Wednesday, September 26, 2018

UK contemporary pianist and composer Alexis Ffrench releases new album Evolution

UK contemporary pianist and composer Alexis Ffrench has today released his exquisite new album Evolution via Sony Music.  Featuring a host of beautifully crafted piano-led songs, the album personifies his drive to create digestible, relatable and relevant classical music, forming his finest work to date.

Evolution sees Ffrench propel himself to yet further heights, being revered across the board at UK media, with the Evening Standard saying that “breaking stereotypes is what Ffrench is all about”, the Daily Telegraph commenting that “Alexis Ffrench defines a unique sound”, The Sun declaring him a “pianist sensation” and both BBC Music & The Independent describing Alexis’ music as simply “beautiful”.

The album arrives off the back of a landmark year for Alexis, including electrifying performances at Latitude Festival and at this year’s Classic BRIT Awards, where he performed his track ‘Bluebird’.  Ffrench was joined on the iconic Royal Albert Hall stage by opera singer Pretty Yende, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and provided a platform for young ballet dancers including his talented daughter Savannah, who performed a beautifully choreographed routine. Their performance received a standing ovation and resulted in tears of pride and joy for Savannah. That night has marked the start of a truly special journey for Alexis Ffrench.

Evolution features a host of special guests, from Boston-based electro folk duo Tall Heights to The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Adam Klemans via international classical harpist Lavinia Meijer.  The album has already spawned a success in previous single ‘Moments’, seeing it feature on Spotify’s New Music Friday playlist, a huge moment for a solo piano track.

Speaking of the themes and meaning behind the new album, Alexis Ffrench says: “Evolution’ is inspired by the extremes and inherent fragility of the human experience - loss, love, birth, sorrow, vulnerability, triumph and despair but, above all, our ability to come through adversity and radiate the best versions of ourselves. This album explores the beauty that lies beneath and the truths that bind us.” 

Earlier this year he signed with Modest! Management, home to a brace of all-conquering pop acts, including Little Mix, Olly Murs and Niall Horan.  With over 75 million streams to date and now over 1.5 million active Spotify listeners a month, Alexis Ffrench is already an established star in the streaming world, leading the way for the new generation of classical artists, with his music speaking to a very wide and diverse audience and transcending all boundaries and genres. 

As likely to be found listening to Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper as Bach and Beethoven, Ffrench’s combination of classical training and love for R&B and roots music has helped define his unique sound, noting “I listen to a lot of R&B and hip hop, and study the music videos. I see innovation and people pushing the envelope and doing daring things in the name of art, in a way that provokes thought. I wonder whether as classical musicians if we can do more on that front.” 

Trying to break the rigorous and academic preconceptions of classical music, Alexis Ffrench now finds himself as one of the leading voices of a new wave of composers, redefining a genre made accessible by artists of the stature of Ludovico Einaudi and Michael Nyman.

The Brian Auger Piano Trio Full Circle - Live At Bogie's

Considering he was a self-taught pianist, Brian Auger's progress into the heart of the British modern jazz scene of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s was particularly impressive. He gained invaluable experience the hard way, paying his dues at The Cottage Club, and the original Ronnie Scott’s on Gerrard Street, working with renowned saxophonists Tommy Whittle, Dick Morrisey and Jimmy Skidmore - and sessions in smoky East End pubs with his friend, arguably Britain's greatest jazz saxophonist Tubby Hayes.

The material featured here include tracks from a selection of Brian’s musical influences, heroes and friends including 'Chelsea Bridge' by the great Billy Strayhorn, Freddie Hubbard's ever green 'Little Sunflower', the much loved standard 'There is No Greater Love' which Brian used to play in his original early ‘60s piano trio, and his own composition Victor's Delight, a tribute to the great English Jazz musician Victor Feldman who he first discovered via his tenure with The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. Surprisingly, this is Brian's very first jazz piano album of his illustrious and award winning career, and marks a return to the instrument and the music that first entranced and enthralled him as a young boy. His musical journey, which began in austere post war London, and on which he absorbed so many varied styles of music, and literally took him around the world, enrapturing audiences worldwide, has indeed come full circle.

Nile Rodgers & Chic have announced their forthcoming album, ‘It’s About Time’

Nile Rodgers & Chic have announced their forthcoming album, ‘It’s About Time’ expected to release this September though Virgin EMI, it’s the group’s first album in 25 years.

Inspired by talent, multiple Grammy-winning composer, producer, arranger and guitarist Nile Rodgers is always collaborating, working with musical superstars and breaking artists alike. He amplifies his legacy by constantly traversing new musical terrain and successfully expanding the boundaries of popular music. The new record sees the UK’s Nao, Mura Masa, Stefflon Don, Cosha and Craig David share in the journey alongside the likes of California’s Anderson .Paak and Chicagoan Vic Mensa, with many more exciting collaborations to be announced.

The album’s cover revisits a strong sense of conceptual aesthetics that have run through the bands career since the very start. The artwork of their debut self-titled album (inspired partly by Roxy Music album covers such as ‘Stranded’ and ‘Country Life’) featured Valentine Monnier and Alva Chinn, and personified the band’s unique style and intent. The ‘It’s About Time’ cover features models Duckie Thot and Jazzelle Zanaughtti. Shot by Britt Lloyd and directed by Greg Foley, co-founder of V Magazine, Duckie and Jazzelle are not only modern fashion icons, but also activists making huge strides for women of colour in fashion.

New Sultry Soul From Blez – Love, Life, Emotion The Experience Vol. 1

Bléz is a DC born, MD raised vocalist and songwriter. Classically trained in voice, Bléz graduated from Duke Ellington School of The Arts in NW Washington, DC. After Graduating she went on to start her music career as a session vocalist working with then Sony producer Reese Johnson. Soon after Bléz joined her first band and began her journey as a gigging vocalist around DC, MD and VA.

After some disappointments on the local scene Bléz stepped away from music for a few years to pursue other interests but was called back to music and she hit the ground running. In 2004 this DC native left the United States to go and live in Thailand working as a full time singer with an international band. Visiting countries such as Cambodia, Singapore and Japan just to name a few. Once she returned home, Blez once again jumped onto the local music scene after joining the band Second Coming. Shortly there after she was also hired to perform with Marcus Young and Infinite who then took her back overseas to the Middle East to perform for the troops via Armed Forces Entertainment. The group toured 13 cities in 3 weeks. April 2009 marked a major milestone in this song birds career because she was chosen the winner in a singing contest.

First prize was a chance to sing a duet with none other than Jennifer Hudson at Constitution Hall during the Robin Thicke J.Hud tour. Bléz joined Jennifer onstage to sing “And I Am Telling You” for a capacity crowd. Video footage of this performance is still on Youtube. She has shared the stage with some top national artists such as Marsha Ambrosias, Chrisette Michelle, MC Lyte, Vivian Green, Biz Markie and Kem artist L’Renee and her second single “Black Girl Magic” spent 11 weeks on SiriusXM Heart and Soul’s Platinum 20 playlist. The latest single, “MCE Man Crush Everyday”, from her forthcoming album Love, Life, Emotion The Experience Vol.1 went to #1 on the AmazonUK chart for new releases after only 1 week! This rising star is shining bright on her way to the top of the charts.

