VOLUMES OF JAZZ
By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
September 11, 2016
This month I was sent quite a few CDs that boasted Vol 1 or Vol 2 of several musical projects by a diversity of artists. First was RAY OBIEDO whose Latin jazz album was beautifully produced and offers a volume one full of pleasant listening. AL STRONG boasted about his “Love Strong” music and also labeled his premier recorded release, volume one. His musical venture was more Be-Bop. On the flip side, CRAIG HARTLEY called his “Books on Tape” volume two, featuring a trio presentation. LITTLE JOHNNY RIVERO brought volumes of energy to the table and DAVE STRYKER brought back his ‘Eight Track’ concept for the second time around, with volumes of oldies-but-goodies repurposed and wonderful. MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL blends Turkish roots with American jazz along with a group of master musicians calling themselves, “Whatsnext”. Finally, CAROL BACH-Y-RITA adds her vocal, percussive improvisation to the mix. Thus my title, “Volumes of Jazz” takes on a double entendre, encompassing several hours of music and various CDs that reference volumes of work and also offer volumes of talent.
RAY OBIEDO – “LATIN JAZZ PROJECT VOL. 1”
Ray Obiedo, acoustic & electric guitars/synthesizers; David Belove & Marc van Wageningen, bass; David K. Mathews, piano/organ; Paul van Wageningen, drums; Karl Perazzo, congas/timbales; Roger Glenn, flute/alto flute/piccolo; Elena Pinderhughes flute; Sandy Cressman, vocals; Peter Michael Escovedo, bongo/timbales; Derek Rolando, congas; Norbert Stachel, tenor/soprano saxophones/flute; Phil Hawkins, steel pans; Michael Spiro, percussion; Peter Horvath,piano solo; Bob Mintzer,tenor saxophone; Orestes Vilato, timbales; Mike Olmos, trumpet; Ray Vega, trumpet solo; Jeff Cressman,trombone; Jon Bendich, congas; Sheila E., conga solo/percussion; Mike Rinta,trombone/horn arrangements.
The first thing that grabs me about this project is the percussive excellence. From the very first notes, it’s the drums and percussion that sweep me into a musical moment of danceable, Latin jazz. I am propelled along by the sweet double time excitement of the drums on Tito Puente’s composition, “Picadillo”. When Obiedo enters on his guitar, he picks his solo with precision and improvisation, after the ensemble has properly established the melody in concert and with gusto. But throughout, thanks to a sensitive mix and mastering, Karl Perazzo on congas and timbales, with ginormous support from Paul van Wageningen on trap drums, supports this music like a cinder block basement, along with several other guest percussionists. The addition of Sandy Cressman’s background vocals on cut #2, “Coral Keys” and on “Vera Cruz” takes this production to another level, embracing smooth jazz and easy listening at the same time. “Coral Keys” prominently features the flautist, Elena Pinderhughes. Obiedo bounces around from acoustic to electric guitars, throwing in synthiziser for good measure, and gives ample solo time to his all-star cast of characters. “Caravan” features Norbert Stachel on soprano saxophone. Siblings, Sheila E and Pete Escovedo Jr., are also featured on this project, presenting a forceful final number called, “Cool for Now”. Mathews is tasteful and impressive on piano throughout and another special guest is the talented reedman, Bob Mintzer. I enjoy the rhythm guitar licks on “Vera Cruz” and the groove is infectious. “St Thomas” is one of my favorite Sonny Rollins tunes and Obiedo paints it with fresh, bright, Latin colors, much like the cover of this CD, shiny with blue and bright orange, brilliant yellow and rich green buildings. There is a colorful fusion feel to this production of the Rollins tune. Mintzer brings Straight-Ahead to the Latin party on tenor saxophone during cut #6, “Cubo Azul”. This happens to be one of three original compositions by the artist, Ray Obiedo. Bassist, Marc van Wageningen, (not to be confused with Paul) is a mainstay of lock-down rhythms, blending his bass licks with the drums to offer a strong foundation for the ensemble to build upon. Another of Obiedo’s original compositions that I enjoyed immensely is “Child’s Dance,” where both the artist and his bassist show off their talent and instrument techniques with spontaneous solos. This entire album of Latin jazz resonates splendid joy and happiness.
