Posts Tagged ‘jazz cd reviews’


April 25, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

April 25, 2022


Dee Alexander, lead vocals; Keith Brooks II, drums; Larry Brown Jr., guitar/vocals; Marques Carroll, trumpet; Amr Fahmy, Fender Rhodes/Elec. piano/clarinet/organ; John Fournier, tenor saxophone/composer; Victor Garcia, percussion; Dan Leali, tambourine; Andrew Vogt, bass.

If you are a lover of punch-driven, Tower-of-Power type horn harmonics and Earth Wind & Fire music, some of this album by the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective is reminiscent of that musical era.  Tenor saxophonist, John Fournier has composed eight of the songs out of the nine offered.  The musicians do an excellent job of interpreting this original material and Dee Alexander is a powerful lead vocalist.  They open with “Mama Are we There Yet?” which is quite reminiscent of the original Chicago based group, Earth Wind & Fire, featuring unison ensemble singing and funky horn lines with Keith Brooks II clearly slapping the rhythm into place.  Ms. Alexander is the lead singer on their title tune, “On the Way to be Free” arranged at a moderate swing pace.  John Fournier plays a tenor saxophone solo that puts the “J” in jazz as he floats above the funky rhythm track. Marquis Carroll offers a complimentary improvised solo on a tune called “Carry Me” and Larry Brown Jr. shows off his mad guitar skills.  The percussion of Victor Garcia peppers this tune with spicy licks.  “Behind the Crusaders” is a toe-tapping instrumental persuasion that moves and grooves.  The final tune spotlights the beautiful bass work of Andrew Vogt who opens the piece.  This is another instrumental that has a catchy horn line and gives a nod to Mr. Brooks II on drums with an energetic, featured solo by Arm Fahmy on electric piano.  The Chicago Soul Jazz Collective is a very soulful band that blends R&B, funk and jazz into a contemporary mix of excitement that’s interpreted by solid jazz players.

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Solitaire Miles, lead vocals; Tom Hope, piano; Don Stille, Hammond organ; Paul Abella, cajon; Phil Gratteau, drums/percussion; Chris Bernhardt, bass; Neal Alger, guitar; Jack Galagher, trombone; Eric Schneider, saxophone; Howard Levy, harmonica; Dominic Halpin, guest vocalist; Jen Zias, Saalik Ziyad & Mike Harvey, background vocals.

This album of music is a throwback to the bands of the 1950s and 1960s.  It reminds me of the Rock and Roll shows presented in theaters with live bands like Sam the Man Taylor.  Solitaire Miles fronts the Lonesome Fellas with her pleasant voice and spicey attitude.  On “Lucky Lips” the band swings and Neal Alger shines on his guitar solo.  Solitaire Miles celebrates the music of Ruth Brown, re-arranging some of those 1950 hit records and presenting them with her own style and interpretation.   On “Forever Yours” Solitaire is joined by guest vocalist, Dominic Halpin.  After their duet, Howard Levy steps forward with a smart harmonica solo. This song is arranged more like a Country Western tune.  This group reminds me of roadside bars with local, crowd-pleasing entertainment and people two-stepping on sawdust covered floors.  Susie Blue & the Lonesome Fellas is a combination of early Rock and Roll, blues and a sprinkling of jazz. The band rearranges an old rockabilly tune called “She’ll Be Gone” and Solitaire refreshes it nicely with her adaptable vocals.  They shuffle their way through “Give Up That Honey” and the band encourages you to get up and swing dance your way through this energy-driven, up-tempo tune.  This album is just plain fun!  The song repertoire offers catchy lyrics, background voices that know how to punch the tune titles and a band that swings hard.

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Mark Winkler, vocals/composer/lyricist; David Benoit, Rich Eames, Jamieson Trotter & Jon Mayer, piano/composers/arrangers; Gabe Davis, bass; John Clayton, bass/arranger; Cameron Clayton & Christian Euman, drums; Kevin Winard, percussion. Grant Geissman, guitar; Bob Sheppard, flute/saxophone; Brian Swartz, trumpet; Nolan Shaheed, flugelhorn.

Mark Winkler has a way of carefully and deliberately picking a repertoire that suits his style and musicians that embellish his arrangements with their excellence.  Winkler may be a “Late Bloomin’ Jazzman” (whose voice sometimes reminds me of the ‘Rat Pack” days and Dean Martin) but he always brings sincerity and creativity to his projects.  He shares a rollicking, swing arrangement of the Michael Franks tune, “Don’t Be Blue.”  His arrangement will lift the spirits.  Mark is also a talented lyricist and songwriter.  I always look forward to his original compositions.  On this project he has included eight originals out of twelve songs and each one glitters with their own lyrical brilliance. “When All the Lights in the Sign Worked” is a perfect example of Winkler’s creative lyricism written to Joe Pasquale’s beautiful minor melody.  The trumpet of Brian Swartz is a welcome addition to the arrangement and Bob Sheppard’s saxophone embellishes the film noir, poignant story.

“It’s a rainy night on Western, cars are driving much too fast; neon coloring the raindrops, running down the windshield glass.  And the buildings all have fire escapes, but no one’s escaping from here.  Boarded up store fronts and the harms of another year.  …  I keep wondering what it must have been like, when all the lights in the sign worked on a long-gone Hollywood night.”

Gabe Davis opens the title tune with his double bass and provides a background groove for Mark Winkler as he strides into the spotlight, using spoken word to introduce himself.  This song reflects his love of theater and showmanship.  “In Another Way” is a tribute to his lost love.  The Latin inspired “Bossa Nova Days,” penned with Bill Cantos, is one of my favorites.  There is a theme in this album; a theme of aging, maturity and the wiseness that comes from living a full and appreciated life.  Songs like “Before You Leave” remind us of love’s magnet and life’s preciousness.  His tune “Old Enough” reviews a singer, songwriter’s life and the ignorance of youth that eventually teaches us well-lived lessons.  His lyrics on “Marlena’s Memories” is a tribute to his friend who is suffering with Alzheimer disease.  Nolan Shaheed adds a lovely flugelhorn touch to the tune and Jamieson Trotter’s emotional piano solo tells his own tender tale.  Trotter is also the co-writer of this composition.  As a published songwriter myself, I have great admiration and appreciation for Mark Winkler’s songwriting talents, his thought-provoking lyrics; his heartfelt performances and his passionate love of jazz.

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LADY COCO – “BESIDE MYSELF” – Independent Label

Lady Coco, vocals/songwriter/arranger; Chris Wilson, keyboards; Blake Morris, guitar; Aaron Mason, bass; Lance Lee, drums; Buddy McDaniel, saxophone; Kim Thomas & Charlotte Pope, background vocals; Preston Glass, producer/arranger/composer/piano. SPECIAL GUESTS: Rob Mullins, piano; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Tomoka Nomura-Jarvis, flute; Larry Antonino, electric bass; Cal Rutherford, horns. Will Downing, background vocals; Eric Roberson, duet vocal on “How Could We Know?”

Lady Coco, in coordination with producer Preston Glass, has come up with a very pleasing new CD.  Opening with a catchy tune titled, “Jazz Junkie,” Lady Coco captivates with her crystal clear, soprano vocals and the repeatable ‘hook’ of the song.  She will have you singing along!  “Shoo be doo ya do – do ya – do ya.  Call me a jazz junkie, vibing to the beat.”   Her voice is honest, fun-loving and persuasive.  Lady Coco and producer, Preston Glass collaborated on this song and penned six others on this production.  Rob Mullins appears as a special guest playing a notable piano solo during this opening arrangement.  Lady Coco and Eric Roberson duet on another tune she co-wrote with producer Glass. It’s titled, “How Could We Know?”  Eric Roberson’s voice is a beautiful addition to this R&B mix and Blake Morris is dynamic on electric guitar.  Lady Coco’s project offers a blend of contemporary jazz, blues and pop music.  In the past, I was familiar with the blues-ier side of Lady Coco.  On this recording, she has expanded her talents to expose her composing skills and to explore more versatility in her music.  For example, when she performs the jazz standard, “Mister Magic.”  The band arrangement puts a funk groove into place on this one and spotlights Chris Wilson, who boldly tosses his jazzy saxophone into the mix.  They close this production with another original, “Stay in Your Lane.”  This jazzy arrangement is produced with a very danceable, disco-type groove.  It’s another Glass and Lady Coco composition and a joyful way to end this musical experience.

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Jackie Messina, vocals; Bruce Barth, piano; Will Galison, harmonica; Paul Beaudry & Ed Howard, bass; Cliff Barbara, drums.

“Necessary Arrangements” is an album by vocalist Jackie Messina to tribute her musical collaboration with the late jazz pianist and educator Enos Payne.  Payne was the former conductor of the Jazz Vocal Workshop at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music and this album features unique arrangements from Messina’s five-year musical relationship with her mentor.  The addition of harmonica to her stellar jazz group is a beautiful touch on Messina’s debut album.  Will Galison’s harmonica adds excitement and expression to Jackie Messina’s interpretation of the Frank Loesser tune, “Inchworm.” 

“I Feel Pretty,” the hit song from the Broadway musical “West Side Story” was arranged by the late Enos Payne as a slow swing, rather than the waltz that had Natalie Wood prancing across the screen in the 1961 film of this show-stopper.  Payne’s arrangement compliments Jackie Messina’s voice and delivery.  Messina delves into the blues on “Easy Street” and swings the familiar “Wild is the Wind” with a catchy piano line created by Enos Payne that drives the piece.  Bruce Barth takes a powerful piano solo.    As a Former published poet, Jackie Messina has a great love of lyrics.  You can see this expressed in the Baker’s Dozen’ of tunes that make up her repertoire.  Jackie includes gems like Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem” and the Sinatra recorded lyrics of “I’m a Fool to Want You.”  I can tell that Ms. Messina takes a hard look at the lyrics of each song she performs; songs that lyrically touch her heart and soul. 

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Andy James, vocals/composer; Jon Cowherd, piano/organ/arranger; John Patitucci, bass/arranger; Nate Smith & Marcus Gilmore, drums; Marcus Strickland & Chris Potter, saxophone; Adam Rogers, guitar; Alex Acuna & Rogerio Boccato, percussion; David Mann, flute/alto flute; Chico Pinheiro, nylon guitar; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Marshall Gilkes, trombone; NYC Strings.

Andy James is back with another interpretation of fifteen jazz and pop standards; surrounded by some of the finest jazz musicians in the music business.  On the opening tune, “I’m Gonna Live ‘til I Die” the spotlight shines brightly on drummer Nate Smith.  On track #2, they move from swing to strings.  Chris Potter steps forward to woo us with his saxophone solo, introducing an arrangement by John Patitucci of a song penned by Andy James and Griesun Patitucci titled, “Day Dream.”  I was expecting the Billy Strayhorn tune, but this is another lovely ballad.  Ms. James has chosen a scattering of pop songs to include in this album.  There’s “Walk on By” and “What the World Needs Now” by Burt Bacharach, with arrangements by her pianist, Jon Cowherd.  However, what happened to the chord changes on the popular “People” song?  Something went askew on that arrangement.

Andy James and her husband, owner of the Le Coq Record label, have collaborated as songwriters for this project. Piero Pata and Andy have contributed original songs, “Time to Think” and “Just in Time” for this album.

“Working with Piero has really been easy,” Andy James says of their songwriting experience.  “Wherever I am, he seems to catch and remember the melodies that I’ve been casually humming around the house and later brings them to me with lyrics already attached.”

Andy James has a distinctive tone that makes her a very recognizable jazz stylist.  She and John Patitucci perform a duet on “I’ll Be Seeing You” that is quite poignant and emotional.  After the first time down, the band enters to fatten the sound. The duet blend was striking and impressive with its own stand-alone beauty.  The band closes with an original song Andy and her husband composed that ‘swings’ brightly and features Chris Potter’s saxophone and Marcus Gilmore displaying strength and excitement on drums.

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Mafalda Minnozzi, vocals; Tiago Costa, piano; Sidiel Vieira, acoustic bass; Ricardo Mosca, drums; Paul Ricci, guitars/musical director; Art Hirahara, organ; Dave Liebman, soprano saxophone; Graham Haynes, cornet/electronic FX; Luca Aquino, flugelhorn; Jorginho Neto, trombone.

Vocalist Mafalda Minnozzi celebrates film scores, carefully chosen to represent scenes from the peaks and valleys of her own personal life.   Opening with “La Dolce Vita,” her soprano tones blend instrumentally, performing without words and often sounding like a trumpet rather than a voice.  This music has been plucked from the silver screen and reflect Mafalada Minnozzi’s native Italy.  The distinctive flavor of these compositions is offered by Morricone, Mancini, Cipriani, Coppola and more.  On Mancini and Merrill’s composition, “Loss of Love,” from the Sunflower film, Tiago Costa’s piano solo is inspired and Minnozzi’s voice emotionally colors the lyrics. 

On “Metti Una Sera A Cena” she performs with a hip-swaying Latin rhythm.  It’s a familiar song that she often includes in her Brazilian concerts.  The “Cinema City” album was conceived and recorded in Brazil during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

Deanna Durbin sang the “Amapola” song in the 1939 film First Love. This song was also performed in other films by Alberto Rabagliati (1941) and Sara Montiel (La Bella Lola, 1962).  In Gabrielle Roy ‘s “The Tin Flute,” published in 1945, the character, Emmanuel, hums “Amapola”.  Paul Ricci’s guitar sets the mood on the very beautiful Rustichelli/Longo composition, “Amici Miel.”  This was a 1975 comedy film about four inseparable male friends facing a middle life crisis. Minnozzi sings this song and several others in Italian.  She often incorporates her pure vocal tones into the arrangements.  Her vocals become similar to another horn instrument.  Mafalda Minnozzi’s band does an exquisite and supportive job of interpreting these compositions in a very jazz-driven way.  Some of the Award winning songs were familiar to my ear like “Arrivederci Roma” from the 1957 sound track of the Italian-American musical film with the same title, released as Seven Hills of Rome in English.  I remember Mario Lanza singing this song.  I wish Mafalda Minnozzi had written her own lyrics to some of these songs that have no words and perhaps shared them with us in English, infusing them with her own poetic creativity and life experiences.  This is an album that shows how classically based compositions and pop soundtracks can expertly be delivered into the jazz idiom.

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Tierney Sutton, voice/arranger/co-producer; Serge Merlaud, guitars/arranger/co-producer; Kevin Axt, basses/co-producer; Hubert Laws, flutes.

This “Paris Sessions 2” album is scheduled for release on May 6, 2022.  Tierney and her new husband, Serge Merlaud, open this album as a duo, with Jobim’s “Triste” lighting their fire in Latin brilliance.  Tierney Sutton’s voice dances around the tune, improvising with scat whispers.  She sings these lyrics in Portuguese.  Track #2 takes a lyrical turn towards the French roots of Serge Merlaud.  It’s a medley combining the composition of Vernon Duke and Yip Harburg, (“April in Paris”) with Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris.”  The familiar “April in Paris” is stretched out, arranged as a very slow ballad, giving Tierney Sutton time to taste each poignant lyric from the 1932 Broadway musical, Walk a Little Faster.  It’s a delightful medley with the unexpected Joni Mitchell flavor added like pepper to the slow boiling stew.

“We got married at the end of 2019, had a ceremony in Paris in October and another in L.A. at the end of December,” Sutton recalls.

Their duet work continues on the Gershwin song, “Isn’t It a Pity (we never ever met before).”  These lyrics perhaps mesh with the duo’s corresponding life path.  Serge Merlaud’s guitar-fills are beautifully placed between the lyrical Sutton’s vocal interpretation.  Merlaud is a sensitive and technically astute player. Their entire quartet makes its appearance on Jobim’s tune, “Zingaro” and features Hubert Laws on alto flute.  This is a precious merging of Tierney’s high soprano notes that are warm against the richness of Hubert’s flute. Tierney Sutton offers this fifteenth album release as a leader and she has dedicated it to the memory of the late Marilyn Bergman who passed away in January of 2022.  Bergman’s songs she has included are “Cinema Paradiso/I Knew I Loved You,” an Alan and Marilyn Bergman composition with Ennio Morricone, “Moonlight” which the married songwriters wrote with John Williams and “A Child is Born” where the Bergman’s collaborated with Dave Grusin.  Tierney and Serge are playful on “Pure Imagination,” where their musical comfort with each other continues to be palpable.  Tierney scats her way through Serge Merlaud’s arrangement of “Doralice,” letting her voice double with the guitar.  She lets her voice set the bass line in place and establishes the tempo, before Kevin Axt enters with his own superb bass support.  The solo by Hubert Laws flies through space like a wild and beautiful bird.  Serge Merlaud takes time to showcase his own unique interpretation of this familiar standard during his brief but power-packed guitar solo.  “Paris Sessions 2” is so well-played I didn’t even miss the drums.

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March 25, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 25, 2022


Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, trumpet/flugelhorn/flute/alto flute/valve trombone/arranger/composer; Jason DeCouto, organ/bass; Nick Bracewell, Craig Scott & Paul Romaine, drums; John Lee, guitar; Mark Diamond & Miles Hill, bass; Andy Weil & Miles Black, piano.

One of the things I admire about multi-musician, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach, is his diversity.  He plays a plethora of instruments, and plays them all exceptionally well.  He also plays mainstream jazz with the same intensity and love that he gives to his contemporary artistic releases. I assume that I’m in for a treat the moment Gabriel Mark Hasselbach’s product hits my desk.  He explained this new album direction in his current press package.

“I figured I’d do something a little different for this recent album session.  The classic organ combo was the answer.  I grew up on Jimmy Smith and the whole cadre, and always had that smoky groove in the back of my mind.  Jason DeCouto, Nick Bracewell and I already had a working trio and we had all worked with John Lee (guitarist).  On these projects, rather than recording predominantly original material, as I often do, I chose soulful tunes from the fifties and sixties that have influenced me.  Songs that have a timeless quality. The result is a trifecta of jazz, where the sum is greater than the parts!”  Gabe asserts.

He opens with “Jonah’s Joint” Gabriel’s original composition and tribute to the great Jonah Jones.  It swings hard with his trumpet out front and leading the pack.  Jason DeCouto steps right up on the organ, never losing the excitement, the tempo or the groove.  He dances over the keys and his foot dances beneath them, pumping that organ like Muhammad Ali once pumped his fists against a gym boxing bag.  That’s just how hard-hitting this opening tune was.  Track #2 is another tribute tune, this time written to celebrate Blue Mitchell.  “Bring It Home to Me” shuffles along with warm harmonics by Gabriel’s trumpet and John Lee’s guitar.  Nick Bracewell is solid and power-packed on drums, locking tightly into Jason’s organ while Hasselbach solos on his trumpet.  When John Lee steps into the spotlight he doesn’t disappoint, followed by an organ solo that matches Hasselbach’s intensity.  Gabe’s friend and an icon in his own right, Randy Brecker, has contributed “Big Dipper” to the mix.  It’s a perfect composition for the organ quartet to explore.  Randy commented on this project in Hasselbach’s press package saying:

“Gabriel Mark Hasselback is constantly honing his various crafts, as a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and producer.  He’s come up with a new album that is his best yet, delving into Hammond B3 Organ Trio territory.  I know that terrain well, growing up in Philly, PA (from whence this style originated) and Gabe and company are right in the groove! Poppin!!” Randy Brecker praised him.

