December 4, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil

Planet Arts

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

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

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Ultra Sound Records

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Albany Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Susan Records

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

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

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

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

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JeruJazz Records

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

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

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

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

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November 19, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil/ jazz journalist

November 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Artist Share Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Telarc Label/Concord Music Group

Hiromi,piano;Edmar Castaneda,harp.

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps Hiromi explained it best by saying:

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

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

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Independent Label

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

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

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

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Suite 28 Records

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

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

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

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

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

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Ruby Slippers Production

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

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

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

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

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November 8, 2017

by Jazz Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

November 8, 2017


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

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

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

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Independent Label

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

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

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

The concept of this recording seems to be relating the two musical forms, (Choro and jazz) to create a conceptual album that embraces both African American jazz roots and Brazilian roots. The flowering offspring is both artistic and innovative.
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BFM Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hollistic Music Works

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

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

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

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

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

This is a recording to be enjoyed over and over again. The ensemble is as comfortable and close-fitting as hand to glove. Jared Hall’s compositions are well-written, well-played and his talent and tone on trumpet, undeniably pleasant.
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Mack Ave Records

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

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

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

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Zoho Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Krug Park Music

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

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

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

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

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

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October 25, 2017

By Dee Dee McNeil – jazz journalist

October 25, 2017

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

Yah Entertainment / S.M. Entertainment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rainchant Electric Records

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

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

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

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World City Music

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

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

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

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

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

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Tum Records

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet.

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

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

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

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

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

When speaking about his composing skills, Smith wrote:

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

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

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Mama Records

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

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

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

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

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

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Drum Voice Records

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

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

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

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

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Independent Label

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

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

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

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October 14, 2017

CD reviews by Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil

October 14, 2017

I am happy to see so much young talent popping up on the jazz scene, like the very talented MARIE SCHAFER. Even more importantly, it’s good to see so many women who are bringing their concern and nurturing spirits to the forefront in order to protest war, the disparaging of women and peace on earth with various voices of protest like SINNE EEG,JULIE BENKO, LESLIE LEWIS and even journalist turned singer, RONDI CHARLESTON. LYN STANLEY reminds us that the Great American songbook is alive and well with the help of excellent Los Angeles based musicians. Pianist/composer, CAROL ROMAN creates music for the departed and in hopes that we never forget nine-eleven in New York City. The group, NEOTOLIA,featuring vocalist NAZAN NIHAL and composer, UTAR ARTUN bring us World Music from Turkey, with a little help from featured vocalist, JOEY BLAKE and CORINA BARTRA combines cultures, exploring jazz as an Afro-Peruvian vocalist. It’s eye-opening to see how much jazz has touched the music of other countries and encouraged freedom and protest. These artists have veered away from the predictable and mundane. Here are my reviews of angel voices and other worldly music choices.

Marsch Music

Maria Schafer, vocals; Shane Savala, guitar; Joe Butts, bass; Kyle Sharamitaro, drums; Brad Black, trumpet.

This CD opens with the familiar, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” but it’s freshly arranged with only percussion and bass laying like a carpet of musical excellence for the vocalist to strut her stuff. Shane Savala’s flamingo sounding guitar adds a lovely flavor to the production. Ms. Schafer offers sweet vocal improvisation and there is a splatter of Latin percussion implemented. “The More I See You” is performed rubato at the top and moves into a slow swing with the bass pumping like a weightlifter. This vocalist is a throw-back to the days of June Christy or Chris Conner. When Marie Schafer breaks into a foreign language on the third album cut, “Estrada Branco”, I am enchanted. It’s a Jobim/De Moraes composition, featuring only guitar accompaniment. Ms. Schafer lets the listening world know that she can hold her own in the simplicity of this duo moment. However, there is nothing simple about Schafer’s improvisational skills and satin-smooth tone. She is a master of her craft.

Here is a collection of familiar, standard songs, that sound brand new because of their outstanding and creative arrangements. An example of one unique arrangement was when I heard her sing “Estate” with only bass and drums. Impressive!
Obviously, Schafer can sooth or swing at the drop of a beat. This is clearly visible on “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” where tempos melt into each other , labeling this arrangement both challenging and creative. Whatever her musicians do, they only enhance Marie Schafer’s style and beauty. She is the diamond necklace hanging around the necks of these band members and glittering brightly.

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A.T. Music LLC

Lyn Stanley, piano; Mike Garson, Christian Jacob, Tamir Hendelman, piano; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Ray Brinker, Bernie Dresel, Joe LaBarbera, drums; Luis Conte, percussion; John Chiodini, guitar; Chuck Findley, trumpet/flugelhorn; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Bob McChesney, trombone; Hendrik Meukens, harmonica; Corky Hale, Carol Robbins, harp; Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra, strings.

Lyn Stanley has consistently turned out a string of albums that celebrate the great American songbook, interpreting songs we know and love. Her smooth, silky sound embellishes the lyrics, stroking the melodies with husky vocal intention. Stanley always employs the best of Southern California’s jazz musician scene when she records. This heightens her compact discs with creative excellence. You will enjoy fourteen standard songs that sing her story and feature songs that reflect Stanley’s own life and heartbreak. The addition of strings by the Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra, combined with top horn players like Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone, Chuck Findley on trumpet/flugelhorn and Bob McChesney on trombone, make this project not only jazz, but Easy Listening.

Ms. Stanley has a rich alto range and emotional sensibilities to color each tune with believability. This comes from living life to the fullest and turning those life lessons into a musical diary, using deep and memorable compositions. The classical piano of Christian Jacob on “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is stunningly fresh, with a musical introduction that allows Ms. Stanley to surprise us with the Judy Garland standard when she enters the song vocally. Nice! Chuck Findley’s muted trumpet on “You’ve Changed” adds interest and art to her vocal presentation, although she is somewhat whinny at times. Woodard’s bluesy, tenor saxophone puts sassy sexiness into Stanley’s rendition of “Since I Fell For You.”

Here is a production and voice that will please and entertain you for years to come.

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Independent Label

Julie Benko, vocals; Jason Yeager, piano; Danny Weller, bass; Jay Sawyer, drums; Andy Warren, trumpet; Dan Levinson, clarinet; Walter Harris, trombone; Andrew Mulherkar, tenor saxophone; Vinny Raniolo, guitar; Jason Anick, violin; JP Jofre, bandoneon; Alon Bisk, cello.

There is a Dixieland-feel to this songbird’s production on the very first cut of her debut CD. Titled, “Tomorrow is a Day For You.” It’s a joyful composition penned by Benko and she explains in the liner notes that she wrote it as a celebration following the US Supreme Court decisions defending same-sex marriage. She has penned three songs on this project and all relate to her response to the world around her.

“Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” from the Broadway production, seems to mirror this vocalist’s sensibilities and style. Obviously, Julie Benko has ‘pipes’; a slang for very strong vocals. She sings with power and gusto. I recognized immediately that she has a stage voice ready to soar onto Broadway stages. When I later read her bio, I discovered I was right. She recently performed on Broadway in ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’

I enjoyed the Jason Anick violin solo on “Love For Sale”. The Jason Yeager arrangement is lovely, presenting the old standard as a tango. This vocalist executes the song well, but I don’t believe her when she interprets the lyrics. This is important, because part of the singers duty is to sell her musical stories to the listening public. Still, Ms. Benko has chosen a number of other recognizable and popular songs to interpret and for the most part, she is very successful. Ms. Benko has co-produced this album with her pianist, Jason Yeager and I would distinguish her as a musical theater vocalist with pop overtones.
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An ArtistShare fan funded project

Sinne Eeg, vocals/composition; Jacob Christoffersen, piano; Larry Koonse, guitar; Joey Baron, drums; Scott Colley, bass; background vocals, Sinne Eeg, Warny Mandrup, Lasse Nilsson & Jenny Nilsson.

Here is a female artist who can compose as well as sing. It’s always a plus when you add songwriting talents to your recording project. Ms. Eeg opens with “The Bitter End” which has a country/blues feel. I wish Koonse, on guitar, had over-dubbed some really down and dirty blues guitar to embellish the vocalist’s arrangement. However, the composition itself is well-written and Larry Koonse is steady and tenacious on rhythm guitar. On “Head Over High Heels,” Sinne Eeg shows off her scatting skills. Her vocals are smooth and warm as sweet butter on hot waffles. The thing that draws you into this artist’s presentation is her rich, honest, tonal quality. I appreciate Sinne Eeg not being whinny or nasal, but singing full voice, squeezing emotion out of each lyrical expression with sincerity. “Love Song” is another original composition and quite beautiful. Scott Colley’s big bass sound solidifies the ballad and grounds the arrangement. The double bass is as solid as cement. With only drums to accompany her voice, she swings her way into the familiar tune, “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Eeg is a real jazz singer. She’s not another Easy Listening vocalist or another singer of standard love songs. She’s not re-singing the great American Songbook. Instead, she rejuvenates and explores her music, searching for new expression and stretching the boundaries of her creativity. That’s really what jazz is all about. She also makes a political statement with her composition, “Aleppo,” musically interpreting a sad song about the strife and genocide in this Syrian city. Her lyric about war and the innocent victims of our human rage for power and greed, paints the picture of a small child trying to survive the ravages of senseless killing. Other favorites are “Time To Go,” and her creative arrangement of “I’ll Remember April”.

Sinne Eeg is the real deal. Here is a project I can wrap my mind around and play over and over again without getting bored or feeling short-changed. Her band is super-supportive and each member, a master musician in their own right. They decorate the stage for Sinne Eeg to perform with brilliance and jazzy improvisation.
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Resilience Music Alliance

Rondi Charleston, vocals/songwriter; Dave Stryker, guitar/musical director/songwriter; Brandon McCune, piano; Ed Howard, bass; McClenty Hunter, drums; Mayra Casales, percussion. Featured soloists: Tim Ries, tenor saxophone; Alex Norris, flugelhorn.

