July 16, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
JULY 16, 2019

Music expands boundaries & enlightens our consciousness. More And more, artistic people are using their art and music to speak out against injustices and to use their art forms to unite us. Jazz has been scientifically proven to affect the type of brain waves we produce, both stimulating the brain and relaxing it. Happy brains make better learners. It’s proven that children, and people in general, learn more quickly when music is employed as their teaching tool. Just think about the huge challenge that creating improvisation makes to the musician. It also affects the listener. Jazz encourages minds to think critically. There’s amazing scientific evidence that jazz enhances the ability to memorize and stimulates basic mental biology. The composers and players of jazz I’ve reviewed, are offering musical messages to help change our world and stimulate our thoughts.


Lafayette Gilchrist, pianist/composer.

In 2017, Lafayette Gilchrist was deemed a ‘Local Legend’ by Baltimore Magazine. In 2018, the astoundingly talented Gilchrist won the Baker Artist Award. This is an annual award which includes significant monetary prizes and a feature on Maryland Public Television’s Artworks program. On this recording, Lafayette Gilchrist takes a step away from his group performances with the New Volcanoes (who were crowned “Best Band” by the Baltimore City Paper) and the Sonic Trip Masters All-Stars to perform solo. This recording of all-original compositions is the result of a ‘live’ solo performance at the University of Baltimore’s Wright Theater.

Lafayette Gilchrist explains the title of this recording in his liner notes:

“Dark matter keeps everything from drifting apart. Dark matter permeates everything. It’s difficult to get one’s head around it, but the aspect of it that fascinated me was it being this invisible force that holds the universe together. That came to mind because the tunes on this album are so different, one from another, that I felt the title suggested a binding of a kind; a desire for the listener to hear it all as one sound.”

Gilchrist seems to have an insatiable desire and fascination with connecting and understanding styles and artistic influences. In his scientific search for answers, he incorporates his deeply personal feelings about life, moods and ideas into his creative compositions. Gilchrist uses the piano to explore his emotional connection to the universe. His well-honed ability to keep his left hand steady and rhythmic in the bass register and still interpret innovative improvisation with his right hand, as if the two hands are on two separate bodies, is a clear display of Gilchrist’s piano mastery. This is quite evident on the “Spontaneous Combustion” tune and on the opening number, “For the Go-Go.” He has composed “Black Flight” as a tribute to the celebrated Tuskegee Airmen. He had an opportunity to perform for veteran members of this historic group of black, fighter pilots who fought during World War II. That experience inspired Gilchrist to compose this tenth song of his eleven recorded originals. On “And You Know This” it once again sounds like two people are playing the piano. Lafayette’s left hand is powerful, never losing the rhythmic time, and there is a great deal of the blues pumped into this song. It becomes one of my favorites of his eleven compositions. “Happy Birthday Sucker” is another display of the same; a rolling bass line with a contrary motion in the upper register that celebrates the melody. Throughout this recording, I hear a little Thelonious Monk influence, some Duke Ellington, and a taste of stride rooted in New Orleans blues.

As an accompanist, he has performed with well-respected music artists like Cassandra Wilson, Macy Gray, Oliver Lake, and William Parker, to name only a few. Gilchrist also toured with David Murray as part of his octet and quartets for thirteen years. In this latest project, Lafayette Gilchrist steps out singularly, to offer us his piano brilliance combined with his composer skills, and to introduce us to the “Dark Matter” of his mind. It’s as mysterious and deep as the scientific dark matter that holds our universe in place.
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Zach Brock,violin/composer; Matt Ulery,bass/composer; Jon Deitemyer,drums/ composer.

The first cut on this CD is the title tune and it showcases the strength and talent of these three very individual musicians. They have come together to explore separate musical journeys, uniting to make one, powerful trio statement. These three iconic Chicago talents have played music together for nearly fifteen-years. Each musician is secure and seasoned in his own right. Together, they create a fresh palate of art, painting sound colors on the canvas of our ear.

Brock, the violinist, composed the first song, the title tune, “Wonderment.” Matt Ulery lays down a melodic bass line that establishes the rhythm and mood of the song. The violin sings sweetly, while Ulery dances along with Jon Deitemyer on drums. The rhythm contrast against the violin ballad is moving and emotional. Ulery uses bass staccato strings to create interest and Deitemyer doubles the time. I am totally engaged by this unique trio of bass, drums and violin. The drummer, Deitemyer, has written the second song, “Mobile,” with Brock plucking the violin seductively and Ulery walking the bass beneath the production in a semi-march, along with the trap drums. This composition celebrates movement, with Deitemyer locking the rhythm into place beneath the improvisational motion of his two comrades. Each musician is a composer and all the recorded music is original. This ensemble is rich with crescendos of energy, tender with sweetly sung melodies and daring with provocative performances by each individual instrumentalist and composer. Somehow, they meet in the middle, and have created an unusual and very pleasant work of musical art.

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Aaron Whitby, piano/Fender Rhodes/Synthesizers/vocal FX; Charlie Burnham, violin/vocals/composer; Fred Cash, electric bass; Gary Fritz, percussion;Jerome Harris,acoustic bass; Rodney Holmes,drums; Keith Loftis, tenor saxophone. SPECIAL GUEST VOCALISTS:Lisa Fischer, Tamar Kali, Rome Neal & Martha Redbone.

The funk just leaps off the CD player and it’s hot and in your face; delicious as the aroma of bar-b-que cooking at the park. Aaron Whitby’s piano playing is hard-hitting, fusion-funk and his musicians seriously lock into his 88-key-grooves. Whitby has composed seven of these eight songs. The one song he ‘covered’ is “The Eye of the Hurricane” by Herbie Hancock. Otherwise, he lets his creative juices flow and serves up some pretty awesome classic jazz-fusion compositions to wet our palate. Whitby uses synthesizers and vocals to pump the various arrangements up. After working many years as a studio musician and playing it all; jazz, R&B, pop, folk and world music, he finally sank his teeth into composing and producing a debut album. His compositions lend themselves to chord changes that inspire improvisation and funky musical trenches that captures the listener’s attention and inspire dance moves and finger-popping. Favorite tunes are: “Sleeping Giant”, that incorporates chants, vocals and the hot licks of Rodney Holmes on drums and Gary Fritz on percussion. They admirably support Aaron Whitby’s inspired piano playing. A male voice chants, “We are the Sleeping Giants.” A female voice shouts, “Sleeping giants – you have the power. Wake up!” In this way, Whitby incorporates some social consciousness into his musical commentary.

Another favorite original composition by Aaron Whitby is the title tune,“Cousin from Another Planet.” I can tell that Whitby is a Chick Corea/Herbie Hancock fan. He knows how to capture a ‘hook’ and enhance the rhythm, fueled by funk. That’s what makes a hit record. The guest vocalists sound as funky and fiery as Whitby on piano. Also notable is Fred Cash on electric bass. Keith Loftis adds a tenor saxophone solo that brings back the days of ‘live’ Rock & Roll shows, reminiscent of the funk that Ernie Watts brings to the stage.

This is an exciting project of original compositions and the keyboard and piano skills of Aaron Whitby grandly embellish his production. Whitby is able to blend many different styles of music into a cohesive package of creative fusion. “The Invisible Man Breathes” is an excellent vehicle to show-off the many faces of Whitby, using time changes and every key on the piano to accentuate his composer vision. Always melodic, Charlie Burnham brings his violin to the party and shines like flickering birthday candles. This recording is full of surprises. From funk, we move into an Arabian production with Middle Eastern flair and the Loftis saxophone replaces the violin with intensity. Avant-garde music parts the clouds momentarily, like a ray of sunshine and splashes across space and time. Aaron Whitby seems to be expressing musically all the moods and mess humanity can make in this one, single song.

“Mrs. Quadrillion” is fun to listen to and very smooth jazz with a funky under-tow. Burnham is back with his violin and Whitby knows just how to introduce you to a melody. He gives his musicians ample time to develop their improvisational solos, and then brings us all back to the comfortable ‘hook’ of the song. Rodney Holmes takes an exciting solo on trap drums.

You will discover that Aaron Whitby is a storyteller, a band leader and an admirable composer. You will hear something new and fresh each time you play this album. Expect the unexpected.
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MATTHEW WHITAKER – “NOW HEAR THIS” Resilience Music Alliance

Matthew Whitaker, piano/moog synthesizer/keyboard synthesizer/Hammond B3 organ/composer; Dave Stryker, guitar; Yunior Terry, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., drums; Sammy Figueroa, percussion. SPECIAL GUESTS: Gabrielle Garo, flute; Marc Cary, Fender Rhodes.

“Overcoat” is the first cut on this album and it introduces us to this artist. Right from the first notes, you hear the drama in Matthew Whitaker’s music. True, he’s a technically strong pianist, but there’s more than technique here. There’s emotion bursting at the seams. He’s empowered with creativity and emboldened by the excitement emanating from his inner-action with his peers. On Ahmad Jamal’s composition, “Tranquility,” Whitaker calms the mood and concentrates on presenting his tender side on piano. Matthew has composed “Underground” and exhibits his talents on synthesizers and his ability to embrace electronic jazz as well as straight-ahead and bebop flavored music. This song reminds me of a young Herbie Hancock. On “Bernie’s Tune” we are right back into straight-ahead territory with a tenacious walking bass by Yunior Terry fueling the piece. Like a California wild fire, it starts out small and hot. But it doesn’t take long for the group to ignite in full fledge flames and burn-up the performance space.

Whitaker takes to the organ on “Yardbird Suite” and keeps the jazz hot and moving fast. Ulysses Owens Jr., with ever present drum skills, is an important part of the ensemble’s motion and rhythm.

Whitaker was a Hackensack, New Jersey baby, born three months premature, weighing less than two pounds. The retinopathy of prematurity caused the newborn blindness. By the time he was five years old, Matthew Whitaker exhibited perfect pitch, a love of music, could play piano by-ear and also experimented with percussion instruments, the clarinet and the bass guitar. As a teen, he attended the Pre-College Jazz Program at the Manhattan School of Music. Matthew claims his main influences are organists, Jimmy Smith and Joey DeFrancesco, piano legends, Art Tatum, Barry Harris, Erroll Garner, Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson. At fifteen years old, Matthew Whitaker performed at “Showtime at the Apollo.”

Another original song from his “Now hear This,” album, is “Miss Michelle.” It’s a happy-go-lucky tune that features Dave Stryker on guitar. Another original composition by Whitaker is titled, “Thinking of You” and it’s pensive and melancholy. Once again, he takes to the organ to express himself and the melody he shares is lovely and emotional.

“I have been blessed with a God given gift and my prayer is that I can continue to be a blessing and inspiration to others. One of my Heroes is Stevie Wonder.”

Matthew Whitaker will begin touring the East Coast on July 26,2019, performing at the Telluride Jazz Festival in Colorado on August 9th and in San Diego on October 23rd at The Loft/University of California San Diego. If you’re able, catch this exciting, talented pianist at one of his upcoming concerts. For a complete schedule go to:
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Antonio Adolfo, piano/arranger/producer; Lula Galvao, acoustic & elec. Guitars; Rafael Barata, drums; Jorge Helder, double bass; Dada Costa & Rafael Barata, percussion; Jesse Sadoc, trumpet/flugelhorn; Marcelo Martins, soprano & tenor saxophones/alto flute; Rafael Rocha, trombone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Serginho Trombone, valve trombone; Mauricio Einhorn & Gabriel Grossi, harmonica; Claudio Spiewak, shaker /acoustic guitar.

Influenced by soul music, smooth jazz and West Coast cool, Rio de Janeiro native, Antonio Adolfo, successfully blends his Brazilian culture with American jazz. Early in his career, he became one of the cornerstone composers and arrangers of what became known as Samba jazz. Spurred by the famous Brazilian musicians such as Moacir Santos, Sergio Mendes, Elis Regina and Raul de Souza , Antonio Adolfo soon made a very strong name for himself on the Brazilian music scene. His latest release celebrates that era of music, thus the title, “Samba Jazz Alley.” On the first tune, “Ceu E Mar” Jorge Helder makes a strong statement on double bass. Antonio Adolfo’s piano technique is powerful and stimulating. His music dances and celebrates joyfully. The second cut on this album tributes another powerful pianist/composer, Herbie Hancock. Jesse Sadoc plays a mean trumpet and the percussive work of both Rafael Barata and Dada Costa apply gas to this musical engine. Adolfo uses his amazing horn players to punch and color his arrangements, featuring (along with Jesse Sadoc) Marcelo Martins on woodwinds and Rafael Rocha on trombone.

This is an album of passionate music, with the rich Brazilian culture wrapped around the freedom music of jazz. For this production, Adolfo incorporates some of the best Brazilian musicians on the planet. Brazil’s current harmonica sensation, Gabriel Grossi and legendary harmonica player Mauricio Einhorn make a brief appearance on track five. Every song is celebratory and offers the listener musical exploration into the Samba legacy. Antonio Adolfo’s arrangements, along with this invigorating ensemble of musicians, are bound to lift spirits and make you happy.

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PACIFIC HARP PROJECT – “PLAY” Independent label

Megan Bledsoe Ward, harp/arranger; Noel Okimoto, vibraphone/bongos/marimba/congas; Todd Yukumoto, saxophones; Jon Hawes, bass; Allan Ward, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Allen Won, soprano saxophone; Kenny Endo, Taiko & Fue; Jamie Jordan, vocals.

The Pacific Harp Project includes instruments of Japanese culture, like the fue, that is a double reed, flute-like instrument, made from bamboo and producing a high-pitched tone. This group of musicians is dedicated to exploring realms of music for harp and rhythm section, with emphasis on jazz, pop and original compositions. Each member musician is also a composer. The concept of this project is tantalizing.

Megan Bledsoe Ward introduces the first tune with arpeggio beauty on the harp. She has written the first song titled, “Lily Lou” and it falls into the category of smooth jazz.

Noel Okimoto plays vibraphone and he has composed the next song titled, “The Vastness.” It’s very melodic and Okimoto explains it was written with a specific drum in mind.

“I wrote “The Vastness” for an instrument called a RAV Vast, which is a turbo charged steel tongue drum. This RAV is tuned to a D major scale and I had a lot of fun coming up with a song just based on this scale.”

There are some compositions that are more operatic than jazz, like “La Lettre” that is sung by Jamie Jordon. There is absolutely nothing about that composition (arranged by Ward) that remotely could be classified as jazz. That’s puzzling to me. Why include songs that break the consistency of this musical project? There is something very simplistic about the Pacific Harp Project. It’s disappointing. I wish I could have heard more uniqueness and more jazz harp. This is no Alice Coltrane-like project or Dorothy Ashby.

On “Sunflower (Himawari), the feu and the taiko instruments are featured by Kenny Endo, along with Megan Bledsoe Ward’s harp. These instruments sweetly complement each other. When Jon Howes on bass and Allan Ward, on drums, enter the arrangement, they set up a compelling groove. All the musicians are classically trained and based in Hawaii. Their music is ‘laid-back,’ with (at times) an almost chamber -like music format. This particular song is in the realm of world music and quickly becomes one of my favorite songs on their album. The Allan Ward drum solo is an unexpected treat. He is musically dynamic throughout this production. When I first heard about this project, I was truly excited to experience a jazz harpist. The liner notes clearly say this project is meant to celebrate the harp. After listening, I came away feeling sadly disenchanted.
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Lauren Henderson, vocals/composer; Michael Thurber, bass/composer/producer; Sullivan Fortner & Damian Sim, piano; Gabe Schneider,guitar; Mark Dover,clarinet; Emi Ferguson,flute; Jon Lampley,trumpet; Allan Mednard & Joe Saylor,drums; Moses Patrou,percussion; Tessa Lark, violin soloist; Lavinia Pavlish & Brendan Speltz, violins; Charles Overton,harp; Rose Hasimoto,viola; Tara Hanish,cello; Leo Sidran,guest vocals.

This is Lauren Henderson’s sixth album release. Not only is she a vocalist, Ms. Henderson also is a composer and arranger. She performs in both English and Spanish, reflecting her Panamanian roots. She embraces Latin, soul and fusion elements in her jazzy presentation, mirroring her African American paternal roots. Lauren has received degrees in both music and Hispanic Studies at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. While living in Puebla, Mexico, she studied traditional music of the Yucatan at Benemerita Universidad Autonoma de Puebla and has also studied flamenco and jazz at La Universidad de Cordoba in Cordoba, Spain. Consistently hungry for knowledge and growth, Lauren Henderson received an Executive Master of Business Administration from Brown University in 2019 to assist her in the management and success of her Brontosaurus Record company. She recently signed one artist, other than herself, to the label. A flautist, singer and composer, Magela Herrera, who has released one critically acclaimed CD.

The title of Henderson’s latest release is Alma Oscura. That translates to ‘dark soul’ in English. The concept is to address various cultural stories reflecting the African diaspora and Henderson’s multi-cultural heritage and American upbringing.

“My father is pretty much a jazz historian and I probably got 99% of my early music education from him,” says Henderson.

She has composed four of the eight recorded songs. Joining forces with producer, arranger, theater composer, bassist, Michael Thurber, who composed the second song on this project, “Something Bigger,” and collaborates with Henderson as a songwriter and bandmember. Henderson considers Thurber one of her dearest friends. You may have seen him on the talk show featuring “Stephen Colbert” because Thurber is the bass player in Jon Batiste’s band on The Late Show.
She is vocally accompanied on the first song, “From the Inside Out” by the sexy, smooth vocals of Leo Sidran. He co-wrote this song with Alex Cuba. Sidran’s voice is like butter. His Spanish is the butter knife, smoothing the story across this warm space and translating Henderson’s English words into an emotional plea. Their duet is compelling, starting from the folksy guitar introduction by Gabe Schneider. The melody is haunting, dancing atop a lush string arrangement. Emi Ferguson’s flute is hypnotic. Lauren Henderson sings:

“Deep inside your soul, underneath the skin; Where no one ever goes and no one’s ever been.I know there’s a part of you that lives in doubt. I can see your heart, from the inside out.”

