Autumn Jazz Releases Spotlight the Odd, the Unusual & the Beautiful

September 17, 2018

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
September 15, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Jazz Journalist/ Dee Dee McNeil

September 6, 2018


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

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

John Coltrane responds affirmatively, “Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By jazz journalist / Dee Dee McNeil
August 29, 2018

Outside In Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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August 25, 2018

By Jazz Journalist/Dee Dee McNeil
August 25, 2018

When I first met Aretha Franklin, I was maybe 22 years young. I had gone down to the Fireside Lounge in Detroit where she was performing. I believe she was signed to Columbia records then and she was recording jazz songs. I had those albums in my collection. I loved hearing her sing “Skylark,” “Take A Look” and “Mr. Ugly” was another one of my favorites.

I remember my friend, Marthea Hicks, took me backstage to say hello to the queen. She was gracious and downhome; still getting dressed for her appearance. At that time, Marthea had a radio program on a local Detroit station and her father was a minister, so she and Aretha had that in common. Rev. C.L. Franklin probably knew Rev. Hicks quite well. I remember feeling star-struck, sitting in the dressing room and being absolutely quiet. I was overwhelmed just being in the queen’s presence. No one could sing a song with the emotion, passion and pitch like Aretha Franklin. I think, at one time, I might have owned just about every record Aretha Franklin recorded. But my record collection of over 2000 LPs was sold three years ago when I cleaned out a storage space in Detroit. Since then, I’ve replaced my Aretha Franklin collection with CDs and often listen to her. One of my many favorites is her Amazing Grace CD. I was in the audience both nights when she recorded that album ‘live’ at James Cleveland’s church in South Central Los Angeles. The electricity in his historic church was palpable. Cameras were everywhere and they filmed that session. I hope that film is released, because that was an exceptional afternoon and evening of unforgettable music. Her dad was still alive then and Reverend Franklin was sitting right upfront in the first row. Aretha was playing piano and recording Marvin Gaye’s song, “Holy Holy.” She kept going over the introduction and being the perfectionist that she was, she kept stopping and starting over. She wanted to play it a certain way. Her dad, the honorable Reverend Franklin, finally encouraged her saying, “play it Aretha” and You can hear him on the original recording speaking those encouraging words. I don’t hear him on this newer CD I bought. But that was the time she played it perfectly and that’s one of the takes you hear on her recording that is beautifully performed. There were plenty of cameras there that night. I do hope they release that documentary because the music and Aretha’s performance were both electric! The spirit in the room was palpable. The Southern California Community Choir, directed by Rev. James Cleveland, was on fire. Aretha Franklin’s music was a soundtrack for our lives. Every album and every single she released reminds me of a special time in my life. She influenced so many singers. Chaka Khan told me once that her family used to refer to her as “Little Aretha,” and how much the queen meant to her. As a young singer, Chaka proudly admits patterning herself after Aretha Franklin, along with the influence of Stevie Wonder. You can hear Aretha’s influence in the vocals of Patti Labelle, Mary J. Blige, Fantasia, Whitney Houston (who was her God Child), Natalie Cole and so many more. No one could slide to a note like Aretha. She changed the face of Rhythm and Blues music, the same way that Ray Charles did. Both of them brought Gospel music into the mix and the spirit of a deep belief in God. Aretha Franklin also brought awareness to the Civil Rights movement with both her songs and actions. After all, art is always the reflection of a society. Aretha Franklin’s songs lifted us and addressed the challenges we faced as a people. She spoke up for women’s rights in her songs, long before the “Me Too” movement. She always made us feel proud of ourselves and our community by the way she carried herself and with the songs she sang.

She supported Dr. Martin Luther King, who was a family friend, and Aretha consistently offered her songs and support during the civil rights movement. If Americans didn’t realize her importance and the impact of her amazing talent on the world stage, they sat up and took notice when, on August 16, 2018, she overtook the news media on all major television stations in America. The Queen of Soul was featured prominently on CNN, MSNBC and more. Instead of the negative news we are used to seeing on network television, the airwaves paused from their usual news feed to celebrate the life and legacy of Aretha Franklin, our unforgettable Queen of Soul. Rest In Peace, beloved Aretha, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing your voice and your unrelenting love with us, in hopes of making the world a better place.


August 10, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz journalist
August 10, 2018

One thing I learned from the liner notes of SCOTT PETITO’S latest release titled, “Rainbow Gravity.” Rainbow Gravity is actually a theory and a concept in quantum physics. It contradicts the Big Bang Theory and asks humanity to consider that time stretches back infinitely and continues on endlessly. very much like music. This rainbow of artists I’ve reviewed do the same. For one, the amazing arrangements and execution of THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA under the direction of GREG FIELDS recalls another era, but still shines with contemporary and timeless music. THE SOUTH FLORIDA JAZZ ORCHESTRA DIRECTED by CHUCK BERGERON presents THE MUSIC OF GARY LINDSAY, a versatile and talented arranger. The JEFF “SIEGE” SIEGEL QUARTET offers a ‘live’ recording in London that reminds me of the freedom and excitement of John Coltrane’s heyday. Vocalist, REBECCA ANGEL, blends pop and jazz music on her debut CD. PEDRO GIRAUDO & THE WDR BIG BAND meld an Argentinian conductor, composer and arranger with a German band to celebrate his South American heritage and his two decades of living in New York City. JIM McNEELY pours all his imagination and composer skills into the FRANKFURT RADIO BIG BAND. Last, but certainly not least, the satin-smooth vocals of VIVIAN LEE, personalize love and loss on her CD titled, “Let’s Talk About Love.” Read all about them.


Scott Petito, composer/bassist/piccolo bass/NS bass/cello & loops; Omar Hakim, Peter Erskine, Simon Phillips & Jack DeJohnette, drums; David Sancious, keyboard; Rachel Z. & Warren Bernhardt, piano; David Spinozza, guitar; Mike Mainieri, vibraphone; Bashiri Johnson, percussion; Bib Mintzer, saxophone; Chris Pasin, trumpet.

Here is a production of pure funk and contemporary musicality played by some of the top modern jazz players in the business. Scott Petito is a bassist, a composer, producer and engineer. This is his second recording as a leader and he has contracted a melting pot of world class musicians. You recognize their talent right away, from the first strains of “Sly-Fi”, one of nine compositions that Petito has written. He has a strong sense of melody. This tune sparks of fiery, punchy horn lines by Bob Mintzer on saxophone, with Petito’s bass, pumping up the band, locking in with Omar Hakim on drums and David Sancious on keyboard. David Spinozza adds guitar to complete this hot rhythm section. Bashiri Johnson fattens their sound with percussion. This tune is over seven minutes long, but I’m never bored for one second. The time changes and melodic intervals keep the music interesting.

Each tune features a different mix of characters, like short, on-stage vignettes. For the second cut, Petito invites Peter Erskine to the drum set, Rachel Z. is on piano and Chis Pasin masters the trumpet. Titled “The Sequence of Events,” Scott Petito adds a piccolo bass solo and Rachel Z is given ample opportunity to showcase her excellence on piano. All of Petito’s compositions are full of groove and embrace the smooth jazz idiom. Even when they settle down to a moderate tempo ballad like “A Balsamic Reduction,” they manage to inspire this listener to tap her toes. The difference between much of the smooth jazz I hear on the airwaves and this recording is that Petito is an awesome composer and has employed these stellar, Grammy nominated musicians to enhance his excellence. None of this music is repetitious or simplistic. The vibraphone solo of Mike Mainieri during this lovely tune is pleasant to the ear and adds to this production. Simon Phillips mans the drums and David Spinozza shines on his guitar solo. Scott Petito covers all bases, incorporating styles. This may be contemporary jazz, but every one of these players know how to produce straight-ahead jazz and are masters in their own right. You hear a sample of this diversity on “The Sanguine Penguin” where Bob Mintzer celebrates his saxophone skills with gusto and where Scott Petito walks (or should I say ‘runs’) his bass lines beneath this production like raging waters. Simon Phillips is given a space to solo on drums, showing off mean technique. This is a recording project burning with talent and excitement. It’s beautiful music with memorable arrangements. There is not one bad tune on this entire recording. Perhaps Petito summed his project up the best when he explained:

“The experience of playing and listening to music can suspend us and yet at the same time sweep us away to new places with infinite possibilities. That relationship between music and our very essence of being, always struck me as the most human of experiences.”

On” Dark Pools,” utilizing the great Jack DeJohnette on drums and Petito on NS bass, cello and loops, Scott Petito expands his sense of music and stretches our imaginations. Petito’s music is provocative.

The title of Petito’s CD is meant to further describe Scott Petito’s musical goals. What I learned from the liner notes is that “Rainbow Gravity” is actually a theory and a concept in quantum physics. It contradicts the Big Bang Theory and asks humanity to consider that time stretches back infinitely and continues on endlessly. As a bassist and stellar composer, Scott Petito endeavors to create a sense of timelessness in his music. At the same time, he’s striving to capture a feeling that could very well continue on forever. To me, “Dark Pools” exemplifies some of this magical music and the composer ‘s forward-thinking mindset.
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I was expectant and excited to get a preview listen of the Count Basie Orchestra’s September release. Undisputedly, here is a big band/orchestra that has consistently produced amazing music with an unchallenged style and sound. This album is no exception. They open with their famed “Everyday I Have the Blues” featuring the Grammy winning vocal group, “Take 6.” It’s joyful to hear this normally a‘Capella, contemporary vocal aggregation singing with the Basie Band. Oh boy, do they swing! It’s a wonderful blend of modern vocal arrangemenst melded with classic Basie. This is followed by Earth, Wind and Fire’s hit recording of “Can’t Hide Love.” Iconic trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon, often celebrated for his plunger trombone style, is featured and he leads the trombone section. Pianist, Eric Reed adds his virtuosity at the grand piano. This pop piece ‘swings’ hard and continuously, as only the Basie Band can do. This album is produced by Gregg Field, former drummer of the Basie orchestra. Field has garnered eight Grammy Awards celebrating his creative production talents. Stevie Wonder joins the orchestra as a special guest on harmonica, whistling his way into our hearts with his awesome delivery on his self-penned, “My Cherie Amour.” But trust me, there is nothing ‘Pop’ about this arrangement or production. Wonder fits right into the slow swing arrangement that reminds me a little bit of Neal Hefti ‘s Lil’ Darlin’ hit record. It was recorded in the early Basie-Band-days on an album titled, “Atomic Basie.”

Woodwind player, Hal McKusick, who recorded with Neal Hefti in the 1950’s, once asked Hefti what made him stray away from his up-tempo, swingin’ compositions to create this ballad? Neal Hefti explained he originally wrote Lil’ Darlin’ as a medium tempo swing. During a rehearsal, when Basie was running the tune down, the Count asked Neal if the band could try it really slow. Basie said, ‘I’m hearing something.’ So, Neal agreed. He knew Basie’s instincts were always spot on. Basie proceeded to count off Lil’ Darlin’ at a much slower pace. After it was over, Neal said all he could do was smile and say to Basie, you did it! *

“My Cherie Amour” is followed by the timeless jazz standard, “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me,” passionately interpreted by the silky-smooth, vocal style of Kurt Elling. Gregg Field sits in on drums during the revival of this Frank Sinatra hit record.

The orchestra shows its Latin side on the memorable hit by guitarist, Wes Montgomery, choosing “Tequila” as the vehicle to recall the Basie Band’s great success in the 1950’s and 1960’s when they used Latin music as a vehicle. Jon Faddis, with his high trumpet tones and impeccable style, is a welcome featured guest on this arrangement. Bobby Floyd records the hip-swaying, Latin piano chords. He locks the groove into place, along with Will Matthews on guitar. This arrangement also invites the legendary Chick Corea to add his own piano licks and Luisito Quintero flavors the tune with percussion and conguero.

Jamie Davis, a Basie alumni and baritone vocalist re-introduces Jimmy Rushing’s blues hit, “Sent for You Yesterday” with a small ensemble of Basie band members including L.A.’s saxophonist, Rickey Woodard, with Eric Reed back on the keys, Gregg Field manning the drums and L.A.’s own Trevor Ware on bass. Jazz trumpeter, Scotty Barnhart adds a solo. This album would have been incomplete without a good old Kansas City blues and the one chosen does not disappoint. Another highlight is one of my favorite modern-day jazz organists, Joey DeFrancesco. He joins the Basie Orchestra for the second time. I also enjoyed him on the album,“Ray Sings/Basie Swings.” De Francesco brings new life to “April In Paris.” Carmen Bradford is a stellar jazz vocalist who frequently sings with the Count Basie Orchestra. On this project, she tributes Ella Fitzgerald by singing and debuting a never-before-recorded arrangement of “Honeysuckle Rose.” The arrangement was written specifically for Ella by Benny Carter. Gregg Field and the orchestra have covered all bases with this production, adding “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, and even incorporating the Adele pop hit, “Hello” to show they are still staying current. The orchestration shows that they can easily embrace popular, contemporary music with the same love and style that the Basie band always brings to their bandstand. They transform”Hello” into a slow swing, featuring a unique, stylized piano solo by Bobby Floyd and a sexy, bluesy trumpet solo by arranger, Kris Johnson. At the song’s ending, they incorporate the popular signature Basie tag to remind the world, “It’s All About that Basie.” Release date is September 7, 2018.

*Note: Historic reference from biography of Neal Hefti (1922 -2008) – Jazz Wax, Oct 15, 2008.
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WOODWINDS: Gary Lindsay, alto saxophone/clarinet/composer/arranger; Gary Keller, alto/soprano saxophones/flute; Ed Calle, tenor saxophone/flute; Phil Doyle & Jason Kush, tenor saxophone/flute; Mike Brignola, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone; TRUMPETS: Augie Hass, Jeff Kievit, Jason Carder, Alex Norris, Greg Gisbert & Peter Francis. TROMBONES: Dana Teboe, Dante Luciani, John Kricker, Major Bailey, Derek Pyle & Andrew Peal. FRENCH HORNS SPECIAL GUEST: Richard Todd; RHYTHM SECTION: Martin Bejerano, electric & acoustic piano; John Hart, guitar; Chuck Bergeron, acoustic & Elec. Basses/orchestra director; John Yarling, drums; Brian Potts, shaker, pandeiro; Ksenija Komljenovi, vibes & xylophone. Julia Dollison & Nicole Yarling, vocals.

Gary Lindsay is a popular arranger of big band music. This is the first full album that celebrates Lindsay’s big band orchestration on all eight songs. Directed by bassist, Chuck Bergeron, the orchestra includes some of Florida’s best jazz and studio musicians. Both Lindsay and Bergeron are music educators. Lindsay teaches at the Frost School of Music, part of the University of Miami, where he is Director of the Master’s in Music program in Studio Jazz Writing and the Doctoral program in Jazz Composition. Bergeron is a professor of Jazz bass and Jazz History at the University of Miami. This music is an easy listening jazz experience.

The first cut, “Moment in Time” was penned by Gary Lindsay and it brings to mind the smooth, unforgettable sound of Stan Getz, featuring a beautiful saxophone solo. John Hart adds an energy driven guitar solo on this arrangement. “Spring Is Here,” introduces vocalist Julia Dollison, with her soprano range and flexible vocal power. Dante Luciani proffers a memorable trombone solo. “Easy Living” features another vocalist, Nicole Yarling, who brings a soulful expressiveness to this old standard. The arrangement sometimes dwarfs the vocalist with the busy musicality. Lindsay explains:

“…I don’t write arrangements where the vocalist sings the melody and the band plays the accompaniment. I prefer to write arrangements where the singer and the band are in a contrapuntal conversation with one another.”

