December 9, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
December 9, 2018


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, 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, 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, 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, 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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November 29, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / jazz journalist

November 29, 2018


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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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, 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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November 5, 2018

November 5, 2018
By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

This music celebrates our diversities and the gratitude we share as one nation and one world.



This CD opens with the voice of Salvador, a young man labeled Dreamer, who grew up undocumented in America from childhood. He explains his situation as ‘undocumented’ and how he discovered his status just before his teen years. Salvador plays clarinet. He is passionate about his music and his love for America, the only country he’s ever known as home.

The Maestro on a mission is John Daversa, who explains in the liner notes that his own grandparents came to the shores of America from Europe and as proud immigrants. Daversa is a composer, arranger and trumpeter. He’s also an activist and big band leader. For this project, he has gathered a number of talented youth, all representative of their Dreamer status in our country. This music is excitingly arranged and the young people come from all over the United States to play out their passion for music, for freedom, for co-existence, and to exemplify pride in being a part of our country. Their voices sing in unison, “Living in America” spaced strategically in between the jazzy big band arrangements of John Daversa.

As proclaimed by the United States Leader of the House of Representatives:
“The history of music in America is inseparable from the story of immigrants in America. Our brave young Dreamers embody this proud legacy, adding their vision and patriotism to make America more American.” – Nancy Pelosi.

The female voice of Saba comes up on track three to tell us that she was brought to America at age eleven from Pakistan. She plays piano and sings. Saba tells us that she, as a working student, was given DACA (Dreamer) status. When she learned that DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was ending, it was devastating to her. This is the only country she has known. She is an outstanding student, majoring in biology and is a candidate in mathematical biology at Texas Tech University. She speaks five languages. Saba studied classical piano, but learned to love jazz, the music of freedom. Track four Features an up-tempo arrangement of “Don’t Fence Me In” with a rousing trumpet solo and great horn harmonics.

Caliph is a Dreamer who came to our country at age seven-years-old from Senegal. He earned a university scholarship, but could not attend because of his immigration status. He’s a rapper/poet and activist. He prefaces the “Immigrant Song” with a rap and a short talk about his journey as a Dreamer in America.

“Music has always been tied to the fight for justice. During the Civil Rights Movement, Nina Simone and John Coltrane performed what became anthems for freedom. American Dreamers continue this tradition of using music to send an important message, … affirming their love of the country they call home.” – Senator Kamala D. Harris

This entire album is a well-produced musical tribute to Dreamers and their journey from oppression, in search of a better life by coming to the shores of America to assimilate and add their worthy talents and international energy to our country. Most of them bring love and hope. Unlike the rhetoric, statistics show that from 2012 until present, most of them are not criminals. They come from families that desire a better future for themselves and their children. These talented musicians come from Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Senegal, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden and Venezuela. They all sought out the ‘home of the brave, land of the free’ that the United States represented to them. The political move to rescind DACA is part of an irresponsible strategy to criminalize immigrants. This album is full of honest expressions from the mouths and musical talents of a big band of Dreamers. Dreamers who are good citizens, hard workers and outstanding students. They serenade us with truth and purpose, endeavoring to explain their plight and share their challenges to convince us they are as patriotic and purposeful as any American child born and raised on our soil.

Perhaps Senator Lindsey Graham summed it up best when he said:
“Dream Act Children (Dreamers) have known no country other than America. American Dreamers features a heartfelt expression of patriotism by talented Dreamers performing the songs of our country.” – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham

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Alberto Pibiri, piano/composer; Paul Gill, bass; Paul Wells, drums; Adrian Cunningham, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Dave Stryker, guitar; Sheila Jordan, Jay Clayton & Miriam Waki, vocals.

This musical production opens with a joyful, upbeat piano by Alberto Pibiri. The tune titled, “For Oscar” brings back memories of silent films with Charlie Chaplin waddling double time across the film screen in black and white. This is very ‘Roaring-twenties’ style jazz.

It moves into a more Gene Harris type of modern jazz mid-way through when Alberto Pibiri trades fours with drummer Paul Wells. He brilliantly shows his ability to swing and to dig deeply into the blues. In the liner notes, Pibiri’s original tune “For Oscar” was written as a tribute to the great pianist, Oscar Peterson. Alberto Pibiri has composed every song herein and each has a personality of its own. “My Sunshine” is a lovely ballad full of piano arpeggio’s and gives ample time to feature Paul Wells on bass. On Pibiri’s original composition, “Walkin’” they add a clarinet. The nice, mellow sound, played by Adrian Cunningham, blends well with Pibiri’s tinkling treble notes on the piano. “New Bossa” is a lilting Latin number. “Kiss Kiss” is a slow swing, with Pibiri’s blues roots prominent once again. He branches off into many directions, but all of it showcases his excellence as a piano technician and the fruit of his endeavors are brilliant composition skills that hang like golden apples from his musical tree. On “Be Free,” Jazz vocalist Sheila Jordon is featured. The composition is a beautiful ballad where Alberto Pibiri showcases his talents on grand piano and uses a vocalist to spotlight his lyrical capabilities. Notably, Jordan is an icon in the music business, but like Billy Eckstine in his later years, her vocal vibrato has now taken over her once clear, clean tones. On cut #8 she scats rather than singing lyrics and is more effective with vocalist Jay Clayton, who joins the party. Together, they epitomize a saxophone and trumpet duet, using their voices. Track 9 features Miriam Waki on vocals. This cut adds Dave Stryker on guitar and Adrian Cunningham is back, this time on saxophone. For my taste, these three vocal songs add little to Alberto Pibiri’s project and distract from an otherwise tight ensemble production.
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CHUCHO VALDÉS – “JAZZ BATA 2” Mack Ave Records

Chucho Valdés, piano/composer; Yelsy Heredia, double bass; Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, batas /vocals; Yaroldy Abreu Robles, percussion. GUEST ARTIST: Regina Carter, violin.

The unusual thing about this production is the lack of trap drums. I would expect that a CD featuring this talented Cuban composer, pianist and bandleader would lend itself to the relentless beat of the trap drums. However, I find myself enthralled with the Valdés command of his grand piano, even in the face of a drum-less production, Chucho Valdés shines brilliantly. He expresses himself spectacularly with this album of all original music. For rhythm, he adds the percussion power of Yaroldy Abreu Robles to spur the energy and support the steady excitement of Yelsy Heredia on double bass. Every now and then Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé lends vocals to texture the layers of this musical fabric. Here is a quilt of many musical influences and colors. The music is warm and wraps around you.

Valdés blends his own Cuban culture with Yorubic religious music and American jazz in a most unique way. His fingers fly across the piano keys like a flock of startled sparrows. He is quick, melodic and always innovative. On track four, titled “Ochun” he adds a taste of gospel during the introduction and surprises the listener with the amazing talents of his guest artist, Regina Carter playing violin. This powerful female violinist always shares a soulful talent, enticing her violin instrument to bend and blend in very unique and beautiful ways. In the Yoruba religion, the female God Ochun (sometimes spelled Oshun) is thought to be a spirit goddess that rules over fresh water, rivers, sexual pleasure and fertility, as well as beauty and love. This particular goddess is also celebrated in Brazil, in Trinidad, Cuba and throughout the Ifá and Yoruba religions.

Taught and inspired by his famous father, Ramon “Bebo” Valdés, ((1918-2013), this CD release celebrates what would have been his father’s 100th birthday. Once again, Regina Carter is featured on the violin during this tribute composition.

Chucho Valdés is an amazing pianist and without trap drums, his genius is prominent. There are some stunning percussive solos, but for the most part, the awesome catalyst for this project is the expert and sensitive piano playing of Valdés. He covers so many styles of music, rooted in his amazing technique, with each original composition becoming a unique musical experience for the listener. Here is an excursion into the classical music of West Africa, explored and epitomized by a master of the piano. Chucho Valdés (born in Havana) along with his long-time friends and fellow musicians, Yaroldy Abreu Robles, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, and Yelsy Heredia, who are all from the Guantánamo region display solid Cuban roots, as well as being conservatory-trained. Together, this band of masters create a most memorable and enjoyable product of jazz and world music to inspire our cultural appreciation.
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Annie Chen, vocals/composer/lyricist; Rafal Sarnecki, elec. Guitar/arranger; Tomoko Omura, 5-string violin; David Smith, trumpet/flugelhorn; Alex LoRe, alto saxophone/flute; Glenn Zaleski, piano; Mathew Muntz, bass; Jerad Lippi, drums.

This CD includes a booklet that provides the lyrical content written by Annie Chen in English and in Chinese. Her prose is quite moving and very cultural with poetic reference and comparison to nature. A very Chinese vocal chant bounces against a bass solo to open this production. I have lived in Shanghai, China and I recognized the style of music immediately. Annie Chen, the vocal storyteller, emerges. Her second soprano voice is quite unremarkable, but extremely sincere. Her lyrical message does not rhyme and is not meant to. Her vocal instrument turns into a scat that merges with the clarinet, doubling a line in unison. The melodies are very repetitious. Although that lends space and chordal simplicity for instrumental solos, it does not endear this listener to her compositions. They are very much like some Hip-Hop beats that just keep repeating the same changes over and over again. Even the scat unison repeats the same melody again and again. Consequently, her compositions somehow seem uninspired. To scat, in jazz, is to create something new, fresh and creatively improvisational.

Guitarist, Rafal Sarnecki uses his arrangement talents to wrap the Eastern and Western cultures together like a colorful ball of yarn. The result is somewhat avant-garde.

The title tune, “Secret Treetop” features Alex LoRe on flute. Once again, even the background track is repetitious, as is her scat. The flute flies like a fluttering bird on his solo, as does Glenn Zaleski on piano, who finally brings some real jazz feeling to this production.

This is world music. Annie Chen sings in English and her native language. Some of her translated lyrical poetry grammatically loses its meaning in the translation. On track three, “Au Bao Xiang Hui,” the horn players add zest and color to an otherwise very repetitious work of art. That being said, this is a global creative effort with much Asian influence. Annie Chen has included a Taiwanese Folk Song, “Gan Lan Shu,” that I found very beautiful and was the highlight of this production. It’s a very well-written composition.
Culturally, I think this production will be appreciated on the world stage. It’s very well produced. However, most of Ms. Chen’s sing-song, repetitive, minor-mode compositions miss the mark for me.
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Andy Suzuki, keyboard/woodwinds; Jeff Miley, guitar; Steve Billman, bass; Ralph Humphrey, drums; Billy Hulting, percussion.

This is a blend of fusion, smooth jazz, progressive rock and easy listening. Here is an ensemble production featuring original compositions, with the majority written by Billman and Miley who are the bassist and guitarist of the group. From the beginning, the first three musical compositions sounded somewhat melodically redundant. That is not to say that they sounded similar, but that the melodic lines seemed to repeat over and over again in each song. That being said, the tracks are well produced. However, I kept waiting for something or someone to break-out with a stunning solo. The element of surprise, excitement and the instrumental ‘It-factor’ seems missing. Miley is left to interpret most of the melodies and he offers numerous improvisational solos on guitar. His talent is obvious. This production is a pleasant listen, inclusive of many technical skills and time changes. But neither the songs nor the individual musicians jump out at you as prime soloists or power players. I think some of it could be due to the mix and some may be due to the repertoire. Certainly, these are all competent and talented musicians.

“Presence Unknown” is the first track and the unusual rhythm catches my ear, along with the guitar funk line. In the liner notes the time is explained as 13/8 and that meter is enhanced by Andy Susuki, playing keyboards and woodwinds. Steve Billman is pumping his bass and planting strong roots for this song. Still, these tracks sound like tracks awaiting the soloist to lay down his or her part. On the second track, “Failure to Authenticate” the Odd Dogs group uses more challenging time meters, moving from 11/8 to 15/8 to 4/4/ time. The average listener may not know or understand these hidden time agendas, but are simply listening to the music for the music’s sake. I found this second cut full of spunk and spark, tapping into what sounds like rock music. I note that the liner notes reference the group’s affinity towards the progressive rock era and groups like Pink Floyd.

Cuts #4 and #5, (“Hairpin” and “Title 5”) are more straight ahead jazz and feature pretty exciting reed work by Andy Suzuki, while giving Ralph Humphrey (co-composer of “Title 5”) an opportunity to spotlight his drum tenacity. “Monkish” references the influence Thelonious Monk has had on these musicians and it’s tinged with blues and a melody that inspires horn improvisation. Billman also takes a well-deserved solo on his electric bass. These three songs were not so meter-diversified, but seemed to flow more naturally and showcase the talents of these musicians in a jazzy setting, complimenting the Odd Dogs ensemble. Other compositions like, ”A Simple Word” were very smooth-jazz oriented and melodically repetitious, while tunes like “Enigma” and “The Beast” were produced more ‘rock’ driven.

Charts for the songs on this album are available at their website. They invite all of you inquisitive musicians to check them out at: http://www.odddogsmusic.com

Perhaps guitarist Jeff Miley summed it up best by explaining:

“Both the writing process and the act of performing these compositions are satisfying for me because they’re rhythmically advanced and harmonically rich. I get to do some rock-type playing while navigating jazz harmonies with people I hold in the highest regard.”
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Bill O’Connell, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Lincoln Goines, bass; Bobby Ameen, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Randy Brecker, flugelhorn; Craig Handy, alto saxophone; Conrad Herwig, trombone; Andrea Brachfeld, flute; Dan Carillo, guitar.

This album was released earlier this year, but it’s such a gem, I have to suggest you take a listen and consider it as a dynamite stocking-stuffer this Christmas. If you love ‘straight-ahead’ jazz, you will happily embrace this talented ensemble of musicians. Bill O’Connell merges his piano and arranging talents with Lincoln Goines on bass and Bobby Ameen on drums. Their trio is tightly cohesive and becomes a stellar platform where O’Connell’s special guests can appear. The first track features an original composition by O’Connell titled “Obama Samba” that is a tribute to our former U.S. president as Barack Obama danced his way out of the White House after his successful eight-year term. Lincoln Goines gives an admirable solo on electric bass and Bobby Ameen pushes the samba with rhythmic force. O’Connell is exciting on the piano and this song sets the tone for their entire album. Together, this trio swings hard and consistently. You can tell that they have been playing together for some time. In fact, they were rhythm-section camrades in the Dave Valentin Band.

O’Connell’s trio is the main focus of this album, but at all the right points they invite a handful of excellent guest musicians to add color and creativity to their production. Iconic folks like Randy Brecker on flugelhorn and Craig Handy on Alto saxophone pop in. Legendary Conrad Herwig adds his trombone talents and Andrea Brachfeld brings flute to the mix. Dan Carillo is tenacious on guitar.

Every song on this project swings spontaneously and with great tenacity. O’Connell has penned seven of the eleven songs offered here. They also showcase some awesome arrangements of standard songs like, “Just One of Those Things” that is played at a speedy pace with plenty of room for each trio member to improvise and spotlight their skills. O’Connell moves back and forth from grand piano to electric piano with ease and excellence. His band mates are supportive and each is amazing in his own right. This is ear candy!
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LISA HILTON – “OASIS” Ruby Slippers Productions

Lisa Kristine Hilton, piano/composer; Mark Whitfield Jr., drums; Lugues Curtis, bass.

Pianist Lisa Hilton has taken a handful of original compositions and with two-fisted authority, interprets them with gusto on her new trio CD, “Oasis”.

On track two, titled, “Adventure Lands” she shows off her left-handed dexterity, while her right hand improvises brightly. Mark Whitfield Jr., keeps the trap drums strong beneath her up-tempo prowess. Luques Curtis, on bass, locks into the production to bring solid support. Clearly, Ms. Hilton is classically trained and competent on her instrument. She offers us ten original compositions that fall into the realm of ‘easy listening’. On her “Lazy Daisy” tune, I began to sing the old R&B standard, “Heart and Soul, I fell in love with you …,” which the chord changes mimic and some of the melody seems to be based upon. This is a Hoagy Carmichael song quite familiar to me from the 1950s when it was covered by the Cleftones. However, most of her original songs and improvisations become rather redundant. Hilton’s compositions are not necessarily melodic in a way that makes the listener sing-along, unlike the way we cling to Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’ melody or the more challenging ‘Lush Life’ melody of Billy Strayhorn. Instead, Hilton plays with a lot of arpeggio runs and celebrates technique instead of letting her melody lines take the spotlight. That being said, this is a pleasant, easy-listening experience that includes one Gershwin standard, “Fascinating Rhythm”.
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Sumi Tonooka, piano; David Arend, double bass; Johnathan Blake, drums/percussion; Michael Spearman, trombone; Salim Washington, tenor saxophone/flute/bass clarinet; Erica Lindsay, tenor saxophone; Samantha Boshnack, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Alchemy is the transformation of matter or changing base metals into gold. If you have a taste for blended jazz that stretches the oblong lines of music like a rubber band, this music encircles big band scores, symphonic arrangements, modern jazz and bebop all in the same package. On cut one (the title tune – “Adventures in Time and Space”) you will hear a taste of everything. The studio mix is brilliant. Every nuance of Johnathan Blake on drums and percussion is captured with eclectic clarity. Sumi Tonooka is stellar on piano. Salim Washington’s solo expresses mad, improvisational spirit. On track two, David Arend bows his double bass in such a refreshing and improvisational way that he steals the spotlight from the rich horn harmonies. Arend moves this moderate tempo’d arrangement from modern jazz to a more intimate feeling, like that of a chamber music concert.

Each song on this album spreads its own colorful wings to take flight. Creativity spins from this disc and invites us along for an enjoyable ride. Like the splash of colors on the CD jacket, this is uninhibited art. It’s progressive music that invites us to sit back, relax and let our imaginations wander. This group of excellent musicians successfully colors outside the lines of style, genre or classification.
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Paul Mehling, lead guitar/group founding member; Julian Smedley, Evan Price, Olivier Manchon, & Deborah Tien-Price, violins; Evan Dain, Clint Baker, Ari Munkres, Joe Kyle, & Sam Rocha, bass; Paul Robinson, Ed Boynton, Jeff Magidson, Joseph Mehling, Sammo Miltich, Josh Workman, Jason Vanderford, Jeff Magidson, Dave Ricketts, Jordan Samuels & Isabelle Fontaine, rhythm guitars; Paul Mehling, solo guitar/lead vocal; Tony Marcus, Sam Rocha, Sylvia Herold, Linn Powell, & Isabelle Fontaine, vocals; Aeros Quintet, woodwinds; Jeffrey Kahane, piano; Clint Baker, trombone. Jeff Sanford, soprano saxophone; Sam Rocha, tuba.