RAMP's 1977 Hyper-Influential Funk Classic 'Come Into Knowledge' Reissued On Vinyl via Verve/UMe


 Acid-jazz legends RAMP's one and only album, Come Into Knowledge, which hasn't been pressed on vinyl for a wide release since 1977, is available once again via Verve/UMe. The Roy Ayers, William Allen and Edwin Birdsong-produced album is pressed on black vinyl in a faithful reproduction of the original packaging. Order Come Into Knowledge now:

Come Into Knowledge was recorded by the Cincinnati-grown, Ayers-curated jazz-funk pioneers before their split that same year. Uniquely, Ayers didn't actually perform in the band he created. Instead, he and fellow funk icon Birdsong carefully cherry-picked top-of-the-line session players to bring their writing contributions to life: Spinners drummer John Manuel and guitarist Landy Shores as the nucleus, Cincinnati bass legend Nate White holding down the groove, and spitfire lead vocalists Sibel Thrasher and Sharon Matthews on the front lines.
As a result, RAMP (an acronym for Roy Ayers Music Productions), hit on a funky alchemy. These are heavily grooving songs of romantic devotion and spiritual clarity — "Heaven and Earth are one, if you can see / You are heaven in reality," Thrashers and Matthews insist on the assertive title track. It was all reflective of Ayers and the groups' mental state at the time. As Manuel put it to Mixcloud, "Roy himself had the essence of being somewhat tuned into worldliness. He inspired the group to be conscious. We wanted it to have a spiritual impact. Goodliness, cleanliness, wholesomeness." The music expands upon and refracts those lofty, ethereal topics — soul's bleeding heart and funk's keening edge as two sides of the same coin.

Come Into Knowledge should have assumed its rightful place as an innovative fusion of funk and soul, but it suffered from a classic case of wrong place, wrong time. Knowledge was originally issued in 1977 on ABC Blue Thumb, the company created when ABC Records' parent company acquired Blue Thumb Records, an adventurous and imaginative imprint helmed by Bob Krasnow, who would later become chairman of Elektra Records and co-found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the late legendary producer Tommy LiPuma. The short-lived label sadly closed its doors in 1978 following a series of shake-ups, not long after the record was released, leaving the lone RAMP album almost totally obscure.

But crate-diggers begged to differ. Come Into Knowledge would go on to assume a legendary status among the "rare groove" community, to whom Knowledge sounded like a lost masterpiece than bargain-bin material. Its new fans included the likes of A Tribe Called Quest — of whom sampled RAMP's highlight "Daylight" in 1990's "Bonita Applebum," and Common — who borrowed the same song's indelible hook for "Come Close Remix (Closer)," which features Erykah Badu, Pharrell and Q-Tip. Badu herself sampled "The American Promise" on her slyly titled "Amerykahn Promise." Other avowed fans include Mary J. Blige, Jaden Smith and the late PM Dawn.

Ayers is now rightfully seen as a funk-rock pioneer, boasting a massive solo discography that spans over half a century. But Come Into Knowledge remains one of his most underrated gems — and is now out of near-total obsolescence on vinyl for the first time in 41 years. If you'd like a crate-digging classic in your life without paying top dollar for a second-hand copy, Knowledge is here again.

Come Into Knowledge Track Listing
Side A
1. The American Promise
2. I Just Love You
3. Give It
4. Everybody Loves The Sunshine

1. Come Into Knowledge
2. Try, Try, Try
3. Daylight
4. Look Into The Sky
5. Deep Velvet

Saxophonist/Composer Kyle Nasser Strikes a Vivid Balance Between the Cerebral and the Sensual on New Album Persistent Fancy

Persistent Fancy, due out October 5, 2018 via Ropeadope, is highlighted by a pair of three-part suites that straddle that boundary: the "Baroque Suite," inspired in particular by Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues, foregrounds the elegance of classical composition, while the "Eros Suite" dwells on the carnal, tracing the stages of desire from initial attraction through consummation to reflection. As with all of Nasser's music, however, the intellectual and the emotional coexist vividly in both, epitomizing the same mix of impulses that makes Shakespearean characters like Prince Hal so compellingly complex.

"Prince Hal had a very dissolute upbringing, palling around with Falstaff, this fat, comic philosopher, then has to leave that behind to become King Henry V," explains Nasser, who explores the prince's maturation in his piece "The Ascent of Henry Monmouth." The wry wisdom of Falstaff echoes that of Svidrigailov in Crime and Punishment, whose words provided the epigraph for Nasser's previous release, Restive Soul. "I always find that the best insight in literature comes from the most evil characters, or at least the characters that live outside the mainstream."

In assembling the ensemble to breathe life into the music of Persistent Fancy, Nasser surrounded himself with stellar musicians who can deftly navigate the blend of intricacy and fire that these compositions require. Guitarist Jeff Miles and keyboardist Dov Manski return from Restive Soul; drummer Allan Mednard has worked with the likes of Kurt Rosenwinkel and Melissa Aldana, bassist Nick Jost swerves between acoustic jazz virtuosity and powerhouse electric playing with heavy metal band Baroness, and Cuban-born alto saxophonist Roman Filiú is an innovative voice who has performed with Henry Threadgill, David Murray, and Chucho Valdés.

Much as Shakespeare's young prince changed paths to follow his life's true calling, Nasser switched gears at a key moment in his own life - albeit somewhat less dramatically. Where Hal left behind a misspent youth to rule a kingdom, Nasser changed his focus from Economics and Political Philosophy, which he studied at Harvard, to pursue his love of jazz after crossing paths with iconic pianist Hank Jones. He went on to Berklee College of Music and hasn't looked back since, though he's never wholly turned his back on his intellectual and literary interests.

Persistent Fancy, in fact, takes its title from an idea posited by the poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (best known for "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"), who contrasted the invention of new concepts (imagination) versus the assembling of pre-existing thoughts or notions (fancy). Nasser comes down on the side of 20th century critic T.E. Hulme, who countered that modern art should thrive on fancy as it relates to familiar experience rather than high-flown fantasies.

"I was thinking about the way that thoughts tend to recur over and over again," Nasser says. "Even if they're not the deepest thoughts in the world, they can be insistent and keep coming back so that you can't shake them. That's not imagination, it's not earth-shattering, it's fancy - persistent fancy." The title track is built on that sort of insistent recurrence, with recurring melodic lines over a cyclical ostinato.

Playing from the gut is one way of praising impassioned musicality, but it became a very literal struggle for Nasser during the writing of this album. Persistent pain prevented him from playing for a time, until a physical therapist finally discovered that scar tissue in his abdomen was the cause; it was during Nasser's recovery that several of the pieces on Peristent Fancy were composed, including the opening piece, "Split Gut," which celebrates the recovery of his voice in dialogue with Roman Filiú's alto.

