Posts Tagged ‘jazz cd reviews’


July 31, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

Aug 1, 2021


Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet/composer.

This collector’s album is a unique, extended collection of solo trumpet music recorded over one summer week, in the beautiful, natural acoustics of St. Mary’s Church.  St Mary’s is a medieval stone church in the town of Pohja on the Southern Coast of Finland.  This amazing new work of musical art features fourteen new compositions by Wadada Leo Smith, spread over three CDs.  It was recorded in July of 2016, at the historic church that was constructed between the years 1460 and 1480 and is said to be very close to its original condition.  As usual, Wadada Leo Smith explores all the tones, textures and possibilities of the trumpet. 

“The acoustics were perfect for the trumpet sound.  The recording took place over four days during the summer.  It was a beautiful moment for creating art,” Wadada Leo Smith recalled.

“The trumpet is a metallic vehicle and, because of its architectural design, it has the potentiality of offering the music creator the ability to create a pure and sometimes unimaginably beautiful music.  That music of the trumpeter is heard in this world and across space.  It is an instrument made for the dreamer of dreams, the one who can authenticate the dream into reality,” Smith described his chosen instrument.

This beautifully constructed album package consists of a CD sized booklet full of art and wise words that perpetuate the legacy of master musicians like Albert Ayler, Miles Davis, Howard McGhee, Steve McCall and spiritual innovator, Malik al-Shabazz.  Wadada Leo Smith dedicates his music to these historic figures and more.  In the booklet, he gives opinions on each icon that inspired his music and why they mean so much to him.  There are also several color photographs of Wadada and a rich biography that traces his early musical life to the present. The historic St. Mary’s Church is photographed and there are many pages of original artwork in the booklet and gracing the covers of the three CDs; art created by the multi-talented Wadada Leo Smith.  Several of his previous art scores have been featured exhibits at major American museums.

Smith received his original musical inspiration from his stepfather, Alex “Little Bill” Wallace, who was one of the first Delta blues singers to play electric guitar.  Wadada Leo Smith’s Leland, Mississippi home was always full of music with frequent guests like Little Milton, Elmore James and B.B. King.  As a trumpeter, he thought of himself as a descendent of Louis Armstrong, although he was also greatly influenced by Miles Davis, Booker Little, Clifford Brown and Don Cherry.  However, Wadada was always his own man; a musician who pushed the boundaries.   After leaving the army in 1967, he moved to Chicago and joined saxophonist, Anthony Braxton to become part of the blossoming AACM, (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians).  As part of his music theory exploration, Wadada Leo Smith developed the two basic systems of music he has used in his compositions ever since: the system of rhythm-units and the notation system he termed “Ahkreanvention” that literally means to create and invent musical ideas simultaneously utilizing the fundamental laws of improvisation and composition.  With his rhythm-unit concept, each single sound or rhythm, or a series of sounds or rhythms, is accepted as a complete piece of music.  Smith’s creation of Andhrasmation Symbol Language has been significant in his development as an artist and educator.

Professor Smith has been on the faculty of the University of New Haven, The Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York and Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.  He also served as Director of the African-American Improvisational Music Program at the Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts.  In 2016, Wadada Leo Smith received the Doris Duke Artist Award and an honorary Doctorate of Arts degree from CalArts, where he was celebrated as Faculty Emeritus.  In 2019, Smith received the UCLA Medal, the campus’s highest honor and in 2021 he was named one of the 2021 USA Fellows by the United States Artists.  This album is another example of Wadada Leo Smith’s excellence, unique creativity, craftsmanship and brilliant talent.  With his beautiful tone and emotional connection, his music makes me feel one with the universe.  It opens like a blooming flower and roots itself into the soul of his listening audience.         

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Alex Collins, piano; Ryan Berg, bass; Karl Latham, drums.

There’s nothing quite like ‘trio music’ when the players are as creative, talented and inspired as these three musicians.  On the well-loved tune, “Stella by Starlight” they open sweetly like a music box.  Soon, the spotlight turns to the bassist, Ryan Berg.  He basks in the light and thoroughly entertains us on his upright instrument.  When Alex Collins enters on piano, both his solo and style are stunning and unusual.  I am captivated by his approach on the piano and the freedom he exhibits, with Karl Latham slapping the drums into high gear to perpetuate the excitement.  Sometimes it sounds as if two pianists are playing instead of one.  Alex Collins is extremely gifted. 

Drummer Karl Latham has produced this session.  Karl is listed on the DrummerWorld ‘Top’ Drummers List.  He is also the Recording Engineer on this project.  The clarity he captures is wonderful.  His talents are prominent and exploratory on “Alone Together” a song usually recorded as a pensive ballad.  In this case, the trio has double-timed the arrangement and the tune streaks by on humming bird wings.  Latham takes a long and inventive drum solo on this piece, until the time resolves, slowing down to wrap us in a warm, somewhat classical piano arrangement.  The creativity presented by this trio is dynamic and much appreciated.

Ryan Berg opens “Green Dolphin Street” setting the groove with his double bass, offering a rich, provocative tone.  Berg has performed with Gregory Porter, Mark Whitfield, Lindsey Webster, JD Allen, Lenny White, Gerald Clayton and more.  He’s a bass staple on the New York City jazz scene. 

Alex Collins is a composer and arranger, as well as a uniquely talented pianist.  He’s performed with Michelle Coltrane, Gerry Gibbs, The Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars, Lennie White and in 2003, Collins received the Wynton Kelly Jazz Foundation Award for Jazz Achievement.

When you combine these three exceptionally talented individuals, you get an opportunity to hear what the perfect jazz trio should sound like, under the best of circumstances.  This is an album I will enjoy time after time, year after year, always discovering something fresh and exciting to please my jazz palate.  Their music is absolutely delicious!

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LAUREN HENDERSON – “MUSA” – Brontosaurus Records

Lauren Henderson, vocals/composer/background vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano; Paco Soto & Nick Tannura, guitar; Eric Wheeler, bass; Joe Dyson, drums; Marquis Hill, trumpet; Sabu Porrina, percussion; Daniel J. Watts, spoken word.

Lauren Henderson made a conscious effort to be sure this new release exemplified her traditions and the cultures that have influenced her style and vocals. 

“I wanted my next record to blend jazz, flamenco and Afro-Latina music,” explained Henderson.

Opening with her breathy, tremolo voice caressing the lyrics to “I Concentrate on You,” she overdubs and harmonizes with herself on this tune.  Sullivan Fortner is notable and complimentary on piano.   This is Henderson’s eighth release as a leader. She includes original compositions as part of this repertoire and she sings several songs in Spanish.  Track two is one of her original songs titled, “La Marejada,” that she performs in Spanish.  Paco Soto is emotional and full of passion on Flamenco guitar.  The tune “Forget Me” is one I heard Shirley Horn sing and Lauren Henderson gives bassist Eric Wheeler the introduction on solo bass to draw us into this song.  Joe Dyson’s seductive drum licks add the perfect punch and Marquis Hill’s muted trumpet is sexy and fills in the empty spaces until it’s solo time.  Then he flies high as does Fortner on piano. 

“Corazon, No Llores” is very tango-like at the top of the verse and once again Henderson sings in Spanish.   As the song unfolds, it spreads joy like sweet jam.  On this arrangement, Nick Tannura steps forward with his guitar featured brightly.  Lauren Henderson has a soft sound, reflective of what she describes as her ‘shy’ personality.  But there is a sexy undertone that whispers her lyrics and is quite provocative.  You clearly hear it on “Wild Is the Wind.” 

“I’m not a belter.  It’s more nuanced.  While intensity is a powerful tool that we can use in a beautiful way and in a positive way, I can be more private at times. … I think I bring some of that to the stage.  I’m so grateful for people who take the time to listen.  I’m saying more with less and people have to listen to be able to receive it,” she says. 

The arrangement on “Ahora” is exciting and features Sullivan Fortner and Eric Wheeler on bass.  Joe Dyson’s drums push the track ahead and Lauren once again chooses to sing in Spanish.  The rhythm section is powerful on this track.  The title tune, “Musa” is another Henderson composition and is sung in Spanish.  It becomes one of my favorites on this album.  It’s very melodic and the arrangement is lilting and happy.  Eric Wheeler sparkles during his bass solo.  Lauren Henderson’s project is fun, diverse and creative.

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Cliff Monear, piano; Michael Malis, keyboards; Jeff Pedraz & Miles Brown, upright bass; Jesse Kramer & Sean Dobbins, drums; Pepe Espinosa, Latin percussion; Dwight Adams, trumpet/flugelhorn; Andrew Bishop, tenor saxophone; Terry Kimura, trombone; Rafael Statin, tenor saxophone/flute; Mark Lipson, producer/arranger.

The work of three Detroit composers is featured on this straight-ahead, legacy album of music; Mark Lipson, Kenn Cox and Brad Felt.  Lipson founded the Detroit Composers’ Collective (DCC) in 2015 to preserve some of Detroit’s many great jazz musicians and composers.  Lipson is a drummer and composer in his own right and was an admirer of Kenn Cox.  Two of his songs are included on this recording; “The Masters” that opens the CD and Track 2,“Tony’s Trip.”  As the producer and arranger of this project, Mark Lipson has employed some of the top players around the Motor City.  Opening with his own tune, “The Masters” this title epitomizes the work of himself, Kenn Cox and Brad Felt.  This tune barrels into my listening room with tenacious energy, in a jazz waltz vein.  As the horns blare, Cliff Monear is complimentary and supportive in the rhythm section, on piano.  Andrew Bishop takes an inspiring tenor saxophone walk around the tune, as does Dwight Adams on trumpet.  On “Tony’s Trip” we are transported to South America with spicy, hot Salsa music.

Like many master musicians who came out of Detroit, Kenn Cox was a graduate of the legendary Cass Technical High School.  After graduating Cass Tech, he went to the Detroit Conservatory of Music (1949-1958), as well as the Detroit Institute of Music Arts from 1959-1961. Then Cox left for New York City.  Although his initial dive into the music world was on the trumpet, Cox became attracted to the piano early on and that became his instrument of choice.  In New York City, he landed an accompanist position with the great Etta Jones and was her Musical Director until 1966.  He also worked with the legendary Helen Humes and Ernestine Anderson.  Upon returning to Detroit, he joined the hard bop quintet headed by trombonist, George Bohannon.  This was followed by Cox forming his own group; Kenny Cox and the Contemporary jazz Quintet.  They recorded for Blue Note Records.  With roots deeply embedded in post-bop, hard bop and bebop, Kenn Cox was a prolific composer.  On Mark Lipson’s “Realism” album he has interpreted two compositions by Cox.  The first is “Cuernavaca,” named for a Mexican City heralded as The City of Eternal Spring.  This Latin influenced composition, with Pepe Espinosa propelling the tune on percussion, features a lush melody and a beautiful solo on flute by Rafael Statin.  “Samba de Romance” is the second tune penned by Kenn Cox.  Drummer, Sean Dobbins, holds this piece rhythmically in place along with Espinosa on percussion and bassist, Jeff Pedraz, bows a beautiful solo on his upright instrument.   Michael Malis skims along the keyboard keys and Rafael Statin flutters his flute.  Terry Kimura makes a solo appearance on his trombone.

Brad Felt’s compositions close out this CD.  He was born May 6, 1956, full name, Bradley James Felt, and grew up in Royal Oaks, Michigan. Felt made his musical mark playing tuba, euphonium and composing music.   Like Cox, he started by playing trumpet in grade school.  Once he got braces, playing trumpet became challenging, so he switched to tuba at age fourteen.  Following his high school band participation, he attended Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, sponsored by a performance scholarship.  He studied with Sam Sanders, Doc Holladay and Herbie Williams, as well as being part of the jazz workshop led by trumpet master, Marcus Belgrave.  Brad Felt extended his tuba playing into the world of jazz and in 1990, he featured his own compositions during a concert at the Detroit Institute of Arts entitled “The Tuba Rules!”

Felt’s arrangements are more Avant-Garde and his compositions give this talented ensemble freedom to stretch-out and improvise broadly atop his creative chord changes.  “Existentialism” is up-tempo and Rafael Statin picks up his tenor saxophone and flies free as an eagle.  Sean Dobbins is exciting on trap drums.   On the “P.J. Lids” composition, they add a Latin beat and feature Espinosa on Latin percussion.  This tune is brightly enhanced by a provocative horn ensemble.  The production closes with Mark Lipson’s tune, “Spinning,” featuring Andrew Bishop on tenor saxophone, Cliff Monear on piano, Miles Brown on double bass and Jesse Kramer manning the drums.  All in all, here is an entertaining production that introduces the listener to some of Detroit’s best jazz composers interpreted by an outstanding group of Motor City players.

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Trineice Robinson, vocals/background vocals; Laura-Simone Martin, background vocals; Lindsay Martin Jr., vocals/background vocals; Cyrus Chestnut & Phil Orr, piano; Kenny Davis, bass; Vince Ector, drums; Kahil Kwame Bell, percussion; Joe ‘Stretch’ Vinson, guitar; Don Braden, tenor & alto saxophones; Ian Kaufman, trombone; John Meko, trumpet; Nils Mossblad, tenor saxophone.

The ensemble backing up Trineice Robinson is so strong that I am immediately drawn into this project like quicksand.  Don Braden opens the first piece, “All or Nothing at All” on saxophone and sets the tone.  The group swings hard.  Robinson arrives vocally and sings this standard from the great American Songbook with vigor and strength.  Cyrus Chestnut adds a spirited piano solo.  The group’s arrangement of “Footprints,” the second song, is too busy.  Trineice Robinson and Nandita Rao have written lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s tune.  Don Braden has arranged the piece and features Vince Ector on drums and the colorful percussion of Kahlil Kwame Bell.  Unfortunately, it sounds like Robinson is fighting the ensemble for space to vocalize.  She’s such a strong singer that the production is a disappointment, because it’s so busy featuring the band, the vocalist seems to have lost her spotlight.  Trineice Robinson’s rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” shows her strong R&B side.  She has worked regularly with an R&B band since her college days.  As a multiple stylist, she was raised in the gospel church and has been singing gospel music since she was a young child.  Dr. Robinson also has extensive classical training.  You can clearly hear her powerful alto voice on “Come Sunday.”  This is an arrangement that simply features her voice and Chestnut’s piano. 

As a teacher, Trineice Robinson has dedicated her life to helping others achieve success on their journey to discovering and honing their vocal talents. She teaches jazz, gospel/Christian music, R&B, rock, country and pop singing styles.  She has created ‘Soul Ingredients’ a teaching methodology for developing a singer’s musical style and to teach interpretation in African American, folk-based music styles.  It’s meant to personalize a singer or performer’s own expression. 

This is Dr. Robinson’s debut album. You hear the full breadth and width of Trineice Robinson’s vocals on the beautiful ballad, “You Taught My Heart to Sing” written by McCoy Tyner and Sammy Cahn.  “La Costa” has long been a favorite tune of mine and I was happy to hear Dr. Robinson cover this song, featuring Phil Orr on piano with Don Braden’s beautiful flute licks complimenting sweetly. The background vocal harmonies are refreshing as they lilt along with this Latin flavored tune.  Robinson snatches a piece of the blues while covering the Nancy Wilson hit song, “Save Your Love for Me.”  I was impressed by her original tune, arranged as a shuffle blues. “Let it Shine” does just that.  This is a strong composition with a positive, uplifting lyric and it’s soaked in gospel.  She’s joined by her two children, Laura-Simone Martin and Lindsay Martin, Jr. who sing background.  Kenny Davis takes an impressive bass solo on the Thelonious Monk song, “You Know Who (I Mean You).”  Trineice scats with the horn, singing along in unison. 

Dr. Robinson comes from a large, close-knit religious family.  There are three generations of preachers in her family and she sang with a gospel choir from the age of five.  Obviously, her children are following in her footsteps. The closing song, “This Little Light of Mine” featuring Lindsay Martin Jr., singing with spontaneous sincerity and joy.  Here is an album that     introduces us to the rich voice and many vocal styles of Dr. Trineice Robinson.

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Antonio Adolfo, piano/arranger/producer; Lula Galvao, guitar; Jorge Helder, double bass; Paulo Braga & Rafael Barata, drums; Dada Costa & Rafael Barata, percussion; Jesse Sadoc, trumpet/flugelhorn; Danilo Sinna, alto saxophone; Marcelo Martins, tenor & soprano saxophones/flutes; Rafael Rocha, trombone; Zé Renato, vocals.

Brazilian composer extraordinaire, Antonio Carlos Jobim, has blessed the world with amazing songs that will live on forever.  Like so many of us, pianist Antonio Adolfo also admires the Grammy Award winning composer, Jobim, who introduced Bossa Nova to the United States and the world.  Antonio Adolfo has chosen to re-imagine nine of Jobim’s beautiful compositions from the 1960s. They are treasures that reflect Adolfo’s own unique artistry.  Antonio Adolfo is a composer himself, who has recorded over two dozen albums as a bandleader, some that featured all his own compositions.  In fact, more than 200 of his original works have been recorded by major artists including Sergio Mendes, Earl Klugh, Herb Alpert, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and others.

Adolfo became a professional jazz pianist at age seventeen, when he formed and led his own trio.  He toured with famous singers like Flora Purim and Elis Regina.  He also toured with Milton Nascimento, whose music he commemorated in a 2020 recording tributing that great musician; (BruMa – Celebrating Milton Nascimento).  For this recent project, Adolfo has assembled some of the top musicians in Brazil.  He opens this album with probably one of Jobim’s biggest hit recordings, “The Girl from Ipanema.”  The ensemble embraces the rich, Bossa Nova rhythm, but also incorporates a soft ‘swing’ groove into the mix.  Antonio re-colors the original arrangement, giving the horns space to show-off.  Danilo Sinna’s sweet alto saxophone wraps the swing around his solo, then invites Adolfo to present his enthusiastic solo on piano.  On “Wave” Lula Galvao is brilliant on guitar and Rafael Rocha’s trombone is king! 

Antonio Adolfo was just establishing his career in music during the early 1960s, at the same time Jobim was becoming an international success and Brazilian music was intoxicating the world.  It was around this same time that he met Antonio Carlos Jobim.

“When he returned to Brazil, after the Bossa Nova concert at Carnegie Hall in 1962, I met and hung out with Jobim on several occasions.  He was captivating and witty.  He shared his knowledge of music and nature, subjects about which he was passionate and knowledgeable.  We would spend hours talking and I was charmed by his wisdom,” Adolfo recalled his time spent with Jobim.

On Track 3, we get to enjoy the smooth beautiful voice of Ze Renato singing the ‘happiness’ song, “A Felicidade.”  We also hear the trumpet excellence of Jesse Sadoc on this familiar tune.  With Adolfo’s piano pumping life and energy into the arrangement, along with the percussive magic of Rafael Barata and Dada Costa.  I love the alternate chording and fresh harmonics that Antonio Adolfo adds to “How Insensitive.”   Then, on “Favel (O Morro Nao Tem Vez)” his arrangement slips into a minor blues suit and features straight ahead, improvised saxophone and trumpet solos that stand out as colorfully as a red & white polka dot bow tie.  This arrangement is playful and full of joy.

Adolfo explains his creative process: “When I create arrangements for my albums, I play the music literally dozens of times on the piano until I start to feel a kind of partnership with the composer.  After I thoroughly absorb the music, I can start hearing my own voice emerge, and I then can create the different harmonies, meters, phrasing and forms that I adapt to the instruments in my concept.”

With all the respect and love that Antonio Adolfo has for his hero, he has arranged and played this wonderful music, endeavoring to repaint the solid structure with his own bright colors and artistic shading.  You will enjoy the flavor of each tune and feast at the table of Antonio Adolfo, tasting each delicious bite of rhythm and harmony, and enjoying the rich succulence of every song arrangement.  Adolfo’s modern jazz sensibilities and arranger skills are the perfect ingredients for creating a meal of music fit for queens and kings to devour                           

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Kenny Garrett, alto saxophone/vocals/electric piano/composer; Vernell Brown, Jr., piano; Corcoran Holt, bass; Ronald Bruner, drums; Rudy Bird, percussion/snare; SPECIAL GUESTS: Jean Baylor, Linny Smith, Chris Ashley Anthony, Sheherazade Holman & Dwight Trible, vocals; Dreiser Durruthy, bata/vocals; Pedrito Martinez, vocals/congas; lenny White, snare; Johnny Mercier, piano/organ/Fender Rhodes; Maurice Brown, trumpet.

Kenny Garrett tells us “It’s Time To Come Home,” the name of  his opening tune, featuring Rudy Bird’s percussive beauty that nudges this production and supports Garrett’s silky smooth alto saxophone. This song has an Afro-Cuban feel to it with the voice of Jean Baylor featured, softly harmonizing with Garrett’s horn.  Dreiser Durruthy adds his bata talents and vocals, speaking to us and singing to us in what sounds like Yurabic. Track 2 is a tribute to trumpet master, Roy Hargrove (“Hargrove”) and features Maurice Brown on trumpet, with a choir of harmonic voices in the background who add another dimension, the way a string section would do; ever smooth and beautiful.  The melody is catchy, as Garrett and Brown punch it out in unison before exploring their individual improvisations. Kenny Garrett has composed all the music on this recording. 

“For Art’s Sake” features the drums of Ronald Bruner with Kenny’s saxophone calling out powerfully to the listener’s ear.  Also, we hear Garrett’s piano talents at the electric piano.  I am assuming this song is written to tribute the great Art Blakey, only because the drummer is so brillianly spotlighted.  Speaking of ‘art,’ the cover artwork on this album is amazing and created by Rudy Gutierrez.

“What Was That” is straight-ahead and exciting, giving Garrett a platform to fly free on his alto sax.  Vernell Brown, Jr., takes an exploratory trip around the 88 keys and wows us with his fluidity.  Rudy Bird’s colorful percussion is spotlighted during this tune and breathes fire and flame into the composition.   Ronald Bruner’s drums are hotly present on track 6, “Soldiers of the Fields/Soldats des Champs.”  As Kenny Garrett delivers his brilliant saxophone solo, Bruner’s powerful percussion fuses the tune, like a match to a kerosene lamp.  His double-time dances beneath this song and is flammable.  Special guest, Lenny White, is also here adding snare-snap to the drum sounds. However, it is always Kenny Garrett who fans the flames and enriches these songs with his inspirational musicianship.   The title tune, “Sounds from the Ancestors” begins with a sweet piano introduction that sets the mood and solidifies the melody.  Enter Pedrito Martinez on congas and vocals, whisking us up and reminding us of Cuban and African roots. Los Angeles based vocalist, Dwight Trible improvises on this song.  Kenny Garrett has invited several guest vocalists onto this project. He invites them to infuse his music with their spirits and free-vocal improvisations.  The melody of this particular song is so beautiful, I wish I had heard Trible’s beautiful baritone voice sing it down just once, but the pianist does a magnificent job of delivering this melodic message.  Garrett’s album ends with him playing percussion, using his air and alto saxophone to create breathy, rhythmic passages. This composition offers us the same kind of Afro-Cuban arrangement we heard at this album’s beginning, perhaps to remind us that “It’s Time to Come Home.”

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July 25, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 25, 2021


Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone/electronic wind instrument (EWI)/composer/arranger/conductor; WDR MEMBERS: Billy Test, piano; Paul Shigihara, guitar; Stefan Rey, acoustic & electric bass; Hans Dekker, drums; Marico Doctor, guest percussionist. Johan Hӧrlen & Karolina Strassmayer, alto saxophones; Olivier Peters & Paul Heller, tenor saxophones; Jens Neufang, baritone saxophone; Wim Both, Rob Bruynen, Andy Haderer & Ruud Breuls, trumpet; Ludwig NuB, Raphael Klemm & Andy Hunter, trombone; Mattis Cederberg, bass trombone.

For the past six years, Bob Mintzer has been the chief conductor of the WDR Big Band Cologne.  He wanted to work with a large, world-class ensemble to explore his intricate arrangements and showcase his original composer skills.  There is a tradition at the WDR Big Band to have the chief conductor fashion a project of their music and showcase their talents on their specific instrument.

“I’ve been primarily concerned with organizing concerts that either featured all the great musicians in the band … or arranging the music of one of several iconic guests that were jointly selected to be featured.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge of tackling these activities,” Bob Mintzer mused.

“My mission in creating the music here was to make a warm, beautiful sound, with the occasional smattering of complexity amongst singable melodies, interlocking rhythmical counterpoint and an amalgam of grooves from around the world,” Bob explained.

The WDR big band opens with a tune called “A Reprieve” rich with Latin rhythms and a melody you will want to whistle along with. Track 2 is titled, “The Conversation” and brightly features guest percussionist, Marcio Doctor.  The tune is soaked in Afro-Cuban rhythms and features Mintzer, dominant on tenor saxophone.  “Stay Up” starts out up-tempo and swinging, with plenty of staccato starts and stops; but quickly changes course to a sweet tenor solo that flys and swoops above a lovely background of horn harmonics, with Hans Dekker pounding away on drums to inspire the ensemble.  Johan Horlen contributes an inspirational alto sax solo that lifts the piece.  This is straight-ahead jazz that thrills me. A song called “Montuno” reflects the heart of Cuban rumba and Mintzer’s love affair with the New York City Latin jazz scene. 

“I played in Tito Puente’s band for a year in 1974 and I played in a lot of salsa bands around New York prior to and after that,” Mintzer reminisces.  “I worked with Eddie Palmieri’s band.  So, I’ve played thousands of Montunos in my time.” 

This is an album full of cayenne spice, but cool as flavored, crushed ice cones on a hot summer day.  It’s full of harmony and descants; melody and musical conversation. Bob Mintzer has a love for counterpoint and you hear it these arrangements.  His compositions and arrangements keep the listener interested and he doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with his various team players.   The joy of creating a big band project is dependent on gathering musicians together, with various viewpoints and cultural identities, but orchestrating to make them inclusive in the project in a unified and artistic way.  Mintzer exhibits a gift in this area.  He is also able to bend genres in his arrangements.  On the tune “Whack” for example, he blends fusion and funk in a delicious way, keeping the WDR Big Band solid with their harmonics and traditional flair. At the same time, he incorporates an electronic sound that propels the piece. It’s Mintzer stretching out on the EWI.   Paul Heller solos notably on tenor saxophone. 

“Canyon Winds” is a Smooth jazz sounding composition that allows Billy Test to showcase his awesome talents on piano and drummer Hans Dekker shines like a full moon on a clear night.  Every one of Bob Mintzer’s compositions is full of light, bright creativity and offers unexpected surprises for our ears. 

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Sam Pilnick, tenor saxophone/composer; Meghan Stagl, piano; Ben Dillinger, bass; Matthew Smalligan, drums; Ben Cruz, guitar; Euan Edmonds, trombone; Emily Kuhn, trumpet; Ted Hogarth, baritone saxophone; Max Bessesen, alto saxophone.

