Thursday, July 18, 2024

Ilya Serov | Colors

The last couple of years have been transformational for trumpeter-singer Ilya Serov both musically and personally. Having released three albums centered on his modern interpretations of tunes culled from the Great American Songbook, Serov’s newly released Silky Sound Records album, “Colors,” is his first collection comprised entirely of original songs that he had a hand in writing. This artistic rebirth happened simultaneously to Serov becoming a father for the first time. Both life-changing events celebrate the maturation of the man and the musician.

The ten songs that make up “Colors” provide a vibrant palette of soul-jazz, R&B grooves and Brazilian jazz instrumentals along with a few iridescent pop vocals. Serov produced three tracks and tapped two-time Grammy winner Paul Brown, multiple Grammy nominee Darren Rahn and 16-time Billboard chart-topper Adam Hawley to produce the rest. Billboard hitmakers Jeff Ryan (saxophone) and Oli Silk (keyboards) were brought in as featured players.

“Colors” closes with “Blossom,” a gorgeous ballad that embodies Serov’s flourishing growth. 

“It took many years of being a professional musician and releasing albums featuring songs from the Great American Songbook until I was able to overcome my insecurities and vulnerabilities and gain confidence to reveal my inner voice and share creative ideas to the  public. ‘Colors’ is a tapestry, fusion of musical genres, blend of cultures and backgrounds, friendships and so much more,” said the Austin, Texas-based Serov.

The album opens with the first single, “Champagne Sky,” a vintage contemporary jazz instrumental showcasing Serov’s regal trumpet with elegant nylon guitar nuances perfectly placed by Brown. It was the first song penned for the project.

Hawley helmed “Beat of My Heart,” a pop gem that Serov said was written as a note of gratitude for his family, wife Amanda and son Caden. According to Serov, Caden’s terrible twos arrived as the artist worked on the album, which made life more complicated and the project more challenging and stressful to complete.

“Family, touring and studio work were hard to balance. Lots of sleepless nights with the baby. It was hard to keep my mind fresh and have a lot of energy to create. Having a family is an amazing thing, despite all the challenges. With this song, I want to remind myself of it every day,” Serov shared.

The beaming midtempo “Glow” was the second single from “Colors” and it’s another Serov-Hawley collab followed by a third Hawley production, “Sea Breeze.” Ryan’s tenor sax shines on the funky instrumental.

“I am so happy my dear friend Jeff (Ryan) was able to join me on this track. He’s an incredible saxophonist with one of the best tones and energy,” enthused Serov.

Serov and Brown link up again on the dreamy slice of sensual pop “Ice & Fire,” which was accompanied by a handsome video (

A longtime fan of Brazilian music, Serov surrounded himself with Brazilian musicians to track “A Day in Rio.” Grammy-winning bassist Hussain Jiffry (Sergio Mendes, Herb Alpert) cowrote the song with Serov and plays on the multicultural excursion.  

“I always have been a huge fan of Brazilian music. Samba and bossa nova are my obsessions. I have been to Brazil a few times and every time I went, I wanted to write something using Brazilian beats and instrumentation. An incredible bassist, Hussain Jiffry and I have talked about a collaboration for a few years and the stars aligned on ‘A Day in Rio.’ I had a blast producing this track and building it piece by piece with the most amazing Brazilian players,” said Serov.

Serov chronicles the experience of making the album on the vocal number “Tunnel Vision,” a cut produced and cowritten by Rahn that became an expression of mindfulness and appreciation for Serov.

“The days in the studio were starting to blend one into the other. That’s when the idea for ‘Tunnel Vision’ came up. It was my way of reminding myself of the things that are important. Working on this song was a great outlet for me and helped me to continue. Working on the album was super fun and exciting,” said Serov. 

Silk’s keyboards help buoy “Afloat,” a soothing song that Serov wrote a few years ago and saved for this album. On the track, Serov played an innovative new horn that he co-created called a jazzohorn, which is a unique hybrid of a flugelhorn and a saxophone.

Serov’s muted trumpet and sultry voice combine on the ambient “Dreams,” which Hawley produced. 

Teaming with friend and collaborator Nick Petrillo (keyboards) on the poignant and pretty “Blossom” enabled both musicians to tap into their classical backgrounds. 

Citing jazz legend Chet Baker as a major inspiration, Serov’s last outing was the 2021 “Just Friends” album on which he kept the company of sax star Dave Koz, keyboardist Greg Manning, guitarist Kay-Ta Matsuno, vocalist Matt Cusson and saxophonist Alex Hahn. It was Serov’s third album that served a blend of Great American Songbook standards and original songs. His 2013 debut album, “September in the Rain,” was a big band date followed five years later by “Back in Time,” an album that featured collaborations with piano icon Roger Kellaway, six-time Grammy nominated saxophonist Eric Marienthal, and Grammy-winning percussionist Poncho Sanchez. Serov has also composed music for film and has performed on scores that include “Creed II,” “Deadpool 2” and “Addams Family 2.”    

The album release will be feted on July 26 with a concert at Spaghettini south of Los Angeles. Joining him will be multi-instrumentalist Justin-Lee Schultz. A popular performer at jazz festivals, clubs, theaters and at sea aboard Koz’s all-star cruise (Serov will be back aboard in 2025), Serov will play the Glass City Jazz Festival in Toledo, Ohio on August 10, Spaghettini again on September 8 with special guest Tom Braxton, and the Oxnard Jazz Festival on September 15. Come the holiday season, Serov will join Keiko Matsui for a Christmas concert on December 8 in Florida. For more information, visit


Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Julius Rodriguez | Evergreen

You can find Julius Rodriguez in many places. You could walk into a packed jazz haunt and bear witness to him behind the piano with energy practically surging from his fingers through the room. You might scroll up on social media and catch him alternating from drums to bass to guitar at the speed of a jump cut. You may also step onto festival grounds and see him on stage either solo or accompanying another likeminded visionary, jamming like his life depends on it. No matter where, the New York-born and Los Angeles-based multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer electrifies any lane. By doing so, he also transcends perceived boundaries between genres and styles, redefining the music to mirror his own fluid creative inclinations and delivering a sound that’s solely his alone.

Following widespread applause from The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The FADER, and more, collaborations with everyone from Wynton Marsalis to A$AP Rocky, and tens of millions of streams, he grows in as many directions as possible on his second full-length offering, EVERGREEN [Verve Records].

“I kept seeing the word EVERGREEN everywhere,” he recalls. “I looked up the definition, and it struck me. An ‘EVERGREEN’ is a plant whose foliage remains functional for all seasons. That’s similar to how I like to be; I want to be myself no matter the genre I’m playing or what’s going on around me. There are a lot of styles on this record, but it’s recognizably my voice.”

He's honed that voice since his childhood in New York where he participated in his first late-night downtown jam session at barely eleven-years-old. Sharpening his skills with thousands of hours and hundreds of gigs, he established himself as a highly sought-after collaborator—whether on piano, drums, synths, or bass. You could hear him loud and clear on recordings by the likes of Carmen Lundy, Lackecia Benjamin, Brasstracks, Kassa Overall, Baby Rose, Joe Farnsworth, Cautious Clay, Ian Isiah, and Braxton Cook. Moreover, he has shined on stage with the late Roy Hargrove, Remi Wolf, Dev Hynes, Lauren Spencer-Smith, Macy Gray, Kurt Elling, Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Morgan James, and Cautious Clay, to name a few. He even lent his talents to Meshell Ndegeocello’s The Omnichord Real Book—which garnered the first-ever GRAMMY® Award in the category of “Best Alternative Jazz Album.” 

Julius’s signature style came to life on his solo debut, Let Sound Tell All. NPR hailed the latter as “a project so dynamic that even the umbrella of jazz couldn’t quite contain its essence,” and noted, “Rodriguez is demonstrating a lively, inspired talent within the genre’s convention while also infusing his own personal musical identity and history into the music.” Not to mention, he made his debut at North See Jazz festival in 2023, charging up the crowd.

As life changed, his music evolved. Spending the bulk of his life in New York, he relocated to Los Angeles during 2022. At this point, he had toured and performed around the globe. Moving away from home and seeing the world exerted a profound impact upon him. He notes, “You don’t understand how different these moments are until you experience them head-on.”

At the top of 2024, he entered a studio in North Hollywood, CA with producer Tim Anderson [Solange, Halsey, Billie Eilish]. They unlocked a distinct chemistry, bonding over the catalog of Herbie Hancock and seventies fusion titans Mahavishnu Orchestra.

“Tim has an appreciation for jazz and the culture, so he understood where I was coming from musically,” Julius goes on. “From there, he brought in other elements. I love what he’s done with artists outside of the tradition I come from like Solange and Banks, and he introduced me to the ambient music world.”