With the exception of Clifford Brown’s “Joyspring” composition and two other songs, Charleston has co-written all the songs on this album. It’s an interesting collaboration with Musical Director, Dave Stryker. The songs sound pop, but are arranged in a jazzy way. When Charleston tackles “Joyspring” she exhibits her ability to scat and swing. The thing is, when vocalists are freshly learning to improvise, they often think scatting is repeating the melody without singing words. A true scat artist improvises, changing the melody on top of the familiar chord changes. Still, I have to admire Charleston’s ability to spit out all those lyrics at a rapid rate, with good pitch and she swings hard. “Joyspring” is no easy composition to sing.

Her song, “Scrapbook” sounds more like a jazz tune than the first two songs. “Refugee” is produced as a jazz waltz and describes a female character feeling like an outcast, but still striving against all odds to compete and achieve, in spite of being different in a judgmental society. Charleston uses her composition skills to attack social issues with competent and well-written lyrics. This should not be surprising since Rondi Charleston is an award-winning journalist turned jazz singer. She has won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award as a field producer for ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Charleston has a background in acting and sang opera at Julliard before entering the world of investigative journalism. With this album project, she is living out a long-time dream to be a musical poet and jazz singer. The band is ‘kickin’ and totally supportive of her dreams. Tim Ries on tenor saxophone is smokin’ hot on the Eli Yamin tune titled, “A Healing Song.” Dave Stryker has done a great job of co-producing this compact disc with Charleston. However, this artist has a way to go in order to find her musical sweet spot and to develop her vocal jazz style. This is certainly a good start.

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Dove Street Music

Carol Roman, composer/pianist/arranger; Michael Higgins, guitarist; Charles Holt, Clydene Jackson, Leslie Lewis, Tina Meeks, Margaret Owens, Nadine Risha & Shantih Haast guest vocalists; Richard Jennings, flute/soprano saxophone.

I’ve known Carol Roman for several years, but I never knew about her talents as a pianist and songwriter. She was coming to jazz shows and that’s how we met, both being jazz aficionados. So, when she shyly handed me her latest CD, I was surprised. The music on this CD is in memoriam of several people dear to Ms. Roman, as well as the victims of the 9/11 tragedy in NYC. It’s easy listening, classically flavored music that is simply produced. The composition quality, I found beautiful and peaceful. Featuring mostly Carol Roman’s talents on piano, the first instrumental tune also includes the complimentary flute licks of Richard Jennings. Ms. Roman has composed all the music except track six, written by Shantih Haast. She has also written most of the lyrics. Clydene Jackson interprets vocally on “A Time Gone By,” a song that celebrates the strength of the human spirit, living, loving and praying for peace, while protecting freedom. Ms. Roman has utilized a large group of guest artists from Los Angeles’ talented singer’s pool, to interpret her original songs, with much success. Michael Higgins adds guitar to the mix on “Bud’s Song.” Amy Jahn was the lyricist for this original composition by Carol Roman. Nadine Risha’s lovely vocals are featured. I was surprised to see that Leslie Lewis is also one of the voices who is singing on this album of Roman’s original music. Surprised because I also had received a new album from Ms. Lewis to review. Carol Roman is not jazz. It’s easy listening and features several angel voices who sing tribute songs to the dearly departed, making for an unusual and touching topic of inspiration.

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Interrobang Records

Nazan Nihal, vocals/lyricist/composer; Utar Artun, composer/pianist/arranger; Jussi Reijonan & David Fluczynski , fretless electric guitar; Bruno Raberg, acoustic bass; Bassam Saba, ney; Tahi Aydogdu, Qanun; Arto Tuncboyacryan, vocals/percussion; Dave Wecki, drum; Yazhi Guo, dizi; Bruno Raberg, acoustic bass; Jussi Reijonen, guitar/oud; Giuseppe Paradiso, Drums & percussion; Galen G. Willett, Elec bass; Tao He, Erhu; Joey Blake, vocals; Naseem Alatrash, cello; Layth Sidiq, violin.

It was unique listening to this album, because it is sung in an unfamiliar language. For that occurrence, this reviewer had to peel her ears to the melodic structure, the production, the captured emotion of foreign vocalists, and then I read the translated words of the lyrics in the liner notes. Nazan Nihal is a stunning lyricist who is reaching out to the world with words asking us to make a change for the betterment of humanity. The first song is titled “Once Upon A Life.” It has a very haunting melody and the production is ethereal, making me see heavenly constellations and a sky full of sparkling stars as I listen. Nihal’s soprano voice soars operatically, then settles smoothly into her chest register as she sings, “Souls wither in time unless watered by love.” This “Once Upon A Life” composition touches my heart.

“Song of the Monastery” sounds like a pop song. I learn that it’s a traditional Turkish Folk song and it’s the story of a pond and fountain, located in the middle of a monastery where young girls dance and play music.

“Neotolia” is an international band of diverse and skilled musicians, under the leadership of pianist/ composer, Utar Artun, and singer/songwriter Nazan Nihal. They are Turkish and this music is steeped in the rich culture of Eastern Europe, Western Asia and the Mediterranean. Much of it reminds me of the prayers I heard during my travels to Turkey, Palestine and Dubai. This is not jazz. However, I did hear a very fluid scat part performed perfectly by Joey Blake on “Rondo Afro Turea,” another original composition by Utar Artun.

Here is a production that is basically World Music and I decided to review it because these musicians are using music to dissolve prejudice and hierarchies across the board, using both lyrics and their musical arrangements to combine cultures.

If you are looking for something musically unique, you will find it here.
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Blue Spiral Music

Corina Bartra, vocals; Steve Sandberg, piano; Victor Murillo, bass; Jay Rodriguez, saxophone; Seth Johnson, guitar; Perico Diaz, cajon; Vince Cherico, drums.

I have one more World Music project that I feel compelled to mention. It features the rich, rhythmic vocals of Corina Bartra who blends the music of Peru, Brazil and Cuba on this new production. Bartra is categorized as a jazz/World Music artist. I hear lots of Afro-Cuban influence in her vocals and once again, I am left to ‘feel’ the music and connect with the emotional production, since I cannot understand her language on many of her lyrics. This is happy music. Music that makes you want to move, dance and hum along with the melodies. Corina Bartra is a human bird whose phrasing and vocal gymnastics explore her wonderful vocal range and presentation. On her original composition, “Ecstasy Green” she shows off her minor chordal tones and lets her soprano notes dance atop the music, like flags waving in the breeze. This is followed by her rendition of “Bridge Over Trouble Waters” sung in English, but colored by unexpected inflections of a foreign language and her unusual tonal style. There is something cat-like about the way she purrs and whines her way through these lyrics. Shades of Eartha Kitt creep from her vocal style and I am reminded of this great American Jazz vocalist and actress by Ms. Bartra’s vocals. Jay Rodriguez adds his screaming saxophone to this song, quite appropriately. “El Guaranguito” is joyful music. It’s noted as an Afro-Peruvian traditional composition on the album cover. This is followed by a Jobim composition, “Samba de Aviao” that switches and sways off the compact disc, like the well-built hips of a well-endowed mambo dancer.

Bartra has composed six of the twelve songs on this CD. Her compositions stretch her vocals to their limits and she inspires her energetic band to pop like rubberbands. They snap with rhythm and enthusiasm. She takes chances with vocal acrobatics, sliding to the notes and using staccato to punch lines and melodies. She has a bigger range than the late Abbey Lincoln, but there are moments when her tone is similar to this iconic American jazz singer. Sometimes I found brief seconds of pitchiness, that interrupted my enjoyment, like stepping bare-footed on a hot stone. But Most importantly, Bartra embraces the element that has made jazz so popular across the globe; improvisation! She boasts degrees in jazz percussion and a Master’s degree in vocal performance from Queens College.

This is my first time hearing an Afro-Peruvian jazz singer/songwriter, who combines Criolla music with jazz. It was an excursion into the unknown that was pleasantly surprising.
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Surf Cove Jazz

Leslie Lewis, vocals; Gerard Hagen, piano; Peter Giron, bass; Mourad Benbammou, drums.

From the first rich tones of this astoundingly provocative singer, I am corralled by the emotion she exudes and her unique tonal style. Leslie Lewis’ band and arrangements propel this singer into the realm of memorable inspiration. For example, on the Beatles “Come Together” hit song, they have transformed this pop hit into a very acceptable jazz standard. All the arrangements are attributed to the talents of Leslie’s gifted husband, pianist, Gerard Hagen. Together, this Orange County, California couple relocated to Paris in 2012, where their plates became full of French bread, fine wine and gigs.

The title tune, “Fragile,” reminds us that violence and war threaten the delicate balance of humanity and the earth itself. “Hallelujah” is recorded with a blues/waltz feel and sung quite powerfully by Lewis. She has the kind of power-house voice that could mesmerize audiences from a Broadway stage. “Feeling Good” has a more jazzy sound, as her voice sparkles above Mourad Benbammou’s drums during the initial introductive prelude.

One of my favorite cuts on this recording is “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” a song that brings back memories of the early seventies when Carley Simon’s voice was all over the pop radio stations that were playing her music. But Ms. Lewis is no pop singer. She is jazz through and through. I have seen her perform in person, and she also exudes that “It” factor that no one can explain. She knows how to mesmerize a crowd. In the same breath, that gift is often difficult to capture in the recording booth. It is often something you need to be present to experience.

Lewis’ interpretation of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time” is done as a Smooth Jazz funk arrangement. Finally, “I Can’t Stand the Rain” finalizes the album with one of Gerard Hagen’s unusually creative arrangements. This R&B hit record by Ann Peoples has been transformed into a funk-jazz production and it works!

“Fragile” is the 5th recording by Leslie Lewis on the Surf Cove Jazz label. In total, this couple (Hagen & Lewis) has recorded eight compact discs that are being distributed and played all over the United States, Asia and Europe. Ms. Lewis has also performed as featured vocalist with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, the Pacific Symphony, the Jazz Tap Ensemble and has performed with members of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Gerard Hagen is an active performer and when not recording, producing, arranging or playing piano for Leslie Lewis, he can be found at the International Music Educators of Paris College of Music, where he currently teaches.

