Posts Tagged ‘jazz cd reviews’

TAKE A SUMMER RIDE WITH THESE NEWLY RELEASED CDs

June 4, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

June 4, 2021

BRIAN BROMBERG – “A LITTLE DRIVING MUSIC” – Mack Ave Records

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

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

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MARQUES CARROLL – “THE ANCESTORS’ CALL”- Jmarq Records

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

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

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

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

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ANDRE FERRERI QUINTETTO – “NUMERO UNO” – Laser Records

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

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

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TIM MAYER – “KEEPER OF THE FLAME” – D-Clef Records

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

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

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

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

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ALEX CONDE – “DESCARGA FOR BUD” – Sedajazz

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

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

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

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KENDALL CARTER – “INTRODUCING KENDALL CARTER” – Lladnek Music

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

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

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

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WADADA LEO SMITH WITH MILFORD GRAVES AND BILL LASWELL – “SACRED CEREMONIES” – Tum Records

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

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

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

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

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

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LORRAINA MARRO – “LOVE IS FOR ALL TIME” – Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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BRUCE HARRIS – “SOUNDVIEW” – Cellar Music Group

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

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

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

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

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

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[1] http://www.bennington.edu

JAZZ CHARACTERS RECORD MUSIC HISTORY

May 26, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

May 26, 2021

NOAH HAIDU, BUSTER WILLIAMS, BILLY HART – “SLOWLY: SONG FOR KEITH JARRETT” – Sunnyside Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DARA TUCKER – “DREAMS OF WAKING: MUSIC FOR A BETTER WORLD” – Green Hill Productions

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

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

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NICK FINZER – “CAST OF CHARACTERS LIVE FROM DENTON” – Outside In Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SCATMAN CROTHERS – “GROOVIN’ WITH SCATMAN” –  Panda Digital

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EVAN ARNTZEN – “COUNTERMELODY” – Dot Time Records

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

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

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

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JALEN BAKER – “THIS IS ME, THIS IS US” – Outside In Music

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

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

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

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

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

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MASABUMI KIKUCHI – “HANAMICHI, THE FINAL STUDIO RECORDING” – Redhook Records

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

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

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

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VARIOUS PERSPECTIVES ON JAZZ

May 14, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

MAY 14, 2021

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

ADAM MOEZINIA – “FOLK ELEMENT TRIO” – Outside In Music

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

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

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

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

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OJOYO – “OJOYO PLAYS SAFROJAZZ” – Sunnyside Records

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

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

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

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

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

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AMBER WEEKES – “ROUND MIDNIGHT RE-IMAGINED” – Amber Inn productions

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

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

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

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HENRY “SKIPPER” FRANKLIN – “SHOWERS OF BLESSINGS” – Skipper Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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KEITH OXMAN & FRANK MORELLI – “THE OX-MO INCIDENT” – Capri Records Ltd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That says it all!

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KEITH BROWN TRIO – “AFRICAN RIPPLES” – Space Time Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE PANDEMIC INSPIRES MUSIC & TOGETHERNESS

May 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

MAY 1, 2021

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

ARTURO O’FARRILL THE AFRO LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA – “VIRTUAL BIRDLAND” –  Zoho Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE REBECCA KILGORE TRIO – VOL 1. – Heavywood Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE SPIKE WILNER TRIO – “ALIENS & WIZARDS”- Cellar Music Group

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

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

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

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PAUL BEDAL – “CERULEAN STARS” – Bace Records

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

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

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

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MADRE VACA – “THE ELEMENTS” – Madra Vaca Records

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

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

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

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SATOKO FUJII TOKYO TRIO – “MOON ON THE LAKE” – Libra Records

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

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

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

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

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VINCENT HERRING – “PREACHING TO THE CHOIR” – Smoke Sessions Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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VARIOUS SOUL CONVERSATIONS

April 21, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

April 21, 2021

LAUFEY – “TYPICAL OF ME” –  Independent label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JOHN DAVERSA JAZZ ORCHESTRA featuring JUSTIN MORELL – “ALL WITHOUT WORDS: VARIATIONS INSPIRED BY LOREN – Tiger Turn Records

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I agree!

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ULYSSES OWENS JR. BIG BAND – “SOUL CONVERSATIONS” – Outside In Music

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

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

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

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

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

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BERTA MORENO AFRO-JAZZ SOUL PROJECT – “TUMAINI” – Tiger Turn Records

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

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

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

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

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

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JACQUI NAYLOR – “THE LONG GAME” – Ruby Star Records

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

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

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

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STEVE TINTWEISS AND THE PURPLE WHY – “MARKSTOWN” – Inky Dot Media

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

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

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TED NASH with GLENN CLOSE, WAYNE BRADY, WYNTON MARSALIS & MEMBERS OF THE JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER ORCHESTRA “TRANSFORMATION” –  Tiger Turn Productions

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

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

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

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

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

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SPRING JAZZ MOVES LIFE FORWARD

March 15, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

March 15, 2021

CHAD McCULLOUGH – “FORWARD” – Outside In Music

Chad McCullough, trumpet/flugelhorn/composer; Rob Clearfield, piano; Matt Ulery, bass; Jon Deitemyer, drums; Ryan Cohan, keyboards/programming.

Chad McCullough’s trumpet is soothing, like a spiritual balm.  From the first mellow notes blowing from his horn on McCullough’s original composition, “November Lake,” I am intoxicated by his sound.  This is the Chicago-based musician’s 8th album as a bandleader.  His original compositions are rich and warm.  They wrap musical arms around the listener and offer a big hug.  With the capable assistance of Ryan Cohan, who adds brilliant keyboards and the lush programming to thicken this project, these arrangements are rich. McCullough’s ensemble is made up of three, trailblazing, mid-western music voices.  Rob Clearfield excels on piano.  Matt Ulery is splendid on bass and Jon Deitemyer rounds out the rhythm section on drums.  This is Chad McCullough’s first release in a dozen years, under his own name, and it is certainly a triumphant re-appearance.  In the years between, McCullough recorded with several other artists.  He’s been co-leader on two albums with The Spin Quartet and participated in a series of five album releases with Belgian pianist Bram Weijters.  McCullough has appeared on jazz festivals from Seattle to Russia, from Canada to Belgium, from New York to Chicago.    Chad holds a M.M. from the University of Washington, and a B.M. from the University of Idaho, where he was a Lionel Hampton Scholar.  This talented trumpeter was also the premiere student to graduate with a jazz emphasis on his degree.  Excuse me, while I happily replay this album for the third time.

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VERONICA SWIFT – “THIS BITTER EARTH” – Mack Ave Records

Veronica Swift, vocals; Emmet Cohen, piano; Yasushi Nakamura, acoustic bass; Bryan Carter, drums; Armand Hirsch, elec. guitar; Lavinia Pavlish & Meltar Forkosh, violins; Andrew Griffin, viola; Susan D. Mandel, cello; Aaron Johnson, alto saxophone/flute/bass flute; Will Wakefield & Ryan Paternite, background vocals; Stone Robinson Elementary School Choir & Walton Middle School Girls Choir, background vocals.

Veronica Swift paints “This Bitter Earth” with a brand, new face.  I learned to love this song by listening to the queen of jazz, Dinah Washington, sing it.  Ms. Swift approaches this song from a completely different perspective.  She adds strings, but it’s the opening of this once bluesy song that establishes the
Steven Feifke unique arrangement.  The shocking treble piano line and the classically influenced string arrangement that builds the track, produces a cushion for Veronica Swift’s voice to float upon. The time is freer and the blues is set aside for a more chamber-jazz moment. 

Ms. Swift sings a Baker’s dozen of songs, mixing standard jazz songs with some compositions rarely heard, like the Rodgers & Hammerstein tune, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”  Every now and then Ms. Swift throws in a scat line, or twists a lyric to remind us how much she admires Ella Fitzgerald.  She is a very unique artist with a strong vocal style and ability.  She adds the verse to the familiar “Getting To Know You” and glides across the lyrics like Olympic Gold winner, Michelle Kwan spins across ice.  Yasushi Nakamura duets with Veronica Swift on his double bass and when she swings this song, she really swings!  Emmet Cohen’s piano style suits this vocalist perfectly.  When Cohen does solo, he paints each opportunity with bright colors.  Swift’s unique and creative approach to her songs is perfectly exhibited on “The Man I Love,” where she lets her voice dip and dive over the lyrics, showing off her wide range and her need to fly free. Speaking of flying, the trio takes an up-tempo flight on “You’re the Dangerous Type” and Veronica Swift scats like a horn.  Aaron Johnson brings his alto saxophone to the spotlight and continues the mood Swift set with her spontaneous vocal solo.  The one song I wish she had left in the discarded pile was a Carole King composition with lyrics by Gerry Goffin that approves of a woman being brutalized and hit.  The title is “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).  No woman should endure such behavior or feel that it’s a mark of love to be beaten or abused.  There’s too much of that going on in society.  That being said, there is something for everyone on this album of fine music.  Veronica Swift is a new voice on the jazz horizon, rising like a bright promise above the mediocrity.

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GREGG KARUKAS – “SERENATA” – NightOwl Records

Gregg Karukas, pianist/composer.

If you are a lover of piano, this solo album by Gregg Karukas will absolutely intoxicate your senses.  It’s a true work of art.  This Grammy-winning composer, pianist and producer has a dozen CD’s released as a bandleader. This production is number thirteen and the first time he has ever recorded solo.  It’s an amazing, emotional and entertaining musical journey.  Gregg Karukas’ mastery of his instrument is evident.  He has picked some familiar and beautiful Brazilian music by iconic Brazilian composers including Milton Nascimento and Dori Caymmi.  He opens with Nascimento’s “Travessia.”  Starting with the treble keys singing out the melody, he captures the listener’s attention.  His lush chords follow and continue to unwrap the melodic message, like a present for our ears. 