Fittingly, Julius introduces the album with the opener and single “Mission Statement.” Steady handclaps set the track in motion as a spacey loop swims around a slick bass line. Cymbals chatter through vibrant piano, and a saxophone solo sails off towards the horizon.

“‘Mission Statement’ was one of those ideas that initially came to me in the Pandemic,” he recalls. “I was figuring out how to incorporate sounds from hyperpop, drum ‘n’ bass, and other styles that I dig, but I don’t get a chance to play. In terms of the name, I’m not just trying be the jazz musician that everyone knew me as. My vision was to create a different sound that’s unique to my influence. My mission is to break out of what people know and expect of me and just do what I like.”

“Love Everlasting” sees him team up with longtime friend and fellow dynamo Keyon Harold. A dreamy keyboard melody gently echoes as Keyon’s unmistakable trumpet booms in fits of emotion over robust drums and shimmering piano.

“I’ve known Keyon since college,” he goes on. “He was the first person to take me on tour in Europe, and I’d always wanted to work with him on my own material. I invited him to the studio, and he played trumpet and harmonized with himself. Thematically, it felt like a cycle of what I assumed to be a friendship. In a strong friendship, no matter what happens, you’ll always understand the love you and the other person have for each other.”

Then, there’s “Run To It (The CP Song).” It hinges on a boisterous back-and-forth between the bass, beats, guitar, and piano—akin to a vivacious Sunday on stage in a Southern church. “There’s a camaraderie to the melody,” he smiles. “It’s bound to make for a good time.”

On the other end of the spectrum, he injects a “jazz waltz vibe” into his reimagining of Dijon’s “Many Times.” The epic “Stars Talk” unites him with Nate Mercereau whose synths and freestyled guitar samples amplify an exhale of sonic bliss. “It takes you on a bit of a journey,” he notes. “Nate brought it to another level.”

The album crescendos to a triumphant inflection point on the closer “Champion’s Call” [feat. Georgia Anne Muldrow]. A signature piano line from Julius brims with energy as Georgia’s deep wail resounds with earthquaking intensity in a mantra-like motion, “Champions call.”

“I played some shows with Georgia, and I asked, ‘What are we going to play?’,” he remembers. “She replied, ‘I don’t do setlists; we go on stage and just trust God’. She’s big on letting her spirit flow through her from a higher power. That’s exactly what she did on ‘Champion’s Call’. It was pretty magical.”

By breaking boundaries with EVERGREEN, Julius has lived up to the true spirit of jazz by ushering it towards the future freely.

“I hope you hear this and forget about the whole genre labeling thing,” he leaves off. “This is just music you can dance to, feel to, and think to. It’s not about categorizing; it’s about enjoying something for what it is. EVERGREEN goes through a whole bunch of genres, but this is the world I’m seeing and hearing. This is the feeling I’m invoking. I made a statement and said, ‘The genre is just me’.” 

Gregory Goodloe | Groovin' On

Ever since R&B/jazz guitarist Gregory Goodloe scored his first Billboard No. 1 hit five years ago, he’s maintained a consistent presence on the national singles charts and on playlists everywhere. He released a half-dozen singles since, each of which was a collaboration with a chart-topping producer such as Adam Hawley, Darren Rahn, Jeff Canady and Bob Baldwin. For Goodloe’s new Hip Jazz Records single, “Groovin’ On,” he tapped Grammy winner Michael Broening to co-write and produce the effervescent track that recently began collecting radio and Spotify playlist adds. 

Goodloe has openly acknowledged the impact that legendary guitarist and vocalist George Benson has on his music. Broening won a Grammy for producing Benson’s and Al Jarreau’s 2007 duet, “Mornin’,” thus teaming up with the producer who has more than twenty No. 1 hits was a goal high up on Goodloe’s wish list. The guitarist respects the keyboardist-producer-songwriter’s catalogue that boasts more than sixty contemporary jazz hits from a star-studded assemblage of hitmakers including Nick Colionne, Cindy Bradley, Michael Lington, Steve Oliver, Tim Bowman, Lin Rountree, Althea Rene, Kim Scott and Kayla Waters.  

“I have always admired Michael’s amazing ability to tell a story through his music. We had talked about collaborating for more than a year. It was the vibe of ‘Groovin’ On’ that Michael decided would fit my personality. Putting the song together was a dream come true. I wanted to create a song that was easy on the ear, but true to the groove,” said Goodloe, who was accompanied on the invigorating track by Broening’s keyboards, Grammy-winning bassist Mel Brown, and rhythm guitarist Freddie Fox, the latter who also played on “Mornin’.”  

The song title fits the tune perfectly as “Groovin’ On” surfs towering waves of energizing, dance and funk grooves while Goodloe’s commanding electric jazz guitar splashes around in a frothy ocean of melodies. The single will serve as the title track of Goodloe’s forthcoming album that he anticipates releasing this summer. 

The Denver-based Goodloe served in the U.S. Army prior to launching his music career. Stylistically, the guitarist has explored both secular and nonsecular music as well as instrumental and vocal music. Among Goodloe’s noteworthy endeavors in jazz, R&B and gospel are outings with Grammy winner Ben Tankard, R&B vocal trio Surface, soul singer Howard Hewett, boy band B2K, R&B singer-songwriter Tank, and The First Lady of Gospel Music Shirley Caesar. Of his own recordings, Goodloe’s single “Stylin’” went all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard chart in June 2019. More recently, “In This Love” was a top 25 single last year. Goodloe hosts the weekly Mile High Smooth Jazz radio show, which airs on Worldwide Jazz Radio.


Tracy Yang Jazz Orchestra | OR

From the opening notes of OR, composer Tracy Yang spreads her wings and flies high and fast. She asserts her brilliance and rightfully declares that she (an award and grant-winning artist) can dazzle you with a singular musical alloy of emotional resonance and intellectual depth. Produced by Yang and Darcy James Argue, and featuring a powerhouse ensemble of first-call NYC artists, OR will be released on August 23, 2024 on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records. 

Tracy Yang, originally from Taiwan, has established herself as a composer, musician, and cross-disciplinary artist in NYC over the past decade. Recognized with the Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize, she's also been honored with grants from respected institutions like New Music USA, New York Foundation for the Arts, and Pathways to Jazz. She has collaborated with esteemed ensembles such as The Army Jazz Ambassadors, BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra, SWOJO (Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra), and the Taipei Jazz Orchestra. In addition to her musical accomplishments, Yang's expertise extends to the dance world, where she collaborates with renowned dance institutions, counting among them Martha Graham, ABT, Paul Taylor, Limón, Mark Morris and Juilliard School, to name a few.

To pursue music, Yang not only left her home country, but also left behind her beloved field of medicine. She followed her heart and embarked on her pursuit of becoming a jazz composer. The compositions on OR are the result of Yang putting together the puzzle of her existence, her dreams, her journeys and experiences; no less than her very life and being is reflected, redefined, and re-patched into images, feelings, and inner-thoughts expressed in music.

The title track, "OR" portrays Yang's enthusiasm for her background in medical science, and the composition itself unfolds as a narrative of an imaginary surgical procedure in an operating room; "Sea of Clouds" and "Sea Swell" are from her Scene Taiwan Collection, leading the audience to travel around the magnificent landscape of Taiwan, and for the composer to reflect on her culture; "Melting Arctic" shows concern for the ecological environment. "A Step to My Dream," the earliest jazz orchestra original she has written, is about the challenging journey she experienced while pursuing her dream of becoming a jazz composer and meaningfully marking the beginning of the journey. The creation of the “MMXXI suite - I. Uncertainty, II. Healing, III. Reunited" was a real-time reflection of the situation in the world and Yang’s emotional state in 2021 to 2022, and the timeless connection it has to human experiences in various scenarios. 

On working with renowned composer, arranger, and bandleader Darcy James Argue, Yang said, “I am fortunate to have gained insight into Darcy's producing style while working as a production assistant on Erica Seguine and Jihye Lee's past project. When Darcy sensed that I had lost faith in recording my own big band record, he simply said that I have to do it and he would be glad to produce it for me. I don't think that came out lightly from Darcy, and I simply held on to that faithfulness during the challenging phases. His high standard in many things, particularly producing a big band album, has consistently inspired me to follow his lead. Known for his clarity and meticulous attention to detail, he speaks like he writes – precise yet artistic. I deeply appreciate his respectful and witty communication with musicians. Without Darcy's faithful support and guidance, OR most likely wouldn't exist in its current form.”   

Yang’s large ensemble recording, OR, marks a profound milestone in her journey over the past ten years in NYC, which she called, “the most beautiful and meaningful chapter of my life.” We can celebrate that with the artist through this wonderful recording.

