune adds the bell-clear beauty of Erin Bentlage on vocals. She becomes a soprano instrument, harmonizing deftly with the other instruments.

Track four is one of my favorites, titled “Push Through” and push they do, speared by Roberto Giaquinto’s drums and their ensemble energy. This song tickles the attention with its up-tempo beat and featuring these awesome players at their best. I found the ending to be a bit abrupt. However, one thing is perfectly clear. Rotem is a fine composer and arranger. When I hear youthful and gifted musicians like these carrying on the legacy of jazz, I am encouraged. The songs are lengthy, but never boring. Consequently, Daniel Rotem needs two discs to play them all, with their average length running from over seven minutes to over ten minutes long. Prepare a pot of tea or a very tall drink, settle back and enjoy.
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GABRIEL ZUCKER – “WEIGHTING” ESP Disk

Gabriel Zucker, piano/composer; Tyshawn Sorey, drums; Adam O’Farrill, trumpet; Eric Trudel, saxophone.

How would music sound if you were writing to entice your soul to stay put inside your body? That is one thought that inspired Gabriel Zucker, a pianist and composer, when he began working on this piece of art. As a multi-instrumentalist and deep thinker, Zucker has become one of the prominent voices on the New York avant-garde scene. In addition to using music to delve into his inner most mind questions and considerations, Zucker is a Yale graduate and a Rhodes scholar. Part 1. Of this CD (which is divided into three suites of music) is titled ‘Soul’. Part II. is labeled ‘Appointments’ and the third part is titled, ‘Stones.’ The ‘Stones’ theme may have been garnered from a novel called “The Flamethrowers” by Rachel Kushner. In it she writes:

“…a tribe his father had told him about, deep in the Amazon of Brazil, … weighted themselves with stones so that their souls would not wander away. … It became an obsession for him as a boy, this idea of people trying to keep their souls from escaping.”

I explain this because I think the reason for Zucker’s music is important to understand. Certainly, the premise may be easier to comprehend than the music itself. In listening to ‘free’ music, that is composed to allow the individual musicians to freely explore their creative improvisations, it’s not always easy to comprehend. This music is like impressionism art or abstract art. It’s experimental and difficult to describe.

Zucker may have coined it best by saying, “Like most of my work, “Weighting” is long and not exactly a light listening experience. But at its best, it should draw you in to move at the same speed it does.”
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GABRIEL ESPINOSA – “NOSTALGIADS DE MI VIDA” Zoho Records

Gabriel Espinosa, electric bass/vocals/composer; Kim Nazarian, vocals; Misha Tsiganov, piano/keyboards; Adriano Santos & Mauricio Zottarelli, drums; Jim Seeley, flugelhorn; Joel Frahm, tenor saxophone; Rubens De La Corte, guitar; Jonathan Gomez, bongos; Jay Ashby, trombone/percussion; Christian Howes, string ensemble.

Gabriel Espinosa is an electric bassist, vocalist and composer. His lovely, melodic composition entitled, “Gabriela” dances off my automobile compact disc player. It’s such a beautiful tune that for a moment, it helps to relieve the stress of driving in this Los Angeles, bumper-to-bumper traffic. The voice of Kim Nazarian becomes an instrument, joining the ensemble and adding her gorgeous tonal quality to the arrangement. Rubens De La Corte offers a warm and wonderful guitar solo. From this very first track, I am hooked on Espinosa’s project. On the second track, “Nostalgia” Jim Seeley opens the piece on flugelhorn. Then Joel Frahm is featured prominently on tenor saxophone and is amply propelled by Mauricio Zottarelli on drums. Nazarian sings the melody, without words, and it’s a powerful performance, sometimes in unison with the horn.

Gabriel Espinosa is a dulcet composer. After listening to a stack of Avant-garde productions earlier in the day, Espinosa’s album is a delightful experience. Nazarian’s voice is incorporated into his arrangements on the first four tunes. On “Tu Mirada”, (translated to “Your Gaze”) Jim Seeley expresses himself during a stunning flugelhorn solo. Jay Ashby’s trombone blends beautifully with Kim Nazarian’s vocals, on the third cut. This time Nazarian has lyrics and the melody is challenging, but she sings the rangy melody with ease.

Gabriel Espinosa blends Latin jazz with smooth jazz. You will find a pleasing excursion into arrangements that include compositions sounding almost pop-ish and definitely memorable. For example, “Eres Joven” (meaning “You Are Young”) was the first song Espinosa ever recorded with his brothers. They were called Los Deltons and the group was quite popular in the Mexican Yucatan during the 1970s. Christian Jacob has added a magical string arrangement as Gabriel Espinosa sings his heart out in his native Spanish language. His vocals, like his music are honest, smooth and emotional.
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