MAKE IT A MUSICAL FATHER’S DAY

June 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 15, 2022

JOEL FRAHM – “THE BRIGHT SIDE” – Anzic Records

Joel Frahm, tenor & soprano saxophones; Dan Loomis, bass; Ernesto Cervini, drums.

“The Bright Side” is the debut record release for The Joel Frahm Trio.  Each trio member is a composer and contributes their talent featuring original music.   Joel Frahm first became acquainted with the piano-less trio concept as a teenager.  He felt this chord-less approach to music allowed a soaring freedom of expression.   After exploring this musical concept for the past decade, both as a bandleader and a member of various chord-less trios, Joel Frahm and current players, Ernesto Cervini on drums and Dan Loomis on bass celebrate the release of their debut album with a 2022 summer tour.  The Joel Frahm Trio is scheduled to appear on the West Coast of the United States in July at the following venues.  Catch them if you can.

July 16 – San Diego Jazz Ventures (https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/joel-frahm-trio-jazz-at-the-athenaeum-tickets-326434042007?aff=ebdssbdestsearch&keep_tld=1)

July 18 – Kuumbwa Jazz Center (https://www.kuumbwajazz.org/calendar/joel-frahm-trio/)
July 19 – Bird & Beckett (San Francisco) (https://birdbeckett.com/)
July 20 – Sac Yard Tap House (Sacramento) (https://sacyard.beer/)
July 22 – The Sound Room (Oakland) (https://www.soundroom.org/)
July 23 – Jack London Revue (Portland) (https://www.jacklondonrevue.com/)
July 24 – The Royal Room (Seattle) (https://theroyalroomseattle.com/)

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KRESTEN OSGOOD – “KRESTEN OSGOOD PLAYS THE ORGAN FOR YOU” – April Records & Music Co.

Kresten Osgood, Hammond organ; Fridolin Nordse, guitar; Ludamir Dietl, drums; Arto Eriksen, percussion.

“My introduction to the Hammond organ came in 1991, when I was a fourteen-year-old kid growing up on the West coast of Denmark.  One summer, lying on the beach and listening to my cassette Walkman, I heard the soundtrack from the film ‘The Commitments.‘ …  When I started high school in 1992, they had a Hammond X5 and I began turning it on and trying to copy some of the sounds I heard,” Kresten Osgood recalls his first infatuation with the organ.

Today, Kresten Osgood is a talented organist.  He has come a long way from those early realizations of an organ instrument he came to love; especially since Osgood was initially celebrated as a Denmark-based drummer. In that capacity, he has worked with Yusef Lateef, Sam Rivers, Wadada Leo Smith, Mouse on Mars, John Tchicai, Billy Preston, Dr. Lonnie Smith and Sam Yahel, just to list a few.  This is his debut album as an organist, although he sounds quite seasoned on the instrument.  He is joined by a drummer and guitarist who are both well-known pop producers and respected musicians on the Danish music scene. 

Kresten Osgood was inspired to jazz through some Lou Donaldson’s albums.  His first jazz heroes were Donaldson, Idris Muhammad, Dr. Lonnie Smith, (who he later played with as a drummer), Leon Spencer and Charles Earland. 

“I met Dr. Lonnie Smith in 2002 and recorded the now legendary album, ‘Hammond Rens’ (ILK Records – 2003) with him and Micael Blake.  Being right next to Lonnie and following his every move brought me closer to the source,” Osgood shares that experience in his liner notes.

Osgood’s current album is propelled by Ludomir Dietl’s drums with a strong funk, rock beat.  However, when I listen to the way Osgood approaches the organ, I hear so much jazz that I would love to hear him play with someone like the late, great Ralph Peterson.  I don’t mind the rock-fusion, electric guitar of Fridolin Nordso.  I think the fusion guitar solo adds to the arrangement of “Baby Let Me Take You in My Arms,” a song written by Abrim Tilman of the Detroit Emeralds; an artist from my hometown of Michigan’s famed Motown.  

Clearly, the percussionist is very talented.  His drum support on Ahmad Jamal’s historic “Poinciana” tune lends a thick, Latin base to the group’s arrangement and is very exciting.  Perhaps they chose to utilize the rock drums on some tunes to make the album lean more towards pop commercialism.  But undeniably, Kresten Osgood is a jazz organ player, with or without the rock-oriented drums. 

“… I transcribed a bunch of Grant Green, Lou Donaldson and Charles Earland tunes.  I formed a band.  We began performing around the town of Holstebro in Western Denmark,” Osgood recalls the early days of his playing organ.

Nearly thirty years after he first heard the organ instrument, while lying on a Denmark beach, Osgood claims he still gets goosebumps whenever he turns-on his instrument.  You feel that sincerity and excitement in this recording, along with Kresten Osgood’s dedication to respecting the legacy of great jazz organ performances. 

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JOHN WASSON’S STRATA BIG BAND – “CHRONICLES” – Summit Records

John Wasson, arranger/composer/producer/XOBrass performing artist/bass trombone; RHYTHM: Noel Johnston, guitar; Paul Lees, piano/B-3 organ; Eric Hitt, acoustic & electric basses; Mike Drake, drums; Mike Medina, percussion; WOODWINDS: Bruce Bohnstengel, soprano & alto saxophone/flute; Tim Ishii, alto saxophone/flute; Jeff Robbins, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Michael Morrison, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Chris Beaty, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Keith Jourdan, Miles Johnson, Jack Evans & Pete Clagett; TROMBONES: Tony Baker, David Butler, Chris Seiter, with Paul Birk & John Wasson on Bass trombone. 

That big, beautiful swell of excitement and glory that a big band brings to music is magical.  This album opens with that kind of energy on “Heat-seeker.”  The horns make a bright, tightly harmonized exclamation mark.  Then they crawl up the scale, offering their melody to my attentive ears and totally grabbing my attention.  Pete Clagett is featured on a brilliant trumpet and Jeff Robbins soars on his tenor saxophone solo.  John Wasson has composed and arranged this piece of music.  It’s melodic and cheerful.  In fact, he offers four original compositions to this delightful album, out of the nine songs in the big band’s recorded repertoire.  The bandleader’s song, “Funk City” exhibits that kind of funky energy, driven by the powerful drums of Mike Drake.  Chris Beaty is fluid and stellar on tenor saxophone.  And is that John Wasson on the bass trombone, dancing beneath the rhythm like a bassist?  I love this arrangement.  On “Senor Salsa” (another Wasson composition) the band will make you want to move and dance.  The musicians do a bang-up job of interpreting “Maria” from the popular West Side Story score.  I was eager to hear their arrangement of “Blues for Alice” by Charlie Parker.  I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  They fly through the arrangement on the wings of ‘straight-ahead jazz’ featuring three trombonists who solo like preening birds; David Butler, Paul Birk and Tony Baker.  The Yoko Kanno tune, “Tanki,” features Paul Lees on his organ and Bruce Bohnstengel strutting his stuff on alto saxophone, utilizing the entire range of his instrument.  It opens with the bass of Eric Hitt setting the mood and the quick tempo.  There are some smart tempo changes in this arrangement that call the listener to attention.  John Wynn’s “Song for Kate” is ethereal and dances along at a moderate pace.  It’s refreshing to hear Noel Johnston step into the spotlight on his guitar and the Robbins’ flute darts above the rich orchestration like a narcissistic bird, singing sweetly, look at me. Look at me!  Mike Drake is given several bars to show-off his drum skills.  On this final tune, “The Detective Chronicles” written by Wesson, was inspired by 1960 television shows.  I remember the Peter Gunn series around that time.  That was the first show I ever heard jazz featured as background music.  There is surprise and drama in this Wesson arrangement.

Here is an album of smart arrangements and incredible energy, sparked by the talented musicians who play the music.  John Wesson, composer, arranger, bandleader and extraordinary musician describes this project in his own words. I found them quite succinct, humble and honest.

“I consider all the musical influences in my life as unofficial teachers and mentors. … I am indebted to the great players in the band, who have brought this music to life.  As a creator of big band music, it is clear to me that the written page is only the beginning.  It’s the great performers that ultimately bring the music to life.  This band has given voice to sounds previously heard only in my imagination and I could not be more grateful.  Thank you, guys!”

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OR BAREKET – “SAHAR” – Enja Records

Or Bareket, upright bass/composer/arranger; Morgan Guerin, tenor saxophone/EWI/organ/ arranger; Jeremy Corren, piano/Fender Rhodes/arranger; Savannah Harris, drums/percussion/arranger; Joel Ross, auxiliary percussion/co-arranger/producer.

Bassist, Or Bareket was born in Jerusalem and raised between Buenos Aires and Tel-Aviv.  Consequently, his music is infused with Mediterranean, South American and North African music styles. He incorporates those cultural elements in his jazz arrangements. Ten years ago, he won the International Society of Bassists’ Jazz Competition.  As a young bass player, he was highly motivated by the music of Jaco Pastorius and began his musical journey playing the electric bass at age sixteen. A few years later, he began to study the double bass and started his classical training with Teddy Kling, the principal bassist with the Israeli Philharmonic.  Bareket’s bass jazz study began with Avishai Cohen.  Currently residing in New York, this album, titled “Sahar,” translates to ‘crescent’ in modern Hebrew.  In Arabic dialects, “Sahar” means ‘just before dawn’ or early morning.  Sometimes it is translated as insomnia.   Bareket’s album becomes a vehicle to explore the poetic meaning of this title.

Bareket has composed all the music on this project, starting with the opening tune “Root System” featuring his bass, out-front and melodic.  I can imagine a new day dawning, with the orange, early morning sun rising in a burst of warmth.  On Bareket’s composition “Soil,” Morgan Guerin uses his EWI to infuse the music with fusion expression and Jeremy Corren answers the dips and dives that Guerin expresses on his wind instrument with piano conversation.  Savannah Harris pumps the drums beneath their musical exchange until the arrangement abruptly stops.  The composition, “Hiraeth” is more pensive.  The tempo slows and the melody drips like molasses poured in winter.  The bass sets the tone, repetitive and determined.  Perhaps this song reflects a dream-like state of mind, as if someone has stayed up all night and is now perplexed and foggy in the early dawn of a new day.  There are song titles that seem to reflect other languages like Track #4 titled “Oyen” and Track #7, “Kapara.”  I wish the liner notes had explained fully the meaning of these titles.  Thanks to Google I discovered ‘kapara’ means atonement and ‘Oyen’ is Dutch (or North German) to describe someone who lives by a water meadow.  In Spanish, it’s the verb ‘to hear.’  I prefer the water meadow description.  Corren finally steps forward on piano to solo during “Oyen.”  It’s a very modern jazz piece, with lots of room for Guerin’s saxophone to push musical boundaries. Savanah Harris is given a space to explore his drums near the end of the song, an arrangement that once again ends abruptly, the way Track #2 did.  “Temperance” is a pretty composition that seems to be part of “Oyen” with a similar melody and key, as though the two songs are part of the same suite.  Harris is brightly featured on drums, which helps to lift a redundant melody line. The atonement tune (Kapara) gives the listener an opportunity to enjoy Or Bareket’s mastery of the bass at the introduction and inside the belly of the tune.  The song “A Lullaby for Troubled Ancestors” quickly becomes one of my favorites with its warm melodic line.  The album “Sahar” is an artistic project that introduces us to Or Bareket as a bassist and blossoming composer. 

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THE HONOLULU JAZZ QUARTET – “STRAIGHT AHEAD” – HJQ Records

John Kolivas, bass/founder/composer; Tim Tsukiyama, saxophone/composer; Dan Del Negro, piano/ composer; Noel Okimoto, drums/composer.

Bassist, John Kolivas formed The Honolulu Jazz Quartet in September of 2001.  They have become Hawaii’s most enduring jazz quartet.  This is their fourth record release in celebration of twenty years together making wonderful music.  They open with “Scarborough Fair” drenched in blues and it’s one of the best arrangements I’ve heard of this familiar tune.  Their sax man has composed a tune called “Right Back with the Snack” that borrows licks from Eddie Harris and Cannonball Adderley to compliment this party tune.  The drums of Noel Okimoto drive this funk tune forward.  This ensemble reminds me of the Kahala Hilton where I spent many an evening in the 1980s enjoying the Hawaii-based live jazz.  It reminds me of enjoying nights out listening to pianist Betty Loo Taylor and her trio and my old friend, Jimmy Borges.  I was not surprised when I read that drummer Noel Okimoto used to work with the legendary entertainer, Gabe Baltazar, with Betty Loo and also satin smooth vocalist, Jimmy Borges. This is the type of group who plays a little bit of everything, all locked together with jazzy, original arrangements that refresh familiar Gershwin tunes like “Bess You is my Woman Now” or “Fascinating Rhythm” beautifully arranged as a Latin tune. 

Meantime, each member of the group is a composer and they offer us their best of both worlds on this album.  For example, Noel Okimoto, the drummer, has composed a tune simply called “Blues” that the group plays Straight-ahead.  The arrangement gives John Kolivas an opportunity to solo on his upright bass and Okimoto to cut loose on his drum set.  Dan Del Negro shines and sparkles on piano.  Surprise!  “Economic Blues” penned by Kolivas, is a jazz waltz with a catchy melody and some unexpected tempo changes in the arrangement.  Dan Del Negro has a piano style that is deeply rooted in the blues.  You hear that throughout this recording as he punctuates each solo with bluesy chops.  I also enjoyed John’s composition, “They Grow Up Too Fast” and the way Tim Tsukiyama’s saxophone interprets that tune.  

Here is an album that introduces us to a Hawaiian ensemble of jazz musicians and composers, who incorporate everything from blues to reggae; standards pulled from the American Songbook to Latin; pop tunes like “Wichita Lineman” and of course, a whole bunch of “Straight Ahead.”

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TONY FALCO, JOSH SINTON & JED WILSON “ADUMBRATION” – FiP Recordings

Jed Wilson, pianist/composer; Josh Sinton, reeds/composer; Tony Falco, drummer/composer.

Jed Wilson’s piano notes cascades across space like a splashing waterfall.  The notes tumble over each other; melodic droplets.  Josh Sinton plays his saxophone atop the rhythm section with purpose and sensitivity. Tony Falco stirs the sticks around his drum set, accenting generously while holding the rhythm tightly in place.  I feel as though these musicians have been playing together for a while.  There is a notable comfort level between them.

“These two musicians are dear friends of mine,” says Tony Falco in their press package. “There is no greater blessing, as a musician, than to play with those you love.”

The title of this album is “adumbration.”  Adumbration means to foreshadow vaguely; to suggest, disclose or partially outline a plan.

Rather than give titles, these musicians have simply numbered the six songs they’ve recorded.  Consequently, they refer to them as Adumbrations 1, Adumbrations 2, etc.  The album cover is as artistic as the music and was created by the multi-talented drummer, Tony Falco. The trio shares in all composing credits. 

These three friends have known each other since their student days at the New England Conservatory.  Although they kept in contact over the years, it wasn’t until autumn of 2021 that Wilson, Sinton and Falco joined forces to create this debut album.  Each of these players has worked with Avant-garde bands and expanded their creative and improvisational talents.  During their exploration of Adumbrations 2, reed player Sinton offers his first ever flute recording, flying like a bright, beautiful bird above the track.  On Adumbrations 3, Sinton puts down the flute and picks up his bass clarinet.  Jed Wilson uses the treble clef of the piano to creatively whisper beneath Sinton’s rich, bass clarinet notes.  It’s a very effective communication between two instruments.  Sinton is one of New York’s most striking baritone saxophonists and in 2020, he was named “Rising Star” in the baritone saxophone category of Down Beat’s Critics Poll.  Jed Wilson is a new England-based pianist, primarily expressing himself with free improvisation.  Drummer, Tony Falco, is a renowned improviser, recording and mixing engineer and visual artist based in Greenfield, MA.  He often works with Avant-garde guitar legend, Tisziji Munoz and has performed and recorded with a host of others.  One thing about these three musicians is consistent.  They listen, react, create and spontaneously adlib with each other in a very comfortable way. Their music is improvisational, impacting and original.  “Adumbration” gives rise to their new music, as fresh and diverse as a new sunrise. 

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ALBARE & CO – “FREEDOM” – Alfi Records

Albare, guitars/composer; Phil Turcio, piano/composer/arranger; Phil Rex, bass; Felix Bloxom, drums; Randy Brecker, flugelhorn/trumpet; Ada Rovatti, alto & tenor saxophones.

Albert Dadon is better known by his stage name of Albare.  He began playing music at age eight, when his mother gifted him with a classic acoustic guitar for his birthday.  Consequently, he became one of the first guitar students in the newly opened Conservatory of Music in Dimona, Israel.  His love of the instrument was obvious by the time he turned ten.  Influenced by Django Reinhardt, Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery and Antonio Carlos Jobim, Albare has spent his lifetime in study, composing and playing jazz.  In this time of political chaos in our country and a deep divide between people and belief systems, jazz continues to be a music that steps outside the boundaries of discontent to celebrate freedom.  Thus, the title Albare has chosen for this newly released music; “Freedom.”  Jazz has often been called the first music of activism.  It is the poster child for emancipation and liberty, which is why (in the past) so many communist countries banned jazz music, including Russia, Communist China and North Korea. 

Albare’s keen sense of purpose and melody is evident in all ten of his original songs.  He has composed, or co-written with pianist Phil Turcio, all the music included on this album.  With the talents of Randy Brecker on trumpet and flugelhorn, along with the tasty saxophone playing of Ada Rovatti, this is heartfelt music.  Each track is inspired by the busy drums of Felix Bloxom and a hearty rhythm section. Albare’s brilliant guitar leads the way.  I enjoyed their arrangement of “Adues” that let’s Phil Rex step in front of the curtain to briefly feature his power on the bass instrument.  On “Lost Compass,” Albare picks up his electric guitar and the jazz turns fusion.  This is another one of my favorite tunes, with Brecker’s bright trumpet a wonderful example of freedom.  The composition, “Love is Always” has a flare of tango music incorporated into its pretty melody and arrangement.  On The other side of the spectrum, “Randy Makes me Smile” is straight-ahead bliss.  The composition “Shimmozle” is a beautiful ballad that becomes an emotional platform for Albare’s awesome guitar tenacity.  “Sunny Samba” makes me want to cha-cha-cha across the floor and something about the title tune, “Freedom,” brings Wes Montgomery to mind in a sweet way.  All in all, this is happy music that makes me want to whistle, dance and smile.

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SIDNEY JACOBS – “IF I WERE YOUR WOMAN” – Independent label

Sidney Jacobs, vocals/keyboards/percussion/composer/arranger; Gene Coye, drums; Solomon Dorsey, electric & acoustic bass; Josh Nelson, piano/keyboards; Ron Feuer, keyboards; Greg Poree, acoustic guitar; Josh Johnson, alto saxophone/flute; Chris Lawrence, trumpet; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet/flugelhorn; Joakim Toftgaard, trombone; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone; Munyungo Jackson, percussion.

Sidney Jacobs is a strong, baritone vocalist, who exhibits shades of Al Jarreau’s style during his  arrangement of “On A Clear Day.”  I can hear how Jarreau has influenced this singer.  Like Jarreau, Sidney Jacobs enjoys pushing the boundaries of music and challenging his vocal prowess.  He stretches and explores all the range and possibilities of his voice.  In fact, this entire project colors outside the lines and is still a very beautiful and artistic recording.  Jacobs has an amazingly powerful understanding of the language of ‘scat.’  He gives us a taste during his performance of the standard, “On a Clear Day” and also on his original composition, “Weave the Tale” that becomes a tour de force with a bebop infused presentation of Jacobs’ wordless clarity.  

Sidney Jacobs is a composer who has slipped in snippets of original tunes, like musical paper clips holding his repertoire in place.  He offers a thirty second rendition of “We All,” a twenty-four second snippet of “Stay Up” and a thirty-two second musical interlude that is encapsulated with smart vocal harmonies.  Jacobs gives us his own, fresh and creative interpretation of the hit song by Corinne Bailey Rae, “Like a Star.”  Surprisingly, He has chosen a group of songs for this album that reflects female-oriented songs. 

“I wanted to create a different listening experience and find songs that had personal relevance to me and songs that marked some very specific times in my life,” Sidney explained.

For example, he sings the H.E.R composition “Facts,” a song performed by Lalah Hathaway titled “I’m Coming Back” and “Been So Long” written and sung by Anita Baker in 1986.  But I really get a kick out of the Jacobs rendition of Barbra Streisand’s Broadway tune, “I Feel Pretty.”  It’s such a unique way of looking at this song, through the eyes of a guy. He also flavors the arrangement with scat singing, like hot pepper flakes in the soup.  He has his own spin on my friend and co-writer, Morris Broadnax and Stevie Wonder’s song, “Until you Come Back to Me.”  Sadly, the melody of the song, which is so beautiful, gets lost in the multi-layered vocal harmonics and Jacobs’ own melodic ideas change the tune beyond recognition.  This arrangement is disappointing.  His obsession with voice harmonies throughout this production probably are inspired by Sidney Jacobs’ time singing with the Fifth Dimensions vocal group.  Also, when he was eighteen, he became a principal singer with the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers and travelled the world with that famous and formidable chorale group.  Another female oriented song he covers is the Gladys Knight gold record, “If I Were Your Woman.”  That was another surprising choice of songs.  I wondered why he didn’t sing, if you were my woman and I was your man? But no, he remains true to the composer’s original lyrics.  Not so much the melody.  I know jazz is celebrated for its freedom and individuality, however some songwriter melodies are important enough to be sung as written.  I do have to applaud Sidney Jacobs for being original.  It takes an artist with talent, a sense of daring, an attitude that’s sure of himself and emotional security to pull this project off.

Surrounded by some of the best musicians the West Coast has to offer, these smokin’ hot tracks celebrate the awesome talents of folks like Greg Poree on acoustic guitar, Nolan Shaheed on trumpet and flugelhorn, Josh Nelson on piano and keyboards, Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone and Munyungo Jackson on percussion, to name just a few of the stellar players who infuse this project with excellence.  The complete list of participating musicians is noted above.

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MUSICAL VISIONS

June 1, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 1, 2022

STEVE DAVIS  – “BLUESTHETIC” – Smoke Sessions Records

Steve Davis, trombone/composer/arranger; Peter Bernstein, guitar; Steve Nelson, vibraphone; Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Christian McBride, bass; Willie Jones III, drums.

This album offers ‘straight-ahead’ trombone bliss.  Steve Davis is a master of his instrument and has encircled himself with other musicians who bring their A-game to this “Bluesthetic” project.

“We all had major fun working with Stevie-D on this new album,” Christian McBride gushed on the liner notes, calling Davis by his nickname, Stevie D.  “This was simply a musical family reunion playing great music written by Steve.  Willie Jones III, Geoff Keezer, Steve Nelson and Peter Bernstein are all top-notch, well-established giants on their respective instruments. … But Steve’s got blue fire coming out of his horn.” 

Opening with one of ten original compositions by Steve Davis, “Encouragement” is a perfect vehicle to showcase the Davis ensemble.  The melodic integrity of the tune makes you want to whistle along.  Steve opens things up on trombone followed by an inspired solo from Peter Bernstein on guitar.  One of my favorite additions to the Davis sextet is Steve Nelson on vibraphone.  Geoffrey Keezer explores the eighty-eight keys during his piano solo, followed by Christian McBride’s power-packed bass improvisation.  All the while, Willie Jones III makes the music dance and swing on his trap drums.

You hear the strength of a great composer when you listen to these Davis tunes.  “Silver at Sundown” is another melody that inspires me to hum along.  His compositions and chord arrangements create the perfect, melodic stage for these awesome musicians to blow, bounce and bow.  Perhaps Christian McBride described it best when he said:

“If you take any song from this album and put a soul groove on it, you potentially have a top-ten, R&B hit on your hands,” McBride asserted.

I get that!  As a former songwriter for Detroit’s Motown Records, I know a well-written song when I hear one and Steve Davis composes great songs.  A well-written song can be translated to jazz, country, reggae or pop along with any good arrangement.  I found each of these ten original songs to be well-arranged and beautifully composed.  In the liner notes, McBride echoed my feelings.

“The music went from hip and swingin’ like “Off the Cuff” to the hip and sublime, “Bluesthetic.”  Every song is strong with a rebar-like harmonic and melodic sense,” McBride described their production.

This album is delightful from beginning to end.   Steve Davis’s satin smooth sound on the trombone is as beautiful as these arrangements and the sextet showcases his mastery as a composer.

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JONATHAN BARBER & VISION AHEAD – “POETIC” –  Independent label

Jonathan Barber, drums/composer; Taber Gable, Fender Rhodes/composer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar/ composer; Matt Dwonszyk, bass; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone/composer.

Jonathan Barber is such a dynamic drummer, you hear it right from the first four bars of his opening tune, “Poetic.”  The melody is introduced by Godwin Louis on alto saxophone, but the energy and poetry of the song is being played by Jonathan Barber on trap drums.  Track #2 titled “Gathering” is a composition penned by the group guitarist, Andrew Renfroe.  Taber Gable is spotlighted on Fender Rhodes piano during this arrangement and Renfroe also adds his own guitar solo, improvising freely.  The song by reedman Godwin Louis, “Give Us This Day” seems to be based on lines from the Lord’s Prayer with Barber’s driving drums peppering the rhythm.  “Acceptance” once again gives wings to Taber Gable on Fender Rhodes.  He also composed this song.  One of my favorite tunes on this album is “Denim” which has a well-constructed melody.  Otherwise, this seems to be an album made up of ‘loops’ and repetitive music phrases, mostly presented at a moderate tempo.

I would like to have heard more tempo changes to allow Jonathan Barber a stage to showcase his mad drum skills.  How about a jazz waltz, an Afro-Cuban 6/8 tune, a five/four piece or seven/four composition?  Jonathan did utilize the final tune to briefly spotlight his drum prowess, once again dancing brightly atop repetitive chord changes.  This is easy listening jazz, but I didn’t hear a tune that could become a standard like “A-Train” or “Misty;” “Hearts of Fire,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” or “Girl from Ipanema.”  Writing, producing and playing music the world wants to sing is a formidable goal.

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THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE BAND AIRMEN OF NOTE – “THE 2022 JAZZ HERITAGE SERIES” – Dept. of the Air Force

RHYTHM: Sr. MSgt., Geoff Reecer, guitar; Tech Sgt., Chris Ziemba, piano; Tech Sgt., Ben Thomas, bass; Master Sgt., David McDonald, drums. VOCALS: Master Sgt., Paige Wroble & Diane Schuur (Special Guest). SAXOPHONES: Master Sgt., Kristian Baarsvik, lead alto flute; Tech. Sgt., Mike Cemprola, second alto flute; Master Sgt., Tedd Baker, lead tenor clarinet; Sr. Master Sgt., Grant Langford, second tenor/clarinet; Master Sgt. (Ret.), Doug Morgan, baritone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Staff Sgt., Joshua Kauffman; Chief Master Sgt, Kevin Burns; Master Sgt., Luke Brandon/producer/Musical Director; Technical Sgt., Logan Keese; TROMBONES: Tech. Sgt., Matt Hettwer; Master Sgt. (Ret.), Jeff Martin; Master Sgt., Kevin Cerovich; Master Sgt., Benjamin Polk.

This is a swinging big band and they start off their Heritage Series by playing the very popular “Alright, Okay, You Win” that popularly featured vocalist Joe Williams back in the mid-1960s with Count Basie’s Big Band.  This time, MSgt Paige Wroble lends us her strong vocal rendition of this tune with gusto.  The second track titled, “Touch and Go” features the brilliant piano playing of TSgt Chris Ziemba and special guest trumpeter, Sean Jones.  There is also a star-studded space made for TSgt Mike Cemprola on alto saxophone and drummer MSgt David McDonald also offers a spirited solo on drums. 

This ‘Airmen of Note’ organization is the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force.  They formed in 1950 to carry on Major Glenn Miller’s legacy.  They are an exemplary armed forces band and you will enjoy their high energy and professional musicianship throughout.

“Into the Sun” immediately caught my ear.  The horns fly and the excitement is palpable on this tune, penned by guest trumpeter, Sean Jones and arranged beautifully by Paul Ferguson. Special guest, Ted Nash is featured on saxophone atop a fusion jazz background propelled by the drums of David McDonald.  The band moves from fusion to straight ahead at the pop of a drum.  There is a flurry of interaction between trumpet and saxophone during the fade of this tune and a stellar, harmonic horn ending.  The Chick Corea composition, “Tones for Joan’s Bones” offers an opportunity for the horn players to step stage center and show-off their individual talents.  On the composition “You Can have It” award-winning vocalist, Diane Schuur steps forward.  The United States Air Force Band also has arranged and performed one of Ms. Schuur’s compositions, “Deedle’s Blues.”  They close with the familiar “Besame Mucho” tune that features Sean Jones on trumpet, Ted Nash on saxophone and Diane Schuur on vocals.  The ‘Airmen of Note’ performances on this disc represent a sample of the excellence and professionalism exemplified around the world in both music and in peace-keeping by the United States Air Force.

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RIQUE PANTOJA – “LIVE IN LOS ANGELES” – Moodo Music

Rique Pantoja, keyboards/piano/composer/arranger; Jimmy Earl, bass; Joel Taylor, drums; Ricardo Silveira, guitar; Cassio Duarte, percussion; Steve Tavaglione, saxophones/flute.