Reminiscent of gypsy music or Django Reinhardt, “Round Midnight” dances onto the scene to open this album. I am familiar with ‘The Hot Club de France’ that transformed French music by incorporating American jazz concepts into their group. As I listen to this interesting band of American musicians, “The Hot Club of San Francisco,” I admire their use of string instruments to emulate musical styles from New Orleans of the 1920s, gypsy jazz, and to tribute Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.

Notably, this musical style began in Paris with ‘The Hot Club de France’ many years ago. Their cultural blend of music developed in Paris, featuring performance musicians, several listening sessions of rare American jazz discs, small concerts, and in a Parisian club located at 78 rue Cardinet. They even established a record label in 1937 called the Swing Music Label. The Hot Club de France promoted jazz as rooted in ‘swing’ and blues, telling their loyal fans and performers that this strange, new, American music was created and perpetrated by African-American musicians. They blended it with the gypsy music style. It was December of 1934 when that Parisian club (The Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris) was originally popularized by this new music that hosted the Hot Club de France. This group greatly inspired lead guitarist and band leader, Paul Mehling.

This album, featuring The Hot Club of San Francisco, celebrates thirty years of performances by a group of popular Northern California musicians. They only use Argentine Strings and no trap-drummer. The lead guitar is Paul “Pazzo” Mehling, who has affectionately been dubbed the godfather of American gypsy jazz. Born in Denver, he grew up in California’s Silicon Valley. Early on, Mehling was enthralled over his dad’s record collection. He was inspired by Dan Licks & his Hot Licks, and like most teens, he loved the Beatles. He also was steeped in a prevailing interest in Dixieland jazz bands. This guitar specialist has spent time in Paris, playing violin in Metro stations and sitting-in with gypsy musicians whenever possible. He explained:

“When I heard Django’s Hot Club of France: three guitars, bass and violin, they sounded and acted like a rock band. I saw pictures of them and they looked sharp, sophisticated and mysterious.”

Speaking of Paris, Isabelle Fontaine does a swell job of singing the popular standard, “I Love Paris” with a very New Orleans/ragtime arrangement bubbling beneath her voice. Evan Price offers an amazing violin solo on this cut. Isabelle is originally from the French countryside and was inspired by voices like Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet and Yves Montand. She spent two decades playing the snare drum and singing jumping, jive music all over France, Spain and the Swiss Alps. Then, in 2004 she moved to the United States and the Bay Area. That’s when she began working with “The Hot Club of San Francisco.”

Master violinist, Evan Price is a native of my hometown, Detroit, Michigan. He studied music at Cleveland Institute of Music, at Berklee College of Music, and is on the faculty of Wellesley College. He’s a ten-year member of the Turtle Island Quartet, recording five CDs with them and receiving a GRAMMY award in 2006 and 2008 in the Classical Crossover Category. The two awarded albums were their interpretation of “A Love Supreme: The Legacy of John Coltrane’ and the other album was titled, “Four +4”. The remaining two, current and outstanding members of this group are Jordan Samuels (noted guitarist in the San Francisco area) and Sam Rocha, a bassist from Fresno, California. Sam is basically self-taught, but has studied privately with the likes of Walter Page, Scott Lafaro, Milt Hinton, Ray Brown and more. He’s known as a rising star on the gypsy swing circuit and also plays jazz tuba, cornet and guitar.

Founder, Paul Mehling launched this group in 1989. Together, his talented ensemble of musicians breathes fresh life into the historic Django legacy with their infectious gypsy jazz music. Here is a limited-edition CD to enjoy, sharing a compilation of songs taken from their fourteen CD releases.
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FLAVIO LIRA – “COFFEE GOLD SUGAR CANE” Interrobangrecords.com

Flavio Lira, bass/composer and 38 other talented musicians

Electric energy leaps from my CD player on a song called “Stog”. It is the first tune on this Flavio Lira CD and it exhibits his talents as a composer. Lira’s bass line opens the piece, accompanied by percussive excellence. The vibraphone solo heightens the excitement. This is followed by the lovely and sensitive vocals of Nella Rojas. She features a Spanish version of “All the Things You Are”. On other Flavio Lira compositions, titled “Pra Frente” and “Still in Movement,” Nella Rojas sweetly scats. Her voice is intriguing.

The title of this CD is “Coffee Gold Sugar Cane” and celebrates the treasures of South and Central America. These were the treasures that lured European colonization to their shores. Music represents the fruit of a people’s culture and community. Flavio Lira’s album reflects the music of Latin America in all its spicy tradition, rich with Brazilian and West African rhythms and tinged with Columbian and Cuban influences. This is his love letter to the beauty and diversity of Latin America. Favorite tunes are “Stog,” “All the Things You Are,” “Sol No Frio” and “Favela (O Morro Nao Tem Vez)”.

Flavio Lira best explains this production by saying, “In this project, I have brought together thirty-eight artists from different countries. It is the sort of cultural exchange made possible in this modern era of communication; an era in the spirit of mutual artistry and creative respect. Rather than conquest, this is my tribute to these lands of endless musical treasures. May these treasures exist as long as the human spirit flourishes.”
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Gene Ess, guitar/synthesizer/composer; Thana Alexa, vocals; Sebastien Ammann, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Clarence Penn, drums.

Jazz is an open door for new and refreshing musicality. I am always in search of new doors to enter and new spaces to explore; spaces that stretch creativity to the maximum. Gene Ess uses his fourth album release, along with his quintet ‘Fracial Attraction,’ to celebrate the spirit of humanity; a spirit that rises to crush adversity. With this in mind and propelled by his composer abilities, this guitar wizard incorporates funk, electronics, modern jazz, acoustic jazz and old-school scat to present his music. The title of his album, “Apotheosis” defined as the highest point in the development of something, or the culmination or climax of something.” So, I would expect nothing less from this project, spear-headed by Mr. Ess. He does not disappoint me.

The lovely vocals of Thana Alexa add much to the production of the Gene Ess compositions. She is a free vocal spirit, fluttering among his chord changes like a rare bird from paradise. He allows her to be a relevant instrument in the ensemble, and not just a singer of lyrics. She has co-written one song with Gene Ess titled, “Same Sky” where she has an opportunity to sing these words. In part, they read:

“There is beauty in our differences. In learning from our brothers, only then will we truly know. I choose to live a life including you. If we accept our brothers, only then will we truly grow.”

Pianist Sebastien Ammann woos me with his incredible talent on the grand piano. He’s a dynamic player. Yasushi Nakamura holds the rhythm tightly in place with his bass dexterity. On the fourth cut, “Bluesbird,” Nakamura takes an opportunity to strut his talents across the bass strings during a formidable solo. Clarence Penn, on trap drums, is ever constant and manages to use his busy sticks to accent and color this musical experience. He aptly rises to the occasion by ‘trading eights’ during the performance of “Bluesbird,” a composition more straight-ahead than the tunes I’ve heard thus far. The following song, “Tokyo Red” swoops us back to funk and swagger, invigorated by Gene Ess’s guitar and Clarence Penn’s percussive excellence. The music of Gene Ess is passionate and demanding. He moves from straight ahead to modern jazz, embraces the blues and tenderly caresses folksy ballads like “Same Sky,” all in the blink of a creative eye. His music snatches you by the ear and drags you along willingly. With this project, you will experience nearly an hour-long concert that is bound to invigorate and expand your consciousness.
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October 18, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
October 18, 2018

WOODY SHAW QUARTET – “LIVE IN BREMEN – 1983” Elemental Records

Woody Shaw, Trumpet; Mulgrew Miller, piano; Stafford James, bass; Tony Reedus, drums.

For those youthful jazz fans who have never heard the name, Woody Shaw, let me tell you a bit about this amazing jazz trumpeter. He was born in Laurinburg, North Carolina on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944 and what a gift he was! Woody Shaw, Jr., joyfully arrived and was embraced by a musical family. His dad attended Laurinburg Institute, the same school trumpet icon, Dizzy Gillespie attended and his father was a well-respected lead singer with the historic Diamond Jubilee Singers. While still a baby boy, young Woody moved to Newark, New Jersey with his parents at age six months. He was drawn to the bugle at a very young age and by the time he was eleven-years-old, he was studying classical trumpet. At age fourteen, Woody Shaw Jr., was working professionally. He hung out with some of the best jazz musicians of the 1960’s playing with the famous percussionist Willie Bobo, joining a band with legendary pianist/composer, Chick Corea, and finally landing a sweet gig as part of the legendary Eric Dolphy’s band. You can hear him on Eric Dolphy’s first record titled, “Iron Man.”

In 1964, at only nineteen-years-young, Woody packed up his trumpet and moved to Paris, France to work with Dolphy’s band. Unexpectedly, on June 29, 1964, while Eric Dolphy was in Berlin, Germany, Dolphy died suddenly of a coma caused by an undiagnosed diabetic condition. Consequently, young Woody Shaw found himself stranded in Paris for a year and a half, but he had no problem finding work. The young trumpeter was kicking around and playing with such notables as Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, Johnny Griffin and finally, he received an invitation to return to the United States and join the Horace Silver Quintet. The result of that union is his recording for Blue Note Records on the Horace Silver classic, “Cape Verdean Blues.” Later, Woody Shaw Jr., recorded with renowned organist Larry Young as both a trumpeter and composer. He was in great company. Elvin Jones was on drums and Joe Henderson was featured on tenor saxophone on that recording session. The album was titled, “Unity,” and Woody Shaw Jr. wrote three of the six songs they recorded. Thus, began his stellar career as one of our great jazz giants. His magnificent discography is star-studded, for he recorded with a plethora of jazz royalty. Sadly, at the very young age of forty-four, the awesome instrumentalist and composer passed away from kidney failure.

The beauty and genius of Woody Shaw’s music is captured on this newly discovered work of excellence. Thanks to Woody Shaw III, (his son), we continue to hear his father’s magnificent trumpet talent. Shaw-the-third has been preserving his father’s work for the past fifteen years and has co-produced several reissues of Shaw’s classic recordings. He’s currently working on a documentary film about his father. Michael Cuscuna is the co-producer and also a force behind the historic regeneration of this 1983 ‘live’ recording in Bremen, Germany on January 19, 1983. It’s a master, 2-CD-set to enjoy and covet. The sound and mastering are crystal clear and it makes you feel as though you are right there in the audience, with front row seats.
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Julian Gerstin, percussion/tanbou bélé, congas, bongo, bells, shakers/composer; Anna Patton, clarinet; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn; Eugene Uman, piano; Wes Brown, bass; Ben James, drum; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jon Weeks, tenor saxophone; John Wheeler, trombone; Carl Clements, flute; Lissa Schneckenburger, violin; Keith Murphy, guitar; Matt “Max” Fass, accordion; Todd Roach, dohala (Iranian drum).

Julian Gerstin spent many years adding the color and rhythm to a multitude of projects including brass band music, modern jazz, afrobeat, salsa, funk, punk and even choral music. The whole time he was supporting other artists as a sideman, Gerstin was woodshedding as a songwriter and composer. He has written every song on this album, incorporating his knowledge of various cultures and the music they produce. “The Old City” album title references ancient cities across the globe. This production features the members of his current sextet and several musical guests who adequately interpret Gerstin’s compositions. This is world music that touches on Cuban Dance music, as well as Nigerian and Ghanaian music. One of his compositions is based on the Mazouk, a dance of Martinque, where he once lived. On “Pwan Lajan-lan” Eugene Uman’s piano solo puts the ‘J’ in jazz. Wes Brown shines on bass, playing with rhythm and strength. But it’s always the uproarious and jubilant percussive additions of Julian Gerstin that fires this music up.

On “Leander’s Waltz” Lissa Schneckenburger adds a violin component and Keith Murphy is featured prominently on guitar. Julian Gerstin has written a South American blues that manages to include a cumbia rhythm representing Columbia, titled, “Cumbia sin Cambio,” and another one called “Santa Barbara Blues” featuring a mellow afro-Cuban beat that closes the album out. Neither of these blues numbers are like any gritty blues I know. After all, blues grew up in America, blossoming out of Southern work songs and slave songs. But although African Americans created the blues, everybody feels them. These are compositions with blues influence as Julian Gerstin feels and expresses himself. His music is global, with heavy Latin flavor. The arrangements of the Julian Gerstin Sextet divvy world music intertwined with jazz,on a production that wraps around them sweetly and strongly,like sugarcane.
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Susan Kreb, vocals; Ken Wild, bass; Tom Rizzo, guitar.

This is a project unique in its arrangement, offering string instruments and voice. You will hear the whispery and emotional vocals of Susan Krebs, the precise guitar mastery of Tom Rizzo and the solid bass support of Ken Wild. Without drums or piano, the vocals dance brightly in the spotlight. The handpicked and recorded repertoire is plush with music we recognize and standard songs we love like “Don’t Go to Stranger,” “My Foolish Heart,” “My Ship,” and “How Insensitive.” Krebs has long been heralded as an actor and theatrical improviser, but has also pursued a singing career as part of her performance package. In this current endeavor, she is joined by one of the West Coast’s celebrated guitar players. Like Susan, Tom Rizzo has crossed musical genre’s on stage and in the recording studio. He was the guitarist playing in Doc Severinsen’s band on the Tonight Show for a decade. He’s also worked with Natalie Cole, Maynard Ferguson, Blood, Sweat and Tears and Brian Wilson, to name just a few. During his ‘down time’, when not in the studio or on the road, Tom Rizzo composed and played music for commercials, for radio, film and television. This included work on “In Living Color” and that’s when he and bassist, Ken Wild first worked together. Ken Wild is a founding member and was on the cutting edge of Smooth jazz with a band called, “Seawind.” Like Rizzo, he’s spent much of his career touring, working as a studio musician and working in television and film. He was part of the Clare Fischer Big Band and has worked with jazz vocalists Dianne Reeves and Tierney Sutton, with Harvey Mason, James Moody, Terence Blanchard and Herb Ellis. His credits are numerous and impressive.

Susan Krebs has recorded other albums with her Chamber Band, but this is a fresh endeavor. She explained this project saying:

“We three were instantly smitten at a serendipitous gig meet-up! So, we set forth on our musical adventure together. This recording marks our trio work so far. I’m grateful to Kenny and Tom for their stimulating, transformative collaboration.”

Ken Wild offered his opinion about the formation of this project. “The name of this group is a misnomer. This is in no way ‘work’. When the three of us sit down to conceive an arrangement, the ideas seem to just flow … This is a true trio in the best sense of the word.”

Together, this band of three creates a unique listening experience with creative arrangements, awesome musicianship and a vocalist who’s unafraid to jump off any musical precipice without a parachute.
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Darren Barrett, trumpet, EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument.)/vocals/keyboards; Takeru Saito, piano; Youngchae Jeong, bass; Daniel Moreno, drums; Santiago Bosch, keyboards; Judith Barrett, percussion; Kurt Rosenwinkel, guitar; Wren, sound design.

A sweet guitar solo opens “Con Alma” in dedication to Dizzy Gillespie and features Barrett’s special guest, Kurt Rosenwinkel. It’s such a gorgeous tune and Rosenwinkel snatches my attention with his awesome guitar talents. Enter Darren Barrett on trumpet, tonally exhibiting a warm, round sound. This is a lovely album of beautiful love songs, amply interpreted on this, his premiere ballad project.

I enjoyed the tasty little nuggets of sounds and voices that add an emotional depth to these arrangements and they enhance the productions on songs like “Invitation”. There is a sound block of ethereal, spacey additions like echoed flutes on a synthesizer and with the piano creating tinkling sounds atop keyboard chords and string lines that cushion Darren Barrett’s gorgeous trumpet sounds. The production and Wren’s sound design have created an extraordinary musical ambience. “The Touch of Your Lips” is a Latin production, played at moderate tempo with Judith Barrett’s percussion work and Daniel Moreno’s drums propelling the tune at a lilting, moderate pace. Once again, the experimental background music (or sound design) builds the excitement in this Ray Noble composition. Darren Barrett’s use of soundscapes, samples, and synthesizers on eight classic ballads expands their beauty and draws the listener into the production with his whirlpool of synthesized sound. Barrett even sings on this tune, using an electric voice box, perhaps a vocoder, to alter his vocal tone. “But Beautiful” is one of my favorite standards. Takeru Saito takes a simple solo on piano, but it’s Barrett’s sweet trumpet excellence that stuffs the song with emotional power. “Everything Happens to me” has an exquisite lyric by Matt Dennis. I wish Barrett had sung the words, however his voice on trumpet is compelling and the splash of sound design in the background is interesting.
This GRAMMY award winning trumpeter, who also composes music and is a prominent bandleader, seems to be exploring new ways to forward-push jazz into a new generation; perhaps a new dimension. I applaud Barrett’s foresight and ingenuity. Every song on this album is spellbinding and fresh because of the exploratory usage of sound and sound design. Darren Barrett’s lush and satin-smooth control of his trumpet caresses each of these standards in a profoundly moving way. I also enjoyed his short moments of vocalizing, especially on “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” His ensemble technically supports this album exploration into new, musical dimensions. The result is a well-produced, well-played, stellar recording of eight standard ballads that we all love. You may love them even more after listening to this unusual production, using dubstep synthesis, remixes and sound effects before and during the transition to a traditional jazz ensemble presentation.
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Carol Liebowitz, piano/voice; Birgitta Flick, tenor saxophone.

If you are a lover of improvisational, modern jazz as an art form, this is your cup of tea. Both musicians are obviously competent and well trained in the classical realm and in music theory. However, as they state in the liner notes:

“…Whether it is a spontaneous free improvisation or a standard that dates back nearly a century, to us, it’s all one. We’re guided by the spirit and the intuition of the very moment the music comes into being. … each time anew.”