The surging "Arrival" was initially written for a trio gig in Chile, where Nasser was collaborating with his bandmate in the collective quartet Beekman, Chilean drummer Rodrigo Recabarren. Miles is given free rein to shred over the bombastic grooves of Jost and Mednard on "Sticky Hipster," named in homage to the rock-inclined denizens of Nasser's Brooklyn neighborhood.

Despite following the "Eros Suite," Nasser's "3-Way" takes its title from a radio term, not a sexual innuendo. On the air it refers to a conversation between three people, reflecting the tripartite melodic voices of the composition. The album's sole non-original tune is "Arioso," an excerpt from German composer Paul Hindemith's "Ludus Tonalis." Finally, the ebullient "Coffee and Cannabis" ends the album on a joyful note, finally giving in to those minor vices that may not provide a vocation but can make life that much more enjoyable.

A Massachusetts native and graduate of both Harvard and Berklee, Kyle Nasser has been described as possessing "superlative musicianship as a performer, writer and a bandleaderŠardent creativity and urbane artistic composure" (All About Jazz). Since moving to New York City in 2010, he has played at some of the city's most prestigious venues - including the Blue Note, Smalls, Iridium, 55 Bar, and Cornelia St. Cafe - and has toured the U.S. and South America. Nasser has shared the stage with jazz luminaries such as Jim Hall, Hank Jones, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, Rich Perry, Ethan Iverson, Michael Formanek, and Ben Monder, among others. In addition to leading his own group, he also plays with and composes for the international collective Beekman, whose sound has been described as "a joyful and continued speculation flowing in almost all facts with surprising ease" (Jazz, ese ruido). Nasser's 2015 debut, Restive Soul, features his quintet presenting "a collection of sophisticated and complex modern jazz originals" (Jazz Weekly). The album's songs weave together sonata forms, baroque to 20th century counterpoint, and modern rhythms with modern jazz vocabulary. "The saxophonist's debut is knotty with a contrapuntal weave of voices, bumpy mixed meters, and alternating rhythmic currents that nonetheless groove, sometime with a rocking edge" (Boston Globe).

Jazz Pianist-Composer Brad Whiteley Releases His Second Album as a Leader - the Richly Textured, Melody-Laced Presence

Brad Whiteley has made a name for himself as a musician's musician, a New Yorker who makes everything sound better - whether as the longstanding keyboardist in alt-pop star Regina Spektor's group, as keyboardist in the pit band of Broadway musical Avenue Q, or as music director and organist for the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in the Bronx, not to mention playing keyboards or programming synths for recording sessions of every stripe. Above all, Whiteley - as pianist, composer and improviser - has the soul and touch of a jazz musician. For his debut album as a leader, Pathless Land, he earned a four-star review from DownBeat, with magazine also making the Destiny Records release an Editor's Pick in June 2014 - dubbing Whiteley "an exciting young artist to watch." Now, this ever-busy performer releases his sophomore Destiny album as a leader - the dynamic, melody-rich Presence - on October 5, 2018. Bringing 11 of his original compositions to vibrant life, the pianist-composer-producer leads a band of ace New York players: Michael Eaton (tenor saxophone), Tom Guarna (electric guitar), Matt Pavolka (double-bass), and Kenneth Salters (drums). Presence incorporates a world of influences into a warm, engaging whole, with Whiteley's hook-filled writing and fluid pianism leading the way.

All About Jazz, praising the concision and accessibility of Whiteley's music, has marveled at how "easy and enjoyable" his brand of jazz can be - qualities that continue on Presence, even with the pianist's increasing ambitions as a composer and bandleader. Above all, Whiteley seeks to convey "the power of song." He says: "That's a lesson I learned on the road performing with Regina Spektor. Her band is like a small chamber ensemble, and even playing the material night after night around the world, I never tire of her songs, because they're just so good. I've worked with a lot of singers now - not only Regina, but also Kellylee Evans, Ben l'Oncle Soul, workshops for a musical with David Byrne - and it's all about the song, heightened by the performance. With Presence, I strived for the tunes to be as strong as possible, with the composed material on equal footing with the improvised parts. And I always play to the core of a song when improvising, thinking melodically and structurally. I also learned lessons about the power of song in my gig with the church in the Bronx - each number you play is an attempt to move people, spiritually and emotionally. That's something I keep with me in whatever music I play."

Whiteley's jazz piano playing has been influenced by icons from Duke Ellington to McCoy Tyner and beyond, as well as by such players on today's scene as Brad Mehldau and Edward Simon. Presence brims with tracks that are object lessons in alluring, melodic contemporary jazz ("Everything Changes," "When We Met," "Sunset Park"); there are flowing ballads ("Presence") and rhythmic workouts ("Demagogue"). Other tunes draw subtly on such far-flung inspirations as the mysterious modern jazz nexus of Paul Bley/Carla Bley ("Dawn"), the sly tunefulness of John Lurie's classic downtown band the Lounge Lizards ("A Dark Day") and the catchy riffs of '90s alt-rock ("Sinking Feeling"); then there are hints of motoric Krautrock ("Dusk"), vintage drum'n'bass ("The Unwinding") and rollicking R&B ("K-Car Funk '83").

The artfully textured arrangements of Presence are tailor-made for the top-flight band, with the players having close connections. "Reflecting on the breadth of material I drew on for inspiration makes me realize how much I appreciate the group on the record," Whiteley says. "Each player was great at adapting to the different styles and bringing his own approach to the tunes. I've known Michael Eaton for 16 years - we met at Indiana University. It's special to have such a long musical relationship with a friend. He's an amazing musician, who has huge ears and perfect pitch, as well as an open mind about music and the world. I love the guitar tones Tom Guarna produced for this record, and he fits in so well, from the free sections to his soaring solo on the title track. Matt Pavolka also sounds incredible - I love the way he grooves on all of these styles, from drum'n'bass to free to swing. Kenneth Salters, who also played on my first album, is one of my oldest friends in New York City, plus one of the best drummers I know. He makes it seem effortless, from complicated polyrhythms to straight-ahead grooving."

The Presence sessions made for a virtual Destiny Records family affair, with Eaton, Salters and Guarna each having previously released albums as leaders via the label. As a sideman, Whiteley played on the Destiny albums by Eaton and Salters (not to mention releases from the label by guitarist Cameron Mizell and trumpeter Jon Crowley). Whiteley and company recorded Presence in the spacious, state-of-the-art A room at Avatar Studios (now the Power Station of BerkleeNYC), with the pianist producing and George Shalda engineering. "That room is like a temple for music - so many classic pop and jazz albums were recorded in that big space," Whiteley says. "Working in that room added something extra special to the day. George captured the sounds incredibly well, so that each instrument sounds totally alive - plus his mix really breathes and has a nice stereo field. I feel lucky to have recorded in that space with George."

