Posts Tagged ‘CD Reviews’

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.   

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