Posts Tagged ‘CD Reviews’

JAZZ IN AN ELECTION YEAR

October 5, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

October 5, 2020

In 2020, during this Presidential election year in the United States, (not to mention during a worldwide pandemic), the artists I have been reviewing are writing and interpreting music that celebrates freedom, family and resilience. Here are musical compositions that are standing up for democracy, diversity and independence.  These artists also reflect hope for the future and love for humanity. Music and art are always a sign of the times. Listen to these musical opinions.

JOHN DAVERSA – “CUARANTENA: WITH FAMILY AT HOME” – Tiger Turn Records

John Daversa, trumpet/flugelhorn; Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano; Carlo De Rosa, bass; Dafnis Prieto, drums; Sammy Figueroa, percussion.

The first thing I notice about this album is the melodic simplicity in the tune#45, which is Track 1.  It’s the kind of melody you want to sing over and over again.  Enter the horn of John Daversa, with a flurry of notes and a double time feel, before he settles back down to the original medium tempo.  Daversa’s sweet tone coming from the bell of his horn opens the curtains for Gonzalo Rubalcaba to sit in the spotlight at his grand piano.  Lightly, his fingers dance across the black and white keys. As I listen, I recall the album I reviewed by Mr. Daversa, in 2018, that won three Grammy Awards; “American Dreamers: Voices of Hope, Music of Freedom.”  Consequently, knowing his activist roots, I wondered if he is referring to the 45th President of the United States with this first song.  He has three songs that are titled with numbers; #19, #22 and #45.  He explains in his press package:

“My father is a brilliant trumpet player.  He was a studio musician in Los Angeles studios for many years.  I’m excited to share these melodies on this album.  He almost never wrote titles for his songs, he just numbered them,” Daversa recalled.

I must compliment the senior Mr. Daversa for his extraordinarily warm melodies that have made their way onto this recording.  His son portrays them beautifully.

During this pandemic time and turbulent political era, there are extended periods when people have been locked down with their families much more than usual.  Out of this closeness grew the concept for this album.  It appears that Daversa and pianist Rubalcaba were discussing bolero and how boleros were played by many of the families they knew, becoming a strong bond that unified those family.  On Track 3, “Growing Up in A Musical Family,” John Daversa speaks atop the music to explore his feelings about this time and space in regards to family.

“This quarantine, with its tremendous challenges is an opportunity to reflect on what we want for our lives.  … For me it’s been a wonderful moment to cherish, love and hug my family.  It’s also a chance to appreciate the gift I have been given in this life.  I want to be sure I use them in a way that serves humanity.  Many of the musicians playing on this album grew up in a musical family or came from a musical neighborhood.  For the Daversa family, music is a big part of what glues us all together.  When I was a kid, what’d we do after dinner?  We’d start playing music.  My grandfather would start playing the accordion.  My dad would play some trumpet.  I played some trumpet too and the bass.  My grandmother would be out there with the maracas, or on piano or flute and sing.  …Now, my wife has added the expression of dance to the equation.”

Perhaps, in tribute to that element of dance that his wife has embraced, John Daversa named Track 4, “La Ballerina (para Tatiana)”.  It’s a lovely, delicate song with a brightness to it.  You can almost see the ballerina’s pointed-toed, satin shoes swishing across the stage floor. I enjoyed the way bassist, Carlo De Rosa, engaged the piano solo, doing a dance of their own.  He not only held the rhythm down, but also was quite creative in his bass delivery.  The arrangement is engaging, sometimes doubling the notes against the moderate tempo, lending the effect of ballet dance moves to the mix.

This is an album, where one composition flows smoothly into the next with a quiet, spontaneous energy.  This music is all about our emotional connection to friends, to pets, to children, spouses and the ideals of standing together with a feeling of ‘one’.  Daversa’s song titles give us a peek into his private life.  For example, the “Puppitas” tune that he wrote for their two puppies, Lea and Maya.  The Piano and trumpet duet that he named in memory of his beloved paternal grandparents, Molly and Johnny, whose parents immigrated to America from Italy through Ellis island and became American citizens.  In a book his grandfather kept, much like a personal diary, Daversa found  his grandfather’s love notes on how he met his grandmother while working at the San Francisco canneries.  That love inspired this song;”Fabrica de Conservas de San Francisco (La Historia de Molly y Johnny).” 

Sammy Figueroa takes a minute to share his family life with us on Track 6, introducing listeners to “Sammy Figueroa Plays for Charlie Figueroa.”  One of the things I found completely refreshing and creative about the works of John Daversa is how he weaves the spoken word (in essay form) into the jazz and Latin musical vernacular to clarify the meaning of compositions and arrangements.  He paints musical pictures, like museum portraits, with the words describing the artwork pasted beneath the exhibit.

Sammy Figueroa explained, “Home to me is the most important thing to me, because I grew up in a family that was very musical.  In Puerto Rico, my aunt was a singer, my uncle was a singer, so there was always music around my house.  John (Daversa) said why don’t we do a tune for your father?  I said really?  I’m honored. … You’re going to do an intro for the spirit of your dad.   When we were doing that and I finished, I said OMG, man.  I could feel his presence hovering and I said thank you.  It was pretty emotional!”

This album of music celebrates  family-love and the interconnection of people that enrich our lives.  It’s a very beautiful expression of solidarity and the desire to procreate and hold dear our rich and various cultures, the memories and the beauty that families, like musicians, make; working together towards a common goal; one love.

* * * * * * * * * * 

MARIA SCHNEIDER – “DATA LORDS” – Artist Share

Maria Schneider, composer/producer/conductor; Ben Monder, guitar; Jay Anderson, bass; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Johnathan Blake, drums/percussion; Gary Versace, accordion;  WOODWINDS: Rich Perry, tenor saxophone; Steve Wilson, alto & soprano saxophone/clarinet/flute & alto flute; Dave Pietro, alto saxophone/clarinet/flute/alto flute/piccolo; Donny McCaslin, tenor saxophone/flute; Scott Robinson, B-flat, bass & contra-bass clarinets/baritone saxophone/muson. TROMBONES: Keith O’Quinn, Ryan Keberle & Marshall Gilkes; George Flynn, bass trombone.  TRUMPETS/FLUEGELHORN: Michael Lenssen, trumpet electronics programming; Mike Rodriguez, Nadje Noordhuis, Greg Gisbert, & Tony Kadleck.

The first thing I noted about this double album CD by Grammy Award-winning composer and bandleader, Maria Schneider, is the high-quality, artistic design and artwork.  Included inside the CD package was a 32-page booklet with photos. There were two CD jackets.  One titled “The Digital World” and the other called, “Our Natural World.”  Maria Schneider’s band of all-star musicians has tackled “A World Lost” that references a simpler time, when people were more connected to the earth and each other.  It becomes the first track on “The Digital World” CD where everyone’s eyes are glued to computers, I-pods and ‘smart phones.’ She portends we are being manipulated by technology and algorithms. 

“No one can deny the great impact that the data-hungry, digital world has had on our lives.  As big data companies clamor for our attention, I know that I’m not alone in struggling to find space to keep connected with my inner world, the natural world, and just the simpler things in life,” explains Maria Schneider.

With this premise in mind, Schneider began to score “Data Lords,” an album meant to examine the conflicting relationships between the digital and natural worlds.  For this project, she features her orchestra of eighteen world-class musicians. Track one, “A World Lost” is hauntingly beautiful, featuring soloists Ben Monder on guitar and Rich Perry on tenor saxophone.  Schneider muses that in her school years, instead of looking at a smart phone (that weren’t even invented yet), she would delve into her imagination to kill time. 

“I think empty space makes us ripe for daydreaming and creativity,” Maria Scheidner tells us.

And, she’s right. When you take away the freedom of our own imagination and dreams to replace them with computerized ideas and voices, that can stagnate people’s creativity. Today, too many people grab a device to fill a vacancy or a quiet moment in their lives.  Consequently, multi-million-dollar companies stalk and track our every nuance.  This can allow them to monitor and even change our behavior. It also makes them rich. That’s what this production is all about.  Each song represents a unique story disclosed in detail inside their 32-page booklet.  “Don’t Be Evil” is a warning to companies like Google and FaceBook, who are using and selling data collected from the public for power and money.  They often provide platforms where youth can be goaded and/or bullied into self-injury or suicide. The title tune, “Data Lords” also is composed to challenge data-collecting companies.  Maria Schneider reminds us that Google’s apologist predicts computers will have human-level intelligence by 2029.  What does that mean for our society?  This music demands we stop, look and listen, not only to this orchestrated masterpiece, but to the world around us. The second CD, titled “Our Natural World” offers more positive composition titles like “Look Up” and “Braided Together.” 

“Musicians have been the canary in the coal mine,” Schneider says. “We were the first to be used and traded for data.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

JESSE FISCHER – “RESILIENCE” – Independent Label

Jesse Fischer, piano/keyboards/Fender Rhodes/Wurlitzer/Hammond B-3 organ/moog little phatty/Prophet Rev2/Juno 106/ARP Omni/mandolin/voice/percussion/production/composer; Michael Valeanu &   Jordan Peter, guitar; David Cutler, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; Keita Ogawa & Mino Cinelu, percussion; Daniel Winshall, upright bass; Morgan Guerin, tenor saxophone/EWI/drums; Godwin Louis, soprano & Alto saxophones; Billy Buss, trumpet; Sarah Elizabeth Charles & Becca Stevens, vocals.

Although this music project was conceived and recorded prior to the corona virus pandemic and before the publicized national reckoning on race and policing, many of Jesse Fischer’s themes on this “Resilience” album are absolutely relevant.  By the time the music was ready for release, the title had taken on new meaning in relationship to our current political climate.

“I wrote most of this new material soon after becoming a father,” Fischer shared in his press package.

“I was overcome with joy and gratitude at home. Yet I was witnessing the outer world crumble into fear, xenophobia and ignorance; watching dictatorships replace democracies; ongoing state-sanctioned violence against African Americans and the gulf between political and ethnic groups growing wider and more insurmountable,” the composer explained.

The music of Jesse Fischer is a well-balanced mixture of smooth jazz, his Jewish heritage and contemporary jazz.  As a pianist, a producer and a composer, Mr. Fischer mixes groove-based modern jazz with Jazz’s African diaspora roots.   You hear this on the “Play Date” tune, rich with percussion undertones.  Billy Buss swoops and skates across the vibrant percussion during his trumpet solo.  On an original composition that Jesse Fischer titles, “The Wanderer” Gregoire Maret adds beauty and luster to the ballad on his chromatic harmonica.  “Same Mistakes,” another Fischer composition, where he also co-wrote lyrics, that plead with humanity to stop making the same blunders over and over again. Great lyrics!  But the melody and arrangement step outside the realm of jazz. I’m not sure what genre this song falls into; perhaps world music with its Spanish-sounding, Bolero roots.  He closes with a song called, “Meditation on Peace.”   We certainly need more of that!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

LAFAYETTE GILCHRIST – “NOW” – Independent label

Lafayette Gilchrist, piano/composer; Herman Burnie, bass; Eric Kennedy, drums.

Lafayette Gilchrist is a very rhythmic piano player and prolific composer.   As a bandleader, on this album he returns to the trio format and offers us a double disc, double dose of fiery originality.  His combustible band is invigorated by the drum chops of Eric Kennedy and the solid bass of Herman Burney.   They open Disc One with “Assume the Position,” a protest tune that musically profiles police violence.  This song was featured on HBO’s crime drama, “The Wire.”  You can feel the frustration and the anger in this arrangement, marked by Lafayette’s unrelenting rhythm attack.  This album contains other socially and politically conscious compositions.  On “Bamboozled,” Herman Burnie opens this arrangement on his upright bass.  Then, while Gilchrist chords out the melody, it becomes a half-time melodic adventure against a double time, improvisational flurry of Eric Kennedy’s drums.  It makes for a very interesting and dynamic arrangement. 

Based in Baltimore, Lafayette Gilchrist has resided in Maryland since 1987.  He has performed with a number of jazz legends like David Murray, singer Cassandra Wilson, bassist William Parker, drummer Andrew Cyrille and trombonist, Craig Harris.  He formed his first ensemble, called New Volcanoes, in 1993.  They released an album titled; The Art is Life that same year.  Since that debut endeavor, Gilchrist has released a Baker’s Dozen of albums as bandleader.  His music has been features on television shows like “The Deuce” and “Treme.”   While attending University of Maryland, Baltimore, at age seventeen he stumbled into a recital hall and began picking out melodies on the piano.  So began his career.

