October 28, 2019

BY Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 28, 2019


Calabria Foti, vocals/violin/arranger; Roger Kellaway,piano; Trey Henry, bass; Peter Erskine,drums; Larry Koonse,guitar; Bob McChesney,trombone; George Doering, guitar; Luis Conte,percussion; John Pizzarelli,vocals/guitar; WOODWINDS: Dan Higgins,flute/alto flute/clarinet; Gene Cipriano,oboe; Glen Berger, oboe/bass clarinet; Geoff Nudell,flute/clarinet; Rose Corrigan & Bob Carr,bassoon; Terry Harrington,flute/clarinet; Bob Crosby, clarinet/bass clarinet; FRENCH HORNS: Jim Thatcher(principal); Jenny Kim, Katie Faraudo, & Dan Kelley; VIOLINS: Charlie Bisharat, concertmaster; Songa Lee, Principal second; Kevin Connolly, Lucia Micarelli, Nina Evtuhov, Joselina Vergara, Radu Pieptea, Tereza Stanistav, Armen Anassian, Marisa Kuney, Kevin Kumar, Ben Jacobsen, Michele Richards, & Jackie Brand; VIOLAS: Brian Dembow, principal; Andrew Duckles, Alma Fernandez & Rob Brophy. CELLOS: Armen Ksajkian, principal; Cameron Stone, Tina Soule & Jacob Braun; HARP: Gail levant.

The string sections sweeps into the room like an ocean wave of beauty. Calabria Foti’s amazingly velvet-smooth vocals float atop the string orchestra arrangements like a custom-built yacht. This is her fourth album release and it may be her best to date. With Charlie Bisharat conducting the orchestra and the arrangements by such talents as Johnny Mandel, Roger Kellaway, Bob McChesney, Jorge Calandrelli and Jeremy Lubbock, how could she miss? Their creative support and instrumental mastery make this project sparkle and constellate.

Opening with the title tune, “Prelude to a Kiss” the listener is gently propelled into a musical world of peace and beauty. Duke Ellington must be smiling and nodding approval from heaven. Her various song choices are perfectly adept to both Calabria Foti’s style and range. The second tune, “I Had to Fall in Love with You,” is another lovely ballad, presented with much emotion and a guitar solo by Larry Koonse. Then, on track three, Calabria Foti refurbishes “On the Street Where You Live.” She arranged it herself and she swings the popular standard with the spirited drums of Peter Erskine propelling the piece at a brisk pace. Calabria Foti takes this opportunity to show-off her jazzy scat singing abilities. Foti shows us she is also an amazing arranger and has arranged and/or co-arranged some of these songs, as well as being a very competent violinist. “Waltz for Debby,” is a challenging tune by Bill Evans and Calabria Foti makes it sound as easy as breathing in and out. Her voice gently caresses the melody and shares the poetry. Calabria Foti has a way of connecting with her listening audience and drawing you into her stories, quicksand deep. This is followed by a song I hadn’t heard before and I love it. “When I Look in Your Eyes.” (another pretty ballad) is both lyrically and melodically pleasing. Her medley, “Back in Your Own Backyard,” just using a small ensemble, with a jazzy, walking bass by Trey Henry, allows Foti to swing a couple of great tunes in a glistening chain of jazzy inuendoes, including “Give Me the Simple Life” and “The Love Nest.”

This is an album I will play over and over again. In fact, these song arrangements and this wonderful vocalist, with the support of master instrumentalists, will light up any room. They offer spectacular, fiery performances. One more thing, the vocal duet on “It’s the Mood That I’m In,” with dynamic guitarist, John Pizzarelli, is spellbinding. Calabria adds her violin chops on this arrangement. Also, her tender orchestrated interpretation of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” delights! This musical production is bound to warm any chilly evening and would make a great gift. Better get two. You’ll want to keep one for yourself.

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MIKE CADY –“TWICE AS NICE” Independent Label

Mike Cady,vocals; Mike Levine, piano; Jamie Ousley,bass; Lenny Steinberg,drums; Joe Donato, saxophone.

Mike Cady has reached back into the 1950’s jazz archives, when King Pleasure and Eddie Jefferson were writing lyrics to horn solos, and the Lambert Hendricks & Ross vocal group was spitting vocalese to vinyl. Cady opens with “Little Boy Don’t Get Scared,” a composition by Stan Getz with lyrics by Jon Hendricks and King Pleasure. Mike Cady swings hard on this opening tune, reminding us of an artform that broke ground for Hip Hop, before it was a twinkle in the twentieth century eye. The lyrics flow fast and powerfully, like a saxophone spitting words. On the second track, his delivery of the ballad, “Never Let Me Go,” is tender and believable. Mike Cady’s rich baritone voice proffers us a unique style all his own and that’s what makes for a memorable jazz artist. Mike Levine plays a lovely, piano solo on this tune. Cady follows this up with the Sam Jones composition, “Del Sasser” that the Cannonball Adderley’s Quintet epitomized on their “Them Dirty Blues” Capitol Jazz album. Carmen McRae wrote the lyrics to this song and retitled it, “If You Never Fall in Love with Me.” Mike Cady does a great job of re-interpreting this jazz standard. Jamie Ousley pumps his double bass on this one, locking in the ‘swing’ with Lenny Steinberg on drums. Together, they make a rich rhythm section for Mike Levine to dance brightly across the 88-keys.

He rejuvenates a song from the Lou Rawls vinyl, 33-1/3 rpm-record-days titled, “One Life to Live.” The lyrics perpetuate a hopeful attitude and a reminder that we all have only one life to live so live it in peace, live it in truth, live it in love. The theme of Cady’s album (on the lyrical-side) seems to remind us that we need to take a serious look at living our lives to the fullest extent and to appreciate living and loving. Cady tackles “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” and takes some liberties with the melody, a melody that is already so amazing, it probably needs no changing; especially that first, opening line. That being said, Cady knows how to sell a song and puts much emotion into his presentations. “Come Back to Me,” is another bebop swing arrangement. The trio is dynamic and pushes this vocalist with their power. It’s a pleasant surprise when Cady sings, “Something Cool,” the song that June Christy made famous in 1953. Cady is a supreme storyteller and you feel that he is singing this story directly to you. His vocal style breaks the words up like flashy pieces of confetti that he sprinkles around the room. This is Cady’s debut album and it’s a joyful celebration, perfect for the holidays.
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Joshua Breakstone,guitar; Eliot Zigmund,drums; Martin Wind,bass.

Opening with Lee Morgan’s composition, “The Witchdoctor,” Joshua Breakstone take the lead on his guitar and sets the pace for this celebration of what would have been Art Blakey’s 100th birthday year. Breakstone has chosen a cluster of songs that were composed by members of the famous Jazz Messengers’ congregation. Eliot Zigmund, on drums, offers a powerful solo and then slaps the trio back to a brisk medium tempo groove. Their second track, “Splendid” shines the spotlight on bassist, Martin Wind. He opens this tune with a melodic improvisation and displays a rich tone on his double bass. Breakstone keeps the rhythm tightly apparent beneath Wind’s solo, strumming his guitar and locking-in with Zigmund’s drums. This trio presents a tightly knit package of jazz that features Joshua Breakstone’s guitar. Breakstone is solid as the bricks and mortar of the Fillmore East theater where his sister used to work as a light technician. He remembers sitting in the theater and soaking up the music of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. His love of music developed early. Soon, he became infatuated with jazz and shortly thereafter, deeply influenced by Charlie Parker and Lee Morgan. One of my favorite cuts on this CD is Cedar Walton’s “Holy Land.”

As a serious student of guitarist, Sal Salvador in Manhattan, helped Joshua hone his chops. Later, he enrolled at the new College of the University of South Florida. They have a legacy of turning out a slew of jazz giants and the university continuously features popular jazz bands. Joshua also attended Berklee College of Music. With his lust for learning, the gypsy in his soul led him to Brazil. Once he returned to New York City, Breakstone began to get studio session calls and worked with several music giants including, saxophonist Glen Hall, Joanne Brackeen and Cecil McBee, as well as Billy Hart. In 1983, Joshua Breakstone recorded his debut album titled, “Wonderful.” Three and a half decades and twenty-one recordings later, he offers us this stellar trio production. This is his eighth recording for Capri records and it’s a beauty.
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Chris Madsen,tenor saxophone/composer; Stu Mindeman,piano; Clark Sommers,bass; Dana Hall,drums.

Chicago-based saxophonist, Chris Madsen, prowled through his old music scores and recorded ideas of songs he had written or was beginning to write in order to create this recent album of music. Madsen discovered songs that had lain dormant for years and began to re-work them into fresh arrangements and to polish his ideas. In so doing, he began to build a ladder of inner emotions. As Chris Madsen climbed inside himself, ever striving to reach the highest good in his music and in his composing, he has created gems like, “Lone Wolf.” This second track on his CD gives Clark Sommers an opportunity to use his double bass to interpret the crux of this song. It moves from a thoughtful, slow melody to a speedy, straight-ahead, powerhouse of sound. Madsen’s tenor saxophone smoothly rides the chordal waves, pushed by Dana Hall’s drums, as Sommers’ fast-walks his bass line. On the title tune, “Bonfire” pianist Stu Mindeman sets the tempo and groove, laying down a solid undertow of chords and piano technique that provides a richness beneath the tenor horn solo. Once Mindeman steps forward to solo, I find his improvisation skills to unfold tentatively, like a painter carefully choosing the shade of blue he wants to use and then splashing it across the canvas. He harmonizes with the tenor saxophone, using staccato notes that create a hook; a refrain that ties the piece together after ribbons of solo freedom.

There is lots of energy in this group. Dana Hall is responsible for quite a bit of this energy, providing his flashing drum sticks and crashing cymbals in all the right places. Chris Madsen and his ensemble build and crescendo on the composer’s various themes. Like a fire, they flicker at first and then burst into flame. This saxophonist has become more refined over the years. Together, his group creates a burning, hot and combustible piece of modern jazz, with a hard bop core. Other favorites on this album are the tune, “Hundred Center,” enhanced by Dana Hall’s mallets and offering almost a smooth jazz feel; surprising after three solid, modern jazz compositions; and “Cool Sun” offers a taste of R&B drum licks and punchy bass lines. But make no mistake, this is all jazz, top to bottom.
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Svetlana Shmulyian, vocals; Wycliffe Gordon, vocals/trombone; Isabel Braun, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano; John Chin, piano/Fender Rhodes; Pasquale Grasso & Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Elias Bailey, bass; Matt Wilson & Rob Garcia, drums; Rogerio Bocatto, percussion; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Sam Sadigursky, reeds; Michael Davis, trombone; Antoine Silverman & Entcho Todorov, violins; Chris Cardona, viola; Emily Brausa, cello.

Some singers just have the “It” factor in their tone and presentation. Svetlana has a voice you will remember and you will probably recognize that voice immediately once you hear it again. This is often the sign of a stylist, rather than just another vocalist swimming in an over-crowded singer’s pool. She also has just the tinge of an accent coloring her English. Svetlana’s latest album celebrates love tunes from motion pictures. She opens with an Alan & Marilyn Bergman/ John Williams song titled, “Moonlight,” from the 1995 motion picture, “Sabrina.”

Svetlana is a soviet Russian who, as a young, artistic-driven girl, found excitement and dreamy escape in a Moscow, underground movie theater that played Western films. It became a window into a world Svetlana envisioned, where she would become a part of the art and music freedom of expression. Consequently, the title of this album seems quite appropriate; “Night at the Movies.” Years later, Svetlana immigrated to New York City and now, here she is, living her dream.

I wish she had arranged the second track, “Sooner or Later” as a ‘swing’ tune. It would have been dynamic with a pumping, walking bass and those lyrics would have danced as a swing arrangement. That being said, Svetlana competently performs this arrangement of the tune pulled from the movie, “Tracy.” She interprets it with cabaret style, featuring Sullivan Fortner on a bluesy piano solo. I get my wish for a ‘swing’ feel from this talented lady on “Cheek to Cheek,” where she vocally duets with Wycliffe Gordon. They offer us a play on Ella and Louie Armstrong’s strong duet recordings. Trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon, has a timbre and tone very similar to the iconic Armstrong. This tune is familiar to our ears, but I didn’t realize it dates all the way back to 1935 as part of the film, “Top Hat.” The arrangement and horn licks remind us of that 1930s era. ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ gave us the gem of a tune, “Pure Imagination.” Svetlana presents it employing a slow, sexy Latin production. John-Erik Kellso takes a sweet trumpet solo. The hit record, “Happy” penned by Pharrell Williams, is reinvented in a very jazzy way. It still maintains its happy-go-lucky attitude as it swings along propelled by John Chin on piano and Rob Garcia’s brisk drum licks. This is another vocal duet with Svetlana and Wycliffe Gordon joining forces. If you’ve forgotten, this popular song that garnered gold-record -status, it was actually from the movie, “Despicable Me.”

I was glad to hear her sing, “No One’s Home” that she sings in her native Russian tongue. It’s a pretty tune with a Bossa Nova feel, taken from the production, “Irony of Fate”. This script became one of the most successful Soviet television programs and remains quite popular even today in modern Russia. Here is a vocalist who followed her dreams across continents. In the process, she built a fresh reality. How appropriate that Svetlana closes this CD with the ‘Wizard of Oz’ classic, “Over the Rainbow.” Surely, Svetlana has clicked her heels and flown over the rainbow to a world she heard of once in a lullaby. Now she sings that lullaby to us.
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LYNN CARDONA – “OPHELIA” Independent Label

Lynne Cardona,vocals/composer; Josh Nelson, acoustic & elec. Piano; Nazomi Yamaguchi,guitar; Michael Hunter,flugelhorn; Dave Robaire,upright & elec. Bass; Dan Schnelle,drums.

This is an EP, which means it’s is an album of music that offers only three songs, less than a normal album of music. However, it’s well produced and insightful into the artist. Lynn Cardona is labeled (by her publicist), a soul/jazz artist and singer/songwriter. The first cut, “A Little Too Late” is a happy production, with sad lyrics.

“When the leaves all beg the trees to let them go. … I’m reminded of a fellow that I know. Maybe he loves me, because he let me go. … And then springtime comes around and I’m swept away with daydreams and flowery fantasies. All the colors and the beauty offer themselves to me.”

The lyrics are quite insightful. The sadness in the rubato opening dissolves to an up-tempo, contemporary jazz production that becomes more hopeful, like Ms. Cardona’s poetic offering.

The second cut, “Mother Earth” celebrates womanhood and mother earth. Another poem put to music asking humanity to respect the earth, a home to us all, and in the same breath, to respect women. Like Mother Earth, who births nature, women carry the seed of man and perpetrate human life.

Matt Politano is to be congratulated on his sensitive and demonstrative arrangements for Lynn Cardona’s songs. She wrote “A Little Too Late” with Matt, who is a popular pianist around the Los Angeles jazz scene. This recording features the dynamic Josh Nelson on both acoustic and electric piano, interpreting these arrangements. On “Mother Earth” Lynn Cardona has collaborated with guitarist, Nazomi Yamaguchi. The final composition and EP title, “Ophelia” has a haunting melody that features a sensuous flugelhorn solo by Michael Hunter. Lynn co-wrote this song with Memphis organist, Charlie Wood. Sometimes Ms. Cardona reminds me a bit of Corinne Bailey Rae, an English singer/songwriter whose poetic lyrics capture the heart. The two vocalists have different vocal styles, but both write interesting and thoughtful lyrics. Lynn Cardona’s unique tone and composer skills can carry her far. Although only three songs, each offers quite thought-provoking words of wisdom.
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Bria Skonberg,vocals/trumpet/composer; Mathis Picard,piano; Devin Starks,bass; Doug Wamble,guitar; Jon Cowherd,Hammond B3; Darrian Douglas, drums/percussion; Patrick Bartley,saxophone.

The bass of Devin Starks powerfully opens this first track titled, “Blackout.” He sets the groove and garners the listener’s attention. When Bria Skonberg’s whispery, soprano vocals enter she establishes a pretty melody. Eli Wolf has produced this CD and obviously, he believes that simplicity will showcase this artist’s mastery of both her voice and her horn. I would have to agree. The sparseness in the production draws us to her unique sound and makes both her trumpet and her voice a star in the spotlight. Bria Skonberg sparkles. She is not only a delightful vocalist, but she’s a composer who writes interesting lyrics and unforgettable melodies. The second track, “So Is the Day,” mirrors the dirge -like groove of New Orleans jazz. Her horn is the exclamation mark on each original composition.

On the tune, “Square One,” her vocal timbre and style reminds me a little bit of Norah Jones. Skonberg has written six of the eight songs on this project and all are well-written, well-produced and well-played. “Villain Vanguard” gallops onto the scene with drum licks by Darrian Douglas that sound like horse hooves. This is an energy-driven song that draws the curtains open on Skonberg’s trumpet prowess She lets her horn do all the singing. The tempos unexpectedly change, like mood swings. Patrick Bartley joins her on saxophone and Skonberg delves into the realm of modern jazz and exploratory improvisation. There are many sides to Ms. Bria Skonberg’s multi-talents. The two songs she did not compose are the popular Beatle’s tune, “Blackbird Fantasy,” that is arranged in a trad jazz kind-of-way and features both piano and organ. The other cover song is the Sonny and Cher hit record, “Bang Bang,” featuring Doug Wamble’s poignant guitar and Skonberg’s canonical trumpet. The tune is arranged like a dramatic tango. “What Now?” is an original song with a bluesy undertone and gives Patrick Bartley an opportunity to solo on saxophone.

