Posts Tagged ‘jazz cd reviews’

ALBUMS REFLECT THE INTERNATIONAL AND POLITICAL INFLUENCE OF JAZZ

October 11, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

October 11, 2021

JEREMY MONTEIRO & ALBERTO MARSICO  – “JAZZ-BLUES BROTHERS” – JazzNote Records

Jeremy Monteiro, piano/composer; Alberto Marsico, organ/composer; Eugene Pao, guitar; Shawn Kelley, drums; Miz Dee Logwood, vocals; Shawn Letts, tenor saxophone.

Alberto Marsico opens this album by setting a groove on his B3 organ that reminds me of days gone by, sitting in ‘The Valley’ community of Los Angeles at Jimmy Smith’s Supper club and listening to the great organist and his merry men hypnotize the crowd.  Jeremy Monteiro and Marsico partner on organ and piano to bring us a blues-infused, “Opening Act;” an original composition by Alberto Marsico. This tune was so nice, I had to play it twice! 

This is Jeremy Monteiro’s 46th album release as a bandleader.  He is world-renowned, but also very loved and respected in his native Singapore as one of their foremost jazz musicians.  Jeremy has teamed up with one of the most celebrated B3 players in all of Europe, Alberto Marsico.  They met several years ago when the organist was performing in Singapore.  As it happened, Marsico called Jeremy for help when he could not locate a Hammond B3 organ in Jeremy’s Asian city.  That call led to a long-lasting friendship and of course, Jeremy helped Alberto find an organ to play.

On the opening tune, Shawn Letts (originally from Oklahoma) adds a tenor saxophone solo that dips, dives and swings.  Next, we are introduced to the guitar skills of Eugene Pao, a Hong Kong native who has worked with a number of names you may recognize including Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner.  The drums of Shawn Kelley hold the rhythm section in place like super glue.  Shawn is a native of Syracuse, New York who has lived in Southeast Asia for many years and performed locally, as well as with artists like Ernie Watts, James Moody and Eric Marienthal.   Tune Two is an anthem to the Olympics that Jeremy penned.  He was inspired while watching the television broadcast of the Olympics on television during a Los Angeles visit.   This tune actually made its debut on an Ernie Watts album back in 2012 and the video below features Los Angeles native, Christy Smith on bass.

Their guest vocalist, Miz Dee Logwood comes from Northern California and brings the blues.  This band offers the perfect accompaniment for this soul singer and they squeeze out every drop of the blues, spraying it all over the bandstand.  Miz Dee is also featured on the Etta James showstopper titled, “I’d Rather Go Blind” that was recorded ‘live’ at the prestigious Elgar Room in the Royal Albert Hall of London.  Monteiro composed “Mount Olive” in tribute to the Mount Olive Baptist Church he visited in Washington, D.C.   Jeremy was so enraptured by the church music he witnessed, that he composed this tribute.  Their arrangement is richly emersed in traditional gospel music.  Marsico composed “Lou” in tribute to Lou Rawls.  It’s a slow, poignant ballad enhanced by the sax solo of Shawn Letts.  Alberto Marsico is a native of Turin, Italy, who has lived in both Europe and Asia.  He has also spent time and recorded in the San Francisco Bay area.  Jeremy Monteiro became a professional jazz pianist when he was sixteen years old in his native Singapore.  As a mere teenager, he was already leading a house band at a local jazz club.  Jeremy’s a jingle writer, with over five-hundred jingles for major companies to his credit and he has proudly composed the Singapore National song, “One People, One Nation, One Singapore” which has a similarity to “America the Beautiful” in the USA.

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LENA BLOCH & FEATHERY – “ROSE OF LIFTA” – Fresh Sound Records

Lena Bloch, tenor saxophone/composer; Russ Lossing, piano; Billy Mintz, drums; Cameron Brown, bass.

Lena Bloch’s unique Feathery quartet was founded in 2014, with inspiration drawn from jazz, Middle Eastern music, Eastern European musical concepts and 20th – 21st century classical music.  All of Feathery’s music is original and penned by either Lena Bloch or pianist, Russ Lossing.  Their concept is based on collective improvisation and spontaneous invention during their interpretation of these original composition.  The results are beauty, creativity and an imaginative blend of European culture with the American art from of jazz.

Bloch is a Russian-born saxophonist, composer and bandleader who currently resides in New York.  She’s been performing her original music since 1990, traveling to Israel, Europe and throughout the United States.  Her ensemble’s name perhaps best describes the key to her originality and purpose.  She and her quartet offer light, flexible music that floats like a feather, drifting in various directions and flowing freely.  Their music is propelled by an invisible energy that touches our hearts and souls like a cool, Autumn wind.  It ruffles our senses.  Lena Bloch has composed the first two songs, “Promise of Return” and “Mad Mirror.”  The first composition opens with Cameron Brown’s melodic and rhythmic bass line to establish the tune’s melody.  Once the group joins this Middle Eastern, minor mode arrangement, Russ Lossing colors the composition with sparkling piano improvisation.  Billy Mintz holds the piece in place with the snap of unrelenting drums. The piano and horn sing in unison and captivate the attention.  At the other end of the spectrum, “Mad Mirror” is more reflective; no pun intended.  The music is thoughtful and allows Lena Bloch to sing her saxophone song solo, wrapping the tone around us like paper mâché streamers blowing in the breeze. When Russ Lossing adds his piano perspective to the mix, I am captivated by their windswept duet.  This is music that makes me visualize ballerinas and wild birds flying above the stage.  Steeped in classical technique, strong as Israeli tea leaves, the flavor of their artistic work is full of sweetness and surprise.

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NICHOLAS PAYTON, RON CARTER, KARRIEM RIGGINS & GEORGE COLEMAN – “SMOKE SESSIONS” – Smoke Session Records

Nicholas Payton, trumpet/piano/Fender Rhodes; Ron Carter, bass; Karriem Riggins, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: George Coleman, tenor saxophone.

Karriem Riggins opens Track #1 with a funk drum beat for the first eight bars.  Then he’s joined by the bluesy piano of Nicholas Payton and the solid bass beat of Ron Carter.  The party has begun!  

With a deep admiration for Miles Davis and his 1966 album “Four and More,” Nicholas Payton invited two legendary musicians who played with Davis on that very album (Ron Carter and George Coleman) to join him on this project.  Payton has composed all composition except “No Lonely Nights” by Keith Jarrett and “Toys” by Herbie Hancock.  This album opens with “Hangin’ in and Jivin’” that reflects both the Afro-American slang and the Seventies African American, soul culture.  It becomes a platform for Payton to establish his strength on piano, as well as on trumpet.  When the piano disappears, it’s because Nicholas Payton has picked up his horn.  Although, extraordinarily, there are places where Nicholas Payton actually chords on the piano while playing his trumpet.  He, along with Ron Carter’s bass and Karriem’s well-executed drums, become a formidable trio.  

Payton explains that this first composition is an homage to artist/painter, Ernie Barnes, whose work I also admire.  You may remember Mr. Barnes provided the artwork for Marvin Gaye’s famed album, “I Want You.”  The painting was actually called “Sugar Shack” and also appeared on the “Good Times” television show.  “Big George” is the second track and serves as a springboard for the iconic George Coleman to bounce his tenor saxophone upon.  It’s a laid-back groove, very open and inviting, somewhat influenced by the current trend of hip-hop mixed with a taste of soul music.  At the same time, it’s straight-ahead jazz that leans mightily towards bebop roots.  Yes, Payton’s compositions embrace all these concepts with a fluidity that is impressive.  The genres seem to flow and swim into each other, like various breeds of fish mingling in an expansive ocean.  One moment you think Nicholas Payton has composed some contemporary jazz music and then, with a wink, Ron Carter is leading you down a rabbit hole of strong swing.  Carter walks his bass proudly down traditional-sounding interludes, always veering onto a creative and unexpected path.  Carter represents quintessential acoustic bass mastery, perfected over six decades of working on his instrument, his style and playing with the masters.  Nicholas Payton has long admired Ron Carter and he’s been looking forward to recording with the icon for quite some time.  On this album, it has finally happened.   Ron Carter had his own opinions.

“I was quite pleased and had fun playing with him as a piano player as well as a trumpet player.  Listen to him play trumpet.  He’s listening to my response to what he does.  If the trumpet players of today want to try to put him in a place, he should be up there, because he listens to what the bass player contributes to his solo,” Ron Carter praised Nicholas Payton.

The music that Payton has composed is fresh and inspired.  It’s creative and intriguing.  On “Levin’s Lope” he blends Latin music into the arrangement gently, like folding eggs into a rich cake batter.  The result is sweet!   Payton seems fascinated by harmonies and is unafraid to venture off the familiar path into harmonic risk-taking.  Karriem Riggins always adds something unexpected and tasty to his drum licks as he pushes the music forward.  The bass line on this tune is repurposed from another Payton composition titled “Cyborg Swing” and the title of the tune celebrates Ron Carter’s middle name.

“The sound of how I hear bass in an ensemble comes basically from Ron Carter and Ray Brown, so a lot of the music that I write is tailor made for what Ron Does.  I didn’t have to make any alterations to accommodate him, because I write with his sound in mind anyway,” Nicholas Payton explained.

In pursuit of mastering the piano, Payton found inspiration from Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett.  His love of music has expanded and he’s embraced instruments the same way he embraces genres and styles.  Consequently, his piano talents are as impressive as his trumpet skills.  I enjoyed “No Lonely Nights” and the interplay between Carter and Payton, when the ballad turned to a double-time tempo. It was exciting and flush with freedom.  The dirge-like composition dedicated to Danny Barker, a New Orleans music legend, is a two-parter and titled, “Lullaby for a Lamppost.” 

“Danny Barker gave me my first regular gig at this club on Bourbon Street in New Orleans called the Famous Door,” Payton says in his press package.

George Coleman beautifully compliments the “Turn-a-Ron” tune.  “Q for Quincy Jones” is another song that tributes one of our jazz icons and richly swings.  Once again, the camaraderie between Payton and Carter is as sweet and natural as pancakes with syrup. 

Payton’s compositions are brilliantly written and engaging. When he picks up his horn, great joy comes barreling out of the bell.  This is definitely a collector’s album.  The chemistry and communication between the elder and the younger generation of musicians who perform on this project are a testament that jazz lives and will live on.

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SHEDRICK MITCHELL – “WHAT DO YOU SAY?” – Independent Label

Shedrick Mitchell, piano/keyboards/producer/composer; Travis Sayles, additional keyboards; Charles Haynes, drums; Burniss Travis, Thaddaeus Tribbett & David Ginyard, bass; Nir Felder & Sherrod Barnes, guitar; Immanuel Wilkins, saxophone; Pablo Battiste, percussion; Aaron Marcellus, Ayana George & Helen White, vocals; Oswin Benjamin, rap/spoken word; STRING PLAYERS: Andrew Griffin, Susan Mandel, Nicole Neely, Orlando Wells, Lody Jess, Alicia Enstrom & Njioma Grevious; Nicole Neely & Geoffrey Keezer, string arrangements.

This is an album that’s a joy to my ears! Shedrick Mitchell checks all the creative and musical boxes.  Jazz is exploratory and improvisational.  Jazz swings and speaks to the heart.  Jazz stands as a beacon of light for freedom and ever propagating change.  This album is a montage of genres and talent that embraces all of this and more.  The group incorporates bebop and straight-ahead with the same energy and talent they use to explore hip hop culture, R&B and spoken word.  Mitchell wraps strong arms, hands and fingers around every tune this pianist has composed.  He and his musicians produce a ribbon of protest and pride, to encircle their package of love and beauty.  Shedrick Mitchell is obviously one of this generation’s influential and significant musical voices, unafraid to blend soul, R&B, Hip Hop and jazz in this masterwork of originality. 

“It’s hard to put certain music in a box,” Shedrick Mitchell explains in his press package.  “Jazz, to me, is improvisation and whatever that means, but I just love music.  The project connotes jazz and you hear us improvising and taking solos, but for me, this album is about what I embody.  I want this record to be all of who I am.”

Pianist, producer, composer and bandleader, Mitchell definitely has accomplished his goal.  From the melodic tune, “The Truth, The Way, The Light,” that opens with the solid drums of Charles Haynes setting the tone, this song offers a melody that flows like autumn sunshine through my listening-room window.  This Shedrick Mitchell composition is similar to a portrait of a young girl in a mini-dress wearing her grandmother’s pearls.  It’s a perfect balance of smooth jazz and traditional jazz. 

The title tune, “What Do You Say?” is sung by two magnificent voices as a duet between Aaron Marcellus and Ayana George. “Memories” incorporates a choir of vocal harmonies and features Nir Felder on guitar.  “E.A.D.B.” starts out quite contemporary and becomes a platform for Shedrick to spotlight his piano talents.  His fingers race across the keys with style and purpose.  There is no doubt about his jazz sensibilities as Shedrick introduces us to both his technique and his straight-ahead composing skills.  Immanuel Wilkins takes a stunning saxophone solo and hammers the straight-ahead piece into place.  This quickly becomes one of my favorites on this album.  “The Don Medley” song employs strings, voices and gospel music; a layer cake of musical sweetness.  The vocals of Aaron Marcellus touch my very soul.  This beautifully arranged medley shifts from Shedrick’s original music to “On My Own” that Patti LaBelle made so famous and morphs into Stevie Wonder’s hit “Overjoyed.”  The arrangement is painted richly with string parts that elevate the production in lovely ways. 

His song, “Faith,” once again features Aaron on vocals, but also uses strings to grow the music and blossom the flower that is Shedrick Mitchell on piano.   His fingers swiftly execute the notes, precise and fast as humming bird wings.  They draw out the sweet nectar of the song.  Oswin Benjamin’s spoken word is powerful on the song “Black Lives Matter.”  

St. Louis native, Shedrick Mitchell, brings us the best of himself and his accompanying musicians.  Here is a concert of music I played two days in a row with great appreciation. 

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BRASUKA – “A VIDA COM PAIXÃO”– Outside In Music

Rosana Eckert, vocalist/keyboard; Denny Robinson, keyboards/piano; Tom Burchill, acoustic & Electric guitars; Brian Warthen, bass/percussion; Jose Aponte, drums/percussion; Ricardo Bozas, percussion; SPECIAL GUESTS: Drew Zarembe, flute/tenor saxophone; Jeff Robbins, tenor saxophone/flute; Daniel Pardo, flutes/melodica.

“Brasuka” is the name of this band.  They are based in Dallas, Texas and steeped in the joy and beauty of Brazilian music.  The six-member ensemble, along with three special guests, also dabble in splashes of rock, reggae and Latin spiced jazz.  They formed their group ten years ago as an offshoot of a Sergio Mendes tribute where Rosana Eckert and Ricardo Bozas both performed.  Eckert said they discussed forming a band after that musical meeting.

“Four years later, we started writing our own songs.  Oftentimes, we’d write together.  We’d start with a nugget and then explode it,” Rosana Eckert recalls the very beginning of their dream group.

As a collective, there’s no one leader.  The band is comprised of experienced musicians and educators.  Many are participating in other bands, but they came together in rehearsals and to collaborate as composers and arrangers.  Today, they stand, solid as a rock, influenced by music from Sergio Mendes to Ivan Lins.  They are a multi-ethnic organization.  Eckert is Mexican-American.  Bozas was born in Uruguay and Denny Robinson is Cuban.  Tom Burchill and Brian Warthen are American. Drummer, Jose Aponte, is Puerto Rican.

“Samba Jiji” (written by Rosana Eckert) introduces us to a beautiful, lilting Brazilian groove reminiscent of the music of Moacir Santos.  The melody is lovely and the voice of Rosana blends wordlessly with the rhythmic track like rainbows in thunder skies.  The saxophone solo by Jeff Robbins is smooth as butter. 

“This song best represents the band.  It’s based on the Partido Alto rhythm which is a different kind of samba that is modern and funky,” Rosana Eckert explains.

Track #2, “A Vida Com Paizao” (translates to A Life With Passion).  it has a reggae feel.  The synthesizer solo is an outstanding addition to this arrangement along with what sounds like steel drums.  The composition “Road to Hermeto” was written by all band members.  It’s inspired by innovative Brazilian composer, Hermeto Pasqual, who was notorious for his complex melodies.  I enjoyed the flute solo and the modern jazz harmonics used by the vocal chorus.  “Marakandombe” has a smooth jazz flavor and is composed by Eckert & Bozas.  They combine Uruguayan candombe and Brazilian maracatu with a nod to rock music, incorporating Burchill’s scorching guitar solo.  “Reina’s song” showcases the beauty of vocalist/ keyboardist Rosana Ecker’s ability to emotionally connect to a song’s lyrics.  Perhaps that’s because she also composed this song.   “Praia Felix” is joy-filled and happy.  The percussion tap-tap-tapping with movement and energy propels this music.  It’s sung in both Portuguese and English. 

Denny Robinson wrote a song inspired by a fig tree, titled “La Higuera.”  The pianist uses his voice to sing this composition, his vocals dancing on top of the strong percussion. They employ a candombe groove.  Brian Warthen offers a mellow, bass solo.  The arrangement bursts into a sing-along party on “Confundido” reflecting Robinson’s Cuban heritage.  This song stirs it up with Latin fusion and straight-ahead jazz.  Brasuka is an exploratory and talented group to keep our eye on.  I believe they have a bright future.

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JAZZ DADDIES – “MOONTOWER NIGHTS” – Independent Label

Randy Larkin, guitar/composer; Gary Feist & Marty Mitchell, bass; Kenny Felton, drums; Andrew Malay, saxophone; Shane Pitsch, trumpet/flugelhorn.

Randy Larkin is the guitarist and composer for the group “Jazz Daddies” who are based in Austin, Texas.  He has contributed all the original compositions for this entertaining album of music.  The group sometimes performs as a quintet and, at other times, as a quartet.  Either way, they are a tightly knit ball of entertainment that incorporates a taste of the seventy’s music with the more modern jazz of today. 

Kenny Felton, their drummer, is a graduate of Indiana University and also leads his own local band, ‘Gumbo Ya Ya.’  Felton has established a nonprofit music education program for school aged youth in the Austin area.  Saxophone player, Andrew Malay, is a product of North Texas State University and holds a Master’s degree in music. Malay has a warm, honey-sweet tone on his saxophone.  Trumpeter, Shane Pitsch, boasts a PhD in trumpet performance from UT Austin and leads his own band, as well as being a productive member of the “Jazz Daddies” ensemble.  Marty Mitchell is one of two bass players used in the group and he’s self-taught.  You can enjoy his big, bass sound on this group’s premier track, “Voyage to Nepal” where he solos and struts his stuff.  He did attend university and helped pay for his education by playing in a popular college band.  Marty also sings.  Gary Feist is the other bassist and a professional videographer and photographer who owns a company called Yellowdog Films.  His company creates commercials.  Gary is a strong vocalist as well as a bass player with deep roots in the New Orleans music culture. You hear his electric bass style on the tune, “Cool Island Walk.”

Their title tune, “Moontower Nights” sounds as if it’s based on the changes of Wes Montgomery’s “Tequila” tune.  In case you were wondering, a Moontower was a popular way of street-lighting before the construction of Austin’s city lights.  They are currently iconic and protected structures in Austin, Texas.  The most popular one serves as a colorful, annual Christmas tree of lights in Austin’s Ziker Park.

This is an album that mixes jazz with strong R&B grooves.  For example, “Hot Dog” is a Randy Larkin composition that invites the musicians to shout out the title at choreographed spots during the arrangement.  It’s a happy song, lending the spotlight to Andrew Malay on saxophone and the bright, energetic trumpet of Shane Pitsch spices the tune up.  Kenny Felton pumps his drums and infuses the group with dynamism.

This “Jazz Daddies” group blends swing, blues, bebop, Latin and funk music, offering us ten well-played original songs.  “On Call” is a jazz waltz and “Bossa Verde” encourages me to cha-cha-cha across the room as does the tune, “Rico,” with its catchy guitar melody highlighted by Kenny’s solid percussion and splashed with jazzy colors from Andrew Malay’s sax solo.

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AL HAMMERMAN – “JUST A DANCE” –  Independent Label

Al Hammerman, composer/lyricist; Mark Maher, keyboards; Phil Ring, guitar; Zeb Briskovich, bass; Miles Vandiver, drums; R. Scott Bryan, percussion; Jason Swagler, alto saxophone; Ben Reece, tenor & alto saxophone/flute; Andy Tichenor & Garrett Schmidt, trumpets; Cody Henry & Jim Owens, trombone; Abbie Steiling & Emily Rockers Bowman, violins; William Bauer, viola; Andy Hainz, cello; FEATURED VOCALISTS: Erin Bode, Feyza Eren, Arvell Keithley, Brian Owens & Alan Ox; Background vocals: Valencia Branch & Amber Sweet.  

Al Hammerman is a talented songwriter and his first song brings back the golden days of Las Vegas male singers and the “Rat Pack” fame with Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  I would quickly learn this is a compilation Cd featuring various vocals and song styles.  Alan Ox sings Track 1, “What Else.”  He opens Hammerman’s album with his super smooth vocals.  However, the challenge with this recording is that after Alan Ox opens, the songwriter then incorporates an entirely different vocalist with a different sound and approach.  She delivers his second song, “Everybody Knows.”   The same challenge continues with track #3; a new song, a new vocalist.  I suddenly realize, this album is like a songwriter’s ‘pitch’ tape.  If Hammerman had stuck with the smooth vocals of Alan Ox throughout, he might have produced a stunning album that really showcased both his songwriting talents and the talented male singer.

The composer, Al Hammerman, stands tall in his own bright light.  You may have heard his music in movies like Passengers, Gotti and Kin or on popular television shows like Criminal Minds, The Kominsky Method, Drop Dead Diva and Dynasty. This production offers a dozen of his well-written songs. 

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MICHAEL ECKROTH GROUP – “PLENA” – Truth Revolution Recording Collective

Michael Eckroth, piano/composer; Alex “Apolo” Ayala & Edward Perez, bass; Joel Mateo & Juan Felipe Mayorga, drums; Mauricio Herrera, congas; Peter Brainin, tenor & soprano saxophone/percussion; Carlos Maldonado, percussion; Samuel Torres, congas; John Fedchock, trombone; Brian Lynch, trumpet.

The first thing I did was look up the meaning for the word “Plena.”  The Collins Dictionary described it as: an enclosure containing gas at a higher pressure than the surrounding environmentThe Oxford Dictionary had a very different meaning: a traditional style of singing and dancing showing African influences and characterized by a highly syncopated rhythm and often satirical lyricsWikipedia said it was a music from Puerto Rico That was a result of the mixing of the culturally diverse popular class, where their workplace, neighborhood, and life experiences met to create an expressive, satirical style of music.In the press package it was labeled ‘Latin Jazz.’  Now I was ready to apprise this piece of art and decide which meaning best fit.