Lafayette Gilchrist blends funky grooves, intense drums (that are highly improvisational), a keen sense of melody and a sprinkle of Hip Hop to create a hybrid jazz that is quite forceful.  Gilchrist knows how to create ‘hooks’ in his compositions.  He brings the listener back to a repeatable melodic line, neatly tying the whole musical package together with this familiar ‘hook.’  You hear this on “Rare Essence” where Herman Burnie steps stage front on his big, bad bass instrument.  Another tune Lafayette wrote called, “On Your Belly Like A Snake” is inspired by a scene from Haile Gerima’s 1993 movie Sankofa.  This instrumental depicts a conversation between a rebellious field slave, Shango, and a compliant house slave named Shola.  Shango has just been beaten and the house servant is advising him to be more compliant and avoid violence with the master.  Shango fires back angrily.  Throughout this production, Lafayette Gilchrist offers socio-political concerns attached to his various compositions and trio presentations.   The accompanying press package explains that his music has been inspired by the American wealth gap between societies; from talk shows and motion pictures; from the horrible death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and the continuing struggle for equality in America. Gilchrist may not be an extraordinary jazz pianist, but he is a notable groove master and composer.  With titles like “Bmore Careful” and “Tomorrow Is Waiting Now” you get a sense of his messaging.  He asks us (with music) to “Get Straight to The Point” and “Can You Speak My Language?”  His arrangements are packed with intensity and forcefulness as he demands our attention, with few exceptions. It was a nice relief to hear a ballad now and then like, “Say A Prayer For Our Love” and the moderate tempo of “The Midnight Step Rag” sweeps us to a New Orleans neighborhood smelling of gumbo and French bread.

* * * * * * * * * *

NOSHIR MODY – “AN IDEALIST’S HANDBOOK: IDENTITY, LOVE & HOPE IN AMERICA 2020” – Indie Collaborative Official Artist

Noshir Mody, electric & acoustic guitars/composer/arranger; Kate Victor, vocals; Mike Mullan, alto & tenor saxophone; Benjamin Hankle, trumpet/flugelhorn; Campbell Charshee, piano; Yuka Tadano, elec. bass/double bass.

The compositions and arrangements on this recording, including lyrics, are the work of guitarist, Noshir Mody.  Vocalist Kate Victor has a lovely voice and interprets Mody’s, “Illusions Grow” tune with emotion and tonal accuracy.

Noshir Mody is a self-taught guitarist born and raised in Bombay, India.  He relocated to New York when he was twenty-two years old and for the next twenty-five years, he’s developed his talents, combining his minor mode, Indian culture with Fusion Rock and Jazz.  He has been bandleader of an Ethni-Fusion Rock Ensemble and an Ethni-Fusion Jazz group, while also performing around New York City as a trio.  The title of his album inspires hope and love, but with the exception of “Illusions Grow” and the ballad sung by Kate titled “Illustrating Rise” his instrumental compositions are rather redundant in structure.  Most of his compositions lend themselves to electronic jazz fusion or rock music.  His solo guitar on the song, “Sketching Under A Starlit Sky” was a nice break from the full ensemble productions and let the listener clearly hear the artist’s talent on his instrument. There is a strong leaning towards World Music and quite a bit of dissonance in some of his arrangements.  However, in the current global climate and during the USA election year, we definitely need more idealists.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * 

TOBIN MUELLER – WHAT SURVIVES (RADIO EDITS) – Independent Label

Tobin Mueller, B3 organ/pianos/synthesizers/drums; Chris Mueller, acoustic piano; Jeff cox, acoustic bass;  Dane Richeson, drums/percussion; Ken Schaphorst, flugelhorn; Bob Levy, trumpet; Tom Washatka & Doug Schneider, tenor saxophone; Woody Mankowski, vocals/soprano saxophone. GUEST ARTISTS:  Ron Carter, bass; Bill Barner, clarinet; Martyn Kember-Smith, fiddle; Emily Rohm, vocals.

If you are feeling blue, this first cut on Tobin Mueller’s production should lift you up and bring happiness to your heart.  Titled, “Cliff’s Edge” this Mueller composition is fusion jazz at its best.  Mueller plays his B3 organ on this tune and it reminds me of the days when Herbie Hancock’s “Headhunter” album was blowing our minds.  This song wreaks of that kind of inspiration and energy.  The staccato punches and funk groove inspire both Doug Schneider on tenor saxophone and Woody Mankowski on Soprano sax to strut their stuff above the plush rhythm section and horn harmonies.  What a great way to open this album.  Now they have my full attention. 

In the middle of a pandemic, with over 200,000 Americans dead and an administration that seemingly turns a blind eye to this disease and  its dying citizens, and during an election year we approach with an avalanche of political polarization ; with people marching in the street for equal rights and other’s marching against wearing masks that might protect other’s from infection; with the Internet and the news waves full of contradictory information and everyone seeming at odds with each other over one thing or another, I often feel like I’m on the “Cliff’s Edge.”  This music hit the mark on the head for me.

Mueller’s music is based on a Broadway show, written by Tobin Mueller in 1995.  The musical show was based on the Frankenstein story.  Consequently, the compositions and lyrics are meant to paint a portrait of a young Victor Frankenstein as he heroically conquers death, but then gets sidetracked by other ambitions.  The song, “A Promise” is rich with blues.  It offers a lyric sung by Woody Mankowski.  Ron Carter’s genius walking bass opens Track 4.  Enter Mueller on organ and he also plays drums on this cut.  Originally, this was a progressive rock opera.  It was later when Mueller began to record his music incorporating jazz, fusion, R&B, blues and contemporary music into the mix.  You will enjoy fifteen original compositions, with five bonus tracks available on their digital release.  The ballads are lovely and emotional, but the other compositions snatch energy out of the universe and toss it around like a meteor shower. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

DAVE  PIETRO – “HYPERSPHERE” – Artist Share

Dave Pietro, alto, C Melody & soprano saxophones/flute; Alex Sipaigin, trumpet/flugelhorn; Ryan Keberle, trombone; Gary Versace, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B3 organ; Johannes Weidenmueller, bass; Johnathan Black, drums; Rogerio Boccato, percussion.

According to the Dave Pietro press package, “Hypersphere” represents the artist’s reflection on our modern human experience and all the spheres that make up our lives.  We either balance them or let them stress us out.  This recognition of the human spirit’s quest for peace, amidst chaos, is reflected in his eight compositions.  Pietro says in his liner notes:

“The experience of living in quarantine, slowing down and simplifying my life, made the message of this project that much more meaningful to me. The music of this CD addresses some of the life dimensions that all of us must negotiate during our time here on this sphere called Earth.  I wrote the first tune on this CD, “Kakistocracy,” while contemplating the social structures that we have to live under; particularly our government (and the 24-hour cable news din that accompanies it).  The three-part counterpoint of the opening melody is intended to sound like numerous people talking at once, mainly at and over one another.”

Dave Pietro explained that much better than I could.  He succeeded in his counterpoint musical maneuvers.  This first song sounds stressed out and like several instrumental voices talking to and over each other.  Track 2 is titled “Boulder Snowfall.”  This composition by Pietro was inspired by watching a Colorado snow storm and thinking of man’s precarious relationship with nature.  The tune, “Gina” features Gary Versace on Hammond B3 organ opening the ballad, a tribute to Pietro’s wife.  Johannes Weidenmueller  lends an improvisational solo on double bass and Pietro incorporates a trombone into the mix featuring Ryan Keberle. 

“This song is dedicated to my amazing wife, the love of my life, who also happens to be a wonderful trombonist (thus the trombone counterpoint on the melody),” he explains.

The title tune gives trumpeter, Alex Sipiagin, and Pietro on his saxophone, an opportunity to showcase their unique talents and also allows Johnathan Blake, on drums, to take an inspired solo. I enjoyed the way pianist Versace played softly beneath his drum solo, adding depth to the moment.  For the most part, I found the drummer to be very colorful on every tune, but sometimes you just want to hear a solid two and four to cement the groove in place.   Blake is busy, busy.   I enjoyed the horn arrangements on “Quantum Entanglements” making use of unison lines, instead of so much harmony.  Also, playing with tempos and time changes kept the production interesting.  Once again, Blake was completely busy throughout, almost as if he and the pianist were sparring in a boxing ring.  Pietro’s composition, “Orison” closes the album.  Orison is an archaic word for prayer and symbolizes Dave Pietro’s personal journey and the journey that we all take alone and together, as we try to understand what the higher meaning of our existence really is. 

“Perhaps the most personal and private dimension of our lives is our spiritual life,” Dave reminds us.  

This is modern jazz that explores themes of interconnectedness, truth and prayer on Dave Pietro’s 8th release as a bandleader and gives him a disc to share his composition talents and saxophone tenacity. 

* * * * * * * * * * *

JAVIER NERO – “FREEDOM” – Outside In Music

Javier Nero, trombone/vocals/composer/arranger; Tom Kelley, alto & soprano saxophone/flute; Jean Caze, trumpet/flugelhorn; Melvin Butler, tenor & soprano saxophone; Tal Cohen, piano; Dion Kerr, acoustic & Electric bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Brian Lynch, trumpet/flugelhorn; Shelly Berg, piano; Russ Spiegel, electric & acoustic guitar; Kyle Athayde, vibraphone; Lauren Desberg, vocals/background vocals; Murphy Aucamp, percussion.

“Double Vision” is the first song that leaps off this CD with excitement and energy.  Trombonist, Dr.  Javier Nero, has composed every song on this recording.  He blends jazz with elements of folk, Americana and blues to introduce the listener to his creativity on this debut album inspired by the word “Freedom.”  Amidst the current politically-charged time, Dr. Nero has written twelve songs, and assembled a group of all-star talents to interpret his arrangements.  On Track 2, titled “Cachaca” Kyle Athayde steps into the spotlight and introduces us to his talents on the vibraphone.  The warm harmonics of the horn players create a plush cushion where the vibes can bounce.  This is a happy, joyful tune with a catchy and repeatable melody.  Murphy Aucamp is given a solo space to competently place his percussion magic at the fade of the song.

Tracks 3 & 4 share the same title: “I Tried So Hard.” The first exploration into this song is Part 1 and the next becomes Part 2.  Lauren Desberg lends her soft, warm vocals to this arrangement, layering the background vocal support in a lovely way.  Javier Nero has such a steamy, inviting sound on his trombone.  Tal Cohen pumps energy into the arrangement on grand piano, sparkling in the spotlight after Javier’s solo. 

“My father was probably the reason I became interested in music and particularly interested in jazz.  I remember long road trips as a child and listening to music where my father introduced me and my brothers to artists like Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw, Slide Hampton, Tower of Power, Earth Wind & Fire, to name a few.  I remember my dad always bothering my brother and me to harmonize with him over old Motown records and identify the instruments we heard playing solos as we rode along,” Javier Nero muses. 

Special guest, Shelly Berg opens Track 6 with solo piano.  The song is called “Just Let Go” and becomes a platform for Javier Nero and Berg to dance duo.  It’s a gorgeous composition and gives us an opportunity to hear every nuance and tone, showcasing Nero’s technical skills on the trombone. Berg sparkles his piano genius across the keys like stardust.  On the composition titled, “Reality” Aaron Kimmel slaps the funk into the tune from his drum set.  Javier Nero smoothly blends traditional jazz with his young spirit and knows how to interweave a groove inside of his arrangements.  Consequently, he crosses genres and infuses his music to embrace both the young and old generations.  His composition, “Discord” clearly represents this unique talent, borrowing a lick from the great Ahmad Jamal’s Poinciana masterpiece on drums. 

Dion Kerr, on electric bass, sets the tone and tempo on “Midnight Groove” until the horns enter like a harmonic chorus line. They kick the curtains open for Javier Nero, who becomes the focal point of this music. Then, he comfortably shares his spotlight performance with Jean Caze on trumpet.  This music is as relaxing and healing   as a professional spa massage and just as enjoyable.

* * * * * * * * * * *

NOCTURNES FOR A RAINY AFTERNOON

September 26, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

September 26, 2020

Well, the last day of summer was Tuesday, September 22nd.  The weather will begin to cool off now, as Autumn shakes her head and stirs the winds.  This season causes the leaves to turn beautiful, brilliant oranges, reds and gold; then, they drift to the ground.  In some geographic places, the rains come and the days grow shorter. Late evening sunshine disappears.  Here are some jazzy listening suggestions to enhance those rainy afternoons. Slide into your favorite chair, pull on your headphones, or turn your stereo or computer up full blast and enjoy these artists.

JOHN FINBURY – “AMERICAN NOCTURNES – FINAL DAYS OF JULY” – Green Flash Music

John Finbury, piano/composer/arranger; Bob Patton, arranger; Tim Ray, piano; Eugene Friesen, cello; Roni Eytan, harmonica; Claudio Ragazzi, guitar; Vitor Goncalves & Roberto Cassan, accordion; Peter Eldridge, vocalise. 

John Finbury started out as a drummer while in high school.  Today, he is an established pianist and composer who has offered a variety of music to my listening room.  I’ve heard his original compositions lyrically enriched by Thalma De Freitas, (a Brazilian vocalist and lyricist) on an album titled “Sorte”.  It was nominated for a Grammy Award.  Finbury also won a Latin Grammy nomination in 2016 (in the ‘Song of The Year’ category) for a piece he penned on his “Imaginario” album.  On his “Quatro” album, that I reviewed in early 2020, he was celebrating cultural diversity and immigration, employing Peruvian and Mexican music styles in his compositions.  There was an activist cry for freedom and justice in the songs he composed.  John Finbury, the composer, has immersed himself in Latin music until this project.  His current release is a complete surprise.  This album eliminates the percussive rhythms and Latin energy he has been noted for in the past.  Here is an album of Chamber Music, with jazz over-tones that twine their way into his production.   A nocturne is music that reflects a romantic or dreamy quality.  To achieve this, Finbury uses no bass or drums at all during these lovely arrangements.  Instead, John features accordion, piano, guitar, harmonica and cello.  Speaking of cello, Eugene Friesen gives us a dynamic and emotional rendering during his cello work on Track 5, “Fantasma,” as does the sweet harmonica work of Roni Eytan. Peter Eldridge adds his vocalise on this tune.