On “Nutville” Gabriel replaces the organ with Andy Weil on piano and plays trumpet, flute, alto flute, flugelhorn and valve trombone during this arrangement.  I enjoy Gabriel’s tone and execution on alto flute during their interpretation of “Slow Hot Wind.”  He opens with the flute, then sets it aside to pick up his horn.  Beautiful!  This tune becomes one of my favorites.   The Horace Silver classic, “Senor Blues” is played with gusto by Mark Diamond’s steady and creative bass work, Weil on piano and Paul Romaine on drums.  In fact, that trio is the exciting rhythm section for tracks four through eight.  On tracks nine through fourteen, Miles Black takes to the 88-keys; Craig Scott lays down the drum grooves and Miles Hill mans the bass.  Consistently, Gabriel Mark Hasselbach contracts the best players and puts his heart and soul into the music he performs for our listening pleasure.

Hasselbach is a very lyrical trumpeter and flugelhorn player.  He has fifteen critically acclaimed albums as a bandleader and has won several JUNO Awards.  Those awards are recognitions similar to the U.S.A. GRAMMY Awards.  Hasselbach’s proud of his eleven certified Contemporary jazz Billboard hit records and his West Coast Music Award.  Additionally, he was crowned Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards.  But this album is not Smooth Jazz.  It’s traditional jazz goodness that sprays across my listening room like summer sunshine.  It will lift your spirits and inspire you. 

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Misha Tsiganov, piano/Fender Rhodes; Boris Kozlov, bass; Donald Edwards, drums; Alex Sipiagin, trumpet/flugelhorn; Seamus Blake, tenor Saxophone.

Pianist, arranger, composer Misha Tsiganov has arranged the Gershwin tune “Strike Up the Band” as a sweet waltz at the band’s introduction. Unexpectedly, the band leaps into a fast paced, straight-ahead tempo that swings hard.  Misha takes the reins of the tune and rides it furiously on his 88-keys.  Then, the tempo takes a turn into a sultry, bluesy walk.  Seamus Blakes, on tenor saxophone, steps into view and glides across the rhythm section.  On the fade, Misha gives space for Donald Edwards to showcase his drum skills and Edwards reciprocates with fire.  Blake’s saxophone dances blissfully on top. This is one of my favorite tunes on the album. 

“…Donald and I have been together on many different projects.  I love his playing.  He knows modern vocabulary very well, plays mixed meters, crazy time signatures and the most difficult stuff with elegance,” Misha compliments his percussionist.

The artist’s title tune follows, “Misha’s Wishes.” Alex Sipiagin introduces the melody on his horn, before Boris Kozlov steps forward to showcase his beautiful double bass tones.

“Boris is the best bassist I can imagine.  His timing and power are unbelievable.  I’ve seen him swing a whole big band by himself. I’ve worked a lot in the Afro-Cuban, Salsa and Brazilian idioms and he can play all those styles, as well as mixed meters and straight-ahead,” Misha sings his bass players praises.

Misha has taken the Russian Folk Song, “There Was a Birch Tree in the Field, so What” and transformed it into straight-ahead jazz.  Alex Sipiagin spits trumpet excitement into the air with precision and technique.  He can hit those high notes on the trumpet, the way Dizzy Gillespie used to entertain us.  Misha Tsiganov’s piano solo steals the spotlight and shines.  This is another one of my favorite tunes on this album of ten songs, most of which Tsiganov has composed.  Donald Edwards pumps steadfast enthusiasm into this arrangement and never loses the spontaneity or time on his trap drums.  He is given a time to show-off all his drum skills at the close of this song and after Blake’s tenor saxophone takes a well-deserved bow.  Misha Tsiganov has put together an excellent band of musicians.  His tune, “Lost in Her Eyes” is a sensitive ballad that Misha introduces playing solo piano.  It has lovely chord changes and a pretty melody.  His solo piano sings beautifully, without accompaniment.  On “Just A Scale” the band rejoins their leader and the melody sounds exactly like the title as it moves up the scale, only changing the timing between notes.   Another favorite on this album is the Bill Evans composition, “Comrade Conrad” arranged with rich horn harmonies that sing, like background vocals, behind Misha’s sensitive piano solo.  The quintet closes with a very solemn original by Tsiganov titled, “Are You with Me?”  I was drawn to his piano solo and the emotional intensity he brought to the piece.  Here is another feather in the cap of Misha Tsiganov, stylish and entertaining as a composer, arranger and pianist.

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CALVIN JOHNSON JR., – “NOTES OF A NATIVE SON” –  Independent label

Calvin Johnson jr., tenor & soprano saxophones/vocals/composer; Ryan Hanseler, piano/Fender Rhodes; Trenton O’Neal, Alfred Jordan & Thomas Glass, drums; Evan Washington, elec. bass/piano/arranger; D’wayne Muhammad, percussion; Peter Harris, acoustic bass; Jennie Brent, violin & viola; Gabrielle Fischler, cello; Erica Falls, vocals.

The new Calvin Johnson Jr., album release displays his talents on both tenor and soprano saxophones.  However, one thing annoys me.  Jazz vocalization is as much an art as playing an instrument and serious singers spend years honing their styles and learning how to breathe, how to swing and how to sell a song.  I was not impressed with Mr. Johnson’s vocalization on the Fats Domino hit record, “I’m Walking.”  That being said, the rest of his album is palatable.  I was very pleased with the ensemble’s interpretation of “Summertime” where pianist Ryan Hanseler takes an outstanding solo and the group’s unique arrangement makes the old standard sound brand new!  

As a third-generation musician, who inherits the rich cultural legacy of New Orleans, Johnson Jr. brings a smattering of original compositions to this, his third album release.  I was particularly impressed with Track #5, “Resistance is Noble but Defeat is Imminent.”  He introduces the melody on tenor saxophone and I briefly hear traces of John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” winding through this arrangement.  This song summersaults its way through key changes and Hanseler, on piano, brings a fresh perspective to the tune during his heavily arpeggio solo.  “Treme” settles into a beautiful melody pushed forward by the drummer’s very Ahmad-Jamal-influenced drum beat, reminding me of the Poinciana tune.  It’s a sweet arrangement.  Erica Falls is the featured vocalist on an original song called, “Streetcar Love.”  The melody is catchy, but the lyrics seem a bit outdated. The arrangement on “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is strong and the addition of strings played by Gabrielle Fischer and Jennie Brent definitely elevates the song.

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Sean Nelson, alto trombone/trombone/electric trombone/composer/bandleader/arranger; Doug Maher, guitar; Jen Allen, piano/Hammond B3 organ/Wurlitzer; Lou Bocciarelli, electric & double bass;  Nathan Lassell, drums/percussion; Megan Weikleenget, vocals; Chris Smith, steel pans/percussion; Rob McEwan, tabla; Megan Sesma, harp; WOODWINDS: Erik Elligers, alto saxophone/flute; Tyler Wilkins, alto saxophone/flute/clarinet/ bassoon; Robert Durle, clarinet/contrabass clarinet; Cedric Mayfield, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet/tarogato; Josh Thomas, tenor saxophone/flute/clarinet; Ryan Foley & Laura Pirruccello, flute; Megan Nelson, alto flute; Jeff Emerich, baritone saxophone/contralto clarinet. TRUMPETS: Bryce Call, Seth Bailey, Haneef Nelson & Tom Brown, trumpets/flugelhorns. TROMBONES: Leroy Loomer, trombone; Brian Sturm, bass trombone; TROMBONE ENSEMBLE: Sean Nelson & Karna Millen, alto trombone; Vince Yanovitch, Topher Logan, Colton Kinney & Luke Conklin, trombones; Wes Mayhew, Ted Adams & Zachary Haas, bass trombone.

Trombonist and composer, Sean Nelson, had a dream that manifested with this incredibly entertaining package of big band music.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to have my own big band; an epic jazz orchestra of seventeen plus musicians.  A band that would play music old and new, tunes ranging from the roaring 20s to brand new compositions written by band members.  Most of all, a band made up of the absolute best musicians,” Sean Nelson mused in his liner notes.

The New London Big Band opens with Sean’s original composition, “Social Hour!” and it swings pretty hard.  It’s followed by a low-down, dirty blues called “Brisket and Beans” that features the fluid and blues-drenched guitar of Doug Maher.  Nelson has also composed this song.  I am intrigued by the horn arrangements and the way he has them whine and moan during this blues production.  “El Chupacabra” is another original composition by Sean Nelson and it invites strong percussive accents and smooth horn lines.  “Countin’ Freckles” is a tune that reminds me of the Count Basie days.  It invites the swing dancers to the ballroom floor.  Track #5 was composed by their pianist, Jen Allen.  Called “The Clearing” is sounds like a movie soundtrack with its many moods and tempo changes from smooth 4/4 to double time swing with an under-current of 6/8 sliding in and out of the theme.    

The Sean Nelson New London Big Band was formed in 2016 and is comprised of some of the finest musicians New England has to offer.  The title tune is the band’s theme song and an homage to their regular appearance at a club called, “The Social Bar + Kitchen” in New London, Connecticut.  Sean Nelson pushes musical boundaries when he uses his electric trombone to interpret his composition, “Freaks in Mayberry.”  Arranged with the funk drums of Nathan Lassell pushing the tune forward forcefully, it also features a pensive and soulful solo on tenor sax by Cedric Mayfield.  Their elated and energetic arrangement on “When You Wish Upon a Star” will lighten your mood and is bound to make you smile.  These ‘cats’ are everything you want in a big band and more.  Their carefully constructed repertoire will keep you entertained from beginning to end, along with their tightly packaged arrangements, stellar solos and overall great playing by this seventeen-piece orchestra.  Sit back and enjoy!

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Kevin Eubanks, guitar; Orrin Evans, piano.

This is a duo album, and from the very first moments of listening, the peace and comfort that these two musicians recorded is palatable.  Clearly, both artists are adventurous and super talented. They share Philadelphia roots, but even more than being raised in the city of brotherly love, they each display a grittier side; they each acknowledge deep roots in the community and each strives to touch humanity through the power of sound, music and jazz.  Also, both bring decades of experience in the music business.   

Kevin Tyrone was born to Vera Eubanks on November 15, 1957 into a family rich with music history.  His mother is a gospel organist and pianist with a Master’s Degree in music education. His mom’s brother, Ray Bryant, was a celebrated jazz pianist who has worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Sarah Vaughan and even John Coltrane.  Ray Bryant also had hit records of his own.  So, young Kevin Eubanks was exposed to world-class music and entertainers throughout his life.  His first instrument was violin at age seven.  His brother, Robin, became a trombonist, arranger and tenured professor of music at Oberlin College.  His other brother, Duane, became a trumpet teacher.  Kevin also studied trumpet before finally finding his deep love for the guitar more satisfying.  While attending Berklee College of Music and moving to New York City, his career took off.  He became a respected sideman with notable jazz icons like Slide Hampton, McCoy Tyner, Sam Rivers, Roy Haynes and Ron Carter (among others).  He also formed his own group and established himself as a bandleader.  He was twenty-five when his first album was released on the Elektra label.  Kevin’s cousins, the late bassist David Eubanks and pianist Charles Eubanks appeared on this recording.  Kevin Eubanks became guitarist and Musical Director for the Tonight Show band with Jay Leno for 18-years (1992 – 2010).   Moving to Los Angeles, during that gig with the Tonight Show, he began to score film.  In November, 2010, Kevin released the CD Zen Food (Mack Avenue Records).  It debuted in the Top Five on the Billboard Jazz Chart and was Kevin’s fastest selling record ever.  In February, 2013 his CD The Messenger (Mack Avenue Records) was released, garnering a 2014 NAACP Image Award nomination for “Outstanding Jazz Album.”  That same year, he toured extensively as a member of Dave Holland’s ‘PRISM.’ In March 2015, the acclaimed Duets (Mack Avenue Records) featured Kevin pairing with fellow guitarist Stanley Jordan. That album was released to rave reviews and several concert performances.  Now he is releasing a new duet album that is sure to also receive critical acclaim.

Orrin Evans is a well-respected jazz pianist, composer and bandleader.  He has deep roots in hard bop, post-bop, rhythm and blues and neo-soul music.  Born March 28, 1975 in Trenton, New Jersey, Orrin has led an extraordinary life of musical adventures.  Although born in Trenton, NJ, Orrin was raised in Philadelphia and studied with Kenny Barron while attending Rutgers University.  He worked with the great drummer, Ralph Peterson, with Bobby Watson and Kevin Eubank’s younger brother, trumpeter Duane Eubanks.  So, these two musicians go way back.  As a serious individualist on the music scene, Orrin has released twenty-five albums as a bandleader or co-leader.  As an educator, Orrin is passionate about helping people through the power of music and artistry.  Establishing his own label, “Imani Records,” his release of Captain Black Big Band, was GRAMMY nominated.  The genres and styles Orrin plays stretch from his Philadelphia roots to embrace funk, neo/soul/acid jazz and bebop.  That wide variety has stimulated his recordings with a long list of exceptional musicians including Smoke Sessions Records release of his recent piano trio featuring bassist Christian McBride and drummer, Karriem Riggins titled, “The Evolution of Oneself.”  This duo recording with Kevin Eubanks presents opportunity for a new evolution. 

There is undeniable chemistry between these two master musicians.  Both are fearless in their musical perceptions and abilities.  The repertoire they have chosen reflects their composer abilities and the comfort they exhibit while bouncing ideas and musical interpretations off each other.  It’s a thrilling listening experience.  “I Don’t Know” is buttered down and basted in the blues.  They co-wrote this one and its down-home delicious.  It reaches back to deep roots in the people-of-color community, conjuring up ghosts of John Lee Hooker, Little Milton and Robert Johnson.  Orrin Evans colors the track with his improvised piano parts, as gritty as Gene Harris or Les McCann.  On the Eubanks/Evans composition, “And They Ran Out of Biscuits!” the duo delves into freedom of expression, a little heart and Soul along with a taste of avant-garde.  This duo combination creates both excitement and art right before your ears.  The song “Dawn Marie,” penned by Evans, is a lovely ballad.  But tunes like “Variations on the Battle” stretch my imagination and tease my musical appetite.  I had to play this cut three times, because their musicianship was so inspired and in-depth.  The duo closes with “Variations on Adoration” and I walk away, adoring this experience and appreciating the complexity that just two musicians can bring to a project.

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Josh Nelson, piano/composer; Bob Bowman, bass; Steve Houghton, drums; Larry Koonse, guitar; Bob Sheppard, saxophone; Clay Jenkins, trumpet.

Here is a group of musicians and close friends who have come together to create a project of beauty and depth.  Bassist Bob Bowman first met trumpeter, Clay Jenkins in 1972 at North Texas.  Shortly after, he made the acquaintance of drummer Steve Houghton and a little later, woodwind player, Bob Sheppard.  As fate would have it, they all turned up in Southern California at about the same time.  In Los Angeles, Bob would meet guitarist Larry Koonse.  The young musician was still in high school. Eventually Bowman would meet and play with Josh Nelson.  He felt an immediate connection to the pianist and they talked about recording a duo album.  All these years later, this group of seasoned jazz musicians and old acquaintances wound up in Talley Sherwood’s studio to finally make this album.  They open with the title tune, a pensive reflection on the times we live in.  Josh Nelson is the composer and penned this tune during the challenge of COVID infections worldwide.  Today, the beauty and blessing of living life continues to be challenged by war and rumors of war, political disparities and cultural changes.  So, as he reminds us with this music, “Tomorrow is Not Promised.”

Josh said, “The title of the album seems more relevant than ever these days. …I strived to convey a sense of uncertainty and mystery, but also a feeling of determination and resolve.”

Bob Sheppard composed Track #2 titled, “Your Night Your Music.”  It swings hard.  “Sometime Ago” is a beautiful waltz and the tinkling beauty of Nelson’s piano magic leaps into my listening room, with Bob Bowman’s bass setting the pace and establishing the groove.  When Bowman steps into the spotlight, his solo is innovative and imaginative.  Larry Koonse has contributed his composition, “Blues for Albert E” to the project. Bob Sheppard’s saxophone interpretation puts a capital B in Blues and Clay Jenkins displays his bright talent on trumpet   Bowman has written “Yae San” and plays the introduction a’ cappella.  The arrangement on this tune embraces Asian influences, like the title.  Koonse uses his guitar to pluck the recurring melody, before soloing.   The ensemble reinvents popular tunes like “Weaver of Dreams” where drummer Steve Houghton steps into a bright spotlight to display his talents and they arrange the familiar Miles Davis tune, “Blue in Green” in an unforgettable way, featuring Josh Nelson and Bob Bowman.  It’s got to be one of my favorites on this album.  Yes.  Bob and Josh should record a duo project.  All in all, this is music that moves as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. You can tell that these musicians know each other very well and find comfort, inspiration and creativity blending together in this project.

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MATT HALL – “I HOPE TO MY NEVER” – Summit Records

Matt Hall, trombone/composer/arranger/producer; Charlie Arbelaez, alto saxophone/composer; Louis Valenzuela, guitar; Jason Shattil, piano; Mackenzie Leighton, double bass; Kevin Kanner, drums.

Matt Hall and his ensemble swing right out the gate.  “Biscuits & Gravy” is Matt Hall’s original composition and it quickly sets the tone for this album.  The bass of Mackenzie Leighton walks briskly beneath bright, swinging horn solos and Matt Hall’s trombone tells his story with gusto.  Kevin Kanner uses drums to powerfully push the ensemble forward.  When Jason Shattil takes his solo on piano, it leaves no doubt that Hall has assembled a group of connoisseur jazz cats to interpret his arrangements. Hall is a composer of note.  His song, “I Hope to my Never” is the title of this album and a tribute to his Great Aunt Joan.  Years ago, she expressed exasperation over Matt’s constant practicing and used to exclaim, “I hope to my never.”  Now her poetic phrase of frustration has become Track #2 of Matt’s debut album.  It’s a very melodic tune with a slow swing tempo and an opening line that reminds me of the song, I thought About You.  Matt Hall’s trombone skills skip along smoothly as the melody dances. “The Thing About Sloan Hill” is another tune that swings and features the smooth guitar mastery of Louis Valenzuela.  Mackenzie Leighton steps from the background into the forefront to sing his big, bad, bass song.  The tune “Spearhead” is another one of my favorites and also an original composition by Matt Hall.  In fact, he has penned seven out of the nine songs on this album and they are all well-written and beautifully arranged.  “No Going Back” was composed by alto saxophonist, Charlie Arbelaez and it’s another sparkling gem on this production. Played at lightning speed, the track gives a platform for the soloists to shine, starting with Valenzuela on guitar.  When Arbelaez steps into the spotlight, he takes us on a spirited ride, as does Jason Shattil on the 88-keys.  Hall and Arbelaez blend perfectly, promoting melody with horn harmonies at a swift pace.  Suddenly, Kevin Kanner silences the group with his drum solo and impresses me with his dexterity and technical skills.  This group loves to ‘swing’ and so do I.  Consequently, this journalist was perfectly happy with this album from beginning to end.