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Tribute to Jazz Masters and Other Sheroes & Heroes

October 7, 2017

CD reviews by Jazz/Journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

October 6, 2017


Nestor Torres, flute; Silvano Monasterios, piano; Jamie Ousley, bass; Michael Piolet, drums; Jose Gregorio Hernandez, percussion. SPECIAL GUESTS: WDNA SCHOLARSHIP Recipients: Miguel Russell, percussion; Ian Munoz, alto saxophone; Marcus Grant, drums (on ‘Cute’).

Silvano Monasterios opens this CD with some ‘down-home-blues’ piano playing. When Nestor Torres enters on his flute, he reminds me of a Herbie Mann album I used to listen to as a teenager. “Swingin’ Shepherds Blues” brought back wonderful memories of learning about jazz and listening to a jazzy flute during my high school years. “Memphis Underground” is the second cut on this recording, and it spews happiness. This song features scholarship recipient, Miguel Russell on percussion and it swings hard in a very Latin inspired way. Also, the young alto sax player is Ian Munoz, who offers an appealing solo performance. On the fade of this tune, Torres inspires the younger players to get ‘free’ and to express themselves during an improvisational spotlight. They shine! Every tune on this up-beat production is draped in energy and flavored with Caribbean rhythmic excitement, creating musical wonder. Torres reached into the lovely “Spain” composition to slow the production down briefly, before flying full force and energetically into the popular Chick Corea composition. The arrangement is well played technically and challenging. Once again, pianist Monasterios is dynamic and impressive on the keys. Every carefully picked jazz song is played with the utmost care and consideration. You will hear the work of Yusef Lateef, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, Neal Hefti’s “Cute”, (that features young Marcus Grant on drums), and even some Cole Porter tunes. I enjoyed every single cut on this compact disc. Nestor Torres brings out the best of his ensemble and is thoroughly inspirational on flute, propelling the music forward like a wizard with a silvery, magic wand. The music is captivating. This eleven-song recording is meant to be a homage to early flute masters like Frank Wess and Moe Koffman, as well as legendary modern flautists like Hubert Laws, Herbie Mann and Yusef Lateef. Well done!

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Mack Ave Records

John Beasley,piano/synthesizer/conductor/arranger; Ben Shepherd, acoustic/ electric bass; terreon Gully & Gene Coye, drums; TRUMPETS: Bijon Watson, Jamie Hovorka, Jmaes Ford, Brian Swartz, Brandyn Philips. TROMBONES: Francisco Torres, Wendell Kelly, Ryan Dragon, Steve Hughes, Ido Meshulam. WOODWINDS: Bob Sheppard, Danny Janklow, Tom Luer, Thomas Peterson, Adam Schroeder, Alex Budman. SPECIAL GUESTS: Conrad Herwig (trombone); Kamasi Washington, tenor saxophone; Pedrito Martinez, (percussion); Dianne Reeves, (vocals); Regina Carter, (violin); and Dontae Winslow, (trumpet/spoken word).

September of 2017 issued in a slew of new music to treasure and enjoy. Among them was John Beasley’s recent release. He is a master musician, pianist/arranger/conductor and this is his second escapade with big band arrangements that celebrate Thelonious Monk. The first tune, “Brake’s Sake,” is full of powerful funk and hip hop. It features the rhymes of Dontae Winslow and the trumpet mastery of the same young man. I am reminded of Quincy Jones on this arrangement. Some years back, Quincy like Beasley, incorporated modern music with old-school jazz sensibilities. This song bring back memories of the seventies and eighties, when I remember how Quincy used the poetry of the Watts Prophets, featuring Otis Smith-O’Solomon’s poem, “Beautiful Black Girl” on his album titled, “Mellow Madness.”

Speaking of “Q”, he has written in Beasley’s CD liner notes, “Thelonius Monk was one of a kind, and so is John Beasley. He hears things in Monk’s music that no one imagined. And he can make an orchestra sing like an uncaged bird.”

That pretty much sums up this entire album.

Beasley has a way of reinventing Monk’s music, while staying true to the composer’s original concepts and melodies. He incorporates a host of impressive guest artists on this Volume Two “Monk’estra” project. You will hear the jazz violin of Detroiter, Regina Carter; the Avant Garde, fluidity of tenor saxophonist, Kamasi Washington; the vocal prowess of Diane Reeves, along with the percussive brilliance of Pedrito Martinez. Another featured, young, up-and-coming reedman is Danny Janklow, solid on alto saxophone. Conrad Herwig is a special guest on trombone.

The Thelonious Monk compositions are well chosen and for the most part, familiar. I enjoyed being re-introduced to “Brake’s Sake”, “Played Twice,” “Light Blue” and “Work.” All you Monk lovers will be thoroughly entertained.

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Outline Records

Jane Ira Bloom, soprano saxophone; Dawn Clement, piano; Mark Helias, bass; Bobby Previte, drums; Deborah Rush, voice.

It seems more and more that artists are melding their instruments with other art forms in order to express a multi-artistic platform for their music. Jane Ira Bloom has embraced the writing talents of visionary poet, Emily Dickinson and created a 2-pack CD of innovative soprano saxophone compositions for her jazz quartet to interpret.

Winner of the 2017 Downbeat Critics Poll for Soprano Sax, Bloom is always challenging herself to re-imagine her musical goals. I learned, from Bloom’s liner notes, that Emily Dickinson was a pianist and improviser herself. Using fragments from Dickinson’s poetic works, Bloom has composed pieces that celebrate words like: “I felt a cleaving in my mind – as if my brain had split – I tried to match it – seam by seam, but could not make them fit.”

Jane Ira Bloom makes the music fit the prose. She has been sharing her soprano saxophone talents with the world for four decades and has won several awards for her always unique body of music, including being a ten-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association Award for soprano sax and the Charlie Parker Award for Jazz Innovation. She’s won too many awards to list them all here, but a few others are the Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Award for Lifetime Service to Jazz. Jane Ira Bloom was the first musician commissioned by the NASA Art Program and was honored to have an asteroid named in her honor by the International Astronomical Union. This CD is another example of her musical innovation and brilliance.

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Independent Label

Dana Fitzsimons, drums; Chris Otts, tenor saxophone; Patrick Arthur, guitar.

Here is a Jazz ensemble, featuring Atlanta-based drummer, Dana Fitzsimons. He’s in musical partnership with two other Atlanta jazz musicians; Chris Otts on tenor saxophone and Patrick Arthur on guitar. Otts recently received his Master’s degree in Jazz Studies and has his own debut album titled, “Layers”. Arthur just finished his degree in Jazz Performance and has his own performance group called, “Grut”. Fitzsimons reflects the least amount of performance skills, because he has been busy being a successful attorney dealing with trusts and estates, with a Juris Doctor degree from William and Mary Law School. However, he has a degree from Ithaca College in music, and has always longed to record an album. Surrounded by excellence, this is his premier attempt.

It’s an unusual blend of instrumentation, eliminating the expected piano, bass and drums trio and using instead, drums, guitar and saxophone. The challenge with this combination of musical instruments, is that you have to pursue prominent solos, unusual arrangements and exceptional musicianship to pull it off. This project disappoints with lack luster energy. Although Chris Otts is an award-winning performer/composer and arranger, He cannot save this easy-listening and somewhat Avant Garde concept.

According to the liner notes, Fitzsimons wanted to move away from the ‘Swing’ tradition and eliminate the need to lock in the time with a bass player. Instead, he has chosen sustained sounds and less rhythm to interpret familiar songs like “Poor Butterfly” and “Pure Imagination”. They tackle Chick Corea’s “Matrix” composition and Bruce Hornsby’s “Fortunate Son”. The Hornsby composition was included to celebrate, Williamsburg, Virginia where Fitzsimons lived, studied drums, law and raised two children. This is meditative music, but nothing to pop your fingers to or make you want to dance or paint or write. I found it repetitive and very low energy.

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Avant Bass

Jackie Allen, vocals; Hans Sturm, composer/bass/producer; John Moulder, guitars; Tom Larson, keyboards; Dane Richeson, drums/percussion; Geoff Bradfield, soprano & tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; Victor Garcia, trumpet; Andy Baker, trombone.

This album opens with what sounds like poetry and prayer . Here is a project with an unusual blend of song choices and spoken word. The liner notes describe this first cut as a Ghanian Islamic chant of welcome. It features drummer, Dane Richeson. The music floats from a Flamingo sounding guitar to a big band sounding blues. After the spoken words, (that hints at spells and Voodoo secrets) arrives this old-school arrangement, heralding rhythm and blues with a jazzy New Orleans horn section punching lines in the background. There is a soulful organ solo by Tom Larson on keyboard. Obviously, these artists and this collection of songs, shun categorization.

This is a conglomerate of original compositions, composed by bassist/producer, Hans Sturm. Allen and Sturm are musical partners, as well as husband and wife. They’ve been performing together since the early 1980s. Back then, they were a voice and bass duo act. Sometimes the music is pop/folksy. On tunes like “The Laugh That is You” the group swings in a jazzy way. “Moon’s On the Rise” exhibits more of a Latin production theme, in a smooth jazz sort-of-way. John Moulder is nicely spotlighted on guitar.

Jackie Allen puts her heart and soul into this music, be it blues, swing or ballad. Here is an art adventure, not necessarily restricted to jazz. Instead, it seems musically open-ended. However, meter-wise and as a published songwriter myself, I sometimes had difficulty making the lyrics fit the rhythm of the melodic line. I realize that it’s a matter of artistic taste. Despite this critique, the compositions shine with beautiful and quite poetic lyrics by Sturm. Those lyrics are printed on the CD insert, so you can read the prose along with Jackie Allen’s sincere interpretations.

This CD has been five years in the making and I would have to say, it’s uncategorical art.

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Hollistic MusicWorks

Rob Schneiderman, piano; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Ralph Moore, tenor Saxophone; Gerald Cannon, bass; Pete Van Nostrand, drums.