Another favorite of mine is “Black Tea.”  Notably, I didn’t miss the bass and drums at all.  The melodic content of these songs is elegant, classical and the arrangements are relaxing to the ear.  Finbury gives us a taste of his piano prowess on the final tune, performing solo on “Waltz for Patty.” As a unit, these gifted musicians offer us a platter-full of beautifully played “American Nocturnes” that celebrate John Finbury’s delicious composing skills. He warmly serves up a romantic project titled, the “Final Days of July” for our consumption.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

KATCHIE CARTWRIGHT – “RAINY AFTERNOON” – Harriton Carved Wax

Katchie Cartwright, flute; Marco Antonio Santos, guitar; Fabio Augustinis, drums; Jan Flemming, accordion.

Flutist and ethnomusicologist, Dr. Katchie Cartwright, along with her trio of guitar, drums and accordion, explores 19th-century Choro music. This is a musical style developed in Rio de Janeiro.  Every note and phrase emanating from Katchie Cartwright’s flute expresses the musical interaction between Choro and jazz.   When Ms. Cartwright was introduced to Choro by clarinetist, Anat Cohen, she became enthralled.  Having already been introduced to Brazilian music by her grandfather’s album collection, she was almost hypnotically drawn to that spicy, cultural music.

“The feeling is deeply Brazilian, but it’s also mischievous, like bebop” Katchie says in her press release.

As a musician, over years of study and world travel, Katchie has embraced various musical influences including jazz, folk, Indian music and the compositions of John Cage. For a while she was a Fulbright Senior Specialist for the U.S. Department of State.  All the while, as she began performing and seeking out her own sound, Katchie kept coming back to Brazilian music. 

“It just feels more like a place where I’m not trying to prove something,” she says in her liner notes.

This is an album of music, both playful and happy, that features the drums of Fabio Augustinis propelling the rhythm section and the tasty guitar licks of Antonio Santos.  Jan Flemming adds authenticity with his complimentary accordion touches.  It’s a very folksy presentation, that allows Katchie Cartwright to fly above the groove like a wild improvisational bird. 

When she’s not touring or recording, Katchie Cartwright took time to mentor and chair the Sisters in Jazz Program for the International Association for Jazz Education, before its untimely demise.  She currently hosts a successful radio program, “Caminhos do Jazz” which airs Saturday mornings on KRTU, 91.7 FM in San Antonio, Texas.

* * * * * * * * * * *

SYSTEM 6 – “BENNIE’S LAMENT” – Skipper Productions

Benn Clatworthy, alto & tenor saxophones/clarinet/bass clarinet/flute/alto flute/composer; Joey Sellers, trombone; Ron Stout, trumpet; Bryan Velasco, piano; Bruce Lett, bass; Yayo Morales, drums/percussion.

I spoke to Benn Clatworthy on the phone today.  He’s a member and the founder of System 6, along with two other members formerly of the Francisco Aquabella Latin Jazz Band.  He explained to me how this recording came about.

“This is actually my work of art.  There’s just three of us left from our days of playing in the Francisco Aquabella Latin Jazz Band; Joey Sellers, Bryan Velasco and me.  Francisco Aquabella was a famous Cuban conga player, born October tenth in 1925. I worked for a long time in his band.  When he died in 2010, I was honored when his family wanted me to continue to lead the band.  I tried for a while and I made three records.  Two represented the Aquabella Jazz Band and were called Aquabella. Then I changed the name to System 7 because we were a septet.  Now it’s become System 6, because there are only six of us in the band,” Clatworthy told me.

“I learned a tremendous amount playing with Francisco Aquabella and I started writing music for that group.  I wasn’t writing Latin music.  I was just writing what came into my mind at the time.  Like on the tune “In Strayhorn’s bag,” I based that song on the first two chords where there’s a dominant seventh with a sharp eleven.  It reminded me of a tune by Strayhorn and I developed my tune from there”

Track 10, “In Strayhorn’s Bag” is one of my favorites on this album and it was nice to hear the story of how Clatworthy composed it. On “How They Talk,” Ron Stout takes the spotlight on trumpet and this is another one of the Clatworthy originals I enjoyed.  The rhythms on “Two Little Brothers” is intoxicating and Clatworthy brings his bebop chops to this Latin-fused party.  Drummer, Yayo Morales keeps the momentum hot and fiery consistently.  I can hear the Coltrane influence on Benn’s title tune, “Bennie’s Lament.”

When he isn’t recording, Benn takes time to teach and motivate young players.

“I’m happy to see so many young people inspired by music.  Playing an instrument takes a lot of discipline.  Doing anything well takes discipline.  You’ve got to practice like your life depends on it.  I get up in the morning and practice.  Every day, I try to improve as a musician and as a human being,” he told me.  “Right now, during this pandemic thing, I’m practicing a lot because there’s no work.  We can’t wait to get back on-the-road and promote this CD.”

We can’t wait to hear you and System 6, live and in-person, Benn. Until then, we can pop your recent compact disc on our CD players, sit back and enjoy.

* * * * * * * * * * *

HAZAR featuring AL DI MEOLA – “REINCARNATED” – IAN Productions

Hazar, guitar/handclaps/producer; Al Di Meola, guitar/cajon (Spain)/handclaps; Piotr Torunski, bass clarinet; Mike Roelofs, piano; Mehmet Katay, percussion.

This journalist listens to a lot of guitarists on recordings and ‘live’.  I have to say, this is one of the finest acoustic guitar recordings I’ve heard in a very long time.  Known professionally as “Hazar,” Ulas Hazar has been lauded for his outstanding virtuosity on his instrument and he has received international acclaim.  He holds a Master’s degree in jazz with saz.  Saz is a Middle Eastern string instrument, sometimes referred to as a Baglama.  A Baglama can have a short or long neck and has seven strings and they are divided into courses of two, two and three.  Actually, the saz that Hazar mastered had only three strings and a long neck.  His microtonal music and polyrhythms on those strings was inspired by Pace de Lucia.  After mastering the ‘saz,’ Hazar was encouraged by John McLaughlin, chatting at a concert in Cologne, that he should switch to acoustic guitar. 

“I had nothing more to tell with the saz,” Hazar shared in a recent article.

Consequently, we are blessed with this album that he calls “Reincarnated” because, of course, he has been reborn musically moving from his love of ‘saz’ to his accomplished and challenging performance on the acoustic guitar.  Hazar has a sound that reminds me, at times, of Gypsy music, but at the same time, is extremely classical in a very technical way and a great deal more complicated.  The extraordinary way Hazar plays sounds so easy and smooth, but much of it should be technically impossible.  This journalist finds herself constantly verbalizing out loud, in my listening room, “Whoa!”  His long and inspired ‘runs’ are performed flawlessly and with much attention to the song’s melody.  Beginning with his recording of “Made for Wesley” I am stunned by the intricate guitar lines and the way Hazar sets up the rhythm on his nimble strings.  Al Di Meola plays Cajon on the Chick Corea tune, “Spain.”  There is some controversy about whether the cajon drums were adaptations of the African box drums by slaves when they were banned from having instruments of communication.  The word ‘cajon’ means box or drawer.

“I would especially like to thank the great guitarist, Al Di Meola, who has always been an inspiration to me for his contributions to this record,” Hazar states in his liner notes.

“Black Orpheus,” track 4 on this outstanding record, gives Mike Roelofs (on piano) an opportunity to step forward and perform a beautiful introduction.  When Hazar enters, the sexy, Latin groove arrives with his guitar interpretation and the support of Mehmet Akatay on percussion.  Track 5, “Made in France” gives Akatay on percussion the spotlight.  He opens the track and when the curtains part and the guitarist emerges as the soloist, he executes at a lightening quick pace.  This is the fastest waltz I’ve ever heard. 

On “Summertime” and “For Sephora” Piotr Torunski joins the trio on his bass clarinet, adding color and beauty. The Charlie Parker composition, “Donna Lee” races onto the scene like a New York Taxi driver on the open highway.  Hazar has perfectly blended Eastern and Western music, enhanced by the African-American invention of jazz.  This is an impressive album I will play over and over again.  By example, it lifts Hazar and his guitar brilliance into the realm of musical greatness.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

EDWARD SIMON – “25 YEARS” – Ridgeway Records

Edward Simon, piano/keyboards/composer; Ben Street, Scott Colley, Avishai Cohen, John Patitucci, Roberto Koch, Joe Martin, Matt Penman & Larry Grenadier, bass; Adam Cruz, drums/percussion/steel drum; Brian Blade, Obed Calvaire & Eric Harland, drums; Adam Rogers, guitar; Pernell Saturnino, Rogerio Boccato & Luis Quintero, percussion; David Binney & Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; David Sanchez, tenor saxophone/percussion; Mark Turner, tenor saxophone; John Ellis, bass clarinet; Mark Dover, clarinet; Shane Endsley & Sean Jones, trumpet; Alan Ferber, Robin Eubanks & Jesse Newman, trombone; Luciana Souza, Lucia Pulido, Gretchen Parlato & Genevieve Artadi, vocals; Marco Granados & Valery Coleman, flute; Jorge Glenn, cuatro; Edmar Castaneda, harp; Leonardo Granados, maracas; Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe; Monica Ellis, bassoon; Jeff Scott, French horn; Warren Wolf, vibraphone.

Edward Simon gifts us with a compilation, double-set recording that celebrates the highlights of his career as a Venezuelan-born pianist, composer and bandleader.  This easy-listening and beautiful music has been siphoned from thirteen albums stretching from 1995 releases to 2018.  It covers a wide-spectrum of his musical journey as pianist/composer over the past quarter century.  It also celebrates his 50th years on the planet.  Simon was serious enough about playing piano that at age fifteen, he left Venezuela and moved, by himself, to Pennsylvania to enroll at the Philadelphia Performing Arts School, a now-defunct private academy.   He was studying classically, but it was here that he discovered jazz.  At that time, he was mentored by bassist, Charles Fambrough and guitarist, Kevin Eubanks.  It was Eubanks who encouraged Edward Simon’s relocation to New York City.  Edward’s style embraces classical roots, his Latin American heritage, and the improvisational roots that jazz inspires.  On Disc 1, Track 4, I am enchanted with the rich percussion work of Pernell Saturnino, on the composition, “Fiestas.”   In concert with Adam Cruz’s drums, the percussionists dance beneath the inspired piano playing of Simon.  This is honed from his 2005 album titled, “Simplicitas” and bookmarks where he was inside the chapters of his life, fifteen years ago. 

“There’s a sense of a certain kind of freedom and at the same time, there’s a rawness in those early recordings,” says Simon.

As a founding faculty member of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s Roots, the Jazz & American Music Program, Edward Simon has continuously explored the idea of bringing jazz, America’s indigenous art form, together with the traditional music he loves.

“I grew up playing Latin American music, the genres under that large umbrella.  They’re traditions I continue to explore and love, particularly the rhythms, but also the song forms that come with them.  My early albums capture that exploration, … wrapped up with the classical music element that I really love,” Simon explains his inspiration in playing and composing.

As part of the first disc, I was surprised to hear his song, “Simplicity” which, is almost note-for-note, a replica of the popular American ballad and pop song, “Too Young.”  This first disc is pretty laid-back and features a host of well-known jazz names who add their talents to Simon’s performances. Among them, John Patitucci offers a breathlessly beautiful bass solo on Simon’s composition, “Pathless Path” recorded in 2013. The tune, “Impossible Question” closes out the first disc in a fiery way, reaching back to his Criss Cross Jazz recording in 2007 on an album titled, “Oceanos.”  Luciana Souza makes a vocal appearance on this cut. Edward Simon’s fingers race across the piano keys with purpose and spontaneity.  This is an example of beautifully blending his classical training with Straight-ahead jazz.  David Binney makes a stellar appearance on alto saxophone.  The Edward Simon composition “Barinas” stands out on the second disc, where the arrangement includes bass clarinet, flute, and Edmar Castaneda’s exciting harp playing.  Another favorite on this disc is “Navigator” that features his hard-swinging trio; Eric Harland on drums, John Patitucci on bass and Edward Simon brilliantly Straight-ahead on piano.  Disc 2 continues to combine Edward Simon’s years of recording, like a delicious mixed cocktail, we sip from his musical cup and become more and more intoxicated by his talent.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

ZEENA QUINN – “GOING MY WAY” – Independent Label

Zeena Quinn, vocal/background vocal; Adam Shulman, piano; Seth Asarnow, Bandoneon/piano; David Rokeach, drums; Peter Barshay & Sascha Jacobsen, bass; Edgardo Cambon & Ami Molinelli Hart, percussion; Nika Rejto, flute; Mads Tolling, strings; Steve Heckman, alto & bass flutes/soprano & tenor saxophones.