This artistic pianist has recorded and performed with some of the biggest names in both American and Brazilian jazz for over forty years.  The music of Rique Pantoja is a vision of peace, beauty and love.   In collaboration with his old friend, Juan Carlos Qintero, (owner of Moondo Music) this album became the perfect fit, representing the high-quality and artistically rendered jazz that Moondo Music distributes.

A native of Brazil, Pantoja attended a university to study engineering.  But this was his father’s vision and not Rique’s heart’s desire.  That’s strange, because both his father and his uncles all played musical instruments.  Maybe his father was trying to protect Rique from the rocky road of choosing music as a career.  After a frustrating year of engineering study, Rique’s father finally relented and sent his son to study in the United States and eventually at Berklee College of Music.  After all, Rique Pantoja had been studying classical guitar since the age of eight and switched to piano at thirteen years young.  By sixteen, he was already composing music. Rique Pantoja lived in the United States for a while as an exchange student.  During this time, the teenager won a talent show for his composing talents as a high school student. This encouraged him to keep composing.  The next step was attending Berklee School of Music. After graduating Berklee, the young pianist packed up his Fender Rhodes and relocated to Paris, France.  There, he formed a band consisting of French and Brazilian musicians that played all original compositions.  One night, the great Chet Baker heard the band playing in a club next door to where Chet was performing.  Baker popped into the club next door and was really impressed. In 1980, Rique’s band recorded with trumpet master Chet Baker, who, much to the surprise and excitement of young Rique Pantoja, came on board and decided to interpret Rique’s original songs.  That album is called, “Chet Baker and the Boto Brazilian Quartet.”

Once Rique Pantoja returned to Brazil, with success under his belt, he discovered his reputation burned like a five-alarm fire. He was in demand.  Pantoja toured two years with the great Milton Nascimento and became Musical Director for singer/songwriter, Djavan.  He was also an in-demand session player.  In 1991, at his wife’s insistence, the very busy Rique Pantoja needed a break and desired to spend more time with his family.  They moved to Los Angeles where the couple had many friends, including Ivan Lins. That short break turned into thirty fruitful years making music with California as his base.

Pantoja plays it all: classical, jazz, pop, gospel and of course Brazilian and international music.  Because of his diversity and excellent musical skills, Pantoja worked with a number of huge music names like Carlos Santana, Ernie Watts, Ricky Martin, classical guitarist Christopher Parkening, Gloria Estefan, Abraham Laboriel, Justo Almario, Lee Ritenour, Kirk Whalum and a score of others.  He has also written popular jingles for major brands like Coca Cola, Honda, Shell oil, Globo Reporter, DeBeers Diamonds, Pepsi, Nissan and Toshiba. 

Now, you can enjoy him on “Live in Los Angeles” working with some brilliant players like Steve Tavaglione on saxophone and flute, Jimmy Earl on bass, Joel Taylor, drums and Cassio Duarte on percussion.  He also includes Moondo Music labelmate, Ricardo Silveira on guitar.  This project shows Rique Pantoja’s exceptional visions on his instrument and spotlights his awesome composer talents.  Opening with “Arpoador” (that means harpooner in Portuguese).  Arpoador is also a small community, a peninsula, between Ipanema and Copacabana.  It’s an exciting and beautiful way to open this album, with changing moods and tempos, along with synthesizer brilliance during a solo that lifts the arrangement sky-high!

“Julinho” has a haunting melody interpreted by Steve Tavaglione’s sensual saxophone.  These two opening pieces quickly become two of my favorites on this album.  But let me say this.  Every Pantoja composition on this recording is brilliant.  Every arrangement is stellar and Rique Pantoja’s piano mastery infuses this music beautifully, giving each musician a musical palate to paint their hearts out.  “1000 Watts” is a tribute to Pantoja’s friend and popular, reedman, Ernie Watts and it’s drenched in funk.  His song, “Da Baiana” is based on an Afro-Cuban rhythm.  Pantoja’s composition “Be-Bop” kid introduces us to his vocal side.  Rique has a voice that’s honest and emotional.  I expected an up-tempo tune to exemplify be-bop.  Instead, this is a ballad and he sings the lyrical story in his native Portuguese with plentiful emotion. Then the arrangement changes, pendulum quick.  The ballad becomes a pop groove with Latin tinges.  Rique’s music is just pure fun!  As he plays the piano, he sings a scat line in unison with the melody.  His piano sparkles across each song, like sunshine on restless waves.  The flute solo by Tavaglione warms this arrangement, flying above the chord changes like a hungry seagull.  Also, the guitar solo by Ricardo Silveira is formidable.  For a moment, I am also captivated by the electric bass solo of Jimmy Earl.   Each song on this “Live in Los Angeles” album offers something more to entertain and surprise us.   It is a vision of complexity and artistic beauty you will enjoy listening to time and time again.

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BEN MARKLEY BIG BAND WITH ARI HOENIG – “ARI’S FUN-HOUSE” – OA2 Records

RHYTHM: Ben Markley, piano/keyboards/composer/arranger/bandleader; Evan Gregor, basses; Steve Kovalcheck, guitar; Ari Hoenig, drums/composer. SAXOPHONES: Will Swindler, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Scott Turpen, alto saxophone; Peter Sommer, tenor saxophone; John Gunther, tenor saxophone; Sam Williams, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Peter Olstad, Alan Hood, Greg Gisbert & Dan Jonas. TROMBONES: Adam Bartczak, Rob Borger, John Gauer & Paul McKee.

Pianist, arranger, composer and bandleader, Ben Markley feels this album is one of his most ambitious projects to date.  It all began in 2019 when Ben Markley and Ari Hoenig found themselves performing together at the Tarleton Jazz Festival in Texas.  As Markley began learning Hoenig’s original music and preparing for their performance, he was intrigued by the drummer’s melodic compositions.  Woven into Ari’s keen sense of rhythm were the most beautiful melodies.  Now, three years later, Ben Markley has arranged a big band album featuring the music of drummer Art Hoenig with the composer solid and powerful in the drum chair.

They open with “Birdless” featuring Will Swindler on alto saxophone.  Ben Markley’s piano expertise is featured and Steve Kovalcheck’s electric guitar soars.  This Markley arrangement makes certain to spotlight Ari Hoenig, popping and explosive on drums.  The horns dance and are drenched in ensemble harmonics.  This song is the perfect way to open up an innovative Markley big band album.  It establishes the energy and excitement that these musicians bring to the public ear.  Every song on this album is composed by Ari Hoenig.  “Lyric” is another gem, with a sparkling, bright melody explored by tenor saxophonist, John Gunther and Kovalcheck on guitar.  Markley’s sensitive arrangements always leave space to feature the composer.  Hot and heavy on his drum set, Ari remains the catalyst of this band with all his technical, percussive brilliance on display.  Ben Markley’s production flies each song like a proud flag, featuring various band members.  Also, his arrangements richly saturate the pieces in horn harmonies and punctuate the presentations rhythmically.  That’s one of the interesting things about these Hoenig compositions; the way rhythms, unexpected breaks, staccato punches and drum solos propel this project forward. 

“Lines of Oppression” reminds me of a powerful locomotive plundering forward.  Track #4 is called “Bert’s Playground” and it’s a happy, joyful composition that gives bassist, Evan Gregor, an opportunity to dance stage center on his double bass. The background horns mimic the sound of ambulance sirens, grabbing my attention, and then they break into a joyful sound of their own.  Paul McKee’s trombone steps out of the fray, richly improvising on the theme.  Greg Gisbert’s trumpet introduces us to a lovely ballad titled “For Tracy.”  Ben Markley opens this piece up with a poignant solo piano at the introduction.  The background horns swell and are dynamic against the sweetness of Gisbert’s horn.  “Arrows and Loops” sounds like something the Whirling Dervishes would dance to and Ben Markley takes a rousing solo on piano. The Ben Markley Big Band closes with a funky arrangement of “Green Spleen” which embraces modern jazz, contemporary fusion jazz, with even a taste of Charlie Mingus brilliance.  You will be thoroughly entertained by these Hoenig compositions and the Ben Markley Big Band interpretations of “Ari’s Fun-House.” 

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JOHN YAO’S TRICERATOPS – “OFF-KILTER” – See Tao Recordings

John Yao, trombone/composer; Robert Sabin, bass; Mark Ferber, drums; Billy Drewes, soprano & alto saxophones; Jon Irabagon, tenor & soprano saxophones.

Trombonist and composer, John Yao, vividly captures a sense of risk-taking and improvisational invention to create this boldly unpredictable album.  His vision is captured in the title “Off-Kilter” as he reunites his three-horn ‘Triceratops’ from an earlier album debut in 2019.  Once again, saxophonists Billy Drewes and Jon Irabagon join Yao along with drummer, Mark Ferber and bassist Robert Sabin. Sabin and Yao are longtime collaborators, once merging talents in Yao’s 17-piece big band.  On this recording, John Yao aims to be even more open and free.  He implements more complex compositions this time around, using plenty of open space for his counterparts to improvise and engage each other. 

What strikes me, right from the first tune, is the chordless structure of the band.  Leaning heavily on Sabin’s bass and Mark Ferber’s outstanding drum talents, the horns flutter and dance to their own content.  “Labyrinth” quickly becomes one of my favorites of Yao’s original compositions.  The pop of horns, using staccato unison notes, give Ferber’s drums a space to roll, solo and soar.  When the piece finally settles in, there is Robert Sabin’s walking bass holding the group solidly in place.  You can hear Yao’s love of big band harmonies in the way he has arranged the horn parts, lacing through the space like a bright, red, harmonic ribbon.  Yao’s trombone marches steadfast and straight-ahead, letting the background horns cheer him on.  Ferber’s drum licks double and clap like an inspired audience.  When Robert Sabin steps forward to solo on bass, his solo is exacerbated by the exciting compliment of Ferber’s improvisational drums that sing and soar, never losing the rhythm or dropping the tempo.  There are two interludes on this album. The first acts as a bridge between “Labyrinth” and a composition called, “Quietly.”  Both interludes are warm with horn harmonies and fired by the Ferber drums.  When the ballad “Quietly” appears, like a shy queen peeking out at the world behind lush, velvet horn harmonies, John Yao’s trombone is king.  Sabin’s bass sets the tone and tempo and the groove is Latin-esque.  It makes me tap my toe and want to cha cha across the room. 

“I love this band’s ability to go wherever everyone collectively or individually feels like they want to go, … to be part of something you can’t predict when you write a piece of music,” Yao explains his experience with the ensemble’s exploration of his original tunes.

This is an inspiring and creative exploration into the mindset and vision of John Yao, who has formerly contributed his trombone prowess with various Grammy-award winning ensembles including the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.  They have certainly inspired him creatively.  He has also performed with Paquito D’Rivera, Eddie Palmieri, Danilo Perez, Chris Potter and Kurt Elling.  You hear his love of Latin music in the introduction to his composition “Crosstalk” combined with his appreciation of funk music, jazz swing and the blues.  All four music genres are wrapped in a ball of energy and excitement that dares the Triceratop-horns to fly free.  Amid their openness and rich improvisations, the three horns still manage to merge together harmonically, repeating a melodic theme and stitching the piece together like a seamstress’s needle.  I find John Yao’s compositions to be innovative and diverse.  His trombone talent is formidable.  This is musical art, showcasing all five players like a Broadway spotlight on the red carpet.   This album release date is June 10, 2022.

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AARON SEEBER – “FIRST MOVE” – Cellar Music Group

Aaron Seeber, drums/composer; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Tim Green, alto saxophone; Warren Wolf, vibraphone.

This is drummer, Aaron Seeber’s first recording as a bandleader and it’s a powerhouse debut.  It was recorded ‘live’ in Brooklyn at the Ornithology Jazz Club in October of last year.  The band’s energy is palpable and Seeber has surrounded himself with some of New York’s best jazz musicians.  They are the new wave of jazz with a vision and perspective all their own.  Aaron Seeber has chosen seven jazz tunes by recognizable composers and added one of his own originals for good measure called, “First Move.” That, of course, is the title of this, his first album.  The tune “Brandyn” is a great way to kick off this production with excitement and allows each member of the quintet to step forward offering creative solos.  I enjoy Warren Wolf on vibraphone.  He’s an asset and punctuation mark to this ensemble.  Seeber first met Warren Wolf on a Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra date.  Then, Tim Green, who shared many of Seeber’s first major performances with him, steps stage center on alto saxophone to woo the crowd.  Sullivan Fortner lays down the tune’s melody in unison with the vibes and sax.  Seeber has experienced a long association with the celebrated pianist, Sullivan Fortner since they first played together at New York City’s Fat Cat club.  They were both in the band of trumpeter Greg Glassman. Sullivan lays down a busy, but very tasty, piano accompaniment beneath the solo of Tim Green.  It’s almost as though the two instruments are wildly gossiping with each other, but in a very comfortable way.  Bass man, Ugonna Okegwo, began to play with Seeber several years ago and they are frequently heard together as part of the Pete Malinverni Trio.  Sullivan Fortner really stretches out on Track #2, “Out of the Past” by Benny Golson, a tune that calms the mood, but not the energy.  These musicians are pumped briskly by the drum mastery of Aaron Seeber, even on this moderate tempo.  Ugonna Okegwo is given his debut in the spotlight, making his double bass soulfully saunter and sing.  This is a really pretty tune by Golson that these musicians reinvent, celebrate and refresh in a most inspirational way. 

Aaron Seeber inspires excitement on the introduction to “Eleventh Hour.”  The alto sax and vibraphone speak in unison tones and Seeber answers them, sticks slapping across his drum set with a voice of their own.  These musicians are off and flying faster than a hungry hawk diving to catch its prey.  Wolf’s mallets race across his instrument and the audience spontaneously applauds, shouting words of encouragement and praise.  I want to do the same in my listening space. This group is on fire!  Green’s saxophone solo duets with Seeber’s drums being the catalyst.  It’s a wonderful arrangement that showcases both instruments simultaneously.  Towards the fade of this composition, Aaron Seeber steps forward to wildly display his incredible skills on the drums.  This is one of my favorite arrangements on this album, reminding us of the brilliance of composer Mulgrew Miller, and the live audience seems to agree, shouting their appreciation.

Aaron Seeber is a native of Washington, D.C. and is influenced by Billy Hart, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Connie Kay, Mickey Roker and Otis “Candy” Finch to name just a few.  While attending high school in Washington, D.C., young Seeber attended Paul Carr’s Jazz Academy of Music (JAM) Camp.  Later, he attended SUNY Purchase, studying jazz drums with the renowned Kenny Washington and John Riley. Hungry for the music, he gobbled up opportunities to perform with greats like Eric Reed, Pete Malinverni, Cyrille Aimée, Freddie Redd, The Warren Wolf Trio and the award-winning group, The New York Voices to name only a few.  Currently, he leads his own quintet at the legendary Smalls Jazz Club. This debut album is bound to catapult this talented, young drummer into the stratosphere and beyond.

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SPOTLIGHTING GUITARS & STRINGS

May 16, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 16, 2022

RON JACKSON – “STANDARDS AND MY SONGS” – Roni Music

Ron Jackson, 7 string guitar/composer/arranger; Ben Wolfe, bass; Willie Jones III, drums. SPECIAL GUESTS:  Brian Ho, organ; Clark Gayton, trombone.

Ron Jackson says, “There’s no love like the love of music,” and I agree.  With the able assistance of Ben Wolfe on bass and Willie Jones III on drums, this seven-string guitarist offers us an eleven-song mixture of original music and standard tunes.   I was swept away by the trio’s arrangement of Ron’s composition, “Walk Fast.”  It’s quite melodic and propelled by the dynamism of Willie Jones III on trap drums who offers us an impressive solo.  Jackson’s original, “From Dusk to Dawn” is drenched in the blues and Ben Wolfe’s walking bass line is prominent.  The melody is catchy and Ron’s striking guitar sings it to us unapologetically.  This is a slow swing tune that showcases Jackson’s mastery of his 7-string guitar and spotlights his distinctive style.  Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” is arranged with Willie Jones III slapping a funk beat into place and Ben Wolfe walking his bass briskly beneath the melodic lines.  When the drums and guitar fall silent, Ben takes a solo walk on his upright bass, until they trade fours with Willie’s drums.  There are two compositions on this album that pay tribute to guitarists who have influenced Ron Jackson.  “For Pat” is dedicated to Pat Martino.  “This Nearly Was Mine” (a Rodgers and Hammerstein piece) is dedicated to Bucky Pizzarelli.  Another Jackson composition is dedicated to Ron Luque titled “Roundabout.”

“Ron Luque was a big jazz fan who hired me and other musicians for private events here in New York City. … He lived in Temecula, CA.  His wife Marie commissioned “Roundabout” in October to honor him and his fight with Aphasia.  He (Ron Luque) passed away on March 31st.  He was a happy, energetic, life of the party guy.  … A truly great person.  His wife brought me and his favorite musicians to perform at his memorial in California,” Jackson explained to me the sweet story behind his composition tribute to Ron Luque.

I enjoyed Ron Jackson’s arrangement of the popular Quincy Jones production of “Secret Garden.” I used to love to hear Barry White share his spoken word monologue at the introduction of “Secret Garden” on Quincy’s 1989 “Back on the Block” album.  Jackson’s group adds the organ talents of Brian Ho during this arrangement.  On Track #8, they speed through the tune, “Will You Still Be Mine?” in a straight-ahead way.  Ron Jackson is stellar during this up-tempo performance.  The Trio closes with “Time After Time,” the familiar jazz standard featuring just bass and guitar.  Ben Wolfe and Ron Jackson swagger through the tune, with Jackson lending a shuffle-feel with his rhythm guitar talents and still playing a healthy melodic interpretation.  All in all, Impressive!

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MARGARET SLOVAK TRIO – “BALLAD FOR BRAD” – Slovak Music

Margaret Slovak, nylon string & electric guitar/composer; Harvie S., bass; Michael Serin, drums.

“I started to play the guitar at age eleven, initially exploring folk, soft-rock and classical music.  But when I was fourteen, in the basement of our parents’ house in Aurora, Colorado, my older brother Paul played me guitarist Pat Metheny’s “Right Size Life” trio LP with bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses.  I was stunned! …  I came to jazz through ECM artists like Pat, Ralph Towner, Egberto Gismonti and John Abercrombie.  Later on, I discovered jazz guitar masters such as Jim Hall, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino, Steve Kohn, Wes Montgomery, Dale Bruning, Gene Bertoncini and Jack Wilkins,” Margaret Slovak explained her journey to jazz.

She had been on a musical path for years when, in 2003, something unexpected occurred. Margaret was an up-and-coming guitarist with great potential, securing her own style and sound.  Then, shockingly she was severely hurt in a car accident.  Margaret’s right hand, her arm and shoulder were seriously damaged.  To her credit, after many operations and years of struggle, she has returned to the jazz scene and her love of guitar.  The result is this album, “Ballad for Brad.”  Ms. Slovak’s trio opens with a jazz waltz titled “Again.” This is followed by a tune that immediately captures my heart called “Flowers for Marie.”  It’s a very lovely ballad that showcases Margaret’s technique and tenacity on nylon guitar.  Harvie S. takes a melodic bass solo during this arrangement.  Drummer, Michael Sarin opens the next tune with a percussive, Latin feel.  It’s called “The Answer Within” and it’s arranged with an Afro Cuban beat, accompanied by Harvie’s bass walking steadily beneath the energy.  At times, it sounds as though he’s having a serious conversation with Margaret’s guitar.  Slovak’s compositions are inspired, often complex and beautifully interpreted.  Her musical melodies are interesting and often surprising, taking paths we don’t necessarily expect.  “Song for Anne” sings like chamber music in a front-room parlor.  According to her press package, the tune “Courage, Truth and Hope” was written to tribute journalist Bill Moyer and gives her bassist a platform to solo upon.  There is a gutsy song called, “Carrot Cake Blues” that’s playful. Michael Sarin puts a funk beat in place behind the blues changes.  Harvie S. has fun spreading his own blues feelings over the chord changes as a prelude to Margaret’s solo.  Towards the conclusion of this arrangement, Sarin takes a brief percussive solo.  The title tune is a loving dedication to Margaret’s husband and on her original composition, “Thirty-three,” Harvie S. gives us a solo creatively bowing his double bass.  This quickly becomes another favorite tune of mine on Margaret’s album.  

When she isn’t in the studio or touring, Margaret Slovak donates time to hospice patients, playing her guitar to sooth, relax and entertain them.  There is a study that shows how healing jazz music can be.  The patients she plays for say that they feel better after her visits.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the striking album cover artwork.  I was surprised to learn it was painted and created by Margaret Slovak herself, clearly a woman of many talents.  It’s light, bright, colorful and imaginative, just like this album of music.

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GEORGE FREEMAN – “EVERYBODY SAY YEAH!” – Southport Records

George Freeman, guitar/composer; Tatsu Aoki, Harrison Bankhead & Penny Pendleton, bass; Alejo Poveda, Phil Thomas, Hamid Drake & Michael Raynor, drums; Ruben Alvarez, timbales/congas; Von Freeman, Lou Gregory & Kirk Brown, piano; Chico Freeman, tenor & soprano saxophone; Eldee Young, bass/vocals; Joanie Pallatto, vocals; John Devlin, 6-string electric bass/accordion; Luiz Ewerling, drums/percussion; Billy Branch, harmonica; Mike Allemana, guitar.

The George Freeman album opens with a ‘riff’ that reminds me of an old African American work song called “Pick A Bale of Cotton.”  We used to sing it as children.  George’s rhythm guitar talents set the tempo and the blues saturates this piece like gravy on hot cornbread.  It’s titled, “Peak.” There is a rawness about this recording.  You can hear Freeman conversing with his guitar, singing along with it and sometimes scatting with his guitar lines.  There is a casual freedom to this piece and to this entire production.  It’s like I’m sitting on the front porch steps of his home while he wails on his guitar. 

Track #2 is the familiar standard “There Will Never Be Another You” with the late, great Von Freeman on piano making a joyful sound.  This album, “Everybody Say Yeah,” is a compilation of songs from various, historic releases by George Freeman.  The first song, “Peak” is from the ‘George Still Burns!’ album.  The standard is taken from the Freeman 1995 album release called “Rebellion.”  “My Scenery” was honed from George’s “All in the Family” 2015 album release. They swing with a Latin sway on “It’s Cha Time.” This one is a George Freeman composition that features my old friend and dearly departed Eldee Young on bass and vocals.  On Freeman’s project, various recording sessions feature a variety of players.  But one thing that is absolutely consistent is the swing and the ‘in-the-pocket’ guitar power of George Freeman.  The ensemble’s arrangement on “Summertime” change the familiar tune to a blues with cultural traces of Native American Indian music.   It’s quite unique, especially with Alejo Poveda’s funk drums propelling their groove.  Joanie Pallatto caresses the lyrics with her warm vocal tones and she also scats.  The tune “George Burns” cloned from an album of the same name, swings hard in a bebop style, with bandleader George Freeman slapping those unexpected tasty slides into place on his guitar.  This guitar technique calls for attention in a very musical way.  You will find that each tune on his compilation project offers joy to your ears. There are fourteen tunes included that celebrate George Freeman’s discography on Southport Records.  His music represents a tight-knit and prolific jazz scene in Chicago, Illinois.  On April 10, 2022, George Freeman celebrated his 95th birthday.  This CD release tributes George Freeman’s long and historic musical life. 

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SHIRI ZORN & GEORGE MUSCATELLO – “INTO ANOTHER LAND” – Independent Label

Shiri Zorn, vocals/composer; George Muscatello, guitar/composer; Mauricio Zottarelli, percussion.

Shiri Zorn and George Muscatello have shared a nearly decade-long collaboration.  While incubated during a lockdown demanded by the pandemic, this album idea bloomed.  It is a project produced by Los Angeles based vocalist, Tierney Sutton.  Shiri Zorn’s voice floats and dances above the guitar brilliance of George Muscatello as they open with “Witch Touch,” an original composition.  The stark simplicity of the production draws the listener in and allows an appreciation for each contribution by the guitarist, the percussionist and the vocalist. Their interpretation of “How Deep is the Ocean” is totally unique, propelled by Mauricio’s rich, Brazilian, percussive talents.  George Muscatello creates the fiery rhythm for Shiri Zorn’s soprano voice to flicker above, like a burning match.  The trio blends perfectly, guitar and percussion creating a solid and creative stage where Shiri Zorn scats and improvises.  Track #3 is titled “Zingaro (Retrato Em Branco E Preto).  It is a haunting composition with a challenging melody, at points presented in unison blending Zorn’s voice with Muscatello’s guitar.  But mostly, Shiri Zorn shines in a solo spotlight that illuminates her awesome and powerful vocals.  The familiar tune, “Beautiful Love” is another expressive production illuminating the power of three.  Another original composition by Muscatello & Zorn is titled, “I Wasn’t Ready,” but obviously they are.  There is mutual trust between the players and a comfort level that allows them to veer into unexpected musical territories and to challenge tempos, time and melodic formats in lovely ways.  You will appreciate the way they play with time and their Latin-tinged arrangement on “Willow Weep for Me.”  The spoken word added on the fade of this tune is quite striking and sensual.  it moves from English to a foreign language in the blink of an eye.  Their music is steeped in jazzy talent and rises, hot and steamy like smoke from the tea kettle.  Here is trio music that warms and refreshes while it entertains us; a project that reflects a sacred, explosive, musical expression. This is art!  It will be available June 10th, 2022.

This video was filmed back in April of 2019.

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ALEKSI GLICK – “GUITAR & ME” –  Independent Label

Aleksi Glick, solo guitar/composer.

When you choose to play one of the most popular instruments in the world, it’s imperative that you have an original sound.  This young, New York virtuoso, Aleksi Glick, brings us an album of solo guitar music that is both original, enthusiastic and entertaining.  His sound is uniquely his own and his talent promises us a bright and boisterous future in music. 

Opening with a tune titled, “With Ease” this is one of six original compositions he plays on this album called, “Guitar & Me.”  He composed it after attending a memorable and inspirational time at Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Aleksi Glick is rooted in jazz and blues, but Glick’s album pushes the boundaries of genres.  He seamlessly floats through an eclectic mix of styles including R&B, folk, rock, and Bossa Nova.  The title tune starts out smooth and lovely, then quickly takes on a joyful Brazilian flavor with a pretty melody riding on top of Glick’s rhythm guitar licks.  Next, he interprets the popular tune by Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog Jr., “God Bless the Child” draping it in blues and arpeggio guitar lines that stitch through the arrangement like gold threads.  He’s listened to everyone from Jimi Hendrix to John Scofield; from Derek Trucks to Wes Montgomery.  Still, Aleksi Glick has an awesome style all his own and it makes for an intriguing listen.  He covers tunes composed by Jerry Garcia, Paul Simon, Frederic Weatherly’s “Danny Boy” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia on My Mind.”  Aleksi surprises me by singing at the very end of this “Georgia on My Mind” arrangement.  His vocals are pleasant and honest.  Glick’s original compositions are a force in their own right and brightly showcase his composer talents.  It takes real faculty, guts and aptitude to perform an entire album solo.  There is only you, the musician, standing naked and vulnerable in the spotlight.  But no worries!  Aleksi Glick shines brilliantly as both a composer, guitarist, arranger and obviously a rising-star artist.  I can’t wait to hear his next project!

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LEONOR FALCON – “IMAGA MONDO VOL. II” –  FalconGumba Records

Leonor Falcon, violin/viola/composer/arranger; Christof Knoche, bass clarinet/alto saxophone; Juanma Trujillo, guitar; Zachary Swanson, bass; Juan Pablo Carletti, drums/percussion.

“Imaga Mondo” translates to ‘imaginary world’ in Esperanto language.  Leonor Falcon’s debut album was released in 2017 and established her as a stylistic violinist and violist exploring Avant Garde and improvisational music, she was also described by some as an iconoclastic composer.  This album is a continuation of these descriptions and a deep dive into her musical world images.  New York based, Leonor Falcon is a native of Venezuela and is classically trained.  She began playing in the orchestra at age six.  She became part of the acclaimed chamber music group, Virtuosi de Caracas.  At the same time, she was active on her local music scene, performing with pop, rock and Latin groups.  Simultaneously, she was also honing her skills in jazz and improvised music.  In 2007, Leonor attended the Conservatory of Geneva, Switzerland to obtain her Master in Music Performance.  After she succeeded in this accomplishment, Leonor moved to New York City when she completed her second Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance at Queens College.  Then the recording began.

The first tune on this album, “Improv 1” features three core members who played on her first album; Christof Knoche on bass clarinet and alto saxophone. Falcon is assertive on viola during this arrangement.  In the blink of an eye, Leonor Falcon snatches us into her imaginary world.  I am struck by how beautiful Track #2 is with a haunting melody and a blend of harmonic strings.   In the publicity notes, I discover that she composed this ballad when she was pregnant with her first child, named Emilio. 

“Expecting during a pandemic was a transformative experience.  It made me question many things, including the way I’ve been approaching music so far,” Leonor Falcon shared in her press package.

Her Composition, “Cursing Parrots” has a Bluegrass flavor at first, but soon allows the bandmembers to step into their improvisational creativity like a pair of overalls.  There is a stunning solo on electric guitar by Juanma Trujillo that transforms this piece into jazz/rock.    