Sam Pilnick is a Chicago-based bandleader who has composed, produced and arranged this project to take his listeners on a trip to outer space, using a nine-movement suite inspired by Chicago’s beautiful and educational Adler Planetarium.

“As we entered The Adler, I was immediately inspired to write music as I saw the original space craft that brought home the astronauts from the Gemini II mission. … Reading the explanation of our planet, solar system and galaxy filled my mind with musical thoughts,” Sam Pilnick reflected on the inspiration for this project.

On Track 1., “Squawk Box,” Pilnick’s music is very orchestral and classically rooted. Track 2 is titled “Star Launch” and is a little jazzier, with the solo saxophones racing and the horn harmonics in the background warm and supportive.  “Star Launch” is much more engaging than the opening tune.  However, I wish I could hear the drummer more assertively.  Ben Dillinger on bass is clearly heard pumping away, but where are the drums?  Did Matthew Smalligan lay-out on this arrangement or did he get lost in the mix?  Then, out of the blue, the band quiets and the drums come marching through the curtains at the very end of the song.  What was the engineer thinking? 

Sam Pilnick, a tenor saxophone player, seems to lean heavily towards showcasing his woodwind players. The horns appear to have a central place in the spotlight and they are very busy throughout.  “Silver Light” opens with Meghan Stagl’s haunting piano chords, soon usurped by the horn ensemble.  This is a very pretty ballad composition by Pilnick.   We finally hear the drums clearly on Track 6, “House of the Massives (Pismis-24)” where the rhythm section is featured for the first eight bars before the horns dominate.  This arrangement is quite electric, but it’s neither jazz fusion or funk; Avant-garde or traditional.  It’s just busy.  The moderate tempo of most tunes throughout this production leaves this project of original compositions lack-luster and a bit boring, with the exception of the “Star Launch” tune.  However, the premise is noteworthy and the players are champions of their instruments.

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Chris Standring, guitar; Peter Erskine, drums/percussion; Dave Karasony & Harvey Mason, drums; Geoff Gascoyne, Darek Oleszkiewicz & Chuck Berghofer, bass; Kathrin Shorr, vocals; Randy Brecker, flugelhorn. VIOLINS: Magnus Johnston (leader) Jackie Shave, Thomas Gould, Bea Chappell, Kate Robinson, Ben Hancox, Tom Pigott Smith, Patrick Kiernan, Cathy Thompson & Dan Bhattacharya.  VIOLAS: Bruce White, Andy Parker, Reiad Chibah & Kate Musker.  CELLOS: Caroline Dale, Dave Daniels, Vicky Matthews & Nick Cooper. Tara Minton, harp. Geoff Gascoyne, orchestra arranger/conductor.

Chris Standring is an in-demand guitarist rooted in contemporary smooth jazz.  He prides himself with thirteen Billboard Top 10 singles and six single releases that all reached number one on the popular Billboard Chart.   “Wonderful World” is Standring’s fourteenth release as a leader. However, this album is very different from his other projects.  Instead of composing his own original music, this time Chris decided to put his unique and creative spin on songs from the Great American Songbook.  He also decided to feature a 19-piece orchestra, fulfilling one of his longtime dreams.

“I think there is something magical about the sound of a guitar and orchestra playing together, but I won’t always be in situations where it’s possible to use an orchestra.  So, the arrangements had to be flexible enough to work in a trio setting,” Chris Standring explained.

Chris Standring is a prolific composer, who has written or co-written over 100 songs and all of his other albums have spotlighted those composer abilities.    When asked about how he manages to come up with so many melodic ideas, he responded:

“I’m very disciplined about my writing.  I’m not married and don’t have any children, because I have been so intensely focused on my music and I don’t want any distractions.  I write pretty much every day and need silence and time for reflection. … I listen to a wide range of music styles to spark my creativity.” 

Standring is a native of England, but moved to the West Coast of the United Stated in 1991, settling in Los Angeles.  Almost immediately, he began recording with folks like Rick Braun, Carole Bayer Sager, Jody Watley and gospel icons, Bebe and Cece Winans.  He’s also been on-stage with such icons as Bob James, Patti Austin, Boney James, Peter White, Kirk Whalum and Dave Koz.  For this orchestral project, the respected guitarist called on a number of Los Angeles legendary jazz players to join him in the studio.  See the impressive list above.

You will enjoy the Standring interpretation of “How Insensitive,” with the orchestra arranged and conducted by Geoff Gascoyne.  The orchestrated portion of this album was recorded at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London.  Other lovely, nostalgic tunes you will appreciate are “Night & Day,” “Autumn in New York” and “Estaté.”   On “What A Wonderful World” vocalist Kathrin Shorr lends her talents to the mix as the strings soar and beautifully color the arrangement.  On the Standring original composition, “Sunrise” Chris features Randy Brecker on Flugelhorn during this waltz-tempo’d ballad.  Other gems are “My Foolish Heart,” “Alfie,” and the jazz standard, “Green Dolphin Street.”  He also covers the Donald Fagen tune, “Maxine.”  This is easy-listening jazz at its best.  Dim the lights, flame the candles and cuddle up with this beautiful album of familiar songs.

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Tbone Paxton, trombone/co-leader; RJ Spangler, congas/percussion/co-leader; Phillip J. Hale, piano/fender Rhodes/electric piano; Sean Perlmutter/drums; Jeff Cuny, elec. & acoustic basses; Daniel Bennett, tenor saxophone; Rafael Leafar, alto saxophone/flute; Kasan Belgrave, alto saxophone; Damon Warmack, electric bass; Special guest: James O’Donnell, flugelhorn.

The Paxton/Spangler Septet is featuring the South African music of famed composer, Abdullah Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brand.  Both Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler have long been infatuated with the music of South Africa. The two musicians, who founded this septet, admire such artists as Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and pianist, composer Abdullah Ibrahim.  The Tbone Paxton and RJ Spangler duo began this journey in 1980 when they formed a musical group known as the Sun Messengers Band.  This was followed by the Sun Sounds Orchestra.  Their orchestra effort was awarded Best Jazz Recording at the Detroit Music Awards in 1991.  After forming and dissolving several music ensembles, always with the desire to promote South African music, they have now released “Athem For the New Nation.”  Track 2 is the title tune of this album. Abdullah Ibrahim’s composition features a spirited alto saxophone solo by Rafael Leafar.  Track 3 is titled “Cape Town Fringe/ Mannenberg” and is based on an arrangement by Pharoah Sanders.  RJ Spangler’s percussion propels the group forward. The ensemble performs succinctly, establishing tight, African-flavored grooves for the soloists to take advantage of and to showcase each individual’s talent.  Phillip Hale opens Track 4 on piano, taking his time with the chords and introducing us slowly and emotionally to “Perfumed Forest Wet With Rain.”  I also enjoyed the flute of Rafael Leafar on this pretty ballad.  Another favorite on this album is “Moniebah” with a joyful bass solo by Jeff Cuny, who also wrote all the arrangements.  They close with the popular “Soweto” song.

Here is an album celebrating the iconic composer, Dollar Brand aka: Abdullah Ibrahim and infusing Motown groove with South African world music.

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Matt Niess, tenor trombone/arranger; Tony Nalker, piano; Shawn Purcell & Jim Roberts, guitars; Paul Henry, bass; Todd Harrison, drums; TENOR TROMBONES: Jim McFalls, Jay Gibble & Zach Niess.  BASS TROMBONES: Jerry Amoury, Jeff Cortazzo & Matt Neff.

Matt Niess and The Capitol Bones shuffle their way into my listening space with the familiar Sonny Bono song, “The Beat Goes On.”   It’s full of spunk and funk.   Matt Niess is a trombonist based in Washington, D.C., who played with the U.S. Army Band for over thirty years.  He was also a member of the Army Blues Jazz Ensemble and the US Army Brass Quintet.  On this recording, he is joined by some of the best jazz musicians in the Nation’s capital and they swing hard!  During the fade of this arrangement, the guitarist, Shawn Purcell, trades fours with Matt Niess’ trombone. Todd Harrison is spectacular throughout, taking a brilliant bow at the very end, with flashing drum sticks and admirable drum skills crashing into a crescendo of rhythm. 

“The Capitol Bones inaugural performance was in a restaurant called Firenzi’s in Arlington, VA; 1990, … not long after I joined the U.S. Army Band.  Our first big concert was the International Trombone Festival at the Eastman School of Music in 1991, after winning the Kai Winding Competition sponsored by the International Trombone Association.  The competition was the impetus that motivated me to forge the group into a trombone band like no other,” Matt Niess sang the praises of his band.

This is the long awaited fourth album for the renowned Capitol Bones.  Group founder and leader, Matt Niess, has every right to feel proud and enthusiastic about this recording.  It is absolutely terrific. The level of musicality and uniqueness is ‘off the charts;’ literally.  Matt’s arranging skills are also on parade and richly sparkle.

Matt arranged a well-known work in the trombone world that’s called “Two Pieces for Three Trombones.” He arranged it originally in 2010, for the Eastern Trombone Workshop (known now as the American Trombone Workshop).  For this recording, Niess expanded it to five bones and it’s become one of three bonus tracks included on this project.  Part two of this suite of music is actually called “Episode” and stands alone as track two on the album. The drums give the piece an Afro-Cuban feel, then part the curtains so that Jim McFalls can step through and solo on his tenor trombone.  The electric guitar makes an amazing statement on his own. Purcell steals the spotlight briefly away from the trombones and thoroughly entertains us. 

Pat Metheny composed “Song for Bilbao” and the trombones sound fat and full at the introduction of this piece.  Metheny’s tune features Jim Roberts on guitar.  “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love,” written by Mingus, is beautifully performed and aside from the awesome harmonies of the trombones, pianist Tony Nalker is given ample time to show off his musical skills. 

Here is an album packed with musicality and a variety of songs and arrangements that will thrill and entertain you.  Take for instance the harmonics on “Yesterday” that ring dynamic and memorable.

Matt Niess adds a couple of his original compositions for good measure.  One is titled “Fanfare for the Capitol Bones” and it reminds me of a freight train plowing down the tracks. Niess combines traditional jazz with a contemporary perspective, sparking the song with funk drums and playing his trombone with gusto.  The guitarist adds electronic rhythm to the piece and brings the element of fusion along with him.  There’s a Medley of music from ‘Chicago’ including “Make Me Smile,” “The Approaching Storm” and “Man vs. Man” and another original composition from Neiss titled, “Felicity.”   If variety is the spice of life, and you’re prone to unique experiences, sprinkle this music liberally onto your CD player and enjoy.

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PRINCIPLES: Jean Baylor, vocals/background vocals/composer/arranger/ hand claps/stomps; Marcus Baylor, drums/percussion/hand claps/stomps/arranger; Shedrick Mitchell, piano/organ/Wurlitzer /Fender Rhodes/ arranger; Terry Brewer, piano/organ; Dezron Douglas, Richie Goods & Ben Williams, upright bass; D. J. Ginyard, electric bass; Rayfield ‘Ray Ray’ Holloman, lap steel guitar/guitar; Marvin Sewell, guitar/slide guitar/acoustic guitar; Pablo Batista & Aaron Draper, percussion; Stephanie Alvarenga, vocal contractor/arranger background vocals/claps & stomps; Linny Smith, Sheherazade Holman, background vocals/claps & stomps; Pastor Paul James, background vocals; Keith Loftis, tenor & soprano saxophone; Korey Riker, tenor saxophone; Freddie Hendrix, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mark Williams, trombone; Christopher Michael Stevens, horn contractor/trumpet; Aaron ‘Goody’ Goode, trombone; STRINGS: Darin Atwater & Geoffrey Keezer, arrangers; Lady jess, strings   contractor/violin l; Sara Caswell & Janina Norpoth, violin l; Orlando Wells, Frederique Gnaman & Ling Ling Huang, violin ll; Susan Mandel, cello; Celia Hatton, viola; SPECIAL GUESTS: Kenny Garrett, alto saxophone; Dianne Reeves & Jazzmeia Horn, lead vocals; Jamison Ross, lead vocals/background vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano/arranger; Apostle Larry J. Baylor, preacher; Mother Mattie Baylor, Mother Joan Norris, Eric Roberson, Dana Johnson, Avery Sunshine, Evertt & Tamia Perry, Uncle James Arthur & Aunt Cassandra Medley, spoken word.

The opening tune Strivin’ is spirited and sounds like something Aretha Franklin would sing.  The vocalist, Jean Baylor, is strong and rooted in gospel music.  This original song features the soulful horn of Kenny Garrett, however that doesn’t necessarily make this jazz.  Instead, it’s very strong Rhythm & Blues.  “Happy to be With You” continues in the same vein, with the blood of rhythm and blues pumping the tune happily along.  The band’s messages of love and family are prominent with powerful harmonic horns that sound like the days of ‘Tower of Power’ or ‘Earth, Wind & Fire.’  Both of these gold record groups combined music genres, blending R&B, Pop and Jazz.  The Baylor production takes a turn with “Love Makes Me Sing,” a beautiful ballad with strings soaring in the background and Keith Loftis sounds complimentary and jazzy on saxophone.   Shedrick Mitchell at the piano adds his jazzy touch to the production.  Jean Baylor’s voice is sweet honey in the comb on this project.   Her voice is soulful, emotional and hypnotic.  As “The Baylor Project” presents a mixed genre of music, it’s Jean’s voice that ties the package together like bright, colorful ribbons.  On the song “2020” they dip deeply into the biscuits, gravy and goodness of gospel music.  Jean and Marcus Baylor have written and arranged a dozen compositions for our listening pleasure and each song is well written and compelling.  Jean Baylor puts lyrics to Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.”  Storytelling has always been central to the Baylor Project’s creative output.  As mentioned, their music crosses genres.  While most of it is rooted in R&B, on the seventh tune she features Jazzmeia Horn and Dianne Reeves, (two of my favorite jazz vocalists) and the project moves into pure jazz.  Marcus Baylor’s drums lock the ‘swing’ into place and Sullivan Fortner’s piano is outstanding as a strong support tool.  Sullivan is a musical master in his own right.

The beauty about much of today’s younger generational music is the cross-over appeal and the creative blending of genres.  This ensemble expands the term ‘jazz’ to new levels.  Their music is exceptionally well written, expertly arranged and, in addition, there is a strong element of spirituality and believability incorporated into their songwriting. I also must mention and applaud the fact that they employed live ‘strings’ and not a keyboard replica.  Listening to their music, I hear a hopeful spirit that prevails and uplifts.  So many people play well, but it takes a certain commitment, sometimes referred to as the ‘IT’ factor, along with talent to deliver music that inspires and heals.  “Generations” is one such project that will make you happy and hopeful.

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Sarah Wilson, trumpet/vocals; Myra Melford, piano; Jerome Harris, bass; John Schott, guitar; Matt Wilson, drums; Charles Burnham, violin.

A lone trumpet blares, directing our attention to the tone of Sarah Wilson’s instrument and her latest project titled, “Kaleidoscope.”  The piano sounds like bottle chimes blowing in a rainstorm.  Charles Burnham’s violin brings another voice that handsomely harmonizes with Wilson’s horn.  Her melody repeats and burns into our brains.  This original composition by Sarah Wilson is titled, “Aspiration” and is dedicated to Renee Baldocchi, who was Director of Public Programs at San Francisco’s de Young Museum when Wilson met her.  Aspiration is one of a dozen original songs Wilson has penned for this production.

“This record is about the people who have supported me,” Wilson explains the dedication above.

As the album title implies, “Kaleidoscope” embraces multiple views, colors and personalities.  This is not strictly jazz, but a combination of genres inclusive of Afro-Latin grooves, Indie rock and something her publicist calls Avant-pop.  “Color” is a song she dedicates to Paul Caputo, another supporter, music mentor and Schoenberg scholar.  This composition reminds me somewhat of South African music, with the strong melody introduced by horns and the guitar of John Schott.  Myra Melford is given time to explore improvisation on her piano and Matt Wilson’s drums hold the music rhythmically in place. 

Wilson’s compositions are melody-rooted, with repeatable, simple lines that are easily remembered. After I read that she had spent much time working in the Bread and Puppet Theater, later expanding her Visiting Artist role to work with a giant-puppet production for two years, and finally becoming an arranger, conductor and performing musician during puppet shows, her musical vision became clearer to me.  Her music is not complex.  However, it is sometimes on the verge of Avant-garde.  She’s a fairly new composer, singing and writing her original songs beginning in 2000, after the loss of her mother.

“My mom died that year and I gave up the trumpet. …  Songwriting was distracting; soothing as I was dealing with this terrible loss in my life.  I felt relaxed doing it.  It’s another avenue for my music to travel down,” Sarah Wilson explained how she came to composing.

In 1993, after Wilson moved to New York City to specifically concentrate on music, she studied with John McNeil and Laurie Frink.  Wilson released her first album in 2006 (Imaginary Play) and followed that up with 2010s Trapeze Project. When not recording, she develops programs for museums and institutions.  Her latest project is a music production for The Tenderloin Museum.  Collaborating with Larkin Street Youth Services, an organization serving homeless youth that is based in one of San Francisco’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods, “Tenderloin Voices” brings their stories to life through writing workshops and musical performances. 

This music doesn’t shuffle or swing.  It showcases simplistic melodies and Ms. Wilson is then dependent on her musical ensemble to do much of the improvisation we expect in a jazz production.  She is not a jazz singer.  Perhaps she explains her musicality best when reflecting on her days as Musical Director and Composer of Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors Festival’s Annual Puppet Program.

“At the time, I didn’t really have any formal training or experience composing.  I didn’t know much harmony, so I would just write these melodic bass lines and layer contrapuntal melodies on top of them,” she explained in her press package.  “I’ve formally studied music since then, but my basic composing approach hasn’t changed much.”

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Michael Mantler, trumpet/composer; Christoph Cech, orchestra conductor; David Helbock, piano; Maximilian Kanzler, vibraphone/marimba; Bjarne Roupé, guitar; Tibor Kovesdi & Philipp Kienberger, double bass; Asja Valcic & Arne Kircher, violoncello; Simon Schellnegger, Anna Magdalena Siakala, Daniel Moser & Tamara Stajner, viola; Joanna Lewis, Ulrike Greuter, Diane Pascal, Tomas Novak, Simon Frick, Maximilian Bratt, Magdalena Zenz & Emily Stewart, violin; Leo Eibensteiner, flute; Peter Tavernaro, oboe; David Lehner, clarinet; Fabian Rucker, bass clarinet; Christoph Walder, French horn, Daniel Riegler, trombone; Simon Teurezbacher, tuba.

“Coda” is a summary; a concluding statement of material selected from past work.  Michael Mantler (born in Vienna in 1943) has always found inspiration while listening to his early work and compositions.  That’s why he has titled this new release “Coda Orchestra Suites” because, although it’s newly written music, it is also music developed from past works.

“… Almost always, when I start a new composition, I begin with materials from previous work. More often than not that procedure would spark or beget a new line of musical thought from which to continue,” Michael Mantler explains.

“Twothirteen Suite” opens this piece of orchestrated art.  It’s a dramatic piece with plenty of crescendos and soaring string lines.  A tenacious bass line storms beneath the orchestra’s powerful statement.  Mantler has composed all of the music.  It’s European classical to the max.  During eleven minutes and forty-one second of this first song, I don’t hear any jazz at all.  

“I have always considered myself an orchestral composer,” says Michael Mantler. “Even when circumstances dictated smaller ensembles. This time I did not retain the original instrumentation but settled on what seems to be my current favorite – a chamber orchestra consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, french horn, trombone, tuba, guitar, piano, marimba/vibraphone, plus a string section…” the composer says.

Even though Michael Mantler has included brief solos by himself on trumpet, by pianist David Helbock and Bjarne Roupé featured on guitar, the majority of the players are classical musicians who are reading music that is clearly orchestral.  Although quite beautiful, the premise of jazz is lost.  Why?  Because jazz is the music of freedom.  It expands on a theme and the players are encouraged to improvise. Also, Jazz swings!  Jazz shuffles!  Sometimes it can be totally free, like Avant-garde jazz.  Even when jazz is contemporary with fusion tones and funk drums, or transformed from Rhythm and Blues into smooth jazz, it still exhibits elements of freedom and transformation.  American jazz is our countries classical art form, created by African Americans and born out of struggle and a longing to be free.  As a jazz reviewer, although this music is beautifully orchestrated, I just cannot call this album jazz. 

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July 14, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 14, 2021


Tanya Dennis, vocals/composer/violins/castanets/handclaps/ Tibetan prayer bowl; Matt Berry, John Richards & Billy Panda, acoustic guitar; David Martin, acoustic guitar/handclaps; Jim Ferguson, bass; Scott Halgren, piano; Dann Sherrill, percussion/ handclaps; Hendrik Meurkens, harmonica;

Tanya Dennis is a multi-talented vocalist who also plays classical violin, guitar and composes music. She began performing at age sixteen, playing guitar at a deli in North Myrtle Beach.  Around this time, she also fell in love with the violin, after meeting George Kindler, a fiddle player with the David Bromberg band.  This fascination with the violin led her to jazz theory studies, electronic music, composition and the study of classical violin at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  Tanya also spent three years at the University of Miami as part of their exceptional jazz program where she performed with an 80-piece jazz orchestra.  She also sang with a working, funk-fusion band.  Around the same time, Tanya Dennis was performing with the famed Ira Sullivan band.  She is an example of expanded musical talent and diversity.

Ms. Dennis has a cool, ice-cream sweet voice that entices you into its spell like the whipped cream on top.  She opens with an original composition titled, “Chiaroscura.”  This tune lilts across space, like a sail boat on a calm sea.  I am immediately taken by her lovely, unpretentious tone.  She has composed seven of the nine songs on this album.  I was not surprised, when I read, in her press package, that indeed this talented lady is an avid sailor. She gives us a hint with her CD cover and the album title.  Tonya purchased a 50-foot sailboat after experiencing a series of life-changing events and set sail around the keys, the Bahamas and the Caribbean in general, to settle her thoughts and clear her creative mind.  This song, (Chiaroscura) is a term for the play of contrasting light and shadow in the visual arts.  Consequently, this original composition was inspired by one evening when she witnessed the full moon glowing brightly on ocean waves; a perfect setting for light and shadow.

Tanya Dennis arranges music with Latin overtones that dip and dance like oars on a romantic lake.  For example, “Where You Are” is a song in this vein, colored by Dann Sherrill’s exciting percussion and stroked by the smooth vocals of Dennis.  On “White Sails” Tanya Dennis adds her talents on Tibetan prayer bowl.  You hear it clearly at the introduction of this pretty, bolero-like ballad. She sings lyrics that praise white sails and blue skies, new horizons and leaving the shore behind, in search of the good life.  This is a great composition and a good choice as the title of this entertaining and thought-provoking album.  Scott Halgren’s piano fills are sensitive and worthy of mention.  The acoustic and electric guitars are glitter on the cheeks of every song.  Hendrik Meurken’s harmonica is bright as lipstick or rouge, blushing against songs like “The World Can Do without Us Today.” 

When Tanya Dennis isn’t recording beautiful music as a bandleader, she is touring worldwide as a violinist, a rhythm guitarist, a mandolin player and even a back-up vocalist.  She has toured with legendary names like Faith Hill and Janie Fricke, who is a two-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year winner. Tanya made waves with her premiere recording, “Waterdance” that mixed jazz, blues and country music to win her the “Rising Female Star European market” award.  She continues that legacy with this recent release.  You will want to play Tanya Dennis’ CD over and over again.  It’s just that good!

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Jeff Pearring, alto saxophone/composer; Billy Mintz & Francisco Mela, drums; Cameron Brown & Ken Filiano, bass; Claire de Brunner, bassoon; Daniel Carter, soprano saxophone; drums.

Jeff Pearring’s concept for this album grew out of the isolated flowerpot of pandemic blues. 

“This album is my improvisation to the experience of quarantine, lockdown and separation from the NYC community’s musical conversation during the pandemic of 2020.  These recordings provided the unique opportunity to release emotional energy through sound at a time when there was no certainty around,” Pearring explains in liner notes.

Jeff normally leads the “Pearring Sound” group as a quintet or trio.  He longed for musical camaraderie, and decided to play duets with six diverse, but talented musical friends.  He chose the musicians listed above to compliment his compositions, playing with each one singularly.  That created these eight duo performances.  “Twisting Pavement” opens with Billy Mintz providing drum licks, until Pearring joins in on his alto sax.  Jeff has a warm, compelling sound on the saxophone and at times uses staccato notes to push the melody forward.  Mintz is competent and creative on trap drums.  However, once the melody is established, I keep waiting for Pearring to stretch out and visit improv-land.  However, he stays very close to the melody and after a while, the piece begins to sound like someone practicing scales instead of performing.  I was more taken by Pearring’s bluesy take on Track 2., “Time in Isolation,” with Mintz brushing the pandemic dust off the blues.  However, at the fade of this tune Pearring once again resorts to scale practice, that for me takes away from the originality.  

Some cuts on this recording that rewarded my ear are his duet with bassoonist, Claire de Brunner on “Shapeshifter.”  The richness of the bassoon, played, descant fashion, against the tenor saxophone brought a spotlight to shine on both instruments as they held a conversation with each other; a conversation whose energy, at times, sounded somewhat like an argument.  In other words, there was never any solo space to expound on a theme or individually sing a melody.  The two instruments stayed busy.  Ken Filiano brings a ‘bass-ment’ for Pearring to build upon.  He holds down the piece titled, “A Continuous Conversation Renewed” with his double bass tenacity.  Jeff Pearring flits and flies around, like a busy bird, above the string bass and ever-circling the piece with wide wings. Cameron Brown takes over the bass playing when Jeff Pearring performs the familiar Miles Davis classic, “Solar.”  This song becomes my favorite, because it has such a happy, pleasing melody that gets to be played, clearly heard and digested.  This production is an assortment of Avant-garde duets that mirror the frustration and challenge being quarantined for over a year can inspire.  Jeff Pearring sums it up this way:

                “Jazz improvisation is the quintessential musical conversation.  Despite the numerous and seemingly miraculous, technological advancements throughout human history; conversations remain best in person.”

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Vince Mendoza, composer/arranger/conductor; Jan Hasenӧhrl, director; Marcel Javorcek & Ondrej Kabrna, piano; Lukas Chejn, guitar; David Ruzicka, Oleg Sokolov, Karel Fingl, Renata Janska, Jan Pistora, Jaroslav Minor, Matous Novak & Dalibor Nemec, drums; Lubomir Maryska, tuba; Roman Koudelka, Tomas Olevrel, Silva Gerykova, Jaromir Gardon, Petr Vasinka, Pavel Pospisil, Ondrej Stajnochr, Rostislav Tvrdik & Eri Ishikowo, double bass; Robert Heger, Martino Kustarova, Tim Kodlec, Trefna Pavla Ondrichova, Lenka Schichova & Jiri Loukola, flute; Jan Kolar, Pavel Korbicka, Anna Skreptacova, Dana Wichterlova & Martin Petr, oboe; Lubomir Legemza, Dusan Mihely, Zdenek Tesar & Matous Kopacek, clarinet; Jan Hudecek, Stepon Rimsky, Petr Nemecek, Rudolf Krula, Richard Srbeny & Pavel Rylina, bassoon; Jan Hasenohrl, Lukas Koudelka, Marek Vojo, Jan Hykrda, Jan Burian & Roman Kubol, trumpet; Jiri Novolny, Karel Kohout, Petr Frid, Bohumil Bydzovsky, Petr Cihak & Barbara Kolatova, trombone.