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Tony Monaco, Hammond B3 organ/composer; Willie B. Barthel III, drums; Kevin Turner, guitar/composer; Edwin Bayard, tenor & soprano saxes.

This is the 12th recording for Tony Monaco as a bandleader and it celebrates his half-century in the music business.  At age eight, Tony played the accordion.  But when he first heard Jimmy Smith on the organ, his fate was sealed.  He began working organ gigs in his native Columbus, Ohio while still a teenager. His early mentors were Hank Marr and Don Patterson.  He listened astutely to all the great organists including, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Charles Earland, Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith.  At age sixteen, the great Jimmy Smith called him with encouraging words.  Jimmy Smith soon became Tony’s friend and teacher.  Four years after that call, the organ master invited Tony Monaco to come play a gig at Smith’s California supper club.  Once Monaco married, to support his wife and three daughters, like many jazz musicians he worked day jobs and played gigs at night.  After years of honing his craft, In 2000, the super talented organist Joey DeFrancesco offered to produce a debut album on Monaco.  This became a catalyst for touring and Tony finally attained international success.  Summit Records released two more records, charting in Jazzweek’s Top Ten list.  This album promises to follow in those self-same footsteps.  Opening with his original composition and the title of this album, “Four Brothers” the tune slams onto the scene with Willie B. Barthel III kicking the song off on his drum set.  Barthel rolls across the drums and settles into a happy shuffle.  Edwin Bayard joins the party on his saxophone until the spotlight turns to Kevin Turner on guitar.  By the time Tony Monaco enters for his organ solo, the band has laid down a smokin’ hot groove and Tony shines like gold!   Track #2, “You Can Always Count on Me” is another Monaco original composition.  It’s melodic and well-written with a wonderful bridge.  You will enjoy the quartet’s take on “Mas Que Nada” played at an up-tempo pace.  Kevin Turner (guitarist in the group) has penned “One for Everyone,” a very catchy tune, pumped up by Willie’s shuffling drums and enhanced with Monaco’s jazzy organ solo. The quartet’s take on Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” slows their groove down to unveil the sexy ballad.  Bayard’s saxophone opens this poignant composition with flair and beauty.  A tune called “Brothers-4” is written by Monaco’s mentor, Don Patterson.  Willie B. Barthel III sets the groove at the top of the tune, playing the drums like a melody and inviting Monaco’s organ onto the scene with power and pulse.  This is an album that uplifts the spirit and entertains in a very soulful way.  It celebrates the Columbus, Ohio jazz scene and Tony Monaco’s fifty years of powerful playing.  When he’s not recording or touring, he acts as Executive Producer of the Summit Records subsidiary, Chicken Coup Records.   He has recorded and released CDs for several undiscovered organists around the globe, passing the torch and using his role as educator and mentor to spread and cultivate many new hopefuls to the art of playing jazz organ.  Perhaps he says it best in his press package.

“After fifty great years, I want to take the opportunity to honor and thank my hometown, (Columbus, Ohio) and to find myself recognized as part of this town’s vibrant musical scene is personally very rewarding,” Tony Monaco proudly shines the spotlight on his hometown.

Additionally, he has surrounded himself with musicians who are the cream of the crop on the Ohio jazz scene.  Together, they guarantee the listener an album of fine music for now and into perpetuity.

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March 15, 2022

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 15, 2022

AZAR LAWRENCE – “NEW SKY” – Trazar Records

Azar Lawrence, tenor/soprano/Alto saxophones/composer; Munyungo Jackson, percussion; John Beasley, keyboards/composer; Sekou Bunch, bass; Tony Austin, drums; James Saez & Gregory Moore, guitar; Greg Poree, acoustic guitar; Destiny Muhammad, harp; Nduduzo Makhathini, piano; Lynne Fiddmont, Calesha “Bre-Z” Murray & Oren Waters, vocals.

I have been a fan of Azar Lawrence’s music since the early seventies.  He has been consistently creative and innovative for half a century.  This production is no exception.

“All of my skills that have been gathered throughout my career has been a journey and all of these energies that have been acquired throughout that journey are coming together in a focused manner.  This new album expresses that,” Azar writes in his liner notes.

Opening with “All in Love” Azar mixes cultural influences, lending his saxophone sound to a minor melody and improvisation that embraces Middle Eastern roots.  Munyungo Jackson lays down his always creative splash of percussive brilliance and a feature solo by guitarist James Saez is both exciting and provocative.  Azar Lawrence has composed or co-written all tracks. Track #2, “Peace and Harmony” becomes a platform to spotlight the exceptional musicians Azar has included on this project.  John Beasley executes a flurry of dancing notes on keyboard and Sekou Bunch is featured on a notable bass solo.  “New Sky” is a more contemporary arrangement featuring vocalist Lynne Fiddmont singing lyrics by Tiffany Austin.  Tony Austin’s drums put the funk in place and Azar Lawrence uses his saxophone talents to put the ‘J’ in jazz.  “Ain’t No Doubt About It” is another contemporary piece that makes me want to dance to Azar Lawrence’s soulful saxophone solo.  I was puzzled by lyrics that didn’t reflect the title at all.  In fact, the instrumental arrangement really didn’t need the vocals.  It’s the saxophone brilliance of Azar Lawrence that carries this arrangement, along with John Beasley’s brief keyboard solo.  Although Azar Lawrence is steeped in bebop and post-bop jazz, most of what you hear on this “New Sky” album is a crossover to smooth jazz.  His mastery of reed instruments is upfront and obvious as he plays alto, soprano and tenor saxophones on this project.  He’s also a competent composer.  Songs like “From the Point of Love” are a beautiful blend of contemporary jazz mixed with Lawrence’s haunting saxophone that sometimes reminds me of something Yusef Lateef would play.  On “Birds are Singing” Azar’s horn mimics the beauty of bird calls, trembling fluidly across space.  Another favorite on this album is the closing tune, “Revelation” that lasts eight minutes and is closer to the bebop, straight-ahead jazz I love to hear Azar Lawrence play.

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Roswell Rudd, trombone; Duck Baker, guitar.

Here is an intimate collaboration between the legendary jazz trombonist, Roswell Rudd (Nov 17, 1835 – Dec 21, 2017) and gifted guitarist, Duck Baker.  This project was recorded in 2002 and 2004.  Recently pulled from a dusty shelf, it was rejuvenated by Dot Time Records.  This duo recording reflects ties that both Baker and Rudd had to traditional music, Americana and jazz.  The trombonist and composer, Roswell Rudd, was a lover of Dixieland, but was more appropriately acknowledged for his work in free and Avant-Garde jazz.  Roswell Rudd worked for many years with Archie Shepp, starting in 1962.  He also collaborated with a number of icons including Don Cherry, Cecil Taylor, Steve Lacy, Larry Coryell, Gato Barbieri and Pharoah Sanders.  Rudd loved the music of Thelonious Monk and this duo explores Monk’s composition, “Well, You needn’t” with much pizazz and excitement.  As a bandleader, Rudd has recorded twenty-four albums. 

Duck Baker has twenty-one albums released as a bandleader and is acclaimed for his fast finger-work on guitar.  Like Rudd, Duck is steeped in traditional jazz, but also was an admirer of Bluegrass music, played around with Rock music as a youngster and dabbled in American folk music, blues, ragtime and gospel. He was also a lover of Irish and Scottish music and recorded an album of same.  Once he discovered The Jazz Crusaders, Jimmy Smith and Miles Davis, Baker was hooked on jazz.  Born in Washington, D.C., (July 30, 1949) Duck Baker grew up in Virginia and followed his career path of music, eventually moving to Europe.  He spent years touring the world with various bands and finally, Duck Baker settled down in San Francisco, California in the early 1970s.  That’s when he began recording albums as a bandleader. 

They play an arrangement of “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” at a slow swing pace and tribute trombone master JJ Johnson (who was often referred to as the Charlie Parker of trombone) with the tune “A Bouquet for JJ.”  Roswell Rudd plays this one a’ Capella.  “Melancholy People” becomes a track to showcase Baker’s expertise on guitar, with his fingers racing around the strings beneath the trombone’s exploration of the melody.  Roswell improvises, adding many familiar standard tunes within the framework of the chords, while Baker is given time to show off his guitar skills.  Somehow, Rudd manages to insert pieces of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Melancholy Baby” and more into this arrangement.  Listen closely to hear the way he wiggles them into the mix.

I have never heard a recording of just trombone and guitar before this one.  I marvel at Baker and the way he taps on the wooden guitar frame for rhythm.  He strums and hums and tickles the strings.  At times, his fingers pluck at a rapid speed and he improvises freely. Roswell Rudd is also incredibly creative, often incorporating five, six or seven different songs into the mix of the one they started off playing.  I witnessed chuckles from their ‘live’ audience, acknowledging that they too heard the unexpected tunes he plugs into each arrangement.   The unbridled freedom, creativity and spontaneity of these two musicians is quite entertaining.  This unusual and uncluttered recording spotlights each man’s talent in a bright, brilliant and intimate way. 

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Philip Topping, electronic valve instrument/composer/trumpet/flugelhorn/co-producer; Ian Vo, tenor saxophone/flute; Allen Mascari, tenor saxophone; Gary Herbig, flute/soprano saxophone; Andy Waddell, guitar; Mitch Forman, piano/keyboards; Peter Sepsis, bass/composer/co-producer; Dave Johnstone, drums; Baba Sissoko, percussion/vocals; Billy Hulting, percussion.

This collective of Los Angeles based jazz musicians call themselves, “Tritone Asylum” and offer a diversified album of funk, smooth jazz and easy listening that spotlights their great musicianship.  Trumpeter Philip Topping and guitarist Andy Waddell began jamming together in the late 2000s.  They soon ‘hooked-up’ with the super talented bassist and composer, Peter Sepsis and a keyboard player named Aubrey Scarbrough. The four men had common musical heroes including Charlie Parker, Weather Report, Pat Metheny, the Brecker Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Eddie Harris.  The early influence of these music idols helped develop the composer skills in both Topping and Sepsis.  Philip Topping’s tune, “Schizophrenic” snatches my attention with the funk drums of Dave Johnstone and the bass work of Sepsis.  It reminds me of the “Headhunter” album days.   The melody is catchy and dances between the keyboard and the horn lines. 

“Having the same bass player and drummer has allowed us to have a consistent groove despite other changes to the band’s personnel,” Sepsis explained the magic behind the tight, funky groove on this tune and others on this album.  He compliments his and Johnstone’s bass and drum talents.

After their original sax player, Allen Mascari, moved away from the group, they added saxophonist Ian Vo, who Topping met when they were both studying music at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

The band calls its music “electro-acoustic.”  They blend the sound of the EVI and electric bass, like cream and coffee.  The acoustic piano (Henri Wilkinson) and Gary Herbig’s soprano saxophone shine on track #4, a ballad called, “The Road to Hue.”   They creatively pull-off mixing electronic music with acoustic instrumentation.  Philip Topping’s EVI blows me away! 

“This music is the opposite of bedlam.  Sure, you’ll hear many voices in each piece, but they’re singing in the same resonant key … with care and exquisite balance between old and new,” Neil Tesser writes in their liner notes.

Their name, (“TriTone”) was adopted from music language.  A tritone is the note that precisely bisects the twelve-tone scale and it caused some hullabaloo when it first started being used. Some referred to it as ‘the devil’s interval.’   In this case, it opens a gateway into music that influenced these musicians and inspired new explorations to combine electric and acoustic in the same beautiful breath.  On the pretty ballad, “Malawi” they add chants that transport us to foreign shores and add an unexpected world music component to their arrangement.

“I like music that tells a story.  We don’t want to write music that’s so complicated you need to study harmony to understand it,” bass player and composer, Sepsis shares.  “We try to make music that reflects the sounds of the street.” 

Their opening, easy-listening/Latin composition by Sepsis called “Grasshopper” employs the percussion of Billy Hulting that adds a Calypso-feel.  “The 54 Blues” is not a typical 4/4 blues tune.  Instead, it employs a 5/4 rhythm and features pianist, Mitch Foreman, playing an organ-sounding keyboard.  It grooves and spotlights Toppin’s electronic valve instrument (EVI).  Ian Vo’s tenor saxophone and Andy Waddell’s inventive guitar are also featured.  On Topping’s tune, “Simple” it is anything but!  This arrangement is exciting and fat with energy!  Ian Vo is tenacious on tenor sax.

“… we move between an Afro groove, then funk, then Latin.  The sounds of the street are made by people in the diverse community that is Los Angeles.  If I’m not moving people, I’m not doing my job,” Sepsis assures us.  

I’d say the TriTone Asylum collective is definitely doing their job.

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Natsuki Tamura, Trumpet/piano/wok; Satoko Fujii, voice.

On this exploratory music by trumpeter and composer, Natsuki Tamura, you will experience layers of sounds, notes and creativity that are connected to Mother Nature in a very spiritual way. Expressed musically, not only by the trumpet, but by electronics and studio assistance, Tamura first laid down a foundation track for his four, lengthy pieces.  They sound more like suites than singular compositions.  In a spontaneous, but time-consuming process, two of the tracks, the title, “Summer Tree” and another track called “Summer Dream” have composed themes. Tamura’s lovely muted trumpet floats on top of several ethereal sounds of percussion, bells, low drones, hisses, bells, piano and electronic improvisation.  The other two tracks, “Summer Color” and “Summer Wind” are totally improvised.  Although he layered the production, Tamura used no post-production mixing, editing or other manipulations to create the album’s unearthly sounds.  He reached into his huge bag of techniques, using the instruments on-hand.   They create the sounds and textures on this album.  The title of his project, “Summer Tree” is spelled by two Chinese letter.  The “Natsu” in his name translates to ‘summer’ and “ki” means tree.  He was born in the summer and his parents gave him that name.  Natsuki Tamura has been recording for more than three decades.  Here is his fifth, mostly solo trumpet recording.  His wife, Satoko Fujii, adds her voice on one track only.  The rest is all Tamura.   He plays piano in a somewhat menacing rumble that sets the mood and builds the crescendo of sounds and music.  This is another of his always eclectic, thought provoking and excellent Avant-Garde musical interpretations.  We not only experience his trumpet mastery, but his lyricism on various pieces of metal that he taps upon; whispery techniques that moan and howl as he incorporates them to reflect his artistry and to entertain our imaginations.  

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Cory Weeds, tenor saxophone/composer; Phil Dwyer, piano/producer/arranger; John Lee & Maggie Hasspacher, bass; Jesse Cahill, drums; STRING SECTION: Cam Wilson, lead violin: Llowyn Ball, Elyse Jacobson, Molly MacKinnon, Jiten Beairsto, Madeline Hocking, Meredith Bates & Andrea Siradze, violin; John Kastelic & Genevieve MacKay, viola; Finn Manniche & Doug Gorkoff, cello.

I’m blown away by the sweetness of Cory Weeds latest project and the lush string arrangements that cushion his tenor saxophone tenacity.  This album reminds me of Harold Lands remarkable album recorded with the Ray Ellis string arrangements; arrangements that Ray originally wrote for Billie Holiday.  The Land project is called “A Lazy Afternoon.”  Weeds’ album also reminds me of Charlie Parker’s earth-shattering recording with strings.  Canadian-based Cory Weeds is just that good!  I didn’t think anyone could move me the way those two albums moved me, but Mr. Weeds is up to the task.  This is his 18th album as a bandleader and could be one of his most ambitious projects to date.  He interprets a number of standard tunes that we are quite familiar with like “I Wish You Love” and the title tune, “What is There to Say?”  But he also shines as a composer.  The sign of a well-written composition is that the listener feels comfortable with the song, as though it’s familiar and he’s heard it before.  Cory’s lovely “Waltz for Someone Special” is just such a tune.  Phil Dwyer’s lush string arrangements are inspirational and bring the best out of this sensuous tenor saxophone player and the string ensemble.  Cory’s original song titled; “Alana Marie” is quite beautiful.  He seems emotionally connected, blowing love notes from the bell of his tenor saxophone.  Track #5, is a medley that combines “The Phantom” with the hit song, “The in Crowd” and pulls the funk out of Jesse Cahill’s drums.  Phil Dwyer adds a blues drenched piano to the mix and the strings smoothly enhance the production.   Recorded at Armoury Studios in Vancouver, BC a year ago, this is a romantic, relaxing and emotional album of fine jazz.  Cory Weeds is a gifted and stellar saxophonist. The music’s perfectly mixed and beautifully produced.  I enjoyed the performance so much that I played it three times in a row.

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Enrico Rava, flugelhorn/composer; William Parker, double bass; Andrew Cyrille, drums.

Enrico Rava, William Parker and Andrew Cyrille are among the masters of improvised, modern jazz and considered elders in that realm.  With this album, featuring Rava’s flugelhorn, Parker’s double bass and Cyrille’s deft drumming, they have come together to celebrate the life of pianist and bandleader, Cecil Taylor (1929 – 2018).   They recorded at Studio Ferber in Paris a year ago on February 1 and 2 of 2021.  The songs are all original composition by the trio members and one standard, “My Funny Valentine.”  The simplicity of a production just featuring drums, acoustic bass and flugelhorn does not mean the music is simple.  The situation allows the listener to clearly hear each component of the musical trio and appreciate the creativity and mastery of each instrumentalist.  Enrico Rava’s flugelhorn presentation is both inspired and beautiful.  They open with “Improvisation No. 1” written by all three musicians and it sets the tone for the other nine tunes that follow.  William Parker steps stage front to solo his acoustic bass over a rich tapestry of trap drum improvisation.  It becomes an instrumental conversation until Enrico suddenly flies skyward, like a determined hawk above the fray, searching for a nesting spot.  Andrew Cyrille not only secures the time, he is quite creative, letting his drums sing along with the modern sound.  This is nearly eleven minutes of musical intrigue.  “Ballerina” was penned by Enrico Rava.  It twists and turns like the body of a ballerina, with crisp, starched notes spinning her skirt.  The rhythm is fast and locked down by Cyrille’s busy drum sticks.  He takes a solo that explores his cymbals.  I can almost visualize the “Ballerina” pirouetting across the stage on the tip of sparkling, pink, ballet slippers. 

On the “Blues for Cecil No. 1” the trio settles into a slow tempo that wraps arms around me like a lover.  Andrew Cyrille shuffles and swings.  William Parker casually walks his bass across my listening space, building a basement, ballroom floor for the fluegelhorn to dance upon.   Rava blows, screams and shudders in this perfect space.  “Improvisation No.2” is mournful, perhaps grieving the loss of Cecil Taylor and his incredible contribution to music.