Eric Roberson | Mask

MASK" is the latest offering from songwriter extraordinaire ERIC ROBERSON. The beautifully-written song serves as a continuation of Eric Roberson's mission to release a new piece of work either every month and or every other month, in an effort to keep inspiring music afficionados around the world. "MASK" was written by Eric Roberson, Daniel Crawford and Jairus "JMo" Mozee and produced by Eric Roberson, Brett "B Dubb" Baker and Zachariah "SlimKat78: McGant. “This was probably my hardest song to write and record this year. Even though I didn't feel it was my story, I dove deep into the character. I cried throughout the entire process. I hope it connects with someone who needs it,” shares Eric.

Being that July is BIPOC Mental Health Month, Eric Roberson partnered with the African American Male Wellness Agency for their "Real Men Real Talk" initiative. In an effort to help maximize the song's reach and impact, promoting vulnerability and healing in our community. BIPOC Mental Health Month was created to bring awareness to the unique mental health challenges of historically disenfranchised and oppressed racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

"MASK", is the latest installment of Eric Roberson cycle of continuously releasing new music for his fans. This very emotional piece of art, joins the previous released songs of the series; "You", "Here For You", "Things Meant For Me", "I Apologize", and "Just Don't Hold It In."

Whether over the course of his seventeen beloved LPs (2001’s The Esoteric Movement to 2022’s Lessons) or through songwriting/production/vocal collaborations with the likes of Jill Scott, Dwele, Musiq Soulchild, Vivian Green, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Spinna and others, fine-tuned R&B music ears have come to recognize and make a somewhat spiritual connection with his everyday relatable, multi-influenced vibe which mirrors their own lives and experiences. “It’s R&B and soul music, but I’m a hip-hop dude,” Eric replies, of his influences as it relates to his music’s appeal.

Indeed, nothing less than heartfelt gratitude for the blessing of being able to continue releasing music through his very own Blue Erro Soul Entertainment, as well as accolades which have included two successive Grammy nominations for “Best Urban/Alternative Performance” (for “A Tale of two” in 2010; “Still” in 2011), a BET J Virtual Award for “Underground Artist of the Year” (2008), being distinguished as the first independent artist to be nominated for a BET Award in 2007 and sold-out tours throughout the world is what makes Eric Roberson, "The Soul Man himself".

Brad Shepik | Human Activity: Dream of the Possible

Guitarist and composer Brad Shepik will release his ninth album as leader on October 11, 2024. The new offering, Human Activity: Dream of the Possible, is a ten-movement meditation on the climate challenges we face, seeking to inspire action for a sustainable future. This piece, composed and premiered by Shepik in 2021, builds on his earlier work, Human Activity Suite (2007). Human Activity: Dream of the Possible features Shepik on guitar, tambura, and saz, along with a talented ensemble including Layale Chaker on violin, Amino Belyamani (Dawn of Midi, Innov Gnawa) on piano, Sam Minaie (Tigran Hamasyan) on bass, and John Hadfield (Kinan Azmeh, Lennie Pickett) on drums and percussion.

Shepik has previously recorded eight albums as a leader. Since 1995 his ensembles have performed at major festivals and clubs across Europe and North America including The North Sea Jazz Festival. He appears on more than 70 recordings and has been awarded commissions and grants from the Seattle Arts Commission (Borders 1987) and Chamber Music America (Human Activity Suite - Code Red), New York Foundation for the Arts and the Puffin Foundation. He has performed and recorded with many leading lights of jazz and world music including Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio, Carla Bley, Bob Brookmeyer, Charlie Haden, Simon Shaheen’s Quantara, Yuri Yunakov's Bulgarian Wedding Band, Chandrika Tandon’s Shivoham, Gnawa of Hope, Joey Baron, Pachora, Matt Darriau’s Paradox Trio, Tom Beckham, Combo Nuvo, Kiran Ahluwalia and George Schuller among others.

Human Activity: Dream of the Possible reflects Shepik's response to the alarming climate report of 2021, emphasizing the critical need for proactive environmental stewardship. Shepik explains, “I aimed to create a concert-length piece that reflects the state of the climate and the evolution of our attitudes toward climate change over the past 14 years. The term ‘human activity’ often signifies our negative, exploitative, and harmful impact on the environment. However, we are the one species capable of having the greatest positive effect on this issue. We can choose to actively change our habits, live more sustainably, and do whatever we can to preserve the planet for future generations.”

Shepik discusses his motivation and composition process: “I set out to express my own feelings about the climate issue and at the same time explore the musical worlds of these inspiring musicians, each with their own distinctive voices. The piece initially premiered under the title ‘Code Red,’ but after conversations with artists from various mediums, including my photographer wife, Caroline Mardok, whose work is featured throughout the CD booklet, I began to consider the inspiration and impact of a more hopeful narrative.”

The movements of the piece each address different aspects of the climate crisis. The album opens with “Code Red” which references the 2021 IPCC warning from scientists that Earth's vital signs have reached critical levels. “The Search” explores the plight of climate migrants seeking refuge from environmental changes.

Next up is “Dream of the Possible” which contemplates cleaner, cheaper, and healthier alternatives to carbon-intensive lifestyles while “Symbioticity” suggests cooperation and interdependence for mutual benefit between humans and the natural world.

“Future Generations” is inspired by those who will inherit the consequences of our actions and inactions. “Travel Back” evokes nostalgia and the environment of one's youth. “Still Heat” reflects on the unprecedented 2021 Pacific Northwest heat dome. “All Hands” centers on the idea that everyone can contribute to mitigating climate change.

“Naturitude” is a meditation on gratitude and the protection of the natural world that we still have. The album closes with “Orange Haze” which captures the dissonance and surreal luminosity of wildfire smoke seen from thousands of miles away.

Through Human Activity: Dream of the Possible, Shepik is not only addressing the gravity of our environmental crisis, but also underscoring the power of hope and collective action. The masterful blending of jazz and world music in the compositions reflects the truly global nature of this crisis. His work is both a poignant reminder and an inspiring call to action to protect our planet for the sake of future generations.

Monday, July 08, 2024

Emiliano Lasansky | The Optimist

Emiliano Lasansky’s melodies have the potential to simultaneously serve as vehicles to memories and past experiences, and to evoke optimistic anticipation for the future. Lasansky elaborates, “my work attempts to unify elements of the past and present in exciting and unexpected new ways. I also strive for my work to be accessible to a wide audience with hidden layers of subtlety for those that desire to take a closer look.” 

The title track, “The Optimist,” mirrors life, presenting the soloist with trials and tribulations challenges, and rewards, with sections of challenging chords, creating harmonic adversity for the soloist, followed by open sections where the soloist can improvise freely and celebrate. This composition also reflects a core part of Lasansky’s identity. “L.P.’s Tune” pays tribute to Lasansky’s father who passed away in 2020. It celebrates his life, his unwavering support of the young musician’s endeavors and pursuits, and the deep love of music he passed on to his son.

“Dependence” is a modern jazz gem that leaves you with the feeling one might have after spending time with a dear friend. It is about the positive aspects of the word, the essence of reliance, celebrating the diverse elements that shape our identities. This is reflected in the energetic solos that sparkle with the warmth of friendly banter and camaraderie amongst the musicians. In 2017 & 2018 Lasansky attended the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program, led by preeminent pianist, Jason Moran, who left a big impression on Lasansky, which led to “Follow The Thread.” Lasansky explains, “Jason said something to the effect of ‘get out there and do your thing. If you get lost, turn around and grab onto the thread of what music has come before you and then turn back around and follow that thread into the future.’ When I was writing music for this project, I knew I wanted to write something in a slow three and many of the things I was coming up with just fell short. Jason’s words kept rolling through my mind coupled with how an idea that one needs to be fearless and authentic to truly speak their mind. I ended up going back and checking out tons of recordings by my favorite artists and a picture started to come together for the song.” 

Other highlights on The Optimist include “Fountain Of Youth,” which began with a assignment from none other than Herbie Hancock himself, to compose music based on experiencing, and being inspired by your environment. “Young Corn” (featuring vocalist Genevieve Artadi) draws inspiration from a Grant Wood painting of the same title. “In 2018 I went to see the Grant Wood retrospective at the Whitney Museum in NYC. Wood is an artist who is from near where I grew up in Iowa and lived around the corner from where my father grew up. Many of his paintings depict the rolling hills and prairie scenes of my home state Iowa. I was inspired when I saw painted scenes from where I grew up and imagined what music might accompany some of those images. This inspired me to write ‘Young Corn.’ The song takes on the character of open, expansive prairies, drawing sonic influence from composers like Aaron Copland, Maria Schneider and Pat Metheny (two of whom are from areas near me in the Midwest). The lyrics tell the story of being sure- footed in one’s pursuit of happiness and are meant to evoke a sense of honesty and optimism,” explains Lasansky. 

With The Optimist we find ourselves under the spell of a fully-fledged, modern day composer making great strides, and frankly, hitting it over the wall on his first at-bat. We can enjoy his wonderful, emotive melodies, and his ensemble elevating each composition to works of art, which remind us of the greatness and love in all of us, the joyful and sorrowful times of our lives, and the importance of having excitement and optimism for our future.