Ms. Yarling is up for the job, standing her ground with passion and sometimes scatting against a backdrop of horn punches and sweet, pudding-thick orchestration. Soloing, Greg Gilbert steals the attention on trumpet and plays beautifully.

The Pat Metheny composition, “Better Days Ahead,” steers the orchestration into Smooth jazz waters. While the Title tune, “Are We Still Dreaming,” reflects a sultry ballad composed by Lindsay. He once again incorporates the bell-clear soprano voice of Julia Dollison, blending her instrument with the orchestra like a soprano horn. The gorgeous Thelonious Monk composition, “Round Midnight” features Ed Calle on tenor saxophone with a bluesy interpretation of Monk’s music.

This project is produced by trombonist, John Fedchock. It’s a mix of music, styles and eras, strung together by the arranging talents of Gary Lindsay and amply interpreted by the musicians who make up the South Florida Jazz Orchestra.

Gary Lindsay is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Award and a Chamber Music America grant from the Doris Duke Foundation.
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Artists Recording Collective (ARC)

Jeff “Siege” Siegel, drums; Erica Lindsay, tenor saxophone; Francesca Tanksley, piano; Uli Langthaler, bass.

This project opens with a striking drum solo. The tune is smoky; sultry; straight ahead! A sexy saxophone sings and a piano solo lifts tenor saxophonist, Erica Lindsay’s composition titled, “Meet Me at the Station.” to an exulted level. This group brings back memories of John Coltrane. Speaking of which, when I finally did get to overview the album credits, their third cut is the Coltrane composition, “Peace on Earth.” I was driving to a gig when I first listened to this album. Immediately, I noticed the excitement and technical ability of the drummer. He takes an outstanding solo on this first tune and always keeps pushing the musicality; coloring the phrases and supporting the various players with solid rhythm, but even more-so, with carefully placed licks of percussive encouragement. I could not wait to park my car, so I could read the liner notes and see who the players were. Sure enough, it’s the drummer’s quartet, and a magnificent ensemble it is! This is a ‘Live’ recording; a concert at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London. It was the culmination of a European tour of Germany and Austria. You can hear the tightness and precision of this group, but also the freedom that comes from trusting your musical peers and being familiar and comfortable with each other. This is jazz at its best; Live! Uninhibited and formidable.

It’s the Jeff Siegel Quartet’s fourth album and their second live recording. Six of the eight songs are original compositions written by tenor saxophonist, Erica Lindsay, pianist, Francesca Tanksley and their leader, Jeff Siegel. Every song on this recording is excellently played and memorable. If I were giving out stars as praise, I would shower all the stars in our universe upon this project. Had I not been driving, I would have given this group a standing ovation.
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Geoffrey Keezer, Yamaha pianos; Lee Perrson, drum; Mike Pope, elec & double bass; Gillian Margot, vocal.

Geoffrey Keezer is a busy pianist, with fingers flying and crescendos raging on the very first song titled, “These Three Words.” He makes the title sound more like a novel of music rather than something as simplistic as three words. Keezer’s amazing talent races up and down the black and white keys, with tenacious attention and detail. He fills up every space of Stevie Wonder’s composition. It’s a song from Stevie’s “Jungle Fever “album. A song I know quite well, but hardly recognized. I listened twice and I enjoyed the tenderness that bassist Mike Pope put into this composition during his solo. If you’re familiar with the lyrics of Wonder’s composition, they touch you in a tender kind of way. I think sometimes that if musicians listened to the lyrics of a song, as closely as they listen to the melody, their interpretation of that song would be more efficient and inspired. I enjoyed Keezer’s solo, when he re-entered, after the bass improvisation. However, it didn’t take long before he was once again crashing against space with amazing strength and piano power.

Vocalist Gillian Margot has a beautiful voice and has taken to penning lyrics to “You Stay With Me” a Keezer composition. The melody is challenging and the vocalist has penned prose to Geoffrey Keezer’s tune that are printed on the album cover. At first listen, they do not attach themselves to memory. As a published songwriter myself, I’ve learned to understand the way that melodies ebb and fall inspire lyrics. The rhyme and rhythm should match. I think this was a lyrical opportunity lost in translation.

“All the Things You Are” is interpreted as a medley with the Earth Wind & Fire popular, “Serpentine Fire” song. Keezer and his trio show us the funkier side of his group, and Lee Perrson on drums is formidable. Mike Pope’s bass-line pushes the funky feeling forward, locking in with Perrson. It’s a strong rhythm section and Keezer is amazing during his piano attack on this creative and unique medley that fuses these two familiar tunes.

Geoffrey Keezer is an artist who creates new art, finger-painting on his piano and splashing surprise solos and unusual arrangements in vivid colors of sound. Take for instance, Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners” tune, played as a funk; or listen to his arrangement of the Michael Legrand composition “On My Way to You”, where he adds strings and Gillian Margot’s lovely voice. I think her rendition would make Barbara Streisand proud.

Perhaps Geoffrey Keezer sums up this project best in his liner notes when he says:

“When I got to New York in the late ‘80s, it was the clear mission of the pianists there to play strong and hard; to give it up a thousand percent every time,” he summed up his style and explained his energetic and ebullient playing.

“Even though I’ve lived in California for almost twenty years, I’m coming out of that late 80’s New York piano style for sure.”
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REBECCA ANGEL – “WHAT WE HAD” Timeless Grooves Records

Rebecca Angel, vocals/programming/composer; Jason Miles, keyboards/Fender Rhodes/Moog bass/pads/percussion; Dennis Angel, flugelhorn; Gottfried Stoger, flute; Hailey Niswanger, soprano saxophone; Sebastian Stoger, cello; Jonah Miles Prendergast & Christian Ver Halen, guitar; Ricardo Silveira, acoustic rhythm guitar; James Genius, acoustic bass; Reggie Washington & Adam Dorn, bass; Mino Cinelu & Cyro Baptista, percussion; Brian Dunne, drums.

A mere twenty-two year old, Rebecca Angel brings a pop/jazz,crossover feel to these arrangements, beginning with the Charmichael/Adamson song, “Winter Moon.” Hailey Niswanger offers a compelling soprano saxophone solo during this Latin arrangement and the sexy rhythm track on this first cut sets the mood for what is to come. Kudos to the percussion player, Mino Cinelu, and also Brian Dunne on drums. They create a strong groove that may also have been enhanced by producer, Jason Miles, who is a master on pads, percussion and keyboards. Jason Miles also plays Fender Rhodes and Moog bass. Rebecca Angel has surrounded herself with a cadre of musical excellence on this, her first EP production and premiere release. I note that she already has a signature sound. That is to say, you will recognize her voice when you hear it again. She exhibits a smoky second soprano tone and tends to slide up to her notes. The title tune is one of her original compositions. It too is produced with a Latin feel and there’s lots of overdubbing on her vocals, adding descants and harmonies. This tune is very ‘popish’ and could have been mixed better. On “Agora Sim” we get back to a jazz/Brazilian feel, tickling my memory of Astrud Gilberto or the popular A&M recording group, Brazil 66. “Stand by Me” is a standard R&B song, made famous for its insertion into film and originally performed by the famous artist, Ben E. King. It’s strange to hear “Stand By Me” recorded on a CD being publicized as a jazz recording. Then again, if you’re trying to break into the Smooth Jazz market, it could easily find a foothold. This is a fresh and well-produced beginning to a young artists’ vocal career. She has time to develop her style, confidence and fan base.

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Pedro Giraudo, composer/conductor/bassist/arranger. The WDR Big Band.

There is no doubt that music crosses all boundaries, all borders, all cultures and nourishes us with its richness. Sometimes music introduces us to new horizons, new thoughts and often music blends nationalities and experiences sweetly, like sugar and salt, that are both combined in baking a successful cake. Pedro Giraudo is a composer, conductor and Argentinian, who relocated to New York twenty years ago and recently found himself in Germany, conducting the esteemed WDR big band on November 29, 2016. It was an evening to remember, playing to a packed house at the WDR Funkhaus in Koln. Like my example of the cake, it was a sweet and rewardingly successful experience.

Each of Giraudo’s compositions has a title and story behind that title that he shares with us in his liner notes. I enjoyed his composition, “Chicharrita” (“Cicada”), that gave the clarinetist an opportunity to solo and soar. Giraudo explains that Osvaldo Pugliese (1905 – 1995) was for decades an important figure in the history of the ‘Tango.’ He was a composer, pianist and bandleader. His style was deep, rich and lush, but his voice was shockingly high pitched, thus earning him the affectionate nickname of Chicharrita. Giraudo uses the high-pitched woodwind to float above his lush arrangements and celebrate this man who popularized the tango with his unforgettable music. “La Ley Primera” (The First Law) is played in a very bluesy way, featuring a lovely and heartfelt saxophone solo. You will find Pedro Giraudo’s music adequately expressed by the German WDR Big Band in an exuberant and technically proficient way. I wish I could have credited the many expert soloists I heard. They put their heart and souls into expressing these very sensitive and passionate compositions. Their individual voices on their instruments spoke to the beauty in each arrangement and magnificently interpreted Pedro Giraudo’s original works. I regret the soloist names were not included and referenced in liner notes, pinpointing the solos they played. One of the things I enjoyed about Pedro Giraudo’s arrangements is that he left lots of open space for soloists to improvise and express themselves.

Pedro Giraudo is well known in the New York arena, having merged his talents as a virtuoso bass player with well-respected musicians like Regina Carter, Reuben Blades, Paquito D’Rivera, Branford Marsalis and more. He is a respected bandleader who has released five critically acclaimed albums. Giraudo, diversified in his musical efforts, leads three bands; a big band, a jazz orchestra and a sextet. This is another plume in the multi-cultural, multi-generational hat he proudly wears.
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Jim McNeely, composer/arranger/conductor; Peter Reiter, piano; Martin Scales, guitar; Thomas Heidepriem, bass; Jean Paul Hochstadter, drums; Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn, soprano & alto saxophones/flute/alto & bass flutes/clarinet; Oliver Leicht, soprano & Alto saxophones/flute/alto flute/B flat and alto clarinets; Tony Lakatos, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute; Steffen Weber, tenor saxophone/flute/bass flute/clarinet; Rainer Heute, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/alto flute; Frank Wellert, Thomas Vogel, Martin Auer, & Axel Schlosser, trumpet/flugelhorns; Gunter Bollmann & Peter Feil, trombone; Christian Jakso, trombone/euphonium/valve trombone; Manfred Honetschlager, bass trombone.

The opening tune reminds me of the Cozy Cole style of drums. The percussion staunchly carries this arrangement and I search for the drummer’s name in the credits. The horns accentuate the rhythm-licks and the arrangement is interesting and ear-catching. Christian Jakso is featured on valve trombone and Martin Scales shows his skills on guitar. But it’s the drummer, Jean-Paul Hochstadter, who makes this first cut pop and memorable. It’s called “Bob’s Here” and is one of seven songs composed and arranged by Jim McNeely for this project. McNeely started working with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band in 2008. After three or four projects, he became familiar enough with the band members to imagine their talents, tone and improvisational sounds while he was writing his scores. With great care and adulation, Jim McNeely has tailored these musical visions to support each individual musician’s high points and uniqueness. He also composed these songs with various historic inspirations. For example, on “Bob’s Here” McNeely imagined the return of composer and trombonist, Bob Brookmeyer, who was one of McNeely’s mentor’s. Brookmeyer died in 2011. “Redman Rides Again” is his composition celebrating famed arranger and reedman, Don Redman, who wrote fantastic clarinet trio arrangements. McNeely let’s Axel Schlosser on flugelhorn and Oliver Leicht on his harmonized clarinet re-imagine Redman’s arrangements, woven into the texture of McNeely’s tribute composition. This is no ‘swing’ band, but it is a work of lush orchestration, imagination and aptitude.
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Vivian Lee, vocals; Brenden Lowe & Joe Gilman, piano; Buc Necak, bass; Jeff Minnieweather, drums; Jeff Clayton, alto saxophone.

Vivian Lee’s rich, alto voice floats atop solid, jazz, band arrangements and immediately peeks my interest. From the premier cut, their unique presentation of the Burt Bacharach tune, “Wives and Lovers,” is fresh and original. I used to love to hear Dionne Warwick sings this song, but Vivian Lee and her swinging ensemble makes it totally their own. Her repertoire is plush with tunes from the Great American Songbook. However, Vivian Lee interprets each in her own inimitable way. For example, on the Gershwin standard, “The Man I Love,” she turns a bluesy ballad into a mid-tempo ‘swing’.

This talented vocalist reminds me of songs I’ve loved and missed, reaching back into yesteryear and pulling out gems like “Didn’t We” and “Out of Nowhere”. Ms. Lee breathes new life into beautiful melodies and lyrics like “Being Green,” (the Mercer/Mandel composition), or “Emily and “Waltz for Debby.” Not only does Vivian Lee talk about love, she tells stories of love we all have lived and makes us relate to each one with the passion and tonal precision that only a seasoned and sincere jazz vocalist and storyteller can do.
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August 1, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil
August 1, 2018


Adison Evans, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet/flute/ composer/producer; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone/co-producer/co-writer; Silvano Monasterios, piano; Joseph Lepore, bass; Roberto Giaquinto, drums; Jeremy Smith, percussion; Vasko Dukovski, clarinet; Mat Jodrell, trumpet, Flugelhorn.

Adison Evans is a baritone saxophone, bass clarinet and flute player. She’s also an accomplished composer. With the release of this recording, she continues her journey of jazz. In 2014, Adison Evans brought two and a half busy years of touring with Beyoncé and Jay Z to an end and began her independent journey as a solo artist. She felt she needed a break from the demands of touring that come from performing on-the-road with two very public, very popular artists. When the tour concluded, this talented female saxophonist passed up the opportunity of returning to New York City and decided she’d relocate to Europe. Her choice led her to Asciano, a small countryside village located on a hillside just outside of Siena in Tuscany, Italy. Then, in 2016, she released her debut album titled, “Hero”. On this, her follow-up recording, she continues her pursuit of expression using her reed instruments and her penchant for composing. It took a change of pace to produce this album of nine songs. Once settled into her Italian village farmhouse, she found peace and inspiration by staring at the rolling hillsides, soaking up the morning fog and enjoying a village bursting with nature gifts. Her composition, “Owl People” reflects her musical connection to the natural beauty of her surroundings. It’s both melodic and full of rhythm-licks that Jeremy Smith and Roberto Giaquinto accentuate on drums and percussion. Adison Evans’ silky-smooth tone on her baritone sax is both beautiful and comforting. This particular original composition made me sit-up and really take note of her playing and her composing talents. Troy Roberts, co-producer of this project, is stellar on tenor saxophone. He sounds like birds taking flight. Mat JodrelI, an outstanding trumpeter and flugelhorn player, also elevates this tune with his soaring talents. “Prelude and Fugue in D Minor – The Plunge,” is a lovely mix of classical technique, brightly showcased by Silvano Monasterios on piano. The classical music melts into straight-ahead jazz like fresh churned butter on hot toast. As a Julliard graduate, Adison Evans reflects her classical training in this original composition. It’s very beautiful. There is something haunting and sensitive about Evan’s talent that is reflected each time she picks up the baritone saxophone or her bass clarinet. It’s not just her technique. There’s a richness to her playing and an honesty that creeps from her horn and touches me. On Henry Mancini’s “Two for the Road” she glows like a full moon on a dark night. Troy Roberts has arranged this tune and gives Joseph Lepore an opportunity to share an improvisational solo on his bass instrument. Roberts and Evans play horn-tag on the ending. Troy Roberts has co-written several of the compositions on this recording. The title of this work of art is “Meridian” which translates to a circle passing through the celestial poles and the zenith of a given place on this earth’s surface. As I listen to the Adison Evans project, I find peace and entertainment holding hands with her music. But she knows how to play it straight-ahead and gritty too. On “The Parking Song” she ups the tempo and splashes some East Coast energy onto the cool Tuscany hillsides. This tune sounds like a jazz jam session at Small’s Paradise in NYC. Everybody gets a piece of this song. When Adison Evans describes “Meridian” she explains:
“Meridian is a pathway in which vital energy flows within and radiates beyond, to the earth, the trees, to the sun, to each other. Everything is connected.”

