Sunday, January 19, 2020

Satoko Fujii and Orchestra New York Bring Urgency and Brio to 11th Album Entity

The Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York, led by one of this era’s greatest big band composers, sounds as fresh and exciting on their eleventh recording, Entity, as they did on their first in 1997. Working with a 13-piece big band that includes a remarkable nine founding members, Fujii continues to inspire her orchestra—and be inspired by them. This is an album that revels in the soloing prowess of its individual members while showcasing the ever-inventive composing and arranging of its founder and leader. The album will be released on February 14, 2020 via Libra Records. 

“Since I have been playing with this band for such a long time now, I know how they play,” Fujii says. “And when I compose, I actually hear their sound. So, soloists actually support my writing. For me composing for this band is more like collaboration—when I compose I am already working with the band, even if I am in Tokyo and they are in New York. Is this strange to say?” 

Strange or not, the music is unfailingly exciting, with an urgency and brio born of the mutual admiration between performers and composer. “The music cannot be boring with these musicians,” Fujii says. “This band inspires new ideas in me and I always feel free to try something different because I know they will respond and make it sound great.”  

Fujii also found inspiration for her compositions from another source. “I am not a scholar and don’t have a deep knowledge of Buddhism,” Fujii says, “but I was reading about some of Buddha’s ideas online and learned that he had the idea of elementary particles centuries before physicists discovered them. The concept inspired me to write the pieces on this album.” 

Throughout the album you can hear the chemistry between composer and orchestra. Fujii finds all kinds of ways to frame soloists and provide full ensemble themes that set a mood, often several different moods within the same composition. “Entity” opens with an attention-grabbing blast of energy that launches guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Ches Smith into a bounding and weaving duet. As the band sets up a regular two beat pattern, guitarist and drummer dip and curl in off-kilter tandem around the pulse, beautifully highlighting their subtle sense of rhythm and texture. Tidal surges of massed horns on “Flashback” launch trombonist Joe Fiedler into a boldly phrased solo that gives way to a searching, introspective unaccompanied solo from Oscar Noriega. Trumpeter Herb Robertson’s virtuoso mute technique highlights his outing with the band’s blue-chip rhythm section. 

Fujii’s majestic “Gounkaiku” is a feature for trumpeter Dave Ballou’s elegant melodicism, while “Elemental Particle” lets Ellery Eskelin cut loose with a fire-breathing solo. “Everlasting,” a heart-wrenching ballad, pairs soloists in duets, first trumpeter Natsuki Tamura and trombonist Curtis Hassellbring, then alto saxophonist Briggan Krauss and baritone saxophonist Andy Laster. 

On occasion throughout the album, Fujii creates spontaneous arrangements to fit the moment. “While we are playing,” Fujii explains, “I can hold up Sign 1, which means play a long tone with any note, or Sign 2, which means play a glissando. There are others, too. It may be a little bit like Butch Morris, but my signs are for predetermined materials.” This can be heard in the opening moments of “Gounkaiku,” when the band plays a series of long tones that glimmer like a necklace of jeweled sounds or toward the end of “Flashback” when Fujii uses the long tones to create tension before the band plays the rollicking closing theme. It’s a part of the ongoing dialog between the composer and a seasoned orchestra fully attuned to her creativity. 

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer Satoko Fujii as one of the most original voices in jazz today. She’s “a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a bandleader who gets the best collaborators to deliver," says John Fordham in The Guardian. In concert and on more than 80 albums as a leader or co-leader, she synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock, and folk musics into an innovative style instantly recognizable as hers alone. A prolific band leader and recording artist, she celebrated her 60th birthday in 2018 by releasing one album a month from bands old and new, from solo to large ensemble. Franz A. Matzner in All About Jazz likened the twelve albums to “an ecosystem of independently thriving organisms linked by the shared soil of Fujii's artistic heritage and shaped by the forces of her creativity.” 

Over the years, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music, including her trio with bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Jim Black and an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins. Her ongoing duet project with husband Natsuki Tamura released their sixth recording, Kisaragi, in 2017. “The duo's commitment to producing new sounds based on fresh ideas is second only to their musicianship,” says Karl Ackermann in All About Jazz. Aspiration, a CD by an ad hoc quartet featuring Wadada Leo Smith, Tamura, and Ikue Mori, was released in 2017 to wide acclaim. “Four musicians who regularly aspire for greater heights with each venture reach the summit together on Aspiration,” writes S. Victor Aaron in Something Else. As the leader of no less than five orchestras in the U.S., Germany, and Japan (two of which, Berlin and Tokyo, released new CDs in 2018), Fujii has also established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, leading Cadence magazine to call her, “the Ellington of free jazz.”

Saturday, January 18, 2020

New Music Releases: Gyedu-Blay Ambolley, KVL (Quin Kirchner / Daniel Van Duerm / Matthew Lux), Nick Mazzarella Trio

Gyedu-Blay Ambolley - 11th Street Sekondi

A killer contemporary set from Gyedu Blay Ambolley – one of the Afro Funk heroes of the 70s, still sounding fantastic after all these years! The album was all recorded at Ambolley's Simigiwa Studios in Ghana – and arrangements, instrumentation, and production are all in a very classic mode – with the leader on tenor and vocals, stretching out with this nicely raspy quality that's a great evolution in his sound – as if he's found a way to put even more feeling and experience into the sound that he gives us! The rest of the lineup features keyboards, trumpet, tenor, alto, guitar, and plenty of percussion – on titles that include "Black Woman", "I No Dey Talk I Do De Lie", "Ignorance", "Little Small Girl", "Sunkwa", "Who Go Pay", "Brokos", and "Who Made Your Body Like Dat". ~ Dusty Groove

