Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Frank Sinatra | "Nice 'n' Easy" 60th Anniversary

Capitol/UMe and Frank Sinatra Enterprises celebrate the 60th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s Nice ’n’ Easy, another iconic album in a series of collaborations between Sinatra and arranger/conductor Nelson Riddle with a special anniversary edition.

Originally released on Capitol Records in July 1960, the Nice ’n' Easy album topped the charts at #1 for nine weeks. The album was nominated for multiple GRAMMYs, including Album of the Year, Best Male Vocal Performance, and Best Arrangement (Nelson Riddle). Since its original release, Sinatra’s body of work still resonates with fans and critics today.

“By curating his albums with songs that told a story he wanted to tell, and by singing each word as if he wrote it, Sinatra introduced a level of personal expression to the recording process that reached literary heights.” – The New Yorker

“Frank would ad-lib something each time he got to the tag line. Remember, the song was new to him at the time; the last take was terrific. Frank got that tune into the American songbook for us. Years later we wrote a second chorus that other singers recorded but, to us, Frank’s version is definitive.” – Alan & Marilyn Bergman

Recorded during the Nelson Riddle session at the Capitol Studios, Room A, “The Nearness of You” was initially intended to be the title track of the planned album. Once “Nice ’n’ Easy” was delivered, the album title changed, and the track did not appear on the original LP.

Now, the original master of “The Nearness of You” (2020 mix) will be made available for the first time on the CD and digital versions of the album for which it was intended. The CD and digital formats add the new stereo mix “The Nearness of You” (2020 mix) and sought-after bonus tracks: previously unreleased session takes of “I’ve Got A Crush on You and “Nice ’n’ Easy.”

The vinyl LP is a faithful production of the original Capitol Records ‘Full Dimensional Stereo’ sleeve and features the original 12 songs.

The CD packaging features liner notes with quotes from Frank Sinatra, who offers, “Nelson is the greatest arranger in the world…I have the greatest respect for him,” as well as quotes from Nelson Riddle, Sinatra’s longtime pianist Bill Miller, and others.

Vocalist Sara Serpa releases Recognition: Music For a Silent Film

Widely acclaimed as one of the premier vocalists of her generation and recently crowned the #1 Rising Star Female Vocalist in the 2019 DownBeat Critics Poll, Sara Serpa pushes headfirst into innovative musical territory with her tenth album, Recognition: Music For a Silent Film. A collection of Serpa’s original pieces set to moving images, the album features her singing and performing spoken word alongside some of the most recognizable and distinctive artists in jazz and improvised music: saxophonist Mark Turner (Billy Hart, Tom Harrell), pianist David Virelles (Chris Potter, Henry Threadgill) and harpist Zeena Parkins (Björk, John Zorn).  Due out June 5, 2020 on Biophilia Records, Recognition will be available in BiopholioTM or digital download with code for film screening.

Recognition is a singular multi-disciplinary work that traces the historical legacy of Portuguese colonialism in Africa through moving image and sound. From her family’s archives, Serpa adapted Super 8 footage of various scenes under Portuguese colonial rule in 1960s Angola into an experimental documentary in the format of a silent film, and she alone composed its musical counterpart as well, a rare and massive undertaking. Far more than accompaniment, Serpa’s mesmerizing feature-length score to the film is as immersive and compelling as the extraordinary images it reflects. This is a testament to both her captivating musical vision and compositional acumen, showing precisely why JazzTimes called her “a master of wordless landscapes.” 

Serpa uses her voice as both an ensemble instrument and a focal point for narrative during passages of spoken word, which came out of Serpa’s intensive, self-directed research into the period. More than solely an achievement in music, Recognition addresses thematic concerns that are relevant and significant in the present day. As Serpa eloquently summarizes: “Talking about Angola and Portugal is like talking about Brazil, United States and Europe. The Western world shares a collective shameful past of occupation, exploitation, slave trade, oppression, racism, segregation, violence and abuse.”

Several motivations animated her work on this project, including the desire “to highlight the power of music as a tool for social evolution, reflection and education,” and “to break the silence about Portuguese colonialism and institutional racism.” 

With the assistance of film director Bruno Soares, Serpa organized the material into an hour-long silent film intercut with text by Amílcar Cabral, a key figure of African anti-colonial resistance. During the course of the project, Serpa explored the legacy of that difficult historical moment as well as her family’s silence surrounding it, providing a visual and sonic narrative encouraging individual reflection.

“There was a traumatic situation because when the colonies became independent, suddenly Portuguese had to flee, leaving everything behind. They had to adapt to a country that most of them had never been to and that rejected them, so there’s a kind of silence, and not many people in my family have talked openly about this. Perhaps this is the work of the following generations, to digest and process the past,” Serpa says. 

“There is also institutional silence. In schools you’re not taught about it, and because of that I felt the need to educate myself. So there was this personal need, but also a need to expose something that has not been talked about, discussed enough and recognized enough.”

Across the dozen tracks on the album, Serpa employs the diverse talents of her powerhouse ensemble, which boasts a unique configuration of instrumental voices. Turner, arguably the most influential tenor saxophonist of his generation, assumes multiple roles in the quartet, variously mirroring Serpa’s ethereal voice, sustaining ongoing accompaniment and contributing immaculate solo improvisations.

Pianist Virelles, whose versatility and blending of the futuristic and folkloric has made him a first-call musician for everyone from Chris Potter to Henry Threadgill, is no less brilliant. As a foil to the other ensemble members, Virelles improvises vital, startling counterpoint across every register of the piano. 

Parkins is a pioneer of contemporary harp who resides in the highest echelon of avant-garde musicians. She delivers characteristically powerful and supportive playing as both a soloist and ensemble member. On tracks such as “Beautiful Gardens,” she and Virelles conjure thrillingly abrupt waves of dissonance cascading alongside shocking spoken-word depictions of violence.

The astuteness of Serpa’s bold decision to assemble these collaborators, who hadn’t previously performed together as a group, is proven by their fresh and inspired chemistry. The free-improvised “Queen Nzinga” is a case in point, featuring a spirited, grooving trio improvisation that effervesces alongside Serpa’s spoken word.

On tracks like “Lei do Indigenato, 1914” and “Free Labour,” Serpa directs the ensemble toward meaningful restraint and space. She fearlessly embraces dissonance and post-tonal complexity when it suits the musical and filmic narrative, as in the flowing arpeggios of “Occupation” and the broodingly abstract “Control and Oppression.” 

Despite its challenging subject matter, Recognition also contains in ample measure the trademark lyricism and purity of melodic design that Serpa’s collaborators, such as legendary pianist Ran Blake, have so prized in working with her. On tracks such as “Mercy and Caprice,” Serpa’s gorgeous voice seems to float in space without losing any measure of intimacy or directness.

As music to silent film, atmosphere and mood are primary considerations that Serpa handles with aplomb. Her mastery of counterpoint and orchestration is apparent on tracks like “Absolute Confidence,” where she creates a chorale of moving voices before unfurling a breathtakingly dramatic solo improvisation. On “Propaganda,” the album’s penultimate track, unrelenting and virtuosic counterlines raise the tension to a fever pitch as Virelles pushes and pulls against voice and saxophone. 

Recognition ends on an ambivalent but rallying note with “Struggle and Unity,” a resistance song setting Cabral’s words to music. The song’s otherworldly melody and attendant harmony has a lingering quality, resonating in the ear and mind long after the album concludes.  