Lauren Henderson has a style of her own, a tone tinged with a tremolo that embellishes her emotional delivery. She takes on political activism with her composition titled, “El Arbol” that translates to “The Tree.” The lyrics tell of story about an interracial couple who are lynched because of their love, but it’s sung in Spanish, as is the fifth song titled, “Ven Muerte” and the title tune. “Protocol,” another Henderson original composition is infused with a Flamingo production followed by “Dream,” another ballad. Clearly this vocalist is a very romantic composer. The premiere song on this project continues to be my favorite and should receive plenty of airplay on jazz and world music radio stations.

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Rebekah Victoria,vocals; Deszon Claiborne,Colin Douglas & Akira Tana,drums; Joe Gilman,Frank Martin & Murray Low,piano/keyboards;David Belove & Marc van Wageningen, electric bass;John Wiitala,acoustic bass; Michael Spiro,conga/percussion; Rick Vandivier,guitar;Tommy Kesecker,vibes; Kenny Washington,vocals; Erik Jakobson & John Worley,trumpet; Mary Fettig,alto sax/clarinet/flute; Melecio Magdaluyo,alto,tenor & baritone saxophones; Wayne Wallace,trombone/arranger/producer; Dave Martell,tuba; Eugene Chekhov,1st violin; Niki Fukada,2nd violin; Edith Szendrey,viola; Monica Scott,cello.

Rebekah Victoria is a cabaret singer who has recorded with spectacular jazz arrangements. Her idea was to update the great American Songbook with more Twenty-first century arrangements. The songs go as far back as the 1910’s, 20’s, and 30’s. A few are more modern compositions from the 1990s.

Wayne Wallace, the Grammy-nominated trombonist, composer, arranger and bandleader is the master-mind behind these stellar arrangements and he also heads Rebekah Victoria’s label, Patois Records. Every single track on this ten-track album is superb, beginning with the 1909 hit song, “Some of These Days.”

When Kenny Washington makes a guest “scat” appearance on “Whispering” it lifts this project to a real jazz status. Although Ms. Victoria has a crystal-clear soprano voice that she infuses with emotion, I don’t believe every vocalist who sings the American Songbook is a jazz singer. Without a doubt, the musical tracks are jazzy and extremely well-played. But tracks can’t make the singer a jazz vocalist. The Lambert, Hendricks and Ross hit record, “Twisted” gives Rebekah Victoria a chance to swing, but it never happens. She performs the song in her own unique style, that being more like a Broadway singer. If you’re claiming to be a jazz singer, you have to be able to ‘swing.’ I will say, on the song, “Opus One,” Rebekah almost succeeds in swinging these lyrics. Surprisingly, she includes pop tunes in her repertoire like, “These Boots are Made for Walking” (a hit for Frank Sinatra’s daughter), and “Unbreak My Heart” (a hit by Toni Braxton) are great songs, but not jazz songs. However, the Wayne Wallace arrangements are tightly produced and the horn sections are soulful. Rebekah Victoria’s voice gets lost in the interpretation of these popular songs. Carol King’s “It’s Too late” is arranged like a Bossa Nova in a very pleasant way. Victoria’s voice floats comfortably on top of this arrangement. All in all, this reviewer loves the music, but the vocals have a long way to go before this vocalist can claim to be a jazz singer.
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Nick Hetko, piano/composer; Rich Syracuse, bass/composer; Jeff ‘Siege’ Siegel, drums/composer.

This production offers a strong, unified, jazz trio of technically astute musicians who are also composers. Opening with the Rich Syracuse composition titled, “Sleeper” they establish their mastery from their very first tune. Each player takes an outstanding solo, introducing themselves to sensitive and attentive listener ears. The pianist, Nick Hetko, recently won the Grand Prize of the Lee Ritenour Six String Competition. He has also performed with icons like James Moody, Chris Potter and Dave Holland. A talented bandleader and pianist, Lee Shaw, mentored the fledgling Hetko and as he explained, gave him the confidence to persevere in the intimidating jazz music world. Nick Hetko was just a high school junior when Dr. Shaw introduced him to her rhythm section and included him in a number of recording demo sessions.

At first, no one suspected that Dr. Shaw was ill. Her trio was busy touring Europe and performing on stages across America. Shaw, Siegel and Syracuse had a close bond. Dr. Lee Shaw was fondly referred to as “The First Lady of Jazz,” by her fellow musicians. Upon her passing, it was natural for Nick Hetko, her student and someone who was by then quite close to her colleagues, to step into her seat at the piano. Consequently, these three musicians, (Rich Syracuse, Nick Hetko and Jeff Siegel), have dedicated their album to her precious memory. One of my favorite songs on this recording was written by Nick Hetko titled, “Captain of a Sinking Ship” where “Siege” Siegel shows off his drumming prowess. It’s an energetic tune with strong Latin overtones and lots of space for these musicians to show-off their ‘chops.’

Rich Syracuse is a composer and bassist, prominent on the New York area scene for three decades. He had a long stint working in the Nick Brignola Quartet and has performed with Kurt Elling, Dave Liebman, the Brubeck Brothers, Mose Allison, and too many more to list. He was pianist, Lee Shaw’s bassist for over twenty-five years. When he’s not performing in concerts across the world, he educates as Professor for String and Electric Bass Studies at Skidmore College in Saratoga, New York; at Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut and he’s bass professor and ensemble coach at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Jeff “Siege” Siegel is also an educator,a drummer and composer,who has worked with a virtual who’s who of jazz icons. Some of the familiar names he has played with are Ron Carter, Kenny Burrell, Jack DeJohnette,Benny Golson,Frank Foster,Sheila Jordan, Helen Merrill,Mose Allison and he was a member of the Sir Roland Hanna Trio for five years.

Together, this incredible trio of excellence presents a well-produced album of beautiful, original compositions. They include one old standard, a favorite of mine titled, “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” They pay homage to the great Oscar Peterson when they play “Oscar’s Boogie.” Hetko does a stellar job on piano during this performance. Additionally, you will enjoy listening to the trio’s own, unique songwriting and arrangements. The title tune was penned by the late Dr. Lee Shaw and is quite elegantly performed, with great focus on the piano skills of young Nick Hetko. This is an album you will take pleasure in listening to, time and time again,and a trio who has excellently represented the legacy of Dr. Lee Shaw.

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July 8, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz journalist
JULY 8, 2019


Thalma de Freitas, vocals; Vitor Goncalves, piano/Fender Rhodes/accordion; John Patitucci, bass; Chico Pinheiro, guitar; Duduka Da Fonseca, drums; Rogerio Boccato & Airto Moreira, percussion. All Songs composed by John Finbury,lyrics by Thalma de Freitas. Emilio D. Miler,producer.

Thalma de Freitas has a voice as sweet as taffy. The moment her clear, warm, soprano tones enter my listening room, I am intrigued. The title of this album by John Finbury and Thalma de Freitas is ‘Sorte’ which means ‘luck’ in Portuguese. It’s the first tune they play on this lovely album of music. They are thoughtful enough to include English translations to each composition inside the CD jacket. Thalma de Freitas is a lyricist who has put words to award-winning composer, John Finbury’s music. The result is both beautiful and enchanting.

John Finbury won a Latin Grammy nomination in 2016, winning in the “Song of The Year” category for his “A Chama Verde” from his album “Imaginario.” Finbury is a graduate of the Longy School of Music and Boston University. He’s been writing songs over four decades with a penchant for Latin music.

Ms. de Freitas is extremely popular in her native Brazil, first as an award-winning actress and then as a vocalist who has released three albums as a leader and one with the famed Orquestra Imperial, a Brazilian big band. She has collaborated with a number of well-known musicians including our own L.A. based, Kamasi Washington, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Joao Donato and Ceu. She is currently based in Los Angeles since 2012. Each song lyric she pens on this luscious album carries a special message from her heart. “Filha” is meant to be a message to the singer’s daughter. It displays kindness and caring for her child, encouraging her to love herself and claim her independence. “Ondas” translates to ‘Waves’ and this song celebrates being free and letting yourself go.

Each musician on this project brings their mastery and excellence to these compositions. John Patitucci plays both upright and electric bass, pumping the rhythm and building a solid basement foundation for the band along with Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. Master percussionist, Airto Moreira, adds spice to the production along with Rogerio Boccato. The complimentary guitar playing of Chico Pinheiro dances gayly along with Thalma de Freitas’ vocals and Vitor Goncalves, on piano, is brilliant; sometimes adding accordion to the mix. This is Brazilian music that will intoxicate your palate with the richness of Latin culture, the beautiful and sexy Portuguese language, warm vocals and delicious rhythms.
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PATRICK BARNITT – “SWAY” Independent Label

Patrick Barnitt,vocals; Paul McDonald, piano; Ricky Z., guitar; Cooper Appelt, bass;Jake Reed,drums;Rusty Higgins & Mike Nelson,alto saxophone; Eric Morones & Brian Clancey,tenor saxophone;Ken Fisher,baritone saxophone; Bijon Watson,Walter Simonson,Jeff Jarvis & Barbara Loronga,trumpet;Paul young, Duane Benjamin, Nick DePinna & Rich Bullock.SPECIAL GUESTS: Stephan Oberhoff, piano/ Hammond B3/keyboards/guitar/percussion/strings; Rusty Higgins,alto saxophone; Kendall Kay,drums; Celso Alberti,percussion/drums; Robert Kyle, flute/tenor saxophone; Everette Harp, Alto saxophone; BACKGROUND VOCALS: Meloney Collins, Kenna Ramsey & Laura Dickinson.

Patrick Barnitt has a smooth, silky tone and a voice reminiscent of Frank Sinatra. He brings back the days of big band jazz and a historic time when male crooners headlined jazz orchestras. Barnitt reminds us of voices like Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Joe Williams and Ernie Andrews. On this album, Patrick Barnitt is front-lining the Paul McDonald Big Band. He’s a student of the great Howlett “Smitty” Smith, an artist and educator I featured in this column last month. Mr. Barnitt was one of several vocalists who flocked to the historic, but now defunct, Bob Burns restaurant in Santa Monica to enjoy Larry Gales on bass and “Smitty” on piano. After sitting-in with this jazz duo, Patrick found himself excited about performing music again. He began to get vocal gigs around the Los Angeles club scene. He often was a guest vocalist with Marty and Elayne, a duo act at the Dresden Hollywood nightclub. He currently plays regularly with legendary drummer, Frank Devito, who was a former member of Frank Sinatra’s band.

Although he loves singing, Barnitt’s day job has been as a working actor. He may be best known for his frequent appearances on the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek Voyager television shows. He was also in the movie, Star Trek: First Contact.

The Paul McDonald Big Band features some of Southern California’s best jazz players including pianist, Stephan Oberhoff, iconic drummer Kendall Kay, flute and tenor sax player, Robert Kyle and Grammy-nominated saxophonist Everette Harp. You will enjoy a taste of the great American songbook with Barnitt emotionally connecting with the lyrics and beautiful melodies of songs like, “The More I See You” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” He swings on “Does Anybody Really know What Time It is?” That was a huge hit for Chicago in 1969 and Barnitt follows with an up-tempo arrangement of “Just In Time.” “Quando Quando Quando” features a lilting Latin arrangement and the soprano voice of Laura Pursell. Pursell is also an actress/vocalist. Barnitt and Ms. Pursell have been making music together for years. Consequently, it was easy to invite her to make a guest appearance on his album. She sings on the Les McCann composition, “The Truth,” and the title tune, “Sway.” Some of us may remember when Dean Martin sang this Latin tune,“Sway,” making it a huge USA hit in 1954, along with the Dick Stabile Orchestra.

Patrick Barnitt closes this splendid album of music with “One for My Baby and One More for the Road.” Oberhoff does an excellent job of arranging and the big band of Paul McDonald sounds tight and as polished as 24 karat gold.

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Maggie Herron, piano/vocals; Darek Oles & Dean Taba, bass; Ray Brinker, drums; Rocky Holmes, Alto Saxophone; Bob Sheppard, flute/saxophone; Larry Koonse, guitar.

This is probably the fourth CD I have reviewed that features the smoky, jazz vocals of Maggie Herron. She’s a pianist and also a singer and songwriter. On this album, she offers a dozen jazz standards for us to enjoy, some familiar and others more obscure, but none the less entertaining. Her mainstay trio features Darek Oles on bass and Ray Brinker on drums. However, she adds excitement and zest to her production with the addition of Larry Koonse on guitar during her arrangement of “All of Me” along with Rocky Holmes on an impressive alto saxophone solo. Her voice pleads with the listener, taking an old standard and infusing it with fresh emotion. When Maggie Herron sing “take all of me” you believe her. She scats along with Bob Sheppard on flute during the into to, “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” Sheppard puts the flute down and picks up the saxophone on “Just One of those Things.” Maggie shows that her piano playing can swing as well as accompany. With Derek Oles on bass, added to Maggie’s piano creativity, Ms. Herron deliver’s Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me,” in a classic, pop/ballad kind of way, before she interprets “I’ll Be Seeing You,” with a more jazz-like rendition and Larry Koonse front and center on guitar. “Don’t Wait Too Long” is a song I was unfamiliar with. Maggie has painted the song in shades of blue with Ray Brinker shuffling his drums in the background. All in all, here is an easy listening production with fine musicianship, familiar, heart-felt lyrics and melodies, to recall years of yesterday. The songs feature Maggie Herron’s own arrangements and her own sweet “Renditions.”
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BOB SHEPPARD – “THE FINE LINE” Challenge Records Int.

Bob Sheppard, saxophones/flute/alto flute; John Beasley, piano; Jasper Somsen, double bass; Kendrick Scott, drums. GUEST ARTISTS: Mike Cottone, trumpet; Simon Moullier, vibraphone; Maria Puga Lareo, vocals; Benjamin Shepherd, electric bass; Aaron Safarty, shaker.

Bob Sheppard and Jasper Somsen met in Bremen,Germany at the 2013 Jazzahead Network Event. Michele Ito,from BFM Records,introduced them. They exchanged music, albums and ideas about playing music together in the future. Although several years passed quickly, this project is the result of patience and determination from that initial meeting.

Somsen is a famous, Dutch, double bassist and composer who has performed with some of the master musicians on the international jazz scene. He has recorded four albums as a leader for the Challenge Record label. He holds a Master in Music from the Conservatory of Amsterdam and is a European music educator who leant his talent to teaching in public schools and privately for many years. Since 2001, he has been dedicated to producing high quality jazz records. Somsen explained:

“Due to very busy schedules, our plans couldn’t come together. It took us almost two years to be onstage playing in The Netherlands for a full week of concerts, masterclasses and live radio. We had an amazing time and became real friends. …Shortly after, the former General Director of Challenge Records, Anne de Jong, offered me the opportunity to work on a number of audio productions as an independent producer. One of those projects became this very anticipated album.”

Bob Sheppard decided to call master pianist,John Beasley and the solid and brilliant Kendrick Scott on drums for this project. Jasper Somsen was agreeable to flying in from Europe to Los Angeles for the recording session. Jasper explained:

“As I was getting ready for the trip, I asked John Clayton, my former teacher and friend, where I could rent a great instrument. John kindly offered me his famous Ray Brown double bass, the one Ray used in the 1960s during his time with the Oscar Peterson Trio.”

Bob Sheppard was enamored with music early in life. His dad was an amateur saxophone player and as a child there was always music in their home. Young Bob absorbed it like a sponge. Initially, he wanted to be a drummer, but somehow, he was drawn to reed instruments in the fifth grade. He enjoyed finding melodies and exploring tones on his horn.

“I played along with all the music I heard. From the start, it was jazz. When I was a kid, there was jazz all over TV and radio. The sound of jazz and swing music was a large part of my norm.”

His high school featured auditorium concerts by big band legends like Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Stan Kenton. Bob Sheppard fell in love with the sound of horns and the challenge of ‘swing’ music. Early on, he was a compulsive about practicing. When his peers were joining sports teams, he was sitting at home twiddling with his saxophone.

“Practicing became my friend, a place to escape,” Bob admitted.

He started playing professional gigs while living in Philadelphia. He was driven. While attending college he jumped at all opportunities to play music, working on stage shows and he even took a gig in the circus. Bob Sheppard landed a steady spot in the orchestra of Chuck Mangione and found his was to concert appearances with great entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett and the 5th Dimensions. Every gig became a learning experience and an opportunity to hone his craft. With a growing need to spread his wings and soar to higher heights, Bob Sheppard relocated to Los Angeles. Almost immediately he was hired to join the legendary Freddie Hubbard group.

“Playing on the same stage as Freddie was a breathtaking and frightening experience. Much like jazz survival training. It exposed everything good and bad about my playing and inspired me to work harder. How lucky I was to get that close to his talent,” he recalled his time working with Freddie Hubbard.

It’s not surprising that a man with such a tenacious drive to practice and better himself should want to explore other instruments. He has become virtuosic on all saxophones, on clarinet and flutes. Soon he was a first-call studio musician and Bob was making a great living doing sessions for a wide array of artists including, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Queen Latifah, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole, Boz Scaggs and he even spent time playing in the television band of legendary host,Johnny Carson. He recalls:

“Learning how to react and relate stylistically, to become a musical mind reader and deliver what’s needed is still fun for me. The cumulative effect of experience is a priceless education.”

On this project, you will hear him playing various saxophones,flute and alto flute. He also displays his awesome arranging skills and has composed or co-composed six of the ten songs on this album. I enjoyed his very modern jazz arrangement of the Linda Creed and Tom Bell hit R&B record, “People Make the World Go ‘Round.” It was originally recorded in 1971 by the rhythm and blues group,The Stylistics. Sheppard’s arrangement is all jazz.

“All those top-40 and funk bands in the 1970s were very much jazz gigs to me. They taught me styles;how to hear my way through music; how to play in horn sections with singers.The pop tunes of the 70s and 80s had great harmonies and forms that left room for individuality and expression,” Bob recalled.

His original composition, “Run Amok” is funk jazz at its best, giving guest player, Benjamin Shepherd on electric bass, an opportunity to shine. The melody is catchy and the staccato attacks remind me a little bit of the Miles Davis ‘Bitches Brew’ days. John Beasley expands musical horizons on piano, once given the opportunity to solo. Kendrick Scott is also given a featured solo on this tune and keeps the rhythm tight and dynamic throughout this entire production.