KVL (Quin Kirchner / Daniel Van Duerm / Matthew Lux) - KVL Volume 1

The debut album from a very hip trio – one that features Quin Kirchner on drums and percussion, Daniel Van Duerm on organ and electric piano, and Matt Lux on bass – plus all three members on some sort of electronics! The tunes are instrumental and experimental, but almost always have some sort of structure and rhythmic energy – a quality that maybe nods more towards the work that Lux has done on other sides of the Chicago scene over the years – as he's been one of the most diverse, adaptable, and collaborative bassists we can think of! There's some really great sounds running throughout – a record that's maybe post-jazz, post-rock, and post-improv – with titles that include "North Branch", "Bladewalker", and "Peaceable" – the last of which features guest trumpet from Jaimie Branch. ~ Dusty Groove

Nick Mazzarella Trio - Counterbalance

Alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella has really been setting the Chicago scene on fire of late – and that legacy certainly stands strong within the first few minutes of this recently-recorded live set – a searing trio date that has Mazzarella working at the height of his powers! Nick can spin out flurries of notes one minute, then hit spacious, thoughtful passages the next – energy that's really balanced out by the amazing work of Frank Rosaly on drums, and the strong placement of Anton Hatwich's sounds on the bass – served up at a level that's bold enough to match the fast-thinking creativity of both Rosaly and Nick. Titles include "The Puzzle", "Counterbalance", "Headway"," Innermost", "About Looking", and "Phonetic". ~ Dusty Groove

Friday, January 17, 2020

Trumpeter John Bailey - Can You Imagine?

In 1964, Dizzy Gillespie announced his candidacy for President of the United States. The campaign was, in the iconic trumpeter’s wry fashion, in large part satirical – particularly his proposed cabinet, which included Duke Ellington as Secretary of State, Louis Armstrong as Secretary of Agriculture, and Miles Davis as CIA Director among others. But the issues that Gillespie raised on the campaign trail, during one of the most heated periods of the Civil Rights movement, were serious, and resonate with the conflicts we still face today.

On his new album, Can You Imagine?, veteran trumpeter and composer John Bailey positions an alternate reality half a century on from a President Gillespie administration. (This is no passing fancy for Bailey; as Allen Morrison points out in his liner notes, the trumpeter’s license plate reads “DIZ4PREZ.”)

Due out, appropriately enough, on January 20, 2020 – Inauguration Day – through Bailey’s own Freedom Road Records, Can You Imagine? is also offered as a rhetorical question, a stunned response to the fact that too many of us seem not to have learned the lessons on empathy and human decency offered by our country’s artistic giants.

“It’s an open question,” Bailey says. “Here we are in 2019 and there’s a lack of compassion and basic decency in our leadership and in our culture. I’m just asking: where would our culture be today if someone like Dizzy had actually occupied the White House in 1965? Can you imagine?”

The modern world that Bailey imagines is built on a foundation of joyful swing, a melting pot of influences from throughout the jazz tradition and Latin America. It’s a celebration of fellow feeling among a knockout group of musicians well versed in making bold individual statements while melding their sounds into a harmonious whole. The core sextet includes saxophonist Stacy Dillard, trombonist Stafford Hunter, pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Mike Karn and drummer Victor Lewis, along with guest appearances by bass trombonist and tuba master Earl McIntyre and flutist Janet Axelrod.

Leading the band is John Bailey, whose distinctive trumpet sound graced countless concert stages and record dates before he made his long overdue recording debut in 2018 with In Real Time. Over more than three decades as an in-demand sideman, Bailey enjoyed long-running relationships with Ray Charles, Ray Barretto, The Woody Herman Orchestra and Frank Sinatra, Jr., and contributed to a pair of Grammy- winning albums by Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra.

The centerpiece of the album is the three-part, 12-minute “President Gillespie Suite,” which traces the candidate along the road to what he promised to rechristen “The Blues House.” While he half-jokingly relates the idea of a “concept record” to the influence of Jethro Tull’s Thick As a Brick, Bailey traces frontman Ian Anderson’s classic rock flute sound to the influence of one of his own key inspirations, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The jazz eccentric’s 1969 album Volunteered Slavery is a touchstone for Can You Imagine?. McIntyre’s classic plunger solo style is featured over its theme and others, including Stevie Wonder’s “Do Yourself a Favor” in the suite’s second movement.

Kirk was also the inspiration for Victor Lewis’ “From the Heart,” one of two compositions from the legendary percussionist/composer, the other being the soulful “The Touch of Her Vibe.” Dillard contributed “Elite State of Mind,” its lilting melody beautifully voiced by virtuoso flutist Janet Axelrod.

Can You Imagine? opens with “Pebbles in the Pocket,” which Bailey says references the “pebbles of wisdom” that we each carry around with us from loved ones, mentors, or anyone who’s gone before and left behind those crucial nuggets of knowledge that it would behoove us to heed. “Ballad from Oro, Incienso y Mirra” is an excerpt from a suite that showcased Bailey with Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra at the Apollo Theater in 2016, an evening that also featured Dr. Cornel West.

Bailey describes Chico Buarque’s “Valsa Rancho,” with Axelrod on bass and alto flute, as “an iconic selection from the Elis Regina songbook,” another of the trumpeter’s wide-ranging passions. The album ends with a wistful rendition of the classic “People,” in which Bailey’s warm, embracing tone reminds us of our shared humanity.

Ultimately, that message is what Bailey hopes listeners come away with from Can You Imagine? The album is not meant to bemoan our current turmoil but to offer a better alternative, one in which we rise to our better natures. “Positive change is an important theme in this album,” he concludes. “I’m a patriot. I love my country. I want to enlighten people, to have them contemplate not just Dizzy for President in 1964 but any number of opportunities we’ve had, and will have, to champion compassion, dignity and civility. I’m a little frustrated that we’re not there yet, but I believe we will achieve social justice and I am compelled to serve the cause.”