Here is a CD full of compositional diversity. Schneiderman is a prolific songwriter and presents a variety of arrangements that range from Smooth Jazz Funk on “Left Coast Lullaby” to the Latin fused “Footloose Freestyle”. He offers mellow ballads like the standard, “Unforgettable,” to “Distant Memory,” a Straight Ahead composition where Schneiderman stretches his fingers across the keys like a restless butterfly. His arpeggio runs and bright solo work stimulate this project.
I believe I may have witnessed Schneiderman working with Charles McPherson in the early 1980’s when I was often in San Diego enjoying the jazz scene. “Slap Dance-Tap Stick” is very Thelonious- Monk-sounding. The liner notes describe this work’s harmonic structure as based loosely on “I Got Rhythm.” Another composition, “Windblown,” is a melodic waltz. The amazing talents of Brian Lynch on trumpet and Ralph Moore on saxophone certainly add spark and creativity with their horn lines and individual solos on this tune and throughout the album. Schneiderman’s choice of band members is superb and each brings their genius into play on this project. All eight of Schneiderman’s original compositions are works of art that are brought alive by these competent players. I was particularly taken by “The Lion’s Tale” that ends this album.

As someone who has worked with some of the most iconic jazz players of our time, including Eddie Harris, James Moody, J.J. Johnson, Clifford Jordan, Art Farmer and the TanaReid quintet co-led by drummer Akira Tana and bassist Rufus Reid, you will hear this seasoned veteran reflect his many influences in both his compositions and piano style. Every cut on this production is wonderfully arranged and celebrated by Schneiderman and his star-studded band. This is the kind of jazz album that never grows old.

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September 14, 2017

By jazz journalist, Dee Dee McNeil

September 14, 2017

As summer winds down, I’ve received a number of newly released CDs that merit time and attention. I had to pry myself away from the television and the heart wrenching videos of families, homes and lives torn apart by Hurricane Irma, a storm that devastated Florida, the Virgin Islands and touched down in other states like North Carolina and Georgia. Before that, there was Hurricane Harvey that flooded and battered Texas. I believe music is healing and sometimes calming to the nerves. Today, I needed calming, as I continue to pray for the millions affected by these sever hurricanes, I put my music on.

Speaking of calming, the first CD I listen to is by CATHERINE MARIE CHARLTON, a pianist/composer who creates New Age music in celebration of painter, Andrew Wyeth. Next, SHERMAN IRBY & MOMENTUM offer an ensemble of iconic jazz men and original music that is straight-ahead jazz at its best. Vocalist, MICHELLE LORDI, serenades her listeners with familiar jazz standards. Trumpet connoisseur, JOHN DAVERSA, featuring BOB MINTZER, has penned an album of wonderful original compositions and so has vocalist, composer, pianist, CAROL ALBERT. There’s a beautiful, innovative album by GARY MEEK, another excellent composer who plays a mean tenor saxophone. Finally, there’s PAUL McCANDLESS and his adventures with oboe, featuring PAUL WINTER CONSORT. Explore these artists in my latest column at

Phil’s Records

Catherine Marie Charlton, piano/composer/arranger; David Darling, cello; Nancy Rumbel, English horn

New Age would be the description I would use for this piano music by Catherine Marie Charlton. Grammy Award-winning producer, Phil Nicolo, has established a new record company and has signed this artist to be one of the first on his label.

The reference to ‘The Wyeth Album’ refers to a fascination Charlton has for the paintings of Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009) and his illustrator and artistic father, N.C. Wyeth (1882 – 1945). As Catherine Marie Charlton searched for inspiration to compose and play her beloved piano, she found a connection with these two artists.

Here is a smooth blend of classical, easy-listening and New Age music. She debuted her music from this album on June 29th at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, during the opening week of an exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of Andrew Wyeth’s birth. Most of her recorded music features Charlton’s original compositions and Charlton says that she uses painted art, nature and poetry as catalysts and meditative touchstones to create her music.

Charlton claims to have found her ‘authentic’ self during the creation of this album and has expressed it musically through her self-penned compositions. Notable covers include “Die Luft 1st Blau”, a solo piano improvisation on a Schubert melody and her world premiere of a chorale composition by Andrew Wyeth’s sister (Ann Wyeth McCoy) “Helga Suite:Chorale”. She also incorporates Opus 75, No. 5, by Jean Sibelius in cut #2, Granen (The Spruce).

I found Charlton’s music both compelling and spiritual. There is something other-worldly about her connection with the piano in these sparse, but provocative arrangements. It’s a music I would recommend listening to during meditation or moments of contemplation. It’s the kind of peaceful music you hear at the Spa during your massage. There is something spiritual here that reverberates with each song played. Her careful collaborations with New Age GRAMMY® Award-winners, cellist David Darling and English horn player and producer, Nancy Rumbel are lovely. Also, she collaborated with producer Will Ackerman on this project.

Charlton earned a degree in both engineering and music at Cornell University. She was named one of the “Top Ten College Women” in U.S. GLAMOUR Magazine. She’s been a Steinway Artist and Independent Music Awards winner, noted for her classically-based improvisations that bridge Jazz and New Age music styles. Like Wyeth’s paintings, this album of music is definitely a work of art.

For more information see: or visit
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Black Warrior Records

Sherman Irby, alto saxophone; Eric Reed, piano; Gerald Cannon, bass; Willie Jones III, drums; Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Elliot Mason & Vincent Gardner, trombones.

Cerulean is a deep, blue color glowing like a clean, clear sky, and this CD is steeped in shades of blues. Starting with “Racine,” this arrangement offers an introduction, like a prayer or a meditation featuring bassist, Gerald Cannon. The song suddenly bursts into a moderate tempo’d, straight-ahead masterpiece of both composition and musicianship. From the very first strains of this original jazz composition by Irby, I am hooked. The harmonic horn arrangements brightly color the theme and allow a platform for the individual solos to be spotlighted. Sherman Irby embodies his musical influences, including Cannonball Adderley, Benny Carter, Jimmy Dorsey, Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker. However, Irby’s saxophone sound, tone and style are all his own.

The second cut, “Blues for Poppa Reed,” allows pianist, Eric Reed, to stretch out his busy fingers and to interpret his inner-most feelings, carving creativity across the black and white keys. On the Mulgrew Miller tune, “From Day to Day,” Irby tributes the pianist/composer who left us way too soon, (Miller passed at fifty-seven-years-young), and was a personal friend of Irby’s.

This is Irby’s eighth album as a leader. His outstanding cast of musical characters make up the group he titles, Momentum, each member, a genius artist in their own right. Irby has written “Willie’s Beat” (aka: The Sweet Science), to showcase the talents of Willie Jones III. Jones makes good with every swipe of his sticks and each polished rumble of his masterful trap drums. There is a very melodic ‘hook’ to this song that sets up a memorable groove where the musicians can solo and Jones makes technical magic on his several bar solo. He’s also ever present and powerful beneath the band.

Wynton Marsalis makes a couple of guest appearances on cut # 8 and cut #10. The eighth tune is titled “John Bishop Blues” and it is a nitty-gritty, low-down blues with Irby and the bass setting the production firmly in place at the introductory top, before piano and drums join them. When Marsalis adds his distinctive trumpet voice to the mix, it soulfully encapsulates both gospel and New Orleans jazz flavors. The trumpet and saxophone harmonics, interplaying between Reed’s soul-laced piano improv, reminded me of an old White House Coffee sponsored jazz show out of Chicago that I used to listen to on radio many, many years ago. There was something nostalgic about Irby’s blues tune.

Irby has shared his talents as an artistic member of such groups led by Marcus Roberts, Roy Hargrove, Elvin Jones, Papo Vazquez and more recently, as part of the tour with McCoy Tyner. He participated in the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program and leant his talents to youth education, as part of the Jazz Masters Workshop.
Everything recorded here puts the capital E in excellence. The arrangements are astonishing and the song choices apropos to represent legendary jazz history with 21st century influence. For example, Irby adopts songs like Stevie Wonder’s composition, “Smile Please” as a straight-ahead jazz production and succeeds in a marvelous way. I admire Irby’s smart and innovative sax solo on this tune. This project inspires happiness and after all, that sums up the title of Wonder’s tune, doesn’t it?
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Independent Label

Michelle Lordi, vocals: Bill Avayou, drums; Mike Frank, piano; Larry McKenna, tenor sax; Matthew Parrish, bass/producer; John Swana,. Trombone; Sonny Troy, guitar; Jay Webb, trumpet.

Michelle Lordi opens with the title tune of her new CD and sets the precedence for what will follow. She has a pleasant, inviting tone and vocal style. Her ensemble is seasoned, featuring Philadelphia jazz veterans who support her with well-performed musical strength and sensitivity. The horn section is nicely arranged and compliments Lordi’s vocal execution. This is especially evident on Irving Berlin’s popular song, “They Say It’s Wonderful,” and on “No Moon At All.” Larry McKenna has written stellar arrangements and Jay Webb’s trumpet solo is memorable on “No Moon At All.” Guitarist, Sonny Troy, executes a short, but very well played solo on “The Lamp Is Low” followed by Larry McKenna on tenor saxophone. Mike Frank adds his bluesy artistry at the piano and trumpeter Jay Webb gets to add his say-so before the vocalist rejoins the group to complete the song.

Produced by bassist Matt Parrish, who has recorded with luminaries like Regina Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Paquito D’Rivera, this is an easy listening music project with songs we love to hear that are well played and well sung.
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BFM Jazz

John Daversa, trumpet/EVI; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet/EWI; Zane Carney, guitar; Joe Bagg, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Jerry Watts, Jr., bass/U-bass; Gene Coye, drums.

Publicity notes describe Grammy-nominated artist, John Daversa as an internationally respected performer, trumpeter, EVI player, composer, arranger, producer, bandleader, educator and BFM Jazz recording artist. That’s quite a list of accolades, so I was eager to hear him play. I was not disappointed.

The very first cut, “Ms. Turkey” struts out the gate playfully and flies straight-ahead into the room. After Daversa sets the tone and tempo with his smooth, trumpet sound, Bob Mintzer joins in on tenor saxophone to solo. Joe Bagg adds Hammond B3 organ charm to the mix and as the chord changes climb the progressive ladder, the ensemble builds the energy to a fever pitch and pops the ending in our face like a champagne cork. The music bubbles with energy.