Sunday, July 07, 2024

Dan Siegel | Unity

Pianist and keyboardist Dan Siegel has covered a broad swath of the jazz spectrum over the course of his four-and-a-half decade career, from straightahead swing to sleek contemporary sounds. While that’s a testament to Siegel’s multi-faceted talents and restless curiosity, it’s also the result of the diverse array of collaborators that have joined him along the journey – a staggering roster that includes Bela Fleck, Steve Gadd, Larry Carlton, Ernie Watts, Ottmar Liebert, Lee Ritenour, Brian Bromberg, Eric Marienthal, Bob Sheppard, Boney James, Alex Acuña and others. 

Siegel’s twenty-third release, Unity, is the latest and one of the finest examples of that alchemical process. Due out August 9, 2024, Unity reunites the keyboardist with drummer Oscar Seaton for the first time in 20 years, since the recording of the 2004 album Inside Out. It also marks his first meeting with bassist David “DJ” Ginyard, Seaton’s rhythm section partner in Terence Blanchard’s electrically charged E-Collective band. From the time the trio entered the studio together, Siegel’s vision of the music he’d written for the session irrevocably changed, a display of the titular unity.

'Recording is like magic sometimes,” Siegel says. “The music appears from nothing, which can be really gratifying. The best guarantee you can have is to hire good people. When I got together with Oscar and DJ, the feel and the overall direction changed pretty drastically from how I envisioned it.” 

Siegel points to the breezy, infectious “Free Spirit,” which he initially pictured as a swinging piano trio tune in the classic tradition. Approaching Ginyard and Seaton separately, both assumed they’d play it as a shuffle. “I had no idea that's where it was going to go,” Siegel marvels. It turned out to be this pretty heavy 12/8 groove, but it works. I have to admit that when things change up like that, it's the most fun you can have in the studio.” 

To the core trio, Siegel added a rotating cast of master guitarists, most of them longtime compatriots and friends who each added their own distinctive flavors to the tracks: Rob Bacon (Raphael Saadiq, Amp Fiddler), Allen Hinds (Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole), Michael Miller (Boz Scaggs, Chick Corea), Dean Parks (Steely Dan, Michael Jackson), and Michael Thompson (Babyface, Whitney Houston). Unity also features percussion great Lenny Castro, whose relationship with Siegel dates back to the keyboardist’s self-titled 1982 album, as does that of prolific saxophonist Tom Scott, who heads the album’s horn section. 

Unity, like each of Siegel’s wide-ranging albums, is a reflection of the time and circumstances in which it was created. Its most recent predecessors, the meditative Fractured Monolith and the densely arranged, wistful Faraway Place, were Siegel’s pandemic projects, generated by isolation and endless time. The ability to convene with one’s fellow musicians is captured in the new album’s title, as is a bit of wishful thinking in reaction to our current divisive culture. Chiefly, though, it defines the method of its production, a cohesive whole arising from multiple distinct personalities. 

“This project came together in an incredible fashion from the very beginning,” Siegel says. “It was really painless and a lot of fun. With DJ and Oscar playing together, it's impossible not to have a great rhythmic foundation that’s a joy to play on top of. With that foundation I brought in all these guitarists, guys that I've known throughout the years that I thought would be suitable for different tunes. In the end, the music speaks for itself.” 

A sense of freedom, escape and momentum is threaded through the album, from the lyrical, Crusaders-like opener “Best Foot Forward” through the elegant ballad “Line of Sight” with its lush, Gil Evans-inspired horn arrangement, to the funky “Streetwise,” “Free Spirit” with its surging shuffle groove, on to the lively, humor-laced “Roadside Attraction.” But Unity also contains a range of emotions and moods, including the stirring drama of “Defining Moment,” the bright, organ-laced title track, and the tender “Before I Go.” 

The latter is a rare moment of reflection on a primarily forward-looking collection. It’s an acknowledgment that at 70, Siegel’s long and rewarding career is entering a concluding chapter. It’s a stark fact also reflected in the striking cover art, a painting by Siegel’s longtime friend Alan Rubin, who passed away in 2022. 

“While we were in the middle of recording at Sunset Sound in L.A., I took a moment to look around and think to myself, ‘I wonder how many more opportunities I'm going to get to do this.’ But you never know when the inspiration will come again and the ideas will start to flow. That’s what happened here, and I’m so proud of this album.”

Saturday, July 06, 2024

Nduduzo Makhathin | uNomkhubulwane

Since making his international debut for Blue Note in 2020 with Modes of Communication: Letters From the Underworlds, the South African pianist and composer Nduduzo Makhathini has earned widespread acclaim for the genuinely spiritual transcendence of his music. For Makhathini, a Zulu healer and educator who has delved deeply into the histories and traditions of his ancestors, improvised music has never been merely about aesthetics or idioms. As the New York Times put it when naming Modes of Communication one of the Best Jazz Albums of 2020: “In a moment when spiritual jazz has become a dangerously buzzy concept, trust a musician who has truly devoted his life to divination practices.”

But with the three-movement suite uNomkhubulwane, his third release for the venerated jazz label, Makhathini travels beyond any existing notion of music-making to offer his most profound vision of creative mysticism yet. Unlike his previous records, Makhathini explains, “which often expressed intention through composition or some form of conceptual paradigm,” the pianist seeks inspiration on a wholly metaphysical plane — using sound as a way to commune with, as he puts it, “supernatural voices.” To say it another way, rather than relying on the celebrated work of his American and African jazz heroes, or even on the probing research in his academic fields of study, Makhathini opts here to tap into the pure essence of being — an otherworldly effort that involved “listening-hearing-sensing and establishing a relationship with an ‘elsewhere’ through some guidedness.” Throughout uNomkhubulwane, Makhathini acts as both a futurist and an ancient, venturing into the unknown by exploring concepts that return him to the dawn of time.

Remarkably, he has crafted an inviting, immersive listen that should once again impress devotees of John and Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, classic South African jazz, Makhathini’s friend and collaborator Shabaka Hutchings and other intrepid musical voyagers. uNomkhubulwane features the pianist’s trio—an intuitive unit whose extensive touring has spanned the globe over the past year—with Zwelakhe-Duma Bell le Pere, a bassist of South African descent who was born and raised in the U.S.; and the Cuban-born drummer Francisco Mela, a best-of-generation musician recognized for his work with Joe Lovano, Kenny Barron, McCoy Tyner and other lions, and for his own culture-merging work as a bandleader. The rhythm section adds passionate vocal backing, accenting and lifting up Makhathini’s sacred lead-vocal offerings.

Collectively, their touch is precise in its technique yet ethereal in its purpose — and astoundingly clairvoyant in its cohesion. On “Omnyama,” a gracefully hypnotic repeated figure bolsters the leader’s spoken-word — filled with rhythmically compelling contours and bluffs — and rousing sung incantations. The click sounds that Makhathini deploys here and elsewhere in his suite, especially the qa sound common to the Bantu languages, evoke the aural sensation of water droplets; water, at the core of the African creation story, invokes essence, which in turn invokes God.

“Izinkonjana” is an enchanting ballad that delivers the gospelish elegance of such South African greats as Abdullah Ibrahim. Similarly, “Uxolo” comes off as a vintage American jazz standard, beautifully showcasing the ensemble’s shared temperament and keen sense of interplay. Twilit and nostalgic and featuring an outstanding bass solo, “Uxolo” sounds as if it could have been captured at the Village Vanguard in 1961. “KwaKhangelamankengana” is highlighted by its percolating whirlwind of groove, as well as the leader’s speak-sing vocal and hammered chording, which calls to mind McCoy Tyner, one of Makhathini’s guiding lights in finding the continuity between American jazz and the Mother Continent.

So many fascinating evocations, and yet uNomkhubulwane contains a backstory unlike anything in recorded music. To start, Makhathini’s 11-track suite takes its title from the Zulu name of “God’s only daughter and a manifestation of God’s very creation purpose,” the pianist explains. “She is also believed to be a mythical rain goddess, a regulator of nature, light and fertility.” A shapeshifting force, uNomkhubulwane can manifest in the form of an animal, or a hurricane or a rainbow — the lattermost of which, Makhathini says, symbolizes her “kindness and regulation of balance.”

uNomkhubulwane is an essential presence in Zulu life: She lives with the people as a protector and a source of equilibrium that makes “abundance” — a word Makhathini uses often, to signify prosperity — a possibility. Makhathini strives to dissociate the actual abundance of Africa’s past from the shameful reputation forced onto the continent through colonialism. The soul and heritage of Africa is impossibly rich, complex and cultivated, he argues. But colonialism and its continuing repercussions robbed these African communities of their meaning and rightful pride. The African peoples’ sophistication and self-sufficiency went unacknowledged or, more commonly, destroyed, as these attributes were viewed as threats.