VIOLIN 1: Alexej Rosik, (concertmaster/soloist), Helena Jirikovska, Martin Tupy, Martin Sandera, Miluse Kaudersova, Vaclav Vacek, Miroslav Kosina, Voclav Dvorak, Richard Valasek, Rodana Vectomova, Josef Novotny, Ondrejka Dlouha, Radka Preislerova, Martin Valek, Ayako Naguchi, David Sroubek, Filip Silar, Frantisek Kosina, Libor Kanka & Petra Bohm. VIOLIN 2:  Zdenek Jirousek (soloist), Katarina Klemankova, Ana Crnes, David Vorac, Martina Suskovo, Jiri Kohoultek, Karel Selmeczi, Ayako Naguchi, Stanislav Rada, Simon Tosovsky, Tomas Prosek, Helena Gertichova, Roman Konecny, Stepan Lauda, Jana Svecova, Lenka Sanchez, Eva Brummelova, Renata Juristova & Stanislav Rada. VIOLA: Karel Untermuller (soloist), Marketa Sadecka, Filip Kemel, Frantisek Jelinek, Boris Goldstein, Michal Demeter, Jiri Zigmund, Adam Pechociak, Miroslav Novotny, Jan Stippl, Vladimir Bazant, Irena Stranska, Lenko Bosnovicova & Adela Bryan.  VIOLONCELLO:  Milos Jihoda (soloist), Stepanka Kutmanova, Adriana Vorackova, Roman Stehlik, Petr Janek, Olga Bilkova, Martin Havelik, Zuzana Dostalova, Jaroslav Ondracek & David Havelik.

According to his liner notes, conductor/arranger/composer, Vince Mendoza, feels this album titled, “Freedom Over Everything” seeks to answer a question; what does it mean to continue to create art in service of the times? 

Once you read his composition titles, they speak for themselves. “American Noise” opens the orchestrated concert.  Lukas Chejn steps into the spotlight on this tune to offer a very blues-driven guitar solo.  This is followed by the pensive and beautiful, “Consolation” composition.  “Hit The Streets” starts off percussively, featuring Antonio Sanchez on drums.  Horns blare in between a sweet marimba exploration by Oleg Sokolov, while the strings crescendo and twirl like spinning, whirling Dervish dancers.  On “Meditation” we hear the melancholy, but very lovely tenor saxophone of Joshua Redman, who brings jazz to the orchestra on a golden platter and serves it up generously. “Justice and the Blues” starts out with horns that sound as if they are introducing us to ‘his royal highness’ in some far-away land of orchestrated beauty.  Nearly four-minutes in, the arrangement switches to tenacious and funky drums that take control.   Enter “Freedom Over Everything,” a composition that incorporates funk drums and poet, Black Thought, lends his mind-tickling lyrics that, in part, say:

                “…You’re either with the evolution or against it; the difference is prison gates or picket fences.  It’s big business; death is expensive.  Look! Hunger games by another name / is what became of the oath that went up in flames/ when another man was slain, but ain’t nothin’ changed.”

There is a brief finale, that plays like an interlude and strokes our emotions with the bow of Alexej Rosik’s solo violin displays his talents on the instrument. The eighth composition is titled, “To the Edge of Longing” and features the rich, powerful vocals of soprano Julia Bullock.  In closing, Vince Mendoza offers his “New York Stories” (a concertino for trumpet and orchestra) that features Jan Hasenӧhrl.

This is an album of lush orchestration with special jazz and operatic guests. Mainly, it’s classical music. I enjoy the imagination and arranging skills that Vince Mendoza brings to his compositions.  The Prague-based Czech National Symphony Orchestra performs with emotional magnificence.

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Sam Blakeslee, composer/trombone; Chris Coles, alto saxophone/electronic effects; Brandon Coleman, guitar; Matt Wiles, bass.

Sam Blakeslee is a very melodic composer.  His current single “The Long Middle” is pulled from an upcoming July 30th album release.  This song is a lovely, moderate tempo tune that, without drums, depends on Brandon Coleman’s rhythm guitar to hold the pulse of the piece.  He does that very competently.   The entire group, “Wistful Thinking,” is somewhat like an intimate chamber-jazz production without the violins and cellos.  “Ashokan” is track 2 of this production and it’s sultry and pensive, featuring Chris Coles, on saxophone, at the onset.  Soon, the curtains part and Sam Blakeslee steps through with his trombone bleating out a relaxing melody until Coles joins in.  Then, the two horns have a very public conversation.  On the composition, “Bygones Are Bygones” the use of electronic effects paints a ghostly, Avant-garde picture, with the two horns dancing harmonically in the middle of the unexpected.  The tempo picks up with the “Franklin’s Blues” composition and gives a nod to Matt Wiles on bass, who plays a prominent part in this arrangement, notably walking his bass notes beneath the improvisation of Coles and Blakeslee.  Matt grounds the piece.  They give him a space to solo, and his rich, bass tone is bluesy and free.  When Coleman adds his guitar licks, it creates an interesting dynamic between the two string instruments.  The horns sing the happy melody and bring the composition full circle.  This is one of my favorites on this album of relaxing and ethereal music. 

On the tune called, “Bob” I get to enjoy Blakeslee’s beautiful tone on his trombone.  This is another one of my favorites.  Matt Wiles takes a solo on bass and vividly tells his wordless story, plucking the strings with determined grandeur.  But it’s Blakeslee’s trombone that sings from the heart and sells the song. 

Here is an album with arrangements that are both unexpected and unique.  Sam Blakeslee’s compositions are well written and melodic. Each member of “Wistful Thinking” brings their best to the party and with Sam Blakeslee’s trombone leading the way, enjoy a bright, relaxing and beautiful celebration.

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Dan Wilkins, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; James Collins, piano/Fender Rhodes; Gene Perla, bass; Byron Landham, drums.

All compositions featured by Horizons Quartet were written by thirty-year-old Dan Wilkins.  He opens this energetic album with a tune called “Spiraling,” presenting us with a melody that circles from his tenor saxophone and inspires the others to join in.  The group is off and running.  When extraordinary pianist, James Collins along with Wilkins, decided to put a band together, they wanted their rhythm section to include the caliber of musicians that had inspired them to play jazz.  Collins had been inspired by celebrated Philly-based drummer Byron Landham, who has toured with Betty Carter and Houston Person, as well as working with organ icon, Joey DeFrancesco.  You can hear his power and precision during a solo on this first composition.  They also included bassist Gene Perla, who is a master musician and has played with Sarah Vaughan, Jimmy Cobb and Miles Davis.  At eighty-one, he still burns on the bass. 

One thing I noted, this quartet loves to build the tension and grow the music.  These arrangements are rich with energy and this multi-generational quartet offers us over an hour of exquisite jazz, mostly straight-ahead, well-composed and well-interpreted original music.  Arrangers Wilkins and Collins, allow each talent to express themselves vividly for our listening pleasure.  The quartet, as a whole, moves like a well-oiled engine, generating power, improvisation and precision that infuses each composition.  Every tune is enjoyable, but some of my favorites are “Benediction of the Moon” and “Get the Point” that begins with a drum solo where Byron Landham sets the tempo and the groove.  James Collins takes off like a rocket on piano and Perla pushes him ahead, fueling his flight with bass tenacity.  Dan Wilkins arrives, shooting flames out of his saxophone.  Finally, Landham is left alone in the spotlight to solo and introduce us to his powerful and relentless drum techniques.  Yes!  I “Get the Point.”  “Gaia’s Blessing” brings us ballad relief, with Collins turning to the sparkling tones of a Fender Rhodes to interpret this pretty tune.  Who doesn’t love a good jazz waltz?  They close with “Kindling of the Phoenix” and I’m left with a feeling of complete satisfaction.

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Julian Gerstin, composer/arranger/congas/timbales/percussion/lyrics/vocals/piano/drum set.  Zara Bode, Mario Inchausti, Carlene Raper, Wanda Houston & Sarah LeMieux, vocals; Josh Francis & Ben James, drums sets; Wes Brown & Jay Cook, bass; Bob Everingham, tenor guitar; Jason Ennis, lead & rhythm guitar; Eugene Uman, piano/keyboards/co-arranger; Derrik Jordan, violin; Anna Patton, clarinet/vocals; Jon Weeks, alto, tenor & baritone saxophones; Jim Heffron, baritone saxophone; Michael Zsoldos, alto & tenor saxophones; John Wheeler, trombone; Don Anderson, trumpet/flugelhorn.

During the past fifty years, Julian Gerstin has spent his life studying, teaching and performing traditional music from around the world.  He earned a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Berkeley and has traveled the world in search of rhythmic roots.  Gerstin is a percussion expert.  He has lived in Martinque, studied music in Cuba and Ghana and worked around the United States in a variety of settings.  Julian leads the jazz-oriented Julian Gerstin Sextet and performs with Trio Mambo, with VT Shakedown (afrobeat, ska and funk) and Bomba de Aqui (a Puerto Rican traditional music group) in addition to collaborating with an assortment of top artists in a variety of musical fields.  Gerstin is also the co-author of The Musician’s Guide to Rhythm.  Consequently, with that type of background and credentials, you expect this project to be as diverse as his lifestyle.  You would be right on the mark. 

This production is strongly rhythm-based and mixes grooves with spoken word, prose and his original compositions.  Gerstin has composed eleven of the dozen songs on this album and each is firmly cemented in his hypnotic percussion. Wanda Houston recites Julian Gerstin’s prose, formed by using familiar phrases from various eras, to trace “American History” through song.  This is their opening tune on this collection of thought-provoking works.  You will want to dance to the music of this first tune, but Houston’s dramatic voice makes you pay attention and think about her words as the horns punctuate the piece like exclamation marks. 

Gerstin’s composition, “Too Happy to Sleep” sounds very South African influenced.  However, his liner notes correct me and state that it’s African dance music with roots in Nigeria and Ghana. Vocalist Sarah LeMieux is featured on “After the Sleep of Lies,” a moody song with her beautiful voice caressing the prose of Gerstin’s lyrics in a very sensual way.  Her lovely vocals make the sad words palpable.

“Spruce Street” is titled like many American shape note hymns, after the place it was written; a street with a purple house in Brattleboro, Vermont.  It features a crafted clarinet solo by Anna Patton.  “Long Journey Home” has a haunting melody and Sarah LeMieux is back with her silky, smooth vocals.  This song is an adaptation of the a ‘Capella group, Sweet Honey in the Rock’s anthem that Julian Gerstin arranged for their “Still on the Journey” CD.  Each song on this “Music for the Exploration of Elusive Phenomena” is enjoyable, infectious and spiritually rooted.  Here is music that showcases the diversity that makes jazz a continuous work in progress.  The horn parts accentuate the melody and the percussive excellence pushes each tune forward like a 16-wheeler forging down the highway.                     

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ORRIN EVANS – “THE MAGIC OF NOW” – Smoke Sessions Records

Orrin Evans, piano/composer; Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone/composer; Vicente Archer, bass; Bill Stewart, drums.

This is a recording made in December of 2020 at ‘Smoke Jazz Club’ in New York City.  Like so many musicians, pianist Orrin Evans was hungry for musical camaraderie.  In March of 2020, Evans had been touring with a trio in Chicago when reports of a rapidly spreading pandemic, COVID19, had the musicians scrambling to get home.  Days of isolation followed with no work; no club gigs, no festivals and no concerts. For some reason, Orrin Evans found himself grounded in a strange way, when the concept of his musical mission became clarified.

“That’s kind of what this record is about.  ‘The Magic of Now,’ is like, what’s happening right now.  Not tomorrow.  Not yesterday.  What are you doing right now, at this exact moment, to make tomorrow better?”  Evans poses the question in his album liner notes.

Orrin met saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins when Immanuel was eleven years old and attending a summer camp program where Evans was an instructor.  Today, at twenty-three-years-old, Immanuel Wilkins is a rising star on alto saxophone and a blossoming composer.  Wilkins has written three songs for this project and Orrin Evans has written three.  The seventh song was contributed by drummer Bill Stewart and the late Mulgrew Miller.  This quartet opens their CD with a medley of “Mynah and The Eleventh Hour.”  Their arrangement of Mulgrew’s tune from the “Widespan” album is open, improvisational and straight-ahead.  The quartet’s tempo is a hair slower than the original recording, but you hear the freedom in these musicians and Bill Stewart plows ahead on the drums, burning with energy and feeding the production with fire.  Wilkins sparks the tune with his alto sax and Vicente Archer pumps his bass in lock-step with the drums.  Orrin Evans provides his own hot temperature on the 88-keys.  He and Wilkins stand out on this opening number, like two boxers in the ring.  The musical licks fly.  Once Evans asserts his singular status, he is pumped up by the Stewart drums while delivering an awesome piano solo.  I played this cut twice, before continuing to listen to the entire album.  It’s over thirteen minutes long, but there was a lot to hear, as the tune flies by!  Bill Stewart shows that he can hold his own during a fiery and exploratory trap drum solo that ends this medley with a bang. 

Evans met Stewart through their work together in Steve Wilson’s band.  He found himself intrigued by Stewart’s distinctive sound.  Right then, he made a mental note to create a scenario for them to work together.  In 2014, Evans assembled a band that included Stewart on drums and bassist, Vincente Archer.

“Basically, for the last six or seven years, I’ve been waiting for a moment to put that band back together,” Evans shares.

“Mat-Matt” is an Orrin Evans composition that’s another favorite of mine and it swings hard.  You get to enjoy Orrin’s style and technique on his instrument, up close and personal.  “Momma Loves” is a Wilkins original and reminded me of something Thelonious Monk would have composed.  Then I read the liner notes and discovered that Evans felt the same way about this tune.

“Monk didn’t really write tunes with odd-numbered bars, but this is like Monk with a modern twist. …You really hear those sentimentalities, those extra two bars are turning around to make sure you have that tie on straight, that you remember to give her (your momma) a call.  If feels like all of that,” Orrin Evans stated about the “Momma Loves” tune.

Together, this ensemble offers us “The Magic of Now” using music to remind us how important every second of life is and reminding us to appreciate it.

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Scott Reeves, alto valve trombone/alto flugelhorn/electronics/composer; Russ Spiegel, guitar; Mike Holober, piano/electric piano; Howard Britz, bass; Andy Watson, drums.

This lost recording was originally performed ‘live’ at the City College of New York in 2005, sixteen years ago.  During the 2020 pandemic, when Scott Reeves had time on his hands, like thousands of other musicians, out of curiosity, Scott Reeves gave this long shelved project a listen. 

“I was excited to hear how the quintet played so well together and I felt this may have been among my own personal bests.  During the time of this recording, I was experimenting with electronic enhancements; a pitch follower and a ring modulator.  Russ Spiegel’s electric guitar paired well with my electronically nuanced alto flugelhorn and alto valve trombone in the front line, colored by mike Holober’s use of grand piano and Fender Rhodes.  It allowed us to find that border between the warmth of more traditional forms of jazz and the edginess of more experimental styles.  I decided that this music needed to be heard!”  Reeves explained.

They open the concert with “New Bamboo,” a song that allows a certain freedom for the musicians to improvise on top of the energy-driven, ‘vamp’ feel.  All five of the six songs recorded are composed by Scott Reeves.  “Shapeshifter” is track 2 and introduces an intense and challenging melody that is also quite beautiful.  Reeves steps forward to blow his solo from the bell of his horn.  He spews a rich and powerful tone.  Next, Andy Watson takes a notable drum solo, with Mike Holober playing staccato chords in the background.  After the drums, Holober introduces us to his piano expertise, sounding rather like a humming bird is flying up and down the 88-keys with trembling wings. There are electronic colorations in the background, that create unobtrusive highlights during this arrangement.  The band of five sounds a lot larger than a quintet.  “The Alchemist” is one of my favorites on this production and is the title tune.  It taps into fusion jazz and has a wonderful, repeatable melody that sticks to your brain like Velcro.

Scott Reeves plays trombone with the Dave Liebman big band and has performed with the Vanguard Orchestra, with Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, as well as with familiar artists like John Patitucci, Ron Carter, Rich Perry, Kenny Werner, Steve Wilson and more.  Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra has released two CDs and Scott is a Professor Emeritus at the City College of New York and has taught at the Juilliard School and various other universities.  His bandmates, guitarist Russ Spiegel and pianist Mike Holober are both prolific composers, especially for big band.  With this combination of players, all steeped in big band harmonics, could explain why this quintet has such a splendiferous, larger-than-life sound.  Holober is also a professor of Music at the City College of New York and has taught at the Manhattan School of Music.  He’s written music for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band and the WDR band, as well as arranged for artists like Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Dr. Lonnie Smith and John Scofield, to name a few.  London born Howard Britz is also a composer and not only a gifted bassist, but is also a competent pianist. He’s recorded four CDs as a bandleader and has been a sideman for jazz and Latin groups including work with Billy Pierce, Canilo Perez, Paquito de Rivera, Kenny Wheeler and Edsel Gomez.  Finally, drummer Andy Watson is celebrated on the East Coast for his unerring sense of time and groove.  He also is an astute sight-reader.  Close friends refer to him as “The Sheriff” because of his innate ability to lock-in any unruly horn sections.  Andy has performed with the Vanguard Orchestra and various iconic jazz artists like the great Benny Golson, the unforgettable Jon Hendricks, legendary Lew Tabackin, unforgettable James Moody, Joe Lovano, Woody Herman, Tashiko Akiyoshi and Jim Hall.  What’s not to love about this quintet? 

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June 30, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 1, 2021


Irina Zubareva, vocals; Misha Tsiganov, piano; Itaiguara Brandao, electric bass; Portinho, drums.

Oh, my goodness! The energy and joy that radiates from Irina Zubareva’s very first track grabs my attention and won’t let me go.  Sung completely in Portuguese, it doesn’t matter that I can’t understand her lyrics.  I am captivated by her voice, her sincerity and her emotional delivery on “Samba Little Samba” (Show de Bola). 

This is followed by “Copacabana,” that Irina sings in English.  She has slowed the tempo down, with great support from Portinho on drums and the beautiful accompaniment of Misha Tsiganov on piano.  This song shows off Irina’s rich vocal range as she swoops from soprano to deep alto tones and then scat-sings.  On “Just Friends” each musician previews their expertise at a racing pace and we get to hear and appreciate the talents of Tsiganov on piano.  When Itaiguara Brandao steps forward on electric bass, his own magnificent talent is on display.  Portinho’s trades fours with his comrades and he swings hard and is very fluid on his instrument. 

Irina Zubareva comes from a very musical family.  Her father was a double bassist and worked in a Russian orchestra during the 1970’s.  He used to play at a restaurant where Irina’s mother was singing. Their talented daughter received her graduate degree in Music from the Saint Petersburg Academy of Art and Music in Russia.  She became an applauded performer in jazz clubs throughout St. Petersburg and has toured Finland, the Netherlands, Germany, Malta and the Dominican Republic.  Irina Zubareva also worked with a band on cruise ships.  In 2013, she relocated to New York City where she continues to make her mark.

This album was recorded as part of a ‘live’ performance at a private residence in New York City.  Her audience and culture commanded that she include some beloved native songs since many in her audience were of Russian descent.  

Zubareva’s talented pianist is originally from St. Petersburg, but is currently a valued member of the local New York Latin and jazz community.  The group’s interpretation of “Como Se Fosse” by Hendrix Meurkens and Ana Terra is another favorite on this album.  Irina is often seen performing with Hendrik Meurkens around the New York area.  Also, their arrangement on “Triste” is quite exciting and lyrical. “I’m Beginning to See the Light” is arranged delightfully, at a quick Latin pace and opening with only Irina and her bassist.  Itaiguara Brandao sets the groove and tempo on electric bass, prompting Zubareva to enter with her sweet vocal compliment. I played this cut twice!

The vocalist includes several Russian compositions that round out this tribute to Brazil, New York City and her cultural Russian roots.  Here is representation of global music at a high quality of musicianship, that reflects the jazz ability to expand every type of music with the freedom of improvisation and creativity.  These musicians and their talented vocalist expand on the theme of many cultures and weave them together like a fisherman’s net.  We are the catch, bathing in the liquid magnificence of their music and loving every moment of it.

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Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, flugelhorn/trumpet/flute/alto flute/percussion/programming/co-producer; Daniel Sequin, alto & tenor saxophone/keyboards/bass/drum programming/co-producer; Bob Baldwin, keyboards/programming; Paul Brown, Chris Standring, Grant Geissman & Brian Hughes, guitar; Tony Moore & Kat Hendricks, drums; Miles Black, piano/organ/bass; Tony Seville, percussion; Rossi Tzonkov, bass; Jeffrey Holl, guitar/keyboards.

Based in Canada, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach opens his CD with a sweet, easy-listening tune titled, “Presence of Mind” featuring Daniel Sequin, who not only co-produced this CD but plays numerous instruments as listed above. This composition skips along at a moderate pace and I enjoy the blues-based piano solo. 

“Feels So Good” is a song I instantly recognize.  It was originally recorded by Chuck Mangione on his 1977 album.  Hasselbach features a creative, improvised guitar solo by Grant Geissman (who played and recorded with Mangione).  When Gabriel steps forward to play his horn, he creatively explores the tune, putting his own interpretation on display and playing the same model and vintage flugelhorn that Mangione played.  In the 70’s, this composition rose to #4 on the Billboard charts.  It’s a great composition to introduce to a new generation of listeners. “Chill@Will” is a smooth jazz shuffle arrangement with Bob Baldwin’s funky, programmed drums pushing the tune ahead and invites the happy addition of flute to the mix by Hasselbach.  Yes, Gabriel competently plays trumpet, flugelhorn and flutes on this project.  I enjoyed the ensemble’s instrumental take on the Sade tune, “Hang on To Your Love.”  I was interested in hearing their arrangement on the famous Clifford Brown tune, “Daahoud.”  I was hoping that Gabriel Mark Hasselbach would show some straight-ahead chops on this tune, because he can play traditional jazz in a heartbeat; but he keeps it smooth jazz all the way.  Chris Standring stepped into the spotlight to play a laid-back guitar solo and the ensemble convinced me to appreciate Clifford Brown’s music in this smooth jazz groove.  Hasselbach is a competent composer and offers nine tunes he has either written or co-written on this album.  Some of my favorites on this production are mentioned above, but I thought the title tune, “Tongue and Groove” was outstanding.  Hasselbach is a master on his horns and I enjoy his tone and the beautiful melody of this song.  If you appreciate smooth jazz and well-played music, you will find this album completely satisfying.

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Kristen Mather de Andrade, clarinet/vocals; Vitor Goncalves, accordion; Cesar Garabini, violao; Eduardo Belo, bass; Sergio Krakowski, pandeiro; SPECIAL GUESTS: Mathieu Tetu, guitar; Jenny Hill, alto saxophone; Joe Natale, tenor saxophone; Bill Owens, trumpet; Alaina Alster, trombone.

Opening with the happy tune titled, “Um Chorinho Diferente,” Kristen Mather de Andrade dances, twirls and delights us on her clarinet. Track 2 is “Coco Tara Ta Ta” and the arrangements include background voices that chant on the fade, sounding quite spontaneous.  On “Guele Guele” we hear Kristen Mather de Andrade’s silky, smooth voice.  This song is one of four original compositions penned by Brazilian singer/songwriter Roque Ferrriera, who specifically wrote compositions to showcase Mather’s voice.  Kristen sings in Portuguese.  The production is sparse and rhythmic, giving her vocals an opportunity to shine.

“What I like about the album is the uniquely New York experience.  The horns are all American, the rhythm section is all Brazilian and the arrangers are American and Brazilian.  We had a French guitarist.  The studio owner was Italian.  There were a ton of languages flying around the sessions.  It was a great combination of talents to create a sound that I have come away thinking is just as much New York as it is Brazilian,” Kristen Mather de Andrade explained her concept for this World Music album.

The arrangement on “Doce Melodia” was lovely with lots of horn harmonics and a lilting tempo that jogged along at a medium pace. “Sagrado” gave bassist Eduardo Belo an opportunity to set the mood from the very beginning along with percussionist, Sergio Krakowski who spices up the piece with the pandeiro, an instrument that looks similar to the tambourine but has many more tones and applications.  Kristen sings again on this medium tempo’d song.  Victor Goncalves is featured on accordion during the ensemble’s arrangement of “Bendito,” a very emotional ballad.

“Clarão” is a world music album with global appeal. Kristen Mather de Andrade is not Brazilian but loves the music of Brazil.  She is the principal clarinetist and soloist in the West Point Army Special Band and has been fascinated with Brazilian culture and music from a very young age.  Her tone and smoothness on the clarinet is the result of playing consistently with the West Point Band, the New York City ensemble that calls itself Vent Nouveau, as well as being an instrumentalist with the Quintette 7.   When not touring or recording, Professor Mather de Andrade teaches Master classes or hosts professional clinics at universities and music conservatories.

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Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, piano/voice/ney/composer; James Heazlewood-Dale, acoustic bass; George Lernis, drums/gong/bendir.

Mehmet brings us “An Elegant Ritual” to introduce us to jazz from a Turkish perspective.  Here is a polished pianist who has composed all the music on this CD except the familiar “Invitation” tune, and who has poured his talent, heart and soul into melding his culture with contemporary jazz language. He has incorporated prayer-like scat singing and his use of the ney instrument.  The ney is a traditional end-blown flute that is used prominently in Middle Eastern music.  It’s quite beautiful.  Also incorporated into this production is drummer, George Lernis, playing Indonesian gongs and the bendir instrument.  This album is modeled after a Sufi whirling dervish ritual and greatly influenced by John Coltrane’s epic “A Love Supreme” album.  The central composition has four movements, like Coltrane’s Love Supreme, peppered with strategic placements of gongs and ney.  There is a deep sense of spiritual awakening in Mehmet Ali Sanlikol’s music, especially when he bursts into moments of song, more like scatting, where his voice sounds very prayer-like.  This music is rich with art, history and spirit.  It stretches the boundaries of jazz, offering the listener adventurous arrangements that embrace Eastern and Western culture and take a cognitive leap towards what jazz is and what it can be.  These are fresh interpretations with beautifully written compositions that showcase this unique trio.  They, in-turn, embellish everything with their individual talents. 

“I wanted to say something new through my own distinct musical voice in the trio format,” Mehmet says in his liner notes.