You will enjoy a sweet connection between Evans, her creative spirit and the wonderful musicians who join her in the interpretation of her music and mindset.
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Lucia Jackson, vocals; Ron Jackson, 7-string electric arch top guitar; Yago Vasquez, piano; Matt Clohesy, double bass; Corey Rawls, drums, Yaacov Mayman, tenor saxophone; Frederika Krier, violin; Javier Sanchez, bandoneon; Dan Garcia, Flamenco classical guitar; Samuel Torres, cajon/congas/percussion.

The first thing that knocks me out about this CD is the fantastic rhythm section that Lucia Jackson has backing her up. What a group! One of the star players is Ron Jackson on guitar. He puts the ‘swing’ into the music. Lucia Jackson is a dancer, model and has a pleasant voice to complete the picture. However, when it comes to jazz, you have to be able to ‘swing,’ especially when you have a rhythm section this strong. That being said, her choice of repertoire is impressive. This is her debut album and she’s young enough to develop into a strong and confident vocalist. I especially enjoyed her arrangement of “And I Love Him” the famed Lennon/McCartney song. Her bell-clear tones are lovely on ballads. She also includes the verse on the title tune, “You and The Night and The Music” which is done very tastily and rubato on the top with just vocal and guitar. When the band enters, the tune ‘swings’ and Lucia Jackson handles this song with class and confidence. Yaacov Mayman steals the show with his unforgettable tenor saxophone solo. The addition of a violin, beautifully played by Frederiko Krier, is a lovely touch to Lucia Jackson’s vocalization on “I’m A Fool to Want You”. Additionally, Javier Sanchez adds a nice touch on his bandoneon instrument during this ballad arrangement. Flamenco classical guitarist, Dan Garcia, has co-written “Feel the Love” with Lucia Jackson. It’s a melodic and rhythmic Latin tune and her singular contribution on this recording as a songwriter. The arrangement of “Never Let Me Go” as a Latin tune is very nice and Lucia Jackson sounds comfortable and at ease. She also sounds beautiful singing the Osvaldo Farrés tune, “Toda Una Vida” with only the talented accompaniment of Ron Jackson on 7-string acoustic classical nylon string guitar. As I listen and peruse the liner notes, I discover that Ron Jackson, the guitarist on this project who I commented on earlier in this review, is this artist’s father. I’m certain with his talent and guidance, Lucia Jackson is on her way to bigger and better musical rainbows. She has the talent. The pot of gold patiently awaits.

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Carol Liebowitz, piano; Bill Payne, clarinet.

Pianist, Carol Liebowitz has locked talents with clarinet player, Bill Payne to create an artistic accomplishment as an improvisational duo. Here is a unique work of art. Theirs is a ‘live’ concert, performed and recorded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the Outpost Performance Space during the Spring of 2016. This is a spontaneous concert presenting Liebowitz and Payne compositions and incorporating, at times, the poetry of Mark Weber. On the “Spiderweb Mandala Flower Explosion Poem: Drishti” Mark Weber interjects his original, spoken word. Weber also hosted this outdoor event, featuring the two spontaneous artists. All of their music is created improvisationally and on-the-spot. This is musical poetry; avant garde, modernistic and magical. These two artists have been working together for eight years and you can hear their camaraderie in the compositions they create. Carol Liebowitz shows her classical influence at times and, at other moments, her dynamic exploration of chord harmonics and piano colorations that both support and enhance Bill Payne’s clarinet talents. They are each musicians who are part of the New York jazz improvisation scene. Liebowitz is a student who developed from the inspiration of the High School of Performing Arts and later, at New York University (NYU). She has studied with Sheila Jordan, among others, and performed in Europe and throughout New York and the United States. Her CD, “Payne Lindal Liebowitz” was recorded with Bill Payne and violinist, Eva Lindal. That 2015 recording was chosen by Art Lange as one of the Top Ten Jazz CDs in the National Public Radio Jazz Critics Poll.

Bill Payne was raised in Harvey, Illinois and moved to New York in 1977. Early in his fledgling career, he spent five years touring with the Ringling Brother’s Circus. He has played in ensembles that backed -up theater shows and toured with Margaret Whiting, Kay Starr, as well as playing in orchestras on Cruise ships. He’s been a musical director for the Los Angeles Circus for three years and toured with the UniverSoul Big Top Circus. Currently, his direction has been tapping the deep waters of improvisation and performing freeform music without boundaries. He enjoys the liberation and creativity that working with Carol Liebowitz inspires. This recording promises to continue the Liebowitz/Payne legacy.
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Bob Mintzer,arranger/bandleader/tenor saxophone/flute; Kim Nazarian,vocals; Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Darmon Meader, vocals/vocal arranger; Peter Eldridge, vocals/piano; REEDS: Bob Sheppard & Lawrence Feldman, alto saxophone/flute; Bob Malach, tenor saxophone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone saxophone/clarinet; TRUMPETS: Bob Millikan, Frank Greene, Scott Wendholt, James Moore. TROMBONES: Keith O’Quinn, Jeff Bush, Jay Ashby,trombone/percussion; David Taylor, bass trombone; Phil Markowitz, piano; Marty Ashby, guitar; Jay Anderson, bass; John Riley, drums.

Listening to this project was absolutely rewarding and joyful. Bob Mintzer has arranged a magnificent jazz treat for our musical palate and it’s delicious to my ears. Lead vocalists, Kim Nazarian and Lauren Kinhan do a superb job of singing “Autumn Leaves” with an amazing arrangement by Bob Mintzer that features Phil Markowitz on piano and Bob Sheppard on alto saxophone. All the vocal arrangements are by Darmon Meader. When the New York Voices employ all those ninth and thirteenth chordal harmonies, they are beyond beautiful. Peter Eldridge has a smooth, clean, lead vocal on “I Concentrate on You” and he helped with the vocal arrangements of this song.

One of the reasons this recording is so historic and special to the MCG Jazz label is because The New York Voices performed with the Count Basie Orchestra on this label’s first commercial release. This unique singing group has been a part of the MCG Jazz family since the 1980s. Their recording with Basie’s band went on to win a Grammy Award in 1996. MCG Jazz has produced five other Bob Mintzer Big Band recordings. This is the first time they have blended The New York Voices with Mintzer’s illustrious orchestrated arrangements. Integrating the creative genius of Darmon Meader’s vocal arrangements with Mintzer’s big band magic is pure gold. This project sparkles and is rich with talented singers and musicians. One of the ladies and founding members of the group is Kim Nazarian.

Kim Nazarian has come across my desk on numerous recording projects. For two and a half decades she’s been an intricate part of The New York Voices. She was one of the featured vocalists on Bobby McFerrin’s “VOCAbuLarieS” CD. She was honored to collaborate with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the Manchester Craftman’s Guild on a concert tour that celebrated the great mother of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. She’s a jingle and studio session vocalist who also sings on movie scores. For the past three years, Kim Nazarian has been a judge for the International a’cappella Competition in Graz, Austria. Her solo CD, “Some Morning,” won national acclaim a few years ago.

The only other female in The New York Voices is Lauren Kinhan, who I thoroughly enjoyed when she sang the lead on “Old Devil Moon” and “Speak Low.” Ms. Kinhan is also a competent songwriter, discovered in 1997 by the legendary Phil Ramone. It was during her performance in New York City at the club Bitter End. Lauren Kinhan’s latest CD is titled, “A Sleepin’ Bee” released on her own label, ‘Dotted I Records’ that tributes the great Nancy Wilson. She also has three recorded albums featuring her own original compositions. Like Ms. Nazarian, she’s been with The New York Voices since their inception.

Bob Mintzer brings voices and musicians together with a wave of the baton and a stroke of the pen. He has golden ears and a clear sense of what brings out the best of each song, each instrument and each voice. A native New Yorker, at age sixteen an organization that sponsored jazz performances called, Jazzmobile, sent an amazing quintet of musicians to young Mintzer’s New Rochelle high school. The group consisted of Billy Taylor, Grady Tate, Ron Carter, Harold Land and Blue Mitchell. After hearing these jazz masters, Mintzer was hooked on music from that point forward. One of his great teachers was Jackie McLean, during his study at University of Hartford’s Hartt School in Connecticut, where Mintzer had received a classical clarinet scholarship. Mintzer quickly joined the jazz program at Hartt. His illustrious career has spanned decades of performances, album productions and arrangement writing. From working with Buddy Rich’s Big Band to being a part of Jaco Pastorius’s “Word of Mouth Band”. He became a member of the Yellowjackets group in 1991 and is currently a well-respected educator at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he teaches jazz composition, saxophone, directs the Thornton jazz Orchestra and conducts jazz workshop classes worldwide. ‘Scuse me while I play this recording one more time.
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Judi Silvano, vocals/composer; Kenny Wessel, guitar; Bruce Arnold, processed guitar/bass clarinet/soprano & tenor saxophone; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone; Retzo B. Harris, bass; Bob Meyer, drums; Todd Isler, percussion.

Judi Silvano is produced by reedman/husband, Joe Lovano. They feature a Zephyr Band. Zephyr is said to be a musical project started in 2000 by London-based composer and producer Elizabeth Henshaw, involving musicians from a variety of different backgrounds. According to other sources, Zephyr music records was born out of passion for transcendence music that would influence the lives of music lovers and artists. Zephyr is also an instrument with a very unique sound. So that gives you an insight into what Judi Silvano and her Zephyr Band are striving to produce with this project.

On their recording, Judi Silvano has composed all the songs both music and lyrics. As a respected vocalist, who has four times been named a DownBeat Top Ten Vocalist and Composer, she continues using her composer skills to share life stories that encourage people to recognize that all of humanity is connected. I appreciate her songwriting ability and her lyrical messages. For this reviewer, however, her vocals are an acquired taste. To my ear, this is not an album I would consider jazz. As a social message, it is definitely cerebral food for thought. As a composer, Silvano soars.
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RACHEL CASWELL – “We’re All In The Dance” Turtle Ridge Records

Rachel Caswell, vocals; Sara Caswell, violin; Dave Stryker, guitar; Fabian Almazan, piano/Fender Rhodes; Linda May Han Oh, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.

Rachel Caswell is an exquisite jazz singer. From the very first tone of her voice on the Sting composition, “Fragile,” I knew I was in for a treat. First of all, I do love Sting’s songwriting and it takes a special vocalist to tackle his music. Rachel Caswell has a lovely style, a wee bit reminiscent of the great Roberta Flack in the way Caswell phrases, but Caswell is certainly strong and uniquely her own person in both vocal characteristics and presentation. She scats as easily as she emotionalizes the lyrics of her songs. Caswell is sweet as syrup and as powerful as the maple tree that births that maple syrup. Her sister, Sara Caswell, plays a violin solo on this song that is spellbinding. It appears talent runs in their family. Dave Stryker, also takes a notable solo and additionally produced this recording. With only Linda May Hon Oh playing bass, Rachel begins the next tune, “A Lovely Way to Spend An Evening” and the duet is surely a lovely way to start this song, arranged at a medium tempo. By the time Johnathan Blake joins them on drums and Fabian Almazan adds his complimentary piano licks, the song is in full ‘swing .’ Once again, Caswell breaks into a scat that may have well been a saxophone or trumpet solo. She’s silky smooth and joins Dave Stryker in certain parts, singing unison scat tones with his guitar. The title tune, composed by Will Jennings & Christophe Monthieux, has memorable and sensitive lyrics that sum up this album of artistic music. Rachel Caswell sings:

“Like the dance that we all have to do. What does the music require? People are moving together. Close as the flames in a fire. … Looking for one more chance, oh I know, We’re all in the dance.”

Once again, I do find deep appreciation for the virtuoso violin work of Sara Caswell on this arrangement. Rachel Caswell’s repertoire is refreshing and she is deeply passionate when she sings. Not everyone can capture passion inside a recording studio. I was eager to hear her delivery on the Ray Charles hit record, “Drown In My Own Tears.” She keeps it as a bluesy ballad, perhaps a little less Gospel than Ray Charles arranged it, but Dave Stryker puts a capital “B” in the blues on his guitar. Rachel Caswell is a fearless artist who puts her own ‘take’ on tunes by Charlie Parker (“Dexterity”) or Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me A Bedtime Story” with interesting lyrics by Tom Lellis and a challenging melody that demands her full range. Closing with Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections (Looking Back),” she has shown the listener that she is a full-fledged jazz diva with excellent timing, pure tones that swoop and soar like a reed instrument and the ability to improvise with precision pitch and great creativity. Her flawless enunciation reminds us of the importance that lyrics add to music and her emotional delivery seals the deal.
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Johnaye Kendrick, vocals/arranger/composer; Dawn Clement, piano/keyboards; Chris Symer, bass; D’Vonne Lewis, drums/percussion; Michael Nicollela, guitar;Adele & Nola Oliver, children’s voices.

Johnaye Kendrick is another singer/songwriter with a social consciousness that creeps through her music with lyrics like:

“They push you, they pull you. Don’t even know how much you can bear. Though they’ll tell you that they rule you, never you mind. You come from a legacy of warriors and though there’s fear, know that fear’s what fueled the fire of courage.”

This original composition by Kendrick, “Never You Mind,” opens her album and is very melodic and engaging. It’s followed by a tune called “Fallen” written by Lauren Wood. Johnaye Kendrick has a pleasing soprano voice and she sweetly draws you into the songs she sings. When she performs the popular jazz standard, “It Could Happen to You” with only bass and drums as accompaniment, she breaks into a scat solo that’s fiery and effective before returning to the poignant lyrics. Chris Symer takes an interesting and creative solo on bass during this arrangement.

Her composition, “You Two,” is a beautiful ballad, dedicated to her twin girls. You can hear the coos and childlike voices on the tag of this song. The weak link in this recording is that this talented lady probably needs a producer and jazz studio session players that could lift these songs and give this vocalist the professional cushion she deserves to elevate her presentation. I do enjoy Ms. Kendrick’s arrangements and her creative ideas. She’s a very fine songwriter, both melodic and she’s lyrically fluent. Her music easily crosses from jazz to pop and borders on smooth jazz. For example, cut #6, “I’ve Got No Strings” is a little Erykka Badu-ish and expands Johnaye Kendrick’s appeal towards more commercial opportunities. Once again, although this has the makings of a pop hit, with the right production and a more funk-sensitized pianist, she probably would have had the makings of great crossover appeal and a hit record. Sometimes it’s more expedient and dynamic to use seasoned studio musicians to lay down strong tracks and then hire another band for touring and ‘live’ performances. Another original composition titled “Boxed Wine” is definitely one that could be played on both Easy Listening and Smooth Jazz stations. The addition of Adele and Nola Oliver, who beautifully layer harmonics with their background vocals, creates a delightful, ethereal groove. Johnaye Kendrick’s lead vocal sings the story and she smoothly floats atop the catchy arrangement. This is another example of her diversified composition talents.

