Posts Tagged ‘female jazz artists’

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: FEMALE ARTISTS EXPOSE MANY FACETS OF JAZZ

March 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 1, 2021

YULIA MUSAYELYAN TANGO PROJECT – “OBLIVION” – Zoho Label

Yulia Musayelyan, flute/voice/bass flute; Maxim Lubarsky, piano; Fernando Huergo, bass; Mark Walker, drums.

Russian born, Boston resident, Yulia Musayelyan plays beautifully.  Her flute is bright & bubbling with emotion and energy.  “Fuga Y Misterio” is the first track, plucked from the well-known Astor Piazzolla’s 1968 opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.  It’s an up-tempo Latin tune, very classically arranged, and dances through space like a humming bird with rapidly fluttering wings.   This album is dedicated to Tango music and Yulia Musayelyan applies her mastery of the flute and her love of this genre of music, to create an awesome celebration.  Maxim Lubarsky is fluid and quick across the piano keys.

In Moscow, Yulia studied the flute starting at age four.  Before long, she was winning awards from respected organizations like the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts Award.  She is currently a professor at Berklee School of Music.  As a performer, she has appeared on over thirty albums.  Her selection of repertoire includes a style of ‘tango vals’ which have a ¾ beat and are adaptations from the European waltz.  On this arrangement, Fernando Huergo’s bass line is as rhythmic as Mark Walker’s drums and very melodic.  The title track, “Oblivion” is another Piazzolla composition with co-writer Angela Terenzi.  It’s performed as a dark and sultry ballad, with the flute predominate in the spotlight during a most entrancing performance.  This is a sexy, love song without words.

“I heard it as a teenager on an orchestra tour in Havana, Cuba,” Yulia explained the moment she was captivated by this song. 

This is an emotional, exciting and brilliant production, interpreted by her cosmopolitan ensemble that celebrates her Russian heritage, Lubarsky’s Ukraine roots, an Argentinean bassist (Fernando Huergo) and Mark Walker from the windy city of Chicago, Illinois.  This very international, all-star band contributes to the star quality Yulia Musayelyan offers us on her flute.

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V R SMITH, MICHAEL KANA, CHUCK MANNING, TIM PLEASANT, PUTTER SMITH – “ONCE I LOVED” – Skipper Productions

V R Smith, vocals; Michael Kanan, piano; Chuck Manning, tenor saxophone; Tim pleasant, drums; Putter Smith, bass.

Her voice has a soothing quality.  When Mrs. V. R. Smith sings, she compels us to listen.   There is something hypnotic about her honesty and tenderness.  As a jazz vocalist, this is clearly a seasoned veteran of the music world.  Although there is no great range to her voice, she is persuasive.  This lady takes no big risks and flaunts no vocal riffs, like circus performers twirling across space.  Instead, she simply sings the stories and tells the truth.  You can appreciate that this stylist, like Billie Holiday, has lived life well.

Surrounded by some of the best musicians in Los Angeles, you will hear love wrapped around this music like a bright, blue ribbon.  Putter Smith’s rich, supportive bass stands strong in the rhythm section, the same way he did in her life.  Michael Kanan is beautifully supportive on piano and outstanding during his frequent solo excursions.  Just sit back and enjoy Kanan’s emotional delivery during “Why Did I Choose You.”   Chuck Manning, as always, brings his tenor saxophone excellence to the bandstand.  Drummer, Tim Pleasant, applies tasty rhythms and is the glue that bonds this quartet.  You can hear his steady and colorful drums fly on “Who Cares,” a Gershwin composition I rarely hear played.   Pleasant is given a space to shine on this swinging arrangement.

When I review the list of V R Smith’s repertoire, songs like “Once I Loved” and “Why Did I Choose You,” along with “You’re My Everything” and “Young and Foolish,” I conclude this is a love letter to someone very special in her life.  I know that she and Putter Smith were together on a life journey for at least four decades.  Although this vocalist joined a chorus of angels a week before the release of this heartfelt production, her music will live on, captured in the recording studio one last time.

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SOAR – “QUESTIONS LEFT UNANSWERED” – Soaring Records

April May Webb, vocals/composer; Randall Haywood, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; James Austin, piano; Charlie Sigler, guitar; Jacob Webb, bass; Nathan Webb, drums; Riza Printup, harp.

Trumpeter, Randall Haywood and vocalist, April May Webb have merged talents to become “SOAR,” which stands for Sound of A&R.  Not only does April May sing, she’s also a very competent composer and they feature some pretty catchy songs on this, their third studio album.  One of my favorites is the video posted above, “They Keep Saying No,” where she shows off her melodic and lyrical skills, along with her jazzy ability to scat sing.  On the popular “Social Call” jazz standard, Randall Haywood steps into the spotlight to show off his horn brilliance. I also enjoyed the improvisations and silky, smooth tone of Charlie Sigler on guitar.  In 2019, this lively and infectious couple won “Best Jazz Group” at the NYC Readers Jazz Awards.  They have both charisma and talent.  On “Killing Me Softly” there were moments when the vocalist seems to over-sing, instead of just selling the wonderful lyrics of this standard pop tune.  Still, her voice is engaging and her style sets a tone you will remember and recognize the next time you hear her.  At times, she exhibits shades of Sarah Vaughan.  One of her outstanding talents is as a songwriter.  She has written (or co-written) seven of the fourteen songs on this album. “Moments When I Was a Kid,” is a tune Randall and April May have co-written.   It’s a good song, great lyric, but the trumpet solo displayed a few unsettling pitch problems.  Track 8-9, “The Skin I’m in Prelude” and her extended song adds Riza Printup on harp for a very ethereal introduction.  April May & Randall have also co-written the title tune, where April May spits her prose like a singing poet.  Their arrangement of “I’m Old Fashioned,” is fresh and contemporary.  Nathan Webb introduces the listener to an extended reprise of “Killing Me Softly” on his drums; tenaciously showing off his chops. All in all, the group “SOAR” is bound to do just that.