Her composition titled “Nita” embraces a South American folk music quality.  Her publicist describes it as a combination of Argentine chacarera and a Mexican son jarocho.  The accompanying YouTube video portrays an energetic, playful and innocent little girl, that perhaps represents the childlike freedom and spirit within Leonar Falcon herself.  Children are so honest and innocent, like some of this music.  “The Monks” is a composition that spotlights her bassist Zachary Swanson and the beauty of acoustic Avant-Garde jazz.  On the tune, “A,” Christof Knoche steps stage center to feature his rich, bass clarinet solo.  Leonar Falcon blends her traditional music with classical spices, home-grown Venezuelan roots and peppery hot improvisations.  She seasons this Volume Two release of her imaginary world with South American herbs and stirs the pot of strings, offering us a flavorful jazzy stew that well-represents her “FalconGumba” record label.  In a way, Falcon’s musical compositions embrace the concept of Gumbo, inviting us to taste her delicious bowl of music without preconceived notions or expectations.  Just stick your spoon into the broth and enjoy!

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DAN BRUCE’S :BETA COLLECTIVE – “TIME TO MIND THE MYSTICS” –                          Shifting Paradigm Records

Dan Bruce, electric & nylon string guitar/composer/Ableton live programming; Chris Coles, alto & tenor saxophone; vocoder; Brad Wagner, soprano & tenor saxophones; bass clarinet; Caleb Smith, trombone; Will Wedmedyk, vibraphone; Theron Brown, piano/Fender Rhodes/Melodica; Aidan Plank, acoustic & electric bass; Anthony Taddeo, drums/percussion; Joel Negus/synthesizers.

Dan Bruce leads a group of Midwest-based improvisers.  He describes his musical concept as a way of exploring the nexus between composition and improvisation; tradition and future; constraint and freedom.  In 2020, guitarist Dan Bruce won the Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.  Bruce has written all eight compositions for this project.  Once heralded as an important member of the Chicago, Illinois Jazz Scene, Dan Bruce relocated to Ohio.  However, he is active throughout the Midwest United States as a performer, a recording artist, composer and educator.  Over his decades of performing, starting when he was just seventeen years old, he has recorded on more than thirty albums as a sideman and released two albums as a bandleader.  Dan has also enjoyed playing with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra.  As a composer, Bruce’s work has been featured in The Chicago Composers Collective series and the Jazz Institute of Chicago NextGen Jazz Series.   His compositions and arrangements have been published in Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine.  Bruce is currently on faculty at Youngstown State University and Cuyahoga Community College.

Opening with the title tune, “Time to Mind the Mystics” Dan Bruce establishes his production style by blending programmers with acoustic and electronic instruments.  It seems to wants to establish technology as an innovation in our current culture and blend it with classical training, jazz improvisation and arrangements that mirror a big band.  Using the horns of Wagner and Coles, along with trombonist Caleb Smith to play the melody of this title tune, he soon takes the spotlight on his electric guitar.  It’s a stunning solo that elevates the mood, employing a rock-band synthesis with a fusion jazz feel.  Some of his “Beta Collective” ensemble also take turns to solo and strut their stuff.  This is ten minutes of mind-expanding music.  “Blueprint” is a tune that invites vibraphonist, Will Wedmedyk to shine.  Drummer, Anthony Taddeo, brilliantly propels the band forward and is quite creative while holding down the rhythm. Dan Bruce somehow blends ring modulators, whirling vocoders, synthesizers, programming and acoustic instruments together in a delicious musical soup.  The taste of his music is both unique and addictive.  You can get lost in the various styles and the musician interpretations of Dan’s compositions.  Aidan Plank, on bass, opens up “Insignificance (a Love Song)” and sets the tempo and mood along with Dan’s innovative guitar.  Later in the arrangement Plank moves impressively into the spotlight to offer a very beautiful bass solo.  These Bruce compositions are all very long, spanning over six and half minutes or more, yet I never got bored. That is because they offer lovely melodies and extraordinary solos, where each musician can explore and share their creativity with us.  They are more like arranged suites of music rather than individual songs. On Track #3, Dan Bruce beautifully explores his nylon string guitar.

Dan Bruce explains his creation as a collection of thought experiments. 

“At the core is the idea that our embrace of technological innovation cannot come at the sacrifice of generational knowledge and ancient wisdom.  Our humanity needs to be celebrated and technology should play a supporting role,” reflects Dan Bruce.

This jazz journalist feels Dan Bruce has discovered a happy balance in both his concept (humanity and technology) and his modern jazz music.                            

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CHIMYTINA  – ”CONSTELLATIONS” – La Reserve

Dan “Chimy” Chmielinski, bass; Martina Dasilva, vocals/composer; SPECIAL GUESTS: Marquis Hill, trumpet; Grace Kelly, alto saxophone; Lucas Pino, tenor saxophone; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Ken Kubota, cello; Andrew Renfroe, guitar.

Chimytina is the name of a vocal-bass duo celebrated for their innovative arrangements of jazz classics.  Marquis Hill, their special guest on trumpet, shines like a star on their opening tune “I Want to Be Happy.”  Dan “Chimy” Chmielinski trades fours briefly on bass with his partner, Martina Dasilva on vocals.  Martina’s soft, warm voice floats over the melody of “As Praias Desertas” singing in Portuguese the melodic composition of Jobim.  Marina first caught the ear of the universe in 2014 when she released a series of duo performance videos.  She racked up thousands of views on social media.  In 2019, the duo released their debut album, “A Very ChimyTina Christmas.”  These two talented musicians (Chmielinski & Dasilva) offer unique arrangements, exceptional talent on their instruments (bass and voice) and have combined this with outstanding musical guests.  For example, “Deep Night” features the awesome guitar work of Andrew Renfroe. 

“A good word for this album is trust,” Chimy, the bassist, explains.  “We’re trusting that the world will return and we’ll be able to do what we love again,” he refers to the way the pandemic of COVID has challenged touring and performing.

Martina sings “Nice Work If You Can Get It” on top of Chimy’s walking bass and the saxophone intersperses the arrangement with tasty licks.  The voice becomes a horn and harmonizes with the saxophone, trading fours with Dan on bass.  Martina’s choice of repertoire is perfect and she throws in a couple of original songs including “Twin Flame” and “My Universe.”  Both are well-written and superbly delivered.  On the tune, “I’ll Never Be the Same” Lucas Pino makes a star-studded appearance on tenor sax.  His solo is wonderful, but even more impressive is the way he interjects his instrument into Martina’s vocals.  It’s very artsy and tasteful.  Some of these compositions are songs I haven’t heard before like “It’s All in Your Mind” by Charles La Vere.  The lyrics are smart and the melody is quite captivating.  Chimy takes time to improvise on the theme, letting his bass sing melodically across space until Renfroe enters with smooth guitar licks.  Marina and Chimy turn a Country/Western tune (“Cold Cold Heart” by Hank Williams) into a jazzy experience with just bass and vocals swinging through the universe like shooting stars.  I always enjoy the inclusion of a vibraphone into jazz arrangements.  Joel Ross displays a master solo on the “My Universe” tune penned by Martina.  The vocal half of ‘Chimytina,’ (Martina) sings the blues using the familiar song “Trouble in Mind” as a vehicle and featuring the talented alto saxophonist, Grace Kelly with Dan Chmielinski swinging briskly on bass beneath both vocals and saxophone.  He’s so strong with the groove that you won’t even miss the drums.  They close with “Lush Life,” Billy Strayhorn’s masterpiece.  The arrangement whisks us into a chamber music space.  Chimy bows his bass in a beautiful way.  The duo shines and sparkles.   This is definitely an album I will enjoy time and time again!

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PASQUALE GRASSO – “BE BOP!” – Sony Music Masterworks

Pasquale Grasso, guitar; Ari Roland, bass; Keith Balla, drummer. SPECIAL GUEST: Samara Joy, vocals.

Pasquale Grasso’s single from the album “Be-Bop!” is “A Night in Tunisia” played with zest by this awesome guitar virtuoso.  He’s a native of Southern Italy’s Campania region and relocated to New York City in 2009.  Before long, until his reputation on the guitar was in demand.  His approach to guitar playing commands amazing technique of the fretboard, moving like lightening between single notes and chords, while at the same time showcasing independent bass lines.  Many have compared his guitar playing to the master pianist, Art Tatum.  What a great testament to Pasquale’s ability and talent. 

Since I was a little kid, I always had this sound in my head, then slowly it’s coming out,” he explained. “I was never too much influenced by guitar players, for some reason. I grew up listening to Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Those were my guys. For guitar, I always liked Charlie Christian and Oscar Moore, but I never really listened to too much guitar players. Of course, when I hear Barney Kessel and Chuck Wayne and Jimmy Raney, I love them. They’re all great artists but they never really got me when I was a kid. I was more into Bird and Bud, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge and Louis Armstrong.   So, I was always more influenced by horn players and piano players than guitar players,” Pasquale Grasso admits.

This upcoming album, due to be released on June 17th, celebrates those same be-bop masters he listened to as a young musician; Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie. They have greatly inspired Pasquale’s growth and technique.  Grasso achieves an astonishing balance of technical wizardry and swing on the guitar, often sounding like two guitars playing simultaneously in concert. In 2015, Pasquale won the Wes Montgomery International Jazz Guitar Competition and that included a performance with guitar legend Pat Martino’s organ trio.  After this, he was signed to a deal with Sony Masterworks.  This “Be-Bop” trio album features the talented young vocalist Samara Joy on their tune, “I’m in a Mess” and the musicians offer a super, up-tempo rendition of “Shaw Nuff.”  Other familiar compositions from the be-bop era include Monk’s “Ruby My Dear” and “Ornithology.” 

In support of this new project, Pasquale Grasso starts an international tour this month, performing worldwide throughout the summer and finally reaches California shores on October 1st when he will appear at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa and on October second, he zips up to half Moon Bay, California in concert at “Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.”  If you have the opportunity, be there!

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ARTISTIC & TRANSFORMATIVE CD RELEASES

May 2, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 2, 2022

OSCAR PEÑAS – “ALMADRABA” – Musikoz

Oscar Peñas, Guitars/composer/arranger; Marta Sanchez, piano/Fender Rhodes; Ron Carter & Pablo Asian, bass; Richie Barshay, drums; HARLEM QUARTET: Limar Gavilan & Melisa White, violins; James Amador, viola; Jody Redhage-Ferber, cello.

Oscar Peñas has created an album that draws inspiration from a fishing tradition that reflects Andalucian culture thousands of years ago.  Here are twelve original tracks of music meant to celebrate man and his infinite dance with nature.  To interpret the Peñas compositions, Oscar enlisted the talents of master bassist, Ron Carter and another extraordinary bass man, Pablo Aslan, along with sensitive pianist, Marta Sanchez and dynamic Richie Barshay on drums.  As whipped cream on top of this deliciously sweet musical sundae, he adds the Grammy-winning Harlem Quartet.  Peñas opens with the tune, “Traveling Through Water” where the Catalonian guitarist combines his classical and flamenco flavors.  This piece prompts my imagination to visualize a calm ocean and a sailboat floating above the gentle waves.  Especially when Ron Carter takes his solo and mimics slapping the waves against the hull of the ship with sliding notes from his bass.  This is a beautiful, peaceful tune, energized by Barshay’s tasty drums and designed to be exemplary of an ancient fishing tradition.


“Almadraba is an Arabic name,” Peñas explains the title of his album.  “It’s a sustainable fishing method first practiced by the Phoenicians and brought to Andalusian, Spain about 2000 years ago.  It’s still in practice today in fact, on the coast of Cadiz.  Schools of bluefin tuna travel from the North Sea to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean to spawn.  On the first full moon in May, the fishermen there set up the labyrinth of nets to force the fish into a center area and then pull them out, very dramatically, and take only the biggest ones.  The rest are returned to the sea,” Peñas describes the long history of a Spanish fishing tradition that is dear to his heart. 

This is the fifth album by this artist.  It perpetuates the customs and beauty of his culture through the lens of jazz, comfortably blended with classical roots and Iberian essences.  Although this music is peaceful and calming, the actual battle of the fisherman, with poles and lines, struggling on the wet and slippery wood of their boats is pretty dramatic.  You hear a bit of this during the Peñas arrangement of “Almadraba’s Waltz” where he adds strings for both beauty and excitement.  Tunes like “Habanera de la Almadraba” pull at the heartstrings with its romantic melody.  Marta’s piano solo dances like sunlight on ocean waves.  The struggle of the fishermen becomes more obvious during the arrangement of “La Levanta” with Ron Carter’s bass prominent and tenacious and the Harlem Quartet letting their strings splash like captured fish on the boat’s floor. 

Oscar explains that on land, the big tunas are filleted for auction and on ‘El Ronqueo’ Senior Peñas evokes the sound of the fishermen’s knives scraping on fish bones.  This suite of music has finally satisfied Oscar’s need to combine his love of jazz with his classical roots and his rich, Spanish culture. The salty spice of bebop and afro-Cuban music permeates some compositions, but the string quartet softens and bolsters the pieces.  There is sensitive beauty in this production and the compositions cover us, like the nets of the fisherman of Cadiz.   

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SAN GABRIEL 7 – “UNDER THE STARS” – Independent Label

Sinne Eeg, lead vocals/background vocals/composer; Andrea Miller, Fletcher Sheridan & Trist Curless, background vocals; Jim Lewis, trombone; Kye Palmer, trumpet/flugelhorn; Glen Berger, alto, soprano & tenor saxophone/ /flute/alto flute/oboe/English horn; Alex Budman, alto & tenor saxophone; baritone sax/flute/clarinet/bass clarinet; Dave Holben, tuba; Chad Edwards, piano/Hammond B3; Steve Gregory, guitars; Chris Gordon, piano/arranger/producer; Jonathan Pintoff, upright bass; Randy Drake, drums; Scott Breadman, percussion.

The group, San Gabriel 7, was formed by trombonist Jim Lewis.  Surprisingly, he was a spacecraft engineer who worked at JPL, a federally funded research and development center managed for NASA by Caltech and located in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley.  At first the group was made up of JPL employees who played instruments, with Lewis being the bandleader.  The San Gabriel 7 has changed music personnel over time but keeps the same emphasis on a tight horn section and exciting arrangements.  Soon after the 9/11 incident, Jim Lewis, who was also an active member of the National Guard, was deployed to Afghanistan.  He asked Dave Cushman to lead the San Gabriel 7 band.  Under new direction, Cushman enlisted a number of top L.A. jazz players to join the group as guest artists.  The group also engaged vocalists.  Jim Lewis was especially fond of singer/songwriters.  The San Gabriel 7 popularity spread.

This recent San Gabriel 7 release, “Under the Stars,” features the regular band members and the lovely talents of lead vocalist, Sinne Eeg.  She is considered the preeminent jazz vocalist in Scandinavia and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Danish Music Award, won four times for ‘Best Danish Jazz Vocal Album.’   She’s also the first vocalist to receive the Ben Webster Prize, France’s prestigious Prix du Jazz Award.  As an awesome composer, Sinne Eeg brings not only her brilliant vocals to the project, but she has written or co-written every song on this production.  Chris Gordon has done an outstanding job of arranging and producing most of the music.  They open with Sinne’s “Rocket Blues” a 13-bar wordless song where Ms. Eeg scats her way through the tune, becoming a human horn.  “I’m In the Mood for Love” is a jazz waltz with wonderful, harmonic horn parts and a delightful melody with original lyrics.  Both these songs sound like they could be jazz standards and Glen Berger’s saxophone solo sounds like a beautiful wild bird. 

“Much of my composing is melody driven.  I might write something with a bar missing or an extra bar.  I just like to keep in the flow of the melody.  A song may wind up with a tricky, mixed meter; but it usually makes sense because the melody makes sense,” Sinne Eeg described her writing style.

Percussion opens their arrangement of “The Barista” and features the propelling drums of Randy Drake and Scott Breadman on percussion.  Kye Palmer’s trumpet sings a happy, spontaneous solo and the lyrics reflect having a crush on the coffee shop guy who prepares her cappuccino.  It’s a cute lyrical message.  The title tune, “Under the Stars” is a lilting ballad with a Latin, smooth-jazz flavor and allows space for Sinne’s creative melody to blossom and her scat vocals to dance atop the interesting chord changes.  I enjoyed the piano solo of Chad Edwards and the tightly arranged horn parts.  “Getting Along with Love” has an R&B flair and shows the soulful side of Sinne Eeg.  This tune brings to mind a Bobby Caldwell production.  I could see this tune easily crossing over to pop stations for air play.  This composition is playful and invites you to sing along with those catchy horn lines.  When the background voices come on the scene, they really slap the groove into place during the fade.  This is a well-produced album of excellent material and great arrangements.  Talented composer, Sinne Eeg has a voice that floats atop the melodies like oil on water and you won’t miss a lyric.  Her enunciation is wonderful and her style is her own. 

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MANEL FORTIA – “DESPERTAR” – Segell Microscopi

Manel Fortia, upright bass/composer/arranger; Marco Mezquida, piano; Raphael Pannier, drums.

Barcelona-born bassist and composer, Manel Fortia, bridges his Spanish, classical influenced music and his Mediterranean roots with modern New York jazz.  The result is an amazing trio album of sustenance and beauty.  It features three extraordinary talents who combine their charming creativity to interpret the compositions of Manel Fortia in a rich and rewarding way.  I am enchanted by the tenderness and vulnerability I hear in the first tune titled, “Dormir.” In a way, it reminds me of a lullaby without the waltz.  On “Circular” I am possessed by the drums of Raphael Pannier.  His technique and percussive capabilities shine.  In concert with the strength of the drums is Marco Mezquida on piano, who moves his fingers rapidly over the keys, projecting mad technique, motion and energy.  When Manel Fortia steps into the spotlight, his bass continues the storytelling.  On the album credits, Manel says that the JFK Air-Train inspired this original composition and the piece is absolutely full of movement.  On the fade, Mezquida challenges Pannier’s drums on piano.  Pannier sparkles brightly, making the drums sound like fast-moving wheels against asphalt or steel sparking against train tracks.  At the conclusion, the instruments chug slowly to a stop.  This entire production has a European classical edge to it that is both lovely and relaxing, but still, there’s obvious energy that these musicians bring to the project.  On the third cut, Marco Mezquida makes me feel as though I’m at a classical concert.  His piano chops are spellbinding.  Manel enters, a whispered bass voice that calms the music and sings melodically to his captive audience. On “Espiritual” (an ode to Harlem) Mezquida pulls a gospel groove out of the piano in the sweetest way.  Manel Fortia sings along on his bass, not only acting as the root of the rhythm section, but singing his own inspired song. 

Marco Mezquida is a multi-award-winning Spanish pianist who has worked with Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman, Bill McHenry, Chicuelo and Noa.  Clearly, he is closely connected to Manel’s music and he brings dynamism to the project.  You can tell the musicians listen closely to each other, as does their French drummer, Raphael Pannier.  These three super-talented musicians complement each other.  On track #5, you hear all the richness in Manel’s bass instrument.  This original song is titled “El dia después” and it’s a song for his beloved Barcelona. He also is broadly featured on “Aires de Libertad” a celebration of prospect Park.   From beginning to end, I heard this album as a message of peace and beauty.

“This album is very important to me because it reflects one of the most transcendent moments in my artistic life.  I feel that living in New York City changed me tremendously and I grew a lot there.  It is also the first time I recorded a full album featuring all my compositions … playing them with two of my favorite musicians with whom I have a great connection personally and musically is like a dream come true,” Manel Fortia says in his press package.

Perhaps the title of this album and the last tune sums up the total picture of Manel Fortia’s project.  The Spanish title “Despertar” translates to ‘awakening.’  This production has been an awakening of sorts for both the composer and his bandmates.  They offer us a very melodic, original, dreamy journey that’s full of brilliance and sparkle along the way. 

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ERIK PALMBERG – “IN BETWEEN” – Prophone Swedish Jazz

Erik Palmberg, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Anton Dromberg, piano; Niklas Wennstrom & Robert Erlandsson, double bass; Sebastian Voegler & Jonas Backman, drums; Karin Hammer, trombone; Hampus T. Adams, baritone saxophone.

Erik Palmberg has a very distinctive sound on his trumpet and flugelhorn.  He is also a composer and has penned nine of the ten songs on this album.  The only exception is “Taking a Chance on Love” written by Vernon Duke and presented as a lilting, effective, Latin arrangement.  The challenge for this group comes at the very end of this tune, when the horns begin to improvise loosely.  Perhaps this area needs to have written horn arrangements that would keep their harmonic sound tight and cohesive.  At the album’s introduction, Erik’s ensemble opens with a song called “Pathways” that gives the spotlight to Hampus T. Adams on baritone sax.  I also enjoyed Anton Dromberg’s light and airy solo on piano.  The title tune, “In Between” is very contemporary sounding, with a melodic melody played at a moderate tempo.  The rhythm section creates a strong platform for Palmberg’s horn to solo upon.  The creative arrangement, with the piano’s repetitive line driving the music underneath the trumpet’s melody, is splendid.  On Palmberg’s composition “Frost Flowers,” Niklas Wennstrom’s bass steps stage center and soaks up the spotlight with his improvised solo.  Once the trumpet takes over, the piece is elevated, grows and blossoms, spurred by the drums of Sebastian Voegler and the power of Erik’s horn.  A tune called “The Lighthouse” is moody and pensive.  I can picture a quiet ocean and the white lights flashing warning signals across the lapping waves.  On Track #8, “Conversations” the trombonist and the trumpeter hold a spirited musical discussion.  Robert Erlandsson bows his bass instrument at the top of a tune called “Lingering Thoughts” and catches my ear.  He’s almost hidden beneath the horn lines.  Still, Erlandsson steps out from behind the curtains to set the tempo and provides the mood for this song with a single upright bass note.  When it’s his turn to solo, Erlandsson slow-swings across my listening space with impressive creativity.  Erik Palmberg and his jazz band are based in Sweden.  He grew up listening to his father playing trumpet and French horn.  As a youth, his parents played jazz around the house and he studied trumpet until age twelve.  For a while, he put the instrument aside, but in his twenties, Erik was drawn back to the horn.  He was accepted at the Royal College of music in Stockholm where the great Peter Asplund became his trumpet teacher during his college days.  

“I started playing in different projects at the school, but also gigs around Stockholm. My last year of studies was done at the Jazz -Institut -Berlin as an erasmus student. … One of my inspiring teachers was of course my main trumpet professor, Gerard Presencer.  Since I finished my studies in 2010, I have had the opportunity to play with a lot of prominent jazz artists and interesting projects in Sweden; but also, around Europe, especially in Germany where I have done several tours,” Erik explains at his website.

In 2018, Erik Palmberg released his debut album “First Lines” recorded in 2017 for Stockholm Jazz Records and this production is his sophomore album, released in December of 2021.

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CHRIS STANDRING – “SIMPLE THINGS” – Ultimate Vibe Recordings

Chris Standring, guitar/keyboards/programming/arranging/composer; Rodney Lee, keyboards; Andre Berry, bass; Chris Coleman, drums; Kevin Axt upright bass; Gary Meek, tenor saxophone.

On the very first tune of Chris Standring’s recording titled, “Shadow of Doubt” I hear shades of Wes Montgomery.  There is something about the strong ‘groove’ Chris establishes that reminds me of Wes.  With the powerful drumming of Chris Coleman slapping the funk into place, Standring’s music just makes me happy.  Indeed, according to his publicist’s notes, Standring says:

“…the theme of this album is joy, positivity, hope and because I’m a sucker for a beautiful melody, a little sadness as well.”

This is well-played, contemporary jazz played by seasoned jazz veterans.  I was a part of the Motown staff in Detroit as a songwriter and almost all the amazing players on those early Motown studio sessions were competent jazz players.  The groove and the funk I hear from Andre Berry on bass and Rodney Lee on keyboards reminds me of those early Detroit days.  These ‘Chris Standring’ arrangements make me want to dance.  Standring soars on his Benedetto guitar and makes a joyful sound against the excellence of his rhythm section. 

“I saw a YouTube video of Bootsy explaining his basic funk formula.  The bass line he demonstrated is so funky that it inspired me to write Something of my own.  Of course, I had to thank him which I did on my tune, “Thank You Bootsy,”

On the pretty ballad, “A Thousand Words (for Samantha)” Kevin Axt makes a guest appearance on upright bass.  The melody is compelling and the bridge is absolutely beautiful.  Chris has composed all eleven songs on this, his 14th CD, and I found each one to be a sparkling gem.  As a prolific composer he has penned or co-written over one-hundred compositions.

Standring, a native of England and currently based in Southern California, has had thirteen billboard Top 10 singles and six singles that reached number one on the Billboard Chart.  He began studying classical guitar when he was just six years old.  He was drawn to jazz early-on and became a serious jazz musician when he attended the London College of Music.  His mentors were great bebop players like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Budd Powell and Chet Baker. Later he became a fan of Joe Pass and Pat Martino.  When you listen to this album, it is obvious he is also a lover of funk, Rhythm and Blues. 

“I’m a big fan of Prince, who learned about funk studying the music of people like Bootsy Collins.  I wrote the opening track, ‘Shadow of Doubt’ after hearing a particular bass line by Prince that I really liked and wondered what I could do with something similar,” Chris Standring shared.

You can clearly hear the Prince influence on other tunes like “Face to Face” and “Ain’t Nothin’ but A Thing” featuring Rodney Lee on organ.  There is also a trace of James Brown influence in these funky, danceable compositions. 

Chris Standring moved to Los Angeles in 1991 and he was quickly embraced by the West Coast music scene.  He found himself recording with gospel artists, Bebe and Cece Winans, pop artist, Jody Watley and smooth-jazz artists like Rick Braun; Bob James, Richard Elliott, Peter White, Kirk Whalum, Marc Antoine and Al Stewart. He often writes music for others to record and for Track #3, “Change the World” that was the case.  At the last minute, Standring decided to keep the song for himself.  He released it as a single and the song powered up to #1 on the Billboard Chart. 

The song “Too Close for Comfort” was written after his health scare last year.   Chest pains and a trip to the hospital reminded Chris how fragile life really is.  Thus, the title of this album, “Simple Things” is a reminder for him to appreciate every moment of life and to spend time with loved ones and be present in each moment of every day.  This is a musical message I will enjoy listening to and playing over and over again.

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MIKE ALLEMANA – “VONOLOGY” – Ears&Eyes Records

Mike Allemana, guitar/composer/arranger; Michael Raynor, drums; Matt Ferguson, acoustic bass; Tomeka Reid, cello; Kendall Moore, trombone; Geof Bradfield, tenor saxophone; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Victor Garcia, trumpet/flugelhorn. VOCALS: Sue Demel, Gabriela Allemana, Austin Burgett, Alton Smith, Angel Rodriguez, Bill Brickey & Lindsay Weinberg.

Here is an experiment in sound and harmony that pushes the boundaries of familiarity and explores the sanctity of freedom.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about; freedom!  Von Freeman was a charismatic music master in Chicago for many years and an inspiration to his community and the world.  He was an NEA Jazz Master saxophonist and celebrated as one of the founders of the Chicago School of Jazz.  To name just a sprinkling of lives he touched, Von Freeman mentored three generations of rising stars including his son, Chico Freeman, celebrated jazz vocalist, Kurt Elling, award winning reed man, Steve Coleman and trumpeter Brad Goode, to name only a few.  Mike Allemana worked for fourteen years in the Freeman quartet.  Von Freeman is lovingly celebrated with Allemana’s project titled, “Vonology,” a play on Astrology and Von’s name.

“Numerous musicians of Von’s generation interpret the world to some degree using an astrological lens.  Because of Von’s interest in astrology, I decided to investigate his natal horoscope … a Libra born in October 1923.  …  This is not a tribute in the traditional sense, but an original work that represents, through sound and text, the ways in which Von musically and spiritually connected with others and transformed people’s lives,” Mike Allemana explained.

Allemana has composed all of the music.  His expressive pieces move like suites of sound and expression offering nearly forty-minutes of creativity.  The composer incorporates voices and rich, harmonic horn lines to punctuate his arrangements.  I am hypnotized by Track #3, “Communion and Renewal” that’s beautifully performed by both Allemana on his beguiling guitar solo and saxophonist Greg Ward, who warmly blankets the tune with his reed mastery.  This sensuous ballad quickly becomes one of my favorite pieces on Allemana’s unique presentation of original compositions. 

“Von told me that he judges musicians not on technical prowess, but whether they can perform a ballad convincingly, with emotion…” Allemana shared.

All I can say is, Mike Allemana has done Von Freeman proud.  From the first tune, “Welcome, Enter” that moves like a cyclone through space, with tenor sax man, Geof Bradfield referencing one aspect of Freeman’s tone; perhaps displaying the guttural edges during his blistering solo.  Kendall Moore follows with a poignant trombone solo and the movement climaxes with drummer Michael Raynor, who played in Freeman’s band for more than two decades, power-housing through the musical bars.  On the closing composition, “The mentor’s Benediction” there is spoken word presented by vocalist, Bill Brickey, to encapsulate Von’s philosophy and written by Brian Allemana.  This suite of music tinkers with bebop to incorporate Freeman’s *AACM-period of growth and spontaneous creativity, including inspiration from Sun Ra’s Arkestra, a group Freeman played with for a brief period of time and a band that brightly colored outside any confining lines.  This is a dynamic and poignant tribute to the late, great Von Freeman and an example of the talent and ingenuity of Mike Allemana, a guitarist who competently composed and arranged music to celebrate his friend and fellow musician.  This project also becomes a formidable stage for Allemana’s talented band members and spotlights their excellence.