The title of Presence stems from Whiteley creating the album while his wife was expecting. "The new 'presence' is here now, and she is going to be 2-years-old soon," the pianist explains. "So, the title refers to having a child come into your world, but it also touches upon the idea of being present in the musical moment, even during the chaos and excitement of becoming a parent. Being fully present and genuine while writing, performing and collaborating with other musicians is what leads to the most meaningful music-making, it seems to me. That ideal of being present in the moment also extends to performing for people - I want to be aware of the audience and open to the people listening. After all, when it comes to music, listening is pretty much everything."

Brooklyn-based pianist, organist and keyboardist Brad Whiteley has performed on stages from London's Royal Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House in Australia to New York's Radio City Music Hall and the Greek in Los Angeles, not to mention such Manhattan jazz clubs as Smalls, the 55 Bar, Smoke, and the Jazz Gallery. He has been the keyboardist of the Regina Spektor Band since 2012, and he has worked with a wide range of other international artists, from jazz (saxophonist Dave Liebman and singer Kellylee Evans), pop (singer-songwriters David Byrne and Ben L'Oncle Soul), film (composer Alan Silvestri) and musical theater (performers Darius de Haas and Lena Hall). Whiteley released his debut jazz album as a leader, Pathless Land, via Destiny Records in 2014; the disc, which showcased him in trio settings on both piano and Hammond B-3 organ, earned praise in publications from DownBeat and All About Jazz to Jazz Weekly and Lucid Culture. He has also appeared on five other Destiny jazz albums as a sideman: Michael Eaton's Individuation and Dialogical; Kenneth Salters' Enter to Exit; Jon Crowley's I Walk Amongst the Humans; and Cameron Mizell's Negative Spaces.

Already a veteran performer on television, Whiteley has appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Colbert Report, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America and CBS Saturday Morning. He also composed the music for, and appears in, the PBS Learning Matters show School Sleuth. Whiteley has been the music director and pipe organist of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in the Bronx since 2010, and he has performed as keyboardist in the pit band of Avenue Q on Broadway since 2017. Born in 1980 and a native of Upstate New York, he received his master's degree from the Indiana University School of Music and his bachelor's degree from DePauw University, with further studies at the Mancini Institute, the Banff Centre and Aspen Music Festival.


Brazilian Singer-Songwriter Manu Lafer Celebrates Two Decades of Composing with the Rhythmic Brazilian Sounds of Gimme 5 Album Melds Afro-Carribean, Brazilian Bossa Nova & Baião, Jazz, Pop & Rock Fusion Influences

With Gimme 5, prolific Brazilian singer-songwriter Manu Lafer offers listeners a joyful slap of the hand, an enthusiastic greeting to audiences around the world as well, perhaps, as a well-earned celebration for two decades of music-making. Over those 20 years Lafer has penned more than 300 songs, 100 of which have been recorded by some of the most renowned artists in Brazilian music and American jazz – all while maintaining a busy career as a pediatrician.

Lafer has collaborated with such stellar artists as Dori Caymmi, John and Bucky Pizzarelli, Toninho Horta, Chuck Redd, Howard Alden, Maude Maggart, Ná Ozzetti, Ken Peplowski, Warren Vaché, and countless others. On Gimme 5, due out October 12 (being distributed through Megaforce Records), Lafer interprets his own deeply personal songs as only a composer can. “When we sing the songs we wrote, we sing them in a special way because we mean what we sing,” Lafer says. “Each song is a different journey, a different musical landscape.”

For Lafer, those landscapes are painted with the vivid colors of his own unique influences. His songwriting follows in the breezy, sun-dappled tradition of pioneering songwriters like Dorival Caymmi, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto Gil and Lafer’s major influence, João Gilberto. Like each of them, he has created a unique sound drawn from his own particular blend of styles: a wealth of Brazilian rhythms from bossa nova to baião, melded with early Brazilian innovators from the days of radio, American songbook classics, contemporary jazz, and pop music of the 60s and 70s.

The compositions of Gimme 5 are further enriched by the production and arranging gifts of Sandro Albert, Lafer’s partner in the duo Run N’ Fly, who also plays guitar throughout the album. Albert frames Lafer’s tune with influences from Afro-Caribbean music as well as sleek jazz and rock fusion touches. “Sandro is very different from me, and brings things to my music that nobody can,” Lafer says. “He never wants to stay on the same page and do the same thing. That’s what we have in common.”

The music is brought to vibrant life by an international all-star band, including drummers Lionel Cordew (Spyro Gyra) and Cliff Almond (Michel Camilo), bassist Mark Egan (Weather Report), pianist Helio Alves (Claudio Roditi), percussionists Bashiri Johnson (Michael Jackson) and Mino Cinélu (Miles Davis), and vocalists Cindy Mizelle (Steely Dan) and Sachal Vasandani (Wynton Marsalis).

Lafer’s diverse range of influences can be heard out of the gate on opener “Era Pra Ser,” which combines the lyricism of Caetano Veloso with the compelling groove of Gilberto Gil. The song, which translates as “it was meant to be,” is the portrait of an idealized romance, the ecstatic thrill of which shines through brilliantly.

“A Jura,” previously recorded by Maude Maggart, is another positive view of love, albeit a more complicated (some might say realistic) one. The song meditates on the way that two people telling each other “I love you” may use the same words but mean entirely different things. While many songwriters may take that as hinting at friction to come, Lafer sees it as a necessary delusion. “The mystery of love is that people love each other for reasons unknown to their partner,” he explains. “Since they say the same thing they stay together, but they never understand what’s really going on. A relationship can be good, even if we never know why.”

“Passos” offers Lafer’s take on the characteristic Brazilian sensation of “saudade” – a unique feeling of nostalgic melancholy that is untranslatable in words but can be felt somewhere deeper through the singer’s moving performance. “Even if you don't understand Portuguese, I think you can guess what the lyrics are saying,” he says.

While Americans rarely use their middle names, Brazilians tend to invest them with more meaning, giving Lafer the premise for the delectably confused love story of “Clara Maria.” The song’s narrator isn’t torn between two women but between the warring personalities of his one love, represented by her two names. “It’s a man who really loves this woman, but he can’t decide which part of her he likes best,” the songwriter laughs. “So he’s suffering -- but in a good way."

The sensual “Amor Primeiro” takes an alluring turn into bolero, drawing inspiration from the songs of Chico Buarque, while “Faz Anos” casts a glance back at Lafer’s own teenage years, when he wrote the song. A young man’s conflicted but starry-eyed view of São Paulo, the tune’s infectious grooves are touched by a hint of Steely Dan cool left over from Run N’ Fly’s more R&B-oriented approach. “Ou Sou Eu” also has personal meaning from Lafer’s past: it was originally recorded by Dori Caymmi for the songwriter’s wedding (and later as a duo on one of Lafer’s earlier albums). It’s a nostalgic view of a bygone Brazil inspired by Lafer’s friendship with the Caymmi musical dynasty.