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ROSEANNA VITRO – “LISTEN HERE” – Independent Label

Roseanna Vitro, vocals; Kenny Barron & Bliss Rodriguez, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Ben Riley, drums; Arnett Cobb, saxophone; Duduka de Fonseca, percussion; Scott Hardy, guitar.

When seasoned vocalist, Roseanna Vitro and her engineer husband, Paul Wickliffe, started re-listening to her original album releases, that included some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, they must have had an epiphany.  Settling into the winter of your days, enjoying your grandchildren and each other, is often a time when you start thinking back on the chapters of your life.

“It was time to take stock of my life and look back at my career,” Roseanna Vitro concurred. “I think these early recordings stand the test of time and I want to introduce them to a new generation.”

When I saw the list of iconic jazz musicians on this album, this journalist was truly impressed.  How can you go wrong when you have Kenny Barron on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Ben Riley on drums?  Not to exclude the soulful saxophone of Arnett Cobb, the coloration of percussionist Duduka de Fonseca and the guitar excellence of Scott Hardy?  They open with “No More Blues” and Roseanna Vitro sings straight ahead and fearlessly.

It was Arnett Cobb, so many years ago, who noticed the youthful Roseanna Vitro exploring jazz as a vocal platform.  He encouraged her and she became his protégé.  Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Roseanna soon became a regular on the Houston, Texas Jazz scene and rooted herself in The Green Room for a steady gig.  It was the right place at the right time.  She sang with jazz greats like Oscar Peterson, Tommy Flanagan and Bill Evans.  Her reputation spread and when she moved to New York City, she soon became a part of the fast-paced jazz scene. 

The re-release of “Listen Here” (originally recorded in 1984) presents Roseanna Vitro at the beginning of a rich career.  She sings songs we know and love and a few that we’ve forgotten.  Ms. Vitro warmly rejuvenates tunes like “This Happy Madness” by Jobim.  Her bluesy delivery on “Centerpiece” is very soulful, as is her rendition of “Black Coffee.”  Ellington’s “Love You Madly” shows her swinging side. 

On ballads like “A Time for Love” her crystal-clear delivery and enunciation showcase the lovely lyrics of this song.  Her rendition of “Easy Street” spotlights the talents of Buster Williams on upright bass.  Those of us who remember Roseanna Vitro, from back-in-the-day, will be happy to re-examine this amazing album, and young listeners will be introduced to a new and inspired voice.

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JANINAH BURNETT – “LOVE THE COLOR OF YOUR BUTTERFLY” – Clazz Records

Janinah Burnett, vocals/co-arranger; Christian Sands, Sullivan Fortner & Keith Brown, piano; Luques Curtis & Ben Williams, bass; Casey Benjamin, vocoder; Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully, drums/producer/co-arranger.

Janinah Burnett is an unusual and brilliant talent.  She’s a jazzy diamond in the raw and a rising star, searching for her place in the expansive sky of music excellence.  The challenge is, where does an artist, who sings several different genres of music, find her niche?  Obviously, Janinah Burnett is a gifted and world-travelled opera singer.  She clearly shows off her skills in the classical music realm on the very first cut of this album, “Creole Girl.” Her classical soprano voice soars against the modern jazz arrangement of Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully, with ‘Tank’ taking an extended drum solo on the fade of this song.  She continues the classical trend when singing track 2, “Habanera,” when suddenly the arrangement takes a turn and becomes a medley featuring the Cole Porter standard “What Is This Thing Called Love.”  That’s when we hear Janinah Burnett’s jazz-singer-voice tenderly caressing the lyrics of this Porter tune and later, in the arrangement, showing us she can ‘swing.’  Clearly, Janinah Burnett can sing both jazz and opera.  My question is, do these arrangements best support her awesome talents?

“The repertoire in ‘Love the Color of Your Butterfly’ represents my most beloved styles and genres: art songs, spirituals, opera, rhythm and blues and jazz.  In choosing to present these varying elements, it was imperative to feature some of the world’s greatest composers of these genres; Bizet, Gershwin, Ellington, Puccini and Wailer,” Janinah Burnett explains her concept for this debut album.

Burnett has named the album after something her mother, Imani Constance, told her years ago.  “You can’t be another butterfly, you have to love the color of your butterfly.”

Track 3 whisks us back to classical as she sings “E Lucevan Le Stelle,” an aria from Puccini’s ‘Tosca’ opera.  Christian Sands takes an improvised solo on piano that elevates the music from classical to America’s classical music; jazz!   His approach is inspired and takes the arrangement to another level of creativity.  I think this is what the artist desired from the very beginning, a merging of cultures and musical genres.  These musicians seem up for the challenge. 