On the jazz standard, “Donna Lee” the ensemble settles into a blues shuffle, with Coye’s drums slapping the groove into place. After Daversa’s solo, the band doubles the time and enter Bob Mintzer on bass clarinet, flying around the disc with improvisational gusto. Joe Bagg takes a turn on piano, with Gene Coye continuously pushing the rhythm with flawless drums. Both tunes are a great way to start this CD and to introduce the listening audience to these masterful musicians. Bassist, Jerry Watts, Jr. locks horns with the drummer and they hold the rhythm solidly in place. Zane Carney’s guitar is a fluid rhythm throughout.

Daversa continues to play at the speed of sound, racing through the changes on “Be Free” until the rhythm suddenly turns down, from a hot boil to a slow stew. They retard the rhythm and the energy, creating an open effect for imaginations to run wild. It’s a bit Avant Garde and dissonant at times, in a pleasing kind of way. When Watts, Jr. starts walking his bass swiftly, the ensemble follows his pace. They continue to exhibit the title of this tune, being free with their improvisational skills. The melody reminds me a bit of the Thelonious Monk tune, “Rhythm-a-Ning”.

The CD’s title tune was named by Daversa’s six-year-old daughter. “Wobbly Dance Flower” is delightful of spirit and tone, challenging the music to march with a touch of Latin charm and big band flavor. This sextet has a big, bold sound on this tune. While Daversa seems to take great pleasure in exploring the full register of his instrument, Gene Coye is given free reins to let loose on his trap drums. He speeds away, like an untethered, wild horse.

John Daversa has won the Herb Alpert Award, the David Joel Miller Award and awarded winner of the Best in Show and Awards of Excellence in Creativity/Originality and Production in the Global Music Awards. He is currently the chair of Studio Music and Jazz at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. This is his fifth album as a leader and I’m certain we will be hearing and enjoying many more to come.
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Independent label

Carol Albert, keyboards/bass programming/lead vocals/piano/producer/arranger; Trammell Starks, drum programming/keyboard/producer/horn arrangements; Rafael Pereira, percussion; Sam Skelton, saxophone/flute; Alfreda Gerald, Tony Hightower, Cheryl Rogers, background vocals; Susan Bennett and Ivette Ballara, spoken word Spanish; Sam Sims, Chocolat Costa & Joe Reda, bass; Chris Blackwell, guitar; Melvin Miller & Darren English, trumpets; Scott Meeder & Wayne Viar, drums.

She’s a singer/songwriter and pianist. This talented woman has recorded a unique and lovely album of her original compositions. She has written every song, with the exception of the very popular “Mas Que Nada” that she plays and sings with silky smooth vocals. This is an easy-listening project, perfect for Smooth Jazz radio airplay. Favorite cuts are: #4, “Across the Sky” that reflects shades of Marvin Gaye and Sadé, wrapped richly in her production and in the arrangement grooves. Cut #5, “One Way” sounds like you should be listening to it while on a highway, driving at maximum speed, and covered by blue skies, sunshine dreams and chasing a ‘Fly Away Butterfly’.

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Independent label

Gary Meek, tenor saxophone/composer; Terri Lyne Carrington, drums; Brian Bromberg, acoustic bass; Michel Forman, piano; Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn; Bruce Forman & Michael Lent, guitar; Airto Moreira, percussion.

Surrounded by a cast of characters who are some of the A-list of jazz musicians, Gary Meek has written a complete CD of original tunes and Mack Avenue Records artist, Brian Bromberg, has produced it. This is an exciting array of talent, compositions and arranging that explores the virtuosic reed talents of a man who boasts several decades on the jazz scene. Gary Meek has contributed to over 150 recording projects. In the eighties, he toured with Dionne Warwick and also the popular Brazilian jazz artists, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim. Airto is a special guest on this current project. For five years, Meek toured with José Neto and a group they formed called, “Fourth World.” Winding their way from continent to continent, they performed in Asia, Europe, and South Africa. Afterward, in 1991, Meek released his first CD as a leader. This production is the follow-up to that project. No matter that it’s fifteen years later, because his sense of excitement, innovative ideas and great composer skills has definitely been worth the wait.

Starting from the tune, “What Happened to My Good Shoes?” the CD is off and running like a bull after the matador. It’s a tenacious composition, fiery and straight-ahead. Brian Bromberg makes a masterful statement on bass during his solo and Meek is solid and stellar on his tenor saxophone throughout, whether soloing or playing harmonies with Randy Brecker. “When You’re A Monk” keeps the motion and movement of this CD high energy and compelling. The melody line strings the solos together like a necklace of freshwater pearls. “Suite for Maureen” is more Smooth Jazz and once again exemplifies Gary Meek’s talent for melody. His compositions leave plenty of room for musicians to be innovative, but he never forgets the importance of melodic basics and he’s good at establishing the sing-able lines right up-front and memorably. I enjoyed the echoed unison lines and the change of pace, three-minutes in, elevating this tune with tinges of Latin joy and percussive beauty. Brecker shines on his trumpet during a spell-binding solo. Airto and Terri Lyne Carrington are amazing on their respective percussive instruments and pump the music up with enthusiasm. Mitchel Forman soaks up the spotlight, opening “Spiritual for Iris” with a tender, acoustic piano solo. But it’s Gary Meek, on his tenor saxophone, that caresses and pets this song alive. He makes me feel the spirituality cocooned inside his music.

To sum it up, I hear a great deal of love obviously wrapped inside each production and every song. Meek has placed his compositions into the hands of stellar players who clearly enjoyed performing the music as much as Meek enjoyed writing it.
Other tunes I found compelling were “Stella on the Stairs”, written for his chihuahua dog and playful with horn lines and solos that race around a minor blues mode. “Pacific Grove Fog” is sexy and reflective of the foggy seaside neighborhood Meek calls home. It is one of my favorite compositions on this CD. There is not one bad tune on this project. You will find beauty from beginning to end.
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PAUL McCANDLESS – “MORNING SUN ADVENTURES WITH OBOE” featuring the Paul Winter Consort – A Retrospective
Living Music

Paul McCandless, oboe/English horn; Paul Winter, soprano & alto saxophone; David Darling, cello; Ralph Towner, 12-string guitar/classical guitar; Oscar Castro-Neves & Webster Santos, guitar; Herb Bushler & Glen Moore, Eliot Wadopian, Gary King & Szao Machado, bass; Collin Walcott, Bré & Glen Velez, Guello & Cafe, percussions; John Clark, French horn; Paul Halley, piano/organ; Don Grusin, keyboard; Paul Sullivan, piano; John-Carlos Perea, Jim Scott & Renato Braz, voice; Jamey Haddad & Steve Gadd, drums; Tim Brumfield, organ; Gordon Gottlieb, timpani; Steve Gorn, bansuri.

This musical journey is a blend of classical, easy listening and fine orchestration. It’s a compilation of tunes pulled from various albums. Paul McCandless comes from a very musical family. His paternal grandfather was a multi-instrumentalist who played oboe, violin and the baritone saxophone. His dad taught band orchestra, football band, choir, music theory and counterpoint in the Public-School system. His mom was also a music teacher, who took over her husband’s job as high school band director when he joined the United States army.

At age nine, young Paul McCandless took up saxophone and oboe. His parents encouraged him to concentrate on the oboe. The rest is history. Paul McCandless started playing with the Paul Winter Consort in 1968 and they recorded many albums. This project is a result of several recordings, among them, the Charles Ives Show in 1974, when McCandless and Winter were dark haired and wearing hippie shirts. Other music has been pulled from the Common Ground album in 1977; the 1985 Canyon album, the Icarus album, the Crestone album and more. This is a project that embraces double-reed master, Paul McCandless, recording with the Paul Winter Consort over the past 45 years. If you are a lover of oboe and English horn, here is a musician that brings the very best out of both instruments, complimented by the Paul Winter Consort group.

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August 24, 2017


By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil
August 24, 2017

Independent Label

Manny Echazabal, saxohones; Tal Cohen, piano; Dion Kerr, bass; David Chiverton, drums.

Manny Echazabal is a young composer and reedman who has written everything on this CD. His compositions are smart, lyrical and inspire improvisation by his talented band members. There’s something pensive and sexy about tunes like, “Out of Sight Out of Mind.”

The title tune races swiftly into the room with the rolling drums of David Chiverton pushing the energy ahead like a bowling ball. When Tal Cohen joins the scene on piano, the pins fall. He strikes with 2-handed ferocity.

I enjoyed “The Green Monk”, a tune with shades of Thelonius peeking through the unforgettable melody. Echazabal is impressive with his composition skills.

Inspired by Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter and Kenny Dorham, Echezabal is a native of Miami and has been developing his style and approach as an aspiring jazz musician since middle school. In high school, he joined the band, where he expanded his talents to playing tenor saxophone, flute and clarinet. Respected as both a composer and bandleader, two of his compositions have already won Downbeat’s award for Outstanding Small Group Performance. (i.e. “Unknown Identity” and Spt”). This is an artist to keep an eye on and an ear out. September 17th is the expected release date on Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

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Zoho Records

Oscar Feldman, alto/soprano saxophones; Antonio Sanchez, drums; John Benitez, acoustic/electric bass; Leo Genovese, piano/keyboards; Guillermo Klein, keyboards/vocals.

Feldman is a native of Cordoba, Argentina. His father was Director of Culture and owned an art gallery. So he has always been around art, music and diverse artists. His love of saxophone started early and he formed a band, “Los Musicos del Centro.” He also worked with a couple of South America’s most influential artists, Hermeto Pascoal and Dino Saluzzi. This led him to relocate to the big city of Buenos Aires. In 1992, Feldman won a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston. This scholarship brought him to the United States, where he settled into the fast pace of New York City. Consequently, this recording is a compilation of cultures and creativity.

When I listen to reed instruments, I’m always listening for the sound and style of the player. Oscar Feldman’s alto saxophone approach reflects a thinner sound than I am drawn to, but it’s still pleasant. I enjoy the way he refreshed the Paquito D’Rivera arrangement of “I Let A Song Go Out of My Heart” by elongating the tune’s meter. He and his band stretch the outer-limits of the melody like a thick rubber-band.