The title tune, “The Fine Line” is a lovely ballad that utilizes the soprano vocals of Maria Puga Lareo in a very instrumental way, with Sheppard’s soothing saxophone tones playing like a lullabye beneath the beauty of her voice. The percussionist, Aaron Safarty,and the drummer,(Kendrick Scott)lock into a Latin feel and Mike Cottone brings his trumpet to the party as a special guest.

“I am happy to share this recording performed by musicians that demonstrate the highest regard to the creative process and the simple joy of playing,” Bob Sheppard compliments his dynamic ensemble of players.

“In my quest to play better, I’ve come to realize that the great purveyors of this art form are mainly autodidacts, motivated by an ardent self-pursuit of the notes and the feeling that lies behind them. … The myopic preoccupation of practice and sharpening one’s craft produce an interesting blend of introspective, self-effacing individuals. Jazz players are forever students who share an embraced value system and hold a compulsory curiosity to redefine and expand their vocabulary.”

That says it all!
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Peter Eldridge, vocals/composer/arranger; Kenny Werner, piano/elec. Piano/composer/arranger; Eugene Frieser, conductor/cellist; Matt Aronoff, bass; Yaron Israel, drums; The fantastical string orchestra. SPECIAL GUEST: George Garzone, tenor saxophone. VIOLINS: Bengisu Gokce, Louisa Byron, Sienna Seoyeon Im, Francesca Rijks, & Tania Mesa. 2nd VIOLINS: Ruah Yeonsong Kim, Cansu Oyzurek, Cynthia (Pei Hua) Lin, Tim Bilodeau, & Louise Bichan. VIOLAS: Cecelia Cook, Gerson Equiguren & Jenny Frantz. CELLOS: Cristobal Cruz Garcia, Aodans Collins, Peter Yuezhang Liu, Eugene Friesen; BASSES: Victor Gonzalez & Marcelo MacCagnan. HARP: Tatyana Phillips.

Peter Eldridge has that special voice, that unique quality in his tone, one that a real jazz singer exhibits. Some folks have labeled that quality as the “It” factor. This album of plush arrangements, strings and the mastery of Kenny Werner on piano amply exposes the rich, Eldridge, baritone voice. Acclaimed as a founding member of the fabulous New York Voices, Peter Eldridge is also celebrated at the Manhattan School of Music’s jazz voice department. He headed that department for eighteen years. Currently he is part of the voice faculty at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

When Peter Eldridge is not inspiring and educating other singers, he finds time to compose and arrange music. He offers us four songs on this artistic album that he has either composed or co-composed.

Kenny Werner,like Eldridge,is a talented and competent composer, arranger and exceptional pianist. For the last four decades,his recordings,performances and composing skills have impacted audiences internationally. His educational books encourage and support mastery of music, accompanied by his videos, his world-wide lectures and numerous articles he has written. What a thrilling experience to enjoy these two master musicians working in concert with one another. They provide a stellar recording experience; sensuous, heartfelt, lyrically emotional and musically rich.

Opening with the lovely pop ballad, “You Don’t Know Me” I am captured by Eldridge’s purity of tone and Werner’s sensitive accompaniment and string arrangements. The second tune is written by Kenny Werner with lyrics by Donnie Demers titled, “I’m So Glad You’re Mine.” It’s a beautiful ballad that pays tribute to a loving partner who supports all you do and never waivers. The melody is lovely.

Eldrige has written the words and music to “That Which Can’t Be Explained.” It’s the third song on their romantic album. The strings take an opportunity to soar and dance about in all the open spaces. “Autumn in Three” was a writing collaboration of Werner and Eldridge. It’s a waltz,celebrating leaves with an interesting lyric.

Werner recalled in the liner notes:

“Peter reminded me of Johnny Hartman, which brought to mind the beautiful treatments that Johnny Hartman could do. But I knew Peter was capable of a lot of different things, so I thought it would be incredible to do a whole album with that kind of musical and emotional relationship; no-nonsense, beautiful, lush, romantic songs with strings.”

Although I find myself falling in love with each song and every single breathtaking arrangement, I found the Ivan Lins composition, “Minds of Their Own” intriguing and compelling, with lyrics by Peter Eldridge.

Peter shared his thoughts about this project and Kenny Werner’s brilliance.

“Kenny’s string writing is so strong and nuanced. We were going for an old school approach, but slightly to the left. Instead of just doing a bunch of standards and having it sound like 1964, we wanted to mix it up with different feelings to the music. But under the umbrella of this big, rich, symphonic, warm collection of tunes.”

On the Eldridge composition, “Ballad for Trane,” George Garzone plays a striking tenor saxophone solo. The medley of the title tune, “Somewhere” is successfully combined with “A Time for Love.” The lyrics, like the musical arrangement, fit sweetly and Eldridge proffers a delightful delivery. Cellist, Eugene Friesen, conducts the 20-piece string orchestra, organizing a gifted group of Berklee musicians who enhance this project with their heavenly strings.

Here is an album of music stuffed with romance, raw emotion and generous talent. Perhaps Eldridge summed it up best when he said:

“Somewhere looks not to be a place but to a state of mind. One that allows listeners to abandon themselves to an imaginary world of luxurious romanticism. It’s a bit of a prayer that there will be peace one day soon, that things won’t remain as desperate as they are now. We’re living in an incredibly strange time, so this music is trying to offset that and help people feel a few moments of hope. We hope it offers a balm for the spirit.”
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GRETJE ANGELL – “IN ANY KEY” Grevlinto Label

Gretje Angell, vocals; Dori Amarillo, guitar/producer; Kevin Axt, bass; Steve Hass, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion; Quinn Johnson, keyboards; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Michael Hunter, trumpet/orchestra (Budapest Scoring); Gabe Davis, bass.

This singer has a sweet, sultry tone and brilliant clarity in her delivery. Gretje Angell sounds very Brazilian in style and phrasing. Surrounded by amazing musicians, this album is not over-produced, but caters to this vocalist’s ability to become an instrument in her own right. Starting with a Bossa Nova arrangement of “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” Gretje interprets this familiar standard, featuring percussion by Kevin Winard and the great guitar accompaniment of Dori Amarillo. She scats as easily and flawlessly as she sings. Ms. Angell is quite dynamic in her relaxed, laid-back way.

Born in Akron, Ohio she grew up around jazz, accompanying her bebop-drummer dad to his gigs. Both her father,(Tommy ‘The Hat’ Voorhees)and her grandfather were drummers. Perhaps this is what has inspired her perfect timing and natural ability to ‘swing.’ Gretje Angell recalls:

“Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I’d be following in my father’s footsteps into my own madness, also known as becoming a jazz musician. My early days were filled listening to the countless jazz records my parents owned. I loved to comb through them and stare at the covers, deeply inhale their musty odor, set them on the turn-table and drop the needle. Nights were spent in smoky, black clubs where my dad would play and I’d fall asleep in a booth covered by his jacket.”

To clearly hear her purity of style and emotional delivery listen to her with no other accompaniment except the dynamic guitar mastery of Dori Amarillo.

On this album, she and Dori also duet on the old standard, “Tea for Two” and again on “Them There Eyes.” During the production of “Deep in A Dream” Michael Hunter makes a guest appearance on trumpet and adds the Budapast Scoring for an orchestral effect. Gretje Angell sings in Portuguese on cut #5 titled, “Barimbou.” In summary, here is an extremely talented vocalist, who offers us her debut project like an undiscovered treasure chest. When you open up this musical package and place it on your CD player, you may be stunned by her flawless, diamond vocals.
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Tony Lindsay, vocals; Michael O’Neill, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet/clarinet/flute/arranger; Erik Jekabson & Mike Olmos,trumpet/flugelhorn; John R. Burr, piano; Dan Feiszli,acoustic bass/elec. Bass; Alan Hall,drums; Omar Ledezma, percussion.

We are introduced to the vocals of Tony Lindsay, opening the tune, “Just Friends” with percussive vocalese before his rich baritone voice enters. Tony was Santana’s lead singer for over twenty years. The arrangement is freshly painted in 6/8 time by drummer Alan Hall. The composition, “Fragile,” composed by Sting, is arranged with an energetic, Afro-Cuban rhythm and features Michael O’Neill’s tenor saxophone floating atop this percussive production. O’Neill has arranged this song and also arranged the old standard, “Summertime.” Lindsay’s voice sounds smooth and sexy on the first movement of Summertime, which is slow and bluesy. O’Neill has created three movements for this Porgy & Bess Standard tune. John R. Burr steps out of the production to showcase a piano solo that lifts this production in a brilliant way.

“I came up with three distinct approaches on Summertime. My intent was to develop one of the approaches, but I really liked all three versions. So, I melded them all into one arrangement with three distinct movements,” Michael O’Neill explained.

The listener will enjoy a slew of familiar songs like “Georgia,” with gospel overtones and a strong horn section, featuring a stellar bass solo by Dan Feiszli. “Have You met Miss Jones” is colored brightly by a Latin production, until O’Neill slows the danceable arrangement down with a brief horn interlude before rejoining the infectious arrangement. Omar Ledezma propels this arrangement with his percussive powers, tightly locked into Alan Hall’s drumming. Other familiar songs are “Rhythm-a-Ning,” a Monk composition with lyrics by Jon Hendricks, “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Night and Day” and “You Don’t Know What Love Is.”

Here is a delightful listening experience, delivered by master musicians and featuring the incredible talents of Tony Lindsay on vocals and Michael O’Neill on woodwinds.
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June 30, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
JUNE 30, 2019

CURTIS NOWOSAD Sessionheads United

Curtis Nowosad, drums/composer/snaps/claps; Jonathan Thomas, piano/Fender Rhodes; Matthew Whitaker, organ; Luke Sellick, bass; Marc Cary, Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer/synthesizer; Andrew Renfroe, guitar; Duane Eubanks, trumpet; Braxton Cook, alto saxophone; Cory Wallace, trombone; Michael Mayo, vocals; Brianna Thomas, vocals.

Curtis Nowosad is Canadian born. He’s thirty-one-years-old and his music is wrapped in the history of blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, combined with a desire for social justice. His New York-based jazz ensemble interprets their protest musically. Four of the five original compositions that Nowosad has written are dedicated to those who have suffered human rights atrocities including “Never Forget What They Did to Fred Hampton.”

Cut #2 is vocally explored by Michael Mayo, a scat master with a smooth baritone vocal that caresses the chords with improvisational skill. This is one of Nowosad’s original compositions titled, “The Water Protectors.” It has a catchy melody and is infused with vocal harmonics. Mayo’s vocalese sounds like a horn. The track is pushed and propelled by the incendiary drums of Nowosad.

On the third track, “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” is interpreted by vocalist Brianna Thomas with dirge-like horn lines and Matthew Whitaker strong on the organ, along with Andrew Renfroe gritty on guitar. “Waltz for Meg” is an up-tempo, jazz waltz with Curtis Nowosad keeping the tempo timely, but extremely creative on his trap drum set, dancing beneath the soloist melodies with power and precision. On the fade of this tune, Nowosad takes over and the spotlight is turned onto his percussive skills. He does not disappoint.

Straight Ahead jazz enters like a freight train on the tribute tune to Fred Hampton and features an emotional solo by trumpeter, Duane Eubanks. The “Song 4 Marielle Franco” is dedicated to a beautiful, educated, brown-skinned Brazilian woman who was a youthful politician, a feminist and a soldier for human rights. I was introduced to her by this composition. By researching, I discovered that after she earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the Fluminense Federal University, she served as a city council person for the Socialism and Liberty Party in Brazil. She fought for human rights in that position from January 2017 until she was shot dead in March of 2018. She and her driver were killed by two murderers during a ride through North Rio de Janeiro. Two former police officers were later arrested and charged with her execution. Once more, Michael Mayo is back with his smooth scat vocals on this tune and Marc Cary is an added attraction on Fender Rhodes electric piano. Most importantly, Curtis Nowosad called to my attention this heinous crime perpetrated on an awesome woman that I knew nothing about until his record.

This original composition is followed by “Blues 4 Colin K.” It’s funky and features Corey Wallace on a smooth, bluesy trombone solo. Jonathan Thomas is also a huge part of the blues rhythm section on piano, as is his bassist, Luke Sellick, who takes an impressive solo.

All in all, this is a unique musical experience that prompts listeners to both enjoy the music and the musicians, but also may tickle your interest into social and human rights history. Like me, you may find yourself googling to find out more about the people Mr. Nowosad references in his original music compositions.
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Tim Halderman, tenor saxophone/piano/flute/composer/arranger; John Goode, words/vocals; Dan Bennett, alto saxophone; Justin Walter, trumpet; Jordan Schug, cello; Jonathan Taylor, drums; Ben Willis, bass.

A tentative piano solo opens the first cut and then the poetry begins. Poet, John Goode is featured and this entirely original composed and arranged music by Tim Haldeman was prepared for a performance at the Ann Arbor Jazz Festival. This Haldeman album is dedicated to the people of Flint, Michigan, who suffered from dirty and dangerous drinking water that stunned our nation. How could this happen in America?

Goode’s poetry is thought provoking. He recites: “I followed whiskey into the county of Legionella, through the buzzing shotgun carcasses and moon-colored milkweed. I carried the White-Tailed Deer and Upland Sandpiper and Fox Snake, and I built a grave for each.”

Then he chants, “Ojebway – Ojebway – Ojebway” to remind us of the Moccasin people or the Chippewa, American Indians who were hunters and fishermen and who chose peace over war. A people, like all humanity, who depend on clean water to survive.

Haldeman is the pianist, the tenor saxophonist and the flautist on this recording. As the composer, his music is open and artistic like Goode’s poetry. They make a stunning pair, tied at the hip by the freedom they exude in both contemporary music and poignant spoken word. When track-one expands from poetry to Avant-garde experimentation, a blues-based composition rises like an unexpected storm on a sunny day and plays for five and a half minutes. Cut #2 features Ben Willis on bass, walking slowly, as if his load is heavy and his back is bent. Jordan Shug’s cello is a sweet surprise in this jazzy cracker-jack-box of music. There are lots of surprises. Without chordal accompaniment of piano or guitar, the horns float freely and the bass, along with Jonathan Taylor on drums lock the rhythm into place. Goode is back with more spoken word on the fourth cut. Although his words are amazingly beautiful and paint fluid verbal pictures, his monotone vocals are less appealing. Taylor is a dynamic drummer, who can be heard beneath the fray, spinning like an industrial fan and pushing the ensemble forward. However, at times, the horn harmonies begin to sound like a New York traffic jam. Shug’s cello brings relief, like a stop sign in front of a speeding truck. It was startling, on the” Weld Flashes/Open Water” tune.

On the final original composition, “Bird’s On Fire” Haldeman is back at the piano to accompany poet, John Goode. This is a pure work of art. If you are a lover of poetry, modern jazz, artistic expression and unscripted improvisation, this is a production you will hold dear.
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Bennett Paster, piano/keyboards/organ/composer; Jeff Hanley, bass; Tony Mason, drums; Al Street, guitar; Kenny Brooks, tenor saxophone; Samuel Torres, congas/percussion; Todd Isler, percussion.

Bennett Paster has deep, blues roots and you hear it right from the very first musical phrases of his original composition, “Blues for Youse”. I also hear some Thelonious Monk influence in his chord voicings. There is strong support from Jeff Hanley on bass and Tony Mason punches the rhythm on drums with attention-getting- fervor. Paster has composed, arranged and produced all of this recorded music. On the tune, “Givin’ the People What We Want” Kenny Brooks struts onto the set with his mighty tenor saxophone, reminding me a lot of Eddie Harris. Al Street adds spice to the production on guitar and the percussionists, Samuel Torres and Todd Isler stir the pot. This is a smokin’ hot stew of good music, flavorful composing and tasty interaction by the musicians. They fit together tightly and comfortably like knife and fork. Their cohesive sound is delicious. Not only is Bennett Paster proficient as a pianist, organist, producer, composer and arranger, he’s also a masterful studio engineer. On this recording he captures a happiness and joy that is contagious. Perhaps he explained it best when he said:

“Music moves us all, from finger snapping to full-on dancing. The power of groove to unite and bring joy is undeniable. It transcends cultures, nations, races and religion. This gravity is the force that I’m tapping into on this collection of songs that form Indivisible.

Here is jazz/funk music that entertains and inspires movement, dance and exultation. The tune titled, “Belgrade Booty Call” is a shuffle-feel that invites the percussionists to showcase their skills, while Bennett Paster is the head musical chef, cookin’ hot and hearty on piano. “Gritty Greens” is another soulful journey into the funky blues that Paster plays so well. On this arrangement he adds organ, reminding jazz fans of the incredible and powerful days of organist, Jimmy Smith.

Pastor studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and relocated to New York in 1996. On his musical journey, he’s worked with numerous jazz masters including blues man, Keb Mo’, Wallace Roney, Kurt Elling, Billy Hart, Peter Erskine, Albert “Tootie” Heath, Ann Hampton Callaway and many, many more. This is his sixth record release as a leader and it’s bound to make joyful noise on radio stations and in households across the world.
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Josean Jacobo, piano/vocals/composer; Yasser Tejeda, vocals; Daroll Mendez, bass/vocals; Mois Silfa, percussion; Otoniel Nicolas, drums/guira; Rafael Suncar, tenor saxophone; Jonathan Suazo, alto saxophone.

The group, Tumbao, digs deeply into the history of Afro-Dominican jazz. You hear the exciting rhythms and the African influence in Josean Jacobo’s expressive arranging. Full of flare and freedom, Josean Jacobo sets up the groove on piano, playing a catchy bass line and Mois Silfa’s percussion, along with Otoniel Nicolas on drums. They establish a strong, Latin groove. That’s how we are introduced to this artist, who has composed six of the ten songs recorded and he has arranged all the songs on this, his sophomore album. Jacobo brings musical greetings from the Tumbao group’s native Dominican Republic. Also, the title of this CD, “Cimarron” is extracted from the word “Cimarronaje” that refers to black slaves who escaped from captivity, taking refuge in the nearby mountains of their Caribbean island and formed fugitive societies that embraced and protected their African culture and customs. Josean Jacobo and his Tumbao group believes that the melding of Spanish conquerors, with the African culture, blended to create the current, rich Dominican heritage. He proudly flags this concept on this musical exploration.