Lauded as a world-renowned soprano, Ms. Burnett was lovingly renamed “La Janinah” by her adoring Italian fans who consider her a marvel of versatility.  She flaunts her originality when Grammy nominated bassist, Ben Williams, supplies the introduction to “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” a traditional gospel song that shows us a completely different side of Janinah Burnett.   Next, she tackles the Ellington tunes, “My Love,” (in her classical voice) “In A Sentimental Mood,” (sung in her jazz voice) and “TGTT,” (from the Sacred Concerts of Duke Ellington).  The acronym stands for “Too Good to Title.”  It features Keith Brown on piano.  Gulley reimagines the harmonics to become more modern jazz than the traditional interpretation Ellington had in mind.  Janinah Burnett becomes an operatic bird, her voice soaring and classically interpreting the challenging melody above the accompaniment of Mr. Brown. 

Burnett’s powerful voice should not surprise us.  After all, she has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the Arizona and Michigan Operas, NYCO, Nashville Opera and Teatro dell’ Opera di Roma, to name just a few.  Her voice is strong and well-trained.  However, on Donny Hathaway’s inspired composition “Someday We’ll All Be Free” (sung in her classical voice) I’m not sure her operatic vocals suited this song.  I wish she had sung this beautiful, moving tune in her jazz voice.

Aside from singing, in 2012 Janinah made her film screen debut in Spike Lee’s “Red Hook Summer” and in 2020 she landed a television spot on an episode of FBI. 

Ms. Burnett has a voice suited for both opera stages and Broadway.  She could easily be a church choir lead songstress or sparkling and innovative on jazz stages.  Janinah Burnett is diverse.  This album exposes us to her multi-talents in a mixed genre presentation.  La Janinah has broken free of the music business cocoon and invites us to love the colors of her butterfly.

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TAIKO SAITO & SATOKO FUJII – “BEYOND FUTARI” – Libra Records

Taiko Saito, vibraphone; Satoko Fujii, piano.

This is an experiment and experience in sound and music.  These two women, Taiko Saito on her vibraphone and Satoko Fujii on the piano, search for extreme measures of creativity and exploration of both musical instruments and emotions.  This duo is like no other you have heard.  “Futari” is Japanese that translates to “two people” and like the title of this production, it is “Beyond Two People.”  You will become completely engaged in the first few seconds of this unique, Avant Garde music.  Satoko Fujii gives us some background on this project.

“I first met vibraphonist, Taiko Saito, about fifteen years ago.  She was a music student at Berlin University of the Arts.  She just happened to come to a concert by my quartet in Tokyo while she was home for a visit.  … My first impression was of a very neatly dressed girl of high school age.  The next time we met was in 2006 at a concert by my quartet at a club in Dresden. … In 2007, she sent me a CD by KOKO, her project with the pianist Niko Meinhold.  I was awed by the level and sensibility of her music,” Satoko Fujii explained how the two originally met.

“Beyond Futari” is a very lyrical and intense combination of piano and vibes. It is fifteen years in the making.  The two women combine their improvisational freedom with poignant melodic phrases and many abstract sounds.  The result is a haunting performance.  Sometimes Satoko Fujii reaches inside the grand piano to play with the thick strings and rattle feelings with percussive response out of the piano’s innards.  Taiko Saito blends sustained tones from her Korogi vibraphone and produces overtones that she plucks from the vibe keys.  Saito creates expressive compositions and exciting, unexpected pieces of music.  Together, the women have collaborated on two compositions.  Fuji has composed six of the nine songs and Saito has written “Todokanai Tegami” on her own.

“I think we both were looking to get a special something from the piano-vibraphone duo.  I mean, these instruments are so much alike and it’s not easy for them to play together,” Satoko Fujii says in her press package.

She is correct.  You rarely hear a duo of piano and vibraphone.  However, I believe this inspirational work may change the minds of many. 

Award Winning mallet player and composer, Taiko Saito was born in Sapporo, Japan but lives in Berlin. In 2003, she founded the marimba/vibraphone/piano duo with a German jazz pianist; Niko Meinhold. They recorded in 2005 and 2014.  She is a founding member of the Berlin Mallet Group. Pianist and composer, Satoko Fujii synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, Avant Garde and folk music in a unique and exciting way.  Both women have received wide acclaim for their individual talents.  Now, they combine those individual geniuses into one amazing production that you will not soon forget.

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CARLA MARCIANO QUARTET – “PSYCHOSIS” (HOMAGE TO BERNARD HERRMANN) – Challenge Records

Carla Marciano, alto & soprano saxophones/arranger; Alessandro La Corte, piano/keyboards; Aldo Vigorito, double bass; Gaetano Fasano, drums.

Italian saxophonist and composer, Carla Marciano, is considered by music critics to be one of the best European woodwind players in jazz and certainly, one of the strongest female saxophonists recording today.

This album is my heartfelt homage to one of the greatest geniuses of film score, the composer and conductor Bernard Herrmann, whose music has dazzled me since I was a child,” Carla Marciano muses.