Bria Skonberg has a pop/jazz vocal style, but is all jazz on her trumpet. She’s a budding composer and these arrangements embrace the jazzy roots of New Orleans, whispers of a Dixieland influence, and an infusion of a younger, funkier style prominent on the closing instrumental, “I Want to Break Free.” The final song was somewhat marred by the drummer, who surprisingly remained slightly off-beat throughout this particular song. Compliments to the beautiful artwork on the CD cover by Lisa Lockhart. I would hang this on my wall!
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October 23, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 23, 2019

I met Conrad Isidore in the mid-seventies, three or four years after I first arrived in Los Angeles. He was a good friend of Fritz DeJean, my percussionist at that time. Like Fritz, Conrad too was a drummer and in late 1969, before he came to America, he was popular with a crew of London-based musicians. They recorded at Trident Studios, that was located in the heart of Soho in London, England. Conrad joined guitarist Alan Marshall on lead vocals and Bobby Sass on keyboards, Brent Forbes on bass, Kevin Fogerty on lead guitar and Norman Leppard on reeds. The resulting album featured hit songs like, “Stop Pulling and Pushing Me” and “Nearer the Bone.” It was released on the Fontana Record label. The group referred to themselves as “One.” As I said, the bassist in the Trident recording session was Brent Forbes and during an interview, Forbes had good things to say about percussionist, Conrad Isidore.

“Conrad was a fantastic influence for me. Great feel! He sat down one day and said to me, Brent, the notes are all right but it’s the feel … in other words, he made me think about that and I managed to maintain it and got a reputation for it over the years,” Brent praised Conrad Isidore for helping him find the ‘groove’ in his bass licks and encouraging him to express his feelings through his instrument.

This journalist remembers Conrad as very sincere, caring and a persuasive person. When Conrad spoke to you, you listened and you paid attention. He had a warm, genuine smile and was Mr. personality plus.

Conrad Isidore was a Dominican born drummer and percussionist who, in the late 1960s, had been playing around town with Joe E. Young &The Toniks, a London-based R&B group. Before that, he had played with a group called “The Links” and later with “The Grendades.” While he was with The Toniks, their bassist was Calvin ‘Fuzzy’ Samuels who ended up being featured with Bob Marley as a prominent sideman. He was called ‘Fuzzy’ because he was using a fuzz box on his bass at that time. Isidore and Samuels formed a group called, The Sundae Times, with a lead singer and guitarist named, Wendell Richardson. Calvin Samuels and Conrad Isidore were close friends, busy musicians and gained good reputations for their excellence on bass and drums. Conrad could feel the groove and transmit it through his drums.

The day that Stephen Stills heard Conrad and bass man, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels perform, he was so impressed, Stills quickly recruited both musicians to participate in his solo LP session. That iconic recording was released in May of 1970. This was the Stephen Stills, American singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whom you may recall from his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash. He’s the Stephen Stills whose work has garnered a combined sale of over 35 million albums. Today, you can hear Conrad Isidore’s drums on “The Best of Stephen Stills” album, initially released in 1976, and still available. It features the drums of Conrad Isidore propelling Still’s band from that 1970’s session that introduced Stephen Stills to the world on Atlantic Records.

Once Conrad relocated to the United States, he got busy acquainting himself to the U.S. music scene. It didn’t take long for people to notice Isidore’s percussion talent and he started playing sessions with folks like soulful singer, Joe Coker, vocalist Linda Lewis, Terry Reid, Vinegar Joe, (a group that evolved out of a 12-piece, Stax-influenced, fusion band), and Eddy Grant. Conrad played drums and sang on Eddy Grant’s record. He became part of Junior Marvin’s band for a while (Junior Marvin of the Wailers) and also worked with a group called Hummingbird. Isidore wrote many of the songs on the initial Hummingbird album and he sang on these recordings. They released three albums on the A&M Record label. This group featured drummer/songwriter, Conrad Isidore, with Bobby Tench, guitar and vocals; Max Middleton on keyboards, Clive Chaman on bass, Jeff Beck on guitar, Robert Ahwai & Bernie Holland (also guitarists) and after their first 1974 recording, Bernard Purdie joined them as their drummer.

Fritz DeJean recalled when his friend, Conrad Isidore was living in Inglewood, California.

“Conrad was kind of like me, hard-headed and independent. He wanted to do things his own way. Conrad was a multi-instrumentalist. He could sing and he could play bass and guitar. He helped me cut my first song in a home studio. He played guitar for me. He played bass, as well as piano. He could play all of it. He’s one of the very few guys on drums who I enjoyed playing with besides Munyungo (Jackson) and Lou Wilson from the Mandrill group. Conrad knew rhythm inside out. He loved Reggae and his heart was into African drums. He loved Marley and all those cats. He played with some huge, recording people, but he never made a big deal about it. Conrad was a humble man. We talked about the African roots all the time; the Nigerian rhythms. He admired the guys that played with Traffic, a group that blends African rhythms, funk and jazz. He was a wealth of information. His brother Gus is still alive. Gus Isidore is another rock musician, a guitarist.”

Always in demand, Conrad also recorded with Jimi Hendrix and Memphis Slim. On BadCat Records he recorded with Willie Bobo backing up vocalist and guitarist, Terry Reid. See the musiciansolympus.blogspot.com for a complete discography.

More recently, Conrad Isidore had relocated to Finland. He had his own band and is seen in this video on congas with Niklas Mansner on guitar; Rob Dominis on keyboards; Janne Rajala, bassist; Jori Lindell on saxophone and Leo Kylatasku on trumpet. The trap drummer is Thomas Tornroos. This video was filmed at the Bar Soho in Porvoo, Finland. Conrad also sang lead with this group.

Conrad Isidore made his transition on October 20, 2019. He left a legacy of his recorded music, featuring his brilliant and nurturing drums that covered jazz, blues, R&B and rock music. He was an inspirational, world-class musician, with a heart as big as the universe itself.

References: http://musiciansolympus.blogspot.com/2011/02/conradisidore-drums.html
Interview with Fritz DeJean

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October 22, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 21, 2019

The last time I saw Kemang perform (I always pronounce his name Kamon) was in Detroit, Michigan at the annual Jazz Festival five years ago. He was playing piano with the great Pharoah Sanders and as usual, he was innovative and artistic on his instrument. He’d been working with Pharoah Sanders for over three decades. In 2007, he recorded on both the “Moon Child” and the “Finest” albums with Pharoah Sanders. Before that, as far back as 1985, Bill Henderson recorded with Pharoah on “Softly for Shyla” and again in 1993, Pharoah released that same title on a different record label. You may remember when Pharoah Sanders featured vocalist, Leon Thomas, on his “Shukuru” LP. I believe that was in 1985. Kemang played on that one too. In 2010, the talented pianist recorded with John Carter and Bobby Bradford on the Mosaic label, a three-record box set. In 2013, Verve Records released a Hugh Masekela project he played piano on titled, “Grazing in the Grass.” In 2017, he joined Bob Shad’s production of “In the Back, In the Corner, In the Dark.” It was labeled a record that resonated spiritual funk and jazz gems. Back-in-the-day, he also was part of the Bobby Hutcherson Quartet and recorded on Hutcherson’s album, “With A Song in My Heart” in 2006. He’s been on a number of other recordings including The Ray Charles “Spirit of Christmas” CD and the Billy Higgins 1994 album release, “3/4 For Peace.” He joined Eddie Harris to be part of the popular LP, “The Real Electrifying Eddie Harris” in 1983. Bill Henderson has been making amazing music in and around Los Angeles and worldwide for many years. I found him to be a quiet, thoughtful man until he sat down at the piano and his fingers began battering those 88-keys. He was a passionate player. In the early 70’s, Henderson (our beloved Kemang) recorded with iconic reedman, Harold Land Sr. on an album called “Our Home” and later, on a couple of albums with bassist Henry Franklin. Bill Henderson appeared on the “Henry Franklin – The Skipper” LP in 1972 and “Blue Lights” was another Henry Franklin recording in 1976. In 1977, he played the blues on Big Bear Records, as part of a compilation album titled, “Homesick Blues Again.” I remember him working with the original female singer with Earth, Wind and Fire, Ms. Sherry Scott. That was back in the early 1970’s, when he was playing in her band. There have been more recordings, so many more performances in festivals and concerts across the globe.

Kemang was also a fine composer and an arranger. In 2016, I interviewed jazz bassist, Henry Franklin. Henry was very close to Bill Henderson. That was clear when Henry was explaining to me how he got his nickname of “The Skipper.”

“On our first album for Black Jazz Records in 1971, we titled the LP, The Skipper,’” Henry shared. “Pianist, Bill Henderson (Kemang), had written a tune for my son, (who is his God son) and he named the composition, Skipper. People associated the album title with my name and they started calling me ‘The Skipper’. My son’s a Junior, but he’s the original Skipper.

“Early on, Roy Ayers (the iconic vibraphonist) had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson on piano, or sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me, and Carl Burnett on drums. After high school, Elmo left and went to school at Howard University. Nobody’s heard from or seen Elmo since,” Henry told me.

Henry Franklin was only eighteen years old at that time and Bill Henderson was a teenager too. Still, at that young age they were both serious musicians determined to make their mark in the jazz world. For a while, Franklin played with a group called Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet. They formed that ensemble in 1963. It was led by Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero. In 1967 their group featured Little Joe on Vibes, Franklin on bass and Bill ‘Kemang’ Henderson on piano. Varner Barlow was on drums and Jack Fulks played flute and alto saxophone.

Over his long and passionate career, Bill Henderson worked with legends like Donald Byrd, Billy Higgins, The Afro Blues Quintet Plus One, Cannonball Adderley and Brazilian master, Moacir Santos, to list just a few. He was a highly praised pianist and the jazz community warmly embraced him.

It’s with a heavy heart that I received the news, a few days ago, that William Henderson III had left his seat at the piano to join the heavenly jazz band in the ever-after. You will be missed, Kemang, but never forgotten. Rest in Peace, my brother.

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October 17, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil

October 17, 2019

Singer/producer, Dianne Fraser, wants the community to know that cabaret is alive and well in Los Angeles. To support this supposition, Fraser and director, David Galligan, are presenting three nights of cabaret on October 18, 19 & 20th at two venues. On Friday, Oct 18th the opening concert will be at Feinstein’s at Vitello in Studio City, California. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, the excitement will continue at Tom Rolla’s Gardenia. This 3-night event is a benefit concert weekend to support the Actors Fund and will celebrate the American and Broadway songbooks featuring some of LA.’s top cabaret singers, actors and actresses. This is their sixth year of raising funds to benefit the Actors fund. This Fund fosters stability and resiliency to provide a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals.

Dianne Fraser, of Fraser Entertainment Group, has been presenting “An Evening of Classic Broadway” for the past five years and this upcoming weekend event is an extension of her concept. Ms. Fraser’s former shows have been critically praised and nominated for several awards, including the prestigious Eddon Award and the Robby Award; both award organizations support the best theater work in the Los Angeles area.

“I produce cabaret shows around Los Angeles. I do Line-up shows. This particular event, I produce annually and it’s the sixth year. This year, we have three different piano players, one for each night: Rick Hils, Tom Griep and Gerald Sternbach. We will feature a lively array of talented duos from the worlds of musical theater, film and television,” Dianne Fraser told me.

Tickets for Friday, Oct 18: https://bit.ly/2oBRGwj @ Vitellos
Tickets for Saturday and Sunday Oct 19 – 20 at Tom Rolla’s Gardenia room must include dinner reservations for guaranteed seating. Call: 323- 467-7444.

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October 15, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 15, 2019


T.K. Blue, alto & soprano saxophones;flute;kalimba;sanza, lukembi & mbira; Alex Blake,bass; Chief Baba Neil Clarke,percussion; Vince Ector,drums; Billy Harper, tenor saxophone; Min Xiao Fen, pipa; Sharp Radway, Mike King, Keith Brown & Kelly Green, piano.

Saxophonist T. K. Blue’s new suite is composed and dedicated to the memory of T.K.’s long-time bandleader, mentor and NEA Jazz Master, Dr. Randy Weston. Jazz composer and pianist, Randy Weston, passed away in September of 2018. Not only has T.K. Blue composed many of the songs on this album, he has also included compositions by Randy Weston and the late, great Melba Liston. Melba and Randy were dear friends and musical partners.

“Randy Weston was born during the era of extreme racism, segregation and discrimination in the United States,” explained T.K. Blue. “Randy was a warrior for the elevation of African-American pride and culture. His compositions, disseminating the richness and beauty of the African aesthetic, are unparalleled. His life’s mission was one of unfolding the curtain that concealed the wonderful greatness and extraordinary accomplishments inherent on the African continent.”

T.K. BLUE composed the first song,“Kasbah” and explained this title and tribute to Randy Weston.

“Dedicated to Randy’s home on Lafayette Avenue in Port Greene, Brooklyn. A ‘Kasbah’ can be described as a fortress; a safe haven. It’s a place to exchange ideas with people from many different backgrounds. Randy’s home was like a shrine, complete with a vast library of books on Africa, the African diaspora and African-American history, culture and music.”

“Kasbah” is my kind of jazz, straight-ahead and unapologetic! It’s the first of nineteen tracks on this CD of abundant and excellent music. Alex Blake is one of those bass players who grunts and mouths the music as he pumps his instrument. His solo is outstanding and pulls the curtains open for Sharp Radway on piano to glide forward and lift us with his improvisation on the 88-keys. But the star on the stage is composer, reedman, T. K. Blue. The second track titled, “The Wise One Speaks” features kalimba and percussion, along with soprano saxophone. It offers the listener a very beautiful arrangement that transports us to Africa, Brazil or the Middle East. This is world music. The T.K. Blue melodies are infectious. He’s a dynamic composer. On the fourth track, Blue begins to feature the music of his mentor. His solo horn to interpret Weston’s composition, “Night in Medina” is startlingly effective and the horn harmonics added to the mix are lovely. Billy Harper is featured on tenor saxophone during the Weston tune, “Kucheza Blues” that is proudly propelled by the percussion brilliance of Chief Baba Neil Clarke. These arrangements are stunning and exciting. It’s also wonderful to see that R.K. Blue is celebrating the talents of Melba Liston, a female trombonist, composer and arranger who broke down doors for female musicians and arrangers to walk through. Her “Insomnia” composition is well played by T.K. Blue and Sharp Radway on piano.

This is an awesome album of music and tribute. Perhaps T.K. described it best when he said: “The Rhythms Continue is my humble offering to say thank you (Randy Weston) for being a mentor, elder and teacher by sharing your infinite wisdom, and giving all of us pride in knowing who we are and valuing the brilliant cultural legacy of Africa that sustains and nourishes our existence.”

The release date for this project is November 1, 2019.
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Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet/arranger/leader; Vincent Gardner, trombone; Mark Gross, alto saxophone; Keith Loftis, tenor & soprano saxophone; Alvester Garnett, drums; Dezron Douglas, bass; Anthony Wonsey, piano. SPECIAL GUESTS: Wynton Marsalis,trumpet; Mark Whitfield,guitar; Carla Cook,vocals; Eric Wyatt,tenor saxophone.

If you are not familiar with the amazing work of Frank Foster, Kenyatta Beasley’s Septet will introduce you to Foster’s genius jazz sensibilities. For most of Frank Foster’s career, he was soaking up the mastery of Count Basie and his unforgettable orchestra. Foster is a famous composer, arranger, a gifted tenor saxophonist, as well as an educator. From 1953 – 1964, Frank Foster was a sideman and star soloist with the Basie Band. After the Count’s death, from 1986 to 1995, Foster spear-headed the Count’s historic orchestra. Over four decades, Frank foster wrote compositions that have become jazz standards.

Trumpeter, Kenyatta Beasley, was working with students at Ohio State University, as part of their faculty, when he came up with the idea of adding Foster’s original music to their jazz education program. While working on this concept, Kenyatta Beasley decided to take on this recording project. He has woven his own arrangements into those of Foster’s, while endeavoring to keep the energy and beauty of Foster’s work pristine. This is a ‘live’ concert, introduced by Harold Valle. Beasley’s Septet swings hard and plays tenaciously, opening with a tune titled, “Hip Shakin.’ “Kenyatta Beasley says he chose songs that promote swing dancing.

“We wanted to be up onstage having as good a time as the audience was,” Beasley shared.

Carla Cook joins this exploration of Foster’s music, performing the lovely melody of “Simone” with her smooth vocals and Keith Loftis soars on saxophone. Track two is one of my favorite cuts. Pianist, Anthony Wonsey, takes a noteworthy solo on “Cidade Alta” as does dynamic drummer, Alvester Garnett on trap drums. This tune is infused with Afro-Brazilian rhythms. Kenyatta Beasley steps into the spotlight on the sensual arrangement of “House That Love Built,” letting his trumpet present a compelling and emotional melodic serenade. On disc 2, I love the Loftis interpretation of “Grey Thursday,” a sexy, sultry ballad. Dezron Douglas, on double bass, offers a beautiful solo on this tune. On “Katherine the Great” Kenyatta Beasley brought up his friend, Wynton Marsalis from the audience. Consequently, Marsalis happily becomes an unexpected guest artist on this project.