NOTE: *AACM = Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, a Chicago organization formed in 1965.

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CHRIS TORKEWITZ – “NY ENSEMBLES” – Goschart Music

Chris Torkewitz, conductor/composer/tenor saxophone/flute. JAZZ CHAMBER ENSEMBLE: Jay Rattman, clarinet; Curtis Stewart, violin; Vicky Chow, piano; Kathryn Andrews, harp; Lisa Dispigno, flute; Amanda Gookin, cello; Aleksandr Karjaka, bass clarinet; Adam Matthes, viola; Jannina Norpoth, violin; Markus Schieferdecker, bass; Austin Walker, drums.  JAZZ ORCHESTRA: Rhythm:  Olli Hirvonen, guitar; Florian Hoefner, piano; Markus Schieferdecker, bass; Austin Walker, drums. Saxes & Woodwinds: Dave Ashton, alto & soprano saxophone/flute; Jay Rattman, alto saxophone/flute; Jim Saltzman & Ben Bryden, tenor saxophone; Mat Schumer, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. Trombones: Tim Vaughn, Bradley Madsen & Isaac Kaplan; Max Seigel, bass trombone. Trumpets & Flugelhorns: Sam Hoyt, David Smith, Dan Blankinship & John Raymond.

If great jazz orchestration, lyrical classical compositions and melodic chamber music is your thing, then this album by Chris Torkewitz will be very satisfying.  I find myself both soothed and captivated by the Torkewitz blend of classical music arrangements with jazz sensibilities.  Composer, arranger, saxophonist, flutist and pianist, Torkewitz, had one of the highpoints on his many careers on March 21, 2013.  That’s when he presented a concert of his original music with the support of his Jazz Chamber Ensemble and Jazz Orchestra.  Today, in 2022, he is releasing a recording of this concert entitled, “NY Ensembles.”  It opens with four Chamber Suites: Vista, Farbtoene, Noticias and Epilogo.   

“Vista, this suite was born out of a piano sketch with Afro-Cuban leanings that nagged at me,” Torkewitz described the inspiration for his first suite.

Farbtoene is a quieter string arrangement and Noticias (that translates to ‘news’) was realized as a cluster of ideas strung together like newsworthy articles.  “Epilogo” concludes the four suites, featuring the piano of Vicky Chow and performed quickly, like a dinner prayer by a hungry father.  Then the Torkewitz 17-piece Jazz Orchestra takes over with a flamboyant piece called “Filou.”  It draws me into the music, clearly displaying a jazzy attitude, giving drummer Austin Walker an opportunity to shine and the muted trumpet of David Smith somehow conjures up the ghost of Miles Davis during his modern jazz, fusion era. It also gives a platform for Olli Hirvonen’s guitar and the soprano-saxophone solo of David Ashton.  

Chris Torkewitz is originally from Germany and began composing music at age eighteen.  Once arriving in the United States, he earned degrees at the Manhattan School of Music, served on the school’s faculty and led a trio. When he returned to Germany, he became a professor of popular music at the University of Arts and Applied Sciences in Freiburg.  When not educating and inspiring students, he tours worldwide. This recording was a long time coming, but definitely worth the wait.

NOTE: Special thanks to Joe Dimino for the video of The Neon Jazz YouTube Channel interview.

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VARIOUS & SUNDRY JAZZ VOICES

April 25, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 25, 2022

CHICAGO SOUL JAZZ COLLECTIVE MEETS DEE ALEXANDER – “ON THE WAY TO BE FREE” – JMARQ Records

Dee Alexander, lead vocals; Keith Brooks II, drums; Larry Brown Jr., guitar/vocals; Marques Carroll, trumpet; Amr Fahmy, Fender Rhodes/Elec. piano/clarinet/organ; John Fournier, tenor saxophone/composer; Victor Garcia, percussion; Dan Leali, tambourine; Andrew Vogt, bass.

If you are a lover of punch-driven, Tower-of-Power type horn harmonics and Earth Wind & Fire music, some of this album by the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective is reminiscent of that musical era.  Tenor saxophonist, John Fournier has composed eight of the songs out of the nine offered.  The musicians do an excellent job of interpreting this original material and Dee Alexander is a powerful lead vocalist.  They open with “Mama Are we There Yet?” which is quite reminiscent of the original Chicago based group, Earth Wind & Fire, featuring unison ensemble singing and funky horn lines with Keith Brooks II clearly slapping the rhythm into place.  Ms. Alexander is the lead singer on their title tune, “On the Way to be Free” arranged at a moderate swing pace.  John Fournier plays a tenor saxophone solo that puts the “J” in jazz as he floats above the funky rhythm track. Marquis Carroll offers a complimentary improvised solo on a tune called “Carry Me” and Larry Brown Jr. shows off his mad guitar skills.  The percussion of Victor Garcia peppers this tune with spicy licks.  “Behind the Crusaders” is a toe-tapping instrumental persuasion that moves and grooves.  The final tune spotlights the beautiful bass work of Andrew Vogt who opens the piece.  This is another instrumental that has a catchy horn line and gives a nod to Mr. Brooks II on drums with an energetic, featured solo by Arm Fahmy on electric piano.  The Chicago Soul Jazz Collective is a very soulful band that blends R&B, funk and jazz into a contemporary mix of excitement that’s interpreted by solid jazz players.

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SUSIE BLUE & THE LONESOME FELLAS – “BLUE TRAIN” – Seraphic Records

Solitaire Miles, lead vocals; Tom Hope, piano; Don Stille, Hammond organ; Paul Abella, cajon; Phil Gratteau, drums/percussion; Chris Bernhardt, bass; Neal Alger, guitar; Jack Galagher, trombone; Eric Schneider, saxophone; Howard Levy, harmonica; Dominic Halpin, guest vocalist; Jen Zias, Saalik Ziyad & Mike Harvey, background vocals.

This album of music is a throwback to the bands of the 1950s and 1960s.  It reminds me of the Rock and Roll shows presented in theaters with live bands like Sam the Man Taylor.  Solitaire Miles fronts the Lonesome Fellas with her pleasant voice and spicey attitude.  On “Lucky Lips” the band swings and Neal Alger shines on his guitar solo.  Solitaire Miles celebrates the music of Ruth Brown, re-arranging some of those 1950 hit records and presenting them with her own style and interpretation.   On “Forever Yours” Solitaire is joined by guest vocalist, Dominic Halpin.  After their duet, Howard Levy steps forward with a smart harmonica solo. This song is arranged more like a Country Western tune.  This group reminds me of roadside bars with local, crowd-pleasing entertainment and people two-stepping on sawdust covered floors.  Susie Blue & the Lonesome Fellas is a combination of early Rock and Roll, blues and a sprinkling of jazz. The band rearranges an old rockabilly tune called “She’ll Be Gone” and Solitaire refreshes it nicely with her adaptable vocals.  They shuffle their way through “Give Up That Honey” and the band encourages you to get up and swing dance your way through this energy-driven, up-tempo tune.  This album is just plain fun!  The song repertoire offers catchy lyrics, background voices that know how to punch the tune titles and a band that swings hard.

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MARK WINKLER – “LATE BLOOMIN’ JAZZMAN” – Café Pacific Records

Mark Winkler, vocals/composer/lyricist; David Benoit, Rich Eames, Jamieson Trotter & Jon Mayer, piano/composers/arrangers; Gabe Davis, bass; John Clayton, bass/arranger; Cameron Clayton & Christian Euman, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion. Grant Geissman, guitar; Bob Sheppard, flute/saxophone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Nolan Shaheed, flugelhorn.

Mark Winkler has a way of carefully and deliberately picking a repertoire that suits his style and musicians that embellish his arrangements with their excellence.  Winkler may be a “Late Bloomin’ Jazzman” (whose voice sometimes reminds me of the ‘Rat Pack” days and Dean Martin) but he always brings sincerity and creativity to his projects.  He shares a rollicking, swing arrangement of the Michael Franks tune, “Don’t Be Blue.”  His arrangement will lift the spirits.  Mark is also a talented lyricist and songwriter.  I always look forward to his original compositions.  On this project he has included eight originals out of twelve songs and each one glitters with their own lyrical brilliance. “When All the Lights in the Sign Worked” is a perfect example of Winkler’s creative lyricism written to Joe Pasquale’s beautiful minor melody.  The trumpet of Brian Swartz is a welcome addition to the arrangement and Bob Sheppard’s saxophone embellishes the film noir, poignant story.

“It’s a rainy night on Western, cars are driving much too fast; neon coloring the raindrops, running down the windshield glass.  And the buildings all have fire escapes, but no one’s escaping from here.  Boarded up store fronts and the harms of another year.  …  I keep wondering what it must have been like, when all the lights in the sign worked on a long-gone Hollywood night.”

Gabe Davis opens the title tune with his double bass and provides a background groove for Mark Winkler as he strides into the spotlight, using spoken word to introduce himself.  This song reflects his love of theater and showmanship.  “In Another Way” is a tribute to his lost love.  The Latin inspired “Bossa Nova Days,” penned with Bill Cantos, is one of my favorites.  There is a theme in this album; a theme of aging, maturity and the wiseness that comes from living a full and appreciated life.  Songs like “Before You Leave” remind us of love’s magnet and life’s preciousness.  His tune “Old Enough” reviews a singer, songwriter’s life and the ignorance of youth that eventually teaches us well-lived lessons.  His lyrics on “Marlena’s Memories” is a tribute to his friend who is suffering with Alzheimer disease.  Nolan Shaheed adds a lovely flugelhorn touch to the tune and Jamieson Trotter’s emotional piano solo tells his own tender tale.  Trotter is also the co-writer of this composition.  As a published songwriter myself, I have great admiration and appreciation for Mark Winkler’s songwriting talents, his thought-provoking lyrics; his heartfelt performances and his passionate love of jazz.

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LADY COCO – “BESIDE MYSELF” – Independent Label

Lady Coco, vocals/songwriter/arranger; Chris Wilson, keyboards; Blake Morris, guitar; Aaron Mason, bass; Lance Lee, drums; Buddy McDaniel, saxophone; Kim Thomas & Charlotte Pope, background vocals; Preston Glass, producer/arranger/composer/piano. SPECIAL GUESTS: Rob Mullins, piano; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Tomoka Nomura-Jarvis, flute; Larry Antonino, electric bass; Cal Rutherford, horns. Will Downing, background vocals; Eric Roberson, duet vocal on “How Could We Know?”

Lady Coco, in coordination with producer Preston Glass, has come up with a very pleasing new CD.  Opening with a catchy tune titled, “Jazz Junkie,” Lady Coco captivates with her crystal clear, soprano vocals and the repeatable ‘hook’ of the song.  She will have you singing along!  “Shoo be doo ya do – do ya – do ya.  Call me a jazz junkie, vibing to the beat.”   Her voice is honest, fun-loving and persuasive.  Lady Coco and producer, Preston Glass collaborated on this song and penned six others on this production.  Rob Mullins appears as a special guest playing a notable piano solo during this opening arrangement.  Lady Coco and Eric Roberson duet on another tune she co-wrote with producer Glass. It’s titled, “How Could We Know?”  Eric Roberson’s voice is a beautiful addition to this R&B mix and Blake Morris is dynamic on electric guitar.  Lady Coco’s project offers a blend of contemporary jazz, blues and pop music.  In the past, I was familiar with the blues-ier side of Lady Coco.  On this recording, she has expanded her talents to expose her composing skills and to explore more versatility in her music.  For example, when she performs the jazz standard, “Mister Magic.”  The band arrangement puts a funk groove into place on this one and spotlights Chris Wilson, who boldly tosses his jazzy saxophone into the mix.  They close this production with another original, “Stay in Your Lane.”  This jazzy arrangement is produced with a very danceable, disco-type groove.  It’s another Glass and Lady Coco composition and a joyful way to end this musical experience.

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JACKIE MESSINA – “NECESSARY ARRANGEMENTS” – JM Records

Jackie Messina, vocals; Bruce Barth, piano; Will Galison, harmonica; Paul Beaudry & Ed Howard, bass; Cliff Barbara, drums.

“Necessary Arrangements” is an album by vocalist Jackie Messina to tribute her musical collaboration with the late jazz pianist and educator Enos Payne.  Payne was the former conductor of the Jazz Vocal Workshop at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and this album features unique arrangements from Messina’s five-year musical relationship with her mentor.  The addition of harmonica to her stellar jazz group is a beautiful touch on Messina’s debut album.  Will Galison’s harmonica adds excitement and expression to Jackie Messina’s interpretation of the Frank Loesser tune, “Inchworm.” 

“I Feel Pretty,” the hit song from the Broadway musical “West Side Story” was arranged by the late Enos Payne as a slow swing, rather than the waltz that had Natalie Wood prancing across the screen in the 1961 film of this show-stopper.  Payne’s arrangement compliments Jackie Messina’s voice and delivery.  Messina delves into the blues on “Easy Street” and swings the familiar “Wild is the Wind” with a catchy piano line created by Enos Payne that drives the piece.  Bruce Barth takes a powerful piano solo.    As a Former published poet, Jackie Messina has a great love of lyrics.  You can see this expressed in the Baker’s Dozen’ of tunes that make up her repertoire.  Jackie includes gems like Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem” and the Sinatra recorded lyrics of “I’m a Fool to Want You.”  I can tell that Ms. Messina takes a hard look at the lyrics of each song she performs; songs that lyrically touch her heart and soul. 

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ANDY JAMES – “RHYTHM IN NEW YORK” – Le Coq Records

Andy James, vocals/composer; Jon Cowherd, piano/organ/arranger; John Patitucci, bass/arranger; Nate Smith & Marcus Gilmore, drums; Marcus Strickland & Chris Potter, saxophone; Adam Rogers, guitar; Alex Acuna & Rogerio Boccato, percussion; David Mann, flute/alto flute; Chico Pinheiro, nylon guitar; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Marshall Gilkes, trombone; NYC Strings.

Andy James is back with another interpretation of fifteen jazz and pop standards; surrounded by some of the finest jazz musicians in the music business.  On the opening tune, “I’m Gonna Live ‘til I Die” the spotlight shines brightly on drummer Nate Smith.  On track #2, they move from swing to strings.  Chris Potter steps forward to woo us with his saxophone solo, introducing an arrangement by John Patitucci of a song penned by Andy James and Griesun Patitucci titled, “Day Dream.”  I was expecting the Billy Strayhorn tune, but this is another lovely ballad.  Ms. James has chosen a scattering of pop songs to include in this album.  There’s “Walk on By” and “What the World Needs Now” by Burt Bacharach, with arrangements by her pianist, Jon Cowherd.  However, what happened to the chord changes on the popular “People” song?  Something went askew on that arrangement.

Andy James and her husband, owner of the Le Coq Record label, have collaborated as songwriters for this project. Piero Pata and Andy have contributed original songs, “Time to Think” and “Just in Time” for this album.

“Working with Piero has really been easy,” Andy James says of their songwriting experience.  “Wherever I am, he seems to catch and remember the melodies that I’ve been casually humming around the house and later brings them to me with lyrics already attached.”

Andy James has a distinctive tone that makes her a very recognizable jazz stylist.  She and John Patitucci perform a duet on “I’ll Be Seeing You” that is quite poignant and emotional.  After the first time down, the band enters to fatten the sound. The duet blend was striking and impressive with its own stand-alone beauty.  The band closes with an original song Andy and her husband composed that ‘swings’ brightly and features Chris Potter’s saxophone and Marcus Gilmore displaying strength and excitement on drums.

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MAFALDA MINNOZZI – “CINEMA CITY JAZZ SCENE FROM ITALIAN FILM” – MPI Records

Mafalda Minnozzi, vocals; Tiago Costa, piano; Sidiel Vieira, acoustic bass; Ricardo Mosca, drums; Paul Ricci, guitars/musical director; Art Hirahara, organ; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Graham Haynes, cornet/electronic FX; Luca Aquino, flugelhorn; Jorginho Neto, trombone.

Vocalist Mafalda Minnozzi celebrates film scores, carefully chosen to represent scenes from the peaks and valleys of her own personal life.   Opening with “La Dolce Vita,” her soprano tones blend instrumentally, performing without words and often sounding like a trumpet rather than a voice.  This music has been plucked from the silver screen and reflect Mafalada Minnozzi’s native Italy.  The distinctive flavor of these compositions is offered by Morricone, Mancini, Cipriani, Coppola and more.  On Mancini and Merrill’s composition, “Loss of Love,” from the Sunflower film, Tiago Costa’s piano solo is inspired and Minnozzi’s voice emotionally colors the lyrics. 

On “Metti Una Sera A Cena” she performs with a hip-swaying Latin rhythm.  It’s a familiar song that she often includes in her Brazilian concerts.  The “Cinema City” album was conceived and recorded in Brazil during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Deanna Durbin sang the “Amapola” song in the 1939 film First Love. This song was also performed in other films by Alberto Rabagliati (1941) and Sara Montiel (La Bella Lola, 1962).  In Gabrielle Roy ‘s “The Tin Flute,” published in 1945, the character, Emmanuel, hums “Amapola”.  Paul Ricci’s guitar sets the mood on the very beautiful Rustichelli/Longo composition, “Amici Miel.”  This was a 1975 comedy film about four inseparable male friends facing a middle life crisis. Minnozzi sings this song and several others in Italian.  She often incorporates her pure vocal tones into the arrangements.  Her vocals become similar to another horn instrument.  Mafalda Minnozzi’s band does an exquisite and supportive job of interpreting these compositions in a very jazz-driven way.  Some of the Award winning songs were familiar to my ear like “Arrivederci Roma” from the 1957 sound track of the Italian-American musical film with the same title, released as Seven Hills of Rome in English.  I remember Mario Lanza singing this song.  I wish Mafalda Minnozzi had written her own lyrics to some of these songs that have no words and perhaps shared them with us in English, infusing them with her own poetic creativity and life experiences.  This is an album that shows how classically based compositions and pop soundtracks can expertly be delivered into the jazz idiom.

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TIERNEY SUTTON – “PARIS SESSIONS 2” – BFM Jazz

Tierney Sutton, voice/arranger/co-producer; Serge Merlaud, guitars/arranger/co-producer; Kevin Axt, basses/co-producer; Hubert Laws, flutes.

This “Paris Sessions 2” album is scheduled for release on May 6, 2022.  Tierney and her new husband, Serge Merlaud, open this album as a duo, with Jobim’s “Triste” lighting their fire in Latin brilliance.  Tierney Sutton’s voice dances around the tune, improvising with scat whispers.  She sings these lyrics in Portuguese.  Track #2 takes a lyrical turn towards the French roots of Serge Merlaud.  It’s a medley combining the composition of Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg, (“April in Paris”) with Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris.”  The familiar “April in Paris” is stretched out, arranged as a very slow ballad, giving Tierney Sutton time to taste each poignant lyric from the 1932 Broadway musical, Walk a Little Faster.  It’s a delightful medley with the unexpected Joni Mitchell flavor added like pepper to the slow boiling stew.

“We got married at the end of 2019, had a ceremony in Paris in October and another in L.A. at the end of December,” Sutton recalls.

Their duet work continues on the Gershwin song, “Isn’t It a Pity (we never ever met before).”  These lyrics perhaps mesh with the duo’s corresponding life path.  Serge Merlaud’s guitar-fills are beautifully placed between the lyrical Sutton’s vocal interpretation.  Merlaud is a sensitive and technically astute player. Their entire quartet makes its appearance on Jobim’s tune, “Zingaro” and features Hubert Laws on alto flute.  This is a precious merging of Tierney’s high soprano notes that are warm against the richness of Hubert’s flute. Tierney Sutton offers this fifteenth album release as a leader and she has dedicated it to the memory of the late Marilyn Bergman who passed away in January of 2022.  Bergman’s songs she has included are “Cinema Paradiso/I Knew I Loved You,” an Alan and Marilyn Bergman composition with Ennio Morricone, “Moonlight” which the married songwriters wrote with John Williams and “A Child is Born” where the Bergman’s collaborated with Dave Grusin.  Tierney and Serge are playful on “Pure Imagination,” where their musical comfort with each other continues to be palpable.  Tierney scats her way through Serge Merlaud’s arrangement of “Doralice,” letting her voice double with the guitar.  She lets her voice set the bass line in place and establishes the tempo, before Kevin Axt enters with his own superb bass support.  The solo by Hubert Laws flies through space like a wild and beautiful bird.  Serge Merlaud takes time to showcase his own unique interpretation of this familiar standard during his brief but power-packed guitar solo.  “Paris Sessions 2” is so well-played I didn’t even miss the drums.

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UNEXPECTED AND UNINHIBITED ARTISTS SURPRISE US!

April 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 15, 2022 

MARCO PIGNATARO’S DREAM ALLIANCE AWAKENING – Zoho Records

Marco Pignataro, soprano, alto & tenor saxophones/poetry creator/arranger/composer; Kenny Werner, piano/back-up vocals/composer/arranger; Nadia Washington, guitar/vocals/arranger; Devon Gates, bass/vocals/arranger. Chase Morrin, arranger.

This album, “Marco Pignataro’s Dream Alliance Awakening” is a virtual live concert at Boston’s GBH Fraser Studio, located at Berklee College of Music, where Marco Pignataro has served as Managing Director since 2009.  The recording happened in July of 2021 and was sponsored by JazzBoston.  Saxophonist, Marco Pignataro, used this concert to showcase a stream of artistic expression and talented musicians.  They open with Stevie Wonder’s hit record, “Send One Your Love” sung and played by guitarist and vocal queen, Nadia Washington.  Soon, the group joins in and I am captivated by not only the beauty of this song but the lovely way Ms. Washington sings and plays it.  Marco Pignataro’s bird-like soprano saxophone compliments both the vocals and the composition as he flies freely over the perimeter of the song.  Kenny Werner enters on piano for his solo and become another bright and brilliant bird singing his own solo song.   This is followed by Devon gates on bass, accompanied by finger snaps.  They give voice to Nadia Washington who speaks a love poem called, “Resilience of Light.” When Ms. Washington enters with her soul-singing voice to sing “Stand by Me” she is joined by a gospel piano played by Werner, with handclaps.  In the ‘hook’ of the song, she is joined by several other vocals and Marco’s saxophone bleeds into the fray, a horn voice that fits perfectly.  Pignataro opens Track 4, “Naked Absence” with only his saxophone.  That introduces us, after his solo performance, to Washington’s spoken word again.  Then they burst into a song called “Farallina” that celebrates a butterfly.  This project is a study in creativity and freedom.  The legendary Kenny Werner contributes his Grammy-winning composition, “Inspiration.” These artists let their art wave, like magic wands, across the Boston stage to create magical musical moments.  They perpetuate the title of this column.  Their music is both uninhibited and unexpected.  They comprehensively blend pop, R&B, Jazz and poetry into a cohesive package of entertainment.  Performed by a multi-racial group of talented musicians, who span in age from early twenties to nearly seventy, here is warm, melodic music that enriches the soul and poetry that broadly opens the mind. 

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DAVE BRUBECK TRIO – “LIVE FROM VIENNA 1967” – Brubeck Editions

Dave Brubeck, Piano; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums.

I got so excited when this album came across my desk.  When I saw the photo of Eugene Wright on the cover with Joe Morello and Dave Brubeck it brought a bright smile to my face.  I remember singing with “The Senator” (as we fondly referred to Eugene Wright) with Karen Hernandez on piano at a small club called The Money Tree in Southern California.  That was many years ago when I was a working jazz vocalist.  What an extraordinary bassist he was and a joy to perform with!  The Senator was complimented in the press package, noting that until December 30, 2020, he was the last surviving member of the Dave Brubeck quartet and was always appreciated as the foundation upon which the other members of the quartet relied.

This historic album was recorded ‘live’ in Vienna back in 1967 and is the only available album that features Dave Brubeck in a trio setting.  What an extraordinary rhythm section!  It seems that Paul Desmond got distracted the night before, when he hung out with a friend in Hamburg, Germany and missed their morning flight to Vienna.  As a trio performance, these iconic musicians each was given plenty of space to solo and show off their amazing talents individually. 

“I think, if our dad were alive to hear this Brubeck Trio recording now, he’d be flashing his famous, big smile.  He would be extremely proud to hear how, more than half a century ago, he, Gene and Joe got thrown a curve ball and knocked it out of the park!” Chris Brubeck said of this historic musical treasure.

They open with a rousing rendition of “St. Louis Blues” and the party is on!  This is followed by the Brubeck composition, “One Moment Worth Years.”   His awesome piano technique and style is beautiful to hear.  During this arrangement, he reminds me a lot of Erroll Garner and a wee bit like the jazz pianist Nat King Cole before he ever sang a note.  That being said, Dave Brubeck was his own man and displayed his own, unique talent.  The conversation he and Eugene Wright display is absolutely entertaining.  We hear that big, thick bass sound marching beneath the Brubeck swing and the way Dave tinkles those treble notes is like a voice speaking to the bass.  Joe Morello’s drums pump the swing and become the glue that holds the groove tightly in place.  You will love Dave’s fast-paced arrangement of “Swanee River” with his two hands playing in concert, the left brightly establishing the rhythm and the right hand trembling the treble.   When Dave Brubeck breaks off into his solo, it’s his captivating style that commands attention and respect.  Some of these new jazz pianists need to sit down and study how Brubeck pumps energy into every phrase he plays.  Joe Morello is spectacular during several bars of trading fours on his trap drums.  At this time, you will hear ‘the Senator’s’ bass play double-time notes beneath the drum solos and the creative sparks of energy fly when Brubeck plays piano.  His comping is always unique and never repeated.   A lot of the younger players play the same comp phrase over and over when letting the drums solo.  They should listen to Brubeck.  Every line is different.  When he breaks “Swanee River” down to a smoky blues, playing with the tempos, the audience response is a healthy ovation.  Dave Brubeck’s creativity is inspiring.  

It is absolutely awesome to hear Dave Brubeck and his trio perform in their tight, cohesive way.  Without the horn, Dave Brubeck explores and embellishes each piece they play with rich improvisation and elongated technical brilliance.  This is an unearthed treasure.  It belongs in every jazz collector’s portfolio.  You will enjoy playing this album over and over again.  I know I did!

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JOEY ALEXANDER – “ORIGIN” – Mack Ave Records

Joey Alexander, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Larry Grenadier, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; Gilad Hekselman, guitar; Chris Potter, saxophone.

“Remembering” is the first original on this Joey Alexander album featuring ten songs that he has written and arranged for this project.  It’s the first time Joey has recorded, featuring all original music and also the first recording where he includes an electric piano.  He returns, with this sixth album, as a leader and using the rhythm section from his previous album.  The trio opens their first track with Larry Grenadier on bass and Kendrick Scott at the trap drums.  When reedman Chris Potter joins the party on a tune called, “On the Horizon,” his soprano saxophone paints hopeful pictures in my mind of a sunrise, bursting with orange, yellow and pink colors.  I find Alexander’s piano solo entering, rather pensively, using the treble piano register to improvise briefly.  Larry Grenadier opens “Dear Autumn” on bass, establishing a moderate tempo.  Soon Alexander is flying above the track, encouraged by Scott’s drums, but still thoughtful and laid-back.  Gilad Hekselman brings energy on guitar during their arrangement of “Winter Blues” as does Chris Potter on his saxophone.  Joey Alexander uses his piano chops on the Electric keyboard during this song. 

“To be clear, I didn’t actually write Winter Blues during the winter.  It was actually in the summertime, in New York City, but I was remembering how gloomy it was in the winter during the pandemic and I thought, how can I make the situation upbeat and hopeful,” Joey confessed.

As he peels through the seasons, (there is a song titled “Summer Rising” and another called “Promise of Spring”) followed by Mother Nature moods like “Midnight Waves.”  

On “Rise Up” Hekselman’s guitar introduction tickles the mood.  For a moment, I thought there was going to be some up-beat, transformative energy on this tune to match its title.  I was mistaken.  The music on this project does not “Rise Up.”  Instead, it’s quite peaceful and also beautiful, but lacking energetic spontaneity and enthusiasm.   It’s music to meditate by or the kind of music you hear while you enjoy a massage.  If you are just looking for tranquility and relaxation, this CD is perfect.  I know Joey Alexander can create on-stage energy because I’ve witnessed it.  Check him out on the video below.  I wish he had included a couple of tunes like this one on his recent release, to show his diversity and the soulful way he can play.

“Origin” is Alexander’s first album for Mack Avenue Records and it     will be released May 20 digitally and on CD, with a vinyl release scheduled for June 24.

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GORDON GRDINA – THE MUSIC OF TIM BERNE – “ODDLY ENOUGH” – ABG Records                                     Gordon Grdina, solo electric & midi guitars/classical guitar/acoustic guitar/oud/dobro. Tim Berne, composer.       

GORDON GRDINA’S HARAM with MARC RIBOT – “NIGHT’S QUIETEST HOUR” Attaboygirl (ABG) Records

Gordon Grdina, oud; Marc Ribot, guitar; Emad Armoush, vocals/ney; Tim Gerwing, darbuka; Liam MacDonald, rig; Tommy Babin, bass; Kenton Loewen, drums; Francois Houle, clarinet; Christopher Kelly, saxophone; JP Carter, trumpet, Josh Zubot, violin; Jesse Zubot, violin.