I am captivated by the Marciano arrangements and her extraordinarily strong abilities on the saxophone.  She plays with such determination, excitement and tenacious abilities that it’s hard to imagine this is a female player.  She is so strong!  Her concepts are melodic, but she’s not playing with us.  Carla Maricano veers from straight ahead to experimental in the short span of a bar.  She’s here to make a statement and that’s clear.  She takes the compositions of Mr. Herrmann to a whole new level.  Carla Marciano commands our attention in a delightful way.  Clearly, she is greatly influenced by John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy.  This is an album you will listen to over and over again, with pure surprise and pleasure.

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JIHYE LEE ORCHESTRA – “DARING MIND” – Motema Records

Jihye Lee, composer/conductor; Mark Ferber, drums/tambourine; Evan Gregor, bass; Adam Birnbaum & Haeun Joo, piano; Sebastian Noelle, guitar; WOODWINDS: Ben Kono, alto & soprano saxophone;/piccolo/ flute/ clarinet; Rob Wilkerson, alto saxophone; piccolo/flute; Quinsin Nachoff & Jeremy Powell, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Carl Maraghi, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet.  TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, John Lake & Alex Norris, trumpet/fluegelhorn; SPECIAL GUEST: Sean Jones. TROMBONES: Mike Fahie, Alan Ferber, Nick Grinder; Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone.

Jihye Lee is a competent and exploratory South Korean composer.  All her compositions on this “Daring Mind” album reflect her fascination with the human brain and the various states of the human psyche.  In her arrangements, she explores rage, confusion, enlightenment, heart and soul.  As a female, contemporary jazz composer, orchestra conductor and bandleader, Jihye Lee encourages her orchestra to dive into her work with vigor and excitement.  The titles of her tunes continue to identify with the album’s title.  Songs like “Relentless Mind” and “Unshakable Mind” mirror her tenacity.

“Unshakable Mind” is about my admiration for the determined spirit that preservers through hardship and remains unwavering in the face of adversity.  One repeating note, an “A”, symbolizes this ethos, staying constant throughout the piece,” Jihye explains.

I would like to have known who the player was on this song’s notable saxophone solo.  With two exceptions, the CD liner notes do not distinguish soloists, which I think is a shame.  I also found the teeny-tiny font size used to design the CD annoying for seasoned eyes, even with bi-focals.

You will hear Jihye Lee’s musical interpretation of “Revived Mind” and “Dissatisfied Mind” as well as a song called “Suji” dedicated to one of her dearest friends.  Perhaps she sums up her determination and creativity sparked by living in New York City during the composition, “Struggle Gives you Strength,” featuring special guest trumpeter, Sean Jones.  This is an exciting orchestra led by a thriving talent and award-winning composer who is clearly exploring the many sides of her own mind and exposing them to the eager ears of the listener.

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WOMEN IN JAZZ

October 26, 2020

By Dee Dee McNeil

OCTOBER 26, 2020

Two exceptional pianists, ANGELICA SANCHEZ & MARILYN CRISPELL, merge their talents to record a spellbinding duo piano production.  Another pianist, RINA, showcases composer talents on her debut trio recording.  Bassist and vocalist, ESPERANZA SPALDING and pianist/composer FRED HERSCH release a 5-song duo EP to raise money for out-of-work jazz musicians.  MIKI YAMANAKA plays both vibraphone and piano with her jazz ensemble.  Singer, AMBER WEEKES, has a Christmas album available and violinist, JULIET KURTZMAN, joins jazz pianist, PETE MALINVERNI to combine classical violin with jazz piano.  BRANDI DISTERHEFT plays double bass, cello and sings on her fifth album release, featuring George Coleman.  JULIA KAROSI sings without words and interprets Hungarian classical music and LAILA BILAI releases a single to celebrate Joni Mitchell’s birthday.

ANGELICA SANCHEZ & MARILYN CRISPELL – “HOW TO TURN THE MOON” – Pyroclastic Records

Angelica Sanchez, piano/composer/educator; Marilyn Crispell, piano/composer.

The moon has long been thought to represent a female embodiment, while the sun represents the male. These two extraordinarily talented women aim to show us “How to Turn the Moon.”  They use their piano tenacity to create textures, melodies, and crescendos of improvisation.  As Track 1, “Lobe of the Fly” opens this CD and you can almost hear the fly’s wings breaking the air as the two pianists sing simultaneously.  When they stop, it’s sudden and startling; like a fly lighting atop the kitchen sink defiantly.  Their fingers dance and explore the 88 keys, like insects flying wildly and trying to avoid the fly swatter.  Their piano notes paint a vivid portrait of the fly. 

On track 2, “Ancient Dream,” Marilyn Crispell plays with the piano strings, creating mood and magic.  I know it’s Marilyn because in the studio the two pianists set up their instruments facing each other with Angelica appearing in the left stereo channel of their recording and Marilyn in the right.  Angelica describes the moment and the scene in the liner notes.

“The light through the window, the dog on the couch; the little universes that Marilyn and I created in the moment … love all around. Marilyn and I each get different sounds out of the piano. …It can be tricky with two pianos, to make sure there is enough space in the music; but she and I complement one another, naturally,” Angelica says in the liner notes. 