Known as one of the most eclectic trumpet players in New York City, Bailey is an in-demand musician and teaching artist in all forms of jazz, R&B, pop and classical music. He became a member of the Buddy Rich Band while still in college, and his career has included tenures with Ray Charles, Ray Barretto and New World Spirit, The Woody Herman Orchestra and Frank Sinatra, Jr. He has performed and recorded with James Moody, Kenny Burrell, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Barrett Deems and many others. His work with Arturo O'Farrill won two Grammy Awards, for the albums The Offense of the Drum and Cuba - The Conversation Continues. He has played on more than 75 albums and, as a jazz educator, has taught at the University of Miami and Florida International University.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


After an impressive round one lineup including Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Ice Cube, Jimmy Cliff, Chronixx and more (, the California Roots Music and Arts Festival is proud to announce its second wave of artists including Rebelution, Atmosphere, Sean Paul, Tribal Seeds, Collie Buddz, The Green, The Expendables, Cultura Profética, The Movement, Keznamdi, EarthKry, Artikal Sound System, The Elovaters, and Arise Roots. The eleventh edition will take place May 22-24, 2020 at the Monterey County Fair and Event Center, and will continue to celebrate the strong community of roots, rock & reggae music lovers, who are dedicated to environmental awareness, sustainability, and a positive lifestyle.

For the past decade, Cali Roots have paved its own unique way in the festival circuit, leading by example on how their event can do more than just entertain. Cali Roots has become synonymous with a lineup heavy with the top performers in the genre, unique, cultivated fan experiences, dedicated to greening initiatives and a commitment to giving back to incredible non-profits. Cali Roots’ ethos is to reduce their impact on the environment by aligning with other like-minded organizations, making earth-wise choices regarding the products purchased, promoting environmental awareness to fans, staff & artists, and continuing to set the bar higher each year in their commitment to sustainability. Their efforts have been recognized by FestX, which selected the event as a finalist for “Outstanding Green Festival” for two years in a row!

“It’s amazing to see how much the festival has grown in the past decade without losing its sense of community.” states festival Co-Producer Dan Sheehan. He adds, “There’s something magical to see fans coming back year after year with more friends and now kids; introducing a new generation to the Cali Roots experience.”

Round Two Artist Line-Up Announcement:

Sean Paul
Tribal Seeds
Collie Buddz
The Green
The Expendables
Cultura Profética
The Movement
Artikal Sound System
The Elovaters
Arise Roots

The 11th Annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival
Dates: Friday, May 22, 2020 – Sunday May 24, 2020
Time: 10:00 am – 11:00 pm PDT
Venue: Monterey County Fair and Event Center
Address: 2004 Fairground Road, Monterey, CA 93940
Admission: Varies
Age restrictions: All Ages

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Bobby Hatfield - Stay With Me: The Richard Perry Sessions

Unfinished lost album from former tenor of blue-eyed soul duo The Righteous Brothers.
In 1971, record producer Richard Perry was at the beginning of his long ascent into superstardom as one of popular music’s most legendary and successful producers. During the previous 12 months, Perry had struck gold with Barbra Streisand (Stoney End), produced two albums by the seminal all female rock band Fanny, and finished his masterwork, Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson, an album that would receive worldwide critical and commercial success with Top 10 singles (“Without You,” “Coconut”), Grammy® awards and Gold and Platinum records.

Bobby Hatfield had achieved huge success as a member of The Righteous Brothers. In the mid-’60s, with partner Bill Medley, Hatfield scored numerous Top 10 records, most produced by iconic producer Phil Spector and sang on one of rock’s true great standards, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” a song that has amassed a record 8 million performances according to BMI. By early ’71 Hatfield had left The Righteous Brothers looking to establish himself as a solo artist.

So it was fortuitous that these two popular music heavyweights should meet and record together. Unfortunately, most of what they did in the studio did not see the light of day—until now. Omnivore Recordings is proud to announce the release of Stay With Me: The Richard Perry Sessions, a collection of material recorded by Hatfield and produced by Perry that was primarily recorded at Apple Studios in December of 1971 with an all-star cast of musicians that include Ringo Starr, Klaus Voormann, and Al Kooper.

The two singles that were released in the spring and fall of 1972 (“Stay With Me” and “Oo Wee Baby, I Love You”) are included here in addition to multiple takes of six additional songs. Here rhythm and blues tinged versions of George Harrisons’ “What Is Life” and “Sour Milk Sea,” a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Baby Don’t You Do It,” and a stunningly gorgeous version of the Cole Porter classic “In The Still Of The Night.”

Stay With Me: The Richard Perry Sessions is primarily a collection of previously unissued work. Some tracks are complete, some are works in progress. But the record gives the listener an opportunity to be a fly on the wall while great music is being made. So sit back, and return to December, 1971—you are there!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New Music Releases: Spring NYC Soul, Torcuato Mariano, Jim Richter

Spring NYC Soul (Various Artists)

New York label Spring, and its Event and Posse subsidiaries, were very active from 1967 up to the late 80s. They specialised in the city’s black music and tried most variations, including soul, gospel, disco, show tunes, funk, harmony and later electro and rap. Here on the collection you will find the most soulful tracks that have so far not appeared on Kent CDs and have found six completed recordings that were previously unreleased. Two of these are ballads, one of which is Maxine Weldon’s stunning version of Ray Godfrey’s song ‘I’m The Other Half Of You’ and there is a new unknown, sweet soul song from one-time Tavares member Victor Tavares. Ray Godfrey features heavily with two unissued dance tracks – the Joe Simon-covered ‘I Love You More Than Anything’ and the previously unheard song ‘Hold On’. The Determinations’ opener ‘Save The Best For Me’ is another of his great songs, previously only on a rare LP. Other 70s dancers come from Ronnie Walker, Act I and the Joneses. More ballads are provided by Joe Simon, Leroy Randolph and, surprisingly, the Fatback Band. 60s uptempo soul comes from Prince Harold, Little Eva Harris and Richard Barbary. The offerings of the Internationals, US and Vernon Brown are harder to categorise; quirky and worthy but in their own individual styles. The great songwriter Phillip Mitchell went funky on his “Jody” song ‘If We Get Caught (I Don’t Know You)’ as did Phil Flowers with his heavy guitar-infused ‘Kill The Monster’. Philly girls the Equations sing the poppy and catchy ‘Boiling Like Water’, Jackie Verdell gives us gospel in a modern soul setting and C-Brand take us into the 80s with their two-stepper ‘Plenty Of Love’. This is a catholic selection for lovers of soul through its most interesting eras.