A wonderful percussive drive opens the album, with the inclusion of Joel Mateo on drums, Mauricio Herrera on congas, along with a couple of percussion masters.  They definitely present an Afro-rhythm based, Latin flavored production. Like gas under pressure, this group is explosive. 

The piano genius of Michael Eckroth is very technically European classical, brightly mixed with jazz and tinged with Latin cultural roots.  The Eckroth compositions are often modern and contemporary and the group itself is a tight-knit, cohesive band.  For example, on the first cut “And So It Goes” Eckroth leads the band on a merry chase across the black and white keys.  Peter Brainin, on tenor saxophone, plays the jazz card and trumps the arrangement; steals the spotlight. When the drums arrive, they rip open the curtain so we can enjoy the rich, cultural, Latin rhythms. The Alex “Apolo” Ayala bass lines beneath the beauty of this tune are perfectly placed and solid.  The Puerto Rican style of folk music, “Plena” is explored on Track #4 as their title tune.      

“I’m not attempting to recreate folkloric playing styles.  This is carving out an individualistic path, all with respect to the creators of these varied folkloric and jazz forms,” Michael Eckroth assures us.

“Invernadero” is track #5 and exudes energy, giving Edward Perez (on bass) a wide opportunity to solo and it’s a wonderful, musical experience.  Eckroth trades fours with the percussionists, showing off his piano mastery in brief snatches of brilliance.  This up-tempo original composition becomes one of his arrangements I particularly enjoyed.  “Soul Cha” is another favorite, based on afro rhythms and the blues.  It gives Brian Lynch an opportunity to add his spicy trumpet solo to the mix. “Exotic particles” is two minutes and fifty-six seconds of bright melodies played by the horn section and Eckroth’s unique exploration of the piano.  The drums are dominate and splash the tunes with colorful patterns of rhythm.  “Rain Song” is another well-written composition by Michael Eckroth that closes this album out in a thought-provoking way.  This is not only jazz, it’s international music that can make the world smile.

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MUSIC MASTERS & JAZZY MULTI-GENRES

October 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

October 1, 2021

GONZALO RUBALCABA, RON CARTER & JACK DEJOHNETTE – “SKYLINE” – 5Passion Records

Ron Carter, bass/composer; Jack DeJohnette, drums/composer; Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano/composer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlmtAuhUPbI

As soon as I saw these three iconic names, meshed together as a trio, I was intrigued.  What will you hear when you put Grammy Award-winning, Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba into the studio with NEA Jazz Masters Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette?  Something wonderful was about to happen; I was certain!

These music masters open with “Lagrimas Negras,” a Miguel Matamoros composition, full of Latin spice, bolero and the fluidity and stamp of these three iconic musicians.  The melody is beautiful and established by Gonzalo Rubalcaba on piano.  He soon invites Ron Carter to spotlight his talent on bass with a rhythmic, inventive and dynamic solo.  Jack DeJohnette prods the music along with steady sticks and percussive brilliance. Track #2 opens like a whispered secret, with Carter’s bass having a solo conversation.  Gonzalo answers him on piano, using sparse notes, staccato bleeps and finally lush chords to speak his piece.  The contrast of a soprano, single, piano-note played against the walking bass of Carter’s monologue is distinctively different.  It pulls at the listener’s ear.  Jack DeJohnette adds dancing drums beneath the conversation, joining his friends to express this “Gypsy” tune that Ron Carter has penned.  Each of these master musicians have contributed their own original compositions to this passionate work.  “Gypsy” develops from a whisper to a scream, allowing Rubalcaba’s imaginative and technically precise piano playing to dominate and grow the music.  He is genuinely supported and his intensity is matched by both Carter’s racing bass notes and DeJohnette’s expressive drum licks.  This arrangement is exciting!

These three musicians have known each other for many years. “Skyline” is an ambitious project to reunite Gonzalo with mentors from his youth.   In 1993, Gonzalo Rubalcaba stepped into the McClear studios with Ron Carter on bass and Cuban drummer, Julio Barreto.  They recorded an album of bebop songs released on the album “Diz.”  This Carter-Rubalcaba-Barreto trio toured briefly. 

“Great rhythm player,” Carter recalls thinking at that time about Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s piano talent.

One amazing thing about this magical album is that only Gonzalo Rubalcaba was fully familiar with all the music before they recorded.  However, Rubalcaba managed to convince Carter and DeJohnette that it would be fine.  The music would guide them and they would be creative and spontaneous in the moment.  You hear their improvisation and exceptional brilliance on every single composition.  On Rubalcaba’s original, “Promenade” the pianist explains that this song was actually dedicated to Ron Carter and debuted on a 1998 Blue Note label with the late bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Ignacio Berroa.  Imagine Gonzalo’s pleasure in hearing Ron Carter explore the tune and put his magic touch on a song written with him in mind.  There is also a brief but powerful drum solo taken by Jack DeJohnette.  Another of Rubalcaba’s original compositions is “Siempre Maria.”  It’s a lovely bolero ballad that was recorded back in 1992, but has been reharmonized and repurposed for this session.

Ron Carter mused about the project saying, “…We go into a date where two of the three have no concept going in, and the guy who’s in charge has to convince us that his way of doing this is going to be ok.  He has to convince us that his music, which goes in so many directions, is a good choice for the band and that he’s picked the right partners to make this project successful. … It’s interesting that, three years after we made the record, everything holds up.”

“We had a four-hour rehearsal in the studio and then started recording,” Gonzalo explained.

Carter contributed “Quite Place,” Track #6, and (at the beginning) it’s very classical sounding and soothing to the spirit. Quickly, it breaks into other musical realms, exploding with the sounds of freedom.  Jack DeJohnette contributed “Silver Hollow” and “Ahmad the Terrible” to the project, per Rubalcaba’s request.  His “Silver Hollow” tune was first recorded in 1978 for ECM with Lester Bowie, John Abercrombie and Eddie Gomez.  Later, in 1990, it was recorded by Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland. In 1991, Rubalcaba recorded it himself on “The Blessing,” an album with Jack DeJohnette and Charlie Haden on bass.  The ninth and final tune is titled RonJackRuba and is written by all three members of the trio.  The collaboration is soaked in blues, with funk laced through the tune like red, cayenne pepper flakes.  The always engaging, but never predictable piano playing of Gonzalo Rubalcaba is the cloth and Carter and DeJohnette are sharp needles, shiny in the light, and zipping in and out to create the fabric of the tune, each stitching their mark in a beautiful way.  You will want this piece of intricate, musical, crochet art in your collection.

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ANDY FARBER AND HIS ORCHESTRA – “EARLY BLUE EVENING” – ArtistShare

Andy Farber, bandleader/arranger/composer/Alto & baritone saxophones; SPECIAL GUEST: Catherine Russell, vocals; James Chirillo, guitar; Adam Birnbaum, piano; Jennifer Vincent, bass; Alvester Garnett, drums; SAXOPHONES: Mark Gross, also & soprano saxophones/flute; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone/ flute/clarinet; Dan Block, tenor saxophone/clarinet/flute/piccolo; Lance Bryant, tenor saxophone/ clarinet; Carl Maraghi, bass saxophone/bass clarinet; TRUMPETS: Brian Pareschi, Bruce Harris, James Zollar, Shawn Edmonds & Alphonso Home; TROMBONES: Wayne Goodman, Art Baron & Dion Tucker.

The first tune, “Don’t Tell Me What To Do,” is blues basted and bursting with flavor.  The clarinet solo by Dan Block is salty and tasty.  James Zollar is hot as ghost pepper on his trumpet and Art Baron’s trombone solo is the silky-smooth gravy.  Andy Farber has composed nine of the eleven delicious tunes on this album.  His arrangements bring back the golden era of big band popularity.  Farber’s arrangements give his stellar bandmembers an opportunity to showcase their amazing, individual talents.  Each one steps forward to soak up the spotlight and to interpret Farber’s very well-written compositions.  New Yorkers got to know the band when they were a weekly act at Birdland in the mid-2000’s.  Farber uses some of the best jazz cats in the area to spice up his orchestra.  For example, on Track #2, “Feet and Frames” pianist Adam Birnbaum offers a notable solo and the dynamic Alvester Garnett draws attention with his powerful and rhythm-steady drums. “The Holidaymakers” is infused with Latin rhythms and horn harmonies that punch the music forward. “Aircheck” sounds very Count Basie-ish.  The band swings hard and steady!  Lance Bryant takes a sparkling solo on tenor saxophone.  The title tune is satin smooth and features Godwin Louis on Alto saxophone.  It’s a beautiful composition with a melody that is begging for lyrics.  Speaking of lyrics, Catherine Russell is the singer on “How Am I To Know” and she sounds amazing when she sweetly, but powerfully, compliments the orchestra.  The song “Portrait of Joe Temperley” takes my breath away with its beautiful melody and interpretation by bandleader, composer Andy Farber on baritone saxophone. 

There is a little something for everyone on this Andy Farber album of great songs including awesome arrangements and a jazz orchestra that shines brighter than a Broadway theater’s opening night.   

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CHARGED PARTICLES WITH TOD DICKOW – “PLAY THE MUSIC OF MICHAEL BRECKER – LIVE AT THE BAKED POTATO” –  Summit Records

Tod Dickow, tenor saxophone; Murray Low, keyboards; Aaron Germain, acoustic & Electric basses; Jon Krosnick, drums; SPECIAL GUEST: Omar Ledezma, congas.

For those of you unfamiliar with “The Baked Potato,” it’s not a carb, but a popular night spot in Los Angeles that features a host of iconic musicians, especially known for their showcasing of fusion and contemporary jazz artists.  The Northern California based group ‘Charged Particles’ performed in Los Angeles to record and capture the essence and musical spirit of the late, great Michael Brecker.  This recording investigates Brecker’s tunes spanning three decades.  On March 17, 2019, Tod Dickow joined the band of ‘Charged Particles’ to perform in Studio City, California at that intimate, but famed ‘Baked Potato’ nightspot.  The band opened with Brecker’s composition “Peep” from the saxophone icon’s third Impulse Release titled, “1990’s Now You See It … (Now You Don’t).”  It’s an energy driven and exciting arrangement that begins with a flurry of drum sticks and solo rhythm conjured up by Jon Krosnick on trap drums.  His sticks tore open the stage curtains for Tod Dickow to march through.

“I was a Coltrane/Brecker/Bob Berg/Liebman/Grossman kind of guy ever since the ‘70s,” Tod Dickow lists his influences. 

“I certainly listened to enough of Mike’s music that it’s going to come out in my playing, but it’s not really like I’ve ever outright tried to imitate him.  I just know that some of the devices he used have become a part of my playing,” Dickow elaborated in the liner notes.

Michael Brecker (who died January 13, 2007) after a prolonged illness, left this earth at fifty-seven-years-young.  He left behind a massive stack of compositions and an impressive recording discography that features his unique and gifted articulation on the saxophone.  Reed man, Tod Dickow, has captured the magic and brilliance of Brecker during this excursion into Michael Brecker’s music and legacy.  On “Arc of the Pendulum,” keyboard master, Murray Low, adds organ to the mix, while Tod Dickow continues to saturate the group with saxophone power and purpose.  With their feet solidly planted in fusion fields and contemporary jazz arrangements, this ‘Charged Particles’ group has been working in the Bay area since 2011.  Drummer Jon Krosnick is the founder of the group, originally formed in Ohio back in 1993. They made a name for themselves in the Bay area by tackling the challenging material of Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock.  At first, they were a trio.  Then they decided to add a reed player and they all agreed that Tod Dickow was the man.

“This band has always been willing to take on difficult compositions like Mike’s,” said Krosnick.  “… We’ve spent tremendous amounts of time rehearsing as a group and practicing on our own.  When people listen to us, they realize that we’ve done the homework to put on a show that took preparation and has lots of dramatic value and communicative power as a result.”

All three rhythm section members bring excitement and creativity to the bandstand and into the studio.  During this live recording, Murray Low segued from piano to organ and sampled sounds, using assorted synthesizers during their set.  These complicated splits on his keyboard allowed Murray to cover multiple parts at the same time and his inventiveness captured the richness of Brecker’s original studio recordings.  Aaron Germain switches between upright bass and electric bass with ease and accuracy.  This is a joyful listen, full of the spark and spunk that Michael Brecker’s group always brought to the stage, but also incorporating the creativity and integrity of these four musicians.  ‘Charged Particles’ has a big, fat, funky sound and although they are tributing Michael Brecker, they are all master musicians themselves.  ‘Charged Particles’ brings their own sense of power and play to this recording, along with the historic legacy of the man they are tributing. 

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JAZZMIEA HORN & HER NOBLE FORCE – “DEAR LOVE” – Empress Legacy Records

Jazzmiea Horn, vocals; Sullivan Fortner, piano/Musical Director; Keith Brown, piano; Eric Wheeler, bass; Anwar Marshall, drums; Bruce Williams, saxophone. 

NOTE: I attempted, but was unable to contact the new label for Jazzmiea Horn to list other members of ‘Noble Force.’  My style is to give all the musicians credit on my reviews.

Jazzmiea Horn and her 15-piece, Noble Force musicians ask us, “Where Is Freedom!?” on her new album titled, “Dear Love.”  As one of young America’s newest jazz vocalists, this song steps out of the jazz medium and into funk and R&B.  The groove is like a Sly & the Family Stone remake and the lyrics are reflective of other eras, like the ‘peace & love’ Hippie movement when music and culture called out for freedom.  “Strive to Be” is more like the Jazzmiea Horn vocals that first captivated me when I first heard them.  Those long, controlled, legato notes that float above the stage like colorful helium balloons.  Ribbons of color and emotion unravel before our ears and stream across space to draw us into her realm.  She’s emotional. You can hear her desire to be a horn, reflected in her vocal acrobatics.  This song reminisces about her grandmother in spoken word, followed by vocal freedom of expression with scats that flip, fly, leap and twirl in space. Her horn section is supportive, featuring an emotional solo by one of the members. The ‘Noble Force’ arrangement of “He Could Be Perfect” is a tribute to big band beauty.  It’s a slow swing, with tight horn lines and rich harmonies.  But it’s tunes like “Lover Come Back to Me” where Jazzmiea swings so hard and so strong that it’s an example of what jazz singing is all about, that truly endears this vocalist to me.  The blues-rooted “Let Us (Take Our Time)” with its breaks and staccato parts that use silence to accentuate melody and horn harmonics are arranged to compliment her sweet voice.  They introduce us to jazzmiea’s poetry and (as a published poet myself) I love that.  The up-tempo, straight-ahead music and delivery of “He’s My Guy” shows off the band’s majesty and her voice crowns them with her simple, honest, love message.  That high soprano note on the end of the song; the one that she holds so powerfully, is both shocking and provocative. 

The sugar-sweet sound of her vocals on “Nia” with a warm vibrato tickling the notes on their endings is typical Jazzmeia Horn.  The multi-genre surprises that Ms. Horn offers in this new musical package underlines her growth vocally and her skillful talents as both a composer and poetess.  The Noble Force Band is undoubtably an exciting and talented addition to this new production under the direction of Musical Director, Sullivan Fortner.   

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MAURICIO J. RODRIGUEZ PROJECT – “LUZ” – Independent Label

Mauricio J. Rodriguez, six string E. Bass/fretless E. Bass/double bass/composer/arranger; Ahmed Barroso, guitar; Gabriel Hernandez Cadenas, piano/elec. piano; Reinier Guerra & Lucio Vieira, drums; Orlando “Landy” Mosqueda, udu/afro-percussion/timbal/Cuban percussion; Tomasito Cruz, bata drums; Andy Fornet, cajon; Jose M. Sardinas, clarinet; Zachary Bornheimer & Jorge Pinelo, saxophones; Richie Viruet, trumpet; Jose Pradas, violoncello; Adrianna Foster, Jorge Quintero & Big Johnny Boffa, vocals.

A song called “Casualty” opens this album in a rather melancholy way, featuring saxophonist, Jorge Pinelo, who has a very singular tone and style on his saxophone.  He captures the listeners attention while Gabriel Hernandez Cadenas tinkles the upper register piano keys, having a continuous piano conversation with the saxophonist.  I fall in love with the Mauricio Rodriguez original song “Monday.”  The chord changes are lovely and the arrangement moves in a comfortable gallop across my listening space.  This time Zachary Bornheimer is on saxophone, as part of a horn ensemble and as a soloist, introducing us to the melody.  Then, Cadenas adds his electric piano chops to the mix.  Drummer, Reinier Guerra locks in with the bass of Mauricio Rodriguez to push the song forward like a railroad engine. “Es el Amor” adds the lovely, emotional vocals of Adrianna Foster.  She sings this dreamy ballad in Spanish and the cello of Jose Pradas is richly featured.

Mauricio J. Rodriguez is a native of Cuba.  He was a member of the Fervet Opus Jazz Quartet, a group that toured worldwide and appeared in many festivals.  He spent time living in Venezuela and performed with the Aragua Symphony Orchestra and taught at the Aragua Conservatory.  In 2001, Rodriguez relocated to the United States, where he has explored fusion Latin Jazz and played with a number of ensembles.  You hear his fusion exploratory arrangement on his composition “Tuesday,” where he features his six string dancing bass beneath the ensemble’s groove.  The Chucho Valdez tune, “Claudia” reflects Rodriguez’s classical training and also his mastery of his bass instrument.  The electronic coloring gently pushes this song into fusion territory.  “Luz” (the title tune) is sung by Jorge Quintero in Spanish and did not touch my spirit the way Ms. Foster’s voice did.  I enjoyed hearing her sweet soprano again on the old standard, “My Funny Valentine” with just Adrianna and Rodriguez performing as a duet.  You can clearly hear his love of classical music and counter melodic structure. They close with “Vocalize” another Vicente Viloria composition.  Viloria has contributed four songs to this album. His solid compositions are beautiful with strong melodies.  Mauricio J. Rodriguez is both a master bassist and a creative arranger and composer, who expands the world of Latin jazz in interesting and creative ways.  He is the Composer-in-Residence of the Miami Symphony Orchestra and The Miami International Academy of the Bass.

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GAETANO LETIZIA – ‘CHARTREUSE” – Independent Artist  

Gaetano Letizia, guitars/composer/arranger; Theron Brown, organ/piano; Matthew DeRubertis, electric bass; Bob Esterle, saxophones; Bill Ransom, drums/percussion.

This is the eleventh album release for Gaetano Letizia as a bandleader and it is multi-layered with genres that include R&B, blues, funk, reggae and jazz.  A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Letizia dreamed of being a musician when he was a mere four-years-old.  He was inspired by watching his Auntie play the accordion.  However, it wasn’t until he was fifteen-years-old that he began to study guitar, after hearing Jimi Hendrix play “Purple Haze.”  At seventeen, he was playing in a rock band and at twenty, he discovered George Benson, with all his jazzy, smooth guitar licks and silky voice. 

The first composition on this album is the title tune and features stellar solos by both Gaetano and his sax man, Bob Esterle.  It’s a tribute to his aunt, who owned a chartreuse ’57 Chevy.  Although I enjoyed the solos and the center of the tune, I found the repeated hook of the song, inserted at the very beginning of the composition, and throughout, to be somewhat boring with its constant repetition. Track #2 is called “Expanding Reality” and opens with Bill Ransom setting the afro-centric groove and tempo on percussion.  When the band enters, there are several bars of dissonant groove.  Mr. Letizia seems more interested in following technique in composing, using augmentation and pieces of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition to write these songs, instead of depending on emotion and soulful feelings.  I prefer listening to songs that make me feel the music.  It’s obvious these musicians are well-seasoned players and talented.  I’m not sure these compositions bring out their best.  “Back and Blue” is the first straight-ahead piece of music that I hear on this album.  It gives us a peek at how Gaetano Letizia hears and interprets jazz, but soon his arrangements lean towards ‘fusion.’  In the publicity notes, Letizia says that he based this composition on a tune Jaco Pastorius wrote called, “Chicken.”  Theron Brown is featured on organ.  This composition is followed by a ballad called, “Paradise Found.”  Sometimes the arrangements are too busy during the soloist explorations.  Instead of complimenting the solos, they over-power and often collide with the solo parts in dissonant ways.  “Genrecide” is another funk tune with a catchy melody that moves from funk to reggae in the blink of an eye.  His song “Blue Ionosphere” is the first time we hear Letizia play nylon string guitar. 

This quintet’s challenge seems to be interpreting these original compositions by Gaetano Letizia without the musicians crashing into each other.  The listener’s challenge is to either avoid or to embrace the dissonance. 

“Punch Drunk” is a funk/R&B groove that would set any dancehall or bar-b-que house party on fire.  It’s danceable and enhances the strong flavor of R&B drums with Letizia adding a bluesy guitar solo.   Throughout this album, the categories and musical genres jump around from fusion jazz to modern jazz and incorporate a lot of funk and R&B grooves. That makes it difficult to label the music of Letizia’s Jazz Quintet.  But then again, who needs labels? 

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CARLOS HENRIQUEZ – “THE SOUTH BRONX STORY” – Tiger Turn Records

Carlos Henriquez, bass/coro/guiro/spoken word; Jeremy Bosch, flute/vocals/coro; Robert Rodriguez, piano/Fender Rhodes; Obed Calvaire, drums; Anthony Almonte, congas/coro; Melissa Aldana, tenor saxophone; Michael Rodriguez & Terell Stafford, trumpet; Marshall Gilkes, trombone.

Carlos Henriquez has been a member of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra for over twenty years. His gifts are that he is a master of both jazz and Afro-Latin traditions; a bilingual, bass musician, a composer and a member of the Bronx community.  Carlos is proud that he comes from the community that has nurtured local legends like Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz. 

“Jazz is American, born out of the melting pot of our Afro-American experience.  In the American spirit, jazz has adapted with different cultures, cities, people and places and become an expression of one’s identity.  This project represents just that; the tragedy, violence and history isn’t over.  But there is hope in the future.  Music, dance and the arts can bring that all together and transcend to showcase a common humanity,” Carlos Henriquez explained his inspiration in creating this awesome work of art.

Carlos Henriquez uses this, his third album as a bandleader, to explore his Puerto Rican roots, growing up in the South Bronx and to celebrate his vibrant, culture and music.

“The South Bronx Story” is a suite of pieces that speak to the things that made this environment so special to me,” he affirms.