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CRAIG HARTLEY – “BOOKS ON TAPE VOL. II – STANDARD EDITION”
Craig Harley, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons, drums.
Sometimes the simplicity of just a trio is all you need to enjoy a collection of jazz standards. It’s like a good book, the “standard Edition”, on a chilly night by the fireplace. You curl up with the musical story and enjoy. Craig Hartley is very creative on piano, with improvisation pouring out of his right hand while his left hand deftly keeps the time with appropriate chords. “Jitterbug Waltz” never sounded so good.
Clemons on drums knows just when to crescendo and when to dance softly beneath the music. De Rosa is cleverly and skillfully present on bass. When they complexly blend Miles Davis with Bach, I am totally impressed. Hartley has arranged the jazz standard “Solar” as part of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Prelude No. 2 in C minor.” The artist explains in his liner notes:
“Here I am able to show how my eclectic interests and inspirations allowed me to intertwine two major standards from two different genres.”
When they move from a classical presentation to hard-bop swing, I am enchanted. I enjoyed hearing Carlo De Rosa’s double bass solo on this arrangement and was fascinated with how Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons complimented that solo on drums in a most unique and artistic way.
The stories this trio tells is represented by the works of Duke Ellington, John Lennon, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, J.S. Bach, Fats Waller and Paul McCartney. Although the songs are familiar, they have been completely re-arranged and consequently reinvented. These compositions sound fresh and revitalized, from the much recorded “Caravan” to the beautiful and somewhat obsolete composition by McCartney titled, “Junk.” The faces of these musical masterpieces are presented in uniquely different lights. Here are three dynamic musicians who smartly bring be-bop, pop and classical music together seamlessly and wrap us warmly in their musical garment. The release date for this awesome recording is October 7, 2016.
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AL STRONG – “LOVE STRONG – VOLUME 1”
Al Strong, trumpet/flugelhorn/steelpan; Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons & Lajhi Hampden, drums; Lance Scott, bass; Ameen Saleem, acoustic bass; Ryan Hanseler, piano/Fender Rhodes; Lovell Bradford, piano/organ/Wurly; Joel Holloway & Charles Robinson, Hammond B-3 organ; JC Martin, guitar; Brevan Hampden, percussion; Shaena Ryan Martin, baritone saxophone; Bluford Thompson, tenor saxophone; James ‘Saxmo’ Gates, alto saxophone; Alan Thompson, soprano saxophone; Jordan Baker, Charles Robinson, Jeremy “bean” Clemons & Bluford Thompson, Jr, Party Boys vocals; SPECIAL GUESTS: Ira Wiggins, alto flute; Joey Calderazzo, piano; Devonne Harris, Fender Rhodes; Ameen Saleem, Acoustic bass; Brian Miller, tenor saxophone; Lummie Spann, Jr., alto sax; The KidzNotes Mozart Chorus – Children’s Voices.
Al Strong comes be-boppin’ into the room complimenting his name; strong! The cut is titled “Get Away 9” and these musicians exemplify the concept of taking flight and ‘getting away’ excellently, starting with Jeremy ‘Bean’ Clemons on drums. He rumbles onto the set and spurs the horns into action right from the first four bars of this up-tempo-get-away. Wait! Didn’t I just hear this drummer on another CD I recently reviewed by Craig Hartley? Looks like he gets around in the studio. The featured artist, horn to lips, blows with gusto on this, his original composition and conveys a story of a possible road trip where musical friends indulge in spirited conversation along the way. They each have a lot to say, reflecting the magic of this project from the very first solos by Ameen Saleem, solid on acoustic bass. Other conversationalists are Clemons, dynamic on drums; Lavell Bradford, improvisational on piano and Bluford Thompson on tenor saxophone. Between Thompson’s commanding solo and Al Strong playing with time on his horn and riffin’ trumpet descants against the tenor sax lines, this listener experiences a conversation of sorts between ‘the cats’. Saleem is no slouch on his big, fat bass notes that support the entire ensemble throughout this song. This is a jazzy party, in the basement with the blue light on! I played this interestingly arranged tune four times before I could go on to the rest of the album.