Zeena Quinn is supported by an excellent ensemble of jazz musician.  The first one that stands out is her pianist on their opening Rodgers and Hart tune of “Lover.”  Adam Shulman, on piano, takes a spirited and creative piano solo.  Ms. Quinn has chosen a dozen jazz standards to interpret on this album, including some very challenging and beautiful songs like the Charles Mingus tune, “Weird Nightmare” and the demanding Rowles and Winstone composition, “The Peacocks.” Nika Rejto adds her fluttering and complimentary flute work on this arrangement.

On Track 4, Zeena surprises this listener by singing “Amado Mio” in Spanish and later, she interprets “O’ Cantador” in Portuguese, showing off her linguist skills. “Nica’s Dream” by Horace Silver is a favorite of mine and Zeena Quinn gives us her smooth but spirited take on the tune.  Heckman swings hard on tenor saxophone, as does Adam Shulman on the 88-keys.  Drummer, David Rokeach, holds the Latin tinged rhythm tightly in place, while Ami Molinelli Hart (the percussionist) adds color and dynamics to this track.  Zeena Quinn sings “It Might as Well Be Spring” in French and the band swings hard.  The second time around, Quinn sings the familiar song in English.  This is an album of well-produced and arranged jazz songs, that features the silky-smooth vocals of Quinn.  Zeena shows off her vocal range on the Wayne Shorter tune, “Infant Eyes.”  This is another beautiful and difficult song for a vocalist to interpret because of the rangy intervals.  Zeena Quinn performs it fearlessly.

Born on the Northwest side of Detroit, Michigan, Zeena started in the entertainment business as a professional dancer, able to execute Flamenco dancing with castanets, Afro-Brazilian dance, ballet, tap and jazz. It came natural to her.  Perhaps, because her father, John Ohanian, was a dancer and also played clarinet and saxophone. Her father’s brother, Uncle Jack Ohanian, was a saxophone player who played in downtown Detroit jazz bars for years.  Additionally, Zeena’s Aunt Mary played an eleven string Oud at popular nightclubs in Greek Town, a popular Detroit area famous for restaurants and nightlife.  Music and entertainment appear to be in her genes.  Zeena Quinn also is a SAG/AFTRA actress, one who has worked in television and enjoyed voice-over assignments.  Based in the San Francisco area of Northern California, Ms. Quinn has performed with the Mel Martin All Star Big Band, the Cab Calloway Orchestra and opened for John Lee Hooker. This elegant, debut recording continues the legacy of vocal jazz in high style.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

NATE WOOLEY – “SEVEN STOREY MOUNTAIN VI” – Pyroclastic Records

Nate Wooley, trumpet/amplifier/composer/arranger; Samara Lubelski & C. Spencer Yeh, violins; Chris Corsano, Ben Hall, Ryan Sawyer, drums; Susan Alcorn, pedal steel guitar; Julien Desprez & Ava Mendoza, electric guitars; Isabelle O’Connell & Emily Manzo, keyboards; Yoon Sun Choi, Mellissa Hughes, & Megan Schubert, voices/choir leader.

This music reminds me of a film score; birds flocking in hordes to the telephone lines and wings flapping uproariously.  It could be an Alfred Hitchcock thriller, like ‘the birds’ or a science fiction movie; a ship hurling into outer space where it encounters alien beings.  The use of guitars, violins and electronics, with keyboard coloration, makes for an experience of openness.  Without an obvious drum beat, there is nothing to hold the groove in place.  There is no groove.  It’s quite ethereal. I stopped and started it again, to see if I was missing something. As I listen, I feel an element of spirituality and some connectivity to nature sounds.  Most of the first twenty-minutes of non-stop sound reminds me of the quiet music played in a church as you walk up the aisle with your offering.   Actually “Seven Storey Mountain VI” premiered live, in November of 2019, at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan. Suddenly, Wooley’s music rises from a redundant hum to the power of a 21-piece choir. It’s sometimes chaotic.  I felt the music was attacking someone or something.  You cannot dance to this music or sing to a melody.  It’s just sounds, tones, repetitive chord changes, where trumpet, amplifiers, violins and guitars rule.  I notice vocal words blended into the musical fray.  They are not mixed clearly enough for me to understand those spoken comments, and there are moans and groans of tones.  If you are into totally free and Avant-garde music, you will find this recording hits the mark.  Twenty-seven minutes in, I had to turn it down.  For me, it is not beautiful or pleasing to my ear, with sounds like sirens and shrieks, like laughter in an insane asylum.  It starts out calm and grows into a crescendo of tonal madness, culminating into a massive arc of energy and protest.  According to Wooley, the artists are playing at their rawest, most vulnerable states of consciousness.  At one point, I thought I heard a horde of African bees buzzing in for an attack.

“A lot of the parts can feel aggressive,” Wooley admitted.  “I view all of that as something that is necessary to the production of something new.  That feeling of ecstasy has to come from some sort of pressure,” he asserts. 

I’m not sure I agree with the ‘ecstasy’ part of his opinion. 

Thirty-nine minutes into this music, the “Reclaim the Night” protest song by Peggy Seeger enters.  It musically calms the moment.  However, the startling words of protest, sung by female voices, offer lyrics that read (in part):

“…A husband has his lawful rights, can take his wife whene’er he likes; and courts uphold time after time, that rape in marriage is no crime. The choice is hers and hers alone, submit or lose your kids and home. … when exploitation is the norm, rape is found in many forms; lower wages, meaner tasks, poorer schooling, second class.” 

They fade on the repeated chorus of “you can’t scare me – you can’t scare me.”  The Cd ends on this note, after 45 minutes.  There are no breaks in the musical production.  It is one, long, pulsating suite, that at times reminds me of a shocking acid trip.

At 13, trumpet player and composer, Nate Wooley, was playing professionally in his father’s big band.  They resided in Clatskanie, Oregon, where his dad was a saxophonist.  In 2019, Wooley debuted as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and is considered one of the people leading the American movement to redefine the physical boundaries of the horn.  In his improvised production, there are no restrictions or walls.  He has received the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award and is currently working as editor-in-chief of a quarterly journal entitled, “Sound American.” 

* * * * * * * * * * *

SCATTERED DIAMONDS, BIRDSONGS AND MORE

September 13, 2020

y Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

September 13, 2020

As Autumn settles in, I have reviewed a number of newly released jazz albums.  Read all about them here at my Musical Memoirs blog.

BARRETT MARTIN GROUP – “SCATTERED DIAMONDS” – Sunyata Records

Barrett Martin, drums/vibraphone/bata drums/tablas/vocables/double bass/Fender Rhodes/elec. guitar/ Gamelans/kalimba/mbira/gong/steel drums/clavinet/koto/synthesizer/ dumbek/tambura/bells/ berimbau; Kevin Hudson, elec. bass; Luis Guerra, Kevin Hudson & Evan Flory-Barnes, upright bass; John Rangel, piano; Joe Doria, Fender Rhodes/piano/ Keyboard/Hammond organ; Ryan Burns, piano/Hammond Organ; Wayne Horwitz, processed piano/Hammond Organ; Paul Fischer, Kim Thayil & Andy Coe, Elec. guitar; Peter Buck, acoustic guitar; Ben Thomas, vibraphone; Thione  Diop, bata drums/ surdo/clave; Curtis Macdonald, alto saxophone; Kanoa Kaluhiwa & Skerik, tenor saxophone; Hans Teuber, baritone & tenor saxophone; Dave Carter, trumpet; Ed Ulman, trombone; Hans Touber, baritone saxophone; Lisette Garcia, sleigh bells/ cowbell/surdo/clave/ surdo shakers/tambourine; Rahim Alhaj, Iraqi Oud; Craig Fiory, flute; Mehnaz Hoosein, Hindustani vocals; Seth Amoaku, Ghanajian drums.

Barrett Martin has composed or co-written every song on this album.  Beginning with the rhythmic driven song, “Roll the Bones,” where Kanoa Kaluhiwa (a New Mexico-based saxman) takes an exciting solo on tenor saxophone.   This is the ninth studio album from Barrett Martin, a Latin Grammy-winning producer, percussionist and composer.  On this release, Martin features the amazing works of various musicians from around the globe, like Rahim Alhaj, a Grammy-nominated Iraqi Oud Master and Seth Amoaku, a popular Ghanaian master drummer.   The arrangements are plush with horn harmonics and the full, rich expressiveness of several talented, world-applauded musicians.  Dave Carter is dynamic throughout on his trumpet.   But it is the sustained drum strength provided by Barrett Martin that drives this music powerfully.  His interest in ethnomusicology has inspired him to produce this “Scattered Diamonds” project.  He has also authored two books.  One is titled, “The Singing Earth: Adventures from a World of Music (2017) and the more recent one is called, “The Way of the Zen Cowboy: Fireside Stories from a Globetrotting Rhythmatist.”

“Scattered Diamonds is a collection of my best songs and collaborations with friends from around the world.  The album represents my global music influences, and it seems particularly timely now, because they feature musicians and singers from the Middle East, West Africa and India, as well as several jazz and rock musicians who I have worked with over the years.  Scattered Diamonds encapsulates … their immense talents, organized into one concise album. … their unique example of how music can be expressed globally.”

On Track 2, “Way Down,” he explores various time changes and his hard rock drums move like wagon wheels beneath the members of his Barrett Martin Group, brightly propelling them forward.  On the “Firefly” tune, John Rangel pumps the blues into the arrangement on piano.  On Track7, the vocals of Mehnaz Hoosein singing Hindustani vocals whisks us away to the Middle East and we sample a taste of the culture and the music through this piece titled, “Sarasvati.” Hoosein also co-wrote this tune with Martin.

Barrett Martin is generous with his music and his talent.  He plays so many instruments on this recording that his credits read like a one-man-band.   Most CDs offer ten, eleven or twelve songs. The Barrett Martin Group offers you seventeen well-written instrumentals for your listening pleasure.  This album is full of world beats, rock and roll grooves, big-band horn lines, contemporary coloration and a bit of the blues becomes a part of this jazzy celebration.  What’s not to love?

* * * * * * * * * *

CHAMPIAN FULTON – “BIRDSONG” – Independent Label

Champian Fulton, piano/voice; Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophone; Stephen Fulton, flugelhorn; Hide Tanaka, bass; Fukushi Tainaka, drums.

This bold and unique vocalist/pianist is celebrating Charlie Parker’s centennial with her delightful release of “Birdsong.”  The first thing I love is that Champian Fulton has her own style and vocal personality.  She’s not copying anyone else and she’s not a cabaret singer.  She is the real deal.  Champian Fulton is a jazz singer!

Perhaps this is because, when she was a new born baby, her daddy was playing one of my favorite ‘Bird’ albums, “Charlie Parker with Strings” where Parker recorded with a full orchestra.  It was her father’s favorite album and she grew up hearing it consistently throughout her lifetime.  Consequently, she has a particular kinship with ‘Bird’ and his amazing music.  Her father, Stephen Fulton, is also a jazz musician and makes a flugelhorn appearance on his daughter’s production.  She explained her inspiration to tribute Charlie Parker.

“…I feel very connected to that Southwest jazz tradition.  That intangible something that has to do with a commitment to swing and an approach to the music that’s joyful, instinctual and at the same time intellectual,” Champian Fulton says in her liner notes.

Opening with “Just Friends” I immediately fall in love with Champian Fulton’s vocal sound and her improvisational twists and turns.  She is a competent and expressive pianist who gives her all to the music when she’s playing it or singing it.  “Yardbird Suite” is presented as an instrumental and gives each member of her quintet an opportunity to shine.  Scott Hamilton’s tenor saxophone is smokey and complimentary throughout.  I enjoy the way he colors the spaces around her vocals when she sings the familiar standard, “This Is Always.”  After Hamilton’s impressive solo, Ms. Fulton enters on piano making bird sounds in the upper register that remind me of songs from a tropical forest.  She has a light, airy touch on the piano and at the same time, she’s powerfully emotional and creatively improvisational. Take, for example, her extraordinary interpretation of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” at an incredibly up-tempo speed.  She is dynamic! Fukushi Tainaka holds the rhythm tightly in place on trap drums, using brushes, but losing no power at all. He and Champian trade fours at this rapid pace, racing like two children playing in an open field. 

Champian Fulton’s choice of songs exhibit her technical mastery of the piano.  Her tender and imaginative vocal interpretations are compelling.  Fulton hopes, with this album release, to expose Charlie Parker’s music to a multitude of young audiences and at the same time, show that one-hundred years later, Bird’s music is truly important and timeless. 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

STÉPHANE SPIRA SPIRABASSI QUARTET – “IMPROKOFIEV”– Jazzmax Records

Stéphane Spira, soprano saxophone; Giovanni Mirabassi, piano; Donald Kontomanou, drums; Steve Wood, bass; Yoann Loustalot, flugelhorn.