Karukas recalls his years touring with Sergio Mendes, with Dori Caymmi and Ricardo Silveira.  It was the 1990s and these years became some of his favorite musical experiences.  During the COVID isolation, looking through a dusty box of old tapes, he rediscovered recordings made during some of those Brazilian music tours.  They inspired Karukas to sit down at his C7 Yamaha grand piano and re-explore some of the beautiful compositions he once enjoyed playing. Track 3 is the title tune, “Serenata” and a Gregg Karukas original.  It’s a very peaceful and spiritual composition that made me sit quietly and listen intently.

Originally from the Washing, D.C. and the Maryland area, young Gregg spent hours in the 1960’s enthralled by the jukebox music of his father’s roadside tavern.  His love of music and the piano blossomed early.  Soon he was playing in small bands and listening to Cannonball Adderley and the Jazz Crusaders.  That first band became a top crossover group, playing jazz, pop and top-forty music.  A local jazz club chef turned Gregg on to Brazilian LPs and thus began his long-term love affair with Latin music.  At age 26, Karukas relocated to Los Angeles, and landed gigs with prominent names like Richard Elliot, Brenda Russell, Patti Austin, Shelby Flint, Ronnie Laws and Melissa Manchester. His piano skills were enriched by his appreciation of the keyboard.  He soon was touring with Boney James, Dave Koz, Larry Carlton, Rick Braun and even pop singer, Jeffrey Osborne.  He embraced smooth jazz with the same energy and love that he played Brazilian music.  Gregg is so diversified, and plays so many genres of music, that he’s a session player who has appeared on over 100 albums.  Gregg Karukas won “Best New Age Grammy” in 2013 as producer, pianist, composer and arranger.  His gift and solo talent on the 88-keys is certain to please and “Serenata” is bound to become another innovative accomplishment that demands attention and inspires praise.

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DENISE MININFIELD – “MY TURN” – Independent label

Denise Mininfield, vocals/lyricist; Christy Smith, William Gathright & Brian Batie, bass; Troy Lipkin, bass; Jeff Chin and Chris Roberson, keyboards; Stephan Perry, guitar; Billy “Shoe” Johnson & Gabriel “G-Man” Pitts, drums; Henry James, percussion; Marcus Printup, trumpet.

Soul Jazz is the only description that comes to mind when I hear Denise Mininfield sing “Just Say It,” a cut from her latest album entitled, “My Turn.”  In the musical lane of Jill Scott or Erika Badu, Mininfield brings her breathy, husky tone to the party with heavy jazz influence. 

This music could be programmed on Smooth Jazz, R&B and Pop stations, as well as for progressive jazz airplay.  Mininfield blends genres smoothly.  On “Just For Tonight” there is an outstanding solo on synthesizer.  “Call Me” is an absolute hit record, but I wish it could have been titled, “I Can Call on You.”  I say that only because of the hit record Aretha Franklin made with the same title of “Call Me.”  That being said, other hit picks on this album are: “Say You Will,” “Just Say It” and “The Game.”  Mininfield has provided well-written lyrics for three of the songs on her album of ten original compositions.  Much of the lyrical content is politically charged with songs of life, living, love and protest. The ‘hooks’ are strong and encourage the listener to sing-along, both melodically and lyrically.  American singer, Denise Mininfield has been making a life and living in the far East for the past several years.  I first met her in Singapore and Thailand, during my world travels.  We also ran into each other in Shanghai, China.  Currently based in Malaysia, she’s a strong on-stage performer and I’m happy to see that she has finally released an album. It’s good listening!  Check her out on youtube.com.

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DANIELE GERMANI – “A CONGREGATION OF FOLKS” – Gleam Records

Daniele Germani, alto saxophone/composer; Justin Salisbury, piano; Giuseppe Cucchiara, bass; Jongkuk Kim, drums.

Daniele Germani has a tentative sound on his alto saxophone, as though he is contemplating each note before he blows it from the bell of his horn.  This is his debut album and it features a tight and in-sinc trio that supports a Baker’s dozen of Germani’s original songs.  Italian-born and a graduate of the Conservatory of Frosinone, Daniele Germani moved to Boston in 2013 to study at Berklee College of Music.  This album tributes “A Congregation of Folks” that he met on American soil; folks from all over the world, who gathered at the famed Wally’s Jazz Café in Boston.  Among his acquaintances, are those musicians on this recording.  The title tune is melancholy and beautiful.  It’s evident, Germani is a sensitive composer and player.  The first four compositions on this recording are moderate or ballad tempo.  I keep waiting for him to stretch out, spread wings and fly.  There is a tad of energy on track 5, but the piano work of Justin Salisbury is so classically rich, it usurps any possibility of swing or straight-ahead. Jonqkuk Kim takes an opportunity, at the fade of this song titled, “Half Believe,” to profile his impressive drum chops.  Track 8, “Eres Luz,” gives bassist Giuseppe Cucchiara an opportunity to step forward.  His double bass solo is lovely.  All in all, this is a low-key production that doesn’t really showcase the versatility of the composer.  The arrangements keep everything about the same tempo and the all-important “swing” and diversity in jazz is missing.  However, if you are just looking for background music during a quiet evening with a good book, this is the perfect pleasure.

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IAN CHARLETON BIG BAND – “A FRESH PERSPECTIVE” – Independent Label

Ian Charleton, leader/arranger/composer; Bart Kuebler, piano; Wes Wagner, guitar; Ryan Persaud, bass; Bob Habib, drums; SAXOPHONES: Richard Garcia, alto/soprano saxophones; Jason Hammers, alto sax; Michael Ferrante  & Keith Philbrick, tenor sax; David Fatek, baritone sax. TRUMPET/FLUGELHORNS; Mark Oates,lead; Pete Sutorius, Mark Nixon & Kerry Moffit. TROMBONES: John Lloyd, lead; Lisa Drefke, Carl Lundgren & Dandrick Glenn, bass trombone. Emily Charleton, vocals.

Track one opens with a Count Basie-esk arrangement, with the piano and bass out front before the entire big band joins them.  They play an Ian Charleton original composition titled, “West 67th Street” that features Bart Kuebler on piano and John Lloyd on trombone.  Ian Charleton leads an eighteen-piece big band and they feature his impressive composer talents.  Charleton is a Senior Chief Musician who was Head of Academics at the Naval School of Music and taught arranging.  He is a graduate of the University of North Texas.  Charleton grew up in Kentucky, moved to Illinois, then to Texas.  He began to play the saxophone in the fifth grade and was greatly influenced by Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley.  He began to compose his own tunes at age fifteen and has never looked back.  As a Navy man, he’s led navy bands on five continents and continues his legacy of composing and band-leading with this newly recorded music.  Favorite tunes are the title tune, “A Fresh Perspective.” It features Richard Garcia on soprano saxophone and gives Bob Habib a chance to showcase his drum skills on this happy waltz tune.  I enjoyed their lovely arrangement of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” featuring Kerry Moffit on flugelhorn. The closing tune, “Party on Park” swings hard and gives Wes Wagner a platform to showcase his guitar capabilities.  I love a good baritone saxophone solo and David Fatek does not disappoint. Ryan Persaud is given a place in the spotlight playing his double bass.  When I listen to Ian Charleton’s big band, I picture a dance hall full of swing dancers sliding across the polished wooden floor.  This is an album that recreates that joyful era of music.

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SATOKO FUJII PIANO SOLO – “HAZUKI” – Libra Records

Satoko Fujii, solo piano.

Track one opens with the sound of piano strings being played.  It’s a sound like no other; strange but beautiful.  The twang of the musicality reminds me of Asian instruments.  Satoko Fujii plays every part of the piano, not just the 88-keys.  Her music is improvisational, experimental and fresh.  Track two is more classically structured and full of surprises.  Satoko’s fingers race across the keyboard, creating great crescendos of sound.  She makes use of the bass keys and they sometimes sound like angry giant steps marching up the ivory and ebony staircase. Like many isolated musicians, through the pandemic, Ms. Fujii has remained committed to her art and creativity. 

“I have been playing my piano for more than 45-years,” she explains in her press package. “And we know each other well.  I never expected that I would record on it, but the COVID19 situation forced me into doing it.  On tour, I play a different piano at each concert.  Sometimes I meet annoying pianos.  Sometimes I meet really great pianos.  It’s a gamble.  But I have to tell you, it’s easy for me to play my piano, because I already know it very well.”

She recorded this album at home, in the month of August.  “Hazuki” (the title of the album) is an old Japanese word for August.  Her original compositions and her approach to her instrument are both powerful and dramatic.  Critics hail Satoko Fujii as one of the most original voices in jazz today. 

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GREG SKAFF – “POLARIS” featuring RON CARTER & ALBERT “TOOTIE” HEATH – SMK Jazz

Greg Skaff, guitar; Ron Carter, bass; Albert “Tootie” Heath, drums.

Opening this musical adventure with “Old Devil Moon,” Greg Skaff and his trio kick off at an up-tempo swing pace.  Albert “Tootie” Heath has always been a very melodic drummer.  He sings his licks with the drum sticks, voicing his pleasure and his power.  This is clearly heard on the opening tune.  The iconic Ron Carter takes a solid and exciting solo on double bass. 

“Polaris” is Greg Skaff’s first trio album.  He’s worked with the Stanley Turrentine group, backed up Bobby Watson, played with Ruth Brown and been a member of the orchestra pit during the “Wicked” Broadway production.  But never has he been a bandleader of his own trio.  What better combination than to use two legendary musicians as his camrades; Ron Carter and Al Tootie Heath.  You can’t get much more dynamic than that. 

Carter and Heath are no strangers to each other.  They’ve wrapped musical arms around Wes Montgomery’s guitar projects and they worked together recording and touring with jazz pianist, Bobby Timmons.  Carter holds the Guinness world record as the most recorded jazz bassist ever.  Heath and Carter became reunited on this project after not playing together in over three decades.  Each is an iconic elder of the jazz scene. 

Heath had never played with or heard Greg Skaff before this project. Their first session happened in August of 2019.  Time passed and then, in the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic, the second session was scheduled.  It was also around the same time Tootie Heath had just lost his older brother, jazz saxophonist, Percy Heath.  During this second time around, the trio laid down six more tunes to complete Skaff’s album.