His soprano sax on “La Cancion Que Falta” is sensitive and sweet. The translation of the song title into English means, “The Song That Is Missing”. It follows a spirited, straight-ahead production and that makes this song sounds like it should be on another CD, featuring easy listening tunes. Their arrangement took me abruptly out of the jazz groove set by their first song, and for some reason, vocals were added that didn’t seem properly mixed into the music. I was perplexed by this song.

“Viva Belgrano” is Feldman’s only original composition on this CD. The melody is poignant and lovely. On this tune, he returns to his alto saxophone and the straight-ahead jazz I love so much. This song celebrates a famous goal that his hometown football team made. You can hear the crowd in the background of the music and the sports announcer’s voice is also mixed in. The title of his CD also celebrates this goal, i.e. “Gol”. Leo Genovese plays a spectacular piano solo and Feldman investigates the outer limits of his horn on this piece, travelling to Avant-Garde places.
Drummer, Antonio Sanchez, gives a long and exciting solo at the song’s fade.

“Murmullo” is a Cuban bolero and it’s beautifully produced, featuring Feldman on soprano saxophone. I appreciate the sound and tone of his soprano saxophone, more so than his alto. I feel his spirit on this song and I wonder if it’s the song or the instrument. I can hear an obvious comfort level. On this 1930 ballad, Benitez gets an opportunity to show us his bass chops, brief but powerful.

This CD begins and ends on a high note. “I Feel Fine” is as exuberant and intoxicating as the first cut.

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Zoho Records

Garry Dial, piano/arranger; Dick Oatts, soprano/also Saxophones/flute/arranger; Rich DeRosa, conductor/arranger/big band orchestration; THE WDR BIG BAND: Johan Horlen, alto sax/flute/clarinet; Karolina Strassmayer, alto sax/flute; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor sax/clarinet; Jens Neufang, baritone/bass saxophones/bass clarinet; TRUMPETS: Andy Haderer (lead); Wim Both (alt lead); Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls & John Marshall; TROMBONES: Ludwig Nuss, (lead); Shannon Barnett & Andy Hunter. Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone/flute; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Reedman, Dick Oatts, pianist, Gary Dial and arranger/conductor, Rich DeRosa, have embarked on a project to find and record rare and unheard music by the great Duke Ellington. This is one of the most exciting tributes to Duke that I’ve heard in recent years.

“Hey Baby” is ten-minutes of high energy instrumentation with improvisation propelled by DeRosa’s smart arrangements. The production is very modern, leaving a lot of room for the horns to harmonize and the soloists to be spotlighted. On the second cut, “ Let The Zoomers Drool “, pianist Gary Dial is outstanding and sparkles above the arrangement like the Big Dipper on a clear night. These arrangements are a horn player’s heaven.

The Ellington compositions are fresh, some are unfamiliar, but all are beautifully produced. The WDR Band is sourced with exceptional musicians who captivate with their star-studded performances, whether soloing or playing in concert. This is a project I could not stop listening to and I played it at least seven times before I wrote a word about this exceptional jazz. I am so appreciative to the artists who are featured and to Dial, Oatts and DeRosa for this treasured gift of musical history and legacy.

Stephen James, the nephew of Duke Ellington explained, “In 1979, my mother, Ruth Ellington, and I wanted to record and archive all of the Tempo Music catalogue. This included compositions by my uncle, Duke Ellington, and many of his musical associates. We hired Garry Dial to do this job. I am thrilled, that after 38 years. Garry has revisited the more obscure tunes of Duke Ellington. ‘Rediscovered Ellington’ will bring this beautiful, rarely heard music to the public eye. Garry Dial, Dick Oatts and Rich DeRosa, along with the WDR Big Band, have managed to capture the essence of Ellington. I am proud of their swinging contribution and I know my mother and uncle would be smiling.”

There’s not a bad cut on this recording; not an ill-chosen composition. Everything here is the epitome of excellence. It’s definitely a collector’s item.

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dB Studios

Darren Barerett, trumpet/keyboards/percussion; Santiago Bosch, piano/keyboards; Alexander Toth, bass; Anthony Toth, drums; Clay Lyons & Erena Terakubo, alto saxophone; Judith Barrett, percussion; Kurt Rosenwinkel & Nir Felder, guitar; Chad Selph, keyboards.

At first listen, I had a 1950 & 1960 jazz flash-back and I mean that in a good way. That didn’t last long. This is a surprise package of infectious music. First cut, “The Opener,” and title tune sets the energetic precedence of this recording. A fluid piano solo sets the tone for Darren Barrett to flex his trumpet muscles. He brings fire and fury to the bandstand, with drums that sound like gunshots when Anthony Toth pops them. Barrett builds on themes and grooves in a very modern jazz way, but at the same time, his compositions are melodic. His chord changes leave enough room for the power and excitement of talented musicians to explore improvisation and freedom. There’s an element of ‘Hip Hop’ and fusion in the way he produces his music, with loops and grooves prevalent.But on top of it all is undeniable ‘Straight ahead’ jazz.

Cut #3, “dB-lemma” is a perfect example of this and gives bassist Alexander Toth a perfect platform to solo in a very tenacious way.

Impressively, Darren Barrett has composed, arranged, engineered and produced everything on this album of quality music. Barrett is thoroughly entertaining and pushes the boundaries with his horn, with his compositions and his unique production ideas. I was completely entertained and pleasantly pleased from the first cut to the last.

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Maria Record Label

Jorginho Neto, trombone/composer; Sidmar Vieira, trumpet; Robson Couto, bass; Gustavo Bugni, piano; Vitor Cabral, drums,Alexandre Mihanovich, guitar; Thiago Alves, contra bass.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice echoes through my living room, muffled by heavenly horn sounds featuring a prominent trombone and an interlude piece based on the gospel song, “Amazing Grace.” Dr. King is speaking his historic speech about the possibility of his not getting to the mountain top, and it moves me back in time, to our struggle for civil rights and the man who believed in non-violent protest. The background music, titled “Gracie” reminds me of a Louisiana funeral procession. But the music of Martin’s day during the 1950’s and 60’s celebrated revolution and change. I recall the year that Dr. King was murdered, Sly & the Family Stone were encouraging people to “Stand” and James Brown was screaming “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” In the jazz world, Miles Davis was sweeping the jazz world with his popular, “Sketches In Spain” CD, and Coltrane and Don Cherry were collaborating on the LP, “Avant Garde.” John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” changed that Broadway song into a jazz classic. That’s what was happening during Dr. King’s activist days. but, I suppose this young artist was trying to reference the Christian church with this very dirge sounding music rather than the popular music of that time in history. And of course, that makes sense. I admire that Jorginho Neto wanted to celebrate this Peace Prize recipient who gave his life for good.

The very next tune that blasted onto the scene was full of Funk and Fusion. It’s the title tune, “Harlem.” That’s when I turned to the liner notes to read who Jorginho Neto really was. I discovered he started his musical life playing his beloved trombone in church at the age of thirteen. I discovered he’s Brazilian. I could see by his performance, on-line, that indeed he is a young and talented player and obviously, someone who admires Dr. King, but he was not here in our country for that struggle.

His compositions, after the first cut, are all very Herbie-Hancock-like or Fusion jazz. The solemn beginning interlude fades to a joyful sound. Dr. King would have liked that.

But I still wanted to know why he had Dr. King at the top of his CD project and why he named the project, “Harlem.” His CD sleeve is written in Portuguese, so that was no help to me. I called his publicist and asked permission to send a few questions to this talented, Brazilian, trombone player. Here is what he told me.

DEE DEE: Who were your biggest music inspirations?

JORGINHO NETO: “Frank Rosolino, JJ Johnson, Raul de Souza, Tom Jobim, Herbie Hancock, and especially the álbum Head Hunters.”

DEE DEE: Why did you name this CD Harlem?

JORGINHO NETO : “The name of the CD Harlem, because in 2013, I played at the Summer Festival Brazil, in New York. I had the opportunity to stay two weeks in Harlem. I Identified with African American history and culture.”

DEE DEE: Does anything about Harlem and its people remind you of Brazil?

JORGINHO NETO : “Yes, the People of Harlem remind me of the Brazilian People in some ways. The people have have similarities in Joy, perseverance and Struggle.”

DEE DEE: Why did you quote Dr. King? What does he mean to you?

JORGINHO NETO : “Martin Luther King Jr is one of the most important leaders and symbols in the world for all people. Especially African Americans, of course, but he is admired by Brazilian people as well. He is a warrior for racial battles, something the Brazilians experience in our own way too. His “I Have a Dream” speech resonates for all of us.”

DEE DEE: Do you struggle for civil rights in Brazil?

JORGINHO NETO : “Yes, Brazil has struggles with civil rights to this day. I live in a poor neighborhood in Sao Paulo in Brazil and I see injustice economically and racially in my country first hand. There is a lot of corruption in Brazil. Through my music I try to share some of that message and use it as a force to fight against the corruption that plagues us.”

DEE DEE: Music touches all cultures. What do you want people to take from your music?

JORGINHO NETO : “I want people to feel more love. Regardless of color and race or immigrants or not, we are all the same in the end.”

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Consolidated Artists Productions, Inc (CAP)

Lance Bryant, sax/vocals; Christian Fabian, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums; Special Guest: Gates Thomas, keyboard.

Here is a tenor saxophone tone and style I appreciate. Lance Braynt’s horn is steeped in blues. His melodies are crisp and succinct. No sliding to notes or squeaking tones. This reedman is virtuostic. I like the first tune, “Five Min Blues,” where he and the bass start by playing in unison, strongly selling this song’s melody and then improvise proficiently, from start to finish. This is a unique project by three uniquely gifted musicians. Christian Fabian is substantial in his rhythm position. Without guitar or piano, the trio members must each stand independently strong and yet unified as a connected band. There is an occasional exception when special guest, Gates Thomas adds keyboard effects. Everything was going great until Lance Bryant started to sing. Why do musicians always think singing is easy and disposable, like a wet diaper? I was so upset by this disrespect for vocals that I had to discontinue this review. Too bad, because I started out loving this project.

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August 14, 2017


August 14, 2017

By Jazz Journalist Dee Dee McNeil

When I think of Spanky Wilson, I think of someone who can swing a song as hard as Muhammad Ali punches. But she can also vocally caress a lyric with so much emotion that it stuns an audience into absolute silence. Still vibrant and youthful, her musical legacy stretches over a period of six decades, because her very first recording was made when she was only four-years-old. But I’ll let her tell you that story.