“Cecil was a spokesman for individuality; a musical warrior always operating on a high level,” said Parker. “He was not Avant-Garde.  He was a human being who loved life as music.  He would not be boxed in…”

On Track #6, the trio seems to be slow-baking a musical cake. Their composition is bluesy and sweet.  Rava spreads flugelhorn excitement on it, like caramel-cake icing.  William Parker’s bass and Andrew Cyrille have whipped the batter up and now we taste it.  The listener can enjoy this “Blues for Cecil No. 2” as a dessert for all our senses.  It richly features William Parker on bass, burning bright as birthday candles.  Parker performed with the Cecil Taylor Unit from 1980 to 1991 and recorded with Taylor more than a dozen times.  Enrico Rava began his career in his native Italy in the mid-1960s and worked with Gato Barbieri and Steve Lacy.  With more than fifty recordings as both a leader or co-leader, he is one of the most internationally respected Italian jazz cats worldwide.  He met Cecil Taylor in the late 1960s and performed in Taylor’s Orchestra of Two Continents in 1984.  Later, in 1988 they reunited when he became a part of Cecil Taylor’s European Orchestra.  Cyrille was born in Brooklyn and felt he made his musical mark when he joined the Cecil Taylor Unit in 1964 and it lasted until 1975.  He emerged as one of the leading drummers in free, uninhibited, improvised music.  So, all three of these master musicians had a personal connection to the late, great Cecil Taylor.   They offer us a fascinating and improvised musical experience of modern jazz that properly tributes one of their great mentors.

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Eli Degibri, tenor & soprano saxophones/composer; Tom Oren, piano; Alon Near, bass; Eviatar Slivnik, drums.

Opening with the title tune, dedicated and memorializing Eli Degibri’s mother and father (“Henri and Rachel”) the group voices sing the melody in unison.  Eli’s horn floats over the vocals, like a delicate paint brush, adding color to the piece.  You may soon find yourself happily humming along.  It’s a very memorable melody.  On Track #2, Eli Degibri picks up his tenor saxophone and wows me with his interpretation of his original composition “Gargamel.”  Tom Oren takes a blues-fused solo, at times delicately tinkling the upper register of the piano.  Eli has composed all the songs but one for this album.

“When I write songs, I don’t usually know what the reason is. Only after it’s done, I think about the melody and ask myself what it means to me or who I see and feel when I hear it,” Degibri says.

Track #3 is the familiar jazz standard, “Like Someone in Love.”  The pianist starts off playing what sounds like a classical etude.  When Eli Degibri enters on saxophone, we immediately recognize the standard jazz composition.  It’s a unique arrangement that shows how closely America’s only original music of jazz is related to European classical music.  Tel Aviv-based Israeli saxophonist-composer, Eli Degibri, again reveals his ability to convey profound emotions in the language of notes and tones.

“I was thinking … of how Johann Sebastian Bach would play this song in 5/4,” says Degibri. 

This arrangement clearly shows how that would sound, followed by “Longing” which is more straight-ahead, leaning towards bebop and challenging the bass to walk with speed and purpose as the soprano saxophone flies ahead.  There is a Middle Eastern ‘swag’ to the melody and Oren’s piano solo is brief, but outstanding. The “Noa” composition is a sweet, sexy ballad that oozes emotion.  Eli Degibri pushes the ballad into improvised, straight-ahead territory with his tenor saxophone.  Somehow, I am reminded of the legacy of John Coltrane.  On a tune called “Ziv” his arrangement moves into more contemporary grounds; shades of Kenny G. The composition, “Preaching to the Choir” dabbles in African-American gospel music and blues. This quartet brings us a variety of original music that is innovative, personal and pleasing.  Eli Degibri is masterful on his horns and is also a stunningly talented composer and arranger. 

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Adam Larson, saxophone/composer; Clark Sommers, bass/composer; Dana Hall, drums.

“When I began to map out the idea of creating a trilogy of trio recordings, I looked to capture different musicians in cities that have played historical significance in my development and success as a musician,” explains Adam Larson in his press package.

Although Adam Larson is a Kansas City based saxophone player, his roots in Chicago, Illinois played a big part in Larson’s artistic growth.  It is where he explored his instrument and gained the confidence to develop into the artist he has become today.  Contracting his longtime collaborators, Clark Sommers on bass and Dana Hall on drums, he began his chord-less trio excursion into a production without guitar or piano.  Larson and Sommers have composed all the music and the trio opens with Adam’s tune, “Angolan Babysitter.” It’s spirited and leaves a lot of room for Dana Hall to display his drum power during a tenacious solo. 

Adam Larson’s music is cemented in the bebop and post bebop styles.  Songs like “The Time You Forgot You Knew,” composed by Clark Sommers, has an arrangement embracing the blues.  Certainly, Chicago is known for its strong blues community, so this song resonates that aspect of Adam Larson growing-up on his instrument, playing in and around the Windy City.  However, it soon transforms into a straight-ahead mode, with Larson’s saxophone creatively improvising.  The tune “Kansas to Chicago” incorporates a couple of genres with the Hall drums laying down a funky groove and Sommers walking the bass briskly.  Clark Sommers penned this song and he’s given an opportunity to solo.  When he steps aside, the drums showcase their brilliance. All the while, Larson is king on saxophone.  “In Waiting” is a beautiful ballad followed by the Thelonious Monk tune, “We See.”  I never even missed the piano or guitar that usually is a mainstay in many trio performances.  The creativity and clarity of Adam Larson’s trio is both entertaining and (as the Chicago Tribune put it) prodigious. * * * * * * * *


December 15, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

December 15, 2021

In my 2021 “Stocking Stuffer” column, I wanted to offer a little something for everyone.  My idea was to include a variety of jazz recordings that each, in their own unique way, offer something totally unusual and remarkable in the same breath.  I include music icons who have long been established and applauded, alongside fledgling jazz talents who offer us their premiere CD releases.  I have included straight-ahead, bebop, interesting composers, historic vocals and a variety of jazz styles.  You choose and then share. 

JOHN COLTRANE – A LOVE SUPREME: LIVE IN SEATTLE, 1965 – Impulse Records John Coltrane, tenor saxophone/percussion/composer; McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, upright bass; Elvin Jones, drums; Donald Rafael Garrett, upright bass; Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone/percussion; Carlos Ward, alto saxophone; Ravi Coltrane, producer.

If you are looking for iconic, legendary jazz to give as a gift, after nearly six decades this private recording of a very rare John Coltrane performance in a Seattle nightclub is currently available.  Joe Brazil, a Seattle saxophonist and educator, has coveted the reel-to-reel tapes of this historic performance.  It features Coltrane’s four-part “A Love Supreme” suite performed ‘live.’   It is an historic revelation, because most jazz buffs believed that the only recorded public performance of “A Love Supreme” happened at a French festival in Juan-Les-Pains, France in July of 1965.  However, this current release dates back to October of 1965, when Coltrane was adding members to his band including Pharoah Sander on a second saxophone and Donald Garrett on a second bass with Jimmy Garrison also solid on upright bass.  Carlos Ward, who back then was just a young and exploratory sax man, sits-in during this live performance.  Surprisingly, here is Coltrane’s only performance and appearance as a bandleader in the city of Seattle, which makes this recording even more rare.  Not to mention, the band of genius musicians on his bandstand who are inclusive of Elvin Jones on drums and McCoy Tyner on piano.  This music was the spiritual path that Coltrane was walking during those mid-60s, enlightened years.  John Coltrane called his composition of “A Love Supreme” his humble offering to the Divine.  In fact, it is considered a sermon by many.  All four parts of this historic work were performed and recorded at The Penthouse in Seattle, Washington.  This is an amazing musical documentation of one of the greatest compositions ever written by John Coltrane, including Part 1: Acknowledgement; Part II: Resolution; Part III: Pursuance and finally, Part IV: Psalm.  Tossed in between are various short interludes of music.  What better way to celebrate the holidays and the generosity of giving, than to stuff someone’s stocking with this Impulse Record masterpiece!

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Andy James, vocals; John Patitucci, bass/arranger; Marvin ‘Smitty’ Smith, Vinnie Colaiuta & Marcus Gilmore, drums; Jon Cowherd, organ/piano/arranger; Alex Acuna, percussion; Bill Cunliffe, piano/arranger; John Beasley, piano/Fender Rhodes; Dan Higgins, baritone saxophone/flute/piccolo; Chris Potter & Rick Margitza, saxophones; Terell Stafford, trumpet; Chico Pinheiro & Jake Longley, guitars.

“An Evening with John Patitucci and Andy James” features a bouquet of classic, familiar songs and a stellar ensemble of colorful, musical guests.  They open with the beautiful ballad, “Autumn in New York” lush with string arrangements.  The album doesn’t tell me if this orchestration is synthesized or ‘live,’ but it’s lovely all the same.  John Patitucci steps forward and wows us with his bass solo, followed by a stellar Chris Potter saxophone story.  You will enjoy curling up with a warm drink, or perhaps a fireplace to enjoy this music with songs like “Moonlight in Vermont” and their lovely arrangement of Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream” tune.  Their arrangement on “Fire & Rain” features Rick Margiza’s expressive saxophone.  Other romantic, sad songs that Ms. James reinvents vocally are “Burn for Love” and “Some Other Time.”  This is a well-produced album with each song turning a page and lyrics interpreted by vocalist, Andy James, to amply describe chapters in a life. 

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Rich Halley, tenor saxophone; Dan Clucas, cornet; Clyde Reed, bass; Carson Halley, drums.

“Boomslang” features a mix of Rich Halley’s compositions and spontaneous improvisations that showcase the inventiveness of this group.  Rich has composed the second track, “Northern Plains” and the drum beat, supplied by Carson Halley, conjures up American Indian rhythms.  The tenor sax and cornet join hands and dance around the open plains, like a wild, Northern wind.  First their hands are joined, in unison.  But soon, each instrumentalist moves away and finds a spot in the sun all their own.  There is only the bass and drums to hold their rhythm together, so you might say the production is uncluttered. However, it allows the horns to be brightly featured.

The group’s album cover pictures a pile of snake.  Their entire production is named for a type of snake; the Boomslang.  It is a highly poisonous creature based in South Africa. The males are bright green in color and usually seclude themselves in trees.  The female Boomslang is brown.  Halley lives no place near the Boomslang snake, although it resonates in his imagination.  He resides in Portland, Oregon and has been exploring improvisational music for a couple of decades.  To date, he has released twenty-four recordings as a bandleader.  He offers four original compositions for this production of slithery, snake songs that wind their way, using horn solos to twist and turn above the powerhouse drums of Carson Halley and the bass of Clyde Reed. The other five songs are free improvisations, created untethered by the entire quartet.  This is experimental jazz that pushes the outer limits of their creativity and, like the Boomslang snake, manifests itself as unexpected and dangerous in new and unforeseen forms.

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DELICATE CHARMS LIVE AT THE GREEN MILL – Woolgathering Records Matt Ulery, double bass/composer; Paul Bedal, piano; Quin Kirchner, drums; James Davis, trumpet; Greg Ward, alto saxophone.
In April of this year, after the COVID pandemic had shut down music venues to protect the population, the Delicate Charms quintet was excited to perform ‘live’.  Matt Ulery had been busy composing new music during their self-imposed lock-down.  This project explores six of the master bassist’s new compositions, created during the 2020 pandemic. 

Ulery explained: “The tunes on this record have long, dynamic forms requiring intense engagement of the musicians. …I wanted to create something new (to me) that has the composure of chamber music while having the agility through these forms only potent improvisers can bring to the flow. … These guys absolutely crushed the new material.”

The Green Mill is a legendary Chicago institution and was a great way to record Delicate Charm’s music. It was presented over two days, with the band playing six sets from 8pm to midnight each night.  Wow! Six sets!  Proprietor Dave Jemilo mixed and recorded the live music.  The result is an album containing half a dozen of Ulery compositions, played to a responsive and appreciative audience.  The new music features James Davis on trumpet and Greg Ward on alto saxophone.  The horns present and explore the melodies on most of these arrangements.  Paul Bedal steps into the spotlight during some of these tunes, like on “The Arrival,” to display his piano tenacity, as he improvises on the musical theme.  Quin Kirchner, on drums, and Ulery on bass, sustain the rhythm section adeptly, holding everything in place like a lock and key.  Kirchner plays brilliantly during this arrangement, crashing his rhythms to incendiary levels while Bedal solos. The audience is responsive and exhilarated during their exciting improvised performance.  You hear people shout, comment and clap for this very Avant-garde performance.  Throughout their concert, the listener can feel the patron’s hungry anticipation on a night of musical freedom.  After so many months of being locked-down and starving for ‘live’ music, the audience appreciation is palpable and responsive to Delicate Charms’ musical energy. 

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JOSH SINTON – “b.” – FIP Recordings
Josh Sinton, baritone saxophone.

I am a lover of the rich, full, bass sound of a baritone saxophone.  As a solo artist, Josh Sinton has created an album that explores the various tones and jazzy ideas he can express on this unique instrument.  Clearly, he entered the studio with an idea to record improvisational ideas and explore an album of possibilities.

In his press release, Josh Sinton explains, “When I was nineteen, I made a very conscious decision to commit myself to a life in music.  Even back then, I knew this was going to obligate me to try to manifest every part of my life in a musical format.  Given that some of my life was very intellectual and some of it very emotional, some of it very angry and some of it very laconic; my music was going to cover a lot of ground. …Being nineteen, I didn’t realize just how long it was going to take me to acquire the technical facility and listening experience this kind of proposition demanded.”With this premise, his project is a sonic manifestation and philosophic use of musical notes, instead of words.  The stories, that unfold like chapters, are perhaps to display the difference between improvisation and composition.  This album, “b,” embraces methods and techniques, using sounds and ‘riffs’ as compositions.  However, I did not relate to them as songs.  The challenge for this artist is that for the layman ears, his Avant-garde production may sound like someone practicing on the baritone saxophone. I longed to hear just one beautifully played, melodic song to caress my ears and to touch my emotions.  Track 4, “b.1.iv,” almost delivers this experience, as it develops a melody with bluesy infusions and an experience I could almost whistle along with.  Track #5 is totally exploratory and introduces me to sounds I didn’t even know the baritone saxophone could produce.  In conclusion, for the open and super creative mind, or for a saxophone player or studied musician, this could be a unique and stimulating gift to stuff their stocking.

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ERIC GOLETZ – “A NEW LIGHT” – Consolidated Artist Publications, LLC (CAP Records)
Eric Goletz, trombone/keyboards/composer/arranger; Jim Ridl, piano; Allen Farnham, keyboards; Henry Heinitsh, guitar; Marco Panasola, bass; Steve Johns, drums; Joe Mowatt, percussion; Will DeVos, French horn; Bob Magnuson, alto saxophone; TRUMPETS: Tony Gorruso, Freddie Maxwell, Kent Smith. TROMBONES: Erick Storckman, Chris Rinaman & Jonathan Greenberg, bass trombone; Matt Ingman, tuba; THE STRINGS: Robin Zeh & Paul Woodiel, violins; Michael Roth & David Gold, violas; Sarah Hewitt-Roth, cello.

This spirited, big band album features trombonist, Eric Goletz.  It’s scheduled for release January 21, 2022.  You won’t be able to stuff your Christmas stocking with this upbeat treasure, but do make a note to yourself to look for it first of next year.  Here is a production bursting with energy and percussive excitement that features all original compositions by Eric Goletz with the exception of “Dig” by Miles Davis, the familiar “Sunrise Sunset” and “Song for Elizabeth” written by Jonathan Butler.  Goletz grew up in Denver, Colorado but moved to New York City, pursuing his musical career, where he instantly became busy as an in-demand sideman and studio musician.  Eric loved composing early on and wrote for Sal Salvador’s album, “Lorinda’s Kitchen.”  (Salvador was Stan Kenton’s former guitarist.)  With the release of “A New Light,” Goletz shows an expansion of his original ideas and compositions by creating complex arrangements for an expanded horn section and adding a string ensemble.  He is dynamite on his trombone and his arrangements push the limits of his all-star band members.  The tunes are up-tempo and reflect happiness and joy.  The title tune, “A New Light” opens the album and sets the pace.  This is followed by “Edge of Night” and “Dig” that both swing hard.  Track #5, “Enchanted” slows the pace with Latin overtones and sweet string lines that enhance Eric Goletz’s trombone solo.  Eric writes beautifully and he’s an astute and creative arranger.  This trombonist also knows how to lay down a groove and mix R&B excitement, (sometimes reminiscent of a Earth, Wind & Fire repertoire) into his unique jazzy arrangements.  Steve Johns is a master on trap drums and Joe Mowatt pushes the rhythm forward with percussive authority.  I enjoy all of the Eric Goletz powerful composing skills and appreciate the way he arranges his music.  For example, “Don’t Gimme That!” establishes a bright, memorable melody before inviting Allen Farnham on organ-keyboards to soak up the spotlight. When Eric Goletz presses the trombone to his lips, out spills improvisation and energy that inspires.  Randy Brecker shines on his trumpet and then he and Goletz play tag, trading fours mid-way through the tune.   I love the percussion that is happening in the background, showing how skillful Mowatt is; always present, but never getting in the way of solos or melody. He’s steady and dependable as a ceiling fan; being just as cool!  The tune titled, “The Mirror” is funky, jazzy and tastily mixes ‘rock’ into the mix.  The final song, “After the Light” uses themes from all the other tunes on this disc to create a fascinating medley of the entire recorded concert.  There’s something for everyone on this album.  If you love orchestrated energy, creative arranging and trombone brilliance, slide this into your CD player, sit back and enjoy.

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Wadada Leo Smith, trumpet/composer; Vijay Iyer, piano/Fender Rhodes/Hammond B-3/electronics/ composer; Jack DeJohnette, drums/percussion/composer

If you are looking to explore the inner and outer limits of space, time and music, this is the stocking stuffer for you.  Three jazz icons have united to bring us a tribute to Billie Holiday.  Jack DeJohnette opens the title tune with a flurry of sensuous drum power, tinged with cymbal splashes. Using mallets, he softens the percussive sounds to sing this song of “Billie Holiday: A Love Sonnet.”   Wadada Leo Smith first met and played with Jack DeJohnette in the late 1960s.  More recently, the two have collaborated with increasing frequency.  DeJohnette participated in the first recording of Smith’s Golden Quartet over two decades ago. In a later gathering of the Golden Quartet, Wadada Leo Smith had his first collaboration with Iyer’s piano virtuosity. 

“A Love Sonnet for Billie Holiday” marks the first time all three have participated in a recorded production. This first song, “Billie Holiday: A Love Sonnet” was composed by Smith, but all three musicians have contributed their composer talents to this album.  DeJohnette composed “Song for World Forgiveness” and Iyer contributed “Deep Time No. 1” with Malcolm X’s voice layered beneath the electronics with words from one of his historic speeches.  There is often a haunting and beautiful quality to Wadada’s award winning trumpet.  I find that Wadada magic here, exploring Iyer’s track #2.  Jack DeJohnette incorporates his drums liberally, along with an excitement and creativity to match Smith’s and with Vijay Iyer’s piano and keyboard excellence intermingled, they reach a spiritual and musical high.  There is both freedom, originality and beauty in this trio’s exploration.  We are pulled along like gold miners, pausing to shake musical pans and explore them for shiny, sparkling nuggets of inspiration.

“The keyboards, drum-set/percussion and trumpet … create their own sonic ranges. … with no bass at the bottom of the music, Vijay, Jack and Wadada’s instruments realize wider horizontal sonic fields and emotional ranges. Therefore, the performers reveal a complete and complex melodic and harmonic spectrum in a clear, musical exposition,”
Wadada Leo Smith explained.