Marilyn has been a composer and performer of Avant-garde, contemporary improvised music for over four decades.  For ten years she was a member of the Anthony Braxton Quartet and the Reggie Workman Ensemble.  Ms. Crispell is the recipient of three New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust Composition Commission.

Angelica has composed seven of the ten compositions and she and Marilyn shared composer credits on three of the songs.  Sanchez is an Arizona native.  Her goal of moving to New York City, in 1994, was to meet with similar, artistic minds like Marilyn Crispell, Wadada Leo Smith, Paul Motian and a host of other contemporaries.  She has already released a number of critically acclaimed albums as a bandleader and holds a Master of Fine Arts in jazz Arranging from William Paterson University.  Sanchez currently works as a lecturer at Princeton University. 

Angelica Sanchez opens track 3 with a flurry of notes, some that are painted quite bluesy, other’s that are very classical in nature.   This composition is called “Calyces of Held” and caused me to go to my dictionary to try and interpret this title.  In zoology, a calyx (plural is calyces) is a cuplike cavity or structure.  In Botany, calyx is the sepals of a flower that encloses the petals and forms a protective layer around a flower in bud.   This duo is much like a blooming flower, colorful and delicate; growing into maturation before our ears.  They offer music to enjoy in the garden of our minds.  This is music to think by.  Music that inspires meditation or floats from our sound system while we are writing, reading or cleaning house.  This is woman music; she-ro music; people music; creative and spontaneous piano jazz.  This is Angelica Sanchez and Marilyn Crispell testing space and showering sound into the universe.  They are showing us “How to Turn the Moon” and offering a musical spaceship.  They dare us to explore and take an uninhibited ride.

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RINA –“RINA” – Yamaha Music Entertainment

Rina, piano/composer; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Jerome Jennings, drums.

Rina’s piano talent is warm and richly rooted in European classical music.  She introduces us to her composition, “Tale of Small Wishes,” that she composed, based on the story of the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, ‘The Little Match Girl.”  Rina said she wrote this after being touched by emotions while reading about hardship.   Born in Japan, but currently based in New York City, Rina holds a degree from Kunitachi College of Music, where she studied with master pianist Makoto Ozone.  In fact, her mentor, Makoto Ozone, produced this album.  As a student of Berklee College of Music, Rina received a full-scholarship to attend this Boston music conservatory and she graduated in 2018.  She explained her motivation to record.

“On this album, I wanted the music to be authentic; to represent myself, not only as a musician but also as a person.  It is still jazz, but rather than having the feeling of listening to a jazz album, I want people to be able to connect with my emotions through the stories I am telling.  I hope my music will create a positive vibe for listeners, who can then go on and connect with and reflect upon their own feeling in an honest way,” Rina explained.

For Track 2, “Shadows of the Mind” Rina explained:

“We face the unknown and we have to confront it on a daily basis.  This song expresses my state of mind going through these challenges.”

It starts out energetically, with the drums of Jerome Jennings spurring the moment.  The bass of Yasushi Nakamura pumps up the arrangement and walks briskly beneath Rina’s straight-ahead tune.  The trio swings hard on this one, led strongly by Rina’s piano brilliance.  All three players walk brightly into their individual solos to exhibit their unique talents.  “Journey” continues to swing and shows-off Rina’s melodic individuality on this song describing her life’s journey.  Jennings is given plenty of opportunities to show-off his drum mastery, trading bars with Rina, as though they are having a serious conversation.  “With You Always” is a jazz waltz, with the piano and the bass singing the pretty melody in unison.  Then Nakamura is given time to speak his truth on the double bass.  Rina described her arrangement.

“I wrote this song with a message to my father saying, I’m always with you, even if we’re apart. … I imagine the bass as my father and the piano as myself, spending time together.”

Rina’s composer talent is obvious on this, her debut recording.  She covers the gamut of musical styles, soaring on “Foxglove” with a very intense Latin groove and a joyful tempo. “Eternal Eyes” represents her melancholy side and is a beautiful ballad, sweetly interpreted by her dynamic trio.  It was rewarding to hear Yasushi Nakamura pick up his bow and play his beautiful bass instrument like a cello.  Jerome Jennings is featured on “J.J’s Painting” and shows off his drum chops,  briskly playing brushes.  

I enjoyed every song on this album.  Here is an up and coming star on the horizon, sparkling with hope and anticipation; talent and determination.  Most importantly, she is sharing a special part of her heart and soul with us.  If we listen closely, we can understand her genuine, musical stories.

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ESPERANZA SPALDING AND PIANIST/COMPOSER FRED HERSCH RELEASE A 5-SONG DUO EP

Because the COVID-19 pandemic has had such a devasting effect on the jazz community, visionary vocalist, bassist and composer, Esperanza Spalding, wanted to do something to help struggling musical artists.  Renowned pianist and composer, Fred Hersch also wanted to support his fellow musicians. so, the two made a plan.  Esperanza put down her bass and just brought her beautiful and free-spirited voice to the party. Fred Hersch joined her on the grand piano with all his brilliance on display.  They recorded and released this EP, unfortunately for us, it sold only in the month of June, 2020.  The sales and donations went to support the out-of-work jazz community.  Besides raising much-needed funds for this vital cause, they performed the recording ‘Live at the Village Vanguard’ and that provided a rare opportunity for listeners to enjoy this singular and thrilling collaboration between two amazing and gifted musicians.  I salute their hearts, that beat as huge as their talents.  Perhaps this will be an inspiration to others who would like to help struggling musicians through this challenging time.  In this case, all funds and donations went to the Jazz Foundation of America, a group that has been critically impacted by this ongoing crisis.