Lisbon, Portugal native Sara Serpa is a vocalist-composer and improviser who implements a unique instrumental approach to her vocal style.  Recognized for her distinctive wordless singing, Serpa has been immersed in the field of jazz, improvised and experimental music since first arriving in New York in 2008. Described by the New York Times as "a singer of silvery poise and cosmopolitan outlook," Serpa started her career with jazz luminaries such as Grammy-nominated pianist Danilo Perez, and Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellow pianist Ran Blake. As a leader, she has produced and released nine albums; the latest being Recognition, an interdisciplinary project that combines film with live music, in collaboration with Zeena Parkins (harp), Mark Turner ( saxophone) and David Virelles (piano). Serpa is  a member of the We Have Voice Collective, comprised of 14 musicians, scholars and thinkers, determined to promote gender equity in the performing arts. Sara has performed with John Zorn, Nicole Mittchel, Ingrid Laubrock, André Matos, Guillermo Klein, Okkyung Lee, Guillermo Klein, Linda May Han Oh, Kris Davis,  among many others. Serpa was voted #1 Rising Star - Female Vocalist 2019 by the DownBeat Magazine Critics Poll, and she currently teaches at The New School and at New Jersey City University.


Santana keyboardist David K. Mathews' "The Fantasy Vocal Sessions, Vol. 2"

THE FANTASY VOCAL SESSIONS VOL 2, the newest project by Santana keyboard player DAVID K. MATHEWS, is a tribute to the San Francisco Bay Area where he grew up and still resides, and to the iconic FANTASY STUDIOS where he recorded most of the project. Mathews has had a long and eclectic career performing with some of the biggest names in music. He toured with Tower Of Power for two years, and then spent 20 years accompanying Etta James, right up to her last performances. Since 2010 he has been touring the world as a member of Santana. 

Over the years, he has also performed and/or recorded with a Who’s Who of diverse artists, such as Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Toots Thielemans, Ruben Blades, Gloria Estefan, and many more. THE FANTASY VOCAL SESSIONS VOL.2  is the second release of a projected five album series. The name Fantasy Sessions is a double-entendre, referring to both Mathews’ fantasy to put out a series of recordings with some of his favorite singers and musicians, and to the famous studio where a host of artists, from Sonny Rollins and Charlie Mingus to Aerosmith and Green Day, recorded their music.

The Fantasy Vocal Sessions Vol. 1 featured straight-ahead jazz standards in an acoustic setting. Vol. 2  features jazz arrangements of soul, pop, and R&B tunes in a more expansive setting as befits the style of the music. Mathews is planning subsequent volumes in the series. Vol.3 will focus on the blues and Vol. 4 on Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music. Unfortunately, the studio closed in 2018, and future recordings will have to be made elsewhere. With its top-notch musicianship, first-class improvisatory chops by both the instrumentalists and vocalists, and Mathews’ hip arrangements, THE FANTASY VOCAL SESSIONS VOL. 2 is a love letter to one of the most diverse, creative, and inclusive musical milieus anywhere on the planet.

All Keyboards  David K. Mathews

Guitar Jim Nichols, Ray Obiedo, Bruce Conte  

Electric Bass Dewayne Pate, Marc van Wageningen

Acoustic Bass Peter Barshay, John Wiitala
Drums Billy Johnson, Akira Tana, Brian Collier, Deszon Claiborne, Vince Lateano, Kevin Hayes
Featuring Carl Lockett, Chris Cain, Wayne de Silva, Marc Russo
Vocals Tony Lindsay, Lady Bianca, Steve Miller, Amikaeyla, Funky Fred Ross, Glenn Walters, Kenny Washington, Alex Ligertwood

1. For the Love of You 7:04
2. You Had to Know  5:58
3. One Mint Julep (Space Cowboy Mash-up)  5:03
4. Superwoman  10:04
5. So Sweetly  5:21
6. I Got You (I Feel Good)  4:28
7. Giving Up  7:03
8. Going Out of My Head  5:01
9. Wichita Lineman  5:32
10. I Love You More Thank You’ll Ever Know  6:14
11. Yesterday (extended mix) 11:30

Chicago Avant-Jazz Trio Threadbare Announce New CD Silver Dollar On NoBusiness Records

Jason Stein has spent the last fifteen years injecting audiences’ ears with such a singularly unique approach on the bass clarinet that Eric Dolphy may finally find himself denied as the go-to reference for the instrument. Currently Stein leads two bands, Locksmith Isidore and the Jason Stein Quartet, and co-leads Hearts & Minds and Nature Work (with Paul Giallorenzo and Greg Ward respectively). Stein's work with Threadbare, his latest project, places him beside two gifted young Oberlin College graduates and recent Chicago transplants. 

Composers Ben Cruz (guitar) and Emerson Hunton (drums) lock in perfectly as a rhythm section, carefully walking a wire between jazz and rock (they also play together in the indie band Moontype). Cruz is an amazingly versatile guitarist, balancing power chords and intricate jazz runs all over the neck. Both he and Hunton are simple and basic when necessary, but can become absolutely astonishing when appropriate without being showy. Perfect for Stein.

All three members of Threadbare grew up on rock 'n 'roll and their version of it is as thrilling as it is fierce. Cruz’ “Silver Dollar” sounds like he watched the Dead Cs “Armed” writhing on the floor for 25 minutes until he finally proposed the question “Hey, what if we help this thing get up and walk?” To hear Cruz and Stein trade off energy wheezing over Hunton's leg-stomp thudding is a sheer joy. 

So how is Threadbare's jazz game? Well, they have Jason freaking Stein – plus you can go watch a clip of Cruz playing “If I Were A Bell” with a trad bassist and drummer on his website. Check out “And When Circumstances Arrive”, which features a broken melodic structure not unlike the tunes Mary Halvorson composes before flying off into the stratosphere with an especially out solo from Stein. And there's “Funny Thing Is,” which features a lightning fast hard-bop head played in unison by Stein and Cruz before erupting in frenzied bass clarinet spray over abstract jazz guitar block chords and Hunton's out-but-in groove. 

To hear Cruz and Stein trade off on this album is an absolute thrill. The icing on top is the sound of Hunton elevating everything brilliantly. Around the time of The Bells, Lou Reed said something along the lines of “If you can't play jazz and you can't play rock, you put them together and you really have something.” True enough. But what if you can play both fluidly? What if you have a rock 'n' roll heart and a jazz brain and the instincts, chops, and intelligence to pull it all off and make it fly like freedom? You're Threadbare, that's what.

Marcin Wasilewski Trio Recruits Tenor Saxophonist Joe Lovano for Arctic Riff

The first-time creative teaming of Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski Trio and US tenorist Joe Lovano brings forth special music of concentrated, deep feeling, in which lyricism and strength seem ideally balanced. The alliance plays tunes by Wasilewski and by Lovano, as well as Carla Bley’s classic “Vashkar,” plus collective improvisations with strong input from all four players. Produced by Manfred Eicher, Arctic Riff was recorded at Studios La Buissonne in the south of France in August 2019.

The album opens with Wasilewski’s rubato ballad “Glimmer of Hope” which, the composer explains, is “based mainly on one motive moving through some tonalities. I was very curious to hear how it would sound with Joe’s tone.” The piano gently prepares for the saxophone’s entry, and Lovano’s very first phrase – underpinned by Michal Miskiewicz’s soulful brushwork – establishes the sensitive atmosphere of intense listening that characterizes the session. 

Carla Bley’s “Vashkar” follows, a tune interpreted in many different ways over the last half-century. Wasilewski, who first heard it on the album Footloose by the Paul Bley Trio with Steve Swallow and Pete LaRoca, finds new possibilities inside the world that Carla Bley's theme opens up: “I really like Carla’s compositions, and I wanted to play 'Vashkar'’s beautiful melody with Joe.” Lovano bears down authoritatively on that melody before the Polish trio unravel some of its implications. The tenorist had performed Carla Bley’s music as a member of her band in 1983 and, in 1986, with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, but the present recording marks a first encounter as player with “Vashkar.” 

“Cadenza” is the first, and at nine minutes the longest, of the collective pieces shaped in the moment on Arctic Riff. “On each of our recordings we’ve tried to explore musical areas that we haven’t documented before. There was no preconceived plan at all for the improvised pieces, but just as we were concluding a musical statement together on ‘Cadenza,’ I had the feeling that it might be good to take it a little further. In that second, I heard Manfred saying through the headphones, ‘Marcin, please continue.’ That was a special moment, and helped to make the whole thing, spontaneously, a better piece of art.”