Vancouver, Canada-based guitarist and Oud player, Gordon Grdina, is back with an album in collaboration with guitar experimenter, Mark Ribot.  Grdina’s group is called “Haram” (I believe Haram in Arabic means ‘house’), and they have joined forces to present a blend of traditional Iraqi and Arabic folk music with jazz.  This album with Marc Ribot explores improvisation and the creative evolvement of his native music with more modern and experimental music.  However, it is anything but “Night’s Quietest Hour.”  This music is boisterous and energetic; stuffed with chants and Arabian traditional roots.  Marc Ribot is a legendary guitar wizard who waves his magic fingers over the guitar strings to create a rather rock and roll evolvement in Grdina’s music.

“Ribot’s been a hero of mine for a long time.  He added a whole lot of energy and excitement as well as a punk rock aesthetic to these pieces,” Gordon Grdina explains.

Grdina founded his Haram group in 2008 and for his project, “Night’s Quietest Hour,” He also includes authentic Middle Eastern instrumentation inclusive of Emad Armoush playing the ‘ney.’  The ney, (or nay) is a reed instrument made originally from hollow cane with five or six finger holes. Then, there is Liam MacDonald playing the ‘rig.’  I’m assuming this is the guitar rig 6 player that offers a range of modules, components, effects and routing tools.  Finally, Tim Gerwing adds the darbuka drum to the mix.  This is a goblet-shaped percussion instrument popular in the Middle East and North Africa.

On his other release, Grdina performs solo playing Tim Berne’s compositions.  This production was captured in the studio just before the COVID pandemic choked the world in a strangle-hold.  Grdina found himself sitting before a computer and communicating with fellow musician, Tim Berne (saxophonist and composer).  Grdina was sending his musical ideas over the Internet and Berne responding in-kind. This went on for nearly a year, before Grdina had enough material for their album, “Oddly Enough.”  Grdina’s solo album was sent to me simultaneously with his second recording.  Grdina was inspired to design a new guitar that was able to simultaneously record Midi data, both electric and acoustic on his project with Tim Berne.

“The pieces were incredibly challenging, yet beautiful and aligned with what I had been exploring in my own writing. …  Tim’s music is personal and immediately recognizable, yet can be continuously phrased and interpreted differently. Tim has created his own world with its own sense of logic; for me, that is the most inspiring thing an artist can do,” Grdina affirmed in his press package.

Gordon Grdina is a JUNO Award-winning oud/guitarist whose career has spanned continents and decades.  This is avant-garde jazz, modern improvisation, Middle-Eastern-based music that blends with contemporary indie-rock, refreshing like black tea and honey.

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ROBERTO OCCHIPINTI – “THE NEXT STEP” – Modica Music

Roberto Occhipinti, bass; Adrean Farrugia, piano; Larnell Lewis, drums; Llaria Crociante, vocals.

A very classical double-bass tone drifts into my listening room, bowed by the astute hands of Roberto Occhipinti, an established presence on both the Canadian and International jazz scenes.  He captures my ear immediately with the beauty of his singular instrument.  When the music-box voicings of Adrean Farrugia’s piano enter, the melodic piece is already locked into my mind.  It’s a peaceful and lovely composition that is also the album title; “The Next Step.”  Mr. Occhipinti has been working with Canada’s top-tier orchestras and a group of cutting-edge contemporary musicians.  he also plays his bass on Latin American performances and works with musicians from Africa to Asia; from John Cage and Terry Riley to the studios of Stevie Wonder.  Roberto has also recorded with a number of Cuban artists like Hilario Duran and Jane Bunnet in particular.  What he hadn’t really done yet was become the bandleader of a jazz trio.  This is Occhipinti’s debut trio recording as a leader.

“It’s always been a favorite form of mine, from the time I started playing bass, after hearing Ray Brown in the Oscar Peterson Trio; then moving on to the classic Bill Evans trio with Scott LaFaro and finally in my work with the Hilario Duran Trio,” Roberto Occhipinti tells us in his press package.

Roberto has composed six of the songs on this project.  Track #2 is called, “Emancipation Day” and Occhipinti takes time to explore a long and creative bass solo during this arrangement.  “The Peacocks” is a standard jazz tune composed by Jimmy Rowles.  Roberto Occhipinti pulls out his bow again and rubs it sensually across the upright bass strings.  He pulls the melody out of the instrument, thick and sweet as taffy.  His solo delivery is stunningly beautiful.  On Roberto’s composition, “II Muro” Larnell Lewis takes an opportunity to show-off his drumming talents.  On the Alessandro Scarlatti composition, “O Cessate Di Piagarmi” he invites the warm vocals of Ilaria Crociante to briefly join the trio.  I found the “Steveland” song to be very beautiful and I wondered if it was a tribute to Stevie Wonder, whose given name Is Steveland.  The chord changes remind me of something Stevie would write.  All in all, this is a well-produced, beautifully played album of quality compositions and excellent musicianship.

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OZ NOY, UGONNA OKEGWO & RAY MARCHICA – “RIVERSIDE” – Outside In Music

Oz Noy, guitar; Ugonna Okegwo, bass; Ray Marchica, drums.

This trio is made up of New York-based musicians and this is their first release on the Outside In Music label.  Until this union, each one was working consistently in various other situations.  The bassist, Ugonna Okegwo has been a celebrated sideman with both the Jacky Terrasson and Tom Harrell bands.  Ray Marchica is an exceptional drummer who stays busy playing studio sessions and working on Broadway.  He also has two albums to his credit as a bandleader.  The guitarist, Oz Noy, is one of fusion’s most sought after and unique guitar voices.  When the pandemic hit and the world shut down, these three frustrated musicians decided to meet-up in New York’s Riverside Park and play music on little bandstand-like coves; the ones that nature offered.

When they first started playing, there was nobody in the park, but by October, their crowd-gathering, outdoor concerts had become noticeable and popular.  They held their impromptu sessions throughout the summer months, until winter weather made them quit.

Ray Marchica said, “It saved me.  It saved all of us – musically and mentally.”

The result of those park concerts was that their trio was born.  They played standard tunes and three personalities became like one.  Arrangements were born and their creativity merged into a plan.  By the time winter arrived, they were prepared to go into the studio and cut this entertaining production.

On “Anthropology” Ray Marchica takes a stunning drum solo.  They swing on “Have You Met Miss Jones” with Oz Noy setting the tempo on his guitar and leading the band down a path of improvisational twists and turns.  He may have been a popular fusion player, but on this project, Oz Noy shines in the straight-ahead spotlight.  Ugonna Okegwo takes a solid, steady and melodic bass solo during this familiar song and that solo is quite imaginative. They offer us ten familiar jazz standard tunes.   All are well-played and allow each musician to dangle their creativity before us like a hypnotist’s pendant.  I enjoy the way Oz Noy plays his guitar in the upper register, tickling the tenor strings and creating delightful, harmonic sounds pleasant to the ear.  On Parker’s “Billie’s Bounce” the trio turns it into a provocative, slow blues arrangement.  They also play “Donna Lee” and “Out of Nowhere” by Charlie Parker, making those tunes their own.  Noy offers his own composition titled “Riverside Blues” that shuffles in a happy-go-lucky way and is very well-played by this trio.  Drummer, Marchica, has composed the “6/8 Lunch Break” and he opens the tune with an Afro-waltz beat flamboyantly leading the way.  His drums sing melodically, coming alive beneath his sticks as he offers us the best of himself.  Ray Marchica shows us that he needs no accompaniment.  He performs like a one-man band.  Afterwards, they reinvent “The Start of Something Big” and end this production with a rip-roaring rendition of “Sunny” at a lightening-strike speed.  Noy’s guitar magic is notable on this tune and quite impressive.  I hope these three talented musicians bring the world lots more of their incredible trio music.

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OTOK – “CABRIOLES CEREBRALES OF ACCIDENTS PSYCHOTIQUES” –                                    LFDS Records/France

Hamza Touré, saxophone; Thomas Zielinski, guitar; Yoram Rosilio, double bass; Julien Catherine, drums.

OTOK is a French-based Avant-garde jazz quartet.  Each member is a composer, with double bassist, Yoram Rosilio, being the most prolific composer on this recording.  He has penned seven out of the ten tunes and he also designed and provided the artwork for their album cover.  ‘OTOK’ opens with “Kromagnon,” nearly six minutes of explosive energy, often reminding me of New York City rush-hour traffic.  “Kabessita” is another Rosilio composition. It features counterpoint musical phrases between saxophone and guitar at the top of the tune.  Thomas Zielinski’s guitar takes precedence, developing the melody atop a repeated discourse in the background.  Julien Catherine’s trap drums roll, chop and pound underneath Hamza Touré’s busy saxophone that summersaults across space.  On the “Interlude,” Yoram Rosilio solo-walks his bass briskly, but briefly.  Track #4 sounds like a blues and it’s entitled “Elena’s Circle” featuring the warm sound of Touré’s saxophone in conversation with Rosilio’s contrabass.  It starts out like a warm, intoxicating ballad and soon veers off into outer-space with uncontained improvisation and driving drums.  The saxophone takes on jungle and animalistic sounds and the guitar plays rhythm and also improvises wildly.  “Elena’s Circle” turns into a full-fledged tornado of sounds, before settling back down to the blues that invited and intoxicated me at first.  Each “Interlude” features one of the four players showing off their musical skills.  Track #10, titled “Otok,” sounds like a happy carnival and a time of cotton candy sweetness and joy.  As a whole, the OTOK album is a lesson in extremes; a walk on the wild side.

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ECHOES – “LASTING” – Unit Records

Matt DiBiase, vibraphone/malletkat/synthesizers/keyboard/composer; Max Bessesen, saxophones/flute/keyboard/composer; Evan Levine, upright bass/electric bass/guitar/composer; Chase Kuesel, acoustic & electric drums/composer.

Every now and then an album comes across my desk that sounds exactly like the soundtrack to a movie.  This is one such album.  There are no outstanding solo instruments that come out-front to shine in the spotlight on every track.  Instead, various players solo spontaneously and present themselves as a solid unit.  Echoes’ music is cohesive, tight, well-played and appealing.  It’s a mixture of futuristic electronic sounds, loops, synthesizers and traditional jazz.  This album arrived with no press information to enlighten or sway me.  I know the names of the players, listed on the inner cover, and the instruments they play.  That’s it!  They give special thanks to Avaloch Farm Music Institute for making their album possible.  All the musicians play multiple instruments and create interesting songs.  I don’t know who the composers are until I go On-line.  They don’t list the composers or the publisher credits on the CD.  That’s unusual.  On-line I’m sent a bio from their publicist that tells me Chase Kuesel is a composer and drummer based in Brooklyn, New York.  The group’s reedman, Max Bessesen, has composed the opening tune called “Jam Fest” and also plays keyboard.  Matt DiBiase is a California-based multimedia artist who has penned “Off Switch” and a song called “Flipbook” that he describes as: “syncopated and playful with a melody meant to paint the story of an animated cartoon character.”  Evan Levine contributes an original song “Asbury” named after his hometown of Asbury Park in New Jersey. 

“This tune (Asbury) takes a lot of the group’s rock influences and uses layers to create a powerful groove with a sweet, relaxed melody skating over the top of it.  Think about drinking a beer on the beach.  It’s hot outside, but the water is cold,” explains Evan Levine, painting a picture to describe his composition.

I agree that the group’s music paints scenes and tickles the imagination.  This is a project that I believe should seek licensing for film, for video games or perhaps television show sound-bites.  

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DEANNA WITKOWSKI – “FORCE OF NATURE” – MCG Jazz

Deanna Witkowski, piano; Daniel Foose & Dwayne Dolphin, bass; Roger Humphries & Scott Latzky, drums; Clay Jenkins, trumpet.

Deanna Witkowski is a dynamic pianist, composer, educator and arranger, who is a great admirer of the famed jazz pianist, Mary Lou Williams. “Force of Nature” caps off twenty-years of immersive research into the life and work of Mary Lou Williams, the woman known as ‘The First Lady of Jazz.’  To fans and students of Ms. Williams’ legacy, she stands tall as one of the best-known but unfortunately, undervalued women in jazz history.  Born in 1910, she lived a musical life until 1981 and left behind marvelous pioneering compositions and arrangements.  Once hired by Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams was an influential player and educator, proficient and exploratory during the bebop era.  She was one of the first jazz artists to infuse her music with her Catholic faith.  Most notable are her compositions under the banner of “Jazz Masses.”

Ms. Witkowski has intricately woven into Track #4, titled “Cancer” (taken from Mary Lou’s Zodiac Suite), a piece of the Mary Lou Mass titled, “Act of Contrition.”   It’s quite beautiful and Deanna Witkowski performs this medley with emotional creativity and technical dexterity.  This lovely ballad is a far cry from the inspirational opening number that is full of boisterous blues.  “Gjon Mill Jam Session” is one of many Mary Lou Williams tunes that Deanna Witkowski celebrates during this production.  “Lonely Moments” blasts on the scene with the Clay Jenkins playing a tenacious trumpet out-front and inspired. Witkowski infuses the piece with consistent moments of power and straight-ahead swing.  They add staccato breaks in the arrangement to feature Scott Latzky on drums, never losing the swing or excitement of this piece.  “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory?” is a Mary Lou Williams blues composition that was stolen and became a big hit record called “Black Coffee.”  The music business can be cold-blooded!  Deanna Witkowski puts her heart and soul into interpreting this standard jazz song.  Daniel Foose offers us a delightful bass solo.  But it is always the piano playing of Deanna Witkowski that shines throughout this album of excellence.  Even on ballads, her strength and powerful delivery are captivating; never boring.  She is, like the album’s title, a pure “Force of Nature” and this album documents the spiritual connection she shares with the music of Mary Lou Williams.  The title tune was composed by Witkowski especially for Mary Lou.

“I composed “Force of Nature” while I was renting a house (without a piano) on Euclid Street in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood; the same street that Mary lived on for part of her childhood.  Walking a few blocks to East Liberty Presbyterian Church, in order to practice on an acoustic instrument, I wrote this piece over two sessions,” Deanna Witkowski explained how this title tune came about.

This is an exciting tribute to the great, female, composer and pianist, Mary Lou Williams, but it also is a testament to the talent and power of the artist herself, Deanna Witkowski.  She brings alive the music of Ms. Williams but also shines like a diamond in her own brilliance.

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LUIS MARIO OCHOA – “FOREVER LECUONA” –

Luis Mario Ochoa, vocals/guitar/bandleader/arranger; Hilario Duran, piano/arranger; Luis Orbegoso, percussion/chorus; Louis Simao & Roberto Riveron, bass/chorus; Jonathan Amador, bass; Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon, drums/timbales/castanets; Amhed Mitchel, drums/chorus; Jorge Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’, congas; Reimundo Sosa, bata drums.

Luis Mario Ochoa is a strong and emotional vocalist, a guitar master who received a Bachelor of Arts in classical guitar at the University of Havana, Instituto Superior de Artes.  He is also a composer, arranger and bandleader.  Luis emigrated from Cuba to Toronto, Canada in 1990.  There, his musical career blossomed.  His first album was released in 1995 and it was the premiere Canadian-based Latin album to be produced by a Cuban-born artist in that country.  This was the beginning of several releases by Luis Mario Ochoa.  Three more albums followed: La Fiesta, Cimarron and Momentos Cubanos.  Tracks from these albums were so powerful, they were used in Canadian television productions on major networks.  His music is also featured in a mini-series called, “Traders” on CBC; The Associates (CTV) and in films like “Brave New Girl” and “Bailey’s Billions.”  This recent album is a tribute to a famous composer, Ernesto Lecuona, celebrated as the “Gershwin of Cuba.”  His music is said to be a blend of Cuban, African and Spanish influences.  When Luis Mario Ochoa relocated to Miami, Florida in 2014, he began a new chapter in his life and career.  This album is a reflection of that move.  Ochoa’s music embraces historic cultural roots.  You will hear boleros, criollas, Afro-Cuban beats and a Sevillana flavored song.  Much of composer, Ernesto Lecuona’s music was introduced to American audiences by Desi Arnez, the Cuban bandleader and husband of American actress Lucille Ball.

Luis opens with “La Mulata Chancletera” his tenor voice soaring above bright rhythms and singing Spanish lyrics about a light-skinned girl (a mulatto) who is beautiful and has a joyful personality.  In Webster’s dictionary, a mulatto is a child who has one white parent and one black parent.  This tune is a theme song from the Zarzuela Operetta, “Maria La O.”  Luis continues this theme with Track #3, titled for this operetta and describing a woman with a broken heart.  It’s vocally quite dramatic and shows off Ochoa’s rich voice range.  One of my favorite songs is “Siempre En Mi Corazon” which translates to Always in My Heart.  I enjoy the instrumental portions of this album where we can hear Ochoa’s great talents on guitar.  This Lecuona composition was part of the soundtrack of a classic Hollywood film of the same title and was nominated for an Oscar in 1942.  It’s absolutely beautiful.  “Para Vigo Me Voy” is talking about the town of Vigo in Spain.  It’s an up-tempo tune, meant to inspire a conga line.  The arrangement invites the listeners to get up and dance.   There is a bright solo by the pianist followed by Jonathan Amador‘s brief electric bass solo in concert with drummer, Rosendo ‘Chendy’ Leon (who also plays timbales) and Jorge Luis Torres ‘Papiosco’ on congas.  Another favorite is “Y La Negra Bailaba” an instrumental that showcases the tight ensemble Luis Mario Ochoa has put together for this recording.   All the composition of Lecuona are pleasant to the ear with memorable with intoxicating melodies.  “Danza Lucumi” is performed solo by Luis Mario Ochoa on his guitar and represents a tune based on the ethnic Yoruba ancestry that blended their roots with Catholicism.  It reflects a time when African slaves were prohibited from practicing their cultural religion.  It’s extremely pleasurable to hear guitar master, Ochoa, interpret this piece solo.  The final tune on this album of ten songs is titled, “Damisela Encantadora” (the Enchanted Young Lady) and once again features Luis offering us his tenor vocals.  This time he is joined by a chorus of voices that chant the song title and he’s given ample opportunity to once again express himself on guitar.  When this musical expression is complete, I feel as though I have learned much about Cuban music, the historic Mr. Ernesto Lecuona and the multi-talented artist, Luis Mario Ochoa. * * * * * * * *

REVERENCE & RESPECT REFLECTED IN NEW JAZZ RELEASES

April 5, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 5, 2022

This month I was both pleased and surprised to see how much music was released that was tribute oriented.  KEITH OXMAN and his quartet use their talents to celebrate JOEY PEARLMAN, a young bass student who passed away unexpectedly.  HENRY FRANKLIN, ROBERT TURNER and CARL BURNETT celebrate the legacy of The Three Sounds, naming themselves 3 MORE SOUNDS as they celebrate the music of Ray Charles.  The BREV SULLIVAN and the BLUE ROAD RECORDS STUDIO SESSIONS BAND, tributes the music of Ira Sullivan.  Resonance Records has discovered “The Lost Album from Ronnie Scotts” by CHARLES MINGUS.  The MICHAEL LEONHART ORCHESTRA plays original music by Michael Leonhart that tributes Leonhart’s dog, “THE NORMYN SUITES.”  Pianist, composer LYNNE ARRIALE and her TRIO reflect, with reverence, on the life-changing events of the past two years and DAGGERBOARD is an ensemble of California musicians who feature bass master HENRY FRANKLIN on their latest album.  Live tapes were discovered of the iconic PEPPER ADAMS with the TOMMY BANKS TRIO.  Their music is so beautiful, it nearly brought me to tears.  Enjoy reading all about these amazing artists.

KEITH OXMAN – “THIS ONE’S FOR JOEY”- Capri Records Ltd.

Keith Oxman, tenor saxophone/composer; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Mark Simon, bass; Todd Reid, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Joey Pearlman, bass; Stevie Pearlman, drums.

This is a feel-good album that reflects reverence and respect (the title of this column), in a beautiful and heartfelt way.  It’s a tribute to a young bassist who made his transition from this earth way too soon. Tenor saxophone master, Keith Oxman, took the death very personally.  As an educator, who mentored Joey Pearlman, Mr. Oxman saw great promise in his student.

“After thirty years of teaching music, I can count a handful of accomplished students who were destined to accomplish great feats.  Notable among those students was the brilliant bassist, Joey Pearlman, whose music and personality brightened every day for us at East High School.  Joey was taken from this world too soon.  His presence brought joy to our music room as he challenged us with his brilliant compositions and performances.  Joey’s musical influence on his classmates, as well as his one-of-a-kind sense of humor, had an undeniable and positive influence on what was really most important in our program; human and musical interaction,” Keith Oxman painted a verbal portrait of his former student and capsulized his inspiration for this album. 

Opening the album with “The Gojon Jazz Messengers” the quartet swings hard with Keith Oxman’s brilliant tenor saxophone out-front and his leadership shining.  The bright, complimentary drums of Todd Reid slam the tempo down and push the band forward with strength and power.  He is given a bright solo opportunity in the spotlight about midway through the song, executing his tenacious drum talent.  When Jeff Jenkins enters, you get to appreciate more, raw, technique and talent.  His innovative approach on the piano adds spice to the arrangement.  The quartet follows this with another Keith Oxman original composition titled, “Lady Vera.”  Mark Simon steps quietly forward on his double bass to ‘wow’ us with a very melodic solo.  This quartet sounds like a group of close-knit friends, anticipating each other and working warmly in conjunction with Oxman’s accomplished compositions. I enjoy Oxman’s melodies and his attention to detail in the arrangements. 

One of my favorite tunes is “Joshua Fought the Battle Against Trump & Co” that reminds me of the exciting Coltrane days of jazz.  Jenkins is wildly creative on piano.  Keith Oxman’s saxophone has a smooth, mellow tone that still manages to capture and encompass power and excitement during his delivery.   This tune sounds like a jazz standard.  Pianist Jenkins has composed “Waltz for Joey” to immortalize the youthful musician who passed away in February of 2021 at the age of twenty-four. 

On this album, you will enjoy a Baker’s Dozen of songs, all well-played and beautifully arranged.  Oxman included a composition by his former student, Joey Pearlman, titled “Garden Song.”  It exhibits the young man’s complex composing talents, obvious even though he was merely a high school student when he penned it.  The final tune is titled “John Paul Jones” (a John Coltrane composition) that was recorded by the deceased Joey Pearlman on bass with his twin brother Stevie playing drums.  Denver has a very tight jazz scene.  All the participants on this project knew Joey and encouraged his talent.  Some had been part of his mentoring process.  After all, East High School in Denver boasts an impressive alumnus including trumpeter, cornetist Ron Miles, guitarist Bill Frisell, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves and even bandleader Paul Whiteman from back in the 1900s.

According to Thomas Burns of Capri Records, “Most involved contributed their time and some, their money, to make this (project) a reality.”

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HENRY FRANKLIN, ROBERT TURNER & CARL BURNETT – “3 MORE SOUNDS PLAY RAY CHARLES”- SP Records

Henry Franklin, bass; Robert Turner, piano; Carl Burnett, drums.

This is my kind of trio; bluesy and swinging!   These three incredibly talented musicians have chosen to celebrate the unforgettable brilliance of Ray Charles.  Well, to do that you have to be able to play the blues, drenched in gospel, and also know how to swing.  No problem!  Each of these players are more than proficient to do just that!  Opening with “Let the Good Times Roll,” this trio splashes on the scene with confidence and credibility.  You have to be amazing players to reference the legendary Three Sounds, a jazz group who was originally comprised of Gene Harris, Bill Dowdy and Andy Simpkins.  These three gentlemen were some of my favorite jazz musicians on the planet and man, could they swing!  Franklin, Turner and Burnett wave the “swing” flag brightly and precociously.  Each is a master musician in their own right.  Just listen to their take on Ray’s “Unchain My Heart” or “Hit the Road Jack” smokin’ with gospel flavor, straight-ahead arrangements and solid jazz swing.  When they play, “Georgia” I am captured by the dexterity and deep, blues inuendoes that Robert Turner plays on the piano.  What a wonderful and uniquely talented pianist he is! 

Robert Turner gained his first musical “chops” playing at local Baptist churches in California before studying music at LA City College and Sacramento State University.  You quickly hear how Turner is influenced by piano genius Gene Harris and perhaps he was also inspired by Erroll Garner.  On a more contemporary note, Robert Turner has performed with the likes of Stevie Wonder and Dr. Dre.  Turner spent 5 years in Japan, partly studying music at the Yamaha school of music in Nagoya and the other part of the time, “gigging.”  Later he relocated to Shanghai, China and became a steady member of the band PGP, as well as working as a featured and award-winning artist with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.  Turner has scored music for films such as “Contradictions of the Heart” and produced several CDs including “China Piano,” “Silent Night,” and “Blues for Gene” (referencing Gene Harris).

Henry Franklin has long been a mainstay of jazz bass in the Southern California community.  At age eighteen, he was the bassist with the now historic Roy Ayres congregation.

“Roy had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson (piano), sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me and Carl Burnett (drums),” Henry recalled.

Henry has worked with Billy Higgins, Willie Bobo, and was part of the Hugh Masekela ensemble that recorded the historically famous “Grazin’ in the Grass” hit single.  He recorded with Stevie Wonder on the “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants” album and recorded with Gene Harris for Blue Note’s “Soul Symphony” release and “Live at the IT Club.”  Franklin has toured with jazz nobility like Freddie Hubbard, Archie Shepp, O.C. Smith, Count Basie and Al Jarreau, just to name a few.  He continues to be an in-demand bandleader and sideman.

Carl Burnett, the drummer in this 3 More Sounds group, has also experienced an illustrious career.  Carl’s drums have backed artists ranging from Sarah Vaughn, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Childs, Art Pepper and Eddie Harris to Marvin Gaye and O.C. Smith.  He can be heard on albums by Horace Silver, Art Pepper, the Three Sounds,FreddieHubbard and Kenny Burrell, among others.  Together, these three very impressive gentlemen offer an album beautifully produced and exquisitely played to tribute not only Ray Charles, but the unforgettable memory and music of The Three Sounds. 

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BREV SULLIVAN & BLUE ROAD RECORDS STUDIO SESSIONS BAND – “IRA THE TRIBUTE ALBUM” – Blue Road Records

Brev Sullivan and Leo Quintero, lead guitars; Miriam Stone, acoustic & electric guitars; Javier Espinoza, bass; Yainer Horta, Keyboards/saxophone; Kevin Abanto, drums/percussion.

American jazz trumpeter, flugelhornist, flautist, saxophonist, and composer, Ira Sullivan, passed away in 2020 at the ripe old age of eighty-nine, leaving behind a legacy of musical compositions and recordings for the world to enjoy.  The Blue Road Records Studio Sessions Band is composed of South Florida’s crème-de-la-crème music makers. The band has an international flair inclusive of lead guitarists, Brev Sullivan (U.S. born) and Leo Quintero who was born in Venezuela.  Bassist, Javier Espinoza, also hails from Venezuela and percussionist Kevin Abanto arrived on the U.S. music scene from Peru.  Keyboardist and saxophone master, Yainer Horta is Cuban and Miriam Stone (also a proficient guitarist on both electric and acoustic guitars) has Cuban roots.  Miriam Stone and Brev Sullivan became fast friends and decided, shortly after Ira Sullivan died, to produce a tribute album.  Brev is actually Ira Sullivan’s son and has performed on stage with his father.

Brev explained, “I wanted to make this album to not only preserve his legacy, but also preserve the memory of those moments that are dear to me when I performed with him on stage.”

Miriam Stone recalls what inspired her to join this project. 

“I was privileged to have met Ira at one of his concerts.  The band was exquisite and Brev was with him.  I felt that Ira and I had formed a personal connection.  I knew making this album would be challenging, because the music is so complex.  But it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had as a musician,” Miriam confessed.

Although this Blue Road Records Band has rock-roots and Ira Sullivan was cut from a bebop cloth, this project manages to compliment and enrich the Sullivan legacy.  They open with the familiar Cole Porter standard,” I Get a Kick Out of You” swinging from the very first licks of Kevin Abanto’s busy drums.  He establishes a brisk pace and interjects a boisterous drum solo at the top of the tune that is star quality.  The guitar solo runs alongside the rhythm like a racehorse towards the finish line.  “Monday’s Dance” is a wonderful opportunity for Brev Sullivan and Leo Quintero to let their lead guitars soak up the spotlight.  This is an Ira Sullivan composition that opens with a melodic line that reminds me of the Wichita Lineman song.  I wonder if Jimmy Webb heard Ira’s beautiful “Monday’s Dance” tune and was inspired or vice versa? 