The first track is titled, “Ocean Dance” where Stéphane Spira introduces us to his smooth, fluid, honey-warm sound on soprano saxophone.  Piano and drums brush against the quiet to establish the groove and support the melody. Then, the band enters.  The players stimulate interest in this Stéphane Spira original composition. 

Track 3, “After Rain” is another original composition by Spira and he flies like an eagle on his soprano saxophone.  This song is quite Straight-ahead with Latin tinges, featuring a drum solo at the introduction from Donald Kontomanou.  Steve Wood, on bass, dances beneath the lovely melody that Spira plays on the Erik Satie song, “Gymnopedie No 1.”  Wood is quite noticeable with his solid bass lines, that sing melodically, while holding the rhythm tightly in place.

I find Stéphane Spira’s soprano saxophone unexpectedly pleasant.  I say that because this is an instrument I often associate with smooth jazz.  But Spira’s music is definitely not smooth jazz.  He clearly reflects his straight-ahead jazz chops, developed in Parisian jam sessions, as a self-taught musician.  Spira attended school in France and obtained an engineering degree, although music was his passion.  He did a short stint as an engineer in Saudi Arabia, until 1990.  That’s when he returned to his hometown of Paris to pursue music full time.  For fifteen years, he chased his musical dreams and honed his talents on soprano saxophone in France.  He released two albums and played in a multitude of Parisienne clubs.  Then he headed to New York.

“It’s unique to have such a level of playing everywhere you look,” Spira spoke about his realization when arriving in New York City.

His current ensemble creates a tightly meshed rhythm section, a space and sky where Stéphane Spira can spread his wings and let his soprano sax fly.  He discovered jazz as a teenager and acquired his first saxophone at the age of 22.  He immediately fell in love with the instrument.

“I love the soprano saxophone so much because it gets back to the voice.  New York is great medicine for your ego because you can see such immense and great players.  But I’ve had time now to say, this is who I am.  I wanted to expose myself honestly and let my personality kick-in,” Stéphane Spira shares.

Perhaps he feels this way because he has, over time and living life, honed his craft, paid his dues and come to a realization about his music.  He knows who he is and he puts that knowledge and belief into his music.

“My father was really into Russian gypsy music, so by extension, he loved Django Reinhardt.  I was really into jazz and by extension of that, I loved Django,” the saxophonist recalled his roots and his family ties. He and his father would often play together.  His father’s favorite music was a traditional Russian tune titled “Moscow Windows.”

Stephane Spira was introduced to the Prokofiev piece nearly fifteen years ago by a Turkish jazz presenter and radio host.  When he heard Spira play his saxophone, he recognized echoes of the Russian composer’s dense harmonies.  The soprano saxophonist found himself intrigued by this Russian music.

“He really opened my ears.  I love a melody that you can sing but that’s supported by harmony that isn’t obvious, but sounds totally natural.  I immediately heard it as a vehicle for a jazz band.”

Consequently, the second half of this CD is titled “Improkofiev Suite” with excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev’s violin concerto #1 and is compiled of three movements that Stéphane Spira has reimagined.  The first is “Improkofiev,” (this CD’s title) which is funk driven by Donald Kontomanou on drums and embellished by Yoann Loustalot on flugelhorn.  Giovanni Mirabassi is brilliant on piano during this piece and throughout.  The second piece of the suite is “New York Dream” (a romantic-sounding ballad) and the final piece of the suite is “No Strings Attached.”

Here is an album that represents a culmination of experiences and life lessons that propelled a promising soprano sax player from France to the United States, to seek his celebrity and fortune.  He’s recently moved back to his native France after a decade abroad.  This newly formed quartet, Spirabassi, reunites him with Italian-born pianist, Giovanni Mirabassi, who he was recording with in 2009, just before he relocated to the USA.  Here is a production that represents a full circle of his life and music.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

SUKYUNG KIM – “LILAC HILL” – Independent label

Sukyung Kim, piano/Fender Rhodes keyboard/composer; Luca Alemanno, bass; Paul JuBong Lee, guitar; Jongkuk Kim, drums; Ethan Helm, alto saxophone.

A 5/4 tune, inspired by Sukyung Kim’s dream of a purple hill where the composer felt safe and secure, opens this production.  It becomes the title tune of this CD, “Lilac Hills” and represents her safe place; music and jazz.  Ms. Kim is a jazz pianist and composer from Korea, who is now residing in Brooklyn, New York.  She has enlisted the talents of Luca Alemanno on bass who opens “Lilac Hills” with his big, bass sound.  Ethan Helm is featured on alto saxophone and Paul JuBong Lee adds his guitar to the mix.  Jongkuk Kim is on drums. Track 2 features Sukyung Kim using the upper piano register to paint a galaxy of sounds that mimic twinkling stars.  The tune is titled, “Stargazers” and Ms. Kim allows her classical technique to paint the tune with sparkling arpeggios, while Alemanno walks his bass beneath her interpretation.  What I don’t hear is ‘groove.’  The drums are all over the place.  This is very contemporary in arrangement, but it never settles into a swing, a straight-ahead or even a funk groove.  The drummer is featured on the fade and soaks up his spotlight appearance with a flurry of sticks, but where is he during the rest of the tune?  I hear him coloring the arrangement, but I fervently search for the two and the four?  Paul JuBong Lee adds a stellar guitar solo, with rhythm support more from Alemanno than the drummer.  All compositions are by Sukyung Kim and although the songs are well-written, this is music without a solid drum foundation.  For me, that’s a problem.

* * * * * * * * * * *

THE MICHAEL O’NEILL QUARTET – “AND THEN IT RAINED” – Jazzmo Records

Michael O’Neill, tenor, alto & soprano saxophones/clarinet/composer; Michael Bluestein, piano; Dan Feiszli, acoustic bass; Jason Lewis, drums.

This is Michael O’Neill’s fifth release as a bandleader and unlike his other releases, he has composed every song on this album.  O’Neill is a popular and sought-after San Francisco Bay Area jazz musician with a penchant for using vocalists on his former releases.  Although currently based in Northern California, O’Neill grew up surfing near the shores of San Diego in Southern California. On his tune, “Early Spring” he fully captures my attention.  Inside the CD jacket, O’Neill explains this composition is based on the harmonies of the Bill Evans tune, “Very Early.”  This is one of my favorites on O’Neill’s album and features a beautiful bass solo by Dan Feiszli. The song “One for Kenny” is written for Bay area jazz vocalist, Kenny Washington, who O’Neill has worked with for years.  It’s an up-tempo, straight-ahead piece that gives Michael Bluestein an opportunity to stretch out across the 88-piano keys and improvise boldly.  Track 5 is titled, “Cloudscape,” a ballad with a lovely melody.  As I listen to O’Neill’s original music and the way he plays his horn, I can tell he has been influenced by John Coltrane, perhaps Yusef Lateef, and other great jazz quartets like The Charles Lloyd group. There’s also quite a bit of Latin influence in the music he writes and arranges, like “Port of Spain” and “Suite Iris.”  This is the very first time he has finally brought his composer skills to the lime light and it’s obvious he is a gifted composer.  His woodwind work is as impressive as his writing skills.  Other favorites on this album include “Mavericks Samba” that dances and sways, encouraging my feet to move and the blues-based tune titled, “The Dreams We Left Behind” is a lovely ballad and a sweet way to complete this album.

* * * * * * * * * * 

ALLEGRA LEVY – “LOSE MY NUMBER” – SteepleChase Records

Allegra Levy, vocal; Carmen Staaf, piano; Carmen Rothwell, bass; Colleen Clark, drums; John McNeil, trumpet; Pierre Dorge, ukulele.

If you are searching for something that will tantalize your jazz taste buds and take you on an unexpected journey into the outside-in of unique, this Allegra Levy album is the answer.  She is celebrating the extraordinary music of John McNeil, a composer that challenges the vocal register with his unanticipated melodic structure.  Obviously, these songs and their creative melodies lend themselves to instruments other than the voice.  Why?  Because of the intervals and the sudden, challenging ranges.  Allegra Levy makes it sound easy to sing these unusual compositions, but I know singing this music is anything but easy.  Opening with “Samba de Beach” I immediately think of the great Betty Carter.  Allegra doesn’t sound anything like Betty, but this song is so outside the realm of anything I expected and so challenging for a vocalist, that I immediately recall Betty and how she liked to challenge the status quo of jazz music.  That’s what Allegra Levy is doing.  She and her trio are challenging the norm.  In the final analysis, isn’t that’s what every jazz musician strives to do?

Allegra talks about the challenges involved in singing “Samba de Beach.” 

“I heard this melody and immediately thought about my frustrations regarding the musician’s life, and especially the jazz scene.  I think a lot of jazz musicians would feel this kind of frustration right now!”

Of course, she is referring to the current pandemic and how it has shut down the world and locked the doors to live music, clubs and concert halls.  It has also given Ms. Levy time to learn these incredibly difficult melodies and to match them with innovative and sometimes very humorous lyrics.

I was surprised to discover that until this album, there had been only one John McNeil composition sung on record.  One of the reasons was that his music didn’t have lyrics.  The other was that McNeil does not necessarily construct melodies that invite lyrics. For some predestined reason, Allegra was drawn to the work of trumpeter/composer John McNeil.  Their decade long musical-friendship started when she created words to his composition, “Livin’ Small.”  Levy confirms in her liner notes:

                “These songs were not written for singers!”

This declaration is obvious as you listen to the way her voice chases the tempo changes, slides into the interval jumps and takes the metric U-turns like a race car driver.  Levy is formidable on this project! Once she sings the melody and the unique lyrics she has written, her trio takes over and you hear how wonderful these songs are for a jazz trio to explore.  They lend themselves to instrumental development and improvisation. 

“John’s lines are complex and innovative, but they’re always tuneful and really memorable.  That’s the reason I always wanted to do this project.  I wanted to make them more accessible by putting words to them, so I could share them with even more people,” Allegra Levy explains.

Allegra Levy not only sweetly adds her lyrics, she scats too; sometimes harmonizing with the trumpet, like on “Strictly Ballroom,” or using her voice as colorful ‘filler’ lines in “Living Small.”  The tune “Strictly Ballroom” puts me in the mind of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.  It has a lyric that reflects a tongue in cheek sarcasm and is quite comedic.  “Tiffany” is one of my favorites.  It’s a sensuous ballad and challenges Allegra’s voice to explore her low alto range.  Carmen Rothwell improvises with a beautiful solo on her double bass.  Carmen Staaf is a prolific pianist, who sensitively tells her stories on the eighty-eight keys during awesome solos and she’s also a sensitive accompanist.  Colleen Clark is ever present on trap drums, adding tasty licks and colorful additions to heighten the song’s musical moments. Allegra’s all-female trio is fiery hot!

Allegra Levy is a gifted lyricist, a sweet-toned vocalist with excellent pitch and definitely is a jazz singer. However, the one missing element in this talented singer/songwriter’s bag of excellence, is a style.  That is to say, when you hear Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter, Julie London, Diana Krall, Carmen McCrae or even Chaka Khan, they have a distinctive sound; a vocal style.  That is not a criticism, but more my observation and an important one for any jazz singer.  For this reviewer, Allegra’s voice is like so many others I’ve heard without the distinction of having their own unique sound.  Importantly, on Levy’s first two albums, where she wrote both music and lyrics, she clearly established herself as a competent composer.  She also is obviously fearless when it comes to challenging her vocal strengths and technique.  Her songwriting gifts are a plus.  Here is a project you may find yourself listening to, again and again, to soak up all the richness of Allegra Levy’s lyrical wisdom and the challenging way she has adorned the music of John McNeil with her wonderful words.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

  TOM GUARNA – “SPIRIT SCIENCE” – Destiny Records

Tom Guarna, electric & acoustic guitar; Ben Wendel, tenor saxophone/bassoon; Aaron Parks, piano/Fender Rhodes keyboard/synthesizer; Joe Martin, bass; Justin Faulkner, drums.

Guitarist, Tom Guarna’s CD cover is very geometrical, as are the inside panels of the CD jacket.  I wondered about this, until in the liner notes I read Guarna’s explanation:

                “Sacred geometry; those laws that drive everything in existence; it’s where math and science meet with spirit and matter; ideas that humans have studied since the ancients, from Pythagoras to Da Vinci.  Exploring that changed my perspective on music. … Once you’re aware of it, you see those implications everywhere.  With Spirit Science, I wanted to evoke those primary, essential shapes, spirals, circles, squares, in my compositions.”

Most of Tom Guarna’s composition titles relate to scientific and spiritual concepts.  As a layman, a journalist and a jazz lover, I listen with open ears, but I’m no scientist or mathematician.  I had no idea (until I read the liner notes) that Track 1, “A Trion Re” refers to the sixth Platonic solid whereby light is an object. For me, this song is contemporary cool with a notable solo by Ben Wendel on saxophone.  Track 2 is a pretty ballad (Platonic Solids) with a catchy melody, brought to our attention by Aaron Parks on synthesizer, with Ben Wendel improvising over the theme on tenor saxophone.   On the title tune, Joe Martin soaks up the spotlight on bass with a long and melodic solo.  One of my favorites of Guarna’s compositions is his tribute to Kofi Burbridge titled, “A Reflection in a Reflection.”   The bassoon of Ben Wendel adds a fresh dimension to the music and Aaron Parks is colorful on synthesizer, on the Rhodes and the piano throughout this album.  “Metatron’s Cube” is straight ahead and the way it’s arranged makes the guitar sound like a full horn section, when blended with the sax and piano.  Justin Faulkner, on drums, holds the original compositions tightly in place

“I had never performed with Justin before, though I knew his playing with Branford Marsalis.  I had the idea that he and Joe would be good together and I was right.  Their hookup was fantastic,” Guarna expressed his admiration for the group’s drummer.