Torcuato Mariano  - Escola Brasileira

Veteran guitarist, producer and composer Torcuato Mariano was born in Argentina but has been living in Brazil, working with many of its top jazz musicians since the late 70s. He celebrates 25 years as a recording artist with ESCOLA BRASILEIRA – literally “Brazilian School” - a dynamically textured, rhythmically eclectic romp through a multitude of that culture’s sophisticated and exotic jazz-related styles. Backed by lush strings and horns, Mariano surrounds his snappy playing with guest performances by Brazilian greats, singer-songwriter Djavan, pianist Cesar Camargo Mariano, bandolinist Hamilton de Holanda and harmonica player Gabriel Grossi. Also featured is renowned American vocalist Toni Scruggs. ~

Jim Richter - Breezy Day

Getting back to making music full time after years where other priorities took precedence, guitarist, keyboardist and composer Jim Richter taps back into his rock/blues roots with a mix of deep soulfulness, playful buoyancy and fiery intensity on his new album BREEZY DAY. Hitting all the infectious yet artsy-cool sweet spots of Steely Dan and Larry Carlton, he offers dreamy ballads, funk jams, island delights and bluesy grit – in addition to playful titles that pay homage to Bill Evans and Weather Report. ~
Veteran trumpeter John Bailey imagines a world inherited from a President Dizzy Gillespie administration on his celebratory second album. ~

Monday, January 13, 2020

New Music Releases: Luxury Soul 2020, Juewett Bostick, Phaze II

Luxury Soul 2020 – Various Artists

The leading independent soul label Expansion Records commences each year with one of the label’s most anticipated collections, “Luxury Soul”.  The success of the series comes down to the quality of tracks sourced from independent soul music artists, often unsigned or with recordings previously unissued or on limited release elsewhere.  Included on this unique collection is an exclusive Glenn Jones track “Better Man”, first time on CD releases by Tyra Levone, Alex Puddu featuring Breakwater’s lead singer Gene Robinson Jr, St. Paul (formerly of The Time), Tompi (produced by Incognito), Blue Soul Ten, Paul Johnson and Incognito themselves with “Jakarta Dreams”. The Rockie Robbins version of “Together” is from 1979, Halo’s “Let Me Do It” another ‘rare groove’ to accompany the contemporary soul by an impressive array of artists.

Juewett Bostick - Shades of Blu

True to the fascinating, multi-faceted title concept of his latest album Shades Of Blu, masterful guitarist Juewett Bostick – whose fluid, funky axe has backed recording royalty including Grover Washington Jr., Nancy Wilson, and Barry White – soulfully blends his cool, urban jazz style with elements of the classic blues & jazz as well as neo soul jazz. Bridging beloved traditions with current musical innovations, Bostic creates a rich, colorful sonic world featuring female vocals, exotic vocal textures, spoken word conversations, state-of-the-art technology and global rhythms. These caress a blend of buoyant originals and re-imagined classics by Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley. ~

Phaze II - No Cover Charge

Phaze II’s fifth and latest album boasts the clever title No Cover Charge, but their kind of finely honed, supremely cool eclectic magic is worth any price! Now well into their third decade lighting the jazz, funk, Latin and R&B fires in their hometown of Washington, DC, the six-piece super-ensemble Phaze II – onetime winners of the Capital Jazz Challenge Competition - alternates their flow between silky, seductive cool, fiery, wild energy storms and infectious, easy grooving mid-tempo tunes. They balance their more muscular, rocking offerings with dreamier pieces clearly and designed to melt the heart.  ~

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Meridian 71 combines jazz with Mediterranean and West African on Metropolitan Sketches

From a very young age, Italian-born, Boston-based drummer and composer Giuseppe Paradiso always felt like a person who was a little different. He’d been exposed to many different styles of music as a serious young drummer and delved headlong into everything from flamenco music to jazz, bebop, pop and the melancholy cadences of southern Italy’s funeral marching bands that first inspired him. But he never really felt like he belonged with any one group until he moved to Boston after receiving a scholarship to attend Berklee  College in 2008. 

Inspired by the multiculturalism of that city, Paradiso’s writing began to combine elements from all the different cultural influences he encountered. He’d struggled for many years to find a musical identity, and suddenly the opportunity to work so closely with people from so many different cultures transformed what was once a struggle into a distinct creative advantage.

This is what inspired MERIDIAN 71, a cross-cultural music project that Paradiso created and has led since 2012. The project, whose name comes from Boston's longitude - the 71st meridian that passes precisely through the eastern part of the city - is now set to release its second album Metropolitan Sketches (to be released 02/12/2020) featuring original compositions by Paradiso which he performs with an eclectic and multicultural ensemble of well-established Boston-based musicians. 

“Boston is the location where I met musicians from different parts of the globe with whom I deeply connected and spoke the common language of music,” reflects Paradiso. “It felt like I had known for a long time that at some point in my life I would have met musicians just like them, from way before moving across the Atlantic in 2008. Meridian 71 becomes then the creative laboratory and space to develop this music.” 

Median 71 is more than a band in concept; it's a dynamic and ever-changing musical project with a revolving lineup and a driving vision to create several more albums in upcoming years. The new album differs, both in terms of lineup and musical themes, from the projects first release Otherness Collection, which came out in 2012. 

“I think my writing on this album is more mature, as seven years have passed by since I first began working on it,” reflects Paradiso. “On the previous work, the tendency was more toward the jazz field, whereas on Metropolitan Sketches I wanted to incorporate more of my deeper influences. This project’s lineup reflects exactly those influences, manifesting somewhere between a jazz, Mediterranean, and West African sound. 