Although Ira Sullivan was a bebop musician at heart, having played with the likes of Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Red Rodney and Roland Kirk, in later years he embraced a younger generation of musicians.  He liked Pat Metheny and mentored Jaco Pastorius at one point.  Ira enjoyed the fusion era of music and some of his charts reflect that change of musical heart.   You hear this on Sullivan’s tune, “Multimedia” where the band employs solid Latin rhythms and energetically arranges a song Ira says he wrote to capture the sounds of his students practicing.  This song is stuffed with fusion inspiration and the electric guitar sings like a happy bird on steroids.  Both “Monday’s Dance” and “Multimedia” are some of my favorites on this album.  The fusion input continues on the Sullivan tune, “Nineveh” with shades of blues and rock brightly coloring the arrangement.  Tad Dameron’s “Our Delight” reverts back to bebop and swing roots. The band sounds great and shuffles us into “Little Train of Caipira” on Track #8.  It opens quietly, celebrating the guitar playing a’ cappella before the band joins in.  The drums mimic the sound of a locomotive picking up speed, playing double time underneath the pretty melody.  “Espresso Bueno” is another Sullivan composition and another favorite.  It’s saturated in Latin rhythms that make me want to dance. The music lifts my spirits, especially when Yainer Horta takes a soaring solo on saxophone.  Abanto once again struts his stuff on percussive drums.  They close with “Amazing Grace,” offering a guitar prayer whispered to the wind. 

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MICHAEL LEONHART ORCHESTRA – “THE NORMYN SUITES” – Sunnyside Records

Michael Leonhart, orchestra conductor/composer/arranger/trumpet/drums/guitar/accordion/ mellotron/optigon/organ/pump organ. ORCHESTRA:  Peter Schwartz, organ; Robbie Mangano, Luke O’Malley & Caruso Srebnick, guitar; Danton Boller, Richie Goods, Jay Leonhart & Joe Martin, bass; Nicholas Movshon, Daniel Freedman, Homer Steinweiss & E.J. Strickland, drums; Elizabeth Pupo-Walker, Kevin Raczka, Jens Jungkurth, Mauro Refosco, Joey Waronker, Stephane San Juan, Leo Sidran & Daniel Yvinek, percussion; BRASS: Frank Greene, Keyon Harrold, Freddie Hendrix, Tony Kadleck, Jordan McLean, Billy Aukstik, Eric Biondo, Jeff Pierce, Scott Wendholt, Carter Yasutake, trumpet; Todd Simon, trumpet/euphonium; Michael Leonhart, trumpet/mellophonium/French horn/trombone; Nathan Koci, French horn; Ray Mason, trombone; Ryan Keberle & Jeff Nelson, bass trombone; John Altieri, sousaphone.  SAXOPHONES/WOODWINDS:  Chris Bullock,bassclarinet/piccolo flute/flute/alto flute/bass flute; Michael Blake, tenor saxophone/flute; Stuart Bogie, clarinet; John Ellis, Daniel Srebnick, Morgan Price & Brandon Wright, flute; Sam Sadigursky, piccolo flute/flute; Chris Potter, bass clarinet; Jason Marshall & Cochemea Gastelum, baritone saxophone/flute; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon. STRINGS: Pauline Kim & Claudia Chopek, violins; Ludovica Burtone, viola/violin; Emily Hope-Price & Erik Friedlander, cello. CHOIR: Elvis Costello, Catherine Russell, Rebecca Haviland, Donna Leonhart, Jamie Leonhart, Carolyn Leonhart, La Tanya Hall, Paul Brill, Milo Leonhart & Vaughn Escoffery. FEATURED SOLOISTS: Joshua Redman, tenor saxophone; JSwiss, rapper; Bill Frisell, guitar; Jim Pugh, trombone; Walt Weiskopf, tenor saxophone; Nels Cline, guitar; Michael Leonhart, trumpet; Larry Goldings, Hammond B3 organ; Chris Potter, bass clarinet; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone.

It begins like a funk tune, inviting a guitar to pluck a groove and then the voice of Elvis Costello starts to sing. A rap is injected, spoken word by JSwiss.  Frankly, I wasn’t expecting this kind of contemporary music under the banner of an orchestra.  The orchestra itself is powerful, creating a groove and inviting a sax solo by Joshua Redman that lifts this opening piece (“Shut Him Down”) out of commerciality and into jazz reverence.  All tracks have been composed, arranged and conducted by Michael Leonhart, a respected trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist.  Leonhart was a longtime member of Steely Dan, a popular commercial rock group from the 1970’s.  “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” became one of their hit records, rising to #1 on the Pop charts. They were a group blending rock, R&B, pop and, on this arrangement, using the popular jazz riff from a Horace Silver tune (Song for My Father) to open their pop record.

Orchestra conductor, Michael Leonhart, has written this double suite of music to tribute his fifteen-year- old dog, a female mini-Dachshund named Normyn.  In addition to trumpet, Leonhart is also a singer, pianist, songwriter, organist, accordionist and film composer.  His studio session credits are diversified.  He played on the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit record, “Uptown Funk” and he produced the Donald Fagen “Sunken Condos” 2012 album release.  So, you see how connected he is to the element of funk and fun.

However, after the opening song of his own album with this orchestra, the songs are, although beautiful, more remorseful and lethargic.  “The Normyn Suite #1” is divided into titles like: Denial, Anger, Catharsis, Nostalgia and Acceptance.  Still, during this production the Michael Leonhart Orchestra traverses a great deal of musical terrain, epitomized in their exploration of the “Radio is Everything” composition. It opens with spoken word and a lush orchestrated background.  The male voice speaks poetic:

 “They say I have a perfect face for radio and a trumpet for listening.”

I’m intrigued by the poetry and by Michael Leonhart’s mournful cry on trumpet.  This is followed by The Normyn Suite #2, featuring six songs that celebrate love and loss.  This music plays like a film soundtrack.  It’s very beautiful, but sad.  The addition of harmonic voices brings a warmth to the tracks.  Especially emotional and poignant is the twelfth track, “La Preghiera” that features beautiful piano work.  There are two bonus quartet tracks.  One is titled “Kenny Dorham” and the other is called, “Wayne Shorter.”  These tracks are full of rhythm and a happy lightness, featuring Michael Leonhart on trumpet and Donny McCaslin on saxophone.  They appear last on the album, but are worth the wait!

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LYNNE ARRIALE TRIO – “THE LIGHTS ARE ALWAYS ON”Challenge Records

Lynne Arriale, piano; Jasper Somsen, double bass; E. J. Strickland, drums.

Welcome to Lynne Arriale’s sixteenth album release as a leader.  It’s her third trio recording.  This album is meant to reflect the life-changing events of the past two years.  Several of her original compositions reflect heroes around the world, some who served as caregivers during the horrible COVID pandemic.  She tributes them with reverence and respect, opening with “March On.”  This phrase was common around my home and neighborhood, as people tried to protect themselves from the virus and still manage to march forward with their individually affected lives.  For Lynne, this is a tribute to activists around the world who kept pushing forward through the fear, the disease and the political unrest.  Track #2 is infused with classical European music and quite beautiful.   The melody is inviting, like the title itself; “The Lights Are Always On.”  Track #3 is called “Sisters” and is soaked in gospel richness.  Lynne Arriale has included a composition to tribute Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman titled, “Honor.”  He stood up for ‘right’ in the face of heavy, political backlash.  He must have been torn to have to speak up during a time of such political turmoil in our country and in Ukraine.  Arriale’s blending of two melodic ideas creatively recalls that decision-making time and shows, with music, how two very different opinions can merge to reinforce each other.  Jasper Somsen brings his double bass to the forefront and adds a delightful solo song.  This composition is meant to characterize one American patriot’s unwavering pride in country and commitment to do what is honest and good.  Her song, “Loved Ones” takes my breath away with its beauty.  Lynne’s artistic fingers dance happily across the piano keys and her melody is springtime bright.  She also tributes “The Notorious RBG” with a song to remind us of the amazing stamina and legal fortitude that Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg brought to our court system and to our nation. This melody is regal.  It rings true to something deep inside of me and makes me want to sing along; march along; play it again.  It becomes one of my favorites on this album of original Arriale compositions. I also love “Into the Breach” that somehow reminds me of the John Coltrane days and, for me, tickles bebop memories.  Actually, her press package explains this song was written in remembrance of the January 6th insurrection and the heroes that saved democracy on that day.  “Walk In My shoes” is dedicated to the memory and work of civil rights icon and conscientious congressman, John Lewis.   She closes with “Heroes.” That title pretty much sums up all of these musical tributes.  It’s also a heartfelt ballad, composed by Arriale, in recognition of those who have brought light to a very dark period of our United States history.  She offers her music, like a beacon of hope.

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DAGGERBOARD & THE SKIPPER –  Hive Records

Matt Clark, piano/Fender Rhodes; Roger Glenn, vibes; Russ Howe, guitar/composer/arranger; Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn/arranger/composer; Henry Franklin, bass/composer; Gregory Howe, percussion/composer; Mike Hughes, drums; Mads Tolling & Anthony Blea, violins; Charith Premawardhana, viola; Ben Davis, Cello.

On their recent release, the Daggerboard group is featuring the big, bad bass of Henry Franklin.  As usual, they have a tight, cohesive sound as an ensemble.  However, on this project they have added the beauty of strings that gives these arrangements a peaceful, lovely ambience.  When people speak the name Henry Franklin, or ‘The Skipper’ (as he is lovingly referred to) you might see those people smiling.  There is a certain respect and reverence attached to this historic bassist.  He has played with such a long list of luminaries; it would take the whole page to list their names.  ‘The Skipper’ has a gold record for his “Grazin’ in the Grass” hit record recorded with the late, great Hugh Masekela.  He was part of the Roy Ayers ensemble when they were all fledgling musicians.  Based in Southern California, you may have seen him working the jazz scene in a number of places.  Most recently he has recorded with and toured with drummer Carl Burnett and pianist, Robert Turner under the banner of “3 More Sounds.”

Franklin (The Skipper) opens the first tune of this album, “The Dream Within a Dream,” with a funky bass line that sets the mood and tempo.  The strings hoover, like a circling bird and then the guitar of Ross Howe takes over.  It sounds like the soundtrack to a Western film.  The drums shuffle like horse hooves and the trumpet of Erik Jekabson soars above the groove.  It’s a compelling composition.  Track #2, “Agapanthus” is the name of a lavender ‘Lily of the Nile’ plant and becomes a springboard for trumpeter Erik Jekabson to explore.  He has a smooth relaxed approach to his solo exploration.   On Track #3 titled “Involuntary Separation” the arrangement reminds me of the Miles Davis ‘Sketches in Spain’ album.  It’s not the tone of Jekabson’s horn, but the ‘vibe’ of the production that recalls the Davis history-breaking album.  The featured artist, Henry Franklin, has contributed one original composition for this project called “Henry’s Garden.”  He opens the piece on double bass and it’s a heartfelt solo that grabs the attention immediately.  Oaxaca is a city in Mexico, and Daggerboard’s “Oaxacan Standoff” tune is very Spanish-influenced composition that features guitarist Russ Howe and the spectacular drums of Gregory Howe and Mike Hughes.  Gregory Howe has written seven of the nine songs on this album in collaboration with Erik Jekabson.  The strings are given a bright spotlight on a tune called “Video Culture.”  Mads Tolling and Anthony Blea on violin, along with Charith Premawardhana on viola and Ben Davis on Cello whisk me away to imaginative places where fiddles gather around a campfire in the wild, wild West and people dance into the fire-lit night.  This is a lovely listen.

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PEPPER ADAMS WITH THE TOMMY BANKS TRIO – “LIVE AT ROOM AT THE TOP” – Reel to Real

Pepper Adams, baritone saxophone/composer; Tommy Banks, piano; Bobby Cairns, electric bass; Tom Doran, drums.

There is rarely something as beautiful as Pepper Adams playing his baritone saxophone.  I was absolutely excited when I heard that the Cellar Music Group’s archival imprint, Reel to Real, was releasing a two-disc set recorded ‘live’ on September 25, 1972.  The Tommy Banks trio, featuring Pepper Adams, was performing at the University of Alberta in Canada.  Pepper was born in Highland Park, Michigan, Oct 8, 1930, and is known for his work with John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd and a plethora of other iconic jazz legends.  Some say Pepper Adams often felt as though he had been overlooked and perhaps, even disparaged as a bandleader.  This amazing concert should put all such thoughts and rumors aside.  Here we have a cultural artifact that clearly justifies the Adams mastery of his instrument and upholds his position as bandleader and a legendary baritone player.

According to the 28-page booklet included in this double set release, Coleman Hawkins was one of Pepper’s biggest fans.  One of Adams’ closest friends was Don Byas.  He too adored Pepper’s style and talent.  In 1985, Dizzy Gillespie confided in Cecil Bridgewater how much he admired Pepper Adams and how his mastery utilized the baritone sax in a completely different and unexpected way from other players.  In the booklet, a number of Pepper’s peers shower him with praise and accolades.  As I listen to “Oleo” played at a maddening pace and challenging even the layman’s snap of fingers, Pepper Adams makes the fast-paced tune sound as casual and natural as breathing in and out.  It’s nineteen minutes of pure bliss!  Tommy Banks jumps stage front and executes a splendid solo on piano.  He’s followed by Bobby Cairns on an electric bass, playing non-stop Straight-ahead and I don’t even mind that it’s an electronic solo.  Cairns sounds great!  They follow the bass solo by trading fours and giving Tom Doran a time to shine on trap drums.  It’s quite exciting and I feel that I’m in the room and spellbound along with the rest of the appreciative audience.  This is the opening number on Disc two and it thrills me!  They follow this with “Tis” a composition only two minutes and thirty-some seconds long, but still inspired and fiery.  “Time On My Hands” is a tune I usually enjoy hearing a vocalist sing; especially Little Jimmy Scott.  However, Pepper Adams makes me appreciate the song without lyrics and simply enjoy the way he interprets it.  They perform it as a slow swing and I love it.  The baritone saxophone sings, swoops and dives through the melody like a wild bird.  I wonder how he can take a breath deep enough to spit out all those jazzy, non-stop phrases.  His playing is so beautiful, it nearly brings tears to my eyes.  Disc #2 closes with a bonus track, “Stella by Starlight,” that begins already in progress and is flying fast as a 747-jet plane. 

Disc One is also stellar and inspired.  It opens with “Three and One” (a Thad Jones composition) where Pepper Adams plays a blistering and spellbinding solo to exhibit his genius.  In the accompanying CD booklet, they reveal that virtually nothing exists of Pepper Adams recording with a trio during that 1970s period.  In 1968 he did record with Zoot Sims, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones.  In 1973 there was a quartet recording for Spotlite Records with Roland Hanna, George Mraz and Mel Lewis. But this current release gives Pepper the spotlight on long, illustrious solos, something he rarely got a chance to show-off during other recordings.  He’s free to let loose during these ‘live’ performances and play as long as he feels the spirit move him. He also plays two original compositions: “Patrice” and “Civilization and its Discontents.”   This music took my breath away! The LP releases April 23, 2022 and the CD & digitals will be released May 6, 2022.

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CHARLES MINGUS – “THE LOST ALBUM FROM RONNIE SCOTT’S” – Resonance Records

Charles Mingus, bass/composer; John Foster, piano/vocals; Roy Brooks, drums/musical saw; Jon Faddis, trumpet; Charles McPherson, alto saxophone; Bobby Jones, tenor saxophone/clarinet.

Resonance Records has released a three-album glimpse into the music of Charles Mingus, during the prime of his career.  Resonance Records has established itself as top-of-the-line in the business of independent labels who search for unreleased jazz treasures. Surely, this is one of their big discoveries. It was recorded ‘live’ at the famed London-based, Ronnie Scott’s Club in 1972 and will be released this month to celebrate what would have been the 100th birthday of Charles Mingus this year.  The ‘live’ set is comprised of almost two-and-a-half hours of music that originally was recorded professionally on eight-track tapes. 

“This is a lost chapter in Mingus’ history.  Originally intended to be an official album release by Mingus, it never materialized. … It’s especially exciting to be celebrating Mingus with this release in his centennial year,” said Zev Feldman, Resonance Records co-president.

What a line-up of musicianship!  Mingus is joined by the legendary Detroit musician, Roy Brooks on drums and musical saw; by the brilliance of nineteen-year-old Jon Faddis on trumpet, blowing holes through the ceiling with those very high notes he plays, and the now iconic Charles McPherson on alto saxophone.  Bobby Jones played tenor sax and clarinet, while John Foster was new on the ‘set’ and had replaced pianist Jaki Byard on the 88-keys.  With personnel like that on the bandstand, you can only expect greatness. Their very first tune on CD #1 is titled “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress, Then Silk Blues” and the conversation between the Charles Mingus bass and the Faddis trumpet is formidable and exciting.  Their first song runs thirty-plus-minutes long and is stuffed with blues interludes and improvisational master moments.

During his time in England, Mingus was interviewed by a journalist named Brian Priestley who published the book, “Mingus: A Critical Biography.” 

Mingus philosophized, “Life has many changes.  Tomorrow it may rain and it’s supposed to be sunshine because it’s summertime.  But God’s got a funny soul.  He plays like Charlie Parker.  He may run some thunder on you.  He may take the sun up and put it in the nighttime, the way it looks to me.”    

“Noddin’ Ya Head Blues” completes the two-tune CD #1 in the most Mingus way.  He opens solo on the double bass and sets the rhythm and tone for the piece.  Then John Foster’s voice enters the scene, singing the story.  Turns out, not only is Foster an amazing pianist, he’s also a very good blues singer and gives a nod to Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vincent during the performance. Roy Brooks introduces the audience to his wood-cutting-saw solo, to much appreciation and applause.

Charles McPherson described the music of Mingus by saying, “… Organized chaos is the term because that’s the way Mingus’s music really did sound.  It did have almost this free-wheeling kind of vibe and yet, you can tell it’s written out; it’s thought about.  It has all the elements of organization, but still, it has the elements of spontaneity.”

Along with three discs of Mingus music, you will also be gifted with a booklet stuffed with information about these master players, photographs, the complete interview transcript of Brian Priestley questioning Charles Mingus and Charles McPherson in 1972.  There is a section in the booklet where Fran Lebowitz remembers her very personal connection to Charles Mingus.  It’s great reading!  I laughed out loud at some of Fran’s stories.  There is also an excerpt from the autobiography “Tonight at Noon: A Love Story” by Sue Graham-Mingus.  It’s a sixty-four-page booklet that is full of historic music information, serious and comedic memoirs, plus gives an in-depth insight into Charles Mingus, the man.  You can lie there and listen to his unique brilliance on disc, while reading all about him while you listen. 

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SPRING JAZZ HAS SPRUNG

March 25, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 25, 2022

GABRIEL MARK HASSELBACH – “MID CENTURY MODERN – VOL. 3” – Wind tunnel Records

Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, trumpet/flugelhorn/flute/alto flute/valve trombone/arranger/composer; Jason DeCouto, organ/bass; Nick Bracewell, Craig Scott & Paul Romaine, drums; John Lee, guitar; Mark Diamond & Miles Hill, bass; Andy Weil & Miles Black, piano.

One of the things I admire about multi-musician, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, is his diversity.  He plays a plethora of instruments, and plays them all exceptionally well.  He also plays mainstream jazz with the same intensity and love that he gives to his contemporary artistic releases. I assume that I’m in for a treat the moment Gabriel Mark Hasselbach’s product hits my desk.  He explained this new album direction in his current press package.

“I figured I’d do something a little different for this recent album session.  The classic organ combo was the answer.  I grew up on Jimmy Smith and the whole cadre, and always had that smoky groove in the back of my mind.  Jason DeCouto, Nick Bracewell and I already had a working trio and we had all worked with John Lee (guitarist).  On these projects, rather than recording predominantly original material, as I often do, I chose soulful tunes from the fifties and sixties that have influenced me.  Songs that have a timeless quality. The result is a trifecta of jazz, where the sum is greater than the parts!”  Gabe asserts.

He opens with “Jonah’s Joint” Gabriel’s original composition and tribute to the great Jonah Jones.  It swings hard with his trumpet out front and leading the pack.  Jason DeCouto steps right up on the organ, never losing the excitement, the tempo or the groove.  He dances over the keys and his foot dances beneath them, pumping that organ like Muhammad Ali once pumped his fists against a gym boxing bag.  That’s just how hard-hitting this opening tune was.  Track #2 is another tribute tune, this time written to celebrate Blue Mitchell.  “Bring It Home to Me” shuffles along with warm harmonics by Gabriel’s trumpet and John Lee’s guitar.  Nick Bracewell is solid and power-packed on drums, locking tightly into Jason’s organ while Hasselbach solos on his trumpet.  When John Lee steps into the spotlight he doesn’t disappoint, followed by an organ solo that matches Hasselbach’s intensity.  Gabe’s friend and an icon in his own right, Randy Brecker, has contributed “Big Dipper” to the mix.  It’s a perfect composition for the organ quartet to explore.  Randy commented on this project in Hasselbach’s press package saying:

“Gabriel Mark Hasselback is constantly honing his various crafts, as a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and producer.  He’s come up with a new album that is his best yet, delving into Hammond B3 Organ Trio territory.  I know that terrain well, growing up in Philly, PA (from whence this style originated) and Gabe and company are right in the groove! Poppin!!” Randy Brecker praised him.

On “Nutville” Gabriel replaces the organ with Andy Weil on piano and plays trumpet, flute, alto flute, flugelhorn and valve trombone during this arrangement.  I enjoy Gabriel’s tone and execution on alto flute during their interpretation of “Slow Hot Wind.”  He opens with the flute, then sets it aside to pick up his horn.  Beautiful!  This tune becomes one of my favorites.   The Horace Silver classic, “Senor Blues” is played with gusto by Mark Diamond’s steady and creative bass work, Weil on piano and Paul Romaine on drums.  In fact, that trio is the exciting rhythm section for tracks four through eight.  On tracks nine through fourteen, Miles Black takes to the 88-keys; Craig Scott lays down the drum grooves and Miles Hill mans the bass.  Consistently, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach contracts the best players and puts his heart and soul into the music he performs for our listening pleasure.

Hasselbach is a very lyrical trumpeter and flugelhorn player.  He has fifteen critically acclaimed albums as a bandleader and has won several JUNO Awards.  Those awards are recognitions similar to the U.S.A. GRAMMY Awards.  Hasselbach’s proud of his eleven certified Contemporary jazz Billboard hit records and his West Coast Music Award.  Additionally, he was crowned Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards.  But this album is not Smooth Jazz.  It’s traditional jazz goodness that sprays across my listening room like summer sunshine.  It will lift your spirits and inspire you. 

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MISHA TSIGANOV – “MISHA’S WISHES” – Criss Cross Jazz

Misha Tsiganov, piano/Fender Rhodes; Boris Kozlov, bass; Donald Edwards, drums; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet/flugelhorn; Seamus Blake, tenor Saxophone.

Pianist, arranger, composer Misha Tsiganov has arranged the Gershwin tune “Strike Up the Band” as a sweet waltz at the band’s introduction. Unexpectedly, the band leaps into a fast paced, straight-ahead tempo that swings hard.  Misha takes the reins of the tune and rides it furiously on his 88-keys.  Then, the tempo takes a turn into a sultry, bluesy walk.  Seamus Blakes, on tenor saxophone, steps into view and glides across the rhythm section.  On the fade, Misha gives space for Donald Edwards to showcase his drum skills and Edwards reciprocates with fire.  Blake’s saxophone dances blissfully on top. This is one of my favorite tunes on the album. 

“…Donald and I have been together on many different projects.  I love his playing.  He knows modern vocabulary very well, plays mixed meters, crazy time signatures and the most difficult stuff with elegance,” Misha compliments his percussionist.

The artist’s title tune follows, “Misha’s Wishes.” Alex Sipiagin introduces the melody on his horn, before Boris Kozlov steps forward to showcase his beautiful double bass tones.

“Boris is the best bassist I can imagine.  His timing and power are unbelievable.  I’ve seen him swing a whole big band by himself. I’ve worked a lot in the Afro-Cuban, Salsa and Brazilian idioms and he can play all those styles, as well as mixed meters and straight-ahead,” Misha sings his bass players praises.

Misha has taken the Russian Folk Song, “There Was a Birch Tree in the Field, so What” and transformed it into straight-ahead jazz.  Alex Sipiagin spits trumpet excitement into the air with precision and technique.  He can hit those high notes on the trumpet, the way Dizzy Gillespie used to entertain us.  Misha Tsiganov’s piano solo steals the spotlight and shines.  This is another one of my favorite tunes on this album of ten songs, most of which Tsiganov has composed.  Donald Edwards pumps steadfast enthusiasm into this arrangement and never loses the spontaneity or time on his trap drums.  He is given a time to show-off all his drum skills at the close of this song and after Blake’s tenor saxophone takes a well-deserved bow.  Misha Tsiganov has put together an excellent band of musicians.  His tune, “Lost in Her Eyes” is a sensitive ballad that Misha introduces playing solo piano.  It has lovely chord changes and a pretty melody.  His solo piano sings beautifully, without accompaniment.  On “Just A Scale” the band rejoins their leader and the melody sounds exactly like the title as it moves up the scale, only changing the timing between notes.   Another favorite on this album is the Bill Evans composition, “Comrade Conrad” arranged with rich horn harmonies that sing, like background vocals, behind Misha’s sensitive piano solo.  The quintet closes with a very solemn original by Tsiganov titled, “Are You with Me?”  I was drawn to his piano solo and the emotional intensity he brought to the piece.  Here is another feather in the cap of Misha Tsiganov, stylish and entertaining as a composer, arranger and pianist.

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CALVIN JOHNSON JR., – “NOTES OF A NATIVE SON” –  Independent label

Calvin Johnson jr., tenor & soprano saxophones/vocals/composer; Ryan Hanseler, piano/Fender Rhodes; Trenton O’Neal, Alfred Jordan & Thomas Glass, drums; Evan Washington, elec. bass/piano/arranger; D’wayne Muhammad, percussion; Peter Harris, acoustic bass; Jennie Brent, violin & viola; Gabrielle Fischler, cello; Erica Falls, vocals.

The new Calvin Johnson Jr., album release displays his talents on both tenor and soprano saxophones.  However, one thing annoys me.  Jazz vocalization is as much an art as playing an instrument and serious singers spend years honing their styles and learning how to breathe, how to swing and how to sell a song.  I was not impressed with Mr. Johnson’s vocalization on the Fats Domino hit record, “I’m Walking.”  That being said, the rest of his album is palatable.  I was very pleased with the ensemble’s interpretation of “Summertime” where pianist Ryan Hanseler takes an outstanding solo and the group’s unique arrangement makes the old standard sound brand new!  

As a third-generation musician, who inherits the rich cultural legacy of New Orleans, Johnson Jr. brings a smattering of original compositions to this, his third album release.  I was particularly impressed with Track #5, “Resistance is Noble but Defeat is Imminent.”  He introduces the melody on tenor saxophone and I briefly hear traces of John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” winding through this arrangement.  This song summersaults its way through key changes and Hanseler, on piano, brings a fresh perspective to the tune during his heavily arpeggio solo.  “Treme” settles into a beautiful melody pushed forward by the drummer’s very Ahmad-Jamal-influenced drum beat, reminding me of the Poinciana tune.  It’s a sweet arrangement.  Erica Falls is the featured vocalist on an original song called, “Streetcar Love.”  The melody is catchy, but the lyrics seem a bit outdated. The arrangement on “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is strong and the addition of strings played by Gabrielle Fischer and Jennie Brent definitely elevates the song.

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SEAN NELSON’S NEW LONDON BIG BAND – “SOCIAL HOUR!” – MAMA Records

Sean Nelson, alto trombone/trombone/electric trombone/composer/bandleader/arranger; Doug Maher, guitar; Jen Allen, piano/Hammond B3 organ/Wurlitzer; Lou Bocciarelli, electric & double bass;  Nathan Lassell, drums/percussion; Megan Weikleenget, vocals; Chris Smith, steel pans/percussion; Rob McEwan, tabla; Megan Sesma, harp; WOODWINDS: Erik Elligers, alto saxophone/flute; Tyler Wilkins, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet/ bassoon; Robert Durle, clarinet/contrabass clarinet; Cedric Mayfield, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet/tarogato; Josh Thomas, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Ryan Foley & Laura Pirruccello, flute; Megan Nelson, alto flute; Jeff Emerich, baritone saxophone/contralto clarinet. TRUMPETS: Bryce Call, Seth Bailey, Haneef Nelson & Tom Brown, trumpets/flugelhorns. TROMBONES: Leroy Loomer, trombone; Brian Sturm, bass trombone; TROMBONE ENSEMBLE: Sean Nelson & Karna Millen, alto trombone; Vince Yanovitch, Topher Logan, Colton Kinney & Luke Conklin, trombones; Wes Mayhew, Ted Adams & Zachary Haas, bass trombone.

Trombonist and composer, Sean Nelson, had a dream that manifested with this incredibly entertaining package of big band music.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to have my own big band; an epic jazz orchestra of seventeen plus musicians.  A band that would play music old and new, tunes ranging from the roaring 20s to brand new compositions written by band members.  Most of all, a band made up of the absolute best musicians,” Sean Nelson mused in his liner notes.

The New London Big Band opens with Sean’s original composition, “Social Hour!” and it swings pretty hard.  It’s followed by a low-down, dirty blues called “Brisket and Beans” that features the fluid and blues-drenched guitar of Doug Maher.  Nelson has also composed this song.  I am intrigued by the horn arrangements and the way he has them whine and moan during this blues production.  “El Chupacabra” is another original composition by Sean Nelson and it invites strong percussive accents and smooth horn lines.  “Countin’ Freckles” is a tune that reminds me of the Count Basie days.  It invites the swing dancers to the ballroom floor.  Track #5 was composed by their pianist, Jen Allen.  Called “The Clearing” is sounds like a movie soundtrack with its many moods and tempo changes from smooth 4/4 to double time swing with an under-current of 6/8 sliding in and out of the theme.    