Esperanza Spalding is a four-time Grammy Award recipient and a lover of all music, especially improvisation-based productions that emerge from the African American culture of jazz.  You clearly hear this love of freedom and improvisation during Spalding’s performance with the legendary, Fred Hersch.  This was the first time I ever heard Esperanza Spalding perform singularly, as a vocalist, without her arms wrapped securely around her double bass.  She did not disappoint!  Ms. Spalding has taught at Berklee College of Music and Harvard University and is currently in the process of writing an opera in collaboration with the legendary, Wayne Shorter.

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MIKI YAMANAKA – “HUMAN DUST SUITE” – Outside In Music

Miki Yamanaka, piano/vibes/composer; Anthony Orji, alto saxophone; Orlando Le Fleming, bass; Jochen Rueckert, drums.

This is Miki Yamanaka’s follow up album to her acclaimed piano debut CD, “Cellar Live,” released in 2018. She was inspired to compose this current production by Hungarian American conceptual artist, Agnes Denes’s photograph of “human Dust.”  The photo is of a mound of human remains after cremation.  After Miki Yamanaka first saw this photo on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, she was moved to compose the “Human Dust Suite.”  Each movement represents a body part.  In her description, each composition title symbolizes something greater that leads to happiness.  For example, “Tummy” is inspired by a love for food and nourishment.  The Human Dust Suites are placed in the middle of her production and bookended by three songs on each side of these individual suites.  “Pre School” is the first song on her album and it was inspired by the Lee Konitz song, “Contrafact.”  

A year ago, Miki made a New Year’s Eve resolution to compose a song each month.  From January to April, she did pretty well.  Track 2 is one of those compositions and was inspired by Mulgrew Miller’s “Epicchords” song.    It’s titled “March”, which has nothing to do with a marching tempo or drum arrangements, but instead features Anthony Orji on’s alto saxophone.  This is straight-ahead jazz with Miki power-packing her improvisational attack on the keys.  On Cut 3, “First Day of Spring” Orlando Le Fleming offers us a bass solo that explores the chord changes in a slow and tender way, with Jochen Rueckert giving both intentional restraint and sensitive support on trap drums.

As I mentioned above, Ms. Yamanaka’s “Human Dust Suite” is composed of five individual suites; Brain, Hatsu, Tummy, Feet Go Bad First and Party’s Over.   In her liner notes she talks about the photograph that inspired these five suites.

“When I saw the photos of human cremation, I thought that everyone will look the same after we die; race, gender, occupation or success won’t change how we look when we get cremated.  I just would like to deliver this message.  Everyone dies and all we can do, ‘til the time comes, is to enjoy life fully.”

This journalist is hard-pressed to find the beauty in cremated body parts, however there are some beautiful, musical moments on this album. Yamanaka establishes herself as a thoughtful composer and is quite prolific on her instruments.  She surprises me on Tracks five through seven, adding vibraphone sounds to the mix that are over-dubbed atop her piano playing.  She offers us modern jazz, ballads and straight-ahead tunes that celebrate Miki Yamanaka’s personal life lyricism.

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AMBER WEEKES – “THE GATHERING” – Independent Label

Amber Weekes, lead vocal/background vocals; Mark Cargill, string & horn arrangements/producer/ arranger/solo violinist; Josh Nelson, Eddy Olivieri & Tony Capodonico, piano; John B. Williams, Kevin Brandon & Adam Cohen, bass; Nathaniel Scott, Fritz Wise & Sinclair Lott, drums; Jacques Lesure, Doug MacDonald & Paul Jackson Jr., guitar; Andrew Carney, trumpet; Richard Heath & Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Rickey Woodard, saxophone. Nio Wilson, Marcus D. Cargill & JoAnn Tominaga, background vocals; Ernie Fields Jr., bagpipes; Gregory Cook, celeste; Andrew Carney, trumpet.

Amber Weekes has a bell clear voice, perfect for the ten holiday songs she interprets on her debut Christmas album. The gift is ours.   Opening with “The Christmas Waltz” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, enhanced by the muted trumpet of Andrew Carney, this is a lovely song that many have overlooked on their holiday albums.  Amber Weekes introduces us to the lyrics with her perfect enunciation and pleasing tone.  Mark Cargill adds strings and horns, like a satin pillow for Amber’s voice to lie upon.  On her rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” Amber pulls out every nuance of this arrangement, with tones warm and smooth as Christmas taffy.  This vocalist throws in a familiar jazz standard “My Romance” and then continues reminding us of the holidays with songs like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Silent Night.”   She performs “Some Children See Him” by Alfred Burt and it was a new song to my ears, with a lyric about Jesus being visible to the youth.  The bagpipes by Ernie Fields Jr., were a pleasant surprise in this arrangement.  The title tune was composed by Mark Cargill & Gregory Cook.  This melody is catchy and Amber Weekes penned the lyrics.  Cargill performs a stellar violin solo.  They employ background voices that sound child-like and are sung in unison.   I enjoyed Amber’s bluesy arrangement of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”  Her musical ensemble swings on “Winter Wonderland” and “Let it Snow.”  Amber Weekes and her Los Angeles musicians offer us a little bit of everything to brighten up our holiday season.