This devastation all but defines the lack of infrastructure and the surplus of exploitation — of resources, of culture — that Africa experiences today. Apartheid did a horrifically effective job of making sure the townships failed to thrive while refocusing the blame inward, back onto subjugated South Africans. Today, as Makhathini points out, Africa isn’t part of the global conversation around civilization and progress … and yet Africa invented civilization!

Makhathini’s album is a never-ending exploration of these issues — of the myriad reasons why the African people have struggled to experience the abundance of uNomkhubulwane. In seeking these answers, he uses here an “ongoing rehearsal” concept, in contrast to a performance. To put it tritely, the journey of this suite is in fact the destination — and that destination includes nothing less than “cosmic totality.” “This process,” Makhathini says, “deals with rituals of being as a state of surrender, meditation and prayer.”

The project’s three movements are a kind of pathway to embracing the spirit of uNomkhubulwane — three being a number of monumental power and meaning in Africa. “In Yoruba cosmology,” Makhathini says, “number 3 represents balance and harmony [characteristics of uNomkhubulwane]. Much broader African worldviews associate number 3 with endlessness, immortality and ongoing-ness through a triple state of being; before [ancestors], here [the living] and the future [the not-yet-born].” Three is indicated directly in the music of Makhathini’s new suite — in the trio format of the band, in time signatures, in a delightful triplet feel.

The suite emerged out of a “mother song” afforded to Makhathini during the initiation process he underwent to become a healer. There, he was immersed in water in order to encounter uNomkhubulwane, who gifted him this song. “The first movement ‘Libations,’” he says, “deals with collective black memory inside a state of protest against ongoing oppression[s],” adding that “this movement invokes an eternal state of black mourning that has made us lose our ‘voices,’ and even though we still cry, we do not have tears anymore.” The second movement, ‘Water Spirits,’ deals with vital energy and restoration — a proposal of “cleansing and summoning of essence.” The final movement, “Inner Attainment,” focuses on “freedom, hope and grace,” and the striving toward a transcendence that would bring abundance back to our current time and physical plane.

As always, Makhathini’s message is ultimately one of perpetual optimism for his people, and for all people. “Essentially, this offering is an invitation to humanity to cultivate ways of being that yearn for freedom and balance,” he says. “Here I invite you to a new mode of humanism that is oriented towards singing the songs of uNomkhubulwane.”

~ By Evan Haga

Friday, July 05, 2024

Patrice Rushen | Prelusion

Craft Recordings and Jazz Dispensary celebrate the five-decade-long career of singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Patrice Rushen with a reissue of her long-out-of-print debut, Prelusion. While the three-time GRAMMY® nominee became best known as an R&B singer and barrier-breaking musical director, this 1974 album showcases Rushen’s talents as a jazz musician, composer, and improviser and features such esteemed sidemen as Joe Henderson, Oscar Brashear, and George Bohanon. 

Set for release on August 23rd and available for pre-order today, Prelusion marks the latest title in Jazz Dispensary’s album-centric Top Shelf series—which reissues the highest-quality, hand-picked rarities. As with all releases in the series, the LP features all-analog remastering by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and is pressed on 180-gram vinyl at RTI. A tip-on jacket, replicating Prelusion’s original design, completes the package. 

In 1982, Patrice Rushen soared to stratospheric heights with her GRAMMY-nominated album, Straight from the Heart (featuring the enduring hit, “Forget Me Nots”). Yet, while Rushen found international fame as an R&B singer-songwriter, her career was actually rooted in jazz tradition. Just eight years earlier, at the age of 20, she embarked on her musical journey with Prelusion—a spectacular debut that introduced Rushen as a formidable new star on the jazz scene.

A classically trained pianist, Rushen scored her big break at 17, earning a chance to perform at the prestigious Monterey Jazz Festival after winning a high school talent competition. Before long, she caught the attention of legendary label Prestige Records (home to such greats as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Thelonious Monk), who signed the promising teenager to a three-album deal. 

The first of these recordings was Prelusion, which paired Rushen with some of the era’s top-tier musicians, including Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Oscar Brashear (trumpet), Hadley Caliman (Flute), George Bohanon (Trombone), Leon “Ndugu” Chancler (drums), Tony Dumas (bass), and Kenneth Nash (percussion). The album also marked Rushen’s first of many projects with her longtime producer and mentor, Reggie Andrews. 

Rushen not only shines as a musician on the album—where she switches between the piano, electric keyboard, synth, and clavinet—but also as a composer, with five original works. Performing primarily post-bop selections (including the energetic opener, “Shortie’s Portion,” and the jaunty “Traverse”), Rushen also incorporates a variety of unique sonic textures, plus elements of fusion, as heard in the reflective, percussion-heavy “7/73,” the bluesy, Rhodes-driven “Haw-Right Now,” and the cosmic “Puttered Bopcorn.” 

Released in 1974, Prelusion introduced Rushen as one of the genre’s most promising talents and marked the beginning of her long and celebrated career. In retrospective reviews, AllMusic praised that the album gave listeners “every reason to believe that [Rushen] would become a major figure in the jazz world,” adding, “One can only speculate on where her career in jazz might have gone had she not switched to R&B singing.” Downbeat, meanwhile, noted that Rushen’s “enchanting debut… boasted her extraordinary gifts as an improviser, composer and arranger” adding that “Rushen’s “impressionistic harmonies and intricate arrangements revealed a maturity well beyond her 20 years.” 

After releasing two more jazz-focused albums (1975’s Before the Dawn and 1977’s Shout It Out), Rushen successfully transitioned into a career as an R&B singer-songwriter. In the ensuing years, she released such best-selling albums as the aforementioned Straight from the Heart (1982), Now (1984), and the GRAMMY-nominated Signature (1997), while hits like “Forget Me Nots” (1982) would later earn new generations of fans through sampling—most famously in Will Smith’s “Men in Black” (1997) and George Michael’s “Fastlove” (1996). 

Beyond her solo career, Rushen is also an esteemed musical director and prolific composer for film and TV, including scores for Waiting to Exhale, Men in Black, HBO’s America’s Dream, and the theme song to The Steve Harvey Show. Among other accomplishments, Rushen stands as the first woman to serve as Musical Director for the 46th, 47th, and 48th GRAMMY Awards, the first woman to hold the role of Head Composer/Musical Director for the Emmy® Awards, as well as the first female Musical Director of both the NAACP Image Awards and People’s Choice Awards.


Thursday, July 04, 2024

Meshell Ndegeocello | No More Water: The Gospel Of James Baldwin + Tour Dates Announced

Meshell Ndegeocello has released the inspiriting new single “Love,” the second song to be revealed from her forthcoming Blue Note album No More Water: The Gospel Of James Baldwin, a striking homage to the eminent writer and activist James Baldwin to be released Aug. 2 on his Centennial.

Ndegeocello will be marking the album release with a headline performance at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival on Aug. 2. Ndegeocello performs songs from the new album on NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert as part of their Black Music Month celebration of Black women artists.

Last month saw the release of the album’s opening track “Travel” paired with the searing spoken word piece “Raise The Roof” by poet Staceyann Chin.

No More Water is a visionary work that is at once a musical experience, a church service, a celebration, a testimonial, and a call to action. Ndegeocello has created a prophetic musical odyssey that transcends boundaries and genres, delving headfirst into race, sexuality, religion, and other recurring themes explored in Baldwin’s canon. Following 2023’s The Omnichord Real Book, her acclaimed Blue Note debut which won the inaugural GRAMMY Award for Best Alternative Jazz Album, the multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, and producer renders an immersive and palpable document that is as sagacious, unabashed, and introspective as Baldwin was in life.

Co-produced by Ndegeocello and guitarist Chris Bruce, No More Water features some of the bassist’s frequent collaborators including Bruce, vocalist Justin Hicks, saxophonist (and Omnichord producer) Josh Johnson, keyboardist Jebin Bruni, and drummer Abe Rounds. Also appearing on various songs are vocalist Kenita-Miller Hicks, keyboardists Jake Sherman and Julius Rodriguez, and Executive Director of the NYCPS Arts Office and trumpeter Paul Thompson. The album also showcases powerful spoken word by venerated poet Staceyann Chin and Pulitzer Prize-winning author and critic Hilton Als.

Nearly a decade in the making, the album’s origins began in 2016 during a performance at The Harlem Stage Gatehouse as part of their annual showcase honoring Baldwin. Ndegeocello had delved into Baldwin’s work the year before, including the seminal nonfiction work The Fire Next Time, which she considers “life-changing” and carries with her as a “spiritual text.” Ndegeocello says, “It was just a revelation to me, and it softened my heart in so many ways.”