The two met in Berlin, Germany at a popular jazz club and ran into each other four years later in New York City. Once they began blending their talents in the realm of freedom of expression and spontaneity, they explored a duo of avant-garde, modern jazz concerts. This led to touring. All the music herein is original, or created on-the-spot, improvisationally, with the exception of two songs; “September in the Rain” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Liebowitz sings her own rendition of “September in the Rain” against a patter of piano in the background that sounds like raindrops on a windowpane. After a chorus, Flick joins in on alto saxophone and the arrangement is hauntingly lovely, in a strange kind of way. Vocally, they are less successful on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”

Flick’s sound is light and sensitive, sometimes almost flute-like in tone on the tenor saxophone. Other times rich and bluesy. Liebowitz goes from dark, serious chords to the tinkling of the piano’s upper register, sounding almost like a music box at times. Together, their duet of spontaneity is mostly soothing and relaxing. Forget about singing along or remembering a melody. Just pour a cup of hot tea, curl up in the moment and let your mind run free.
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MARK MASTERS ENSEMBLE – “Our Métier” Capri Records, Ltd

Mark Masters, composer/arranger; THE ENSEMBLE: Anno Mjöll, voice; Craig Fundygo, vibes; Ed Czach, piano; Kirsten Edkins, alto saxophone, Bob Carr, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Jerry Pinter, tenor & soprano sax; Dave Woodley, Ryan Dragon, & Les Benedict, trombones; Stephanie O’Keefe, French horn/contractor; Scott Englebright & Les Lovitt, trumpet. THE SEXTET: Andrew Cyrille, drums; Putter Smith, bass; Gary Foster & Oliver Lake, alto saxophone; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; Time Hagans, trumpet.

A stack of compact discs sits on my desk. I listen to at least two to three a day and it seems I have not put a dent in the stack. The cover of this album I’ve picked up is a painting with smudged faces in what appears to be a man and two children. The colors melt into each other, soft, yet vibrant, like a Van Gogh painting. That made me want to listen to this recording next. Bravo! to Richard Garstl, 1908, oil on canvas of Famille Schoenberg.

The liner notes say, “Mark Masters paints compelling jazz landscapes for eight original works.” I agree. His arrangements leap from my CD player and light up the room with horns blaring and Tim Hagans’ trumpet solo is stunning, as is the music of Oliver Lake on alto saxophone. A coloring of vibraphone by Craig Fundygo adds a feeling of expectancy and mystery to the arrangement. This opening tune is titled, “Borne Towards the Stars” and according to Mark Masters, was inspired by the conclusion of a Malcolm Lowry’s novel, “Under the Volcano.” This is a package of modern jazz orchestration, using a sextet as the core of the project, and splashing colors of brightness and various hues by adding a twelve-piece ensemble. On the third track, “Lift,” vocalist Anno Mjoll makes a stunning appearance with her little-girl voice, scatting in a whispery way. She brings something lovely and unique to the arrangement. There is an innocence to her tone and stylized approach on this understated blues tune. Putter Smith walks his bass, cement solid beneath the exploratory alto saxophone solo of Oliver Lake. Then Smith steps out front and, with the sweet support of Fundygo on vibes, states his own case. After the Smith solo, Craig Fundygo presents his own improvisational opinion on the vibraphone.
This is a project mix of free bebop, modern jazz, the avant-garde with original compositions entirely written and arranged by Mark Masters. A Gary, Indiana native, he studied jazz at California State University in Los Angeles, experimenting with his first ensemble in 1982. In 1998 to present, he has spearheaded the American Jazz Institute (as president), a non-profit organization dedicated to jazz appreciation. Their “Find Your Own Voice” mentoring program takes professional musicians to public school campuses, offering clinics and master classes to student musicians. Mark Masters has been named a ‘Rising Star Arranger’ in Downbeat Magazine’s Annual Critics Poll multiple times.
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Randy Waldman, piano/arranger/producer; Carlitos Del Puerto, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; Michael O’Neill, guitar; Rafael Padilla, percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: George Benson, Randy Brecker, Till Bronner, Chick Corea, Eddie Daniels, Steve Gadd, Joe Lovano, Wynton Marsalis, Bob McChesney, Chris Potter, Arturo Sandoval & Take 6. CAMEOS BY: James Brolin, Michael Bublé, Jeff Goldblum, Josh Groban, Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta.

Randy Waldman has been the pianist and musical director of choice for Barbara Streisand over thirty years. He takes a giant step outside those impressive realms to arrange and produce a work that features his own jazz sensibilities. This resulting production has been a labor of love for the past five years. It all began when an idea hit Waldman like a lightning bolt. One evening, after attending an event where he sat next to Adam West, the original TV Batman actor, their conversation about jazz inspired Randy Waldman. Consequently, he decided to make a CD with a superhero theme and with music played by some of his jazz superheroes. This, the final product, includes the talents of several guest artists including “Take 6,” George Benson, Randy Brecker, Chick Corea, Steve Gadd, Wynton Marsalis, Olivia Newton-John and a host of others. Opening with “The Adventures of Superman (TV Theme), Randy Brecker sings a mighty song on his trumpet and Eddie Daniels plays a mean tenor saxophone solo. The arrangement moves from the excitement of rich horn punches to a funk groove by drummer, Vinnie Colaiuta, who smacks the beat in the listener’s face, while Randy Waldman chases the bass lines on his busy piano keys.

“Take 6”, the 8-time, Grammy award winning vocal group, spices up the third track, “the Spiderman Theme.” Their voices add an awesome sparkle to this arrangement, using their unique six-voice harmonics to enhance the piece. All of these well-crafted arrangements are the combined talents of Justin Wilson and/or Randy Waldman. Throughout, with all the wonderful, guest musicians and innovators, it’s always Randy Waldman’s piano expertise and talent that pushes this project forward and inspires his assembly of amazing musicians. You will enjoy George Benson’s spontaneous solo affirmation on his jazz guitar during the performance of “Superman Movie.” During the recording of “The Incredible Hulk” cut, Waldman invites one of his favorite pianists, Chick Corea, to join him with an outstanding synthesizer solo. Wynton Marsalis makes an unforgettable appearance on “Batman’s TV Theme.” This is fine jazz at its best, celebrating comic book super heroes, television show and motion picture super heroes, and under the direction of a super hero in his own right; jazz pianist Randy Waldman.
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Ken Wiley, French horn/piano/composer; Bernie Dresel, drums; Rene Camacho, acoustic & Elec. Bass; Dominick Genova, acoustic bass; Dave Loeb, piano; Mark Leggett, acoustic Guitar; Luis Conte & Kevin Ricard, percussion; Dan Higgins, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute/piccolo/clarinet; BOLERO HORNS: Gary Grant, Larry Hall, Steve Holtman & Dan Higgins.

I must admit I have no recollection of hearing a jazz CD that featured a French Horn as the main soloist and featured artist. My inquisitive interest was tickled. Ken Wiley has utilized a number of different, original compositions to feature his passion on French horn. Wiley is the composer of several tunes, with the exception of Carilo (one of my favorites on this production) and El Gorrion; both co-written with Mark Leggett. Another exception is Bolero, the opening tune, that was composed by Maurice Ravel. On Track six, the ensemble interprets McCoy Tyner’s composition “Samba Layuca,” giving Dave Loeb an opportunity to stretch out his piano chops on a long and impressive solo. All of these songs have a Latin feel, enhanced by Kevin Ricard on percussion and Bernie Dresel on drums. However, this is easy listening jazz, even on the McCoy Tyner tune. The talented musicians in his ensemble lay down a strong trampoline of rhythm and horn lines to help bounce the French horn solos to the forefront. The flute of Dan Higgins adds holiday sparkle to this production and is quite prominent on Cal Tjader’s composition, “Black Orchid.”

Produced by Ken Wiley and Dan Higgins, this is a production of exotic sounding songs that somehow conjure up a soundtrack to old, Western, cowboy movies when I listen to them.

Ken Wiley graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and remains one of the top studio musicians in the Los Angeles area. This unusual production, that showcases Wiley’s hypnotic talents on the French horn, bring an instrument to the forefront that usually is a blended part of the background orchestra. Comfortably mixed with his love of Afro-Cuban and South American rhythms, Wiley shows us how jazz can red-carpet a stage to spotlight the most unusual of instrumental gifts.
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Don Byron, clarinet/saxophone; Aruan Ortiz, piano.

This is an album of duets by two distinguished musicians. Don Byron is a Rome Prize recipient, a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and a 2007 Guggenheim Fellow. He studied under the tutelage of jazz innovator, George Russell at the New England Conservatory. As an eclectic clarinetist and saxophone player, he made his mark playing Klezmer, a popular Jewish music. Later, his musical path led him to explore a conceptualism in modern jazz music and to compose for silent films, serve as the director of jazz for the Brooklyn Academy of Music and score for television programming. Aruán Ortiz is Cuban born and Brooklyn-based. The two are compatible both musically and creatively. Both are thinkers outside the box and adventurist explorers of music. Ortiz has made a name for himself with his daring piano originality, combining his Cuban roots with stunning progressive jazz concepts and Haitian rhythms. He has worked with a number of advanced thinkers in the range of modernistic and freedom musicality like, Wadada Leo Smith, Esperanza Spalding, Wallace Roney, and even paired with poets like DJ Logic, The Last Poets and countless other revolutionary, free-thinkers. That gives you an idea of how avant-garde and unpredictable this production of music is. Four years ago, Ortiz invited Byron to participate in his “Music & Architecture” concert series. Thus, began their unusual musical merger. Both are serious composers. Ortiz has composed music for jazz ensembles, orchestras, dance companies, chamber groups and feature films. While Byron’s early influence came from Duke Ellington, Ortiz admired Thelonious Monk and the late, great Geri Allen was also a great influence on his piano style and journey. Both Byron and Ortiz are steeped in classical study and embrace the standard jazz icons along with the more modern, youthful jazz musicians. Together, they bridge the generational gaps, painting their jazz landscapes with unusual and daring colors.

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An Evening with Carol Bach-Y-Rita

October 17, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

It was a windy October evening and I had just left the wedding and reception for my first-born grandson, Kendall McNeil. To top off an afternoon celebrating love, what better way than to go hear some jazz. There is a restaurant and club called VIVA! RANCHO CANTINA in Burbank, California, just fifteen minutes from Pasadena where the reception was held. Carol Bach-Y-Rita has been sending me press and information on her upcoming performance schedule for some time. This was my first opportunity to catch one of her shows. When I arrive, vocalist & host, Laura Pursell, is already on stage singing “There Will Never Be Another You.” I slid onto a barstool and looked around. The club is intimate with a tiny space at the front of a line of banquet-table-seating. Two couples are swing-dancing near the stage. There are a couple of tables with seating for four pressed against one wall. The cohesive band is a trio, featuring Dori Amarillo on guitar, John Leftwich on double bass and the legendary Frank Devito on drums. Ms. Purcell is petite with a big voice. Dressed in a skin-tight, black sheath, after her song she invited a gentleman named Patrick to the stage to join her. They did a duet, singing “Pennies From Heaven.” Patrick has a satin-smooth voice, reminiscent of Frank Sinatra. Afterwards, Laura Pursell left the stage, leaving her male counterpart in the spotlight. He sang “Witchcraft”, followed by the familiar standard, “More.” During this beautiful balled, John Leftwich bowed a lovely solo on his double bass.

Finally, Ms. Pursell introduced Carol Bach-Y-Rita. Carol told the attentive audience she was going to begin with a samba that told the story of dancing ducks. To my pleasure, Carol Bach-Y-Rita sings in various languages. I believe she was singing this song in Portuguese. Ms. Bach-Y-Rita’s voice is warm and sensuous. It dances atop Dori Amarillo’s superb guitar rhythms lightly and with great enthusiasm.

Next, she offered her captive audience a ‘swing’ arrangement of the popular standard, “That’s All.” Swing dancers took to the tiny dance floor and Carol Bach-Y-Rita swung hard with Frank Devito pumping out a solid, infectious rhythm on his drum set. For her third song, Bach-Y-Rita dismissed the drummer and guitarist, featuring only her mellifluous voice and the double bass. The song is “Traveling Light” and she made the challenging melody sound easy, entertaining us emotionally and holding down the melody in her own stylized way. She closes her set out with a Latin arrangement on “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Carol scats a verse when she comes back in, after the band solos, and she and Frank Devito play tag on the end of the song, as she becomes very percussive with her voice against the strong backdrop of Devito’s drum chops. It was a short set, but packed with energy. Unfortunately for me, there was a very loud, drunk and obnoxious man sitting at the bar who was very inattentive to the music and extremely annoying. Other than that, it appeared that a fine time was had by all.
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October 7, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

October 7, 2018

You may be surprised and perhaps as excited as I was to discover that a new, never before released album by Dexter Gordon’s Quartet has been released. He also has a soon-to-be released biography by his widow and former manager, Maxine Gordon. It will be available right before Christmas, published by University of California Press. Ralph Peterson Jr., and Donald Harrison were once staunch pillars in the Art Blakey ensemble. Peterson has put together a stellar big band with mostly Berklee Music School students that features, special guest, Donald Harrison. It’s called the Ralph Peterson Gennext Big Band. Arturo O’Farrill, a composer, pianist and educator encourages a multi-cultural, musical extravaganza at the Mexican border to protest division between people. Phil Schurger strives to find the connection between the higher self and the lower self with his compositions. Sergio Pereira puts his passion and Brazilian memories into a premier album full of spiritual joy and international talent. The lovely composer, Connie Han, is a new pianist on the scene who is passionate and exceptionally gifted. Christian McBride’s new CD is cordless, with the exception of his bass, then adding drums, trumpet and reeds. Finally,Grammy nominated trombonist,John Fedchock successfully moves from big band arranging to an intimate quartet production.


Dexter Gordon, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Al Haig, piano; Pierre Michelot, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums.

1977 was a transitional year for Dexter Gordon. He was in the process of moving back to the United States from Europe, where he would settle in New York City. He hadn’t been in the Big Apple since the 1940s. He was experiencing a master year of his life at the ripe and creative age of fifty-five years young. It was September 25th and Gordon was joined by Bebop pianist, Al Haig (who had worked with both Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie), Don Byas and Milt Jackson, French bassist Pierre Michelot and dynamic drummer Kenny Clarke, to perform a Parisienne concert. Lucky for us, it was recorded. Elemental Music is the first to discover and release these never before heard recordings.

Opening with Gordon’s composition, “Sticky Wicket,” the party begins right away. It continues with “A La Modal, another Dexter Gordon composition. Al Haig has a light, but assertive touch on the grand piano. Kenny Clark is always prominent and pivotal on drums. Pierre Michelot, a famous French bassist who worked with Kenny Clarke back in 1949 when they were both in French recording sessions with Sidney Bechet, also played with Coleman Hawkins, Zoot Sims and James Moody. Michelot also worked with Miles Davis and Stan Getz. He was part of the Bud Powell trio that came to Paris in 1959, also with Kenny Clarke, and they worked together off and on until 1981. So, there is a cohesiveness to their playing that comes from bandstand familiarity. Dexter Gordon is stellar on soprano saxophone on this second cut. It’s the only tune where he plays soprano sax instead of his alto. I have always loved and admired Dexter Gordon and his unique style and sound. This entire production is such a rare and exciting find. It’s wonderful to enjoy the man and his horn once more. You’ll relish the quartet’s interpretation of the familiar standard, “Body and Soul,” and they race through the Sonny Rollins composition, “Oleo” at high speed. To close this album, they play “Round Midnight,” sans Gordon, and featuring only the trio.

His wife and former manager, Maxine Gordon, has just completed his official biography entitled, “Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon”. It will be released in November of this year, published by the University of California Press. I can just imagine myself curled up on the couch with his autobiography, putting on this magnificent, historic recording and listening to his unique and compelling tones while I read his life story.

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Ralph Peterson, drums/cornet/Conductor; Antoni Vaquer & Dabin Ryu, Piano; Youngchae Jeong, bass; Julian Pardo, Karol Zabka & Jas Kayser, drums; SAXOPHONES: Eric Nakanishi, lead alto; Devin Daniels,2nd alto; Tim Murphey, 1st tenor; Jake Hirsch, 2nd tenor; Gabe Nekrutman, baritone saxophone; Tomoki Sanders, tenor sax. TROMBONES: Elliot Alexander Brown, lead trombone; Brandon Lin, 2nd; Alan Hsiao, 3rd; Will Mallard, 4th. TRUMPETS: Jon Weidley, lead; Robert Vega Dowda, 2nd; Milena Casado Fauquet, 3rd; Will Mallard, 4th. Ryan Easter, rapper.

An exciting drum solo opens this CD featuring the talents of Ralph Peterson Jr. The tune is called “Uranus” and it’s a spirited number showcasing the dynamic Donald Harrison on saxophone as a special guest. Peterson is employing Art Blakey’s concept with the usage of a two-drummer format to propel his Gennext Big Band. As you may know, Donald Harrison is from the alumni of Art Blakey, as is conductor/ drummer, Ralph Peterson Jr. It was in 1983 that Peterson joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger group as a second drummer. They worked together for several years. Now, like Blakey did, Ralph Peterson Jr., continues a jazz legacy of inspiring and mentoring youthful musicians. This ‘Gennext’ Big Band is made up of mostly Berklee College of Music musicians. They are some of the brightest and best examples of the next generation of jazz talent.

“Uranus” whirls and twirls around, like the planet itself, with arrangements that are on fire! It’s a great way to open this exquisitely well produced album of music. Donald Harrison brings not only straight-ahead saxophone bliss, but also his “Nouveau Jazz” style to this recording. His Nouveau jazz is described as embracing genres like Hip Hop, smooth jazz and R&B. That has got to inspire and encourage the younger generation of musicians who enjoy such a variety of styles and relish mixing the music up. On the sixth cut, “Egyptian Dune Dance” a rapper Ryan Easter is added, and the horn lines bounce around in a repeatable dance throughout. However, for the most part, this music is big band, straight-ahead jazz with a heavy swing groove. Youngchae Jeong is featured during a memorable bass solo on the “Little Man” tune. His tone and timing are first-rate. The tune, “For Paul,” proffers a stellar arrangement that supports an amazing execution by both Donald Harrison and Tomoki Sanders on saxophones. I also enjoyed Elliot Alexander Brown on lead trombone featured on “Ms. BC” playing at a maddening pace. From the spontaneous applause, the ‘live’ audience was thrilled by their performance as well.