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JULIET KURTZMAN & PETE MALINVERNI – “CANDLELIGHT-LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA” – Independent label

Juliet Kurtzman, violin; Pete Malinverni, Steinway grand piano.

This is a striking and emotionally infused album featuring violin and piano.  Juliet Kurtzman, who grew up in Houston, Texas, came from musical roots.  Her family was packed with pianists, but the little girl was drawn to the violin.  At age seven, she was studying with renowned violin teacher, Ms. Fredell Lack.  At the young age of fourteen, she debuted as a soloist with the Houston Symphony Orchestra.  At seventeen, she continued her studies at the prestigious Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, becoming one of only two violinists accepted Internationally.  She has toured Europe as a symphonic violinist.  Juliet Kurtzman brings her classical talents to this recording with Pete Malinverni, who brings his jazz piano stylings to the studio.

Juliet has become a dedicated teacher for a dozen years, working at the 92nd Street Y, Kaufman center and the Special Music School.  As she passes her gifts forward, she looks with pride at her prize-winning students, who go forward, winning competitions and joining many prominent music conservatories.  While Juliet Kurtzman passes the baton, lucky for us, she has still taken time to record this beautiful duo album of music.

Pianist Pete Malinverni grew up in Niagara Falls, New York.  He started out studying classical piano and was later drawn to jazz.  Currently, he chairs the Jazz Studies program at Purchase College Conservatory of Music – SUNY.  He’s played in trios, small and large ensembles and solo.  Pete also was part of a Gospel Choir group.  On this production, he endeavors, quite successfully, to bridge the worlds of classical music and America’s indigenous artform of jazz.

“What unites us is stronger than those things that divide us.  Art that emanates from, and is directed to the heart, has always been important.  But now, as our world has come to a once-in-a-generation dual reckoning with mortality and injustice, the essential nature of art in service to human connection is ever more apparent,” Pete Malinverni gave us a glimpse into why he created this work of art.

The opening tune, “Pulcinella” was composed by Malinverni, and sounds like a very sexy tango.  The Kurtzman violin is the ballerina in a tango skirt, swishing delicately, but powerfully, across the polished floor.  Pete Malinverni adds the rhythm and groove on his Steinway grand piano.  On Track 2, the song is “Candelights” by Beiderbecke.  Pete’s piano is a tender reflection of the poignant melody that Juliet coaches from her violin.  It sounds as though the violin is weeping, emotionally.  Malinverni’s piano beautifully layers the melody with lush chords, giving solid confirmation to Beiderbecke’s composition.  They also interpret another one of Bix Beiderbecke’s compositions titled, “Davenport Blues.”  Beiderbecke was an American jazz cornetist, pianist and songwriter who was influential in 1920.  In fact, there are three other songs by that composer included in this production.  They also play Scott Joplin’s “Solace” song and offer their interpretation of the jazz standard, “Body and Soul,” where Malinverni finally stretches out during a solo piano interlude that mirrors shades of Thelonious Monk and the pianists of the 1930s.  “Por Una Cabeza” is a passionate tango, where the duo magnifies their talents. 

“Our collaboration characterized by a breadth of emotional and musical expression, and fueled by the joy of making music together has been a revelation for both of us,” Malinverni admits in his press package.

Their collaboration was certainly a lovely and artistic way for me to spend an Autumn evening.  This album will be available November 13, 2020.

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BRANDI DISTERHEFT TRIO with GEORGE COLEMAN – “SURFBOARD” – Justin Time Records

Brandi Disterheft, bass/vocals/composer/cello; George Coleman, tenor saxophone; Portinho, drums; Klaus Mueller, piano.

Brandi Disterheft is a young, Juno-award winning bassist, composer and singer who has teamed with two octogenarian musicians; the iconic tenor saxophonist, George Coleman and the legendary Brazilian drummer, Portinho.  She also includes pianist, Klaus Mueller, who was born in Germany, then raised in Japan, Chile and Brazil.  He brings all that international, cultural richness, along with being a classically trained musician. 

Track 1 is an instrumental, written by Jobim, and celebrates the album’s title, “Surfboard.”  Mueller’s finger’s surf across the 88 keys, floating brightly above the rhythm tapestry that Portinho weaves.  Portinho is fondly known as the James Brown of Brazilian funk Samba.  On Track 2, Brandi previews her vocal tenacity and songwriter talents.  Frankly, I was disappointed to hear her sing lyrics obviously lifted from the old standard, “Something Cool” i.e.: “I don’t ordinarily drink with strangers” and the story is uncomfortably the same as June Christy’s hit record, even though it’s called “Prelude to Coup de Foudre.”  The melody is lovely and her soft, girlish voice sings it very well.  It’s followed by “Coup de Foudre” another original composition with lyrics about a one-night-stand.  George Coleman’s stellar tenor sax solo boldly lifts this song arrangement and he’s a wild bird in flight on “My Foolish Heart.”  Ms. Disterheft takes a short, but appropriate bass solo on this beautiful ballad.  She also steps into the spotlight on the Moacir Santos/ Telles tune, “Nana,” giving us a little longer, Latin-flavored solo, while Mueller brings the blues into play during his piano solo. “Manhattan Moon” is another Disterheft original composition, with prose lyrics.  I like the way she harmonizes vocally with her bass.  This is another song, strongly Brazilian flavored, as is “Pendulum at Falcon’s Lair” (an Oscar Pettiford composition).  On her tune, “One Dream” Brandi Disterheft opens with an attention-getting bass solo. Her light, soprano voice, against the deep bass of her instrument, creates a startling duo.  When the band enters, once again we recognize what beautiful melodies Ms. Disterheft writes.  Her lyrics remain more prose than rhymes, often without a ‘hook’ and that creates a somewhat unique songwriting stye of her own.   