Since jazz is always exemplary of freedom, you clearly hear that improvisational inventiveness in this production. Jonathan Suazo, on alto saxophone, and Rafael Suncar on tenor sax, bring a straight-ahead feel on “Mind Reset,” the second song on this fiery fiesta of succulent music.

“El Maniel” is pushed forcefully by percussive brilliance and makes me want to dance. On the Coltrane composition, “Lonnie’s Lament” Josean Jacobo uses his piano to explore the melody and scale improvisational lucidity up and down the 88-keys. Nicolas offers a tenacious exploration of his trap drums atop the repeating groove of Jacobo’s piano chords. I was surprised that no horns were included when arranging this song.

The vocals added on “Anaisa Pye” (a traditional folk song of the Dominican Republic) add zest and African-like chants to introduce this piece of music. I would like to have heard more of that in this arrangement. Daroll Mendez strongly holds the rhythm in place with his solid bass line, sounding almost like cut-time beneath the double-time piano parts and the flurry of drums. Hailed as ‘The Ambassador of Afro-Dominican Jazz’, Josean Jacobo offers this project as a historic presentation of generational beauty. The group, Tumbao, shows through their music how the elements of mixing people and cultures can create a synthesis of artistic goodness, even under the questionable circumstances of slavery.
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Charnett Moffett, fretless bass guitar/vocals/composer/producer; Jana Herzen, guitar/vocals; Brian Jackson, piano/synthesizer; Scott Tixier, violin; Mark Whitfield Jr., drums.

Charnett Moffett offers us orchestral smooth jazz propelled by his fretless electric bass. Rooted in composition titles that reflect religious ideals, he opens with “Holy Spirit.” The second cut, “Free the Slaves” adds Scott Tixler on violin and has the minor-key, musical sounds of the Middle East or that region of the world. Mark Whitfield Jr’s funk drums infuse the East African sound of the production. Moffett adds vocals and uses Boss pedals.

Jana Herzen has a sweet and lovely vocal on “Precious Air,” a song that also embraces a World Music concept. Herzen is the composer of this song and also the founder of Motema Music. She’s performed with Moffett in a variety of settings and explained:

“Playing in this ensemble is liberating and requires total presence. The music is not created from a fixed position, so we have to keep our ears keenly tuned and react quickly to each shift in the musical current.”

Track four sounds like a hymnal. When I look for the title, I’m right. It’s called “O My God Elohim.” Charnett Moffett has composed all eight songs on this production except for “Precious Air.” In the liner notes, Moffett said:

“I composed this album with intention to create emotional uplift and healing vibrations.”

However, although the title of this album is “Bright New Day” the music itself did not make me feel bright or gay. It’s more pensive and exploratory. Many of the tracks are repetitious, in the sense of looping over and over again. I long for more melody and less looping. That being said, Charnett Moffett has a marvelous sound on his bass instrument. His music is the kind of music that was being played last weekend in Las Vegas when I unwound in the meditation room at the Venetian Spa. That’s not all bad.
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Mark Watkins, soprano saxophone/composer; Ray Smith, alto saxophone; Sandon Mayhew, Tenor saxophone; Jon Gudmundson, baritone saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Miami Saxophone Quartet includes Gary Keller, Gary Linddsay, Ed Calle & Mike Brignola; Richard Ingham Saxophone Quartet includes Oliver Eve, Sam Neal, Matthew Kilner & Richard Ingham; Saxitude, includes Dominque Gatto, Pierre Cocq-Amann, Robi Arend & Thomas Diemert; Utah Saxophone Quartet includes Charles Smith, Daron Bradford, Dave Feller & Gaylen Smith; Zagreb Saxophone Quartet includes Dragan Sremec, Goran Mercep, Sasa Nestorovic & Madjaz Drevensek.

This morning, I discovered a wonderful display of creativity and awesome saxophone diversity. “Four” is a quartet conglomeration of sax players who fluidly show us that no other players are needed to present an authentic exploration of jazz saxophone. This is a project, featuring all reed instruments, with no chordal accompaniment. It showcases several different groups of saxophone quartets from a variety of places. The Zagreb Quartet is based in Croatia. Saxitude comes from the Western European land-locked country of Luxembourg. Miami, Florida offers their take on the premise of a saxophone quartet, as does the state of Utah. Scotland is the home base of the Richard Ingham Quartet. Mark Watkins took great care and was quite determined in bringing this project to fruition. Pulling from various points on earth and using a talented mixture of five quartets, Watkins began composing, writing arrangements and making calls to friends and saxophone-quartet-peers who jumped onboard this unique project. Watkins has composed six of the ten songs contained in this production. The groups of reed players creatively blend classical European music with America’s classical music called jazz. It’s an intriguing and capricious exhibit of what can happen when four master saxophonists get together to harmonically express themselves.
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Akiko Tsuruga, Hammond B3 Organ/composer; Jeff Hamilton, drums/producer; Graham Dechter, guitar.

This fiery, combustible, driving music is riveting and becomes a wonderful way to begin my day. Cup of coffee in hand, listening to this album is an incredible throw-back to my swinging nights at Jimmy Smith’s supper club in Los Angeles or the organ trios of Jack McDuff in Detroit at Dummy George’s bar. Akiko Tsuruga is a brilliant and explosive star on the Hammond B3. Graham Dechter’s guitar is as natural and complimentary to her playing as creamy butter on bread. His incredible talents on guitar exemplify mastery of his instrument and blend beautifully with Akiko’s soulful organ playing. To complete this outstanding trio is the drum master himself, Jeff Hamilton. This is, without a doubt, an example of the classic organ trio. The first tune is a composition by Akiko Tsuruga. The second cut is a Dechter composition that swings hard and gives each of the trio members a time to brightly shine with outstanding solos. Like the title of the tune, “Orange Coals,” this group is smoking hot like a smoldering bar-b-que pit. “Osaka Samba” is another Akiko composition and takes a lighter approach, as her fingers dance on the treble keys of the organ. Here is a powerful trio. Their individual artistry fits together like gigantic puzzle pieces that complete the whole. They groove as one and strongly complement each other, as any great unit of musicians should do. By the time they get to the fourth cut, a Hank Mobley original titled, “A Baptist Beat,” Akiko Tsuruga shows us she knows how to get down and dirty. Graham Dechter sets the blues on fire with his guitar. Egged on by Hamilton’s sturdy and compelling drum sticks, the trio is off and galloping towards a shuffle groove that will have you snapping your fingers and slapping your foot on the two and four.

After encouragement from drummer/vocalist Grady Tate, Akiko relocated from Osaka, Japan to the United States. Since then she has released numerous albums as a leader including a ‘live’ recording that featured both Hamilton and Dechter and was titled, “So Cute, So Bad.”

Dechter is a California native who has been a member of the Clayton-Hamilton jazz Orchestra since he was a teenager. He’s worked with Jimmy Heath, Kurt Elling, Eliane Elias, Nancy Wilson, Wynton Marsalis, and Michael Buble. He has two albums released as a leader, both on the Capri label. Jeff Hamilton is one of the giants of jazz drumming. he’s a founding member of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Jeff Hamilton also played with Woody Herman and Count Basie’s big bands. His iconic drumming is always in demand and many jazz luminaries have requested his talents including Diana Krall, Monty Alexander, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Ella Fitzgerald.

This is an album full of spunk and spice and everything nice!
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Mark Morganelli, Flugelhorn/producer/percussion; Abelita Mateus, piano/Fender Rhodes/vocals; Eddie Monteiro, midi-accordion/vocals; Monika Oliveira, vocals; Nelson Matta, bass; Adriano Santos, drums; Nanny Assis, percussion/guitar/vocals; Carlos Barbosa-Lima, guitar.

Mark Morganelli has used this double set recording to celebrate the music of Jobim, Claudio Roditi, Geraldo Pereira, Joao Donato, Jorge Ben, Marcos Valle, Luiz Bonfa and Ary Barroso. Here is a compilation of Brazilian composers and their amazing music, interpreted by Morganelli’s Jazz Forum All-Stars. Their music is bright and bubbly, rising like happy helium balloons into the air. Morganelli dominates the party on flugelhorn, dancing improvisationally atop his ensemble and also taking care to interpret the legendary melodies of these great composers.

He is no newcomer to the jazz scene. Mark Morganelli started leading his own band during high school and was performing in jazz festivals as early as 1976. He has recorded with an impressive number of well-known jazz cats including Billy Hart, John Hicks, James Spaulding, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Kenny Barron, Paquito D’Rivera, James Moody, Clark Terry, Harry “Sweets” Edison and many more. Most recently, he and his wife, Ellen Prior, have opened a new Jazz Forum Club in Tarrytown, New York.

I found Eddie Monteiro’s caramel-smooth vocals to sweetly caress the Ivan Lins & Vitor Martins composition, “Velas Icadas.” However, most of the vocals are sufficiently expressed by Monika Oliveira. “So Danco Samba” is a familiar Brazilian standard and Morganelli incorporates “A-Train” into the mix, showing how similar the chord changes are in both songs.

This is Morganelli’s fifth CD as a leader and he continues to remain busy producing music for Candid Records and running his new jazz venue. Enjoy the carnival spirit of his recorded music that includes twenty-seven Brazilian songs on this CD.

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MICHEL CAMILO – “ESSENCE” Resilience Music Alliance

Michel Camilo, piano/bandleader/composer; Ricky Rodrigues, bass; Cliff Almond, drums; Eliel Lazo, percussion/vocals; Antonio Hart, alto saxophone/flute; Sharel Cassity, alto saxophone/clarinet; Ralph Bowen, tenor saxophone/flute; Adam Kolker, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Frank Basile, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Michael Philip Messman, arranger/trumpet/flugelhorn; Raul Agra, John Walsh, Diego Urcola, & Kali Rodriguez-Pena, trumpet/flugelhorn; Michael Dease, Steve Davis, & Jason Jackson, trombone; David Taylor, bass trombone.

In celebration of Michel Camilo’s 25th album release as a leader, he has pulled together a stunning All-Star Big Band and the production plays like a glorious party. The Dominican-born pianist is celebrating his Grammy Award Winning career with an 18-piece band comprised of dear friends and stellar talent. The cornerstone of the band is Camilo’s remarkable rhythm section. His drummer, Cliff Almond, has been a part of the pianist’s bands for nearly three decades. Puerto Rican bassist, Ricky Rodriguez is a young lion who has been working with Michel Camilo in recent years. The newest addition is Eliel Lazo, who is a Cuban percussionist and vocalist that lives in Copenhagen.

“I tried to choose music from every stage of development as a creative artists and composer,” Camilo shared in his liner notes.

“I picked songs that represent shifts in my career and my point of view, that showcase how I developed my sound. I’ve always thought of the trio as a mini-orchestra, so the big band is a way to celebrate my career and my journey with a group of friends creating together in the studio.”

Featuring nature photography by Herminio Alberti Leon, he described his album cover, “The air is the space between the lines and the way we breathe together. The water comes in the flow of ideas while the earth is in the grooves, the organic way they bring you down to earth.”

From the very first energetic and combustible tune, “And Sammy Walked In,” I am hooked on the cohesive sound of this band and these wonderful arrangements. This is followed by a tribute song to Mongo Santamaria tiled, “Mongo’s Blues.” It was Mongo Santamaria who took Michel Camilo, then a young pianist, under his wing upon Camilo’s arrival in New York. That was in 1979. Lazo adds zest with his percussion work and also provides spirited vocals on this song. The arrangement is a combination of the blues and Afro-Cuban rhythms. As each composition unfolds, I find myself more and more in love with this album of great arranging by Michael Phillip Messman and the original compositions and piano brilliance of Michel Camilo. His fourth track titled, “Liquid Crystal” gives Michel Camilo an opportunity to lean towards impressionistic and modern jazz, with his piano chops setting up the piece and shining brightly, like sunrays sparkling on fine crystal. This composition prepares a healthy platform for Kali Rodriguez-Pena to play a pensive solo on trumpet. Cliff Almond makes his own combustive and creative statement on trap drums. On cut #6, “Just Like You,” Antonio Hart offers a bluesy, rich and noteworthy alto saxophone solo. This is another beautiful composition Michel Camilo has written.

You will find this to be a provocative Latin big band at its best and more! The arrangements by Michael Phillip Messman are plush and exciting. They ebb and flow; build and crescendo; whisper blues and joyous shouts make room for the awesome piano technique and splendor of Michel Camilo’s playing. It’s also easy to fall in love with Camilo’s wonderful compositions.
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Peter Beets, piano; Tom Baldwin, double bass; Eric Kennedy, drums.

Peter Beets has decided to celebrate some of the timeless compositions of George & Ira Gershwin with his trio. I love each and every one of his song choices. They are part of America’s treasured songbook and each one is familiar to our ears and warm in the public hearts. Beginning with “Our Love Is Here to Stay” Beets uses his left hand (along with Eric Kennedy’s drum talents) to establish a marching, shuffle beat, while his right hand embellishes the melody in a lovely way.

Tom Baldwin is stellar on double bass, racing at a high-speed pace to set the tone and tempo on “S’Wonderful.” Peter Beets flies right alongside his two awesome players, improvising spectacularly and kept honest by the roaring drums of Eric Kennedy, who holds the piece tightly in place and trades fours, taking brief but spectacular solos.

This is an album of excellence, performed by three master musicians and they amply showcase the music of Gershwin, including their unique renditions of I Loves You, Porgy, Embraceable You, Summertime, I’ve Got A Crush On You, How Long Has This Been Going On?, They Can’t Take that Away From Me and Lady Be Good. Every cut recorded is perfectly executed and emotionally rich in presentation.
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June 28, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist
June 28, 2019

Knowing Curtis Robertson Jr. for several years, one thing was clear to me right away. Not only is he a talented and technically astute bass player, Curtis Is also a very conscientious man. He always seems to be in search of knowledge, but with a cool, laid-back attitude. His smile can light up an auditorium, like his bass playing. But he also has a thoughtful, contemplative side. For Black Music Month, I enjoyed talking to Curtis Robertson Jr. about his life in the music business and his current project to tribute vocalist/songwriter, Syreeta Wright. In our conversation, he shares transformative steps within his music career and in his life. Curtis believes that musicians proudly wear a garment that reflects common, ancestral threads.

Curtis was born and raised in Hyde Park on the southside of Chicago, Illinois. His father’s parents were part of the migration from the South to a hopeful new future up North. His mother, a preacher’s daughter, came from West Virginia seeking the same. I asked Curtis if he came from a musical family and although no one was a formally trained musician he credited his mom for musical inspiration.

“My mother could sing. She had vocal lessons when she was young, and she sang hymns in church. She also played a little piano. She was born in 1924 and when she was in her twenties and thirties she listened to the standards.” NOTE: some call them the great American songbook.

“My mother was always singing around the house. She sang songs her mother and older sisters taught her from songs of her day and listened to songs played on the radio.

“After a few years of playing guitar, I began learning standard tunes.I’d play the chord changes and voicings I learned from Chicago guitarist and educator, Reggie Boyd and my peer mentor, great guitarist, John Thomas. My mother would be in the kitchen cooking, and I would bring my guitar into the kitchen. She could sing in-tune and she’d sing along. She knew the melodies and all the words. That’s how I learned many a tune.

“My father loved music too and he sure could whistle! He had range, good intonation and tone. He listened to a lot of West Indian and African music. He was raised by West Indians as a youth. We had a good stereo system and my father had quite a record collection. My parents would play Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson, Baba Olatunji’s ‘Drums of Passion’ record and opera-sounding records like ‘Oklahoma.’ I heard Harry Belafonte, Odetta, Woody Gutherie and Burl Ives. My parents were social activists in the late fifties and early sixties. They weren’t big blues people, but they had Billie Holiday records and Dave Brubeck; not a lot of jazz. I heard more island music and albums like ‘Porgy and Bess’ at the house.

“I started out playing guitar as a youngster. In my teen years, I was in a band. I was in the eighth grade, so I was thirteen. No one wanted to play the bass. I’ve always been kind of a peace-maker, so I said to my arguing bandmates, I’ll play it. The singer in our band had a bass, so that’s how I started playing that instrument. Early on, I knew music was what I wanted to do. I enjoyed the attention from the girls and we all thought having a band was cool. There was also a good camaraderie between the fellow musicians. Back then we were playing Jimi Hendrix, Cream, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. As I grew, I moved up to adding Coltrane and Miles to my repertoire.

“Lena McLin was a high school choir director at my Hyde Park high school and she really was one of my main influences in Chicago. I was in the high school jazz band and she was doing the choir and also teaching opera. Ms. McLin used to take me aside on her lunch period and tutor me. She used to drill me. She made sure I knew my music theory.

“My other early mentor was Reggie Boyd. He was a genius. You could go over to Reggie’s house and he had transcribed a solo by Coltrane or Paul Chambers. He had a great ear and he would teach us chord changes, technique and theory. Reggie Boyd is responsible for really getting me into my bass.”

NOTE: Reggie Boyd was known as THE teacher for many Chicago guitarists including blues legends Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, James Wheeler, Louis Myers, Willie Johnson, Billy Boy Arnold and Dave Specter, to name just a few. His knowledge of theory and technique was formidable, according to many historians. His only recording was a 45rpm titled “Nothing But Good/ Nothing But Poison.” Reggie Boyd died in October of 2010.

Curtis Robertson Jr. also credits Louis Satterfield (before he was an Earth Wind & Fire member) for teaching him how to play the blues in the early 1970s by listening to him play on BB King’s ‘Live at the Regal’ album.

“I would listen to those bass lines over and over again.”

“Satterfield is the one who played that amazing bass-line on the Fontella Bass hit R&B record, ‘Rescue Me.’