SPANKY: “My father played guitar and sang. He sounded just like Nat King Cole. My mother told me I used to hear Nat King Cole on the radio and I used to point and say, ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ He had that smooth, soft voice like Nat Cole. He was in a group called The Four Blotches. I used to tease him and say, no wonder you all never made it with that name. He used to say, ‘Well, it wasn’t my idea baby.’ He said they chose that name because of the Ink Spots. They all played guitar and sang. No piano or drums. My mother loved him ‘cause he was a real handsome guy. She was from Lewistown, Pennsylvania and daddy was performing in Lewistown. Daddy was there to entertain the troops. It was whatever shows they used to have that entertained the soldiers. Mom went to one of those dances and that’s how they met. After they got married, she started getting jealous, because all those ladies were flirting and fanning their you-know-whats in front of him. So, she wanted him to quite singing. I told him, daddy, I don’t know if I could ever give up singing for anybody. But he gave it up and started working on the docks in Philadelphia. He really loved my mom. He would come home from work and we’d sit on the steps in the evening. He’d teach me all these songs. Just me and him and his guitar. I was three or four-years-old.

“I keep tellin’ people this, but they don’t believe me. Back in Philadelphia, you used to be able to go into a music store where you could buy the sheet music, stuff like that and 78rpm records. You could go in there and they would have booths and the walls were glass. They had about four booths. You could make a record of your own for a certain amount of money. It was a 78rpm record and you could do two songs; one on each side. You paid them and you would leave with the record. I asked daddy, (after I started singing and moving around) what happened to that record we made when I was four years old? ‘Cause I remember the song was ‘Knock Me A Kiss.’ The other song was ‘Without A Song.’”

NOTE: In 1942 Erskine Hawkins had a 78rpm record out with vocals by Ida James, who originally recorded this song. I found it on

SPANKY: “Oh, I was daddy’s little girl and my brother was mama’s boy. Daddy’s the one who gave me the name Spanky, ‘cause my real name is Louella, you know, like Loulla Parsons the journalist from back-in-the-day. Remember her? She used to write a gossip column. I asked my mother, why would you do that to me? You couldn’t even find that name in the baby book. I was always getting into trouble. I was a tomboy. So, he names me Spanky, after that television show. ‘Spanky and Our Gang.’ “

Several amazing entertainers were born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, like Billy Eckstine, Paul Chambers, Kenny Clark, Earl ‘Father’ Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, Erroll garner and Ahmad Jamal. Spanky Wilson, although a native of Philadelphia, was raised in Pittsburgh around all that great jazz. As a teenager, she gained notoriety singing around town. Although she loved to sing, she was still shy and insecure about performing on stage. But the local musicians took note. They recognized her blossoming talent and unique voice. That’s how Stanley Turrentine heard about her.

SPANKY: “Stanley Turrentine gave me my first gig. It was on the weekend; Friday and Saturday. The musicians around town knew I could sing, but I was always scared to sing. So, he was looking for a singer and somebody recommended me. When he got in touch, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t remember the name of the club, but it was a famous club on Fulton Street. That was a very popular street in the heart of the Black community. It was 1957 and I was seventeen. I remember very well because Angie was born in 1958. Every time I’d leave my husband, we’d break up and then I’d sneak off with him and make-up. Next thing I know, I’m pregnant and I end up going back to him. I have four children. My last daughter is by my second husband who plays guitar.”

But settling down and being a homemaker was not in the cards for Spanky Wilson. The music bug had bitten deeply. She was hungry for pursuing a career as a singer. In 1967, she joined the Jimmy McGriff band. They piled into a car and drove across the country, gigging from city to city. After a six-week tour, it was June of 1967 when they rolled into Los Angeles.

SPANKY: “We were at Shelly’s Manne Hole. H. B. Barnum heard me there and expressed an interest in my talent. After the gig, I left and went back home, thinking I would never hear from this guy again. … And in September of that year, he called me to say he was ready for me to come back to California and record. I couldn’t believe it. So, He sent for me and I came out here to make a record. I was supposed to be out here no more than two months. So that’s when I went to Smitty’s house.”

NOTE: Smitty is a nickname for Howlett Smith, a prolific L.A. based composer who has written hit songs for both Spanky and Nancy Wilson i.e.: ‘Let’s Go Where The Grass is Greener,’ recorded by Nancy.

SPANKY: “I went to Smitty’s house every day to learn all the songs he had written for me. I went there for five weeks studying songs and then H. B. would choose the ones he liked the best for our session. Then he started getting me these background gigs with O.C. Smith, Lou Rawls, and the great African singer, Letta Mbulu. I kept saying, hey, I wanna go home. I mean I have children. I want to see my kids. I’ve been away too long. So now it’s the end of November, almost Christmas. I said either you send for my kids or I’m leaving. So, he ended up getting me a nice house to live in in West Covina. … I didn’t want to live in the city because they had more decent schools in Covina. I moved here in 1967, brought my kids out to California and re-established myself. I was just giggin’ around town, but I was happy doing that.”

The move to Los Angeles proved lucrative. H. B. Barnum’s production garnered Spanky Wilson an unforgettable jazz record in 1969. Howlett Smith’s hauntingly beautiful song, “The Last Day of Summer” went soaring up the music charts. Jazz stations all across the country were playing it like crazy. It was followed by an album on the same Mothers Records & The Snarf Company label titled, ‘Spankin’ Brand New.’ Her career was on fire. The next album was titled, ‘Doin’ It,’ released in 1969 and followed in 1970 by her third album titled, ‘Let It Be.’ After this release, Spanky decided to leave the label. In 1975, Spanky signed with 20th Century/Westbound Records. The new album was titled, ‘Specialty of The House,’ with the title tune released as a popular single. Spanky sounded wonderful on this recording. Her voice was bell clear. The songs were well-written and the production was lush with horns, strings and background vocals. There were plenty of songs on this album that could have been big hits for the crowd-pleasing singer. However, in the record business, unless you have a strong promotional team in place, a record can die on the vine. Spanky poured her heart out on “I Think I’m Gonna Cry.” There are some songs that were obviously produced in the Motown vein, with Diana Ross Type productions like, “I’ll Stake My Life on You, Boy.” When I looked up the credits, a Motown arranger, (Paul Riser), had arranged this song. That explained why the song reminded me so much of Motown Records. No problem! Spanky rose to the occasion, showing that she could sing anything and proving she had cross-over ability. That’s probably what the record company was looking for at that time. Her song, “Easy Lover,” reflected the appealing impression that Barry White’s hit-record productions had made on 20th Century Records. Her production sounded similar, with Spanky handling the David VanDePitte arrangements with finesse and power. This album offered her fan base and the general public a little taste of everything.

For a few years, she toured America, spending quite a bit of time in my home town of Detroit, Michigan and working at Watts Mozambique jazz club owned by Cornelius Watts. Later, she appeared at Richard Jarrett’s club, “Dummy Georges.” During that time, she was a guest on a recording by Houston Person and Etta Jones titled, “Live at the Club Mozambique” for Eastbound Records. She also was recorded by Ace Records on a compilation album, pairing her with a list of all-star artists including Jack McDuff, Melvin Sparks, Gary Chandler, Etta Jones, Houston Person and Bill Mason titled, “Together.”

Anybody who’s been in the business of making records knows that the real money an artist makes comes from being on the road, not from selling records. While record companies are busy raking in the cash from the artists’ talents, an artist has to perform in concerts and clubs to pay the bills. Ms. Wilson let no grass grow under her feet. She’s performed in thirty-five countries including Algeria, Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, the Congo, England, France, Germany, the island of Guam, Ireland, all over Japan, in Luxemburg, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Portugal, Scotland, in virtually every big city in Spain, in Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia and coast-to-coast in the United States. She also toured with the great Benny Carter as part of his “All Star” band.
I asked Spanky about her time leaving the United States and living in France.

SPANKY: “I went there in 1985. Sweets Edison got me a gig there. I had left H. B. Barnum’s label and also the 20th Century Records deal was done. Red Holloway used to use me at the Parisian Room and then Sweets Edison used to get me opening act gigs. That way, I was working all the time. So Sweets and I got to be friends. I was one of the ‘cats’ with those guys. Sweet’s started telling me I should go to Europe and they would love me over there. But I said, hey, I don’t know nobody in Europe. I’d been to Japan and Rio de Janiero in Brazil, but never Europe. But then I said – ok, hook me up, man.

“He got me a gig with the Woody Herman Band in the South of France; in Nice. So I get there, but dig this. Woody Herman’s hands were messed up. He had the Arthritis real bad and he couldn’t play, so he sang a little big. Consequently, he didn’t need a singer. So I’m there, but I’m not going to sing. OMG. I thought, what the hell am I going to do now? I can’t turn around and go back to Los Angeles after I told everybody I was going to this gig in France. So wait a minute. I knew this guy who had something to do with the jazz festival and he said, let me see what I can do. Well, the musicians all stayed in the same hotel. I used to sit in the lobby and try to learn the language and practice my French speaking. You know those dogs that used to save people that had the little canteen around their neck? St. Bernard! Well, I love animals and one day I’m sitting there in the lobby and this guy walked by with this big, huge dog and I said, oh my God, he’s so beautiful! Is he friendly? So, I started talking to the dog. And every day, he would walk down there with the dog and I didn’t know anybody but Sweets and the musicians. Funny, but me and the dog got to be friends. Finally, the dog would see me and break-a-loose from whoever was walking him and jump up on me. To make a long story short, Sweets says hey. I made an appointment for us to go up and see the head man who runs this hotel. It was the Meridien Hotel. I said, ok. He took me up to the guy’s suite and we knock on the door. Some guy opened the door and here was the dog. He jumped up on me and was so happy. He weighed about 500 pounds. That was a huge dog. But this really handsome man steps forward and says, so you’re the one that my guy was telling me about. He had heard there was a lady that sits in the lobby and that his dog was in love with this woman. I said, oh yes. That’s me. So, the hotel manager says Sweets tells me that you can really sing. I’m just going to take his word for it. I don’t need to hear you sing. How would you like to work in Paris? I said I’d love to work in Paris. He said, I’m going to send you to the Meridien Hotel there and the group is already working there. You can sing with them. I said, ok. That’s fine with me. So, the next day, I went to Paris. The Lord works in mysterious ways. They hired me for two weeks. That was in July. I wound up staying there until September.