“Inspired by Baldwin’s most well-known essay, Ndegeocello’s piece—often staged as a church service—employs music, sermon, text, images, and movement, all of which enter into conversation with Baldwin’s monumental and delicate essay about how black bodies were perceived not only by white Americans but by blacks themselves,” writes Als in the album’s liner notes. “The music you hear in No More Water, is Jimmy talking to Meshell and his words meeting the language of her sounds and then coming out again through a multitude of voices, a multitude of sounds and thoughts that bring Jimmy back and give him—finally—his whole and true self, that which he offered up, time and again, if only we knew then how to listen.”

No More Water marks a significant moment of self-discovery for Ndegeocello. She adds that Baldwin entered her life at precisely the right time. “It came when I was ready to look in the mirror. I’ve had to play Plantation Lullabies at a few shows. Looking back, I had an interesting perspective, but the dialogue was limited. It was more like a cathartic experience for a young person of color, whereas now I’m going, ‘How can I get us all to love each other? How can I get us all to see this for what it is?’”


  • July 5 – Love Supreme Festival – East Sussex, United Kingdom
  • July 7 – Casa del Jazz – Rome, Italy
  • July 8 – Bremen Theater – Copenhagen, Denmark
  • July 10 – Marseille Jazz des Cinq Continents – Marseille, France
  • July 12-14 – North Sea Jazz Festival “Artist In Residence” – Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • July 16 – Jazz a Sete Festival – Sete, France
  • July 19 – Festival Jazz en Ville – Vannes, France
  • July 21 – Stuttgart Jazz Open Festival – Stuttgart, Germany
  • July 23 – Jazz in Marciac – Marciac, France
  • Aug. 2 – BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn – Brooklyn, NY
  • Aug. 4 – Newport Jazz Festival – Newport, RI
  • Aug. 7 – Denver Botanic Gardens – Denver, CO
  • Aug. 8 – Ravinia Festival – Highland Park, IL
  • Sept. 15 – New Mexico Jazz Festival – Santa Fe, NM
  • Sept. 16 – MIM – Phoenix, AZ
  • Sept. 20 – The Center for the Arts at the Armory – Somerville, MA
  • Sept. 21 – Empire State Plaza Performing Arts Center – Albany, NY
  • Sept. 22 – Wexner Center for the Arts – Columbus, OH
  • Sept. 26 – Infinite Dream Festival – Iowa City, IA
  • Sept. 28 – Wisconsin Union Theater – Madison, WI
  • Sept. 29 – Door Community Auditorium – Fish Creek, WI
  • Oct. 3 – World Café Live – Philadelphia, PA
  • Oct. 5 – The Music Center at Strathmore – North Bethesda, MD
  • Oct. 6 – New Jersey Performing Arts Center – Newark, NJ
  • Oct. 31 – JazzOnze+ Festival Lausanne – Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Nov. 1 – Enjoy Jazz-Alte Feuerwache – Mannheim, Germany
  • Nov. 3-4 – Stadtgarten Konzertsaal – Cologne, Germany
  • Nov. 6-7 – Musikbrauerei – Berlin, Germany
  • Nov. 7 – Walter Art Center – Minneapolis, MNNov. 9 – Rockit Festival – Groningen, Netherlands
  • Nov. 10 – Le Guess Who? Festival – Utrecht, Netherlands
  • Nov. 11 – De Roma – Antwerp, Belgium
  • Nov. 12-13 – New Morning – Paris, France
  • Nov. 15 – Koko – London, United Kingdom
  • Dec. 2-5 – Jazz Alley – Seattle, WA

Michael Sarian | Live At Cliff Bell's

In his third quartet outing, Toronto-born, Buenos Aires-raised, and Brooklyn-based trumpeter and composer Michael Sarian fulfills a lifelong dream of releasing a live album with Live at Cliff Bell’s. It was a somewhat last-minute endeavor, as Sarian hadn’t planned on recording a live album until engineer Jon Georgievski floated the idea shortly before their performance at the legendary Detroit venue. Recorded during their spring 2023 tour, which saw the quartet perform across the Greater Toronto Area, the Northeast, and the Midwest, this live set features Sarian’s longtime ensemble: pianist Santiago Leibson, bassist Marty Kenney, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell. They perform tunes from their previous two albums, alongside new compositions that showcase gritty swing, Armenian sensibilities, and ample room for group exploration and interplay. The quartet’s repertoire is inspired by greats such as Enrico Rava, Tomasz Stańko, Kenny Wheeler, and Paul Motian.

Dedicated to his cousin Nick, “Primo” (cousin in Spanish), is arguably the most ‘straight-ahead’ track of the album. The idea for the composition came after getting a copy of Nicolas Slonimsky’s book, Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. Sarian based the composition on a scale found on just the second page, in the ‘Interpolation of Two Notes’ in the Tritone Progression section. With the flat two, major third, sharp fourth, perfect fifth and flat seventh, the scale has an altered blues feel to it, which was perfect for Sarian’s primo since he has an affinity for the genre. The marking at the top of the chart is “fast + gritty swing” with no chords to be found, just the scale on which the tune is based.

Sarian began writing “Aurora,” the title track from the quartet’s first album in 2020, on February 15, 2019. Although the word literally means dawn, the composition came after hearing of a mass shooting that day in Aurora, Illinois. The alternation between sus2 and sus4 chords throughout the first section, paired with a simple melody, bear a somber mood, a hopelessness which Sarian felt assuming #Aurora was trending because of the 2012 mass shooting there, only to find out there another had taken place.

Pianist Santiago Leibson masterfully transitions from "Aurora" into the tension-filled "The Pilgrim," dedicated to Enrico Rava (after the Italian trumpeter’s 1975 album The Pilgrim and The Stars). The seven sixteenth-note pickup to this melody is what gave the piece its start, after Sarian heard Rava play it in his solo on the tune “Bella.”  Originally released on Sarian’s 2022 album Living at the End of the World, this piece is a crash course in tension, building over nearly 10 minutes, releasing only at the end.

“Yi Ku Ghimetn Chim Kidi” (I Don’t Know Your True Value) is an arrangement of a piece by Sayat Nova, an 18th century Armenian poet and troubadour. There is a sense of longing and melancholy that is practically built into the melody, and just like the melodies of so many great Armenian composers, it shines on its own. The melody remains true to Sayat Nova’s, with Sarian’s arrangement providing harmonic support moving it forward, emphasizing the sorrow and longing in the composition which bleeds into Kenney’s and Sarian’s solos.

Composed shortly before hitting the road on this tour, “Glass Mountains” is a tribute to the Armenian people of Artsakh (also known as Nagorno Karabakh). Forced out of their ancestral homes by Azerbaijan after a decades long conflict, this enclave which has been Armenian majority for centuries now endures an ethnic cleansing by regimes that deny the Armenian Genocide, and this Armenian’s population’s right to self-determination. The title refers to the region’s mountainous terrain, and that even these mountains can be delicate.

After a stunning bass solo, Marty Kenney sets up the next piece, in what Sarian has dubbed his short Armenian Suite. “Portrait of Haile” was composed in honor of Haile Selassie, former Emperor of Ethiopia who adopted the ‘Arba Lijoch’, a brass band of 40 Armenian orphans (and their director Kevork Nalbandian) who had escaped the Armenian Genocide, and took them under his wing.

Finally, this first set closes out with “Living at the End of the World,” the title track from the quartet’s 2022 studio album, inspired by Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s 1985 novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, wherein the main character spends half of the novel in a town called ‘The End of the World.’ Reading this during March and April of 2020, a time during which the world seemingly was coming to an end, gave Sarian a different perspective on what the end of the world could be: instead of the world as we know it coming to an end, we could approach it as simply a new, temporary space we are living in. The title track is a bluesy shuffle with a few roadblocks thrown in there, keeping the listener and musicians on their feet.

Live at Cliff Bell’s sees the quartet’s affinity for group interplay paired with the freedom and intensity provided by a live performance. We can hear the closeness of the audience, their feedback, cheering and applause, which admittedly caught Sarian somewhat off guard as the ensemble sometimes veered into more exploration than he would have expected Cliff Bell’s clientele to tolerate. It captures a cohesive, working group in its prime and in the moment.

Live at Cliff Bell’s is out September 13, 2024 on CD and digital.

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Joe Taylor | Westside Chill

Guitarist Joe Taylor successfully reentered the contemporary jazz space earlier this year after a seventeen-year absence with the release of his “Westside Chill” album, showcasing his rootsy blend of instrumental jazz, Americana twang and earthy blues. Now the ten-song set that he wrote and was produced by four-time Grammy winner Steve Rosenthal will be released by Moonwatcher Music on vinyl on National Vinyl Record Day, which is August 12.    

“With the release of ‘Westside Chill’ on vinyl, I wanted to take part in the great Vinyl Revival. I’ve always loved the way it sounds and feels when I pull a vinyl record off the shelf, drop the needle, and enjoy the art behind both the music, the cover and the package, experiencing it the way the artist intended. I hope folks will appreciate ‘Westside Chill’ in the same fashion,” said Taylor who is flanked on the album by jazz pianist Jeff Franzel, bassists Woody Lingle and Brian Stanley (Bryan Adams), drummer Steve Holley (Paul McCartney & Wings), percussionist Blair Shotts, and flutist John Ragusa. 