“My mother used to take me to the Regal Theater where I saw B. B. King and James Brown. I started listening to Jack Bruce, Cream’s bass player and Noel Redding, (bass player with Hendrix). I was also listening to Motown music and they had James Jamerson in the Funk Brothers. The older I got, I began listening to Paul Chambers, Sam Jones, Mingus and a lot of Ron Carter on Miles Davis records. I also listened to Wes Montgomery. Of course, I was influenced by Cleveland Eaton, who was playing with Ramsey Lewis. We used to listen to that album over and over again. It was produced by Charles Stephney.”

Note: Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire founder) and famed arranger, Charles Stephney, produced Ramsey’s “Salongo” album in 1972 incorporating members of Earth Wind & Fire into the production and White produced the 1974 Ramsey Lewis album titled, “Sun Goddess”, experimenting with electronic sounds. Personnel included: Ramsey Lewis (syn, g, p, e-p, string machine, arr) Cleveland Eaton (bass) Maurice Jennings (dr, perc) Richard Evans (Horn & String arr) Byron Gregory (g) Maurice White (voc, dr, perc) Verdine White (bass, voc) Johnny Graham (guitar) Philip Bailey (perc, voc) Don Myrick (ts) Charles Stepney (g, key) Derf Rehlee Raheem (perc, voc)

“Well, some of the richest experiences I’ve had was playing right here in Los Angeles. at the clubs and with some of these local players. I loved so much playing at Marla’s Memory Lane, working with Milton Bland, aka: Monk Higgins. It was wonderful to play with Cal Green and pianist, Billy Mitchell. Billy Mitchell and Reggie Andrews played keyboards in Syreeta’s first band. Reggie Andrews was teaching at Locke High School and he couldn’t go on the road, so the great Lanny Hartley took his place. By meeting Lanny, I met a lot of other cats. Some of those were Washington Rucker, Randy Randolph, Harold Acey and Terry Evans. This is how I met Jake Porter. That was one of the greatest experiences I ever had. I say that because Jake Porter would play different tunes, not just standards. He would play things like, “Alexander’s Rag Time Band” and “Hello Dolly.” He pulled tunes from further back. Jake would count off the tune and give us the key. I would say hey, what is it? I wanted to know the title of the tune. Jake would answer, ‘You’ll hear it, youngster.’ Then he’d hold one finger down for key of F; two fingers down for B flat; three fingers for E flat. It was an on-stage training! Jackie Kelso was playing clarinet and Lanny Hartley would be on piano. Washington Rucker played drums and Terry Evans was on guitar. Coming up playing with those cats was really a great experience for me. Jake worked a lot and kept a lot of cats working. I look at my music experiences as a bridge. Jake was a bridge to a whole other time. I call that ancestral transmission.”

NOTE: Jake Porter was a trumpet and cornet player who cut his musical teeth playing in Lionel Hampton’s big band. After serving in the U.S. Military, he played with such jazz masters as Benny Carter, Fats Waller, Noble Sissle, Fletcher Henderson and Benny Goodman’s band. He was born in Oakland, California, but eventually settled in Los Angeles. Porter died in L.A. at age 76, on March 25, 1993.

As Curtis Robertson Jr.’s career expanded and blossomed, he found that many people opened unexpected doors for the young bass player to walk through.

He met and fell in love with Syreeta Wright in the early seventies, shortly after her divorce from Stevie Wonder. They were soon writing songs together and he became part of her touring band.

“I had worked with Syreeta touring in 1974. But my first big gig was in 1975, when I got the call to work with Gary Bartz. Back in the day, I went to high school with Chaka Khan in Chicago. A lot of the musicians used to hang out at Chaka’s parent’s house. I knew her husband, Hassan Khan. He used to play bass with the Staple Singers and the Five Stairsteps.”

Note: The FIVE STAIRSTEPS recorded a popular song called “Oo – oo Child” that Rolling Stone magazine dubbed one of the 500 Greatest Songs of all time.

“So, when I went over to the house where the band was staying, that’s where I met Nate Morgan. Nate was playing piano with Gary Bartz. Gary hired me, sight unseen, thanks to the recommendation of Nate Morgan and we played our very first gig in Dayton, Ohio at a club called ‘Gillys.’ That was my first gig with Gary Bartz. He had just left Miles Davis, so he was playing that Bitches Brew kind of stuff. That fit right into my background, from playing Hendrix stuff and Motown stuff. But, if he called ‘Impressions’ up-tempo, I could play that too. Afterwards, Gary called and said, we’re getting ready to go to Europe. You wanna go? I said, well hey man, Syreeta is pregnant. She’s getting ready to have a baby. I don’t know. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go on tour with Syreeta, about to have our baby. However, as time went on, we already had a back-up plan with moms and Syreeta’s younger sister, Kim. So, when he offered me the contract, I said to myself, you know what? You’ve got to go on and do this gig. So, we ended up travelling all over Europe.

“Gary Bartz is one of my heroes. We did a lot of gigs. Our first gig together was the George Wein Newport Jazz Festival tour. I got to hang out on the side of the stage with all these famous musicians like Charles Mingus. The band knew how much I admired Charles Mingus and I wanted to go over there and get Mingus to sign my program and just talk to him. Everybody was saying, Naw man – don’t go over there and bother Charlie Mingus. uh-huh – don’t go over there! Especially Bartz and Jackie McClean. Those two were like, don’t go bothering Charlie Mingus. But Mingus was my hero. So, I went walking backstage in Yugoslavia. I walked over to him and said, hey Mr. Mingus, I’m a big fan of yours. All the musicians were just watching the scene from a distance and they acted like he was going to cold-cock me or something. I handed him my program, not sure what his response was going to be. Lo and behold, he signed it for me. He kept mumbling, ‘These god damn Communists. I hate these Communists.’ I just nodded, said, yes sir, took my program and eased on away. When I got over to where the cats were standing, we were all relieved that it went so well.”

Curtis Robertson Jr.’s career changed direction again in 1980 when he was hired to work with groove master, Les McCann. Eddie Harris joined McCann on-tour in 1987 and Curtis worked another three years with both of those master musicians. Listen to Curtis Robertson Jr.’s powerful bass line and solo on the Eddie Harris “Live At the Moonwalker” LP recorded in Switzerland, October, 1989. The tune is titled, “Walking the Walk.” The trio is Eddie Harris on saxophone, paino and vocals, Curtis on bass and Norman Fearrington on drums.

The 1989 Mr. Fuji Jazz Festival in Japan, with a BlueNote Record line-up, features Curtis on stage performing with Les McCann, Stanley Turrentine and Lou Rawls. You can fast forward 48 minutes into the video below to see them rocking the audience on “Stormy Monday Blues.”

“Tony St. James was playing drums and Bobby Bryant Jr. was on tenor and alto saxophone. His dad is Bobby Bryant Sr., the trumpet player and educator. Les called me one day and said, ‘Hey Curtis, this is Les McCann. Come to this audition to be in my band.’ So, I went and two weeks later I was working with his band in Australia. I liked that band because Les kept the band fired up.”

Before touring with Les McCann, Curtis worked with a number of diverse artists. One memorable position was working in Maxine Weldon’s band.

“Maxine Weldon was one of my favorite singers. I worked a lot of gigs with Maxine in the late 1970s and 1980s. I went to Europe with Maxine and worked all over town with her in L.A. I still hear her in my mind. I love the variety of covers she did. She sang that old Ink Spots song, The Gypsy.”

“I also worked with guitarist, Robben Ford. He’s a bad man in a very good way! He used to play with Jimmy Witherspoon, Tom Scott, Miles Davis, Larry Carlton and Joni Mitchell. He was one of the founding members of the Yellowjackets group. Someone heard me play and referred me to his management team. They put my name in the hat to tour with Robben Ford’s group. The bass player, at that time, was Jimmy Haslip. So, at one point, I took Jimmy’s place on tour. I think they liked my blues handle, you know, my being from Chicago and all.”

In 1976 and 1977, Curtis joined a group of all-star jazz players and they called themselves ‘Karma.’ They were signed to A&M’s Horizon records and released two extraordinary albums. One was titled “Celebration” and the other was called, “For Everybody.”

“That was the first label I was signed to as a band. The band was called ‘Karma’ and we made two albums. At that time, George Bohanon was dating Deniece Williams. He was in the group and when he and Niecy came down to the studio, I said to her, why don’t you sing on this song? So, she and Syreeta sang on the Celebration record.”

NOTE; COMPLETE LINE-UP: Reggie Andrews (Heshimu) (Keyboards), George Bohanon (Saeed) (Trombones, Baritone Horn), Ernie Watts (Tenor & Soprano Sax), Oscar Brashear (Chache) (Trumpet), Curtis Robertson, Jr. (Bass), Josef Blocker (Drums, Vocals), Vander “Stars” Lockett (Percussion, Vocals), Syreeta Wright, Deniece Williams (Vocals).

Recorded in 1976; together they had an Earth Wind & Fire sound and energy steeped in electronic funk or soul jazz, and played by some of the top players in the Los Angeles area

“So, that was an opportunity to rehearse a lot, you know. It was great to rehearse with that amazing horn section we had. I had time on my hands because I had just finished the tour with Gary Bartz. I got Syreeta on that Gary Bartz record too.”

“Gary put her on two of his records. I played on his CDs “Love Affair” and “It’s My Sanctuary.” I was also on “Ju Ju Man” on the Prestige label in 1976. We played some good tunes on there. Syreeta sang “My Funny Valentine” and it was beautiful. Howard King was on drums, Charles Mims Jr. on piano and me on bass. Pat Britt produced the session.”

From 1990 to 2005, the bass work you hear on all those hit records by Lou Rawls is the mastery of Curtis Robertson Jr. He was a part of the Rawls touring ensemble. Curtis Robertson Jr. also worked with Randy Crawford, (the vocalist who had the big hit record, “Street Life” with The Jazz Crusaders). His stellar bass sound was embraced by Gladys Knight, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Freddie Hubbard, David T. Walker, Richard Thompson and Steve Hillage. These are just a few of the people he’s worked with over his career. But for many years his energy was directed in songwriting and producing music with Syreeta. Their union produced two albums and two sons. The albums were titled, “One to One” and “SYREETA”, both released on Tamla Records, a Motown subsidiary.

“It was 1976 and I met with Suzanne de Passe at Motown to discuss Syreeta’s upcoming project. I had been singing Charles Stephney’s praises. I let Syreeta hear Minnie Ripperton’s “Come to My Garden” record. We both wanted Charles Stephney to come in and do the arranging. So, Ms. de Passe met with Charles Stephney and it was a go. Unfortunately for us, on May 17, 1976 Charles Stephney died. We wound up doing the record with Leon Ware and David Bromberg. They did a fantastic job. Leon was a genius. He knew how to get the most out of an artist. There’s a song Syreeta and I wrote titled, Rest Yourself” on that album that I really love.”

“The way this current project to tribute Syreeta came about was in 2003, Syreeta came to my studio to continue our musical collaborations. She knew she was ill and asked me to promise to finish the songs we’d record and share them with her fans. Before she passed, she put vocals on four songs we were recording. This single that I released this month titled, “If It Is Love,” is the first part of A Promise Kept. That will be the name of the EP. There are two versions of ‘If It Is Love,’ the single version for radio play, and the extended-play version that features solos by veteran guitarist David T. Walker, Grégoire Maret on harmonica and pianist/organist, Deron Johnson. I have to thank Arthur Walton of Samurai Records, who resurrected this project with his heart, soul and skills when I had all but given up.

“I’ve kept in touch with Charles Mims, the pianist/arranger who I met through Reggie Andrews. I met Reggie through Syreeta. Charles Mims and Patrice were high school sweethearts. Charles did a lot of co-writing with Patrice Rushen, who’s a dynamic pianist/recording artist and arranger herself. Mims is a very prolific writer and arranger too.

“When Syreeta and I decided to do a reunion session, I got Gary Bartz and Charles Mims on it. In fact, we did a song Syreeta and I wrote that Maria Muldaur covered titled, ‘There is a Love.’ I’m almost done with mixing that song. I just have to do a few more little things to it.”

“There’s a bunch of great talents and dear friends on this project. Land Richards plays drums and Munyungo Jackson is on percussion. Harold Barney (aka Jasper Stone) plays Fender Rhodes keyboard. Tracy Wannomae brings in the woodwinds and Rocio Marron did string arrangements for me. I played a little acoustic piano on it and bass. Deron Johnson did most of the piano work, played the Hammond B3 and the mellotron.

“I’m just full of gratitude. I’m grateful that I’m still here and able to make this happen. I’m thankful to the musicians and engineers who nurtured and supported this project and made it possible. It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve learned that everything happens in God’s time. Thank you Syreeta for sharing your beauty, your heart, your love, your belief in me and your profound gift of song. Now we can share it with your friends and fans.”


This journalist has always been a huge ‘Syreeta’ fan. Her original album, produced by Stevie Wonder, was one of my favorite collector items. Stevie first discovered the amazing voice of Syreeta Wright and signed her to his production company. I played that album over and over again back in the 1970’s

Born August 3, 1946, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Syreeta was raised by her mother and her grandmother. Her dad was off fighting in the Korean War. She and two sisters were bounced between South Carolina and Detroit until she became high school age. Once settling down in the Motor City, she secured a job as a receptionist for the then, fledgling Motown Record company. The former ballerina and music lover soon became a secretary for producer Mickey Stevenson. Of course, what her real dream was to become a singer/songwriter at the company. She knew she had an outstanding voice and was secure in her songwriting abilities. Once some of the Motown producers heard her lovely voice, she became their ‘go-to’ for studio demo sessions. That’s how she met Stevie Wonder in 1968. A year later, they began dating and writing music together. In 1970, they were married. Their first collaboration was in 1969 and became a hit record on the Spinners group titled, “It’s A Shame.” That was certainly one of my favorite Spinner songs. Then, in 1971, the Wonder/Wright song “If You Really Love Me” soared up the Pop and R&B charts and featured Syreeta’s outstanding vocals singing background behind Stevie Wonder’s lead. It was obvious that her voice was special and one to be reckoned with. It stood out.

I’m a collector of Stevie Wonder’s music and some of my favorite music was written by Syreeta and Stevie on his “Music of My Mind” album and the “Talking Book” master piece. Her debut solo album was exquisite, but didn’t get the company support in promotion and marketing that I thought it should have received. That same year, her marriage to Stevie Wonder ended, but their close friendship continued. Stevie produced her second album titled, “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta” in 1974.

After her marriage dissolved with Stevie Wonder she met bassist, Curtis Robertson Jr. and they fell in love. She and Curtis recorded a couple of albums together.

Her 1979 hit record with Billy Preston singing “With You I’m Born Again” is probably familiar to a lot of readers and music lovers. It was written and produced for a movie called “Fast Break” and raced up the charts worldwide, becoming #2 on the UK charts and #4 on the United States Billboard chart.

In 1992, she decided to retire from the business of recording and began a new musical challenge performing in the national touring cast of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the role of Mary Magdalene. Her star-studded cast included the original film stars Ted Neeley and the wonderful actor/vocalist, Carl Anderson. She stayed in that cast until 1995.

Now, after her untimely death in July of 2004, new music is being released to celebrate this great singer/songwriter by producer, songwriter and bassist, Curtis Robertson Jr. Since Syreeta was an activist and was very active in her community, it seems perfect that her music is being released during Black Music Month.
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June 26, 2019

JUNE 26, 2019

Reviewed by Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

Jazzmeia Horn, vocals/composer; Victor Gould,piano & SPECIAL GUEST: Sullivan Fortner, piano; Ben Williams, bass; Jamison Ross, drums/vocals; Stacey Dillard, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpeter; Chris Dunn, producer.

Jazzmeia Horn has returned to the jazz scene with a dozen songs full of energy, substance, rooted in cultural consciousness and nurtured by her dynamic vocals. As a composer, she has written seven of the twelve songs she’s recorded. Beginning with “Free Your Mind,” I am reminded of 1960 jazz messages of peace and freedom; of Betty Carter and Coltrane; of Lambert, Hendrix and Ross. Those mentioned are all icons and I expect this vocalist will take her place in the sunshine of success as well. Here is a talent to watch and enjoy.

The second cut, “Time” is a short poem, followed by the speedy, bebop tune titled, “Out the Window.” It showcases Jazzmeia’s comfort level with scatting, while showcasing her perfect enunciation and ability to swing as hard as Sarah Vaughan or Mel Tormé. “No More” is a song deeply rooted in the blues, written by Hubert Laws and Jon Hendricks, and proclaiming Horn’s female power and independence. Sullivan Fortner is delightful on piano, putting the ‘B’ in blues and Jazzmeia Horn shows how powerful she is with a full ensemble, or in this case, only a trio. The fade adds gospel background vocals chanting the theme, “No More.” “When I Say” is, once more, a declaration of power and female liberation. It’s a lyric full of ultimatums and declarations, reminding me at times of a Marlena -Shaw-tone when in her heyday she sang, “Let the doorknob hit cha where the dog should of bit cha”.

The lovely ballad, “Legs and Arms” lyrically seems to be written for a man to sing about some crush he has on a brunette beauty. The bridge challenges Horn’s competent vocal range and is very melodic and ear-pleasing. This song features a sensual tenor saxophone solo by Stacey Dillard. At her live, overseas performance, at the Jazz Ahead Trade Fair, Jazzmeia Horn explained what inspired her to write this song. It was a peeping Tom she busted while attending college. She caught him staring (with binoculars), into her window. He was there when she awoke to take a shower each morning. She explained how we can often find something good to come out of a negative experience. So, she composed this song about that very moment and what he may have been thinking.

Criss-crossing from straight-ahead and bebop into the realms of Hip-Hop, she refreshes the Erykah Badu tune, “Green Eyes” with a band that clearly understands and embraces her desire to explore all music through the prism of jazz arrangements. Jazzmeia Horn evokes kaleidoscope colors with her music; a colorful mixture of historic jazz and current genres. She is fearless, covering “Reflections of my Heart,” written by the late icon, George Duke and the great vocalist, Rachelle Ferrell. This is recorded as a duet with her awesome drummer and singer, Jamison Ross. Ross has a stunningly emotional voice that blends perfectly with Horn’s purity of soulful sound. To close this album, Ben Williams struts his stuff on double bass during the standard song, “I Thought About You.” Jazzmeia Horn and Williams are a formidable duo.