No more need be said.
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Doug MacDonald, guitar/composer; Noel Okimoto, vibraphone; Dean Taba, bass; Darryl Pellegrini, drum.

Funny how things in life somehow go full circle.  In Doug MacDonald’s case, although based for years in Southern California, he actually began his career performing in Hawaii with Trummy Young, Gabe Balthazar and Del Courtney.  His latest release, “Live in Hawaii” immortalizes his triumphant return to playing straight-ahead jazz in Honolulu. Fellow bandmates include bassist Dean Taba, who grew up in Hawaii and worked in Los Angeles for years playing with a plethora of jazz masters.  Also included in his impressive quartet is Noel Okimoto, best known as a drummer, but super-talented on Vibraphone.  He is a native of Honolulu.  On drums with MacDonald’s group is Darryl Pellegrini who has worked with Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie.  Pellegrini currently lives and teaches on the island. Together this quartet swings hard and this may be one of my favorite recordings by Doug MacDonald.  They open with the stellar composition by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, “My Shining Hour.”  Their six-minute, up-tempo arrangement sets the tone for this entire production. Recorded live at the Hawaii Public Radio Atherton Performing Arts Studio, their audience excitement is palpable.  After each creative and classic solo, the attending patrons give supportive and spontaneous applause.  Okimoto sounds amazing on vibraphone and Dean Taba takes a splendid bass solo, followed by Doug MacDonald and Darryl Pellegrini trading fours and focusing the spotlight on the drummer. 

I enjoyed MacDonald’s composition, “Cat City Samba.”  They do a gutsy arrangement of Oscar Pettiford’s popular “Blues in the Closet.”  This entire concert was broadcast on HPR’s Sunday Morning show called, “Applause in a Small Room” by host and sound engineer Jason Almirez-Taglianetti.  I enjoyed the unique interaction between Doug’s guitar and Noel Okimoto’s vibes. Replacing the expected standard piano as the center of the rhythm section, MacDonald plays both lead and rhythm guitar with ease.  You will enjoy sitting on the edge of your seat, tapping your toes and listening to this spontaneous and energetic jazz quartet, led by Los Angeles based guitarist, Doug MacDonald.  Other favorites on this album are “Star Eyes,” Doug’s original “Bossa Don” presented at a moderate, sexy tempo, propelled by Pellegrini’s warm drums and a nice surprise was hearing the wonderful “Stranger in Paradise” tune.
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IGOR BUTMAN – “ ONLY NOW“ – Butman Music Records
Igor Butman, tenor saxophone/composer; Evgeny Pobozhly, guitar; Oleg Akkuratov, piano; Eddie Gomez & Matt Brewer, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums.

This Is Russian saxophonist, Igor Butman’s eighteenth studio album as a bandleader.  He opens with “Egyptian Nights” that features Antonio Sanchez on drums setting the groove in a ‘Cozy Cole’ kind of way.  The tune is straight-ahead jazz with a spirited piano solo by Oleg Akkuratov, who is also a talented vocalist.  Oleg recently won the Sarah Vaughan Vocal Competition.  Igor Butman has a smooth, seamless way of blending Straight-ahead jazz with a contemporary flavor, but never loses the power and prestige of traditional jazz.  You clearly hear this on track #2, “Verdict” that swings harder than a Muhammad Ali punch.  The Russian sax man is joined by longtime friend and the first-ever Russian Herbie Hancock Prize winner, Evgeny Pobozhly, who is creatively astute and spontaneous on guitar. 

The tune “You’ve Got E-mail” is spurred by the funk drums of Sanchez and the sweet strains of Butman’s tenor saxophone sings the melody and sets a more contemporary groove with his soulful, bluesy tone. The keyboard of Oleg Akkuratov improvises brightly and is always compelling.  “Golden Sun Ray” shows Igor Butman’s tender side.  He has such a distinctive sound on his saxophone and it was pleasant to hear him settle down from all the energetic songs to introduce this contemporary ballad with a groove that drops-in like an unexpected rain storm.  Evgeny’s guitar solo is colorful as a rainbow and Butman’s saxophone is warm as sun shining through puffy rainclouds.  Every song on this album is sure to please the astute jazz listener.  The original tunes are well-written and arranged by Igor Butman.  On track #5, the quintet is back to business as usual, burning hot on “Only Now.”  Butman has tributed his long-time friend, Wynton Marsalis, with two tunes he composed called Blues for Wynton, Pt. 1. and Pt. 2.  He adds the magic of two American bassists on this project; Matt Brewer and Eddie Gomez.  One of them steps stage front to give us an impressive solo on this tune.  “Falling Grace” is exciting and spontaneous featuring another strong bass solo. “Baby I Love You’ was written by Wynton Marsalis and Bobby McFerrin and is vocalized by Oleg Akkuratov, who (I might remind you) is also the group’s magnificent pianist.  Igor Butman is building jazzy bridges between Moscow and New York.  His unique blend of cultures and countries is the perfect stocking stuffer and shows us how jazz music unifies and excels in the name of unity, peace and freedom.
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Chad Lawson, pianist; Dinah Washington, vocals; other musician information not provided.

If you are looking for something totally unique, pianist, Chad Lawson, has recorded four-tracks on an EP with one ‘cut’ that features the iconic voice of Dinah Washington.  The Queen of Blues sings “Silent Night” in all her glory.  What a gift to hear her dynamic voice again!  Chad Lawson follows this with “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas” featuring a string quartet and “The Christmas Waltz” played solo piano as well as “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Lawson is one of America’s post-classical artists who has surpassed over 140 million global streams for a track called “Stay” that is a celebrated fixture on the Top 25 Billboard Classical chart for 74 consecutive weeks. 

A former jazz musician, Chad spent two years touring with Julio Iglesias before turning his direction to the classical market.  He’s been introducing the new generation to classical music using contemporary techniques and interpretations.  Now, he introduces a young generation to the legendary vocals of Dinah Washington, one of America’s greatest jazz and blues singers.   Thanks, Chad Lawson!

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Alan Schulman, Rhythm/lead guitar; Stacey Schulman, lead vocal; Leonardo Lucini, bass; Alejandro Lucini, drums/percussion.

When Native Brazilian brothers, Leonardo and Alejandro Lucini merged their South American rhythmic talents with Alan Schulman’s tasty guitar and Stacey Schulman’s crystal-clear vocals, they created a fresh sound for the familiar Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.”  Alan and Stacey perform under the banner of “AS IS” and with the addition of this bassist and percussionist, they have re-imagined a holiday favorite in a brilliant way.  It was released as a ‘single’ on December 3rd and adds Latin spice to the joy of the season!

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Every now and then a voice comes along that is not categorized as ‘jazz’ but when you hear that voice, you know it can cross all genres.  Los Angeles based, Phil Perry, is one such artist.  He is often listed as a soul or R&B artist; however, his beautiful vocals have also recorded on several contemporary jazz albums.  This season, I want to remind you of his album of holiday music that I believe each and every one of you would enjoy.  Phil Perry’s amazing vocals rise from rich baritone to an exhilarating tenor and exhibit a powerful range, technique and tone that thrills the listener.  I think his holiday album makes an amazing stocking stuffer.  Phil Perry is a renowned singer, songwriter and actor, who has recorded a vast discography of songs since 1969 in the R&B & Jazz genres.  He is known for his soulful and captivating stage performances throughout the world; not only with his own group but with jazz icons like Quincy Jones, Lee Ritenour, Ernie Watts, Anita Baker, George Duke and Najee, just to list a few.  On June 23, 2021, Phil was rewarded for his 50-years of recorded music excellence, by becoming inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame.  His “Soul of the Holidays” album and his contribution on “A Contemporary Christmas” CD are memorable recordings and will make stellar stocking stuffers.

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By the way, Norah Jones has a holiday album released this year titled, “I Dream of Christmas”.  Here’s a small taste.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS, everyone.  From me, Dee Dee McNeil, I’m praying for more peace, joy and love in the coming New Year and lots more jazz!

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November 24, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

NOVEMBER 24, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.  So much amazing music crossed my desk this season, I hardly had room to fit them all into this column.  I begin with a spectacular ‘live’ recording by HAROLD MABERN, celebrating the genius of John Coltrane.  ALEX BROWN is a more contemporary pianist with a style and uniqueness all his own.  MICHAEL STEPHENSON, a unique vocalist who also plays saxophone, meets THE ALEXANDER CLAFFY TRIO with Benny Benack III on trumpet and its pure magic!  Brazilian pianist MARCOS ARIEL woos us with his solo piano tribute to flowers. GORDON GRDINA is a JUNO Award-winning Oud player and guitarist, whose career has spanned continents.  Summit Record’s “SIDEMEN” album features top jazz musicians and composer/producer/trumpeter, PETER WELKER.  Tenor Saxophonist, KEVIN SUN, records a love letter to Charlie Parker and DAVE YOUNG, one of Canada’s most celebrated bassists records a CD called “Mantra.”


Harold Mabern, piano; Vincent Herring, alto saxophone; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Steve Davis, trombone; John Webber, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.

As a lover of John Coltrane’s amazing music, I was eager to listen to Harold Mabern’s tribute recording to this iconic saxophonist.  Mabern is widely celebrated as a hard bop, post-bop pianist and composer who also dabbled in the soul-jazz field.  He was a great admirer of John Coltrane and he came up at a time when be-bop was king.  Harold Mabern played with legendary musicians like James Moody, George Benson, Clark Terry, Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, Billy Harper and spent four decades with the great George Coleman.  He toured Europe with Lionel Hampton’s big band and accompanied respected jazz vocalists like Betty Carter, Johnny Hartman and Arthur Prysock.   He recorded his final four albums as a bandleader at the popular Smoke Jazz Club as part of their popular Smoke Sessions.   Harold Mabern experienced a heart attack and left this Earth on September 17, 2019.  He was eighty-one years old when he recorded this currently released piece of art. 

His grandson, Michael Mabern, shared memories of his grandpa in the liner notes of this album and talked about his grandfather’s relationship to John Coltrane. 

“He attended “Coltrane Courses” at the prestigious university known as Birdland’s non-air-conditioned basement in 1961 … sitting on a case of Budweiser’s for hours just to watch the master (John Coltrane) rehearse … well in advance of the “hit time” for his accompanist gigs with Dakota Staton and Johnny Hartman,” marveled Mabern’s grandson.

Mabern’s ensemble opens with “Dahomey Dance” introduced by a super tight horn section, they come out swinging harder than George Foreman.  They follow this with “Blue Train.”  Mabern was a giving, generous musician and a man who his grandson labels “Big Heart”; his musicians labeled him “Big Hands.”  Mabern is quick to give time and spotlight to his magnificent band members.  Vincent Herring shines brightly on alto saxophone and Eric Alexander is powerful on tenor.  Steve Davis takes his bow after a brilliant solo on trombone and John Webber establishes his talent and dexterity on double bass during a brief but powerful solo.  When Harold Mabern’s piano takes center stage, his fingers dance and tip toe across the keys like an expert high wire act.  He lifts the music and takes us higher with his innovative solo.  Always creative and expressive, Mabern’s piano abilities are balanced, solid and original.  The group is amply supported by the bright and powerful drums of Joe Farnsworth.  The ‘live’ audience bursts into spontaneous and appreciative applause after every tune they played.

“Playing John Coltrane’s music with Harold was like tapping into the source,” says Farnsworth. “He was like the vortex, and it all flowed through him. It was intense. Having Harold on the stage, given how much he loved John Coltrane, it elevated the spirit of the music tenfold.”

Every Coltrane composition included in this album celebrates tunes that fans have heard time and time again.  They are jazz standards today.  You will enjoy Mabern’s smoking hot interpretation of “Impressions” played at breakneck speed.  “Dear Lord” is opened by Harold Mabern’s solo piano with flash backs to Sunday morning church services and also the pianist’s love of Bach.  The group tackles “My Favorite Things,” “Naima” and “Straight Street.”  This is an album full of mastery and might.  These musicians give their all and freshly explore the dynamic beauty of John Coltrane.  This album will be available on December 3rd just in time to become a stocking stuffer for some lucky person.

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Michael Stephenson, voice/tenor saxophone; Alexander Claffy, bass; Julius Rodriguez, piano; Itay Morchi, drums; Benny Benack III, trumpet.

Michael Stephenson opens this CD with only his smooth tenor voice and Alexander Claffy playing upright bass.  Stephenson snaps his fingers from time to time, like a human drummer.  His voice is silky smooth, dancing atop Claffy’s beautiful bass lines with his tenor tones. They take a moderate swing through this track.  On Track #2, I was surprised because I hadn’t heard that Ray Charles “Greenback” tune in years.  It was quite nostalgic when Michael Stephenson sang it, using spoken word and song to deliver the old, familiar piece and adding his terrific talent on tenor saxophone.  Yes, Stephenson sings and plays the horn.  By the end of Benny Benack’s trumpet solo, I have completely fallen in love with this album.   Stephenson has a distinctive sound.  His vocals are impressive and unforgettable when he interprets Marvin Gaye’s song, “What’s Happening Brother?”  Alexander Claffy is the master arranger and he lays down outstanding tracks, creating a royal, musical stage for Stephenson to showcase his multi-talents. Julius Rodriguez is dynamic during his piano solo and puts the “J” in jazz.  Michael Stephenson reinvents the R&B tune, “When A Man Loves a Woman” with Claffy walking his bass and Itay Morchi swinging hard on the drums.  Benack III, on trumpet, continues the swing, joyful and reminding me of a Louisiana street parade.  This is another great arrangement!  Stephenson’s talent seems to be blossoming from a strong R&B background into the realms of jazz in a beautiful way.  He’s such an excellent singer that he could sing absolutely anything.  These arrangements, and his rare and impressive vocals, inspire me to play this wonderful album over and over again!  Other great arrangements and Michael Stephenson’s vocal tenacity shine on tunes like “On the Street Where You Live,” and the old American song of the South, “Tennessee Waltz” has a fresh face.   “Can’t Hide Love” is played at a speedy pace and swings like a pendulum.  The Alexander Claffy trio is strong as titanium and this straight-ahead arrangement brings back memories of John Coltrane.  Michael Stephenson is the vocal horn.   On the fade, trumpeter Benny Benack III reminds us of his brilliance.

The band takes a moment to remind us of their tenacity on a Ben Webster tune called “Did You Call Her Today” that shuffles its way into my heart and features Stephenson playing his tenor saxophone.  This album is a stunning projectile, hurling into our musical space without compromise or hesitancy. Michael Stephenson is a bright and powerful starship, making his way into our universe with unforgettable grace and beauty.  I walk away wanting more.

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Alex Brown, piano/composer/Fender Rhodes; Zach Brown, acoustic & elec. bass; Eric Doob, drums; Matthew Stevens, guitar; Eric Kurimski, acoustic guitar; Lucas Apostoleris, steel guitar; Paulo Stagnaro, percussion; Franco Pinna, bombo leguero; Sabastian Natal, candombe percussion; Sergio Martinez, cajon/flamenco percussion.

“The Dark Fire Sessions” is Alex Brown’s homage to the transformative process of regularly performing music with a group of companions who have become closer than blood.  This is his second release as a bandleader and he mixes warm Latin overtones, with sparks of percussion that light up the project and display his own piano brilliance.  While weaving his fiery talents on piano and keyboard into his arrangements, he offers us his composer skills.  The result is that Alex Brown has recorded a creative and diversified album.   Another reason for the album title, “The Dark Fire Sessions,” is that Alex and his brother, Zach Brown, founded a recording studio and independent rehearsal studio in Harlem that they named “The Dark Fire Sessions.”  One of my favorite tunes is “Chacarera” that establishes a catchy melody and allows Zach Brown to explore his improvisation on a theme.  The bassist exhibits strength and creativity on his instrument.  Chacarera is an Argentinian dance, somewhat like the Tango, that is entrenched in Argentina folk music.  The strength of Eric Doob on drums working in concert with brothers, Alex and Zach Brown, makes for a tenacious trio and rhythm section.  These three are close as peas in a pod and have toured the world together playing as a trio for a plethora of years.  They hold the project tightly together like magnets to metal. 

The Brown composition “24/7” is a minor blues and it swings hard. Zach shines on bass and Alex prowls across the keys, sounding quite like a lion on a hot tin roof top. 

Alex Brown started playing piano at age six.  He was taken to classical music concerts, including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  His parents enriched his life with museum visits, live theatre experiences and along the way, he fell in love with music.  It was in sixth grade, after joining an after-school jazz band, when he told his parents he had found his career path.  It was music. In high school, he began to take private lessons from Stanley Cowell.  Then he went off to the New England Conservatory where he studied with the great Panamanian pianist, Danilo Perez.  On this album Alex offers us profound keyboard lyricism, infectious melodies and unforgettable compositions, ranging from straight ahead jazz to contemporary, a touch of smooth jazz and all his arrangements seem soaked in percussive brilliance.  In fact, the percussionists stand out like Christmas tree lights, enriching the scene with their colorful beauty.  Sometimes Brown incorporates Afro Cuban rhythms and at other times explores Flamenco music. Check out his “New Flamenco” tune where he collaborates with Sergio Martinez, a traditional flamenco percussion player from Spain.   Alex explores the Fender Rhodes keyboard on “Novembro” and his brother applies the electric bass instituting contrasting rhythmic lines that dance with Doob’s drums in a very swinging way.  They create counterpoint to the piano’s expressive solo.  The opening bass line snatches the attention and becomes something like a ‘hook’ throughout the song.   These arrangements and compositions are ear candy.  Here is a young jazz pianist and composer, on the new horizon of his career.  Alex Brown invites us to listen, watch and enjoy as he rises like the sun.  His music burns, bright flames from “The Dark Fire Sessions.”

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Marcos Ariel, piano/composer/producer.

This solo piano project by acclaimed Brazilian pianist, Marcos Ariel, celebrates nature and Ariel’s love of this planet; especially the beautiful flowers.  Each song celebrates a type of flower he might encounter in Brazil and/or Los Angeles, where he has been a part-time resident for over twenty-five years.  Opening with “Passionflower” I enjoy the beautiful melody that Marcos Ariel has composed. 

This is his 33rd album as a leader and the third release on his Moondo Music label.  As a native of Rio, he has been playing piano since age nine.

“Back then (in the 1970s), every home in Rio had a piano.  It was a piece of furniture, like a sofa or a table. …My music studies began when I first heard my two older sisters having music lessons.  After their lesson, I went to the piano and just played by ear the music they were learning,” he explained how he was drawn to the instrument.

Although his family dreamed of him becoming a prominent classical pianist, Marcos was drawn to traditional Brazilian music and American jazz.  He was deeply influenced by Chick Corea and became a full-time musician at age twenty.

On his original composition, “Narcissus,” I can almost see the flower blossoming; with petals opening like trembling lips.

“I enjoy taking long walks in the morning and looking at flowers that grow wild. … They evoke feelings and memories that I draw upon when I’m writing music,” Marcos Ariel explained.