Track 2 reinvents Duke Ellington’s “Angelica” into a New Orleans arrangement, with Tootie’s bright drums dancing calypso rhythms all over the piece.  “Little Waltz” is a Ron Carter original and he and Greg Skaff perform it as a duo.  It’s quite compelling, with a haunting melody and gives Skaff an opportunity to show off his guitar chops, both as an improvisor and a rhythm guitarist.  Later on, they play this composition again as a trio.  “Paris Eyes” is a composition of organist Larry Young.  He originally recorded this piece with Grant Green on guitar.  Greg Skaff talked about his appreciation for Green.

“He’s one of my favorites for tone.  It doesn’t seem to matter what guitar Grant Green plays, but especially when he plays a Gibson ES-330, which has what are called P-90 pickups; they’re single coil.  It’s a jazz tone, but it cuts in a certain way.” 

One of my favorites on this album is the trio’s shuffle rendition of “Yesterday,” where Skaff burrows into the rhythm of the tune with Heath, and offers the melody as a gift for Ron Carter to unwrap.  When Skaff does solo on the tune, he brings the blues along as a side-kick.  Another favorite is the title tune, “Polaris,” an original composition by Skaff.  Here is a guitar trio album you will treasure, and it’s also blessed with great historic value.

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

March 1, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

March 1, 2021

YULIA MUSAYELYAN TANGO PROJECT – “OBLIVION” – Zoho Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOAR – “QUESTIONS LEFT UNANSWERED” – Soaring Records

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

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

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ROSEANNA VITRO – “LISTEN HERE” – Independent Label

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taiko Saito, vibraphone; Satoko Fujii, piano.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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JIHYE LEE ORCHESTRA – “DARING MIND” – Motema Records

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

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

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

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

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

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JAZZ MUSIC FOR VALENTINE’S DAY & BEYOND

February 12, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil

February 12, 2021

AMBER WEEKES – “MY ROMANCE – A SPECIAL VALENTINE” Single – Independent Label – FEATURING MON DAVID

Eddy Olivieri & Tony Campodonico, piano; Mark Cargill, string conductor/guitar/producer; Jeff Littleton, bass; Nathaniel Scott, drums; Ramon Stagnaro, guitar; Paul Baker, harp; David Jackson & Munyungo Jackson, percussion.

Amber Weekes has released a ‘single’ just in time for Valentine’s Day.  She sings “My Romance” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel,” a lovely duet with vocalist Mon David.  The single is pulled from her anticipated CD release titled, “Round Midnight – Reimagined,” formerly released in 2002, but is currently being remastered and re-orchestrated.

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BILL CUNLIFFE, JOHN PATITUCCI & VINNIE COLAIUTA – “TRIO” – La Coq Records

Bill Cunliffe, piano; John Patitucci, bass; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums.

What do you get when you join together three jazz virtuoso players?  A delightfully entertaining album of excellence, of course!  This is one such album. 

Bill Cunliffe opens with a tune called, “Conception,” penned by the great George Shearing.  The trio tackles it at a swinging tempo and after several bars of piano, John Patitucci steps forward to take a stellar bass solo.  Afterwards, the trio swings a little more before Vinnie Colaiuta takes an opportunity to trade-fours and showcase his expert drum chops.  It’s a great way to begin to introduce the listening audience to each dynamic player. The familiar jazz standard, “Laura” follows.  Then comes Wayne Shorter’s composition, “Anna Maria” that allows John Patitucci to take an extended bass solo that just ‘wows’ this listener.  Bill Cunliffe is, as always, masterful on the piano and the music is propelled and generously colored by the drums of Colaiuta.

“Working with Bill Cunliffe, you can always expect, at the very least, amazing skill and professionalism, some deep swinging and a big bucket of fun!” Vinnie spoke about this project.

Patitucci recalls how this project popped up as a surprise to the three music masters. It was the La Coq label founder and producer, Piero Pata, who urged this trio to record at the famous Capitol studios, without charts or scripts.

“Piero (Pata) surprised us as we were working on some other projects with him.  He had the idea for us to do this trio record.  It was very impromptu, like in the Blue Note record era, where you basically do a record in a day.  We had a lot of fun and it was really relaxed,” John said.

Grammy Award-winning arranger and pianist, Bill Cunliffe, generally approaches a project with depth of arranging and preparation.  He began his career, years ago, as pianist and arranger for the Buddy Rich Big Band and has more than a dozen albums under his own name as bandleader.  Like his fellow trio members, he’s worked with a long list of luminaries and was quite excited to take this Trio ride with his longtime friends.

“I was like a kid in a candy store,” Cunliffe gushed.  “It was pretty challenging because it’s just three guys in a room.  But it was fun, because these are two master musicians whose work I’ve loved for years. I like jazz music that has shape.  …a beginning, middle and end and drama.  Usually, I craft those elements in my arrangements.  John and Vinnie are able to create those qualities on the spot.”

Patitucci, perhaps best recognized as the amazing bass sound working with Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter, is a celebrated as a member of Corea’s Akoustic and Elektric Bands and for the last two decades applauded as an integral member of Wayne Shorter’s Quartet. But he’s also played with Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, Joshua Redman, McCoy Tyner, Nancy Wilson, Sting and the list goes on and on and on.

Colaiuta is one of those drummers who can play it all, but has deep roots in jazz. You hear his mastery throughout this trio album, but he flies like a wild bird on “7 Steps to Heaven.”  He rose to fame playing with Frank Zappa, but he’s a musical chameleon who can easily switch styles and has backed-up Joni Mitchell, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor and even Billy Joel.  For a while, Colaiuta and Patitucci shared the stage as a version of Chick Corea’s Akoustic Band.  All three musicians have pleasantly crossed paths over the years, playing with each other in various situations, but never as a trio.  So, this assembly is fresh, new and absolutely stunning to the ear.  You will hear both brilliant and memorable conversation between these three masters, as they challenge each other and themselves, playing in the moment, without arrangements or music, yet finding that common thread that makes this project golden.  Together, they sparkle and shine.

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MARK WINKLER & DAVID BENOIT – “OLD FRIENDS” – Café Pacific Record

Mark Winkler, vocals; David Benoit, piano/organ; Gabe Davis, bass; Clayton Cameron, drums; Pat Kelley, guitar; Stefanie Fife, cello; Kevin Winard, percussion.

The things I admire most about Mark Winkler is his choice of repertoire and his song writing.  Opening with the Bob Dorough song, “I’ve Got Just About Everything,” we are off to a swinging start with a great lyric to enjoy and to ponder.  Winkler is a storyteller in his own right, like Dave Frishberg, so it’s not surprising that he chooses to sing Frishberg’s very wonderful tune, “Sweet Kentucky Ham.”   Winkler takes the liberty of adding fresh, new lyrics to “Better Than Anything” personalizing it and referencing his wonderful musicians; Gabe Davis on bass, brush master, Clayton Cameron on drums and Pat Kelley on guitar.  Singer and lyricist, Mark Winkler has been good friends with pianist/composer, David Benoit for thirty-seven years.  This is an album, featuring these two talented souls, that’s been a long time coming and it’s the result of the pandemic.  When Benoit’s tour in Japan was cancelled, alone at home, he invited his friend Winkler over for dinner.  Afterwards, like all musicians do, they gravitated to the grand piano and Benoit began accompanying Winkler on some familiar tunes. Halfway through “The Shadow of Your Smile” Benoit suggested they make an album together, in the midst of a pandemic. 

“We talked on the phone a lot, coming up with ideas for the album.  After a while, I did go over to his house to practice once a week.  It turns out, you can actually sing while wearing a mask.  It was easy to stay separated.  He sat playing at one end of his 9-foot grand and I stood singing at the other end,” Mark Winkler recalled the pandemic’s isolated days where he found solace in music.

Paul Simon’s song, “Old Friends” probably sums up the beauty and compatibility of these two seasoned veterans of music and it’s the album’s title tune.  Stefanie Fife’s cello work on this arrangement is lovely and heartfelt.  On “When This Love Affair is Over” David Benoit surprises out ears by doubling on the Hammond B3 organ.  I was eager to hear the compositions that Winkler and Benoit collaborated on.  The first is “In A Quiet Place,” (co-written with Shelly Nyman) with a warm, wonderful lyric about friendship and lovers finding the ultimate peace in a quiet place.  It’s dedicated to Benoit’s wife.  The cello of Fife opens the tune “Dragonfly,” along with the notable piano accompaniment of David Benoit and is another song penned by Winkler and Benoit.  It has a pop/country/western flavor with a poetic look at the freedom and beauty of a dragon fly and the insect’s relationship to someone searching for love.   The most poignant song they composed, along with songwriter, Heather Perram Frank, is “Thirty Years (Only Sunshine Days)” that seems to sum up the beauty of a close friendship in well-written lyrics and with a memorable melody. 

Perhaps David Benoit described this project best when he said:

“Working with Barbara Brighton (producer) and Mark was a highlight for me.  I think this is Mark’s best work.  He is restrained and heartfelt. …You can hear the communication with Mark and me, and it’s superb.  This is a result of a certain maturity that only comes with age and a willingness to put the time and effort into the project.  This could be a happy result of COVID-19, giving us all the time, we needed to make it right.”

So, light the fireplace, put on your listening ears, and soak up the great repertoire these two seasoned friends and musicians offer in their own inimitable ways.

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MIKE FREEDMAN – “INTO THE DAYBREAK” –  Independent Label

Mike Freedman, guitar/composer/arranger; Jeremy Ledbetter, piano; Max Senitt, drums/percussion; Kobi Hass, Bass; Curtis Freeman, Alexis Baro, trumpet; Chris Gale, tenor saxophone; Louis Simão, Cuica.