The children’s voices caught me off guard on cut number two; (the kidzNotes Mozart Chorus). Singing a’cappella with innocence and sincerity, they performed the familiar “Itsy Bitsy spider” nursery rhyme. Strong has developed this happy-go-lucky childhood memory into a jazz tune worthy of a listen. He puts the blues into the mix, along with modern jazz, inclusive of free-flowing improvisational solos going on beneath his solo, like the walking bass and Ira Wiggins on a fluid alto flute. This time Lajhi Hampden is on drums.
It appears Al Strong has gathered a number of musicians, hand-picking those he felt would best interpret his arrangements and original compositions. “Lilly’s Lullaby” plays like a dirge and features the sensitive accompaniment of Joey Calderazzo on piano. But it’s always Al Strong, whose trumpet sensitivity and technique bring musical magic to each song. Be it familiar or original, he pours his heart and soul into playing it. I also found the freedom in his arrangements glamorize his accompaniment in extraordinary ways. It’s not often that an artist so lovingly and openly let’s his musicians shine with such strength and clarity. Often, they play simultaneous to solos. I find myself listening to the background musicians and instrumentation as much as the front line players. Strong is to be complimented on his deftness as a producer, arranger and free spirited musician.
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LITTLE JOHNNY RIVERO – “MUSIC IN ME”
Truth Revolution Records
Little Johnny Rivero, congas/bongo/timbales/talking drums/Quinto/barril de bomba/chants & minor percussion; Zaccai Curtis, piano/Fender Rhodes; Luques Curtis, bass; Ludwig Afonso, drums; Brian Lynch, trumpet/Louis Fouche, alto saxophone; SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrad Herwig, trombone; Jonathan Powell, trumpet; Alfredo De La Fe, violin; Natalie Fernandez, vocals; Anthony Carrillo, bongo/bata/barril de bomba/cuas/maracas; Luisito Quintero, timbales; Giovanni Almonte, poem; Manny Mieles, chant vocals; Edwin Ramos, coro.
Now here we have a bright, happy music project that is a true pleasure to attend and enjoy. My feet start patting and I am invigorated by the percussive energy, delightful horn licks and master musicianship. Percussionist/composer, Little Johnny Rivero successfully combines New York City East Coast energy with his Puerto Rican roots and infuses his production with Afro-Cuban rhythms. The very first tune, “Mr. LP” sets the standard for this entire project. Danceable and energetic, Rivero dedicates his composition to L.P. Founder, Martin Cohen, who he refers to as a dear friend and father figure in his liner notes. Special guest, Conrad Herwig, brings substance and creativity on his trombone. However, it’s Luques Curtis on bass and Rivero who steal the spotlight with their exciting rhythms and the locked down tempo and groove dancing beneath the Zaccai Curtis piano solo and Herwig’s trombone talents. Jonathan Powell, on trumpet, is also powerful on this cut. “Music in Me”, the title tune, is a sweet, Latin, jazz Rhumba with the intro melody playing cut-time atop multi percussive double-time rhythms. Brian Lynch’s trumpet solo is formidable, followed by the smooth, sexy sound of Louis Fouché on alto saxophone. Pianist, Z. Curtis, and Rivero have co-written this composition and it’s dynamic in production. I enjoyed the “La, la, la” vocals of Natalie Fernandez on “Palmieri, Much Respect”, cut #5. Fernandez has a unique timbre and tone that immediately catches the attention, even though she sang not one word, except “La-la” to reference the melody. It was an interesting concept that worked. In fact, this entire musical menu is delicious to the creative palate and to the discerning taste of this jazz aficionado.
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DAVE STRYKER – EIGHT TRACK II
Dave Stryker, guitar; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Jared Gold, organ; McClenty Hunter, drums.