The Wayne Shorter composition, “Free for All,” is also played at a sparkling speed that demands the listener’s attention, moving bright as a shooting star. The horn lines fly like startled birds, harmoniously punching the melody and laying the foundation for Donald Harrison’s alto saxophone solo. Jon Weidley on lead trumpet also establishes his formidable style. There is a stellar drum solo for the drummers to dynamically dance in the spotlight. Three drummers are listed on the CD jacket, along with conductor Peterson, of course. They are: Julian Pardo, Karol Zabka and Jas Kayser. Nothing was listed on the CD jacket, so I’m not sure which ones were featured on this tune, but whoever played was absolutely awesome! I was exhausted from just listening to this composition. The energy was contagious.

Ralph Peterson has composed one tune on this production and it is the title tune, “I Remember Bu.” This song is a lovely ballad, but for the most part you will be swinging to energetic big band recordings that celebrate the excitement only an orchestra can muster. This entire project is illuminating and entertaining. The diversity of song choices and the beautiful arrangements that these talented young people interpret make for a listening feast of delicious sounds. Donald Harrison is the hot sauce, but the meat of the matter and the center piece of this musical meal are the extraordinary talents of conductor/drummer, Ralph Peterson Jr. and the way he serves it up.
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Phil Schurger, guitar; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Jeff Greene, bass; Clif Wallace, drums.

According to the liner notes, this CD’s title, “The Water’s Above” references a connection between the higher self and the lower self. This is one of the goals of the meditation process. The titles of the original compositions herein seem to explain the artist, Phil Schurger’s basic concept for this album.

“Scorpio” opens the CD. It is an astrological sign, the eighth of twelve zodiac references. Its element is water and it’s ruled by the mysterious planet Pluto. Scorpio signifies secrecy and loyalty. Those born under the sign of Scorpio can also be very controlling and charismatic. Phil Schurger’s composition spins around melodically, like a planet twisting in space. Greg Ward interprets the melody on his alto saxophone, while the composer strums his guitar in the background. The second tune, “Anikulapo” is taken from the Yorubic religion and means ‘one who carries death in his pouch.’ It generally refers to a man. This title resonated with Schurger because of his experience with death early in his life. He also is a fan of Nigerian artist, multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of the popular Afrobeat music, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, who died Aug 2, 1997. Kuti is legendary in Africa and worldwide as a superstar musician with great charisma.

“I had several brushes with death …As a result of this, I began to look at the concept of death as a driving force for living life with focus and intention, recognizing that time is our only currency in this physical world. These experiences defined my pursuit of both music and meditation. Music is an offering for the betterment of our collective community through an ongoing dialogue amongst generations of musicians and meditation is quite the same,” said Phil Schurger in his liner notes.

Schurger’s band is Chicago-based. They have a tight, cohesive sound, as though they have been working together for many seasons. All the compositions they interpret are composed by the artist. The Yorubic influence returns on the tune, “Yoruba” and is written by Schurger as a nod to some African-American music mentors like Milton Cardona, who introduced him to Cuban Santero music and how rhythms become a ritual language. It’s a nod to Michael Patterson, a person who studied Qabalah and West-African religions, along with a Panamanian Rabbi and that type of cultural music. Together, with Jeff Greene on bass and Clif Wallace on drums, Phil Schurger lays down a tight rhythm section that explores his concepts and compositions in a very modern jazz way. You will find this “Yoruba” composition showcasing freedom and exploration of Schurger’s chordal changes by his individual players. Greg Ward is molten on saxophone. Jeff Greene grandly walks his bass, while Clif Wallace takes a thunderous drum solo. Finally, Phil Schurger steps out front like a sunbeam, hot and determined. From that point forward, the music is avant-garde and modernistic. He closes this album with a tune called, “Nogah” that translates in Hebrew to ‘brightness’. It was also the name of a son of King David in the Old Testament. Schurger offers us a musical journey full of mystery, double entendre and world music improvisation.
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Sergio Pereira, acoustic guitar/electric guitar/vocals/percussion; Ales Cesarini, acoustic bass/vocals; Mauricio Zottarelli, drums/vocals; Baptiste Bailly, piano/vocals; Alexey Leon, soprano saxophone; Devin Malloy, rapper; Patricia Garcia, violin/viola; Sandra Villora Arenas, cello; Paula Santoro & Sergio Santos, vocals; David Gadea, percussion; Oriente Lopez, flutes; Viktorija Pilatovic, lead vocals; Voro Garcia, trumpet/flugelhorn/string arrangements; Marcus Teixeira, elec. Guitar; Ariel Ramirez, elec. Bass; Gabriel Grossi, harmonica; Helio Alves, piano; Perico Sambeat, alto saxophone.

Brazilian music is infectious and full of spirit, even when it’s slow or moderate tempo’d. Sergio Pereira, a guitarist and composer, has recorded ten original compositions that echo the music of his youth.

“I learned by growing up listening to samba rhythms and playing Brazilian percussion at a local school of samba,” shares the Rio de Janiero native, currently residing in New York City. “Since I was a kid, I have been always playing samba rhythm, making that ‘batucada’ rhythm with my hands and fingers at school, until my teachers would tell me to stop making that noise. I still do it all the time. It’s addictive.”

His musical ensemble is world-class featuring Cuban-born saxophonist, Alexey Leon; Spain’s alto sax great, Perico Sambeat; Cuban flautist and longtime New York resident, Oriente Lopez and Valencia, Spain-based trumpeter and arranger, Voro Garcia. Also, on board is Sao Paulo-based electric guitarist, Marcus Teixeira and French pianist, Baptiste Bailly. Ales Cesarini is from Valencia, Spain and plays bass. Ariel Ramierez is from Cuba and also adds his bass talents. Gabriel Grossi brings his Brazilian harmonica talents to the studio, along with Brazilian-born pianist, Helio Alves and drummer Mauricio Zottarelli. Vocalists Paula Santoro, Sergio Santos and Viktorija Pilatovic add vocals. Paula Santoro’s lead vocal sounds beautiful on “Arpoador,” a lilting Brazilian ballad. This composition was inspired by a beach of that name on the South side of Rio. Pereira recalls spending a lot of his teenaged years at that beach. This song summarizes memories of young love, teen friends and broken hearts. It was a time right before he moved to New York and the United States. Sergio Pereira has even added a ‘rapper’ on the opening tune by the name of Devin Malloy.

“I started work on this song last summer while vacationing down in the south of Puglia, Italy. Changing environment and location often provides me with great vibes for inspiration. It’s a happy samba groove with a magical soprano sax solo from Alexey Leon. Devin’s rap (on “Down South”) is basically describing the experience of failure in pursuit of your dreams and talks about how life will continue to evolve and will pick you back up after you’ve fallen.”

For sure, Sergio Pereira’s music will pick you up. It will invigorate you, or soothe you; make you want to dance or lay back peacefully and stare at the ocean waves or perhaps at the East River. Pereira has written a song inspired by his view from his Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan.

“I frequently jog on the East Side by the East River and many times, after the jog, I just sit on a bench next to the 59th St. Bridge over-looking Roosevelt Island and Long Island City,” he explains about his composition titled, “East River.”

The title tune, “Nu Brasil” showcases Lithuanian-born singer, Pilatovic. It’s a happy, up-tempo number that showcases Sergio Pereira’s guitar talents in support of the vocalist during this spirited samba. Pianist, Baptiste Bailly, offers a joyful solo and trumpeter, Voro Garcia swings the samba into a jazzy Latin combination, then challenges the vocalist as he exchanges scats with Viktorija Pilatovic at the song’s faded ending. Every composition on this recording is impressive and beautifully written. The music is full of Pereira’s life-journey and the eighteen musicians who join him do justice to his arrangements and creative compositions. As his premier recording for the Zoho label, this production is fueled by passion and sure to please.
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CONNIE HAN – “CRIME ZONE” Mack Ave Records

Connie Han, piano/Fender Rhodes; Edwin Livingston, bass; Bill Wysaske, drums; Walter Smith III, tenor saxophone; Brian Swartz, trumpet.

On the first tune, Brian Swartz takes the lead on trumpet. He plays his instrument with strength and impetus. This ensemble of five comes out swinging hard. The challenge here is discovering the main artist, whose name is plastered on the CD cover. Who is Connie Han? The horns are so forceful, at first, I thought she must be a horn player. Then I heard the electric pianist enter the scene, the curtains parted and I knew she was centered in the spotlight. That’s when I picked up the CD jacket and read the credits. I learned that Han has composition skills, obvious on the first tune titled, “Another Kind of Night,” a song she co-wrote with drummer, Bill Wysaske. They have collaborated on every original composition. “Crime Zone” is the second cut on this album and the title tune. Once again, their arrangement features strong horn lines that establish the melody and punch harmonic lines that are spirited and spew the room with energy. Walter Smith III steps out of the horn lines to offer a memorable solo on Tenor Saxophone. We hear Han lead the rhythm section with lush chords on grand piano in support of Smith’s solo. Then it’s her turn to step out and she does so, moving from acoustic piano to Fender Rhodes, creating a different musical climate. You may recognize traces of the Freddie Hubbard tune, “One of Another Kind,“ at the top of this tune and used as a sort of theme throughout.

Han’s music has a post-bebop feel to it with sudden breaks and bars of silence that shatter the continuity for seconds, before her band pops back in and continues to drive hard. Her influences include Kenny Kirkland and McCoy Tyner; Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. At the age of twenty-two, Connie Han brings something fresh for her peers to pay attention to, with one-foot quicksand-deep in jazz history and another high-heeled boot stepping swiftly into the future. On “Southern Rebellion,” another original by Han & Wysaske, you hear more of Connie Han’s style and attack on her instrument. This song flies at an incredible pace and she finally leads the band with stellar tenacity and unbridled power that I didn’t hear in the other songs. I am spellbound by her speed and agility on the 88-keys. Bill Wysaske takes a drum solo and then the tempo changes, like Hawaiian weather, where it sun shines on one side of the street and rains on the other. Han plays a rubato piano piece that’s beautiful and startling all at the same time. Then, before you can blink, the tempo is racing again and she and Wysaske’s drums make a formidable jazz duo. “Gruvy” (another original) also showcases the trio only, no horns. Edwin Livingston, on bass, takes an opportunity to show off his solid mastery of the double bass instrument. I’ve worked with Edwin in the past and he has always been one of my favorite bassists because of his creativity and inspired playing on both electric and acoustic bass. The tune, “Gruvy” has a repeatable melody that has you humming along before you know it. Jon Henderson’s tune, “A Shade of Jade” cements the realization that Connie Han is an exceptional pianist with a style and a presentation all her own. Her left hand slaps the chords, keeping the time and never wavering, while her right-hand solos like a restless river, flowing over the treble register as fluid as water. This is a solo piano presentation that shatters any preconceived ideas about her ability on her instrument. Connie Han’s youthful talent is a serious force on both piano and electric keyboards. She explained her creative ideas on this solo piano arrangement:

“The concept for the entire arrangement, which was recorded on his ‘Mode for Joe’ album, is actually based on just four bars of Joe Chambers’ polyrhythmic comping on the head of the original recording.”

And polyrhythmic she is! This is one of those recordings that just seems to get better and better as it progresses. Here is a young, blossoming pianist who doesn’t just play expertly, but she has a passion brightly burning in her presentations. As she flowers, her obvious talent is glowing successfully, like a sunrise peeking through a cloudy morning.
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Christian McBride, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Josh Evans, trumpet.

A cartoon characterization on the cover of this new production by Christian McBride draws you in like a comic book. While listening, you realize, this is no joke; no laughing matter. This is a serious! McBride’s exploratory production is presenting us with a rhythm section of bass and drums, topped with the improvisational punch of trumpet, saxophone and bass clarinet. This is a new horizon for McBride and he uses this platform to explore the outer-limits of his D’Addario bass and his unique creativity. On the drummer-penned number titled, “Ke-Kelli Sketch” McBride and Waits, on drums, solo and explore textures, time and melodies to open the composition before the trumpet and reedman join them. The music is captivating and full of spirit.

McBride explains: “I was looking for a new challenge. I don’t get the chance too often to play in a cordless group. Every major group I’ve been a part of for the last ten years, whether it’s been with Pat Metheny or Chick Corea or my own projects, there’s been nothing but chords. So, I wanted to see what happens if I just pull the chords out altogether.”

This project spans styles like blues, swing, abstract modern jazz and Avant-garde with a number of original compositions that sometimes tickle memories of the iconic Charles Mingus, like “Ke-Kelli Sketch.”. At other times, McBride conjures up memories of the steady, solid bass of Ray Brown. McBride and trumpeter, Josh Evans, draw me into “Ballad of Ernie Washington,” a beautiful, bluesy ballad, written by trumpeter Josh Evans in tribute to Thelonious Monk. Monk used this name as a pseudonym on his cabaret card in order to work when his card was revoked. The tone of Evan’s trumpet is silky and beautiful.

The title of this compact disc, “New Jawn” is based on a depiction of a slang used mostly in Philadelphia, PA. Jawn is described as an object, place or thing; sometimes referring to a woman or girl. This work is definitely a new thing for Christian McBride.

As one of America’s virtuoso bassists and arrangers, Christian McBride has become one of the most recorded bass players of his generation, appearing on more than 300 recordings and is proudly, a six-time Grammy award winner. He continues to nest and encourage fledgling, young talented musicians, the same way that Betty Carter or Miles Davis or Art Blakey did. The ultimate goal is to not only give platform to these young voices of jazz, but to strengthen them and encourage their development. Sometimes, those very musicians grow to a point where they leave the nest and fly off on their own. Examples of this are Christian McBride’s former trio with Christian Sands, a gifted pianist who I just reviewed. McBride had a trio featuring Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. Both have gone on to explore their own dreams and formed their own groups. Trumpeter, composer, Josh Evans is a force to watch, as is the extremely talented, Marcus Strickland. Nasheet Waits is certainly the Velcro that attaches securely to Christian McBride’s amazing bass playing. They hold this project in perfect place. No need for piano, guitar, organ or any other strings in the rhythm section. McBride and Waits are enough.

With this recording, each of these musical participants are composers and lend their compositions and talents to making this a rich and celebratory trip to support the concept of “New Jawn”. McBride’s music is fresh, the arrangements are novel and innovative, the production is surprisingly different, but wonderfully creative and pleasant to the ear. Here is a contemporary approach to jazz that is open, like space and heaven itself, and glistening with stars.
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Resilience Music Alliance

Here is a double CD rich with culture and inspired by Arturo O’Farrill, a pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator, as well as a respected musical activist. With all the social media and newscasters blasting the public with stories about Trumps threatened wall between our country and Mexico, he was sadly reminded of the things, both solid and ethereal, that divide humanity. The idea that a difference of color, people or cultures could be used as a political weapon is an atrocious reality. O’Farrill wanted to be a voice speaking against unwanted and unnecessary borders and lines of division. Thus, was born this ambitious work that showcases a plethora of talent and cultures coming together in perfect harmony to create a beautiful and loving project. As the brainchild of Arturo O’Farrill and his producer, Kabir Sehgal, their concept is to tear down the walls that separate us, using music as a bulldozer.

Jorge Francisco Castillo, who is a retired librarian, has been organizing the Fandango Fronterizo Festival for a decade. This event is annual and features son jarocho music, performed by musicians on both sides of the border wall between Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego, California. Over the years, it’s been a sort of celebratory jam session. Once O’Farrill read about this in the New York Times, he decided he wanted to participate.

“I … spoke to everyone I could about my hope to join the Fandango Fronterizo and record at the border, bringing special guests and making it a true collaboration,” Arturo O’Farrill explains.

Consequently, this project brings together a beautiful bunch of sixty musicians and voices, gathered like colorful flowers, to create a sweet bouquet of cultural traditions that disintegrate walls of division. You will hear Latin flavors throughout that merge with jazz icons like violinist, Regina Carter, cellist, Akua Dixon, and rapper/singer, Ana Tijoux, who is outstanding on her composition, “Somos Sur.” She raps in Spanish and you can feel the urgency and excitement in her message, even though I could not understand her Spanish words. You will listen to son jarocho greats like Patricio Hidalgo, Ramon Gutierrez Hernandez and TachoUtréra. Ramon Gutierrez Hernandez is featured on “Cupido,” one of many Public Domain songs included in this production. Also featured is Iraqi-American oud master Rahim AlHaj and his trio, and Iranian sitar virtuoso, Sahba Motallebi, adds a striking solo on “Tabla Rasa”, a composition by Arturo O’Farrill. Mandy Gonzalez’s gorgeous vocals on “Amor Sin Fronteras” are enhanced by the strikingly lovely violin strains of Regina Carter. O’Farrill has graciously shared his stage and recording platform with a multitude of talent. So many I cannot mention them all. This is an extravagant musical collage, both entertaining and historic. If you love the Mexican heritage and the influence their music has had on America and the world of jazz, you will find this recording truly rewarding.
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John Fedchock, trombone; John Toomey, piano; Jimmy Masters, bass; Dave Ratajczak & Billy Williams, drums.

The trombone is said to be the closest instrumental emulation of the voice. I am always intrigued by the smooth, round sound of the trombone. John Fedchock brings the beauty of this instrument and the sincerity of his emotional connection onto his recording entitled, “Reminiscence”. The spattering of applause after his gusty and satin, smooth fluidity on trombone reinforces that this project was recorded ‘live’. There are no studio fixes here. It is all excellence and improvisational opportunity.

Fedchock opens with his original composition, “The Third Degree” and John Toomey, on piano, plays a swinging solo before passing the baton back to Fedchock. The leader is off and running, making an up-tempo beeline for the goal post. Four minutes in, they trade fours with the drummer, Dave Ratajczak, who spontaneously soaks up the spotlight. Throughout, I find the melody of this first tune sings in your head like a jazz standard. It’s a very catchy melody that pleasantly hums along, as does the next composition by Fedchock, “Loose Change.” Obviously, he’s a fine composer. This tune is a moderate-tempo, bluesy affair. Bassist, Jimmy Masters takes an opportunity to introduce his thick, melodic bass sound to the audience and he also pumps the rhythm up throughout this production.