Guarna is a graduate of the Juilliard School.  The guitarist has performed with such icons as Stanley Clarke, Branford Marsalis, Randy Brecker, Mulgrew Miller, Billy Hart, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Les McCann, Gary Bartz and more.  He’s a solid composer and a diversified player, showing off his strengths on both acoustic and electric guitar during this unique project.  

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

  DAVID SILLS DOUBLE GUITAR QUINTET – “NATURAL LINES” – Gut String Records

David Sills, tenor saxophone/alto flute; Mike Scott & Larry Koonse, guitars; Blake White, bass; Tim Pleasant, drums.

This, the 17th album release for reed player, David Sills.  It features seven original compositions by Sills and tunes by Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Jimmy Davis, Alan Broadbent and two of Sills’ accompanists, guitarists Larry Koonse and Mike Scott.  Opening with Scott’s “Minor Monk,” this group swings hard and the catchy melody repeats in your head.  This is the sign of a well-written composition.  The Sills’ group has a tight, cohesive sound.  When David Sills comes to the forefront on his horn, his mellow tone lights up the musical stage.  I played this song twice before moving on.  You rarely hear a quintet that utilizes two guitars, but it works!  David Sills explained:

“In recent years, most of my performances have taken place in venues in which no piano was available, so to fill the role of the missing piano, I began adding a second guitar.  This instrumentation seemed to open up many musical possibilities and allowed for an interesting mix of sonic colors.  Thus, the idea for this recording, featuring a double guitar quintet, was born.”

Certainly, it helps to use some of the best players in Southern California like Larry Koonse and Mike Scott, who is a founding member of the Los Angeles Jazz Collective.  Together, Scott and Koonse create a rich, beautiful rhythm section, along with Tim Pleasant on drums and Blake White on bass. They become a cohesive palate where Sills can paint his silky, smooth tenor saxophone sound.   “Sonny’s Side” is a David Sill original composition and it’s another swinging arrangement.  I wondered if it was a tribute to Sonny Rollins. When reading the publicist’s promo package, I discovered it actually was.  Tim Pleasant colors the music on his trap drums and holds the swing time in perfect place.  Half way through, the ensemble give’s Pleasant a time to shine on an impressive drum solo.  Blake White, on double bass, locks in with Pleasant and the groove is impeccable.

On the Alan Broadbent tune, “Quiet Is the Star” Sills picks up his alto flute and serenades us.   David Sills stays busy as a recording and performing artist, as a composer and an educator.  He puts out albums every other year, tours the United States, Europe and Asia as a bandleader and still finds time to perform with David Benoit, The Acoustic Jazz Quartet, the Line Up and the Liam Sillery Quintet. His current project, “Natural Lines” is a whole new adventure, for the first time featuring his double guitar quintet and offering us a dozen well-played songs for our listening pleasure.

* * * * * * * * * * *

MUSIC THAT MOVES ME

August 1, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil

Aug 1, 2020

JIMMY HEATH – “LOVE LETTER” – Verve Records

Jimmy Heath, soprano & tenor saxophones/arranger; Kenny Barron, piano; Russell Malone, guitar; Monte Croft, vibraphone; David Wong, bass; Lewis Nash, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Wynton Marsalis, trumpet; Cécile McLorin Salvant & Gregory Porter, vocals.

You might say, Jimmy Heath went out swinging, in a slow, melancholy way.  This final release showcases Heath’s ability to merge his historic and unrelenting talent and tone, with a younger generation of musicians who bring interest and commerciality to his music.  Opening with the lovely and melodic, “Ballad from Upper Neighbors Suite,” this is Heath’s first ‘all-ballads’ production.  It’s as though he was writing a love letter to all his fans, family and friends before he got out of here.  Jimmy Heath’s tone and power on his tenor saxophone is as precise and stunning as it was thirty years ago.  Hard to believe that he was playing with this much strength and character at ninety-three years old.  On Track two, “Left Alone” he features the celebrated vocals of Cecile McLorin Salvant and the esteemed guitarist, Russell Malone.   Cecile’s crystal-clear voice is tender and heart-rendering on this Billie Holiday composition.  It’s a composition Ms. Holiday never got to record herself, but I think she’d be pleased with Salvant’s interpretation.   Enter Jimmy Heath on his horn, after Cecile’s beautiful performance.  He plays with so much soul and finesse that I just want to rewind his solo over and over again.

During His illustrious career, Jimmy Heath has worked with some of the most iconic jazz musicians in the entire world.  He’s performed on more than one-hundred albums and he’s written more than one-hundred-twenty-five compositions.  Some of those original songs have become jazz standards and have been recorded by renowned artists like Cannonball Adderley, Chet Baker, Miles Davis, James Moody, Milt Jackson, Ahmad Jamal, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, J.J. Johnson and Dexter Gordon.

Wynton Marsalis comes on board to blend horns seamlessly with Jimmy Heath on “La Mesha.”  What a gorgeous song and arrangement!  This is a Kenny Dorham composition.  When Kenny Barron takes his piano solo, I marvel at the jazz master’s impeccable touch.  Gregory Porter sings the familiar standard “Don’t Misunderstand” with the astute and beautiful accompaniment of Mr. Barron on piano.  The trio is warm and supportive of the baritone’s rich vocals.  Enter Jimmy Heath, improvising with a brand, new melody and honey warm sweetness on his horn.  For me, this is a tear-jerk moment.  Sometimes music can touch you like that.

On Gillespie’s popular “Con Alma,” the arrangement is spruced up by the soulful vibraphone work of Monte Croft during a sexy, Latin arrangement of this familiar song.  Heath opens the tune, then fluidly melts into a bluesy jazz walk, propelled by David Wong’s bass and Lewis Nash tapping the rhythm out in profoundly perfect ways.  Jimmy Heath has written and executed this arrangement.  It’s both fresh, sultry and stunning.

There is not a bad tune on this entire album of spectacular music.  I could play it all day.  “Fashion or Passion” features Croft on vibraphone again and Heath’s warm saxophone blowing beauty into the air.  Although this original composition by Jimmy Heath is a ballad, it still swings.  The song comes from a 2004 Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra commission.   His album closes with Billie Holiday’s, “Don’t Explain” a treasure of a tune.   Jimmy Heath takes full responsibility for interpreting the heart-wrenching lyrics, letting his saxophone sing the song’s meaning without words.  I hear you, Jimmy Heath.  I hear you!

* * * * * * * * * * *

ALISTER SPENCE – “WHIRLPOOL”  – Independent Label

Alister Spence, solo piano.

Alister Spence has made a powerful impact on the world of improvised music.  His reputation as a pre-eminent, creative force in jazz and avant-garde music began in his native Australia.  Twenty-five years later, he’s celebrated worldwide, lauded as being a contemporary music composer and performer who adds his brilliance to film scores, theater and various group recordings.  Spence holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree from University of NSW, where he is the Lecturer in Music.

On this CD release, Alister Spence wraps you in the “Whirlpool” of his solo production.  I find myself being totally intrigued and sucked into the extreme creativity of his spontaneous compositions.  These compositions are full of surprise and piano genius.  This Australian jazz pianist and composer creates an engaging and deeply emotional album that draws the listener into the depths of his presentation.  You become hypnotized by his music.  This double-disc album of solo piano is both splendid and irresistible, showcasing Allister’s unmistakable piano technique and classical training, as well as his flair for the dramatic. Spence explained his project this way:

“In the session, I tried to create surprises for myself, starting somewhere without a clear idea of what that would sound like and, as a result, creating puzzles or mazes which I try to follow or not to follow.”

While listening, I found myself following his musical notes, like bread crumbs in a Hansel and Gretel story.  I was intoxicated by his imaginative offering and as he piqued my curiosity, I went scurrying after his notes and nuances.  Alister Spence plays every part of the piano, both inside and out; plucking at the inner strings or dancing in the treble register like a finger ballerina.  When he attacks the lower register, his hands are powerful and demanding.  His compositions can be both hauntingly beautiful and suddenly dark and sinister, like storm clouds on the horizon.  One moment he’s a music box and the next, his fingers crash against the ivory and ebony like a restless ocean tide.  His left and right hands give us a lesson in contrary motion and his nimble fingers move swiftly, sometimes as fast as humming bird wings. I also felt as if the two hands were somehow speaking to each other in a foreign-language conversation I was eavesdropping on.  Here is an example of skill, creativity, freedom and years of practice, joy and pain, unleashed by the mastery of eighty-eight keys and the human spirit.

* * * * * * * * * *

BENNY RUBIN JR. QUARTET – “KNOW SAY OR SEE” – Independent Label

Benny Rubin Jr., tenor & Alto saxophones; Lex Korten, piano; Adam Olszewski, bass; JK Kim, drums.

Here is a saxophone player whose blues touches my soul.  I’m hooked from his very first track titled, “Know.”   At this point, the trio featured is just bass, saxophone and drums.  What a way to capture the listener’s attention.  Benny Rubin Jr. sure can play the blues! Track two opens with pianist, Lex Korten appearing on the scene and giving us a solid, very classically oriented introduction on the 88-keys. When Benny Rubin Jr. enters on his horn, he whips us into his own personal outer space with a flurry of freedom notes.  This composition is titled “Say” and is another one of six original compositions that Benny Rubin Jr. has written for this project; and this song is quite avant-garde.   The beautiful Jimmy Van-Huessen ballad, “Darn That Dream” follows and settles us down.  Rubin’s tone on his instrument is now warm and inviting. 

I enjoy the diversity in Rubin’s repertoire and his delivery.  The quartet’s arrangement on the Horace Silver tune, “Kiss Me Right” is stellar.  “Down They Go” is another original composition by Benny Rubin Jr., that features Adam Olszewski opening the song on double bass.  As the arrangement develops and the other instruments join in, I am whisked back to the time of John Coltrane.  Benny Rubin Jr., let’s his talent fly in a hurricane of powerfully played notes coupled with an emotional delivery.  Lex Korten builds the intensity on piano and adds his own exciting take on the tune.  The final original composition lets JK Kim cut loose on his trap drums.  The drums are front and center on this Rubin composition.  Here is an album full of sweet surprise and straight-ahead jazz excitement.  It offers enough multiplicity to show Benny Rubin Jr.’s competence on both his horns, as well as his excellence as a composer and it certainly showcases the brilliance of his players. 

When I read the liner notes, I discovered Benny Rubin Jr., was born in Flint, Michigan and raised in my hometown of Detroit.  He worked with many old friends of mine like Wendell Harrison and graduated from the Detroit School of Arts.  In 2016 he performed in the worldwide, acclaimed Detroit Jazz Festival with the Detroit Jazz Festival youth All-stars.  This is his second album release.  The first was titled, “What’s Next.”   

The title of this latest album “Know Say or See means the things that people don’t want you to know, say or see,” Benny Rubin Jr. explained.  Well, one thing I ‘know’ is that this album is very well produced.  I ‘say’ it in this review (just like I mean it) and I ‘see’ great things on the horizon for Benny Rubin Jr.  I enjoyed playing his album a second and a third time on my CD player, and I liked it better with each revolution.

* * * * * * * * * * *

BRECKER BROTHERS – “LIVE AND UNRELEASED” – Piloo Records

Randy Brecker, trumpet/vocals; Michael Brecker, tenor saxophone; Mark Gray, keyboards; Barry Finnerty, guitar; Neil Jason, bass/vocals; Richie Morales, drums.

Flash-Back!  On July 2, 1980, there was a buzz of excitement inside the legendary Onkel P’s Carnegie Hall in Hamburg, Germany.  A contemporary jazz-funk band, The Brecker Brothers, was appearing and it was during the peak of the band’s popularity. The place was packed!  This album was recorded during that concert appearance and it reflects the energy, the exciting arrangements and spectacular talents of these legendary musicians.  If you’re someone who loves funk and fusion jazz, this album definitely ought to be in your collection.

The Brecker Brothers march onto the scene, opening with the tune, Strap Hangin,’ on Disc One of this double disc set.  Neil Jason sets the tone on electric bass, with Richie Morales adding his power-packed drums to propel this song into high gear.  On Disc two, the blues pops up on a tune by Randy Brecker titled, “Inside Out” that becomes a perfect musical trampoline for Mark Gray to jump up and down on his synthesizers, embellishing his very creative and captivating abilities during a sparkling solo.  And you can’t miss the powerful bass licks by Neil Jason throughout, often throwing in some 1950 and ‘60 R&B bass lines from hit records back-in-the-day.  Enter Finnerty, on guitar, with fingers flying atop the serious shuffle laid down by Morales on trap drums.