This change in personnel is perhaps best personified by the inclusion of the Senegalese griot from the Gewel tradition and Sabar musician MALICK NGOM, an amazing player and a very knowledgeable expert of West African music. The project’s current line-up also features some of the Boston area’s top musical talents including guest jazz trumpeter PHIL GRENADIER, internationally touring musician, Berklee, and New England Conservatory faculty MARK ZALESKI; internationally renowned Turkish pianist and composer as well as Berklee faculty UTAR ARTUN; in high demand jazz guitarist PHIL SARGENT; and world music, electric fretless bassist GALEN WILLETT 

Paradiso began his official training in music when he was just five years old in the Southern Italian town of Puglia. At the age of 14, he was invited to attend the “N. Piccinni” classical conservatory where he studied classical music with a focus on percussion, as well as training on classical piano and classical composition for eight years. 

“I started to compose when I was about sixteen,” says Paradiso. “Some of my major inspiration for writing, believe it or not, was actually the music of marching bands for funerals in southern Italy. I was very inspired and touched by the funeral music of my hometown, and when I was sixteen I even wrote some funeral themes. So, my writing, I guess, has always been inspired by this melancholic key.” 

This inspiration accounts for the heavily cinematic tone and the thematic thread of 'a search for belonging' that runs through the tracks on Metropolitan Sketches.  The first track “Nomvula (Mother of Rain)” is inspired by the life-story of one of Paradiso’s very dear friends who’d immigrated from South Africa during apartheid. A black woman who arrived in Boston as a refugee when she was just twelve-years-old with no parents, no family, nothing, her life-story really resonated with Paradiso’s own search for belonging, which led him to the historied metropolitan immigrant hub. Musically, the track is a little bit of a combination of her life story merged with musical inspiration Paradiso felt after watching a movie about the life of John Coltrane.

The third, fourth and fifth tracks on the record comprise a trilogy story that represents a piece of Paradiso’s own family heritage. His mother's mother was a gypsy descendent, and after watching a movie about the history of those nomads, he was again inspired to write something about his roots. “Introduction to Tuntkah,” is a haunting drum solo piece that tells the story of a caravan moving along slowly across distant lands. Then, when coming to a halt at the end of the day, a drummer would play a sequence meant for collective healing and giving the travelers the energy to keep moving forward. “Tuntkah (The Nomad King),” is a story Paradiso created in his mind when he imagined a king who would give up his kingdom and all his wealth and fame to live the wandering life of a nomad. And “A Partial Life Story” depicts the nomad king arriving in some new place where nobody knows him.  Says Paradiso, “I had in my mind when I was writing that song,  that people often get an idea of you, but there’s always a whole side that they won't ever really know. A part that is always a mystery. So, the impressions we get of people are only partial life stories." 

The final track of the album “Metropolitan Sketches,” which is also the title track, is a composition Paradiso started way back in 2011 and finished nearly six years later in 2017. The varying instrumentation, time signatures and moods of the track invite the listener to imagine they are cruising into a vast multicultural city, and as they pass through from area to area, they experience different atmospheres, different kinds of vibe, different colors, different cultures and foods, and so on. All within the same city. “I built the song in that way with a lot of different sections, very different from each other, to bring the essence of the truly multicultural city to life” 

Meridian 71’s official CD release show is scheduled for Feb 13, 2020, at Regattabar in Cambridge, MA following their online release date on Feb 12, 2020.  More tour dates to be announced.

Friday, January 10, 2020

New Music Releases: Saxophone Summit, Jazz Defenders, Crown Jewels Vol. 1

Saxophone Summit (Liebman/Lovano/Osby) - Street Talk

A strong summit of saxophone giants – Joe Lovano on tenor, Dave Liebman on soprano, and Greg Osby on alto – all uniting here in one of the boldest statements of their individual voices we've heard in years! Part of the record's charm is the way the three saxes come together to carve out bold formations together – with a free-spirited sound that almost takes us back to some of the sax quartet records of earlier decades – save for the fact that this album's got an equally bold rhythm section – with Phil Markowitz on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, and Billy Hart on drums – players who tie together very well, and who provide this stunning backdrop for the sharper lines of the saxophonists! Liebman is especially great – very sharp, but also swinging – and Osby sounds better than we've heard him in years, maybe opened up by Joe Lovano expressing some of his more avant sensibilities. Titles include "Loudly", "Street Talk", "Point", "Toli's Dance", and "A Portrait".  ~ Dusty Groove

Jazz Defenders - Scheming

The first we've ever heard from the Jazz Defenders – but a record that makes it feel like the group has been together for years – as the songs explode with all sorts of fresh ideas and individual voices – all while the whole thing stays in strongly soulful, swinging territory! The tunes are all originals – and the group's led by keyboardist Greg Cooper, who plays organ, piano, and Wurlitzer – in a lineup that also features Nick Malcolm on trumpet and Nicholas Dover on saxes – players who clearly understand an older legacy of soulful jazz from the Prestige/Blue Note side of the spectrum, but who also don't just go for a slavish recreation of that style! Instead, there's lots of interesting rhythmic interplay at the bottom of the tunes, which seems to set the horns and piano in bright new directions – on titles that include "Late", "Hawkeye Jorge", "Costa Del Lol", "Scheming", "Brown Down", and "Top Down Tourism".  ~ Dusty Groove

Crown Jewels Vol 1 (Compilation)