Kenyatta Beasley has a master’s degree in film scoring from New York University, but his roots are deeply entrenched in his native New Orleans. He has written music to over twenty short films, three feature films and he’s written music for countless TV and radio ads. Under the tutelage of his father, Kenyatta began playing trumpet at age three. He’s performed on various musical genres and productions including Shakira, Wynton Marsalis and Mary J. Blige. Beasley has performed with the Saturday Night Live Band and the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His star continues to rise and shine with this double-set CD release celebrating his mentor and friend, the great Frank Foster. This project, recorded ‘live’ at the Jazz 966 in Brooklyn, is bound to be another celebrated musical victory for Kenyatta Beasley and is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Frank Foster.
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Fostina Dixon, alto, soprano & baritone saxophones/composer; Al Turner, bass/keyboard/percussion/ drums/producer/composer; Jeffrey Murrell, vocals; Monty Q. Pollard, piano; Mike ‘Big Mike’ Hart, Rick Watford , Gary Johnson, Wayne Gerard & Joe Foster, guitar; Ron Otis & Jeff Canady, drums; Charles Scales, keyboards; Herb Middleton, keyboard & drum programming/bass guitar/composer; Kali Douglas, piano/organ; Wado Brown “Petawayne”, background vocals; J.J. Evans vocals & vocal arranging; SPECIAL GUEST: Ray Chew, all instruments on “Thank You” plus composition credit.

Fostina Dixon has spent a long and impressive career in the music business. Not only is she exceptionally gifted on reed instruments, she composes music and has toured and/or recorded with a host of legendary musicians. She played in the Gerald Wilson Big Band, toured with the iconic Marvin Gaye, added her horn to the stages of Abbey Lincoln, Frank Foster, Roy Ayers and worked with the great Melba Liston. Her passion for teaching and inspiring young people is as legendary as her music credentials. She has been a community artisan and outstanding art educator in the Wilmington, Delaware area for many years. She is Founder and longtime Executive Director of the Wilmington Youth Jazz Band and received a Christi Award for her promotion of arts in her community.

This latest album release is pure joy and big fun! Fostina knows how to combine straight-ahead jazz and funk in a way that immediately engages the listener. Beginning with “Good Vibes” a tune penned by producer/bassist, Al Turner, this solid group of musicians have me grooving to the beat. Turner also plays keyboard, percussion and drums on this cut. Together with Big Mike Hart, who lays down a bluesy guitar and Monty Q. Pollard, who’s pumping the piano, a tight rhythm section track is created. Fostina Dixon uses their stellar support to take the spotlight on alto saxophone. She continues her spotlight appearance on alto in the next tune titled, “More.” And this reviewer certainly wants more after those two delightful original compositions. The title tune, “Vertical Alignment,” has Ms. Dixon sliding in on her saxophone, presenting a solid melody and introducing us to some new players in the band. Ron Otis mans the trap drums, Charles Scales takes to the keyboards, with the rhythm guitar of Joe Foster keeping the music flowing like a restless river. We are swept along in the jazzy, fluid spirit that infuses everything Fostina Dixon plays. The fourth cut, “The Best is Yet to Come” introduces us to vocalist Jeffrey Murrell. He’s smooth as velvet and his vocals are very soulful. Fostina Dixon puts down her alto saxophone and picks up the soprano sax for this arrangement.

Fontina wrote a tune called “Thank You” that features an infectious Latin Funk arrangement. She shows off her baritone Sax chops on this tune along with her alto. Jeff Canady is terrific on drums. Dixon never lets up with creating memorable and toe -tappin’ grooves. This is definitely a party production. “Neckbrace” features her special guest, the dynamic Ray Chew who also wrote this funky composition. I love the happy, percussive colors that paint this song brightly. This is the kind of music I want to pop into my automobile CD player and ride with. It’s energetic and inspirational. Shades of Thelonious Monk’s influence can be heard on Dixon’s composition, “Strutt’n Down Fulton Street.” Fostina Dixon reminds me of the infectious music of Grover Washington or Eddie Harris. She’s easily become one of my favorite female reed players.
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Makar Kashitsyn,alto saxophone; Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet/flugelhorn; Sasha Mashin,drums; Alexey Podymkin,piano/Rhodes; Alexey Polubabkin,guitar; Makar Novikov,double & electric bass; Hiske Oosterwijk,vocals.

Rainy Days is a Russian record label dedicated to introducing Russia’s finest musicians to the international jazz scene. This group headed by alto saxophonist, Makar Kashitsyn, is made up of American rising stars, saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and trumpeter, Josh Evans, along with Dutch vocalist, Hiske Oosterwijk. The rest of the band are Russian musicians. All of the songs herein are composed by Makar Kashitsyn, with the exception of track 4 that was written by Nikita Mochalin and the sixth track, composed by tenor sax man, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. On the title tune, we are introduced to the various players. It’s a lilting tune, a nice cross between a straight-ahead arrangement and smooth jazz, with Makar Novikov pumping his bass in a modern way. Alexey Polubabkin gets my attention with his impressive guitar work. Nineteen-year-old Makar Kashitsyn flies freely and improvises above the rhythm section’s groove. Labeled a prodigy from Moscow, he is showcasing his composer skills and saxophone chops. Both are quite impressive. The next tune, “Going to Ekaterinburg” is strongly hard bop and pianist Alexey Podymkin is brilliant on piano. Both Makar Kashitsyn and Chad Leftkowitz-Brown take opportunities to express themselves on their respective horns. The horn section itself carries the melody, as well as harmonizing and punching the rhythm throughout. They settle down on “Confession,” slowing the tempo and giving Josh Evans (who is featured on both trumpet and flugelhorn) an opportunity to step forward and sing his song. It doesn’t take long for the ensemble to change the groove and go into a walking bass line and a slow swing mood when Kashitsyn steps forward to play his innovative saxophone solo. The fifth track starts out bluesy and incorporates the vocals of Hiske Oosterwijk, whose soprano voice sings along with the horn lines. Also, at one-point, electronic equipment enters the scene, transforming the production and bringing a contemporary jazz feel to this project. Makar Kashitsyn’s compositions allow repetitious chord changes to inspire improvisation, but I miss the strength that a good and memorable melody always brings to timeless, standard jazz tunes. On “Our Song” Sasha Mashin cuts loose on drums in an impressive way. However, sometimes the improvising, especially on the fades of the songs, stops being interesting enough to hold my attention. On the final song, the vocalist finally sings lyrics on a tune titled, “Phone Call.” The lyrics do not support the title. This composition starts out as a ballad and quickly becomes a straight-ahead arrangement, moving at a double-time pace. The challenge with improvisation, that is one of the trademarks of jazz music, is that musicians come up with consistently fresh, creative and different improvisation. It should never just sound like scales or repeatable lines. When the vocalist re-enters, they bring the arrangement back to a solemn ballad. The talent and energy of this coterie is obvious and clearly these youthful musicians will continue to grow and blossom with time. This debut effort by Makar Kashitsyn displays his propitious talents.

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Glenn Wilson, 1946 Selmer balanced action baritone saxophone; Chip Stephens, 1876 style 3 Steinway piano/prepared piano.

This is a unique duo of baritone saxophone and piano, each featured on historic instrument. Chip Stephens plays an over-one-hundred-year-old piano, made in 1876. Glenn Wilson blows life into a 1946 Selmer baritone sax. Together, these two musicians create a full and uninhibited sound. Harmonically they blend so well that on the familiar, “Giant Steps” tune, I didn’t miss bass and drums. The old, familiar standard, “My Romance” whispers its way into our hearts from Glenn’s demonstrative horn. Chip Stephens offers continuous rhythm support on piano, walking his left hand like a double bass would and very comping with his right. These two musicians sound like old friends who know each other very well. They fill us up with their mastery and creative genius. I am astounded at how much freshness they add to an old standard like “My Romance.” The title track, “Sadness and Soul” is a Stephens original. It’s arranged as a subdued Bossa Nova and dances off my CD player in the Brazilian tradition, with colorful flamboyance. I do miss the drums on this one. “Adams Park” is a tribute to the great Pepper Adams and it’s composed by Glenn Wilson. Pepper Adams and Wilson were friends. This baritone player has incorporated some of Pepper’s pet phrases, stringing them together and like a rare pearl necklace and they become this beautiful ballad. “Adams Park” is melodically challenging, but lovely.

This is a unique collaboration by two master musicians. Chip Stephens brings a background of recording on almost seventy various releases as a sideman and/or leader. He’s performed on both Grammy and Emmy winning recordings. Glenn Wilson has been a professional jazz saxophonist for half a century. He was awarded a gold record for his participation and arrangements on Bruce Hornsby’s record, “Harbor Lights,” and both of these gentlemen are active touring, performing clinics, concerts and in clubs around the world.

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ROXY COSS – “QUINTET” Outside In Music

Roxy Coss,tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Miki Yamanaka,piano; Alex Wintz, guitar; Rick Rosato,bass; Jimmy Macbride,drums.

This is the fifth album featuring bandleader and stellar reed-woman, Roxy Coss. She has composed every song on this production (except “All or Nothing at All”) and continues her legacy of award-winning composer. It was 2016 when she received the ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award. This album titled, “Quintet” not only marks her favorite size of group ensemble, but it also celebrates her #5 album release.

Roxy Coss explained her latest inspiration for composing new original works.

“…My writings changed. …I started thinking about how guitar could function as a melodic, harmonic and accompanying instrument. I like writing harmonies, strong melodies and counter melodies. I’m influenced by modern jazz saxophone and guitar pairings. … By putting the guitar in the group, I could get greater flexibility and create different combinations of textures.”

Surrounded by excellent musicians, the Roxy Coss brash and distinctive sound on both tenor and soprano saxophone push this album forward with energy and passion. Her technique and tone have elicited praise by DownBeat Magazine in their Critics’ Polls for five consecutive years. This album has actually taken original music she previously recorded and reinvigorated her arrangements with this quintet. It’s an enjoyable listen, but I would have been very happy to hear some newly composed compositions. Ms. Coss is also an activist and a respected jazz educator. She’s on the Jazz Education Network’s (JEN) board of directors and on the jazz faculty of the Julliard School, the New School and the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Roxy Coss is also the founder of the important Women in Jazz Organization. If her activist voice stays as loud and boisterous as her saxophone voice, we can expect more great accomplishments and improvisational change from this talented young woman. Favorite cuts on this CD: “Don’t Cross the Coss,” “All or Nothing at All,” “Free to be,” and “Females Are Strong as Hell.”

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Kevin Sun,tenor saxophone/clarinet/composer; Adam O’Farrill,trumpet; Dana Saul, piano; Walter Stinson & Simon Willson,bass; Matt Honor & Dayeon Seok,drums.

The piano of Saul Dana opens the first suite of music. Saul and saxophonist Kevin Sun met when they were roommates at the Banff Workshop for Jazz and Creative Music in 2012. They reconnected after Sun moved to New York City in 2015.

“For a while, I had a sort of phobia about writing music for chordal instruments; almost like a fear of being locked into something,” say Kevin Sun. “But that’s not an issue with Dana because he constantly reinvents and extrapolates, so it’s always a surprise.”

This is a double CD release that reflects Kevin Sun’s meditation on space and sound. The first piece on the album is titled, “The Middle of Tensions” and Sun composed it in the latter half of 2018. This work progresses through six movements where Sun and his bandmates explore contemporary improvisation and modern jazz. Based in New York City, this saxophonist formed his trio back in 2016 and has a comfort level with bassist Walter Stinson and drummer Matt Honor. They’ve released a “Trio” CD to rave reviews.

He also utilizes the talents of Simon Willson on bass. They were bandmates dating back to their New England Conservatory days. Sun met drummer, Dayeon Seok, in New York through a mutual friend. The addition of Adam O’ Farrill on trumpet adds interest and depth to his frontline. He and O’Farrill played together weekly in an ensemble at the Manhattan School of Music in 2009. Kevin Sun is an in-demand sideman on the improvised, East Coast music scenes and has also performed across China, serving as Artistic Director of the Blue Note China Jazz Orchestra in Beijing.

This is untethered music that explores the creativity and outer edges of artistic development and freedom. Kevin Sun explained this project in his liner notes.

“I hope that people feel some sense of immersion when listening. I’d want nothing more than to give the feeling of stepping into another world, as my favorite artists do.”
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Hailey Niswanger,saxophone/flute/vocals; Nikara Warren,vibraphone; Axel Laugart, keyboards; Andrew Renfroe,guitar; Aaron Liao, bass; David Frazier Jr.,drums; Jake Sherman,synthesizer; Amber Navran & Kate K-S,vocals.

Hailey Niswanger has composed all the music on this album. Her production embraces a number of jazz styles. Each song reflects a one-word title, beginning with “Awaken.” The first couple of bars reminds me of a sunrise with ethereal, electric sounds setting the mood. Listening, I can almost picture a huge orange sun rising in the East and bathing the new day in brilliant light. This is electronic music, with Aaron Liao’s bass locking down the groove along with David Frazier Jr. on drums. Jake Sherman’s synthesizer creates various sounds and effects, while Hailey Niswanger uses her reeds, effectively dancing a melody atop the rhythm section. This is jazz with a rich, funk undertone. On track three titled, “Bond” Niswanger has added the whispery vocals of Amber Navran to the electronic jazz creativity. It’s very effective. Amber’s voice is beautiful. This album of music features Hailey Niswanger on saxophone, flute and vocals, and is like none of the other horn albums I reviewed for this column. This music is totally unique and exhibits a freedom and fresh creativity that is both entertaining and commercial. It could fall under the category of Smooth Jazz. But as I listen, this music is more than that. It’s new age, contemporary, funk and fusion all wrapped up together like a colorful ball of yarn. There’s even a taste of rhythm and blues and Hip Hop in this production. On the song, “Ascension” Kate K-S is another featured singer. She too has a soothing style and a lovely tone. “Acceptance” and “Free” are the final two songs on this inspirational CD. Hailey Niswanger is definitely an excellent composer. Nikara Warren adds a hypnotic vibraphone sound to the tune, “Acceptance.” These songs are rich with well-written melodies and strong ‘hooks.’ The players and the arrangements feel youthful, hopeful and spirited.
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Speaking of youthful, energetic music and jazz sensibilities, I ran across the group below On-line, at the Jazz in_Marciac Festival, 2019. They are called KOKOROKO “Adwa” and feature three female horn players up front and powerful. I just had to share their video with you. This group is culturally rich and based in Britain. Check them out.

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October 7, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

October 7, 2019


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

It seems that several tapes originating at the Rudy Van Gelder studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, have been recently re-discovered and resurrected. Among them is this classic John Coltrane recording session that was saved to analog tape in June of 1964. This was during a time when Coltrane’s spiritual recordings were soaring in popularity and transforming his career path. They were also reinventing the world of jazz. This music was recorded between the release of his “Crescent” album and Coltrane’s super successful, “A Love Supreme.” The songs on this new project may be familiar, but the actual recordings have never been heard, in their entirety, before this release. The classic Coltrane band is in place, featuring all-stars, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. Of course, John Coltrane was on tenor saxophone and you will hear the legendary musicians playing “Naima,” a take One and take two exploration of this beautiful composition that begins and ends this album.

This recording came about when filmmaker, Gilles Groulx, approached John Coltrane to score a French film titled, “Le Chat Dans le Sac,” (translated to The Cat in the Bag). No one was sure Coltrane would do it. Monsieur Groulx explained it was a love story, taking place in Montreal, Canada, with political undertones. The unexpected result of this request was that John Coltrane agreed and brought his band into the studio to revisit songs he had already recorded. Their session was recorded on quarter inch, analog, mono tape and mixed by Rudy Van Gelder. Groulx happily took the master to Canada to use in his film. The final film production only included ten minutes of Coltrane’s 37-minutes of recording time. Now, we can hear his entire session.

The title tune, “Blue World,” opens with Jimmy Garrison setting up the tempo and mood on his double bass, soon joined by the piano chords of McCoy Tyner and the skipping drum sticks of Elvin Jones, galloping across the piece with precision and inspired time. John Coltrane takes his stance into the spotlight with slow deliberation, making the tenor saxophone sing in only the way he can. Blasting into a crescendo ending, with Elvin Jones going wild on trap drums and the music building to a frenzied pitch, the finale of this song is dramatic. “Village Blues” is recorded three times and you will enjoy all three takes. Additionally, there is the “Like Sonny” composition and an over seven-minute rendition of “Traneing In.” This mix is crystal clear and I think the tracks are better than the original, previous recordings. They sound freshly improvised and crisp, like new money.
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STEVE KHAN – “PATCHWORK” Tone Center Records

Steve Khan, guitar/vocals; Ruben Rodriguez, baby bass/electric bass; Dennis Chambers, drums; Marc Quinones, timbale/bongo/percussion; Bobby Allende, conga; Rob Mounsey, keyboards/orchestration; GUEST ARTISTS: Randy Brecker, flugelhorn; Bob Mintzer,tenor saxophone; Tatiana Parra,voice; Jorge Estrada, keyboards/arranger.