“While wanting to be new and innovative, I also wanted to be loyal to the piano trio tradition in jazz, as I have always had great respect for history, craftmanship, and the lifelong study it takes to master my given tradition. … In order to be respectful of one of the essential qualities of the jazz trio tradition, I decided not to do any overdubs whatsoever.  Therefore, everything you hear on this album has been performed live. … My voice, which has always been a natural part of my musical expression, is present to some degree on most tracks.”

Mehmet Ali Sanlikol is a master pianist, who plays with power and punch. He also is very accomplished on flute. His voice is culturally rich and he places it in unexpected places during this production, sprinkling improvisation and creative expression liberally throughout.  Each song is like a present, unwrapped slowly and surprising us with what’s inside.

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Natsuki Tamura, trumpet/piano/wok/voice

Two years ago, when Natsuki Tamura recognized (on his birthday) that fifty years had passed since he became a professional musician, he decided to recap the history of his music development, recording this album as a solo act.  Natsuki has been part of the Avant-garde jazz community for many decades and it was not farfetched for him to incorporate his musical accomplishments and teachings from early music years into his present preoccupation with total freedom of expression.  He opens with a 6-minute trumpet solo.  Afterwards, Track 2, “Karugamo,” is an exploration of pots and pans, played like percussion, with a vocal chant that is both culturally Japanese and rooted by African influence.

“When I was eighteen and a senior in high school, an older member of my middle-school brass band invited me to play in the house band of a night club in Kyoto.  At the time, I was thinking about going to music school and was taking classical music lessons, including the piano.  Looking back, I recall that for a while I was practicing the piano every day in preparation for the music school’s entrance exam,” Natsuki Tamura explains in his liner notes.

Now, so many years later, locked in his small room with a grand piano, his horn and some pots and pans, Natsuki rediscovers his love of piano, his allegiance to his trumpet and his roots in playing drums.

“Another memory that stands out is when I was in a cabaret band in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo, and the drummer had to leave early to catch the last train. So, I would play drums for the last set.  I began to wonder what it would be like if, after fifty years as a musician, I started playing piano or drums now. The idea took on a life of its own,” he shared.

I prefer the composition “Kawau” to the opening number of “Sekirei.”  “Kawau” is melodic and beautiful, while the opening tune I thought should have celebrated elephants.  The trumpet sounds reminded me of a Pachyderm’s resonating voice and mating call.

On Track 4, titled “Bora,” Mr. Tamura sits before the grand piano and picks out a pensive melody with startling left-handed chords that accompany in the lower register.  When both hands chord together in rhythmic ways, he grows the piece incrementally, like a weed in the crack of concrete.  It becomes more and more lush, and green with life, as the tune progresses. 

“I don’t analyze what I do or what I think.  I just pursue my feelings.  I’m like a child,” he admits.

Indeed, there is playfulness, curiosity and inventiveness wrapped around these pieces of self-exploration.  In Japan, the 70th birthday is a milestone.  The word for it is ‘koki’ translated roughly to mean; rare in ancient times (when people didn’t even consider they would live that long).  His tone and ability on the trumpet expose Tamura’s unique musical vocabulary.  For example, on Track 5, his trumpet sounds nothing at all like Track 1 (the elephants) or Track 3, that I enjoyed so much.  It appears he often focuses on sound abstraction to create Avant-garde music that reflects his inner angels or demons, as the case may be.  Captured on disc is an artist who is technically brilliant, academically and classically trained, but as free as a sudden thunderstorm that appears out of nowhere and rains profusely onto the outdoor bandstand.  Instead of running from the storm, we sit in rapt attention, and get soaked in his jazz lyricism and daring creativity.  No one even opens an umbrella as the elephants come stampeding towards us.

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Beverley Beirne, vocals; Sam Watts, piano; Flo Moore, bass; Ben Brown, drums/percussion/conga; Rob Hughes, saxophone/flute; Duncan Lamont, tenor saxophone; Romero Lubambo guitar; Jason Miles, fender Rhodes/strings/Hammond B3 organ/producer; Cyro Baptista, percussion.

Beverley Beirne’s voice is a breath of fresh air.  Her rich alto tones lilt and dance over these well-played jazz tracks and invite the listener to join in the joy.  Beirne’s lyrics are sung with emotion and clarity.  She opens with “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” featuring an intoxicating tenor sax solo by Rob Hughes.  The ensemble swings hard and Beverly has no trouble keeping up and pushing ahead in the true tradition of a competent jazz singer.  Like Duke made clear, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.  No worries!  Ms. Beirne can swing.  At a more moderate pace, Beverley Beirne continues her swinging journey on “Weaver of Dreams” that features a stunning bass solo by Flo Moore on bass. Tenor saxophonist and composer, Duncan Lamont, has written the ballad “Now We’re Just Friends” that challenges Beirne’s range as she dips, like a swooping bird, into the very low vocal register.  David Bowie’s composition, “Let’s Dance” gets a make-over, arranged in an up-tempo Latin groove.  One of my favorite Billy Strayhorn compositions is “Daydream” and Beverley Beirne performs it as a swinging waltz; a both unusual and unique arrangement.  Clearly, Ms. Beirne likes to push the limits and step outside the box, which is the sign of a true jazz artist.  There are some traces of Ella Fitzgerald’s influence in her style, on certain licks, but her phrasing and creativity is all her own.  I enjoyed the percussion that opens “Temptation,” with Beverley’s voice floating atop the sparse production like a sweet, jasmine, summer breeze; enhanced with rich Rob Hughes flute tones.  Beverley Beirne is a renowned UK Jazz singer who has headlined many festivals throughout Europe.  This album introduces her to the United States market like a bright, shiny spotlight.

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Tim Hagans, composer/arranger/conductor/trumpet; ENSEMBLE 1: Fiete Felsch, lead alto saxophone/flute; Frank Delle, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Ingolf Burkhardt, trumpet/flugelhorn; Steve Wiseman & Claus Stotter, trumpet/flugelhorn; Klaus Heidenreich, trombone; ENSEMBLE 2: Peter Bolte, alto & soprano saxophone; Stephan Meinberg, trumpet/flugelhorn; Dan Gottshall, lead trombone; Daniel Buch, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; ENSEMBLE III: Christof Lauer, tenor saxophone; Thorsten Benkenstein, lead trumpet/flugelhorn; Stefan Lottermann, trombone;  Ingo Lahme, bass trombone; ENSEMBLE IV: Jukkis Uotila, drums; Ed Harris, guitar; Ingmar Heller, acoustic bass; Vladyslav Sendecki, piano; Marcio Doctor, percussion.

This is an album of music composed, arranged and conducted by trumpet master, Tim Hagans.  The NDR Bigband is the Hamburg, Germany Radio jazz Orchestra.  During this unique project, the musicians are grouped, not by section, (as might normally be done) but instead by sonic and emotional divisions.  Each one is charged with different objectives. Hagans is a three-time-Grammy-nominated composer and trumpeter.  This is his fourth recorded collaboration with the fantastic NDR Bigband.  However, he has been collaborating with this tight, professional and heralded group of musicians for two decades; thriving in various rolls with the orchestra.  For a while he was guest composer, then conductor.  He played trumpet with the big band and was a soloist and offered his arrangements for the orchestra. This is a five-movement exploration with suites of music that are all over eleven minutes long and mirror “A Conversation.”   You will experience a very evocative and improvisational production, portrayed beautifully and invigorated by the amazing musicians who take part in these unique arrangements.  For example, during Movement 1, Vladyslav Sendecki is exceptionally spotlighted on piano.  Jukkis Uotila is powerful and succinct on drums and Fiete Felsch adds his flute to the mix.  I found Movement 1 to be very classically based.  Movement II is busy, with horn licks staccato and moving, descant style, against each other like an argument or healthy debate.  When the melody does enter, it settles the music down; and then there are long horn lines of one single note that ring, as if introducing the solo of Daniel Buch, fluid on bass clarinet.  He brings jazz to the piece, like an offering in the pastor’s plate.  When Ingmar Heller enters on acoustic bass, the orchestra falls away and he is magnified, on his own, playing a remarkable solo for our listening pleasure that ends that Movement quite suddenly.  Movement III is more jazz than classical at its introduction and features Tim Hagan on trumpet along with several others in the horn section. The Fourth movement dabbles in the Avant-garde and sounds very New Orleans dirge-like.  It does feature a lovely saxophone solo half way through.  The final and Fifth Movement reminds me of the Mile Davis brilliant recording titled, “Sketches in Spain.”  Not melodically, but production-wise, with the sound of the horn scooting atop the lush orchestra arrangement and brings Miles to mind.  Six minutes into the movement the tempo and arrangement change drastically, with bright percussive licks by Marcio Doctor and a jazzy trombone solo by Klaus Heidenreich.   This is orchestrated art that gives us a peek into the mind of Tim Hagans, composer, conductor and arranger.

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Ali Bello, acoustic, electric and baritone violins/composer/arranger; Gabriel Chakarji, keyboards; Gabriel Vivas, bass; Ismael Baiz, drums; Manuel Marquez, percussion; FEATURED ARTISTS: Regina Carter, violin; Jaleel Shaw, soprano & Alto Saxophones; Jeff Lederer, clarinet; Jorge Glem, Cuatro; GUEST ARTISTS: Javier Olivencia, soprano & tenor saxophones; Jeremy Smith & Manuel Ranel, maracas; Eddie Venegas, trombone; Bambam Rodriguez, bass guitar.

Ali Bello introduces me to fusion Venezuelan jazz music with his intricate compositions and the Sweet Wire Band.  I am intrigued.  He has composed every one of the nine songs on this album and he is also the arranger.  They open with a song titled, “Kaleidoscopic Sunset” richly propelled by Ismael Baiz on drums and Manuel Marquez on percussion. They draw from the Fulia musical style that is typical of the rhythmic patterns born from the Venezuelan coast.  Ali Bello’s sensuous violin is a cool breeze against the hot rhythms, spurred by the bass line of Gabriel Vivas.  Then, Chakarji beautifully constructs a soaring solo on keyboard that is bright and settles the energy down on this song, long enough for us to catch our breath and become absorbed with his inspired melodies. “Heartbeat” opens with just that!  The pulse of the song is played on electric bass until Bello’s violin saturates the production with his talent and power. Ali Bello investigates the historical climate of his cultural music and also embraces new genres that are developing like the Onda Nueva or New Wave Venezuelan style that combines bossa nova and jazz.  You hear this on Track 3, “Caracas.”  “Song to Marina” is a conversation between a son and his mother. Played as a slow bolero, it’s tender and warm.  One of his featured artists on this production is Regina Carter, an amazing jazz artist who was born and raised in my hometown of Detroit, Michigan.  She joins Ali Bello during this “Song to Marina” arrangement.  The two violins blend smoothly, like coffee and cream.  Another special guest invited to this fusion party is Jaleel Shaw.  He brings his saxophone to the “Bello’s Blues” that is like no blues I’ve ever heard.  It employs drum strokes of cumaco and clarin, in something they call the San Millan style of drumming in Venezuela.  Jaleel’s tenor saxophone colors the style with American jazz lyricism.  But Ali Bello’s violin magic solos and brings us back to his roots.  “Jojo” adopts a 5/8 rhythm, a Merengue Curaqueño, to develop this composition and features Jeff Lederer’s clarinet and Ali Bello’s violin. 

This is fresh and innovative music that combines the power of jazz transformation and freedom with the artist’s Venezuelan culture and roots.  The violin of Ali Bello and his tenacious compositions transport us to new horizons and introduce us to Venezuelan fusion music in a delightful way.                                                                       

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Dave Flippo, piano/keyboard/melodica/composer; Donn De Santo, acoustic bass/fretless bass; Heath Chappell, drums; Aras Biskis, percussion; Dan Hesler, saxophones/flute.

Dave Flippo’s ensemble opens with a unique Flippo arrangement of Stevie Wonder’s composition, “Too High.”  This is straight ahead jazz, lacing the ‘hook’ of Wonder’s tune through the song like crochet needles; creating a rich, blanket of sound. This is the sixth album release for Dave Flippo and the premise was to compose songs that celebrated each of his extended-family bandmates and to celebrate his loved ones as well. 

Dave was attracted to music and the piano early in life.  He could read music notes before he could read words. Another interesting fact was that the Pittsburgh, PA native was drawn to jazz and classical music in his young years, when all his peers were listening to Rock ‘n Roll.  It seems he knew his life path practically from birth.  Pursuing music academically, he earned a Master’s degree at the Eastman School of Music and a Doctorate in Music Composition and Piano at the University of Michigan.

“After I got my doctorate, I wanted to challenge myself.  Ann Arbor was a nice town, but it’s small, without many opportunities for me to seriously apply my education.  My choices were to go to either New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.  Coming from Pitts burgh, I was already a mid-Westerner and I thought I’d be more at home in Chicago.  It wound up working great for me and I’ve been there ever since,” Dave Flippo shared in his press package.

Track 2 is titled “Finch House and was inspired by the finch birds that issue happy, cascading notes as they assault Dave’s bird feeder. Arranged in 7/4 time, he admits that his notes are half as many as the birds actually sang in their flurries of arpeggios. Dave dedicates this piece to his daughter-in-law, Anh and Dan Hesler lays aside his saxophone and adds a flute to the arrangement. 

Before Flippo began this project, he asked his musicians what kind of topics they wanted to include on this new album.  His reedman, Dan Hesler, asked for a song about giraffes.

“After almost thirty-years of playing sax and flute with my ensemble, this man deserves an Afro-Cuban song about a giraffe loping across the Savanna,” Flippo said.

“Jazz From Planet Flippo” is comprised of top Chicago-based jazz cats, all who have been playing with Flippo for ten to fifteen years.  They are like family. You hear their comfortable union in the way they interpret this music.  Heath Chappell takes an opportunity on Track 3 (“Giraffe Trek”) to showcase his mastery of the trap drums.  He also shares the spotlight with Aras Biskis on percussion during an exciting, duo percussive solo on the exciting “Syrotic,” another original tune.  

Dave Flippo displays a wide range of styles on this “Dedications” album, both as an arranger and a composer.  Inspired by the topic requests of his band members, they enriched his own composition talents.  He has written eight of the eleven songs on this project. On Track 4 (“Third Eye Open”) you actually hear the music open as one might expect a psychic eye to open with spiritual awakening. This arrangement gives bassist, Donn De Santo a platform to show his expert beauty when playing his bass instrument.  Other than the Wonder tune, Flippo has included the hit song by Amy Winehouse, “Rehab,” giving it an up-tempo, shuffle, New Orleans groove.  It just makes you feel happy inside when they play this one!

“Jazz From Planet Flippo” also covers the Radio Head tune, “Karma Police” dedicated to his daughter Gillian.  Additionally, for his son Gabriel, Dave Flippo has composed and arranged “Freewheelin’,” an interesting tune based on a cycle of minor 7 chords, in the circle of fourths instead of the circle of fifths.

This is a musical platform for Dave Flippo to showcase inventiveness and expansive imagination, while writing, arranging and performing a list of “Dedications” to loved ones and his musical family.

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June 22, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 22, 2021

June is Black Music Month and jazz was created and established by black people in America.  Jazz is the music of power and endurance.  It epitomizes America’s constant aspiration towards freedom for all.

CURTIS J. STEWART – “OF POWER” – Outside In Music

Curtis J. Stewart, violin/vocals/prose/electronics/co-producer/engineer; Nick Revel, engineer; Louis Levitt, co-producer.

This album opens with a solo violin, singing like a joyful bird at a classical concert and interjecting folk and jazz improvisation into the scheme of things.  Curtis J. Stewart spreads wide wings over various genres of music and poetry.  He is brave and flamboyant, stepping forward with his violin, his bow, his imagination and a mastery of his instrument.  This violinist uses electronics and his voice to grapple with themes of resilience, resistance and the nature of power juxtaposed to the powerless.  He weaves a confessional narrative about revolution and protest during his production.  Stewart plays his music, solo, transcribing it through the eyes of a black man in America who is searching for authenticity and the answers to unanswered questions.  This is the kind of art and beauty that is both emotional and brilliant; classical and hip hop; R&B, jazzy and folksy.   Obviously, Mr. Curtis J. Stewart is an extraordinary musician, a master of technique on his violin, but also a deep thinker.  Using prose to spice his musical stew, Stewart bares his soul vocally as well as musically.  He throws music into a blender and spins compositions by Bach, Stevie Wonder, John Coltrane, Paganini and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson together.  The result is a culturally rich concert. 

Curtis J. Stewart pulls every nuance out of James Weldon Johnson’s Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”   Inspired by the untimely and unforgivable murder of George Floyd, and the continuing rise of a movement that shouts, “Black Lives Matter,” Mr. Stewart has also composed a number of original songs that shout truth to power.  He has written prose poetry that echoes frustration and encourages change. His songs pump like blood, feeding our consciousness. He shows that he can play Beethoven with the same energy and genius as he plays Hip Hop arrangements or rot-gut blues.  Clearly, Stewart pulls from the deepness of his soulful life experiences. 

This musician is not just a jazz player.  Curtis J. Stewart can perform with classical perfection.  He also offers his take on Pop music classics.  “#HerName” is based on the J.S. Bach Sonata No. 3 in C major, but his original composition celebrates the untimely and inexcusable death of Breonna Taylor, shot in her own home by police who raided her house mistakenly.  “Mangas” is a tribute to his mother, that celebrates a ‘man of the hood’ or leader of people and the strength a mother offers her son.  It’s a song with a reggae twist.  “Our Past is a Privilege” speaks to a health issue he and his mother faced together and also speaks to ignoring a past we are ashamed of, instead of being prideful of our history and the ‘now’ that we live inside. This song moves flawlessly into an interpretation of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain.”  We are offered hope with Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and celebrate a woman we love and respect with “Isn’t She Lovely.”   Here is an album of music that speaks proudly “Of Power” and is totally unforgettable, pulsating with freedom and art.

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Roy Hargrove, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mulgrew Miller, piano.

Resonance Records is appreciated for their historical recordings and distinguished catalog of great jazz artists.  Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller, these two iconic artists, joined the ancestors much too soon and have left a bright and brilliant catalogue of work behind for us to admire and enjoy.  Hargrove was born in 1969 and died on November 2, 2018.  Mulgrew Miller was born in 1955 and passed away on May 28, 2013.  This album is comprised of thirteen duo performances that were culled from two ‘live’ concerts they performed.  It’s the first time ever that Roy Hargrove has delivered an album of music without a drummer.

Opening with “What is This Thing Called Love” each dynamic musician exhibits their personality and technique, moving at a brisk pace and speaking, as if their instruments were in verbal conversation.  At first, with Hargrove leading the conversation in a stream of notes and improvisation and the piano supports and overlaps the stream of trumpet majesty, with Miller bringing his own royal perspective. Mulgrew Miller floats strategically over the eighty-eight keys.  After Miller’s substantial solo, the two master musicians trade fours with agility and creativity bursting at the seams during their spontaneous performance.  It’s magical to behold!

Hargrove and Miller bring lush, Southern United States roots to the surface during this project.  Hargrove is a son of Dallas, Texas and Mulgrew Miller was born in Greenwood, Mississippi. Their African American Southern heritage shines brightly, infusing their styles and musical attitudes.  They combine talents with a respect for the younger jazz generation and their admiration for the traditional and magnificent elders who paved the way for these young musicians to thrive. You clearly hear their black cultural influences on tunes like “Monk’s Dream” and “Blues for Mr. Hill.”

 “This is Always” begins with Miller’s hands floating up and down the piano, caressing the introduction from the black and white keys in preparation for Hargrove’s entry.  Mulgrew Miller pulls open the curtains with busy arpeggio scales and Roy Hargrove steps forward, exhibiting a rich, melancholy sound on his horn; one so beautiful I can hardly breathe for fear of disturbing the flow of his solo melody.  Clearly, this is a master class in duo dynamics and jazz spontaneity.  Mulgrew Miller takes his time during his solo performance, peeling the fruit of the melody from the piano and wrapping us in the sweetness.  “Triste” manages to hold the Latin rhythm tightly in place, with no drums and only the genius of Mulgrew Miller’s rich piano chops.  Mulgrew keeps the Latin beat in place, even while he’s improvising, with staggering lines of creativity dancing on top of his left hand’s constant rhythm development.  It’s so impressive!

Hargrove cut his musical teeth sitting-in at Bradley’s, a Greenwich Village piano room and space where musicians gathered after their gigs to drink, play and ‘conversate.’  There was one night Roy Hargrove claims he will never forget, when he sat in with George Coleman and Walter Davis, Jr.

“We went through the keys on “Cherokee” which was a lesson on harmony and then another lesson on rhythm.  Then we played “Body and Soul” and George started changing up the meters.  He played in three and then in five and then BLAM, really fast!  Then he turns around to me and goes; you got it.  I go, what am I going to do after all of that?  It was like your master’s degree.  You go in there and you’re playing and there’s Freddie Hubbard at the bar.  What do you do?  Everything I’m playing right now I owe to that whole scene,” Roy Hargrove recalls, talking about his growing pains.

Accompanying this ‘must-have’ CD is an intriguing book of liner notes. The glossy book includes several pages of great jazz musicians singing the praises of both these amazing musicians.   You will read how each master recalls first meeting, hearing and even working with Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller.  There are impressions from Sonny Rollins, Christian McBride, George Cables, Kenny Baron, Victor Lewis, and many others.  Better yet, hear this awesome recording for yourself.  It’s a double-set that captures    No do-overs, no retakes or studio punches and edits.  You will hear, enjoy, love every brilliant nuance of these two unforgettable jazz musicians.  May their legacy live on forever!

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Mark Masters, arrangements; Mark Ferber, drums; Bruce Lett, bass; Les Benedict, Dave Woodley & Art Baron, trombone; Scott Englebright, Les Lovitt, Ron Stout & Tim Hagans, trumpet; Adam Schroeder, baritone saxophone; Danny House, alto saxophone/clarinet; Kirsten Edkins, Jerry Pinter, tenor & soprano saxophone.

Art Baron was the last to occupy the plunger trombone chair in the Duke Ellington Band.  He was a long-time member of Duke’s band from 1973 until Ellington died.  After that, Baron stayed on when Mercer Ellington took over the band.  Mark Masters wanted to show the classy and substantial status of Ellington’s amazing compositions, while spotlighting the richly popular years between 1940 and 1942. This was when Ben Webster was in the band and Jimmie Blanton was heralded as their groundbreaking bassist.    Those early 1940-years highlighted the rich, cultural legacy Duke Ellington left with us, offering his wonderful orchestra arrangements and unforgettable compositions.  Mark Masters thought, what better person to showcase than Art Baron, who knew Duke’s music so well?

Masters ensemble opens with “All too Soon” that brightly features the bassist, Bruce Lett, spotlighted as the orchestra trades fours with him. Bruce competently represents the legacy of Jimmie Blanton.  Art Baron’s trombone is also featured along with Kirsten Edkins on tenor saxophone.  “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)” again features the warm, intoxicating sound of Baron’s trombone and Adam Schroeder’s baritone saxophone.  Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” opens as an unexpected waltz and Ron Stout’s muted trumpet sounds like a human voice.  It’s a beautiful arrangement.  Throughout the entire production, Bruce Lett and Mark Ferber lock tightly as the ensemble’s rhythm section groove masters and Lett is super creative on bass.  The horns add the harmonics and you hardly miss the piano.  “Perdido” features Danny House, smooth as silk on clarinet.  The horns in the background sound very much like human voices singing, doo-wap, doo-wap, in a very cool way.  It’s those little nuances that call attention to Mark Masters’ creative arrangements.  On “Ko-Ko” special guest Tim Hagans is featured on trumpet and Art Baron is consistently impressive on his trombone.

“Art is one of a kind as a player and as a person.  He’s a great student of the music and knows all the history, plus he’s an original with a unique sound.  It was a joy to be able to craft my writing specifically for him and that plunger mute specialty,” Masters says in their press package.

Mark Masters is recognized as one of the great jazz arrangers of the last few decades.  He formed his first ensemble in 1982.  Masters founded the non-profit American jazz Institute and this is an album full of compositional gems that Duke Ellington blessed Earth with, along with the fine arrangements of Mark Masters, competently played by his ensemble of master musicians.

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Ralph Peterson, drums/trumpet/Kalimba/Tounge drum/Rain stick/Frame drum/Djimbe/ Cajon/ tambourine/cowbell; Zaccai Curtis, piano/keyboards; Luques Curtis, bass; Jazzmeia Horn, vocals; Eguie Castrillo, conga/timbale/cowbell/cymbal.

This project, “Raise Up Off Me” is the final full-length album from master drummer, bandleader and composer, Ralph Peterson Jr., released in late May, one day after what would have been his fifty-ninth birthday.  Peterson’s latest release on his Onyx Label features a handful of original compositions and some of the up-and-coming important jazz musicians on the East Coast.  They include brother’s, Zaccai Curtis and Luques Curtis.  Zaccai is brilliant and noteworthy on piano and Luques is solid on double bass.  Eguie Castrillo adds his colorful percussive touches.  He is brightly spotlighted on Peterson’s “Blue Hughes” tune.  One of my favorite young, jazz vocalists on the scene today is Jazzmeia Horn.  She brings poignant and emotional sustenance to Peterson’s original composition “Tears I Can Not Hide.”  This song actually brought tears to my eyes.  Jazzmeia also slays the John Hicks tune, “Naima’s Love Song.” This production is music that celebrates Ralph Peterson’s composer skills, his drum mastery and his political consciousness.  Before his death, on March 1, 2021, Peterson was determined to make a societal statement on issues he found important.  Among them were drug addiction and recovery, the complexities of mental health, the Black Lives Matter movement and his daily struggle for life, while fighting cancer for the past six years.  Peterson gives us a spirited rendition of the Patrice Rushen tune, “Shorties Portion,” at breakneck speed and brightly spotlights Zaccai Curtis on piano.  Ralph Peterson takes his own solo adventure and shows off why he is such a celebrated drummer and master technician. 

His statement on the title of this project was, “In this era, where we still feel the foot on our necks, the pepper spray and mace that burns our eyes and face, the bullets and the batons, I find it necessary to remind you that Black Lives Matter … and for my life to matter, you have to raise up off me.”

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HAYS STREET HART – “ALL THINGS ARE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Kevin Hays, piano; Ben Street, bass; Billy Hart, drums.

These three musicians have been some of the busiest in the business of jazz for decades. Kevin Hays, Billy Hart and Ben Street joined hands and hearts to create this album.  Here is a unique trio, drawn together during the frustrating and intimidating time of the pandemic lock-down, joined in celebration of Billy Hart’s 80th birthday.  Although Hart and Ben Street were in a quartet together and comfortable with their musical camaraderie, playing with well-respected Kevin Hays was new.  The three musicians met at the Smoke Jazz Club, in New York City, for the gig.  It was December 4th and 5th of 2020 when they ‘livestream’ recorded this music. It was challenging, only because all three had been quarantined for so long, there was concern by each musician about playing in a ‘live’ interactive group setting.  This album is proof that everything worked out quite well. 