Wasilewski’s elegant ballad “Fading Sorrow” finds ways to keep the music fresh inside the song format. Slawomir Kurkiewicz’s bass feature here, soloing against Wasilewski's subtle chording and discreet drums, is a highlight. Kurkiewicz is also to the fore in the free piece “Arco” which, as its title implies, takes off from his bowed bass entry. “Free improvisation is a very rewarding experience based on mutual trust and openness,” says Kurkiewicz. “As a working trio we’ve played freely many times and It was so touching to see Joe jumping right in there with such directness and clarity. It is great to hear his voice in such a context.” Lovano’s strengths as a player include his enthusiastic capacity to embrace all the things that jazz has been, including its traditional, modern and experimental expressions.
Lovano's sly, jaunty tenor sets up “Stray Cat Walk,” soon joined on its nocturnal prowl by Kurkiewicz's bass and Miskiewicz’s drums. Miskiewicz: “The beauty of Joe’s melodies and his amazing rhythmical flow encourage you as a musician to be more creative and spontaneous.”

“L’amour fou” is a piece Wasilewski wrote to showcase Lovano’s skills in a fast tempo context; the working title was “Crazy for Lovo.” The tune’s author has a bright sparkling solo here, too, after which Lovano takes flight, buoyed by the spirited rhythm section, and Miskiewicz also has a brief, adroit solo.

“A Glimpse” is a kaleidoscopic free miniature of shifting focus, highly alert throughout. Miskiewicz: “From my point of view it's necessary to be deeply concentrated on each single note, and to predict somehow what may happen in the next second, few seconds or sometimes imagine the whole sequence.”

A second version of “Vashkar” grants more of the solo space to Lovano. Lovano: “’Vashkar’ is a beautiful, expressive piece of music. Each of the two versions has its own feeling, structure and exploration. I’m glad Manfred decided to include both takes. Carla’s music is inspired and inspiring – and I would say the same for the music we created on Arctic Riff.”
Lovano wrote “On the Other Side” for the session, “as a contrast to Marcin’s compositions.” It’s a swinging free flowing piece with a specific sequence of events to be followed: “The drums set up the theme which is a question-and-answer exchange between the tenor and drums and the piano trio. A piano and drums duo follows, then adding bass into a trio moment without piano. Piano then re-enters, leading to the final theme with embellishments. The outcome was just what I was hoping for. “

And, finally, there is Wasilewski's “Old Hat,” a moving ballad in classic jazz style, with tender solos from both Wasilewski and Lovano, its title referencing both the nostalgic flair of the piece and Joe’s penchant for vintage headgear. 

The Wasilewski Trio’s members have been playing together since high school days in Koszalin, Poland; the present line-up was established in 1993. Marcin Wasilewski, Slawomir Kurkiewicz and Michal Miskiewicz first recorded for ECM as members of Tomasz Stanko’s quartet on the album Soul of Things in 2001, soon followed by Suspended Night and Lontano. Previous ECM albums in trio format are Trio (2004), January (2007), Faithful(2011), and Live (recorded 2016, released in 2018). For Spark of Life (2014), the trio was joined by Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder. Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz and Miskiewicz also appear on Norwegian guitarist Jacob Young’s album Forever Young (2013).

Joe Lovano made his ECM debut in 1981 with Paul Motian’s Psalm. Further recordings with the Motian/Lovano/Frisell are It Should have Happened A Long Time Ago, I Have The Room Above Her, and Time And Time Again. Lovano has also recorded for ECM with John Abercrombie (Open Land, Within A Song), Marc Johnson (Shades of Jade, Swept Away), and Steve Kuhn (Mostly Coltrane). 2019 saw the release of two critically-acclaimed recordings with Lovano – Trio Tapestry, introducing Joe’s trio with Marilyn Crispell and Carmen Castaldi, and Roma, a live album with Enrico Rava, Giovanni Guidi, Dezron Douglas and Gerald Cleaver.

Drummer Rajiv Jayaweera Presents Pistils

Pistils is the debut recording from Sri Lankan and Australian jazz drummer and composer, Rajiv Jayaweera. The album features eight compelling, thoughtful originals, which draw inspiration from Sri Lanka. Jayaweera’s compositions feature strong melodies and beauty, coupled with intricate bass lines and rhythmic interplay. His band of Chris Cheek (soprano & tenor saxophones), Aaron Parks (piano), Hugh Stuckey (guitar) and Sam Anning (double bass), truly display why they are amongst the most revered and sought-after musicians on the scene today. 

The album is bookended by two different versions of the title track, Pistils. The first is sparse and free of time, with the profoundly emotive vocals of special guest, Lara Bello, who sings the melody in an improvised language. It closes with a stripped back trio take with guitar, saxophone and drums playing the “Pistils” theme, with the style of the great Paul Motian trio in mind. The melody of Pistils is a monumental achievement, and the centerpiece of this wonderful debut from an artist overflowing with potential and possibilities. One of the most special characteristics in Sri Lanka is the variety of flowers that exist there. In trying to get to the essence of these flowers, you find the seed-bearing organs, collectively known as “pistils.” Jayaweera was drawn to the word pistils because it took him to the heart of these flowers. 

Ellstandissa, featuring the relatively unknown Thammattama drum (also known as a temple drum), a two-headed traditional drum played with a pair of fascinating curly wooden sticks and most commonly used in cultural ceremonies, incorporates rhythms from a Sri Lankan dance entitled Gajaga Wannama, or dance of the elephant, in 7/8 time. The main melody of the song is circular and haunting, and is played over a counter melody that superimposes a polyrhythmic figure. Ellstandissa is a made up word combining the names of the composer’s grandparents. 

It’s fitting that the next track is Welikadawatte, translating to Welikada Gardens in Sinhalese. It is an area in central Colombo (the commercial capital and largest city in Sri Lanka), originally home to many large cinnamon and coconut plantations. For over forty years this was where Rajiv’s grandparents lived and a place he would visit each year. Musically, this piece is reminiscent of Ahmad Jamal’s famous tune, Poinciana. 

The Elephant, once again incorporating the Thammattama drum, conjures up the image of an elephant walking through the jungle. 

Hirimbura is Rajiv’s Grandfather’s hometown in the south of Sri Lanka. The piece has ‘stompy’ Charles Mingus-esque feel that is simultaneously modern and traditional in nature. The strong quarter-note pulse instinctively makes you want to tap your foot or click your fingers along to it. 

A Malkoha Bird is a tropical bird endemic to Sri Lanka with a long graduated tail. This is the only song on the album where saxophonist Chris Cheek switches from tenor to soprano, singing the melody like a bird.

Jayaweera is truly a global citizen, a fact that permeates and weaves its way into his playing and composing. He was born in London, grew up in Melbourne, is of Sri Lankan heritage and is currently based in New York City. He completed his Bachelor of Music at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2000, and Masters in Jazz Studies at SUNY Purchase, New York in 2013.  

In Australia he was a highly sought after drummer, touring and recording with the country’s finest musicians and ensembles including The Joe Chindamo Trio, The Bennett’s Lane Big Band, The Sam Anning Quintet, Bopstretch and The Australian Art Orchestra’s Crossing Roper Bar Project. 

Since moving to New York City, Jayaweera has performed at the legendary jazz clubs, Smalls, The Blue Note, Bar Next Door, Dizzy’s (J@LC), Birdland, and others. He has been awarded grants from The Australia Council for the Arts, The Ian Potter Cultural Trust, The American-Australian Foundation, and was a finalist for the prestigious Freedman Jazz Fellowship, performing at the Sydney Opera House in 2013. 