A big collection of funky gems from the Big Crown label – an important imprint in the role of fresh funky styles in the global underground! Big Crown are part of a musical legacy that stretches back to Soul Fire and Desco – but the company also has an ear towards newer modes of funky sounds too – and mixes together some older funky favorites with newer talents, mostly issued initially in a long run of 7" singles. This set brings together a dozen of the labels' best, with titles that include "Pimp" by Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, "Guilty" by Lady Wray, "Parachute" by Thee Lakesiders, "This Strange Effect" by The Shacks, "Once In A While" by Paul & The Tall Trees, "Tearz" by El Michel's Affair, "This Love" by Bobby Oroza, "Terrorize My Heart (disco dub)" by 79.5, "Never Be Another You" by Lee Fields & The Expressions, "Oh I Miss Her So" by Holy Hive, and "Dead End" by Brainstory. ~ Dusty Groove

Thursday, January 09, 2020

New Music Releases: Arto Lindsay / Joe McPhee / Ken Vandermark / Phil Sudderberg, Peter Brotzmann, Krokofant with Stale Storlokken & Ingebrigt Haker Flaten

Arto Lindsay / Joe McPhee / Ken Vandermark / Phil Sudderberg - Largest Afternoon

A set that's brimming over with improvising jazz talent – but one that's an especially great reminder of the guitar genius of the great Arto Lindsay! Lindsay is amazing here – playing with energy to match the brilliance of Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee – which is really saying a lot, and which has us almost feeling like a younger version of Arto's self stepped forward straight from the New York no wave scene, in order to create a pan-historical bridge with the improvising strengths of the Corbett Vs Dempsey universe! Drummer Phil Sudderberg is wonderful too – a master of sounds and moments – and the short tracks allow for plenty of sharp changes, and shifts in energy between each selection. McPhee blows alto, tenor, and pocket trumpet – and Vandermark is on tenor, baritone, and clarinet – on titles that include "The Push & Pull Beneath The Surface", "She Must Have Known", "Whether You Were There Or Not", "When I Lose Any Sense Of Perspective", and "The World's Longest Afternoon". ~ Dusty Groove

Peter Brotzmann - I Surrender Dear

Saxophonist Peter Brotzmann is no stranger to the world of solo recording – but this set has a very different vibe than most of his previous outings in that format – as you might guess by the famous standard referenced in the title! Half the record has Peter taking off on his own renditions of classic jazz ballads – still very much in Brotzmann formation, with lots of sharp edges and freer flights – but tied to a longer jazz history that's really amazing, a bit in the manner of some of the Anthony Braxton experiments with standards over the years. Other tunes are originals or works by some of the Brotzmann's contemporaries – balanced in a great way that really shows the never-ending creativity of the legendary reedman, even after his many decades of recording. Titles include "Con Alma", "Lady Sings The Blues", "I Surrender Dear", "Lover Come Back To Me", "Churchsong", "Brozziman", and "Sumphin". ~ Dusty Groove

Krokofant with Stale Storlokken & Ingebrigt Haker Flaten - Q

A modern bit of progressive avant jazz from Krokofant – a trio who take us back to some of the European power combos of the 70s, particularly those that could blend together electric styles and outside sounds in the Eastern Bloc scene! The core lineup features tremendous drums from Axel Skalstad, who also plays a bit of vibe – plus guitars from Tom Hasslan and saxes from Jorgen Mathisen – all used in a forward-thinking style that crests beautifully from the united energy of the trio! This time around, they've also got key help from Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass and Stale Storlokken on keyboards – both players who help churn up the sound even more! The keyboards have a way of locating the guitar and saxophones nicely – and we're not sure we've ever heard Ingebrigt's bass in just such a setting, but it really rises to the occasion. The album features one long piece – divided up into four parts. ~ Dusty Groove

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

New Music Releases: Lynn Cardona, Bronze, David Grubbs /Mats Gustafsson / Rob Mazurek

Lynn Cardona - Ophelia

Lynn Cardona’s newest project, Ophelia, is an EP featuring three original compositions about love – both unrequited and the kind of love that is ecstatic and slowly burns with longing and lust. Cardona is a contemporary jazz and soul artist living in Los Angeles. She is a true original -- her voice has a dreamy quality and an utterly distinctive character. Her first CD, Lovin’ You, was released in 2016. Cardona’s lyrics reflect her troubled heart and difficult upbringing. She had been grappling with depression most of her life, brought about by being raised in a family with an abusive stepfather. Indeed, the title tune, “Ophelia,” which she co-wrote with well-known Memphis organist Charlie Wood, is about suicide. Cardona wears her heart on her sleeve. Her emotions, vulnerable and exposed, flow through her music like a gentle stream. Her voice is sinuous and lyrical, and the musicianship on these three tunes is superb. As Cardona puts it, “I want my music to convey the nuances of the experiences I’ve had. I want listeners to feel that they can relate to me on the deepest level.”

Bronze - East Shore

An album with a vintage AOR look on the cover – and a set that really follows in that spirit too – thanks to the masterful production talents of Bronze! Bronze handles most of the instruments on the set – plenty of keyboards, plus bass, drums, guitar, and even a bit of flute – all crafted in warmly soulful grooves that are tight, but never too commercial – opened up nicely by guest vocal contributions from a range of Japanese singers who include Sumin, Kirin, Horan, Amin, and others – plus work from Jungwoo Lim and Jason Lee. The mood shifts a bit from track to track, depending on the singer – but there's a nicely unified vibe to the whole thing, thanks to the warmth of Bronze's production. Most vocals are in Japanese – and titles include "Forget Me Not", "Bubble", "Bird's Eye View", "One More Time", "Afterglow", "Rendezvous", and "Seaside". ~ Dusty Groove

David Grubbs /Mats Gustafsson / Rob Mazurek - The Underflow

A fantastic meeting of the musical minds – coming together here in a set of live improvisations recorded at a record store in Greece! The setting's an unusual one, and the music is too – sounds that really move past the usual for all three players, but especially David Grubbs and Mats Gustafsson – both of whom seem very comfortable here in some of the sonic territory that we normally hear more from Rob Mazurek! Grubbs' guitar is quite different than on some of his own records – especially the solo acoustic moments – and Mats reminds us that he's not just a hell of a saxophonist, but also a master of many other ways to disturb the flow of air – delivering work here on flute, fluteophone, and live electronics – the last of which is matched with more electronics from Rob Mazurek, who also plays piccolo trumpet and wood flute too. Every song has a different shape and texture, which is a further testament to both the sensitivities of the musicians, and their sympathies with each other – and titles include "Not In A Hall Of Mirrors", "Creep Mission", "City Stones Sleep", and "Goats & Hollers". ~ Dusty Groove