Taylor spent decades splitting his time between New York City and the South Carolina Lowcountry with both cultures informing his recordings, including “Westside Chill.” In the mid-80s, he used to walk past the basketball court that bass legend Jaco Pastorius played ball on. That memory inspired the tribute tune “Jaco’s Court,” which drops as a single on September 21, the anniversary of the prodigious Pastorious’s passing. 

“Right down the street from the Blue Note, Jaco used to play pickup basketball on the West Fourth Street Courts. I’d walk by and see him out there balling. That court has now become one of the most important sights in the city for streetball. Perhaps Jaco's spirit lingers there as well," said Taylor who wrote the song with Lingle, who is featured playing lyrical basslines evocative of Pastorious’s style of play on the track. 

Taylor now spends all his time living in the placid Lowcountry along South Carolina’s rural coast. Active in the local community, the guitar player will perform a benefit concert at Sunny Side on Edisto on August 2 accompanied by Franzel, Paul Adamy (bass) and Ray Marchica (drums). The show supports the restoration of the historic Hutchinson House, one of the only Black-owned, Reconstruction era plantations in the South. The following night, the quartet will play at Fox Music in N. Charleston, SC. 

“Westside Chill” and its positive reception have Taylor reinspired and encouraged to build on the momentum. It’s his first album since 2015’s “Sugardust in the Devil Wind” and his first contemporary jazz project since 2007’s “Accidental Sugar.” The New York City-based Franzel, Adamy and Marchica will trek to the Lowcountry ahead of the two South Carolina concert dates to begin recording Taylor’s next collection. Taylor is eager to further explore modern jazz while remaining true to his Southern roots. 


The Paul Carlon Quintet | Blues For Vita

Saxophonist and composer PAUL CARLON has been lucky to be surrounded by talented, artistic women throughout his life. His mother was a visual artist who set up large canvases in a workspace she carved out for herself in their home. Her art and her work ethic were huge influences on the young musician. But his late sister, also a visual artist, and his wife, formerly an actor, also embody the artistic spirit that nurtures Carlon’s creativity. 

Carlon is releasing BLUES FOR VITA, his sixth album as a leader. His previous albums have all been Latin-tinged and feature different band configurations. His albums include Tresillo (2017), La Rumba Is a Lovesome Thing: Tribute to Billy Strayhorn (2013), Roots Propaganda (2008), Other Tongues (2006), and Looking Up (1998). The Latin Jazz Network said, “A big man with an expressive face, Mr. Carlon espouses a tone much larger than himself, which is by turn gritty, rapturously lyrical, sparkling and luscious.” 

BLUES FOR VITA features the Paul Carlon Quintet, comprising top New York players who have performed with a Who’s-Who of jazz and Latin jazz stars. The band includes EDDIE ALLEN (trumpet), HARVIE S (bass), HELIO ALVES (piano), and WILLIE MARTINEZ (drums). 

Carlon comes from a musical as well as an artistic family. Two of his older siblings were string players, but Carlon was drawn to the saxophone and decided to follow his own path. Although he earned a degree in English Literature from Cornell University, he chose music as his career and moved to New York City after graduating. He quickly became part of the thriving 90's jazz scene, honing his craft at all-night cutting sessions at Small's Jazz Club. 

Carlon’s playing and composing has been influenced by the greats who came before him. In particular, he cites Woody Shaw, who was known for revolutionizing the technical and harmonic language of modern jazz trumpet playing, and Gene Ammons, a bebop saxophonist who integrated blues and R&B in his music. But Carlon has also been very influenced by Afro-Caribbean music and has performed in various Latin jazz bands.  

Not long after arriving in New York, Carlon became a member of bassist Phil Bowler's band, Pocket Jungle. The band was popular in the 1990’s but stopped performing in 2002. After a 12-year hiatus, the band was reconstituted and recorded a well-received album, which included one of Carlon’s compositions. In the late 90s, Carlon began working with two Afro-Cuban jazz groups, Grupo los Santos and Cuban trombonist Juan Pablo Torres' quintet. He also performs and records with many other groups, including Bronx Conexion (a Latin jazz big band), The McCarron Brothers (a quartet that plays a blend of funk, fusion, and free jazz), Alex Ayala's Afro Puerto Rican Big Band, Schapiro 17 Jazz Orchestra, The Tony Romano Quartet, Earotica (led by bassist John Lang), Goussy Célestin's Ayiti Brass, and Nation Beat, for which he serves as the musical director. 

BLUES FOR VITA comprises five originals by Carlon, two standards, and one off-the-beaten-track composition. Blues, R&B, bebop, and Latin jazz are clearly present in Carlon’s hip sax work. The album opens with “Dee Dot,” the most straight-ahead composition on the album with echoes of Art Blakey’s bands. Carlon composed the tune quickly at a rehearsal and just as quickly came up with the name when he scatted the melody for the band. 

Other Carlon originals include “Colored Paper,” a tune with a driving Latin beat and an Eddie Harris vibe. He named the title track, “Blues for Vita,” for his wife, Lavita, whose image is beautifully rendered on the cover art. Composed with a blues form, the piano plays an ostinato that underpins Carlon’s and Allen’s solos. 

“Unmute” was influenced by Woody Shaw’s driving music. Carlon derived the name from the many Zoom sessions he participated in during the pandemic lockdown. “Zooming into the Void,” the closing track and the last Carlon original on the album, was also named after his pandemic Zoom sessions. The tune is a bossa nova with a darker, moodier vibe. 

The two standards on the album are “Never Will I Marry” and “It Never Entered My Mind.” Carlon’s approach to “Never Will I Marry” was inspired by the iconic Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley version, but the band takes it in new directions with propulsive solos by Carlon and Alves. “It Never Entered My Mind” is a Latin-tinged, slow cha-cha with a menacing feel. 

“Isabel the Liberator,” composed by Larry Willis, is rarely performed, and was notably recorded by Woody Shaw. It was also recorded by Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band, one of Carlon’s favorites. Since no lead sheets existed, Carlon transcribed it by ear. 

BLUES FOR VITA is a hip, Latin jazz-inflected album by one of the busiest and most inventive saxophonists on the New York jazz scene. Carlon’s playing is solid and soulful, and many of his compositions are bound to become standards for the jazz cognoscenti. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Wayne Shorter | Celebration Volume 1

Blue Note Records has announced an August 23 release of Celebration, Volume 1, the first in a series of archival releases that the legendary saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter curated before he passed away in 2023. This thrilling 2014 live recording captured Shorter’s acclaimed quartet with pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Brian Blade at the Stockholm Jazz Festival in Sweden. The intrepid set includes some of the band’s favorite vehicles of exploration including “Zero Gravity,” “Smilin’ Through,” “Orbits,” “Lotus,” and “She Moves Through The Fair.” The album is introduced today with the single “Edge of the World (End Title),” a theme by composer Arthur B. Rubinstein from the 1983 film WarGames, which is accompanied by a live performance video.

“In the fall of 2022, Rob Griffin started sending a lot of unreleased music for Wayne to sort thru,” writes Carolina Shorter in the album’s liner notes. “He started listening around the clock. I’d be doing something around the house, talking on the phone, doing work and he’d yell ‘Carolina! You’ve got to come and hear this shit! Check out what these guys are doing!’ Wayne made detailed notes – some of them are reprinted on this album jacket.”

“When he heard the Stockholm concert, he said ‘this is the album!,’” she continues. “Then he started listening to more things and, over time, realized that it was going to have to be more than one record. He originally wanted to call the collection Unidentified Flying Objects – thinking of the notes everyone played as being UFOs! In January 2023, when he was hospitalized for the last time, he continued picking tracks and laying out the albums. His ‘Never Give Up’ spirit, which underlines his entire mission, was stronger than ever and he was excited to release more music. It was only in the last 10 days of his life that he realized he was not going to be around to see it to fruition. He started feeling the urgency of celebrating life and decided to change the name of the collection to Celebration. I said ‘Yes Wayne! Let’s celebrate!!! That’s what it should be called. A celebration!’”

Blue Note will also be celebrating Shorter’s legacy with several reissues of his classic albums including a Tone Poet Vinyl Edition of Odyssey of Iska (1970) out July 5, a Classic Vinyl Edition of JuJu (1964) out August 16, and a Blue Note Authorized Dealer exclusive blue vinyl reissue of Speak No Evil (1964) which will be available August 9 at participating independent record stores. Celebration, Volume 1 is available for pre-order now on limited edition Blue Note Store exclusive color vinyl, black vinyl, CD, and digital download.