Toronto-based guitarist, Mike Freedman, has released his debut album as a bandleader, after three decades of experience on the Toronto, Canada music scene.  This album features nine of Freedman’s original compositions and each one is a sparkling gem.  Mike Freedman’s music is melodic and contemporary.  He’s a solid composer with fresh eyes on song structure and melody.  Take for example “Lamentation Revelation” with it’s surprising chord changes.  Most of Freedman’s music is laid-back and relaxing.  However, on “Samba on the Sand” he picks up the pace and adds a cuica, played by Luis Simão.  The word ‘cuica’ means gray, four-eyed opossum in Portuguese, but it’s actually a Brazilian friction drum that has a large pitch range.  It’s popularly used in Samba music and known for its high- pitched cry.  It adds richness to the production.  Freedman’s fingers fly across the guitar strings, like busy Sea Gulls circling the beach.  “Snake in the Grass” is played in a minor mode and sounds very Middle Eastern.  With his repertoire and arrangements, Mike Freedman offers a variety of original music for our listening pleasure.  Most is presented in a smooth jazz way that features his skills on guitar and a very creative imagination.

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FREDERIC VIALE QUINTET – “l’ENVOL” – Diapason Records

Frederic Viale, accordion/composer/arranger; Chloé Cailleton, voice; Julian Leprince-Caetano, piano; Nelson Veras, guitar; Natallino Neto, bass; Zaza Desiderio, drums.

Having spent precious time in Paris, I learned there are a plethora of fine French musicians and I came to appreciate the accordion as a viable jazz instrument.  Frederic Viale is a master accordion player, a composer and arranger.  On this, his sixth album, he has composed eight of the ten songs.  On track 1, (the title tune) he has employed the smooth, emotional vocals of Chloé Cailleton to enhance the melody.  She becomes a human horn during this project, singing melodies without lyrics.  Julian Leprince-Caetano is the pianist who makes his voice clearly heard on the Quintet’s first track, unleashing an impressive solo.  Track 2, “Ultime Atome” reminds me a wee bit of a Flora Purim & Airto arrangement, with a slight Latin influence and a melody that encourages staccato notes sung by Chloé’s crystal, clear voice.  Soon, the smooth legato sound of Frederic Viale’s accordion takes stage center.  You can immediate appreciate he is technically astute. These first two songs are original compositions by Frederic and exhibit strong melodies.  Track 4, “Les Arbres Bleus” is a beautifully penned ballad that features the sensitive Viale technique on accordion.  He also chords the accordion beneath the solo of pianist Julian Leprince-Caetano in a heartfelt way.  At times, the Viale accordion sounds like a flute.  In other settings, Frederic plays it like a horn solo.  You can plainly hear the guitar of Nelson Veras during the arrangement of “Odonata.”  Obviously, Frederic Viale has classical training, but he’s very jazzy in his approach and his composition style.  The Hubert Giraud tune, “La Tendresse” is the only production where Chloé Cailleton sings the French lyrics and that closes out this album.  Here is a musical production cutting new pathways into the jazz tradition.  Using the accordion, Frederic Viale’s immense talent unveils itself with compositions that are cement strong, flawless technique and variety of repertoire.

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TABER GABLE – “HIDDEN DRIVEWAYS” – Independent label

Taber Gable, keyboards/piano/synthesizers/vocals/composer/arranger/producer; Sarah Hanahan, alto saxophone; Andrew Renfroe, elec. guitars; Jonathan Pinson, drums; Kyle Miles, electric bass.

Taber Gable is a composer, pianist and vocalist.  He opens this album with one of eleven compositions he has penned.  This opening tune is titled, “Don’t Let Life Hold You Down.”  It features a stunning guitar solo by Andrew Renfroe.  This is modern, contemporary, electric jazz, with a funk undercurrent provided by drummer Jonathan Pinson.  Gable has a way of setting up the groove and creating a loop of music that make you want to move.  His vocals institute a repetitive melody and his creative keyboard work establishes style and uniqueness.  There is a great deal of Hip Hop influence in his original compositions.  On “Ache” I can visualize Jill Scott laying down her spoken word. The track is strong, but the vocals are mixed way down in the music.  I question, why?  The song “Pride” is reminiscent of a melody that Earth, Wind & Fire might sing and arrange.  Once again, the mix is poorly executed.  Taber Gable layers his vocals and his keyboard-work fattens the track with electronic implementation of effects and thick harmonic chords.  This tune is smooth jazz.  Taber Gable has an individual vocal tone, that could easily make this artist recognizable.  We call that a ‘stylist’.  But his vocals are mixed so far down in the track you have to strain to hear them.  You can more clearly hear him on his R&B based song, “Tears,” as he sings the catchy line, “I hear your tears falling like the rain.”  

Taber Gable offers cross-genre arrangements and a performance style that heralds his multi-talents.  But like the very dark CD cover of his project and the title of his album, “Hidden Driveways” the artist is pictured behind a camouflage of trees and unfortunately, his vocals are also hidden in the recording.  I believe, sometimes an artist needs a producer instead of trying to do everything themselves.   Unfortunately, I think much of the power and punch of this production was lost in the mix and the mastering. 

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ALLAN HARRIS – “KATES SOULFOOD” – Love Productions

Allan Harris, voice/guitars/composer; Shirazette Tinnin, drums; Nimrod Speaks, bass; Marty Kenney, acoustic & electric bass; Arcoiris Sandoval, piano/Hammond B3; Grégoire Maret, harmonica; David Castaneda & Jhair Sala, percussion; Curtis Taylor, trumpet; Alex Budman, alto saxophone; Keith Fiddmont, tenor saxophone; Ondre J. Pivec, organ; Tonga Ross-M’au, guitar; Carolyn Leonhart, Doreen Wilburn, Jordan Wilburn & Whitley Wilburn, background voices; CHILDRENS VOICES: Angela Whitley, James Whitley, David Whitley & Micah Whitley, Jr.; Producer: Kamau Kenyatta.

Allan Harris reflects on his life in Harlem as a place of opportunity, inspiration and love.  He opens up this album with a self-penned song called “I Grew Up (Kate’s Place)” that is arranged as a cross between R&B and Jazz in a sweet, old-school kind of way.  Hand claps introduce us to the groove along with a blues guitar that joins in with the voices of children in the background.  The lyrics roll off his tongue like the honey-sweet, wise words of a seasoned poet. He sings:

“I took the train up to Harlem … a spring afternoon.  Going to the Appollo, hear all that jazz, soul and downhome blues. Nina, Sarah and Ella; Duke and Basie would swing, that’s a fact!  Jackie, Smokey and                       Marvin; James Brown and Aretha never walked through the back.”

Enter the background voices, “Harlem is the place where I live,” they sing with a gospel clap egging them on.  Enter Gregoire Maret on his jazzy harmonica solo and Shirazette Tinnin’s drums push the music ahead with hot and heavy strokes.  Shirazette is also Allan’s musical conductor.  This is a great way to start Allan Harris’s fourteenth album release.  It’s based on recollections of his Aunt Kate’s well-loved luncheonette, once located near the Apollo Theater.

“I experienced many pivotal moments at my aunts’ restaurant.  It was there I found my voice,” Allan Harris reminisces.

His beautiful, baritone vocals are as smooth as melted brown butter.  His poignant memories pour from my CD player and tell me stories of his life.  This is ‘soul jazz’ at its best.  Another one of the Harris originals, “One More Notch (Put Down Your Gun),” talks about the violence in the streets; violence that perhaps he, himself, has experienced.  His words touch me and expose the soft, underbelly of inner-city life that can muddy and destroy a future, or the hope and determination that can bless and uplift a soul.

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BENOIT DELBECQ – “THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT” – Pyroclastic Records

Benoit Delbecq, solo piano.

The title of this project is so poetic and intriguing, I was eager to hear the music.  The facts behind the title are unusual.  Some 35 years ago, Benoit Delbecq’s physicist brother proved that light has mass.  Delbecq took poetic license to change ‘mass’ to ‘weight’ as his album’s title.

“Hardly any people know that light has a mass,” Delbecq exclaims in his promo package. 

I believe that one of the reasons he would be excited about this discovery is because Benoit Delbecq is a visual artist, as well as a musician.  He designed his own CD cover.  This album cover mirrors his desire to feature architecture, because he visualizes it when he composes new music; including how different structures interact with light.  This French pianist regards his instrument as a vessel for his artistic expression and art expansion. 

“When I’m composing, it’s exactly like I’m looking at inventing the future shape of an object.  So, I look at it from different places.  It’s like a 3-D way of conceiving things that have to do with optical phenomena.  If I move around it, it will reveal shapes that are hidden at other angles,” Benoit Delbecq describes his composition technique.

You hear it in his improvised music on this album. It’s quite fascinating.  Benoit’s compositions are expressive in a mysterious and untethered way. This is a solo project with him utilizing the piano strings and creating his own rhythm, as well as playing the 88-keys for melody and creative expression.  In addition to being a performer, composer and producer, Delbecq served as founder of the Hask Collective Paris from 1992 to 2004 and presently is a founding member of Bureau de Son Paris and the dStream label. This is the internationally acclaimed pianist’s first solo record release in more than a decade.

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KRISTIANA ROEMER – “HOUSE OF MIRRORS” – Sunnyside Records

Kristiana Roemer, vocals/composer; Addison Frei, piano; Alex Claffy, bass; Adam Arruda, drums; Gilad Hekselman & Ben Monder, guitar; Dayna Stephens, saxophone; Rogerio Boccato, percussion.

This vocalist incorporates her composing talents with an introspective look at her own life, reflected in the title of her debut album, “House of Mirrors.” Kristiana Roemer adds her own prose.

“I imagine a ‘House of Mirrors’ inside of each of us where we can hold and honor all the possibilities of ourselves that we could have drawn upon; chances taken, potentials cultivated, paths pursued and so on,” Roemer says in her liner notes.

Roemer’s music presents interesting chord changes for the band to improvise upon.  On the title song, Gilad Hekselman makes a stark statement with his guitar solo. However, Kristiana Roemer’s melodies are not easily repeatable and her lyrics are often non-rhyming prose.  An example is track 2, “Beauty Is a Wound” performed with only percussion and bass.  The title is never mentioned.  “Virgin Soil” is another song that doesn’t mention the title anywhere, and has no ‘hook’ that the listener can hang onto or sing along with.  Dayna Stephens’ saxophone briefly improvises and the track is strong, with the bass of Alex Claffy dancing along with the rhythm section and making a statement with his instrument.  He is as strong as the featured vocalist. 