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Mabern Plays Mabern: Harold Mabern Performs His Classic Repertoire

It is with a mixture of pride and sorrow that Smoke Sessions Records announces the release of Harold Mabern’s Mabern Plays Mabern on March 20th. Pride because Mabern’s 27th recording as a leader, culled from the same three January 2018 nights that generated his 26th, The Iron Man: Live At Smoke, documents the master pianist, then 81, in prime form, functioning as an inspired soloist, attentive accompanist, melodic interpreter, and crafty tunesmith. Sorrow because the release is posthumous — Harold Mabern died on September 17, 2019, at the age of 83.

For the engagement in question, Mabern convened long-standing band-mates Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone, John Webber on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums, augmented by Smoke Sessions recording artists Steve Davis on trombone and Vincent Herring on alto saxophone. All members rise to the occasion on repertoire that spans 51 years of Mabern’s six decades as a recording artist, leader and sideman.

Indeed, the proceedings embody the qualities enumerated in a loving Facebook eulogy tribute by Charles Lloyd, Mabern’s bandmate at Manassas High School, in Memphis, Tennessee, at the cusp of the 1950s. Lloyd wrote: “Harold was a scholar of our history, insightful, hilarious, sincere, deep, with intense, boundless energy and inclusive with his warmth. Before they called him ‘Leading Man,’ his nickname was ‘Big Hands.’ With the broad reach of those hands, he caressed many beautiful chords. He was a storyteller and every note he played had a message.”

Another Manassas H.S. classmate, tenor saxophonist George Coleman — a close friend whose most recent recorded encounter with Mabern was the September 2019 Smoke Sessions Records release The Quartet — expressed similar sentiments in a New York Times obituary after Mabern’s death: “Harold was a complete musician,” Coleman observed. “He was always adventurous, and he was always swinging, keeping the crowd pleased.”

That the paying customers at Smoke were pleased is palpable throughout. “You’re hearing things that Harold wrote or enjoyed playing,” Alexander says. “This is the way Harold crystallized and refined his personal approach, the way he presented his music in front of people, night after night, which is the Harold Mabern that we adored the most. Of course, his studio recordings are great, but live, Harold threw caution to the wind. When he played live, it was magic; whatever happened, he was going to get out of it.”

As an example, consider Mabern’s emergence from a spirit-raising rubato introduction into the clarion theme of the session-opening “Mr. Johnson,” a modal burner. (Dedicated to trombone legend J.J. Johnson, a frequent mid-’60s employer, it first appeared on an October 1969 Lee Morgan sextet session.) Mabern comps behind each horn solo with an inspirationally take-no-prisoners attitude, then gives himself the final say with an erudite, swinging solo.

Or groove to the elemental soulfulness and urbane sophistication of the date-closer, “Rakin’ and Scrapin’,” which first surfaced in 1968 as the title track of Mabern’s second leader album, whose participants included Coleman on tenor saxophone, Blue Mitchell on trumpet and Bill Lee on bass. It’s a stomping boogaloo-blues that recalls Mabern’s father’s promise that he’d “rake and scrape up” funds for his junior’s first piano.

Another reference to Mabern’s long tenure with Morgan is “Edward Lee,” whose strutting theme captures Morgan’s swagger. (The trumpet giant’s full name was Edward Lee Morgan.) Mabern debuted it on the 1980 trio date Pisces Calling; then on a 1991 duo session with bassist Kieran Overs titled Philadelphia Bound; then on Alexander’s 1999 quartet album Live At The Keynote; then on the Japanese-market trio album Don’t Know Why.

“The Bee Hive,” named for the South Side Chicago nightclub where Mabern heard Charlie Parker in 1955, is one of the most enduring tracks from Morgan’s iconic 1970 location album Live At The Lighthouse. At Smoke, the thrilling ripostes between Alexander and Herring that comprise the first half of this wild ride channel Parker’s unfettered spirit.

The complex, stentorian “Lyrical Cole-Man” (also from Pisces Calling) is Mabern’s tone parallel to George Coleman, whose inflamed clarity comes through in intense solos by Alexander and the leader.

Renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge and erudite navigation of the Great American and Great Jazz Songbooks, Mabern — who spent much of the 1960s as a favored accompanist for such singers as Betty Carter, Joe Williams, and Sarah Vaughan — was unparalleled at harmonizing less-traveled standards in individualistic ways that illuminated their message. On Mabern Plays Mabern, the selections are “It’s Magic,” which Mabern introduces with a gorgeous rubato statement that foreshadows Alexander’s romance-saturated solo, and “Lover Man,” highlighted by heartfelt declamations from Vincent Herring and Steve Davis.

Mabern’s rollicking introductory solo to Alexander’s “Miles’ Mode” refraction, “The Iron Man,” a staple of the Alexander-Mabern Quartet through the years, sets the stage for all members to swing their hardest. The title — and the performance — encapsulates the indefatigable energy, intense focus, abiding humility and giving personality that the octogenarian maestro projected through his until his final day. The notes and tones are emblematic of a remark Mabern made to DownBeat in 2015: “You can take a hundred-dollar gig, but on the bandstand you get a million dollars’ worth of experience, because you always find something that you didn’t know before you got on the bandstand.”

"Mabern Plays Mabern" was produced by Paul Stache and Damon Smith, recorded live at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, NYC on January 5-7, 2018 and mastered to ½” analog tape using a Studer mastering deck.