They open with “New Day,” one of six original compositions by pianist, Kevin Hays.  Hays describes the tune as moving from ‘one/four’ to ‘two/five,’ (referencing chord changes) which isn’t necessarily typical as a song form.  He also has written the bridge with an odd five bars.  It’s a moderate tempo’d piece, with some time-changes that fall unexpectedly, letting the spotlight bathe warmly over Hays at the piano.  When Street and Hart re-enter the arrangement, they swing hard.  So, the session began with the musicians wearing masks and surrounded by protective plexiglass, letting their individual talents meet like old friends enjoying the birthday party; music bounced around the room like helium balloons.

“I thought that with no rehearsal, because of COVID, it would help for us to just hit,” Kevin Hays recalls.

Hart and Street had roots in the Billy Hart Quartet, so they quickly locked into a well-oiled rhythm unit; fluid and familiar with each other.  They also had history, working together as a trio with pianist Aaron Parks.

“Kevin has always been one of my very favorite piano players, but I never get a chance to play with him.  He doesn’t get nearly enough credit, compared to how gifted and original he is and Ben’s arguably, in today’s world, my favorite bass player,” Hart affirms.

Track 2 is titled, “Elegia.”  It’s romantic, ethereal, and Hays creates lots of space during the introduction, setting things up until Hart and Street enter and subtly drive the music forward.

“What he has, … you see it in Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan.  It’s a depth of feeling. … His choice of notes is very moving to me,” Billy Hart compliments Kevin Hays. 

On “Elegia,” Ben Street holds the center of the music strongly in place and knows just when to go with the flow and when to quietly lay out and let the music untangle itself on the eighty-eight keys. 

“Hays is one of those everybody’s favorite pianist,” Ben Street speaks about Hays.

“And Billy really focused it for me.  He seemed to be hearing Kevin as a singer,” Ben Street added.

For familiarities sake and perhaps to challenge himself, Kevin Hays re-composed Charlie Parker’s “Scrapple From the Apple” into a tune he calls “Unscrappulous.”  It’s recognizable enough for Street and Hart to jump into deep water with both feet, but the tune is completely redressed, wearing a similar form but a different swim suit.  Ben Street is quite melodic, on bass, during this up-tempo, but brief three-minute and thirty-six second excursion. One of my favorites on this album is the lovely way Hays plays the standard jazz ballad, “For Heaven’s Sake.”  The piano harmonics are so rich, colorful and often unexpected. Ben Street builds a solid basement for the structure to stand upon playing his double bass.

“And to play with someone like Billy, who is such a responsive musician, I noticed some little telepathy-type things that were going on.  How did we both do that at the exact same time?”  Hays marveled.

The title tune is based on Jerome Kern’s chord changes for “All the Things You are” and it dances along at a brisk, but comfortable pace.  Hays has a piano style that flutters.  His fingers fly across the keys in spurts of genius and creativity.  On “Sweet Caroline” Hart and Street open the piece, establishing a blues groove.  I know where Gene Harris or Monte Alexander would have taken it, but Kevin Hays is more about the beauty than the blues.  All in all, this is a musical art exhibit awaiting the listener’s provocative review and appreciation.  Each song becomes its own unique and intriguing sculpture, built before our very eyes, in the imitable way that jazz grows; through improvisation, freedom and creativity.

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REBECCA ANGEL – “LOVE, LIFE, CHOICES” – Timeless Grooves Records

Rebecca Angel, vocals/background vocals; Jason Miles, keyboards/drum programming/Moog synthesizer bass; Dean Brown, Romero Lubambo, Nir Felder, Christian Ver Halen, Ira Siegel & Jonah Prendergast, Guitar; Reggie Washington, bass; Gene Lake & Brian Dunne, drums; Bashiri Johnson, Richie Morales & Cyro Baptista, percussion; Mark Rivera, congas; Jimmy Bralower, drum programming/percussion; Butterscotch, beatboxing; Dennis Angel, trumpet/flugelhorn; Maya Azucena, background vocals; Ada Rovatti, tenor saxophone; Hailey Niswanger, alto saxophone; Pamela Driggs, vocals; Jay Rodriquez, flute; Gottfried Stoger, soprano saxophone; Steve Wolf, drum programming.

Rebecca Angel has a whispery, warm quality to her voice.  This album is Pop/Jazz that uses synthesized programming and the talents of producer, keyboardist and drum programmer, Jason Miles, to lay down tracks for Angel to vocally dance upon.  It features her soft soprano voice pirouetting across the chord changes.  Rebecca tackles standard pop songs like the familiar Bill Withers tune, “Just the Two of Us,” and has released this song as her current single from this album.  It’s Ada Rivotti, on tenor saxophone, who puts the ‘J’ in jazz during this arrangement and gives us a splendid sax solo to enjoy. 

“Waiting in Vain” is a reggae song written by the late, great Bob Marley.  Rebecca Angel applies her own unique delivery.  Jobim’s famed “Corcovado” gives us a brief peek into her jazzier side.  However, for the most part, this is easy-listening, sleepy-time music.  Even the funky arrangement on “Waters of March” doesn’t lift us from that relaxed, laid-back vibe.  Her take on the Sade song, “Maureen” continues the moderate tempo saga of this album, with an improvised fade that is sometimes slightly off-key.  The last two songs are original compositions by Rebecca Angel.  One is titled “thoughts and Prayers,” a protest song that mirrors the tragic violence that is staining our nation’s reputation with too many mass murders.  The final song of this production is “Summer Song,” another Angel original composition.  After listening, I recognize that Rebecca Angel has a good voice, however she is not a jazz singer.  Two things are missing.  Unless she can ‘swing’ and sing the blues, this young and talented vocalist cannot claim to be a jazz vocalist.  However, her pop music potential is clearly visible.

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Chris Saunders, vocals/cornet/flugelhorn; Ken Cook, piano/organ/arranger; Michael Aragon, drums; Rob Fordyce, electric bass; Luis Carbo, percussion.

If blues is your thing, pop this CD into your player, settle down and enjoy their opening tune, Percy Mayfield’s standard, “River’s Invitation.”  Chris Saunders has a voice steeped in the down-home, Southern blues flavor.  He’s a songwriter/singer, unpretentious and raw.  His co-writer is Ken Cook, pianist, arranger and organist of the group. The multi-talented Saunders is also a cornet player and trumpeter.  His vocals are reminiscent of Mose Allison phrasing.  Some of Saunders home-grown lyrics have a comic truth at their base, similar to Allison’s songwriting.  For example, his song “Butterflies and Chicken Wings” longing for those simple things sums up his desire to live simply and enjoy his life.  That song is steeped in blues changes with a shuffle drum provided by Michael Aragon and complimented by Luis Carbo’s percussion touches.  “I Wonder” is another blues, but this time it’s a ballad.  What Saunders lacks in vocal technique he makes up for with his emotional delivery.  His sad blues song is believable and his horn solo is a definite, well-played plus.  Arranger, Ken Cook, is a notable addition on piano.  He has a sweet touch and offers a jazzy solo on the 88-keys.  A big part of these arrangements is quite Latin oriented and the old American songbook standard “Am I Blue” is reimagined with a cha cha beat.  He also covers the Ray Charles recording of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” with Rob Fordyce playing a mean electric bass line and Ken Cook adding his bluesy piano licks.  I enjoy Chris Saunders playing his flugelhorn and cornet.  I appreciate his blues vocals.  However, when he steps outside of singing within the blues niche, I get lost. 

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June 4, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 4, 2021


Brian Bromberg, double bass/piccolo bass & hollow body piccolo bass guitar/electric bass/ some horn arrangements/composer/arranger; Joel Taylor & Tony Moore, drums; Tom Zink, keyboards; Jerry Cortez & Ray Fuller, rhythm guitar; Lenny Castro, percussion; Everette Harp, Darren Rahn & Elon Trotman, tenor saxophone; Andrew Neu, alto, tenor, baritone saxes/clarinet/ horn arrangements; Dave Koz, alto saxophone; Marion Meadows, soprano saxophone; Michael Stever, trumpet/piccolo trumpet; Nick Lane, trombone; Nathan Tanouye, horn arrangements; Craig Fundyga, vibes; Mitch Foreman, accordion; Charlie Bisharat, solo violin; Member of the National Symphony Strings arranged & conducted by Corey Allen; Milena Zivkovik, cello solo; the Social Distancing Orchestra: violins, violas, cellos.

“A Little Driving Music” is the third Brian Bromberg album created in quarantine, during the COVID19 pandemic.  It features an all-star cast of musicians that include Dave Koz, Marion Meadows, Elan Trotman, Everette Harp, Gary Meek and Nick Colionne as special guests.  Along with his normal bandmates, this album is packed with star-power!  They open with “Froggy’s,” a tribute to the choir of frogs that often croak to the composer at his Southern California home.  On this energy-driven, funk tune, Bromberg surprises with a blistering solo on piccolo bass.  A piccolo bass has each string tuned an octave higher than usual. The sound could easily be mistaken for a shredding, electric guitar.  Bromberg has popularized that piccolo bass sound over the years.  Joel Taylor pounds this track forward with his powerhouse drums and Bromberg’s bass line locks relentlessly into the groove.  They supply a rhythm track that bounces like a trampoline for Everette Harp to showcase his dancing saxophone.  Track 2, “Quarantine” flows smooth as satin out of my speakers and certainly does sound like ‘driving music.’ Brian Bromberg plays electric bass on this selection, along with the hollow body piccolo bass guitar. Tony Moore slaps a medium tempo drum beat into place and I can picture myself cruising along the Pacific Ocean coastline, up PCH towards Pelican Beach.  Track 3 titled “That Cool Groovy Beatnik Jazz” has a killer bass line.  “Walking on Sunshine” (the only ‘cover’ tune) features Dave Koz on alto saxophone and has an infectious melody line that makes you want to sing the song title right off the bat.  Ray Fuller’s rhythm guitar adds colors bright as fire flames.  The title tune has a very rock and roll feel, with Lenny Castro’s relentless percussion mastery beating the melody forward.  “Jedediah’s Gold” is enhanced with strings arranged by pianist, Tom Zink and spiced with Blue Grass flavors.  The tune “Baton Rouge” takes me to a blues joint in Louisiana and spotlights Nick Colionne on guitar.   This is a joyful ride down an open highway that marks Bromberg’s twenty-ninth album release as a bandleader.  You’ll enjoy every composition along the way.

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Marques Carroll, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Amr Fahmy, piano; Christian Dillingham, upright & electric bass; Greg Artry, drums; Brent Griffin, alto saxophone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Victor Garcia, congas; Alex Wasily, trombone; Sharon Irving, vocals.

Marques Carroll is a Chicago-based trumpeter, a fluid composer and an astute bandleader.  He has composed eight songs that celebrate the importance of recognizing your ancestral history, culture and family. 

“I have been a firm believer, throughout my life, that our elders and ancestors are the foundation to our beginning.  I have been fortunate to have had so many of these great spirits in my life show who lead the way for me in my darkest hours and in my brightest moments,” Marques affirms.

Marques Carroll opens with “The Ancestors’ Call upon Us,” arranged in an African 6/8 tempo with special guest, Victor Garcia adding congas that fatten the mix.  Marques has composed this song to reflect an old man’s pathway of life, with the drums calling him (like ancestor voices) and the melody leading him up a pathway to his destiny.  Carroll believes it is the ancestor wisdom that helps us all master the art of living.  As he blows his trumpeted melodies, fat with knowledge and wisdom, his wish is that these compositions uplift and inspire communities to work together.  His songs reflect unity and the determination to fight injustice.  This is the theme of his musical gifts.  The Carroll composition titles encourage “Generational Response” and to “Assemble the Enlightened.” Greg Artry on drums catches every lick and nuance in the arrangement for “Assemble the Enlightened.”  It’s a highly energetic, exciting arrangement.  “Beyond the Battle” is more Avant-Garde and indeed, sounds like a battle during the intro, until it settles down into a pulsating, rhythm-driven, very melodic groove, harmonically led by Carroll’s trumpet and Brent Griffin’s alto saxophone.  Amr Fahmy’s piano solo is sweetly provided, like warm, caramel icing poured over a Bundt cake, while Griffin’s improvisational sax solo is spicy.  The master composer and bandleader, Marques Carroll takes a spirited horn solo and then he and Griffin play a duet, answering each other as though they are conversating.  On the tune, “Urgency” you can hear the spontaneous merging of these musicians, using Latin influence to engage the listener.  I felt like I was in Spain at a bull fight when this composition played.    Sharon Irving’s vocals on “Aires Goddess” is beautiful and powerful.  She encourages us to fly away, fly away and rise above.  She interjects a brief spoken word to sum up the premise of this project, in between her vocalization. The ensemble closes with a reminder that “The Ancestors’ Final Words” are worth paying attention to and treasuring.

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Andre Ferreri, guitars/composer; Mark Stallings, piano/B3 organ; Sean Higgins & Phillip Howe piano; Ziad Rabie, tenor saxophone; Kobie Watkins, drums; Anna Stadlman, acoustic bass; Brad Wilcox, trumpet.

Guitarist, Andre Ferreri, has assembled a quintet that swings.  Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Andre is first call guitarist with the Charlotte Symphony and he’s co-founder of Laser Records.  His “Numero Uno” sounds just like a number one on the jazz charts.  It’s joyful music, spurred by the extraordinary musicians in his ensemble.  This is traditional, straight-ahead jazz at its best and Andre Ferreri has composed every song.  Each composition is well-written and allows space for his musicians to feature their talents.  Sean Higgins brings fire and excitement to the piano on the opening tune, “Mighty Fine.” Ziad Rabie lends his tenor saxophone richness to the mix, introducing us to the melody and expanding on it.  Andre Ferreri named his group the Italian version of quintet, because the project has a Euro-Italian feel to it and he is paying homage to both his heritage and the inspiration he found during time spent in Italy.  He brings us, in both his compositions and talents on the guitar, a love of bebop, trad jazz and swing.  There’s nothing better for my ears!   Anna Stalman steps into the spotlight on this premiere swing tune, playing her double bass, she walks all over this tune in a very pleasing way.  Kobie Watkins, on drums, drives the piece like a 16-wheeler and shows off his trap drum mastery.  He’s played with everyone from Kurt Elling and Arturo Sandoval to Sonny Rollins.  As a seasoned jazz veteran, with deep roots in his home state of New York, Andre Ferreri and his ‘quintetto’ bring us a powerful presentation and interpret his compositions flawlessly.  This group puts a capital ‘E’ in EXPLOSIVE!

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Tim Mayer, tenor, soprano saxophone & alto flute; Rodney Whitaker, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., drums; Anthony Stanco, trumpet; Adam Rongo, alto saxophone; Tony Lustig, baritone saxophone; Michael Dease, trombone; Miki Hayama & Emmet Cohen, piano.

From the very first track on this album titled, “Big P” Tim Mayer establishes the swinging, straight-ahead groove I love so much.  The horns come out blasting, in a big band style, and then Rodney Whitaker struts out on his double bass, locks horns with Ulysses Owens on drums and Miki Hayama’s piano completes the tight and supportive rhythm section.  Whitaker, a bassist I have long admired, steps into the spotlight and takes a noteworthy solo, sparked by tasty horn licks in the background. Diego Rivera has written all the octet arrangements.  “Big P” is a smokin’ hot arrangement and sets the tone for this awesome album of jazz.  “Bye Bye Blackbird” features a trio performance with Tim Mayer picking up his soprano saxophone to sing the melody, then engaging a meaningful and creative conversation with both Whitaker on bass, before trading fours with Owens on drums towards the end of the tune.  That’s when Ulysses is happy to show us his tenacious abilities on the trap drums.  The Cedar Walton composition, “Hand in Glove” is played at a speedy tempo and features the horns flying and the rhythm section, spurred by the drums of Ulysses Owens.  When the curtain’s part, to feature Miki Hayama’s piano, you hear her rich technique and inspired creativity.  “Blame it on My Youth,” a favorite standard of mine, gives Tim Mayer an opportunity to introduce us to his smoky tenor saxophone.  When Whitaker sings this beautiful melody on his double bass, he starts by reaching up to the top of the strings.  Later, Rodney improvises his way down to the richness at the bottom of his instrument, duetting with Mayer’s tenor in an extraordinary way.  This album is lusciously creative.  Mayer has written two compositions for this release.  “Blues by Four” is Track 5 and “Get Organized” is Track 8. The “Blues by Four” is joyful with a catchy melody.  The horns take this opportunity to harmonize and punch the groove; Anthony Stanco on trumpet, Adam Rongo on alto saxophone and Tony Lustig on baritone sax, along with Michael Dease on trombone.  Tim Mayer’s tenor solo gets busy and the other cats support this tune with wonderful choruses, fluidly written by Rivera.  His arrangements make the octet sound like a big band. Their production of Coltrane’s familiar “Naima” tune is fresh and is one of Tim Mayer’s personal arrangements for this date.  He reinterprets this beautiful composition in a fresh way, letting the band trade fours and giving each musician an opportunity to shine and showcase their talents. 

This collection of music is spirited, spontaneous and emotional.  It reminds us of what a talented woodwind player Tim Mayer is and it tributes some of his jazz heroes from past generations.  He refers to them, and perhaps to his current octet in his album title, “Keeper of the Flame.”    This music is burning hot and will light you up, swing hard, put your feet to the fire and warm your heart.

Here is a sample of his saxophone style from his last CD release, “Resilience.”

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Alex Conde, piano/arrangements; John Santos, percussion; Jeff Chambers, bass; Colin Douglas, drums; Sergio Martinez, cajon/djembe; mike Olmos, trumpet; Jeff Narell, steel pan; Jose Luis de la Paz, guitar.

This is my first time hearing a tribute to Bud Powell, illuminating his compositions with Latin fusion excitement.  Bandleader, Alex Conde, is a Spanish pianist who has boldly reimagined the brilliant Powell’s bebop music with soulful Caribbean colors and percussive richness.   All the while, Alex Conde shows off his amazing piano ‘chops’ and tenacious technical mastery of his instrument.  His piano playing is provocative and emotional.  He dedicates this album to the fathers of jazz, the Black American composers who created this music and who, he has admired for many decades.   This work of art is the second in a series he calls, “Descarga.”  The first one was released in 2015, a “Descarga for Monk” on the Zoho label.  On this current release, Conde transforms the familiar compositions by Bud Powell into various Latin arrangements.  “The Fruit” becomes a Buleria.  “Oblivion” is a joyful Tango, and one of my favorites. 

“Bouncing with Bud” is an Alegria, “Dusk in Saudi” is a Solea and “Wail” is a Calypso that made me dance in my desk chair.  On “Parisian Thoroughfare” Alex Conde’s fingers move swiftly, reminding me of a piece of Bach I used to play years ago.  It’s very jazzy, but with classical overtones strongly resonating.  “Hallucinations” is a title that resonates with the legendary history of Bud Powell’s mental struggles that kept him going in and out of psyche wards for years.  Jeff Chambers is given an opportunity to solo on his bass and John Santos brightly lights the stage with his percussive licks.  “Celia” is arranged as a bright and bubbly Buleria.  This is music that explores Powell’s brilliance, but also showcases the sparkle and genius of Alex Conde and his band of wonderful musicians.  They bring a fresh perspective to jazz music with their own cultural beauty.

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Kendall Carter, organ; Dave Stryker, guitar; Kenny Phelps, drums.

I love a great organ trio. Kendall Carter is a new organist on the block and he’s added the dynamic Dave Stryker on guitar along with Indianapolis drummer, Kenny Phelps slapping the rhythm in place.  Kendall Carter has been making a name for himself in the Midwest of the country as a jazz organist.  He received a master’s degree in jazz composition and arranging from the University of Louisville in Kentucky; so, he puts that training to use during this debut recording.  The trio opens with “Blame It on the Boogie,” transforming the Michael Jackson hit record to a jazzier rendition of Jackson’s original pop hit.  They add shuffle drums and a swing groove.  I think the engineer had a little trouble mixing and mastering this project.  Aside from that, this first cut comes out the gate full speed ahead.  I didn’t care for the drums on “Afro Blue.”  I missed the strong 6/8 feel that both Carter and Stryker were playing.  Phelps was just busy instead of holding down the Afro-Cuban beat.  But Kendall Carter showed off his skills on the organ. 

When Carter isn’t recording or gigging, he serves as Minister of Music at the Greater Faith Church of Deliverance in Louisville.  He brings his strong gospel roots to the studio on tunes like “The Masquerade is Over” and “That’s All.”  Their arrangement on the latter is fresh and swings hard.  On track 4, Stryker opens up Kenny Dorham’s “Short Story” composition, letting his guitar sing the melody and then veering off to explore the path of improvisation.  When Carter steps onto the exploratory path, he shows off his organ skills.  This is followed by the trading of fours, that brightly spotlight Kenny Phelps’ brilliance on drums.  They’re back to that old familiar shuffle groove on Lee Morgan’s “Speedball” tune and Phelps holds them tightly in that groove, locking into Carter’s organ rhythm and Stryker’s bluesy guitar.  What I miss is that walking bass line that Jimmy Smith used to do so well, stomping his busy feet across the organ pedals.  However, that missing walking bass line takes a little of the excitement out of this production. I take this CD off of one of my players and put it onto another.  That’s when I realize it’s the engineer or the mastering technician that lost the important foot-pedal bass line, because it’s there.  Kenny Carter is doing his job. “The Masquerade is Over” quickly becomes one of my favorite ‘cuts’ on this album, although I do hear some distortion.  Yes, I think the problem is at the feet of the engineer.  On the whole, this is a strong debut for organist, Kendall Carter and his swinging trio.  I look forward to hearing much more from this talented organist.

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Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet; Milford Graves, drums/percussion; Bill Laswell, basses.

This is a project that Wadada Leo Smith and Bill Laswell dedicate lovingly to Milford Graves, who passed of heart failure in 2021, due to amyloid cardiomyopathy.  He was diagnosed in 2018.  This music was recorded between 2015 and 2016.  A deeply admired musician and man of the community, Graves was not only a respected drummer, but a healer, an herbalist, an acupuncturist and a martial artist.  In 1964, he recorded the now historic studio session with poet, Leroi Jones, who later adopted the name Amiri Baraka.  Amiri was reciting his poem, “Black Dad Nihilismus.”  This distinguished drummer’s given name was Ron Wynn and his skill on the percussive instruments embraced a deep knowledge of African drumming and East Indian drumming.  He studied the Tabla from Wasantha Singh and was one of the glitziest and most animated drummers of the ‘free mode’ style.  Milford Graves is the recipient of the DownBeat International Award and the Critics Award.  He also received the national Endowment for the Arts grant and was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship.[1] A documentary was released in 2018 called, “Full Mantis.” 

Believe it or not, Graves took the Guggenheim Grant money and invested in laboratory equipment to do heartbeat research in his Jamaica, Queens basement.  In 2017, he co-invented a process that can repair stem cells using heartbeat vibrations, for which he was awarded a patent.

This is a 3-CD box set.  The first disc is a duo between Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet and Milford Graves on drums and percussion.  They create very spiritual music together.  The Avant-garde, spiritual percussionist joins talents with Wadada Leo Smith, also a master musician, trumpeter, educator and one of the early members of Chicago’s historical AACM collaborative.  Wadada created his own music language and music philosophy. He has composed all the music for this duo suite with Milford Graves called Nyoto: Parts 1-3.  It’s an enchanting excursion into melody, space and time.  The 5th track is written by both Graves & Smith titled “Celebration Rhythms.”  The starkness of just trumpet and rhythm is both engaging and beautiful. They also collaborated on composing the 6th track, “Poetic Sonics.” Wadada Leo Smith pulls the tones out of the bell of his horn like thick strands of sweet taffy.  Milford Graves chops the strands up with his drum sticks and adds to the sweetness; tastes the flavor; spices up the improvised notes of Wadada Leo Smith as only Milford Graves can; cayenne pepper hot. 

Disc 2 features barrier-breaking, electric bassist Bill Laswell with seven ceremonial compositions that celebrate everyone from Prince to Tony Williams; from Minnie Riperton to Donald Ayler.  Once again, Wadada Leo Smith has composed four of the seven songs and co-written the other three with Bill Laswell.  Laswell, a Detroiter who moved to NYC in the late 1970s, made a name for himself combining rock influenced electronic experimentation and improvisation on his bass.  As a producer, he is best known for his collaborations with Herbie Hancock and their Grammy-award winning single, “Rockit” on the album “Future Shock.”   Laswell has produced albums for Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, The Last Poets and Pharoah Sanders.  Musically, he has participated as a performer with several groups and released two solo bass recordings.  Disc 3 combines the talents of these three innovative and spiritually inspired jazz artists, culminating their path to “Sacred Ceremonies” by sharing their spiritual and musical discoveries with us along the way.

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Lorraina Marro, vocals; Steve Rawlins, piano; Grant Geissman, guitar; Jennifer Jane Leitham, bass; Steve Pemberton, drums; Dr. Bobby Rodriguez, trumpet; Rickey Woodard, tenor saxophone.

Vocalist Lorraina Marro has gathered ten lovely and memorable songs for this, her third CD release.  I became fascinated by her choice of repertoire.  For example, she introduces me to “I’m Not Alone” by Ivan Guimaraes Lins, Victor Martins & Will Jennings. It’s a Latin tinged ballad that lyrically praises a strong relationship, both in person and in memory.  It’s a poignantly beautiful song and features a lovely solo by Grant Geissman on guitar.  Another gem is the Arthur Hamilton tune, “Rain Sometimes,” that I had never heard and thoroughly enjoyed, with lyrics like:

 “…There’ll be Champagne sometime, Lobster flown from Maine sometime; we’ll ride the gravy train sometime, just you wait and see” are such great storytelling words.

Steve Rawlins is a sensitive and competent accompanist on this project and also arranges many of the songs.  Ms. Marro has surrounded herself with some of the best players in Southern California like Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez on trumpet, Jennifer Jane Leitham on bass and Steve Pemberton manning the drums.  The tracks are strong and compensate for this seasoned veteran’s uncontrollable tremolo that textures her voice.  She compensates for that with an emotional delivery that allows her sincerity to shine though.  I remember when the great Billy Eckstine had that challenge with his vocals. Lorraina Marro sings “Viajera Del Rio” and “Esta Tarde Vi Llover” in Spanish.  She also reminds us how much we love the Great American Song Book with tunes like “Stairway to the Stars,” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.” 

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BRUCE HARRIS – “SOUNDVIEW” – Cellar Music Group

Bruce Harris, trumpet/composer; Sullivan Fortner, piano; David Wong, bass; Aaron Kimmel, drums; Samara Joy, vocals.

I love the very first cut and title tune, right off the bat!  Bruce Harris is someone Wynton Marsalis says is:

“One of the five young players you should know.”

I agree with Wynton!  With the assistance and support of producer, Jeremy Pelt, this up-and-coming trumpeter has embraced the Black American Songbook.  His goal is to showcase the voices of Black artists and composers like Track 2, “Satellite” by Gigi Gryce.  Gryce was a Black American reedman, arranger, composer and educator. 