Guitarist, Steve Khan has spent years developing and achieving a unique style of his own that blends jazz and Latin sensibilities. You can immediately hear that fusion in his beautiful arrangement of the Monk and Kenny Clarke “Epistrophy” composition. Driven by Latin percussive creativity and Khan’s guitar brilliance, this tune is transformed and resurrected.

The track that follows is Ornette Coleman’s composition, “C. & D.” Khan’s all-star group personifies his love of Latin music. Folks like Ruben Rodriguez on bass and Latin music giants like percussion masters, Marc Quinones and Bobby Allende add bravura to the project. Special guest, Bob Mintzer, is on tenor saxophone and enhances their Cuban arrangement. They transform Ornette’s song, using a Latin music style referred to as ‘montuno.’ Mintzer playfully presents the zig-zag melody on his horn, dancing above the percussion excitement.

Another guest, Randy Brecker, uses his tenacious flugelhorn to elevate Joe Henderson’s song, “A Shade of Jade.” This arrangement is also solidly Lain fused, but it’s straight-ahead too. I enjoy the warm sound of Khan’s guitar. During his solo, the music seems to transform the mood with a caballo-feel. The singular original composition that Steve Khan adds to this recorded repertoire is titled, “Naan Issue.” It’s a Cha Cha arrangement and may reflect some influence from celebrated composer/arranger, Clare Fischer. Steve Khan’s guitar style is reminiscent of Wes Montgomery on this tune and will make you want to get up and dance. All in all, this is a lovely listen.
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Kelley Johnson,vocals/whistle; John Hansen,piano; Michael Glynn,bass; Kendrick Scott,drums; Jay Thomas,soprano & tenor saxophone/trumpet.

Vocalist Kelley Johnson chooses songs that are golden, with lyrics that sparkle like diamonds. She opens with a Stephen Sondheim composition, “Anyone Can Whistle.” The whistle ballad turns into a scat, and Ms. Johnson shows how smoothly she can transition from storyteller to jazzy scat singer. Surprisingly, she does know how to whistle and blows a little whistle on the fade of this song. Another plus is that Kelley Johnson knows how to swing. That’s such an important characteristic of a jazz singer and Kelley shows off this skill on “You Do Something To Me,” slow-swinging her way through this tune and creatively improvising the melody, stretching her vocals rubber-band taunt to reach unexpected intervals, like a human horn. She applies her jazz sensibilities throughout a tour of standard jazz songs like “Some Other Time”, “Let’s Do it,” and the Richard Rodgers’ popular “Something Good,” composition. There are some gems that were not that familiar to me like, “Tip-Toe Gently” by Matt Matthews and Paulette Girard and “You For Me” by Bob Haymes.
John Hansen is a joy on piano and expertly accompanies Kelley Johnson, as well as co-arranging most of the music. He’s a fabulous player and musical director. Their blend is tasty, like ice cream and cake; sweet and very cool. This is a project packed with great songs delivered fluidly by Kelley Johnson and her all-star band.
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FIMA CHUPAKHIM – “WATER’ Independent Label

Fima Chupakhin,piano/Rhodes; Vuyo Sotashe,vocals; Sergey Avanesov,saxophone; Josh Evans,trumpet; Yoav Eshed,guitar; James Robbins,bass; Jonathan Barber,drums.

This is the debut album release by pianist, composer, Fima Chupakhin. As a first-time leader of his own group, he and his band of six energetically interpret Fima’s original compositions, plus a traditional hymn and two jazz standards. From the very first tune, “Don’t Let It Get You Down” this group of Brooklyn-based musicians set the mood for hard bop and straight-ahead jazz. The title tune, “Water,” is explored by the lovely vocals of Vuyo Sotashe. This composition is fluid and full of melodic motion, perfectly describing water and its unpredictable movements. There are no words here. Just the vocals singing the melody, horn-like. Enter Fima Chupakhim on grand piano,with James Robbins strong on double bass and Jonathan Barber steady on trap drums.

“Dedication to Roy” immediately brought to my mind an image of Roy Ayers, because of the strong groove and pretty melody. I don’t know who the ‘Roy’ is that Chupakhim was thinking of, but I could clearly hear Roy Ayers putting his vibraphone mallets to work on this tune.

The actual inspirational icons that Fima Chupakhin mentions in his liner notes are legends like Tadd Dameron, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Barry Harris and Mulgrew Miller. Chupakhin earned his Master’s Degree at William Paterson University, where he spent two intense years studying piano with maestro James Weidman. After this accomplishment, he returned to his native Ukraine, where he is celebrated as a cross-genre keyboardist and film composer, as well as for his jazz sensibilities. After a short time, the pianist found himself once again hungry for the energy and challenge of New York City. He returned to the United States on an artist visa in 2015. Surrounded by the excellence of Sergey Avanesov on saxophone, Josh Evans on trumpet and adding guitarist Yoav Eshed to his rhythm section, Fima Chupakhin’s music is a formidable blend of European and African American music styles. Chupakhim is a strong composer, showcasing very memorable melodies. He describes his music as “anchored in jazz, classical and improvised music.” When I listen to this work of fine art that Fima Chupakhim has created, I hear a great appreciation for the freedom that jazz inspires, sprinkled with hard bop overtones that splash and move like water and waves. His ensemble arrangements float his compositions like colorful boats. Settle back and take a cruise with Fima Chupakhim across the deep waters of his creative mind.
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Ezra Weiss, conductor/composer/arranger; RHYTHM: Jasnam Daye Singh, piano; Eric Gruber, bass; Alan Jones, drums; Carlton Jackson, percussion. WOODWINDS: John Nastos,alto & soprano saxophones/ clarinet; John Savage,alto saxophone/flute/alto flute; Renato Caranto,tenor saxophone; Rob Davis, Tenor & soprano saxophones/clarinet; Mieke Bruggeman,baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS:Greg Garrett, Thomas Barber, Derek Sims, & Farnell Newton; TROMBONES: Stan Bock, Jeff Uusitalo, Denzel Mendoza & Douglas Peebles on bass trombone. SPECIAL GUEST: The Camas High School Choir with director,Ethan Chessin.

A small boy stands in a forested area, head bowed, looking downward, as if examining all the challenges of the world spread at his feet. This is the black and white art I see on the cover of Ezra Weiss’s album. It’s thought-provoking. I wish more artists realized the importance that artistic album covers make in marketing and promotion. I receive so much product with album covers poorly designed and unreflective of the magical music inside.

In this debut album for Ezra Weiss and his big band, the composer, bandleader and conductor has penned and conducted somewhat of a confessional and impassioned suite that is meant to be a loving message passed down from a father to his children; from his conductor’s baton to the beating of a parent’s heart and from his concerned political awareness to our ears. After the first composition, “Fanfare for a Newborn,” Ezra takes the microphone to explain his current, musical project. His monologue describes his own frustrations and anxieties with our rapidly changing and increasingly divisive world.

“…This music is my way of coping; of praying for better. … I conceived this project in 2015 and worried these themes would be outdated by the time I finished writing this music. But the truth is, the world today is much, much worse than it was a few years ago. … I’m calling this suite, ‘We Limit Not the truth of God.’ So, what is God’s truth? … When you were a toddler, I would take you to the park. You would walk over to a large tree and bow to it. Then you’d walk up to another tree and bow to it; and another. I don’t know what you saw to make you bow? Spirit? The ancestors? An angel? … I suspect it was the truth of God. … You felt a connection to those trees; awe and unity with our world. … When you feel that connection with the world, then you also feel the world suffering. … Today, people in power are exploiting … they use lies and what they call alternative facts. All this to maintain power.”

This issues in a tune he calls, “Blues and the Alternative Fact,” that features Mieke Bruggeman on baritone saxophone and the talents of Stan Bock on trombone. The powerhouse drumming of Alan Jones and the strong bass line of Eric Gruber support this piece of the suite in a dynamic way. It’s refreshing to hear a baritone saxophonist step out-front and solo.

Throughout this production, Ezra Weiss adds his narration in between the music. Some of this could have been edited for a more concise delivery. Perhaps he should have scored band music to dynamically enhance his monologues. That being said, this production is unique and a bit like listening to someone sharing their diary with us. As an activist, he shares comparison stories about he and his own kindergarten-aged children and the plight of children from other countries who fled to our country, only to be separated from their parents at the border. He tells the story of Jose, a child from South America, who was yanked from the loving arms of his father and flown to a foster family in Michigan. That family said the child had drawn a picture of his mother, father and sibling; another himself and his father, wearing a baseball hat and mustache. The foster parents said the traumatized child held onto his artwork for dear life. This is followed by the band’s presentation of, “Jose’s Drawing.” A beautiful ballad that gives Renato Caranto, on tenor saxophone, an opportunity to fly free above the lush orchestration.

At one point, Ezra’s voice cracks as he talks about the African American’s who have been killed by police, listing names. His voice chokes up again as he talks about children persecuted because they’re autistic; elementary students shot in their schools; people terrorized because of their religious beliefs. For this monologue, he does add music, but it’s not the kind of compositions that allow musical relief. Perhaps using a groove to lift the heaviness of his statements would have soothed a bombarded audience. Sometimes the truth can be painful, problematic and discouraging. This reviewer would like to have heard some up-tempo, joyful music to sooth the savagery of his honest, heartfelt words.

This entire album was recorded before a ‘live’ audience. Judging by the broad, appreciative applause, Ezra Weiss’ project was well-received at the Alberta Abbey in Portland, Oregon.
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MICHELLE LORDI – “BREAK UP WITH THE SOUND” Cabinet of Wonder Productions

Michelle Lordi, vocals/composer; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone; Tim Motzer, guitar/electronics; Matthew Parrish, bass; Rudy Royston, drums.

Michelle Lordi is multi-talented. Not only does she sing and compose music, but she is the artist who artistically designed her compact disc cover. The opening track, “Poor Bird” is an original song and she presents it with her vocals sounding like an unusual blend of jazz and soft rock. Donny McCaslin, however, is all jazz on his tenor saxophone. He takes a simple tune and embellishes it, along with the powerful drummer, Rudy Royston, they take the music way outside of simplicity. Enter Tim Motzer on electric guitar to bring a country/Western arrangement to track two; “Wayward Wind.” The thing about reviewing this project of eclectic music is that Michelle Lordi does not seem to have a genre in mind. She enjoys singing songs and she sings them well enough, but without the apparent labels. Speaking of labels, she seems to be more a pop singer than jazz. On her original songs, there are some pitch problems evident, like on the tune, “Double-Crossed.” On the familiar Cole Porter standard, “True Love” her voice sounds tender, innocent and very Country/Western. This repertoire makes me wonder what direction and on what musical path this singer wants to walk. Generally, it is important to market your music in the lane where it will receive the best airplay and exposure. Eva Cassidy is one of the few artists I know who could straddle the music genres successfully. On Michelle Lordi’s original “Before” I am reminded of the style and flavor of Fleetwood Mac. Her Rendition of “Lover Man” is definitely a jazzy, emotional delivery. But one jazz ballad on a project doesn’t make the vocalist a jazz singer. Consequently, this reviewer’s humble suggestion to Michelle Lordi would be to put together a soft rock band that also plays blues and country/western music. I think Michelle could be quite commercially successful with those styles of music.

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Karl Berger, piano/vibraphone; J.K. Hwang, violin/viola.

This is modern jazz and exploratory music was recorded spontaneously and without rehearsal. Jason Kao Hwang drove up to Woodstock, California in March to meet Karl Berger at his home studio. Berger founded that music studio with Ornette Coleman and Ingrid Sertso. Hwang had an idea of what to expect, because he had been a part of Karl’s Creative Music Orchestra. They had discussed the fluid parameters of the music and Hwang knew it would be unpredictable and without written scores or predeterminations. The two men share a common goal during this recording; to ‘Conjure’ up the best of themselves and each other, during a recording opportunity that would stretch and expand their artistry. That pretty much explains this project.

Pianist, Karl Berger, 84 years young, is a six-time winner of the DownBeat Critics Poll as a jazz soloist, as well as several other celebrated awards. He began working as a pianist in Heidelberg, Germany when he was just a teenager. Berger soaked up modern jazz techniques from American jazz musicians he met along his life path. He’s recorded and/or performed internationally with avant-garde musicians like Ed Blackwell, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra, Carla Bley and he is creative leader of the Creative Music Studio. His piano virtuosity has accompanied Lee Konitz, John McLaughlin, Gunther Schuller, Dave Brubeck, Ingrid Sertso, Dave Holland, Ray Anderson, James Blood Ulmer, Hozan Yamamoto and Carlos Ward, to list only a few. Karl Berger is also proficient on the vibraphone.

Jason Kao Hwang is a composer and master of both the violin and the viola. For years he has been exploring the vibrations and language of his existence through self-penned compositions during his transformative life journey. Currently, he leads the octet, “Burning Bridge,” the quintet, “Sing House,” the “Critical Response” and a trio called “Human Rites.” On three different occasions, including this year, the El Intruso Jazz Critics Poll voted him Violinist of the Year. In the past, DownBeat Critics’ Poll voted Mr. Hwang a “Rising Star for Violin.” He has worked with such luminaries as Tomeka Reid, William Parker, Anthony Braxton, Butch Morris, Oliver Lake, Pauline Oliveros, Henry Threadgill, Reggie Workman, Ivo Perlman and Patrick Brennan. These are just a few names from a long list of collaborators. Mr. Hwang often blends Western and Chinese instruments on his projects. He currently teaches ‘Sound Image’ in New York University’s Undergraduate Department of Film and television.

Together, these two talented instrumentalists color outside the lines with an audacity and freedom that startles the senses.
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Leslie Pintchik, piano/composer; Scott Hardy, bass; Michael Sabin, drums.

Applause opens this project, so we know we are now part of a live audience, listening to an amazing trio. They open with “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” a song I rarely hear in the 21st century. It’s still as beautiful as ever and Leslie Pintchick delivers it with gusto. This trio presents a lilting, Latin arrangement of this tune and it ‘swings’ hard.

The second track is as spectacular as the first and just as familiar. It’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” For some reason, this pianist reminds me of an early Ahmad Jamal; substantive and dynamic, but at the same time under-stated on her instrument. Ms. Pintchik’s solo soars until Scott Hardy, on bass, makes a spotlight appearance on his upright instrument. Soon after, Michael Sabin rolls across the trap drums, smashing his percussive message into the universe and making quite an impression. Now I have met and immersed myself into each of these three wonderful musicians, I discover that Leslie Pintchik has self-penned Tracks 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. They are all composed by Ms. Pintchik and manage to be as well-written as they are well-played. This trio has me wrapped around their flying fingers on her tune, “There You Go.” The straight-ahead attitude sweeps me up into their energy like a helium balloon. Sabin is given lots of time to solo and once again shows all his technique exposing the various colors he paints with busy drum sticks. I enjoy the original compositions of Leslie Pintchik as much as I enjoy the standards she embellishes. This composer has a sense of humor too. I can tell from the name of her sixth tune, “Your Call Will be Answered by Our Next Available Representative in the Order in which it Was Received. Please Stay on The Line. Your Call Is Important to Us.” This original has several unexpected breaks and pauses, much like what we go through when we’re trying to get some company representative on the telephone these days. We are more than likely to get an “Alexa-type” voice-robot advising us to hold on and someone will be with us shortly. But all too often, they never come soon. They always come late and without apology or emotion for keeping you dangling, hoping you won’t be disconnected after waiting ten-minutes or more for some representative to pick up. Her composition is meant to explain all this and perhaps she composed it one of those moments she was waiting for someone to pick up the phone.

Leslie explained how this recording came about. “In some ways, the release of this CD is a happy accident. It was recorded casually, on a Wednesday evening gig at ‘Jazz on Kitano ‘in Manhattan, just so that I might listen back, at my leisure, to the live performance. When I did listen to the recording, it felt like a special evening; we were fortunate to have had a packed house as well as supportive listeners with generous ears.”

The Leslie Pintchik Trio is based in New York. If they were anywhere close to Southern California, I’d drop everything and rush out to let my generous ears enjoy this amazing unit of musicians. For now, I’ll just play this CD again.
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Anne Phillips, vocals/composer; Roger Kellaway, piano; Bob Kindred, tenor saxophone; Chuck Berghoffer, bass.

Recorded before a ‘live’ audience, Anne Phillips shows she has the style, class and vocal control to interpret her repertoire. Not only does she deliver her songs like stories of life, she’s also a competent composer who offers us seven excellently written original songs on this recording. She opens this project with “I’m Gonna Lay My Heart on the Line” arranged as a waltz that swings.

Anne Phillips’ album was recorded at the Jazz Bakery, founded in 1992, as a concert company manned by jazz vocalist, Ruth Price for the last twenty-seven-years. Once her lease on the Culver City, California establishment was exhausted, Ms. Price found herself floating from space to space. The Jazz Bakery became a moveable feast, housing jazz concerts at music schools, colleges, and the Moss theater space or other venues that opened their doors to jazz. Consequently, Ruth’s dream of providing Los Angeles County with a well-respected jazz club continues. It became the perfect spot for Anne Phlilips to resurrect her jazz career and record this album.