 Beginning with a straight-ahead jazz feel on “The South Bronx” expressed through the tenor saxophone of Melissa Aldana, Henriquez captures the excitement and energy of youth, recalling the fun he had as a child of the Bronx. Henriquez’s bass pushes the groove forward, introducing the rhythm and melody line at the top of the tune.  The music rolls out from there, with horn harmonies dancing across the fluid Latin rhythm section, pushed by Obed Calvaire’s drums and Anthony Almonte’s congas.  There is a celebratory trumpet solo by Terel Stafford that expresses the grit and the grandeur of Henriquez’s neighborhood in a very musical way.   Track #2 is a musical depiction of times when Carlos Henriquez was jumping carefree through the waters of the fire hydrant on hot Bronx days.  The CD cover recreates this water-play with childhood friends.  Jeremy Bosch uses his smooth baritone vocals to caress the story of water on “Hydrants Love All.”  The melody and the rhythms are infectious and joyful, like the represented laughter and playful spirit of children getting summer-wet in the streets.  The horn arrangements are wonderfully written and played by these master musicians.  On “Boro of Fire” Carlos Henriquez is recalling a time when greedy landlords and corrupt politicians allowed buildings to burn for illegal profit and at that time, the South Bronx was nicknamed, “The Burning Boro.”  It’s a very up-tempo tune with lots of horn power. As the rhythm stirs and escalates, you can almost picture the flames leaping.  Henriquez’s snappy bass line introduces “Moses on the Cross” in a provocative way and sets the mood.  This song celebrates Robert Moses, the creator of the Cross Bronx Expressway.  Carlos Henriquez explains:

“The Cross Bronx ‘unified’ New York by destroying ethnic neighborhoods and deepening the racial and economic divide between citizens.  As a result, property values on the North side of the highway soared and those on the South side declined.  In my hood, we all hated this freeway, because it destroyed culture.”

Every composition that Henriquez has written is explained in a CD insert.  It is informative and clearly exposes the social consciousness and concern that this wonderful bassist has for his community.  He advocates with music. His musical message is both refreshing and admirable. You will hear songs that applaud the work of “Mama Lorraine”, a ballad inspired by Lorraine Montenegro, the daughter of the founder of “The United Bronx Parents” organization.  His song, “Soy Humano” (I am Human) protests the government systems’ way of minimizing families and rewarding families for being broken.  It’s a strong piece, like the message itself.  Henriquez tributes his father with the song, “El Guajeo De Papi” and remembers a gang negotiator with his composition “Black Benji.” This composition recalls the murdered Cornell Benjamin, himself a gang member, who tried to implement peace between Black and Latino gangs.  In the process, he lost his life. Carlos Henriquez celebrates Benjamin’s legacy with jazz and spoken word.

This is a musical journey that is biographical in nature and Carlos Henriquez hopes his lyrics, his poetry and composing skills, along with this awesome group of musicians, express to the listener the magic and the madness of his community.   He wants his production to capture the joy and the injustice within his neighborhood, like so many neighborhoods across America’s vast landscape.  Although rooted in social issues, Carlos Henriquez’s music absolutely makes you want to dance, to sing, to hope and to leave your troubles on the doorstep.

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BREAKING RULES & PUSHING BOUNDARIES

September 23, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 23, 2021

In an era of pandemic blues, political chaos, wars and rumors of war, let’s continue to reach for the best within ourselves.  When I witness a young, twenty-something, African-American, female poet like Amanda Gorman, who both wrote and read an inaugural poem at the White House, that makes me hopeful!  When I witness a fifteen-year-old, jazz pianist, like Brandon Goldberg pushing boundaries with his sophomore album, he also makes me hopeful; hopeful for humanity and for the blossoming of a new generation. The artists I listened to recently are all breaking the rules in some kind-of-way.  Like Brandon Goldberg and Amanda Gorman, they are pushing against mediocrity and reaching for their highest good. Luckily, these artists are sharing their talent and treasures with us. These albums inspire us to look within and to grow. You will read about the Temple University Jazz Band and Jon Gordon’s unusually lovely original compositions and horn arrangements. Steve Million and Sarah Marie Young offer us music that’s unique and artsy.  Drummer Ches Smith mixes Haitian Vodou music with his own compositions. Vocalist, Alexis Parsons uses sincerity to snag the listener’s ear and Jim Yanda offers uninhibited improvisation to explore his feelings and express freedom on his guitar. 

BRANDON GOLDBERG – “IN GOOD TIME” – SR – BSG1002

Brandon Goldberg, piano/Fender Rhodes; Luques Curtis, bass; Ralph Peterson, drums; Stacy Dillard, saxophone; Josh Evans & Antoine Drye, trumpet.

Three years ago, pianist Brandon Goldberg was twelve-years-old.  He received plenty of attention when he released his debut CD titled, “Let’s Play!”  It was a trio endeavor with jazz veterans Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards on drums.  You could hear young Brandon’s genius and feel his passion on this very first recording.  On his latest release, the late, great Ralph Peterson is on drums and he also co-produced this awesome, sophomore release by Goldberg.  This was one of Peterson’s last recordings before his untimely death and the artist and group dedicate this production to his memory. 

“Authority” is the opening message from Ralph Peterson and is composed by Brandon Goldberg.  The drums are dominant and powerful.  They push the music forward, with Stacy Dillard impressive on saxophone.  The excitement and instrumental tenacity continue with Josh Evans sparkling on trumpet. This is straight-ahead jazz at its best.  When Brandon Goldberg takes center-stage, he lifts the music even higher, showing off his remarkable skills on piano.  The original composition, “Circles” calms us down a bit, lowering the heat from a hot boil to a sweet simmer.  Dillard picks up his soprano saxophone to show us he’s multi-dimensional on reeds.  Brandon Goldberg has no problem sharing the spotlight with his band members.  Once Stacy Dillard completes his masterful solo, in steps Goldberg, who takes complete control of the moment during this jazz waltz arrangement.  Track #3 is a very beautiful ballad titled, “Time,” where Luques Curtis moves me with an amazing solo on double bass.  It’s another well-written Brandon Goldberg composition.  He has contributed five original songs to this album and he’s arranged five cover songs including the familiar Wayne Shorter tune, “Nefertiti” and the Thelonious Monk standard, “Monk’s Dream.”   It’s obvious Brandon’s a sensitive composer and brilliant arranger, along with being super talented on the keys.  It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact this young man is only fifteen-years-young.  His ‘chops’ are so seasoned and his ideas feel rooted in wiseness and experience.  I am intrigued and I can hardly wait to see what he plays on “Monk’s Dream.”  Goldberg does not disappoint with flying fingers pirouetting across the black and white keys.  The group swings, led by Brandon’s precise piano interpretations and spurred by Ralph Peterson’s always on-point drums! I absolutely enjoyed hearing Brandon interpret “Someone to Watch Over Me” as a solo pianist.

Goldberg’s relationship with Peterson began in 2018 at the Litchfield Jazz Festival, where Peterson gave young Goldberg his card and said, ‘Dial it, don’t file it.’  However, Brandon procrastinated.   Six months later, they re-connected at Dizzy’s Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  Peterson bluntly told him, ‘You didn’t call me yet.’  That’s when the phone calls began and the two had a musical meeting of the minds. Inspired by Peterson to compose and to follow his own tonal personality and musical direction, Goldberg co-conspired with Ralph Peterson.  Together, they lay the groundwork for this album. Goldberg also found inspiration from one of his heroes, Benny Green.   

“Benny told me there should be something swinging, something pretty, something funky, something spicy and something you can listen to without having to think about it,” Brandon Goldberg mused.

This jazz journalist feels confident saying, this album offers all of that and more!

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THE TEMPLE UNIVERSITY JAZZ BAND – “WITHOUT YOU NO ME – HONORING THE LEGACY OF JIMMY HEATH” – BCM+D Records/Mack Ave Record Group

Terell Stafford, band director; RHYTHM SECTION: Anthony Aldissi, piano; Michael Raymond, guitar; Nathan Pence, bass; Maria Marmarou, drums; SAXOPHONES: Patrick Hill, alto I; Adam Abrams, alto II; Dylan Band, tenor 1; Ross Gerberich, tenor II; Gabe Preston, baritone sax; TROMBONES: Andrew Sedlacsik, trombone I; Bill Saurman, trombone II; David Choder, trombone III; Omeed Nyman, bass trombone; TRUMPETS: Fareed Simpson-Hankins, trumpet I; John Meko, trumpet II; John Brunozzi, trumpet III; Banks Sapnar, trumpet IV; Robby Cruz, trumpet V; Danielle Dougherty, vocals; SPECIAL GUESTS: Christian McBride, bass; Joey DeFrancesco, organ.

The rhythm section opens Track #1, “Passing of the Torch” with a deep bass presence and Maria Marmarou’s drums kicking the tune forward.  The tune was written by Todd Bashore, a former Queen’s College student of Jimmy Heath’s.  He composed this energized piece of music in tribute to his mentor.  The horns dance and harmonically glide throughout this tune in support of a swinging sax improvisation and a rich trombone solo. Nathan Pence speaks his mind on bass, as does Michael Raymond during his enthusiastic guitar solo.  It was January 19, 2020 when Temple University Jazz Band was awarded top honors at the inaugural Jack Rudin Jazz Championship during an event at Lincoln Center.  Sadly, that same night, the legendary saxophonist, Jimmy heath died at age ninety-three.

“Jimmy Heath was an incredible human being.  When I got the call saying he had just passed, I was totally devastated and broken,” Terell Stafford recalls.

Stafford, the Director of Jazz and Instrumental Studies at Temple University, immediately began working on a way to honor Jimmy Heath.  The band started preparing music and then the pandemic hit hard.  Thanks to the tenacity of Stafford and his university colleagues, “Without You, No Me” is the second album released by Temple University Jazz Band in the wake of the COVID pandemic.  The first, the aptly titled “Covid Sessions: A Social Call” was recorded from student homes across the country thanks to engineer John Harris and Temple Music Technology Professor, Dr. David Pasbrig.  This latest musical recording was able to bring musicians together at the Temple Performing Arts Center in April of 2021. They used a host of safety measures to make the project happen.

The title tune, “Without You, No Me” is a Jimmy Heath composition.  This song was originally commissioned by Dizzy Gillespie, acknowledging the foundational influence that Heath has had on generations of jazz musicians.

“He was almost like a father to me,” Stafford shares his feelings for Jimmy Heath.  “When I started at Temple, he was the first person I called.  He gave me such great advice; just teach yourself and teach who you are.  Figure out what you do, how you do it, and teach that,” Jimmy Heath had encouraged him.

This production brought everyone together in simpatico reverence, including legendary musicians who knew and loved Jimmy Heath, like Joey DeFrancesco and Christian McBride.  Jack Saint Clair, a Temple alumnus, composed the tune “Bootsie” to honor the great, Philadelphia-based, tenor saxophonist Bootsie Barnes, who also died this year in April.  Saint Clair also contributes a brassy arrangement of “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone” with the addition of vocalist, Danielle Dougherty.  The Temple University Band’s spotlight rests on Philadelphia, because both Jimmy Heath and his famous brothers, Al “Tootie” Heath and Percy Heath are all Philly jazz royalty, along with Bootsie Barnes and the iconic organist Shirley Scott, who shared the stage with Bootsie many times.  On Track #5, Joey DeFrancesco is featured on organ to invigorate and infuse the tune “In That Order. ” It’s his composition and the great Bill Cunliffe has arranged it.  As mentioned, Joey also has deep roots in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania community. 

Another Philadelphia ‘special guest’ is bassist, Christian McBride.   McBride was bornto Renee McBridein Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father, Lee Smith, and his great uncle, Howard Cooper, are well known Philadelphia bassists who served as McBride’s early mentors.  Christian has composed “The Wise Old Owl” inspired by the school’s avian mascot.  However, he could very well be referring to Jimmy Heath, who mentored so many young, talented musicians as a wise old professor and master musician.  Heath’s composition titled, “Voice of the Saxophone,” is another beautiful and memorable piece.  You will find an excellence of musical talent in this big band production.  Each song spirals into our hearts and celebrates the iconic Mr. Jimmy Heath, using all the incredible brilliance of the Temple University Jazz Band.

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 JON GORDON – “STRANGER THAN FICTION” – ArtistShare fan funded project

Jon Gordon, alto saxophone/composer/arranger; Fabio Ragnelli, drums; Julian Bradford, bass; Orrin Evans & Will Bonness, piano; Larry Roy, solo guitar; Jocelyn Gould, guitar/vocals; John Ellis & Anna Blackmore, bass clarinet; Reginald Lewis & Tristan Martinuson, tenor saxophone; Alan Ferber, trombone/arranger; Derrick Gardner, trumpet.

“Stranger Than Fiction” was released September 17th through ArtistShare and joins my list of creative, out-of-the-box, musical performances featuring composer, arranger and alto saxophonist, Jon Gordon.

“Around 2000, I began to be aware that things were not as I’d hoped in our country.  For all the troubles of our past, I had hope that the country was headed in a better direction.  But I became disillusioned and angered by so many people seeming to cede to a kind of non-reality and in the last few years, that’s only gotten more apparent,” Jon Gordon affirms in his press package.

Consequently, the title track of his album was written by Gordon at a time of this initial revelation.  Like me, he could hardly believe the crazy world of politics he was witnessing or the upside-down position in his personal and professional life when the pandemic startled the world and caused mass quarantines.  I often thought to myself, if I wrote this in a novel, no one would believe it.  However, we were living in a strange reality, not in a fiction-based novel.  Jon Gordon coined it accurately when he named this project, “Stranger Than Fiction.”

Fragments of horn sounds splatter into space and introduce a tune called “Pointillism.”  This immediately catches the listener’s ear and had me on the edge of my seat with great expectancy, waiting to see what was coming next.  Jon Gordon’s alto saxophone flutters like a drunken bird circling the sky.  His tone is round, full and echoes freedom against the backdrop of the Will Bonness piano parts.  Gordon’s “Havens” composition follows this Avant-garde presentation.  It settles the audience down with lovely horn harmonics that create a cushion of sound where Gordon can bounce his solo.  It’s a beautiful piece of music that is circular in nature, allowing his horn to figure-eight across the horizon.  Bonness is also given a piece of sky to explore, using his eighty-eight keys to solo until Julian Bradford takes a low bow on bass.  His double bass solo is richly supported by the drums of Pablo Ragnelli.   Then comes the title tune, infused by trombonist, Alan Ferber’s nine-piece arrangement.  Jocelyn Gould’s soprano voice becomes another horn on the “Sunyasin” composition and adds another depth to the arrangement.  I thought the beautiful ballad titled, “Bella” was enhanced by a whirlpool of horn harmonies that created a canvas for the guitar to paint upon.  Track #8, “Modality” is full of more warm chords hummed by a choir of horns and played at a moderate pace.  From a positive critique perspective, I wish the tempos had moved up like a good stew, first simmering and then into a full-fledged, spicey boil. That never happens.

Jon Gordon is a native New Yorker who started playing saxophone at age ten.  He’s classically trained, but fell in love with jazz after hearing a Phil Woods record.  He has worked with a plethora of legendary musicians including Clark Terry, Benny Carter, Maria Schneider, the Vanguard Orchestra, Ray Barretto and Jimmy Cobb to name only a few.  Gordon has released more than a dozen albums as a bandleader and has authored three books.                                                

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STEVE MILLION featuring SARAH MARIE YOUNG – “JAZZ WORDS” –

Steve Million, piano/composer; Sarah Marie Young, vocals; Jim Gailloreto, saxophone/flute; John Sims, bass; Juan Pastor, drums.

Steve Million has a piano style that mixes Ragtime and Thelonious Monk in a very unusual way.  You clearly hear this style and perspective on the first original tune he has composed titled “Heavens to Monkitroid” with a nod to Thelonious.  When vocalist Sarah Marie Young enters the picture, she lifts the piece several notches by busting into a lyrical vocal that’s written like a horn line.  Her voice is crystal clear and she exhibits a full range, bouncing from sweet soprano tones to alto beauty.  In the liner notes,  I learn that back in 1988 Steve was a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition.  He currently co-leads the all-original music sextet, “BakerzMillion,” a working band in Chicago.  Sarah Marie Young also was a semi-finalist in the 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition and won the 2011 Montreux Voice Competition that was judged by Quincy Jones.  To her credit, she’s also a songwriter and musician. Steve Million is well-respected by the Chicago-area jazz scene.  He grew up in Boonville, Missouri and was sparked to become a musician when his mother took him to hear Count Basie at the young age of eight.  Somehow, sitting in a front row near the Count, the mesmerized child caught the famed musician’s eye. Captivated by Count Basie’s warm smile and his piano playing, after the concert Basie took time to talk to young Million.  He even introduced the wide-eyed boy to the band.  That was the blooming of Steve Million’s musical career. 

Steve Million attended North Texas State University where he studied jazz and English.  Fascinated by Monk, who became his main influence, he continued chasing musical dreams.  His love of blues, rock and jazz allowed him to bounce around with different bands and play various genres, especially in the Kansas City area.  At that time, he was attending the University of Missouri.  Steve Million recorded his first album in 1995 on Palmetto Record label.  That was followed up with “Thanks a Million” in 1997 and “Truth Is” in 1999.  Several other albums followed and “Jazz Words” is the culmination of Million’s inventive piano playing and his blossoming composer skills.  Sarah Marie Young interprets his original music with much pizazz, using her outstanding vocals to add emotion, to sell the lyrics and introduce us to Million’s interesting melodies. For example, “The Way Home” is stunningly beautiful and on “Missing page” Million’s challenging and interesting melodies pour out of Sarah Marie, sweet as cake batter.  Ms. Young harmonizes with horn precision, dueting with Jim Gailloreto’s saxophone.  His solo lights the oven and warms the mood.  This is a unique and artistic project, sparsely produced, with the spotlight on Million’s compositions, using Sarah Marie Young’s lovely voice like icing on his cake.  I found the artwork on the jacket of Steve Million & Sarah Marie Young’s new album to be quite enticing and emblematic of the musical art within.  The artist is Azusa Nakazawa.  In fact, her cover design encouraged me to pick up this album and take a listen.  Also, the artistic merit of this music reminds me of another Chicago artist, Minnie Ripperton when she was with Rotary Connection and when she recorded “Come to my Garden.” Although Ms. Young sounds nothing like Minnie, this music is just that unique and artsy!

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 CHES SMITH – “WE ALL BREAK/PATH OF SEVEN COLORS” – Pyroclastic Records

Ches Smith, drums/percussion/kata/vocals/composer; Matt Mitchell, piano; Nick Dunston, bass; Sirene Dantor Rene, vocals; Daniel Brevil, Fanfan jean-Guy Rene & Markus Schwartz, tanbou/vocals; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone.

Ches Smith decided to start a band based on the connections between Haitian Vodou music and his own musical expression.  Vodou music combines Roman Catholicism and African Religion, originally created by slaves brought to Haiti from Africa.  This album is the result of fifteen years where Smith studied cultural icons and musicians who had great knowledge of Haitian Vodou drumming.  Smith delved into polyrhythms, polytonality, improvisation, extended timbral awareness, channeled aggression and power.  Many of his teachers of the tanbou drum talked to him about mixing Vodou with jazz.  One of his mentors was Haitian drum pioneer, Frisner Augustin; a musician who loved jazz as much as he treasured his drum set.  As a composer, Ches has combined elements of polytonal relations using singers and drums to create musical conversations.  When I think of extraordinary music concepts, this is clearly one.  He uses an octet to orchestrate his compositions, with voices lacing through, like brilliantly braided multi-colored ribbons.

“There is no existing model marrying traditional Haitian songs with original instrumental compositions and contemporary improvisation in this way,” claims Ches Smith.

“We All Break 2020” is one disc of this double set.  The other is “We All Break 2015.”  I listened to the 2020 disc first.  They open with “Woule Pou Mwen” a short two-minutes and forty-one seconds long, but it’s strong in spirit and deep infectious energy.  Matt Mitchell opens the piece with a dynamic piano and is soon joined by African voices, spurred by Ches Smith manning the drums. It’s very percussive and Ches adds his voice to the others.  “Here’s the Light” follows and once again, this tune is pushed and elevated by the Ches Smith percussion, along with powerful vocal energy.  Smith has composed the music, but the song lyrics and melodies are by Daniel Brevil.  Miguel Zenon’s alto saxophone is king during this song arrangement.  He dips and soars and flies like a colorful, wild, Haitian butterfly.  There are some traditional Haitian songs included in these various arrangements.  Ches Smith used the traditional three drums; manman, segon and boula.  Each brings it’s on pitch from low to medium to high tones on the boula drum.  Although the piano of Matt Mitchell establishes the jazz brilliantly in these arrangements, the drums hold the culture in place.  The various breaks in the arrangements, create a platform for drums and vocals to speak to one another.  It brings groove and culture to this project like blood and bone.

Sirene Dantor Rene’s voice is beautiful and full of emotion.   Her delivery on “Leaves Arrive” is powerful and hypnotic; especially at the end of her vocal arrangement, when the other voices join in with rhythmic hand claps.  This is followed by an instrumental addition to the song that is well-played and creative.  “Women of Iron” is a song composed using Nigerian and Yorubic roots.  It employs the Nago rhythm that’s associated with warfare and the Haitian War of Independence in particular.  The elements of fire and iron are the realm of Ogou, symbolized by a machete and a red scarf along with a bottle of Barbancourt (Haitian rum) and a cigar. This song of strong women recalls a ceremony on August 14, 1791 that sealed an alliance between Haiti and their African ancestors to eradicate slavery.  You will learn much history and culture in the small booklets provided as part of this album package.

The Ceremonial Vodou music is explored on the 2015 disc.  This 2020 disc offers more recently composed pieces and, in some ways, more originality.  This double set of exploratory and excellent Vodou Jazz is explained in two small, 4-color booklets that accompany this colorful package of two CDs. An in-depth explanation of the various songs, their meanings, the accompanying drums and the awesome artists who make the music are included in these books.  The song lyrics are also translated in the provided booklet.

Speaking of ‘Pushing Boundaries’ and ‘Breaking Rules,’ this is a project that totally exemplifies the title of this column and its premise.  The music is symbolic of ritual, culture and change.  It’s creative and a fiery mix of Haitian culture, traditional songs and American jazz freedom music.  Ches Smith, in association with Pyroclastic Records, has brought the world an exceptional piece of art and music.  Smith and his group of talented musicians can feel triumphant.  Perhaps Smith summed it up best when he said:

                “If in Vodou the invisible become visible, here perhaps, the inaudible becomes audible.”