He also chooses the music of the great Hank Mobley on “Hank’s Prank” that races onto the scene like a squad car in pursuit of run-away justice. The Bruce Harris trumpet is as bright and attention getting as a siren or the red and blue lights sparkling in the night. The beautiful Mercer & Malneck tune, “If You Were Mine” features the honey-sweet vocals of Samara Joy.  Harris also showcases a composition by Eubie Blake and A. Razaf that is absolutely beautiful titled, “You’re Lucky to Me.”  Harris’ trumpet glides smoothly across the melody like an Olympic skater.  Sullivan Fortner’s piano improvisation is thoughtful and creative, sometimes reminding me of the Thelonious Monk style, but Sullivan is always his own man.  David Wong has a strong bass voice and asserts it during his solo in the spotlight.  This fantastic quintet also celebrates Duke Ellington during a suite of the bandleader’s music.  They delve into Avant-garde music half way through and drag us by the ear to the ‘outside’ of the music. They also tribute Barry Harris, playing his “Bird of Red and Gold,” enhanced by Samara Joy’s lyrical interpretation. She is the Sarah Vaughan Competition Champion and has a voice that caresses each note and clearly enunciates each word and meaning.  Bruce Harris interjects his horn tastily, coloring the production delicately as they deliver “the almighty’s gift to you.” They close with “Saucer Eyes” by Randy Weston and it’s a fitting closure to a beautifully produced and executed album of unforgettable jazz.  Aaron Kimmel is given an opportunity to solo on his trap drums and he lifts the music exuberantly.  I liked this group so much; think I’ll play this CD again.

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May 26, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 26, 2021


Noah Haidu, piano; Buster Williams, bass; Billy Hart, drums.

“Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett” is a masterpiece.  First of all, this trio is magnificent, each individual member a musician and composer.  They bring to this project, not only the best on their instruments, but their vivid memories of the legendary Keith Jarrett.  The first song, “Air Dancing” was composed by Buster Williams and I never wanted it to end.  It was incredibly beautiful. 

This project was imagined when the news broke that our beloved piano genius, Keith Jarrett, was retiring due to a pair of debilitating strokes. 

“When I heard about Keith, I was profoundly moved and I started to envision the recording with Billy and Buster, as a kind of musical response to these events and Keith’s body of work,” Noah Haidu shared.

“My father and I had a tradition of going to hear Jarrett together for several years running,” recalls Noah Haidu.  “My dad, who was largely responsible for introducing me to jazz, passed away a week before Keith’s final concert.  Dad and I had been planning to attend that show together, but his illness came on quite suddenly and a few weeks before the end, he handed me the tickets and said, you’d better find someone else to go with.  No one knew, at the time of the concert, that it would be Keith’s final performance.  Attending that concert was one of the ways I was able to mark dad’s passing and start a new chapter in my own life.  My seventeen-year marriage came to an end and I refocused my energies on performing and recording with my own group,” Noah Haidu gave us a peak into his amazing love for Keith Jarret and his life in jazz, the music his father first introduced to him.

“Duchess” is a composition by phenomenal drummer, Billy Hart.  It is Track 2 on this splendid recording that was postponed because of the COVID19 pandemic and rescheduled for a studio recording in late November, 2020.  At that point, COVID’s second surge was well underway. 

“We decided not to put off the session a second time,” says Haidu.   “… We put on our masks and played our hearts out.”

The standard jazz song made unforgettable by the great Dinah Washington, “What A Difference A Day Makes” is included in this recording, skipping along at a moderate, swing pace and showcasing the close mesh of these musicians.  Each individual is shining, as part of a tightly woven and intricate trio.

And what a difference 2020 made for Noah Haidu.  He is one of the first rising star pianists to address the remarkable legacy of pianist Kenny Kirkland on his album, DOCTONE, also released on Sunnyside Records.  Doctone was a reference to Kenny Kirkland’s nickname.  It made Noah the first jazz artist to be released in tandem with a documentary film and a book.  Billy Hart was the drummer on that historic and highly praised album.  Hart was also Kenny Kirkland’s drummer of choice. 

At age nineteen, young Noah was studying at Rutgers University with great pianist, Kenny Barron. After two years of college, Haidu left academia and moved to Brooklyn to pursue gigging and practicing.  His dream was to become an accomplished jazz pianist.  In 2011 he was heralded as a ‘rising star’ in JazzTimes magazine.  DownBeat Magazine has singled him out as an ‘innovative composer.’ Looks like his dreams are manifesting.

Buster Williams and Billy Hart were fledgling musicians when the late, great Betty Carter scooped them up back in 1969 to work a Chicago concert with her.  Both have played on classic albums by Miles Davis, but when they joined Herbie Hancock and Bennie Maupin’s sextet, Mwandishi, they toured and recorded together for four years.  So, they know each other very well, both personally and musically.  Each musician is widely praised for their amazing work in both acoustic and electric jazz, as well as being major composers and bandleaders of their own ensembles.  Billy Hart just turned eighty years old within a few days of this recording and Buster Williams just turned seventy-nine on April 17th

To join their seasoned dreams with Noah Haidu’s more current ones is pure enchantment.  The trio creates a treasured and everlasting tribute to Keith Jarrett, but also to the legacy of three incredibly talented musicians.  You hear their fervor and ingenuity on “Georgia,” a slow bluesy arrangement that pulls every drop of beauty from the song.  They also deliver over twelve minutes of awesome music when they play Jarrett’s composition, “Rainbow,” giving both Hart and Williams time to flavor the arrangement with their memorable solos.  “Slowly” was composed by Noah Haidu and dedicated to Jarrett’s solo piano style.  Perhaps the most prolific and encouraging words that Haidu received during this session came from the lips of the wise, Buster Williams.  After they completed the recording of “Air Dancing” Williams gave the younger musician some fatherly advice.

“You’re doing a beautiful job, but this time, just go for anything you hear. Don’t worry about downbeats and playing every chord.  Billy and I got that covered,” Buster assured him.

As I listen to this recording, I can tell Noah Haidu did just that.  The result is rich, beautiful, sincere and freeing.  This piece of art is technically judicious and jazzily improvisational, with a warm nod to the man, Keith Jarrett, and his unforgettable, musical gift to the universe.

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Dara Tucker, vocals/arranger/composer; Cyrus Chestnut & Sullivan Fortner, piano/Fender Rhodes/arranger; Dezron Douglas & Vincente Archer, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums; Joe Dyson, drums/tambourine; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; John Ellis, tenor & soprano saxophone/horn arrangements.

Here is a voice that is pleasing, tonally beautiful and emotionally connected to each lyric she sings.  I was so happy to hear Dara Tucker, who has picked a bouquet of songs that sweetly encourage and colorfully protest in the same intoxicating breath.  Opening with James Taylor’s “Secret O’ Life” tune, with arrangements that are creative and fresh.  Track 2 she pays homage to Stevie Wonder with his “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” composition.  I found the chord changes to be interesting, but not necessarily supportive of Stevie’s original melodic idea.  Never mind!  Dara Tucker sang the song flawlessly, no matter what Sullivan Fortner played.  One of my favorite songs is Donny Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free.”  She is full of electricity and emotional energy on this one.  Her original composition, “Do We Sleep?” is a very beautiful ballad with a thought-provoking lyric.  Dara Tucker’s voice floats effortlessly across space, a golden bird in flight, leaving a trail of music for us to enjoy.  Her songs give voice to social justice issues, drawing compositions from the 1960’s and 70’s.  This collection of compositions, with lyrical importance, sum up the title of this album and call on humanity to wake up and to change.  Each hand-picked song encourages us to be better and to do better.  You will enjoy popular songs like “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Bacharach & David’s “What the World Needs Now is Love.”  She reinvents Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” and the traditional gospel song and slave anthem, “Wade in the Water” (arranged by David M. Rodgers) is very jazzy with a spectacular bass solo by Dezron Douglas.  Her vocals refresh standard jazz songs from the American Song Book like “Make Someone Happy” and Marvin Gaye’s pop anthem, “What’s Going on?” in a timeless way.   The ‘Marvin’ message is important all these years later.  Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today” is arranged in a fresh and inventive way.  This is a vocalist to watch on her upward rise.  She has the talent, the voice and the delivery to make a difference.

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Nick Finzer, trombone/composer; Dave Meder, piano; Quincy Davis, drums; Eric Hitt, bass; Lucas Pino, saxophone.

At the beginning of 2020, just as the pandemic was getting a foothold in the United States, trombonist, Assistant Professor of Jazz Trombone and bandleader, Nick Finzer, was prepared to release his album project titled, “Cast of Characters.”  Then came the lockdown.  He had just booked a concert tour and the group managed to perform this one “live” show and record it for video and EP release before most of his dates were cancelled.  Consequently, this digital EP and Video Production celebrates songs from his 2020 album, finally released this year. The entire production takes place before a responsive audience, with the music making a few unique twists and turns. 

They open with “A Sorcerer … Is a Myth” with Lucas Pino soaring on saxophone while the ensemble experiments with mixed meters. It begins dirge-like and develops more energy when Pino solos.

“Sorcerer is all about the inner journey we go on, through our artistic development,” explains Finzer.

“Evolution of Perspective” is a more straight-ahead tune and Quincy Davis fuels this tune with percussive energy on trap drums.  Once again, Pino soars on sax and invigorates the production.  He and Finzer are the original members of the “Cast of Characters” Project.  When Nick Finzer steps into the spotlight, only Eric Hitt backs him up on double bass.  It’s a very dynamic moment and showcases Finzer’s complete mastery of his trombone.  When Davis adds drums and Dave Meder starts comping on piano, they build the bebop energy.  Finzer flies on his trombone, a wild bird taking full advantage of his improvisational moments in space.  Dave Meder is given a piece of sky to explore the eighty-eight keys.  Both Dave and Quincy are a part of the faculty at University of North Texas, celebrated for their amazing jazz program and gifted professors.  Experienced student, Eric Hitt, doesn’t miss a beat on the bass.  His fast-walking string bass locks in tightly with the Quincy Davis drums.  This is an entertaining EP and I’m sure that once you get to view the video simultaneously, “Live from Denton” it will be like attending a well-played concert inside the comfort of your own home.  The digital EP released with Video on May 21, 2021.

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STEVE COLE – “SMOKE + MIRRORS” – Mack Avenue Records

Steve Cole, tenor saxophone/synth bass; David Mann, keyboards/synth bass/drum programming/ tenor & baritone saxophone/flute/producer/horn arrangements; Bernd Schoenhart, guitar; Trevor Neumann, trumpet/flugelhorn; Mel Brown, bass/piccolo bass/bass fills; Mark Egan, bass; Todd Sucherman & Brian Dunne, drums; Ricky Peterson, organ.

Here is a smooth jazz production with all songs composed by Steve Cole and his longtime songwriting partner, musician, producer and arranger, David Mann. The tunes are well written and well-played by a host of stellar musicians who were corralled remotely from their homes during the pandemic quarantine.

“Everybody’s stuck at home,” Cole points out with a laugh. “There are a lot of musicians that I would love to work with, but it’s impossible because they’re always on the road.  So, there was a little silver lining in the fact that I could call old friends like Todd Sucherman (drummer) and Brian Dunne (drums), or amazing artists like Mark Egan (bassist), and they were actually available.”

“Smoke and Mirrors” is a magical album that is not meant to fool an audience with trickery or sleight-of- hand, but rather invites listeners to hear an intimate and personal reflection of Steve Cole’s true self. The two songwriter’s offer titles that invite you into their thought processes for this enjoyable, easy-listening experience.  Take the opening song, “Living Out Loud.”  It’s a joyful tune, propelled by Brian Dunne’s drums and spurred by Steve Cole’s tenor saxophone.  Track 2 is seductive, featuring a sexy bass line by Mel Brown and Bernd Schoenhart’s guitar strumming away beneath Cole’s melody line on tenor saxophone.  It’s titled “Loves me, Love’s Me Not” and the melody is as strong and memorable as that old saying.  I wish they had added vocals to sing that ‘hook’ line, but it’s still a very strong production.  “Covent Garden” is another composition with a melody that begs for lyrics. There’s one thing that endears me to this project and that’s the songwriters.  They offer us well-written compositions with strong melodies and great arrangements.  Steve Cole has a thin sound on his tenor saxophone, but it’s full of emotion and passion.  He knows how to sell these songs.  “It’s a House Party” is full of funk and will make you want to get up and get busy!  It has some very interesting chord changes and the breaks are arranged to snatch your attention and compliment the groove.  This album of music is just pure fun and solid enjoyment!

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DEE DANIELS – “THE PROMISE” – cellar Music Group/La Reserve

Dee Daniels, lead vocals/background vocals/string arrangements; Felton Offard & Bill Coon, guitar; Bobby Floyd, piano/Hammond B3 organ; Michael Mitchell, keyboards; John Toney & Tim Fullerton, bass; Y. L. Douglas, Randall Stoll & Dartagnon Gunn, drums; Dave Pierce Keyboard/synth programmer; Terry Frewer, string synth programmer; Sal Ferraras, percussion; John Clayton, string arrangement; Meredith Bates, violin 1; Serena Eades, violin II; Tony Kastellic, viola; Cristian Markos, cello; Evan Bates, contrabass; Tania Hancheroff, Steve Grisette, Amy Grissette  & Martha Lynn Smith, Doug Fleming, background vocals.

Dee Daniels’ is a compelling vocalist who touches the heart with her original, spiritually-based songs of compassion and Christianity.  This is a vocalist who has travelled worldwide on the wings of her talent.  She has performed in several countries overseas and recorded nine albums.  You could say that this soulful singer has led a blessed and charmed life.

“I have a wonderful family life, many dear friends, a successful career,” she shared in her liner notes.

When she expressed a need to travel to New York City to pursue and grow her career opportunities, her loving and supportive husband understood.  It was in autumn of 2011 that she left Vancouver, Canada and settled into a Brownstone smack dab in the center of Harlem.  Blessings flowed.  She recorded two CDs and was offered a teaching position at Queens College in the Vocal Master’s Program. Her name was buzzing all over New York City and she performed in all the major jazz venues.  Imagine how shocking it must have been to be diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2014.  This album is the result of her spiritual growth and healing.  She returned to her gospel roots and as she fought the ‘big C,’ she rediscovered, through meditation, her gift of creative songwriting.  Dee Daniels was always a songwriter, but now, Beautiful compositions flow through her like water through a sieve.  They manifest themselves during the realization of this production.  You experience Dee Daniels, a vocalist who has sung R&B, jazz, and rock music professionally, return to her roots in gospel music.  These artistic and infectious songs mirror her journey through life and her rebirth into what her publicist labels, ‘Jazz Inspirational’ music.  Her four to five octave vocal range is in sparkling, good health.  Dee Daniels has written eleven soul-warming and inspirational songs.  Sharing them with the world, she hopes they will uplift and that her music becomes a healing balm to those who listen.  I found her musical journey very inspiring and her original music wonderfully communicable with peace and joy.

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Scatman Crothers, vocals/composer; Victor Feldman, piano/vibraphone/percussion; Mike Melvoin, piano/B3 organ; Ralph Humphrey & Earl Palmer, drums; Ray Brown & Dennis Belfield, bass; Arthur Adams & Al Ciner, guitar; Sherlie Mae Matthews, Dianne Brooks, Clydie King & Grace Cosgrove, background vocals.  Featuring the Tonight Show Horn Section: Reeds: Tommy Newson & Bill Green.  Trumpets: Snooky Young, Oscar Brashear, John Audino & Jimmy Zito. Trombones:  Chauncey Welsh & Ernie Tack.

Benjamin Sherman ‘Scatman’ Crothers(1910-1986) was a true star of stage, screen and television. Now, nearly forty years after his death, Panda Digital has released a CD of Scatman’s creative jazz exploration and a couple of original compositions.  Scatman first started performing, as a teenager, singing in clubs and drumming.  He wound up performing on Chicago’s speak-easy circuit in the latter part of the ‘Roaring 20’s.  You can hear the New Orleans jazz influence in the musical arrangement of his original composition, “Scatman’s.”

Then, in 1931, Crothers found himself hosting his own radio show on WFMK in Dayton, Ohio.  He became well known for scatting over instrumental tracks while broadcasting on-air. Billing himself as ‘Scat Man,’ he formed his own trio, ‘Scat Man and His Cats.’  They toured the Southern United States extensively.  In the composition I mentioned above, (Scatman’s) he is referencing his own ‘nick name.’  The lyrics of Crothers’ songs are positive and uplifting like “Still Going Strong.”  The Michael Dees’ love song titled “You’re Pretty,” features a lovely vibraphone solo by Victor Feldman.  In fact, this album is plush with super-star jazz musicians like bassist Ray Brown, Rock and Roll Hall Awardee, drummer Earl Palmer and featuring the entire Tonight Show horn section during their prestigious time on the Johnny Carson Show.

“Louie is Your Garbage Man” sounds like an Ike Turner production, with its strong R&B roots and pounding-heartbeat-tracks. This Crothers’ tune makes you want to dance. It’s actually a tribute to the garbage man character that Crothers played on that NBC television series, Chico and The Man

The arrangements on this entire recording project are ‘dated.’ It was produced by Andrew A. Melzer back in 1975.  Melzer also penned some of the songs.  You can hear shades of the Isaac Hayes-type music on some arrangements.  “Scoot on Over to Scat’s” is soaked in the disco tradition.  On this particular song, I’m reminded of the “Shaft” movie tracks.  Speaking of films, Scatman moved to Hollywood, California in 1943 and immediately landed work on a Paramount network TV show, “Dixie Showboard.”  In fact, this artist appeared in hundreds of television programs and movies. He was an in-demand actor.  Some of the motion pictures where he made his appearance are: The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Bronco Billy, Aristocats, The Shootist, Silver Streak, The Lady Sings the Blues, Scavenger Hunt and Transformers: The Movie.

On Track 7, “Stanley Does It All,” you hear shades of Bobby McFerrin’s unique style.  It features just Scatman Crothers with a percussive back-beat.  He sings a’cappela, with lyrics that tribute movie mogul Stanley Kubrick.  Crothers was part of the cast in the Kubrick production, “The Shining.”  I don’t know why the editor/producer of this project continuously goes back to what appears to be a theme song, “Still Going Strong.” It opens this project, it’s stuck in the middle and closes the album out. 

Crothers was honored with a star on the Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame, right in front of the famed Egyptian Theater.  Perhaps this music could be used as a soundtrack for a tribute film documentary.  It would be the perfect accompaniment in celebrating this extraordinary man’s accomplishments in the entertainment business.  After all, in 1934, this African American artist appeared on the Cotton Club Stage and has been recording for labels like RCA, Capitol, Decca and even Motown over his lifetime.  He even was part of the cast in a short film called “Symphony in Black, that featured Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. Scatman Crothers would go on to act in 45 more motion pictures.  Although the musicians creating the tracks for his music are legendary jazz players, this music sounds more like a soundtrack than a jazz album. Granted, this is an untold story that should be historically documented.

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Evan Arntzen, reeds, voice; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Tal Ronen, bass; Mark McLean, drums; Arnt Arntzen, guitar/banjo; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Mike Davis, trumpet; Charlie Halloran, trombone. SPECIAL GUEST: Catherine Russell, vocals.

Evan Arntzen is a multi-reed player, a vocalist and bandleader.  This is his third album and it’s steeped in Dixieland styled, New Orleans jazz that celebrates its title, “Countermelody.”   All of this music is a collective of African American music emanating from the first half of the 20th century.  Arntzen debuts many of his own arrangements of early, popular New Orleans and Chicago jazz compositions including songs composed by historic composers like Bennie Moten, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver and Kid Ory.  He features special guest, Catherine Russell on vocals and Evan Arntzen also sings lead on the Sidney Bechet and Mary E. Karoley 1941 composition titled, “Georgia Cabin.” 

This ensemble celebrates the album title, “Countermelody” named for 3 reasons. One, the interplay and interaction of instrumental melodies that was made famous by music born in New Orleans. Two, it celebrates music coming out of the first half of the 20th century.  Third, the music was recorded ‘old school’ with all the musicians in the same room, spontaneously improvising and interacting freely with each other.  This album was recorded during the pandemic, a time when the world around these musicians was falling to pieces and they found togetherness in playing their swing music and blues. If you love Dixieland jazz and early, New Orleans musical history, you’ll be perfectly happy with this album of music. 

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Jalen Baker, vibraphone/composer; Paul Cornish, piano; Giveton Gelin, trumpet; Gavin Moolchan, drums; Gabriel Godoy, bass. STRINGS: Jessica McJunkins & Orlando Wells, violin; Andrew Griffin, viola; Susan Mandel, cello. Ulysses Owens Jr., producer.

In May of 2019, Jalen Baker performed in what appears to be a college concert.  His potential was sparkling even then.

“I wrote all of the music based on my life experiences with things such as racism, depression, heartbreak, career disappointments, success, triumph and healing.   … Nothing is unique to just me.  These are things most of us deal with and I want people to know that they’re not alone,” Jalen Baker explains why this album of music is so important to him.

As I listen, I conclude that Jalen Baker writes music as though he’s creating suites.  On the first song, “So Help Me God,” the tempo changes and arrangements sound as though there are various songs being played.  The outstanding part of this first seven-and-a-half-minutes of music is Baker’s beauty on his vibraphone.  His talent on vibes shines throughout.  We are introduced to his string section, to Giveton Gelin on trumpet and the inspirational Paul Cornish on piano during Track 1.  Jalen Baker has composed nine out of ten songs on this, his premiere album.  Track 2 is titled “Don’t Shoot” and it calls to mind Black Lives Matter and the protests against police shootings of black and brown people.  But the composition is so pretty, it doesn’t seem to express the title.  Jalen’s busy mallets on his vibraphone tell a story, but does that story depict the fear, outrage and strength of consciousness to represent a person shouting, “Don’t Shoot?”  For me, that title just doesn’t seem to match up with this original tune or arrangement.  “Healing” is a composition that enters like a chant on the breath of wind, with its repetitive theme.  In moments where Baker solos on his vibes, we are drawn into his music by his creativity and talent.  However, his melody on this song of “Healing” does not lend itself to familiarity or a song melody I would remember to sing.  During this composition, and most of the ones that follow, I find myself disappointed in the drums.  They don’t ‘root’ the music.  I keep wondering if it was the engineer’s fault?  Where are the cymbals?  Where’s the bass drum?  Where’s the two and the four?  Where are the percussive colors to enhance Jalen Baker’s brilliance on his vibraphone?

Paul Cornish is competent and creatively expressive on piano.  On the composition, “Faith,” his harmonics are tasteful and supportive.  This song offers a pretty melody and quickly becomes one of my favorites on this album.  Bassist, Gabriel Godoy, shimmers powerfully in the spotlight during a well-executed bass solo during this arrangement. “Patience” spotlights the string section and is quite beautiful, opening the curtains to expose Giveton Gelin’s trumpet prowess. When Jalen Baker enters on his vibes, the tenderness of what he plays intoxicates the moment.  He is a fluid improviser.  However, his compositions don’t always offer melodic structure to encourage the listener to sing, hum or recall his melodies.  When you hear a Hoagy Charmichael tune, or a Stevie Wonder composition or listen to Thelonious Monk’s music, you’re always struck by the amazing melodies they offer the listener.  Speaking of Stevie Wonder, who I believe is one of our great American composers, he has penned the final tune that Jalen Baker plays on this album. Wonder’s lyrically important and melodically prudent song, “Love’s in Need of Love Today” features Jalen Baker playing this one solo, in his own outstanding and inimitable way.  There is great potential in this musician and I’m certain we’ll be hearing much more from the talented vibraphonist, Mr. Jalen Baker.

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Masabumi “Poo” Kikuchi, piano/composer. (October 19, 1939 – July 6, 2015)

This Japanese, jazz pianist and composer was born in Tokyo and studied music at the Tokyo Art College High School.  His colorful life embraced work with legendary musicians like Lionel Hampton, McCoy Tyner, Mal Waldron, Elvin Jones, Miles Davis and Gary Peacock.  Always in search of perfection and freedom in his music, Masabumi Kikuchi, has a discography that reflects a wide range of styles from straight-ahead and post-bop to fusion, vanguard, classical jazz and synthesized music. He was awarded a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and played piano for Sonny Rollins.  He’s been a band leader, a sideman and featured guest on various albums over his decades of experimenting with improvisation, electronic music and new musical forms.  This is his final musical breath, in the studio at age seventy-five, recording “Hanamichi” that celebrates his mastery and joy playing the eighty-eight keys.

Opening with “Ramona” (written originally as a brisk Spanish waltz) he transforms the Mabel Wayne composition to a slowly played ballad, that sounds poignantly like “I’ll Be Seeing You” at certain places. He employs a languid tempo, along with his pedal use that echoes the tones, ringing brightly through the harmonics that over-lap and create resonating, humming overtones.  He appears to be obsessive at the sustain pedal.  You hear the way he plays with this pedal during his presentation of the Gershwin standard, “Summertime.”  He wrings the melody out of this song, very slowly and with much emotion.   Octaves are played by his wide-spread right hand.  Masabumi Kikuchi explores each song on this solo performance, pushing the boundaries of time, tempo and harmonics in his own improvised way.  He transforms “Summertime,” then “My Favorite Things” and finally, embarks on addressing his own, two original compositions, “Improvisation” and “Little Abi” written for his daughter.  “Poo” a nick-name he was called lovingly by close friends, exhibits the spirit of freedom and exploration that makes jazz so important to the world.

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May 14, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

MAY 14, 2021

ADAM MOEZINIA blends folk-music with jazzy arrangements. OJOYO plays “Safrojazz,” richly embroidered into South African culture. AMBER WEEKES re-imagines and remixes an old studio project into something brand new.  HENRY “SKIPPER” FRANKLIN surrounds himself with some of LA’s jazz royalty to celebrate “Showers of Blessings.”  FRANCESCO AMENTA presents an international play on jazz and the KEITH BROWN TRIO highlights black music and “African Ripples.” Finally, FRANK MORELLI & KEITH OXMAN blend European classical music and hard-bop jazz in a unique and unusual way.


Adam Moezinia, guitar; Dan Chmielinski, bass; Charles Goold, drums.

Adam Moezinia has brought a fresh perspective to folk music, infusing his original folksy compositions with jazz improvisation in a very creative and unique way. He is richly supported by Dan Chmielinski on bass and the fiery Charles Goold on drums.  They open with the original composition, “Celebration” and the party begins! 

“I was going through a period of frequent writing when I realized that almost all of my compositions contained a certain element, the Folk Element; elements from more, simple, folk-based music, less commonly found in jazz.  From there, I started upon a sort of musical exploration, discovering for myself some of the different kinds of folk music from around the world.”