Monday, July 01, 2024

Jon De Luca |The Brubeck Octet Projecr

Ever curious about the underexplored corners of jazz history, alto saxophonist Jon De Lucia breathes new life into one important such chapter with

The Brubeck Octet Project, dropping July 12 on his own Musæum Clausum Recordings imprint. The album documents De Lucia and his octet’s rediscovery and reconditioning of the arrangements played by the

Dave Brubeck Octet, the innovative 1946-1950 unit with which the iconic West Coast pianist began his career. It will be available in CD and digital formats as well as a limited edition 180g Translucent Red Vinyl release, in the style of the original Fantasy Brubeck records.

De Lucia’s octet predates The Brubeck Octet Project. He formed the band in 2016 for another project at City College of New York (where he then taught), but it quickly became a weekly reading band, leaving the saxophonist constantly in search for new (old) repertoire. It was this quest that led him to the archives at Mills College (Brubeck’s alma mater), where he found many of the Brubeck Octet’s original handwritten charts in the papers of the band’s tenor saxophonist and arranger, Dave Van Kriedt. 

“They were a bit of a mess, full of mistakes and scribbles that made them hard to read,” recalls De Lucia in the album’s liner notes. “I always wanted to take the time to put them into notation software, fix the mistakes, rehearse a band, and record this music anew. Finally, thanks to support from CUNY and the Brubeck and Van Kriedt families, it has happened.” 

Jazz being jazz, however, De Lucia also sought ways to make his own mark on the work—and to allow his collaborators to do the same. He wrote new intros and backgrounds for the arrangements (by Brubeck, Van Kriedt, and baritonist/clarinetist Bill Smith), and, more importantly, expanded their solo spaces, giving his musicians room to have their say.

Listeners get to reap those rewards. From De Lucia’s own muscular alto workout on “I Hear a Rhapsody” to pianist Glenn Zaleski, tenor saxophonist Scott Robinson, and trumpeter Brandon Lee’s gleeful runs on “IPCA” to Robinson and trombonist Becca Patterson’s thoughtful, enigmatic submissions on “What Is This Thing Called Love,” the players offer irresistible interpretations and expressions on the historical arrangements. 

As such, the music both remains a product of its time—an experimental thrill ride of the early bebop era—and crackles with renewed vigor and spontaneity at the hands of De Lucia and his cohorts. “This is the first time in 74 years that this music has been played and recorded again,” the alto saxophonist writes. “I think the results turned out great!” Indeed they have.

Jon De Lucia was born November 26, 1980 in Quincy, Massachusetts—just outside Boston, a garden spot for musical studies (and jazz studies in particular). Studying with Berklee College of Music woodwind professor Dino Govoni since high school, De Lucia headed directly for the Boston conservatory after graduating—where he was quickly diverted from his ambition to write video-game music. 

Instead, he was inspired by the high caliber of classmates like Kendrick Scott and Walter Smith III to live up to their jazz chops. De Lucia added a performance major to his studies, and, in addition to jazz, also studied folkloric musics from around the world. His lens widened yet again after he graduated from Berklee in 2005 and moved to New York, where he played and studied with a variety of jazz masters and also began exploring the world of Baroque music. 

Thus his first recording was a postbop jazz sextet session, Face No Face (2006), but De Lucia’s longest-lived project is his Luce Trio, with guitarist Ryan Ferreira and bassist Chris Tordini, now Tatsuya Sakurai and Aidan O’Donnell, which improvises on the compositions of Bach, Handel, and Dowland as well as Baroque-influenced jazz composers like John Lewis and Jimmy Giuffre. 

It was in pursuit of the lattermost composer that De Lucia formed his Octet in 2016, a vessel for investigating Giuffre’s 1959 octet arrangements for saxophonist Lee Konitz. The Octet turned out to outlast the Giuffre project, and De Lucia’s desire to keep replenishing its repertoire led him to the Van Kriedt and Brubeck arrangements that form the basis of his Brubeck Octet Project.

The Jon De Lucia Octet will perform music from The Brubeck Octet Project at Birdland, 315 W. 44th Street, on Sunday 7/14, 5:30pm.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Wayne Escoffery | Alone

In the summer of 2023, saxophonist and composer Wayne Escoffery found himself alone in a way that he’d never quite experienced before. He was away from home, on sabbatical in Europe with a month to himself between tours. A long-term relationship had just ended, and he was confronted with the loss of friendships that he’d once valued. Worst of all, he’d suffered a broken finger that left him unable to play the saxophone for the first time since he’d picked up the horn in high school. 

“Normally, my coping mechanism would be the saxophone,” Escoffery laments. “But even that wasn't available to me for about nine weeks, so I just had to be alone in my thoughts.” 

He made good use of this alone time, conceptualizing the music that makes up his striking and singular new album, Alone. What emerged from that solitude was an extended mood piece, an album unique in Escoffery’s typically wide-ranging catalogue for its sustained atmosphere of stark melancholy and searching introspection. Due out August 30, 2024, via Smoke Sessions Records, the music is breathtakingly interpreted by an all-star quartet featuring iconic bassist Ron Carter, drummer Carl Allen, and pianist Gerald Clayton. 

Escoffery hails from London, England, and lived a nomadic existence before finding a formative mentor in Jackie McLean, settling in New Haven, Connecticut, and then attending the Hartt School in Hartford to study with the legendary saxophonist. A Grammy Award and DownBeat Critics Poll winner, Escoffery has performed with such revered artists as Herbie Hancock, Abdullah Ibrahim, Al Foster, Tom Harrell, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson, Ralph Peterson, Wallace Roney, Monty Alexander, and others. He is also a long-time member of the Grammy award-winning Mingus Big Band and one of the band’s musical directors. 

The saxophonist has enjoyed a decades-long relationship with Carter, considering the bass giant a mentor since his days in grad school at the Thelonious Monk Institute, now the Hancock Institute. He’s since recorded as a member of Carter’s Great Big Band, and the two have shared the stage on a number of occasions, but Escoffery was intent on finding the perfect project to feature Carter on an album of his own. 

Finding a drummer to pair with Carter, on the other hand, can prove daunting. The sheer weight of his storied legacy can be intimidating, but Allen shares his own history with the bassist and has also been a longtime mentor for Escoffery. He recorded with the saxophonist on his albums Times Change and If Dreams Come True, making the Alone session something of a reunion after a nearly two-decade hiatus. 

Clayton is more of a peer to Escoffery, but Alone marks the first time the two have had a chance to play substantially together. “We played together on a few occasions when he was living in New York but haven’t connected much in recent years for whatever reason, though I’ve admired his work with the late Roy Hargrove and more recently with Charles Lloyd. I really appreciate Gerald’s comping and his attention to detail. He has great ears and harmonic understanding, and he sounds amazing on this album.” 

The music Escoffery compiled for Alone – a carefully selected blend of original compositions and familiar standards – vividly captures the profound richness and variety of emotion that loneliness can evoke. The repentant, bittersweet “Moments with You” is Escoffery’s most direct reflection on his shattered relationship. There is no vocal on the track, yet Escoffery includes his self-penned lyric for the song anyway, his sentiments bolstering the fragile emotions conveyed by the quartet’s heartrending interpretation. 

There’s sadness, too, in Escoffery’s title track, but also a sense of hope, strength, and inner peace, aided immeasurably by the foundation of Carter’s broad-shouldered bassline. Harold Land’s “Rapture” has been a constant in Escoffery’s repertoire since he was invited to pay tribute to the late hard-bop great at San Diego’s Athenaeum Music & Arts Library last fall, and the tune fits the album’s mood exquisitely. 

The frigid chill coming off of “The Ice Queen” leaves no doubt that it has a particular inspiration in mind – though Escoffery is quick to insist that its subject is not the same as the former flame whose presence looms so large over the rest of the album – but its air of steely regret encompasses the loss of platonic friendships that becomes inevitable with age and maturation. Johnny Mandel’s “The Shadow of Your Smile” seems to dwell in the darkest recesses of that shadow, rendering the tune shrouded and mournful. 

“Blues for D.P.” is a Ron Carter classic, written in tribute to the pianist Duke Pearson and originally recorded less than two months after his death in 1980 for Carter’s album Parfait. It was revived by another of Escoffery’s heroes, Grover Washington Jr., on the legendary saxophonist’s 1988 album Then and Now, in a version with Carter and his Miles Davis Quintet bandmate Herbie Hancock. 

Of the two bonus tracks (available on CD and digital releases only), “Stella by Starlight” is a recollection of a more tender kind, lingering on an entrancing vision from the past, dimming yet still vibrant. Closing the album, Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell for You” pares the band down to the duo of Escoffery and Clayton, painting the tune in austere hues of last-call sorrow. 

Alone was conceived during a time of isolation, heartbreak, regret, and reflection, but the experience of the album is far richer even than that. In the end, “I was forced to reflect on life and what was most important to me,” Escoffery concludes. “The concept of this album grew out of that reflection.”


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