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ALEXIS PARSONS – “ALEXIS” – New Artists Records

Alexis Parsons, vocals; David Berkman & Arturo O’Farrill, piano; Drew Gress & Jonathan Gilley, bass; Matt Wilson & Willard Dyson, drums.

The thing that made me pause, on the very first tune rolling off Ms. Parsons’ album, was the pianist, David Berkman.  His introduction is a lovely mixture of classical and jazz; subtleness and surprise.  When Alexis Parsons enters the song, her voice snatches the attention like a seasoned pick-pocket. When she sings, You’d be so “Easy to Love,” I believe her.  She steals my attention away from her very excellent trio.  This lady knows how to sell a song.  She’s a vocalist that has notably been on the New York jazz scene for over two decades.  This is her third recording as a leader.  Certainly, the arrangements enhance her choice of standards.  She sings gems like “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” at an up-tempo speed, showing her listening audience she can ‘swing’ and giving Matt Wilson a time to shine on trap drums and spotlighting Drew Gress with his rich bass solo.  Her choice of seldom sung songs like “Make It Last” bring further interest to this compilation of Great American Songbook tunes. For the second half of her album, Ms. Parsons uses a trio headed by pianist Arturo O’Farrill.   O’Farrill’s portion of the production opens with Jonathan Gilley brilliantly bowing his double bass and O’Farrill playing interesting arpeggios that tinkle in the upper register of the piano.  The introduction to “Organ Grinder” is quite pensive and delicate.  Enter Alexis, telling the story of a village accordionist who is ignored and disrespected.  At first, it’s a ballad, but then the trio double-times the piece and O’Farrill adlibs beneath Parsons spoken word.  The arrangement is stellar, but her vocals, although quite emotional, are somewhat over-the-top.  She sounds more comfortable on the tune that follows, singing duet with Jonathan Gilley’s bass and swinging hard on “Devil May Care.”  “Summertime” is reinvented with an Avant-garde introduction I enjoyed.   O’Farrill’s arrangement of this Gershwin standard keeps interest in a well-covered composition.  Parsons’ voice leans towards the dramatic and at times is quite Broadway, making standards sound more like show tunes.  But it is her sincerity that snags the ear. 

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JIM YANDA – “A SILENT WAY” – Corner Store Jazz

Jim Yanda, amplified acoustic guitar/composer; Phil Haynes, drums/composer; Herb Robertson, trumpet/synthesizer/assorted instruments/composer.

Their album is titled “A Silent Way” but it is anything but silent or peaceful.  This trio combines guitar, trumpet, synthesizers and drums to create a sound that certainly stretches the boundaries and walls of jazz and music.  These gentlemen delve into jungle sounds; animal screeches and growls along with infant wailing and cries. You hear the chirping of birds and the gruff, guttural sounds of some unknown creature. This album, created in Yanda’s New Jersey living room as he experimented with a number of free improvised sessions, is an excursion into provocative improvisation.  Yanda invited Haynes and Robertson to join him, along with an engineer, so they could capture their impromptu moments of free expression.

“Right after the first session, it was universally agreed by all of us that there was something special here,” Yanda recalls.

Yanda found enough material from those spontaneous jam sessions to fill two discs.  This is a double disc project of modern, Avant-garde jazz, without rules or guardrails.  These musicians fly around the disc like Roller Derby champions doing pivots, flips and unheard-of-antics that both stun and entertain us.  By example of this creation, you would never know that guitarist Jim Yanda grew up on a dairy farm in Iowa and performed originally with a Western Swing band.  On this project, you will find no swing and no grooves that encourage you to tap your toes or dance.  Yanda idolized Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page.  In 1982, he turned a keen eye to jazz and Avant-garde music of the 20th Century.  Yanda and Phil Haynes have been working together since they were students at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.  They connected with Herb Robertson when they met in a Brooklyn rehearsal space.  This is their first time recording as a trio.  Fasten your seatbelt!               

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MOSTLY TRIOS

September 15, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 15, 2021

DAVE MILLER TRIO – “THE MASK-ERADE IS OVER” – Summit Records

Dave Miller, piano; Andrew Higgins, bass; Bill Balsco, drums.

Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology” opens the Miller Trio’s album in a joyful way.  From straight-ahead, they shuffle into “Be Careful It’s My Heart.”  Strangely, the album’s title track is listed as Track #3 but it’s not.  Instead, the tune that plays is “The Opener” which jogs along at a comfortable, moderate pace with Bill Balsco’s drums pushing the tune forward.  Andrew Higgins takes a well-played solo on bass. Then comes the album’s title tune, “The Masquerade is Over.”  Actually, Dave Miller has changed the spelling of the tune as the album title.  It’s meant to reflect our hopeful, collective, community joy in removing our masks worn during the pandemic.   I don’t think I ever heard this song played so rapidly.   The lyrics are sad and lament the dissolve of a romance, so most people play it as a ballad.  However, the Miller Trio zips happily along for three minutes and six seconds with the walking bass skipping alongside Dave’s up-tempo piano and the drums pumping the piece towards the finish line.  Dave Miller has a light touch on the piano.  His fingers dance briskly over the keys as he reminds us how much we enjoy standard jazz tunes like these: “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” “Yardbird Suite,” “Estate” and “Why Did I Choose You.”  This album reminds me of warm evenings, perched at a local, nightclub, piano-bar, while sipping a potent drink and listening to someone talented, like Dave Miller and his trio, play every favorite tune we love to hear.

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LEON LEE DORSEY – “FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE” – JazzAvenue 1

Leon Lee Dorsey, bass/composer; Manuel Valera, piano; Mike Clark, drums.

Leon Lee Dorsey, a veteran bassist, and drummer Mike Clark have a close working relationship and share a deep simpatico together.  The last four recording projects have featured these rhythm makers, each one adding a different third guest.  In this case, it’s the very talented, Cuban-born pianist, Manuel Valera.  Valera was once a full-time saxophone player in Havana, but switched to piano after moving to New York City in 2000.  This energetic and artistic album of music is dedicated to the late Puerto Rican-born piano master, Hilton Ruiz.  Dorsey played with Ruiz regularly, enjoying their camaraderie in his final years. The group features a couple of Ruiz compositions.  These collective songs, on Dorsey’s ”Freedom Jazz Dance” album, highlight a kind of bilingual aesthetic woven into the arrangements that Dorsey, Valera and Clark conjure up.  The trio’s chemistry is beautifully integrated and they fit together like red beans, spicey ginger rice and hot sauce.  Be it the drum propelled arrangement of the title tune, composed by Eddie Harris, where the tempo is cookin’ on high or “Home Cookin’” (a Hilton Ruiz tune), the trio wraps arms warmly around the blues.  These three musicians are obviously on-point and inseparable. 

“Until the End of Time” is a lovely ballad with Manuel Valera showing his tender, vulnerable side on piano.  These three awesome musicians present an enticing arrangement of “Autumn Leaves,” suddenly double-timing the tune midway through and spicing it up.  Dorsey sweetly plucks out the Jobim tune, “How Insensitive” on the upper strings of his double bass to introduce the tune.  Valera transforms the song with his brilliant improvisations, while Mike Clark infuses the arrangement with Latin percussive rhythms.  However, it’s songs like “New Arrival” that endear me to this trio.  It’s a composition that rolls up the straight-ahead tracks like a run-away locomotive.  They close with Dorsey’s tune, “Chillin.’”  Leon Dorsey’s bass walks with powerful steps and Valera’s piano moans the blues through his steady fingers.  Mike Clark colors the music brightly on drums and keeps the pulse crisp and in-the-pocket.  This is a recording I will enjoy playing time and time again!

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ADAM NOLAN TRIO – “PRIM AND PRIMAL” – Independent Label

Adam Nolan, alto saxophone/composer; Derek Whyte, double bass; Dominic Mullan, drums.

This is a free bop trio, based in Ireland, that explores improvised, conversational and modern jazz.  They blend double bass, alto saxophone and drums to create a puffed-up soufflé of Avant-garde music that stretches both restrictive walls and their creativity.  Adam Nolan takes flight on his alto sax and interplays with bassist Derek Whyte and drummer Dominic Mullan, allowing his fellow musicians to invoke their own space and voice.  Their resulting music evolves from lyrical conversations to fiery, unified statements.  Nolan originally played rock and funk drums in his hometown of Kilkenny, Ireland.  He switched to alto saxophone when he was fourteen and currently holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Jazz Performance and Composition.  He has worked with numerous groups as a sideman.  Finally, he decided to explore his own ideas and musical style in order to create an original brand of free jazz. Bassist, Derek Whyte is a major part of the Dublin jazz scene and drummer Dominic Mullan is an important musical name in Ireland who has also been part of the rhythm section behind many popular Irish jazz groups.  This is their first unified effort as a trio and the first time they have recorded together.  However, the trio sounds both compatible and comfortable, improvising spontaneously and giving the solid impression they have been playing together for decades.  On their album, “Prim and Primal” they unapologetically create spontaneous, exhilarating and honest emotion.  Each musician shows off their brilliant talents individually; then come together in a marriage of minds and music.

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GRAHAM DECHTER – “MAJOR INFLUENCE” – Capri Records Ltd

Graham Dechter, guitar; Tamir Hendelman, piano; John Clayton, bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

Guitarist, Graham Dechter, has reunited with his dream trio for this recording. The dream-team includes Tamir Hendelman, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton.

Dechter has composed all but one song on this project. “Pure Imagination” is the cover tune that he co-arranged with master drummer, Jeff Hamilton.  Hendelman and Dechter join instruments (piano and guitar) to remind me of a 1950s radio jazz show theme song I used to listen to as a youngster.  It was hosted by White House Coffee and transmitted from Chicago to my Detroit radio.  Funny, how music reminds you of times and places in your life. The blues is laced throughout this arrangement, with Dechter’s guitar as beautiful as a field of bluebells or a trellis of lavender and blue morning glories. 

“When I first met nine-year-old Graham Dechter, I didn’t imagine that we would one day be working together.  His passion and conviction of the music have taken him where he wants to be.  He set goals and attained them by working hard.  For this, his third recording as a leader, he asked me to produce it.  I suggested he compose most of the material, since he is so talented in that area.  What you hear on this recording are mostly his originals, and by the end of each song, you would bet they were standards,” Jeff Hamilton praised Graham Dechter’s composer talents.

Dechter opens with a blues-based song called, “Orange Coals;” a title reflective of the energy and burning hot tempo of this tune.  Dechter generously shares the spotlight with his all-star band members.  They each take a solo to show off their tenacious talents.  Hendelman, as always, is brilliant on piano.  Track #2 is titled “Reference” and John Clayton’s rich bass is featured throughout.  I especially enjoyed the conversation Clayton and Hamilton musically shared on bass and drums.  Graham Dechter has a guitar style that bleeds navy, turquoise and sky-blue tones into these tunes.  One thing is obvious. He embraces the blues with an open heart.  Dechter says he was inspired by jazz luminaries like Herb Ellis and Wes Montgomery, but I wonder what blues guitar players he was also listening to?  You hear the Montgomery style somewhat incorporated into his title tune composition, “Major Influence.”  But on his original composition, “Moonithology,” you can tell he was also influenced by Charlie Parker.  This song opens with the powerful but tender drum brushes of Jeff Hamilton tap-dancing across his instrument.  Also, on “Bent on Monk” Dechter pays obvious homage to Thelonious and the quartet swings hard, adding those personal ‘licks’ that immediately conjure up familiar Monk tunes. 

At age nineteen, Graham Dechter joined the Clayton Hamilton Jazz orchestra.  He was the youngest member to join in the history of that band.  At twenty-two he released his first album as a bandleader; “Right on Time.”  You can hear his talent and potential blossoming on this, his third album release.  It’s bound to have a “Major Influence” on the world of jazz.  

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GERRY EASTMAN TRIO – “TRUST ME” – Independent Release

Gerry Eastman, guitar/composer; Greg Lewis, organ; Taru Alexander, drums.

Gerry Eastman learned to play guitar, bass and drums as a young man.  He studied at Cornell University and Ithaca College and was a member of the Count Basie Orchestra in 1986, with guitar as his main instrument of choice.  On this trio journey, the three musicians tread the path of creativity, using eight original compositions by Gerry Eastman as directional outposts.  The opening tune is titled “Trust Me” and is modern jazz with unchartered chord changes that take surprising twists and turns.  The melody is lost in a series of unpredictable key changes and modulations that frankly leave me baffled.  I listen to this composition twice, but liked it less the second time around. However, “St. Marteen Swing” is Track #2 and it is very melodic and well-played, giving free reign to Greg Lewis on organ and making a spotlighted space for Taru Alexander to solo and excel on his drums.  This tune swings and is reflective of the organ, guitar and drum trio that I always enjoy listening to.  “Native Son” follows, with an introduction by Eastman’s competent guitar setting the mood amidst a flash of drum cymbals and Lewis blending warm organ chords into the background.  This song is once again leaning heavily towards modern jazz and less towards the traditional organ trio sound.  At points, the tune dips into Avant-garde music, building the piece into a crescendo of energy, until at the very end, it leaves the listener hanging off the precipice of its unexpected ending. The tune “Learn from Your Mistakes” takes a sharp turn towards ‘straight-ahead’ jazz.  Gerry Eastman’s guitar solo is defined by his clean, articulate approach to improvisation, clearly singing note-for-note, his own unique melodies atop the busy drums of Alexander.  I am more impressed with Eastman’s skills playing guitar than his composing talents. 

Greg Lewis has been a strong player on the modern jazz scene and started playing piano and organ professionally in the New York area as a teenager.  He’s led his own trio and accompanied blues singer Sweet Georgia Brown.  Drummer Taru Alexander started playing drums at age seven and worked with his dad’s quintet as a teenager.  He made his first recordings when he was a mere sixteen and has played with many amazing jazz artists like Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter, Roy Hargrove and Branford Marsalis.  All three of these musicians seem to be talented players, perhaps struggling to find cohesiveness within the original material and the arrangements.                          

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THE SCENIC ROUTE TRIO – “FLIGHT OF LIFE” – Cross Currents Jazz

Ollie Dudek, bass/composer; Javier Santiago, piano; Genius Wesley, drums.

This is a spirited trio that features the compositions of bassist, Ollie Dudek.  The very first tune sets the mood and the groove for this energetic threesome.  Titled “The Optimist,” these three musicians tear out of the studio on the wings of this swinging, up-tempo piece that quickly features the bass man trading fours with the other musicians and then taking off on his own to improvise and sing the melody.  This is the kind of tune that makes you joyful and gets your feet to tapping.  I’m quick to recognize that Dudek is a stellar composer and this debut recording by The Scenic Route Trio continues to mesmerize with a tune called, “Flight of Kawan.”   Kawan means hawk in a native Brazilian language called Tupi and this tune is dedicated to Ollie’s son, also named Kawan.  It flies along at a moderate swing pace and I can picture a hawk spreading wide wings and soaring through the San Francisco sky.  Dudek is based in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California.  Javier Santiago takes a journey up and down the 88-keys of the grand piano, adding a touch of the blues and showing off his super talents.  All the while, Genius Wesley locks the rhythm tightly in place on trap drums.  This trio is both dynamic and entertaining. 

Other outstanding songs on The Scenic Route Trio are “Children of the Sun” that celebrates humanities unification and the life-giving powers of the sun. Many of these songs were written while Ollie Dudek was locked down in 2020, experiencing the pandemic days.  This tune lilts along with a Latin beat and Ollie’s sensitive bass dancing beneath the melody, beautifully introduced by Javier Santiago.    Speaking of the COVID pandemic, “Pandemia” is a composition that was written to document the confusion and anxiety of the uncertain times we are living through.  However, it didn’t sound anxiety driven.  In fact, it was a pretty happy, shuffle tune, until Wesley’s drums cut time and the arrangement dived into an unexpected ballad tempo.  Ollie soaked up the spotlight, soloing on bass and changing the mood and mission of his composition.  Afterwards, Genius Wesley kicks the piece back into gear, taking a brief eight-bar solo that returns us back to the happy-go-lucky, resilient tempo.  “Dreamscape” is a lovely tune that Ollie Dudek described as a piece to inspire us to hold fast to our dreams.  His music is so well-written that each song sounds like a standard jazz tune.  You will enjoy every composition, played vigorously and with much emotion by this outstanding trio.

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LISA HILTON – “TRANSPARENT SKY” – Lisa Hilton Music 

Lisa Kristine Hilton, piano/composer; Luques Curtis, bass; Rudy Royston, drums.

Pianist, Lisa Hilton has composed nine of the ten songs on this album.  Her piano playing, based solidly in classical study, is unobtrusive background music. This is easy listening.  It’s the kind of playing you hear as parlor music or someone tinkering at a small house party.  “Living in Limbo” is one of her more interesting and melodic compositions in an otherwise bland offering.  After reviewing albums by Oscar Peterson, Billy Childs, Llew Matthews, Kenny Barron, Yuko Mabuchi, Marion McPartland, Renee Rosnes and George Duke, this type of production lowers the bar for jazz.  When I heard “Chromatic Chronicles” I was hopeful, because it sounds as though Hilton based this composition on the Horace Silver song, “Sr. Blues.”   Finally, her title tune, “Transparent Sky” proffers a pretty composition that she interprets at the close of this album. Unfortunately, once again without notable improvisation.   Improvisation is one of the most important parts of playing jazz.  It’s not just scales and arpeggio runs.  Although Ms. Hilton continues to turn out CD recordings, like General Motors turns out cars, this reviewer just cannot consider her a jazz pianist until she includes one song that swings and expands her piano talent into the realms of improvisation. 

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CHAMPIAN FULTON & STEPHEN FULTON – “LIVE FROM LOCKDOWN” – Champian Records

Champian Fulton, piano/voice; Stephen Fulton, flugelhorn/trumpet.

During the pandemic lockdown, Champian Fulton captivated Online audiences with her Sunday evening webcasts.  Consequently, she figured it was time to release an album.  The pianist/vocalist called on her father, Stephen Fulton, to add his flugelhorn and trumpet.  Stephen’s instrument brightly colored her project.  The result is this appealing duo album of voice, piano and horn.  When COVID-19 hit Manhattan in 2020, Champian Fulton watched her gigs, tours and concerts fly out the window like bits of paper. For the love of music and to keep their chops up, Champion and her dad began performing from home for their virtual audience.   A few fans and friends grew to over 20,000 views on any given week.  The success of ‘live-stream’ acceptance and the growth of her fan community led Champian to begin recording the duo experience.  This talented pianist and songstress has a warm, soprano tone and a sincerity to her vocals that is hypnotic and comfortable.  You will recognize the thirteen familiar tunes this duo presents.  One of the tunes is Dinah Washington’s hit record, “Blow Top Blues,” Duke’s “Satin Doll,” Billie Holiday’s memorable recording of “You’ve Changed” and other standards like “Moonglow,” “What is This Thing Called Love” and the old pop tune “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.”  Ms. Fulton has a great piano technique and its jazz all the way, laced with blues.  At times, traces of Erroll Garner’s unforgettable style is evident.  Her bass hand is steady and strong, walking briskly beneath her upper register, where her right-handed fingers display strong melodies and improvisation.  Stephen Fulton is tasty and supportive with his horn, knowing just when to touch on the melody or highlight and improvise in the open spaces his daughter provides.  These two are perfectly comfortable with each other and that makes their listening audience comfortable too. 

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MUSIC HEALS!

September 6, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

September 6, 2021

RODNEY JORDAN & CHRISTIAN FABIAN  – “CONVERSATIONS” – Spicerack Records

Rodney Jordan, bass/composer/arranger; Christian Fabian, bass/composer/arranger.

The original tuning of the A tone at 432hz is said to have a healing effect on the listener’s body.  With this in mind, these two bassists have done the A=432hz tuning that was in effect up until Mozart’s time.  Their goal is to heal a broken planet, sickly bodies and cultures in distress.  I am hopeful that this music can indeed heal us, but while we are listening, we also get a good, strong dose of excellent and creative musicianship.  It’s my fledgling experience hearing an album that features two bass players, period.  I find that quite entertaining. 

Legendary bassist, Ron Carter, spoke to this concept. “To the listeners out there, this CD is a great example that two can make great music!!”

The two excellent bass players have an overall goal to not only heal with frequencies, but to introduce some meditative improvisations in combination with a wide repertoire. They open with the familiar “Just For You” tune and captivate me with their creativity.  “Happy to be Alive” is Track 2 and it’s an original tune written by Jordan and Fabian that’s quite rhythmic.  You can hear Rodney Jordan singing the melody out of the left channel, using his bow, while Christian Fabian lays down the rhythmic bass line coming from the right channel.  That’s how you distinguish the two bassists; Jordan will be in the left speaker and Fabian in the right channel of your speaker system.   The familiar “My One and Only Love” is absolute beautiful and this time, Fabian takes the lead on his bass, letting Jordan provide the rich embellishment and tempo, with free-flowing improvisation rooted in his bass line.  Jordan has composed “Robin’s Theme” that has a catchy melody.  Christian Fabian dances across his string bass, adding a counter melody to the mix.     Fabian and Jordan have composed “The Ride Over.”  It’s a shuffle tune and sings a melody that dips and dives. It’s fun to wonder where the bass players will lead you next as you follow willingly along the unknown path.  I’m enjoying every moment of the brisk walk these two bassists take.  “Body and Soul” is full of blues, sweet regret and emotion.   Jordan has a way of sliding up to a tone.  His bass style captures the imagination and the moment.  The two musicians improvise and speak in musical conversation on Despiritu #2 and #4.  On these musical reflections they employ something referred to as ‘tone rows’ created by Hildegard von Bingen, a German abbess (nun) who lived between 1098 to 1179.  She too used music to heal people by singing tone rows to them.  You will get a taste of von Bingen’s genius as these two exceptionally talented bass men play around with her ‘tone rows.’  I truly enjoyed their original song, “Conversations #4” which was up-tempo and full of fire.  They close with “Conversations #1 and I am compelled to play the album once again for a second chance at being healed and inspired; but mainly, because the music is just that good!

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GERRY GIBBS THRASHER DREAM TRIOS – “SONGS FROM MY FATHER” – Whaling CIty Sound

Gerry Gibbs, drums; Chick Corea, Kenny Barron, Geoff Keezer & Patrice Rushen, piano; Ron Carter, Buster Williams & Christian McBride, bass; Larry Goldings, organ.