Another revered Brazilian artist, singer and guitarist Toninho Horta, co-wrote and sings with Cindy Mazelle on the English-language “WWI,” an unusual song inspired by the literary works of William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe. As those authors looked at the faceless soldiers killed in war and saw their individual humanity, so “WWI” uses the nicknames given to nationalities in the First World War – proper names like Jerry and Sammy standing in for Germans or Americans, respectively – to explore the human beings behind the tragic statistics.

Two other songs are performed in English as well, translations of favorites from Lafer’s songbook: “Come,” which provided the slang phrase for the album’s title in its simple come-on; and “Did I Need To Repeat,” a more complicated tale of a father and son and the words – never spoken in the lyrics – that have passed between them.

The playful “Minha Senhora” is Lafer’s twist on a nursery rhyme, empowering a sleepy child to scare off the phantoms that swarm around their bed. The shifting harmonies of “Pra Voce Viajar” echo the intricacy of bossa nova with more gently propulsive Latin rhythms. The album draws to a close with the gleeful “Um Par,” a love song that toys with the titular idea of “a pair.”

Having lived in the U.S. and his native Brazil, and formed deep partnerships with incredible artists in both countries, Lafer is excited to bring his unique blend of the two musical countries to the world via his stellar songwriting. “By saying Gimme 5, I wanted to invite people to come close to the music and listen,” he says. “It’s not a problem if they don't understand the lyrics. People naturally gather around music, so I want to help make that happen.”

Manu Lafer is a composer, singer, and pediatrician from São Paulo, Brazil. He has composed more than 300 songs, more than 100 of which have been recorded. He has developed a unique, signature sound, by drawing upon a vast range of Brazilian and American rhythms and harmonies for his compositions.

Manu has had the honor of working with some of Brazil’s most revered composers, arrangers and singers, along with celebrated names abroad. In Brazil he has worked closely with Danilo Caymmi, Dori Caymmi, Nana Caymmi, Luiz Tatit, Ná Ozzetti, Germano Mathias, Cris Aflalo, Lincoln Olivetti, Luiz Brasil, Jacques Morelembaum, Mario Manga, Jetter Garroti Jr., and Fabio Tagliaferri, among others. Outside of Brazil he has collaborated with the tap-dancer Steve Zee, and recorded with guitarists Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pizzarelli and Howard Alden; Ken Peplowski, Warren Vaché, Jeanne Gies and Maude Maggart.

Manu Lafer · Gimme 5
Release Date: October 12, 2018

Grammy Winner Will Downing's New Album 'The Promise" Offers Hope + Testimony In the Face of Incredible Odds

Sometimes life gets in the way. For Will Downing, The Prince of Sophisticated Soul, more than two decades of critical and commercial success as a singer was suddenly at risk-along with his life. There's a long, rich tradition in the Black church of testifying, sharing "testimony" about a point of great adversity in life, when the power of God and prayer turn everything around against all odds-that "low point" marking a test, God's test of faith. In late 2007, in the very prime of his life, Will Downing faced an almost unimaginable test. A sudden onset of the auto-immune disease polymyositis threatened everything he held dear: his health, his ability to provide for his family, his musical gifts, and life itself. Weak, frail and nearly paralyzed, he did not curse God, but instead said a prayer: "Lord you see me through this and I promise I will give you all the honor, all the praise...wherever I go." He didn't turn away from God and God didn't turn away from him. Twelve years later, Will Downing is a walking, singing testimony of the power of faith and prayer. And he delivers on his promise with his new CD, THE PROMISE, an inspirational album-actually his first gospel album -- to be released November 9, 2018 by Shanachie Entertainment.

Though THE PROMISE will likely be categorized as a gospel album or a "praise-and-worship" album and while those elements are there, such categorization misses the larger intent. The album is Downing's heartfelt 10-song thank you letter to God for bringing him back from the edge of darkness into His marvelous light. A close listen reveals his pain, gratitude and, yes, his "testimony" to all who find themselves losing hope against incredible odds. As such, on THE PROMISE, Will Downing taps previously unrevealed aspects of his talent to step boldly outside of his "Prince of Sophisticated Soul" persona to pour raw unblinking emotion into a musical re-creation of his journey from hospital bed to wheelchair and ultimately back to the stage. In short, this is a Will Downing no one has heard before in his now 30-plus year career, as one who stared down his own mortality and emerged, through faith, on the other side, blessed to continue to do what he does best.

"In 2007, I got sick," Will recalls. "I mean really sick!!! I was losing weight at a rapid pace and my overall strength was diminishing. Some of the basic things in life had become difficult-standing up, walking, shaving, putting on a belt, driving...being a hard-headed man I didn't go to the doctor; I blamed my condition on stress or general wear-and-tear or fatigue. The last straw was when I was driving with my wife and daughter in the car and I couldn't turn the steering wheel. I decided then to go to the doctor where they drew blood and sent me home. By the time I got home they'd left a message for me to go to the hospital. The next day I was pretty much paralyzed, with no use of my legs. After a few weeks of testing they diagnosed me with a rare auto-immune disease called polymyositis. As I lay in the hospital bed, all hope seemingly gone, I started to pray like never before, begging for help and promising God that if he got me out of this I'd do whatever he needed and wanted me to do. It took a year plus of being in and out of hospitals before I saw any progress. And, yes, I was still in a wheelchair. God sent me angels; people would come over from the rehab center on their own time to my home to help in my recovery. Along with my friends and family, they seriously helped in getting me slowly back on my feet. Producers and writers would come and work by my bedside and wheelchair, making new music."

Will was finally able to resume recording and performing, making several new albums of the sophisticated soul style that brought him success. But then it came time to fulfill his vow to God and so he began work on THE PROMISE.

From the first notes of THE PROMISE, Will takes us to church with the initial piano and organ chords of the opening track "Take It To The Cross." This toe-tappin', hand-clappin' kick-off sets the perfect tone with the message to take your burdens to the Lord. The opener is followed by the album's first single, "Look At Yourself (In The Mirror)," a thumping horn-driven reminder that while God is omni-present, He allows each of us to find him in our own way. The message is clear: you are the total sum of the choices you make in this life. To that end, be the change you want to see in your self, so that you can look at yourself in the mirror and be pleased. "I Hear A Voice" delivers the spiritual impact of the moment when Downing knew his prayers had been heard and his fight was not his own-that moment when God speaks to your heart and lets you know He's with you and will see you through, the turning point of Downing's "test."

A striking thing about THE PROMISE is that musically even as Downing ventures into the gospel realm, he does so on his own terms, forging a music distinct from typical gospel sounds but maintaining the essence of his unique style. Perhaps the most deeply personal song on the album is "You Blessed My Life," a kind of gospel ballad. It's a slowed down and stripped down, full-blown love song with Will singing directly to God in humble gratitude for his entire life's journey-the ups as well as the downs. He delivers the song with unashamed, tearful sincerity that grows with every measure, a sincerity that is all-too-rare in popular music these days. "God Is So Amazing" truly embodies the miracle of Downing's recovery. This song originally appeared on the AFTER TONIGHT release which was begun just before and continued just after the polymyositis diagnosis. A close listen to that release reveals a variety of colors in the strength and tone of Downing's signature baritone from one song to the next, especially on the original version of "God Is So Amazing," which was recorded in determined fashion from a hospital bed. The re-recording of this song for THE PROMISE is sterling testament to the faith of a man who could praise God as much at the height of his illness as he did in full recovery. THE PROMISE concludes in a nod to the classic Will Downing sound as he duets with Regina Belle, an R&B diva of great faith. And thus, with this moving new album, Will Downing fulfills his promise to God.