According to the liner notes, it was Horn’s jazz-loving, piano-playing grandmother who suggested christening the child with the splendid name of “Jazzmeia.” Born in Dallas, Texas, the little girl with the jazzy name grew up surrounded by the love and musicality of her family. As a toddler, she was already singing her songs and exhibiting her fascination with music. Jazzmeia Horn attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, known for launching the careers of great musicians including Roy Hargrove, Norah Jones and Erykah Badu. Later, her education included mentoring by jazz masters like Betty Carter, Bobby McFerrin and Abbey Lincoln. When she relocated to New York City in 2009, in constant search of perfecting her craft, the youthful vocalist enrolled in The New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music Program. She studied and blossomed. After four-years, people started noticing her talent and ability. In 2013, she entered and won a Newark-based contest named for the sassy Ms. Sarah Vaughan, an international jazz competition. I hear a lot of Sarah’s influence in Jazzmeia’s presentation. In 2015, Horn won the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition. Part of her prize was a contract with Concord which led to her former debut release, “A Social Call.”

“Honestly, I’m way more excited now about ‘Love and Liberation,’ because this is mostly my original music. Don’t get me wrong. I love ‘A Social Call’ and all the acclamations were great … the reviews in Downbeat, The New York Times and London Times. But now, I’m like, you guys don’t really know what’s coming. Boy, do I have something in store for you,” Jazzmeia Horn warns.

If this current album of amazing music and creativity is an example of her warning, I say, bring it on!
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A CD Review for Black Music Month: VIVIAN SESSOMS

June 22, 2019

JUNE 22, 2019

BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist

VIVIAN SESSOMS – “LIFE II” ropeadope Records

Vivian Sessoms, vocals/producer/arranger; Chris Parks, bass/producer/arranger/electric piano/ programmer/keys; Shedrick Mitchell, piano/organ/arranger; Christian Gates, keys/programming;/ guitar/drum programming; Dave Archer, keys; Sherrod Barnes & Mark Whitefield, guitar; Donald Edwards, Eric Brown & Billy Kilson, drums; Kenyatta Beasley, trumpet; Vincent Gardner, trombone; John Isley, saxophone; Casey Benjamin, saxophones/Fender Rhodes; Adi Yeshaya, string arranger; Charisa the violin diva, strings; Meku Yisreal, conga; Gregoire Maret, harmonica.

Vivian Sessoms is a composer, producer and vocalist. She has made her mark in the music business after years of preparation and practice. As a young talent, at the tender age of nine, Vivian was already doing television and radio voice overs. Her parents saw her artistic potential and she received classical training in voice and piano. Her first major tour was with Ryuichi Sakamoto, a pianist and composer. On the road with this brilliant artist and mentor, along with a band of awesome musicians including Manu Katche, Victor Bailey, and Darryl Jones, this fledgling songbird blossomed and took flight. She even learned to sing in Japanese. Her amazing vocal ability has impressed both in the studio and ‘live,’ such artists as P. Diddy, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Sinead O’Connor, Pink, Chaka Khan and Stevie Wonder, to list just a few. You probably have heard her vocals on any number of commercial jingles including Adidas, Afrosheen, Burger King, Calvin Klein, Campbells Soup, Coke, Dark & Lovely, Hersheys, Hyatt, even the IRS.

Listening to her lovely vocals on “The Best Is Yet To Come” I hear shades of Chaka Khan phrasing and a penchant towards Rhythm and Blues grit. She makes the song hers, far from the Frank Sinatra version, reinventing it to a more smooth-jazz production.

There is a Hip-Hop rap interval that follows this song featuring Major TRUTH Green that protests police violence against innocent-until-proven-guilty victims. This is followed by Sessoms’ gospel fused, R&B tune, “I Can’t Breathe.” Sessoms’ vocals soar, powerful and sincere like queen Aretha. Mark Whitfield is prominently featured on guitar and Shedrick Mitchell is effective and notable on organ as the lyrics mirror the heart-wrenching plea from Eric Garner as police choked him to death. It is clear this is a political statement triggered by the continued institutional, racial violence against people of color in America.

“There are so many things happening in the world that I care about and want to see change in, but none so much as halting the killing of black people,” Vivian Sessoms states.

“If They Only Knew” clearly shows this artist’s amazing vocal gift. It’s a beautiful ballad that features the sweet harmonica solo of Gregoire Maret. This song is a fusion jazz arrangement where Sessoms showcases her perfect pitch, awesome range and spectacular ability to deliver a lyric with an abundance of recognizable emotion.

The idea of segueing into Vivian Sessoms songs with musical interludes and hip-hop rap is interesting, but on the whole, distracts from Vivian Sessoms’ talent and delivery. It breaks up the flow of this production. Stevie Wonder’s composition, “As” is painted with an unusual minor-keyed, rhythm arrangement, but Sessoms holds true to the melody with her powerful vocals. This is obviously an experimental project that sounds more like a group effort than a single artist’s project. I definitely don’t see it as a jazz project. However, I admire Vivian Sessoms talent and her artistic desire to bring about change and political protest with her voice and musical choices.

The bass propels this project, thanks to the mastery of Chris Parks, who is also her partner in this production. Additionally, they have collaborated to songwrite and produce for a number of celebrity artists on other projects.

On the composition, “Thing” I hear shades of Esther Satterfield and at times, a throw-back to Minnie Ripperton’s style and grace; not the range, but the phrasing. The echo effects and over-lapping voice-overs on many of the songs can become a distraction. This vocalist doesn’t need effects to enhance her already powerful vocals. I would love to hear Vivian Sessoms featured in a more authentic jazz production, perhaps like the Jean Carn and Doug Carn original project or maybe celebrating Nancy Wilson. However,I recognize this album is a mixture of many musical styles and genres.

Although I rarely review this type of production, because my column is all about jazz, I was still smitten with this artist’s incredible voice and political character. There is no doubt, Vivian Sessoms is a stunning vocalist and a voice to be heard throughout the generations. Consequently, I wanted to feature her talents during Black Music Month.
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Howlett Smith: A Los Angeles Treasure, Educator, Jazz Pianist, Composer & More

June 19, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/ Jazz Journalist

JUNE 19, 2019 – Celebrating Black Music Month

I first heard the beautiful voice and amazing piano playing of Howlett Smith in the 1970s. My friend and the original bassist with Thelonious Monk, Mr. Larry Gales, was performing with Howlett at the popular Bob Burns restaurant in Santa Monica, California. So,I dropped in to enjoy the music. They were the regular duo at a piano bar near the front entrance of the crowded venue. If you were lucky, you could grab a seat at the half-circular bar that surrounded their grand piano and hear all your favorite standard jazz tunes and thoroughly enjoy the great American songbook. Howlett Smith,(fondly called “Smitty” by friends and cohorts), could also whistle like a flute, perhaps better than that reed instrument, because he added a little vibrato to the whistle. The customers went crazy for his whistle and so did I.It was stunningly beautiful and quite an attention-getter. Also, at the Bob Burn’s venue, a parade of singers would stroll in late night, after the dinner crowd had gone home. Singers loved to ‘sit-in’ with Howlett, who is quite a sensitive accompanist. If you knew your song and what key you sang it in, that’s all ‘Smitty’ needed to know. If you didn’t know your key, after you hummed a little of it, he’d know exactly what to play. Howlett Smith was one of the regular entertainers at the Bob Burns club for over twenty years and performed there until the doors of the restaurant finally closed permanently.

Watching Howlett Smith interact with the singers and guest musicians, I could tell right away that Howlett was a music educator. Over the years, he has worked with a plethora of vocal students, including running a vocal workshop at the famed ‘World Stage’ in Leimert Park, a mainly African American art community in central Los Angeles. He also served as choir director at his church for many years and was once part of the El Camino College faculty, teaching in the Applied Music Program.

Howlett ‘Smitty’ Smith was born in Phoenix, Arizona and educated at the School for the Blind in Tucson and he attended the University of Arizona. His natural talents as a superb pianist, a composer, and a talented vocalist led him to become involved in radio, television, movies, touring with jazz bands and even Broadway. He was greatly influenced by the great Nat King Cole’s trio.

“My dad was a drummer and my aunt was a vocal and piano teacher,” he told me. “At the age of six-years-old, I moved to Tucson, Arizona and was enrolled in the school for the blind. They eventually recognized my musical talents.

“I came to California for the first time in 1958. My brother invited me to stay with him and I stayed a couple of weeks. I loved California. Soon after, I relocated to Los Angeles. I picked up work on radio for KPFK playing background piano music.”

Howlett was always a composer and very religious. When he came up with the idea of writing a song about a “Little Alter Boy” he had no idea it would become a hit record in the commercial pop market. This song was recorded by a slew of singers including, Vic Dana in 1961. It was released as a single 45rrpm record and rose up the Billboard Hot 100 chart to number forty-five. Even better, in 1962 that song was sung by Dana in a motion picture called, “Don’t Knock the Twist.” Next, in 1965, Andy Williams, recorded Howlett’s ‘Alter Boy’ song on a Christmas album. This was followed by Glenn Campbell re-recording the song in 1968 for his, “That Christmas Feeling” album released on CapitolRecords. A&M Records got in the mix in 1984, when The Carpenters recorded a version of ‘Smitty’s’ song on their “An Old-Fashioned Christmas “album and also released it as the ‘B’ side of their single release of “Do you Hear What I Hear.” The royalties for a songwriter whose song was so extensively covered and popular, including film rights, should have gifted Howlett Smith with healthy residuals. So,imagine my surprise when ‘Smitty’ told me today:

“Little Alter Boy launched my career in the music business. It was taken over by two crooks; Lenny and Benny Weissman. They took my publishing and they never paid me.”

This was the beginning of Howlett Smith’s introduction to how unfair and criminal the music business can be when you are trusting and don’t truly understand how to protect your music and yourself from publishing predators.

NOTE: On June 26, 2019 I received an e-mail from Judy Smith in response to this article. She told me that Howlett gets confused about things since he had a stroke last year. He is collecting royalties for this song currently from Sony and from performance rights organizations. Judy Said, “He did not have representation when the Weissman brothers presented the publishing contract to him many years ago. We eventually had a lawyer renegotiate the contract. He gets more than the original contract but still not as much as he should.”

His next composition to be scooped up and recorded was “Let’s Go Where the Grass is Greener” sung by the late, great, jazz icon, Nancy Wilson. That was in 1964.

Later, it was also recorded by jazz vocalist, Blossom Dearie in 1967. In 1989,Sonya Hedenbratt re-recorded the popular song,followed by Steve & Eydie who covered it in 1990. Karen Francis re-recorded it in 1996, Ava Logan in 2008 and Lori Carsillo in 2014. It was also recorded by jazz bands like Pete Jolly and his trio, Bud Shank, as well as the epic Three Sounds with the Oliver Nelson Orchestra. That goes to show you that a great song will be recorded time and time again and by a variety of artists. Smitty’s melody was as strong as his lyrics.

Howlett Smith’s “Let’s Go Where the Grass is Greener” composition was followed by a hit record on another vocalist, Spanky Wilson, titled, “The Last Day of Summer.”

More recently, it was recorded by a blossoming, young, jazz vocalist named Darynn Dean. She is the granddaughter of iconic drummer Donald Dean, who recorded on the Les McCann and Eddie Harris hit record, “Compared to What?”

Many years ago, I went to a Los Angeles stage play that celebrated the legacy of blues vocalist, Bessie Smith. The star of that one-woman-show was the great Linda Hopkins and it was a show-stopping, standing-ovation performance. The musical conductor for that musical titled, “Me and Bessie,” was the very talented Howlett Smith. That play went on to New York for a long-term run on Broadway.

Speaking of musicals, ‘Smitty’ has written and produced several musicals inclusive of one titled, “The Carpenter” which is a depiction of the life of Jesus Christ. It features a 20-voice harmony Choir and an eclectic mix of musical genres, including gospel, jazz, spiritual and traditional music.

One of the things I love about ‘Smitty’ is his great sense of humor. When he began recording his original music, he always featured some compositions with lyrics that would entertain and tickle your funny bone. For example, one of his songs is titled “Ugly Woman.” Some of the lyrics read:

“I’m one of those guys, who lets his eyes
Go roving now and then; Check out them girls, from toe to curls
I’d love to find myself a ten.
My looks survived, on fours and fives, when I go out for fun.
But last night in desperation I approached a minus-one; and she said, NO!
An ugly woman told me no. Nothing makes you feel as low, as when an ugly woman tells you no.”

Smitty’s albums are numerous and personify his extraordinary talent on the piano. His smooth, emotional vocals touch your heart, and his lyrics make you bust out laughing. He has mad composer talents. Howlett made a vinyl recording with a pair of hands on the piano keys titled, “With These Hands – Recorded ‘live’ at Sterling’s Cocktail Lounge. His next LP reflected his nickname, “Smitty!” Another vinyl album was titled, “Here I Come” and featured Howlett with his trio. In 2001, He recorded an album titled, “Lets Go Where the Grass is Greener.” In 2007, he released “Songs You Can Get Killed for Singing.” One of my favorite recordings by Howlett is with he and bass player, Larry Gales titled, “Here For You.” Another favorite of mine celebrates his unique lyrical ability and sense of humor titled, “Funny Side Up.” As recent as 2016, Franny McCartney released her CD titled “As Is” featuring Howlett Smith on piano.

Recently, the 86-year-old pianist, composer, vocalist, playwright, producer and educator has slowed down his pace. In 2018, because of health challenges, he retired from his seven-year stint teaching vocals at the World Stage. However, he continues to play piano, faithfully attends church services and stands tall as a positive inspiration to us all.
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June 11, 2019

BY Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
June 11, 2019


Dwight Trible, vocals; Mark de Clive-Lowe, piano; Mala, harp; Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, viola; Carlos Nino, hand percussion; Derf Reklaw, percussion; Ramses Rodriguez, drums; Kamasi Washington, tenor saxophone; John B. Williams, double bass.

One of the most exciting and extraordinarily original vocalists in jazz today has got to be Dwight Trible. His latest album titled,” Mothership,” explores the music of one of his deep influences and his friend, Oscar Brown Jr. with songs like, “Brother Where Are You” that plead for unity and respect for one another in both lyric and the tone of treble’s voice. Ramses Rodriguez establishes the heartbeat of this song on his trap drums. Reaching into his bag of Latin tinged arrangements, Trible sings “It’s All About Love.” The percussion by Derf Reklaw colors the arrangement and the lyrics summarize the explosive emotions that Trible personifies on recording and in person. His ‘live’ performances are magnetic, visually exciting and genuine. In fact, that’s what this artist is all about; being genuine.

There appears to be an homage to motherhood on this album, in its many nurturing forms. Bassist, James Leary, has composed “Mother,” and it’s a beautiful song with warm, tribute lyrics and a haunting melody. Trible’s voice caresses each word, caramel sweet, letting his thick baritone vocals coat each sentence with love and respect. The title tune, “Mothership,” epitomizes a spiritual teaching from ‘The Nation’ as well as a compliment once again to motherhood, the womb of life and to the importance of teaching spirituality and respect for the knowledge of elders. The lyrics are deep. You have to listen twice, maybe three times to soak up all the goodness provided by Mark de Clive-Lowe on piano, Carlos Nino on hand percussion and the dynamic tenor saxophone of Kamasi Washington.

Dwight Trible is the epitome of what jazz should be. Freedom! Honesty. Soul. Messages of universal nature and stature. Space. Room for musicians to explore and emotions to soar. This artist got his vocal palate wet working with the phenomenal Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra and singing with the iconic Pharoah Sanders Quartet. He’s an experimental artist, unafraid to cross musical genres, but always steeped and cemented solidly in jazz. He’s worked with L.A. Reid, D.J. Rogers, pianist/recording artist, Patrice Rushen, and ventured into electronic and hip-hop with Carlos Nino. He has recorded a duet album with great pianist/arranger, John Beasley. Dwight’s diversity of choices in music are evident, but one thing remains strong and undeniable. That is Dwight Trible’s desire to change the world with his music and to inspire peace, love, harmony and unity. When he sings, “Standing in the Need of Prayer,” soaring vocally from his rich baritone to his crystal-clear tenor tones, he seems to be pulling his source from the gates of heaven. Dwight Trible is channeling his music from a higher power and offers it to us in his own unique way, endeavoring to open our hearts and our minds.

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Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone/composer/piano; Doug Weiss, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.

Right out the gate, this trio is stomping, powerful and with a straight-ahead march, minus piano or guitar. This is tenor saxophone, bass and drums taking a ‘Leap of Faith’ to translate Eric Alexander’s original compositions from sheet music to a ‘live performance.’ His is a chord-less concept.

“You have to trust what you’re doing, or it can be very hard to be genuine,” Alexander explained about this new direction in his music.

On the first tune, “Luquitas” played at a brisk speed, Johnathan Blake takes a solo that re-establishes him as one who is at the forefront of the new and powerful jazz drummers. This tune establishes the unrestricted and boundless energy these musicians bring to the stage. This is a ‘live’ performance, recorded at the Jazz Gallery in New York City.

The second track, “Mars,” starts out at a moderate tempo but soon, pushes into a double-time, bebop groove, propelled by the powerful walking bass of Doug Weiss. Alexander says that this original composition was inspired by pop star, Bruno Mars and his tune, “Finesse”. The jazzy respect given to Bruno and Cardi B. from Eric Alexander is admirable and musically unifying, bridging the genres. I played the video below while listening to Alexander’s “Mars” composition and believe me, you won’t hear a slice of this pop sensation’s song, in melody or rhythm. However, the chord changes are twisted into a jazz composition that takes on new dimensions. I’m sharing the Bruno Mars Video and wish I could have found a video of Eric Alexander’s “Mars” so you could compare the difference.

On his composition,” Corazon Perdido,” Eric Alexander sits down to a piano and plays a few chords in between his saxophone explorations. I was surprised to hear the piano, since, for the most part, this album is devoid of a chord instrument. You will hear the influence of John Coltrane in some places of this production. I found Eric Alexander, Doug Weiss and Johnathan Blake’s music to be completely satisfying and artistic.