“Songs From My Father” is the much-anticipated new album from renowned drummer and son of the legendary Terry Gibbs.  His son is drummer, Gerry Gibbs.  The younger Gibbs is paying homage to the musical legacy of his 96-year-old father in a most incredible way.  Terry Gibbs is not only the composer of eighteen songs on this recording, but he is also an accomplished vibraphonist.  Gerry Gibbs has assembled some of the best and most celebrated jazz musicians to join him on this tribute album.  It’s a double set recording where you will enjoy four very distinctive trios.  Disc 1, track 1 is titled, “Kick Those Feet” and features Gerry Gibbs, with Kenny Barron on piano and Buster Williams on bass.  The trio comes out racing forward with power and punch!  Gerry Gibbs is a superb drummer, who not only solidly holds the rhythm and tempo in place, he also knows just when to color and accent the music.  I am immediately enthralled with this composition, because of the happy melody and their dynamic arrangement.  Yes, it will make you want to tap your feet and snap your fingers.  Track 2, “Smoke ‘Em Up” features the brilliant Patrice Rushen on piano and Larry Goldings on organ.  This song is rooted in funk jazz, with the addition of Goldings awesome talents on organ, with Gibbs driving the trio ahead on his trap drums will have you once again toe-tappin’ and hand-clappin’.  On the composition, “Bopstacle Course,” Gibbs pairs piano icon, Chick Corea with bass legend, Ron Carter.  The excitement is palpable, straight-ahead and blossoms from the bebop era.  The universe seems to explode on the composition called “Nutty Notes.” This time, Gerry Gibbs is joined by Geoff Keezer on piano and Christian McBride on bass.  Their tempo is off the charts and flying faster than a shooting star.  What a great tune and an exhilarating arrangement.  I am spellbound!  Gibbs slow-swings “Take It From Me” and features Buster Williams holding court on the trap drums.  When Kenny Barron enters, he becomes the whipped cream on the cool, ice cream sundae. Disc One is so good, I could hardly wait to hear what was on disc two.  Disc 2 does not disappoint.  Opening with the Terry Gibbs composition “Townhouse 3” the percussion parts add intrigue to the arrangement.  Patrice Rushen’s precise fingers dance across the keys like Olympic acrobats.  “Waltz for My Children” is also beautifully played by Patrice and another one of my favorites is “Lonely Dreams” featuring the inventive playing of Geoff Keeser on piano with Christian McBride’s distinctive bass spotlighted.   The final tune was composed by Chick Corea for this special project and is called, “Tango for Terry,” as a tribute to Gerry’s famous father. 

This is certainly one of the pinnacles of Gerry Gibbs’ recorded works.  Every song is well-written and played to perfection, with the drum mastery of Gibbs elevating these arrangements, employing excitement and perpetuating the distinguished legacy of his dad, Terry Gibbs.  As I listened, this music definitely lent a healing and inspirational legacy that touched my soul and invigorated my spirit.

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PETER TIJERINA – “JUST YESTERDAY” – Outside In Music

Peter Tijerina, trombone; Corey Kendrick, piano; Aneesa Strings, bass; Nicholas Bracewell, drums; SPECIAL GUESTS: Michael Dease, trombone; Diego Rivera, tenor saxophone.

Peter Tijerina, Michael Dease and Diego Rivera smoothly blend their horns to create a larger-than-life sound during this project.  The horn arrangements make a Sextet sound like a big band.  I enjoyed the title tune, written by Peter Tijerina, with its beautiful melody, reminiscent of Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.” The horn harmonics are sweet. The tune, “Lovely” swings hard and was composed by tenor saxophonist, Diego Rivera.  Nicholas Bracewell’s drums rumble on the intro and percussively part the curtains so the horns can march into the spotlight. Then Corey Kendrick takes a spirited solo on piano.  This is one of my favorite tunes on this album of fine music.  They give female bassist, Aneesa Strings a time to shine and solo.  The composer, as well, takes several dynamic moments to solo on his tenor saxophone.  When Michael Dease steps up to the microphone with his trombone tenacity he does not disappoint. “Strange Breakfast” is an arrangement with a lilting tempo, interesting changes and a catchy melody.  On Track 5, “In N’ Out Blues” (another composition by Tijerina) we get to hear a lot more of Peter playing his trombone. There are some tonal challenges and a feeling that Tijerina is still in an exploratory stage on his delivery and still developing his style, but he definitely is carving out his own direction.  Another one of his outstanding original tunes is “It’s One or the Other” where the group takes a traditional, straight-ahead approach during this arrangement.  Speaking of composers, Tijerina’s pianist, Corey Kendrick has contributed Track 7, “Neither Confirm Nor Deny.”  It’s a happy-go-lucky shuffle tune with a sing-along melody-line that’s infectious.  Tijerina’s trombone solo sounds great on this tune, rooted in blues and smooth as a silkworm’s back.  “Deviation” is Track 8 and another original composition by the trombonist. This one is a little purposefully dissonant, led by Aneesa’s singular bass line, then joined in by challenging horn lines.  This original composition is unlike all the others and lends itself to allow Michael Dease a space to explore his own outstanding trombone creativity.  This tune showcases the musicians speaking to one another in very improvisational ways.  Super talented Corey Kendrick is stellar on piano during his creative conversation.  He and Aneesa briefly duet in a warm way.  On Hoagy Carmichael’s beautiful standard, “Stardust” Peter Tijerina approaches this song from the Great American Songbook absolutely solo, without accompaniment.  We can hear every nuance in his emotional delivery.  Tijerina closes with “This Could Be The Start of Something Big” and the ensemble goes out with a bang!   I would say Peter Tijerina’s composing skills currently outshine his performance, but this is only his debut recording and there is much potential and talent to be unearthed. I’m sure Peter Tijerina has yet to show us all the blossoming flowers from his musical seeds.  These colorful blooms give us a peek into his bright future.  All in all, this album is a sweet bouquet.

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LUKASZ PAWLIK – “LONG DISTANCE CONNECTIONS” – Summit Records

Lukasz Pawlik, acoustic piano/keyboards/synthesizer/samples/bass programming/composer; Mike Stern, electric guitar; Tom Kennedy & Michael Kapczuk, electric bass; Dave Weckl, drums/co-producer; Gary Novak & Cezar Konrad, drums; Phil South, percussion; Dawid Glowczewski, alto & soprano saxophone; Szymon Kamykowski, tenor saxophone; Randy Brecker, trumpet/flugelhorn.

From the first strains of “Indian Garden” my attention is captured.  This is music that inspires dreams and creativity.  The sounds are electric, smooth jazz and fusion with a crush of flute and synthesizer; plentiful percussion and tenacious trap drums.  Lukasz Pawlik takes an invigorating tour of his keyboard improvising.  He dives into a smooth jazz groove in a splendid way.  Pawlik’s talents on keyboard shine brightly.  He builds the tension and crescendos the piece.  Suddenly, he swivels to the grand piano and the arrangement turns ‘straight-ahead’ and impressive.  Here is someone who uses all the colors in his paint box.  He clearly shows the listener he is multi-dimensional.  Bassist Tom Kennedy steps forward on his electric instrument and struts his stuff.  Track 3, “Jellyfish” opens like waves rolling onto wet sand and splashing salty turquoise across the shore.  This artist paints pictures with his music.  Szymon Kamykowski’s tenor saxophone blows like island winds across the sand and sea.  Bits and pieces of percussion and synthesizer sparkle in the production like distant stars or moonbeams dusting the waves.  On Track 4, the funky trap drums of Cezar Konrad lay a basement foundation for this tune titled, “For Odd’s Sake.”  Randy Brecker bursts through the front door on trumpet and struts around this musical house that the band is building.  They invite us to take a seat and enjoy the music.  Here is a project full of innovation, charisma, charm and mixed genres of music that both inspire and entertain.  This project also spotlights the exceptional talents of Lukasz Pawlik as a composer, producer and master pianist.  

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CHUCK OWEN and THE JAZZ SURGE – “WITHIN US” – Summit Records

Chuck Owen, accordion/hammered dulcimer/bandleader/composer; Per Danielsson, piano; LaRue Nickelson, guitar; Corey Christiansen, Dobro/nylon string & steel string guitars; 12-string guitar; Mark Neuenschwander, bass; Danny Gottlieb, drums; Beth Gottlieb, Djembe; Sara Caswell, violin. WOODWINDS: Tami Danielsson, Steve Wilson, Jack Wilkins, Rex Wertz & Matt Vance. TRUMPETS: Frank Greene, Jay Coble, Mike Lapichino & Clay Jenkins. TROMBONES: Keith Oshiro, Tom Brantley, Jerald Shynett & Jim Hall. GUEST SOLOIST:  Warren Wolf, vibes/marimba.

If you love big band music the way I do, you will sink your teeth into this wonderful celebration of twenty-five years of THE JAZZ SURGE playing great music and bringing us delightful musical moments.  This is a contemporary jazz big band that interprets the compositions of bandleader Chuck Owens, along with the music of the legendary Miles Davis and the late, great Chick Corea.  On this recording, they open with the Chick Corea composition, “Chelsea Shuffle,” featuring a solo by Steve Wilson on soprano saxophone and Warren Wolf with a spirited solo on vibraphone.  The big band horns accent the piece and build the energy.  Then Mark Nuenschwander comes walking in on his big bad bass to soak up the spotlight.  Danny Gottlieb is powerful on drums.  Composer, Chick Corea was supposed to be a featured artist on this project.  Sadly, the legendary pianist made an unexpected transition from this life after a terminal illness. This band has earned seven Grammy nominations in the past and I have little doubt this album will become another. “Trail of the Ancients” is Track #2 and this Chuck Owen composition celebrates our country’s American Indian culture.  It was written to honor those who have come before us and features a sweet violin excursion by Sara Caswell. 

This 19-piece, tight-knit ensemble includes some members who have been with the big band since it’s self-titled 1996 debut.  The Jazz Surge was founded as an extension of Chuck Owen’s professorship at the University of South Florida.  Owen will retire from his position at the University this summer after teaching there forty years.

“I’m incredibly grateful to be commemorating 25-years with this band.  It really changed the trajectory of my career and gave me a newfound focus for my writing.  I now had specific people that I was writing for and through them, I discovered so many things.  Ultimately, it’s allowed me to take more artistic risks based on the fact that I have wonderful musicians that are willing to go on the ride with me,” Chuck Owen shared.

Every composition on this masterful album is well-played.  You will enjoy each one.  To solidify my opinion, the Chuck Owens original material was recognized by a Guggenheim Fellowship Award.  Over the years, this capable and artistic big band has hosted special guests and icons including Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Randy Brecker, Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, Dave Douglas and Gerald Wilson.

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JARED DUBIN – “EXCUSES EXCUSES” – Outside In Music

Jared Dubin, trombonist/composer; Russ Flynn, electric bass; Danny Wolf, drums; Sebastien Ammann, Fender Rhodes/piano; Syberen Van Munster, guitar; Nick Biello, alto saxophone.

As a child, Jaren Dubin listened to his parents playing Miles Davis, Steely Dan, Weather Report and Pat Metheny.  At a young age, his grandfather introduced him to the Swing Era and turned him on to “The Glenn Miller Story.  That’s when he became interested in the trombone. By the time he was in high school, teenaged Dubin was digging deeper into the jazz tradition and began studying the tone, technique and genius of Slide Hampton, J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Steve Turre and Steve Davis.  He also turned to younger musicians like Terence Blanchard and D’Angelo.  Jared Dubin studied classical trombone with L. Fernando Jiminez and also with Steve Davis, while attending Jazz Studies classes at Western Connecticut State University. Later, he played on cruise ships, jumped feet first into New York City’s jazz scene and made the rounds of jam sessions. For a while, he taught music and became a high school band director. 

Jared Dubin’s debut album called “Excuses Excuses” was recorded in 2012.  We see and hear people leaning heavily on ‘excuses,’ like crutches, for things they meant to do and didn’t; goals they set and fell short of completing and this album also reflects Dubin’s unforgiving pursuit of the arts. This he does with no excuses at all.  He offers us a strong production that showcases his talents as a composer, a bandleader, as well as a trombonist.  The first tune, “The Breaks” is melodic and Danny Wolf on drums implements the groove.  Dubin and Nick Biello harmonize their horns and drill the melody into our heads.  I like this tune a lot.  Almost immediately I’m singing along with it.  “Ain’t No Thang” is a slang expression for ‘don’t worry, be happy.’  Jared Dubin has a measured, warm tone on the trombone and he and Biello exchange eight bars like a vocal conversation.  Musically, this album draws influence from both jazz fusion, post-bop and 1990s modern jazz.  During Track 2, Dubin shares the spotlight with pianist Sebastien Ammann on Fender Rhodes and features a solo by drummer Danny Wolf.  The composition “Time Apart” is a pretty ballad that once again calls attention to Dubin’s love of melody.   He plays it beautifully and I also enjoyed the bass solo by Russ Flynn and the lovely piano solo by Ammann, this time on grand piano.  “Passive Aggressive” is the name of Track #4, spurred by a piano bass line, with a counter-line provided by the horns. I enjoyed the spontaneous guitar work of Syberen van Munster on “Worry Go Round” and once again, Dubin ties the arrangement together, like a giant bow ribbon, with his rich, warm trombone solo.  The title tune is very fusion influenced with a strong funk groove pushing the melody forward. This is an impressive debut album that introduces us to Jared Dubin.

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JOE FARNSWORTH – “CITY OF SOUNDS” – Smoke Session Records

Joe Farnsworth, drums; Kenny Barron, piano; Peter Washington, bass.

Joe Farnsworth swings, shuffles, improvises and dances on his trap drums.  You can hear and see his love of his instrument and his respect for those percussion masters who paved the way. I recently found an impromptu tribute he did celebrating LA’s historic drummer, Billy Higgins.

With the Farnsworth drum sticks flying, this dynamic trio opens with a “New York Attitude.”  It’s a Kenny Barron composition.  I am caught up in the bebop groove and the expressive mastery of these musicians.  Together they swing hard and unapologetically.  Their straight-ahead magic continues on “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”  Kenny Barron’s interpretation of this song is both creative and totally unique.  I’ve heard this tune a million times, but Barron paints a new face on an old favorite and the arrangement soars.  They give Joe Farnsworth a bright spotlight towards the end of the tune to show off his drum skills and he does not disappoint.  Although he opened with brushes at a brisk pace, the tune grew, like a crescendo, and exploded with energy.   “Ojos Carinosos” is an original composition by Farnsworth that’s dipped in blues and boiled in Latin spices.  The tune gallops slowly out the gate with a tango-feel and a warm melody, introduced to us by Barron’s sensuous delivery on the piano. 

“Kenny Barron is jazz piano royalty, along with the likes of Barry Harris, Tommy Flanagan and Cedar Walton,” Joe Farnsworth praises the trio’s pianist. 

But George Cables calls attention to Joe Farnsworth’s tender-side.

“When I think of Joe Farnsworth, I think of no-nonsense swinging.  That’s why his composition “Ojos Carinosos” caught me by surprise.  I do know that he can be sensitive and tender, but the fact that this lyrical, Latin-esque piece, played so beautifully by Mr. Barron and company, came from the pen of Mr. Farnsworth, reveals a truly tender and loving soul,” Cables wrote in the liner notes.

Track 4, “Bud-Like,” by Barron, yanks us back to an energy-driven arrangement where Farnsworth shines.  This is followed by one of my favorite standards, “Moonlight in Vermont.”   When Peter Washington enters on double bass, his solo is absolutely lush, rich and regal.    The title tune, “City of Sounds” is composed by Farnsworth and is blues personified.  I am swept away by this tune, flashing back to the days of ‘The Three Sounds’ and loving how Peter Washington steps up, front and center, to sing his rich bass sound, while Mr. Barron continues to shine and patter on piano.  “No Fills” is just plain straight-ahead goodness that races into my listening room like the lightening bugs outside my window, sparkling with brightness and playful excitement.  This red-hot trio closes with “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” and I feel like I just attended the best jazz concert ever!  I think I’ll play this album again, and again and again!

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DAVE MEDER – “UNAMUNO SONGS & STORIES” – Outside in Music

Dave Meder, piano/composer; Miguel Zenon, alto saxophone; Michael Pilet, drums; Marty Jaffe, bass; Philip Dizack, trumpet.

The opening tune, “Song of Secret Love” is absolutely lovely, featuring an awesome bass solo by Marty Jaffe and the fluid piano of critically acclaimed composer, Dave Meder.  Meder was inspired to compose these nine songs as a reflection of the vivid, colorful, and timely writings of Spanish Civil War-era philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno.  Unamuno supported a free press, human rights and civil liberties. Dave Meder hopes that his songs personify the relationships and dichotomies between democracy and authoritarianism; internationalism and nationalism; faith and non-belief.  Track #2 is a composition titled “Augusto’s Dilemma” and peels back time to a 1920s jazz-feel.  Meder’s piano solo conjures up Eubie Blake, Ragtime and a period in American history when Gershwin and Irving Berlin were pop kings, creating music for the Great American Songbook.  Remember, the Roaring Twenties introduced the public to some incredible jazz music; i.e. Louis Armstrong, King Oliver and Duke Ellington.  Dave Meder is a soulful and thoughtful composer/pianist who brings a delightfully different perspective to the bandstand.  His music is purposeful and melodic.  Meder displays bright, classical traits that scale his pieces, but he also travels other adventuresome, musical paths.  His piano art intrigues and entertains the listener.  Track #4 is more Avant-garde.  The trio adds a horn to the mix, Philip Dizack is featured on trumpet.  The song is called “I Look For Religion in War” and once again, Jaffe takes a sweet solo on double bass, pulling out his bow and intoxicating us with his creativity.  Returning to a trio format, “If Ever I Would Leave You” is such a beautiful ballad and Dave Meder pulls the best out of this song, inserting several unique chordal changes that color this song with unexpected exquisiteness.   Meder’s recent single release from this album is “The Lake and The Mountain” featuring Miguel Zenon on alto saxophone.  It’s a tune that changes tempos and moods in a very bi-polar way; somewhat extreme but always beautifully played.  This composition seems more like a suite than a singular song.  All in all, Dave Meder’s entire project is well produced.  Every song becomes a singular and memorable concert in itself.

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RAY OBIEDO – “LATIN JAZZ PROJECT, VOL. 2” – Rhythmus Records

Ray Obiedo, guitar/composer/arranger/producer/keyboards; Peter Horvath & Bob Crawford, piano; David K. Mathews, keyboards/piano/organ; Peter Michel Escovedo, congas/bongo/timbale/percussion; Michael Spiro, guiro/tambourine/shaker/maracas/percussion; David Belove, Marc van Wageningen & Dewayne Pate, bass; Phil Hawkins, Billy Johnson, David Garibaldi & Paul van Wageningen, drums; Karl Perazzo, timbales/percussion; Colin Douglas, wood block; Jeff Cressman, trombone/horn arrangements; Mike Rinta, bass trombone/trombone/horn arrangements; Erik Jekabson, flugelhorn; Mike Olmos, trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Mintzer, tenor saxophone;  Joe Cohen, tenor saxophone; Doug Rowan, baritone saxophone; Melecio Magdaluyo, flute/tenor & alto saxophones; Rita Thies, flute/alto flute/bass flute; Sheila E. & Jon Bendich, congas; Phil Hawkins, steel pans; Norbert Stachel, flute/alto flute; Lilan Kane, vocals; Sandy Cressman & Jenny Meltzer, background vocals.

This month I was listening for music that healed and uplifted.  Ray Obiedo’s music has consistently done just that!  He offers a new package of lilting, percussive, harmonic music flavored with spicy Latin influence.  Guitarist and composer, Ray Obiedo has written and arranged ten compositions for his Volume Two Latin Jazz Project and enlisted the input of stellar musicians, like percussive dynamo, Sheila E., Santana’s keyboardist David K. Mathews, the Yellowjacket’s reed man, Bob Mintzer, flautist Norbert Stachel and trumpet master, Mike Olmos along with several others listed above.  The opening tune “Still Life” is anything but still.  It’s a cha-cha originally written for Pete Escovedo’s Orchestra.  The song is an energetic tune, in a very smooth jazz, laid-back kind of way and it’s harmonically beautiful.  The horns sing the melody and you may find yourself whistling along.  This is joyful music and music that makes you want get up and dance or do something.  Obiedo’s music has a modern edge, with roots in R&B music that blossoms into contemporary jazz.   However, all of his arrangements are clearly soaked in Latin, Cuban and Brazilian music.  On the tune, “Criss Cross,” Sheila E. excites our attention with her percussive prowess and bassist, Dave Belove, holds the piece tightly in place with his original bass lines. Ray Obiedo establishes a carefree melody on his guitar, while the horns and flutes color the piece in bright and brilliant ways.  David K. Mathews takes a solo on piano, then steps back so Sheila E. can showcase her conga drum expertise.  The song “Beatnik” features Bob Mintzer on tenor saxophone and a funk groove is propelled by Billy Johnson on drums.  On the “Santa Lucia” composition Norbert Satchel adds his flute, fluttering above the rhythms like a happy bird.  “Belafonte” is a Bossa Nova that adds vocals to the mix to enhance the beauty of the arrangement.  Once again, it’s Ray Obeido’s guitar that leads the way.  He delineates the melody and sets the mood of the piece. This arrangement is supported by Stachel’s strong flute power.  There is one cover tune, a composition by the great bandleader Gerald Wilson (R.I.P.) titled, “Viva Tirado.”  According to Obeido, this tune has a cool ‘low rider’ groove and Ray was taken by the way the Latin/rock group El Chicano recorded it.  The Mathews piano solo is very contemporary, jazzy and expressive. Wilson’s composition is the only tune on this album that Ray didn’t compose. 

Ray Obeido is also a skilled producer, an engineer and in addition to producing ten album releases as a bandleader, he has engineered or produced several other CDs for various artists.  His talents combine to bring out the very best in his original composition arrangements and he inspires the magnificent group of musicians who appear on this project.  Every song is a gem, sparkling like rubies and diamonds in a king’s crown.

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KIRK LIGHTSEY – “I WILL NEVER STOP LOVING YOU” – Jojo Records

Kirk Lightsey, solo piano.

What better way to end a column about healing music than to celebrate the iconic and legendary, Mr. Kirk Lightsey.  He is a member of my hometown and the eminent Detroit school of jazz piano.  His music is timeless and beautiful.  Opening with the title tune, that is one of Mr. Lightsey’s original compositions. The tenderness leaps from the CD.  This is followed by the Wayne Shorter “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum” composition that is explored by Lightsey’s complex chording and frolicking fingers.  His hands play counter melodies with the bass line steady and in perfect tempo mode.  Everybody’s got a “Pee Wee” in their cast of neighborhood characters.  Tony Williams composed the song and Kirk Lightsey tells us all about “Pee Wee” with his creative, solo piano characterization.  Lightsey reinvents “Infant Eyes” (by Wayne Shorter) using chords I could never even imagine.  That’s why this pianist/composer/recording artist is such a genius.  It’s those unusual but absolutely lovely chords he blends together, fitting them together like magnetic puzzle pieces.  You will enjoy his interpretation of Phil Woods’ “Goodbye Mr. Evans” and John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” tremble and shake beneath Lightsey’s touch.  He thrills us with his concepts and his staccato stops; his smooth, poignant introductions and lush phrases that intoxicate. His imaginative mind speaks to your soul, if you listen hard enough.