Jayaweera has toured extensively around the world, performing at Jazz at Lincoln Centre, Doha, The Cotton Club, Tokyo, The London Jazz Festival, The Montreux Jazz Festival, The Copenhagen Jazz Festival, among many others. His quintet was featured as “artists in residence”, and a headline act, at the Thailand International Jazz Conference in 2020. 
This year, he will release his debut album made up of his original compositions entitled Pistils. The album features Chris Cheek, Aaron Parks, Sam Anning, Hugh Stuckey and Lara Bello and will be released on Outside in Music (USA) and Earshift Music (Australia). 

The Jerry Granelli Trio Plays Vince Guaraldi & Mose Allison

Over the course of a career spanning six decades, drummer Jerry Granelli has worked with many of the greatest artists across the full spectrum of jazz and beyond. On The Jerry Granelli Trio Plays Vince Guaraldi and Mose Allison, his rapturous new album for RareNoise, Granelli revisits two of his most indelible collaborations from the vantage point of the exploratory now. 

Released June 26, 2020, The Jerry Granelli Trio Plays Vince Guaraldi and Mose Allison starts from the foundation of two singular composers: the elegant, lyrical pieces of pianist Vince Guaraldi, with whom Granelli played for three busy years early in his career - including the landmark Peanuts television specials; and the eccentric singer/pianist Mose Allison, whose wry twists on the blues Granelli had the pleasure of accompanying for nearly 40 years. 

Never one to dwell on the past, Granelli has long eschewed tribute projects or reprises of past glories. Two factors combined to change his mind on this remarkable occasion: the joy of delving into these extraordinary compositions with a modern urgency untouched by nostalgia; and his collaborators, both of whom share his expansive approach: pianist Jamie Saft and bassist Bradley Christopher Jones. 

"We've all had experiences playing so many different things," Granelli says. "We all love the blues, whether we play them all the time or not, and we all love great songs - and these are really great songs. I don't think material gets old; what gets old is when people try to recapture a stale version of the past. We were able to bring a really fresh feeling to this music, and that's important to me. We didn't try to recreate anything."

Granelli's tenure with Vince Guaraldi dates back to the early 60s, when he was just 21. The young drummer had just returned to his native San Francisco following his first national tour, and discovered that Guaraldi had recently parted ways with his trio. The pianist had just scored a hit with his tune "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," so a hectic schedule awaited.  
"It's hard to get that kind of training," Granelli says. "We got paid to play six or seven nights a week, then go out after hours to places like Bop City in San Francisco to sit in at jam sessions till 6 in the morning. This record reflects those times."

On top of a grueling performance schedule, the period included Guaraldi's acclaimed recordings with the Brazilian guitarist Bola Sete and the Peanuts soundtracks that are still rerun every year over half a century later. Granelli's exquisite, whispering brushwork graces A Charlie Brown Christmas, which has become a holiday tradition and introduced generations of children to the sound of jazz. 

After leaving Guaraldi's employ in 1965, Granelli refused to revisit his music for decades. There were new sounds to be explored - he'd soon join the renowned Denny Zeitlin Trio alongside bass legend Charlie Haden, and in later years would work with a pantheon of his peers: Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Lee Konitz, Kenny Garrett, Ralph Towner, Jay Clayton, Gary Peacock and countless others. In recent years, however, Granelli began touring a show called Tales of A Charlie Brown Christmas with his trio in Canada, where he's lived in Nova Scotia since the 90s. 

Pitfalls abound in bringing an avant-gardist's perspective to such graceful music. "I didn't want to try to make it weird," Granelli insists, "and I didn't want to imitate the originals. In all honesty I resisted it because I didn't have a way in. But now I can appreciate it being such a part of the culture. It's amazing to me; it's phenomenal." 

The immortal "Christmas Time Is Here" almost inevitably closes the album, imbued with a heartbreaking tenderness that feels utterly immediate. The lushness of the rendition may seem surprising given the experimental credentials of Saft and Jones, but it's exactly that attentiveness to the moment - which they share with the drummer - that makes these renditions so stunning.  

Granelli refers to the title of Nowness, his 2015 album with Saft, to explain the feeling of the trio. "You're letting go of the past, you're letting go of the present, and you're just in the music. That's the place you want to play from at all times. Then your whole vast experience is available to you and you can discover something new you've never played before. This record is a wonderful celebration of that coming together of now." 

The same applies to Guaraldi's other contributions to the album, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and "Star Song." Granelli recalls the latter piece as a favorite of Miles Davis, who would come to hear the Guaraldi trio night after night while they worked in Los Angeles. 
Granelli joined Mose Allison's trio in the mid-70s, in time to record the classic album Your Mind Is On Vacation. They would continue to work together intermittently until Allison's death in 2016. "We were great friends," Granelli says fondly. "Mose was like the Charles Ives of the blues. He would take the blues as far out as he could, and he became one of the great influences in American songwriting." 

The title track of Your Mind Is On Vacation comes in for a raucous dissection here, with a pair of drum/bass duo preludes interspersed throughout the album, each a stellar standalone piece on its own. The trio reimagines "Parchman Farm" through a Herbie Hancock soul-jazz lens, refracted into the raw power of the primal blues. Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go" spotlights the burly muscularity of Jones' bass, while the satirical sting of "Everybody's Cryin' Mercy" resonates even without a word being sung. 

"Once music gets into my genetic system, I can remember exactly charts I played 50 years ago," Granelli explains. "Mose's words are incredible and I hear the lyrics, I hear the poetry, in my head as I play. That's part of the jazz tradition: how do you play the same piece of music every night and make it fresh?"

That freshness is shot through every note on The Jerry Granelli Trio Plays Vince Guaraldi and Mose Allison, whether it was written on sheet music decades earlier or invented on the spot as these three inventive musicians came together. It's the spirit that drives Granelli as he approaches his 80th birthday at the end of the year, the same way that it drove him to help create much of this music earlier in his life, and to find new details and sparks within it night after night throughout a truly incredible career. 

Pianist RAN BLAKE & Vocalist CHRISTINE CORREA "When Soft Rains Fall"

Brooklyn-based Red Piano Records have announced the forthcoming release of When Soft Rains Fall from pianist Ran Blake and vocalist Christine Correa. This recording is the latest yield from Blake and Correa’s remarkable 40-year friendship and singular musical collaboration.

Lady in Satin was Billie Holiday’s penultimate recording, released in 1959, the year of her passing. Although the repertoire is derived from the Great American Songbook, Lady in Satin is unlike any of Holiday’s previous recordings as she specifically chose to be accompanied by the lush orchestral arrangements of Ray Ellis, and personally hand picked each song based on its lyrics.

On When Soft Rains Fall, Blake and Correa pay tribute to the great Billie Holiday, 60-some years after the release of her Lady in Satin recording through an intimate recording of the songs from that classic album. In contrast to the grand orchestral arrangements of the original album, Correa and Blake interpret the music in a duo setting probing deep into the songs and exploring Lady Day’s emotional palette of hushed innuendos, loss, lamentation and unrequited love.

Billie Holiday holds a special place in the hearts and souls of these artists; a place where her music, her sound and her aesthetic resonates deeply. On When Soft Rains Fall Correa captures the raw emotion, drama and the intimacy that is associated with Holiday, quite present in the way she bends and slurs her notes, her rhythmic phrasing and the liberty she takes in her interpretations. In addition to the twelve songs from the Holiday album, Correa and Blake include, “The Day Lady Died,” a Blake composition that has the great Frank O’Hara poem superimposed over it as well as a solo piano version of “Big Stuff” (from Holiday’s Decca period) and a vocal solo version of Herbie Nichols’ “Lady Sings the Blues” (Verve). Together they capture an intensity in their interpretation of, “I’m a Fool to Want You,” and “You’ve Changed,” and lightness and frivolity in, “The End of a Love Affair,” and I’ll Be Around”.

Blake and Correa are a united force in presenting this material. There exists between these two incomparable artists an uncanny, imaginative rapport, a sense of inevitability in their interpretations, which emboldens and challenges their audiences’ sonic imaginations. 