Monday, January 06, 2020

Special EFX and Chilu Minucci to release new album "All Stars"

Mainstay of the GRAMMY® nominated collective that is Special EFX, guitarist Chieli Minucci has spent a lot of time on the road the last few years with a revolving lineup of celebrated musicians who bring the band’s world jazz brand to life. When Minucci began writing the group’s 21st album that he produced, he came up with the idea of inviting each player from the rotating touring ensemble to perform on the album and even composed material with specific musicians in mind. The luminous result is “All Stars,” a title that is a nod to an accomplished supporting cast. The imaginative collage of contemporary jazz, world music and blues drops on February 14 on the Trippin ‘N’ Rhythm imprint. Radio will get its first sampling in the form of “Hanky Panky Boys,” a groovy, retro cool tune that finds Minucci’s guitar and organ getting into a heap of mischief with saxophonist Eric Marienthal. 

“It was the first tune that I wrote specifically for the album and it doesn’t really sound like Special EFX, whatever that might be! I wanted to write something a bit different that we could play at jazz festival jam sessions, a piece that kind of sounds like a standard. Writing it got me fired up and inspired to write other music for the project,” said Minucci, who co-founded Special EFX 35 years ago with the late percussionist George Jinda and has amassed a host of Billboard No. 1 singles. 

Minucci wrote thirteen songs for “All Stars” and scrapbooked the talented artists who brought his eclectic vision into focus along with his New York City-based core band members Jay Rowe (keyboards), Jerry Brooks (bass) and Joel Rosenblatt (drums). Among the dozens of guest stars on the album are violinist Regina Carter, saxophonist/flautist Nelson Rangell, trumpeter Lin Rountree, multi-horn player David Mann, Spyro Gyra drummer Lionel Cordew, bassist Gerald Veasley, keyboardist Lao Tizer, fretless bassist-vocalist Fernando Saunders, a longtime Special EFX family member who has a history with the outfit dating back to their formative years; and 2019 Soul Tracks Female Vocalist of the Year Maysa Leak, who soars mightily on a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” 

“I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix. During a show we did two years ago with Maysa, I asked if she’d like to try singing ‘Little Wing’ and I was totally blown away. I asked her about making a recording of it and when she agreed, I got serious about the arrangement. I wanted to pay homage to the rock aspect of Jimi Hendrix. I also wanted to do something that was modern R&B. I think it came out unusual and I’m curious to hear how people react to it. I don’t really do cover tunes too often so this was different,” said Minucci, who will lead a revolving Special EFX lineup on a busy touring schedule in support of “All Stars” beginning on the eve of the album release date at Yoshi’s Oakland. 

One song on “All Stars” is especially personal to Minucci. “‘Sweet Memories Of You’ is a solo guitar piece that has a deeper meaning for me because I wrote it around the time my mom was passing a few years ago. It’s one of the pieces I felt would be important to include on the record - not only to break up the mood and texture of the listen, but also to give people something a little more contemplative in the middle of the record.”     

As the listener gets deeper into the album, the depth and breadth of Minucci’s compositional and arranging skills are on full display. “Kampala” was written on a borrowed acoustic guitar in a Ugandan hotel room during a concert tour. Minucci calls the two-part “Great Escape” “a labor of love that was written in odd meter because that’s part of the style I grew up listening to and really love. ‘Flows Like Water’ is a bit jazzier than what I typically do with Special EFX. I wanted to let people hear something a little bit different. I like to give people who buy our records and come to our shows a variety of styles. ‘Flows Like Water’ is a really nice representation of how tight the band has become over the many years we’ve worked together.” 

“All Stars” concludes with “One Stick And A Stone” - the stick being Steve Adelson’s Chapman Stick that engages Minucci’s guitar intimately. “It’s a world groove piece reminiscent of what my late great partner, George Jinda, used to do on percussion. I wanted to end on a nostalgic note, something very true to the Special EFX sound.” 

In addition to crafting Special EFX records, Minucci has released nearly a dozen solo collections. A guitar player gifted with an extensive sonic palate and technical proficiency, he has recorded and performed with a galaxy of A-list pop, rock, R&B and jazz stars spanning Celine Dion, Lou Reed, Chaka Khan, Lionel Richie, Jennifer Lopez, Jewel, Mark Anthony, Michael Bolton, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Lorber, Norman Brown, Rick Braun, Marion Meadows and Mindi Abair. Nominated for ten Emmy Awards for the music he created for television shows such as “The Guiding Light,” “Dancing With The Stars,” “American Idol” and “Good Morning America” (theme), Minucci is a three-time Emmy winner. He has also composed music for film (“Bowfinger,” “Legally Blond” and “Panic”) as well as stage (“Peter Pan,” “Dora the Explorer” and “Thomas the Tank Engine”).

On the other side of the holidays, Minucci is eager to begin introducing the music from “All Stars” to listeners. “I think it’s a really interesting sounding record. All over the place stylistically as I always do, but I enjoy that aspect. It was really intensive making this record.”

Catch Special EFX featuring Chieli Minucci on tour on the following dates (partial list below):

January 24 & 25 / Bermuda Jazz Festival / Devonshire, Bermuda
February 13 / Yoshi’s Oakland / Oakland, CA
February 15 / Spaghettini / Seal Beach, CA
February 16 / Aliante Casino Hotel & Spa / N. Las Vegas, NV
February 18 / Blues Alley / Washington, DC
February 19 / Middle C Jazz / Charlotte, NC
February 20 / Blue Bamboo Center for the Arts / Winter Park, FL
February 21 & 22 / The Velvet Note / Alpharetta, GA
March 11 / Dakota Jazz Club / Minneapolis, MN
March 12 / Soiled Dove Underground / Denver, CO
March 13 / The Sofia / Sacramento, CA
March 14 / Tower Theatre / Fresno, CA
March 21 / Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts / Melbourne, FL
April 2-4 / Boscov’s Berks Jazz Festival / Reading, PA
April 11 / The Cutting Room / New York, NY


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