Johnaye Kendrick earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Western Michigan University. She has already garnered a DownBeat Student Music Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocalist and has worked with some of the best musicians in the business including great pianist, Fred Hersch. I wish he had played on this production. She was featured vocalist with the Ellis Marsalis Quartet and the Grammy winning New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Ms. Kendrick received an Artist’s Diploma from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz and a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from Loyola University in 2009. Currently, she is sharing her experience and talent as an educator, songwriter and vocal coach in Washington State.
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Max Haymer, piano; Lyman Medeiros, bass; Dan Schnelle, drums; Marcel Camargo & Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Kevin Winard, percussion.

Joanne Tatham is another cabaret singer who has surrounded herself with some of the best Southern California musicians around. She has perfect elocution, sharing stories of New York (her former stomping ground,) using the ebullient Michael Franks tune, “Summer in New York”. Franks is one of my favorite modern composers and the musical arrangement on this tune features Larry Koonse on guitar and Max Haymer on piano. Both exhibit their technique and bravado during spicy solos. Haymer has done most of the arrangements on this album and for the most part, they are stellar. Singer/songwriter, Phoebe Snow left us way too soon, but gifted her faithful audience with several delightful and sensuous compositions. A favorite of mine is “Poetry Man” that Max Haymer has completely rearranged. I hardly recognize it. Tatham sticks to the lovely melody, no matter what the repetitive chords do, but I think the beauty of Snow’s composer skills are buried in this arrangement. The title tune, “The Rings of Saturn” is beautifully executed. The track and arrangements are smokin’ hot on this one. Bob Sheppard sounds fabulous on the song, “Can We Still Be Friends?” All in all, the arrangements really swing on this album.

Tatham is a fine vocalist. Producer Mark Winkler knows how to contract a band and he has put such an amazing group of musicians behind Ms. Tathan, she can only soar. She is especially successful on the more Latin flavored tunes and the way she learned the scat part of the guitar on “If You Never Come To Me” (composed by Jobim), puts her into the realms of jazz in a sweet way. However, for the most part, she sounds like an actress or Broadway rather than a jazz vocalist. When I read her bio, I recognized that I was correct in my assumption. Tatham studied music at the performing arts conservatory at the University of Hartford at the Hartt School. She has a graduate degree from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and lived in New York City for ten years working as a theater actress.

Although this album was released in the Spring of this year, it’s never too late to give it a spin and enjoy the wide diversity of this talented actress and cabaret vocalist.
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July 26, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil
July 26, 2018


Featuring: Hendrick Meurkens, vibraphone/harmonica; Roger Davidson, piano/composer; Eduardo Belo, bass; Adriano Santos, drums.

This musical production, produced by Pablo Aslan, is a happy celebration. Pianist, Roger Davidson, has composed all the Brazilian compositions recorded. The harmonica of Hendrik Meurkens dances in complete abandon from the very first cut of this album titled, “My Love is Only You”. Tastefully enters the piano and the drums. It sounds like a party. Meurkens has his own signature sound on the harmonica and there is a warm familiarity between him and the piano. On cut #2, “Celia,“ the piano plays tag with the harmonica, colorfully tickling melodies that mirror or harmonically enhance the pianist as they interpret Roger Davidson’s lovely composition.

On Cut #3, “Comment Je t’Aime,” sparkles and blinks like candles on a cake. The fourth cut, “The Way You Move My Heart,” is melancholy, but beautiful. I’m impressed with the way Roger Davidson, on piano, always seems to finish Meurkens’ musical sentences and vice versa. They work well together. Davidson is a wonderful composer and offers us fifteen delightful compositions to enjoy. One very melodic original is “Fico Feliz,” where it was nice to hear Eduardo Belo briefly solo on bass. Also, I especially enjoyed Belo when he bowed his double bass on the very romantic tune, “Um Amor, Um Abraco.” Adriano Santos brings rhythm and gusto to the project on drums, showcased grandly on the final Samba. The ensemble enters and ends with a celebratory feeling, sharing “Music from the Heart.”
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Kate Reid, vocals; Paul Meyers, Larry Koonse & Romero Lubambo, guitars; Fred Hersch & Taylor Eigsti, piano.

Kate Reid has a voice that reminds me of Julie London, Joni Mitchell and Diana Krall all rolled into one, sultry ball of talent. She has chosen eleven songs to entertain us, each one produced as a unique duo featuring herself and one other musician of excellence. Opening with the Strayhorn/Ellington composition, “Something to Live For” she captures my heart with her tone and emotional connection to both the lyrics and melody. As a pianist herself, although she doesn’t play on this recording, Reid has arranged most of the songs. For this song, Paul Meyers amply accompanies her on his guitar.

Critically acclaimed vocalist, pianist, composer and founder of the vocal group, ‘New York Voices,” Peter Eldridge, produced this album and it’s Kate Reid’s third CD release. He helped her choose this rich repertoire. She has embraced the superb talents of a handful of amazing musicians. For example, Fred Hersch, a ten-time Grammy Award nominee and winner of the 2018 Jazz Pianist of the Year from the Jazz Journalist’s Association. He composed two of the songs she sings, “Stars” and “Lazin’ Around with You.” Hersch takes to the piano and accompanies her on the moody ballad, “No More,” and the familiar standard “If I Should Lose You.”.

On the sassy song, “Confessin’” Kate Reid is joined by a very busy Los Angeles guitarist by the name of Larry Koonse. He also plays on her rendition of Joni Mitchell’s composition, “Two Grey Rooms” that was arranged by Peter Eldridge. I was intrigued with the lyrics of this song and impressed with Reid’s emotional delivery. Romero Lubambo is a Brazilian guitarist. He plays on the Fred Hersch “Stars” composition with touching lyrics written by Norma Winstone. This tune is lilting and infectious, reflecting its South American roots because of Lubambo’s rhythmic guitar excellence. The Hersch melody is challenging and beautiful. Lubambo also accompanies Reid on “Minds of Their Own” composed by famed Brazilian composer, Ivan Lins with lyrics by producer, Peter Eldridge. I really enjoyed Kate Reid’s rendition of James Taylor’s “Secret of Life” composition with Taylor Eigsti taking to the 88-keys, where she sings, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” Well said!

Kate Reid is a Mid-Western talent, born and raised in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies from Western Michigan University. She also has a Master of Music degree in Jazz Performance and a Doctor of Music Arts degree from the University of Miami. For a while, she moved to Los Angeles to work at Cypress College as Professor of Music and Director of Vocal Jazz. Currently, Dr. Kate Reid is Director of the Jazz Vocal Performance Program and Associate Professor of Jazz Voice at the University of Miami. This project is exquisite, and in its duo simplicity, amazingly complicated. Singing a duo gig or recording with just two musicians is no easy task. Kate Reid makes it sound easy and seamless, flowing like a lovely river, from one tune to the next and intriguing us with her sensuous delivery and undeniable vocal gift.
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John Bailey, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Stacy Dillard, tenor/soprano saxophone; John Hart, guitar; Cameron Brown, bass; Victor Lewis, drums/cymbals; Janet Axelrod, flute; Leo Grinhauz, cello.

A trumpet always makes people come to attention. John Bailey’s clear tones, dramatically expelled from the bell of his horn, immediately command my consideration. Next arrives the percussive drums of Victor Lewis and then the horn harmonics of sax and trumpet that mirror New York City’s busy traffic. This tune, “Rhapsody,” is established by the rhythm section’s groove. For a moment, it sounds like smooth jazz; but quickly these musicians are traveling down several straight-ahead lanes. Stacy Dillard joins the production with his saxophone, solo cruising across the busy musical highway. The saxophone spits fire. Then John Hart climbs into the front seat, cool as ice on guitar. Thus, begins my trip with this newly released John Bailey debut album. I’m prone to categorize this production as all fire and ice, heightened by the flaming trumpet virtuosity of Bailey.

John Bailey fell in love with the trumpet at age eleven. It’s been a long and lovely love affair ever since. Seven of the nine compositions contained on this album were composed by Bailey. The second cut is dedicated to his teenaged son, Louis, and titled “My Man Louis”. It has a Pink Panther feel at first, thanks to the creeping bass line of Cameron Brown, who sets the mood and groove. Almost immediately, this tune stretches into the solar system, like a rocket ship taking off, and it’s propelled by the energetic drums of Victor Lewis and the innovative solos by each member of this talented ensemble.

This production gives me an intimate look at a trumpet prodigy who was first celebrated for his amazing talent during high school in 1984, when DownBeat Magazine cited him during their annual Student Music Awards for his outstanding performances in both classical and jazz trumpet categories. Today, after garnering several other awards, he is well known in the New York area as a sideman, studio session musician and educator. Bailey honed his gifts in college, playing with the Buddy Rich Band and he has worked with Ray Charles, Ray Baretto, The Woody Herman Orchestra, James Moody, Kenny Burrell, Dr. Lonnie Smith and a host of other icons. With the release of this production, Bailey lets us know It’s time for him to share his composer skills, musical production talents and sensuous horn playing with the world “In Real Time.”
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Bobby Sanabria, musical director/drums/cowbells/police-whistle/samba-whistle/lead vocals/producer; Darwin Noguera, piano; Leo Traversa, electric bass; Oreste Abrantes, congas/itotele batá drum; second voice on Maria; Matthew González, bongó/cencerro/primo bomba drum/lya batá; requinto pandereta/ganza/Dominican gűira; Takao Heisho, claves/Cuban gűiro macho/cencerro/Puerto Rican guicharo/okonkolo batá drum/maracas (Cuban & Venbezuelan)/shekere/tambourine/cuica/pandeiro/triangle/gong/ police-siren; TRUMPETS: Kevin Bryan, Shareef Clayton, Max Darché, & Andrew Neesley. REEDS: David Djesus, lead alto/soprano saxophones/flute; Andrew Gould, alto saxophone/flute; Peter Brainin, tenor saxophone/flute; Yaacov Mayman, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Danny Rivera, baritone saxophone; Gabrielle Garo, flute/piccolo; TROMBONES: David Miller, Tim Sessions, Armando Vergara, & Chris Washburne, bass trombone; Ben Sutin, electric violin.

Afro-Cuban percussive excitement opens this CD with exuberance and joy. The famed tune, “Maria” never sounded so good or so uniquely arranged. Here is a production of timeless compositions that celebrate the music of Leonard Bernstein (with the unsung lyrics of Steven Sondheim) from the groundbreaking musical, “West Side Story.” Bobby Sanabria has reinvented the music in celebration of the 1957 stage play’s recent 60th birthday in 2017 and also to salute composer Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday this year. Using the stellar talents of his passionate Multiverse Big Band, Bobby Sanabria brings fresh life and exultation to this music. Sanabria explained in his liner notes:

“West Side Story holds a special place I my heart. I first saw the (1961) movie as a young boy when my parents, Jose and Juanita, took me and my sister Joanne to the luxurious Loews Paradise on the Grand Concourse in my hometown., da Bronx. At that time, there wasn’t anything that acknowledged the contributions we had made, let alone the existence of NYC’s Puerto Rican community, other than articles about gangs and crime in relation to us. … Yes – gang life in NYC back in the 50s forms the framework of West Side Story, and of course it’s based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet … but that’s looking at things superficially. It’s a complex story of romance set in the energy of the inner city amidst racism, bigotry, and what causes it; fear, that’s offset by cultural pride, humor and the spirit of fighting for what one believes in, good or bad.”

Using his musical director talent, his musicality on drums and percussion, and his deep love of Bernstein’s composition skills, Bobby Sanbria has produced and packaged his dream on disc. Utilizing the amazing talents of some of the best East Coast musicians alive, this is a recording I have listened to over and over for several days; never tiring of the CDs explosive energy and the beauty it reflects. Bobby Sanabria’s music obviously comes from the heart.
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Maggie Herron, piano/vocals/composer; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger; Grant Geissman & Larry Koonse, guitar; Dean Taba, bass; Jake Reed, drums; Bob Sheppard, flute/bass/clarinet; (HORN SECTION): Brandon Fields, Bob McChesney, Ryan Pewees. Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Gillan Margot & Jason Morales, vocal harmonies.

Maggie Herron is a prolific composer, a competent pianist and talented vocalist. Her alto vocals recall the rich, round tones of Cleo Laine mixed with the sultry, expressive voice of Shirley Horn. The catchy lyrics of her songwriting (often written by her daughter, Dawn Herron) grab the attention right away. On both the title tune, “A Ton of Trouble” and the second song, “Perfect Specimen,” Bill Cunliffe’s tight horn arrangements add brightness and accentuate Herron’s unique lyrics. “Salty Wine” is a title full of poetry and so Is the song itself. Maggie Herron composes using a lot of minor chords and melodies that etch themselves into your consciousness like love letters carved into a tree trunk. On this song, we hear Herron on piano and the sensitive guitar work of Larry Koonse. When she sings, “Dance Me to the End of Love,” (a Leonard Cohen composition) the music is arranged more folksy than jazzy. At other times, the arrangements embrace ragtime, slap-stick and on the lovely ballad titled, “There is love” she adds a soft, harmonious background chorus that enhances her production and delivery. All in all, Maggie Herron, the artist, is poetry in flesh and blood.

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Wayne Powers, vocals; Ziad Ravie, tenor saxophone; Keith Davis, piano; Ron Brendle, double bass; Al Sergel, drums.

When I listen to Wayne Powers sing, I am reminded of some of our great male vocalists of yesteryear like Arthur Prysock, Johnny Hartman and Billy Eckstine. Wayne has that air of history wrapped into his style and presentation but sung with his own unique style and verve. His album is chuck full of fourteen jazz standards that make me feel as though I’m sitting in a cozy, intimate jazz club in ‘Anywhere, USA’. Wayne Powers knows how to put emotion and sincerity into his songs. It’s easy to overlook the occasional flat notes or his penchant for sliding up to the tonal pitch. That being said, one can tell that this vocalist has lived life and he has picked songs he can relate to; songs where he can dig his heels deeply into the sturdy roots of life. I enjoy each of his presentations, some with the often unheard of or unsung verses, like on his arrangement of “Body and Soul”.

Other songs recall the magical improvisational lyrics of a King Pleasure or Eddie Jefferson. For example, Powers’ arrangement of “All of Me” that begins as a ballad, that then breaks into a lyrical, improvisational scat at a double time tempo. He makes an old song fresh and innovative, borrowing from the style of King Pleasure. Wayne Power’s shows he is unafraid to tackle the brilliance of Strayhorn, on “Lush Life” or the passionate beauty in the famed Ann Ronell composition, “Willow Weep for Me.” His musicians are competent and supportive, with Keith Davis, on piano, lending sensitive accompaniment; Al Sergel locking the time strongly in place on drums, Ron Brendle beautifully complementing the rhythm section on his upright bass and Ziad Rabie strong and creative on tenor saxophone. If you love the standard jazz love songs, here is a rich, emotional, baritone vocalist who amply interprets them for your listening pleasure..

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Ernie Krivda, tenor saxophone/arranger/composer; Joe Hunter, piano; Marion Hayden & Brian Thomas, bass; Lee Bush, guitar; John Bacon & Rick Porrello, drums; Steve Enos, trumpet; Chris Anderson & Gary Carney, trombone.

This is a party album, created by a small band with a very big sound. Tenor saxophonist, Ernie Krivda has written all the arrangements for his ‘Swing City Band’ and ‘swing’ they do! “Lime House Blues” opens his CD with John Bacon peddling the music, introducing a mid-tempo swing on his drums and propelling the band ahead, like a wind-driven cyclist. “Roses” is a sultry Krivda composition. His bluesy ballad is sexy and seems plucked from another era. Krivda’s tenor saxophone style winds back the clock to the 1930’s and 40’s, when Billie Holiday and Prez were popular jazz icons. Next, Marshall Baxter Beckley sings a memorable rendition of “Summertime” that is heated up by the hot tempo and the exciting arrangement that features a strong bass line by female, Detroit, bassist, Marion Hayden. Both Ms. Beckley and trombonist Gary Carney are listed on the CD jacket “In Memoriam”.