"Timing is everything, "Will notes. This is what God wanted me to do. My Mom had been on me for years to do a Gospel/Inspirational record and I said I'd get to it one day It just felt like now was the time. God has blessed me abundantly and now I'm keeping my word to Mom and to my God."

Born in Brooklyn, NY  in 1963,  after attending college in Virginia, Downing moved back to New York City finding work as a session singer. Signed to Island Records he broke through in 1988 with the album WILL DOWNING on Island's 4th & Broadway label; his distinctive version of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" hit #4 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs chart. There followed a string of best-selling albums that established Downing as one of those rare artists who could blend R&B with a jazz sensibility, all delivered with a gorgeous, rich baritone that stood out from amongst the popular singers of the day. The sheer quality and uniqueness of Downing's artistry meant that his albums sold hundreds of thousands of copies even if there was no radio hit. Indeed in 2000 he won a Grammy award in the Best Traditional R&B category for his album ALL THE MAN YOU NEED.

"I believe God spared me for a reason, "Will says. Indeed he has made it his mission to lend his time, name and presence to the awareness and fund-raising efforts of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, donating a portion of recording proceeds to the organization which he credits with helping him through his own battle. He also makes a priority of mentoring aspiring singers and musicians. It is all about keeping that "promise."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Chucho Valdés Revisits Seminal 1972 Recording Jazz Batá with a Sequel 46 Years Later

Jazz Batá 2, composer, pianist and bandleader Chucho Valdés’ first album for Mack Avenue Records, marks a new peak of creativity for the artist, even as it revisits the small-group concept of his 1972 Cuban album Jazz Batá. That album upon release was originally considered experimental at the time, but the trio project – featuring no drum set and two virtuosi who would subsequently be charter members of Irakere: Carlos del Puerto (bass) and Oscar Valdés (batâ: the sacred, hourglass shaped drums of the Yoruba religion in Cuba) – would now be considered contemporary.

Recorded in two and a half days at John Lee’s studio in New Jersey, Jazz Batá 2 is both rhythmic and lyrical at once. The six-hand complexity of the batá repertoire – the deep classical music of West Africa – permeates Valdés’ piano solos throughout the album. “I applied to my solos the different rhythms of the batá,” he says. “The piano is of course a harmonic instrument, but it’s percussive too, and you can play percussion with it.”

Valdés set the batá-driven small-group format aside in the wake of Irakere’s explosive popularity in 1973, but he’s always wanted to get back to it. Now he’s done it with Jazz Batá 2, “with more resources, in every sense,” he says, “with a wider panorama.”

It’s an exceptionally tight band. All of the three supporting musicians – Yaroldy Abreu Robles, Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé, and Yelsy Heredia – are from the Guantánamo region and have deep roots in Cuban musical culture as well as being conservatory-trained. Yelsy and Dreiser grew up together, went through music school together, graduated together, and have been playing music side-by-side literally all their lives. Yaroldy, who plays a wide variety of drums – congas, batá, bongó, orchestral percussion – has been working with Valdés for 20 years. “He always knows what I’m going to want to do,” says Valdés.
Jazz Batá 2 also marks the centenary of Valdés’ late father and teacher, Ramón “Bebo” Valdés (b. 1918). These two giants of Cuban music shared a birthday – October 9 – so Bebo’s 100th will be Chucho’s 77th. Between the two of them, they’ve exercised a massive musical influence since the 1940s. Bebo’s 1952 creation of the commercially failed but artistically successful batanga – which combined batá drums with a state-of-the-art jazz band – was a direct inspiration for the batá-driven jazz of Irakere, as well as for Jazz Batá and its sequel being released 46 years later. This stretch of time reinforces the enduring and magnificent career Valdés has cultivated over the 77 years of his life, with no signs of slowing down and never one to conform or expand the boundaries of his musical inventions.

Track Listing:

Chucho's Mood
100 Años de Bebo
El Güije
The Clown
Chucho Valdés / piano
Yelsy Heredia / double bass
Dreiser Durruthy Bombalé / batás and vocals
Yaroldy Abreu Robles / percussion

Guest Artist:
Regina Carter / violin (“Ochún” and “100 Años de Bebo” only)

Track-by-Track for Jazz Batá 2:

Obatalá: A mini-suite evoking Valdés’s santo in the Yoruba religion of Cuba (santería), with a liturgical rhythm that belongs to Obatalá, the god of wisdom and justice. “Yelsy Heredia’s bowed-bass solo has a spiritual dimension,” says Valdés, “played as if calling the ancestors. It finishes with all of us singing one of the most beautiful of Obatalá’s melodies.”

Son XXI: Beginning with a section that Valdés calls “half Cecil Taylor style, half Muhal Richard Abrams style,” it transforms into a catchy composition by the late Cuban composer Enrique Ubieta that plays with rhythmic clusters. It’s a new framing of a number that reaches back to the first Jazz Batá and beyond; Valdés first performed it in 1963 in the Teatro Musical de La Habana.

Luces: Composed only two weeks before the recording session and featuring one of Valdés’ most interesting solos ever, this is perhaps the first-ever bolero (romantic ballad) with congas and batá. “It gives the bolero rhythm a different sabor,” says Valdés of the batá, as do the tune’s augmented-chord harmonies.

Ochún: Syncretized with the Catholic saint La Caridad del Cobre, protector of Cuba, the Yoruba orisha Ochún represents feminine beauty. She loves sweet music, so she’s saluted with a violin. Regina Carter was the obvious call; the two musicians have been friends for years. The rhythm is a merengue haitiano – another nod to Bebo, who spent quality time working in Haiti.

Chucho’s Mood: Another of Bebo’s innovations was the descarga, or Cuban jam session (1952’s immortal “Con Poco Coco”). This is a descarga, built on a rhythmic three-note tumbao (G, B, C). “It’s like a tornado,” says Valdés, “it gathers, gathers, builds, and builds.”

100 Años de Bebo (100 years of Bebo): A tune by Bebo, rescued from oblivion by Valdés, played by Regina Carter, and set as a danzón-mambo. “No one’s heard this tune,” he says, “I’m the only person who knows it. When I was a child, Bebo played it on the piano at home. Just a tune, very beautiful, and as many times as he played it, it always captured my attention. I don’t believe he ever recorded it. Since it’s his centenary, I added an introduction, I put a tumbao at the end, and recorded it.”

El Güije: A güije is a mythical Cuban creature that lives in the river. This tune, which Valdés refers to as a bembé (sacred party), is based on a rhythm created by percussionist Dreiser Durruthy, and features him speaking in the Kikongo-derived sacred language of the Afro-Cuban religion known as palo.