With When Soft Rains Fall, their seventh recording, Blake and Correa reach new heights in terms of artistry, vision and expressiveness. Kudos goes to Red Piano Records for documenting this important, and historical partnership.

In a career that now spans five decades, pianist Ran Blake has created a unique niche in improvised music as an artist and educator. With a characteristic mix of spontaneous solos, modern classical tonalities, the great American blues and gospel traditions and themes from classic Film Noir, Blake’s singular sound has earned him a dedicated following around the world. In the tradition of two of his idols, Ellington and Monk, Blake has incorporated and synthesized several otherwise divergent styles and influences into a single innovative and cohesive style of his own, ranking him among the geniuses of the genre. Ran Blake is a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” grant. He was the founder and long-time chairperson of the Third Stream Department (currently called Contemporary Improvisation Department) at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA.

Christine Correa, originally from Bombay, India, has been involved in a variety of improvisational contexts and is currently on the faculty of The Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program at Columbia University in New York City. She has been widely recognized as a leading interpreter of the works of a range of modern American and European poets as set to music by some of today’s most innovative jazz composers, such as Frank Carlberg, Nicholas Urie, Sam Sadigursky and Steve Grover, among others. Correa has also recorded and/or performed with artists such as Steve Lacy and John LaPorta and appeared at numerous festivals, concert halls and clubs in the US, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America and India. Correa is a long-time resident of Brooklyn, NY.

Release is scheduled for September 2020.

Guitarist Henry Robinett's "Jazz Standards, Vol. 1: Then" Finally Released After 20 Years on the Shelf

HENRY ROBINETT is a guitarist, composer, bandleader and recording engineer who has released five albums since 1986 to stellar reviews. His first release, The Henry Robinett Group, received a 4-Star review in DownBeat Magazine. JazzTimes said about his 2016 release, I Have Known Mountains, “The dozen pieces that appear here make it plainly clear that Robinett is a man who places a high premium on clarity. His well-thought-out messages, be they focused on tragedy, love, or life's winding road(s), manage to appeal to the ear. If jazz has an accessibility problem, nobody bothered to tell Henry Robinett.” He is finally releasing an album he recorded 20 years ago.

JAZZ STANDARDS, VOLUME 1: THEN is unlike his other releases. Known for his modern, eclectic sound that melds world music with electric jazz, Robinett recorded Jazz Standards as an homage to the musicians whom he admires and who have shaped his music. “Honestly, I don’t know why I left it on the shelf for so long,” says Robinett. “I grew up listening to bebop, and the great bebop players had enormous influence on me. When I wrote and performed my own music, though, I naturally incorporated the wide range of music styles I had played with other bands. I think the Jazz Standards album was just too different from my other work, which made me hesitant to release it. But after listening to it again after so many years, I like it. I think it stands up well and shows another side to my playing.”

The album is resplendent with Robinett’s tasty grooves. His guitar work is swinging and accessible, and he approaches a tune not unlike a singer, emphasizing the melody while adding colors through his phrasing and harmonic choices. Jazz Standards, Volume 1: Then shows a more traditional side of Robinett’s artistry while still retaining his highly appealing style.

Pianist & Composer Jordan Seigel's "Beyond Images"

While Jordan Seigel emerged from Berklee College of Music a decade ago as a promising young jazz pianist, you’re more likely to have heard his music on the big screen than in a jazz club over the intervening years. Since returning to his native Los Angeles in 2010, Seigel has accumulated a host of impressive credits as a composer and orchestrator for film and television, including work on such high-profile projects as The Twilight Zone, Ant-Man and the Wasp, The LEGO Movie 2, and Empire.

On his vibrant debut album, Beyond Images, he brings his musical worlds together in a vibrant and eclectic collection of original pieces inspired by cinema’s greatest composers. Due out July 17, Beyond Images combines the inventiveness and interplay of jazz with the transportive emotional power of the best film scores, crafting an evocative soundtrack for imaginary scenes possessing the spine-tingling suspense of a Hitchcock thriller or the heartbreaking sweep of a doomed romance.

Beyond Images features bassist Alex Boneham (Billy Childs, Sara Gazarek) and drummer Christian Euman (Jacob Collier, Kurt Elling) who use their shared experience at the Monk Institute to piece together the vigorous rhythm section. Saxophonist/flutist Natsuki Sugiyama, a frequent collaborator on Seigel’s film scores, completes the core quartet. But the diversity of the compositions flourish through Seigel’s orchestral imagination, which employs a woodwind quintet and a string quartet, vibraphone, guitar, mandolin and percussion in varying, kaleidoscopic combinations.

“I wanted to create music that transports people to another place, the same way that a great movie can do,” Seigel explains. “Film scores have that power; a beautiful song at the right moment can make an entire audience cry or jolt them with an adrenaline rush during a chase scene. I hope to bring that type of emotional reaction to my own music.”

Each of the eleven new compositions on Beyond Images is dedicated to and inspired by one of Seigel’s favorite film composers, a list that includes some of the medium’s most iconic names. The pieces hint at the pianist’s inspirations in inventive and clever ways, maintaining his own unique voice while paying tribute to the great composers who have influenced him in distinctive ways. The results maintain the emotional impact and evocative colors of his movie work, conjuring rather than accompanying vivid cinematic moments. “I spend most of my time as a film composer and orchestrator, so I wanted to bring that aspect of what I do – making music for visual media – to a different audience,” explains Seigel.
The album opens with “Departure,” a wistful piece dedicated to Jon Brion, whose work has been heard in the singular films of Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love) and Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Synecdoche New York). “Departure,” though, also reveals one of Seigel’s most indelible jazz influences, pianist Brad Mehldau; he and Brion collaborated on the landmark album Largo, whose traces emerge vividly in this track.

The sly "Something's Up" carries a dedication to iconic composer John Williams, spotlighting Seigel's gift for distilling his influences without slavishly emulating them. It's in these moments and many more on the album where you can see the dynamic nature of melding jazz and writing for screen. "When I'm writing music for picture, it often starts simply with improvising on a piano while watching the video. As jazz musicians, we spend so much time improvising that it is quite a rewarding experience to try and combine the two. Composing almost becomes like a puzzle; the goal is to stay creative and write something satisfying, while making sure the music hits all of the correct story points and adds a necessary element to the picture."

Immediately eliciting images of sepia-toned flashbacks and magic hour vistas, “The Lake House” uncannily channels the filmic voice of Randy Newman. Jonny Greenwood of the pioneering band Radiohead, another key Paul Thomas Anderson collaborator, is the source for “No Chance.” The piece features a mesmerizing vocal performance by singer-songwriter Keeley Bumford. Seigel co-wrote the lyrics with multi-platinum songwriter/producer John Ryan, whose credits include work with One Direction, Pitbull and Maroon 5.

“The Woods” is Seigel’s attempt to create “the jazz Hitchcock score you never heard.” In its dizzying strings and enigmatic shadows, the piece succeeds in evoking the music of the great Bernard Herrmann, while carrying the listener through a compelling narrative in its shifting sections – even dissolving into a string-swathed dream sequence courtesy of the Vertigo String Quartet. Penned after a trip to London, “The Baker Street Caper” is equally effective at suggesting a Henry Mancini-scored heist picture.

Another unexpected turn comes with “Song for Porter,” which avoids the overwrought clichés that are abundant in tipping the hat to Ennio Morricone. The piece (named for Seigel’s beloved dog) takes its cues from the Italian composer’s swooning lyricism in films like “The Mission.” Jerry Goldsmith’s angular percussiveness fuels “Monkey in the Wilderness,” whose title suggests that Seigel had spent some time studying up on Planet of the Apes. The album concludes with “The Abyss,” whose harmonic richness credits the impact of Thomas Newman’s innovations on the modern cinema soundscape.

In addition to his scoring work, Seigel has maintained an active role on the L.A. jazz scene, playing with such acclaimed artists as Peter Erskine, Jeff Hamilton, Graham Dechter and the Bill Holman Big Band. He’s also crafted arrangements for the National Symphony Orchestra’s concerts at the Kennedy Center with superstars like Common and Babyface, showcasing another side of his estimable versatility.