“On the Road” is another one of Ernie Krivda’s original compositions. It’s a slow swing that allows Joe Hunter to tinkle the piano keys in a very low-down, bluesy-kind-of-way, utilizing the 88-keys upper register. Even as the horns soar and harmonize, Hunter manages to attract the listener’s attention with his tasty piano chops. Whoever mixed this CD did a superb job. Ernie Krivda writes music that sticks like glue to your melodic memory. His melodies beg to be sung and his arrangements engage both the musicians and the listener. For example, on “Easter Blue,” I am once again captivated by the rich, warm melody that Krivda establishes on his tenor saxophone. Steve Enos mirrors Krivda’s passion on trumpet during a sweetly played solo.

In Cleveland, Ohio, Ernie Krivda is a local hero and national treasure. Krivda explains, in his liner notes , that the original mission of his septet was meant to reflect a broad arena of jazz styles, exploring various eras of jazz music. His band’s name, “Swing City”, immediately identifies their rhythmic groove. This recording of their music captures the prime period shortly before they disbanded in 2002. They took pride in blending bebop with the swing era, interpreting the genius of both Ellington and Strayhorn, (i.e. Mood Indigo, Caravan and The Mooche); embracing standards like “The Man I Love” and “Summertime” in a most Swinging way, while also leaving their mark on Ernie Krivda’s original compositions, including the happy, joyful, title tune, “A Bright and Shining Moment.”

Ernie Krivda is a 2009 recipient of the Cleveland Arts Prize award for lifetime achievement in music and he’s been a driving, Mid-Western force in jazz since the 1960’s. He’s won the Jazz Legends Award from the Tri-C Jazz Festival and a Community Partnership of Arts and Culture Fellowship. You will find him bandleading his own quartet in and around Cleveland, Ohio, as well as directing the Fat Tuesday Big Band.
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Delmark Label

Geof Bradfield, tenor & soprano saxophones/bass clarinet/composer/producer; Anna Webber, flute/bass flute, tenor saxophone; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Russ Johnson & Marquis Hill, trumpet/flugelhorn; Joel Adams, trombone; Scott Hesse, electric guitar/classical guitar; Clark Sommers, acoustic bass; Dana Hall, drums/percussion.

For this final review, I chose Geof Bradfield’s seventh album, as a leader, because his music obviously blossoms straight from the heart, like the title of this reviewer’s column. Using the supreme talents of several noteworthy midwestern musicians to explore and deliver eight of Bradfield’s original compositions, you will find this music inspirational and artistic. Each song and every instrument competently splashes color against a canvas of space, painting the music brightly and freely for our ears to digest. Jazz, being the music of freedom, is well represented on this album. Bradfield explains the title of his recording in the liner notes.

“Yes, and … takes its name from an improvisational theater game often implemented by the iconic Compass Players. … It requires you to believe that what you improvise is building on whatever everyone else is doing – even if the response is ‘Yes, and’ … it says here’s my contrasting response to that. I want to see people making some decisions. That’s what jazz is; that’s how my favorite players approach music.”
I should explain, that in 1955, a few blocks from the University of Chicago’s campus, two theater aficionados (David Shepherd & Paul Sills) launched a storefront theater ensemble they named The Compass Players. They were radical for that time and remain influential to this day.

Bradfield’s music ensemble on this production is radical also, sometimes reminding me of the Chicago Art Ensemble and at other times the recording is lush and full, sounding more like a big band than a small, nine-piece ensemble. This is particularly obvious on “Impossible Charms”, the fourth cut on this work of art. Anna Webber shines on flute during her solo on cut #6 titled, Anamneses. It’s fourteen minutes long, but I was never bored. There is plenty of improvisational spirit shown by these players and Geof Bradfield is an exceptional composer/arranger and reed man. No wonder that this project was commissioned by Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. You can enjoy this ensemble up close and personal at the upcoming Chicago Jazz Festival on August 30, 2018 or simply pop this stellar recording into your CD player and musically embrace them at your leisure.
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July 13, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist


Lynne Arriale, piano; Jasper Somsen, double bass; Jasper Van Hulten, drums; Kate McGarry, vocals.

As a bandleader, Lynne Arriale uses her 88-key instrument to inspire. The conversation that develops between herself and her accomplished players is the epitome of jazz expression. That is to say, the music of freedom develops because of the individual talents of musicians who blend their emotions and techniques to enrich the music and to inspire each other and the world. The power of improvisation is truly an example of the power of democracy. Jazz music allows each musician to solo and thereby express themselves, but at the same time, masterfully and artfully blend with the other musicians in a supportive, compatible way.
Lynne Arriale has composed six out of the nine songs recorded on this project. She opens with Joni Mitchell’s popular “Woodstock” tune. All arrangements are by Arriale and I found the title of this project provocative, prayerful and positive. Yes. We need to be reminded of the blessing each day becomes; a day given to us to learn, to live and to love. Explained in her liner notes, Lynne Arriale has approached this ambitious musical concept in hopes of unbridling a sense of wonder and freedom. Known by many as a piano poet, her creative genius has evolved on this recording and she says her inspiration for “Give Us These Days” was the poetry of Jim Schley entitled, “Devotional.” She dedicates this project to the memory of Peter Schmidlin, drummer and founder of TCB Music, the Montreux Jazz Label.

Double bassist and co-producer of this project is Jasper Somsen. Both he and drummer, Jasper van Hulten are from the Netherlands. The tightness of the trio’s sound makes me believe they have been playing together for some time. Together, they have created a priceless piece of music and a hope that their listeners will not only enjoy it but be inspired by the music to count each day as a blessing and a gift.
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ROSS NIXON – “THE REMOVALIST” Independent label

Ross Nixon, piano/composer; Curtis Lundy, bass; Victor Lewis, drums

A melancholy and very beautiful arrangement of an original tune titled “The Removalist” begins with Curtis Lundy’s big bass sound out front and prominent. Then Victor Lewis joins on drums. They set the groove and the rhythmic trampoline is established for Ross Nixon’s piano fingers to jump upon. This is a Nixon composition and one of six original songs on his CD. The delightful old standard, “Crazy He Calls Me” is beautifully interpreted by Ross Nixon as a dreamy ballad. “The Take Down” races off his Compact Disc with energy fused by the masterful drums of Victor Lewis and Curtis Lundy is pumping his bass in a fast-stepping walk. Nixon cuts-time across the rhythm path and dances atop the speedy arrangement, sometimes letting his fingers fly to express improvisational creativity and joy. When Victor Lewis takes a solo, it is exciting and technically astute. Here is a premier recording for this Australian pianist that is well produced and a lovely listening experience. It can be found on CD Baby.

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MND FLO – “FROM TIME” Independent Label

Sharik Hasan, piano/voice/composer; Simon Moullier, vibraphone/synthesizer/ percussion/voice;Alexander L.J. Toth, double bass/elec. Bass/guitar/Fender Rhodes/piano/synthesizer/voice & sound design on all tracks; Anthony A. Toth, drums/percussion/trumpet/voice.

The strands of a guitar sparkles across space from my CD player. A drum rim shot adds smooth jazz rhythm to the premier piece on this recording and a voice recites poetry. I think to myself, this first recording from a group of musicians who met at Berklee College of Music, promises to be both creative and unique. These four young men, who have formed a mind flow union (i.e.: their Mnd Flo group) are combining cultures, traditions and creativity in hopes of bringing something fresh to jazz.

Together, their members embrace Hungarian, Trinidadian, Indian, Canadian, French and American cultures. As students in Boston, Massachusetts, their original group was a trio including Sharik Hasan and Alexander and Anthony Toth. The addition of Simon Moullier, on vibraphone, came later. Their goal on this project seems to be combining creative expressions to create something fresh and new employing their own musical interpretations. The result is a sound relatable to ‘New Age’ music that blends their ethnic roots and they use electronic elements to enhance a fresh approach to their musical expression. Some of it sounds like modern jazz, for instance on cut #4 titled “Scalaphunk”. There is an element of contemporary music seeping through their repetitious grooves and rhythmic backbeats. All tracks were composed by Sharik Hasan except a collaboration with Alexander L.J. Toth and Defne Sahin on track one. Tracks three and five were composed by the TothBros. Like all artists, these young men seem to be reflecting dreams and expression, using music as their paint brush on the canvas of life. Each man is multi-talented, as you can note above where I have listed the many instruments each one brings to this project. I imagine the longer they work together, play together, stay together, they will accrue a sound and style unique and memorable for their “Mnd Flo” group. This is a well-executed beginning to a rich and buoyant career.

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Jocelyn Michelle, organ; John Rack, guitar; Steve Mann & Bill Noble, alto/tenor saxophones; Andrea Lindborg & Tony Farrell, trumpet; Sammy K, drums/percussion; Al person, percussion; Laura Dickinson, vocals.

The opening tune, “Groove Yard” could have grooved harder for me. Just turning up the speed a hair would have punched this tune right into the pocket and opened this CD up with more of a bang. As it is, the moderate tempo still introduces us to Jocelyn Michelle as a skillful organist. Although the majority of her life and music has been happening on the Big Island of Hawaii, she returned to Los Angeles to record this project. Southern California was once home to both Jocelyn Michelle and her husband, guitarist John Rack. Cut #2, “Englewood Cliffs” bursts forth with the energy I was expecting from an organ ensemble, led by the guitar work of John Rack and propelled by drummer, Sammy K. Jocelyn Michelle invites the tenor saxophone solo to lay down a red carpet of excellence before she enters with her organ solo, enhanced by Sammy K’s spontaneous drum work. I actually recall this song from her “Time to Play” album that I reviewed in 2016.

Jocelyn Michelle was born in Florida, raised in New Jersey and attended the University of Miami School of Music. Her musical parents noticed their daughter’s ability to hear a tune and play it on their piano when she was just a small child. Thus, began her piano lessons at age seven. She also played guitar. While working the club circuit in Miami, she met her husband, John Rack, and became the keyboard player in his band. Soon they became life partners as well as musical partners. They resided for many years in Los Angeles and moved to Hawaii in 2013.
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Maurice Frank, vocals; John DiMartino, piano/arrangements; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Aaron Heick, soprano saxophone/clarinet/alto flute; Paul Meyers, acoustic guitar; Luques Curtis, acoustic bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Samuel Torres, percussion.

Maurice Frank has a unique sound and a lovely voice. He introduces me to the Cole Porter song, “Dream Dancing.” I am surprised I’ve never heard this song before, because it’s so lovely and the lyrics are so compelling. Frank sells the song from the very first verse and snags my interest, like a fisherman’s hook. Each song pulls me comfortably along. Maurice Frank knows how to interpret a lyric and his timing and pitch proclaim that he is no newcomer to the business of jazz and singing. His voice is youthful and powerful, but the gray in his beard, pictured on the CD cover, says he’s circled a few blocks and occupied a few stages along his entertainment journey. His choice of songs is exquisite and interesting. He veers off the well-trodden musical path and offers us a glimpse of beauty in songs both familiar and unfamiliar.

The John Di Martino arrangements support Frank’s talent and vocal strong points. His musical ensemble is tight and talented. Currently residing in Florida, Maurice Frank adds a current and twentieth century sensibility to songs he grew up listening to by the famed crooners of the 1950s and 60s. This is good listening and a fitting way to introduce a younger audience to old and unforgettable jazz standards, like Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream” and Buddy Johnson’s “Save Your Love for Me.”
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Due to over 150 artists contributing to this CD, I will not list them as I usually do. Information is available online.

Alchemy is usually descriptive of converting base metal into gold or a magical process of transformation and creation. From the very first percussive rhythms dancing from this amazing Brazilian musical project, I am enthralled and hypnotized. The production is rich and welcoming. The energy and multi-layered voices dance off the CD and the Portuguese language does not deter from the originality and musical excellence. One does not have to speak a language in order to understand and embrace the emotional contest. Alexandra Jackson’s voice soars, like this ambitious 2-CD-set production. She is the catalyst that ties together English, Portuguese, and a host of special iconic artists who also love Brazilian music. During this 60th anniversary of the bossa nova style, CEO and executive producer, Robert Hebert, was inspired to honor this huge Brazilian music legacy and its contribution to the world. Hebert explains:

“The highest levels of Brazilian music and American jazz have always reverberated. We created an environment and commitment to the alchemy of the music, based on humans endeavoring to evolve the legacy of the music. Brazilian, African and American music have a history of connection due to the slave trade and that’s what creates this sense of musical integrity; what ties it all together.”

Alexandra Jackson is the daughter of Atlanta’s first African American major, Maynard Jackson Jr and her mother is a noted NPR personality, Valorie Richardson Jackson. Alexandra studied jazz at the University of Miami and performed with a host of Latin bands and Brazilian ensembles. She loves the music of Ivan Lins, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso and Carlinhos Brown. On the jazzier side, she is a big fan of Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Peterson, Take 6, Tony Bennett and Chaka Khan. As a member of Generation X, she also embraces the more contemporary, R & B music of artists like Maxwell, D’Angelo, the Brand New Heavies and Jamiroquai.

Currently, the fourth cut on Disc #1 of Alexandra Jackson’s CD is titled “All One” and it’s getting huge airplay across the nation on over 150 radio stations. Five songs from this album are being featured on five Sirius XM channels. This song is also soaring up the Billboard Smooth Jazz Charts. The entire Alexandra Jackson project is just so wonderful, I see why radio DJs are playing it and sharing it, worldwide. Not to mention, the producers of this project have included the work of over 150 participating artists to set a historical stage for the continuous engagement of Brazilian music with American artistry. On the popular cut, “All One” Al Jarreau is featured and as fate would have it, it is one of his last recording sessions before his untimely departure from this world. Also featured is the voice of Castro-Neves from 2005. It was recorded during his own last studio date and conscientiously mixed into this session.

Alexandra Jackson’s voice is the fire and passion that colors each tune in her own unmitigated way, blending with masters like Miles Davis on trumpet, and the superstar Brazilian composer, singer and percussionist, Carlinhos Brown. She makes lilting, joyful music with Paulo and Daniel Jobim on “A Feliciadade” which reminds us of the impact Brazilian music made in the 1959 Black Orpheus film that helped launch samba and bossa nova to the ears of the world. You will hear Hubert Laws and Rod Temperton, Oscar Castro-Neves and Dona Ivone Lara on these familiar and beautiful songs. On “Anjo De Mim” written by Ivan Lins, Vitor Martins and Will Jennings, one of the composers, Ivan Lins, is featured on vocals. His and Alexandra Jackson’s voice blend naturally, like moonlight and dark, romantic nights. The lyrics are lovely.

On “Corcovado,” Miles Davis can be heard on trumpet, joined by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Ivan Lins, and accompanied by the Bossa Nova Noites Orquestra. How extraordinary for Jackson’s sultry vocals to become blended into this piece of historic tape. And all this is found on disc #1 of the double set. Remember, there are two discs. The music is happy, soulful and the production, featuring the talents of co-producers, Larry Williams, Rod Temperton, Arthur Maia, William Magalhaes, Ricardo Silveira, Max Viana, Chris Walker and Robert Hebert is stuffed with culture and delivers icons, and seventeen exuberant, musical offerings. Not only does Ms. Jackson sing lead vocals, she sings all the background vocals and even adds a ‘mean’ whistle on several tunes. Sometimes I hear an Earth, Wind & Fire influence in her productions, for instance in their fresh approach on “Girl From Ipanema”. Chris Walker’s voice shines on “Turns Your Heart Around” as he duets with Alexandra Jackson. Great song! The producers have paired this talented lady with several varied male voices. On Track #3 of disc two, percussionist, Pretinho da Serrinha sings an ebullient duet with Alexandra Jackson that shakes the cow webs from stagnant feet. You are compelled to dance. Rod Temperton and Lionel Richie have penned “Our Time Now.” With the vocal help of Siedah Garrett, Chris Walker, Rod Temperton and Armando Marcal, Alexandra Jackson embraces good company to perpetuate a positive message of humanity embracing golden dreams and celebrating life. This inspirational lyric easily describes Jackson’s entire project.