The years have raced since her debut album was recorded in 1959. For the past several decades, Anne Phillips has made a living using her vocal talents to sing behind the scenes, in the commercial music industry. She also did some songwriting for theatrical shows. The night of this recording at the Jazz Bakery, Phillips features her original repertoire, spiced with a few standards. The concert is presented like a one-woman-show. Her vocals are convincing, because you can tell she’s lived her life and she knows these lyrics like reading a diary in her palms. Having Roger Kellaway as her musical conductor certainly lifts this production. He is the consummate accompanist and a superior pianist. Chuck Berghoffer on bass is also excellent, as is Bob Kindred on tenor saxophone. This trio ‘swings’ in spite of the fact that there is no drummer on this gig.

Anne’s patter in between her songs explains her life writing television ad commercials, songs for musical plays and singing background in New York session studios. She talks about how music has changed from 1959 to 2019, melodically, lyrically and commercially. Although her voice is not the voice of her youth, she can still sell a song. Compositions like “Hey, Look Where I Am” and the bluesy “New York Night Time Blues” tunes are compelling. Also, the poignant “After All These Years” show us that her composer talents are definitely the star of this one-woman concert.
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September 29, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

SEPT 29, 2019


Caleb Rumley, trombone/conductor/arranger/co-founder; Phil Engsberg, soprano & alto saxophones/arranger/composer/co-founder;Charlie Dougherty,bass/composer/ arranger/co-founder;Ryan Tomski,pianist/co-founder;SAXOPHONES: Nick Brust,soprano/alto; Matt Tischio & Dane Alexander, tenor; Sam Tobias,baritone sax/flute/piccolo;TRUMPETS: Mike Spengler,lead; Chris Rogers,Ben Hankle,Rich Polatcheck;TROMBONES: Adam Machaskee,lead;Stephen Justice,Collin Banks,Tim newman,bass trombone;RHYTHM: Arath Corral,guitar; Will Dougherty,keyboards; Joe Spinelli,drums;Allison McKenzie,vocals.

This band begins this project with an exciting, vocal performance by Allison McKenzie singing, “I Wanna Talk With You.” It’s a very contemporary piece. McKenzie’s power-packed voice bridges jazz, pop and contemporary music with ease. She’s a very strong vocalist, with a lovely tone, and she also is a songwriter who has penned this opening composition. Right away, the big band shows it’s bursting with joy and this organization offers a new take on big band sounds. The BIG BEAT is more contemporary, with specialized arrangements that showcase tunes by Stevie Wonder like, “Knocks Me Off My Feet.” Once again, Allison McKenzie adds her stellar vocals to interpret Wonder’s wonderful work. The BIG BEAT arrangement is amazing, with harmonic vocals layered to create rich backgrounds and intriguing horn punches. It was arranged by trombonist Caleb Rumley, who is also one of the four founders of this big band magic. The excitement continues on a ‘cover’ of the Jackson Five hit record, “I Want You Back.” Once again, the BIG BEAT arrangements are totally unique and compelling. This time, bassist Charlie Dougherty has arranged the piece and it’s a spectacular arrangement! Their next song, “Just Too Much,” brings funk to the table. This tune was composed and arranged by Caleb, giving wide breath to the horn solos and to Joe Spinelli on drums. Their percussionist adds zest and exhilaration to this tune on his trap drums. Spinelli is spectacular! I love the way Caleb has layered the horns, leaving the strong rhythm section to solidify the funk. It’s very reminiscent of Herbie Hancock’s style of contemporary jazz.

BIG BEAT showcases five saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, a guitar, piano, bass and drums. The icing on this sweet cake of music is the awesome voice of Ms. McKenzie. Four young men are the co-leaders and founders of this band. Each graduated with a Master’s Degree in Jazz Arranging from William Paterson University in new Jersey. Kudos to Charlie Dougherty, Phil Engsberg, Caleb Rumley and Ryan Tomski. Each co-leader is also a master on their individual instruments and each one is a composer/arranger. The only song on this entire album that was not arranged by the Big Beat co-founders is the final song, “Miss America,” that was arranged by trumpet master, Cecil Bridgewater. Bridgewater, an educator and long-time supporter of the BIG BEAT leaders, produced their first EP. Allison McKenzie composed this final song as a protest to the racially-motivated, 2015, shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. Denise Renee participated as a vocal producer and Pete McGuinness produced the big band.

BIG BEAT’S take on Jill Scott’s composition “It’s Love” spotlights another band founder, Phil Engsberg, who wrote the stellar arrangements. It’s quite amazing, to hear BIG BEAT take big band arrangements to a new level of jazzy, 21st Century, improvisational glee! This music will transport you to a splendid, contemporary place, where good feelings abound. Consequently, “Sounds Good, Feels Good” seems a perfect title for this vibrant, energized album of music. If you want to pump some excitement into your life, slide this album into your CD player. It will push your accelerator, so secure your seat belt.
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Laszlo Gardony, solo piano/composer.

Laszlo Gardony present a “Live” performance for our listening pleasure. He seamlessly merges blues, jazz and classical piano, with music so lush and complete that you will surely not wish for any other instrumentation. This Recording was made at Berklee’s 2019 Keys Fest; a piano festival. Gardony has been teaching jazz piano at Berklee since 1987. The song that he opens his concert with is titled, “Revolution.” This “Revolution” composition was inspired by “La Marseillaise;” that’s the title of this album and also the French national anthem. Mr.Gardony explained:

”La Marseillaise is the sound embodiment of some of the noblest aims of humankind; fighting for freedom and equality and resisting tyranny, cruelty and the trampling of human dignity. … Its spirit is needed as much today as it was during the time it was created. It’s a very serious piece of music, about standing up to tyranny and against various abuses of human rights. There are lots of people in history who became complacent about guarding their freedom and sure enough, they lost it. I think it’s worth remembering and reminding ourselves at all times”

I was pleasantly surprised by his arrangement of “O Sole Mio.” It never sounded so good!

“Moving on to love, I arranged the beloved Neapolitan song, ‘O Sole Mio’in a modern, personal way so that it would be infused with my own sense of love, caring and energy,”Laszlo Gardony shared in his liner notes.

This is Gardony’s third solo piano album in seven years and it is a true work of art. His lovely interpretation of Erroll Garner’s “Misty” is breathtakingly beautiful. “La Marseillaise” offers the best of three worlds: his original compositions, including “On the Spot”, “Mocking bird,” and Bourbon Street Boogie. He also composed “Four Notes Given” and “Revolution.” For the final two worlds, Laszlo Gardony offers the listener in-the-moment improvisations and creative covers of familiar standard tunes. This is an album to treasure for many years to come.
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Hendrik Meurkens,harmonica; Peter Bernstein,guitar; Mike LaDonne,organ; Jimmy Cobb,drums.

Hendrik Meurkens brings his happy harmonica, bursting onto the scene during an interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s composition, “Driftin’.” Delivering a melody played in unison by Meurkens and Mike LeDonne on organ, they quickly blossom into harmony betwixt the two. The melody is compelling, catchy, and I immediately want to whistle this tune. Meurken’s does it for us on his harmonica. His unique style draws the listener into their musical whirlpool of sound. Each band member takes an engaging solo and we get to experience each individual’s brilliance on guitar, organ and on Jimmy Cobb’s unrelenting drums. Cobb offers his perfect accents and dedicated time, whipping up the rhythm and consistently inspiring each arrangement. This group is stellar. They continue with the title tune, “Cobb’s Pocket,” penned by Meurken. In the music business, we consider “the pocket” to be the groove of a musical piece and/or the serious drumming that holds the group in perfect place, like a wallet in your pocket. Cobb certainly is responsible for doing just that. His drum prowess is quite evident, especially on this straight-ahead, up-tempo tune. When they trade fours, Jimmy Cobb splashes his technique and creativity across the trap drums, like colorful confetti. He makes us want to celebrate the music. “Frame For the Blues” slows the tempo down to a sexy blues, with Peter Bernstein’s guitar shining in the spotlight, alongside Mike LaDonne’s organ. However, it is always Hendrik Meurkens’ improvisational, dancing harmonica that propels this music.

Track six, composed by Sam Jones and titled, “Unit Seven.” It’s spectacularly performed with that rich, jazzy organ groove. Meurkens harmonica mastery and the bebop magic wands of Cobb’s drumsticks, catapult the music. Peter Bernstein’s guitar is the rabbit this magical arrangement pulls from the hat. This group’s energy creates combustible excitement. I believe this track is one of my very favorites on their album, where every track is masterfully played.
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Vaughn Nark,producer/trumpet/flugelhorn/valve trombone/ composer; Pete Barenbregge, tenor/alto/baritone saxophone/flute; Stef Scaggiari,acoustic/electric piano; Marc Copland,piano; Tom Williams,acoustic/electric bass; Dave Palamar & Keith Killgo, drums.

Vaughn Nark rips onto the scene like a lion. His horn is ferocious. The opening tune is Nark’s own composition and is full of punch and power. It becomes a platform to showcase his band members and to establish his own prowess as a first-class trumpeter. Stef Scaggiari steps up with flying fingers dancing deftly over the piano keys. Dave Palamar is the drummer and his tenacious propulsion behind this music is moteworthy. On this first track the original composition sprints off this disc like a Kentucky Derby race horse.

The next attention-getter is Vaughn Narks successful arrangement of “A Night In Tunesia.” Once again, the up-tempo pulse of the piece stretches the talents of these players and allows the listening audience to enjoy stellar solos by the players. “Line for Lyons,” composed by Gerry Mulligan, settles the tempo down and gives Pete Berenbregge,on saxophone, an opportunity to step forward with a bluesy horn. “Alone” is a lovely ballad composed by artist, Vaughn Nark,and his trumpet is tender with a full, rich tone. It displays his ability to interpret a ballad with the same zest that he plays “Caravan.”

Vaughn honed his trumpet and flugelhorn skills as a member of the Premiere Jazz Ensemble of the United States Air Force as part of the Airmen of Note. By presidential order, he was presented the Meritorious Service Medal for his “distinctive accomplishments and contributions” while a member of the Airmen of Note. The distinctive high notes he plays on his horn, along with his ability to perform swiftly and accurately on all instruments, have inspired many. He served the United States as a proud airman from 1978 to 1993. Since then, Vaughn Nark has been working with many stellar bands across the country, performing as a clinician and educator. He has also recorded a number of projects for Summit Records. This may be one of Vaughn Nark’s best productions to date.
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Elias Haslanger,tenor saxophone; Dr. James Polk,organ; Daniel Durham,bass; Tommy Howard,guitar; Scott Laningham & Kyle Thompson,drums.

The popular ‘Church on Monday’ band has been performing Monday-night-jazz sets at the Continental Club Gallery in Austin, Texas for nearly seven years. Their weekly entertainment is supported by a packed house of devoted fans. As I listen to their very first song, “Our Miss Brooks,” the group starts out swinging hard, with Scott Laningham,on drums,obviously the active ingredient in this centrifuge of sound. Elias Haslanger,on tenor saxophone, is fluid and inspired. When Tommy Howard enters on guitar, he settles the combustion down to a steady, slow walk. I don’t know if they have dancing at the Continental Club, but this shuffle tempo is a swing-dancers delight. Dr. James Polk brings his organ mastery to the forefront, punctuating the groove with deft fingers on his electronic instrument. The melting together of guitar and organ brings back memories of the late Jimmy Smith’s legacy. However, rather than dependence on the organ foot pedals, Daniel Durham is the asset on bass. I wish they had turned his solo up in ‘the mix.’

The “Bolivia” tune, by Cedar Walton, is the second track on this CD and takes off at a bebop pace with the tempo straight-ahead and invigorating. This is followed by an original composition by organist, James Polk titled, “Black Door Jeannye.” It has an Eddie Harris-feel to it. The title tune was written by Elias Haslanger. Haslanger begins this arrangement a ‘Capella, letting his tenor saxophone soar into space like a wild, beautiful bird. When the band joins him, this is the first ballad they play. However, after playing that tune down one time, they break into a slow-swing. I guess they just can’t help themselves.

All in all, perhaps Scott Laningham summed it up the best when he said:

“In many ways, ‘Church on Monday’ has been like a ‘church’ experience these last seven years. It distills the idea of ‘church’ into its basic elements for me: community, fellowship; celebration of something we all love, together. … And ‘church’ is about healing, right? It allows people to experience, together with the musicians, all manner of emotions and reflections. … ultimately, celebration.”
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Matthew Snow,bassist/composer; Daisuke Abe,guitar; Wayne Smith,drums; David Gibson,trombone; Clay Lyons,alto saxophone; Joe Doubleday,vibraphone.

Matthew Snow is a bassist/composer and on this outstanding recording he has written all the music for his talented jazz sextet to interpret. The first cut, “Amber Glow,” is an up-tempo and melodic tune, with punchy, melodic horn lines by trombonist, David Gibson and alto saxophonist, Clay Lyons. Lyons breaks free to improvise above the solid rhythm section, followed by the smooth sound of Gibson on trombone. Next, we are introduced to the guitar mastery of Daisuke Abe. Even without piano and minus trumpet or tenor saxophone, this sextet still swings. I enjoyed the addition of Joe Doubleday on vibraphone. His mallets fly on the track titled, “Blitz” and his tone sparkles atop the solid bass line of Matthew Snow, with Wayne Smith’s cement-solid drum licks kicking the tune into gear. Smith holds the rhythm section in place with polished precision. Matthew Snow’s compositions are noteworthy and certainly propel this album of fine musicianship. Every song sounds like it could become a jazz standard. “The Exit Strategy” is swollen with blues-tones and slows the tempo down to a very sultry, slow swing. Once again, the vibraphone solo of Doubleday lifts this arrangement. Matthew Snow walks his double bass powerfully beneath the various solo players and holds the band together like Velcro on velvet. This sextet has a smooth, hard-bop sound that immediately engages this listener.

Matthew Snow continues to be a significant patch on the quilted network of the New York City jazz scene. I believe this recording will garner attention for his composer skills. “Iridescence” is a perfect title for Matthew’s work of art. Webster’s dictionary describes it as “…showing luminous colors that seem to change when seen from different angles.” That certainly sums up the beauty of Matthew Snow’s project.
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LA TANYA HALL – “SAY YES” Blue Canoe Records

La Tanya Hall,vocals; Andy Milne,piano; John Hebert,bass; Clarence Penn,drums; Michael Leonhard,trumpet.

La Tanya Hall opens this CD with the familiar Nat Adderley tune titled, “All You Need to Say.” She is accompanied and produced by her husband, pianist Andy Milne, a well-respected New York City musician and arranger. La Tanya is also a respected vocalist and proud member of Bobby McFerrin’s 12-voice ensemble, “Voicestra.” Her versatility in musical genre’s and ability to blend and harmonize has allowed her to shine in a variety of touring opportunities and studio session work. These opportunities include collaborations with Quincy Jones, Michael McDonald, Burt Bacharach, Harry Belafonte (who she toured with for five years), Diana Ross, Rob Thomas and Patti Labelle, to list just a few. She headlined with a road-company production of the musical,“Dreamgirls.”

La Tanya’s singing career began at age thirteen when her father began teaching her to sing the ‘standards.’ He was a jazz pianist who toured worldwide.

“I learned from my father to create my own style and not be afraid to take chances vocally,” she shared in her bio.

Today, La Tanya continued to be an in-demand studio session singer, as well as pursuing an acting career. Most recently she played the part of Sabine Winston on the CBS critically acclaimed show, “Blue Bloods.” Her love of diversity and eclectic music genres is reflected in this new CD, scheduled to be released in November. She tackles the gorgeous ballad and challenging composition, “Poor Butterfly,” with the same dedication that she performs the three-quarter time, “Jitterbug Waltz.”

Spending the past four decades around jazz musicians, including some of the best in the business, I recognize that sometimes musicians get so hung-up in their own desire to create an original and unique arrangement,that they forget to accompany. Accompanying is a unique art form in itself. I’m disappointed in Milne’s unusual arrangement on “Jitterbug Waltz,” that simply proved that no matter how dissonant he made the chords, Ms. Hall could still stay on pitch. It did not support her presentation of this beautiful song and that was disappointing. To my chagrin, she misses the mark on the Benny Golson/Leonard Feather iconic “Whisper Not” tune that begs to “swing.” Ms. Hall has an amazing vocal power and unique tone, but I am surprised she misses the opportunity to swing this standard jazz tune. However, you are able to really enjoy her style and tonal quality when she performs “Softly as In A Morning Sunrise” featuring only John Hebert on bass, along with her crystal-clear vocals. Lovely! In all its simplicity, this is a stunning arrangement.
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Shahin Novrasli,piano; James Cammack,bass; Herlin Riley,drums. Producers:Ahmad Jamal/Catherine Vallon-Barry & Seydou Barry.