The Sean Nelson New London Big Band was formed in 2016 and is comprised of some of the finest musicians New England has to offer.  The title tune is the band’s theme song and an homage to their regular appearance at a club called, “The Social Bar + Kitchen” in New London, Connecticut.  Sean Nelson pushes musical boundaries when he uses his electric trombone to interpret his composition, “Freaks in Mayberry.”  Arranged with the funk drums of Nathan Lassell pushing the tune forward forcefully, it also features a pensive and soulful solo on tenor sax by Cedric Mayfield.  Their elated and energetic arrangement on “When You Wish Upon a Star” will lighten your mood and is bound to make you smile.  These ‘cats’ are everything you want in a big band and more.  Their carefully constructed repertoire will keep you entertained from beginning to end, along with their tightly packaged arrangements, stellar solos and overall great playing by this seventeen-piece orchestra.  Sit back and enjoy!

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EUBANKS-EVANS-EXPERIENCE – “EEE” – Imani Records

Kevin Eubanks, guitar; Orrin Evans, piano.

This is a duo album, and from the very first moments of listening, the peace and comfort that these two musicians recorded is palatable.  Clearly, both artists are adventurous and super talented. They share Philadelphia roots, but even more than being raised in the city of brotherly love, they each display a grittier side; they each acknowledge deep roots in the community and each strives to touch humanity through the power of sound, music and jazz.  Also, both bring decades of experience in the music business.   

Kevin Tyrone was born to Vera Eubanks on November 15, 1957 into a family rich with music history.  His mother is a gospel organist and pianist with a Master’s Degree in music education. His mom’s brother, Ray Bryant, was a celebrated jazz pianist who has worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan and even John Coltrane.  Ray Bryant also had hit records of his own.  So, young Kevin Eubanks was exposed to world-class music and entertainers throughout his life.  His first instrument was violin at age seven.  His brother, Robin, became a trombonist, arranger and tenured professor of music at Oberlin College.  His other brother, Duane, became a trumpet teacher.  Kevin also studied trumpet before finally finding his deep love for the guitar more satisfying.  While attending Berklee College of Music and moving to New York City, his career took off.  He became a respected sideman with notable jazz icons like Slide Hampton, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Roy Haynes and Ron Carter (among others).  He also formed his own group and established himself as a bandleader.  He was twenty-five when his first album was released on the Elektra label.  Kevin’s cousins, the late bassist David Eubanks and pianist Charles Eubanks appeared on this recording.  Kevin Eubanks became guitarist and Musical Director for the Tonight Show band with Jay Leno for 18-years (1992 – 2010).   Moving to Los Angeles, during that gig with the Tonight Show, he began to score film.  In November, 2010, Kevin released the CD Zen Food (Mack Avenue Records).  It debuted in the Top Five on the Billboard Jazz Chart and was Kevin’s fastest selling record ever.  In February, 2013 his CD The Messenger (Mack Avenue Records) was released, garnering a 2014 NAACP Image Award nomination for “Outstanding Jazz Album.”  That same year, he toured extensively as a member of Dave Holland’s ‘PRISM.’ In March 2015, the acclaimed Duets (Mack Avenue Records) featured Kevin pairing with fellow guitarist Stanley Jordan. That album was released to rave reviews and several concert performances.  Now he is releasing a new duet album that is sure to also receive critical acclaim.

Orrin Evans is a well-respected jazz pianist, composer and bandleader.  He has deep roots in hard bop, post-bop, rhythm and blues and neo-soul music.  Born March 28, 1975 in Trenton, New Jersey, Orrin has led an extraordinary life of musical adventures.  Although born in Trenton, NJ, Orrin was raised in Philadelphia and studied with Kenny Barron while attending Rutgers University.  He worked with the great drummer, Ralph Peterson, with Bobby Watson and Kevin Eubank’s younger brother, trumpeter Duane Eubanks.  So, these two musicians go way back.  As a serious individualist on the music scene, Orrin has released twenty-five albums as a bandleader or co-leader.  As an educator, Orrin is passionate about helping people through the power of music and artistry.  Establishing his own label, “Imani Records,” his release of Captain Black Big Band, was GRAMMY nominated.  The genres and styles Orrin plays stretch from his Philadelphia roots to embrace funk, neo/soul/acid jazz and bebop.  That wide variety has stimulated his recordings with a long list of exceptional musicians including Smoke Sessions Records release of his recent piano trio featuring bassist Christian McBride and drummer, Karriem Riggins titled, “The Evolution of Oneself.”  This duo recording with Kevin Eubanks presents opportunity for a new evolution. 

There is undeniable chemistry between these two master musicians.  Both are fearless in their musical perceptions and abilities.  The repertoire they have chosen reflects their composer abilities and the comfort they exhibit while bouncing ideas and musical interpretations off each other.  It’s a thrilling listening experience.  “I Don’t Know” is buttered down and basted in the blues.  They co-wrote this one and its down-home delicious.  It reaches back to deep roots in the people-of-color community, conjuring up ghosts of John Lee Hooker, Little Milton and Robert Johnson.  Orrin Evans colors the track with his improvised piano parts, as gritty as Gene Harris or Les McCann.  On the Eubanks/Evans composition, “And They Ran Out of Biscuits!” the duo delves into freedom of expression, a little heart and Soul along with a taste of avant-garde.  This duo combination creates both excitement and art right before your ears.  The song “Dawn Marie,” penned by Evans, is a lovely ballad.  But tunes like “Variations on the Battle” stretch my imagination and tease my musical appetite.  I had to play this cut three times, because their musicianship was so inspired and in-depth.  The duo closes with “Variations on Adoration” and I walk away, adoring this experience and appreciating the complexity that just two musicians can bring to a project.

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JOSH NELSON BOB BOWMAN COLLECTIVE – “TOMORROW IS NOT PROMISED” – Steel Bird Records

Josh Nelson, piano/composer; Bob Bowman, bass; Steve Houghton, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Clay Jenkins, trumpet.

Here is a group of musicians and close friends who have come together to create a project of beauty and depth.  Bassist Bob Bowman first met trumpeter, Clay Jenkins in 1972 at North Texas.  Shortly after, he made the acquaintance of drummer Steve Houghton and a little later, woodwind player, Bob Sheppard.  As fate would have it, they all turned up in Southern California at about the same time.  In Los Angeles, Bob would meet guitarist Larry Koonse.  The young musician was still in high school. Eventually Bowman would meet and play with Josh Nelson.  He felt an immediate connection to the pianist and they talked about recording a duo album.  All these years later, this group of seasoned jazz musicians and old acquaintances wound up in Talley Sherwood’s studio to finally make this album.  They open with the title tune, a pensive reflection on the times we live in.  Josh Nelson is the composer and penned this tune during the challenge of COVID infections worldwide.  Today, the beauty and blessing of living life continues to be challenged by war and rumors of war, political disparities and cultural changes.  So, as he reminds us with this music, “Tomorrow is Not Promised.”

Josh said, “The title of the album seems more relevant than ever these days. …I strived to convey a sense of uncertainty and mystery, but also a feeling of determination and resolve.”

Bob Sheppard composed Track #2 titled, “Your Night Your Music.”  It swings hard.  “Sometime Ago” is a beautiful waltz and the tinkling beauty of Nelson’s piano magic leaps into my listening room, with Bob Bowman’s bass setting the pace and establishing the groove.  When Bowman steps into the spotlight, his solo is innovative and imaginative.  Larry Koonse has contributed his composition, “Blues for Albert E” to the project. Bob Sheppard’s saxophone interpretation puts a capital B in Blues and Clay Jenkins displays his bright talent on trumpet   Bowman has written “Yae San” and plays the introduction a’ cappella.  The arrangement on this tune embraces Asian influences, like the title.  Koonse uses his guitar to pluck the recurring melody, before soloing.   The ensemble reinvents popular tunes like “Weaver of Dreams” where drummer Steve Houghton steps into a bright spotlight to display his talents and they arrange the familiar Miles Davis tune, “Blue in Green” in an unforgettable way, featuring Josh Nelson and Bob Bowman.  It’s got to be one of my favorites on this album.  Yes.  Bob and Josh should record a duo project.  All in all, this is music that moves as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. You can tell that these musicians know each other very well and find comfort, inspiration and creativity blending together in this project.

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MATT HALL – “I HOPE TO MY NEVER” – Summit Records

Matt Hall, trombone/composer/arranger/producer; Charlie Arbelaez, alto saxophone/composer; Louis Valenzuela, guitar; Jason Shattil, piano; Mackenzie Leighton, double bass; Kevin Kanner, drums.

Matt Hall and his ensemble swing right out the gate.  “Biscuits & Gravy” is Matt Hall’s original composition and it quickly sets the tone for this album.  The bass of Mackenzie Leighton walks briskly beneath bright, swinging horn solos and Matt Hall’s trombone tells his story with gusto.  Kevin Kanner uses drums to powerfully push the ensemble forward.  When Jason Shattil takes his solo on piano, it leaves no doubt that Hall has assembled a group of connoisseur jazz cats to interpret his arrangements. Hall is a composer of note.  His song, “I Hope to my Never” is the title of this album and a tribute to his Great Aunt Joan.  Years ago, she expressed exasperation over Matt’s constant practicing and used to exclaim, “I hope to my never.”  Now her poetic phrase of frustration has become Track #2 of Matt’s debut album.  It’s a very melodic tune with a slow swing tempo and an opening line that reminds me of the song, I thought About You.  Matt Hall’s trombone skills skip along smoothly as the melody dances. “The Thing About Sloan Hill” is another tune that swings and features the smooth guitar mastery of Louis Valenzuela.  Mackenzie Leighton steps from the background into the forefront to sing his big, bad, bass song.  The tune “Spearhead” is another one of my favorites and also an original composition by Matt Hall.  In fact, he has penned seven out of the nine songs on this album and they are all well-written and beautifully arranged.  “No Going Back” was composed by alto saxophonist, Charlie Arbelaez and it’s another sparkling gem on this production. Played at lightning speed, the track gives a platform for the soloists to shine, starting with Valenzuela on guitar.  When Arbelaez steps into the spotlight, he takes us on a spirited ride, as does Jason Shattil on the 88-keys.  Hall and Arbelaez blend perfectly, promoting melody with horn harmonies at a swift pace.  Suddenly, Kevin Kanner silences the group with his drum solo and impresses me with his dexterity and technical skills.  This group loves to ‘swing’ and so do I.  Consequently, this journalist was perfectly happy with this album from beginning to end.

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TONY MONACO – “FOUR BROTHERS” – Summit Records

Tony Monaco, Hammond B3 organ/composer; Willie B. Barthel III, drums; Kevin Turner, guitar/composer; Edwin Bayard, tenor & soprano saxes.

This is the 12th recording for Tony Monaco as a bandleader and it celebrates his half-century in the music business.  At age eight, Tony played the accordion.  But when he first heard Jimmy Smith on the organ, his fate was sealed.  He began working organ gigs in his native Columbus, Ohio while still a teenager. His early mentors were Hank Marr and Don Patterson.  He listened astutely to all the great organists including, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Charles Earland, Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith.  At age sixteen, the great Jimmy Smith called him with encouraging words.  Jimmy Smith soon became Tony’s friend and teacher.  Four years after that call, the organ master invited Tony Monaco to come play a gig at Smith’s California supper club.  Once Monaco married, to support his wife and three daughters, like many jazz musicians he worked day jobs and played gigs at night.  After years of honing his craft, In 2000, the super talented organist Joey DeFrancesco offered to produce a debut album on Monaco.  This became a catalyst for touring and Tony finally attained international success.  Summit Records released two more records, charting in Jazzweek’s Top Ten list.  This album promises to follow in those self-same footsteps.  Opening with his original composition and the title of this album, “Four Brothers” the tune slams onto the scene with Willie B. Barthel III kicking the song off on his drum set.  Barthel rolls across the drums and settles into a happy shuffle.  Edwin Bayard joins the party on his saxophone until the spotlight turns to Kevin Turner on guitar.  By the time Tony Monaco enters for his organ solo, the band has laid down a smokin’ hot groove and Tony shines like gold!   Track #2, “You Can Always Count on Me” is another Monaco original composition.  It’s melodic and well-written with a wonderful bridge.  You will enjoy the quartet’s take on “Mas Que Nada” played at an up-tempo pace.  Kevin Turner (guitarist in the group) has penned “One for Everyone,” a very catchy tune, pumped up by Willie’s shuffling drums and enhanced with Monaco’s jazzy organ solo. The quartet’s take on Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” slows their groove down to unveil the sexy ballad.  Bayard’s saxophone opens this poignant composition with flair and beauty.  A tune called “Brothers-4” is written by Monaco’s mentor, Don Patterson.  Willie B. Barthel III sets the groove at the top of the tune, playing the drums like a melody and inviting Monaco’s organ onto the scene with power and pulse.  This is an album that uplifts the spirit and entertains in a very soulful way.  It celebrates the Columbus, Ohio jazz scene and Tony Monaco’s fifty years of powerful playing.  When he’s not recording or touring, he acts as Executive Producer of the Summit Records subsidiary, Chicken Coup Records.   He has recorded and released CDs for several undiscovered organists around the globe, passing the torch and using his role as educator and mentor to spread and cultivate many new hopefuls to the art of playing jazz organ.  Perhaps he says it best in his press package.

“After fifty great years, I want to take the opportunity to honor and thank my hometown, (Columbus, Ohio) and to find myself recognized as part of this town’s vibrant musical scene is personally very rewarding,” Tony Monaco proudly shines the spotlight on his hometown.

Additionally, he has surrounded himself with musicians who are the cream of the crop on the Ohio jazz scene.  Together, they guarantee the listener an album of fine music for now and into perpetuity.

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HORNS THAT BLOW ME AWAY

March 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 15, 2022

AZAR LAWRENCE – “NEW SKY” – Trazar Records

Azar Lawrence, tenor/soprano/Alto saxophones/composer; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; John Beasley, keyboards/composer; Sekou Bunch, bass; Tony Austin, drums; James Saez & Gregory Moore, guitar; Greg Poree, acoustic guitar; Destiny Muhammad, harp; Nduduzo Makhathini, piano; Lynne Fiddmont, Calesha “Bre-Z” Murray & Oren Waters, vocals.

I have been a fan of Azar Lawrence’s music since the early seventies.  He has been consistently creative and innovative for half a century.  This production is no exception.

“All of my skills that have been gathered throughout my career has been a journey and all of these energies that have been acquired throughout that journey are coming together in a focused manner.  This new album expresses that,” Azar writes in his liner notes.

Opening with “All in Love” Azar mixes cultural influences, lending his saxophone sound to a minor melody and improvisation that embraces Middle Eastern roots.  Munyungo Jackson lays down his always creative splash of percussive brilliance and a feature solo by guitarist James Saez is both exciting and provocative.  Azar Lawrence has composed or co-written all tracks. Track #2, “Peace and Harmony” becomes a platform to spotlight the exceptional musicians Azar has included on this project.  John Beasley executes a flurry of dancing notes on keyboard and Sekou Bunch is featured on a notable bass solo.  “New Sky” is a more contemporary arrangement featuring vocalist Lynne Fiddmont singing lyrics by Tiffany Austin.  Tony Austin’s drums put the funk in place and Azar Lawrence uses his saxophone talents to put the ‘J’ in jazz.  “Ain’t No Doubt About It” is another contemporary piece that makes me want to dance to Azar Lawrence’s soulful saxophone solo.  I was puzzled by lyrics that didn’t reflect the title at all.  In fact, the instrumental arrangement really didn’t need the vocals.  It’s the saxophone brilliance of Azar Lawrence that carries this arrangement, along with John Beasley’s brief keyboard solo.  Although Azar Lawrence is steeped in bebop and post-bop jazz, most of what you hear on this “New Sky” album is a crossover to smooth jazz.  His mastery of reed instruments is upfront and obvious as he plays alto, soprano and tenor saxophones on this project.  He’s also a competent composer.  Songs like “From the Point of Love” are a beautiful blend of contemporary jazz mixed with Lawrence’s haunting saxophone that sometimes reminds me of something Yusef Lateef would play.  On “Birds are Singing” Azar’s horn mimics the beauty of bird calls, trembling fluidly across space.  Another favorite on this album is the closing tune, “Revelation” that lasts eight minutes and is closer to the bebop, straight-ahead jazz I love to hear Azar Lawrence play.

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ROSWELL RUDD & DUCK BAKER – “LIVE” – Dot Time Records

Roswell Rudd, trombone; Duck Baker, guitar.

Here is an intimate collaboration between the legendary jazz trombonist, Roswell Rudd (Nov 17, 1835 – Dec 21, 2017) and gifted guitarist, Duck Baker.  This project was recorded in 2002 and 2004.  Recently pulled from a dusty shelf, it was rejuvenated by Dot Time Records.  This duo recording reflects ties that both Baker and Rudd had to traditional music, Americana and jazz.  The trombonist and composer, Roswell Rudd, was a lover of Dixieland, but was more appropriately acknowledged for his work in free and Avant-Garde jazz.  Roswell Rudd worked for many years with Archie Shepp, starting in 1962.  He also collaborated with a number of icons including Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Larry Coryell, Gato Barbieri and Pharoah Sanders.  Rudd loved the music of Thelonious Monk and this duo explores Monk’s composition, “Well, You needn’t” with much pizazz and excitement.  As a bandleader, Rudd has recorded twenty-four albums. 

Duck Baker has twenty-one albums released as a bandleader and is acclaimed for his fast finger-work on guitar.  Like Rudd, Duck is steeped in traditional jazz, but also was an admirer of Bluegrass music, played around with Rock music as a youngster and dabbled in American folk music, blues, ragtime and gospel. He was also a lover of Irish and Scottish music and recorded an album of same.  Once he discovered The Jazz Crusaders, Jimmy Smith and Miles Davis, Baker was hooked on jazz.  Born in Washington, D.C., (July 30, 1949) Duck Baker grew up in Virginia and followed his career path of music, eventually moving to Europe.  He spent years touring the world with various bands and finally, Duck Baker settled down in San Francisco, California in the early 1970s.  That’s when he began recording albums as a bandleader. 

They play an arrangement of “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” at a slow swing pace and tribute trombone master JJ Johnson (who was often referred to as the Charlie Parker of trombone) with the tune “A Bouquet for JJ.”  Roswell Rudd plays this one a’ Capella.  “Melancholy People” becomes a track to showcase Baker’s expertise on guitar, with his fingers racing around the strings beneath the trombone’s exploration of the melody.  Roswell improvises, adding many familiar standard tunes within the framework of the chords, while Baker is given time to show off his guitar skills.  Somehow, Rudd manages to insert pieces of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Melancholy Baby” and more into this arrangement.  Listen closely to hear the way he wiggles them into the mix.

I have never heard a recording of just trombone and guitar before this one.  I marvel at Baker and the way he taps on the wooden guitar frame for rhythm.  He strums and hums and tickles the strings.  At times, his fingers pluck at a rapid speed and he improvises freely. Roswell Rudd is also incredibly creative, often incorporating five, six or seven different songs into the mix of the one they started off playing.  I witnessed chuckles from their ‘live’ audience, acknowledging that they too heard the unexpected tunes he plugs into each arrangement.   The unbridled freedom, creativity and spontaneity of these two musicians is quite entertaining.  This unusual and uncluttered recording spotlights each man’s talent in a bright, brilliant and intimate way. 

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TRITONE ASYLUM – “THE HIDE AWAY SESSIONS” – Blue Canoe Records

Philip Topping, electronic valve instrument/composer/trumpet/flugelhorn/co-producer; Ian Vo, tenor saxophone/flute; Allen Mascari, tenor saxophone; Gary Herbig, flute/soprano saxophone; Andy Waddell, guitar; Mitch Forman, piano/keyboards; Peter Sepsis, bass/composer/co-producer; Dave Johnstone, drums; Baba Sissoko, percussion/vocals; Billy Hulting, percussion.

This collective of Los Angeles based jazz musicians call themselves, “Tritone Asylum” and offer a diversified album of funk, smooth jazz and easy listening that spotlights their great musicianship.  Trumpeter Philip Topping and guitarist Andy Waddell began jamming together in the late 2000s.  They soon ‘hooked-up’ with the super talented bassist and composer, Peter Sepsis and a keyboard player named Aubrey Scarbrough. The four men had common musical heroes including Charlie Parker, Weather Report, Pat Metheny, the Brecker Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Eddie Harris.  The early influence of these music idols helped develop the composer skills in both Topping and Sepsis.  Philip Topping’s tune, “Schizophrenic” snatches my attention with the funk drums of Dave Johnstone and the bass work of Sepsis.  It reminds me of the “Headhunter” album days.   The melody is catchy and dances between the keyboard and the horn lines. 

“Having the same bass player and drummer has allowed us to have a consistent groove despite other changes to the band’s personnel,” Sepsis explained the magic behind the tight, funky groove on this tune and others on this album.  He compliments his and Johnstone’s bass and drum talents.

After their original sax player, Allen Mascari, moved away from the group, they added saxophonist Ian Vo, who Topping met when they were both studying music at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

The band calls its music “electro-acoustic.”  They blend the sound of the EVI and electric bass, like cream and coffee.  The acoustic piano (Henri Wilkinson) and Gary Herbig’s soprano saxophone shine on track #4, a ballad called, “The Road to Hue.”   They creatively pull-off mixing electronic music with acoustic instrumentation.  Philip Topping’s EVI blows me away! 

“This music is the opposite of bedlam.  Sure, you’ll hear many voices in each piece, but they’re singing in the same resonant key … with care and exquisite balance between old and new,” Neil Tesser writes in their liner notes.

Their name, (“TriTone”) was adopted from music language.  A tritone is the note that precisely bisects the twelve-tone scale and it caused some hullabaloo when it first started being used. Some referred to it as ‘the devil’s interval.’   In this case, it opens a gateway into music that influenced these musicians and inspired new explorations to combine electric and acoustic in the same beautiful breath.  On the pretty ballad, “Malawi” they add chants that transport us to foreign shores and add an unexpected world music component to their arrangement.

“I like music that tells a story.  We don’t want to write music that’s so complicated you need to study harmony to understand it,” bass player and composer, Sepsis shares.  “We try to make music that reflects the sounds of the street.” 

Their opening, easy-listening/Latin composition by Sepsis called “Grasshopper” employs the percussion of Billy Hulting that adds a Calypso-feel.  “The 54 Blues” is not a typical 4/4 blues tune.  Instead, it employs a 5/4 rhythm and features pianist, Mitch Foreman, playing an organ-sounding keyboard.  It grooves and spotlights Toppin’s electronic valve instrument (EVI).  Ian Vo’s tenor saxophone and Andy Waddell’s inventive guitar are also featured.  On Topping’s tune, “Simple” it is anything but!  This arrangement is exciting and fat with energy!  Ian Vo is tenacious on tenor sax.

“… we move between an Afro groove, then funk, then Latin.  The sounds of the street are made by people in the diverse community that is Los Angeles.  If I’m not moving people, I’m not doing my job,” Sepsis assures us.  

I’d say the TriTone Asylum collective is definitely doing their job.

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NATSUKI TAMURA – “SUMMER TREE” – Libra Records

Natsuki Tamura, Trumpet/piano/wok; Satoko Fujii, voice.

On this exploratory music by trumpeter and composer, Natsuki Tamura, you will experience layers of sounds, notes and creativity that are connected to Mother Nature in a very spiritual way. Expressed musically, not only by the trumpet, but by electronics and studio assistance, Tamura first laid down a foundation track for his four, lengthy pieces.  They sound more like suites than singular compositions.  In a spontaneous, but time-consuming process, two of the tracks, the title, “Summer Tree” and another track called “Summer Dream” have composed themes. Tamura’s lovely muted trumpet floats on top of several ethereal sounds of percussion, bells, low drones, hisses, bells, piano and electronic improvisation.  The other two tracks, “Summer Color” and “Summer Wind” are totally improvised.  Although he layered the production, Tamura used no post-production mixing, editing or other manipulations to create the album’s unearthly sounds.  He reached into his huge bag of techniques, using the instruments on-hand.   They create the sounds and textures on this album.  The title of his project, “Summer Tree” is spelled by two Chinese letter.  The “Natsu” in his name translates to ‘summer’ and “ki” means tree.  He was born in the summer and his parents gave him that name.  Natsuki Tamura has been recording for more than three decades.  Here is his fifth, mostly solo trumpet recording.  His wife, Satoko Fujii, adds her voice on one track only.  The rest is all Tamura.   He plays piano in a somewhat menacing rumble that sets the mood and builds the crescendo of sounds and music.  This is another of his always eclectic, thought provoking and excellent Avant-Garde musical interpretations.  We not only experience his trumpet mastery, but his lyricism on various pieces of metal that he taps upon; whispery techniques that moan and howl as he incorporates them to reflect his artistry and to entertain our imaginations.  

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CORY WEEDS WITH STRINGS – “WHAT IS THERE TO SAY?” – Cellar Records

Cory Weeds, tenor saxophone/composer; Phil Dwyer, piano/producer/arranger; John Lee & Maggie Hasspacher, bass; Jesse Cahill, drums; STRING SECTION: Cam Wilson, lead violin: Llowyn Ball, Elyse Jacobson, Molly MacKinnon, Jiten Beairsto, Madeline Hocking, Meredith Bates & Andrea Siradze, violin; John Kastelic & Genevieve MacKay, viola; Finn Manniche & Doug Gorkoff, cello.

I’m blown away by the sweetness of Cory Weeds latest project and the lush string arrangements that cushion his tenor saxophone tenacity.  This album reminds me of Harold Lands remarkable album recorded with the Ray Ellis string arrangements; arrangements that Ray originally wrote for Billie Holiday.  The Land project is called “A Lazy Afternoon.”  Weeds’ album also reminds me of Charlie Parker’s earth-shattering recording with strings.  Canadian-based Cory Weeds is just that good!  I didn’t think anyone could move me the way those two albums moved me, but Mr. Weeds is up to the task.  This is his 18th album as a bandleader and could be one of his most ambitious projects to date.  He interprets a number of standard tunes that we are quite familiar with like “I Wish You Love” and the title tune, “What is There to Say?”  But he also shines as a composer.  The sign of a well-written composition is that the listener feels comfortable with the song, as though it’s familiar and he’s heard it before.  Cory’s lovely “Waltz for Someone Special” is just such a tune.  Phil Dwyer’s lush string arrangements are inspirational and bring the best out of this sensuous tenor saxophone player and the string ensemble.  Cory’s original song titled; “Alana Marie” is quite beautiful.  He seems emotionally connected, blowing love notes from the bell of his tenor saxophone.  Track #5, is a medley that combines “The Phantom” with the hit song, “The in Crowd” and pulls the funk out of Jesse Cahill’s drums.  Phil Dwyer adds a blues drenched piano to the mix and the strings smoothly enhance the production.   Recorded at Armoury Studios in Vancouver, BC a year ago, this is a romantic, relaxing and emotional album of fine jazz.  Cory Weeds is a gifted and stellar saxophonist. The music’s perfectly mixed and beautifully produced.  I enjoyed the performance so much that I played it three times in a row.

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ANDREW CYRILLE, WILLIAM PARKER & ENRICO RAVA – “2 BLUES FOR CECIL” – Tum Records

Enrico Rava, flugelhorn/composer; William Parker, double bass; Andrew Cyrille, drums.

Enrico Rava, William Parker and Andrew Cyrille are among the masters of improvised, modern jazz and considered elders in that realm.  With this album, featuring Rava’s flugelhorn, Parker’s double bass and Cyrille’s deft drumming, they have come together to celebrate the life of pianist and bandleader, Cecil Taylor (1929 – 2018).   They recorded at Studio Ferber in Paris a year ago on February 1 and 2 of 2021.  The songs are all original composition by the trio members and one standard, “My Funny Valentine.”  The simplicity of a production just featuring drums, acoustic bass and flugelhorn does not mean the music is simple.  The situation allows the listener to clearly hear each component of the musical trio and appreciate the creativity and mastery of each instrumentalist.  Enrico Rava’s flugelhorn presentation is both inspired and beautiful.  They open with “Improvisation No. 1” written by all three musicians and it sets the tone for the other nine tunes that follow.  William Parker steps stage front to solo his acoustic bass over a rich tapestry of trap drum improvisation.  It becomes an instrumental conversation until Enrico suddenly flies skyward, like a determined hawk above the fray, searching for a nesting spot.  Andrew Cyrille not only secures the time, he is quite creative, letting his drums sing along with the modern sound.  This is nearly eleven minutes of musical intrigue.  “Ballerina” was penned by Enrico Rava.  It twists and turns like the body of a ballerina, with crisp, starched notes spinning her skirt.  The rhythm is fast and locked down by Cyrille’s busy drum sticks.  He takes a solo that explores his cymbals.  I can almost visualize the “Ballerina” pirouetting across the stage on the tip of sparkling, pink, ballet slippers. 

On the “Blues for Cecil No. 1” the trio settles into a slow tempo that wraps arms around me like a lover.  Andrew Cyrille shuffles and swings.  William Parker casually walks his bass across my listening space, building a basement, ballroom floor for the fluegelhorn to dance upon.   Rava blows, screams and shudders in this perfect space.  “Improvisation No.2” is mournful, perhaps grieving the loss of Cecil Taylor and his incredible contribution to music.