Randy Brecker spoke about this project in the liner notes.

“This, the ‘Great tour of 1980’ featured this iteration of the second great Brecker Brothers Band.  In July of 1980, we hit the road for five-weeks in Europe resulting in this fine recording, “Live and Unreleased;” … including guitarist Barry Finnerty, who had played on Heavy metal Bebop and who was also taking a break from The Crusaders and their ‘Street-life’ tour.  The keyboard chair was held by the late, great mark Gray who was totally obsessed with the latest technology and was a first call guy in NYC. …Our bassist, Neil Jason, who had co-written and sung on one of our hits ‘East River’ was also a first call guy. … On drums is the great Richie Morales, who I first met during my tenure producing a band called ‘Sky King’ for Columbia Records.  He spent several years with us, then went on to Spyro Gyra, Mike Stern and many more. … So, enjoy this long, lost, live concert which brings back to life a lot of pleasant memories of great music, late nights on ‘the hang’ and many a story a little too risqué to repeat here.”

You will enjoy the innovation on the Mini-Moog and on the Prophet-5, fully polyphonic, analog synthesizer played by the late Mark Gray.  Barry Finnerty is tenacious and unrelenting on his instrument, burning fire across the stage with his scorching guitar chops.  But it’s Michael Brecker that stuns with his power, tone and excitement on tenor saxophone and his brother, Randy Brecker, unapologetically adds his trumpet talents to the mix just to remind us why the band is called, the Brecker Brothers.  Not to mention, the two brothers have composed every tune on this funky double set except one.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

SWINGADELIC – “BLUESVILLE” – Zoho Records

John Bauers & Mitch Woods, piano/vocals; Kyle Koehler, organ; Andy Riedel, guitar/vocals; Boo Reiners & Joe Taino, guitar; Dave Post, bass; Colby Inzer, drums; Vanessa Perea, vocals; Ken Robinson, Alto saxophone/clarinet/flute; Audrey Welber, alto saxophone; Mike Weisberger & Bill Easley, tenor saxophone; John DiSanto, baritone, saxophone/piccolo 8; Bryan Davis, John Martin & Carlos Francis, trumpet; Robert Edwards, Neal Pawley, & Alex Jeun, trombone.

One of the featured vocalists with this swinging big band is John Bauers, who also plays piano. The ‘Swingadelic’ ensemble opens up with the Dakota Staton’s hit record and also one of the Count Basie Orchestra’s popular tunes, “Late Late Show.”   John Bauers knows how to ‘swing’ and his voice dances along with this shuffle arrangement.  The big-band horn section punches as he smoothly sings “Gee, it’s cozy in the park tonight. When you cuddle up and hold me tight.  Stars above they seem to know, we’re putting on the Late Late Show.”  It’s a great way to start this album.

On Track two, vocalist Neal Pawley takes the mic and is deeply reminiscent of Mose Allison when he sings, the Muddy Waters composition, “I Love the Life I Live.”  The drums shuffle like a well-oiled motor -machine and Colby Inzer drives this band forward with spirit and energy on drums. 

‘Swingadelic’ is an ensemble perfect for a swing-dance party.  Vanessa Perea’s rendition of the Mary Lou Williams tune, “What’s Your Story, Morning Glory” reminds me of how Sonny Burke and Paul Francis Webster plagiarized this 1938 hit by Mary Lou Williams and wrote “Black Coffee” using the identical two verses that Mary Lou composed in “What’s Your Story Morning Glory.”  There was talk of a law suit, but I don’t think it ever came to anything.  The band also covers the Ray Charles hit record, “Mary Ann” featuring a guitar solo by Joe Taino and a trombone solo by Alex Jeun.  This ‘Swingadelic’ ensemble scoops the blues up and repurposes it in their own sweet way. 

* * * * * * * * * * * *

RYAN COHAN – “ORIGINATIONS”   – Origin Records

Ryan Cohan, piano/composer/arranger; James Cammack, acoustic bass; Michael Raynor, drums; John Wojciechowski, flute/alto flute/clarinet/tenor saxophone; Geof Bradfield, bass clarinet/soprano saxophone; Tito Carrillo, trumpet/flugelhorn; Omar Musfi, RIQQ/frame drum & dumbek. THE KALA STRING QUARTET: Victoria Moreira & Naomi Culp, violin; Amanda Grimm, viola; Hope DeCelle, cello.

The first tune unfolds like a book’s introduction, with Hope DeCelle’s prominent and beautiful cello solo. It makes me wonder about the chapters to follow.  When I look at the title, this arrangement makes even more sense.  It’s titled, “The Hours Before Dawn” and Ryan Cohan’s piano fingers rush along the keys like hands pushing the clouds away from the suns face. 

Cohan’s use of the Kaia String Quartet sets a lovely tone and ambience to this piece of musical art.  “Originations” is composed of six independent compositions that celebrate an eleven-piece jazz chamber ensemble.  On this first composition, you can picture the sun rising from the hours just before dawn, enhanced by the string parts and the unexpected time changes.  Mother Nature is certainly full of unexpected changes and beauty.  There is a very Middle Eastern or North African theme that ribbons its way throughout this project.  When I read the liner notes, I understood that this influence reflects Ryan Cohan’s mixture of Jewish and Arab linage.  Cohan explained an experience he recently had while touring.

“How can a strange land be at once familiar?  Although I had never been in Amman, Jordan I felt strangely at home there.  After every performance or while exploring the streets, people would come up to me and ask if I was Jordanian.  The locals clearly saw something recognizable in me as I did in them.  It was surreal,” Cohan recalled. 

His piano strength and talent are broadly introduced on “Imaginary Lines” where his solo soars. There is great energy and excitement in his playing.  I can feel the love and spontaneity just leap off the CD player.  John Wojciechowski’s beautiful interpretations on reed instruments add greatly to the texture and enjoyment of this music, be it on flute, alto sax, clarinet or alto flute. 

This experience caused Ryan Cohan to seek out his Palestinian roots, when he discovered that particular tour had landed him smack dab in the middle of his Paternal homeland.  Consequently, this album of delightful music explores the assimilation of the composer’s Arab heritage and his Jewish upbringing.  It’s a celebration of the rich beauty of two cultures, intertwined and mixed into a musical production.

“Seeing life through a dual heritage lens, … has made clear that neither side’s existence is more indispensable than the others. The vital human and spiritual links embodied in the reconciliation of my Jewish and Arab origins extends to the connections we all share as a global community.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

HORIZONS JAZZ ORCHESTRA PAYS TRIBUTE TO COMPOSER/ARRANGER LEE HARRIS WITH “THE BRITE SIDE”

Gary Mayone, keyboards; Ranses Colon, bass; Luke Williams, guitar; George Mazzeo, drums; REEDS: Scott Klarman, lead alto/flute/soprano saxophone; Mike Brignola, 3rd Alto saxophone/flute/clarinet; Billy Ross, guest tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Joe Mileti, tenor saxophone/flute; Randy Emerick, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS: Dennis Noday, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Ryan Chapman, split lead flugelhorn; Jack Wengrosky, split lead, flugelhorn; Fernando Ferrarone & Chaim Rubinov, trumpet/flugelhorn. TROMBONES: Michael Balogh, lead trombone/conductor; Jason Pyle & Tom Lacy, trombone; Steve Mayer, bass trombone.

This Is a beautifully produced and arranged tribute to Lee Harris.  Harris was a respected baritone saxophonist, a composer and arranger, who co-founded and co-led the popular “Superband.”  They were a big band with a fresh perspective, that mainly performed Lee’s original compositions.  When this Horizons Jazz Orchestra project got underway, Lee Harris was quite ill and unfortunately, he passed away months before this recording was completed.  However, the album will proudly stand as his legacy. 

With the significant help of veteran trombonist, Michael Balogh (who was also lead trombone player in the “Superband”) and brilliant trumpeter, Dennis Noday, who co-led the “Superband” with Lee Harris, along with the Executive Producer for “The Brite Side,” Ms. Jeannette C. Piña, they have created a memorable project.  The producers have enlisted the talents of virtuoso trumpeter, Carl Saunders, featured on five of the ten tracks and Grammy-winning drummer, Jonathan Joseph propels the project with vigor and tenacity.  Reedman, Billy Ross, was invited to join them on four of the tracks.  Ross has been playing woodwinds with Woody Herman’s Orchestra since he was seventeen and has leant his talents to many an iconic recording.  The list includes Barry Manilow and Natalie Cole; the Four Tops and the O’Jays to name only a few.

“The Brite Side” spotlights five original compositions by Lee Harris, with the other five are jazz standards that showcase the Harris arrangements.  I enjoyed the addition of Gary Mayone on the B3 Organ.  Producer Michael Balogh has certainly created a loving tribute to his friend and fellow musician, Lee Harris. This production exposes the listeners to some well-written compositions and a host of outstanding musicians who play the Lee Harris arrangements with gusto and creative clarity.

* * * * * * * * * * *

MON DAVID & JOSH NELSON – “D + N + A” – Dash Hoffman Records

Mon David, vocals; Josh Nelson, piano.

Mon David and Josh Nelson balance, with two hands and a rich baritone voice, a dozen classic songs plush with thought provoking lyrics and memorable melodies.  Here is a duo that make me feel as though I’m sitting at one of those old piano bars, martini in hand and drooling over the rich, provocative music.  The duo opens with a song I’m unfamiliar with; composed by Albert Hague & Allan Sherman and titled, “Did I Ever Really Live.”  The lyrical content is rich. Mon David sings:

                “You’re born, you weep, you smile, you speak, you cling, you crawl, you stand, you fall.  You stand again and try and then, you walk.  You eat, you drink, you feel, you think, you play, you grow, you learn, you know and then one day you find a way to talk.  You’re young, you fly, you laugh, you cry, you’re grown, you’re on your own at last.  You lose, you win, your days begin to slip away too fast. … is it too late to ask, Did I ever love?  Did I ever give? Did I ever really live?”

Those poignant lyrics drive this project.  These one-dozen songs delve deeply into the mystery of life and living; gain and loss. One of my favorite jazz ballads follows, “You Must Believe in Spring.”  I still remember the first time I heard Cleo Laine sing this song ‘live’ at the Hollywood Bowl.  Mon David caresses the lyrics with sensitive vocal strength, while Josh Nelson’s hands work like an artist’s paint brushes.  His piano-playing gently strokes the keys and chords to support Mon David’s emotional delivery.  They follow this song with several other’s we have come to love over jazz decades.  The duo interprets Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary’s candid composition, “Here’s to Life.” 

Mon David is multi-talented.  He sings, but he also plays guitar, piano and drums.  He explained his decision to record a duo album.

“For me, the human voice is the primary instrument for expressing the emotional depth of a song, but the piano is a close second.  That’s why I wanted to work with Josh.  His solo performances are terrific, but when he plays with a singer or other instrumentalists, his music has an almost symphonic quality.  He’s also very spontaneous.  He listens so closely.  I realized we really didn’t need charts for these songs, because we were able to collaborate and create them on the spot.  That’s why I named the album DNA, which is an acronym for David-Nelson-Agreement.  It’s a real conversation between the two of us.”

There are moments when Mon David becomes a percussion instrument with his voice, like on their arrangement of “Devil may Care” and at other unexpected moments, his voice bounces octaves to a head-register tone, like a horn-player or a swiftly moving tennis ball.  His tenor voice swoops into view and grabs our attention.  He scats and purrs his way through familiar songs like “Billie’s Bounce,” and “Blame It on My Youth,” John Lennon’s “Imagine” and challenging compositions like “Waltz for Debby” in a medley praising the genius of Bill Evans. That medley is one of my favorites on this production.  He also introduces us to newer songs like the Bill Canton and Mark Winkler song, “I Chose the Moon.”  This is a vocalist who shows, by his choice of repertoire, that he is confident, courageous, thoughtful, well-prepared and well-lived.

* * * * * * * * * * *

DRUMMERS WHO INSPIRE & PROPEL JAZZ

July 10, 2020
By Dee Dee McNeil –  July 10, 2020
 

JEFF HAMILTON TRIO – “CATCH ME IF YOU CAN”  – Capri Records

Jeff Hamilton, drums; Tamir Hendelman, piano; Jon Hamar, bass.          

Whenever I see Jeff Hamilton’s name on a project, I know that recording is going to swing hard.  His current trio release, “Catch Me If You Can,” is no exception to this rule.  Hamilton opens with the John Williams composition, “Make Me Rainbows.”  

“I first became aware of this John Williams composition while recording Holly Hofmann’s CD.  Mike Wofford arranged it for that project and I haven’t been able to get the song out of my head since.  That’s the sure sign of a great song!”  Hamilton explains this song choice.

Hamilton has hand-picked songs that have touched his spirit and mean something special to him like “Helen’s Song” composed by his good friend and piano master, George Cables and “Big Dipper” by Thad Jones.  Jeff Hamilton recalls being a teenager and playing along with the Thad jones and Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra recording of this song. 

“It was like my morning meditation that set the tone for the day.  Still does!” Jeff Hamilton explained.