This is an exquisite piece of work. Shahin Novrasli is a sensitive, accomplished jazz pianist. He references Baku in the CD title. Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and it’s bordered by Russia to the North. Under the tutelage of producer, and high priest of the piano, Ahmad Jamal, Shahin is endorsed by one of our jazz icons along with producers Catherine Vallon-Barry & Seydou Barry. Because Ahmad Jamal gave him a thumbs-up,I was eager to listen to his album.

Shahin opens with the familiar and melodic Joni Mitchell tune, “Both Sides Now,” arranged in a slightly smooth jazz way. However, with the next composition by Thelonious Monk, “52nd Street Theme” I recognize the excellence and straight-ahead talent of this musician. His trio is also excellent and the bassist, James Cammack, steps into the spotlight fearlessly to solo. They play Monk’s tune at a serious speed that allows the brilliance of Herlin Riley on drums to shine and sparkle. I immediately respect Novrasli’s piano chops, as the trio members solo, he flies across the 88 keys passionately. I am breathless after listening to their arrangement of this monster of a Monk song.

On “Night Song,” Shahin Novrasli’s improvisational ‘runs’ move from chord-change to chord-change in beautifully timed precision. Shahin Novrasli plays a stunning rendition of Michael Jackson’s hit song, “You’re Out of My Life,” followed by a very classically influenced introduction to “Salt Peanuts.

This album is like a box of crackerjacks, because it’s full of sweet surprises and unexpected gifts. The trio’s arrangement of “Stella By Starlight” is quite striking. In fact, every cut on this album of fine music is well played, beautifully arranged and Shahin Novrasli’s grand piano technique and imagination produces a buffo project.
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September 15, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil jazz journalist
Sept 15, 2019


On Thursday, October 3rd, Catalina’s Jazz Club, in Los Angeles, will host composer/arranger Lisa Maxwell’s Jazz Orchestra and preview her “Shiny!” record release. As I began listening to Lisa Maxwell’s compositions on youtube.com, the first thing that I recognized is that her arrangements sound like movie scores. I discover I’m not too far off the mark. Lisa explained in her publicity sheet.

“My writing is heavily influenced by the TV themes of the 1970’s. They’re basically the foundation of my cultural identity. Great composers like Lalo Shiffrin, Henry Mancini, Neal Hefti and Earle Hagen underscored my life when I was growing up. I still get a tear in my eye when I listen to themes like ‘The Odd Couple’ and ‘The Bob Newhart Show.’ Like those composers, I have very definite ideas, but I write with the soloists in mind and give them freedom within the structure.”

Citing jazz great, Wayne Shorter, and the iconic arranger/composer, Gil Evans, as hugely important to her growth as a composer, Lisa Maxwell confesses to spending every available Monday night at New York’s “Sweet Basil” jazz club to hear Gil’s band perform. Quite a few of those legendary players are featured on her new album.

“I took a film scoring class at UCLA when I was seventeen and was hooked after I heard my charts played,” Lisa Maxwell explained. “Dick Grove was really my main mentor. He got me going as a writer. Then I won a Quincy Jones Arranging scholarship to Berklee College in Boston and wrote for the recording orchestra. I ended up getting some amazing gigs as a sax player, like with “Guns ‘n’ Roses”, on a Joni Mitchell Project and with Spinal Tap, but my calling is as a writer/arranger. … I often felt like I was the wrong sex, the wrong color and born at the wrong time, but I kept going for it.”

Inspired by her studies with Herb Pomeroy, who taught her Duke Ellington’s nuanced line-writing techniques, she dug into her craft. Maxwell was also inspired by trumpeter Ray Copeland, who taught her jazz arranging. Charlie Haden let her sit-in on his classes at Cal Arts in California and Lisa continued to pursue her dreams by attending the Manhattan School of Music where she studied saxophone with Joe Allard. But it was her close relationship to her dear friend, Lew Soloff, that inspired this current project. He constantly encouraged her to record her original compositions and to arrange the entire project herself. Soloff was a longtime member of the Manhattan jazz Quintet and the Mingus Big Band. He was one of the ‘regulars’ in Gil Evan’s orchestra. Most importantly, Soloff believed in the talents of Lisa Maxwell. Then, in 2015, the popular jazz trumpeter, Lew Soloff, suddenly died.

“When Lew died, I realized I had to stop thinking about it and get it done!” Lisa shared.

This Los Angeles native has spent dedicated years honing her skills and natural, creative abilities. Some of that time was spent in Los Angeles and some years were spent in Boston and New York City. Currently residing in Manhattan, Maxwell’s original music has been licensed by numerous TV series and she’s orchestrated music for Warner Brothers and a number of television shows. You may have heard her music on Sons of Anarchy, person of Interest, Dexter, Burn Notice, Four Weddings, Gravity,and she was orchestrator on all fifty-two episode of the Histeria! TV series.

It’s fabulous to see a talented female excel in the field of composition, arranging and film scoring. She and her all-star orchestra are bound to please you at their one night-only performance on Thursday, October 3, 2019. First show starts promptly at 8:30pm. Be there.


WEB TICKETS: https://www.ticketweb.com/event/shiny-lisa-maxwells-jazz-orchestracatalina-bar-grill-tickets/9788725?pl=cbg
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LOUIS ARMSTRONG – “LIVE IN EUROPE” Dot Time Legends Recording

FRANCE LINE-UP: Louis Armstrong,trumpet/vocals;Jack Teagarden, trombone/vocals; Barney Bigard,clarinet; Earl Hines,piano; Arvell Shaw, bass; Sid Catlett,drums. GERMANY LINE-UP: Louis Armstrong, trumpet,vocals; Trummy young,trombone; Bob McCracken,clarinet/vocals; Marty Napoleon,piano; Arvell Shaw,bass; Cozy Cole,drums.

Imagine, stepping into a magical transformer and being whisked back in time. For a minute, just pretend you have entered a time machine. Moments later,you are sitting in a small jazz club in New Orleans. It’s 1946,and just mere feet away from your table,a young man, destined to become a living legend, is blowing his horn. Others on the scene are Jack Teagarden on trombone and Barney Bigard on clarinet. Crouched over the piano keys is Earl “Fatha” Hines. Arvell Shaw stands tall next to his double bass and Cozy Cole is slapping the trap drums. The leader, standing center stage in a dark suit and bow tie, is Louis Armstrong. The ensemble is performing together in preparation for a European tour.

It appears that eventual tour was recorded on February 22 – 23, 1948 during the Nice International Jazz Festival. It was recorded live at the famed Nice Opera House and also at the Titania Palast in Berlin, Germany. The group of musicians varies. Velma Middleton is featured, along with Louie, on vocals. Sometimes the dynamic Sid Catlett is the drummer and other times, it’s Cozy Cole. Earl Hines is the pianist in France and Marty Napoleon plays piano in Germany. But the steadfast trumpeter and star of this live production is Louis Armstrong.

This recording is part of Dot Time’s Legacy Series and these treasured tracks were recovered in forgotten, European archives of a live performance of Louie Armstrong and his All Stars in both Nice, France and later, in Germany, during a Berlin recorded broadcast on RIAS (Radio in the American Sector) files.

On the bluesy presentation of “Rockin’ Chair,” Jack Teagarden lends his smooth vocals to the mix, with Armstrong playfully answering him in his signature vocal style and adding a bit of comic relief during their duet. One thing I always admired about Louis Armstrong, (other than his amazing musical agility on his trumpet) was his penchant for entertaining. Sometimes musicians play only for themselves and each other, forgetting about the audience or having the attitude you can love it or leave it. Louie Armstrong knew that singing was a strong audience pleaser and always included this in his shows, as well as adding comedy relief. Louis Armstrong understood the importance of entertaining. The story goes that Armstrong’s manager at the time, Joe Glaser, told him before his European tour not to sing. He said they were all foreigners and didn’t speak any English. Armstrong nodded gravely, but as you hear, he paid absolutely no attention to Glaser’s instruction not to sing. In his own way, he was a serious activist, using music as his catalyst. He opened every concert singing Fats Waller’s poignant “Black and Blue” composition. It reflected the racism in America and always was received with marvelous applause and appreciation. You will hear his performance of that song on this album, along with the popular, “Sunny Side of the Street.”

He scats his way through “Them There Eyes,” as only Louie could do and I was intrigued with the blues song, “My Bucket Got a Hole In It,” featuring the boogie-woogie bass line I used to hear my own father play on our upright piano. Louis Armstrong then pays homage to his roots on “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” and on “Mahogany Hall Stomp” the band has an on-stage jam session with Arvell Shaw making a strong statement on his bass and Barney Bigard swinging his clarinet solo boldly into the audience. Closing with “A Kiss to Build a Dream On,” Louis Armstrong leaves us a message from beyond and a promise, like a blown kiss, that love crosses all boundaries the same way great music does.
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Wallace Roney,trumpet; Emilio Modeste,tenor & soprano saxophones; Oscar Williams II, piano; Paul Cuffari,bass; Lenny White & Kojo Odu Roney,drums; Quinton Zoto, guitar.

Wallace Roney has the tone and beautiful execution on his trumpet that makes me want to bow my head and pray. I am especially taken by his interpretation of “Why Should There Be Stars,” a lovely ballad and the second tune on his stellar new album.

“Bookendz” opens his CD and it’s powerfully played by two drums: Lenny White’s funk-drums, along with Kojo Odu Roney adding his percussive licks. Oscar Williams II offers in-your-face piano brilliance. Wallace Roney recalled the first time he heard Oscar Williams II play.

“He had beautiful touch and a scope of understanding. He was shy, but I could hear that innovative spirit in him – that’s why I hired him,” Wallace Roney confessed.

The ensemble’s rhythm section magic sets the stage for Roney’s impeccable trumpet solos. Emilio Modeste not only soars on soprano saxophone, fluttering like a bird during his solo, but adds harmonic flavor with Roney as an integral part of their duo horn section. This tune introduces the players in a bright, boisterous way. I was so moved by the production on these two songs that I had to rewind and play them twice before continuing. Roney’s music can have that effect on you. His talent demands attention and sparkles under the microscope of our ear-investigation.

“Wolfbane,” a Lenny White composition, gives White an opportunity to take the percussive reins and ride his trap drums dynamically across this production, inspiring a strong, walking bass by Paul Cuffari. His bass dances along, beneath the music, in a very creative way. Quintin Zoto adds rhythm guitar to this straight ahead, take-no-prisoners tune and the rhythm section pushes the pulse, creating a stage for the horns to showcase their splendor.

“My music is uncompromising, so I look for musicians who have an expansive understanding of what’s possible and who have the ability to play above that; but who are always cognizant of what’s going on around them. I tell them to be true to who you are. Go all the way in, learn every part of what the masters have done, but let it come out ‘you’.”

All I can say is, mission accomplished!
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Jason Harnell, drums/vocals/synthesizer/loops/vocal percussion/comedian/ unimaginable creativity.

I have always been fascinated by drummers. They use every muscle in their bodies and practically all their limbs. They synchronize those bones, ligaments and muscles to orchestrate rhythm; to hold a group together like super glue and to inspire the listener to groove, move, dance, finger pop and enjoy the music. Drummers are a special breed of musician. That being said, Jason Harnell brings something totally fresh to this album of percussive music. Based on drum solos that he performs, Harnell adds spoken word monologues to his spontaneity. He blends in his singing abilities, harmonizing with himself and creating moods and melodies. I am reminded of the artistic and unexpected talents of Bobby McFerrin on his opening cut, “Trance” and on the fourth track titled, “Lullaby.” Jason Harnell sings all the parts over his singing drums. Harnell unapologetically displays multi-talents. His album cover portrays a character that could represent, “Captain Amazing Saves the World” the title of Harnell’s fifth track. The cartoonish figure, with Harnell’s head perched atop a bulging, muscle-toned, cartoon body in a superman-type-suit, is standing on a pile of drums. Jason Harnell describes in his monologue, a musical, jazz, super hero. A super hero who has powers to play and improvise beautiful music anytime and anywhere. However, that super hero “…could not fry an egg, or change a tire; couldn’t type or use on-line banking.” I laugh out loud! Obviously, Jason Harnell has a vivid sense of humor. I think cut #5 explains the man himself.

At six years old, after Jason Harnell played a fifteen-minute drum solo for the legendary drummer, Louie Bellson. Bellson was so impressed that he replaced the child’s toy drum kit with his own. Thus, began Jason Harnell’s search for perfection and musical, rhythmic clarity. He did all the things developing jazz musicians do. He practiced, played gigs, inter-acted with his peers and made political moves to enhance his climb to fame. The idea of presenting a solo drum show never entered his mind until a bartender/manager of the Oyster House Saloon in Studio City, California suggested he do just that. The inspired manager wanted to book Harnell as a solo act. Thus, the Jason Harnell Solo Drum Experience was conceived.

In both his live shows and on this production, Jason Harnell incorporates recorded loops, applied effects, spoken word stories and descriptive monologues, while playing his drums. He sings and harmonizes with himself. His vocals are palatable and husky. He pulls inspiration from comics and films. For example, Jason incorporates the ‘Quint the shark hunter’s’ speech from the “Jaws” movie into his drum song on his tune, “Bad Fish.”

Without a doubt, this is a unique production, inclusive of vocal percussive scatting. Harnell presents original arrangements of familiar songs like “Moon River” and “When You’re Smiling” and he’s obviously an expert on trap drums. One minute he’s Bobby McFerrin, the next he’s Elvin Jones, and then he’s Al Jarreau. The next second, he’s a Hollywood actor delivering a monologue, always accompanied by his incredible drum solos. Then, he surprises us when he sings something as pensive and sweet as “Sara Song.”

Born of a prominent musical family, his father, Joe Harnell, was a Grammy winning composer and arranger. Perhaps young Jason was tutored early on to improvise his way through life and to be unafraid to push the walls of the boxes that surround us. He is an artist unafraid to reinvent his music and himself; to use his imagination and creativity to embellish his life and his audiences. Jason Harnell shows us that he is a free spirit, brilliant percussionist, talented singer, and a totally adventurous character. If you want to experience something completely unique and unexpected, “Total Harnage” is the CD you will want to pop into your player. Then, fasten your seat belt!
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Noah Preminger,tenor saxophone;Jason Palmer,trumpet; John O’Gallagher,alto saxophone; Kris Davis,piano; Rob Schwimmer,Haken Continuum/clavinet; Kim Cass,bass; Rudy Royston,drums.

Steve Lampert is a trumpeter who has composed all the music for this project.

“Steve is absolutely brilliant,”Preminger says of the artist whose recording resumé includes five of his own albums as a leader.

“I met Steve Lampert at a gig in Greenwich Village around 2010 and we immediately struck up a deep friendship. Steve has shown me a lot about life; the way he says things just makes sense to me. Listening to and recording his music has given me a fuller perspective on the relationship between improvisation and composition, deepening the richness of my musical palette.”

“Zigsaw” is a suite of music and a metaphor for dreams that Noah Preminger experienced. In the eyes of the musicians, in the charts they read and the concept they perpetrate, Noah Preminger’s Group conceives this suite as divided into twelve main sections. Each represent a cycle of events. On the disc, you will see no division at all. The number ‘One’ glows on the CD player, as if we are on the first track for nearly an hour.

This is contemporary exploration by Noah Preminger on his tenor saxophone, endeavoring to catch his dreams and pin them, like living butterflies, on a board of velvet. You can visualize their fluttering wings spread open and straining for freedom, the way Preminger’s horn does. Steve Lampert encourages that freedom in the members of the Noah Preminger Group.

“For all my projects, I write a kind of musical virtual reality within which instrumentalists can react to the piece and with each other. I want them to be who they are as improvisers, to not tie their hands in any way, to put them in a strange new world and have them do their thing,”Steve Lampert explains his composition as it relates to the Noah Preminger musicians.

Noah Preminger hired pianist and keyboardist, Rob Schwimmer, as a wild card. Schwimmer brings a futuristic fingerboard into the project, playing the Haken Continuum, an instrument that creates more atmospheric revelations and offers unusual improvisations. This unique instrument provides a sonic element to the production. One that acoustic instruments could not have singularly captured.

Noah is the distant cousin of film director Otto Preminger and this is his fourteenth album release. In fact, he released a CD titled, “Preminger Plays Preminger” where he interpreted and wrote music associated with the films of his distant cousin. That album was released on the French, vinyl-only label, Newvelle Records. It featured Jason Moran on piano, Kim Cass on bass and drummer, Marcus Gilmore. Noah Preminger is known for pushing musical boundaries. He has garnered the DownBeat magazine’s Rising Star Best Tenor Saxophonist title and was hailed by the Boston Globe as “a master with standards and ballads, as well as an adventurous composer.” I’m certain this will be another contemporary, modern jazz album of Avant-garde music that will become an additional notch in his saxophone belt.

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Chris Pasin,trumpet/composer; Karl Berger,vibraphone/piano; Ingrid Serso, vocals; Harvey Sorgen,drums; Michael Bisio,bass; Adam Siegel,alto saxophone.