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JAZZ WOMEN TO WATCH, TO LISTEN, TO APPRECIATE

August 30, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 30, 2021

ELLA FITZGERALD – “SUNSHINE OF YOUR LOVE” – MPS Records

Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Tommy Flanagan Trio: Tommy Flanagan, piano; Frank Delarose, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums. Lou Levy, piano; Gus Johnson, drums; Max Bennett, bass; Ernie Hecksher’s Big Band.

Today, I had the opportunity of listening to Ella Fitzgerald’s record, “Sunshine of Your Love.”  It’s an unusual blend of pop, rock and jazz tunes, showing her diversity and creativity.  Ella’s steps outside the proverbial jazz genre to record six tunes with an orchestra and six tunes with Tommy Flanagan’s Trio.

In 1968, jazz history became rooted in a German record label established by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer and launched as MPS Records.  The company founder began to record amazing legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon, Freddie Hubbard and Ella Fitzgerald.  Thankfully, these historic recordings are being reissued in the United States on vinyl and in CD formats. MPS was Germany’s first ever jazz label and they have partnered with Bob Frank, CEO and founder of Bob Frank Entertainment, to make this distribution project successful. 

Ella’s project opens with audience applause.  We recognize that we are attending a ‘live’ recording and then we hear the full orchestration of a big band that is playing the popular Beatle’s pop song, “Hey Jude.”  Ella enters with her phenomenal phrasing that makes this album of mixed genres both interesting and inventive.  The supreme queen of jazz vocalists has refreshed “Hey Jude” and she manages to ‘swing’ the pop song into the arms of jazz.  Ella’s stylized version gives “Hey Jude” a big hug!

On the title tune, “Sunshine of Your Love,” Ella gives us all a lesson in embellishment, creativity and vocal aerobics.  The orchestration is a bit outdated, but Ella’s in grand voice.  On the Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition, “This Girl’s in Love with You” Ella showcases the sweeter side of her voice. 

She continues with “Watch What Happens.”  It spotlights her vocal fluidity and it’s more like what we jazz lovers admire about Ms. Fitzgerald; her ability to reinvent the Great American Songbook.  She continues by re-inventing the Joe Williams/Count Basie hit record, “Alright! Ok! You Win.”  Followed by a hard swing on “Give Me the Simple Life.”  When we reach “Useless Landscape” with its haunting, beautiful melody, the big band is gone and replaced by Tommy Flanagan’s capable trio.  Ella embellishes the tune with scat-singing, both unique and creative, she sings the way Ella and only Ella can do.  This is a historic reissue that should be in every collector’s library of music. 

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LAUFEY & PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA   

An Icelandic-Chinese singer/songwriter and cellist is now letting her guitar talents float above lush orchestration.  You will find Laufey’s talent both unique and hypnotic.  Although she’s marketed as a ‘pop’ singer, I believe this young lady’s talents cross genres.  She is performing her new release, “Let You Break My Heart Again.”  The melody is lovely and her light, airy voice dances, butterfly free, above the string ensemble.  With nimble fingers, she plucks the strings of her acoustic guitar and blends with the orchestra in a very delicate way. I am totally intrigued.  Enjoy her sweet soprano voice, her composer skills and the professional orchestration.  Check out Laufey’s other releases: “Street by Street & “Someone New.”  This talented young woman is a star on the rise.                                         

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ANDY JAMES – “SHARED LIVES” –  Le Coq Records

Bill Cunliffe, pianist/arranger; Joe LaBarbera & Marvin “Smitty” Smith, drums; Terrel Stafford, trumpet; Rick Margitza, tenor saxophone; Alex Acuna, percussion; Chuck Berghofer, bass; Jake Langley, guitar.

Andy James has a voice as sweet as cotton candy.  She opens with one of my favorites, “My One and Only Love” and sings it beautifully complimented by Jake Langley on guitar.  The title tune “Shared Lives” is challenging melodically and features the drummer beating out the groove with mallets. The minor arrangement features Ernie Watts on saxophone and Bill Cunliffe on piano.  “You’ve Changed” is a bit of a train wreck, mostly, I think, because of the arrangement.  At times, the vocalist sounds unsure.  It just got so busy and with so many surprise modulations that mid-way through, it began to feel tedious.  The first time down was smooth as silk.  But then that modulation disrupted and put a speed-bump in the road.  Andy James is competent as she sells her rendition of “The Gentleman is a Dope” and “Moon River.”  She has been greatly influenced by the queen of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald.  However, Ms. James certainly has her own sound and tonal style.  She surprises me with her rendition of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” that Frank Sinatra’s daughter made famous as a bit pop hit. 

Since launching Le Coq Records, with husband, producer and label founder Piero Pata, James has quietly released four captivating records. Another CD that arrived in my review package was the one titled, “All the Lovely Things You Are.”  Once again, she gathers songs from the Great American Songbook like a lovely bouquet.  Each song is a pretty and colorful flower that Andy James has picked and she confidently and emotionally expresses.  James is also featured on The All-Star Vol. 1 album released in 2020.  It’s absolutely saturated with amazing West Coast talent like John Beasley, Bill Cunliffe, Bob Sheppard, John Patittuci, Rich Eames, and many of the same musicians who play on her current release; “SharedLives.” Andy James is a jazz vocalist to watch, to listen and to appreciate.

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ADI MEYERSON – “I WANT TO SING MY HEART OUT IN PRAISE OF LIFE” – Independent Label

Adi Meyerson, bass/composer; Sam Towse, piano/synthesizers; Kush Abadey, drums; Camille Thurman & Sabeth Perez, vocals; Eden Girma, spoken word; Lucas Pino, bass clarinet/tenor saxophone; Anne Drummond, flute; Marquis Hill, trumpet.

Eden Girma opens with spoken word, with Adi Meyerson bowing her bass instrument and using prose to set the mood for this recording.  They offer a three-minute prelude.

“To be one within a dark moment, bonded through the wreckage.  Turn over the palms of our hands up toward the sun and beyond …” Eden speaks in a soothing voice. 

The background music is peaceful.  It calls us to meditate or do yoga; or pray.  A soprano voice sings without words.  The bass plays the melody and the vocal spoken prose now doubles the voice.  We are entering an unusual project of creativity.  Part II, titled “Kabocha” a word Wikipedia describes as Japanese for winter squash features a male voice speaking Japanese.  It sounds more like he’s saying Kabucha. I look it up and Kombucha is a fermented tea.  So now, I’m truly confused.  Is it winter squash or tea?  Bassist and composer, Adi Meyerson says this musical journey was inspired by the life and work of iconic Avant-garde visual artist, Yayoi Kusama.  Adi is using her art work and intentions as a springboard for Meyerson to create a sonic, safe haven for listeners.  Ms. Meyerson hopes her music mirrors an ideal, a utopian society, devoid of negativity and strife. 

Well, I agree we certainly need a remedy and a get-away from stress and strife.  The entire world is in need of that.  The first two pieces on this six-part suite of music are indeed relaxing and thought provoking.   On “Follow the Red Dot, Part III, Marquis Hill makes a stunning appearance on trumpet and the music becomes more straight-ahead jazz stirred into an Avant-garde pot of improvisation.  Kush Abadey is masterful on drums.  Sam Towse takes a piano excursion to share his perspective with us, while Adi Meyerson pumps her double bass in the background.

Adi Meyerson was inspired by an art exhibit featuring the work of Yayoi Kusama in downtown New York City.  She has integrated thoughts, spoken word, political opinions and a vocalization on Part IV, “Caged Bird” with lyrics and a tenor saxophone solo by Lucas Pino.  Meyerson has synesthesia, a neurological condition in which two senses overlap and trigger each other.  In her case, she sees color when she hears certain pitches. I heard that pop star, Farrell Williams also has that gift.  Much of Kasama’s color palette matched Meyerson’s own visual perception in music.  When Adi saw Kasama’s artwork, she heard certain pitches and those infused her composition process.  Adi acquired her melodies from the colors in Yayoi Kusama’s paintings.  This is unique art, freedom and jazz.  I found Adi Meyerson’s music to be beautiful.  Perhaps she describes it best in her liner notes.

“The music and the message behind it took on a new form and became a vehicle for me to further explore my identity and womanhood and face my own mental health struggles,” she shared.

Meyerson endeavors to use her music to create and immerse the listeners in their own sonic version of utopia.  This is a special music project that stretches outside the mold to create new curves, colors and edges in her compositions.

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HAEUN JOO – “WE WILL FIND” – Next Level

Haeun Joo, piano/vocals/composer; Matt Holman, trumpet/flugelhorn; Doug Weiss, bass; Ronen Itzik, drums.

Born in Busan, South Korea, this award-winning pianist, Haeun Joo is also a singer, composer and making a name for herself as a thoughtful and very original jazz artist.  Haeun Joo moved to the United States in 2011 in search of the true roots of jazz, pop and soul music.  As a student of Berklee School of Music, she honed her piano and composer skills studying with George Garzone, Danilo Perez and Joanne Brackeen.  She’s a big fan of Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Fred Hersch.  Another mentor is Vadim Neselovskyi, who is a very accomplished pianist/composer and who has co-produced this album.

From the very first tune on this debut album for Ms. Joo, you hear how lyrical she is and her melodies are well-thought out and lovely.  There is something peaceful about this artist’s composer consciousness.  She uses her voice, flute-like, to infuse her music with a choral balance.  When she sings, I can hear all the harmonics that could join her and become a string ensemble or orchestrated horn section.  Her piano style flows, pensive and persuasive.  She gives Doug Weiss a brief opportunity to solo on his bass, as if he and the piano are having a whispered conversation stage-center.  It’s a very effective arrangement that calls attention to the melody, while allowing Weiss to be expressive on his instrument. Haeun Joo’s music is warm and inviting.  It reflects a careful, well-planned and practiced personality.  Track 2 is called “John” and it too begins pensively.  She plays the piano tenderly, with a love of the upper-register.  Her fingers tinker with the soprano parts of the instrument with music-box-clarity.  Beneath the melody, like a counter-point descant, her voice soars now and then to add other harmonic elements to the piece.  The title tune, “We Will Find,” brings voice and trumpet together like two horns.  Matt Holman is fluid on both trumpet and flugelhorn.  He fits perfectly into the mix of Joo’s compositions.  The album’s title song is another laid-back tune that is both beautiful and relaxing.  Haeun has an ear for melodies and each song contained here is well-written with harmonies that are both interesting and nicely arranged.  I enjoyed “In the Rain.”  However, I found all the tempos are way too similar. 

I wanted to hear some hard swing or some energy driven, straight-ahead excitement.  There is none of that.  I know that these musicians have it in them to pick up a tempo or double-time a piece.  This production needed the tempo changes to showcase Ms. Joo’s ability to ‘swing’ and to play up-tempo, as well as excelling at a moderate pace.  On the tune, “A Window in the Dark,” the drummer tries hard to build the time and crescendo the music, but the over-all arrangement handcuffs him.  Her composition “Questions” has a jazz waltz feel to it, but it locks into that comfortable moderate tempo once again.  This debut album for Haeun Joo is like buying an album of ballads.  That works for certain moods and moments, but soon you will want to hear one piece that dances, leaps and jumps for joy.  That unfortunately is absent from this delightful debut.

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SATOKO FUJII – PIANO MUSIC – Libra Records

Satoko Fujii, solo piano.

Here is another album of music created as a result of the pandemic and self-quarantining.  Pianist and composer, Satoko Fujii has often expressed that she wanted to make music no one has heard before and this album certainly fulfills that goal.

“I started recording in my small piano room during the pandemic and while I was editing the recordings, I got this idea.  I thought I could put together small parts to make a big work, fitting the pieces together the way I wanted to.  I could make music like building with Legos.  This may not be a new thing for many creators, but for me, it was new because I am a very analog piano player,” Satoko explained her concept for this album of work.

This unique production stages Avant-garde music for us to marvel at and enjoy. It was created by Satoko Fujii by recording short snippets of improvisations and stringing them together like pearls.  For example, she dropped chop sticks on the piano strings; rubbed low strings with a big, felt mallet and plucked high strings inside the piano with determined fingertips.  Each time she tried something new, she recorded it. 

“The materials I recorded are all so short, that without shifting them around they don’t make any sense,” Satoko shrugged.

To grow the piece, she had to transfer these short parts into a music editing application.  The unique composer fit together smaller recorded parts to create a large, vibrant picture.  She worked with one section at a time, listening, then dragging the next part she wanted to hear into that section.  For example, on the first of two suites of music, Satoko created, number one composition titled “Shiroku” that translates to ‘white’ in Japanese.  It features a number of background-beautiful-sounds that cushion her piano premise.  Sometimes it’s percussive, using her fingers to pound the rich piano wood, or playing the inner strings of the instrument instead of the ivory and ebony keys.  At times, I could not have identified the grand piano instrument at all.  Satoko Fujii’s music does not sound like any piano concert you have experienced.  She would probably smile and say; mission accomplished.

Satoko Fujii’s music is textured and poetic.  Some of the high-pitched sounds would make a dog howl and a violin jealous.  They range from eclectic bird calls to percussive harp music or locomotive wheels against hot steel.  The electronic blending of these various bits and pieces of her artistic vision have produced a complete musical painting.  Satoko’s music mirrors many colors and various shades.  She is the ultimate musical revolutionary; the undeniable visionary who captures freedom and slaps it into her arrangements like soft putty. These compositions stick to your ears, wildly blowing like paper earrings. You will not be able to sing these songs, but you will be in awe of them as they float away.

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HELEN SUNG WITH SPECIAL GUEST HARLEM QUARTET – “QUARTET +” – Sunnyside Records

Helen Sung, piano; David Wong, bass; Kendrick Scott, drums; John Ellis, tenor saxophone/flute. SPECIAL GUESTS: Harlem Quartet: Ilmar Gavilan, first violin; Melissa White, second violin; Jaime Amador, viola; Felix Umansky, cello.

Pianist and composer, Helen Sung, recently won a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship.  She uses this recent recording to celebrate the work of influential women composers, co-producing this project with the great violinist, Regina Carter.  Ms. Sung features fresh arrangements of tunes composed by Carla Bley, Mary Lou Williams, Marian McPartland, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Geri Allen, opening with Allen’s “Feed the Fire” that she plays flaming hot and brightly.  Helen Sung adds a new, counter melody to the piece. “Mary’s Waltz,” written by Mary Lou Williams, features the beautiful touches of Melissa White on violin.  Helen Sung’s delicate approach, during her piano performance, is quite different from the fiery and energetic first tune.  David Wong delivers a lovely bass solo.  You will enjoy Helen Sung’s classical influences that color these popular jazz songs.  For example, Sung incorporated a symphonic element into Akiyoshi’s “Long Yellow Road” and on “Elegy for the City,” (that features Jaime Amador on viola) and allows John Ellis to pick up his flute and inflate the tune with joy.  Both arrangements are lush and very classically infused. When Sung takes her piano solos, she brings one-hundred-percent jazz pianist to the spotlight.   Helen Sung’s arrangements change moods and rhythms; create grooves and bend genres, but are always infused with Helen’s mastery on the piano.  To add interest and dynamics to this production, The Harlem Quartet (a string quartet), was originally composed of first-place laureates of the Sphinx Competition for Black and Latino string players. This popular quartet was formed in 2006. The members on this recording are first violinist Ilmar Gavilán, second violinist Melissa White, violist Jaime Amador, and cellist Felix Umansky. They soar on “Melancholy Mood.”

Helen Sung will apply her Guggenheim Fellowship to a multi-movement arrangement for big band, slated for completion next year. She also received a Chamber Music America Digital Residency grant. Consequently, she’s producing a series of interdisciplinary events this year with her quartet, a poet, a DJ and an installation artist.  If that isn’t enough to keep her busy, Ms. Sung also received a New Music USA 2021 Music Creator Development Fund grant to collaborate her music with a dancer and neuro-rehabilitation researcher.  The dance program that results from this collaboration is meant to entertain, to heal and inspire dementia and Alzheimer patients.

“I’ve learned, this past year and a half, not to take anything for granted; be it people, relationships or opportunities … So, I’m jumping in with arms wide open.  I want to swallow life whole!”  Helen Sung shared.

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SHEILA JORDAN – “COMES LOVE LOST SESSION 1960” – Capri Records Ltd.

Sheila Jordan, vocals; Band members not acknowledged.

It’s quite exciting to hear Sheila Jordan in her prime, with vocals crystal clear and a small trio backing her up.  This 1960 recording predates the album, “Portrait of Sheila,” by more than two years.  In fact, it may be the earliest representation of this jazz singer at the beginning of her storied career. According to the liner notes, Sheila Jordan was working regularly at the Page Three Club in Greenwich Village with pianists John Knapp or Herbie Nichols at the keys; with bass players Steve Swallow or Gene Perlman and drummer Ziggy Willman.  There are no records of the bandmembers when it was recorded June 10, 1960 at the Olmsted Sound Studio in New York for a small label called Chatham Records.  Yes, Capri Records did confer with Jordan for the names of musicians, however she couldn’t remember. 

Born in Detroit and sent to live with her grandmother in Pennsylvania’s coal-mining country at a young age, Jordan was a born singer.  She expressed herself vocally as a child and when she returned to Detroit, Sheila began working in jazz clubs as a teenager.  She moved to NYC in the early fifties and married Charlie Parker’s pianist, Duke Jordan.

On this album of familiar jazz standards, Ms. Jordan covers songs we know and love like “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” and Billie Holiday favorites like “Comes Love” and “Don’t Explain.”  Sheila opens with a song Sassy Sarah Vaughan recorded called “I’m the Girl” and follows this with a wonderful rendition of “It Don’t mean A think If It Ain’t Got that Swing” exploring her scat vocals by freely rambling up and down the scale to show off her range and creativity.   She swings “Sleeping Bee” and seems very comfortable in the ‘swing’ mode.  On “When the World Was Young” Sheila introduces us to the verse of the song and then sings this ballad with great emotion.  I can tell that she’s a very young singer who was working on sustaining her tonal notes. Even back then, she seemed to be thinking and executing like a horn player.  On the ending note of this tune, she slides up to the third and then climbs above that, the way a saxophone might have done.  But her comfort level is always the up-tempo tunes, where she can let loose and swing; for example, on “I’ll Take Romance.” 

Today, Sheila Jordan is heralded as one of the most distinctive and creative voices of jazz and is a NEA Jazz Master and self-described “Jazz child.” She has made her historic mark in the jazz world, pioneering a duo approach of voice and solo bass and collaborating with legends like Mark Murphy, Cameron Brown, Harvie Swartz, Steve Kuhn and recording with Carla Bley, Arild Andersen, Roswell Rudd, Kenny Barron, Ben Riley and George Russell just to name a few. 

This album is a piece of jazz history, snatched from the past and celebrating the lady in her youth, during a formative period of her vocal growth.

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LADY BLACKBIRD – “BLACK ACID SOUL” – Foundation Music

If Black Acid Soul/Jazz is your thing, Lady Blackbird’s album is one you just have to hear.  Her tone and persona stand solidly and singularly in their own spotlight.  Her voice is like no other I’ve heard.  There are shreds of Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Grace Jones and Tina Turner, but her sound is uniquely her own.  The production by Chris Seefried, who was GRAMMY Award-nominated for his work on the debut album by Andra Day, combines genres for Lady Blackbird that match and compliment this singer.

Lady Blackbird is Los Angeles-based singer Marley Munroe and she’s been steeped in music since birth.  Her voice developed richness and resonance while singing in church and performing at States Fairs since age five.  She landed a deal on a Christian record label as a young teen and that resulted in work with rock/rap group, DC Talk.  She appeared on four Christian albums recorded by TobyMac. However, that wasn’t exactly what she wanted to do forever.  At age eighteen, she found herself working with Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Sam Watters and a bunch of R&B heavyweight producers.  A production deal led to a record contract with LA Reid’s Epic Records.  When that dissipated, Lady Blackbird nested into a comfortable position with producer/songwriter, Chris Seefried and signed to Foundation Music.  The result is this new album of unusual and non-specific, categorized music.  This vocalist could easily cross-over to jazz, but her deep gospel roots, thick R&B riffs and runs, along with her smokey tone and Patti LaBelle-like costumes could fly Lady Blackbird in all directions.

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LUCY YEGHIAZARYAN & VANISHA GOULD – “IN HER WORDS” – Independent label

Lucy Yeghiazaryan, vocals/songwriter; Vanisha Gould, vocals/songwriter; Eric Zolan, guitar; Dan Pappalardo, bass; Kate Victor, cello; Ludovica Burtone, violin; Richard Cortez, guest vocals.

This is a very sparse production with no whistles and bells; no string orchestras or dynamic saxophone solos. But it endears the listener with honest lyrics, interesting melodies and the delightful vocals of these two singer/songwriters: Lucy Yeghiazaryan and Vanisha Gould.  This recording is pure art.  Opening with a song called, “The Game” and the haunting voice of Lucy Yeghiazaryan blowing across space like a wild, hot wind. Eric Zolan’s guitar caresses the melody that Vanisha Gould has composed with tender fingers. “The Game” becomes one of my favorite songs straight away. 

“Gypsy Feet” has a lyric that celebrates the wild spirit of a woman who passes from scene to scene, man to man and this time the vocalist is songwriter, Vanisha Gould.  Both artists sing the refrain in unison and it’s a catchy, easily repeatable hook.  “Hey Baby” is a cute, jazzy duet featuring guest male vocalist, Richard Cortez and with Lucy Yeghiazaryan singing about a guy trying to pick up a girl.  It’s a strong jazz tune, as is “Look This Way,” written and performed by Vanisha.  Dan Pappalardo walks his bass and Eric Zolan takes a tour of his guitar instrument, improvising freely during this arrangement.  Lucy sings a bluesy ballad called “Gone Again” followed by another Gould original called “Trapped in This Room.”  This song has an inspired lyric.  There are a couple of standards thrown in for good measure, one being “My Man” sung beautifully by Lucy Yeghiazaryan.  Vanisha Gould is a fine composer.  I find her melodies and lyrics to be fresh and jazzy, like her song “Cute Boy.”   This is an unexpected diamond project, glittering brightly from a stack of CDs covering my desk.  It was generously funded by a grant from the New York Foundation Arts 2020 Women’s Fund.