“What better place to try an untested song but on a live recording,” Fedchock shared about the tune “Loose Change”.

“As it turned out, our first reading of the tune is what appears on this CD. This was the perfect time to debut the piece.”

This recording is a comfortable mix of jazz standards and Fedchock original compositions. The up-tempo swing approach on “The End of a Love Affair,” eloquently showcases Fedchock’s royal chops on his trombone.

Here is a CD pleasant to listen to from beginning to end. Although John Fedchock is known more prominently for his big band sound and has released five recordings of his New York Big Band and received two GRAMMY nominations for “Best Instrumental Arranging,” this diversion to a smaller, more intimate jazz sound is lovely. It allows the listener to hear more of Fedchock in an intimate and comfortable way. You may want to pour a glass of some favorite libation, settle back and enjoy these stellar musicians. This album of music is a throwback tribute to small jazz clubs and the magic that great artists make before a small but packed audience, where we can watch and hear every nuance of jazz in the most friendly and informal of settings. Prop yourself up in your favorite easy chair and enjoy!
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September 28, 2018


By Dee Dee McNeil

September 28, 2018

The current QUINCY JONES Netflix documentary is informative and inspirational. Don’t miss this wonderful biography. His insight and history are important to pass on to our youth, as well as being entertaining for us. Q’s film honestly documents the music business and his life over the past eight decades. He’s lived it, loved it and made the best of his life and his music in the hardest of times and the best of times. His stories will uplift you. His diverse talent will astound you. His tenacious determination will inspire you to overcome all obstacles and keep your eye on the dream to make it come true. You will witness what an activist Jones has been all these years, while making his musical mark on the universe. Also, you will witness the price he paid for his dedication to music and appreciate his ability to cross genre lines and bring musical styles and eras together in a satin smooth, seamless way, as only Quincy Jones can do. A must see!


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Eli Degibri, tenor & soprano saxophones; Tom Oren, piano; Tamir Shmerling, bass; Eviatar Slivnik, drums.

Eli Degibri, a talented tenor and soprano saxophone master, has chosen to celebrate the late, great Hank Mobley with this tribute recording. For those of you with no recollection of Hank Mobley, let me tell you a little bit about this iconic reedman. Mobley was born in Eastman, Georgia, but his family soon moved to New Jersey where he was raised. The jazz journalist, Leonard Feather, once referred to Hank Mobley as the “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone.” He swung hard and seriously on his saxophone and came up in the era of Bebop and hard-bop music. Perhaps not as aggressively fluid as Coltrane, he adopted (comparatively speaking) a somewhat reserved style on his instrument with heavy blues influence and he was also very melodically soulful, similar to Gene Ammons.

Eli Degibri says his goal has been to keep playing-old-in-a-new-way as his mantra. This project is a remake of the 1960 album, “Soul Station” on the Blue Note Record label featuring Hank Mobley, pianist Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Blakey. What a line-up of stellar and historic jazz cats! On the first song, “Remember,” Degibri uses the composer, (Irving Berlin’s) original changes, when he records this song, rather than using the re-harmonization of Mobley’s arrangement. However, it’s Mobley re-harmonization that made this song so innovative and memorable, along with his light, staccato approach at the beginning of the song that encourages a hard swing groove.

Still, Degibri and his trio do a fine job or re-interpreting this song in their own inimitable way. Degibri has a rich, round sound on his instrument. I think Mobley would applaud the way he handles the reinvention of Berlin’s compositional changes. They hold true to the staccato groove at the top of the song and we get to properly meet Tom Oren, on piano, during his brief solo.

The second song, “This I Dig of You” is very familiar to my ears. I was a big Hank Mobley and Art Blakey fan as a teen. I remember this song that used to get so much airplay on the radio and also at jam sessions around the city of Detroit, Michigan, where I grew up. Degibri plays soprano saxophone, doubling with the piano in a unison way. It has a different sound than the Mobley production, but perhaps that’s what keeps it fresh and modern. Actually, he and Tom Oren are playing a transcription of Wynton Kelly’s original solo. I think it’s a nice touch and very creative. Tamir Shmering takes a fast-paced solo on bass that’s impressive. Eviatar Slivnik is given ample time to showcase his drum skills while trading-fours. The group has worked three years on this project and their determination and musicianship sparkle in the excellence of this production.


Their closing tune shows you how deeply Eli Degibri digs into the blues. Degibri has composed this tribute song to Hank Mobley and I believe it captures the essence of the man and his music. It’s a fitting and dynamic way to end this very well-played tribute to Hank Mobley, one of our jazz icons, by a group of very excellent and competent musicians.

Eli Degibri explained: “When I came to New York, I didn’t write. My goal and dream was to be able to play and to speak the language, and the only way to that was by playing with great musicians and playing standards. All my guys knew all this music, because in Israel, “Soul Station” is taught in school. The kids in Israel know their tradition. They don’t feel it’s not cool to play 4/4 rhythm changes or to play the blues. … Why is it acceptable to remake a classic Hollywood movie but such a faux pas to remake a classic jazz record?”
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Fred Farell, voice/lyricist; Richie Beirach, piano/ composer; Dave Liebman, soprano and Tenor saxophones/wooden recorder/composer.

If you enjoy the smooth vocals and music of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra, this album of original music, composed by Fred Farell, brings the heyday of jazz vocals from the sixties and seventies to the forefront. Farell recalls:

“My journey in jazz followed military service in 1970, and in discovering a jazz club in Lakewood, New Jersey, owned by Richard Stein named “Richard’s Lounge.” My first singing engagement there was in 1971, on which bop pianist Barry Harris played the final evening. After listening to his masterful interpretations of that night’s music, via tape, I desired to alter my pop oriented vocal style and expression.”

Following that date, Fred Farell began sitting-in at that club and that’s where he first heard and met pianist, composer Richie Beirach. At some point, Stein asked the fledgling vocalist (Fred Farell) if he would consider studying with Richie in New York. That began a long and fruitful relationship between the two musicians. Fred Farell developed his vocal style and, on this recording, he has written all the lyrics to music composed by both Dave Liebman and Richie Beitrach. Farell’s lyrics are, for the most part, prose rather than poems that rhyme. The first song is beautifully romantic with a melody both challenging and lovely. It’s composed by Richie Beirach. Dave Liebman adds his saxophone highlights to further enhance this song. Beirach improvises in a minor mode, playing around the melody and shining the spotlight on his piano prowess. There is one small stumbling block in this recorded effort. There is only one hit jazz song that I know, that has lyrics of entirely prose, and it’s a standard jazz song played over and over again called, “Moonlight in Vermont.” That song has no rhyme. As a songwriter, I would say that writing a complete production of prose lyrics is somewhat risky, although creative. For the most part, as a lyricist you are hoping that others will hear your work and want to sing it and/or record it. Listening to this project, it resembles a songwriter’s demo that showcases original music. The duo of accompanying musicians, (piano and saxophone), take it one step further and their instrumental work is so lovely to listen to, so entertaining, that the project rises to an artistic status. Farell’s voice is smooth and silky. This trio gives their recording a feel of experimentation and the openness of prose poetry helps to solidify the artiness captured on this CD. Richie Beirach’s piano playing is hypnotic. Liebman’s saxophone flutters like a restless, beautiful bird. Sadly, I could not remember any of the lyrics from these songs.

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Christian Sands, piano/Fender Rhodes/keyboard/ B3Organ /composer; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Jerome Jennings, drums, Caio Afiune, guitar; Marcus Strickland, saxophone; Keyon Harrold, trumpet, Roberto Quintero & Cristian Rivera, percussion.

As soon as I heard the first strains of jazz peeling from this compact disc I thought, who is that piano player? I hadn’t read the credits and had no idea who Christian Sands was, but I recognized at once that the pianist on this recording was amazingly excellent. That’s how I met Christian Sands! This music is so full of light and joy; excitement and creativity I stopped everything I was doing to listen. I soon discovered that Christian Sands is not only the dynamic pianist, but he has composed most of the music and is co-producer of this project, along with Al Pryor. His style is as diverse as his compositions. He moves from Modern Jazz, to blues in the blink of an eye. His two-handed boxing of the bass and treble clefs, simultaneously, is a wonder to behold and his impeccable timing challenges the rhythm section and locks in with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums like paper and super glue. His first composition is titled, “Rebel Music” and that certainly perpetuates the mood and essence of this entire production. The second cut, “Flight for Freedom” establishes a sense of global awareness, a nod to the importance of civil and human rights, and a signal that he is a politically concerned world citizen. I salute and appreciate that, because I think all music and art represents and reflects the days of our lives; the history and relevancy of our neighborhood, our country and our planet. Christian Sands is making an unequivocal statement with his music and its as stark as a wooden ruler slapped across a student’s desk to gain the attention. His music is striking. Saxophonist Marcus Strickland adds his spontaneous gusto to this song, spreading wings and taking flight. He is joined by trumpeter, Keyon Harrold as they punch harmonic horn lines. In the Beatles pop tune, “Yesterday” Sands brings a taste of Erroll Garner to the piano intro, marching the song across space, then rolling out the red carpet for bassist, Yasushi Nakamura to strut his solo inspiration and improvisation. It’s a unique and engaging arrangement. As the ensemble progresses, the energy and spontaneity rise like steam from a boiling pot. Sands becomes more and more modern-jazz-aggressive.

He takes us to church on his gospel-flavored composition, “Sunday Mornings,” adding a Jamaican Reggae rhythm for good measure. Sands covers all bases, showing his talents on both electric instruments, B3 organ and acoustic piano presentations. This is an album breathing fire and creativity, like its ‘dragon’ title.
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Cecile McLorin Salvant, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano/organ.

Her voice is clear, lovely, sensitive and how wonderful to hear Cecile McLorin Salvant deliver an emotional rendition of the Stevie Wonder song, “Visions.” This is a striking recording of only two people, the vocalist and her pianist (sometimes organist), where both musicians lay their soulful talents bare and unprotected on the altar of public opinion. There are no drums, no bass, no strings or horns to clutter or color the production. Never mind! Sullivan Fortner is quite proficient and extremely creative. You hear his unique and unusual arrangements on familiar tunes like, “By Myself”. Some of the chord structures and changes beneath Salvant’s strong soprano vocals are surprisingly creative; sometimes dissonant. Nothing shakes Cecile McLorin Salvant’s polished tones and succinct pitch. She is a formidable artist with strong style and character to her voice. Sullivan Fortner matches her tenacious attitude and talent with his provocative solo piano and inspired organ playing. Together, they are quite the incredible duo. Sullivan sometimes drifts into stride piano and other times roams the outer limits of improvisational dexterity from modern jazz to Count Basie 1940 simplicity. His timing is impeccable. He’s as dramatic as the chanteuse. Listen to them on “Ever Since the One I Love’s Been Gone”, a buddy Johnson tune. The drama is pulpable. This is an artistic and creative experience for the ears. Cecile McLorin Salvant is also a composer and her song “A Clef” is sung in French. For a moment, I am reminded of the stellar recordings and life of Josephine Baker. Seventeen diverse and exceptionally expressed songs are recorded for your listening pleasure, many performed before a ‘Live’ audience.
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Anthony Fung, drums/composer; Erin Bentlage, vocals; Edmar Colon, tenor & soprano saxophones; Josh Johnson, alto saxophone; Alex Hahn, soprano sax; Jon Hatamiya, trombone; Isaac Wilson, piano/synthesizer; Mats Sandahl, bass; Simon Moullier, vibraphonee; Oscarin Cruz, Oscar Cruz & Manolo Mairena, percussion; Yu-Ting We, Niall Ferguson, Lauren Baba, & Jonathan Tang, strings.

There is a sense of space and imagination wrapped in the music of Anthony Fung. It’s modern jazz dipped in Avant Garde arrangements. All the music on this recording is composed by Anthony Fung and he has also written the lyrics. Cut #2 “Ilekun” is rather mysterious, like the title itself. It is the music you would hear behind the scene of a movie where someone is creeping up the dark stairwell intent on doing something ominous to some unsuspecting soul. Fung uses horns, vibraphone, synthesizers, percussion and a string quartet to achieve the unusual affects and moods that his music conjures up. He is a warlock, making his magic musical and casting a spell over his listeners. He has honed his talents under the tutelage of folks like Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chris Potter and Billy Childs while attending the Thelonious Monk institute of Jazz. The fourth tune, “Guanaban” is very joyful with a Latin touch and striking horn lines. The addition of Simon Moullier on vibraphone is lovely. This song gives Fung an opportunity to solo and show his drum prowess. “Forever” is a very beautiful song that utilize the string ensemble to set the tone and mood. I was eager to hear Anthony Fung’s lyrical talents.

Erin Bentlage has a haunting beauty to her vocals as she interprets the challenging melody that Fung has written. These lyrics are prose that unfold a story of love proclaimed forever. Here is a young, talented drummer and composer, winding his way up the jazzy stairway to the stars.
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Devin Gray, drums/composition; Chris Speed, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Kris Davis, piano; Chris Tordini, bass. Ellery Eskelin, tenor saxophonist; Michael Formanek, bass; Dave Ballou, trumpet.

Devin Gray is a composer and drummer based in Brooklyn, New York. He made his debut album in 2012 on Skirl Records.

This is the reconvening of his all-star group for their second release. If you are an Ornette Coleman fan, you will find this Avant-Garde approach to jazz, freedom and creativity full of innovative improvisation and lush with spacey melodies. Gray is melodic, sometimes repetitious, but never boring. He embraces an open genre concept, giving his musicians vast amounts of room to roam freely and with musical spirituality. Gray explains:

“I don’t set out to make jazz records, per se. I set out to make music, period – to capture the moment, the contemporary feel of the music, hoping that it can reflect in some small way how we live now and what we all have to deal with as human beings in the world.”

With that explanation by the artist himself, I will leave the review and essence of his music to your talented ears. Take a listen to his recent submittal to the 7 Virtual Jazz Club Contest.

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Mark Winkler, vocals; Cheryl Bentyne, vocals; Rich Eames, pianist/arranger; Gabe Davis, bass; Dave Tull, drums; Grant Geissman &Pat Kelley, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Kevin Winard, percussion; Stephanie Fife, cello. Talley Sherwood & Mark Winkler, producers.

One thing I am sure of, each time I see the name Mark Winkler printed on a CD, I know I am going to hear some exceptional music tracks and listen to some good songs. Winkler always contracts some of the notably best and in-demand musicians on the West Coast. Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler have been performing together since 2010, with much success. The “Devil May Care” tune opens this recently released CD. The song is energetic and rich with Afro-Cuban rhythms, and radiates the trust, joy and pure fun these two artists enjoy when performing with each other. Mark Winkler likes telling stories with his musical choices. “Rhode Island is Famous for You,” is just a such a composition. Winkler’s vocals are Broadway at its best. He’s theatrical, believable and his voice floats above the strong swing ensemble like Fred Astaire dancing across the stage. One of my favorite songs by composer, Mark Winkler, “Like Jazz” comes next. It was first introduced to me by vocalist Cheryl Barnes on her “Listen to This” album. Bob Sheppard gives a boisterous, double-time solo on saxophone that settles into a rich blues. The melody and lyrics are catchy and repeatable. Bentyne’s tinkling soprano compliments Winkler’s emotional baritone. The duo is fun and the Rich Eames arrangements swing hard and true throughout.

“Bumpin” is a tune I recall from the Wes Montgomery “Tequila” album. Now, it appears, the song has lyrics, thanks to Winkler’s lyrical talent. Guitarist Grant Geissman is featured. “Eastern Standard Time” presents songs with an East Coast lineage, most of them being tunes you might have heard in the late 1950s or early 1960s. The duo’s previous release was titled “West Coast Cool” that featured songs popular during the West Coast ‘cool’ period. That release rose to #16 on the Jazzweek Chart. Hopefully, this project will also zoom up the jazz charts and be received with the same enthusiasm.
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Autumn Jazz Releases Spotlight the Odd, the Unusual & the Beautiful

September 17, 2018

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
September 15, 2018


Alain Mallet, piano/keyboards/electronics/lead vocals; Peter Slavov, acoustic bass;Jamey Haddad,percussion,kanjira solo; Layth Sidiq,violin; Tali Rubinstein, recorders/lead vocal/vox; Song Yi Jeon,lead vocal;Veronica Morscher, trans-oceanic lead vocal; Samuel Batista,alto saxophone; Daniel Rotem,tenor saxophone; Abraham Rounds,drums; Jacob Matheus,acoustic guitar/elec.Guitar; Leandro Pellegrino, electric guitar; Negah,pandeiro/congas; Gonzalo Grau,xekere.

I was trying to figure out what the title of this CD meant. We know that the word ‘mutt’ is a mixed breed dog or animal. Slang is a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as informal and more common in speech than writing, typically restricted to a particular group of people. From the odd faces of weird, masked animals that stalk this CD cover, to the ethereal sounds of Alain Mallet’s compositions, this is an album rich with imagination and very cerebral. It is also, perhaps, tethered to mallet’s philosophical views on art and culture.

Born in the tiny French village of Andernos, baby Mallet had an affliction that paralyzed his left side. As a child, his parents enrolled him in piano lessons as a form of therapy. He recovered from the early paralysis, with a deep love for music. He hoped to one day be a great player like some of his heroes, namely Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner. But you won’t hear any of that type of jazz on this project.

After twenty-five years as a working musician and composer,pianist/composer,Alain Mallet, has finally decided to produce and record his own unique musical perspective. This is a double CD package and the first CD is mixed as a high-quality, stereo recording. The second is engineered for surround-sound. The production is full of melody, horns, jungle sounds and electronic voices. Flute sounds fly like colorful tropical birds. Percussion beats like horse’s hooves and electronic keyboards and other electronic instrumentation puts this project into the realm of easy listening, world music. I would compare some of it to smooth jazz, but the typical R&B grooves you normally enjoy with smooth jazz are missing. This artist explains his odd title and his goal in composing and producing his music in this way.

“Mutt Slang came from the idea that so much of our music is the product of a unique mix of seemingly unconnected influences, when in reality, they emanate from that untethered spiritual expanse that we all tap into. It’s like an alternate consciousness which seems to supersede all other moral, racial, religious and political prejudices, as well as geographical boundaries. To be a musician means to unravel the mystery of a language spoken by only a handful, but seemingly understood by everyone. …. It’s a multi-cultural transcendence of sorts.”