Unfortunately, I just don’t relate to the melodic stories that Kristiana Roemer is sharing.  She sings “Deine Hande” (Your Hands) sung in what might be German.  The press package doesn’t tell us, nor do the liner notes.  On track 5, “Dark Night of the Soul” I am disappointed by the guitar solo of Ben Monder and the mixing of this song.  On the poem, her voice should have come up in the mix and the track should have been pulled down, so we can better hear her poetry.  These little studio adjustments are so important to a project.  The tune I found most enjoyable is “Lullaby for N,” a beautiful ballad.  Addison Frei is a sensitive accompanist on piano throughout this production.  I was eager to hear Ms. Roemer tackle Stanley Turrentine’s famed “Sugar,” tune.  She didn’t swing it, but sang it legato at first and even though her band wanted to swing, Kristiana Roemer just could not do it.  The ability to ‘Swing’ is part of being a jazz musician or vocalist.  Alex Claffy on bass has no problem in the ‘Swing’ department.  They close with “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” composed by Charlie Mingus.  It showcases the beauty of Kristiana Roemer’s bell-clear voice and gives an opportunity for Addison Frei to sport his talents, with fingers racing up and down the 88-keys.  Ms. Roemer is a good singer, but her songwriting is still developing and to call herself a jazz singer she must learn to improvise and to ‘Swing.’

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THE DAVID ANGEL JAZZ ENSEMBLE – “OUT ON THE COAST” 3-DISC ANTHOLOGY – Bassett Hound Music

David Angel, tenor saxophone/conductor/composer/arranger; Paul Kreibich, drums; Susan Quam, string bass; John Chiodini, guitar; Jim Self, tuba/bass trombone; Scott Whitfield, trombone; Stephanie O’Keefe, horn; Ron Stout, trumpet/flugelhorn; Jonathan Dane, trumpet/flugelhorn; Bob Carr, baritone saxophone/bass clarinet; Tom Peterson, tenor saxophone/flute/alto flute; Jim Quam, tenor saxophone/clarinet; Gene Cipriano “Cip,” alto & soprano saxophones/clarinet.

David Angel arranges music like a free-flowing, two-lane highway.  Just pretend you are in a helicopter looking down on the cars and trucks streaming North and South.  In music, when instrumentation moves that way, it’s referred to as contrapuntal.  Just like the cars are smoothly moving counterpoint to each other, the musical instruments are doing the same thing in many of the David Angel arrangements.  His comfort level in classically rooted music and America’s classical music called ‘jazz’ is obvious.  These two technical gifts shine brightly in Mr. Angel’s composing and arranging skills.  Jim Self, an expert tuba player and bandmember in the David Angel Jazz Ensemble, probably summed up Mr. Angel’s talents best when he said, “I like to describe his stuff as Gil Evans meets J.S. Bach.”

You clearly hear the Angel technique on the opening tune of disc one.  It’s an original composition by David Angel that is also the title of this three-disc set of music.  “Out on the Coast” rolls along in a happy-go-lucky way, with a melody you want to whistle along with and the horns richly harmonizing in the background.  Track 2 is another original penned by David Angel and titled “Wig.”  It has a little Latin flair to it and meanders along at a moderate pace.  Listen for the counterpoint movements of the horns, that melt together, smooth as oil on glass, parting the stage curtains to feature Tom Peterson on tenor saxophone, with Ron Stout and Jonathan Dane on flugelhorn.  There is also an unexpected patch of time where the percussion mastery of Paul Kreibich is featured.

David Angel has been conducting this jazz ensemble since 1969.  It began as a rehearsal band and over years of experimenting with his arrangements and composing talents, the band has featured some of the West Coast giants of jazz like Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Kim Richmond, Bob Brookmeyer, Bud Shank, Pete and Conte Condoli, Art Pepper and Pete Christlieb, to list just a handful of the stars who have played the David Angel charts.  I find myself drawn to his melodic songwriting and unique arranging.  Recently David offered lessons in composition and theory to working composers for ASMAC. ASMAC seeks to educate new audiences on the role and impact of music arrangers and composers by presenting a series of talks at educational institutions, ranging from middle and high schools to universities and community colleges.

The other provocative and selfless thing that David Angel does as an arranger and composer is to leave plenty of room to showcase the talents of his bandmates.  His lush arrangements build and crescendo, then drop back down to spotlight a solo by some of his many talented musicians.  This is a project bursting with genius, presenting familiar and well-played music and showcasing the composer, arranger and conductor skills of David Angel.  It’s an absolutely beautiful project and longtime labor of love.

I couldn’t find a sample of the new album, but here is a bluesy piece from a former CD he released.

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JAZZY DUETS AND INTRIGUING QUARTETS

January 12, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

January 12, 2021

LUKE SELLICK & ANDREW RENFROE – “SMALL VACATION” – Independent Label

Luke Sellick, bass; Andrew Renfroe, guitar.

“Hills of Mexico” is a traditional American folk song, often played by banjo and made quite famous by Roscoe Holcomb.  Holcomb was born in 1912 and was a popular Appalachian musician.  It’s interesting to hear his rendition of this song and then to enjoy the smooth jazz sounding arrangement by Luke Sellick and Andrew Renfroe.  This creative production of Country/Western popular music transforms folksy songs into an updated jazz style.

Their duo also transports pop and rock tunes through a musical and unique time machine, offering us creative arrangements and jazzy instrumental techniques.  You will hear Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” song in a freshly painted way, with a colorful bass solo by Sellick.  Petty was the lead singer of the Heartbreakers in his early career.  The Sellick and Renfroe arrangement is easy-listening jazz.  They also tackle Neil Young’s popular “Tell Me Why” tune.  Canadian/American, Neil Young, was often referred to as a rock-a-billy guitarist and songwriter.  In the early seventies, he was also an activist and was an important part of the Crosby, Stills and Nash group.

Sellick and Renfroe get down and dirty on “Someday Baby” by Mississippi Fred McDowell.  He was an African-American bluesman who once coached Bonnie Raitt on how to play the slide guitar.  Mississippi Fred was pleased when The Rolling Stones included one of his original songs (“You Gotta Move”) on their ‘Sticky Fingers’ album.  I think he would be just as pleased at Renfroe and Sellick’s arrangement of his old blues song, “Someday Baby.” This duo also takes Dolly Parton’s hit song, “Jolene” to another level.

“Small Vacation” is this duo’s first album as a duet and it reveals their unique way of revitalizing some country/pop/rock songs of yesteryear into new, jazzy, easy listening arrangements.  They close with a wonderful reflection on Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” composition.   Jazz musician, Russell Malone, wrote the liner notes for this production.  He said, “sit back and enjoy.  You will not be disappointed,” and he was absolutely right.

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THE GENERATIONS QUARTET – “INVITATION” – Independent label

Dave Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones; Billy Test, piano; Evan Gregor, bass; Ian Froman, drums.

https://bethlehem.jazznearyou.com/billy-test-trio-at-17-00-on-february-23?width=1024

Recorded live at the Deer Head Inn, in Pennsylvania, The Generations Quartet opens with one of my favorite jazz tunes by Herbie Hancock, “Maiden Voyage.”   Excitingly, the members of this quartet represent three different generations of musicians.  This is their debut album and it captures the seamless merging of these generations into a very stellar package.  The young, talented pianist, Billy Test, won second place in the 2017 Montreux Jazz Pianist Competition.  Although he’s barely out of his twenties, Billy Test plays with high energy and brilliant technique.   He double-majored in jazz and classical piano and earned a Master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music.  He toured with Jaimoe Johanson, drummer with the Allman Brother’s Band.  They toured together for three years.  Test also worked with trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and the New York-based Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. 

The group’s bassist, Evan Gregor, first met Dave Liebman when he was attending high school and the seasoned woodwind player became one of Gregor’s mentors. The bass player attended Berklee School of music and in 2007, Liebman hired him to join a quartet gig where they were playing standard jazz tunes.  This was around the same time, Billy Test was studying for his Master’s degree, with Liebman and Markowitz, at the Manhattan School of Music. 

Finally, there was the addition of drummer, Ian Froman, who was once a student of the great Elvin Jones and has a thirty-year working relationship with the elder statesman of jazz, Dave Liebman.  Liebman is iconic for his work with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Elvin Jones a half century ago.  This explains the group’s name, The Generations Quartet.

Theirs is the kind of jazz I live for.  Their music is straight-ahead, energy impacted and seriously innovative.  Dave Liebman is always a joy to listen to, with his exploratory approach to the music and his mastery of both tenor and soprano saxophones.  They play songs we know and love on this debut album including “Invitation” and “My Foolish Heart,” John Coltrane’s “Village Blues” and Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays”.  The tried-and-true “Bye Bye Blackbird” song has a new face in the way that these musicians perform it.  They make me freshly appreciate this song with their unique and admirable musicianship.  I know this composition, like I know the back of my hand, but this band absolutely reconstructs it in a wonderful way.   Here is an album high on my list of best music for 2021, even though the year has just begun.

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QUARTETTE OBLIQUE – MICHAEL STEPHANS, DAVID LIEBMAN, MARC COPLAND & DREW GRESS – Sunnyside Label

Michael Stephans, drums; David Liebman, tenor & soprano saxophones/flute; Marc Copland, piano; Drew Gress, bass.

Here is another example of the genius and fluid beauty of David Liebman on tenor saxophone. Master drummer and one of the executive producers of this session, Michael Stephans, described this project in his liner notes.

“What can I possibly say about my musical brother, Dave Liebman, that hasn’t been said before?  He is arguably the living embodiment of the jazz art.  Saxophonist, flautist, pianist, drummer, composer, it’s all there inside one person.  To play with Lieb and other great New York musicians is one of the reasons my wife and I moved East from the West Coast.  I was an avid fan way before actually meeting him in 2004,” Michael explained.

Stephans originally recorded with David Liebman in 2005 on his CD, “OM/ShalOM” along with the great Bennie Maupin, another iconic woodwind master.  On this more recent production, performed before a live audience, they kick off the set with the familiar Miles Davis tune, “Nardis.”  Liebman flies like a graceful eagle and Marc Copland takes a stellar solo on piano.