This recording is an important one and I could not stop playing it, over and over again. I savored each song, each note, like a delicious dessert, it tastes sweet to my ears.
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Antonio Adolfo, piano/vocals; Nelson Faria & Claudio Jorge, acoustic guitars; Leo Amuedo, electric guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Rafael Barata, drums; Dada Costa, percussion; Jesse Sadoc, trumpet & flugelhorn; Gesiel Nasciento, trumpet; Danilo Sinna, alto sax/flute; Marcelo Martins, tenor saxophone/flute; Levi Chaves, baritone/soprano saxophones; Aldivas Ayres & Wanderson Cunha, trombone; Marcos Nimrichter, accordion; Ze Renato, vocals; Members of Orquestra Atlantica.

Until now, Antonio Adolfo has mostly been a featured pianist with small ensembles. I recall reviewing him in 2016 when his album, “Tropical Infinito” was released. This project is a dream come true for Adolfo. As a talented pianist/bandleader, he has always wanted to record with a big band that understood Brazilian music and how beautifully it combines with jazz. It was in 2012 when Antonio Adolfo witnessed a Brazilian jazz orchestra in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil called Orquestra Atlantica. He knew immediately that he had found the big band that he wanted to record his original music. As a composer, Adolfo recognized using this top-grade orchestra to interpret his compositions would cast a bright and beautiful spotlight on his writing ability.

Antonio Adolfo enjoyed arranging a new version of his biggest hit record, “Sa Marina” that he composed in 1967. With lyrics written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman and in English named, “Pretty World,” his song has been recorded by more than 200 artists. Below is an example, sung by Stevie Wonder.

On this big band arrangement of the same song, after his spontaneous piano solo, he features Marcelo Martins on tenor saxophone and also Levi Chaves on baritone sax and trombonist Aldivas Ayres. They put new fire and passion into his song.

All the music on this album explore Adolfo’s original compositions with the exception of “Milestones,” the Miles Davis jazz standard. On this arrangement, Adolfo has combined bebop jazz with Frevo and shares his piano solo with accordionist, Marcos Nimrichter. The entire production has a smooth, cohesive sound and blends his Brazilian culture with jazz in a very contemporary way. The horns fly like startled birds and are beautifully arranged.

On “Luizao,” written as a tribute to the late bassist, Luizao Maia, who was an innovator in reinventing the way that a samba is played on the bass instrument. He was also once a member of Antonio Adolfo’s small ensembles. During this straight-ahead big band performance, Adolfo chooses to highlight valve trombonist, Serginho. All in all, this is an expansion of Antonio Adolfo’s exceptional talents and a beautifully arranged album of his compositions, grandly interpreted in a big band, orchestrated way.
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Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica; Bill Cunliffe, piano/string arrangements.

I was eager to listen to this project. The temptation was the wonderful, ethereal music that a master pianist like Bill Cunliffe and an extraordinary harmonica player like Hendrik Meurkens might create. I was not disappointed. This duo is quite exceptional. On their recording, they have tackled Broadway tunes, covered respected jazz composer’s and added original material with the same dedication and talent necessary to make this project absolutely memorable. As mentioned in their liner notes, perhaps this project was inspired by the Toots Thieleman and Bill Evans classic collaboration. Or, perhaps it was their longtime friendship and the promise of one day recording together that brought these two musicians jointly on such a tender and challenging musical journey. Meurken’s composer abilities are stellar, beginning with “Afternoon”, the second cut on this disc. It’s a very melodic piece, with unexpected musical twists and turns. The composition is richly enhanced by Cunliffe’s sweet string arrangements. This is such a beautiful tune that I found myself playing it over several times and enjoying it more with each replay. Another song, “Prague In March,” is beautifully penned and harmonically soloed by composer, Hendrik Meurkens. His compositions touch a creative spark in me.

You will hear the music of Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Jobim and even Bobbi Gentry’s hit pop song, “Ode to Billie Joe”. Cunliffe showcases his composition skills with the tune, “You Don’t Know” and “Time to Say Goodbye” co-written with T. McConnell.
This recording exemplifies a clarity and delicate balance between two musicians who set out to create a duo work of art. The simplicity of the project leaves plenty of space for each one to step forward creatively and spontaneously, threading improvisational dexterity through a needle of technique and talent. This project is stitched together like a million-dollar museum quilt, rich and brightly colored; warm, historic and beautiful.
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Breaking Free – New Music and Unique Expressions

June 10, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

June 10, 2018


Cathy Segal-Garcia, vocals; Bevan Manson, piano/producer; Tom Rizzo, Dori Amarilio, Jamie Rosenn, guitar; Edwin Livingston, Kenny Wild, Domenic Genova, bass; Joe LaBarbera, Matt Gordy, Steve Hass, drums; Lolly Allen, Nick Mancini, vibes; Chuck Findley, brass; WOODWINDS: Rob Lockhard, Bob Sheppard, Catherine Del Russo, Phil Feather, Greg Huckins, Jeff Driskill, Matchell Manker; STRINGS: Amy Hershberger, Ben Hudson, Rafi Rishik, Susan Rishik, Jennie Hansen, Alan Busteed, Andrew Shulman, Irina Voloshina, Armen Ksajikian. GUEST BASS CLARINETIS/SOLOIST: Bennie Maupin. GUEST VOCALISTS: Kate McGarry, Mon David, Tierney Sutton, “Fish To Birds”, Ashley Maher, Emile Hassan Dyer, Cecily Gardner, Mon David Adrianne Duncan, Tracy Robertson.

The beautiful and very familiar song, “Star Eyes,” is the opener for Cathy Segal-Garcia’s new album. It’s a stunning arrangement. “Star Eyes” was written by Gene de Paul and Don Raye for a 1943 film called “I Dood it.” Over time, it’s become a jazz standard. Cathy’s amazing arrangement perpetuates the idea of Cathy Segal-Garcia as a vocal risk-taker. Here is no easy arrangement to sing, yet this vocalist makes it sound simple. You have to be serious about pitch and timing when you sing with these extraordinary string players. Under the direction of Bevin Manson and co-producer, Dennis Dreith, this jazz chamber orchestra moves like a wild, Santa Ana, California breeze, twirling and changing direction at will. Somehow, the vocalist manages to stay focused on the sensitive and lovely melody of an old and beloved composition. The first ‘cut’ is truly Impressive.

Her next song, a Don Caymmi composition, “Velho Piano” is sung in Portuguese and features Grammy-nominated vocalist, Kate McGarry. The husky, alto tone of Segal-Garcia’s voice suits Brazilian music. She wraps her voice emotionally around the melody and although I don’t understand the language, I believe her. She and Kate McGarry blend nicely on this duet arranged by Dori Amarilio. “Time After Time” by legendary rock artist, Cyndi Lauper, is well executed in Segal-Garcia’s own immitigable way. This vocal artist also shows off her lyrical skills by putting words to Vince Mendoza’s composition, “Ambivalence” that she has renamed, “This Moment.” Cut numbers eight and nine are performed as a duet, a medley combining one of my favorite Les McCann/Roberta Flack hit records, “Compared to What?” with the composition, “Universal Prisoner” and features special vocal guest, Tierney Sutton. Cathy Segal-Garcia and Ms. Sutton wave their social consciousness, like a flag, on this production. Although we are living in a time where it is imperative that more people speak up and speak out, I’m not sure that the “Compared to What” tune was a good choice for these stylized voices. I do appreciate Cathy Segal-Garcia’s ability to always explore outside the box and how she looks for unusual ways to present the usual. I always applaud her creativity. She and Sutton include spoken word opinions along with the string orchestration that tempers the arrangement from funk to a more symphonic chamber approach. There are long phrases of free-form scatting that appear to be spontaneous and uncharted. One thing I love about Eddie Harris and Les McCann is the way they put the groove and energy into their songs of protest and jazz. I think that’s what I miss the most about this arrangement. That being said, I have to praise these two talented vocalists for stepping outside the expected arrangement and offering two Eddie Harris and Les McCann recorded songs with a more unexpected and unique production. That’s what makes this entire CD production an artistic exploration. I encourage listeners to tune in and decide for themselves.
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Machat Records

Dayramir Gonzalez, piano/Fender Rhodes/synthesizer/composer/vocals; Antoine Katz & Alberto Miranda, Elec. Bass; Carlos Mena & Zwelakhe-Duma Bell Le Pere , Acoustic bass; Zack Mullings, Keisel Jimenez Leyva, Jay Sawer, Willy Rodriguez, Raul Pineda & David Rivera, drums; Paulo Stagmaro, Marcos Lopez, Mauricio Herrera, Congas; Mauricio Herrera, Pedrio Martinez & Paulo Stagnaro, Bata Drums; Paulo Stagnaro, Gregorio Vento & Yosvany Terry, Surdo/ Cajon/Giro/Pandeiro /miscellaneous percussion; Marcos Lopez, Timbal; Harvis Cuni, Trumpet; Oriente Lopez & Kalani Trinidad, flute; Rio Konishi, Dean Tsur & Yosvany Terri, alto saxophones; Edmar Colon & Dean Tsur, tenor saxophones; Ameya Kalamdani, acoustic & electric guitars; CHORUS: Tatiana Ferrer, Jaclyn Sanchez, Nadia Washington . LEAD VOCALS: Pedrito Martinez, Nadia Washington, Gregorio Vento. VIOLINS: Ilmar Lopez Gavilan, Audrey Defreytas Hayes. Tatiana Ferrer, viola; Jennifer Vincent, violoncello; Caris Visentin Liebman, oboe; Amparo Edo Biol, French horn.

There is something infectious about Cuban music. It captures your imagination and inspires your spirit. Dayramir Gonzalez is a Cuban pianist with a very exciting and energetic style. He is the product of Havana and Cuban traditional music, mixed with a large dose of contemporary Afro-Cuban jazz, perfectly blended into the vanguard New York jazz scene. Gonzalez plays with tempos and time, teasing us with melodies and percussive beats that infatuate and motivate. Starting with the first tune called, “Smiling”. It’s fast paces and just under two-minutes long, but it sticks with me and makes me pay attention. There are ghostly voices mixed down into the track and rhythms that pulsate. The second cut is more esoteric and electronic. Once again, Gonzalez and his enchanting piano arrangements build the excitement, using percussion, voices, synthesizers, but most of all it is the driving piano and his talent at the keyboards and on the keys that propel this music like a shooting star across the sky. “Moving Forward” will certainly make you want to move. Gonzalez is a competent composer and has written every song on this production. I found this entire work to be fascinating, hypnotic , well-produced and beautifully arranged.

“Sencillez” features a lovely flute solo by Oriente Lopez, who flies over the chord changes like a beautiful, wild, drunken bird. Then Gonzalez takes over and his piano fingers fly over the keys with the same elegant energy that Lopez brought to the piece. Background voices add chants while drums and percussion lift the piece higher. “ Lyesa Con Miel” features the strong, melodic lead vocalist, Pedrito Martinez. I love the Afro-Cuban feel of this song. His is an album plush with talent and creativity.

Dayramir Gonzalez grew up in Cerro, a humble Havana neighborhood, during a very tough economic time in Cuba’s history. This lack of financial stability did not stop the growth and promotion of music education on the island. His father, Fabian Gonzalez, is a well-known and successful Afro-Cuban jazz trumpeter. Gonzalez was attracted to the piano early and his talent was evident to many. He attended the famous Cuban National High School for the Arts (ENA) and at age sixteen began working professionally with various groups, including recording with Cuban drum legend, Giraldo Piloto and his group, “Klimax”. In 2004 he won first place in performance at the annual JoJazz Festival and competition, popular as one of Havana’s top venues for up and coming jazz artists. In 2005, he won first place in the composition category. In leaps and bounds, he became a skilled artist, bandleader and composer. His first album would win three Cubadisco awards. Those are awards comparable to our Grammys. He walked away with Best Debut Album, Best Jazz Album and Best Engineered Recording. In 2009, Gonzalez received an invitation to audition to attend the highly praised Berklee School of Music in Boston. He was the first Cuban national to receive a full scholarship. By 2011, he was signed to record for Berklee’s Jazz Revelation Records. In 2012, he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall as part of their Voices of Latin America series.

This production is stellar, creative and the culmination of cultures, hard work, practice, talent and tenacious determination. Bravo!
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Adi Meyerson, bass/composer; Joel Frahm, tenor & soprano saxophone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet; Camila Meza, guitar/vocals; Mike King, piano; Kush Abadey, drums.

This is the premiere album release for Adi Meyerson, composer and bassist. She has composed all of the music, a labor of love for the past five years, that reflects her life in New York City and celebrates the legacy of her father who left this earth too soon.

“Rice & Beans” is the opening tune and begins a journey of Straight-ahead jazz. Her ensemble is cohesive and they present her original compositions with energy and swing. The second cut on this album, “A “D” Train” continues to race with Freddie Hendrix on trumpet and Joel Frahm playing saxophone and taking time to call our attention to their talents with ample solos. I’m impressed with Meyerson’s composition skills. She writes beautifully. The third song that is called “Eunice” finally let’s me hear Adi Meyerson play her double bass. I thought she was mixed too far down in the former two tracks. Now she is solo and out front where she belongs. The tune begins without accompaniment. It’s bass a’Capella for several bars, until she sets down a deep blues groove. That’s when Mike King enters on piano. Next the two horns join them, playing a very modern jazz melody on top of a blues shuffle bass line. Several bars later, we are all the way into the blues, with Hendrix stepping out front to serenade us once again on his fluid trumpet. “Little Firefly” features Camila Meza on vocals. She’s also a fine guitarist. I’m a “Hard Bop” kind of girl and this album hits a spot dead-center in the pit of my heart and soul.

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FLAVIO SILVA –“BREAK FREE” Independent Label

Flavio Silva, guitar/composer; Seamus Black, tenor saxophone; Alex “Apolo” Ayala, bass; Curtis Nowosad, drums. SPECIAL GUESTS: James Francies, piano & Rhodes; Michael Mayo, vocals.

“Africa” is a composition by Flavio Silva and opens his second album release titled, “Break Free.” Silva is a jazz guitarist who blends together African, Afro Brazilian and World Music to take the listener on a cultural and adventurous musical ride. Silva’s music has contemporary overtones. On the very first number, the guitar sets up the groove with a beat pattern calling to mind a Temptation’s R & B tune. But believe me, Silva is jazz all the way. No compunction. The expressive tenor saxophone solo by Seamus Blake quickly lifts this tune to another level, with Curtis Nowosad on drums, spinning the rhythms around and around like the propellers of a jet plane. He sends the group flying! The drums are paramount in tying this ensemble together and are prevalent in ‘the mix’. Flavio Silva plucks his guitar strings to regain our attention and then improvises around the melody with short spasms of string energy. Silva has composed seven of the eight songs on this album and arranged one cover song by the great Brazilian vocalist/composer, Chico Buarque titled, “Samba e Amor.” Silva’s “Royal Song” features the scatting skills of Michael Mayo on vocals. The melody is complicated and challenging. Mayo makes the intervals sound easy and fluid. But after a while, I want to hear some lyrics. I want to know the story behind the “Royal Song.” Silva’s original song, “Prayer #2,” is another one of my favorites on this album. The unique drum groove adds to the interesting melody. Special guest, James Francies, spiced the production up with his piano solo on the title tune, “Break Free”. All in all, here is a debut recording by a talented young guitarist on the scene who offers his original composition skills as an additional gift to the listener.
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Independent label

Sam Javitch, piano/composition; Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Adrian Moring, bass; Matt Niedbalski, drums.