Once again, guitarist Dave Stryker has taken a basket full of hit pop and R&B tunes, then transformed them into jazz using organ, vibraphone, guitar and drums. He opens with “Harvest for the World” a popular Isley Brothers hit record. The problem for me, right off the bat, is that I miss the strong bass line that pumps tunes like this up into the Billboard top ten. No matter how hard excellent drummer McClenty Hunter plays, he can’t compensate for the lack of that strong bass line. I enjoy Stryker’s unexpected introduction on “What’s Going On”, made famous by Marvin Gaye and recorded a million times by many other musicians. Once again, the lack of a strong bass line takes away from the strength of this arrangement. Although Nelson’s vibraphone work is admirable and Gold’s organ accompaniment and solo are well played, I am still missing that bass line. I can hear the organ bass line on “When Doves Cry” way in the background. Perhaps it’s the mix on this project that is troubling me. That being said, I commend Stryker for choosing a list of eleven popular songs for us to rediscover in a jazzy way. He offers “Trouble Man”, “Midnight Cowboy”, Stevie Wonder’s, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Send One Your Love”; the Temptations, “I Can’t Get Next to You” (written by Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield). These Motown gems for sure deserve to be ‘funk’ infused somewhere. “Send One Your Love” is very sweetly done, almost like a Bossa Nova, but not quite. Hunter tears the drums up on “I Can’t Get Next to You”, putting funk into the production, but without that all important bass line, it’s still lack-luster. To his credit, Stryker always manages to give a new perspective to these old, familiar songs and all the players manage to improvise so well that at times you totally forget what hit-parade composition they are improvising over. This is the case with “I Can’t Get Next to You.” Every solo is spirited and exciting, in spite of the lack of bass groove. Then, on the very end of the song, I hear that organ bass line being pumped out in a ‘walking bass’ that is intriguing. I think on “Time of the Season” they finally got Gold’s bass line delivered, where it sounds mixed into the production properly. The ensemble found a strong ‘Swing’ shuffle groove on this composition. When the musicians Traded Fours it stamped this Zombies tune with jazz approval.
As always, Stryker remains tenacious in delivery and improvisation on his six-string guitar. After 30 plus years in the music business, he continues to showcase his power as an arranger, as well as a player. Jaren Gold is also to be commended on his arrangement input on tracks 1, 2, 5 and 6. One of my favorites was Striker’s arrangement of “One Hundred Ways” and “Sunshine of Your Love”. All in all, just subject to the nostalgia that these wonderful songs conjure up, Stryker should get plenty of airplay on this, his 27th CD release as a leader.
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MEHMET ALI SANLIKOL & WHATSNEXT? – “RESOLUTION”
Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, conductor/composer/arranger/harpsichord/clavinet/oog prodigy/keyboards/ney/cumbus/ud/talking drum/wter pot/vocals; Utar Artun, piano/Phil Sargent, electric guitar; Fernando Huergo, electric bass; Bertram Lehmann, drums; George Lernis, bongos/darbuka/def/tamvourine/cymbals; Mark Zaleski, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Dave Milazzo, alto sax/clarinet; Rick DiMuzio/tenor saxophone/clarinet; Aaron Henry, tenor saxophone; Jared Sims, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Mike Peipman, trumpet; Jeff Claassen, Tom Halter & Jerry Sabatini, trumpet/flugel horn; Chris Gagne, Clayton DeWalt & Tim Lienhard, trombone; Gabe Langfur, bass trombone. GUEST ARTISTS: Anat Cohen, clarinet; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Tiger Okoshi, trumpet; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Nedelka Prescod, vocals.
From Turkish rhythms to full, swinging, big-band-arrangements, here is a project that speaks volumes about how jazz touches cultures and how cultures embrace jazz as the epitome of freedom and self-expression. I own a middle Eastern keyboard that has a multitude of cultural rhythms programmed into it. I was interested in hearing how this creative effort might embrace Malfouf, Fallahi, Maksum, Kazak, Saidi and various other Middle East rhythms. Starting with the very first cut, “The Turkish 2nd Line (New Orleans Ciftetellisi)”, this multi-talented artist opens with Middle East microtones and rhythms that quickly liquesce into something resembling a New Orleans orchestra. The production features lush horn harmonics built upon a rhythm section that sounds very Turkish in origin. This complete project is music Sanlikol (the artist) composed in the summer of 2015 and is meant to reflect the point where two cultures meet; his Turkish roots and American jazz. It was Mehmet Ali Sanlikol’s desire to discover his musical roots that led to a decade or more of unearthing Turkish music and soaking up microtones, Middle Eastern modes and rhythms.