On Track 2, “School Daze,” Chmielinski steps to the front of the stage with an inventive solo.  The trio tackles the Duke Ellington tune, “Azalea,” arranged in a dirge-like manner at the top and then developing melodically into a beautiful flower.  It blossoms brilliantly before our ears.  They also add a Bob Dylan tune, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and the famed Robert Johnson blues song, “Come on In My Kitchen.”  Otherwise, Adam Moezinia has penned the remaining songs, except the traditional folk song “Lisa Lan.”   Moezinia’s style and grace on his guitar is well-executed and his composing talents shine.  This trio is sophisticated and intrinsically meshed together.  They fit like fish to water, each contributing talent as individuals, swimming closely together in perfect harmony.

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Morris Goldberg, saxophone/pennywhistle/composer; Anton Fig, drums; Bakithi Kumalo & Chulo Gatewood, bass; Tony Cedras & Richard Cummings, keyboards; Cyro Baptista, percussion; John Guth & Dan Carillo, guitar; Kofo, talking drum; Chris Botti & Diego Urcola, trumpet; Cecilia Tenconi, tenor saxophone.

From the first strains of a song called “Station Road Strut” I felt that I was in South Africa.  This music oozes the joy and happy spirit of the South African people.  When I picked up the press information on this group, the first sentence I read was:

“Saxophonist, penny whistle master and composer Morris Goldberg is perhaps best known for his association with Hugh Masekela.”

That explained it.  I was completely on point.  Not only did Goldberg work with Hugh Masekela, he himself was born in Cape Town.  “Ojoyo Plays Safrojazz” is a reissue of Morris Goldberg’s debut album, with overdubs by some amazing jazz musicians like Chris Botti on trumpet, keyboardist Tony Cedras and bass man, Bakithi Kumalo.  Drummer Anton Fig and percussionist Cyro Baptista boost the rhythm section and a number of other guest players add color and energy to this infectious music.  All nine songs are Goldberg originals and mirror his South African roots.  In his hometown of Cape Town, Morris pursued music early-on, with emphasis on blending African music with bebop.  He debuted his concept with pianist John Mehegan in 1959 and their recording was one of the first jazz sessions in South Africa.  Goldberg has recorded with the great Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte in the 1980s and was part of Paul Simon’s award-winning Graceland album.

This is music that instantly makes you happy and lifts your spirits.  Even though the music was originally recorded decades ago, it’s as lively, fresh and entertaining as it was then and maybe even more so. Since the composer has added so many new voices, they bring additional energy and vigor to his original project.  It’s like the already beautiful mansion of music got a fresh coat of paint.

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Amber Weekes, vocals; Danny Grissett, piano; Eddy Olivieri, piano/organ; Trevor Ware, Bass; Sherman Ferguson, drums; Phil Upchurch & Greg Cook, guitars; Louis Van Taylor, tenor, soprano & alto saxophone/ alto flute/flute; Scott Steen, trumpet; Mark Cargill, producer/string arranger/conductor/violin/atmospheric sound design; Joey De Leon, percussion; Dwayne Benjamin, trombone; Nathaniel Scott, Hi-hat; Miller Pertrum, vibraphone; Lynne Fiddmont, background vocals; HANDCLAPS: Trevor Ware, Sherman Ferguson, Danny Grissett, Peter C. Ross & Amber Weekes.

Vocalist, Amber Weekes, purrs her way through this album.  This is a CD, fully remixed, remastered and reorchestrated from a promotional recording Amber and her all-star band made back in 2002.  She has gathered a bouquet of colorful torch songs to interpret.  They are songs that she has been coveting and longing to sing since childhood. 

Amber grew up surrounded by music.  Her father, the late Martin Weekes, was a jazz singer and trombonist who idolized Frank Sinatra. Her New York household was full of music. She heard Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Nat King Cole, Barbra Streisand and Shirley Bassey constantly spinning on their record player.  Young Amber started singing at age four, inspired by the music she heard and encouraged by her father.  There are a couple of up-tempo numbers that show you she can swing with the best of them, like “Lovers.” Additionally, she and the band open with a rousing rendition of “Hazel’s Hips,” penned by Oscar Brown Jr.  It sounds like we’re at a rollicking house party and richly enjoying ourselves.  The over-all arrangements on these songs are fantastic. Mark Cargill’s string arrangements add high quality to this project.  Of special note is the Thelonious Monk composition, ‘Round Midnight arranged by bassist Trevor Ware and pianist Eddy Olivieri.  It’s played with a sultry Latin rhythm and a recurring groove for the intro and at the fade that hypnotizes the listener.  Amber takes some improvisational twists and turns on this jazz standard that explore her range and technique, holding and performing some notes like a horn-player.   She blesses this album with her artistic rendition of the “Cristo Redentor” medley that includes “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me.”  Amber Weekes dedicates this album of well-produced, quality music to her family, her father, to romance and her New York City roots.

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Henry Franklin, bass/composer; Theo Saunders, piano/composer; Willie Jones, drums; Teodross Avery, tenor & soprano saxophone; Ryan Porter, trombone; Nolan Shaheed, trumpet/fugal horn; Benn Clatworthy, alto flute/composer; Najite Agindotan, percussion; Yaakov Levy, wooden flute.

When I see the name Henry ‘Skipper’ Franklin in the credits of any given music, I know the jazz will be quality and the product will be noteworthy.  “Showers of Blessings,” The Skipper’s latest CD release, is no exception.  The project opens with his whispered and percussive “Message to Marjorie” for a brief introductory 57 seconds.  It’s a prayerful nod to his late cousin.  The talented Najite Agindotan sparkles on percussion and Yaakov Levy introduces us to his illustrious wooden flute.  This is followed by Theo Saunder’s composition, “The Return of The Skipper.”  It’s a happy-go-lucky tune that dances across the space with a catchy melody and blues chord changes that invite improvisational solos of merit.  For example, Teodross Avery, on tenor saxophone, grabs the spotlight and our immediate attention with his tone and presence.  Ryan Porter’s trombone solo parts the curtains and marches stage front, followed by Nolan Shaheed’s innovative trumpet solo.  

On this recording, Henry Franklin fattens his trio sound with beautiful horn arrangements played by some of the best Southern California musicians available.  Theo Saunders lends his composer skills to the project, as well as his whimsical innovation on piano.  On McCoy Tyner’s pretty “Ballad for Aisha” you can appreciate the outstanding, intricate horn harmonics, arranged by reedman, Benn Clatworthy.  Franklin and his sextet give a respectful nod to the legendary McCoy Tyner, who sadly passed away in March of 2020.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Skipper (as we fondly refer to Henry Franklin) decided to record a project of music to celebrate events and people who have greatly impacted his life.  Not only did our country lose over half a million souls to the virus, we also faced a ‘Black Lives Matter’ moment, when several people of color, both brown and black, died at the hands of America’s city police.  Theo Saunders penned a composition to memorialize “Black Lives Lost.”  It features a heartfelt trumpet solo by Nolan Shaheed, whose popular recording studio was also the birthplace of this intimate album of music.  I enjoyed hearing Clatworthy pick up his alto flute and colorfully incorporate it into “The Valley of Search” arrangement.  Clatworthy always brings his best to every project and usually is playing saxophone.  This is a wonderful example of his woodwind diversity.  Henry Franklin takes a solo that digs deeply into the valley of his bass tones, displaying adroitness of his instrument and displaying why he is celebrated as a bass master. One of my favorites on this album is the Clatworthy composition, “Skipper Meets Pharoah” in celebration of two mighty musicians and their friendship over many memorable years.  The saxophone of Teodross Avery dances atop Franklin’s powerful, walking bass line and the always exciting Willie Jones III spurs the sextet straight-ahead on drums.  His trap drum solo shows us why he is an innovative, in-demand drummer both on sessions and on stage.  Another favorite of mine is “The Guardian” with its throwback theme and arrangement that reminds me of my teenage years and 1960 jazz, watching Art Blakey’s group in a smoke-filled coffee house called “The Minor Key” in Detroit. The closing tune is a Franklin composition titled, “Little Miss Laurie.”  It’s a Latin-flavored ending to a dynamic album of music.  With a cha-cha groove, Henry Franklin’s composition sprays joy from my CD player. 

This is just good, solid jazz from top to bottom; beginning to end.  You will want to slide this CD back into your player and listen to it time after time

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FRANCESCO AMENTA – “MIDTOWN WALK” – AMI (Amenta Music International)

Francesco Amenta, tenor saxophone; Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Kimon Karoutzos, bass; Gary Kerkezou, drums.

This album features an international ensemble of personalities.  The female drummer (Gary Kerkezou) and bass player (Kimon Karoutzos) are both natives of Greece.  Bandleader and composer, Francesco Amenta was born and raised in Northern Italy, but planted roots in New York City in 2017.  On this project, these three expats joined forces with American jazz pianist, Cyrus Chestnut and Grammy winning bassist, John Lee, who produced their album.  The result is a project of memorable jazz that celebrates Francesco Amenta’s composer talents and a blend of mixed cultures.  The compositions and cultures meet like old friends on this winding, international, music path.

“I loved studying traditional jazz styles in Italy and the Netherlands, but jazz is a style of music that always evolves and there’s no better place to hear a broad range of jazz styles than in New York City,” Francesco explains his move to the East coast of America.

Saxophonist, Francesco Amenta, has studied with some of America’s iconic jazz cats like Barry Harris at the Conservatory in Verona.  Then, at the American School of Modern Music in Paris, he was under the superb tutelage of Charles Lloyd and Johnny Griffin.  In constant search of perfection on his tenor saxophone, Francesco attended the prestigious Royal Conservatory in The Hague, Netherlands.  There he had the opportunity to study with Dave Liebman and Joshua Redman.  As a teenager, the young woodwind player was infatuated with the tone and style of Sonny Rollins.  Each original composition he has written for this, his second album release, was inspired by a person or event in his life.  One of this journalist’s favorite composition is titled, “Number 9” and was inspired by pianist McCoy Tyner.  He wrote it after Francesco attended a NYC concert and experienced the great composer and pianist in person. He was so moved, that Francesco Amenta wrote this modal composition.  Cyrus Chestnut shows off his piano chops on this tune and the quartet flies at a challenging pace, whipping the arrangement into a frenzy, then settling it down with Francesco’s melodic horn line and a cut-time-feel.  The energy of this song also reminds me of a Herbie Hancock composition.  At the fade, they give the drummer, Gary Kerkezou, several minutes to explore her drums and impress us she does! 

Francesco’s song, “06/22” is a sweet, sultry ballad and represents the day he first landed a gig as a bandleader in New York City. Unfortunately, it was also, the sad day his father died.  Francesco Amenta plays his tenor saxophone with much emotion and tenderness during this arrangement.  I am impressed by the changes and the pretty melody that weeps across the chords.  This becomes another favorite tune for this reviewer.  I enjoyed the bass solo by Kimon Karoutzos, who received his Master’s Degree in Jazz Double Bass at New York’s Manhattan School of Music.  Drummer, Gary Kerkezou also received her Master’s Degree at the same school of Music and is additionally adapt at playing violin. 

Francesco Amenta is a force of nature.  His music is like a breath of fresh air or a sunrise that paints the sky purple, orange and pink.  He is not only a colorful woodwind player, but a pianist and a blossoming composer.  His first album was the result of a soundtrack he wrote for a Dutch movie that became a part of the 2015 International Documentary Film Festival at Amsterdam.  it was titled, “Colors and Ties.” 

With the tinkling, upper-register piano accompaniment of Cyrus Chestnut, who tastefully enhances the quartet’s arrangement of the Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” composition, they end this album like a prayer on the lips of the wind, whispered from the bell of Francesco Amenta’s horn.

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Keith Oxman, tenor saxophone/composer; Frank Morelli, bassoon; Jeff Jenkins, piano; Ken Walker, bass; Todd Reid, drums.

What do you get when you put a classical bassoonist, chamber musician and educator together with a burnished tenor saxophonist steeped in jazz?  The result is “The Ox-Mo Incident.” This CD is an unexpected blend of America’s classical artform called jazz, flowering with improvisation, and the stricter, more classical European style of music.  The title tune, Track 5, quickly becomes one of my favorites on this unusual musical production.  It’s straight-ahead jazz, composed by Keith Oxman and enhanced by Jeff Jenkins on piano, Ken Walker’s walking bass and his strong double bass solo, along with tasty horn harmonics for saxophone and bassoon.  The two master players, Oxman and Morelli, open with a tune I used to love to hear Nancy Wilson sing on her original release with Cannonball Adderley’s group called, “Happy Talk.” 

This is followed by a theme from Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto number 2.  The familiar “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” (a Rodgers & Hammerstein composition) is performed as a slow swing.  In the blink of an eye, Track 6 is based on a theme from the third movement of Johannes Braham’s Symphony No. 3 and titled “three for Five.”  Clearly, you get the drift of this production.  It swings like a pendulum between classical familiarity to standard jazz and show tunes.  You will enjoy their take on “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” that I remember was quite popular in the 1950s.  I believe it was from a musical called “Kismet” and recorded by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and a host of other pop and jazz celebrities. 

Frank Morelli studied at both the Manhattan and Juilliard Schools of Music and was awarded a doctorate by the Juilliard School. He’s made nine appearances at the revered Carnegie Hall as a soloist. His solo soars on “Stranger in Paradise,” letting the deep, richness of the bassoon highlight the melody.  I also enjoyed his interpretation on “Poor Butterfly.”

Keith Oxman’s style of playing embraces jazz styles like Sonny Stitt and Charles McPherson.  Based in Denver, Colorado, Oxman is an educator who encourages students at Denver’s East High School.  He’s collaborated with legendary names like Curtis Fuller, David Liebman and Houston Person.  When speaking of this unusual, but very successful collaboration he said:

“I’m not a classical player and Frank didn’t see himself as a heavy jazz guy, so between the two of us we were like the blind leading the blind in some ways.  But we were both thrilled with the results.  Frank is just an unbelievable musician.  I was really excited when he suggested this, even though jazz might not be his musical field, good musicians are good musicians.”

That says it all!

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Keith Brown, piano/Fender Rhodes/Synthesizers/composer/arranger; Dezron Douglas, acoustic & electric bass; Darrell Green & Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully, drums. SPECIAL GUESTS: Russell gunn, trumpet; Anthony Ware, tenor saxophone; Melanie Charles, Camille Thurman, vocals; Tamara Brown, background vocals; Cyrus Aaron, spoken word; Negah Santos, percussion.

Keith Brown uses this latest release as a musical diary to express his many moods, personal experiences, critical thinking and to exemplify how black music ripples out in a multitude of directions.  He uses spoken word, lyrical voicings and his trio arrangements to exemplify this premise.  Brown hopes his music will touch on the common, human experiences of his listening audience and reflect our commonality.

“I hope that the energy and soul we put into this recording gives … energy and uplifts the soul,” Brown says about his project goals.

“The more life that I live, the more I try to become more comfortable with the truth, whatever that truth may be,” he tells us.

Cyrus Aaron incorporates his spoken word offering on the opening composition; the title tune.  His words stand as an ‘Epigraph’ or summary theme of this project, lyrically bouncing atop the groove laid down by Brown’s trio.

“… Life and death, one synonym, wrecking balls that tie into pendulums, a swing-swung-set, destruction in motion … a distraction or an escape? Who you countin’ on?  My contribution spoken for and this train of thought, progress can be slowed down, but it cannot be stopped. This free hand and the free ride on this free land, free men.  Call it magic, call it ministry, call it music, ain’t it amusing how we chase a dream with no brakes?” Cyrus asks us in beautiful poetic form.

Track 2 speaks about “Truth and Comfort” as Keith Brown peels the melody from the sweet fruit of his composition.  Terreon ‘Tank’ Gully is expressive and creative on drums.  Dezran Douglas holds the rhythm section solidly together with the grip of his bass.  Track 3, “NAFID” is contemporary, energetic and rooted in modern jazz soil.  On the familiar, “Just You, Just Me” standard, Brown has created a brilliant arrangement with a solid funk base.  Douglas steps out of the background, where his creative, solid bass lines are holding this song together like Velcro and into the forefront for his memorable solo. Then comes Gully on a drum excursion that splashes color and dynamics all over this musical palette. Track 8, “Queen” is full of percussive excitement.  The drums bring strong ‘African Ripples’ to the forefront. The voices of Tamara Brown and featured vocalist Camille Thurman add beauty to this arrangement without lyrics. Camille’s amazing soprano sings bird-like above the track at unexpected intervals, while Brown’s piano excellence shines in the spotlight. Dedicated to his wife, this might be one of my favorite Brown compositions on this album of great music. This journalist is a big Stevie Wonder and Syreeta fan. It was wonderful to hear Brown’s inclusion of “I Wish That I Could Come Back as a Flower” featuring vocalist, Melanie Charles. Another favorite is “118 & 8th Street” so straight-ahead and in-your-face; melodic and percussive.   Each of Keith Brown’s arrangements and compositions surprises me in lovely ways, like opening presents on Christmas morning; you never know what you’ll get, but it’s always sweet.  I will be listening to this album time and time again.

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May 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

MAY 1, 2021

As people rush to get a COVID vaccine pumped into their arms and pray for a cure, the disease continues to ravage the world. Musicians from all over the continents have continued to use the healing power of music, not only to entertain, but to bring people together.  Some examples of music that was born out of this pandemic are listed below. ARTURO O’FARRILL & THE AFRO LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA is a testament to resilience and determination, recorded ‘Online’ between April through October of 2020, during one of the worst worldwide pandemics in the history of humanity.  O’Farrill brought together musicians from all over the world to inspire us. REBECCA KILGORE is praised by some as one of the most prolific vocalists on today’s jazz scene and a master of delivering songs from the Great American Songbook.  Italian guitarist/composer, GABOR LESKO, brings fusion jazz into the spotlight.  THE SPIKE WILNER TRIO is a product of SmallsLIVE Foundation and I also review Chicago pianist, PAUL BEDAL.  MADRE VACA is an Avant-garde group and so is SATOKO FUJII’S TOKYO TRIO. VINCENT HERRING’S quartet brings hard bop and straight-ahead jazz to the forefront and ALCHEMY SOUND PROJECT uses music to celebrate nature and hopefully, to bring peace to a world in chaos.


Arturo O’Farrill, piano/conductor; Bam Bam Rodriguez, upright bass/elec. bass/karkabas; Vince Cherico, drums; Keisel Jimenez, conga drums; Carly Maldonado, bongo drums/bell/guiro/cajon/doumbek/timbales. SAXOPHONES: Alejandro Aviles, alto & soprano saxophones/flute; Adison Evans, alto saxophone/flute; Roman Filiu, alto Saxophone; Ivan Renta, tenor & soprano saxophones; Jasper Dutz, tenor sax/clarinet; Jeremy Powell & Livio Almeida, tenor saxophone; Larry Bustamante, baritone saxophone/ bass clarinet. TRUMPETS: Seneca Black, Bryan Davis, Adam O’Farrill, Walter Cano, Rachel Therrien & Kai Sandova. TROMBONES: Rafi Malkiel, euphorium; Mariel Bildsten, Abdulrahman Amer, Xito Lovell, Ben Barnett, Earl McIntyre, bass trombone/tuba; James Rogers, bass trombone. SPECIAL GUESTS: Malika Zarra, voice; Gili Sharett, bassoon; Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi, guitar/voice; BOOM DIWAN: Sulaiman Mayouf Mejally, Abdulaziz Al-Hamli, Abdulwahab Al-Hamli, Khaled Bunashi; Ghanem Salem, percussion; Paquito D’Rivera, alto saxophone; Richard Miller, guitar; Everton Isidoro, cuica/pandeiro/caxixi; Gustavo Di Dalva, atabaque.

The Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra opens with an energetic, rhythm propelled composition called “Gulab Jamon.”  That title is a combination of Arturo O’Farrill’s two favorite, spicy cuisines; Indian and Spanish. 

This album is a testament to resilience and determination, recorded ‘Online’ between April through October of 2020, during one of the worst worldwide pandemics in the history of humanity. Players contributed from New York, New Jersey, California, Puerto Rico, Quebec, Brazil, Peru, Spain, France, Switzerland, the UK, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait.  This “Virtual Birdland,” project is meant to be a candle in the darkness, that illuminates what is possible when good people come together to create beauty and understanding in the world.  Although 2020 was a year that will go down in history as one of misfortune and misgiving, these musicians joined from all over the world, coming together in unity and creativity to inspire us.

“The inspiration came from thinking about water and how it can exist in many forms, but is essentially the same.  We should see humanity as existing in many forms but being of the same essence.  We do not dilute our essence when we embrace others,” Arturo O’Farrill advised.

The composition, “Pouvoir” (that translate to power in French) and is written by a Moroccan artist, Malika Zarra. It incorporates Chaabi, a traditional style of North African dance music.  Malika currently resides in France.  I love the African chanting voices and Malika’s sweet lead vocal. 

“Nightfall” is an up-tempo arrangement.  This percussive-driven arrangement soars towards the end of this song and made me leave my desk to dance freely around the room. Those percussionists set this composition on fire.

Track 5 is a piece that represents global cooperation, as described by Arturo O’Farrill.  Composed by Ghazi Faisal Al-Mulaifi from Kuwait, it’s titled, “Ana Mashoof” and was originally performed in Abu Dhabi during a concert called ‘Cuba Meets Khaleeji.’   During this arrangement you will experience the Boom Diwan, a band of expert percussionists and a blend of Middle Eastern music with the Afro-Latin Jazz orchestra, bringing together American & European musicians with their Middle Eastern counterparts.

Paquito D’Rivera’s “Samba for Carmen” was written for jazz vocalist, Carmen McRae and arranged by Maestro Chico O’Farrill. This tune ‘swings’ and features Paquito, who is one of the most awesome clarinetists of our time.

Arturo O’Farrill is celebrated as a musical activist and a humanitarian who is always looking for resources to support his creative community.  He’s also a dynamic pianist.  His rich, exciting arrangements and tenacious piano playing infuse every second of this project.  Perhaps he summed it up best by saying:

“When… this pandemic happened, this time of national and global reckoning, we were blindsided and even though the sky seemed like it was falling, we rose up and were determined to play music and heal others.  This recording is proof that we are interconnected globally, even when we are not allowed to leave our homes.”

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Rebecca Kilgore, vocals; Randy Porter, piano; Tom Wakeling, bass; Dick Titterington, cornet.

Rebecca Kilgore is praised as one of the most prolific recording and performing vocalists on today’s jazz scene, with fifty or more recording projects as a leader or co-leader.  She’s worked with the who’s who of Pacific Northwest jazz cats and beyond.  This vocalist is well respected for her interpretation of the Great American Songbook.  The video above is vintage. 

On this current project, Kilgore has joined talents with Randy Porter on piano, Tom Wakeling on bass and Dick Titterington is featured on cornet.  Opening with Dave Frishberg’s “Dear Bix” Rebecca’s clear vocals establish the mood and tempo, with only accompaniment from the bass of Tom Wakeling.  When Randy Porter joins on piano, the trio is complete.  Kilgore has carefully picked a delightful bouquet of songs from stage shows, film and the Great American Songbook; songs that entertain and delight. Track 2, she sings the familiar “Day In, Day Out.”  This is followed by the introduction of Titterington’s cornet, before she sings “Somebody Just Like You” with a very bluesy arrangement.  The uncluttered production and simplicity of this recording makes me think I am sitting at a piano bar inside some antique hotel bar, smiling at Rebecca Kilgore and her trio over a martini with two olives. 

Based in Oregon, this vocalist blossomed from a mother who was a visual artist and a father who was the choir director at a Unitarian Church.  She started singing at a young age and has won a number of awards, including being named an honoree of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame and Jazz Society of Oregon Hall of Fame.  In 2020, she was awarded the Portland Jazz Master Award by PDX Jazz, the largest organization presenting jazz performances in the Pacific Northwest.  She has performed in concert with Michael Feinstein at Carnegie Hall, at New York’s Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention, at Town Hall and Lincoln Center.  In 2016 she was honored as a Jazz Legend at San Diego’s popular Jazz party.  Here is an intimate, unpretentious, well-sung album of jazz songs we know, some we may have forgotten and some we never heard until this delightful moment.  Each song Rebecca Kilgore sings is embellished by her wonderful musicians and her completely captivating tone.

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GABOR LESKO – “EARTHWAY” – Creativity’s Paradise Music

Gabor Lesko, guitars/keyboard/composer; Dave Wecki, Marco Fuliano, Sophie Alloway, Eugenio Mori, Gergo Borlai, drums; Hadrien Feraud, Federico Malaman, Jimmy Haslip, bass; Guido Block, vocals; Eric Marienthal, saxophone section; soprano sax solo. Special Guest: The Milwaukee Brass Ensemble.

The music of Gabor Lesko is well represented by the CD Cover artwork of an open highway.  Lesko’s compositions are generously packed with energy, motion and melody.  These arrangements create tightly woven tracks for the musicians to come center stage and solo upon.  Gabor Lesko himself is such an outstanding guitar artist and composer, that just listening to him solo is exhilarating and impressive.  His style of playing is his own and he captures the magic of contemporary jazz.  Rushing from his fingertips, like gold threads, his guitar stitches us up in his comfort-spell. 

A native of Italy, Gabor Lesko is a multi-instrumentalist who also plays keyboards on this project.  The title tune, “Earthway” sets the tone for his production.  It is exciting and fluid.  You can picture yourself on a highway, racing along to someplace you’ve never been before.  Lesko says, “This composition is a tribute to the wonders of both music and outer space.”

I imagine the pandemic has made many of us wish that we could escape to outer space.  Gabor Lesko’s arrangements are soaked in high-powered fusion guitar and creativity that draws us into his music.  On Track 3, he surprises this listener with a sexy ballad titled, “Still Here for You,” just to show his audience that he can also speak passionately and beautifully, letting his guitar strings sing a love story.  His technique and style seem to make his guitar talk.  I find Gabor Lesko’s music both inspirational, conversational and exhilarating.  He stirs our emotions with his instrument, enthusiastically arousing our senses and piquing our curiosity to see what he will play next. 

This is Gabor Lesko’s eighth album as a bandleader and it continues his legacy of inventive playing, fine composing and a mastery of his instruments with the goal of keeping fusion and contemporary jazz in a vivid spotlight.

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Spike Warner, piano/composer; Tyler Mitchell, bass; Anthony Pinciotti, drums.

Listening to the Spike Wilner Trio makes me feel like I popped into a local jazz club to enjoy an evening of excellent entertainment.  I close my eyes and settle back as Warner’s lightning speed piano dances into the room, propelled by Anthony Pinciotti’s power-packed drums and Tyler Mitchell’s bass profundity.  Wilner has composed six out of the nine songs the trio offers us.  My favorite original compositions are: “Mindset” the title tune, “Aliens & Wizards” and “Prayer for Peace” that Spike Wilner approaches in a very bluesy way on his piano.  Another original, “Trick Baby” closes the CD out. At moments, it sounds very much like the jazz standard Love for Sale, but has its own strong melody and mood.  On this tune, Pinciotti is given time to show-off his drum power as they trade fours. The trio plays this one at racehorse speed.