I saw beautiful Bougainvillea’s climbing the walls of property in both Thailand and Singapore during my tours there.  The bright colors of the flowers were so attractive against the lush green of the leaves. Consequently, I enjoyed listening to the Marcos Ariel composition named for that flower. However, the one challenge about this solo production is that the mood and tempo of all the tunes are represented by slow ballads.  His compositions are very classically arranged and with very little change of rhythm to show us the various piano talents of Marcos Ariel.  This is the type of music they play while you’re getting a message, meditating, or sitting in the dentist office.  It’s very soothing, unobtrusive and played at a moderate tempo. 

“Chrysanthemum” was written as an homage to the pianist’s grandmother.  She loved chrysanthemums. His representation of “Orchid” sounds very regal and reminds me of a Rachmaninoff composition.  This original composition is quite dramatic, with the bass octaves played powerfully, like exclamation marks at the end of a statement.  “Fuchsia” is the only song on this album that was completely improvised, but it never steps outside the laid-back pattern of the overall production.  I missed hearing the colorful rhythms and excitement I always enjoy in Brazilian music.  Surely the composer must have seen flowers dancing and bobbing in the wind on those long, inspirational walks he took.

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GORDON GRDINA – “PENDULUM” – Attaboygirl Records

Gordon Grdina, classical guitar/oud.

Gordon Grdina is a JUNO Award-winning oud player and guitarist, whose career has spanned continents.  The JUNO Award is comparatively speaking, Canada’s GRAMMY Award.  Gordon’s exploration into free form improvisation, Avant-garde jazz, contemporary music, Indie rock and Arabian music has gained him recognition from highly regarded musicians in the jazz and improvisational world.  Mr. Grdina has performed with a long list of artists and familiar names like Gary Peacock and his own Haram ensemble that re-envisions Arabic, Persian and Sudanese music from the fifties and sixties, through an Arabic, Avant-garde improviser’s lens.  “Pendulum,” is Grdina’s third solo album and is specifically composed for classical guitar and oud.  It is the first album released on his on his Attaboygirl Record label, in collaboration with Genevieve Monro, a photographer and his business partner who will curate the visual style of their label.

The opening solo performance of Gordon Grdina celebrates a composition titled, “Koen Dori.”  It is a beautiful and melodic composition that showcases Grdina’s classical training and the mastery of his instrument.  He composed this song while in Japan and for a Japanese quartet to perform.  Grdina sports a discography that will number nearly twenty-four recordings by the year’s end. However, recording solo is something new for this creative guitarist.  His “Pendulum” performance shows off Grdina’s abilities on the oud as well as his mastery of the guitar. Always exploratory, he combines a number of styles and genres in these original works.  In the early days of his music career, Gordon was fascinated with the blues guitar.  In Vancouver, Canada, he spent many nights playing solo guitar and oud at local restaurants and coffee houses.  Back then, it was like paid rehearsal time and allowed him to develop his technique and practice standard tunes, harmony and improvising. Today, with so much wisdom stock-piled over years of composing, playing worldwide and sharing his talents, he returns to the challenge of playing solo with fresh eyes. 

The oud is a gift to American music from North Africa.  The oud is considered by Arabs to be one of the oldest, wooden string instruments on earth.  The sound projected from the oud vibrates inside its hollow, pear-shaped body and it has a fretless neck.  The instrument resembles a large gourd.  Gordon Grdina explained his approach to playing the oud.

“… All of my influences were starting to come out on the oud and maqam*, and oud ideas were coming out on the guitar.  Things started to get muddled together and out of that I think I’ve developed my own sound which is somewhere in between.  I hope it pays homage to tradition while creating with my own voice.”

*NOTE:  Maqam scales in traditional Arabic music are microtonal, not based on a twelve-tone equal-tempered musical tuning system, as is the case in modern Western music. Most maqam scales include a perfect fifth or a perfect fourth (or both).

Woodshedding during the pandemic sharpened Gordon Grdina’s acoustic skills and time spent practicing opened his heart and ears to new musical perspectives.  He introduces us to his classical guitar in romantic ways and on track #2 with arpeggio bliss and a melody that reminded me of angel harps.  You hear the Arabic charm on track #3, “The Chase,” with minor modes brightly coloring the tune and rich, baritone sounds pouring out of his oud.  Grdina is constantly reinventing himself.

I learned so much from listening to the magnificence and artistry of Gordon Grdina.  The first band he established blended Persian music and Iraqi music.  You will hear a lot of these influences in his compositions.   Grdina offers us world music, wrapped in American-made jazz music sheets and gifted to us like a birthday present or a love offering.   

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“SIDEMEN” – Summit Records

Peter Welker, flugelhorn/arranger/composer/trumpet/pianist; Frank Martin & Steve Carter, keyboards; David K. Matthews, piano; Ruben Valtierra, B-3 organ/piano/keyboards; Chris Smith, B-3 organ; Morris Acevedo, guitar; Todd Tribble, drums/percussion; Cliff Hugo, electric bass; Matthew Compagno & Niel Levonius, lead trumpet; Ella Steinberg, 2nd trumpet/flugelhorn; Nicholas Tribble, alto saxophone; Steve Steinberg, tenor saxophone/composer; Rob Sudduth & Greg Johnson, tenor saxophone; Robby Elfman, alto, baritone & tenor saxophone; David Schrader, alto saxophone; Matt Eakle, flute.  SPECIAL GUESTS: Tom Scott, tenor saxophone; Bill Champlin, vocals/B-3 organ; Steve Morse, guitar; Tony Levin, acoustic bass; Pete Levin, clavinet/string synthesizer.

The musicians play Musical Chairs during this production.  Various ‘cats’ are featured on different arrangements, with the long and varied list noted above.  Other’s pop in and out as special guests.  The “Sidemen” group opens with a number composed by Peter Welker called “Plugged In” with Steve Steinberg on tenor saxophone introducing us to the hypnotic melody that is begging for lyrics.  Frank Martin is on keyboards and offers us a delightful solo.  Composer, Peter Welker, is also a trumpeter, pianist and arranger.  His first six albums as a bandleader were straight-ahead jazz.  But this album shows his wide range of musical interests, including funk, R&B, soul and Latin.  After all, his credentials include working with or recording with Cold Blood, Jerry Garcia, Van Morrison, Santana, Huey Lewis and Dr. John among others.  

“I did all of the arranging and wrote or co-composed seven originals.  We used many guest artists (seven of whom are multi-Grammy winners) who are friends and really love our concept.  There are twenty-four musicians on this recording.  Each tune has its own personality,” Peter Welker explained his concept for the “Sideman” album.

Tom Scott’s emotional delivery on the familiar jazz standard “Save Your Love for Me” is poignant and memorable.  Morris Acevedo also shines on his solo during this arrangement.  The ensemble puts a Latin beat behind Welker’s tune, “Cielo Azul” with Ruben Valtierra on piano and Matt Eakle adding brightness of his flute.  I enjoy the horn harmonics that appear here and there, giving a nod to big band beauty.  For example, on the group’s arrangement of the Jimi Hendrix tune “Third Stone from the Sun,” I enjoyed Todd Tribble showing off his rock drumming techniques.  The drummer shines in the spotlight.  Steve Morse is also outstanding on his guitar solo. 

I was inquisitive to see how they interpreted the Miles Davis/Bill Evans tune, “Blue in Green,” featuring Peter Welker who steps away from his horn and sits down to the piano.  It’s just Tony Levin on acoustic bass and Welker at the eighty-eight keys for a too-short one minute and twenty-two second presentation.  But it’s very sweet, although way too brief.  All in all, this is a delicious mix of familiar songs and original tunes, played by an exceptionally talented group of musicians who are proud to be called, “Sidemen.”  However, each is an individual master and a super-star in their own professional universe, helping this project to shine brightly.

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KEVIN SUN – “˂ 3 Bird” – Endectomorph Music

Kevin Sun, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Adam O’Farrill, trumpet; Max Light, guitar; Christian Li, piano/fender Rhodes; Walter Stinson, double bass; Matt Honor, drums.

This is tenor saxophonist, Kevin Sun’s love letter to Charlie Parker.  Sun has composed twelve original songs to celebrate one of our brilliant jazz geniuses.  Many of the compositions incorporate the Parker songs inside these arrangements.  This music was developed during the 2020 pandemic lock-down.  It was a period when Kevin Sun soaked up seventy-two hours of Charlie Parker recordings and interviews.  You might say he became obsessed with Bird’s life and music. 

“It was a way to de-stress and take a break from the pandemic reality … just imagining what was happening on a given day or period in Bird’s life,” he remembers.  

2020 marked the centennial of Charlie Parker’s birthday, but the pandemic kept tributes and performances to remember Parker’s legacy pretty much mute.  Kevin Sun wanted to capture the essence and magical music of Parker.  For example, on the opening tune, “Greenlit” he blends lines from Bird’s famed Confirmation tune with his own imaginative composer skills.  One of my favorites on this production is “Onomatopoeia” that’s played at a flaming, up-tempo speed, borrowing elements of the famed “Be-bop” tune Parker composed and Parker’s tune “Segment” from Charlie’s Quadromania album.

Kevin Sun lives in New York City and has released three albums to date.  The tenor sax man has performed extensively in China and is the Artistic Director of the Blue Note China Jazz Orchestra.  He was named a finalist for the 2021 Jerome Hill Foundation Artist Fellowship and is lauded as a harmonic virtuoso by DownBeat Magazine.  However, every one of these tunes uses reimagined Charlie Parker melodies.  Although well played by both Sun and his group of talented musicians, this fact dulls a little of this project’s luster.  Sun recreates the 1945 original arrangement of “Salt Peanuts,” letting Matt Honor contribute powerhouse drum licks and rhythmic intrigue to the arrangement.  Christian Li is continuously creative and prolific on both piano and Fender Rhodes.  The double bass of Walter Stinson is powerful throughout and Max Light adds his guitar brilliance.  But it is always Kevin Sun, on clarinet and tenor saxophone who emulates the late, great Charlie Parker who inspires the band in his own unique way.

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DAVE YOUNG – “MANTRA” – Modica Music

Dave Young, bass/composer; Ewen Farncombe, organ; Terry Clarke, drums; Brian Dickinson, piano; Reg Schwager, guitar; Kevin Turcotte, trumpet; Perry White, tenor saxophone/bass clarinet; John Johnson, alto saxophone/flute; Les Allt, flute.

There is nothing more comforting to me on a cold, winter afternoon than to stumble upon an album of straight-ahead jazz.  Dave Young is one of Canada’s most celebrated bassists.  He has been a first-call musician for the likes of Oscar Peterson, Tommy Flanagan, Kenny Barron, Oliver Jones, Cedar Walton and too many more to list.  Based in Toronto, since 1967 Mr. Young has built a solid career as an in-demand studio session musician and sideman.  He has won the coveted JUNO Award, that is similar to our GRAMMY.  This is his sixteenth release as a leader and he offers us six original compositions out of ten swinging songs.  The group opens with Woody Shaw’s “Green St. Caper” and they swing their way right into my heart.  Young has composed “The Gypsy” that follows as track #2.  The horns dance and designate the melody.  Pianist, Brian Dickinson takes a happy-go-lucky, celebratory solo.  This “Mantra” album acts as a collector’s chest that stores some of young’s creative compositions.  His compositions stretch over the past twenty years.  We get an opportunity to lift the heavy chest top and uncover some of his best work.  Other tunes he has composed are “Waltz for Blue,” the title tune, “Mantra” and “Ode to the Southwest” all three tunes feature Ewen Farncombe on organ.  Monk’s “Evidence” composition swings hard and gives the various horn players an opportunity to strut their stuff.  When they play, “Opus de Funk” (a Horace Silver song), Dave Young steps into the spotlight on his double bass and shines as does Kevin Turcotte on trumpet & Reg Schwager during his guitar solo.  This album is sure to be another jewel in the crown of composer and bassist, Dave Young.

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November 14, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

November 14, 2021

As I began to compile artists, who I thought best reflected my column concept of “The Changing Face of Jazz,” I was struck by how many young jazz artists of the twenty-first century are blending genres and pushing the walls of label identification.  I was also puzzled by those who use the label of jazz, but don’t ‘swing,’ don’t shuffle, don’t blossom from the ‘blues’ and seem to think that just being improvisational makes them jazz artists. Some of the music I reviewed was more experimental and less jazz.  From my perspective, jazz has to include rhythm, harmony and improvisation as it’s make-up, along with the musical ability to weave ‘the blues’ into the mix and the history of African American culture. Why, you ask?  Because it is African-Americans who created this unique, original, American art form of jazz.  It is a music that represents freedom, born from the breast of those oppressed. The music included in this column displays the many faces of jazz. Every album sent to me says it should fall into the ‘jazz’ category.  Some I enjoyed and appreciated more than others.  But it clearly gives us a look at where this musical blessing to the world called ‘jazz’ has been, where it is presently rooted and where it may be going.  Fasten your seatbelts.


Lady Blackbird, vocals; Deron Johnson, piano/mellotron/Casio synthesizer; Jon Flaugher, double bass; Jimmy Paxon, drums/percussion; Chris Seefried, elec. guitar/acoustic guitar; Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, trumpet.

There is something hypnotic and magical about the strength and sincerity of Lady Blackbirds voice.  There’s something jazzy!  She draws us into each song with dynamics and emotional connection to her lyrics.  Not everyone can connect through a recording, but Lady Blackbird touches the heart from this disc.  I cannot wait to finally experience her ‘in person.’  She opens with the Nina Simone original composition, “Blackbird.”  Jimmy Paxon drums a rhythm that’s infectious and Jon Flaugher punches incredible rhythm on his double bass, using a bow to pull the beauty to the surface.  Deron Johnson is not only an able accompanist and pianist, he also shows us he is a master improvisor. Track #2 is a song called “It’s Not That Easy” where Lady Blackbird exposes her soulful roots, blending jazz with R&B in a very bluesy way.  After all, ‘the blues’ is one of the stepping stones to jazz.  Her ballad, “Fix It,” was inspired by the Bill Evans work called “Piece Peace” with lyrics by her guitarist, Chris Seefried and co-writer, Marley Monroe (who is actually Lady Blackbird).  This is a ballad that promises her power to ‘fix it’ with husky sincerity.  Sometimes I hear shades of Etta James and other times, a little bit of Nina Simone.  However, this vocalist is confident and tenacious in her own right.  She’s a stylist and a storyteller.  Another outstanding original song on this album, that both her producer/guitarist wrote along with Lady Blackbird is “Five Feet Tall.”  This composition is very jazzy and powerful.  Track #8, “Lost and Looking” is another jazz/blues showstopper.

The woman behind the moniker of Lady Blackbird is Marley Monroe.  She’s been singing since childhood and has bounced around the recording industry, crash-landing record deals that never fully captured her essence or exposed her amazing potential.  She sang in the gospel church as a child.  At age sixteen she was tied up in a record contract that was sitting on the shelf and going nowhere.  Finally, at age eighteen, Lady Blackbird was uncaged and allowed to fly free.  She tried making things work with L.A. Reid’s production company, but she flew into another dead end.  She worked the lucrative background singer circuit.  This led to her meeting a handful of music industry superstars including Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Sam Watters, Louis Biancaniello, Tricky Stewart and The Heavyweights.  Finally, she ran into artist, writer and producer, Chris Seefried, who was GRAMMY Award nominated for his work with Andra Day’s debut album honed from the Billie Holiday biopic she starred in.  Chris and Lady Blackbird made an instant connection and you feel it in the production of this “Black Acid Soul” album.  Lady Blackbird is the perfect example of the changing face of jazz, with shades of Tina Turner’s tone laced throughout this production.  Her repertoire incorporates several genres of music and her vocal style encompasses the past, present and perhaps the future of jazz and blues.

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Sara Serpa, vocals/composer; Emmanuel Iduma, text/spoken word; Matt Mitchell, piano; Qasim Naqvi, modular synth; Onesiphore Nembe, poet reader; Sofia Rei & Aubrey Johnson, voices.

This very unique and creative project was made possible by the support of The NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre; City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, in association with the New York Foundation for the Arts.  The lyrical value of this project is the work of Nigerian writer, Emmanuel Iduma, with segments of his 2018 published book, “A Stranger’s Pose” that recounts his travels through more than a dozen African cities.  Vocalist, Sara Serpa, has composed all the music and her voice is a clear soprano that caresses each lyric with clarity and beauty.  This work premiered as a multi-media performance at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust in November of 2018, before the pandemic silenced the music world.  Sara utilizes the talents of Sofia Rei, a bandmate from an a cappella quartet and singer, Aubrey Johnson, to create challenging and unusual harmonic vocalese.  Their voices soar and swell between Emmanuel’s spoken word stories and Serpa’s compositions.  Her songwriting is often like melodic nursery rhymes that repeat melody over and over, then attach Iduma’s words, like rhymeless chants. Sara Serpa is a gifted improvisor.

“There were a lot of stories in Emmanuel’s book that really resonated with me.  While recognition dealt with my country’s past relationships with Africa, I felt like his book presents a much-needed perspective of what borders actually mean.  Through his travels and encounters with so many people just trying to cross into Europe, Emmanuel raises all these questions about traveling, migrating and leaving your home behind,” Sara Serpa shared her enthusiasm for this project and her choice of working with the award-winning journalist, Emmanuel Iduma.

 “My collaborative performance with Sara brought me closer to understanding how words worked in a pre-literate time, when writing was yet to be invented – when stories were passed from mouth to mouth; from memory to memory.  Sara’s composition distills “A Stranger’s Pose” to its essential groove and vital ballad,” Emmanuel writes in the liner notes.

This album of music unfolds like a Saharan dust storm in Northern Nigeria.  The music swirls around my ears from the lips of Serpa.  At the same time, Iduma’s stories become wind, whipping the music and his metaphors around my consciousness.  This is a different form of jazz.  Serpa’s wordless melodies fly around me like hot grains of sand. They sting and slap me awake, like Emmanuel’s provoking stories.

Sara Serpa, a native of Lisbon, Portugal, prides herself in being an improviser who implements unique instrumental arrangements to showcase her vocal prowess.  She is recognized and heralded for her distinctive, wordless singing and is known around New York for her experimental music since arriving in NYC around 2008.  She has produced and released ten albums as a leader.  Ms. Serpa was voted #1 Vocalist of the Year by the 2020 NPRA Music Jazz Critics Poll and Musician of the Year in 2020 by Portuguese magazine.  She and Emmanuel Iduma take us on an unexpected journey of music and storytelling, sure to provoke moments of deep thought, as we dive, ear-first, into unknown territories.

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Cameron Mizell, acoustic & electric guitar; Charlie Rauh, acoustic guitar.

Two composers and respected guitarists sat down one day, like old friends do, and discussed making a record together.   It was during the pandemic and they discussed recording remotely.  The result was a production of ten songs and a duo album called “Local Folklore.”  Charlie Rauh spoke about their organic and musical rapport.

“… I always feel pushed to try new approaches to the instrument as well as songwriting, because his (Cameron’s) creativity is so deeply personal,” Rauh praised making music with Cameron Mizell.