Below is a video of Alexander at a live ‘Bronx’ performance including a pianist. He’s performing ‘live’ at Linda’s Jazz Nights with the great Harold Mabern on piano and dueling with Vincent Herring. This is nothing like his Avant Garde music on “Leap of Faith,” but shows the commercial side of Alexander in a more relaxed setting. He still never loses his unique style and expert improvisational skills, pushing the boundaries of his horn and his horn harmonics. Also featured on this 2015 video is Kenny Washington on drums and Phil Palombi on bass.

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JOHN DOKES – “TRUE LOVE” Rondette Jazz

John Dokes, vocals; Mark Gross, alto saxophone; Steve Einerson, piano; Alex Claffy, acoustic bass; Lawrence Leathers, drums.

John Dokes is a gentleman with a penchant for expressing himself through song in a smooth, baritone voice. On this CD, he has surrounded his vocal talent with a quartet of exceptional musicians who make these standard jazz songs come alive. Mark Gross, on alto sax, puts the ‘J’ in jazz. Steve Einerson’s piano talents are riveting, not only as an accompanist, but also as an outstanding jazz soloist and arranger. Einerson was raised in a small city outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is the son of music educators. He has performed or recorded with great jazz artists like Marlena Shaw, Eric Alexander, Slide Hampton, Jim Rotondi and Dr. Eddie Henderson, to list just a few. Dokes has chosen nine songs the listener is probably familiar with, including “A Sleepin’ Bee,” “Never Let Me Go”, “Pure Imagination,” and “Eleanor Rigby.” On “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” the arrangement races and the lyrical meaning of these poignant words somehow get lost in the double time. Dokes sings it well, but I don’t hear the heartbreak and sadness that this popular standard usually echoes. The arrangement is buoyant and bubbly, rather than melancholy and elegiac. I think that musicians often forget about the lyrics when they arrange music and that’s a big mistake. However, I enjoyed the Dokes rendition of Bernard Ighner’s “Everything Must Change” composition. This production is similar to a “Funny Valentine” arrangement by Billy Childs for Diane Reeves on her first album. The groove is infectious.

Surprisingly, Dokes was once part of a hip-hop dance crew during his high school years.

“My love for the music came from dancing to it,” Dokes shared. “I always imagine what my feet would be doing to whatever music I’m producing, because they tend to have a mind of their own.”

The tenth song on this CD is composed by John Dokes and titled, “Cool Enough.” It introduces us to John Dokes as a composer. His silky, smooth enunciation lets you enjoy every lyric. Yes – John Dokes is the epitome of a cabaret singer in an intimate night club and he’s definitely ‘cool enough.’
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Fred Nardin, piano/composer/producer: Leon Parker, drums; Or Bareket, double bass.

Fred Nardin makes delicious music. He is a creative composer and a technically imaginative pianist. This is a French production, recorded in March of last year. The trio opens with his original composition, “Colours.” It’s straight-ahead jazz at its best. Incorporating a more shuffle drive, “Just Easy” gives Leon Parker a time to shine on drums. He has a light touch on this tune, using brushes to briskly stroke the rhythm and to ‘trade fours.’

All of Nardin’s compositions are both melodic and arranged with interesting time changes. On track #3, his classical training is obvious as his flying fingers quickly map out the melody and explore all the secret places inside this song. On “New Direction” the introduction is executed with vocal percussion and what sounds like a tap dancer tapping in the background. Suddenly the sixth track comes barreling-in titled, “One Finger Snap” where Or Bareket takes the opportunity to display his mastery of the double bass. Playing at a brisk speed, he’s supportive as the basement for the group, but then he dazzles us with a long, improvisational solo, before racing into a double time exhibit of speed and excitement on his instrument. Leon Parker also solos on this tune, making his sticks dance and explode during their up-temp enthusiasm. Fred Nardin’s final composition on this production is titled, “Prayers” and it’s stunningly beautiful. This entire production is entertaining, well-written and exceedingly well-played by three masterful musicians.

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Pete McGuinness, conductor/trombone/composer/arranger/vocals; Andy Eulau, bass; Mike Holober, piano; Scott Neumann, drums; Chris Rogers, flugelhorn; Bill Mobley, trumpet; Rob Middleton & Tom Christensen, tenor saxophone; Dave Pietro, alto & soprano saxophone; Matt Haviland, Bruce Eidem & Mark Patterson, trombone; Dave Reikenberg, baritone saxophone; Mark Phoneuf, alto saxophone.

Orchestras are so lush and this one is no exception. The Pete McGuiness Jazz Orchestra has been playing and recording critically acclaimed music for thirteen years in the New York area. This is their third release and sure to become another feather in their proverbial cap. To open the album, the arrangement of “Put on A Happy Face” is mesmerizing. It bounces off my CD player like a buoyant beach ball rolling across hot sand. The unusual chord harmonies and exuberant playing is bound to captivate the listener, pumping your spirit up with happiness. Tom Christensen dances across this jazzy arrangement on tenor saxophone. The next song, “You Must Believe in Spring” employs the vocals of Pete McGuinness, who sings melodic horn lines, without words, blending smoothly with the horns. It’s a lovely arrangement. Then, to my happy surprise, Pete shares the wonderful lyrics of this song with us. He even scats and he’s a wonderful vocal improvisor; or was that scat part written? Either way, it was whimsical and excellent in elevating the orchestral arrangement. “Old Roads” is an original composition by Pete McGuinness and gives orchestra drummer, Scott Neumann, an opportunity to solo and strut his sticks around the trap drums with power and precision. Chris Rogers is fluid and dramatic on flugelhorn. Pianist, Mike Holober, makes his own sinuous statement once the horns quieted down. This is one of four original compositions that Pete McGuinness has penned and arranged for this project.

His “Point of Departure” tune becomes a platform for McGuinness to pull out his trombone chops and royally serenades us. This original song also features a solo by Rob Middleton on tenor saxophone and one by Bill Mobley on trumpet, is also noteworthy. The orchestra has a way of swelling and building, like the ocean waves during a storm. The soloists float atop the rich arrangements like sturdy ships at sea. There is vivid motion and movement to these arrangements by Pete McGuinness. At times, the orchestra horns echo each other, repeating lines in a very timely, natural and harmonic way. Scott Neumann continues to hold the ensemble tightly in place with his drumming and also steps front and center to spotlight his percussive talents on this tune. And was that a baritone sax player who eggs him on and catches my ear with a rich, deep, delightful sound? Another favorite of mine on this album is “May I Come In,” a song I’m unfamiliar with that features a great lyric, amply shared by the smoky, baritone vocals of Pete McGinnis. He sure knows how to sell a song.

An alumnus of the Buddy Rich Orchestra, McGuiness is a competent composer, a trombonist, vocalist, arranger and formidable orchestra leader. He’s also a longtime jazz educator who appears on over fifty jazz CDs, inclusive of Maria Schneider’s Grammy Award Winning, “Concert in the Garden.” McGuiness has also appeared in numerous orchestra pits for Broadway shows, heads his own big band and is an Associate Professor of Jazz Studies/Arranging at William Patterson University.

This latest recorded music is an emotional journey of beauty and bravo. I’m very glad and grateful I was invited “Along for the Ride.”
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Rob Ryndak,piano/percussion/composer; Tom Lockwood,tenor,alto,soprano & baritone saxophones/clarinet/bass clarinet/flute/composer; Brian Lynch,trumpet/flugelhorn; Sasha Brusin, electric & acoustic guitar; Karl E.H. Seigfried, electric & acoustic bass; Jeff Moehle, drums; Victor Gonzalez, Jr., congas/bongos/percussion; Micah Rutschman, vibraphone; Ryan Koranda, cello; Steve Talaga, piano/electric piano.

This album meanders into my space, strong on percussion and rich on Latin groove. Chicago-based pianist and percussionist, Rob Ryndak along with his musical partner reedman, Tom Lockwood, combine talents and composer skills to create an entertaining project. Each composed six songs for this production and Ryndak’s composition, “Equilibrium” is the first tune on their album. Ryndak was raised on Chi-town’s northside and comes from a musical family. This is his sixth CD release as either leader or co-leader. His musical tastes bounce from rock music to jazz, from Latin, pop and world music to funk. You hear a mixture of funk and jazz on Lockwood’s composition, “Jackie McFunk.” The horns are prominent and punch on this arrangement. Ryndak and Lockwood feature Grammy-Award-winning trumpeter, Brain Lynch on this project. Lockwood and Lynch each perform admirable solos on this track. The Waltz arrangement on Lockwood’s “So Little Time” composition is sweetly played and features a memorable solo by guitarist, Sasha Brusin. The occasional addition of a vibraphone, played by Micah Ruschman is intoxicating and adds a nice touch to several arrangements.

For the most part, this is an easy listening project with a big band sound and arrangements that explore the composition skills of both Ryndak and Lockwood. The production is consistently propelled by the exuberance of Ryndaks percussive grooves and colorfully painted with Lockwoods assorted reed instruments.

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Michael Eaton,tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Lionel Loueke, guitar; Brad Whiteley,piano; Daniel Ori, bass/gimbri; Shareef Taher,drums; Brittany Anjou, vibraphone; Cheryl Pyle,flute; Enrique Haneine, udu; James Brandon Lewis & Sean Sounderegger, tenor saxophone; Jon Crowley,trumpet; Dorian Wallace,piano/prepared piano; Sarah Mullins,marimba/triangels.

Michael Eaton is a composer who has written a dozen songs for this album. His originality stretches from his composing talents to the production of this music. According to Webster’s dictionary, dialogic is a form of dialogue. According to Michael Eaton, the title “Dialogical” refers to a notion of hybridity in language. Eaton notes that a Russian literary philosopher named Mikhail Bakhtin, thought that “appropriating words of others and populating them with one’s own intention” is perfectly fine. Using that as a premise for his production, Eaton explores a fusion of jazz into the more modern-day looping effect produced by a hip hop influenced culture. His original compositions are based on solid melodies and Eaton uses a repetitious groove to hammer the melody home. Perhaps this is his consideration of fusion by looping. However, on track #2, “Anthropocene,” the band surprises me by stretching out into serious jazz realms and employing improvisation that is inspired by Lionel Loueke on guitar. Then, Michael Eaton lets his amazing tenor saxophone skills soar. It was as if the bird was caged by those repetitious chords earlier and then someone opened the door and set the bird free.

On the 4th track, flutes play tag and sing to each other like dancing Sparrows in space. On cut 6, voices are added to the mix in a bebop-kind-of-way, singing sounds, using notes of expression without words. Eaton expands the music by adding vibraphone, gyil and udo on this tune. A gyil is a type of Balafon instrument or percussive instrument with roots in West Africa. He also incorporates a gimbri instrument, played by bassist, Daniel Ori. It snatches the attention on the tune “I and Thou”. The gimbri is a string instrument carved from a log and covered on the playing side with camel skin. These odd instruments and the talented musicians speak to each other and to the listener. They offer exploratory jazz, pushing the limits of creativity. However, I found the repetition on cuts #10 and #11 completely annoying.

Michael Eaton explained it this way:

“I’m thinking about how the minimalist canon might provide a different way of looking at the overlapping or looping rhythmic cycles that are utilized in modern jazz by people like Steve Coleman, Dave Holland and Chris Potter. I want to interface different styles to see how they all reflect different parts of me.”
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Art “Turk” Burton, conga/bongo drums; Eddie Beard, piano/organ; Dushun Mosley, drums; Yosef Ben Israel, bass; Sammie “Cha Cha” Torres, bongo/percussion; Luis “Preito” Rosario, timbales. Featured artists: Maggie Brown, vocals; Edwin Daugherty, alto & soprano saxophone; Ari Brown, tenor/soprano saxophone/piano.

Here is an album that recalls the jazz music of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s; back when percussion, parks and spoken word were locked familiarly, like hands on drum skins. It recalls poetry echoed atop conga drum beats and civil rights attitudes being reflected in the lyrical word. Back when Eddie Jefferson’s singing poetry reinvented the solos of Moody, Prez and many more with spell-binding lyrics. On Art “Turk” Burton’s album, Maggie Brown sings Eddie Jefferson’s “Night in Tunisia” on this recording. However, the spotlight is on the percussion throughout this production.

On the first track, Art “Turk” Burton’s wife recites her original poetry during this exploration of generational jazz. She celebrates iconic drummers.

“Drummers here … drummers everywhere … Mongo Santa Maria, …we celebrate his life … not to be missed or dismissed; Ray Barretto … Tito Puente, Chano Pozo … Willie Bobo …,” says Patrice “Peresina” Burton.

This Chicago ensemble gives much praise and appreciation to the Ancestors during their recording. Reflected in the title tune, the liner notes dedicate this arrangement to two of the original members of the AACM; Kelan Phil Cohran and Muhal Richard Abrams. This is Avant Garde music, perpetuated by history, culture, freedom of instrument and purpose.

Art “Turk” Burton has a long history of performing with iconic jazz personalities including Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Henry Threadgill, Randy Weston, Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman and Elvin Jones.

When he isn’t playing his percussive instruments, Burton is writing books and has published three history non-fictions. They are titled, “Black, Buckskin and Blue (African American Scouts and Soldiers on the Western Front)”, “Black, Red and Deadly (Black and Indian Gunfighters of the Indian Territories 1870 – 1907)” and “Black Gun, Silver Star (The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshall Bass Reeves).” Like his books, the music of Art “Turk” Burton, while deeply rooted in rhythmic culture,his international interest in the history of music is obvious.

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Dave Wilson,tenor & soprano saxophones; Kirk Reese,piano; Tony Marino,acoustic bass; Dan Monaghan,drums.

Dave Wilson recorded this album one night in March of 2018, at the Jazz Café in Philadelphia. His low notes on the tenor saxophone registered with me and sparked my attention right off the bat. He opens with a well-written original song titled, “Ocean Blues.” When he was just fifteen, and while studying the clarinet, young Dave Wilson was inspired by John Coltrane. Another influence was Dexter Gordon. In the early 1970’s, Wilson switched his clarinet instrument to tenor saxophone.

In Wilson’s early years, like most youth, he embraced the top-40 hits and the rock music of his generation. In his case, that was the Grateful Dead rock group. On this project, he celebrates this group by adding “Friend of the Devil” arranged with a Latin groove and he plays soprano sax on this track.

This is a ‘live’ club recording and it includes danceable funk tunes like, “My Own Prison,” a Creed tune plucked from the 90’s. Dave Wilson’s saxophone talent keeps the arrangements jazzy, even though his group sometimes loses the momentum. On occasional moments, it seems that the engine propelling the quartet’s music stalls. This could be because the drummer, who often gets lost in his own playing, appears to forget to hold the rhythm section in place. This is quite noticeable on the 5th cut, “The Biggest Part of Me”. On the whole, Dave Wilson’s Quartet sounds like a local jazz group to enjoy at Philadelphia’s Jazz Café. His horn playing is steeped in bebop, even though he adds songs to his repertoire that are not necessarily jazz tunes. At times, despite Wilson’s energy and ability on saxophones, the groove is missing from this trio. This often distracts from an otherwise entertaining live performance.

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June 2, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

June 1, 2019

Ramon Banda was connected to his drum set lovingly, the way he was connected to his family and his band members. The drums were an integral part of his life; his body; his career; his love. Ramon once proudly said he had played the same ride-cymbal for close to twenty years. When I first heard Ramon Banda play, I was mesmerized by his technique and spiritual connection to the music. Like Ramon, it’s always been important to me to have a spiritual connection to the music and to my band. The moment I heard Ramon play, I knew that he too had that spiritual connection to the music.

Standing at his hospital bedside on May 29, 2019, I saw a lion of a man laying quietly on his pillow, still determined and hopeful. His beautiful cousin was there, praying for his recovery and well-being. She told me someone from his family was constantly at his side. His wife, Rachel, was on the way to the hospital after attending a graduation ceremony. I was surprised when I stepped off the elevator and discovered Ramon was in the Intensive Care Unit. Still, he recognized me immediately, but I didn’t stay long. I knew he needed to rest. I didn’t want him to feel he had to host my visit. I was compelled to tell Ramon, in person, what a joy it was to work with him and to watch him perform over the years. I thanked him for his warm and giving spirit. When I was producing television promo clips for Suicide Prevention, he was one of the first jazz cats to say he would be there to participate. Ramon cared about his music, his family and his community.

Ramon Banda was raised in the Norwalk neighborhood of Los Angeles and he and his younger brother, Tony, have been playing music for over half a century. He grew up hearing his mom playing piano and his uncle playing beautifully on the tenor saxophone. Ramon’s father was a professional drummer. Young Ramon started out as a guitar player, playing in his uncle’s group. His brother, Tony, played bass. Although his uncle was a horn player and enamored with Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins’ horn talents, their little group played traditional Mexican music and Top-40. Their family group worked around the Los Angeles area. When Ramon’s cousin was drafted and sent to Vietnam, Ramon switched to the drums to take his cousin’s place. Music is a common link and was always a blessing to the Banda family.

Tony and Ramon Banda were longtime musicians in Poncho Sanchez’s Latin Jazz band. Ramon also played in Cal Tjader’s band. Ramon and his brother were the heart and soul of both those bands, but soon established their own family music group labeled The Banda Brothers. Their sextet stretched into bebop and straight-ahead jazz. With Poncho’s group, Ramon played timbales. But with the Banda Brother’s sextet, he played trap drums. Tony had a distinctive sound on double bass. Latin was their root and culture, but they played jazz just as passionately. Often times, not only in the Sanchez band but also in their own band, the two brothers would grab Shekeres, (sometimes spelled Chekeres), those percussive gourds covered in bright beads, and they would enchant the audience with their percussion skills. In fact, the Banda brothers also had a business making and selling those colorful Shekere instruments. Ramon was greatly influenced by Mongo Santamaria. He said he fell in love with the sound of the Shekere listening to Mongo’s album. The brothers had a percussion friend named Taumbu who showed them how to make the African based Shekere instrument. When work was slow and gigs were few and far between, Ramon and Tony got busy making them and selling Shekeres to pay the rent.