Jazz trumpeter,Chris Pasin, uses a host of excellent musicians to celebrate Pulitzer Prize winner and Jazz master, Ornette Coleman and his long-time collaborator, Don Cherry. Pasin’s opening tune is self-penned and titled, “OCDC.” It introduces us to each player in his ensemble, as they race to the tempo and improvise, sweeping across space with their solo efforts. Harvey Sorgen’s rolling trap drums keep the propulsive momentum steady and Sorgen is consistently creative. Michael Bisio takes an extended bass solo, with Sorgen highlighting the bass player’s step into the spotlight. Chris Pasin speaks fluidly on his trumpet and Adam Siegel answers on his alto saxophone. The tune, “Jayne” follows and is an Ornette Coleman composition. Pasin has arranged it as a smooth Latin groove with Karl Berger’s vibraphone dotting the production,like exclamation marks throughout the production. It’s a nice touch. Chris Pasin makes himself heard, soloing over the tight rhythm section, his tone both melodic and innovative. Enter Siegel on his alto saxophone, spewing creativity like confetti. This is a well-paced and exciting recording that has chosen five of Ornette’s compositions to ‘cover’ with a blanket of beauty and warm inventiveness. Pasin comfortably shares his stage with each individual ensemble player, but definitely shines on his own horn conversations. This reviewer enjoyed this production, but I was not impressed with the vocalist, whose amateur singing took away from these masterful musicians.

Chris Pasin, a master of both classical and jazz trumpet, has been an Ornette fan sense his teenaged years. He explained in his liner notes:

“I became acquainted with the music of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Albert Ayler as a teenager and played along with their records. … It was not until a couple of years ago that the idea of a band playing the music inspired by these heroes occurred to me, thus engendering Ornettiquette.”

This album marks the second collaboration between Pasin and producer, Patricia Dalton Fennell for Planet Arts records. Although it was released in winter of 2018, it is such an exquisite tribute to Ornette and Don Cherry, and so well played, that I had to include it in my article that celebrates ‘legendary trumpeters.’ Chris Pasin’s work certainly falls into that category.

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September 3, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

Sept 3, 2019


Colin Stranahan,drums; Glenn Zaleski,piano; Rick Rosato,bass.

Enter drummer,Colin Stranahan, as he percussively sings the introduction to Glenn Zaleski’s original song, “Forecast.” It’s a straight-ahead, bebop tune penned by the pianist and properly introduced on Stranahan’s Canupus drums and Zildjian cymbals. He locks horns with Rick Rosato on double bass, using a flurry of drum sticks to tag a tempestuous walking bass. They make my ears perk up and snatch my attention. It’s a percussive love affair. By the time Glenn Zaleski enters on piano, I am already infatuated with this music. Here is a trio that has been performing together for over a decade. The richness and excitement in their music comes from their common chemistry, familiarity and shared talent. Each one brings his own mastery to the stage of “Live at Jazz Standard” in New York City.

“There was a lot of time between our second and third records when we all got busier as sidemen. But our chemistry only deepened. … As we grew, we were gathering professional experience and I think that has definitely seasoned our chemistry together,” Zaleski explains in the liner notes.

During this ‘Live’ presentation, you will be on the edge of your seat and thoroughly entertained, as though you are one of the enthusiastic audience members at New York City’s famed jazz club. All three members contribute compositions. The only standard they play is “All the Things You Are,” and that’s always a jazz crowd-pleaser.

“This trio really feels like home for me,” Rosato says. “We’ve gotten to know each other on a very deep level, both musically and personally.”

In 2010, this trio began their musical journey together performing a weekend of unforgettable jazz in Rick Rosato’s native Montreal,Canada. Shortly after,they went to Denver,Colorado (Colin’s hometown) and recorded their first album titled, “Anticipation.” In 2013, they followed this up with another recording called, “Limitless.” Working separately as busy sidemen with a slew of recognizable jazz giants, the trio split into different, individual directions. So, eight years later, this is a homecoming of sorts. A culmination of experiences, growth and a strong desire to bring their music back to familiar roots. Together,they blossom.

“We just sensed a connection and playing together felt so effortless. The music was just flowing out of us. Since then, I’ve felt that way every time we’ve played together. The friendships and the music have only gotten stronger, and that’s a unique situation,” Stranahan shares.

So, grab a cocktail, a coffee or a smoothie; prop yourself up in your favorite easy chair, and enjoy this hour-long concert of exquisite beauty, creative compositions and resolute talent.
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JELENA JOVOVIC – “HEARTBEAT” Universal Music Group

Jelena Jovovic, vocals/composer; Vasil Hadzimanov, piano/Fender Rhodes; Milan Nikolic, double & Electric bass; Vladimir Kostadinovic & Dusan Novakov, drums; Rastko Obradovic, tenor & soprano saxophones; Strahinja Banovic & Stjepko Gut, trumpets; Milos Nikolic, trumpet/trombone; Branko Trijic, guitar; Milos Branisavljevic, vibraphone; Tom Fedja Franklin & Bojan Ivkovic, percussion; Srdjan Markovic, Ivana Vukmirovic & Ilija Mihailovic, background vocals; Oleg Kireyev, tatar throat singing.

A beautiful poem opens this recording. Jelena Jovovic performs spoken work, then follows this by adding lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s tune, “Witch Hunt.” Her voice is a sweet tonal force. For effect, she multi-layers vocal harmonies intermittently throughout her arrangement. Rastko Obradovic adds a soulful solo on tenor saxophone and Jelena’s entrancing voice recites poetry over Milan Nikolic’s bass expressions. This is an interesting opening to a very creative and unique project, where the story of an oak tree becomes a symbol of strength, endurance, wisdom and the power of life. This music is born and bred in Belgrade, (a bustling city in the former Yugoslavia). This city and its people know about resilience and strength. They survived a war of ethnic cleansing.

Jelena Jovovic is a composer and lyricist. For her second song, she has used the influence of an old folk song she heard as a child, transforming it into “Paladin” as a reminder to never, ever fear. This composition is a pretty ballad. On tune #3, I enjoy the Tatar throat singing of Oleg Kireyev. I first heard this type of growling inspiration when I was performing in Thailand years ago and ran into a group of Russian musicians whose group featured throat singing. Their sound was captivating. It‘s an unforgettable experience. Once you hear this imitable sound, you will never forget it. Along with throat singing, Jovovic and her band of musicians have created an arrangement that sounds like Horace Silver meets Chaka Khan. They add a bluesy piano by Vasil Hadzimanov and Jelena shows us that she can scat with the best of them, adding vocal harmonies with the horns. Beneath the entire production, Vladimir Kostadinovic plays exciting drum. “The Countless Stars” is one of this reviewer’s favorite songs.

Another enchanting song is the title tune, “Heartbeat” with its intoxicating melody and repeatable refrain. Jelena Jovovic has a vocal instrument that is powerful and stylized. She has a voice you will remember, and that’s one of the finer points of becoming a true artist; when you have a style and tone that is all your own. Her lyrics are often more prose than rhymes and her melodies often challenge the norm, like “Bubu’s Song” that swings hard and shows us that Jelena Jovovic is a jazz diva, as well as an adept composer. On this song she applies the tone and techniques of master scat vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan. The song, “Little Freddie Steps” reminds me of a combination of Eddie Harris, Freddie Hubbard and Eddie Jefferson, rolled into one funky composition. Strahinja Banovic soars on his trumpet. This entire production shows us the transformative effect that jazz music has on all people, spanning continents and splashing across oceans, to inspire art and freedom in world class talents like Jelena Jovovic and her ensemble.
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RAY BLUE –“WORK” Jazzhead Records

Ray Blue, tenor saxophone/composer; Ron Wilkins, trombone; Neil Clark, Percussion; Steve Johns,drums; Essiet Okon Essiet & Belden Bullock,bass; Jeff Barone,guitar; Sharp Radway, Kirk Lightsey & Benito Gonzalez,piano.

Ray blue’s saxophone work is as infectious as his beaming smile on the cover of his newly released album of ‘Work.’ He opens with an original song and the title tune, that appears to be based loosely on the changes to “My Way.” These musicians like to swing hard and straight ahead they go. The Negro National Anthem, “Life Every Voice and Sing,” follows. It’s performed at a speedy tempo with gusto and pride. Ray Blue is a very melodic composer and he’s smooth as velvet on his horn. The tune he calls, “My Friend and I Took A Walk,” is a pretty ballad. Benito Gonzalez has a light, but thoroughly effective touch on the piano. His brief solo is tender and emotional. Ray Blue adds funk to the program with Nat Adderly’s swinging song, “Sweet Emma.” This entire production offers an assortment of familiar jazz tunes, with the addition of three original songs by the leader. This is an entertaining hour and four minutes of excellent jazz. Ray Blue’s smooth tenor saxophone interpretations are consistently pleasing to the ear. He has also surrounded himself with some of the best East Coast jazz musicians available, including pianist Kirk Lightsey, who makes a guest appearance on the very bluesy presentation of “Teach Me Tonight” and on the closing tune, “That’s All” that features Ray blue and Lightsey as an effective duo. Bassist Essiet Essiet in another stellar player on bass. Other favorite tunes are “Everything Happens to Me” which wears a refreshed face as a swing arrangement rather than the normal ballad presentation. Norah Jone’s composition, “Don’t Know Why” also swings hard as does Jimmy Smith’s “Mellow Mood” and pop standard, “Our Day Will Come.” I plan on keeping this CD in my car so I can listen often.
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Orice Jenkins,vocals/arranger/finger snaps/piano/ Wurlitzer/Rhodes/acoustic guitar; Zaccai Curtis,piano; Matt Dwonszyk,double bass; Frank Brocklehurst,acoustic & elec. Bass; Susan Mazer,elec. guitar; Chuck Petersen & Jocelyn Pleasant,drums; Alvin Carter Jr., Djembe; Allan Ballinger, cello; Kevin Bishop, viola; Aaron Packard & Annie Trepanier, violins. (The Hartford String Quartet under the direction of Cuatro Puntos.)

His voice is butter. It comes on the scene smoothly, without accompaniment except for finger snaps. Orice Jenkins is a ‘Capella-beautiful on the opening tune of “Let There Be Love.” Enter string players on “Mona Lisa” in a staccato dance beneath Jenkins’ strong baritone vocals. At first, it’s a gripping and unexpected arrangement. But it soon becomes annoying to my ear. The repetitive strings, punching a background for this classic tune, takes away from the beauty of the song’s melody, as well as the beauty of Jenkins’ voice. I am disappointed. In my opinion, a smooth transition to legato lines from the punchy staccato would have enhanced this production. In contrast, the string arrangement on “Nature Boy” is stunning. The addition of Alvin Carter Jr.’s djembe instrument gives this production an unexpected world music slant.

Orice Jenkins is multi-talented. Not only does he have a lovely voice and tone, he also plays piano and guitar on this project. As a composer, he contributes an original tune titled, “Birmingham.” This protest song recounts an incident occurring in Alabama city, in 1956, when Nat King Cole was assaulted and the Ku Klux Klan attempted to kidnap him from the stage.

Orice Jenkins accompanies himself on the grand piano when singing “Stardust.” The strings return on “Blame It on My Youth.” The rich contrast of his beautiful baritone against the chamber music is striking. I was happy to hear him pick up the pace and swing “The Very thought of You” tune, featuring Jocelyn Pleasant on drums. Jenkins is an adventuresome arranger and vocalist. This recording presents an unusual concept, with his voice floating like cream atop the milky sting arrangements. It’s quite experimental. However,I think that sometimes an artist has to step away and let a producer take the reins in the studio. I don’t see a producer listed, so I am assuming that Orice Jenkins produced this tribute to Nat King Cole himself. March 17, 2019 marked what would have been Nat King Cole’s 100th birthday. Mr. Jenkins does an adequate job of paying homage to the legendary Nat King Cole, in his own inimitable way.
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Christopher Hollyday,alto saxophone: Gilbert Castellanos,trumpet; Joshua White, piano;Rob Thorsen,bass; Tyler Kreutel,drums.

If you are a die-hard, straight-ahead jazz fan, this first composition by Freddie Hubbard will satisfy your soul. Christopher Hollyday leaps into this project with exuberant and serious chops on his alto saxophone. He doesn’t stop there. On the 2nd cut, “Hallucinations” (a Bud Powell composition) Hollyday and Gilbert Castellanos, on trumpet, keep the bebop going strong. This album was cut in San Diego, California, but it sounds more like New York City energy.

“Gilbert and I have a connection. When we play, we don’t need to talk. That’s why I named the album” Telepathy,” Christopher Hollyday affirms.

I wondered why I hadn’t heard Hollyday’s name on the West Coast music scene. He’s certainly an amazing and gifted reedman with a tone and style that’s all his own. Then I read the liner notes. It appears that he was somewhat of a super-star over three decades ago. His major debut on the RCA/Novus label featured a young man with tremendous talent on the saxophone headlining an all-star group of masters including Wallace Roney on trumpet, Cedar Walton on piano, David Williams on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. After that smashing debut album, he recorded three more works of art. But like a lot of musicians with admirable gifts and talked-about potential, he suddenly found himself floundering around the East Coast Boston Bebop scene, with no record deal offers and a smattering of gigs. Without a manager, a booking agent or the drive to do it himself, his shooting star plunged. Love and marriage followed. Hollyday relocated to San Diego’s North County with his bride and became an educator for the next twenty-some years, providing for his family and letting his music career sit on a shelf next to his 1989 record albums.

Lucky for us, one recent morning Christopher Hollyday woke up and decided to record another album. On this project you will hear his wonderful interpretations of “Everything Happens to Me,” “Autumn in New York,” the familiar Harold Arlen gem, “I’ve Got the World on A String” and Charlie Parker’s tune, “Segment,” played at a racing pace and showcasing his strong rhythm section. Christopher Hollyday flies on this tune, like a caged bird suddenly set free. I always enjoy hearing Gilbert Castellanos’ smooth trumpet sound. He and Hollyday work well together. Joshua white’s fingers dance across the keys, swift as humming bird wings. Rob Thorsen’s bass pumps relentlessly, locked into the rhythm of Tyler Kreutel’s drums. I wish both of those musicians had taken a solo on this speedy arrangement. But, never mind. You will still enjoy and experience the camaraderie of these musicians that radiates throughout their production in support of Christopher Hollyday’s terrific talent. The joy is palpable. Welcome back, Christopher Hollyday. We’ve been waiting for you.

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CHASE BAIRD – “A LIFE BETWEEN” SoundsAbound Records

Chase Baird,saxophone/composer/producer; Antonio Sanchez, drums; Brad Mehldau,piano; Nir Felder,guitar; Dan Chmielinski,bass.

From the modern, contemporary art CD cover to the contemporary jazz music on disc, Chase Baird uses his composer credentials and saxophone talent to present “A Life Between.” The introduction to his tune, “Ripcord” sounds like rock music, but soon morphs into jazz. Baird admits in the liner notes, “I really want to be in Radiohead, but how can I be a saxophonist and do that?”

He has created an album of work that encompasses the challenges of facing New York City with young, musical dreams and working through tough times. He strived to cultivate romanticism inside himself during moments of serious doubt and with no gigs in sight. In between school and practice, He baked pies, washed dishes, detailed cars, and out of his struggle came compositions that are tinged with romance and friction; a place hoovering between love and work. Cut #2 is warmer, more melodic and a ballad with busy drums, played artistically by Antonio Sanchez, dancing beneath the tenderness. It’s a nice contrast affect with the trap drums pounding and busy, while Baird’s beautiful saxophone sounds tell a more tender story. Once again, we are caught in the in-between. “As You Are” is the title of the tune and is distinctively more Coltrane-ish. I enjoy Nir Felder’s smooth guitar solo. “Reactor” starts out sounding like an R&B tune, then quickly transforms with a horn line that moves the composition into funk jazz. The rhythm section conjures up an arrangement that reminds me of an American Indian celebration. Chase Baird knows how to combine cultures, styles and sounds in a delicious way. The sweet, staccato punch of the piano, the bass runs and the rhythm guitar create a trampoline of sound for Chase Baird’s horn to bounce upon. It’s not long before Nir Felder takes his guitar solo way outside ‘the box’ and heads for the stratosphere. Even as a graduate of Julliard, with his degree tucked into his sock drawer and printed on Baird’s impressive bio, it hasn’t been easy. From Utah roots, to gigs in Los Angeles, hungry dreams and repetitive insecurities led this musician East and to the outer limits of himself. The thing about music is you have to find your own path, rake it smooth and cement your own destiny in place.

“…just playing, interacting, opening up, stretching out, getting to that place. So, I wanted to write songs more as vehicles for group improvisation. Let the band get a vibe and take off. I like playing with people; where there’s some grit,” Chase Baird explains the concept of “A Life Between”.

“I want people I can go to war with. Having a balance is important. Dan (Chmielinski) brings a lighter energy as a human being. You kind of need someone who’s happy. You need someone who’s darker too; artistically darker. You need different ingredients that can breed tension. While planning this recording session, Dan said to me, why not call Brad? Brad had cut three tracks on one of Antonio’s records in 2015. I trust Antonio (Sanchez) and Brad was one of my heroes. I had played with Nir before. Nir was someone I always looked up to. He’s the whole package. We all rehearsed once, the day before this session.”

With his team in place, loaded and ready for battle, Chase Baird passed out his charts and took the giant step into a studio space. He challenged his horn, and his musical friends, to constellate a sparkling, musical dream. His compositions inspire, and together, they bring intangible determination and outstanding talent to push the boundaries of creativity and freedom.
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Haruna Fukazawa,flute/alto flute; Steve Wilson,soprano saxophone/flute; David Demotta,piano; Bill Moring,bass; Steve Johns,drums.