The first two songs on this album are original compositions, one is by Cameron Mizell and the second by Charlie Rauh.  The music is simplistic and country-rich.  It sounds like the soundtrack to a cowboy film. 

Mizell spoke about playing with Rauh saying, “We’ve played together so much over the years that I sometimes believe I can anticipate what he’ll do, only to be surprised by something new, yet still uniquely Charlie.”

Track #3, titled “Old Sardis Road” solidifies their Americana style of music and is co-written by Mizell.  There are no fancy solos here or fingers flying to improvise.  Instead, this is just down-home, folksy, authentic, country-western music that one might hear being played around a campfire or on the front porch of a Southern cabin, much like the one pictured on their album cover. The artwork is painted by Christina Rauh-Fishburne, Charlie’s sister.

Charlie Rauh grew up in Huntsville, Alabama and brings those deep Southern roots to his music.  The blossoming flower fully bloomed in New York City where he fertilized and nourished his art playing everything from pop, rock, folk and R&B to country, electronic music and jazz.  However, on this project you will hear mostly bluegrass and Americana.  I rarely review this type of music for my column; however, I did enjoy these compositions.  They have strong, well-written melodies and are presented with sincerity and simplicity.  Most of these songs could easily be arranged in a jazzy way.

Cameron Mizell is a Brooklyn-based guitarist and composer.  Like Rauh, he’s dipped his talents in a variety of pots, but remains stewed in Americana for this production.  He’s collaborated and produced artists on dozens of recordings from jazz-funk to avant-garde experimentation and even salsa.  Mizell has released eight albums as a bandleader in the past seventeen years.  This recent duet of acoustic guitars and original compositions is relaxing and melodic.  Nobody ‘swings’ or ‘shuffles’ on this recording, although some of the songs could easily have leant themselves to those kinds of arrangements. Since they have labeled their genre ‘jazz,’ I wish these two had offered us a bit more of jazz guitar during this production.   Still, I enjoyed listening to the duo and appreciated their musicianship.

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Nicole Henry, vocals; Pete Wallace, piano/keyboards/organ; Doug Emery, B3 organ; Eric England, acoustic bass; David Chiverton, drums/percussion; Aaron Lebos, guitar; Camilo Velandia, electric guitar;  Dan Warner, acoustic guitar; Richard Bravo & Eduardo Rodriguez, percussion; Tom McCormick, Troy Roberts & John Michalak, tenor saxophone; Teddy Mulet, trumpet/trombone; Jim Hacker, trumpet; Jean Caze, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jorge Dorbal, Jr., trombone; Gregoire Maret, harmonica; Samantha Natalie, Nikki Kidd, Lenora Jaye & Rachel Brown, background vocals.

Nicole Henry grew up in a musical family in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Music, acting, dancing and singing inspired her study of cello and ballet.  She graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in Communications and Theatre.  Almost immediately, Nicole landed appearances in national commercials and was also hired to perform voiceovers.  She found her way to the theater stage, receiving praise for her appearance in the musical version of “The Bodyguard” and she will co-star in the upcoming Miami, Florida world premiere of the new musical about the life of Louis Armstrong. 

Ms. Henry opens with the familiar song “Feeling Good.”  She starts with only voice and percussion, which would have been very impressive if she had sung the melody correctly.  It’s acceptable to improvise on a melody in jazz, but generally speaking, the vocalist respects the songwriter the first time down by singing the original melody.  In this case, the melody is absolutely beautiful and deserves to be sung.  Nicole also changes the lyrics.  I’m not sure if she did it because she never learned the lyrics or if she thought it was more personalized saying “You know what I feel” instead of the original lyrics that were written, “You Know how I feel.”  The original lyrics were good enough for Nina Simone to sing and for Michael Buble to record.  So, I think (at least on the opening verse) Ms. Henry could have sung them as written.  That being said, vocally Ms. Henry’s voice is powerful and easy to enjoy.  I can tell she’s having a good time singing and that transmits to her audience.  Track #2 is the familiar pop song, “Midnight at the Oasis” originally recorded by Maria Muldaur.  Nicole puts her own spin on the tune and it’s very pleasing.  Grammy winner, Gregoire Maret, adds spice with his tasty harmonica solo.  The band arrangement turns pop-funk on the James Taylor tune, “your Smiling Face,” and Nicole Henry delivers her own unique stylized version of the song.   Finally, on track #4 she interprets the jazz standard, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.”  Her musical conductor, David Cook, arranged this one with a funk groove and Pete Wallace excels on piano, while David Chiverton consistently slaps the rhythm in place on his trap drums. There’s a little of Ahmad Jamal’s rhythm, honed from the hit record ‘Poinciana’ and mixed into this arrangement.  It’s very effective and nostalgic.  Nicole shows us she can ‘swing’ atop this smooth jazz production.  Although she is clearly rooted in both R&B and gospel music, Ms. Henry is also a very fine jazz singer and has surrounded herself with top notch musicians who develop her arrangements with finesse and power.  This group is a perfect example of my column’s title, (The Changing Face of Jazz).  Nicole Henry and her band mix genres and styles, under the banner of jazz, in a very cool and contemporary way.  For example, I enjoyed Nicole’s take on the Sade song “Is It a Crime?” featuring Eric England on double bass.  She and the bassist open this arrangement as a duet of acoustic bass and voice.  It’s very effective and by the time the entire band joins in, the two have set up a strong, sexy groove.  I note that she slides away from the original melody again, on the all-important ‘hook’ of the song.  In spite of this deviation, I still find myself enjoying the band’s arrangement and Nicole’s approach to this hit record. 

Nicole Henry definitely has crossover appeal.  Her repertoire is an example of carefully chosen songs, mostly pop tunes, that she and her band reinvent, like their Latin-tinged rhythm track of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s hit song, “Until It’s Time for you to go.”   Nicole Henry applies the same technique of changing the melody when singing “Wild is the Wind.”   Perhaps this vocalist should pursue songwriting so she can come up with her own melodies.  I think she could be a very talented songwriter indeed.  Thank goodness she didn’t rewrite the starting melody of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Overjoyed” composition.   But she does take liberties, once again changing Stevie’s melody, but they are taken after she establishes the universally loved and respected melody at the top of his tune. 

I know I live in a world that celebrates the changing face of jazz, but from a songwriter perspective, I think every artist and musician should respect the beauty of proven hit records and standard jazz songs.  Songwriters create the substance and beauty that singers and artists perform.  They share their gifts openly with the world and by singing or playing their song, straight-down one time, just as the songwriter penned it, an artist celebrates and thanks the songwriter.  This is a lesson sometimes lost in translation on Nicole Henry’s album.

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Erik Jekabson, trumpet/flugelhorn/arranger/composer; Gregory Howe, B3 organ/synthesizer/ percussion/composer; Mike Hughes, drums; Scott Brown, bass; John Wiitala, bass; Mike Ramos, guitar; Kasey Knudsen, alto & tenor saxophone; Mike Blankenship, Rhodes organ; Roger Glenn, vibraphone.

In October of 2018, a week before the famed Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California closed, a group of musicians went into Studio A to record.  Three years later, this music has come to fruition by the ‘Daggerboard’ band and historically labeled, “Last Days of Studio A.”  This famed studio was built at a time when sound, not money, was the objective of making great records. 

The group, ‘Daggerboard’ adopted this name because it represents the theoretical center of lateral resistance within a sailboat.  It’s the trailing edge that allows the sailboat to make its way upwind. The title seems to signify strength and determination of movement against natural impediments.

The band opens with a tune called “Journey Down Parker” that features a catchy melody played by Erik Jekabson on trumpet and Kasey Knudsen on saxophone.  Once the tune is introduced by the horn players, it offers a platform for us to meet the other bandmembers.  Roger Glenn steps forward on vibes to solo and is followed by the smooth guitar work of Mike Ramos. He puts a touch of Flaminco music on the arrangement.  Track #2 is titled, “Rabbit Trap” and I expected an up-tempo tune, because of my vision of a swift moving rabbit.  However, this arrangement is a moderate tempo, pensive tune with beautiful horn harmonics.  Daggerboard’s group of musicians knows how to create magical moods and infectious grooves in a very mellow, laid-back kind of way.  Other favorite tunes are “Elyse’s Dance” with its counterpoint arrangement and smooth jazz feel and “Conducting Poppies.”  They close with the tune, “Steak Out,” that employs synthesizers to add effect and drama to their arrangement.  All the songs are original compositions by Jekabson & Howe.

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Darrell Katz, composer/arranger/conductor/producer/spoken word; Paula Tatarunis, lyricist/poet; Rebecca Shrimpton, vocals/spoken word/arranger; Rick Stone, alto & tenor saxophones; Lihi Haruvi, alto & soprano saxophones; Phil Scarff, tenor, soprano & sopranino saxophones; Melanie Howell Brooks, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Helen Sherrah-Davies & Mimi Rabson, five-string violin; Vessela Stoyanova, marimba/vibraphone; Melanie Howell Brooks, Helen Sherrah-Davies, Rebecca Shrimpton & Vessela Stoyanova, spoken word; Melanie Howell Brooks & Helen Sherrah-Davis, background voices.

More and more I receive jazz recordings that feature spoken word or ‘rap’ incorporated into their arrangements.  Darrell Katz and his Oddsong group are another example of the changing face of jazz.  His Avant-garde music production has woven poetic prose into his “Galeanthropology” album, like polyester and petroleum threads.  Somehow, the final, synthesized product becomes rich with color and texture.  He features the poetry of his late wife, Paula Tatarunis and the vocals of Rebecca Shrimpton, who recites and sings the Tatarunis prose, with the occasional help from other voices.  The poems of Ms. Tatarunis are included in the CD package as part of an insert booklet.  Most of the poems do not rhyme and are sung to the very modern music that Darrell Katz has composed.  The title tune, “Galeanthropology” does have some rhyme in it.  Galeanthropogy is the state of believing one is a cat and this song reiterates that concept.  Darrell Katz actually wrote both words and music to this song. The violins purr and sound very much like felines during this arrangement as Rebecca sings, “Who wouldn’t want to be a cat?”  According to the press release, this song is a Katz tribute to his departed wife. 

Darrell Katz is the director of the Jazz Composers Alliance (JCA), an organization he helped found in 1985.  He’s released ten previous CDs that feature the work of his JCA Orchestra.  In 2015, one of his JCA Orchestra albums, “Wheelworks” was named DownBeat’s best CD.  This current OddSong ensemble debuted in 2016.  Katz has been creating unusual, humorous and Avant-garde work for decades and always includes social consciousness and thought-provoking words and music.

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Gabriel Zucker, piano/composer/producer/vocals/lyrics/electronics; Matteo Liberatore & Tal Yahalom, guitar; Gabriel Globus-Hoenick, Alex Goldberg & Kate Gentile, drums; Bam Rodriguez & Mat Muntz, bass; Artemisz Polonyl & Lorena Del Mar, vocals; Mariel Roberts, cello; Joanna Mattrey, viola; Yuma Uesaka, clarinets; Anna Webber & Eric Trudel, tenor saxophone; Adam O’Farrill & Nolan Tsong, trumpet.

This is a double set CD, 90-minutes in length, that explores mixed mediums, virtuosic Avant-garde music, modern jazz perspectives and chamber music.  Throughout the production, there is a splash of horn harmonics and a ribbon of electronic improvisation, along with vocals that fight for their space against the over-powering tracks. Much respect to both Artemisz Polony & Lorena Del Mar for their vocal talents.  I am stunned when the engineer suddenly cuts everything off but a soprano vocal singing a solid, single, clear note.  It snatches my attention like a car crash. 

This production is divided into Part 1. The Past; Part II: Autumn 2016; Part III: Present; and Part IV: Future.   Gabriel Zucker and his large ensemble, who he calls “The Delegation,” are interpreting Zucker’s ideas, his arrangements and his compositions.  Gabriel Zucker’s piano is front-forward at all times and he is obviously a formidable musician on the 88-keys.  The addition of strings to this project adds classical overtones and chamber music charm.  But for the most part, this is improvised madness, swathed in Avant-garde wrapping paper like an unusual holiday present.  You can’t wait to open it, on the celebratory morning, but when you do, you are both shocked and enchanted by the uniqueness of the gift. 

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Dave Stryker, guitar/composer; Julian Shore, piano/composer; John Patitucci, bass; Brian Blade, drums; Sara Caswell & Monica K. Davis, violins; Benni von Gutzeit, viola; Marika Hughes, cello.

I always look forward to the productions of Dave Stryker, because he is so inventive and always inspired.  On several of his albums he featured “Eight-Track” music from years ago in a very jazzy way.  He has covered ‘straight ahead,’ funk music, R&B tunes, organ combos and rearranged pop hit songs into interesting jazz productions.  Consequently, I was eager to hear what direction his music would take this time.

“It’s my dream project,” Stryker shared in his press package, which made me all the more curious.

This time he has recorded a suite of brand, newly composed originals and used a band of iconic, world-respected musicians including John Patitucci on bass and Brian Blade on drums.  Julian Shore joins in on piano and Stryker adds a string quartet for good measure.  The result is an album of well-written compositions and expert musicianship that flows, ocean wide and just as deep.  The music is melodic and embellished by the string quartet, who open the first piece like a chamber orchestra. This original song is appropriately titled “Overture” and was written by Stryker and Shore, his pianist on this project.  It unwraps this album with a one-minute interlude, then steps aside for a funky, but lovely tune called “Lanes.”  We move from sitting in a chamber concert to feeling like we are racing down some open highway with hair flying in the breeze and tires hot against the asphalt.  Dave Stryker steps up with his guitar and sets the mood aflame, like a hot, autumn afternoon sun.  He is propelled by Blade’s busy drum sticks and staunch rhythms.  Brian Blade is given several bars to show off his drum acrobatics, followed by Julian shore taking a very impressive piano solo.  Track #3 is tinged with the blues and Patitucci plays a significant role in setting the groove with his bass and implanting the mood. This song is titled “River Man” and richly infused with violins, viola and cello beauty.  It was written by Nick Drake and is the only cover-song on this album. 

As the CD progresses, I recognize that this production is like no other I’ve heard from Dave Stryker.  This is a surprise package of various moods and grooves, including a very Brazilian ballad arrangement on Stryker’s “Saudade” composition.  “One Thing at A Time” is my kind of straight-ahead jazz, pumped up by Patitucci and showing-off Stryker’s guitar tenacity during his double time solo.  For the most part, this is a very mellow Dave Stryker album of music.  It celebrates a side of Stryker I haven’t heard before.  I expected more funk and straight-ahead jazz.  This music showcases his composer skills and spotlights the diversity of his talents as a musician, bandleader and producer with a much more laid-back content.

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Fella Cederbaum, keyboards/spoken word/producer/poet/composer.

Fella Cederbaum has built an enthusiastic global following, as a poet who appears regularly on New York based WABC radio. With this release, she recites a dozen original poems while playing her original song themes on keyboards in the background.  She has authored three books: “Of Life and Other Such Matters” (Volume one and two) published in 2018 and 2019.  The third book, “That’s Why” is scheduled for a 2022 publication.  Her music is more classical than jazz and has found its way into numerous international film scores.  A multi-talented artist, Ms. Cederbaum is the writer and director of twenty-one short films featuring her alter-egos.  These short films have garnered several awards and been a part of several film festivals.  She took home top honors in her category during the 2021 New York City Independent Film Festival.  Born in post-World War II Germany, she relocated to England and later to Israel, where she earned a degree in psychology.  She also became Deputy Director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra.  After moving to Boston (where she’s now based) Fella Cederbaum earned her graduate degree and is a successful psychotherapist.  If that isn’t enough credits, she also paints and her art has been shown in exhibitions at Boston’s Holocaust Memorial event and at exhibitions in Germany’s Munchner Stadtmuseum.  She designed and created the artwork for her current album cover.  Who said we had to be one dimensional?  Her current project, the album “Truth and Destiny,” is the accumulation of her life experiences and she summarized it simply:

“All questions lead to love, heart, our own compass,” the poet advises.

“From the bottom of my heart, I bow in gratitude to Song Ahm for everything seen and unseen and to my teachers and un-teachers, who pointed the way,” she summarizes.

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November 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

November 1, 2021

Today, there are so many styles, musicians, vocalists and innovators who represent the jazz idiom.  Like the title of Mark Lewandowski’s latest release, all fall under the expansive blue sky that covers our planet Earth.  Here are some reviews that articulate the beauty and diversity of the jazz world “Under One Sky.”


Mark Lewandowski, double bass/composer; Addison Frei, piano; Kush Abadey, drums.

On a tune called “Licks,” that is the second track of this bass player’s sophomore album, Mark Lewandowski takes an in-depth solo.  It introduces us to his instrumental skills on his upright bass. Clearly, we are all functioning “Under One Sky,” no matter where we are located. We are living, breathing, loving beneath the immensity of the universe and with earth’s sky hovering above us like a gigantic blue umbrella.  In Mark Lewandowski’s case, the sky covering he references covers London and New York City; two amazing communities of art, energy and music where he spent the most musical time.  The last time Lewandowski performed in the UK was as part of the Wynton Marsalis’ Quartet.  This album, “Under One Sky,” is Mark’s exploration into the places he’s lived (UK and the US) and the intricacies of himself that he uncovered along the way.  “Provavus” is Track #3 on his album and was recently released as a single.  Introduced by the tasty drum licks of Kush Abadey, Lewandowski’s bass line runs through the piece like a moving motor boat.  He is also the anchor for this piece.  Addison Frei is phenomenal on piano and dynamically infused by Lewandowski’s walking, double-time bass energy.  I asked Mark what the word “Provavus” meant.

“Provavus is a made-up word. I saw it as the name of a fossil of a snake (the composition is meant to be snake-like, cyclical and fluid.  The sound of the word just reminded me of the music. Nothing more than that really, it’s an aesthetic,” Mark told me during a text chat.

Track #4 is a tribute to pianist, Paul Bley.  This tune titled, “For Paul Bley” is steeped in the blues.  Pianist, Addison Frei, has his left hand moving with some historic boogie woogie licks as his right hand improvises and dances through the blues changes.  Addison’s two busy hands create a path of excitement.  Mark’s composition, “The Same Moon,” becomes a platform to let Mark Lewandowski sing his story on the double bass.   He takes another elongated solo on his tune “Very Well” that uses the opening ten melodic notes of the Hoagy Carmichael tune, “I Get Along Without You, very well.”  Still, the tune veers off and takes its own rich ride up some fresh composer path with vast and creative improvisations.  This trio music is enhanced by the busy drums of Kush Abadey throughout their exploration of original music. Abadey adds a splash of funk groove on the song, “Islands.” Lewandowski has composed all of the eleven songs and I found his music to be relaxing and beautifully played by this capable trio.

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Christian McBride, bass/composer; Peter Martin, piano; Carl Allen, drums; Warren Wolf, vibraphone/ composer; Steve Wilson, alto & soprano saxophones/composer.    