In 1983, Alain Mallet left France and continued his study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. After touring with a variety of artists for many years, Mallet took the job as a professor of the Ensemble and Piano Departments at Berklee, his alma mater. His CD ensemble is a blend of cultures including Veronica Morscher, who is an Austrian and she sings in Hebrew on the tune “Alone”. Negah is an amazing percussionist who immediately grabbed my attention. He hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil and there is a gifted vocalist/composer by the name of Song Yi Jeon who comes from South Korea.

Mallet’s composition “Salif,” finally picked up the tempo and features Alain Mallet on piano, offering us a solo that is very jazzy and fueled by his wonderful percussion players and Abraham Rounds on trap drums. It’s a mixture of modern and fusion jazz, but it is repetitious and over eight minutes long. For the most part, this production does not swing or explore straight-ahead or groove jazz. This is an experimental music project and much of it seems to set the scene for a National Geographic film. I see some of this music as being licensable behind commercial television ads or as part of a film score. Another example of this unique presentation is the song, “Adama,” where Layth Sidiq’s violin solo is remarkable. Then enters Tali Rubinstein who sings this song, (it’s her original composition) in a language I don’t recognize. There are other voices, some mimicking horns. For example, on the song “Spring” interpreted by Song Yi Jeon’s beautiful voice. This number might be the closest to a true jazz presentation with her spontaneous scatting. The rhythm section is smokin’ hot on this particular cut.

You get a taste of many creations and many cultures on this project. Allain Mallet closes with a very Euro-folksy, pop song that he sings, “Cradle.”. Maybe now, I understand what the title, ‘Mutt Slang,’ represents. Maybe.
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Judith Lorick,vocals; Eric Reed,piano; McClenty Hunter,drums; Kiyoshi Kitagawa, bass; Jeremy Pelt,trumpet.

Judith Lorick has a voice that’s warm and comforting. Her tone is rich and sincere. Opening with one of my favorite ballads, “Why Did I Choose You,” she captures my attention immediately. She has partnered with pianist/producer, Eric Reed, and he suggested she pick songs that told her life’s love story. Singers always perform admirably when they pick songs that reflect lyrics they have lived. This is an album of torch songs; ballads of pure passion and intricate lyrical stories that roll off this vocalist’s tongue like streams of warm, dark molasses.
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Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Clara Lyon & Maeve Feinberg, violins; Doyle Armbrust, viola; Russell Rolen, cello.

Miguel Zenon was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico and has recorded and toured with a number of notable jazz musicians including Charlie Haden, Fred Hersch, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Werner and Steve Coleman. Zenon is a founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective.

This musical production is quite unique because there is no rhythm section. It features Miguel Zenon on Alto saxophone with a string section utilizing the popular Spektral Quartet. Every composition was composed by this artist and reed player. This is Zenon’s eleventh recording as a leader and his arrangements and original songs are meant to reflect Puerto Rican folklore. Beginning as a commissioned work by the David and Reva Logan Center for the Arts and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, this album is now a collection of eight recorded works. The addition of the Spektral Quartet, an internationally renowned, Chicago-based string quartet, gives his production a chamber-feel. However,the unusual and beautiful compositions create a more contemporary and avant-garde product. Here is conceptualized music, rooted in classical flavors and Puerto Rican heritage. After researching the island’s music for over a decade, and making regular trips to his country to re-explore his cultural roots, Miguel Zenon has blended them with religious (mainly Catholic) nuances and island folklore. The strings pluck, slide and harmonize to explore two fundamental cadences found in Puerto Rican traditional music. They create a woven, musical basket where his horn can rest. Zenon is smooth and fluid on the saxophone and his melodies are exploratory and unusual with intervals that soar and grooves held tightly by the brilliance of the string ensemble. If you are seeking something both elegiac and inspirational; sweet and unique, this music will satisfy.
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Greg Diaz, arranger/composer/tenor saxophone/clarinet; Eero Turunen, keyboards; Christian Davis, guitar; James McCoy, electric & double bass; Matt Calderin, drums/percussion; REEDS: Ismael Vergara, alto saxophone/clarinet; Manny Echazabal, alto saxophone/clarinet; Scott Klarman, tenor saxophone; Mike Brignola, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Jesus Mato, (lead), Doug Michels, Seth Merlin & Kevin Wilde. TROMBONES:Russell Freeland (lead), Jason Pyle, Tom Warfel, & Michael Nunez,bass trombone.

Here is an engaging production that features all the arrangements of Greg Diaz and many of his compositions. It’s a stellar mix of big band orchestration, exemplary solos by musicians of note and Louisiana soul. I always enjoy a big band or orchestra that salutes and tributes its outstanding instrumentalists. There are several amazing soloists on this recording. When Diaz named this the “Art of Imagination” he wasn’t kidding around. This piece of work is truly imaginative and innovative. On “The Navigator,” a Kevin Eubanks composition that opens this CD, the orchestra builds the tension and excitement to a high climax and then enters Christian Davis on guitar to perform a stunning solo. The orchestration behind him energetically accelerates and then the production tunes down to a trio sound featuring pianist Eero Turunen. When Diaz enters on tenor saxophone, he swings hard and is joined by the orchestra. I enjoy arrangements that allows space for soloists to excel. Meantime, the horn lines are harmonic, supportive and fun. They move in Charlie Parker-like fashion at points, with flying tempos and innovative lines, bringing a joyful sound to the music. The second cut is composed by Diaz and titled, “Circadia”. It’s a more moderate tempo’d number with a pretty melody and a smart arrangement. This project is simply delightful to the ears. On cut #3, Diaz takes us to New Orleans with harmonic male vocals that chant on the familiar song titled, “Brother John” and reminds us of Mardi Gras or the struttin’ funerals of Louisiana culture. During this song, we also discover that Greg Diaz is a wonderful vocalist, as well as a master musician on reeds, as well as an arranger/composer. This imaginative orchestra and its talented leader, Greg Diaz, presents a variety of genres and music, tapping into R&B with the same strength and dexterity as they play first-class jazz. I was star-struck when on the tune,” Frank Blank,” drummer Matt Calderin showcases mad talent and trumpeters Seth Merlin and Kevin Wilde also steal the spotlight. The title tune embraces the blues and is another Greg Diaz original composition. It’s a blues ballad with Matt Calderin kicking up the tempo with powerful licks by busy drum sticks.

Greg Diaz resides in Florida and is a Professor of Jazz Voice at Miami Dade Community College. He has used his reed-chops to enhance the music of such notables as Ben E. King, Phil Woods, Ira Sullivan, The Temptations, Tito Puente and many more. This is his debut orchestra album and it is certainly indicative of the excellence and imagination he brings for his musicians to interpret. I can’t wait to hear his next recording project. Meantime, I’ll just play this one again.
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EVAN SALVACION LEVINE – “MESTIZO” Shifting Paradigm Records

Evan Salvacion Levine, bass/composer; Matt Gold, guitar; Andrew Green, drums.

“Mestizo” is the title of a production featuring a guitar trio who interpret all of Evan Salvacion Levine’s compositions. In this recording, the liner notes establish Levine as celebrating his dual nationality; namely a Jewish father and a Filipino mother. The CD title is reflective of this intention. When we explore the word, “Mestizo,” it is defined as “someone of mixed race; a combination of mixed European and Native American descent.’

Evan Salvacion Levine explained: “…I really wanted to write some music addressing the complicated nature of identifying as ‘Mestizo’. …Today, that meaning extends to all of South America and a lot of Asia. …My father’s family comes from a mix of Ireland and Russia. My mom’s family comes from the Philippines.”

This reviewer found herself a bit disappointed when I listened to this unique work of art, because I heard very little Latin or Pilipino musical influences. Also, this artist does not use a lot of minor modes that you find in Jewish music. Instead, this production starts with a tune titled “Age II”. I’ll remind you that all compositions are written by Evan Salvacion Levine. This first song on the album is somewhat repetitious, establishing a groove and repeating it over and over again, more like pop songs, rhythm and blues productions or Hip-Hop loops. Levine is featured on his electric bass, dancing atop the strong but repetitious, rhythm chords of Matt Gold’s guitar. However, I hear no trace of Tagalog music which is fused with Hispanic rhythms or Ifugao music, Bandurria or Maranao Kulintang music. These are some of the folk music of the Philippines that warmly lend themselves to guitar and bass interpretations

On “Center of Gravity”, (the second song on this CD), the arrangement becomes more rock music than jazz and once again, the trio sticks to several repetitious melody lines that establish a groove for the trio to develop and improvise upon. The problem is, there are no exciting, improvisational solos. I was impressed with the strength and support of drummer, Andrew Green. He breaks loose on his drum kit during this arrangement with a driving solo. Green is always bursting with expression and dynamics throughout this production. The trio’s entire recording is quite electric and perhaps somewhat simplistic in arrangements and musicianship. I think minimalist would be a better description. The tunes are all mid-tempo. This, in itself, causes one to lose a certain amount of interest after the first four original songs. On the title tune, “Mestizo” they endeavor to pick up the tempo, with the thrust of Andrew Green driving beneath them like a hurricane. If the artist, Evan Salvacion Levine, is truly looking to merge his music with his cultural roots, perhaps he needs to look deeply into the music that reflects his father’s Russian and Irish roots and the artistic Philippine’s folk music from his mother’s side of the family. Then he can truly express the word, “Mestizo.”

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Richard Shulman, piano/composer; Jacob Rodriguez,tenor & soprano saxophones; Zack Page,bass; Rick Dilling,drums; Wendy Jones,vocals.

The Richard Shulman Group has an easy listening, smooth jazz-feel on this project. Their songs are melodic and all are composed by Shulman. His music is reminiscent of Pat Metheny productions, beginning with a seven-minute piece called, “Atmosphere.” Richard clearly develops his melodies first and even the improvisational solos stick very closely to that same melody.

“In Between the Blue and Green” is a good example of how the Richard Shulman Group blends smooth jazz and old-school, straight-ahead jazz. This third tune on his album perks me up, with Zack Page walking strong on bass and Shulman taking more chances on his improv solo. I hear him stretch out on this tune, tickling the piano keys with precision and groove. Enter Jacob Rodriguez on tenor saxophone, and he swings hard. This is probably one of my favorite tunes on this CD. Wendy Jones is the featured vocalist. She interprets the lyrics on a few of the Shulman compositions including “The Gifts You Gave to Me.” This was co-written by Brenda Lee Morrison. Jones has a pretty voice, but it is not jazzy in tone or style. This takes away from the authenticity of this project, rather than adding to it. Wendy Jones is a pop singer, and on this song, the whole premise of this album takes a turn into a new direction. Once the vocals recede, we drift back to smooth jazz on “For Mom,” a song that follows the Jones debacle. It’s a sweet, Latin arranged Bossa Nova, driven by Rick Dilling’s drum kit. Jones is back, adding her vocals on “Homage to Pharoah.” This time she doubles the Rodriguez horn line, with several spots where the unison with his saxophone just doesn’t match up. It’s always difficult to sing unison with an instrument and make the tones fall in perfect synchronization. Jones tends to slide to the notes and this can make for a musical challenge. “Buried Diamond” is a nice jazz waltz that was a refreshing change of pace. All in all, this is an album showcasing mostly moderate tempo tunes and with a laid-back character. The CD cover pictures two, tall drinks near a sandy beach scene. Exemplary of the CD cover, the music feels like sleepy time at the beach through most of it.
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ALEX CLOUGH – “NEAR, FAR, BEYOND” Independent Label

Alex Cough, piano/composer; John Tate, bass; Jay Sawyer, drums; Steve Kortyka, tenor saxophone; David Smith, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Pianist, Alex Clough, has composed every song on this project. This is his fledgling record release, after spending the last decade performing as a professional musician. Based in Brooklyn, New York, Alex studied both drums and piano as a youth. In high school, he was a member of the All City Concert Band and NJPAC’s prestigious “Jazz for Teens Program.” In college, he pursued a B.A. from Tufts University in Economics and International Relations. Later, he received an M.M. from SUNY Purchase in Jazz Studies. His piano and keyboard talents have led him to perform in most of the New York City Jazz hot spots, as well as Lincoln Center, Rockwood Musical Hall and he served as musical director for the Nightingale Jazz Band. Showing his diverse accompaniment qualities, he played with opera vocalist, Marie-Claire Giraud. He’s also played for dancers, namely the Mark Morris Dance Group, and as a sideman, Clough has honed his craft by diving into a variety of styles and cultures ranging from instrumental jazz to burlesque. He’s played Hip-Hop gigs and even Iranian punk rock. So, I wondered what this premier work of his original music would sound like.

Enlisting two horns, that join his very competent rhythm section, “Swirl” is the first song that circles off this compact disc. I am intrigued. Alex Clough is a strong composer with an even stronger jazz sensibility. Grounded by a one-note, punctuated bass line, he establishes the groove. His piano solo plays tag with the bass player, who is quite melodic in his own right. As the song progresses, the bass line dances to the changes as John Tate locks in the rhythm with drummer, Jay Sawyer. Alex Clough is one of those free style, fluid players who improvises with ease and comps behind the other soloists with precision. I get all of this from the very first song. David Smith is brilliant on trumpet and creates a strong platform for Steve Kortyka to come forward on his tenor sax, spread wings and fly.

Clough is straight-ahead and non-apologetic on this recording. Clough has a light, passionate touch on the piano, especially noticeable when he plays “Shore Road.” On this second cut, John Tate is extremely melodic during his bass solo. The third number titled, “Red Shades” is a funk jazz tune, reminiscent of the way the great Eddie Harris used to groove. Cut #4 features horn lines thick with harmony with the piano lines tastefully mirroring them. The bass and trumpet set the mood. This arrangement drops the other instruments out for a short while and it works to grab the attention and spotlight David Smith, who is quite a superb trumpet and flugelhorn player.

This entire album of music is beautifully produced and shows the wonderful composition skills of Alex Clough, as well as spotlighting his visceral excellence on piano.
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RHYTHM SECTION: Marion Powers,voice; Daniel Pinilla,guitar; Paul Lees,piano/keyboard; Raul Reyes,bass; John Sturino, drums/percussion/arranger; SAXOPHONES: Kyle Bellaire,(lead)alto/soprano sax/clarinet/flute; Sam Cousineau,alto saxophone/clarinet; Brandon Moore, tenor sax/clarinet/flute/ arranger; Will Nathman,tenor saxophone/clarinet; Brendon Wilkins,baritone sax/bass clarinet/flute. TRUMPETS: Nick Owsik,(lead),Adam Horne,Huang-Hsiang Chang, Kazunori Tanaka & Gregory Newman; TROMBONES:Brian Woodbury (lead),DJ Rice, Brett Lamel,Tommy Barttels & Kenny Davis, (bass trombones). Alan Baylock,Band Director.

Whenever I receive product from the North Texas Jazz program, I am always excited to listen and I already know that it’s going to be a quality work of musical art. This recording is no exception. It was in the late 1940s that this UNT music experiment began at the University of North Texas. This was the era of big bands, swing dancing and dance hall concerts. It was the time of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras or Artie Shaw and Buddy Rich big bands. Recognizing that one of the foundations of an exceptional big band is the musical arranger and the other is a tenacious drummer, meet John Sturino. He exhibits proficiency in both. They open their album with Victor Lewis’ tune, “Hey, It’s Me You’re Talking to” and their percussionist, John Sturino arranged it. This song sets the mood for the rest of their album. It’s exciting, well-arranged and well played. “The Rhythm of the Road” follows and features the band’s lead tenor player, Brandon Moore. Moore is a multi-instrumentalist/composer/reed-player and arranger who handles these interesting and challenging chord changes with ease. You will hear Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful song, “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing,” featuring the sweet, believable vocals of Marion Powers and “After the Rain” is a John Coltrane composition arranged by Moore. Another one of my favorites is their bluesy interpretation of “Blues for Kazu,” featuring Kazunori Tanaka on trumpet, also arranged by Brandon Moore. Bassist, Raul Reyes, also makes an outstanding statement on his solo.

Under the direction of Alan Baylock, the One O’clock Lab Band has already performed twenty-eight concerts in 2018. They’ve travelled to twelve cities, four states, and have featured eleven guest artists. Notable bassist/composer/recording artist, Mr. Christian McBride, said:

“The One O’clock Lab Band is one of the first bands I heard about when I was just learning about this music. Their stellar reputation has preceded them for many years. It was an absolute pleasure to work with this fantastic band, which continues its tradition of excellence.”

There’s not a bad cut on this album.
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September 6, 2018

By Jazz Journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

September 6, 2018


John Coltrane, soprano & tenor saxophone/composer; Elvin Jones, drums; Jimmy Garrison, bass; McCoy Tyner, piano.

Recently, Impulse Records released a lost album featuring the historic art of John Coltrane, one of our greatest, jazz giants. I was quite excited to listen to it. This time each year, John Coltrane’s birth date of September 23, 1926 is celebrated. Consequently, it seems a perfect time to release this unexpected recording. It’s a precious gift to the world. The first cut on the album is an unnamed original. You hear the recording engineer ask Coltrane, “This is an original, right?”

John Coltrane responds affirmatively, “Yeah.”

Then the studio sound engineer announces, “11383 original” and the distinguishable brilliance of John Coltrane’s amazing horn enters like a prophet or a religious scholar taking to the podium. The dynamic and distinctive drums of Elvin Jones thrust the music ahead with fiery thunder and McCoy Tyner strokes the piano keys with authority and passion. When Jimmy Garrison steps forward, veering from his tenacious, walking bass into a breathtaking, bowed bass solo, it stills the music to a hush, but never loses intensity or drive. I am so taken by this un-named original composition that I play it three times before moving on.

It was March 6, 1963 and John Coltrane was thirty-seven years young and at the top of his game. That was a very busy week for the Coltrane quartet. They were playing a two-week stint at the famed Birdland club in New York City and Coltrane was scheduled to cut his legendary album with Johnny Hartman on March 7th. That Wednesday, John, McCoy, Elvin and Jimmy Garrison walked into the Van Gelder studio, in Englewood, New Jersey, bent on putting down some fresh tracks and recording new material that John had composed.