The Clown: A piano solo, dedicated to Maurice Ravel, that Valdés composed when he was with the Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna (of which he was a founder, in 1967). It’s a theme-and-variations: “I go impressionist, I go a little avant-garde, I play batá on the piano…”


The October Revolution of Jazz & Contemporary Music October 4-7 in Philadelphia, PA

The October Revolution of Jazz & Contemporary Music, a four-day international music festival presented by Ars Nova Workshop, in partnership with FringeArts, has finalized its 2018 lineup. Taking place October 4-7, 2018, the second annual festival spans the worlds of avant-garde jazz, contemporary classical, electronic, and spiritual music, covering a vast landscape of innovative sound.

The 2018 October Revolution builds on the foundation of last year’s hugely successful inaugural edition, which The New York Times called a festival that “makes history” and DownBeat hailed for its “curatorial brilliance.” Selling out three of its four days, the festival immediately established itself as a vital destination for adventurous listeners, with WBGO stating, “Experimental music fans have a new festival to look forward to.” The second year expands on the mission of the first, with rare performances, legendary artists, and unique collaborations.

“OctRev is already promising to become a huge international draw to Philadelphia,” says Ars Nova Workshop founder and Artistic Director Mark Christman. “The eclectic and expansive mix of pioneering music helps us open our minds, and our arms, to the world—in a spirit of welcome and inclusivity that is sorely needed these days.”


The Music of Legendary Hasaan – Though his playing is captured on only one released recording, the Philadelphia pianist Hasaan Ibn Ali has had an extraordinary influence on everyone from John Coltrane to Jason Moran. Now, three Philadelphia jazz notables – Brian Marsella, Christian McBride, and Anwar Marshall – revisit Hasaan’s work to pay homage to this mysterious and legendary figure.

John Zorn – In dual celebration of his 65th birthday as well as the arrival of the new Christ Church C.B. Fisk 3,000-pipe organ, John Zorn will be closing the October Revolution of Jazz & Contemporary Music with a solo “Hermetic Organ” performance.

Tomeka Reid Quartet – Carving a new and original path for cello in jazz , Reid’s combination of timbral finesse and fleet instincts has been featured in many distinguished ensembles over the years. Featuring the remarkable guitarist Mary Halvorson!

David Lang’s World to Come – “World To Come” is a David Lang composition written specifically for Francesco Dillon in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Muhal Richard Abrams’ SoundPath – The world lost a true pioneer when the world-renowned AACM pianist and composer and NEA Jazz Master Muhal Richard Abrams passed away on October 29, 2017, at the age of 87. His piece SoundPath for 16 musicians gets only its 2nd ever performance.
Kuzu – An exciting new trio featuring saxophonist Dave Rempis, a stalwart of the Chicago improvised music scene, worked with both Tashi Dorji (guitar) and Tyler Damon (drums)

The Humanity Quartet - Deeply rooted in tradition, with an indelible emphasis on swing and infectious melody, the message of the Humanity Quartet represents a sharing of ideas and feelings that bring people together in an increasingly divided world. Featuring drummer Leon Parker!

Hear in Now - With Mazz Swift (New York City) on violin/vocals, Silvia Bolognesi (Italy) on double bass, and Tomeka Reid (Chicago) on cello, Hear in Now creates a unique sound experience blurring the borders between free improvisation and through-composed compositions.

Wolf Eyes + Marshall Allen – “Trip Metal” band meets the Sun Ra Arkestra maestro for the first time!

Amirtha Kidambi’s Elder Ones - “In a recent conversation about where she came from and where she’s going, she discussed the Carnatic singer Sudha Ragunathan; the free jazz of John Coltrane and Albert Ayler; Alice Coltrane’s bhajan recordings from the 1980s and ’90s; Sarah Vaughan; Black Sabbath; the 20th-century classical vanguardists Varèse and Xenakis; the experimental composer Robert Ashley, with whom she worked toward the end of his life; and Renaissance motets. The common theme through them is a sense of immediacy, or what she called intensity.” -The New York Times

Dirigo Rataplan – The Philadelphia premiere of this all-star quartet featuring Ellery Eskelin, Dave Ballou, Michael Formanek, and Devin Gray

Annette Peacock - A true original who rarely performs in public, Peacock’s compositions are among the most enduring in modern jazz.

Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids - A Philadelphia premiere nearly 50 years in the making! The Pyramids’ new recording, “An Angel Fell,” is The Quietus’s #2 Album Of The Year So Far.

Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda: The Ashram Experience - Largely unheard by the general public during Coltrane’s lifetime, the Sai Anantam Singers are now sharing her astounding devotional music in live performance.

Tiger Trio - The inspired union of pianist and Guggenheim fellow Myra Melford, French bassist Joëlle Léandre (who has worked with Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and Anthony Braxton), and AACM flutist Nicole Mitchell, Tiger Trio brings an uncommon lucidity to the art of spontaneous composition.

OGJB Quartet - Four boundary-pushing innovators converge in this collective quartet: saxophonist Oliver Lake, cornetist Graham Haynes, bassist Joe Fonda, and drummer Barry Altschul. All four are ground-breaking musicians in their own rights and can boast collaborations with many of the most acclaimed voices in the history of jazz.

Dave Burrell Full-Blown Trio with Darius Jones & Chad Taylor - The lifetime achievement honoree at this year’s Vision Festival, Philadelphia piano great Dave Burrell returns home at the helm of his explosive, era-spanning trio.


Pharoah Sanders' Eclectic, Multifarious 1971 Album 'Thembi' Reissued On Vinyl Via Impulse!/UMe

Jazz legend Pharoah Sanders' one-of-a-kind, mosaical free jazz classic Thembi – not pressed on vinyl since 1987 – is available once again via Impulse!/UMe. Originally released in 1971, the Ed Michel and Bill Szymczyk-produced album is pressed on black vinyl and housed in a high-quality wrapped jacket. 

Thembi, named after Sanders' son and compiled from two sets of sessions, captures the tenor saxophonist at his hyper-eclectic peak. And that MO was captured literally as the musicians unloaded their instruments to record the music. As organist Lonnie Liston Smith related in 2007, "We got to the studio in California — Cecil McBee had to unpack his bass, the drummer had to set up his drums, Pharoah had to unpack all of his horns. Everybody had something to do, but the piano was just sitting there waiting." That was the first time Smith touched an electric keyboard — and Sanders followed suit.

Not only did the tenor player pick up alto and soprano horns, but other oddities like cow horns, fifes and a small African thumb piano called the bailophone. Not only this, co-producers Michel and Szymczyk revolutionarily made something more indebted to Sgt. Pepper than "So What?". Their mixes teem with psychedelic, trippy effects — echo, reverb and phasing. It all reflected Sanders' legendarily "outer limits" state of mind.