“Cecil was a spokesman for individuality; a musical warrior always operating on a high level,” said Parker. “He was not Avant-Garde.  He was a human being who loved life as music.  He would not be boxed in…”

On Track #6, the trio seems to be slow-baking a musical cake. Their composition is bluesy and sweet.  Rava spreads flugelhorn excitement on it, like caramel-cake icing.  William Parker’s bass and Andrew Cyrille have whipped the batter up and now we taste it.  The listener can enjoy this “Blues for Cecil No. 2” as a dessert for all our senses.  It richly features William Parker on bass, burning bright as birthday candles.  Parker performed with the Cecil Taylor Unit from 1980 to 1991 and recorded with Taylor more than a dozen times.  Enrico Rava began his career in his native Italy in the mid-1960s and worked with Gato Barbieri and Steve Lacy.  With more than fifty recordings as both a leader or co-leader, he is one of the most internationally respected Italian jazz cats worldwide.  He met Cecil Taylor in the late 1960s and performed in Taylor’s Orchestra of Two Continents in 1984.  Later, in 1988 they reunited when he became a part of Cecil Taylor’s European Orchestra.  Cyrille was born in Brooklyn and felt he made his musical mark when he joined the Cecil Taylor Unit in 1964 and it lasted until 1975.  He emerged as one of the leading drummers in free, uninhibited, improvised music.  So, all three of these master musicians had a personal connection to the late, great Cecil Taylor.   They offer us a fascinating and improvised musical experience of modern jazz that properly tributes one of their great mentors.

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ELI DEGIBRI – “HENRI AND RACHEL” – Degibri Records

Eli Degibri, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Tom Oren, piano; Alon Near, bass; Eviatar Slivnik, drums.

Opening with the title tune, dedicated and memorializing Eli Degibri’s mother and father (“Henri and Rachel”) the group voices sing the melody in unison.  Eli’s horn floats over the vocals, like a delicate paint brush, adding color to the piece.  You may soon find yourself happily humming along.  It’s a very memorable melody.  On Track #2, Eli Degibri picks up his tenor saxophone and wows me with his interpretation of his original composition “Gargamel.”  Tom Oren takes a blues-fused solo, at times delicately tinkling the upper register of the piano.  Eli has composed all the songs but one for this album.

“When I write songs, I don’t usually know what the reason is. Only after it’s done, I think about the melody and ask myself what it means to me or who I see and feel when I hear it,” Degibri says.

Track #3 is the familiar jazz standard, “Like Someone in Love.”  The pianist starts off playing what sounds like a classical etude.  When Eli Degibri enters on saxophone, we immediately recognize the standard jazz composition.  It’s a unique arrangement that shows how closely America’s only original music of jazz is related to European classical music.  Tel Aviv-based Israeli saxophonist-composer, Eli Degibri, again reveals his ability to convey profound emotions in the language of notes and tones.

“I was thinking … of how Johann Sebastian Bach would play this song in 5/4,” says Degibri. 

This arrangement clearly shows how that would sound, followed by “Longing” which is more straight-ahead, leaning towards bebop and challenging the bass to walk with speed and purpose as the soprano saxophone flies ahead.  There is a Middle Eastern ‘swag’ to the melody and Oren’s piano solo is brief, but outstanding. The “Noa” composition is a sweet, sexy ballad that oozes emotion.  Eli Degibri pushes the ballad into improvised, straight-ahead territory with his tenor saxophone.  Somehow, I am reminded of the legacy of John Coltrane.  On a tune called “Ziv” his arrangement moves into more contemporary grounds; shades of Kenny G. The composition, “Preaching to the Choir” dabbles in African-American gospel music and blues. This quartet brings us a variety of original music that is innovative, personal and pleasing.  Eli Degibri is masterful on his horns and is also a stunningly talented composer and arranger. 

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THE ADAM LARSON TRIO – “WITH LOVE FROM CHICAGO”- Outside In Music

Adam Larson, saxophone/composer; Clark Sommers, bass/composer; Dana Hall, drums.

“When I began to map out the idea of creating a trilogy of trio recordings, I looked to capture different musicians in cities that have played historical significance in my development and success as a musician,” explains Adam Larson in his press package.

Although Adam Larson is a Kansas City based saxophone player, his roots in Chicago, Illinois played a big part in Larson’s artistic growth.  It is where he explored his instrument and gained the confidence to develop into the artist he has become today.  Contracting his longtime collaborators, Clark Sommers on bass and Dana Hall on drums, he began his chord-less trio excursion into a production without guitar or piano.  Larson and Sommers have composed all the music and the trio opens with Adam’s tune, “Angolan Babysitter.” It’s spirited and leaves a lot of room for Dana Hall to display his drum power during a tenacious solo. 

Adam Larson’s music is cemented in the bebop and post bebop styles.  Songs like “The Time You Forgot You Knew,” composed by Clark Sommers, has an arrangement embracing the blues.  Certainly, Chicago is known for its strong blues community, so this song resonates that aspect of Adam Larson growing-up on his instrument, playing in and around the Windy City.  However, it soon transforms into a straight-ahead mode, with Larson’s saxophone creatively improvising.  The tune “Kansas to Chicago” incorporates a couple of genres with the Hall drums laying down a funky groove and Sommers walking the bass briskly.  Clark Sommers penned this song and he’s given an opportunity to solo.  When he steps aside, the drums showcase their brilliance. All the while, Larson is king on saxophone.  “In Waiting” is a beautiful ballad followed by the Thelonious Monk tune, “We See.”  I never even missed the piano or guitar that usually is a mainstay in many trio performances.  The creativity and clarity of Adam Larson’s trio is both entertaining and (as the Chicago Tribune put it) prodigious. * * * * * * * *

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHTS JAZZY WOMEN MAKING HISTORY

March 9, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 9, 2022

Women’s History Month is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture and society.   I thought I would introduce you to some women in jazz who are currently making history in our music world.  Awesome African vocalist, SOMI, brings a royal legacy with a tribute to the amazing South African Activist and vocalist, Mariam Makeba. Trumpeter, GRACE FOX, has taken on a monumental project.  She has created a big band that features some of the most formidable and talented female artists in jazz.  HINDA HOFFMAN joins some of Chicago’s hard hitters by fronting the SOUL MESSAGE GROUPKIM NALLEY has a voice and repertoire that brings back memories of Ruth Brown and Dinah Washington. There is a fireside warmth to ALEX HAMBURGER’s voice and she plays a mean flute.  British jazz vocalist and songwriter, JO HARROP, has released her sophomore album on vinyl and CD for an American audience.  CATHERINE RUSSELL makes me turn the clock back to the 1940s and 50s, reawakening what was happening on that jazz scene with soulful resolve.  LAURA STILWELL has spent much of her creative life as a jazz choreographer and a producer of jazz vocal workshops. She offers us her debut album.

SOMI – “ZENZILE: THE REIMAGINATION OF MIRIAM MAKEBA” – Salon Africana

Somi, vocals; Herve Samb, guitars; Nate Smith, drums; Michael Olatuja, bass; Keith Witty, bass/percussion; Toru Dodo, piano; Mino Cinelu, percussion; Cobhams Asuquo, organ/piano/percussion; Phindi Wilson, Bongi Duma, Nhalanhla Ngobeni & Vuyo Sotashe, vocal chorus. Lakecia Benjamin, alto saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Myron Walden, soprano & tenor saxophone; Mazz Swift & Juliette Jones, violin; Jessica Troy, viola; Marika Hughes, cello.

GRAMMY-nominated vocalist, Somi, has released a new single “Khuluma” from her upcoming album titled: Zenzile: The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba.  Somi is the first African woman nominated in any GRAMMY Jazz category and the first African artist nominated in the jazz vocal category.  That was in 2020, for her album “SOMI with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band” recorded Live at Alte Opera; arranged & conducted by John Beasley.  This album won the 2021 NAACP Image Award in the ‘Outstanding Jazz Vocal Album’ category. One of my favorite songs on this album is titled, “Holy Room.”

Somi’s latest album, celebrates the valuable musical contributions made by Miriam Makeba, (nick-named Mama Africa) who was a social activist at a time when there was great unrest and division in her South African native land.  This recording by Somi is being released during a time when Makeba would have been celebrating her 90th birthday on March 4th and during a month when we celebrate historic women.  How appropriate!  Makeba was born in Prospect Township, Near Johannesburg.  She died November of 2008.

I was totally engrossed by the opening song on Somi’s upcoming album. The song is titled, “Unhome,” where her vocals shine brilliant and powerful.  The arrangements represent African culture and exhibit excellent musicianship.    As her ensemble interprets “House of the Rising Sun” you will enjoy an outstanding trumpet solo by Jeremy Pelt and rich percussion work.   

On this project, Somi is joined by an impressive company of musical celebrities including Ladysmith Black Mambazo, singer-songwriter Msaki, vocalist and activist Thandiswa Mazwai, jazz pianist-composer Nduduzo Makhathini, vocalist Angelique Kidjo and vocal star Gregory Porter.  Track #3, Milele, features Seun Kuti and Thandiswa Mazwai.  In male-spoken word, they salute “Mama Africa,” which was a nickname given lovingly to Miriam Makeba.  It’s a tune that dances happily across my listening room.  The next song, “Hapo Zamani” is a shuffle arrangement, with Nate Smith slapping the rhythm in place on his trap drums, while the bass lays down a rich groove.  There is a chant inserted that reminds me of Lady Smith Black Mambazo as soon as I hear it.  The tight horn unit adds spice and spunk to the production.  On “Love Tastes Like Strawberries” Grammy Winning artist, Gregory Porter makes a guest appearance.  Somi and Gregory’s voice blend warmly, like sunshine and summer.  Somi begins the song with Michael Olatuja playing his bass melodically beneath her vocals, laying down the root of the chords, with the drummer joining them like the pendulum of a clock.  One of Miriam Makeba’s most popular songs was “Pata Pata.”  Somi reinvents it with a fresh arrangement.  Miriam Makeba was one of my favorite artists in the 1960s and I remember her rendition of “Pata Pata” very well.

Somi performs “Pata Pata” uniquely, accompanied by violins and a ‘cappella voices singing sweet harmonies.  At the introduction, you hear Miriam Makeba’s voice talking about racism and life in South Africa.  Somi’s musical arrangements are absolutely inspired.  They tattoo my senses with their beauty.  They crawl underneath my skin and entice my responses.  There are seventeen songs on this project and each one is like a star twinkling in the Big Dipper.  This album sparkles with joy, beauty, culture and history.  The message of love, life and strength of purpose is predominant.  Somi delivers every tune with vocal precision and power.  I’m certain this anti-apartheid activist and exquisite singer, Miriam Makeba, would be very pleased by this Somi musical tribute. On March 19th, Somi will perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York as part of the theater’s Africa Now! Festival.

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GRACE FOX – “ELEVEN O’ SEVEN” – Next Level/Blue Collar Records

Grace Fox, composer/arranger/bandleader/trumpet; Naomi Nakanishi, piano; Bryana Crockett, drums; Zoe Harrison, bass; Alexis Fox, vocals. TRUMPETS: Summer Camargo, Kellin Hanas, Kai Ferretti & Janelle Finton. SAXOPHONES: Veronica Leahy, Sarah Hanahan, Jade Elliott, Olivia Hughart & Noa Zebley. TROMBONES: Hailey Brinnel, Laura Orzehoski, Zhane Brown & Gina Benalcazar Lopez.

Grace Fox has taken on a monumental project.  She has created a big band that features some of the most formidable and talented female artists in jazz.  Inspired by The International Sweethearts of Rhythm and The Diva Jazz Orchestra, she decided to create a similar ensemble under her own name. She has arranged every song on this debut album and composed three out of seven tunes. The arrangements are quite impressive! 

“Growing up studying Black American Music, it was very clear that jazz is a heavily male-dominated industry.  Often times I would be the only woman in an ensemble, which would make me feel disconnected,” Grace Fox explained her inspiration for her female big band. 

They open with “Right on Red” that features trumpeter Kellin Hanas on trumpet, Zhane Brown on trombone and Jade Elliott on a very smooth and cool saxophone solo.  They are off and running at the very first strain of horn harmonies.  Bryana Crocket sets the tempo with bright, assertive drums.  The tune is moderately paced, but the arrangement is powerful and assertive.  There is a funk undertone that drives it, but Kellin Hanas is all jazz on her horn when she takes stage center.  Jade Elliott’s trombone is warm and wonderful.  I am immediately excited about this all-female big band.  “The Gospel” is a Roy Hargrove medley that Grace Fox has re-arranged with her own, fresh, big band arrangements.  There is a moaning of horns that set the mood.  Then Veronica Leahy splashes into the spotlight with her saxophone, dripping sensuous liquid notes all over the stage.  Ms. Hanas reappears on trumpet and she and Ms. Leahy trade fours in a creative conversation.  I love the close horn harmonies of this ensemble.  The familiar “I Just Found Out About Love” features lead vocalist, Alexis Fox.  Adding a vocalist to the mix changes the complexion of the production at just the right spot, as if their stage is bathed in soft purple and bright pink spotlights.  Her soprano power and unique adlibs add a fresh twist to the album repertoire.  The Grace Fox Big Band is a commanding, cohesive unit with awesome arrangements and the sensuality that women always bring to enhance life and music.

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HINDA HOFFMAN MEETS SOUL MESSAGE – “PEOPLE” – Know You Know label

Chris Foreman, Hammond organ; Greg Rockingham, drums; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Lee Rothenberg, guitar. SPECIAL GUEST: Hinda Hoffman, vocals.

If it’s jazz/soul music that you’ve been searching for, your search is over.  This album brings two of the Chicago scene’s heavy-hitters together; the Soul Message Band and vocalist Hinda Hoffman.  This is new territory for the Soul Message instrumental group.  They have never included a vocalist in their performance package.  And this album, “People,” marks Hinda Hoffman’s first appearance with an organ group.   The Soul Message Band’s story started when Chris Foreman (organist) and drummer, Greg Rockingham got together thirty-seven years ago at a club on Chicago’s South side.  Both musicians admired Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff so, they formed an organ trio called “Deep Blue Organ Trio.” Thus began an organ and rhythm-powered group that’s been entertaining audiences for two decades.  The two group founders soon welcomed Philadelphia-born guitar master, Lee Rothenberg into their group in 2014. Continuing to expand their musical ideas, they also invited Greg Ward on saxophone.  The trio blossomed to a quintet.  At one of the Soul Message Band’s popular gigs, Hinda Hoffman heard them and fell in love with their energy and style.  She felt so comfortable with the soulful musicians that she ‘sat-in’ with them that night.  The rest is history.

“I just felt so at home with them. They decided to put together a recording almost immediately after our first encounter in 2018,” Hinda Hoffman recalled.

Together, they have a 1960s kind of sound, combining the sexy organ energy and the powerful drums of Rockingham with a vocalist, a sax and a guitar brings back echoes of another era.  Hinda Hoffman has a powerhouse voice that blends nicely into the soulfulness of these musicians and they choose a repertoire that wraps that soulfulness around the Chicago blues and traditional jazz.  Hoffman is seasoned.  You hear it in her sound and you can feel her confidence.  I can tell this vocalist has been around a few blocks honing her craft and paying her dues.

They open with Cole Porter’s “All of You.”  They include an up-tempo, Latin-fused version of “How Insensitive” and then they tackle Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love.”  At times, the clout of the band almost threatens to over-power the vocalist, but Hinda Hoffman holds her own.  She’s able to interpret and sell the songs, despite loud, exciting drums, a saxophone that solos throughout and a wild, soulful guitar played fluently by Lee Rothenberg.  You hear Rothenberg’s talent clearly on the title tune, “People.”  He slow-shuffles right along with Greg Rockingham’s drums and Chris Foreman’s Hammond B3 organ.  The Soul Message Band accompanies Hinda Hoffman in a deep, soulful way.  They incorporate some interesting key changes during this arrangement.  Their performance on “Old Devil Moon” is surprising and challenges the vocalist to hold the melody tightly in place against counter melodic chording.  This is good old mid-western soul/jazz and the Soul Message Band knows just how to lay down a groove and they improvise comfortably.  You can tell these musicians are quite familiar with each other and their band runs like a well-oiled machine.  Hinda Hoffman is the new kid on their block, but she’s an exciting, prepared and lyrical addition.

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KIM NALLEY BAND – “I WANT A LITTLE BOY” – KNB Records

Kim Nalley, vocals; Houston Person, saxophone; Tammy Hall, piano; Michael Zisman, bass; Kent Bryson, drums; Barry Finnerty, guitar; Maria Muldaur, guest vocals.

Kim Nalley has a voice that brings back memories of Dinah Washington and Ruth Brown; rejuvenating the 1950s by opening with the famous hit song by Ruth Brown from half a century ago, “Teardrops From My Eyes.”  Houston Person brings his bright and soulful horn to the party as the band shuffles along.  Nalley slows it down to sing us the familiar “Try A Little Tenderness” from a personal perspective singing I may get weary; women do get weary.”  Certainly, in the midst of a pandemic, uncertainty, war and political crisis, Kim Nalley, like much of the world, admits she is weary.  She chooses songs for this album that she hopes will uplift her listeners and bring joy to “an American society that seems determined to unravel,” she wrote in her liner notes.  She dived into the American songbook to choose nine songs that reflect a hopeful and loving attitude.  Most songs are familiar, with a few that may be new to your ears like, “I Hadn’t Anyone ‘til I Met You” by Ray Noble.  Nalley has a clear, rich voice with a quick tremolo coloring those long tones she holds with power and precision.   On the blues tune, “I Want a Little Boy” she performs a duet with pop star, Maria Muldaur, who had the hit record “Midnight on the Oasis.”  Kim Nalley has included the original song by Fred Rogers, “Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood” stylized in her own sweet way.  Tammy Hall places joy into her piano solo.  Kim rejuvenates the old standard, “It’s All in the Game” reminding us, with the poignant lyrics, “Many a tear has to fall, but it’s all in the game” and encouraging us to be hopeful.  The great Houston Person opens the tune, playing it down a couple of times before Kim re-enters.  It’s always pure pleasure to hear Houston play his amazing tenor saxophone. 

Kim Nalley was born November 14, 1969 and raised in New Haven, Connecticut.  She comes from a musical family and relocated to the San Francisco, California area in the late 1980s.   Nalley studied classical music and theater while attending the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) where she received a degree in History.  She has performed worldwide and lived a few years in Switzerland. When she returned to Northern California, she owned and managed the Jazz at Pearl’s North Beach Nightclub from 2003 – 2008.  Kim Nalley has recorded a half dozen albums as a bandleader.

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ALEX HAMBURGER – “AND SHE SPOKE” – Independent label

Alex Hamburger, flute/vocals/composer; Jose Luiz Martins, piano/ Fender Rhodes/arrangements; Doug Weiss, bass; Chase Kuesel, drums.

There is a fireside warmth to Alex Hamburger’s voice.  On her opening composition, “Walking in the City,” her alto tones sing the lyrics of poet, United States Medal of Honor awardee, Maya Angelou.  Her voice rises above a lush, musical track that Hamburger has created. The flautist’s concept for this debut album is to celebrate various female artists, from poets and activists to composers and songwriters.  She explores the work of pianists and composers like Geri Allen and Mary Lou Williams.  She tributes Grammy winning artists like Joni Mitchell and even her own grandmother, a poet and activist in her own right; Ana Maria R. Codas.  Alex Hamburger describes the conception of her recording as “standing on the shoulders of giants.”  Ms. Hamburger is not merely a vocalist, but she is also a proficient and sensitive flautist.  After singing several bars of prose, her flute takes stage center, along with bassist Doug Weiss.  An interesting and creative melody unfolds like a blanket.  It covers my listening room with comfortable possibilities, spreading musical phrases that allow her quartet to improvise and explore the chord changes.  I am enthralled with Alex Hamburger’s composition and her talents on the flute.  On these highly orchestrated, textural and creative arrangements, Alex presents a series of stories that share arcs of resistance, grace and grit.

“These women made it so women like me could have a voice,” Hamburger explains.  “Women like Terri Lynne Carrington, Toni Morrison, Sylvia Plath and Mary Lou Williams paved the way.”

The ensemble interprets Geri Allen’s composition, “Unconditional Love” featuring Doug Weiss soloing on bass at the introduction and José Luiz Martins’ Fender Rhodes electric piano tinkling beneath his solo.  After José steps forward to play the piano, Alex dances across the track on her flute, expressive, light and airy.  On her composition, “It Comes Unadorned” Alex sings the prose of Toni Morrison.  The Mary Lou Williams tune, “What’s Your Story Morning Glory” begins with just Hamburger’s flute telling its own fluid story.  After several bars, Chase Kuesel brings in the ensemble with a drum roll and they play a 6/8 rhythm to the melodic jazz waltz arrangement.  Hamburger and Doug Weiss duet on the opening of Joni Mitchell’s tune “Last Chance Lost.” Then, Kuesel and Martins join them to fatten the production. This tune floats into Lennon and McCartney’s “Across the Universe” song, with the hook repeated over and over.  Hamburger’s voice sings “nothing’s gonna change my world” with such sincerity that I believe her.  Alex Hamburger has created not only a tribute to great women of art, activism and music, but also has begun to build her own legacy with this lovely debut recording.

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JO HARROP – “THE HEART WANTS” – Lateralize Records

Jo Harrop, vocals/composer; Jamie McCredie, guitar/composer/arranger; Paul Edis, piano/arranger; Hannah  Vasanth, piano/Fender Rhodes/composer; Sam Watts & Jason Rebello, piano; Christian McBride, Jihad Darwish & Dishan Abraham, bass; Troy Miller & Pete Adam Hill, drums; Nicky Brown, Hammond organ; Joe Rodwell & Andy Davies, trumpet; John Spanyal, trumpet/euphonium; Toni Kofi, saxophone; Tommy Andrews, woodwind;  Sarah Bowler & Julia Graham, cello; Debs White & Dave Larkin, violin; Will Hillman, viola. CHOIR on Weather the Storm: Louise Golbey, Simone Kaye, Lisa Lewin, Fil Straughan, Kelly Dickson, Gillian Kohn, Natasha Hendry, Vimala Rowe, Robin Philips, Andrea Loizou, Fiona Ross, Damien Flood, Eileen Hunter, Rachel Sutton, Georgia Cecile, Natalie Williams, Esther Bennett, China Moses, Emrys Baird, Glenn MacNamara & Simone Craddock.

British jazz vocalist and songwriter, Jo Harrop, has released her sophomore album on vinyl and CD for U.S. audiences.  A bluesy piano, played by Hannah Vasanth, opens the first cut on this album and the title tune, “The Heart Wants” rolls out.  Jo and Hannah penned this tune.  Harrop’s voice is sultry and husky.  She puts me in mind of singers like the late Peggy Lee or the incredible Cleo Laine.  Andie Davies shines on trumpet and Jo Harrop’s voice emotionally sells the song.  The album, “The Heart Wants” is about love, life and finding oneself in the silence of a pandemic and once the applause fades away.  Harrop was born in a small Northeast England town.  Her parents were not amused when she chose music for a career; but sometimes a career chooses you.  In her early years she listened to Nina Simone, Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin.  That’s a pretty wide range of vocal styles.  But it was when her father took her to a Tony Bennett concert that she knew, not only did she love singing, but she wanted to be an entertainer.

“I was so moved and inspired, I realized that I needed to sing.  I wanted to be able to touch people with my music in the same way as Tony Bennett,” she expressed herself in her press package.

Her desire to perform led her to jam sessions and she started meeting musicians.  An agent heard her and hired her to work as a session singer for a variety of artists, including Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart and even Gloria Gaynor.  During that studio session work, Jo ran into pianist Hannah Vasanth and they became close friends.  Hannah is one of the pianists on this session along with Jason Rebello and Paul Edis.  One day, jazz club owner Mayank Patel heard Jo Horrop sing.  He was so impressed that he took the reins of her career.  They signed a management deal and he also became her record label.  Their first release was a duo project featuring guitarist Jamie McCredie.  That album was called, “Weathering the Storm” and was released in 2020.  On Track #4, you hear a sample of Harrop singing duet with Jamie’s guitar.

Harrop has been writing lyrics for years and she has written or co-written most of the songs on this album.  For this project, she has surrounded her sessions with some of the top jazz musicians in the UK; impressive names like Jason Rebello, who has won many of the major jazz awards in England.  You will also hear the drum talents of Troy Miller, who was in the Amy Winehouse band for five years.  He’s also played with Donna Summer, Chaka Khan, George Benson and Gregory Porter.  Also featured on this album is respected jazz bassist, Christian McBride.  Jo Harrop offers a dozen songs, with her honest and poignant lyrics along with her expressive vocals to introduce herself to American audiences.  She also covers the Tom Waits song, “Rainbow Sleeves” and a couple of standard tunes like Duke Ellington’s “All Too Soon” and the standard, “If Ever I Would Leave You.”  Most importantly, this new voice on the jazz horizon shares her songs with what sounds like an open and honest heart. 

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CATHERINE RUSSELL – “SEND FOR ME” – Dot Time Records

Catherine Russell, vocals/percussion; Matt Munisteri, guitar/musical director/banjo; Tal Ronen, bass; Mark McLean, drums/tambourine; Mark Shane & Sean Mason, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; John Allred, trombone; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Paul Nedzela, baritone saxophone; Mark Lopeman & Aaron Heick, tenor saxophone; Phillip Norris, tuba.

Catherine Russell makes me turn the clock back to the 1940s and 50s, reawakening what was happening on the jazz scene with tunes like “Did I Remember.”  The ensemble swings us into reminiscing about the Jitterbug craze and those big band days.  I hadn’t heard “Send for Me” in years.  It was written by Ollie Jones, who was a member of the rhythm and blues group, ‘The Ravens.’ Matt Munisteri takes a bluesy guitar solo during this arrangement.  He’s Catherine’s Musical Director.  Catherine knows how to sing the blues and she wails on this one, as the band shuffles along.  Sean Mason is dynamic on piano.  In 1957, Nat King Cole recorded this tune and turned it into a pop hit.  Catherine Russell sure loves to swing.  You can clearly hear her joy throughout this production and a fine example of this is shown on “At the Swing Cats Ball.”  Her rendition of Betty Carter’s 1958 recording, “Make It Last” is a sweet ballad.  The horn arrangements are lovely.  I enjoy her rendition of “Going Back to New Orleans.”  Phillip Norris makes his tuba the star during an impressive solo.  One thing I notice about Ms. Russell.  She chooses songs with well-written lyrics and strong, memorable melodies.  Most have delightfully interesting chord changes and her arrangers (Mark Lopeman, Jon-Erik Kellso and Matt Munisteri) are to be complimented. Catherine Russell also introduces us to songs we may not have heard before and rejuvenates the ones we remember from back-in-the-day.  She explains it very simply when she says, “I love romance that swings.”

On “In the Night” Catherine Russell digs deeply into her blues roots and I hear a bit of Dakota Staton’s style in her delivery and a taste of Dinah Washington.  The band closes with “Million Dollar Smile,” a tune I was unfamiliar with.   I hear a lot of Dinah’s influence in Catherine’s vocals on this tune.  Here is an album that’s nostalgic, but is a very pleasant trip down memory lane.  It’s not surprising that Catherine Russell is reviving this era of jazz, because Russell’s deep connection to her chosen material may stem from family roots.  After all, she is the daughter of two pioneering and legendary musicians.  Her father was Luis Russell, a pianist, orchestra leader, composer and arranger who led his own congregation.  He worked with the greats of his day, including Louis Armstrong and Barney Bigard.  Catherine’s mother was Carline Ray, a noted bassist, guitarist and singer.  Carline Ray is a rich part of America’s jazz history and was part of the historic all female group, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm.  They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Catherine Russell is an example of this old saying, carrying on her family legacy in high style!

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LAURA STILWELL – “OUT OF A DREAM” – Independent label

Laura Stilwell, vocals; Tommy James, piano; Perry Thoorself, bass; Dennis Calazza, bass; Ron Steen, drums; Dave Evans, clarinet/tenor saxophone.

Laura Stilwell has spent much of her creative life as a jazz choreographer and a producer of jazz vocal workshops.  She has finally decided to record her debut CD titled, “Out of a Dream.”  Stilwell has chosen a repertoire pulled from the American Songbook and some songs from the newer collection offered by composers like Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster.  I enjoyed her take on “If I Should Lose You,” starting with only bass accompaniment by Dennis Calazza.  When Tommy James joins them on piano, the duo has already set the groove and established the slow blues mood.  Stilwell has a pleasant, easy, nonchalance to her singing.  She puts the listener in a very relaxed mood.  Their opening tune, “Day In, Day Out” is sung with vigor and at a rapid, swing pace.  The vocalist handles both grooves with casual finesse.  The slow Latin production on “If You Never Come to Me” is caressed by Stilwell’s alto tones and gives Tommy James time to step into the spotlight and shine on his piano. When the vocalist comes back into the song, she sings in Portuguese.   The addition of Dave Evans on clarinet brings back the days of Benny Goodman on the old standard, “Don’t Be That Way.”  With her pleasant voice, a background in dance and stage productions, Laura Stilwell has performed extensively in New York, Portland, Tokyo, Brazil and Milan.  She has also been featured in several musical theater productions and she coaches singers, as well as performing in and around the New York area.

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