“Marc Copland’s music has been part of my life for at least 20-years,” Michael Stephans shares. …  “I first heard him back in the early 70’s in Washington DC at a jazz club called Childe Harold.  He was playing electric piano. …I never forgot how great Marc sounded and how much I hoped to have the opportunity to play with him someday.  His exquisite touch on the acoustic instrument and his harmonic sensibilities place him in a class by himself as a creative improvising artist.”

I enjoyed Marc’s ingenuity on track 2, “Vertigo.”  It’s a moody, melodic, ballad composed by John Abercrombie, that gives Copland an opportunity to show off his splendid technique and unique love affair with the piano.  Drenched in classical nuances and propelled by an exploratory right hand, Copland builds the tension and power of the song, along with the capable drum support of Stephans.

“To me, the most important person in any rhythm section is the bassist.  As a drummer, I may provide the zing, bang, boom; however, if the bassist is not happening, then a group’s resiliency can easily evaporate.  Drew Gress brings something uniquely personal to this music.  He has a big heart, a beautiful sound and is totally present and in the moment each time we play together,” Michael Stephans praised the bass player in their group.

You can hear the beauty and thoughtfulness of Drew Gress’s bass playing during “In A Sentimental Mood” and throughout this recording.  He knows how to lock-in and hold the rhythm tightly in place with Michael Stephans, but he’s also a sensitive and outstanding bass soloist.

They play “All Blues” at a super-speed, that gives Michael Stephans an opportunity to stretch out on the trap drums and match the intensity and excitement that David Liebman always brings to the bandstand. It was quite amazing to hear.  Stephans also explores a creative drum solo.

“Quartette Oblique exemplifies what the Native American Ojibwe people call, ‘mizeweyaa’ or a coming together of different elements to form a unification – a convergence of feelings, ideas, rituals.  In other words, human beings moving into an often mystical-oneness,” Michael summed up the group’s production.

Heaven knows we need more oneness in the world.  From the crazy, mad applause of their audience, I gather that during this awesome musical concert, a single and pleasing joy of spirit was absolutely present and shared by all.   

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MARTY ELKINS & MIKE RICHMOND – “TIS AUTUMN” – Elktone Records

Marty Elkins, vocals; Mike Richmond, bass/cello.

On “In A Mellow Tone” Marty Elkins shows that she is a sincere jazz singer by vocally horn-scatting her way through an improvisational solo without echoing the Ellington/Gabler melody.  I’ve heard a number of fledgling jazz vocalists, who call themselves scat singers, but make the mistake of repeating the melody without the lyrics.  Marty Elkins is no such novice.  She knows that scatting across chord changes is meant as a discovery project for improvisers, prospective composers and in-tune artists.  The idea is to find freedom in re-establishing a fresh melody and with a different song perspective.  Impressively, Elkins does just that.

Mike Richmond is a master on his 170-year-old Tyrolean bass and his 120-year-old Czechoslovakian cello.  He is a seasoned bassist who once replaced Charles Mingus in the Mingus Dynasty group.  He participated in the Miles Davis and Quincy Jones collaborative during their Montreux, Switzerland jazz concert.  He has accompanied a wide arch of vocalists from pop to folk; straight-ahead jazz to Avant-garde.  These include the great Eddie Jefferson, Mark Murphey, Janis Siegel, Chet Baker, Bette Midler, Lainie Kazan, Sheila Jordan, Engelbert Humperdinck and Richie Havens, to list just a few. 

He and Elkins met half a dozen years ago, when she sat in on a gig he was playing. Richmond is an educator in bass technique with a method book published and a deep love for music.  Elkins is a vocalist who has been singing since the 1980s and has a huge following in New York City.  Sometimes her phrasing reminds me of Lena Horne and Billie Holiday combined, although tonally she sounds like neither.  Together they have picked songs popular as far back as 1926.  An example of this is “When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin’ Along” and jazz standards like “All of Nothing at All” that was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1939 and released in 1944.  The songs are old, but well established. 

It’s certainly a challenge to present an album with no rhythm section and only the bass to establish the rhythm and the foundation of what Marty Elkins builds upon.   Her voice become the melody keeper and focal point of the music.  The bass becomes the rhythm and the root of the chords.  With only these two musicians, there’s not much left to do with arrangements.  On the Red Robin tune, Elkins did trade fours with the Richmond bass and the duet exhibits great timing and no pitch problems.  After the first couple of tunes, I just kept feeling how Marty Elkins and Mike Richmond would have benefitted from the addition of a full group of musicians or even a string ensemble.  Richmond tried over-dubbing, but that just wasn’t enough to fill up the empty spaces.  On “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” Elkins’ voice sparkles with genuine, blues believability.  While I admire this duo for their creative endeavor and acknowledge their strong, jazz sensibilities and extraordinary individual talents, I wish they had added full orchestration or even a jazz trio to this production for at least five of these ten songs.  I think that would have greatly elevated their unique and creative musical offering.

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KASPERI SARIKOSKI – “3 + 1” – Outside In Music

Kasperi Sarikoski, trombone/composer; Simon Willson, bass; Francesco Ciniglio, drums; Christian Li, piano.

Trombonist, Kasperi Sarikoski, has composed all the music on this “3 + 1” album.  With just bass, drums and trombone, this trio plus one creates an open and compelling sound.  Sarikoski uses the quality bass of Simon Willson and the drums of Francesco Ciniglio to create a basement for his trombone to build upon.  On the composition, “Birchwood,” without guitar or piano instruments to root the track, there is an openness to the arrangement that encourages freedom in their musical movements.   As the bass solos, Sarikoski’s trombone creates descants with his horn melodies.  On track 5, Christian Li joins the trio on piano.  The trombone sounds as if it is announcing the arrival of royalty at some distant king’s castle.  I enjoyed the addition of piano, but it’s only on this one song titled, “Onward and Upward.”  Track 6 returns to the open concept and features the drum talents of Francesco Ciniglio, who creatively slips his rhythm patterns and solos into the fabric of this music. Unusually, the “Intro to Such Sweet Sorrow” is longer than the song itself, but very beautifully played by Sarikoski and group.  The tune, “Wide Lanes” is straight-ahead jazz and they have included two takes of this very upbeat composition.  This is an intriguing musical exploration that features the unique instrumentation of trombone, bass and drums, with the one exception of adding a piano on track five.  

Kasperi Sarikoski has created a distinctive and enjoyable sound that initiates fresh arrangement-possibilities in the jazz idiom.

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LARRY NEWCOMB QUARTET featuring JAKE NEWCOMB – “LOVE, DAD” – Essential Messenger

Larry Newcomb, guitar/composer; Dave Marsh, drums; Thomas Royal, piano; Jake Newcomb, bass.

This is Larry Newcomb’s third album as a leader.  He mixes six of his original songs with four well appreciated jazz standards on this production and is joined by his son, Jake Newcomb on bass, Dave Marsh on drums and Thomas Royal on piano.  They open with “You Stepped Out of a Dream” where the quartet swings hard.  Thomas Royal celebrates the moment during a noteworthy piano solo.

Guitarist, Larry Newcomb started his career in music as a rocker working in both rock and pop bands including backing up Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits and vocalist, Leslie Gore.  It was during his study at the University of Maine that he became infatuated with jazz after hearing Jim Hall and Ron Carter’s duo album, “Alone Together.”

“When I heard that I said, that’s what I want to do!” Larry Newcomb expressed emphatically.

One of the senior Newcomb’s heroes was Grant Green.  He pays tribute to Green on the final track of this album.  Larry Newcomb explained:

“When I got to New York in 1999, I was transcribing a lot of Grant Green, including ‘The Song is You’, but I was also inspired by hearing Stan Getz play this song.  Later, I had a trio that played brunch for 17-years at ‘The Garage’ and we frequently played this tune.  I’m fascinated by it,” he reminisced.

They play the Jerome Kern song at a thrilling, up-tempo speed.  The title tune, “Love, Dad” is written for and dedicated to Newsome’s three sons.  It’s based on the chord changes of “Stella By Starlight.”  I enjoyed their arrangement of “Secret Agent Man,” a tribute to Sean Connery who originally played the part of 007 in that film series.  Every arrangement on this album is smoothly delivered by the quartet and features Larry Newcomb’s well cultivated style and mastery of his guitar.  

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MIKE SCOTT – “COLLECTING THINGS” – Independent label

Mike Scott, guitar/composer; Joe Bagg, piano/organ; Darek Oles, bass; Jake Reed, drums.

Mike Scott, opens this project with a composition called “Sol Minor Prelude,” playing solo and introducing us to his mastery of guitar in a beautiful way.  It’s a two-minute, fifteen-second glimpse into the mind and talent of this guitarist/composer.  I have always loved the clarity and tone of a nylon string guitar.  Scott brings out the best of this instrument.  The concept, explained in his press package, is that this composition grew out of the third open string on the guitar, tuned to a G.  Scott began to experiment with various harmonies to that one G note, which led him to a series of chord progressions, with the open G string ringing throughout the piece.  The result is a fascinating and relaxing concept.

Most of the music on this Mike Scott recording is laid-back and peaceful.  His guitar tone has a soothing, hypnotic effect. On Track 2, Scott is joined by his rich, Southern California trio of A-list musicians. Joe Bagg switches from organ to piano on various tracks.  His light, improvised touch adds much to Track 2, “Sol Minor.”  Darek Oles sets the time and groove on his bass when they play “Now and Later.”  Oles offers us an inspired solo on this tune, while Mike Scott shows off his deep classical roots throughout. 

“Classical guitar playing involves extensive use of your right hand.  Each finger plays a different sound, allowing you to control the dynamics and expressive quality of each note individually,” Mike Scott explains.

On “Jack’s Dilemma” you hear Scott’s blues roots creeping through.  You cannot be an extraordinary jazz player if you can’t play the blues.  Bagg brings his organ chops to this arrangement.  The funky drive of Jake Reed pushes the music forward on drums.  Reed is brightly featured on Track 5, “Boom Diddle It” with the staccato introduction by the band, letting the drums shine.  Mike Scott swings hard on this tune and bassist Darek Oles gets a big piece of the action.  This becomes one of my favorite songs and arrangements on this production, along with the familiar “On A Clear Day” that features a wonderful and creative bass line that runs through their arrangement, glistening like a gold thread.