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BEST OF THE BEST

August 21, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 21, 2021

OSCAR PETERSON – “MOTIONS & EMOTIONS” –  MPS Records

Oscar Peterson, piano; Sam Jones, bass; Bobby Durham, drums; Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar; Claus Ogerman, arranger/conductor. Note: Orchestra names unavailable to this journalist.

Germany’s first jazz label, MPS Records, has a history of reissuing albums by legendary jazz artists.  This summer they have released a plethora of records including George Duke, Don Ellis, Dexter Gordon, Slide Hampton, Lee Konitz with martial Solal and the genius, Oscar Peterson.  These recordings have been released on both vinyl and CDs in partnership with Bob Frank Entertainment.  I was thrilled to be able to review “Motions & Emotions,” an album originally recorded in 1969.

Peterson opens with “Sally’s Tomato,” featuring a background of orchestral strings, with Oscar’s crisp, improvisational piano parts dancing brightly atop the rich orchestration of arranger, Claus Ogerman.  This tune is from the popular film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and composed by Henry Mancini.  I listen to music all day long, every day, and I hear a lot of exceptional jazz musicians, but Oscar Peterson brings something exceptional to the bandstand.  His style and piano mastery is not only beyond reproach, it’s just pure happiness and genius. 

According to Claus Ogerman, when Oscar Peterson first came to their New York studio to record, Oscar was unhappy with the provided instrument.  He just refused to play an inadequate piano.  The entire orchestra sat there, stunned by the possibility that the recording session might be cancelled.  Conductor, Claus Ogerman, and the MPS label people finally agreed to let the recording continue without Oscar Peterson and that Peterson could overdub his part later at MPS Studio – Villigen.  That’s how this master piece was made.

Track 2 gives us a bright, new look at the pop song, “Sunny” that was so popular in August 1966, fifty-five years ago.   It sounds just as good today, with Oscar’s refurbished, jazzy arrangement.  He follows this with the poignant ballad, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” with a rich bass line played by Sam Jones.  On track 4 titled, “Wandering” you can hear the strings sometimes singing along with the piano melody of this waltz in unexpected moments.  Mainly, Ogerman’s arrangements simply cushion and enhance Peterson’s piano explorations in a beautiful way.

On some songs, Oscar’s fingers fly so fast and so precisely, it’s hard to believe that someone could express themselves at that speed and with that kind of precision.  When he uses both hands to sing in unison at that quick tempo, magic happens!  Their lovely, dreamy arrangement on “Wave” returns us to Peterson’s rich jazz heritage playing standard jazz tunes.  His interpretation of “Dreamsville” will take your breath away and his rendition of “Yesterday” becomes a very acceptable Latin infused arrangement with a samba beat. Bucky Pizarelli’s guitar star-shines on the tune.

One of Oscar Peterson’s amazing gifts was his ability to hear a double time improvisational piano line in his mind; then lay it atop the chordal theme.  His agile fingers placed the creativity perfectly in place. Peterson’s technique completely transforms and elevates every composition.  Take for example the way he infuses “Elenore Rigby” with the blues.  It reinvents the song and paints a different conception of Ms. Rigby in such a cool way.    Peterson does the same kind of transformation when he plays “Ode to Billy Joe.”  He adds the blues in a jazzy, swift and completely mesmerizing presentation. 

After all these years, Oscar Peterson remains a prince on the piano; uncanny and creative; genius and inspired.  Born August 15, 1925 and making his transition in December of 2007, he is a legend and a piece of jazz royalty we must never forget. Oscar Peterson is the best of the best.

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RENEE ROSNES – “KINDS OF LOVE” – Smoke Sessions Records

Renee Rosnes, piano/Fender Rhodes; Chris Potter, saxophones/flutes/bass clarinet; Christian McBride, bass; Carl Allen, drums; Rogério Boccato, percussion.

Any piano player that can get the super gifted Billy Childs to write their liner notes has got to be amazing! I was so happy when I received the Renee Rosnes “Kinds of Love” album release. Let me say, without a doubt, she is a dynamic composer and awesome pianist.  Although she is rooted in traditional jazz, Renee brings originality to her work and is clearly a tenacious voice on the jazz scene.  You hear it on her first tune “Silk (Dedicated to Donald Brown)” where she establishes her strength and talent, incorporating a memorable melody with chords that inspire Chris Potter to fly high on his saxophone.  Carl Allen’s drum rolls infuse the energy of this group and push the music forward.  Renee Rosnes punches staccato piano parts that pump the quintet into a frenzy.  When she takes over, her piano power is exciting, speedy and she comfortably chooses a solo path that sets her apart from the rest.  I am enthralled. 

Renee Rosnes has already recorded ten albums for the Blue Note label.  This is her first for Smoke Sessions Records and it’s a doozy!  Track 2 sooths the spirit and settles me into the womb of this ballad.  Chris Potter pulls out his flute to soar above the beauty during this “Kinds of Love” arrangement.  It is followed by the tune, “In Time Like Air,” a song that invites our attention, using Christian McBride’s creativity on bass and a whispered female voice singing softly in unison with pretty melody lines.  The introduction is quite clever and has been arranged to carry us into a forest with unseen birds that sing on hidden branches. 

This is an album full of musical surprises.  Like on “The Golden Triangle” that starts out somewhat classically and then bursts into the blues, embracing a medium swing tempo with Renee’s imagination and creativity racing around the piano keys.  Christian McBride entertains us grandly on double bass. Then enters Chris Potter on saxophone to elevate the arrangement a little higher.  Renee Rosnes is other-worldly and knows how to grow the music.  It’s a bean stalk that invites us to take a chance, hold on tightly and climb along with her. 

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WAYNE CONIGLIO & SCOTT WHITFIELD – “FASTER FRIENDS” – Summit Records

Wayne Coniglio, bass & tenor trombones/composer; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Ken Kehner, piano; Eric Warren, bass; Kevin Gianino, drums; Jacob Melsha, trombone/voice; Debbie Lennon & Elsie Parker, vocals.

All of the musicians in this band are educators and are proud to ‘pay it forward’ in terms of inspiring the next generation and the ones that follow.  The ensemble opens with Dexter Gordon’s tune, “Fried Bananas” (based on the chord changes from “It Could Happen to You”).  The tempo flies and the trombone solos are stellar, smooth and lovely to hear.  Ken Kehner takes a piano solo that is both spirited and creative.  Kehner is someone who is just as comfortable playing pop music, classical (Brahms or Prokofiev), as he is improvising and accompanying as a traditional jazz pianist. 

Speaking of Ken Kehner, he has composed Track 2, “Swirling.”  This arrangement is such a wonderful example of what happens when you put two outstanding trombonists together on a project.  Their blend is smooth and silky as baby oil.  Neal Hefti’s “Girl Talk” composition has long been a favorite of mine.  At the introduction, Coniglio and Whitfield have a full, big band sound on this arrangement, even though it’s just those two trombones in the horn section.  This album swings hard and offers our ears a pleasant listen, featuring two talented, powerhouse trombonists. 

Wayne Coniglio is a product of the music program at Longview School in Phoenix, Arizona.  While attending the University of Illinois he was a member of the legendary John Garvey Band.  After moving to New York City, he performed with The Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, The Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, The Mingus Band and Chico O’Farrill’s Latin Jazz Dream Band.  Throughout the 1990’s, Coniglio was invited to tour as part of the Ray Charles band.  Ray Charles encouraged him to write arrangements for his band and this spurred Wayne Coniglio into action.  Inspired by Ray, his writing and arranging career quickly expanded.  He began to write for chamber ensembles, choirs, big bands and pit orchestras.  Coniglio became the arranger for the Kevin Kline Awards Show for three consecutive years.  Wayne has included three of his original compositions as part of this production. I personally enjoyed “The Determinator,” that was played at an up-tempo pace, in a very straight-ahead arrangement and gives drummer, Kevin Gianino a solo to spotlight his talent.

Like Wayne, Scott Whitfield loves big bands.  He’s added his trombone excellence to the bands of Clare Fischer, Bill Holman, Bob Florence, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Johnny Mandel.  He has recorded ten albums as a bandleader and appeared on over fifty recordings by other artists.  Whitfield has traveled worldwide sharing his expertise on trombone as a clinician.  Professor Whitfield served on the jazz faculty at Rutgers University from 1998 to 2002.  In 1986 he founded the Scott Whitfield Jazz Orchestra.  One of his mentors was Nat Adderly and he released a 75th birthday tribute to Nat in 2006 featuring his jazz orchestra that rocketed to number five on the radio airplay charts.

Together, Coniglio and Whitfield, along with their powerful rhythm section and special guest Jacob Melsha (also a trombonist), offer us this fine-tuned album appropriately called, “Faster Friends.” 

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HAROLD LAND SR. – “WESTWARD BOUND!” –  Reel to Real

Harold Land Sr., tenor saxophone/composer; Buddy Montgomery, Hampton Hawes & John Houston, piano; Monk Montgomery, bass; Jimmy Lovelace, Mel Lee & Philly Joe Jones, drummer; Carmell Jones, trumpet;

I was expectant and excited when I heard that Los Angeles based, tenor saxophone icon, Harold Land, had previously unreleased music.  It will be shared with the public this summer by Reel to Reel Recordings.  They unearthed this amazing album, recorded at the Seattle jazz club (The Penthouse) back in 1962 through 1965.  Engineer Jim Wilke has preserved some of Harold Land’s best work, presented ‘live’ with three different bands.  The first is inclusive of the Montgomery Brothers, Buddy on piano and Monk on bass, along with drummer Jimmy Lovelace and Kansas City trumpeter, Carmell Jones.   This music was honed from a weekly broadcast on KING-FM radio, over half a century ago.  On June 12, 2021 a 33-1/3 RPM duel-LP set was released on vinyl to celebrate this project in a very historic way.  On August 6th, these projects were released digitally.  I agree with Zev Feldman, co-president of Resonance Records and heralded as a ‘Jazz Detective,’ when he said:

“I feel that these recordings of Harold Land are special and need to be heard.  Land was one of the purveyors of West Coast jazz whom I feel is an under-recognized genius who doesn’t get discussed enough,” Feldman praised the tenor saxophone master.

On the opening number, “Vindetta,” Carmell Jones on trumpet and Harold land on tenor sax come straight out the gate like Santa Anita race horses.  After working so long with trumpet genius, Clifford Brown, it’s no wonder that on some of these Land performances, Harold includes a trumpeter. This original composition by Harold Land swings harder than Jackie Robinson at home plate.  The bassist, Monk Montgomery, is powerful beneath the excitement, walking his upright bass and holding the rhythm in place along with Jimmy Lovelace on drums.  Pianist Buddy Montgomery is tasty and creative as his fingers skip along the keys.

Harold Land has a warm, buttery sound on his saxophone.  He and Carmell Jones worked together regularly on sessions for Pacific Jazz Records.  It’s good to hear their camaraderie on “Westward Bound.”   On “Beep Durple” (a take-off of the popular jazz tune, Deep Purple) Carmell Jones adds his original composition for Track 2 of this historic concert.  Drummer, Jimmy Lovelace, propels this bebop tune forward on his trap drums and Monk Montgomery sticks with him like Velcro, pumping his walking bass. 

The tune “My Romance” issues in a new quartet made up of Hampton Hawes on piano and Los Angeles based drummer, Mel Lee.  Montgomery remains the bassist and this lovely ballad unfolds with Hampton Hawes performing an ear-catching introduction on piano.  The group continues with the Hawes composition, “Triplin the Groove.”  This song brings us back to the wonderful blues roots that Harold Land grew from, blossoming into the bright and beautiful flower he became on his tenor sax.

When bass man, Curtis Counce invited Land to join his band, Harold said yes and worked with them between 1956 and 1958.  In ’58 he recorded as a bandleader for Fantasy Records on an album called, “Harold in the Land of Jazz.”  One of Land’s stellar recordings followed; “The Fox” that was released in 1959.  You clearly hear his hard-bop prowess sparkling on this album.  In 1959, he recorded “Grooveyard” on Contemporary Records. This was followed in 1960, by the Jazzland Records release he made called “Eastward Ho! Harold land in New York with Kenny Dorham.” 

Harold also worked with the Shorty Rogers’ Giants in 1961.  All through the 1960s, Harold Land was in demand as a studio session musician. He also worked regularly with Red Mitchell throughout 1961 and 1962.  Some of you may remember it was Red Mitchell who helped to advance Ornette Coleman’s early jazz career.  As Harold Land’s reputation grew, he answered a number of calls to work with A-list jazz musicians.  He co-led a band with Bobby Hutcherson from 1969 to 1971.

One of my favorite albums by Harold Land is “A Lazy Afternoon” released in 1995, conducted and arranged by the great Ray Ellis with our beloved Bill Henderson (Kamon) on piano as part of Land’s specialized rhythm section.  These beautiful ballads, made famous by Billie Holiday, showed the softer, more romantic side of Harold Land.

You can really hear how Harold Land was influenced by John Coltrane on his arrangement of “Invitation” recorded in Germany during a live performance with his “All Stars” group at the Subway Jazz Club in Cologne.  His band is stuffed with legendary talent including Billy Higgins on drums, Cedar Walton on piano and Buster Williams on bass.

The final tunes on this re-discovered “Westward Bound!” project are recorded with John Houston on piano and the explosive Philly Joe Jones on drums.  Monk Montgomery is still on bass and this quartet recorded on August 5 of 1965 at the Penthouse jazz club.  You hear Land’s breathy tenderness on his tenor as he explores “Who Can I Turn To?”

Every cut on this album is an individual masterpiece and celebrates the talent and mastery of Harold Land Sr.   This historic album continues to sing his legacy.

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JOEY DEFRANCESCO – “MORE MUSIC” – Mack Ave Records

Joey DeFrancesco, organ/piano/keyboard; trumpet/ tenor saxophone/vocals; Michael Ode, drums; Lucas Brown, organ/guitar.

“Free” is one of ten new compositions by Joey DeFrancesco on his new Mack Ave Records release titled, “More Music.”  Not only are Joey’s composing skills cooking on a hot stove, he also has expanded his talents to playing not only organ, keyboard, piano and trumpet but now he has added tenor saxophone to his musical mastery.  Another surprise is that Joey DeFrancesco steps up to the microphone and sings on the tune, “And if you Please.”   On a song he calls, “Lady G” (an ode to his wife) Joey introduces us to his warm, rich sound on tenor sax and it’s absolutely beautiful.  I was so captivated by this bluesy ballad that I played it twice before listening to the entire album.  Another surprise is Lucas Brown, a fellow organist from Philadelphia, who plays organ, as well as being a competent guitarist.  He becomes a solid addition to Defrancesco’s trio and frees Joey up to ‘do his thing’ on multiple instruments.  DeFrancesco and his trio of merry men, have re-emerged from their collective quarantine to happily bring us “More Music.”

“Lucas plays differently than I do.  We don’t sound alike at all and that’s important.  What’s the point of having somebody that’s going to be playing my stuff note for note?” Joey complimented his bandmate, organist and guitar master, Lucas Brown.

I have attended many Joey DeFrancesco concerts over the years and watched him bring crowds to an exciting frenzy during his energetic organ solos.  I’ve also enjoyed him entertaining us playing his trumpet, but I had no idea he was expanding his talents to woodwind instruments.  As a big Miles Davis fan, young DeFrancesco had always wanted to play trumpet and honed his tone and presentation on that horn with many years of practice.  In 1988, a very young Joey DeFrancesco was actually a part of the Miles Davis band and toured worldwide.  Here is a flashback to that time in his life, performing ‘live’ on stage with Miles at the Warsaw Concert.

25-years ago, DeFrancesco decided he also wanted to play the tenor.  His grandfather and namesake, Joseph DeFrancesco, was a woodwind player.  The older man’s favorite instruments were tenor saxophone and clarinet.

“One day I just decided to get his tenor out of the case and see if I could play it.  … I practiced and it actually came pretty quick.  I got so comfortable that I went down to Orlieb’s for a jam session.  I got on the stage and Philadelphia saxophonist Victor North was standing next to me.  I didn’t know who he was, but he looked like Buddy Holly. …Well, Victor North kicked my ass and the horn went back into the case for another 25 years,” Joey chuckled recalling the experience that made him question his talents on saxophone.

In recent years, he had the opportunity to record with legendary tenor player, Pharoah Sanders (“In the Key of the Universe”).  Inspired by Pharoah, by his own tenor player, Troy Roberts and by the iconic Charles Lloyd, DeFrancesco went to his dad and once again asked to borrow his grandfather’s tenor sax.

“If you’re going to play, you can have it.  But you gotta play it,” his father clearly set the rules.

“What separated me from a lot of other organists was the huge influence I took from tenor saxophone players.  I have a certain sound that I love and that was already in my mind.  No matter what instrument I’m playing, there’s a certain concept that always comes through,” Joey explained.

“Just Beyond the Horizon” is a song that opens with a powerhouse solo by Michael Ode on drums.  Lucas Brown steps away from the organ and adds his guitar chops to the mix.  DeFrancesco brings his genius on organ and the tune is off and running.  Mr. Ode also takes a fiery and inspiring drum solo later in the song.   On “In Times of Reflection” Joey DeFrancesco slips behind the piano keys and plays a dynamic introduction to this lovely, jazz waltz.  Later, he blows us away with his trumpet solo.  This is another well-written DeFrancesco composition that quickly becomes one of my favorites.  On Track 6, “Where To Go” the trio explores a funk feel that transforms into a straight-ahead arrangement.  Both DeFrancesco and Lucas Brown challenge each other playing simultaneous organs.  The organists bring the blues front and center and Michael Ode takes a spirited trap drum solo. 

Joey DeFrancesco’s music makes me happy!  Both his tunes “This Time Around” and the title tune, “More Music” bring joy into my listening room.  All in all, here is organ-trio-jazz at its best, featuring Joey DeFrancesco’s mind-blowing and multi-talents.

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FREDDIE HUBBARD – “THE HUB OF HUBBARD” – MPS Records

Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Richard Davis, bass; Louis Hayes, drums; Roland Hanna, piano; Eddie Daniels, tenor saxophone.

This is an album released in 1969, a little over thirty-four minutes long and it features four songs played by trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard with gusto!  “Without A Song” starts out in an exciting way.  It swings hard and features Hubbard at his very best.  At the tune’s top, Eddie Daniels echoes the melody on tenor saxophone that Hubbard is playing, before Hubbard takes off like a 747 cruising down the runway.  The brilliant drums of Louis Hayes egg the take-off onward and Richard Davis pumps hard on his double bass, fueling the process.  Only pure, spontaneous energy exuded from this quintet and it’s infectious.  When Daniels enters for his solo, he lifts the piece a notch higher.  This is the traditional, straight-ahead, bebop rooted jazz I grew up listening to and it is joyful music to my ears.  I enjoy the creative and cohesive flavor of Roland Hanna on the piano.  His comping behind the Davis bass solo is noteworthy because it’s so uniquely Hanna.  He doesn’t just snap the chord changes under the bass solo.  Instead, he has a conversation with the bass and plays unexpected and always on-point complimentary phrases.  When master drummer, Louis Hayes trades fours with the group, he reminds the world of who he is and his extraordinary legacy.  I didn’t understand the engineer’s choice to add echo on the fade of Freddie’s adlib trumpet, but I recall there was a lot of echo usage back-in-the-day of 1960s music.  At lightning speed, the ensemble takes on “Just One of Those Things.”  They are playing so fast you can hardly count the time.  It’s just an awesome and energy-driven arrangement.  When they settle down and play a ballad, you get to enjoy Freddie’s emotionally connected interpretation of “The Things We Did Last Summer.”  Beautiful!

This is a collector’s dream album, featuring Freddie Hubbard at his prime, along with all the members of his group, who were stellar then and also became legendary in their own rights.

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DOMINICAN JAZZ PROJECT – “DESDE LEJOS” – Summit Records

Stephen Anderson, piano/composer/accordion track; Ramon Vazquez, Jason Foureman & Craig Butterfield, bass; Guy Frometa, drums; David Almengod & Juan Alamo, percussion; Marc Callahan, coro; Carlos Luis, guitar/ voice/composer; Guillo Caria, clavietta/composer; Mayquel Gonzalez, trumpet; Rahsaan Barber, tenor saxophone; Sandy Gabriel, saxophones.

The plan was, in 2020 the members of the Dominican Jazz Project would return to the studio and record their second CD.  Their first one was released in 2016.  Unfortunately, the pandemic changed everything.  Consequently, pianist, Stephen Anderson took the quarantine time to begin composing.  In May of 2020, long time member of the group, Jeffrey Eckels, called Stephen to say his mother had passed away.  Stephen and Jeffrey discussed how they could social-distance and begin to record a song Jeffrey had composed, “Siempre Adelante.”  Shockingly, only two weeks later Jeffrey Eckels also died.  The two men, who were good friends, had been recording together for nineteen years.  Stephen composed the song “Sin Palabras” (“No Words”) to honor his friend Jeffrey.  Both of these compositions become part of this new album and two of nine original compositions that are included in their Dominican Jazz Project.  Renowned Cuban bassist, Ramon Vazques, who lives in Puerto Rico, was invited to replace Jeffrey Eckels.  Before he could join the group to record the new project, his mother became severely ill.  Although Ramon eventually contributed six tracks to this recording, in the interim, the group invited friends of Jeffery Eckels to replace his missing bass part; Craig Butterfield and Jason Foureman. 

The result of hibernation during the 2020 pandemic was not only personnel changes, but also the determination of these master musicians to draw from various folkloric rhythms of the Dominican Republic and to reflect their personal life changes.  These experiences led to the creation of this music.  It’s spirited and joyful, even in the face of COVID and so much death and sadness.  This music is healing.  These songs uplift and give hope.

Stephen Anderson’s piano playing is a bright star on the jazz horizon.  The group opens with his composition “Fuera de la Oscuridad” that translates to “Out of the Darkness.”  It is straight-ahead jazz, saturated in Latin rhythms and fueled by Guy Frometa’s powerful drums, while showcasing the talented percussion players throughout this arrangement.  Their musical message is energetic.  Sandy Gabriel’s saxophone stitches the piece together with gold threads, keeping the fabric of their message and melody cohesive and strong. 