“When I realized that I didn’t know much about my roots, that was a big shock and I think it triggered something in me that’s deep,” he explained in liner notes.
The second composition, full of minor modes and a male voice that sings like a distant chant or prayer over unusual rhythms and sparse orchestration, takes us back to a time and place far from American shores. So does cut #3, “Whirl Around.” This third composition takes us through a series of moods and musical revelations that are both interesting and creatively compelling, this time featuring a male voice and female vocalist, Nedelka Prescod, who moves from Turkish mode with English lyrics to improvisational scat at the snap of a finger. It’s an interesting concept. This music is unlike any jazz album I’ve heard before and that is quite a statement for this jazz journalist to make. I’ve listened intently to jazz music for most of my life and this concept is fresh.
When “Concerto for Soprano Saxophone and Jazz Orchestra in C” begins to play, I am enthralled with the various song cycles. One is titled, “Ballad, Reminiscence.” I am taken aback by the bluesy beauty of this composition. This production lends itself to an Ellingtonian sound with lovely horn arrangements and featuring emotional and moving solos by Dave Liebman with the jazz orchestra.
Mehmet Ali Sanliko was born in Istanbul and studied piano with his mother. He began performing publicly at age five. Winning a scholarship, he arrived in Boston to attend the prestigious Berklee College of Music and earned both Master’s and Doctorate Degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music. Dunya is a Boston-based independent record label that he co-founded and it’s used as a collective vehicle for contemporary music influenced by Turkish traditions.
The titles of these compositions, like the music itself, I found challenging, creatively excellent, intricate, and plush with styles, rhythms and musical persuasions that cross borders and fully entertain the listener.
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CAROL BACH-Y-RITA – “MINHA CASA / MY HOUSE”
Carol Bach-y-rita, vocals; Bill Cantos, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; John Leftwich, bass; Mike Shapiro, drums/percussion; Dudu Fuentes, percussion on track 9.
From the first cut, I have the feeling this is going to be a special musical offering. “Morning Coffee” is creative and cohesive, with a wonderful lyric and catchy, memorable melody. It’s composed by pianist Bill Cantos. Bach-y-rita sells the song and adds percussive vocals for good measure. She makes the song come alive and fades with just her voice and percussion. Nice! I love the arrangement on the old standard “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to” with the guitar trio employing a Latin, 6/8 feel that makes it a unique listening experience. Carol Bach-y-rita has a propensity for using her voice to scat percussion and I appreciate her technique and creativity. It sets her apart from the average singers and enhances her platform as a jazz vocalist. I am impressed with her timing and tackling Eddie Jefferson’s version of “Night in Tunisia” is not for the faint of heart. Obviously, she has picked a group of amazing songs to sing and thanks to unusually fresh arrangements, as well as the sensitive group of musicians she is working with, here is a collection of pure talent. The last time I enjoyed “Tis Autumn” was when I heard Gloria Lynn sing it. Ms. Bach-y-rita has changed all that with her successful vocal on this beautiful jazz standard. Larry Koonse is a sensitive and established guitar accompanist. To top off the ice cream sundae of a musical experience, both sweet and tantalizing, this vocal artist tackles the Joni Mitchell and Charlie Mingus composition, “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines.” It’s arranged by herself and reedman, Robert Kyle. They call it a Samba Reggae. LOL. Refreshing! I thought I had heard “Nature Boy” in every type of arrangement until Carol Bach-y-rita decided to sing it for us as a duet with drums. Just in case you had any doubts that she is a real jazz singer, this arrangement will put them to rest! Drummer, Mike Shapiro, plays beautifully and totally supports the artist with percussive excellence. The two of them have written and arranged “Trust”, a composition that follows, utilizing a Maracatu rhythm beneath the haunting melody. The artist performs in Portuguese with no problem and great emotion. I learned, from reading the liner notes, that she is conversant in five languages. Impressive!
The suggestions for airplay of this album reads, “File under jazz/vocal/Brazilian/world.” However, I say this is simply great music, featuring a beautifully recorded artist, who is shades of a female Al Jarreau or Bobby McFerrin and who is not afraid to jump off the precipice of music without a parachute.
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