“Just like we celebrate the Fourth of July here, well everybody that lives in Paris leaves to go on vacation in the summer. Consequently, they never book an international act in the Lionel Hampton room during summertime. They only had a local band. I was working with them. They were called, The Four Bones, and it was four trombones and a rhythm section. Francois Guin, Jean Christophe Vilain, Benny Vasseur and Raymond Fonseque were the trombone players. The pianist with them and the bass player were like my brothers. While I was there, people were coming from different clubs who had heard about me or whatever, and I got work in other clubs after I finished working there. That’s how I ended up staying for a while.”

Unlike America, in France and many parts of Europe, jazz music is embraced, culturally respected and played on the popular airwaves. You might hear Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, Whitney Houston, Taylor Swift and Spanky Wilson all played on the same radio station. Our art form of jazz is highly respected and revered in Europe. Spanky Wilson found steady work and appreciation overseas and she found love. After living together for several years, she married her musical conductor, Philippe Milantia. She explained.

SPANKY: “Yeah, Philippe was my pianist. He is a hell of an arranger and a pianist too. Neither of us wanted to get married. We got married because someone else won the election and the new president was talking about separatism. He said France was for the French. If you didn’t have papers, you had to go home. But I had told Philippe, I didn’t want to get married. I’d been there done that and didn’t want to do it again. He said he didn’t want to get married either, because his mother terrorized his father. I said, well, I ain’t your mama honey, so you don’t have to worry about that. But we had lived together for some time. We only got married to keep me in France. We were together for 13 or 14 years. We married in 1992.

“I’ve met so many record collectors, I mean serious record collectors in Europe. They can put on a record and tell you every guy who’s in the band. That’s how serious they were about jazz. And my husband was one of them. He was an expert on Count Basie. People would call him from all countries to say they had this old record, but they don’t know who’s playing on it. They would play it and he would tell them everybody who was in the band. He played with Count Basie a few times when he came to Paris. The band knew him. Jazz is like a religion to them. Here, in America, it’s stepped on, kicked around. Even the French people that have clubs don’t want French people to sing it. I had friends I met over there who were good singers. I mean really good singers. But they couldn’t get hired, because they weren’t American. They’d say Spanky, could you talk to this guy and tell him that I can sing jazz? The club owners wouldn’t even let them try out. So of course, I spoke up for them. Some of those girls were singin’ their asses off! They had a little accent, but you could understand every lyric they were singing. I helped out two or three girls who were trying to get booked in some of the clubs. You don’t have to be American to sing jazz.”
During her time in France, Spanky continued recording. In 1991, Big Blue Records released, “Singin’ and Swingin’” and another album titled, “Ornicar Big Band/L’Incroyable Huck,” featuring Spanky Wilson. In 1996, she was a guest vocalist on Christian Morin’s “Paradis Melodie” album on Une Musique label. In 1999, she recorded another solo album titled, “Things are Getting Better” for Jazz Aux Remparts label. The last CD she recorded was outside the realm of jazz, with an English group; The Quantic Soul Orchestra, “Live in Paris.”
As her stellar reputation grew, Ms. Wilson was invited to sing with some of the top musicians and French bands such as Gerard Badini’s Swing Machine, Christian Morin and Francois Biensan’s “Ellingtomania,” Marc Laferrier’s group, Claude Tissendier’s “Saxomania” and she appeared regularly with Philippe Milanta’s Trio.

Spanky worked with the iconic reed man, Teddy Edwards, over the years and in 1993 his “Teddy Edwards Quartet” album was released on Verne/PolyGram/Gitanes featuring Spanky Wilson as a special guest along with Christian Escoudé. In 1993, she was also a guest star on “Old School Band/35th Anniversary” on the OSB label.

This lovely lady with the big voice and even bigger personality was flying high. Then the unexpected happened. Both of Spanky’s parents became critically ill at home, in the United States.

SPANKY: “I came back because my mother and my father both were sick. My mother was in a nursing home in Pittsburgh and my father had cancer; Prostate. He lived in Philadelphia. So, I was hopping from one city to another, flying from Paris to Pittsburgh for two weeks. Then, jetting to Philadelphia for two weeks; back and forth. I was coming home every time I could. But you know, that costs money unless you plan it a month in advance. So just to say I’m going today, you spend a lot of money. I was taking my money and then my husband’s money to fly home constantly. I was busy working and I had to beg for days off. I mean listen. Talk about dreams. I thought I was living in a really bad dream.

“When I decided to come back home, I had already told Philippe, hey – I have to go home. I said, you can come with me. He said he didn’t want to come with me, because America is one of the most racist places he had ever heard of. I said, but we’re going to live in California. He said he didn’t give a shit what color you were, but Americans did care about that. He wouldn’t come.
“So, anyway, I had packed up all my stuff and put it on a ship, sending it back to L.A. The week after, I put all my stuff on the ship, my father died. So, back on the plane I went, to buy my father. … I was going back to Paris after I buried him, but then I found out my mom was in a comma. The same day my father died, my brother’s wife went to the nursing home and told my mother that my father had died. I guess when she found out that he had died, she wanted to die. … She always brainwashed me and my kids, saying don’t let them keep me alive on machines. Let me go. … When they took her off the machine, she lasted about fourteen hours. This was about four days after my dad died.

“So when I went back to Paris, all my belongings were on the way here. I had just put my stuff on the ship one week before they called me and told me my daddy had died. I felt like maybe it’s meant for me to come home. They said it would take six weeks for my things to get here, so I stayed in Europe with my husband for about five weeks, caught a plane and came to California.”

Being gone all those years didn’t make it easy to come back to the United States and pick up her career. She had lost her father, her mother and was separated from her beloved husband, who did not want to deal with the racism in America. It felt like she was starting over.

As we know, life always happens while we’re making plans. Without any warning, just as she started gigging and getting settled into Los Angeles living, Spanky was diagnosed with an illness that threatened her life. She returned to Pennsylvania to be with her children, unexpectedly leaving Los Angeles and her career for a few recuperative years.

I was so thrilled to hear that she was returning to California and in August, a year ago, I had the opportunity of welcoming Spanky Wilson home and in-concert at the historic Maverick’s Flat nightclub on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles. She performed to a packed house with a swinging band and all the gusto and excitement that a performer of her stature always brings to the stage.

Welcome back, Spanky. We missed you.

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August 11, 2017

AUGUST 12, 2017 – Pasadena Playhouse, Pasadena, CA

By jazz journalist Dee Dee McNeil

Tracy Nicole Chapman does an incredible job of portraying the character of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an American icon, in the musical play, “Shout Sister Shout”. Rosetta Tharpe provided a pathway for women in Rock and Roll to follow, long before it was acceptable for a female to play guitar and entertain along-side of male musicians. Tracy Nicole Chapman exhibited a powerful voice Thursday night, along with the thespian skills to persuade us she was Ms. Tharp.

Starting from the very first song, an original composition by Rosetta Tharp titled “Up Above My Head, I Hear Music in the Air” she had the audience in the palm of her hands. Logan Charles also is to be complimented on his beautiful voice, playing the part of Isaiah, who is a suicidal young man who wants to play guitar like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. God has asked Ms. Tharpe to inspire and save this child from his demons. She is expected to accomplish this before she can leave earth and go to heaven. Rosetta shares her story of triumph and tragedy with the young man, in order to give him a sense of purpose and spirituality; strength and determination. Certainly she had to use those traits to survive in a world that frowned on her dreams and criticized her personal life decisions, while she was in search of her own identity and values. The choral trio who sang “Lay My Burden Down” brought the gospel church into the crowded Pasadena Playhouse. Boise Holmes, Armando Yearwood, Jr. and Thomas Hobson played interactive parts throughout this production with strong voices and dancing abilities. They got the audience to clap and participate in the joy on-stage. Rosetta’s mother is played by Yvette Cason, whose lovely and powerful voice echoed through the theater like an electricity bolt. Her rendition of “The Lonesome Road” was spellbinding and I was truly touched by her interpretation of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord.” Angela Teek Hitchman was persuasive in three key roles. She played a church woman who tells Rosetta’s preacher husband that she saw her playing guitar and singing in a juke joint. She also plays Marie Knight, Rosetta’s love interest after three unsuccessful marriages and adds her tenacious voice to the ensemble pieces, as well as singing memorable duets with Tracy Nicole Chapman.

We learn that Rosetta Tharpe and her mother were Evangelist preachers and singers with a strong belief in the holy bible. But Rosetta’s talents on vocals and guitar were established early on and she longed to play other music. After her first marriage to an older preacher-man, she went back to making music as a solo artist. She was the first to cross-over gospel music into the realm of pop and blues; performing at the Cotton Club and even Carnegie Hall. Chuck Berry stole his famous duck-walk from none other than the popular Rosetta Tharpe. She was the first to do that move on stage. She was also the first cross-over gospel star to work with the Lucky Millander Orchestra. She was one of the few African American artists featured in the popular Life Magazine and Rosetta inspired and encouraged artists like Little Richard and Johnny Cash.

I wish the character Isaiah had turned out to be one of the many famous people that Rosetta inspired during her climb to fame like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis, rather than a non-descript person. I think that would have added to this treasured biography, because those men were influenced by Rosetta. However, all in all, this is an enjoyable musical full of history and happy music.

The band is spectacularly led by Orchestra Conductor/pianist, Rahn Coleman. Ron Bishop is superb on piano/keyboard and organ. Quentin Dennard propels the aggregation with his drums and Carl Vincent plays a mean upright bass and electric bass. Charles Fearing is the wonderful guitarist behind the scenes, who adds spunk and believability to Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s outstanding guitar solos. This is a musical play for the whole family to enjoy and an important piece of music history. It runs through August 20, 2017.