The compositions and band presentation on Mike Scott’s “Collecting Things” album are both strong and entertaining.  Every tune is well-played and the musicians richly improvise and support Scott’s lyrical compositions in the best possible way.  Most importantly, Mike Scott shines as a composer, arranger and guitarist, like the jewels in a king’s crown.

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THE JUSTIN ROTHBERG GROUP – “HURRICANE MOUSE” – Independent Label

Justin Rothberg, guitar/mandolin; Todd Groves, tenor & soprano saxophones/flutes/melodica; Jon Price, bass; Hiroyuki Matsuura, drums; Andy O’Neill, percussion.

If you are prone to a more contemporary jazz excursion, sail over to the Justin Rothberg Group.  With Hiroyuki Matsuura laying down funky drum licks, along with Don Price on electric bass and Andy O’Neill adding percussion, they create strong tracks to support the solo work of both Justin Rothberg and woodwind player, Todd Groves.  Group leader, Rothberg, has composed all the songs except for one by Bob James, “Piece of Mind.” Their arrangement of this Bob James composition features Todd Groves and was quite entertaining, using various effects and melodica.   Justin Rothberg has a good sense of songwriting.  However, more than once his improvisational development veered off the melodic path during his guitar solos.  He’s a strong composer and colorful, rhythm guitar player.  My question is, does he need more focus on his blazing guitar improv techniques?  His arrangement on “Hotel Show Repeat” sounds very East Indian and gives Todd Groves an opportunity to introduce us to his flute talents.  Jon Price offers an energetic bass solo that dances across the solid drum rhythms of Matsuura.  I enjoyed the addition of Rothberg on mandolin.  Track 5, “Bad Apple” starts out sounding very bluesy but quickly changes directions and becomes a reggae arrangement.  These two tunes issue in a more world-music approach to Rothberg’s production.  “South Beach Banjo” is a shuffle blues that invites all the players to get loose and take advantage of solos full of freedom and fun.   Track 7, “Tom G” goes back to a smooth jazz characterization of their music. Here is a group that obviously can play many styles and genres of music and jazz, with emphasis on fusion.  This album reflects their wealth of talent, versatility and innovation, provoked by Justin Rothberg’s well-written compositions and an obvious love of what they do. 

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In closing this column, I am adding a group slightly larger than a quartet for all of you Avant-garde music lovers.

JUNK MAGIC – PSEUDONYM FOR CRAIG TABORN – “COMPASS CONFUSION” – Pyroclastic Records

Craig Taborn, piano/keyboards/synthesizer/producer/composer; Chris Speed, saxophone; Erik Fratzke, bass; Mat Maneri, viola; David King, drums.

If you are a music lover looking for repetitive, Avant-garde, experimental music, the Junk Magic group plays just that.  For more than a decade, Junk Magic has been honing a collective sound that relies on individual expressions, imagination and subversion.  Inspired by pianist/composer Craig Taborn, Junk Magic has transitioned into a sonic identity of electronic sound design, production techniques and elements of improvised music.  Says Taborn:

“You’re still trying to capture things in a moment; in a certain sense.  But then also, because of how the process works, you’re not.  There’s a lot of time to craft things after the fact.”

When I listen to this “Compass Confusion” album, I am transported to space, in an eerie setting of an empty space ship, with just the creepy sounds of silence and the groans and moans of wind and weather against hard steel.  This music places me in a strange state of being.

“There are different methods of attending compositionally.  If I were writing a traditional tune, it would be melody and some chord changes.  If I were writing a hip hop track, I would focus more on beats, loops and sound design.  If I were writing strictly ambient music, I would focus on the sound relationships; how the shapes are evolving with certain sonic elements.  On a lot of these pieces, I’m really playing with the foreground and background of all those things,” Craig Taborn explains.

This journalist gets bored quickly with repetitive loops and sounds.  It’s kind of like listening to the drip, drip of a leaking faucet in a perfectly quiet room.  Eventually you want to get up and call a plumber. 

NOTE:    The video posted with this review is from an earlier album release of Junk Magic.  I could not locate a more recent video to represent the Compass Confusion album.

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NEW YEAR! NEW MUSIC FOR 2021

January 2, 2021

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist

January 2, 2021

DIANA KRALL – “THIS DREAM OF YOU” –  Verve Records

Diana Krall, piano/vocals; John Clayton Jr., Tony Garnier & Christian McBride, bass; Jeff Hamilton & Karriem Riggins, drums; Anthony Wilson, Russell Malone & Marc Ribot, guitar; Stuart Duncan, fiddle; Alan Broadbent, piano; Randall Krall, accordion; STRING SECTION: VIOLINS: Charles Bisharat, Mario DeLeon, Kevin Connolly, Neel Hammond, Tamara Hatwan, Natalie Leggett, Songa Lee, Katia Popov, Michele Richards, Kathleen Sloan, Marcy Vaj, Ina Veli & John Wittenberg. VIOLA: Andrew Duckles, Kathryn Reddish, Colleen Sugata & Michael Whitson; CELLO: Jodi Burnett, Alisha Bauer, Jennifer Kuhn & Cello Soloist: Vanessa Freebairn-Smith. CONCERTMASTER: Joel Derouin.

Her husky voice glides across the space like a lovely bird in flight singing, “But Beautiful.”  Diana Krall has a way of inviting you into the story of her song lyrics, as if she’s your best friend, whispering secrets across the table as you both sip drinks.  Her all-star band is complimented by a full string ensemble.  Track two features another sincere delivery on “That’s All” that shows her vulnerability vocally, while showcasing her jazzy piano playing.  On these first two songs her rhythm section is composed of John Clayton jr. on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums and Anthony Wilson on guitar.  Then comes “Autumn in New York” arranged with Russell Malone on guitar and Christian McBride on bass. The flavor of the rhythm section changes.  During the first part of this tune, Diana Krall steps away from the piano and her voice soars.  Then, the string ensemble joins them.  The guitar solo by Russell Malone is stunning.  On Track 4, “Almost Like Being in Love” the pace picks up a wee bit with a shuffle rhythm.  Jeff Hamilton is back on drums and John Clayton Jr. mans the bass. During this arrangement, Diana Krall’s piano excellence takes the opportunity to stretch out and show-off her technical talents.  On “More Than You Know” Ms. Krall is joined by the iconic Alan Broadbent on piano.  She introduces us to the verse that prefaces this familiar American Standard tune and once again sells the song.  This is an album perfect to play during a romantic evening by a roaring fireplace or cuddling beneath the covers.  On Track 6., “Just You, Just Me” she once again switches up the players.  Now Tony Garnier is on bass, pumping the rhythm and locking in with Karriem Riggins on drums.  Marc Ribot is on guitar and a very country/Western sounding fiddle player named Stuart Duncan is featured.  Drummer Riggins takes stage center during this arrangement and is given ample time to solo and trades fours, displaying his chops.

Diana Krall pays tribute to Nina Simone’s historic song, “Don’t Smoke in Bed” as a duo piece featuring Alan Broadbent on piano.  Another duo she includes on this project is one with bass master, John Clayton Jr., on “I Wished on the Moon,” a straight-ahead piece where both musicians excel at doing what they do best.  The title tune, “This Dream of You,” is very folksy and it’s an odd fit with the jazz theme of this album.  It’s got a pretty melody and would have made a nice jazz waltz arrangement or even a rot-gut blues.  Instead, Krall stepped out of the realms of a jazz album and into a Country/Western, folksy production.  For me, it compromises the theme of this album.  Another disappointment was “How Deep Is the Ocean,” enhanced by mallets on the drums.  The muted rhythm sets a sultry mood, but then, to my surprise, Krall takes liberties with this breathtakingly beautiful melody.  Her arrangement moves so far from the original melody that it really becomes a new tune with the same lyrics. I found this very disappointing, because it destroyed the original beauty of Irving Berlin’s lovely composition.  On the whole, this is an easy listening, well-produced experience, with the exciting assistance of some of the best jazz names in the business, as well as a lovely string ensemble.  Diana Krall’s accomplished piano playing and sultry, singing style are always an entertaining and exploratory experience.

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MIGUEL ZENON AND LUIS PERDOMO – “EL ARTE DEL BOLERO” – Miel Music

Miquel Zenon, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, piano.

In September of 2020, during the raging pandemic that took so many innocent lives worldwide, Miguel Zenon picked up his alto saxophone and joined pianist, Luis Perdomo to record a concert at the Jazz Gallery in New York City.  That concert was livestreamed in November and this album release is the result of that amazingly beautiful music played to an empty space, with all the heartfelt emotion that these two iconic musicians could muster.   The song “Como fue” opens this artistic experience.  Their interpretation of this song stopped me in my tracks and made me sit quietly and listen to this entire album.  It was a spellbinding experience.  Track two, titled “Alma Adentro” is another pretty ballad that is caressed and cradled in the bell of Miguel Zenon’s horn.  The piano of Luis Perdomo is equally brilliant, not only adding spice and support during his accompaniment, but additionally expanding on their theme and improvising freely during his solo. 

I found sweet solace in this music.  During a time of such drama and trauma, it was wonderful to hear comfort music that was not only beautifully performed, but also music that offers tranquility and peace.  Miquel’s tone on his alto saxophone is smooth and soothing. He balances contradictory poles of jazz innovation with Latin tradition. Luis Perdomo’s piano playing is rich with emotion.  Every song on this duo production is entertaining and technically astute.  Clearly these are two master musicians.  Settle back in your favorite lounge chair and enjoy.  The digital-only release will be available January 8, 2021.

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HENRY ROBINETT – “JAZZ STANDARDS, VOL. 2: THEN AGAIN” – Nefertiti Records

Henry Robinett, guitar; Joe Gilman, piano; Chris Symer, bass; Michael Stephans, drums.