Jeff’s drums introduce us to the familiar strains of “Bijou” written by Ralph Burns.  Hamilton stirs the pot with his drum licks creating a thick Latin groove for Tamir Hendelman’s piano fingers to dance upon.  Speaking of the piano player, Hendelman has penned the title tune for this exquisite album.

“Tamir Hendelman is starting his twenty-second year in the trio.  … We also are aware of his composing and arranging talents, as again witnessed here.  I asked him to come up with a medium, up- tempo piece.  Big mistake!  Here came the stops and starts and challenging figures to ‘stump the band.’  It is aptly titled, Catch Me if you Can,” Jeff Hamilton wrote in his liner notes.

Additionally, Hamilton’s gifted bass player has contributed two songs; “The Barn” and “Bucket ‘O Fat.”  The bassist is new to the group and brings a gutsy, blues feel to the production.  You hear it in both compositions.

One of Jeff Hamilton’s mentors was John Von Ohlen.  After studying two years at Indiana University, Hamilton left the academic world to study with Von Ohlen.  In eight months, he had progressed to the point of being hired as the new Tommy Dorsey Band drummer. 

“John Von Ohlen was a major influence on me musically and personally. … Aside from his unique drumming concept, few knew that he played the piano and was so deep harmonically.  ‘The Pond’ is his composition from his solo piano cd of the same title.  John spent many hours at the pond on his property.  In fact, he still does, as he wished for his ashes to be placed there,” Hamilton praised his mentor reverently.

Jeff Hamilton is a living legend and his trio is celebrated worldwide.  As they march into a new decade, they mirror the legacy of great jazz trio’s like The Three Sounds and the Oscar Peterson Trio.  Drummer Hamilton is one of the founders of the Clayton/Hamilton jazz Orchestra and the Akiko-Hamilton-Dechter trio.  He has been the driving force behind such luminaries as Ray Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Diana Krall and even the great Oscar Peterson himself.  He’s also fired up the Count Basie band and been a part of Woody Herman’s big band.  This release is another jewel in the jazz crown that Jeff Hamilton proudly wears.  He is certainly one of jazz music’s percussive kings!

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

PURDIE / FABIAN / OSWANSKI – “MOVE ON!” – CAP Records

Bernard Purdie, drums; Christian Fabian, bass/arrangements; Ron Oswanski, organ.

Purdie, Fabian and Oswanski have united to use their trio power and put a fresh face on funk-driven jazz.  I became aware of the might, power and perfect time of Bernard Purdie in the early 1970’s.  Melvin Van Peebles was singing his praises and so was my old friend and A&M Record executive, Raina Taylor.  I believe I first met Bernard Purdie on the A&M Record Lot located on La Brea Ave in Hollywood where I was working in publicity. But I had heard his work much earlier.

Bernard Purdie played on a hit record from the late fifties that was one of my favorites.  The teen dance floor got crowded every time that recording by Mickey & Sylvia titled, “Love is Strange” spun on the turn-table.   The rhythm on that song was infectious.  Back then, Bernard Purdie’s reputation skyrocketed in New York and he was hired to be an East Coast studio musician on several important recording sessions.  He could play all styles, perhaps because of his early gigs playing with country bands and as a carnival drummer.  He loved to challenge himself and to learn new styles.  Amazingly, he was even called into the studio to spice up some Beatles releases for an American audience.   Unknown to most people, Bernard Purdie over-dubbed his drum licks on twenty-one Beatle songs.  How many drummers can say they played with the Beatles?   It was also his infectious drum licks that helped propel Aretha Franklin’s song, “Rock Steady” into a gold record success.  

One unique ability of this drummer is that Bernard Purdie created his own style of playing with specifics licks that have made him quite famous in both the R&B world, the funk world, the pop world and the jazz world.  He plays it all. One particular style is “Purdie’s half-time shuffle” that jazz folks think of as a percussive-blues-feel, but Purdie adds some syncopated ghost notes on his snare.  You can hear this groove that Purdie created on his recording of “Babylon Sisters,” a Steely Dan record.  He also knew how to seamlessly weave jazz swing and blues into pop music, rock and R&B.  He was the forceful drummer on the “Shaft” film soundtrack album.  His drum excellence and diversity crosses genres.  Purdie easily transitions, in either ‘live’ or studio circumstance, to enhance whoever’s project he’s drumming on.  For example, album jackets that sing his name include work with Ray Charles, Hall & Oates, Peter Frampton, King Curtis, Dizzy Gillespie, Steely Dan, Quincy Jones and even Cat Stevens to name just a few.  He played Reggae with Bob Marley and Latin drums with Mongo Santamaria.  Bernard Purdie even played on a Marvin Gaye track that skyrocketed up the charts.  Purdie told Drum Magazine:

“I cut about 500 tracks for Motown.  One of them was a wonderful one, “Can I Get A Witness” by Marvin Gaye.  We were doing tracks in New York and those were taken to Motown in Detroit.  Basically, they were doing overdubbing on tracks we already cut in New York.”

Bernard Purdie even worked with Otis Redding, who he said was an even stronger task-master than James Brown, a platinum R&B artist he also worked with.  He accompanied one of my idols, the amazing Nina Simone and played with Gabor Szabo.  Other’s he heralded as high points in his career was working with the great Jeff Beck and the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin.  He may be one of the most recorded drummers in the world.  Modern Drummer magazine called Purdie one of the fifty greatest drummers of all time. He is also listed in the book, “The Big Beat – Conversations with Rock’s Great Drummers.”

Now he has joined talents with Christian Fabian, who has composed for and arranged this entire ‘First Ever’ funky organ trio.  Christian is a native of Sweden and grew up in Germany.  Like so many talented international musicians, he attended Berklee College of Music, then became active playing on the New York jazz scene.  He’s co-leader of the New Lionel Hampton Band that features Jason Marsalis and he co-founded the Native Jazz Quartet and heads his own Fabian Zone Trio.  They’ve released six CDs.  Fabian is one of the in-demand bass players on the East coast and is respected worldwide.

The third member of this awesome trio is Ron Oswanski, a native of Toledo, Ohio.  His father had a polka band and young Ron grew up surrounded by music.  He began studying piano at an early age.  He also plays accordion and bass.  His love of piano and bass led him to study the organ, which clearly combines both instruments.  In 1992, he relocated to New York City and immediately joined Maynard Ferguson’s Big Bop Nouveau band playing piano, keyboards and the B-3 organ.  Ron Oswanski recorded on two of Ferguson’s Concord Record releases.  He stays busy as a studio session musician and also an inventor.  He helped develop a special microphone, specific to accordions for accurate, high quality sound.  In 2013, Oswanski released his own debut CD as bandleader titled, “December’s Moon.” 

“I’m not a traditional Jimmy Smith organ player.  I do play that style, but I’m a big ECM fan who’s listened to a lot of Keith Jarrett and Jan Garbarek.  I like open harmonies and being able to stretch harmonies from here to there. … Beautiful melodies are as important as aggressiveness,” Oswanski explained his musical motivation.

The combined talents of these three musicians bring us an exciting and entertaining album of funky tracks.  They play Duke Ellington’s famed “Love You Madly” at a slow speed, but just about every other tune on this project is energized. Christian Fabian is brightly featured on bass solos throughout and has composed five out of the nine songs.  Their bluesy rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” gives Oswanski an opportunity to stretch out on his organ.  On the ‘Glory, glory hallelujah’ verse, Fabian steps into the spotlight and takes over on his bass.  The constant and creative drums of Bernard Purdie create a strong basement for this trio to build upon.

* * * * * * * * * * * 

DYLAN JACK – “THE TALE OF THE TWELVE FOOT MAN”               Creative Nation Music (CNM)

Dylan Jack, drums; Jerry Sabatini, trumpet; Eric Hofbauer, guitar; Anthony Leva, bass & sintir.

Dylan Jack is a composer, trap drummer and improviser.  His quartet features trumpeter, Jerry Sabatini, guitarist Eric Hofbauer and Anthony Leva on bass.  Based in Boston, they have recorded four songs for this release that are more like suites than individual compositions.  Each song that Dylan Jack has written unfolds with various melodies and rhythmic patterns.  Beginning with “Gauchais Reaction, (the Art of Subconscious Mimicry),” Dylan allows his arrangement to introduce us to his bandmates.  On the first twelve minutes of the tune, he features a long solo by bassist Anthony Leva.  After four minutes, Sabatini enters on trumpet, followed shortly thereafter by Eric Hofbauer exploring the outer limits of his guitar.  This is Avant-garde, contemporary jazz.    The title tune, “The Twelve-foot man” is divided into two parts; (6-minutes and 9-minutes respectively).  The first part has a bluesy undertone, with Jerry Sabatini fluid on trumpet, sometimes screaming for our attention and other times sweetly singing the Dylan Jack melody. 

“The great thing about this band, although it’s under my name, it’s everyone’s band.  Everyone has a voice,” Dylan Jack asserts.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=On6mmgNiKj4

Behind the improvisational freedom of these musicians, you continuously hear Dylan Jack’s rolling drum sticks and inspired rhythm patterns that push the quartet to their limit.   

“The twelve-foot man represents a challenge that we individually face; a tall figure looming over our shoulder as we go about our lives,” Dylan Jack explains as he beats his way through “The Epitaph.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

JASON KAO HWANG – “HUMAN RITES TRIO”  –  True Sound Recordings

Jason Kao Hwang, violin/composer; Ken Filiano, string bass; Andrew Drury, drums.

The music of violinist and composer, Jason Kao Hwang is totally Avant-garde.  His drummer, Andrew Drury, holds this trio tenaciously in his hands.  Within the harmonic texture of guitar or piano, Drury is a key figure controlling the motion and the structure on each tune.  From their interpretation of “Words Asleep Spoken Awake – Part 1 and 2” you hear Drury’s punctuation and crescendo-building phrasing on the trap drums.  While Jason is busy with improvisation and the melodic foundation, Andrew Drury pumps energy and excitement into the pieces.  Ken Filiano is solidly onboard, rowing his big bass sound through the waves of music, like a thick, directional oar.  Although they sometimes direct the vessel of their music into uncharted waters and often express chaos, like in a stormy sea, their musicianship is palpable.  if contemporary Avant-garde is your thing, you’ll put on your life jacket and dive into this project.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

JEFF COSGROVE – “HISTORY GETS AHEAD OF THE STORY”                        Independent Label

Jeff Cosgrove, drums; John Medeski, organ; Jeff Lederer, saxophones/flute.

Turn the pages of time back to 2017, when reedman, Jeff Lederer, took a short trip from New York city to play some gigs with drummer, Jeff Cosgrove, in his rural town of Middletown, Maryland.  Cosgrove loves the open space.  It inspires his connection to an uncluttered style on his trap drums.  He likes to let the drums breathe, the same way he, himself, feels in wide open spaces. 

“We (Lederer and Cosgrove) started brainstorming ideas for a new project.  I suggested an organ trio with Jeff and John Medeski.  Jeff (Lederer) agreed and was really the lynchpin to this whole thing.  He helped bring John on board, worked out the charts and had some great ideas on arrangements.  We went in the studio in late 2018.  Everything just fell into place.  … I think the results are pretty stellar.  This project took some time to come to fruition.  William Parker, Matthew Shipp and I had a trio for a while which dissolved around 2015.  In that time of free-form experimentation, we grew a lot playing together.  I was heavily focused on spontaneous composition then, but when I thought about future projects, I knew I wanted to explore the order and arrangements of a composer.  William Parker’s repertoire seemed like the obvious choice.  Many people focus on his bass playing, but his skill as a composer was really what fascinated me.  William’s music is full of wonder and surprise and I am so grateful to have been on this adventure with these musicians to help celebrate it,” Jeff Cosgrove explained how this album came about.

Choosing a composer and friend, who he had played with for a number of years, brings a comfort level to this project.  Jeff Cosgrove is familiar with these compositions and respectful of the composer.  His handpicked sidemen are expressive and supportive in interpreting the music, beginning with the first song, “O’Neal’s Porch,” that begins with a punchy, unison horn line to introduce John Medeski’s organ.  Then suddenly Lederer’s saxophone races into the atmosphere, testing the outer limits of the treble-range of his instrument.  This is followed by a very blues-driven organ solo.  My only criticism is that the mixologist did not spotlight the drums of Jeff Cosgrove more vividly.  After all, this is his project and he’s the structural pillar of this music.  He’s the driving force in every song, but he’s mixed down way below where I think he should be.  Cosgrove has composed the tune, “Ghost” and it opens with an eerie, ghostly arrangement, featuring the sticks rolling across Cosgrove’s cymbals.  Lederer flies like a frightened bird on his flute, elevating the piece.  On track eight, a composition titled, “Wood Flute Song,” we finally have an opportunity to hear Jeff Cosgrove solo on his drums during the introduction of this piece and it sounds as if they finally mixed the drums up where they belong on this song.  You can hear how proficient and creative Cosgrove is on his instrument.  He provides a steady stream of rhythm to support and enhance the flute solo.  This is one of my favorite compositions on this production.   

* * * * * * * * * * * * *