It’s his wide-angle vision that has garnered Seigel such success and accolades in his scoring work. After studying with such jazz greats as Danilo Pérez, Fred Hersch, and Aaron Goldberg, he began working on television in an on-screen role on shows including Glee and The X Factor. Since then he has orchestrated and composed additional music for numerous films and shows and is currently at work scoring his first studio feature film. He is also the featured pianist for the Apple TV+ animated series Snoopy In Space, which finds him following in the venerable footsteps of legendary pianist Vince Guaraldi.

Monday, June 01, 2020

New Music Releases From Gary Versace, Jackie Gleason, Cassowary

Gary Versace All For Now

Gary Versace's a wonderfully rhythmic player here – working on this trio date with a style that's like subtle building blocks in sound – a mode that's softly chunky, but which has a great way of snatching sonic elements out of the air and nicely building up a tune! The approach is subtle – not as much a hit you over the head mode as some of the younger, flashier piano trios out there – but maybe that's also because Gary gets some nicely sensitive accompaniment from Jay Anderson on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums, both musicians who really adapt in strong ways to Versace's shifts on each tune. Titles include "Anchors", "Ours", "Two Pease", "Backs & All", "Child's Song", and "Favorite Places" – plus a version of Bud Powell's "Celia". ~ Dusty Groove

Jackie Gleason - Riff Jazz / Lazy Lively Love

"Jackie Gleason presents 'Riff Jazz' / 'Lazy Lively Love', two "mood music" albums taking their stand-alone place on CD in carefully-remastered, full dimensional sound and with original cover art. As bonus tracks, a rare 1955 single, Capri in May (Je Me Sens Si Bien), which has never been reissued until now, plus two of Gleason's famous themes, You're My Greatest Love (from "The Honeymooners") and Melancholy Serenade (from "The Jackie Gleason Show"), are included. The 12-page booklet includes archival photos and images, a newly-written essay about Gleason's music, and a chronological sessionography with primary releases for these recordings.

Cassowary - Cassowary

A fantastic full length debut from Cassowary – aka Miles Shannon, an artist who's equally skilled as a jazz musician and a singer – working here in a really great style that's a strong hybrid of the two sides of his talents! The keyboard lines are wonderful – served up on a variety of instruments, plus piano as well – and maybe often the lead of the track, even when there's a bit of vocals – as the style of singing usually seems to fall in line with the warm glow of the keyboards, instead of the usual mode. Cassowary also plays a bit of tenor – as you might guess from his youthful image on the cover – and the whole thing's got this fantastic vibe that reminds us of some of the hip jazz/soul hybrids that have come from the LA scene in recent years. Titles include "114 Degrees", "Belt Notch", "Price Went Up", "Starlight", "Superhiro", "Roach", and "Cyclical". ~ Dusty Groove

John Blues Boyd - What My Eyes Have Seen

Born in Greendale, Mississippi in 1945 John Blues Boyd was picking cotton in the fields at the age of eight. At fifteen he was run out of town by the Klan and he joined Dr Kings Freedom March at 16. It was obvious that this record had to be about his life. A life which has witnessed the struggle and oppression of Afro Americans through the dark days of Jim Crow. The songs written for this record are snapshots from a life camera. Pivotal moments in a long life, well lived and John has inhabited them with his body and soul. 

This record is not just John Blues Boyd's story but stands as a testament to the struggle and contribution of the Afro American people who have contributed so much to make this country great. It also gives warning of what happens when racism and inequality can have voice in society. Modern politics are indeed divided and dark. In Johns songs and memories is a warning that we should all heed about what can happen when we allow evil to prosper. 

This is a great record by a man who should be regarded as a National Treasure and hopefully this record will go some way to addressing this, but the magic could only happen with the musical brilliance of Kid Andersen. You send him lyrics and he sends you back musical gold. The sweep of his imagination knows no bounds. He hears things that no other producer I have worked with hears and he makes them come alive. He is the conduit that pulled this record together and helped John Blues Boyd make one of the seminal Blues records of this or any century.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

"The Garden is My Stage" by Vocalist and HGTV Landscape Designer MAYITA DINOS

After a decades-long career as a landscape designer,  MAYITA DINOS is now releasing her debut CD, THE GARDEN IS MY STAGE. It’s not that she hasn’t been singing in public for many years, but the stars finally aligned with the opportunity to record her silky, warm, and highly appealing voice. Dinos’ approach to music, the arts, and life in general is the product of her mixed heritage. She was born in Puerto Rico to a Puerto Rican mother and a father of Greek and Turkish ancestry.

Music has always been part of her life, and she fondly remembers singing with her grandmother, who taught her songs in Spanish. “I loved singing with my grandmother,” says Dinos. “But she was strict. I couldn’t just sing a song. She made sure I was singing it with feeling.” Dinos is also a successful landscape designer specializing in sustainable landscape design, which requires more than just a knowledge of horticulture. A beautiful garden is like a lush symphony composed of colors, shapes, and textures. Dinos’ lovely work attracted the interest of a television producer, and she spent the next five years as a landscape expert on various shows on the HGTV and DIY networks. 

Mentored by Los Angeles music legend Howlett Smith, Dinos has been performing in jazz venues for many years before the opportunity presented itself to make this recording. Each of the songs that Dinos chose relates to the natural world and the music she hears in it. Dinos created gorgeous, evocative composite art for each song, included in the booklet accompanying the CD package. Listeners can enjoy the florid images while taking in her dulcet and smoky voice through which she expresses her introspective nature and the profundity of her attachment to the natural world. THE GARDEN IS MY STAGE is the fruition of a project by an artist fully engaged with the sounds and sights and textures of our beautiful world.

GABE DAVIS  acoustic  bass
HUSSAIN JIFFRY  electric bass
MICHAEL HUNTER  trumpet & flugelhorn
ALEX BUDMAN  flute, clarinet, soprano sax
TIKI PASILLAS  drums & percussion

EUGE GROOVE - SING MY SONG featuring Guests Peter White,Paul Brown, Maysa, Phillipe Saisse and others

“These times have unleashed a creativity in me that I haven’t felt in years. I think it’s been a time of self-reevaluation. A cleaning of the house so to speak,” confides Euge Groove, who has been first call for everyone from Tina Turner, Richard Marx and Joe Cocker to Tower of Power and Huey Lewis. The chart-topping saxophonist, composer and producer who has scored close to a dozen #1 hits, will release his twelfth recording as a leader, Sing My Song, on June 26, 2020.

“I started work on the album about two and a half years ago. I definitely put everything I had in to it. I had been touring non- stop over the last few years and just found it hard to find the time to dig in without distractions,” says Euge. “Along comes Covid-19 and all I have is time. Ever since we went into Lockdown in LA in mid March, I worked nonstop, literally, on finishing the project. Working sometimes 24-hour days. It really wasn’t until after I finished last week that the seriousness of the world’s situation sunk in. I’ve decided to continue on that creative path.” 

Euge Groove’s unleashed ambition and intention has resulted in an inspired 11-track excursion that is his finest work yet. Surrounded by a cadre of some of the most revered artists on the Contemporary Jazz scene, including Maysa, Peter White, Phillipe Saisse and Paul Brown among others, the camaraderie on Sing My Song transcends the music. “I love these guys. I think of them as friends more than just musicians, even though I love their work. They all brought so much to the table.”