While its experimental sound naturally divided critics and fans, time has been good to this unusual LP. In a retrospective review in 2011, All About Jazz called it "unalloyed bliss from start to finish, a sweet and lyrical evocation of Eastern mysticism." Revive Music noted its "use of dozens of instruments, including the sounds of birds and the yelping voices of humans," concluding "Thembi is a testament to the fact that timeless classics are never attributed singularly to technique, but are instead conceived of strong directional intent, a will, and love."

Thembi is both East and West Coast jazz — Side A and Side B were recorded by two different ensembles in LA and New York, yet it isn't a disjointed compilatory album. Instead, the love and light of Thembi creates a complete feeling, from the percolating "Astral Travelling" to the clattering "Bailophone Dance." For jazz fans looking for a little more of a rough ride than polite dinner music, Thembi is a must-have in your record collection.

Thembi Track Listing
Side A
1. Astral Traveling
2. Red, Black & Green
3. Thembi

1. Love
2. Morning Prayer
3. Bailophone Dance

The New York Standards Quartet To Release Heaven Steps To Seven

By the numbers the New York Standards Quartet (NYSQ) is downright impressive, touring and recording together for thirteen years, with six critically acclaimed recordings in its oeuvre. The band's seventh album, their first to be available on vinyl, and featuring bassist Ugonna Okegwo (a regular member for many of the band's U.S. tours), Heaven Steps To Seven, builds on the great success of their catalog (most recently, Sleight of Hand, The New Straight Ahead and Power of 10). Saxophonist Tim Armacost, pianist David Berkman, drummer Gene Jackson & double bassist Ugonna Okegwo once again offer the listener reimagined standards from the vast canon of jazz and the Great American Songbook that reflect the band's spontaneous, transformational approach. The band is a rarity; one that honors the tradition of this music, representing it authentically, but also creating environments which feel and sound new.

The NYSQ have come a long way in their thirteen years. Tim Armacost warmly acknowledges the closeness of the collaboration: "We all contribute suggestions for classic songs to reinterpret, and the music we conceive taps into the important values of the band - our longevity, our deep friendship. Sometimes we bring pretty much completed arrangements, others just evolve on the bandstand as we play."
Such a musical affinity, reaped from the vastness of their respective experiences in many different projects as leaders and sidemen, is distilled into a recording of remarkable finesse, once again refracting kaleidoscopic colors across old favorites and less familiar treasures from the jazz heritage. Having played together for so long, Armacost highlights two key facets: "One is to discover a beautiful standard you haven't heard before; the other is finding something well known, then portraying it differently. So we honor the tradition of this music, representing it authentically, but also creating environments which feel new."

Heaven Steps To Seven opens with the warm, inviting intro to "Tonight" (Leonard Bernstein, from "West Side Story"), before the band launches into the main theme at a medium-up tempo that drips of propulsion while being right in the pocket. "Cheryl" (by Charlie Parker, 1947) is given a magnificent facelift, almost disguising its blues form, as it becomes a vessel for group expeditions. Horace Silver's "Peace" (originally released on Silver's recording "Blowing The Blues Away" from 1959) is up next. This type of meditative ballad was an anomaly for the legendary pianist/composer/bandleader, and it is a fitting tribute to Silver that the NYSQ selected this gem from his repertoire, and rendered it with such love and care. It was "Charlie Parker With Strings" that brought "If I Should Lose You" (from the 1935 film "Rose of the Rancho") to the awareness of the jazz world (later recorded by Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Roy Haynes Mulgrew Miller, Hank Mobley and many others). In the hands of the NYSQ it becomes reborn as a tour-de-force, featuring Armacost's brilliant sound on soprano sax on top of the rhythm section that has the afterburners on. Following Armacost's solo, the band brings it down to earth for Berkman's harmonically sophisticated trip through the changes.

Side two of the album opens with Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" which debuted in 1944 in Porter's "Seven Lively Arts," so it's a nice choice for the NYSQ's seventh album. The band eschews the song's typical bouncy feel, instead opting to play it with a straight eighth note feel, instantly bringing the frequently recorded tune into the 21st century, and into the band's repertoire. Indeed, as they do with many tunes, this sounds as if they composed it. The guys stay on the Cole Porter track with "I Love You" (a hit song for Bing Crosby in 1944), featuring an attention-grabbing intro from bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and completely modernized by the band, in part because they play the "A" sections in nine! For the second ballad on Heaven Steps To Seven the band chose the lovely, "I'll Keep Loving You." It is played with such crystalline virtuosity that NYSQ's rendition stands tall when compared to versions by such legends as Bud Powell, Chick Corea and Tommy Flanagan. Heaven Steps To Seven closes with "Eye Of The Hurricane" which originally appeared on Herbie Hancock's fifth album, "Maiden Voyage" (recorded in 1965 for Blue Note Records). Drummer Gene Jackson toured with Hancock for many years beginning in the Fall of 1991, so is it any wonder that he "owns" this tune, as does the rest of the band in turn?           
NYSQ - Heaven Steps To Seven:
1 - Tonight (L. Bernstein)
2 - Cheryl (C. Parker)
3 - Peace (H. Silver)
4 - If I Should Lose You (R. Rainger/L. Robin)
5 - Every Time We Say Goodbye (C. Porter)
6 - I love You (C. Porter)
7 - I'll Keep Loving You (B. Powell)

Resilience Music Alliance Announces Signing of Vocalist Alicia Olatuja

New Album,  Intuition: Songs From the Minds of Women,  Coming in February 1, 2019

Resilience Music Alliance has announced the addition of critically acclaimed and versatile vocalist Alicia Olatuja to the label’s growing eclectic roster. Praised by The New York Times as a “singer with a strong and luscious tone and an amiably regal presence on stage,” Olatuja has conceived a truly unique project that only a visionary artist like herself can execute: an album dedicated to and featuring music all created by inspiring female composers.

“Alicia is an incredibly talented singer, songwriter and musical interpreter who breaks down traditional genre boundaries,” says Label Co-Founder and President Steve Ruchefsky. “She has focused her attention for this project to interpret compositions by a wide range of female composers – all of whom, almost by definition, have shown incredible courage and resilience. We are excited to begin this creative partnership with Alicia and realize her vision!”

The album, titled Intuition: From the Minds of Women and to be released February 1, 2019, celebrates the achievements of a long list of esteemed female composers while offering a musical perspective unique to Olatuja. Olatuja is joined by Kamau Kenyatta and Ulysses Owens Jr. as producers and features Sullivan Fortner, Billy Childs, David Rosenthal, Ben Williams, Ulysses Owens Jr., Etienne Charles, Jeremy Pelt, and Dayna Stephens.

The signing of Alicia Olatuja reinforces the mission of Resilience Music Alliance, a label that transcends genre and focuses on empowering artists exploring our collective elemental condition of resilience while conceptualizing projects that resonate with the human spirit.

"Now could not be a better time to deliver a project that celebrates and champions women and their work," says Olatuja. "The future is female and moving forward as a society is dependent upon everyone being able to create and contribute with courage and conviction, being heard and validated. I truly appreciate that Resilience has given me the platform with which to express this very meaningful project."



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...