As teens, Poncho Sanchez was singing with Ramon’s two older cousins, who were also musicians. One unexpected afternoon, Poncho and his older brother needed a drummer and Ramon was recommended. They swung by his house and asked him to join them. He packed up his drums and the rest is history. Ramon recalls that in 1966, when they first met, Poncho Sanchez wasn’t even playing congas.

As a youngster, Ramon Banda was attracted to heavy metal music. Some of his favorites were Terrorizer & Morbid Angel. He admired Pete Sandoval who was the drummer with them and is epitomized as the founder of the so-called, ‘blast beat’. He also liked Mike Hamilton with Deeds of Flesh and was intrigued with the way Hamilton played those thunderous bass drum licks. Other drummers like Flo Mournier with Cryptopsy and Mick Harris of Napalm Death influenced Ramon’s early playing. As he branched out, he discovered jazz and drummers like Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich. He began to listen closely to Tito Puente’s band. Ramon Banda was also a master timbale player. He was inspired by and idolized the great Manny Oquendo.

All in all, Ramon was one of the most well-rounded drummers I knew. He could play it all, from rock and roll, R&B, to Pop, from bebop to straight-ahead jazz, or express himself fully with his own cultural, Latin percussion brilliance.

As his reputation proceeded him, Ramon met many great musicians and it was a young drummer named Willie Jones III who encouraged the Banda Brothers to go into the studio and record. The result was an album titled, “Acting Up!”

I enjoyed seeing Ramon Banda fire up Joey Francesco’s band. He has also been a stalwart drummer for Bill Cunliffe. Over his lifetime, Ramon Banda recorded on over 250 albums and some of them were Grammy Award winners. A partial list of those luminaries he recorded with include: Henry “the Skipper” Franklin, Mort Weiss, José Rizo, Carmen McRae, Woody Herman, Marcos Loya, Taumbu International Ensemble, Tierra, Stanley Clarke, Gary Hoey, The Jazz Crusaders, H.M.A. Salsa Jazz Orchestra, Fred Ramierez, Joey Altruda, Azar Lawrence, Theo Saunders, Dave Askren, Geoff Stradling, Papa John DeFrancesco, Juan Carlos Quintero, Scott Martin, Al McKibbon, Marilyn Fernandez, Charly, Francisco Aquabella, Phobia, Cal Tjader, Brent Lewis, Elliot Caine, Karen Hammack, Red & the Red Hots, Poncho Sanchez, Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars, Joey DeFrancesco & Bette Midler.

Ramon will be dearly missed by our jazz community, but his memory, like his music, will linger on throughout the generations. Rest in peace, my dear brother and thank you for your amazing music and loving spirit.
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May 25, 2019

By Dee Dee McNeil/Jazz Journalist
May 25, 2019


Ralph Peterson,drums/leader;Bill Pierce,tenor saxophone;Bobby Watson,alto saxophone; Brian Lynch,trumpet; Essiet Essiet,bass; Geoffrey Keezer,piano.

This is my straight-ahead dream band. If you love bebop, like I do, this production will totally entertain and inspire you. It’s a two-set CD highlighting the brilliance of Ralph Peterson’s drum talents. That being said, this is not to diminish his ensemble, who are obviously the cream of the crop. Disc One opens with a Curtis Fuller composition, “A La Mode” whose arrangement energizes and excites. The group pulsates through the first three songs before settling down to perform the lovely balled, “My One and Only Love”, featuring Bill Pierce on tenor saxophone and enhanced by the polished piano playing of Geoffrey Keezer. Although this is not a big band, the harmonics and arrangements are lush and have the power and precision of a larger ensemble. On Disc two, Essiet Essiet offers an outstanding solo on “That Ole Feeling.” All in all, there’s not one bad, nor one average or boring tune on this album.

Peterson is determined to keep the legacy of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers alive and well by endeavoring to duplicate Blakey’s hard-swinging arrangements and bebop sensibilities. in the music of his “Legacy Alive” production, Ralph Peterson accomplishes this feat. All of this production is a reminder of the incredible discography of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messenger’s group. I believe that this October would have been Blakey’s 100th birthday. If you are a Jazz Messenger fan, you will recognize each and every song that Peterson and his group interpret. You’ll enjoy Golson’s “Along Came Betty, Wayne Shorter’s, “Children of the Night” the nursery rhyme, “Three Blind Mice” that Curtis Fuller arranged back in 1962, and Freddie Hubbard’s, “The Core” that was a dedication to the congress of Racial Equality, a 1960’s popular civil rights and action group.

This is exquisitely performed and arranged music. It brought back many warm memories for me and was so well-done, I played both CDs four times, then took a break and came back for more.
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Chris Jentsch, electric guitar/composer; Michel Gentile, flutes; Michael McGinnis, clarinets; Jason Rigby, saxophones; David Smith, trumpet/flugelhorn; Brian Drye, trombone; Jacob Sacks, piano; Jim Whitney, acoustic bass; Eric Halvorson, drums/percussion. JC Sanford, conductor.

Guitarist, Chris Jentsch, earned his B.A. in history at Gettysburg College. This album was released late last year. It was recorded during a ‘live’ concert and features guitarist/composer, Jentsch, interpreting seven historic events using his original compositions. For example, the first song is titled, “1491.” The music is meant to explain the influx of Europeans into the Caribbean islands. Did I hear that in the tune? Not really. However, the composition is exploratory and imaginative, like this entire project. The second song, “Manifest Destiny” is composed to exhibit the 1800s and the belief that expansion of the country across North America was unstoppable. The fourth tune is titled “Tempest Tost” a line from the scribe written on the Statue of Liberty and “Suburban Diaspora” was a title I hadn’t heard before. I thought the Diaspora usually referred to the dispersion of people from their homeland. Jentsch has taken this concept a step further. His piece is referring to suburban middle-class families relocating to cities. The final tune, “Meeting at Surratt’s” is a dirge-like composition and when I read the Jentsch explanation, it made perfect sense. Hanged in 1865, Mary Surratt was found guilty of conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln. She let those who plotted to kill him meet at her home, a few blocks from the Ford Theater. The federal government executed her for complicity.

His ensemble sounds much larger than it is, sparkling with lush arrangements and dramatic interludes, where various musicians step forward to solo. I chose to place this review with my big band reviews because of the richness of the arrangements and the full sound of these creative, orchestral compositions. Chris Jentsch has released five albums and earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Miami. This current project was commissioned by Chamber Music America/Doris Duke New Jazz Works and was recorded at ShapeShifter Lab in Jentsch’s hometown of Brooklyn. These Chris Jentsch suites are beautiful and mind expansive.
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Steve Haines, double bass/producer/orchestration; Becca Stevens, vocals; Chad Eby,soprano saxophone; Joey Calderazzo,piano; Greg Hyslop,guitar; Kobie Watkins, drums; Kevin Geraldi,conductor, plus thirty-six various orchestra players.

This is chamber music with human voice. Steve Haines and his Third Floor Orchestra present an eleven-song concert of classically influenced jazz, incorporated with Celtic traditions, original compositions and pop music. It’s an odd combination, but it works. The second track is an original composition by vocalist Becca Stevens, William Stevens and W. Song titled, “No More.” You hardly hear the jazz until Chad Eby’s soprano saxophone enters. The arrangement places percussion licks beneath the horn solo to call attention to Eby’s jazzy sound. Becca Stevens has a voice as sweet as honey. It floats atop the orchestra the way cream rises to the top of milk. Becca introduces the melody and carries the entire piece with her soprano tone, clear and inviting, like a human flute. This is an unusual recording in my collection of music. It does not fit the singular mold of jazz. Even so, it’s quite beautiful; pleasant to the ear and soothing to the spirit. Bassist and group leader, Steve Haines has also composed a few of the songs. This is easy listening music, enhanced by Steve Haines’ orchestral arrangements.

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Darrell Katz,guitar/composer/conductor/producer;
The JCA Orchestra consists of 29 talented musicians.

The opening orchestral composition is the title tune and was produced from something Darrell Katz wrote thirty-one years ago. Originally, it was composed for a violin and marimba duo. Consequently, there’s a lot of violin solo work with additional string parts. But you will also hear inspired saxophone solos. The title is off-putting, in that I have no great love for rats. Still, the music itself is compelling, original and imaginative. Katz proudly helped found and is the current Director of the Jazz Composers Alliance (JCA). This orchestra of talented musicians has become a vehicle to feature forward-thinking composers and a home for some of Boston’s best musicians and improvisers. They provide a platform of international community building through music. According to the Boston Phoenix newspaper, “Darrell Katz is one of Boston’s most ambitious and provocative jazz composers.” He incorporates poetry into his orchestra arrangements with words that provoke thought and echo political overtones.

“I am always trying to make the melody and words be unified,” Katz explains. “I am very much trying to put the poetry across, always looking for what seems like a good fit. I really want the listener to pay attention to the words, and I want the music to help them. But it’s hard to describe, a lot of it is intuitive. A lot of meaning and feeling is rather abstract, but it’s what I’m looking to match.”

One of the suites of music called, “How to Clean a Sewer” incorporates three parts. The first is titled, “Three or Four Kinds of Blues,” which does not sound like a blues at all. The second part of the Suite is titled, “Windfall Lemons” (air, earth, water, fire) with ear-catching trombone solos by Bob Pilkington and Dave Harris. There’s a tuba player who also catches my attention. His name is Bill Lowe. The over-all Suite of music is inventive and seems to encourage the various musicians to speak with their individual sounds and voicings. They merge and blend like a crowd of boisterous, talkative families; a taste of avant-garde. Katz uses a pause technique in his compositions and arranging to bring drama and attention to his pieces. The vibraphone occasionally takes stage center, as does the haunting soprano vocals of Rebecca Shrimpton. Now deceased poet, Paula Tatarunis, inspired the “How to Clean A Sewer” song and “To An Angel” features Shrimpton on vocals.

As a change of pace, “The Red Dog Blues” written by Darrell Katz asserts:

“I don’t stop on red. I smoke in bed. I talk back to the boss. I don’t even floss. If there’s a bad choice that’s what I’ll choose. I’m in the doghouse with the red dog blues.”

“…With a big mouth full of lies, and a soul filled with junk, he likes to brag about his tower. And his haircut is bad news. He’s in a solid gold toilet with the red dog blues,” takes a lyrical turn to 2019 political opinion.

Darrell Katz is a guitarist, composer, conductor and producer of this project. He is also a current professor at Berklee College of Music.
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Richie Beirach, piano; Gregor Huebner, violin; Rich Derosa, conductor/arranger; The WDR Big Band: Johan Horlen, alto saxophone/alto flute/lead; Karolina Strassmayer, alto saxophone/alto flute; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller , tenor sax/clarinet; Jens Neufang, baritone sax/bass clarinet; Andy Haderer & Wim Both, trumpet/flugelhorn (lead);, Rob Bruynen, Ruud Breuls, & John Marshall, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ludwig Nuss (lead), Andy Hunter & Shannon Barnett, trombone/euphonium; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone/tuba; Joachim Schoenecker, guitar; John Goldsby, bass; Hans Dekker, drums.

Richie Beirach has composed the first two songs, presented as a medley and titled “Rectilinear/Paradox”. It opens with the full big band and then breaks down to a straight-ahead groove featuring Beirach’s piano solo playing brightly with John Goldsby’s bass walking briskly beneath Beirach’s electric piano improvisation. In fact, throughout, Goldsby’s bass is prominent and outstanding. On the second cut, a Violin Concerto No. 3 composed by featured violinist/composer, Gregor Huebner, the beauty of the arrangement and the performances by the musicians pull at the heartstrings. This composition’s first movement is melancholy, but when the horns blare, the bass walks and the violin solos, we move into a big band call to attention. The time doubles and Huebner chases the bass line, making his violin race tornado-like and tenacious.

This “Crossing Borders” project is a conversation between cultures, countries and political agendas using music as the catalyst. It’s a call for unity. An extended musical hand, reaching across differences and holding a big band olive branch. This music has a welcoming spirit and intentionally blends borders between a classical jazz orchestra and big band illumination. Huebner and Beirach have collaborated with each other for some twenty-three years. Their concerto achievements, arrangements and various compositions interlock talents with ease, like entwined fingers or palms pressed together in prayer.

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Felipe Salles,soprano saxophone/composer/conductor/arranger/ producer; RHYTHM SECTION:Nando Michelin,piano/melodica;Kevin Grudecki,guitar; Ryan Fedak,vibraphone; Keala Kaumeheiwa,double bass;Bertram Lehmann,drums.

SAXOPHONES/WOODWINDS:Richard Garcia & Jonathan Ball, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Mike Caudill, tenor & soprano saxophone/clarinet; Jacob Shulman, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Tyler Burchfield, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet. TRUMPETS/FLUGELHONRS:Jeff Holmes & Yuta Yamaguchi, (lead); Eric Smith & Doug Olsen, soloists. TROMBONES:Joel Yennior, (lead); Clayton DeWalt, Dan Hendrix, & Randy Pingrey. Angel Subero, bass trombone.

This is a beautiful execution of five movements for jazz orchestra, composed and arranged by Felipe Salles. He has based this entire project on various Brazilian lullabies, extracting musical segments from these popular lullabies and composing original music of his own. He has also added three compositions that are Tango inspired and arranged for a large jazz ensemble. Every arrangement engages the listener and is motivating the orchestra players, who bring brilliance and shine to a sparkling project. A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Dr. Felipe Salles brings an element of his culture, warmly wrapped with American jazz, and blanketed with European classical influence. Throughout these richly written and interpreted compositions, improvisation is woven into the multi-cultural fabric of the Salles compositions and Felipe gives time and spotlight to various orchestra members during provocative solos.

As an Associate Professor of Jazz and African-American Music Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Salles somehow has found time and attention to release seven critically acclaimed recordings as a leader. All his recordings have been highly praised, winning favor by top jazz magazines and peers alike. In 2018, Felipe Salles became a Guggenheim Foundation Composition Fellow. This is only one of many grant winning projects he has created. As an active musician in the United States since 1995, he has performed with and recorded with a long list of prominent jazz artists. Some of those include Randy Brecker, David Liebman, Lionel Loueke, Duduka Da Fonseca, Luciana Souza and Bob Moses. Dr. Salles is a D’Addario Woodwinds Select Reeds Artist and clinician, as well as an Andreas Eastman saxophone artist and clinician. Currently, he leads the Felipe Salles Group and the Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble. He is also a member of the new World Jazz Composers Octet. He has somehow found more open time on his burgeoning schedule, to also participates in the Kyle Saulnier’s Awakening Orchestra and Alex Alvear’s Mango Blue and Gonzalo Grau’s (Grammy Nominated) La Clave Secreta. Felipe Salles’ current Lullaby Project offers 73 minutes and 29 seconds of incredible musicality.
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Wayne Wallace,trombone/composer;Murray Low,piano; David Belove,bass;Colin Douglas,drums/percussion;Michael Spiro, congas/percussion.
GUEST MUSICIANS: Mary Fettig,flute/soprano & alto saxophone/bass clarinet; Masaru Koga, tenor saxophone; Melecio Magdaluyo,baritone saxophone; Erik Jekabson & John Worley , trumpet; Brennan Johns,bass trombone; Miro Sobrer,Sean Weber & Matthew Waterman, trombone; Dayren Santamaria, Eugene Chuklov, Niki Fukada, Maria Romero, & Daniel Stein, violins; Edith Szendrey & Rose Wollman, viola; Kelly Knox & Monice Scott, cello; Akida Thomas,spoken word; Dr. David Baker,pre-recorded interview on cut #5.

The Wayne Wallace Latin jazz Quintet has the full and appealing sound of a larger ensemble. If you are looking for a well-balanced, Latin production, danceable tunes and invigorating percussive energy, you will find all of that here. Opening with “Vamanos Pa’l Monte, (written by Eddie Palmieri) the group Salsa-dances its way into your heart. Paul Desmond’s popular “Take Five” composition, widely appreciated for its unique quintuple meter, 5/4-time signature, and unforgettable melody, is tackled as their second cut. Wayne Wallace’s quintet institutes a 5/8 clavé pattern-arrangement, steeping their production in Afro-Cuban richness. It’s well done, preserving the memorable melody and expanding the rhythm towards a 6/8 African-feel and featuring multi-talented Mary Fettig on saxophone. The quintet incorporates solid horn harmonies in the background and a Coro, or Afro-Cuban chant at the fade. It’s a unique arrangement for this top-selling jazz tune.

Akida Thomas adds spoken word to the fifth track and title tune, “The Rhythm of Invention,” also featuring the music of Wayne Wallace. His trombone soars and the lyrics by Akida add commercial and youthful expression. The percussive excellence of Colin Douglas and Michael Spiro support Akida’s spoken word. The strings and horns sail in the background, like waves licking the belly of a freedom ship. Unexpectedly, the voice of Dr. David Baker is super-imposed over this fluid music, with his comments recorded in 1970 at the radio station WFIU of Indiana University. This is exciting and exploratory big band arranging. Wayne Wallace has composed four of the ten songs recorded. His outstanding arrangements elevate this project. I was captivated by the bass work of David Belove on track seven, “El Arroyo,” another Wallace original tune. Belove makes that tune come alive, placing his happy and creative bass lines confidently beneath the music, and adding an exciting bottom for the chords to embellish.

Wayne Wallace, once based in the Bay Area of California, is well-known for his encyclopedic knowledge of Afro-Cuban rhythms. He was music director of the John Santos Machete Ensemble for twenty years. His creation of the Patois Record label, not only is the source of this production, but expands to encompass artists like vocalists Kat Parra and Alexa Weber Morales, as well as highly regarded anthologies of Bay-Area salsa and the Latin jazz scene. As an educator, he taught at San Jose State University and at Stanford University. Currently, he is professor of jazz trombone and practice in jazz studies at the Jacobs School of Music within Indiana University.

Here is a delightful and infectious production that is solidified by the Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet and embellished by a host of Guest Musicians, who enhance the arrangements with big band boldness and spoken word.
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