The first outstanding statement I hear on this CD is by pianist Sam Javitch. His solo on “The Pitch to Rich” races out of the gate right after Rich Perry,on tenor saxophone, establishes the melody. This pianist is someone to watch and enjoy. He’s assertive on his instrument and unafraid to color outside the proverbial lines. As a student of Mulgrew Miller, James Weidman, Harold Mabern and Cecil Bridgewater, you would expect nothing less than this musician’s dynamic approach to the keys. His compositions are melodic and interesting. This album is a tribute to the many people and places that have helped to shape him into the musical person he is today. He has written “Lifted: A Song for Grew and Those Who Knew” as a nod to his mentor, the late, great Mulgrew Miller. It’s plush with gospel chords and emotion. “Level Up!” is another one of my favorite tunes on this production of fine music. Javitch raises the bar and picks up the tempo, exploring the upper register of the piano and punching the chordal rhythms appropriately with his left hand. Matt Niedbalski pushes the rhythm with flaming drum sticks and Adrian Moring locks his bass into the mix. When Rich Perry enters with his rich tenor saxophone sound, the composition is expanded with the fury and freedom that jazz can sometimes inspire. This is a great song.

Sam Javitch began to study piano at age three, after it was recognized that he not only had a keen interest for the instrument, but also that he had perfect pitch. He’s a familiar presence on the New York contemporary jazz scene.
Rich Perry adds excitement and innovation on his tenor saxophone. Bassist Adrian Moring and drummer, Matt Niedbaski studied at William Patterson University with Sam Javitch and one of their favorite professors was Mulgrew Miller. They bring a commonality and a hunger for jazz excellence to the bandstand. This is a young and thriving quartet who each obviously bring their heart, soul and talent to the music.
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Larry Goldings, Hammond organ; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Bill Stewart, drums.

“Toy Tunes” marks this trio’s twelfth album together. The first tune on this CD left me feeling unsatisfied and I was surprised because I’ve heard these musicians and I know they are way better than the average cats. Each musician’s resume reads like the who’s who of jazz. That being said, Larry Goldings composition, “Fagen” just didn’t move me. It’s a tribute to Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, who Goldings says introduced him to a whole new world of harmony and song structure. I found the melody repetitious and annoying. “Don’t Ever Call Me Again” begins with drums rumbling the rhythm and setting the pace. That was exciting. Then, Bernstein climbs on board with his guitar, passionately singing out the melody. This is a composition by drummer, Bill Stewart. Like the Goldings composition, “Fagen,” this song is also repetitious, with a sing-song melody and intervals and harmonics that sound strangely off-key. I start thinking, ok – maybe this is the premise of their trio sound; to be a little off-center or Avant Garde with their arrangements and harmonies. There is a stellar drum solo on this song that showcases Bill Stewart’s talents. I was waiting with baited breath to hear the Bernstein tune, “Lullaby for B.” It’s a lovely composition with an unexpected structure and pretty melody. I’m a lover of the Straight-ahead, Bebop era organ trios, so this trio’s style and presentation challenges me to embrace them with a more open mind. Obviously, they are all great players and competent composers. Their music is complex and doesn’t always groove the way Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, Jimmy McGriff or Jack McDuff did. The closest we get is “I’m In the Mood for Love” where they do lay down a groove and then totally rearrange the tune. So, I finally get it. These three musicians are uniquely presenting their individuality and technical virtuosity on a modern jazz exploration of arrangements and original compositions. As the tune fades out to the patter of Stewart’s brushes on his drum kit, I find myself enjoying this little break and percussive showcase. Their interpretation of Carla Bley’s “And Now The Queen” remains memorable. It establishes their unorthodox contemporary approach, yet always celebrating the odd melody written by Bley in her four complex bars. Bill Stewart’s “Calm” tune settled me down. I found it quite beautiful and enjoyed hearing the trio play it, featuring Peter Bernstein’s sensitive guitar work. The album closes with “Maybe” a Strouse & Charnin song that made me happy as it skipped along and showcased Larry Goldings toying with his organ in the most opportunist way. Basically, here are three amazingly talented musicians who enjoy their musical playground to the ‘max’. Thus, the title of their production is “Toy Tunes”. I love Wayne Shorter’s compositions and obviously so does this trio, naming their entire art project for his, “Toy Tunes.”

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Misha Piatigorsky, piano; Charlie Dougherty, bass; Sam Fishman, drums; Jeremy Fishman, saxophone/percussion.

I was attracted to this CD by its colorful jacket. Bright reds, oranges, deep, dark greens and silhouettes of jazz musicians and camels in black were painted into a picture of something mysterious, but happy and promising like the title:“Stained Glass & Technicolor Grooves.” What could this be about, I wondered.

It seems Sam Fishman had a dream of bringing a taste of New York City jazz clubs to his hometown of Glen Rock, New Jersey. So, he made it happen. On January 8, 2017, he took a quartet of musicians he contracted and they recorded this gem of an album ‘live’ at the Glen Rock Jewish Center. The music is as vibrant and colorful as this album title and its CD artwork.

Misha Piatigorsky is a sensitive and proficient composer. The very first tune, “Where’s the Sun?” is provocative and exciting. It makes you want to hear more. He begins very classically, then suddenly bursts into a groove and the musicians join him. The time fluctuates, so they have to be sensitive and inspired. “Nachlaot” is more contemporary and modern. At first, before it kicks into high gear with blues overtones, the pianist and bass player tease the audience with a music-box sounding introduction. I can almost see the ballerina twirling before the tiny, music-box mirror as the music plays. Misha Piatigorsky is an assertive pianist who performs with great expression and technical adeptness. He makes the music blossom right in front of your senses and at the same time, draws you tenderly into his compositions. Sam Fishman is strongly supportive on drums and he knows just when to crescendo with the trio and when to lay-back and solidly set the groove. They play with tenacious intensity and the pianist’s charisma leaps off their disc. I can only imagine how it had to feel, being there in person, to witness this show of stamina and power. On “Superhero,” (another Piatigorsky composition) Charlie Dougherty takes an opportunity to solo atop a very Latin groove. The pianist even throws some Stevie Wonder improvisation into his solo, taken from his popular song titled,“As “, off Wonder’s “Songs in The Key of Life” album. “Close Your Eyes” follows and is done at a moderate tempo; a shuffle/swing. Very nice. However, after all the band’s high energy tunes, I would have loved a ballad. Jeremy Fishman adds his saxophone interpretations on Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” composition. It adds a nice musical spice to the trio.

It is this trio’s spontaneity and energy that fuels and propels their project, like a rocket ship blasting off into the universe and taking us all with them. Fasten your seat belt!

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A Passionate Violinist and Conductor Makes Orchestral Magic

May 29, 2018

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

May 29, 2018

Dr. Yvette Devereaux lets no grass grow under her feet. She’s a shaker and mover! I’m sitting in a Pasadena restaurant awaiting her arrival, when she bursts into the room with an energy that’s palpable. She smiles at me as she slides into the booth. Her skin tone is deep chocolate and she has this beautiful glow that looks like she’s just been dipped in warm oil at a day spa. Yvette Devereaux is one of those super-women who juggles a multitude of projects with precision. I’m pleased she could fit me into her schedule for this interview. One moment she’s playing a violin solo on a Tyler Perry’s hit television show called, “The Haves and the Have Nots”; the next moment she’s rushing to the studio and being featured on Justin Timberlake’s CD “The 20/20 Experience”. No big deal. She’s performed with Timberlake previously, like during the 2013 Grammy Awards show. After all, she’s been around a slew of famous celebrities and power-people. In one way, it humbles you. But she continually exudes confidence and she’s worked hard to achieve her independent spirit.

YVETTE DEVEREAUX:“Well, I started playing violin at seven and studied piano at three years old. When I was in elementary school, they said you had to be in Fourth Grade to join the orchestra. I was in third grade. I had picked up my love of violin from my sister, Cynthia. She played violin. My other sister, Jacqueline, played clarinet. So, we all played instruments. My mother was a pianist and vocalist. She taught piano to all the kids in the neighborhood. So, at first, I started taking piano lessons from my mother at two years old. She couldn’t take it and decided to find a piano teacher for me. I studied piano at three years old and later picked up my sister’s violin, which was too large for me, but I wanted to learn to play. In 3rd grade the teacher came around and told us we could be in the orchestra in 4th Grade and I wanted to know, can I at least try to be in it now? She said no! Then, I started playing my violin right there in front of her and she said, Oh yeah. You can be in the orchestra right now.” (laughter)

As we chit-chat and share laughter during her biographic antidote, I realize that even as a child, Yvette Devereaux was a precocious and determined, individual thinker.

YVETTE DEVEREAUX:“I grew up in Compton, California on Stockwell Street. That’s what my small company is named after; Stockwell Music. That’s where everything started. Compton thrived with the arts when I was in school. First of all, we had a full music program. Teachers travelled to other schools, so all students had music in their curriculums. The woman who was over all this, Mrs. McMasters, she was a conductor. She was the one who actually told me I could join the orchestra in third grade instead of fourth grade. But to see her at the podium in elementary school, she was pretty much my first role model for a conductor. And she was a woman who, no matter what, was hands-on for everything and encouraged her students. They had a music team in the school district and they called them travelling music teachers. One travelling music teacher was Mr. Houl. He played horn instruments. He headed a band, where my sister played the clarinet. My other sister played flute, bells and violin. My sisters were in both ensembles with Mr. Houl, all in one school; Segundo Elementary. I was also involved in our All District Choir in Compton, where students throughout the entire school district would come together (weekly) and sing! And I mean sing! We had the ‘Compton Boys Choir’ and the Compton Choraliers. We toured throughout the State and made television appearances. All our choirs were led by a wonderful woman, Esther Cleavers. I was in school orchestras from elementary school to high school, in addition to an All District Orchestra, thanks to Mrs. McMasters and my string teacher, Joseph Taylor. Both were very instrumental. I had those same group of teachers in my life all the way through school until college. It’s not always about funding. It’s about having a vision and implementing it. We need to make sure all kids have music in school. You don’t even have to have instruments. You can clap. You can sing. The kids are there. They’re waiting to be taught.”

For a moment, Dr. Devereaux let’s her passion for youth shine to the surface. Her face becomes animated and expressive. I witness her sincerity as she remembers the kind of loving attention she and her schoolmates received years ago. She’s concerned that regular music inspiration is often unavailable in our schools today. Dr. Devereaux continues.

“So, around 5th grade or so, when schools were still going up to 6th grade and then you graduated into Junior High, an Elementary school graduation was a big deal for the teachers, because it was their last performance with us. We had a graduation choir and everybody had to sing a song. I can’t remember her name right now, but she was the head of our graduation choir and she was also the pianist. She said ‘Ok children, I want you to sing this song.’ She was trying to conduct and play piano at the same time. It was difficult, so she looks at me and says, I want you to conduct the choir. That’s how it happened that I conducted the graduation choir. Then I had to pick up my violin, because I played a solo for graduation as well. I was nine-years-old. As a kid, your teacher instructs you to do something and you just do it. But as I think back, it had a great impact on me. Because I always can visualize that day. I can see that day so clearly and it’s kind of strange because my classmates accepted me as a conductor. They were all senior violin players and it was odd because they all listened to and followed me. At that moment, I felt like it was fun. But then it started to snowball.

“In Middle School, my string teacher, Joseph Taylor, was very instrumental and hands on with all his students. Most of his string students are still playing professionally. He played all the string instruments and was very, very smart and very talented. He took over this woman’s place, who was quite powerful and she played all the instruments. Her name was Mrs. Brown. She was over the entire string program. She either retired or moved on, but Mr. Taylor took over. He became my private violin teacher and he pushed us. We were playing Mozart, Beethoven, everything at Vanguard Junior High school.”

Yvette Devereaux was determined to walk her dream pathway up the rainbow and down the other side. She wanted more than the ultimate pot of gold. Ms. Devereaux was determined to be respected as a prepared and distinguished orchestra conductor. She is living proof, dreams do come true. She has conducted at her Alma mater, Chapman University, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Music, Orchestral Conducting and violin. In 1993, Ms. Devereaux was chosen to compete in the Antonio Pedrotti 3rd International Competition for Orchestra Conductors in Trento, Italy. She also conducted the Chapman University Chamber Orchestra and University Symphony on a tour to Hong Kong, the People’s Republic of China, Spain, Hawaii and various American cities. She was a participant in the Carnegie Hall Corporation program for conductors with Pierre Boulez and spent two summers at the Conductors Guild Institute, held on the campus of the University of South Carolina. But what Ms. Devereaux really wanted was to study at the famed Peabody Conservatory of Music.

YVETTE DEVEREAUX:“I wanted to go to one of the best conservatories in the world. Even my teachers said, you will never get in. It’s so difficult. So, I said, Ok, but I ignored that advise. I decided to get some extra lessons outside of my university mentor, sense he didn’t believe in me. Peabody sent me all these requirements in preparation for their audition. They were very, very challenging. I said ok, I can take a challenge.

“I took a year off after undergraduate work. I said to myself, Oh, I’m going to get in! I stayed with my parents and didn’t do anything but practice, study; practice, study. I took lessons from various people like Daniel Lewis, who was the Conductor of the USC Symphony Orchestra. I also enrolled in some of his classes and workshops. In addition, I took a few lessons with William Shatner, who was also at USC. But it was Daniel Lewis who was so instrumental and he was the one who really said, you do these things and you’ll accomplish your goals. He gave workshops in various cities and I would be there, whether it was in Ohio, Minnesota, or where ever. He was and is still a great coach and conductor. And when I finally got to the Peabody auditions, I paid for my own airfare. That was hard. I arrived alone and stayed at a hotel. I had no idea how far it was to walk from the hotel to the audition place, but I walked straight to Peabody. My name was on the list and I checked in. I’m looking at all the other people and I’m listening to everyone else tuning up and the guy in front of me was on the podium for half an hour. I thought – Oooo, this is scary. Then I heard, ‘Ms. Devereaux, you’re next.’

“In the orchestra, there were about fifty people. You had to buy the scores in advance. The process of elimination is on several levels. I mean you have to have the money to buy the scores, get the plane ticket, reserve the hotel room. I was teaching students on the side, so I could buy those scores and be certain I was prepared. When it was my turn to audition and conduct the symphony orchestra, they had me play one of the hardest pieces of Igor Stravinsky titled, “The Rite of Spring.” I had to know every note played by the orchestra. So, I get up there and there’s a panel of four. The main conductor, who everybody wants to study with, is Frederick Prausnitz. Conductors all over the world want to study with Frederick. I saw that he was on the panel and that he was the one who’s going to tell me what to do. His assistants were next to him. He says, ‘Ok, Ms. Devereaux, you can begin.’
“Thank God I had my undergraduate experience with conducting, under the tutelage of John Koshak, because I knew how to run an orchestra. John Koshak had heard about me when I was attending high school in Compton (California). He’s the one that was instrumental in making sure I got into Chapman University as an undergraduate. I had to audition in front of him on the violin in order to get into the school of music. Consequently, I was admitted as a Violin Major with emphasis in Education (I thought!). But things changed immediately during my 1st semester after taking my theory class with Professor and Dr. Noael. The first thing a theory student learns in 1st year theory is ‘how to conduct’ and knowing the beating patterns. Originally, I had this theory class with Mr. Noael. So, I’m doing my thing and he goes, ‘Stop’. He said, ‘You have a conducting hand. After this lesson’s over, I want you to go and see John Koshak and tell him you’re interested in conducting’. I went and John Koshak also had me conduct a few beating patterns. Mr. Koshak said, OK, I’ll take you as my conducting student, meaning you’ll work for me the next four years, learning to be a conductor. That was the beginning of everything.”