Euge Groove has garnered a devout following with his irresistible mix of danceable grooves, mind-bending hooks, technical agility, R&B infused melodies and inspired solos. Sing My Song opens with the sensual and joyous “Hey Boo,” which shows off his flawless multi-layered saxophones to perfect effect. He tips his hat to his Tower of Power Days on “Dirty Dozen,” the album’s first single which is a spunky and intriguing thriller that would work well as the newest James Bond theme. Euge Groove’s tenor saxophone snakes through all the choruses on a soulful chase, hitting all the right notes. The song “Rise” transports us back to the classic CTI sound as Euge Groove does a dazzling recreation of Herb Alpert's 1979 hit. The track features guitarist Paul Brown, who creates beautiful synergy with Euge on the song. “Paul Brown has been a mentor of sorts when it comes to mixing and arranging the songs,” confides Euge Groove. Sing My Song also features the gorgeous gospel-tinged ballad "Until Tomorrow,” featuring Euge's pristine soprano and guitarist Peter White. “Peter is one of my besties. I also look up to him as an artist. He never disappoints!” Returning the favor to us all Euge Groove does not disappoint on “Say I Won’t” as he serves up his growling tenor on the energized and playful and modulating ditty.

Sing My Song’s title track and show-stopping number is co-penned by Euge and his label-mate, singer songwriter Lindsey Webster and features the dynamic and always consistent songbird Maysa. Webster was a guest vocalist on Euge’s album Groove On and this is the first time he and Maysa have recorded with one another. “I love Lindsey and her writing and I’ve been a huge Maysa fan for years,” confides the saxophonist. “The lyric, song and performance really hit the core of my soul. I think the theme is something everyone can relate to no matter what your ‘song’ may be. To me, it’s all about staying strong inside no matter what others may think. You have to value yourself from within, not through the eyes of others.” There is a re-mix version of this song at the album’s finale that highlights a lush orchestral arrangement by Phillipe Saisse. “Phillipe is truly a gifted artist in so many ways. His orchestral arranging is just beautiful. I asked him to do a full orchestral arrangement, not just strings, but strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, the whole thing,” explains Euge. “I remember getting his arrangement on a Friday evening. Shortly after he sent me the remix version of ‘Sing My Song’ with just Maysa, myself, and the orchestra. I was blown away. He did it just for fun, but I knew it had to make the album. So, I included it as a sort of a bonus cut. His arrangement is another reason the song became the title track.” The romanticism sustained and legato tension of Euge Groove’s tenor playing on "Gatito" is a memorable tribute to Argentinean saxophonist Gato Barbieri. “He was very influential in my early years of playing,” shares Euge Groove. “He played with such passion.” Euge shifts to cruise-control for "The Journey Ahead” and explains, “This song is all about pushing forward. When one door opens to the next we often have no idea where it will lead us. There are moments when you open those doors where you just feel like “ahhhhhhhh.” It just feels so good. The bridge to ‘The Journey Ahead’ captures that feeling for me.” Euge Groove shows off his ability to paint melodies that have a way of staying in your mind on the assuring “Of Course” and the composition "Good Night" closes the chapter and turns the page on another winning Euge Groove recording.

Euge Groove’s musical sensibilities are hard-won. Born Steven Eugene Grove in Hagerstown, Maryland, he grew up in a musical home. His mother played piano and taught the church choir and Euge began his musical pursuits at the age of seven, beginning with piano and adding saxophone at nine. Two saxophonists had a profound effect on his approach to playing. “One was French classical player Marcel Mule, who really defined what the sax was supposed to sound like for me and the other was David Sanborn, who took that sound and brought it into the mainstream world,” Euge reminisces. 

Through the years, Euge’s love of Jazz, R&B, Gospel and Blues have all come together to inform his personalized sound. He explains, “I’ve listened to everyone from Grover (Washington, Jr.) and Sanborn to (Charlie) Parker and Coltrane, as well as (Michael) Brecker, (Stan) Getz, King Curtis, Jr. Walker, Richard Elliot and Kirk Whalum. The more mature we become the more those influences fuse into something new. A graduate of Miami’s School Of Music, Euge launched his professional career in Miami in the mid-80s, playing in salsa bands, Top 40 club bands and doing the occasional high-profile session date like Expose’s “Seasons Change,” a #1 Billboard AC hit. In 1987 he moved to L.A., wrote a track for Richard Elliot’s The Power of Suggestion and Elliot recommended Euge to take over his spot in Tower of Power. Euge toured with TOP for four years, including a year backing Huey Lewis & The News. 

He went on to record, tour or perform with the likes of Joe Cocker, The Eurythmics, The Gap Band, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville and Richard Marx (that’s Euge’s horn on “Keep Coming Back,” a #1 AC hit duet he recorded with Luther Vandross). In 1999, Euge started recording his own material, dubbing himself Euge Groove, and posting his music on the now-defunct MP3.com website; downloading started almost immediately and Euge was soon topping the MP3.com Jazz chart.

He signed soon thereafter with Warner Bros. “Vinyl,” his first single from his eponymous Warner Bros. debut, set a record by spending 27 weeks on the R&R charts, eventually ranking #24 for the year. In 2004, Euge Grooves’ Narada debut, Livin’ Large, spent 68 weeks on the Billboard charts. The title track was the #5 most played song for 2004 on the R&R singles chart. Just Feels Right followed in 2005 and its first single was #1 for two months. There followed in the next decade a string of hit singles and best-selling albums; his hit “Religify” was ‘song of the year’ in 2007, and his albums S7ven Large and House Of Groove each spawned #1 hits. Got 2 Be Groovin’ came in 2014 and 2016 saw the release of Still Euge, which featured the hit title track as well as memorable vocal appearances from Oleta Adams and Rahsaan Patterson. Groove On was released in 2017 featuring and the title track scored yet another #1 for him.

With the release of Sing My Song Euge Groove hopes the music will connect with his fans. He concludes, “They call turning in an album to the record label ‘delivery’ for a reason! Each of these songs are like children to me. There is so much time and focus put into each one. I hope the music touches people and they will hear this and feel this labor of love.”

Harold López-Nussa | "Te Lo Dije"

Walk the streets of Havana on any day and you’ll hear the soul of Cuba: music pouring from private homes and bustling restaurants, windows rattling with the parties thrown inside, nightclubs pulsing with throngs of people dancing. On his vibrant and spirited third recording for Mack Avenue Records, Havana-based pianist and composer Harold López-Nussa sets out to capture that stirring sensation with an exhilarating marriage of jazz and Cuban pop music, defiantly standing up to the doubters who failed to share his radical vision.

Much like its near equivalent in English, “I told you so,” the Spanish phrase “Te lo dije” can be deployed as a boast or a put-down – often both at once. López-Nussa throws down that gauntlet on Te Lo Dije, due out August 28 worldwide via Mack Avenue Records. The album features the pianist’s core quartet of drummer Ruy Adrián López-Nussa, bassist Julio César González and trumpeter Mayquel González, bolstered by a number of special guests including Afro-Cuban funk superstar Cimafunk; French accordionist Vincent Peirani; famed Cuban reggaeton vocalist Randy Malcom; and vocalist Kelvis Ochoa.

The combustible blend of Afro-Cuban and modern jazz that has marked all of the pianist’s acclaimed releases is enlivened by the sounds that thrill modern Cuban audiences: the Songo of the iconic band Los Van Van, the Mozambique of Pello el Afrokan, the reggaeton that has swept Latin America and the world since the late 90s. The results pulse with the lifeblood that runs through the streets of Havana.

Roughly translated as “Havana exposed,” opener “Habana Sin Sábanas” sonically transports listeners to the city via recordings in which López-Nussa captures the bustle of daily life. “The Windmills of Your Mind” acknowledges López-Nussa’s French ancestry with an homage to composer Michel Legrand, who died in 2019. Renowned French accordion virtuoso Vincent Peirani adds his own Gallic flavor to the mix.

One of modern Cuba’s leading composers, Leo Brouwer, wrote the gorgeous ballad “Un dia de Noviembre.” López-Nussa’s own “Lila’s Mambo” is dedicated to the pianist’s youngest daughter, inspired by her alternately sweet and devilish nature. An infectious handclap rhythm sets the tone for “Jocosa Guajira,” with vocals by Kelvis Ochoa, a complex contemporary version of a guajira with intricate, interwoven rhythms.