Henry Robinett has a light, precise touch on his guitar strings.  His bebop style skips along at a brisk pace on their opening number, “Yours Is My Heart Alone.”  It’s a great way to open this album and to introduce us to the players.  Joe Gilman steps into the spotlight with a bright, intriguing piano solo.  Michael Stephans, an extraordinary drummer, keeps the pace solidified and ever-moving.  He ‘trades fours’ with Gilman and Robinett, showing off his technical skills and strength.  Back in 2020, I enjoyed and reviewed the first release of Robinett’s 20-year-old recording project that he called “Jazz Standards, Vol. 1.”  At the time of this recording project, Henry Robinett was working as an engineer at ‘The Hangar’, a recording studio in Sacramento.  The quartet managed to record enough material in two days to create two volumes of exceptional music.  Although Robinett has gone on to make his mark as more of an electric jazz player, when he re-listened to these dynamite tracks, Henry recognized the brilliance and beauty he had overlooked in his younger years. 

“After listening to it again, after so many years, I like it.  I think it stands up well and shows another side to my playing,” Robinett explained in his press package.

Henry Robinett is not only a jazz guitarist, bandleader, composer and artist, but he’s also an educator.  He’s been in love with the guitar since age thirteen.  His diverse and extremely different musical influences were Jimi Hendrix and Charles Mingus, who was his father’s first cousin.  When Robinett isn’t performing, you may find him teaching in Vienna, Austria at the American Institute of Music or on the faculty of the University of the Pacific and Consumnes River College.

As a lover of ‘swing’ and bebop, I am drawn to Henry Robinett’s music like a fish to water.  I find a comfort level swimming in his clearly defined melodies and soaking up his rich improvisations.  The songs this quartet offers are mostly familiar and range from a swinging arrangement of “On the Street Where You Live” to the sexy ballad, “Body and Soul.”  They swing “Like Someone in Love” and shuffle through “Milestones.”  Every tune becomes a favorite and each arrangement is brilliantly highlighted by the gold-plated excellence of these musicians.

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RODERICK HARPER – “EVOLVING” – R. H. M. Entertainment, Inc.

Roderick Harper, vocals; Oscar Rossignoli, piano/percussion; Shea Pierre, Jesse Davis & Ellis Marsalis, piano; Robin Sherman, Roland Guerin & Amina Scott, bass; Chris Guccione, Gerald Watkins, Geoff Clapp & Jamison Ross, drums; Donald Harrison, saxophone; Thomas Dawson, string arrangement; Roderick Paulin, soprano saxophone; John Jones, Fender Rhodes piano.

Vocalist, Roderick Harper Muhammad, opens this album with an original composition titled “Infinite Heart” that he co-wrote with Donald Harrison.  I was unsure about this artist because of all the dissonance I heard on this first song.  Was it intentional?  Was the vocalist off pitch or were the chords strange?  But when I heard him sing, “Never Let Me Go” I had a completely different opinion of Roderick Harper Muhammad. This tune is the only one featuring the iconic Ellis Marsalis.  The Thomas Dawson string arrangement is beautiful as Harper-Muhammad pours his heart out.

When he tackled the Donny Hathaway hit record, “Someday We’ll All Be Free” he continued to make me a believer.  The man can sing.  Performing with only bass and piano, he was vocally strong.  However, I began to wish his piano accompanist had been more of a jazz pianist.  The musicians change on this recording, which also takes away from the continuity of the production and Harper-Muhammad has self-produced his project.  Sometimes an artist needs a producer to sit in the engineering booth and guide them to find the very best of themselves. That being said, the potential and vocal charm of this artist are clearly present.  He is a diamond in the rough.  But like he states in the title of this project, Roderick Harper is ‘Evolving.’ 

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TRIO GRANDE – Whirlwind Recordings

Will Vinson, saxophones/keyboards; Gilad Hekselman, guitars; Antonio Sanchez, drums.

What do you get when you mix Mexican, Israeli and British cultures into a contemporary jazz album?  It’s like a ball of colorful yarn that unravels and spins songs featuring saxophones, guitars, drums and a splattering of keyboards?  The answer is, “Trio Grande.” 

This is their debut statement and features three, inventive musicians who are working the New York music scene.  Will Vinson is British-born and plays saxophones.  Gilad Hekselman is an Israeli guitarist and Antonio Sanchez is a Mexico City native, a drummer who has been living in Queens for quite a while. Each musician is a bandleader of their own unique groups, but they come together on this recording to explore a bass-less situation.  Without a bass to ground the music, they are hoping to share a sort of musical freedom, while interjecting their diverse cultures. 

Each member is a composer.  Drummer, Sanchez composed the opening tune, “Northbound” and track 6, “Gocta,” that has a fluid, ethereal feel to it.   Hekselman’s love of song forms and melody, along with his appreciation of folk music and pop, is reflected in his composition, “Elli Yeled Tov.”  The addition of hand-claps and the isolation of instrumentation, soloing alone at first with only hand-clapping accompaniment, brings a child’s party atmosphere to mind.  I quickly learn the repetitive melody, but I notice that the rhythm patterns are more complicated than the simplistic melodic tones.  Will Vinson has composed “Oberkampf,” a brooding song with streaks of rock music threaded through the electric guitar lines.  It’s very dirge-like.  On the other side of the coin, his original song, “Upside” gives Antonio Sanchez the opportunity to play on the introduction with just his trap drums.  Once Vinson, the saxophonist enters, his composition transforms to a smooth jazz, contemporary-feel.  I found myself drawn to the song, “Firenze” by Sanchez, who takes a very melodic solo on drums. 

This is an interesting blend of cultures and music that, as Will Vinson muses:

“…The album’s magic lies in the way that so many disparate musical elements are woven together to create a coherent whole. … We’re all grounded in jazz, but all of us are also looking for other sounds and influences to bring in.”

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CARLA CAMPOPIANO – “CHICAGO/BUENOS AIRES CONNECTIONS, VOL. 11” – Independent Label

Carla Campopiano, flutes; Gustavo Cortinas, drums/percussion.

Having worked for three major record companies in the past, (United Artists/Bluenote and A&M) I know how important the cover or jacket of an album is to promotion, sales and artist development.  The artwork of Esperanza Gama certainly got my attention, with her multi-colored, decoratively painted hand on the cover of Carla Campopiano’s new CD.  Campopiano is a Chicago artist who has been blending her native Argentinean roots with jazz for several years.  On this recording she uses her flute to introduce us to several Argentine composers, sparsely using only a trio setting to explore these compositions.   It’s very South American folksy, slightly blended with jazz.  This project is dedicated lovingly to their talented vocalist, Alba Guerra, who passed away after the recording was completed. I was especially taken by her emotional delivery and interpretation of “La Pomena.” 

Carla Campopiano is a studied musician who mastered the Latin melodies and rhythms of candombe, chacarera, milonga and the tango.  She also has studied and played Middle Eastern music and found herself working with American heavy metal bands in Chicago.  As an educator, she shares her years of research into the history of tango music on a podcast that promotes Latin American artists showcasing their original music. This project invites listeners to enjoy Carla Campopiano’s warm flute talents and to be introduced to what classical music becomes when culturally combined with tangos, milongas, zambas, Argentinean composers, world music and jazz.

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AARON BURNETT & THE BIG MACHINE – “JUPITER CONJUNCT” – Fresh New Talent Label

Aaron Burnett, tenor saxophone/composer; Adam O’Farrill, trumpet; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Carlos Homs, piano/keyboard; Nick Jozwiak, bass; Kush Abadey, drums; Esperanza Spalding, vocals.

Aaron Burnett’s album title fascinated me, because this year issues in an astrological change that hasn’t happened in twenty years.  When Jupiter and Saturn conjuncted in December, their meeting created a very bright star in the sky.  Some astrologers think that was the north star that led the wise men to baby Jesus many years ago.  On this unusual 2019 Winter Solstice occasion, this conjunction is called a Grand Mutation.  It signals a big change on Earth and for those who believe in astrology, a pathway into the Age of Aquarius.  Aaron Burnett described the album title this way:

“Jupiter Conjunct is a testament to seek and perpetuate the evolution of my consciousness and my admiration of our creator and the connection to the All through sound.”

The group opens with his ballad composition “Color Durations” that is one in nine original pieces Burnett has written for this album.  It’s meditative in feel and sound, using the piano of Carlos Homs as a catalyst that sparkles like stars on a clear night. Track 2, “The Veil,” features the close harmonies of trumpeter Adam O’Farrill and Aaron Burnett on tenor saxophone.  This technique is used throughout the album.  I enjoyed the contrast during the trio performance of the Homs upper register keyboard against the rich bass sounds of Nick Jozwiak. Joel Ross adds vibraphone to the mix and its quite compelling, changing the face of the song, like adding lip gloss to a pretty model’s lovely face.  Once the mood has been set and Aaron Burnett steps into the spotlight on alto saxophone, he flushes out improvised ideas and spews his musical thoughts rigorously.  Burnett’s music is both melodic and Avant-garde.  The vocals of Esperanza Spalding, harmonizing with Burnett’s tenor sax, hooks into my ear like a gold earring.  Spalding’s scat singing enhances the production and introduces us to the melody of “Ganymede,” along with the vibes of Joel Ross, before Burnett takes over to pump the piece up on his horn.  Finally, on track 5, the song “10” races from the disc with energy and gives Kush Abedey, on drums, an opportunity to showcase his chops.  Up until this point, all the music had been pretty ‘laid back’.  I wish Abedey had put some funk into this piece or laid down sixteen or more bars of pure groove, just to lift the arrangement and let me snap my fingers to the two and four.  Sometimes ethereal is over-rated.  Aaron Burnett & the Big Machine offer an opportunity for Burnett to present his original compositions and arrangements to the world.  They repeat the song, “Ganymede” to close this album out as an alternate take.  It is one of the most interesting and charismatic songs on this project, reminding me a lot of the early art of Flora Purim with Airto Moreira. 

According to Jupiter’s conjunct status, in 2021, we are now moving into the realm of new ideas and explorations into technology.  Like the power he uses to blow his horn, we are now moving into an era propelled by the element of air.  I believe Aaron Burnett is growing into his power and talent, evolving with each new gig and every fresh composition. 

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