This is Brandi’s fifth album as a bandleader.  The pandemic gave her time alone to work on this production.  Before the terrible COVID19 madness, Brandi Disterheft was busy working every single night.  She spent a lot of time playing with the recently departed pianist, Harold Mabern, who grew up with eighty-five-year-old, George Coleman in Memphis, Tennessee.  They were friends.  Disterheft has taken two palms full of standard jazz songs and whipped them into a Brazilian theme in a lovely way.  She lives in Vancouver, Canada, but the pandemic has kept her housed and quarantined in New York City.  She actually moved to New York to study with the great bassist, Ron Carter.  Her mom was a Chicago-born jazz organist.  Her Aunt Angie is a Grammy winning session singer in Los Angeles.  So, her roots are steeped in music.  She had the honor to be bassist on the “Pleased to Meet You” album by Hank Jones.  Debbie includes the Jones original, “Del Sasser.”  She has also been continuously working with drummer and mentor, Portinho for a decade, with emphasis on Brazilian musical roots. Finally, they have recorded together and the results is this entertaining “Surfboard” album.

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JULIA KAROSI – “WITHOUT DIMENSIONS” featuring BEN MONDER – Challenge Records Int

Julia Karosi, vocals/composer; Ben Monder, guitar; Aron Talas, piano; Adam Bogothy, bass; Bendeguz Varga, drums.

The first song, the title tune, opens like an airliner at the starting gate.  The soft roar of the engine; that expectant feeling you have as you taxi down the runway; the sound of the rubber wheels on the tarmac, rolling with purpose, forward. The ensemble’s  musical instruments create the mood. Then enters Aron Talas on piano, followed by the warm vocals of Julia Karosi.  She sings without words, becoming a solo instrument. 

“I always wondered whether music belongs to any of the dimensions as theorized in the ‘standard model’ in modern physics.  I summarized my subjective answer as the title of this album,” Julia shares.

  This is an album that celebrates voice as an instrument.  I wouldn’t call Julia Karosi a jazz singer or a scat singer, because scat singers improvise on a theme.  Karosi is singing the melodies as written and incorporating her Hungarian heritage into the mix by drawing on her decades-long study of composer Bela Bartok, employing her classical roots and then adding a vocal concept without lyricism.  With the stellar accomplishments of her ensemble, Ben Monder on guitar, Talas on piano, Adam Bogothy on double bass and Bendeguz Varga on drums, her ensemble unleashes a host of musical possibilities and imaginative productions, many in a minor key.  Julia Karosi has composed the first two songs and the last five on this project.  Much of the music sounds very Middle Eastern.   In between her original music, she sings a “Hommage to Bela Bartok”, including an English translation (by Peter Bartok) of the “Bluebeard’s Castle Prologue” that Julia recites, like prose, atop the avant-garde ensemble music in the background.  It sounds like she’s speaking in Hungarian.  You will find the English translation inside the CD jacket. The musicians accompany with electronic guitar and crescendos of excitement that roll like a restless tide splashing against the sand.

As a vocalist, poet, composer, (perhaps even actress, as noted in her emotional delivery of Track 4), Julia Karosi brings us her experimental project, to exhibit why she is one of the most called-upon vocalists in her country and one of the premier, contemporary interpreters of Hungarian music.  But is this jazz?  That must be answered by the ears of the beholder.  I do not know Hungarian music well enough to hear if Julia is truly improvising.  Most of the music sounds as though she is singing an established melody, often times singing it in unison with her musicians. However, in this reviewer’s opinion, without the necessary and exceptional addition of ‘improvisation,’ a crucial element of what distinguishes music as jazz, any production without such freedom of improvisation misses the jazz mark.
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LAILA  BIALI – “BOTH SIDES NOW”

Laila Biali, piano/vocals.

Laila Biali has the tone of an angel and her piano accompaniment is beautifully executed on this Joni Mitchell standard tune that we fell in love with in 1966 and beyond. Singer, songwriter, pianist, Laila, has a lovely way of connecting with her listening audience.  Some artists can only do this in person.  However, Laila’s emotional delivery jumps from her single, solo release as though she’s standing in our living room, singing singularly to us. This woman of jazz and pop has performed from Carnegie Hall to Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts in China.  She recently received the SOCAN Music Songwriting Award and in 2019 won the Canadian JUNO Award (similar to our Grammy Awards).  This current release is in celebration of Joni Mitchell’s birthday on November 7th and is a heartfelt experience not to be missed.

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