Pianist, composure, bandleader and club manager, Spike Wilner stands knee-deep in jazz.  He has spent a long tenure on the New York City and global jazz scenes, performing with Artie Shaw’s Big Band, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson and Lennie Cuje, while managing jazz shrines like ‘Smalls’ club and ‘Mezzrow.”  The SmallsLIVE Foundation is carrying out one of its mission by supporting and funding this album. The trio’s production was recorded as the height of the pandemic swarmed the nation. This release marks the beginning of a growing collaboration between Cellar Music Group and the SmallsLIVE Foundation. 

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Paul Bedal, piano/composer; Nick Mazzarella, alto saxophone; Matt Ulery, double bass; Charles Rumback, drums.

Based in Chicago, Illinois, Paul Bedal is a pianist and composer and this is his second release as a bandleader.  Bedal received recognition from Chicago’s “Luminarts Cultural Foundation.”  He was awarded top prize in the 2015 composition contest.  His music has been used in films such as “Cooke Concrete” and in Sydney O’Haire’s, “Being Here” and a short film by Lauren Bedal titled “Airplay” that was nominated to the 2017 San Francisco Dance Film Festival.

Bedal’s compositions lean towards smooth jazz, with compelling melodies that repeat within the theme and are enhanced by Nick Mazzarello’s alto saxophone.  There are moments when Mazzarella steps outside the parameter of smooth jazz and points the bell of his horn towards avant-garde jazz; for example, on track 4, “Panorama.”  I keep waiting for Paul Bedal to take us on an improvisational solo discovery, but mostly he remains a part of his tight rhythm section.  On an original tune he’s titled, “Compass,” once again, Mazzarella steps forward as the soloist.   Midway through the arrangement, Paul Bedal soaks up the spotlight, finally playing a solo that is more beautiful than energetic and very classically influenced. Also, we hear from the talented Matt Ulery on double bass during a very interesting and creative bass exploration.  Astonishingly, “Summer Fade” maintains the same tempo as the other songs herein, and that is a disappointment. Bedal does step forward on this arrangement to solo in a very classical way, letting his technique shine.  I just wanted to hear one speedy transition into combustible energy that celebrates jazz freedom.  That never happens.

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MADRE VACA – “THE ELEMENTS” – Madra Vaca Records

Jarrett Carter, guitar/composer; Thomas Milovac, bass/composer; Jonah Pierre, piano/composer; Benjamin Shorstein, drums/composer.

This is a musical quilt of Avant-garde and modern jazz that has been sewn and creatively composed to represent the four elements of earth; Fire, Water, Earth and Wind.  Each of these quartet members has composed one of the elements, beginning with “Fire” by Benjamin Shorstein, the drummer.  This is not a very lyrical or melodic segment.  It was my least favorite on this project, because I never felt it settled down into a groove.  The drummer/composer took this opportunity to splash his percussive colors all over the place, but never settled down to lock in the rhythm.  Sometimes this listener just wants to feel the two and the four. Even fire has a beat to its flicker. Towards the end of the arrangement, the pianist settled the rhythm into place, with the tinkling of the upper register and Thomas Milovac’s double bass softly lacing the rhythm through the background.  There are a lot of arpeggios and very little melody.  Finally, the spotlight settles on a spontaneous drum solo.  One thing I can say is that this composition gives free reins to the quartet of players, allowing them space to create and improvise. 

“Water” composed by Jarrett Carter, the guitarist, is a beautiful tune; a peaceful ballad, starting with a dripping note, like one-note-at-a-time music from a leaking faucet.  I enjoy Milovac bowing his bass, cello-like and classical.  Here is a melody that one can hear and hum along with after a few moments. Carter’s guitar tenacity and technical talents are obvious throughout.  There is a hint of Middle Eastern influence in this composition.  Jonah Pierre’s piano helps build this piece into a crescendo of sound, rushing like water in a storm, or waterfalls tumbling into a raging lake, then trickling away.  The third suite is “Earth” and was composed by bassist, Thomas Milovac.  It seems appropriate that the bass player would write about the earth, upon who all things are built, planted and grow; Like the bass, who is always the basement of the production and the solid foundation of the song.  This tune is more Avant-garde than melody; more improvisation than structure and seems to celebrate contrast and confusion.  A ribbon of the blues ties everything together with guitar strings and then the tempo races, letting Shorstein’s drums propel the music into a hurricane of rhythm.   Jonah Pierre has composed “Wind” for the final suite of this album.  At first, it settles the music down, like a sweet whistle from the lips of angels. But that soon changes to a repetitious, energetic ending.  Since 2017, the members of Madre Vaca have recorded and released seven albums.

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Satoko Fujii, piano; Takashi Sugawa, bass/cello; Ittetsu Takemura, drums.

A smattering of piano introduces the first Fujii composition, “Hansho,” and Takashi Sugawa steps forward to beautifully solo on his double bass.  The trio was recorded ‘live’ at Tokyo’s famous jazz venue, Pit Inn.  Bassist, Sugawa, and drummer Takemura are two of the youthful, up and coming musicians on the Japanese jazz scene.  Inspired by the very competent and Avant-garde artist, Satoko Fujii, the two young musicians brightly shine and showcase their capabilities with awesome speed and ingenuity.  Their technique, creativity and excitement are obvious and visible.  This merger of generations brings a whole new audience to Satoko Fujii’s exquisite musical works.   On this first composition, Ittetsu Takemura’s drums are given a spotlight to dance in.  His playing is colorful and creative.  Once Satoko Fujii takes the wheel, she steers the arrangement into the hemisphere.

“I played with Takashi (Sugawa) several years ago with Natsuki,” Satoko Fujii reminisces.  “He also plays straight ahead, but he’s very open and loves free improvisation.  When he toured Japan with his trio, which included Tom Rainey on drums, I went to see them and was impressed by the sincerity of his playing.”

Once Satoko Fujii establishes the framework for a tune, the freedom of improvisation emerges like a dragon breathing fire and ice into the music.   Fujii stimulates any player she works with, to bring their ‘A-game’ to the party.  This music is like wild confetti, helium balloons and firecrackers. 

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Vincent Herring, Alto Saxophone; Cyrus Chestnut, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Johnathan Blake, drums.

Despite the darkness of 2020, Vincent Herring offers this album as a silver lining.  He hopes it will deliver optimism and hope.  The energy from the first tune is an original composition by the alto saxophonist.  The song swoops into my office like a breath of fresh, spring air with all the excitement of a new born nature day.  On “Dudli’s Dilemma” I can feel the birds fluttering and the May wind whipping.  This song sets the mood for an entire album of great jazz.  Track 2 is “Old Devil Moon” with an invigorated arrangement, inspired by the Benny Golson “Killer Joe” groove.  It allows the alto saxophone of Vincent Herring to race across space like a spring thunder storm.  He is a brilliant and creative player.  Pianist, Cyrus Chestnut, brings his chops to the spotlight and swings hard.  Johnathan Blake accentuates on drums and tightly locks the groove into place, with Yasushi Nakamura’s solid and complimentary bass lines infusing the piece with hard bop magic.  Their arrangement is intense. This is the kind of album you put on when you want to get pumped up, entertained and inspired.  You’ll hear a rich repertoire, all arranged in a very straight-ahead way, including tunes by Cedar Walton, (“Ojos de Rojo”), Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and Wes Montgomery’s “Fried Pies.”  Cyrus Chestnut contributes his original composition, “Minor Swing” and there’s some Duke Ellington magic when they play “In a Sentimental Mood.”  Also included is the Joe Henderson song, “Granted” and Stevie Wonder’s timeless, “You Are the Sunshine of My life.”  Vincent Herring has penned the title tune, “Preaching to the Choir.” Every song is a treasure to be listened to more than once.  Every arrangement is creative and awe inspiring.  Vincent Herring explained it this way.

“We have to have hope for the future. I’ve been in a constant state of disbelief with so much going on that is negative in the world, but I try to look at the positive side of everything.  I’m grateful to be here.  Grateful to be putting out a new recording and grateful to have the opportunity to express myself musically.

Here is an exciting and spontaneous recording.  This quartet of musicians offers excellence, substance and emotion to their listening public.  They also endeavor to infuse hope into the mix, along with a universal spirit of love and their personal message of gratitude. 

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ALCHEMY SOUND PROJECT – “AFRIKA LOVE” – Artists Recording Collective

Erica Lindsay, tenor saxophone/clarinet/alto flute/composer; Salim Washington, tenor saxophone/flute/bass clarinet/oboe/composer; Sumi Tonooka, piano/composer; David Arend, double bass/ composer; Chad Taylor, drums; Samantha Boshnack, trumpet/composer; Michael Ventoso, trombone.

“Afrika Love” is Salim Washington’s tribute to his South African compatriot, pianist Afrika Mkhize, the son of renowned pianist and composer, Themba Mkhize.  One day, in a conversation with Afrika Mkhize, they discussed a distinctive pitch system native to Zulu musical tradition.

“I began experimenting with this system and decided to write a composition with it,” Washington shared in his press package.

You clearly hear Salim Washington’s tenor saxophone establish the tone dramatically at the start of this tune. Later, Washington’s oboe soliloquy highlights the rich, original melody and unique pitch system.  Chad Taylor’s drums pump and spur the music onward and upward.  This title tune of the Alchemy Sound Project quickly becomes one of my favorites on their latest album.  Sumi Tonooka’s piano solo is both spontaneous and inventive.  This is followed by a beautiful piece composed by trumpeter, Samantha Boshnack and titled, “The Cadillac of Mountains.”  It was written to describe being awestruck by nature’s magnificence and grandeur.  I know that feeling each morning when I admire the brand-new way the sky is painted. Washington offers counter melodies on bass clarinet to Boshnack’s trumpet lines, an arrangement to depict the beauty of nature.  Lindsay’s tenor saxophone sings and the rhythm section evokes nature’s tendency toward unpredictable shifts, featuring David Arend’s double bass dramatically accenting this song.  Tonooka’s piano and Chad Taylor’s drums play a duet that takes the arrangement to another level.  There are several references to nature and the elements of earth.  For example, the opening song composed by the bassist, David Arend and titled “The Fountain” celebrates water.  The drums portray the drip, drip, drop of water and the melody and movement grows to provoke a gushing fountain. When Sumi Tonooka composed “Dark Blue Residue” she was considering the various ways people are brought together.

“… People move on.  People move forward, but there’s a residue quality of what’s left behind …,” she explains.

On their 3rd album release, Alchemy Sound Project features five compositions and showcases five compelling and gifted musicians, each with their own unique and powerful creative vision.  Their music recognizes this is a pivotal period in race relations, health consciousness and social justice.  Consequently, their music reflects a positive example of cooperation and mutual respect for each other and the world around them.  Despite 2020 being one of the most tumultuous years in the recent history of the United States, they hope their multi-gendered, multi-racial makeup as a group offers a positive example of cooperative humanity.

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April 21, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 21, 2021

LAUFEY – “TYPICAL OF ME” –  Independent label

Laufey Lin, vocals/guitar/cello/piano/composer; Josh Jacobson, keyboards; Magnus Johann Ragnarsson, Keyboards.

Track 1 on this new EP by Laufey snagged my ear and held on, like a diamond earring.  Her voice has a soft, warm, lovely tone, and on “Street by Street,” Laufey makes it clear she is a blossoming singer/songwriter.  The young artist mixes genres, blending jazzy chord changes and beautiful melodies with pop music, rhythm and blues, all in a very embraceable way.   When Laufey returned to her native Iceland last summer, she was surprised when she pumped on the car radio and her song, “Street by Street” was playing.

“That’s when I realized something big was happening,” she told her publicist.

The production is sparse, but very effective.  The finger snaps and her guitar accompaniment, with vocals harmonizing in the background, allows us to clearly hear her lyrics and the groove is infectious.  Her latest single, from this debut EP titled, “Magnolia,” is a ballad with a lyric about a beautiful woman. Actually, the lyrics pose a love letter to women who don’t recognize their own beauty and strength.  Track 3 is titled “Like the Movies” and is a throw-back to the 1920s or 30s type music, with its slow, strumming shuffle-feel and her voice scatting atop the production in a sweet and affectionate way.  Laufey’s unique tone and the addition of the synthesized horn makes this ‘cut’ very jazzy.  She follows this production with a cover of “I Wish You Love” just to make it clear she can sing jazz standards with the same energy and style that she uses when singing her original songs.

“I’ve always loved classical music.  I’m definitely very influenced by composers like Ravel and Chopin,” Laufey shares.  “But when I discovered the Great American Songbook and the music of George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers, it felt like this middle ground between jazz and classical suited me perfectly.  It was something I could love on my own terms,” she explained her stylized musical approach.

Laufey has performed with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra at the young age of fifteen.  But deep inside, she knew she wanted to blend her classical training with more modern influences.  She longed to expand her writing and repertoire with jazz influences, with pop, R&B overtones and with her own sense of creativity and uniqueness.  You can hear all that in her very first release and debut single, “Street by Street.”  This song sent international waves crashing against commercial music shorelines. 

As a result of collaborating with peers at Berklee College of Music, the day before their campus was shut down due to COVID-19, she embraced the down-time while self-quarantined to work on her first recording project.  Laufey began recording at home, playing piano, guitar, singing, composing and adding cello to the mix.  Other instrumentation was delivered remotely by her fellow student musicians.  When I listen to “James,” another original composition, I note her expressive way of phrasing, singing, scatting and the lyrical way she writes.  Laufey’s artistically fascinating.

Once she posted the first tune, Laufey’s project went viral!  She had a hit single on Icelandic Radio Charts and her music grew a massive, universal following.  Before she could blink twice, the BBC announced they wanted to present a music series for BBC Radio 3 that featured “Happy Harmonies with Laufey.”  This series began on April 10th of 2021.  Laufey’s entire EP project is absolutely fresh, charming and unique.  Ms. Lin is a gifted singer, plays multiple instruments and is a talented songwriter.  I expect great things from this young lady and a bright future. 

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John Daversa, trumpet; Justin Morell, guitars/orchestrator/composer/arranger. Scott Flavin, orchestra conductor; Amanda Quist, choir conductor; CHOIR: Emily Finke & Safia Zaman, sopranos; Alexandra Colaizzi & Kate Reid, altos; Sidney O’Gorman & Noah Zaidspiner, tenors; Thandolwethu Mamba & Dylan Melville, basses. GUEST MUSICIANS: Conrad Fok, piano; Lev Garfein, violin. RHYTHM: Tal Cohen, piano; Justin Morell, guitars; Dion Kerr, bass; David Chiverton, drums. PERCUSSION: Antoni Olesik, timpani/ vibraphone/ glockenspiel/ marimba. Orchestra Bass: Brian Powell & Ethan Olaguibel.  VIOLIN 1: Abby Young (concertmaster), Sheena Gutierrez, Karen Lord-Powell, Steffen Zeichner, Ashley Liberty & Gregory Carreno. VIOLIN II: Svetlana Kosakovskoya, Yuhao Zhou, Orlando Forte, Katarina Nazarova & Julia Jakkel. VIOLA: Matt Nabours, Vishnu Ramankutty & Ross DeBardelaben; CELLO: Brent Charran, Shea Kole & Tadao Ito; WOODWINDS: Jennifer Grim, flute; Alyssa Mena, flute/alto flute; Melvin Butler & Troy Roberts, soprano & tenor saxophones; Matt Clarke, clarinet; Franke Capoferri, clarinet/bass clarinet; Gabriel Beavers & Melanie Villarreal, bassoon; Richard Todd Stan Spinola, horn.

When John Daversa approached Justin Morell about writing a large-scale orchestral jazz piece for his album project, Morell conceived the project from the perspective of a parent with an autistic child.  This album is a tribute and a reflection of love in raising a 16-year-old, non-verbal son.  The title is reflective; “All Without Words.”   It is a story, unfolding in the orchestrated music, about connection and compassion; pain and prevailing love in the face of every challenge. 

A multi-Grammy winner, John Daversa is an orchestral jazz trumpeter whose albums reflect important social themes.  Justin Morell said this about composing this elaborate music.

“Loren (his autistic child) can be wonderfully spontaneous and always in the moment.  One evening, I sat with him and listened to the singing and sounds that he often makes, recording them on my phone.  I quickly returned to the recordings and transcribed two different segments of beautiful melody.  These segments became the theme that is the basis for the eleven variations,” Justin explained.

Loren’s voice is represented by Daversa’s distinctive trumpet sound.  This album was recorded at the Frost School of Music recording facilities at the University of Miami, where Daversa is Chair of Studio Music.  These top musicians based in South Florida, are both classically proficient and others are steeped and specialized in jazz.  Because of the pandemic and social restrictions, each section of the orchestra was recorded separately.  However, this does not interrupt the beauty or flow of this project.  Here is a tender, gorgeous album.  John Daversa becomes the voice of a voice-less child in the most perfect and soulful sense. 

The orchestra transmits to us emotionally, via these amazing musicians, with their colorful arrangements.  It’s an awesome combination of composer magic and musicians who play life into their music.  I found Daversa and Morell’s project to be peaceful and healing; inspired and lovely.  Perhaps producer, Kabir Sehgal sums the experience up best.

“This is a poignant and profound work. … This collaboration speaks not only to their mutual respect and admiration, but to their interest in doing good in the world,” Sehgal says in the press package. 

I agree!

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Ulysses Owens Jr., drums/producer/bandleader; Takesi Ohbayashi, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, bass; Charles Turner III, vocals; SPECIAL GUEST: Stefon harris, vibraphone; WOODWINDS: Alexa Tarantino & Erena Tarakubo, alto saxophones; Diego Rivera & Daniel Dickinson, tenor saxophones; Andrew Gutauskas, baritone saxophone. TRUMPETS:  Walter Cano, lead trumpet; Benny Benack III, Summer Camargo, & Giveton Gelin.  TROMBONES: Michael Dease, Eric Miller & Gina Benalcazar. Wyatt Forhan, bass trombone.

Ulysses Owens Jr. is a drummer with a big sound, a big band and big career plans.  On this, his debut recording as a big band leader, he has gathered a host of excellent musicians that reflect multi-gender, multi-ethnic and multi-generational participation.  From the very first Dizzy Gillespie/John Lewis familiar composition of “Two Bass Hit” you hear the UOJ Big Band’s exuberance and high energy.  Ulysses Owens Jr. takes a mind-blowing solo excursion on his trap drums.  I appreciate his power, his creativity and technical wizardry.  Perhaps he explained his ultimate goals best in his liner notes.

“I finally feel like I have a record that is emanating a sound that I can confidently create forever,” Owens Jr. asserted.

On the original composition, “London Towne,” By Benny Benack III, who plays second trumpet, Stefon Harris makes a guest appearance on vibraphone.  On Track 3, Yasushi Nakamura steps out from the rhythm section and takes an impressive solo on double bass, followed by a soulful saxophone improvisation played by Diego Rivera, who also arranged this tune.  Titled, “Beardom X,” the horn harmonics soar and punch the arrangement in all the right places.  Bandleader and dynamic drummer, Owens Jr., takes a short but colorful solo on this original song that he has composed.  The staccato breaks by the horns build the dynamics during this presentation.

Intermittently, audience applause speckles this soulful ‘live’ recording.  The big band is quite impressive and distinguishes their high level of musicianship and tight, preparedness for this production.  There’s no over-dubs or engineering punch-marks when you record ‘live.’  Obviously, they need no such engineering helpmates.  I enjoyed hearing the “Soul Conversations” of each band member, expressed to the others.  I applaud the structured, creative arrangements that were written by various band members.  For example, on the original composition, “Language of Flowers” bassist, Yasushi Nakamura both wrote and arranged this lovely ballad.  The UOJ Big Band includes contemporary pieces like Michael Jackson’s hit record, “Human Nature” featuring Harris’s vibraphone and more straight-ahead pieces like John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.  You will find every song on this project delightful, inspired and entertaining. However, the driving force behind their entire production is the amazing and relentless drum skill of Ulysses Owens Jr.

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Berta Morena, tenor saxophone/vocals/composer/lyricist; Alana Sinkey, vocals; Manuel Valera, piano/keyboards; Maksim Perepilica, bass; Raphael Pannier, drums; Franco Pinna, percussion/ArpaLeguera; Maria Alejandra Jimenez, Sinuhé Padilla-Isunza, Berta Moreno & Alana Sinkey, choir voices.

The happy first track of this project showcases Berta Moreno’s saxophone and composer talents.  Alana Sinkey is the vocalist that introduces us to the contemporary jazz tune Moreno has written, with its slick, African influenced time changes and infectious melody.  Moreno’s tenor saxophone improvises above the rich African percussion.  Manuel Valera brings excitement and beauty during his piano solo.  

After taking a life-changing trip to Kenya and experiencing a Kawangare neighborhood, Berta Moreno was infatuated with the Kenyan African culture, people and music.  Kawangare is an economically disadvantaged area. Moreno, a native of Madrid, Spain, had volunteered to teach at the Little Ray of Hope School. Her album title, “Tumaini” translates to “Hope” in Swahili and was inspired by the children of Kawangare.  Their bright smiles and positive attitudes touched Berta Moreno’s heart.  That explains the happy, up-tempo tunes on this project and the addition of a choir of voices and rhythmic ideas she honed from the music of East Africa. 

Track 2, “Afrika” is also joyful and is bolstered by the drums of Raphael Pannier and Franco Pinna on percussion.  The Moreno composition titled, “Beauty of the Slum” introduces us to a lovely melody.  Moreno is a strong songwriter, who knows how to place the ‘hook’ of her songs in full view of the listener and strongly accentuates the titles of her songs. 

Sometimes Alana Sinkey, who has a beautiful voice and a lovely style of singing, falls flat on certain improvisation parts.  This is something that with practice and patience she can improve upon. I like the way she and Berta Moreno sometimes sing unison together (vocals and horn) and Ms. Sinkey also sounds wonderful harmonizing with Berta’s tenor saxophone.  Their blend is natural.  Musically, the album concept and Berta Moreno’s compositions make this project both unique and inspired.

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Jacqui Naylor, vocals/composer; Art Khu, piano/organ/Rhodes/guitars; Jon Evans, basses/guitar/background vocals; Josh Jones, drums/percussion.

Jacqui Naylor has a distinctive tone that enriches her alto vocals.  She offers us, not only her unique and pleasant sound, but an expert trio of jazz musicians.  Art Khu is magnificent and creative on piano.  He and Naylor co-wrote “Love Look What You’ve Done,” that becomes track 5 on this artistic venture.  It’s a jazz waltz with beautiful lyrics.  Best known for her ability to interpret a diverse repertoire and blend genres and generations, Jacqui Naylor’s album explores love with both original music and familiar songs.  Speaking of blending, the trio plays a Miles Davis background riff that is immediately recognizable from his band arrangement of “It Never Entered My Mind.”  Surprisingly, Ms. Naylor slaps the Coldplay song, “Fix You” on top, like a cherry on an ice cream Sunday.  It becomes a delicious arrangement. 

Over time, this artist’s eleven album releases have been named in the “Top 10” lists of USA Today, Jazziz Magazine and The Washington Post.  Naylor’s version of REM’s “Losing My Religion” was featured on the hit, television competitive series, “So You Think You Can Dance.”  Her three dynamic musicians contribute to the original and provocative arrangements with their supportive and intuitive talents.  Naylor’s vocals are a slightly reminiscent mixture of Amy Winehouse and Marlena Shaw.  In a sea of jazz vocal releases, it’s delightful to hear a vocalist and a creative artist with her own dynamic style and musical perspective.

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Steve Tintweiss, double bass/melodica/vocals/composer/bandleader; Laurence Cook, drums; Judy Stuart & Amy Sheffer, vocals; James DuBoise, trumpet; Mark Whitecage, tenor saxophone/flute; Trevor Koehler, baritone saxophone.

Steve Tintweiss is playing bass on a slew of Albert Ayler albums.   Tintweiss is perhaps best remembered for his Avant-garde appearances on the jazz scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He was well-known for his stimulating improvisation as a sideman and revolutionary approach to the double bass.  He performed with singer, Patty Waters, and with great jazz players like Sam Rivers, Gato Barbieri and Perry Robinson.  Although Tintweiss has remained steadfast to his bass style and continuously performed on the jazz scene, this is a throwback album that was recorded in 1968 at St. Marks Church.  The group was part of a fundraising concert for the victims of the Nigerian/Biafran conflict.  The concert line-up included Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Pete Seeger, Country Joe McDonald and Jimi Hendrix.  This recording showcases the 20-minute segment featuring Steve Tintweiss and his ensemble.  Also included is their Town Hall concert of September 14, 1968.  This is fifty-one minutes of historic Avant-garde music from the protest time of the late 1960s. 

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Ted Nash, conductor/soprano sax/composer/arranger; Dan Nimmer, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS:  Glenn Close, Wayne Brady, Amy Irving, Matthew Stevenson, Eli Nash & Wynton Marsalis.  Members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.  WOODWINDS: Sherman Irby (lead); Marc Phaneuf, Victor Goines, Mark Lopeman & Paul Nedzela.  TRUMPETS: Ryan Kisor (lead); Tatum Greenblatt, Marcus Printup, Wynton Marsalis.  TROMBONES: Vincent Gardner (lead); Christopher Crenshaw, Elliot Mason.

“Transformation is the highest expression of change.  Transformation dictates a dramatic alteration of form or character – sometimes both.  The highest compliment one can give a piece of music, or writing, is that it has been transformative for the one who experiences it,” quotes Ted Nash of this project.

Ted Nash has created an orchestrated back-drop for the spoken word story of “Transformation,” shared by the amazing voices of both actors, Glenn Close and Wayne Brady.  This creative jazz project opens with “Creation, Part 1.”  Soloists featured on this cut are Sherman Irby on alto saxophone and Wynton Marsalis on trumpet.  Track 2, “Creation, Part II” features Chris Crenshaw on trombone and Paul Nedzela on baritone saxophone.  This is followed by Eli Nash’s spoken word, delivering a coming-out message in his “Dear Dad/Letter.”  With Dan Nimmer’s piano as a backdrop, Eli Nash begins talking about being a transgender and Ted Nash add his soprano saxophone and horn harmonics.

Glenn Close said of her participation in this project, “We are so fractured and in need of healing.  I wanted to create an experience from which people are comforted, but also inspired, to discover their shared humanity.”

Performed before a live audience, this is a concert that combines artforms, using orchestrated spoken word to bridge soulful conversations about life and living.  There are stories of being incarcerated in the composition, “One Among Many” and they approach the subject of right-wing racism in “Rising Out of Hatred.”   Wayne Brady has written and speaks “A Piece by the Angriest Black man in America (or How I Learned to Forgive Myself for Being a Black man in America” that addresses fratricide and self-loathing. Ted Nash hopes his music and the spoken word helps to promote forgiveness, love and humanity.  It all begins with various soul conversations.

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