Yvette Devereaux surprised her instructors and peers when she was accepted and earned a Master’s degree in Music and Orchestral Conducting at the Peabody Conservatory of Music on the campus of John Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. Additionally, she earned a Doctorate of Philosophy at Felton University. Consequently, she is now, Dr. Yvette Devereaux. Dr. Devereaux is both the first woman, and the first African-American woman, to be accepted into the conducting programs at both Chapman University and the Peabody Conservatory.
But things don’t always go as planned. Dr. Devereaux has always been competitive and tenacious. When she was approached to compete in the Mario Gusello 4th International Conductor’s competition in Pedrotti, Italy, she was one of three Americans who became semi-finalists. She told me about that experience.

YVETTE DEVEREAUX: “I did two competitions in Italy, but this was the first competition. You have about 2000 applicants and only fifty get chosen. First of all, they send you their repertoire three weeks in advance with scores to study. When you get there, you have no clue which one you are going to do. So, you’ve got to be prepared for all of them. There were eight scores, from light things like Mozart pieces to pieces by John Cage, all these modern pieces that take a lot of studying. … I had no idea what it would be like and when I got there, I joined conductors from all over the world who were also there to compete for this one prize. For my first piece they chose Antonin Dvořák Symphony #7. I went, Yeah! Thank you! Because that’s one of my favorites. When Dvořák came to America, he went to New York and heard black music, later creating the New World Symphony. But I was so happy to conduct his Symphony #7 during this competition. I got through the first round. You come the next day and see your name posted to realize you’ve made the first round. After the second round, there were twenty of us left. I made that round. In the last round, there were about eight of us left. I was called as the first one. When you’re the first, you have to set the bar. The musicians have to get comfortable with the piece and I was the one who actually taught them the piece. So, I made it to the third round. That was fine.

“I went by myself to Italy and to attend my first competition. I loved it over there. I felt like I was with people I knew, because as soon as I got off the plane I was taken care of. The car was there. We went and got some food. Then, when I went to Venice, it was so much fun. On the way home, I had to lay over in Milano or Milan, and that’s when it all went downhill. Some Gypsies followed me. I turned around and all my stuff was stolen. No passport. No money. Everything was in my briefcase with my scores. I put my briefcase on the ground while I was waiting for the bus outside the train station. I was so stunned! I went back into the train station and they were all laughing, like it was a joke. I asked, how can I get to the airport? They said a police report would help me to go to the consulate. So, I filled everything out. I said where is the consulate? They said fifteen blocks away. It was beginning to drizzle outside and I had to figure out how to get on a bus and get to the consulate with no money. A guy inside the terminal said to me, you look very sad. Something wrong? I told him my story and he said, here’s some tokens. These tokens will get you to the airport. Because I still had my luggage, but not my briefcase. I figured at least I could get to the airport to put my luggage into something (a locker) while I figured it out. And he said, by the way, the consulate closes in about an hour.

“So, I go to the airport and see about retrieving my ticket. They tell me they don’t see my name on the flight. I told them my ticket was stolen. I called my friend in America. It was about three-o-clock in the morning in Los Angeles and told him to go down to the airport and pay an extra $50 to get my name back on the roster. I knew I had to get back to Milan and to the train station so I could go to the consulate and get a new passport. Later, arriving at the consulate, a man said no – no – no. You cannot come in here. We are closing. I was looking at him saying, you don’t close for thirty minutes. He finally agreed, after a lady who worked there insisted he let me in and help me get my passport. He didn’t want to do it. They wanted me to come back tomorrow. Then he said I had to go down another fifteen blocks to get my passport photo taken and then go back to the consulate. I walked really fast and down into a dungeon-like basement to get the photo. I arrived back at the consulate, two-minutes before the door closed. I got the passport, But the train had left. Now I was hungry, with no money and no way to get to the airport. The consulate said they would give me a voucher for the hotel across the street from the train station, where they had prostitutes, rats and roaches. I had to stay there until morning and they gave me McDonalds vouchers. I went to the hotel and it was disgusting. So, I wired my friends for money. Then I went outside to a decent restaurant for a good meal. They told me I had to be at the train station at 6 in the morning in order to catch my plane that left at 9am. In that nasty hotel, I didn’t take off my clothes. I sat in a chair until dawn and then dragged myself over to the train station. I got on that train. It took an hour and a half to go from Milan to the airport. I had to get my baggage and check in. They charged me fifty dollars because they said my luggage was too heavy. When they said this plane goes to the United States of America, I praised God. I was so happy. I was exhausted and traumatized; No credit cards. No money. No driver’s license. When I got to JFK, thank goodness my parents were there. They didn’t know the whole story about how I got robbed and what I went through. My mother had prepared a homecooked dinner for me and that was lovely. The next day I had a recording session for Prince with Clare Fischer. That was the next day after all that drama. I had to get up and be there. No one knew what I had been through. But I was determined to be there, to work with the iconic Clare Fischer. I was so exhausted on that session. And that’s the story of my first overseas competition.

“In 1997, my sister Jackie got married 3-weeks before my next competition and no one wanted me to go anywhere by myself again. So, she came with me and made sure everything was taken care of this time and her honeymoon was with me. We travelled to Pescara, Italy and that was the best competition ever. I made it to the Semi-Finals, part of just eight contestants. There were only two Americans that got in and it was so rewarding. After each round I finished, I would go back into the audience and hold my sister’s hand. We’d wait to see if my name would be called. Wow! I get chill-bumps even now, just picturing my sister and I sharing that moment. I love her!

“When we came back through New York, Kermit Moore, the great cellist, conductor and composer, asked me how I would like to do two weeks at the Blue Note with McCoy Tyner? That was unbelievable. I was pinching myself. McCoy in my ear every night? Whoa! I was in the string quartet with his band. 1998. I will never forget it. It was hard ‘cause I ended up staying at a person’s brownstone in Harlem. The subway train stops at one-o-clock in the morning and my sister wasn’t used to travelling like that, at that hour, and neither was I. After she left early, I still had to do it by myself. McCoy Tyner heard that I was doing that and had a car pick me up. That last night with him was so amazing. They were swinging so hard and McCoy looks over and says to me, ‘Take a solo.’ Ooooo! I was part of the ensemble the whole time, but at that minute he pointed to me and said take a solo. Oh my God. He is such a great person and an amazing musician. He’s one of my idols.

“Another one is Donna Summers. She knew what was happening. And Smokey Robinson is also another one of my favorites. When you’re on tour as a Pop artist, and they see there is only one black girl in the entire orchestra, they were conscious. Donna Summers would always look over at me and say, you’re going to do the solo, right? You’re going to have to step out here, she’d say, motioning to me. That’s rarely done when you’re with a whole string orchestra. Because of Donna Summers I got solos at MGM Grand and I got solos at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. And Smokey Robinson is so generous and nice to work with. He never put himself above us. When we ate, he’d eat with us. He was always so respectful. Also, Vanessa Williams was the greatest. Although she won Miss America and acted and sang, she was still so gracious. We’d do a lot of concerts together and particularly at the Grammys. She said, ‘You’re not like the regular string players. A limo will pick you up; all four of you.’ So, she sent a car for our string ensemble. When we played for the Arsenio Hall show, we had our own room where our guests were treated well with snacks, chocolates, and candies everywhere. With Vanessa Williams, she’d even pack a box of candy for each of us to say thank you. Of course, I can’t forget Barbra Streisand, who was just unbelievable. When we worked with her on recordings at Capital Records, she was very gracious and we were just hanging out with her the whole time. It was so nice recording and hearing her in my ear. And as a woman, she was running the show. I learned so much watching her. She was such an example. She was also produced by Diana Krall. To see this duo of women, working together, it was unbelievable. That was one of the best recordings I have ever done. I spent four days with them; and Johnny Mandel was the arranger. OMG. I loved working with Johnny. He’s so smart. Just two notes and he changed the entire song. It made everything better. When Diana Krall did her record, “Love Scenes” with “Peel Me A Grape” on it, I was right there with Johnny Mandel for that too. Then there is Gerald Wilson. To see Gerald Wilson at work on that “Detroit” album was just amazing. I learned so much.”

Yvette Devereaux is concerned about our children and the lack of music and art programs offered in our public education system. You’ll find Dr. Devereaux consistently invested in the art of teaching, the act of mentorship and devoted to servicing our community.

In 1983, she began teaching violin, conducting, voice, and composition in her studio. In 1993, she founded the Progressive Arts Academy. It was an After-school and Weekend Performing/Visual Arts Program for ages 3 to adult in her hometown of Compton California. She has shared her talents at various teaching positions including the So. Pasadena Music Center & Conservatory, the Wildwood Music Camp, Mount St. Mary’s College, Compton Community College, and Dr. Devereaux has helped design the curriculum of her Alma Mater Chapman University and the Peabody Conservatory of Music. For her tireless work, she has received numerous awards and honors, including the Community Leadership Award, sponsored by the Los Angeles Christian Methodist Episcopal Church & she received the Certificate of Appreciation from former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. Ms. Devereaux is an advocate for education. She is a frequent lecturer, adjudicator, educator and coach for many organizations, schools and institutions throughout the United States. She has recently written and published arrangements for youth string orchestras & is currently seeking opportunities to coach youth orchestras. She told me about a recent experience conducting an amazing youth orchestra in New York state.

“I received a call from representatives of a New York, Long Island Festival. They said, they found me on the Internet and would I be interested in conducting the youth orchestra in 2014? It was the Long Island Festival for High schoolers. So, I get there and I was blown away. These young people were really talented. I think most conductors turn down opportunities like that, because you’re not sure what you’re going to get. Perhaps they don’t want to be embarrassed. These youth were playing really challenging pieces and I didn’t expect that they would execute that well! When you deal with young people and they haven’t developed their tone yet, it’s a little hard. Sometimes they don’t have the best instruments, so the sound isn’t what I’d like to hear. No problem. I had to make adjustments. I dealt with that. Great composer, Aaron Copland, wrote “Hoedown”, a really challenging piece. It’s for more professional players like The L.A. Philharmonic. This young girl, who played the xylophone in the orchestra, nailed it. Nailed it! I mean, Nailed it. They played it well. It’s on my website.

“I only had two days of rehearsals and then the concert. Those young people pulled it off. When you’re dealing with youth orchestras, most young people want to play well and they want to sound well. Sometimes teachers don’t have the time to look for repertoires that are appropriate for young people. So, that’s when I closed my door one summer and wrote over seventy arrangements for youth orchestras. I tell orchestra teachers that they are available. Some teachers don’t understand that all the students in the orchestra can play, regardless of their level. Children don’t have to sit out. It’s because of the repertoire. Instructors don’t always choose the right music. I write scores that are playable. So, I’ve been asked to come back this year and do two more festivals in Long Island, New York with ninth and tenth graders and over a hundred and fifty students.”

Dr. Yvette Devereaux is inspiring. When she is not acting as concertmaster of a String Ensemble for the hit TV Show, “The Voice,” or playing for Aretha Franklin’s performance at President Obama’s Inauguration, you may have seen her as the lead violinist for the 2011 Grammy Awards show featuring Bruno Mars. She regularly appears with sensational, jazz saxophonist, Kamasi Washington, most recently this year at the Coachella Festival in California. She has appeared as a solo violinist at the Hollywood Bowl with Stevie Wonder, with Hank Jones, Gerald Wilson, Joe Lovano, Kenny Burrell and as she mentioned, made a solo appearance with the Disco Diva, Donna Summers in Las Vegas. She has been a principal violinist for Luciano Pavarotti. I asked her about that.

“You know, I was so taken by his voice. I heard recordings and I had seen him on television, but in person was amazing. I just wanted to be sure I played my notes right. He was so knowledgeable of what he was doing and so knowledgeable of the orchestra. You had to be on your game. He had travelled and gone from playing at the Met and playing at the Opera House. He was so used to being around greatness, so I was very fortunate to be sitting there as a principal and just playing my notes.

“You know, I think I’m grateful for my teachers. You have to develop, whether it’s your technique or your knowledge. You have to put all this behind you until you’re considered to be an artist. If you’re trying to learn an instrument, you have to learn that instrument and everything about it. It doesn’t happen overnight. And we have to practice. You can’t let one or two days go by without working on your talent. It’s amazing. I practice every day. I have to. Because I want to stay on it. I make sure I’m qualified always. Do you know what happened with Leonard Bernstein? The conductor was sick or something and at the last minute, that’s how Leonard Bernstein got the job with the New York Philharmonic. He was called to conduct a difficult piece by Stravinsky, and that was the beginning of his conducting career. Who knows when it will happen? You have to be prepared!”

And prepared she is! That preparation allowed her to become the first woman to hold the position of Music Director and Conductor of the Southeast Community Symphony in Los Angeles. Just hand her the music, a violin and/or the baton, sit back and watch a prepared, passionate, professional work her magic.

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Connection Works Records

Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone; Nate Radley, guitar; Kim Cass, bass; Rob Garcia, drums.

Speaking of classical orchestration and magical music, here is a unique project. All the compositions are by Frederic Chopin, cleverly played in a very free and jazzy style. Classical music lends itself to jazz, because jazz is based on the European classical scales with the addition of slave songs, blues and work songs and most importantly, improvisation that expresses a longing for freedom. Jazz music has developed into America’s unique classical music and it’s a national treasure. These musicians somehow easily make the connection between modern jazz and the iconic 19th century composer, Chopin . From the very first hauntingly beautiful “Nocturne Op27 Nᵒ1 in C# minor” with the bass setting the tempo and Noah Preminger playing the melody at a faster pace than you might expect, I find myself intrigued. Kim Cass continues to make a bass statement, even when simply locking in with the drums and tightening the rhythm section. Rob Garcia is ever present, steady and supportive as a flexible and necessary net beneath this musical high wire act. He adds color and strength to the tracks with his busy drum sticks.

I love the drum solo on Prelude Op28Nᵒ 24 in D minor. Rob Garcia is spectacular during his solo percussive escapade. In the liner notes he explains.

“These are great songs that can be played with many different treatments. There’s a lot of room for us to just be ourselves.”

I never noticed before that some of the melody of this “Prelude Op28 Nᵒ24” has parts that are uncannily similar to the Nat King Cole jazz standard recording of, “Nature Boy.” It’s the very first line of this song that is eerily similar to Chopin’s composition. Check out Nat King Coles beautiful vocal on it below.

Preminger, who often recalls the smooth riffs that Stan Getz used to play, is a native of Canton, Connecticut and this is his twelfth album release as a bandleader. Downbeat Magazine has heralded him as among the top tenor saxophonists in their annual polls. I am infatuated with his whispery, airy tone and tenacious, solid sound.

Garcia is active in the current Brooklyn jazz scene and is respected as both a sideman and bandleader. He’s appeared on over forty albums, including Grammy winners. His 2009 CD, “Perennial,” was named one of the 10 Best Jazz Albums of that year by the New York Observer. He’s been a major force in artist-run jazz organizations and is the founder/artistic director of Connection Works and a member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground, as well as a founding member of the Douglass Street Music Collective.

Together, these two dynamic artists successfully celebrate and elevate the amazing music of Frederic Franciszek Chopin, along with their bandmates. It’s a magnificent listen.
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