This was the first time he ever recorded the “Nature Boy” song. It begins with Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison locking down the groove with bass and drums. John Coltrane floats atop the afro-Cuban feel like a breath of fresh air off the river Nile. McCoy Tyner is conspicuously missing, laying-out on this entire tune. It does not diminish the energy or the production. In fact, it’s almost super charged without piano. The second untitled original, #11386, is the third cut. It’s eight minutes and forty-two seconds of straight-ahead bliss. McCoy is back in all his improvisational glory. The trio is titanium-strong, capturing the groove like the walls of a NASA space craft. Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison solo simultaneously, pushing the limits of their instruments and stretching their creativity over the chord changes of this Coltrane original composition.

John Coltrane’s historic recording features fourteen songs. One of the world’s true saxophone masters was experimenting during this session. The famed quartet took their time, sometimes playing these songs two or three different ways, and of course never playing them the same way twice. For example, at this session, John Coltrane recorded the familiar “Impressions” song four different times. Once, they even played it without any piano accompaniment. You will be blessed to hear all four takes on this double-set. John’s son, Ravi Coltrane, picked out seven cuts for one CD and the rest can be found on the second CD of this double-set release. Their music blows my mind! Takes me back to a different space and time and propels me ahead to an unknown future in the same musical breath.

This recording was discovered on a rough-mix tape that John Coltrane took home that 1963, Spring night, after his session. For fifty-five years, it sat patiently waiting to be discovered. Thankfully, the reference tape was in great shape, because the master tape was never found. In spite of that, the mix on this recording is delightfully clean and you can clearly hear the genius of each player.
Perhaps a recent statement by Sonny Rollins sums this discovery up the best. Upon hearing this beautiful piece of musical history, Rollins commented:

“This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid.”

I concur!
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Charles Pillow, arranger/alto & soprano saxophone/flute & alto flute; Colin Gordon, alto & soprano sax/flute; Luke Norris, tenor sax/clarinet; CJ Ziarniak, tenor sax; Karl Stabnau, bass clarinet; Michael Davis, Jack Courtright & Abe Nourl, trombone; Gabe Ramos, bass trombone; Tony Kadleck, lead trumpet; Charlie Carr, Clay Jenkins, & Tim Hagans, trumpet; Julian Garvue, elec. Piano; Chuck Bergeron, elec. Bass; Mike Fortia, acoustic bass; Jared Schonig, drums. SPECIAL GUEST: David Liebman, soprano saxophone.

This artist/arranger has chosen established jazz composers of iconic stature to interpret. He embraces the songs of Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis as vehicles for his Charles Pillow Large Ensemble. This is the fiftieth anniversary of Miles Davis’ celebrated fusion jazz recording of “Bitches Brew.” Can you believe fifty years has passed? It was 1969 and Miles was experimenting with a new sound. The fusion generation was just beginning to take root. The old-school jazz cats were furious with this new wave of music. I remember many were disappointed in Miles for stepping outside the acceptable jazz mold of the fifties and early sixties. It’s nice to have David Liebman as a special guest on this recording, because Liebman recorded with miles on the original 1972 release of the “On the Corner” project. He is the soprano sax soloist featured on “Black Satin.” Clay Jenkins is the featured trumpeter and Michael Davis sings his song on Trombone. Jaren Schonig stands out on drums, driving the ensemble like a sixteen-wheeler at full throttle. There’s nothing silent about Schonig’s drums on “In A Silent Way.” I like the way Pillow arranged this song to move from a mellow, ballad into a strong funk tune. The horns play sweetly in the background, while Clay Jenkins soars on trumpet and Schonig stretches out on an impressive, percussive solo, while holding the double-time rhythm tightly in place during the entire production. This may be my favorite arrangement on this CD.

On the tune, “Directions”, written by Zawinul, Tim Hagans is featured on trumpet and it’s another red-hot arrangement. Luke Norris performs an admirable tenor solo. I enjoyed the strong bass line that pulsates and helps hold the rhythm section in place. Kudos to bassist, Chuck Bergeron. The Miles Davis composition, “Yesternow” is beautifully celebrated with Charles Pillow playing a sensuous and emotional alto flute on this arrangement. Dave Liebman is once again featured on soprano saxophone. The introduction snatches the listener’s attention with Pillow’s unusual arrangement using a short, half-bar horn ensemble to harmoniously punch a few startling chords. The bassist comes next, setting the time and groove solo. Now that my attention is peeked, the ballad unfolds in a lovely way. But the drums never let the tune get boring. They keep the funk solid and in-your-face, even on this slow tempo. It’s impressive to hear a large ensemble and a gifted arranger tackle fusion and modern jazz with a big band sensibility and still keep the funk alive and powerful.

Charles Pillow has synopsized an important era for jazz using his seventeen-piece band to execute arrangements from the best of fusion and recording eight tunes written by historic composers. Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Pillow attended Loyola University and received his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at the prestigious Eastman School of Music. After moving to New York City, he honed his musical skills playing with a number of well-respected artisans including Frank Sinatra, Luther Vandross, Paul Simon, Michael Brecker, Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Bruce Springsteen and David Sanborn to name only a few. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of Jazz Saxophone at the Eastman School of Music.
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OYTUN ERSAN – “FUSIOLICIOUS” Independent label

Qytun Eran, bass/composer; Dave Weckl, drums; Eric Marienthal, saxophone; Gary Husband & Gerry Etkins, keyboards; Dean Brown, Brett Garsed, Okan Ersan & Mike Miller, guitar; Gokay Goksen, trombone; Utku Akyol, trumpet; Karen Briggs, violin; Simge Akdogu & Aytunc Akdogu, vocals.

A big, bright sound dances off my CD player. “Oh, That Butterfly!” is an original composition by bassist, Oytun Ersan that is funky and fluid with drummer Dave Weckl flapping his sticks like butterfly wings and kicking this album into gear. This arrangement is exciting, plush with horn licks and capably mixing electronic jazz with a straight-ahead feeling. This is a delicious, modern jazz presentation bonded with a fusion feel. This song soars with crescendos and Ersan’s bass grounds the electronic rhythm, locking it down with drummer Dave Weckl. The second tune features an inspired rhythm section acting as the diving board for the horns. They splash onto the scene and punch like a boxer. All the solo musicians are innovative and inspired. Mike Miller, on guitar, explodes with creativity, as does Gary Husband on keyboards. The swift scat lines written for these instruments are formidably played and add zest and energy to the mix. Throughout, the bass playing of the artist, Oytun Ersan, keeps this project fueled with spectacular energy. The popular smooth jazz artist, Eric Marienthal, brings his saxophone excellence to the project.

The third cut titled, “Rise Up” features Karen Briggs on violin. She makes this tune memorable and touches my heart with her musical passion. This song begins as a ballad, but Oytun Ersan has a style burrowed in funk and groove. This, third of seven original compositions by Oytun Ersan, blooms like a brilliantly colored flower rising up from his earthy rhythm section. The final song, “Sacred Solace” ends this production like a prayer, incorporating the angelic voices of Simge Akdogu and Aytuc Akdogu.

Here is an album of music exceptionally produced by Ric Fierabracci that spotlights the talents of the artist, Oytun Ersan. Ersan is a Turkish Cypriot bassist, a composer and an educator who has played as a member of the International Nicosia Municipality Orchestra, the largest band in Northern Cyprus. He’s composed every song on this project. Appearing at festivals worldwide, Ersan has performed and/or recorded with such notable jazz artists as trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, Trumpeter Rex Richardson and Nigerian singer/songwriter, Ola Onabule. This is a recording of progressive, modern, fusion jazz at its best.
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Ayn Inserto, conductor/composer/arranger; Eric Hofbauer, guitar; Jason Yeager, piano; Sean Farias, bass; Austin McMahon, drums; Trumpets: Jeff Claassen, Bijon Watson, Dan Rosenthal, Jerry Sabatini & Matthew Small; Trombones: Randy Pingrey, Chris Gagne, Garo Saraydarian & Tim Lienhard. Bass Trombone: Jennifer Wharton & Jamie Kember. Reeds: Allan Chase, soprano & alto saxophone; Rick Stone, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Kelly Roberge, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Mark Zaleski, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Kathy Olson, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Mike Tomasiak, tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: John Fedchock, trombone; George Garzone, tenor saxophone; Sean Jones, trumpet.

“Down A Rabbit Hole” (the title track) was commissioned by Amherst College Jazz Ensemble, 2011, as part of the Robin McBride ’59 Jazz Commission Series. Ayn Inserto offers us a fusion of modern jazz with classical excellence, Latin flavors and innovative arranging. Ayn Inserto’s flamboyant horn section produces tones that wave like red flags against space. “BJs tune” is a pretty composition written by trumpeter, Sean Jones, that features him on a lovely solo that exhibits the dexterity Jones has on his instrument. Ayn Inserto met Jones during his tenure as chair of the Berklee College of Music’s brass department. Jones is one of three special guest artists on this project. The other two are George Garzone on tenor saxophone and trombonist, John Fedchock. Garzone, who has mentored several generations of improvisers and is the celebrated subject of a new documentary “Let Be What Is” has appeared on every recording by Inserto’s orchestra. Although he’s not a member of the orchestra, Ayn Inserto says that he has played an essential role in shaping the group’s sound. John Fedchock hired Inserto years ago as a copyist and they struck up a close friendship. Look at her now! She is a proud and innovative arranger and orchestra conductor.

Born in Singapore, Inserto was fourteen when her family relocated to Northern California. She took piano lessons as a child and was active in the church choir. She played organ for a small modern band that performed as part of Catholic church services, but improvised during rehearsals. By the time she attended an East Bay, City of Concord High School, she was infatuated with Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and studying classical piano. She played piano in various school jazz bands. Her college days included entering the respected jazz program at Los Medanos College and transferred to Cal State HayWard (now retitled Cal State East Bay). Her mentors were trombonist/arranger/bandleader Dave Eshelman, New England Conservatory professor, Allan Chase and private study with Bob Brookmeyer.

“I was writing from a piano player’s point of view and he (Brookmeyer) got me into more melodic writing, developing these long lines. After attending New England Conservatory, he really took me on as a mentor.”

Ayn Inserto brings fresh ideas and vivid writing skills to her orchestration and arranging. This seventeen-piece orchestra executes her compositions and arrangements with flare, talent and excitement. Her CD cover pictures Alice in Wonderland (in this case Ayn in Wonderland) climbing out of a rabbit hole. Artist/bass player, Kendall Eddy has painted a small army of men pointing at three musical giants who are playing trombone, saxophone and trumpet. Obviously,those are her three dear friends, Fedchock, Garzone and Jones. Ayn Inserto invites the listener to embrace her musical gifts and these very fine musical giants who represent an orchestra that has no problem chasing the rabbit and the music ‘Down a Rabbit Hole.’
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Henry Conerway III, drums, Kevin Smith, bass; Kenny Banks, Jr., piano.

Henry Conerway III is a Detroiter, steeped in the blues. He studied with a dear friend of mine, trumpeter/educator, Marcus Belgrave. You can tell from the very first cut of this album, penned by legendary bassist, Ray Brown and titled, “Slippery” that this artist loves the blues. Kenny Banks Jr., sets the mood with his piano blues tones. Kevin Smith takes a tasty, extended solo on the double bass.

Conerway’s album title is taken from a tune composed by the trio’s pianist. The liner notes explain that “With Pride for Dignity,” is a nod to their ancestors and an affirmation of musical power in a world that too often denies or inhibits pride, dignity and humanity to people of African descent. So, there is a political overtone echoing from the CD title.

The second song on the album begins dramatically and then breaks into a 1920’s feel, reminding me of Scott Joplin or 1920’s jazz. Conerway uses his drum sticks to tap dance the rhythm beneath on his drum rims and cymbals. This song employs tempo changes and mood changes that make it sound almost like a suite of songs instead of just one composition. Before you can blink an eye, straight ahead jazz moves into the arrangement like a steamroller. The pace doubles and the instrumentation flies. Seven minutes later, the composition returns to a dramatic ballad and then to the 1920’s type jazz. It’s a journey of creativity and entertainment. “Sugar Ray” is a Phineas Newborn Jr. composition and once again, the arrangement is blues-soaked. Henry Conerway the third has composed one song on this album and I was eager to hear his cut #8, the last song on this album of fine music. It’s called “Carvin’s Agreement” and is named for one of his mentors, Michael Carvin. He performs the composition solo, which is somewhat rare. This rhythm execution gives the listener an ear to what this bandleader is all about. He explores his instrument generously. Conerway seems to be painting the song with sounds that color with percussive inspiration and he stimulates the imagination on his drum kit. If any criticism is necessary, I would say this piece ends way too soon. I enjoyed the way the ensemble ‘swung’ hard on Ellington’s “Cottontail” tune with Henry Conerway tenacious and formidable on his drums, once given an exciting amount of time to solo and exhibit his technique. All in all, this is a swinging trio, with a nice repertoire and a tight, jazzy, acoustic presentation and sound.
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Marco Pignataro, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer/arranger; Adam Cruz, drums; Alan Pasqua, piano; Eddie Gomez, bass; George Garzone, tenor saxophone.

The title of this CD, “Almas Antiguas” translates to ‘old souls’. Tenor and soprano saxophonist, Marco Pignataro explained why he chose this title for his second album release.

“To me, “Almas Antiguas” reflects a romantic idea of reconnecting with things or people or places from another life, not necessarily in a rational way.”

This production is an energetic blend of modern jazz, Avante Garde jazz and Latin roots. The saxophone opens the album, solo, as if Marco Pignataro is issuing a prayer call. You can hear Flamenco influences in some of the music, for example on this first tune, “Panarea.” Pignataro’s saxophone sweetly floats atop the grand piano and Adam Cruz’s drums, until the song bursts into an up-tempo minor mode.
“I’d been listening to a lot of Latin American and Neapolitan singers while I was envisioning this CD,” Pignataro says. “This music is about roots from the Mediterranean and how jazz can become this lens that absorbs all these different colors, through which you can create a new sound and bring out your cultural identity,” Marco Pignataro shares in the liner notes.

Marco Pignataro brings his mixed heritage to the recording studio, celebrating his paternal Italian roots and his mother’s Puerto Rican heritage. On “Panera” (named for a Sicilian island) he incorporates North African music fused with Flamenco. Alan Pasqua is brilliant on piano and Pignataro’s soprano saxophone plays like a spiritual chant on top of a smokin’ hot, five-piece ensemble. Pignataro has arranged all the tunes on this project and he has contributed six original compositions. Favorites tunes are, “Panarea”; also, the beautiful ballad titled “Otranto: Mov. 1 il Mare and Mov. 2. spotlights one of my favorite songs, “Estate” incorporated uniquely into his original composition. I enjoy Pignataro’s very melodic tenor saxophone presentation on “Alfonsina Y El Mar” and his composition “Almas Antiguas” (the title tune), is arranged as a nuevo bolero. His tenor plays passionately on this song.

This ensemble gathers beneath the umbrella of Marco Pignataro’s arrangements and they deliver simpatico tones to express his world jazz music.
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Russell Ferrante, piano/keyboards;Bob Mintzer,saxophones/EWI; William Kennedy, drums; Dane Alderson, bass; Luciana Souza, vocals.

The opening tune, “Man Facing North” is very ethereal and adds Lusciana Souza’s vocals as a pleasant treat that doubles the Dane Alderson bass lines. The contrast is delightful. If you are a fan of the Yellowjackets, you may recall this composition on their 1993 album, “Like a River.” Today, it has a fresh arrangement-face. Towards the fade, Mintzer stretches out to adlib and they use studio technique to double and layer the vocals. It’s a pretty tune and sets the stage for an easy listening experience. Dane Alderson offers an exciting bass solo on electric bass. The song, “Mutuality” begins with Ferrante’s solo piano, reflective in a classical kind of way. I waited for the funk and excitement I am used to the YellowJackets bringing to the studio and to the bandstand. Especially since this Ferrante composition was inspired by the fiery speaker, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and his speech, “Network of Mutuality.” However, this continues to be more easy-listening jazz. I wish for the grooves and swing that made this group popular with hit after Smooth Jazz hit. Then “Ecuador” comes on the scene with its creative time and staccato drum licks quickly tantalizing my interest. Mintzer penned this one and he’s brightly featured. Enter the ‘funk’ on “Strange Time,” another Mintzer composition. Now this sounds like the Yellowjackets legacy and style. A perfect blend of straight-ahead with funky rhythm and technically astute bandmembers who bring their inimitable best every time they play. This tune really had me patting my foot and bobbing my head. This is master musicianship at its best. The tune “Emerge” is greatly enhanced by the lyric-less scat vocals of Luciana Souza. It’s a very melodic piece written by bassist Dane Alderson. Ferrante’s “Timeline” tune is haunting and Souza’s voice kisses the song alive with tone and emotion. It’s a difficult melody to sing, with fluid yet challenging intervals and quickly captivates with its unexpected changes. Luciana Souza has leant her songwriting skills to co-write “Quiet” with Ferrante. On this song, she sings in both English and Portuguese. I am more drawn to the compositions of Dane Alderson. “Divert” and “Brotherly” both dance and groove in a joyful way, even though “Divert” is only a few minutes long. Ferrante’s compositions are brilliant and more cerebral than groove. Mintzer brings old-school and smooth jazz together in a neat package that embraces straight-ahead. “His “Swing With It” does just that! It swings! This is Bob Mintzer’s niche and it’s one of my favorite compositions on this entire album. William Kennedy is prominent and combustible on drums. He appropriately accents and fills each song with energy. Kennedy is a powerful and creative drummer. Luciana Souza brings the ‘ying’ to the ‘yang’; the Venus to the Mars; the feminine softness and vocal emotion that expands this male driven music. These are the twenty-first century Yellowjackets and the more I listen, the more I become a fan.
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August 29, 2018

By jazz journalist / Dee Dee McNeil
August 29, 2018

Outside In Music

Peter Nelson, trombone/composer; Alexa Barchini, voice; Nikara Warren, vibraphone; Josh Lawrence, trumpet; Hailey Niswanger, alto saxophone; Yuma Uesaka, bass clarinet; Willerm Delisfort, piano; Raviv Markovitz, bass; Itay Morchi, drums.