From the first original song by Ms. Fukazawa titled, “Contact” I am intrigued with the ‘swing,’ the melody, the arrangement and her excellence on flute. I appreciate her arrangement of Horace Silver’s “Juicy Lucy.” Once again, her band swings and David Demotta’s piano solo is flush with blues. It’s obvious that Haruna Fukazawa enjoys swinging the music. On “I Wish You Love” she continues with her happy-go-lucky presentation. Bill Moring is terrific on his walking bass, skipping beneath her flute solo and locking in with Steve Johns on drums. Ms. Fukazawa also has a neat way of harmonizing with Steve Wilson’s saxophone and placing the duo reed parts in all the right places to accentuate her bright, arrangements and to ensorcell our ears. She gives the pianist a time to shine on “Bassi Blues” with a pounding piano that enriches the arrangement in a pronounced way and snatches any drifting attention to her flute-driven melody. This is obviously a tribute to Count Basie, with the mondegreen of Basie becoming Bassi, within the title of her song. Steve Johns takes a fluid and powerful solo on trap drums and half-way through the tune the trio doubles the time and flies free. This entire buffo production is delightful and each musician displays their artistic excellence in unforgettable ways. Her choice of repertoire shines, with beautiful compositions like Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing,” and Sammy Fain & Bob Williard’s “Alice In Wonderland.” Without doubt, Haruna is a noteworthy composer/arranger and she brings joy to her project with her flautist mastery, excitement and spontaneous energy. This is an album of music to enjoy again and again, over time.
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John Yao, trombone/composer; Billy Drewes,soprano/alto saxophones; Jon Irabagon, tenor saxophone; Peter Brendler,bass; Mark Ferber,drums.

Drummer, Mark Ferber, along with horns, soak up the spotlight on the first tune. Peter Brendler walks his double bass beneath their excellent energy as they set the fast-moving pace. Thus, they become the musical curtains for John Yao to walk through on his trombone. These arrangements by composer Yao, are both challenging and inspired. For over a decade, he’s been honing his talents as a trombonist, a composer and arranger. He’s released two albums with his Quintet and one with his 17-piece big band. In New York, John Yao has worked extensively with the Vanguard Jazz orchestra, Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin jazz Orchestra and accompanied Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, Danilo Perez, Chris Potter and Kurt Elling. He’s staff arranger for the JMI Jazz World Orchestra and his talents were commissioned by the Afro-Latin jazz Orchestra. Aside from that kind of scheduled appearance calendar, he manages to be Adjunct Faculty at Molloy College and Queens College. But this project is fresh and new.

“In any arranging class, you’ll learn that three horns is the hardest combination to work with in achieving a full sound,” Yao explains. “If you just had one more voice, you could fill out the harmony more clearly. But with three, you’re constantly boxed into corners, so that was a huge challenge orchestrationally. Especially, with this group, because there’s no piano or guitar. But I like to set up boundaries for myself to cross. Maybe I just like to make my life miserable, but the idea is to try to grow as a musician and push my limits.”

This production certainly pushes the limits of both creativity and talent. Both Jon Irabagon on tenor and Billy Drewes, bouncing from soprano to alto saxophones, add polish and excitement to each solo and shine on the horn harmonies. The group is obviously propelled by the vigorous rhythm excellence of both Peter Brendler on bass and drummer Mark Ferber. Ferber’s drum skills shine on the second cut, “Triceratops Blues,” with Yao’s smoothly arranged horn lines punching the harmonies and stitching the tune together like a master tailor. Triceratops is the name of a huge dinosaur that once walked this earth. This is a contemporary jazz project of immense character, featuring saxophones and trombone as the frontline and exhibiting skillful arrangements on the eight songs John Yao has composed. He manages to succeed in juggling the triangular horn act, while smoothly entertaining our ears like a persuasive circus barker. We are hypnotically drawn into his music, eager to hear what comes next.

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August 30, 2019


By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

Aug 30, 2019


Dave Miller, piano; Chuck Bennet, bass; Bill Belasco, drums.

The piano, bass and drums dance onto the scene in synchronicity and with joy. There is nothing like a solid jazz trio to entertain us. This recalls the days when every major hotel had a good jazz trio at their comfortable lounges to set the mood and improve the ambience. Dave Miller delivers the melody of each one of these classic songs and makes me want to sing along. I never noticed that the familiar tune, “You Took Advantage of Me,” sounded so much like “Taking A Chance on Love,” until I heard Miller’s arrangement of it. Those two songs would make a great medley of tunes. Miller, Bennet and Belasco include a variety of songs, including those from the great American songbook and from unforgettable composers like Billy Taylor, Sam Jones, Rodgers & Hart, Gershwin, Charlie Parker and Michel LeGrand. This is pleasant journey down a very musical memory lane.

“When I was pretty young, I was having trouble understanding bebop. But then I heard the George Shearing Quintet. I loved hearing guitar, vibes and piano played in unison and took a liking to his sound. My interest in Shearing really grew after he broke up the quintet and I started listening to his performances as a duo with great bassists like Neil Swanson and Brian Torff. I also enjoyed his solo records, as well as his work with vocalists. I’ve found his playing always to be inspirational attributable largely to his range and depth. It influenced my own style,” Dave Miller explained in his liner notes.
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Matthew Shipp,piano; Ivo Perelman,tenor saxophone; Nate Wooley,trumpet.

Reaching back into a collection of music that somehow never got reviewed, but deserves my attention, I chose one of several works by pianist, Matthew Shipp. On “Philosopher’s Stone” he is part of the Ivo Perelman trio, a threesome that stretches the boundaries of avant-garde like bubble gum pulled from between the lips of a six-year-old’s fingers. The stretch is long and sticky, creative and presenting a push and pull relationship between saxophone, trumpet and piano. Even for those who love and search for the most improvised music they can find, Matthew Shipp and crew go a step beyond ‘outside.’ Sometimes sounding like screams of agony from mutilated horns or banging contrast and character on piano chords that embellish the fray. This is freedom of expression that distracts, rather than sooths. It tempts and teases your musical appetite. Perelman, who has scientifically studied the effect of sound and music on humanity, sometimes allows his saxophone to mimic a feeding bee, hoovering over an open rose. You hear nature sounds. Matthew Shipp compliments this project with walking bass lines played by his masterful left hand and chords that soar or accent the freedom flying above the piano notes. This is music that takes you to the African plains and puts you smack, dab in the middle of a field of mating elephants or dangles you precariously into a flock of screaming seagulls. While listening, use your imagination, or your ear-plugs as the case may be. This is not music for everyone.

Matthew Shipp shows you what the piano can do when set absolutely free to pursue a unique set of paths that challenge the most elevated ear. Nate Wooley is not to be forgotten or discarded. He is perhaps one of the most admired trumpeters in contemporary music and a master on his instrument. He moves from guttural spirals to sweet tones of protest and pain.

“I’m so happy I started this with Nate,” Perelman exudes. “I’m in love with him for like ten years now. When I first heard him in a duo with Matt Shipp at the Stone in New York, I thought, we have to do this!”

Ivo Perelman publishes this music in blocks of releasing five to six albums at a time. This encompasses his obsessive research of musical notes and their effects on humanity. Included in this release is a 2-CD-Set recorded “live” in Brussels with only himself and pianist, Matthew Shipp. This album was recorded on a century-old piano at the L’Archiduc, a bar that seats about seventy-five patrons and features Avant Garde music. Both Nat King Cole, Mal Waldron and organist, Jimmy Smith played this historic piano. Now, Matthew Shipp seats himself on the worn piano bench. You will hear more of Shipps enormous talent on this CD than the trio CD with Wooley & Perelman. As a duo work, there is more opportunity for him to be heard as he spontaneously creates.

As you listen, keep in mind that this ten-tune journey and double set CD duo is all without the benefit of any structured preconditions or directives on the part of saxophonist Ivo Perelman. This is music created out of thin air and imagination; emotion and empathy. You will either love it, or leave it.
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Oscar Hernandez,piano; Justo Almario,saxophone/flute; Jimmy Branly,drums; Oskar Cartaya,bass; Christian Moraga,percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: Gilbert Castellanos,trumpet; Dayren Santamaria,violin.

Sometimes when you hear the first strains drifting off of a recording, you know, right away, that you are about to enjoy some spectacular and emotional music. That’s what I felt immediately when I began to listen to Oscar Hernandez’s album. The smooth saxophone of Justo Almario spread wings and flew improvisationally above the melody of “Otro Nivel” and Gilbert Castellanos, who I met many years ago in San Diego, California sounded explosive and creative on his trumpet. Then, enter Oscar Hernandez on piano, letting his fingers dance above the rich percussion of Christian Moraga and Jimmy Branly. He gives both percussive musicians an opportunity to shine on their drum solos. Always present, Oskar Cartaya is the bassist who holds this ensemble tightly together with solid strength, like the basement that supports the house. This is a group proffering spicy Latin music, red hot rhythms, luscious melodies and the blending of individually talented musicians. They become a super stew of music as delicious as Ropa Vieja. The title tune, “Love the Moment” should be a creed for us all to follow. It’s beautifully written by Oscar Hernandez, along with nine other amazing compositions. Dayren Santamaria is exquisite on track #4, “Danzon for Lisa,” Adding violin adjoins a new dimension to the music, along with Justo Almario’s sensitive flute.

You may be more familiar with Oscar Hernandez as the leader of a three-time Grammy winning all-star salsa band. This is a step away from that orchestrated sound to a more intimate presentation. Still, this seven-musician ensemble has a full and captivating sound that explores every nuance of the Hernandez compositions. Oscar Hernandez has a career that stretches back to the 1970’s. He has worked with Latin greats like Celia Cruz, Ismael Miranda, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Conjunto Libre, Grupo Folkorico, as well as Ray Barreto and Ruben Blades. He was once Musical Director for Ray Barreto and Ruben Blades and also for the iconic Paul Simon. Not to mention, he was the orchestrator and arranger for Gloria Estefan. Known popularly for his formation of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a 13-piece all-star salsa big band. This Orchestra toots proudly their 3x GRAMMY awards and celebrates their 16-year existence. Look for their 7th release to bless our ears in 2020.

Every song on this album of fine music is well-written and memorable. Hernandez is an outstanding composer/arranger. This music easily demonstrates why this pianist and band leader is one of the most important voices in Latin music today.
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SUMITRA – “BITTERSWEET” Independent Label

Sumitra,piano/voice/composer; Brian Blade,drums/voice; Carlitos del Puerto, bass; Alex Machacek,guitars/strings.

Sumitra has a light, second-soprano tone that twinkles above her piano playing in a more pop than jazz vocal presentation. The first tune and the title of this album, “Bittersweet” is more jazz than the second song that is clearly pop music. However, Sumitra’s production is quite melodic and lyrically solid. She and guitarist/husband Alex Machacek, have lived and worked in the Los Angeles area since 2004, establishing a fan following and a musical identity all their own. Her lyrical chant, “mind, body, spirit, soul” on the second cut titled, “Make Me Whole” perhaps sums up the crux of her musical journey. This is her fourth album release. Sumitra’s publicist calls it a spiritual autobiography. Sumitra, the vocalist, is also a pianist, lyricist, composer and arranger. This production is sparse and her songs and vocals are right out front, the way they should be if she is pursuing a career as a singer/songwriter. On “Take the Reins” we are back to jazz funk. Sumitra uses interesting timing to create an effective track of musical interest. She sings one recognizable tune composed by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields; the popular “Just the Way You Look Tonight.” Other than that, you will be listening to all new and original music. This album reminds me more of an introduction to a singer/songwriter’s demo of material. These are good songs, presented by a multi-dimensional artist.

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Daniel Meron,piano/Rhodes/composer; Keren-Or Tayar,vocals; Pablo Menares,bass; Felix Lecaros,drums.

This is Daniel Meron’s fourth record release as a bandleader. He exhibits a playful, spontaneous, effortless talent on the piano keys and his compositions are well-constructed and melodic. Using the pretty vocals of Keren-Or Tayar on the second cut, “Morning Shadows” to deliver his original composition, I am drawn to her vocal tone. This is more pop than jazz, with a poetic lyric that I put headphones in place to listen to and critique. I wish he had included printed lyrics inside the CD package. It was hard to connect the title with the sometimes-indistinct lyrics, especially when the vocalist used the line “Singing my own song” to fade out the tune. “Morning Shadows” may have been the more appropriate lyrical fade, since it was not mentioned much in the song. Meron’s arpeggio-laden solo turns into a repetitive groove to allow drummer, Felix Lecaros, to take stage center on his trap drums. He sparkles in the spotlight. On the tune, “Newborn” bassist Pablo Menares is featured and his solo is appealing, with a background support that sounds very Middle Eastern or world music-like. I keep waiting for the “Wild” to appear, (i.e.: the album title, “Embracing Wild”) but even the title tune is not wild. Obviously, my idea and Daniel Meron’s idea of wild are quite different. Still, his original compositions are well-played and comfortable to listen to. They are classically fused and technically adept. However, I would have enjoyed hearing Daniel Meron dig deeper and express himself more freely on his piano and keyboards. Improvisation is the concept that propels jazz, and I didn’t hear enough of that musical freedom in his playing. Instead, Meron plays locked into the melody, holding it, buttoned close to his vest. I enjoyed hearing Pablo Menares bow his bass on “Sunrise,” a brief one-minute and forty-seconds long, like an interlude. On “I Am Now” Ms. Or Tayar is back to vocalize lyrics that do not have a hook or do not seem to express the title. This, however, is artistic freedom on behalf of the composer. I yield to that. On track-eight, she sings in what I believe is Yiddish; a song titled, “Darkness and Light.” It’s has a very haunting melody and is one of my favorites on this album of original songs, even if I cannot understand the lyrics. There are traces of folk music in this production that reflect Meron’s homeland of Israel, with all its minor modes exposed like teardrops against skin. Finally, “Jolly Beggar” embraces a slow swing that allows Menares to walk his bass and Lecaros to swing his drum sticks in a happy-go-lucky way. Meron stays cemented in the melodic chord structure, letting Pablo stretch out on the double bass and improvise freely. This is easy listening jazz that showcases the pianist’s composition skills.
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James Byfield/Blind Lemon Pledge,guitar/vocals/composer/arranger/producer; Marisa Malvino,vocals; Ben Flint,keyboards/arranger; Peter Grenell,bass; Joe Kelner, drums.

James Byfield, aka: Blind Lemon Pledge, has a rich, distinctive vocal style and when he introduces songs like “If Beale Street Was a Woman,” you believe him.

Blind Lemon has composed every song on this, his seventh album release. Ben Flint plays a mean, blues piano and enhances the rooted, blues-Americana music that Blind Lemon produces. The composer’s lyrics are wonderful, creative and inspired. Blind Lemon comes up with a freshness to his blues and jazz compositions, writing unexpected lyrics like:

“… Blues got funny habits, like pacing on the floor, rattlin’ on the windows and knockin’ on my door, blues is tryin’ to get to me, but I don’t know what for. Blues is just a feelin’ if what they say is true, it feels so real when it gets inside of you… I’m livin’ my life with the blues.”

His melodies are strong, but the production is weak and the mix on the instruments is poorly done. You can hardly discern the bass and drums, which would have enriched this project. Also, where is Blind Lemon’s guitar? You finally hear him play guitar and sing on “Blue Heartbreak.” I wish he had sung every one of his songs. The voice of Marisa Malvino is featured on vocals, but the voice of Blind Lemon is much more provocative and emotional. Also, all the songs seem to be written in the same key. It’s too bad, because these are well-written songs with creative, heart-felt lyrics. This album sounds more like a demo than a finished project.
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AHMAD JAMAL – “BALLADES” Jazzbook Records

Ahmad Jamal,piano/composer; James Cammack,double bass.

A “Ballade” is a short and lyrical piece of piano music or could refer to a poem using triplets or stanzas. Surely the music of Ahmad Jamal is both lyrical and poetic, royally entertaining us over a span of five decades into infinity. That’s why I was so excited to listen to this new Ahmad Jamal recording. He has been a favorite of mine since his initial release of the now historically popular “Poinciana” record and his 33-1/3 classic album “But Not For Me.” As a teenager, I played that record over and over again until the grooves were deeply rooted and the vinyl was unfortunately scratched.

This current work of art, that celebrates one of our geniuses of jazz, showcases the brilliance of this legendary pianist in all his singular beauty. On three songs, he is joined by James Cammack on bass. However, the remaining seven songs are all presented as solo piano. He rejuvenates old standards like “I Should Care,” the treasured, “What’s New” and Rodger & Hart’s “Spring Is Here” becomes a collaborative medley with the Bill Evans tune, “Your Story.” Another gem is his interpretation of “Emily.” Inclusive in this production are Jamal’s original compositions, “Marseille,” “Because I Love You,” “Whisperings” and a recapitulation of “Poinciana.” Ahmad Jamal’s music is inspired and solidly rooted in technique with an emotional delivery by this master, bent over his instrument, with concentrated bravura.

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