Both “Timbeando” and “Sobre el Atelier” are renewed López-Nussa compositions, both previously recorded solo for his 2007 solo recital Sobre el Atelier. The title track from that album is a bolero dedicated to Harold’s grandfather, whose studio was beneath the family’s home. “Timbeando,” featuring López-Nussa on Fender Rhodes, was inspired by Chick Corea’s Elektrik Band and was the piece he played to win the Montreux Jazz Festival Solo Piano Competition in 2005.

“El Buey Cansao” is a song by Los Van Van, a band that has been enormously popular and influential in Cuba over the last 50 years. For his version, the pianist invited one of the biggest contemporary stars on the island, Cimafunk, to sing. The band and its Songo style also inspired López-Nussa’s own “Van Van meets New Orleans,” a self-explanatory piece that seeks to unite his hometown with its sister city in the States, whose ties with Cuba are integral to the development of jazz.

“JazzTón” is the album’s most daring hybrid, melding jazz with the controversial reggaeton genre, often dismissed by “serious” musicians in Cuba. Randy Malcom of the immensely popular Gente de Zona brings an authentic spirit, while the core quartet is bolstered by trombone, percussion and additional keyboards that really bring the party to life.

The title track, “Te Lo Dije,” makes the point with playful braggadocio: doubt if you will, scoff if you must, but López-Nussa will play his music, his way. “This is my Mozambique,” he sings repeatedly, making clear that whatever the style, the voice is his own. The style was invented by the legendary percussionist Pello El Afrokan in the 1960s, but Te Lo Dije – the song, like the album as a whole – lives vividly in the current moment.

The music of pianist/composer Harold López-Nussa reflects the full range and richness of Cuban music, with its distinctive combination of classical, folkloric and popular elements as well as its embrace of jazz improvisation and interaction. López-Nussa studied classical piano at the Manuel Saumell Elementary School of Music, the Amadeo Roldán Conservatory and the Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA). His career gracefully spans styles, from his recording of Heitor Villa-Lobos ́ Fourth Piano Concerto with Cuba’s National Symphony Orchestra to his featured role on the album Ninety Miles, playing alongside jazz stars David Sánchez, Christian Scott and Stefon Harris. Te Lo Dije is the ninth album in a catalogue that includes exquisite classical pieces, mesmerizing solo creations and explosive jazz trio outings.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Susie Meissner | “I Wish I Knew”

Vocalist Susie Meissner opens her fourth album, I Wish I Knew, with Curtis Lewis’ “The Great City The choice works for purely musical reasons, as an upbeat swinger that gets things off to a finger-snapping start; it also fits in perfectly her love of the more obscure corners of the classic American songbook.

But the song also serves to pay tribute to Philadelphia, the city that’s embraced Meissner and become her professional home base over the last decade. I Wish I Knew, due out July 17, 2020 through LydianJazz Records, is the singer’s second release featuring a stellar group of Philly-based musicians: trumpeter John Swana, saxophonist Larry McKenna, bassist Lee Smith and drummer Byron Landham.

In addition, Meissner invited some longtime collaborators from outside Philadelphia: pianist John Shaddy, guitarist Paul Meyers and master clarinetist Ken Peplowski. Since the release of her 2009 debut, I’ll Remember April, Meissner has worked with a host of gifted jazz musicians, including Martin Wind, Brian Lynch, Wycliffe Gordon, Joe Magnarelli and Matt Wilson, among others. But she discovered a spiritual home in the City of Brotherly Love.
“From my first gig in Philly I was hooked,” Meissner says. “There’s just a different feeling in Philadelphia. It exerts a real gravitational pull. It’s such a great city to play; I love working there and I love working with these musicians.”

To be clear, “The Great City” wasn’t written about Philadelphia. Still, the lyric captures the friction between the magnetic allure and daunting loneliness that characterizes any major metropolis, Philly included – maybe Philly especially, given the town’s brusque reputation. In Meissner’s rendition, the charm of the place defiantly wins out, her gleaming adoration winning out even as she warns against its “cold, cruel stone.”

“When you’re in, it’s hard to get back out” is the song’s message, but Meissner hardly sounds eager to escape. She isn’t a Philadelphian, by birth or by residence – the former honor goes to Buffalo, the latter to New Jersey. Yet when it’s time to take the stage you’re most likely to find her at Chris’ Jazz Café, the club that she fondly refers to as the “heart and soul of jazz in Philly.” She’s played there upwards of 35 times over the past decade, and it’s a room that her elite ensemble considers a home base. “I wanted to capture the feeling that we create every time we have a gig together,” Meissner explains. “This album really represents how much we enjoy and respect each other’s talents.”

The album’s title, I Wish I Knew, is aptly chosen for these uncertain times, though Meissner had something a bit more personal in mind. Her intentions were drawn from the song’s lyric, which expresses the essential unknowability between any two people. The vulnerability, the wary hopefulness, the wistful longing: all are achingly rendered in the pairing of Meissner’s yearning vocal and Peplowski’s eloquent clarinet.

“That was one take,” Meissner says enthusiastically. “We decided to record that song at the last second, and it was magic. When you experience something like that, your insides start shaking. It’s so creative and so in the moment. That’s why we used that title for the album; I hoped that the tenderness and feeling of ‘I Wish I Knew’ would translate to everything else.”
The diverse repertoire on I Wish I Knew ranges from familiar standards like “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” and “It Could Happen to You” to classics known more for their instrumental jazz interpretations such as “Alfie” and “Poinciana.” Others dig deeper into the Songbook to dust off some neglected gems. Whatever the source, a spectrum of styles and approaches drove Meissner’s selection process. “I listen to everything,” she says. “I wanted different styles, different genres, and different authors, because the guys in the group are storytellers.”

Duke Ellington’s “In a Mellow Tone” spotlights Peplowski’s gift for summoning the ghosts of jazz eras past while speaking in the vital language of the moment. His solo is parried by the darting jabs of Paul Meyer’s guitar. Meyer and Meissner later duet on a mesmerizing rendition of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” combining to hint at the lingering shades of bittersweet memory.

“It Could Happen to You” is graced by a summit meeting between two virtuoso veterans, Peplowski and Philly living legend Larry McKenna. Their fluid lines weave together gracefully but powerfully, buoyed by the expert rhythm section of Smith and Landham. McKenna’s burnished tenor sound is especially magical on ballads, as vividly evidenced on “Alfie” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye.” Meissner sets the tone on both, the compassionate encouragement of “Alfie,” the forlorn ruefulness of “Goodbye,” which the saxophonist expertly carries forward into his captivating solos.

“I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” offers a tender dialogue between Meissner and pianist John Shaddy, her accompanist in song as in life. The two are well accustomed to each other’s voices, resulting in an airily intimate reading with John Swana’s plaintive trumpet providing the inner monologue to the couple’s sonic embrace. The “wings on your heels” mentioned in “Hello Young Lovers” is wonderfully illustrated by the floating dance between the winger and Swana’s light-footed flugelhorn.

Swana brings a more offbeat vibe to the session via his use of the Electric Valve Instrument (EVI), a mutated electronic horn that looks like a cross between a trumpet and a surge protector and which evokes synthetic, even alien, tones. It provides an unsettling dizziness to Meissner’s intoxicating “You Go To My Head,” and is an essential element in the exotic jungle of sounds conjured by the ensemble’s take on “Poinciana.” More than any other, that piece captures the Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection, as the more equitable amendment adds) of the recording date; the outpouring of fellowship from the entire line-up was unplanned but ecstatically welcome.

The album ends, appropriately enough, with “The Party’s Over.” The best thing about a great party, though, is that it supplies the joyful memories that tide one over until the next get-together. In the group of artists she’s convened for I Wish I Knew, Meissner has discovered a warm band of fellow celebrants for whom she plays the perfect hostess. Fortunately for those of us who weren’t there with them, this album extends an open and welcoming invite to bask in those vibrantly emotional moments.


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