It’s an odd title for a CD, but it embraces the unique journey of Peter Nelson, trombonist and composer. I rarely read liner notes before listening to music, because then I become influenced by what someone else has written and surmised about the music. But the title of this CD was so peculiar, that I was tempted to read about this artist. First, I pushed play on my CD player and listened as I went about my daily household chores. The first tune titled, “It Starts Slowly (First in Your Heart),” reminded me of space and moonlight; stars and planets. There was an ethereal vocal, along with vibraphone and trombone. No words. Just lovely, spacey sounds that tickled my imagination about universes and the vastness of creation. Who is this guy, Peter Nelson, I thought to myself? The tune is brief, but it peeked more interest in reading the liner notes. That’s when I discovered Nelson’s life story.

A Michigander, born in Lansing, Peter Nelson fell in love with the trombone at age ten. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies at Michigan State University, then moved to Brooklyn, New York where he currently resides. Along the way, during a pinnacle in his career he was struck with a debilitating disease that no one could diagnose. It began with small, localized pain and feelings of anxiety. Later, it escalated to chronic hyperventilation, severe shortness of breath and pain in his face, down his back and in his arms. Horribly, all of this was happening while he was on the bandstand.

“It became difficult to be on the bandstand, while at the same time fighting my horn and fighting my body. It felt like a physically violent way of losing my medium for relating to the world and was emotionally and spiritually crippling.”

In search of help, he saw many doctors, physiologists and educators. But it was not until he met Jan Kagarice, one of the world’s authorities on musicians’ health, that she diagnosed him and in a single lesson was able to reverse sixty percent of his pain. She showed him how to comfortably play again. His odd symptoms appeared to be the result of bad pedagogy, or habits inherited from teachers who did not recognize or understand the workings of the human body and the physical process of making music. Thanks to her insight, Peter Nelson has produced this magnificent tribute to his journey from dark days to brilliant light; from illness to health. His music celebrates that struggle. Nelson plays the trombone so swiftly, at times, like on the composition, “Do Nothing (if less is more),” that I am stunned by his agility on the instrument. He has composed every song on this album and each is a story in itself amply interpreted by his ensemble, with Alexa Barchini on lyric-less vocals. I enjoyed each tune, but found the abrupt endings on several of his compositions annoying after the first one. On the up side, these musicians and Nelson himself make the chapters of his life an interesting and inspirational jazz journey.

“We always want closure,” Nelson says in the liner notes. “But it’s an almost laughable concept. Everything that I learned about brass playing — and more importantly about myself and what music-making really means to me, those lessons are priceless and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
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Hakon Skogstad, piano/arranger.

If you love tango, classical music and piano jazz, Hakon Skogstad’s latest CD will richly reward you. He is entrenched in solo piano technique and stimulated by his love of the bandoneón and how that instrument is used in solo arrangements and compositions. The Bandoneón is popular in Tango music and very popular in Argentina, Uruguay and Lithuania. It resembles an accordion in appearance. Challenging himself on the piano, Skogstad endeavors to incorporate much of that unique bandoneón style and technique in his solo playing. His piano technique is very dramatic. As a composer, he has contributed two of his own compositions; “Milonga Impromptu” and “Norte.” You feel his passion and dedication to this unique and wonderful music throughout this production. Perhaps he explains it best in his liner notes.

“I wanted to see if I could incorporate the multilayered, flowing and improvisational manner of playing, constantly changing focus between the bass chords and melodic structures, rather than trying to do it all at once, as often as possible, like an orchestral reduction. “

If you have never seen a tango performed, check out this example with one of my favorite actors from the movie, “The Scent of a Woman.”

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Samuel Martinelli, drums/percussion/composer; Claudio Roditi, trumpet/flugelhorn; Marcus McLaurine, bass; Tomoko Ohno, piano.

Samuel Martinelli is a blossoming Brazilian drummer and composer who is currently based in New York. He is joined on this recording by some pretty legendary jazz musicians. For one, Brazilian jazz trumpeter, Claudio Roditi. Mr. Roditi has performed with Herbie Mann, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Rouse after coming to the United States years ago to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Marcus McLaurine is playing bass. Like Claudio Roditi, McLaurine is also a seasoned jazz veteran who has worked with Kenny Burrell, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Lou Donaldson and the Count Basie Orchestra under the direction of Thad Jones.

Tomoko Ohno is a pianist/composer and recipient of the Student Award of Outstanding Performance. She was a celebrated member of the Dean’s Honor List and graduated with a B.A. in Jazz Studies from William Paterson University in New Jersey. A native of Japan, this young talent has already performed with such artists as Jerome Richardson, Wynton Marsalis and Benny Golson. She’s released three albums on a Japanese record label and spent time in Brazil, recording an album there for MDR Records. Consequently, she fits perfectly into Samuel Martinelli’s Brazilian flavored band.

On “Samba Echoes,” the first song on this production, Tomoko Ohno makes a solid statement on the 88-keys with a backdrop of Samuel Martinelli playing double time on his drums with driving force. On his solo, towards the end of this tune, he resorts back to an Afro-Cuban feel along with the brilliant bass playing of Marcus McLaurine. This is one of six original compositions featured on his recording and penned by Martinelli. “Talking About Spring” is a lilting, moderate tempo’d swing tune that feels like we should be skipping down an avenue, holding hands with happiness. “Bob’s Blues” shines the spotlight on the bass and McLaurine showcases a melodic bass accompanied by Martinelli on drums and Ohno on grand piano. They set it up beautifully for Claudio Roditi’s trumpet solo.

“St. Thomas” is one of my favorite Sonny Rollins tunes. It is one of only two tunes on this project that Samuel Martinelli did not compose. Martinelli brings a fresh arrangement to the piece, letting Ohno’s grand piano set it up while McLaurine’s bass bows the melody atop the contemporary chording of the piano. Sometimes it’s dissonant and it’s arranged as a ballad, rather than the ebullient, carnival-type production that Rollins originally recorded. It certainly shows that Martinelli thinks outside the box. “St. Thomas” was kept a trio tune, without adding the horn and featuring the bass instead. It is a unique production of the Rollins’ composition. On Martinelli’s original composition, “A Gift for You,” he invites Claudio Roditi back to the recording booth and the group swings hard. There is a drum solo that allows Samuel Martinelli to stretch his technique and talent across the skins for our complete listening pleasure. The only other cover-tune that Martinelli features is the Dizzy Gillespie song, “Birks’ Works.” This gives Claudio Roditi the well-deserved spotlight.


Martinelli’s album title, “Crossing Paths” is in celebration of the wonderful people he has met along his continuing journey up a jazzy, musical avenue. This entire album gives us an up-close and personal look at a budding composer and competent drummer. His quartet of prominent musicians make the music dance effortlessly across the airwaves.
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Mike Spinrad, drums/percussion/composer; Don Turney, piano/organ/sound engineer; Guido Fazio, tenor saxophone/flute/horn arranger; Richard Conway, trumpet/ flugelhorn; Larry Stewart, baritone saxophone; Eric Lyons, John Hettel, Daniel Parenti & David Enos, bass.

Mike Spinrad played drums throughout his youthful school years all the way into college days. He earned an AB in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley; then an MA degree in Counseling from St. Mary’s College of California. After securing a teaching certificate, he settled into making a secure living teaching history, psychology, economics and government at San Marin High School in Northern California. But his passion for music remained strong. He’s been teaching for fifteen years and performing on the side, whenever opportunity presented itself. This is his dream-come-true project, where he can express the composer/ musician inside of him to its fullest extent. This disc is full of creativity. His compositions come alive with the help and mastery of his close friends and peers.

The “Horns” waltz into my room with harmonic precision, speared by the awesome timing and technique of Mike Spinrad on drums. “Smarbar” is co-written by Spinrad with pianist John Groves. It’s smart and straight-ahead. Mike Spinrad has composed or co-composed every tune on this album. All the horn arrangements are written by Guido Fazio. When you merge these two talented men, (Fazio and Spinrad), the result is a quality musical product. The second tune is titled “Bette ‘N Hy,” a more funk and contemporary arrangement, featuring Don Turney on organ. Turney formerly produced Spinrad’s premiere CD and acted as recording, mixing and mastering engineer on this project. On the third cut, “Chaim” puts us back into a straight-ahead realm. The horn arrangements scream, ‘big band’, although this is a group of just six talented men. Spinrad had a specific goal in mind when he decided to create this musical work of art.

“When I decided to do this project, the first person I contacted was Guido Fazio, who arranged the horn sections, and plays tenor sax and flute on the recording. He’s a monster player with amazing instincts. … his approach to music mirrors my approach. For me, music needs emotional content. It’s great to listen to someone with incredible technique, but technique alone doesn’t move me. Guido has great technique and plays with an incredible amount of heart and soul,” Mike Spinrad shared.

There is something for everyone on this recording. The “Sheila” composition is a sweet and beautiful ballad and the tune named “Raul” is a Cuban-influenced montuno, named after one of Spinrad’s co-workers.

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Stephane Spira, soprano saxophone/composer; Joshua Richman, piano/Fender Rhodes; Steve Wood, bass; Jimmy MacBride, drums.

Stephane Spira plays a smooth, straight-ahead soprano saxophone. I’m not a big fan of soprano saxophone, but I love this musician’s tone and technique. “Peter’s Run” opens his CD and it’s a perfect vehicle to showcase his amazing trio. Jimmy Macbride is stellar on drums, bringing texture and time to his instrument. Steve Wood is cement solid on bass and Joshua Richman colors the music with his piano mastery. All songs on this recording are composed by Stephane Spira. I found his music to be melodic and beautiful. “Gold Ring Variations” and “New York Windows” are both intriguing titles and the compositions themselves are lovely. Spira writes music that inspires and his melodies lend themselves to lyrics, still unwritten. His soprano saxophone style is honest and steeped in blues with a taste of Django’s gypsy style echoing through his compositions. Spira says song #3, “New York Windows” was inspired by Les Fenetres de Moscou (Moscow Windows), a favorite traditional Russian song that his dad loved. The up-tempo jazz waltz, “Underground Ritual” gives Richman an opportunity to stretch out on piano and Jimmy MacBride, on drums, is always a driving force throughout this recording. But it’s the tone and vulnerability of Stephane Spira’s saxophone excellence that draws me into this recording like quicksand. His compositions, and the way he plays them is intriguing. He’s like a child, exploring a “New Playground” and sharing his excitement with us.
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Michika Fukumori, piano/composer. Steve Kuhn, producer/piano duet on cut #11.

Michika Fukumori has composed the first song called “Colors of Blues” and it exhibits admirable piano technique with a seemingly easy ability to use both hands in counterpoint and still keep perfect rhythm. Actually, that is no easy task. Her original composition was inspired by United States Blues, a music steeped in hard work and rooted in African American slavery. Ms. Fukumori explained:

“I learned how important the blues is to jazz after I moved to this country and I fell in love with the form. This is my dedication to this music.”

Right away, Fukumori establishes her love of melody. I want to sing along with her compositions even though I’ve never heard them before this moment. That is particularly true on the second cut titled, “Into the New World.” Michika Fukumori has composed nine of the thirteen tunes on this CD. She is a strong player and competent composer, which is brazenly clear on this solo recording. She needs no other instrument to sell her songs or make them beautiful. That raw talent she exudes needs no lipstick, rouge or pancake makeup to enhance it. There is natural brilliance to her playing and I am even more impressed with her composer abilities. Her left hand is busy playing memorable bass lines and holding the rhythm in place, while her right hand creates lovely melodies and improvises with tenderness and a deft touch. On the eleventh song, “Oceans in the Sky,” she combines talents with her mentor and producer, Steve Kuhn, who has written this song. They both play piano simultaneously to interpret this composition, using two sets of hands and 20 fingers. There is the feeling of rushing water, ocean waves and the forcefulness and intimidating independence that miles of water, with no land in sight, can represent.

Born in Mie, Japan, Michika Fukumori began studying piano at age three. Receiving her classical training at the Aichi Prefectual University of Fine Arts and Music, she soon was drawn to jazz and began working professionally in various Japanese jazz clubs. In 2000, Michika Fukumori moved to the United States and studied with two jazz icons at City College in New York; bassist Ron Carter and pianist extraordinaire, Geri Allen. She also began taking private lessons with Steve Kuhn, who has produced this recording for her. For the most part, this is peaceful music. It’s easy listening jazz and showcases the stellar talents of Michika Fukumori on piano.
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Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mats Holmquist, arranger/composer/conductor; Mikel Ulfberg, guitar; Seppo Kantonen, piano; Juho Kiviuori, bass; Markus Ketola, drums; Trumpets & Flugelhorns: Jakob Gudmundsson, Teemu Mattson (lead) Timo Paasonen, Mikko Pettinen, Tero Saarti, JanneToivonen; Saxophones: Ville Vannemaa, lead alto/soprano/clarinet; Mikko Makinen, alto/soprano/clarinet/flute; Teemu Salminen, tenor/clarinet; Max Zenger, tenor/flute; Pepa Paivinen, Baritone/flute; Trombones: Heikki Tuhkanene,(lead); Mikko Mustonen, Juho Viljanen, Mikael Langbacka, bass trombone.

On this recording, harmonies fly off my CD player like a flock of starlings. This is an exhibit of dynamic orchestration, featuring the arrangements of Mats Holmquist. Randy Brecker is grandly supported by the 18-piece UMO Jazz Orchestra. The Holmquist style seems deeply rooted in the classical genre, with splashes of modern jazz. Trumpeter Randy Brecker is the featured soloist on many of the tunes. His musical accomplishments include collaborations with Horace Silver, Larry Coryell, of course his brother Michael Brecker and their amazing success as The Brecker Brothers, and a significant number of popular smooth jazz and pop recording artists. In this setting, you will enjoy Randy Brecker encircled by the astute arrangements of Mats Holmquist and the orchestra. They utilize composers like Chick Corea, (Windows, Crystal Silence and Humpty Dumpty) along with several songs composed by Mats Holmquist.

Mats Holmquist was born and raised in Sweden and is a first-class composer/arranger who has eight albums under his belt as a leader, four of them released on Summit/MAMA Records. He has also authored “The General Method” called “The Big Band Bible” by Jamey Aebersold who published his book.
The UMO Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1975 and is considered Finland’s finest big band. They have featured a number of iconic jazz names including Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker and John Scofield. Blending these three extraordinary talents, Brecker, Holmquist and the UMO Jazz Orchestra is musical magic.
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Mike Freeman, vibraphone, coro; Guido Gonzalez, trumpet, Coro; Ian Stewart, bass; Roberto Quintero, congas/guiro/shakere; Joel Mateo, drums/campana.

Here is an album that peeked my interest from the title, “Venetian Blinds.” Mike Freeman took this title from the look of ‘vibes’ all strung-together in bars, similar to venetian blinds. I learned from the press package that Tito Puente used to roll his vibes into the Palladium and his followers would say, “Here comes Tito with those venetian blinds!”

Freeman is a masterful vibe player and his music is very percussive and heavily cemented in Latin jazz grooves with the rhythm of Joel Mateo on drums and Guido Gonzalez congas. There are three cuts on this album that are meant to celebrate Bobby Hutcherson; “Clutch the Hutch”, “Bobby Land” and “House of Vibes.”

Mike Freeman composed these songs and was working on this project when Bobby Hutcherson passed away. “Fancy Free” was written to celebrate his daughter and her first birthday and “What’s Up With This Moon?” was written for his son, a direct quote from a video his son texted to him one night. This is a project full of joy, rhythm and Latin flavor.
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Gary Brumburgh, vocals; Jamaison Trotter, piano; Gabe Davis, bass; Christian Euman & Conor Malloy, drums; Pat Kelley & Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Paulette McWilliams & Gail Pettis, vocals.

Gabe Davis, on bass, walks his instrument with power and determination as an introduction to the first song. Jamieson Trotter adds piano after several bars of bass. Then in steps the star of the show, Gary Brumburgh singing the Lennon/McCartney hit record, “Day Tripper” in a very jazzy way. Bob Sheppard always brings the magic to the bandstand and this recording session is no exception. His saxophone solos are inspiring and complement Brumburgh’s vocals. Brumburgh introduces us to some song verses we may not be familiar with, for example on “I’ll Close My Eyes.” I enjoyed hearing the verse of that song interpreted. However, I found some of the smart and creative arrangements on these tunes to work better with the instrumentalists than with the vocalist. Pointedly, on this tune, some of the guitar chord changes at the top of this song, that become a repetitive theme throughout, are challenging but don’t necessarily support the vocalist. After all, it is his project and the point is to be ‘hip’ but also to give him a substantial stage of musical support that spotlights his vocal talents.

That being said, the musicians on this project are some of the best in the business and they offer him a strong trampoline of tracks to bounce upon. For me, the stumbling block are a few of the unique arrangements that don’t always fit the vocalists’ tone and timbre.

Brumburgh has a smooth, distinctive vocal style. His repertoire is well-rounded, including oldies like Sweet Georgia Brown (mixed with the Miles Davis composition “Dig”), Jimmy Webb’s “Witchita Lineman,” Sting’s “Heavy Cloud No Rain,” Michael Franks’ “Eggplant” and the title tune, “Moonlight” a John Williams composition with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The songs he picks are wonderful. He also includes a couple of awesome female vocalists. For one, Paulette McWilliams, who adds harmonic background to the arrangement on “Heavy Cloud No Rain” produced quite bluesy, allowing Paulette McWilliams to pump the soul into this song. At times, Brumburgh bursts into scat and has a tone that easily becomes a vocal horn. I thought the Brazilian feel on “Just A Little Lovin’ (Early in the Morning)” well-suited Brumburgh’s vocal style. I must credit Brumburgh and Jamison Trotter for successfully arranging so many pop tunes with strong jazz creativity. I bet Holland, Dozier and Holland were surprised to hear the way the Diana Ross hit record, “My World Is Empty Without You, (Babe)” was re-arranged. I know I was. The final song, with the very sensitive piano accompaniment of Terry Trotter, “What’ll I Do” touched me deeply. It was just voice and trio; simple and honest, obviously sung with passion and sincerity. This is Gary Brumburgh at his best.

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