Track 2 is “Ritmas de Bani” a tribute to a town (Bani) located west of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic where a festival is held each year.  The Afro Cuban, 6/8 rhythm and the repeated ‘coro’ by Marc Callahan and vocalists blend to transport us to a rich, warm cultural experience.  “Como un Rayo Ciego” is a lovely ballad that guitarist, Carlos Luis composed and he sings it in Spanish with great emotion.  Track 5, “If You Only Knew” (Si Tu Supieras) ambles along at a moderate tempo and has a sweet melody that sounds relaxed and happy.  Mayquel Gonzalez makes a spotlight appearance on trumpet.   Each song and all the players contributing to this project highlight the beauty, hope and joy that the Dominican culture offers us on a silver disc.  Pop it into your CD player and enjoy.

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JAZZ ALL-STARS RELEASE NEW MUSIC

August 11, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

August 11, 2021

THE JAZZ ALL STARS – VOL 1. – Le Coq Records

John Beasley, piano/Fender Rhodes; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger; Rich Eames, piano; John Patitucci & Chris Colangelo, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, Marvin “Smitty” Smith & Joe Labarbera, drums; Alex Acuña, percussion; Jake Langley, guitar; Rick Margitza & Bob Sheppard, tenor saxophone; Charles McNeal & Brandon Fields, alto saxophone; Adam Schroeder, baritone sax;  Bob Lockhart, Sal Lozano, Ken Fischer, Brian Scanlon, & Ralph Moore, saxophones; Wayne Bergeron, Kye Palmer, Mike Rocha, Anthony Bonsera, & Terell Stafford, Trumpets; Andy Martin, Francisco Torres, Bob McChesney, Michael Dease, Ryan Dragon & Ben Devitt, trombones; Andy James, vocals;

Although this album of music was released some months ago, great music is timeless. This “Jazz All-Stars Vol. 1” features many Los Angeles based musicians and is exquisitely produced.  Track 1 spotlights an outstanding drum solo by Vinnie Colaiuta and Alex Acuña (on percussion) during the John Beasley composition “Theme for Flotus,” arranged as a jazz waltz.  It’s a lovely composition that swings hard (in spite of its waltz status) with the title celebrating the former First Lady of the United States; Michelle Obama.  John Patitucci’s bass solo is warm and wonderful mid-way through the piece.

Track 2 is written by Bill Cunliffe, who also has arranged the music on this album.  “Tu Wero Nui” has a lush horn section that gives this piece a big band flair. “Tu Wero Nui” is the Maori language meaning, “the ultimate challenge.” It was written by Cunliffe following a turbulent flight to New Zealand. Unfortunately, the liner notes on the CD cover do not tell us which wonderful saxophone player is soloing on this number, but that solo is rich and beautiful.  The tune, Log jammin,’ written by Jake Langley, sounds like an Eddie Harris piece or a 1966 Cannonball Adderley tune called “Mercy – Mercy – Mercy” by Joe Zawinul.  It has that kind of flavor with a solid groove provided by the drums of Marvin “Smitty” Smith.  Langley makes a strong musical statement on guitar during this arrangement.  He’s a veteran player with organist, Joey DeFrancesco’s trio.  John Patatucci’s arrangement of “Afro Blue” is quite unique with just bass and Acuña’s percussion featured.  Andy James is the vocalist on “Caravan” and floats like a cool summer breeze above the hot tracks that these all-stars lay down.  I was disappointed that a fade ended the tune during an outstanding guitar solo by Langley.  I could have enjoyed sixteen more bars of that guitar goodness and groove. This is an album of great music performed by outstanding West-Coast-based musicians.  This production also shows off the arranging talents of Bill Cunliffe, Rick Margitza and John Patatucci.  Every composition and creative arrangement proffers ear candy.  Thanks to the new, Las Vegas based record company, Le Coq, here is a sweet and joyful album of well-played music for the world to enjoy.

Piero Pata, founder of the Le Coq label, is an Italian-Australian native with a deep love of jazz, music, dance and art.  We can happily expect a long list of all-star jazz artists to be released by this new record company.  Stay tuned!

“Touring around the world as a Flamenco dancer, I got to know and perform with so many great jazz artists.  So, when we started Le Coq, I focused on gathering together these incredible musicians.  This album is a way to introduce the label through the vision of these artists who audiences know and who have been pushing the music forward for a lifetime,” Piero Pata sums it up.

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SYSTEM 6 – “TALES FROM THE BACKYARD” – Skipper Productions

Benn Clatworthy, woodwinds/composer; Ron Stout, trumpet; Joey Sellers, trombone; Bryan Velasco, piano; David Reynoso, bass; Tyler Kreutel, drums; Yayo Morales, percussion.

The System 6 album, “Tales From the Backyard” is the result of Benn and his musical entourage meeting, outdoors and socially-distanced, throughout the pandemic in 2020.  Consequently, this album title was inspired after months of Benn Clatworthy holding rehearsals in his backyard.  The band was preparing for this studio project.   

Benn Clatworthy is a serious and prolific composer, based in Los Angeles, who offers us seven original tunes on this project, with one song contributed by trombonist, Joey Sellers.  Clatworthy says his composing skills are driven by what he describes as a “search for beauty.”

“The Vegan” opens this album with all the fanfare and excitement that three horns and a rhythm section bring to the party.  The counterpoint arrangement, at the beginning of the tune, is inviting and bounces like colorful balloons. Then Ron Stout steps into the spotlight.  Stout is stellar and straight-ahead on trumpet.  Clatworthy arrives on the scene, playing soprano saxophone free as a bird in flight and just as beautiful.  We hear a memorable solo from Bryan Velasco on piano and the steady drum support of Tyler Kreutel pumps the band up.  Kreutel takes a flashy and spontaneous solo towards the end of the tune, with a baritone saxophone egging the drummer on.  It’s an interesting arrangement that features Clatworthy, (throughout this production), picking up a variety of woodwind instruments to showcase his many multi-talents. 

Next, Clatworthy features his flute.  The instrument dances atop the rich tapestry of Yayo Morales’ percussive excellence and Kreutel’s swinging drums infuse the tune titled, “Calypso Trisha.”  The horns support the arrangement brightly in the background.  Joey Sellers steps forward on trombone, while Latin rhythms inspire us to dance. Then, attention is given to bassist David Reynoso, who shares his inspired double bass solo with us.  This is a joyful composition that radiates resilience and hope. 

However, in the face of great political upheaval and racial unrest in our country, Benn Clatworthy has also composed “Ballad for George Floyd.”  Floyd was an unarmed black man who lost his life to the knee of a policeman and whose final words wave like an unforgotten banner above our consciousness as he whispered, “I can’t breathe.”  Floyd’s death, on the streets of America, rang out like a warning-shot to the world.  People across the globe marched in solidarity against the obvious hate that took George Floyd’s life.  Benn Clatworthy’s composition radiates the drama and sadness that permeated spirits worldwide after that confrontational execution was captured on the cell phone of a traumatized teenage girl.  Clatworthy’s composition is dirge-like at first, before it sprints into action and becomes a straight-ahead swing.  As the tempo accelerates, with Kreutel’s drums pounding like angry feet on the pavement, Benn’s saxophone stretches the limits of expression; melodically screaming at us to pay attention.  The horn ensemble acts as exclamation points. 

The singular song contributed by Joey Sellers is titled, “The Mystic Feminine Charms of Caesura Chonchalita.”  The definition of Caesura is a rhetorical break in the flow of sound that comes in the middle of a line of verse.  This composition by Sellers has an Afro-Cuban beat and a lovely, lilting melody.  There is no break in the flow.  Consequently, I suppose Caesura Chonchalita must simply be a female name.  Just to double check, I reached out to Professor Joey Sellers, who teaches at Saddleback College, for his input.  Here’s what he told me about this composition title.

“She is the fictional ex-wife of Bolt Spillman, a main character from a short story and Caesura Chonchalita is a lady described as a sweet, but somewhat icy Argentinian/Greek beauty, who enjoyed being lathered in butter,” Joey Sellers informed me. 

Needless to say, I was stunned by this depiction of his composition starlette.

The composition, “This One’s for Celia” is a soft, warm, fuzzy ballad that’s steamy with love and emotion.  There’s one thing I know about Benn Clatworthy.  He plays from his heart.  The System 6 ensemble closes out this album with “The Skipper Meets the Pharoah” that references their Record Label president and iconic bassist, Henry “The Skipper” Franklin and the great jazz legend, Pharoah Sanders.  This tune is played at a very exciting, up-tempo pace and leaves this listener on a high note.

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BARRY ALTSCHUL’s 3DOM FACTOR – “LONG TALL SUNSHINE” – Not Two Records

Barry Altschul, drums/cymbals/composer; Jon Irabagon, tenor & soprillo saxophones/clarinet; Joe Fonda, bass.

The number three in numerology stands for music, art and creativity.  Adopted by Barry Altschul, as part of his “3dom Factor” group, these musicians apply all three disciplines; art, music and creativity, as part of their production package.  In addition to being a trio of artists, they are friends and have worked together for the last decade or so.  I feel this group is exploratory and pushes the boundaries of creativity.  ‘3dom Factor’ features Barry Altschul on drums and cymbals, Jon Irabagon on clarinet, tenor and soprillo or sopranino saxophones, with Joe Fonda playing bass.  After four years of silence, this is the trios fourth release, captured ‘live’ during a European tour in 2019.

“Long Tall Sunshine” is a wonderful title for a musical excursion full of warmth, light and energetic heat.  The title track is a previously unrecorded composition, described by Altschul as his once long and tall paramour with a sunny disposition.  Joe Fonda adds his pulsating bass beat to open the tune and establishes the tempo.  He’s quickly joined by Altschul’s busy, spontaneous drums and Jon Irabagon’s melodic saxophone unwraps the piece, like a present for our ears. 

The other three compositions on their ‘live’ performance album are familiar songs from other times and other recordings.  Altschul described it this way.

“I don’t really believe that anything is really new.  I’m a believer in fresh.  I listened to Miles Davis when he said that Louis Armstrong played everything that could be played.  So, it’s just a matter of being fresh, … using the same compositions just provides a springboard to let us get into some fresh improvisational spaces,” Altschul explained.

You will hear songs reinvented from his “Live in Krakow” album.  The way they have presented these songs on this album reflect Altschul’s five decades philosophy of improvising and expanding music.  It shines a stream of sunshine on the trio’s ability to be spontaneous, expressive and creative.  After all, that’s what jazz is all about.  That’s why jazz is called the music of freedom. 

The cover portrait for the “Long Tall Sunshine” album was painted by Nora Howard and captures the energy and attitude of freedom, depicting this drummer and his “3dom Factor” trio.

Altschul’s groundbreaking work in Avant-garde music is easily paralleled by his straight ahead work with folks like Lee Konitz and Art Pepper.  His fame glows sunshine bright from the 1960s when he worked with artists like Paul Bley and Chick Corea, bassist Dave Holland and saxophone giant, Anthony Braxton.  He has also recorded with such greats as Sam Rivers, Andrew Hill, Dave Liebman and Julius Hemphill.  This is another bright, shining flame shooting out from the “Long Tall Sunshine” and bathing us in its brilliance.  

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DENNIS MITCHELTREE – “NEVERMIND THE CIRCUS” – DEng or Music

Dennis Mitcheltree, tenor saxophone/composer; Jesse Crawford, bass; Bill McClellan, drums.

This trio opens with an original composition by Dennis Mitcheltree titled, “Strummin’ While Nawlins Swims.”  It’s a bright, melodic composition that uses staccato starts and stops to call attention to the catchy melody.  Track 2 is titled, “911” and showcases Mitcheltree’s smooth tone on his tenor saxophone. Mitcheltree has composed all ten of the songs on this album and each one is well played and well-crafted.  This project was recorded in Pasadena at the studio of Nolan Shaheed, just before the Pandemic grabbed us all by surprise and forced the world into panic.  Jesse Crawford steps forward on his double bass and takes a brief, poignant solo on “911.”  There is a sadness about this composition’s melody that softly calls for help. I enjoy the instrumental freedom that the saxophone, bass and drums deliver.   This is a trio that stands alone without piano or guitar accompaniment.

Dennis Mitcheltree is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin who spent several years in New York City before relocating to Los Angeles.  At age twelve, he was fascinated with the Oboe instrument.  That led him to expand his horizons and explore the baritone saxophone; but by high school, the teenager had discovered Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the tenor saxophone.  Today, he is not only an admirable tenor saxophone player, but he’s also an actor and a prolific composer. 

Born September 25, 1964, Dennis is married with children and took time away from recording and touring to concentrate on being a good dad.  In 2017, Mitcheltree established a club residency in Santa Monica, California.   For a while, he was opening act for the Julian Coryell and Andy Sanesi group.  After a while, he moved his band into the headline spot. 

“I played with Julian and Andy quite a bit … and was grateful to bring my group to perform the compositions I’d been writing as the kids were growing up.  Their presence in my life has really influenced the way I compose,” Mitcheltree told AllAboutJazz.com.

Because of that steady gig, Mitcheltree had income and time to compose.  That’s how “Nevermind the Circus” came into being.  The two musicians he recorded with are long-time NYC band members from his New York trio; Jesse Crawford and Bill McClellan.  Locally, he has been performing with Benjamin Shepherd on bass and drummer, Dan Schnelle or bassist Edwin Livingston and Steve Hass on drums.  However, when his old friends (Jesse and Bill) turned up in Los Angeles to do a few gigs, he called them into the studio to make this album. 

It’s been a long trek from Wisconsin to Los Angeles.  He turned down a scholarship to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Jazz Program.  Instead, he moved to the East Coast and enrolled at the Berklee College of Music.  In 1987, Dennis Mitcheltree graduated Magna Cum Laude, with his major in performance. After that, Dennis moved to New York City.

Always a deep thinker and community minded, on Track 3 is a tune called, “Recount.”  Mitcheltree turns the spotlight towards the question of election validity and ballot recounts and he also shines a wide light on his talented drummer, Bill McClellan.  McClellan dances brightly beneath the arrangement, often pushing a double-time feel beneath Mitcheltree’s blues-saturated improvisation.  I am intrigued with the Mitcheltree compositions.  They are so well-written and the unexpected, momentary stops in his arrangements call the listening audience to attention.  At the fade of the “recount,” McClellan shows us what he’s all about, roaring around his trap drums like a restless lion.

Dennis Mitcheltree explains some of his feelings when he was composing and arranging this artistic piece of work.

“The circus: it’s in our homes.  It’s on our phones.  It’s on the news.  It’s in the government, a billboard, a social media post, a visit to the grocery store,” Dennis explains.

Then he plays a bluesy ballad like “Olivia,” where bassist, Jesse Crawford, picks up his bow and sings his solo song in a very provocative way.  The song “Twinkle Toes” is a speedy arrangement that opens with the saxophone reminding me of gun shots.  Dennis Mitcheltree shows on this tune that he can swing and bebop with the best of them.   And why shouldn’t he?   He’s a former student of Joe Lovano, Billy Pierce, George Garzone and Joe Viola.  Today, he’s an educator and conducts jazz clinics himself.  As a composer, Mitcheltree says he’s been greatly influenced by a long list of jazz icons including Strayhorn, Ellington, Mingus, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Tadd Dameron, Thelonious, Bud Powell and of course, the two artists who got him interested in jazz in the first place; John Coltrane and Miles Davis.  Other favorites on this recording are Track 7, “L.A. Blues” and Track 8, “Tarayzm,” where Dennis gets down and dirty with the blues and his horn becomes fluid and fiery as hot oil in a cast iron skillet.

I found this album to be totally intriguing and a clear testament to the power, creativity and innovation Dennis Mitcheltree performs on his tenor saxophone and injects into his original compositions. 

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DR. MIKE BOGLE – “LET THERE BE LIGHT” – MPB/Groove Records

Dr. Mike Bogle, keyboards/vocals/trombone/composer; Buddy Mohmed, bass; Harrell Bosarge, drums; Andy Barrus, steel Pan/Percussion; Dana Sudborough, vibraphone.

Dr. Mike Bogle is a multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator who has led several different groups in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  Opening with “Voyager’s Dream” I am immediately intoxicated with the beautiful blend of Dr. Bogle’s keyboard with Dana Sudborough’s vibraphone.  To spice up this straight-ahead tune, Andy Barrus adds Steel Pan and his percussion talents.  Buddy Mohmed solos on electric bass and Harrell Bosarge lends his timely rhythm on trap drums.  The title tune, “Let There Be Light” is vocalized by Dr. Mike Bogle, like a horn.  He sings the melody without words and it’s a challenging, lovely melody that is begging for lyrics.  

Dr. Mike Bogle is Professor of Commercial Music at Dallas College on the Cedar Valley campus.  In the past, he’s worked with notable jazz names like James Moody, Slide Hampton, Jaco Pastorius, Ira Sullivan, Pete Christlieb and Duffy Jackson.  Once a touring musician, music has taken him all over the world.  Dr. Bogle has released six albums as a bandleader.  He has composed all the music on this album except for the popular Pee Wee Ellis composition, “The Chicken.”   I enjoyed every one of Mike Bogle’s compositions. “Eat Your Vitamins” is rooted in funk, with a harmonic vocal choir (all voices sung by Dr. Bogle).  The tune encourages us to eat our vitamins and enjoy our vegetables.  On this arrangement, Mike Bogle pulls out his trombone and displays a warm tone on the instrument that floats above the Harrell Bosarge drum groove.  Dana Sudborough’s vibraphone talents shine throughout this production.

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FALKNER EVANS – “INVISIBLE WORDS” – CAP Records (Consolidated Artists Publications)

Falkner Evans, solo piano.

As an artist who has always preferred collaborating with other players, this solo effort is a step outside of Falkner’s comfort zone. Even though he has played several ‘single’ gigs, and in fact, met his wife while playing solo at an upper East side restaurant, he just never contemplated recording a solo piano album until now.

Evans grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and like most young people, was drawn to 60s rock and R&B music, before discovering jazz while in high school.  His first professional gig lasted four years, playing with the popular Western Swing band, “Asleep at the Wheel.”  He transplanted to New York City in 1985, where his bandleader experience would begin.  Consequently, he released his leader debut titled, “Level Playing Field” as a trio endeavor with Cecil McBee and Matt Wilson. 

There were two more trio excursions before Evans expanded to quintet status.  In 2020, he released a septet album titled “Marbles.”  That same year, while experiencing a country plagued by pandemic infections and living in a quarantined society, Evans had a feeling of being frozen in time. Unfortunately, in the midst of all that drama, Falkner Evans suffered a devastating loss.

“This is a record I never planned to make.  On May 19, 2020, my wife Linda took her life.  Linda was a bright light with a radiant soul.  Her smile could melt your heart.  Linda was the smartest person I have ever met.  I learned a lot from her.  I am a better person for having known her and in turn a better pianist and composer,” Falkner Evans sang the praises of his wife.

It takes time to grieve and to recover from the loss of a loved one. After three months, Falkner Evans finally took a seat in front of the ivory and ebony keys, he began to compose.  This album is the lovely result.  Evans has poured his heart and soul into these compositions, in celebration of his life and love for the woman he lost.  He calls it “a snapshot of his beloved wife through his own lens.”   The songs are beautiful, but melancholy.  He has named this album, “Invisible Words.”

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DAN SIEGEL – “FARAWAY PLACE – Independent Label

Dan Siegel, piano/keyboard/accordion/composer; Allen Hinds, guitar; Brian Bromberg, acoustic bass; Abraham Laboriel & Dwayne “Smitty” Smith, electric bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd & Omari Williams, drums; Lenny Castro, percussion; Lee Thornburg, trumpet/trombone; Eric Marienthal, saxophone; Rogerio Jardim, vocals; Charlie Bisharat, violin; Jacob Braun, cello; Chris Bieth, English horn; Damian Montano, bassoon; Tom McCauley, Allen Hinds & Dan Siegel, hymn choir.

From The very first tune, I recognize that Dan Siegel has a love of melody.  His compositions are all very melodic and structured in a repetitious way that drills the melody home.  This is the same arrangement pattern used in pop and R&B music.  Usually in pop and R&B they use the ‘hook’ to be the repetitive melody that snags the listener’s ear.  Siegel uses the chords and melody at the beginning of his songs to repeat.  In one respect, this is a good practice.  However, the missing jazz factor in Siegel’s music is the improvisation on his piano instrument.  I never really hear him stretch-out to improvise on his themes.  He just plays a theme over and over again.  On the opening tune “Old School” and the following track, “Sentimental Story” he uses this technique.  Although his music is soothing and easy-listening, his piano playing lacks creative improvisation.  Improvisation is one of the most important, if not THE most important part of being a jazz musician.  On “Tried and True” the groove is contagious, but the starting chords sound strangely similar to the song “Sentimental Story”, a track playing right before this one.  Although the arrangements are similar, the productions are packed with punch and talent.  Dan Siegel rarely takes the lead to be exploratory on his solos or to exhibit his prowess on the piano. Perhaps because he is surrounded by such outstanding musicians. Even if he had played his original compositions in a variety of keys, it would have helped to make his song repertoire stronger. Also, most of his compositions are performed at a similar, moderate tempo.  With the amazing list of talented players on this project, I was expecting more diversity.  On Track 11, Siegel did step up to solo more on his piano instrument.  Maybe too little too late.

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WONDERFUL WIZARDS OF CREATIVE MUSIC

July 31, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

Aug 1, 2021

WADADA LEO SMITH – “TRUMPET” – Tum Records

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, RYAN BERG, KARL LATHAM – “TOGETHER” – DropZoneJazz Records

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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DETROIT COMPOSERS COLLECTIVE – “REALISM” – MUSIC OF KENN COX, BRAD FELT & MARK LIPSON – DCC Records

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 – “ALL OR NOTHING” – 4RM Music Productions

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 – “JOBIM FOREVER” – AAM Music

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 – “SOUNDS FROM THE ANCESTORS” – Mack Ave Records

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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REVIEWING OLYMPIC GOLD BIG BANDS, ORCHESTRAS & SMALL ENSEMBLES

July 25, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

July 25, 2021

BOB MINTZER & WDR BIG BAND COLOGNE – “SOUNDSCAPES” – MCG Jazz

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’S NONET PROJECT – “THE ADLER SUITE” – Next Level 2122

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 TRIO & ORCHESTRA – “WONDERFUL WORLD” – Ultimate Vibe Recordings

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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THE PAXTON/SPANGLER SEPTET CD – “ANTHEM FOR THE NEW NATION” – Eastlawn Records

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 and THE CAPITOL BONES – “THE BEAT GOES ON” – Summit Records

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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GENERATIONS – “THE BAYLOR PROJECT” – Be A Light

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 – “KALEIDOSCOPE” – Brass Tonic Records

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 – “CODA ORCHESTRA SUITES” – ECM Records

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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