This November, of 2021, marks the 64th anniversary of the release of a ‘live’ recording at the Village Vanguard in New York City.  The first recording was made by the great Sonny Rollins.  So, it’s a high point in the career of Christian McBride to join the list of famous jazz cats who have recorded ‘live’ at this renowned jazz venue.  McBride has been dabbling in various musical settings and exploring a variety of genres.  For a while, he took a break from traditional and straight-ahead jazz working with a variety of artists including a duet with celebrated classical bassist, Edgar Meyer and working with Avant-garde composer and violinist, Laurie Anderson.  He’s performed with Sting and Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots congregation. 

“When I would talk to a critic about James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Sun Ra, George Clinton or Chaka Khan, critics would always seem surprised.  Christian McBride, young jazz bassist likes funk? … He’s playing electric bass?  … In 1998, I decided that I wanted to get back to my real roots.  In January of that year, I recorded my third album for Verve, ‘A Family Affair’ under the guidance of George Duke.  In 2000, I reunited with my high school brother, (?uestlove) and the great pianist Uri Caine. We recorded ‘The Philadelphia Experiment.’  That same year, I started a new band. …My intention was to have a hybrid band.  It would be a funk, jazz, EDM, avant-garde, electric/acoustic band.  We recorded two albums; ‘Vertical Vision’ for Warner Bros and ‘Live at Tonic’ for Rope a Dope. … I joined Pat Metheny’s trio for a magical seven-year run,” McBride reviewed his time away from traditional jazz.

Somehow, in the middle of all that commercial success, contemporary touring and recording, Christian McBride realized he missed his original jazz roots.  Personally, I’m glad he’s back!

McBride’s ‘Inside Straight’ band opens with a Warren Wolf composition, “Sweet Bread.”  It’s a straight-ahead, post-bop arrangement with a challenging melody that allows plenty of space for the band members to solo and creatively contribute.  Wolf is a young, prodigy, vibraphone player on this album and a new addition to the former bandmates that McBride contracted for this recording.  The others were members of Freddie Hubbard’s group, namely, Carl Allen on drums, Steve Wilson on sax and Eric Reed on piano.  Eric Reed is replaced by Peter Martin for this recording.  Steve Wilson soars into space during his solo saxophone performance on “Sweet Bread” and Peter Martin elevates the energy when he steps forward on piano. Carl Allen is given several bars to insert his trap drum skills, right before the song fades out, enjoying much appreciative applause.  McBride has contributed four songs to the seven offered here.  Track #2 is one of them titled, “Fair Hope Theme.”  At last, we hear the full tone and improvisational talents of McBride on his bass instrument during a happy-go-lucky solo.  Saxophone player, Steve Wilson follows up with his composition, “Ms. Angelou,” that tributes the multi-talented, American treasure of multi-talented Maya Angelou.  It’s a sweet ballad.  I also enjoyed “The Shade of the Cedar Tree” by McBride and their straight-ahead arrangement.  Other favorites were Warren Wolf’s blues-soaked, “Gang Gang” with Asian overtones and McBride’s “Stick & Move” is a great way to close out this album with energy and bebop excitement.  I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation that McBride’s bass had with Carl Allen’s trap drums.  Very creative indeed!

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Skyler Floe, trumpet/composer; Sean Imboden, tenor saxophone; Greg Ward, alto saxophone; Steve Allee, piano; Nick Tucker, bass; Chris Parker, drums; Samantha Louise, vocals.

This is Skyler Floe’s debut album and it showcases his prowess as a trumpeter and a composer.

The “live” performance video above represents Skyler’s original composition during a recital he presented. I have included this video because he clearly illustrates what we were going through as a people living during a pandemic from 2019 to the present. 

On his album, Skyler’s septet opens with strong horn harmonies that build a platform for Skyler to stand upon.  His trumpet tone is fluid and opens the tune titled, “Terrace” with a string of arpeggio phrases and intense energy. He could have been a bird winging its way past the “Terrace” he references.  Track #2 is called, “Opinionated (Is Putting It Lightly).”  This tune gives the three horns plenty of room to solo, but first they establish an interesting melodic line, introduced by Steve Allee on piano. The bursts of staccato and the brief interludes of space between the melodic horn lines is attention-grabbing.  However, once the horns begin to offer us their unique solos, the repetitive background of piano chords takes away from the arrangement.  Still, Chris Parker’s drums push this piece ahead, like a feather in the wind.  The title tune, “Abstraction” is vocalized by Samantha Louise whose style seems to be tonal slides, with less interest in enunciation of the lyric.  Nick Tucker steps into the spotlight to offer his bass solo perspective followed by Samantha singing along with the horns in a sweet way.  Skyler Floe steps forward afterwards to proffer his own abstract, trumpet view of the situation.  I found the original composition “A Short Climb in Bare Feet” (actually the first of a suite in three parts) to be pensive and quite beautiful. It’s a quartet arrangement, with just the trumpet singing with bass, piano and drums. The second part of this abstract suite of music is titled “Reason’s Last Pitch” and gives Steve Allee an opportunity to solo on piano and introduce the tune and his piano skills.  Using one repetitive note, ding-ding-ding-ding, he brings in the other musicians.  Skyler takes advantage of the space and musical sensibilities by improvising on his horn. I found this suite of music both creative and compelling.  It most exemplified the title of “Abstraction” and explored the conversations between the horn players in the final suite titled, “The Plunge.”  I had been awaiting one composition that presented a groove base.  “Odd Chicago” did just that at first.  Finally, a solid groove for the horns to march upon and the feet to tap, but it did not linger.  Soon the piano solo explored the 88-keys and this tune morphed into a moderate tempo arrangement that pulled open the curtains for the saxophone to dance.  It was an entertaining composition, taking many twists and turns in their exploration of the melody.  “For Real” came screeching out, on the heels of the former tune, slapping us in the face with straight-ahead excitement and an up-tempo presentation.  I welcomed it with open arms.  Chris Parker is dynamic on trap drums. 

Skyler Floe and his ensemble displays the best of themselves on several levels.  During this production, they explore several styles of jazz and various arrangements that interpret Skyler’s composer talents.  They close with Skyler’s trumpet duetting with Parker’s drums.  Next, the piano and the drums duet.  It’s an effective opening for “The Top Floor” tune that features the percussive brilliance of Chris Parker.  We, the listeners, board the elevator and ride along to the penthouse, enjoying Skyler Floe’s creative music.  “Abstraction” is a strong debut album for this budding trumpeter.

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Angel Roman, bass guitar/arranger/composer/producer; Joel Guzman, piano/synthesizer; Damian A. Garcia, piano/Fender Rhodes; Nicholas Litterski, piano; Jose Aponte & Brannen Temple, drums; Andy Smith, drums/percussion; Samuel Lopez & Carmelo Torres, percussion; John Mills, flute; Pete Rodriguez, trumpet; Justin Vasquez, alto saxophone; Russell Haight, tenor Saxophone; Andre Hayward, trombone.

The multi-talented Angel Roman is a composer, producer, arranger and bass player.  “Festive Interplay” is the fourth album released by Roman and his band, Mambo Blue.  Although the members of Mambo Blue have changed over time, the Latin excitement and warm mixture of jazz, fusion, Brazilian, Puerto Rican and pop music remains the core of this ensemble.  Beginning with “Why Not” that features Andre Hayward’s trombone creativity and Russell Haight’s smooth tenor saxophone, you get a taste of the excitement to come. The hand-slapping percussion licks and bold trap drums push the music forward with power and punch.  I began dancing in my desk chair as I typed this review.  There were various moods that moved this musical arrangement in a variety of directions, sometime double timing; other times settling into a groove that supports the horn solos.  Damian A. Garcia plays Fender Rhodes electric piano on this tune and that brings another character to the piece.  Angel Roman enjoys experimenting with tempos and changing grooves to delve into his Puerto Rican heritage using the Bomba rhythm that is said to be rooted in the island’s African slave history.  “Collective Cha” bursts into my listening room next.  It’s a cha-cha tune and I enjoy the way Angel Roman arranges breaks in his music.  He applies pieces of silence that snatch the attention and act like curtains partings to let the rhythm make a surprise appearance.  “Collective Cha” has a captivating melody and features the flute of John Mills, who becomes the Pied Piper of Mambo Blue’s smooth horn section, subtle but bold in the background.  “Dreaming in Bomba” is another interesting and refreshing arrangement that honors Angel’s Puerto Rican roots.  I am pleasantly entertained by the way Angel Roman blends jazz and Latin music.  He is also a formidable composer. “Never Far” is a mambo ballad that brings a peaceful relief from the preceding energies of Mambo Blue. But in the twinkling of an eye, the band incorporates a fusion feel into the Latin Rhythms on “Not Sure, So Sure” with Damian Garcia shining on his piano solo.

Roman is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, although his parents hail from Puerto Rico.  He attended Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and continued his musical pursuits at Berklee College of Music. Angel Roman moved to Florida, where studio work was abundant and he stayed busy working with Grammy-winning and Emmy nominated music producer, Joel Someillan.  Angel also became a first call studio cat, especially for visiting artists from Puerto Rico or South America.  He has spent time living and working in Nashville. There, he was part of a house band for The Tin Roof club with Henry Murphy and the Seahawks.  Currently, this talented bassist is based in Austin, Texas with his primary energy focused on his Mambo Blue Band and his respectable composing skills.

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NICK FINZER – “OUT OF FOCUS” – Outside In Music

Nick Finzer, trombone; Xavier Davis, piano; Jay Anderson, bass; Quincy Davis, drums; Reginald Chapman & Jennifer Wharton, bass trombone.

Nick Finzer’s opening tune is full of counterpoint melodies, using both the bass trombone of Reginald Chapmen, along with Nick’s featured trombone.  The band interprets Kenny Garrett’s composition, “Sing A Song of Song.”  But it’s Track #2 that snatches my attention. “The Star Crossed Lovers,” a Duke Ellington composition, is opened by the very vocal-sounding trombone solo of Finzer.  They say that the trombone instrument is the closest horn sound to the human voice.  This is obviously true of Finzer’s tone and presentation on this Ellington song.  Once again, he makes a counterpoint statement, with horn lines complimenting the main melody in unusual and sometimes arpeggio ways. The band develops this arrangement with a dirge-like, New Orleans, blues-basted production.   Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” is given a fresh face with funk drums and a more ‘smooth jazz’ arrangement.  I appreciate that Finzer is never contemporary and always straight-ahead and traditional with his sound and focus.  The mix of traditional with a rhythm section that is more modern is very nice.  Pianist, Xavier Davis, is given a moment in the spotlight to happily skip across the funk rhythm on the 88-keys.  The drums of Quincy Davis are very slightly reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal’s unforgettable groove on his hit recording of Poinciana.  Jay Anderson is solid on bass and takes a very creative solo.  

“Rather Than sit at home and complain, I decided to see what projects I could dream up that might only take place when you can’t be in the same place as your usual collaborators,” Nick Finzer explained his creative process and the result of living in a quarantine situation.

Nick Finzer opens the song “Laura” with a very intriguing introduction playing solo trombone.  I am impressed with his trombone technique and the creative inuendoes that earmarks Finzer’s style on his instrument.  He entertains us for the complete four-minute cycle of this song and completely holds my attention.  Beautiful!  You will also enjoy Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” and his composition, “Single Petal of a Rose.”  Finzer also reminds us of the great J.J. Johnson’s historic contribution with his tune, “Judy” and delves into the more modern composer, Pat Metheny’s music to interpret “Bright Size Life.”  This album, “Out of Focus” puts Nick’s composer pen aside and instead, explores compositions by some of the musicians and composers who have inspired him through the years.  The result is an album rich in substance and clearly focusing on the artistry of Nick Finzer and his outstanding trombone beauty.

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MICHAEL FEINBERG – “HARD TIMES” – Fresh Sound New Talent

Michael Feinberg, bass/electric bass/composer; Jeff Tain Watts, drums; Orrin Evans, piano; Leo Genovese, keyboards/synthesizers/organ/piano; Gabriel Globus-Hoenich, percussion; Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; Billy Buss & Randy Brecker, trumpet; Noah Preminger, tenor saxophone.

The opening tune of this artistic work is smooth, melodic, but a little too repetitious for my taste.  It was composed by Michael Feinberg and is titled “Introduction.”  However, the second track on Feinberg’s album, composed by Miles Davis in 1958, that one gets my attention!  On “Nardis” the harmonics are creative and clever with Feinberg establishing the groove on his bass.  The minor mode arrangement sets the stage for trumpeter Billy Buss to step forward and solo.  Feinberg races his bass line beneath, playing double time during the solo and planting a rich, bright ribbon of sound for Buss to dance upon.  The trap drums of Jeff Tain Watts are beacons of flash that beam and push the groove forward into the spotlight.

“Growing up in Atlanta, the jazz musicians were also the backing bands of many Hip Hop and R&B stars.  So, the music of the city has a different kind of groove to it.  I tried to bring those memories of playing with Gunn (my first bandleader, Russell Gunn) … to this track,” Feinberg explained his inspired arrangement.

Feinberg’s tune, “The Husafell Stone” becomes one of my favorites on this production. It’s Track #3 and the conversation between pianist Orrin Evans and Feinberg on bass open this tune up with straight-ahead energy and traditional jazz excitement.  The Billy Buss trumpet solo is once again spectacular and Jeff Tain Watts rolls across the trap drums like a locomotive engine at full speed.  Another favorite is the Latin flavored “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit” that offers mellow horn lines and energetic, thick percussion implementation by Gabriel Globus-Hoenich.  This is a McCoy Tyner tune, as is Track #5, “Three Flowers.”  Michael Feinberg mixes up his repertoire in an excellent and entertaining way.  He leaves lots of room for his adventurous musicians to show their skills, while he and Jeff Tain Watts are the nut and bolt of this rhythm section.   On “Three Flowers,” during this waltz Feinberg steps into the spotlight on his bass and is quite impressive, playing beneath the dynamic piano solo by Leo Genovese.  Feinberg’s artistry shines creatively and melodically, while still keeping the rhythm intact.  The Genovese piano solo is spellbinding.

The title, “Hard Times” refers to the pandemic and the challenge to Feinberg and so many musicians forced into seclusion and without work.  According to the Feinberg press release, “Hard Times” offers room to wail, room to contemplate and, at its core, room to stretch.  You will be incredibly entertained by this amazing band of jazz musicians sporting their independent skills on each instrument, along with bandleader and bassist Michael Feinberg splendidly leading the brigade.

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Sylvie Courvoisier, piano/composer; Mary Halvorson, guitar/composer.

Guitarist, Mary Halvorson, has composed tracks 1, 3, 6, 9 and 11.  Pianist, Sylvie Courvoisier, is the composer of tracks 2, 5, 7 and 10.  Together, they co-wrote tracks 4, 8 and 12.  Combined, this duo presents an hour’s worth of kaleidoscope, Avant-garde music. The music tracks flow into each other, sweet honey from the hive, dripping notes and melodies sticky across our ears. On track one, written by Halvorson, Sylvie’s fingers arpeggio across the piano keys, like hungry bees flying home.  The music swarms and grows; circles and buzzes.  Halvorson sprinkles guitar licks throughout that both compliment and challenge Sylvie.  So, develops Mary Halvorson’s opening song, “Golden Proportion.”

“I think this album is much more developed.  When I wrote pieces for Mary, I really thought about all the possibilities of the guitar.  Her music has pretty tonalities, great melodies and a very clear sense of harmony and melody, so I love to darken it,” pianist Sylvie Courvoisier explained her premise for this album.

“We both have an affinity towards darkening things,” Halvorson agrees, “which is great, because you can start with a joyous melody and there’s all kinds of room to mess with it,” the guitarist concludes.

You hear both the joy and the darkness on Track #2, composed by Courvoisier and titled, “Lulu’s Second Theorem.”  It’s a tribute to her cat.  Another tune mirrors a chaotic impression of congress, titled “Faceless Smears.”  Courvoisier says it was written on the most dramatic day of those Congressional hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brent Kavanaugh, before he was confirmed and when he was accused of sexual misbehavior.  “Moonbow” is a beautiful composition and the keyboard sounds like ice chips falling on hard surfaces.  Both women bring their own unique voices to the studio, blending like warm bread and melted butter.  They each explore the texture of the other and merge into every wrinkle and crevice of these musical arrangements, uninhibited and exploratory.  This is modern, contemporary improvisation by piano and guitar.  Together they create an unforgettable and unpredictable blend of duo talent.  If you think guitar and piano don’t work well together, you may find yourself amazed by the way Halvorson and Courvoisier complement each other.

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Brian Lynch, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Jim Snidero, alto saxophone; Orrin Evans, piano; Boris Kozlov, bass; Donald Edwards, drums.

This is an exciting, double CD set that features the original compositions of trumpeter and composer, Brian Lynch.  The first CD is called “The Express Route” and the second CD is titled, “The Alternate Route.” Both productions together total seventeen tunes that are smoking hot with fiery arrangements and excellent musicianship.  For some unknown reason I played CD2: “the Alternate Route” first.  It opens with “On the Dot” (take one) and flies onto the scene with humming bird wings.  This up-tempo arrangement gives drummer Donald Edwards an opportunity to mark his place in the band with powerful trap drums that not only solidify the rhythm section, but also solo with their own strength and singular talent.   What I noted about these two CDs is that these musicians pressed up both ‘takes’ of the tunes they recorded.  I’ve not seen that done before.  When you go into the studio, you often record the same song more than once, seeking the perfect performance.  In this case, Brian Lynch decided to keep both take one and take two.  So, I played “On the Dot” from CD 1 and compared it to CD 2.  They were both exciting arrangements and quite similar.  However, on CD 1 the fluidity of improvisation by both Jim Snidero on alto saxophone and Brian Lynch on trumpet seemed a hair more creative than on their take 2 version. Notice, I said ‘a hair’.  Also, Orrin Evans on piano did some creative comping the second time around, adding short phrases to compliment what the horns were singing and also during the trading of fours.  Of course, this ‘trading fours’ is a time to showcase the drummer.  But his merry men did not disappoint as the other band members displayed their individual talents in brief but very creative solo spots.  The group ends this song with a bright, staccato exclamation point at the end of their final musical phrase.  “On the Dot” was right on point.  Both versions were stellar.  In fact, both CD 1 and CD 2 present the listener with just plain high energy excitement.  These are excellent recordings of Brian’s original compositions.  They all sound as if they could be standard jazz tunes.  I see why the trumpeter kept both takes.  Lynch describes the incentive to begin recording his songbooks in his press package.

“I’m quite attached to all the tunes that I’ve written over the years and have often felt that they would benefit from a little attention in the form of new versions that would introduce them to contemporary listeners, who may not be familiar with my earlier work.  Also, I seem to have become quite stubborn in recent years about invoking artistic self-determination for myself at every opportunity. … Accordingly, I have embarked on a quest to re-record them for my own label, “Holistic MusicWorks.”   … I will be releasing a series of songbook albums,” Brian explains in his press package.

As a Grammy-nominated trumpeter and prolific composer, I expect Bryan Lynch’s music to be well-received, celebrated and enjoyed by any lover of jazz.  Both his talent and compositions are memorable.

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October 11, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

October 11, 2021


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, 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, 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, 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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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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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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October 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

October 1, 2021


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

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, 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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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, 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, 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, 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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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, 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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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, 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, 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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